I took some time to speak with a young writer who goes by the name Dane Cobain. We talked the struggles of freelancing, new cats and late celebrities. Who doesn’t like a peek into the life of a writer?
Sam Howell: Hi Dane. I understand from reading some of your recent posts that you’ve been snowed under a little of late, and I presume this has a lot to do with the fact that you’ve made the (brave) decision to go freelance full-time. Is this freelance writing, or are you a jack of all trades? Tell me a little about your place in the writing world and why you’ve made the decision to delve into those daunting depths of questionable return.
Dane Cobain: Yeah, I’m going freelance – specifically as a freelance writer, although I also have six years of social media/digital marketing experience. But I don’t really enjoy doing that, so I leave that to other people and focus on creating content on their behalf. So I do a lot of blog posts, articles, whitepapers, e-books etc.
I guess I started doing it because I felt unfulfilled at work, and also because it’s something that I enjoy doing more. The money is better too, although only if I’m at full capacity. At the moment, I’m making about two thirds of my current salary a month, but as that’s just in the evening, I’m pretty sure it’ll all be fine. Plus it actually costs me less money to be self-employed – I don’t need to spend money on busses etc, and I’ll also be drinking less because, y’know, job satisfaction.
SH: Coincidentally my current role in the 9-5 world is Digital Content Executive (in a marketing team). Marketing definitely opened my eyes to the power of good content. Freelance does seem to be the ultimate test of how much you’re willing to put in. I suppose your livelihood rests on your work ethic and determination. You mention e-books. Are these works of fiction, non-fiction, poetry? Shed some light on your writing particularly. Influences? Missions?
DC: Yeah – well, I think it’s the natural time for me to do it, too. I hit a bit of a rut in my day job and I’ve always wanted to pursue writing. This just gives me a way to legitimise it, I suppose. It certainly makes it easier to get work when you can point to a run of published books and positive reviews. One of my books is non-fiction about social media as well, which helps.
The e-books I’ve been doing for other people have been your typical marketing lead magnets. One was called The Ultimate Guide to Choosing a Managed Hosting Provider, for example. Still, it was a pretty badass little e-book if I do say so myself.
In terms of my own work, I write a bit of everything. I’ve written fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I guess Graham Greene influenced me a lot, and in terms of my fiction, I have a similar standpoint to him in that some of my fiction is for entertainment and some is to reflect the world as I see it. My poetry is all Charles Bukowski and Allen Ginsberg, except designed to be memorised and performed. And my non-fiction largely reflects my interests at the time that I wrote it.
By the way, I’ve never known anyone to do long-form interviews like this over email. I think that’s because it takes a huge amount of effort on your part, so kudos for that. But I think it’s pretty cool because it allows the conversation to evolve over time. You can reflect developments in the world around you as the conversation happens, like how bummed out I am that Chris Cornell died.
SH: Yes, sad to hear about Chris. Were you a big fan? Think it’ll inspire a poem?
And yes, I think this form of communication is more valuable. It gives one time to construct their thoughts and sentences. It’s less interview, more conversation.
Bukowski and Ginsberg are definitely two of my influences. I remember clearly the determination I felt for travelling the US straight after reading On the Road and Howl. They’ve been there somewhere in my work ever since, and I’m sure always will be.
So you write for the stage rather than for the page? Or is it a balance? I wrote a piece on this distinction. Where can people find you for a reading? Do you stick around town or do you venture out? Any festivals? Will you be attending the Cheltenham Literature Festival here in, you guessed it, Cheltenham (my neck of the woods)?
DC: I wouldn’t say I was a huge, huge fan, but I did love his voice. I particularly liked his covers of Billy Jean and Nothing Compares 2 U. I was listening to him the day before.
I might write a poem about it, but to be honest, so many people seem to be dying at the moment that I couldn’t keep up. I have a reference to when Lemmy died in a poem that’ll be in my next collection – but even in the poem, I make the point that it immediately dates the poem.
It’s a weird one, because I always just wrote what I wanted to read – then I started memorising them, because I think that gives them some more energy during a reading and helps you to connect with the audience. But I very rarely consciously write a piece ‘to be performed’. At the moment, I largely stick around High Wycombe, where I live. I run a monthly spoken word night here at my local pub, which is a lot of fun. I’ve performed in London and Birmingham as well, but that’s about it so far. I do want to do some festivals, though – it’s been on my list of things to do, but what with one thing and another, I haven’t got around to it yet.
SH: Lemmy was a great loss, but I suppose he largely did it to himself.
