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Bewildering Stories

Bewildering Stories Interviews

John Stocks

Associate Editor interview synopsis
Bewildering Stories was first conceived as a way to break the bottleneck of print publishing in science fiction. It soon expanded its scope to include all “speculative” writing, however loosely it may be defined. It has long had a kind of educational mission, to encourage new and aspiring writers. Our Associate Editors’ work for our regular issues is mirrored by that of the Review Board for our Quarterly and Annual Reviews. The Review Editors are our flag-bearers; they ensure that Bewildering Stories holds its own with the best current literature on line and in print. This interview expresses our appreciation to one of our Review Editors.

How did you become involved with Bewildering Stories and when?

I sent some work off to Don. He promptly sent it back suggesting improvements; I concurred with his judgement — he likes that! — and was published.

Editor’s note: If I recall rightly, the alleged “improvements” had to do mostly with punctuation.

When I began to get intimations that members of the review panel liked my work I checked their profiles and was hugely encouraged that such an esteemed, eclectic group of interesting people, intellectuals, from a variety of different countries, could get into my work.

Is there anything you’d like to tell Bewildering Stories authors to do or not do?

Strive for originality, don’t be afraid of taking risks, and avoid overt sentimentality and cliche.

What do you do in real life?

In ‘real life’, my creativity is what defines me as a human being; all my interactions are equally valuable to me.

A s a teacher, of English, Drama, Media, the Humanities — I am currently Head of Media at The City School — I have always tried to bend the curriculum to meet the wider needs of the students. I have had my successes and failures, hopefully significantly more of the former than the latter. It isn’t a role that is confined to the four walls of the classroom; many of my social media friends are ex-students. I try to help where I can and organize my on line presence, conscious of this responsibility.

I am with Oscar in believing that “Education is an admirable thing, but it is well to remember from time to time that nothing that is worth knowing can be taught.”

I believe that it is important to lead by example so, as a teacher of English I would try to get my own work published; as a teacher of Drama I also attempted to write and direct my own plays; as a teacher of Media I have also worked as a free-lance journalist, writing articles for the national Basic Skills Agency magazine and articles for walking magazines.

What do you like most and least about working in education? What advice would you give to a young person going into your line of work?

Teaching is always rewarding; it helps if you are teaching people who wish to learn and never give up on anyone. The future will be full of pleasant surprises.

The downside is the bureaucracy and working within the constraints of an educational system that is fundamentally flawed, is subject to constant regime change and is designed and funded to fail. I will write a book about it one day; for now I will just suggest that it is a profession full of Lions, led by Donkeys.

What do you do in your spare time aside from reading for Bewildering Stories?

I write poetry, I read. I think hard, I climb hills run and cycle. I am a family man, and we try to spend as much time as possible together.

Music has always been there. Anything from Rachmaninov to the Ramones. My wife and two sons are musicians. I consider myself to be a half-decent singer but only when prone and semi-immersed in water.

I play and party, striving to seize the day, I accept new challenges. My guilty pleasures are an addiction to watching classically inept professional footballers: I support Sheffield United; we have not won anything for over 80 years and therefore make the Boston Red Sox, look like serial achievers, and a lifestyle that is possibly too hedonistic for a for a man of my age

‘I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.’ — George Best.

What’s your favorite book?

I love To Kill a Mockingbird, the book and film. Gregory Peck is my imaginary friend. Seriously.

Who are your favorite authors, and what about their works appeals to you most?

As a teenager I was very impressed by Lady Caroline Lamb’s nutshelling of my fellow Notts-born poet, Byron, as, ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know.’ It gave me something to aspire to, but in the end I couldn’t quite crack the ‘bad’ bit. ‘Mad, nice and dangerous to know does not have the same ring to it.’

Keats was a strong early influence. Later Larkin, Frost and Hughes. I also like a lot of contemporary female writers, Jo Shapcott, Duffy. Dickens and Shakespeare often inspire.

If you could invite any other writer to dinner who would ask and why?

I suppose the bard of Stratford. I recently had private time with the iconic Chandos portrait and found it to be a curiously emotional experience, just me and Shakespeare alone in a room together. He was very dark and sultry — looked French or Spanish to me. I would ask him about Elizabethan London, and the Queen.

