Bookseeker Literary Agency

Introducing authors and publishers.

An interview with Carmen Capuano, author of ‘Split Decision’

carmen1We recently interviewed Carmen Capuano, author of Split Decision. Here’s what she had to say about that novel, about her writing, and about herself.

Firstly, would you like to you tell us a little about yourself?

I think I surprise people when they get to know me. I am very open and love to chat but I can also be reserved and quiet at times. Being an author who conducts lots of book signings and talks, you do build up a certain amount of narcissistic qualities. After all I spend much of my time talking about my books, my writing and myself but I try to temper this with humour and honestly.

For example I often tell my blog readers about the stupid things I have done and I sometimes write these into my books as well. I have a tendency to do things without completely thinking them through and I guess this is what has provided me with the range of anecdotes I store in my head. It makes for interesting dinner party conversations but you really would not want to be there when I commit one of my inevitable faux pas.

For example one of the scenes in a book I am currently working on involves a character injuring another woman by accidentally scraping her stiletto heel across the other dancer’s calf, ruining her dress and making her bleed profusely. And yes I actually did that! Perhaps not on such a dramatic level but it is based on my reality!

When did you begin writing?

I began to write seriously about ten years ago but only became published in 2012. I can’t imagine ever not writing now…I think my soul might just wither away and die if that were the case!

What is your primary goal as an author?

To be fabulously rich and live in Malibu! No I am joking of course.

I want people to love my writing. It’s as simple as that. I know my characters have important things to say and I know that anyone who reads their tales will come away with an altered soul. For example I would challenge anyone who reads Split Decision to not feel for Natalie or to be thoughtful by the end of the book.

However I would dearly love to make enough money from the sale of the books to be able to donate substantially to worthy causes. I have already donated some profits to a few charities and would like to do more of that in the future. Here’s hoping!

Would you tell us a little about Split Decision?

It is a book about a choice the main character has to make, one which will alter the course of her life and one which ultimately she may not survive.

I wrote that book from my very soul and from my knowledge of human nature. I think that’s probably what comes across most in the reading of it, the blacks, whites and greys of people’s characters, how things can be so different to how we perceive them or alternatively exactly meet our expectations.

Humans frighten me to some extent…they can be cruel, intolerant and downright evil and even the best of us can sometimes be taken in by an attractive exterior. In a way, that’s what Split Decision is all about – peeling back the layers to see what really lies underneath…

What inspired you to write it? How did the idea for the plot occur to you?

I was inspired in the same way that I am inspired for most of my books…the main character appeared more or less fully fleshed out in my head and told me her story. The reason that particular book got written over all the other ideas and/or characters that were vying for my attention at the time was that Natalie was more demanding of me, her ‘voice’ was louder, more urgent and the more I listened to her, the more I knew that here was something which was unique and bold and captivating.

What do you think makes it stand out?

Apart from the above? It’s a book about teenagers but its readership is not restricted to that age group. It’s one of those rare stories that adults and older adults will also enjoy. Not only were we all teenagers once but the story is so finely crafted that there are depths of layers that will appeal across the ages.

As with all of my books there are unexpected twists and turns and character reveals which are both unexpected and thought-provoking.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript of Split Decision?

I write in a sort of ‘continuous flow of consciousness’ style so only a few months but it was gruelling work and I spent most of it being emotionally drained by the situations the characters found themselves in.

What was the most challenging aspect of writing it?

Making sure that it reflected teenagers today and not how the world was when I was a teenager [ahem a few years ago now!]carmen5

It’s often said that every author writes herself into the story at some point.  Is there a character with whom you associate in the book, and why is that?

Yes I think I am a mix of two of the main characters. I have Natalie’s insecurities and I also have one of the boy characters’ insight into human nature.

In general, do you feel you empathise with your characters or do you keep their personalities and situations distinct from your own?

No I empathise with them, even the bad ones to some extent. Mostly I have tried to show what it was in their earlier life that made them turn out the way they did. Although that said, I do think that some people are just plain ‘born bad’.

