Wombwell Rainbow Book Interviews: “Fix” by Miles Salter

Wombwell Rainbow Book Interviews

Fix cover

Miles has given me the honour to be the first to receive a copy of the front cover picture. Thankyou, Miles.

Miles Salter

is a writer, musician and storyteller based in York. His writing has included journalism, poetry and fiction for young people and children. He presents The Arts Show on Jorvik Radio and is the front man for Miles and The Chain Gang. 

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I started writing as a kid, about 12 years old. I wrote lyrics when I was a teenager, played in my first band when I was 17 and was writing songs. But it wasn’t until I was 30 that I started writing more seriously. I started reading more widely, and thinking about it a lot more. I entered a lot of competitions and went through a pretty intense four years of working hard at my writing. I wrote a novel for teenagers, A Song For Nicky Moon, that came out in 2010. It was shortlisted for The Times / Chicken House Children’s Writing Competition. I got a call from Barry Cunningham, the guy who discovered J K Rowling, but I didn’t win. My first poetry collection, The Border, came out in 2011. Since then, I’ve written a second collection, a book for children, and co-edited an anthology of poetry. I’ve also written picture books for a research project and worked freelance in PR for a showbiz agency in London. 

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I had a brilliant English teacher. Chris Copeman was really good at getting boys to write. This was about 1983, 1984. I was about 12. I won some prizes in the WHSmith Young Writers competition. It was a big moment for me. A cheque and everything! 

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

That is a good question. One of my weaknesses is that nearly everything I have read is from the last 70 years. I love contemporary writing of all kinds. When I was at University I always gravitated to the modern stuff, it just felt so much more accessible. I haven’t read Thomas Hardy’s poetry, or much Shakespeare. I’ve never read Jane Austen, and hardly any Dickens. I really need to work on this! I have read a few classics – Frankenstein, Moby Dick, a bit of Thomas Hardy. But I need to read a lot more. I’m not a fan of Slam poetry. It tends to wind me up. I think we need to have an awareness of lyrical traditions. I want to read Robert Frost and other poets from that era.  

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I usually write in the morning. That is when I feel fresh and have a bit of impetus. Sometimes it is just when I can fit it in. If an idea comes, I try to get it down straight away.  

5. What subjects motivate you to write?

In my poetry, certain things do tend to crop up. Spirtuality. Consumerism. Music. Work experiences. Family and friends. Relationships. Sex. Animals. The End of The World. Climate Change. These things come up again and again. 

6. What is your work ethic?

I work hard but I am quite scattered. I usually have several projects on the go. This year, a new poetry collection, a children’s picture book, a radio show and running a band. 

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence your work today?

A novelist I admired from a young age was George Orwell. He said that writing should be clear and not too complex. I do tend to write like that – I want people to understand the writing. The biggest mistake writers make at the start is to overcomplicate it. I taught creative writing and it was amazing how much time I spent telling the students to write clearly, and to focus on editing their work. 

8. Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I like Ian McEwan for his clarity and lyricism. Cormac McCarthy – The Road is amazing. Also J M Coetzee. Robert Harris for a good story, although I didn’t enjoy ‘The Second Sleep’, it was a bit cliched.  I still admire Simon Armitage’s writing – he was a big influence, although I have mixed feelings about him as a person. Carol Ann Duffy was a big influence, too. I was lucky to work with both of them when I ran a festival in York.  One of my friends is Oz Hardwick and I admire Oz very much. He is always reaching out for new things with his writing, which I think is very admirable. He doesn’t rest on his laurels. It’s important to explore new ideas and new things. Why do things the same way? It’s comfortable, but if we are going to grow, we have to step away from the comfort zone. Oz and I talk about creativity a lot. One of the quotes we shared was ‘If you knew what you were going to do at the start, what would be the point?’ Sometimes my best writing comes when I let go of expectations, and just go with it. I tend to play with surreal ideas a lot.  

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

Well in my case I play music, tell stories and have a radio show as well, so I do other things. But it’s all about communication, that’s what drives me, and what makes me happy. I wish I could write lyrics as well as I write poetry. They feel like very different things, for me. 

