Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Susan Jane Sims

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.


Susan Jane Sims

has been widely published in magazines and anthologies and is a Hawthornden Fellow. She loves reading her poetry to an audience and has appeared in London, Bath, Bristol, Bradford on Avon, Exeter and Penzance. Her collections are Irene’s Daughter( Poetry Space 2010) and A number of things you should know ( IDP 2015). Her new collection Splitting Sunlight will be published by Dempsey and Windle in 2019. She lives with husband Chris and runs Poetry Space, a small publishing company from their new home in Beaminster, Dorset. They will be opening a cafe next year and plan to host poetry events.

The Interview

  1. When and why did you start to write poetry?

I loved poetry at school. I had a lovely teacher, Miss Thomas who encouraged me to collect poems I liked to make an anthology and she was very encouraging when I started writing my own. The first one I remember being a success was called Black Sunday and it was about the miners strike in the early seventies. I was thirteen.

1.1 What poets did you anthologise?

Back then I chose Walter De la Mare, Rudyard Kipling, Auden, Robert Louis Stephenson, Wole Soyinka, Emily Bronte and I also remember finding this poem called The Twins. It was anonymous but I was fascinated with it. Much, much later I gave birth to identical twins myself.

1.2 What was it about their poetry that appealed to you at the time?

I liked the language of their poetry. For example “Slowly, silently, now the moon, walked the night in her silver shoon” from Silver by Walter De La Mare.
I am not sure I understood what a shoon was but the words were beautiful.

And this from Emily Bronte. Slightly dark.

The night is darkening round me,
The wild winds coldly blow;
But a tyrant spell has bound me,
And I cannot, cannot go.

The words intrigued me. Made me shiver. Somehow poetry felt like something I could connect to.

1.3 Did you try to write in the beginning like this?

Yes indeed. Imitation is the way we all begin I think. I wrote rhyming poetry to begin with. Later I realised it did not have to rhyme. Now I rarely rhyme. And as a publisher I cringe when poets submit badly rhyming poetry because they have not read any poets more recent than Tennyson!!

2. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

At that time, not very aware. Most poets I was introduced to in school were white Male. With the exception of Wole Soyinka. A friend later introduced me to a wider poetry scene, in particular poets like Emily Dickinson who write about death and grief and the war poet, Edward Thomas.

3. What is your daily writing routine?

I try to get some writing time in each day but not always at the same time. I had the privilege of going to Hawthornden for four weeks in January and while I was there I wrote every morning and went for a walk in the afternoon. That would be my ideal routine.

But there were no distractions there. Everything was done for me. Meals, laundry, even my bed made.

4. What motivates you to write?

The desire to record, to bear witness to my own experience and that of others. The desire to connect with others. My most recent collection that I am looking for a publisher for, bears witness to my late son Mark’s 23 months living with stage 4 malignant melanoma ( skin cancer). In it, I address the science as well as the personal narrative.

For me it was quite therapeutic, a way to make sense of something totally senseless. Mark was just 28 when he died.

4.1 How did poetry help you make sense of it all?

Lots of different ways. Just the act of writing made me confront what was happening head on. The research I did helped me understand the science. Creating the poems and editing them helped me make something ‘beautiful’ out of what could have just felt like a nightmare.

5. Can you see the influence of poets you read when you were younger in your present work?

There is often both light and dark in my poems. I think both Emily Bronte and Emily Dickinson are both influential here. Later though I did my dissertation on Christina Rossetti. I was taken with her because in her poems she is very economical with language. It’s like the words barely touch the page. When I read her, I wanted to be able to write like that. It’s always my aim now, to write economically, to cut any excess words.

6. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
My favourites vary as I discover new writers but one ongoing favourite is the American poet, Gregory Orr. His work is often autobiographical and he confronts traumatic events with considerable bravery and lack of sentimentality. I admire that. Another poet I love is again, American but living in the UK and I have met her personally, Carrie Etter. I really admired her collection ‘Imagined Sons’. It is very original and challenging. It gave me real insight into what it may be like to give a child up for adoption and miss their growing up.

7. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I would say, get yourself a notebook and start writing. Don’t think too much. Just write. Be prepared to put the time in. Don’t expect immediate success. Athletes get told they need to put 10,000 hours in to start getting results. I think the same goes for writing. And a big part of a writer’s training should be reading. If you want to be a poet you need to read poetry and lots of it, traditional and contemporary. It is all part of learning your craft. It is also valuable to go to readings and workshops. You can learn from others. It gives you ideas. Also learn to edit your own work with a critical eye. This is so important when you start submitting your work. It needs to be the best it can be to be in with a chance of publication.

8. And finally, Sue, tell me more about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I am currently pursuing the idea of a collection exploring the experience of a woman having counselling after experiencing domestic abuse. I want to tell her story and also that of her counsellor. So quite a heavy subject. I am drawing on my own experience as a counsellor. I am also dabbling with the idea of a memoir. I have written some short autobiographical prose pieces that could form part of a memoir. I read one piece in Bath at an afternoon performance with a group I belong to: Bath Writers and Artists Group. Until six weeks ago I was living mid way between Bristol and Bath. We have moved to Beaminster in Dorset but I want to keep attending the group in Bath as it is a great space to share work and collaborate with others.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Nick Owen

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

on love and war

Nick Owen

I retired from full time teaching and therapy in 2000. Since then I have focused on the development of mindfulness, including my arts, play writing, poetry and photography.

I have had a play published by the Arts Council and was showcased in the Oxfordshire Millennium Magazine “Oxford Inspires”.

I am committed to participatory arts activity, working as a Mindfulness teacher, group leader, coach and educator with people of all ages, who want to lead more artistic creative fulfilled lives.

There is also a political dimension to my work. My scathing anti-war trilogy called “Falluja in Charlbury” was performed at Methodist Central Hall for “The People’s Assembly”, when protesters gathered there to oppose Blair’s criminal adventure in Iraq in 2003. I feel a deep sense of compassion for human suffering.

My book of twenty first century Fairy Tales, written in verse, “Telling It Like It Is,” explores with infectious humour how children of today still live out the patterns of classical folk story. Children are often inspired to write their own stories. The poems also work well for emotionally disturbed adolescents, or visiting foreign students learning English.

I am also passionate about the Oxfordshire Wychwood landscape, a main focus of my poems and photography. I take groups on mindfulness walks in the countryside helping create beautiful poetry and pictures.

Over the last three years I have helped over 600 people become involved in this “poem-picture” arts genre.

I see the forest as an Eden, where Adam and Eve may be found and even photographed naked among the trees.
My wife, Gill, died in June 2009. My book, “A Journey Through Grief,” describes my grieving process in prose, poetry and pictures.

Brief list of credits:

A play published by the UK Arts council and performed in Brighton

Digital Art and Photography published in an American Art Magazine T.H.E

Featured in “Universe D’artistes,” a French based on-line fine art nude magazine

Featured in “Oxford Inspires” Celebrating Oxfordshire magazine for “Poetry and Pictures”

Published poet, with a book of fairy tales in verse, “Telling It Like It Is”, and a contributor to many anthologies both UK and Internationally. My work is increasingly taught in schools across the south of England.

