Inky Interview Special: Author and Poet Michael Murray

You have written a fascinating book called Gifts of Rings and Gold. Can you please tell us about it?

Gifts of Rings and Gold – the title is to do with the position of the letter G. It also refers to the great blossoming of literature with the late middle ages, the end of the age of legends and heroes.

The idea started with Harry Potter. There is a huge industry around the books now; part of that is John Granger, Hogwarts Professor. He produced an ebook examining the Potter books as Rings. He based the concept on Thinking In Circles by social anthropologist Mary Douglas.


The Potter books are written as Rings: the stories end where they begin, at Privet Drive, and in the centre of the book a big event happens which influences beginning and end. The series as a whole is a ring, and each book separately.


But there is also a more elaborate structure, the chiasmus: think of an archway. Its capstone, in the centre, holds it all in place, and each side mirrors the other in the build up to that centre. Some stories are like that, they build up to the big event, and then retreat from it with the same steps, but changed.


The chiasmus can occur simply as a line, a paragraph, but it has not been recognised, it can determine the structure of the whole.


A chiasmic story, by implication, deals as much with the consequences, as with the build-up to the main event; in our books, the main event is the end event.

So I looked at the oldest texts (I’ve always collected books) from Ancient Egypt: The Tale of Sinuhe, and it works. It works too, in Gilgamesh. I am no classical or biblical scholar, so I left that next time-segment to Mary Douglas.


So, where did J K Rowling learn the structure? She was a big fan of The Lord of the Rings. They are full of these structures. Where did Tolkien learn it? He was a big authority on Beowulf, which is also full of rings.


The Bible spread it around the world. Some Islamic texts have very elaborate forms.
You find it as a general structure in Milton, Tennyson’s In Memorium, even The Great Gatsby.

Next I tried to find out how it was passed on. And why was it used? It’s suggested it was a mnemonic: you know the opening, so you know the end, and something of the middle. So, was it a part of the Art of Memory?

I have left suggestions, hints, so readers could explore for themselves.

 

You are also a poet. What is it about poetry that you love?
Love it? Sometimes I hate it. People try to railroad it into easy systems; it saves having to go through the doldrums when you can’t write. But that’s a cop-out: the doldrums give the eventual poem its impetus or change of direction. What is it about poetry? I have wracked my brains over the years, and I’m no nearer. All I can say is: it’s what some people do.

Could you share with us a couple of your poems?

APPS

Do you have an app for melancholy?
I asked the store guy,
or a rap? the DJ  

– I want to regain what I have lost
being contemporary.

Do you know the next  turning on the right,
I asked the bus driver,
or on the left, the taxi driver,         
that looks the most familiar
in the evening light?

You don’t need apps for that,
they said.

                You’re a natch.

 

RETURN TO THE ISLANDS

It was the fourth day out, the tide had been slow,

the wind down; to make up time they rowed

 

and that night rested. The air was changing;

I smelt flowers. The sky to the West deepening.

 

The watch slept, only the tarpaulin awake;

sleepy at first, ‘till the big drops broke.

 

Then all was uproar: scrambling, shouting;

I was, ah, back in the woodland, distinguishing

 

scents of violet, marsh marigold,  hemlock;

and the catch-at-the-heart of wild garlick.

 

Wild garlick. And for that moment off guard

the sea sneaked long feelers in, then hurrahed

 

meeting sweet rain; and the nails jumped their post,

the caulking crumbled; wind took what was lost.

 

If any of me should return, let it be where

wild garlick grows down to the shore.

                                                             Just there.

 

What themes keep cropping up in your writing? What do you care about?
Um. I’ve been told I range too wide; a book must have set parameters. I can see that, but I’m a contrarian. Different aspects of how poems have been written throughout time become dominant as we go on. I always try to read back, and widely in translation. We’re stuck with being people, so we have to write people-things. Sometimes the best writing happens when you put your certainties aside, including current ideas and dominant thinking. Also, see next question.

Who inspires you as a poet?
Trying not to be personal but universal, only to surprise the personal in the universal. Sometimes a response to a current little idiocy can become something huge and revealing. My education was as a mature student; I found I had a knack for history. I don’t mean dates, kings and queens, battles – for me history has always been people in their time. Now we have off-shoots like the History of Mentalities, which is truly fascinating.

You are part of a very talented, creative family, as your wife Lavinia and your son Alex are also writers. Do you inspire each other? What has writing taught you as a family, do you think?
I suppose it is a unique and very creative atmosphere. The challenge to appreciate and understand the dynamics of very different writing styles can be wonderful and make you a flexible reader, and hopefully as a person.

Have you any books or collections of poetry that you can recommend to any budding poets or writers?
No, probably not. But whatever writers do, do not stick to here and now.
Read deep, read wide, read and think, read and wonder, read outside your known fields.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
On a personal level I’d want to be well again: I have ME/Chronic Fatigue whatsit.
On the universal level to hurry up the next wave of compassion and human-ness.

What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve had a break (see below), and so rush to catch up. I particularly like Canadian writer Karen Solie. She takes risks, has intelligence, cares about animals, the world, and is caustic on occasion. I like writers who reach out to greater things.

Mark Waldron has a great use of language – but… well, he’s a copywriter. John Stammers’ early work has a lyric quality of intelligence, light and colour I admire.
Dutch poet Rutger Kopland intrigues me, as does Danish poet Inger Christensen.

