An Interview with Ryan Vance

Crackerjack

Ryan Vance

I need love like a microwave
to turn me inside out
as popcorn in slow-motion:
cracked kernel curves unfolding
for easy sustenance
entertainment
good health

I don’t care if I burn
some people like charcoal

but I want expansion
and yield
an application of heat
in close quarters
lest I, hard and shiny,
not yet tender and exploded
crack a smile

when at long last
with an open hand
curled at the tips
to stop my spill

we ping

and I’ll know I’m ready

still waiting for my salt
still waiting for my sweet
hot butter


This poem was first published in Issue 37, which can be read in our archive.

Ryan Vance is a writer, editor, designer and general literary busybody, with a penchant for speculative fiction and queer representation, based in Glasgow, Scotland. Occasionally dabbles with photography and gaming, and continually pines for the perfect dancefloor.


FGTS: Ryan you recently published a digital pamphlet of poetry and short fiction called Minor Mishaps and you are working on your first full collection, One Man’s Trash. Where does writing start for you? What moves you to write?

Ryan: For me, writing begins at the end – knowing that when you send something creative out into the world, you’re setting up a moment of connection. We all hold these vast private universes inside ourselves, and for the most part our star-maps align, and that’s great, it’s reassuring. But every so often we discover constellations completely unknown, and exploring those uncharted territories can be intimidating and lonely. If you come out the other side with a story to tell, there’s a chance someone listening might say, hey, actually, I’ve been there too – and then this anomaly you thought nobody would ever be able to explain becomes a shared resonance. Being able to create that instant of discovery is really special.

Which is a fancy long-winded way of saying: I crave validation!

You are also an editor, working on Gutter, We Were Always Here, and The Queen’s Head. All of these projects have been rooted in Glasgow, and Scotland more widely, is there anything you think characterises contemporary Scottish or Glaswegian writing?

This is a difficult question for me to answer, because even though Scotland is where I began taking writing seriously, and all my projects have grown from the Scottish writing community, and I’ve lived my entire adult life in Glasgow… I’m not Scottish. I’m Northern Irish. Even though I would accept Scottish nationality in a split second, I know I don’t share the deep cultural roots which would afford me the validity to say anything conclusive on what characterises Scottish writing, contemporary or otherwise. 

What this status does allow me, however, is a small degree of perspective on how open Scottish culture is to outsiders – and it’s a mixed bag. There’s this pervasive idea that Scotland aspires to be a progressive utopia, and compared to other parts of the UK it’s easy to assume that’s been achieved, but I don’t personally believe we’re even close to celebrating any degree of inclusivity. And as a cis, white, able-bodied, university-educated man, I know I only see the most surface-level effect of exclusion; cleverer people than I, from much more diverse backgrounds, will have more in-depth perspectives on the nuances of cultural exclusion in Scotland. And among communities who do experience discrimination, a conviction persists that change for the better isn’t just possible, but imminent, and worth fighting for. To quote Refuweegee, we’re all fae somewhere. That optimistic, unquenchable solidarity with the wider world feels uniquely Scottish. But the higher you climb through cultural institutions, the more often that openness butts heads with a more conservative idea of Scotland, the more gatekeepers you encounter. And Scotland’s a small country. There aren’t that many gates to keep. But there’s plenty of gatekeepers.

So if there’s one thing that feels particularly remarkable about contemporary Scottish writing, it’s a willingness to recognise the complexity of identity, but it’s a willingness often undercut by the structures that writing exists within, or in spite of. I will say this, though: I think we’re on the cusp of discovering how truly open the Scottish writing community is interested in becoming. There are so many Scottish writers, native or adopted, who previously found it difficult to be heard because of who they were, or where they came from, and personally, I can’t fucking wait for them to storm the gates and take over the castle. It’s long overdue.

What have you been reading recently, and what excites you in new writing these days?

Lately, if you want me to get excited about writing, it has to be done and over with quickly. I love a short, dense book. And I’ve surprised myself by getting very into Joseph Hansen. I’ve never been fond of crime as a genre; for my tastes, it’s too reliant on unflinching realism, brittle understandings of law, and copious dead girls. Which I realise is an unfair generalisation, and one which Hansen disproves with his Dave Brandstetter Mysteries. They follow the exploits of a wealthy, masculine, straight-passing, gay private detective, from the tail end of the 60s through to the beginning of the 90s, with a homophobic father and, eventually, a younger femme black boyfriend, investigating death claims in and around Los Angeles, with the express purpose of withholding money from the recently bereaved, because murder means his company’s insurance policy doesn’t have to pay out. Dave Brandstetter’s a character who can effortlessly navigate nearly every strata of society, during a time when civil rights are going through major upheaval, and he’s unerringly sympathetic to that upheaval, but in order to do his job, by default he has to be the most-hated person in any room. It’s a brilliant example of what crime does best: the interrogation of privilege, power, and the limits of each when faced with the demands of humanism.

Your writing is often involved with queerness and the speculative, how do these two things interact with each other?

How don’t they interact with each other! 

Speculative fiction is about allowing ideas to exist in their own right, whether or not they can be explained by commonly accepted wisdom or understanding, and exploring what happens when you accept those ideas on their own terms, letting them lead you where they want to go, not where you think they should, and trusting that those ideas are able to wholly comprehend themselves and their own internal systems of logic, and then embracing whatever consequences and discoveries that ensue with an open mind.

Queerness is exactly the same, only replace ‘ideas’ with ‘people’.

FGTS published your two poems ‘Show Offs’ and ‘Crackerjack’ in issue 37, do you remember what led into the making of these pieces?

Full disclosure? They’re not that deep. The idea behind ‘Show Offs’ is entirely on the page, which almost disqualifies it as poetry. For ‘Crackerjack’, I watched a super-slow-motion video of a popcorn kernel popping on YouTube and was mesmerised by the beautiful fluid motion of this transformation that, in real-time, is quite violent, and at the time it reflected what I thought love should feel like. For all my high-falutin’ ideas of what drives artists to create, and the multifaceted personal, social and political changes that can come from art, a lot of the art I actually enjoy making lacks finesse. Sometimes you just need to go cartwheel in the grass.

Finally, is there something from your time at the University of Glasgow that you hold onto and continues to inform your writing practice today?

Technical fluency in the Adobe Suite. I didn’t write much fiction during my university days, but I did hold an editorial position on the student newspaper for three years, and because we didn’t have a dedicated designer, every editor was responsible for the layout of their section. It’s a different way of approaching communication, of looking at the world, and of prioritising information. I don’t think even I’m aware of how thoroughly that experience informed my creative process, apart from perhaps being less precious about individual words and more focused on the overall impact of a piece. Years of trying to force florid copy into a finite amount of column space means my editing style can be quite blunt!


‘I think we’re on the cusp of discovering how truly open the Scottish writing community is interested in becoming.’ – Ryan Vance