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Smash Lits with Ruby Cowling

Smash Lits with Ruby Cowling

We recently published an excellent story by Ruby Cowling at The Forge – please do read

We Are Part of This

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?

Many.

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?

Something chewy.

8) What is your favourite biscuit?

Something dark-chocolate-and-gingery.

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!)

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Smash Lits with Tigele Nlebesi

We published a really good piece of non-fiction at The Forge Literary Magazine this week: Black Girls in Upscale Boutiques by Tigele Nlebesi. I think you’ll agree that last line is a killer.

Thanks Tigele for agreeing to do a Smash Lits interview with me.

1)  You are wallpaper. What is your pattern?

A friend of mine got Somali henna done all over her torso, and the first thing I thought when I saw it was “I’d love to have that all over my walls.”

2) What was your favourite book as a child?

Unfair! There are too many to list. Roald Dahl’s The BFG is the first book that made me want to keep reading. Jacqueline Wilson was my favourite author as a child so everything she wrote was an instant hit, but Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye is the first book that made me imagine myself as a writer one day. It was harrowing and enchanting.

3) What was the last text you sent?

Sent my boyfriend a link to a hilarious webcomic called “The Worst Best Firefighter” on www.buttersafe.com

4) Bacon VS Tofu – who wins? Why?

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Bacon. It tastes better, and I can’t wrap my jalapeno poppers in tofu, duh.

5) Have you ever had a nickname?

I’ve probably racked up more nicknames than I have years on this planet. People have a hard time pronouncing my name so they give me new ones all the time.

6) What do you write with?

My right hand and an unhealthy amount of trepidation; unless you mean what I actually write with, in which case it’s a pentel energel pen (in purple or green) and a notebook. I’ve recently discovered writing is easier for me when I do it by hand.

7) What is your motto for life?

“You are more than what you’ve done.”

8) Who is your favourite superhero?

Garnet from Steven Universe. What a babe.

9) Do you believe human beings can spontaneously combust?

I watched a show on a European Channel called Zone Reality years ago that said they could and since then I’ve believed they can. I don’t care to check whether it’s true or not.

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

A Lion King book my aunt got for me from Disneyland in which a character was created in my name. It’s pretty neat.

11) Who is your favourite Neighbours character?

The Australian soap opera or the American film? I don’t watch the former, but if you’re referring to the latter I can finally tell the world that I have a huge crush on Seth Rogen. So Seth Rogen’s character is my favourite.

12) Your piece is nonfiction—will Alexa read it do you think? Are you still in touch?

A year after I moved, I went back to Cape Town (and the boutique). She still worked there, and we exchanged emails, but she hasn’t responded to any I’ve sent, so that’s a no and another no.

13) What’s your favourite swear?

I’m obsessed with common British swear words. Right now it’s bellend.

14) What colour is contentment?

Rose gold, like the saucepans and cutlery set I really want but cannot afford.

15) Have you ever seen a ghost?

After he died I saw my grandfather’s head surrounded by a funeral wreath hovering above the curtains in my room. I may have just been jarred from seeing his body at the funeral.

16) What did you do last Saturday night?

Went out for a couple of drinks with my friends.

17) You hold a dinner party and can only invite writers. Who do you invite?

Leslie Jamison, Zadie Smith, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah and Toni Morrison. Girls Only, but I’d make an exception for David Foster Wallace were he still alive.

18) Do you have any recurring dreams?

I’m always falling off a cliff or getting bitten by one or multiple snakes.

19) What question should I have asked you?

Whether I find Ryan Gosling irresistible because I don’t, and I feel like I deserve special recognition for it.

20) What would you do if you were invisible for the day?

That isn’t enough time to make my way to wherever Seth Rogen is, so I’d probably waste it spooking the hell out of people.

Smash Lits with Megan Rowe

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I recently published a wonderful flash by Megan Rowe at The Forge Literary Magazine; Communion. Do give it a read.

Megan kindly agreed to take part in one of my Smash Lits interviews.

