Inky Interview Exclusive: Visual Artist and Performance Poet Max Scratchmann

On the 10th August 2017 you will be performing at The Edinburgh Fringe with Rosie Garland, Hannah Raymond Cox, Andromada Mystic, Rachel Plummer, Angie Strachan, Carla Woodburn, Rebecca Monks and Taylor Swift 666 in a show called Poetry Bordello: Where Spoken Word Meets Physical Theatre. Fascinating! Tell us more…

As a visual artist, as well as a poet, I’m interested in producing and promoting poetry and spoken word shows which are more about theatre than just voice, and in the past I’ve experimented with using projections and animation in sync with live performers:

but, in this particular show, I’m combining performance artists with spoken word artists to bombard the audience with both a visual and verbal assault, plus hopefully recreate the atmosphere of the 1920s Berlin cabaret scene in a performance poetry setting. We’ve been planning this Bordello for months now and I’m really excited as we have a fantastic line-up of performers, from established performance poets like Rosie Garland, Hannah Raymond Cox and Rachel Plummer to newcomers like the amazing Rebecca Monks and Carla Woodburn, plus stunning physical artistes like the versatile and challenging Andromada Mystic, so it’s going to be a fantastic night all round…and we’re only doing one performance, so get there early!

As well as a performance poet, you are a freelance illustrator. Your client list includes Harper Collins, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Manchester University Press, Bloodaxe Books and Naxos Audio Books. Can you walk us through your journey as an illustrator? Have you any advice for any budding illustrators?

I’ve been illustrating for nearly forty years now and I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have had a lot of clients who have been more interested in good and challenging art rather than bland happy-smiley images, so I have had the opportunity to create a lot of stunning visuals over the years. I always loved art and drawing as a child, and was obsessed with making toy theatres, so when I went to university in Glasgow in the mid 1970s and I discovered the Citizens’ Theatre and, in particular, the work of director/designer Phillip Prowse and the graphic design and illustration of the fantastic Adrian George, the rest was history and I was hooked! I decided then and there that that was what I was going to do with my life and I’ve had a fantastic time doing things like illustrating book covers for the work of people like John Ford, John Webster, Thomas Middleton etc. I also take my illustration work into the poetry shows I produce and I design all my own poster work and all the slides and graphics for our shows, plus the animations where I subject my performers to endless photo sessions so that I can transform them in mermaids and other exotic creatures on screen.

For someone starting out in illustration in today’s market I would say only do this as a career if you love it because it’s a hard life and it’s getting increasingly harder. If you’re a “painterly” artist like me you’ll get a lot of work from theatres and small literary presses, which is great fun, but doesn’t pay well. However, if you can produce glossy images of happy families eating cornflakes, advertising will embrace you and pay you well.

What is it you love about poetry?

Ah, poetry! Poetry is my passion and my life. As a teenager it was a vocalisation of all my adolescent anguish and anger (or so I thought!) and then in mid-life it became an oral photo album, recording multitudes of scenes and moments, a personal grimoire of tiny fragments of my life all carefully preserved in well-chosen words like flies in amber. Now I use it mainly to communicate with readers and audiences, mainly to make them laugh since I’m not young and angry any more, but overall to convey emotions and feelings and, dare I say it, messages.

What’s your secret to a good performance poem?

A good performance poem should be a monologue or a tiny one-act-play. It needs to be clear and preferably impassioned – the stage is not the place for tricksy metaphors and clever similes – and it needs to have either a strong message or narrative to engage the audience straight away. I’d say the more theatrical the better, but I hate poets who just jump around on stage for the sake of it. If your poem is real and genuine, that will come through in your performance, and there’s no need for histrionics.

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

Here are two. The first, Eulogy, is a performance poem about my Dad who I miss dreadfully; and the second is a ‘page’ poem that was inspired by a beautiful but exceptionally sad woman I once saw, who appeared to be enslaved by her husband.

Eulogy

They wouldn’t let me speak

At my father’s funeral,

Because, listen,

We know you that you’re a poet and all that,

But we need someone proper,

Like a minister,

To do this job,

And, anyway, you’d probably just get nervous

And make inappropriate jokes

At all the wrong moments.

And all this would have been fine

If

The minister who had known him all his life

Hadn’t died the previous year

And the new man,

Who’d met him, I think,

Twice

Wasn’t on holiday

And they’d brought in a locum

Who didn’t know him from Adam.

So I had to sit on my hands and listen

To my Dad’s life condensed to a paragraph,

No mention of all those good years in India,

Forty years dominating huge mills,

Gaining the respect of his workforce

As he strode down the riverside

In his pristine whites

at half-past five each morning,

Dawn mist still damp on his hair

As he rolled his sleeves up

To face each new day.

Or the hours he spent

Teaching me how to swim,

Elegant in the water for such a portly man,

And at nights

Letting me watch him in the billiard room,

The soft click-clack of snooker balls

My lullaby

And a gentle descant to the soft

Evensong of crickets outside…

And, of course, no mention at all of all the shit years,

Bouncing from crap job to crap job,

Finally dumped in that

So-called care home,

So riddled with cancer

that I thought they’d swapped him

for some starving street waif,

His signature red jumper

Hanging on him

Like a kid playing dress-up.

