Creatives in profile: interview with Ben Armstrong

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Ben Armstrong is a poet from the West Midlands, UK, who specialises in surrealist, hyper-real and absurdist pieces. An alumnus of the renown Warwick University Writing Programme, his poem ‘The Year of the Apple’ was featured in The Apple Anthology (Nine Arches Press, 2013), shortlisted for Best Anthology in the Saboteur Awards. His debut collection Perennial is out now through Knives, Forks and Spoons Press, and has drawn praise from a number of right-on poets and publications, including Luke Kennard, George Ttoouli, and David Morley, as well as the magazines Eye Flash Poetry, and Here Comes Everyone (oh, and ourselves, of course).

In the large hadron collider that is Perennial, Armstrong challenges the reader to embrace unpredictability and recognise order within otherwise apparent disorder, in what is an extremely fun, engaging, witty and anarchic poetry collection. Given that we love witty anarchy as much as the next creative collective (it’s among the best kinds of anarchy if you ask us), we were thrilled to have the opportunity to interview Armstrong himself and add him to our community of creatives who have shared their stories and innermost secrets with us.

INTERVIEWER

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

ARMSTRONG

I was born in the Black Country, West Midlands, in the early 1990s and still live locally. We’re famous for our pork scratchings, ale, canals and the steel industry (amongst other things). I grew up in Stourbridge, which doesn’t have so much of an accent – people tend to find it hard to place me unless they’re familiar with the Midlands. I’ve just bought a house with my partner so my current lifestyle is mostly settling in there, working, keeping fit and writing for my next book.

INTERVIEWER

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

ARMSTRONG

Music is my biggest passion although I’m a much more perceptive listener than a musician. I was in a band for a few years recently and I spent so much time listening to our mixes, tweaking my EQ – focusing on the really minute details. I loved designing our album booklet and packaging. I guess a lot of people would find that stuff boring? For me, the beauty has always been in the detail. In this way, my love for poetry and music stem from the same place. They’re both very liberating mediums that I can really get stuck into them on a micro level, whilst still having a finished piece at the end of the process.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you, and why?

ARMSTRONG

On the whole, people who really dedicate themselves to their art. I find that highly commendable, especially in the modern world where money doesn’t exactly come easily for most artists. I’m inspired also by people who have a very strong artistic vision and stick to it, especially across a collection of pieces. We live in quite a quick-fire culture but I still really value full-length collections, records, etc. that tell a story or carry a vibe across a substantial body of work. You can spot these people a mile away and they tend to have long, varied and diverse careers in art.

INTERVIEWER

The structure of your poems is often experimental, while the content blurs vibrant, intricate language with both pop culture references and classical analogy. How do you see the balance or relationship between modern and classical? Are we living in a world of post-post modernism? Or have we simply run out of the terms to adequately express and describe our contemporary cultural trends and styles?

ARMSTRONG

We’re living in an age of pastiche. This is the first time that our entire existence as human beings has become self-referential. It feels like we’re finally letting go of the concept of ‘time’ – the whole thing has just become delineated. Courtesy of technology, the recent past may as well be right now. The distant past is as accessible as what I did last week. People are always creating new art, but the leading trend seems to be recontextualisation. We’re a race of curators, of remixers and remodellers. I think that my poetry and Perennial especially speaks to that. My aim is to make sense of the chaos, somehow.

INTERVIEWER

When writing poetry, can you tell us a little about your creative process? How do you go from blank page to fully fledged poem?

ARMSTRONG

Nearly always, a line or phrase will just drop into my mind. If I choose to pursue it, I can feel the tangents pulling off from the original seed and urging me to get to a computer or pick up a pen. From there, I write quickly to capture as much as possible and edit as I go. I tend not to move on until I’m happy with a line although if I end up at a dead end, I’ll consider some radical changes to the structure to jump-start the process. I favour using a computer because I can get a better ‘feel’ for the visual element of the poem.

INTERVIEWER

How do you decide when a poem is ‘finished’?

ARMSTRONG

This one is down to intuition. Mostly it’ll be when it feels right, visually. I really champion the visual aspect of the poem on the page – it really steers my decision making throughout the entire writing process. Certain ideas just need to ‘look’ a certain way. Some need to slink down, some appear to me as very horizontal and aggressive, others flutter like a burst bag of feathers. I’m not entirely sure why I feel the need to act on these but I do and it’s a big part of why I love writing poetry. I suppose I’d compare it to how a chef arranges a plate. Certain choices are dictated by things other than logic. Why does the onion need to sit just so? It just does.

INTERVIEWER

You’ve recently published your debut collection, Perennial. Can you tell us a little about the work, and the experience of putting it together? How did you first conceive of the idea, and how did it evolve?

ARMSTRONG

Perennial has been in the works for a very long time now. I started writing poems for it in around 2012 on a coach to visit my uncle in Scotland. It was never intended to be my first collection – it is actually a spin-off to a bigger, larger story – but it just so happened that I finished it first. The collection is a diary of sorts written by an unnamed character who finds himself lost on a strange island. In a narrative sense it functions as a backstory for the character, but it’s a real book within this fictional world, too. Characters from my other poems have read Perennial. The interesting part for me is that due to a complete lack of contextual information, a first-time reader is going to be pretty baffled by it. I wanted to create this underlying sense that its part of something bigger but never really state that outright. The next book will unlock a lot of the secrets in this one.

INTERVIEWER

We live in a time when language is deliberately misused and manipulated – frequently for malicious purposes – to serve and support those in power. This is a time of ‘alt-facts’, an Orwellian landscape in which language is a tool of deception and demagoguery. What role do you see poetry playing in an age of ‘fake news’ and social media trolling?

ARMSTRONG

The reliability and ‘usefulness’ of poetry is always going to be a grey area. I frequently misuse and manipulate language for different purposes. The difference, I suppose, is that I don’t have an agenda. I’m not trying to make you think or feel a certain way, politically or socially speaking. I think modern poetry will continue as it has done for a while – to inspire the few and confuse the many.

INTERVIEWER

Since Percy Bysshe Shelley was moved to pen poetic verse in protest at the Peterloo massacre, poetry has been used as a tool to provide a voice for the powerless and inspire movements and action against the powerful. What are your thoughts on the idea of ‘poetry as protest’?

ARMSTRONG

I think poetry can be used as a tool for those purposes – It’s probably one of the better mediums for it. Of course, it depends entirely on the person writing it, their motivations and the reader’s own interpretation. Performance poetry isn’t really my thing but it’s undeniably effective at bringing together communities and giving people a voice.

INTERVIEWER

Do you feel any personal responsibility as a poet?

ARMSTRONG

Not as a poet so much as a person writing poetry. We’re all personally responsible for the impact we make on the world.  I write primarily for myself and to do justice to the story I’m telling with each collection I put out. My main responsibility is to let the poems go wherever they want to. In spite of this, I do try and promote the things I think are important through my work, too.

INTERVIEWER

In an age of ‘abject’ incomes for authors and poets, how can aspiring creatives pursue their passions while also making ends meet?

ARMSTRONG

I’d say just do it and keep doing it and keep finding ways to continue to do it. I find it easiest to keep my passions and sources of income separate, but mutually beneficial. I do a lot of writing for my day job, and this keeps me sharp for my poetry.

INTERVIEWER

What’s next for you and your poetry? Are there any exciting projects we should be looking out for?

ARMSTRONG

As I mentioned earlier, Perennial, is getting a companion collection which should be finished towards the end of Summer. I’m really proud of what I have so far for it; it’s a lot more playful and experimental than Perennial was. Euripides is the biggest influence on it as a whole. I have an incredible artist working with me on the cover design and some internal illustrations too. We’re currently just working on some initial ideas but I can’t wait to pull everything together. 

Quick fire round!

INTERVIEWER

Favourite poem?

ARMSTRONG

It would have to be The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot.

