I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger. The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do
Gwil James Thomas
is a poet and writer originally from Bristol, England but is currently living in San Sebastián, in Northern Spain. His work can be found widely in print and online in places such as 3AM, Empty Mirror, Outlaw Poetry, Expat Press, Punk Lit Press and Midnight Lane Boutique, amongst others. His poetry and fiction has also appeared in the following anthologies:Push: The Best of The First 10 Issues (East London Press). Handjob Zine Anthology (Hi-Vis Press). Sunny Side Down: A Charles Bukowski Tribute (Patchouli Press).His poetry chapbooks are as follows:Gwil vs Machine (Paper & Ink). Hidden Icons & Secret Menus (Analog Submission Press). Romance, Renegades & Riots – a split chapbook with the poet John D Robinson (Analog Submission Press).He is also the author of a published, but hard to find novel.Captains of Sinking Ships (Kenton).
He is the author of the short story collection Halfway to Nowhere (Strange Days Books) which was translated via the publisher and is currently only available in Greek! He has also read poetry alongside the likes of Joseph Ridgwell, Jamie Thrasivoulou, Susana Medina, Miggy Angel and Martin Appleby
Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I think that I was always a closet poet. I started off writing fiction and still do, but it took me a while to get into poetry. The first time that I felt inspired to write poetry was after writing lyrics for a band that I was in. I was/am a terrible musician, the band was a punk sort of lo-fi band, which was fitting for my musical ability. Despite that, we were unexpectedly signed and I remember being asked questions about my lyrics. I hadn’t really thought that much about it. The lyrics certainly weren’t stories – nor were they poetry, but they were naturally closer to poetry. I then realised the connection between music and poetry. Although storytelling was fun, I saw that poetry could be drawn from so many sources and took so many different forms. That initial inspiration stayed with me. Now, I might mentally see a poem as a song, a photo, or a painting, a conversation, or a vignette, or just something totally abstract. Ultimately of course, it ends up as words, or deleted – but the process is still what inspires me, it can come from anywhere and it tends to go in a way that it wants.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
I’m not too sure. The reason I’m being vague is that when it was first introduced to me I couldn’t have cared less for it. My introduction was either through my nan – she was the only other person in my family who’d been truly interested in poetry and prose, or through a teacher. I’ve got a hazy memory of an English teacher trying to shove some sonnet down our throats in school. Not that anyone in that class including myself was taking any notice. I just thought poetry was pretentious, boring and weird. There was no way back then I’d have believed that it was a route that my adult self would go down. Not that I had any concrete aspirations either, like most it seemed in that class.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
Most of the long gone and great poets felt far too distant for them to have much of a dominating presence on me. I suppose the exception of this would be Dylan Thomas. My nan had a few stories about him and when she’d lived in Swansea back in the day. But those were more about the mythologising of him, rather than his work.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I don’t write everyday and I wouldn’t want to either. Writing is something that’s love/hate with me. I’ll typically write for five nights a week sometimes six. Usually this commences at about half nine-ish and finishes sometime around one. I’ll put on some music normally something without lyrics – classical, jazz, or some weird ambient shit. If there’s a cool beer, or several in the fridge, they’ll get cracked open, if not then that’s fine. I have weird sleeping patterns and usually one day a week I’ll go to bed early and wake up early too and write to the sunrise with a strong coffee. There’s a reason that these times are good for writing and that’s isolation. I can never write in the afternoons, it’s not even a social thing per se. Poets and writers need more in there life than writing 24/7. Sometimes not writing can be more productive than sitting down at the machine – go outside, find a bar, read, practice five finger fillet, go for a walk in the mountains, take up a new hobby, live a little, get into some strange situations, if nothing else you’ll incubate ideas.
5. What motivates you to write?
A little recognition is nice, as is being able to hold something in your hands for the first time, watching it come together from nothing. But I’d say my biggest motivator is, not writing. If I go without it for long enough I’ll start to really hunger for it, as mentioned above. It’s a delicate balance, but as with many things it’s the distance between the temple walls that make the temple great.
