Lockdown Intervews: no27 Laura Besley interviewed by Joanne L. M. Williams

Twenty-seventh in a series of author-to-author interviews to distract them, and you, from lockdown torpor.

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Laura Besley (Story Cities) interviewed by Joanne L. M. Williams (No Spider Harmed in the Making of this Book, We/She)

Joanne L M Williams

Joanne LM Williams

Joanne:        You have several flash fictions published, including your collection The Almost Mothers, and a piece in Arachne’s Story Cities. What is it about shorter fiction that you especially enjoy? Do you also write using other forms, or is flash fiction always your preference?

Laura:    When I first started writing I had no intention of becoming a short fiction writer. I’ve always read a lot, but novels, and had initially seen that as my only path. However, when I first started writing, I had lots of ideas, but struggled to get past a few cohesive sentences, or paragraphs.
I stumbled across Calum Kerr online and his challenge to write a piece of flash fiction every day for a year. I decided to do the same and started in May 2012. Some of the pieces were fine, some were terrible, some were never finished, but I learned a lot about myself as a writer in that time, the most important being that I had fallen in love with short fiction and the precision needed to tell a story.
I don’t feel ready to take the leap into longer fiction yet, but I’m fairly sure I will one day.

Joanne:        When did you start writing fiction? Have you done so since you were young?

Laura:    I remember writing a story about a fairground when I was about nine or ten, but that’s the extent of my childhood writing experience. I started writing again when I was in my late twenties, while I was living in Germany. Initially I was writing non-fiction, about my travels and experiences there. Once I’d moved to Hong Kong, I started writing fiction.

Joanne:        Do you have a daily or weekly schedule or pattern for writing? How does this fit in with the rest of your life?

Laura:    I have two young children (six and two) and have to fit my writing in around them. Before lockdown, I used to write while my eldest was at school and my youngest was napping. Now, I’m lucky that my husband is working from home and I write every morning from 7:30-9:00 before he needs the office, and I need to take over the childcare.  I’m a morning person, so this works well for me. Once the children are in bed, I’m usually too tired to write new things, but do other writing-related things for an hour or so like editing or submitting.

Joanne:        Where do you write? Do you have a particular place you always sit to work for example, or any associated rituals, or can you write anywhere?

Laura:    I can write anywhere, in a supermarket queue or while my son is having a swimming lesson, but my preference is in cafés. I like the cacophony; the snippets of overheard conversations, people watching, the small interactions you have with strangers, the coffee. Obviously at the moment that’s not possible, so I’m either in our office or at the kitchen table.

Joanne:        How has your experience of living in different countries and cultures influenced your writing?

Laura:    Directly, not a lot. I’ve only written a few stories set in other countries (I’ve lived in the Netherlands, Germany and Hong Kong), but everything you see and experience gets filed away. I hope one day to write about these places that have played a big part in my life.

Joanne:        What are your literary influences and who are some of your favourite writers?

Laura:    Always a tough question because there are too many to mention. My current favourite authors are Elizabeth Strout, most famous for her novel-in-stories: Olive Kitteridge; Kate Atkinson, I think her companion novels Life After Life and A God in Ruins are perfection; and Maggie O’Farrell whose books I love, but it was also after reading an article by her wherein she stated that if you wanted to write, you should “take yourself seriously”. I think that advice completely changed my attitude towards writing.

Joanne:        Do you ever write specifically in response to prompts, or call-outs for work on a particular theme, and do you find this useful? Or does your inspiration mainly come from other sources?

Laura:    I often write to prompts or call-outs for particular themes, but not exclusively. If I have an idea about something, I’ll jot it down and maybe it won’t be used for months, or years, but I never throw anything away.

Joanne:        Flash fiction is less well known, and perhaps less easy to find, than other fiction forms. Are there any online sources of shorter fiction, or printed collections, that you would recommend?

Laura:    There are so many online journals for flash fiction, too many to mention here, but I’ll list a few of my favourites: Adhoc Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, Fictive Dream, Fifty Word Stories, Lunate, Reflex Fiction, Smokelong Quarterly, Spelk.
Something relatively new, but gaining popularity fast, is the novella-in-flash: a novella, but each chapter is a piece of standalone flash fiction. I’ve read a few recently and really enjoyed them: An Inheritance by Diane Simmons (Adhoc), Dinosaur by Adam Lock (Ellipsis), Three Sisters of Stone by Stephanie Hutton (Ellipsis), The Neverlands by Damhnait Monaghan (VPress), Tethered by Ross Jeffery.

Joanne:        What is your own favourite piece (or pieces) that you’ve written and why?

Laura:           I’ve chosen three pieces that are very special to me.

  • ‘Near and Far’ (Spelk, 2018) holds a few threads of my mother’s childhood, she was born and spent the first few years of her childhood in Indonesia;
  • ‘That Apple’ (Fictive Dream, 2018) was my first ever journal publication. It’s written in 2nd person point of view and I know popular opinion generally doesn’t favour this, but personally I love it and use it whenever I can.
  • ‘The Motherhood Contract’ (Ellipsis, 2018) is about a mother who is struggling and there is a lot of my early motherhood emotions in this piece.

Joanne:        Finally, what are you working on at the moment?

Laura:    As well as individual pieces, I’m also working on a novella-in-flash. It’s been several years in the making, but am hoping that this is the year I finish it. I’ve also found myself writing about the current situation a lot, either my own experiences or fictional ones. If there are enough good pieces, hopefully I’ll be able to bundle them together.

Lockdown Interviews: no26 Laura Potts, interviewed by Anne Macaulay

Twenty-sixth in a series of author-to-author interviews to distract them, and you, from lockdown torpor. Laura Potts (Time and Tide) interviewed by fellow poet, Anne Macaulay (The Other Side of Sleep, Vindication)

 

Laura potts

Anne family tales

Anne: Hello Laura, it’s been really enjoyable reading some of your beautiful poetry. I would like to ask you a few questions about you and your writing. The first thing that struck me when I read a little about you is how young you are, and how prolific and successful already. I must confess to a feeling of envy, as I didn’t really start writing until my late fifties and even then, it took me a while to think of myself as a poet. Can you remember when you first wrote a poem and when you first thought of yourself as a poet?

Laura:  Hello Anne!  Thank you for your kind comments.
The exact age when I started writing is unremembered, but I must have been very young. I’ve always written in one way or another. Prose could hold my attention for an afternoon, but poetry always stayed with me. I think it was the music. It was lovely on the tongue. Can I remember the first time I wrote a poem? No, I don’t think so. But I can remember writing limericks for my dad in the evenings. I must have been six or seven then. I would slip them under the door of his shed as he worked. It was my way of welcoming him home.
I’ve tended not to think myself as a poet in recent years. I write poetry, yes; but it isn’t my profession. There’s a slight distinction to my mind. My work is still wild and juvenile, and I have a lot to learn. The title is something I’m still reaching for.

Anne:  Are you from a background of literature lovers? Who or what sparked your interest in poetry and writing? Who were your early influences – family, friends, teachers?

Laura:  I was lucky enough to be born into an older household where my grandparents had a constant presence. I was their only grandchild, and it was as if they grew young again when I came along. For two octogenarians, they played and danced and threw snowballs in winter, and paper planes in summer, and made dens and spinning worlds out of living room furniture. They gave me endless time. My grandmother taught me to read. She collected dusty books and poetry. I spent many evenings by the fire, lost in the folds of her dressing gown, listening to her read in her great gravelly voice. That was where it came from. Nothing taught or learnt. Just two bright imaginations.

Anne:  Your writing is beautiful with a lyrical, musical quality. And some of your poems have the atmosphere of folk ballads. Is music a big part of your life? Do you play, listen, at all?

Laura:  Yes. It’s strange, but I’ve always heard music in terms of colour and light. A piano is usually blue; a drum is gold; pipes are silver. I don’t have the words for explaining why. It’s an emotional impulse rather than a rational thought.
I play the ukulele and the piano – both equally badly. My mother is an excellent pianist and my father a fine bagpiper, but I’ve never quite had their talent. I love to listen to the piano in the evenings though. Especially through bathwater. Have you tried that? Our piano sits in the room below the bathroom and its aqueous music is beautiful. It’s like warm running water.