INTERVIEWER

Curl up with a book or head to the movies?

ARMSTRONG

Mood dependant! I don’t really read to relax so probably the movie more often than not.

INTERVIEWER

Critically acclaimed or cult classic?

ARMSTRONG

Cult classic

INTERVIEWER

Most underrated poet?

ARMSTRONG

David Morley. I’m biased because he was my tutor, but in my mind, David stands up against the great pastoral poets of the past. Calling him underrated might be selling him short, but he should definitely be even more known than he is.

INTERVIEWER

Most overrated poet?

ARMSTRONG

Because of how widely he’s taught, probably Shakespeare. Not all of his work has aged gracefully and I never had him down as a particularly great poet.

INTERVIEWER

Who is someone you think people should know more about?

ARMSTRONG

This is a really tough question, given that so many poets are unknown in the greater scheme of things. I’d probably say Jonty Tiplady. I love Zam Bonk Dip, his debut collection. I’m not aware of what he’s done since, but this has inspired me to revisit him! Outside of the poetry world, I recommend that people check out the ambient musician Tim Hecker. His sonic landscapes are just so expressive.

INTERVIEWER

Do you have any hidden talents?

ARMSTRONG

I’m really good at recalling the specific release years of records. I can also recite Pi up to 50 digits after me and a friend decided to see who could learn it to more decimal places. I’m not even sure why I can still remember it – that was fifteen years ago.

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

ARMSTRONG

“Thank you”

“Thank you?”

“Thank you.”

INTERVIEWER

Could you give your top 10 tips for aspiring poets?

ARMSTRONG

Don’t be afraid to write bad poetry, just write something. It can take years to finish a poem. It can take one minute to finish a different poem. Avoid saying things that have already been said because you think you should say them. Try to write without using any similes. Put effort into your book cover. Remember to title your documents. Performing live doesn’t have to be the goal if you don’t want it to be. Revel in your rejection letters. Aim high.

 

 

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Creatives in profile: interview with Anne Beate Hovind, the curator of the Library of the Future

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In Norway, a thousand trees have been planted in a forest just outside Oslo. In 100 years’ time, they will be used to make the paper for an anthology of books, which will form part of the so-called ‘library of the future’.

Conceived by Scottish artist Katie Paterson, the project has captured the attention of great authors across the world, including Margaret Atwood, who was the first writer to pledge her story to the future collection.

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Planting an entire forest that will one day help make the books of the library of the future takes time. Photo credit: Bjørvika Utvikling by Kristin von Hirsch.

Yet 100-year art projects, by their very nature, take time. When you work with timescales longer than the average human life, the focus of the work shifts: it is no longer about outcomes, or about critical reception from the artistic and literary communities. Rather, it’s about the experience, and the journey, that takes everyone involved in the project along with it.

Of course, there are also certain logistical necessities that go hand in hand with creating a project of this nature. How do you convince authors to write books that will never be read in their lifetimes? How do you ensure the forest you have planted is used to make the books, and not cut down to make way for some new highway or housing development?

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How do you ensure the forest you have planted is used to make the books of the library of the future, and not cut down to make way for some highway or housing development? Photo credit: Bjørvika Utvikling by Vibeke Hermanrud.

To try and iron out some of the answers to these questions, the Nothing in the Rulebook team caught up with the project manager and curator of the project, Anne Beate Hovind.

It’s an honour to bring you this detailed interview…

INTERVIEWER

So tell us about yourself and your involvement with the Future Library project

ANNE BEATE

I’m the commissioner and the producer for the project. It’s a magical sort of idea that really challenges our concept of time, as well as of trust, and I think ultimately has a lot to say about our world, and the way we interact with it as human beings.

What I think is extraordinary about the project is the opportunity to work so closely with the artist, Katie Paterson. In a way, I sometimes have to pinch myself when I talk about how I became involved in the artwork because in a way it’s crazy – because just imagine the pitch that begins ‘I have this proposal: but it’s going to take 100 years’. That’s when you panic. Because you think ‘100 years?! Oh my god”. Then the artist says, ‘and, we’ll also need a forest’. And you know, you immediately ask yourself – where will the forest grow? Because I work in the Oslo harbour development area – where and how do you grow a forest in a harbour? And then, on top of all that, the artist says, ‘one more thing – we need authors, famous writers, who are willing to participate, because it’s their work we’re going to print, a hundred years from now’.

But even though it’s a little crazy it really is extraordinary and I actually think in my role, it’s an interesting one to see how you have the relationship between the artist and the commissioner or producer, because where the artist is creative in that kind of traditional artistic way, I’m creative in making it happen!

INTERVIEWER

The project wouldn’t happen without you!

ANNE BEATE

Well I think it’s an interesting relationship – I was actually talking about this with another friend of mine, a Norwegian artist called A.K. Dolven, and we were discussing what it means to put an artwork into the control of the producers and so on who make art ‘happen’. Because you need both the creative idea and inspiration and also that inter-displinary competence and almost entrepreneurship to make those ideas into a reality.

INTERVIEWER

You’re the curator, in a sense

ANNE BEATE

I wouldn’t call myself a curator because I’m not an artist in the traditional sense – I’m an entrepreneur first, I create start-ups. And I actually spend a lot of my time working in the construction business, which is quite crazy, but I always get into this situation where I get into the exploratory work; the ‘make things happen’ kind of work; so even though I’m in a different field of work professionally, there are elements where I work in the same way – it’s about attitude; methodology; it’s a way of working exploratively. And it’s quite similar to the way artists create art. And this is what I like to share and talk about when I give talks and stuff.

INTERVIEWER

You were in Austin, Texas, recently for the Southwest by Southwest festival. Can you tell us a little more about the talks that you give?

ANNE BEATE

I was invited there as a speaker for their official programme, and actually on the way out I was a little nervous because I’d never been there before and on my plane out the Crown Prince of Norway was on the same plane and there was a band on board and the fanfare was a little overwhelming. But once I got off the plane I realised quite quickly I was actually the only Norwegian speaker in the official programme, where I was set to appear on their ‘live’ show.

I didn’t know what to expect but it was really interesting to be a part of. I shared a few of my thoughts about what leadership is about when it comes to making things happen.

INTERVIEWER

What do you mean by that?

ANNE BEATE

Now, I think what it comes down to is approaching a new project with a kind of explorative attitude – you kind of have to have this tacit knowledge of where to start: what doors to keep open as long as possible, which ones you have to close. In my day job, there’s a lot of risk assessment involved. There’s a totally different risk-mind set involved compared to what I do in my daily life in the construction business; because in order to be innovative – in order to make innovations happen, you have to take risks, you have to be risk taking – and though you might be aware of some of the potential challenges or risks, you have to strike out and lead from the front.

INTERVIEWER

How do you identify what sort of projects you’re going to pursue with that vigour? How do you maintain the energy for it?

ANNE BEATE

I think what it comes down to is more about your attitude. In any job I do I try to make the most I can out of it. So I can do things that other people might find quite boring or not really very ‘arty’ but I don’t mind. I’m very curious. I learn everything about hospitals when I build hospitals. I worked in shipping classification for the shipping bureau and I learned a lot about that and I’ve worked at the main airport in Norway and I learned lots about that and the aviation sector and I do art – and other things – I think, because of that curiosity. If I’m curious about something or something grabs my attention, I want to find out more and I want to see where we – the project and I – can end up.

If you’re not curious about something, how can you have the passion for it, how can you find that energy? You know, that’s what it’s about. You have to know how to run a business or a project; but you also absolutely have to know how to stay with it.

INTERVIEWER

Surely that’s a really important point in this day and age because, in, for instance, London alone, there are so many different free presses or websites and magazines that start up, and they might be around for a year or two years, and then they die off – or they print one anthology and disappear. Because it’s really hard to sustain a project and keep it going, especially in the world we live in where it’s hard to keep funding coming in. And so often there’s a difficulty in building in a sustainable, long-term view to your project. That you can keep building on.