What is your creative space like?
I suppose it’s solely in my head, and undecipherable notebooks. I rarely work straight onto the screen. I’ve been to groups, on courses, did a Writing MA, and learned never to let anything ‘out of the house’ without being properly dressed. No matter if the courses demand a piece written for next week, the chances of anything you’d put your name to by then are slim: it’s your own work, make them wait.

What is next for you? What plans have you got?
I was doing an online course to help me get work, and was loathing the whole subject. My response was to write a prose skit on it. The story took over. This gave me an appetite.
I’m just putting the finishing touches to a huge modern story based on the Gilgamesh tale. I’d like to have it published, if it’s good enough. This is a new venture for me. I’ll see where it goes. Still no work, though.

Get your copy of Gifts of Rings and Gold

Inky Interview: Performance Poet Dave Pitt

Can you please tell Ink Pantry about your journey as a performance poet? What lead you to write poetry?

I ended up on this path because it’s the only thing satisfying the mix of emotions I have whirling around. I’ve always written prose, and it’s always been an outlet for whatever is going on in my head. My dream was to do stand-up comedy, but I didn’t know how to get gigs or if I’d have the nerve to do it. When I heard of some spoken word gigs in my area I started doing short stories there. Thinking it would help me build up the nerves I’d need to do stand-up. Eventually I heard about a stand-up comedy gig and got involved in that scene. I spent a few years doing stand-up before it was obvious I wasn’t getting anything out of it anymore. Even when I had a great gig I didn’t feel fulfilled. As a result, I slipped back into spoken word. Then, in a fit of anger, I wrote a poem just before going on stage and performed it there and then. Within six months, I was only doing performance poetry. It scratched all the itches I had. It gave me the freedom to do what I wanted without having to pander to any preconceived ideas.

Do you write prose? Have you thought about screenwriting? Radio?

I do indeed. I’m working on a compilation of short stories at the moment. I’ve written a memoir regarding my time as a stand-up on the open 10 circuit. It dealt with those first 100 gigs and how stand-up helped me battle some mental health demons. However, my biggest writing success has been with stage plays. I love the theatre. It’s great to hand over my writings to others and be constantly surprised at what they produce. And few people critique work like actors saying your lines. They will ask and expect you to justify every letter. Sometimes in performance we can hide behind a joke or some showmanship. There is nowhere to hide when an actor asks you to explain a line. A terrifying but rewarding experience.

What is the poetry scene like where you live?

I’m always surprised at the talent in the local area. I recently co-hosted a poetry slam and sat through most of it open mouthed in wonder. And every time I pop along to a gig, I see someone else I’m unaware of who blows my mind.

Who inspires you? Have you a favourite poet?

I love Poe. ‘The Raven’ was the first poem which grabbed me and refused to let go. It led to a life-long love of his work.

I watched Mike Garry a couple of years ago. I think I wrote about five pages that night just on what he said and how his words made me feel. He inspired me to be more me and embrace my life and upbringing.

And I’ll say this knowing it could be unpopular. You can’t do performance poetry without having respect for hip hop. Some of the flows, rhyme schemes and storytelling by the likes of Akala, Eminem or Biggy Smalls leave my jaw hanging.

What do you care about? What themes keep cropping up in your writing?

Politics, injustice and mental health keep cropping up. This is despite my ever-growing desire to move elsewhere.

Have you any advice for budding performance poets?

It is about being you and cradling all your inspirations. Find out why you love things, throw them all in a melting pot and see what comes out. The recipe of your inspiration is unique to you. Embrace it.

Also, learn the flow and rhythms of your own voice. Again, it’s unique to you and helps you put a stamp on your work.

What are you reading at the moment?

I always try to have at least one fiction and one non-fiction book at a time on the go. At the moment I’m a little stir-crazy as I’m halfway through The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea. A 650+ page tome of sheer madness, but I’m loving it. Then, for some reason, I purchased a 650+ page non-fiction book on the Manson murders.

As neither of these is light reading, I’m also dipping into Alexi Sayle’s autobiography. Satisfying my poetry hunger is ‘Mother, Brother, Lover’ by Jarvis Cocker.

What is your creative space like?

Surprisingly tidy. If I go to my space and it’s messy I have to have a tidy up. I think my mind is so messy and easily distracted I need somewhere sterile and clean to keep it on track.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

I wish everyone was comfortable with being wrong. We make mistakes, we find new evidence which contradicts what we first thought, and we are sometimes too pig-headed to see the wood for the trees. But making mistakes and admitting mistakes shouldn’t be seen as a negative. U-Turns should be a good thing.

Can you share with us a couple of your poems?

Of course, but as it’s performance poetry, let’s use modern technology……

 

 

 

 

What is next for you? What plans have you got?

I’m working on a theatre show with Emma Purshouse and Steve Pottinger. It’s poetry and theatre combined. That is on at the Arena Theatre, Wolverhampton on the 21st of April. My first collection of poems entitled ‘Poetry is Jazz. Welcome to Punk Rock’ will be out in the next few weeks. And my new play, ‘There is None Who Does Good’, will get its premier in the autumn.

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Dave’s poetry to purchase

Books From The Pantry: Out Damned Spot by F. J. McQueen: Reviewed by Kev Milsom

‘William stared down at his vague bellybutton which had shrunk to the size of a match head.  For the past six months, in fact, ever since he blew the whistle on the use of tarot packs in diagnostics, magic spells in the theatre and numerology on waiting lists, his bellybutton had begun to shrink. He’d kept it open with an earlobe plug.’

