D Mortimer is a writer from London focused on trans and crip narratives. Their essays and poetry have been published by Granta, ADI, and their work has been performed at the ICA. Their short story ‘Supermarket Revelations’ featured in ‘Liberating the Canon: An Anthology of Innovative Literature’ (Dostoyevsky Wannabe, 2018) and their debut collection LAST NIGHT A BEEF JERK SAVED MY LIFE was published by Pilot Press: London in May 2021. They are currently a Techne scholar at The University of Roehampton completing a PhD on the role of naming in transgender subject formation.
Is BEEFJERK your first collection?
Yes, my first published collection yeah.
What had your experience of publishing been before this first collection?
In my twenties I did quite a lot of freelance journalism. That was where I got published, through journalism, not particularly the kind of work I do now. But it was always important to work with queer locations, so I worked for a while for Diva Magazine, and another smaller publication called G3. Before Instagram took off, there was also a blog called The Most Cake which was more of an alternative queer space. So I wrote articles, and I compiled listings for Diva, that was my job for a while – I’d trawl tiny rural gay nights and queer happenings – I loved it actually. I get really possessive over these random little queer nights that I’d never even been too but I’d recommend people to go to. I also wrote for some more mainstream places too, usually on gay interest stuff.
Then I self-published two zines. One, Begin with the birds, was an essay of mine which I wrote and I worked on with a good friend of mine, Elena Gucas, who was a painter and she did the design. The other, we are the same number now, also designed by Elena, came about because I went to Athens for a conference called ‘What is Queer Writing?’ which was set up by a poet called Foivos Dousos. We started a collaboration and that was great; he is an amazing poet.
When Pilot Press started releasing their anthologies I submitted work, and Richard Porter and I developed a relationship through this and the event series ‘Queers Read This’ at the ICA London, which Rich did with Isabel Waidner for a time. Isabel has been a big mentor of mine – they’ve championed my work from quite early on. They’re also my PhD supervisor, and I don’t know if I would have gotten this far in my PhD without having a trans, experimental writer as my supervisor.
Could you give some examples of when your access needs have and haven’t been met, or when these conversations have been handled with care or carelessly?
My experience of richer and more evil places is that it is pretty common for the piece to be published totally different from the work you sent in. That’s hard because it might be things that you would never say, but an editor has made final edits without checking them through with you. I think it’s really important to make your writer feel like they have autonomy and if you need to change something to work in collaboration with them.
I am really privileged to be able to work with people at the moment who are very informed around access. I work a lot with a curator called Iarlaith Ni Fheorais and we did some work earlier in the year for Arts Disability Ireland (ADI) and that whole process was amazing and taught me so much. Just because you identify as trans and disabled doesn’t mean you’re brilliant at making sure access needs are met, or identifying what you yourself need and asking for it. But with ADI it was brilliant – the piece I wrote, we workshopped with a special accessibility editor.
With the accessibility editor we looked at fonts, the difference between serif and sans serif, italics and how they can be very difficult to read for lots of people, and how you don’t want anything to interrupt the text. It’s interesting in the context of experimental writing because obviously as an experimental writer you are wanting to disrupt and play with ideas of fluency, both semantically and visibly, so how to negotiate that desire while also not making someone feel like they can’t even enter the world of the text is a difficult question.
I’d love to hear more about the relationship with Pilot Press and that experience of going from submitting, to open calls, to that being a more two-way conversation that produced a bigger body of work?
So, the first Pilot Press anthology I submitted to was a Queer Anthology of Sickness. That must be about three years ago now, and although what I was doing was a kind of queer crip praxis, I hadn’t actually realised that until I wrote that piece. All of Pilot Press speaks indirectly or explicitly to the AIDs crisis in the UK and the US in the 1980’s specifically, and lots of the work that was published in that anthology was looking at that, but I decided to write about my disability, and actually it was the first time I’d done that. I’d written so much, and used autobiography as a genre quite a lot, but it’d just never really occurred to me to use writing in the same way I talk about being queer to talk about being crip – it just hadn’t until then. So I have Rich to thank for bringing that all out! I just remember sitting down to write it and not really looking up for four hours.
Then, Rich published it, and after that he would ask me to submit whenever he was doing a call out. That was also because of Rich’s relationship with Isabel. Before we began the pHD together I sent Isabel some work – I was recommended to get in contact with them and sent them some very loose, draggy, drafty work – they were at Dostoyevsky Wannabe then, the amazing indie publishers, and were compiling an anthology called Liberating the Canon. They asked me to submit to that, so I polished an extract from something I was writing.
I’d like to talk about the form of BEEFJERK. How would you say crip and queerness relate to the form of this particular collection?
First of all, it was me and Rich working together and Rich is dyslexic so from the outset there wasn’t this neurotypical expectation, it felt very organic and quite hands off. There was never a concrete deadline or the expectation of a concrete output or even return. It felt like a very intimate way of working that was just the two of us, which you wouldn’t get in a large operation.
The form of BEEFJERK is very hybrid in that it’s made up of short poems, longer essays, and then quite a long essay at the end, and in many ways that does speak to a crip way of working. Or, my crip way of working. My associative way of writing, which is non-linear and takes in a lot of different references, may actually be super stressful for someone else. I think that’s an important thing to think about when thinking about access is that your access needs might actually be the opposite of what someone else needs.
I was also thinking about Robert McRuer who wrote Crip Theory. In that book there is a whole chapter about writing and about how within the institution you are taught to take yourself out of your work and to ensure that whatever you are writing has a neat context and neat result. In the school system, we are modelled to be these docile subjects who carry out this very neat way of working that hides the process. That takes the methodology out of things. And it’s very important to me in my work to put the body back in, and for that body to be visibly, contextually queer, crip and trans.
It’s also something political to be hybrid, and I think that’s also seen in the history of trans literature. Someone like Susan Stryker, in her 1994 text ‘My Words to Victor Frankenstein Above the Village of Chamounix: Performing Transgender Rage’. She’s talking about the origins of trans medicine, and then suddenly it changes form, so she’s starting with literary criticism, then it changes form to autobiography and you are by this person’s bedside while they’re giving birth, and then it goes into poetry! It’s not as if I was consciously thinking of uniting all these different forms in BEEFJERK but its content in a way demands the form to change.