Smash Lits with Susannah Rickards

I recently published a gorgeous nonfiction piece by Susannah, https://forgelitmag.com/2020/09/14/hartlepool-beach-extras/. I read it as not only being a memory of a very particular time, but also a meditation on the importance of creativity in a life whether or not anyone else is there to see it. I also interviewed Susannah about the really important stuff; biscuits, drinks and Airwick, amongst other things:

1) How do you organise your bookshelves?

No need—my husband does it. He’s like a librarian—all alphabetised and by subject. He’ll be adding little dewey decimal stickers soon and I’ll get fined for leaving towers of them under the bed.

2) What is your favourite biscuit?

At the risk of sounding utterly pretentious…there’s a little biscuit factory on the road to Mont St Michel in Normandy. I used to be a tour guide and we used to stop there on the way back from the monastery. They sell sablés. Grainy, chunky discs of butter and sugar. I’m glad they are so far away.

3) What is your default pub drink?

Nothing beats a pint of Kronenburg after a long hot walk. Otherwise I’m a middle-aged cliché: prosecco.

4) Do you have a poster/picture on your wall? Describe it.

The house is full of prints and paintings as my parents are artists. But I don’t have any in my writing room. Instead, I have two very shabby felt teddy bears, hand sewn by my twins when they were five. They are glue-stained and wall-eyed and spilling stuffing. I have them to remind me that the liveliest and most interesting creativity isn’t always pretty and tidy.

5) Do you have any phobias? What?

Daddylonglegs aka Craneflies. It’s hard to love a flying spider that swoops at you. I try and fail. Not reached that ‘fail again, fail better’ stage with daddylonglegses yet.

(And it’s the season – arrrggghhh.)

6) Can you make up a poem about an Airwick?

The category of those who make me breathless subdivides into a) ay-ay! rhapsodic beauties of flesh, fur, foliage and b) ack-ack! snatching for my blue inhaler. Don’t take it personally, but, Airwick, love, you’re b.) You’re down there with Lynx.

7) Have you ever had a nickname? 

Spuggy. It’s the Geordie word for sparrow. I grew up in Newcastle. My family all still call me Spuggy. But no one else does or should.

8) You have to swap places with one other writer for a week. Who and why?

Shakespeare when he was writing Macbeth or Lear or Merchant of Venice. I’d love the visceral experience of being in his body and mind when that poetry is pouring onto the page. I want to know how he arrived at it, whether he knew how good it was, or was just hacking it out in time for rehearsals.

9) Do you believe human beings can spontaneously combust?

I believe absolutely anything is possible, so yes.

10) Have you ever written an angry letter to a magazine or newspaper?

Yes, as a self-righteous teen.  Never since.

11) Have you ever read someone else’s diary?

Oh, Lord, I so wanted to lie in this answer. But yes. Once. A famous actress was lodging in my parents’ house when we were the only two people in the house. I idolised her, so I snuck into her room and read a couple of pages. She must have realised because she hid from me. I never even got a glimpse of her. Never again. I feel very guilty about that. It’s just wrong. Diaries are not meant from public consumption and they are not, I believe, even true reflections of how people feel—they are steam release. I’ve had my diary read too. Horrible experience.

12) Who is your favourite Neighbours character?

Alf Stewart in Home and Away.  I had a very niche crush on him when I was younger.

(To be fair, I agree and still kinda do although I think I might want him to be my dad.)

13) What’s your favourite sweet?

Nougat with almonds.

14) Have you ever seen a ghost?

Apparently. In primary school I was walking to the public baths for our weekly swimming lesson in a crocodile with my friends and we passed a house where an old woman was waving at us through the window, so I stopped and waved back, making the crocodile back up. My friends said, ‘What you doing?’ and I said, ‘Waving at that woman.’ They all said, ‘What woman?’ We all stared at the window. I could see her. They said they couldn’t. And then a girl who lived in that street told me the house was empty and an old woman had died there earlier that week.

15) What is the most over-rated novel?

I can’t pick one but I do think all those pompous, misogynistic, middle-aged white men we were forced to take seriously in the Seventies, who think they have the right to bore on page after page about their groin aches and if you dislike it, you don’t appreciate high art, well they’ve aged pretty badly, haven’t you Ian McEwan, Martin Amis, Philip Roth and Saul Bellow?

16) Who is your writer crush?

Graham Greene makes me cry. I want to write as well as him so much it hurts. Same is true of Fitzgerald’s Gatsby. Recently I snaffled up everything Deborah Levy has ever written and my jaw is on the floor at Michaela Coel’s script for I May Destroy You. I wish it was a novel so I could keep rereading it.

17) What’s your favourite swear?

My husband says arse-biscuits. I have borrowed it from him. It’s very satisfying but breaks a sweat in genteel Surrey where we live now.

