Interview: Leo Hunt

Leo Hunt Interview Image

We talk to Leo Hunt about time machines, memories, prose and poetry. Leo’s story “But Always Meeting Ourselves” appeared in issue 36 of Neon.

As sometimes is the case with stories narrated in the first person, I got the impression that the protagonist in your story “But Always Meeting Ourselves” is – at least somewhat – based on the writer. Is that the case?

In the sense that every character you ever write is necessairly you wearing a mask, the narrator of the story is me, yes. Sometimes my first person writing can be very “voicey”, with this really defined cadence that’s different from how I usually speak and that I work at a while to get right; this wasn’t one of those stories. It’s basically written in my “normal” thinking voice; I was going for something that was quite styleless, almost?

The narrator shares a chipped tooth with me, and I’d recently lost someone close to me from cancer, so we share that as well. I have a tendency to get on badly with people I feel are too similar to me, at least at first. So I wasn’t really sure how much I’d like myself if I met a future version of me. He’s more arrogant than me, though, I hope. There’s a lot of hubris in the first two versions of the narrator.

I liked the specificness of the various elements of your story. Is there a particular reason why the time machine resembles a tall yellow pop can, or why the initial “clue” the narrator receives appears to be an African landscape? Did these details feel obvious to you when you wrote the story?

This is where I have to admit that I cheated, sort of, and a lot of this story came to me in a dream. I wrote it down the next day, fortunately uninterrupted by any men from Porlock. The narrative of the dream was considerably more confused than the finished story, but I really vividly remembered the shape and colour of the time machine in the dream, and also someone handed me a photograph similar to the one the narrator receives, although in the dream I had no idea what to do with it. I didn’t feel like I should change those images, because I felt that if they were important enough to my subconscious mind for me to remember them upon waking they might hold similar weight for a reader as well. I do not usually write stories based on dreams, for the record.

If you had a time machine what would you do with it? And what would your time machine smell of?

As is probably evident from the story, I’m fairly sure that a working time machine would actually be damaging to the psyche of anyone who used it too long, but I don’t think I’d be able to resist visiting ancient Sparta and Athens. Nostalgia for me is the smell of my grandparent’s carpets, so that’s something else I share with the narrator.

You mention in your biography that you’re a student of the Creative Writing program at UEA. How did you find that experience? When did you attend, and how did it shape your writing?

I’m actually studying American Literature and Creative Writing as an undergraduate although I graduate this summer, so the information I provided might have been misleading. I have nothing but good things to say about UEA, especially about the American Studies department under whose wide umbrella my course falls. For any of the “kids” out there who are thinking of studying there, I can definitely recommend the undergraduate programs, at least for humanities.

I have not actually attended the Creative Writing program at UEA, which is post-grad, and cannot comment on it. I personally think there’s a certain point of competence past which you can’t really be taught as such; there are teachable skills like grammar and tense and how to edit sentences down, but I’m not convinced you can teach someone to be imaginative or original or interesting; I think you have to bring more than just teachable skill to the page. What the undergrad program has done for me though is allow me to meet other people with similar interests to mine, and give me a space where I have to write and practice. None of which I could’ve done if I stayed in my home town and stacked shelves. I could probably fill a lot more space than this on the pluses and minuses of attending a CW program like mine but I’ll cut myself short.

I enjoyed reading the poetry on your website, particularly “A Spring Wolf” and “Denim Jacket w/ Sleeves Removed“. Do you write more prose than poetry or vice versa? Do you approach each form with a different mindset?

Thanks! Prose heavily outweighs poetry on my hard drive, but I tend to post poems because I think blogging suits smaller pieces that can (potentially) be shared. The blog is technically supposed to be a poetry blog but I just post whatever I feel like posting, usually. Anyway, poetry is an occasional hobby when I have thoughts that won’t fit into another form, and the blog’s intended audience is really a small group of friends and family. I barely wrote poetry at all until I had an excellent class taught by Samuel Riviere, who co-edits Stop Sharpening Your Knives, and said class sort of woke me up to the different pleasure you get from working in that form. But I’d consider myself a prose fiction writer.

What are you working on at the moment? And what’s the best way for readers to keep up with your work?

Currently I’m working on a Young Adult novel, with a great deal of help and advice from my agent. It’s about a boy who inherits his father’s ghost collection. I’ve been going a few years at this point and I’m hoping this might be the year it’s ready to be shown around the publishing houses, but time will tell. At this point it’s mostly a lot of line-editing and small tweaks, which is my least favorite part of writing prose.

Anyone who read this far and isn’t sick of me could consider following my blog here: coldstarharbor.tumblr.com with the understanding that I mostly post poems or little stubs of prose. If that’s your thing. Thank you.

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Leo Hunt is a student of the Creative Writing program at UEA. His previously published work took the form of messages written in blood on the walls of his hometown, for which he received national media attention and a brief custodial sentence. Read more of his work here: coldstarharbor.tumblr.com