Poem_Picture Artist of the Year 2006

Prize winner, landscape art competition, “Outside In,” Nuffield NHS Trust and OVADA

Retired director of “The Oxford School of Psychotherapy and Counselling”

Retired Director of Wombtwin.com

Website: deepermindfulness.com    coming soon

Nick Owen
website    https://www.linkedin.com/pub/nick-owen/39/59/b42


Nick Owen
about.me/NickOwen22 Kingsfield Crescent
OX28 2JB

The Interview

 1. When and why did you start to write poetry?

… Age7

1.1 Why?

For fun


2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Popeye on tv and my infant school teacher

3. How aware are you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

Sometimes I think LC has written all the love songs.

3.1 LC?

Leonard Cohen

4. What is your daily writing routine?


5. What motivates you to write?

inspiration something that moves me deeply

5.1 What usually moves you deeply?

love war nature

5.2 What is it about love war nature that moves you?

These are the things that disturb my normal states. I have intense feelings which seek a way of expression. Poetry is the best way to express these feelings. War brings anger and pain love brings joy and sorrow nature brings ecstasy

6. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

They are deep in there. Call me old fashioned I dont care. I love rhythm and metre

7. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Alice Oswald is astonishinh. I heard her read for an hour from her own work in the dark. Spine chilling. She is the heir to Hughes

8. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Not answered

9. And finally, Nick, tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I have a little book of poetry on love and war coming along and courses on my new website deepermindfulness. Com coming soon

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Sheila Jacob

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.


Sheila Jacob

was born and raised in Birmingham, has lived in South Wales for ten years and now lives in North East Wales with her husband. She has three children and five grandchildren. She resumed writing poetry in 2013 after a long absence and since then has had work published in various U.K.magazines and webzines including Sarasvati, The Dawntreader, Reach Poetry, Clear Poetry, The Poet by Day, Atrium, Bonnie’s Crew and The Cannon’s Mouth.

The Interview
1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I’d say world events and in particular, the Vietnam War. I was born in 1950 and belonged to a generation-and a group of school friends – that was very politically aware. I guess this tied in with the music we listened to e.g. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. I remember being deeply distressed by T.V. footage I saw of napalm bombing and of the U.S. troops. Young lads, for the most part, trying to make sense of war in a geographically alien and hostile environment. I remember writing a poem about Laos when I was 16 from the point of view of a soldier there.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

A wonderful, elderly teacher called Miss Lloyd when I entered the Sixth Form at school and began coursework for A level English. She introduced us to T.S.Eliot, John Donne, George Herbert and Gerard Manley Hopkins, amongst others. She was also a great admirer of Ted Hughes. I was overawed by The Wasteland and the haunting beauty of Four Quartets. It was like seeing the world for the first time. I then began reading anything that appealed to me. I loved-and still love–the Russian poets Anna Ahkmatova, Marins Tsvetaeva, Bella Ahkmadulina and especially Yevgeny Yevtushenko who was frequently a thorn in the Soviet government’s side in the late 1960’s.His poem Babi Yar is a masterpiece.
A fellow student introduced me to the poetry of R.S.Thomas when I was at University in Aberystwyth. I was disturbed by his Welsh nationalism but loved his poetry.
On another level, I grew up surrounded by books. Both my parents were working class Brummies who had to leave school at fourteen but they loved to read and my Dad excelled at what was called Composition at school. He was great encourager. After I passed my 11-plus he took me to a department store called The Midland Educational and bought me a Conway Stewart fountain pen. We then went to a furniture shop and he bought me a writing bureau which I still have, it had a slight flaw in the woodwork so was reduced in price. I was devastated by his death at the age of 48, when I was almost 15.
Mum came from a slightly better-off family and before she was married, bought a wooden cabinet she filled with books. Shakespeare’s plays, all the Bronte classics (her favourites), Charles Dickens, Louisa M. Alcott, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Hans Christian Anderson. And poetry! Palgrave’s Golden Treasury, Tennyson, Keats, Shelley, Walter De La Mare. I was a precocious reader and there was no restriction on which books I could look at. I doubt if I understood much of the more complex works but I loved the cadences and rhythms and the layout of words on the page.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I didn’t give it a moment’s thought. I don’t mean this flippantly, it just didn’t impact on me at the time.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I like to write for an hour or more in the morning after (or during!) breakfast, maybe again in the afternoon. A lot depends on what I’m writing and also, of course, what’s going on in the “real world” outside my head! I try to write everyday even if it’s just a few words.My husband is retired and writes fantasy fiction so we try not to bury ourselves in our laptops!

5. What motivates you to write & 9.Why do you write?

I can’t separate these two questions, Paul. I write to sort things out in my mind. I need to articulate experiences I’ve been through, even if it’s a painful process. I believe in the value of shared experience and giving a voice to those who lived the past, who have died but are never gone. What I really love is when I start writing and the poem takes me in a totally different direction from the one I planned. I get a buzzing in my ears and I realise there is a genuine power and mystery to words: to the creative process, if you like.
There are times, of course, when the well dries up and I doubt if I’ll ever write another poem!

6. What is your work ethic?

What an intriguing question! I’ve never considered it before. I suppose it would be to write to the best of my ability and not compromise on deeply-held beliefs and values for the sake of having a poem published.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I couldn’t say how they influence what I write but I still read them, and appreciate them more as I grow older. I always read T.S.Eliot at Christmas and Easter. George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins and R.S.Thomas are my go-to poets when I need a spiritual uplift. I read the Russian poets to recapture my sense of wonder.

8.   Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

There are so many, where do I start?!
Gillian Clarke, mainly, who is still writing and tutoring at the age of 81. She has a lyrical, incisive and inquiring voice rooted in her Welsh upbringing which was complex because she wasn’t taught to speak Welsh at home though it was the first language of both her parents. When she was growing up, English was the language of privilege and achievement. She is passionate about her Welsh heritage, the language and the many ancient myths of Wales which she incorporates into her writing.
In my opinion she is one of the finest women poets to write about domestic affairs.Keeping house and garden (in her case, “fields” would be more accurate!) bearing and rearing children, nurturing grandchildren and rearing and keeping livestock. She shows that the ordinary is actually extra-ordinary and sacramental.
I also admire Carol Ann Duffy, Eavan Boland, Mary Oliver, Myra Schneider.Menna Elfyn, Kim Moore, Alison Brackenbury, Angela Topping, Wendy Pratt, Katrina Naomi, Pascale Petit, Clare Shaw and Liz Berry… Simon Armitage, John Foggin, Jonathan Edwards, and Owen Shears.
I know I’ve omitted many names, impossible to list them all. I also love the poetry of the late Helen Dunmore. An untimely death.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

My initial reaction would be to say “I’m still working on it!”

Write, read, read, read, edit, get in touch with other poets even if it’s only online, learn from others but believe in your own voice.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I’m hovering in between projects at the moment. I’ve recently completed a 20-poem themed
Collection about my Dad, Through My Father’s Eyes (expertly mentored by Wendy Pratt) which I’m looking to publish with someone, somehow. I’d rather not self-publish but I’ll probably have to.
Since September I’ve taken part in two wonderful courses run by Wendy Pratt in a closed Facebook group: The Wild Within and Seasons Of Mists, both of which explored our relationship with the natural world. I’m having withdrawal symptoms!
I’m halfway through an online Poetry School Course about Postmemory and Historical Trauma. This deals with the poetry of trauma, and why poetry is such a prevalent response to genocide, acts of terrorism etc.
When this finishes I’d like to turn my attention to the strong,  hardworking unsung Brummie women of my family who kept house and home intact through two World Wars. I have a few drafts in a folder and I hope to make poems out of them.



Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Rachael Clyne

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

golem cover

Rachael Clyne,

lives in Glastonbury. Her collection, Singing at the Bone Tree, concerns our relationship with nature, (published by Indigo Dreams). Recent anthology: #MeToo. Journals incl: Tears in the Fence, The Rialto, Under the Radar, Shearsman, Lighthouse, The Interpreters House. Her new pamphlet, Girl Golem, about family, migrant heritage and sense of being ’other’, is published by 4Word Press.

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I grew up with Christopher Robin. As a child I went to elocution lessons, to obliterate my flat northern vowels and because I was clearly a little, show-off performer (I later became a professional actor). I spent several years reciting: Hilaire Belloc, Gerard Manley Hopkins & Edwin Muir. I remember relishing the word sounds. My Mother loved poetry, so there were classic collections at home, that I could read. I started writing when I was reading Eliot, Donne, Herbert, Dylan Thomas, Wilfred Owen and such at school. I wrote to express teenage angst and a longing to escape. Angst kept me going for a decade or so, until my sister became ill with cancer, dying in 1985. I was then commissioned to write a book for cancer patients and began to take my writing more seriously.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

As mentioned, my mother loved poetry, then elocution classes & school, particularly A levels. In the eighties a friend introduced me to Angels of Fire, a poet performance group. We’d sit a write in a café near Tottenham Court Rd. I performed with them a couple of times. It was the perfect combination of being an actor & poet. I still love doing collaborative readings with a touch of theatre.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I’m pretty old myself now, so it was normal to read Victorian & Georgian War poets, back then. Then, there was ee cummings and William Carlos Williams. Then, there were the Liverpool Poets – my generation, who had accents & wrote in common language. I grew up just outside Liverpool and was a teenager in the 60s.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Bed & more bed! I used to avoid writing, by going to my desk, turning on my computer to check emails, telling myself I’d do it after, but time always ran out. Thankfully now I work less, I’ve reversed it. I can spend whole mornings in bed reading poetry, writing, going online. Jo Bell’s 52 got me writing daily, which she encouraged.

5. What motivates you to write?

Hmm it’s changed. I don’t have so much to say these days and rely more on prompts, workshops and hearing certain poets.

6. What is your work ethic?

I’m not sure what you mean by this. I try to keep myself challenged to improve and get feedback. I read, go to events and keep connected to the poetry community, which I love. Ethic to me, also means being supportive of other poets, writing about issues that matter to me, such as #MeToo anthology, eco issues.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young, influence you today?

I’m not sure if they do. Living itself imbues us with outlook, values and all sorts of subliminal stuff. I don’t go back and read them. I’m an Aries and tend to keep moving on. There are so many amazing poets today, I just trust that those of the past have gotten into my woodwork and added to its patina.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I tend to respond to poets who are direct, with fresh imagery, who write with passion, and who connect me to my heart. I’m not good with very cerebral poetry. There’s something about poets who’ve experienced dark times and have courageously kept their humanity. They’re way-showers and help us too. Poets like: Jo Bell, Kim Moore, Kai Miller, Ocean Vuong. I also love poets who are witty, surreal and playful like Kathryn Maris, Hilda Sheehan and lately I enjoyed seeing the American writer D.A. Powell.

9. Why do you write?

I’ve always been creative in different forms, with a desire to communicate. In fact, it overwhelmed & confused me, when I was young. I had periods of doing art, and times of writing, in between acting jobs. The ‘in between time’ was far greater than working time. I no longer do art, but have a much more fraught relationship with it, than with writing. I’ve a massive resistance block with art, plus cost of materials, need for storage space. Writing, and poetry in particular, is so portable. You can pick up & put down a poem. It can last for years of tweaking, editing. I still have a rollercoaster relationship with self-belief in my writing, as do most poets. One moment you’re in love with your latest poem, the next, it’s dog-chewed doggerel. I’ve written 2 self-help books since being commissioned to write a book for cancer patients & families, back in the 80s. I love the idea that someone can benefit from my writing. I have a regular column of articles in the local journal. I’m a psychotherapist so it’s an outlet for my insights about human experience.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

Oh gosh, there’s so much on this topic. Firstly, a desire/need to write that will not be put-off by the many obstacles. Just write, even if it’s a private journal, get used to putting your thoughts down. Observe things closely. If you want to get published, join a writing group, do a course. This means being prepared for feedback and re-editing work you hold dear. It’s confidence building to have support from other writers, not just friends who adore everything you do. Learn to take rejection and keep going. Reading is paramount, find writing/writers you admire; let them inspire you and identify where you might fit into the broad church of writing. Like many naïve poets, I thought reading others might interfere with my ‘voice’. I was so embarrassed when I realised my arrogance. So, beware of grandiosity and leaping ahead of yourself. It’s pointless sending your unseen manuscript to Faber when you’ve never been published. Having said that, try to avoid comparing yourself with your peers, it’s a deadly pursuit that spawns envy and wrecks confidence. You’ll never be a Carol Ann Duffy, that part’s taken. There are so many talented poets out there. Aim to be the best you can be, challenge yourself. Be genuine and write from who you are.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I’m still enthusiastically launching my new pamphlet, Girl Golem, which was published by 4Word in September and doing readings. It’s the culmination of several years’ writing, on my childhood & family heritage. My parents were child migrants from Ukrainian Russia in 1912 & 1914. The sense of ‘otherness & foreignness’ is a major theme, one that pervaded my childhood and youth. Being Jewish was one factor (as was not being an orthodox Jew), being left-handed, creative, spiritual, and lesbian were other obstacles I battled with. It took me till nearly 50 to feel at home in myself. Despite my current post-publishing doldrums, I hope to expand Girl Golem into a collection that explores wider themes of identity, in relationships, with nature, society and of course ageing. I will be 70 next year and it feels like a big deal. I may be entering my last decade and I want to make the most of it, while I can.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Sue Wrinch

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.


Sue Wrinch

is a poet, organiser and presenter of Loose Muse for writers at Winchester Discovery Centre. Her first poetry collection, ‘Down By Wild Water’ was published in 2015.She has had poems published in numerous Anthologies and in response to Art Exhibitions. She appears in ‘154 Poems By 154 Contemporary Poets, Poems in The Woven Tale Press Vol 1V. ‘Leads To Leeds’ a collaborative poetry project set up by Helen Mort in 2016.
She was Highly commended and also won second prize in the Elmbridge Poetry Competition 2015, 2016 & 2018; has poems commissioned by Live Canon for the Pink Floyd Exhibition at the V&A in 2017, a Brexit Haiku and a Christmas poem.
She was organiser and Director of the “UK-India Festival Of Words’ in 2017 at the Winchester Discovery Centre and Co-Editor with Abegail Morley for Loose Muse Winchester Poetry Anthology published April 2018.
She is currently working on her second collection.

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I have written poetry from a young age mostly I think to understand the world in general and my relationships.  I find poetry clarifies, I can use it unpick and express feelings.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

We had poetry books at home but I think school teachers encouraged me to take an interest in poetry from Primary onwards.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

I think I was aware of the ‘great’ poets but I didn’t find them dominating just inspiring.  I love the Metaphysical Poets but also Hopkins and Heaney.  I have always read a wide range of poets, seeking knowledge and inspiration.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t have a routine!  I write when I feel inspired but also when a deadline approaches.  I organise and present a writers’ evening once a month called ‘Loose Muse’ in Winchester where I book two poets to present their work.  We also have Open Mic sessions and I try to write a new poem to read at this every month.  I also often have ideas for poems while I’m walking my dog.

