This past Friday, I had the pleasure of e-chatting on Instagram with a friend and fellow writer by the name of Craig Atkinson. I could spend time pre-ambling by saying just how great of a wordsman/sketch artist he is, but I’ll let the writer chat speak for itself. Mind you, this was kind of a laidback conversation between two fans of literature, creating literature, and general passion project fiends, so apart from a few corrected typos during the live talk, the majority of this is unedited. Also be sure to stop by Iron Lung Press and order a copy of Craig’s chapbook titled “The Longest Weekend.” It’s currently out of stock (because it’s that wonderful), but I’m sure the reprint will be making its way webside very soon. You can also find two of my chapbooks on the ILP website, titled “The House of Wander en Crone” and “Regection.”
Blankpagesofmine: So first off, good morning. I find it interesting that when you and I chat on Instagram it’s on completely opposite schedules.
Craig: Haha. Good morning.
Blankpagesofmine: It’s funny because I’ll be up at the crack of dawn and we’ll chat for a bit, then I’ll go to work, you’re out for the night, then by the time I’m leaving you’re up again. Not sure it gets much more backwards than that haha. Anyway, thanks for taking the time to chat with me a little about our beloved craft.
Craig: You’re welcome. It works the same for me too. While I’m at work, the US is quiet. But I’ve always lived in this time zone, so nothing new to me. Australia is a hour ahead of Japan.
Blankpagesofmine: Makes sense, it’s become your normal day-to-day routine. How long have you been out in Tokyo now? What brought you out there from Australia in the first place?
Craig: It’s a little complicated, but I first landed in Tokyo in 2007 on a working holiday visa, after a year and a half in London. I lived here for another year and a half, and in that time a met my wife. We’d been together a year when my visa ended, so she decided to move to Australia with me. We lived there for 5 years, then 2013 we moved back to Tokyo.
Blankpagesofmine: That’s a very interesting movement back and forth between a few places! And also a very cool romantic story, by the way. No wonder you’re a writer, the backstory of Craig is easily something I could picture reading in an engaging novel. I’m jealous of the relocation aspect of your career because it’s something I’ve never experienced personally. I’m sure it’s had a fair share of work and effort put behind it as well, but I imagine you’re pleased with how everything turned out since first leaving Australia. I also find it fascinating because as writers, I believe that our words and stories are products of the environments we’ve lived and roamed around in. How do you draw on those locations in the chapbooks, zines, etc. that you’ve written?
Craig: My whole childhood is broken up into moving houses. I moved so many times within the same town, then in my 20s involved a lot of moves too.
A lot of my work is drawn and about the past. A certain memory will be linked to one of the places I lived.
The story sounds interesting now, but to a confused 22 year old, it was hell.
Blankpagesofmine: Wow, you’re a dude on the move for sure. I can relate, in my twenties I moved five times leading up to where I live today. And let me say for the record, the more books you buy, the more books you have to move up and down flights of stairs. The last place I relocated to, the mover actually almost threw out his back when carrying my box of espionage books! Whew. I did warn him in advance though haha. Anyway, that’s very cool! It’s interesting how your twenties, for many of us at least, were confusing and disorientating, but make for some of the best writing material one could possibly conjure up. Moving, puddle jumping from place-to-place, I can definitely pinpoint some of that in the works I’ve read of yours. Let’s get to some of your amazing publications. Between Coffee & People and The Longest Weekend, I can’t choose which one I enjoyed more. I also am drawn to the way you mesh art with writing, which isn’t something you see blended with such finesse. What inspired you to be so bold and creative with it?
Craig: Firstly, thanks.
I always considered myself terrible at drawing. And the first two Coffee & People I used photos. Then I heard on a podcast how important it is to just play for 5 minutes each day, so I bought a small notebook and started drawing, and what has came out of that is all sorts of things, including zine covers.
If my writing has taught me anything, it’s by doing something every day improvement will usually follow, and that’s happening in my drawing.
And for bold….
I’m 39 now, so one thing I’ve realized is that you just have to pick one or two things, you don’t even need to be good at it. Just pick something you like and are interested in, and go all in. You never know what might come of it. Also, throw some of your past in there. In my late teens I was into diy punk rock stuff. I might have lost touch in my late 20s and early 30s, but it’s never too late to return to your true love.
