We published a powerful piece of creative non-fiction at the Forge last week – The Boots by Kelly Griffiths – which I urge you all to read. Kelly kindly agreed to take part in one of my daft interviews.
1. What was the last text you sent?
“Thank you, Gabe. You saved the day.” (My 13-year-old turned off the water to our leaking refrigerator while we were on a weekend away.)
2. You are wallpaper. What is your pattern?
If Jackson Pollock made wallpaper…
3. Who would play you in the film of your piece?
That’s easy. My piece is cnf. I’m the angry one.
4. Bacon VS Tofu – who wins? Why?
Bacon, even though I’m not generally a fan of pig. Come up with a salty, crunchy, grease saturated tofu, and I’ll change my answer.
5. Have you ever been attacked by an animal?
A poodle. I still have the scar. But in fairness, I provoked it.
6. What is the oldest piece of clothing in your wardrobe?
Everything. I’m a thrift store hunter, so it’s impossible to tell.
7. Have you ever seen a ghost?
No, but I think one steals our socks.
8. If you could make people read one book what would it be?
The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
9. What is your favourite thing to write with?
10. Do you have a recurring dream?
Only the one in which I am on the New York Times Best Seller list.
11. What did you do last Saturday night?
My husband and I walked our dog, then watched a movie with our day-saving son (see #1).
12. What sandwiches would you make for a picnic with Zadie Smith?
Garlic-goat cheese, roasted red peppers, and balsamic dressing on Italian bread.
13. What word makes you cringe?
14. What’s your favourite swear?
15. What is your favourite biscuit?
Do you mean cookie? Because my favorite cookie is chocolate.
16. What is your favourite TV programme?
I don’t watch TV, but I love movies. The Impossible (2012)
17. Your writing is music, what style is it?
On my best day: symphonic metal.
18. What colour is loneliness?
19. Who is your writer crush?
20. What question should I have asked you?
You should have asked what I’m doing this Friday. It’s far more interesting. And macabre. Between my acceptance at The Forge and my receipt of this fabulous and quirky list of questions (which I loved!), I received word I have a growing brain tumor. By the time this is published I will have had my skull cut open. I pray for a good outcome and look forward to reading this on the other side.
I am so glad to be able to write here that Kelly is recovering well.
We published a wonderful flash at The Forge ~ Sapphires by Melissa Goodrich ~ please do read it. And she was a joy to interview for Smash Lits.
1) What is your favourite cheese?
I love the sharps. The sharper, the better.
2) You are wallpaper. What is your pattern?
Lots of diamond shapes. Deep purples and blues.
3) Who is/was your unlikely crush?
4) Have you ever read someone else’s diary?
I want to say yes. I probably just wish I have.
5) Bacon VS Tofu – who wins? Why?
Bacon every time. The snapping sounds (in the pan, in the mouth).
6) What colour is Thursday?
That promising raincloud color—high and pale.
7) Have you ever had a nickname?
Mel. Mel G. Love. Bee.
8) How much money did you spend yesterday?
*logging in to USBank* $10.32.
9) Do you believe humans can spontaneously combust?
Kind of. I definitely think cars can. I’m worried any little thing (putting diesel in by accident, low tire pressure) will “make my car explode.”
10) What sandwiches would you make for a picnic with Paul Auster?
The tallest turkey-ham-sprouts-celery-avocado-MiracleWhip(fightme)-cheddar-lettuce beauties you can imagine. I would also pack cookies.
11) Do you have a recurring dream?
I dream almost every night. In my dreams, I run for my life a lot. I dream of alligators rising from a lake of fog. I’ve dreamed up every teaching nightmare you can imagine. Just last night I dreamed of moving and unpacking in a new house and not being able to find ANYTHING I was looking for. Once my partner told me he had a dream about Disneyland—waiting in line for rides—and I was immensely envious of that simplicity. When I dream, my heart is in my throat: always.
12) What’s your favourite swear?
13) What is your default pub drink?
Whiskey sour. Or a cider.
14) Sapphires, diamonds or rubies?
15) Can you write a haiku about your flash?
What if all I am
is sharpening points, dark blue
like a not-body.