5. What motivates you to write?

I often write about my experiences, feelings and relationships.  I find poetry helps clarify how I feel.  Writing about it helped me express grief and anger.  I also write about joy and find a great deal of inspiration in the natural world. I sometimes write for commissions which I really enjoy.

6. What is you work ethic?

I think to write as well as I can while reaching to do better if that makes sense? I am writing for my second collection at the moment so I am trying to hone each poem and make it the best I can.  I’m also listening to advice from poets I admire and trust.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I am quite good at remembering poems or bits of them and I still feel admiration for a lot of the poets I read growing up.  I think everything we read influences us in some way, language, turns of phrase, the rhythm and rhyme of poems.  I think I collected a lot along the way that influences how I write today.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

I am delighted by and admire many contemporary poets, particularly some excellent women writing today.  I was entranced by Liz Berry when I first heard her read her work and later read it for myself.  I greatly admire and enjoy the work of Helen Mort and also Kim Moore.  I had the great pleasure of booking all three of these poets for Loose Muse and found their work astoundingly good.  They are intelligent, articulate women that often express current issues concerning women today such as everyday sexism, motherhood etc. My list of poets I admire would be too long to write here!  I am constantly on the lookout for new poets and am always amazed at both the quantity and quality of those I find.

9. Why do you write?

I write because I have to, I have no choice.  I find it illuminating, sometimes infuriating but always rewarding.  I simply couldn’t not write.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “ How do you become a writer?”

I would first encourage them to read as widely as possible.  Tell them to try and hear the poets who inspire them.  I think it is also important to learn the craft of writing and there are many opportunities to do this.  Taking short courses, poetry workshops and Poetry Residential’s all help to develop confidence and skills. Finding a mentor can also be important for developing your work. Joining a poetry Stanza group may also help. When you feel ready it can also be very beneficial to put your work before an audience in an Open Mic.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I am working on my second poetry collection.  I often get distracted by organising readings, putting workshops together or, recently, editing a Loose Muse Anthology so it is great to take some time now to concentrate on my own work.  I am hoping to publish this collection next year.



On Fiction Wombwell Rainbow Interview Andrew David Barker

On Fiction Wombwell Rainbow Interview

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these fiction writers you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

Andrew David Barker

was born in Derby, England in 1975. He is a writer and filmmaker. He is the author of The Electric and the novella Dead Leaves. As a filmmaker, he wrote and directed the cult, post-apocalyptic indie feature, A Reckoning,in 2011, and has recently made the short films, Two Old Boys and Shining Tor. He lives in Warwickshire with his wife and daughter, trying to be a grown up.



The Interview

1. What inspired you to write fiction?

I’ve just always loved stories, and I’ve always had ideas for stories. I had a pretty poor education though and I was still pretty much learning to read and write when I left school. I spent my 20s educating myself and novels for very much part of that education. I didn’t read a novel voluntarily until the summer I left school. That was Clifford D. Simak’s Out of their Minds, a fantasy novel from 1970. This led me to outline my own fantasy, adventure novel and me and my friend Ben Waldram spent the next five years or so trying to write it. It was set in the afterlife and the project grew large and unwieldy and was certainly beyond my capabilities to finish it. I learned a lot working on that project though.
Plus, I was always distracted by other creative pursuits. Filmmaking was, and sometimes probably still is, just as interesting to me as writing novels, so I was always trying to make films as well when I was younger. Me and my mates made our big hit when we were in college in 1993 – an anthology horror called Tales from Hell, which is about as good as you can imagine.
Stephen King was a big influence early on. But I also read David Gemmell, and Clive Barker, and Sue Townsend’s Adrian Mole, which also had a big effect on me. I was interested in genre, but also interested in stories that existed in worlds similar to the one I grew up in. Certainly judging by my first book, The Electric, the balance between the two has never left me. That book deals with movies and the supernatural, but also exists in the world that I grew up in.

2. Who introduced you to fiction?

Early on it was my mum. She liked horror fiction and tales of the supernatural. My love of a good ghost story comes from her. She read James Herbert and had books by Aleister Crowley on the shelf. She still loves a good ghost story.
My friend Ben, who I mentioned earlier, also introduced me to fiction, and without his influence and excitement for reading and writing stories, I probably wouldn’t have become a writer.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older writers?

I’m not really. I suppose I was when I was younger. I never really thought I’d ever be published. I was conscious of my lack of education and was always frightened someone cleverer than me would pull my writing apart. I used to think that because I was from a working class background I had no right becoming a novelist. I thought of writing novels as an elitist thing – something only the privileged get to do – and it most cases it very much is, but I forged on anyway.
I am intimidated by the brilliance of say, Cormac McCarthy or Dickens, but I’ve learned to live with all that now. You can never be that good, so why worry about it? I no longer care about any of that stuff anymore because I’m just doing my own thing. My background and experiences and the way I see the world make me who I am as a writer – they give me my identity, my voice, for want of a better word, and I wouldn’t change any of that now.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Like many writers I still have a day job. I’ve always had to have another income. I feel that if you are able, in this day in age, to get up every morning and afford to write all day, every day and still pay all the bills, then you are in a very privileged position indeed. No art form really pays anymore, unless you are really flying. So I work and I have to carve out time every day to write. I have a family and a job and mostly I don’t get started until gone eight o’clock at night. After a day of work and being a parent and a husband there’s not much juice left in the tank by eight, but I have to discipline myself to do it. Some nights it works, some nights it doesn’t.
I’m working on a novel at the moment so my routine is to work Sunday to Thursday in the evenings and also very early on Saturday mornings. I give myself Friday and Saturday nights off. That’s it. If I wasn’t working I would write in the mornings all week as that’s my preferred time to write, but I have to just do what I can in the time I’ve got.

5. What motivates you to write?

The excitement of a good story idea and being with the characters I create. It’s that simple. I don’t write for money because as I’ve said making money out of this stuff is impossible, certainly on my level. So I do it because I love it. I feel good once I’ve written, feel great in fact. I think writing makes me a better person, certainly a saner person. I can handle life better when I’m writing.
I’ve attempted a lot of other creative pursuits. I’ve directed films and played in a rock band, and although I did love those things, they did not give me the same sense of satisfaction as writing a good page does.
I remember when I finished writing The Electric, my first novel; I could hardly believe that I’d done it. At long last I’d written a novel. That feeling was like nothing else.

6. What is your work ethic?

To try and finish everything I start. After Dead Leaves came out in 2015 I attempted and abandoned two novels in the space of a year and a half. This ground me to a halt. It knocked my confidence and sent into a kind of limbo for a while. 2018 has been the year I was determined to turn things around.
I wrote and directed two short films, Two Old Boys and Shining Tor, and wrote the screenplays for two other shorts directed by other people, One, Nine, Three and Endling, and I wrote a small collection of ghost stories, which I hope to get published in 2019.
Making these shorts, actually completing the work and having them screened in front of an audience was thrilling and energising. More than that though, I’ve been successful in getting an Arts Council grant to write a novel, which is just incredible because I’ve never had any help or backing before. So I’m back at work on a novel, writing as fast as I can, which isn’t very fast truth be told, but I am doing it and I am going to finish it.
Finishing a project is the key to everything.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

Stephen King is still an influence. He’s a master storyteller. He has an identity that just draws you in and his characters are great. I always remember the characters more than the monsters.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Magnus Mills is my favourite British novelist; Paul Auster is my favourite American novelist. Although that could all change next week. They both write about characters and worlds I understand. I also greatly admire Haruki Murakami for his balance of the fantasque and surreal and the deeply personal.
I’m always looking for someone new to inspire me. Books are very personal things, much like music. It has to connect. I don’t see one thing as being high art and other being low art. The Great Gatsby speaks to me as much as The Shining. They’re both great books that speak of the dread, honesty and darkness of the human heart. Magnus Mills speaks to me because I know blokes like the ones he writes about; I’ve grown up with them, worked with them, and he’s one of the very few working class writers out there that is genuinely from the world he writes about. So there is a real honesty about his work. Honesty and heart are the things I look for, I suppose.