As an opening statement in this review, I believe it’s fair to say that if you are a reader who enjoys mundane characters, following well-worn, linear plot lines and all-too familiar settings, this book is probably not for you. However, if you like your literature to open up the imaginative mind and massage it for hours with surreal explosions of unusualities, then F. J. McQueen’s 2016 novel, Out Damned Spot – William Shakespeare Crime Scene Cleaner, could very easily be right up your creative alley.

Let’s start with the story-line. When the novel begins, William Shakespeare, a married parent with an addiction to jazz and Parma Violets from Balham, London, is a junior doctor working for Largesse Cottage Hospital in Hampstead. However, William’s tenure as a doctor is about to come to an abrupt end, and he faces his last ever shift. The reason? It turns out that William is outraged at secretive, superstitious practices within the staff of the NHS, such as witchcraft and sorcery, in order to fight disease and illness, such as placing Ouija boards on the stomachs of patients in order to form a diagnosis.  

Naturally, after becoming a ‘whistle-blower’, William’s social and career status reaches all-time lows, accompanied by intimidating, bullying tactics from his fellow workers, such as placing unpleasant items in his locker, surrounding his car in salt and replacing the windscreen wipers with salted rough, twigs. As his medical career is now redundant, William makes a bold decision: he will use his medical knowledge to become a crime scene cleaner – a decision largely based upon William hearing the cackling prophesies of three ‘witches’ within a locker in the cellar at Largesse Hospital. After hiring two odd assistants to aid his new business (who know less than William about crime cleaning, which totals precisely zero), William Shakespeare is ready to tackle the world of criminal activity. Well, at least once he and his clueless assistants have mastered the day course: ‘101 in Violence-Induced Debris and Staining’.

‘I’ll begin,’ she said, and the chatter subsided.

Murder leaves thirteen types of blot, requiring five methods of deletion. Violence creates two types of ghost, the murder snappy, the murder durational, the murder accurate, the murder incommensurate, the murder solitary, the murder communal and complicit, the murder scheduled, the murder ad hoc, the murder elementary, the murder urban, the murder irresolute, the murder intended, the murder for murder’s sake, the murder revengeful…the murder hierarchical, the murder canonical, the murder of equals, the murder of disadvantage, the murder devotional, the murder pathetical, the murder commodious, the murder involuntary, the murder scatalogical…’

As suspected from the name of the protagonist, F. J. McQueen’s novel pulls heavily on strings associated with THE William Shakespeare – the genius fellow who wrote all those plays in the 16th and 17th centuries. This association comes in multiple forms. Firstly, the names of the characters in this book tend to have a Shakespearean link. For example, Pilot Inspector Benedicke Othello and his wife, Desdemona, Co-pilot Sergeant Iago McDuff and Portia Avalon. William’s wife is naturally named Anne (after Anne Hathaway), although their twin daughters Odile and Odette are named after the black and white swans in Tchaikovsky’s ‘Swan Lake’. Furthermore, the plot of this book follows Shakespearean themes and characters. The writing style is quirky and follows its own path with ferocious tenacity.  

As stated in the opening paragraph, this is not a place for boring, grey, predictive characters. The pace of the writing moves quickly, covering some unusual ground, but ultimately the journey is worth it, as the reader’s imagination is constantly fed and watered throughout the pages.

Something very different and enjoyable.  

Get your copy here from Urbane Publications 🙂

Inky Interview Exclusive: Door-To-Door Poet Rowan McCabe

 

You are the world’s first Door-To-Door Poet! Can you tell Ink Pantry about your journey towards this great title? 🙂

I’d always had the feeling poetry could be enjoyed by more people. Often the impression given in school is that it has to be written in a confusing language about things that happened hundreds of years ago. And this turns a lot of people off it forever. But I thought if I could get five or ten minutes with someone like that, show them what I do and then write them a poem about anything they like, they’d enjoy it. I just had to think of a way to find them. Knocking on doors seemed like a really immediate way of doing it.

What was it like performing at the Glastonbury festival?

Loads of fun. I became a Tent-to-Tent Poet which, to tell the truth, I wasn’t really supposed to be doing because of health and safety. But, in an act of professional suicide, I did it anyway. On the last day, I bumped into Michael Eavis’ granddaughter by complete accident and wrote her a poem. When I told her what I was doing was a health and safety hazard she said: ‘No it’s not! Someone did a poo in my shoe last night, that’s a health and safety hazard.’

You’ve also performed at the Royal Albert Hall. Amazing! Tell us more…

That was a Hammer and Tongue poetry slam. I’d won the semi-finals at the Edinburgh Fringe, so I got invited to the final at the Albert Hall. It sounds a lot more impressive than it was really; I was on stage for all of six minutes. But it was a nice day out. My parents were very proud.

What is the poetry scene like in Newcastle Upon Tyne?

It’s crazy, and I love it. I’ve heard people complain that it doesn’t really have an identifiable ‘voice’ in the way that, say, London has its Kate Tempest ‘voice’; and this is used as an example of why we don’t really know what we’re doing up here. But, to me, that’s our great strength. We’ve got people working with lots of different tones and styles so, if you get all of them in a room, it’s a real melting pot of ideas. From the spellbinding, ethereal Kirsten Luckins, to the stand-up ramblings of Scott Tyrell, to the rhyming insanity of JaZZ RiOt. Newcastle’s where it’s at, man.

