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.
Vivien writes short stories, poetry and plays. Her first poetry collection – About Time, Too – was published in September 2010 by Indigo Dreams Publishing. She also won the Poetry London Prize that year. A second collection – Short of Breath – was published in 2012 (Cultured Llama Press) She has twice performed as a Poetry Double with Jacob Polley and Jen Hadfield. She has two short fiction collections in print, and numerous other publication credits, nationally and internationally. She currently divides her writing time between creating award-winning plays and devising and leading writing workshops – especially in museums and historic properties.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
Not so much inspired, as required to, when as a mature student at the University of Glasgow (Crichton Campus) I took a Creative Writing course with the poet, Tom Pow, I was asked to produce a portfolio of six poems. I had written poetry as a teenager, with plenty of angst and little restraint, and
even had them read at the old Traverse Theatre when it was in the Grassmarket in Edinburgh, but I had written no poetry since. ‘Write what you know,’ everyone said, so my first pieces explored no grand themes but were about cooking and nurture, and family life. Once started I couldn’t stop and with the generous encouragement of Tom and my fellow students I began to extend my range. This was thirteen years ago and I have been writing poetry amongst other things ever since.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
At Plympton Grammar School in Devon, two of my English teachers, the intimidating ‘spinster’ (that’s how she proudly described herself) Miss Blake and the rebellious Jack Bevan put books my way – the classics of English poetry from Miss Blake; the mischievous questing of comtemporary poets
from Jack. So I learnt respect for form from one and the fact that anything and everything is fit subject of poetry from the other.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
I didn’t know any actual poets at that time – once I did in 1960s Edinburgh the ones I met were all men and pretty egotistical. They would flirt but not engage in conversation about literature with someone so young and female.
I have always remembered my astonishment at reading the verse of Gerard Manley Hopkins and the warmth of recognition in the poetry of DH Lawrence.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I’m very fortunate in having ‘a room of my own’. My husband and I are both self-employed and work at home so I can write at will. I do a lot of writing project leading so much of my work is planning and organising. reviewing and editing. I’m also one of three editors of our regional arts magazine called
‘Southlight’. I’m more likely to write for myself in the mornings after a prolonged shared breakfast when he heads for his workshop and I head to my room.
5. What motivates you to write?
The non-stop picture show in my head. It was only when I resumed writing at university that I realised that not everyone has this experience. When a particular idea strikes me I seem able to pause the action and examine it – thus when I write about my childhood I’m seeing it with sound and colour.
I feel I have to do something with such vivid stimulus.
6. What is your work ethic?
I’m a fast worker – too fast sometimes, I have to make myself work at review and re-drafting, but I’m also a hard worker and like the projects I lead to be well-planned and structured. I like to work in peer groups and spend time in making sure that everyone has a voice and equal speaking time. This is very important with new writers who need to work from where they are. For my own work I have a couple of trusted writing friends who are also good, honest critics.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today ?Reading and drawing were such important parts of my childhood, much of my playtime spent in one of the other, so my reading was absorbed into my growing self very deeply. I don’t really know that I can identify what influence they were except to say I loved the writers who wrote of real life rather than talking animals (eg though I have come to admire the later Mrs Heelis, I couldn’t stand the tweeness of Beatrix Potter or many of the children’s classics – I think the fame of such books often reflect the love of adults looking back) and it’s been a strong thread in my own writing. So it was probably the feisty books I found to read to my sons that pleased me more
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Toni Morrison – for ‘Beloved’ especially, in which she explores each corner of the human heart in all its complexity. I re-read it, at least in part, most years. Alice Walker for similar reasons.
John Le Carré – for the eloquence of his prose and the fine detail in the ideas he pursues.
Jackie Kay – especially her poetry which looks at difference in ways which broaden understanding. She is one of very few writers who can write about music and its intoxication.
Philip Pullman – for his fresh, unsentimental imagination used to create a fabled world for children (and adults) and for his fierce defence of the need for children to read quality literature.
Not many truly of ‘today’, not because I don’t read them but because it takes me time to take them in and I realise there are few poets in my list. That’s because I find it hard to measure poetry against itself. In no special order I also like :
Ian Banks, Sebastion Faulks, Alice Munro, William Boyd
9. Why do you write?
I want to leave something behind. Being a young woman in the 1970s first wave of feminism had a deep and lasting effect on my desire to write of women’s experience where it differed hugely from men’s, and was largely unvoiced. I felt there were gentle things to say, subtle negotiations to be made and I wanted to make a plea for equality between genders rather than
replacing the dominance of one over the other. I think we need to learn to love each other from a stance of respect which makes demands of both, and teach our children those values. So I write to persuade.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Write. Read. Listen. Join a writing group, preferably in person but there are lots online. Construct a writer’s CV by sending work to a steadily expanding list of publications. Not sure about entering competitions which can be expensive and are totally unpredictable but if that’s something that appeals then try that. There are lots of pamphlet competitions which could be a first step, and can be added to that CV. Once you have some history of publication apply to be on your national equivalent of the Scottish Book Trust Live Literature scheme, which will allow you financial support to go to writing groups and schools as a leader. My advice would be don’t self-publish – I know many people do and there’s less stigma about it these days but it remains unedited, and can disqualify the work from counting when making funding applications. But above all, write.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
Drama : ‘Transgressions’ – two short plays in performance in November 2018
Poetry : ‘Finding a Voice’ – working with other writers giving voice to the women subjects of 19th/20th century photgraphs for display in the Ewart Library, Dumfries. November 2019, and development as a theatre piece.
‘Records of War’ – an 18th month project in Annan and Dumfries with writers
in response to an exhibition at both museums on WW1. Also an associated reading event – ‘Little is known….’ based on the centena I wrote for the Imperial War Museum/26 Writers Collective Armistace event. November 2018.
Title TBC : writing project with Gracefield Art Gallery, responding to 19th/20th century paintings by women. March 2019.
‘ Embedded’ Putting together a third poetry collection – have a potential publisher interested. 2019/20
e-mail : email@example.com
Poetry – collections
‘Hare’ erbacce press 2008
‘Something in the Blood’ Lapwing Press 2008
‘About Time, Too’ Indigo Dreams 2010
‘Short of Breath’ Cultured Llama 2014
Short Stories – collections
‘Perfect 10’ Pewter Rose Press* 2009
‘White Poppies’ Pewter Rose Press 2012
*Pewter Rose Press closed down in 2017
I still have some copies of both collections.