HAVING left school in England at 16 with no qualifications and being dyslexic, the chances of Cork-based Carl Plover (who goes under the moniker Wasps vs. Humans) writing novels were slim.
But the 52-year-old punk performance poet, drummer and writer, has just self-published his second book, a novella entitled Evel America.
Carl has also written four plays, one of which was recently staged at the Firkin Crane and in the UK in a programme called 4-Play.
His new novelIa is about an Evel Knievel fan who is obsessed with the American stunt performer — Knievel, who died in 2007, was famous for his reckless motorcycle jumping over buses and other obstacles, even including sharks.
In the book, Carl’s protagonist stays indoors in his flat, watching TV, in particular American shows. It’s the 1970s, when the US seemed like a glamorous place.
Carl, whose first novel was called The Mattress, recalls staying up late on weekend nights as a boy in Lincoln in England, watching TV cop show Starsky and Hutch.
“I also remember being transfixed by the skyscrapers in America and the long cars,” he says. “It was always sunny and everybody was beautiful. It seemed like a magical place.”
Dissatisfied with his own life, the character that Carl has created through television.
The character invents a persona called Bobby America, who has a glamorous wife, two kids and a hot shot job. But this alter ego becomes exposed to the often dark side of America in the shape of Charles Manson, Dr Martin Luther King’s struggle, a death row inmate, General Custer, the Boston marathon bomber, and an ISIS hostage. All this, without leaving his room.
Bobby America has ‘conversations’ with Evel Knievel. “Reality and imagination morph into each other. I’ve written an unusual book. As the story went on, I realised that maybe the man in the room is all of us. We can all do what he does, living our life through somebody else. Is he hiding from something or running away from something?
Carl adds teasingly: “There is a big reveal at the end. It came as a surprise to me. It seemed to happen organically.”
When he was choosing which celebrity would loom large in his novella, he decided to pick someone “more interesting than say Beyoncé or Kim Kardashian. I remembered Evel Knievel as a child. He went bankrupt at one stage, he was in prison, he broke every bone in his body. He really took on challenges. I liked that.”
Carl is not averse to challenges himself. When he left school to do a stint on building sites, he decided he wanted to be a drummer and “lived for music”. He was in a band called 4,000,000 Telephones — BBC DJ John Peel gave them airplay.
He also was drawn to the theatre and likes the work of Alan Bennett. He was a fan of Alan Bleasedale of Boys From The Blackstuff fame.
Because he was a working class boy “with a lack of education, I thought theatre would be too exclusive for me”. Carl adds: “But there were fantastic TV dramas in the ’70s and ’80s. I liked gritty and dark stuff and films by Mike Leigh. I loved poets like Dylan Thomas. He was a big influence. John Cooper Clarke (the Manchester performance poet) is another influence. I supported him twice.”
As it turns out, Carl has worked in every art form that interests him, including theatre. At school, he feels he was “cast aside. It was the early ’70s. My mum thought I was dyslexic but she was told I was fine. I didn’t know where I fitted in. Because I didn’t feel academic, I was put in the practical class doing woodwork. But I didn’t feel very practical either. So joining a band was like a religious experience. I was good at it, showing off, banging on the drums and singing.”
Did he dream of being a rock star? “I did, but I wasn’t one although I was nearly there! Success is all relative. If you’re doing something you love and somebody likes it, that’s a degree of success.”
While dyslexia affected him at school, Carl says he has never let it stop him doing anything since. “Some people think it’s a big barrier. But it’s not. It’s a pain in the ass. I can’t spell big words but there are spell checks and when you write a book, it’s proofed.”
To compensate for leaving school with no academic qualifications, Carl has a degree in script writing for film and television from Newcastle University. He started studying there at 24 as a mature student. Now 52 and married to Linda, the couple have three children. Life, says Carl, “is good. The adventure of it keeps you going.”
The next project on the horizon is writing a sitcom. For this writer, it’s a case of nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Evel America, by Wasps vs Humans, published by Yellow & Black Publishing, March 15.