9. Why do you write?

To make sense of the world and to make sense of myself.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Just write. Take to the time to develop yourself and only submit or put something out there when you are a hundred percent sure of it. That said, I’m still learning. I’ve only ever been published through small presses. I’ve never had an agent or even had an agent interested in me. I hope to change that, but I’m not pushing it. The work itself is what I’m interested in. If you’re in it for fame and money and power, then forget it. It has to be a pure love, otherwise, what’s the point? You might get fame and money – there are a few lucky ones that fall through the net – but more than likely you won’t, and you’ve got to be fine with that.
Keep writing, keep submitting, keep getting better.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment

Well I feel like a novelist again. It’s taken a while. I’ve been making short films for the most of this year and writing short stories, but now I’ve cleared the decks of all that stuff and am only working on the novel until it’s done, which will be in the spring, all being well.
My novella, Dead Leaves, has just been reissued in a new paperback through Black Shuck Books and I’m hoping to work with them again at some point. Moves are also being made on the production of an audiobook for The Electric, something I’ve been wanting to get done for years, so I’m very excited about that. Hopefully that’ll be out early 2019.
As for the novel, it’s a departure in that the first two books are in first person and were told in the timeframe of only a couple of days, whereas this one is in third person and covers a decade in the lives of the protagonists. There are movies, of course – they seem to be my thing – and working class characters struggling to stay afloat, but there is also love, and a lot of heart. I’m trying to dig deep on this one. We’ll see.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Angelina D’Roza

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.


Photo by Emma Bolland

Angelina D’Roza

Angelina lives in Sheffield.  Her first collection, Envies the Birds, was published in 2016 by Longbarrow Press.

The Interview

  1. When and why did you start writing?

I saw a Margaret Atwood quote that may or may not be real, but it went something like … most people write when they are children, so the real question is why do they stop …  I know why I stopped, at least I have a list of likely contributing factors.  They are mundane.  Predictable.

For me the question is why did I start again.  It was 2005.  I was 29.  I’d worked in healthcare since I was 16, had a nursing degree, a good position.  And I left.  I’d decided to do the MA Writing at SHU, except I had no good reason to give them for letting me in, no writing portfolio, no clue, nothing.  So I applied for the Film and Literature degree, with no expectation of getting on.

The reasons I give for why I made these decisions vary according to who’s asking.  None untrue.  But what we think of as driving our choices, are to some extent, the stories we tell to make sense of them.  No one story fully explains why I gave up the career and security I’d worked so hard for, with no evidence to suggest it would work out fine.  But it did.

Actually, it took me till 2015 to feel like I was writing.  So your answer is 2015.  But the real question is why I kept trying the 10 years prior.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

The first poems I heard were prayers, but I don’t remember being introduced beyond that.  Perhaps I was.  There would have been this and that at school, but I don’t have any strong sense that poetry was part of the same world I grew up in.  I think I introduced myself.

3. How aware were you of the dominant influence of older poets, traditional and contemporary?

“The lyric subject, the lyric ‘I’, was largely invisible to me until I crossed a border.  To put it more accurately, it became noticeable only when I returned to England, where I was born, and into the sovereignty of its dominant poetic mode”.
(Sandeep Parmar)

I feel like this question has an answer embedded, which makes me wonder what we mean by dominant and what we mean by awareness.  And how both these concepts might shift depending on where you’re standing.

As someone with only very little knowledge trying to introduce myself, 20 years ago, every book I picked up felt like a drop in some uncrossable sea.  I didn’t know what I was doing, what I was looking at.  At least dead poets gave the impression of holding still, while I asked myself that most basic question of whether I liked the poem.  Coleridge, Hopkins and Dickinson were my beginning.  I liked the poems.

Is it older poets that dominate, or specific older poets, specific voices, values, aesthetics?  Is it a familiar (imagined, nostalgic, constructed, aspirational?) version of ourselves (some selves) being reflected back to us, a potential sense of shared culture, of lineage, a reading foundation we might have in common as readers, and later, converse with as writers?  Reframed, revised, the same processes of exclusion and amendment going on and on.  It can make the shelves navigable.  But how aware can you be that something is dominant, if you don’t know much else?  It’s a process, an activity, a becoming aware that accrues each time you glimpse the aw(e)ful and wondrous abyss of all that remains unknown to you.  When you catch sight of your own conditioning.

In Sandeep Parmar’s essay, “Lyric violence, the nomadic subject and the fourth space”, she describes the British lyric “I” as speaking “from within a kind of integrated knowingness and belonging”  That is, “its inherent premise of universality, its coded whiteness”.  She talks about “the literary gatekeepers of shared assumptions [and] the ways that assumptions about individual voices are read within national idealisations of the state and its culture”.  What dominates in the UK?  Do we know?  Is it older poets, is it white European, heteronormative, male?  Are we inside it, addressed by it, and so, unseeing of it?  The more questions I ask, the more questions I have.

4. What is your writing routine?

I’m not better in a morning or better at night.  I don’t write every day.   I haven’t done morning pages for years.  When I’m writing, really writing, it’s intense and it feels like it will go on forever.  When I’m not writing, it feels like I never will again.  I’ve learnt to go with it, to listen to my rhythms, to pay attention to when it’s time to stop, because if I keep going I’m going to be writing the same poem over and over.  And when to clear the day of everything else because it’s time to start again.

I just finished writing a poetry pamphlet.  I thought it was finished in spring.  In the summer, I started a new writing project, a collaboration with an artist, and found the poems belonged to the pamphlet.  They had a different undercurrent to what had gone before, but they lifted that earlier work, completed it.  And I came to them because of the break.  That time to take things in from all sides.  To be affected, altered even.  But I don’t like to stop.  I miss it.  It’s my safe place, the one place I am certain of.  It rescues me.  Not painless, not at all, but mine to feel in, to work things out in, to trust.

Most often, I write in bed.  Half the bed is always covered in books, biscuits, a guitar.  So, there’s no reason to move.  I’ll have made a cup of tea to go cold beside me.  I have a notebook full of recipes and shopping lists and work-related maths and poems I’m working out.  But I don’t start poems on paper because it will take me a lot of trying to begin, a lot of testing a word, a phrase, a line, before something catches.  I can’t do that on paper.  I censor myself on paper, though I like to see notes of other people’s crossings out.  I think it’s beautiful.  Later, when something is taking a shape on my laptop, I might hand-write it out, try to summon up what I have and see what falls away in the remembering, see what that might mean or where it might go next.  I forget to eat, am late for everything, sleep little.  I don’t clean my house or brush my hair.  I write.