Anne:  There is a real feel of flow, fluency in your work, Laura, which made me wonder about your writing method and approach. Where do you get your ideas? Do they just come as moments of inspiration?

Laura:  Difficult question! I suppose my poems aren’t born as ideas as such. They’re the responses of emotions I’m living at the time of writing. I’ll be aware, for example, that I want to write about love, or grief, or anger, and my thinking will revolve around adequately translating those emotions to the page. But I’ll never set out to write a sonnet or a haiku or a narrative poem, and it’s rare that I’ll set out to write to a particular theme. Ian Duhig once gave me some valuable advice which has stayed with me. He said that writing is a process of carrying emotion, and that you’ll never know where the poem will go until you get there. The thinking and feeling processes are just as important as the writing process. There’s some freedom in realising that, and in letting time take its course. The poems are better for thinking on.

Anne:  And do you do much editing – do you worry over a piece?

Laura:  Yes, of course. There are times when I love and loathe my work. It’s a constant fight against language. I tend to edit as I write, which makes the process long and laborious, but I’ve learnt to expect the best results that way. A poem can keep me awake at night – for both the right and the wrong reasons. It often brings pleasure and pain. But I’ve come to see that each mistake paves the way towards progress. It’s taken a long time for me to accept that. There’s a reason I keep writing. The love outweighs anything else.

Anne:  I asked at the beginning about your earliest influences and am wondering now about later influences through academic study and independent reading. I also read that you have been involved in a number of writing groups and projects.
Are there any poets or other writers who you feel inspired you to become a writer? Did any of them influence your writing style?

Laura:  Yes, many. I’ve always believed that the best writers are the best readers. It’s important to step outside the vacuum of your own thoughts and into the work of others. I’ll often find the tracings of other writers in my poems, especially those I was reading at the time of writing. I see Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath, E. E. Cummings and Liz Berry. In certain lights, I see memorable parts of prose and music. Most of them are only subconscious ghosts, fragments of one moment when their words chimed with mine.

Anne:  While beautiful, there is an atmosphere of melancholy and sometimes bleakness in many of your poems that I have read. Are you drawn to these subjects from an aesthetic and sensitive care for human’s viewpoint? How much of you as a person, your story, your personality slips into your words or are you able to keep at a remove?

Laura:  I think it’s fairly impossible for writers to place themselves at a remove from their work. Their language, their semantics, their structure – they all betray parts of the person who chose them. If I were trying to be objective, I would say that my poems are always concerned with the landscape of my home. Whether Yorkshire exists in them or not, I see it. And I think they’re fascinated with sadness. It’s something I’m still trying to understand. There’s a longing or a loss in there somewhere. I think there’s one in me too.

Anne:  Some of your poems have a timeless feel to them such as First Light which is in the Time and Tide anthology by Arachne Press – see your opening lines,
  It is somewhere in a sometime
That a long late night

And others feel more contemporary such as Morning on the Water where I love the visceral quality of the line,
    Poured a hot greasy laugh
Are you seeing your writing develop or change as you go along, or do you have a range of styles you work in?

Laura:  Yes, it develops from one poem to the next. The progress of my voice has been gradual, like a slow opening of thought. I’ve never set out to have a style as such, but I suppose I’m a very imagistic writer. I don’t like wasting words. With each poem, I try to hone that craft a little more.
I’m sure many readers will be familiar with the process of applying for grants or awards, and the ridiculously long application forms which go with them. Recently, I started thinking about why I dislike them so much. It isn’t the foundation or the reasoning behind them, and it isn’t the time I have to spend on them. It’s the fact that I love to work with a blank white page and play with a limited space. And I wish I didn’t have to spend five thousand words explaining that.
But since that realisation, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to the blank space of the page – to its absences and silences – in my recent work. I’ve come to see that what isn’t said is just as important as what is. That’s the development which has just begun.

Anne:  And do you have a poem that is a favourite or has a special story that you would like to pick out?

Laura:  Yes. Virginity will always be a special one. It was written after a long period of absence when I had managed to write very little. For a time I thought I would never write again. I took myself away, alone, to a secluded cottage in the Lake District. With time and solitude, I managed to write. More than that – I was pleased with the poem. It was a small triumph at the time. It still is. The experience was necessary. It taught me that the words will come back, even after a long absence. I’ve been writing ever since.

Anne:  I have really enjoyed reading some of your work in preparation for this interview and look forward to reading more in the future. Good luck, Laura.

You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer, now VAT free! We recommend Hive for ePub.

Lockdown Interviews no25: Joan Taylor-Rowan interviewed by Alex Penland

Author Joan Taylor-Rowan (Five by Five, Stations, London Lies)

interviewed by Alex Penland (Story Cities)

 

 

Alex:    How did publishing The Birdskin Shoes change your writing process? How did it alter your view of publishing?

Joan:    Firstly a bit of background. The novel was a finalist in a SpreadtheWord novel pitch competition. Buoyed by the response, I completed it and sent it to an agent. The first email from an agent was the kind you dream about – I have it pinned above my computer – but she said it needed work. I duly rewrote it, but despite the changes she decided not to take me on. I had an editor look at it, to give me insights into necessary changes before trying again. The editor loved it and suggested another agent who did take me on. At the time I wasn’t sure that she was the right agent for me, but bruised by my first encounter, it didn’t really occur to me to turn her down. She sent the book out to seven publishers but while they all liked it, no-one said yes.

I decided back in 2012, that if I really believed in the novel I should self-publish. Again I am not a techie so this was a huge learning curve and I was very proud of it. But what I hadn’t really thought out was the amount of work required in promoting it, and you really do have to be doing this full-time. There were a number of things I learned about the publishing process from this:

  • choose the agent who is right for your work, don’t just accept the person who takes it
  • just because that agent does not get a publisher don’t assume it’s not publishable. I found out later that agents do not approach everyone, only those publishers with whom they have built up a relationship
  •  once it was self-published, even with good reviews, no agent would then take it on, however that has changed now, but you have to show that it is successful
  • you can write a book that people love but you still might not get a publisher for all sorts of reasons, only one of which is the quality of the writing
  • at least by self-publishing the book it is not in a drawer under my bed, gathering dust
  • getting an agent seems like a miracle but even that is just the very beginning of a long and perilous journey

It did make me much more aware of the commercial side of writing – not that I think anyone should write with that in mind, but if publishing your work is your aim, you have to know and be aware of where your book fits in and what else is out there. It’s harder if you write literary fiction than genre fiction. I learned just how hard it is to write a novel, what a long process it is. It did make me much less judgmental about other writers. Just to complete a novel is a huge achievement. I prefer the intensity of the short story in terms of writing, but I read more novels than short story collections, because I enjoy the immersive quality of a novel.

 

Alex:   The stories in Five by Five are quite different from each other, one set in the 1970’s and one in the Mexican revolution. How did you come to write Bittersweet Like Pomegranates, and The Bet?

Joan:   I’ve always been fascinated by Manet’s painting  of The Execution of the Emperor Maximilian, which is in The National Gallery. It’s very large to start with, and the firing squad are life size. In the painting they are standing very close to the emperor and have already fired the shots so you are there  before he dies but after the bullets have left the guns. It made me wonder what it would feel like to have to stand and kill someone who was unarmed. The men are soldiers and are used to combat but this would be very different. I’ve spent a lot of time in Mexico and so I decided to read up about this emperor and what had lead to the execution. To a large extent he was a pawn and in fact was not bad as emperors go. He encouraged land reform for example.
I began to think about the moral dilemma a soldier might face, especially if he had a child. How might such an event affect him? How would he look his child in the eye? So that is how the story, Bitter Sweet Like Pomegranates evolved.
The Bet, a story set against the background of the conflict in Northern Ireland in the 1970’s,  is a little more grounded in my own experience. My mother was a Catholic from Northern Ireland, and my Irish cousin did send my tomboy sister a rubber bullet.  I can still remember the shock of seeing this enormous hard object when I was expecting something the size of a conventional bullet. It transformed my understanding of the news. When rubber bullets were fired, or people were hit with rubber bullets, I knew what that meant.  It represented a coming of age – a step into adulthood where suddenly something that seemed the world of a child – a squidgy bullet, is suddenly  revealed for what it truly is, a potentially lethal weapon. Luckily my grandpa was not killed with one, that’s where the fiction comes in. However we did all watch the Eurovision song contest, and I wanted to use that as a way of bringing in my mother’s mixed allegiance – she was both British and Irish and that caused her difficulties at times.