16) Do you have a favourite quote?
For advice: “You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence you know.” (Hemingway) For love: “I would like to be the air/ that inhabits you for a moment/only. I would like to be that unnoticed/& that necessary.” (Atwood)
17) How much money did you spend yesterday? What on?
$10.32. A cheeseburger and a chocolate shake (because I love those things). (Especially chocolate shakes.)
18) Do you have any writing rituals?
I always start with first sentences. I mean, I like my first sentences to have a spring-forward mechanism—I basically open the door with a first sentence and then let that dog run wild through the woods. The next sentences chase it. I also like to read aloud what I’ve written—sometimes as I’m writing, always when I’m reading it over. Hearing it helps.
19) Who is your favourite Neighbours character?
I’ve never seen it…but if you had asked me who my favorite “Good Place” character is, the answer is Chidi. And Janet. ❤
20) What question should I have asked you?
What natural disasters have you been in? (Mine: fire, flood, monsoon, tornado.) What natural disasters have you always wanted to be in? (Mine: Lava flood?) Also: favorite/least favorite figurative language? Also: if you were a type of figurative language, what would you be? Also: weird pet peeves? Also: four words you think are gorgeous.
21) I seem to have asked you the how much money did you spend yesterday question twice though, which means you still have one to go, so “favorite/least favorite figurative language?” Also—your haiku ROCKS!
Thank you! Favorite: hyperbolic simile, Least favorite: idioms.
I’ll be adding your question suggestions to my list. Thanks 🙂
Doyle makes storytelling appear effortless, his prose slipping down as easily as one of the pints Victor Forde sups nightly in Donnelly’s, the pub he has decided to make his regular. At fifty-four he’s newly separated and living alone in a small apartment. The area is familiar to him from his youth, but the people he knew aren’t around and he works to get in with a new group of guys in the bar, wanting to be one of the lads again. It’s very different from his life with Rachel, his ex. She built up her “Meals on Heels” business to the point she’s now one of the experts in an Irish Dragon’s Den style programme. Victor is a writer, or was. They were quite the celebrity couple. Back in the day he was an acerbic music journo and then made a name as one of those talking heads whose outspoken opinions on pretty much everything serves to bring controversy and ratings to radio stations. He was working on The Novel, but it never happened for him. Any day now he’s going to start writing again and Doyle is painfully funny on Forde the procrastinating writer. In a notebook he writes, “31/7/14 Girl – fat farmer – Czech. Or Polish. Wake. Sadness. Brother/old girlfriend?”
I’d take it from there. It would become something. A short story. I could feel it in me, written. Just waiting. I was ready for another piss, then bed. I’d text Rachel. Using the notebook – writing a short story and a novel. X. No, I wouldn’t do that. I left the phone on the table, to make sure I didn’t do something stupid. I went into the toilet. I came out, I emptied my pockets. I’d lost my phone. I remembered – it was on the table. I remembered why. I sat on the bed.”
A man, Fitzgerald, shows up in Donnelly’s and says he knows him. He’s loud, awkward, dressed in pink, and Victor can’t quite place him even when Fitzgerald tells him they were at school together, both taught by the Christian Brothers. He invokes schoolboy memories, the terror of slagging from the other boys and worse from the Brothers. Fragmented flashbacks of childhood return and Doyle is great at details which bring people alive on the page – speaking about a teacher they nicknamed Super Cool, “We could see inside his briefcase. Sandwiches in tinfoil and a flask; no books, no newspaper.
—Thinks he’s Paul McCartney but he wraps his sambos in tinfoil.
It was true, we decided. Super Cool was trying to look like Paul McCartney.”
Why can’t he place Fitzgerald though, when they have shared so many experiences? Why does he make him feel so uncomfortable?
The novel can be read through as typical Doyle fare – a middle-aged bloke reminiscing about childhood, school, his parents, his first love. There’s a bar and a lot of pints. A chorus of guys. Underneath though something is rotten. Those Christian Brothers …
And then there’s a weird twist which blindsided me. I’m still not sure what I think about it. There’s a particular quality about a Roddy Doyle novel which depends on the reader enjoying his portrayals of fictional characters as real people; we believe in them. This tricksy ending leaves us with an inability to trust what we’ve read, which would probably be very neat and satisfying if it rang true. Sadly, it doesn’t. Perhaps it wasn’t supposed to be realistic, but for all its darkness I would have preferred it to go deeper.
