Author Q and A: Scott-Patrick Mitchell on taking risks and putting yourself out there

Scott-Patrick Mitchell (SPM) is a performance poet based in Perth, Western Australia. He’s recently started writing fiction, and I’ve been quite eager to talk to him about whether poetry has supported or complicated the transition. As well as his work in writing, SPM is also a social-media gun. He manages the WA Poets Inc social media accounts and publishes his own micro-poems on Instagram. SPM’s body of work is massive, and his motivation to keep on creating is something I’ve found very enviable (as I lose confidence in myself very easily).  I’ll post his full bio at the end of the interview, but two recent highlights for me are his poems in the Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry (2017)  and his horror story “The Voice in the Void”, which was narrated for Chilling Tales for Dark Nights by Otis Jiry.

SPM’s next performance will be at Spoken Word Perth on Wednesday July 4th 2018. Make sure to follow his Instagram account as he has some big announcements coming up soon!

You’ve had a lot of success writing poetry and, more recently, writing short stories and long fiction. What has the transition from poetry to fiction been like for you? In what ways do they support and nourish each other? Is there anything you’ve struggled with?

For me, poetry is very much the quick lick of inspiration, that tingle and shimmer that captures you, how a poem approaches, engulfs. It’s a thrill, a surge, a sheering scribble of the moment. Yes, we come back to edit them, labour – oh, the labour of editing – but it’s very of the instant, of the images clicking into place, demanding to be written.

Short stories and prose have the same fire, but the sequence requires sustaining. I find it easy to enter back into the sequence of a story once it’s been started. But starting it, there’s the rub. For me, it’s a far bigger leap of faith to start a story, but once started…as long as you come back to them, tend to them, finish them, they ease up on you, into you.

I find my poetry likes to clang and jump inside the sentences of my story. It makes for a musicality, one you can probably hear here in what I’m writing now, hopefully. Poetry and prose, in that regard, make wonderful bedfellows. I like to let them tumble and roll together.

 

You’ve produced a lot of diverse work throughout your career. What advice do you have for writers who feel pigeonholed or are worried about writing outside of their comfort zone?

Be the experiment. That’s one of my key rules for writing. Be the experiment. Basically, it means that if you treat those parts of writing outside your comfort zone as experiments, they are allowed to fail. And failure, in this instance, means you merely try again, possibly resetting parameters.

But it’s largely about faith: in yourself. Honestly, if you can dream it, be it, no matter the horror rocking in the pit of your stomach. Bravery and faith, employed in even the smallest measures, can yield amazing results. If those two words make you balk, then replace them with audacity.

For example, when I proposed THE 24 HOUR PERFORMANCE POEM to Crack Theatre Festival, I honestly did not expect them to pick it up, help stage it. But they did. And it was a life-changing experience. But it all started with that initial moment of bravery and faith, or audacity. Hell, I think in this instance moxie is better suited.

And remember, your comfort zone will always be there, waiting, no matter where your writing takes you. Your comfort zone is that big warm bed you curl up in to at the end of the day: it will always be there to help nurture dreams. But those other dreams, those exciting dreams, those thrilling dreams, the dreams that make you say I can’t believe I just wrote / did that, they are dreams worth leaving your bed for.

 

How do you balance writing fiction and poetry? What does your writing schedule look like?

Hmmmmm…balance…what’s that? Ha.

Preferably I write fiction first thing in the morning. I find it’s the best time to be loose enough to go for a long long stroll through your story, your mind, your imaginary landscape, all without that ever so critical inner-editor waking up and tagging along. The inner-editor gets to look at my fictIon in the evening. So, in the morning I write, in the evening I edit.

In between is where the poetry happens. I post quite a bit of micro-poetry to @spmpoet, my Instagram, at least once or twice a day. I find this a good way of keeping in contact with that part of my soul. But the middle of the day is when I like to read poetry, and reading poetry usually spurns me on to write poetry, even if just fragments.

But that’s all depending on the luxury of a writing routine. Sometimes life likes to throw other stuff my way. That’s when it becomes hard to find a routine. But I recommend, if people are indeed reading this for recommendations, that people write first thing in the morning, as soon as they can after waking up. It’s amazing how much you can achieve before 9am. And there’s a certain satisfaction in writing a 1000 words before 9am.  

 

You’re quite involved with the WA writing scene. You’re on the committee for WA Poets Inc and you recently did a residency down in Albany, just to name a few recent things. What are you reading right now and what poets/authors do you think we should be watching?

I’ll try and keep this brief haha.