For example in Split Decision, the ‘baddie’ wasn’t always that way. Time, life and circumstance moulded him into what he finally became, whereas in The Owners, one of my vilest characters was probably just born that way, although the conceited and self-absorbed lifestyle he led as an eminent plastic surgeon no doubt contributed to his eventual fall.

Authors don’t necessarily like bracketing their work with someone else’s, but for a moment imagine Spilt Decision on sale on a web site, and down below it says: “People who bought Spilt Decision also bought…” What other books do you think might appear there?

I think my writing has qualities of Stephenie Meyer about it somehow although I admit that my style is much grittier than hers. Perhaps The Time Traveller’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger.

If someone ever made a movie of Split Decision, which actors would you choose to play your characters?

Oh I LIKE this question! They would be young actors so perhaps the girl from The Hunger Games because she’s pretty and feisty and that is exactly how Natalie is. The two main male characters would be more difficult. They would have to be actors who were capable of a lot of depth, able to portray themselves as having perhaps a hidden agenda but done with a real subtlety and finesse. Any suggestions?

Is there an essential difference between writing for adults and writing for young adults?

Some authors say that is it ‘point of view’ but I think the simple truth is about keeping it real and creating depth. I don’t subscribe to the view that young adult books are simplistic – some are and some most definitely are not. Likewise not all books solely designed to be read by adults are complex and /or thought provoking.

My books tend to appeal equally to adults and young adults and I think that is a wonderful compliment. It shows that there is a freshness to the writing showing contemporary situations or issues but within the complexities of a well written story with plots and sub-plots, using characters that are as flawed and ‘human’ as we all are.

Some questions of a more general nature now. Generally do you have to feel inspired to write something or does it come easily to you?

Let’s put it like this – I have to be inspired to clean the house! Writing…well that just flows!

How and when do you find time to write?

I write most week days except for the school summer holidays, when I can be found climbing the walls, desperate to get back to my writing!

What makes you keep going?

All the good, kind, bizarre, vile, nasty and downright comical things that happen on a daily basis. Sometimes real life is just too good, strange and/or inexplicable that you can’t not use it to illuminate some point or other.

What’s next for you? What projects are you currently working on?

I am just finishing a novel about a troubled boy who rescues pigeons and through that act manages to find himself and his place in the world. A lot of that book was based on my own personal experience and I really empathised with the main character, Lucas. But there were funny moments too, like when he managed to convince himself that his father was Hugh Grant!

Incidentally I had to write in to Mr Grant’s publicity department in case that landed me in hot water…

What advice would you offer to new or aspiring authors?

If you don’t absolutely LOVE writing then don’t do it. It’s not a career, it’s a vocation and I do believe that in most cases, writing choses you, not the other way round!

How do you unwind when you’re not writing?

I love to watch a good film but it is unusual for me not to have worked out the plot and ending well before the actual end of the film. I Ceroc dance twice a month and have also recently taken up badminton. I am quite dire but I love it. I also discovered that I am a grunter when I go for the ‘big’ shots so I am having to get over the embarrassment factor there!

I still enjoy days out with my kids and dogs but they are becoming less frequent as the children get older. I guess it’s not cool for my 14 year old son to be seen out with me in public now, although he is my greatest fan when it comes to writing.

When you read a piece of writing by another author, what stands out for you? What do you admire in another writer, what thrills and delights you? Equally, what features of literature today do you dislike?

I hate two-dimensional characters or when there seems to be no motivation for a character’s behaviour. I want to be entertained but I don’t want it to be mindless, therefore I enjoy well-rounded stories which make me think.

Do you think there will ever come a time when you will retire from writing?

No. Never.

I’m now going to ask you for a list of whos and whys. Who were the most fascinating literary and non-literary persons you have ever met, and what did you get from these encounters? Whom would you like the opportunity to meet, and why? Whom do you wish you could have met from the past, and why?