And, when they had the cheek to say

That he had gone to a better place

It was all I could do not to shout out

That anyone who knew him

Knew

That his place was at the stand

At Dens Park,

And to this day I do not like to think

Of some season-ticket-holding

Stranger

Sitting in his seat,

Where, surely,

The groove eroded by his

Sensible shoes

is still worn into the soft wood floor

Of the patron’s area.

And I wish that I could have spent

More time with him

In the bleak years.

And I wish

That I could have been more like

The son that he’d imagined having,

Though he never,

Ever,

Held that against me,

But,

Most of all,

I wish on that steel-grey January day

I had just stood up in that church

And given him the eulogy that he deserved.

Because he wasn’t the Hero of His Own Time,

Or the Definitive Family Man

Or a Pillar of his Community,

But he was my Dad,

And surely that was enough.

****

The Lepidopterist’s Wife

He keeps her in the dark lest the light mar the brightness of her wings,

Her beauty pinned fluttering to a hard piece of

Beetle-black scarab board

In the heat of her killing-bottle night.

She is a plaintive melody

In scarlet and mood indigo,

Violet and burnt orange,

Viridian and sour cherry,

Her beauty the gossamer caress

Of invisible wings in the darkest night,

A silver trail of floating web

In a blossom-scented sunset,

Heady with the scents of Meadow Sweet.

But in her cellar prison she languishes in chains,

Every tear,

Every sigh of desire,

Meticulously catalogued and labelled

In row upon endless row of glass cases in the Lepidopterist’s museum,

Her life laid out in carefully recorded wants and indiscretions,

Misshapen specimens floating threateningly in formaldehyde,

Each wild occasion neatly annotated in his own precise hand.

Come, come, why the tears, we are not monsters,

Butterfly woman,

He says as he stabs her through the heart,

Again and again and again.

Come, give us this flesh,

This lock of hair,

This bit of blood,

Her life a living autopsy

On the Lepidopterist’s vivisection table,

Pulling out her entrails in bright red ribbons

That glitter in the early dawn’s grey light

As he bandages her still-bleeding body

And closes the cellar door,

Locking her in the dark once more

Lest the light dull the brilliance of her wings.

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

I write a lot of poems about my own childhood, my parents and my relationships with them, funny poems about ageing and adapting to modern life and its idiocies and frustrations, angry poems about inequality and sexism, sad poems about people I have lost, whimsical poems about things like dog shit and crying babies and annoying phone lines and computers that set out to defy me and incomprehensible governments and illogical laws and procedures, and and and…..

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

Can I say get rid of racism, sexism and Donald Trump? OK, just get rid of racism and sexism, that should take care of Trump anyway!

Who inspires you and why?

People who mean it. I like evocative writers who can paint word pictures like Aimee Bender and Rosie Garland. Writers who speak with true clear voice like Arelene Heyman and Edith Perlman. Magical realists like Angela Carter and Salman Rushdie. I don’t like fakes. Writers who write for the sake of it, or because they read a good book once and want to rewrite it – you can usually spot them in the first paragraph! I’m inspired by genuine authors who write with passion and conviction. People who have stories inside them so pressing that they have to get them onto the page as a matter of urgency.

What are you reading at the moment?

The Stories of Eva Luna by Isabel Allende. Breathtaking even in translation and I’m seriously contemplating learning Spanish so I can read the rest of her books in their original tongue.

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

I have a one-man-show at the Fringe this year, which is on the week after the Poetry Bordello, a collection of stories and video about my own childhood in the last days of British India – it’s called The Last Burrah Sahibs and corresponds with my autobiographical book of the same name. Full details here.

I’m also experimenting with more film work, both making my own and performing in other people’s epics, plus I’ve been doing some modelling, for god’s sake. Oh, and I’m still open to offers to fulfil my cherished dream of designing an opera sometime before I finally retire!

Inky Interview Special: Joy France: with Claire Faulkner

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

It came out of the blue, and bit me on the bum nearly 7 years ago. Life hasn’t been the same since. At the age of 54 I wrote my first poem (a comedic one about Wigan pies) and performed it at a one-off event at the Museum of Wigan Life. It was a terrifying experience and I vowed never to do anything like it again. Seriously, I couldn’t ever have imagined what was to come next.

At the event, I’d met some lovely poets who told me about a regular Write Out Loud poetry open mic night at the Tudor pub in Wigan. For a few months, I lurked quietly at the back until one evening, some other “newbies” sat at my table and we made the sudden decision to perform. I read my one and only poem for a second time. It was still a terrifying experience but something had changed. I couldn’t say that I’d enjoyed it because again it had been terrifying, but I had to admit it was thrilling and I had the urge to push myself further – to see what I could achieve.

From that moment, there was no looking back. Whenever I performed, I challenged myself to conquer my nerves. I deliberately set out to scare myself a little more each time (trying to memorise my work, incorporating audience participation etc).

