Inky Interview Special: Performance Poet Jason N Smith

Affinity with words has been part of me since trying to decipher little card cut words given by a teacher; but my journey into poetry began in 2002 when something changed the course of my life as surely as a strong tiller on a lightweight boat, or piece of driftwood caught in a strong current.

Before that I was as a sycamore seed spiralling every which way in winds. What happened caused my ship to sail with purpose and a seed to become grounded and begin a process of growth, along with an overpowering desire to share. I had to write it down, so started my education to learn to imbue words with essence.

At that time a teacher asked me to enter the annual Koestler Awards. I believed I could never win anything; however, months later I received a commendation.

I continued reading and writing veraciously trying to express. I studied the Writers’ Yearbook and began entering competitions. I wrote plays, stories, and, of course, poetry.

Over the years I grew in wielding words and advanced to writing poetry for life occasions such as memorials, love, weddings, birthdays, and therapy for myself and others. Once taken on board words have dramatic outcomes.

Over the years I recited poetry and it sounded OK, but I did not have confidence. To gain confidence I had to step beyond my comfort zone, and it was terrifying at first, being laid bare; however, each moment beyond myself was growth.

Now I perform poetry to share experience, feeling, insight, laughter, confidence, understanding, healing, solace, to highlight and show that despite tendencies to look at differences, underneath we are all much the same.

I compose and perform poetry as it is challenging and enjoyable.

My journey into performance poetry began in 2015 when being birthed out of a womb of darkness with a heart beating didactic rhythms drummed into conundrums under thick skin, while in a glum prison cell, until overcoming and no longer succumbing to perpetuating cycles spiralling paths into futures. From a past that I call a hell.

It began when my voice was set free to soar and tell, my story.

In the beginning I submitted stories, poems, and articles into competitions (the free ones) and achieved a Platinum Award for the poem ‘To Score’ with Koestler Trust. This was read at London’s Royal Festival Hall. I also achieved publication with EnglishPEN with my short story ‘Accept My Freedom’.

After later winning another Platinum with Koestler for a novel featured in the Arrow in the Blue Exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and being published in poetry anthologies by Inside time National Prison Newspaper, with forwards by Carol Anne Duffy, Will Self, and Andrew Motion, I gained belief in my ability to write; however, not so much in ability to perform, so I began speaking poetry. At the same time I was aware that there is no substitute for experience.

With the above in mind, I joined a poetry group and began performing in streets, open mics, and events. Every opportunity to perform, I took it.

Launching an event with the concept of home being explored at the National Theatre in London was a great experience and learning curve; however, while at the top of the curve, I saw there was much to learn.

From then I performed as a roaming poet to the public in Stoke-on-Trent as part of festivals, exhibitions, and events highlighting Stoke-on-Trent’s capital of culture bid. Then later produced, performed, and recorded a themed poem titled ‘Fierce’ in association with a radio station and youth movement. Alongside this I performed spoken word in young offender institutions, schools, and colleges on rehabilitation, self-identity, and positive belief.

To keep myself striving to be better, I often take part in poetry slams as the competitive edge is exciting. To date I have been a finalist on several occasions and have won a slam; however, winning another seems like the dream I tried to remember yesterday – it is gone, well, until the next one tomorrow.

Writing the entirety of the Whats and Wheres of performances would take longer than a piece of string, but some of the highlights are the London’s St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace event ‘Beyond Bars’ – an arts festival showcasing experiences and problems of punishment through different forms of expression.

Performing on the main stage at Stoke-on-Trent’s ‘Six Towns One City Carnival’ was awesome and definitely a highlight, along with developing a play titled ‘Reflection’ using spoken word, which was performed in Stoke-on-Trent. The play uses drama and spoken word to highlight internal struggles and what it takes to overcome and achieve freedom.

With a didactic heart still beating and discoursing essence within my poetry, I recently wrote, performed, and created a video with the title ‘I Am Unstoppable’, soon available via Just Kindly.

To date, my journey takes me to creating a piece on the imminent demolition of a shopping centre and bus station in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent and a piece responding to clashes of left wing groups on the streets of England.

The thing I love about poetry is the different forms of expression used to convey what we transpose and define in words from abstract thoughts, feelings, emotion, and experiences. Because poetry has taken me on a journey of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, healing, and growth, I now realise the entire universe and everything in it is poetry, and at times I either love it or hate it. So, I guess me and poetry have a love-hate relationship, although I will always return home after arguments to rest and embrace the Word.

For the very same reason of why I love poetry, much of my work is aimed at healing, teaching, and simply sharing a joy of poetry and life.

