Wednesday 4 March 2015

Between the Shelves Interview: Brian Clark

Brian Clark first opened his eyes to the midsummer sun in the year the TV remote and Silly Putty made their debuts. Despite these distractions, he soon formed a lifelong affinity with libraries. It is now his pleasure to contribute to this collection of short stories. Over the years, he honed his storytelling skills by preparing letters for politicians. More recently, the newsletter of the Millwoods Seniors Activity Centre has published a number of his articles, where the opinions expressed are his own.

1. How has your experience working with politicians impacted your writing?

BC: It taught me to avoid getting emotionally attached to the words I've written as they were always changed in some way.  I think this prepared me to embrace both self-editing and that of others.  I practiced writing in a way which gave the politician 'plausible deniability' if things didn't turn out as expected, but could also be seen as a triumph if policies were popular.  With practice, hints and half-truths became stock devices.

2. Is Becca (the protagonist in your story) based on anyone in your life?

BC: My daughter had a job at a library for a couple of years so that gave me an insight into the duties of a Page. She would sometimes tell me stories about children being left in library while a parent went to shop in the mall, forgetting the children. My daughter also maintains friendships with a couple of the other former Pages. In this story, I tried to work with stereotypes of a teenager, her parents and her boss and let that tell me how they respond to the circumstances they found themselves in.

3. You often use music and lyrics as inspiration for your work. Can you describe the role that music plays in your writing and why it's so important to you?

BC: One of my skills, I think, is to mono-task so I don't use background music. Music is either on or off. When it is on, I try to really listen to the piece.  Sometimes it's just a mood I pick up on, at others it’s a few words from a verse. I don't feel obliged to stick to the songwriter's perceived intentions preferring instead to use the work as a diving board from which to launch my own thoughts. One of the roles of the arts in general is to look at life and distort it a little. For me, music is a reservoir of these refracted images.

4. What is your educational background, and how do you think that has shaped you as a writer?

BC: I left school a couple of weeks before my 16th birthday, but 18 years later I had accumulated the paper qualifications, maturity and money to go to University.  I left with some great memories and a degree in Cultural Studies.  I learned to research my work and to write to a deadline, but perhaps most important of all, I developed a curiosity.  In the last couple of years, I have completed 15 to 20 MOOCs [Massively Open Online Courses], including several on the history of rock 'n' roll. Life itself has been just as important as structured learning. I have lived on 4 Continents, although only briefly in Asia, collecting life lessons along the way. Jobs have included, hotdog vendor, Santa photographer and courier, most memorably delivering flowers on Valentines Day.  These experiences serve as a bank from which to withdraw both incidents and characters.

5. Who has inspired you as a writer?

BC: It sounds mushy, but my wife, Leny, and my daughter, Brenna have edited my life for longer than I can remember. They have not only given me the freedom to pursue whatever is in the air, but also encouraged me to do so. At the same time, they have gently curbed my excesses and prevented self-inflicted disasters. Their presence in my life remains inspiring.

Brian Clark’s story The Turning of a Page is featured in Between the Shelves, available from Amazon on March 14!

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