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National Poetry Day 2021 – Vicky Foster’s The Constant Parade

Hull’s High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) and Humber Mouth Literature Festival have partnered with Wrecking Ball Press to commission Whitefriargate’s poet-in-residence for 2021, Vicky Foster.

Drawing on the street’s rich history and its long-standing role in the story of the city and the people who live and work on Whitefriargate, Vicky has written ‘The Constant Parade’.

Launching on National Poetry Day on Thursday 7 October, this short film of Vicky reading the poem, made by Wrecking Ball Press, will be seen on the big screen in Trinity Market Food Hall.

The poem will also be stencilled on the pavement at six locations along Whitefriargate.

The project has been funded by Historic England as part of Hull’s High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) and forms part of the Community Engagement Plan.

Vicky Foster is an award-winning writer, performer and poet who has broadcast extensively across the BBC. She has published two collections of writing and is currently working on her first novel whilst studying for a PhD in English and Creative Writing. She won The Society of Authors’ Imison Award at the 2020 BBC Audio Drama Awards for her Radio 4 play ‘Bathwater’, and last year her Radio 4 documentary, ‘Can I Talk About Heroes?’ was reviewed in the national media. She has written poetry for radio, podcast and TV, delivered writing projects and creative writing workshops for all kinds of organisations, and performed at festivals and events across the North. She is a writer-in-residence for First Story, working with schools to help young people write their own stories.

Find out more 

Wrecking Ball Press: 

https://wreckingballpress.com

https://twitter.com/wbphull

https://www.facebook.com/wreckingballpress/

Humber Mouth: 

http://humbermouth.com/vickyfoster/

https://twitter.com/humbermouth

https://www.facebook.com/humbermouthliteraturefestival

Historic England: 

https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/heritage-action-zones/regenerating-historic-high-streets/

POET INTERVIEW: Mike Ferguson

Mike FergusonMike Ferguson’s poetry collection Drawing On Previous Learning was published in August by Wrecking Ball Press.

Drawing On Previous Learning is an eclectic collection of poems from the unique perspective of a poet who has spent much of his life at the hard edge of education.

These poems reflect the emotions and experience of being a teacher as well as the thoughts and feelings about everything that externally impinges on teaching English. While the collection will have broad appeal to fellow practitioners, it will also resonate with anyone and everyone who has attended school.
 
“Mike Ferguson’s latest collection takes us to the heart of his passion for two things: poetry and education. In this wide-ranging anthology, it’s the wit and wisdom born of 30 plus years of teaching English and writing creatively that shines through. Sometimes there’s anger: Who Killed the Thought Fox rails against those who only value things they can run their “measuring tapes” across, ignoring all the other things teachers do for our children.” – Martin Phillips, former Local Authority English Adviser
 
Mike has put together here a collection that celebrates and scathes, with honours and horrors put on the page in poems, prose poems and monologues.” – Peter Thomas, former Chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English
 
We caught up with Mike to find out more about the journey he, and these poems, have been on, a little bit of politics and why this collection, now.
 
How would you describe this collection?
 
Like an autobiography: 30 years of teaching English and 35 of examining GCSE English Literature are a significant part of an adult life. The poems aren’t presented chronologically so you can’t determine mood changes across time!
 
The collection comprises a lifetime’s writing about being an English teacher in all its personal reflections – how does it feel to finally get these pieces published?
 
I regard it as a privilege, as the job of teaching largely was. To be able to share the reality of my experiences as well as honest thoughts and feelings are an inherent part of the writing process. In so many ways, writing is cathartic, or a crystallising of ideas and emotions at any one time, but the urge to share this with others is also a compulsive element. I’d like to think what I have written can resound with fellow professionals as well as anyone who attended school or simply cares about education – so a broad audience.
 
When did you start writing these poems in the collection and when was the final piece written?
 
I will have started writing poems specifically about my teaching experiences in 1980, but the hard focus and work of those first years means much creative energy went into resources about reading and writing poetry, as well as other work. The selection of ‘pastiche’ poems from my annual Christmas ‘Stocking Fillers’ covers the years 1991-2009. The most recent poem will be ‘Dynamic Learning’, written in the summer of 2019, the year before Covid caused the halt in national examinations and when I decided to stop marking completely. The sequence of poems about subject specialists, as well as others that refer generically to students, are always genuine reflections of colleagues and pupils who filled the full 30 years of my teaching. The book’s final poem ‘Students’ is filled with familiar faces.
 
A number of poems air your political and critical views on education – tell us more about this?
 
What follows is a third attempt to respond to this question, the first and second having become essays! For anyone interested, a detailed overview can be found in the educational writing on my blog https://gravyfromthegazebo.blog/ As a taste of my holding politicians to task, in my teaching lifetime, I wrote to at least 11 Secretaries of State for Education, initially when campaigning to preserve 100% coursework assessment in English – this including a face-to-face visit to a then Minister of State (Department for Education and Science) in London. Most subsequently has been concerns and anger regarding testing regimes, target setting and teacher/school measurements based on this. The Conservatives initiated such, and Labour continued with it when coming to power in 1997. The testing soon shaped how teachers increasingly felt compelled to teach for students to ‘pass’ exams and schools to meet targets, and in English, this dramatically narrowed the curriculum, though Michael Gove slaughtered in in 2015. I could write so much more, but…
 
Drawing On Previous Learning will clearly resonate with those that work in education – but who would you like the audience for your poetry to be?
 
