Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Emma Purshouse

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.

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Emma Purshouse

was born in Wolverhampton, and is a freelance writer and performance poet.

She is a poetry slam champion and performs regularly at spoken word nights far and wide. Her appearances include, The Cheltenham Literature Festival, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Much Wenlock Poetry Festival and Solfest. She has supported the likes of John Hegley, Holly McNish and Carol Ann Duffy.

Emma has undertaken poetry residencies for Wolverhampton Libraries, The New Vic Theatre in Stoke-on-Trent and The International Festival of Glass in Stourbridge.

In 2007, Emma created her first one-woman poetry play, ‘The Professor Vyle Show’. This was a fast-moving theatre piece that included puppets, poetry and quick changes. The show entertained audiences in senior schools, colleges and studio theatres. She has since created a number of successful poetry shows including the highly acclaimed site specific piece ‘Snug’ with poet and musician Heather Wastie.

Her first novel Scratters was short-listed for the ‘Mslexia Unpublished Novel Prize’ in 2012.

Widely published in small press magazines and poetry anthologies, Emma also had a CD of her performance poetry, entitled ‘Upsetting the Apple Cart’, released by Offa’s Press in 2010.

More recently Offa’s Press has also published ‘The Nailmakers’ Daughters’, which is a collection of Black Country poetry by Emma, Marion Cockin and Iris Rhodes.

In 2016, Emma’s first collection of children’s poetry was produced by Fair Acre Press. This dyslexia-friendly book is aimed at 6 to 11 year-olds and is chock-full of fabulous illustrations by the highly talented Catherine Pascall-Moore, along with top tips and ideas from Emma, for learning and performing poetry. This book won the poetry section of the Rubery Book Award.

Emma enjoys running workshops and is an experienced facilitator.   She works with all ages and all abilities, whether it be in a school or a community setting. She has a teaching qualification and an MA in Creative Writing.

In previous existences, Emma has lived on a narrowboat, worked as a taxi base operator, a sign writer, a car valeter and a Coca-Cola mystery customer!

She has been making a living from writing and performing for the past ten years.

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

In part, I was inspired to write poetry because my paternal granddad (who I never really knew) had a book of poetry he’d written. Other family members used to get it out and look at it with real reverence as if it was a very special thing. I loved reading bits of it, even though as a kid I didn’t really understand it. It was four line verse and he’d narrated imagined histories for our family’s ancestors.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Apart from the appearance of granddad’s poetry book, I remember reading Roger McGough when I was still in primary school and loving it I also remember reading poems out loud with my dad from a children’s treasury of poetry that my maternal granddad bought for me. My mum also encouraged me to send my own poems to the Brownie magazine when I was about six or seven. I had a couple of poems accepted by them and the buzz of seeing my name in print, and the idea that somebody thought what I’d done was good enough to be in a magazine was very intoxicating.

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

As a teenager I was only really aware of the poets that we had to study in school…so Dylan Thomas and WH Auden were the norm. It wasn’t until I went to Glastonbury in my 20s and I saw some spoken word that I realised poetry could be many different things.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I don’t have a daily routine as I work as a self-employed writer and performance poet. There is no routine when you’re scratting about to make a living in this way. For example, one day I might be working in a school, another day on an oral history project interviewing folk. On another day in the same week I might be travelling somewhere for an evening gig. So, I fit my own writing in around facilitating other people’s work, performing and earning a crust. I often write notes on a bus or a train and then structure them into something when I can find time to sit at my laptop.

In 2018 I re-did ‘52’, which is the series of writing prompts that the poet Jo Bell came up with a few years ago for an online project. These online prompts then went on to be published in book form by Nine Arches Press. I can’t recommend it highly enough. I wrote a poem a week last year because of that book. So I’ve usually managed to find a couple of hours to sit and do that, often on a Sunday in between catching up with emails and prep for the following week.