I met Henry Winkler about a year ago. Because I was very involved with World Reading Day in Sandwell District Council, I was invited to an event where he was conducting a talk. He was very warm and open and made everyone feel at ease. In fact he was so deep in conversation with me prior to the event that some of the other guests mistook me as being part of his entourage! There was such a professionalism about him that I couldn’t help but admire him. To be so forthcoming to everyone and so self-deprecating made me realise that not all big stars have big egos. There was a humility about him I really admired.

Similarly, when I was just starting to do author talks, I encountered the lovely Gary Longden who has in fact just been ‘crowned’ Staffordshire Poet Laureate for 2014-15. After I had finished my spot, Gary came up to me, told me he had really enjoyed my talk and reading and offered to provide an honest book review for The Owners. To think that someone so talented and dedicated had even deigned to talk to me was humbling.

There are many, many others who have similarly influenced my thoughts about the writing community, too many to mention but I hope they will all know who they are!

If I were able to talk to novelists from the past my first choice would be Dickens. As a young girl I loved Dickens and Shakespeare and Enid Blyton equally but it would be Dickens who I would want to chat to. He was a philanthropist and a true altruist and I chose to study him to some extent at University. At a time when the working classes were oppressed and even worked to death, he was one of the few who instigated and championed change. We all have a lot to thank him and men like him for.

Do you have any regrets about anything?

I wish I had started writing earlier as at this rate I will have to live to 120 to get all my stories written down!

Finally, what is your guilty pleasure?

Chocolate and wine and then more chocolate and wine!

photo of me

Why Vampires? An interview with Marie Marshall, author of ‘From My Cold, Undead Hand’.

FMCUH cover 200We recently had the opportunity to talk to Marie Marshall about her teen-vampire novelette From My Cold, Undead Hand. The book is scheduled for publication on 15th September, and will be available first of all as a download direct from the publisher. Shortly after that it will be available in Kindle format and print-on-demand from Amazon, and in due course there will be a bookshop launch. So fans of YA and vampire fiction can beat shopgoers to the book by buying pre-launch copies! What is more, early purchasers will be able to claim some bonus extras! This novel marks quite a departure for Marie; although she is well-known in Scotland for her macabre short stories, this is the first time she has tackled the vampire genre. We wondered why, so we asked, and her answers brought out more questions.

Why vampires?  Tell us what brought this novel on.

What brought it on was an email from my trusty publisher, asking if I could write a teen-vampire novel. I took that as a request to write one on commission and just hurled myself into it.

There are many well-known writers of vampire stories, from Bram Stoker to Stephenie Meyer, so much so that it is a well-subscribed – some would say over-subscribed – niche of adult, teen, and graphic literature. What makes From My Cold, Undead Hand different?

Honestly I wouldn’t know. I have read Dracula of course, and Joanne Harris’s The Evil Seed, but very little else; oh, and watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel of course, and many of the old Hammer films. I have always avoided Twilight – you can call that prejudice if you wish. I’m very familiar with vampire images and myths, but I guess I must have absorbed this knowledge through some kind of cultural osmosis!

What I set out to do was just to write a story, most of it set in near-future with dystopic elements but with a nineteenth-century back-story I already had notes for. I cited a couple of obvious influences in the acknowledgments section of the book, but by-and-large my aim was to write a good story, almost as though the vampire theme was incidental. You could say that the true theme of the book isn’t all the vampire action, but the way that young people can get marginalised in an adult world. I think all writers of genre fiction ought to focus on writing the story first of all, and to hell with the conventions of the genre, if you see what I mean.

Tell us about Chevonne Kusnetsov your heroine.  You mentioned that you like heroines to be young, strong-minded females.