I am conscious of a difference between page poetry and performed poetry so I will share a few poems. The first is titled ‘Redeeming Word’, and whilst I have never read it out or published it, it is one on my favourites, because within or beyond words, my journey with words can be slightly grasped.

 

Redeeming Word

Using word as key to innermost,

unlock doors, bend bars of hearts,

Plumb the depths and delve chasms

and fissures of mental scars.

 

Open shutters, air out rooms,

And let lights luminescence

Illuminate gloom to blooms.

 

Waft hands through dust

disrupt cobwebs,

roll rocks away from tombs.

 

Rise again no longer buried by baggage,

and a prisoner of excess.

Climb cliff face to racing hearts higher heights,

Rising until fingers crest

and caress a blessed lip of plateau,

and certainty of sure foots foundation,

amidst gusty gales furious breath.

 

Then let constellations of words guide

to where willow groves no longer grieve

over the sacred tranquil pool of your soul

and submerge into essence of eternity

becoming bound by beauty’s blessed halo,

IN YOU.

The second poem is titled ‘How Can I Explain’. This spoken word poem is to highlight and express the experience of prison.

How can I explain

 

How can I explain the pain of a prison gate’s gaping maw opening and closing with a soul shaking finality,

a finality resounding fearful thoughts, to echo screams off walls along dark corridors of my foreseeable future,

where life-giving umbilical cords are cut within cold solitary cells of confinement with a vacuuming emptiness sucking life from my bones.

How can I express the short sharp shock of being birthed to emerge into numbers I can never forget, where every day I regret having to recollect

deceptively disguising weakness,

or fearing a broken rule to become sleeplessly

angry at things spiralling way out of control,

out of control in a place of mental scars, bars, fences, walls,

all whispering wisdoms if only I bow down,

If only I bow down to be bound and become part of a dark heart didactically expressing,

symphonies of constantly rioting bells,

mental tolls and pounding feet and blows,

death throws headlocks, pool balls in socks,

heavy steel doors, deafening locking clicks,

despairing silence as life’s clock ticks,

the silences between angry pent-up breaths,

and the silences after swans songs I sang when bereft.

How can I explain?

How can I express pretending happiness on contactless visits and becoming cold and cautious with heart’s desires crushed underfoot like cigarette butts, more than once.

Or the dying inside as I reside in limbo while silently screaming and reaching for close ones who are finally giving up on the family ghost, until ghosted.

How can I explain the pain of infected gums and emergency bells repeatedly pressed and no one comes,

or the sound of officers heaving hung friends down to be bound in body bags when just the other day they bounced around,

not so happy go lucky.

And,

How can I explain being labelled faceless by leaders quoting, ‘The thought of prisoners voting makes them physically sick’. So that bill of my time for my crimes will continue to chime along society’s perception of my life line, indefinitely,

But,

It’s my life. My love, my one chance to live.

It’s my gift from God!

and what about my family who need me?

How can I explain hopes and dreams being snatched away

in a place you cannot cry or dream or say simple words like,

I love you,

you’re beautiful,

you’re wonderful,

without an implacable darkness descending to smother

where I have to discover holes in which to squeeze

just to breathe or draw imaginary poles to pole-vault over towering walls and leave,

Just to find the sanctuary of a sacred place under shady trees.

 

How can I explain?

 

The third poem is entitled ‘Second Wind’. The inspiration came after being a prison poet and writing poems for men going through break-ups and losing relationships. After a number of suicides, I wrote this.

Second Wind

I wrote to you a while ago

You probably sensed the gloom

Of pain and anguish coming from

A solitary room.

 

I wrote in verse it is my want

To set things down that way

So in times of sadness and of doubt

I will read it back some day.

 

And read it back I did today

But it never made me smile

I can’t change the way I feel

I miss you all the while.

 

it’s been a month and still no word

no letter card nor call

if I can’t have you there’s no sense

in living life at all.

 

So the demons raged and battled on

They spun around my head

I can’t forget our arms entwined

And those loving words you said.

 

So with nothing left to carry on

No faith, no love, no hope,

I thought of ways it could be done

With sharpened blade or rope.

 

Instead I knelt beside my single bed

and prayed to God above

then He revealed the meaning

the real meaning of love.

 

So I took the verse I wrote to you

And held it tightly in my grip

Slowly tearing it down each side

I took pleasure in the rip.

 

Can anybody comprehend

What it does to your health?

It’s best by far to kill a poem

Than it is to kill oneself.

