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Author Interview: Polly Trope

Today, I’m delighted to welcome Polly Trope to my blog. I recently heard Polly reading from her novel Cured Meat. The event was organised by Dan Holloway, who has long since been a cheerleader for Polly’s writing, saying that its raw lyrical genius made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He also said, quite simply, that it was the best book he had read all year.  ‘Brave, beautiful, lyrical, edgy, daring, with an emotional punch that will leave you breathless.’

Polly grew up in Berlin and Paris, speaking three languages. She moved to London at the age of eighteen, studied classical literature, moved to New England at twenty-one, spent some time in mental homes and ‘abusing’ prescription painkillers, went back to London where, in her own words, she ‘fell through the cracks’ – something I explore in my novel An Unchoreographed Life. Later, she got into London’s arts and showbiz community, which so far has proved more productive and happy.

“We need writing that serves up the whole of life, in the smallest microcosms maybe, single truths told in single voices, but told in the full – the ugly and the beautiful; the hopeful and the despairing; the angry and the aspiring; that wrings art, words, life itself until they offer up every last secret, every hidden pain, every unexpected and delightful pleasure; that gives life in the full. Free from judgement. Free from taboo. Free from pretence.” (Dan Holloway, The New Libertines)

Q: Polly, did you deliberately time the release of Cured Meat with Halloween?

Yes. Buzz phrases like the phantoms of the past, demons of the soul, skeletons in the closet, taking candy from strangers, horror story come to mind. My book revolves around images like these. In a more serious tone, but also larger-than-life.

Q: John Irving says that you can’t teach writing. You can only recognise what’s good and say ‘keep doing that.’ Do you think that’s true?

Tendentially, yes, because there’s no agreement, and can be no agreement, on what writing should be or do. On the other hand, I treasure the mentors I’ve had over time. They’re far between, and I really miss having someone I can talk to about my writing and its development.
Cover design by Sabrina Andersen
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Q: Can you remember where you saw your first book on the shelves?

Where I myself put it: the Soho Bookshop. It was a bit of a teenage dream to be in some way represented in there. So I went and spoke to the acquisitions manager myself, and boom. It put a massive grin on my face.

Q: Do any of your books have dedications? If so, to whom and (if appropriate) why?

To the people I left behind. My book is about getting myself out of dead-end roads and catch-22s. Like the mental home, drug addiction, or the world of sex workers in London. I am sad that many people are still in there.

Q: Some authors have one particular person in mind when they write. Do you have a muse – or perhaps an imaginary ideal reader?

No, not really, except I sometimes divide myself like an amoeba and become my own reader. It requires a certain amount of distance. I write so that the book I would have liked to read, but couldn’t find anywhere, exists at last.

Q: Some writers need silence, others like the buzz of a coffee shop, the rumble of a train or their favourite music. Which type are you?

The rumble of a train and my favourite music.

Q: What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?

The social part, where I have talk about my own work. It’s a non-negotiable part of being a self-published writer, but I get awkward, stressed, and insecure at it, and exhausted. On the other hand, it can lead to very magical conversations that hit all the right notes for me. I guess I need to practice more to feel more confident handling this.

Polly has very kindly given permission for an extract from her work to be reproduced here:

I’ve been meaning to answer you all these years. I was locked in a cube of time, like a glass brick in a wall. In a present that never becomes past, like a past that moves itself along. A soap bubble should hold all that has happened since, and take the rest of life on a fantastic voyage. And I would sit in the old four walls, staring at something, letting time freeze, as life coagulates darkly. Afeeling like snakes in the stomach, hissing rains in the window, a night walking soundscape of unknown noises and painful flashlights. Walking at night on the glass shards of other days, under street light hummings, the squeal of crystal at summer weddings rises and falls in my lungs like a fire-spitting dragon, locked in a cube of time.

In between the flames of two candles on a late night table, everything a bit woozy through drink, as I can see from that man’s cartoon-like head motions — his gaze shoots through the two dancing flames like an arrow. I think he is thinking “hey, I’m still waiting for my life to begin and it’s already half over!” as he examines some ash on the table — and the other people in the room turn blue, like poisoned aspidistras, and their chairs grow taller, and taller, and taller…

My disposable childhood rises from the ground like a ghost : all flimsy cartoon strips from the back of cereal boxes and ice cream wrappers, all freebies and kinder surprise eggs, crocos, hippos, turtles and glitter stickers, plastic toys from Mc Donald’s kids’ menus, dinosaur magazines, tiny toon pogs from crisp packets, collectible bumper stickers, and endless bubble gum from bubble gum machines, smurf sweets, cola sweets, and slime jelly toys, glow-in-the-dark plasticine in a pot, and worthless accessories from a teen girl’s magazine, like stick-on tattoos and rubber bracelets, and fruit flavoured lip gloss. One day we bagged it all and threw it out, since then I have taken to burning clothes.

I don’t know what poked open and collapsed the bubble of cheap dreams, with all its fake needs and sheepish wants created by salesmen and adverts, the Diors and Zadigs of this world, that still want me to want to be a princess — but why would I want to be a fucking princess? The faces of the past have vanished like ghosts, and all I have left is a tutu, and the crossroads blues.

Q: What were the key factors that influenced your decision to become an indie author?

I had been doing this for a few years. Back in 2008, I was hoping to find a publisher for a poetry collection I had written. But I couldn’t get so much as an acknowledgement of receipt out of any literary agents or publishers whom I had contacted. That’s when I decided to give self-publishing a go. I also realized that I could do quite a lot with social media, if used well. A year later I did the same again with a short play. I also staged the play, twice. Those were quite haphazard, experimental attempts to see what’s out there. Then, I got a little embarrassed and withdrew everything I had done from the internet. And a few years later, again, I decided to give it another go, this time with a much more serious attitude. My self-esteem was also better. So I just went with it. I didn’t particularly fancy going through that whole silence-of-the-inbox torture again so this time, I didn’t contact any agents or publishers. I thought it would be more important for me to have written and finalized my book, than it was to get an industrial stamp of approval. I figured I could always see about meeting some publishers or agents later, when the book was already self-published. Or for my next project.

Q: With the number of self-published books increasing by 59% last year alone, it is really difficult  for authors to make their books stand out. How do you go about this?

Learning by doing. I think the most important thing is to get away from the internet and speak to people, to get a sense of the community of shared interest.

Q: Which do you market as a brand – yourself or your published works?

Both. This kind of happened by accident. When I started my facebook page, I didn’t want any photos of my face on facebook. People on facebook found that way more intriguing than anything else about my work or what not. On the other hand, when it’s not facebook, it’s my book that I market.

Q. Will Self believes that the serious literary novel is dead. Do you agree?

No. Only, many people who like serious literary novels are particularly keen on works by great dead authors. As a result of an invasion of rather nonsensical books that sell to a broader readership but are far less serious (ghostwritten biographies, self-help books, cook books, inferior historical fiction, what have you), the readers of serious books probably have a slightly more guarded attitude towards newer, serious novels. On top of this, the genre has mutated in accordance with the changed times, been superseded by more timely genres like creative nonfiction, the memoir, and serious film making/writing. Literary genres evolve, as does society. But I would argue that the serious literary novel has a rich and colourful afterlife.

Q: Where can we find out more about you and your work?

I have a blog. It’s

Read my review of Cured Meat here.

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  1. Cured meat wet between your teeth | Nostrovia! Poetry

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