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Sunday, 17 October 2021

Richard James Allen's More Lies - Q&A


After travelling down such a long road to finally finishing More Lies, we wanted to pick Richard James Allen's brain. So we interviewed him...

Q: Give us a snapshot of your writing process 

More Lies was inspired by living the life of an artist in an East Village tenement walk-up in New York City in the 1980s. Living from gig to gig, as a dancer, and having published two volumes of rather experimental poetry back home in Australia, I set out to write an income-generating page-turner in an in-your-face cocktail of pulp fiction and performance poetry that, at one point, I called 'verse noir'. I hoped it might become a cult hit, sort of a cross between Howl (by an author I had met) and The Catcher in the Rye (by an author no one had met), and so dedicated the book, in a cheekily ironic spirit, 'for Money'. I never guessed that it would have the longest road of any of my works to publication. And on that long and winding road, with no end in sight for many years, were many transformations, which I now see as hard-won blessings. 

Q: You mention that you never guessed thi would have been the longest road in any of your works to publication... roughly just how lonf did More Lies take to finally come to publishing? 

A: Actually, Interactive Press' publisher, Dr David Reiter, hinted at the answer to this question himself in his witty description of the 'Zoom Launch of More Lies by Richard James Allen' on YouTube: "This novel...took Richard as long as Moses wandering in the wilderness. Whether Richard reaches his Promised Land is up to you, the viewers."

Here's a link to the edited highlights video, which includes an acrobatic feat of balancing truth and lies launch speech by David Adés, and me having a go at juggling the slippery words of a slippery narrator in my mouth:

ZOOM Launch of More Lies by Richard James Allen

Q: What inspired you to combine thriller and comedy in the way you did? 

A: While it would be impossible to trace all the roots of More Lies, one place to dig would be in Dada and the Theatre of the Absurd, accidentally planted into the soil of The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep

Q: How did you come up with the storyline?

A: This book wrote itself. It literally exploded into life. My job was just to pick up the pieces.

Q: An author, a femme fatale and her brother with big ambitions, were any of the characteres based on people you know or had heard of? 

A: A bit like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, the characters in More Lies are travelling players in a Barthesian verbal carnival; a textual, visual and aural spectacle that exists in teh shared minds of the readers and viewers of a thousand and one old books and movies. 

Q: Like the protagonist in More Lies, do you find storytelling keeps you alive in more ways than as an author? (How does being an author serve you other than as a job?) 

A: Creativity keeps me alive. But this book almost killed me. 

Q: Is there anything you took out of this book or if you were to write it again, would you change or add anything? 

A: As is traced in the 'Acknowledgements', and alluded to above, the history of the development of More Lies was a very long one. So no, no, no, no, thank you. 

Q: Any advice for the reader? 

A: More lies is a fast book that should be read slowly, at least the second time around. 

Q: Your last book, The Short Story of You and I, is dedicated to the reader, and reviewers have commented on its warmth and inclusivity. Interestingly, More Lies uses direct addres to draw the reader into its story, not just as an observer, but as a participant. And yet the overall tone is more confrontational. Can you comment on that?   

A: More Lies is syncopated and playful, a bit like bebop jazz. It asks you to engage, but puts you off your centre. It is also a little bit brazen, like a layer cake that blows up in your face. But don't take it too seriously. It's only words and feelings. 

That said, now that it's finaly found  its way out into the world, amidst COVID lockdowns and an international pandemic of mendacity, More Lies almost feels like a wakeup call that is oddly relevant today. 


“A wonderfully warped journey into one man’s unravelling psyche, and a joyous celebration of the necessity of story.”
- James Bradley, author of 'Ghost Species'


“Richard James Allen takes the world of Raymond Chandler - the mysterious murder, the femme fatale, the world-weary observer - and turns it on its head. We end up with a funny, provocative novel that shakes up how we think about reality.”
- Anton Enus, SBS

Click here to get your copy of More Lies
Click here to watch Richarch James Allen's virtual launch of More Lies

James Gering's Staying Whole While Falling Apart - Q&A


We interviewed Staying Whole While Falling Apart's author James Gering to find out how he stays whole while falling apart and more!

Q: Your main protagonist is a character called Aaron Auslander but it's hard to look past the parallels... are any of these poems based on your own experience? 

A: Many poems, yes - we are each great repository of experiences to draw on. The skill lies in converting experiences to art. Sincerity in poems is about emotional truth not literal truth. The writer reflects on his material, finds the fresh angle, and strives for an artistic conversion. Letting ample time pass between a life event and its poetic rendering is important so that artistic judgement is not compromised. 

Q: How do you manage to stay whole? 

A: By living outside the city, far from the maddening clichés. I live in the Blue Mountains. My backyard is a world heritage wilderness, and after a day's writing I like to get physical. I run a mountain trail, swim laps, rock climb or ride my mountain bike - something different every day. I wouldn't like to bore myself or the exercise would fizzle.

I like to find the balance between my imaginative world and the real world. As a writer, there is a real danger of disappearing down an imaginary rabbit hole. Us humans are social creatures with an urge to love and be loved. We also need material for our writing. Hooray for the human canvas and the settings the real world provides. 

