Friday 21 February 2020

Matthew M C Smith

Matthew M C Smith is a Welsh writer from Swansea. He is published in Icefloe Press, Anti-Heroin Chic, Other Terrain, Back Story, Seventh Quarryand Wellington Street Review. Matthew is the editor of Black Bough Poetry. Twitter: @MatthewMCSmith & @BlackBoughPoems Facebook: MattMCSmith & Black Bough Poetry. His debut collection ‘Origin: 21 Poems’ is available on Amazon.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I’m reading Underland by Robert Macfarlane for the second time in preparation to edit the next edition of Black Bough poetry. This is a staggeringly erudite work by the award-winning English writer and Professor, who writes about place, nature, conservation and cultural heritage. He discusses ‘Deep Time’, which is the theme of the next Black Bough edition and something I am exploring in my own writing.

A book you loved reading at a child. 

As a six-year old, I carried around with me the pocket illustrated classic of Oliver Twist. My mother and aunt were taken aback one day when I started to recite the whole book. I can still see many of the illustrations in my mind. My memory isn’t totally amazing so that book must have made an impression on me.

A book you have read more than once. 

This would have to be Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness, which I’ve read at least a dozen times. This, for me, is the most compelling fictional work I’ve ever read, although if you asked me another day I’d probably say Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, which I think I’ve read four times. Conrad’s command of the English language (not his first language) puts most of us to shame and the scenes before and in Africa, the building tension, show a writer at the top of their game. I love Apocalypse Now, which is a deeply-moving, disturbing cinematic reinterpretation. Marlon Brando as Kurtz!

Your favourite anthology.

I’m going to say The Lonely Crowd although this is very hard to choose as there are so many. This is a Welsh press that publishes mixed anthologies of poetry and prose. The pieces that are chosen, in my opinion, show really strong literary execution. Imagery, precision and freshness are really evident and you get the impression that the selection and editing is done very carefully. It’s run by John Lavin and I’d urge people to check it out.

A book yet-to-be-released which you are looking forward to reading. 

I’m really looking forward to C. Aloysius Mariotti’s Scream into my Mouth as a Waterfall. I’ve read a PDF of the poetry collection for reviewing, and it’s immediately striking because of the artwork by Mathew Yates and Stuart Buck; the writing by this American writer blew my mind. I want a physical copy in my hands and to go to a cafĂ© on my own for a couple of hours. The work is out with Rhythm and Bones Press and is edited by Tianna G. Hansen.

Sharon Owens

Sharon Owens studied Illustration at the Belfast School of Art, and after graduation decided to become a painter. Her work has been shortlisted by the Royal Ulster Academy. She also writes Women’s Fiction, and is best known for her debut novel, 'The Tea House On Mulberry Street', which was a global success, selling almost half a million copies, and shortlisted by the Romantic Novelists Association. She is currently working on her eighth novel. Website: Instagram: SharonOwensTea Twitter: SharonOwensTea Etsy: SharonOwensArt
A book you loved as a child?
I loved The Borrowers series by Mary Norton. There were five books in the series, and I still have my original copies. As a child of the Troubles, and of divorced parents, and educated at a time when children were still caned at school, I identified hugely with the Clock family, and their desire to live quietly under the floorboards. The beautiful pen & ink illustrations by Diana Stanley were the reason I went to the Belfast School of Art, when I was twenty. I still get a thrill when I hear Leighton Buzzard mentioned, in any capacity, as I didn’t know back then that it was a real town.
A book you have read more than once?
I re-read a lot of books, mostly my Janet McNeill collection. But I’d have to say Little Deaths by Emma Flint, which is a conjectural thriller. It’s incredibly clever, atmospheric, stylish and tender. I aspire to write a book like this, though I know I never will. I also re-read The Blue Tango by Eoin McNamee. I love reading melancholy books but only ever seem able to write funny, romantic ones.
A book that deserves more attention?
Travelling In A Strange Land by David Park. This novel is just so beautiful. It’s about a father’s love for his family, and the terrible choice he must make, knowing he can never tell his wife about it. I don’t think I’ve ever read such a moving novel about fatherhood, or about being a parent. Or about driving in the snow. I would love to see this novel made into a film. I think it would win every category at the Oscars.
A book you have given as a gift?
Copies of Sweet Home by Wendy Erskine. What can I say? A collection of short stories so well-crafted you can almost hear the characters talking over one another in draughty Belfast houses. A masterpiece, by surely one of the leading literary stars of Northern Ireland. Another writer I aspire to be like one day but know that I never will. Most days I wish I could be paid for reviewing books, so I didn’t have to try to write another one myself.
A book with personal resonance?
The Maiden Dinosaur by Janet McNeill. Sarah Vincent, a 52-year-old spinster schoolteacher in pre-Troubles Belfast is a sort of living fossil. A childhood trauma has left her wary of relationships, and her social circle is confined to the girls she knew at school, now women like herself, trying to cope with the “indignities and absurdities” of middle age. 
I love this novel, now even more than I did when I first discovered it thirty years ago, because now I know that middle age does not bring any satisfactory answers to the great questions of life. How true, how disappointing. Though Sarah does find someone to share her life with, at the end, which is always wonderful, and every time I read it, I feel a physical surge of joy for her. This novel is wonderful about men too, how most men also struggle to find validation in life, and someone to care about them. I think that’s what I will always write about, finding sanctuary and acceptance in a humdrum world.