Isn’t that the definition of ‘heroine’ anyway? I’ll take it that you mean ‘female protagonist’ if we’re going to generalise here. I do tend to write female protagonists that that are young and strong-minded – Eunice and Jelena in Lupa, Angela in The Everywhen Angels – I don’t know of that many major literary female characters who aren’t young and strong-minded. Well, maybe Bridget Jones, and maybe some of the women in the older Mills and Boon novels would be a bit limp, but not even they would be total dead losses. It is, of course, a literary convention to make your protagonist someone admirable, so that the reader can identify readily with that character. That’s reinforced by the first-person narrative.

Chevonne is, I suppose, a tomboy character. I wanted someone with whom young female readers could identify, but who wouldn’t alienate young male readers. I guess in many respects she is asexual. She certainly has other things on her mind than dating and what-have-you. I didn’t want her to be a Bella Swan – she’s closer to Buffy than that, but with a spiky haircut – so any hint of romance is very low key. But it does crop up, just wait and see.

I think one of the main reasons I needed her to be strong-minded was to highlight that theme of marginalisation I mentioned. Without giving too much away, I can tell you that her decisiveness doesn’t actually move the plot along, but rather she is swept along in it. Two of her most important decisions in the story actually have disastrous consequences for people close to her.

Did you know her surname is the Russian equivalent of ‘Smith’, by the way?

Tell us more about Dianne, Chevonne’s friend.  

Di is easily led and, true to the theme of the book, easily marginalised, even by someone she loves. There’s a kind of gaucheness about her. There is a good reason why she sticks to Chevonne, and maybe a good reason why Chevonne sticks to her (although I deliberately don’t make that clear). She’s the character in the book whom I most want to cuddle and tell her everything is going to be all right, but of course… ooh… spoilers, spoilers!

I believe that anyone who pre-orders From My Cold, Undead Hand or is quick off the mark buying it, will learn more about Di from some extra material that I have written.

Chevonne’s mother is a bit of a shadowy figure.  Are you planning to develop her at some point?

I wasn’t planning to, no. One of the things I did in writing this story was to focus on essentials, via the mind of the protagonist. So much is happening in the story that her mother is hardly on her mind, so she remains shadowy. It’s a part of Chevonne’s character, which is why I guess she doesn’t see the possibly consequences of some of her actions. Add to that I didn’t want Chevonne’s mother to become a kind of Joyce Summers figure (from Buffy), so I deliberately kept her out of most of the story.

Having said that, now that I have written the extra material about Di, I can see the potential for taking figures from the novel and writing short stories about them. Maybe stories not directly connected with the novel.

Every author writes him/herself into the story at some point.  Which character do you associate with most, and why?

I don’t do that. What I do is mine my own feelings and put them into characters. I’m not Chevonne, I’m not Di, I’m not Miureen, I’m not Anna Lund.

I did do a bit of kick-boxing when I was young, like Chevonne, though. I’ll say that much.

The dystopian future you describe.  Is this based on political views you hold or want to present?

Not particularly. I think that trying to do that spoils a book. For me, John Wyndham’s anti-religious stance coloured his science fiction novels too much, as did C S Lewis’s Christian triumphalism. Even Tressel’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists doesn’t quite work. You have to be a Dickens or an Orwell to get away with it. What I did was simply imagine a handful of modern trends and made them a little worse, and that was mainly to create a backdrop and context against which and in which the action could take place.

Which elements of that future, do you feel, will most probably eventually happen?  

Well, as they are based on what is already happening… I think the strongest element is the manipulation of government and other institutions by unaccountable forces. The only difference is that they’re not vampires doing it at present. At least I hope not!

You set the action in America. Was there any reason for this? Do you think you have successfully captured a kind of American-ness in the novel?

Well firstly to market the book! Secondly I wanted to have the gun issue as an element. It gave me such a good title, which I appropriated from an NRA slogan. Before you ask, the story is neither pro-gun nor anti-gun. Guns are simply a fact in the novel, and although there are unforeseen consequences upon gun ownership laws from one of the major elements of action, that isn’t moralised upon. I guess anyone with strong pro or anti gun opinions will assume I’m on one side or the other, and I don’t mind if they do if it helps to promote the book!

