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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get your copy of A Universe of Love

Deborah’s Blog

Inky Interview: Theoretical Physicist Dr Nicholas Mee: by Kev Milsom

Hello Dr Nicholas and many thanks for agreeing to share some thoughts in an interview with Ink Pantry Publishing. Can I start by taking you back to your school days? The company which you founded – ‘Virtual Image’ – is responsible for some fascinating software, to teach children (and adults) the joys of mathematics and science. When you were at school, were these your two passionate subjects – the ones that drew you in from a young age? If so, what was it about maths and science that held your fascination. Also, what other subjects did you enjoy during your academic journey?

I have always had a wide range of interests. I grew up during the era of the Apollo missions, which may partly explain why as a young child I was fascinated by astronomy. I have also had mathematical interests since I was very young. I used to play mathematical games with my granddad before I was old enough to go to primary school – these include the dominoes game ‘fives and threes’ and the card game cribbage.

In my teens I developed a deep interest in fundamental physics and the key philosophical questions of existence and this remains with me. However, this did not really derive from school, but developed alongside my conventional educational. From my mid-teens I knew that I had to study theoretical physics.

At the same time I have always maintained an interest in the arts and I have been involved in a number of art and science projects over the years.

As someone who home-educated our two daughters for 12 years, I was very interested in the range of software available in this current era. How personally important to you is the element of capturing children’s imagination and inspiration from a very early age and how do think this can be improved over the next generation of parents?

It is very important to inspire children. It is important that they should be highly motivated and also that they have high expectations of themselves and that they should want to seek knowledge for its own sake. Information is more readily available now than ever before. However, there is a danger than the acquisition of knowledge becomes fragmentary with snippets of information taken from here and there rather than learning in a structured, coherent, disciplined and methodical manner. It is the nurturing of skills that are developed and build up over long periods of time that are really important. Skills such as mathematics and critical thinking, musical skills and language skills are essential for a rounded education.

You’ve just finished a new book, co-writing alongside Professor Nick Manton, entitled The Physical World – An Inspirational Tour of Fundamental Physics. Firstly, how different was the process of creative collaboration with Professor Manton and what were the initial goals for you both behind the planning of this book?

Although this is my first co-authored book, I have collaborated with numerous people in the past on various software projects, so working with Nick Manton wasn’t a completely new experience. Writing a book can be a very solitary task. Having a co-author makes the writing process much more enjoyable. Our aim was to produce the modern equivalent of the classic Feynman Lectures written by Richard Feynman and published just over fifty years ago, a book that will inspire a new generation of physicists now setting out to study the subject. We have covered the whole of fundamental physics at a level that is between school and university. As such it was pretty clear to us from the start what topics we should include. There were just two chapters that we added to our initial plan during the course of writing, one about ‘Stars’ and the final chapter ‘Frontiers of Physics’ which explores some of the unanswered questions, such as the interpretation of quantum mechanics.

I’d like to ask about your processes of inspiration. When planning a new book is it usually a thought that has been in your head for some time and put through rational mindsets, or does your motivation tend to rely on more random avenues, whereby seeds can be planted quickly and unexpectedly?

Some of the articles that I have written on my blog have arisen quickly from a recent discovery or a chance observation. It is often very useful when explaining an unfamiliar scientific topic to approach the subject from an oblique angle. I think this helps the reader to feel at ease and to see the world from a slightly different perspective. For instance, the discussion of symmetry in Higgs Force begins with the story of a toy – the kaleidoscope – and the explanation of the strong nuclear force starts with the Japanese board game Go. Similarly, in my second book Gravity the chapter about unifying gravity with the other forces begins with campanology, the English art of ringing church bells.

