Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Charley Barnes

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.

Charley Barnes

is a Worcestershire-based writer, poet and lecturer. She currently splits her time between lecturing at Newman University, Birmingham, and at the University of Worcester. Occasionally, she manages to write some poetry.

Charley’s debut pamphlet, A Z-hearted Guide to Heartache, was published by V. Press in July 2018 and the pamphlet deals with all manner of topics including love, food, and disability. Following this, Charley’s debut novel, Intention, was published by Bloodhound Books in January 2019. Her second novel Copycat and second pamphlet are forthcoming.
Recently she was awarded the Poet Laureateship for Worcestershire.

Website details:

Website: http://www.charleybarneswriter.com
Twitter: @charleyblogs
Instagram: @charleyblogs
Facebook: search for ‘Charley Barnes – Writer’

The Interview

1. What inspired you  to write poetry?

It sounds very cliché but writing poetry has always helped me to work out how I think and feel about things. I find that when I start writing, I dig out things that I’ve been holding on to, and I shape them into something, and being able to do that felt and still feels like a real gift to me.

The second strand of that answer, subsequently, is that I like being able to make other people feel – which I suppose is what inspired me to start writing poetry that wasn’t about things that I’d experienced, but rather look at things that other people had.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My primary school teachers must have done but I can’t remember much beyond the compulsory William Shakespeare studies! I suppose the person who really kick-started everything was an Undergraduate lecturer of mine, who was leading a class on poetry. She wanted to show us all a different side of things. She came into the lecture hall one week and put on a YouTube clip of Byron Vincent performing poetry, and I fell in love. From then on, I wanted to write and I definitely some day wanted to perform.

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

I think anyone who is introduced to poetry through school is always uncomfortably aware of the presence of older poets, because that’s largely the poetry syllabus that’s available. Things might have changed, of course, but when I was studying poetry at A-level the most alive and kicking poet who we studied was Carol Ann Duffy (who I love, incidentally, but she didn’t exactly move me to get on a stage).

When I went to university things changed, slightly, as I’ve already mentioned above. But even then, that was one module across three years of studying! The older poets were inescapable and now, when I teach my own Undergraduates, I can still hear some of the same old school names being thrown about between them.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I’m not convinced I really have one. When I’m writing something with an end-game – for example, a pamphlet or a new novel – then I’ll write compulsively. Generally speaking I try to do something every morning, because at least then I know I’ve achieved something writerly for the day. If I’m working on a project then I have this same morning-work mentally, but my work usually continues well into the evening (which isn’t a great routine to fall into but I’m sort of wedged in it now).

I was writing a new novel at the end of last year and I really wanted a set routine, but when it came to it I’d do my ‘I want to write this much today’ word count first thing, and then I had to, just had to, add more in the evening – which saw me writing until silly hours.

Maybe after this interview I can sit myself down and have a serious conversation about daily routines!

5. What motivates you to write?

Honestly, I’m a horrible person when I don’t – and that’s a large part of what keeps me writing, even when I don’t have anything to say. Fortunately for me, I often have something to say for myself (as my mother will vouch for). I tend to get my claws stuck in something and then I’m away. My first pamphlet, A Z-hearted Guide to Heartache, gave me space to touch on lots of things, so in bitesize chunks I was able to deal with: broken homes, disabilities, relationships, both good and bad. The subjects might seem broad, but I suppose, in having something personal to say about them, I felt spurred on to write the poems.

My second pamphlet, which is coming later this year, was very much motivated by personal issues again but ones that I know apply to many, many people. It’s called Body Talk and it discusses ‘food problems’ that people develop, that I have had brushes with myself (since dieting, and going in the opposite direction to comfort eating), and airing that kind of thing – having the freedom, even, to air that kind of thing – was a great motivator when writing.

6. What is your work ethic?

Intense – too intense, I think some would say. In an earlier answer I commented that I write compulsively when I’m working on a project; I suppose, across the board, I try to give everything ‘All’ all the time. It’ll backfire on me sooner or later and I’ll need a rest, but hopefully that time will be when I’ve got a few best-sellers out there and I can afford some downtime (a girl can dream).

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

I think, as I’ve said above, I was introduced to a lot of the older poets and my formal education in poetry consistently relied on them, so they haven’t influenced me in a conventional way. The poets I read when I was in school influence me but in a ‘aim to be more accessible to everyone’ kind of way. It’s the poets who I read now – Neil Hilborn, Andrea Gibson (for performance) and the likes of Andrew McMillan and Alex Reed – who really have an influence on me, more so than anything I read as a child or teenager.

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

Oops – I’ve sort of started to answer this above. For stage performance, I could go on forever: Neil Hilborn always makes me write something; Andrea Gibson was one of the first performance poets who I fell for entirely because their style is cutting but beautiful and it always leaves me feeling something; Rudy Francisco has a wonderful spoken delivery and he’s such a personable poet, he could be delivering each piece just to you – the same applies to Birmingham’s own Casey Bailey. He has such a careful and controlled delivery, and I truly admire that in performance work.

On the page, I still love poets who make me exhale heavily when I’ve read their work – Alex Reed, Kate Daniels, Nafeesa Hamid – but I also love poets who are playing around with form, structure and even their content, so writers like Andrew McMillan, who I’ve mentioned, and Jenna Clake.

9. Why do you write?

Because I need to. Even if I was doing any other job in the world – something that doesn’t encourage creativity, let’s say, which my current jobs do – then I truly believe that I would still need to write. I think people often say that they write because they have something to say, which I suppose is a fair and reasonable answer, and I in-part agree with it sometimes. But sometimes I write because I don’t have anything in the world to say at all, and writing helps me to work that out as well.

I suppose the short and jovial answer to that would have been: Because I can’t afford a therapist.

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

I have no idea! I’m three published books in and I’m still not brave enough to call myself a writer. But I suppose if one of my students were to sit me down and ask, I would tell them to write – all the time. I’ve previously told students to treat writing like a muscle, that you exercise and build on until eventually it can hold more weight – or rather, churn out a better first draft – than it did to begin with. Reading is also an important part of it. Sooner or later, as a budding writer, you stop reading books like you’re a reader and you start reading them like you’re a writer: I like this, or I wouldn’t have done that, and that really works! So I suppose my answer is write a lot and read a lot – read things you know you’re going to hate even, just so you know what you don’t want to be doing.

Oh, you also need two readers in your life: one who doesn’t read at all and one who reads compulsively, because both of these people will give you the best feedback you could ask for, especially in your early I’ve-got-a-brilliant-idea drafts.

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

Right now, I’m actually working on my second novel – that’s my main focus for the next month or so. I’m in the messy crossing things out stage but I’m making it a better book for it (I hope, at least). I’m also quietly planning a collaborative pamphlet with another poet friend too, so when the novel is out of the way I’ll be diving into that entirely. My brain is whirring away on ideas for another novel already but I have a one book at a time policy when it comes to writing, so I’m afraid that will have to wait a little while longer too – but it’s ready and waiting, so stay tuned.

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