ANNE BEATE

Oh absolutely and you know, I think we might have a similar approach to you at Nothing in the Rulebook, because I like to ‘put bricks on bricks’ – that’s a saying I often use. This whole ethos really resonates with the Future Library project. What we say in Norway is ‘all wood’ – it’s wood all the way through. It’s an expression that basically means something is authentic; it’s true; it’s solid; and it has good correlation between what you say you are and what you do. And building this sort of thing takes time, it takes time and conscious effort. You have to pour yourself into it in a way and make sure your idea doesn’t just stop.

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“‘All wood’ – it’s wood all the way through” – Anne Beat Hovind. Photo credit: Giorgia Polizzi

This whole attitude can be seen in the way we approached the project too, I think. Because we don’t spend anything on communication. And Katie Paterson, who is the incredible artist behind the idea, the two of us work very intimately and very closely together. Even though the Future Library project is quite big and quite well-known in the world; it’s mostly me and her.

INTERVIEWER

So how does that work? How do you do it? Especially when it comes to first launching the project and getting people involved like Margaret Atwood.

ANNE BEATE

How do you do it? How do we do it? We just ask! It’s such a fascinating story – people ask, ‘why don’t you make e-vites when you invite people to the handover ceremonies – but I said, ‘no – I’ll do it personally’. Because I think; that’s what fascinates people. We’re not part of a big organisation. The project does not have a lot of money behind it. It’s small and grounded and goes slow. It’s personal. It’s not like this big stuck up thing. It’s exactly what it says it is.

I think when you are living in this fast living world, with all this start-up thinking it’s like something gets blown up and then just as quickly it’s like PUFF – gone. But the Future Library isn’t like that at all; it’s totally different. And I think this aspect of the project is what people really respond to and connect with, you know, because it has real meaning and authentic content and impact.

INTERVIEWER

It’s this idea of longevity being built within the project from the outset – the entire ethos of it. We live in an age where thoughts around cathedral thinking has disappeared – the idea that we used to build something that would last hundreds of years for future generations, and now, it’s the opposite…

ANNE BEATE

Precisely. And it’s interesting you mention that idea of cathedral thinking because this notion is so important. I was thinking a lot about what Stephen Hawking says about this and I totally say the exact same thing about it.

And you know the day before I was due to give the talk in Austin, Texas, Stephen Hawking died – and I was quite touched by the timing of it because I always mentioned cathedral thinking whenever I talked about the Future Library project and Hawking has been the spokesperson for this idea that we need to invest in ideas for the future, which are made and built for the generations that come after us. And so the night before I gave this talk I totally changed the start of my presentation and I started out with a quote from Hawking about cathedral thinking. And people got really emotional here – and some actually cried. It was very moving.

But this I think is what makes people feel such a connection for the project. Because people are longing for slow, cathedral thinking projects that are grounded; that are not ‘tech tech tech’.

INTERVIEWER

So what influence does technology have on our modern lives and culture, do you think?

ANNE BEATE

Well I think firstly I should say that I love tech. You know. I drive a tesla – I was the one of the first persons in Norway to buy a Tesla. In our household we have two electric cars – we don’t have gas or petrol fuelled cars. We Live in a three-generation house run by solar energy and a thermal well – we have a lot of technology. But for me, technology should only be used to facilitate my life.

INTERVIEWER

Technology is an enabler.

ANNE BEATE

Yes, exactly. It’s about being a human being and keeping hold of that. And I think people are longing for that – to be reminded of what it is to be human, forget about the other tech stuff.

INTERVIEWER

Yet we live in a world where you only have to walk down the street to see almost everyone always on their phone. Living their lives plugged in constantly to the digital world. And it can seem difficult to separate the technology that can do brilliant incredible things that bring us closer together – speeding up communication and living our lives more effectively – while of course avoiding the danger that we get sucked into this world of technology where it’s all we think about – and our social media lives take precedent over our social lives; which are actually the real, authentic parts of our lives that allow us to build real relationships with other people that last years; not seconds.

ANNE BEATE

This is why projects like this are so important for our time. Just a couple of generations back, people were thinking this way all the time. You know, you build something or plant a forest, you don’t do it for your sake – you do it for future generations.

We kind of have this fast food thinking and now we have to prepare something for the next generation. I think more people realise the world is a little lost and we need to get back on track.

INTERVIEWER

We are designed in our society to be constantly stimulated – To constantly go out and get things for ourselves and gratify ourselfs and just go, go, go, all the time. We’re constantly walking through our cities plugged into our headphones, but you can’t get away from the music in waiting rooms or shops and supermarkets. We don’t even have time to sit and be bored anymore, let alone think about building forests.

ANNE BEATE

And this is the world where this Future Library artwork comes in, that’s entirely based on the idea of planting trees – it’s about walking in the forest; doing rituals!

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Photo credit: Bjørvika Utvikling by Kristin von Hirsch

INTERVIEWER

And how important is the relationship between nature and art? Especially in a world where we now have eBooks, rather than physical books. How important is it for us to keep creating these projects that entwine physical ‘real’ nature with art?

ANNE BEATE

It’s interesting you ask this question about the relationship we have with nature and how we connect to it, because it’s actually a very personal topic to me.

I grew up on a farm. I carried the farm name – which is 1000 years old. It was once a Viking farm. And when my father died when he was young, I was supposed to inherit it. And in Norway, this is almost taken for granted as a rite of passage, that you would take on the farm and run it as a farm. And you are in fact obliged to run it as a farm if you take it.

And my father died when I was 22 and I really had a difficult decision to make; about whether I would take it on, and I said ‘no’. So it’s no longer part of the family.

And this is a decision I haven’t regretted. I realised I wasn’t a farmer, and that that was okay. It was maybe a brave decision, but the right one. And oddly enough what the whole experience has taught me – is that life, in a way, is about planting trees. And planting grains – because my other project is about planting farm crops in the middle of Oslo. And when I first heard about these projects and became involved with them, they both confronted me with how disconnected I had been from nature, even though I have such a long family history of living and working on a farm, which is so connected to the natural world.

And so when I think about this, I realise that both of these artworks are about sustainability. They’re both about the importance of protecting our environment; about living in this world and our collective futures, and having to protect what we have for the long term. We really need to reconnect with nature and the world.

So it’s amazing how both these artworks are so rich in the way they communicate a very fundamental message about being human, which is that no matter how much technology we have, we are still the same animals that evolved over millions of years and thousands of years of modern civilisation to live as part of nature – not apart from it. We need to save our world and our planet. So artworks that speak to this fundamental need are really important.

INTERVIEWER

But of course, we live in an era of catastrophic climate breakdown – do you think these artworks have a call to action in encouraging people to take better care of our planet and our environment? Do we need to each start planting more trees?

ANNE BEATE

So even though Margaret Atwood is kind of quite ‘black’ in her writing, she really isn’t when it comes to her outlook. And when I spoke to her she said “this is a hopeful project” – she’s the one who really knows what it means when it comes to environmental activism. She’s there, on the front of it – and she’s been there all the time; but we haven’t necessarily been listening. And it’s partly her environmentalist background that made her say yes to participating in this work – it took her maybe only two minutes to make up her mind, she said.

Of course, we were SO happy, when she said she was willing to get involved. I can still remember where I was when I got the message saying she would do it. I was so happy! Because it was at this moment that I realised ‘this project is actually going to happen’.

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Anne Beate Hovind and Future Library contributor, Margaret Atwood. Photo credit: Bjørvika Utvikling by Kristin von Hirsch

INTERVIEWER

Did you have doubts that the project might not take off before you got Atwood’s backing?

ANNE BEATE

Not necessarily doubts, but I knew it was a challenge, because, as we said earlier, there aren’t many projects or ideas these days that are built around cathedral thinking – we don’t even build monuments or buildings that won’t be finished for 100 years, let alone art. So how do you talk to a board about this? How do you convince them that 100 years is nothing?

