This week is the first in a series of interviews with the people who make Corvus Press what it is. I thought I’d better put my money where my mouth is and begin with me. So here are the six questions I’m asking everyone involved with Corvus.
How did you get started?
Well, I have always seen myself as a poet first and foremost. I started writing poetry when I was twelve and yes, all of it was execrable. It took be about fifteen years to get anything like proficient and many years longer before I began to get published. I won a couple of competitions in the 1980’s but I was still ambivalent about what I wanted to do. I published my first book in 2005 Burning Music and have another book out in the next few weeks Blessed by Magpies (published by Lapwing Publications).
I wrote a novel two years ago and I was hawking it around when Corvus asked if they could turn it into a graphic novel. I said no but I could write you a story if you would like! That’s how I got started. It’s a bit embarrassing really, I suppose I was in the right place at the right time.
Who are your influences?
Life model would have to be Leonard Cohen. He was the reason I became a poet, he has been hugely influential on me. Other poets: Robert Lowell, who has fallen out of fashion since the seventies but has been another touch stone; Brian Pattern; Seamus Heaney; Thomas Traherne, a sixteenth century mystic who is well worth the time spent reading him; Coleridge, Louis MacNeice, Henry Reed, Christina Rossetti, oh, the list is endless. If you want to get proficient at writing you have to read as much as you can.
As I say you need to read as much and as widely as you can. One of the great influences on my writing is John D. McDonald; the man who wrote the Travis McGee series, McDonald knew just how to tell a story, if you look at the construction of his novels they are an education. Sadly they are all out of print in the UK. Another inspiration is Donald Westlake, his Stark series again are so tightly plotted, they are a joy to read, there is not a wasted word. I also have to say that Michael Moorcock is in the mix as well.
What are you working on at the moment?
There is an eight page CO2 story about how Ryan and Shaj met, not sure if that will see the light of day. I am sketching out the next quartet of CO2 novels. I should explain, I have written the first four and they will be coming out one per year from 2013 onwards but I have this series of images for a further four novels. I think that there are many stories yet to be told in the world of CO2.
What is coming up?
Well, Blessed by Magpies is to be released in the near future. The financial situation has caused some delay according to the publisher, but it will be out soon. Also I am poet in residence at the Fishguard Folk Festival (http://www.pembrokeshire-folk-music.co.uk/Festival.htm) and festival poet at The Acoustic Festival (http://www.acousticfestival.co.uk/). I am also appearing at a number of other festivals.
I am in negotiations about publishing my novel The Jowler. It’s not quite steam punk but it leans toward that genre. I am also writing a new series called provisionally Ice Ship, which is very different to CO2.
Character or plot which comes first?
Difficult question. I tend to start with a set of images in my head, scenes that come to define the story. Character and plot are so interlinked. With CO2 it was the world that came first then as I reflected on it, people popped up, how would you deal with life in such a strange society? With the novel I had the opening problem, a man is found drowned in a paving stone-the paving stone having turned somehow to liquid and then solidified around him. Plus the image of the Frome carnival, carnivals are important in Somerset, there are floats, music, it’s a night to party, anyway I had this image of the main character running through the carnival crowds trying to catch the villain. From those two images the story came.
The metaphor I tend to use about my writing process is that of a string of pearls. The pearls are the images/scenes I have either in my head or roughly written out and my task as the story teller is to string those images together in a manner that tells a coherent and believable story. That I suppose is where character comes in having set the scene and created the characters then I let them walk from one set piece to the next. The routes they take can be as surprising to me as to the reader..
In a film of your life who would play you?
Such a silly question deserves a silly answer. I’d have to go down the Louis Bunuel route and have two people-John Cusack and Rebecca Hall!