In Conversation with author Russ Litten

Russ Litten is the author of Scream If You Want To Go Faster from 2011, famously about the Hull Fair and published to critical acclaim.

Scream was followed in 2013 by Swear Down ("This is not a crime novel, this is real life”) and Kingdom in 2015, a magical realist novel set in prison. He also released a collection of short stories in 2017 (We Know What We Are) and a poetry collection in 2020 (I Can See the Lights). Russ has also written for TV, film, radio, the stage and various newspapers and magazines. He spent five years as a Writer in Residence at HMP Humber and continues to run individual workshops and seminars at numerous prisons and youth offender institutes across the UK on behalf of English PEN.

Dr Jo Metcalf, co-director of the Cultures of Incarceration Centre, caught up with Russ following his guest talk to students on the MA in Incarceration Studies.

Russ Litten

What most excites you about your current project?

I’m writing a novel based upon my experiences running creative writing workshops in prison. It’s the first book that I’ve plotted out before writing, so that’s an interesting new experience for me.


What book (or author) has inspired you most during your career?

The book that influenced my writing ethos more than any other was Satori In Paris by Jack Kerouac, particularly the passage “… the tale written for companionship, which is my favourite definition of literature …” I’m paraphrasing from memory here, but essentially this has become something I return to again and again. As far as authors go, the writers that have influenced me more than any other are James Kelman and Raymond Carver, the former for his insistence on writing in natural tongues and the latter for his ability to provoke deep-seated emotions with very few words.


Who do you think are the most important new voices in creative writing and / or cultural criticism and scholarship?

I have no idea about who or what is important with regards to cultural criticism or scholarship. I don’t know how you would even begin to qualify such a judgement. The contemporary writers I like at the moment are Jenni Fagan, Niall Griffiths, Ronan Hessian, Kevin Barry, Richard Milward, Willy Vlautin and Keith Ridgway. There are many, many more. I’ve noticed that I tend to prefer American or Celtic writers, for some reason.


What’s your one piece of advice for students and aspiring writers / academics?

Write about what excites you and moves you deeply, not what you think is contemporary or will attract a large audience. Write for yourself and your own particular passions.


What’s your next big project, and what is the impetus behind it?

I have several different projects on the go at any one time. Apart from the novel, I am working on a friend’s autobiography which will be presented as a long form interview via a series of audio clips. I am also putting together another short story collection, as well as writing and playing music, both with my band Oceaneers and a solo spoken word / electronica project dubbed Deckie Learner.

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