David Hartley, whose poem ‘Silver Birch’ is published in issue 6 of Lucent Dreaming, is the scribe of many a strange tale that have burrowed their way into various delicious publications. His oddments and curios can be found in Ambit, Black Static, Structo, The Shadow Booth and BFS Horizons, among plenty of others. His most recent collection of flash fiction Spiderseed came out in 2016 with Sleepy House Press and contains a twelve word story about a haunted bathtub. He is currently studying for a PhD in Creative Writing where he is battling tooth and nail with a novel which refuses to sit still and behave.
So, what inspired your piece ‘Silver Birch’? Can you tell us a little more about what it’s about?
‘Silver Birch’ was one of those strange stories that just appeared by happy accident. I was in the mood for writing something new when I saw someone share a writing prompt on Twitter – just an image of a carpet of autumnal leaves and a carving on a tree. A few days later, with that image still swirling in my head, I had a doctor’s appointment and as I was sitting in the waiting room the main idea for this quiet little tale fell into place. If I remember rightly, I’d been thirsty and my tongue had felt as dry as a leaf…
I’d also been reading a little about where power is located in the process of medical diagnoses (for my PhD research about autism) and soon the story took on that theme. There are two characters – a doctor and a patient – and there’s a strange thread of power going back and forth between them as the patient reveals her bizarre problem. I decided I wanted to see how far I could stretch the idea of being ‘wrongfooted’ in the space of a flash fiction. So the patient’s issue is a strange surprise, but so too is the doctor’s reaction, and then it becomes clear that something much, much larger is taking place beyond that consultation room. That’s what I love about flash fiction writing: how to take a thin and fragile slice out of a much larger cake and still make it taste as good.
What are some of your favourite books and art (including shows, videos, music) – of all time or more recently. Why are they favourites?
There are so many I’d love to talk about, but I’ll restrict myself to two that I’ve recently returned to – my all time favourite film and my all time favourite videogame series. I’ve been in a Blade Runner phase of late for various reasons, but mostly because I adore the original film and often find myself coming back to it time and again. There’s something mercurial and mythic about that film which I just can’t quite put my finger on. It’s the incredible detail in the vision of that city, and the fact it was made just before CGI swept in and took over. It often gets shrugged off for being style over substance but I don’t get that sense at all – it’s a work of great subtlety, as well as being visually and aurally exuberant. I love the fullness and thickness of the vision in that film and every time I go back to it, I see something new, or see it from a slightly different angle. Recently, it’s become a film all about autism for me – despite it not being about autism at all. It’s about the rights of people who think differently, and that, I think, is why it’s such a timeless artifact and soars so much higher than similar films. I will always love it. I have similar feelings about The Legend of Zelda videogame series, particularly ‘Ocarina of Time’ and ‘Majora’s Mask’ from the Nintendo 64 era. Again, the zelda games exist in a beautifully realised universe of their own, with a perfect emphasis on exploration and discovery. There is no greater pleasure for me than wandering around Hyrule and seeking out treasures, or beasts, or strange people. There’s a brilliant cohesion of Japanese sensibility and Western mythology in these games which merge together to create their own unique stories and styles. As a writer, I learned a lot about how to handle the ‘weird’ and the ‘mythic’ from Zelda, as the games are masterful at handling both with delicacy and grandeur. Zelda games are well regarded in their medium but deserve a much higher pedestal in culture more widely. They are such generous and heartfelt masterpieces.
What, if anything, are you looking forward to right now and what writing/creative projects are you currently working on?
With us currently still hovering around in Covid lockdown, I’m looking forward to the time when I’ll be able to confidently and safely head out for one of my favourite activities: going to the cinema on my own! I love picking out an interesting-sounding film from the listings and detaching myself from reality for a few hours inside a darkened auditorium. Once or twice I’ve managed to get a whole screening to myself and there is no greater pleasure.
I’m currently finishing off a Creative Writing PhD at The University of Manchester. I’ve spent the last four years researching and writing a novel which is now (touch wood) finished, and I’m currently working on the critical thesis which will accompany it. The novel is an experimental beast of a thing which tries to do something new and exciting with the representation of autism. It is, of course, a very personal work as it is largely based on my autistic sister, but has also been guided by the works of many autistic writers and activists, such as Melanie Yergeau, Joanne Limberg, and Katherine May. I’m now in the process of trying to flog the book to various agents and publishers so I’ve got every finger and toe crossed. After the PhD is done, I’ve got a big backlog of short story ideas to get to which keep itching and wriggling in the back of my head, desperate to have their time…
Can you tell us about how you got into writing and art? Is there anyone whose support or encouragement really inspired or motivated you?
I derived a lot of my interest in writing from my dad, Pete Hartley, who is a playwright, novelist, dramaturg, drama teacher, and an unfailingly motivating father. He would often disappear into his study to work on his new play script and, months later, the thing would be gloriously realised on stage. That helped me to understand that writing takes a lot of focus, time, energy and sacrifice, but is usually incredibly worth it. In my sixth form years, I had the great pleasure of being involved with lots of Dad’s productions, as an actor or as stage crew. Again, the creative energy was infectious and magical and I always knew I wanted to keep the taste of it going once I’d moved away to Uni. That’s where I started writing my stories in earnest.
From there, the next important boon was meeting the disparate and rag-tag community of writers in Manchester at its various spoken word nights. These guys and gals gave me encouragement, opportunities, friendship, inspiration and challenge in various weird and wonderful ways. A great piece of advice to any aspiring writer: get out from behind the keyboard and befriend other writers because it works wonders for your creative soul. Many of these folks became my closest friends and allies, particularly Abi Hynes, Tom Mason, Dan Carpenter, Ben Judge, Fat Roland, Rob Cutforth, Nici West, and many more too numerous to mention. My writing wouldn’t be half as good without these champions.
Where can people see more of you and your work?
My website davidhartleywriter.com links out to loads of my published stories and various other projects. I’m also slowly building up a suite of ‘live’ videos of spoken word performances on my YouTube channel, and people interested in my PhD research on autism can find me on manchester.academia.edu/DavidHartley. My most recent output was an odd little EP of stories called ‘Yawn’ which I published on davidhartley.bandcamp.com/. It’s a mini-collection of seven weird tales set to lo-fi bleepy music and I put it out during the strange rush of those first few weeks of the pandemic. There was an urge at that time, I think, to reach out to each other just as we were being pulled apart. And it also felt like something needed to be left at the shrine of this strange and terrible new deity that had stomped into our lives. ‘Yawn’ was my offering.
Lucent Dreaming is an independent creative writing magazine publishing beautiful, imaginative and surreal short stories, poetry and artwork from emerging authors and artists worldwide. Our aim is to encourage creativity and to help writers reach publication! Subscribe to Lucent Dreaming now, support us on Patreon and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.