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 fiction writers you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.
was born in Newcastle Upon Tyne and lives in County Durham. She was selected for a screenwriting talent scheme with Northern Film and Media in 2012 and produced a sample script for ITV Vera. She was shortlisted for the Gillian Hush Award and received a place on an Arvon writing for radio with Anjum Malik and Peter Wild. She has been longlisted in several playwriting competitions, including High Tide, Verity Bargate and Papatango. Her scripts were longlisted in recent BBC Script Rooms 11 and 12 and received feedback and she was invited to a special event at BBC Writersroom. She was longlisted again in Script Room Drama 2018.
She has completed a one year’s mentoring scheme 2017/2018 with Arvon and The Jerwood Foundation mentored by the playwright Tim Crouch. An extract from her play The Graffiti Bunkers was performed at The Free Word Centre in June 2018.
Rachel Burns writes prose and her short story was published in Mslexia and Here Comes Everyone. Her flash fiction was published in Flash Fiction Magazine. She has completed a YA novel and took part in the Northern Writer’s Awards, Summer Talent Salon 2017. Her YA novel was selected for TLC Free Reads.
Her poetry has appeared in various magazines including The Fenland Reed, Head Stuff, Ink, Sweat & Tears, South Bank Poetry, SOUTHLIGHT, The Herald Newspaper, Marble Poetry, Arfur, Crannog and is forthcoming in the Poetry Salzburg Review, SurVision, Eyeflash and The Rat’s Ass Review. Poetry has been anthologised in #MeToo; Poems for Grenfell Tower; Please Hear What I’m Not Saying; Our Beating Heart: NHS hits 70; and Poems for the NHS. She has been shortlisted in Mslexia Poetry Competition, The Keats- Shelley Poetry Prize 2017, HeadStuff 2018 and Poetry School Primers 2018.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I was a late starter only signing up for a WEA creative writing course in my thirties. We were given homework assignments each week and I’d write a poem. Jackie Litherland partner was the poet Barry McSweeney. He died of alcoholism. I read his poetry collection ‘Horses in Boiling Blood’ which is his translation of Apollinaire. The title poem is called ‘Horses in Boiling Blood or The Fenwick’s Third Floor Hair -do.’ I love the inventiveness of his language, he writes half-Apollinaire, half-Geordie poet about love and the horrors of war but also at the same time about the horrors of addiction. It completely changed the way I thought about poetry. Colpitts Poetry was still going strong, organised by the poet Michael Standen, editor of Other Poetry. I saw some incredibly talented poets read, too many to name but included Matthew Sweeney, George Szirtes, Vicky Feaver, and Anne Stevenson. I signed up for another evening class at my local college in creative writing and was tutored by Gillian Allnutt which was around the time she won the Northern Rock Award. We wrote in the session sometimes to music or with a line of poetry as a prompt. I remember her talking about her own work, saying her poetry had become more condensed over the years. Kevin Cadwallender took over the post from Gillian and he was another source of inspiration. I loved his Baz poems and the fact that he came from a northern seaside town. He talked about growing up in Blackhall Rocks and his journey to becoming a poet.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
My Dad introduced me to poetry. I should say ‘brainwashed’. He played Richard Burton reading Under Milk Wood at bombastic volume throughout the house, and another tape of Burton reading Hardy, Coleridge and Donne. As a child I read children’s poetry, my Dad’s cousin was a travelling book salesman and visited regularly so I had my pick of books.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
I’m more aware of the dominating middle-classes in the world of poetry than a dominating presence of older poets. Poetry costs money, attending poetry events and festivals, paying for poetry course fees, studying poetry at a higher level, entering competitions, and subscribing to magazines. These are barriers to low income writers and off putting to anyone thinking about embarking on a poetry career. The people who dominate the poetry world in general are middle-class academics. There is a huge north-south divide. I don’t think we see enough diversity in poetry not by a long chalk. Barry MacSweeney again, ‘We want new sounds not neat Faber and Faber/ we want new sounds no Simon Armitage/with hands in the pockets of his suit in Paris/ half a pound of badly-fried chips on each shoulder.’ (From Victory Over Darkness & The Sunne.)
4. What is your daily writing routine?
My writing routine varies. I write plays as well as poetry and I am currently working on a YA novel. I have an arthritic condition of the spine which means I can’t sit for long periods, so I tend to write in bursts, an hour at a time. Some days I’ll take the dog and walk through the woods and down to the river with a notebook. I juggle writing with supporting my three kids who all have dyslexia, so although my youngest is nine, she still can’t read. My time is spent attending meetings, making sure support plans and provision is in place and arranging extra-curriculum support. I’m also active in a voluntary capacity. I’m a partner patient insight partner with Arthritis Research UK reading grant proposals. I volunteer with a prisoner’s charity at two Crown Courts, supporting defendants facing a custodial prison sentence and providing information and advice to their family members. I’m a writing mentor with Live Tales, Live Theatre working with primary school children encouraging them to think imaginatively and creatively.
5. What motivates you to write?
I can’t imagine not writing. I was always and still am a voracious reader, so writing is an extension of that. I do have periods of despair and think why on earth am I doing this? What is it all for? The poem by Anne Stevenson, ‘Making Poetry’, sums up how I feel about writing poetry in a far better way than I can articulate.
6. What is your work ethic?
My work ethic is pathetic. I am the world’s greatest procrastinator. I’m terrible for wasting time on social media!
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I didn’t read much poetry from about age ten as it wasn’t considered cool! Instead, I read and memorised song lyrics. Artists such as David Bowie, Patti Smith, X-Ray Specs, Leonard Cohen, James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Paul Weller, and The Sex Pistols. I can recite the lyrics (as can all ten-year-olds from that era) to The Sex Pistols, Bodies off by heart.
She was a girl from Birmingham
She just had an abortion
She was a case of insanity
Her name was Pauline she lived in a tree
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Patti Smith is the greatest living female poet. I have listened to her Horses album 1975 many, many times. The lyrics on that album are belter. Horses lyrics start with ‘The boy was in the hallway drinking a glass of tea.’ and builds into, ‘he saw horses, horses, horses, horses…’ and then turns again ‘life is filled with holes, Johnny’s laying there, his sperm coffin…’ It is genius! I saw her perform the entire album live at Newcastle, then again at Manchester during Horses Tour 2015.
9. Why do you write?
Writing has become an addiction. I don’t do anything by half. I throw myself in at the deep end. If you drown, you drown, to hell with it!
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
When I first took up the pen, I read a pile of ‘how to’ books in the hope that the answer to the Holy Grail ‘becoming a writer’ might be in the pages somewhere.
It wasn’t sadly. My advice for anyone starting out would be sign up for a creative writing class either online or in the community. It doesn’t have to be expensive.
Future Learn is free and online.
Creative Future is a good resource for marginalised writers.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I’m currently stacking/juggling projects, poetry (of course) a Young Adult novel, a radio play, and re-writing two stage plays.