A Pankhearst Interview
Who are you?
I’m James Knight, a maker of bad dreams.
Where are you?
I live in Somerset, in the UK.
And how the hell are you doing?
I’m not at all sure.
Why are you publishing independently?
Because no publisher in his right mind would back me. I’m not being entirely facetious. There’s next to no money in poetry; even less in the sort that I write.
How is publishing independently working for you?
Reasonably well, in that I have total control over every aspect of my books. I edit, design and illustrate my books (though I have also published two slim volumes with illustrations by other artists). Self-publishing also means I can publish when it suits me, and set low prices.
When did know that you were born to be a writer?
I don’t believe I was born to be a writer. I could equally have ended up an actor or an archaeologist. That said, I have always written. I recently found an old exercise book, containing several abortive novels, written between the ages of ten and fourteen. As a child I knew that writing was important to me and that it was an activity I would always love.
Who’s your target audience? What aspect of your writing do you feel targets that audience?
I don’t give potential audiences a thought. I write the sort of things I like to read, in the way they need to be written.
How much of you will a reader find in your writing? If you have a good example, don’t be shy.
I don’t write about characters in the novelistic sense, but I have created grotesques that express the things my waking, socially normalised self can’t express. An example is the Bird King. He’s utterly fantastic (in the original sense of the word), a mad tyrant, magnificently craven, who pours nightmares from vials into people’s ears. But he’s also a writer and strangely vulnerable; a sort of fairground mirror reflection of me.
Do you work alone or collaborate? Do you belong to any writers groups – online or local. How do you find the experience?
Writing is largely a solitary activity for me, but I’m very fortunate to be a member of Jeff Noon’s Twitter writing group @echovirus12. We tweet microfiction and fragments, each one echoing or developing a word or image from the previous tweet. It’s not unlike an OULIPO game or an exquisite corpse. It’s exciting to be part of @echovirus12, even if it’s in an online environment and lacking the immediacy of the physical world. I’m also one of Nicky Mortlock’s Transformations poets; Nicky had the idea of getting some writers together online, to write poems that give a contemporary spin to Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The project has resulted in me writing about the likes of Tiresias and Arachne and employing forms (for example, the dramatic monologue) that are quite alien to the way I usually write. It’s been very refreshing, and I’m sure everyone involved has benefitted from Nicky’s vision and energy.
What advice would you give to a new author?
Never try to write poetry. The effort is inimical to creativity, honesty and energy. Far better simply to write; the poetry will happen in its own time.
Define a great book.
A good book pleases. A great book disturbs.
Do you think poetry has a future?
There’s no doubt that poetry is a declining art form. Sometimes I think there are more writers of poetry than readers of it. But social networking – and Twitter in particular – has given it a lifeline. Micropoetry flashes through timelines, makes brief impressions on people’s consciousness before they’ve even registered that it’s poetry and hence a form of writing they would normally avoid. Poetry’s bad public image (as stuffy prissiness or self-indulgent obscurantism) is subverted by the sparkle and vigour of the best micropoetry. Of course, there’s some terrible poetry on Twitter too, but even that enjoys considerable popularity, and that can’t be a bad thing.