1) You are wallpaper. What is your pattern? 

Definitely a Damask pattern. When my son was first born, I lived with my mother in a suburb of Chicago, but when I finally moved out and got an apartment, I painted the walls a dark turquoise and stenciled on a mustard-colored damask pattern. It took forever, and a quarter of the way through I really wanted to give up, but I was too stubborn. It was really ugly, but it was the living room of my son’s first real home.

2) What was the last text you sent?

“I mean, that’s weird.”

3) Bacon VS Tofu – who wins? Why?

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I really like tofu, but bacon wins here. It’s just delicious, that’s why. Plus, my dear friend Eddie would kill me if I chose tofu.

4) What colour is Tuesday?

Stoplight yellow. Not nearly through with the week, but it feels like it’s possible to run through it if I get enough energy.

5) What makes the wind blow?

Your skirt.

6) Do you have a favourite pen?

I do not, it’s just whatever pen I can find at the bottom of my backpack. Often, I can’t find a pen at the bottom and have to ask friends for one—I don’t know where all those pens go, probably where the sisters to all my socks live.

7) Do flowers scream when you pick them?

Does a cat lick its butt?

8) Have you ever written an angry letter/email to a magazine or newspaper?

No, however, a lifetime ago I was a journalist and an organization took out a full-page ad in the newspaper I worked for that was a rant against an article I wrote. I took it as a compliment: Someone read my article??

9) Have you ever woken up laughing?

Yes, frequently. Most recently I had a dream that I was betrothed to a poetry professor at my school (he’s very much married), but I wanted to get out of it, so I told him we probably shouldn’t get married. He cried because he’s an extremely sensitive man, but I could tell he was relieved.

10) Are Cheerios your favourite cereal? If not, what is?

My favorite and least favorite cereal is Cinnamon Toast Crunch. It’s always in the house because it’s my oldest son’s favorite, and I’ve eaten it so much I’m really sick of it, but when I’m binge watching something late at night I almost always turn to it. Oh yes, I give my children bowls of sugar, crucify me.

11) What is your motto for life?

Goddamnit, just apologize.

12) If your life story was made into a book, what would be the title?

Well, that didn’t work.

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

No, but I talked to myself a lot (read: I answered) while staring into mirrors.

14) Have you chosen your funeral song?

“Into the Mystic” by Van Morrison. When my father taught me to drive, all we ever played was Elton John and Van Morrison.

15) Who is your writer crush?

Dorothy Parker—she has so many good lines. A good one: someone asked her to use “horticulture” in a sentence and she said “You can lead a horticulture, but you can’t make her think.” Plus, she donated her entire estate to MLK Jr.

16) What sandwiches would you make for a picnic with Lorrie Moore?

We’d grill hotdogs together, does that count as a sandwich?

17) What’s your favourite swear?

Cunt. I like how it sounds on the tongue.

18) Can you knit?

I can, but I have absolutely zero follow through. I’ve only completed one scarf, but I’ve started a dozen at least.

19) What is the most beautiful word?

Naptime

20) What question should I have asked you?

Well, my fiction professor said that the best stories are based in shame, so I suppose you should have asked me what I’m most ashamed of. Good thing you didn’t.

Smash Lits with Brian Broome

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I had the absolute pleasure of choosing a brilliant non-fiction flash to publish this week at The Forge Literary Magazine. Balk by Brian Broome manages to be poignant, achy, sad and funny. It’s a snapshot of him as a young, gay, black American boy and it fucking rocks. As does his Smash Lits interview. Thanks, Brian!

1) What is your favourite cheese?

Whiz.

2) What was your favourite book as a child?

“The Pigman” by Paul Zindel.

3) Who is/was your unlikely crush?

Alan Alda.

4) Who would play you in the film of your flash?

Caleb McGlaughlin from “Stranger Things”.
(Aww – I can see that!)

5) Bacon VS Tofu – who wins? Why?

