DBC Pierre (born Peter Warren Finlay) is a writer known for his novel Vernon God Little. The "DBC" part of his nom-de-plume (normally so written, without punctuation) stands for "Dirty But Clean". "Pierre" was a nickname bestowed on him by childhood friends after the cartoon character "Dirty Pierre" from the television series "Super-6".
He was born in South Australia in 1961, before moving to Mexico, where Pierre was largely raised. Having since lived in Spain, Australia, England and the West Indies, he now resides in the Republic of Ireland.
Pierre was awarded the Booker Prize for fiction on 14 October 2003 for Vernon God Little, his first novel, becoming the third Australian-born author to be so honoured. Upon winning the Whitbread First Novel Award in 2004 he became the first writer ever to receive a Booker and a Whitbread for the same book. The book also won the Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman Prize for comic literature at the Hay Festival in 2003, and earned the author a James Joyce Award from the Literary and Historical Society of University College Dublin.
Born into an old Reynella winery homestead in South Australia, where his father was lecturing in genetics at the University of Adelaide, by the age of 2 Pierre had already spent time in the United States, the South Pacific and Great Britain. He was then raised from early childhood into his 20s in a lavish mansion in Mexico City's landmark modernist community of Jardines del Pedregal, and attended Edron Academy. Pierre wrote of his upbringing in the British magazine Quintessentially in December 2009:
In the neighbourhood where I grew up I was only once ever sniped with a gun. Only one Bengal tiger ever threatened me there, and of all the earthquakes only one was ever strong enough to throw me out of bed. One raccoon lived there, who was my pet. And despite our house ... being immense, still only one child was ever discovered hidden in an upstairs room for over a decade who neither I nor my parents knew anything about. Among the neighbour’s daughter’s wedding presents were thirteen cars; but it wasn’t that neighbour’s Bengal tiger which threatened me.
Pierre was taken to revisit this home by Alan Yentob for the BBC television series Imagine in 2004. He reflected that the seeds of a later troubled and often outrageous youth were planted there, citing constant attendance by servants, and a social system where money could buy anything including the law. Pierre has told the press that of the gang of 7 youths that formed his fast-living teenage milieu, only he and one other survive today. In the Yentob documentary, a childhood friend and neighbour of Pierre's, the financier and industrialist Antonio Mayer, stated that "we were bad - but we weren't rotten".
Owing to his father's work around the globe Pierre was part of the original jetset, and claims that constant travel took its toll on his academic life, though he was always able to draw and paint, and was published as a cartoonist while still in his early teens. He went on to practice photography, graphic design and filmmaking, working freelance for clients around the world. His varied cultural background added more reasons to travel - his mother was born in the shadow of Durham castle in North East England, and Pierre also once attended Bow School there as a child. He recalls in a Guardian article of 1 September 2004, that he would later return to Durham most years, usually around the 2nd week in July, to see the Big Meeting. Also known as the Durham Miners Gala, the event was at one time the largest gathering of mineworkers outside the Soviet Union. He found the meeting of working folk moving and inspiring, and enjoyed contact with more "realistic" family roots than those suggested by his opulent existence in Mexico City. His first setback was when, aged seven, he fell ill with hepatitis and had to spend a year in bed. After he recovered, his parents were faced with the choice of keeping him a year behind in school, or letting him stay in his class and just catch up. They chose the latter. Pierre sees this as his "all the trouble began when ... " moment, as it meant him falling out with his peers.
His father, once decorated as a Lancaster Bomber pilot in World War 2, by then a scientific partner to Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman E. Borlaug, fell ill when Pierre was sixteen, and died three years later. During that time Pierre was left alone with the family mansion and its servants and cars. He later said that in trying to deal with his father's slipping away from him he started a party at the house which "Ran for more than a decade in some form or other." He also spent long periods in New York City and on the Mediterranean, until President José López Portillo issued a decree nationalising Mexico's banking system and greatly devaluing its currency overnight. Pierre has called the period of his father's illness and death, and the financial collapse which cost his family much of its fortune, "the beginning of my problems".
Pierre's permanent residency in Mexico ended at Reynosa on the United States-Mexican border in the middle of the night when he was stopped trying to import a 6-litre sports car. He intended to drive through the Sonora Desert to Mexico City, but Mexico at the time had a protectionist auto industry, making foreign vehicle imports illegal to all but tourists. Pierre succeeded in crossing with the car but found his papers cancelled by the time he reached Mexico City some 18 hours later. The border crossing at Reynosa is described and celebrated in Pierre's novel Vernon God Little, as is the journey by road from the border.
