GOLDEN LANGUR INTERVIEWS ANDREA LOWNE
GL: You write both poems and prose. To cite a few examples, your very first post in the forums, Bones (and how not to dispose of them), and Rules To Live By (and which must be obeyed!) are poems, while Kissing Mistletoe (a seasonal tale), and At A Snail’s Pace are prose pieces. Do you see yourself as a poet or a prose writer?
AL: Actually, the doggerel (can’t call it real poetry :)) is a fairly recent manifestation. Over at UKAuthors we have a weekly prose and poetry challenge, with a word/line limit on submissions, and one day I thought I’d have a go and a ‘poem’ just sort of came out. Very odd. I’d only ever written short stories before (couldn’t even stretch to a novel). I’ve since had two slim volumes of the stuff published.
So I see myself as neither and both. Just whatever happens to spring to mind at the time. In fact I don’t see myself as (what I’m pleased to call) a ‘proper’ writer at all: I just play around. And when I read some of the fantastic stuff on UKA, WD and other sites, I must confess to feeling something of a fraud.
GL: Which do you enjoy more – writing poetry or prose?
AL: I enjoy them both equally. It just depends what mood I’m in at any given time. I don’t deliberately sit down to write anything. Sometimes lines just pop into my head, but I do like a prompt for the doggerel (hence the inspiration of the prose and poetry challenge). The tales generally pop, too. Very strangely (at least to me), the title often puts in an appearance first, closely followed by the beginning and end, which I then have to work towards. A peculiar method, I know, but mine own. Besides, there’s nothing I can do about it: it just happens like that. I haven’t written any silly tales for quite some time, though. I seem to be in my doggerel phase at the moment, although I’m also suffering from a slight case of the dreaded block.
GL: Do you have some favourite poets or prose writers whose work you enjoy reading and who inspires your writing? Please do share some details.
AL: Well, you see, here’s the rub. I know absolutely nothing about poetry at all. I did read some Swinburne once; I think I was suicidal at the time. I did read Leonard Cohen’s brilliant Beautiful Losers,which could be described as prose poetry. Do the lyrics of Dylan and Cohen count? If so, then I am very well read, poetically speaking :). The thing is, most of what I call ‘proper poetry’ (as opposed to mine) is incomprehensible to me, as I can never work out why the poet decides to put the next bit on the next line, so to speak. I mean, what’s the criteria? It has been explained to me by several respected poets, but I still don’t get it, alas . . .
This, of course, is entirely down to me, and no reflection on Byron, Yeats, Shelley, et al, at all.
As for prose, the list is endless. I’m very fond of all the French and Russian classics (Dostoevsky, Zola, etc), Robert Graves (prose), Oscar Wilde (prose), Agatha Christie (marvellous escapism), Fay Weldonneed I go on? I also have a deep fascination for Roman History and British Military History, especially WWII. In fact, history in general. I used to devour books at the rate of about six a week before the advent of the internet, UKAuthors and UKA Press. Two of my favourite books are Robert Graves’ I Claudius and Claudius the God and also Anthony Burgess’ Earthly Powers(well, I suppose technically that’s three), which has to have one of the best opening lines ever . . . ‘It was the afternoon of my eighty-first birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.’ – If I’d written that (even if I’d written nothing else), I could die a happy bunny.
GL: In your writing you often portray your main characters as gardeners. For instance, Patrick in the story Patrick And The Pot and Edith in At A Snail’s Pace are both described as having a penchant for gardening. Where does the inspiration for this come from? Please could you elaborate a little?
AL: Oh, that’s easy – I love gardening! Do I need to elaborate more? Okay . . . well, gardens are a bit of a luxury in Amsterdam, ground floor flats usually being reserved for the ancient and infirm. Having now reached those dizzy heights, I was able to move to a flat with a garden. Not Kew Gardens by any means, but quite substantial enough for me to manage alone, which is just as well, as neither of my sons have the slightest interest in things green and flowery. Needless to say, my initial efforts were costly and disastrous. By sheer perseverance and pig-headedness, however, I have managed to produce something that looks slightly less like a bombsite than it did a few years ago. Along the way I learned the names of quite a few pernicious weeds – voila! Characters who could (or in the case of Edith, couldn’t) garden. Edith’s battle with gastropods is, I might add, my own (although I haven’t quite dared flog ‘em to the neighbours yet).
