Scott Manley Hadley is a literary blogger and poet. Renowned for his candid and tongue-in-cheek reviewing style he’s also a sauna aficionado and is currently travelling Europe to visit the continent’s most renowned sweating institutions. This interview was conducted in late June 2018, in a sauna in Barcelona where we met by chance.
Fernando Sdrigotti: You are one of the most important literary bloggers in the UK right now, according to me — and I don’t say it only because you reviewed my latest book quite positively. I’m saying it mainly because you read widely and generously and you fully commit to every review with the commitment of a car hitting a wall at 120mph. At what point in their life does someone say “I will be a literary blogger” and why?
Scott Manley Hadley: People often say “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”, but I prefer to say “when life gives you lemons, throw them fucking back at life and see what else you can get for yourself because having nothing but lemons is rubbish”.
FS: But I quite like lemons… Lemons are good… What’s wrong with lemons?
SMH: Of course, having lemons is great, it’s useful to have lemons. Before I came into this sauna I made myself a delicious lemon-based salad dressing. I also quite like lemonade, I’ve always encountered lots of lemon meringue pies as they are my father’s favourite dessert, and when I drink a gin martini, I will usually have it with a twist. Lemons get a bad rep, and unfairly so. Also, to make lemonade you need sugar and water, and if you’ve got sugar, water and lemons, you’re doing fucking alright for yourself, so the metaphor doesn’t work. If life gives you lemons — WHEN YOU’VE ALREADY GOT POTABLE WATER AND REFINED SUGAR — life hasn’t given you anything shit at all. If life gives you just lemons, nothing but lemons, like lemons to sleep on, lemons to love, lemons to eat, lemons to wash with, you’re gonna get sick of lemons. This is how I see the meaning of the first half of the phrase and how my variant on it is intended to relate. The world gave me nothing but, nothing but lemons. I was working with lemons, living with lemons, eating just lemons, wearing just lemons (the skins peeled off and woven into a scale-like quasi fabric), and if all you’ve got is fucking lemons, you may as well become a “literary blogger”. When you have nothing to lose, nothing is risky. Sorry for all this talk of lemons, it’s fucking hot in here and I’d LOVE a lemonade. Or some limoncello. Or a martini.
I was working with lemons, living with lemons, eating just lemons, wearing just lemons (the skins peeled off and woven into a scale-like quasi fabric), and if all you’ve got is fucking lemons, you may as well become a “literary blogger”.
FS: Why dedicate so much time to the musings of other people? I mean books, of course. I don’t quite get it why someone would not only read but also review so much. I have read about ten books in my life, which is more or less the number of books I’ve written, and the feeling I lost time with each one of them is something I can’t quite shake off…
SMH: Yeah, that’s just it, isn’t it? There’s very little to be gained from reading books, and even less to be gained from writing about them. All the best things one can learn in life can’t be learned from books: like how you like your eggs cooked, what it feels like when a dog loves you, how to do like sex things. Sure, you can read how to do all of these things, but you can’t actually learn them until you experience them. Like I said, my life was lemony sour and I wasn’t going anywhere and books (and occasional minibreaks) were the only escape I had. I didn’t have friends to talk to books about, I didn’t have a dog, so writing about being sad and lonely while reading books was a good way to occupy myself instead of drinking martinis, limoncello or neat gin (which I’d often consume with a cheddar chaser). I hoped I’d kickstart writing things properly, which had always been a dream of mine, and it kinda did, then didn’t for a bit, and then did again. I kept the blog going the whole time, though, which I’m very proud of. Even when close to suicide, when having multiple panic attacks a day and literally doing nothing but weeping, bumbling through menial work and (later) walking my dog (because he was there for a bit of the darkest days, poor lad) I still kept reading books and writing about them, due to the built up momentum. And now I’m feeling better (#recovery), I can’t shift the habit, even though I’m now like exercising, doing romance, socialising and enjoying myself a lot more too. I went horseriding once in the Autumn. Today I’m in a sauna. A few weeks ago I went on the post office mail rail thing in London. I’ve started making a podcast. I’m living my best life.
FS: Sounds good man. I’m happy things turned out that way… Now, not enough with being a blogger you are now a poet, which is as we all know the ultimate badge of literary and social success. Was becoming a poet a conscious career decision for you, or was it more of an accident? And, more importantly, is poetry something people need to take seriously or is it something done just for the lulz?
