Why do you write?
Tempted to answer “because I’ve been doing it so long, I can’t stop now.” I can tell you why I think I write – because there is something I need to capture. Some fleeting quality of the world as seen from the small portion of it I occupy, knowing that nobody else understands this heartbreak stained day, or that sun-battered afternoon, or the easy joy of jumping on a bus early on a winter morning headed someplace new. Because I have this awful fear that, everything I’ve ever done or seen, every last smile and hillside, will be rendered meaningless unless it has somebody bear witness to it.
What books do you read?
I read a lot of history, a lot of short stories and poetry published independently on-line. I read everything I can grab a hold of, but mainly small press stuff. That’s where the gold is.
What inspires you?
The lachrimae rerum, the “tears in things”; my own fathomless confusion and hope that, one day, there’ll be an answer; moss-barked oaks; the memory of bonfire nights and summer fairs and beaten up arcades; hot dogs and cold beer in July; B-movies; love; envy; broken down husks of cars rusting in long grass; the wind blowing snow from mountains of coal in the yard at work; true wildness; sincerity in Art; my Grandmother’s stories; salt from a grey sea; the wrecked iron of ships; seaweed waving in a cold pool under the fog; courage in all it’s forms.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer and when?
I’ve always written something, from short stories in school to song lyrics when I was in a band, to at least 5 half finished novels that littered my twenties like abandoned suits of armour. I published a chapbook of Poems in 2000, a couple more over the next 8 years or so. Then I wrote mainly stories up until around three years back, which have now been collected and published under the title Snake Farm – these days I’m back into writing Poetry in a big way.
How do you deal with rejection?
Better than I used to! I remember back when I was 15 and I’d written these few mawkish poems; real sentimental, quasi-Byronic rhymed things with no metre about, I don’t know, the sky or some other vague nebulous concept…there was one called ‘Winter’ I remember. I wrapped them all up with a self-addressed envelope and sent them to this big shot poet I admired (well, as big a shot as any poet can be in this world) who ran a press. Around a month later they came BACK in that envelope…no accompanying note, no card, nothing, not even a “Dear Gareth, we received your poems. Fuck you. Yours sincerely etc. etc.” Nothing. And, I’m not ashamed to admit it, I cried…cried like the kid I was. It was the first of hundreds of rejections and, you know, I look back at that and laugh. Of course, they were rejected, they were terrible, and most likely the 50 poems after that were terrible, but then a day came I wrote something that seemed true, and wasn’t maybe so bad. I know there are a million and one reasons a piece can be turned down by a journal…and some poems of mine that have been rejected a half dozen times, say, have gone on to win prizes, or be published by somebody else successfully.
Who are some writers you admire?
The writer I admire more than any other writer working today has to be Scott MacClanahan. His work burns, it has that true tone of genius, more than anything else I read out there today. He writes with great lucidity and great depth about a life I recognise. His work avoids every kind of formulaic trap and stylistic tic handed out alongside MFAs and degrees in Creative Writing. He’s an iconoclast, a true original, a writer whose absolute honesty and artistic integrity I envy with all my heart. He can move you to tears and have you weak with laughter in 500 words. His work is a tremendous gift and a righteous answer to conservative practitioners of fiction.
I also have to mention Garrett Schuelke, who wrote ‘Anamakee’, probably the best example of dirty realism I have read in a hell of a long time and a truly amazing dissection of modern small town life, and three poets, William Taylor Jr., Joel Landmine and Juliet Escoria. These are all writers you need to get into your life.
Is writing the only artistic medium you do?
I used to paint and draw, you know, Edward Hopper kind of stuff but had to give it up because I was moving around so much and the places I was living didn’t offer the kind of space you need to paint in oils with any real seriousness. I write screenplays too, nothing produced, and I’m looking into making a short film in the near future, but I want to make it with FILM rather than digitally, which presents some difficulties. I think visually and my poems always have some degree of pictorial quality. I’m not an aural, ‘swimmin’ in the language sea’ sort of writer. It has to be clear and the edges should be sharp, like a shot from a Paradjanov film.
What would be some advice you would give to your younger self?
Be fearless. Don’t NOT go for things because you’re afraid you can’t do them because you’re too young, or old, or inexperienced, or that you might screw it up and lose face/money/a relationship. You will not lose anything near as precious as all those years when you could have been doing the things you loved and wanted to do more than anything in the world. That’s a ‘lost forever’ kind of deal. So go for it and give it everything you have.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Reject rejection, and keep writing. Write for you first, until the day comes you can’t lift a pen. Learn enough about structure to construct an interesting narrative, yeah, but don’t be afraid of stepping outside the genres and rules and boundaries that commerce has forced onto literature. Art shouldn’t be just a subset of the entertainment industry, it should be ART, by which I mean it should offer some kind of transformative experience, some kind of revelation. If you’re afraid, don’t bother trying, and when you feel you’re work is being pushed into a box, whether by the market, or editors, or agents, push back! Reach inside and write something crazy only you could write. Give your vision some fire, and set it out to burn as long and as bright as it can. That would be my advice.
What is your writing process?
I work a day job in a warehouse, which is tough physically. That means I’m usually too beat up to write anything of an evening. Therefore, I try to work on a morning, longhand, in notebooks. I don’t plan anything outside of a general outline for fiction. The poems come when they come. I edit them a few dozen times on the PC when I type them up and send them out when I think they’re ready. I have Poems I’ve been working on for a decade, I have some that seem to be born ready for the fight. Whatever you think and feel and believe will find its true form in the end. You just have to be brave enough to throw the words down in the first place.