Obviously teachers, and certainly English teachers but not exclusively. Anyone who has been a student should be able to recognise and relate to the explorations, but current ones may well have other interests and preoccupations. I’d hope the range of poetic styles will be of interest to fellow writers.
 
Can you tell us something about your journey into creative writing?
 
I was inspired to start writing poetry when a charismatic English supply teacher took over 4th/5th year lessons at my secondary modern school in Ipswich around 1968. He played The Fugs singing a version of William Blake’s ‘Ah Sunflower Weary of Time’ and introduced Ginsberg and similar from that band’s influences as well as their lyrics. So, in ‘68/69 in our new large house on Elsmere Road, I wrote my tonnage of teenage poems in my new late-night big bedroom that aped the Black Mountain poets. I still have all of these. They will never be shared.
 
Was there a significant person in your life that encouraged you to write poetry?
 
That wonderful supply teacher but also another English teacher at my school who asked to see me specially to explain why my entry for the school’s poetry competition had been unsuccessful for gaining a prize, and probably publishing in a collection (it was one of those Ginsberg-esque attempts) but expressing his encouraging fascination for my unexpected style models and interest in them. These got me started.
 
What is the importance of place to you as a poet?
 
Not so much in these poems that are all prompted by ideas and attitudes. As an American permanently resident in the UK since 1976, my Nebraskan origins, and the West Coast where most of my American family now live, and Devon where I reside feature regularly and importantly in what I write, especially in their cultural influences on who I am as much as the geography of place – though the seaside has been prevalent ever since moving to Devon to teach.
 
Could you tell us something about your creative process? 
 
I am of late a habitual writer: I had a period of three years where I wrote exclusively sonnets, and the discipline of those fourteen lines (and the sonnet form was usually as loose as this) was a control I enjoyed in expressing within these confines – often in a narrative voice. A selection of these was published in 2015, and some appear in this book. I then had another intense period of writing found prose poetry, these published in two separate collections in 2019 and 2020 – again, three in this book. My most recent focused writing is experimental, and I have a full collection of varied poems (erasure, concrete, appropriations, visual) that are all found in philosophical texts.
 
Why these poems, now?
 
Pragmatically, because Wrecking Ball Press was willing to take them. They’ve existed as a collection for a while, added to over time, and there has been interest previously, but nothing more than this. All poetry publication is a commitment to the work above any other considerations, unless the writer is popular and well known, so I am genuinely thankful to Wrecking Ball for taking on this singular subject matter – though I obviously hope my voice and the writing itself brings it to the reader with that resonance already mentioned.
 
What experience do you want readers of your collection to have?
 
Always enjoyment, but also engagement. A recognition of the meaningfulness, especially where it taps into the readers’ experiences, but also the importance and ability of poetry to capture the observations made.
 
Who are the poets that you admire, and why?
 
As an active member of the Coleridge Memorial Trust, obviously Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the other Romantics. My ‘pastiche’ poems reflect a broad interest, but some often served a purpose. Three particular poets of the more recent past I have always read and admired are Ted Hughes, Raymond Carver and Peter Reading: TH for ‘Crow’ in particular; RC for the potent simplicity of voice, and PR for his innovation and acerbic wit. Currently, my blog is again a good source of answers for this as I regularly review contemporary poets. Named writers would be Rupert Loydell, Ian Seed, the late Matthew Sweeney, Martin Stannard, Maria Stadnicka – and also a vibrant online poetry community, both for reading a massive and global range of individuals’ work but also for online publication/sharing opportunities.
 
What else are you working on and what does the future hold for you as a poet?
 
I’ve already mentioned my experimental work. At 67, I am a relative latecomer to the publication side of things – this steadier only since 2015, not that publishing is everything, but it can be such an affirmative prompt for continuing – but I am a compulsive writer, excited by the innovative side of working at it, and animated by the things that aggravate – and there is much to write about here!
 
What would you say to someone who was keen to express themselves through poetry?
 
The obvious initial advice: read poetry as widely as you can, exploit the online opportunities for that reading but also to try and get work out there (remembering that refusals are an absolute major part of the process!). I tend to be quite an isolate when it comes to writing, but there are many writers’ groups around which may provide support and encouragement, and the Zoom boom more recently has facilitated many readings to be able to attend from anywhere, as well as courses to join. And never use the word ‘shards’.
 
Do you have any plans to read/perform the works from this collection in public?
 
Post-lockdown cautiousness prevailing, I would like to at some stage to read locally with a friend and teaching colleague from our recent work.
 
Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?
 