The fourth poem, ‘Coinage of Time’, was written during a short stay in Strange Ways prison in Manchester. At the time I was twenty-one years of age and found HMP Manchester very daunting.

Coinage of Time

I look out of my window

and dream what I should see

cloudless skies and butterflies

in a place I long to be.

There’s a meadow full of colour

which shady trees surround,

with a river running through it

where ducks and geese abound,

grasshoppers click amongst the reeds,

swallows soar before they dive,

this is where I long to be,

where the whole world is alive!

But all I see is rooftops,

of some distant city street

and I can only glimpse of them

by standing on a toilet seat!

Four small walls enclose me,

payment for my deeds done,

still I will go on dreaming,

for I know my time will come.

The fifth poem is one I wrote sitting beside my brother’s hospital bed in a critical care unit when he was in a coma. I simply call this, ‘Bro’.

Bro

In tune with assisted breath

I look beyond tentacles

penetrating arteries,

past monitors measuring

and weighing not just life,

but my love.

 

In rhythm with shared memories

written on your face

I close my eyes and remember,

laughter,

and smiling.

 

Shuffling hush and beeping

makes my heart beat faster

than love seemingly in peace,

though as legs twitch,

I know somewhere,

in there,

within your comatose state,

perhaps you converse along the family line,

talking of bar tabs casting long shadows

from generation to generation,

or relive hardships overcome

and beauty of sons and daughter,

as you walk or run within hot sun.

 

No words leave my mouth,

but my thoughts carry the weight

of so much feeling,

they descend and rest upon your face

penetrating conversations with family,

or walks with you under the sun

through hardship overcome

and into your becoming.

 

Do you chase voices in corridors

lining visages of the past.

Do you dream of whispering to people,

and they,

hearing loudly.

Do you see beyond to the broken

spoken words to famliy trees,

deeply rooted intertwining DNA.

Do you feel each glistening tear

travelling down landscapes

to be beside you,

Here.

 

I hum a song,

hoping to drown familiar sounds

into your dreams,

hoping you hear this song of peace

with your soul.

 

Galaxies beyond these beeping sounds

and shuffling hushed tones

of nurses

and doctors,

 

Can you hear me, bro.

 

 

Recurring themes cropping up in my poems are the human condition, spirituality, learning, mental illness, self-belief, inspiration, and edification, because without the above my poetry would be lip service and a clanging cymbal in a vast wilderness.

If I could change one thing in the world it would be Donald Trump, but I am only one voice – unless you would like to join me in campaigning?

I am inspired by people expressing altruism. For years I explored the concept of altruism, and many said there is no such thing, but genuine kindness and free expression inspires hairs on my bald head to curl like phantom limbs.

I have had some ups and many downs, but the best times were when my daughter was born and I became Superman running home without my feet touching the ground, and when watching the sunrise, mist on the ground and cows mooing in the countryside, I find peace.

At the moment I am reading a book by Joelle Taylor entitled Songs My Enemy Taught Me. Joelle Taylor is an inspiring poet with whom I identify immensely because Joelle Taylor speaks poetry from her heart and puts herself entirely into her performances.

What plans do I have? To simply be who I am, deliver workshops, coach, collaborate with projects, write, perform, and eventually write a few books.

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Inky Interview: Children’s Author Steven Goodwin

You have just published Zombie Kitten, a collection of poems and rhymes for children, illustrated by R. Kay Derricutt. Tell us about your journey towards this publication.

I have been writing poetry, rhymes and stories since I was young and never did anything with them, they just sat gathering dust in drawers or on old computers that I keep stored in the loft. Around fifteen years ago I wrote a long poem titled The Truth About Cinderella. Everybody I showed it to (which only really included family and close friends) enjoyed it and urged me to send it for publishing. I was always reticent about this, showing a complete stranger is leagues away from showing a family member. I am still fighting this demon, allowing other people to read my work is a little daunting even now. I was unsure really how to go about publishing, I did not have a clue who to send it to, so it just remained with me and did not see the outside world. Around three years ago, after a New Year’s resolution, I decided it was time to stop thinking and start doing something, so after a lot of internet searches I sent Cinderella off to a few literary agents and publishers, but I heard nothing. This was something I expected, but I was still not completely put off. Self-publishing was something that intrigued me, and along with eBook publishing, it was getting easier and cheaper, so I decided to take the plunge and try and publish it myself. It was a steep learning curve and at first I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but I was determined to get it published. I started writing more and more and buoyed by the nice comments people were leaving me, I decided to publish a paperback book. One of the only negative comments I had received from The Truth About Cinderella was that it was not illustrated, so I knew my next one should be. Culinanucobold became my first illustrated book. I discovered a website called Fiverr and an illustrator on there, that I liked the look and style of his artwork, and we got to work. I am immensely proud of it. This was followed by The Frog Dragon. I received a little help along the way by Ian Barker who also I found online. He helped with some editing, and narrated both of my illustrated books and Cinderella for Audible.

