Interview with the Lauren McCarthy

Posted On September 22, 2006

Filed under Beat, poetry, review

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Lauren McCarthy currently lives in the heart of England’s Black Country. Her writing displays the observations and memories of one who has always inhabited the fringes of a large, historically industrial city, combined with the nuances of the everyday, the tensions and experiences which are not only her own, but those of an anonymous mass. Lauren’s writing can be viewed online at, following the links to published pieces online and in journals.

What do think of the lit scene in the midlands? Do you think the local press/arts council could do more to promote Black Country Literature? Personally I feel it’s a tad boring and dominated by retired teachers. (Although I could be wrong!!)

Well, as Birmingham is the second city, there are some mentions of poetry and lit in the local press, but as a midlands ‘scene’, I really don’t know how popular all these events are – I don’t go to any myself! Maybe I should bite the bullet and go, but I’m not sure I want to…perhaps I’m just anti-social, but I don’t know what I would gain from being ‘on the scene’? I have dabbled on the internet in ‘regional’ forums just to see what it would be like to connect with other local writers, but to be honest the vast number of rude and overly opinionated voices online put me off – not all bad, but there’s always one who can’t let it go – chat room rage is never an attractive quality! Your analysis of the Black Country scene is probably about right, and more press coverage might be what’s needed to bring about a change.

Who are you influenced by? I read your Elephants and Castles story it seems that your influenced with what’s going on around you. (I could identify with the smell of hops; it’s a seriously foul stench, but after awhile you actually get used to it.)

Influence is a curious thing, not really a question of who but what, for me at least – surely influence is absorbed at every moment, to take in or discarded at will. I can’t help but write about what I know – abstract muses are fine, but writing about the familiar means that the layers can be explored –observation and analysis are the keys to my writing I think. However you analyse a poems ‘spark’ or theme, whatever the term you want to call it – the essence that allows a poem to build in your head can be emotion, but sometimes it helps to be a neutral observer, writing poems in a BBC war correspondent drone. This can remove the emotion that leads to grim overly-expressive poetry, and gets down to the grit of everyday life.

Any other local poets/writers we should know about?

Mil Millington lives in my area of the Midlands; famous for the blog ‘things my girlfriend and I have argued about’ and many other books. I do believe he’s hosting all night novel-writing sessions in Birmingham – this kind of experimental writing is interesting, and lack of sleep can indeed induce all kind of creative writing!

Other than writing what else have you been doing?

Apart from writing, I live a double life as a designer of textiles and clothing, which at the moment is a labour of love with very little cash flow! At the moment I am working on a range of utopian outfits to bypass the mass fashion system. My work is online at:

How difficult is it producing and distributing your own book?

‘The Haunted Bird House and Other Poems’ was / is an experiment – I had my first collection of poems ready in January 2006, and I wanted to bypass traditional publishers and make it a DIY poetry project, I formatted the booklet on my PC and used my own ink sketches for the cover sleeve. As I make clothes, the obvious thing was to stitch the spine – and my little booklet was created. I have done two batches of 100, which are almost gone, and two special copies have a white stitched spine instead of black. The distribution was by word of mouth and online posts – because it is a free booklet, anyone who wants a copy can have one by emailing me a postal address. The response has been very good – the booklet has gone global to the USA, France, Spain, Germany, Australia and all around the UK. The distribution in spring 2006 was interesting, I thought of secreting copies onto poetry bookshelves of major chain stores in the Midlands area, so I did hit a few stores in Birmingham – maybe they just got binned, but I hope the booklets found good homes! I heard last week that graffiti artist Banksy did a similar thing with rip-off Paris Hilton albums in HMV stores – it’s one way to side step the system.

Do you think the internet has killed off the old school style of being a writer?

As writing is something I’ve recently come to, for me the net was always the place to publish – but with millions of blogs, how do you find what you are looking for in a writer? What the net has done is open up opportunities for new writers to be ‘published’ and read by anonymous masses with very little effort or financial outlay, (or financial gain) – it’s a free press revolution. That said, reading online is not always ideal, as it confines you to a screen unless you print it off yourself. The printed word will always be wanted and needed; you can’t read in the bath with a laptop! Books are such a big part of my life as a reader that I just couldn’t image a world without books.

Do think being successful is selling your soul and being all corporate in the Richard & Judy Book Club kind of way? Or are you not bothered by all that?

Success is not an objective for me, the poetry collection began as a way to put my work out there and see what happened – I really have no concept of whether my writing is good or bad, popular or disliked – my focus was to put down the pieces of poetry that were following me around and clogging up my brain. I write about how I see the world, and some of it isn’t pleasant or particularly ‘poetic’ but it was something I wanted and needed to do. I think don’t think success has to cost your soul, but writers with the objective of world domination, or hankering to become a household name, might just as well go and work in MacDonald’s, for all the creativity clawing to be famous would yield. Writing is badly paid and hard to break into, so why compete in the mass market? I hope there is another way, but I’m not holding my breath.

You’re stranded on a desert Island – what 5 books would want with you?

The Picture of Dorian Grey (Oscar Wilde)
The Summer Book (Tove Jansson)
Moby Dick (Herman Melville)
Waterland (Graham Swift)
The Very Hungry Caterpillar (Eric Carle)

If you could sit and have a pint with any writer who’d it be and why?

Probably Zadie Smith – I’d ask her if she’s happy at the top, and if she feels pressurised to write mainstream novels, and how she considers the position of her own work in
contemporary literature.

I’ve asked Eric Reynolds, Sammy Harkham & Peter Bagge this question – now It’s your turn: If you could fight any celebrity dead or alive who’d it be?

Sian Lloyd (weather presenter extraordinaire) – does she count as a celebrity? Her hypnotic welsh voice and weird hand movements get me hopping mad for some reason!


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