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.
was born in Scarborough, 1978, and still lives there today. She is a fully-qualified microbiologist, but also has a BA in English Literature, an MA in Creative Writing, and is working towards a PhD in poetry. She is the author of Nan Hardwicke Turns into a Hare (Prolebooks, 2011), Museum Pieces (Prolebooks, 2014) and Lapstrake (Flarestack, 2015). She can be found on Twitter @wondykitten and blogs at https://wendyprattpoetry.wordpress.com/
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I was never really ‘inspired’ in the true sense of the word. There was no sudden flash of lightning. I wrote poetry from about the age of five, at school, and continued writing poetry as part of being creative. I was always drawing and writing stories and poems. I continued writing poetry in my teens and early twenties, but, unguided, I was writing what I thought poetry should be, based on what I had been exposed to in school. It was only when I came across some modern contemporary poets in my local library whilst in the middle of a bout of severe depression that I realised there was another way to write. I guess, as a short answer, poetry has always been a way for me to record, analyse and reflect on myself and the world.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
We did a little poetry at secondary school, the war poets mainly, but by and large I introduced myself to poetry because I spent so much time ensconced in my local library.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
‘Dominating’ is an interesting term to use. I was always aware of a canon of poets which seemed to be held in high regard, mostly old white male poets, mostly dead poets, at school. I suppose in that respect, yes, they were dominating, but only because that’s who was on the syllabus. I come from a working class background, my school wasn’t geared towards any sort of academia, it was very much geared towards making sure you left school with the basic qualifications you needed to get a job in one of the local industries. I come from a town which has a very high unemployment rate and a lot of drug and alcohol problems, so I guess the main thing the teachers wanted for us was to be anchored in a job. Because of this, I don’t think the incentive was there to guide students in what was out there in terms of current, contemporary poets. You only know what you are exposed to.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
My routine varies, but I write every day. I’m a light sleeper and an early riser and tend to wake around half five or six, make coffee and write a page in my journal. I like this time best because my mind is full of the stuff that my brain has been processing while I’ve been asleep, so I am invariably sorting out worries or describing dreams when I write in my journal and it empties my head whilst also getting my creative muscles working. Then more coffee. I’m usually at my desk by seven and that’s when I produce my best work. I generally have several prose projects on the go at once, because I work as a freelance writer, writing long form articles and reviews for magazines, but I always have at least one creative project on the go too. My deadlines tend to dictate how much tie I spend on either thing on any day. Having said that, sometimes I have to write the poems that are, for want of a better description, ‘coming through’ at that point in time. When I wrote my last collection it was mostly written in a period of about three weeks of intense creativity when I wasn’t sleeping.
5. What motivates you to write?
One of my interests is in the communicative use of poetry, the narrative tradition and the role of poet as story teller. I’m interested in the psychological aspect of languages, and how we use imagery to pass on information, how art and poetry in particular is part of our evolutionary story. Exploring these concepts is part of my motivation, but the truth is I can’t not write, it’s just a part of what I am. I have done such a wide range of jobs in my life from factory work to being a microbiologist, and the only time I have felt I fit properly was when I was writing. In terms of themes I am motivated to write honestly about my own life experiences and to break the taboos that surround women who are infertile, childless and who have lost babies. But at the same time I don’t want to be defined by that story. As I say, writing is how I process the world, so it’s really very much just a part of me just being me. I use the success of others to motivate me, in many ways, because I want to be the absolute best that I can be in my chosen field. When I see writers such as Helen Mort, Liz Berry, Rebecca Goss excelling in their work, when I see what can be achieved with talent, dedication and hard work, it inspires me to reach further. That doesn’t mean I want to be better than anyone else, I’m not sure how that could be judged anyway, because art is so subjective, but I want to know that I have given everything and achieved what I aimed for. A lot of my work is personal, I have written extensively on the experiences of infertility and of the death of my daughter in 2010, and when I write about her I am aware of a responsibility to do my absolute best for her, and to represent the experience honestly and genuinely. I’m quite driven, but I’m also working out how to be at peace with what I am, and what I have achieved without reaching further all the time.
6. What is your work ethic?
This is tough to answer. I am driven, and I work very hard. It is almost impossible to make a living from the arts so it’s a given that you will work a lot of hours for not a lot of money. But I’m aware that I am doing work that I love, and it’s work that I can’t not do. My writing tends to be instinctive and natural, but on top of that is a shed load of hard work around technique. I am a bit of a perfectionist and am quite hard on myself, I set my targets high, deliberately so, because I know that if I don’t achieve the top I will come in high enough to be satisfied that I have done the best I can. I’m aware that my lack of self-confidence and low self-esteem (which tends to manifest in over achieving and perfectionism) is a barrier and I tend to check myself quite a lot, it’s easy to make excuses not to do something based anxiety around it. I struggle with quite severe anxiety which affects how I live my life a lot of the time, as does depression. I push through that as much as I can, but am slowly learning to slow down, and that being kind to myself isn’t a sin. (this is a lie, I don’t think I will ever learn to slow down) What I’ve found is that the sense of success and joy I feel when I am actually doing the work I love is worth the anxiety beforehand. I don’t believe in climbing up other people to achieve my own aims, this has happened to me twice now and it’s completely soul destroying to realise that someone has cultivated a friendship with you based on what you can do for them, rather than the fact that they like you, it’s made me wary of friendships on social media in particular. I don’t believe in climbing over people to achieve success. The poetry world can be a bit back stabby; it’s a pressurised environment with everybody going for the same jobs, publishers and awards in a very narrow field, but I genuinely believe there is room for everyone and that includes light, funny verse, academically competent and more accessible poetry. Poetry is like music, there’s no one way of making it.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I think Sylvia Plath was probably the first poet I fell in love with. It was like finding that there was a feast going on next door when all you’d been doing is eating wan sandwiches at your desk. That’s what poetry is like for me, like nourishment, and I think she was my first love, along with Ted Hughes, Jackie Kay, Seamus Heaney, Simon Armitage and just too many to really mention. I’m always inspired by Plath’s dedication, her work ethic, as well as her incredible talent and style. Heaney is like a God to me, I love how he writes about the natural world and history, I love the connectedness of his poetry and often find myself trying to emulate that connection. I saw him read once and am glad I travelled to see him before he died. Jackie kay taught me to be free, to be conversational, to use rhythm and cadence and naturalness, that was a big eye opener for me. It freed me.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
That’s a tough question too, there are so many good writers out there. From a poetry perspective I would say any poet who is using their experience honestly and genuinely and making a conversation happen through their art. I’m thinking of Liz Berry and Rebecca Goss here, who are changing the shape of how we view motherhood and how we write about women’s experiences and encouraging and inspiring other women to write about experiences which have generally been missing in the poetry world.
9. Why do you write?
I can’t not. Writing is everything to me. I only ever feel real when I am writing, at other times I feel undefined and without purpose.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
You write. And you keep writing, you keep making mistakes and you keep practicing. You just keep writing. The hardest thing by far is facing the prospect of writing rubbish. The secret is that everybody writes rubbish. I tend to think of it as a rule of three: for every three poems you write, one will be good, one will be OK and one will go in the bin. But in order to get that good one you’ve got to keep writing through the other two and accept that rubbish writing happens. A finished poem never, ever happens on the first go.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I am currently working on a play based in a working class seaside town which explores drinking culture and friendship between classes. I’ve recently finished my third full collection, which will be published by Valley Press late next year, and I am starting to put some ideas together and do some research around another collection. I’ve also just taken over as the editor of York based Dream Catcher magazine, which is exciting. I’m looking forward to 2019 and all the challenges it will bring.