Sunday, September 15, 2019

My Writing Day : Rick White

Before Morrissey turned in to a bloated, pompous, egomaniacal, right-wing douchebag, he was responsible for writing one of my all-time favourite lyrics;

          Frankly Mr. Shankly this position I’ve held
          it pays my way and it corrodes my soul
          I want to leave, you will not miss me
          I want to go down in musical history

          I think of that lyric often, and find that it resonates deeply every time I hear it because, like most writers I know, I want to go down in literary history, but unfortunately I have a day job to endure.
          I work in sales, for a large telecommunications company. I realise that sentence is enough to (at best) put the average person immediately to sleep and at worst can incite sudden feelings of hatred and revulsion. It’s certainly not a great conversation starter at parties.
          My job is so mind-numbingly, so spirit-crushingly dull that I find it hard to concentrate on it for even the briefest of periods. Which makes it so much more difficult as I feel that it bears no resemblance or similarity to who I am as a person and therefore it is merely a mask which I am forced to wear every day in order to - as Morrissey says - pay my way. While my soul corrodes slowly and inexorably.
          The one good thing about my job (and it is actually pretty damn good) is that I officially work from home. Technically I am supposed to spend about 75% of my time conducting face to face meetings with clients, which in reality means I spend about 65% of my time stuck in traffic on various english motorways whilst travelling to these meetings.
          I manage my own diary though, so god damn it whenever I get the opportunity, I work from home. And it’s on these glorious days of (relative) freedom that I get most of my writing done.
          My day always begins with a walk. My wife and I are proud parents to a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel named Harry who encourages me to get out of bed every morning. In all honesty, if we didn’t have a dog there is a strong possibility I just wouldn’t get up at all.
          The morning walk with Harry is a really good time to start letting a few ideas swim around my brain. It’s not usually anything of crystalline clarity, I’m not really much of a morning person you understand, but just being outside and wandering around in the breeze and the birdsong and the occasional bit of sunshine is in itself, stimulating to the mind. In fact, it’s such a welcome counterpoint to the sustained and stressful drudgery of work that it’s almost like taking some mad hallucinogenic drug.
          Like I say, I’m not much of a morning person, I can’t just sit down at my laptop and launch in to a brand new story straight away. So usually what I do is have a look at some works in progress, I’ve normally got a few on the go and I always find that if you leave them for a good while and then come back to them then you will be rewarded with a fresh sense of perspective and a clearer sense of what’s working and what isn’t.
          So I’ll sit and tinker for a bit before the first angry emails of the day come flooding in on my work laptop.  I sit at the kitchen table and have both work and personal laptops and phones open in front of me and just toggle between them like some sort of mad computer hacker in a terrible 90’s movie.
          I’m always pleased if I can get an in-progress short story or a piece of flash ‘finished’ in the morning. Of course nothing is ever really finished but if I can get it completed to a satisfactory standard then that represents a pretty decent morning achievement. If I feel it’s ready to submit then even better. I like to have submissions out there at all times - it’s an exhilarating feeling to know that your little brain-dumps are out there in the world being read by real life people. I don’t even mind getting rejections that much - they spur me on and sometimes it’s just nice to know they’ve been read.
          I haven’t done an MFA, I’m not a member of any writing groups and I’m not friends with any other writers in ‘real life’ so I don’t have anyone who reads any of my work. Rejections and acceptances from online lit journals are essentially my yardstick with which to measure success (or failure - as the case may be). I’ve only been at this for about two years, and everything I wrote to begin with was about 90% attitude and 10% skill so I’m always working on trying to improve the skill element of my writing. Trying to develop in to what people might describe as a ‘real writer’ without actually losing what I think are the unique elements I bring to the page.

