A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Thomas McColl

with Thomas McColl:

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences and biggest influences currently?

Thomas: I started writing – as in, writing with the aim of achieving some kind of publication – in my late teens, and was very much influenced by four poets I’d started reading at that time, namely Stevie Smith, Roger McGough, Adrian Mitchell and Philip Larkin, and all of these poets have each remained a big influence on me to this day. 

I don’t know whether it’s the same for other people, but when it comes to literature, music and politics, things that influenced me in my teens are the things that continue to influence me today. I’ve certainly broadened my horizons since the 1980s – and have changed (and hopefully matured) as a person – but the outlook I gained in my teens still definitely forms the basis of who and what I am. 

Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer/artist?

Thomas: I don’t think there was any one pivotal moment – or, if there was, the memory of it has long ago vanished into the mists of time. I’m 50 now, and I wonder would I have been better able to answer that question at 25 but, knowing me, I probably wouldn’t.

Q3: Who has helped you most with writing?

Thomas: I wouldn’t say that I’ve received help with my writing, in the sense that I’ve never attended workshops or gone on courses. Maybe I’d have been better off if I had done things like that, who knows? I’ve always preferred, however, to simply try and work it out for myself – and I never show anyone my work while it’s in progress – and that’s what I’ll continue to do, for better or worse. 

Having said that, there are people who’ve helped me with my writing by putting me on at their event, or featuring me in their magazine, or publishing my book, or buying my book – and, while I’m hopefully giving them something too, all of these things are what help to keep a writer going through thick and thin, and I’ll always be grateful for that. 

Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & did any travels away from home influence your work?

Thomas: I was born in London in 1970, but my parents moved up to Birmingham when I was two, and I lived there till I was 20. In 1990, I moved down to London to study History at the University of North London, and have lived in London ever since. I’ve had two collections of poetry published, and both of them feature many poems where London is the setting and/or subject, and London has certainly influenced my writing (and aided my development as a writer), whereas Birmingham’s never really got a look in, for when I left the second city in 1990, I really did leave it behind in every way – till recently, that is. Now that I’ve reached middle-age, I’ve started looking back a lot more and, finally getting inspiration from the city I left behind, there’s now, amongst various London poems in my current collection, ‘Grenade Genie’, a poem set in Birmingham, called ‘Nightclubbing in Brum, 1988’. I wouldn’t say the floodgates have opened, but where there’s one, there’s maybe more…

Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?

Thomas: It remains a poem called ‘The Chalk Fairy’. It’s from my first collection, ‘Being With Me Will Help You Learn’, and is one of my shortest poems (and so worth reproducing below in full). It’s a poem that’s definitely moved people, and has ended up having a life of its own beyond the book it was first published in, having been widely anthologised and, on account of it being in the Shoestring Press anthology, ‘Poems for Jeremy Corbyn’, even getting quoted in the London Evening Standard:

THE CHALK FAIRY

Each night I traipse 
the streets of London, 
drawing chalk lines 
round homeless people 
sleeping rough.

I’ve found 
that, even in the early hours 
of Christmas Day, 
there’s no shortage of bodies 
to draw my outlines round: 
London’s one big crime scene 
every single day of the year.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Thomas: I do write to relax. Writing itself is very relaxing and therapeutic – writing admin, not so much. I never watch TV now – I haven’t done for years – and maybe that’s just as well for, with the rise of on-demand TV like Netflix, I’m sure I’d find so many series and films I’d love to watch and never get anything done. 

Q7: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem/writing of yours or others? Or name or show a favorite piece of artwork if you are an artist.

Thomas: A favourite stanza from a poem of mine is this from ‘The Evil Eye’, which is taken from my current collection, ‘Grenade Genie’, and is about people’s obsession with posting about themselves on the internet (which applies as much to me as it does to pretty much everyone else)

Let’s face it, how can you stop?
It’s fame, albeit the tiniest drop – 
even if there's no-one who could possibly give a damn
about these selfies you constantly upload 
on to Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Don’t you realise that you exist 
no more than you did before – less, in fact?  
You've made a pact with the digital devil,
not even to be an insect preserved in amber,
but simply an insect that's landed on a cobweb
stretched out directly in front 
of an amber signal on a traffic light –
and as soon as you're lit up no-one hangs around.

Q8: What kind of music do you enjoy? Favorite musical artists, influences, songs that inspire.

Thomas: I no longer keep up with what’s in the charts, though I do listen to music to unwind, bands that I was into in my teens, such as The Fall, The Damned, Killing Joke, Adam and the Ants, Kate Bush and Roxy Music, but never while I’m writing. I don’t understand how people can write while listening to music, but many say they do, including people who’ve written good stuff, so clearly it works for them, but their brains must be wired very differently to mine.  

Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects you’d like to promote?