A lifeblood for the majority of writers, surely. All my poetry publications have been with independent publishers, and I would say the majority of poetry books that I buy are from the same. My work with Dave, one of the editors at Wrecking Ball Press, has been a most positive, reassuring pleasure.
 
Drawing On Previous Learning can be ordered from Wrecking Ball Press at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/drawing-on-previous-learning/

Poet Interview: Carla Mellor

Carla MellorCarla Mellor’s debut poetry collection Scraps will be published in October by Wrecking Ball Press.
 
Naturally, we love Scraps – but don’t just take our word for it. 
 
“Carla reminds us to love our rough edges and embrace the imperfect. A candid and crucial first collection from a bright new voice.” Toria Garbutt
 
“Common but not commonplace, lyrical and luminescent. If you like early Armitage, karaoke, Cooper Clarke, cans of Carling, Garry and Garbutt, and growing up working class, you’ll love this book of bitter-sweet poetry from an up-and-coming Northern star.” Louise Fazackerley
 
“Microscopic reflections. Half answered questions, half answered.”Mike Garry
  
We caught up with Carla to find out more about her work, writing in dialect and her route into poetry. She also described independent publishers as “normal”, which is the nicest thing anyone has ever said about us. 
 
How would you describe this collection?
 
Nostalgic would be the main word that springs to mind. Although it’s not entirely autobiographical it is heavily influenced by my childhood and teen years spent between Sowerby Bridge, a small Yorkshire mill town, and Withernsea, a rural Yorkshire coastal town.
 
When did you start writing these poems in the collection and how long did this body of work take to complete?
 
I started writing poetry back in 2018, so it’s been building up nicely since then. I’d say 2020 was my most productive year in terms of producing poetry.
 
Tell us about the cover design and the collection’s title?
 
I really wanted to call it Broken Biscuits to be honest, but there seemed to be a fair few books out there with the same title. In the end I felt like scraps paid homage to the seaside town where I landed my first job, at a chip shop – but also summarised my poetry as they’re all just small scraps of writing really – nothing too long.
 
What is the importance of place to you as a poet?
 
All I ever wanted to do was write, but I struggled finishing anything longer than a poem. I put my poor concentration down to lack of ambition and focus but was recently diagnosed with ADHD. That diagnosis helped me to stop beating myself up and to embrace what I (seemed to) have a natural talent for – short, succinct poems.
 
You write in a northern dialect. Tell us more about the reasons why?
 
I just want the reader to hear the poem as it would be performed as spoken word. I remember reading the Colour Purple about a decade ago and the thing I loved the most about it was how it was written how the protagonist spoke.
 
Why these poems, now?
 
Why not? I think poetry is becoming more accessible to people and I hope I can contribute to that. I remember the feeling of dread pulling out my GCSE anthology in English and knowing I wouldn’t be able to understand half of it. Obviously there were other people in the class who could, and who probably enjoyed it, and that’s great. But i think there needs to be an alternative option too.
 
Who do you consider the audience for your poetry to be?
 
People who don’t like poetry. People who do like poetry. Anyone and everyone really.
 
What experience do you want readers of your collection to have?
 
Just to enjoy it, maybe even think “if she can do it anyone can” and have a go themselves.
 
Poetry on the page, or on the stage?
 
Ah it depends on the poem, there’s some stuff in scraps I wouldn’t perform and others that I would.
 
Can you tell us something about your journey into creative writing?
 
It was always something I’d dabbled with and never really picked up fully. I think confidence and self belief come with age, and having the right people around you. My fiance Tash has always pushed me with my poetry and I’m really grateful for that.
 
Could you tell us something about your creative process? 
 
Nothing about me is disciplined or organised, unfortunately! I tend to get a thought or a feeling and just go with it, get as much down as possible and then edit it or add to it later.
 
How do you feel as your debut collection is about to be published?
 
It’s absolutely unreal. When I was a kid, about 6, I remember saying to myself “when I grow up i’m going to write a book”. And it’s never left me really, it’s always been the one thing i’ve wanted to do with my life, and to achieve it is the best feeling ever.
 
Who are the poets that you admire, and why?
 
There’s a few – Toria Garbutt, Louise Fazackerley, Mike Garry, Matt Abbott, and of course John Cooper Clarke. I think they all just own their truth and speak it. It’s accessible and relatable.
 
What would you say to someone who was keen to express themselves through poetry?
 
Just go for it!
 
Do you have any plans to perform the works from this collection in public?
 
Yes, absolutely. I live in Wigan so i’ll be popping up at numerous places across the North West in the coming months but also hoping to travel further afield too.
 
Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?
 
It’s really warming how nice everyone has been, and how normal too!
 
Scraps can be ordered from Wrecking Ball Press at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/scraps

National Poetry Day 2021: A poem for Whitefriargate

Vicky Foster

Hull’s Whitefriargate is the inspiration for a new poem that will be unveiled on the historic street on National Poetry Day on Thursday (7 October).

