Inkspeak: The Invention of Sand by Mark Sheeky

 

 

We glass sugar pieces
leap in old Syrian wind,
over countless ripples of red ochre, simmering
under yellow sunrays’ gaze.

A billion gemstone lives,
trampled by gawping camels,
unaware of the destiny of silicon;
its conquest of space.
Its conquest of biological life.

The Earth in warming rotation
heating the air, a solar hum,
warm and smoky, perfect
for the robot few,
which will out-perform civilisation.

We minions,
we dead flakes of crust,
of archaic skin.
Dust to dust.
The desert will win.

Mark Sheeky’s Website

Inky Interview Exclusive: Poet Andrew McMillan: with Claire Faulkner

Where did it all start for you? What made you want to be a poet?

I always wrote as a child, as I think a lot of people do, and then when I was about sixteen I started reading poetry again, after moving away from it a lot during my younger teenage years; so I started to emulate what I was reading (we’re all readers before we’re writers) and it seemed to me a great way of distilling the madness and confusion of the world.

How do you balance your writing alongside your job as a lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University? Do you have a writing routine?

I don’t really have a routine; on days when I’m not in my university office I still like to wake early, perhaps writing for an hour, before getting on with the rest of the day; if I have a commission or a specific piece I’m meant to be working towards, then that will often force me to sit down at my desk like a proper writer and try to conjure something up – but usually poetry comes to me very slowly and very unexpectedly – a line coming from wherever that place is that poetry comes from, and I’ll write that down and then just try to let it lead me wherever it wants to go.

Your poems are often personal and intimate. Human nature, desire and relationships are reoccurring themes. How difficult is it to put that part of you and that level of emotion down on paper?

I’m quite a shy, reserved person in many ways and so that level of intimacy is difficult; it just seemed to me that I was interested in relationships, in desire, in the body, and if I was going to write about those things then I had to fully commit and write about them entirely, there was no point doing it half-heartedly, or being embarrassed by it, the poems would only work (I told myself) if I went completely into them, if I told the whole truth (poetic truth rather than what-actually-happened truth sometimes); it can be difficult to visit parts of your life that weren’t particularly enjoyable, or which there is a certain degree of shame about, but that fear and embarrassment and emotion is important to feel – if you’re writing a poem cold then the reader will feel cold as well, there needs to be something transmitted to the reader, almost by osmosis.

Writing is never the hardest part in terms of revealing oneself; for the longest time the poems are just mine, in my notebook, and then the scary part comes afterwards.

Your poems are often lower case, with little punctuation and have fragmented stanzas. Why do you think this style and form works so well? ( I’m thinking in particular of Finally and David after Goliath. Both of which I think are beautiful. Every time I read David after Goliath I get something different from it, and I think that’s partly due to the form.)

It’s a style that developed over time, first lower case (which I began experimenting with after reading Children of Albion, a weird wonderful anthology of underground British poetry from the 1960’s) the fragments, or exploded lyric line with the breath spaces always just felt to me more natural, it seemed to me that people never spoke in correct punctuation, pausing where a comma might be etc., it’s something more led by the breath than that, something more gentle than that.

What advice would you give to new and aspiring writers?

To read, to read and to keep reading, and never lose that joy of reading; even read things you don’t enjoy, just to see why it is you don’t like it, to begin to form some kind of response to it. Remember that joy of reading, never lose that.

Do you think poetry is becoming more accessible?

I think it’s having a moment where it seems to be more popular, and I think forms are perhaps becoming more hybridised; I don’t think its necessarily a question of it becoming more accessible but rather that more people are coming to it – in troubling serious times, people always go to poetry – just as they might for a funeral.

Do you have a favourite poem or a writer whose work you keep returning to?

Always Thom Gunn, my first and always poetic love.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’ve just come out of the other side of all my marking, so slowly getting back into the swing of reading things – I’m looking forward to starting Michael Symmons Roberts’ new collection, Mancunia that Cape are publishing this year, and the great Randall Mann, a wonderful American poet, just sent me his new collection, so I’ve been reading that as well.

Do you have a poem or any recommendations you would like to share with us?

I would recommend that everyone takes out a subscription to a poetry magazine; Poetry(Chicago) The Poetry Review, Poetry London; magazines are a great way of seeing the coal face of poetry, where the really new and fresh poetry is coming out.

http://andrewmcmillanpoet.co.uk

Picture courtesy of Urszula Soltys.