 

Alex:    Do you have a literary philosophy–something that you try to include in all your work?

Joan:    Hmm..that’s an interesting question. I really believe in the redemptive, life-saving qualities of art and literature, and a love of words and the imaginative life often feature in my stories, even though I don’t plan it that way.  I also like to learn something I didn’t know through reading, whether it’s about a different community or some area of knowledge and if I can I’ll try and get an interesting fact in.

 

Alex:    What are your different approaches to poetry and prose? Does one come more easily than the other?

Joan:    I rarely write poetry, although I used to in my twenties. In many ways I wish I did. I like performing my work, and having an audience. That’s much more likely with poetry. There are fewer opportunities for short story writers to have their work heard. However I have written lyrics for a musical based on one of my short stories (with a post-graduate composer who heard one of my stories at an event and approached me to collaborate.) I’ve also written lyrics for a pantomime for a friend who teachers A level drama. I enjoy writing lyrics as they are part of a narrative.

 

Alex:    Do you have any strange or funny writing stories? 

Joan:    After I self-published my novel, I had postcards printed which I left in various shops, galleries etc in London. As it was set in Mexico, I left some in a Mexican gift shop in the Columbia Road flower market in London. A year or so later I signed up for a digital textile class at The City Lit in London. I woman arrived late and breathless and the only seat left was next to me. We both opened our computers to display the images we had brought in to inspire our textiles – hers were of Mexican streets. I commented on them, as mine too were of Mexico. I was there a few years ago, I said, in fact I loved it so much I wrote a novel set there – The Birdskin Shoes. Her jaw dropped. I’ve read that she said. I picked up the card in a gift shop in Columbia Road flower market. I loved it! It was a real Twilight Zone moment.

 

 

Alex:    What do you have coming down the pipeline? What’s next?

Joan:    I’m completing an M.A. in Creative Writing at Chichester University at the moment, and I am working on a novel for that. I’ve also been sending a lot of stories out to competitions although they are a long shot but it makes me revisit and hone my work. I set up a creative writing course in Hastings – and I’ve really enjoyed teaching that and I’m hoping to do more once lockdown is over. I’m also working on a couple of children’s picture books with my sister who is a greeting card designer. Those will be in rhyme, so maybe I have not quite left the poetry behind after all.

You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer, now VAT free! We recommend Hive for ePub.

watch Joan read The Bet at Hither Green Festival last year – we would have been there this week, were it not for the cursed covid.

Lockdown Interviews: no 24 Nina Murray interviewed by Cathy Bryant

Twenty-fourth in a series of author-to-author interviews to distract them, and you, from lockdown torpor.

Nina Murray

Nina Murray (An Outbreak of Peace) interviewed by Cathy Bryant (The Other Side of Sleep, Erratics)

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Cathy: You’ve recently been discussing on your blog how to organise work. This must be doubly difficult for you, as you have both art and writing to sort out! What are your strategies?

Nina:  Indeed! I have learned from experience that despite my best intentions, I can only do two things at once: writing and art, for example. Or writing and a day job. Translating and a day job. Day job and art. Not all three at the same time. At the moment, I’m in the “day job and writing” configuration. But whatever is going on, I am always keeping an eye on whatever I am not actively doing: either discovering new artists/authors whose work I admire, or learning additional tricks of the trade. I try to follow two principles. The first one, applicable to every area of life, I think, is to ask, What can only be done by me? The answers are pretty obvious: exercise, reading, writing, certain decisions, etc. My longer-term approach is create – curate – promote. At any given time, I try to be generating new work, revising or publishing or rearranging existing work, and promoting work, my own and that of others. Operative word here is “try.”

Cathy: Much of your work centres on animals. How would you describe your bond with them?

Nina:  The other day my mother was tidying her place and found what she proudly refers to as my first preserved work. I painted that picture when I was five. It is a picture of a farmyard, with a dog, a cat, some wildlife, a number of chickens, and a pair of ducks. All animals are clearly identifiable. There’s a tree for shade, a bone for the dog, and a pond for the ducks. The piece is signed. Not much has changed since then, other than about a decade ago someone pointed me to Pat Shipman’s paper “The Animal Connection” which argues, convincingly, that “Establishing an intimate connection to other animals is unique and universal to our species,” and, in fact, has been a driving force in the human evolution. It’s a great piece. Working with animals requires self-awareness, discipline, and a fundamental ability to get out of your way as an observer. I’ve been known to say that you could make sound hiring decisions based on how someone walks a dog. Or grooms a horse.

Cathy: What are you working on at the moment?

Nina:  Oh, man. Luring the next idea into my brain? My blog, mostly. I’m also putting myself through an online course from the International Writing Program, How Poets Write Poetry. It has generated some drafts…

Cathy: What is your writing/working day like?

Nina:  My job requires that I be responsive to folks in other time-zones, so when I start at 7 am (yay for telecommuting), it’s a sprint for a couple of hours to sort through whatever is waiting in my inbox. I curate my office’s Twitter feed, which means I spend a couple 15-minute intervals on that during the day. I walk the dog; I work out; I read. On Saturdays, I don’t talk to people other than my husband—I need the quiet. Usually that’s when I can write poetry, although I have been working on making it easier to enter that creative space in shorter amounts of time—if I wait for the luxury of a couple of uninterrupted hours, I will almost certainly spend half of that time on a nap. When I have a translation project, I work on that every day. I am fortunate to be married to a fiction writer who makes dinner almost every night.

Cathy: What resources have been helpful to you as a writer?

Nina:  Public libraries (almost) everywhere I have lived. Used bookstores. Thrift shops. I have a magpie kind of mind that relaxes while picking over an abundance of seemingly unrelated stuff.

Cathy: You’ve written some fascinating-sounding books! How would you sum up each one? Or if that’s not helpful, what might the reader take from each one?

Nina:  That’s a great question! There’s a chronology to them.

Fifty-Six North collects poems I wrote during my two sojourns in Lithuania – hence the title, which is the country’s latitude.
Minimize Considered was my first published collection, and it came together from poems I wrote on weekends while serving as a vice-consul in Toronto. I think of that time as the period when I finally committed to a writing habit and embrace Mary Heaton Worse’s maxim that “The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.” That carried me through two years in Moscow, which produced Alcestis in the Underworld, a book about being a post-Soviet observer of a place whose version of “post-“ differs radically from one’s own. Minor Heresies is my ode to women.  

Cathy: (I’m going to borrow some of your interview questions now, as they’re excellent.)
What type of information do you seek and consume daily? How useful is this information to you? How does it affect your work?

Nina:  Ah, yes! For practical purposes, I ensure that I am informed of submission calls, reading periods and the like. I read global news—after it’s been subjected to analysis I trust. I’ll listen to the National Public Radio once or twice a week. Right now, I seem to be gravitating to well-written, thoughtful non-fiction about discrete areas of human activity and history. I just finished Michael Pollan’s “The Botany of Desire,” and it was excellent. Anything that brings new vocabulary with it—so it’s probably time to revisit Seamus Heaney, from whom I never fail to learn words like “scud.”

Cathy: When people seek you out, why do they turn to you in particular? What do they want from you? Are you comfortable with that, or would you rather it were something else?

Nina:  My job determines a lot of my interactions with others, and in that context, it’s usually advice, endorsement, or financial support. Connections. Helping get a project off the ground… On a very basic level, I’d say it’s help in making a decision, however small. I am at a place—I just realized—where I do get invited to translate pieces, rather than being the one who pitches. And for a laugh. I’d like to think I’m reliably funny.

Cathy: What throws you off? This could be a small thing or a big thing. What do you do to regain your composure?

Nina:  A small thing that can really derail me is a sudden change in pre-arranged plans: as in, I have something on my agenda for the day, and the boss comes in and tells me to go do something else. Because usually if that happens, that means somewhere we crossed wires, and I didn’t plan properly, so I’m going to be feeling guilty for the next few hours if not days. That’s not good.
Any unexpected personal confrontation is painful. Heck, even an expected confrontation can derail me—the unexpected ones (there was that legendary time at the DMV in Toronto) just undo me.
I hope and tell myself I have gotten better at not losing my composure in the first place, but if that horse is out of the barn, there’s usually a good, long cry, then a dinner and a heart-to-heart with my husband.

