One of the best things about the thriving literary scene in my home town of Walsall is that I’m constantly bumping into exciting performers I’ve never heard before. One of these is the talented Dan Oram an author and poet from Walsall I met sometime ago at an open mic who writes fantastically on a number of subjects and never ceases to entertain audiences when he performs. Over a pint of two the other day he revealed his new novella Confessions of a Renfield will be launched soon and I thought it would be great to get him to answer a few questions about this new book, his influences and love of performing. Please read on and enjoy.
Q. Can you tell readers all about your new book Confessions of a Renfield?
Confessions of a Renfield is about a guy named Jimmy. Now, Jimmy’s life is fairly normal, except for Emily. They share a kind of on-off relationship. Sometimes she’s around, sometimes she’s away, but he loves her in his own way. The problem is, one day, she’s going to kill him. You see, Emily is a Vampire. Jimmy is one of her Renfields. The book covers the worst two weeks of Jimmy’s life as a new & ruthless Vampire hunter comes to town and wrecks his life.
Q. Another string to your literary bow is that you write poetry as well, which came first writing stories or poems and how do you differentiate between writing one or the other when an idea comes into your head?
I have been writing stories as long as I can remember. One of the earliest things I wrote was back in school. We had been given the task of creating a Superhero. I created the character Prambo, a baby with superpowers. The poetry came later. I was going though a bad time in my life and the poetry became an outlet for my feelings and fears.
When it comes to the difference between writing poetry and prose, I think it is the initial inspiration or thought that guides an idea in one direction or another. If I see a conversation or a scene in my head, it invariably ends up as prose. My poetry comes from less-defined thoughts. Many of my poems come from an emotion or a feeling. For example, one of my short stories, ‘Aftermath and After’ came from an image of the characters stood on top of a ruined shopping centre. As I started working through the characters I began to shape a conversation around them. On the other hand, the poem ‘Repeat until Death’ stemmed from my frustration at having to work with what can be described as an ‘invisible’ illness.
Sometimes, I have to run with an idea to see if it fits as prose or a poem and ‘feel out’ what it should be. One good example of this is the song ‘Autumn’ It started life as a short prose piece. Sometime later I adapted it as a poem, but I was never really happy with it in that form. One day I was playing around with my guitar and hit on a chord scheme that seemed to fit the poem and eventually, the poem became a song.
Just to point out, ‘Autumn’ is the only song I have ever written that has been good enough to be performed.
Q. You are quite the performer on the open mic scene and I and I know many others are impressed at your ability to perform rather than read your work. Any tips for poets or writers on how best to get their work over?
Tips on performing poetry and prose, hmm. First things first, if you want to perform your work, don’t read it, perform it. I know that seems obvious, but it is an important distinction. Every poem has its own rhythm and feel. Feel here is the important word. You have to find the emotions in the piece and follow them through, once you understand the emotion, then you can start adding in the performance. The next thing is, possibly, the most boring. Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice. Practice. You need to be able to let the flow of the poem take you along, and that only comes with saying it over and over and over. Listen to the words you use instead of the ones on the page. I find that many of my poems are very different after reciting them out time after time. The final, and most important point of all. Pick a point to stop making changes. Many of my poems are either Open or Locked. You can go back and back making change after change, learn to pick an end point to editing. Don’t forget, that could be after you have performed it a few times.
When performing prose, there are differences. I’m not the type of person who can ‘do all the voices’ and I’m jealous of those that can. This doesn’t mean that you can’t speak with the ‘voice’ of the character. Each character uses different words and sentence structure. If, after reading a section of prose or story out loud, you realise all the characters sound the same, go back and make each voice distinct. This is a good thing for all writers of prose, people don’t usually speak in perfect grammar. Writers are always driven to make sure that everything is spell and grammar checked. When it comes to people talking, the rules go out of the window. If you make your characters speak in a realistic way, then your performances will also be improved. One thing I find does help when performing short pieces of prose is music. I have recited several of my short pieces to music and I have found that it has enhanced the piece greatly. It’s something I haven’t tried with poetry yet. The rules are simple, no lyrics or words are involved as they will clash with the words you want to say and check timings. Is your story long enough? It the piece of music suitable for the story? Again, practice, practice, practice. Also, make sure you have a way of playing the music loud enough to be heard. Some venues will have a set up that supports this but be prepared.
Finally … finally, have fun, enjoy your poems and prose!
Q. What inspires you? Do you have any favourite authors, poets, musicians that have influenced your work?
Speaking as a creative type, everything inspires me, from rush hour traffic through people’s conversations overheard at a Coffee shop to listening to Radio 4.
Speaking seriously though, my greatest love is reading. I love reading. Not all of it is top notch literature, but books is books neh? I started reading stuff like Tolkien and David Eddings when I was at school, but I think two books changed my view of, well, everything and they were ‘Weaveworld’ by Clive Barker and ‘Neuromancer’ by William Gibson.
I love cyberpunk with its man-machine interfaces and hyper-real description. I don’t like all of Gibson’s work, but Neuromancer (and the other two ‘Count Zero’ and ‘Mona Lisa Overdrive’) has a real emptiness to it. Like a road movie in an urban setting. Despite the pressing mass of humanity surrounding them, each character seemed more alone than anyone. This staccato rhythm of Hyper speed events and the almost obsessional detail of the pauses between them, really gripped me.
Weaveworld is possibly the richest, most beautiful, ugly, sensual, brain-meltingly textured thing I have ever read. the combination of sexual allure and revulsion the book inspires sometimes is breath taking. I still find it a pleasure to read.
On the poetry side, my first exposure to poetry was a little book called ‘You Tell Me.’ It was series of poems by Roger McGough and Michael Rosen. I learned that poems didn’t have to rhyme, didn’t have to go rumpty tumpty tumpty one/ rumpty tumpty tumpty done. Another inspiration, although not always in a positive way, was the school book ‘Dragonsteeth’. It featured poems by Seamus Heaney, Walt Whitman and Ted Hughes. The two that always stood out to me where ‘The Projectionist’s Nightmare’ by Brian Patten and ‘The Computer’s First Christmas Card’ by Edwin Morgan.
I think that, more than anything, the poetry I have encountered since I set off down this particular Rabbit Hole of a calling had inspired me most. I am always surprised and delighted by the poetry I encounter on the local scene
Q. After Confessions has been launched what are your next plans, is there anything else you’re working on or would like to do?
In the near future I am going to keep writing poems as they come to me. Eventually, I’d like to write enough poems to release a small book, but my first love is performing them live.
I am also continuing to work on my full-length novel ‘Welcome Back Victoria.’ This is a novel set in a Dystopian Britain. It’s about mind control, Virtual Reality and a group dedicated to overthrowing the newly crowned Queen Victoria. It’s about overcoming apathy and complacency, standing up and doing what’s right in a world that is conditioned not to think.
Another project I am working on is expanding a long-short story I wrote called Contact Sickness. It’s another sci-fi about contact with an alien race and the effects of dealing with the psychological consequences of that contact. A lot of people know me are aware of the alien race as the ‘Space Badgers’ but I hope to release this as a Novella.
Q. Where can folk find you online if they want to keep up with what you’re doing?
I am still coming to terms with the New Social Media, luddite that I am, but I have a Facebook page at Dan Oram – Author or email me at DanOramAuthor@gmail.com
I’d like to say a big thank you to Dan for taking the time to answer my questions, Confessions will be launched at Eerie Ink Tattoo Parlour in Walsall on the evening of July 20th.
This interview was carried out by Richard Archer for the blog Poems and More. If you copy and paste this article into another blog site please have the decency to leave this sentence in instead of reposting it as your own work.