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Bookcase Focus: An interview with Lloyd Markham
Wales Literature Exchange interviewed our Bookcase author Lloyd Markham, about his writing and his influences, as he prepares for the re-launch of Bad Ideas \ Chemicalsin Cardiff, on 30 November 2017.
What first inspired you to be an author and where do your ideas come from?
Ever since I can remember I’ve always had an over-active imagination and been a bit spacey. As a child I liked making up stories and playing elaborate games of pretend. A bit too much really. I tended to weird out other kids who had a more balanced set of interests. As a result I was bullied and socially isolated at school for a big chunk of my adolescence. So making up imaginary worlds and stories became a way to pass the time. In a way I think Zimbabwe – the country where I spent my childhood – also factored into it. Zimbabwe could be very quiet and very spacious.
There were many times – especially when on long drives across sparse wilderness or after school sat in my mothers’ empty classroom (she was a teacher) waiting for her finish teaching her after-school swimming lessons – where I would be left for hours in almost total silence with just my thoughts. I had to rely on my own imagination a lot to entertain myself in those moments. So I got kind of good at imagining things – coming up with my own stories to try and fill that silence.
At any rate, as a child I reckoned I wasn’t smart, good at sport, or good looking – so if I was going to be happy and amount to much I better figure out a way to make these stories clogging up my brain count for something. I had this hope that maybe if I could turn all these stories in my head into something tangible maybe people would like me, understand me, and I would stop getting bullied. I tried a few different creative outlets and writing was the one I seemed least atrocious at. So around the age of ten I told my parents I wanted to be a writer and I have been frustratingly persistent about it ever since.
As for where my ideas come from – I’ve never found that out sadly. I’ve tailed after them when they leave me to see where they return to, but I lose sight of them before I can confirm what realm they emerge from – though sometimes I catch glimpses of a black door floating upon a moonlit pool that is motionless and unbroken like a pane of glass. I do know what my ideas are made of though. They’re usually whatever anxieties about the state of the world and the future are keeping me up at 3AM presently, plus the contents of my twitter feed, weirdly specific and mundane details I have observed in my daily life, the whirring mulch of pop culture in my brain, whichever book I am slowly picking my way through at the moment (it’s Cawl by Sion Owen Thomas at the minute), and harrowing memories of socially awkward interactions I have had that invade my mind from time to time and make me want to vomit and cry. Or as an equation: A + T + M + P + B + H.
How would you describe your writing?
Silly. But there are some serious bits in there too though. I try to entwine the absurd and fantastic with political subtext and social commentary. I guess my thought process is that if I can un-moor the reader from realism and mundanity for a bit I can get them to see the ridiculousness I see.
Which authors have influenced you the most?
Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis was very formative for me at university. I also owe an insurmountable debt to Kurt Vonnegut. The title of my book Bad Ideas\Chemicals is a play on conceit he uses throughout Breakfast of Champions. I adore his flippant and dry turns of phrase. He is able to imbue so much meaning into such a discreet number of words. I also have an ongoing fascination with Murakami who is able to make the dreamlike tangible and the mundane dreamlike in a way I have never been able to reverse-engineer. Reading Albert Camus’ The Myth of Sisyphus also had a big effect on my writing – in particular how I approach the endings of stories.
In your opinion what are the biggest challenges that writers face today – and do you think these challenges have changed since you started writing?
Really I think of the biggest challenge facing writers today is the one that has faced writers for hundreds of years – how do I sustain this incredibly time consuming vocation I have while also surviving in a materialist system that often doesn’t value that vocation? Writing is kind of a weird occupation in that most people will often judge your abilities not on your actual writing and whether they think it’s good, but whether you’ve acquired social or financial capital through it and it’s very hard in my experience not to internalise that narrow poisonous way of looking at yourself and your craft. That can very damaging and leave you very pliable to exploitative people who will prey on that insecurity and profit off it.
Sadly, I think these challenges are much the same now as when I started writing and perhaps even a little worse. There is also the additional challenge that – if you write dystopian satire like I do – current events often keep exceeding the worst predictions you could reasonably imagine. The best work around for this I’ve found is to abandon reason all together when imagining things.
What are the hardest and easiest parts of being a writer?
The hardest parts I would say are dealing with imposter syndrome and corrosive internal doubts, making time for writing even when your day job and other commitments can feel more urgent, and paying rent. The actual writing stuff is quite easy by comparison and only mildly impossible.
Which writer from Wales would you recommend to readers and why?
Crystal Jeans. Her writing is funny, authentic, and grittier than a bucket of gravel being hurled into a quarry full of hard-boiled detectives who are themselves made of gravel and smoking cigars that are also somehow made of gravel. Also I rent a room from her Nan and if I don’t say nice things about her she’ll put my rent up.
Bad Ideas\Chemicalsis relaunched at The Moon, Womnaby Street, Cardiff on 30 November 2017 with readings and music from Lloyd Markham, Crystal Jeans, Sion Owen Thomas, Sara Arwen, Susie Wild, Deep Hum, Tom Williams, and Oblong. Doors Open at 6 with readings starting at 6:30. Entry £4.