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Interview and photograph by Daisuke Yamaguchi
Cult gay author PP Hartnett talks with Vada about his forthcoming book Full Screen and the legal hurdles surrounding the online publishing of transgressive queer fiction.
The forthcoming collection of new writing by author PP Hartnett titled Full Screen has been rejected by Apple’s iBooks Store. Hartnett is anything but shocked by the judgement upon his collection of ‘thought grenades’, that spring from the page like whispers through a megaphone.
‘The online company representing the work forwarded an e-mail, informing that Apple have rejected Full Screen due to what is described as “prohibited, explicit or objectionable content”,’ says Hartnett, when I met with him at his home in Haworth, West Yorkshire.
A transgressive approach
Hartnett’s transgressive approach specialises in courting controversy, with a savvy business plan clearly revolving around strategic situationism.
‘Books placed with Apple must not contain prohibited, explicit or objectionable content, much of which publishers such as the literary imprint Sceptre and Penguin Books have already approved, published and marketed on an international basis without a single concern having been raised,’ Hartnett says, keen to remind readers of his existing oeuvre and its mainstream publishers.
Whilst Hartnett claims his new work contains no depiction of prohibited material, that precise wording came in the forwarded e-mail Hartnett has forwarded on to Vada.
‘I’ve done my homework’
Hartnett sweeps the pronouncement by Apple to one side, denouncing the decision to not represent such content as ‘ludicrous’.
‘Sure,’ he defends, ‘there are short pieces such as “Online Collaboration”, “Charismatic Sex Act” and “I Want To…” that aim to challenge many a reader, but I’m not stupid – I work within the restrictions clearly laid down by the Obscene Publications Act plus those of the UK’s Crown Prosecution Service. I’ve done my homework, I know what can and cannot be published.
‘Some of my recent work is based around the idea of what form of activities serial killers might engage in when on holiday.’ Uh-huh. ‘In “PS, Did I? (No ID, No Idea)”, I write from the perspective of a teen killer (18+) who writes a daily blog about the demise of a “shit kid” of the day.
‘In “Us Kids, Human Stew”, which I wrote aged 15, I present intense feelings about predatory Catholic priests who I perceived as voracious cannibals as a kid. From my perspective those career paedophiles virtually fed on pupils in their care back in the 70s. I think that’s the piece that made Apple judge my work as being rotten to the core. I actually view that work as a punk protest on a number of levels.’
Hartnett’s collection Full Screen is essentially an anthology of short, sharp shocks … what he refers to as ‘thought grenades’. Poetry? This Irish writer refuses to use the term.
‘There are other “thought grenades” that steer towards the dark, piss-stinking alleys of desire, such as “i-Pad, Tokyo”, a piece based around sexual obsession, stalking, psychotic thought patterns, that might’ve got up Apple’s corporate arsehole. “Please Say Yes” and “Fade Into You” skid along the motorway of desperate longing on overdrive.’
Clause four of the Apple iBooks Store rejection cites that the company will not represent sales for ‘photographic content intended for the sole purpose of sexual arousal’.
‘Scratch below the surface and one might well find many a work that contradicts this, available via Apple’s iBooks Store. As Full Screen contains no photographs or illustrations of any sort, other than apparently “acceptable” sketches presented by serial killer Dennis Nilsen that appear on the covers, it appears that only clauses three and five are aimed at my work.’
Clause three indicates works that Apple feels contain ‘Textual encouragement to commit a crime (e.g. books supporting, encouraging or defending rape, pedophilia, incest, or bestiality or books detailing how to commit a sexual crime)’.
‘Well, that surely suggests Apple will be dropping the True Crime and Horror works amongst many other genres the corporate body represents, as such works can possibly act as a trigger to readers of a certain mindset. That’s why I decided not to accept Dennis Nilsen’s offer to be involved with his autobiography after a lengthy period of correspondence and assessment of the manuscript. It was a decision I made from a consciously moral perspective, that of responsibility.
Based around case histories
‘In no way do my works encourage a reader to commit a crime. My work explores damaged sexual proclivities from within a first person fictional narrative, often based around case histories. The abusers tend to be presented as weak, psychotic individuals caught in a spiral.’
Clause five of the Apple rejection states that the distributor selects not to represent contemporary fiction that may be viewed as being ‘Excessively objectionable or crude content’.
‘Again, click around Apple’s online stock and see what is being represented by this company that gave internet access to billions of people without appropriate blocking strategies in place to avoid loading all manner of degraded pornographic images. Such a pronouncement with a high moral tone contradicts such a public stance,’ says the writer who has also edited three leading LGBT anthologies in the past.
Waving a middle finger
This guy clearly knows the nature of the beast: his forthcoming 12-track spoken word album Ferris Wheel Kiss (Autopsy) hits with ‘Content Warning’, which spookily lists the contractual agreements that writers are to obey with many leading online distributors such as Smashwords and Tunecore. It’s Hartnett ridiculing, waving a middle finger. Punk.