Cathy: How can one make money from writing? How important is this to you?

Nina:  I’m still working on that. I ask every writer willing to answer, you know… I can imagine a situation in which a carefully managed flow of soundly negotiated translation projects could generate a living, especially somewhere with a good internet connection and low cost of living. But I haven’t done that myself, so I cannot in good faith endorse it.
The second part of this question is key, isn’t it? I think influence is more important than income. Recognition. Resonance. The most gratifying response I’ve ever received was from someone who sent me back a picture to illustrate what my poem made him think of (West Point in winter). That was awesome!

Cathy: What are you most proud of that you’ve created (art or writing – children don’t count!)?

Nina:  I don’t have children—by choice, and am slowly, tentatively reaching an age where I don’t wake up every morning asking myself what I’m going to do to make up for that.  I am proud of my marriage (however much credit I can take for that). I know I have been a force for good in a few people’s lives (my interns, my students, a few friends, I hope). At the moment, I’m proud of the fact that our rescue dog—who started out as an animal with utterly no tools to operate in the universe—has developed a few good habits and proper manners through consistent training, and that the two of us have been able to deliver said training. There was also that moment, during the time I was taking dressage lessons every week, when a young horse executed a flying lead change for the first time in his life under me—that was something else!

Cathy: What you like to learn or achieve, both in your work and outside it, if money, time, health etc were no object?

Nina:  I’d like to find out if I could actually write full-time, or if that idea in itself is a red-herring because no one truly does. I’d like to hike Switzerland. Or Austria. Either one. I’d like to apprentice to a jewelry maker. Restore an historic building—re-paint, re-build, re-place stuff.

Cathy: Do you ever struggle with motivation or writer’s block? How do you deal with this?

Nina:  Motivation – definitely. Sometimes I can happy-talk myself into working: say things like, heck, let’s just do this for a bit, not too long, it’ll be fun, you can stop as soon as it’s not fun. My biggest challenge is coming up with ideas, and I’m starting to think I’ve been going about it wrong, as in, I don’t need to have an idea to start. It’s like you said, just give it a go.

Cathy: Bonus: What question would you like to be asked? What is the answer?

Nina:  Uh! Uh! I actually started thinking about this the second I asked you. Here goes: Would you like to go on a weekend trip I’ve arranged, to a beautiful spot in the hills where we can go hiking for as long as you feel like it? And the answer, of course, is yes!

 

You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer, now VAT free! We recommend Hive for ePub.

Lockdown interviews: no23 Cathy Bryant interviewed by Nina Murray

Twenty-third in a series of author-to-author interviews to distract them, and you, from lockdown torpor.

Cathy Bryant (The Other Side of Sleep,, Erratics) interviewed by Nina Murray (An Outbreak of Peace)

 

Nina: What motivates you? How do you ensure you get the motivation you need?

Cathy: I’ve written since I was a child, and I read and wrote throughout a very unhappy childhood. Books were my escape then, and they’re my pleasure now. Both reading and writing, I still feel that urgency, that excitement that I felt when I was little—particularly that charge one gets when reading a book that one knows is going to be special. Sometimes I lose myself in writing a piece that works, and feel that same urgency. Not always! But I don’t need extra motivation—writing is what I do and who I am, and always has been. Though money is useful too! I know I’m supposed to be above such things as a writer, but I still have bills to pay.

Nina: What throws you off? What do you do to regain your composure?

Cathy: Physical pain, due to arthritis and fibromyalgia and a bunch of other stuff. It’s why I can’t keep a regular routine of the type that is supposed to be so helpful. What I do is let myself off the hook—it’s not my fault, after all. I can also use the time for daydreaming (i.e. constructive idea generation!) or other mind exercises.

Nina: Tell me about a collaboration that was unexpectedly successful. Or, conversely, recall a collaboration that should have worked well but did not.

Cathy: They say don’t work with animals, children—or your spouse. Keir worked with me and several others on the three Best of Manchester Poets anthologies, and it was a wonderful experience. We all discussed and debated things and did a fair bit of complaining, but, on the whole, it was a warm and empowering project. One launch night we had 42 poets performing, and we finished on time and with everyone happy!
Another experience that stands out was working with a dancer for an ‘Inspired by Tagore’ performance run by Sampad. My poem had won a competition with them, and as I read it to the audience, a dancer called Shuma Pal danced. It was very special. She wasn’t happy with her performance, but I thought she was wonderful!

Nina: What skills would you like to learn/acquire? If you could learn anything, and time/money were no object, what would it be and why?

Cathy: I’ll be honest here—fighting pain is my main goal, so that I can continue reading and writing as much as possible. Taking care of my health is a boring but necessary job.  If I could learn anything: flying aircraft, dermatology (since I had to work on someone’s cyst I’ve been peculiarly enthralled—yes I know it’s weird!), goldsmithing, botany (so I wouldn’t have to say things like, “That puffy bird that looks like a sponge was on top of the bush with red bits this morning,”), and I’d write a disabled Kama Sutra (one can get great wedges and supports and things these days).

Nina: What type of information do you seek and consume daily? How useful is this information to you? How does it affect your work?

Cathy: I do read a bit of the news—as much as my mental health can stand. Sometimes I write topical poems, political satire and so forth (a recent example is a poem called, Donald Trump Cures Everything). Since we moved into our own home last year, I’ve had a garden for the first time since leaving my parents. I’ve been learning the names of the plants and how to care for them. I’ve always loved birds, and some of my significant childhood experiences centered on them, so now I’m trying to get to know those in my garden. Recently I’ve been writing about a female blackbird in our front garden who seems to be in love with her own reflection, and tries to mate with herself. So nature is featuring more in my recent work. There’s also the journey of marriage, which is a strange and wonderful garden in itself, and which I am stumbling through!

Nina: If you are a goal-setting kind of writer, what are your goals for the rest of this year? What, in your opinion, would be one practical thing that a creative person should accomplish in, say, six months?

Cathy: I think it depends on the writer. These set goals can be impossible for those with chronic health conditions or disabilities. I would say, just keep trying, keep writing when you can, and don’t beat yourself up when you can’t. Research apps or other software to help with health problems—for instance, speech-activated dictation software is much improved.

Nina: What practices do you have in place to ensure that you solicit frank feedback that is helpful to you?

Cathy: Submitting my finished and proofed piece to a litmag that pays. I used to go to writing groups a lot, but having recently moved I’m still looking for the right one here. As far as feedback from editors goes—if they accept it, they like it, which is useful and remunerative feedback. If they reject it, sometimes they add a note saying, “We loved this except for…” which is incredibly useful. Appreciative and constructive editors are pure gold.

Nina: What public/media engagements have you found to be most effective in promoting your work? What kind of opportunity do you wish to see more of? (pardon the clunky grammar).

Cathy: I like clunky grammar—it’s human and fun! I am limited with performances by my mobility problems and mental health issues. This makes me appreciate my publisher, Cherry Potts at Arachne, even more—I can’t be the dynamic person zooming around festivals and doing performances every week. I use social media—I love Facebook, and as I love to entertain people, I do share links to my work there with any funny poems or posts. I am conscious that I don’t do enough.

Nina: In your typical workweek, what tasks do you tend to complete first? What resources do you regularly draw upon?

Cathy: The morning is for admin, as it’s my best time physically. This is the time for proofing and submitting work, for editing and emailing. I subscribe to Duotrope—it pays for itself every year, for me—and have a lifetime subscription to Firstwriter. I use these and many more websites to collate my Comps and Calls, a monthly list of opportunities for writers. I only list free writing competitions (yes, they are worth doing—I won $1000 for a previously published poem, among many other wins) and submission calls without entry fees (which fees I consider an abomination). Afternoons are for rest. Evenings are for dreaming and writing.
I also take a lot of meds. If I gave a speech, it would begin, “I’d like to thank tramadol, naproxen, bendroflumethiazide…”

Nina: Who are the people/groups to whom you turn? What resources do you still need?

