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Kirsty Allison

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Kirsty Allison

Kirsty Allison was born in London in 1975. PSYCHOMACHIA is her first novel and will be published by Wrecking Ball Press on July 5, 2021.

Kirsty is incoming editor of the literary and arts quarterly Ambit, founder of Cold Lips, and her band is called Vagrant Lovers. She currently lives in Peckham.  

Irvine Welsh has described Kirsty as “the greatest cultural beacon this planet has produced.” We asked Kirsty some questions to set the scene for the book’s launch and she provided a book’s worth of answers, which we love. You will too.

Give us the elevator pitch for PSYCHOMACHIA?
 
It’s about a girl in the 90s who’s so wasted, she doesn’t know if she’s murdered someone. And maybe she should have. It’s set in the fashion and music industries.
 
The title is from the 5th century Latin poem by Prudentius, about the war of vice and virtue, or ‘battle of the soul’.
 
Who is the book for?
 
It’s the kind of book I’m always looking to read. Initially I was writing it for a young me. But I’ve got older writing it, so it takes in a wide scope. It’s super cult in many ways because that’s the world it explores with universal occurrences. People say it’s brutal, but that’s what I needed to lay out. If people have been to Ibiza, listened to music, worn clothes, wanted to fit in, found problems with the patriarchy, hopefully they’ll dig it. I’d like it to be read everywhere from refugee camps to prisons to couture houses and palaces. I write quite well about drugs, but it’s not about drugs per se, although it does do the arc of Acid House to BritPop to Heroin Chic.
 
What experience do you want your readers to have?
 
I want them to feel like they’ve been out all night, at the best parties in the world, and been kidnapped by a bunch of people they love and hate, which leads to epiphanies only benders like that can offer. It’s a cleanser. I’d love people to read it on the beach. The cover’ll look good resting on sand, but in the meantime, home is fine. I’d like people to read it waiting for the band to come on, I’d like them to forget they were scrolling, miss their stops on the underground, and just go around in a loop, absorbed by it.
 
PSYCHOMACHIA’s been a long time coming. Tell us about the evolution of the book?
 
I have always lived for experience and changed from girl to woman whilst writing this. It began biographically, almost like fiction as dissociation, trying to understand my tormented soul as a way of freeing it, but it developed away from those things, learning about the craft of novel-writing, and the balance of knowing that you have to write what you know. It has always been fiction but I returned to my own diaries towards the end of writing, to make sure it was right and real, by which time the characters had become their own supra-beings, collided, and I watched them dance over the pages creating their own truths, that’s magical, and I want to do more of it. I think it rides real rather than it being an imitation. There’s been no deadline on this, which is a privilege in many ways, it’s allowed me to work until it really is finished, and as such it’s layer upon layer of work, from innocence to the wisdom of how long it’s taken, despite having been a writer my whole life.
 
How would you describe yourself? And how would you describe yourself as a novelist?
 
Novelist is a helluva title to live up to. I’m proud to finally be one. I don’t often call myself a poet, and I laugh when people call me a singer. I veer towards the Scottish term of endearment, most days, but life’s a bit more textured than that. All the characters are part of me in some ways, as you’re your only point of reference when learning how to write fiction, so the joy is seeing that open up beyond yourself. A Nigerian friend said I write like a magical realist, and I think he’s right. Journalism and copywriting don’t allow so much creativity, so this is complete freedom, to carve sentences with more imagination. It’s a rock of of a book. My bedrock. I liked it being described as modern contemporary fiction on Waterstones. There was a lot to work out. I have very high expectations of myself. When people ask me what I do, I say writer, and then, if appropriate, I explain that I started out as teenage journalist, on TV, DJing around the world, and I’ve done poetry-films, performed internationally, you know, it gets a bit much, so writer is easier. Writer – Performer – Editor works as an Insta bio. I was looking at old paintings the other day, the pieces I didn’t burn, and I wasn’t very good, never worked at it. Writing however, I love sculpting sense in black and white. It’s taken a long time to stop me feeling like I’m faking it, and that’s partly because this book’s taken so long.
 
How do you balance all of the different work and artistic projects that you’re involved in?
 
I try to keep my spiritual centre attuned as I go to extreme lengths to do my best on everything – I don’t really like to work on things that I don’t care about. Labour is laborious, whatever you do takes time. It’s wearing that with grace. Sometimes I don’t balance it, take too much on, the piss factory floods, and I become sick.
 
My ex-husband used to say that a man has to know his limitations, but I remember meeting someone towards the end of our relationship who told me there are no limits, and that’s where I like to hang my hat. That boundarylessness has got me in a lot of trouble though.
 
I think accepting that I can’t get it all done at once is part of it, but new work does excite me. I’m getting to a point where I feel I have more choice not to take as much on. But there’s the nagging hangover of media and the bullshit of profile.
 
It depends what index you’re working to, but growing up in media, I do seem to seek validation from the dumbarseness of recognition, and likes. That’s super industrial, but pop culture dictates that to a certain extent. I think I freed myself of that when I realised I was pretty much blacklisted because I’d been ill, and never thought I’d get back through any doors, so with that, I kind of gave up, stopped caring, and it felt essential to experiment and work across disciplines, as that’s the most progressive place, but I feel like this period of research is closing. Not having children helps.
 
It wasn’t a planned sacrifice, I always thought I’d do it when I grew up, and there’d be a line of wellie boots belonging to baby Kirsty & whoever, but child rearing is a job for life and I’d find it boring and depressing to make sandwiches everyday and get them to places on time. A precarious life of being a writer didn’t really provide it as an option without some heavy compromise, and that is that I want to write more books.
 
How do all of the different disciplines you work across feed into your novel writing?
 
I wouldn’t have written in the way I have without having experimented in poetry, performance, and having communicated in black and white for so many places. I don’t want to do video so much now, I’d rather write, but I have found that cutting words together in video expanded my palette of communication.
 
I started writing young, and I did it for money. I’ve gone from mass media into smaller presses, and got more DIY, which is at odds to most of the people who helped train me, who started on fanzines and worked up. But it’s how I’ve found my voice and become more individual, after trying to fit in, I’ve got more bespoke. I’ve slipped down and down the greasy pole.
 
There’s a lot of music industry stuff in the book. It’s obviously a fucked up industry, but in terms of music, how much does music influence you when it comes to writing?
 
All industry is fucked up. Music is about as close to sex as it gets. I’ve always loved musicians, they’re poets when they’re doing it right and symbolise a freedom of soul.
 
I have synesthesia, or took a lot of acid growing up, it’s hard to know, but my first boyfriend was a musician, and I’ve been writing about music and the culture around it forever. It’s a relatively recent thing finally being brave enough to perform, but music has been my life.
 
I think rhythmically when I’m writing, and there’s a calligraphic musicality if writing by hand. Typewriters or wordprocessors are almost like a calculator, plucking representations for the beauty and contrasts of life, as all art is. Drafting Psychomachia I wrote some by hand, as I edit so much as I go along when working on screen, but much as it’s quite musical shaping words on a computer, and quite jazz, it’s good to try different things.
 
Thinking about writing as musical subgenres is fun. But sound is part of what we’re trying to communicate in writing too, so it’s multiple, and interrelated. Ultimately good music transcends metadata and tags and representational values when it’s beyond industrial porn settings, good art raises the game.
 
I love music. I grew up writing about where the new sounds are, but I do like to write in silence. Although sometimes music and repetition can help. It’s good to vibe off your environment – whether that’s notetaking at a fashion show, or reviewing a gig. If I’m really writing, and in it, I don’t hear, it’s a rare pleasure – and a similar meditation to performing.
 
The book has song lyrics in it. That’s pretty brave, writing lyrics and including them. Tell us more about your decision to incorporate those?
 
It’s funny that, because I asked Gil to sing them recently, as we performed an adaptation of part of the book, and he was like: “These are not lyrics, they’re poetry, I can’t sing these!”

It’s weird – I’d been singing them to myself, in my head to write them and I do think of those as songs, like the one on Diana: driving down the underpass, driving down the underpass, I can go so fast, I can go so fast, pap, pap, pap, pap – that’s like Gary Numan, no?! I have a total score for it. But yes, probably madness.

You appear to like a good collaboration. Tell us about your collaborators, and why you collaborate?
 
INSPIRATION. ACCELERATION. A lack of faith in oneself, I don’t know. I think culture’s rhizomatic, and we just layer upon layer. My life’s always been pretty solo, as a writer, freelancer, DJ, poet, whatever, and I can’t do everything, but within media, it’s always about consensus, that’s where it differs from art and the vision of an auteur.
 
I love letting other people do it. Lias Saoudi on Ambit, what a legend. He’s so good. Connecting with Danielle De Picciotto in Berlin, we support each other. Kelli Ali, she records my lyrics, I snort fake coke in her film. The music Gil De Ray does is what he excels at, I can’t do that, don’t have time to learn and although I’ve always had guitars around, I don’t naturally pick them up. I write instead. Synthesisers were always in the house as a kid, but it’s not my natural medium, I really do work with words. Yet what Malik Ameer Crumpler does as a lyricist and poet on the Vagrant Lovers tracks – NO WAY could I do what he does but he likes what I do too, and it stops me feeling like I’m alone, because we vibe off each other.
 
Designers too, Personality Crisis, Luke McLean, Stephen Barrett. Photographers. It is collaboration, that’s the point. I don’t go around claiming I’m doing it all. And the novel would be really really boring if I had been a hermit. We are the sum total of our experience, as much as I’ve enjoyed the ascetic nature of lockdown, I guess I’ve never had much of a high opinion of myself, I’ve been impressed by those I’ve been hanging with, for whatever reason, and humbled by others desire to invite me to do stuff with them. DJing, performing, being on the same bill as people I admire. I generally had DJ partners when I wasn’t doing 9 hour sets in Soho, and if that was with Irvine Welsh or Howard Marks, I got to hear good stories, so there’s a trade, and you get more out of it than you can generally do alone.
 
Books stand on their own spine though, but again, the cover art’s by Siena Barnes, because she’s good and there’s a connection with her boyfriend being my ex from the Shoreditch days, and it’s designed by Stephen, because he’s good, and it’s published by Wrecking Ball – because they’re amazing. It’s sexy collaborating with people but I did find in early Covid that the cult of the individual rose to an unprecedented level, and actually I quite enjoyed being less diluted.
 
What was your route into writing?
 
Pen and paper. Typewriter. Computer. Phone. I am that cliche of having made poetry books, travel journals, mad diaryism as a kid. But I had a really shit English teacher at A-level, took a load of PCP by accident and ended up at art school – it wasn’t really where I should have been, but it detoured me into a job in an airport because I’d had a load of paintings not sell and knew any longer at art school would be a detriment to my life, so I went out a lot, had my picture in a magazine – that a friend showed me, and off I went in search of that photo, and ended up in an office, asking if they had any jobs, and there was a job going as PA to the editor, but I’d need to learn how to type, so off I went to Mavis Beacon on Charing Cross Road, and in the final interview they said I’d make a shit secretary but a good journalist, and offered to train me.
 
