Category Archives: Interviews

Interview with Tom Moore

TomBlogTinyIn preparation for our upcoming utopia-themed event This Side of Paradise, we sent the castle dogsbody Tom Moore off to interview one of the readers… who is also Tom Moore.

So…um… awkward.

Yeah. So, are you like a clone or…?

I’m not sure. You ready to start?

I guess.

Right! What do you do here at Illicit Ink?

Well, I’m kind of a general odd-job guy. I handle the Twitter and Facebook accounts, I write, perform and sometimes compère events, I hand out chocolates…Sometimes I do interviews for the…uh…the website…

This is weird.

Get over it. So you write and perform – what do you like about that?

Several things. I mean, it’s a great rush to perform – I’m a natural show off, just as long as I’m in front of a large enough crowd. But more than that, I find it a more personal and engaging experience than just reading something yourself (I know some people would disagree with me there). I’m always surprised at each gig how something is transformed from how it was on the page into something completely different when performed – it’s a wonderful thing to watch.

It’s also good for the writer too as you get a real feel for how an audience is reacting to a story. You can feel them concentrating during tense moments, laughing at funny moments, or you can hear when their attention wanders during the bits you should probably cut out. It’s a far more effective and telling form of feedback than most.

What do you think makes a great performance from an average performance?

There’s no one thing, but mainly it seems to be about engaging the audience. A lot of writers know how to interest someone on the page but struggle to craft things which are as gripping when read out. I don’t think you should ever perform a story that wasn’t specifically written (or at least, edited) for that purpose. Great writing is always great writing, but if you just read something out monotonally at a set speed, the audience aren’t getting anything out of it and there’s nothing for them to engage with.

Reading things out is actually a very different skill from just reading. In your head your mind creates the nuances of intonation, tone and pacing, but when reading it out, that’s all your job. So…yeah. That. It comes through practice, mostly.

What kind of writer would you say you are? What are your influences?

Well, depending on what mood I’m in I’d probably say I was a ‘significantly below par’ writer or if I was feeling generous an ‘ok’ writer. In terms of what I like to write, I enjoy writing and working primarily with visual or performance mediums, such as writing for comic books, radio, television and so on. When it comes to writing prose, I love it, but I never feel like it’s playing to my strengths, which is probably why I do most of my prose writing for performance.

I’m dyslexic and I’ve always wondered if that’s had an influence on the mediums I enjoy. I tend to veer towards things which combine words with other way of getting the message across, such as pictures or sounds. I read most of my books via audiobooks these days (which still totally counts! shut up), so even when it comes to novels, I’m used to having part of my reading done for me.

Authors who inspire me tend to be those with no respect for genre or medium divides. People like Neil Gaiman who doesn’t see writing comics or Doctor Who as less valid than writing novels, or Iain [sometimes M] Banks* who was not only a fantastic ‘literary’ writer, but was also an unashamed and brilliant genre fiction writer. That’s the sort of writer I’d like to be – someone who just writes what they enjoy and a little bit of everything.

*Whose influence is celebrated in This Side of Paradise.

Ok, final question. If you were trapped in a room with an exact duplicate of yourself –

Like I am now.

Exactly. So, if you were trapped in a room with an exact duplicate of yourself – like you are now – would you kill the duplicate or have sex with it?

I…I… what? I don’t want to answer that.

Tough. You have to pick one.

Quickly.

Um…Well, I kinda hate myself a bit, so I might want to kill the duplicate…

Ahah!

But, y’know, I’m also a bit of an egomaniac, so I’d probably want to have sex with it too.

Tricksy. So what would it be?

Well, probably have sex that made me feel really dirty afterwards?

That’s good enough!

Once he’s had a few more showers, you can see Tom performing at This Side of Paradise on July 7th.

Interview with Erin McElhinney

erinPosted by Babs Melville

I caught up with the fabulous Erin McElhinney who will be performing at tonight’s school-themed event,  “Publish or Perish“.

Right, first things first – who are you, why are you, where are you and how are you?

Immediate self-definition panic ensues, which probably answers all the above questions, actually.

I’ll go for the usual parameters, or we’ll be here all day; I’m a liberal, geeky female, technically British but grew up elsewhere, I arts administrate, I drum and I have a very, very loud laugh.

Views vary on the why; rationale tells me freak chemical chance; my cat would argue to reach the food down from The High Place, and my Mum, for free IT support. I just not convinced there’s a why at all. Deep fried tofu! That’s my raison d’être most days.