While I was publishing these I joined a writers group, the Crewe and District Writers’ Circle, and over time I gained in confidence. I am still what I would describe as an enthusiastic amateur, although I love writing and performing poetry, it still remains a passionate hobby of mine and not a full time occupation. Zombie Kitten was in the pipelines during some of this time. It’s been a project that I have worked on for around 18 months in fact. I had hoped to have it finished for Halloween 2016, but I had problems with finding an illustrator. Finally this year, Helen Kay (one of my writer circle friends) put me in touch with her son, Ryan. He had finished his A-Levels and was waiting for his results before going off to University. We chatted a few times about the style I was after and he agreed to illustrate Zombie Kitten. Once he had finished, I began the arduous task of putting it all together into the book that is now available. It’s been a long journey, but I am so pleased with the final results.

What is it you love about poetry?

I mainly write poems and rhymes for children, although I have been challenging myself and writing along more adult themes recently. I have two children of my own and in the past wrote a lot for them. I am not sure what it is that I love about poetry, but I know I love the way it gets my kids involved in reading. I enjoy poems like Jabberwocky, even though some of the words were made up, they make sense to the reader. I enjoy the way a poem can say more in 20 words than a novel could in 2000. It is like a monster in a really good horror that you barely see, your mind and imagination can fill in the gaps that the poet scaffolds.

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

This poem is about the moon. I wrote it for Mark Sheeky’s Artslab show on Redshift Radio. The theme of the week was obviously the moon. and so I wrote this as a challenge to myself to try and come up with something I would find interesting. I do find Mark’s programme is a good way for me to challenge and push myself to write. I feel that the one thing I have learnt in the last few months is that to get better at something you need to keep doing it. You discover what works and what doesn’t, and slowly I think I am improving. I still have a long way to go though.

Luna

Perigee to apogee

Your eccentricity is fact

Your radius, circumference

Volume, Gravity, and Mass

We know your vital grey statistics

Your craters mapped and sized

We even visited you, some people say

At least half a dozen times

But your origins, Luna lineage

We haven’t got a clue

But we know our tidal forces,

Would be nothing without you

Our close night-time companion

In the dark our only light

You watch over our insanity

When the loonies come to fight

We prayed to you in history

Tracked your movements for our time

Plotted out our months for you

Even made you our divine

Your ever presence is a comfort

Our first hint we’re not alone

On this little green-blue marble

We like to call our home

This next one is titled Snowmen. I wrote Snowmen over twenty years ago. I remember coming up with it when I worked at The Merlin, a pub in Crewe. I was bottling up and sorting out the empty bottles from the night before in the freezing cold shed at the back of the pub. It was an extremely cold day and this silly rhyme about snowmen popped into my head. I had loads of verses going around in my head, but had to finish the bottles. When I got back inside and thawed ,I wrote down as much as I could remember. Over the years I have refined it and changed some things, but this remains pretty much the same poem I wrote in the bottle shed all those years ago.