That was in the old days of Fleet Street. Jefferson Hack on Dazed gave me a notebook, and I began to learn how to write. Dan Kahuna gave me pages to channel my Hunter S. Thompson, and I was soon freelancing across the style and music press, doing the odd bit of fashion and music copywriting, but also working on a tabloid newspaper, which was just for the cocaine money and I was very naive, but it taught me how to write fast and in any style possible.
 
I was hosting a TV show, getting sent the best records, so started playing them out, and one relationship led to another, and I was DJing with Irvine Welsh in the height of his Trainspottting fame, and Howard Marks, and it was all pretty crazy.
 
I went straight working at the BBC, got an award for a radio documentary, but relapsed into another relationship, making independent film, which again got a load of awards, but I was doing copywriting to support that, writing about beige jumpers for months, and doing video for Marie Claire. It was around then that I started hosting workshops for a charity in writing, and getting up very early in the morning to begin working on what has become Psychomachia. Those workshops led me to get called a professor, and I wrote a book for Red Gallery, spent 5 years editing the books and arts on DJMag, and started my own magazine, Cold Lips, which has done a few limited edition books too. But that evolved from a spoken word night exploring poetry and lyric, the Sylvia Plath Fan Club, after I’d got the taste for performing poetry, Dave Barbarossa, the drummer invited me to collaborate, and I improved at performing, and working out what I was doing.
 
Vagrant Lovers is my spoken word collaboration with Gil De Ray, and we’ve performed at festivals, galleries and venues internationally, as I have independently as a poet.
 
Last year I started as Managing Editor on Ambit Magazine. They first published early elements of Psychomachia, when Geoff Nicholson was fiction editor, and I’d sent work in anonymously and it gave me a sense of proper literary fam.
 
All of it feels unorthodox, and I did a degree in the middle of that, but although I’ve always been a writer, I think I’ve been waiting so long to feel realised by this novel. So maybe only now can I say I am one, it feels like a long period of research.

Was there a significant person in your life that encouraged you to write?
 
My Mother, she reads more books a year than anyone else I know. She writes diaries and tells me I can only read them when she’s dead – so that will become my life’s work, perhaps interpolate them with some family postcards. If I make it beyond her virtuous lifestyle.
 
Has Covid-19 affected the way that you write?
 
The week before Covid hit the UK I was in Hamburg, writing – and what I had been finding increasingly was that cafes and bars were full of public, and although I can write anywhere, I was attracting people who wanted to talk to me, and I love listening to people, so I’d lose hours to that. So it’s been great to spend so much time at my desk, although people are getting paid to distract you with the flashing lights of phones and my inbox getting heavily violated.
 
I started a Substack blog, which I was amazed people supported, and haven’t had much time to do that of late, Ambit’s been taking a lot of my time, and documenting the archive in my house, where my ceiling fell in in the first lockdown but I’ve been working from home for most of my life – it’s just I can be a sado-masochist towards my own writing, and not allow myself that ultimate pleasure.

It was all so new initially, I started out writing a lot, continuing what I was doing in Hamburg, and received a literary grant from the Society of Authors which stopped me fretting about less income from journalism.
 
I loved the silence initially. The blossoms blossoming, having time to think about my own experience rather than everyone else’s, and the fear got broken by a residency out in Berlin last Autumn. Although I currently feel I need to retreat from the retreat, which probably means the writing’s about to start to flow again.
 
What is the importance of place to you as a writer?
 
It’s the world you’re creating. The detail is important. As a Londoner, it’s a fight, so there’s probably an essence of that in how I write. Some of it’s really pushy, some of it struggles in tension, some of it’s flash, a lot going on.
 
I was more transitory before Covid. I’d spent a while in Lebanon, and was halfway to moving to Berlin. I like to suck these places up, and share them through the pages. I travel in my mind through writing.
 
There’s a denial of the pastoral in the punk struggle of art. It’s some twisted trait staying in this city, f’sure. The good Doctor John Cooper Clarke told me this is my city. He calls me kid, which I like. But there is a lot of my writing and identity riddled up in London, it’s a rich and diverse bitch of a place.
 
Could you tell us something about your creative process? 
 
Sometimes you can push it, and I will push it to all extremes. Smashing out wordcounts can be great, I’d like to get back to that, just to get some pages behind me, but I do like to labour in the pain of an elongated development period.
 
I’m cruel to myself. I push it to the last moment – I have rarely actually delivered work to the actual deadline, and my editors know that. So they have Kirsty deadlines. I craft sentences, although recently I’ve been taking pleasure in letting it fall from the sky like when I was less self-conscious and critical, the problem with having written for so many places is I do analyse everything.
 
Desks, beds, chairs, inside, outside. It’s great to not think about any of it, and just get on with it, legs under the desk, that’s the basic. I’ve tried it all. Longhand, shorthand. Early, late. I’m naturally a night person, I like that peace. Straight, drunk.
 
I don’t think caffeine’s great for my writing at the moment, I wonder about whether speed would help, or those mad clever drugs, but I’m more of a valium and chamomile tea at night kinda writer. I find mornings a bit industrious, but there can be a sense of pleasure with getting it done early, there’s nothing like an afternoon nap when reading your own work.

I actually like stories working together like jigsaw puzzles, so they become something unexpected, that can be a naturally slow process, but sometimes it’s almost written before you’ve started it, I like letting work breathe, after the lack of that as a journalist, and I’ve been lucky in my fiction to not have had any deadlines or pressure with writing to deadline, so I’ve taken pleasure in learning how to do it naturally rather than having to force it, but there is nothing as good as battering away on a book. That’s total sex.
 
Who are your favourite writers? And which writers are you influenced by?
 
I relish in whatever I’m discovering. I am an enthusiast. I hate that about myself, but I do get impressed by others. I love DBC Pierre, he was one of the key ones when working on early drafts of this, and all the usual ones of Nabakov, Jean Genet, Martin Amis. Paul Auster. Ralph Ellison, EM Forster, the male canon of alt hip: all the Hunter S. Thompson, Ken Kesey, X Press. Irvine Welsh, Bukowski, Angela Carter. John Niven. Anthony Kiedis’s biography is great. Patti Smith’s Just Kids, Please Kill Me is brilliant. Wayne Kramer’s biography is brilliant. I like Rob Doyle, and his style appears easy but I know it’s not. Bulgakov. Hesse. Huncke. JG Ballard. Geoff Nicholson. Brett Easton Ellis. Donna Tart is a complete icon to me. Many of the authors at Wrecking Ball: Ben Myers, Adelle Stripe, Tony O’Neill, Dan Fante. Recently I’ve been into Ottessa Moshfegh, Virginie Despentes, Eliza Class, Roisin Kiberd, Morowa Yejide, Jenny Fagan, Shola von Rheinhold, I read a huge amount, as a reviewer and editor. Today I’m reading Deborah Levy, Will Burns, David Keenan and Richard Hell.
 
Similarly, what is your favourite novel?
 
I always say Nabokov, Lolita, because it just blew me away to an unprecedented level.
 
Why this novel now?
 
90s are back. And now they read like history.

Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?
 
Hahah. I mean, I want the house in the hills that I can write in, and shoot an airgun out of like I’m Daphne Du Maurier. Can you provide that?
 
What else are you working on and what does the future hold for you as a writer?
 
I finished another book called Rambling Rose, and I’m about to plunge back into writing a big novel, it was confusing because it went out of sync with lockdown world, and it’s 30 years in the future, and there was no future for a while, but I just threw one of the characters from Psychomachia into it, because I missed them, and that’s churned the whole thing upside down, but it is more exciting so I’d like to concentrate on that for a while. There’s always poetry and short stories coming out of me too.

Beyond that, I’m going to record an audiobook, and versions of Psychomachia. I might do some of that on my Substack. I really owe the subscribers some stuff. I want to make a film of the promo of the book this summer, something poetic and documentary, and develop the novel as a film installation with performance.
 
But beyond editing Ambit, there’s talk of curating the literary stage at a festival in late August, and I’d like to perform again, I feel like I’m good now, when the sound’s okay. I’ve been asked to review a load of books again for Mu magazine, and I’m probably going to do a re-issue of the Cold Lips book we did for Martyn Goodacre.

Michael Chestnutt from Snapped Ankles is working on a couple of Vagrant Lovers tracks, and the first physical release of Vagrant Lovers is coming on a gatefold vinyl compilation from Das Wasteland Records in Berlin. It’s also got Rob Doyle, Nathan from the Fat Whites, Tim Burgess.
 
What would you say to someone who was keen to write, and would like to see their words published?
 
Give up. There’s not enough room on the shelves for both of us. Or, if I liked them, I’d suggest they write their way through it. Get a drug habit, and drink heavily. Try being homeless. Work with some refugees. Meet a few arms dealers. Send it to me at Ambit when they’re done.
 
I have good editors who are looking for good writing. But if that doesn’t work, just write, and don’t worry if you’re not. It’s so easy to DIY it, but you will learn from doing it professionally, and from others too. I showed people drafts of this too early, it crushed me as I wasn’t used to criticism like that. I think people saw that I was going to be a good writer, but knew I needed to go through the mill a bit, and I’m lucky to have survived, so work out how you’re going to do that. I put it down for years. So be careful who you share work with. Some people respond well to being educated.
 
I’m more of a school of life for writers, that’s the sort of writing I like. Voices from the diaspora of experience rather than privilege or prissiness. I like outsiders. There’s a lot of glamour in the job title, less in the hours it takes. That takes a rare determination. I’d say don’t be in too much of a rush, you’ll get there, you’re doing it for yourself, not others. But some people seem to be able to write commercial fiction, that’s not really what I’m in the business of – much as I’d like this to be read widely. It’s different for everyone. It may be a phase. It may be what you were put on this earth to do. It doesn’t matter, just write something interesting. And read others.
 
There’s the idea of communities of writers – I liked doing the Sylvia Plath Fan Club nights, and Cold Lips nights, and breaking people’s cherries on sharing their work. It’s good to get published and it’s hard finding good editors. And please, understand that writing is editing, and if you don’t get that, you ain’t there yet.
 
 
What are your hopes and dreams for the book?
 
I want people to read it.
I want people to love it.
I want people to talk about it.

Have the characters in their minds, and see it as a great work. Obviously when people you admire like it, that’s great, but really I just want people to have enough time to read it. I’d love it to be a bestseller. A classic.
 
In the meantime, I want to record it as an audio book. I really want to develop it into a film installation that’s like an ouroboros loop of experience with performance.

I always saw it as a movie, and used some film structure in drafts, and it would never be the same as I see it. I’d like the money of it being made into a Netflix series, but it really is a book, so it would be amazing to get it out in other countries, anything that allows me to write more. But really – I’m just so excited to think that people are going to read it. It’s lovely going into bookshops. Talking to people who like books.
 
Anything else you’d like to add?
 
I’m very happy it’s being published by Wrecking Ball. It’s the dream, I cannot wait to feel the paper and see the design in the flesh. Sign a few copies.
 
