Richard Milward: Tall tale
Inspired to be a writer by Trainspotting, Richard Milward is doing for Middlesbrough what Irvine Welsh did for Edinburgh. Malcolm Jack meets him
Bedraggled old residential tower blocks are gradually being demolished in towns and cities across the UK. Yet, young Middlesbrough author Richard Milward has reversed the trend in his own small way, by erecting a sky-high tale from a solid stack of funny, heartfelt and fantastical streaming prose. Milward’s second novel, Ten Storey Love Song, follows up his warmly received 2007 debut Apples, published when he was just 23. It experiments with an unusual writing structure by squeezing the narrative into one 286-page long paragraph. ‘I’ve always been interested in how the form of a novel can influence the subject matter,’ Milward explains. ‘So this book just looks like one big block of text. I use the concept by setting the story in a block of flats. It’s like a theatre backdrop for all these characters to come in and out of.’
Raised in the Middlesbrough commuter town of Guisbrough, Milward drifted into a bohemian existence, spending his late teens and early twenties writing, studying fine art and binging on pills, booze, Kerouac and Basquiat. The various seamy characters he’s met and weird experiences he’s lived through populate his fictional Peach House. ‘I wanted to get a lot of stories off my chest. Sex and drugs and all these kind of things were boiling up in my head. It seemed like a good environment to spew them out in.’ Bobby the Artist paints freakish, gaudy, nude depictions of his Haribo-munching girlfriend while wildly out of his face; across the hall his chavvy best mate Johnnie frets over pleasuring his tarty layabout girlfriend Ellen, between casually dealing ecstasy, robbing mobile phones and battering anyone that so much as looks at his missus. Elsewhere, a rag-tag assembly of supporting misfits linger in the tower’s corridors.
A big fan of Irvine Welsh, Milward embellishes real life events colourfully, yet he isn’t scared to admit where the joins occur. ‘Things like crapping myself on pills in a nightclub: I’m not afraid to say I’ve done that,’ he reveals, laughing. Another personal strand is woven through Bobby’s experience of becoming reluctantly famous when a London gallery discovers his work: Milward became a ‘bit disillusioned’ by the Big Smoke as a student at Central Saint Martin’s College. ‘When I was writing this book, Apples was just taking off and I was going to all these parties full of literary darlings and people who just kiss your arse. I just wished I was back in Middlesbrough with my friends having a pint.’
Comfortably resettled in the North East, Milward spends his time writing, getting ‘off his head’, resisting approaches to pen scripts for Skins (‘I hate it; posh kids getting money from mummy and daddy to be a bit wacky’) and working on a UK Film Council-funded screenplay for Apples, albeit slowly. ‘With novel writing you can conjure anything up. If you want to suddenly turn everyone into an octopus you can. But if you do that in a screenplay, someone’s got to film it. I don’t know if it’s something I’ll do again. There are no real restraints on my writing, and that’s what makes it beautiful.’
Ten Storey Love Song is published by Faber on Thu 19 Feb.