Thursday, 23 October 2008

A.J. Humphrey

What inspired you to write "I Borrowed a Poltergeist"?

The story materialised during a short break in London with my wife a few years ago. We were staying in a fantastically Gothic hotel just off Russell Square, that was in the middle of renovations, and the whole place was crying out to have a story set there. I also have to confess that my wife has been known to help herself to an entire shelf full of hotel toiletries, on the grounds that when we pay for the room we pay for the toiletries, so it wasn't too great a leap of logic to go from there to an irate poltergeist who wanted them back!

What other material do your normally write?

I'm better known as a poet, really. I've had 20+ poems published in small presses (including Aesthetica, Envoi, First Time, Monkey Kettle and Pulsar) and anthologies (including two Ragged Raven Press anthologies, alongside some well respected names in the poetic world) and I've won several prizes in national and international competitions (including four First Prizes). Almost anything can provide inspiration; many of my recent poems have come from nature (birds, wild plants, the weather) or from reminiscences of childhood and my student days, but I try to avoid being simply a nature-and-nostalgia poet; it's important for me that my poems tell a good story, and have some resonance with the human world beyond the subject of the poem. I've had short stories published in Dark Tales, Delivered and Scribble, and on the Writers' News website. I write my short stories as A.J. Humphrey, rather than Andy Humphrey, because there was an established short story writer called Andy Humphrey already having some publishing success when I first started sending out my work, and he and I have a gentleman's agreement to use different names so as not to confuse readers!

You can read some samples of my writing at

What made you become a writer?

I've written stuff ever since I could. It wasn't a conscious decision, it just happened - and still happens. I've always been drawn to telling stories. I think of writing as an urge, rather than a career choice. In my working life I'm a research scientist, so my writing has to fit around a pretty demanding day job.

Which writers do you admire?

I'm a sucker for the classic fairy stories. Fantastical stories are great because the story can be an extended metaphor, a safe space in which the darker and more difficult bits of life can be explored, challenged, and maybe worked to a resolution. Some of my favourite writers today - people like Jeanette Winterson, Joanne Harris, and Carol Ann Duffy - are brilliant at re-telling these classic stories in a modern way. There are a lot of so-called "children's writers" who are equally gifted, but whose work is under-rated because they were writing for under-18s, and I'd love to see the likes of Diana Wynne Jones, John Gordon, Alan Garner and Peter Dickinson given the same respect as today's literary authors. I also adore the great Victorian gothic writers - the Brontes, Wilkie Collins, Robert Louis Stevenson - for the depth and excitement of their storytelling. But my literary hero is JRR Tolkien. His mythology is infused with so many layers of metaphor, parable and social comment that I never, ever tire of reading it.

Tell us something about your writing routine.

My writing has to fit around a day job with long working hours and a hellish commute, so I have to snatch fragments of writing time whenever I can. Most of my poetry gets developed on trains! I'm often scribbling in my notebook, tinkering with a sentence here and an image there, because that's all I have time for in one sitting. But lots and lots of little sessions like this eventually add up to a finished poem or story. I try and get up early at weekends to grab a bit of more sustained writing time, which I use for typing up and re-drafting work, and for getting submissions together. My wife's a late sleeper at the weekends and we don't have children yet, so I can usually grab a couple of uninterrupted hours most weekends. But the idea of having a daily block of writing time seems like a far-away luxury just now!

Do you have a favourite place for writing?

No. I have to make do with with any opportunity that presents itself. On trains, buses, in the odd lunch hour at my desk at work, standing at bus stops. Even in the lab I sometimes have to stop what I'm doing and grab a Post-It note to write down a fragment of a poem before I forget it!

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