Recently, we’ve had the pleasure of reading and reviewing Jottings From a Far Away Place by Brendan Connell. It’s a wonderful book, one of beautiful ideas, great prose and the craziness that keeps us believing in magic. Brendan was kind enough to stop by and answer a few questions.
Jottings From A Far Away Place is a strange and wonderful book. Do you feel that it is similar or different to your previous works? It depends—it has similarities with some of my other books, such as Metrophilias, but it is also a very different book than the others. Generally, however, most of my books are fairly dissimilar one to the next. Some themes are revisited—but I would hope that if someone reads one book, they don’t feel that they have read all my books.
The style of the book was definitely unique, where did your influences come from for this work?There were a lot of influences—most notably some older genres of Chinese and Japanese writing. Aside from that, there are also obvious references to Latin, Renaissance and Sanskrit works. I would hope the book also contains a certain amount of originality—things influenced by actual experience and thought rather than coming from outside.
It’s a book that doesn’t just rely on its strangeness, the prose is wonderful. Did you struggle to create good writing juxtaposed against the surreal? Not really. I didn’t deliberately attempt to write anything surreal. I have always tried to pay attention to style. Content is however a part of style, because one is able to present a situation in many different ways. Every day occurrences can see seem strange or charming if presented in the proper manner. At the same time, so called ‘weird’ things can often seem mundane and exceedingly trite when presented in the wrong way.
You’ve had a lot of experiences working with different presses. What advice do you have for writers looking to find a home for their work based on your own knowledge? Well, looking for a home for a piece of writing can be a discouraging process. When I started submitting material to various places, the internet was fairly new and I spent a lot of money on stamps and envelopes and had a great deal of rejection. Gradually I started to learn which places were more open to publishing my writing, and things became a bit easier in that regard. Mainly though, I think, the most important thing is trying to develop a good style and to write good books and not worry too much about the ‘getting published’ part. I see a lot of writers spend a lot of time social networking and trying to get published, when they haven’t actually developed a good style yet. A certain amount of that is okay—but without first concentrating on a style, and working on gathering a small body of work—well, without that, it is like opening up a restaurant without having a chef in the kitchen.
The title Jottings From A Far Away Place fits the book superbly, is it just a nice title or do you feel these stories came from somewhere unusual? I am actually not sure. The term ‘jottings’ comes from the Chinese ‘biji’—which is a certain genre of writing. I don’t remember what inspired the rest of the title though—but it seemed catchy enough to keep.
This is your second book with Snuggly Books, how did you come to work with them? The first was a collaboration novel called The Cutest Girl in Class—a book written with Quentin S. Crisp and Justin Isis. Snuggly Books was originally an arm of a press called Hieroglyphic. They had published a translation I did with my wife of the prose of Guido Gozzano, as well as some shorter pieces in their journal Sacrum Regnum and a short story in an Arthur Machen tribute. So that is the association.
From your experience over the years, how has publishing changed and how is the role of the author different since you started writing? Well, my experience is limited mostly to the small press. I mean, I have had things published by large presses—but mostly that isn’t really my world. As I mentioned earlier, when I first started to be published, things were done in a physical manner. You sent out manuscripts, and they sent you back magazines and journals with stories published in them. I believe it was actually easier to get published in that environment—and also in the earlier days of the internet. Once things like Facebook came along, it really changed the environment. Writers seem to have started to spend far too much time on self promotion. Many writers who are very vocal on social media, and seem to be taken quite seriously, have, from my observations, not accomplished a great deal in terms of actually producing books. Others produce inferior books and, via connections on social media, are able to get traction off of them. Publishers are so inundated with emails that they are much less open to unagented work. Also, some people who are good writers are less good at keeping up their ‘internet image’ while some people who are poor writers have excellent internet and social networking skills. With all this, to use writing as a form of artistic expression has become extremely difficult.
Do you have any preference with how people engage with your work via kindle or print? I strongly prefer people read it in print. Most of my books I have refused to have put on Kindle or be released as e-books. There will however be an e-book edition of Jottings from a Far Away Place. It is also somewhat discouraging to see how many people pirate e-books. In all my books though, the physical book is better than the e-book. I would prefer if people read them with all electronic devices turned off.
How do you view your earlier writing after such an extensive publication history? There are a few things that I don’t like, but most of it is fine. Some earlier books, like Unpleasant Tales, I couldn’t write again. I would have trouble writing some of the darker stories in that again. Many earlier things I wrote mainly because I knew I could easily get them published. Now I rarely write something with that motivation.
What’s next for you? I have a couple of new novels finished. I suspect at least one of them will be released in 2016. I am also working on a few more books. Two of them are tie-ins to earlier books, and two of them are totally unrelated.