Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Expat Author Interview with Dan Powell

Dan Powell
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Dan Powell has been publishing regularly, both online and in print journals, since 2009. His story “Half-mown Lawn” won the Yeovil Literary Prize for short fiction in 2010. He’s currently studying for an MA in creative writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. Dan—a homedad—lives in Germany.

IMBO: Dan, welcome to I Must Be Off! I know how I would describe your writing, but how would you?

Dan: I would describe my work as moving between realist and magical realist fiction, dealing with the themes of love, family, parental-child relationships, and the loss of those things.

IMBO: How has being an expat affected what, and the way, you write?

Dan: Though in Germany I live amongst a British community and as such have a limited experience of what it is to be an ex-pat. With Western culture being so homogenised it perhaps shouldn’t be surprising that moving within Europe has perhaps had less impact upon me than I thought it might. However, Germany is a very family-focused society and I feel this aspect of the culture has infiltrated my work. My wife and I are very focused on our children and a lot of my writing grows from my experiences as a parent. We’ve had some great family holidays here in Germany and more recently in Denmark, another country which seems to share the focus on community and family.

IMBO: Let’s say you’ve just boarded a transatlantic flight. As you make your way to your seat, adrenaline shoots through your chest. You’ve dreamt about this moment with this person for years. He/she is sitting in the seat next to yours. Who is it and, assuming you get the nerve up, what will you talk about—for nine hours?

Dan: There are quite a few authors I could see myself talking to for nine hours. I say talking, it would more likely be me grilling them about their work. John Irving would be one and I’d spend the whole time talking to him about The World According to Garp, the book I remember having the biggest impact on me in my late teens/early twenties. Alan Moore would probably be on a lot of people’s list, but to his relief I wouldn’t want to talk Watchmen with him. Instead I’d be interested in talking about his first novel A Voice From the Fire and his current work in progress Jerusalem. I just listened to a podcast interview with him today and he always sounds like such a top chap to talk to.

To be honest it would be too hard to choose from the list of writer’s whose brain I want to pick (Ali Smith, Amy Hempel, David Mitchell - the list goes one) so I would go with the one person I would really want to talk to more than anyone else, my Dad. He died ten years ago and since then I’ve gotten married, started a family and achieved some small success with my writing. I’d love to have nine hours to tell him all about the last ten years and pick his brains about the tricky job of being a father.

IMBO: Care to share some of your work with us?

Dan: Ultrasounds is a trio of stories that grew from my direct experience. The three ideas literally came to me as I was watching my daughter’s ultrasound scans over the course of my wife’s pregnancy. They came pretty much one on top of the other and I remember writing them one after the other in rapid succession. The ability to see your child before he or she is born is a modern miracle that we pretty much take for granted now. The magical elements of my three stories grew out of that, investing a sense of the magical back into what has become just another piece of technology we have grown complacent about.

I like stories that mess about with structure, and list stories are perhaps the simplest way of doing that. Things I No Longer Wish To Possess is my attempt to try and convey the lingering rawness and self-doubt that remains after a relationship breaks down. It’s one of the few pieces of my own that I re-read for pleasure. To me, it feels like it was written by someone else.

IMBO: How about a link to a story written by another expat?

Dan: I haven’t knowingly read work by many other expat writers, though I am sure to have read plenty unwittingly as part of my blog The Short and Long of It, which I use purely to post links to great short fiction I find across the web. Perhaps your readers could use the comments to direct me to some of their favourite online fiction by expat writers which I can read and link to.

IMBO: That’s a great idea, Dan. In fact, readers are always welcome to recommend writing by (other) expat writers. Hey, you’re just an EasyJet flight away from home presumably, but do you ever get homesick? Has your concept of home changed since you’ve been an expat?  

Dan: I get homesick a little, but for an idealised version of the UK. When we left the UK we were glad to be doing so, but now, five years later, we miss it in what I am sure is a rose tinted manner. Apart from family there is little I specifically miss, beyond being able to speak English everywhere. My German is pretty shocking for having been here five years now. I miss being able to get British goods easily. I miss being able to go into a bookshop and browse; though we do have a  pretty decent second hand English bookshop in the community and having a Kindle makes up for some of what I miss. Biggest thing I miss? English Fish and Chips from a proper English Chippy.

As for a concept of home, as a child my family moved around a lot, all across the UK, as did I in my twenties. I haven’t really got a strong sense of home as a result, though my wife and I plan to find somewhere to settle for the longterm in the near future. We have no idea where that will be at present but check back in with me in five years and I might have the name of a place. We’d love to get a house on the coast in Denmark which isn’t totally outside the realm of possibility as dream homes go. As it stands though, home is wherever my wife and kids are.

IMBO: Thanks, Dan, for share your life with the readers of I Must Be Off! And just to let them know: Dan Powell's "The Leaving of What's Left" is at Metazen today. Stop by and read his work. 

I must be off,

Dan Powell’s work has appeared in the pages of Spilling Ink Review, Staccato, Litsnack, Neon, Metazen, The View From Here and Dirty Bristow. He has had stories included in the charity anthologies 100 Stories for Haiti and 50 Stories for Pakistan and his short story ‘Half-mown Lawn’ won the 2010 Yeovil Literary Prize for short fiction. Originally from the West Midlands in the U.K., Dan calls Gütersloh, Germany home these days. He blogs at

Christopher Allen writes fiction, creative non-fiction and of course this here blog. His work has appeared in numerous places both online and in print. Read more about him HERE.