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Interview – Author of Fiction Burns, Steven Harris

Steven Harris

Self-Publisher’s Showcase: Today we are joined by Steven Harris, author of FICTION BURNS, a collection of Short Stories.  Welcome to the Showcase Lounge, Steven. Please do make yourself comfortable, we’ll pop the kettle on.

Steven Harris: Hi, nice to be lounging. Assam tea for me please, with two level spoons of sugar.

SPS: Can we start today by just asking you to tell our readers a little about yourself?

SH: My stock response is to say I am a human man who plays around with words, noises and pictures. Oh specifics? I’m a writer in various forms, a musician and an amateur photographer. My first ‘career’ was as a jobbing musician for many years. In my early thirties I walked away from that business because I loathed the fact that so much of it is really is a business. It’s much more to do with fashion at times than about talent. I sought an education and worked to PhD level in English & Theory at Exeter University and I returned to writing fiction, something I first started being interested in doing when I was about nine although music quickly became more immediate and lucrative for a while. I’m back to being whatever the opposite of lucrative is now and much happier to mostly call myself a writer.

SPS: Fiction Burns is, if you don’t mind us saying, a superb collection of Short Stories. Was it always the plan to have a loosely running theme throughout rather than a series of unrelated stories?

SH: Thank you. It’s a collection I’m proud of but we all love our ‘babies’ don’t we? There wasn’t a plan as such for the stories to seem so thematic throughout but the majority of the material was written between January and March of 2013 so it was sort of inevitable that there would be a sense of coherence and connectivity between different stories.


SPS: Was the plan a Short Story collection from the outset or was it more accidental?

SH: With Fiction Burns yes, it was a plan. I can find it harder to write in longer form (as my former PhD supervisor would tell you). Focus and consistency of vision is at times easier to achieve for me with short fiction. With longer work, the consistency generally comes far more from the redrafting and editing. Short fiction has an immediacy I enjoy during the process of writing.

SPS: You have 24 stories in Fiction Burns. Can you tell us, do you have a favourite at all?

SH: I favour different stories on different days. My answer today would be ‘Osmosis’ because I’ve been soaked by rain this morning. Tomorrow the answer will no doubt be something else.

SPS: We’ve spoken to a few authors very recently that have taken a short story and ‘fleshed it out’ to produce novellas and even novels. Is this something that appeals to you at all?

SH: It does appeal to me and there is a plan in my head to develop a novel based on an idea which is contained in one of the stories in ‘New Visions’ my forthcoming collection of short fiction. The short story in question  – ‘Give As Good As You Get’ – was actually written some years ago and I have since stored up various ideas for a novel which would be quite a departure in many ways from the short but in which the central theme continues to be an act of  spontaneous gender transformation.

SPS: Do you find any constraints/positives from writing in the short form?

SH: My own sense of the positives is something I may have already covered: immediacy, consistency of theme, of ideas. The constraints are possibly that characters can seem more like cyphers than fully-fledged people at times. All literature is about ideas anyway and thus at some level all characters have something of the cypher about them. As a songwriter I am also well-versed (pun intended) with creating snapshots. I quite like it if readers/listeners are left with questions I have not answered for them. The work is then their own as much as it is mine because they will presumably come up with their own interpretations.

SPS: Tell us about how you get into your writing frame of mind; do you have any ideal conditions?

SH: I’m sure many writers will say the best ideas come when they are thinking about something else entirely but that’s the germ of ideas, not the writing. My habits tend to change because if I become too entrenched into a routine I feel I am dictating to myself and treating creativity like any other job. It’s work, of course, but I like to believe that as a writer I am freer than in any other kind of work I’ve done. My way AND the highway. But there is one essential for creative writing, I find. Whatever it takes – being awake at four in the morning, a mallet to the skull, writing whilst trying to do the ironing at the same time – I have to ensure that my artistic ‘voice’ is allowed to get on with things without too much disturbance from the critical ‘voice’. The internal critic’s job is to step forward far more prominently during editing. If I let him back-seat drive the creative process then it is pointless trying to write at all because all he’ll do is nit-pick grammar, structure, ideas and point out potential plagiarism every two seconds. My internal critic is very, very useful later in the process but when I’m actually writing he’s a pain in the backside.