As Managing Editor of The Forge Literary Magazine, I read a lot of submissions. As a writer, I send very few. I am really bad at sending subs out. If I get a rejection my reaction is along the lines of thinking my story isn’t good, instead of thinking perhaps it simply didn’t chime with whoever read it. The coolest writers I know tell me they send their work out many, many times until it is accepted. I know how ridiculous I am, but I usually wait another few months (six months, maybe a year) and then send the piece out to another venue. Two form declines and that piece is dead to me. Which is obviously stupid. I am vowing here and now to change that. I think I actually get a bit ashamed when my work is rejected as if I was delusional to think it was publishable. At the same time I know I am a good writer. It’s yet another of those fucksy things that co-exists and makes little sense.
Every time I read for FLM I am hoping the piece will be brilliant. I imagine that’s true of all editors. I mean, why read if not to discover wonderful writing? An immediate acceptance is super rare at FLM (although I did just that recently when I accepted a piece nobody else has read because I simply loved it and it was exhilarating to read something that good.) More likely is a yes vote on an admired piece which takes it to the Editorial Table where the Editors of the Month consider it. The majority of pieces sent to us are declined, but if someone gives a maybe vote it will then get passed to another editor for their opinion. Two maybes is a pass to the Editorial Table. I am telling you this because I voted maybe on a flash a couple of months ago. Another editor also voted maybe so it has been under consideration for a while. People have read and commented, but nobody has said they want to keep it and today, when I was going through the stories we’ve hung on to, I figured I’d decline. I read it again and was blown away. This isn’t a maybe piece, this is a hell yes piece. It’s terrific. Apparently I can’t even trust my own judgment to remain consistent. This is one of those revelations which is obvious, I know, but it feels useful enough to me that I’m hoping it might be useful to someone else. I can’t count the number of times I’ve told people that writing and reading is subjective. As is music. As is film. As is… etcetera. And yet I take rejection as a personal judgment rather than someone’s subjective opinion. Two months ago I gave a considered maybe vote to a piece that today I want to publish. Nothing has changed in that time, the words remain the same. Perhaps the first time I read it I was tired, I was in a different mood. But good writing is always good writing. This is why it’s useful to get more than one opinion. But although others liked this flash they too gave it a maybe. Today it’s a yes. A definite yes. I will remember that the next time I get a no.
I published a superb short story – Shadow Puppetry over at The Forge Literary Magazine. Please do read it; it’s one of our nominations for the Pushcart Prize and is something special. Thank you Jane Flett for taking part in one of my Smash Lits interviews.
1) How do you organise your bookshelves?
Alphabetically and also divided into novels/short stories/poetry. Also I have a special section for books of witchcraft and cults, and one for Stephen King and other books to read in the bath.
2) What is your favourite cheese?
A really sharp cheddar.
3) Bacon VS Tofu—who wins? Why?
Tofu—specifically Mapo Tofu with a holy fuck-ton of Sichuan chilli bean paste. Bacon is pretty tasty but tofu is a sponge you can turn into whatever you like, and that is a quality I find appealing in food. Possibly also in humans.
4) What colour is Wednesday?
Black and white like piano keys.
5) You have to swap places with one other writer for a week. Who and why?
Alissa Nutting, to see how it feels in the glorious and filthy innards of her brain.
6) Have you ever had your fortune told?
Of course! I’m a witch, I do tarot all the time. Also I have a soft spot for those old arcade machines you place your palm on and they give you a printed out page of your destiny.
7) What lighting do you have in your living room?
Lamps and candles, and sometimes a red rope light.
8) What’s your most vivid childhood memory?
Splitting my chin open at playschool because I dared a boy he couldn’t stand on a wobbly block for 5 seconds. He couldn’t. Me, I could do it for 4 seconds and a half…
9) Who is your favourite Neighbours character?
