We’re very happy that Berlin writers Ambika Thompson and Jane Flett will be reading at the indieberlin book fair on the 7th in Posh Teckel! To my request that I interview each of them, they both said, let us take care of that. Below is a conversation between Jane Flett and Ambika Thompson. Enjoy!
AMBIKA: Oh hi Jane. Fancy meeting you here. I hear you’re reading at this Indieberlin Indie Book Fair. Me too!!! Twinsies!!! So like, you’re some sort of superhero in satin tights fighting for your rights, or? What are you working on now, and what cha wear when you do it?
JANE: I’m 40,000 words into the first draft of a novel. It’s the story of a funfair that comes to a suburban town to tempt the young people onto a more interesting path than school and homework. Kind of like the Pied Piper, except instead of panpipe music it’s queer love affairs, rollercoasters and neon.
“…magic mushrooms, a drag queen minister, horror movies, thunderstorms, and lots of punk music played loudly on cassette tapes…”
It’s told from multiple perspectives (which works for me because I have no attention span) and features, among other things: magic mushrooms, a drag queen minister, horror movies, thunderstorms, and lots of punk music played loudly on cassette tapes.
Depending on the time of day, I write in a silk dressing gown, a vintage polyester dress, or a dalmatian-suit onesie.
How about you? What’s your latest project? Does it involve superheroes?
“…a Saskatchewan tornado exhuming all the bodies in a graveyard – disco party may or may not be involved; Soviets sending killer tigers to America, aka animal warfare…”
AMBIKA: I’ve heard about this Attention Span problem of yours, Jane. Your novel sounds amazing. I know that you’re a bit of a mushroom picking expert, little known fact, so I hope your expertise is used in regards to the magic mushrooms.
I’ve got a story about superheroes, household cleaning products and fisting on a batjet that’s getting published soon, but that’s it for superheroes. Otherwise I’m finishing up some stories about a bunch of different things; like a Saskatchewan tornado exhuming all the bodies in a graveyard – disco party may or may not be involved; Soviets sending killer tigers to America, aka animal warfare – a discovery made by a Joey Ramone loving teenager who very soon after mysteriously goes missing; a romance piece that involves a back tattoo of Bosch’s The Seven Deadly Sins – and a Freddy Mercury statue made of dildos; and a failed love story between an achromat and a tetrachromat – inspired by Oliver Sack’s Island of the Colorblind. And I’ve also started working on a novel, which is set in Berlin during the spring/summer of Chernobyl – ghosts, John Peel, pogroms and a big ass radiation cloud will be involved. Remember Jane! Don’t tell me that you forgot that we’re going to Chernobyl for a writing retreat together in the middle of winter?
“…Recently, I’ve been researching Ukrainian military dolphins, shape-shifting Japanese fox spirits, the Tanganyika laughter epidemic (and other mass psychogenic illnesses), and three-legged crows…”
And like Jane, where do you get the inspiration for your writing other than from me?
JANE: I would never forget that! It’s going to be delightful.
So, everything I write is either stolen verbatim from my life and loved ones (I really ought to apologise to everyone I’ve ever made out with) or gleaned from the pages of Wikipedia. I don’t know how writers came up with stories before Wikipedia. Recently, I’ve been researching Ukrainian military dolphins, shape-shifting Japanese fox spirits, the Tanganyika laughter epidemic (and other mass psychogenic illnesses), and three-legged crows. The internet is distracting, but also utterly magical.
When I sit down to write, I’m very bad at working to a plan, or knowing where any of my stories are going. I tend to start with a situation that fascinates me, put some characters in it, and see how they react. It’s always nice to be surprised by the words that come out.
“Remember that superhero business? That’s me!”
Anyway, I see you’ve published about 15 stories in the last few months. How come you’re so prolific? Are you going to have a book soon?
AMBIKA: Remember that superhero business? That’s me! I only really started writing fiction a few years ago, and I was patchy about writing regularly until last year. I had to force myself to write every day. You know yourself that if you don’t do that you can quickly fall out of it, then have to struggle to get back at it. One of my many attempts to make me disciplined this year was to write a short story every day and put it up on a blog. I think I managed like 66 days. Anyways, I had/have a lot of stuff to send out into the world.
But a book, yeah, let’s hope that’s what the novel is for, since everybody says getting a collection of short stories published is bloody impossible. I’ve been thinking about self-publishing a collection, like zine style, and selling them at our concerts, just to get them out there, and because I love all things DIY.
What about you? You’ve got a chapbook or two out in the world, or? Who put them out? What’s next?
JANE: It’s true! I have The Cats’ Gravity, which came out in 2009 or something, and Quick, to the Hothouse, which was published in 2012.
The Cats’ Gravity is a short story and a few poems published by Forest Publications, a small press based in Edinburgh, and part of the Forest Cafe arts collective, with drawings by the ever-delightful Tom Moore. The Forest is also responsible for my first poetry reading in public, for taking me on tour round Europe to read in places like Shakespeare & Co, and for introducing me to some of the finest writers and humans I know.
Then there’s Quick, to the Hothouse, which is a collection of poems published by Dancing Girl Press, a Chicago-based indie press who make beautiful handmade chapbooks by all kinds of great lady poets.
And right now, I have a short story manuscript, What She Deserves, full of mermaids, myths, and girls who get in trouble, as well as another poetry chapbook manuscript, Mashnotes, which is full of dirty poems about people I’ve been kissing. I’m looking for publishers, but yup, everyone so far keeps saying “write a novel first”…
“…making fun of someone who eats an obsessive amount of kale and ends up turning into a caterpillar that falls into a kale bag…”
You draw from such a great and ridiculous variety of ideas—from world leader soul vending machines to living vagina art. Is there anything you wouldn’t put in a story?