          I’ve become pretty good at discerning which lit-mags are likely to consider my work and which ones will probably want nothing to do with it. If a piece gets accepted straight away then obviously I congratulate myself and crack open the gin but if a piece gets a few rejections I just think, maybe I was going down the wrong track with that particular one. Having had some previous success, I can look at pieces that haven’t been accepted and try to judge what they are lacking that my other ones have. I don’t always give up on them, I had one short story in particular that received more rejections than any of my others but is now due to be published soon. I actually thought I had withdrawn it from everywhere I sent it to but the one journal I forgot to withdraw from loved it! Weird. Ultimately the thrill of submitting my work is what keeps me going. It’s what gets me out of bed in the morning, along with the dog that is.
          Occasionally, I will try my hand at poetry. I’m very new to it but I love writing poetry as it feels very punk to me - anything goes, just sling whatever feels right on to the page. I try not to edit my poems too much at all, I just let them come and if I like them I keep them, if not, I still keep them.
          I write poems using the notes app on my phone, often while I’m waiting for something. I wrote my first poem while sitting in a barbershop waiting for my turn and then I found that it’s a great way to distract yourself from an otherwise boring situation.
          I use the notes app constantly. Thoughts and sentences pop in to my head that I feel are worthy of recording but it’s the overheard conversations that really get me going. In fact a lot of the time, I’ll get an idea for a story based on one single overheard snippet of conversation. I also love an unusual turn of phrase so if I’m conversing with an eccentric character I’ll make a point of remembering a specific phrase or phrases that they’ve used. I’ll get it down verbatim in my notes and use it for one of my characters when it feels appropriate.
          In the afternoons, provided no work-based catastrophes have occurred during the day, I’ll usually steal a bit of time to work on my novel. I’ve been slowly chipping away at my novel for well over a year now but I’m deliberately not rushing it (or at least that’s what I tell myself). I’m not a huge fan of editing so I want it to be pretty close to how I actually want it to end up after I’ve finished draft one. I know that’s quite a lofty ambition but I really don’t want to be left with a complete and utter mess to try and clean up as that will most probably just force me to defenestrate the entire thing.
          I am still learning, still trying to figure out what I really want to say and trying to find my wiring voice. With every short story or flash fiction piece that I write, I feel as though I’m getting a tiny little bit better. That’s why I’m not rushing my novel, I want it to come along at the right pace, in parallel with my slow and steady and very minor improvements as a writer.
          If I manage to get any writing done in the day I am usually ecstatic about it.  Strangely enough, I rarely have any memory of actually writing a story. When I think back I find it difficult to pin-point exactly how and when it emerged, which I think is the truly magical thing about writing fiction - who knows where it comes from?
          During the course of a working day I can (very, very occasionally) close a deal from the comfort of my living room. It doesn’t move me in any way, shape or form though, and getting a signed contract in my work inbox completely pales in to insignificance when compared to the sheer unbridled joy of getting an acceptance for a piece of my writing. I just hope that one day I’ll be able to use my writing to pay my way. I’m sure my soul will still corrode, but at the end of the day, how else am I going to get my material?

Rick White is a writer of fiction and poetry whose work has most recently been published in Storgy, Ellipsis Zine and Lunate Fiction. Rick lives in Manchester, UK with his wife Sarah and dog Harry and currently occupies third place in the hierarchy. Rick is working on his first novel and hopes to finish it before he expires.

Say hi! on Twitter @ricketywhite

Friday, September 13, 2019

Syd Lazarus : It's 8 am.

It's 8 am. My partner wakes me up, looming over my body, half dressed for work.

"it's 8 am."

I am confused why I am being told this, "Okay. Do you gotta go soon? “

"it's 8am."


"I have today off."

"You have Thursday off."


My partner checks their phone. It's Thursday, as suspected.

I crashed at my partner’s place last night since the previous four days I've been apartment sitting for a friend, and needed some time away from the place--In the apartment lives a cat named Dignan, he drinks demon juice, and has no concept of object permanence. He constantly needs to check that I'm still alive every 3 hours, but he especially loves to do so in the middle of the night by meowing in my face. When this cat is not checking on me, he is busy puncturing holes in my skin. I still like him, I just wanted some space before he gives me my next set of holes.

8:11-9:06. I start to get dressed after my partner darts out to work and suddenly catch sight of myself in the mirror. This weird sensation hits me and I just look at myself for awhile, like something out of a bad movie. I realize that even after the shit year I've had I think I'm beginning to love myself. When the hell did that happen? I take a selfie to frame the moment.

9:07-10:02: the twelve minute walk to the bus station consists of me bumbling through construction that is seemingly I definitely occurring on my partners street. I type out the mess of feelings I am holding in my chest, and post it onto my Instagram with my underwear selfie. Here's an excerpt;

"I keep thinking about that Lizzo quote where she decides to love herself as a means of survival. These past 12 months have made living near impossible… Hating myself has been second nature, in fact, when everything in your life gives you permission to do so, it is easy. Yesterday, I woke up and realized, inch by inch, very fucking slowly, I no longer despised myself or my body...I realized, without knowing it, that there was no choice, I couldn't hate my body (and its many failures) anymore, there are too many people out there doing that for me. Despite all imperfections, I love myself, I love my friends, I love to write, I love my new job and coworkers, I love my family, I love my body, I love my art, I love my brain, I love myself. I genuinely wish that this feeling stays, because I'll fight for it. And I genuinely hope that if you are struggling right now to love yourself, know that the decision is not easy, it takes practice, but everyone is deserving of it. You deserve to survive and love the person you spend your life with."

