Tuesday 12 February 2013

Writer - Chris Robinson

I'd like to welcome you to my interview with writer, Chris Robinson.  Enjoy.

Chris Robinson

© Spurious Nonsense Art Photography
Hi Chris, can you please introduce yourself?
My name is Chris Robinson M.A. and I am based in the North East of England.  I currently live in Teesside but am originally from Easington Colliery, one of the old East Durham coal field sites.
How long have you been writing?
I have been writing as a hobby since school, mostly fiction fantasy.  I’d always wanted to be a writer but after being laughed out of the office when I told my careers adviser this, I ended up spending the first ten years of my working life in a variety of typical everyday jobs.  It wasn’t until after a conversation with a colleague of mine that I decided to go to Teesside University to undertake an MA in Creative Writing.  Since then my focus has been turned to performance poetry.   I’ve performed my work at a number of events throughout the North East including Durham Book Festival and Middlesbrough Literature Festival.
I think doing my M.A. in Creative Writing was the best decision I've ever made.  More writers should do it.  What first got you interested in writing?
I grew up in a tiny coastal colliery in a world before wireless connectivity.  There was no internet, no mobile phones, computer games took over half an hour to load and there were only 4 television channels to choose from.  If I wanted to go anywhere I had to rely on parents or the local bus service.  Imagination was free and easy to come by so from an early age I spent hours down the dene and along the beach parlaying with pirates and meeting the most magnificent creatures.  As I grew older I became less active and began to write my adventures down on paper, more for my own enjoyment than anything else.
Those were the days, eh?  Do you attend a writing group?
Until recently I attended 2 writing groups.  Easington Writers’ of which I  am a founder member of, and held the role of secretary for 2 years over the time the group has been running, and Blackhall Writers’ Group which I set up and ran myself for 2 years on request of the library.  Unfortunately due to the library opening hours being slashed the group has just recently folded.  Easington group is however still going strong and has been in existence since March 2007 after a chance meeting between myself and the original chair lady, Mary N Bell. 
Why do you attend a writing group?
Writing groups are a great place to meet with like minded people, discuss each other’s works and share constructive advice, learn new skills and be inspired to write new works.  I always leave a meeting full of new ideas and raring to write.
I feel like that when I've left my writing group.  It's just frustrating that I have to endure a 20 minute drive home before I can put pen to paper!  What is the most valuable thing you have taken away from your writing group?
Easington Writers’ has always been a group with ambitions and I have taken part in numerous projects that I wouldn’t have been able to take part in if I wasn’t in the group.  I have work published in two anthologies, one that we published with the help of funding from Arts Council England and writers Wendy Robertson and Avril Joy.  The second book was published with the funds raised from the sale of the first book and we edited and published the book ourselves.  We have been invited to read at Beamish Museum as part of the 60th year commemoration of the Easington pit disaster and most recently took part in a project that Stevie Ronnie had organised where we had our work on display in local and national libraries.  I have learned a substantial amount during my time with the group. 
What genre(s) do you write?
I would currently describe myself as a performance poet.  I write poetry intended to be read to audiences.   I have read my work in a variety of spaces throughout the North East, including a poetry take away wagon, a launderette and the Tyne and Wear metro stations.  I also write short plays, two of which have been shown at ARC, Stockton.  I would find it difficult to say that I will only stick with these two writing forms though, as I love variety and would not like to restrict myself to writing in just one or two forms. 
When did you decide you wanted to be a performance poet?
I attended my first open mic night whilst at university.  It was there that I was inspired to become a spoken word artist.  There is a large community of performance poets in the North East and many events happening in Teesside, Tyneside and County Durham.  It is always nerve wracking to stand up on stage in front of an audience and the nerves never go away but I can use them to my own advantage in order to perform to the best of my ability. 
I think nerves are an important part of performing; it shows that you want to do well.  Are there any genres that you don't enjoy writing?
I have not yet found a writing form that I don’t enjoy. 
You mentioned earlier that you had work published in anthologies.  Have you had anything else published?
I am currently working on my own first publication however I have work in print in the following books:
Songs in the Silence, United Press, 1999
National Poetry Anthology 2000, United Press, ISBN 1-902803-21-3
Celebrations in Verse, Anchor Books, 2001, ISBN 1-85930-956-9
Through Our Eyes, District of Easington and LSC, 2009
Shrugging Off the Wind, hpm Group, 2010, ISBN 978-0-9564823-0-3
Footprints at the Water’s Edge, Connoisseur Crafts, 2011, ISBN 978-0-9565210-8-8
Poetry Rivals Collection 2011 – Words Everlasting, Anchor Books, Dec 2011, ISBN 9781844185900
Third Annual James Kirkup Memorial Poetry Competition Anthology, Red Squirrel Press, 2012, ISBN 978-1-906700-65-2
A Trip Down Owton Manor Lane, Ords Group, 2002 (A Brief History, Page 5) 
Talk of the Town Magazine, Saltburn.  January 2013.  Online publication. 
Have you sent your writing to agents/publishers?
A long time ago I sent the first three chapters of a novel to publishers and agents but didn’t have any offers of publication.  I figured that my writing was not good enough at that point in my life as I had had no formal writing training at that stage.
Would you consider self-publishing/e-publishing?
The book that I am currently working on will be self-published.  Self-publishing has changed over the years with advancing technology it is easier and more cost efficient.  Unfortunately that does mean that there will be a number of poorly written and edited books out there but there are many good books too, written by talented writers who may never have had the opportunity to have their work shown in public if they were to wait for the illusive book deal of a lifetime! 
Who/what influences your writing?  Where do you get your inspiration from?
My inspiration/ideas for writing projects are currently piled about a metre high next to my sofa!  Some ideas simply pop up out of nowhere and I jot them down, to work on at a later date.  Other ideas come from writing workshops I attend or news articles I read.  Ideas can come from anywhere really.  The trick is to be alert so you can recognise when an idea does come along so you can write it down.
I know exactly what you mean.  I have a pile of envelopes on the coffee table, with ideas scribbled on the back of them!  How do you come up with your characters' names and personalities?
My character’s names come from phone books, baby name books and graveyard headstones to name but a few places.  Personalities are often a mash of many factors.  Unless I am writing about a specific person in a poem or historical piece, I wouldn’t write about someone I know. 
Do you have a writing routine?
I do not write daily simply because my life is far too hectic at the moment to allow such a luxury.  I have three jobs, a household to take care of and family to entertain.  I do write often though, as often as I can.  When I do write, I prefer to write in the afternoons and evenings, when all of my chores and visits are done for the day and I’ve nothing else to occupy my mind with.
Do you start out with a complete idea for your stories, or do you just start writing and hope for the best?
I like to have a general outline of a story before I begin with it although it isn’t necessary for me to know exactly what is going to happen.
Do you have an editing process?
I do some editing as I write.  After the piece is finished I will go over it a few times to edit.  Depending on what the piece is for I will then have someone else read over it for outside advice.  For example, I will take pieces I am working on to the writing groups.  This doesn’t always work so well for poetry as it does short stories or novels. 
What do you enjoy the most/least about writing?
I enjoy every aspect of writing.  If I didn’t enjoy it, I wouldn’t do it. 
How important is it for you to share your writing?
I am not a political writer.  I don’t have a particular message that I want to get across to the public.  All I want is to entertain people and I feel the best way to do this is through my writing.  I like to think that my writing engages audiences, entertains them and often with my writing, I find that the subjects I write about make people feel like they are not alone in life.  Whenever I perform I often have audience members coming up to me afterwards to talk about a particular poem I’ve read that they can personally relate to, whether it be my holiday to Benidorm or the anxiety disorder I suffer from. 
Have you ever entered any writing competitions?
Yes, I have recently started to enter writing competitions and have had a reasonable amount of success.  I came runner up in an open poetry competition at the end of last year.  I won 2nd prize in a local poetry competition where I had to write a poem about a my memories of Saltburn and I also won the only prize in a competition to win a day with motorcycle racer Bradley Smith at the Motorcycle Live show at Birmingham NEC. 
What's the best piece of writing advice you've been given?
I’ve been given a great deal of advice over the past couple of years.  One quote I remember in particular is this:

