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.
is a Writer and Performance Poet.
Theatre and Performance
- Co-writer / co-director and co-performer of “Poets, Prattlers and Pandemonialists” – Shows in around the UK including a run at The Edinburgh Fringe in August 2017.
- Co-MC of Poetry Slams in Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury and Audlem.
- Co-MC of Yes we Cant poetry night in Walsall.
- There is None Who Does Good (Writer) – Production by Arena Theatre (December 2017)
- Bert (Writer) – Productions by Arena Theatre (February 2016) and Holly Bush Arts Group (August 2016 & March 2017)
- Self Contained Rhythmic Narratives (Writer and Performer) – Produced by Arena Theatre.
- Smoking Cessation Project (Writer) – An Invisible Theatre piece written and devised in conjunction with Gazebo Theatre. September / October 2015 & September / October 2016
- Curator and MC of Eclectic Poetry Pagoda – June 2017.
- Winner of Wolverhampton Story Slam – Oct 2016
- Winner of Wolf Pack award for 14/48 Wolverhampton. June 2015
- Umpumi – Shortlisted for funding award. 2010.
- Adaptation of The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury – Co-Director / Adaptation. 2005.
- Hundreds of gigs across the country.
- Co-Founder of the successful Anarchy Comedy Club which ran in Willenhall between 2012 and 2015.
- Poetry is Jazz. This is Punk Rock. Poetry Collection.
- Starting Out in Stand-Up or Why Stand-Up Comedy Saved my Life and Why it Could Save Yours published in 2013. Peaked at No. 3 in the Amazon charts. and is currently rated 4.6 / 5.0.
- Short Stories published in a variety of publications and websites.
- Articles published on platforms such as Giggle Beats, WV11.co.uk, Worcestershire Film Festival and by GMB Trade Union.
Mentoring and Workshops
- Workshops on the performance aspect of performance poetry.
Improving the writing and communication skills of young people via Talent Match. A voluntary engagement programme which acts as a platform to increase optimism, motivation and confidence.
- Writer of “You Must Go On”. Neverwhere Media Productions.
- Writer / Director of “Visitor” shown at festivals across the country. Sound as a Pound Films.
- Writer / Director of drama pieces in “Battered Britain” a documentary shown on Channel 4. Evans Woolfe Productions.
1. When and why did you start writing poetry?
I’ve always written because it’s always felt like a form of expression I can do and enjoy. I dabbled for years. And it was literally dabbling. I mainly wrote screenplays and short films but also acted, directed and generally got involved in creative things.
My school was terrible and seemed to suck creativity out of us. I think part of the reason I continued being creative was it felt like being creative was rebelling against my school. However, I hated poetry because I was just exposed to dead white guys who I couldn’t relate to. The closest I got to poetry was song lyrics and hip hop. And I remember fastidiously pouring over song lyrics, pulling out hidden meanings. And back in the day I remember seeing people like Craig Charles or John Cooper Clarke occasionally appear on TV and thinking, “That’s cool.” But in those pre-Internet days it just seemed other worldly.
On a creative level, deep down, I wanted to do stand up comedy but I didn’t have the nerve. I became disillusioned with film making because I was spending so much energy just trying to get people into a room to make a film that by the time I managed it I was knackered.
So I started out by doing storytelling because it just needed me and it was just a way to try to build up the nerve to do stand up. Eventually, in 2010, I did stand up. I tottered along for a while but it dawned on me that stand-up had run it’s course when I had a good gig and walked off stage thinking, “Meh”. The audience laughed in all the right spots, I’d got praise for the set but I had walked off stage thinking, “Meh.”
I had also explored my mental health in stand up and was trying to write new material. The trouble was I felt I was always chasing the joke. And I didn’t want to. All this combined made me quit stand up. I just wasn’t getting anything out of it anymore. The piece I was working on became a play, “Bert” and I started doing story telling again.
At these gigs I’d see some poets perform. I remember seeing Emma Purshouse years before when I was doing storytelling and just thinking, “Wow. She’s good.” But it was so good it felt like it was a million miles away from where I could ever be.
