|Salena's mother - the official pin-up for Springfield Road|
I was lucky enough to read Springfield Road a while ago, and loved it. I heard Springfield Road on BBC Radio 4 and loved it again. It is moving, honest, absolutely engaging, and beautifully written. Do visit Unbound, and see how you might be able to help it into book form... and remember, every little counts!
But before you disappear, enjoy a natter with the writer, here...
Hi Salena - welcome to the blog. Now, first of all, tell everyone a bit about Springfield Road.
Springfield Road is a childhood memoir. Its the story of the house on Springfield Road in Hastings, the people that lived there and the stories they left behind. More so its the story of how my parents met - My father was a jazz musician and my mother a Go-go dancer. This is also very much the story of the journey of writing this book too. Its a poetic and universal story, peppered with daydreams, a child’s view, told from the ants in the cracks in the pavement to the faces in the clouds.
These are memories of attempting to understand the beauty, the brutality and the contradictions of the adult world.
This book has been compared to Laurie Lee ‘Cider With Rosie’ and Angela Ashworth ‘Once In A House On Fire’ People have also mentioned ‘White Teeth’ Zadie Smith and ‘Running With Scissors’ by Augusten Burroughs. I suppose elements of this book may be as summer soft and Brit nostalgic as say ‘Cider With Rosie’ but its certainly as gritty and raw as Shane Meadows ‘This Is England’ during some chapters too.
Maggie Gee was so helpful to me, and I know she helped you too - and we both teach and facilitate in our turn - I like that circular movement - is that a deliberate vision for you of how the writing world works best?
I'm so grateful to Maggie Gee - I cannot thank her enough for her encouragement and support. Maggie helped me very much with the new unseen chapters, the journey of ‘writing the book’ chapters, written in the now.
I believe writing memoir is like painting a movable feast, a moving object, the subject matter alters and changes as new news comes through. Its very much a living breathing and changeable weather, as people die and people are born, the shape of the nostalgic landscape you are writing about also changes, history warps with time and sentimentality.
I don't think I have a deliberate vision for how the writing world works - I do have meticulous lists, I even have lists that refer to other lists. I make a point to never forget kindness.
I think its important that writers help each other, show support and share good news. There is plenty of pie for everyone, I think its beautiful to keep passing the ball and to keep the ball in the air, keep passing the conch shell as it were, to share our stories, to listen and learn.
How did you find the time to write with all the other things you do?!
When I wrote the bulk of 'Springfield Road I’d quit everything and everyone. I locked myself away in solitary confinement and pretty much wrote from 4am to 4pm each day. I have a great determination and when I want to do something I will do it. I was monk-like, strict and hard on myself. I went to bed at 9pm and rose at 4am to work at it, to edit and write it all over, again and again. I felt I had a job to do and I wanted to do it well. These are not make-believe characters, this is my family and I love them. Put it like this - I have to have Christmas dinner with these people, I wouldn't hear the last of it if I got anyone or anything wrong.
But the greatest moment, illumination, was when I spent a month at a writers retreat, alone up a mountain in Andalusia re-writing this version of the book and it was then I came to the realisation there is no wrong or right way to write it, that we all edit our memories and select what we'll forget of something and exactly how we'll remember something else.
I've always lived as though there is not much time, as though we are running out of time, I'm sure you'll agree the most frustrating thing for a writer is the waiting, waiting for people to catch up, waiting for feedback, waiting, waiting. So I counteracted this by keeping very busy. While I wait I write other things – I aim to have something bubbling on the hob ready to serve, something in the freezer for later, something new brewing, marinating, something in the oven, something in the shop window to sell and something to giveaway for free. Put it this way, i have novels and plays that have never seen the light of day. And if you looked in my kitchen cupboards you'd find them stacked with folders and notebooks of unpublished poems and ready-to-read short story collections where normal people keep food and crockery. Finding time to write and making new work has never been a problem. The hardest work is waiting for ‘my turn’ and being patient that’s all.
4. So far you have masses of people queuing up to help a little with the publication process...Tell us about Unbound and how you came to choose them - and whether there are plans for the book once published - will you take it on tour?
