Interview - steve harris

steve harris

Our own Steve Taylor-Bryant talked to our own steve harris about his new book and writing, and it got a bit like Steve talks to steve, talks to Steve, talks to steve, talks to you, to me, to you, to me...

"Mr H! Pleasure to have you in /G-f plush offices. Just for the readers I think it's right to let everyone know we have known each other for the best part of two decades, so let's go back to then. Why the change from guitar based world domination to words?

Guitars still make me excited and I still write songs and go all widdly widdly with instruments. Except triangles. They don’t go widdly widdly and were invented by Lucifer. Your office is indeed plush. Is this the result of that chip shop robbery we perpetrated in 1995? Which I swore never to mention so forget I said anything about it and don’t tell your readers.

Rock and roll was very good to me but I wasn’t so good to myself during those years. The same old tale we’ve heard a million times of creative burn-out, substance abuse, believing myself to be some form of demi-god. It had to stop. Once I stopped doing music as a career I became more capable of being happy in those tiny, seemingly insignificant moments we can take for granted.

Shit, you didn’t want philosophy, did you? Well when I quit I started writing for a few magazines: reviews and opinion pieces. I’d wanted to write since I was five years old so this was the start of actually doing it instead of telling people I’d get round to it one day. The articles and reader feedback gave me the confidence to start putting my more creative and strange fictions out there. It also helped that for the best part of 9 years I studied Literature to PhD level at Exeter University. But we don’t talk about that either because those who read the articles I continue to write might want me to include language such as ‘mis en scene’ or ‘schizoidal narratological subterfuge’ instead of ‘this movie sucked donkey’s balls’ which would be much less fun for me.

You have a mind like very few other people, almost A Beautiful Mind levels of intellect. How do you manage to write for any audience? I know some very smart folk who can't dial it back and come off like they are talking down to people but you manage to avoid that.

My relationship with my own mind is a strange one. I spent years denying I had any intellect whatsoever – rock and roll, drugs, caveman play three chords and drink Jack Daniels, ugh! University taught me not to be ashamed of the fact that I have a brain but I’ve always been wary of, even disliked those who want you to know how super clever they are all the time. People know what they know. No one knows everything. Some people know a little more than some others but we’re talking an extra couple of raindrops in the ocean here.

What I have always known about my brain is that it is warped. And I like that fact. If it were warped in a way that made me want to hurt puppies or do unspeakable things to my fellow humans then I wouldn’t like it at all. I’d hand myself over to the white coat brigade and refuse to allow them to ever release me back into the community. Fortunately I’m warped in the sense that the world is a silly place to me, especially because it is so goddamned serious all the time.

I do serious. I can grump and stomp and be all self-important. Because human person. But I can also do flights of imagination which enable me to forget what it was that might have pissed me off to the point of grumpy stomping.

As for it translating to many different readers I honestly don’t know how that happens. I tend to like to talk to all sorts of people in my daily life so perhaps I have an interest in people in their many shapes and forms. Except Hitler. I really never got on with him. He seemed like such a bastard.

Are the poems and stories making it to the page a natural process or a struggle which you have to put structures into?

I play with structures but I also like to let words flow out free form and return to them at a later date with my editing hat on. Structure can be really useful for focusing the mind on what you’re hoping to say, especially with poetry. Sonnets are my favourite form of poetry which they would be, I guess as the word sonnet literally means ‘little song’ and I get a similar sense of putting a puzzle together from writing sonnets and from writing songs.

Short stories I often let erupt across the screen (or page – I still like to scribble things down on lined paper with a crappy old pencil now and then). They get tidied up or discarded at a later stage.

The novel needed a hell of a lot of preplanning and structure in place before I began to write at all. I compiled entire back stories for the three central characters and a timeline which spread across the 25 years covered by the book. It’s the most organised I have ever been when approaching such a large piece of writing. Seeing as it is the only novel I have yet managed to finish I’d say it was vital for me to pay so much attention to structure and planning.

New Visions

New Visions is my favourite release of yours so far. Why the jump from short form to full on novel?

You know how they say “everyone’s got a novel in them”? Well I’ve always believed that to be true. I am realistic enough to know that this doesn’t mean that everyone has a good novel in them, though. Having said that I am now on my third proofreading session and I do still like the novel so whether anyone else thinks it’s good or not will be a bonus because I know I’ve written something of which I will always be proud. I do want to get back to short stories this year, though. The novel is quite a straight narrative in many ways (apart from jumping about in time and one of the main characters being in a coma for the majority of the book). I want to write some more warped stuff and short stories are the perfect outlet for me when it comes to quark, strangeness and charm. (Yes, I just quoted Hawkwind. Dear Dave Brock, don’t sue me, we’ve taken drugs together…er I mean we’ve drunk splendid Darjeeling tea together and conversed about ragtime jazz).