But it’s been a fantastic journey so far, and it is fantastic still. I’m so happy and grateful to be a part of this work, and it has changed me – it’s been life changing.

INTERVIEWER

Why do you think this project resonates so much with so many people, including yourself?

ANNE BEATE

Some researchers should do some research on this, you know. When I saw the article had been upvoted so many times to the front page of Reddit, I thought, what is it that makes people upvote it so much? What is it all about?

INTERVIEWER

There’s a core essence, perhaps, that the project has which has the capacity to capture people’s imagination’s in a really quick way.

ANNE BEATE

And it’s so positive: the engagement people have with it is so built on hope and trust and empathy and compassion. I think it’s really basic human things that we need and are in need of.

I don’t have the answer of course; I can only try to imagine. But when I hear people say things about it, or when I have people ask me ‘how can you be sure that someone will take on this project after you are dead’ (so there’s even an aspect of mortality here that is intrinsically involved), well, I say it’s all about trust.

But when you say that – people have a really shocked reaction – they think ‘that’s so crazy’!

INTERVIEWER

So how do you sustain the project for the future? In 70 or 80 years time, how will you make sure it’s still running?

ANNE BEATE

Trust! It’s all about trust. You know we have set up a formal trust and intention agreements with the relevant municipal authorities in regards to the forest and the room at the Oslo Library, so we have kind of rigged up that admin aspect of it. But to run this project is also about energy – its about respect for the artwork and how it’s set up; and it is about loyalty.

There will be things the board and the trustees will have to solve that me and the artist couldn’t forsee. So there will be people who have to take on my job and fulfil it.

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Oslo Public Library, where the books of the library of the future will be kept. Photo credit: Atelier Oslo and Lund Hagem.

The great thing about this artwork now is that I’ve seen there is a whole world protecting it. So if the forest is threatened by anything – the whole world will make sure to guard it and the books.

I have no choice other than believing in the project. And there’s also trust the other way – because the coming generations have to trust us that we do these kinds of thing for them. They have to trust that we will do things that take care of the planet – that we create work of arts for them.

INTERVIEWER

Art is about what brings people together and the connections that this kind of project can form. Do you have any hopes for yourself about how this might turn out? If you could see the ceremony that takes place 100 years from now, what would you like to see?

ANNE BEATE

I’m sure it’s going to be very emotional. I hope some of my great grand-children will be there and for them to maybe think ‘it was crazy for my great grandmother to take on this idea 100 years ago’, and I hope they think about that and what it means. Because it’s about building bridges between now and the future – but to turn it around, it’s also going to be about the present in the future and the past.

Creatives in profile: interview with Julia Forster

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Julia Forster was born and raised in the Midlands. She studied Philosophy and Literature at the University of Warwick and has a Masters in Creative Writing from St Andrews. While at Warwick, she was awarded the Derek Walcott prize for creative writing. She works in publishing, but has also been a magician’s assistant in Brooklyn, a nanny in Milan and a waitress in Chartres.

Her debut novel, What A Way To Go, follows the exploits of 12-year old Harper Richardson, as she navigates the tumultuous paths of childhood, while also attempting to fix her divorced parents’ broken hearts. Set against the backdrop of the high hairdos and higher interest rates of the late 1980s, Forster’s novel has been described as “fresh, touching, truthful and laugh-out loud funny” by best-selling author Deborah Moggach.

It is an honour to bring you this detailed interview.

 

INTERVIEWER

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

FORSTER

I live with my young family in mid Wales, 150 miles due west of where I was brought up in the east Midlands. We live in a cottage, which we share with the local wildlife: there’s a large maternity roost of pipsistrelle bats in our loft and we often have little visits from mice and bird-life. I try – and fail – to grow vegetables, read a lot and attempt to look busy when I hear the kids running up the stairs.

INTERVIEWER

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

FORSTER

I am a keener reader than I am a writer, which is perhaps not a bad thing? I guess that might also have to do with having small-ish kids (they’re nine and six years-old). After all, it is far easier to pick up a book to read in between small tasks than it is to delve right back into an imaginary world and start writing again…

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

FORSTER

I’m lucky to have some amazingly creative friends. I met the poet Retta Bowen at an Arvon course when I was 19 and she’s been a permanent source of hope and inspiration ever since. I met the all-round creative genius Philip Cowell when I was 24 and he’s likewise lit up the path when I haven’t known where to tread next. I couldn’t have written a word without the inspiration of my friend here in Wales the author, editor and campaigner Angharad Penrhyn Jones.

Books are a continual source of inspiration, of course, but when you’re faced with a creative dilemma, nothing beats a phone call or sharing a leathily strong coffee with a friend who can both challenge and counsel you.

INTERVIEWER

Who were your early teachers?

FORSTER

I had an English teacher in Year 10 who used to tell ghost stories which were so petrifying, some pupils had special dispensation to leave the class while he told them. He made a significant impression on me, but it wasn’t until I was at university that I began to write in earnest. I was lucky to be taught at the University of Warwick when the writing programme there was in its relative infancy and as such I would often have entire office hours to myself with David Morley. That’s when I began to write poetry. Maureen Freely and Russell Celyn Jones were also teaching at the time, and it was in one of Russell’s workshops that I wrote the germ of What a Way to Go in response to his provocation to ‘write about something traumatic’.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about your debut novel, What A Way To Go?

FORSTER

It’s set in 1988 during the summer of the ‘Lawson Boom’ when house prices became eye-watering, along with interest rates (and I’m sure many of us may have also shed a tear when we’ve looked back at what we wore in that era too!) Twelve year-old Harper’s parents Mary and Pete are divorced. Harper is trying to fix their broken hearts but she also enjoys her blossoming independence – both politically and emotionally. It’s a book with a big heart and a retro feel.

INTERVIEWER

It is often said that “all writing is autobiography”. How closely do you find your own, personal experiences of childhood are tied to those of your novel’s central protagonist, Harper? Is it easier to write about your life experiences through the prism of fiction – rather than, say, memoir?

FORSTER

When I was nine, I announced that I would ‘cook’. I took a packet of shell-off prawns from the freezer and attempted to make prawn cocktail. The marie rose sauce was easy: tomato ketchup and mayonnaise to a 50:50 ratio. What I didn’t know was how you defrost shellfish, so I sucked each prawn until they’d defrosted, spat them out and then served them in the sauce. I honestly didn’t think that this was bonkers.

I don’t think it’s a plot-spolier to say that this event is repeated in one scene in the novel! What I suppose this demonstrates is that a) everything is copy and, in the case of What a Way to Go, b) I was always searching for a way to inhabit that child-like imagination and point of view. Adults do tend to complicate matters.

I chose to use the prism of fiction because, frankly, I wasn’t ready to publish a memoir but also because, like many childhoods, there was plenty of emotional drama but not enough to warrant the cutting down of trees to print it out in multiple copies. An earlier iteration of this novel was in fact a full-length autobiography of 80,000 words. The manuscript serves as excellent sound insulation in our echoey cottage.

INTERVIEWER

As you write and prepare to write, what do you think is most important to keep in mind when writing your initial drafts?

FORSTER

Imagine if you could get some kind of inoculation against self-doubt, or a course of confidence pills that you could pop while writing! Straight up, I believe that the crucial thing when writing an initial draft is not to judge yourself or your writing. Believe in yourself in epic proportions. It is all too easy to get downbeat and for the oxygen to be sucked out of an embryonic project. Just keep going.

INTERVIEWER

Do you feel any ethical responsibility as a writer?

FORSTER

I write from a place of authenticity. I wouldn’t undertake anything I haven’t thought about from an ethical point of view.

INTERVIEWER

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

FORSTER

A man in his fifties who is sitting on the tube wearing a frown and a bowler hat.

