MMU Creative Writing graduate and author, Russell Smith, paid a visit to his alma mater and met with Humanity Hallows to discuss his debut novel, Oblivion Storm, as well as his time at University.
Words by Jason Cooke
Today I have the pleasure of meeting local author and MMU Creative Writing graduate, Russell Smith. Russell paid Humanity Hallows a visit to discuss his time at university and his debut novel, Oblivion Storm.
I find Russell engrossed in a book at the new Manchester Metropolitan University Business School. We grab a coffee and make acquaintance.
Russell studied his BA English and his MA in Creative Writing here at MMU. During his BA, Russell took a sabbatical year to work for then student magazine, PULP. He has since worked in the vehicle rental trade and drifted between jobs whilst working on Oblivion Storm. Russell is a busy man, currently writing a scenario for aid worker training as well as the sequel to his debut novel.
I ask him about Oblivion Storm. “It’s kind of a ghost story, it’s kind of not”, says Russell. “It kind of deals with the un-dead.” Russell cooked up the origins for this novel after he graduated from MMU. There are two main protagonists, Rose and Jennifer. Rose awakens to find herself in hospital with no memory other than one; how she got there. Rose was viciously attacked at Bond Street station, before being flung under a train. If that wasn’t worrying enough, her assailant locates her at the hospital and Rose’s world is turned to chaos.
Jennifer, as Russell describes her, is ‘kick ass’. She befriends Rose when the two realise they have extraordinary capabilities. Their first task is to escape Rose’s attacker, before being paid a visit by the spirit of Lady Iris Grenshall and becoming familiar with the intelligent, but dangerously curious, Dr. Kara Mellencourt.
When I ask what his inspiration for this story was, Russell replies, “I was fascinated by the chap they called the Piano Man, who was found dripping wet and wandering the Isle of Sheppey, Kent. He was mostly mute and the only thing they discovered was that he could play damn good piano!” It later turned out that the Piano Man was in fact a German national and was helped back to Bavaria by the authorities. Just how he wound up on the Isle of Sheppey remains a mystery, although there are theories that he fell from a Norwegian vessel that was in the area around the time he was found.
I ask Russell where Kara’s character came from, “Dr. Kara Mellencourt was my link to Manchester. She’s had a privileged upbringing and becomes one of the exposition characters. Kara’s obsessed with the supernatural.” Russell goes on to describe Rose and Jennifer as, “the miracles that Kara has been searching for, given her obsession”, adding that Kara now “has gold to work with.” Russell tells me that Kara’s character develops and grows from her academic role in book two.
We move on to Russell’s time at MMU. He reminisces about the time he spent as editor of the late PULP magazine. “I was finishing up my final year and I was elected editor of PULP. When I came in it was the 25th anniversary and we decided to throw a party!” Russell says that Lemn Sissay was amongst the guests. “One of the editors was a friend of his and I wanted an interview for my first edition. He was more than happy to be interviewed for the anniversary issue!”
Russell tells me how he wound up on the MA Creative Writing course, “I was getting to the end of my time at PULP and I knew I was interested in having a book published, so I spoke to the then course leader, Michael Schmidt,” who convinced Russell to get on-board.
Russell talks about the group of friends he made, the majority of which he is still in touch with. He mentions the ‘solid bond’ that he had with them, helping him through his two years and explains that the course has become central to his life plans. “I absolutely loved the course”, Russell explains. “But, attending university isn’t just about gaining a degree; it’s about going through doors and making the most of your time whilst you’re there. Even when I graduated you had to have that extra bit of flair.”
I find myself engrossed in Russell’s wise words and reflect on my time at MMU. My daydream is comically interrupted when Russell states, “Everyone takes something away from University, even if it is how to cook mince properly!”
Wise words indeed, and very true.