18) What would your karaoke song be?

I absolutely can’t sing. The right notes sound in my head, clear and perfect, but an entirely uncontrolled elephantine grunt comes out of my mouth. But if I could sing…ooh… Nope. The idea of singing in public is so appalling to me that my mind has blanked. Can’t even think it.

19) Write me a question for the next Smash Lits interview I do.

Where’s the weirdest place you’ve ever written?

20) What question should I have asked you? 

What else do you do with books besides read them?

Flash Fiction competitions and why they sometimes suck and why ours doesn’t.

I hate how it often feels as if the writing world is only opened up by having money. If you can afford to pay for an MA, a writing retreat, a workshop, then you not only pay for the knowledge you gain but also the connections you make. The internet is a leveller. I joined a brilliant online writing group and have learned heaps from other writers, for free. However, if I want to submit my work to competitions there is usually a fee. I moan about this to anyone who will listen. Who will win a flash fiction competition that charges £9 to enter? A writer who can afford it. Someone kindly suggested on twitter I could email competitions and ask if they have reduced entry fees for those with a restricted income. It’s a terrific idea to offer such places. The truth is I can pay a £9 entry fee if I really want to, but I choose not to. I want the playing field I am on to be as open as possible.

I’m the Managing Editor of The Forge and we pay writers thanks to the generosity of John and Yosh Haggerty and the writers who submit using our $3 tip jar option. I know it’s unusual to have this private backing and it’s a privilege. I understand the need to charge money to make the prize fund. But… £9 for 300 words?

We are holding our annual flash competition this September and the prize is $500, publication, and, a 2-year subscription to Duotrope (thanks Duotrope). It is free to enter until we hit our Submittable limit of 300. There is also a tip jar option. Our tagline is “Literary excellence is our only criteria.” And it’s true. We are looking for stunning writing and that’s it. We are open to all voices with any background, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual and personal identity. I’m very proud of what we offer and would be grateful if you spread the word. Because it is rare to offer something for nothing I expect we will be inundated so to be sure of free entry get ready to sub asap. I know the writer tendency is to wait for the deadline (September 14th) and then fling something in just before midnight in a last-second scramble but we open on September 1st.

I’m looking forward to reading your work.
(I’m posting this on my personal blog because these are my personal views and I don’t speak for any other member of The Forge.)

Smash Lits with Jennifer Todhunter

The Levitation is a brilliant one-sentence story by Jennifer Todhunter – do read it. Jennifer also took part in one of my Smash Lits interviews. (I so agree about the peanuts and chocolate thing.)

1) What is your favourite cheese?

Cambazola.

2) Bacon VS Tofu—who wins? Why?

Bacon-wrapped tofu. They’re both winners in my book.

3) What colour is Thursday? 

Sort of a see-through/shimmery colour, like everything in the Night on Earth documentary.

4) You have to swap places with one other writer for a week. Who and why?

Alice Munro because she’s a short story master and because Munro’s Books is in my hometown.

5) Do you believe human beings can levitate?

I believe human beings want to believe they can levitate.

6) Buffy or Veronica Mars?

Fiona Gallagher.

7) What’s your favourite thing from childhood that you’ve still got?

Fossils I found in the clay banks outside the pub my parents owned. A snail, in particular.

8) How do you stop procrastinating and get on with writing?

Insomnia and sporadic workshops.

9) Do you have any recurring dreams?

When I was a kid, I dreamed about my house burning down while I watched from the driveway a lot. I remember knowing what was coming and not being able to wake up, which was the worst.

10) What’s your favourite sweet?

I’m down with any peanut butter/chocolate combo. A friend told me he ate peanut butter + nutella today and that sounded like the best. I might actually try that now.

11) Do you have a fave meme? What? 

I don’t, I’m sorry. I’m a pop culture idiot.

12) Did you have an invisible friend when you were younger?

His name was Casey. He lived next door which apparently confused our neighbour.

13) What did you do last Saturday night?

It was mellow. There was a bonfire and sweet tunes, so the best kind of mellow. Best kind of night, really.

14) Who is your writer crush?

Currently, Bonnie Jo Campbell and Samantha Irby. I can’t pick one, their work kills me in different ways.

15) What are your windows like?

Dirty and wide-open.

16) What sandwiches would you make for a picnic with Jenny Offill?

I’m more of a soup person, and I feel like Jenny Offill might be too? I’d bring tortilla soup with all the toppings: tortillas, avocado, sriracha, cojita, cilantro, lime. The soup would be spicy enough to make the insides of your eardrums itch and would leave you wanting more. Speaking of wanting more, peanut butter + nutella = heaven on a spoon.

17) What question should I have asked you?

Late nights or early mornings? (Both.)

18) What’s your favourite swear?