PSYCHOMACHIA can be pre-ordered online at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/psychomachia/
 
 
Silvia Romano

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Silvia Romano

Toxins (and other poisons) is a new collection of short stories by Silvia Romanoall with the same common denominator: a man with a hat and a turquoise scarf, and a merciless, inescapable feeling of being trapped. 

The main characters, starting from a realistic condition, find themselves in situations that slowly begin to disconnect from reality, and become disturbing and weird, putting them in a condition of (sometimes dark, sometimes lighter and ironic) uneasiness. 

Toxins (and other poisons), which will be published by Wrecking Ball Press on 21 June, 2021, is an overall story of glitches in the system, of individuals floating in a sea of social and technological stimuli, trying their best to fit in, yet failing because defecting of the skills that allow them to be suited to their world. 

Silvia Romano was born in 1992 in winter, a season universally associated with quiescence, the harshness of nature, mud, murk, and sadness in general. Somehow she had to defend herself. She writes both in English and Italian. We caught up with Silvia to find out more about the collection, her writing process and the man with a hat and a turquoise scarf.

How would you describe this collection of short stories?

I think that part of the answer to this question lies in the book description on the Wrecking Ball website. I would just like to add that the title embodies the rest of it: they are tales of pollution, in its daily form, with the load of waste that comes with them.  

When did you start writing these stories and how long did the collection take to come together?

I started writing the stories about two years ago, throughout 2019. Then everything came together in a whole package in early 2020. 

There is a sense of menace in these stories, and, at times, they are disturbing. Where does that come from? 

It all comes from reality, I suppose. Reality can often be much worse than any conceivable fantasy. You can think about the most absurd, shocking thing, and reality will always show up with something that exceeds expectations; but there is also a certain irony in all of it, don’t you think? The ridiculousness? So, from my part, I perceive a fil rouge of enjoyment in all the mess. Also, it might just come from the way I cope with life. I was born with a guilty conscience, so I think threat is the only natural conclusion for me. 

Why short stories?

Because it’s always the time for a short story collection! (*smiling face with sunglasses emoji*). 

What was your route into writing?

As the one to hell, it was a road paved with good intentions. But then, it turned out that the pavement wasn’t as strong as it seemed. It was all jagged and crumbly and seeped with waste liquid. So yeah, now it’s still a construction site. 

Was there a significant person in your life who encouraged you to write?

As far as I can remember, I have always been inclined to the act of translating concepts and images into words and putting them on paper. You know, in the solitary alcove of my little gloomy dungeon. I had, and still have, a couple of extraordinary people who encouraged me to really pursue this act. Those who gave me the metaphorical kick in the butt. I owe them big time. 

Has Covid-19 affected the way that you write?

An event of this size and on these terms has inevitably given me either the food for thoughts and also the time to savour it. Then, naturally, you have to deal with the painful, slow aftermath of its digestive process. 

What is the importance of place to you as a writer?

Place retains in its features the outward appearance of the inner reality. It gives concrete shapes to abstract feelings. This can happen in a form of total contrast, or the feeling can be supported by the material surroundings. Either way, it is never left to chance. 

Could you tell us something about your creative process? 

I came to think that self-discipline is everything, not only when it comes to writing. I’d love to rely only on those exhilarating times when the flood bursts its bank, but it is a capricious harmony, and it may end up with nothing but piles of severed limbs. The time will come when I have to sit at the desk and stitch them together with Prussian zeal; or simply get some work done when I only feel like banging my head on the table. I need to sleep at night. 

You write in both English and Italian. Tell us more about that?

I write in Italian because it’s the language primarily spoken in the place I happened to be delivered and raised; I write in English because it’s the language I happened to learn and love, and which I find akin to express myself with. This strange sort of parallel balance has the effect of making me feel like a kind of impostor, in both languages, most of the times. 

Who are your favourite writers and who are you influenced by?

The thing with me is that, when it comes to literature, I am not influenced by it. I am subjected to it. So there is a long list of astonishing writers who had enslaved me from the most tender age ongoing; but Franz Kafka is the one I have suffered the most. 

Similarly, what is your favourite collection of short stories?

Gutshot by Amelia Gray is the last collection I read that made me think: “wow, this is amazing, that was quite the trip.” 

What experience do you want readers of your collection to have? 

Well, the thing is these sorts of things always kind of take a life of their own, don’t they? I may have had the intention to trigger this or that button, to mean this and to rub it in on that, but in the end I am really not the one who has the leash. Reading a book is an act of intimacy, and is tied too tightly to the unique personal experience for me to get in between. 

Who do you think the audience for your writing is? 

These are stories made of glitches, so maybe their natural ends are all the faulty cogs in the mechanism. But I might be surprised. Anecdote: when the idea of a collection was still non-existent, my teacher friend read the Italian version of a couple of the stories, and he was enthusiastic enough to give them to his middle school kids – as a Christmas holiday homework. I was very uncertain. I didn’t really think those pages were meant for anybody, let alone children of that age. I told him: “I am OK with that, as long as you are the one going down.” We had a little debate with the class, after the holidays, and I was amazed by how the kids took the core of the stories and then threw it in the context of their life, which is still so young when you’re in middle school, but no less intense. I remember at some point one of the children saying, in a very inspired tone: “I believe we are all being controlled, maybe even unconsciously.” Just like that. Like a twelve-year-old Gilles Deleuze. I am still waiting for my friend to be kicked out of school any moment for that stunt, but it’s been a while, and it didn’t happen, so I guess the book is middle-school proofed. But still, I am not suggesting anything. 

How is your experience with independent publishers?

The experience with Wrecking Ball Press is my first approach to the publishing world ever. So, I feel like a dizzy traveller gazing at sudden, vibrant and very cosy surroundings. 

What else are you working on and what does the future hold for you as a writer?

Another manuscript is almost ready, this time in the form of a novel, and the larva of something even bigger is in its casing spun – on this regard, would you excuse me for the spit. I guess that, best case scenario, what the future holds for me on the very long term is total absorption by a big ball of extremely hot plasma. I only hope to have as much fun as possible in the meantime. 

What would you say to someone who was keen to write, and would like to see their words published?

Nurture the urge, chisel the words, and always give the lighter back. 

Can you tell us anything more about the man with a hat and a turquoise scarf?

He’s there because he exists. I didn’t write him, I only took the effort to describe him. He exists because, every time, everywhere a story is taking place, he’s like that slice of the pie on the table that has nothing to do with the rest on the menu. But still, you can’t pretend it’s not there. 

Anything else you’d like to add?

Never in my life had I calculated the odds of potentially finding myself on a shelf next to a book written by Seneca. I daresay, put it like that, it is quite the enticing perspective. 

Toxins (and other stories) can be pre-ordered online at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/toxins-and-other-poisons/

Poet Interview: Talitha Wing

Poet Interview: Talitha Wing

Talitha Wing possesses a powerful voice. Wrecking Ball Press publish Talitha’s debut The Things I Learnt and the Things I Still Don’t Know About on July 26, 2021. The honest, raw and intimate nature of the poetry in this debut collection will make a positive impact on your life.

Within the pages of The Things I Learnt and the Things I Still Don’t Know About, Talitha presents a collection of work that provides a voice for those who, like her, refuse to be categorised and labelled. Talitha explores the ambiguities of the journey into adulthood, self-acceptance and what it means to be ‘other’ in a manner that will resonate with readers.

Poets can spend years finding their voice but Talitha writes with the same level of self-assurance, passion and determination that are evident in her spoken word performances. We should all be thankful that she’s picked up her weapon of choice in order to get these poems onto the page and is now ready to share them with the world. The Things I Learnt and the Things I Still I Don’t Know About is as vital and exhilarating as poetry gets.

Ahead of publication we caught up with Talitha to find out more about her work, her writing process and how she balances life as a poet with that of an actor.

How would you describe this collection?

To me this collection is a journey into adulthood, a raw and real look at discovering ones identity, and all the experiences, thoughts and feelings that come along with that, both extremely exciting, utterly confusing and often a mountain sized challenge. From the first time using a tampon, to heartbreak, dealing with mental health and everything in between.

When did you start writing these poems and how long did this collection take to come together?

I wrote the poems in ‘real time’, as my friends and I were going through the transition into womanhood. The first poem I wrote for this collection was written when I was around 15/16 and some were written earlier this year (2021). I feel for that reason, it is able to tell a story that takes you on a journey through growing up.

Poems on the page or poems in performance?

Poems on the page, that way you can keep them forever, and read them any time you need some comfort. Books are magical. They’re the ultimate pocket pal.

How do you balance your work as a poet and that of an actor?

I’m still learning how to balance both of these parts of my career. I write mostly in the evenings, as a way to process the day to day. Poetry is a form of journalling for me, and a self-soothing mechanism. I also like to write when I’m travelling on buses, tubes and trains etc. My acting work is much more structured and scheduled. When I’m working on a TV show, it takes up most of my ‘working day’ but I always find time to write at home.

Has Covid-19 affected the way that you write?

Covid has been a challenge! It has felt like the world has been at a standstill for the last year or so. For this reason a lot of my recent writing has been reflective. Like many others I have used this time to look back at and process the last few years. It has been a time to pause, breathe and think.

Could you tell us something about your creative process?

My creative process is very free, I try not to put too many rules in place, so I can express myself freely, especially for a first draft. I carve out time to write but will also just jot down poems or certain phrases or thoughts in my phone notes as and when they come to me. This is my first poetry collection so I’ve learned a lot about creating a book as a whole, and that does take a level of structure and the creation of an overall arc, but I will always lead with the poems that come to me and create a book around them.

You write about some important subjects and themes – what drives you do do this?

I think it is imperative to write about subjects that may be viewed as taboo or underrepresented such as mental health, women’s sexuality, the experiences of ethnic minorities in a predominately white-led society, because they affect so many of us and navigating them as we grow up can be very challenging. To know that other people have or are currently experiencing these issues too has been a major comfort to me throughout my life, and I hope to provide that for others with my work. The more we talk about these things openly and candidly, the more we can ensure young people are safe, supported and heard. Especially those who may feel ‘other’ for whatever reason.

What experience do you want readers of your collection to have?

I want readers to be able to get lost in the words, the world and the story of the collection. I hope it is accessible and easy to digest – I love that poetry doesn’t have to be elitist, fancy and traditional (I love poetry like that too sometimes) but my style is hopefully quite down to earth! I want them to feel how I feel when I listen to a Beyoncé album.

Who do you think the audience for your poetry is?
I’d say that this collection is mostly for young people, young adults and adolescents – but also for anyone who has felt different, unseen, or unheard. It is a love letter to young women.

Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?

I have enjoyed working with an independent publisher (Wrecking Ball Press) as it has a very personal feel. There is so much passion in the work. It’s not about selling books on an international scale to make money but about the love of poems – that’s all I could wish for, when looking for a publisher.

Who are the contemporary poets/spoken word artists/performance poets that you admire, and why?

The poet who has inspired me most and whose work I adore is Vanessa Kisuule. I read her book Joyriding The Storm when I was 18 and it was like she was hugging the little girl inside me. I also listen to a Rudy Francisco poem at least once a week – he’s a wizard!