Snowmen

I’d like to tell you a story

A story you won’t believe

It’s a story about snowmen

A story that’s true indeed

You think you know the truth about snowmen

But you don’t know it right

Because the truth about snowmen comes

When you’re tucked up at night

‘tis a truth that not many grown-ups know

A truth not full of fluffy snow

Where snowmen are all good and nice

And sit out in the cold and ice

You see the truth about snowmen is

They are not too good at all

They come to life this time of year

To ruin Christmas for us all

They come down undercover

On parachutes of snow

Then silently lie in waiting

’til the time is right to go

Not all snowmen are the same

Some are worse than others

And never mess with small snowmen

Cause they’ve got bigger brothers

The worse snowmen are the ones with pipes

Because they’re the generals see

They give the orders to attack

Then hide behind a tree

A snowman has his allies

He never works alone

Jack Frost and bad old Frosty

Always love the snow

They work together well

These two good close friends

But only when its winter

‘til the bitter end

The things they do at Christmas

Would make your straight hair curl

They climb into the slumbering house

And leave things in a whirl

They spread their muddy footprints

And leave icy patches too

They freeze pipes in the toilet

And then block up the loo

They un-defrost the turkey

So it takes an age to cook

And nick the good jokes from the crackers

When no-ones ‘round to look

But perhaps the worst thing about snowmen

Is when no-ones hereabouts

They pinch all the roast potatoes

And leave nothing but the Sprouts

So if you ever made a snowman

And then one day it’s gone

Keep a lookout for old Frosty

He’s not melted in the sun

And that’s my story over

That’s the end and that’s the truth

Only one thing that is lacking

And that’s the missing proof

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

I am not sure if I have a common theme that goes through my poetry but I sometimes try to find a quirky angle to fit in around a real life experience. Whether this always works I don’t know, but that is my intent. I do tend to try and write about something I know about.. My wife says I’m sometimes a little too biographical, but I suppose that’s normal. Even in Zombie Kitten there are a few poems that draw from real life. ‘Why I Don’t Like Mushrooms’, ‘Why Clothes Are Itchy’ and ‘Ghost Rider’ are three that draw on real experiences.

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

I would make my books compulsory purchases, I mean I don’t really know. If I was being serious, I would probably say something like ‘I would make money obsolete’. Trade would be based on need and not commerce. We would help everybody, equally, and no matter what race or religion or sexuality, everyone would have an equal share. Society has a fair way to go to get there and perhaps I watch too much Star Trek, but this would be nice.

Who inspires you and why?

There are many writers that I really enjoyed growing up, from Roald Dahl and his Revolting Rhymes to Spike Milligan’s fantastic On The Ning Nang Nong. Every night me and my wife read to our two children. It was always three books and bed, and we all enjoyed Julia Donaldson’s Gruffalo. I was inspired by these to try and write my own stories and rhymes.

I am also inspired by screen writers like Aaron Sorkin and Quentin Tarantino. I love long wordy scenes in films, filled with dialogue that is clever, rich and funny, and sometimes thought provoking.

What are you reading at the moment?

I should really lie at this point and say something worthy, but I am currently reading a James Patterson Bookshot book called Killer Chef. I will soon be reading the new Dan Brown book once I order a copy. I have enjoyed his other books. I also won a copy of Jo Cox’s Biography More In Common, which I will read at some point.

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

I should really say something along the lines of my wedding day, or the days my children were born. Those were all excellent and I will cherish them forever, but I think one of the best days of my life has to be the day I met Mickey Mouse for the first time. This year is my fortieth birthday and I have always been a fan of Disney. I have wanted to go and visit Disney World in Florida for so long. So over the last few years we have saved for this holiday of a lifetime, and this summer my family and I finally went. I tried to keep a lid on my excitement, tried not to let my expectations overwhelm me and end up being disappointed. I was not disappointed at all. Now before flying over I wanted to see everything and I enjoy going on rides, but meeting the characters was never a priority. In my head I just thought it would be like meeting a mascot at a football game. I was wrong, so very wrong! I met Mickey Mouse, dressed in his Sorcerer’s Apprentice outfit. My disbelief was well and truly suspended, I was a kid again. The whole experience was amazing and I would go back in a heartbeat.

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

I started a novel two years ago and would really like to get that finished. I write weekly for Mark Sheeky’s Artslab radio programme, and could probably edit and put out a pamphlet of pieces that I have written for that. I also have amassed some more poems for kid,s so if Ryan is free, I would love for him to illustrate another book for me. I also did some story telling at Nantwich Food Festival this year to groups of young kids, and really enjoyed it. I would love to go to local libraries and do some more of that, reading my poems and stories. If local libraries and schools would like me to do a session, I would be more than happy to try that again.

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Inky Interview: Author Kate Coe: with Isha Crowe

When and why did you start writing? What inspired you to do so? Were there particular influences, literary or non-literary, that had an impact on your writing? And what was this impact?

When I was about six, I was walking to school with my aunt, and I turned to her very seriously and said, “Auntie, how many worlds do you have in your head?” She, very amused, had to break it to me that most people don’t walk around with multiple stories floating in their brains…I’ve got old diaries with scribbles in, scrapbooks of pictures, cut-out dolls that I can still remember some of the stories for, pages of plays I wrote when inspired by the latest pantomime I’d been to…I read everything I could get my hands on, graduating from fairytales to fantasy from the local market stall, and most of the fiction section in the library, and just kept writing.

I don’t really know where it all came from; I didn’t have any particularly strong influences beyond being a bookworm. I just made up stories a lot, and eventually they got complicated enough that I had to write them down – and then kept writing more!