At the moment I am writing full-time. This can be dangerous in terms of rabbit holes, but I think I have enough hard-won ploys to manage. One ploy is consciously moving between states of intensity and insouciance. Twenty-five years ago I was the intense moth getting singed.

Q: Do you have any advice for readers on how to stay whole while falling apart? 

A: Strike a balance between your emotional, intellectual and physical needs. Embrace the natural world, doubly so if you live in a big city. Flora and fauna are a wonderful salve. Additionally, animals are more genuine than us humans will ever be. Remember your childhood and to sometimes see the world through childish eyes for a fresh take. Beware community - it can be two-edged. Only conform to a group sympathetic to your character. Listen to The Sunscreen Song, its sage advice, like doing one thing a day that scares you. 

Q: What would you say was the hardest topic to explore and why? 

A: It's tricky to get depresion right on the page - clichés abound and the writing can easily slip into mawkishness or melodrama. You also have to find points of connection to the reader, regardless of whether they have ever been depressed. 

Q: What life changing experiences have helped you as an author and how? 

A: Learning from my mistakes has been useful. Adversity also - the  humility it brings. I came to Australia from South Africa when I was 16 after a family trauma, and I struggled to find my place as a sensitive person with an inquiring mind. Enter poet, John Berryman, stage left. He gave simple advice for metamorphosing into a poet. He said that when you are young, you need to survive a life-threatening trauma, only by a whisker, and then you are in business. I agree. but perhaps there are other ways too. Parenthood was also life-altering for me, so wonderfully enriching. Suddently you are serving others in a loving manner every day, and it opens a treasure box of raw material for stories. 

Q: Touching on your Judaism, what do you think are the defining features of Jewish life today and how has it influenced Aaron Auslander's character? 

A: There are many ways to be Jewish - from ultra religious to atheistic, from cultural heritage to Israel, a country that punches well over its weight in many fields of human endeavour, whether technological advances or the embracing of diversity. Few countries in the Middle East have the vision and inclusivity to host the Eurovision song contest. 

I like to think that Judaism helped Auslander to develop an inquiring mind, and helped develop his self-deprecatory humour, not to mention his Houdini-like talent for rising above adversity. 

Click here to get your copy of Staying Whole While Falling Apart 

Click here to watch James Gering's virtual launch of Staying Whole While Falling Apart

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Kate Maxwell's Never Good At Maths - Q&A


With her recent release of Never Good at Maths, we wanted to know more about Kate Maxwell beyond her inability to do we interviewed her.

Q: Your book doesn't actually explore math. How and why did you choose to title it the way you did? 

A: There's some truth in the title that maths has never been my strength, but I chose the title primarily to express the way it often feels to be pigeonholed as a 'type' of person. As a predominantly right-brain thinker, it's also a tongue-in-cheek way of dealing with a fairly dismissive label. Mathematicians are often very creative, and creative poets are often good at maths. I'm just not in either group. The title is my quirky introduction to a level of satirical and self-deprecating humour I sometimes use in this book. I'm trying to tap into the self-conscious feeling many of us have when we are conflicted about our abilities and the way in which we are perceived.

Q: You cover a lot of different themes in Never Good at Maths, how did you choose what to cover, what inspired you to cover so many themes and did you have to do a lot of research? 

A: Many of the poems span decades and original versions have been tweaked over time. Some themes are of the simple every day, little curiosities, character portraits, and more global and political themes. Most of the time, if my interest is sparked in something, then it leads more naturally into forming images and builds into a stronger piece. Unless I'm writing to purpose; for a competition or special journal issue, I don't usually pick a theme first. It usually comes as I build the poem. A few poems do require research if I'm describing something historical or quite specific e.g., White Man in a Hole or Katy, Bar the Door and many poems are inspired by what I read, watch, and observe. 


Q: Did you face many personal challenges when addressing the various themes when writing Never Good at Maths?

A: Some topics are inspired by road trips, emotions, the news, literature, art, or characters I find interesting. If I write in somebody else's voice, then I can remove myself a little from the poem. A few of the more personal and biographical poems can pose personal challenges as it's not easy admitting who you are, or how you've felt at times, but it can also serve as free therapy. Obviously, not everyone will agree with the messges portrayed or political stnce I take but that's why it's called freedom of expression.  


Q: How and why did you get started as a poet? 

A: I don't know if I can answer that as clearly as I'd like. As a child, I think I liked playing with rhyme and the sounds words make. When I worked out that you could make a succinct and powerful little package with words and messages, then I started to become entranced with poetry's power. I still love the puzzle of placing just the right word or phrase but am not always as keen on the frustration when I know I'm still missing pieces in my self-made puzzles. 


Q: From the Poet's point of view, how important do you think it is for readers to be able to understand the meaning of a poem? Are some better left unsolved, or do you believe that readers should work to know the underlying meaning/s?