Tell us about ‘Red is the New Blue’.

Ha ha. So Graeme Thompson from Live Theatre called me, Matt Miller and Matilda Niell into a room a few years back and said he wanted us to co-write and perform in a play that had some poems in it. I told him I didn’t know the first thing about writing a play, but he said he could sort that out. He put us on a course with the lovely Gez Casey, and, every week, I’d go along and learn a bit more about how to write a play, all the while trying to write my own. I felt a bit like a monkey at a typewriter.

I mentioned the Mars One project out of passing – the plan to send ordinary people to live on the red planet by 2025 and to televise the entire event. Matt said: ‘That’s what it should be about!’ So that was ‘Red is the New Blue’. It followed three hopelessly flawed people on their way to Mars, and you gradually find out what all of them are running from. It was also kind of about what happens when you put profit-making companies in charge of scientific discovery.

Who inspires you? Have you a favourite poet?

Loads and loads. One of them is Ross Sutherland. I saw Stand by for Tape Back-up at ARC Stockton a few years ago, and it just totally blew my mind. Lots of the Aisle 16 collective really, Luke Wright, Tim Clare – the way they blend everyday culture with big issues, but in a way that’s completely unpretentious. I think that’s the space poetry should occupy. It can be about things that are incredibly important, but it can be entertaining and accessible as well.

What things do you care about?

Wow. Erm… OK. Here is a list of things I care about, in no particular order:

Writing poetry. Skinny jeans. Hunter S. Thompson. My family. Composting. Affordable housing. The ever-widening gap between rich and poor. Biscuits. My girlfriend, Rose. Immersive fringe theatre. Those hybrid sponges that work as a scouring pad. Making cities more bike-friendly. Crufts. Playing guitar. Lazy summer days in Heaton Park. A real living wage. Getting off a metro and then catching the next metro so you don’t have to wait on the platform. Ale. Friends. Destroying fascism. Eccentric hats. Watching bats fly above you in the soothing Italian dusk. Yo-yos.  

You’ve collaborated on a film for Channel 4’s Random Acts. What was it about?

It was about Door-to-Door Poetry. Matt, who I’d worked with on ‘Red is the New Blue’, had said he wanted to do some directing. I noticed Random Acts were open for submissions and they help people direct their own short films. So, I told Matt he should make a film about me knocking on some doors… which sounds incredibly arrogant now that I write it. But he likes Door-to-Door Poetry; he’s gave me lots of advice about it from the start.

Have you any advice for budding performance poets?

Never stop doing it.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

I would make people less afraid of strangers. It’s hard, I know; strangers have done some pretty shitty things to me in the past. But, I think, generally, people are a lot more kind and caring than we’re led to believe. And they often do bad for a reason. If the news spent an equal amount of time telling us about caring stuff people had done, as well as all the horror, we’d feel a lot less frightened and a lot more inspired about life. But I don’t think they want us to feel like that – we might start changing everything.

Can you share with us a couple of your poems?
Yeah, I’d love to.

‘Doctor Dave’

There’s a doctor in North Shields

who treats his patients like his equals

and preaches power to the people,

his name is Doctor Dave.

 

He’s the anti-establishment GP,

the healthcare revolutionary,

like Che Guevara, but less hairy;

he wears the same beret.

 

If you want kebab and chips

and you don’t want to hear the risks

of it daily slipping round your lips

he’ll say no more about it.

 

He’s not going to lecture you

until his wised cheeks turn blue,

there’s loads of options there for you

but he’s not going to shout it.

 

Doctor Dave, Doctor Dave,

he won’t say you need to behave

or stop you going to a rave

in a snake infested bog.

 

You could smoke 50 a day

and give up walking for Segway

while sniffing lines of pure cocaine,

guilt tripping’s not his job.

 

I know there’ll be some people who’ll

think that it’s despicable

that Doctor Dave’s so liberal

when it comes to giving lessons.

 

Their heads will shake till they spin off

and just before it they will scoff:

“Those scumbags need a telling off!

Where’s Doctor Christian Jessen?”

 

But from each shivering student drinker

out without a coat in winter,

to lard ingesting pensioners

who didn’t want so long,

 

we spend the most time in the grave

and no one ever changed their ways

because they heard a doctor say:

“I’m right and you are wrong.”

 

‘At 16’

I want to help raise a cool girl

A girl who’s allowed to be seen and heard

A girl who knows no colour or job is ‘not for her’

I want to help raise a cool girl

 

A girl who knows she could play football

Against the hardest boy in the class

And tackle him before he has the chance to pass

Sprinting the length of the field to score a hat-trick

Knows she could be a mechanic

Or the world’s best Formula 1 driver

And even if that’s not what she wants

Knows she could easily parallel park

 

I want to help raise a girl who says what she thinks

Who at 16 wins arguments with socialist politics

Who understands lads who interrupt her

Aren’t more clever

They’re just pricks

I want to help raise a cool girl

 

A girl who knows cooking and cleaning

Aren’t jobs reserved just for her

A girl who feels sorry for those that say

They only dream of their wedding day

Who keeps a space saved for an act so great

It helps to make the world a better place

I want to help raise a cool girl

 

With the strength to filter out the pressure

From every advert and newspaper

Telling her she’s ugly and the wrong shape

A girl who’s not afraid

Of her gender or her sexuality

Knows either of these could change their name

And she’d still be loved by her family

I want to help raise a cool girl

 

And I know she won’t find it easy

She’ll have to make choices

In a world that’s geared to make her fail

A world that grabs and intimidates

In a way I’ll probably never really appreciate

 

But I want to help raise a girl

Who knows the difference

Between doing what’s expected

And doing what’s best for you

Between making a choice

And doing what you’ve been told to

Between freedom

And the same

Old shackles

With different chains

 

What is next for you? What plans have you got?