I love a good fuck.

19) What word or words make you cringe? 

I have three cringe-worthy words, I recently told my kids what they were, they won’t stop saying them, so you’d better believe I’m not telling the interwebz.

20) Write me a question for the next Smash List interview I do.

Favourite-all-time-forever-never-let-you-down song? (Blind Love by Tom Waits.)

Smash Lits with Sam Asher

I published a terrific story by Sam Asher this week. It’s called Fish Food and you can read it at The Forge. I also had the pleasure of interviewing him. Seriously, his answer re: his phobia is still making me smile.

1) What is your favourite fish?

My instinct was to look for some kind of obscure, exotic, masterwork-given-gils of a fish and pretend I’ve always been fond of one of those, but the truth is I’m exceedingly fond of the goldfish. They’re wonderfully unpretentious, and excellent listeners. My parents had one for over a decade, and we gave him a decent burial. He was a good fish.

2) Have you ever had your fortune told?

Nope

3) What is your worst habit?

Putting my boots on the couch.

4) Who is your favourite TV detective?

I’m not at all sure I know any.

5) You are wallpaper—what is your pattern?

He-Man.

6) What is your default pub/bar drink?

I’m an alcoholic in recovery. Typically I’ll just order a soda, but the further I get into sobriety the farther my waistband seems to expand. That in mind, I’ve been trying to stick to water. Yes, a party with me is exceptionally muted and depressing. I did recently discover cream soda with lime juice, which tastes a little like an old holiday cocktail my dad would make us.

7) What colour is Thursday?

Mauve.

8) What picture do you have on your wall? 

Atop the mirror that hangs over my wife’s dresser is a painting of a tiny penguin carrying a turkey baster. His motives, surely, are nefarious.

9) What is your favourite fairytale?

Trickle down economics.

10) What words make you cringe?

The verb ‘get’ (or any of its variations) is a garbage verb for garbage people.

11) What is the last thing you googled?

Toy stores in Soho.

12) What’s your favourite swear?

Fuck. Absolutely. No other word contains such a wealth of meaning based on such tiny variations in intonation. I could write ‘fuck’ five times and each time it could signify something altogether different, or even opposite to, the ‘fuck’ previous.

13) What was your first gig?

It was the Reading Festival in 2005. The first band on the line-up was Goldie Lookin’ Chain, so their classic hymn to acceptance ,‘Your Mother’s Got a Penis’ will be a tune I never forget.

14) Do you have any writing rituals?

Trying not to suck.

15) Do you have any phobias?

Turtles. I don’t trust any creature that can hide its face inside of its torso. And they walk so deliberately, at such a slow pace. Where to, I ask? Where are you going, turtle? Why are you taking so long to get there? Is your time somehow infinite? Are you immortal? Are you just lazy? What are you hiding inside that shell? Is it money? Is it gifts? Is it my childhood? Reveal yourself, cruel amphibian.

16) What was your favourite book as a child?

I was actually taught to read with an illustrated children’s bible, and despite my avowed, and occasionally dispiritingly militant atheism, I still think kindly of it. In terms of narrative, I stole a copy of Little Wolf’s Diary of Amazing Deeds from school when I was 6 or so, and read it a dozen times. I kept the same copy until last year, when a combination of mental illness and residual, twenty-five-year-old-guilt at my first foray into theft led me to donate it to a local LGBTQ charity store.

17) What instrument did you play at school?

Air drums.

18) Write me a question for the next Smash Lit interview I do.

Assuming ghosts don’t currently exist, if I gave you the power to do so, would you will them into reality?

19) Who is your writer crush?

Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah.

20) Bacon VS Tofu—who wins and why? 

I’m a vegetarian, but tofu is brewed in a vat of spavined farts, so I suppose bacon, as a concept, but tofu as a meal. Pigs also, did you know, are smarter than Republicans? Eat a Republican instead.

On defunct journals and lost gems.

I had a bit of an incident with this blog a couple of weeks ago; somehow I deleted the theme (I really have no idea how) and couldn’t get it back as it’s so old it’s no longer available. I switched to this one, which looks clean and simple, hopefully, and I figured it was a good time to check all those links I have to my published fiction. Over 20 of them led to spam adverts or domains for sale – SAD FACE. Of course, when a journal ceases to publish they might not maintain an archive, but it got me thinking how rubbish it is that those stories are now in this limbo of being previously published and unavailable to read. Some of my best fiction, published in good quality places, has disappeared.

I had a chat with Yosh Haggerty, publisher of FLM, and being the champion of writers that she is, she suggested we might want to consider accepting a couple of previously published pieces to help others in the same position. So, for the month of December only, we are opening a special submissions category for such work and I will select two pieces for publication with us. Send me your favourite lost wonders.

Have at it!

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