In 2012, you were asked to build three animations for an exhibition at the Royal Society in London, concerning the mathematician Théodore Olivier and the sculptor, Sir Henry Moore, producing an elaborate and fascinating connection between mathematics and physical art. I’m intrigued to know what elements of artistic creativity inspire you – or have inspired/relaxed you – within your life. Do you find a fascination with the worlds of music, writing & the arts that matches your passion for the scientific world, or are these elements which hold little interest? If the former, who/what has inspired you creatively, especially in terms of literature, art and music?

I listen to music all the time, mainly classical and rock music. I am listening to Hawkwind at the moment, which is perhaps a guilty pleasure – the rock equivalent to listening to Wagner, which I also do quite regularly. I listen to a wide range of classical and rock music, but if I had to choose one classical composer and one rock band that I have found inspirational I would probably choose Beethoven and the Beatles. In the case of the Beatles this is not only because of the quality and variety of their music, but also because of the revolution in popular music that they ignited. To go from ‘Love Me Do’ to ‘A Day in the Life’ and ‘Strawberry Fields’ in five years is almost miraculous, especially when you take the whole world with you.

I visit the theatre quite often, tomorrow I am going to see Daniel Radcliffe in Rosencratz and Guildenstern are Dead by Tom Stoppard.

Thank you for a fascinating answer, Nick. As someone who is extremely passionate about music I can totally relate to everything that you say.

When I was a child (aged roughly 7) my mind was completely blown open by a small book on Astronomy and the Solar System. That passion has remained with me ever since and continues to expand my mind and philosophical thinking. If you could live in any historical period relating to scientific discoveries, which one would you choose? Perhaps to be around the time of Newton and the Age of Enlightenment, or would you choose to remain in this fast-paced, contemporary time? Is there a set scientifically-historical period where you have thought, ‘Wow, I wish I had been around back then?’

I have a burning desire to know what it is all about, so I would definitely choose to live now. It is incredible that we now know so much about the scientific world. We only have to go back to the time before Kepler and Galileo just over 400 years ago and essentially nothing was known about anything. The current rate of progress in our understanding of the world is also mind-boggling, especially in the biological sciences. We are also in the middle of a golden age of astronomy and astrophysics, which is largely due to the development of the current generation of observatories both Earth-based and space-based. Gravitational waves were detected for the first time last year, and it is only five years since the discovery of the Higgs boson. The Event Horizon Telescope has just gone into operation to study the supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy, so this year we could see the first ever image of a black hole.

Going back to education, within the educational school curriculum, where would you make major/minor changes, in terms of creating a sense of inspirational wonder within children? Or do you believe that the system is about right as it is?

This is a difficult question for me as I don’t have first hand experience of the classroom. There are a lot of improvements that could be made. In my view state schools in the UK should be brought up to the standard of the top private schools. This is essential if the UK is to compete with other countries around the world. In order to achieve this, a lot more money needs to be spent on education.

It’s a pleasure to meet you, Nick and many thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts and ideas. In conclusion, I’d like to ask what 2017 & 2018 hold in store for you, in terms of new plans and publications?

I am currently writing a book with David Benjamin with the provisional title How Mathematics Conquered the World. It is about the development of computing from Pythagoras to logarithms to Babbage, Turing and Google. David Benjamin is a maths teacher who I have worked with on many software projects over the years, such as the Maths Lesson Starters series of CD-ROMs. There are also various other book projects that have been suggested that may or may not come to fruition.

Website

Dr Nick’s blog

Inky Interview Special: Author and Poet Michael Murray

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

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

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

 

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

Could you share with us a couple of your poems?

APPS

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

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

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

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

                You’re a natch.

 

RETURN TO THE ISLANDS

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

the wind down; to make up time they rowed

 

and that night rested. The air was changing;

I smelt flowers. The sky to the West deepening.

 

The watch slept, only the tarpaulin awake;

sleepy at first, ‘till the big drops broke.