I’m really hoping to take Door-to-Door Poetry all around the country by autumn of this year, to prove anyone can enjoy poems and that strangers really aren’t as scary as they seem.

I’m also going to do a show about what’s happened to me so far at the Edinburgh Fringe in the summer. I’ve got loads of stories I want to tell, from my trip down to the Byker Wall – an area synonymous with crime and violence – to visiting a mosque for the very first time. It’ll be running from the 5th to the 27th of August at the Banshee Labyrinth at 4pm every day (apart from Thursdays). If you’re around, get yourself down. It’s on the PBH which means it’s free entry too!

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Pictures courtesy of Adam Opie: Website

Inky Interview: Ian Cooper

You have written several great works that analyse cult films such as Witchfinder GeneralBring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, and Frightmares (a history of British horror cinema), as part of the Cultographies series by Wallflower Press. Can you walk us through your love of film and how you came to write for Wallflower Press?

Thanks for addding the word great in there! Only Alfredo Garcia was written for the Cultographies imprint, Witchfinder was one of Auteur´s Devil´s Advocates series (as is the upcoming Frenzy) and Frightmares was part of their Studying British Cinema series.

I´ve always been crazy about film, I got a couple of degrees in the subject, taught it at a series of colleges in and around London and then got the chance to contribute some entries to a Wallflower guide to contemporary directors. That led to me pitching them a Cultographies and that really got me going.

You are a scriptwriter, too. Are you working on anything at the moment? What other scripts have you worked on?

I´ve written a lot of scripts, mostly features, a few shorts. I´ve had some optioned, nothing made yet. It´s a very frustrating business tbh – the first feature script I had optioned, I thought this is it now, I´m a screenwriter. Then years went by, the film was cast, posters and storyboards were created, the option was renewed a couple of times – and after 8 years the project fell apart for good and I ended up with my script back.  Another project I had with a company, we met often and they always paid for long lunches in Soho, they gave me lots of notes, I dutifully rewrote and then again it ended up going nowhere. It´s the nature of the beast. I´m currently writing a script about serial killing and Satanism – I don´t really do light.

You are also writing a book on Charles Manson. How do you approach dark, fascinating subjects like this, in your writing? 

I like dark stuff, horror films, true crime, I don´t think too much about why, I´ve just always enjoyed things a lot of people find off-putting or distasteful. I´ve been interested in the Manson murders for a long time and writing a book about the influence they had on films and TV shows is a way to combine my interests in film and true crime.

Your study of Hitchcock’s Frenzy…tell us more.

It´s a making of/critical analysis. I didn´t pitch this one, I mentioned on Facebook that it´s the Hitchcock film I´d seen the most and John Atkinson, the owner of Auteur who´s become a friend asked me if I´d like to write a book on it. It´s got a lot of things I´m interested in – it´s a horror film, it references some real murders, it´s shot in London and it´s a black comedy.

What is your particular way of researching? Does it take up a lot of time and do you enjoy it?

A lot of it is watching or reading about films and I never get tired of that. The thing is, I´m not at all versatile so everything feeds into everything else – every book I´ve written is about one or more violent films so the same debates crop up again and again, often the same social issues too, censorship, moral panics and so on.

The internet has made researching much easier – I used to have to fly to London to look up reviews and articles in a library (very 20th century!)

For scripts, I don´t do any direct research at all, just let it all spill out and then rewrite it later so it makes a bit more sense. But the stuff I read does find its way in there. For example, I recently read a lot about Israel Keyes, a serial killer who buried ´kill kits` across the US and I´ve used this detail in my most recent script.

Tell us about a typical day in your world.

I get up soon after 6am, take my son to school and write until 1:00 then make dinner for the family. Then I do my best to squeeze in a bit more writing between taking my son to football or acting classes or what have you. In the evening, I watch a lot of films and TV box-sets.

One of the reasons I moved to Germany from London was so I could write full-time – my wife has a good job and I was going to be in a village with few distractions. But after my youngest son was born 8 years ago, I found I had a lot less time (for obvious reasons). Now I essentially work for half a day.

There are too many distractions for a writer these days. One click away from social media etc….how do you motivate yourself to write, or does it come naturally?

It was easier when I moved here – I didn´t have a radio or the internet, I didn´t know anybody and my German was terrible. Now I have to motivate myself a bit more – I´m online, I know people, I speak a mangled version of the language – but discipline is something you just have to learn if you want to write.

I like social media, it offers me a way to share my weird obsessions with like-minded people. I´ve also met producers through Facebook and that´s been useful.

The thing is, there´s a thin line between research and slacking off. I´ll go on to a website which lists missing people in the US, for example, telling myself it´s research and sometimes it is, I´ll read maybe 60 entries and one of those will inspire a strange story or something else I can use. But in all honesty, I´m mainly on that site for morbid curiosity.

What are you reading at the moment? Are you the type of person that has several books on the go at once?

