It’s a dreary autumn afternoon in Camberwell, a few weeks shy of Halloween, and the writer Charlie Fox and I are creeping around the grounds of a disused Church, looking for a decent spot to perch. We’d been thinking of different ‘monster zones’ to conduct this interview, and St George’s was by far the most relevant; not many people know this (and the story could well be bullshit), but the church was the scene of a dastardly vampire attack in September 1977. “VAMPIRE OUTRAGE IN CRYPT” shrieked the front page of The Sunday People: “Black Magic ghouls may be responsible for an orgy of body stealing and mutilation in the crypt of a London Church.” Decapitation, stakes driven through hearts – it was the whole shebang, and we were hoping to suck up some of the psychogeographic vibes. But why a monster zone I hear you ask? Well, Charlie Fox is the author of This Young Monster, a shape-shifting, gender-bending and genre-fucking collection of essays, the crux of which tries to answer one seemingly simple question: “namely, what’s it like to be a monster and what kind of art does such an identification demand you make?” Readers are taken down the rabbit hole with Alice to explore the work of Cindy Sherman and Alex Bag; Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s ravaged corpse acts as a perfect springboard into his cinematic oeuvre, whilst a suspiciously familiar teenage witch called Hermione flirts with Klaus, a skinhead vampire, as they discuss the ins and outs of artist Cameron Jamie’s back catalogue. ‘Pope of Trash’ John Waters gave his Apostolic blessing in the pages of The New York Times: “His breath of proudly putrefied air is really something to behold”, whilst Olivia Laing (in a mostly positive New Statesman review), was left feeling a little uneasy as regards the Diane Arbus chapter: “he skates perilously close to freak-show aesthetics”. “Perilously close?” Fox was to retort to me later, “I was hoping I was really in there.” Fox himself isn’t a bloodsucker, but he’s always loved that pale, fanged and shrouded look favoured by the likes of Count Dracula. His was a suburban childhood (“a kind of nowhere suburb”) filled with horror movies and fancy dress. “I was just really obsessed with vampires, with any kind of deformed, weird creature. I used to dress up like a vampire or a werewolf on the weekend. I really loved the idea of not being myself. I would change my name; I would do warped things that excited me. I’d go to the library and get loads of books on make up: ‘how to create your own burns’ or ‘how to make yourself look dead. That was a fun past time for me.” It had started to rain, and there wasn’t much monster activity occurring here - we were forty years too late for the action. But all this talk of corpse grinding had put me in mind of the late surrealist Salvador Dali, whose body had recently been exhumed to settle an ongoing Jeremy Kyle-style ‘Who’s the Daddy’ DNA dispute. Witnesses were delighted to see Dali’s trademark moustache perfectly intact, and the corpse well preserved – almost as if he could spring back to work painting melting clocks and crucifixes. I asked Charlie if he were able to bring one of his deceased cultural heroes back in zombie form, who would he pick? “It would be great to have River Phoenix back, have no work done on him, have him just be dead and have him acting in all of Gus Van Sant’s movies. It would just be awesome”. We decided to head into downtown Camberwell, Fox’s neighborhood, to continue our monster mash in a pub. Cutting through Burgess Park, Charlie regaled me with tales of his run-ins with local bouncers, who often object to his sartorial tastes involving leopard prints and skeleton leggings. One such confrontation had occurred only the week before, where a particularly moody door-gargoyle had demanded that Fox look him in the eye whilst trying to bar him entry. “But the thing is I have a wonky eye”, Fox lamented, “what did he want me to do, pull it out of its fucking socket and point it in his direction?” We headed into the Camberwell Arms, where Fox perched on a bench by the wall, nursing a chilled lemonade – he was off the booze after a heavy weekend. He emptied his pockets onto the table iphone, notebook, a lighter emblazoned with a feral raccoon sticker and fresh tube of fake blood, the bare necessities for any young writer keen to go bumping in the night. OSKAR OPREY: Can we talk about your definition of ‘monster’, cause I was looking it up in the dictionary and was really interested to see it used as a verb. There was an example: “my mum used to monster me for coming home so late”…. that sounds so dark… and weirdly sexual. CHARLIE FOX: Yeah! I always thought that too! ‘I’m gonna get there and I’m gonna monster you!’ OO: ‘He was beasted for making a mess’. CF: If you got beasted or you’re due a monstering it sounds absolutely filthy, which is cool. I don’t know if I did use it as a verb but I should have done. The definition of it is awesome on its own, it’s like poetry when you read it. In Latin it’s ‘monere’, which means ‘to warn’. It’s some kind of premonition of the future. There’s a moment in Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides, where the narrator of the book is intersex (so born male and assigned female gender), and she discovers this - has this revelation about herself - in 70s Detroit, by checking out literature about intersexuality at the library - or hermaphroditism as it was still called then like she’s still this kind of magical creature from Ovid or whatever. As she goes through the dictionary it says “hermaphrodite: see also monster” and then she goes to ‘monster’ and scans and it reads it all down and that’s a moment of like hideous wonder, of discovering herself as a monster. But to me, like my definition wouldn’t necessarily be that; it would always be like ‘drug’, some synthesis of weird things that causes some insane disturbance, whether in your body or your mind and those are the things that I really really madly love. Things that just sort of blow your brain up. Like seeing Leigh Bowery for the first time when I was sixteen. I can’t describe that as anything other than a monstrous effect. Because it just took the definitions of things, or what you could do, what art was, what a person was, what thinking was and just destroyed them and covered them in glitter and stitched them together and reactivated them. I mean that’s an astonishing thing to me. OO: Interestingly you’ve mentioned before that you yourself don’t like the idea of autobiography. CF: I don’t like it in a pure way. The idea of a pure confessional performance has no interest to me and I think some people are pissed off because they want more of that and feel that’s a pay off, like ‘how I learned to love the monster inside of me’ which is just…even as I describe it I wanna throw up…this masturbatory love story about learning to love your imperfections. What I wanted to do was take that role of writer and distort it and fuck it up as much as I can and feed it these weird things so you never really know what it is you’re dealing with – with all my work, not just the book. Like I’m telling you deeper things when it’s fiction – there are probably things which are far more personal but they’re being said by a teenage witch… cause some days you wake up and you don’t feel like a person, some days I don’t feel like I’m Charlie Fox. Some days I just feel like I’m dead. OO: Your publisher Fitzcarraldo Editions has become well known for their recognizable covers, or lack of covers I should say. But so much of your social media presence is visual- CF: Yeah it’s pretty much only visual: Winona Ryder in Beetlejuice, black unicorns, Ghostbusters, blotter acid… weird trash, magical things that I like. OO: So I was just wondering, if you had to have picked a cover image to define the book what would it have been? CF: I mean I would love the book to not even have a cover. I would love to do an edition that had claw marks going through it - a mauled version. Or a version like in Gremlins where if you got it wet something would happen to it, like it would grow fangs. I think that would be awesome. OO: I saw a Klaus Kinski still used for one of the tie-in events, that’s maybe what I would have envisioned. CF: When he’s the vampire? But he looks kind of old. OO: Oh yeah… cause it’s supposed to be This Young Monster not This Old Monster. The young monster reference is of course from A Clockwork Orange. CF: Yeah, I was just watching A Clockwork Orange at home and that just came into me, that phrase happened and I was like oh yeah that’s what my book’s called, and I wasn’t planning to write one at the time really. I just knew that’s what it would be called. OO: One thing I noticed when reading was that a lot of your subject matter is very American, compared to my own childhood where I was obsessed with things like The League of Gentleman or The Wicker Man . I remember thinking Oh God my interests were so parochial, but for me I wanted to obsess about scary things that I could actually encounter. I could visit that film location or go to that haunted castle, but with your book I wondered if the Americaness was part of the thrill for you. Buffy is set in a highschool in America and you’re a British kid in the suburbs. Fassbinder is European but is very influenced by Douglas Sirk and Hollywood … even Dracula and Frankenstein, they’ve all been filtered through Hollywood so much that although they’re British we often think of them as American. Do you think that’s a fair assessment? CF: Totally. Maybe if I’d thought about it in the same way as you things would have been different and easier in some way but I – and maybe it comes back to the autobiographical thing - but I’m very much not into the idea of home, you know what I mean? I like things that are otherworldly, I mean I love The League of Gentleman and I love the Wicker Man