 

Then all was uproar: scrambling, shouting;

I was, ah, back in the woodland, distinguishing

 

scents of violet, marsh marigold,  hemlock;

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

 

Wild garlick. And for that moment off guard

the sea sneaked long feelers in, then hurrahed

 

meeting sweet rain; and the nails jumped their post,

the caulking crumbled; wind took what was lost.

 

If any of me should return, let it be where

wild garlick grows down to the shore.

                                                             Just there.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get your copy of Gifts of Rings and Gold

Inky Interview: Performance Poet Dave Pitt

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

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

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

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

What is the poetry scene like where you live?

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

Who inspires you? Have you a favourite poet?

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

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

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

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

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

Have you any advice for budding performance poets?

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

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

What are you reading at the moment?

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

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

What is your creative space like?

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

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

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

Can you share with us a couple of your poems?

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

Twitter

Dave’s poetry to purchase

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

 

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

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

What was it like performing at the Glastonbury festival?

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

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

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

What is the poetry scene like in Newcastle Upon Tyne?

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

Tell us about ‘Red is the New Blue’.

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

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

Who inspires you? Have you a favourite poet?

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

What things do you care about?

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

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

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

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

Have you any advice for budding performance poets?

Never stop doing it.

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

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

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

‘Doctor Dave’

There’s a doctor in North Shields

who treats his patients like his equals

and preaches power to the people,

his name is Doctor Dave.

 

He’s the anti-establishment GP,

the healthcare revolutionary,

like Che Guevara, but less hairy;

he wears the same beret.

 

If you want kebab and chips

and you don’t want to hear the risks

of it daily slipping round your lips

he’ll say no more about it.

 

He’s not going to lecture you

until his wised cheeks turn blue,

there’s loads of options there for you

but he’s not going to shout it.

 

Doctor Dave, Doctor Dave,

he won’t say you need to behave

or stop you going to a rave

in a snake infested bog.

 

You could smoke 50 a day

and give up walking for Segway

while sniffing lines of pure cocaine,

guilt tripping’s not his job.

 

I know there’ll be some people who’ll

think that it’s despicable

that Doctor Dave’s so liberal

when it comes to giving lessons.

 

Their heads will shake till they spin off

and just before it they will scoff:

“Those scumbags need a telling off!

Where’s Doctor Christian Jessen?”

 

But from each shivering student drinker

out without a coat in winter,

to lard ingesting pensioners

who didn’t want so long,

 

we spend the most time in the grave

and no one ever changed their ways

because they heard a doctor say:

“I’m right and you are wrong.”

 

‘At 16’

I want to help raise a cool girl

A girl who’s allowed to be seen and heard

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

I want to help raise a cool girl

 

A girl who knows she could play football

Against the hardest boy in the class

And tackle him before he has the chance to pass

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

Knows she could be a mechanic

Or the world’s best Formula 1 driver

And even if that’s not what she wants

Knows she could easily parallel park

 

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

Who at 16 wins arguments with socialist politics

Who understands lads who interrupt her

Aren’t more clever

They’re just pricks

I want to help raise a cool girl

 

A girl who knows cooking and cleaning

Aren’t jobs reserved just for her

A girl who feels sorry for those that say

They only dream of their wedding day

Who keeps a space saved for an act so great

It helps to make the world a better place

I want to help raise a cool girl

 

With the strength to filter out the pressure

From every advert and newspaper

Telling her she’s ugly and the wrong shape

A girl who’s not afraid

Of her gender or her sexuality

Knows either of these could change their name

And she’d still be loved by her family

I want to help raise a cool girl

 

And I know she won’t find it easy

She’ll have to make choices

In a world that’s geared to make her fail

A world that grabs and intimidates

In a way I’ll probably never really appreciate

 

But I want to help raise a girl

Who knows the difference

Between doing what’s expected

And doing what’s best for you

Between making a choice

And doing what you’ve been told to

Between freedom

And the same

Old shackles

With different chains

 

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

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

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

Twitter/Website/Facebook

Pictures courtesy of Adam Opie: Website

Inky Interview: Ian Cooper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us about a typical day in your world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your creative space like?