In a basement, on a sofa, my Mac on my lap and said cat on my feet. Where the heart is.

Tell us a bit about what Arika does. What’ve been some of the stand-out moments of working there?

In the two years I’ve worked for Arika, I’ve boiled it down to this: we curate and produce experimental performance art and discussion events, in venues around Scotland, in the UK and New York. Which is a little like describing the internet as ‘a research tool’. But I work there, and I still struggle to elaborate much beyond that sentence. Essentially, we ask questions; we explore ideas. Sometimes we get it wrong, but it’s still important that the question was asked. Because you never know where it’s going to take you until you start to ask it.

I have to work hard to understand some of the thinking behind the performances we programme, but, of course, it’s not necessary that I – or anyone – do, in order to experience them. Some have left me cold, some clueless, some curious, but a few have left me reeling, and have changed how I think, permanently. For someone that’s mostly backstage, however, some of the best bits have been the connections I’ve made with artists from all over the world, the conversations I’ve had that I could never have predicted or sought for, and the massive high when you finish a week of 18 hour days, and find a flurry of thank you notes from audience members, artists and crew in your inbox. Plus, and it gives me great pleasure to say this, my bosses rock; they’re supportive, they listen, they make sure I feel appreciated, and they buy me scones. Enough said, really.

What do you think makes you want to write?

I should probably come up with a very lofty and noble answer, but it’s simply the feeling I have when it ‘works’. Writing for me is torture; I procrastinate massively, putting the words down on paper is often akin to drawing blood, but… when the story begins to roll, and takes over, and your pen can barely keep up with the words (I’m old school), there’s this feeling that rises through your flesh, and your skin, and it’s akin to pure joy. That’s probably my ‘Why’, actually. That feeling. It reminds me why I’m alive. Probably because I go through hell first; which has ended up sounding vaguely noble, if pretentious.

What do you like about performing stories that you don’t get from just reading them?

Sweaty palms, mostly. I’m quite new to the experience of actually reading my writing aloud – I’m not sure how I currently do it could be classed as a ‘performance’, in any way, I’m fairly sure you have to remember to look up from the paper every so often to qualify as ‘performing’ – and still get ridiculously nervous. There’s the obvious joy of the immediacy of an audience’s response – often they have unexpected reactions, laughing or gasping at something you’d never considered worthy of the same – but the bit I’m actually loving is being around a big group of other writers and writing fans, and it feeling really bloody supportive. I should have done this years ago.

What do you think marks out really good writing? What marks out really bad writing?

It’s incredibly subjective, obviously, although that’s a cop out answer, I know. Good writing = something that rings a bell of familiarity deep inside you, where you realise you’re reading something you’ve been trying to work out how to express for years, and you didn’t even realise you were struggling, until you read it, achieved for you. That moment of delight, where you think ‘Yes!’ – whether it be tragic, comic or horrifically, beautifully banal. Usually accompanied, in my case, by a twinge of jealousy; but when it’s really, really good, you’re just glad that it exists. There’s a vast sea of ok writing in the middle, and then bad writing = where you can almost see the skid marks from where the author dragged in that image, when you can see the engine parts of the story clearly, and they’re rusty, and leaking. Bad writing is either lazy, or delusional. That said, I’ll read pretty much anything; I figure I’ll learn something, even if it’s just how not to write.

Any tips for any nervous writers who’ve never performed before?

Only one. Cos it’s the only one that’s ever got me through. All the platitudes, and the ‘you’ll be fines’ in the world make sod all difference, unfortunately. Most of the time reminding myself that I’ve done some pretty stupid things so far, so what’s the worst that could happen? works… or I can raise some courage by thinking “Heck, at least I’m putting myself out there, and giving it a go. Counts for something”. But if those aren’t working, and I’m still laying a small poo in the corner, then all I can do is remember that no matter *what* happens, time will continue to move on, and at some point, it’ll be time for me to walk off the stage, and it’ll be over. Wow, that’s cheerful, isn’t it. Reading the piece over and over and over again beforehand helps, too. There you go; end on something practical.

If you could have had any alternate career, what would it have been?

Ha! The career I have now isn’t the one I want – despite the scones – so, obviously, you know my answer; a writer. Across a whole spectrum. Books, plays, films, blog posts, comics, opinion pieces, poems, love letters, video games; I get a different kick out of each one, but also that prevailing rising feeling. Failing that, an archaeologist. I really, really wanted to be Indiana Jones when I was growing up, but grew disheartened when I kept on failing to find a fedora to fit my unnaturally large head. It’s the little things.

