20 Questions with... Atlas Booth
Atlas Booth is a nurse and writer from Cape Town, South Africa. He has finally managed to keep a plant alive for more than three months. He has also been published in several literary magazines. His first book of poetry came out in 2021. In his day to day life, he enjoys teas and cold brew coffee. You can find him on twitter @atlasbooth. You can find all his works on his website: https://atlaslbooth.wixsite.com/main
Please introduce yourself. Where are you from? What was your life like growing up?
Hello, my name is Atlas Booth. I was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa. I have the advantage of living between mountains and the ocean simultaneously. There's so much nature all around here. I grew up on tea and books. If I wasn't reading, I was playing spy around the apartment building; or alternatively, chess. I was the weird kid saving earth worms from the tar and kids' boots after the rain in primary school. Growing up, I was also introduced to many cultures. Our country has 11 official languages for a very good reason and I really did have my eyes opened to the vastness of the human existence even in my little town. I'm always thankful for that.
Did you always want to be a writer? If you also work, what do you do / did you do?
I have always wanted to write, not necessarily be a writer. I used to want to be a forensic scientist. I made it to high school year 9 and dropped biology after, effectively ending that dream. I read Ogden Nash's poetry and John Grisham's books around that time as well and started writing my own little poems. Some of those revised poems ended up in Ruffled Souls, my first collection. I wanted to become a History and English teacher, but we didn't have the funds to afford university, so I went to nursing college. I had done first aid for 5 years in high school, so it wasn't that big of a leap.
Tell us about your most recently published work in a sentence.
Dear Heart is a collection of poetry telling the story of two people who love each other so fully that losing one of them is unbearable; and how they have to deal with that grief.
What are you working on right now?
I'm technically busy writing a novel. It's... slow going. There's a lot of research and thought that has to go into it. It's not just purely emotion and intuition like most of my work. It's about kinks, coping mechanisms and learning to lean on people you normally wouldn't have.
Do you have a writing routine, and if so what is it?
I do not have a writing technique. I have an imagination that never shushes. So, I have a notes app full of one-liners and stanzas. I also have a very comfy study/mini library in my apartment. My garage gets WiFi and the first rays of morning, so when I need to recharge, I'll sit there with some hot chocolate, coffee or tea and just stare my surrounds or my laptop. It does the trick.
Where do you write – always in the same space, or different places? Can you write ‘on the move’?
I write wherever and whenever I have a chance. Nursing shifts are busy always, so I can't always predict when I'll have free time. I have written at work on my lunch break, at coffee shops, on my bed, in my garage, on the floor of my bathroom, while walking in town (nearly knocked myself out via stop sign), and once sitting on a big rock at a camp site.
What advice do you have for other authors who are starting out? What is the best advice you’ve heard?
Write for you first, then edit for you first. No matter what everyone else wants. Your work will be under your name, not theirs. Advice is good, but you do not need to use all of it or take all of it to heart. You need to be happy with your end product first. Your readers will fall in love with your voice that shines through your story just as much as they'll fall for your story. Make sure it's still there.
Do you enjoy doing live readings or are they a necessary evil – or somewhere in between?
I am autistic. I hate live anything where I'm the center of attention. I also sound like a robot when I read and have social anxiety. I really wish it wasn't necessary or that I could just ask my friends to read my works for me. My one friend has recently read my poem for an audio to accompany a publication and another friend wants to as well. I'd rather give them the opportunity.
Are there recurring themes in your work? Where do you feel these emanate from if so?
I tend to have a range of themes and emotions. I do think most of my work has touches of humour in them and the rest have cow licks of depressively real emotions that aren't happy one bit, but make humans human.
Should writers have a moral purpose? What is the purpose of a writer in today’s society?
Writers not only entertain, thus giving the spirit a morale boost, but they also voice the issues, struggles and feelings of the times. If more people read more, there would be less general ignorance certainly, but also more understanding of the people who inhabit this world with us.
Do you write between genres or not?
I write for so many genres and, sometimes, not even I know where the work is supposed to fit. I have two flash works currently that I have that issue with.
Which living writers do you most admire?
John Grisham and Neil Gaiman. John Grisham very much is a mood. He sits in bookstores, reading, and if someone notices and recognizes him, he is polite and then doesn't go back there for a while. He just finds another bookshop to hide away in. He also brings out so many books at one time. I can never keep up. Neil Gaiman on the other hand, he feels like he's always there. He is a sass king and his works are so good.
Which dead writers do you most admire?
Steig Larsson and Ogden Nash. Stieg Larsson's work was just so phenomenal. I aspire to write a novel as good as his. Ogden Nash taught me that all poetry didn't have to be boring and be about huge ordeals. His work show much personality and felt so relatable. I never felt that with the other poets we were forced to sludge through in school. The only poem that was so good, it stuck with me and gave me pause before Ogden Nash was Futility by Wilfred Owen.
What’s the book you wish you’d written?
Oh, so many. The Robert Langdon series by Dan Brown. The Testament by John Grisham. The Street Lawyer by John Grisham. Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor. Many more I cannot think of right now.
What other external influences do you have: nature/place, music etc?
Music and nature definitely. Series tend to give me unexpected brain worms too. I wrote a poem titled Ephemeral, the title of which was a word I heard on Teen Wolf and it just stuck. It's a great word.
Do you suffer from ‘writer’s block’ and how do you overcome it if so?
I do get writer's block. I tend to just write whatever junk I force out of my brain expressly to bin it, just to get the flow of words going again.
What’s been your favourite reaction to your writing?
Whenever someone says that my words helped them. That's the best feeling ever. In the end, we all just want connection and to be able to see ourselves in others.
How do your family and friends feel about your writing?
My friends are very supportive. My family is conservatively optimistic.
Do you have a favourite bookshop?
I do. There's a bookshop called Bookworm Fantasy near me. I like to go sit on the step of one of the rooms in the bookshop to read or write. Another plus is that about a third of my library comes from that bookshop. It has such an amazing atmosphere and the owner is awesome too.
How do you see the future of writing? Will we become more or less dependent on Amazon?
Amazon is Amazon. I don't think readers would be very happy if they couldn't spend time smelling new books and making conversation with the randomner who happens to share the same browsing section as them. It's like an ecosystem within an ecosystem. Amazon has KDP, and yeah, many of us use it, but I doubt they'll have happy campers on their hands if they were the be all and end all. Traditional publishing is still holding firm too.