Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
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.
R. M. Francis
is a poet from Dudley. He recently completed his PhD at the University of Wolverhampton where he lectures with the Creative and Professional Writing team. He’s author of four poetry chapbooks: Transitions, (Black Light Engine Room, 2015), Orpheus, (Lapwing Publications, 2016), Corvus’ Burnt-Wing Love Balm and Cure-All (Black Light engine Room, 2018) and Lamella (Original Plus, 2019)
- What inspired you to write?
Growing up, my brother used to bully me in to telling him stories at night – I’d make up really rude tales about the cats in the street. I think his reaction to these stories runs pretty deeply in why I write. On one hand, I want to make sense of things and to add my perspective on things. On the other, I want to impress, show off, garner the big brother’s approval!
In terms of influence it was rock music, and that influence remains to this day. I loved Iron Maiden as a kid, partly because the older kids did, so I spent quite a bit of time trying to imitate Steve Harris and Bruce Dickinson lyrics. Maiden taught me about William Blake and Coleridge, HG Wells and Robert Aikman. Years later, The Manic Street Preachers did the same with Plath, Pinter, Miller and Mailer. Morrisey did the same. Billy Corgan did the same. My old man has always been a big reader, and a wider reader than most people I know. I was lucky enough to have some good English Teachers, Mrs Rowe from Redhill Secondary School has been particularly important to me – she gave me Simon Armitage who I’ve been hooked on for decades now. So, I suppose I was always surrounded with poems and stories and I associated them with adult / peer approval and a certain peacock-ness and I never looked back.
All of this is slightly off though because I feel compelled to write, even when I really don’t want to put pen to paper, I’m under its duress.
- Who introduced you to writing?
I’ve mentioned some early influences above so I won’t repeat myself. This is a bit of a weird question for me, maybe for a lot of writers too because we go through various stages of feeling different levels of “writer”. I’ve spent a lot of time doing it on my own, so I introduced myself in some ways. That said, I don’t really consider any of my juvenilia to be “proper writing”. It wasn’t until I started my MA at Teesside University that it all started to take shape. I was a student of poet, Bob Beagrie and he has had a massive influence on my approach to poetry, he introduced me to p. a. morbid who also helped steer the ship, and subsequently became my publisher – The Black Light Engine Room publishing two of my four chapbooks. I recently completed my PhD at the University of Wolverhampton, for which I wrote a novella. This was a huge learning curve for me, I’d only written poems and short prose before. You might say my supervisor, Paul McDonald (novelist, poet, critic) introduced me to tackling this form. You’ve got to keep looking and keep treating your writing as a never complete, ongoing process so I reckon we should all be on the lookout for the next person who might introduce us to writing.
- How aware were you of the dominating presence of older writers?
Very aware. They hang over everything I write. Dominate might be the wrong word, or at least not fully. There’s pressure from those who came before, a pressure not to repeat or merely replicate, and a pressure to live up to them – to produce work that is at least in the same stadium, if not the same game. The other side of this though is that the great gods of the past offer helping hands too. All of this is part of the process in becoming a “writer-proper” as Harold Bloom might say. We translate, clash, fuse then break away from what came before, making something new out of it. I like the idea of a hero or a set of heroes anyway, they act as target and as judge. If I can finish a poem, look up at my photo of Tony Harrison and ask, “is that alright, boss?” and get a psychic nod of approval then it means I’m aiming and I’m aiming properly.
- What is your daily writing routine?
I write every day and have done for quite a few years. That’s as close as it gets to a routine really. I rarely set myself word count targets or anything like that. I don’t do it at a certain time of day. I just make sure half an hour as a minimum (it’s often several hours) goes down. Of course, this all changes depending on what sort of project I’m working on. For example, I recently completed the manuscript for my chapbook, Lamella out with Original Plus Press this year. At this point the editing process takes priority over new ideas, so the routine is about reading, revising, reading out loud, revising some more, getting feedback from people, revising a bit more.
- What motivates you to write?
This is a tough one, and I’ve mentioned some of my motivations in the other questions so far. I’ve spoken about early reactions and of influences so perhaps I’ll tackle this question in terms of discipline. I’m motivated to write by being strict with myself. I want to try to keep getting better, to aim at a perfect sentence or perfect poem – that’s really hard to do and you can only get close to it by getting up and working at it every day. Creativity is like a muscle, the more you use it the easier it gets to use – that’s not to say everyone can do it, most people aren’t creative. Like I’ve mentioned before though, I’m under its curse, there’s part of me that does just want to slob out and watch Hollyoaks, but the more I do that the louder the little daemon gets.
The other side of this is the puzzle of it all, the game of writing is fun. Slowly whittling away at a piece is profoundly satisfying – it’s like the feeling you get when you’ve just cleared out the garage or finished the weeding. There’s orgasmic pleasure in taming the beast!
- What is your work ethic?
