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: No3 Shamini Sriskandarajah interviews Sarah Lawson

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

Shamini

Shamini Sriskandarajah

Shamini Sriskandarajah (Story Cities) interviews Sarah Lawson (Vindication, The Other Side of Sleep, Departures.)

Sarah Lawson

Sarah Lawson

Shamini:      I met you at the beginning of March at a reading in Greenwich for International Women’s Day. You read out poems you had contributed to Arachne Press’s collection, Vindication. What does feminism mean to you?

Sarah:    Feminism takes me back to Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch, which I read in about 1970. I didn’t always identify with the strictures Greer described, but I understood and had encountered the bias against women. It is always surprising when some members of a disadvantaged group somehow identify with the “oppressors” and oppose a movement. I’m thinking of Phyllis Schafley here, who started a movement to oppose the Equal Rights Amendment in the US. This amendment was on the point of being ratified by the right number of states to become an amendment to the Constitution, but for some reason she thought it was a bad idea and mobilised enough people to defeat it! Things have improved in spite of everything. Girls can be more ambitious now; there are good role models for them; “sexism” has been identified and is a word now for what was experienced but hadn’t been named before. Even men began to understand that some of their thoughtless actions were no longer acceptable. This is an ongoing process! I wrote an article in about 1971 that was printed in The Guardian. I had a list of employment opportunities from the Glasgow University careers office, and lots of the jobs stipulated “no women”. I wrote to a number of these companies and asked why exactly women weren’t welcome to apply for these jobs. The answers were very interesting. Some said “Oh, did it say ‘No women’? Well, they can apply if they want to.” Others offered fascinating excuses, like they had to be part of a team and women wouldn’t fit in, or the job required people to load crates of things in a warehouse and required physical strength. (This for a white-collar management job.) Later I wrote a few things for Spare Rib. SR took such a gloomy view of things that I tried to find positive things to report—I remember a woman who had swum the length of Lake Windermere at an amazing average speed. (I was a qualified swimming teacher by then and thought her achievement should be acknowledged.)

Shamini:       I loved the timbre of your voice and the warmth of your words as you read out your poem about visiting your mother-in-law. How do you find reading your work out in public? I connected with the gentle sense of a loss and the new memories about life after the loss. Could you tell me a little bit more about your poems?

Sarah:        I’m so pleased that you liked Driving up to Renfrew! It is unusual in that I wrote it very near the time it describes. Usually I let an experience wait until I “recollect it in tranquillity”, as Wordsworth said. My husband died by his own hand in September 1992. His mother had come down for the funeral in October, and now I was going to her for Christmas. Between Christmas and New Year we scattered his ashes in The Trossachs. It was all a very sad business, as you may imagine. My mother-in-law and I became quite close over the next 15 years or so. She died at 100 in 2006. Toward the end of her life and afterwards I wrote a series of 20 poems about her and about our relationship. Some of them have been published but they should be in a pamphlet. I also wrote some poems about the death of my mother in 1981, but most of my poems are more light-hearted. They are very visual. I have always liked to describe the look of things in some arresting way. I am attracted to haiku for this reason, I think.

Shamini:       It’s strange to think we only met a month ago. Our lives have all changed since then because of Covid 19. What is life like for you now?

Sarah:         Golly yes! It was only about three weeks ago, but it seems like three months, doesn’t it? Actually, life isn’t all that different in some ways, because if you write you spend a lot of time “in isolation” anyway. I would usually be going out to the theatre or literary events, and I would certainly be shopping for groceries. I was going to treat this time like a writer’s retreat, but so far I have busied myself with sorting through some old letters and papers and throwing out a lot of stuff. It is a little hard to concentrate with the news being non-stop death reports about the virus! I was going to keep a diary, too, but I haven’t started it yet. Really, I think we should all be keeping diaries of this crisis because they will be as important as Mass Observation during the War. If anything I am a bit busier now because everybody is getting in touch to explain what they are doing and to ask what I am doing. I am unlikely ever to be bored just because I am alone.

Shamini:       I see many writers and creatives are having the same problem now: plenty of time to create while there’s a lockdown, but difficulty sustaining their motivation to write. Are you finding that, too? How do you get out of a writing rut?

Sarah:         Well, it is early days, and I am hoping that when things get into a routine we will be able to concentrate on writing. But will there be a routine, will life become less alarming? I have at least two new projects to think about: compiling a collection of my essays and book reviews, and editing my grandmother’s diaries from 1920-40. That doesn’t require much creative writing. There is also a novel I have often tried to start. Then there are some translations. Somehow poems don’t seem to be coming, but that is not too surprising. When I have a writer’s block, I like to try to write some haiku. That seems to clear up the block and get me thinking and observing in a way that stimulates the poetry muscle.

Shamini:        Does a situation like this inspire new writing or is that a cliché? Were there other occasions in your life that inspired you to write?

Sarah:         You would think that such a bizarre situation like the present one with COVID-19 would certainly inspire people to write. I wonder if there will be a spate of novels about these times. I wonder if it will turn into a minor genre. A change of place often inspires me to write because I want to describe it and because novelty is stimulating. I have written poems about various places, a poetry pamphlet about Holland (Dutch Interiors, 1988), a whole collection about China (All the Tea in China, 2005), a memoir about Poland (The Ripple Effect, 2009), and a memoir partly about Portugal (A Fado for my Mother, 1996).
Now I have found that some childhood memories have inspired me to write; I like to try to recapture the sensations of the memory and communicate them in words. One of them, “Revenant”, appears in Arachne’s The Other Side of Sleep, and is an evocation of a scene from early childhood that I revisit and now think of the adults in the scene and see it from two points of view in the past plus my point of view in the present. It is a long poem, and I found it interesting to write and to explore a certain vivid memory. That may be a one-off; I’m not sure I could find interesting ways of analysing  any other memories.

