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An Interview-in-Excerpts with Henning Koch

Henning Koch was born in Sweden in 1962 but has spent most of his life in England, Spain, and Sardinia. He is a writer, screenwriter, and literary translator. In 2011, Dzanc published Love Doesn’t Work, a short story collection. The Maggot People is his first published novel. He lives in Berlin with his partner and their two-year-old son.

An excerpt from his novel, The Maggot People, appeared in Issue Sixty-One of The Collagist.

Here, he answers questions "in the form of excerpts"—with further excerpts from Tribute. Enjoy!

What is writing like?

“The guiltiest pleasure of all, of course, is to lose oneself in artificial stimuli. To this end there were sealed plastic bags scattered everywhere, each containing three syringes pre-loaded with the very finest pink Afghani heroin. The trick was to dose oneself until a small portion escaped into the brain, inducing a pleasant high lasting no more than ten or fifteen minutes. After that, the maggots pushed out the toxins.”


“At some point in the night he was awoken by a click of the latch, the door creaking and the weight of someone sitting down at the foot of his bed. There came a whisper: “Are you awake?”

‘I am now.’

He turned on his bedside lamp and saw a young woman sitting there, about twenty years old, more or less a carbon copy of Sophia Loren, only slightly less buxom.

‘Yes. I know,’ she said. ‘I’m eye-candy, but who cares?’”

“‘It’s all recycled,’ Janine whispered. ‘Everything is recycled here, even people…’”

What isn’t writing like?

“She stared at him, shaking her head at his baffling stupidity. ‘I don’t think your training is working. What kind of sugar-coated Disneyland do you live in?’

‘I think it’s just called normal life.’

‘Ha! There’s no normal life for you, my friend. Not any­more.’”


“They got on a train to Marseilles, then took a cab to the towering ferry in the harbor. Michael stood on deck, watching the tiered city basking in the late evening glow. Everything seemed perfect and dead as the great humming ship slipped its moorings and glided out.”

When you do it, why?

“Seized by a notion, he painted a small figure in one of the windows: a woman leaning out, hanging up a garment on a clothesline. As soon as she was there—a tiny black smudge in a corner—he felt she had acquired a life of her own. But who was she? What was she doing in that city? And did she have the Devil in her eyes?

Somehow he felt he might prefer her if she did.”


“People don’t choose their religion. Some are born in Salt Lake City and they can’t do anything about it.”

When you don’t, why?

“Being busy is overrated. People who know what they’re doing don’t do a bloody thing.”


“If I could choose freely, I should like to be alone, far away, in some small, inconsequential town where I had no friends and no duties, and I’d sit on the balcony in the mornings, reading books and minding my own business and never going to church.” He smiled fondly.

“At the close of that first endless day, Michael felt long languid convolutions running through his body, and it sank home that his spirit was now entirely in conflict with his physical self.

He felt a slithering under his skin, listened to the moist rustling of their tiny, waxed bodies, those dumb black heads and jaws chewing endless wormholes through everything that stood in their way.

He hated his limbs, his torso. He thought: ‘God rot this fucking bag of shit.’”


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