Then, one night, in a fit of anger at some perceived injustice on my drive to Birmingham, I wrote a poem right before I went on stage to do some storytelling. I have no idea why. I delivered it and it went well.
Within 6 months I was doing 10 minute poetry sets. Then it all kind of exploded.
Poetry felt like it brought everything together. I could tell stories, I could perform, I could make people laugh but I could also make them think.
Strewth I wrote a bit there, didn’t I? Does this count towards my daily word count?
2. When you fully entered the poetry scene how aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?
I wasn’t. This must sound awful to someone who has spent their lives reading, writing and performing poetry but it’s true. I wasn’t completely ignorant. I could tell you about Owen, Poe, Shakespeare and more modern poets like John Cooper Clarke, Scroobius Pip and Ian McMillan but I was by no means an expert in any of them and I’m still not.
I started a uni course and we had a poetry module there but it was all old dead Greek guys. I enjoyed it a lot but the language was so removed from what I was writing that I didn’t give it a second thought. In fact, I think I drew more theatrically from it than poetically.
One of the great things about being in Poets, Prattlers and Pandemonialists with Emma Purshouse and Steve Pottinger is it helps me fill these gaps. Emma in particular has an almost encyclopedic knowledge of poetry. She will very often recommend poets and collections for me to try and she’s never wrong.
But in a way I think the ignorance helped me in those early few months of writing and performing poetry. As I said I have mental health problems. I’m also working class and suffer from imposter syndrome and a lack of self esteem. These are horrid thing to combine with an innate knowledge of a subject. You have a lack of belief in your own voice so try to copy others. If I’d come into poetry knowing a load about poets I’d have tried to be them. The ignorance meant I had to be myself.
What then happened as I got more knowledge (and I’m still very much a beginner in poets and poetic forms) I tried to imitate others. Again, having Emma and Steve around helped so much because they’re smart enough to knock that stuff out of me without belittling me. I remember a stand up comedian once saying to me, “When there is a brilliant stand up comedian it ruins the circuit for the next 15 years because everyone tries to be that comic.” And he was right. I remember so many comedians (myself included) trying to be Stewart Lee.
The best advice I can give anyone is don’t try to be someone else. They’re better at it than you are. But you are the best you this planet has.
I wish someone had said that to me 30 years ago and I scream it into the face of any new creative I meet. BE YOU!!!!
3. What is your daily writing routine?
I have a full time job which I have to do to pay the bills. As a consequence that takes my focus. This can sometimes mean I work and then when I get home I’m too tired to write. That’s frustrating but I have to accept it.
If I have energy I will do “something” each day. What that is depends what’s going on. I have a strong work ethic but I’m aware I can burn myself out. I need to schedule breathing room and a bit of me time. A lesson I’m only really starting to learn now.
Even tight deadlines can benefit from a bit of breathing room. It’s important to me that I’m not just day job, writing, day job, writing.
I have a little box room at home and my wife is also a creative (painting, drawing, sculpture). This means we’re not in competition with each other but both understand the hoovering hasn’t got to be done EVERY day. We give each other space to be creative.
So most nights I will disappear for some time into my little den and something creative happens in there. It might just be a few notes and a few laps on Gran Turismo on the PS4. Or it could be a few thousand words. It’s very much a “vibe” thing. I will write poetry, plays or fiction. Depending what idea is floating around, or what I’ve been put on a deadline to do, depends on the focus. Sometimes projects will be started and left for months others will pour out almost fully formed.
But I also think part of the writing process is reading and observing. I always make sure I read something every day. Even if it’s a page of a novel in bed and a news article or three. And I’ve always got my eyes open for something. And it always tends to be the little details you spot which you can use more than the big stuff.
4. What motivates you to write?
When I have the energy you mean? I have to do it. Some writers say writing is like giving birth. I don’t think that at all. I feel most of my writing is about discovering a Bot Fly Lava under your skin. You’re too scared to do anything about it for a while but then you can hear the maggots crawling around and eating you from the inside out so you have to get a knife and stab your own neck and rip the grubs out.
