What is the most quintessential anti-tourism site—the place it would be hardest for a travel agent to write an appealing blurb for?

I think the planet Pluto is a pretty rotten place to visit. It’s freezing, very far away, and you have to wear a goldfish bowl on your head if you want to go for a walk. Closer to home, I once spent a weekend in Huddersfield and that was also really rancid. We anti-tourists are spoilt for choice. The cosmos is full of godforsaken holes.

Where did you feel most remote from your own culture?

In Kalmykia. I was in the middle of a desert which just happened to contain a city dedicated to chess and while I was there the Queen Mother died. Watching scenes of grief stricken royalists on TV while I was rotting in a hotel room in a distant void had a very alienating effect. The rest of the time, though, I felt strangely close to all the lost souls I met, that we had much more in common than otherwise.

You wrote this book because your life needed direction and you didn’t want to work for the British Council or become an international mercenary. Aren’t authors supposed to keep things like that a secret and pretend books just well out of them naturally?

Some authors come out with tosh like: ‘my dog died and so I joined the circus for a year and rode elephants to see if I could ever love animals again’, and then act as if the book they’ve written is just an accidental by-product of this semi-mystical spiritual quest. Complete hokum of course. I can’t be bothered with nonsense like that.

Did you find the direction you were looking for?

Yes, and more than that. I found a perfect excuse to indulge all of my dark obsessions. If, like me, you love wastelands, death, psychosis and general freakery, society is a lot more accepting if you’re a writer. I was into all this stuff before I wrote the book but it frightened people.

What is the ultimate anti-tourist experience you had? Can it be encapsulated in a Mig Mag burger, a conversation, a place or a building?

It would be hard to beat the Palace of Chess: an abandoned green glass pyramid set deep in limbo, guarded 24 hours a day by big strapping lads with machine guns and yet utterly empty, except for a photo of Chuck Norris and some chess tables. At the same time, accidentally whacking the Chief Druid of the Mari Pagans in the face with his own holy staff also stands out.

Emma Rubach, The Big Issue

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