Recently, I posted a Call to Writers, asking my fellow author bloggers to allow me to interview them for guest-spots on my blog. (If you are interested in participating, please contact me.) However, today’s interviewee didn’t contact me. He did as he does and sat quietly on the sidelines until I approached him. Over the last few months, I think I’ve gotten to know Mike Steeden, or “Sir Mike” as I call him, pretty well, and he has one of the most beautiful souls I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. He comes across as humble, but is he is so intelligent, and his brilliance definitely shows in his work. He writes side-splitting satire and humor as well as deep and beautiful poetry among other things. (By the way, I’ve also had the occasion to speak to his wife, Shirley, who is pretty amazing as well! As you can imagine, she has a terrific sense of humor, and she’s quite witty too. The two of them definitely fit well together!)
While this interview is long, please take the time to read the whole thing. I think you’ll absolutely be glad you did. He is definitely one funny guy! After you read his interview, please be sure to hop on over to both of his blogs and follow him for a regular dose of his charm, wit, and satirical humor. And now, I turn the microphone over to Mike…
1. Please tell us your name (or pen name) and a little bit about yourself:
For better or worse I go by the name of Mike Steeden. I am an old fool. Born in England I call myself a European – much to the annoyance of the many little Englanders who frequent these Isles.
I have had five lives. The first as a bland ‘only child’ ‘human shadow’ who largely speaking went entirely unnoticed in the world. In the fullness of time I became a hash smoking, mescaline swallowing, failed student who has long since forgotten the name of the subject he was meant to have been studying. Following this I worked in the finance industry where I developed consummate method acting skills pretending I actually cared. It seems I did rather well in that regard as I carved out a reasonable career. Eventually tiring of that industry I was instrumental in the founding of, and became a partner in a Private Investigation business specializing in discovering the whereabouts of fraudsters who had gone on the missing list! Finally, and still, in relative terms quite young we sold up the business as working a seven day week was both killing me and boring me senseless. It is at that point I decided to be the real me and ditch once and for all the noble art of role play in order to suit the demands of those about me. In short I released from imprisonment my real self and allowed the lunatic I always was to take over. Bliss! I have no shame is declaring that I am stark, raving bonkers in a self-deprecating (rather than serial killing violent) way!
Prone to the occasional bout of depression (a thing I quite enjoy in a perverse way) I am lucky my Shirley puts up with me. Still we laugh a lot and the nearly three decades we have been together has felt more like an exciting illicit affair than a marriage – I should add here that I am only hazarding a guess as to whether or not such love affairs are actually exciting.
I am a devout non-confrontational atheist and a libertarian to boot. The net result is that I believe in ‘live and let live.’ A long-time political ‘lefty’ I hold the view that the State should control the basics i.e. energy, transport, water supply, health services etc. on a non-profit making or even state subsidized form. After that I am more than happy to see responsible capitalists run the rest.
I adore the company of women – in a good way I stress – and would have no problems with it if gals ruled the world. Indeed I would advocate it as well as total equality in the workplace. All women are ‘young ladies’ to me and I believe in manners even when the lady on a crowded train I offer my seat to looks me up and down and tells me to ‘fuck off’ as happened not that long ago. Nothing will deter me in that regard.
I follow The Arsenal football team and am in raptures of ecstasy when they win and die a thousand deaths when they lose. Pathetic really yet better to direct the testosterone charged bit of me in that direction (well there is one other area where that testosterone charged bit comes in handy in a power cut yet I’m far too polite to mention it) rather than kill.
Oh yes, nearly forgot – I take all things literally. I rarely understand a joke unless it is first explained to me in some depth. The ‘two nuns in the bath’ joke comes to mind as it was 27 whole years, whilst stuck in a traffic jam, the meaning of said joke unravelled in my mind. Pathetic really yet that is the way I am made.
2. Please provide the link to your blog(s).
3. What do you normally write?
Lately I am hooked on blogging. It is the perfect vehicle for knocking out short, almost comic book skits that combine satire and storytelling that can be written, done and dusted, posted and pretty much forgotten about all in the space of an hour or so from start to finish.
I adore getting into the mind-set of the characters I invent and becoming that person as I put together the narrative for any post. For each episode regarding a specific character I write to a set template in order that any readers – again just like a comic – know what to expect as soon as the title comes up. I believe that is that ‘expectancy’ that has made characters such as JONNY CATAPAULT THE PLUMBER THE ARTISTS ALL TRUST; JESSICA DOWNLOW THE SUICIDAL TREE HUGGING POET; JUNIPER SPIRITSUP THE ANNOYINGLY OPTIMISTIC SCHOOL MISTRESS & POET and many more popular on my blog.