Vicky Foster, Whitefriargate’s poet-in-residence for 2021, has written a new poem, drawing on the street’s rich history and its long-standing role in the story of the city and the people who live and work there.

Hull’s High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) partnered with Humber Mouth literature festival and Wrecking Ball Press to commission the poem.

Vicky said: “It was important to me to write a poem that captured a sense of both the history of the street and the spirit of the people who’ve built that history. But also, that the poem ended with the idea of possibility and thinking about what might come next, because history and identity are constantly changing and we get to make choices about what happens next and how we take care of our places.”

The poem will be stencilled on the pavement at 6 locations along Whitefriargate for National Poetry Day on Thursday 7 October.

Two short films made by Wrecking Ball Press will also be released for National Poetry Day – one of Vicky reading the poem (which will be available to watch in Trinity Market) and one of her talking about the inspiration behind her poem. Both films can be found online via the Humber Mouth website after 7 October.

Councillor Rosemary Pantelakis, portfolio holder for culture at Hull City Council, said: “Whitefriargate is a key part of our heritage. The historic street is one of the most recognisable and much-loved places in our city, so it’s fantastic to see projects like this unearthing stories and celebrating its rich history.”

Whitefriargate has been at the heart of the historical, cultural and contemporary life of Hull’s people. Whether this relates to the city refusing entry to Charles I in 1642, its part in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Wilberforce’s role in the abolition of slavery, or the various fashion trends and pop cultures of the swinging sixties, punk rock or house music eras.

Chris Collett, Public Engagement Manager for Historic England in Yorkshire, said: “Whitefriargate has a rich heritage, which has provided a great source of inspiration for Vicky’s poem. We are really pleased to be funding this project through the High Street Heritage Action Zone and look forward to experiencing this new tribute to the historic street.”

The project has been funded by Historic England as part of Hull’s High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) and delivered in partnership with Humber Mouth literature festival and Wrecking Ball Press and forms part of the Community Engagement Plan.

Whitefriargate has benefitted from £1m from the Humber LEP’s Humber High Street Challenge Fund and secured £1.75m from Historic England’s High Streets Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) programme.

Hull City Council has also been awarded a £100,000 grant from Historic England as part of the Whitefriargate High Streets Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) to create and deliver community-led cultural activities on the high street over the next three years.

Dan Anthony

Author Interview: Dan Anthony

Dan Anthony’s novel The Pumpkin Season will be published in October by Wrecking Ball Press.

A little after the Berlin Wall falls and the ‘Eastern Bloc’ realises it’s not a ‘Bloc’ and it isn’t particularly ‘Eastern’, misunderstandings multiply. As the world begins to transition into chaos, a new serial killer threatens the city. But the reluctant detective isn’t engaged. No one is telling the truth. Not even him.

The Pumpkin Season is is a comedy and a tragedy, a search for identity and a thriller. Dan’s novel is about poetry and intellectual property and is for readers who want to enjoy themselves and those who don’t.

We caught up with Dan to find out more about The Pumpkin Season, who he thinks his audience is and writing that’s influenced his work.

Tell us more about The Pumpkin Season?

In this story nothing is what it seems. Even though we’re told in the first paragraph that the central character isn’t a real part of the story, we believe he is because we want to. He’s a cop, who can’t work out the big picture. By the time you finish this book you’ll see the picture – and you’ll want to know more. That’s how a good story should end.

How do you feel as the publication date moves closer?

I’m very excited about the publication of this novel. I’ve written novels for children and young adults but this is my first ‘grown up’ novel. Apart from anything else, I want to see how people react to the story which has a kind of childlike quality in that it elides comedy, fantasy and tragedy so that the ride is quite bumpy.

What prompted you to write The Pumpkin Season?

I was in Ljubljana in the mid 1990s and people kept saying to me that I must be on the way to other parts of the former Yugoslavia as they fell apart. I said that I thought that the real story was there. At the time there seemed to be a vacuum left by the lifting of Soviet control from the east of Europe, before markets expanded and society was transformed by capitalism. Culturally speaking, the tide was right out, and so it was possible to see rocks pools and the bones of shipwrecks that are normally hidden. The tide has come in again now. This story is a kind of snapshot of that moment in time. I wrote the first draft almost immediately. It took me a couple of decades to get it right. I’m usually a lot quicker than that.

Who is the book for?

What a good question. 20-40 year olds who are about the same age as the protagonists. Although these readers won’t remember the time I’m talking about, the sensation that society and the way that it is controlled are running in opposite directions, that some kind of catastrophe is on hand because everything seems to be for sale, principles seem to have evaporated and truth and justice seem to be threatened, will resonate. The book is also for older readers who remember the world before the division that separated Eastern and Western Europe was removed. The moment that the Berlin Wall fell is remembered by everyone as a hugely positive step forward – and an end to division and a chance for Europe to join up again. But the re-assembly of Europe has had strange consequences. People are nostalgic. The East/West division provided a strange kind of stability and capitalism’s worst aspects were kept in check. Today we’re looking at a Europe that is threatened by the right. This story is about the moment the cat was let out of the bag.