Inky Interview Special: Poet and Visual Artist Ted Eames

What is it you love about poetry?

I love the way that poetry can multi-task. A poem can mean different things to different readers and listeners, and it can simultaneously make you say: “Wow! I see things that way” and also “Hey! I’ve never quite seen things that way before.”

I also love the concise, pared down nature of poetry. A poem gives you something in concentrated form, and I like that you then have to do a little bit of work to flesh it out from your own heart and head.

Can you share with us a couple of your poems and the inspiration behind them?

The first one is a recent poem, inspired by nights out alone on mountain tops in remote parts of the Yukon. From time to time I love ‘overnighting’ on hills and on islands, travelling light and staying awake. You can learn a lot about both place and self:

The Mountain Top: Evening and Morning

Dry-grain rock springs the feet like cropped grass

until, with long final strides across bare boiler-plate slabs,

I am dipping my head

                                      in the high mountain sky,

                                      with fifty miles of elbow room

                                      on either side to spare.

Darkness sumps horizon’s light

and invites me

to stay the night,

to drench my scalp

in small hours indigo,

cryptic counter-code

for day’s blazing blue.

 

Only silver meteor slashes remind me that things move:

constellations, galaxies and lone stars lure my sanity

                                                                                            to ecstatic edge.

                                                                                            Delirium?

                                                                                            Hold on, for morning.

                                                                                             

Yet something was there,

heard in slithering scree,

seen in dark shadow-bulks,

scent of pine revealing

a scent not-of-pine,

animal fear on my tongue,

a sense of tense, stealthy touch

deep within, a pulse to each nerve-end

until silent atoms of light cluster,

then thicken into myriad layers,

reclaiming distance and detail.

 

Azure day’s dip

was potent, heady.

Violet night’s

was one rational gulp

from drowning.

 

The second poem relates to a more earthy and human experience in the same part of the world. It is written in the imagined voice of a woman I saw playing piano in a rough old bar in Dawson City, where a Gold Rush population of fifty thousand has shrunk to somewhere around one thousand souls:

 

The Westminster Bar, Dawson City: Old Joanna Hits Her Stride

I must be losing my grip,

all fingers and thumbs

from the nights of white rum.

But the ivory keys draw me in,

rounded at the edges, smoothed,

rancid butter coloured enamel

like the horse-toothed

bar-buttresses I serenade tonight.

I yellow in sallow rhythm-light

to accompany the décor.

Smoking Compulsory Here.

Thank heaven for the black notes,

I cannot tell my chromatic,

rheumatic, tallowed

fingers from the off-whites.

Still, there is a cooling warmth

to the beached bones

of this smoothened keyboard,

salt-scoured by my earthy tunes.

Only my breasts resist

this gorse-hued coarsening,

this mellow tan leathering.

I flaunt a paleness of them tonight

and taunt the limp, curdling drinkers

with my double-barrelhoused,

clotted cream Milk Cow Blues.

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

My poetry has several, often overlapping, themes: the natural world (especially the ‘wild’); love and sex; a humanist, anti-religious vein; satirical humour; music and art; story-telling.

Those are the things that matter to me.

Politics also matters to me (I am a socialist) and I love the idea of politically relevant poetry, but I feel frustrated about my inability (thus far) to write good political verse!

Can you tell us about your first novel Pick Up The Pieces?

Pick Up the Pieces is based on a seven month solo journey I made not long ago, an eventful trip around British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska. I decided to turn my experiences into a novel rather than a travelogue.

I created a fictional narrator who was able to describe my journey via her own observations, via access to my journal, and via interviews with people I met. This device allowed me to develop a plot and to have a commentator who is able to describe a bigger picture, whilst also poking fun at me and revealing her own character.

All the events are true, except for the small matter of my own death. It is a mystery story with rebirth as a theme.

The narrator is based on a character in some paintings by the artist Paula Rego. I am very excited at the moment because, following a recent BBC film about her, I managed to make contact with her and she is reading the manuscript.

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

One thing I’d change about the world?

Handling POWER is not something that we humans are good at. That applies to individual relationships within families and right through to global politics. Power abuse is the root of sexism, racism and all the other forms of oppression and division.

So I would opt for a sea-change in human awareness of how to relate to others without power abuse.

Who inspires you and why?

