Name: Steve Anwyll
Current publication: Steve Anwyll's novel Welfare is available from Tyrant Books.
Recommendations: Cheeseburger s/t 2008; Robocop 1987
If you enjoyed this interview with Steve Anwyll, check out his website and twitter account for more information and current updates.
When did you start writing- and what or who were your early passions and influences? What is about literature and writing that drew you to it?
As a child I was a loner. Or a loser. Take your pick. So I found refuge in books. They gave me the things that other kids found in one another. And even then I knew I wanted to write. But was under the impression it was the hobby of a rich man's son. It wasn't until I got older and found and read other 'loser' type writers when I started to think that maybe I could follow in their footsteps.
But even still I didn't find the confidence to give it a serious try until I was in my early 30's. I was unemployed again with the weight of time beginning to push down from above. I told myself this was it. I had to dive in or always wonder what the water was like.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
I think it's natural to come out of the gate emulating the people who make you want to make your art. I will always go back to the books and the writers I love to see how they did or dealt with the same subjects I want to write about. And if you keep writing, your own voice will emerge as you become more comfortable with the medium. The more I type the easier it is to be honest with myself and the empty page. The more honest I become the more I sound like myself. The more I sound like myself the more my voice becomes something people are able to relate with. It’s a pretty easy equation.
What were your main writing challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
Since I'm a self-taught outsider the biggest challenge for me was having the confidence to send my stuff out to places to be judged in the first place. I had no idea what was expected of me. And automatically thought that whatever I was doing was going to be laughed at and ridiculed as the work of a hack. Which I'm sure it was and still is.
But with time I found editors who understood what I was doing. Started getting my work accepted. Gave less a shit about that. And now it's become more about keeping up the quality of what I do. Like because I'm proud of the heart in my first novel I have to be sure that my second novel really sings. It's about hitting a high water mark I have in my head now.
What does writing mean to you personally? What is expressed through literature and poetry that can not be expressed trough other forms of art?
I feel like writing gives my life some meaning. I don't have kids or friends or a good relationship with my family or care about politics and am seemingly unable to give a shit about the job I do to pay my bills. So if it wasn't for writing and my wife my life would be awfully empty.
And I think I'm drawn to writing because there's nowhere to hide behind it. People have a belief in words that is far stronger than a painting or song or sculpture. So no matter what I write. Loosely fictional accounts of my life or otherwise. Readers take it like the word of god. Absolute truth. The page offers less cover than a guitar or a paintbrush ever could and this bareness is what attracts me to it.
How do you see the relationship between style, form, plot and storytelling – and how would you rate their importance for you, respectively?
What I pay the most attention to is style. That's a very important aspect of writing for me. Any motherfucker can sit down in front of the machine and start typing. But if you don't have any style then who's going to read you? You walk down the street or sit in a café or bar and see a stylish person you look at them. Maybe you smile. Your art should be no different. In fact I'm suspicious of artists who don't have a strong personal style outside of their art. You don’t have to look like Karl Lagerfeld but you should shine.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Technology has played a large role in my art. Without my twitter account I wouldn't have got my novel published. It was there that I connected with other writers whose work I loved and garnered the attention of my publisher. The internet has made being in a certain city like New York or Berlin less important. It’s websites that breed communities now the way a Parisian café might have romantically did so a hundred years ago. And without being able to talk to people in the same boat it's easy to feel alone. Isolated. And that’s not good for anyone.
For the time being humans excel at creative thought where machines are better suited for tasks like packaging foodstuffs or painting cars or crushing trash.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do writing and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I wake up every morning at 5h30 make a pot of coffee smoke a joint and then write until around 8h00. After that I eat and depending on the day I get ready and catch a bus to my day job as a screen printer. On the days I don't work I take care of the apartment. Run errands. Wander around the neighbourhood. And then sit down again in the afternoon to do some editing. I spend the evenings with my wife.
I do my best to keep my art separate from my 'real life' even though that's what I write about. For instance I don't talk about my writing at work. I guard it like a secret because I feel most people don't deserve me on that level. And I've always found it gauche to stuff your work down coworkers throats. I've worked with that asshole a hundred times before. I didn't like it. They'll find it or they won't. If I'm being honest I'd prefer they didn't.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of one of your pieces that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how did you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
Ok. For my novel Welfare the idea was based on my life. As a teenager I left home and went on social assistance while continuing high school in the dreams of following in my father's footsteps of working in the local automotive factory. That didn't happen. But I always knew that there was a book somewhere in there and I let it stew in my mind.
