Nod Ghosh Interview with Jonathan Cardew
So, Nod, let’s talk about Yorkshire for a minute. You’re from Yorkshire, but you’re living in New Zealand now. How did that happen? Give us a Brief History of Nod, however you want that to fly.
Oh wow, a fellow Yorkshire person. An opportunity to talk about flat caps, chip butties, kids throwing bricks through windows and teenagers nicking cars; the wild and tortured moors, the monochrome rain, frost on the inside of windows and accents that could damage your cochlea ... oh how I miss it!
Actually, the first thing is that it's a lie. I'm not really from Yorkshire at all, but most people born in Birmingham don't advertise the fact. And before I was born, I was from India, if that makes sense.
My parents migrated to the U.K. from Kolkata. We moved to Leicestershire before I was old enough to form memories, so I didn't have the dubious experience of being a brown kid growing up in the Black Country.
Mind you Loughborough had its moments. It's a university town nestled between Leicester, Derby and Nottingham, small enough for everyone to know what anyone got up to, but large enough not to harbour the warmth of a close knit community. It's also the place where flatulence-filtering underwear is manufactured.
I escaped as soon as I could.
When I moved to Yorkshire it was like coming home, though I was a bit confused. Friends quoted verbatim from the Monty Python 'Four Yorkshire men' sketch, and I didn't know what they were on about. (My parents could not abide Monty Python, so I'd never seen it before).
I may not have had the right genes to create the perfect Yorkshire pudding, but that warped humour (and the soapy Tetley's bitter) made me feel like I was walking amongst kinsfolk. Plus I came across delicacies like pickled eggs and bottled cockles that looked like anatomically accurate representations of female genitalia. Why would I ever want to leave?
But I did leave, not so much dragged kicking and screaming, but it was hard to let go of that Yorkshire warmth and stoicism and all its other contradictions.
Moving to Christchurch in New Zealand, however, was like coming home all over again. It had all the generosity of acceptance of Leeds, but without so much dog poo on the pavement. The first time I went back to the UK, I had to tidy all the chip papers and discarded condoms etc. from the beer garden in Chapel Allerton where I met my friends. The litter made my eyes water. You become accustomed to the clean lines and space in NZ.
You asked for a brief history, but I gave you a long one, because it shows I have multiple 'homes' to plunder for stories, which is so much easier than flying over places via Google maps.
Could you write us a poem or micro story or vignette or a string of words about Yorkshire?
I mithered loanly az a cloud
Past poob and daark satanic mills,
When all at once I sees a crowd,
A hoast, of gas and 'lectric bills;
I ripped them oop with greatest ease
Sent 'em dancing in t' breeze.
Cont-tin-uous as t' stars that shine
Allus sent in spite of prayer
We moan in never-ending whine
Along the margins of the Aire:
Ten thousand pounds? Nay at a glance,
Tossers. Pay 'em? Not a chance.
(after William Wordsworth)
We love Wrangthorn Avenue—early 80’s Leeds, wooly jumpers, Thatcher, and shagging in the backs of vans; this story is like a film, so vividly drawn. What drew you to write a story in this time period?
It was a strange time. The women's rights movement was strong, yet females were advised to have males chaperone them after dark in Leeds, due to a spate of attacks by the so-called Yorkshire Ripper. No one asked if a guy would be safe walking back on his own afterwards.
I let El, the protagonist, follow in my footsteps. Living in Leeds as a student in the late seventies, I'd wander out to Woodhouse Moor after midnight and bask in my newfound freedom. In Leicestershire, subjected to the confines of an over-protective family, I'd had to escape from my bedroom window at night. So I gave El that experience too.
The Woodhouse Feast was a temporary fairground that arrived in Leeds every autumn. Evocative smells of candyfloss and wood smoke lingered after the travellers retired to their vans at night, conjuring images of self-contained contentment. I wonder if the romance of a transient population has been lost in our era of cellphones and social media. It's harder to 'run away with the gypsies' and disappear.
Wrangthorn Avenue, Leeds (Credit: Google Street View)
I love Leeds. I spent a lot of my late teens and early twenties there, doing things not dissimilar to the characters in this story. Familiarity with place can sometimes be difficult to translate—at least for me—onto the page, but you do it so well here. What are your thoughts on place in fiction? And perhaps memory?