What can audiences expect from you when you perform these poems in a live setting?

Much like my book it will probably be a bit rough and ready, uncensored and swear-y in all the right places.

What else are you working on and what does the future hold for you as a poet?

I will keep writing and see what happens. I don’t plan ahead to much because as this year has taught me, you never know what is around the corner. I would like to write poetry for children though – a children’s poetry collection would be pretty epic.

What would you say to someone who was keen to express themselves through poetry?

Poetry can be whatever you want it to be – don’t worry about it ‘getting it right’. Whatever ends up on the page is perfect.

The Things I Learnt and the Things I Still Don’t Know About can be pre-ordered directly from Wrecking Ball Press at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/the-things-i-learnt-and-the-things-i-still-dont-know-about/

Isabel Tallysha-Soares

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Isabel Tallysha-Soares

 

Wrecking Ball Press published Isabel Tallysha-Soares’ I, From Nothing, the English translation of Eu, do Nada, today (22/04/21). We caught up with Isabel to find out more about her book, her writing process and a whole lot more besides.

Can you give us your ‘elevator pitch’ for I, From Nothing? What’s it about? What can readers expect?

I, from Nothing is a sort of heightened reality biography of my maternal family over the course of the last 200 years and its intersection with Portuguese history from 1800 onwards. The main plot encompasses events from World War I until the Portuguese Colonial War in the 1960s although the life of the main character crosses the millennium to the 21stcentury.

Readers can expect a lot of mystery and tinges of magical realism. It’s a story taking readers to a place on the edge of reality and human emotion. It’s also about seemingly insurmountable trials of life and the different prisms in which love is felt and shared. Tears can be expected…

What reception did Eu, do Nada receive in Portugal?

My Portuguese publisher, Porto Editora through its outlet for emerging authors, Coolbooks, published I, from Nothing because the manuscript’s Beta-readers compared it to Isabel Allende’s writing. It was a great honour to be published by the Portuguese main publishing group without having to query other publishers. I got an instant “yes” when I submitted the original. The book has also been well-received among the Portuguese Bookstagram and blogging communities with a lot (and only) very positive reviews so far.

How was the translation process for you?

I know how difficult translation is and the amount of loss it brings so I decided to do the translation myself because the writer of the book was inside the mind of the translator. In the case of I, from Nothing there is a lot of emphasis on Portuguese rural landscapes and agriculture which renders translation even more complex not to mention the fact that characters speak in a Portuguese language that evolves according to historical moment and is not the same in the early 20th century and now. After I completed the translation, I had the great fortune of working with Marcia Prior-Miller who has had a brilliant career in print media editing and is also a scholar at Iowa State University. I had worked with her on an academic project when she and David Abrahamson from Northwestern University edited the Routledge Handbook of Magazine Research and, for all my luck, she said she could be the translation editor of I, from Nothing. Although she speaks no Portuguese, which is a phenomenal thing if you think of it, she helped Anglicise the text (and corrected more prepositions than I can count). Reading from an outside, English-language perspective, Marcia was instrumental in detecting instances where we had to fine tune the text to render it more “understandable” to English-speakers and it was she who got the idea of the genealogy, the maps and the italics for the stream of consciousness dialogues. It was great team work.

What is the importance of place to you as a writer?

Place is a character. Luísa is a child of Nothing and constantly aware and in awe of the pace of the seasons and the changes they bring. The rhythm of Nature is the rhythm of Nothing and the same for me because, although I was born in a big city in Germany, I am also a child of the real Nothing and much in tune with the rural place where I still live. Place is the source of inspiration. In my second novel The Drawer, place is overarching because no places in that novel have names but though unnamed, they are the driving force of the whole plot. After all, a drawer is a place…

Could you tell us something about your creative process when writing fiction?

I once wrote a text to my Portuguese publisher about my writing process. In it I said I write every single day of my life. I don’t always write novels but I write academically, I write lots of admin, I write in social media, I write diaries ever since I can remember, I’ve experimented with literary journalism, and I write stories, piles and piles of stories most of which at an interstice between real and fictive. I think I cannot write 100% fiction, there’s always some element of reality either in situations or travels or life circumstances that have happened to me (trauma, death and war being major catalysts) or to people near me. Even the characters in my novels are, for the most part, based on true people. In I, from Nothing I didn’t even made changes to the names of the characters and in my book The Tame Man I was inspired by the larger-than-life personality of a very real Don Rui de Siqueira de São Martinho to compose an adventurous, also larger-than-life, fictional Don Rodrigo. This said, I write my novels compulsively when they are already fully formed in my head and bursting to come out. When that happens, I take every free moment available and can write for stretches of 12, 14 hours a day until the story is complete. Then a sort of appeasement takes over and I go back to my daily routines. As an academic, I am a very slow writer because science reins you in more tightly.

How and when did the idea for Eu, do Nada / I, From Nothing come to you?

In the 1990s, a Portuguese columnist, Miguel Esteves Cardoso, wrote an article about strange place-names in Portugal. The real Nothing has an even stranger name and was included in that article (it has, in fact, always been subject to curiosity as to why it has that name). Cardoso traced the first mentions of the name, referred to its location but was left at a loss as to why the name. Some years later, on a casual conversation with a journalist friend, Pedro Rolo Duarte, I told the story of my family and explained why Nothing has that name. Duarte, who passed away in 2017, was a good friend of Cardoso and I might have told him to let his friend know the reason for the name. A few years elapse and I get a phone call from Duarte telling me he wanted to talk because he had had an idea. We met for coffee near the magnificent site of the Monastery of Jerónimos in Lisbon and he told me I should commit the story of my family and of Nothing to writing because that was a story worth telling. When I got home, the 50-odd kilometre commute from Lisbon had operated an idea in my mind. Two weeks later I had written a book. It was one of those “twilight zone” moments.

Why this story, now?

The now is the serendipitous moment when the original has been translated, is ready to go out and about in the world and meets a publisher. When I signed my publishing contract with Porto Editora, I asked to keep translation and international rights so I could have freedom to translate. When Marcia Prior-Miller and I decided the translation was finished, I set out searching for a publisher and came across an article in The Guardian in which Wrecking Ball Press was mentioned. The first instant notion I had of Wrecking Ball was that they dealt in quality and took chances on new authors. I browsed their site immediately and, having greatly liked what I saw, got in contact with editor Shane Rhodes all the while bracing myself for the long journey of denial I was in for I don’t even have an agent (the Portuguese market is very small for writers to have agents). Shane took less than two weeks to reply and here we are. I confess I am still processing all this and my gratitude to Wrecking Ball transcends words.

What experience do you want readers of I, From Nothing to have?

I hope readers can feel. I hope they can relate. This is a story that takes you to confront (im)mortality right in the eye, it’s about how you go on when loss is all you have and love and strength come from the most unsuspected places, sometimes from darkness itself. I am always surprised when readers tell me they were shaken to the core and cried their eyes out because what they were reading was what they had already felt or were feeling. I once had a reader who told me she read the book almost as if she was reading about her own feelings. It’s not a sombre story because there’s always courage but it’s not a story on lightness. It’s also a story about our being entitled to suffering and despair. No matter your walk of life, you don’t suffer more or less because of status or circumstances, you just suffer. I think this is something we can all relate to, more so at a moment when we are struggling to comprehend reality around us.

Who do you think the audience for your fiction is?

If you like family sagas, historical novels, magical realism, strong women and enough mystery to keep you wondering, you’ll have an audience for this book.

You live in a beautiful part of the world – how do your surroundings inspire you?

My main, most constant, intellectual reference has always been Sir David Attenborough. Once I read an interview with him on Time magazine, at around the release of The Life of Plants series, in which he said that even something as simple as a garden slug is fascinating to him. Same here. I cannot imagine living in a place where I was not surrounded by Nature. Its sheer vitality is contagious. There’s always so much happening, always so much to pay attention to. As an intrepid globe-trotter, I also enjoy visiting urban places. However, never have I felt more grateful and humble than surrounded by Nature in all its majesty and glory. Gratitude is, to me, the most fulfilling feeling. That I am privileged enough to live in a geography that is still abundantly natural is a case for permanent gratitude. Besides, life in small communities means we are closer to what makes us human: interaction. We didn’t feel the brunt of lockdown because not all our connections were severed. The baker still delivers bread to our door every day. Neighbours give you eggs and vegetables from their gardens. You talk to the mailperson from the safety of your garden (you can have a garden!). In a place like this, you just have to open your soul and absorb your surroundings…

Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?

Coming from the experience of mainstream, big publishing conglomerate in Portugal to an independent publisher what I can say is that there is much more proximity between writer and the publishing house itself. Although I established an excellent relationship with my Portuguese editor and never felt any of my creative work was being curtailed, the fact is that my particular publisher, Coolbooks, was just one among many and more established publishers within the group. My relationship with the mother-house was more distanced so to speak whereas, in this case, I’m in the mother-house. What I can say, nonetheless, is that independent publishers are gaining momentum and have been for the past few years. What I see on social media, namely, is that there is appetite for talent outside the world of the “what everybody’s reading now” and what I am seeing is a lot of indie publishers coming up with incredible projects that feed book and reading marketing niches not covered by more mainstream outlets. As an observer, albeit a participant one, I see that Literature, not to be confused with writing, is finding a safe haven in the independent publishing market. The roster of Wrecking Ball is a case in point.

Who are the contemporary writers of fiction that you admire, and why?

Always the tough question…

I like William Boyd to bits. He always manages to superbly combine humour with the most unexpected, tough circumstances. He has a way with making his characters go through the direst straights in a way that we suffer for them and laugh at them. The first of Boyd’s books I read was A Good Man in Africa. I was at college and one of our professors, I think English III, asked us an essay about some dreadful subject we had been studying and that, honestly, I felt no inclination to do. I asked if there was anything else I could do instead and he told me to write a 3,000 word new end for a book from among a list. I chose A Good Man in Africa. So, I can safely say I literally finished one of Boyd’s books.

Needless to say I like Isabel Allende, whom I got to know better, after I, from Nothing had been compared to The House of Spirits. She has an elegant way of putting Suffering to writing and then there’s that very Latin-American combination of reality with über-reality. If I could add to this list Gabriel García-Márquez, that would be great. Does death preclude one from being considered contemporary?…

I have recently taken to Amélie Nothomb after reading her Pétronille, coincidentally published in the same year I, from Nothing came out in Portugal, 2014. We know it’s a woman writing but it could be a man’s writing. I find that as fascinating as her ability to write the weird.

Maybe because I don’t write total fiction, answering this question made me realise that most my contemporary reading is in the non-fiction department (I’m smiling as I answer this after my eyes glanced at the shelves in my study).

Can you tell us more about your academic work?