I met John Mitchinson and Rachael Kerr at Voewood festival a few years ago. I think the Unbound model could be the future of publishing. Unbound enables writers, it gives them more say and power.
The other day I said to my friend that "writing a book without a publishing deal can be a bit like walking into a pub, yeah, mopping the pub floor, clearing the dirty glasses and wiping the tables without being asked. But then wondering why you haven't been paid. You'll get popular in that pub, but you wonder why you did that? And where you got the bucket? Ha ha and why you have to mop it all up in the first place." With Unbound I suppose you have the whole pub knowing why you are there and cheering you along...um...as you mop the pub floor.
Yes, planning parties, events, tours and festivals. I've been working on audio and radio ideas too - But I'm trying to be patient and take one step at a time.
Unbound is a bit like Roman times. My book is a gladiator. "I am Spartacus" is now "I am Springfield." The book is at the mercy of the generosity of the braying crowds. Thumbs up....or thumbs down and this work is thrown to the lions.
Seriously though Unbound is all about readers pledging for the books they'd like to read and being able to watch the book they back and support grow and blossom - for the author its both nerve wracking and exciting.
In an email a while back, you mentioned the sad death of your grandmother, and how you felt that you could not properly start or end Springfield Road before that - does she still open and close the book?
In a way yes.
My grandmother looked after me when I was young so that my mother could work. Our dad was off and away and so as a single-parent my Mum found a job stacking shelves in the local supermarket. There is something of Alan Silitoe about that particular era and my trying to capture those early days.
When my grandmother passed away (about two years ago) it was her wish that we take her home to Jamaica, to Colonels Ridge, Clarendon to lay her to rest with her kin. It was quite a trip, and quite a sight to behold, the old family house and garden with my elders graves.
I hadn't been to Jamaica before and so I always had an “imagined belonging” to that side of my family, to my Jamaican heritage and roots. My childhood would have been very different if I had gone to paddle in the warm turquoise ocean at Montego Bay for Easter holidays instead of shivering in the cold, sage-green sea and stony beaches of Hastings, East Sussex.
"Excerpt // "We stood amongst the tombs of our great-grandparents and my great aunts and uncles, beside a house that could not have possibly housed them all. It was derelict and I could see though a jagged window into the kitchen where my great grandmother would have cooked. There was a broken old stove there still. Now the black and white drawings my grandmother had described to me as a girl were technicoloured, suddenly in 3D, moving around me, a living, walking and talking picture. Vivid blue and violet, the world was humming in a hundred shades of life and lush green."
What is it about our grandmothers? (I’m now one myself, so the question is pertinent... I need to know how to be!) It was memories of my own grandmother in Wales that fed right through The Coward's Tale - it wouldn't exist without my memories of her. Why are they so important to some?
I had three grandmothers. Its a little too complicated to write it all out here but the bottom line is there were three grandmothers.
There is this great importance of grandmothers – I wonder is it because we are female, and there is a invisible thread from the elder to the younger female in the blood line.
I am fascinated by the 'third' grandmother nobody knew - a fifteen year old Irish girl that disappeared….and I have started working on a history of her..
I had four - but we'll leave it at that! What are you working on now, writingwise?
I’ve been writing and producing tracks I call "sound gardens" or "radio pictures" My first one, my debut 'If The Heart Is A Bell' was a 12minute remix of a poem I wrote for my friends funeral. I submitted it to be presented at The Londonewcastle Project Space on Redchurch Street in January and then it went to Paris on Valentines night as part of the Trolleyology Exhibition. Its a tribute to my friend Gigi who passed away on Christmas Eve. Its a combination of the poetry, recorded live music, guitars, radio, narrative, borrowed samples and loops and a decade of Trolley Books visuals…
Book wise I'm editing the new novel – This winter I got obsessed by the life and work of Jean Rhys and those early novels of 1930's Paris. My new novel has a voice that now reminds me of the precarious fragility and destructive hedonism of a young Jean - it is fiction though!
Away from that I am busy with the polishing of my BBC work, pitching radio ideas and working on scripts. Plus editing poems ready for the summer chaos and festivals - feels like 2013 is gonna be one helluva summer! See you there!