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Wrecking Ball Press

Never Try To Outswim A Bear

Published today: Never Try To Outswim A Bear

Fiona Curran’s new collection Never Try to Outswim a Bear, is published by Wrecking Ball Press today (26/10/2020).
 
This second collection from poet, sonic artist and filmmaker Fiona Curran is a stunning combination of dark humour, grief, nature, botany and science: Reflecting on art, love lost and found, and the poetry of place and displacement – from where she sends us knowing postcards. Within these pages, Curran captures fleeting moments and momentous events as so many impressions caught in the corner of an eye. Her work resonates with those who are alive to their own burning experiences. These poems are a curveball. Catch and propel them forward, on fire with your own thoughts.
 
We asked Fiona to share the books that inspired her at the time of writing this new collection.
 
Fiona said: “What amazed me, when Wrecking Ball asked me to come up with ten great books which had influenced me during the time of writing Never Try to Outswim a Bear, was just what has made the cut. And in fact eleven books feature, and I could quite possibly have given you 11 x 11 more!
 
“I think that in Carson, Thackery and Woolf, there is joy, wit and nothing short of a delicious harmony of high style with epic storytelling. A smile rarely leaves your lips when reading these books. Educated, Stasiland & Chernobyl Prayer are testaments to people maintaining their humanity, under extraordinary, unthinkable pressure.
 
“Cohen, Graeber and Odell write on a subject, by which, I am quite obsessed: the “culture” of work, and how our sometimes unquestioning workaholic natures (combined with new home working conditions) have imprisoned us in a capitalist labyrinth.
 
“The Vanishing Man is certainly one of the greatest examinations of the folly and conviction of the art collector; as well as an exquisite love letter to Velazquez.
 
“The Lost Pianos of Siberia is an elegy to the impact of music at ‘The End of Everything’ – a place so far away, as to be the centre of the world. It is a magnificent, almost accidental, history of the Russian people and their hungry musical embrace.”
 
Fiona’s selection of inspirational books is as follows:
 
The Autobiography of Red – Anne Carson
Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
Orlando – Virgina Woolf
Educated – Tara Westover
Stasiland: Stories from Behind the Berlin Wall – Anna Funder
Chernobyl Prayer: Voiced from Chernobyl – Svetlana Alexievich
Not Working: Why We Have to Stop – Josh Cohen
Bullshit Jobs: A Theory – David Graeber
How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy – Jenny Odell
The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velazquez – Laura Cumming
The Lost Pianos of Siberia – Sophy Roberts
 
 
 
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.

Contains Strong Language 2020

BBC Contains Strong Language

Wrecking Ball Press is delighted to partner with the BBC once again on BBC Contains Strong Language.

The partnership has seen three previous Contains Strong Language festivals delivered in Hull, from 2017-2019. For 2020, the UK’s largest festival of poetry and spoken word has relocated to Cumbria.

The festival takes place from September 25-27 at multiple locations that include Wordsworth Grasmere, Carlisle and Barrow-in-Furness. Live coverage of the festival will see events on BBC Arts BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4 with additional programmes on BBC iPlayer and BBC Sounds.

To find out more about Contains Strong Language 2020, view the brochure below and visit bbc.co.uk/containsstronglanguage, where you can also view highlights from previous festivals.

The Dean Wilson Film Club

Dean Wilson Film Club

Wrecking Ball Press is overjoyed at the news that the Dean Wilson Film Club is about to become a reality.

Dean is the self-titled fourth best poet in Hull and the second best poet in his beloved Withernsea. He collects pebbles off the beach and posts them on twitter, and writes poems that make your sides burst with laughter one minute and have you crying into your handkerchief the next. 

Wrecking Ball Press has published three collections by Dean: Take Me Up The Lighthouse (2020), WITH (2018) and Sometimes I’m So Happy I’m Not Safe On The Streets (2016) and he also appears in The Reater.