Shamini:      At difficult times, I think some people turn to art for comfort, hope, or to feel less alone with their upsetting feelings. What gives you comfort or hope? Whose writing do you feel a connection with? And what do you think or hope readers will get from your writing?

Sarah:         The first poet I felt a connection to must have been Edna St. Vincent Millay. We read her at school, and the first poetry book I ever bought was her Collected Lyrics. I was about 15 and hadn’t started writing poetry yet. (I knew I wanted to write, but I was focusing more on prose and I wasn’t completely sure what poetry even was!) A few years later I found her matching Collected Sonnets. I admired her lyricism and her effortless rhymes. Most of her poetry is quite formal, although she wrote some free verse too. I think her sonnets are really remarkable. Other poets I have admired, now that I come to think of it, have written in forms rather than free verse—Robert Frost, A.E. Housman. I think an early influence was also Robert Browning, especially the monologues.
As for my readers, I hope they will like my poems because they are entertaining or cause them to see things in a different way. I would like them to smile at some, be touched by some, and be surprised by some.

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.

IWD video Cherry Potts

 

On 8th March we held an International Women’s Day of readings from female authors and poets, surrounded by the  Tatty Divine exhibition at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery. Many thanks to Greenwich University Gallleries for hosting.

Here is Cherry Potts reading her short story from Departures, Cloud Island.

 

IWD video Sarah Lawson

 

On 8th March we held an International Women’s Day of readings from female authors and poets, surrounded by the  Tatty Divine exhibition at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery. Many thanks to Greenwich University Gallleries for hosting.

Here is Sarah Lawson reading her two poems from Vindication, Driving up to Renfrew and Going Home in Fog.

 

#IWD2020- Photos

Until I get round to editing the video files, here are some photos from Sunday’s event, where we launched Emma Lee‘s new collection, The Significance of a Dress, and thoroughly celebrated International Women’s Day with poems and flash from Laila Sumpton, Claire Booker, Sarah Lawson, Jenny Mitchell, Julie Easley, Cherry Potts, Michelle Penn, Shamini Sriskandarajah, and Emma Lee!

Women on the Move: Poetry and Flash for International Women’s Day

To celebrate the launch of Emma Lee‘s new poetry collection The Significance of a Dress, we are holding an event at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery, University of Greenwich, 10 Stockwell Street, Greenwich SE10 9BD on the actual day SUNDAY 8TH MARCH 2pm.

Emma will be joined by Jenny Mitchell (Time and Tide, whose idea it was). Michelle Penn (Dusk, Noon, Time and Tide), Shamini Sriskandarajah (Story Cities), Claire Booker (Time and Tide), Laila Sumpton (Dusk, Noon) and Sarah Lawson (The Other Side of Sleep, Vindication, Departures), and there will be an open mic session, and very possibly cake.

The notional theme is women on the move, but this is being widely interpreted.

If you would like to take part in the open mic with on-theme poetry or flash fiction, please contact us, or sign up on arrival, there are a maximum of 6 500-word-limit slots.

Tickets by donation to cover travel expenses for the readers.

Audio recordings from Departures Launch

Thanks to everyone who came along to celebrate the launch of Departures at Brockley Brewery last night, it is so lovely to have a packed venue!

And huge thanks to the readers for instilling such passion and humour into their readings, and to the Brewery for hosting us.

Normally I video everything, but in the heat of the moment I didn’t hit the record button till part way through, so there are only audio recordings for the first two readings, massive apologies to David Mathews and Sarah Lawson for that, but the recordings are good.

David Mathews

Here’s David reading Midday Bus

 

and Sarah reading Through SecuritySarah Lawson

More tomorrow, with actual videos…

You can buy a copy of Departures from our webshop

 

Happy National Poetry Day 2018!

To celebrate National Poetry Day, here are some more poems from the Vindication Launch on September 26th.

(you can buy the book direct from us, or from your favourite bookshop

Carrie Cohen reading Sarah Lawson‘s Driving up to Renfrew

 

Anne Macaulay reading the title poem, Vindication

 

Carrie Cohen reading Sarah JamesWaking Woman

 

Elinor Brooks reads Consulto et Audacter

 

Adrienne Silcock reads Bees

Happy Publication Day, Vindication

It’s publication day, and here are some of the readings from  last night’s launch at the Poetry Cafe

 

 

Adrienne Silcock reading Drought, Winter 1929

 

Carrie Cohen reading Sarah Lawson’s Leda

 

Anne Macaulay reading two flamenco inspired poems, Traje de Lunares and Palmas Return

 

Carrie Cohen reading Sarah James’ Ye Olde Tavern

 

Elinor Brooks What Country, Friends…

Animal Liberation – Vindication Preview

Another poem from Sarah Lawson which features in Vindication, 

the third of our #Womenvote100 books, which we are publishing NEXT WEEK

Launch info join us on Wednesday at the Poetry Cafe (RSVP) or pick a copy up tomorrow (Saturday)  at Free Verse or order a copy from our webshop

This version was recorded at The Story Sessions a while back.