Interview by Ben Mason
Dallas Angguish sounds like the name of a depressed American TV actor. It isn’t. It’s the name of an emerging Australian author whose first book, Anywhere But Here, has been variously described as ‘offbeat and atmospheric’ and ‘every bit as good as J. D. Salinger’. The book was released recently to rave reviews and many comparisons to literary greats. Angguish has been called ‘Truman Capote’s queer love-child’. The comparison with Capote is often made. Angguish finds the comparison tiring. When asked about it he responds thus:
Angguish: People first started saying that many years ago. I was ignorant of American literature then, apart from my quasi-erotic fixation on Allen Ginsberg, and so I went off to my local Dymocks and bought some of Capote’s books. I found that if there were any similarities at all it was in the fact that we both write shorter works and both have a love for travel writing and character pieces. Recently, because people keep bringing it up I started to think perhaps it had more to do with Truman and I sharing other qualities, namely being flaming fairies.
BM: Would you describe yourself as a flamer?
Angguish: My voice isn’t high-pitched like Truman’s and I’m not over-the-top camp but I am unashamed of my OGTs, my Obvious Gay Traits.
BM: What are your OGTs?
Angguish: Eighties music, fear of blood sports, love of design, Sushi, that sort of thing.
BM: I’m not sure if I have any OGTs.
Angguish: Do you like having sex with men?
BM: Uh, yes.
Angguish: Well, that’s the only OGT that is compulsory. Without that you’re just a Metrosexual.
BM: I’d like to ask you about your book. I really loved the story about the guy in New Orleans who has a fetish for running his fingers over smooth skin. How did that story come about?
Angguish: All of the stories are based on fact. I do however dramatize them as well, bring in fiction as a tool. I use fiction to say or show things that aren’t revealed by the simple facts. Sometimes a lot of our experience is more about the way our mind fly-casts into the past, into memory, for meaning than it is about what’s happening in the here and now. I use fiction to tell more of the truth about my experience rather than less. That piece is based on this guy I met in New Orleans who had a thing for bare skin. He was African-American and he had somehow developed this fetish for smooth white skin. He told me about his obsession and I used that for a story. Simple really.
BM: A lot of your stories are set in the USA. Have you spent time there?
Angguish: Yes. I wouldn’t say a lot of time but I have travelled there. I spent three months in the South. A lot of the stories in the book come from that trip, or from stories people told me while I was there.
BM: The other section of the book deals with your childhood. Can you tell me a bit about that?
Angguish: It’s the usual sort of story. I grew up in a small town in Southern Queensland, Toowoomba, and felt isolated. Friends of mine have said that my childhood was Dickensian, because my grandmother was a paranoid schizophrenic, my father a drunk, my mother co-dependent and kind of wan. For me it was typified by a lot of boredom. I went inwards, into my imagination, and developed fantasies, internal narratives, to amuse myself, or to keep myself from having to experience the pain of being isolated and ostracised.
BM: Why were you ostracised?
Angguish: I was different. In Australia that tends to be enough.
BM: Your book is getting very good reviews. How does that feel?
Angguish: It feels good I suppose. I am not paying too much attention. I prefer to be read by ordinary people rather than reviewed by critics. But both are good.
BM: I mentioned your name in the pub the other day and one of my friends said that they’d heard that you were ‘married’ to a pro-surfer. Is that true?
Angguish: Not exactly. In the Nineties I had a two year relationship with a guy who was surfing competitively. He was basically straight and so that didn’t last. I am currently partnered to someone who also surfs. He’s the love of my life. Although he doesn’t surf competitively he is very gifted. He prefers to spend his time in meditation.
BM: That brings me to my next question. You were once a Buddhist monk?
Angguish: Yes, for about five years. I decided it wasn’t for me. I remain a Buddhist. It’s the heart of my life really.
BM: Who’s your biggest fan?
Angguish: My partner. Definitely.
BM: Your greatest detractor?
Angguish: My self. I’m a harsh critic.
BM: Really? Why?
Angguish: I think I’ve been conditioned to be self-critical. I grew up in a pretty hateful environment.
BM: One last question. What’s your future entail?
Angguish: No-one ever knows what their future holds. I would like to live a quiet life with my gorgeous partner and write. That’s all.
Dallas Angguish’s book Anywhere But Here is available from The Bookshop Darlinghurst Online for $27.95.