It’s cheesy to say it’s cathartic but it is. Of course you’ll feel better when you’ve got rid of a parasite. When I have a week like just where I’ve had to work so hard at work that I’ve been too tired to write I get tetchy and down.
I use my writing to explore ideas. I have lots of conversations written which is basically the two viewpoints in my head arguing the toss.
But sometimes I’m forced to write. Doing 52 last year forced a poem a week out of me. But even then, I dug deep and ripped maggots from under my skin.
I suppose you could say, “I hate written. I adore having written.”
5. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
Like a lot of kids who read back then there was a lot of horror. Stephen King, Shaun Hutson, James Herbert that sort of thing. It seemed a bit risky and adult. Ironically I’ve never really written a horror and when I have touched on the genre it’s been more influenced by movies than books.
I also remember reading “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” about a million times. This gave me a sense of wonder and magic. A feel for world’s other than this one. That still influences me now.
Weirdly I think a big influence was a book called Empty World by John Christopher. I’ve no doubt if I were to read it now I’d hate it but back then, as a kid, it really appealed. It was about a kid who survives a plague which wipes out most of humanity. He meets the odd survivor along the way but the thing I remember most is the ending. The character has a big fight with someone else and he has a chance to walk away but he brings the person back into his life. It was a weird ending which to this day I never understood but it kept me thinking. I still write endings now which leave things in the air. Sometimes the questions are more important than the answers. Empty World taught me that.
6. Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Cormac McCarthy just blows me away. I maintain he’s the greatest living writer. Yes it’s dark but the language is beautiful. The problem is it’s so good I tend to spend a hour or two thinking, “I just can’t write. I’m useless.”
I also love Alan Moore. I got into comics quite late and Moore was my way in. His writing is superb and full of subtext but I’m also new to the medium so I find I’m learning something new about writing and comics everytime I read a book of his.
But it’s not just literature. I adore Josie Long’s work both as a comedian and screen writer. Her work is full of empathy and helps remind you there is good in everyone but it never feels twee. People think writing comedy is a throw away exercise but if you think that, try it. It’s one of the hardest things to do and doing it as a woman is even harder. The industry is so set up against anyone not white and male it’s unbelievable. Long’s work shatters the glass ceiling and makes me laugh like a drain.
And you know what… she’s going to kill me if she reads this but Emma Purshouse. I’ve held her on a pedestal for years and now I’m working alongside her. I still have to pinch myself. Her writing is unbelievably good and a completely unique voice. I can feel her dragging me along and I’m a better writer, poet and performer because I’m swimming in her wake.
7. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
If you want to make a living out of try to ensure one of your parents is a writer.
It’s cynical but we’re not living in a meritocracy. We live in a world powered by nepotism. When millions of people want to be writers, when agents and publishers are getting thousands of manuscripts and when you can stumble into any coffee shop and find the nearest Apple Mac and find a novel in the works then how do you lift yourself above the noise? People who know others in the industry will always get to the front of the queue.
It’s not impossible but it’s a lot more difficult if you don’t have someone who can give you the nudge in the right direction.
But it’s not just about making a living out of it. If you want to write then… write. If you want to perform… perform. There is enough opportunities for people to do that but making money is a lot tougher.
To give yourself the best chance you have to write and read a lot. And find people you can share work with. It makes you a better writer to produce a lot and get good constructive feedback.
8. Tell me about the writing projects your involved in at the moment.
I wrote a one man show last year and I’m performing it for the first time in April. The thing is the script was always a placeholder. It’s about the power of stories and therefore filled with stories. They now have to jump off the page and out my mouth. And while this sounds weird, this jump from page to performance is a rewrite. That is taking up a lot of time.
Last year me, Emma and Steve did 52 which involved us writing a poem a week all year. We did it and enjoyed it so this year we’re doing it again. But this time, we’re writing our own prompts as well.
The three of us are about to go on our yearly writing retreat. It’s definitely not a holiday and pure coincidence it happens at the same time as the Six Nations and the Wolves Newcastle game. We’re more than likely going to write a new show there. But I’m also scrabbling though notebooks finding old ideas which I’ve forgotten about. I know something will come out while I’m there.