Cathy: I do Napowrimo every year now, as I always seem to get about ten decent pieces out of it. The pieces that aren’t great have still exercised my writing muscles, got my brain working.
The people I turn to are my friends—I have many wonderful friends who are writers too. The writing community is one of my favourite places—so warm, so understanding, so helpful to those who want to enter it, or are having problems within it. I owe a great debt to other writers.
Keir and I are both writers, so we bounce ideas off each other all the time.

Nina: When people seek you out, why do they turn to you in particular? What do they want from you? Are you comfortable with that, or would you rather it were something else?

Cathy: When people turn to me, it’s usually because of my writing success—27 literary awards and writing competition wins, plus several books published, plus hundreds of pieces in litmags. They ask all sorts of things, from how to write a great book, how to find an agent, how to get their stories and poems published, what terms mean (such as ‘MS’ or ‘spec fic’) or if there are any litmags available for people of their nationality, or age, or belief system. I do my best to answer helpfully, remembering the free help I got when I needed it and was broke. But it’s impossible to give everyone the in-depth help they need or want. I just bumble along, doing my best when I can.
Once Robert Graves received a letter from a businessman. He wrote that he’d had a good year, and as he enjoyed Graves’ work he was sending him £400. Now that’s the sort of message I’d like to receive! I do get fan mail sometimes, and it fills me with joy. I still have a need for validation, and when someone messages me to say that they enjoyed something I wrote or performed, I’m walking on air for days. People do donate to keep Comps and Calls going, and I love them for their thoughtfulness.

Nina: How’s your social media presence? Is there anyone whose social media presence you feel is useful and meaningful?

Cathy: I spend too much time on Facebook, though I’ve also had great opportunities from there. As so often, my inspiration there comes from other writers, and editors and publishers—I’ll name a few names here: Dominic Berry, Karen Little, Ayesha Kajee, Cherry at Arachne, Teika Bellamy at Mother’s Milk, Rosie Garland, Angela Smith, Sheenagh Pugh and Steve O’Connor. Fiona Pitt-Kethley is astonishing in all sorts of ways. Apologies to those I haven’t mentioned, a good gross or so of whom (clunky grammar alert) are extremely important to me—the above list is a cross-section.

Nina:  How can one make money from writing?

Cathy: There are loads of ways, though my health makes many of them impossible. Dominic Berry goes into schools, for instance, and entertains the children and gets them interested in poetry and writing poetry—he’s the most lovely writer, performer and person. Then there are poets such as Akiel Chinelo who go into prisons and help the inmates via poetry. These are ways of earning money while helping people and writing, all at the same time. Some folk of an academic bent have become creative writing lecturers, a proper job based on writing. Other writers—and I can think of two fabulous ones, who might not want to be named—take the corporate wage and become either content writers or in-house writers. This is less creative but more remunerative, and it depends on each writer’s circumstances what is appropriate.
I struggle to do these things as I often have to cancel events due to my health flaring up. I do run the occasional workshop (£80 per two-hour session if you’d like to hire me, folks), usually specialising in getting published and/or entering writing competitions, as these are my specialist areas. Mainly for me, though, I make money from winning writing competitions, and submitting my stories and poetry to litmags. This is not a way to get rich! I’m very prolific, so I write and submit loads—over 400 submissions one year.

Bonus: What question would you like to be asked?

Ooh! Ooh! Exciting! Umm….what would I like for my birthday? I don’t know, so not that…
What do you need to do, Cathy?
I need to stop self-rejecting my manuscript of woman-centered science fiction and fantasy stories. I keep thinking, I’d like to write an intro or afterword to each piece, and an introduction. I keep thinking that it might not be good enough for Arachne (I know that lockdown is a rotten time to publish, so I’m not sending them off anyway at the moment). In other words, I’m doing all the things that stopped me from submitting my work for decades. [Note from Arachne. We have told Cathy she is a noodle and to send at once.]
I need to remember that almost all writers feel like that.
I need to remember my own writing mantra: give it a go. Keep trying. have a go!

 

You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.
If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer, now VAT free! We recommend Hive for ePub.

lockdown interviews: no22 J A Hopper interviewed by Sarah Lawson

middle-aged woman in sunglasses

J. A. Hopper (We/She, No Spider Harmed in the Making of This Book) interviewed by

Sarah Lawson (Vindication, The Other Side of Sleep, Departures.)

Sarah Lawson

Sarah:           Did you always want to write, or did the urge come to you later in life? Was there an early influence? Was there a moment when you said to yourself (if not to many others) “I am a writer!”? (Or has this moment yet to arrive?)

Jane:             I always loved to read, and fooled about with poetry a bit when I was a teenager, like lots of people do, as well as keeping an on-off diary over the years. I read everything when I was younger: romance, thriller, literary, nonfiction, but started getting into short stories on my maternity leave, because when you have a newborn in the house you’re never more than half an hour away from being interrupted. And then when my daughter started sleeping through and I had a bit of time in the evenings, I thought I’d have a go at writing something. That was in 2015, so with some stories now published in actual printed books I can start to call myself a writer, but sadly it’s not a full time job.

 

Sarah:           Apart from spiders, what subjects attract you?

Jane:             Most of my stories are about or inspired by parenthood or kids. Write what you know! And also there isn’t a huge amount of short fiction out there about the lonely, funny, weird experience of first-time parenting, or not much that I’ve found, so I thought that could be my “thing”. My spider story for No Spider Harmed was inspired by the Anansi stories I read as a child, which my daughter also loves.

 

Sarah:           Some writers need special circumstances to inspire them to write – solitude or public places, home or abroad, an attic workroom, a cabin in the garden, the kitchen table, a corner of a library, a pen and paper or the latest Apple. Do you have any ideal requirements for writing?

Jane:             I use a laptop because I type faster than I hand-write, but that’s necessity really. The main thing is that my daughter must be out of the house or sound asleep. That’s all I need, but boy do I need it! Nothing creative can get done, by me at least, with an energetic, demanding kid in the house. Special circumstances, the right sharpness of HB pencil and any other requirements are wild luxuries. Joyce Carol Oates said that the great enemy of writing is interruption, and she’s completely nailed it. Uninterrupted time is all I need: everything else is superstition and window-dressing.

 

Sarah:           Have you found memories a useful source of material? Childhood memories, perhaps, or some experience in the more recent past?

Jane:             I think a few childhood memories creep in to my writing sometimes, like remembering the Barbies I played with as a little girl for We/She, but usually I write about contemporary, current, personal stuff: the things that are right in front of me.

 

Sarah:           Do you like to read your work to an audience, or even “perform” it? (Actually, I am not sure what “performance poetry” is, except that one must read it in a dramatic way. I don’t think I am a performance poet, although I quite like to read to an audience.)

Jane:             No! The idea brings me out in a cold sweat. I love listening to stories and audiobooks, but I’m not a good reader-aloud myself at all, which is why I sent some of my first stories to Liars’ League. They get actors to do it, which is much better for everyone.

 

Sarah:           How do you picture your readers? What response would you hope them to have when they read your work?

Jane:             I hope anyone can enjoy my stories, but especially that they appeal to stay-at-home and working mums like myself who are doing their best and sometimes feeling the stress. I love funny stories and think there should be more of them in the world, which is why I try to write them: I want readers to laugh and to relate. I might also find a select audience in women who’ve developed a mild crush on Daddy Pig through watching too much Peppa Pig. His voice is definitely too sexy for children’s TV.

 

You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

Preorder No Spider Harmed… – out 8th August for our eighth anniversary!

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer. Now VAT free! We recommend Hive for ePub.

Lockdown Interviews: no21 Ness Owen interviewed by Joy Howard

Ness Owen (Mamiaith, Shortest Day, Longest Night, Dusk, An Outbreak of Peace, Noon, Time and Tide) interviewed by fellow poet Joy Howard, (Foraging, Dusk,Time and Tide)

Joy Howard

Joy:     As someone who has never been rooted in any particular location, I am especially interested in how the opposite of that – in your case Wales and Ynys Môn – makes your poetry particular and different. What would you like to say about that?

