Craft & Culture Creatives in profile - interview series

Creatives in profile: interview with Nick Brooks

We may be in the middle of a global crisis, but there’s nothing in the rulebook to say you can’t continue your interview series during a worldwide pandemic…

Nick Brooks was born and lives in Glasgow. He studied art when he left school, made stain glass windows, poured chemicals down toilets, signed on the dole and played in a band. 

Later, he got a degree and then a PhD, which just goes to show you. Since then, he’s been a community worker, tutor and lecturer. He also coaches strength training.

He has published three novels: My Name Is Denise Forrester (2005); The Good Death (2007, both Weidenfeld & Nicolson), and Indecent Acts (2014, Freight), and a collection of erotic haiku, Sexy Haiku (2016, Freight). The latter is currently going through an update and will shortly be available as Why Don’t You Write Me A Love Poem?

Here at Nothing in the Rulebook, we were lucky enough to review Brooks’s collection of erotic poetry, Sexy Haiku, which expertly captures the absurdity of both sex and love. We witness the complications of negotiating a threesome; the politics of semi-open relationships; the trepidation of setting out into unknown sexual waters of BDSM, or even trying “a new position, beyond the three recommended”.

There’s a huge dollop of humour here – along with a lot else besides – and so it’s little surprise that Brooks himself oozes wry witticisms in our interview, which we conducted over email in the midst of the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.   

With England once again about to enter another lockdown (Scotland, where Brooks is based, has been under higher restrictions for some time now), we couldn’t think of a much better way to distract ourselves from the “crepuscular” (Brooks’s description) nature of 2020 than to bring you all this detailed exclusive interview.

INTERVIEWER

Tell me about yourself, where you live and your background/lifestyle

BROOKS

I live in Glasgow, Scotland. My background is in community work and adult learning. I’ve taught as a learning facilitator with adult learners and also lectured and tutored. Currently, I’m self-employed and create low/no content books. I’m also a qualified strength trainer, so I do that too. I’ve lived and worked in England, Spain, Hungary, Malaysia and Slovakia.

My lifestyle is not what it used to be. For long periods of my adult life, I was a typical West of Scotland binge drinker. I drank until brain-death three or four nights a week and got very fat. After a mini-stroke, I decided a change was not only necessary but required. At least, if I wanted to live!

I now have a motor-function disability. Typing and handwriting are excruciating for me. So I use voice-recognition software. In comparison, I live a pretty quiet life now. I’m incarcerated at home like everyone else. I write, drink too much coffee and love curry.

INTERVIEWER

Is writing your first love, or do you have another passion?

BROOKS

I used to be an avid drawer when I was younger. After I left school I took a place on an art foundation course down in “That England”. A strange thing happened though: I lost all passion and interest in drawing shortly before arriving. As you can imagine, this made the course itself something of a challenge. I got through it, but it was plain that I wasn’t going anywhere with it.

I floundered around for a few years, variously signing on the dole, or working minimum wage jobs and wisely decided to become a ROCK GOD. I was pretty delusional.

In many ways, I remain so. Delusional, rather than a ROCK GOD, that is.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

BROOKS

I find Beau of the Fifth Column (Florida-based journalist Justin King) pretty inspiring. Check out his YouTube channel.

https://www.youtube.com/c/BeauoftheFifthColumn/videos

INTERVIEWER

How have you found the experience of writing under lockdown?

BROOKS

To be honest, nothing much has changed for me, it’s business as usual. The only thing I sort-of miss is being able to sit down in a restaurant spontaneously. However, money is always an issue and I’m on the net a lot of the time, looking for jobs. The trouble is that the job I’m searching for looks like this:

WANTED

Glasgow-based writer to produce any novels or poetry (or both), either frequently or in dribs and drabs over years, for lucrative and competitive lifetime salary.

Essential requirements: grimly humorous outlook, used-to-be-ginger hair (but now brown with the passing of the years); slight limp.

Desirable: ability to waste salary on fripperies.

Thus far, it’s been a long and thankless hunt.

INTERVIEWER

Alongside three novels, you published your collection of erotic poetry, ‘Sexy Haiku’ through Freight Books in 2016. What did you find particularly sexy about the haiku form, and do you hope readers will find haiku sexy, too?