Earlier this year, Back to Ours hosted the online premiere of Dean and Dave Lee’s short film East Coast Fever. There was so much love for it that Back To Ours decided to ask the dynamic duo to film some more of Dean’s poems to create what the world has been waiting for – the Dean Wilson Film Club.

To access tune in to Back to Ours’ facebook and twitter streams at 9pm on the last Thursday of every month for a proper Dan treat and, in addition, get your dabbers ready for a game of bingo.

Ahead of the Dean Wilson Film Club launch, and between those monthly Thursdays, stock up your shelves with Dean’s three Wrecking Ball Press titles by visiting the links below.

Take Me Up The Lighthouse

WITH

Sometimes I’m So Happy I’m Not Safe On The Streets

Publication day: Paul Birtill’s Bad News

Published by: Wrecking Ball Press

Publication Date: September 14, 2020

Purchase directly from the Wrecking Ball Press website at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/bad-news/

Paul Birtill

Paul Birtill’s new collection Bad News 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.

Paul Birtill was born in Walton, Liverpool in 1960 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.

Packed with short, sharp, witty and irreverent observations.” –John Healy

Makes me laugh and feel depressed at the same time, and that’s a rare gift.” John Cooper Clarke

Time and again his dark humour hits the mark.” – Harry Eyres, Financial Times

His stark and hard-hitting verse skilfully echoes the neuroses of life.”Irish Post

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.

Purchase Bad News directly from the Wrecking Ball Press website at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/bad-news/

Wrecking Ball partners with The Rabbit Hole for Independent Bookshop Week

Independent Bookshop Week 2020

The Rabbit Hole, the independent bookshop based in Market Place, Brigg, has partnered with Wrecking Ball Press to celebrate Independent Bookshop Week 2020 (20-27 June).

The Rabbit Hole will be selling a range of Wrecking Ball titles in addition to other titles from indie publishers, national publishers, alongside events, book token offers and more to celebrate Indie Bookshops during the week. 

It will be one of hundreds of shops and events taking place at independent bookshops across the UK to mark Independent Bookshop Week.

The Rabbit Hole has just re opened after three months and is looking forward to the week to continue promoting Diversity in Books and reading.

Diverse Book Week started a run of events in June and working with schools and authors The Rabbit Hole will continue events throughout the summer. Authors like Richard O’ Neill, Onjali Rauf, Kathryn Evans Saviour Pirotta, Phil Earle, Katie Brosnan and up and coming local author/illustrator (Anna Terreros-Martin) Anna Doodles  all supported reading for pleasure events during “lockdown” reaching readers as far away as South Korea.

Nick Webb, from The Rabbit Hole, said: “The Rabbit Hole will be working with the wonderful and innovative Wrecking Ball Press based in Hull in an ongoing project to ‘Bridge the Gap’ across the Humber region. Working with publishers and independent groups and authors based in Hull, Grimsby, Scunthorpe and the many exciting and creative projects in the region.”

Signed copies of Dean Wilson’s collections will be available at The Rabbit Hole during Independent Bookshop Week 2020

Shane Rhodes, editor of Wrecking Ball Press, said: “We’re delighted to be partnering with The Rabbit Hole during Independent Bookshop Week. Books, reading, stories and poetry have never been more important than right now and independent bookshops are the lifeblood that give independent publishers like us the strength and power to get our books into the hands of readers.”

Wrecking Ball Press titles at The Rabbit Hole will include signed editions of books by Dean Wilson, Russ Litten, Vicky Foster, Peter Knaggs and Lee Harrison, alongside work by Toria Garbutt, Shirley May, celeste doaks, Isaiah Hull, Dan Fante and others.

Independent Bookshop Week launched in 2006 and is part of the Books Are My Bag campaign run by the Booksellers Association. IBW is a celebration of independent bookshops nationwide, and the role ‘indies’ play in their communities. Last year, the number of independent bookshops in BA membership grew to 890 shops, up from 883 in 2018.