5. What motivates you to write?

The impetus to write comes from reading, though it would be difficult to say why a certain line catches me that way.  It is something to do with the language and turn of it, as much as what is being said.  Obvious, I know, but still somehow, hard to pin down.  Perhaps because that line might have nothing to stick to, but leave a trace that waits for the right time and some unrelated image or story or emotion to collide with.  It’s always a surprise to me, where it begins and where it goes.

6. What is your work ethic?

Don’t settle.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I’m reading Anne Carson’s “The Glass Essay”, where the speaker goes to visit her mother after a break-up.  Her mother lives alone on a moor, and her main fear whenever she visits, is that she is turning into Emily Brontë:

my lonely life around me like a moor,
my ungainly body stumping over the mud flats with a look of transformation
that dies when I come in the kitchen door.
What meat is it, Emily, we need?

The poem talks about Emily, at times, as though she’s in the room, an explicit exploration of the ways some writers sit with us in our attempts towards expression or sense-making.  Perhaps writers I’ve read help to define the range of potential sense intelligible to me.  To read widely, then, is to increase this possibility.  Nothing is fixed.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire most and why?

Vahni Capildeo, Fay Musselwhite, Maggie Nelson.  Because I believe them.  Because they make beautiful, thoughtful, thinking work.  Because they don’t settle.

9. Why do you write?

To work something out.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

“Please give me some good advice in your next letter.  I promise not to follow it” … (Edna St Vincent Millay).  The advice that I’ve most often seen going round is to write and to read, and those are the two activities that make me a writer.  But I don’t know how useful that is as advice.  I think people will read and write what interests and excites them as they find it.  The thing is how to find it.  What I’d be interested in suggesting is the value of a community, that if they can find or build a community of other writers, they’ll be fine.

11. Writing projects.

Dostoyevsky Wannabe are an independent press and they have a “Cities” series of books.  I’m writing a sort of essay-epistolary-poem for the Sheffield edition, which will be launched in March 2019.  It’s got an amazing line-up with Emma Bolland editing, so I’m looking forward to that.  (https://www.dostoyevskywannabe.com/dw_cities_sheffield/Cities)

Also, the pamphlet I mentioned is called “Correspondences”, and is a series of poems reflecting on aspects of home and distance and displacement, a sort of writing into the space created by working in the Middle East.  It will be published by Longbarrow Press next year.  Longbarrow are another independent press and it’s their care and craft and ethics that makes them quite special.  Genuinely valuable.  They don’t get funding.  They don’t make a profit.  They just make lovely, thoughtful things.  Small presses are vital, to resist, augment, diversify from, the mainstream, so I think it’s important to engage with them, support them, buy from them …  (https://longbarrowpress.com)

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: David Pollard

Wombwell Rainbow Interview

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

NF cover

‘How interesting that one of the finest books on NIetzsche should be a novel’ – Jason Wirth (Seattle University)

David Pollard

has been furniture salesman, accountant, TEFL teacher and university lecturer. He got his three degrees from the University of Sussex and has since taught at the universities of Sussex, Essex and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem where he was a Lady Davis Scholar. His doctoral thesis was published as: The Poetry of Keats: Language and Experience (Harvester and Barnes & Noble). He has also published A KWIC Concordance to the Harvard Edition of Keats’ Letters, a novel, Nietzsche’s Footfalls (Self-published) and five volumes of poetry, patricides, Risk of Skin and Self-Portraits (all from Waterloo Press), bedbound (from Perdika Press), Finis-terre (from Agenda) and Three Artists (from Lapwing Publications). He has translated from Gallego, French and German. He has also been published in other volumes and in learned journals and many reputable poetry magazines. He divides his time between Brighton on the South coast of England and a village on the Rias of Galicia.
There is a substantial article on his work which appeared in Research in Phenomenology and which can be read here
Further information can be found at

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I have written poetry all my life but think I might be a rather better critic than a poet. I used to put my scribbles away and come back to them a couple of months later only to be dismayed by their lack of promise and chuck them in the waste-paper basket. This continued until about a dozen years ago I sent a couple of pieces off to Simon Jenner at Waterloo Press who immediately came back to me with a promise to publish. With this encouragement I stopped throwing everything away.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Well I came to it late and have to thank my English teacher, John Middleton Murry, son of the famous critic, who made me love Wordsworth and Shakespeare at school and was a great encourager. I recall his immense patience as he read through my meandering teenage Romantic wanderings about sex and death – about which I knew precisely nothing – and quietly correct them. He finally put his arm round my shoulders and told me ‘David, go away and write a sonnet’. Good advice indeed.

3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets? Not too much. I was schooled in the Romantics and did my PhD on Keats although T.S Eliot was there along with Emily Dickenson wordsmiths like Tennyson.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t really have one. Being retired and having a pension, I can please myself but I do sit at my desk and deal with questioneers like this and then look at an essay I am working on and write a few words. I am essentially lazy. I do some Book designing for Waterloo Press which also takes up time.

5. What motivates you to write?

This rather depends on the kind of writing. Poetry either comes or not. It is a question of inspiration. Poetic creativity is based in the failure of language. It is when the word withdraws itself that the poet can listen into the silence in the hope that the word will grant itself. This withdrawal of language is itself the greatest gift that language has to offer and it is this gift that the poet faces. The poet accepts gratefully the hint which language grants him in its withdrawal and, turning towards the hiatus thus given him, maintains himself within it. Refusing to accept any alternative, he recognises the fact (exactly the reverse of what is generally thought true of the poet) that, far from being a particularly gifted user of language – the one who, above all else, has language under his control – it is language that controls him.. I have to wait for this gift. Sometimes it comes, sometimes not.

6. What is your work ethic?

‘Work ethic is a rather WASP notion. I don’t really have an ethic relating to work. In the case of prose composition, reviews and such like (what I might consider work) I sit at my desk and think the subject over in the hope that something vaguely original might come out of it.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

Just as painting is looking so writing is reading. I read Shakespeare through T.S. Eliot and Dostoievski. I even read Dostoievski through Dostoievski. You bring your reading history to whatever you do. You can’t help it. Wordsworth was damned by Keats’ calling him ‘a poet of the egotistical sublime’ but I love him nonetheless and, of course, Keats himself to whom I devoted my doctoral thesis. I was resident Romanticist at the Hebrew University for a year.

8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

It’s a pretty long list buts here are the headers: Carlos Fuentes, Alejo Carpentier, Marguerite Yourcenar, Edmund Jabès, Maurice Blanchot. For the beauty of their writing style and the depth of their thought. Earlier: Heidegger and Dostoievski, Thomas Mann, Hannah Arendt who all drag you back to yourself and make you think afresh at each reading. John Sallis is currently occupying me as a (what might you call him?) post-aesthetician. Of poets: Neruda, Wallace, Celan, Jabès, Oppen, Crane, Ashbery. It’s a long list.

9. Why do you write?

You write because the words are given and it would be such a waste not to write them down. I follow Keats in thinking that forced labour produces second-rate work. Without the 10% inspiration you are lost. Its all about negative capability.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

If someone asks that question then they are, it seems to me, unlikely to become a writer. If you need to read my book, you will never understand it. If you understand it, clearly there will be no need to read it.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I am currently working on two projects: one is my next book of poems provisionally called ‘Broken Voices’ which will hopefully be out early next year from Waterloo Press and the other is a prose text examining self-portraiture which is rather longer term and probably impossible to publish because of the number of costly illustrations. I wrote a book of poetry called ‘Self-Portraits’ which is a set of 88 artists imaging (imagining) themselves and each poem relates to a self-portrait. This new work is really a continuation of that interest but in prose. On the back boiler are work on Blake and Nietzsche (a continuation of my ‘Nietzsche’s Footfalls’) and on Shakespeare.

