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The Ram Boutique: Author Interview – Ryan Licata

We have had so much pleasure in featuring Ryan as our Highlighted Author this month for his creative piece Mislaid.

We hope you enjoy the insight into Ryan in the following interview, enjoy!

Ryan Licata

Who are you as a person: where are you from, what do you do, what are you doing?

I was born in Benoni, a city east of Johannesburg. After high school I dallied for a while before moving to Cape Town to study literature, philosophy and finally creative writing. After university, I travelled, living and working in London and later Dublin. In 2003, I moved to Italy, where, living on my own in the small mountain village of Bosentino, I found that the monk’s life suited me, and allowed me, more than ever, the time and space to read and write. In a place where mostly Italian dialect is spoken, I began to learn the language and even wrote a few children’s stories. Almost ten years later, I had a Zen moment: Why write stories if there is nobody to read them? I began to search for other writers with whom I could share my work, and that’s when I came across the Gotham Writing School of New York and later the MFA programme, which I chose to do at Kingston University, London. I learnt so much technically from the writers’ workshop experience and also made invaluable contacts with some great writers. I have since returned to Italy to take up my monk’s attire, and to complete the novel that I started in London. To keep that scrawny old wolf from my door, I teach English at a high school, where the students specialize in music and dance. The atmosphere is very creative and there is no shortage of characters.

Your background as a writer?

The desire to be a writer hit in high school when a close friend, known then as Von Baron (because of his noble Polish heritage), slipped novels under my desk during the dead hours. Up until then my reading had consisted mostly of Dahl’s books for children, an illustrated version of Kipling’s ‘The Jungle Book’ and some Asimov novels, which my dad, a science fiction fan, professed vital. But the Baron’s selection fixed me with highs induced by tales of sex, drugs and lunacy, and they all shared one glorious ingredient: The heroes were writers – Irving’s ‘The World According to Garp‘, Bukowski’s ‘Post Office’ (borrowed permanently from the Benoni City Library), Kerouac’s ‘On the Road’ and later Fante’s ‘Ask the Dust’. The lives of these writers and their alto ego creations like Sal Paradise and Henry Chinaski and Arturo Bandini to an impressionable teenager were dry wood, oxygen and a barrel of gasoline to a newly ignited fire. Like them, I wanted to write and I have been burning with it ever since. In university, inspired by the works of Hermann Hesse, I wrote a few modern fairy tales, albeit in a mode of exuberance. To any reader, I lacked restraint. It was the late South African poet, Stephen Watson, who introduced me to the stories of Raymond Carver. Carver became a small god to me and his economic, gut twisting prose had a telling influence on my work. These days, I’m happiest when writing short stories. I enjoy the challenge of creating character driven pieces in which emotion is contained in every ‘right word’, every turn of phrase, in the understated – the unwritten.

Where did the idea for this piece come from/how do you get inspired to write?

One of the first Dostoevsky novels I read was the Constance Garnett translation of ‘The Idiot’. I was fascinated by the character of Prince Myshkin, and have since been interested in the representation of misunderstood/underestimated individuals – the saints, the fools, the outsiders. The story began as an experiment, told from two points of view. ‘Mislaid’ is a modern love story, inspired by the good natured Prince Myshkin and the wicked Nastasya Filippovna – one of classic literature’s most ill-suited couples.

Many of my stories are inspired from things overheard: snatched conversations, strangers’ anecdotes, snippets, secrets, outbursts, dangling questions.

Your ideal time and place to write?

I am wired to write in the morning. My brain is more alert, quicker to react to an idea, but also quick to chase tangents, so I tend to go with it and often find myself working on different projects, as long as I am writing. In the evening I am more reflective and so I find this a good time to rewrite. I like working toward deadlines; interesting, unpredictable things occur under pressure. As for place, I wasted a lot of time making excuses for not writing, because I didn’t have the right place: the ideal writing den, a cabin in the woods, an empty, windowless room with nothing but a desk and a typewriter – my very own ‘bare, clean place’. Fortunately, I realized that the ideal writing place for me could be anywhere; it is enough that I am alone, without disturbances. For the moment, this place is home.

Why do you write?

Great writers and orators will tell you that language is an imperfect tool with which we strive to create perfect worlds. So when I succeed in recreating a particular moment, when I am able render an experience and the emotion therein with words, then I’m truly happy. And the real magic comes when I live, at my writing desk, a life that is not my own. I write for the same reasons I read: to live multiple lives, to feel multiple emotions. I have always been a menace: listening to people’s conversations in the street, in bars, in the queue at the supermarket; on the bus home, riding through the city, I look into both the dark and brightly lit windows of other people’s lives. I write to give shape to the lives that I collect. Other people’s problems and joys are being bared all over the place, and if you listen carefully a whole story exists there, with a full repertoire of emotions. Over time these glimpses, these scenes and emotions build up and evolve into stories, and when I find them wanting out then I sit down to write: I rearrange, structure, cut, and, in their new clothes, I let them go.

Thank you Kristin and the River Ram Press team for this occasion to share my work with a brand new world of readers. We are all looking forward to the first edition of The Ram Boutique, and to the future of a great literary journal.    

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