What’s the last book that you read and really enjoyed?

Germinal, by Zola.

If you could be any character (other than one of your own) from a book or movie who would it be? Why?

Errol Flynn. I was born in the forest of Sherwood. I love venison and aristocratic women.

Where do you get your ideas?

Carol Ann Duffy once said that,’ a poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a love sickness.’ I am an emotional person and I mostly write from personal experience or from an empathy with the suffering of others.

Wordsworth wrote of ‘powerful emotions, recollected in tranquillity.’ I like to let the emotions simmer for some time before attempting the alchemy.

I am obsessed with time, love and death; all perfectly rational obsessions in my humble opinion. I believe that I am afflicted by a heightened awareness of time passing, that I am always cruising down the fast lane to oblivion. My family consider this to be an excuse for my constant self-indulgence.

My poems are honest in the sense that they are a synthesis of real emotion; sometimes I will change the detail slightly to order to enhance the narrative, resonance or syntactical structure but the integrity is always there, the essence of the experience is true.

From time to time ideas float in from the zeitgeist. As Seamus Heaney said, ‘poetry is always mysterious.’ I like poetry that flows towards a subtle paradigm shift in the consciousness of the reader.

Where and when do you write?

I write mostly in the evenings in dimly lit cafes. This is out of necessity. If I am writing poetry I need to induce a poetic consciousness, which is somehow simultaneously a self-absorbed withdrawal and an acute awareness of the moment.

Which poems have inspired you the most?

Ted Hughes once claimed that ‘poetry is the treatment by which the poet tries to reconcile pain with the world.’ Wilfred Owen, that ‘the poetry is in the pity.’

Pity and melancholy can be beautiful things and reading and writing poetry can facilitate self-healing. Here are a few poems that will instantly induce a trance-like stasis: Elliot, ‘The Wasteland’ and, better still, ‘The Lovesong of Alfred J Prufrock.’ Keats, ‘Ode to Melancholy’; Larkin, ‘Friday Night in The Royal Hotel’; Hughes, all of the birthday letters, lots of poems by Jo Shapcott, some of Duffy and Heaney.

Where do you live, if you don’t mind saying?

I live in post-industrial Sheffield. Its great advantage is a central location, I can be in London in under two hours and Edinburgh in less than four. Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool and Nottingham are all close by. It is also on the edge of some wild peak district scenery, ideal for cycling, walking and climbing, and is the original home of Association football. I wasn’t born here, but I like it.

It is a city full of writers, musicians, designers and artists. The city has creativity in its DNA. A connoisseur of Cities I know most UK cities better than the natives; London feels like my spiritual home. I can also find my way on foot through New York, Berlin and Paris. Spending time in New York when I was sixteen changed my life.

Where do you think you might like to live, either in reality or in your imagination?

Empowered by the holy grail of time travel I would head for Liverpool in 1962. I would then be found on the kop at Anfield; chatting to the legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly or watching early Beatles gigs, surrounded by lots of attractive young women in plastic coats and knee boots — a rather parochial choice, on reflection.

What are your hopes for the future?

I would love to write a truly great poem. I have to believe that if I put something out there which is good enough it will be recognized. As a writer I think it is important to take yourself seriously. ‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at he stars.’

I have been lucky enough to have appeared on page next to Walt Whitman and alongside Dylan, Cohen, Angelou and others in an anthology. At the start of my writing journey I would probably have settled for that, but I still feel that I have only really scratched the surface. I am always so busy with my day job that I can only work at twenty per cent of capacity.

I am stuck on the midway point of a steep learning curve and I hope that there is still time, before the inevitable mental degeneration, to be the best that I might be. Hopefully, in a couple of years I will be able to commit more fully.

Whatever happens, it has all been great fun so far. It is always better to travel hopefully than arrive so, in the words of the little sparrow, ‘Je ne regrette rien’ and in the words of da Ramones, ‘Hey ho, Let’s go’

Copyright © 2012 by John Stocks
and Bewildering Stories

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