5. What motivates you to write?

I’ve always done it. I think it’s a compulsion of sorts. I need to express things that I sometimes can’t put into actual out loud words. Although often once I’ve written something I will learn it so that it does become spoken aloud. I like to write about the world around me, and to just say it how it appears to me. I love the Black Country and its people so that too is an important source of inspiriation.

Also getting a laugh motivates me. I have written quite a bit of humorous poetry. It’s lovely when you can make people smile or give them a bit of a giggle.

6. What is your work ethic?

I don’t stop much. I’m self-employed as I said, so I can’t remember the last time I had a day without doing some sort of work. I probably even did a few emails on Christmas day if I’m honest. That isn’t a complaint, it’s just how it is when you’re working for yourself.

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

I think all the stuff you read has an influence, not just the stuff you read when you are young.

You might see how somebody handled a particular form and you think, ‘Oh, I’d like to try one of them’. Or you might hear somebody that delivers in a conversational style, so you think ‘I’d like to try that’. You might also see something or read something that makes you think, ‘I wouldn’t do it like that’.

You learn about what you like I suppose, and perhaps try to mimic it when you’re very young. I wanted to write like Dylan Thomas when I was sixteen…and then one day I realised ‘he’s a bloke, a welsh bloke, and much as I love what he does I’m a woman and a Black Country woman at that…hmmm maybe I should write about what matters to me.’ It takes a long time and a lot of reading and exploring, to find the confidence to develop your own voice. Or voices.

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

I can’t effectively answer this as it changes on a day to day basis. I admire so many writers for so many different reasons. If you force me to pick one, then today I’d say Liz Berry has given permission for the Black Country accent to be used as something other than the comedic or the nostalgic, and created a sort of mythology for the region…which I love.

In a minute I’m going to read some Patience Agbabi for a workshop I’m planning, so if you asked me in an hour or so I’d probably tell you that I admire her the most because of her ability to take a voice that isn’t necessarily hers and run with it. I also love the way she uses traditional form in a very performancy way.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

It gives me freedom and I meet interesting people. I can’t cope with being in a 9-5 job…I’ve tried. I tried very hard for years and it made me unhappy. I would rather live a bit hand to mouth in the way that I do and pursue my writing.

Writing is also the most democratic art form to my mind. It takes next to nothing cost wise to do it. A pen and a bit of paper and you’re away. Although getting your work published is perhaps not so democratic…nowadays social media and spoken word nights do at least give working class writers and other marginalised groups platforms on which to share their work to a wider audience which wasn’t there in the same way when I started out.

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

I’d say that you have to work hard. You also have to read hard. You have to develop a voice and a track record. You have to overcome fear of rejection (you will get rejections…and loads of them). You learn to take criticism, and actually want to receive it. You learn to tell the difference between useful constructive criticism and people who are trying to undermine you. You plough your own course. You network. You realise that making a living as a writer isn’t about getting published.

My advice would be to write anything you are offered. If somebody offers you the chance to write a play but you think you’re a poet don’t worry about it…just say yes and enjoy it. Don’t limit yourself to genre or style. Experiment with all the vehicles available for what you want to say.

Oh…and you have to actually sit and do the writing a bit. The ‘getting your arse on to the seat’ to actually write is the one hurdle that is sometimes the most difficult 

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

At the moment I’m polishing a novel (again). It just got shortlisted for some mentoring and has had new feedback which needs to be considered.

I’ve just launched a new poetry collection called ‘Close’ (Offa’s Press) so now I have to gig and promote it. I love gigging.

I’m doing lots and lots of work with an arts collective called Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists, which myself, Steve Pottinger, and Dave Pitt set up a couple of years ago. We have been touring a show that we’ve been doing, and we want to continue doing that, but also have the intention to write a new one and take it to Edinburgh again.

I’m running various workshops. I’m running various gigs. I’m promoting things for the Wolverhampton Literature Festival. I’m about to read through the final draft of an oral history book on Sikhism that I’ve been working on. I’m writing a new poem of my own. I’m about to write another funding bid to try and get some money to offer mentoring to poets. So yeah… that’s this week sorted!

Thanks for taking an interest in what I’m up to.


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