The Ant: On Writing

For the past three years Grapeshot has showcased the work of a mysterious writer known only as ‘The Ant’. He’s penned countless poetry and short-fiction in every issue. Now ‘The Ant’ is ready to reveal his identity to the world.

On writing:

Since 2011 Blake Antrobus has penned short-fiction and poetry for Grapeshot Magazine under the pseudonym “The Ant.” Based off his last name Antrobus, it was given at high school and stuck with him.

He purchased a domain for his site, to set himself apart from the rest of the blogosphere and aid his publicity, he focused on posting to the site on a regular basis.

“Blogging can be difficult at times because you realise that you don’t get that many views, and then one day you post something and everyone wants to see it.”

“The key to online writing is to have an edge. Otherwise you tend to get lost in the ‘white noise’ because there are so many voices to compete with.”

After this venture, he felt the need to take his writing to a new level. Fresh in his first year of a combined media/writing degree, Grapeshot caught his eye.

“It was riveting to read and to see the work of the student writers,” he says.

After sending in a selection of his written works Blake had his very first piece published in Grapeshot titled ‘The Cell.’

“I was surprised because I never expected my stuff to get through,” he says. “It was a huge thing for me.”

Over the next two years Blake submitted monthly contributions to the magazine; but it was in 2013 that he decided to commit fully to writing. He set himself regular deadlines for pieces. He explains this process worked, “Fairly well, although there were times when I had to cram to get the story finished.”

On politics and pop-culture:

He continues to write fiction and poetry but has also delved into media and cultural criticisms. Recently Blake shared his thoughts on the Daily Telegraph’s front page story titled, ‘Australia Needs Tony.’ An image of actor Robert Downey Junior’s ‘Tony Stark’ was photoshopped over the then opposition-leader Tony Abbot’s face. Admittedly Blake is reluctant to go into political commentary.

“I don’t really have a stake in it and my understanding of politics is rudimentary. I felt the need to comment on that because I was appalled at how much of sneer campaign Murdoch was running against the Labour Party.”

“The commentaries provide a break from my regular style and help to sharpen myself for journalistic purposes and raises my [cultural understanding].”

On e-writing:

As writing makes its way into the digital online platform there has been a stigma that traditional newspapers and books will be on decline. In response to this Blake says, “It doesn’t particularly worry me. The horizons are a lot brighter.” He believes, “Bloggers will become the new citizen journalists. They’ll become avant guard writers. It’s going to open up opportunities for people; to open themselves to the world.” Blake speaks from experience about this topic. His e-book The Escapist Set Free, a collection of 55 poems, has been available to download on Smashwords since 2012. Blake was directed towards the e-book publishing and distribution site by his friend, Romanian indie-writer Christian Mihad. Blake says he was amazed to have survived the gruelling late night edits and convincing people to review the book.

“It was exhausting but it’s something that I can look back on and be proud with.”

On writing poetry Blake says the problem is that, “You work within tight guidelines.” He says he sometimes throws words on a page hoping the reader will pick up on it.

“I’m pretty horrified with some of my earlier poetry. It was really rushed.”

Having re-worked a lot of the poems for his book, Blake says, “I know what I want to write about.” Blake tells me research plays a vital part in any writing.

“It’s important for writers to know what’s going on in the world and to channel that thinking into their writing. There’s nothing worse than being uninformed, especially about writing and being in the public sphere.”

“The trigger for including research comes on and off depending on the subject. I see what books, religious texts, history and fiction say to me and put that through the poetry.”

One of his favourite poems is ‘Crow and His Friend’, which he wrote as a tribute to the late British Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes. Research for the piece required Blake to read Hughes’ poetry and analyse his life and experiences.

“Hughes used the symbol of a crow to express grim feelings and nightmares. I mimicked this idea giving it new life as a literal outcast bird amongst a flock of ‘normal birds.”

On upcoming works:

In the ‘Memories’ issue of Grapehsot Blake announced his plans to release a novel called ‘Chasing Summer’ at the end of the year. The non-fiction work follows his travels through Japan over the winter break. “I might have bitten off a bit more than I can chew with this one,” he says. “ I was on a high when I was traveling but I became busy with other projects and uni.” He says the book won’t be getting shelved but it will be put aside till he can think things through.

Fans of ‘The Ant’ need not fear, Blake plans to release a second poetry collection this year. One of the, “Gems of the collection,” is ‘Ballad of the Enola Gay’. Blake says he channelled the inner psychology of the pilot who dropped the bomb on Hiroshima and related it back to the grey morality of the war.

“It plays out like a big prayer. But I don’t want it to be recognised as a Christian poem.” Rather, “It’s an ironic reference to religion because he’s [the pilot] dropping a bomb on a city and it’s a bit late to be asking for forgiveness. I was subverting the grey morality of life with that poem.”

On coffee:

Writing aside, Blake has held a weekend position as a barista for the past two years.

“Never order a coffee with skim or soy milk,” he advises me. “You don’t get the full flavour of the coffee within the milk.”

“Also the skim and soy milks tend to flatten really quickly after you’ve heated them, so you’ve got to keep it swirling.” The link between coffee and writing is synonymous, with the romantic image of the writer enjoying a cup or two whilst composing their story. Blake regularly schedules a break at a local cafe to work on his stories and poems, advice he wishes to share with other budding writers. He says to go out with the need to write, “It will help you get motivated. Writers with attitude create amazing work. If you have the time,” he says, “ start now. Just sit down at your desk and pump out a few words a day.”

For a final word he tells me he prefers his coffee pure. “No sugars. No flavourings. And especially don’t overload it with chocolate, Otherwise don’t order coffee.”

A version of this article was first published in Grapeshot Magazine Issue 8, 2013: Travel.

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