What experience do you want your readers to have?

I’m afraid the answer to this question is disappointingly simple. Yes it’s a serious subject, a serious story, but the experience I want my readers to have is ‘enjoyment’ – perhaps even ‘pleasure’. I write comedy, it’s all I can hope for.

What is the importance of place to you as a writer and also within the pages of The Pumpkin Season?

I’m from Cardiff and the idea for the Pumpkin Season came to life in Ljubljana. That’s because I recognised in Ljubljana a city which is historically conditioned to living behind net curtains. Cardiff hasn’t had anything like the same number of invaders as Ljubjana, but there have been enough to inculcate the same habit – saying one thing and doing another. It’s also a small capital city. So I knew that if I found one of the very few jazz clubs in Ljublana, I’d probably meet the minister for culture – because that’s how things are in Cardiff. This ‘villagy’ politics, in which Ministers appear in your local, enabled me to talk about a lot of the hypocrisy that goes on in a small country like Wales, without actually naming names and revealing sources. The story I’ve told is completely fabricated, there is no truth to it at all, but the sensibility and almost magical sense of reality taps into a Celtic approach to storytelling which I like.

All this means that, in the end, it’s very important that readers don’t know where the story is set. In a sense, the reader should bring their own sense place to The Pumpkin Season and fill in the gaps.

How would you describe yourself? And how would you describe yourself as a novelist?

Are the two different? I don’t think there are two ‘me’s’ – although, funnily enough, there is a character who wrestles with the same problem. I am a collection of characters hanging around in the same person.

What was your route into writing?

Bad spelling. I was awful at spelling and handwriting at school. But I couldn’t stop ‘writing’ invented stories. I used to listen a lot to radio. In the end it was books like the Goon Show Scripts and Monty Python scripts that made me realise that if I wrote dialogue people would be less sure I couldn’t spell (because people don’t talk proper) and I could tell stories only through dialogue. I began writing jokes for radio, plays and sit coms for radio and eventually developed the confidence to tackle short stories and novels. The amount of control novel writing gives you is liberating, after working for years with teams of people, all of whom are dying to tell you what to do, or explain why what you’ve done is wrong, the ability to decide for yourself can’t be beaten.

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

My English teacher Mr Eynon. He used to plonk a packet of Marlboro red on his desk and talk about Romantic poetry. I never understood a word of it. I was terrible at it. But he was the only teacher at school who ever read anything I’d written myself and said something positive about it. If all you ever have is negative feedback, it’s surprising how important one word of encouragement can be. People are funny – we’re not objective, we hear what we want to hear.

Could you tell us something about your creative process?

Yes, when I’m writing I’m very boring – start 9am, finish 2pm, read through the day before’s drafts, make a few notes. Usually have a beer in the evening, and wonder what’s going to happen tomorrow. Hopefully something occurs whilst I’m asleep. I start writing again at 9 when my conscious brain has taken delivery of whatever my subconscious has decided. In general, I think we undervalue the importance of subconscious, or unconscious thinking. I think that’s a theme in all my stories.

Who are your favourite writers? And which writers are you influenced by?

They change – J G Farrell’s Troubles and The Siege of Krishnapur are always important; Flann O’Brien (Brian O’Nolan) is a constant, The Third Policeman, At Swim-Two-Birds and a lot of his other work are big influences. I also like Sylvina Ocampo’s short stories. I find her position as an observer, close to the heavyweights of Latin American literature, and her strange stories which seem to be rather like magic realistic stories, but are perhaps more ‘unconscious’ realistic stories really alluring. I like stories that envelop you so that you find yourself reading to inhabit a world – not to get out of it by reaching the end.

Do you have a favourite novel?

Don Quixote.

Why this novel, now?

It was the first. It’s a comedy. It’s about everything. It’s still funny. It embraces contradiction. It’s about the ‘now’ always – so that means it’s also about the ‘then’.

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

Yes – they’re vital. I think our most creative time happens in our teens. When I was in my teens punk and new wave were the thing. They were enabled by indie record labels. The changed the world as I saw it. Independent publishers like Wrecking Ball have that sense of responsibility in their creative/entrepreneurial DNA.

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

The exciting (or worrying) thing about writing is that having got ourselves into a position where we can be creative, we find ourself in a place where predicting the future becomes a bit tricky. I’d like to bring out another story.

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

Don’t expect to get it right first time. The whole idea of ‘right’ is actually a bit of a minefield. Just keep writing and don’t forget to enjoy yourself. Books can take a long time to finish, so (I think) it’s important you appreciate the process of making them and the importance of the people who read them. Perhaps this is going a bit too far, but the whole thing should be something of a celebration.

Tell us more about your work for children and young people? And how that has led to this book, which isn’t aimed at them at all?