‘The journalist Christopher Hooton inspired that track with a piece he wrote for The Independent last December, when pornography produced in the UK was quietly subjected to revised censorship through an amendment to the 2003 Communications Act. The Audiovisual Media Services Regulations 2014 now requires that video-on-demand (VoD) online porn now adhere to the same guidelines laid out for DVD sex shop-type porn by the British Board of Film Censors (BBFC). Hooton presented a list of changes in the pornography laws that listed the likes of female ejaculation as a no-no.’
Hartnett, it seems, is clear when it comes to porn.
The effects of internet porn need to be evaluated
‘In this digital age, I feel that the short-term and long-terms effects of internet pornography need to be assessed and evaluated. I do feel that this is an area ripe for debate. One way I address such issues is by actually inserting retractions within all works, including my forthcoming book series SEX : MALE, which is due out early 2016, 1st Jan.
‘Many an editor prioritises the needs of an advertiser. It’s estate agents and local authorities pushing fostering that bring in revenue, plus employers wishing to be seen to be proactively ticking the diversity box. Featuring the work of a writer such as myself might frighten the horses. That editorial policy sidelines LGBT authors. I view such a cold-shouldering as dismissive betrayal.’
Hartnett’s recent publication of a fictional television documentary with survivors of abuse by Catholic priests, (the aptly named << deletion >>, March, 2015) illustrates that he has actually gone to the extent of deleting any material that would breach rules laid down by companies such as Apple and Smashwords. In many ways the works are self-censored.
High risk literature
‘Whilst I am certainly a provocative writer, with my work being viewed as “high risk literature”, that self-censorship actually questions censorship and the moral tone of the publishing world, clearly restrictive right now.
‘My work explores the taboo areas of abuse and associated patterns of distress and disturbance. Having been educated by what amounted to a paedophile ring in West London’s Ealing, the mindset of many a sensationalised sex monster has always held a lure.’
Human rights activism
From a moral perspective, Hartnett is a recognised human rights activist, having recently addressed the area of manipulative and exploitative sex tourism in Sousse. Last year, Hartnett engaged in a regular dialogue with the Chief of Police in Sousse, plus Tunisia’s Head of Tourism, regarding the predatory male and female sex tourists who stalk youth for their sexual gratification.
Hartnett designed a range of posters and leaflets for Police, suggesting that these be positioned in and around sex tourist ‘hot spots’.
‘My work has a sharp focus upon dysfunctional behaviours in contemporary society. I write from a moral perspective and shine a light upon the thin veneer of decency that so many appear to have in this digital age. From immoral hypocrites within the Vatican to moralising corporations who judge without having reasoned.
‘Taboo subjects both repulse and draw me. It’s the mindset of chaotic characters that I find of interest, especially downward-spiralling sexual compulsives. The dark side of desire is to be fathomed, addressed, not run from.’
Prissy shit that’s super safe
‘My fear is that gay bookshops such as London’s Gay’s The Word will soon only be shelving the fiction section with classic works from the past by the usual buncha homo heavyweights, plus prissy shit that’s super safe, gracing some buff model on the cover.
‘What I write is raw and real, more to do with slamming, barebacking and the world of recon.com rather than the predictable inches within GT and Attitude. Whatever happened to the likes of Paul Burston and Mark Simpson for raising awareness of such a debate?
‘My hope is that online availability and print-on-demand options will offer alternatives to what mainstream publishers are dictating of their contracted writers. I view one role of a writer being that of kicking ass.’
With an a 4-track EP from Hartnett’s band << deletion >> due early December, followed a week later by a second spoken word album this year entitled The Very Idea, one sure thing is that PP Hartnett intends to indeed kick ass. Hard.
‘If you consider the widely-published work edited by the likes of Ira Silverberg, Amy Scholder or Dennis Cooper, then it’s clear that “alt lit” is happening and has been happening a long while. Let’s face it, mainstream sucks.’
Long ago in another era, Peter Paul Hartnett’s books might have been circulated in secret, explosive samizdat editions that friends and fans would pass around and savor like forbidden absinthe. His spoken word pieces look set to haunt the internet.
Whilst Hartnett’s most recent novel Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide (Sceptre) made Book of the Week in The Times upon publication, he expects press and resulting sales to be minimal – but sales are not Hartnett’s mission.
Ferris Wheel Kiss (Autopsy), PP Hartnett’s 12-track spoken word album, containing many pieces from Full Screen, is due 10 August 2015.
Full Screen (Autopsy) by PP Hartnett is due 17 August 2015.
Jesus Was A Popstar (Autopsy) by << deletion >>, a 4-track EP, is due 7 December 2015.
The Very Idea (Autopsy) by PP Hartnett’s 12-track spoken word album, is due 14 December 2015.
SEX : MALE (Autopsy) by PP Hartnett, is due 1 January, 2016
Find out more at hartnett.uk.com.