As my confidence grew, I started to go further afield to other poetry monthly nights across the North West. Although they were lovely and welcoming, I was surprised to find that the atmosphere at many felt flat in comparison to Wigan. Inadvertently I’d “cut my poetic teeth” at a full-on, raucous, fun filled, unruly, love it/hate it, quite unique night. The Tudor had a proper stage, lighting, a guy in a sound booth and a packed room drunkenly cheering and heckling with earthy yet clever wit. It was always unpredictable, unpretentious and welcomed the weird and wonderful. I fitted right in!

There was one aspect of those nights that turned out to be a major influence on my future creative path. Many people who had come to the pub for just for a drink got drawn in and discovered a love for poetry. Some of them even started writing and performing. I saw so many, like myself, transform and grow through the sharing their words.

Later on I found out that the Tudor was nicknamed “The Bear Pit” and I’m sure that if my first experiences there had been less anarchic and more sedate, then I would never have become a poet. The pub has sadly closed but the night continues in true WOL Wigan style, now based at the nearby Old Courts.

Nowadays I enjoy live poetry in all its various incarnations, but I avoid predictable or pretentious nights (there are a few around!). I get energized by those with energy and passion, where poets are encouraged to take risks and audiences are enthused.

Before I knew it, I was travelling all over the country headlining events, winning awards, slams, etc, and I’m still pinching myself. Family and friends are amazed at what I do. Once I’d stopped worrying about making mistakes and looking like a fool, endless possibilities opened up. For example, one highlight from last year was the Isle of Wight festival. As well as performing two sets on the Cirque De La Quirk stage with Verbal Remedies, I organised a flash mob and did pop-up creative activities with the crowds.

Truth is, the spoken word community is like an adopted family – totally wonky bonkers the lot of them, but they have embraced me and encouraged me to find my own voice and take risks. I am so happy that I’m now doing the same for hundreds of other people.

I can best summarize my poetry journey as being like Alice falling down the most surreal rabbit hole ever.

What inspires you to write and perform?

People. Life. Anything. Everything. From the tiniest thought or observation to massive things that seriously matter. I only share a small fraction of what I write because, well, I mainly write for myself.

For over 50 years I really believed that I had no creative talent whatsoever. All attempts at music, art, crafts etc ended in frustration and a sense of failure. I did appreciate and admire others’ creative talents in all its forms, but I just couldn’t imagine myself having any aptitude.

I worked as a teacher and for many years I ran a Pupil Referral Unit for excluded pupils. I brought in a range of creatives because I could see how the pupils engaged easily with the arts. I knew that when learning is fun, it can powerful – a path to empowerment and long term lasting change.

It took me a long time before I could describe myself as being a poet instead of saying that I dabbled and messed about with words. Coming late to this poetry world, it feels like now that I’ve opened the floodgates, I couldn’t stop writing and performing even if I tried.

Now I love that every day I help people discover their creative ability. Connecting with people in a meaningful way is essentially why I write and perform.

Do you have a set writing routine?

Routine? What’s routine? Seriously. Since giving up work a couple of years ago, life has been chock full of wonders, with no two days ever being remotely the same. I do “routinely” (as in every single day) enjoy the spark of spontaneity. People are always commenting on how many projects I have on the go at once but I’m loving it, so I say “Why not?”

I write whenever and wherever. Of course my muse is mischievous as I usually get my best ideas or words when I don’t have a pen or any technology to hand.

You’ve recently recorded some poems for TV adverts. How did you get involved with this? What’s it been like to see yourself on screen?

Like most creative things I have done, it came to me. Earlier this year four of my micro poems were regularly shown as ident adverts for ITV Documentaries sponsored by Nationwide Building Society. Currently two of my poems are heading their latest campaign on ITV, Sky, commercial radio etc.

The opportunity came via The Poetry Takeaway who are managing and casting for the Voices Nationwide campaign, they are representing the poets involved and are passionate that they are treated properly. The Creative Agency responsible were also fantastic – utterly professional yet grounded and fun to work with. I learned a lot. Throughout the process I had full creative freedom and they helped me raise my poetic / performance bar.

I believe strongly that poets should be treated the same as other artists, musicians etc. Unfortunately, many organisations still believe that poets should get little or no payment for their work. I’ve turned down work on the basis of ethics or personal principle and will continue to do so.

Seeing myself on TV is a bit weird but fine – though I genuinely get flummoxed when strangers stop me to talk to me because they’ve seen me on TV. I’ve still not figured out what to say.

Essentially getting poetry out to a wider audience is fantastic. I don’t mind if people don’t like my work. Nobody likes every kind of music, and poetry is the same. There’s something out there for everyone if they look. Lots of companies are using poetry to promote their products. This advertising campaign is getting real poets doing their own poetry to a wider audience. If families are sat at home discussing why they love or hate a particular poem, then that’s surely got to be a good thing? If someone sees one of mine and says “I could do better than that” – well that’s great. If they then have a go at writing … BINGO!

I love watching poetry slams. What’s it like to perform at one?

Terrifying. Exhilarating. Perplexing. Of course I understand why the issue of judging poetry divides people. If slams are viewed as serious competitions where the scores matter, I agree that they are a ridiculous concept, but that viewpoint misses, well, the point. In reality slams range from the sublime to the dire. They are a fun entertainment vehicle that provides a chance for poets to raise their bar in front of an unpredictable audience and panel of judges who’s scoring generally baffles everyone.