In academe I am Isabel Soares and I don’t usually mix those two instances of my existence. My Tallysha surname (that you find in I, from Nothing disguised as Boshoff) allows me a space of freedom that does not coincide with the gravitas of science. I hold a PhD in Anglo-Portuguese Studies that analysed how late 19th-century Portuguese literary journalism looked at Anglo-Portuguese relations in Africa and the conflicts over imperialist territorial disputes. Portugal and Britain are the world’s oldest allies through the Windsor Treaty of 1386. Because of the Scramble for Africa, the Anglo-Portuguese Alliance was strained to the limit and it’s very interesting to see how it survived the clashes over occupation of Southeast Africa that stemmed from the clause of effective occupation in the aftermath of the Berlin Conference, 1884-85. You cannot imagine the hours I spent in the library of the Senate House in London doing my research! This work came after my MA dissertation where I had looked at the adventure novel, namely by Rider Haggard and John Buchan, as instrument of imperial discourse. Imperialism was a historical moment, shameful and controversial as it is, that shaped our contemporary world and I like to go back to understand the present. My main field of research currently is in literary journalism as a journalistic ecosystem on the borders of literature. I am very honoured to have been present at the moment the International Association for Literary Journalism Studies was created in 2006 and even more honoured to have been its president between 2016 and 2018. Professionally, I am an associate professor within the ranks of the University of Lisbon and am currently serving as Vice-President of one of its colleges, the Institute for Social and Political Sciences, where I am responsible for the Quality management system. However, what I really enjoy doing in academe is… teaching.

Tell us more about House of Tallysha?

House of Tallysha is a YouTube channel that functions as a supplement to my other social media platforms. I’ve always liked blogging because it’s a platform that invites intimacy and is very protective of writing (actually the first money I ever made from writing was when my blog was discovered and I was asked to write texts with my blogger persona to the Portuguese press). However, social networks are incredibly volatile and blogs have meantime fallen to relative obscurity so I thought that a YouTube channel could be a creative outlet akin to a visual blog. I love documentaries and House of Tallysha allows that kind of experimentation. A lot of episodes are about travels and touring places. For example, there’s an episode in the Spanish town of Ronda where I go on a quest for the great creative minds that were inspired by it like poet Rainer Maria Rilke, writer and journalist Ernest Hemingway and film-maker Orson Welles. But I also talk about books, I interview writers and people coming up with interesting cultural projects and, of course, I take viewers to the geographies of my novels (there are episodes in which you can see the landscapes of the real Nothing and the places of particular scenes and their importance in the (hi)story of Nothing). I try to have a YouTube channel that is a place where people can go to learn things and not just to be passively entertained. Besides, it’s a team project I can share with my husband because he films and does the editing. In fact, House of Tallysha is only possible because of this symbiotic partnership.

What else are you working on and what does the future hold for you as a writer?

Right now I am working on the English translation of my second novel The Drawer which starts with the enigmatic sentence “Mother lived in a drawer”. Then there’s The Tame Man, which also requires translation and this just to talk about the novels already published in Portuguese. Besides this, I’ve finished two manuscripts on travels. One is the account of my coast-to-coast road trip in the United States that took place in two politically distinct moments, the final year of the Obama administration and the first year of the Trump era. The other is an East-West, South-North road trip in Germany, where I took my husband not only to meet my German family but also to show him a Germany outside the stereotypes and beaten tracks. It was a sentimental voyage of sorts, going back to my roots and reckoning with a past of immense happiness and irreplaceable loss and the manuscript is written in a rather confessional tone.

Simultaneously, I’m working on a cookbook with recipes for solar ovens and, roll drums,… have finished a prequel to I, from Nothing. This was actually an idea I got from readers of I, from Nothing. Many times I got feedback that the main character’s mother, Máxima, was a force to be reckoned with and people longed to know more about her story and what had made her be the way she is in I, from Nothing. I am a good listener of my readers so I wrote Máxima’s biography and, very imaginatively, titled it I, Máxima. As you can see I’m nothing short of projects and intentions whose materializations are, of course, contingent on having a publisher and public. Writers, after all, only exist after their writing is published.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Because I, from Nothing was so challenging in terms of translation, I would like to submit it to translation awards if for no other reasons than to cast some light on the Portuguese language at the international level and to show that independent publishers are doing an amazing work in bringing other writing traditions to the realm of the world’s global language.

I, From Nothing can be purchased direct from Wrecking Ball Press at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/i-from-nothing

Kathryn Williams

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Kathryn Williams

Kathryn Williams’ first novel The Ormering Tide – a brooding and astonishing debut from the Mercury Music Prize nominated singer-songwriter – is published on March 22, 2021 by Wrecking Ball Press. Ahead of publication, we caught up with Kathryn to discuss her move into writing fiction and to find out more about her novel.  

You’re making the transition from musician and songwriter to author. How does that feel?

Well, I’m still a songwriter … but yes, it’s been a big learning curve and a long time not telling anyone while I worked that out in my own head. The imposter syndrome I had for years in my musical career has returned for a second series!  

How does the creative process of writing fiction differ from and compare to songwriting?

Size is the biggest thing. I can write a song in a day , three or four songs even. With a book there has to be a commitment and a work ethic that has to last longer than the initial spark. Even then when you’ve got things creatively going there are edits, more edits and re-writes.  

Making music is clearly a very collaborative process, compared to the solitary existence of a writer of fiction – how do you feel about the latter?

I started writing songs in secret – just the same as writing this novel. But yes the routine of the workload does make it solitary in the real world. When I finished the book, however, I really missed the characters.  

Can you tell us more about your writing process? 

I did a lot of the early stages when I was travelling on tour, on trains, in hotel rooms, backstage. I would write notes and email them to myself. As it grew I then started taking my kids to school, getting into bed and then realising I’d written all day and it was time for school pick up. A writer friend recommended Scrivener to use to write, as I could move scenes around in there and it has an archive and places for research.  

How and when did the idea for The Ormering Tide come to you?

The first idea for the story started when I visited a bay where my husband’s grandparents lived and he mentioned a woman that used to live on the cliff. I started to get down my idea of how she got there and then the characters just started speaking and doing things.  

Why this story, now?

I can’t really answer that because I didn’t have a plan or preconception of what I was writing being in the world we are currently living in now. But now we are here in this strange predicament, I think it’s like a dream, and it brings focus to the small beauty and the unseen we take for granted around us.  

What experience do you want readers of The Ormering Tide to have?

I want them to feel they they are standing in front of the sea, taking deep breaths and imagining the sky is inside them.  

Who do you think the audience for your fiction is?

I think it has a poetic way of seeing the world through Rozel’s childlike eyes. It’s a small book that you can dive into and stay enveloped in … so I would say even busy people can be whisked away by it.  

You’re undoubtedly a strong female role model in the arts – how important is this to you?

It means more to me now than it used to. Mainly because I now have the opportunity to support and promote other women in arts.  

Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?

I know that they are willing to take a chance on something they love. They have to be inventive and creative in finding ways to reach people and survive. Having had my own music label, as well as having been signed to a major label, and now with an independent record label, I’ve seen the different corporate worlds in music which I think could probably translate to book publishing. I’m overjoyed to have my book’s first home with an independent publisher with such a great roster.  

What more can we expect from Kathryn Williams, the novelist?

I’m working on my second novel but I don’t want to spoil the surprise.   More generally, what else are you working on and what does the future hold for you as an artist? I’m finishing a project I’ve been writing with Carol Ann Duffy, which is an album of Christmas songs. It’s been a joy to make. I have a solo album in the works produced by Ed Harcourt. I’m writing a theatre and television piece with Kit Green and Mark Davies based on a gay bar in Liverpool in the 60s called The Magic Clock, which is in development with the Liverpool Everyman. I have also been co-writing songs for artists in Sweden and Norway. I do a live Instagram request show each Thursday which has been keeping me sane in lockdown and keeps me connected to fans. But also I’m home educating my kids and keeping on top of the wash loads!

Pre-order now directly from Wrecking Ball Press at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/the-ormering-tide/

Never Try To Outswim A Bear

Poet interview: Fiona Curran

Fiona Curran is a poet, sonic artist and filmmaker, and also a lecturer in filmmaking. Her first poetry collection, The Hail Mary Pass, was published by Wrecking Ball Press in 2006. Wilton Carhoot, editor of The Slab, said: “Fiona Curran is a bright and feisty northern voice. She treads the landscape of the urban and the domestic, from the smokey fug of the betting shop to the lavender scent of the bathroom. I like Fiona’s poems because she writes about real people who truly exist and whose lives and wine-fuelled loves I can believe in. The Hail Mary Pass is spunky, sexy and brash. This is a belter of a debut and I very very much look forward to the next verse.” Wrecking Ball Press will publish Fiona’s new collection, Never Try to Outswim a Bear, on October 26. We spoke to Fiona to find out more about the collection.

You’ve got a new collection on the way – Never Try to Outswim a Bear – great title, by the way. What can readers expect?

Hummmmm, it’s a real mix to be honest, black humour, grief, period pieces, nature, reflections on art, examinations of the language of flowers, lost lovers, found lovers, the poetry of place, The Postcard Series, Poetry as Script, The Scientist Series…

Can you tell us something about where this collection came from, when you started work on the pieces within, why you wrote it, how it developed?

It’s such a mixed bag, and frankly was written over quite a long time, but I think the underlying theme is one of loss in many forms. Also I was trying to capture some fleeting moments, the things (sometimes quite momentous) just caught in the corner of the eye.

Some of the poems are presented in the form of postcards, what is the reason for this?

I always loved the way that postcards “limit” what you can say, that you have to be succinct, and yet, no matter the picture, they always seem to me to be a joyful and unexpected thing, and I always loved receiving them. They deserve to be celebrated as a writing form. Angela Carter, for instance, was brilliant at them.

How does your work as a lecturer, sonic artist, filmmaker and poet intersect?

It intersects completely. Eventually I gave up trying to reconcile all of the practices and just decided to call myself an artist and be done with it. Nothing I do really stands alone, it’s all water from the same well.

You’re creating films to accompany the collection, can you let us know what to expect?

Some are already in the bag. For instance, The Scientist Series (where a lone female scientist tries to distill and understand grief) gave birth to four experimental films. These are pretty diverse and include a process documentary with a twist, set in a coffin factory, a dancer coming to terms with the lid of the final box, and the escape from purgatory of the dead (me, in fact), making my way back to the land of the living – in this case arriving finally in Ridley Road Market – God Bless Hackney!

Who are you writing for?

That is a very good question! Curious women who are shot through with their own burning experiences.

What experience do you want your readers to have with your work?

I’m just vain enough to hope that a single poem catches a reader and echoes in their mind – perhaps enough to lead them to explore a subject personally.

When you’re embarking on a new piece of work, whether a poem or a piece of visual or sonic art, what approach do you take?

I used to be a big over-thinker. I almost had it done in my mind long before I committed to paper. I’ve stopped doing that now. It kills it. I’ve learned, too, that if I am collaborating, to give the other people succinct direction, but also a lot of freedom – there’s got to be something in it for them. It pays to be surprised when you are making work. I like the feeling of “Good grief, where did that come from and what am I going to do with it?”

Tell us more about your process?