too. I don’t dislike English things necessarily. I’m just drawn to stuff that is alien in some way. And I think that’s a very shrewd thing for you to say, I like things that even if they appear European or whatever that it’s filtered through some kind of American…that there’s some kind of perversion going on there as well. But at the same time you can’t say that Fassbinder’s like… it’s not authentically German, it’s not like Wagner. The reason I’m kind of scornful or resistant of Englishness is because I didn’t grow up feeling super English or ‘authentically’ anything. OO: Let’s talk about Fassbinder, who you devote a whole chapter to. Have you seen every single one of his films? CF: Oh man, I think I’ve probably seen like twenty of them. The ones I really like are the last half dozen – like his five last years. Those to me are the ones that are just knockouts. He just worked out a way to do his own insane work that was really beautiful and ravishing, these fantastical things like “In a Year of 13 Moons’ or Querelle or Berlin Alexanderplatz. They just exist in a whole other plane; they’re so dense with references to other things, they have this weird druggy tempo, they’re very hypnotic and they have all this fantastic music going on, they’re very very beautiful and very ravishing. They’re political and they’re deeply sad. And also the characters in his films, it’s not something people talk about so much because I think people are very keen to talk about the transmission of a message in Fassbinder’s work: ‘this is the work of a gay, Marxist anarchist guy or whatever’. But people don’t pay attention to the fact that his characters are so peculiar, they have their own weird little lives, like the guy in Satan’s Brew who just gets all of his pleasure from torturing insects. OO: Oh I haven’t seen that one. My favourite is Martha, where she marries a sadist. And the real downers like Fox and his Friends, that’s why I stopped buying lotto scratchcards. CF: His jacket in that is so rad! That rhinestone-studded jacket…. OO: He’s sort of handsome in some of the films that he stars in. Sometimes you see him and he’s bloated and ugly and horrible and other times he’s quite… quite hot. CF: I think he got very trim to do Fox and His Friends cause he knew he was going to be the leading man. So he’d deliberately hit the gym and got really quite svelte for Fassbinder. Then I think he felt his work was done and he embraced his own degradation. Just before the end of his life he was saying to be monstrously ugly in some ways is like a great accomplishment, you can make art and remain monstrously ugly and appear on the cover of TIME looking ugly like that’s a great trick. There’s something about that that’s super- haunting... OO: When you think of Fassbinder as a monster are you thinking of his bullying personality or the actual degradation of his own body as you mentioned? I mean he never made a horror film in the traditional sense… CF: NO… but it in a way they’re all about torture and anguish and how hideous people can be to each other. But yeah obviously to me a monster is a positive thing and I just mean that he was too much for people, his talent was so explosive, and he just caused trouble. Not only did he do a lot of drugs and things to his body and behaved like this wicked king, but he was just creating this art that was just so unsettling but so beautiful. He was just taking this medium and taking all these horrors that all these people had known about, this stuff to do with the war and the specters of the war and this thing of being Fatherless- OO: Hitler’s children CF: Yeah Hitler’s children, and obviously the Badaar Meinhoff gang and everything –he performed if you like a kind of hijacking, a kind of terrorist maneuver against cinema to make this extraordinarily beautiful and brutal work. These exorcisms almost… so to me, I’m totally bowing to Fassbinder do you know what I mean? I’m still in awe, which I think everybody is. Like John Waters said, ‘If he was alive today, I’d fall to my knees in front of him.’ OO: I was reading a David Sedaris essay recently about him trying to learn German and it makes him reminiscence about “getting through all those Fassbinder films in the 80s”. Like it was a laborious task gay men did in 80s New York, a rite of passage. CF: He would bring out three a year. So people would get numb to his brilliance, ‘uh ok it’s another one and another one’. To do one of them every five years would have been amazing, would be a KO. OO: Like a Donna Tartt novel every ten years. That’s the other extreme… CF: Yeah or like Scott Walker, waiting ten or twelve years between records. But that he would do them every hundred days basically, like he would pull of something like Veronika Voss. I mean it’s different, not being gay myself, my relationship to it is slightly warped and I don’t identify with it the same way. For me it was a thing about, yet again, some sort of alien embrace. OO: Speaking of gayness, when I was reading the book I kept thinking, like, ‘I can’t tell if this guy is gay or not’. CF: Yeah! That’s interesting, that’s good. I wanted the sexuality of the book to be ambiguous, I liked that again it was another way of getting away from a sense of familiarity or safety or whatever, it would normally be framed in this explicit way of ‘I’m a monster’ and maybe it would be saying ‘I’m a monster because I’m gay and I’m gonna accept this’. There are parts where I transgender myself and I become female and there are parts with the Leigh Bowery chapter where I wanted it to have the feeling of like Cronenberg homoeroticism… , flesh! I really like to be in a space or invent a space where there can be all these ambiguities, weird feelings swirling around, where there can be all these things that are confusing but delicious at the same time, like being in a body, I guess. OO: It’s definitely ambiguous, but I like the idea of straight guys making queer work and queer guys making straight work. If you wanna be as black and white as that. CF: Yeah I like that too – I like that transaction, and you can probably pun on that for a while, of what happens if a man tries to be a woman or whatever or if you can take something that is seemingly made by a straight person but is like radiant with queer energy or whatever- OO: It’s nowhere near as controversial as if you were a white man trying to be a black man making work. That would get you in trouble. CF: I think that’s one of the things, and I’ve had people of colour tell me they really love the book, but the book doesn’t have a lot of African American presence or just black presences because obviously as a white male I’m not gonna… it’s a completely different thing, to say ‘this is a monster’ – that’s like a kind of overseer slave owner thing to me I just can’t and just wouldn’t ever wanna do that. And the other thing is you just reel out Basquiat or whatever, I could have done a Fassbinderesque thing about him, but it’s just kind of bullshit in a way. Michael Jackson is in the there, obviously, and Michael Jackson is another magical person who… OO: Michael Jackson is his own, erm.., CF: His own gender, his own race, his own whole thing. I really liked having Michael in there because I’m really fascinated, like everybody else, because he’s almost like the example of how badly wrong fantasy can go, how far away from reality you can get and how fucked up you can be –he really did just transform himself into something that wasn’t even human anymore. It’s difficult to remind yourself when you look at him, like what he was – he’s one of those people, he’s not even been dead for that long a time, I guess he’s been dead for nine years. OO: It was 2009 cause I remember exactly where I was when it happened. CF: I was like seventeen and blitzed and huffing amyl nitrate in my living room and I remember watching live footage on News24. Huff – looked up – huff – Michael Jackson’s dead. OO: This is the other reason I thought you were gay – cause you kept writing about poppers. Laughter CF: There’s a lot of poppers in the book! Poppers are great! OO: It makes you blind though, so they say… I’m now terrified of them. CF: Wow! What, if you do them enough? OO: It damages your eyesight and stuff – there always trying to get at our legal highs. CF: I knew a guy, he’d never done them before and he was just pouring it up his nose and I remember he was in agony - it was an innocent thing. I like that deranged innocence. I think that’s something in Harmony Korine’s films, people who aren’t good or bad they just do these things because it fills them with a malevolent glee. And that’s the feeling I’m trying to get high on all the time. OO: What kinda women do you go for? Maybe a grown up Hermione Granger in that new stage show. A witch MILF? CF:….. yeah sure. LAUGHTER. Maybe that’s the kind of woman I would like to be. I think she would be too smart for me. OO: Too smart for you? You are pretty smart though! I think you and Hermione could eh… you know… CF: I like witches. I know a lot of witches who are, yknow, great. I’m really attracted to – cause I think it’s the same thing, this magical thing, taking material and altering it. OO: Have you ever dated a witch? CF: No, I mean I would like to. I like goths, I like witches… OO: They should bring out a dating app… CF: Yeah that would be good wouldn’t it, an occult version of tinder. Or an occult Grindr. I do like girls who have a witchy aspect, but I like men who have a witchy feeling too. I don’t feel like belonging to a 100% idea of straightness at all. Willow was always my favourite character in Buffy, I wasn’t interested in Buffy very much. I think there is a thing of being drawn to these queer things that still seems somehow like…powerfully wrong. . But I also just love the thing of Cindy Sherman or Diane Arbus looking at bodies in not even a sexual way, they’re almost like meat or fun house