That’s a good question. One thing about being a writer is that, even though lots of us moan about different aspects of our work, ultimately, we’re our own bosses. We can write whatever we like. I’d worked in children’s literature for ten years and thought I’d run out of ideas when I wrote a story called Submarine Spies and the Unspeakable Thing about Russian spies smuggling themselves up a Welsh river using coracles. The story was comic, magical and about today. When I finished it, I knew I wanted to develop some of the techniques I’d learned writing for children for an older readership. It wanted to tackle some different ideas. Although I’d been writing children’s fiction for ten years or so, it wasn’t as if I hadn’t been writing for adults. I’d done a PhD in Creative Writing looking at how trade marks and branding influence creative writing and I’d developed this story from a draft into a finished piece of work with Richard Gwyn at Cardiff University. I’d begun work on a comedy about art galleries, but that’s another story.

Your intellectual property expertise features in the book – can you tell us more about how and why?

I joined the Patent Office, now called the Intellectual Property Office in 1990. It was a day job and I was a scriptwriter. I left the Intellectual Property Office twenty years later. I’d worked in Europe, the UK and been involved in some of the negotiations unifying the EU after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I was and still am fascinated by the power of intellectual property – it’s a discreet little enclave of the law, but it’s full of intrigue, it has a language of its own and characters of its own. It’s a kind of Le Carré-like world. It’s also extremely important.

What are your hopes and dreams for the book?

The Pumpkin Season is a kind of anti-detective novel. I was tired of formulaic stories about central protagonists who go on journeys that reveal this or that about their character that ultimately lead to a sense of being robbed (on behalf of the reader). I wanted to write something that paid no attention at all to the conventions of genre. I’m not sure that that was a ever a deliverable task, because what I think I’ve done is contributed to a different genre. Anyway, my hope is that readers enjoy it. That’s the whole point.

The Pumpkin Season can be pre-ordered from Wrecking Ball Press at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/the-pumpkin-season/

John Newsham

Author Interview: John Newsham

John Newsham’s short story version of Killing The Horses was longlisted in the 2018 Manchester Fiction Prize run by Carol-Ann Duffy. Killing The Horses is John’s debut novel. His other writing credits include fiction publication in the Fortnightly Review, winning a Dorothy Rosenberg Prize for ‘young poets of unusual promise’ from the University of Berkeley, and the Grist first-place prize for poetry describing place, from the University of Huddersfield. He has performed at numerous literary festivals around Yorkshire including the Ted Hughes Festival, the York Takeover Festival, the Leeds Lit Festival and the Bradford Literature Festival. John is also a teacher of A Level English Literature and Language.

We caught up with John to find out more about his debut as a novelist, his writing process and the importance of place to his writing. 

Give us the elevator pitch for Killing The Horses?

Killing The Horses follows two boys who are skipping school in the woods on the edge of the Bradford. They are trying to get away from all the things that are still there, haunting themselves and haunting the hillside. It’s a simple story about isolation and friendship. It’s about the violence of human beings and the violence of the natural world.

How do you feel about the publication of your debut novel?

I’m really looking forward to seeing it on shelves and hearing readers’ thoughts on it. I’ve been trying to write for years with more failure than success and I’ve had several false starts of trying to write novels in the past so it feels great to have this completed and published.

What prompted you to write Killing The Horses?

I tried to write a novel a few years ago which ended up not really working but out of that I developed a short story focusing on the characters in what would become Killing The Horses. I then forgot about it for a few years whilst I got on with life and was writing other things. When the covid lockdown hit last year I re-read the original story and just started writing about the characters and seeing where it went. The novel is the result of that.

What experience do you want your readers to have?

I’d like them to feel as though they’re walking through these woods with the two boys in the novel and seeing the landscape and the animals and the trees and the sky. It’s supposed to be a ‘close-up’ novel – it’s set over a short period of time in a single place with only two characters so it’s a lot more focused on those close-up, day-to-day details, rather than anything sprawling or expansive.

What is the importance of place to you as a writer and, more specifically, within the pages of Killing The Horses?

The novel is set entirely in the woods on the edge of Bradford, all within a mile or so of where I grew up. It’s all slightly fictionalised in the novel but everything in it is basically a real place. Bradford is a big post-industrial city and this corner of Bradford is not exactly a glamorous one but it’s nestled amongst all these rolling Yorkshire hills and there’s something quite distinctive about the combination of the two. It feels a lot more remote than it is. I like the idea of natural settings that are within reach of urban ones- places that aren’t far removed from most people’s lives. Lots of nature writing focuses on picturesque and remote places and the setting in the novel isn’t one of them. The woodland isn’t supposed to be idyllic. It’s supposed to be a troubled place but somewhere that’s isolated from the rest of the city. Otherwise, it’s set in Bradford because I’ve spent more of my life there than anywhere else and it’s a lot easier to write about what you know! Everyone should write about where they grew up – there’s nowhere that doesn’t make an interesting setting for a novel or a story.

What was your route into writing?

