The OF Blog: An Interview with Sebastian Peake

Friday, May 26, 2006

An Interview with Sebastian Peake

Mr. Sebastian Peake, Mervyn Peake's son honoured us accepting to do this interview. Thank you, Mr. Peake.

Could you tell us something more about yourself? According to your blog, you are working with Mervyn Peake Awards, as a writer and as a wine trader. How does wine come into this picture?

I began working in the wine trade in the 1970's as the result of an introduction to a friend of my parents' who owned a prestigous wine company. The owner suggested I might like to learn the trade and sent me to Scholl Vollrads, Germany's premier wine estate in the Rheingau. I've remained in the trade ever since, running Peake Wine Co for the last 25 years.

What can you tell us about Mervyn Peake awards? What is an average number of artists that are nominated every year?

In 2000 I suggested to the then chief executive of the Parkinson's Disease Society that as my father had been a victim of the disease, but carried on working despite awful restrictions to the producing of his art, encouragement might be given to others by an annual award. They agreed and around 200 entries are submitted each year in three catagories; art, poetry and photography.

You are giving regular talks on your late father. What are some of the things you like to point out about him, his work and his life?

I give regular talks Amsterdam last week Hay-on-Wye next week, the Edinburgh Festival in August etc. I use powerpoint which displays his wider art, while reading from his poetry at certain appropriate junctures in the talk which describe his home life, upbringing, school days, influences, and the later debillitating effects of Parkinson's.

Could you tell us something about your father's personality? What was he like when he wasn't working?

His personality was ebulient, humourous, and practical joking, but he was charming but with a very embedded sense of the gentlemanly way of behaving. The son on a medical missionary he did not drink or swear saving his outbursts for what really mattered, exposing the charlatan in art by gentle ridicule and brilliant examples of faux tableaux.

Your father worked as an illustrator, poet and writer. How did he manage to do all three things at the same time? Did he have some kind of working routine?

His energy was prodigous, and although he worked en famillie, would set about creating his very idiosyncratic world via application, dedication and professionalism directed solely at getting the job; illustration, drawing, writing, or play-writing completed in time, and with his very best efforts in mind.

Gormenghast came to life during your father's service in military. Could you tell us how he managed to continue with writing under those circumstances?

He was lucky enough to have had a very sympathetic commanding officer in charge of his unit in the army. A man predisposed to the arts the officer gave private Peake a very free hand to continue with his writing and drawing. One day however a particularly verbose sergeant major catching sight of my father called out to to him that he should present himself for inspection. After a cursory glance at my father's uniform and general appearance the sergeant bellowed out 'Get yer 'air cut, you look like a bloody poet'...

How would he make up the characters in his books? Were they a sketch of people he knew, or were they totally fictional? What about the names?

The characters were formed very much from people he'd seen both at school and later at art college, which formed a visual amalgam together with friends of his parent's. Later, when living in the Sussex countryside, during the writing of Titus Groan names were chosen with my mother during their many walks on the Downs and in the locality of Burpham village where they lived.

Your father spent the most of his childhood in China. How did it, if it did, influence his works?

China had a very profound influence on his life and work. His first language was Mandarin for instance during much of the 11 years in the country and the sights and sounds of Chineses life found their way into much of his later writing.

Who were the authors he was reading?

Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allen Poe, Cervantes, Balzac, as writers, Goya, Velasquez, Rembrandt, Tintoretto, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci as painters.

Your father spent the most of his career ill. Did the illness affect his writing and drawing style?

He was not 'ill for most of his career' rather from the age of 45/6 the slow onset of Parkinson's Disease and the dormant enchepylitis lethargica which manifested itself about that age, prevented (see above) from working to his best. The two diseases ruined his life.

Thank you for being so kind to answer these questions for us. Thank you for your time and patience, Mr. Peake.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


Thanks for this interview.

It's great to see great writers also read the great Dickens.

I loved the fact that Peake never gave up.

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