Interview with Emily Dodd

sepiacrop2Posted by Babs Melville

We’re delighted to host poet, screenwriter and educator Emily Dodd at this year’s Happy Verse Day. We caught up with her for a chat about performance, poety, and the significance of socks.

What goes through your head before performing? 

(if someone asks me to perform)

Stage 1: Appreciation  – Thank you, wow they want me?

Stage 2: Realisation (shortly after stage 1) – OH CRAP, oh crap, oh crap…

Stage 3: Practicalities – What will I wear? How will I get there? Will I have time for dinner?

Stage 4: Repeat Stage 2

Stage 5: Planning – What poems should I do? (plan set, write ideas down)
Plan links to get from poem 1 to poem 2 and make it into a story.

Stage 6: Repeat Stage 2 and Stage 3

Stage 7: Practicing – I practice my pieces aloud, I say poems over and over until I can remember them. I practice the links and then put it all together. The links are really important, it makes the whole thing flow and gives me more confidence. I like talking to the audience and I quite often change my links depending on what the audience say but if I don’t practice them I can’t do that effectively. I think I need to rehearse lots to be spontaneous.

Not sure if that makes sense but here’s an analogy. If you’re on a walk and you know the route you can go for a detour and get back on track because you know where you’re going. BUT if you don’t know the route and you go on a detour you’re likely to get lost! I know to my detriment when I’ve not practiced my links properly and got lost.

Stage 8: About to go on – Repeat stage 2 but add physical pain in my stomach.

What’s your favourite poem (or set) to perform?

That changes but anything new because it’s a new challenge to learn it and it’s fresh and scary. But I like old favourites too, poems you know go down well are like cosy jumpers – you feel happy wearing them. Starling My Darling is one of those.

And your favourite poem (or set) performed by someone else?

That’s really hard, there are so many amazing poets just in Edinburgh.

I like it when people give a little of themselves – you can be an amazing performer but not share yourself even if your words give that impression. Or you can be less polished but totally real and that’s what I like. There’s a line in a poem that Jenny Lindsay wrote “I miss your socks”. I love that because genuine emotion and it makes me smile. She performs it well too.

Young Dawkins has an amazing ability to draw complete attention of a crowd with just one word, that impresses me.

I love seeing my poetry mentor Elspeth Murray perform. She has an amazing presence on stage and an amazing ability to bring other peoples’ words to life with found poems using all manner of voices. She makes the ordinary beautiful. There’s something fun about her delivery too, an inner joy that comes through like she’s swinging on a swing. Not sure I’m describing what I mean very well here. I’m feeling the pressure being seen as a poet and rambling on – it is 11pm and I’ve had a long day (:

Is there a line from a story or poem that sticks in your head? What is it?

The socks (see above). “Still I Rise” from Maya Angelo. I have a multitude of poems, songs and lyrics in my head and they don’t leave, they just hide for a while and pop out when I’m not expecting them. I can still quote most of Disney’s The Little Mermaid word for word should the need arise (the dialogue AND the songs) and Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox and C.S. Lewis’s The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.

I often find myself singing songs by accident. I quite enjoy tracing where the association comes from (I must sound like I don’t get out much!). Like the other day I started singing Madonna Like a Virgin, no not my usual chorus. I was taken aback, I was in company so it was a little embarrassing – my sudden outburst. I realised it was because I’d been bra shopping earlier that day and (wait for it) in Bridget Jones Diary The Edge of Reason Bridget passes her bra around for everyone to try on in the prison and they all sing Madonna’s Like a Virgin together. There was a reason (perhaps I’m on the edge of reason).

Scientists have shown our brains are wired for rhythm from birth. We were all made lyrical so maybe I’ve just gone along with it, perhaps that’s what poets do. I know I made up songs, stories and rhymes to keep myself entertained more than anything else as a child (:

If you had to offer one tip to budding new performers, what would it be?

Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Practice lots. Never be too proud to learn. That’s 3 tips, sorry!

If you needed a pseudonym, what would you choose?

I’ve known as Aunty Emily in twitter circles, that’s my twitter name. Not sure it’s as cool as Banksy but hey, it will do (:

You can find out more about Emily Dodd – or should we say Aunty Emily – on her website.

Image credit: Lilly Lyle