AMBIKA: Yes, but dead babies isn’t one of them, just for the record. What I love most about writing is that you can make anything happen, and thinking about things to make happen is the bee’s knees. If people have issues with vagina art (the story is coming out the next issue of SAND), or a Jesus reality show where the contestants are crucified, or making fun of someone who eats an obsessive amount of kale and ends up turning into a caterpillar that falls into a kale bag and their partner finds them and throws them off their balcony to their untimely death (this isn’t actually a story), or using an excessive amount of “bad” words, well I don’t really care about that. But there’s a lot of things I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting in my stories. I have boundaries, and I try to not be senselessly offensive.
JANE: In other news, I might be biased on this, but I reckon your new online literary journal, Leopardskin & Limes, is looking splendid. What made you want to branch out into publishing?
AMBIKA: When I was a wee lass in Toronto, I made a pretty fancy pants zine about cultural oddities and the such with some friends and we gave it out free all over the city, and it was great. I loved it. So this year I started sending out stories like seriously (thanks to you Jane), and it was like holy crap, look at all these journals. But only a few I really, really dig. Of course it became fairly obvious, fairly quickly that anyone can make an online journal, and I consider myself anyone. So I asked you Jane to be poetry editor, remember? And you’re doing a fantabulous job. And Isabel Rock to do the art for the site, Verena Spilker to help with building the website and Johanna da Rocha Abreu to help with fiction editing.
It’s been amazing so far reading the submissions we’ve gotten in even when they’re absolutely bonkers, and to get to share other people’s stories and art with the world — I used to have an art gallery in Kreuzberg too, so it’s like bringing everything I love together, and working with amazing people to do that.
Why’d you agree to be the poetry editor, Jane?
JANE: Well, I love poetry. But I also feel like people hardly read poetry, especially contemporary poetry. Even people who want to be poets! (Note to all people who write poetry and want to get published but somehow never get round to reading poems by contemporary writers: Sort it out. You’re being the problem. Stop complaining about publishing and go read a journal!)
I also hear people saying things like “I don’t understand poetry” a lot. There’s this idea that poetry is super complicated and if you don’t like a poem it’s because you’re not smart enough to Get It. Well, that’s bullshit. I just want to publish poems that have weird pretty little sentences and poems that hit you like punk music and get stuck in your gums.
So other than the awesome writers we’re publishing in Leopardskin & Limes, who else do you like reading?
AMBIKA: I’ve just read a great short story collection from Vivek Shraya God Loves Hair, which was beautifully wonderful. Chelsea Martin’s stuff I like a hell of a lot as well. Nell Zink’s The Wallcreeper and Mislaid, are fantabulous. Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Ilse Aichinger, Angela Carter, Miranda July, Kathy Acker, David Sedaris… but mostly now I’m trying to read a lot more writers on online journals, people I’ve never heard of who aren’t getting pumped by the big lit machine. It’s really exciting when you read something great, like a treasure hunt!
“…this gross hole of snuff porn and unreliable narrators. It is utterly, utterly compelling…”
How bout you?
JANE: I’ve just discovered Vincent Scarpa’s fiction and am totally smitten and kind of jealous. He has this story called “You’re Home Early” on Electric Literature that I can’t stop rereading, discovering more and more horrible moments and perfect lines each time. I’ve also been reading loads of Dennis Cooper, who is also horrible and perfect—he has this novel called the Sluts that’s written pretty much entirely in reviews on a gay male escort website, and dissolves into this gross hole of snuff porn and unreliable narrators. It is utterly, utterly compelling. Since this list is getting a bit dude-heavy, let’s include my all-time favourite short story writers: Mary Gaitskill, Miranda July, Amy Hempel and Barbara Gowdy. Also, poetrywise, I can’t get enough of Melissa Broder. She writes these gritty sparkly poems stuffed with meat and vomit and glitter and weirdness, and I have a total crush on her.
So Ambika, if the world wants to know more about you, where do they go?
AMBIKA: I love that Vincent Scarpa as well, and I too was a wee bit jealous. My website: ambikathompson.com. Or to the Indieberlin Book Fair where we’ll both be reading.
JANE: You can find me on the internet at http://janeflett.com. Or, come by Queer Stories at Another Country bookstore sometime, I’ll be hosting. Or (I can’t believe it’s taken us so long to mention this), you could go see that band Razor Cunts, I hear they’re pretty awesome.
Jane Flett and Ambika Thompson are reading/performing at the indieberlin book fair and meetup for independents at Posh Teckel, Pflügerstrasse 4, Neukölln on 7.11.15.
JANE FLETT is a philosopher, cellist, and seamstress of most fetching stories. Her poetry features in the Best British Poetry 2012 and is available as a chapbook, Quick, to the Hothouse, from dancing girl press. Her fiction has been commissioned for BBC Radio, performed at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and published in PANK, Word Riot and wigleaf’s Top 50 (Very) Short Fictions. She is one half of the riot grrl band Razor Cunts and the poetry editor for Leopardskin & Limes. http://janeflett.com
AMBIKA THOMPSON lived her past life in an alternative universe that had everything sorted out. In this universe she can’t recall what happened in her past-life so she’s resorted to living in Berlin where she is a parent, writer, and musician. She has contributed short stories to NPR Berlin, Fanzine, and a whole whack of other places. Recently, she was The Missing Slate’s writer of the month, which made her quite happy. She is the founder and short story editor of Leopardskin & Limes, and is also one half of a cello riot grrl band Razor Cunts.
Noel Maurice is one of the founders of indieberlin. Originally from the UK via a childhood in Johannesburg, he has been resident in Berlin since 1991. Describing himself as a ‘recovering musician’, he is the author of The Berlin Diaires, a trilogy detailing the East Berlin art and squat scene of the early 90s, available on Amazon and through this site.