Ness:   I never really thought consciously about how much I write about place until more of my work was published and people started commenting. I’ve always felt deeply rooted to Ynys Môn and to Cymru- to the landscape, history, language and stories. I grew up living with one set of grandparents in the North but also frequently visiting my other grandparents in Swansea in the South. They were all great storytellers and they (together with my primary school and Sunday school teachers) instilled me with a great sense of my roots and of stories bursting to be told.
School holidays were often spent making the long, (up to 7-hour journey because of travel sickness) across the length of the country. I was fascinated by the changing landscapes and the place names, often knowing their order off by heart. On these journeys, I learnt so much of a history that wasn’t taught in schools from the meaning of names, folklore to story behind graffiti on walls.
As you can imagine, living on a small wind-blown island, the sea can’t help but show up in my writing too. I’ve never lived more than a couple of minutes from the shore. I was brought up in a village with the Irish Sea in front of me and the Inland Sea behind me and I now live on my husband’s family farm where the spring tides come into the fields not far from the house.
Also, growing up in a bilingual community has had a great influence on my writing and I’ve always been fascinated by words and languages in general. In school, I also studied German, French and Latin. One of my neighbours was German so we often played German games in her garden and at Christmas we sang ‘Silent Night’ in Welsh, English and German. I love the different sounds of languages and the weaving between more than one language.

Joy:     I am a lifelong fan of R S Thomas – has he been an influence in your writing? Anyone else in particular?

Ness:   I’m a great fan too and his poetry collections are always at hand to return to. Although I was aware of him for his activism when I was growing up, I was very much a later comer to his poetry. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I realised that he was brought up a few miles from me and I’d attended the same secondary school as him. Even though I studied literature up to a degree, we didn’t study any Welsh writers writing in English, so I do feel cheated that he wasn’t celebrated at that time. Thankfully that has changed.
I read a lot of poetry, so I probably have been influenced by many and I enjoy a great variety of styles. Names that spring to mind today would be Mary Oliver, Menna Elfyn, Seamus Heaney, Tony Harrison but that list leaves many others out!

Joy:     Do you feel that gender/sexuality/age also have a bearing on what you write?

Ness:   I sure they must. I was very aware when I began studying literature that we weren’t studying many women writers or poets. In the first few years of secondary school, we were given a poetry anthology to read called ‘Reach Out’ (which I confess, I still have). It has 100 poems in it, and at the time I counted that there were only 3 poems by women. This stayed with me, so I suppose I always felt a sense of how easy it is not to be heard.

Joy:     And following on from that, do you also write ‘outside your skin’ so to speak?

Ness:   I hope that some of my work gives voices to others too. I attended a workshop many years ago where we asked to rewrite a piece that we had written from other person’s point of view, either from another gender, age group, opposing side etc. I use this exercise on my work sometimes to try and see if another angle adds a new dimension and, in an effort to make sure I’m not being too blinkered.

Joy:     I see that you have also written a number of plays – which is your preferred medium?

Ness:   I enjoy writing both and often a play will start as or turn into poem or a vice versa. As I get older, I seem to be writing more poetry, but I do have ideas on the back burner that will hopefully turn into plays.
I like the anonymity of writing plays in the sense that you can hand it over and can sit with the audience (even if you heart is racing). On the other hand, poetry is something that I can work on while I’m doing other things whereas plays tie me to the desk.

Joy:     How was it working with a translator?

Ness:   I was lucky to have met Sian Northey in a playwriting workshop the year before my collection was published and she encouraged me to write more in Welsh. Afterwards, I also attended a workshop of Sian’s and learnt so much about sitting with the meaning of the poem before starting to translate.
When Cherry asked if I would translate a few of the poems into Welsh I asked Sian if she would proof-read and make any suggestions and thankfully, she agreed. From my side it was a free and easy conversation and we emailed back and forth. She was very gracious at pointing out any grammatical errors or ‘camdrieglo’ (incorrect mutations) and it was a joy to see the finished poems.

Joy:     I’m devastated that all Grey Hen Press readings have been cancelled for the foreseeable. Do you enjoy performing your work?

Ness:   It must be such a difficult time as readings are such a lifeline and disappointing that events are being understandably cancelled.
Although I still get nervous, I do enjoy performing. I think it’s a catalyst to improve your craft and to find out when things don’t work. I also love meeting and listening to other writers. I enjoy going to open mics and I’m a member of a few local groups that organise events. I’ve got so much out of these chances to perform.

Joy:     What projects are you currently working on?

Ness:   As part of the multi creative exhibition ‘Unus Multorom’ in Plas Bodfa on Ynys Môn, I’ve been working on a set of micro poems in Welsh and English about 3 female saints Gwenfaen, Ffraid and Dwynwen who were all ‘brought by the sea’. It’s been fascinating to research them and, to realise how much their stories hold true to what we need more of today: kindness, a soothing of the mind and unconditional love. I’ve been working in collaboration with the artist Rita Ann Jones who has produced an amazing sculpture out of recycled plastic which is based on the chains and ropes holding ships in the quay. The poems will be displayed within the sculpture together with salvaged pieces found on the beaches where the saints were said to had arrived at. Due to the lockdown, the exhibition has had to change medium to digital and it will eventually all be found at https://www.plasbodfa.com/unus-multorum-2020 .
I hope to put together a pamphlet of micro poems, a form I’ve been enjoying working with after the call outs from the Black Bough community on Twitter.
I’m also very excited to be reading for a journal later this year.

Joy:     Please add anything you want to say that I have left out – and I must order a copy of Mamiaith from Cherry forthwith!

Ness:   Thank you for selecting such thought provoking questions.

You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer, now VAT free! We recommend Hive for ePub.

Lockdown Interviews: no20 Anne Macaulay interviewed by Ness Owen

Anne family tales

Anne Macaulay

Anne Macaulay (Vindication, The Other Side of Sleep) interviewed by fellow Poet, Ness Owen (Shortest Day, Longest Night, Dusk,  An Outbreak of Peace,  Noon, Time and Tide, Mamiaith)

Ness_Owen (4)

Ness:  I very much enjoyed reading all your poems in the Vindication anthology. They have a ‘travelled’ feel to them. Are you an avid traveller? Where is ‘home’ for you?

Anne:           That’s very kind of you. I love travelling. It is not just the pleasure and relaxation part of it though of course that is important. It is part of my passion for learning and enjoying difference – food, architecture and other cultural aspects that add to my joy at broadening my experience. My flamenco poems are an example of this. I love the colours, the drama, the music in all its forms – guitar, voice, percussion, particularly the power of the clapping and how these rhythms are manifest in the dance. It is a very different culture from my original home in rural north Scotland, but the power and passion of music and dance have always drawn me in. My current home is in the east of London and has been since the 70s. I love the mixture of peoples and cultures making every day like a travel experience.

Ness:  Identification in Vindication is a hauntingly powerful poem. What was the inspiration for it?

Anne:           The opening lines refer to my ‘Greek foot’. My long middle toes were often the subject of teasing by my sisters and embarrassment for me as a teenager. It was a revelation to see my feet in some old statues in museums and it became a bit of a joke. I must have been thinking of this subconsciously while I washed myself as the first lines popped into my head one day as I stepped out of the shower. I probably watch and read too many crime stories as somehow it suddenly seemed easy to imagine myself lying on a mortuary slab with a clinical discussion going on about my dead body. As I did this, it didn’t feel maudlin, rather it felt interesting to compare the factual details of a body with the human being who once occupied that space. It gave me a vehicle to self-reflect.

Ness:  Are there common themes in your poems that you return to?

Anne:           Like a lot of people the themes of childhood and family and who I am often recur. I had a very old-fashioned, strict, but loving, upbringing as the fifth of seven children. My father was a Church of Scotland minister from the Outer Hebrides and my mother was a teacher and also hailed from the Highlands. Fathers and Daughters in Vindication brings in my father and my husband when we reconciled over not having a religious wedding by having a blessing in my parents’ living room. I have written, too, about my children and as a new grandmother I suspect I may soon expand these family poems to include my beautiful new granddaughter. However, as is shown in Vindication, I also go beyond my immediate world. For example, the theme of feminism is close to my heart as well as concerns for treatment of all groups who are oppressed for example, the poems Vindication, Here Lived and A Man Once Said to Me. However I rarely write overtly political poetry and sometimes my poetry stems from a sudden random thought – this has happened several times after stepping out of the shower. The poem, I Went to the Market and I Bought, which appears in the Arachne Press anthology, The Other Side of Sleep, was one such.

