Kerry Hadley-Pryce is a pre-eminent purveyor of fiction amongst the increasingly acclaimed Black Country coterie of writers whose company she keeps. If hers is fiction where everything appears to be just as it seems, then why am I gnawing through my paws and sitting uncomfortably close to the edge of my seat? What me worry? With each turned page I wonder, what could possibly go wrong? A first dinner with potential in laws...; A late night drive to the store... What Kerry gets is that people are fucked whether they want to be or not. Whether they think so or not. Whether shit happens, or not. And so her dexterous subtlety goes.
Kerry's live performances are mesmerising. Her voice drifts, inserts itself insidiously and will still be asking questions long after you've made it safely home. Ahead of her heading up the first Mo' Stories evening (details here), Kerry chatted to Outsideleft about the craft of writing, careerism, neural transfers and way more malarky besides. Wow!
OUTSIDELEFT: Obviously at least to me the place to begin when talking to a writer, is the end. The end. Where and when does it end? You’ve finished your manuscript, your piece, your editor has bounced it back for alterations, and you’ve finished it once again… Finally. And there it sits on your desk, title page staring back at you… This monument, this monumental accomplishment (if I know your work). And… you just pick up a corner, through to a random page, and well, could it be tweaked a little, or a little more… forever, how do you stop…?
KERRY HADLEY-PRYCE: Ah, well. I think this is a matter of personality, or perhaps just approach. I feel like I’m very good at just stopping and looking the other way, is the short answer. The longer answer is this: I don’t send out my novel until it’s in the best shape (or at least, the best shape according to me.) This, in itself, takes A Long Time. So, it’s the back and forthness of the writing process in the first place that creates a sense of relief at finishing. If the sense of relief doesn’t come, then it’s not ready to send. It’s not cooked. When the edits come back, it’s an ‘Oh…’ and ‘Ahaaa’ moment – because at first, you feel somehow diminished by the fact that you didn’t spot those issues yourself… Still, I get them done quickly, at the expense of everything else: eating, speaking, sleeping, everything. I get them done, and then I look the other way. See you later, manuscript. And anyway, by that time, I make sure I’m working on another project, so my mind is elsewhere. I’d advise that: keep the pace and don’t keep looking at it.
OL: Is there technological scope for stories to never end? For books that so often exist online to be revisited? And not for commercial or cultural considerations. But because the writer maybe wants a character to perhaps suffer more or less or not at all. Or wants a car to be blue instead of red. Like a remix, can you imagine Kanye writing a novel, and leaving it at that?
KH-P: Definitely. I read a Peter May novel last week, written in 1981, and released again in 2018. Good grief, it seemed incredibly dated. The protagonist ‘switched on her VDU’. HER VDU. This is about the way that fiction quickly becomes ‘historical’ because we’re living in a society that is changing so very quickly. COVID-19 seems to have increased the pace of this, and, of course, technology, in general, is always updating and ‘improving’. Climate change, politics, the economy – all these elements feed into our creativity and influence what we want our fictive reality to be. Do we want that car to be in there at all? Experimenting with the political backdrop for our protagonist is something I think writers today do well.
OL: Maybe, not specifically with your publisher and your relationship with them, any advice for readers of this, trying to get over the hump - the hump of connecting their work with a publisher - should they try to find an agent, should they sleep with everyone they meet in the business, should they have faith that if their parents like it then the world will, and the wider world will find them? I was watching Jerry Sienfeld scoff at the idea that talent will somehow be discovered. No! Talent must not idle, it must sell itself. There’s probably one million or more manuscripts, brilliant, but eventually just thrown away when people empty out their parents' lofts, throw away their parents’ dreams…
KH-P: The hump… yes… well, look: if you think you’re going to be a millionaire by writing novels, sorry and all that, but you’re not. There are so many ways to ‘get published’ these days, but even those I know who have serial book deals with good publishers still have to get ‘proper jobs’ to pay the bills on time (ahem… hello.) My observation is that those people who ‘write to get published’ rarely do. Those who write because they love the process seem to do better. I have a friend who is a brilliant writer (literary fiction) who just couldn’t interest publishers or agents. Instead she wrote what ended up as a kind of ‘romance’ novel, sent it out to SEVENTY agents and publishers before it was accepted, won an award, and STILL has to earn money another way to keep going. But, she loves the process, and her novels are great. I think a lot of would-be writers think they’ll have made it if an agent or a publisher agrees to work with them, but the job of writing is an evolving process. Just because you have an agent or a publisher doesn’t guarantee success (whatever that is.) My advice, since you ask, is OK, if you want to be published, there are tons of ways to do it: get an agent (but be prepared to be knocked back a load of times) if you want; there are lots of publishers who will accept submissions from unagented writers – try them if you want; don’t dis the self-publishing lot, they work very hard and many sell loads of copies and love the fact they’re in charge of their own marketing and so on. BUT, keep writing, keep enjoying the process. Read, read, read. See what’s being published now because it’s a changing business, and it’s really exciting.
OL: Did you throw away your parents’ dreams for you… Or did you live up to them?
KH-P: My parents were working class Black Country people who wanted me to be a nurse. So… go figure. In some Freudian way, I disappointed my mother by not being able to cook great pastry (she could) and by wasting a lot of time reading ‘daft books’. Dad was more impressed, as long as it meant I didn’t move down to ‘that London’. It was all accepted very coolly.