My son inspires me.

I was a single parent from when he was 11 months old and we are very close.

His presence in my life has changed me for the better, has taught me loads, and has given me a spinal column to my world that will always be there.

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

So many “best days” (and nights) to choose from!

I could get lost in making this decision, so I will go with the day when my younger sister and I spent a day walking and reflecting on the death of our mum and dad (they died within a year of each other after quite troubled years). We didn’t have the happiest of childhoods, but we were able to make sense of it all in retrospect, and grow from our talking.

As children we had created a fantasy world of stories and music, mainly led by me as the older child.

On our walk she said to me: “Thank you for my childhood”. I can’t think of anything much better than that!

What are you reading at the moment?

At the moment I am reading guide books to the Hebridean Islands. I have visited a few but a recent trip to Berneray, Harris and the Uists has ignited a desire to spend more time there.

I am also re-reading my library of Alice Munro short stories.

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

Over the last year or so I have been getting into collage making. It’s something I have had on a backburner for a long time, so I have built up a good collection of images and texts and I am really enjoying a different creative enterprise.

I had an exhibition last summer and am part of a large one in Shrewsbury this month.

Details are on my blog at  www.maintenantman.wordpress.com  

Other than that I am fantasising wildly about what might happen if Paula Rego (and her film director son) like Pick Up the Pieces. Dream on, Ted!

Poetry Drawer: End Of by Ali Hepburn

He was the worst person

who ever lived.

 

Languid silence brewed

between them, louder

than the everyday drone

of the dishwasher.

 

Tomorrow he will close the door

with finality, but today

weather the rain

of sharp looks.

 

Fault left a metallic

taste in the air,

stifling like petrichor

without rain; a November

thunderstorm musty and stale

with the scent of something

not-quite-dead.

 

Light entered the window

at the wrong angle, always,

defying closed blinds,

hitting possessions scattered

like mocking props from

the lives they had enacted.

 

Grey words:

I can’t do this anymore.

 

Tea left on the counter.

Untouched. Tepid.

Inky Interview: Horror Writer and English Professor Mike Arnzen: with Claire Faulkner

Can you tell us about your journey as a writer? Where did it all start for you?

I’ve always loved stories, but I think I first started taking myself seriously as a >writer< when I set down a book I was reading – Stephen King’s Firestarter – and thought, well, gosh, I can do better than that! I tried, and failed miserably.  

King is a master. Who was I fooling? But I think we all get started in this business when we get to a point where we start to see the patterns of storytelling, and feel compelled to ‘talk back’ to the world of books through our own writing. That is simply stage one to a long-earned career as an author.

In the Goreletter and on your website you provide writing prompts to help inspire others. What inspires you to write?

What a kind question! I think part of it is obviously seeing the effect it has on other people. Maybe this is why I teach and try to help other writers. It has the benefit of the instant reaction. Writing is a kind of prompt toward an emotional response, isn’t it?

I actually started sharing creative writing prompts with writers in a horror newsletter called ‘Hellnotes’ about a decade ago. It was fun series of things like ‘Describe brain surgery from an awakening patient on the operating table’ and things of that ilk. Now there’s a huge collection of them that people can look into, called INSTIGATION: CREATIVE PROMPTS ON THE DARK SIDE. It’s an e-book only title, but available everywhere those are sold.

And now that I think of it, it seems so obvious: horror, too, is a kind of prompt. I like getting a reaction. Whether a scream or an intellectual response, I’m happy.


Do you have a set writing routine?

I >TRY< to. Habits are double-edged swords. They can make you productive… but they can become uncreative rituals. The whole notion of a ritual is that it is a kind of ‘story we tell ourselves’ by practicing something over and over again, the same way. And that can backfire with writing. But my primary routine is to write in the mornings, when the coffee hits my dream-addled brain and ignites weirdness with hi-octane energy. However, sometimes, deadlines press in, and I find myself binge-writing all night until I drop. Sometimes those caffeine-fuelled, fever dream, writing marathons produce the weirdest ideas, so I’m a bad judge of what works best for my own process, actually. But so long as I’m producing something, or planning the next project, I’m happy. I try to keep different things juggling all at once – a novel, a poem, an essay; that keeps me going if any one thing stalls or gets dry.

I originally found your work through your project gorelets, where readers received weekly poems from you. I’ve been hooked on creative horror ever since. (I have FOTD magnets too.) Why do you think horror works so well in this format?

