Seeing us through to the end of the year we’ve reached out to a number of our favourite artists and cultural creatives to join us in celebrating good things. A bunch of five things that make their world go around, inspire them or just need celebrating for what they are. There’s no theme here. It’s no kind of “best of year” round-up. These are just five things of the many things identified as making the world a better place to be. We’re all about positivity. Almost all of the time. We promise…
R. M. Francis is a prolific author, his work includes five poetry pamphlet collections, published with the Black Light Engine Room, Lapwing Publications and Original Plus. His novels, Bella, and The Wrenna were published with Wild Pressed Books and his collection of poems, Subsidence, came out with Smokestack Books. He is a lecturer in Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Wolverhampton. His academic work explores place, landscape and identity and his work has been published widely in journals and edited collections. He co-edited the book, Smell, Memory and Literature in the Black Country with Professor Sebastian Groes. In 2019 he was the inaugural David Bradshaw Writer in Residence at the University of Oxford and in 2020 became Poet in Residence for the Black Country Geological Society.
Here’s five things, as he says, that keep him from gathering moss.
I’ve loved Maiden since I was a seven-year-old boy, trying to look cool with the older rocker kids on our estate. Although too young to really know what I was getting into at the time, there was energy, theatre and virtuosity that I understood even then – their music has followed me throughout my life and my adoration shows no sign of diminishing. There are very few bands that can pull off the orchestrations, signature and key changes like these musicians. And always with an eye to profound religious, philosophical and literary explorations in their lyrics. It was Maiden, who turned me on to Blake, Coleridge, Lovecraft and Huxley – they started my love of literatures. Like them, I’ve wrestled with ideas of heavens and hells, good and evils and reworked myths and spiritual cycles throughout my creative and scholarly work, with Maiden providing the sonic drive as I delve.
The most treasured book in my collection and the one I’ve read more than any other is the proto Magical Realist novel, Pedro Paramo, by Mexican author, Juan Rulfo. It’s an astounding work of literature that I admire hugely and continue to go back to. My second novel, The Wrenna, pays homage to it using this quotation as an epigram - There you'll find the place I love most in the world. The place where I grew thin from dreaming. In some ways, my novel is a reworking of many of its tropes: ideas of home and return, ideas of fatherhood, masculinity and violence, ideas of haunted selves and places, of communities being left to rot. Rulfo’s novel starts with a son promising his mother, on her deathbed, that he’ll seek out his long-lost father in his hometown of Comala. As he travels into Comala, he finds a place of ghosts, memories stuck in cycles of loss and violence – a liminal land where the fantastical and the terrestrial vie for position. I hope those reading this find their way to this extraordinary work from one of Literatures finest craftsmen.
EARLY MORNINGS AND COLD SHOWERS
I’m cheating a bit here and claiming two in one, but I can’t have one without the other. This entry is less about things that have inspired or guided me or things that I find entertaining, and more about routine and state of mind. I begin my days at 5am and start them with a cold shower or bath – sometimes I’ll take a walk to the local nature reserve and jump in the pool there. The cold puts the body under stress and kick starts the sympathetic nervous system – your fight or flight responses. It encourages you to take deep breaths that decreases the levels of CO2 in your body. This brings about a heightened state of alertness and teaches mind, body and neurology to manage stress. These are ancient, mammalian systems. It’s been shown to increase white blood cells, your metabolic rate and produce brown fat cells – all of which toughen will power, immune response and cellular/muscular strength. This starts my day, and I use the benefits to dive straight into the cognitive demands of writing. I do it first thing in the day, before anyone else is awake, so that I can get as much done as early as possible before emails, phone calls and life’s responsibilities rush in.
I used to drink a lot. I used to see it like a Bukowski Beatnik badge of honour – even a muse. Since becoming a father, and being more aware of my longevity and health, I now only drink a little and have traded volume for quality. Whisky runs in my blood to some extent – all along maternal and paternal lines there have been whisky drinkers. The drink is an escort for celebration, commemoration, loss and love and even illness. I love two sorts the best. American Bourbons with their burnt vanilla and corn. West Coast Scotch Single Malts for their smoked peat earthiness. One sip takes ten minutes to journey the peaks and trough of the tongue and the crevices of the mouth before resting and dissipating. A slow meandering of flavour clashing and connection. Perfect for long, slow actions and conversations that stretch out into the night. It’s a thing of great alchemy.
A PAIR OF GREEN COMBAT-STYLE SHORTS
Perhaps its my age (almost 39 at time of writing), a growing love of practical design, and perhaps its connected with the cold exposure I enjoy. One item of clothing seems to have found its way into my regular circulation more than any, regardless of weather conditions – my green combat shorts. Loose enough for relaxed or strenuous movements. Deep leg pockets to carry notebook, keys, wallet, phone, drink, snack, whatever, without the irritating bulge that takes place with your average legwear pocket. I’m one part embarrassing geography teacher on a school trip. I’m one part Chuck Norris in Missing in Action. I’m one part deep time peregrinator. Reader, I’ve become a shorts guy and there’s no going back.