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Erin Vance

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

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The illustration is the cover of her pamphlet “Spoiled Milk + Wet Specimen” from The Blasted Tree,

Erin Emily Ann Vance

holds a BA (honours) in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Calgary, and is nearing the end of her MA in English and Creative Writing under the supervision of Suzette Mayr. She will be pursuing an MA in Folklore and Ethnology at University College Dublin in 2019. Vance attended the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry summer course at Queen’s University Belfast in July 2018, and will be a fellow of Summer Literary Seminars in Nairobi in December 2018. She will be attending the Writers Guild of Alberta Banff Centre Residency in February 2019 and is a 2019 apprentice of the Writers Guild of Alberta Mentorship Program. Vance’s work has appeared in Contemporary Verse 2, Augur, In/Words, The Quilliad, Plentitude, and filling station. Her first chapbook, The Night Will Be Long but Beautiful was published by Lofton8th press in August 2016 and the Blasted Tree Publishing Collective published her leaflet, Wet Specimen + Spoiled Milk in 2018. Erin Vance was a recipient of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Young Artist Prize in 2017 (nominated by Aritha van Herk) and a finalist for the 2018 Alberta Magazine Awards for her short story “All the Pretty Bones.” Her poems “the drag of the key in the lock,” and “Honey Cookery” were nominated for the 2018 Best of the Net Anthology. Her first novel, Advice for Taxidermists and Amateur Beekeepers will be released by Stonehouse Publishing in Fall 2019, and her latest poetry chapbook The Sorceress Who Left Too Soon: Poems after Remedios Varo will be published by Coven Editions in 2019.
@erinemilyann (Twitter/ Instagram)
Buy her latest pamphlet here: http://www.theblastedtree.com/store/spoiled-milk-wet-specimen

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

My father is a musician and songwriter and he would write the most beautiful songs to commemorate events, like my great grandparents’ anniversary or the death of a loved one. I could see how the words and melodies connected to the moment and people better than a cake or a casket ever could. My parents read to me as much as they could and I devoured books. As a child I found myself both obsessively writing stories and singing to myself all day. We lived in the country and I would wander around the property, through the trees and jumping across the creeks, singing and telling myself stories. I enjoyed solitude and being outside where my words could fade into the wind.

For me, poetry was the bridge between stories and song. Poetry has an immense flexibility that I held onto while growing and evolving from a small child to an adult. The fluidity was something that I could not replicate elsewhere.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My father introduced me to the power of words through song writing and I’d grown up reading poetry, but my real induction into the realm of poetry occurred when I was ten years old. I attended a summer camp for ‘gifted’ children at the University of Calgary lead by Jennifer Aldred. For two weeks we journalled, wrote stories and poems, sang, watched films, made art, and read and recited poetry.

Later, I attended a summer camp called Youthwrite, where I met and was later mentored by Sheri D Wilson in spoken word poetry. I learned about the Beats and surrealist and contemporary spoken word artists. Later, I attended Wordsworth, a summer youth residency, where Lisa Murphy Lamb introduced me to Sandy Pool, whose instruction helped shape me into the poet I am today. During my undergraduate and graduate degrees at the University of Calgary, I had the unparalleled experience of working with Aritha van Herk, Suzette Mayr, and Larissa Lai. All of these writers had profound influence on me, but much of my philosophy on writing and craft is thanks to Aritha van Herk.

I spent a week this summer at the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University Belfast, and I feel as though I was reintroduced to poetry. There is a difference, though it feels intangible, between my poetry education in Canada and my poetry education in Ireland. In Canada, I’ve shied away from any semblance of sentimentality altogether. In working with Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Ellen Cranitch, Stephen Sexton, and more unbelievably talented people in Belfast, I found not only was it okay to write with feeling and sentimentality, but that doing so often enriched my writing and helped me to further establish my own poetic voice.

3. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t have a regular, structured routine right now, because my work and study schedule doesn’t allow for it. Some days I start work at eight in the morning, others at six in the evening. I write for about an hour each day, though often that time is also split between editing and submitting work for publication. Editing and submitting are just as important as the writing itself. I write at my desk, in bed, on the bus, in cafes, at the bar, and anywhere else I may be when I feel the itch. I work several jobs and am a graduate student, so while I have much more free time than most people, I don’t yet have the luxury of long stretches of daily scheduled writing time. I get a surprising amount done while my students write tests, however!

4. What motivates you to write?

Toni Morrison said, “If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” I am always trying to write the books and stories and poems that I want to read, so in a way, I write for myself. I want to see my thoughts and ideas realized.

5. What is your work ethic?

I have a fairly strong work ethic. I rarely go a day without writing, editing, or submitting, and often do all three in a day, however this work ethic is spread over multiple projects at once. I switch genres frequently, so sometimes it feels as though I’m working at a snail’s pace, though I really am working quickly, just on enough projects that each seems to progress rather slowly. I also try to read as much as possible, and include it as part of my writing practice.

6. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

The first poets I became obsessed with were Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. I still read them nearly every day and collect editions of their work and various biographies. I never “grew out” of the confessional poets, and I am always aching to know more about them and read new work by them. I love reading their letters and diaries and collected works, over and over. It’s like crawling into bed with my childhood teddy bear. They are with me every time I sit down to write.

7. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

There are so many writers working today whom I admire for both their talent and their commitment to bettering the world. I admire all of the incredible poets and novelists out there fighting the good fight: Jen Sookfong Lee, Bola Opaleke, Billy Ray Belcourt, Joshua Whitehead, Bhanu Kapil, Carmen Maria Machado, Nikki Reimer, Vivek Shraya, Chelsea Vowel, Ian Williams, Alicia Elliot, Jordan Abel, A. H. Reaume, and so many more! I admire writers who work from a place of unease, who are stirring the waters with their words and careers all of the time.

I also love following writers who I’m just really excited about! Some of these are: Sonya Vatomsky, Vanessa Maki, Afieya Kipp, Effy Winter, Isabella Wang, Jenna Velez, Ailey O’Toole, Arielle Tipa, Hannah Kent, Annemarie Ní Churreáin, Miriam Nash, Milena Williamson, Stephen Sexton, Lauren Lawler, Paul Meunier, Doireann Ní Ghríofa, Jess Rizkallah, Sennah Yee, Susannah M. Smith, Catherine Garbinsky, and Sandra Kasturi.

9. Why do you write?

This question used to be simple—a clichéd answer about ‘making a difference,’ ‘being heard,’ or ‘it’s my passion.’ The more I write the more I realize that it is less of a choice and more of a compulsion—a wonderful, exciting compulsion, but a compulsion nonetheless. Simply put, I don’t know how to exist without writing and reading. I have so many thoughts and ideas that send me manic and restless and the only relief comes with writing them down. Writing is both pleasure and pain, but it is above all, a persistent knocking from the inside of my skull telling me to put that overactive imagination to use. I love writing, and rereading something I wrote after a time away is like greeting a messy, old friend.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

This is a tricky question, because there are so many different ways to be a writer. Many will say that to be a writer one simply has to write. I disagree. My advice for those aspiring to be writers is always this: read voraciously and widely. At the risk of sounding redundant, you cannot be a successful writer if you do not read. Read outside of your comfort zone, and every day. Not only will it make you a better writer, but it is important to stay current in the genres you are working in, and writers have a certain level of responsibility to each other to read books other than their own. It sounds harsh, but if you do not read, you are not a writer. Full stop. Oh, and keep your day job. You’ll probably need it to pay the bills, and if you’re lucky enough not to, it’s important to get out of the house once in awhile.