Less is more! I’ve long felt that horror works best in short forms. This is why Poe works so well, I think… can you imagine a NOVEL from Poe, akin to the whoppers we find on the bestseller shelves today? I can’t. Short forms have the promise of a surprise ending, and the finality is often felt like a bullet to the head. 

You teach writing popular fiction at Seton Hill University; how do you balance this with your own writing?

On the one hand, teaching keeps me primed. I’m always reading, always reflecting on this crazy practice called writing, always talking shop. And I’m doubly lucky that I get to do it with horror writing – my job is unique! But balance? That’s kind of a myth. Work comes and goes – sometimes books take the spotlight; sometimes teaching gets on center stage; sometimes it’s something else altogether. But teaching can murder the creative mind: finding time to write while juggling class preps, sundry meetings, and the massive amounts of grading can seem impossible some weeks. There’s only so many times you can dip into the word well, and sadly, teaching sometimes has wrung all the words out of me by the end of the day. This is why – when all my pistons are popping – I swear by my morning writing routine. And when I’m under deadline, I set my alarm ahead an hour early, just so I can get more done. 

Can you share any details of projects you’re involved with at the moment?

I’m contributing to an academic title for Dark Moon books that studies the short fiction of Steve Rasnic Tem! First in the series of author-studies is ‘Exploring Dark Short Fiction’, run by Eric Guignard, who is an awesome editor to work with. He really wants to put the spotlight on short story writers and help new genre fans and authors understand why people like Tem keep winning awards or why people should keep reading them. I’m on as academic consultant, which means I write commentaries on all the stories in these books, and a longer academic essay. It’s fun to let my academic side out of the box like this every once in awhile. Reading, thinking and teaching are all parts of what make my weird engine run at full speed.

But like I said, I’m always juggling. I’ve got a poetry collection I want to finish gathering together next. Then a short-story collection. There’s a stalled novel I might restart. THINGS A PLENTY! If your readers subscribe to the Goreletter, they’ll know about them as soon as they’re available! Visit gorelets.com

What are you reading at the moment? Who would you recommend to us?

A really cool ‘lost version of Dracula’ called Powers of Darkness by Valdimar Asmundsson, who translated Stoker’s classic into Icelandic but changed the story in a bunch of interesting ways (all of which are annotated in the book!). It’s groovy. I’m heading to Transylvania next week, actually, to attend the International Vampire Film and Arts Festival, so the book is getting me in the mood for the Carpathians! 🙂 I’ll be doing a fiction reading there, as well as curating an academic symposium on behalf of Seton Hill University. Folks interested in doing this next year should visit http://ivfaf.com

Would you like to share one of your poems with us?

This is an example of a ‘gorelet’ from years ago, that everyone seems to remember after they read it:

Fuzzy Bunnies

the eyes roll back
and accusingly glare
when my feet slide forward
and hot rabbit innards
squirt between my toes
only then do I see
why these furry white skins
are called slippers

Have you got anything else you would like to add?

Thanks for the interview! If anyone reading this is looking over my stuff, and wondering, ‘Where do I start? What book is the best?’ then I would recommend looking into Proverbs for Monsters (for a sampler of longer fiction and poetry) or 100 Jolts (for 100 short-short horror stories). Both are in print, and I continue to get great responses from readers. Enjoy!

Poetry Drawer: Rust City by Ali Hepburn

 

A fissure divides the town.

 

On one side houses

in perfectly arranged rows,

green spaces

manicured, plants located

by design, straight lines,

undisputed symmetry,

the Garden City laid

according to intent.

 

Scuttling across the rift,

shoes echo dully

on worn concrete, crossing

between divided lives.

Trains hurtle below

to Elsewhere, screams

resonating the girders,

shuddering the structure

to crack open

the unreality.

 

The other side:

disused factories tower,

grandiose facades betrayed

by pristine paint now dirty grey

and peeling; a faded

mosaic of tiles motley

and disjointed, stained

with pigeon excrement. Iron

besieged by creeping rust

lays flaky waste to structure.

 

Sneaking moss paves the way

to colonisation.

Poetry Drawer: Crewe Green by Matthew Waldron

 

Squirrel intestines,

plucked fleshy harp strings thrum their valediction song across a gum dot constellation of rain-silvered pavement.