A: I am not an obtuse poet. I love writing stories as much as poetry and find the narrative very important. I love to paint pictures with my words, take on other voices, and tell stories. It's important to me that my poems are relatable and strike a chord with readers. My favourite poems are ones where language and emotion blend to bring you a slice of life that you can almost se and feel. I know many talented poets who embed their poems with oblique layers that make meaning either unclear or reliant on prior knowledge. I can often enjoy these poems too, even though I may not always be able to access what the poet really intended. Sometimes the beauty of the words, or strength of the mood is more important than the narrative. But that is their skill set, and not necessarily mine.  


Q: This is your debut release, what were the biggest lessons you learned and what do you plan and hope for the future? 

A: I supposed the lessons learned werethat you should always let your work rest for a while and return to it with fresh eyes before editing again. On the other hand, poems never quite seem finished but at some point, you have to let them go. Also, an editor's eye on your work is so valuable. You get to close to your work and can become blind to flaws and repreated ideas. I'm hoping this is my first of many anthologies. I'm writing quite a lot right now. I also have some children's book manuscripts that I'd like to see out in the world.  

Q: Your debut covers a lot from personal recounts to views and belieds, do you think you'll take the same approach for your next book? Why or why not? 

A: Yes and No. I have enough collected works for another book of poetry and a short story collection. Both have no obvious unifying threads but there are patterns and repeated themes. Following that, however, I would like to attempt to write more poem suites in order to flesh out veryin perspectives, voices on theme or topic. As my experience grows, I'm hoping my breadth and voice will also develop.  


Click here to get your copy of Never Good at Maths

Click here to watch the vitural launch of Never Good at Maths

Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Paul Scully's The Fickle Pendulum - Q&A

With so many views on belief and doubt, we interviewed Paul Scully to get a better insight on navigating the philosophical discussions, as explored in his poems in The Fickle Pendulum.

Q: What motivated you to explore belief and doubt, and the way we view them?

A: I attempted to Australianise The Conference of the Birds in my previous book, Sature Lines, and investigated how the Sufis used poetry to explore their beliefs. I'd read bits of Rumi and Hafiz before but not widely. During my process, I wondered about the converse known as doubt, and it grew from there. I also recalled Graham Greene, his fallen believers and moral ambiguities. A Catholic upbringing must have also been in the mix somewhere!


Q:  What do you hope is the biggest take away amongst readers of The Fickle Pendulum

A: I try to be neither didactic nor dogmatic. I take heed of the say, don't tell maxim. There were elements of personal investigation, interest in the stories found, some education, wonderment, etc.. I'd be happy for people to catch a sense of these and perhaps be interested, if not equally, then somewhat, and to appreciate the writing at some level. 


Q: Did writing The Fickle Pendulum change your views on belief and doubt?

A: Not Really. The biggest surprise was finding out someone like Laura (Riding) Jackson could walk away from poetry. This discovery drove me to reading up on why she did so. My findings were that her flinty personality radiated absolutism and her poetry suggests a difficulty in maintaining such intensity over a prolonged period, but it is still a surpsise to me. We've all had times when we've felt our writing has become insipid or perfunctory, but her reaction is way beyond that. Although my writing process didn't change my views on belief and doubt, it has caused me to think about what I love about poetry, and to challenge my premises. 

Q: Why did you choose to review the beliefs and doubts specifically through St Thomas the Apostle, Galileo Galilei and Laura (Riding) Jackson? 

A: The challenge is to ground the discussion of abstractions in some way and I wanted to take multiple perspectives. I've used historical characters in the past and it seemed natural to do so here. They bring a storyline with them which can act as scaffolding while you work at the detail. St Thomas, known as the Doubting Thomas due to his lack of faith, suggested himself. Science is in some ways a counterpoint to religion and I just needed to find the right scientist. Galileo Galilei was a Catholic who on one hand believed in God and religion, but on the other hand, was torn by his beliefs in the role of science. I had doubt in poetry in mind from early on as perhaps a tangential take on the theme. Someone had suggested the work of Laura (Riding) Jackson to me alongside Rimbaud, who was another candidate. 

Q: Do you often find yourself in doubt and how do you prevent or overcome doubt? 

A: I wouldn't say I face doubt often but I certainly entertain doubt as more than a momentary feeling from time to time. Climate Change has been a persistent source in recent years, especially when people espouse views that it is nonsense or that we shouldn't take restorative actions for nationally competitive reasons. I find it incredibly hard to understand how intelligent people could arrive at such conclusions and wonder at humanity. Likewise truly evil acts. People offer both despair in such instances, but they also offer salvation through love and friendship. As in many things, it is necessary to accept paradox as a natural and recurrent phenomenon. It also helps to bring things down to an everyday scale and find meaning and pleasure there. 

"If there are no easy answers here, there is nevertheless a sense, as Browning says, that ' All our life is some form of religion.' In verse that is measured and always thoughtful, Sculy weighs the detail and delight of things against their difficult, confronting implications."
- Martin Langford, author of Groud


Click here to get your copy of The Fickle Pendulum 

Click here to watch Paul Scully's virtual launch of The Fickle Pendulum