Blankpagesofmine: Probably one of the best tips that an artist could get, to practice for small windows of time each day just to see how the experience ups the ante a little. I agree, my sketches aren’t what I or anyone would call pieces worthy of an art gallery, but I try to spend time with it each day in the manner that you suggest. And in your case, it’s easy to see how it’s payed off. You designed one heck of a catchy logo for Iron Lung Press recently and did a mockup for the brand that I’m developing as well. Would you say that there’s a simplistic beauty to drawing and sketching that manages to see the light of day because of the wonderful world of zine and chapbook writing?
Craig: Totally. I used to have a blog, and felt so limited due to my very limited computer skills.
Blankpagesofmine: I’m inspired just to read how you feel about sticking to the passion projects that a person holds sacred. No matter the age, these things are vital to who we are and personally I couldn’t imagine a day without writing/sketching/creating. If the world has some intangible system of checks and balances, responsibilities and routine lay on one side, while being an artist/creator course corrects the other side to an even level. Glad to hear that you’re working hard at it! What’s next for you in terms of projects? What can your fans and fans-to-be expect in the upcoming months?
Craig: I just wrote a very short book review that I made into a mini zine. I want to do more of them. I’m also in the middle (and struggling) of a longer story that I’m trying to write. In the past few months. I’ve made 5 or 6 mini zines as they are easy to do in my down time at work, and also fit well while I’m working on a longer piece of writing.
Blankpagesofmine: I remember you mentioning the book review mini zine before, that’s going to the top of my queue if you end up pushing it out into a bigger release. It’s like they say in baseball, “these are the dog days.” The intro to a story or novel usually starts with a bang and then it’s surviving those hallowing dog days through to the end. I wish you luck with that, I’m sure you’ll find a way to see through it. That’s a versatile approach which I dig very much, not putting all your eggs in one basket and piecing together a few works at once. On a side and complete unrelated note, I’ve been wanting to ask for awhile now. 1) Are you big into music/what bands and songs get the creatively motivational wheels churning for you? 2) What’s a big to-do in your region for fun? Going to a theater to see films? Outdoors time? Exercise? All of the above?
Craig: Yeah, writing is a weird beast. I fight with it for months, then in some random place I get the answer of how to end the story, and I’ll have to scribble it down on a piece of paper there and then.
I used to be heavily into music.
Since 95 when I was 15 and heard Dookie for the first time. I was also learning the drums at that time, so a few years later I met some friends and we decided to start a band.
We played together for 3 years, also practicing daily.
I moved away from music when I was 25 (2005) when I started traveling. I didn’t, and still don’t have a computer (write on my phone or iPad), and just started reading.
Now, I listen to a bit of music, but currently focused on books. (I know some people will be mind blown)
Fun things??? Hmmm…. Drinking good coffee, writing, and reading.
Blankpagesofmine: To shamelessly quote one of the greats, “when the going gets weird, the weird turn pro.” And here’s the living proof! Dookie was a crazy addictive album, I’m with you there. Between that and a few other 90s rock/punk/grunge boppers, it’s all I wanted to listen to. That must have been a heck of a time, what instrument did you play? Any vocals? And of course, the most prominent and important question here…what was the name of the band?? Haha. If there was ever a more perfect substitute based on the circumstances, you can’t go wrong with reading. NO WAY! We love those things over here too! I guess the world is smaller than I originally thought 🙂 nice to see that opposite ends of the world share similar interests.
Craig: I played drums. I wrote one song, and sang it. I’d drummed for 2 years and the other two just started learning their instruments the week we started. We were friends first. You can find an album we recorded on Spotify. We were called Mondo Pest. I had very little to do with words and reading back then, but the lead singer (who is still playing live shows) did introduce me to my favorite zinester, Cometbus.
We recorded on a number of things (comps and alike), but the album is the only thing I can find online.
Blankpagesofmine: Get out of here, an album on Spotify? How insane is that, I never would’ve known. I know exactly what I’ll be listening to come Monday on my commute to work. Drumming is one of the most skilled instruments out there and I think that’s awesome. Never had a knack for it, but I did play the trumpet for awhile. I do dabble in the fine art of Guitar Hero every now and again though (insert rock on emoji). This has been a really great chat man and I appreciate you taking the time out on an early weekend morning to do so! We will have to rally again for a Part II to this discussion, because I didn’t get a chance to get through a chunk of what I wanted to because the topics just transpired into an incredible realm of their own.
Craig: Haha. I was terrible, and still are. Seriously.
Stop by Craig’s Instagram page and say hello!