So about 15 years later while collecting unemployment checks I sat down and started writing it. I kept to a pretty solid schedule and a few months later I had a finished draft. Then I started at the beginning and wrote it again using the first draft as a guide but deleting it as I went along. This gave me a tighter version. I did this another time but cut 90% of what I had leaving me with a skeletal frame of the novel. I sent this to a friend who read it and gave me the critique that although it was good it was missing the heart and soul. So I started at the top again with the intentions of adding both of these into the narrative. After this I felt like I had a finished piece of work in front of me.
Observation and research are often quoted as important elements of the writing process. Can you tell us a bit about your perspective on them?
Observation is a huge componant of my writing. And anyone elses really. It doesn't matter what genre or type of writing you’re doing at the end of the day what you're working on and putting out into the world is your vision of it wrapped up in this handsome little book. So for me to be observational of the things around me is a necessary apect of the writer, or artist.
As for research, my work is based on me, my place in the world and how I see it. So the research I do is what others may call self analysis. Or soul searching. Which are both things I spend a lot of my time engaged in doing. And they're just as important. Without it my work would be bland. Lifeless. A fucking bore.
How do you see the relationship between conscious planning and tapping into the subconscious; between improvisation and composition? When dealing with the end of a story, for example, do you tend to minutely map it out or follow the logic of the narrative as it unfolds itself?
I'm pretty light when it comes to conscious planning. Writing Welfare I started with an idea of what I was doing or where I wanted the book to go based on how my own life played out. But it often isn't how things work in a book. Like you said, writing a story requires a string of logic to carry it from beginning to end. So I like to take my hands off the wheel and see where this drives what I'm working on. Like this it's easy to follow what comes natural, a subconscious thread.
I also think because of how I came to writing, on my own and not though a formal school setting, I tend to follow my heart versus what I'm supposed to do. I don’t know the rules so I can't follow them.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I call bullshit on the ideal state of mind for being creative. Each and every day I go into work I'm expected to do my best. And in 15 years of being a screen printer I don't think I can count on my hands the amount of days I've went there in the ideal state of mind to do a 1st rate job. But I do it regardless.
So I look at my art the same way. If I can do something I don’t even really like no matter the condition of my soul the least I can do is do the thing I claim to love and gives meaning to my life despite the mood I'm in. If I couldn’t, I'd have to start asking myself questions like 'do I really love writing?' and 'am I meant for this?' and if I'm asking those I already have an answer.
What are the most important conclusions you've drawn from the changes in the publishing landscape? How do they affect your writing? What role do social media play for your approach?
To me it feels like it's easier for under-represented people to have a voice than it would've been in the past. The gate keepers aren't all old university and big publishing types anymore. Indie literature is as big as it's ever been the internet made that possible. Which is pretty accessable these days. In the cities there's wifi everywhere. And as long as you have something you’re comfortable typing on and a connection it puts you in a postion where you can write and submit your work. I'm just a guy with some passion and the drive to do it and the internet makes this easier and more affordable for me to try. I'm subject to the same processes as anyone with a hoity toity degree is. The internet makes me, and others who didn't have a chance before, a threat to them now. Plus it has the power to connect you with editors and other writers and artists you like and respect. More importantly though you can make genuine friendships with people all over the planet. Become part of a community. You find your people. You feel a little less alone.
Literature works with sense impressions in a different way than the other arts. How do you use them in your writing? From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
That’s hard to say. As the writer I don't think I get to call the shots when it comes to someones sense impressions as they read it. I'm writing it and that's it. What triggers something in someone I'm unable to forsee. Or even speculate on it. But they must be there. Or the writing itself would fail. Because without them what is there to latch on to?
To me as a reader it comes down to the little things though. Flashes and phrases that strike true. Every person who reads a book, or looks at a painting, or hears a song might take something different from it. Feel a closeness to it for different reasons. It's the story of our own lives that make art special. And when we see our own remembrances in the way something is described, a particular red or beam of sunlight full of dust for example, that has the power to make the scene be real in a way only writing can do. Books have the power to take us on a trip through time or place us somwhere we've never been.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Art for me is a nice way to spend my time. Which is something I prefer to do alone anyways. And writing goes hand in hand with being an introvert. But it's also a way for me to connect. A lot of my motivation to leave my house or interact with other people is to see where things end up. To give myself something to write about. I'm not the kind of person who has an agenda or a point to prove. I'm here to live (an art in itself) and to do so in a manner conducive to making my art for me. And then anyone else who's interested is welcome to come along for the ride.
Despite the radical experiments of the 20th century, the basic concept of writing and storytelling is still intact. Do you have a vision of literature, an idea of what it could be beyond its current form?