Anakana Schofield on creating an uncomfortable character in Martin John
Schofield creates a complex character in the titular character of her daring novel 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 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 to 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." 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.