creatures or some other species and I like, again, that trans-action thing of looking at bodies. OO: Speaking of bodies, so out of the all the material you reference and specifically the things I hadn’t seen before, the one that really really shocked me when I eventually saw it was the film Dream Deceivers. CF: Yeah! OO: … and it was just when I saw the guy’s face I shuddered. CF: Yeah, no I mean it’s horrifying to look at the first time. OO: I suppose what’s interesting is that idea of subliminal messages within pop culture. If you could put any subliminal messages in your book what would they be? CF: I mean firstly Dream Deceivers is awesome. I think it’s an insane story about how ravaged America is, the ruin of America and also you’re given time with this hopelessly mutilated person, a person who doesn’t even seem human. OO: And the mother who starts off as the archetypal good Christian, and as the documentary goes on you’re like aw in actual fact you run a really quite broken home, there’s a lot of abuse and eh… CF: Just degradation. And how much that film ghosts through Gummo, it’s definitely one of the things that haunts that movie. So if I could put subliminal messages in, cause I really like that idea umm…. OO: Do it! CF: Yeah I think ‘do it’ is probably the best thing to say, it is about setting things on fire, it’s not an accident that the last words of the book are about a boy on fire, so in a way ‘do it’ is the perfect thing but it’s just about like causing trouble and raising hell. OO: But they did say do it in the songs… by accident. CF: Yeah, ‘do it, do it, do it.’ OO: But they’re not saying ‘blow your face off with a shotgun’. CF: It could be saying ‘do your homework’. It could be really banal, maybe Nancy Reagan put it in there. I mean you never know. They created the parental advisory stickers for records, because Prince’s ‘Darling Nikki’ has that line about him seeing this girl masturbating but that’s not even at the best part! At the end of the song has these backwards bleugh bleugh bleugh you know backwards stuff, if you play it backwards it’s like God is Coming, God is Coming, which is holy and filthy at once and playing around with this whole Satanic subliminal message theory. There’s some really great footage of Prince where he’s recording a vocal with this gospel singer and he asks her to sing God is Coming like a dog in heat. I just think that’s the most incredible poetry ever. OO: I didn’t realize until the end that the guy kills himself, cause I was thinking oh I’m gonna Google him now to see what he looks like. CF: Like a Buzzfeed from hell. “You won’t believe what they look like now”. But he had a child after he was deformed like that. OO: Well it made me think really terrible things like, oh is he ever going to have sex again? CF: It’s gotta be with someone whose gonna get off on that. He could give a really good blowjob with that weird one tooth and that weird just a hole in his face. I think my publisher/editor/all-round wizard Jacques was like ‘we should definitely use a picture of him’ in the thing, I was like have you looked for any pictures of him? And he was like nope, and then he did and was like ‘This is bleak…’ I remember seeing that documentary when I was sixteen and I had to physically work myself up to watch it because it made me feel so horrible. To be left with that I think that was something that was really devastating to me. OO: A constant reminder that you fucked up, your best friend’s dead. CF: You’ve tried to kill yourself because you can’t imagine things getting any worse and then you’re just thrown into this reality, which is just a thousand times worse. OO: And you’re stuck with your Mom making you dinner… CF: You’ve got one tooth and this mangled puppet face and you’re probably blasted on Demerol just to make your life even vaguely bearable. I remember seeing Blue Velvet when I was eleven, and I got this kid at school to tape it for me…he gave me the tape and he’d spelt out Blue Velvet in tiny little ripped up post-it notes so it was like B L U like this and he was like ‘I don’t know what this is, but you’re weird for liking it, and um I don’t wanna ever speak to you again.’ So I was so excited to get this home and watch it, something that had that kind of impact on people just made me feel so good. He gave me the copy on the Friday and it was the same weekend that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix had come out. So I remember thinking I’ll read Order of the Phoenix and then when that’s done I’ll watch Blue Velvet. So I did, so I read the whole book um and then on the Sunday afternoon I watched Blue Velvet. So my childhood ended on that weekend basically. OO: You end the book with Trump’s election victory, so maybe we should end this interview with real life monsters. Do you think Trump is a monster, but in a different sense of the word? CF: Yeah, yeah, yeah . So that was very important that it had to be in, he was