Smoking With Brian Howell

Read the Story June 15, 2004

How does your love and knowledge of the visual arts affect your stories?

Immensely. For as long as I can remember I have been fascinated by the artistic process. I tend to write about how artists create their work, perhaps because I can’t do that myself. I can’t explain why that is what attracts me, rather than writing about everyday characters and how they get through the world. That doesn’t generally excite me, unless creativity is somehow at the heart of the story. But it’s no less valid.

Having traveled and lived in so many different places, do you find that setting plays an important role in your work?

Again, tremendously. Even if you have only visited a place for a short period, the impressions stay with you and permeate your thinking and the way you see a place when you write. I wouldn’t want to write about a place I haven’t visited – unless there is a good reason in the story for that to be the case or it is a conflation of places or simply a totally imaginary place, of course.

Tell us more about your experience as a published novelist. Are there any changes you would like to see in book industry?

The publisher of my novel, Toby Press, exceeded my expectations in that originally they intended only to sell through their website. There was no intention beyond that in the foreseeable future, so you can imagine that my horizons were very narrow from the start. But they expanded to make their books much more widely available, through bookshops and online etc. And they produce lovely, beautifully bound books. But they are not as well known as mainstream or other literary publishers, so every extra bit of exposure I get is a huge step forward.

What did you do before writing took over your life?

I was a cinema manger, which is not as glamorous as it sound to some. I was trying to make my way into the film business in Britain, made a couple of rock promos for fun, plus a short film, and wrote a few feature-length screenplays on spec. But I got nowhere. I did odd jobs until I starting teaching English to foreigners, which was almost the same time as I started writing prose and living abroad.

Who or what have you read recently that left you shaking your head?

Only in a positive way: Joseph McElroy’s amazing novel, Lookout Cartridge, and Tanizaki’s short novel, The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi. They couldn’t be more different from each other, but you are equally absorbed in their strange worlds. I wouldn’t like to summarise the McElroy. The Tanizaki is about one of the oddest obsessions I’ve ever read about.

About the Author:

Brian Howell lives and works in Japan, is married and has two beautiful young children. His first novel, The Dance of Geometry, was published in 2002 by The Toby Press. His first collection of stories is due from Elastic Press in the U.K. in May 2004. He has had various short stories published since 1990 in print and online in publications such as Critical Quarterly, Leviathan Quarterly, Neonlit: The Time Out Book of New Writing, Vol.1, and Alsiso. His novella, The Study of Sleep, in PDF eBook format, is now out from Wind River Press.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.