Interview: Leaf Fielding
Leaf Fielding is the author of ‘To Live Outside the Law’, a book that chronicles Leaf’s life and his involvement with the production and distribution of LSD during the 1970s in Britain, which led to his imprisonment during the police force’s infamous Operation Julie. Leaf’s been kind enough to lend PsypressUK his thoughts on writing the book, the counterculture and psychedelic literature.
PsypressUK: At the end of To Live Outside the Law you wrote: “I did my best to write my story in the moment” but what reasons inspired you to tell your story now, in 2011? And, what did you find were the most challenging aspects of putting your story to paper and publisher?
Leaf:I get asked this question a lot. Why now? Because it’s finally ready. To Live Outside the Law has been twenty-seven years in the making… I went to India soon after getting out of prison and wrote the first draft in longhand, on the beach in Goa. That initial attempt to tell the story didn’t include the prison years, but was very affected by them: it was clumsily written, full of anger, and the tone lurched erratically all over the place. So it was a mess – but a very therapeutic mess. In the end it took ten drafts, and nearly three decades, before I was entirely happy with it.
The most challenging sections were the prison chapters, both writing them and getting the correct balance between them and the rest of the book. The publishing part was the least problematic. My agent loved the book and justified his confidence by finding me a wonderful publisher in Serpent’s Tail.
Psypressuk: Throughout the book, when you talk about your psychedelic experiences, there is a move through personal, more psychologically-tempered insights, through political and, later, ecologically-minded ones. To what degree do you believe that these insights are either culturally-tempered, or lessons intrinsic to the psychedelic state?
Leaf: From the personal through the political to the ecological… these are natural lines of growth in an individual’s development, each a step up to a wider awareness. I’d say psychedelics enhance – rather than initiate – this development.
PsypressUK: There is a very real feeling of division between establishment and counterculture values within your story – I especially enjoyed the passage set in Bristol Crown Court that pointed out the hypocricies of the building’s motifs depicting tobacco and slave trades. Was it in your mind when you were writing it that you were giving the first insider account, as opposed the establishment perspectives that have thus far appeared? And therefore offering a “counter” perspective on the events?
Leaf: I was very aware that at no time had our side of the story been heard – and it has long been important to me to tell it.
PsypressUK: What sort of response have you had from the book? Have people been grateful to hear the other side? Or, has their been any negative feedback?
Leaf: I’ve had an entirely positive response to the book, no negative feedback at all. It does appear that attitudes are changing, prejudices eroding. I hope they continue to do so.
PsypressUK: Looking back on the media-dubbed “Operation Julie” events now it seems that the voices of the defendants were pretty much throttled by the newspapers. At a time now, when penalties are becoming more severe for those involved in the production and distribution of LSD, do you think it is likely that the media will remain a hostile ground? And for what reasons?
Leaf: I think it likely that much of the media will continue to be hostile to drugs in general, including psychedelics. It’s a commercial matter: drugs make good screaming headlines which sell more copies/raise ratings.
PsypressUK: You mention a number of works of psychedelic literature in To Live Outside the Law – could you tell us what texts have had the largest influence on your thinking about psychedelics?
Leaf: The largest influence on my thinking about psychedelics has come from the substances themselves, not from anything I’ve read. That said, there are some good books on the subject. Aldous Huxley’s The Doors of Perception, Heaven and Hell is a classic. In 1967, Stafford and Golightly published LSD The Problem-Solving Psychedelic. In the sixties I was pretty impressed by Timothy Leary, but only for a while. I loved Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. In 1972 Jeremy Sandford published In Search of the Magic Mushroom. An excellent history of LSD in the States is Jay Stevens’s Storming Heaven. The British equivalent is Andy Robert’s Albion Dreaming.
PsypressUK: Have you any plans for more books or projects in the pipeline?
Leaf: Yes, I’m about to resume work on the second part of my memoir, which includes travels in India and Africa and ends on a live volcano in Guatemala. The heart of the book is about the setting up of a home for street children, mostly AIDS orphans, in Malawi. Projects? If finances permit, I will return to Malawi. My wish is to build another home for homeless children
PsypressUK would like to thank Leaf for taking the time to answer our questions and wish him all the best in his future projects. To read more about his book, please visit the PsypressUK review of To Live Outside the Law.