John Moynes

A scriptwriter and comedian by profession John Moynes eventually turned to poetry in an attempt to earn even less money. He is currently worked on a follow up to his debut collection 'Scenes of Moderate Violence' (Unbound, 2019). You can find him on Twitter: @JohnMoynes

What book are you reading right now?

The Mammoth Book of Apocalyptic SF, edited by Mike Ashley. Disappointingly, it doesn't quite work. Grouping science fiction by story subject rather than writing style means you end up with a mish mash of classic SF, through late 20th century dystopia through to contemporary data paranoia. This wouldn't normally be the end of the world, but in this case...

A book you loved reading as a child.

The Lord of the Rings. I read this on a loop from the ages of eleven to fourteen. I loved everything about it. I picked it up again in my late twenties and the love had gone completely. Either I had changed or the book had. Probably I had. People would have said something if a widely read story suddenly remade itself over the course of a decade.

Your favourite anthology.

Poetry in Motion, Alan Bennett. There are many fine anthologies of poetry out there, but how many also include essays by Alan Bennett about the works and their creators? Very few I'd wager. Almost none.

A book you have given as a gift.

Constellation of Genius, Kevin Jackson. A joyful romp through the culture and life of 1922. It's got James Joyce, Louis Armstrong, Alfred Hitchcock and the end of the Ottoman Empire, which is more than enough to keep me entertained.

A book that you started but never finished.

Moby Dick. I've started it three or four times. I have now finished starting it, I won't be going back. People keep telling me that if you stick with it long enough it turns into the Great American Novel, but they're all liars.

Wednesday 19 February 2020

Colin Dardis

Colin Dardis is a poet, editor, arts coordinator and creative writing tutor based in Belfast. His work has recently been listed in the Seamus Heaney Award for New Writing, Over The Edge New Writer of the Year Award, and Best Reviewer of Literature, Saboteur Awards 2018, as well as being published widely throughout Ireland, the UK and USA. Colin co-runs Poetry NI, a multimedia platform for poets, for which he co-edits FourXFour Poetry Journal, and co-hosts the monthly open mic night, Purely Poetry. His latest collection is The Dogs of Humanity (Fly on the Wall Press, 2019).

What book(s) are you reading right now?
Human Aggression by Anthony Storr, a psychology/psychiatry book from the late sixities that I picked up in a charity shop. My last collection touched upon how people treat each other (often in unsavoury ways), hence the interest. I'm also reading an unproofed manuscript of Linda McKenna's debut poetry collection. It's coming out from Doire Press shortly, and I'm providing a blurb for it.

A book you loved reading at a child.
I loved the Hardy Boys books, a pair of American teenage detectives. I read dozens of them, amazed how the author Franklin W. Dixon could write so many. I honestly felt quite gipped when I found out the name was just a pseudonym for a writing syndicate.

A book you have read more than once.
There are a few: The Gospels of the Holy Bible, Animal Farm, quite a few of Beckett's novels and plays. With there being so much still to read, and new books coming all the time, if something is going to be reread, it has to be outstanding (or really short!).

A book that you started but never finished.
I tried to re-read Virginia Woolf's The Waves recently. I quite enjoyed the narrative structure when I read it as a student originally, but this time round, it was just frustrating after about a dozen pages. It's still on our bookcase, it will be tackled eventually!

A book that you feel deserves more attention.
I just read Dr Becky Smethurst's excellent book Space: 10 Things You Should Know. It's an accesible,  entertaining guide to some of the mind-boggling complexities of the universe. Smethurst's style is light, fun and her passion and enthusiasm is evident on every page.