I don’t know anything about Neighbours, except that when I was younger I had a cassette tape of Kylie & Jason and now I have Especially for You stuck in my head. So them.
10) Did you have an invisible friend when you were younger?
No. I did have a hand puppet of a hedgehog called Hedgey though, and also my brother and I made friends with a napkin ring that had an alter-ego of a fat lady opera singer called AwMiLaw. She would fly around the kitchen and sing opera songs in a beautiful and not-at-all annoying voice.
11) What sandwiches would you make for a picnic with Zadie Smith?
I like the number of food-related questions in this interview. I would take a fondue kit in my wicker basket and she would find that charming.
12) You are wallpaper. What is your pattern?
The wallpaper that’s in my kitchen and author photograph: big 70s red and orange poppies on a white background.
13) What was the last text you sent?
“Ahh we are so hungry!”
14) Do you think Antiques Roadshow is boring?
I don’t know it, can we talk about Gladiators instead? I have a lot more feelings about Gladiators. We had gerbils called Jet and Lightning as kids and I spent a lot of time pretending to do the Eliminator in the school playground.
15) How much money did you spend yesterday?
I am in Madrid, so a lot more than usual! About €50 on Colombian baked goods, calamari sandwiches, and many many beers in the gay bar.
16) What is your most played song at the moment?
9–5 by Dolly Parton (this is almost always true).
17) What question should I have asked you?`
“Can I get you a drink while you answer these questions?”
18) What’s your favourite swear?
Cunt. I like that it upsets people who think vaginas are horrifying.
(I agree wholeheartedly. What’s up with that? Cunts.)
19) Do you like spiders?
Sure. I haven’t met all of them though.
20) Mermaids, dinosaurs or unicorns?
One glorious hybrid to rule them all.
We recently published an excellent story by Ruby Cowling at The Forge – please do read
Ruby also agreed to take part in an interview with me. Spoiler alert! I think she might be the only person to ever choose tofu over bacon (so far).
1) How do you organise your bookshelves?
Top shelf of best bookcase: Best Books Ever, featuring George Saunders and George Eliot. Next shelf down: great books that almost made it to the Top. And so on down. Then short story collections, then poetry and plays. The other bookcases are chaos, though I try to keep non-fiction quarantined from the rest.
2) Have you ever been on a retreat?
3) Bacon VS Tofu – who wins? Why?
My heart says bacon but all my other organs say tofu.
4) What is your favourite smell?
Ugh–I’m a bit phobic about the word “smell.” (And I’ll go out of my way to avoid saying “smelly.”) Probably the *aroma* of woodsmoke on clothes.
5) You have to swap places with one other writer for a week. Who and why?
George Saunders, obviously—because I’d come back a better person.
6) Who is your favourite Neighbours character?
It’s been decades since I watched it, so I actually had to go to Google images for this one. Des Clarke!
7) What would you cook if Salman Rushdie came for dinner?
8) What is your favourite biscuit?
9) Do you have a poster/picture on your wall? Describe it.
I have a watercolour nude done by the chap who owns the framing shop down the road.
10) What is your motto for life?
“Chill the f*** out.” Only as a reminder, because I’m doing the opposite all the time.
11) What’s your most played song right now?
The deeply satisfying “Funtimes in Babylon” by Father John Misty.
12) Unicorns, mermaids or dinosaurs?
Dinosaurs, because actual existence is a pretty strong trump card.
13) Have you ever seen a ghost?
Not a *ghost*, exactly…
14) What did you do last Saturday night?
Watched the football and then had a ridiculously early night.
15) Do you have any writing rituals?
Rituals, no, but I’ve started using the Pomodoro technique and can hugely recommend it for Getting Stuff Done.
16) Tell me a secret.
No way! My current WIP is all about the importance of not sharing.
17) What would you do if you were invisible for the day?
Probably just loads of eavesdropping. (Just to contradict the entire message of my current WIP.)
18) Can you write a haiku about your story?
A bunch of women
Spending a week in the woods
But who can they trust?
19) What’s your favourite swear?
Heavens to Betsy!
20) What question should I have asked you?
Where do you get your ideas from? *KIDDING.*
Many thanks for taking part (superb haiku!)