Guest Writer Interview Daniel Sluman
Earlier this year A Writers Fountain spent time with Daniel Sluman, promoting his (very soon to be published) second collection ‘the terrible’.
We are delighted that as part of INKSPILL we can bring you another exclusive interview with the man himself and it didn’t escape our notice that the book cover design has been released NOW as well. Another sneak preview for you!
- How did you know you wanted to complete a 2nd collection?
I kind of just kept going after my debut was released, it’s just what you’re meant to do isn’t it, keep writing. I had a project in mind and I worked for a while on that until I stopped and asked myself this very question – what am I going to achieve by writing another book beyond (hopefully) extending a career? It was really important for me to work this out, as it made me realise that there were things in my debut I wanted to articulate further, and events were unfolding in my life that I was excited about exploring in a new book.
- Poetry is a kind of process, how did you feel at the beginning of compiling your 2nd collection? How was it different to the 1st?
I found it quite tough to work out where I wanted to go at the start of this process, I was drawn towards a number of different ideas for this book, some more conceptual and overarching than others, and it took me a while to feel comfortable in the direction I decided on. I’m guilty of overthinking things, especially when it comes to writing, and when I started writing this book I was really worried about repeating myself, about getting lazy and complacent.
When I was writing ‘Absence…’ I was an undergraduate, and the tutor feedback and workshops really helped with developing those poems, and of course that support was something I no longer had, which made me feel a bit lost for the first six months of writing this book. In that period I made dozens of pages of notes, but I was terrified of committing anything to the page properly, I was sure it wouldn’t be good enough, nothing looked good enough. It took me a long time to get back to writing more loosely, not being afraid to write crap which could then be edited, closer to the way I felt when I was writing my debut. When that first book comes out to good feedback and reviews, I felt a certain (mainly internal) pressure attached to the next, and that definitely affected me. I locked up for a long time, I was so terrified of disappointing people, of disappointing myself, but once I found a rhythm things started to get written again, and I started to enjoy myself in the same way I was enjoying myself before the first book came out.
- What were some of the difficulties in this process?
I went through a lot of changes in my life during the period of this book getting written. I came out of a long-term relationship and into a new one, moved house (and area), and my health was really going downhill in terms of my back pain, which meant quitting full-time work and getting put on benefits. Drama and high emotion is something which always feeds into poems, so some of this made it into the work, but the transition of all these things meant it was hard to get into a rhythm, this upheaval meant it was a while before I felt like I could properly concentrate on writing again.
- What anxieties have you encountered and how have you overcome them?
I suffer from the same anxieties I’m sure most writers do – fear of playing it safe and repeating what’s worked well for me in the past, the worry whether it will sell enough to justify a wonderful publisher putting in so many hours helping to form and release the book. I’ve always suffered from imposter syndrome, and so part of me is expecting to fail spectacularly and be found out as not a poor writer.
Over the years I’ve learnt to partially overcome these anxieties by being a little less tough on myself, enjoying and celebrating successes more than I used to, and acknowledging that I couldn’t have put more hours into this, it’s the best I can do, and that has to be enough for me.
- Did you know when you wrote material after your 1st collection that you wanted to include it in a 2nd collection?
After a while, yes. I was aware that the work straight after a book can often represent a transition of styles, concerns, or ways of working, and so I wasn’t being too hard on myself to make every poem get to a level I wasn’t capable of getting it to. We talk a lot about ‘finding a voice’ in poetry, but I think that each new project represents an articulation of a new voice, primed to whatever direction the writer wants to go in, and somewhere last year things clicked together, and I realised I had the bare bones of a book laid out.
6) Often poets have years between collections, how long have you been working on your 2nd collection?
This book took three years, which I imagine is a pretty average amount of time for most poets. If I was a better writer it would have taken less but I’m extremely wasteful, I’ve probably written something like 90 poems for this project, cut down to the 46 that made it in this book. If it wasn’t for Jane Commane of Nine Arches I would still be writing this book now; she is brilliant at judging which poems have potential and go somewhere new, and which ones go over the same ground as others. If I didn’t have that objective eye I would have expended a lot of energy on lost causes.
7) Musicians refer to a 2nd album syndrome, do you believe it is the same for writers?
What kind of obstacles have you faced? How have you overcome them?
I think a similar theory applies to books as it does to albums; debuts usually map out an area using a mixture of techniques that point towards some kind of overarching concern, and second albums/books usually work to either further define the concerns in the first release, or explore new ones. The worst thing that can happen with second albums/books is that they appear like pale imitations of the debut they follow, they circle too similar a ground and this is a worry I’ve tried to be hyper-aware of. I think that having this awareness definitely helps in noticing when you’re repeating yourself with a new poem, as does having a clear idea where you want to go, and how you can get there. I’ve read a lot of new collections and books on theory during the last three years, and that’s a big part of developing as a poet, and it’s helped me move on from where I was in my debut.
8) How do you think creatives deal with this 2nd collection syndrome, do you have any advice for poets who have published their first collections? Next steps…
A lot has to do with the expectations we put on ourselves, as we’re often just writing for pleasure at the start, but once you get published the dynamic does change. I spent a lot of time worrying about this collection in contrast to my debut and I wish I had just relaxed and continued the journey that we are all on from the moment we first write. Belief in what you’re doing, that it’s different from what you’ve written before, that’s important, but so is being grounded in enjoying yourself and remembering why you’re writing in the first place – that you can put words in an order that affect a stranger a continent away and make them feel something, that you’re giving voice to the things you think matter. In some ways it was a case of getting back to basics for me, not being in this state of constant anxiety about what the book may look like and how people will react to it. With all this is mind, maybe 2nd collection syndrome is something that occurs because we simply overthink what we’re doing too much, and the way to overcome it is to get back to writing for the sake of pleasure, and enjoying the feeling that you are growing as a writer.
9) You have just finished your first full draft m/s for your 2nd collection. How does it feel?
It’s a relief. Three years feels like a long time, a lot of anxiety, and a hell of a lot of editing day after day, so it’s nice to be able to look at the MS with some sense of satisfaction. When my debut came out I was pretty worried about the reviews that would be written, now I think I’m a bit more relaxed – if the book is enjoyed by readers then that will be great. Now I’m just focused on doing as much promoting and performing of the book as I can with my current health.
10) How did you come to choose the title?
It comes from the title poem in this book, which is probably the most honest poem I’ve written. As our editing of the book progressed Jane and I had a deeper understanding of what the manuscript is about, and that everything in our lives, even the most enjoyable or aspirational moments we experience have a dark underside to them, a fear of it being taken away, a futility to it, that’s what the book is about I think, and the title-poem hopefully sums that up.
Huge thanks to Daniel for this interview, your honesty and insightful responses. Good luck with the final stages of the process. Looking forward to holding the pages of your new collection very soon!
Interview by Nina Lewis
Buy Daniel’s poetry from the AWF shop