Ness:  You have had a long career in education. Would you say this has had an impact on your writing?

Anne:           I loved my years in education – working to give young people the best of chances to become their best as human beings contributing to society was always my goal. I suppose that made me very aware of human nature dealing with it, shaping it, in all its forms, in the classroom, the corridor and the playground. So perhaps I gained insights that find their way out in poetry. I actually didn’t really do much creative writing, poetry or prose, until the end of my career. Work occupied so much of my time that I didn’t have time for much else. However, I am so grateful that I started poetry classes as a diversion from not working and found that after all these years of considering myself very uncreative, that I get great satisfaction from writing, particularly poetry.

Ness:   What’s the most read poetry book on your shelves?

Anne:           I came to poetry late and so when I was young and, as a teacher of English for some of my career, I would have read mainly the school canon. Writers such as Gerard Manley Hopkins, Wilfrid Owen, Robert Burns, Sylvia Plath would have been some of the ones I read most and enjoyed. Sometimes it was just individual poems stuck in my mind like Stevie Smith’s Not Waving but Drowning or Frances Cornford’s Childhood rather than collections. Since going to classes at City Lit and The Poetry School it has been fantastic being introduced to contemporary poetry. I have enjoyed so many new works in the last few years it is hard to choose. I have also had the added enjoyment of reading pamphlets and books written by people I now consider friends as well as poets I admire. All the poets I have had as tutors are great poets whose work I enjoy and have been generous in sharing their appreciation of other peoples’ poetry: Clare Pollard, Roddy Lumsden, Chris McCabe, Matthew Caley, Sophie Herxheimer, Sasha Dugdale and Mark Waldron – but if you’re going to pin me down on this, I would have to say that Roddy Lumsden’s So Glad I’m Me is probably the most read, recently. This is for a number of reasons. I love Roddy’s poetry and it would probably take me too long to define why. Like most of his students, Roddy’s class and his writing had a huge influence on me, and I used to say to him that I could feel him looking over my shoulder – telling me I needed to do a lot of rethinking and redrafting! This particular collection, sadly his last before his death in January, has many poems written to or inspired by different people he knew and one of those (Small Calamities) was written for me after I’d had a bit of a crisis. This of course makes it more personal for me but also, I love all the poems in it.

Ness:  What’s the best and worst advice about writing poetry that you’ve been given?

Anne:           Writing is so personal that different things apply to different people and their varied writing styles. I think being advised to read work aloud has been very helpful and re-reading with an ear not just to sound and rhythm but to flabbiness! So cutting is often very helpful. However I think it is important to hold onto one’s own belief in work. I remember once I brought a poem back to an early workshop where I had tried to take on board everything my classmates had said. One of the class said to me at the end quietly, ‘You can sometimes over-workshop a poem’. I was really grateful for that, and now only take on board advice that fits totally with my own thinking.

Ness:  Following on from that, if you could give your younger self advice what would it be?

Anne:           That is quite difficult as I never considered myself a poet until in recent years. I certainly wish I had considered myself as having a creative side when I was younger, and that I had started writing in my youth. Perhaps I would say to myself – there is work and there is family but set aside something for yourself whatever it is to do even if it is only now and then.
Ness:  What are your future writing plans?

Anne:           I am not great at planning and looking forward. I think my writing plans would be helped if I did more reading of other poets’ work. I have had poetry published in anthologies but would love to have a pamphlet or collection out of my work as an individual poet. I think this interview has made me think I perhaps need to be more organised and disciplined as a poet if I am ever to come close to achieving that goal. Maybe that should also be a bit of advice to my younger self too.

You can buy all the Arachne books mentioned from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer, now VAT free! We recommend Hive for ePub.

Lockdown interviews: no19 C A Limina interviewed by Katy Darby

Author C. A. Limina (Story Cities) interviewed by Katy Darby (Five by Five, Stations, London Lies, An Outbreak of Peace, Shortest Day Longest Night, Liberty Tales,  We/She)

Katy:     You have a flash fiction, Starlight, in the Story Cities anthology. Was the story inspired by the Story Cities call out? If not, what inspired you to a) write it and b) send it to Story Cities? And P.S. I love all the space(ship) imagery in it – very apt.

CAL:    I wouldn’t say Starlight was inspired by Story Cities specifically, but while reading the callout I briefly flashed back to a time when I was younger. My father was renting out an apartment and needed to renovate it, so he brought me up there while he checked the progress. The arid smell of dry concrete and the night sky stayed with me for a reason I could never understand, but it was the view of the vast, spotted city lights and the hollow sky that overviewed it that stole my attention. I got two stories out of it–The Men Who Stole the Stars, the older version that got into The Jakarta Post a couple of years ago, and Starlight. Whereas the former spoke more of the bare concrete and lifeless growth that I remembered, I think I wanted Starlight to reflect more on the loneliness of the latter half of my life (I say that as if I’m sixty and about to die in a couple of months, but I think in these times, we are all spiritually tired, frail and constantly worried about death, so bear with me.) I think Starlight definitely fit more to the Story Cities call and I’ve always been glad that the editors picked it up, because I think a lot of people in the modern world have an experience or two when it comes to being awake and alone in a cold hotel, staring out into a desolate city or an unfamiliar space. Capturing that was a great deal of fun.

Katy:     What’s a (free to read, online) flash fiction or short story you think everybody should read, and why?

CAL:    I don’t know if it counts as flash fiction or not, but the-modern-typewriter on Tumblr makes hero vs villain pieces where they use archetypes in the place of the characters. Some of them used to be prompts but now the owner of the blog has shifted into making it their own pieces, and I think that’s great because a lot of the works are fantastic flashfics. However, a lot of them lean more to the modern styles of online fandom culture, so it’s still a matter of taste. I’ll link one of their classics here:

https://the-modern-typewriter.tumblr.com/post/159015287478/shh-its-alright-the-villain-said-youre

Katy:     Tell me about the first piece of fiction you ever had published.

CAL:    Oh boy. Informally plenty of my work has floated across the web in various forums, so I’d be hard pressed to say which of them were my first. Formally one of the first places that I’ve ever had the pleasure of being featured in was the Jakarta Post, from the same story I mentioned in earlier. That was published in December of 2018, but it’s been in my rework pile for what must be years, so I’m glad it finally got out of the old trunk. Other than that, I don’t think I have much else to say about it. The Men Who Stole the Stars was a byproduct of didactic phase in my portfolio, and it shows–lots of commentary on the hollowness of urban culture, some poetry and nice words to back it up, but not nearly as profound as my younger self thought it was. It’ll always hold a special place in my heart regardless, but one day I hope I’ll be in a position where I can look at it and wholeheartedly think “God, what was I thinking?”

Katy:     Tell me about your favourite story of your own which hasn’t found a home yet?

CAL:    Tough question! Some of my lecturers have compared writing a piece to having a baby, but if how I treat my writing is any bit analogous to how I may treat children, I should be forbidden to sire an offspring. In any case, I have a debilitating dislike for most of my “children,” not necessarily because of a lack of quality but more because I find too much of myself in them. I think, if I had any “favorite child,” it would have to be the journal entries of a robotics technician who works to repair/study the malfunctioning AI of an android modelled after her late abusive father that develops behaviors its inspiration never possessed. It’s probably never going to leave the trunk by virtue of my never having written sci-fi and barely ever reading the genre as well, but it’s a good feels trip to write regardless, and it made me happy so that’s all that matters.

Katy:     What’s your favourite story by someone else in Story Cities? Why?

CAL:    Coffee by Shamini Sriskandarajah. I interviewed the author a couple of weeks back and she was extremely nice, a very pleasant person all around. I’m just awed by its atmosphere, really, the tension summed in such few words. I think it exemplifies everything a good flashfic should be, a story plucked from the city–well, in Coffee‘s case, plucked from the terminus, but the end result is the same.

Katy:     What story are you working on (or thinking about) right now?