A badly organised slam is without doubt something to be avoided but luckily for me I’ve experienced some real corkers. Oh, and if anyone gets the chance to go to an Anti-Slam (where the worst, lowest scoring poem wins) then please do – they are simply inventive irreverent and hilarious.

There are a number of you tube clips showing you performing your work. I think ‘Mam’ is beautifully written. It’s incredibly moving and loving. Is it easy to share childhood memories like these?

Yes, I find it easy because whilst the poem calls on my own personal childhood memories, it’s also about the here and now. It’s about love. My mam is in her 90s and is an amazing inspiration for me and many others. It’s my most performed poem and I never tire of sharing it. It’s my most watched video online too and I think people connect strongly with it because it reminds them of their own much loved mams, nans, sisters, aunties, etc. Often people are moved to tears saying “I’m crying, but in a good way.”

One often cited quote seems appropriate here:

“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable”

I also saw your poem (think it was called) ‘Trump, Trump, Trump’. Do you think your writing has become more political since Trump’s election? Do you think it’s important for artists to challenge what is happening in the world?

I can only speak for myself. I don’t think that poets / artists HAVE to respond to issues but in these most challenging of times it’s very heartening to see how many are. I personally have no choice. I am compelled to speak out. Whether it’s about fracking or miscarriages of justice, or whatever, I’ve now found my voice and I’m not afraid to use it.

“My words can comfort or amuse,

dig deep or brutally bruise…

I refuse to keep my words in.”

A link to my poem that contains these lines appears later in this interview. It’s my story. Take a look and you’ll hopefully understand why I’m passionate about what I do.

Oh – and there is a post-election rewrite of my Trump parody that I now regularly perform.

Can you share any details of projects you’re currently involved in?

My current post as the first ever Creative-in-Residence at Afflecks (Palace) has been my main focus for the last 20 months. Afflecks is an iconic emporium of independent sole traders. It’s been at the heart of Manchester’s culture (& counter culture) scene since 1982. I have set up a Creative Space there. It’s free to use and always open. It has transformed 100s of people’s lives, including my own. Take a look at Afflecks Creatives on Facebook to get a glimpse or better still visit – it’s a short walk away from Piccadilly Gardens.

A recent quote from a visitor: Afflecks is a place of wonder, but the Creative Space curated by Joy France is something beautifully unique. Frankly it is a bit of magic for everyone to experience. A hidden gem that 1000s of people (local and worldwide) will be recalling fondly and telling their grandkids about how special it was.

I’ve just counted up and I’m currently actively involved in well over 30 big projects. Here are a few:

  • I’m writing my fourth One Woman Show. It’s about my 4 month adventure trying to do 60 new things (low cost and through real people) before I turned 60. It’s actually about age, taking risks, stereotyping and attitude to life.

  • I’ll be expanding my own quirky take on engaging people with words creatively via a new series of ventures. Essentially I’ll be building and strengthening communities through creativity.

  • I hope to have a massive an exhibition about Manchester & specifically my residency at Afflecks

  • I have a documentary film team currently following me (eek) capturing me as a baby boomer who is living life beyond the normal.

  • I’m performing at festivals and taking poetry to places where it’s not normally found. I’m carrying on engaging with poetry haters.

  • Even though writing and performing poetry, running workshops etc will always be at the heart of what I do, nowadays I’m enjoying exploring new art forms. Mixing things up. Collaborating. Oh – and definitely carrying on stepping out of my comfort zone to scare myself a little or a lot.

  • Many of my plans are still hush but I promise they will be interesting. There are over 50 of them so I’m looking forward to involving many other people but again I’m likely only to share a few of them online.

What are you reading at the moment?

You won’t be surprised to hear that I always have several books on the go at once. In the Creative Space there are lots of books with advice or words of wisdom to young writers, penned by the authors and poets. I often do a “lucky dip” grab and indulge thing. Recent additions include several new collections from Flapjack Press. It’s fascinating seeing how poems I’ve only seen performed are transformed when on the page. I’ve never been interested in having my poems published as a collection. I’m still not sure but I’m reconsidering. Maybe a book of my thoughts / memories / ideas / prompts with a sprinkling of my poems might one day be “a thing.”

Would you share one of your poems with us?

This is a recently recorded version of the poem I mentioned earlier, about finding my voice.

Have you got anything else you’d like to add?

I’ve deliberately avoided mentioning anyone by name because there are way too many to mention and I would inevitably leave out key people. I want to say a massive thank you to all who support and inspire me. I’m so lucky to be part of the Spoken Word scene at this exciting time.

Also – thanks for asking me to do this interview as it’s given me a rare chance to take a pause from my hectic schedule and reflect. I’m now even more curious and excited, wondering where this creative journey might take me next.

So finally … I had so much fun doing my “60 new things before I turn 60” challenge that I’m carrying on my adventure by doing “61 new things in the year I turn 61” – Time’s running out.

Any suggestions?

Inky Interview: Author S.C. Richmond: with Claire Faulkner

Thank you for agreeing to take part in an interview for Ink Pantry.

Hello and thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure to chat with you.

Can you tell us how it all started for you? When did you become a writer?