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

In one sense, you just start by doing it. Get a pen and a notebook. Be proactive. Just start! But make a career out of it? It’s really, really hard. I’ve tried lots of different approaches over 18 years and it is tough. I had a couple of lucrative gigs as a writer but it’s hard work to make it work financially. I heard Bernadine Evaristo talk about this on the radio the other day and she said ‘You have got to be unbelievably determined and let nothing stop you.’ I think it takes a lot of courage, a lot of focus, and a lot of determination. The majority of writers don’t make much money. That is the uncomfortable truth. The other thing is, be prepared to be vulnerable. Writing really takes off when you access the things that are a bit scary – your fears, your desires, the things you wouldn’t normally verbalise. 

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I’m just finishing ‘Fix’ which is my third collection of poetry. I’ve also written a kids picture book which I am really pleased with. I also write lyrics for the band, and scripts for the radio show. Every type of writing is different. You learn to dance from one to the other. The best writers write in several mediums. Look at Andrew Motion – poetry, fiction, non-fiction, journalism. That’s quite a mix! 

12. How did I decide order for the poems?

With difficulty! The book went through 14 drafts, and the last few months (May 2020 to October 2020) were pretty exhausting, with multiple changes. There are various sections in the book. The first one is about childhood, really, and giving advice to children (specifically, my own), then there are sections on outsiders, music, the end of the world, and a bit about my own life which was more confessional. I don’t think these things are perfect, but I tried hard to give it a shape and a narrative, in a way.

13. How did you decide the order of the poems?

With difficulty! The book went through 14 drafts, and the last few months (May 2020 to October 2020) were pretty exhausting, with multiple changes. There are various sections in the book. The first one is about childhood, really, and giving advice to children (specifically, my own), then there are sections on outsiders, music, the end of the world, and a bit about my own life which was more confessional. I don’t think these things are perfect, but I tried hard to give it a shape and a narrative, in a way.

13.1. I notice that there is a sequence of five poems prefixed: “Fix”, but these are not put under that umbrella term in the contents. What was your aim in doing this?

There was an error in the version you had. The book has each one down correctly. ‘Fix One…’ ‘Fix Two…’ etc. 

Originally there was a single, titular poem called ‘Fix’ but I changed it so it was more of a theme running through the book. 

A lot of the book is about imperfection – an imperfect world, imperfect people, imperfect situations, and I was writing a lot about that. 

Art often wants the world to be better – to be more whole, to be less fractured, but we have to live with the world we have,

hard as that is.  

14. How important is popular culture in your poetry?

That is a very good question! My life revolves around culture, in one way or another – films, books, music (especially rock and pop), poetry…I present The Arts Show on Jorvik Radio and play in a band, and write. So yes, these things do come through. I often write about music in my poems – there are a few music-related poems in Fix. But I also think that poetry endlessly repeats the themes of human life – love, death, isolation, communion with family or friends, happy moments, sadness, and those things are probably more important, overall. There’s a poem in the book which takes its name from a line in an early 80s pop song called ‘Go Wild In The Country’ by Bow Wow Wow, but really the poem is about lockdown, isolation and growing as a person. 

15.. Why do you like telling stories in your poetry, rather than using a string of images?

Another good question. I write songs as well as poems, but for some reason the stories come out more in the poems – although I am not sure why this is. I have written prose fiction, tried writing a few novels. I’ve written short stories although none have been published, and I have read a fair amount of fiction. I suppose the two things fused, in a way. A poetry book that influenced me a lot was Simon Armitage’s Seeing Stars. It came out in 2010 and he mixed flash fiction with poetry. It was prose poetry, I guess. That book is really engaging – mini stories which are sad, funny, disturbing. That was a big influence – my first book of poems came out the following year, in 2011. I like to tell a story, and I think you can have these mini-narratives in poetry. Little snapshots of people’s lives. There’s one in Fix called ‘Well Hung’ about a woman who finds men hanging in her cupboard: it’s weird and creepy and funny, all at the same time. Life’s like that, isn’t it? We’re surrounded by stories – things that make us scared, or make us laugh. Like, today, I took my dog for a walk, and on the field was an abandoned children’s buggy. The tracks were still in the grass, but there was nobody there. There was a story, right there. I think if you can tell a little tale in the poem – great!  

16. Once they have read the book what would you like the reader to leave with?

Hmmmmm. I suppose poetry is about wonder, isn’t it? I hope the book is life affirming. There’s plenty of dark stuff in the poems, but I hope it is life affirming, too. Life is amazing. It’s hard but it’s amazing, too. Also, I hope people will reflect on the stuff about masculinity that I wrote about. Men are not evil scum bags. They’re just imperfect creatures, like everybody on the planet. But really, I just want people to read it and enjoy it. Thanks Paul!

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