York Literature Festival is only weeks away and it promises to be the best yet, with Will Self and Carol Ann Duffy among the writers taking part. We asked organiser Miles Salter about reading, writing and rock’n’roll
What began your love of books and writing?
I had an outstanding English teacher when I was 11. Chris Copeman had a passion for creative writing and was a very enigmatic figure. He used to read out sections from My Family And Other Animals and he used to impersonate Spiros, who is one of the Greek characters in the book. Chris went to Greece often and would even do Greek dancing lessons in our school. I didn’t attend those but he did get me writing and my first published pieces were because of him. I’ve written all my life, with varying degrees of success.
Do you prefer to write prose or poetry?
I write both and enjoy both. They are very different forms, you have to learn how each style of mode works. At the moment I probably prefer poetry, mainly because it’s easier to write a short, punchy poem and get it “out” into the world. Most of my prose work is unpublished. I hope that changes.
Who are your favourite writers and why?
Michel Faber is a brilliant prose writer; his short stories are fantastic. I like the way Robert Harris tells a story. Graham Greene is great. Orwell is great. In poetry, I swear by Philip Larkin, Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage, but also like Jean Sprackland, Robin Robertson and Clare Pollard. There’s a lot I haven’t read.
Have you ever written something you regretted?
I wrote a terrible novel called Without A Trace. It was set in the Korean War and in 1950s America, about which I knew very little. It’s truly terrible. It’s in my cupboard and will never leave.
You’re also a musician. Would you rather win the Man Booker Prize or record a number one?
Oh you are a tease. Whichever of those honours comes first!!
Name your favourite: book; band; song; meal; TV programme; film
Book: Ian McEwan’s The Cement Garden. Absolutely brilliant and very moving at the end.
Band: Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.
Song: Fire Inside My Soul by Ian McNabb (see below)
TV programme: Frasier. It makes me laugh.
Film: For atmosphere, Apocalypse Now. For a happy ending that makes me cry, The Shawshank Redemption.
How did the York Literature Festival come about?
It was started in 2007 by Anne Mortimer and Fiona Williams of York Libraries. I ran the 2008 event and have been involved ever since.
Has it grown over the years?
Good question. We’ve had lots of ups and downs. One year, 2011, it didn’t happen, which was very frustrating. When York Libraries pulled out in 2009 it was a blow, but it also made us independent in how the event was run. I think it is growing, slowly. People respect it more as time goes by. We work very hard to make it, incrementally, better each year. 2013 is our best programme so far. We’ve also got a great team running it now. As a city, York can do amazing things – with a bit of joined up thinking.
What are the highlights for the 2013 event?
We’ve got some great writers coming. I’m really pleased that we have Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage coming – I admire those writers very much. I’m also really pleased that we have Will Self coming to York. He’s very original in his thinking and approach, and is a commanding presence.
Who would enjoy the festival?
Anybody who loves books. Fans of Bob Dylan (we have a special Dylan night). Poetry fans. Families.
What is your advice for a budding writer?
Read as much as you can. Write every day. Get a critical friend – somebody with experience who knows what they are talking about – and ask them to critique your work. Watch less TV. Avoid cliché. Read books on creative writing. Eat more pineapple. And – perhaps most important – be in the world.
- York Literature Festival runs from March 19-24 in venues across the city
- You can download a PDF programme here