 

Bird scolds metallic,

jolted cutlery in a draw.

Wren zip wires across road,

long chain of chimes follow toward flailed wall of hawthorn through rare punctuations of road-shush cars:

splinters;

sparks of arc weld,

ghosts of colour which shower the senses.

Drone music of traffic flow, all vehicular vibrato and baritone buzz.

 

Sky,

slab of knife-cut blackcurrant jelly,

thrown,

slap-stuck against a tiled wall.

Roadside smudge-edge yellow bars of paint imprison leathery leaves,

cigarette packet,

a denuded Sylvanian family mouse with arms and legs positioned mid-walk in an oily rainbow-stained wash of gravel

and beckon bony finger twigs.

 

Profile,

fuzz-mottled with moss,

wind-rubbed by Mother Nature,

grey frieze figures in profile,

stained green;

eyes to the Heavens,

limb-stretched to-the-max,

loin cloths and muscles:

folds in wind-rippled flags.

Time Rewards Industry; Punishes Sloth:

Time? A clock no longer strikes,

hands above heart in permanent prayer.

 

Jackdaws,

pleated black gowns;

ironed grey waistcoats,

cackle,

crackle in the clock tower,

fire-y laughter and rebuke.

They interplay solitaire with the ‘v’-shape fascia,

pop-in,

pop-out of cavities;

punches of portals;

interpolate,

answer back with a sharp beak crack,

ratcheted-up trills of blue tits` alarm calls,

the muted warning whistle of a nest-bound blackbird.

Jackdaws,

all out,

collect,

straight as skittles,

perch on a taut,

thick liquorice strand of insulated wire.

An anchor drops out of the sky,

falls in deceptive slow spirals and glides, closer, closer;

bright gold,

washed,

sieved at the edges of a black-hearted pool;

its eye.

Books From The Pantry: Midlife Crisis by Jason Whittle: Reviewed by Inez De Miranda

The first time I heard of the concept of a midlife crisis I was a teenager, and my forty-something father had just purchased his very first motorcycle. He rode the thing a few times with either me or my mother panicking on the back seat, and then the machine quietly disappeared from our lives, never to be seen again.

The midlife crisis that Clayton Joyce goes through in Jason Whittle’s novel is a little more invasive.

It all starts with Clayton’s fortieth birthday, which he celebrates with his wife and young son.

Clayton is cool about turning forty. He won’t be having a midlife crisis, he reasons, because midlife crises are for those who are disappointed with their lives and he, Clayton, is doing just fine: running his own company, parenting a bright and healthy son and enjoying a stable marriage in which he and his wife “still had a sex life; they did it at least once a month because otherwise they’d start to think they had problems. In fact, since it was his birthday, this month’s night would be tonight.”

But after this monthly sex act – which is presented in a hilarious scene that in itself is reason enough to read this book – it does strike Clayton that he’s put on quite a lot of weight and he decides to take up jogging. That’s when things start to go wrong.

On the book cover Midlife Crisis is described as ‘a darkly comic psychological thriller’ .

At the beginning of the book, and for a fair bit into it, the comic aspect is most prominent. So prominent even that you might wonder why it’s presented as a thriller.

But that becomes obvious as the cosy, funny story starts to change: it becomes less cosy and a little more tense, and after another few chapters all cosiness had been tossed aside and you will find yourself sucked into a dark and disturbing thriller, so nail-bitingly scary that it will stop you from sleeping.

This change in atmosphere is so gradual that when I was reading the book, I didn’t consciously notice it until I stopped reading and realised I’d become quite agitated. I was anxious to learn what the hell would happen next, so I got back to the book as soon as I could. What happened next was unexpected and, I admit, rather shocking…

Midlife Crisis is a novella, so a fairly short read. The various characters are well-presented and Clayton, the main character, is particularly believable. He is a man to my heart: geeky, clumsy and neurotic, and the life he and his wife have together is an extraordinary depiction of the very ordinary.

With Clayton coming across as innocent and likeable and his life being so (sometimes awkwardly) familiar, the evolvement of his rather dull existence into a full-blown thriller is all the more poignant. Midlife Crisis might leave the reader wondering if something like this could indeed happen to an Everyman like Clayton – and if it could, could it then also happen to someone like them?

Midlife Crisis is not suitable for everyone, and definitely only for adults. There is sex, there is violence, and towards the end there is also a particularly gruesome scene where the two are combined. You’ll need a strong stomach for that one.  

