Alex Webb sits down with Manchester writer David Hartley to talk about his work, getting published and how to get into spoken word…
In the spoken word scene, good short story performers are hard to find. It’s difficult enough holding an audience’s attention for the duration of a poem, let alone that of an extended narrative. David Hartley seems to be an exception to this. When I saw the Preston-born writer perform at September’s Bad Language I was crying with laughter as he performed a piece about being endlessly stuck in a cinema watching the same film. Hartley’s talent for spoken word is evident in his delivery, bringing his work to life in a hilarious light that left me begging for more. Fortunately, there was more to read! Hartley has four collections out including his most notable one, Threshold. I was fortunate enough to get the chance to ask Hartley a few questions about his writing style, his inspiration and the Manchester literature scene.
Hartley describes Threshold as a collection of various short pieces that are based in “some kind of unreality, whether that is the future, something monstrous, or something abstract”. This is very clear in my personal favourite, ‘The Haunter’, which sees Hartley turn into a revenge-seeking ghost desperate to torment his partner’s parents. Lines such as ‘I will be satellite interference on the Adult Channel, an unseen mouse fraying router wires, ecto-fluff clogging sinks’ shows Hartley’s ability to twist the mundane everyday into something to laugh about. This is summarised best by the writer himself who notes that he likes to write “things [that are] familiar but unfamiliar at the same time”.
Having moved from Preston to Manchester when he was 18, Hartley says that both these places have played huge roles in his writing. In fact, in Threshold, there is a piece called ‘Guess the Preston’ that takes us back to the writer’s childhood, a time he now recalls with “a kind of aching for happier times along with a gentle frustration at the ‘small city’ mentality” that I’m sure a lot of us can relate to. If Preston was his childhood Manchester is Hartley’s adulthood, with Manc-inspired pieces “tend[ing] to be abstract, weighed down by history or, more interestingly, apocalyptic”. One such piece (yet to be published) is Hartley’s ‘Lest We Forget’ which he described as a fusion of his “love of the city [with his] distrust of city planners and their wilful disregard for history and art”. From this, it is clear that to say Hartley is happy tackling a huge range of topics is an understatement. It is this apparent fearlessness in his writing that makes him such an interesting artist.
When I asked Hartley what drew him to short stories, he said that it may be down to his father, a drama teacher, and his time in an experimental student theatre at college. “I ‘hear’ poetic prose in my head when I come to put words onto paper” says Hartley, citing Beckett, Berkoff and Greek tragedians as some of his major influences in his style. However, for this writer, it is important to “trust the inner language that spills out” when experimenting and embrace your style, whatever it may be.
“Go out in the city and meet other creatives”
When I asked Hartley to give advice to those who may want to get involved in Manchester’s spoken word scene he said his number one piece of advice is always: “get out there, get away from the keyboard, go out into the city and meet other creatives”. I’ve heard this advice a number of times and nothing could be truer. To really expand your skills you have to embrace the literary world around you and absorb as much as you possibly can. The main reason for doing this, in Hartley’s case, is because “you can hear some brilliant stuff that will inspire you, and you’ll hear some awful stuff that will anger you, and rile you up” leading you back to the keyboard “giddy with enthusiasm and ideas”. When Hartley speaks about his work and spoken word it is clear that he loves what he does. It’s cliché but true: if you love what you’re doing, it will show in your audience’s reaction, so always be enthusiastic about your work. This is part of what makes a performer great.
Talking about Manchester-based artists to look out for, Hartley named Fat Roland (the man behind ‘Bad Language’), Benjamin Judge, Joy France, Kieran King, David Gaffney and Zach Roddis. It is obvious how much respect Hartley has for these writers and after checking a few of them out I can see why. On regular spoken word nights that are worth checking out, Hartley suggested Bad Language as the first port of call. This is because it is “always excellent, ever-expanding, very welcoming, friendly and smartly run”. What more could you ask for from a night?
When asking about Hartley’s journey to being published he said: “Threshold came together because someone saw me perform and liked my stories – three months later I had a book and an ISBN” proving that it really is just about making yourself accessible and finding ways to improve your style whenever possible. Whilst in the past a desire to be published was a “vanity project”, nowadays Hartley believes it is “more of an essential step in the ladder of becoming a ‘proper’ writer”. In the near future, we can expect a re-packaging of Hartley’s two Christmas collections, God Rest Ye and Merry Gentlemen. Alongside this, Hartley is working on a novel that is still far from finished but he is hopeful that it may be done by next year.
If you want to check out Hartley in person pop along to the King’s Arms, Salford on November 6th for an evening of experimental storytelling based on the themes of animals called ‘Fauna’. Whatever Hartley does in the future I wish him the best of luck and I am looking forward to what he has to offer in the coming years.
Visit David Hartley’s website: http://davidhartleywriter.blogspot.co.uk/
Follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/DHartleyWriter
Buy Threshold at the Gumbo Press site: http://www.gumbopress.co.uk/threshold.html