Monday, 2 March 2015

Author Interview at Not Compulsory (Matthew Pegg)

Author, Matthew Pegg
In my mind, Matthew Pegg represents many things; he is a community champion and a valuable arts and creative business contact. Matthew and the not-for-profit organisation which he heads (Leicestershire based Mantle Arts), has brought about many prime opportunities for people of all ages to access community arts programmes and events in Leicestershire, including Performing Arts, Arts and Crafts sessions and Creative Writing workshops.
For me personally, Matthew has been a mentor, a referee, and, albeit on brief occasions, a casual employer.  It is Matthew I have to thank for being the first person to take a chance with me by granting me a place on the Activate Programme (designed to help artists to work in schools). From then on I was able to harness my wild whims, focus better on what I could do well, and, despite possessing not much more than O-Level Cookery qualification, Matthew dealt me a first, great confidence boost into an industry in which I was destined to fit best.

And, today, I am thrilled to announce that the Author, Matthew Pegg has recently been published.
What is it? You ask.
Is it his first time? I hear you say.

Well, recently, Matthew and I partnered in a little Question and Answer Session which throws light on these questions, and others, which I share with you below: 

QUESTION: You are one of sixteen contributing authors to have their scary tales feature in the dark horror from Grey Matter Press called ‘Death’s Realm’. I know you’ve written plays - Is this your first notable book publishing success?

MATTHEW PEGG: I’ve had six or seven short stories accepted by various publishers and this is the third of those to be published so far. I’m really happy to have contributed something to the collection.

QUESTION: Did you respond to the publisher’s request and write to fit the theme, or did you have the story ready and formally submitted it in the usual way. Which way round was it?

MATTHEW PEGG: I had written it already and it seemed to fit the theme of the anthology so I submitted it.  But I wouldn’t say it was finished when I did so. I wasn’t 100% happy with it. After they accepted it we went through a quite rigorous editing process. They picked up all the things that they thought needed more work and we discussed them. I think I did three or four more drafts until we were all happy with it. Most of their suggestions were on the nose and made it a much better piece. One or two things I argued with them about and that made me justify why certain things needed to be the way they were. If I couldn’t justify it, it was probably superfluous.  It was a good process and made the story much better.
I have written pieces to fit the theme of a collection. I recently had a story ‘Joe and the Dead’ accepted for Dreamscape Press’s ‘Zombie’s in Japan’ anthology and I wrote that especially to submit, because weirdly enough I didn’t have a story involving Japanese zombies sitting on my shelf at the time.

QUESTION: Without giving too much away and being a spoiler, can you reveal a little bit about your storyline?

MATTHEW PEGG:March Hays’ is about Sam, an injured soldier who is sent to March Hays, a manor house which is being used as a hospital for wounded troops during WW2. Lily, one of the nurses, is the daughter of the house whom he met when he was a boy. Strange things start to happen and he wonders whether his injuries are affecting his mind or whether something even more peculiar is happening.  It’s partly a romance: what if the girl you played with as a child is your soul mate? What do you do when she’s unattainable? And it’s a war story. And there’s something unspeakable in the east wing. And there’s a garden party. And gruesome mutilation. And a horse-ride in the snow. And alcohol abuse by a minor…

QUESTION: Can you remember what is it was that first stirred up your imagination for the main plot and sequence idea of this story?

MATTHEW PEGG: It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly where story ideas come from because once you start writing all sorts of ideas accrue from all sorts of places.
I saw a play recently about the early pioneers of plastic surgery, during WW1, which involved a group of soldiers recuperating and that was one influence.
The house is based on Staunton Harold Hall in Leicestershire which has the little chapel and the stable yard and the exterior physical layout of March Hays. But Sam’s experience of being at the house is down to Wightwick Manor in Wolverhampton. My mother was a guide there when I was young so we went there a lot and I had access to the bits of the house that visitors didn’t get to see. But I couldn’t imagine actually living somewhere like that and having servants and so on. Sam’s experience of March Hays is similar: he doesn’t really belong, he’s just ended up there. He’s got feelings for Lily but she’s from a different world.  He observes what’s going on from the outside. He’s closer to being a servant than he is to being Lily’s social equal. But that rigid social structure and that way of life changed radically in the 20th century and the story starts during WW2 for that reason: it’s when the world that centred around the English county house was changing.
A certain section of the story was originally inspired by Daisy Ashford, who wrote ‘The Young Visiters’ when she was nine. It’s very funny if you’ve never read it. I wondered what an inappropriately violent horror story written by a Victorian nine year old would be like, so I wrote one. It found its way into ‘March Hays’ as a story within the story, but its heavily reworked so it doesn’t really feel as if it was written by a little girl any more.

QUESTION: I tend to cover things like knitting, cooking tips and schooling at Not Compulsory. Ha! - So Horror is new to the blog! Is it your intention to stick to this writing genre or do have you other fiction/non-fiction writing plans? Will you write more plays?

MATTHEW PEGG: A lot of my fiction has some element of the supernatural in it. I gravitate towards that so I’m sure it will carry on being there in some shape or form.  ‘Weird’ is a probably a better term than ‘horror’ for what interests me. I’m not really interested in horrifying people. We’ve got the news for that. Creating a subtle, creeping sense of unease, that strikes me as interesting.
As for what else I might write, I’ve got ideas for all sorts of things: radio drama, novels, comics and plays. I hope to be able to vary what I do as much as possible, if only to keep myself interested.