I don´t have to time to read a lot of fiction, although I´m half-way through Just After Sunset, a collection of Stephen King short stories. I read mostly true crime, partly because I enjoy it but also because I can stea…I mean recycle details. I never have more than one book on the go at a time.

Tell us about one of the best days of your life.

Whenever we travel or go on long walks, my son likes me to tell him tales, Twilight Zone episodes, short stories or real-life mysteries. He calls me his ´Telling Machine`. I´ve spend days wandering around the backroads of Italy and Spain telling him about Lizzie Borden or the Marie Celeste and they´ve been some of my happiest days. It´s especially important to me because he´s 8 now and I know it´s only a matter of time before he looks up from his phone, rolls his eyes and says, “Not the Zodiac Killer again!”

What is your creative space like?

I did have an office but that got turned into a child´s room, so now I share a desk with my wife, who´s a teacher. It´s not ideal, especially as I like a lot of stuff around me while I work – books, pages of notes, coffee cups, wine glasses – and she really doesn´t.

Have you any advice for budding writers interested in film? Have you any books or films to recommend?

Watch films, as many as you can. If you want to write about film or write screenplays, you have to watch a lot of films. The stuff that´s on YouTube alone is incredible to someone like me who grew up pre-VHS. I don´t read screenwriting books, I think they´ve been a malign influence on writers and producers. But when you´ve seen a lot, it gives you confidence. When I started to meet producers and directors who had a lot of impressive credits while I´d done very little, it really helped that I knew what I was talking about. So seriously, watch more films!

What is next for you? What plans have you got?

I´m going to just keep at it. I´ve had a fair amount of critical acclaim – my books have all been well received – but earning some real money would be nice. Books are there, you can hold them in your hand but screenplays are a bit ephemeral, like blueprints for a building not built yet or a recipe for an unmade cake. So getting something filmed is maybe the most important thing to me.

Cultographies

Devil’s Advocates

Studying British Cinema

Inky Interview: Laura Heffernan

Welcome to debut author, Laura Heffernan, today, who’s living proof that watching too much TV can pay off: AMERICA’S NEXT REALITY STAR, the first book in the REALITY STAR series, is coming from Kensington’s Lyrical Press this month. When not watching total strangers participate in arranged marriages, drag racing queens, or cooking competitions, Laura enjoys travel, baking, board games, helping with writing contests, and seeking new experiences. She lives in the northeast of America with her amazing husband and two furry little beasts.

Some of Laura’s favourite things include goat cheese, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Battlestar Galactica, the Oxford comma, and ice cream. Not all together. The best place to find her is usually on Twitter, where she spends far too much time tweeting about writing, Canadian chocolate, and reality TV.

When did your journey as a writer begin – at school, after reading a particular novel? Has it always been fiction that you’ve written, or have you dabbled in other areas like poetry or non-fiction, too?

I’ve always been a writer. I used to type up stories on my parents’ Commodore 64 and make up plays for my Barbies to act out. I’ve published a handful of non-fiction articles under my maiden name, and I have ghostwritten blogs for companies. I even used Yelp as a creative outlet for a while. This particular stage of my journey began on my honeymoon, when I realized it was finally time to stop waiting for the perfect time to write a book and get started. It just hit me that I’d never be ready if I kept waiting, so I did it.  

Is this your first published works? Can you give us a brief overview of your journey with this particular novel?

America’s Next Reality Star is my first published novel. I wrote it over about six weeks in October/November of 2013. I started querying agents much too soon (oops!) but made some good writer friends on Twitter and realized how much I needed to revise. I entered a few contests and, seven months later, I signed with an agent. In March 2016, I got an offer for a three-book deal from Kensington, and the book is being published almost exactly one year later.

What’s been the highlight of your writing life so far? And your lowlight?

The highlight absolutely has to be getting that offer. My book was on submission for nearly a year and a half, and my agent and I were preparing to move on and start subbing something else. Getting that email felt like bringing my novel back from the dead.

The lowlight was losing my first agent. It worked out for the best, because the agent I’m with now is very good for me and my career. But at the time, I didn’t know what was going on, I didn’t know if I’d be able to find another agent at all – and if I did, I didn’t know if they’d be willing to take on a book that had already been on submission. Plus, it was winter, a friend of mine sold at auction after, like, two days on sub, and I was just completely miserable.

If you could offer one or two pieces of advice to budding writers and creative writing students what would they be?

Make friends with other writers, and don’t be afraid to lean on them. This is a slow, stressful business. Having a support group is key. It’s good to find other ways of reducing stress, but nothing beats having a friend in the exact same place as you who can commiserate.

The other thing I can offer is: research, research, research. I made mistakes querying agents that could have been avoided. The information is out there.  

What kind of books do you like to read? Do you have any stand-out favourites? How about any authors that you fangirl over?

I will read almost anything, honestly, but my favourite is romantic comedies, especially Sophie Kinsella, Michele Gorman, and Leah Marie Brown. I also love Allison Winn Scotch’s wide range of women’s fiction. (And I tend to fangirl over all of them.) In other genres, my favorite writers are Tana French, Tamora Pierce and of course, J.K. Rowling.

Can you describe a typical day in the writing cave? Where do you usually write? In silence or with music? Do you plot first or work one chapter at a time or bounce back and forward?

Usually, if I’m on a deadline to finish something, I’ll try to do about 2,000 words in the morning so I can get done and have the rest of the day free. It’s also not unusual for me to write in the afternoons after I work out, because I get a lot of ideas at the gym. I tend to tune out whatever is around me when I’m writing: I can write in silence, with music, or in front of the TV. For the Reality Star books, I’ve done a lot of editing with The Bachelor playing in the background (or similar shows).

