Craig Wallwork is relevant and irreverent.
His writing is a smorgasbord of cinematic imagery and a gleeful “Fuck You!” to the conventions and pomposity of literature.
I like him and this interview, like the collapse of the financial system, was only a matter of time coming …
Q1: Hello there, Wallwork.
Who or what in Pan’s unholy name are you?
CW: I’m 40 years old this year and I’m still trying to figure that one out. I guess I’m best summed up in that line from The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony, “I’m a million different people from one day to the next…” Today I’m a writer here talking to your good self. I’m sure they’ll be a transitory moment where I kiss my daughter goodnight and I become a father, closely followed by a wretched gesture at being a husband. But mostly I’m just a man who believes the only cure for the shit that goes on in his head is trephination.
Q2: Writing is a funny business at the best of times.
Why do you bother?
Did you have a moment of clarity when you thought, “I can do that“?
CW: I shouldn’t have been a writer. Academically I’m not suited for the role. Never found school of any interest and loathed English. I never read a book for recreational purposes until I reached the age of 25. Literature bored me. But that said, I was always a narrator in one form or another. I began with cartoons, drawing funny little sketches of my friends at school. Then I went into film making, directed a few short movies before moving into music. It was all about the stories and getting them out in one form or another. That I should have started writing stories instead of drawing them, or using a pen instead of film, or prose instead of lyrics, was merely me procrastinating on the inescapable role I find myself in today. But my reticent to pick up the pen meant I never had that “I can do this” moment. It just kind of crept up on me. Perhaps reading Chuck Palahniuk made me realise that I could be a writer. That’s not a necessarily an accolade, more a reflection on his style.
Q3: Your writing does seem very cinematic.
How does the experience of writing and directing for film differ in terms of storytelling?
Which film-makers have grabbed you by the ganglia?
There is more responsibility with film, more organisation and schedules to adhere to. It feels, at times, burdensome, whereas writing prose, there is no sourcing of equipment, no actors to find, sets to recce, scores to settle and compose, weather forecasts to predict and costs to factor in during pre-production. It’s just sitting in front of the computer and typing. I guess making film is akin to managing a circus where everyone involved is crazy, feral and capricious. Writing prose is describing the circus to the degree the reader can smell the shit. It’s more liberating and the only limitation you have is your imagination. But I do still admire filmmakers and their dedication to the craft. In particular I’m fond of Jean Pierre Jeunet and Guillermo del Toro because they easily cross the divide between reality and fantasy, to the point where the audience never questions it, something I try and do with a lot of my short stories. But any director who is fearless I admire. And that’s the key to all things in art – to be fearless. Those who live with regrets are always those who played it safe.
Q4: Is there any underlying philosophy behind your work?
Should there be?
No. And maybe there should be. I write for me and I write about things that matter at the time. If people want to read into the stories and pluck some deeper meaning from them, or try to understand why I write a certain way, then that’s fine. Muse over, dissect and explore because that’s what makes a story great, but don’t expect me to explain the reason I implanted a piece of twine into a guy’s arsehole to extract his memories, or why I chose to use demons as the backcloth to a love story. I have no idea why. When pulling stories together for the collection Quintessence of Dust, I realised how few I remembered. This worries me. Once the novels To Die Upon and Kiss and The Sound of Loneliness are released later this year, I’ll have to talk about them, explain the narrative and its meaning. I lived with each of these novels of years, and I’m the authority on both. And yet, there’s not a cat in hells chance of doing either justice. I can only assume my reticent to retain information stems from the fact I see everything I create no different than an ex-lover: It’s great being with them at the time, but once you’re both done, I’m never sharing my bed with either one again. All I will say is, my own personal philosophy is to write the best story I can.
Q5: Where does that pesky idea for a story come from?
A chance remark? A story heard at work? The reptilian hind-brain?
It can be anything, like you mentioned. Ideas are itches that I tend to scratch away at until they bleed. It’s only when I’ve totally exhausted all possible consequences that I go and write it. But it can be anything really, something as little as a word, phrase, or something bigger like an experience or fear. There is a tendency for my short stories to go completely left of field too, and this is because I don’t impede my imagination. Where some authors will be happy to write a semi-autographical story about a childhood friendship, I’ll do the same but make one of the characters a Minotaur. If someone writes about unrequited love, I will communicate this pain through a zoophile and a talking camel that meet on the set of a bestiality film. When ideas present themselves, I let them run and run until something clicks. I have very little time for the prudent writer. They are no different to the common housefly smashing their head against the windowpane, when beyond lies a world beyond measure.
Q6: What do you think of the state of writing on the net, is it a case of too much “democracy of opinion”?