Fiction wise Louise Allan’s debut novel is just gasp. Kim Scott’s Taboo is also something else. I’ve really been enjoying John Kinsella’s recent two collections of short fiction: the way he tells stories is potent and mesmerising. One author I have only read blog-wise, not fiction wise, but is on the cusp of big things is Holden Sheppard, so if you can track down copies of his work from PCWC and KSP, I recommend buying them, having a read. I certainly will be doing that.

Poetry on an international level? Hera Lindsay Bird, hands down. Just incredible. But I also recommend reading Sarah Kay, Sam Roxas-Chua, Ocean Vuong (!!!) and Heath Brougher. They are each doing really quite superb things. If you like your spoken word / slam poetry, then any of the titles from Button Poetry are sure to satisfy. I also like this Instagram-poetry trend and the works being put out by publishing house Andrews McMeel: it’s a lot more pop-poetry, readily accessible to the reader, which is a bloody brilliant trend in my opinion.

Poetry wise, on a national level? There’s a whole heap to be honest. Lots. And they are all important and well worth reading. But three in particular that are resonating with me include Susan Fealy and Sarah Rice. Both accomplish such amazing things with self and imagery that you sometimes finish reading their poems with your head spinning. But the one poet / book really holding me at the moment is Shastra Deo’s The Agonist. My word, this collection is something else. Every poem makes me feel as though I’ve just witnessed a sacred and profane ritual unravel before you. Intoxicating. The sequence Scout Tests and How To Pass Them I found particularly haunting: there’s an electric mix of techniques happening in these poems with just a dash of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poetry, enough for the images to dance across indescribable spaces.   

Honourable mentions should also go to Quinn Eades, Stuart Barnes, Ramon Loyola and Robbie Coburn.

Local poets I am digging? Renee Petitt-Schipp’s debut collection is quite stunning: very sensitive and wonderful and nostalgic. Annamarie Weldon also has another book of poetry coming out this year, and from what I’ve heard so far, it promises to be amazing. As does Julie Watts forthcoming Legacy. I particularly love Julie’s sense of compassion wrapped up at times with a very wry side-order of humour. But I would recommend readers check out what Fremantle Press and UWA Publishing have on their latest release schedule and, of course, support local.

On a local emerging level I highly recommend checking out Maddie Godfrey’s debut poetry collection How To Be Held. Maddie is a phenomenal talent, and in great company too. A number of their contemporaries, who are also worth checking out, include Jakob Boyd (I’ve heard we can expect something new and exciting to hold / read / devour from this exciting and promising new voice later this year), Saoirse Nash, Luka Buchanan (Luka’s books are just swoon – you can buy them from Diabolik Books), Katie Bennett (debut chapbook out through Hectic Measures Press – get it), Elise Kelly, Kai Schweizer and Biddle. I’m also really excited to see what Jesse Oliver’s debut poetry collection will be like. Jesse won the Australian Poetry Slam last year and part of the prize is a book deal: from what I know already, this debut collection aims to combine the a rich texture of inspirations, all of which are aimed to empower the reader. Oh and Andrew Sutherland is primed as a local poet to watch out for, so much so that I think you’ll only find a poem or two of his around… at the moment. But trust me, he does sublime verse.

 

You manage the social media accounts for WA Poets Inc and they’ve seen quite a bit of growth recently. What advice do you have for writers on how to increase engagement online?

First of all I should probably preface this with a warning: social media is addictive. It can create, as some have suggested, a “statistical addiction”. Please use social media in moderation. It’s a tool and should be used as such. It shouldn’t be something we use all the time. So please make sure you balance your usage.

Now, to answer your question. It all depends on which platform you use. I’ll discuss Facebook and Instagram. I’m not really ‘good’ / engaged that much with Twitter. If you’re keen to see how writers use good content and engagement on Twitter, check out Louise Allan, Holden Sheppard and Hera Lindsay Bird.

If you use a Facebook page for your writing, one of the key forms of engagement at the moment are Live Videos. I don’t use these, yet, but these allow you to reach a wider audience. It’s a perfect way to read out what you’ve just written to your audience. Otherwise, make sure you post a balance of relevant articles, own writing, writing memes, opportunities and news regarding your successes. Just be authentic, as much as you can be on social media.