I think there’s definitely a balance to be borne in mind: writing for yourself, in the sense that you’re writing in a way which feels most natural and honest; and then writing for the reader/audience; constantly asking the question: how will this be received, interpreted? I think poetry can be difficult in the sense that what can appear in your mind so clearly and then put to paper apparently so coherently, can come across differently to the reader – maybe too differently. I’m reminded of one of my favourite quotes by one of my favourite poets:
“The mind in creation is as a fading coal, which some invisible influence, like an inconstant wind, awakens to transitory brightness; this power arises from within…could this influence be durable in its original purity and force, it is impossible to predict the greatness of the result; but when composition begins, inspiration is already on the decline; and the most glorious poetry that has been communicated to the world is probably a feeble shadow of the original conceptions of the poet.” – Shelley
DC: Yeah, that’s true – I suppose he was the first one to go on the current string of bad luck when it comes to celebrity deaths.
I think that’s true to some extent with poetry, but I also like the fact that by its very nature, it opens it up to the reader for interpretation. I do think that poetry (and fiction) can be over-interpreted though. My poetry usually uses relatively simple language, but it also contains a lot of wordplay and the odd in-joke – I think it’s easy to understand the language but you can dig deeper into it if you want to. And then there’s stuff like my poem “From the Mouth of a Cat”, which is pretty much relatable to anyone who’s ever owned or known a cat.
SH: I can definitely agree with that, that poetry by its nature should be open to interpretation. And I can also agree that some of it does seem hungrily ripped open for meaning.
So what does the average day look like for Dane Cobain? At home, cat on your lap, bashing away at another ebook or poem? You have the freedom now to write wherever you want, whenever you want. Where can you be found in these moments of productivity? Or do you keep moving?
DC: Well unfortunately I still have two weeks to go ahead of going freelance. So at the moment, it’s a case of the day job from 8:30 – 6:30 and then freelance work until gone midnight. Then I go to sleep, wake up and repeat it. It’s literally at the point at the moment where I just about get chance to eat and shower, although my girlfriend is cooking all of the food. However, I am basically making two salaries at the moment, so that’s good.
As of when I go freelance, it’ll change slightly so that I work from 8:30 – 6:30 on freelance clients, working on whatever it is that they want me to work on. Then in the evenings I can go back to my usual writing routine – and yes, the cat helps me 🙂 I’ve only had him for just under a month but he’s definitely settled in. The next major project in my own time is to finish up the current round of edits on my detective novel and to get that back over to Pam Harris, my editor. I’m hoping to get that out by the end of the year. I also have an anthology of new writing coming out on June 10th featuring submissions by eighteen different authors.It’s taken almost a year to get that finished due to one thing and another.
SH: Detective novel, eh? Share a few words on what readers can expect…
DC: It’s supposed to be a sort of modern day take on the cosy mystery – a bit like Miss Marple, if Miss Marple was a twenty-something who was addicted to the internet and Call of Duty. It features a self-driving car and plenty of character, but my editor is trying to insist on me making it a little more ‘mainstream’ for fear that most people won’t ‘get’ it – because she didn’t. So at the moment it’s all up in the air at the moment as I don’t have any time to work on it or to redevelop it. But the first draft is complete for two books in the series.
SH: Sounds interesting!
Fancy some quick-fire questions?
Coffee or tea? Black or white?
DC: White coffee with two sweeteners, please.
SH: Favourite meal?
DC: Probably pizza – as long as it’s vegetarian.
SH: What’s the first thing you do in the morning?
DC: The same as most people – I check my phone. Then I get out of bed and see how my cat’s doing.
SH: What’s the last thing you do before bed?
DC: I feed the cat and inevitably wake my girlfriend up when I try to sneak in.
SH: If you could change one thing about your writing career to date, what would it be?
DC: Tough question! I think I would have started working with an editor far earlier than I did.
SH: If you wanted to and could live in any foreign country, which would it be, and why?
DC: I love Amsterdam in the Netherlands and would probably settle there, if I could. Although I’ve always fancied America.
SH: You’re stranded on a small island. What 5 items would you want?
DC: A radio, phone or some sort of communication device to get me off there, a notebook, a supply of pens and enough food and water to tide me over until they collected me.
SH: Where do you see yourself in 20 years?
DC: Hopefully not dead. If I last that long, I’ll probably either be a successful writer or I’ll be running some sort of indie publishing house.
SH: Who’s your favourite writer, dead or alive?
DC: Probably Charles Bukowski or Terry Pratchett – for different reasons.
SH: What book has been the greatest influence or inspiration recently or in the past?
DC: Hmm. Tough one. I guess the most influential book that I’ve ever read was Northern Lights by Philip Pullman. I always credit that as the book that got me seriously into reading and writing.
SH: How would you describe yourself in 5 words?
DC: Kind of weird; likes books.
SH: Finally, do you have any parting words for new writers?
DC: Just stick at it – it takes time. I always see it as like trying to become a professional musician. Very few people make it to the top, and most others – even the ones who are successful – tend to just struggle by. Money and art are always difficult to reconcile with each other.
SH: Thanks, Dane.
Follow Dane Cobain on Twitter @danecobain