Why do you write?
Partly the love of it, partly the need for it, partly because the alternatives would get me killed or locked up.
What books do you read?
At the moment, more than half of what I read is poetry. I also read fiction (most genres), non-fiction, memoir, essays … Books are mind-fuel and I read as widely and voraciously as possible.
What inspires you?
Ideas can come from anywhere. Years ago my dad told me that when he was eight or nine, his , his mother sent him for piano lessons. He hated them. He spent the entire hour of each lesson with his eyes riveted to the mirror above the piano; when he saw the reflection of the pit bus passing outside, he knew the hour was almost up. One day last year, something prompted me to remember the story and I wrote a poem about it. Increasingly, I’ve been writing poems based on memory. “Inspires” probably isn’t the right word, but I also write poems from anger and frustration at social injustice and the current state of things politically.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer and when?
You know that line in Goodfellas, “as far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster”? Substitute “writer”. Even in primary school, when the other kids wanted to be racing drivers or play for Nottingham Forest (this was during the Cloughie years, so it was a noble ambition), I wanted to be a writer. I’m not sure I could explain why literature acted more powerfully on me than anything else.
How do you deal with rejection?
Better than I used to. It took me a while to get into the mindset that rejection isn’t personal, that an editor can use only a small percentage of what he or she receives and the main reason for turning down a poem is the dictates of space. Now when I get a rejection, I update the spreadsheet (I keep a log of what I’ve sent, where, and the outcome) and send the poems straight out again.
Who are some writers you admire?
Alan Sillitoe, Iain (M) Banks, Haruki Murakami, Neal Stephenson, George Szirtes, Imtiaz Dharker, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ruth Fainlight, Kim Addonizio, Weldon Kees, Fred Voss, Thomas Lux, Gregory Woods, David Constantine, Hans Magnus Enzensberger … is fifteen enough to be going on with?
Is writing the only artistic medium you do?
After a hard day crafting poetry, I like to unwind at the piano with a Beethoven sonata or a Chopin etude … ah, who the hell am I kidding? Yeah: writing’s all I’m good for.
What would be some advice you would give to your younger self?
Do not let ANYTHING prevent you from being at The Chestnut Tree pub on 25 August 2005. Her name’s Paula and she’s the best thing that’ll ever happen to you.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Since I’ve never made a living at it, I’ve always considered myself more of a “gentlemen amateur” than an honest-to-God writer (although some might argue with the “gentleman” part of that appellation), and I’d feel a bit of a fraud offering advice.
What is your writing process?
It’s very instinctual. When I get an idea, I kick it around inside my head for a while. As soon as images or actual lines start suggesting themselves, I sit down and write. It’s either there or it’s not, and I’m no good at doing writing exercises or filling up notebooks with random jottings and endlessly reworking them. I remember seeing a TV interview with Elmore Leonard where he was asked how much rewriting he did. He shrugged and said something to the effect that “if it doesn’t come right the first time, it ain’t gonna get much better after that”. I’m no Elmore Leonard and I find myself having to do some low-grade tinkering with everything I write; but if the first draft doesn’t capture the spark of inspiration that made me want to write the piece to begin with, then I generally reckon it as a dud.