I’m quite tough on myself and I make sure I go as flat out as I can without burning out, and as rigorous as I can too. The work of Professor Jordan Peterson has helped recently, he says quite a lot about adding up the amount of time you waste, volunterily stepping up to the hard responsibility of life. I think many people think the writer needs to be liberal, flexible and open in their mindset and that is true, but you’ve got to be conservative, stoic and orderly too. Right and left brain have to work together. Being overly liberal creates nothing but ideas. One needs the conservative side to sculpt it down, polish it up and organise the time-space to allow for that. When you get tough on yourself, you get better results, that makes you tougher and you can try even harder next time, and get better and tougher and harder again and again and again.
- How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
What do you mean ‘when I was young?’ I’ve only been bald for a decade!
I’ve always loved horror and sci-fi and you can see the influence of strange bodies, uncanny tropes, off-kilter landscapes and disturbing images in my work for sure. Simon Armitage, who I read at about 14, gave me the permission to write about things in my own town, estate and experience from a very early age so that’s definitely stuck and is observable in my Black Country poems. I did Blake at A level, his fourfold vision has inspired my poetics; the way he made whatever he was talking about take on a literal, social, political and spiritual resonance.
- Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Wow! Where to start. I’ll pick two to make sure I don’t bore everyone.
Anthony Cartwright is my favourite contemporary novelist. He writes about the cultures and communities of Dudley, and does so in such a beautiful way. He’s measured and clever, giving the dark and light of the region. I love the way he fuses the factual with the fictional and mythical, creating storyworlds where Saxon kings, the local football team, gyspy folktales and the steelworkers all share space.
Samantha Roden is a poet published with Original Plus. She’s absolutely stunning. Sharp as a tack, vulgar as a drunk miner on payday and juggles themes that are too mucky for most poets to handle. Her work is tough and gorgeous and very funny – a much needed remedy in today’s increasingly sanitised culture.
- Why do you write?
When I talk to people, I don’t get the chance to edit and revise and work out the best possible way to say things. When I write, I do – it makes me appear smarter than I am. I’m half-joking. Only half, mind.
Writing is fun, like I’ve said before, there’s a dopamine hit that comes from the playfulness of working the puzzle out. That said, I don’t always love doing it, sometimes it’s a real chore, so it’s not just enjoyment.
I don’t feel like writing is a catharsis like many people do, I don’t do it for any self-help reasons or as a release in anyway. I suppose there’s a sense that the way I see the world requires documenting in some way, but that doesn’t sum it all up; that misses out the narcissistic, show-off element. I can’t deny that the peacock side of things is a pull for me. But, like I’ve said, I’m compelled by it, as if its outside of me. I know that sounds pretentious, I love-hate myself for saying that!
- What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Well, first I’d say never stop asking yourself if you’ve got there yet. Keep trying to become more of one. I still am.
In practical terms, you need to read loads and write as much as you can. Write and read as widely as you can too – the different blueprints will help show you what works, what doesn’t and what rules can be bent. You also need to get in to that liberal-conservative state of mind too – you need ideas, but you need craft and tradition and rigour too. Also, if at first you don’t succeed, try again. Try a second and third time. Try really hard. If you still don’t succeed, give up, it’s not for you. Despite what people say, not everyone is creative. Finally, measure your success on what you intended to do set against how well you executed it, not fame, not sales, not twitter followers.
I eat an egg everyday too – eggs are really good for your brains.
- Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
My next poetry chapbook is out in February. It’s called Lamella and is being published with Original Plus. It’s a series of poems that look at liminal landscapes of post-industrial Britain, the underbellies of everyday life, in the unlooked and overlooked, where we might find the lost feral, primal and off-kilter parts of selfhood.
My novella is looking for a publisher at the moment. It deals with a small community in Netherton, a suburb of Dudley, and their attempts to unlock a mystery that has loomed over them for decades. Everyone has a theory. Everyone has an experience of the ghostly activity. As they delve into the story they not only unlock the truth of the crime but, the odd borderlands of being – the liminal spaces of fear-fascination, attraction-repulsion, sex-death.
I’m currently writing a book chapter about Joel Lane’s horror stories for a collection of essays about New Urban Gothic, and I’m tinkering around with a collection of flash fictions and short stories all set on the Wren’s Nest Housing Estate in Dudley– my home. I’m making a start on writing some proper horror too – playing with the idea that there are things we do in life that welcome in the devil. I like that idea!
Verve Poetry Press have just released an anthology called 84 which is a collection about male suicide, mental health and grief – Helen Calcutt has edited the collection and has done an amazing job of curating something that touches on the polymorph nature of such a subject. I’m one amongst many awesome poets in this.
Next year, my first full collection of poetry is out with Smokestack Books, this is an angry, dialect driven Black Country collection that explores life just before and just after the Brexit referendum.
I’ve got few other irons in the fire at the moment too, in terms of literary events and publishing ideas … I’ll leave you with that.