Interview: Steven Cookson

Who says the freelance writing life can’t be fun and fulfilling? Sometimes the best advice is to write what you love. Steven Cookson, for example, has a strong interest in entertainment and pop culture. He’s made that work for him by using it to craft fascinating articles for Suite101. Enjoy this interview.

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Tell us a bit about how you came to write for Suite101. What’s your background?

I applied to write for Suite101 when I was winding down in my final year at university and thought it could be a good opportunity to build up experience. I had recently accepted a job to work for The Press and Journal in Scotland so it was originally something on the side but when I quit that job it’s now my main focus.

Being younger than a lot of writers at Suite101 (meant in the most humble way possible of course) there’s not much of a story behind me beyond growing up in a big family. I’ve written for a few publications, most of them based around Chester where I live, and I still think the best work I’ve ever done was for the University of Central Lancashire’s student newspaper Pluto. And I’m not just saying that because they gave me an award either…

For me there’s always been an interest in writing but I found it difficult to find an area to focus on. I’ve done music, news, video games and although I did okay in those I found films and TV suited me a lot better and were more fun to write about. I do sometimes dip back into music and games but I try, if possible, to do that outside of Suite101. I occasionally try to play around with the structure of my writing so I can avoid falling into a routine as that leads to mediocrity and “will this do?” publishing.

You’re a self-confessed entertainment addict, which I think is great. (Watching TV is part of your job then!) Are there certain shows, celebs, or music that you’re drawn to more than others?

Ever since I was about five years old I’ve always been a fan of comedy, especially British humour. It started with ‘Red Dwarf’ and eventually moved on to ‘Fawlty Towers’ and The ‘Young Ones’ then finally ‘Black Books’ and ‘Brass Eye’. So I’m always interested in new comedies popping up but the problem these days – and an opportunity for me to sound like a boring old fart – there are few modern comedy shows that are any good as writers rely on tired catchphrases and predictable set-ups. For every ‘The Thick Of It’ there’s about four ‘Horne & Cordens’.

These days I tend to seek out good drama and the US, especially HBO’s output, has far superior programs than most stuff that’s on TV these days. ‘The Wire’ is of course top of the pile as it’s all about focusing on a good story rather than gimmicks and cliff-hangers. I know ‘Lost’ is completely formulaic but I’ve invested too much time to give up on it and plus some of the acting and sub-plots are interesting. It does annoy me when people say TV is rubbish these days as they are just too lazy and ignorant to look for decent shows that do exist beyond the reality TV rubbish that’s constantly publicised.

I tend to be attracted to films that are either arty, ones that are interested in smart narratives or those that play with the conventions of genres. ‘Memento’ is my favourite. I was drawn to the non-linear structure that’s quite innovative and has a brilliant story to back it up so it’s not just style over substance. ‘Fight Club’ has that too, it has a very distinctive visual style but there’s also a great deal of social commentary and clever writing behind it.

The same with music. I like things that experiment with ideas and concepts or go beyond the idea of three-minute verse-chorus-verse-chorus songs. I regularly listen to anything from Radiohead, Jeff Buckley and Tom Waits up to Opeth, Tool, John Zorn and Faith No More.

Share some of your writing goals. What’s next for you?

I would eventually like to get a job at an entertainment magazine such as Total Film or Empire, or something like the Radio Times but I know those are a long shot at the moment. It’s just a case of keeping myself active and waiting for the perfect opportunity to show up. Until then I’m happy to have the personal freedom to churn out articles about Freaky Eaters or how terrible Piers Morgan is.

All the good media jobs in England tend to be based down in London so chances are I’ll end up in the capital, unless the BBC’s move to Salford encourages other organisations to move up north and enter the 21st century at last.

What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?

Flat Earth News by Nick Davies. Anyone who even has a brief curiosity in the way the mainstream media operates knows the problems it faces and how “facts” are distorted or simply made up to suit a publication’s agenda or to simply make money.

Davies has been in newspapers for 30 years so his insight and opinions can be trusted and he really gets to the heart of the problems with the British media. Anything that devotes an entire chapter to the (putting it lightly) unethical nature of The Daily Mail gets my attention. This isn’t the best thing ever written but certainly the most interesting book I’ve come across.

Favorite authors?

Stephen Fry is my favourite anything but it’s obvious from his work that writing is the thing he enjoys most. The man has an amazing command of the English Language and does so without showing off. ‘The Stars’ Tennis Balls’, his modern day update of ‘The Count of Monte Cristo’, is perhaps my favourite book as it’s a revenge story which doesn’t cop out as many of them do and says a great deal about morality.

I also like Charlie Brooker; the TV critic for The Guardian who’s also released his collective work in book form and entered into the realm of television with his own programs. His no nonsense approach appeals to me as I’m fed up of reviewers who seem more interested in putting over their own writing style than the thing they are supposed to be discussing and he’s also one of the few commentators to not demonise video games as being pure evil.

Book you’re currently reading?

‘That’s Me In The Corner’ by Andrew Collins, the star of I Love 1983 and others. He’s pretty much done all the media jobs I’m interested in and it has funny anecdotes of someone being thrown into the celebrity world. I’m a big fan of the podcast he does with comedian Richard Herring – which contains adult themes and strong language from the start – so that’s why I decided to buy it.

Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how did you get past it? If not, why not?

It does happen. I have tried to write non-fiction stuff (I refuse to use the word novels as they have barely taken that shape) but I just can’t think of the best way to get the ideas on paper so they are on hold. When you’re dealing with something creative such as writing I think it’s best to wait for inspiration, don’t reduce quality for the sake of completing something within a specific timeframe. There’s no harm in returning to something months if not years later if that’s what it takes.

I’ve had no such problem with the TV articles I’ve written for Suite101, I guess that comes to me more easily.

Where can we learn more about you?

My Suite101 profile has just about enough information to form an opinion on me or just do a search on Google for fat Daniel Bedingfield lookalikes.

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