As for American-ness, well that’s secondary. As I said, I focussed on what was uppermost in the protagonist’s mind, and that wasn’t giving chapter and verse about the Statue of Liberty of the Golden Gate Bridge. To help me with aspects of day-to-day life and expression I had a couple of American ‘beta readers’. I did have a battle with my editor over one vernacular phrase which he said was only heard in the mouths of the ignorant and would pass away. I conceded, but since then I have heard Hilary Clinton use it, so I’m claiming a moral victory!

Is there a future for the storyline?  We heard noises of a sequel being under construction?

Yes, a sequel is more than half-completed. Without giving too much away, I have moved it forward, so that what we are going to learn about the storyline from From My Cold, Undead Hand we’ll get in back-story. There will be one important character, however, whom we shall meet again in the sequel. There is also a ‘threequel’ planned, though I have to confess the plot is going to be a bit tricky.

Having had this success with vampire fiction, is it something you are going to stick with beyond the planned trilogy?

Heavens, no! Sorry, I didn’t mean to sound so vehement there, like I’m slamming the door shut on vampire fiction. Obviously if a good story occurs to me I’ll write it. What I really meant was that I had put aside three ideas for other novels – partly written in some cases – in order to write this teen-vampire trilogy. I would like to go back to them, and get back to writing primarily for an adult readership.

Is there an essential difference between writing for adults and writing for young adults?

Oh that actually puts me on the spot. No, there isn’t. You can’t ‘write down’ to either. If anything, though, younger readers are less tolerant of superfluity, more acutely observant of inconsistencies, sharper in their use of their critical faculties – mainly because they haven’t yet been taught how to misuse them.


Publication date for ‘From My Cold, Undead Hand’ announced!

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Yes, P’kaboo Publishers have announced the date on which Marie Marshall’s long-awaited teen-vampire novel From My Cold, Undead Hand will be available from them in e-book form. Other forms will become available later, but for those readers with the facility to read the ePub format, buying direct is the way to go. You can pre-order, and as a bonus the first twenty-five purchasers will receive extras, including audio material!

The story itself is fast paced and gripping. The protagonist is Chevonne Kusnetsov, a teenager from New York City a generation or so into the future. The ecology is in crisis, electricity is scarcer and mainly generated by wind turbines mounted on top of buildings. Meanwhile, vampires stalk the dimly-lit streets after dark. But their very existence is denied by the government and the media. Expose!, a shadowy organisation formed to blow the vampires’ cover wherever it can, is routinely denounced for conspiracy-theory, anti-semitism, and downright insanity. The Resistance, a secret guerrilla army of vampire-hunters, organised in a cell-structure, is denounced as a ‘terrorist’ organisation. Chevonne has been recruited to the Resistance by her history teacher, and she’s tough – straight from the school kick-boxing club, she can use her fists and feet, but also a sword, a stake, and a laser-gun. What is the vampires’ ultimate plan? How does it involve the government? How does it affect Chevonne and her friends Di and E.J.?

The title, From My Cold, Undead Hand, is adapted from a famous slogan popularised by the National Rifle Association in the USA in defence of the right of American citizens to own and carry firearms. One of the features of the novel is that vampires, who in traditional fiction arm themselves with nothing but their teeth, exercise this constitutional right. Well, so do the vampire-hunters! By the end of the book there is a twist to this ‘right’. I asked Marie if her novel was deliberately politicised or partisan on this issue.

No, indeed not, but it did occur to me to introduce gun-carrying vampires and to have elements of the plot which developed the consequences of guns in this kind of conflict or adventure. Of course I have my own views about the issue, but there are two points I’d like to make. Firstly, I’m not American, and it’s America’s call. And secondly, no author worthy of the name lets her own views affect the way a plot is developing. The story goes how the story goes and that’s that. Anyhow it’s not ‘about’ guns. If it has a theme it’s about how young people tend to be marginalised.

