Broken Asides with Paul Brookes


When did you first feel like a writer?

First time was in Junior School when I kept getting comments like “very imaginative”, “great description”. Second time was when I got my first poem published in Barnsley Literary Societies magazine “inklings”, third time was the local parish magazine publishing meditative paragraphs from me on a regular basis, fourth time was having a play of mine performed at the Gulbenkian Theatre at Hull University, fifth time was recording poetry for Radio Bristol when I was part of a poetry performance group called “Dead Rats On Leave”, sixth time was performing from my first pamphlet, The Fabulous Invention of Barnsley”, in Sheffield evening of poetry, Seventh is all the blurbs and reviews I get of every book Is have brought out since.

What’s the most interesting thing that has inspired your writing and what was the result?

Culture shock. When my mam and dad divorced I moved with her and my late sister from a small village beside an accident blackspot on the A1 to a cheaper house in the centre of an estate. We could not even afford a lawn mower for the long grass. My mam asked me to cut the grass with a pair of household scissors. Arriving at my new school in Barnsley in my second year at secondary at confronting the South Yorkshire Dialect and culture. So different from North and West Yorkshire. I was a posh git ripe for bullying. It is when you find yourself on the edge of everything that you must write.

Paint us a picture: what does your writing process look like? Do you write in coffee shops at night or only on an old type-writer?

I write anywhere. Mobiles are brilliant for note taking. Sat in our local cemetery which is more like a throughfare in all seasons. Sat in our local Whetherspoons, evesdropping, Sat on a bus or train doing the same. Observing, witnessing and recording. My writing brain never switches off.

Describe your ideal reader: who would your work speak to?

Anyone and everyone, hopefully.

Who’s an author you’ve changed your mind about and why?

Dylan Thomas, Under Milk Wood I was brought up with by dad’s playing of his 33 and a half record. Of course I was first enthralled by the cover portraying the tumble down town and the occupiers of each home, to the bobbing boats in the harbour. Then I heard it, still hear it in my head every day. When I passed forty, it began to dawn on me that the play promoted the drinking, carousing life above the more mundane. It espoused a bohemian lifestyle and seemed to veer away from the violence of drunkenness, the labour of women’s lives.

If you could interview any other writer/artist, who would it be and why?

I would have liked to have interviewed two poets while they were alive: Peter Reading and Ken Smith. I am fascinated by how Peter constructed his books. His use of various levels of language, his persona poems and the reason for including so many birds in his books. Ken Smith fascinates me by how he chooses certain details to portray a journey, how he came up with the idea for “Fox Running”, his use of history, and a Folklorist way of telling his stories.

What motivates you to keep writing?

All the cornucopia of living and dying, existing and persisting that goes on around me, the wonder in the domestic, the mundane in the wild, the fantastic within the ordinary, the colour of folks language and telling of tales, the richness and poverty of language, the pressures we all endure and rail against, the grief and laughter of it all.

How do you deal with writer’s block or being overwhelmed by the writing process?

I focus on the journey of the smallest thing such as a fly or an ant, think myself into their eyes, or watch folk on the high street, or eavesdrop on the bus or train. Use my mobile camera on macro to capture light and shadow. Even when without phone, pen or paper working the supermarket aisles or serving customers my writing brain clocks what they wear, what they say like a mobile poetic CCTV. Never switches off.

Where would you like to see yourself in a decade? A creative writing teacher? As a best-seller?

I would like my poetry to be studied in schools, above all. I would like it to encourage folk to read that don’t usually read poetry.

I have been/am a creative writing teacher. I have created, designed and run creative writing and literature classes for the Workers Educational Association. I did it for nine years. I get a buzz from it when the classes go well and you can actually see the energy rising amongst the folk.

What has your work taught you about yourself?

That I have still a lot to learn about myself. I know my limitations. I am not an academic, nor am I practical. My wife says I am educated beyond my intelligence. I am reminded of that every day. I still read poets and say “Wow!” the writer in me says “How have they done that?”. I have been saying the same thing to myself for the last fifty years and still be doing it long into my dotage. And then trying to achieve the same effect in my own writing.

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