Nearly forgot, my long-time favourite and seemingly one the punters all like namely CARRUTHERS & CHUM are a couple of complete idiots who work for the Foreign Office in London and have developed the habit of misinterpreting all that they overhear or are told. I must have written forty or so episodes of this pair and as one blogger commented just the other day that even though they know how the ending will pan out they still cannot resist the read. Praise indeed, for ending with a well-worn ‘catch phrase’ has long since been the bookend of choice for comedy writers the world over.
Most of what I write is in ribald narrative with a good measure of double-entendre. My female characters suffer terribly at the hands of the idiot males either through sexual frustration, unfair criticism or they just get ignored. However, and again with my template in mind, I always make sure they come out on top – so to speak – at the end of the day. It would probably assist to provide a few links to stereotypical posts that reveal most of what I mention here;
Additionally, and along with Clive Danton and Gary Hoadley, I am one of The League of Mental Men and contribute posts to this blog regularly. Both Clive and Gary are men of instant, witty riposte and on the occasions they find themselves together on the same Facebook thread is perhaps the only time Facebook inspires and amuses. Woe betide the ‘thread hecklers’ when this pair are on the loose! I am sure Gary will not mind me saying that Clive aka Danny Soz (http://sozsatire.wordpress.com/) is the very finest topical news satirist. Blessed with the intellect to be able to fashion the English language any which way he wants, he takes no prisoners, is happy to take on the most controversial of subjects and does not fear the reactions of those who ‘don’t get it’. He gives his critics more than they could ever have bargained for should they choose to take up metaphorical ‘wordy’ fisticuffs. I should add here that he is also a decent man of high moral principles. Following, insofar as I am able, Clive’s approach to satire certainly has emboldened me in terms of pushing the possibilities of any chosen subject matter to the n’th degree – as opposed to prodding it tentatively with a broken twig as was my want previously.
In terms of pushing satire to limits I not thought capable of previously I cannot leave this section of the interview without a mention of young Lennard VanRee (http://www.satnat.net/). Lennard will grab hold of his generally contentious subject matter; explore the arguments for and against any given view then ‘shred’ them with panache
The skit thing aside I also write humorous (subjectively that is) verse. As with the skits I cannot resist making them a little on the naughty side. Occasionally I will write a few verses as if I am trying to write something serious and throw in a ridiculous conclusion. They really are tremendous fun to write. Here is one from when I started blogging and had just the one follower and his feline pet. Maybe I should do that reblog thing to this one sometime.
I dabble in poetry yet am fully aware of my shortcomings in this regard – just read the exceptional dexterity of the wordsmith Paul Lenzi (http://poesypluspolemics.com/) and you will get my drift. The most satisfying thing about poetry is that I can let the mind wander picking out events, observations or recollection as my theme. I also write poems about that old poetical nugget ‘love.’ My preference is to write of love’s positives in these poems preferring to leave ‘lost love’ to the domain of the youngsters who I think suffer a little more angst when an affair goes pear-shaped. In every instance of so called love poetry Shirley is my muse – wouldn’t have it any other way. We fight like Mediterranean cat and dog yet have a passion for each other that knows no bounds.
4. How old were you when you started writing? When did you know you wanted to be an author?
Having been on the cusp of illiterate for my first decade of life I recall the day when at 13 years old a school teacher belted me about the cranium for spelling ‘what’ as ‘wot’ – he went spare as it happens and I feared for my very being at the time. It was thus that abject fear pushed me toward learning to read and write.
Whatever, I spent my entire working life writing reports and business letters yet, aside from the odd poem of distress from my late teens, had never written for pleasure until 2008 at the grand old age of 104 years if I’m not mistaken. And it was this report writing that was to prove my downfall when in said year of 2008 having sold our business I thought ‘I need a hobby and I think I will knock out a swift book.’ I decided to write about the thing I knew best namely ‘me.’ I had had an unusual upbringing with a mother who possessed some truly amazing germ phobias and also quite literally sought through a process of overwhelming protection to ensure that I became a cushioned immortal. What with that and my latter day drug indulgence plus general failures and escapades of life I thought a self-deprecating autobiography a certain winner! It even had a title ‘The Almost Obedient Only Child.’ Three years plus a few months later the book now close to 400,000 words was arguably finished. Even proof read and ready to go! ‘Bingo the world is my oyster’ thought I. It was then that I had that all important final read and it dawned upon me that the first third of the book whilst amusing in parts was written in the formal style of a business letter and the rest of the book, chapter by chapter imitated the writing style of the author of whatever novel I was reading at the time I was writing.