It's raining, but I don't feel bad about it, and I hop on a bus but I'm not even really sure if it's the right one. The bus driver is so kind and doesn't even make me pay when I almost forget to. I was too caught up talking to him that I forget about it until I'm seated. I insist a few more times and he refuses, and my heart is full. I head to my real home.

10:16: I know I'm supposed to write for my book today, but sometimes it's hard to write sad shit when you're feeling good. And let's be honest, my recent book idea, which is some collision of queer erotica meets monster girls, needs a particular mindset when approaching. Welp. Let's see how this goes.

11:00: I get distracted and end up reading Pokemon fanfiction. I don't particularly like any of it.

12:17-1:00: I remember that I took out Maus from the library, I get a few pages in before my mom swoops me into a conversation with her. Conversations with my mother can often last quite a long amount of time. My dad joins in when I'm done talking about cat sitting, and tells me a new story about a woman who kissed her dogs then lost her limbs. I think my dad doesn't want me to get a cat.

My mom and I walk to Starbucks just because I feel like getting out of the house. I tell her about my instagram post and she holds me tightly. It starts to rain on the way back, but my mom, who is always overprepared, has an umbrella on hand.

2:00: My mom drives my dad to his physiotherapy appointment, with me in the back. My dad’s ear crystals (?) are out of place and making him have vertigo for the past two days. He hasn't eaten in over 48 hours, which is very uncharacteristic of him.

Mom drops him off at his appointment, and shortly after drops me off at a subway station so I can go feed the demon cat.

While I occasionally write at my desk (pictured above), I write most of my poetry on the subway, this is my favourite place to write--I often write in bed or in vehicles in motion--such is the life of a chronically ill person. I feel like a fetus in the womb sometimes, stirred into consciousness. I try to parse out a poem about what's going on, my exhaustion with myself coming to the forefront...

"With one hand I point to Jerusalem
The other throbs
These past few months
I've doubted myself
Asked if the curse runs bloodward
Or venereal

Fibromyalgia seeths my hobbies
Seizes all means
Barks at my desk

I cracked the blood and
 fresh from the cut
The way I filleted the worrisome
And pointed effort homebound

These past few months i became a martyr
Do figure eights around my bed
Flogging depths of myself
a hesitant prayer

Never loud enough
For god
To hear me from my basement

I have hooks stabbed into my ceiling
From where the lanterns used to hang
Dribbled wax onto my
Losing body
loosened my wisdom teeth
From my youth
Unscrewed the caps
And poured alcohol out
What is the word for girls who don't know if they were raped or not

Here you made my bed
And glamoured my crawl
From burning attic
To baptization by anatomy

What rounds these words
Unlike the previous
Is how I no longer write
In the cadence of your criticism
Nor the hum of your draining hair

I hope you will accept
This as an apology"

3:00 - 3:48:  On the way to feed Demon Cat I meet a refugee from Bosnia, she looks younger than me. I buy her 5 whole salamis, cream cheese, and a big bottle of shampoo. As were parting ways she asks me what language my tattoo is in, I tell her Hebrew. She asks me if im Jewish, I say yes. She then says “oh” and looks very disappointed, but says for God to bless me and my family. So that’s good.

4:00-7:20: my friend says she'll be over at 4:30ish but ends up coming over almost an hour later. We talk about books we like, and gossip about the queer community. We meet a stray cat, and then make Sims of ourselves who live in a house with our roommate Keanu Reeves.

8:00-9:00: I have therapy. My therapist says I seem happier, it's been a week break since our last session. The week we didn't have a session I had a business trip where I was not happy.

Today, I tell her I don't want kids or to own property, at least I can't picture that for myself. She says that's okay. I tell her I can't imagine bringing someone into this political climate.

I also tell her I don't want to be sad anymore. In fact, this past year made me feel like I might die of sadness, so as a necessity to survive I have to make a conscious decision to love myself. I tell her I often think I made myself chronically ill, worried myself into sickness, maybe altered my wellbeing through sadness and self depreciating people. I think there are too many people out there, too many systems built telling me I should hate myself because I am sick, because I am queer, because I am intersex. Why do them a favor?

9:00-9:50: The cat is not a demon, in fact he lies beside me in bed after my late dinner and lets me pet the shit out of him. The terrifying sprite that haunts him is currently at bay, leaving us in a moment of solitude.

10:30: I almost fall asleep with the lights on until the cat meows at me aggressively. Alright. Goodnight.

