Anakana Schofield on creating an uncomfortable character in Martin John
Anakana Schofield pulls off an impressive literary feat in Martin John, shortlisted for the 2015 Scotiabank Giller Prize. Schofield creates a complex character in Martin John, a sexual deviant who grapples with serious mental health issues, prone to flashing people in the streets and brushing himself against strangers on public transit. It's a window into a particular psyche that hasn't been seen often in fiction.
ON BEING IN THE UNCOMFORTABLE SKIN OF MARTIN JOHN
"I was very distressed most of the time. It's definitely the hardest book I've ever written, or think I'll ever write. It was very tough, but not uninteresting. It was a total occupation of my mind by Martin John. By the end of it I was like, 'Get gone, Martin John! Please! Leave me in peace!' Essentially, I spent all of that time in his head and his groin, and it's not a comfortable place to be. I certainly wouldn't recommend it. But the fact of the matter is people like Martin John exist and they're not some aberration far away on Pluto. They're at the kitchen table, they're on the bus beside you."
ON MARTIN JOHN'S MOTHER
"Let's face it, kids can be pretty exhausting in a general sense, but imagine you've got a boy you see manifesting this deviance. What are you going to do? I keep coming back in my mind, is it unreasonable to imagine that a mother may not know what to do? We don't come to motherhood with three years of training; we're basically fumbling around in the dark. We have no idea what we're doing. You try to do your best, maybe you mess it up. These are questions that occur to me all the time. I'm interested in the darker side of motherhood. It's really tough to be a mother."
ON WHETHER SEXUAL DEVIANTS FEEL REMORSE
"If you go back through history this behaviour is not new. I wrote to [forensic psychiatrist] Dr. Paul Fedoroff at one point because I was really struggling with the idea that these men have no sense of remorse. He referred me to this excellent book, Psychopathia Sexualis. It was written in the late 1800s, and it was written by a doctor who compiled every possible perversion. When I read those case studies, people were absolutely filled with remorse. That helped me to carry on because I had become kind of fond of Martin John, and yet I'd keep saying go myself 'No, no, no, this man is a deviant and you must go back to that. And you must not write around the dirty stuff. You must not shirk your responsibility as a writer as a novelist.' That's what literature does. It must look at the darkness and humility in humanity. I tend to veer toward the darkness."
Anakana Schofield's comments have been edited and condensed. This interview was originally broadcast on November 9, 2015.