Instagram is my latest jam. It’s a really rewarding platform in the sense that you build a community around yourself based purely on your writing. It’s largely micro-poetry I post there. So, consider the aesthetic of your posts. You can use apps like Phonto to develop this. Then work out the hashtags you’re gonna use: you can use up to 30. I recommend using 30 when you start out. Google top Instagram hashtags relating to poetry to find out the most relevant. As you post, and connect, more, you will discover that certain publishing platforms on Instagram have their own hashtag: begin swapping those in once you find platforms that you click with. And then do fun stuff, like ask people to post short poetic responses to prompts and then share this content on your Story. Make it fun for yourself and engaging to others. And remember, create community: more good things happen when you work with your community.

But ultimately, be authentic and have fun. Social media can allow you to inspire people you’ve never met. Since I was fourteen, this has been one of my key goals with my writing: inspiring someone I’ve never met with my words. Social media facilitates this. I also treat social media as a bit of a computer game, so I try to make it as enjoyable for myself as I can (please note, Facebook has lost an immense amount of this joy in my opinion). So it’s can be good for writers if they recognise why and how they are using. And yeah, use in moderation.    

 

 

Scott-Patrick Mitchell (SPM) is a West Australian performance poet.

SPM completed a BA in Psychology and Writing from ECU and studied a PhD in Performance Studies (Performance Poetry) from WA Academy of Performing Arts. As part of his PhD he developed a theoretical framework for performance poetry which led to shows like THE 24 HOUR PERFORMANCE POEM, The 12 Minute Monomyth and interactive spoken word poetry tours like Freo Is A Poem and Critical Mass.

Mitchell has appeared nationally, performing at such festivals as Big Sky Writers Festival, NYWF, FringeWorld, Adelaide Fringe, Emerging Writers Festival, Crack Theatre Festival, Rosemount Australian Fashion Week and Critical Animals.

His poetry appears in such anthologies as Out Of The Box, The Turnrow Anthology of Contemporary Australian Poetry, Contemporary Australian Poetry and The Fremantle Press Anthology of Western Australian Poetry, Performance Poets 3, Poetry d’Amour, 4W and Hashtag Queer.

His poetry appears in Westerly, Rabbit, Overland, Regime, dotdotdash, Cordite, Plumwood Mountain, Alien Mouth, Five 2 One and Uneven Floor, among others.

Mitchell currently writes for OUTinPerth, is the Social Media Coordinator for Perth Poetry Festival, and mentors a number of young and emerging West Australian poets. He will be releasing a spoken word EP in 2018 via The F**k You Records.

 

Find SPM on Instagram and Facebook. 

Trends in (digital) publishing

A few days ago, I read Brooke Boland’s article, “What are the latest trends in publishing?” The article covers three different trends in the industry, and the one that caught my attention was the lack in growth in ebooks and digital publishing. As someone with a background in electronic literature, I was quite eager to investigate why the accessibility of the ebook hasn’t resulted in growth and sales. When discussing this in the article, Boland quotes Ash Davies, who attributes it to the rise of self-published paperbacks;

“The number of self-published paperbacks has tripled in the past five years, whereas eBooks haven’t seen any growth, and are dropping in market share. Paperback self-publishing now makes up three quarters of the market,” (as cited in Boland, 2018, para. 8).

Davies suggests that there has been a decline in digital publishing because it distracts readers from what they really want; “Readers don’t care about interactive books and experimental webpages, or even about eBooks. They just care about reading a great story from the writer they love” (as cited in Boland, 2018, para. 10). However, Nick Earls points out the statistics used to account for this lack of growth do not represent as much of the industry as they once did (2017. para. 3). He refers specifically to how Nielsen figures “only record sales of books with ISBNs, something many independently published eBooks do not have” (2017, para. 7).  Earls also points out that the Association of American Publishers surveys 1200 publishers in the industry and does not count many smaller, independent publishers (2017, para. 16). It’s, therefore, important to establish that a lack of sales of ebooks doesn’t automatically equate to a lack of growth. With that being said, I do agree with Davies when he explains that readers want to connect with stories, not distractions (as cited in Boland, 2018, para. 10).

Having created several works of electronic literature, I find this to be the biggest battle; developing a work where the interactivity enhances, and doesn’t detract from, the story. While I agree that this is an issue with more experimental digital works, I don’t think it holds much relevance to digital publishing. This is because electronic literature and digital publishing are two very different things. A novel made to be delivered on a screen is not the same as a work of electronic literature, which highlights the way the reader can interact with and change to the work. A work of electronic literature is a work that cannot be printed and read off screen. It needs the capabilities of the computer in order to exist (check out Arteroids by Jim Andrews for a more abstract example where you destroy the poem by blowing up the words, or Depresssion Quest, which is a non-linear narrative where you play as a character who has depression). While digital publishing (and I vehemently disagree that electronic literature should be counted in this category) does still come with some challenges, it’s important not to conflate it with different genres that bare little resemblance to it, even if it is just to point out readers lack of interest in interactivity. For example, the amount of interaction a reader needs to commit to in order to read an ebook is vastly different to what they’ll need to commit to for the two examples of electronic literature above. In summary, I don’t think it is a lack of interest in interactive texts that is driving down sales of ebooks.