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

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

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

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

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

Cultographies

Devil’s Advocates

Studying British Cinema

Inky Interview: Laura Heffernan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Website: www.lauraheffernan.com

Twitter: www.twitter.com/lh_writes

Facebook: www.facebook.com/lauraheffernanbooks 

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

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

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

AmazonBarnes & Noble | Kobo | Google Play | Apple iBooks

Inky Interview: Poet Faye Joy

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

I am currently doing an online part-time course in Creative Writing, specialising in Poetry, with Manchester Metropolitan.

Art and Art History were my main concerns as a practitioner and teacher, but I wrote a few poems over time, taking it further a few years ago when I chose a two-year Creative Writing Course with the Open University as part of an Open Degree. I have also enjoyed and been stimulated by several excellent Arvon courses in Lumb Bank, Yorkshire. I like the idea of a target, of the support and opportunities the aforementioned have given me.

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

I have written a few short stories and a radio play. The latter I found challenging and interesting so have decided to try and adapt a group of recent poems into short plays as part of an MA project.

What is the poetry scene like where you live? 

I live in a small market town here in Normandy. There is no “poetry scene” as such, so online courses and the contact with other poets met on Arvon courses provide stimulus and exchange, plus I have a good critic in my daughter who reads my work and offers constructive advice.

Who inspires you? Have you a favourite poet?

I remember reading TS Eliot as an art student and being quite awestruck by its fragmentary construction, then later Ted Hughes’s powerful visceral language. Seamus Heaney has a profound impact, not only his poetry, which is so grounded yet carries a strong mythological sense, but his writing on poetry too. More recently I have been inspired by Michael Symmons Roberts and Dorothy Molloy. Luke Kennard and Ian Seed are more recent “discoveries”. I like the energy and vibrancy in Kennard’s work and the sense of a theatre of the absurd. Seed’s unsettling prose poems have encouraged me to experiment with that form.

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

There are several recurring themes and topics in my work which I have been trying to group together recently; e.g. my feelings re. la chasse here in France; the birth and early months of my grandson; the surreal in my daily life; and the small occurrences and exchanges in this rural town with neighbours, shopkeepers, etc. I also realize “loss” is an overriding element in many poems since the death of my husband seven years ago.

Have you any advice for budding poets?

I would only suggest to anyone wanting to write poetry, read a great deal of poetry, more than you write and across many styles and times and just experiment. The Arvon courses mentioned before are a wonderful stimulus and possible support system.

What are you reading at the moment?

I have quite a wide poetry collection and dip into it regularly. I am reading the novel The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers after reading through his “Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting” – a group of very affecting poems deriving from his part in the Iraqi conflict.

What is your creative space like?

I live in a small half-timbered house. The first floor is a large open-plan space, and I work on an old, oak table in one corner; it’s a solid, Cornish farm table I have had for many years and its substance is reassuring. I have a view across to a line of tall poplar trees bordering a river which is also reassuring – and stimulating.

Can you share with us a couple of your poems?

Little Warheads

They slivered into the proffered tin,

ice sprinkled around torpedo slicks,

sky reflected in the puissant gleam

of their prismatic scales. I thanked him,

bearded man at the dechetterie

giving away his morning’s angling. (fishing)

I had gone to recycle cardboard

and came back with a tin of five fish.

 

The State of the Pavements

The tyres scuff and skew, but strong springs cosset him.

I walk him in his bebe confort along roads and lanes I know

more intimately now, by narrow pavements, shuttered windows

with broken bergeres and rusted hinges, past stone-wedges of doorsteps

blocking my way, over odd kerbs, palimpsests of successive

community decisions, past precarious plantpots with dried out herbs.

Past the house that will be a brocante,

the house that was the doctor’s surgery,

past Isabelle’s sewing room,

the one-time mercerie,

the house attached to a shed,

and the cobbled alley of broken windows, tilted slates and slanted walls.