I’m not good at writing or sticking to an outline, so I tend to bounce around and just see what happens. Usually, I know where I want the story to go, and it’s common for me to write the ending fairly early on in the process. But I don’t always know how I’m going to get there.

A lot of writers know that to be successful nowadays, the actual writing is a small part of the process. How do you handle the marketing and promotional side of your career?

I guess we’ll find out. ☺ I actually hired a publicist for this first book, because I realized that I don’t know anything about what I’m supposed to be doing. I’ve learned a lot, but I also see the benefit of leaving something as important as marketing and promo to the professionals, if you can afford it.

Finally, can you offer us a peek into any upcoming works? What’s on the agenda for you? Where do you hope to be in, say, five years’ time?

Next up is Sweet Reality, which is being published on the 5th of September this year, to be followed by the third book in the series. Check out this amazing cover!

In five years, I hope to have many more books published, both romantic comedies and more serious women’s fiction. And I’d like to have steady income from writing that will allow me to either reduce my hours at my day job or eliminate it entirely.

Thanks so much for joining us today, Laura. We wish you all the best with the Reality Star series! To find out more about Laura and her books, here are some links that might help…

Website: www.lauraheffernan.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/lh_writes

Facebook: www.facebook.com/lauraheffernanbooks 

And here’s the back cover book blurb for America’s Next Reality Star!

Twenty-four-year-old Jen Reid had her life in good shape: an okay job, a tiny-cute Seattle apartment, and a great boyfriend almost ready to get serious. In a flash it all came apart. Single, unemployed, and holding an eviction notice, who has time to remember trying out for a reality show? Then the call comes, and Jen sees her chance to start over—by spending her summer on national TV.

Luckily The Fishbowl is all about puzzles and games, the kind of thing Jen would love even if she wasn’t desperate. The cast checks all the boxes: cheerful, quirky Birdie speaks in hashtags; vicious Ariana knows just how to pout for the cameras; and corn-fed “J-dawg” plays the cartoon villain of the house. Then there’s Justin, the green-eyed law student who always seems a breath away from kissing her. Is their attraction real, or a trick to get him closer to the $250,000 grand prize? Romance or showmance, suddenly Jen has a lot more to lose than a summer . . .

AmazonBarnes & Noble | Kobo | Google Play | Apple iBooks

Poetry Drawer: There Are Three Of Us by Michael Murray

 

There are three of us here together

myself, the window, and the garden  

as if one, a looking moment.

And the same light falling on each

though differently through tall

and skeletal trees.

 

The garden readies itself for the Spring surge;

a bird-shaped smudge on the glass – blackbird

or hawk? prey or predator –

throws the hue of old hydrangeas through

the whole spectrum, as that old owl

Newton had named it.  

 

I am blinded equally by colour

and clear air under a strengthening sun.

They confuse and exhilarate

with their profusion; their commentary

adding textures that contextualise

everything, everyone.

 

Pantry Prose: Red by Andrew Williams

The bus pulled to a stop. She trudged off, shopping bag in one hand, pulling her scarlet hoodie closer to her against the cold. A faint smell of stale vomit and cheap cigarettes greeted her. She wrinkled her nose in disgust. This was not how she’d wanted to spend her Saturday, but there had been no arguing with Mum.

“You always loved visiting your grandmother, Jessica,” she’d said. “I don’t know why that should change now.”

Jessica! Only her mother and her teachers called her that. To everyone else she met, she was Red.

“Granny’s old and can’t get out much these days. I just need you to drop off some shopping for her and then you can do what you like. But it wouldn’t kill you to spend some time with her, you know.”

Mum hadn’t spent any time with Granny herself for at least a year. She was always too busy, always caught up with work. Always sending her daughter to the Darkwood Estates instead. Red wasn’t surprised. Granny wasn’t exactly all there these days; she was half deaf, and if you spent too long with her she’d be going through photo albums of baby pictures – some of Red, some of Mum, some of people she didn’t even know – as if she hadn’t seen them all a million times before. No, it wouldn’t kill her to spend time with Granny. Not unless she died of boredom.

But that wasn’t why Red didn’t want to go. It had never been a good neighbourhood. Even as a little girl, Red remembered gangs of youths and boarded-up shop windows. It was worse now. These days the only people you saw out in the daytime were either selling or doing drugs. Or both.

A pack of druggies were watching her as she got off the bus, wide eyed and twitchy. “What you staring at, you perverts?” she yelled. They didn’t seem to hear – or care. She walked past them towards the block of flats where Granny lived. They wouldn’t follow her. Well, probably not. Best not to hang around. She wondered what they actually saw in their chemically addled brains – if they saw her at all.

She ignored the security intercom. It hadn’t worked for months. Nor did the lock on the main door. She pushed the door open and headed inside, straight for the stairs. She never used the lift. It was old, and slow, and smelt of piss. She wasn’t planning on getting stuck in there.

The first floor flat was home to a foreign woman, one of those weird little countries that used to belong to Russia or something. She lived there with about sixteen children in just three or four rooms. At least one of the little brats was usually running about on the landing – but not today. She carried on up.