Pierre asserts that of the following years, nine were spent in a drug-induced haze, culminating with a stay in Australia where he finally collapsed. He described this period of his life in an interview given on the Australian television show Enough Rope with Andrew Denton in 2006:
I was lucky enough to be in Australia at the time, having come back to try my luck. The support network was fantastic. There's immediately the safety net under you here, which, in the rest of the world I wouldn't have survived, definitely. But, here, I was taken into therapy, where they told me that ... I was in the grip of bad psychology, and that this rabbit was never going to come out of the hat and I should get used to the idea, which was what I needed at the time.
During his 20s he had been involved in illegal and unprofitable schemes, including one aimed at mounting a film production to explore the fall of the Aztec Empire and follow trails to the remains of Aztec Emperor Moctezuma, and possibly to his lost treasure, the whereabouts of which remains one of Mexico's great mysteries. He has also confessed to once selling the apartment of an American neighbour in Spain and using much of the proceeds ($34,000) to finance his drug habit, as well as taking possession of a police car in Mexico and using it as his own for many months. For most of the 1990s, he lived as a recluse; in his own words, "repolarising and deconstructing" himself while listening to Russian and German orchestral music. After years of recovery and patchy employment he wrote his first novel on the floor of a box-room in Balham, south London, finally agreeing a publication deal with Faber & Faber on September 11, 2001, 45 minutes before the tragic attacks on New York. In the following weeks he relocated to a remote mountainside in County Leitrim, Ireland, where he began work on a second novel. The Booker Prize comes with a monetary award of GBP 50,000. Upon being notified of his victory, Pierre said that the money would go part way toward paying off the debts incurred in his 20s, when psychological issues and drug abuse were driving forces.
In 2005 DBC Pierre revisited the Mexico of his youth to finally explore and document the downfall of the Aztecs. In this revealing Channel 4 documentary he revisits the Aztecs' epic tale of decline and conquest. The Last Aztec, part historical film and part road movie, was aired in 2006 and follows Pierre as he traces the advance of the Spanish conquistadors toward the Aztec capital. It also picks up the threads he had intended to pursue in his ill-fated production of years earlier, centring on the wizards and witches of an Otomi culture in a remote valley in the Sierra Madre mountains of central Mexico.
In 2007 his award-winning first novel, Vernon God Little, was adapted by Tanya Ronder for the London stage. It was directed by Rufus Norris at the Young Vic from 27 April – 9 June. To date the work has been translated in more than 40 countries worldwide and produced as a play by at least four theatre companies. The book has also been optioned for film, but no production has yet taken place.
In 2009, he donated the short story "Suddenly Dr Cox" to Oxfam's Ox-Tales project, four collections of UK stories written by 38 authors. Pierre's story was published in the Air collection. He is also a contributor to the 2009 rock biography on The Triffids Vagabond Holes: David McComb and the Triffids, edited by Australian academics Niall Lucy and Chris Coughran.
- Tilley's, Canberra, where DBC Pierre was presented with organic corn (in reference to his first encounter with Australian Customs, when Pierre, as a 20 year-old, returned some of his deceased father's belongings in boxes to Australia from Mexico City. One box was found to contain cobs of ornamental maize from a table decoration, and Pierre was subsequently charged and convicted in court for "willfully importing plants or parts of plants" and "signing a false customs declaration." Commenting on this first contact with his birthplace as a returning adult, Pierre later said that he spent much of his time in Australia in either court or hospital - the latter referring particularly to a near-fatal car crash which required the right side of his face to be reconstructed, leaving scars he still bears today). (Book launch, March 2006.)
- Enough Rope, interview with Andrew Denton. (Interview, May 2006.)
- "Fairwell to the wharf of innocence", an essay on the music of David McComb & The Triffids, appears in the collection 'Vagabond Holes' (Freemantle Press, 2009)
- I likened writing to painting a still life with live rats. I even wrote that on my study wall, and within days there was an infestation of rats in the house. What are the Gods like?
- My family planted the idea that I could do anything ... I just want to apologise for taking it so literally.- DBC Pierre, part of his acceptance speech for the Man Booker Prize
- Mexico, with its contrasts, its crushing poverty and sparkling wealth, its institutionalised corruption and cultural wisdom, its love of life and its embracing of death, undoubtedly set me on a path toward the deep end, philosophically and emotionally speaking.– DBC Pierre