Today I have an extra-special guest on my blog - the fabulously talented artist and writer Karen Little. Karen and I first met on Facebook last year, and since then we have met several times in real life. During those meetings she achieved what I'd thought was impossible - she taught me how to produce passable pieces of artwork. That was something which I'd long since written off as a lost cause! But I will never be as good as she is...
You’re a lady of many talents – artist, dancer, poet… Please tell me a little about your work in those fields.
I was quite the problem child at my secondary school, but obsessed with painting. At age eleven I had a strange ‘visionary’ way of painting; there would be a pleasant still life of fruit set up and I would be painting abstracts based around bones.
I ran away from home to London while still a teenager, and didn’t go to Art college at that point. I was in love with Kate Bush, and started doing dance classes at The Place, home of London Contemporary Dance Company, because it was where Kate rehearsed. I auditioned and got into the full time school a year later, and then joined a dance theatre company. A few years later I did a sculpture degree at Camberwell School of Art. I was mixing it up, dancing, painting, exhibiting and performing. Oh and I had a son along the way. I have exhibited art and performed as a dancer in London, Germany, and Spain.
I didn’t start writing as my main expression until I came to Manchester five years ago, after living in Spain for six years. I say "came to Manchester," but really I was dragged back by family after a psychotic episode that spanned several months. I painted throughout, and I suppose the ‘visionary’ is apparent in them!
In Manchester I started doing various poetry workshops, and reading poems at events. In the last year or so I've started submitting them to magazines, anthologies, competitions, and have been surprisingly successful at getting published.
Having read some of your poetry, I have to say I don't find that at all surprising! And I believe you’re currently working on a novella. Please can you tell me a little about it? What inspired you to write this particular story?
The novella, Filled with Ghosts, is very recently ‘finished’, and I am starting to hunt out potential homes for it. More than one person has mentioned an element of poetic stream of consciousness in its make-up, and I cannot deny that the initial 40,000 words were written rapidly, through that method. At that point the work began for me, as I structured it, and decided which characters had the POV for a chapter; the story unfolds through several characters’ first person narrations. It is set in Southern Spain, and the story originated as a ten-minute play, which was a fictionalised account of my psychotic episodes in Spain. Three of the characters in the play appear in the novella, and a narrative version of the play is seeded in there. I am not sure if my writing methods are bizarre, but there is an overlap and crossover between novella, short stories, poems, such that often when I am writing I don’t know in which direction the piece will develop.
What’s next on the creative agenda for you?
The writing of novella two is in progress. I say novella, because I have a tendency to pare things down. Filled with Ghosts was 65,000 words at one point, but the sculptor in me took over.
I am writing poems and reading them at events. Still mixing it up! Writing short stories too, and if you are interested you can find my most recently published one in this fab anthology. I went to the launch in Wales on 15th August, and five of us read our stories. The proceeds are going to the mental health organisation SANE.
Please tell me a little about the real Karen Little. Is there anything which, with hindsight, you would have done differently?
I think I am quite hard work. Like most people with mental health issues I take enormous advantage of the times when I am able to be sociable and active, because the other side of the coin is complete withdrawal. This doesn’t stop me creating, and much of my painting and writing has been done when for long periods I cannot face a soul. It does feel very precarious, but it is a life-long condition, and I now understand myself more, and am gentler with myself. It was harder when I was young and I would be as confused as everyone else when I suddenly had to walk out on people, things, life, and disappear.
I think I would find it difficult to say "would have done differently." I feel very driven, I feel very fortunate.
What do you like to do when you aren’t writing?
My two young dogs are very demanding at eight and eighteen months old, and need a lot of walking. Animals are my total soft spot. I would love to be somewhere the dogs could just run free. I also have a gecko and fish.
I paint sometimes, and I read when my concentration lets me. My concentration varies, and some days I can easily write pages of stream of conscious, and many days go by without my being able to read it back, let alone edit it.
What is your favourite tipple?
Wine. Mmm…If only wine was good for me in large quantities….