Ink Pantry was set up by Open University Creative Writing students, so our readers are interested in the educational background of other writers. What is yours? Did you study creative writing-related courses or subjects? What else did you study? Did your studies help or hinder your development as a writer?

I have a confession: I was, and still am, awful at English Language as a subject. While I’m excellent at understanding a piece – I’m an editor as well as a writer – I can’t for the life of me tell you how someone’s doing it, or what language technique they’re using to create that effect! I can point out the problems, work out where something’s weak, suggest ways to improve it – but I have absolutely no idea how I do any of that. I did do English Literature for A-Level, but I’m afraid I wasn’t very good at that either; I did Classical Studies at university and then went into libraries and web development, and while everything contributes to inspiration and characters, I don’t think either profession is particularly known for its production of writers….

That said, I have had what I think is the best training you can have as a writer: lots of practice! I also read a LOT growing up, and on average manage about a book a week now (although of course there’s always more on my TBR pile that I was to get to). I’d honestly say that those two things are the best training a writer can have: see how other people are doing it, and try it yourself.

Can you tell us about how you got published?

Green Sky & Sparks is my first published work, and I knew (five years ago) that I was on to something of a losing streak with traditional publishing, as at that time they didn’t take novellas. It actually made my life a lot simpler; I could narrow it down to publishers that did take novellas! I had a poke on the internet, found Grimbold, liked the look of them, submitted, chewed my fingernails for a few months and got accepted! Since then I’ve been submitting short stories to a variety of places (and some have even been accepted, yay!) and I’m currently starting my more traditional publishing journey by collecting rejections. I’m only on 16, though, so I’ve got some way to go.

Your blog Writing & Coe has a page devoted to gaming, so I assume gaming is a hobby of yours? Is this board games, card games, computer games or all of those? How does gaming influence your writing, or vice versa (if at all). Have you ever taken part in developing a game? If yes, what was your part and how was it doing that? If not, is that something you’d like to do in the future?

I do several various types of gaming! I play board games with friends; my favourite is Forbidden Desert, which is a co-op game and mostly ends in death by sand, by thirst, by storm – despite that, it’s great fun. I do also like puzzle and exploratory computer games – my favourite is Portal (mostly because of the sarcastic AI) and I play a lot of Civilisation. However, my big passion is for role-play games, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to run several games in the Dresden Files universe. I’m not currently playing any RPGs but I’d highly recommend it as a hobby; as a writer, I absolutely adore them! If you play, you get to explore someone else’s world, act and react, create your own backstory, interact with your fellow-players…and if you’re a games master, you get to build a world and then see your players take it in a completely unexpected direction! I love building something, putting in mythology and hints and ideas, and then seeing where my players go with it – it’s like writing, except you have no control over the characters! (That’s a good thing in games…usually).

I very much enjoyed reading the first four novellas in your Green Sky series, and I’m very happy that the fifth is waiting for me on my e-reader! Is the fifth one the last, or can we expect more stories from the green-skied world? Why is that sky green, anyway?

I’m so glad you are enjoying them! The sky is green because I was a teenage writer who just had to make my world special, and that was the thing I came up with – and it stayed because, well, why not? It has now led to some interesting disputes about what colour that makes the sea (the consensus is blue/grey due to the properties of water, by the way). There are ten novellas in total, each following a different character and story – some reoccur, as in Empty Skies, which follows a character you meet in the very first book, and some are completely new characters or places, which means you get to see more of the wider Green Sky world.

How do you feel about the characters in your series? Do you have favourites, who are they and why are they your favourite? Are there others that you really dislike and if so, for what reason?

Toru is my absolute favourite, if only because he is a pain in the butt! Originally, Green Sky & Sparks was a lovely cliche’d story about a boy on a quest, and a magical girl who fell in love with a different boy. I mostly scrapped that one and focused on the quest, and Catter turned up. And then he got to Meton, and met Toru, and…well, they fell in love. I pretty much stared at the page and said, “You were meant to fall for the girl! What are you doing?!” But it made the story a hundred times better, and Toru continues to have a way of stealing the page whenever he’s involved, so he has remained my favourite throughout the series.

Everyone in Green Sky is very nice so I don’t really have anyone I dislike; I’ve written a couple of nastier personalities (mostly selfish) which has been harder, but even they are understandable. However I do have characters in other stories that I do dislike – but then so does my main character, which makes for some wonderfully spectacular arguments!

You call this genre ‘sparkpunk’. Did you invent this name yourself? How did you get the idea to mix fantasy with technology in your writing? Did you intend the Green Sky series to be a series, or was did it start as a single story and expand from there?