I can’t put an exact time on when I started to write. I tried for many years to write a novel but I never produced anything I was really happy with. There were more pages in the bin than in my notebook and I struggled to put together tales that had a conclusion. I don’t think my writer’s voice was strong enough. Then about four years ago I started writing again and a story just flowed out through my pen onto paper and The Community was born. I loved the whole process and from there I was hooked. A while later I decided to publish my book as a gift to myself, as I had one of those milestone birthdays looming. From there I have never looked back, and now I find writing is one of the greatest pleasures in my life.

Without spoiling the story, how would you describe your first novel The Community?

The Community is a mystery and a love story that spans fifty years. It starts with a body being discovered in a local park, no one knows who she is or how she got there. Alexandra Price, a newbie journalist, picks up the story and is sure there is more to the story than just a woman dead in the park. She follows leads, symbols and tales from the older members of the town to uncover the story.

Meanwhile we meet Jack. He was born and raised in Charmsbury, but as a young man he had a hard time getting along with his family, and when he found the love of his life, his family refused to accept her. He was so heartbroken that he ran away from home and started a whole new life for himself with the help of his best friend Peter. He didn’t run too far and the community he founded was born. We follow his life through fifty years and bring his story up to date as he discovers he may finally be discovered.

No one could have ever guessed how life and love could become so intermingled as Alex and Jack work their way towards their destiny.

Do you plan to write any more in this series?

Yes, the second book Pictures of Deceit has already been published, and takes Alex on a trip across the globe as she tries to find answers to the disappearance of a famous art dealer.

The third book is being written now, although as yet it hasn’t given up it’s title to me, but I am hoping to have it for release in Sept/Oct 2017.

Do you have a set writing routine?

Unfortunately not. I would love to be that organised, but with a business to run, time can sometimes be short. I grab a little time here and there and always carry a notebook with me just incase I find a spare moment. Not ideal, but it seems to work.

What inspires you to write?

I write because I love to, and what drives me to write more is the reaction I get from people who contact me and tell me how much they have enjoyed my work. I write for me, but publish for them. The whole process is an inspiration, there is no part of it that seems like work. If I can offer relaxation and some escapism to my readers, then that’s all the inspiration I need to put pen to paper again.

You have also published an E-book of short stories. Do you prefer writing short stories or novels?

The easiest question so far, my preference is novels. I like to tell a story and let you get to know the characters. The depth of a novel is far more engaging to me.

As a writer, do you approach these formats differently?

Yes, very differently. A short story is something I sit down at the computer and write, no structure or intent, I just write, but there is no plan, generally they have started out as a warm up technique before I go back to the novel. I was lucky that I wrote a few that I thought worth sharing, but they are not my forte.

With a novel I write the first chapter with the same sort of approach, but once I have a starting point then I can start to structure it, and if I’m lucky I get to lock myself away for an hour or two in the evenings to just write. Another major difference is that my first draft of a novel is never put on the computer. I always hand write the first draft, it feels more personal.

What do you enjoy reading?

Mystery, suspense and a little horror. Stephen King, Carlos Ruiz Zafon and Agatha Christie are amongst my favourite authors. Before I started writing, these were my go-to authors, but since I have published my work I have discovered many really good new authors, but I still like the same genres.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am currently editing book three of the Alex Price series. It still doesn’t have a title yet but this story is a more personal one for Alex. It is also a much darker tale. I have enjoyed writing it every bit as much as I did the other two. I can only hope it will be as well received.

Where can we find out more about your work?

I’d love it if you’d like to stop by my website where all the information about my work is. There is also an experimental free story available there which is a collaboration with another writer, which will build chapter by chapter. Come over and take a look.

Facebook/Blog/Twitter

Do you have any advice for new writers?

Yes, if you want to write, then write, don’t worry about any of the other stuff. It’s really not going to be as difficult as you think, but first you must learn to believe that you can do it. Forget the rules and don’t try to be perfect, let your voice shine out of your work. There’s a million reasons (excuses) for giving up, but don’t fall for any of them, there are people out there just waiting to discover you.

Inky Interview: Author Tom Barter: with Kev Milsom

Hello Tom. You’ve recently released a new book entitled A Murder of Crowe: Something Wicked. Could you share some information on this novel please and where the original inspiration came from for the characters and storyline?

Good to hear from you and thank you for reading my book! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Well it’s actually a sequel! It’s the second book in a series that I’ve started writing about the titular detective, Maximus Crowe. I knew how to finish the first book but I wasn’t sure how to get to the conclusion,, but my mind was bursting with ideas for future novels so I decided to write the sequel then go back and finish the first which will be coming your way soon! Whilst writing Something Wicked I was careful not to give away any serious spoilers for the first book which I suppose in terms of plot function will be a bit like the Star Wars prequels, minus Jar-Jar Binks of course.

Growing up, who were/are your literary heroes and biggest sources of inspiration? Also, what additional authors became endeared to you during your time at Liverpool Hope University, whilst undertaking your BA in English Literature?