What could be impacting the sales of digital publishing is the considerable risk the ebook format carries in terms of piracy. For example, Maggie Stiefvater, author of The Raven Cycle series, has openly discussed how the piracy of her ebooks impacted the sales of her third novel Blue Lily, Lily Blue:

“BLLB’s e-arc [an advanced reading copy of an ebook] escaped the site, made it to the internet, and began circulating busily among fans long before the book had even hit shelves. Piracy is a thing authors have been told to live with, it’s not hurting you, it’s like the mites in your pillow, and so I didn’t think too hard about it until I got that royalty statement with BLLB’s e-sales cut in half.

Strange, I thought. Particularly as it seemed on the internet and at my booming real-life book tours that interest in the Raven Cycle in general was growing, not shrinking. Meanwhile, floating about in the forums and on Tumblr as a creator, it was not difficult to see fans sharing the pdfs of the books back and forth. For awhile, I paid for a service that went through piracy sites and took down illegal pdfs, but it was pointless. There were too many. And as long as even one was left up, that was all that was needed for sharing.” (2017, para. 10-11)

As a result of the lack of ebook sales, the print run for Stiefvater’s fourth book, The Raven King, was cut in half (Stiefvater, 2017, para. 13). In order to reduce more instances of piracy, Stiefvater asked for no e-arcs to be made available (Stiefvater, 2017, para. 1). Unfortunately, Stiefvater also faced another problem; many people thought the lack of sales was due to a declining interest in the series, and not ebook piracy (Stiefvater, 2017, para. 12-17). In order to prove that the lack of sales was a direct result of ebook piracy, Stiefvater and her brother made a PDF of the book that was just the same four chapters repeated (Stiefvater, 2017, para. 17). Stiefvater explains that “at the end, my brother wrote a small note about the ways piracy hurt your favorite book” (Stiefvater, 2017, para. 17). When fans realised the PDF wasn’t complete, “the forums and sites exploded with bewildered activity” (Stiefvater, 2017, para. 19). Stiefvater explains that “dozens of posts appeared saying that since they hadn’t been able to find a pdf, they’d been forced to hit up Amazon and buy the book. And we sold out of the first printing in two days.” (2017, para. 19-20).

It only takes a quick google search to see the overwhelming concern authors and publishers have with ebook piracy. Even The Guardian weighs in on the debate, quoting Stiefvater with the title “We’re told to be grateful we even have readers”. As well as Stiefvater, the article quotes other authors, such as Tom Pollock who explains that  “in an economy based on market signals, the signal being sent if people pirate rather than buy or borrow is: ‘Nobody wants this’” (as cited in Flood, 2017, para. 15). Pollack also points out that “if you normalise the practice of pirating books, you erode incentive for people to pay for them, so eventually, people who would have bought them stop doing so” (as cited in Flood, 2017, para. 16). A possible reason for the lack of growth in digital publishing, could, therefore, be that it’s simply too accessible.

With that being said, I don’t think we should be discounting digital publishing as a being a viable approach for both new and established authors. As Earls explains:

“From the practical perspective of writers wishing to connect their work with readers, it is prudent to see both paper and eBooks as significant for any book-publishing project in the present and near future, and to develop strategies to meet both of them. It is also prudent to look beyond both platforms to another, one that had long been regarded as a peripheral player: audiobooks” (2017).

 

 

References

Boland, B. (2018). What are the latest trends in publishing? ArtsHub Australia. Retrieved 30 May 2018, from http://publishing.artshub.com.au/news-article/features/writing-and-publishing/brooke-boland/what-are-the-latest-trends-in-publishing-255783

Earls, N. (2017). Has the print book trumped digital? Beware of glib conclusions. The Conversation. Retrieved 30 May 2018, from https://theconversation.com/has-the-print-book-trumped-digital-beware-of-glib-conclusions-77174

Flood, A. (2017). ‘We’re told to be grateful we even have readers’: pirated ebooks threaten the future of book series. The Guardian. Retrieved 1 June 2018, from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/nov/06/pirated-ebooks-threaten-future-of-serial-novels-warn-authors-maggie-stiefvater