I had the pleasure of reviewing White City by Seb Doubinsky for this months High Flight Fanzine. I’ll give it to you straight- I loved the book. The style of writing is not only engaging but is also fun and thought provoking. I had to find out more about Seb and his methods.
Thankfully! He was kind enough to humour me. I have to personally thank Seb for his time and keenness, I had a great time getting these answers. Can’t wait to see more from him in the future.
Hi Seb could you introduce yourself to us?
Well, I was born in Paris 51 years ago, and lived a part of my early childhood in the USA, because my father was teaching there. That’s why I am bilingual and write in both English and French. I currently teach French literature, history and culture at the university of Aarhus, in Denmark. Apart from literature, I love music – which has a huge influence on my writing – and am lucky to be friends with the Aarhus underground scene, which hosts such great bands as Powersolo, Fossils and Dature. I also hang out in bars whenever I can, with my writer friends, Indian novelist Tabish Khair and Danish poet Ole Wesenberg Nielsen. Noise and beer are a very important part of my writing too.
Viborg City is where the story takes place. What is it like and how does it reflect to our society today?
Viborg City is a construction based on Denmark and the Nordic countries. Every dystopian novel I write is based around one of these cities, which I call City-State, inspired by the antique structures of power found in Mesoamerica, Middle.-Eastern, African, Asian or European civilisations. You have New Babylon (which is a mixture of New York, Berlin, Paris, etc.), New Petersburg (Los Angeles, Miami, etc.), Samarqand (Bagdad, Samarkand, Istanbul, etc.) and Viborg City. But, of course, they represent more than themselves, and I use Viborg City here as an example of domestic Western politics today – that is to say, ruthlessly repressive, greedy and imperialistic. Not necessarily in that order. What it reflects is how old ideologies (Nazism, in this novel) keep influencing us under new names, new disguises, new fads – but with the same objective: to divide and to control.
In the book there are 3 main characters, I was particularly interested by Lee Jones Jr and the way he pressures himself to live up to his father. Do you put yourself under such pressures?
Lee Jones jr. is the son of another writer present in two other novels, Goodbye Babylon, where you get his story. Lee Senior is a bitter man, whose fame mostly comes from a complete misunderstanding of his fiction – a situation largely inspired by Jack Kerouac. His son has grown with this huge shadow over him, but has known success almost immediately, and resents his father’s bitterness – although he can understand where it comes from. I don’t have Lee’s problem at all, as my father, who passed way in 1998, was a lovely man and not a writer. I do put myself under pressure though – which I think is a necessity for all writers, musicians and artists – by refusing comfort. I don’t want my story to come out easily, I don’t want it to flow, I want to feel the machine grind and grind – even if it’s really an unpleasant feeling. But that’s necessary if you want to avoid the narcissistic trap, which is an extremely dangerous one, because it’s very tempting.
Could you tell us about your friendship with Michael Moorcock and who your influences are?
I met Michael through a common friend of mine, rock guitarist Martin “Mad Dog” Stone, who used to play with Chilli Willi and the Red Hot peppers and The Pink Fairies, among others. Martin knew I was a big fan of Mike’s work, but it took years for the encounter to happen, which was in August 2005. We met for lunch in the Luxembourg gardens, and I was extremely nervous, but he was very gentlemanly and we had a great time (at least, I did). We have been in contact since then, and it is thanks to him that I got published by PS Publishing. I owe him basically my Anglo-Saxon career, and I am extremely grateful for that. We meet whenever we can Paris and it is always wonderful. His wife, Linda, is also extraordinary. Mike has had a huge influence on me with the Jerry Cornelius series, which I read in my early twenties. The utter destruction of narrative logic in a historical setting blew my mind – and still does. The same can be said of William Burroughs, of course –especially the last trilogy, which I absolutely worship (Cities of the Red Night, The Place of Dead Roads and The Western Lands) Finally, last but not the least, and maybe surprising to some readers, Richard Brautigan, who taught me that short paragraphs in short novels are the key for effect, and that poetry is not reserved to poems.
Are there any other authors/books out there exciting you?
Yes, a lot actually – and most are my friends, which is wonderful. In the dystopian/Weird/Bizarro field, I can name Jordan Krall, Matt Bialer, Matthew Revert, Chris Kelso, JS Breukelaar, Kris Saknussemm, Vincenzo Bilof, for example, I also love Jerry Wilson in another genre – which would be new realism, and Justin Grimboll, in the same line. Tabish Khair, of course, whose prose I admire and find important. And in poetry (which I love) Dominic Albanese, Alicia Young and Ole Wesenberg Nielsen are names to check out. Of course, there’s also Jeff Vandermeer, whose Southern Reach might be one of the most interesting New weird novel of the last ten years. And, last but not the least, Hal Duncan, whose work I respect tremendously.
Who did your artwork? It has to be one of the creepiest covers I have ever seen.
Matthew Revert, who is also a great Australian write and an avant-garde musician. And yes, the cover is creepy – to me, it is perfect, as it is as violent as the book.
We always ask this… What is your desert island book?
Robinson Crusoe? No, just kidding. I can’t answer that question because I would want crates of books. But maybe Burrough’s ‘Nova Express’ – you can’t understand anything that’s happening, which would be perfect in a desert island situation. What’s more, it would be a good sanity test. If it begins to make sense, they you should begin to worry…
What have you got coming up?
Talos/Skyhorse will be re-publishing The Song of Synth in August, which I am really excited about. My French novel Quién es? should be coming out this summer too, through Dalkey Archive Press, although I haven’t heard from them in a long while, but I sure hope it does. And I am working on a new novel, called Suan Ming, which I hope to have finished by the summer.
Hope you enjoyed that as much as I did!
Thanks for reading. See you soon.