GL: Another motif that recurs in your writing is troubled female characters. We have Mistletoe, who is burdened by her mother’s unfortunate choice for a name; Edith, who dreams of a gardening paradise but has no help from Bert; finally, in the poem Bones (and how not to dispose of them), Marge is inadvertently fed to her pet pig by her murderous husband, Syd.
What factors inspire your portrayal of such troubled female protagonists? If there is a message you’re sending out to your reader, what is it?
AL: Gosh, you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet! I can see I’ll have to post some more. Often though, my female characters win through in the end, at least in my stories (as opposed to the poems, where they either seem to peg it or end up in nick). And don’t forget that Edith deliberately married Bert for his money, thus enabling her to realise her childhood dream. And Marge wasn’t exactly ‘inadvertently’ fed to the pig – the bastard did it quite deliberately!
I suppose I was (better now!) a ‘female, troubled character’ myself, having had a pretty awful childhood, which I managed to escape at age 15 by the simple expedient of getting pregnant (albeit not deliberately), for which I was unceremoniously evicted from home. I also spent a good few years hitching (easier then than now) around the UK, France, Spain and North Africa, which most certainly broadens your outlook if you manage to survive. Luckily I did – just. Had a few narrow escapes along the way, though.
But there isn’t really a message, it’s pure self-indulgence on my part. For example, Edith was born in a North London (Camden) housing estate – so was I. I didn’t manage to find a Bert (at least not one with dosh), but I did get a garden and battled (battle) gamely with snails 🙂
GL: Your poems and prose pieces are shot through with a rich vein of humour. To quote a few lines from Fields (and what you can grown in them):
‘. . . Now Vin he loved his ma to bits and realised with a cry,
she’d picked the herbs meant for his smoke and baked it in their pie.
‘Not to worry ma,’ he quavered, tucking her in bed,
reflecting sadly on the fact his ma’s become an old pot head. . .’
Would you describe yourself as a writer of comedy? How did you come to write it? Are there any performers or writers of comedy whom you find particularly stimulating? Please give some details.
AL: To be honest, I don’t really understand it myself. Humour seems to be the only thing I can write. I’ve tried being serious, but it just doesn’t work, I rapidly descend into the absurd. I just can’t seem to take life’s situations seriously at all. Whether that’s good or bad is debatable . . .
It’s true to say that my life’s been eventful – to say the least – and, on more than one occasion, downright unpleasant. A few close shaves with death weren’t much fun either. By rights I should be churning out deep and dark gloom at an alarming rate. But I think it’s precisely because of these things that I tend to see the humour and absurdity in everything. The perversity of human nature’s fascinating, don’t you think?
Perhaps if I’d had, say, a wonderfully happy childhood and a blissful, fulfilling marriage blessed (if that’s the right word) with 2.4 children, I might be writing about getting to grips with the darker side of my soul. Who knows? As it is, precisely because I find life so comical, I tend to write absurd (and often downright bizarre) humorous tales.
I think I’ve done my fair share of murky lurking, although not much of it progressed from brain to paper, I must admit. And, of course, I wrote the usual tragic, tortured poetry as a child. Dreadful garbage it was too. I did once attempt a semi-autobiographical novel, but I depressed myself so much I had to give up. It’s still unfinished (and thus unpublished), needless to say, and likely to remain that way. Wouldn’t like to drive anyone to suicide, now would I? Least of all myself.
I wouldn’t say I’m particularly influenced by any writer/performer (other than subliminally, which is inevitably part of the writers’ deal, I would think), but I am rather fond of Stephen Fry and John Cleese. Ian Hislop is hilarious as well, although I’m not entirely sure he’s means to be, at least not all the time. Omid Djalili just cracks me up . . . *whispers* I like Russell Brand and Michael McIntyre too . . .
