The #StillLiberated Q & A series features creatives who were members of LiberatedMuse.com when it was a digital community. In 2008, the digital community LiberatedMuse.com was born, founded by Khadijah Z. Ali-Coleman, connecting creatives from around the globe to discuss, collaborate and fellowship. Hundreds have connected through the online portal, beginning meaningful relationships leading to further creative collaborations and ongoing partnerships. The online portal lasted from 2008-2012.
Among the many things Liberated Muse has done creatively with its members is publish books. Liberated Muse publications include two book anthologies, one published in 2009 and another in 2012. Author Nick Sweet was a contributor to our 2012 anthology Betrayal Wears a Pretty Face. He has stayed active as a writer and shares his story in the Q & A below.
What is your genre of art (literary, visual, performing etc.)?
I write novels and short stories. I’ve also had poetry, articles and book reviews published; but in recent years I’ve been concentrating on stories and novels—and novels more than anything.
What are the things that inspire your work?
Inspiration is something that takes place ‘in the dark’, by which I mean it’s a mysterious process about which I myself don’t know all that much. You just have to let it happen. I mean, there’s a lot of truth in the saying that the writer doesn’t write the book, rather it’s the book that writes the writer. It’s true in my case, anyway. It’s curious and difficult to talk about, because there’s a sense in which you have to allow a book to come to you, or at least meet you half way; while at the same time, it’s obviously true that you have to put in an awful lot of groundwork on a regular basis, in order to have any chance of achieving the kind of outcome that you’re looking for. And of course, I think it’s fair to say that writing starts with reading.
I mean, if you want to write then you need to read a lot of books to begin with, and you need to keep on reading them; just as if you want to be an actor then I should imagine you need to watch a lot of plays, films and TV series. I remember reading that as a youngster Miles Davis used to sit with pen and paper in hand while he listened to Dizzy Gillespie; he’d write down the notes he heard his idol play in his solos, and then at the end of the set he’d go up to the stand and show Dizzy what he’d written, and Dizzy might say something like, ‘Yeah, that’s pretty good, young Miles,’ before he’d point to the page and add, ‘But you missed the high C there.’ Miles and Dizzy were, in my opinion, great artists, and you get a sense from the anecdote I’ve just related (in my own words) of how much work and dedication they both brought to their art. It’s the same with writing. I mean, we can’t all be as great as Miles or Dizzy; but if one thing’s certain it’s that we’ll never get anywhere unless we make a huge effort. And anyway, it’s not a competition, but about doing the best you can and expressing yourself to the full…about writing the books you were meant to write. Or doing whatever you want to do as well as you can.
Also, it’s true to say that there’s a lot of interplay between the different disciplines in the arts; I mean, I might be a writer but, as you have probably gathered from what I’ve just said above, I love music, too, and I also take a great interest in cinema and paintings.
And then on another level, it’s true to say that injustice is something that I feel the urge to write about. I’m living in Spain at the moment, and so I write about what’s happening here; but we all know that injustice is something that’s taking place all over the world, even as we speak.
What are some things happening now that you are paying careful attention to?
I’m certainly aware of some of what’s been happening in America lately—and the anger and indignation that black people feel. I think the voices of black people need to be heard more, both in political and artistic terms. That said, I’d probably be writing about these events, by which I mean trying to find a way to work them into my novels, if I were living in America right now. But of course I’m not, and so that’s for somebody else to do. Perhaps I ought to say that I’m British, and blacks and whites generally seem to get along pretty well in London and in the UK generally, so I find all of this particularly shocking. I remember reading an interview Mike Tyson gave years ago, in which he talked about how surprised he was by the friendly, welcoming responses he received from people when he walked around the streets in London, while he was over there: it was obvious from the way he was talking that, despite obviously being a sporting hero, he wasn’t used to having white people he didn’t know come up and say nice things to him and generally make him feel at home. I remember feeling a sense of outrage when I read that.
There’s plenty of injustice and poverty in Spain, with the people at the top ripping off the public; this is an ongoing ‘narrative’ that interests me deeply. I mean, the way a lot of poor people around the world (in Spain and the UK and just about everywhere else, as well as the USA—whites as well as blacks, of course) were taken advantage of by the bankers, and the way the bankers’ greed led in turn to the financial collapse. I mean, the way the banks and many of the politicians and money men have behaved has left me feeling that things just aren’t working. I would hesitate to say the word ‘democracy’ has lost its meaning, if only because that might be a dangerous thing to say. I mean what’s the alternative, after all? Spain was ruled by a military dictatorship until General Franco died in 1975, and nobody wants to return to that—and nobody in their right mind around the world who is living in a democracy would want to replace it with a regime of that sort.
That said, though, it’s certainly time for change and new ideas. If the word ‘democracy’ is to mean anything then it needs to reinvent itself, or maybe simply remember or rediscover the ideals and bold concepts that it was intended to embody. At the moment I think it’s fair to say that democracy has lost its way. It went to the wrong kind of party, where it proceeded to get very drunk and behave appallingly, and now it can’t find its way home. It needs people to give it a helping hand, or maybe a push, in the right direction. The problem is, the GPS isn’t working and there are no maps out there that are any use. Or are there?
Tell us what you’ve been up to since Liberated Muse as a digital community ended in 2012
I’ve written a crime novel with the title of THE LONG SIESTA, and it’s going to be published by Grey Cells (the crime imprint of Holland House) on September 5th in the UK. It will be available from Amazon as well as from all good bookshops. This is a crime novel in which a serial killer is bumping off Catholic priests in Seville. The Catholic Church sided with General Franco’s fascists in the Spanish Civil War, and so Inspector Velázquez wonders if there’s some kind of revenge motive that stretches back to the days of the regime. I don’t want to say too much about it, but I’ve also managed to rewrite Spanish history in the novel, in the sense that there’s a big question mark over a certain historical event that could be said to have kick started the war, and I’ve narrated how all this happened. But of course you need to read the book to find out what I mean.
I intend to work up a series of Inspector Velázquez novels, and have been working on a sequel. As well as that I’ve recently had a fairly long short story (15 or 20 pages) accepted for an anthology on Jack the Ripper, which is due out in November from Little Brown in the UK and from Running Press in December in the USA.
I’m also working on a historical novel—or I was, some time ago, but that’s in the cupboard at the moment… I tend to write a first draft, then shelve it and go back to it later. This means I tend to work on more than one book at a time, so that I now have several unfinished drafts in the cupboard that I will go back to at different points in the future.
How do you describe your artistry to those unfamiliar with your work?
I really think I need to leave that to other people. I have enough to do writing my books; once they’re finished I’m interested to hear what people make of what I’ve written. People might want to take a look at THE LONG SIESTA when it comes out; or if they can’t wait until September 5th then they might check out one my earlier novels–FLOWERS AT MIDNIGHT, perhaps, which was published three summers ago if my memory serves. You could click on this, if you dare—but be careful, because it does have a rather shocking opening in which a politician is behaving rather badly…
What are some goals you have for the rest of the year?
I don’t really set time limits on my goals, but my overall aim over the coming years has to be to become an author who sells books in large quantities all over the world. I want to be an international bestseller. And I want my books to be as good as I can possibly make them. I want them to be entertaining, so they’re a good, fast read; but I also want readers to feel that what they’ve read touched them in some way. I want my books to contain a sense of reality and movement, and to say something about the world as it really is. And I want the characters and the words, and what’s being described, to come to life for the reader. I guess you could say that’s a fairly big ask; but you can rest assured that I’m working on it.