I used to be very much a morning person, but now I take it when it comes! Nothing is ever wasted. It’s all in there somewhere, so I work when I can and when I feel I’ve got something worth saying/showing. I am quicker to spot what won’t work now, before I’ve written myself into a corner and destroyed what was just about flowing. But I’ve also learned that even seemingly insurmountable problems are best addressed by temporarily walking away. Sleeping on it will often give you the solution, or the clarity, you need. And sometimes you just have to abandon ship.

Do you do a lot of planning or procrastinating before you sit down and get writing?

No – there is a Zen saying “We are wrong if we think there is time…” Procrastination doesn’t really exist if you have something driving you to examine your own humanity.

Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?

Frankly, they have never been anything but good to me. I’ve had some wonderful relationships with publishers of small presses and magazines over the years, and I very much include Wrecking Ball here! It’s great to see some of the small presses managing to grow and being recognised as part of the reading culture, simply through their own publishing discernment.

The Hail Mary Pass was published 15 years ago. Looking back, what are your thoughts on the collection and the response to it?

My God, 15 years! It was such an urgent thing getting that first collection published, I wish I had just enjoyed it more! Some of the writing still stands up but in some other poems, it’s like meeting a stranger.

What else are you working on now?

Ahh, well it was going to be a new, much bigger film! I have a re-occurring image, but no detail I can share! But we will have to see what happens in a (hopefully) post Covid-19 world. I think all writers and artists will be reexamining their ideas in what could be a post capitalist world. Whatever we do next has to be relevant, and address that world, not be just more of the same schtick.

So what’s the future hold for Fiona Curran?

For the moment crossed fingers. And I’d like to go back to Rome very soon…

Buy Never Try to Outswim a Bear online.

POET INTERVIEW: Paul Birtill

POET INTERVIEW: Paul Birtill

Paul Birtill was born in Walton, Liverpool in 1960 to an English father and Irish, County Meath mother and lives in London. He has published a number of collections with Hearing Eye, including New and Selected Poems. He is also an accomplished playwright and several of his plays have been staged at London theatres, including Squalor, which was short-listed for the prestigious Verity Bargate Award.
 
Paul’s new collection Bad News will be published by Wrecking Ball Press on September 14. The collection sees the poet return to his favourite themes of death, relationships and mental illness with his usual brand of dark humour, deep-veined irony and more than one poem about Coronavirus. We had a chat with Paul so he could tell us more about his new collection and squash the rumours about his use of correction fluid.
 
How would you describe Bad News?
The collection is a mixture of work, some of which is autobiographical, some of which is semi-autobiographical and a somewhat exaggerated version of events and some that display my usual black comedy.
 
Can you tell us something about where this collection came from, when you started work on the pieces within, why you wrote them, how they developed and how Bad News came to the attention of Wrecking Ball?
I started working on the poems in this collection just under three years ago. What tends to happen is that when I have enough poems together, maybe around 40, I’ll start to think about them in terms of a collection and come up with the title at that point. Coronavirus happened and I wanted to write something about it because we are living through history here and it’s important to capture that, even in my own funny way.
 
I’ve known the poet Dean Wilson for 20 years and I knew Roddy Lumsden, both published by Wrecking Ball. I sent some poems for inclusion in The Reater years ago but there were no more Reaters so that was that, even though the editor liked them. I read with Dean in Liverpool a couple of years ago and we swapped books. I really liked his book and the quality of its production and he told me to try Wrecking Ball again. So it’s all Dean’s fault.
 
Who are you writing for?
Normally I write poems in notebooks and if they’re any good I type them up on a typewriter. I start by reading them to half a dozen good friends and if they like them they’re in. If not, I don’t bother. So initially I write for my small circle of friends because they’re a good critical audience.
 
What experience do you want your readers to have with your work?
Somebody once said to Brendan Behan, “what’s the message in your work?” And he said, “there is no message, I’m not a fucking postman.” Sometimes I’m expressing ideas or my point of view which some people might find bleak and depressing but I also like to make people laugh.
 
Would you like to share something about your experience with independent publishers?
I had a great working relationship with John Rety, who founded Hearing Eye. He was the poetry editor of the Morning Star, an anarchist and a really good chess player. John published my first collection Terrifying Ordeal in 1996 and went on to publish other collections of mine and pamphlets and I liked him a lot. Good independents allow writers to remain independent too.
 
You avoid technology and continue to write on a typewriter. Why is that?
I do avoid technology, yes. I’ve never been on an aeroplane and if I travel to Europe I take a boat or Eurostar. I don’t drive a car and it was only in the last year that I got round to getting a mobile phone and only then because the landline was getting more expensive and there were some good deals to be had.
 
I’ve never really liked technology and I’m not the most practical or technically minded person, so I’ve never really wanted a computer. Someone told me once that they had a computer but quickly went back to a typewriter because they found it too easy to change things on screen and that’s what I feel too.
 
I have an electric typewriter, a Brother, that I’ve had for 30 years. I can’t even buy the ribbons in Rymans these days so have to order them and I hope I can continue to keep buying them when I need to but so few people use typewriters these days. I’m also a great user of Tippex. When I’m stocking up on Tippex at the newsagent’s I don’t think he quite believes that I use a typewriter at all. I’m pretty sure he thinks I sniff the Tippex.
 
How is the London life these days?
I moved down here from Liverpool on July 1, 1983. I’m quite good with dates. I’ve been here ever since aside from a year. I live down a leafy road near Hampstead Heath, so I’m in one of the nicest parts of London. Camden Town is down the road if I want to socialise, which I did a lot when I was younger.
 
I lived in Glasgow for a year, during the European Capital of Culture year. It was the dream place for a writer to be although I moved there for the drink and a woman I was unhealthily obsessed with. That was a great year-long party, the pubs never closed. I nearly stayed but then I ended up back in London after the year. If I ever do move from here now it would be to live back in Liverpool.
 
What does the future hold for you?
I’m coming up to 60th birthday next month. So with that and the publication of Bad News I’ll be enjoying myself. I’ve already got 20 more poems written and I’m still quite prolific as a poet, so more of that. I’ve also been a playwright since 1984, at the time of the miners’ strike, and have written ten plays and written poetry since 1987. The problem with plays is that you need a really strong idea to be able to sustain 90 minutes whereas with poetry, in ten lines you can write about something quirky and specific. 
 
Paul Birtill’s Bad News can purchased online at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/bad-news/
AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Tony O'Neill

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Tony O’Neill

Tony O’Neill’s brutal debut novel Digging The Vein was published in 2005 by Contemporary Press in the USA and Canada and, in the UK, by Wrecking Ball Press in 2006. Tony was born in Blackburn, Lancashire and now resides in New Jersey. Subsequent novels Down and Out on Murder Mile, Sick City and Black Neon were published via Harper Collins and Bluemoose Press, and have been translated into several languages. His debut graphic novel, La Vie Sauvage / The Savage Life, with illustrations by David Brulhart, was published in French via Helice Helas in 2016. An accomplished writer of non-fiction, Tony has co-authored several memoirs, while his journalism has appeared in a number of publications, including The Guardian, Dazed and Confused, The Fix, Black Book Substance and Vice. Digging The Vein is based upon Tony’s own experiences as an addict and sideman to acts as diverse as the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Kenickie and Marc Almond. Through the eyes of his anonymous narrator readers experience a side of Hollywood that few tourists ever see: Digging The Vein is an unsentimental journey through the underbelly of L.A.’s drug subculture. At the height of Coronavirus and the distruption the pandemic is causing worldwide, we caught up with Tony to talk Digging The Vein, writing and coping with life and what the future might hold.
 
Digging The Vein was your debut novel and a memoir of your passage from rising indie music star to drug user. 15 years have passed since its publication. What do you feel about the book now?
I actually had to go back and re-read it for the first time since I wrote it – or at least, parts of it – because I was working on a screenplay adaptation. It’s hard to read your own stuff. I think as a writer it’s really easy just to focus on the flaws. My instinct is always to try and re-write everything, fix it, change it. So when it’s fixed in print… it can be difficult. But coming back to it, there were some sections I really liked. You read back certain passages and you can tell that was one of those moments when you were just in that zone, you know, where the words are coming through clear as a bell and all you have to do is keep typing – transcribe it really – and try not to get in your own way. Those sections – you can feel it still when you re-read it. I think the strongest feeling of all when looking back at any book you read is a kind of sense of wonder that you managed it at all, followed by a mounting dread that you’ll never be able to do it again. That fear never seems to leave you. Every book feels like a bit of a fluke.
 
Can you tell us something about where the book came from, why you wrote it, how it developed?
It came from a place of great personal change, and I think of it as a marker of the place where my life diverged totally. It was kind of a purging of my old life, of the years of addiction and desperation, and a kind of ‘hail Mary’ attempt to write myself into a new existence, if that makes any sense. I wrote it just as my now-wife was pregnant with our daughter, and I was coming off methadone after years of heroin use and methadone maintenance. The worst part of all of that isn’t the acute phase – the stuff they show you in the movies, when you’re puking and shitting and dying for a fix… that stuff is just the dramatic part. The worst part is what happens afterwards… the mourning period, when this thing that has been the north star of your entire life – your reason for getting out of bed in the morning, the thing that gives you sustenance, and happiness, and forms the core of your identity – is no longer there. The despair that comes flooding into its place, the fear, is just all-consuming. If I hadn’t been so in love with Vanessa, and so desperate to be a good and present father to my unborn child, then I don’t know how on earth I would have made it. So, the book became a kind of declaration of that intent as it went on. I mean, it started out as something to do to keep myself sane in the early part of it all. Just writing about these vivid and painful memories as a way to distract myself, keep my worst instincts at bay. But as it went on, I became irrationally fixated on the idea that it represented something else for me. A second chance, or another way of living, or… something. I finished the first draft the same week that Vanessa went into labour. Some of the early chapters were taken from things I found in old diaries and on an old laptop, vignettes that were pretty much written as they happened, but the vast majority of the book was written in London in that state of… I don’t know what you’d call it, really. Hopeful desperation, perhaps.
 
Does your background as a musician inform your work as a writer?
Definitely, I mean I still make sense of things in musical terms, I suppose. When I think of a certain mood I want to evoke, or a voice I want to get down, then very often I think of things in terms of – you know, a Tom Waits kind of feeling, or whatever. I suppose it’s not much different from someone aiming for a Hemingway type of feel to a piece, is it? Except I’d probably think of it more as a Ramones type of thing: short, sharp and to the point.
 
Who are you writing for?
The only answer I can give there is ‘myself’ although that’s never quite true is it? There’s always an ideal reader in mind, perhaps someone who likes the same writers and/or musicians that you do. But ultimately thinking too much about who is reading your work can be fatal. I got into a bit of a problem with that after Sick City and Black Neon. It started halfway through Black Neon, I started wondering about what the reader was going to think of this or that, or particularly what the reader who’d liked the last book would think – and it fucking crippled me. For years. Finishing Black Neon was really, really difficult. After that I just had the most horrendous writer’s block, that coincided with some real-life trauma that completely knocked me off the horse for a few years. There was a car accident, a brief relapse, it was just a horrible period in my life. I spent a few years just spinning my wheels, starting books and abandoning them. Constantly re-writing the same material until there was nothing left but mush. I eventually got out of it by collaborating with a great Swiss illustrator on a graphic novel, a guy called David Brulhart. Just having someone else there to bounce ideas off, to be inspired by – I mean, his artwork is just superb, and I wound up writing something that was very different from what came before – kind of dreamlike, and surreal but also with this noir-thriller kind of feel, and that process – where the story was being led as much by the art David was producing, as it was by my own instinct – was super freeing. Following that, I started working on screenplays, and slowly but surely the problem dissipated. But it was terrifying and pretty fucking depressing while it was going on. I mean, a writer who can’t write… is there anything worse than that? I felt like a knackered old horse that needed to be taken out to a back field and put out of its misery.