INTERVIEWER

Reading What A Way To Go, the wider historical and social context are subtly fed in – weekends in Hardingstone are “low voltage, thanks to Maggie Thatcher”, for instance. For you as a writer, how do you balance the central focus of the novel – the coming of age story of a child of divorce – with the wider story of England’s changing society through the 1980s?

FORSTER

I read Andy McSmith’s There’s No Such Thing as Society which helped me to choose the historical era in which I set the novel. It was my intention to show, without it being too invasive, how the increasing commercialisation of childhood and pop music hoodwinked a generation of kids, but also how the rising prices of housing in the UK coupled with easy credit – our flexible friend – became the enemy to happiness and skewed our sense of what it means to be free.

INTERVIEWER

In a novel driven so much by characters, what are some of the challenges you, as a writer, face in bringing them to life? And do you develop any kind of relationship with the characters on the page?

FORSTER

I cut several characters out and amalgamated a few after the first draft because the chorus was too large. I wanted Harper to have two good friends as counterpoints – Derek and Cassie – but also I wanted both parents to have confidants – Oona and Patrick. As the novel is told in the first person, there is quite a lot of dialogue as this is one of the few options that were available to me for Harper to find out information that she wouldn’t otherwise have known. I did develop a relationship with the characters, especially Harper, who I felt very fond of by the end because of her ability to straight-talk, and tell a joke. I can’t tell a joke for toffee; I always forget the punch line.

INTERVIEWER

For all writing, the importance of finding the right ‘voice’ is of course crucial. Often, writers’ speak of developing an ‘other’ – who provides that voice when they write. How have you created and refined your voice and tone for your writing – and do you have a separate, ‘other’ persona who helps you write?

FORSTER

I don’t have another persona who helps me write. For me, it is a matter of getting myself as far away from the keyboard as possible as it were, and becoming more of a conduit. As soon as ego starts to get in the way, things become murky. The ideal is to have a direct line to the writing in hand and not to over-think. It’s an intuitive process, but it takes a lot of practice and a large part of my writing career to date has been about failing and learning from that process.

INTERVIEWER

What are your thoughts on some of the general trends within the writing industry at the moment? Is there anything in particular you see as being potentially future-defining, in terms of where the industry is headed?

FORSTER

I think there will always be authors who experiment, set trends and defy norms. I don’t think any of us can predict where the form of the novel is heading. That is what makes reading a book so exciting.

INTERVIEWER

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

FORSTER

I am working on a project on the theme of sorrow.

INTERVIEWER

Could you write us a story in 6 words?

FORSTER

Piano washed out by spring tide.

INTERVIEWER

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

FORSTER

  1. Believe in yourself.
  2. Turn off the Internet.
  3. Read books intimately.
  4. Pretend you know what you’re doing.
  5. Remember: you have other body parts aside from fingers.
  6. Caffeinate regularly.
  7. Celebrate each small achievement.
  8. Be supportive to fellow authors.
  9. Invest in wax earplugs.
  10. Ignore housework until it reaches biohazard level.

 

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To purchase What a Way to Go visit https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1782397523/ref=s9_simh_gw_g14_i2_r?ie=UTF8&fpl=fresh&pf_rd_m=A3P5ROKL5A1OLE&pf_rd_s=desktop-1&pf_rd_r=0J8NWC2D9RANBKKCY5QB&pf_rd_t=36701&pf_rd_p=26de8ef0-2ad7-412c-8634-6cd03b7b73e2&pf_rd_i=desktop

Follow Julia on Twitter

or visit her website here!

 

 

 

 

Creatives in profile: interview with Pondering Media

 

In the latest of our ‘Creatives in Profile’ interview series, it is an honour to introduce you to Karen and Michael Healy – the brother and sister duo behind the award-winning original comedy production company, Pondering Media.

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Karen Healy – Pondering Media’s founder, CEO and perennial lead performer.

Karen Healy is Pondering Media’s founder, CEO and perennial lead performer. Her work on Pondering’s award-winning shorts has earned her strong press attention, including write-ups in the Irish Post. Her credits include RTE’s IFTA-nominated Irish Pictorial Weekly, numerous roles with famed immersive theatre company Reuben Feels, and countless other adverts, shorts, and performance art pieces. She’s also a fixture in the London stand-up comedy scene. Karen is a passionate advocate of women in the arts and is a big supporter of recently launched Bechdel Theatre Festival in London.

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Michael Healy – seen here on set of his debut cinematic short, ‘Would You Like Some Toast’

With a background in marketing, Michael Healy has helmed numerous projects for commercial clients over the last five years, as both writer and director, including commercials for radio. With a focus on comedy, his online shorts have attracted press attention in both the UK and Ireland. He holds a first class degree in Film Studies from Trinity College Dublin and Would You Like Some Toast is his debut cinematic short.
Founded in 2014, Pondering Media has gone from strength to strength – building a reputation for the weird, the eccentric, and the sometimes upsetting. You can check out their videos on Youtube, and follow them on Twitter here. We hope you enjoy this detailed interview…

 

INTERVIEWER

Tell us about yourself, your background and ethos.

 

PONDERING MEDIA

Michael – I’m Michael, I’m a writer and film director working mainly in comedy. I come from a background of hopeless, awful, soul-destroying marketing work. And I guess my ethos is to have a unique voice, but to put the audience first. I want to avoid self-indulgence, and also avoid ever working in marketing ever again.

Karen – I’m Karen, I’m a producer, actor and new to the scene stand-up comedian. I come from a background of dropping out of college and happily working tearing theatre tickets, selling ice-cream and pointing out where the toilets are. I suppose my ethos is depicting entertaining, strong female characters. I’ve never been drawn to roles in which the character’s main function is “the girlfriend”, which is very difficult to come across. Michael and I are on the same page when it comes to what makes an appealing character and we share the same sense of humour, which is great.

 

INTERVIEWER

Have you always known you wanted to work in comedy?

 

PONDERING MEDIA

M- You know, I didn’t really set out to be a comedy specialist right away. Like most obnoxious filmmakers, I wanted to make heavy stuff about the grim realities of life that only middle class college students ever understand. But my natural response to basically everything dark in life is to laugh. Funerals, wars, executions – all full of awkward hilarity. And when you’ve got that kind of pathology about you, you’re stuck in comedy forever.

K- I knew that if I ever decided to get back into performing it would be in comedy. I think it’s my default setting. It comes naturally to me to always see the humour in a scene, regardless of its premise. Nothing beats the buzz on a set where everyone is laughing. And who doesn’t like playing with prop moustaches?

 

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

PONDERING MEDIA

M -Fellini is my stock fancypants answer to this question (not sure how fancypants you guys want to get). He’s one of the few artists that managed to be both absurd and extremely human. I also go back to Roy Andersson and Aki Kaurismaki as comedy directors all the time. Both masters of depicting sublime, painful failure in comedy.

K -I just finished watching Horrace and Pete and was totally blown away. I think Louis CK is incredible at creating socially important conversations and fairly representing all sides of that particular argument.
Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson of Broad City are two heroes of mine at the moment. They have created a very funny show that depicts an unwavering female friendship and makes little to no reference to relationships or career-pressure. Hurrah!

INTERVIEWER

What are some of the key challenges facing aspiring artists – particularly comedians – today?

PONDERING MEDIA

M- Actually, I think aspiring artists have more advantages today than artists have had in the past. It’s easier to network, easier to create, easier to find a platform. I think artists are usually their own worst enemies, and I include myself in that. I’ve found producers and executives are quite open to giving people opportunities – but they want to find organized, audience-focused people and have no time for self-indulgence and daydreaming. Which sucks, because those are great craic.

K- I can only speak from my experience but at the moment there’s such a huge platform for comedians who are starting out. You will find an open mic every night of the week in London which is great for practice. The only thing is it can be mildly soul-destroying. Most of the people you performing to are other comedians waiting for their turn. It’s a good idea to keep an eye for any competitions for new-comers. “Funny Women” are a fantastic organization who provide support for new female comics.