I concluded the whole thing needed culling and rewriting which is when I said to myself, ‘Fuck this for a game of soldiers’ and gave up.
It gets even worse for I also wrote a book of ‘silly’ verse for children and ageing juveniles everywhere. My lovely daughter Ellie was commissioned and did indeed produce all the artwork yet when push came to shove I aborted the mission. My only excuse was laziness. When it comes to the marketing bit I simply could not be bothered. Shame really as, if I say so myself, there was some really brilliantly stupid stuff in it that Shirley test drove with legions of kids and had them all in fits. See example verse of one I rather liked below;
It could be said of me that in many respects I am a waste of space yet a good bloke at heart. ‘Could try harder’ was the kindest thing my school reports ever said of me. ‘Moron’ perhaps the most cruel one – especially when you are merely 7 years old.
5. What would you say motivates you to keep writing?
People like you Rachel. Especially you young Rachel! (Rachel here – Aww! See why I love this guy?)
6. Who are some of your favorite authors? What are you currently reading (or what is the last book you read)?
There are a shed load of authors that fall into my favourite category – far too many to list here. For what it is worth should I ever end up a condemned man in a cell awaiting execution at dawn and be offered just one book to read to help me through the night it would be The Glass Room by Simon Mawer. It is set in Europe just as WW2 is kicking off – I shall say no more for fear of ruining it for any potential reader.
My fascination with and desire to have lived in the period between the two World Wars shapes much of my humorous verse. Even living in that time frame with the knowledge that the evil of Hitler was just around the corner would not stop me wanting to spend my days in a café in Montparnasse sipping a coffee or a cold beer chatting to a load of clever bastards, thinking and watching the pretty girls go by.
7. What is your preferred reading method? (i.e., Kindle, Nook, paperback, hardback, etc.) Why?
Proper books, always proper books. That said I recommend eyes open and remembering to turn the pages right to left.
8. Do you write in first or third person, past or present tense, and why?
I do not restrict myself at all when writing. I can be the doer or the watcher; a reflection or the reflected. I think the old libertarian in me determines that to a writer – indeed to anyone, anywhere whatsoever they may be doing – restrictions murder art; ruin life.
9. Do you “always read” or do you take breaks between reading books?
Since I started blogging in October last I have barely read a single book – and there was me a two book a week man. I must admit this irks me something chronic. The problem with a blogging addiction is that it can be all consuming. There are twenty or so blogs I enjoy to the extent I actively seek out and read them and this takes up a lot of time. What started out as good manners with me simply taking cursory glances at any blogger who may have shown an interest in what I had written has now turned the whole circle and I confess to being disappointed when a favourite blogger has not blogged for a few days.
10. How many books would you say you read in a year? How many at any one time?
Pre blogging 100-150 books a year; post blogging zilch!‘ In answer to the second part of your question, ‘Just like my women; just one at a time’– do you know I’ve always wanted to say that although it only works if spoken aloud in the manner of Barry White (what with him having the deep, husky dulcet tones that could melt knicker elastic at a hundred paces).
ABOUT YOUR CURRENT WORK::
11. What is the title of your current work in progress?
‘Lonsdale Belt – The Man with the Square Shaped Ring’! This is proving particularly challenging I might add as I have not yet formulated a template to write to yet do have a catch phrase for him, it being , ‘God it’s painful when I walk.’ Lonsdale may yet prove to have legs – the jury is out presently.
12. What is your writing genre? Would you say there is a sub-genre? What makes yours different than others in the same genre?
A difficult question this is. I basically write lunacy to a pre-determined template. Is that a genre? I think probably not? Many others do the same and the only difference twixt me and them is that it is my own brand of lunacy I put into words. An inadequate answer but the best I can come up with.
13. What inspired the current or most recent story you’ve completed?
You again Rachel when you wanted me to mix and match characters from other stories I have written into a Carruthers & Chum skit. Cannot think what I would do without your much valued inspiration. Honest. (Rachel here again… This is true… I LOVE when he mixes and matches characters!)
14. What is your target audience’s age, gender, etc.?
The ladies – always the ladies! Any age I’m not fussy.
15. Do you have a favorite story or character that you’ve written?
If I had to choose one skit that made me laugh a bit more than usual as I wrote it, it would have to be ‘Marilyn Munroe – the Theft of her False Teeth.’
