Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Emma Lee

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 Lee

was born in South Gloucestershire and lives in Leicestershire. Her poems, short stories and articles have appeared in many anthologies and magazines in the UK and Canada, Hong Kong, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Turkey and USA. She has three poetry collections, “Ghosts in the Desert” (Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2015), “Mimicking a Snowdrop” (Thynks Press, 2014) and “Yellow Torchlight and the Blues” (Original Plus, 2004) with a fourth forthcoming from Arachne Press in 2020.

She has performed her work at The Poetry Cafe in London, all three Leicestershire universities, at LCFC, the Jam Factory in Oxford and Hatherley Manor in Cheltenham, amongst other venues. She’s also read poems for BBC Radio, EAVA FM and joined panels organised by the University of Leicester’s Sociology, Communications and Media department to talk about artistic responses to the refugee crisis arising from her co-editing of “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge” and curation of Journeys in Translation. Her essay “Spoken Word as a way of Dismantling Barriers and Creating Space for Healing” was included in “Verbs that can Move Mountains” (Sabotage, 2017) and she presented a paper at the Jungle Factory Symposium organised by the Leicester Migration Network. Emma Lee’s poems have been translated into Chinese, Farsi, German, Greek, Italian, Polish, Portuguese and Romanian. Currently she is on the committee of Leicester Writers’ Club and the steering group for the Leicester Writers’ Showcase and has experience in organising poetry readings and live literature events. Emma Lee also reviews for five poetry magazines and blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com

The Interview

  1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I’ve always told and read stories. Reading was a quiet activity and I was encouraged to read from an early age. As a child I used to build houses from plastic bricks and invent stories for the people who might have lived in them.  Those stories evolved into poems. I prefer the extra layer of musicality in poetry to prose. I write short stories, reviews and blog articles but prefer poems. In my late teens I decided I either had to take my poetry seriously or write it off as a hobby so started reading and then submitting to poetry magazines. I already wrote music reviews and expanded into book reviews too. Reviewing books is a great way of reading work you wouldn’t necessary chose to read and figuring out what works and what doesn’t and why.

  1. Who introduced you to poetry?

School did its best to put me off poetry. We read the War Poets and other poetry by men. I was left thinking that either women didn’t write poetry (unlikely) or women didn’t write poetry worth studying (incredible) so I went to the library. A friend sent me a copy of Ted Hughes’ “You Hated Spain” and I so identified with the subject, I had to read Sylvia Plath and her contemporaries.

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

I started getting published as a teenager so was very aware that I was a young poet. I was also a woman in a male dominated environment, although that’s slowly changing, so had every expectation that I’d feel as if I was on the outside looking in for a long time. It didn’t bother me. By the time I started looking at joining local writers’ groups, I already had a few years of publishing credits behind me so didn’t feel dominated by older poets when workshopping new work.

  1. What is your daily writing routine?

Back in my teenage years I wrote secretly, scribbling in a notebook under a desk, writing fragments in margins or grabbing a spare half hour here and there so I can write anywhere: crowded cafes, a quiet desk, on public transport. I’m also in the habit of turning up early and utilise those spare moments waiting for everyone else to turn up. It doesn’t bother me if I write with a pen into a notebook, on my phone or on a computer. Now I write around a day-job (I’m a copywriter) and other commitments so I don’t have a routine as such. I do write most days and when I’m not writing I’m often thinking about writing.

  1. What motivates you to write?

I find that a story or image or song will haunt me until I write about it.

  1. What is your work ethic?

Workaholic. I have to schedule breaks.

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

They taught me it was OK to fail. You will always learn from what you write even if it results in a piece you wouldn’t seek to publish. Nothing is wasted. Writers need to continually learn and develop their craft otherwise you risk becoming stale.

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

I don’t like to single out names, but those, often unsung, writers who support others by mentoring and giving feedback, organising live events, reviewing, organising groups and editing presses and magazines. Those who understand it’s not a competition and are genuinely supportive of others.

  1. Why do you write?

I could no more stop writing than I could stop breathing. In my “is it a hobby or serious?” phase, I did try to stop writing. It didn’t work.

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

Read. Write. Read more. Seeing your name on the spine of a book in a bookshop is a huge ego boost and great target to aim for, but it’s writing that makes you a writer and you can’t be a writer unless you read. Find people who can give you constructive feedback on your work, whether that’s a trusted reader or joining a writers’ group (IRL or online), and who will encourage you to develop and grow as a writer.

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

My fourth collection, “The Significance of a Dress” is forthcoming from Arachne in 2020. I’m reviewing (I’m always reviewing something) and drafting some poems. 2018 is Leicester Writers’ Club’s 60th anniversary and I was challenged to see if I could get (at least) 60 poems accepted for publication. I’m pleased to say I did.


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