Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Helen Laycock

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.

Book covers[104363]

Helen Laycock

Most recently, Helen Laycock’s poetry has appeared in Popshot, The Caterpillar, Full Moon and Foxglove (Three Drops Press) and Poems for Grenfell (Onslaught). Her poems appear in several further anthologies, and, since winning the David St. John Writing Award for Novice Poetry in 2006, her work has been acknowledged in many competitions. She was one of the lead writers in June for Visual Verse.
Helen also writes flash fiction and has been featured in The Best of CafeLit 3, 4, 5 & 6.
Her short stories have been successful in writing competitions, publication including An Earthless Melting Pot (Quinn), and her first attempt at play-writing secured her a shortlisting in Pint-Sized Plays.
Helen has compiled three short story collections for adults and has written eight children’s books for 8-12-year-olds.
These books can be found on her Amazon Author Page

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Helen-Laycock/e/B006PGFVL6
Humorous poetry has been published on Spilling Cocoa Over Martin Amis. Two collections of funny verse are available, one each for children and adults.

She has two websites where you can find out more about the range of writing:
Helen Laycock | Fiction in a Flash
https://helenlaycock.wixsite.com/fiction-in-a-flash

Helen Laycock | Children’s Author https://helenlaycock.wixsite.com/helen-laycock

Other links:
Facebook https://m.facebook.com/helenlaycockauthor/
Blog: Catching Cotton Clouds
https://catchingcottonclouds.wordpress.com/

Twitter: @helen_laycock https://mobile.twitter.com/helen_laycock

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The Interview

1. As with most poets, I suppose primary school was where ‘it’ first happened. Creative writing sessions were few and far between and mainly involved writing stories; more rarely poetry was suggested. Understandable really, as we didn’t ever read it! At that time, my sole approach to poetry was to write four to six stanzas of rhyme, a formula which I’d probably learned from nursery rhymes or my Rupert annual. It was something I dashed off without too much thought at all, trite sentiments or simple tales peppered with many a forced rhyme. Poetry was never taught as a discipline, but now I understand how complex writing poetry can be, that makes sense.

2. At secondary school, I had a fabulous English teacher in my first year, Mr Gronow. He actually got us to listen to the sounds that poetry makes and to understand how rhythm, silence and space each contribute to the overall effect. He took me out of my comfort zone when he asked me to leave out what he called ‘redundant’ words, i.e. monotonous every day words which, when used in a poem tend to muffle and veil any wonderful images which exist alongside them. I also learned that poetry didn’t HAVE to rhyme. What a revelation!

I began to write for pleasure, not because a teacher had instructed it. I wrote a lot of poetry for my mum. I suppose it was a kind of love poetry to let her know how treasured she was.

By the time I was in sixth form, I had made many contributions to the school magazine, and had won lots of in-school competitions. My A level English teacher picked up on my writing and asked me to put it all together in a folder. Something in it must have stirred something in her as, unbeknown to me, she took it to an English lecturer who she knew and asked him to look at it. When she handed it back, there was a handwritten report inside from her friend. When I read it, I almost burst with pride. It was loaded with praise and mentioned ‘incredible talent’. That was the first moment I realised that maybe I could do something special.

I also took an A level in French. Practical criticism of French poetry was on the syllabus, which I adored. My French teacher was fabulous at drawing our attention to metaphor and meaning.

3. I had no idea as a young teen that poets could be youthful, modern, or even living… I assumed that they were all dead and had had dusty lives scribbling archaic messages with quills. I went on to study English at university, and then the world of poetry really opened out. Yes, we studied many dead poets, but I realised that they did have something to say, and could say it in a wonderful way. I thoroughly enjoyed Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, for example, as commentary on society. I was introduced to Sylvia Plath and realised how creativity is also an outlet for angst and emotion.

Although it is something which poets probably don’t much like having done to their work, my absolute passion was analysing poetry, taking it to pieces to see why it worked, and in retrospect, I think that this process was invaluable to my growing understanding of technique.
4. I don’t just write poetry. My repertoire includes flash fiction, short stories, plays and children’s novels. I also blog intermittently and have just finished a writing job where I produced creative texts for an educational revision guide. My routine varies, depending on what I have turned my attention to.

Every month I try to produce something for a wonderful website called Visual Verse where the challenge is to produce 50 – 500 words within an hour. It can be poetry or flash, and the inspiration is an image. I would say that most of my work on this website has been poetry. To have such a time limitation is a challenge, but I also think it has sharpened my skills. If I was writing a poem for a competition or publication, I would take a lot longer, coming back to it over a series of days, reading it aloud, highlighting a line or a word which doesn’t quite work. I like to have the online thesaurus at hand as well as a website called RhymeZone (I haven’t dispensed entirely with rhyme. An internal rhyme can work a treat!).

Stories usually take a few days to perfect, too, but I seem to be able to produce flash ‘in a flash’!

I work best during the mornings, and generally keep going until my brain goes blank. If I’m writing a novel, it perpetually occupies my headspace. I sometimes write all day and carry on well into the early hours.

I talk about my writing-related news on my Facebook Author Page.

5. If I have an idea, I HAVE to write, even though at the time I might have no idea what I will do with it. Otherwise, I write for the challenge of publication, or as a competition entry, or for audience. Ultimately, any writer (I imagine) would like their words to be enjoyed, to create an impact in another person, to stir emotion, to raise a chuckle, to bring out a tear…

6. I am a perfectionist. I edit, edit, edit. I would hate for anything to go out into the world which wasn’t my best. I always try to produce the highest quality of writing that I can.

7. I was an avid Enid Blyton fan as a child. I devoured everything she wrote. The idea that unaccompanied children could have adventures and solve mysteries has certainly coloured my own writing for children.

8. I admire writers like Donna Tartt, whose writing is impeccable and intelligent, and Linwood Barclay, who reels in the reader from the first line and doesn’t let them go until the final climax, Rachel Joyce, for recognising and portraying what is deeply inside people and James Heriot, who always made me laugh. I enjoy the poetry of Simon Armitage amongst many, many others.

9. I write because I have something to say. I love the construction of poetry, building it with the finest materials I can find. I enjoy telling a complete tale in flash of 100 words. I delight in the creation and interaction of characters in a short story and to be allowed to create and populate an entire fictional world in a book where anything can happen is an utter privilege. I write because it is self-indulgent and exciting.

10. To become a writer, you have to:
a) learn the craft of using the best words;
b) open your mind to unique ideas.
This doesn’t always happen simultaneously, and you may well need to work on one aspect more than the other. Practise making writing seamless; the reader should be pulled in to the extent that they are unaware of the print on the page. Dialogue should be authentic. Listen to how people speak. Note characteristics that make people individual. Be an observer.
Obviously, a great grasp of grammar is important, and a wide vocabulary, both of which will improve the more you read. As with any creative skill, the more you practise, the better you will become. Feedback is very important, too. It tells you if you’ve got it right.

11. I feel as though I am pulling back on the elastic of a catapult right now. As soon as I let go, several projects will be launched into the world: a new humorous children’s book is ready to go and three short story collections are almost completed. I also have lots (and lots) of Post-It notes stuck all around my computer with many other reminders of things I want to do…

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