Syd Lazarus believes in order to best understand them you should know they once cried over an episode of Rugrats. Being Disabled, Jewish, non-binary, queer, and a Pisces is reflective in their work is deeply. They have been published in print and online publications such as Shameless Mag, Trash Magazine, Lunch Ticket, and Bad Dog Review. They have had the privilege of attending the Banff Centre’s Spring Writing Retreat 2019 and are super thrilled have their first chapbook How to Lose Friends Without Really Trying coming out with Frog Hollow Press this October. Feel free to follow them on instagram or Twitter @yourmonstergf, they are always happy to make new friends or nemesis.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

My (small press) writing day - Susie Campbell

(actual desk photo)

To have a whole writing day is rare and precious. Mostly I have writing evenings or chunks of writing time at the weekend. Like many people, I combine writing poetry with a full-time job plus, studying for a part-time PhD and an increasingly demanding schedule of activism (for the climate, environment and social justice). These different parts of my life are not neatly compartmentalised, there are strong interlinking threads between them, but they all demand time. But occasionally I have a whole day for writing which is as frightening as it is liberating. Whether a whole day or a few snatched hours, this is how it usually goes.

It starts with a walk along the river. I am fortunate enough to live near the town sewage works, recycling centre and bypass, which means I can afford to live right on the bank of the river which runs through the cheapest part of town. As an industrialised river, there are stretches which are impossible to walk because they are fenced off, backyards of factories and industrial estates, but there are also stretches which are wilder, more neglected and still banked by trees and open meadows. There is a twenty-minute stretch of accessible riverbank near where I live and this is where I walk each day. I usually carry a notebook or sketchpad and my camping stool so that I can spend some time sitting by the river, scribbling or sketching. This is as much my writing place as my desk.

(riverbank photo)

Getting started at my actual desk involves first ensuring that the various bird feeders in my little wild garden are topped up with seeds and peanuts - an activity that is repeated endlessly throughout the day. The faster I put out food, the more the birds eat. Unless it is mid-winter I work by an open door most of the year. As the seasons change, I add blankets and a hot water bottle until it is too damp or too cold.

My writing process differs hugely depending on the project. I rarely write single stand-alone poems. More often I use poetry to explore or investigate a current obsession or theory. I tend to write big series or sequences of poems, or sometimes extended poems that can take up to five or six months to construct.

Not long ago I became obsessed with trying to reconstruct the river journey my grandmother's body took when she took her own life by drowning. Her body disappeared for fourteen days then reappeared many miles downriver. This happened long before I came to live on the bank of the same river but I became obsessed with trying to reconstruct her physical journey as well as the narrative of what happened, piecing together police and coroner reports, and walking or rowing the river stretch to solve the mystery of how her body passed through seemingly impassable stretches of water.  My camping stool, my small rowing boat and my notebook became my new writing desk. The final poem that emerged was a fragmented record of the impossibility of re-constructing a complete journey, narrative or understanding.

I waited but she did not return                     for some time then you turn away
The body surfaces in unexpected     answering the description subsequently
given of her floating in a backwater                                 still she never came

(from 'Navigations')

More recently, I have been using poetry to investigate the making of marks and the world of signs, marks, scratches and stains with which we are surrounded. This has meant developing my own set of marks, using chalk, charcoal, paints and ink. Sometimes I have worked at my desk, but more often I have used the walls of my house and the road outside to try out the marks in different media. The project expanded to exploring what would happen if I inserted my marks into a wider landscape of signs and marks so I took to the top floor of a multi-storey car park, a back alley behind a supermarket, my local train station and other urban locations, chalking and photographing the marks as well as exploring textual marks. My desk became the site for assembling these materials and editing them into what became my chapbook 'I return to you'.

I am not yet sure what my next project will be but in the meantime I have washed away the chalk and charcoal marks, and packed up my notepad and camping stool, ready for my next walk along the river.

Susie Campbell writes poetry and is currently working on a practice-based poetry PhD programme at Oxford Brookes. She also works in education, providing specialist services to ensure equal opportunities for children who may need additional support. Her poetry has been published in a number of anthologies and magazines including The Valley Press Anthology of Prose Poetry, Shearsman, Long Poem Magazine ('Navigations' quoted above appeared in Issue 19, Spring 2018), 3AM, and PERVERSE. Her poetry pamphlets are The Bitters (Dancing Girl Press, 2014), The Frock Enquiry (Annexe, 2015), I Return To You (Sampson Low, 2019) and forthcoming, Tenter (Guillemot Press, 2020).