Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Rebecca Gethin

 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.

All The Time In The World by Rebecca Gethin

A Sprig of Rowan

Rebecca Gethin

Rebecca Gethin’s first novel, Liar Dice, which was published in 2011. Her frst poetry collection, River is the Plural of Rain, was published by Oversteps Books in 2009. Her second novel was What the Horses Heard and her second poetry collection, A Handful of Water. She has worked as a creative writing tutor in a prison and currently works as a freelance creative writing tutor and writer.

The Interview 

1. What inspired you to write poetry?
 
I wrote stories night and day as a child and when anyone asked me what I was going to be when I grew up, I’d answer “a writer”.  They always laughed.  I then forgot about it in the race to make a living, bring up children, weather life.   Later, I remembered my original aim and found I still wanted to write a novel but, for some reason, started writing poetry and this somehow served as an apprenticeship for the two novels I wrote. I think I won’t write another novel now as I prefer writing poetry. It carries less expectation of success and it’s a friendlier, less isolating world.  Also I can bin a day’s work more easily: binning 40k words is not so easy!   
 
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
 
We read quite a bit at primary school and my early years were full of Stevenson, Masefield, Walter de la Mare. I remember the rhythms and rhymes even now though I don’t always remember the words.  Nobody at home read any at all.
 
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
 
Very and felt very intimidated!   I loved Yeats and Keats but funnily enough when I went to university to study English I could never write essays about either.  But these inspired me to try and try again:  Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, George Mackay Brown, Edward Thomas.  I loved a not-so-well- known Donegal poet called Francis Harvey.    
 
4. What is your daily writing routine?
 
I spend each morning writing at my desk if I can. Then in the afternoon I think about it. I may go back and adjust a comma or some words later or re-write the whole thing. 
If I don’t spend the morning fiddling with writing I need to catch up somewhere in the day so I might do that or else it’s just one of those days that gets away.  An accumulation of such days may make me feel  slightly unwell but I am aware that sometimes I am absorbing experience that I will use later and that’s ok.
I use a camera a lot to capture memories, images, experiences.   This is how I try to operate …I don’t wait for inspiration. I write or edit or organise.   I  find the best poems and the most enjoyable to write are the ones where I don’t know  where it’s going and my brain suddenly furnishes me with the direction….  as if the poem is writing itself.  Of course, I think a poet can also know where a poem is going and it might still be perfectly ok ( crafted and neat) but the ones that surprise the writer will probably surprise the reader!   Of course you will lose the surprise to yourself while you edit it or fiddle about with it…. but even fiddling and editing can also bring out the surprise.  Editing to me can be as creative as the initial write. 
 I was the same when I wrote my novels: I had no idea what was coming on the next page and wrote the two books sentence by sentence.  I edited a lot later on and enjoyed this but I had  no plans or maps for the plot to start with. 
 
5. What motivates you to write?
 
Lots of things give me what I call ‘a poem feeling ‘. 
Reading others. Making notes on what I see or hear.  Observing whatever and whenever I can.  Making small discoveries.
 My two monthly poetry groups, reading and supporting their work while their critiquing of my own is immensely supportive to me. 
 
6. What is your work ethic?

Work ethic?  Not sure I have such a thing.  Ethic seems a big word!   I am not writing for a living or to deadlines except my own.  My family comes first and, in the spring, my garden is next.  I love being outside and, on a sunny day, at any  time of the year I would rather be outside than at my desk so there can be a conflict within me!  I am Aries and am used to this. So although I do need to spend time writing then I don’t necessarily work that hard at it unless something is pressing me.  
I am learning to cope with the downs of my self-confidence and not let it get me down when it comes over me.  Just something we all have to live with.

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
 
In my teens I read some of the Penguin Modern Poets books and Peter Redgrove is the one that stands out in my mind.  Again it’s the rhythm and flow of his work that is what interested me, the entrancing, visionary quality.  I also read Ezra Pound and a lot of TS Eliot.  At that time I was lucky to go to a reading by Jorge Luis Borges in London which was amazing although I couldn’t make out much. I also went to one by Kathleen Raine. For some reason I was introduced to her and she kindly enquired what I was going to do, as you do. When I proudly told her I was going to university to study English she said “Poor you” which was disappointing. But she was right because, after my degree, I never read a printed word for pleasure for nearly eight years!  I wrote too many essays and had to stuff masses of writers into my head.  At university, however, I heard Yevgeny Yevtushenko read in Russian and I was blown away.
 
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
 
This changes all the time!   But these writers don’t change: Alice Oswald for her visionary perceptions on nature, her surprising voice and turns of phrase.
Tony Hoagland for his compassion and rage and his discursive style, the way he melds two things together to make a greater whole. 
Norman MacCaig for his astonishing imagery.
Penelope Shuttle for her making the ordinary so very extraordinary.
Susan Richardson for her distinctive voices and her great knowledge of nature.
Les Murray for his voices and for being astonishing.
George Szirtes for being so apparently effortless and so adroit. 
Michael Longley for making my heart beat faster. I could go on and on….

 

9. Why do you write?

Because I am besieged by sense impressions I don’t want to lose.
Because it has become part of who I am and I feel ratty and almost ill if I don’t.
Because I want to record things that may vanish otherwise.
Because I want to resurrect things that are being lost.  10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”I’d say give yourself permission to write and above all let yourself write rubbish. Set yourself a target time and write for that length every day even if only 15 mins until it becomes engrained in you, a habit.
Put it away and come back to it a week (or a month or a year) later and see what bits you are surprised by.  Write them out again and see what connections you can make or what you now think is finished. If it surprises you now,  it will surprise others.  Keep going even if life gets on top of you!  

 

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

I am about to go on a writing residency in a remote seaside cottage in SW Cornwall in Dec. This is a wee bit daunting to be honest.
I am putting together a pamphlet called Vanishings (working title) on endangered creatures but this has a way to go.  I have time though because Palewell Press is going to publish it at the end of 2019. (I could happily have studied Ecology.) 
And I have another up my sleeve on excavated stories because I love archaeology and finding things out , working title is Signs of Life.   (I should probably have studied History. )
I was reading at Aldeburgh Poetry Festival on climate change and want to work on this.

 
 Thank you Paul Brookes for making me think about these questions.

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