This month I am extra proud to announce performance poet Chris McLoughlin as the featured author. I first met Chris when I interviewed him for The Beestonian. It was his first interview, and in my opinion it couldn’t have gone better (although I did spill hot chocolate on my questions). Chris is a passionate writer and deals with subjects such as mental health and grief. He is the only poet who can make me cry. So I urge you all to grab a cup of tea and read this interview, because Chris’ words deserve to be read. Oh, and he’s recently made the shortlist for Nottingham’s first ever Young Poet Laureate!
About the author:
Chris McLoughlin is a writer, performance poet and workshop facilitator based in Nottingham. He has performed internationally, including Braunschweig (Germany), Greenwich & Docklands Festival, Nottingham Poetry Festival, and Luton International Carnival.
Chris’ writing focusses primarily on mental health and enabling others to discuss grief through writing. His aim is to create a platform for those suffering silently, and for readers and audiences to feel less alone.
Chris has received a Distinction in MA Creative Writing from the University of Nottingham, been Artistic Director of Mouthy Poets, and is now pursuing a full-time career in writing. He performs internationally, and enables young people’s voices, through poetry, around the UK. He is currently readying his first full collection, Underneath the Almond Tree.
Describe your ideal writing atmosphere.
Houghton Regis Library. Specific, I know. It’s a small-ish library in a town I used to live in, quiet but with the hum of people reading, chewing, chatting. The staff smile when you walk in, there’s a decent fantasy section, and space to relax into writing. And importantly for me at the time, libraries are FREE. When I was at my lowest point, I’d walk to this library every day to write, and it’s where I finished my first novel. There’s even a poem dedicated to it in Underneath the Almond Tree. I don’t think I could love a building more.
How long have you been writing and what inspired you to start?
I can’t remember not writing – not in an egotistical way, I’m certainly no child prodigy, but writing is often the only way I can make sense of things. I was an introverted kid, and shy, so I didn’t have the confidence to ask questions about things I didn’t understand. So, I’d just write about things until I understood them. Like a formula in Maths, working from the problem backwards. You can tell I wasn’t in the ‘in’ crowd …
Describe your writing style.
At the moment, I seem to be in the Spoken Word Poetry/Post-Apocalyptic-Detective-Noir niche. It’s quiet here.
“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” – Toni Morrison. What kind of story that hasn’t been written yet do you want to read?
I want to read the book that lets the reader know they’re not alone. Lots of books accomplish this, in different ways, but I don’t think there’ll ever be too many of books that achieve this. The fun lies in working out new ways to do it.
Name any authors or books that have had an impact on your writing.
I could just write the words Terry Pratchett 50 times here, I reckon. The man was an INCREDIBLE writer, taking the world around us and viewing it through a fantasy lens, especially in his Discworld series. But what makes his books exceptional is how much they make you consider the society we live in, while being absolutely enthralling to read. I don’t know how he did it. Genuinely. Small Gods tier.
M.R Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts made me fall back in love with reading last year. Charlotte Mitchell retaught me that the greatest poems aren’t necessary ‘academically brilliant’ (whatever that really means), but are the ones that contain truth, courage, and love. Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga is the pinnacle of episodic storytelling (alongside Telltale’s The Wolf Among Us), and has influenced me a lot. Oh, and Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. I love that book, man.
But if I had to recommend a poetry collection for the newcomer to poetry, it would have to be Jim Hall’s Boy, published by Big White Shed. Jim writes about what the term ‘man’ really means in our age, and tackles the persistent propaganda that a man who shows emotion is weak. Incredibly important in these times.
Describe the moment you truly felt like an author.
The moment that always sticks out was when I was asked by Nottingham Poet, Panya Banjoko, onto MoreTalkThanMusic (WhatsHotRadio). I was brand new to the Spoken Word scene, trying to remember all my lines, and totally overwhelmed by how good the mic I was using looked (we were in a booth! Like the rockstars!). In the interview I said something like ‘I’d love to be a proper writer.’ Panya responded that I was writing, therefore I was a proper writer. And she was right. The only thing that qualifies you as a Writer with a capital W is … writing. Around that time I stopped grimacing when people asked me what I did for a living. I’m pretty sure the two are connected.
What book by another author do you wish you’d written?