6. What is your work ethic?
Work ethic? I’m not sure what that means in terms of poetry and/or the small press. I can work to deadlines if I choose to take them. Other than that I don’t like taking orders, giving them, or working to schedules. Try turning this into a ‘job’ and you might have some productivity, but ultimately it’ll most likely leave you disenfranchised and delusional. Which is sad really. Of course, there’s bigger names in the small press and smaller ones – but it’s still the small press and we’re all essentially in the same pond. Most people outside it don’t even know it exists. It’s this little known secret and that’s cool. Don’t get me wrong there’s some incredible talent in this pond. There are also some that deserve wider recognition and maybe the masses aren’t ready yet. There’s little to no money in this and I’m not one of the fantasists that thinks that submitting work to sites, blogs, zines, magazines, contests, or attending readings is a business. Nor do I suffer from the Van Gogh syndrome for that matter. Writing offers me a lot and the small press has been a great outlet. Of course, I wouldn’t turn my nose up at anyone paying me a salary, but being a full time poet would probably be best done by finding some other way, or source to fund it. If I had to say there was some game plan, that’d be much closer to it – or ‘the dream’. If that doesn’t happen (which don’t get me wrong I’m not holding my breath on it either) then this life is good enough for me.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
John Fante was by far my greatest influence. Despite being a fiction writer I loved the way that his words flowed like poetry. Poetry was still fairly alien to me when I first came across Fante, but his poetic style would definitely influence me. I had a novel published called Captains of Sinking Ships, that’s long since disappeared. It was a first novel in many ways, but I’d enjoyed writing it. There were many scenes and themes in that that’d be revisited and recur in my writing in both my own poetry and fiction. Many lines of that book were arguably poetry too, the epilogue for example is totally a poem. I got into poetry not long after reading Fante too.After that there was Dostoyevsky, McCarthy, Woolf, Orwell, Dan Fante, Kafka, Billy Childish, Calvino, Thomas, Carver and of course my link to the Fante’s was through Bukowski. He had a huge influence on me, like 90% of the writers in the small press.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
I’m into a few contemporary mainstream writers and poets, but the ones that I admire the most are in the small press. Following on from my last answer, I first read Bukowski at around nineteen and started digging about for more information on the small press. Some of the first names I came across were Joseph Ridgwell and Hosho Mcreesh and was blown away by their work. They are tremendous writers and poets, but moreover they changed my perspective of what I thought the small press was at that time. Their books were hard to find and normally so limited that it was likely that you wouldn’t get hold of one. If you happened to come across one for sale second hand they tended to go for quite a bit too. Not only that but their books were more beautiful than any PDF could ever dream of becoming. At first, I considered that with the internet the small press had largely become a place where writers sent out work to every blog, or site that they could. Not in a negative sense, but I just thought that this was what it had felt like. However, Ridgwell and Mcreesh’s work was the opposite of that online world. These books were collectable and again given the fact that you might not be able to get hold of one, a publication could almost become legendary. Like hearing about a certain novel, or chapbook, but frustratingly or wondrously never being able to read it. I felt really inspired by this and as a writer I still try to publish my work primarily in print and if it’s featured in print I’ll leave it there for those reasons. But at the same time, part of me says don’t be too precious about it. It certainly works for some, but there’s also so many great names in the small press online. Names that I’d never have been able to get into properly, had I not been able to see a sizeable amount of their work online for free. I’ve had a lot of work featured online and I don’t want to get into online and print conversation in a polarising way, but it’s something that I’m on the fence with. Not only that, this answer would become even more lengthy if I truly went into it! So beyond Mcreesh and Ridgwell the following are writers/poets that I admire these days that would fall into both those camps, people like: Jared Carnie, John D Robinson, JJ Campbell, Scott Wozniak, Marc Bruseke, Adrian Manning, Katie Doherty, Sam Pink, Martin Appleby, India Laplace, Dave Matthes, Ian Cusack, Ryan Quinn Flanagan, Jamie Thrasivoulou, Jim Gibson, Miggy Angel and Rob Plath.
9. Why do you write?
I’m still trying to work that out. But since it arrived in my life a decade ago, it hasn’t shown any signs of leaving.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Realise that there’s probably going to be some sacrifice, or compromise somewhere down the line, if not starvation. Everyone’s path is different, but the choice of writer comes with its highs and lows. But once you get past that you’ll know whether this is for you and if it is then it’s a beautiful journey that’ll leave you experiencing things in a way that others never will. It’s a great fight. Don’t be discouraged by doing readings, it’s perfect way for testing out new material. Write for yourself and don’t let anyone try and discourage you, ever.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’ve got a forthcoming poetry chapbook Writing Beer, Drinking Poetry that’ll be published via Concrete Meat press and another planned poetry chapbook with Holy & Intoxicated Press. Both of which should be out next year.I’ve also got fiction and poetry coming out in the upcoming issues of Glove, Razur Cuts and Paper & Ink. I’ve been fortunate enough to be a regular contributor to the three of those print publications. They’re cheap and sell out quick and are full of quality work, by many of the writers and poets I’ve mentioned in this interview.I’ve also got a novel which I’m trimming the fat on, which will be ready when its ready and a short story collection that’s near completion.Maybe in 2019 I’lll finally take the plunge with a website and/or a social media account… maybe.