Hearth interview: Krishan Coupland

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Krishan Coupland is a writer, editor and digital nomad. His debut collection of (very) short fiction, When You Lived Inside the Walls, was published by Stonewood Press in 2017. Other poems and stories have been published in Ambit, Aesthetica, Litro and elsewhere. In his spare time Krishan runs and edits Neon Literary Magazine

On Saturday, 4th November Krishan will speak about his work as part of our Hearth festival. Krishan uses technology to create non-linear narratives, weaving together digital media with physical. This practice is known as hyperfiction and Krishan’s talk explores the various forms of this genre, as well as its future possibilities. 

Before his event, we spoke to Krishan to find out more…  

At Hearth you’ll be talking about hyperfiction. For those who don’t know, can you expand a little on what this is?

Hyperfiction is fiction that isn’t arranged in a strictly linear fashion, but instead makes use of links to direct the reader through the text. Often the reader is invited to make choices as well. The most recognisable example would be the old-school Choose Your Own Adventure books, but there are plenty of others. Classic works like Ulysses, with its many links and references, could be considered hyperfiction – as could this goofy little marketing ploy by Old Spice on Instagram. 

As part of your talk you’ll be creating a lasting interactive hypertext piece based in Gladstone’s Library. Can you give us a hint as to how this might get started or what form it might take?

I’m looking forward to visiting the Library and getting a sense of it as a place. I’ve got some nebulous ideas in mind, but I always find that when I’m in a place new ideas often suggest themselves. So, to answer the actual question, I imagine it’ll get started with me walking around the library a lot. 

You are a very creative and busy person; you describe yourself as a ‘writer, artist, game designer and publisher’. How do these strands feed into and off one another?

I think I’m quite restless as a person. I like experimenting and I like learning new things – so creating stuff in a variety of different forms really helps. Sometimes it helps ideas develop as well. I’ll be working on a story which isn’t quite coming together… until I realise that it might actually be more comfortable as a game. I like having a variety of outlets and allowing the ideas I work with to find the one that’s right for them. 

Tell me a little about When You Lived Inside the Walls – where did it come from and where does it take the reader?

I met Martin Parker at the Poetry Book Fair in London several years ago, and we exchanged emails for quite a while about putting together a chapbook. It wasn’t something I’d done before, and so it took a while to come into focus, but I like how it turned out. The stories are all from the set of things I’ve written that I still like several years on, and they also all feel as though they belong in the same universe – so it’s a pleasure to have them together in the same volume. I hope it can maybe serve as a kind of introduction to the world my stories usually inhabit. 

What is the best line from it?

‘The night after the funeral he found her knelt in the shower, cold on full, earth and blood clinging to the tiles.’

It’s one of the only lines in any of the stories that I’ve edited less than a dozen times since first writing it. 

You are currently working on two more projects; a young adult novel about a boy who can turn himself inside out; and a game about what it is to be poor. These are diverse. How regimented are you about dividing up your time between projects?

Extremely regimented. I work by a system that’s similar to bullet journaling, but which evolved out of my own head over the course of a couple of years. Most of the time I work in blocks of about an hour at a time on different projects. It keeps me productive and interested to switch between different things, and I think it results in better work than if I let myself linger on a certain project. I’m militant about dividing up my time because I’m self-employed. If I wasn’t careful I’d spend all day reading and making increasingly elaborate sandwiches. 

You are also a ‘street typist’ for which you provide spontaneous short stories for people you meet on the street. This is fascinating – what’s the most memorable story you have written in this manner?

There are a couple that I remember just because they provoked strong reactions in people – but in each case I haven’t retained a copy of the story. There was one about a storm and one about a younger brother learning to fly. In both cases the story had a really visible impact on the reader. Writing can often be a solitary thing – you’re miles away from seeing that your work matters or has an impact on anyone. I remember those stories in particular because they showed me that things I write can actually reach people. 

But people don’t have to wait until they run into you on the street - they can get in touch with you with a topic, title, synopsis or starter words and you’ll pen them something unique. I’m interested – what are the strangest starters you’ve ever received?

There are some interesting touchstones that people return to on a regular basis when coming up with prompts. Donald Trump is one. A few years ago it was usually as a joke – people would request stories where his name was coupled with something absurd and comical. Now he’s often paired with bleaker things: death, destruction, war. Which, I suppose, makes sense at least. Oh, and people go for unicorns a lot too. Not sure what that’s about. 

Of all your varied portfolio, what is your favourite piece of work?

I wrote a very short story called Depths once, about a man who shrinks down to the size of a pin and falls into his lover. I still like it years later. It feels like one of the most ‘me’ things I’ve written. 

What are you hoping to find at Gladstone’s Library?

I spent many years in libraries when I was growing up. In Stoke-on-Trent the university library was open 24 hours a day. I remember hanging out there at dawn, waiting for an early train – or spending nights there working in the quietest corners I could find. There’s a particular feeling to being in a library at odd hours of the day – particularly when the library is a place that has its own history. It would be wonderful to recapture some of that feeling, and turn it into a piece of work. 

What are you hoping people will bring to your talk and what will they take away?

Whenever I talk to people about hyperfiction they always have an interesting take on it, or a unique idea for an approach that I hadn’t thought of before. So I’m hoping people will bring their unique perspectives and their ideas. As for what they might take away…I hope I can persuade people that hyperfiction is worth reading, and worth writing, and that it’s eminently possible to do so even if you’ve never touched a drop of code. 

Krishan’s talk at Hearth, Hyperfiction: Make a Part of History, takes place at 2.30pm on Saturday, 4th November. Tickets are priced at £14. To book tickets you can book online, call 01244 532350 or email enquiries@gladlib.org.