INTERVIEWER

Could you tell us a little about Pondering Media, and how you established the production company?

PONDERING MEDIA

M- Karen and I were both drifting from gig to gig, her as an actor and me as a writer, and at around the same time we both realized we needed a proper plan and a bit of direction or we’d never get anywhere. So we got organized, started handling our own corporate gigs, published some stuff for the web, had a couple of viral bits do well and now we’ve just wrapped on our first full, cinematic short. All inside a year or so.

INTERVIEWER

Are there any projects or films you’ve made that you are particularly proud of?

PONDERING MEDIA

M- I gotta be boring and say the film we just completed is my favourite. We had a bigger crew than we’d worked with in the past and the whole process was a huge learning curve. Seeing it finally get proper laughs from audiences is the best feeling in the world.

K- I have to agree. I’m very proud of how “Would You Like Some Toast?” turned out, majorly thanks to our producer, Richard Wade. He gathered a brilliant cast and crew and it really is a credit to them as it was made on such a low budget.

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On the set of ‘Would You Like Some Toast’

INTERVIEWER

What are the key differences between performing on stage to a live audience and performing to a camera? How do you adapt your performance depending on the different medium?

PONDERING MEDIA

K- I have more experience acting on screen so performing on stage for me is still pretty daunting, but exhilarating at the same time. I think you have to be aware of adapting your performance depending on the atmosphere in the room and the general reception you’re getting from the crowd. In stand up anyway.
As for acting on screen, sure there’s room to try something in several different ways but there’s almost just as much pressure as you’re often under time constraint and everything is heightened on screen. You can’t fake it when the camera is fully zoomed in on your face.

INTERVIEWER

A lot of comics and spoken word artists talk about a fear of ‘dying’ on stage – has that ever happened to you, and how do you cope with the fear of that happening?

PONDERING MEDIA

K- There is always the fear of that happening. I don’t think that ever goes away. Some jokes could land well with an audience one night and could be greeted with bemused silence another. I had a gig recently where I completely bombed. I was half way through my set and I realized this was not gonna get any better. But I gave it my all, finished it and bowed. I was obviously slightly disheartened afterwards but woke up the next day singing, “I BOMBED LAST NIGHT!” That’s when I really felt like I was doing stand-up. You can’t grow as a performer if you don’t have the occasional crap gig.

INTERVIEWER

For you personally, what makes a ‘good’ gig?

PONDERING MEDIA

K- I think when there is a happy, up-for-it atmosphere it makes performing a lot easier. When the audience gets on board with immersing themselves in the night it feels more like you’re having a chat with them rather than talking at them. I’m delighted whenever something new gets a laugh, that way I can go home and expand on it. I’m also relieved when I manage to not burst into flames.

INTERVIEWER

What is comedy for?

PONDERING MEDIA

M- Comedy’s all about exploring the parts of our lives that don’t fit in with how we like to view the world. We like to think that we’re part of a clear narrative, with proper goals and challenges and destinations. Comedy is about showing up how dumb that idea is.

K- Comedy is an opportunity to be more honest than you would be in everyday life. Being honest is what the audience relates to, it’s what gets them on your side. Tears and laughter are one in the same. Laughter is just another form of release and that’s what comedy is for, to provide the audience with a release, an escape.

INTERVIEWER

In our digital world, with so many different voices speaking at once, how do you cut through the incessant digital background babble? How do you make your creativity – your voice – stand out and be heard.

PONDERING MEDIA

M – Slowly and steadily, and with the support of collaborators and other pros. And also, by incessantly emailing people who are higher up the ladder than us are and asking them for favours. That’s probably the most important part.

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Still from Pondering Media’s ‘Would You Like Some Toast’

INTERVIEWER

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

PONDERING MEDIA

M- We’re finishing up the fundraising for our next project, a short set in a political campaign hit by a sudden scandal. There’s a lot of prep work to do now, given the size of the budget and the extent to which we could catastrophically screw it up, so it’ll be a few months before we’re in production. And we also have a top secret, mad ambitious project in development too, but we can’t talk about it until we’re sure it’s actually going to happen or we’ll look sad.

INTERVIEWER

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

PONDERING MEDIA

M- 1. Be a professional and treat it like a job, even if that means faking it.

  1. Understand that producers and editors invest in people, not just projects. They want to support people who are easy to work with and have a plan.
  2. Have a plan. Even if it’s a crap plan. You’ll eventually figure out what a not-crap plan looks like.
  3. Be brutal with yourself and always think about your audience. There are no points for creative intent or grand gestures. If the audience can’t walk in and get a strong impression of you and your work right away, you’re wasting your time.
  4. Don’t be a diva, and treat your collaborators with respect.

K- Just keep doing it. Even if you’re dying on stage every night, just keep getting up there and doing it, you will eventually find your voice. That’s what I’m doing.

Creatives in profile: Interview with Eric Akoto

 

Erik Akoto

In the latest of our ‘Creatives In Profile’ interview series, it is an honour to introduce Eric Akoto, Publisher and Editor in Chief of Litro Magazine.

With a journalistic background, Eric has featured in various magazines, and contributed to various books. He also curates and comperes at festivals such as The Latitude Festival and the Hay Festival. His passions lie in progressive politics, freedom of expression, quality & independence in arts and journalism, social enterprise, secularism, good technology, and above all the power of fiction to connect and bring a level of empathy to different peoples.

INTERVIEWER

Tell us about yourself, your background and ethos

AKOTO

There’s a long story and a short story. The short story of my background is that I was born in London and raised in South London, Battersea; I had a strict African upbringing. After leaving University, it was hoped I’d become a doctor or a Lawyer; but I had a creative spirit. Not knowing how to channel that creativity, I accidently landed a job as a male model – the job required a great deal of travelling. This was about 2000. Before the dawn of email and fast internet connectivity for sending large image files – so I would always be travelling, with an A-Z & my portfolio in hand. Spending hours on end on public transport – my sense of direction is terrible so I was always late – but I lasted for a good number of years and got to work with some amazing creative designers, photographers & magazine editors, which ironically lit a spark in me to get into magazine publishing. My first attempt at a creative publication was an e-zine called LA-NYLON (Los Angeles, New York & London) – I was about 25 and fortunate to have been offered the opportunity – through the modeling- to travel to some amazing cities. I wanted to create a platform where I was able to share what I was experiencing in these cities with friends.

Reading was always a passion and the time I spent travelling to and from interviews was always spent reading a book, magazine whatever I could get my hands on.

The long story starts in 2006, when I met a guy at the London Bookfair who was handing out a pamphlet – an A4 sheet folded in half – with short stories. I took one and on my ride home on the tube started reading it and thought to myself “this is a great idea I want my friends to see this”. I had a spider web of talented friends all doing different creative stuff, and so I began reaching out to them – for artwork, cartoons, stories, design – along with this guy in the space of a month or two we’d put together about a 20 page DL sized pamphlet. I took it to a local printer and printed a few thousand copies – and began distributing them myself.  It was a fun hobby and every couple of weeks I got these amazing creative friends together to help design, bounce ideas off each other and produce this pamphlet, which I then shared with them – and the rest of my community.  Before long a year or two passed and the guy from the bookfair went on to finish his PHD – and I’d fallen in love with publishing. I started taking the pamphlet to book shops – Foyles was one of the first book chains to support the magazine and after a few meetings with them they decided to sponsor the pamphlet – I managed to then convince Time to insert the pamphlet into one of its issues – to do this I had to increase the print run to 60,000 to meet it’s print run and at the same time decided to hold more stories and add more pages to the pamphlet turning it into a magazine and I haven’t looked back since.