I used to write poetry and I had a few things published and won a few prizes when I was younger. I read with a few different groups of local writers and at a lot of literary festivals and really enjoyed it. I met loads of really talented local writers who were all really unique in what they were doing. But I mainly wrote poems because I didn’t have any kind of organisation to write anything longer. I wanted to write a novel for a long time but I never had the self-discipline to stick with it until more recently.

Has Covid-19 affected the way that you write?

I wrote most of Killing The Horses during the first coronavirus lockdown. I’d been trying to write another novel slowly for years and then the lockdown suddenly freed up a good bit of time as I was working from home for a few months and had long, free evenings. I started writing something new based on a short story I’d written a few years earlier and it was mostly completed by the time I returned to work 10 weeks later. I’d considered expanding it further but felt like it reflected quite a unique mood of being completely isolated and locked-down. I felt like it would be impossible to recreate that mood again. As it turned out, of course, lockdown #1 was not to be that unique so I didn’t need to worry. The story itself has nothing to do with covid but I think lots of the concerns it brought up are in there- isolation, sickness, the destructive power of nature etc.

Could you tell us something about your creative process?

Now that I’m back at work it’s a good bit harder to write as regularly. However, I try to sit down every Saturday and Sunday morning and write 1,000 words before I stop. Any additional time I get to spend on it is a bonus. Writing is the good part, though, so it doesn’t take much discipline once started – it’s everything else that gets in the way!

Who are your favourite writers? And which writers are you influenced by?

My favourite novelist is probably Cormac McCarthy. His writing is so stripped back it seems timeless but it’s also got a very modern sense of the hostile relationship between the individual and nature. There’s something really unsettling about how direct his writing is but it’s also much more moving for it. I’m also a big fan of Ted Hughes’ poetry. I think both writers have quite a stark sense of the violence and destruction within the natural world which is something a lot of writers ignore in favour of a more rose-tinted view. They also both manage to create something that seems mythical out of the natural world as it exists today. Other than that, I try to read as many local writers as possible and those whose literature is rooted in the north of England. I’m currently working on another novel, set in Yorkshire, and I’ve been doing a lot of reading of writers who have written about the area: Ben Myers’ The Gallows Pole, Elmet by Fiona Mozley, Ill Will by Michael Stewart and Black Teeth and a Brilliant Smile by Adelle Stripe are a few that stand out. They all create quite a striking sense of the region as distinct from the rest of the country through the dialect and character of the place. There are loads of others and loads more I’ve got lined up to read- too many to name.

Similarly, what is your favourite novel?

The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s a really simple story with only two characters but it seems to cover everything- life and death, meaning and meaninglessness, where humanity is headed. It’s unbelievably direct and every sentence seems charged. Everyone should read it. Why this novel now? It was mostly written in the first covid lockdown. I think the lockdowns made everyone think about things we otherwise don’t get much time to think about. Life and death questions and questions about isolation and loneliness and so on. I think the pandemic has also been a reminder of the power of nature and the strange relationship we have with it. On the one hand the natural world is being destroyed and needs to be protected. But nature as a whole is also always a hostile force which we have to battle against in order to survive. This novel explores some of these themes in its own small way.

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

My experience with Wrecking Ball Press has been great. I don’t have any comparable experience with non-indie publishers but I’ve really enjoyed the creative freedom and the whole process of seeing it develop from a manuscript to a published novel. I’ve been able to share a novel which is a bit different and which I suspect would not have had any interest from major publishers without any pressure to make massive changes. I’ve found the team at Wrecking Ball really supportive and, like other indie publishers I’ve encountered in the past, they seem to be doing it entirely because they enjoy literature. I’ve also found local independent bookshops to be especially supportive with the sale and promotion of the book. The relationship between independent publishers and indie bookshops seems to be a really strong one and I think they both have a really important role to play. Independent publishers like Wrecking Ball Press seem to do a really good job of finding alternative and overlooked writers. Loads of my favourite English writers at the moment seem to have been published by independent publishers.

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

I finished Killing The Horses a year ago and I’ve spent the time since then working on a longer novel with a much bigger cast of characters. I’m still very much learning as I go though so I’m not rushing anything and I’m more than happy to spend a good few years on it if necessary. I’d love to get more novels published in future but I’ll keep writing either way as I just enjoy doing it for its own sake.

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

Keep writing for the enjoyment of doing so and don’t worry about getting rejections or writing rubbish as both are inevitable and will make up the largest part of it.

What are your hopes and dreams for the book?

That some people will read it and that some of those who read it will enjoy it!

Killing The Horses can be purchased online at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/killing-the-horses/

OUT TODAY: John Newsham's Killing The Horses

OUT TODAY: John Newsham’s Killing The Horses

John Newsham’s novel Killing The Horses is published today (August 10) by Wrecking Ball Press.

In the woods the earth made myths. Angry myths. Savage myths. Myths that could kill…

Set on the outskirts of Bradford over the course of a single day, Killing The Horses follows Ryan and Liam, teenagers skiving off school in the woods at the edge of the city. But the woods hold secrets. Dark secrets. And the landscape aches with the violence of all that has been done there.