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Bacon, Bacon, Bacon, Bacon. Why? Because bacon and I read that tofu gives men boobs. I don’t care if that’s true or not and I guess enough bacon could give me boobs. But, if I’m gonna have boobs, they’re gonna be bacon boobs.

6) Creative nonfiction or fiction? Why? 

Creative nonfiction to write. Fiction to read.

7) Your writing is music, what style is it?

Any of the unfinished symphonies or K-POP.

8) Have you ever had a nickname? What?

Never ever tell. Ok, my Dad called me Big Boo.

9) Do you believe human beings can spontaneously combust

Yes. I’ve seen it.

10) How much money did you spend yesterday?

I spent 52 dollars at the Dollar Store.

11) What’s your most vivid childhood memory?

I think you may have just read it.

12) Do you bite your nails?

Yes. But, only for grooming purposes, not out of nervousness.

13) What’s your favourite sweet (candy)?

OREOS!! ALL THE 500 FLAVORS.

14) What is your motto for life?

Construct. Delude. Believe.

15) What did you do last Saturday night?

I worked. I wait tables and Saturday is a big night.

16) You hold a dinner party and can only invite writers. Who do you
invite?

Jackie Collins and Frantz Fanon. THAT would be interesting.

17) Do you have any writing rituals?

Procrastinate until the last minute.

18) What’s your favourite ball?

Any of the balls featured in “Paris is Burning”.

19) What’s your favourite swear?

GATDAMN!!

20) What question should I have asked you?

“Do you enjoy your life?”
Answer: “I guess so.”

 

Smash Lits with Janice Galloway

Smash Lits with Janice Galloway

Janice Galloway is my favourite writer so I was thrilled when we were able to launch The Forge Literary Magazine with her superb story, peak. She recently published a new collection, Jellyfish, available from Freight Books, which showcases her incredible talent. If you’re a fan of short stories I really must ask you to buy/read a copy of this. It’s a masterclass.

 

I’m really chuffed that Janice agreed to take part in Smash Lits and answer my daft questions.

1. Do you have any recurring dreams?

1) Being in an institution or school and trying to pass for a natural member of that institution (one version of this was living in a sauna with only a towel for belongings);

2) Being on a bus heading somewhere very determinedly and realising it has no driver or other passengers after five minutes of just looking out of the window thinking I was safe;

3) Being alone in the dusk and looking out over low-lit moorland with a road winding through it, and someone waiting at the bus stop who may or may not be my mother –

Can I stop now? They go on forever.

2. Do you believe human beings can spontaneously combust?

Yes. Indeed, there have been times I wished I could.

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

Balzac, because he wrote (longhand, obviously) very fast indeed and I can’t write anything fast by any means whatever.

4. Did you have an invisible friend when you were younger?

No. Another loss.

5. What’s your favourite sweet?

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High quality – violet cream. Common or garden – Highland Toffee. I hope my dentist doesn’t see this.

6. Have you ever read someone else’s diary?

No. But my big sister read mine out loud at tea-time when I was 13.

7. Your writing is music, what style is it?

Varies. I can confidently say it’s never pub singalongs.

8. Bacon VS Tofu – who wins? Why?

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Tofu because it is honourable and bacon kills things and I want to say the right thing instead of reveal my weakness.

9. What was the last text you sent?

Get onions. Get lots of onions.

10. What is the oldest piece of clothing in your wardrobe?

A cardigan that was knitted by my sister and belonged to my mother. It’s TINY.

11. Have you ever had your fortune told?

Yes. I lived in a seaside town and the travelling fair (funfair, that is) came with a built-on fortune teller.

12. Who is your favourite Neighbours character?

I have never seen Neighbours. If there was a dog in it I would have liked that.

13. What’s your favourite swear?

Bugger McFucketty

14. What sandwiches would you have made for a picnic with George Orwell?

Boiled cabbage.

15. You obviously love words, do you have a favourite?

Succulent.

16. What’s the best thing ever?

A wild animal coming to give you a sniff and examine what you are out of curiosity. NB It must not be a spider.