Follow #indiebookshopweek / @booksaremybag to learn more about the campaign, or visit: indiebookshopweek.org.uk 

Follow The Rabbit Hole on twitter at @Therabbits21

Wrecking Ball Press Book Club

Poetry and prose from Wrecking Ball to you.

Imagine a Wrecking Ball Press title delivered to your door every single month. That’s what the Wrecking Ball Press Book Club is all about.

Here’s how it works – for just £80 we will send you a book on the same day every month for a year. The first book you will receive is your choice* – simply go through our back catalogue and pick the book you want.

After that we’ll select books for you from literary legends such as Ben Myers, Dan Fante, Roddy Lumsden, Geoff Hattersley, Niall Griffiths and exciting voices like Shirley May, Toria Garbutt, celeste doaks, Vicky Foster, Isaiah Hull, Barney Farmer, Dean Wilson, Andy Fletcher and Peter Knaggs.

So what are you waiting for? Join the Wrecking Ball Press Book Club, include all your contact details and, in the order notes, your choice of first book and we will add you to our lovely list of literature lovers who will be getting a year’s worth of words, one month at a time.

The £80 cost is fully inclusive of postage and packing, so the Wrecking Ball Press Book Club is great value for lovers of poetry and fiction.

So what are you waiting for? Head here to sign up:

https://wreckingballpress.com/product/wrecking-ball-press-book-club/

*excludes The City Speaks.

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
Wrecking Ball Press: Literature Lockdown

Wrecking Ball Press: Literature Lockdown

At Wrecking Ball Press we are, like other arts organisations, independent publishers and everyone across the UK, coming to terms with the impact of Coronavirus (COVID-19) on our work, day-to-day life, health and wellbeing. In the meantime, we’re giving away some free content to help you get through these difficult times and that we hope you will like.

Since 1997 Wrecking Ball Press has published high-quality, cutting-edge literature, building a national reputation that far exceeds its size. This is based on a commitment to connecting the most innovative and accessible novels and poetry with a readership not traditionally associated with literature. Wrecking Ball Press has a strong record of discovering exciting first time writers, many of whom have gone on to have further commercial and critical success with larger publishers.

We have a wealth of digital and analogue archives that we’re currently exploring and will be posting links to here for you to enjoy and engage with.

Our Books

Our books are available to buy directly from our online shop at https://wreckingballpress.com/shop/ 

In order to chew over your selection, you can browse our current catalogue on issuu here:

Wrecking Ball Press Catalogue 2020

If browsing catalogues isn’t your thing, you can watch the video below for a quick view of our available titles.

The Reater – Issue 4

In 2000 we published a special Millennium issue of The Reater. The Reater – Issue 4 contains a 40-track CD, featuring live readings by various poets. Contributors include Brendan Cleary, Ian Parks, Dean Wilson, Daithidh Maceochaidh, Labi Siffre and Fred Voss. We’ve posted a large selection of those recordings for you here. 

Dean Wilson

Dean Wilson has recorded a number of poems for us from his collection Sometimes I’m So Happy I’m Not Safe On the Streets, many of which he does not perform in public. Massive thanks to Dean for taking the time to record these poems.

Shane Rhodes – The City Speaks

The City Speaks, by poet Shane Rhodes, reflects on Hull’s history and its people and is engraved in Hull’s newly paved Queen Victoria Square. Local author Russ Litten says, “The words will now last another lifetime, but their sentiment will chime in the hearts and minds of our citizens for generations to come.” The poem was published in 2017 as a beautifully bound limited edition (3,000) book.

The City Speaks – Book Design

The limited edition book for The City Speaks was created by Human Design. Here, they talk about the process of creating a beautiful artefact, something that is both authentic and engaging, and a book which is of the city itself. http://humandesign.co.uk/portfolio/the-city-speaks-book-design/

The City Speaks – Hull 2017 launch film

Created for the opening ceremony of Hull 2017 UK City of Culture, this film by Dave Lee takes Shane Rhodes’ poem The City Speaks, which is about the history of Hull and its people, and attempts to reflect the words by showing the city and citizens as they are in the present day.

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