H. M. L. Swann
#4 PATHS 2.0: Andrew Kelly
Andrew Kelly graduated with a bachelor's degree from Liverpool John Moores University where he studied creative writing. During his time there he learned vital lessons to improve his craft. After graduation, he had a thirst to learn more. He is now pursing his masters degree from the University of Manchester. He is actively writing and building his collection of short stories, poems, and more!
1. What first inspired you to start writing?
This was a nice question to start because recently I dug up some very old notebooks, dating back to when I was maybe three or four years old, and it turns out I’ve been writing before could even write. I found pages and pages and nonsense scribbles that were trying to be words. Looking back to that, I’m not sure what the inspiration was – I just wrote. I won’t go as far to say it was instinctual and already inside me, but it’s something I’ve always done, even before being able to read.
In terms of what kept me writing from that age, was reading. I know this echoes what a lot of people say, but books were a safe space, a world within a world where I could escape to. With this, a desire to continue writing was constantly present.
2. What made you want to pursue a masters degree in Creative Writing?
A few years ago, when first looking into University, I didn’t even know that Creative Writing was an option. I was set on History or English but when going through the list of courses, Creative Writing popped up and it was an instant decision; that’s what I want to do – it’s what I needed to do. I studied at Liverpool John Moores University, getting a BA Hons in that subject, but once it was finished, I wasn’t satisfied. That’s not to say it wasn’t a good experience, because I learnt invaluable lessons, and was a much better writer than I was when I started, but I wanted to keep improving.
Writing is such a difficult field to find your place in, and the key to move forward was surrounding myself with like-minded people, and finding ways to strengthen my craft, so a Masters was the next obvious choice for me.
3. Where or when do you write? Do you have a ritual, routine, practice that you stick to?
This is something where I maybe fall out of the stereotypical writer answers haha! I’ve never really had a preferred place to write – I just sit at a table or desk, with either a notebook or a laptop, and write.
I can never come up with ideas on the spot though, any ideas I have will occur when I’m walking about, outside, doing anything which isn’t sitting at the desk, and I have to remember to pull out my phone (very 21st century of me) and note down an idea – sometimes even just a line.
In an ideal world, I could see the best place writing to be outside in a warm country, in the morning or evening where the sun isn’t high enough to burn me.
4. Who's your favorite author and why?
Such a tough question! My favourite book is Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut – it’s such a strange, unique book, one which I really hated seeing end. It brings together the harshness and brutality of the war but mixes it with aliens! That should say it all!
I also became obsessed with Haruki Murukami for a while; the surrealist worlds in which he puts the reader completely entice me. Kafka on the Shore was the weird and wonderful novel which introduced me to Murukami. Even if surrealism isn’t your style, I’d recommend that book to any writer just to show how far you can push surrealism. It’s a dangerous style to try and mimic though, and I’ve been a fool for trying on some occasions haha!
5. How does your cultural background influence your writing?
My background influences my poetry more than my prose. With prose, I like to create something which is further from me, more of an escape when writing it. With poetry however, I explore the setting and world around me, rather than away from me. It’s a really good way to step back and look at self, judging your own life from different angles and voices – very existential I know, but it’s true!
More often, past events from my life, characters from my life, will crop up in poetry more than prose. Family, friends, my girlfriend are all at the heart of my poems, whether it’s on the surface or underneath.
In terms of culture, I would say that my girlfriend is a big part of how I write. She is from a Muslim background, and a lot of the time my poetry has a focus on the difficulties, the uniqueness of this, and the way bringing two cultures together has an impact on life. At times, they do pop up in prose, but maybe in a more abstract form.
6. How has COVID affected your writing?
Oh wow, now this is a question! COVID truly threw me off course. The first lockdown here began during the final months of my undergraduate degree, but I managed to plough forward and complete that whilst working online. However, once that finished, for whatever reason, I just stopped. I stopped writing. I would still read, but not as much. Maybe it was the lack of interaction with the world during that first lockdown that just crumbled my inspiration and motivation, but either way, I let myself fall away from writing for a few months. I know there’s always a debate about if the infamous “writer’s block” exists, but if it does, that would be the diagnosis I’d give myself during the earlier stages of COVID.
The Masters course was a blessing. As it approached, I took a good look at myself and thought – ‘I need to get my head back to where it needs to be, and get my writing to a level that I intend to go forward with’ – and that’s what I did. COVID is still affecting my writing, not content wise, but it’s definitely more of a challenge to write, but it’s something that will continue getting better over time. (I hope I’ve not gone too far off the type of answer you were after!)
7. What is your current work in progress that you're most excited about?
I’m currently working on two separate short story collections; one following a loveable, working class young man named Carl, jumping in at different moments during his life. It’s intended to make you laugh, cry, angry, happy, and any other emotion you can think of when reading!
The other collection looks at the world shortly after a ‘doomsday’ event, but not in the conventional ‘zombie apocalypse’ or ‘dystopia fantasy’ way. It’s intended to focus on how something like that affects the survivors, what influence technology can play in a situation like that, and at times, exploring a mixture of both of these things. An example of that last point can be found on my writing portfolio, under the title of ‘Sister’, and a further story from this collection, titled ‘Tabby’, can be found there too!
8. What advice to you have to other aspiring writers out there?
Write. Write. Write. The best thing any writer can do is write, especially if that’s what you enjoy. People can look down on it as a hobby, but those people will float in and out of life, and eventually you will find people who respect what you do. Another huge piece of advice I should give, is that it is so important to accept criticism. Obviously at first, it’d hard to take, but once you pass that barrier of taking it, you begin to embrace it. I’m at a point now where hearing criticism is the most important thing for me, because it’s the key to improving your work. If you’re a writer, you should be always wanting to improve, so taking on board criticism is something you have to do.
The other obvious thing to advise is to read. You have to read to write well. There is an infinite amount of lessens to learn from published fiction and craft texts, although with the latter, you may have your own outlook on craft, which is just as important to have. Even if you don’t necessarily agree with a craft writer, there will be important information in there, and it also helps you learn about what not to do in your work. Most importantly though - read and write!
Want to read more from Andrew?
Cheers and see you next time on The Nest,