That theme turns the dramatic crisis of the novel into a cliffhanger, leaving readers wanting more. Thankfully a sequel is half-written already, and there is even the possibility of a threequel. So who should read it?

It’s pitched at ‘young adult’ level, but it’s not ‘written down’. I think it will be snapped up not only by teenage readers but by adults who are into vampire fiction – and there are many, many of them ‘out there’. I just hope people out there will enjoy the ride as much as my ‘beta readers’ did.

From the point of view of this agency, it is encouraging that P’kaboo have shown faith in Marie once more, and are publishing her third novel on the 15th of September. Keep a watch for updates here, and by following @ColdUndeadHand on Twitter. Don’t forget that you can pre-order your copy!

We’d like to know a little bit about you for our files…

To start our web site rolling we thought we would interview someone. This is something we might do on a fairly regular basis. The interviewees won’t necessarily be clients of ours, just writers who catch our eye for one reason or another. First up is Steve Rushton – we owe him a favour because we promised to publicise the recent re-launch of his book, Sweet Sex Education Teacher from Chichester, but forgot…

So hello Steve Rushton. Tell us a little about yourself and your background.

© Lorrain Baggaley

© Lorrain Baggaley

Ex grammar school, ex art school, ex potato picker, ex potato and egg door to door seller, ex drummer, ex milkman (brief but formative period), ex book packer to the aristocracy, ex picture hanger for Royal Societies, ex performer in country house scenarios, ex curriculum area leader for arts and science, artist since 1983, art and design history lecturer since 1993, poet since 2003.

When did you start writing and when did you first take yourself seriously as a writer?

As an adolescent I loved writing stories, but chose art instead of literature after sixth form, went to art school, and that was it for the next twenty years, until as a cash strapped artist I retrained as an art history lecturer. Studying for my MA I realized I was no researcher, as my essays were more a way back into painting, and writing stories, and poetry. Thinking back on the way literature was taught at school, with an emphasis on study rather than making work – as art was very much about – I’m sure that influenced me. At one point I was going to do a dual degree in art and English at York, but think the jack of all trades master of none argument persuaded me otherwise.

What else have you written apart from Sweet Sex Education Teacher from Chichester?

Sweet Sex Education Teacher from Chichester is my first book. However, I have a project where I’m writing a series of four poetry collections and three verse novels, the first of which – sex, love & boring poetry, a comedy about a country house tour with a difference – is just finished. I like working in series. If I have lots of things going on, I can compare them more easily, work out what works and what doesn’t. It’s what I do when I make paintings, and I’m now using that method with poetry too.

…Teacher is such an eye-catching title. Tell us about the work, where you got your inspiration from, how it developed, and so on.

I wrote the following poem to answer – to myself – this very question

Who Is The Sweet Sex Education Teacher From Chichester Anyway?

She’s everybody ever tempted by something, who secretly dreams that

          repercussions could change their over-regimented lives

She’s an embodiment of space, between town and country,

          London and Chichester (“somewhere near Crawley?”[1])

She’s a manifesto for a new art – minimalism with sex,

          Lichtenstein inside the bubble, cubist collage without the collage,

          modern art without the art

She’s a manifesto for a new poetry – Dylan Thomas without the words,

          Charles Bukowski off the booze, bawdy seaside cards but not,

          children’s’ books with only a few words to a page. “Look said Jack”

She’s an art and poetry meeting, neither an illustration of the other

She’s “a perfect format for a witty poem”[2], a cliff-hanger,

          not a first person singular   (like so many other poems)

She’s a Ramones record, but shorter,

          a Chuck Berry song without guitar breaks

          a Beethoven sonata without the sonata

She’s “reviving the 7 inch single in book form”[3]

She’s someone starting as object, but finishing as subject, like us all

She’s tangible and lovely, single, and waiting for you[4]

Price £4.99p, from Shop 33, amazon

And selected booksellers

This relationship between art and poetry is important for me – that a poem  can be something else – an object, cover2for sale, a shape surrounded by white space, a manifesto, lots of things, without limit perhaps.