As to a favourite character there is of course ‘Carruthers’ yet one that has appeared on both The League of Mental Men and my own blog ‘Lenny Noggins – Lunatic Illegal Immigrant’ has a special place in my catalogue of drivel. He is delightfully harmless and a complete twat.
ABOUT HOW YOU WRITE::
16. How often do you write?
Shamefully every single day – even when on holiday! Addiction is a sorry thing to live with.
17. Approximately how many words do you write at each sitting?
As many as I can spell in one sitting! I was not a very good English student having studied originally at a school for thugs and vagabonds. The written word had little purpose there. On a roll I can write forever.
18. Do you have a muse? If so, please elaborate. If not, what inspires you?
I do not really have a muse, save for Shirley when I am writing poetry. I do ‘muse’ though. When I am stuck for new material I sit back and have a jolly good think letting the first thing that enters my head arrive without restrictions. For example, in deciding how best to answer this question two things popped into the old noggin quite randomly. First the tiny jet black bat tattoo Shirl has on her bum from years back. Then I recalled how, when heavily pregnant with George it did for that short period begin to look more like a grey albatross. I remember mentioning this to her and for a reason I could never fathom she thumped me on the upper arm calling me a bastard no less! I had a purple bruise for days thereafter. Good fortune smiled though as it returned to its former jet black glory after the child was born. As I was thinking this the idea of playing a Joni Mitchell CD became overwhelming (I muse over Joni often) and thus it was I answered this question!
19. How do you come up with your material?
I simply wait for the outline of a story to arrive then set to work. This can be a hit and miss approach yet I get there in the end. There are many characters I make up and do not make the grade though. Only yesterday the thought struck me that ‘Alison the Radicalized Wasp’ might have legs. Sadly she did not.
20. Do you have any “must haves” to help you write? (i.e., a full cup of coffee, a view of the ocean, etc.)
A functional brain, eyes and non-arthritic hands – oh yes a keyboard and a computer thing as well.
21. Do you only write during a certain time of day or in a certain location? If so, do you make yourself stop after a certain time?
I write in my little study during daylight hours although many of the ideas for what to write of are conceived over a glass of wine in the evening then a brief skeleton is hastily scrawled onto whatever form of paper is nearby – even loo roll although I say never, never ever attempt to write on toilet paper if the only pen available to you is a felt tip.
22. Does your real life ever neglected because of your writing? If so, how do you feel about that?
Throughout my life whenever I have an idea buzzing around in my head I can think of nothing else and become obsessed with it. Everything else – paying bills; eating; taking in fluid is forgotten. I have to write it down before I lose the plot and the story disappears into the ether causing me say to myself, yet still audible to others ‘bollocks’ or worse. Having said that I enjoy my obsessions more than I let the missus know – what with her being one!
23. What is the quirkiest thing you do or have ever done when writing?
On a few occasions I have discovered when writing in the early morn – I am a long time insomniac – that I am doing so entirely naked. Comes as quite a shock to realize one has forgotten clothing entirely. It can also come as a disappointment to be discovered thus especially so in winter.
ABOUT YOUR WORK::
24. If you could be one of your own characters for a day, who would it be and why?
That would have to be Carruthers for there is so much of me in him. The fact that he takes things literally, gets confused and misses out on golden opportunities staring him in the face – like his maid Svetlana and her desire to bed him of late. She has made it oh so obvious that she is his for the taking and he just cannot see it. Reminds me of myself in younger days and he, in so many ways mirrors my life.
25. If one of your skits became a TV show, who would you choose for the “perfect cast” of characters?
Difficult in that I do watch TV but rarely take in the names of the actors. The odd bits of TV I’ve watched from the Indian sub-continent amuse me in that they are so bad they are good and to have a skit made by a bunch of Indian actors, Bollywood style would be a hoot.
26. What is the oddest thing you have ever researched for one of your stories?
Tree huggers! When writing a ‘Jessica Downlow – The Suicidal Tree Hugging Poet’ I desperately needed a not too naughty picture of a naked tree hugger (for artistic reasons you understand). The thing was once I put the key words into Google a good level of hard core porn came up just as Shirley was bringing me tea and crumpet. She took one look at the screen and called me a pervert no less! How I suffer for my art.
Not even tree hugging is sacred when it comes to the porn industry – most odd.
27. What is the most difficult thing you have ever researched for one your stories and why?
Me! Research! As young Charlie Fink of the British band Noah & the Whale wrote in one of his lyrics, ‘To a writer the truth is no big deal.’ I’ll run with that.
Thank you, Mike, for allowing me to interview you. I hope everyone else has enjoyed learning about you and all your projects and grows to love them as much as I do.