SMH: Well, first off it’s important to always capitalize the word Poet. I don’t always do that, and I’ve already ruffled some feathers in the Poetry Scene by doing just that. I’ve always read a reasonable amount of poetry, certainly more than everyone I know who isn’t a Poet, but I’d previously only really written prose until last Summer. I also hadn’t read much poetry for a while as I was too sad. But then, as I began to be less depressed, I felt that poetry was the most appropriate form for what I wanted to express. Poetry started flowing out of me — like my sweat right now in this very hot sauna we’re both in — and then I got a couple of things published, so thought I should start reading poetry again. I read a bit of poetry, went to see some live, and I realised how fucking dull and po-faced so much poetry is and I thought — very firmly — “fuck it”: there is SO MUCH shit poetry in the world that there is no way I’ll be the worst person hawking verse around the scene. I decided to double down on my poetry writing and got properly into it, bang on purpose, because it’s soooo much easier to write a book-length poetry collection than it is to write a novel. If you’re reading this as a poet and thinking “no it’s not” then a) your poems are too complicated and b) your poems are too long. In my opinion, of course..
Oh, and to your final question, poetry is like all cultural products and everything else we can potentially do with our bodies and our minds: ultimately a complete waste of time. Laugh at/with it, whatever. Do what you want. I’m not going to tell people what to do. I’m not even going to tell shit Poets to give up, because shit poetry makes mine look better. It’s like the idea of heading out on the town with an uglier friend so you looker hotter by comparison. Poetry is like that.
I realised how fucking dull and po-faced so much poetry is and I thought — very firmly — “fuck it”: there is SO MUCH shit poetry in the world that there is no way I’ll be the worst person hawking verse around the scene
FS: How can you judge quality in poetry? When I read a poem I have no idea what to think. The only thing I know is that poets love their line breaks and weird spacing and that those line breaks and weird spaces make my life hell when I have to upload a piece to WordPress.
SMH: Actually, my big theory about poetry is that “quality” goes in a full cycle, with the shittiest, dumbest poetry — in my opinion — no less enjoyable than the fanciest smanciest obtuse intellectual big word bullshit. I don’t use many big words in my poetry. I may not be wealthy or powerful, but my penis is slightly larger than average so I’m gifted some kind of peace of mind in the world and thus don’t need to compensate with vocabulary. Not every man who uses big words has a small penis, but I bet every man who criticises someone else for not using big words does. It’s also a class thing, language. I never learned nothing useful from a school, even though I have two degrees. That’s one of my catchphrases, because I find it fucking absurd. I have two degrees and nothing to show for either. Ha ha ha ha. I have so much debt. But, again, a slightly larger than average-sized penis, so it’s all relative. It’s not as big as yours, Fernando, obviously, but whose is??? I love the non-sexual nudity of this sauna’s changing room.
FS: Your debut poetry book, Bad Boy Poet, which I already read, because we sort of hang around in the same circles and know Sean, who’s publishing us both, and he asked me to look at it in case he was making a mistake, because he can’t understand poetry either, features a lot of shit — literally — and painful bouts of sincerity, particularly when it comes to mental illness. Tell us, please, about your debut and how it came to be.
SMH: Well, like I said, I realised how easy it was to write poetry that was better than at least someone’s poetry, so I started doing it in earnest. I had about 20 pieces, roughly a pamphlet length, that I was very happy with and started sharing them and looking for feedback. In addition to that, I had about 10/15 more poems that I felt were just a little too raw/honest/open to share. When a few friends read the pieces I was happy with and their feedback was UNANIMOUSLY positive, I slung the Microsoft Word document to Sean Preston of Open Pen and he loved them too, said he’d be interested in publishing a poetry pamphlet and I was like “hmmm OK wait there” and then I went away for a while and came back with a proper book length manuscript with like 80 poems in (including all but maybe two of the “too raw” pieces), as well as several photographs from a professional nude shoot I paid for out of my own pocket. Sean rejected the pictures with my penis in, even though it was flaccid in EVERY SINGLE ONE, but encouraged me to grow and develop Bad Boy Poet into something that I am immensely proud of and will — hopefully — sell enough copies to get rid of all my educational debt. Plus the additional debt I now have because I took a loan to buy a boat that turned out to be structurally unsound. MY LIFE ISN’T LIKE OTHER PEOPLE’S.
FS: I have never seen anyone talk more candidly about mental illness than you, except that guy who makes a career writing self-help books out of it, and who we have all muted on Twitter because he’s a total bellend. So considering this dark character, where does candidness become self-conscious and does it even matter? I for one have stopped talking about my own mental health online because of what I feel is the constant demand to be candid about what causes you suffering.