CAL:    I have an extremely early draft of a WIP written in pencil. Professionally, it’s a look into the life of a skilled interpreter who is hired to introduce an otherworldly tourist to the human world, learning the language of nature in the process. Unprofessionally, it’s a story of a polylinguist who has the hots for the sea.

Katy:     What’s one DO piece of advice you’d give to someone who writes or wants to?

CAL:    See the next question.

Katy:     And what’s a DON’T?

CAL:    Don’t listen to me, or anyone else when it comes to writing. That’s kind of paradoxical, but what I mean is automatically following advice when it comes to writing is like following advice on how to live a good life–very little of it pans out in the end because of sheer subjectivity, and advice that pans out for everyone end up being so common they might as well be truisms, like “show don’t tell.” I’m not saying everyone who’s ever given writing advice is wrong, not at all, but I am saying that the first thing you should probably do is figure out what you want to do with yourself. Do you want to entertain others? Do you want to express yourself? Every piece you write should have purpose, even if it’s as trifle as “I just wanted to have fun,” and once you discover that purpose, then you can begin to sift through the endless scroll of thought-pieces to understand how to achieve that purpose. Even then, my instructions might be making you red in the ears, which is entirely valid. The way I see it, there are only two things that truly matter in writing, and that’s how a) you feel about it and b) your audience will feel about it.

Well, I’ve already somewhat given a Do advice in my contradictory Don’t advice, so I might as well give one more. Read and listen. It’s truistic advice, but I know more than a handful of people who write more than they read (including me nowadays, oops), and that usually results in their repeating certain cliches within their mediums or making “amateur” mistakes or breaking vital conventions. The purpose of reading and listening is not to be instructed by others, but to find your own set of instructions, to understand what you like, dislike, want to see more of and want to see less of. This is how you know when certain advice is worthy enough to be listened to and when others aren’t going to fit your flow.

Katy:     What are the best and worst things about lockdown for you, as a person or a writer?

CAL:    Best thing is I get to be alone with my thoughts. Worst thing is I get to be alone with my thoughts.

Katy:     We all contain multitudes, and I notice that you have several names (Eli, Cal, C.A.) – do you use them for different purposes (e.g. a gender neutral writing name) or do they all feel like you/represent some different aspect of yourself?

CAL:    I’m pretty non-conforming when it comes to gender, especially in my home country, so neutrality always felt more fitting than anything else. Some of my names, like Eli, are a byproduct of when I was in high school and still figuring myself out. My email account has been around for a while and I never got to changing its title because I never wholly disagreed with the identity my high school self formed. Cal is my name in the present, and a syllabic version of my initials (C.A.L), and I was lucky enough to be in a supportive environment with companions who’d refer to me as that. I only started formally publishing works in my freshman year, so I never figured out a good pen name, but I did start to favour the Indonesian heritage associated with my last name, Limina. The era of President Soeharto forced Chinese Indonesians like my father to change their original names and do various other things in order to “assimilate” into the “culture,” erasing huge chunks of the secondary identity most Chinese Indonesians in Java had. I imagine the same thing is happening to a lot of cultures from developing nations in a globalist world, and something similar occurs to queer folks who are alienated by their “traditional” cultures. The core of it all is the birth of a new identity from the loss or rejection of an old one. I enjoy the metaphor my last name serves me, the idea that I was not born, but moulded by circumstance, the notion that I both did and did not choose who I became. It has no intrinsic meaning beyond that, though, so perhaps one day I’ll go by something else.

 

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If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer. we recommend Hive for ePub.

Lockdown interviews: no18 Claire Booker interviewed by Laura Potts

Claire BookerClaire Booker interviewed by fellow Time and Tide Poet, Laura Potts

Laura potts

Laura:  Hello Claire! It’s lovely to virtually meet you. Let’s start with an easy one. Why do you write?

Claire: Ah, that’s a good one, Laura. I rarely stop and ask myself why? Too busy trying to actually do it. I think it’s because writing offers me quiet, introspection, where I can explore the things that feel deepest, and yet are hardest to reach. It can be frustrating, coming close (but not quite close enough) to something meaningful. But when words do come together in unexpected and revealing ways, then there’s real satisfaction. I also enjoy being part of the wider family of writers. It feels like a journey we share together, as readers and writers of each other’s work.

Laura:  As a poet, who haunts you? Are there any writers you return to time after time?

Claire: I was madly in love with Wilfred Owen when I was at school. I even carried a little framed photo of him around with me! I love Edward Thomas too – even more so now I’m older. His niece was my father’s first girlfriend, and his great niece was my Aunt’s god-daughter, so there’s that additional connection. Other poets who inspire me include Dylan Thomas, W B Yeats and Seamus Heaney. I may have a bit of a Celtic thing going on here. But Gerald Manley Hopkins is also awe-inspiring, and Plath is vital reading too. I enjoy contemporary poets too, including Alison Brackenbury, Pascal Petit and Mona Arshi.

Laura:  Tell us your favourite line of poetry.

Claire: Help, that’s quite a Sophie’s choice you’re offering me there. Perhaps Dylan Thomas

And alone in the night’s curving act/ They yearn with tongues of curlews for the unconceived/And immemorial sons of the cudgelling, hacked/Hill.

Or Sappho

Moon and the Pleiades go down. / Midnight and tryst pass by. I, though, lie/ Alone.

Am I allowed a third one? Plath

 Love set you going like a fat, gold watch.

Positively the last! Sam Beckett

Birth. It was the death of him.

 

Laura:  As a Brighton-based writer, do you feel that place and time are important to your work? Can you separate your personal writing from your personal geography?

Claire: I moved to a village just outside Brighton three years ago, after decades in south London. The sea and Downs are definitely beginning to loom large in my work. My poems are often about people, relationships, conflicts, memories and dreams. But I’m finding nature increasingly represented, either symbolically, or as the primary character of the poem.  Fisherman’s Daughter (In Time and Tide) came about through a visit to the excellent Fishing Museum on Brighton beach. We can forget how livelihood was once a very physical and dangerous reality, involving whole families.  I’m a dreadful sailor (three sea legs required for any kind of sea journey) but I love living vicariously through the vocabulary and mythology of the sea.

Laura:  Here’s a fun one. If you were throwing a fantasy dinner party for poets and playwrights, who would you invite?

Claire: Great idea. I wonder how they’d all get along? I’d have to invite Shakespeare, so I could pump him about the Dark Lady (might s/he come too?). Emily Dickenson, but would she turn up? Probably not.  Maria Tsvetaeva (I’d have to brush up my Russian), Lorca and Neruda (help, no Spanish), Oscar Wilde (for his wit), Maya Angelou, Sharon Olds and Jackie Kay to keep the men in check. Plus of course everyone from my Stanza Group.

Laura:  You had the chance to travel to Bangladesh last year as a guest poet for the Dhaka Book Fair. What was that like?

Claire: Totally amazing. It all came about through Loose Muse Writer’s Night, which has met in London for 15 years and is run by the wonderful Agnes Meadows. A key Bangladeshi poet Aminur Rahman came to perform (unusually, because Loose Muse is a platform for female writers) and we exchanged books. A year later he invited me as one of seven guest poets from around the world. We performed at three universities, the Dhaka Book Festival, on countless TV programmes, Poetry clubs and even in a prison. It was my first time in Asia and the warmth of the welcome and the sheer enthusiasm everyone showed for poetry was inspiring, and very humbling.

Laura:  Do you have any advice for young readers who feel called to write?

Claire: I’d say play with ideas and words, experiment, and don’t feel you have to write in a certain way. Perhaps consider one of the many creative degree courses, but equally, remember to respect and enjoy your own voice (and the finding of it). There isn’t a right way to write poetry. Meet up with other writers, support each other and give and receive feedback. You have something unique to share.

Laura:  Finally, tell us a little bit about your future projects. Where can we find you?

Claire: I’m working on a full collection based on my experiences of living here on the South Downs. My first pamphlet Later There Will be Postcards is out with Green Bottle Press, and my second pamphlet The Bone That Sang is forthcoming from Indigo Dreams later this year. I blog at www.bookerplays.co.uk  where you can read excerpts of my stage plays and a selection of poetry.

You can buy all  Arachne books, including Time and Tide  from our webshop, we will post them out to you.

If you would prefer eBooks, all these books are available from your usual retailer. we recommend Hive for ePub.