OL: God’s Country. Critically acclaimed. Aside from all else it has, what I would describe as, elements of an unconventional style…
KH-P: You think so? It’s an example of what I call ‘Psychogeographic Flow’ in terms of my writing process and the fictive outcome. Psychogeography being an obsession of mine, and Flow being, basically, ‘in the zone’. It also contains some kind of autobiographical threads, too, what with my own leaving and coming back to the area (a few years back now.) And my own family, way back, were farming people from the Black Country. I think I was channelling that, and my own walking practice, yes. Maybe I’m generally a bit unconventional too.
OL: God’s Country. There’s a lot of motoring action, which of course I appreciate. My therapist is a comfortable car and a long commute. What are they driving? What are they driving at? What are storytellers even doing? Are they providing questions or answers?
KH-P: I love a bit of driving therapy, too. I find driving appears a lot in my writing. It did in ‘The Black Country’ with the cathartic moment happening in the car, and in ‘Gamble’ too when the protagonist is pissed off with his daughter and drives too fast… yes… it’s an interesting question. In ‘God’s Country’ Guy Flood is driving towards something he’s escaped from – both the place, his past, and the situation. I don’t know if they’re asking or answering questions, I think they’re firing up new neural networks by being forced to do something that is out of their control: to relive something in their past, and to face up to their own mortality
OL: You, Plural has just been published by Fictive Dreams. The car interior, that compartmentalization… I have had to read it several times. This is no mere story. It’s like a modern appointment Camus wrestling with existentialism. I mean there is so much there. So much more than so much there. I am drawn into it like a moth to a headlight on a 3 am country lane…
KH-P: Ha… yes. Thank you. Another car interior there. Safety. Or is it danger? Cars offer both, don’t they? In ‘You, Plural’ there is a massive change about to happen to the protagonist what with their partner being pregnant. Those of us with children know what THAT means, that interruption and insertion of another person into your life. But the ‘stranger on the side of the road’ story is also a motif of potential change, or insertion of responsibility. What’s the right thing to do? What would happen if you abandoned that responsibility? Aghh… how should I know? We do what we need to. And perhaps there’s something in the readerly angst of an unresolved ending that asks that very question.
OL: I know this has been long and laborious. But. God’s Country, is the flesh of your flesh in some ways, bone marrow extracted. Because of your documented approach, getting out and about, rambling around the earth that contributes so much. Specifically in the Black Country. This psycho-geographic walking… I’m interested but your pavements are either not flat or non-existent. Can you talk about that? How walking and connecting in this way matters, and its immediate and lateral impact?
KH-P: I mean, I don’t really want to get all weird about this, but I’m going to. I’ve wondered about the effect of genetics, actually. For me, I’m talking about. My gran was an avid walker. She walked for miles every day. Just walked. For no other reason than just to walk. She walked until she was 94 years old, and collapsed in Brierley Hill High Street because of a strangulated hernia she’d been ignoring for years. There was a mix-up at the hospital, and she had to have three operations, the last two repairing the one before it. Medical shenanigans. When I went to visit her, she was helping the nurses give out teas and coffees to ‘the old people’, she said she needed to walk about. Then she went into a ‘home’ where they held her captive for a couple of years and wouldn’t let her get ‘out and about’, and she told me she’d had enough of that kind of life one day, and died that night. We all said that not being able to go for a walk was what killed her. I’m the same – younger, obviously – but I can’t not walk, and I see it – the walking – as part of the conception of fiction. There’s some kind of neural transfer that is stoked by the act of walking, some kind of synaesthesia to do with movement and language. It’s a complicated relationship between memory, sensation, mood and landscape. I suppose it’s obvious to some that walking, say, along a coastal path, with the sound and smell of the waves and that sense of expanse of time and space might evoke a bit of creativity. OK, fine. But you’re right when you say the Black County is not just that to me. A lot has been written (I’ve written about it, and so has Rob Francis, and others) about the lacuna-like aspect of the region, and that’s important, but my Black Country is more than just the landscape, it’s my association with it. Perhaps it’s an indulgence, and perhaps it’s more about my own psychology and approach and mood. Maybe it’s more complex even than that, or more simple, or just more weird, and it’s about my receptivity to the dowsing of meaning. Either way, I’ve wondered if I couldn’t walk, would I be able to write? Probably, but I wouldn’t enjoy it as much.
OL: Oh and you know I have to know about your brands… How can you go out without them? I am a born-again camper. I mean, until I was ancient, I thought, clearly, well, Hotels have been invented isn’t camping just middle-class cosplay? But, a WOMAD-FOMO mudbath later and now I am right there and as with any past time, there are a lot of new brands to know. I have these ridiculous Hoka One walking boots, with extended heel geometry allowing for even smoother heel-to-toe transitions and added traction on steep descents - (from their PR). And my action sandals looked in the photos like something Batman would wear if going outdoors. How about you?
KH-P: I’m all about the RAB jackets, and Arc’teryx boots. Expensive, but waterproof and last for ages. ‘Supportive, comfortable, and noticeably lightweight, the durable ACRUX TR GTX® is a technical trekking boot for multi-day routes in challenging terrain. The SuperFabric® upper employs a unique micro-plated technology that is highly flexible, surprisingly light, and delivers outstanding abrasion resistance. The Vibram® Megagrip outsole and aggressive lug geometry combine for confident traction in wet or dry conditions, and a GORE-TEX insert delivers proven waterproof, breathable protection.’ (From Arc’teryx website). These things are vital.
OL: If you keep taking so many steps, with the implicit health benefits, don’t you fear you might live forever?
KH-P: Now, this is a very interesting question. I gather (from Dr. Google) that walking can also reduce the risk of dementia, which will be handy, given that, as you say, I could be a centenarian, and still teaching creative and professional writing at the University of Wolverhampton. Imagine that.