First in a series of author-to-author interviews to distract them, and you, from lockdown torpor.
Jane Aldous (Let Out the Djinn, Noon, An Outbreak of Peace, Time and Tide, Dusk)
interviews Sarah James (Vindication, Shortest Day Longest Night, Five by Five) aka S.A.Leavesey
Jane: I’d love to know about your first piece of published writing.
Sarah: Ooh, that’s a tough one because I don’t actually know what or when it was! Primary school age, I used to make my own newspapers – handwriting out actual existing articles. So, no proper copyright training in place, lol, but also only ever one copy! My mum was a great encourager and, age 6 or 7, I had a poem commended, or something like that, in a children’s poetry competition. I don’t remember much about the poem except that it was about a flea in a dressing gown, with rhymes on hopping and shopping! Of course, I realise now that all entries would have been commended… My first published pieces were probably in the school magazine, and I also had work in the national Early Times (I think that’s what it was called) children’s newspaper and a local newspaper that had a section for young writers. My mum did hand me a pile of clippings a few years ago, but I’ve not been brave enough to look at them, the likely cringe factor is too high!
Jane: How do you write? Do you always write in the same place and the same time of day, or does it happen more spontaneously?
Sarah: I write wherever I am when I want to or have to write. If I can, I prefer to write poetry on paper first, and only type this up after a few redrafts. With fiction or articles, I tend to jot notes on paper but then go straight to my laptop to put them together. I’ve no set routines. I like some structure, particularly commissions and themed or dead-lined opportunities. When I don’t have an externally imposed/suggested framework, then I create my own by looking for prompts, themed submissions etc. In terms of totally spontaneous inspiration, I tend to need to be in a head-space that allows procrastination, a certain level of relaxation in which something will arise either to beat boredom or meet the inner impulse to create that is a very strong motivator for me.
Jane: Is the coronavirus crisis having an impact on your writing or other creative work?
Sarah: Like most writers, I’ve been hit financially by lost work. I’m busier with communication with other writers at the moment, and also sorting photo-poem combinations for some stunning Arachne poets’ work for the journal LitWorld2 that I run. I’ve been working too on poetryfilms to promote already published work, like Model Child for Arachne Press, and in collaboration with a film student. I had to write a new poetry narrative script for the latter, and I’ve really enjoyed doing this, but that’s about my only new work. I live with low level anxiety most of the time, but my anxiety levels, like many writers’ right now, are much higher than usual, which makes it harder to concentrate or find the right headspace to create. The worry, sorrow and grief aren’t things I’ve ever experienced on this scale before. Keeping busy is a healthy distraction though, which is why I’ve been busy working on/with things already written. The community spirit, help and hope being expressed worldwide are also incredibly uplifting, so I have a lot of gratitude too. I think this is increased even more by working in collaboration, as shared projects are always great fun and energy-giving!
Jane: What writing or other creative project would you like to fulfil long term?
Sarah: Gosh, another hard one. I have various manuscripts – several poetry collections, a flash novella and a memoir – that I’d like to see published eventually. But I’d prefer to let each have full time, attention and space individually to breathe, so I’ve no firm goals of what when, so to speak. Although I do find structure and focus extremely useful in writing, I also believe in leaving room for spontaneity and serendipity. The poetry-play version of my Forward Prize highly commended collection The Magnetic Diaries, wasn’t something that I’d set out to do in advance. It was an opportunity that came up, I went for it and it was really amazing! I’d have missed out on that completely if I’d had too rigid a framework of other goals set, because I wouldn’t have had room to be open to new possibilities.
Jane: What person or object would you like to collaborate with?
Sarah: This isn’t something I’ve ever thought of! What a wonderful question, thank you. The possibilities are endless… I’m not really a ‘big celebrities’ kind of person. I guess I’d really love to meet the Dalai Lama, but can’t imagine that in terms of an artistic collaboration. I think one of the beautiful things about collaboration is the unexpected, the spontaneity, the resulting combination that none of those involved could ever have conceived of beforehand. So, for me, dream collaborations would probably be about working with people who are very open to what happens along the process, where I get to learn about and experience new art-forms, and where we share similar ideas and expectations in terms of commitment to the project and what to do with resulting collaboration once it is finished.
Shortest Day, Longest Night
Five by Five
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. we recommend Hive for ePub.