But if you can handle that (or if you just scan over that one scene) Midlife Crisis offers an unusual and exciting read which will have you laugh out loud, gasp with horror and wonder about human nature.

Get your copy here 🙂

Inky Interview: Author Jason Whittle by Inez De Miranda

I know that you studied the level 2 and level 3 writing modules at the Open University. What other modules did you study? When did you graduate?

I worked my way through the levels very gently at first. It began with Start Writing Fiction, which seemed the ideal way in. Brilliant little course that, available for free through Futurelearn now, and I’d recommend it to anyone.

At that stage I wasn’t sure I’d take it any further, but I did alright, so tackled another two 10 point short courses, Making Sense of the Arts and Introduction to Shakespeare, and by then I did have the confidence to go for actual qualifications. The Arts Past and Present and the ‘wild card’ Croeso: Beginners’ Welsh brought me my Certificate of Higher Education, Creative Writing and being part of the very first Reading and Studying Literature intake got me my Diploma (and some very valued friendships), and Advanced Creative Writing and 20th Century Literature completed the English Lit BA in summer 2014.

Why did you choose to study at the OU and why did you choose the modules you actually studied?

Not to put too fine a point on it, it was the only educational avenue available to me. Having been something of a child prodigy, tipped for Oxford or Cambridge from a young age, I succumbed to a teenage depression and dropped out of college without getting anywhere near sitting my A-Levels. For seventeen years I thought that was it for me and education, until it occurred to me that the OU could be a route back in. That’s what I love most about it; it’s a second chance for those whose potential would go unrealised otherwise.

As for the modules, it had to be based around literature and creative writing; that was all I wanted to do. Apart from taking Welsh for my free choice, because a small but significant part of my family history comes from there – my great grandfather survived the 1913 Senghenydd coalmine disaster.

Which aspects of the Open University Modules were useful for the development of your writing, and why/how were they useful? Has your writing changed after doing the OU modules?

Everything was useful in its way, and I do feel that English Lit study can only be beneficial for writers. Ironically, I scored really low on the Creative Writing modules, by the far the lowest of any of my modules (but not bitter, honest!), but that doesn’t mean I didn’t take anything from it. Sorry for the plug, but I think my short e-book Aberfan and Senghenydd, based on the two Welsh coalmining disasters, demonstrates my evolution perfectly. ‘Senghenydd’ was written in early 2010, just before I started at the OU. I’m proud of the story, it’s full of pace and derring-do, with a lot of heart and passion, but it’s also written without any guile or real understanding of the craft. ‘Aberfan’ was written last year and is a much more nuanced affair, poignant and cerebral, with a greater reliance on the subtext.

 Tell us something about your further plans of writing-related studies.

I’m currently battling through the final stages of a Creative and Critical Writing MA from the University of Winchester, and am already pitching a PhD project. No solid news on that yet, but I hope to get started in 2017. Project title is “Exploring the Relationship between Dystopia and Reality in Fiction and Reportage” and it will consist of research into dystopian fiction past and present, how it reflects on the time it was written, and which dystopian visions are already coming true, alongside writing my own novel Overcrowding in which austerity has taken such a firm hold that human life is secondary to penny-pinching.

About your writing: Do you write in a specific genre or do you have a specific focus in your writing? If so, why? Do you write short stories, novels, poetry, something else or all of the above?

I am a real genre-hopper, and vary my project lengths, but have a preference for the novella. Debut novel and some of my published short stories are in horror, and I write a lot in the inter-related sci-fi and fantasy genres (but usually with a real word basis). I have two crime series that I’m working on, one which I’m trying to work out whether it’s suitable for children, and the adult-oriented one which swings back and forth between cosy and hard-boiled. I write poetry, script, and non-fiction, and also dabble in the two very different disciplines of sports reporting (with a recurring page in the Chester FC match programme) and erotic fiction (under a pseudonym, needless to say).

If there are any recurring themes in my fiction, they would be dark humour, and the Everyman who makes regrettable life decisions.

You have recently been contracted by Kristell Ink – Can you tell us a little about the work you’ve been contracted for? What genre is it? Is it a standalone novel, or part of a series? Anything else you can tell without offering spoilers: perhaps the blurb, and/or some info on the setting, characters, story. And when can we buy it?