GL: Yet another theme in your writing is the ambivalence in male and female relations. Syd wants to murder his wife, Marge; Patrick is spied on by his socially superior female neighbour; there’s also Maurice who:
‘. . . pierced all his lobes
and wore feminine clothes, . . .’
How central is the issue of gender in your writing? Is the voice of a female writer of comedy strong in the UK?
AL:Well, actually I live in the Netherlands, but am reasonably up to date with UK affairs (especially the politics, which afford me many hours of merriment). As for gender . . . well, I’m female and can’t really envisage writing from a male point of view. Having said that, I now have to confess that the only UK female comedy writers who spring to mind are Jo Brand and Victoria Wood. Oh, and I absolutely LOVE Pam Ayres. It certainly seems to be male-dominated, though.
As for Maurice, I advocated that he be himself at all times! I just like having a dig at people with prejudices 🙂
GL: Do you use comedy to convey social reality or to entertain your reader?
AL: A bit of both I suppose. They’re often cautionary tales after all, disguised somewhat in a humorous coating. On the other hand I make myself laugh too; so I am, of course, delighted when I make others chuckle as well. It’s comforting to know that it’s not just me who’s weird . . .
GL: To go from your writing to your publishing experience, you are CEO of UKAuthors.com. What kind of writers are you looking to promote? Would you like to share a few salient points about your vision?
AL: Well, UKAuthors.com is the writing site, and UKA Press is the publishing arm. As it says on the UKA Press site : ‘UKA Press was created to publish fresh, exciting work by talented writers from around the world. We’re looking for originality, sparkle and the promise of something unexpected. Genre and style aren’t important; quality is.’
UKA is much like WD, welcoming authors of any nationality to post their prose and poetry and receive constructive crit. It’s possibly a bit more workshoppy than WD, but actually very similar in aim. We do organise events as well: UKAway is the annual writers’ holiday (usually abroad but sometimes in the UK, depending on members’ wishes/suggestions/cost) and UKAlive! is where prose and poetry are read, songs are strummed and sung and much merriment ensues (usually because it’s held in a UK boozer).
We also publish an annual prose and poetry anthology (‘Voices from the Web’) which contains selected work, voted for inclusion by the UKA members themselves.
Now I’m not one to boast (as Dot Cotton would say) but we are very fortunate to have eminent film historian and documentarian Kevin Brownlow (author of Winstanley, How it Happened Here and The Search for Charlie Chaplin) amongst our UKA Press authors. In fact, together with Francis Ford Coppola, Jean-Luc Godard and actor Eli Wallach, Kevin received a Hollywood Motion Picture Academy Award Honorary Oscar for his contribution and dedication to the preservation and restoration of silent film. Needless to say, we are immensely proud. However, we have many other not-quite-so-famous-but-nevertheless-brilliant authors on our books, as well as publishing the aforementioned anthologies.
GL: Finally, would you like to tell us a little more about the success in having your own writing published? Do you organise comedy events? Do you perform your own scripts on stage?
AL: Perform my own scripts? Good grief, no! There is absolutely no way I could do that – my ultimate nightmare! I am the quiet, shy, retiring type 🙂 As mentioned above, UKA organises events, but not specifically comedy, no. We hold boozy literary dos in pubs, instead . . .
As for my own successes, ah, they are minor but gratifying. To my total amazement, I’ve been published in the UK, US, Canada and Australia, and appeared in such illustrious publications as Buzzwords, Writers’ Cauldron, Voyage, Writers’ Muse, Plume, Asphyxia (AUS), Scribble and many others. I’ve also had quite a few writing-related interviews published and also three books, one of short stories (Blood and Wine are Red – currently unavailable) and two of my doggerel (Everything You Ever Wanted To Know about Life, In A Word and Thusly, a few more words of wisdom).
GL: Thank you, Andrea. It has been a pleasure.