Wednesday, 28 October 2009

In Conversation with Norman Hadley...

Norman Hadley is a Garstang based poet. His second full collection, Stinging the Sepia is launching at The Corner Bookshop on Saturday 7th November at 3:00.
Jenn Ashworth: Finding a reader or an audience is important to most writers. You're a published poet and author as well as an experienced performer. Which way of communicating your words to others do you prefer, and why?
Norman Hadley: Performing live is a syringeful of Sunny D - it should definitely be a banned substance. The feeling of human connection when you get an audience on your side is intoxicating and I can easily understand why musicians keep gigging four decades after they were rich enough to retire.
I like experimenting with different voices and gauging reactions, so I can do shouting-at-pigeons crazy for one poem and see the audience do the step-away-from-the-loony routine. Then I can do a whispering-Ted-Lowe delivery for the next piece and it's great when you can see people leaning forward and engaging with the ideas.
That said, I'll never be a full-blown performance poet. If I ever came on like a dumbass white rapper, the audience would likely wet itself with derision. In any case, I'd like to think there's enough fibre in my poems for a second and third chew so that's where the books come in.
JA: What's the thinking behind selecting poems for a collection? Can you give poets who might be reading this, and who have a whole shoe-box or hard drive full of poems, any insight into the process you went through in making the selection, and deciding on the order, and so on?
NH: My poems range from syllabub-light rhymers all the way through pensive haiku and sepulchral free verse. I especially like to conceal stones in tissue paper; to convey a serious message in a playful vehicle.
I've tried to make all three collections as eclectic as possible. I measure everything on the axes of length, seriousness and form and aim for a broad spread of those parameters. Even the Pendle Hill collaboration; although all six pieces are ostensibly 'about' the same subject, they're all very different in form and voice.
Selecting pieces is akin to deciding which toes to cut off. People tell you to murder your darlings but I've got a whole mausoleum of darlings in my hard disc. As regards running order, Stinging the Sepia has been broken down into chapters by theme, such as Landscapes and Portraits. That's as sophisticated as it gets.
JA: How far do personal experiences inform the poetry you write, and how far is it invented, or fictional? (I know this is a horrid question - but people are always interested)
NH: I'm quite fortunate in that a fair chunk of my material is a response to landscape and landscape never feels hurt or betrayed. Or if it does, it never says. When I do stray onto matters of the heart, I go to inordinate lengths to protect those closest to me, even if it misleads the reader. No, I'll rephrase that, especially if it misleads the reader. I actively want to indulge the belief that this Norman Hadley character has dated an F-M transsexual, had an illicit flirtation in Tangiers and eavesdropped on middle-aged women getting frisky through a party wall. Once I've set up a canopy of the fantastical, I can slip in genuine autobiographical details under cover, like the Radio Four panel game "The Unbelivable Truth"
JA: As well as an active writer and performer you also work hard to support other people's work - through making their performances available on you tube, to writing reviews on The Lunecy Review. Do you think this is important? Is there a real writing community in lancashire? What are the benefits of being part of it? Is 'joining in' essential? What about if you're a loner, or very shy?
NH: I'm a recent convert to the joining-in philosophy. By nature, I am the shy loner your question envisages - an introverted, engine-designing robo-geek. Until last year I was pretty garret-centric; just idly monitoring my own glacial progress towards an unmarked grave. Yes, I'd toddle along to Spotlight as a spectator and occasional performer, but it didn't occur to me that the local arts scene was something I could contribute to.
But I've been inspired by people like Ron Baker, Sarah Fiske & Kevin McVeigh; people who are pursuing their own writing whilst finding time to give others a platform. And look what's happening here - you're days away from finishing your second novel, getting the small fry through her first school term and preparing to get hitched yet you've found time to talk to me.
I'd encourage anyone to get involved. Sure, it's knackering, there's very little recognition and there are brickbats a-plenty if someone doesn't "get" your review. But it puts you in touch with hordes of inspiring folk and if enough people chip in, it'll spread the load.
The videos are my pet project, even though I curse the amount of work I've lumbered myself with. I want to build up a library of North West performers, whether they're big names or open miking for the first time. They can send the links to their mums, embed them in their blogs or watch them obsessively to hone their acts, like aspirant dictators. And anyone who couldn't get a babysitter can get a glimpse into what they missed. I like to think it's added a new dimension to Lunecy and Preston Writing Network.
I've done some writing for review sites, too. I'm insanely proud of my interview with the fabulous Moll Baxter and I'm hoping this becomes a series of interviews with Lancaster's literary luminaries.
JA: Tell us about your experience with creative writing groups. Is it something you'd recommend? How should a poet or writer go about choosing a creative writing group?
NH: My experience is perhaps atypical in that I've only been involved with one group and it chose me. Monkeyrack is by invitation; it sounds deperately cliquey, I know, but it wouldn't work if it grew any larger. Now it may not bear comparison with marrying my wife or raising my daughter, but those events aside, joining Monkeyrack was one of the best things I've ever done. It's invaluable to bounce ideas off people who understand the vital distinction between 'complacent' and 'complaisant'.
If anyone's looking out for a group, I'd advise them to find people with writing styles very different from their own; if you specialise in floaty poetry, it's worthwhile to get the reaction of someone ploughing a different furrow. In Monkeyrack, I get interesting angles from crime specialist Jo Powell and resident horror dude, Simon Kurt Unsworth. As regards uber-poets, there's the exceptionally talented Ron Scowcroft.
I think the secret behind these groups is to be as honest as you can. If I've written something crap, I want to know that it stinks and why. I'm a patchy writer at best and often overreach myself. Feeling your ego's been masticated by a water-buffalo is worth it to improve your work.
JA: What does 'being successful' as a poet and a writer mean to you? What's your ambition for your creative work?
NH: Right now, success would mean the cheerful toot of the cavalry coming over the hill. Everything thus far has been an exercise in exhausted auteur-ship. This is against the backdrop of a day job that accounts for fifty-five hours of the week. I would weep salt tears of gratitude if someone, somewhere, would take some of that burden away so I could just write. After that, the laureateship, obviously. Only another nine and a half years to wait.
JA: What's next for you? More performances? Another collection?
NH: All of the above and more. I'm fumbling around for a new voice at the moment, because I want the next collection to be qualitatively different from its predecessors. I'd like to do more collaborative work with people using different media, like the Pendle Hill book.
I'm also building up an armoury of short stories. Whenever I have an idea I can't think of a rhyme for, I knock it out as prose. Some time next year there might be enough to cobble together a collection.

Anyway, I've seen those chat show thingies with Ricky and Judith so now's the bit where I recline expansively on the sofa and hold up a book to camera, right? The launch (did I mention I'm having a launch?) is at the Corner Bookshop, Garstang at 3 pm on Saturday the 7th. All PWN readers, their partners, children, aunts, friends and hamsters are welcome. You can browse in the shop, I'll read a bit, talk a bit and flog some books. Nothing complicated.


  1. A very enjoyable interview. Thanks both.
    I've read some of Norman's Lunecy Review Reviews, and think he's a terrific writer. I predict tailbacks on the A6 as Garstang grinds to a standstill on the 7th under the weight of heaving poetry fans.

  2. Cheers, Tim.

    Wouldn't it be cool if Britain's transport infrastructre really was as susceptible to poetry readings as it is to IKEA sales?