As a small boy I thrived on the works of the Brothers Grimm which all children are introduced to via Disney of course. I read the original fairy tales via the Folio Society. Growing up I read Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Joan Aiken, C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Robert Louis Stevenson and naturally Roald Dahl, without which any childhood is incomplete and needless to say the same goes for J. K. Rowling. I read Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake when I was nine and around the same time became interested in many of the books already gathering dust on the family book shelves. I read Le Morte d’Arthur and also The Woman in Black and eventually found my way to the works of Arthur Conan Doyle. I enjoyed Sherlock Holmes and The Hound of the Baskervilles was an influence on my book, given the slight supernatural element and the fact that it takes place in the countryside, away from the city of London, which is the detective’s normal hunting ground.

At Liverpool Hope, my passion for the Brothers Grimm and Edgar Allan Poe was rekindled and I read a lot more of his work, including his ratiocinative tales. I tried to channel some of his dark humour and his talent for the macabre into Something Wicked. I also discovered Angela Carter and Truman Capote whilst at university, both of whom I became very fond.

Where is/are your usual, or favourite, writing location(s), Tom? Also, when making notes for literary projects, is your usual tool a pen/paper or a computer keyboard?

I write via the laptop in my dining room, usually accompanied by a pot of tea in the day or a bottle of wine in the evening! I have a separate folder where I write down notes or possible future scenes for whatever book I’m writing. I first started writing when I was thirteen and it’s a habit I’ve kept up since then. If I have an idea out in a café or bar or at a family member or friend’s house where I can’t access a computer, I’ll commit it to memory and hold it in the corner of my brain like a squirrel storing nuts in its cheek for the winter!

You’ve worked in various jobs where you have close contact with the general public. Has this been a rich source of creative inspiration with your writing? Are you a people watcher?

Sometimes, occasionally, but generally speaking I try not to be voyeuristic. Whenever I’m writing a scene featuring a character who will not be significant to the plot, such as a member of staff or passer-by, I try to make them memorably eccentric or at least recognisable as the kind of person whom one would encounter in day-to-day life. If it’s a bank-clerk or shopkeeper, base them either on a charming, funny or difficult and annoying person whom you’ve met in that capacity. It would be so easy to just say “a man” or “a woman” and have them say their lines as though reading off a script, but so much funnier or at least less turgid to make them a person whom you may recognise from your day-to-day life. My main characters are, of course, far too fantastical to be based on anyone I know!

Aside from writing, are you drawn towards any other forms of creativity, such as music or art? What do you do to relax you within life, to move you away from everyday stresses?

I enjoy listening to music and paintings and try to incorporate as many forms of art into my books, either as inspiration for characters or scenarios, or just for characters within the narrative to look at and relate to the plot. It adds to the scenery in one’s imagination and turns the book into a more aesthetic, and indeed, mentally cinematic experience. Nevertheless, I have no talent for painting and still less for music, though I still appreciate both art-forms. In order to relax in life, I’m drawn to the usual stuff; reading, film-watching, secretly plotting to take over the world, cooking, gardening, psychology, philosophy, long walks and getting into lengthy, passionate arguments with mirrors and inanimate objects, either at home or in public. You know, normal stuff.

Thank you for sharing your insights, Tom. To conclude, could you share some thoughts on present & future creative projects? What does 2017 and 2018 hold in store for you?

Well the prequel to Something Wicked will be headed your way very soon as indeed will the sequel. A Murder of Crowe is going to be part of a fairly lengthy series which has all been planned. And to quote Bette Davis, “Fasten your seatbelts!”

Inky Interview: Musician and Poet Simon Ross

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Six-foot-one, eyes brown, early forties, greying hair. No distinguishing marks; Art History and Film Studies graduate from Glasgow University; never considered that I could make a living from the kind of writing or music I make so I have mostly worked in office administration. I have three children: Amber, 17; Lily, 14; and Isaac, 10. Four cats, two dogs, one horse; lots of books and records. Moved from Scotland to Macclesfield eighteen months ago – the hometown of my partner, Jackie.  

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

This one is about the arrival of the ADP riot tour in Macclesfield last year. It was a conceptual art installation by Jimmy Cauty that toured the UK. It was a sculpture inside a shipping container of the aftermath of a serious riot. It was an attempt to get at the feeling I got from viewing it.  

Container Quartet.

MAERSK

The virus of the object – through the veins and arteries of the island – m23 a666 endless endless.

Arrival of chaos in reverse – its already happened – view the post action – rushes of what was.

Where were you, when were you, who were you, who you were, where you are, are you there

Hamburg sud

The mythic tour coast to coast incendiary Visigoth punk revelation – each town detonated on arrival city smoulders in fake fur and eyeliner – they can take it and use it. A hundred formations and reformations in the wake

K line

Let Freedom ride – going to further – figure of outward never looking back, can’t look back, blinded by vision – eternally reconstructing the fractured narrative until the clock stops and then opens the steel doors to find thirty stowaways suffocated and yet one flicks an eye open at the sunlight piercing the dead interior. The authorities give him a cup of coffee and let him walk away into the streets by the harbour – to begin telling the tale.

CHANG

The audience autograph the star – national debris and albions psychic leakage document of end of euro trip and winning at go and the reduction to yes no for against impossible complexities of indifference and sullen obedience – insurrection contagion captured on highway CCTV– memory and memorial of resistance germ – shaped conscience with an uranium half life – before and after simultaneous arrival/dispersal.