“The blank page is your enemy.  It doesn’t matter what you write, just so long as you write something.”
These words have been spoken by many but I first heard them spoken by Andy Willoughby, senior lecturer at Teesside University, and how true it is.  Without having anything written down, there is nothing to work on to mould it into a fine piece of writing. 
I was told something similar, that you can't edit a blank page, and yet I still find myself staring at a blank page!  What advice could you give to a new writer?
Writing may come naturally to you but there are skills to learn.  I advise any new writers to attend groups and courses to learn these skills.  Also, a writer needs to read widely. 
Apart from writing, what are your other hobbies/interests?
I like to go for walks and I enjoy cooking when I get the chance.  I am also a keen motorcyclist. 
What types of things do you read?  Do you think your writing reflects your book tastes?
I read many books in all kinds of genre although all of the books I find I am reading at the moment are for research purposes.  I would therefore say my writing reflects my reading tastes at present rather than the other way around. 
If you could have written anything, what do you wish that could have been?
There are many works written by many fine writers but there’s nothing that I wish I had written myself.  I believe that my own masterpieces are yet to come and I’d like to think that in years from now, someone somewhere will be reading my own work and thinking the same. 
What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently researching and writing a set of poems based on the Moulin Rouge and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec artwork.
Do you have a website/blog/Twitter/Facebook dedicated to your writing?
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I would encourage anyone out there to give writing a go, especially if they have always wanted to but never got around to it.  Give it a go.  All you need is a pen and paper.  What have you got to lose?  And one last thing...you can never have too many note books!
Would you be able to provide a short piece of your work?

She stirs as I enter
the room, her eyes
stalking, watching
my every move.
She is hungry,
she needs to feed.
Beneath my flesh I
hide what she craves.
She flicks venom
with swift precision,
incising anesthetised skin,
to rip a gap deep enough
to crawl down inside.
Claws scratch bones
as she houses my torso.
I am a hostile host
but paralysis denies it.
As she nestles, she suckles
my strength.  I am her
weakness, she is mine.
We mesh, fuse together
until I can no longer
tell each of us apart.
And now we are one.
Without each other,
neither would survive. 
© Chris Robinson 
Thank you very much, Chris.

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