Sparkpunk was a label coined by my friend @vcorva; we decided that it wasn’t really Steampunk – it lacks the Victoriana, and, well, the steam – but that it was Renaissance + electricity….and so sparkpunk was born! The technology was actually part of the genesis of the story – why couldn’t you have a world with technology and magic? What if magic was just another trade, with limitations…and so technology was actually the game-changer? What if someone built a flying machine? And so Toru appeared, and Catter’s story began to unfold.

Green Sky & Spark was a single story, and then I wondered what the next one would be, which led to the sequel Grey Stone & Steel (which was too long, and got split into two, resulting in High Flight & Flames as the third book). From there, I had wanted to know what happened next (book 4) and had a bit of story that I’d written but never used – and that was expanded into book 5. Book 6 came from a random character tangent; Book 7 from a dream of maps. 8 and 9 were based on specific characters, and 10 winds the whole thing up! So it was never intended to be a series, but just unfolded into one.

On reading the books I found the fourth one to be very different from the previous three. It was much more dreamy and still. Is this intentional, and if so, what was the reason for writing so differently?

It wasn’t intentional, although I think it is a result of the type of story – books 2 and 3 are a war story, even though they are very character-focused. The remaining books in the series all have different characters and feels as well; each is centered around a different type of story, a different person. I find the differences interesting as I don’t necessarily see them when I write – only when I finish and am able to step away!

What else have you written, are you writing, or do you intend to write? Which of these are/will be readily available for reading? And which would you most recommend to readers who enjoyed your Green Sky books?

My current WIP is a 1920’s urban fantasy with zombies, which promises to be spectacular, and I’m currently submitting my latest finished piece (with the working title of No Man’s Land) to agents so we’ll see what happens there. There are a couple of Green Sky short stories published in various anthologies, some freebies on Writing and Coe, and more books in the Green Sky series coming out shortly! Keep an eye on the blog for dates and news.

Beyond that, if you like Green Sky then I’d highly recommend A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (she’s the only other character writer I’ve come across so far!) or anything by Emma Newman, who is just fabulous.

Is there anything else you’d like to add to share with the readers of Ink Pantry?

I’m over at Writing and Coe and Twitter if anyone has any questions about writing, editing, gaming, or anything else in general, and thank you for having me on Ink Pantry!

Inky Interview: Author Michael Forester: with Kev Milsom

Hello Michael! Many thanks for agreeing to this interview. I’m sure our readers will benefit greatly from your valuable input as a writer and author. Can I start by asking you about your earliest creative influences? Within writing, who were the authors who first ‘spoke’ to you as a younger soul?

Greetings to you and your readers, Kev! And thank you for the opportunity of sharing with you.

Creative influences: this is a really intriguing question. Over the years there have been many, many influences. The earliest I can remember was the Bible, as I had a religious (Christian) childhood. Later, I remember particularly George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier which I read at the age of 21. Orwell has remained a literary Guru to me. My latest release A Home For Other Gods has been described as a follow on from Nineteen Eighty-Four.

By the millennium year, the time I started to concentrate exclusively on creative writing, there were two books in particular that stood out as beacons: Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, superb for its creative and intellectual excellence; Isabel Allende’s Paula for it’s unequalled emotional power. Back then I said that if I could ever get close to writing like either of these giants, I would be satisfied. Of course, I’m still trying!

I’m thoroughly enjoying your wonderful book, Forest Rain. How different in style is this book to your other publications and how did the initial seeds of inspiration begin to grow for this project?

Most people, on seeing the range of books I have written, express surprise at how different they are. You can see them at Michael’s books. I did not set out to write an eclectic range of books, but I’m happy that it worked out that way. Everything I write, whether metaphorical fiction, life writing or spiritual learnings, comes from the heart. I simply let out what wants to come out. Forest Rain is certainly a good example of that. It’s origins are covered in the forward to the book, which is titled ‘How This Book Came to be Written’. Essentially, I experienced a nervous breakdown that transformed into a breakthrough – a spiritual awakening that profoundly changed the direction of my life.

Forest Rain touches upon some very personal and deep philosophical elements, Michael. How important is philosophy and faith within your own life and do you envisage creating more books in the future, specifically within this genre?

Some years ago, out walking with my family, we passed a wheat field. Up close it looked haphazardly planted. A little further on, the path rose up and we looked back. The wheat was planted in a clearly discernable pattern of rows, all neatly laid out. You could even see where the tractor had made its turns at the end of the field. That image has always stayed with me. I’m 61 years old in this current lifetime now. As I experienced the journey from where I started to where I am now, events seemed haphazard, random and illogical as they occurred. But when I look back over the journey, I see much method, logic and planning that was always there, but could not be seen without perspective. I cannot separate ‘faith’ from ‘life’. To me, they are the same.