The second floor flat was home to the Axeman. At least, that’s what it said on his T-shirt with the sleeves cut off. She’d never asked his real name and didn’t care to. He wore a bushy, grey beard and some faded jeans, like he thought he was some sort of rock star. He stood in his doorway, watching her, fingers lightly caressing the neck of a battered, old guitar.

“Hey there, Red,” he drawled.

“Hey,” she replied, flatly. Just another pervert staring at her chest, though there was nothing there worth staring at, and wouldn’t be for a year or two yet.

“Wanna hear my latest song?” He strummed a few chords on his guitar.

“Not now,” she said. “I’m off to see Granny. I can’t stop.”

“You’re a nice girl,” he said. “Not many nice girls round here.” He strummed another chord.

Red ignored him and carried on up the stairs.

Granny’s flat was on the third floor. A tattered “welcome” mat sat outside, along with a small potted plant. Granny called it her garden. Despite all the efforts of the foul air, the occasional dog and Granny’s clumsy care, it still clung to life. Rather like Granny herself, thought Red.

As Red went to knock on the door, it swung inward. It was unlike Granny to leave her door open. Red suddenly felt sick. She carefully stepped inside the flat, placing the shopping bag inside the door as she went.

The flat was dark and cold, but that wasn’t unusual. She’d never known anyone as miserly as Granny. “Why waste all that money on central heating?” she’d say. “I can easily put on another jumper, and that costs nothing.”

Red shivered, not just from the cold. She hugged her hoodie tighter around her and headed through to the bedroom.

“Granny?”

The bedroom was in darkness. Feeble, pastel curtains blocked out most of the daylight, dull and grey, but still let in enough light to make out the furniture. Most of the bedroom was taken up by a double bed, covered in pillows and cushions and enough blankets to smother an army. Amongst the furnishings, Red could dimly make out a frail figure.

“Granny, it’s me. I’ve brought you some shopping.”

“Thank you, dear.” The voice was raspy and choked, not at all like Red remembered it.

Granny sounded really ill.

“Granny, are you all right?”

“Come closer, dear,” Granny replied.

Red took a step towards the bed. All she could make out were Granny’s eyes, wide and bloodshot.

“What red eyes you have, Granny,” she said. “Have you been at the Pernod again?”

She took another step forward. Granny reached out a hand, snatched at her. Red screamed as the hand grasped her around the wrist, a grip far tighter than an old woman should have.

“Those are some sodding great big hands you’ve got,” Red yelled, trying to pull away.

The figure climbed out of bed to follow her. He was scrawny and filthy, his clothes stained and tattered, and he smelt very bad. He was gibbering nonsense that she couldn’t make out as he came for her. Red fought to escape from his grip; he was too strong, pulling her closer.

“Pretty,” he cooed, his face close to hers, revealing a rapidly disappearing set of blackened, rotting teeth. They reminded Red of the posters in her school, warning them about drugs. “This is what meth does to you!” they had exclaimed.

“What disgusting breath you have,” she gasped.

His other hand grabbed her around the throat.

The posters at school hadn’t mentioned meth turning you into a deranged psychopath. Right now, Red felt that was its most important feature.

She clutched at the hand around her neck as the meth-head pulled her back towards the bed. She kicked out in terror. He didn’t seem to notice her feet hitting him. She tried to scream again, but the grip around her throat was too tight.

She felt herself thrown onto the bed, heard his wheezing laughter. Her vision was growing dark, and her lungs were on fire. Then, suddenly, there was a loud crash. The hand loosened around her throat and the wheezing stopped. There was a thudding sound as a body hit the carpet.

Red fought herself upright, coughing as she fought for air. She looked down at the creep sprawled on the floor, blood seeping from his head.

“Are you okay?”

Red looked up. The Axeman stood over her, still holding the remains of his guitar in one hand.

The police came and took statements. An ambulance came for the meth-head. Red sat numbly while it all went on. The Axeman, whose name was Dave, offered to look after her until her mother came to pick her up.

Granny was fine. She’d spent the last hour visiting the foreign woman on the first floor, cooing over sixteen sets of baby photos. She didn’t understand a word the foreign woman said, but she couldn’t hear her properly either, and the two women had simply talked to each other in their own languages without listening to a word the other was saying. Granny said it was the best conversation she’d had in years.

Mum was in a panic. She promised that she’d never send Red to this hellhole on her own again and, after checking that Granny was safely back home and the flat secure, they drove back to civilisation.

Mum forgot all about her promise, of course, the next time work caught up with her and Granny needed some shopping. Red didn’t argue. She just smiled as she took the carrier bag. It would be nice to see Granny again.

Besides, she didn’t need to worry. She’d be perfectly safe.

She stepped off the bus, smiling at the druggies as they watched her walk across to the flats. They wouldn’t meet her gaze. She watched them slink off with their tails between their legs.

Word had got round. The Axeman would look after her.

You don’t mess with Red when she’s in the ’hood.

 

Poetry Drawer: First Light by Michael Murray

On the first day it rained.
How can you get anything done –
rain is the leveller, disturbing boundaries,
mixing sky and earth
into one element, mud.

And on the second day again;
listlessly the ripening thoughts spoiled,
the cold damp languor stealing-in
with its night of cloud.

And on the third again the same.
This must have been when they made
the Northern Quarter:
to be always waiting
and never to be called.

Another three days of this,
helpless behind steamed windows, mind
in stupor, body in torment; body in stupor,
mind in torment –

I walked out then,
without a coat, and Can you
still doubt me? I called.
Didn’t wait for a reply.