BROOKS

That was the thing – I didn’t find haiku either sexy or even very interesting. There’s a lot of haiku stuff around, especially online and a good 99.9% of it is pretty dreary. People get very worked up about staying true to the form. They go all-in on the 5/7/5 thing, the passing reference to the season and mortality and whatever. So you have all these purists arguing about whether something is, or isn’t a proper haiku. Someone failed to mention the falling cherry blossom? They are so dead to me. I imagine half of them want to throttle the other half to death.

What I was attracted to was the possibilities inherent in a very brief poem, focussing on a very brief moment. Restricted by the form. Nobody much seemed to be talking about sex or intimacy. Yet, during sex, we are never more intimate with another person. So I saw it as a moment of Zen-like clarity. Here is this thing we’re doing together, and we are as close as two people can be, and yet it’s so brief. We do it and the moment passes. Sometimes, during sex, there are also huge unfathomable gulfs between people too. There are so many intangible feelings, thoughts, fears, joys wrapped up in the act.

And once I started writing them, they tumbled out. All sorts of moments, some loving and intimate, some hateful, horrible even. A lot of them are the same moment, extrapolated in all different directions. I pulled and pushed and squeezed everything I could from them. Bad sex we’d rather forget about. Funny sex, ill-advised experiments or cringingly embarrassing ones. So this one act can encompass a whole range of emotions and psychological states. By stringing them all together they become a kind of whole inner psychological universe, and a record of a particular series of relationships, beginning and concluding with the same one. Sex is the original comedy of errors.

I tried to use language that was as frank as possible, to strip away the metaphor and even the complexity. It was a ‘back to basics’ approach. They carry their heart on their sleeve.

My ambition for the collection was for people to enjoy it then get nasty with whoever was agreeable to the idea!

(Of course, solo practise can also be useful for developing a skill-set)

I don’t have any idea if they are erotic for others or not; it’s for readers to judge.

INTERVIEWER

What makes something erotic?

BROOKS

As opposed to pornographic? The erotic includes human emotion, not just our basic, easily-triggered impulses. I’d defy anyone to read the collection and tell me it is just filth. It’s that – and more.

INTERVIEWER

It sometimes seems as though the literary world – especially the British literary world – is simultaneously embarrassed and captivated by sex in books (haiku-based or otherwise). The ‘Bad sex in fiction’ awards is perhaps literature’s most notorious booby prize; yet publishers – and readers – often call for books to include at least a little bit of sex. What’s your view on sex in fiction and poetry, and what do you make of such things as the ‘Bad Sex’ awards?

BROOKS

The Bad Sex Awards are a very British (or more specifically English) sort of thing but it’s also a stereotype. If they did a Good Sex Awards too, that’d be a bit more progressive. But they’re also a bit of a hoot. Some writers do need to be hauled over the coals for the nonsense they come up with. But if I was nominated, I doubt I’d be offended. That’s where the stiff upper lip comes in, I guess. It’d be an excuse to put on a smart suit and tie on for the night and have a few drinks and laughs. If you get nominated, you just have to take it on the chin and be like, ‘It’s a fair cop, guv,’ and embrace it.

I have no problem with sex in fiction or poetry at all. A scour of Amazon will tell you that there are lots of people that’ll pay for smutty stories. Short fiction about sex is a big market. You name it, there’s a niche for everyone: BDSM, furries, bears, twinks, teens, gay cowboys, MILFS, cougars, harem, reverse harem, milkmaids, daddy’s little girl, anal training, shifters, interracial, aliens…on and on. At least some British people must be buying this stuff.

INTERVIEWER

Looking around at current trends in publishing right now, what are your thoughts and feelings on the state of the industry as it is and as it has been in recent years. And what has your personal experience been of trying to break onto the ‘literary scene’?

BROOKS

I’ve given up on breaking into any kind of scene. I have zero interest in it now. You can read a bit more about my exact reasons for this in the blog post I wrote for Nothing in the Rulebook!

What I would say is, publishing houses have become much more conservative in what they put out now. Getting a book signed at all is still a dispiriting task. And it takes years to go from manuscript to bookshelves. I mean literally years. Your average self-published indie can do the same job as a whole publishing house in a matter of a couple of months. That includes writing the book and all the promotion and marketing. If it’s a good book, and you hit all the right tropes in your chosen genre but put a twist on it, and all the marketing falls into place, you stand a chance of making some cash out of it.