As to future books, yes, it is entirely possible that there will be more like Forest Rain. When I wrote it, in partnership with Komar, to whom it is dedicated, I understood that there would be five books. The next, Forest Dawn, is written, though will need a little revision. The third, Forest Pathways, is about half written. The fourth, Forest Clearing, is not yet started. The fifth title is Journey’s End. I shall leave it to you to work out when that one will be written! Forest Rain was released in February 2017. I don’t yet have a date for when Forest Dawn will be released – a lot depends on the level of interest Forest Rain engenders.

I’d like to ask you about your particular idiosyncrasies as a writer. For example, is there one particular place that you enjoy writing in? A particular time of day/night? Do you write with pen/paper, or are you firmly of the computer/word processor persuasion?

The location for setting down the words is unimportant. That said, I do much writing in Tenerife, where I spend as much of the winter as I can. What is important, though, is the making of mental space for the material to flow through. If I fill my time with communication and the receipt of information (conversation with others, the TV, etc.), I squeeze out the creative material that would otherwise come. To avoid that, I make time for meditation, both in the formal sense and also informally. For the latter, I love to spend time in my beloved New Forest, here in Hampshire, UK. The Forest has long been a source of inspiration and power to me. It is often when I walk, or even drive here, that the creative themes for my writing appear.

I always carry a notebook, or the material is lost. It is later that I settle to the keyboard to translate them into words. Keyboarding is hugely important, of course, but it is one step away from the pure creativity of receiving the material conceptually that will eventually become a book, that I love so much.

Whist on the topic of inspiration, is there a particular pattern to the ways in which you are inspired to write. Do your ideas tend to stem from a single, quick idea or are they prone towards being drawn out over time, gradually growing in size and breadth?

It can be either. For example, I write much poetry. There are four poetry chapbooks at Michael’s Books. Sometimes a poem, for example, ‘Solstice’, which I have just released on my Facebook page, will appear virtually fully formed, and all I do is set it down on paper, or keyboard.

On other occasions it will take months or even years to work a theme up to its full capacity. A Home For Other Gods started life as a short story that I never seemed to feel satisfied with. Eventually, after many drafts, I was happy with the story, but realised it could be a much bigger work. Once I saw the concept it took two periods of three weeks each, writing up to fifteen hours a day, to produce the first draft of the novella itself.

Aside from writing, what other creative arts interest you, Michael? Are you proficient in art or music, or do you draw great pleasure/relaxation from other creative muses?

I am close to profoundly deaf. Music has been inaccessible to me for thirty years now, though following a cochlear implant operation in 2016, that may eventually change. However, I am deeply interested in film, which, I regard as essentially literature in visual form.

Outside of writing, what are some of your other interests in life? How do you ‘switch off’ from the world? Are there specific, favourite geographical or historical locations that amplify your peaceful state?

My beloved hearing dog, Matt, is a huge priority. Now at 14 years of age, his time is drawing to a close. I am careful to take maximum opportunity for time with him every day with him that remains. He is at my feet as I type this, even now! Of course, walking in the New Forest is a favourite pastime for both of us, as well as being the source of much of my inspiration. You can read more about Matt in my book If It Wasn’t For That Dog which tells the story of our first year together in a hearing dog partnership.

Thank you so much for sharing your insights, Michael. To conclude, can you share some thoughts on your upcoming projects and what life holds in store for 2017 and 2018?

I have a full diary for this year. Much of my time will be devoted to book signings and events, such as the New Forest Show, where I will be exhibiting my books.

Bookings for 2018 have already started. In January I have an invitation to undertake a tour on (mostly) the Eastern Side of the USA. So far, it comprises Washington. Maryland and Chicago. That will be followed in February by a visit to Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam, where I am invited to deliver a keynote speech to an educational conference. I will follow on from there to The Philippines for a follow up tour to the visit I paid there in February this year details are at Michael Forester Website. There were many venues we had to disappoint on the last trip due to the typhoons, so it will be a good opportunity to make good on the expectations of many folk there.

As to the writing itself, I am working towards the release of my first full-length novel, Vicious. Billed as ‘a novel of Punk Rock and the Second Coming of Christ, Vicious is the first of a trilogy that explores the nature of belief against a background of eschatology.’

Thanks so much for having me, Kev. It’s been a pleasure to join you.

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.