When you’re embarking on a new piece of work, whether a short story or a novel, what approach do you take?
With the books I think my approach is closest to the one that Stephen King talks about in On Writing – the idea of starting with an image, or a character, or a juxtaposition of ideas and then just chipping away at them, like an archeologist finding evidence of something buried underground and slowly digging around it, never quite being sure what the hell is under there. Even with Sick City, which relied a lot on plotting, and multiple characters, and didn’t work from an outline. You just start with your idea, and start writing, and with a bit of luck the thing will pick up enough speed along the way that you’ll make it to the end. The process for a screenplay is totally different. With that it helps to plot and outline, break the thing into acts. There’s a structure, and very strict length and format constraints that you have to work with. It’s two totally different ways of writing – like free-verse versus haiku.
 
Tell us a bit about your process? Are you disciplined when you sit down and start writing? Do you set a word count, work at a particular time of day?
Yes, I have to be disciplined. I treat it like a job, even if it often doesn’t pay like one! But I have a routine. I sit down to write at the same time every day, and although I don’t give myself minimum word counts, I don’t have to if things are going well. But I do make sure that I don’t check emails, or go online until later in the day, to kind of avoid just fucking around and not getting anything done. There aren’t days when I don’t want to write. If I didn’t write every day I’d be lost, so the routine is just a reflexive thing at this point, like brushing my teeth or whatever. It’s what keeps me sane, I think. Even when the writing isn’t going well, just the act of sitting down and fiddling with something unfinished, it just gives me a sense of normality and sanity that nothing else really does. The upside of this whole Coronavirus thing is that I have more time at home to work now, and aside from all of the financial scarcity and the fears about loved ones and all the rest of it, just knowing there’s a decent chunk of the day when I can sit down at my computer, close the door, and write… that’s what keeps me going a lot of the time.
 
Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?
I’ve been lucky. I’ve had very positive experiences with the majority of publishers I’ve worked with. Of course, some feel more special to me than others, perhaps because of the people or the impact that particular book had on me – but I have always been fortunate to work with people who I thought really cared, and really wanted to do right by the books (and me). I’ve worked with Wrecking Ball Press of course, and also Bluemoose (who did Black Neon) and also Galley Beggar – three publishers who represent some of the very best in British independent publishing, to my mind. Kind, smart dedicated people who always seemed to be working from a place of love for the books they were putting out, a desire to do right by their authors – it’s the best you could ask for, as a writer. So perhaps I’m an outlier, in that my experiences have been pretty much fantastic. Comparing my experiences with indies as opposed to the books I did with, say, Harper Perennial… of course, there’s a certain reach that the big publishers have – in terms of finances and publicity – but I really believe that in today’s industry the independents can be just as effective, perhaps even more so, than the big guys. That said, Perennial were very good to me, although in many ways that’s because they acted and thought a bit like an independent. So once again, perhaps my experience is not typical. You’ve got to remember that at the time they did my books, they also were putting out stuff by Dan Fante, Dennis Cooper, Mark SaFranko, Sebastian Horsley. I mean, they weren’t a typical stuffy, corporate publisher by any stretch of the imagination. However, I do know people who went with the big guys and just felt like they got lost. Especially if their stuff was a little more edgy, or not as commercial, at least.
 
You live in New Jersey. Does this have any impact on your writing?
None at all, really. I mean, the place I live in Jersey is basically an adjunct to New York. Like so many families, we got priced out of the city and had to find a place that was affordable, had a decent public-school system, and didn’t leave us too far out of the city. I mean, in impacts my writing in that I have a place to write, and we don’t have to worry about having to pack up and move in a few years if the landlord decides to raise our rent or sell the building out from under us, but in terms of the sensibility of the writing I’m still a city boy, at heart.
 
You also write non-fiction and journalism. Does this work require a different approach? How do these two worlds intersect?
The only real point of intersection is that the journalism tends to pay, and money helps give me time to focus on my writing. I find journalism hard, and I’m not someone who can just write about something I’m not interested in… so if you look at all of the non-fiction I’ve done, there are themes running through it that run through the books too. I did a little bit of stuff at the beginning – real ‘gun for hire’ stuff, but I found it so difficult to do it that it ended up not being worth it to me. Writing 1,000 words on something I’ve got no interest in takes me forever because I find it so painfully difficult. So it becomes almost not worth it, financially. But on the flipside, when I’ve found an editor who I like and who lets me write about subjects I’m interested in, then I’ll stick with them. They cant shake me! There’s one fellow called Will, who I’ve followed to at least three different online journals, because I know that he won’t edit me to death, and he’ll let me write about things that I find interesting, and I just LIKE him. It’s that simple. I wish I could turn it off a bit more, write to order, but to be honest I probably couldn’t make money that way. I find that it’s a bit of a slippery slope, that kind of thing. Writing crap for money. We all have to live, but I find it easier to do manual work, or do courier work, or something totally separate from my writing to pay the bills and give myself space to write, than to try and write commercially. Not only are the well-paid gigs hard to find, but I think you just end up resenting it and the worst thing you could do – in my eyes – is to start associating the act writing with that kind of negative feeling. I know that some people can turn it on and off, but until the day that my books and the screenplays are enough to keep the family afloat on their own, I prefer to make up the difference away from the keyboard.
 
You’re a founding member of the Brutalists, a literary collective including authors Adelle Stripe and Ben Myers. Care to tell us more about that?
Both Ben and Adelle were really important friends in the beginning, when we were all just starting out. Finding like-minded souls, people whose work you really loved and who were just so full of ideas and inspiring, that’s the kind of thing that keeps you pushing on throughout all of the self-doubt and other bad stuff that can derail you in the beginning. It’s been amazing to see how brilliantly both Ben and Adelle’s careers have taken off in recent years. I remember when Adelle was first talking about the book that turned into Black teeth and a Brilliant Smile. To see her take it all the way to the finish line like that, and then to see the reaction it got? Fucking brilliant. And then, Ben’s fucking wild – he keeps writing these amazing books that just seem to get bigger and better every time, and watching both of their profile’s rise over the years from my vantage point over here in the States, I can honestly say that the prevailing emotion has been one of overwhelming pride. And also a kind of validation. It’s so good to see lots of people seeing the same brilliance that I saw in those early essays, in long-out-of-business fanzines and since-defunct webzines. I love it when I think that there was a time we were all issuing manifestos and dreaming about stuff like this, and now the world seems to have caught up with it! How cool is that? As for the future, you know I’m a big ‘never say never’ person. I think it would be really, really fun to do something again. Why not?
 
What are you working on now?
The last few years have been mostly about screenplays. I’d had some interest from Hollywood in the books, and its kind of led me onto this journey of both working with and also meeting some amazingly talented screenwriters… guys like Jayson Rothwell, and Bret Easton Ellis, or Jim Uhls. And throughout it all I started looking at the screenplays they were doing, and getting more and more interested in that side of writing and started making some clumsy forays into it until I basically taught myself the form. It was difficult at first. Amazing how being able to write a decent novel does NOT automatically translate into being able to turn out a solid script! I wrote some terrible shit at the beginning, I cringe to think about it. It’s a very different kind of writing, but I figured that while this door was open even just a crack, why not try my hand at it? The producers who approached me about turning Sick City into a series have been very supportive of the process. They really guided me through it and in the last 12 months I’ve turned one of my (unfinished) books into a pilot, finished a movie adaptation of the first two novels (Digging the Vein and Down and Out on Murder Mile), and had a few other interesting projects on the table (this all before the world fucking ended and everything came to a grinding halt, of course!). Now with the Coronavirus thing going on, a lot of those projects are on hold, so I have turned my attention to something that’s been on my mind for the last few years – finishing the next novel. So… that’s what I’m doing. It’s still early days, so I don’t want to say too much about it, but I will say it’s a case of “so far, so good.”
 
So what’s the future hold for Tony O’Neill?
Who the hell knows? If all of this madness has shown us anything, it’s that none of us know what the future holds. Every day that I wake up breathing and relatively healthy is okay by me. I’ll just keep doing the stuff I can control – writing, being the best husband and father and I can be, trying to keep the old demons at bay – and hopefully the future will work itself out.
 
Anything else you’d like to add?
Um… wash your hands x
  
Tony O’Neill’s Digging The Vein can be purchased online at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/digging-the-vein/ 
 
For more information about Tony O’Neill visit tonyoneill.net
WRITER INTERVIEW: Russ Litten

WRITER INTERVIEW: Russ Litten

Russ Litten is the author of Scream If You Want To Go Faster (Windmill Books), Swear Down (Tindal Street Press​) and Kingdom, published by Wrecking Ball Press in 2015. He has also written for TV, film, radio and the stage. Russ spent five years as a Writer In Residence at a prison in the north of England and also runs workshops and seminars in prisons and Youth Offender Institutes across the UK on behalf of English PEN. He is a regular tutor at Arvon Writing Courses and a workshop tutor for First Story in a secondary school. In 2016 Russ, along with the internationally renowned producer and musician Steve Cobby, released the spoken word/electronica album My People Come from the Sea. The album Boothferry followed in 2017. A collection of short stories We Know What We Are (Obliterati Press) was published in May 2018. His debut poetry collection I Can See The Lights was published by Wild Pressed Books in February 2020 and a free launch for the collection takes place at Hull’s Union Mash Up on February 20. We caught up with Russ a few days before publication.
 
Tell us about your first poetry collection I Can See The Lights? What can readers expect, and why poetry, now?
I’m always a bit reticent to call these pieces of writing ‘poetry’, mainly because I’m surrounded by so many great poets who know much more about the craft than I do. To me, many of the fragments in I Can See The Lights fall somewhere between song lyrics and prose. I suppose this is because a lot of them were written as spoken word pieces to accompany Steve Cobby’s music. So there is the poetic use of rhyme, metre etc, but they are ultimately concerned with telling a story. I think I got into writing this way because I didn’t have the energy for a novel and shorter pieces seemed to appeal.

Are you working on a novel currently? Or have one in the pipeline? Can you tell us anything about that?
I’m working on a novel based upon my experiences of working in prisons. It’s the very first novel that I’ve plotted out before sitting down to write the thing. I think it would be best described as a psychological thriller.

