Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Natalie Holborow

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.

And

Natalie Holborow

is a Swansea-born writer of poetry and fiction. In 2015, she won both the Terry Hetherington Award and the Robin Reeves Prize, and in 2016 was named as runner-up in the Wales PENCymru New Voices Award. She has been commended and shortlisted for various others including the Bridport Prize and Hippocrates Prize. Natalie’s work has recently appeared in The Stinging Fly and the New Welsh Review.

The Interview

1. What inspired you  to write poetry?

I think this began in my GCSE English Literature class, when my teacher introduced us to Seamus Heaney’s Mid-Term Break. She taught it with passion and all of a sudden, after only having been exposed to poetry that was rhyming and archaic and (in my opinion) relatively inaccessible for teenagers, I felt myself becoming totally struck by the effect poetry could have on human emotions. I remember the impact of the speaker’s mother as she held his hand and “coughed out angry tearless sighs”. So much raw grief condensed into one sharp image left me reeling. I wanted to do that then. I wanted to make people feel things through words – to create beauty out of emotion.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

As mentioned above, this was my GCSE English teacher Mrs Gill and A level lecturer Judith. A lot of my teachers have been huge positive influences for me just through their passion for poetry and support of my writing. Lecturers such as Nigel Jenkins and John Goodby also inspired me with their own work and their valuable feedback. A good teacher really can open doors to exciting worlds – and the world I was drawn to was poetry.

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

I don’t think it was ‘dominating’ as such – that has negative connotations. In fact, the Terry Hetherington Award for young writers, the Swansea poetry community (which has a total mix of ages and backgrounds), as well as unfailing support from teachers and peers meant I never felt like I was “too young” to try seriously in getting my work out there. I think the Welsh writing community in particular is very supportive and encouraging of young writers, and is overall genuinely excited by new talent.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Daydream. Lots. Try and talk to me when I’m in that beautiful half-dreaming, half-awake state at five in the morning when I’m off for a run and you’ll be met with a glare only Medusa could muster for pulling me out of my most creative time of day. I sometimes get to work extra-early so that I can get some notes down before I start my content-writing job at 9; that way I’ve got something to work on later and it won’t be eating away at me while I’m trying to focus on work. Then I’ll take my notebook out at lunchtime, read, write, and then if I’m feeling creative after I leave the office I’ll get to my writing desk and work on the ideas I thought about earlier in the day.

5. What motivates you to write?

I work best under pressure. It’s why I keep myself so busy. I’m also driven by my need to connect with others through my writing in the same way I get so much joy myself from reading poetry.

6. What is your work ethic?

The busier I am with other things, the more I see working on my poetry manuscript as a reward rather than a chore. My idea of hell is to be a full-time writer only working on my creative work; without my other career in writing for learning and development, my creativity would fizzle out. The two complement each other perfectly and I love them both. I also volunteer and do freelance writing and editing, so I’ve always got a varied workload to keep me inspired. Whenever anyone asks me if I’m a full-time poet (try asking about that one at the job centre…), I get this image of myself weeping into a glass of bourbon and covered in cats, surrounded by unpaid bills and hopeless manuscripts. Not for me.

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

They’ll always have an influence, as it’s how I first found my ‘voice’ in writing. It’s how we learn to do things as children, such as learning to speak; we mimic others first before we’re fully able to do it autonomously. Seamus Heaney, Dylan Thomas and Sylvia Plath (Plath especially) will always make their echoes known when I’m putting the words to paper. Those who influenced you can almost leave a sort of palimpsest – a ghost of their style forever subtly layered behind your own.

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

Oh, I hate this question! I have too many to possibly pick one. I adore Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red and Red Doc> in particular; she has an unbelievably sharp eye for detail and is incredible at her craft. As for local writers, we’re spoilt for choice in Wales. More recently, Rhian Elizabeth, Rhys Owain Williams, Mari Ellis Dunning and Jonathan Edwards have released some truly brilliant collections worth looking at. As for ones to watch in the future, keep your eye out for Lee Prosser, Rhea Seren Philips and Emily Vanderploeg.

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

Be authentic, first and foremost. Don’t try and be someone you’re not; you’ll fail to connect with your readers. We already have Dylan Thomas and Tolkien, Maya Angelou and JK Rowling; what the world needs is the only you there is. Enter competitions as well as sending submissions to good journals. Get yourself a copy of The Writer’s and Artist’s Yearbook to find a comprehensive list of where to send your work. Read those journals too. In fact, never stop reading. Go to spoken word and open mic nights; we’re all (usually) drunk and all (forever) supportive so take a deep breath and get up there. The feedback can be invaluable. Form writing groups. Give honest and constructive feedback and receive it graciously. EDIT. And don’t reward yourself with a cat video for writing the title of a poem; do it at the end. I don’t care if it’s fluffy and eating a strawberry ice cream.

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

I tried to do more fiction at the start of the year, so I have a terrible novella I need to look at again but can’t bear to. It’s like tugging a plaster off a disgusting wound to see how bad it is underneath. I also have a comedy novel in the works, but at the moment that’s on the back burner while I finish my second poetry manuscript. It’s about 75% done – it’s something different to the last and I’m excited about it. I’m also collaborating with writers and artists on various poetry and arts projects, so watch this space!

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