I speak to Evangeline Jennings, who runs Pankhearst, writes amazing neo-noir with a feminist slant, and supports Liverpool FC.
Pankhearst’s Christmas single, No Christmas, is available here.
Pankhearst’s first full-length novel, Yuko Zen Is Somewhere Else, by Simon Paul Wilson, is available here, now.
Read her short story, “Food Chain”, right here.
1. “Food Chain” had an air of early Stephen King short stories to it. It’s not quite what we’re used to seeing from you – what was your inspiration?
Early Stephen King? Is that before he got good?
Some time ago, a very lovely friend of mine invited me to join a writing group. They were in the early stages of developing a short story collection about the End of the World. I wrote Food Chain for them. Then I decided I couldn’t be doing with the man that ran the group so I bailed. I forget exactly why but the words “patronising”, “misogynist”, “arsehole” and “knobhead” all spring to mind. Possibly also “fuckwit”.
The inspiration for the story itself? I’m fascinated by solitariness, isolation. Also by travel. A lot of my writing turns out to be about travel. It’s both a metaphor and a joy in itself. I’m never happier than when I’m on the road and I plan one day to live that way – in a small RV or possibly on a yacht of my own. So … the End of the World, travel, isolation. Oh, and death, of course. We all die in the end.
2. There’s a school of thought that we are already engaged in a Third World War. How have contemporary conflicts shaped the events in “Food Chain”?
Not at all. Which is unusual. I often write about or around issues that concern me. For example, a Big Publisher once told me off for being too critical of the oil, gas, and mining industries in a YA fantasy book they were considering. And much of my fiction deals with gender issues and violence against women. But Food Chain is just a cigar. A story I ripped out one weekend without really thinking about it.
Although I suppose I could claim to have predicted the whole Ebola thing.
3. “We tend to forget about all the nukes in the world these days.” Discuss.
I don’t think we’ve forgotten about them, but maybe familiarity has bred contempt? Or disinterest. Certainly the mass media seem to find chemical and biological weapons much more compellingly sexy at the moment – unless they want a reason to bomb Iran. Perhaps younger generations don’t even realize the scale of the danger nukes still pose. It’s not that they’ve forgotten. They’ve never been told in the first place.
4. The clipped, precise style is very You. It helps your stories zip along, hardly a breath to spare or a comma from start to finish. Does this come naturally to you – a style you like and quite naturally imitate – or is it something you’ve honed over time?
It’s both natural and honed. I do write other styles – usually under other names – but this is the real me. I think every word should count and I value rhythm. To steal a phrase, the medium is the message.
Sometimes I write in what is almost shorthand because that’s all a reader needs to understand the action and because I want them to use their own experience and imagination to fill in any missing detail they actually care about. Food Chainis definitely one of those stories.
I’m not conscious of imitating anyone else but my writing style certainly reveals my love of Richard Stark (Donald E Westlake), Lawrence Block, James Ellroy, and Andrew Vachss while thoroughly concealing my passion for Wodehouse and Christie. Although I hope my inner Agatha comes out in my plotting. Whenever I twist the tail of one of my stories – and I often do – you can be sure I’ve worked hard to make sure it’s both a surprise and absolutely justified by everything you read that led up to it.
5. Tell us a little bit about Pankhearst, and any upcoming writing projects.
It’s hard to say a little. Pankhearst is a bit weird and needs to evolve. It’s a writers collective and I often describe it as an independent record label for books. I’m envisaging something like Fast Product when I say that. A very early independent Scottish record label, Fast Product only existed for a couple of years and I can’t imagine the owners retired off their earnings, but while they were active, they released the debut singles by the Mekons, Gang of Four, and Human League. And also put out two tracks that were basically outtakes from Joy Division’s first album, Unknown Pleasures. That’s kinda of what PH is for. To give new writers an early platform so they can express themselves and learn by doing before they move on to bigger and better things – or go back to real life. We also encourage our writers to take risks. Independence isn’t writing third rate takes on popular best sellers, it’s an opportunity to explore and experiment.
So far, we’ve released four collections of short fiction – I sometimes call them samplers – featuring many different writers. Three were more or less YA – YA Noir, I’d say – and the other very much wasn’t. They’ve all been well received and we even got a compliment in The Guardian once. We probably should have retired that day.
We’ve also been running a thing called the Pankhearst Singles Club which is coming to the end of its first year – my own No Christmas will be our very risky Christmas Number One – and in the New Year, I’ll be handing over the Singles Club to Ellie McG to manage through 2015. Which is an example of what I mean when I say we need to evolve.
For the last two years, I’ve been driving PH – for good and bad – and now it’s time for new ideas and energies. There are projects I want to work on – and I’ll talk about those in a moment – but other people need to come forward with their own ideas and take responsibility for making them happen. Ellie has. And so has Kate Garrett. She’s “curating” Slim Volume, a themed journal of poetry and flash fiction which will appear twice a year – the first edition comes out in December – for as long as she wants to do it. We very much hope other writers will talk to us about their ideas and we’re ready to give them as much help as we can. I couldn’t have done half what I’ve done this year without the never-ending and always generous support of Lucy Middlemass, and we’ll both be very happy to work with people on their ideas – including practical help like editing, design, and the technical publishing stuff – but it’s time for us to start some other projects and if no one else comes forward to fill the gap, there will be no more PH samplers. Unless I get an idea I can’t resist.
What other projects? I’m glad you asked.
Lucy and I are keen to publish longer fiction. Our first novel, Yuko Zen is Somewhere Else by Simon Paul Wilson, was published at Halloween. Lucy’s own Jinger Barley and the Murkle Moon will be published in December, or possibly January. And we are talking to other authors about working with them on their novels throughout 2015. Additionally, we’ll be starting a web-based serial in late January. The Vegas Thing will bring together two of the characters from last year’s Cars & Girls in a big new novel length adventure that will be published in weekly instalments on the web.
Is that enough new projects?
Oh, hold on.
On Valentine’s Day 2015, we’ll also be publishing Riding In Cars With Girls by … um … me. A novel length collection of themed novellas and short stories that is – essentially – a sequel to the original Cars & Girls. It’s noir as fuck and ready to go now, but I don’t have time to do all the necessary promo work so I’m holding off.
6. What’s your favourite pub finger food?
This is probably the hardest question I’ve ever been asked. I do love a good pub and I’m very fond of my food. I take them both very seriously. After hours of agonizing, let’s say it’s the spicy sausage nachos at the Half Moon Inn at Horsington in Somerset. It used to be my local. Other than that, anything with chorizo.
7. During the apocalypse, what would be your ideal cannibalistic finger food?
I’m partial to a nibble of breast and thigh.