—————————————-

This one is called ‘Hook and Removal’. I think this one is trying to get a feeling of a confusing dream – not exactly a nightmare, more a sense of being stuck in an alternative reality. I like the surrealist painters very much, so this is maybe something like walking through a de Chirico landscape.  

There is always an absence or maybe a blockage I can never decide

Approaching the resolution the film stops

The road suddenly ends

And there is nothing

 

Occasionally I feel a pull towards form behind or within the end

A subtle gravity

A revelatory attraction that I can never access

 

Empty stillness is what I expect but in fact it could be almost anything.

 

Let’s revisit the city, call it London, but it isn’t

Out in a zone devoid of history or culture

There is a river but no one talks about it.

There’s a commercial zone lock ups and railway arches

Cavernous interiors of a dubious economy

 

Wide streets with parked cars

People intent on getting somewhere else

 

There is a park with war memorials some of them still to be fought

School children in uniforms walk in twos

 

Back in the interior the light drips from a fissure in the ceiling

Pools of fading light ripple out and away – soundless light drips

 

Sudden faces lit up like carriages passing at speed at midnight

Eyes swivel in the death posture

Return to black

 

Even in the lightest times there can be a sense of this non entity

Weird sentinel of forbidden voyage

Wait, waiting

Unlikely final companion much delayed but elegant excuses

Offered – accepted and so begin.

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

I have a box full of most of the things I have written in the last twenty years or so. I would say that themes of isolation, stillness and disintegration figure prominently. I am sometimes surprised at the violence in the images and I also have something of a preoccupation with death and altered states. I wouldn’t say I am particularly morbid or a sombre person, so I’m often surprised by what comes out. They are primarily internal imaginings and not much concerned with external descriptions. I like short sentences – space, quiet and movement. I care about the idea that language can be a means to solace and can, when employed in the correct manner, create a meditative insightful frame of mind – searching for the correct manner is an ongoing project.

As well as a writer, you’re a musician. What kind of music do you play and does it inspire your writing, or vice versa?

I like to play improvised music. For some reason, I have never been able to remember chord progressions and lyrics unless they are very simple, so it’s easier for me to play and see what happens. I particularly like playing in improvised groups. The exception to this is electronic music; software means it’s a lot easier to structure and to create and edit. In electronic music, I prefer to work alone. I have to admit that I don’t feel the music inspires the writing – perhaps I am trying to go after a certain feeling that music evokes sometimes, but not often; in that sense, perhaps music is more primary for me. One thing where there is a crossover is in terms of performance. I have been performing music fairly regularly for the last ten years or so but it’s only in the last year that I have been performing poetry on stage. I like the different expectations and anticipations of reading aloud to an audience. For the longest time my writing was only meant to be read so it’s been interesting to speak it out loud and learn more about what the poems might be about.

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

War has to stop. I genuinely believe that if war stops everything that has been diminished in life and on the planet would be allowed to flourish.

Who inspires you and why?  

People who are unafraid to stand up for what they believe. Even when everyone around them is telling them it’s not working and the world seems indifferent to what they do – they carry on because they know they are right even if they can’t fully describe why. Artists that inspire me the most are John Cage, Charles Olson, Willem de Kooning , William Burroughs, Iain Sinclair, Richard Long, Lou Reed, Stanley Kubrick, Kenneth White… many others, but these ones come to mind first.

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

Meeting Jackie in October 1996. My whole life changed forever and for the better – twenty-one years later, it’s still changing in lots of good ways.

What are you reading at the moment?

I tend to read lots of things at the same time and I don’t necessarily finish all of them. Novel-wise, I just finished Neuromancer by William Gibson, and I have just started reading Kafka’s The Trial; I’m also half way through Orwell’s 1984. I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction; mostly I try to work thorough great books from the past. In terms of poetry, I’ve been dipping into ‘Canterbury Tales’ (the un-modernised text) Blake and David Jones. I like to read philosophy and political theory too, so right now I am going through John Rawls’ A Theory of Justice, Nick Lands’ Fanged Noumena and a bit of Martin Heidegger, who I’ve been trying to get to grips with since university.

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

I want to continue creating and collaborating with others. I would love to set up an electronic music festival in Macclesfield sometime this year. Mostly I want to carry on moving forward and outward into new things.

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!

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!

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 🙂

Inky Interview: Author Deborah M. Hodgetts: with Kev Milsom

Hello Deborah. Thank you for agreeing to this Ink Pantry interview. I’m sure that our readers will benefit from your input and viewpoints. Can I please start off by asking you about your earliest creative inspirations? What influenced your childhood mind towards creative expression, in writing, music or the arts? Additionally, could you share some thoughts on the authors who have had a massive impact on your love for writing and helped it to blossom?

My earliest creative inspirations were my mum and Grandmother; both talented poets in the own right. At the age of seven my creative bubble grew; I started writing creative stories and poetry. I was also awarded an Art Scholarship for outstanding abstract art, and so every weekend from the ages of 7-13 I attended Art School in Staffordshire. In school holidays, I would accompany my mum at her poetry readings, performances and events, and I would also spend time with my grandmother visiting the local library, happily getting lost in books. It was in these early years that the seed of my love of writing was planted, and it was from here that it started to blossom.