My ethos has been shaped by the help given to me by the creative friends who supported me – it is being able to give a platform to emerging talent and Litro Magazine over the past 10 years has allowed me to do this.

INTERVIEWER

Who inspires you?

AKOTO

 I guess anyone who is “fair” to people and know that despite a “general” direction there is always another way.  Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela, Malcom X, Tony Benn, Ta-Nehisi, and my daughter.

INTERVIEWER

The future of literature; of writing – and indeed the future of publishing – are all frequently discussed at great lengths. What are your thoughts on current industry trends – where are we heading?

AKOTO

The future of literature and writing, to me has to be one of growth and diversity (diversity not in the populous term that’s now coined as a catch all for inclusion of Black and ethnic minority in the publishing industry (being a minority, Black and Male in a very white industry I find the term a little condescending) – but the diversity in the industry to embrace all talented writers through to editors, publishers; whether they be Black, Female, Transgender, Gay whatever and not to be diverse because it’s trendy. A great writer will be enjoyed and appreciated by all and not just the few.

In order to not loose the many talented emerging writers by the wayside – from the top-down of the literary industry – it must reflect today’s society.

For a long time the dialogue around the future of publishing has been one of death –  its true many publications have either transitioned to the web or given a greater focus on the web; but what the web has done for publishing is to kill off the kind of print that provides distractions of the ’10-minute-read-before-you-bin’ variety. In turn, this has cleared the way for titles that are fascinating, made with passion, collectables.

Print does a great deal that the web can’t and vice versa – there will always be the need for a tangible, haptic experiences. Ultimately, nothing can replace the smell of a printed material. Even if the web / new technologies being developed cause a shift in the regularity of the reading experience.

INTERVIEWER

What do you think a Literary Magazine should be for? Why are they important?

AKOTO

The sad truth is that literature or literary magazines does not reach a wide enough audience; yet alone have any chance of competing against other entertainment options – Binge TV watching, movies, journalism and non-fiction. More people will camp outside an Apple store for the launch of a new iPhone than they would for the lunch of a new literary magazine or a book. If the competition was a boxing match, there would be an inquest as to why the referee allowed the match to start in the first place.

It’s important for a literary magazine – on surviving its daily pounding from other entertainment options, it’s struggles with lack of funding – to produce a publication that does not just cater to writers but for the general reader – a platform for writers to write, emerging voices to be heard, but importantly a place for it’s contributors to develop a place to be heard for their particular beliefs or aims that they feel will better society and move culture in a positive direction.

Contributors to literary magazine’s should not expect to be published because they have done the rounds and feel it’s their turn to be published; but instead should be contributing because they feel their voice / story has something to say. And it’s in the publishing of these contributors that makes a literary magazine important.

Litro Magazine, for instance, has a clear identity. We have always championed and provided a platform for emerging writers, whether through print, online, festival stages, our newly launched literary agency – Litro Represents – and through other opportunities.

But alongside this, we also publish contributors with arguments about the current cultural dialogue, and political landscape – through the monthly themes of Litro Magazine – we do this so we can encourage an attitude to writing that goes beyond just getting one’s name in print.

INTERVIEWER

Obviously, the rise of the internet has seen a big culture shift in the publishing industry; with numerous magazines switching from print to online, and others starting out and continuing as purely digital platforms. How do you balance the two outlets of print and digital with Litro? What are the different challenges you face with each of these?

AKOTO

I’m an early adaptor and a big tech geek, but I also enjoy the tangible feel of the printed form. There’s nothing better than meeting a person for the first time having a passing conversation – and for that person to then send you a book he/she has read and feels you will enjoy!

The internet has certainly provided a massive opportunity for writers – and consumers; but I don’t see a fight between print and the internet (for one thing print would surely loose before the bell rang). Instead, I see a nice challenge – how one can get the two to compliment each other. For instance, three years ago we started our collective story telling on twitter the #litrostory; and the experiment has been a great way to reach a new audience and followers on social media and draw them to the magazine.

INTERVIEWER

The magazine and online platform both look to combine various different aspects of literature – and indeed, culture in general, through a medium of different forms; from stories to reviews and comment or feature pieces. Why do you think it is important to combine these mediums?

AKOTO

I started Litro to share stories with friends who not only have differing practices but also differing interests – and I’d like to think of Litro Magazine’s readers as the same.

INTERVIEWER

Literature, and ultimately all art, is about communication and expression. How does Litro fit within our cultural conversation? And how do we ensure the conversation carries on?

AKOTO

I’m sure many in the publishing industry see Litro Magazine as incomprehensible – considering the fact we don’t just cover literature, yet we still call ourselves a literary magazine. The great thing about Litro being a small magazine compared to our larger, older contemporaries – who have greater access to funding and trusts set up – is that we are able to address topics and questions more openly.

The classical musician Bach was dismissed by his peers, who thought his music was incomprehensible. Employed by a church to play the organ, he was rebuked as having  “many curious variations in the chorale, and for having mingled many strange tones in it, and for the fact that the congregation has been confused by it”.

With Litro we provide a platform for the unheard, the experimental – and at times unpopular.

For literature and all art, we need to ensure the conversation continues to flow – so all of us – especially those in a position to help support the arts – must not be afraid to experiment and take chances.

INTERVIEWER

David Foster Wallace once opined that it was “getting harder and harder to sit quietly by yourself and think hard about something for thirty minutes instead of thirty seconds”. Do you believe that the ‘instant gratification’ culture of iPods, televisions in car back seats and constant information on our smartphones is having an impact on us as readers? How can the publishing industry counter this? How do we engage our readers effectively?

AKOTO

Our reading habits as a whole has been impacted by the rise of the use of smartphones and other hand held devices. Developments in technology moves so fast that I guess an ‘iPod’ now belongs in a museum.

Whether the change in our collective thirst for instant gratification needs countering – on the one hand yes, but the book as a product and the way it is consumed – has had to change to keep with the times, in the same way music consumption changed from a product packaged on a TDK cassette tape, on vinyl, or a CD, to a file on a smartphone or iPod.

But will book reading actually suffer – and its consumption need more engaging?

I doubt it. My daughter – who at just 11 has more handheld devices than I have, with Kindles, iPhones…you name it! –  But recently she not only re-introduced me to one of Kipling’s poems – but also to a poem by Jacqueline Woodson, New York from her collection Brown Girl Dreaming – a book I ordered on Amazon.

The new era of books may actually see more authors, more reading, and more books being bought and sold.

 INTERVIEWER

Could you name your top five writers – and explain why they impress you?

AKOTO

I am impressed and engaged by so many writers it’s far too difficult to limit to just five.

INTERVIEWER

How would you define creativity?

AKOTO

For me, creativity is passion, and wanting to unleash something you feel you need to share, beyond your immediate surroundings and not having the fear of ridicule stop you from doing so. Ultimately, creativity is the need to create something new, which is very hard to do.

INTERVIEWER

In an internationalist, interconnected world, ideas and creativity are constantly being flung across community threads, internet chatrooms and forums, and social media sites (among many others). With so many different voices speaking at once, how do you cut through the incessant digital background babble? How do you make your creativity – your voice – stand out and be heard?

AKOTO

I stopped watching the Television a while ago – which has been a great help, I like to run in my local park – I’m fortunate to live not too far from Hyde Park, which has a lot of green open space.

INTERVIEWER

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

AKOTO

Read, Read, Read, Read and Read some more – even it’s just a menu at a restaurant, a random magazine you pick up whilst travelling – you never know where your inspiration might come from. It’s also good to have a complete knowledge and understanding of whatever it is you end up writing.

Creatives In Profile: Interview with Rishi Dastidar

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Creativity, in all its myriad different forms, can take us to the edge of the world and look beyond. It can inspire, inform, influence. Used in the right way, it can illuminate the path ahead.

Because of this, Nothing in the Rulebook has been founded to emphasise such creativity. Yet we’re also here to highlight not just works of creativity; but the creative individuals who write our stories and our poetry; take our photographs; create our artworks.