Also, and most importantly, the Sweet Sex Education Teacher From Chichester is my wife, and the events in the poem are extrapolations from our early romance of train journeys between very different cities.

Sex education is one thing, but do you think it is possible to learn ‘creative writing’ as an academic subject?

Again, the relationship between art and poetry is interesting with regard to this question. We all use language – words, sentences – everyday, in a way that we don’t draw, or paint, or sculpt, to live our lives. So I think we need to study art more to become an artist, but this doesn’t apply as much to using writing creatively, because we are doing this everyday already, often without realizing it. And sometimes, before reading a poem to an audience, there is a preamble, which on reflection sounds more interesting, with its complicated rhythms, nuances and unforced intonations, than the actual poem that follows.

In your opinion, what is the purpose of literature? How would you define ‘literature’ anyway? Does it seem to you to have any obvious limits.

Literature, like art, is evidence of culture. I think that is its main context. The interesting thing for me is whether good literature, art, exists independently of context – and that is certainly an aim, whether it is achievable or not. And as for limits, no I don’t think so. The one limit that often gets talked about is the relationship with society – that society can change art and literature, but not the other way round. While I agree that society is the dominant partner in this, we have no way of knowing what future art and literature might be like, so how can we say it can’t change society?

Also, I like the idea that even if artists/writers who believe their work can change things are wrong, their work is better for their misbelief.

When you read someone else’s work, what qualities do you look for? What thrills you and gives you delight when you find it in someone else’s work?

I want imagination, intelligence, sex, a sense of humour
And not just a longing
For something that’s over

Give us your take on self-publishing. Is conventional publishing (along with literary agencies) doomed?

No, there will always be a need for benchmarks, hoops, barriers, agencies helping both the traditional and the non traditional, just as their will always be – and this is a terrible word – “creatives” who seek for whatever reason new ways to reach audiences.

The ‘Sue Lawley’ question – I’ve marooned you on a desert Island, you have the Bible and Shakespeare, should you need either, what one other book would you like to have by you?

I suppose my answer to this question would change every week, but in this week I would say, what I’m reading, looking at, at the moment – the complete etchings of Goya. Although I now write more than I paint, and however many favourite poets I have, will have, my first love will always be visual art, and I think – if there is anything slightly different in my work, it is down to that. And the great thing about this book is – the works are reproduced in their original size, and they’re black and white – so there are no bad colour reproduction problems, and all the images have accompanying original text, so this complex relationship between word and image that I’m fascinated by is played and replayed on every page of the book. And also, Goya is such a great drawer, with such a powerful vision, and sense of composition, and perhaps because his vision is so dark, it would cheer me up on my desert island – things can’t be that bad.

If you could meet one literary person past or present, real or fictional, who would it be?

I think Dylan Thomas, probably because he was the first poet I loved, because I still love him now, although a lot of his stuff I don’t, but I see him as an artist whose work – some of it – is trapped by context – his time, and doesn’t resonate today as much as perhaps it used to, perhaps as much as it used to when I first read it as an adolescent, and also, because I think a few of his works definitely do escape context, have become, free of context, good, great, whatever – Poem in October for instance, or Under Milk Wood – and also, because, I like a drink in a pub, as he did, albeit with some moderation, and prefer that to a dinner table conversation, apropos the who would you have round for dinner question, to which my answer would be – no one, I’m off to the pub.

Thank you Steve. Mine’s a pint. Straight glass.


[1] Hugh Baggaley
[2] Venetia Vyvyan, Heywood Hill’s Book Shop, Mayfair
[3] Jan Noble, Not Your Average Type
[4] New version of poem published in Nazar Look, Nov.2012


The agency waives its right to insist on the terms shown at the foot of the contact page, in the context of this interview.