After a lull in my creativity my passion was reawakened once more in 2012, after being involved in a major car accident. My road to recovery was my writing and I was encouraged by a friend, also a writer to start a blog to help me get back to my passion.

In 2012, on the road to recovery The Beautiful Music of Words was born and I have been averaging between 2,000 page views a month every month, along with a global audience ever since.

In my early years I was inspired by Shakespeare, James Herbert, Emily Bronte and many of the classics. I loved to read and if I was not writing or drawing as a child, you’d find me devouring a book – although not quiet literally.

In recent years I have been fortunate and privileged to learn from fellow writers and creative friends. It has been here and with these creatives, that I have also found a great source of inspiration and this has also been a discovery and journey for me on a personal level. I am so grateful to all who have helped my love of writing to blossom and grow.

In February 2017, you released a book of poetry called A Universe of Love. What inspired you to put this collection together and how long had the ideas been sitting in your head before you started putting them together into a serious collection of work.

A Universe of Love is my debut poetry collection. The 80 poems have been carefully selected from the 350 poems, that I have written over the last 13 years. The poems in A Universe of Love are gathered from my observations of life and all the shades and hues of love. The collection is the culmination of six years work, and creative collaboration with the illustrator and book cover designer Stewart Clough.

Wow, I’m imagining the selective process that you went through in choosing from such a large total of creative work! In terms of poetry, what poets have inspired you in the past, Deborah? Is there a favourite form, or style, of poetry that you enjoy the most?

In the past I have been inspired by the greats such as : Byron, Shelley, Keats and Shakespeare.

I have also found inspiration with Michael Symons Roberts, Wendy Cope and many more. Some of these well loved poets, are now friends and companions on my journey. I love all forms of poetry, but I love to dabble in free verse the most.

I’d like to ask you about your own, unique writing preparation. Is there a specific location that you choose to write in? How do you physically prepare for a writing session?

I love to observe and watch the world around me. This is where my poems are formed and meet with my heart. I like to let idea’s settle within my soul, and percolate for a little time and then I’m guided by my intuition to write and create beauty with words. I prepare my writing journey by meditating, music and singing and by immersing myself in the beauty of nature. It is often in the wee small hours that my soul meets my muse, and the journey is renewed and the words start to flow.

Following on from this, could you share some information on your writing preferences? Are you someone who walks around with notebooks and pens (with possible doodles), or is your structure based more towards planning and writing ideas on a computer?

I can usually be found with my notebook and pen, doodling and watching life.

I love to flow freely with my poetry, but with other genres, i.e, writing biographies or Young Adult novels this requires me to adopt a planned approach, and as a consequence I write most of my ideas straight to the computer.

Poetry is a different process altogether, and I enjoy creating each poem by hand and then edit once I input into my computer.

Your young adult novel The Curtain Twitchers of Oakley Place is being released soon. How did the inspirational process for this begin and how long did it take to go from initial thoughts to putting words onto paper/computer monitor?

The Curtain Twitchers of Oakley Place is due to be released in April 2017. The inspiration for this Young Adult novel, bubbled for a few years. I also got to know a homeless artist in London. To experience this journey, I took my self into the streets of London, to enable me to make my main character Barney Lumsden as realistic as possible. I started to write this title three years ago, and last year after getting extremely close with a few major agents, I made the decision to bring this idea to life. The Curtain Twitchers of Oakley Place was completed last year and sent out to a few interested agents – but alas was not picked up. So, once again after some soul searching and revision, I commenced shaping it into this soul changing journey with a supportive editor. I just know that for whatever reason, this book needs to be out in the world now – to make a big difference.

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Deborah! To conclude, could you enlighten our readers by sharing some plans for 2017 and 2018? What’s on the drawing board, creatively?

Well, I am currently busy finishing writing a biography about Ex-BBC Cameraman a Tony Jacobs – who was the first at the scene of the Zeebrugge Ferry Disaster; he also filmed the funeral of the spy Kim Philby and captured many major events, which have changed the world. Other works in progress are a children’s TV drama script, that I am co-writing with another talented writer. Between us we are polishing the script and finalising some changes, before re-submitting to BAFTA.

I am also writing new poetry and a second poetry collection is due to be released in October 2017, this title is Remember Me with Love -Poetry in Conflict. This is a collection of poetry I have written on the conflicts of war from both sides of the fence. I will be donating 50% of the royalties to the following charities: Help the Heroes, The Royal British Legion, and a refugee charity.

In addition to this I am also working on a unique book on homelessness, with proceeds being donated to a number of homeless charities. This book is due to be published later this year by an indie publisher.

Finally I will be holding a writing workshop in July 2017, with another fellow talented writer Sue Nicholls. We also plan to start teaching our 10 week writing course in September. Moving forward to 2018: I am planning and working on a few new book ideas, I will be creating some animations and producing some poetry films with my husband who is an award winning cameraman.

So watch this space, I’m only just starting – watch out world … I’m coming!

Get your copy of A Universe of Love

Deborah’s Blog