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On The Table Read, “the best book magazine in the UK“, writer Colin Dardis talks about his life and what inspired him to write All This Light In Which To See The Dead.

JJ Barnes editor of The Table Read online creativity, arts and entertainment magazine

Written by JJ Barnes

www.jjbarnes.co.uk

I interviewed Colin Dardis about his life and career, what inspires his writing, and the work that went into his new book, All This Light In Which To See The Dead.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

Well, going by my Twitter biog, I’m a poet, sound artist and neurodivergent straight-edge Gen X-er. What does that mean? I guess I write and do things with words, as well as sounds (ambient, experimental work mostly); I have a history of depression and Asperger’s which informs part of my work.

Colin Dardis on The Table Read
Colin Dardis

I abstain from drink and drugs – the straight-edge lifestyle is very important to me – and I was born in the late seventies, during the rise of Thatcher and the death of punk – my parents chose an ominous time to extend their family.

Reading Never Goes Out of Style

When did you first WANT to write a book?

In younger years I can’t recall any lofty literary ambitions; writing was just something that happened. I seemed to have a knack for rhyme and a vague meter, and so wrote silly little poems in class for the entertainment of my school friends. What I really wanted initially was to make my mates laugh.

It took many years before anything approaching a book was even considered. I’m not very good at long-term planning, so the idea of book, rather than just single poems I got published in magazines and various websites wasn’t considered until my late twenties. And it was only through amassing those publication credits and realising that some editors liked my work that I began to think that a book was the next logical step of progression.

When did you take a step to start writing?

There are two parts to this: one, I started written since I was in my pre-teens. Largely nonsense juvenilia that I would be embarrassed to show anyone now, which developed into diatribes of teen angst and forlorn love poems. And as I matured (slowly), the writing matured too.

I first started going to open mic nights and mics in my early twenties, but I never really started to seek to get anything published until about 2010-2011. That’s when I realized there was a world of journals, zines and online ventures hungry for submissions. I have been cataloguing everything I had written since around 2006, rather than just have random piles of paper around the house, so it was easy to dip into this and send work out. That’s when I started taking the writing a little more seriously.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

I had self-released a collection, left of soul, back in 2010 after coming out of a long period depression. There was a feeling that I have lost the past year to the illness, and I desperately wanted to back up for lost time. All these individual poems were piling up, just being written as they came, never with any intention originally that each help formulate any kind of collection.

The poems were written over a period of three-four years, but the coming together of the book only took a month or two; I simply selected the poems I liked the most, and felt had some kind of literary value. As they say, publish and be damned.

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How long did it take you to complete your latest book from the first idea to release?

The latest collection, All This Light In Which To See The Dead: Pandemic Journal Entries 2020-21 was written, as the title suggests, between Autumn 2020 and Spring 2021. Being a terrible procrastinator, it took me quite a while to be able to go over each entry and edit everything into a book format.

The world of publishing can move very slow – my poetry collection the x of y was delayed by over a year from 2017 to 2018. However, the more and more I hesitated, the more it felt I was being removed from the moment of writing. I wanted to get the book out as soon as possible, to try and capture live the feeling of dread and disease that the pandemic had forced upon us, to say ‘look at what is happening right now’.

Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write All This Light In Which To See The Dead?

Since the first lockdown started in March 2020, I had barely written anything; I had contracted coronavirus that month, and had been left dealing with the exhaustion of long-Covid. At the outset, the journals were just a way for me to flex the literary muscle again and get back into the practice of regular writing. I tried to write a bit every day, and would show the results to my wife afterwards (I had no choice, she demanded visibility!).

At the time, I had been reading a lot of Henry Rollins’s work, which are mostly compromised of this journal entries. And after a while of writing I felt, if he can do it, perhaps I can emulate him to some extent and craft a book out of this too.

What were your biggest challenges with writing All This Light In Which To See The Dead?

Due to the structure of the book and the reasons details above, I tried to find something to write about each day. And often, you’re sitting at the laptop with nothing happening. I mention this in the book, the journal format allowing for an element of meta-self-referencing.

Eventually, you realise the semi-subconscious thought that’s been on your mind all day and vent onto the page. Sometimes it’s a childhood memory, sometimes it’s a development in the news, sometimes it’s a worry you just can’t shift. And you get to the stage of writing uncomfortable things – memories of my father’s death, an askew outlook on the world due to depression, a judgement on someone or some event that might come across as unfair or mean.

All This Light In Which To See The Dead by Colin Dardis on The Table Read
All This Light In Which To See The Dead

You need to tell yourself to be honest, to be true to the original thought, to allow the book to be a real reflection of your thoughts and not shy away from the ugliness. I could have edited it all and made myself look good; I didn’t want that. I wanted the book to be me, which means admitting to the negative stuff too.

What was your research process for All This Light In Which To See The Dead?

I’m telling my own story in the book, so basically there is no research to be undertaken. There are one or two childhood memories that were too fuzzy, which I needed to go and ask my mother about. For example, it annoyed me for a few days that I couldn’t recollect the name of a small shop near us where I grew up, where my sister and I would frequently stop in to buy sweets, an absolutely charming and old-fashioned place, now sadly gone. Otherwise, I wrote as the thoughts came to me.

How did you plan the structure of All This Light In Which To See The Dead?

I knew the structure was always going to be in a journal style, with mostly short entries (400-1000 words) that would appear chronologically. I also need I wanted to avoid specific dates, but instead give the entries interesting titles. Sometimes the titles bear little relevance to the entry; the reader might need to work to establish if there’s any connection. Again, this is something inspired by Henry Rollins (who usually foregoes titles altogether). But the overall structure was self-evident.

I originally thought of splitting the entries into chapters determined by the month; but this enforced a false structure onto the overall narrative, as if life was lived month-by-month rather than day by day. And it was the length of the days, the passage of time not feeling quite normal during lockdowns, that I wanted to stress.

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did your book need?

As aforementioned, my wife did read the entries as I wrote them, and pointed out some typos and errors. I was trying to move at the speed of inspiration, so some mistakes were appalling! But otherwise, I didn’t use any outside editors, basically because I have experience myself of editing and I guess my control-freak tendencies wouldn’t allow it. Also, that would have slowed down the whole process, having to rely on someone else.

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write a book?

Read. Read as much as you can, read widely and indiscriminately. Read authors outside of your own countries. Read contemporary work alongside the classics. Read more women. Look at how others write, how stories are told, what techniques are used, how people draw you in. Often, it is not the events of the story that we find compelling – dates and places are mere trivialities – but how it is told that we find engaging. Learn that, and you can tell any story.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

Yes, I’m working on a poetry collection about ideas and ideals of beauty and appearance, entitled ‘Skin Cell’. I also have a pamphlet of poems loosely linked by the theme of water. There’s a second full collection of poems, provisionally called ‘Mean Time’ too, and a few other projects that may or may not see the light of day anytime soon. On the prose side, there’s an experimental novel, kind of creative non-fiction for lack of a precise term, that I really need to blow the digital dust off and get submitted to places.

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Pride is a dangerous thing, not just to writers, but in life in general. I find it hard to stand up and take pride, to shout out “look at what I’ve done”. But I did work hard at it, and yes, I do feel it was worth the effort. I learnt a good bit about myself, and coming mostly from a poetry background, I found I could express myself equally well in prose. I can’t think of a time when writing isn’t worth the effort, even if it doesn’t get published. it’s a form of mindfulness, which in an overwhelming, hectic world, we need more of, frankly.

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

Website: http://www.colindardispoet.co.uk/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/purelypoetry

Order All This Light In Which To See The Dead: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B09SVBC9RV

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