A firm sense of place is more important in some stories than others. Plot driven narratives benefit from a plausible setting. It's possible to leave too many gaps when writing about something overly familiar, whether it's a location or an era. The writer can feel the place; the aromas are in their heads, the accents ring in their minds. But if the location is to take on the attributes of another 'character' in the story, it's important to bring the reader there too.
You mention memory. Memory lies. So even when writing about a place the author has lived in, fact checking is essential. The colour of the tiles, the distance between actual addresses, and how long it takes to walk them, those cream and green buses. Authenticity may only be vital to prevent disappointing readers familiar with the location, but checking details can add to the richness of a piece for anyone looking at the story.
I rely on feedback from other writers to ensure I have the balance between distance and proximity correct. You don't want too much imagery at the expense of progressing the story.
I’m a big fan of your words. The words you use and the order in which you place them. Sometimes, your sentences are perfectly flat. Sometimes, they bounce with a rebellious or poetic streak. If you had to write a review of your style, what would you write?
A review? Objectively? That's hard.
Again, I cannot underestimate the importance of critique. I'm fortunate in having a very experienced author Eileen Merriman offer regular critique. It's important to remember to vary sentence length, and to be able to detect accidental ambiguities. A second pair of eyes is an invaluable for getting those words out in the correct orientation.
If we go back to those influences mentioned earlier, my style has evolved from late twentieth century English to contemporary New Zealand. The sentences are shorter. 'Thesaurus words' are pruned out. There are still occasional influences from being brought up in an Indian family. They may manifest in sentence structure, or perspective, and occasionally I draw on that if I want to write in an Indian voice.
The poetic influence likely comes from frequently writing flash fiction, and the genre's close cousin, the prose poem.
But to review my style ... A friend once asked (by e-mail) how I would describe my writing. I wrote back saying I specialised in Mind Fuck. It was a long time ago, and I didn't even know if that was a real literary genre. Trouble was I substituted the 'M' with an 'F', and pressed 'send' before noticing my typo. She didn't ask to look at an example of my work.
Also art? The sketch accompanying the story is very evocative. Tell us about your artwork, and where we can find more of it.
The drawing came first for this story at a workshop by the incomparable Katz Cowley in 2009. Katz encouraged us to create characters using collage or drawing, and then build a story around them.
The workshop was one of several adult education courses offered by Hagley Community College in Christchurch. That's where I attended a creative writing course, and several mixed media art classes. I believe these courses provide a useful function in society. Who knows what havoc students might be wreaking on the streets of Christchurch if we weren't learning new skills?
I was fortunate to have a selection of artwork featured on Flash Frontier, An Adventure in Short Fiction, so you can see prints, collage and drawings there.
What’s floating your reading boat at the moment? Do you have any links to creative work that has resonated with you recently?
I read the 2015 and 2016 Best Small Fictions collections, and the 2015 Bath Short Story Award anthology recently. It's important to keep up with what the best writers in the field are producing. Some of the stories in 'Bath' had the power to stop me breathing for a few seconds. Others made me cry. When a book has a physiological impact on your body, you know your money's been well spent.
The last book I read was a review copy of Flash Fiction Magazine's latest anthology, which contained quite a few spooky little stories with dark undertones.
What projects are you working on?
There are a few flash fiction competition deadlines coming up, so I'm trying to make new stories and also polish up older ones. I rarely throw anything away, and recycle if feasible. Each rejection is a possibility to breathe new life into an old piece and see what arises from the ashes.
My novel The Iris Tattoo is still bouncing about, being sent to agents and publishers, hoping someone will snap up the bait. The 'ideas' folder contains a novella in its infancy about a non-able bodied woman. However, the lure of writing short stories is too strong, so the novella stays in the folder. I need to find more time in order to do both.
Anyone know where I can buy some time? Preferably new, not used.
Thanks so much for joining us at the Connotation Press table this month, Nod Ghosh!
Thank you, Jonathan, for the opportunity.
In order to preserve the artistic arrangement of the writing, this piece has been created with Print2Flash Flashpaper.