Thomas: I’m still actively promoting my aforementioned book, ‘Grenade Genie’. It came out in April 2020, just as the first lockdown in England was getting under way, so it never really got the start it deserved. Split into four sections – Cursed, Coerced, Combative and Corrupted – the book contains poems on subjects as diverse as Grenfell, the Iranian Revolution, the refugee crisis, the NHS, the end of civilisation, gorgons on Oxford Street, and not being able to remember anyone’s name! It’s available from the publisher, Fly on the Wall Press, here, or, if you want a signed copy, you can order it direct from me, here

Bio:

Thomas McColl lives in East London. He’s had poems and short stories published in magazines such as Envoi, Iota, Prole, Bare Fiction, Rising and Fictive Dream, and has two collections of poetry to his name – ‘Being With Me Will Help You Learn’ (Listen Softly London Press, 2016) and ‘Grenade Genie’ (Fly on the Wall Press, 2020). He’s read his poetry and stories at many events in London and beyond – including Landing Place, Celine’s Salon, The Quiet Compere, Birkbeck Writer’s Room and Newham Word Festival – and has been featured on East London Radio, BBC Radio Kent, BBC Radio WM and TV’s London Live. 

He’s on Twitter (username: @ThomasMcColl2) and Instragram (username: thomas__mccoll), and can be contacted via his website: https://thomasmccoll.wordpress.com/

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Judith Kingston

with Judith Kingston:

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Judith: Like most writers, I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t. When I was five, I started rewriting the Bible to include more informative pictures of God and chirpier dialogue, but I gave up after the garden of Eden because it was too much like hard work. Roald Dahl was also an early influence, as evidenced by my first completed novel about a girl travelling around in a giant nectarine. My first serious influences as a teenager, longing to write books you could get lost in, were Joan Aiken, Madeleine L’Engle and Australian author Melina Marchetta. Also Dutch authors Tonke Dragt and Imme Dros.

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

Judith: Prose I would say Catherine Fox, whose light-but-deep novels never fail to move me and make me laugh, even when I am reading them for the fifteenth time.

When it comes to poetry, there are three specific poems that I am always trying to write – except of course they have already been written. One is “Het Verlangen” by Dutch poet Toon Tellegen, for that one perfect bit: “desire breeds roses and delirious dogs, / rows across lakes at midnight, / shouts”. Another is “Le Pont Mirabeau” by Apollinaire, for its incredible flowing rhyme and wistful beauty. The final one is a titleless poem by Wayne Holloway-Smith (https://thescores.org.uk/wayne-holloway-smith/) about Joseph Figlock catching a falling baby, twice. I want to be able to tell a story this innocuously, pulling the reader in, and then knifing them in the heart at the end.

Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing? Have any travels away from home influence your writing?

Judith:

I grew up in the Netherlands and also spent part of my childhood living in Queensland, Australia.

Dutch poets have had a massive influence on my writing but obviously few people would actively notice. I was delighted when an old friend recently spotted a reference to Paul Rodenko’s “Bommen” in one of my poems. In a less lofty way, the Dutch December tradition of writing a poem in rhyming couplets(ish) to go with each present we give to our family has left its mark on my writing too. I really want to rhyme and it not to be weird. A lot of my work has internal rhyme or end rhyme. I just keep coming back to it, trying to use it to create that magical Apollinaire flow.

Living in Australia is entirely to blame for the fact that I mostly write in English. It is because of the time I spent at school there that I am bilingual. Other than that, it meant I discovered a lot of less well-known but incredible writers, including poet Gwen Harwood. A brilliantly zany person and a very versatile writer, she is everything I aspire to be: a serious artist who is also an entertaining dinner party guest.

Q4: What do you consider the most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far?

Judith:

Two spring to mind:

  1. I wrote a piece of performance poetry for an immersive theatre show called Morningstar that only one person per evening ever got to hear – only the bravest one. I still love the way it flows and the way it lands. Most of all, I love how things you write for theatre become something more in the interplay with the actor who lifts it off the page.
  2. I wrote a poem called “Those Last Impossible Inches”, which was published in Anti-Heroin Chic Magazine, which came straight from the very depths of my soul and sort of sums up everything I believe in, in a very simple way. A friend recorded it for me. I was sitting in McDonalds when I listened to the recording (fun fact) and it just floored me. Those words spoken back to me were exactly what I needed to hear.
    Both of these pieces I wrote in one go, with minimal editing. I am not saying this is how things should be – in the editing process you often lift David out of the block of marble – but in these cases they just seemed to be ready as they were.

Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Judith: Although I was always writing and drawing and performing plays, it was reading Anne Frank’s diary that decided it for me. Somehow, reading about this young girl’s dreams of being an author that were tragically cut short made me determined to do what she could not, and see my poems and stories in print.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Judith: Watching TV and completely switching my brain off is honestly my most effective way of properly relaxing. I also love reading and drawing but those require a bit more concentration.

Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?