11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I am currently finishing my master’s thesis, The Art of Drowning in Haunted Waters under the supervision of Dr. Suzette Mayr; a hybrid gothic novel about a young epileptic woman told in poetry and prose. It is part fable, part mystery. That is my biggest focus until I hand it in on November ninth. I am also polishing my novel, Advice for Taxidermists and Amateur Beekeepers, which is set for publication in late 2019 (Stonehouse Publishing). This book is a meditation on grief and family dynamics following trauma, with a fair amount of ghosts and small town gossip thrown in. I am thrilled for it to be out in the world. In addition to these projects, I have a full-length poetry manuscript that I will be working on with Kimmy Beach as part of the 2019 Writers Guild of Alberta Mentorship Program. This collection focuses on women in folklore and history labelled as “hysterics” and interrogates their position in society and attempts to elevate their voices. My last ‘big project’ is a collection of short stories and flash fiction called No One Believes You Except for the Dead. The collection is slowly coming together, and I work on it when my motivation for my other projects diminishes. And, of course, I am always writing poems when an idea comes to me, regardless of whether they fit into a particular project or not.


Wombwell Rainbow Interviews Jean O’Brien:

Wombwell Rainbow Interviews

I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these poets you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.

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Jean O’Brien

Jean O’Brien’s fifth poetry collection, New & Selected, Fish on a Bicycle was published by Salmon Publishing (2016). and has recently been reprinted. Her work is widely anthologised, most recently in The Lea Green Down, Ed. Eileen Casey. Eavan Boland: Inside History (Eds. Campbell and O’Mahony), Reading the Future, Ed. Alan Hayes. The Enchanting Verses (Irish Ed. Patrick Cotter), The Windharp, (Ed Niall MacMonagle), If You Ever Go, One City One Book (Eds. Boran and Smyth). She was featured writer for New Hibernia Review (USA).
Festival include: The Gerald Manley Hopkins, The Goldsmith, An Cuirt, Armagh Literary Festival, Dublin Book Festival, Five Lamps (2012), Leaves, (2015 and 2017) Dromineer (2013). In conjunction with the Polish Embassy she took part in the tribute readings for Nobel Laureate Wislawa Szymborska. This year she read at the Cork International Poetry Festival.
She works as a poet and tutor in prisons, schools, travellers centres, libraries and various County Councils. She tutors in the Irish Writers Centre in person and on-line with a USA university on their MFA programme.
Awards include:
She was a 2017/18 recipient of the Patrick and Katherine Kavanagh Fellowship. She was the winner of The Arvon International Award (2010) The Fish International Award (2008) She was highly commended in the Forward Prize and was awarded two residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre and more recently at the Tin Jug Studios in Birr. She has just been shortlisted for the UCD competition ‘Voices of War’.

The Interview

Q. 1 What inspired you to write poetry?

I was originally moved to write poetry, like I suppose a lot of teenagers are, to explain the world to myself. You know that mournful adolescent phrase most of us go through where we are our own whole world. I had lost my mother to suicide the summer I turned fifteen, and my beloved grandmother a few months previously, and so had something to be mournful about.

Q. 2 Who introduced you to poetry?

Funnily enough my mother. She had a copy from her own schooldays of Palgrave’s Golden Treasury which I used to read a lot. In school I also liked poetry and liked learning it off by heart, which is frowned upon now, but I still remember snatches of poems I learned over 40 years ago and cannot remember any of my own writing. I wish I had had more drummed into me in the ‘sponge’ years.

Q. 3 How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?

Initially barely in the ‘home scene’, obviously I was very aware of the poets in Palgraves who were the likes of Keats, Wordsworth, Shelly, Byron etc. The Sylvian poets as Eavan Boland called them. Of living Irish poets I was barely aware, but loved Kavanagh and Yeats.
As I started publishing I became very aware of them and of the idea of having to do an apprenticeship before you could even dream of joining their ranks. Unfortunately the world changed and now it seems to be all the New Kids on the Block who get the attention and other than a handful such as Boland, Muldoon, Meehan, Longley McGuckian etc. the rest of us I think feel a little short changed, by the moving of the goalposts.

Q. 4 What is your daily writing routine?

Not good! I write in my living space, so it is hard to stop myself just ‘hanging out the wash’, ‘cleaning the draining board’. This of course is death to inspiration. Most writers also work at tutoring/reviewing/readings etc for a living, so the awaiting ‘work’ emails can take up a lot of time and things such as this questionnaire. When I have the bones of a poem down, I relax as I know it is there to go back to. Going to writing retreats really helps you to knuckle down and actually write.

Q. 5 What motivates you to write?
Feeling I have something I want to say, sometimes as much to myself as anyone else, but I suppose I have chosen a public platform to share my thoughts in. Occasionally if I write what could be regarded as a ‘public’ poem and I get good feed back from people, people do write and send cards etc. it is a great feeling to feel you have connected with someone and made even a tiny difference, if only for a short while. I have poems by others that I turn to for comfort and value them.

Q. 6 What is your work ethic?
I refer you to question 4 above! Not as strong as it should/could be, unfortunately I have a very strong work ethic to housework, which I know is silly, but I like things calm around me. I certainly go about the business of poetry every day and usually read other people work every day. Writing needs a lot of daydreaming time, which is often hard to achieve, going out for a walk helps.

Q. 7 How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?

I read, as I have previously mentioned, a lot of Palgrave’s and loved the mournful poems of Byron, loved too Robert Frost, who is a terrific poet for younger poets to read, as he is a master of form and has much more going on that first appears. Who could fail to be moved by Tennyson’s Crossing the Bar or Coleridge’s rousing Kubla Khan? I certainly took away a sense of rhythm, rhyme and pacing from them, whether or not I still apply them today is a moot point.

Q. 8 Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

Oh I have a few. I just love Paul Muldoon’s sparkle and flare, his amazing use of language and his wily wit . Mary O’Donnell’s honest and subversive work, Paula Meehan’s powerful use of mythology mixed with social concerns. Eavan Boland for leading the way. That’s just in Ireland, in the UK I love people like Carol Ann Duffy for her wit and tender use of words, Simon Armitage for his socially concerned well worked words and Gillian Allnut for her surreal and mysterious poems. In America people like Ocean Vong, Joie Graham and Billy Collins. I could go on all day. something in their work sparks and excites me.

Q. 1 Why do you write?

I have some deep need too, I get fairly antsy if I haven’t been able to write for a while, it is a sort of hum in the back of my head that needs to be attended to.

Q.2 What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

I would say read, read, read, and then write, write, write. It is a muscle that will grow is exercised. But you must read widely and deeply this will help you improve your word-hoard. You cannot hope to play in the orchestra until you have heard the orchestra play. Join a workshop or writing group, get used to critiquing your own and other peoples work. When you have polished a piece and put it away for a week or two then look at it again and send it out, accept rejection and keep sending out.

Q. 1 Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

I am involved in something that I am not at liberty to say yet, My last collection my New & Selected Fish on a Bicycle has just been reprinted by Salmon and I tutor in prisons and colleges which keeps me fairly busy and I am always at the project of finding time for my own writing.