Now you’ve opened a can of worms. I’m currently guest editor over at Menacing Hedge where I’m having one of those Andy Dufresne moments of crawling through a river of shit in the hope I come out clean on the other side. That’s not a reflection on Menacing Hedge, more a comment on literature in general. I find a lot of submissions coming through are poorly written, or lack imagination. Where the writer believes adding a rape scene, or killing someone, or butchering up a body, will assure its publication, I see a poorly constructed narrative that is propelled along by its apparent need to provoke a reaction, which in me is mostly indifference. I’d forgive a large percentage of these stories if the writer could deliver a decent sentence, or had a strong and distinct voice. But most don’t. Writers forget that the short story is a gift. You have a limited amount of time to pull the reader into a different world, and you have to do this quick. Some spend their time waltzing words around an invisible dance floor leaving you dizzy, and a little sick. They don’t seduce the reader but frustrate them. They substitute pathos for bathos, and mostly sit on the fence when it comes to saying something noteworthy. That said, I’ve stumbled on some gorgeously crafted stories at Menacing Hedge that blew my mind. These I’m really excited about and can’t wait to unleash them on the world. It’s definitely given me a greater appreciation for editors and, strangely, my own work too.
Q7: Why do you think I went “invite only”, old boy! MWAHAHA!
Do you feel any sort of “fellowship” with the writing “community”?
Or do the cliques make you want to run to your cave with a AK47 and a box full of clips?
I don’t believe I’m accepted among other writers. I always feel on the periphery of that circle because I don’t fall into one particular genre. I also don’t talk about books, or advocate techniques and offer advice like other writers do. To all intents and purposes, I feel I’m seen as a person dabbling in the art, rather a person who has been writing for over ten years with a fair few publications under his belt. So for this reason I don’t tend to stick my beak in where it’s not wanted and so don’t get too heavily involved in the “community”. Plus, there are some writers who like being writers. They talk like writers and reference obscure literary treats, not because, I believe, they like those stories or novels, but more to sound cultured and interesting. Bollocks to that. These are the same people who just hang together too, and have their work appear in the same journals and magazines. All writing can be improved with nepotism. I would go so far as to say most of those writers are shit and couldn’t write a fucking address on an envelope, let alone a decent story.
Q8: Where do you see writing going in future now that we’re all so jaded and bored?
I don’t know, if I’m being honest. I do think they’ll be more emphasis placed on the electronic market. Not just in e-publishing, but making books more interactive. Like what Reif Larsen and Jeff Robb did with The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet on the iPad, making it more of an experience and bringing an extra dimension to the publication. Think about how blu-ray allows viewers into the mind of the filmmakers by having extra layers of information seamlessly intertwined into the fabric of the film. This is where I see certain publications going, be those books or magazines, really pushing the boundaries of literature. The purists will always want paper between their fingers, but the new age of readers, our children, they are growing up surrounded by technology. It’s naive to think in another ten years e-readers or tablets will diminish and that the paperback will take its position as the only means to read words. Writers need to plan for this revolution now and start thinking about ways to integrate technology into their writing. That’s when literature will take a huge step forward.
Q9: So, look into my crystal ball and tell me what you see. Tell me the future for Mr Wallwork.
I try not to plan too far ahead. I can’t see past the end of the year, let along beyond. My short term goals are just to see the publication of my two novels, continue my role as fiction editor at Menacing Hedge, write a few more short stories for another collection, and contribute to ManArchy Magazine of which I’m a member of its staff. And I need to complete Dog Mile, my third novel. It’s a beast, and I think it’ll be the one I’m most remembered for. It’s also perfect for the interactive market, maybe even an illustrated book. But other than that, I’ll just keep breathing and listening for the beat behind my chest, and hope there are few crazy bastards out there still wanting to read my work.
Craig Wallwork is the Pushcart nominated writer of the novels To Die Upon a Kiss, The Sound of Loneliness, and the short story collection Quintessence of Dust. His stories have featured in many journals, magazines and anthologies in the US and the UK. He lives in West Yorkshire with his wife and daughter. Rarely does he venture out of the North of England. http://craigwallwork.blogspot.co.uk/
5 thoughts on ““Writers forget that the short story is a gift” -Writer’s Interviews – Craig Wallwork by Jason Michel”
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Splendid interview. Corker of a writer, too.
I couldn’t have said some of those things better myself. The bits about literary cliques, of course. But you knew that! Excellent.
It’s a really good interview. The answers are really interesting and also show modesty. I’ve been hugely impressed by some of Craig’s work in terms of the ideas and the way they’re written down. He’s also had me flinching hard.
What good film and good writing have in common is the ability to move something inside of the audience – intellectually, emotionally or both – and with Mr Wallwork, that’s what happens more often than not.
I predict lots more work in my crystal ball, and how about a couple of superb novels turned into screenplays and movies? Perfectly likely.