SPS: Previously, you released TIDEMARKS, a series of poems. How different did you find writing poetry compared to the stories you write now?

SH: I love writing poetry but am under few illusions that it’s my strongest medium. When I was a full-time musician and writing songs all the time I used poetry as a means of escaping the structures and needs of pop/rock material. Most of my poetry back then was freeform blank verse. You can still detect that style in some of my short stories. I like poetic prose but writing like that all of the time would mean I’m 100 years out of sync with the world and ought to be somewhere in Paris or Vienna hanging out with Modernist writers. As I’ve got older I do often like to place structural or thematic limitations on a piece of poetry. Blank pages and a billion possible ideas is daunting. Somehow, techniques such as telling myself I can only write seven lines or that I have to maximise use of verbs and exclude adjectives can be inspiring. I have also written quite a few sonnets which can be the ultimate in structured, disciplined poetry. Sonnet literally means ‘little song’ which may explain their appeal to me now that I write songs themselves so rarely.

SPS: Do you have plans to return to Poetry in the future at all?

SH: I write poetry almost every week. I just don’t believe that much of it is good poetry. One day there will be another collection, I hope.

SPS: Actually, now would be a good time to ask; what can we expect in the near future from the pen (or fingers) of Steven Harris

SH: As I mentioned earlier, ‘New Visions’ is on its way. It is another collection of short stories. Some are taken from an anthology I put together in 2009 before I was signed with DreamCage Agency. Others were written this year following on from the publication of ‘Fiction Burns’.

I am also trying to complete my first novel which is possibly entitled ‘Once More With Feeling’. This is about two former teenage sweethearts who are thrown together again 25 years later when a mutual friend winds up in a coma. I am hoping this can be completed, at least in terms of first draft, by the end of the year as I have a second novel I am keen to begin working on which is different again from the one I mentioned earlier  concerning spontaneous gender transformation. This all makes me sound incredibly busy but some days I just drink tea and eat trifle in my dressing gown. (The trifle is not in my dressing gown. That would be silly)

SPS: Was the Self-Published/Indie-Published route always your preferred route for your work?

SH: My musical days were happiest when it felt more like an independent affair. Once management became involved and the prospect loomed that a large-ish label might sign  my final ‘proper’ band, I felt much less in control of the creative process. More importantly, it became much less satisfying. All work and no play, as they say. So I imagine I feel pretty much the same about the publishing process. I say ‘imagine’ as there are some positive differences to being a writer compared to being the frontman of a band. It is much more possible to walk straight past someone who is a big fan of your work and yet they will not necessarily recognise who you are. Not that being told someone enjoys one’s work is not pleasurable or good for the ego now and then, but I did find it hard to know how to respond to music fans who often just bounced up and down shouting a lot about how they loved me/my band. Er, ok. Can I get back to buying some groceries now please?

 SPS: If you could give one piece of advice for someone looking to get into writing, what would it be?

SH: Run, run, as fast as you can. But take an iPad with you.

SPS: Before we bring this interview to a close, it’s your chance to name-drop. Anyone who you feel is deserving of more recognition at present or someone whose writing you have recently enjoyed? Now is your chance to spread the word…

SH: Kneel Downe, a versatile and inventive writer whom, I very much hope, is beginning to get the recognition he richly deserves for his Virulent Blurb universe.  Oh, and anyone who has never read Franz Kafka really ought to. I return to him again and again and am never disappointed.

SPS: Thank you for joining us today Steven, and good luck in the future.

SH: Thanks for having me. Your tea is excellent.

SPS: For more information on Steven Harris and his work please do visit his Author page where you can pick up a copy of Fiction Burns, because you really should.

If you have enjoyed this Interview please do leave a comment below.

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