elected and the book was finished. I mean I literally handed in the manuscript on Halloween so the ending was actually different and then when we were doing the edits I revised it because I felt like OK I need to use Trump in a way to illustrate exactly what the book isn’t because I felt maybe there is a fatal ambiguity there. For a while ‘Trump as Monster’ was circulating, it was in the air. With Trump, he’s a different kind of monster because he represents all the things that are just gross, it’s not troublemaking - it’s a kind of entitled, chauvinistic, misogynistic, racist, homophobic thuggery. He’s not taking anything strange and spotlighting it. OO: The hair is quite strange… CF: …he’s just affirming his own beliefs. He believes he’s right and there’s no magic trick, there’s no transformation, there’s no drawing in these feral forces. He’s just a kind of racist grandfather, like whenever you see him in the White House he’s just like an aggressive drunk. OO: It’s the suburban nightmare, he’s like the mother from Dream Deceivers. CF: Yeah I think so and it’s like a kind of sense of everything is right, do you know what I mean? I am right. This is a thing that I hate. I don’t wanna feel that I’m ever right about things. I don’t want to feel like right inside. I want to be disorientated, I want to be scared, delighted, going fucking wild, I want it to be like a drug. Trump is like proof that sentimentality and nostalgia are the most toxic emotions that you can possibly have. And to use that as a weapon too – that you can actually sell people what’s fundamentally a vision of sweetness, it’s almost like a very Disneyesque vision that he’s selling to white people and so that had to be as far away as possible from the book. Obviously the book was written to the backdrop of the election and one of the sustaining things that I would use, like a bump of some trippy stimulant to me, was I’ll just try and do a book that Donald Trump hates. I felt like if I just cram it with as many things that a certain kind of rightwing xenophobic homophobe hates then I will have accomplished something and it will have this… heat . OO: Did you ever send him a press copy? CF: I would love to send one to the Whitehouse, but I would get them to do drawings to go with it . I would do a really deluxe edition that would cost a couple of thousand dollars cause that would make it more valuable and more worthwhile to him because it was pricey. And it would be all gold. And there would be like a vile of puke, so you just open it out and bile would just go all over your hand – I would love to send him that copy. OO: What about someone local like George Osbourne who apparently wants Theresa May chopped up in bags in his freezer, which is a very serial killer horror statement to make. More Ed gein than Freddy Krueger. Can you imagine George Osbourne wearing Theresa May’s skin? CF: Just going full Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs. It’s weird, just because the Conversatives in the 80s, when he was a schoolboy, were so against the video nasties and the illicit videos. OO: Mary Whitehouse, that kind of thing. CF: Yeah, and some of them obviously found their way into young George’s (Gideon’s) hands, they were being passed around the fucking common room or whatever. There’s a real toxic misogyny in that line too. Like saying “I won’t rest until’ what is it ‘until she’s cut up’? OO: Hacked up in his freezer. CF: Whoa… but it’s also just showing how smothered these people are that they present themselves as being so warm and so… normal but inside they think these really warped thoughts. We all do. It’s so hot to just puke out that stuff that scares or unnerves you because that’s really what you want. Cover it in fur and glitter and know that beauty isn’t this one thing: werewolves are beautiful, Mike Kelley’s poor little dolls are beautiful, the Wicked Witch of the West is beautiful… OO: Final question, lets go for something sweet. So we’re approaching Halloween. When I was reading the book I was trying to figure out whether you were the kind of guy that would have best the costume at the party or would stay at home and just watch horror films by yourself. What kind of person are you? CF: I like to do a good costume. OO: What were you going to go as this year? CF: I was thinking about this the other day. I mean you do have your classics, like obviously this year it’s going to be all about the clown from It. There’s going to be so many clowns, it’s going to be an absolute plague. OO: It’s going to be a circus. CF: An absolute circus. Sometimes I just wanna go glam witch. So it would be good to go as Hecate with some dogs and have loads of wild beasts and just set them free. I also think it would be good to go as someone unknown. If you went as Martin Margiela, so nobody knows who you are, you’re a ghost but you are still Margiela in your beautiful deranged wardrobe. OO: I totally think you should go as Margiela!