Our new ‘Creatives in profile’ interview series offers creatives the opportunity to discuss their life and art at length. And it is an honour to introduce our very first interview – with journalist, copywriter and poet, Rishi Dastidar – Assistant Editor at The Rialto.

He has written for a wide variety of brands in different sectors during his career, while his poetry has been published by the Financial Times, Tate Modern and the Southbank Centre amongst many others. His work was most recently in Ten: The New Wave (Bloodaxe, 2014). A winner of And Other Stories short story prize in 2012, he has also had reviews published in the Times Literary Supplement. He was part of the 2014-15 Rialto / Poetry School editorial development programme, and also serves as a trustee of Spread The Word.

INTERVIEWER

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

DASTIDAR

Ach, no, that stuff doesn’t really matter. Suffice to say: London-born and still reside; older than I’d like to be; over-educated, work in marketing; you’ll mostly find me in bookshops, theatres and burger joints. If your readers really want to know more, and frankly I’d be worried if they did, I’m not too hard to find online.

INTERVIEWER

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

DASTIDAR

Let’s say ‘writing’ rather than creativity, as in the advertising / marketing / brand world I also inhabit, it does have a different, means-to-an-end spin. It’s a love, yes, fraught with all the difficulties that implies… I knew I wanted to ‘write’ by the age of 14. But I had no clue what I wanted to write, let alone how I could make a living out of it. Thank God I did find out in the end… But music was actually my gateway to everything: discovering Queen, R.E.M. and then My Bloody Valentine early in my teens, and then the NME, the writers, the sub-cultures, the new genres… I have spent a lot of time being a neophiliac, chasing new sounds and new words, which in an analogue age was much harder than it is now.

INTERVIEWER

How long have you been working with The Rialto – and could you let us know a little more about the magazine?

DASTIDAR

I’ve been lucky enough, along with Holly Hopkins, to be part of the most recent editorial development programme the magazine has been running along with the Poetry School. The programme started in October 2014, and we recently ‘graduated’ with the publication of issue 83 of the magazine. So about 10 months or so, during which we worked with Michael Mackmin, the editor, looking at submissions, choosing and then finessing poems, working out running orders, organising launches, even getting involved with behind the scenes stuff too – a real immersion in what it takes to get a magazine published.

The Rialto is (adopts sales voice) the UK’s leading independent poetry magazine; going for 30 news now, based in Norwich, with an enviable track record in spotting and publishing some of then best new voices in British poetry. I might of course be a bit biased, but it’s really the place to come if you want to dive into and immerse yourself in poems, loads of them. And if you’re a writer – send some poems! We’re always on the hunt for good ones, from every quarter.

INTERVIEWER

When looking to submit poetry, what are the steps and key aspects to consider before doing so?

DASTIDAR

I think talking of ‘steps and key aspects’ makes it sound far more of an intensive burden than it should be. It’s mostly advanced common sense, I think:

  • Make sure you read the magazine / publication you want to submit to: if you’re a writer of doomy melancholic epics, the editor of that light verse magazine isn’t going to be hugely impressed. Do your research.
  • Don’t send your first draft: it won’t be ready. I guarantee it. If it takes 8, 16, 20 drafts to get a poem right, then take that long. This is a patient game. And the poem will wait for you.
  • Speaking of patience, don’t be alarmed or downhearted if you don’t get an instant response. Most poetry magazines are labours of love, run in people’s spare time. Things do sometimes get lost and timelines slip; but if your poem is good enough, it will get found.
  • But do send. You won’t get on to editors’ radar without doing so – or rather, it’s less likely. And you deserve to give yourself that shot. Editors are hungry for new poems and new voices. And yours could be the one their page has been waiting for.

INTERVIEWER

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

DASTIDAR

Depends; I’ll often write poems which are for, or inspired by, a particular person, and I try to keep them in my mind’s eye when drafting. But mostly, I’m self-indulgently trying to entertain myself – that someone else then subsequently likes my nonsense is unutterably humbling and pleasing.

INTERVIEWER

How would you define creativity?

DASTIDAR

Putting two or more different things together, and hoping for the best.

INTERVIEWER

What does the term ‘poet’ mean to you?

DASTIDAR

On a good day: a post-modern Casanova. On a bad day: a failed post-modern Casanova.

INTERVIEWER

James Joyce argued poetry was “always a revolt against artifice, a revolt, in a sense, against actuality.” In the modern world, ‘actuality’ is increasingly hard to define – with reality often seeming more fictitious than fiction and beyond the imagination of mainstream culture. How does poetry revolt against actuality in a reality increasingly ‘false’? And what role can poetry play in protest and activism – specifically protest and revolt against current dictats of ‘reality’?

DASTIDAR

Let’s separate some of that out, mainly because I lack the brain power to try and conflate poetry and power, and then deal with reality on top.

In terms of activism, politics, and the relation to power, poetry clearly can’t do much in terms of the hard stuff of changing things on the ground, policy, implementation. But where it can and must play a role is in that more indefinable sphere – the one of arguing for new vistas, new perspectives on problems; bringing into the public domain voices that might otherwise go unheard; opening up space for the imagination, because at one level politics is the art of using power imaginatively. I think part of the disaffection from politics as currently practiced that lots of people feel at the moment is precisely because the language of it is managerial and corporate, rather than poetic. People hunger for rhetoric – it wasn’t just because Obama was cool that people flocked to him; it was precisely because he could couch his arguments in ways that were, more or less, poetic. Of course, you have to deliver, but bloody hell you have to inspire too.

Now, you’ll note that I said that politics and imagination are linked. So I think part of what our job as poets revolves around imagining new realities – that is to say, not to take the world as it is, but to dig about, to reveal what’s underneath, sense what can be changed, find the language that can help to change it. If there is any revolt that poetry has to make, it’s against that sense that there is only one way of doing things, one way to the truth. Our gifts as engineers of metaphor should make us embrace the idea of multiple realities. Because we can do and do see the familiar anew, and we should wake the world up to that.

INTERVIEWER

In an internationalist, interconnected world, ideas and creativity are constantly being flung across community threads, internet chatrooms and forums, and social media sites (among many others). With so many different voices speaking at once, how do you cut through the incessant digital background babble? How do you make your creativity – your voice – stand out and be heard?

DASTIDAR

If I crack that, I’ll be rich and I’ll tell you afterwards.

INTERVIEWER

For all writing, the importance of finding the right ‘voice’ is of course crucial. Often, writers’ speak of developing an ‘other’ – who provides that voice when they write. How have you created and refined your voice and tone for your writing – and do you have a separate, ‘other’ persona who helps you write?

DASTIDAR

Hmmm; my day job involves a lot of writing for different brands, so I guess I’ve got reasonably skilled at some form of ventriloquism. Whether that’s come across into my poetry, I’m not so sure; but then, looking at the tone that’s emerging through a lot of what I’ve written over the last 18 months or so, the poet in them is probably more sure than I actually feel about things; probably more political than I actually am in real life; and certainly more articulate in conversation than I ever hope to be. Though I do worry the guy in the poems could be a bit too bumptious, and wearing if you have a prolonged exposure to him… How has that voice arrived? By writing and writing and writing, I’m afraid. No shortcuts. Oh and embracing the tendency to maximise that I appear to have. Even my short poems appear to be full – of nonsense mostly, but still.

INTERVIEWER

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

DASTIDAR

At the moment it’s trying to pull a manuscript together for a first collection, and writing some more poems to flesh that out. There’s always other ideas for projects floating around, but I have great trouble committing to any one of them… but the itch to write something like a verse novel is becoming almost unbearable so I think I will have to attack that at some point soon.

INTERVIEWER

And, finally, could you write us a story in 6 words?

DASTIDAR

‘Lazarus was tired of his trick.’

I’ve done loads of those. More here.