My Cultural Life: Tara West

The Newtownabbey author on fancying Les Dawson, striking it lucky and being inspired by empty notebooks

You’re the author of the novel Fodder, about a 16-year old Belfast boy struggling to locate his punk mother. It’s usually troubled young male creative writers who choose troubled young male heroes. But you’re a fully-grown, well-rounded woman. What drew you to the subject?

I wasn’t ‘fully-grown’ when I first thought of Cookie, the main character. I was 13 and writing a novel in a lab book on the way home from school on the bus. Cookie was born during a misty, murky time of crusty-toed tights, charmless self-obsession and utter sexual confusion. Art transcends sex, particularly when you’re smelly and don’t have any friends. As for ‘well-rounded’ – have you read Fodder? I mean, like, really read it? I’m flattered, CNI. I really am.

FodderYou’re appearing at the Aspects Irish Literary Festival in Bangor later this month to talk about your experience of getting published. Was selling Fodder a long, hard struggle, or the result of a lucky break?

If there is a bollard, I will fall over it. If there is a turd, I will walk in it. If a crack whore joins the picnic, she will sit beside me. I am not known for my luck which is maybe why Fodder was picked up by the first publisher I sent it to. I was owed. At the Aspects event, I’ll be sharing a stage with writers Lee Henry and Tony MacAulay, who have much more interesting things to say than I have. Which is lucky, really.

Has creative writing been a lifelong passion or something you came to later in life?

Writing isn’t a passion for me, it’s a compulsion. That’s how it’s always been. I feel aimless and worthless if I don’t write. Writing is what I am.

You’ve just finished writing your second novel. How does it differ from Fodder?

Well, firstly, it has a plot. Yeah, seriously. In fact, it’s got character development and everything. Poor Fodder, sent out into the world as a book when it was, in fact, a concept album.

Which book, or piece of art, do you keep coming back to for creative inspiration?

An empty exercise book will do it for me. I suppose I’m not inspired in the typical sense. I’m just compelled to write. I absorb influences from music, art, literature, pop culture, and usually, if I write long enough and hard enough, something new and interesting will start to happen.

If you could have three cultural figures from throughout history round for dinner, who would they be and why?

Morrissey, Jacques Tati and Les Dawson. I fancy them all.

If you could have written any sentence from any novel or factual book, what would it be?

In Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, the narrator, under pressure from housekeeper Mrs Danvers, says, ‘I wished I was alone somewhere, and whistling.' It’s silly and sweet and sad all at once, and I love it. There’s probably a Japanese or German concept word for things that are silly and sweet and sad all at once. In fact, there might even be an English one. I never said I was an expert.

What would be your decisive piece of advice for any writers out there struggling to get published?

Don’t focus on getting published, focus on writing. Write until your writing makes you sick. Then it’s probably quite good. Then think about publication.

Tara West will be appearing at the Aspects Irish Literature Festival in Bangor on September 24, as part of The Feldsteins Present, a panel discussion on how to get into print.