Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Aoife Lyall

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.

Aoife Lyall

is an Irish poet living and working in the Scottish Highlands. Longlisted for the inaugural Rebecca Swift Women Poets’ Prize 2018 and shortlisted for the Hennessy New Writing Awards 2018 and 2016, her writing has appeared in The Irish Times, The Stinging Fly, Magma, Banshee Lit, among others. She has just completed her first collection, which explores pregnancy and early motherhood.

Website: https://aoifelyall.wordpress.com/
Twitter: @PoetLyall 

The Interview 

1.Who introduced you to poetry? 

As a student, it was my teachers. As a teacher, it was my students. As children, we are exposed to poetry every day through lullabies, nursery rhymes, and rhyming stories. Yet, as we get older, poetry can become a childish pursuit, then an adult and inscrutable one, determined to catch you out and show you up, something you could ‘get wrong’. I knew I would have to impress my students with the cleverness of the poems we were studying, so I studied them in great depth and developed my own appreciation for the craft at the same time. 

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

In university I was drawn to studying poems and poets; from Beowulf, the Gawain-poet, and Chaucer, right up to Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley and Patrick Kavannagh. While I didn’t feel dominated by older poets in the sense of being intimidated by the quality of their work, I was keenly aware of the hierarchy of subject matter. Having read very few poems about pregnancy, motherhood, and family, I felt these topics were unimportant, off-limits, and self-indulgent and, for a long time, felt any reading should be prefaced with a self-deprecating acknowledgement that, however well-written, they were ultimately ‘domestic’ poems. My earlier poems, which I never put forward for publication, focused on illness and death and grief and these felt more palatable, more acceptable topics in the context of these older poets. It has taken years to shake that feeling of being lesser. 4. What is your daily writing routine? To read and write every day. Before I was a parent, I could be very rigorous and systematic: up at 6am, write until 8am, go for a walk, edit in the evening. These days it is a case of writing and editing when I can. My daughter is almost 3 now, and most mornings or afternoons we sit at the kitchen table in companionable silence as I write in my black notebook and she draws in hers. Editing I do when she is asleep. The lack of time removes the opportunity for procrastination and doubt: first drafts are written freely, and editing is ruthless.  

3. What motivates you to write? 

The awareness that while everything can change in a hearbeat, change is more often a gradual transformation and something that is easy to miss. My poems bring me back into my intimate emotional memories in a way few photos can. 6. What is your work ethic? Be prepared to succeed, be willing to fail. In the beginning every acceptance was euphoric, a validation, while every rejection was a devastation. Now I am pleased with good news and more, if not totally, accepting of bad news. I have learned that opinions don’t change the quality of the work, and it is up to me to judge whether I am happy with it or not.  

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

 I mostly read novels when I was young- The Secret Garden, A Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women. In these books I found characters I could identify with; sour girls, oppressed girls, wildly talkative girls, story-writing girls. But nothing beyond that. Nothing about navigating womanhood and motherhood. That is a narrative I want to share.

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

Jacqueline Saphra, Sara Baume, Anna Burns, Sally Rooney, and Imitiaz Dharker to name but a few. All women exploring a narrative that has been historically downplayed, silenced, or simply ignored. This narrative is fascinating to me.  2018 was a year I dedicated to reading more women writers; 2019 I will be focusing on writers in translation. 

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

Pay attention. Write things down. Give yourself permission to take it seriously. Don’t tell anyone you’re doing it- to begin with. Too much scrutiny, even from well-intentioned eyes, can be overwhelming.  Be prepared to change your thinking, your interests, your style, your attitudes. Start developing opinions. Go online and ask for help. Read: I am currently writing a creative non-fiction piece inspired by a novel I read recently. It was a revelation, understanding that I could write in my own voice, and I have written over 200 pages so far. 

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

I am currently submitting my first poetry manuscript to publishers. I am also working on my first piece of extended creative non-fiction. I have used 2018 to write reviews of poetry collections and pamphlets, and will decide how to record my exploration of writers in translation in 2019.


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