QUESTION: As you probably know, I’m a theatre critic and regularly review stage shows across the Midlands, so I’d really like to know about the plays you’ve written to date and who has performed them, and where?

MATTHEW PEGG: The last play I wrote was done by York Theatre Royal as half of a studio double bill. It’s called ‘Escaping Alice’ and it’s about the breakdown of a relationship and how chaining your loved one to the bed is probably not a good idea and at best will only delay their inevitable departure!
Before that I’ve done all sorts of things. I’ve written quite a lot for children and young people, both as an audience and as performers. I did a main stage adaptation of Rumpelstiltskin at the Belgrade in Coventry. It was directed by Miltos Yerolemou who is an actor as well as a director and recently turned up in Game of Thrones.
I adapted ‘Twelfth Night’ as a one man show for Cornelius and Jones Theatre Company. And I’ve done quite a lot of plays for young people to perform. The most successful of those is ‘Ant Farm’. It’s about Jo whose father remarries. She moves schools and her new house is too small to have large pets so she buys an ant farm. The play tells two parallel stories: Jo getting used to her new school and family and coping with bullies, and the story of the ants which is a big sweeping David Lean style epic tale that takes place in the ant farm and under the floorboards in Jo’s bedroom. Jo wants to be the same as everyone else and not stand out and Kris the ant wishes he was different from all the other ants and he ends up leading a revolution. It was commissioned for the Leicester Haymarket Youth Theatre and it’s been done by a couple of other youth theatre groups as well.
I’ve also written a play which was performed during a medieval banquet and a community play staged in a stately home in Northamptonshire.

QUESTION: I can remember the Activate sessions in Leicester venues and you tapping away on the keyboard of your laptop fervently writing with all the distraction of a full meeting going on around you. Do you not feel the need for peace and solitude when you write?

MATTHEW PEGG: I don’t actually remember doing that! I wonder what I was writing? Generally yes I do. I tend to get up early in the morning and write for an hour or so before anyone else is up. I sometimes play music but it’s usually something without words just to fill in the background. It’s not necessarily about quiet, it’s about not having interruptions. You can lose a train of thought really easily if someone talks to you at the wrong moment.

QUESTION: I was once 40,000 words into a children’s novel, but I was so self critical and felt the need to constantly rewrite large sections that I abandoned it in the end. Have you been left with many unfinished projects or do you tend to see them through to the end?

MATTHEW PEGG: I think the problem there is allowing your editing brain to interfere with your writing brain. If you give in to the temptation to go back and revise a paragraph as soon as you’ve written it then you’re allowing the critical, assessing, editing job to take over from the creating and storytelling job and they use different bits of your brain. So I try to just write and I don’t go back and edit until I’ve got something substantial down on paper, a whole short story or a chapter or a complete section. I don’t even correct my misspellings at that stage I just try to get it all out. Once you’ve got something written then you’ve got some raw material to shape and that’s when the editing comes in. Then even if it’s rubbish you’ve got something to work with and change and rewrite.
 I was told during my MA that working first thing in the morning was good for some people and it works for me. I turn the computer on and just start. At that point when you’re still half asleep your critical brain isn’t in gear and that lets your creative brain work. Some people even keep a notebook by the bed and just start writing in that as soon as they surface. I also find that sometimes my subconscious has worked out a problem or created the next bit of a story while I was asleep. So it’s nice to have found a job for it to do rather than just sitting at the back of my mind and fretting!
As to whether I finish everything, of course not, because some ideas that start out looking good just don’t lead anywhere. Sometimes you start writing a piece and it just grinds to a halt. I don’t really worry about that, it’s just part of the process. At the very least it’s practice and that’s always useful. (How do you get to Carnegie Hall?) And then some of those discarded bits might come back to life later, when maybe I’m a better writer and I have the skill to develop them. Or sometimes they chime with another fragment you’ve created and together they work and come to life. So I don’t throw anything away.
I think the secret is to write regularly. Make it a habit to do something every day, even if you don’t have a great idea. Then the bits that don’t work are just natural wastage but you still find enough good ideas to keep you going. I’m terrible at doing that at the moment but it’s what I’m trying to do.

QUESTION: I understand the arts organisation Mantle Arts, of which you have been Director for many years, has has had some funding issues. Does this mean you will spend more of your time writing? 

MATTHEW PEGG: Our bid to the Arts Council to renew our National Portfolio core funding was unsuccessful. It was nothing to do with the quality of our work but there just wasn’t enough money to go round, which is terribly frustrating and stressful. But we have just heard that we’ve got two years of Grants for the Arts funding for a programme called Word Factory, which will be based around creative writing and literature. It will include some publishing of local writers and a children’s writing conference. So that is exciting. I will be delivering that part time and that will give me some time to write. But I think I’d starve to death if I tried to earn my living just through writing. Even relatively successful and well known novelists often have a day job. And I’m not sure I’d want to do it all the time anyway. I think I need other things to keep life varied. Otherwise where do you find the things to write about? You’d end up like those rock bands which release albums about how hard it is being in a rock band!

QUESTION: How about your spare time? Do you have any or is it more of the same?

MATTHEW PEGG: I think everyone needs downtime. I read constantly. I sometimes take myself off on courses or go to festivals like Edinburgh or Brighton. And I cook quite a lot. We’ve got an enormous number of cats because we foster for the RSPCA. So a lot of my time is spent cat herding! It’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it!


Matthew's website is here

The ‘Death’s Realm’ anthology 

Grey Matter Press

 ISBN 978-1940658339 

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