Once the idea for From the Top started to form how did you go about getting the words out and what sort of timescale was it?

As I mentioned earlier, there was a lot of planning once I knew what the novel was going to be about. I think it took four weeks to compile the timeline and the back stories. I then wrote the novel in two main chunks. Half of it was written as soon as the planning was finished – about four months solid writing every day. Then I put it aside as I had a couple of smaller projects on that were looming in terms of deadlines. Then I chilled out during a quite nice summer. Then I got back to the writing and wrote the second half in about the same time scale as the first half – four months or so.

I completed it just over a year ago, put it aside for a month, redrafted it, put it aside, redrafted again and am now on the final proofread which involves much less redrafting but a lot more nitpicking about whether a sentence needs a semi-colon in the middle or whether it should be cut in half with a full stop and turned into two sentences. Not my favourite part of the process but no bugger else is going to do it so it has to be my job as well as the creative side.

Was it a comfortable process writing about bands and musicians? I've always found my time gigging and recording extremely hard to talk about.

It was so much fun. Half of the narrative takes place in 2012 (the year I began writing the first chapters) but the rest of it is flashback stuff to 25 years ago when the three main characters were teenagers forming a band together. While none of the people in that band are based on anyone I know as such some of the peripheral figures are – sound men from dingy London venues who think they’re god because a member of the Stranglers once asked them what microphones they prefer to use on the kick drums. Oh and dodgy management companies. I dealt with a few of them and they’ve been amalgamated into the managerial double act that eventually take the band on.

One thing I realised when I was writing some of the scenes with the singer in his coma was that the comatose figure was sort of an exaggeration of the person I could have turned into full time if I’d stayed long enough in music to become famous. But the other guy, the one who quit the band aged 19 and hasn’t seen the other members for a quarter of a century, I realised he was the person I could have been if I had quit music entirely when I stopped trying to become a professional with a recording contract. So in a way they are both extremes of my own personality, people I did not become but could have done. The passages where Skip is bitching out his famous former friend for some of his rock and roll excesses were hilarious to write because I began to understand that I was slagging myself off for the worst excesses of my own ego when I was a young, ambitious bellend. Talented, yes. Bellend, yes.

Ghost Wasps

You have Kickstarted a run of signed books what was your thinking behind this?

I just wanted to have a 3D artefact to show for the work I’ve put into this novel. Also it is such a great way to involve friends and family in something important to me. Creativity is a hard choice especially when you’re younger, so to be able to turn round to folk now and say “Hey, would you like to contribute to this project of mine becoming a physical thing?” is a wonderful feeling. Particularly because the answer is usually “Yes” and because I’m only halfway through the Kickstarter time limit and have hit my original target. Now I want to keep going and see if I can print a few more copies than the initial intention.

When and where will those who missed the campaign be able to grab their copies?

I want those who have helped contribute to this project to feel like they have something special and unique for a while. They will get signed copies and there will be no way for anybody else to buy from me or from the print-to-buy publishers I am doing this through until the end of the year.

What's next on the literary front?

I have some rough ideas for another potential novel .I have a backlog of hundreds of freeform poems that I need to sift through and maybe put together in a new collection. I have a few short stories kicking about and want to spend this year writing a whole bunch more. And I’m considering serialising a new novella – a chapter a week written hastily, posted online hastily and then eventually edited and turned into something less hasty. Maybe.

Is a Jaffa Cake a biscuit?

Don’t be ridiculous. A Jaffa Cake is a tiny flying saucer. The Orange Slime beasts of Orangicus Slimious 7 intend on taking over this planet by rotting our teeth and sending nanobots into our stomachs and brains. Every time you eat a Jaffa Cake you are in danger of being taken over by their mind probe devices. You’re much safer with a Digestive, you mad impetuous fool."

Images - steven harris.

SUPPORT THE KICKSTARTER here - https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1201347154/from-the-top

Find all the books on Lulu here - http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/sgharris44atgooglemaildotcom
Read The Planet Harris blog here - https://theplanetharris.wordpress.com/
and find him on Facebook and Twitter.