There is blood on the ground and a sickness in the earth. As the memory of what has happened there climbs back out of the hillside, the boys learn that they are too entangled in the savagery of the land around them to be able to separate themselves from it.

Killing The Horses is rooted in the landscape and dialect of West Yorkshire and fuses realism with the mythical. It brings the macabre and darkly-religious world of the American Southern Gothic to the north of England.

The short story version of Killing The Horses was longlisted in the 2018 Manchester Fiction Prize run by Carol-Ann Duffy.

John Newsham’s other writing credits include fiction publication in the Fortnightly Review, winning a Dorothy Rosenberg Prize for ‘young poets of unusual promise’ from the University of Berkeley, and the Grist first-place prize for poetry describing place, from the University of Huddersfield. He has performed at numerous literary festivals around Yorkshire including the Ted Hughes Festival, the York Takeover Festival, the Leeds Lit Festival and the Bradford Literature Festival. John is also a teacher of A-Level English Literature and Language.

Killing The Horses can be purchased directly from Wrecking Ball Press at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/killing-the-horses/

To request review copies or for further information email editor@wreckingballpress.com

Drawing On Previous Learning cover mock-up

OUT TODAY: Mike Ferguson’s Drawing On Previous Learning

Mike Ferguson’s poetry collection Drawing On Previous Learning is published today (9 August) by Wrecking Ball Press.

Drawing On Previous Learning is an eclectic collection of poems from the unique perspective of a poet who has spent much of his life at the hard edge of education.
 
These poems reflect the emotions and experience of being a teacher as well as the thoughts and feelings about everything that externally impinges on teaching English. While the collection will have broad appeal to fellow practitioners, it will also resonate with anyone and everyone who has attended school.
 
Mike Ferguson’s poems about teaching and examining were written over a 30 year period as an English teacher, and over 35 years as an examiner of English Literature at GCSE level. The eclecticism comes not only from reflecting over a long period of time but, more pertinently, on a varying focus of style and the experiences themselves.
 
Ferguson’s most recent writing is almost exclusively ‘experimental’ in vein. A small core of poems are sonnets. A number of poems air the poet’s political and critical views on education.
 
“I have known Mike Ferguson as a friend and colleague for years, and have admired the clarity and integrity of his thinking about education in general and English education in particular. His occasional blog rants and regular ‘Christmas Stocking Filler’ pamphlets have been a welcome blast against fatuous and bigoted views of education, small bright beacons in an increasingly bleak landscape of politicised interference in the potential magic of English in the classroom. Those beacons draw their energy from a lifetime’s immersion in the craft of English teaching, and in experience as an examiner in various versions of GCSE over the years. Mike has put together here a collection that celebrates and scathes, with honours and horrors put on the page in poems, prose poems and monologues.” – Peter Thomas, former Chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English.
 
“Mike Ferguson’s latest collection takes us to the heart of his passion for two things: poetry and education.  In this wide-ranging anthology, it’s the wit and wisdom born of 30 plus years of teaching English and writing creatively that shines through. Sometimes there’s anger: Who Killed the Thought Fox rails against those who only value things they can run their “measuring tapes” across, ignoring all the other things teachers do for our children.  Often there’s humour: in a series of vignettes of teacher specialisms, we encounter, among others, science teachers who “think Physics is Maths with oomph” and PE teachers who “think poetry could use an exercise plan.” Ferguson’s is an original voice, expressed in various forms, from sonnets through free verse to prose poems.  He pays homage to some of the ‘greats’ – Ben Jonson, Poe, Coleridge, Hughes and Larkin. My personal favourite is the final list poem, Students, which could only be written by someone who had willingly devoted a working life to helping young people learn.” – Martin Phillips, former Local Authority English Adviser.
 
Drawing On Previous Learning can be purchased directly from Wrecking Ball Press at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/drawing-on-previous-learning/
 
To request review copies or for further information email editor@wreckingballpress.com
PRESS RELEASE: Talitha Wing's debut collection out now

PRESS RELEASE: Talitha Wing’s debut collection out now

Title: The Things I Learnt And The Things I Still Don’t Know About

Pages : 124

Cover : Paperback

Language : English

Publisher : Wrecking Ball Press

ISBN : 978-1903110836

Released : 26.07.2021

Talitha Wing‘s debut poetry collection The Things I Learnt And The Things I Still Don’t Know About has been published by Wrecking Ball Press. 

This debut poetry collection from writer and thrilling live performer of spoken word and poetry Talitha Wing will propel Talitha to prominence in the world of poetry and spoken word. The honest, raw and intimate nature of the poetry in this debut 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. 

Talitha is an actor, writer and poet, based in London and Vienna. Talitha’s debut play Socks was commissioned by Paines Plough for the nationwide Come To Where I’m From program in 2019. Talitha’s next play will be She Calls Me Crazy, currently in development with TBA Productions. 

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. 

Talitha said: “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.

”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.

“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.”
 

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

To request review copies or for further information email editor@wreckingballpress.com

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/