SMH: No one ever pays me for talking about my mental health, so I’d fucking love some cash for it. Please give me money, my dog has very fancy taste in chicken. But to answer your question, I think honesty is important, because so many people live lives they hate. I lived a life I hated for a very, very long time, and my obsession with honesty on a more day-to-day level came out of — I believe — an awareness of the great deceit I was playing on myself. Often, we bring the lemons that we are handed on ourselves, and that was what I was doing. Now, there are some things that made me unhappy that were out of my hands, and other things that made me unhappy that were related to things going on physically inside my brain (there are other people I’m related to who I believe have had similar battles with mental illness, however as my immediate family are so stiff upper lip silent I’ve got no certainty), but the big thing I was doing was pretending I could carry on living in the way that I was living. I couldn’t, I was tearing myself apart, and the only way I could be honest was by exploring how I felt and how the way I felt manifested in my life. Panic attacks and suicidal thoughts and black out intoxication. I could be honest with the impact my unhappiness was having on myself without having to honestly assess the root causes. And as I found, eventually, help (through friendship, therapy, medication etc) I found that other people responded very well to my honesty and my expressions of my experiences. Not enough to fucking pay me, though.
FS: Now changing tack. 1) Why do you love dogs so much? Is it related to shit, one of your recurring poetic topics; 2) and why did you ruin coffee? Why do the people from your generation drink sour coffee from avocado shells or am I here displaying the preconceptions of someone who’s closer to death than birth?
SMH: Dogs are amazing, like cats but better. I always had cats growing up, but never had dogs. My grandparents did, they had three dogs when I was a baby, which all died off slowly during my childhood. One of the last pieces of prose I wrote is called ‘Dogs and the smell of gin’ which is about how I became — as my depression got worse — obsessed with dogs and gin as very visceral reminders of my pre-adolescence childhood. My grandmother “liked a drink”, as the language of Middle England would have it, so those two smells have always brought back childlike innocence and hope. Now I’m less depressed I love dogs because I’ve learnt how sweet and kind and loving they are. My dog’s a fucking superstar, other dogs I’ve met are fucking superstars. Dogs are great. Put dogs in your life. They don’t quite compensate for everything else being shit, but they make a fucking good go of it.
Re writing about poo, I do it because I think it’s ludicrous that people don’t write about it anywhere near as much as they should. It’s a big part of life and it’s a tiny, tiny part of literature. Very few people fuck more than they shit, but look at the disparity in numbers of the works written about each.
And about the coffee: things change, granddad.
FS: Where are you now and why aren’t you here? And more importantly, why do you hang around in this sauna?
SMH: Right now I am in Barcelona, just tryna live my best life for the Summer. I’m not in London because I’ve been there for eight years and I’m bored of it. All the best things that happened to me while I was there could have happened anywhere, and all the worst things happened because it was London. It’s a city, like any other. Am gonna try some others on for size. I’m optimistic. I can see the stars, Fernando.
I’m in this sauna because I like to keep my body clean, my pores open and my sweat drippin’ over my body. Pheromones, innit. Also I want to advertise my poetry book, Bad Boy Poet, available to pre-order now. Please encourage people to buy it as I’d love to prove you wrong by becoming able to subsist solely off the back of book sales (which we both know is an impossibility).
I’m in this sauna because I like to keep my body clean, my pores open and my sweat drippin’ over my body.
FS: Tell us about the future. When I say “us” I mean “me”, because it’s only us two in the sauna.
SMH: The future will be very like the present, for most of the world. Hopefully for me it will be happier than the past, and I’m already — right now — probably the most content I’ve ever been, which is pleasant. I plan to have a future filled with reading and writing, with chats in saunas, with overlooking large bodies of water, with paying off my debts, with love, with peace, with dogs dogs dogs. And with a few martinis, but not too many. Gotta use that lemon peel for something. Is there anything else I should do a callback to? Nah. #BadBoyPoet.
Scott Manley Hadley is Satire Editor at Queen Mob’s Tea House and blogs in a personal capacity at TriumphoftheNow.com. His debut poetry collection, Bad Boy Poet, is available for preorder now at www.openpen.co.uk/buy. He has appeared on BBC3 and in the Huff Post vlog series ‘Love Your Body’ talking about male pattern baldness, and he has been longlisted and shortlisted for Saboteur Awards in 2018 and 2017. Twitta: @Scott_Hadley / Insta: @scottandcubby
Fernando Sdrigotti has run out of words. @f_sd
About the Sauna Series: Wherever there is a sauna there is a writer plotting a master piece. In this series we travel the world’s saunas and steam rooms talking to people of letters. The phrase ‘mutual backscratching’ is a cliché in the literary scene, but it has rarely been used so literally.