Interview - James Knight

James Knight

As noted author and general creative genius James Knight celebrated his book launch of “In The Dark Room” last year we took the chance to catch up with him about the book, Twitter and life in general...

"Thanks for taking the time to speak to us today James. Your new book “In The Dark Room” is different to the likes of Head Traumas in that it is not a collection of smaller works. Why did you decide to approach this project in a new way?

It wasn't really a conscious decision. I just found myself writing In the Dark Room, enjoying the flow of a continuous (if fragmentary) narrative, using my own pictures as stimuli. I knew I wanted to write something in the first person, but that was about as far as my planning had gone. So for each part I selected a picture, and used it to generate ideas and images for the story. The whole thing was written over five days, in very short bursts.

Where did the idea for the Mannequins themselves come from?

I don't know. I'm fascinated by all things uncanny, but dolls and mannequins in particular. Mannequins seem to me supremely sinister, because they embody someone's idea of perfection. They're glacial, haughty, superhuman. There may be a couple of literary influences too: Jacques Sternberg's novel Le coeur froid, in which the narrator has a relationship with a women who (unbeknownst to him) is clearly a shop-window mannequin. And Alain Robbe-Grillet's later novels abound with women whose expressionlessness and unreality makes them mannequin-like.

And what about the title of the book?

The working title was The Phantom Room, named after a real place, a room in Pembroke Lodge in Richmond, which does make an appearance in the book. But I rejected that title in the end because it's too gothic. In the Dark Room was a deliberate echo of Maurice Sendak's In the Night Kitchen. I've said elsewhere that all of my work owes something to Sendak. In my novella the narrator's room becomes a forest, just as Max's does in Where the Wild Things Are. Also, the title plays on the notion of the darkroom, a place where images are developed, shapes and colours bloom from nothingness.

You’ve recently released a deluxe colour version of the paperback for In The Dark Room to show off your spectacular oneirograph artworks. What is an oneirograph for those that don’t know?

An oneirograph is a picture of a dream. Not a real dream, but a fabricated one. I make all of my oneirographs using public domain pictures, photos taken with my phone and image-editing software. It's very easy and anyone could do it. I just combine disparate images, layering them and playing with different textures, lighting effects and colours. I rarely have a fixed idea of what I want a picture to look like. Most of the better ones came about as a result of accidents or idle playing.

And why the conscious decision to go with a black and white version of the book first when your artwork is quite a major part of the book?

I didn't want to discourage readers by issuing a prohibitively expensive colour edition first. I always make my books as cheap as I possibly can and consequently make no money from them. Funnily enough, I slightly prefer the monochrome version of the book; the oneirographs have a different sort of magic in black-and-white. One of the novella's themes is memory, and it seems fitting that the pictures should resemble old photos.

You are well known, in these parts at least, for having strong opinions about the use of Twitter as a medium for creativity. Firstly tell us about your work with Chimera Group and why you set it up.

The idea behind Chimera (@chimeragroup0) was to gather together a fairly large number of writers and artists whose work I admire, and encourage creative playfulness as individuals and collaboratively, both through our Twitter account and through our website. Almost everyone I invited to join did, and I still can't quite believe my luck at having such a diverse and talented group. Our mission statement, if you like, is stated in the bio of the Twitter account:

Children make pictures, poems and stories playfully, adventurously, unconstrained by considerations of realism, theory or convention.

So do we.

The wonderful thing about Chimera is its unpredictability. Members tweet fiction, nonsense, pictures, whenever they like and when the mood takes them. There is no programme, no objective. I'd go so far as to say that I object to objectives.

We sought your comments on mainstream authors using Twitter fiction as a way to promote his print book. At the time you said it was a cynical marketing exercise. Do you feel there is a place for conventional print writers to create on Twitter or are the media too different and you are either one or the other?

I'm not an elitist, and there is no reason why a traditional author shouldn't have fun with Twitter. But if you're going to use Twitter creatively, you might as well embrace the spirit of the medium. A Twitter feed shouldn't just be a monologue broken into tweets; interaction and spontaneity are key elements that distinguish Twitter from, say, a book.

How do you see Twitter creativity progressing, or contracting, over the next few years? Will it remain at the forefront of creativity or is there “the next big thing” waiting round the corner?

I have no idea. It won't be around forever of course, and there will come a time when those of us having fun tweeting fiction and poetry will have to adapt to a new medium and a new way of working.

Finally what can we expect next from the brilliant brain of James Knight?

Too kind! Well, I'm working on a companion piece to In the Dark Room, which won't be a book but will be posted online. Also, I've amassed enough material since Head Traumas for another collection of poems and prose poems, which I'll probably publish in the New Year. The two projects I'm most excited about though are collaborations with other members of Chimera, both artists: The Mannequin with Susan Omand and House of Mirrors with Viviana Hinojosa. Work-in-progress excerpts from both are on the Chimera website and my blog. Both artists are outrageously talented, and I'm thrilled to be working with them."

Image - Amazon

Find James Knight on  Amazon and Lulu  
On Twitter - @BadBadPoet
and his website -
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