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.
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/