Judith:

Recently, one of my poems was included in Broken Sleep Books’ brilliant anthology “Crossing Lines: An Anthology of Immigrant Poetry”. You can buy it here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Crossing-Lines-Anthology-Immigrant-Poetry/dp/1913642313/

Coming up soon, the theatre company I sometimes write for has a brilliant show coming up called Crisis, What Crisis? at the New Diorama Theatre in London – your chance to be a parliamentary adviser in 1979 and see if you can stop the country descending into chaos. https://newdiorama.com/whats-on/crisis-what-crisis

Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?

Judith: Possibly the final stanza of my poem “Sostenuto”, about my great-uncle’s journey back to the Netherlands from camp Bergen Belsen:

“Whenever I saw him he wore a suit – his own, but / under his clothes lurked the bleached bones that / rattled in time to the train he was still on, which / could not take him from that place he never left.” You can find the poem in the Fly on the Wall Press Anthology Persona Non Grata. https://www.flyonthewallpress.co.uk/product-page/persona-non-grata

Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?

Judith: I would not get anything done without my husband, Owen, who is incredible at big picture plotting and story arcs. I love talking through my story ideas with him and he will always help me lift them to the next level. He is also just generally a very inspiring person who works incredibly hard to make his ideas a reality.

So many people have helped me in so many ways, often without realising they were doing it, but I would like to briefly highlight novelist Ericka Waller, who almost literally kicked me off the time out bench where I had put myself for years and made me submit my poetry. It is her fault that anything of mine is published at all. 

Links:

https://www.judithkingston.com

Twitter @judithkingston

https://www.kissingdynamitepoetry.com/judith-kingston-object-permanence.html

https://againstthegrainpoetrypress.wordpress.com/2018/08/14/judith-kingston-two-poems/

https://www.vampcatmag.com/post/two-poems-judith-kingston

https://ghostcitypress.com/poetry-20/2019/10/11/judith-kingston

https://barrenmagazine.com/author/judith-kingston/

A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Isabelle Kenyon

with Isabelle Kenyon:

Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?

Isabelle: Probably about 13, and it was a mix of short stories, comedic comics and poetry! My Granny Olga inspired me to write and help me submit my work to young adult anthologies. At that age I was reading widely so I guess my first influences were writers like Malorie Blackman and JK Rowling. Poetry reading was something I got into after the age of 18. Probably because it is so badly taught in schools!

Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?

Isabelle: Probably Miranda July or Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, although I do tend to name book titles rather than authors. Both have a distinctive style and I remember their characters years after reading their books.

Q3: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing?

Isabelle: In New Mills, Derbyshire, although it is such a sleepy place I hope it hasn’t influenced my writing! Occasionally I write something about Stockport, the general area where I went to college, but I probably wouldn’t write about my school experiences. I don’t believe you always need to ‘write what you know’.

Q4: Have any travels away from home influence your work/describe?

Isabelle: My first poetry chapbook was Digging Holes To Another Continent, which was entirely written during the three weeks I spent in New Zealand in 2017. It was my first book publication with Claire Songbirds Publishing House in New York, and I remember that moment being so exciting, realising that my writing could be good enough to be published, especially by a non-UK publishing house!

Q5: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Isabelle: Anything that I’ve done writing wise has been for fun and so I don’t think there’s been a pivotal moment, it has just always been something I enjoy experimenting with. Same with becoming a publisher, I wanted to do something in which I worked with like-minded people, and fell into having an imprint and publishing other writers!

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Isabelle: On the whole, anyone who truly knows me knows I don’t relax… But theoretically salsa dancing, going on a walk with the dog, or going to see a play, maybe an art gallery! I relax when I chat with friends.

Q7: Any recent or forthcoming projects you’d like to promote?

Isabelle: I’m doing a publishing workshop for Cheltenham Poetry Festival in July which should be a lot of fun and I recently did feature slot at Dragonfly Spoken word night. It was great to feel supported by an international audience!

Q8: What is one of your favorite lines from a poem of yours or others or favorite art piece?

Isabelle: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/emin-hate-and-power-can-be-a-terrible-thing-t11891

I find the work of Tracey Emin very powerful. Her quilt work arts is actually the size of a vast room and it’s really powerful to see in person.

Q9: Who has helped you most with writing?

Isabelle: I think it is Monday Night Group, which is currently an online feedback writing group based in Manchester, has helped me vastly because the critique allows me to keep myself on track (prepping my work to read weekly) and have an outside perspective on my own editing! Also Haley Jenkins from Selcouth Station is an excellent editor and I really enjoy her feedback service as she brings out elements which I have not yet considered developing such as character complexities and logic of the story world queries!

For emails in regards to Fly on the Wall Press books, please address to flyonthewallpress@hotmail.com only

Find Isabelle’s latest poetry chapbook ‘Growing Pains’ with Indigo Dreams Publishing check it out here!

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