By Stephen Rudd
Here, in an exclusive interview for ‘Hullfire’, Pulse author Steve Rudd talks to esteemed York-based wordsmith Miles Salter about poetry, prose, music… and writer’s block!
Hi Miles, how are things?
Good, thanks. I’m enjoying the spring sunshine!
You recently had your third collection of poetry published. How long was Fix “in-the-writing”, and what are its overriding themes?
The main theme of the collection is living in an imperfect world, as it has an impact on everything. There are different concerns in the book (climate change, spirituality, broken relationships), but basically, it’s about how to come to terms with imperfection. It took a long time—seven years in all. I went through a mid-life crisis, which slowed everything down, and some of the poems in the book are about that. It was a very difficult time, but I think I’ve come out of it a better person.
Would you say that your approach to writing and editing your poetry has changed at all since you had The Border and Animals published?
I think I’m starting to appreciate a more subtle approach to writing. You don’t have to raise your voice. So often, what you leave out in poetry makes all the difference. Allow the reader room and space to work it out. Often, the poems that really work are the ones that have a sense of quiet mystery to them.
How old were you when you first started writing poetry, and what gave you the initial impetus to give it a try?
I was fortunate to have a wonderful English teacher, Chris Copeman, who taught me for three or four years when I was at an impressionable age. He entered some of my writing into competitions, and I was one of the winners in a national competition when I was 11. That was a big boost, but I don’t think I started to write properly until I was 30. I did an MA in Creative Writing at York St John University in 2011. Writing well is a life’s work. It just takes so long to learn all the different aspects of it. Poetry, short stories, novels, journalism—they all have different aspects to them.
Have writing and performing always come hand-in-hand for you?
Overall, yes. I see myself as a communicator. It all comes back to that, really: that desire to reach out and touch people in some way. Music and words are wonderful friends to have in that sense.
Your poetry ties in with your ‘other life’ as a singer-songwriter, given that you craft wonderful lyrics to accompany your melodies. Do you approach lyric-writing any differently to poem-writing, or are they effectively “one and the same” to you?
They’re actually very different—for me, anyway. Song lyrics are much more ‘throw away’ than poetry. You can get away with so much with lyrics, but not with poetry. With poetry, you have to be really precise and make every word, every line count. There are a handful of good rock lyricists. I know we both admire Justin Currie, and I think he’s a superb songwriter, but on the whole, poetry is much more exacting as an art form. I’d like to write songs that have a poetic element to them—maybe like Leonard Cohen, or Jackson Browne.
Speaking of your music, you have a relatively new band called Miles and The Chain Gang. To what extent has the Covid pandemic affected you in terms of writing, practising and ‘gigging’?
It’s been really hard. We haven’t played any gigs, but we do now have one lined up in York for July, which I’m really happy about. We’ve been recording, and have put out three digital singles since February 2020, which I am really proud of. We’re working on material, and it’s coming together really well. If you like Bruce Springsteen or Van Morrison, you’ll love us!
Poetry and music aside, you’re well-known for writing children’s books. What would you say is the secret to writing engaging stories for younger audiences?
The key thing is to keep kids engaged. If they get a whiff of boredom, you’ve lost them, and that may be more true now than ever, as books are competing with digital entertainment. So you have to write engaging stories with lots of humour. Kids love funny books—look at the popularity of Roald Dahl and David Walliams. Make them laugh! Kids are quite sophisticated in their humour now; they get irony and sarcasm and surreal stuff. A bit of grotesque darkness doesn’t hurt either—kids love to be scared. Roald Dahl was a genius, because all his stories walk the line between humour and the grotesque.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers in general?
Write every day. Be self-critical, but celebrate every tiny bit of success. It could be a long road, so hang in there. Never lose a sense of joy in reading, and read all you can. It’s the bedrock of the writing life.
Do you ever suffer from writer’s block? If so, what methods do you use to get past it?
I think I have suffered from writer’s block, but some people say it’s a myth. You just have to sit down and get on with it. ‘Show up every day’—that’s very true. A friend of mine writes something every day, which is the way to be. He doesn’t always get the good stuff, but the tendency to be prolific definitely helps you to produce good things. There’s a book called Originals by Adam Grant. It’s about creatives, and it emphasises the importance of abundant productivity.
Looking ahead, what does the rest of 2021 hold in store for you?
I’m working on a few things: a non-fiction book, a possible documentary about one of my favourite bands, and I present The Arts Show on Jorvik Radio. As we speak, somebody in L.A. is helping the band with our music. No, really! So there are a lot of things bubbling away. I’d love to develop a one-man show of music and poetry—that’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. For me, music takes you somewhere that poetry can’t, and poetry does something that songs don’t. So it’s a great combination: emotive and entertaining.
Finally, what is the best way for people to find out more about you and your work?
You can find Miles and The Chain Gang on Spotify and YouTube, and you can find Fix on Amazon…
And my Twitter account is…
Miles and The Chain Gang play Fulford Arms in York on July 29th. Their latest song and video, ‘All Of Our Lives’, is here…
(This interview was conducted on 25/04/2021)
Cover Image Credit: Tom Parker