 

He lightly pitches stray notes and trills.

I push past slag coloured pigeon shit piles

and empty houses freighted with them,

past a memory of a man walking a dog,

a torn towel over his shoulder, loud parrot on top.

A shutter swings open, a cage covered in a scrap

of cloth barely conceals the screeching bird.

 

A shadow passes over winging. Those piles

spool up flapping and cooing in low tones circling

slip-slated rooftops in search of other takeover zones.

I wipe his hot head with a moistened towel.

Must tell the mairie about the state of the pavements.

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

I hope to complete the MA course in the next couple of years and there is a possibility of a small publication of some of my work, but it is the process of writing that is the most fulfilling thing. I will also be joining another Arvon course at Lumb Bank in July.

 

Inky Interview Special: Author Jeff Wheeler

Kev Milsom: Hello Jeff. Massive thanks for offering to share your thoughts and advice with our readers. Can I start by taking you back to your younger days and asking about the earliest creative influences and literary inspirations within your life?

I wasn’t all that keen on reading as a youngster. Like many of my generation, I was bedazzled by Star Wars when it first came out and my first love was science fiction (Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Star Trek, etc). The first series that sucked me in was Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. But it was reading Terry Brooks’ Shannara trilogy that lit the spark of my imagination and began to fire up the creative juices.

From a reader’s personal perspective – from your earliest publication, The Wishing Lantern in 1999 with the adventures of Hickem Tod, right up to the latest Kingfountain trilogy – your fertile imagination stands out at every opportunity. How important is this to you when composing a story? Is your main writing goal to inspire/open up the imagination of the reader, or is this simply a case of you expressing your thoughts in written form?  

My creative imagination is a machine that doesn’t have an ‘off’ switch, actually. I’m constantly inspired by books I read, movies I see, or interactions between people I’ve met. Sometimes I see something and think how it could have gone another way. So while it’s not my intent to light the spark in others, it’s a by-product of an author to inspire and be inspired by other authors. It is immensely gratifying to me when a reader tells me that they are so sucked into one of my stories that they believe the setting and the characters are real people. They are real to me too, only they live inside my head.

Could you share some thoughts on the earliest inspiration/inspirations for your utterly fascinating Muirwood series of books, first published in 2013?

Actually, the original Muirwood trilogy was first self-published in 2011. The first year, it limped along and although the reviews were positive, it didn’t start selling until the Kindle Direct Program (KDP) came along. I was one of the first who jumped on board that wagon at the beginning. Since all three books in the trilogy were available at once, it also benefitted from the ‘binge reading’ phenomenon. The timing was perfect. A few months later, I had a book deal with my publisher, 47North, who re-released the series in 2013.

The earliest inspiration for Muirwood came from another writer, Sharon Kay Penman. I love her histories of Medieval England and, after reading one of her books, I learned about a real-life Welsh princess who was banished to an abbey for the rest of her life. Her story haunted me, and I decided to write the story about that period of history. Being a Medieval history major in college, I had the knowledge of the rituals of the past and tried to reinvent them into a fantasy setting so that I wouldn’t be constrained by actual events. I feel that many fantasy novels are so dark and full of inhumanity that I wanted my books to be not only safe for my own kids to read but a ray of light in the genre, a throwback to the fantasy epics of the past like the Belgariad, Shannara, and Lord of the Rings series.

Within this book series, you refer regularly to ‘The Medium’, alongside other elements incorporating esoteric, spiritual ideas. Are spirituality & philosophy aspects which inspire you in your everyday life and, if so, how much of the characters’ ideas reflect your own beliefs?

I currently teach religion classes to high school students before school each day (it’s called early-morning seminary). So yes, I have a rich spiritual and philosophical background. I love collecting quotes from ancient philosophers, anything that strikes me as being particularly wise. So the characters’ ideas are more a reflection of the wisdom of the ages than my particular beliefs. I’m not shy talking about my religion on my website, but I infuse a variety of spiritual traditions into my works and not just my specific faith. I write what I like to read.