We love your musical collaborations with Cobby and others. You’ve got your fingers in a lot of pies. Is it all part of the same creative urge? Is one of your creative pursuits more satisfactory than others?
I started off writing words to music when I was in a band back in my teens and everything I’ve done since then has been a natural progression from that. Working with Steve was great for me, because it emphasised the importance of improvisation and how that can result in stuff that’s very pure because it’s not over-thought or laboured to death. Music is a lot more instant than the published word, you can write, make and release stuff very quickly, so you don’t end up second-guessing yourself. They’re more like snapshots in time. More recently, I got back into playing with bands and that’s been good again because it’s a lot more structured and compact, the discipline of writing verses, choruses etc – which I never really bothered with when we were doing the electronica with Cobby and Litten. Playing music is communal and collaborative, much more so than the lonely solo flight of writing. I see writing and music as different sides to the same thing. They each give me what the other cannot, so I feel doubly blessed to be doing both. I usually have music on when I write, and there’s definitely a beat I find myself tapping into when the keys are being struck. I think it’s maybe to do with being a bass player, where you get rhythm and melody rolled into one.

Kingdom defied easy categorisation and was difficult for mainstream publishers to get their heads wrapped around. Tell us how the book came about, the response and your thoughts on genre?
That book came about as a result of a surgical procedure. I came out of a local anaesthetic and thought I was a ghost for about 30 seconds. So I sort of went with that idea. I’ve always been interested in magical realism, which is what I suppose I was aiming for with Kingdom. The response was about the same as all my other books – pockets of appreciation within a general blanket of indifference. It’s probably my most personal book and the one I’m most proud of, I think. As for genre, I think I’m going to attempt to write a book in each and every one, so romance and sci-fi are next on the list. That should keep me busy for a bit.

Who are you writing for?
I always used to say I was writing for myself, but that seems a bit of a glib answer these days. Most of the books I tend to like seem to wallow in relative obscurity, so I’d probably be slightly better off if I considered the sensibilities of others. I am submitting the work after all, putting a price on the back and asking people to buy it. This came as something of a revelation to me after my wife suggested that I write something that “people would actually want to read.” So now I’m writing for my wife.

What experience do you want your readers to have with your work?
I would like them to come away from one of my stories feeling that there is some hope and light in the world. I was always concerned with presenting things in their raw and naked form, a kind of unflinching veracity, but I’ve shifted my thinking on this in recent times. My stuff is always described as “gritty”, “earthy” etc etc which is fair enough, but I don’t feel that this is enough any more. I would like to make a positive emotional connection. Like Lou Reed said, it’s important that people don’t feel so alone. So I would like them to have a transcendental experience, please. If that’s not too much to ask for.

When you’re embarking on a new piece of work, whether that’s a poem, short story or a full length novel, what approach do you take?
I tend to just get voices talking on the page, wether that’s versions of myself or somebody totally new. After a while I can start to see what the form should be for the particular story that emerges. Some of them get longer, some of them stay short. It’s a sort of clairvoyant approach that I learnt from the ladies whose hair my mam would set in our back kitchen when I was a nipper. They’d go into trances and start talking to ghosts with a head full of rollers.

Tell us a bit about your process? Are you disciplined when you sit down and start writing? Do you set a word count, work at a particular time of day, or anything else?
I am disciplined when I can see a story has got potential. If I’m on with a novel, I try and start as early as possible. This gets easier as the mornings get lighter. I go for as long as I’m fired up about it, which can be anything from half an hour to four or five hours. One tip I learned off Hemingway was to always stop when you know what’s coming next. That’s served me well with regards to momentum.

Do you do a lot of planning or procrastinating before you sit down and get writing?
With this new novel, the planning has become a form of procrastination. I’ve got dates, timelines, biographies, chapter plans, narrative arcs … I don’t usually bother with all that stuff, I’m more concerned with discovering the story through the act of writing and re-drafting etc. Shaping the story out of the text as it unfolds. That involves staring out of the window a lot, or walking the dog. With this one, I know what’s happening so there’s less a sense of wandering about in the wilderness. I can still find a thousand things to do before writing though. But once I’ve got the bit between my teeth, I tend to get on with it. I have periods of indolence verging on horizontal, then I guilt-trip myself into prolonged bouts of hard graft.

You’ve been on both sides of the publishing game, and have had work published by large publishing houses and indies. What are your thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?
I think independent publishers are certainly less risk-averse then the major publishing houses. The obvious downside is the lack of money and marketing muscle. Ultimately, wether a publisher is major or independent, it boils down to the people who work there and how much time and effort they’re willing to put into your writing. This can vary wildly, regardless of size or bank balance.

What impact does Hull have on your writing?
It is my natural voice and will probably inform most things that I write purely because my preferred mode is auto-fiction. It doesn’t really go beyond that. I’m not trying to say anything about Hull, the place or the people, in particular. It’s just where I live, what I see when I look out the window.

You’ve led workshops at Arvon centres, in prisons and with secondary schools. What makes for a good workshop? And what, if any, are the differences in the way those different groups run?
A good workshop relies on the person leading it being genuinely interested in writing and passionate about the subject matter. There is no “how to” with creative writing, all you can offer is your perspective as a fellow writer, and offer your views to be challenged. More immediately – and crucially – you have to establish an atmosphere of mutual support and trust and human warmth. I think that goes for wherever you hold such a gathering. The differences in the way they are run are borne of logistical pressures. Prison and hostel work is often fragmented and subject to interruptions, so poetry is often the favoured mode of expression. Retreats such as Arvon mean you have the time and space to consider longer pieces of work. But I think the thing common to all is to be open minded and encouraging. The only rule for writing is “does it work?”. It’s a source of constant wonder. I also think it is good to have something at the end of a series of workshops, either a published anthology or a reading or recording.

Are there too many creative writing courses these days?
No, there should be more. And they should all be free.
  
Russ Litten’s Kingdom can be purchased online at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/kingdom/
 
 
For more information about Russ Litten visit www.russlitten.com
AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Lee Harrison

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Lee Harrison

Kitchen sink epic fantasy The Bastard Wonderland was the stunning debut novel from writer Lee Harrison. As Shellie Horst wrote for SFFWorld.com, “The Bastard Wonderland has epic fantasy scale with solid industrial fantasy technologies woven in. It answers the call for the working class protagonist. It wriggled its way under the radar of man, yet continues to win readers over with its Steptoe and Son feel.” We caught up with Lee to find out more about the book, his writing process and the importance of libraries.
 
The Bastard Wonderland is an astonishing debut fantasy novel. Can you tell us something about where the book came from, why you wrote it, how it developed and how it ended up being published by Wrecking Ball?
Thanks, pals! The Bastarard Wonderland came from all over the shop and took a long time to evolve. It started from my lifelong ambition to write a fantasy epic like the swords and sorcery stuff I loved as a kid. I got side-tracked in my twenties, did a degree in Religious Studies almost by accident, and then had a bit of a breakthrough with some grim contemporary short stories. 
 
I learned that humour and a sense of real life can really make your writing sing – and yet I could never quite shake the urge to write fantasy type stuff – so TBW came back, and ended up influenced by all of the aforementioned. It became a very different, more complex beast than what I thought I’d set out to do – but It’s really just about how people cope with change, in the end. I was very pleased with it – but the difference was a problem for the mainstream publishers I submitted to – almost all of them enthused about the work itself, but it was turned down on marketing grounds, being so different than the standard fantasy fare already out there. Disappointing. So when Wrecking Ball Press picked it up without any faffing or doubts, I was delighted. It is the strength of independent publishing that it has the power to champion interesting or offbeat writing without worrying about mass market appeal.
 
Can you explain what you mean by “kitchen sink epic fantasy”?
I realised through the process above that I enjoy fantasy, big themes, and made up monsters and all that – but I tend to see the world from Hull – from the North, from the working class perspective. The challenge and the intrigue for me, is to honour both – hence – kitchen sink epic. Most fantasy, from Tolkien to now, is written from a very entitled perspective, what with an emphasis on royalty and the old ‘chosen one’ trope – much of it is hackneyed, done to death, and doesn’t say anything to me. I think fantasy works best with its feet on the ground.
 
Who are you writing for?
Initially me, with the hope that some other weirdos might also enjoy it.
  
What experience do you want your readers to have with your work?
I want them to choke on sheer delight.
 
When you’re embarking on a new piece of work, whether that’s a short story or a full length novel, what approach do you take?
I usually have some sort of nucleus of an idea – perhaps just a scene or concept that intrigues me, and I start to flesh that out. Some of these fragments float around for years until they congeal with others, and the whole thing snaps together. Generally there is lots of procrastinating though – a lot of talking to myself and writing badly organised lists and notes.
 
Tell us a bit about your process? Are you disciplined when you sit down and start writing? Do you set a word count, work at a particular time of day, that kind of thing?
I feel like I’m working method out from scratch every time I start a new book. For the last one, Canyon of Ghosts, I had down a routine of sweeping up before I sat down to write, and lighting incense (it suited the theme and atmosphere of that story). I always prefer to write in the mornings. I tend not to apply targets because I just don’t stick to them – but recently I’ve had a go at the old minimum 1K a day rule – I found that only works when you’re drafting, and not revising – which is when the real decisions about the story and characters are made.
 
Do you do a lot of planning or procrastinating before you sit down and get writing? 
Yes – and then more planning and procrastinating at frequent junctures during the writing. The work actually gets done in the 0.1% of the time towards the end when I get on a roll.
  
You studied theology/religion at University – how does this manifest itself in your writing, if at all? 
It was a key part in the inspiration for TBW – I was fascinated by the idea of modernity, and that massive, calamitous shift from unshaken belief in religion to a godless, out of control modern world, and all the nuance and caveat that entailed. My degree never helped my vocational career in any direct way at all – but it set my imagination on fire. Religion contains the oldest, most profound, and most batshit stories in the world.
 
You’ve worked in libraries. What’s the importance of libraries and books in the 21st century? 
Experience tells me that the more libraries and librarians are viewed as redundant and outdated, the more necessary they are. We live in an information age where people are losing the skill and wherewithal to process and challenge information for themselves. As for books – we need stories – they are how we understand and enjoy life – and books are the most solid structure to tell and enjoy them. Its all very well having the latest Disney/Netflix/Franchise/Star Wars algorithm-based pig-feed shoved down your neck – but a decent book is something else – it challenges you.
 
What are you working on now?
I’m sitting on a recently finished book about a boy and his undead nana, which I personally think is ace, but probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever written. Next, despite having fallen out with Swords and Sorcery epics some time ago, I am currently having a spin at one. But with fireballs. And swearing. And seventies style comedy scenes. And an old northern bastard. And more fireballs.
 
So what does the future hold for Lee Harrison?
Fireballs. Maybe some more ghostly nanas. Then hopefully, a really weird novel about giant monsters, which will probably be another unsellable labour of proud love.
  
“He went out to the balcony as the horizon brightened. That godforsaken silver coast again. That bloody bastard wonderland. Chase it or die. He was the son of pioneers and adventurers, and now he understood.” 
 
In a land not too far away and a time yet to be decided, one man and his Dad embark on an epic journey of war, peace, love, religion, magnificent flying machines and mushy peas. 
 
The Bastard Wonderland can be purchased online at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/the-bastard-wonderland/