17. Have you ever had a nickname?

No. At home as a child, I answered to “Here, you” more than anything else if that counts.

18. Do you have any writing rituals?

Other than occasionally weeping with rage and frustration, no.

19. Your character in “burning love” calls Sylvia Plath “the Boston Harpie” – what would they call you?

The character in the story would probably call me “Who?”.

20. What question should I have asked you?

Can we send you a cheque?

Janice, you’re amazing. Thank you for supporting our new magazine and thank you for writing your words. Dear everyone, please buy Jellyfish, you won’t be disappointed. 

Smash Lits with Stuart Evers

1 What would your superhero power be?

I would like to be able to make people laugh even though it’s the last thing they could ever imagine doing.

2 What was the last text you sent?

It was the number of the taxi company through which I’d booked my wife a cab. All of my texts are brutally factual.

3 You are wallpaper. What is your pattern?

My father loves wallpaper; I have never seen its point. I do love a diagonal stripe though, so diagonal stripes in black and white. A bit Bridget Riley-ish, I suppose.

4 Who is your favourite TV dad?

Joe DuBois from I-see-dead-people crime show Medium. Joe is the moral centre of the DuBois family: he loves his wife and three kids, holds down a job and has to deal with Alison’s gift – she solves murders via clues presented by murder victims – while rarely complaining that he and the rest of the family are merely adjuncts to her working life. It’s a strange show in lots of ways: on the face of it, it’s a lurid repoint of the traditional cop show; but it’s actually quite an astute examination of family life when one member of that family perpetually puts those outside of the family first. That the show manages to present this in a subtle way is why it is one of the best popular crime shows of the last thirty years.

5 Bacon VS Tofu – who wins? Why?

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Bacon is essential in coq au vin. A world without coq au vin is not worth living for.

6 Have you ever had a nickname?

Before I came to London sixteen years ago, I had never had a nickname. I now have lots, none of which I particularly love or loathe. I won’t say what they are. I can’t imagine Samuel Beckett telling anyone that he’s known as Becky by the blokes down at the chess boards in the park; or Virginia Woolf admitting that Vita Sackville-West always called her Foxy, and you should always aspire to follow the lessons of the greats.

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

AS Byatt. I hear she has an excellent swimming pool.

8 What is the oldest piece of clothing in your wardrobe?

I have a suit that is comfortably twice my age. The cut and material of old suits are vastly superior to contemporary counterparts. Even old suits from Burtons make you feel like Terence Stamp waiting for Julie Christie.

9 Did you find Bob Monkhouse funny?

Monkhouse wrote the best clean joke I know – When I said I was going to become a comedian, they all laughed. Well, they’re not laughing now – and often he had a gift for piercing self-laceration. But I always found him slightly sinister, slightly sad, rather than really funny.

10 What’s your favourite swear?

At the moment I like piss-wristed.

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

Crippling self-doubt and a colossal ego.

12 Who is your favourite Neighbours character?

I think it was Jim Robinson’s sister who on arriving for Scott and Charlene’s wedding gave them a gift of baby clothes. Everyone looked shocked and she said, well what did you expect me to think? Whoever she was, she was a highlight whenever she cropped back into it.

13 Have you ever seen a ghost?

No. They do, however, tend to crop up in my fiction a lot.

14 What would your motto for life be?

The same as is embroidered on Malcom Tucker’s tea-towel.

15 Do you have any writing rituals?

I don’t have the time for rituals, which is a shame. I’d love to be able to say I can only write after eating a nectarine, or walking through mulchy fields, but it’s more of a case of where- and whenever.

16 What sandwiches would you make for a picnic with Dave Eggers?

I tend to avoid making sandwiches for picnics, what I’d really like is some garlic roast chicken thighs and some cold sausages. If Dave is unhappy with that, he can provide his own.

17 What colour is fatherhood?

It’s the same shade of blue I see as I listen to side two of the Beatles’ Abbey Road LP.