Regarding your writing set-up, is there a favourite place, or location, where you like to begin writing? Also, are you someone who employs a notebook and pen, are you devoted only to writing on a computer, or are there elements of both?  

I’m definitely a creature of habit. I have a den downstairs with a white noise machine. I usually write in the mornings when my five kids are in school and the house is quiet. I really need the quiet in order to get into the zone. I absolutely cannot stand my own handwriting and find it difficult deciphering it, so I’m definitely 100% composing on my laptop. I type over eighty words per minute, so it’s just more efficient to do it this way. The one variation to this is I do keep a notebook for character and place names that I come up with or discover over time. I do peruse this list when I’m looking to create something new, or I’ll go to Google Maps and seek inspiration looking at cities or street names.

To follow on from this, could you share how long it takes you to put a novel together? Also, is this a slow, deliberate process, with detailed planning/sketches/notes/research, or are you a writer who works best when working spontaneously and ‘in the moment’?

Basically, I write a novel-length manuscript in three months. I’ll then spend another month revising it and seeking feedback from my early readers. I usually do a rough outline of the plot but seek inspiration on the specific chapter-by-chapter meanderings to get there. I don’t have extensive notes. I’m always researching because I love to read. So it’s definitely a mix of in the moment and careful planning.

What advice would you give to prospective writers, Jeff? If you had access to a time machine, is there something which you would travel back to your sixteen-year old self and say ‘Do THIS, but please, whatever you do, don’t do THAT?’

If I had access to a time machine, I would have told myself to invest in Amazon stock from the get-go! Other than that, the advice that would have helped me the most is the advice I heard from Terry Brooks during a writing seminary. After you’ve written your first million words, you’re ready to start being a writer. That might have discouraged me because I wrote five novels during high school and none of them are any good. But it was the practice that helped me hone the craft, and I’ve found that there isn’t a substitute for it. Practice, practice, practice!

Ha! I totally agree regarding the Amazon stock. Huge thanks for taking the time to share your wealth of experience with our readers, Jeff. It’s always a fascinating process to learn from established writers and take on board advice that offers help within our own writing. To finish, what does 2017 hold in store for you and your readers? What’s next on the ‘To Do’ list?  

I have four books coming out this year. The Maid’s War (a prequel to the Kingfountain series) came out this month and the next three books of the Kingfountain series starts in June. I’m almost done wrapping up the final book and haven’t decided which book on my ‘To Do’ list is going to happen next. I have some ideas but not ready to spill the beans yet!

Thanks for having me!

Jeff’s Website

Twitter

The Wretched of Muirwood by Jeff Wheeler: reviewed by Shirley Milsom:

‘She looked into the Leering’s eyes, into the curiously bland expression carved into a woman’s face in the stone. She never used them unless she was totally alone, or with Sowe. Only learners or mastons could use the Medium to invoke their power. Staring at the eyes, she reached out to it with her mind.’

I am a huge fan of fantasy novels and had been unable to find anything recently that grabbed my attention, or piqued my interest enough to purchase it. An online search led me to ‘Idumea’, the official website of Jeff Wheeler, an American author who has sold more than one million books. ‘Idumea’ is a blog-like area where readers can learn about his journey as an author, and snippets about his novels.  I was pleased to see he was a Star Trek fan, as am I. It also appeared that he was a fan of another favourite writer of mine, Terry Brooks – author of the Shannara series. Jeff’s website led me to The Wretched of Muirwood, the first book in the Muirwood Trilogy, which was released in 2013.

