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Things I Have Learned

Stephen Jones Of Baby Bird And Death Of The Neighbourhood On Writing
John Doran , December 17th, 2008 09:48

Stephen Jones is back making skewed lo-fi pop with twisted lyrical barbs as Death of the Neighbourhood but he's telling us about his other job as a novelist and short story writer

I first started writing when I was sixteen

When I was sixteen I used to write poetry like every boy does. Well, not every boy . . . I used to write poems and combine them with photo montage from magazines. I used to get pictures and cut them out and cut them up and illustrate the poetry. They weren’t strictly poems, they were more like little short stories.

My first attempts at writing weren’t good but they were important

What I wrote when I was 16 probably wouldn’t bear much scrutiny now but it did get me on a creative writing course. The course was awful, but I couldn’t get onto a fine arts course. I had all these books of these short stories that were written out like poems and that got me in. I didn’t need to sit any exams or anything. There were exams and auditions and stuff and I didn’t need to do that, I just sent what I’d written in three weeks before the course started and got a place.

That writing probably constituted a two finger salute to my parents

I suppose I was in a world of solipsism and angst. There was a lot of war imagery. It was a silent Vs up to my mum and dad!

I can’t tell stories

If I’m in the pub I listen rather than speak. I can’t really tell stories and the same goes for jokes. I’ve never been able to tell a story and get to the end. I don’t think I’m a confidant sort of person when it comes to that sort of thing. That is probably why with music I found it easier to do on my own and I’ve got no one looking over my shoulder.

Only have the roughest of ideas of what will happen when I write

I have a very rough idea of the plot but I don’t know what the ending will be. With the two books that I’ve written it was literally a case of the publisher coming up the steps because I have such a short time to finish them off. I didn’t have the time to plot it properly and had to let it run with the ideas that I had. If I do another one I’ve got a lot more time so there’s no end date of when it has to be published. So I’ll just write it and see what happens.

It’s harder to write a song than a book

With a song you have to do it on one page of A4 so it is a matter of condensing what you are trying to say. You can go into much more detail with writing. Apart from in pop music which is very much ‘I love you, you love me’, songs tend to be much more difficult if you’re trying to tell a story or do something different and having it so it can be interpreted in two or three different ways.

My first book was a long time coming

I’d had ideas for absolutely ages and ages with The Bad Book, probably since I was 16. Most of the stuff I wrote was awful but I was always jotting stuff down, so really since I was 16 I guess. I had lots and lots of ideas and it was a case of matching the ones that went together. The second one Harry And Ida Swap Teeth was more of a rush.

Writing a novel is not an easy thing to do

I suppose it’s a misconception about writing that it’s an easy thing to do. I mean, it is easy in some ways. The actual writing of it is easier than you think. It’s the constant rewrites that are hard. With The Bad Book I was living with my parents in the middle of nowhere in Pembrokeshire living in my parents’ attic in a really dimly lit room. I realised that at the end of the first week I’d just written 70 pages about this failed suicide club where people used to meet afterwards when they were trying not to reoffend, as it were. So I looked at that and I just thought ‘Shit, this is so dark.’ So you have to go through that and learn to cut it to pieces and try and make it lighter.

I’m not dark or cynical for the sake of it

I don’t know if I’m cynical or just realistic. Pop music isn’t realistic is it? Most music in the mainstream is about making it shiny and happy. I’m trying to work things through in my songs. I think cynicism sometimes is a bad thing so I just try and show another side of life and try and make it realistic. Life isn’t all shiny and polished.

I don’t know what a metaphor is

I failed my English at school six times. I just write, I don’t care what the terminology is and I would rather be untrained as I am in music.

Death Of The Neighbourhood's self-titled album is out now on Attic