It’s a standalone novella called Escaping Firgo, due for release next year. I called myself a genre-hopper, but I’m more of a genre ignoramus, because I struggle to put a tag on this. It must be sci-fi or fantasy, I suppose, maybe a bit of both. I prefer to say speculative fiction. The publishers have teasered it as ‘Hot Fuzz meets messed-up Trumpton’, while I would admit to there being a Patrick McGoohan Prisoner influence, in that the main character is trapped in a weird village and trying to find a way out.

But it’s also based on a real incident: there’s an actual place called Firgo, a small hamlet in north Hampshire comprising a single house and some farm buildings. My friends and I had the misfortune to have the car break down there – twice! – and we ended up wandering around the local village on a frosty Sunday morning asking an increasingly eccentric set of locals for help in getting home. I went back there earlier this year, as described on my blog.

Is you novel Midlife Crisis based on personal experiences? If so, how far? Is Clayton, the main character, a lot like you?  If so, in what ways? And in what ways is he not like you?

Like Clayton, I am a jogger, and like Clayton, and many others I’m sure, I sometimes wonder where my youth went. I started writing this at the age of 37 – it was my Level 2 Creative Writing EMA. I was partly inspired by one of the module’s quoted texts, What I Know by Andrew Cowan, which also begins with the main character’s 40th birthday, and the novels of James Hawes, which often feature an Everyman whose life unravels. Clayton is an Everyman with a twist: does his experience really transform him? Or merely unlock who he was inside all along?

The atmosphere of the novella changes very drastically throughout the story. Was that planned? When you started writing it, did you already know roughly how it was going to end, or did the story develop while you were writing?

Yeah, I often have the entire story, at least the main narrative arc, in my head before I even start typing, and that was the case here. The assignment instruction was to write a 100 word summary of the rest of the plot, and I stuck to that completely. This is me at my most Hitchcockian: Psycho starts off as a heist crime adventure before changing tack, and The Birds is ticking away nicely as a fluffy rom-com (with just a hint of foreboding), before the pecking begins, and I’ve always wanted to write something that goes one way at first before shocking everyone with a sudden turning point.

The novella contains grisly and visceral scenes – can you explain how you developed these scenes? Now that the book is published, what are your thoughts and feelings about those scenes, and about the fact that people read them?

I come from a horror background, so edgy content is the norm for me (Escaping Firgo is the exception, with no swearing and minimal violence). So the dark interior of my mind has already been exposed – difference there being that shocking scenes are expected in horror, whereas after being lulled by the opening, this will have maximum impact.

I thought about issuing a trigger warning, but didn’t want to put a spoiler on what I hope is a memorable experience for the reader. Biggest worry is for the daughter of the man who created the house on the cover. As per this blog post, the cover, therefore the book, goes out in his memory, but if his friends or family buy it as a tribute, they might expect something less, well, grisly and visceral.   

Finally, do you have any tips for wannabe published writers? (Yes, you are now at the level of wise and knowledgeable adviser! 😉 )

Just write, as much as you can. Don’t worry about how good it is – the worst thing you’ve written is still better than the best thing you haven’t, and you can make it better later. Also read as much as you can, a variety of authors, a variety of genres, even a variety of quality, and ask yourself, what’s good, what’s bad, and how can I make this better? You can learn as much from a self-published potboiler as a literary classic, and assimilate everything, and make it part of your own writing style. And then you’ve got a chance, at least, of reaching your audience.

Get your copy of Jason’s novel here 🙂

Poetry Drawer: And Now, The Shipping Forecast by Ali Hepburn

Viking: northerly seven, occasionally gale eight

at first showers, good.

 

Waves toss him:

jetsam frantically

discarded, shipwreck,

a boat pulled down.

 

Tyne, Dogger: was four, becoming cyclonic seven

to severe gale nine, sleet then showers, good occasionally poor.

 

We cut a line. Fierce

walls of water slop

onto the deck,

eyes fixed ahead.

 

Lundy, Fastnet: west gale eight to storm ten,

veering northwest five to seven, moderate.

 

Salt stings eyes.

In that blink

he’s gone. Mouth

drier than air.

 

Irish Sea, Shannon, Rockall: cyclonic

severe gale nine to violent storm eleven, poor.

 

‘Eyes to starboard!’

the shout goes out.

All we see is savage

churning and spray.