In the ancient and mystical land of Muirwood, set in an era very similar to the Medieval period, Lia has known only a life of servitude. Labelled a ‘wretched,’ an outcast unwanted and unworthy of respect, Lia is forbidden to realise her dream to read or write. All but doomed, her days are spent toiling away as a kitchen slave under the charge of the Aldermaston, the Abbey’s watchful overseer. When an injured squire named Colvin is abandoned at the kitchen’s doorstep, an opportunity arises, and an adventure ensues, as Lia discovers that she has powers linked to a mystical or all-encompassing power.

Jeff has the ability to paint such evocative pictures as you travel through Lia’s adventures in the opening book of the trilogy, and leaves the reader wanting more, making an easy leap towards the second book in the series, The Blight of Muirwood, and the third instalment, The Scourge of Muirwood. He has a great command of his craft; he is descriptive without being too flowery, and the dialogue and build-up of the characters is masterful.

On his official website, Jeff says ‘It was Terry Brooks who first taught me the “one million words” principle. It goes like this. After you’ve written your first million words, you are ready to start being a writer. It was true for me. If I ever write a book about my author journey and the craft of writing, you know that lesson will be there!’

It was interesting to read that The Wretched of Muirwood was something that he self-published, after writing almost a million words. This book is perfect for a young adult, or in fact anyone of any age, equipped with a great imagination!  

Jeff Wheeler certainly has a gift, immersing the reader into a great storyline within the first few paragraphs, and leaves you devouring the novel page by page, unable to put it down for an instant. I thoroughly recommend it.

 

Inky Xmas Special: Ian McMillan

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Carol Ann Duffy described you as ‘world class, one of today’s greatest poetry performers’ and The Observer as the ‘funniest, quirkiest, sharpest poet, comedian and broadcaster in the business’. Can you tell Ink Pantry about your journey as a performance poet? How did you get to this stage of greatness?! Well, it’s been a long journey, but I think the two qualities I’ve got are consistency and enthusiasm; if you can be enthusiastic about any project you’re involved in then, that goes a long, long way.

You were a drummer in a band called Oscar the Frog, and part of a folk/poetry duo called Jaws, with Martyn Wiley. How important is rhythm in poetry? Would a poem work without rhythm? Have you a preferred form? I think rhythm is vital, from the heartbeat to the rise and fall of the sun, to the changing of how seasons, and all that, leads to the rhythm of language.

Apart from humour, what’s your secret to a good poem? It must do something that no other form could do.

Have you any advice for budding performance poets? Read lots of poems, and when you write poems, read them aloud. Go to as many open mic sessions as you can to hone your craft.

Tell us about the Circus of Poets and Versewagon. Circus of Poets was just a gang of four lads who wanted to stand up and perform, and Versewagon was an old Dormobile that we took to rural areas that may not have had a writing workshop, already.

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Describe one of the best days of your life. So many. Too many to say.

You present The Verb on Radio 3. Tell us about a typical day on set. I arrive at 08.30, go through the script with the producer, devise and refine the questions, the guests arrive at 13.00, we record between 14.00 and 15.15, and then I record the retakes.

At Chester University, when you were guest speaker at the Cheshire Prize for Literature awards, you mentioned that you were writing a libretto for Chester cathedral. Can you tell us more about this? It’s just a new carol with my composer mate Luke Carver Goss for Chester Choral Society. I like writing with composers!

You have written for children. How different is it to writing for adults? Is it more difficult/restrictive, or just fun? Does it teach you anything? What advice would you give to artists who are considering writing for children? Maybe just write poems, and test them out: this would show you whether they’re for children or adults.

Ian McMillan's welcome to his Bewdley Festival performance!

If you could change the world, what’s the first thing you would do? Make sure that rich people paid plenty of tax and reverse the spending cuts.

What are you reading at the moment? This week’s New Yorker magazine: always a favourite.

What are your plans? What is next for you? I want to write more with composers in 2017!

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Picture Credits:

Barnsley FC Oakwell Stadium

Adrian Mealing

Bewdley Festival: Ruth Bourne