Writing ‘literary fiction’ or poetry is not a profitable venture. I still believe it to be worth doing. Genre fiction is fun to read, though. Nobody ever accused James Kelman of being ‘fun’.

INTERVIEWER

When writing, what do you think is most important to keep in mind when writing your initial drafts?

BROOKS

That it’s only a draft. Get it onto the page first, then worry about making it look good. Everything is always a draft-in-progress.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have a specific ‘reader’ or audience in mind when you write?

BROOKS

I didn’t use to, but I do now. And it depends on what I’m writing. With the haiku, I imagined someone like myself. In their mid-to-late 40s, male, interested in intimacy, relationships and honesty but not being catered to.

Poets don’t seem to write openly and frankly about sex. There was a complete hole where male sexuality was concerned. Just a void. It is a topic most poets seemed to steer clear of. Writing honestly about sex from a male perspective and avoiding the caricatures was at the heart of what I wanted to do. And to use, in Tom Leonard’s immortal phrase ‘thi langwidge uv thi gutter,’ to do it.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about some of the future projects you’re working on?

BROOKS

I’m working on a novel right now, a black comedy about a serial killer. I have another novel written, but it is currently in limbo. I’m not sure if it will ever reach print now.

I’ve also got a follow-up haiku collection. Same subject matter, slightly different take on it. It’s about trying to maintain a normal, healthy, loving relationship whilst being swamped by internet porn, dating sites, email spam, hookup apps, especially if you often work away from home, distractions on all sides. Temptation is rife!

Quick fire round!

INTERVIEWER

If you could describe 2020 in one word, what would it be?

BROOKS

Crepuscular.

INTERVIEWER

Favourite writer?

BROOKS

Charles Bukowski. I’m always happy to reread anything by Bukowski.

INTERVIEWER

Favourite book?

BROOKS

The Adventures of Huckleberry Flynn. I thought about putting all sorts of highbrow tomes here, but I first had Huckleberry Finn read to me by my dad, as a boy. He’d read me and my brother chapters on a nightly basis and we thought it was the funniest, greatest book ever. When I was old enough to read it for myself, it was a joy all over again. Every decade or so I reread it and love it afresh. I think the books that were important to you in childhood often leave the deepest, most lasting impression.

INTERVIEWER

Sexiest thing someone has ever said to you?

BROOKS

(Purrs in voice of Madeline Kahn in Young Frankenstein): ‘Is it twue what they say about your people? Oh, it’s twue, it’s twue!’

INTERVIEWER

Poetry or fiction?

BROOKS

Fiction.

INTERVIEWER

Critically acclaimed or cult classic?

BROOKS

Cult classic. Critics be damned!

INTERVIEWER

Who is someone you think more people should know about?

BROOKS

Graham Fulton.

INTERVIEWER

If writing didn’t exist – what would you do?

BROOKS

Go to and fro on the earth, and walk up and down upon it.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any hidden talents?

BROOKS

I make a stupendously good lamb curry.

INTERVIEWER

Something you’re particularly proud of?

BROOKS

I can’t think of anything. How sad is that?

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

BROOKS

6 words is a big ask.

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 5 – 10 tips for writers?

BROOKS

To make money: write to genre, read lots of your genre, never read anything but your genre and practise your genre all the time.

For the literateur: as above. Then try to do something different. This will ensure either remarkable success or total failure.

For all prospective writers: copy the style of the writers you admire. Take a passage, even a whole story or chapter and copy it out repeatedly, but swap your story for theirs. Use their style, their punctuation, their rhythm, but substitute your events and characters. Do that as much and as often as possible. Eventually, you will have so absorbed the style in such a way as to leave it behind and your own will flutter into the unknown from the chrysalis you’ve left behind. Seriously. Best writing advice you will ever get.

Examine your motivations for writing. Know and understand them. The more honestly you do this, the more success you are likely to have in your chosen area of literature. Decide if you want to do this for deeply personal reasons, or professional ones early on. If it’s purely personal, nothing I can tell you will matter, so do as you please.

Join a boxing, martial arts club, or some other contact activity. Writing can be a bruising affair: you need to get tough.

Try to avoid envy of the success of others. It’s never a good look.

‘For if you cannot do this, seek out the ways with which to malign, poison and destroy your enemies; be subtle, this is the whetstone of your blade; with this is the knife tempered.’ Ibn Al Hassan, 1347.

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