Oh, no, I couldn’t possibly … I mean, each book …. unique … Bright Lights, Big city by Jay McInerney. A lot of reviews say things like it’s the epitome of a hedonistic lifestyle in New York, like it’s value comes from being ‘edgy’ or something, but I must have read a different book. To me, it’s the best portal into a person in their twenties who is utterly lost, and just trying to work out where to go. And unlike a lot of other characters in literature, he keeps messing up throughout the book, because life’s like that, and we’re all fallible. It’s real, relatable, and the use of second person point of view is unbelievable.
What is the best thing about writing/being a writer?
Each page is a new world, and you get to decide what’s in this world, how it works, and why it’s there. That’s incredibly freeing.
What advice would you give to aspiring authors?
Although feedback is how your writing grows stronger, criticism is often opinion. I asked someone close to me for some feedback on my first novel, Eventide. Their summary was: ‘I don’t think it’s your first published novel.’ This throwaway comment meant the manuscript’s been hidden away in a folder inside a folder on my computer for the last two years. Only now am I realising how uninformed and harmful comments can be to a writer’s confidence. Listen to criticism, but don’t let others hold you down. If they don’t like it, they can go write the book they want to read.
Tell the story behind your latest book, why did you write it?
I’ve been working mainly on my upcoming poetry collection Underneath the Almond Tree. It covers a period in my life from my mother’s death due to cancer, then my experiences with various states of depression, and how I came out of it. Sounds dark when I put it like that, but there’s a song in it about a Peacock named Perry. He used to strut around the hospice grounds like a don. Great guy. The point of the book isn’t to talk about how sad grief is – people know that. It’s to show that however dark the place we’re in is, we can come out of it.
Most inspiring quote?
*Spoiler for Season 6 Game of Thrones. Skip ahead if catching up.*
Davos – You go on. You fight for as long as you can.
Jon – I failed.
Davos – Good. Now go fail again.
I’m getting a tear in my eye just thinking about it.
Which author (living or dead) would you like to have dinner with?
Terry Pratchett. I want to give an answer I haven’t given before, but Discworld defined my childhood, teenage years, and influenced a large part of my character today. One of my biggest writer regrets is that I’ll never be able to say thank you to him, and how grateful I am that he stayed angry while channelling it through humour and amazing stories.
Plus, he’s hilarious, and I bet he had some amazing stories about writing. I mean, he used to wear this t -shirt when talking at conventions:
If you could bring any fictional character to life, who would you choose?
I mean, if we’re talking any fictional character, it would have to be Woody, Joseph Gilgun’s character from Shane Meadows’ This Is England film and series. That guy, man …. we’d be best mates, I reckon.
In literature … that’s hard! I can’t this answer out my head so I guess … right, hear me out, there was this young adult series called Animorphs by K.A. Applegate that was popular in the nineties, and this character called Tobias turned into a hawk (red-tailed, to be precise) … long story short, he’d be a cool mate. Could go on ahead and check out places from the air, let you know how busy they are.
‘Town’s rammed, mate. Let’s head Arboretum.’
Yeah, let’s go with that.
How do you beat writers block?
Freewrite. I don’t really subscribe to the idea of ‘Writer Block’ – I think it’s more accurate to describe it as a lack of confidence in a writer’s own writing. I’ve definitely felt that before, had days when nothing came, but since being introduced to the freewrite, I don’t ever feel ‘blocked’.
Note: For my usual freewrite, I set a timer for 7-10 mins, and I’m not allowed to stop writing in that time. Sometimes, all that comes out for a while is me writing ‘I don’t know what to write’, but it usually morphs into something. Thanks to Debris Stevenson for introducing me to the freewrite!
Give yourself some writing advice.
Listen to Davos. Go fail again.
What are your plans for the future? What writing projects are you currently working on?
So, the main thing I’m finishing is the poetry collection I mentioned, Underneath the Almond Tree. My plan is to send every poem (almost. Not the ending, of course) to magazines or competitions, not to win (they rarely do … sigh) but with the thought process of if I wouldn’t send it out, it’s not ready.
The project I’m moving onto is a sequel to my first poetry chapbook, Breakdown (available at http://www.pijaykin.com, wink wink). It’s called Lose Your Armour. I’ve set a temporary date for the performance launch, venue TBA. So I better finish the bleddy thing, hadn’t I? In fact, I should probably be doing that right now…
Ten Poems from Chris McLoughlin, who ‘just hopes these poems help you feel less alone’.
Connect with the author:
Facebook: Chris McLoughlin
Youtube: Chris McLoughlin
Lose Your Armour launch event: Chris McLoughlin – Lose Your Armour – Launch Performance