18 What is your default pub drink?

I like pale ales, so will order one of those. Guinness if not.

19 Do you talk to yourself?

All the time. It is an ongoing narrative of increasing desperation.

20 What question should I have asked you?
Why do you love Columbo? One day I will answer this question in over 40,000 words.

Thank you so much for taking part in Smash Lits. I now want to watch Medium and read your Columbo essay more than you could guess. Those of you who’d like to know more can head over to Twitter @StuartEvers

Smash Lits with Sarah Hilary

Sarah Hilary has created a brilliant detective series featuring DI Marnie Rome. She recently won the 2015 Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year for her debut, Someone Else’s Skin, and today marks the paperback publication of her equally dark, twisty and engaging follow-up, No Other Darkness. Obviously it’s time to ask her the really tricky questions. Drum roll please…

1) What was the last text you sent?

To a friend, telling her I hoped the wind wouldn’t play merry hell with her bell tents. It’s a long story.

2) Does your mother play golf? (Question provided by Michael Richardson)

Once, but it was crazy golf outside a Welsh tearoom and only to keep peace between me and my siblings.

3) Who is your unlikely crush?

Norman Bates. I have my reasons.

4) Bacon VS Tofu – who wins? Why?

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Bacon kicks tofu’s arse. Then they team up to beat the crap out of quinoa. Because that’s bacon’s duty, and tofu does as he’s told.

You make me laugh with your quinoa hate 🙂

5) Your writing is music, what style is it?

Psycho shower scene meets Panic at the Disco. Everyone mosh-pitting until they drip with sweat and drop to the floor.

6) Can you make up a poem about tinned peaches? (winks to those in the know)

The end of the world comes in cans
With blue labels and tastes of pink
Served on a plastic fork.
(Or, to answer your question more succinctly, no I can’t.)
(Ooh, you can. I think that’s rather chilling.)

7) Have you ever had a nickname?

Tiger. Sadly not after the girl from the Double Deckers.

8) What makes the wind blow?

Something to do with the sun and atmospheric pressure. Plays merry hell with my mate’s bell tents.

9) Do you believe human beings can spontaneously combust?

No. It would spoil too many great crime stories where the killer thinks he’s been very clever incinerating a corpse near a fire-place.

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

My bloodymindedness.

11) Have you ever written an angry letter to a magazine or “news” paper?

Yes. I once explained to Mslexia why being snooty about fan fiction was a bloody silly idea. They published the letter, too. I think I might become an angry letter writer in my old age.

12) Have you ever woken up laughing?

Not recently.

13) Who is your favourite Neighbours character?

I never watched it. I watched The Sullivans. John was my favourite in that. And I do love Kylie.

14) Who is your fave TV crime fighter?

Patrick Jane. His hair curls like the sea coming in and his smile is a sunset smiting the sand.

(grin)

15) What’s your favourite sweet?

Peppermint creams. Not the kind covered in chocolate. The plain kind, in the waxy wrappers.

16) What sandwiches would you make for a picnic with Lorrie Moore?

I would attempt a sandwich layer loaf, which my mum used to make in the 80s. You take a loaf of Hovis wheatgerm bread, unsliced, which you cut into three horizontal sections before adding three different fillings and slapping it back together again. Then you slice it like you normally would and–wowzer, you’ve got three layers of fillings in one slice. My mum used to smear peanut butter on the top crust. It’s retro, and a bit cheeky.

17) What was your favourite book as a child?

The Little Bookroom by Eleanor Farjeon. A book of short stories. My favourite was a wonderfully nasty one called The Lady’s Room.

18) What would you do if you were invisible for the day?

Sneak into Battersea Power Station and rearrange all the geegaws in the showroom flats. Then I’d nick Sting’s lute for a laugh.

19) What’s your favourite swear?

Oh fuck buckets.

20) What question should I have asked you?

Am I a good liar?

Ha! Thank you so much for taking part in Smash Lits. I wish you more and more success.