Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Thomas McColl

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.

Thomas McColl

Thomas McColl

lives in London, but was brought up in Birmingham. He’s had poems published in magazines such as Envoi, Iota, Prole, The Journal, London Grip, The High Window and Ink, Sweat and Tears, and in anthologies by Eyewear, Hearing Eye, The Onslaught Press and Shoestring Press. His first full collection, Being With Me Will Help You Learn, was published in 2016 by Listen Softly London Press, and he is one of four poets showcased in the latest edition of Co-incidental, published by The Black Light Engine Room Press.

His website is : https://thomasmccoll.wordpress.com/

and his  twitter is : @ThomasMcColl2

The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

The only poetry we had in the house when I was a child in the 1970s were Poetic Gems and More Poetic Gems by William McGonagall, on account of my dad being Scottish. There was the Bible too, on account of my dad and mum being very religious Roman Catholics. I did try reading the Bible, but found it hard going, and tried reading William McGonagall, and found that even harder going, and it wasn’t until I saw Roger McGough presenting a Children’s TV programme about poetry that I realised poetry could be fun, clever, witty, accessible and about my life – and it was that which sparked my initial interest in writing poetry.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Well, after having my eyes opened by the aforementioned Roger McGough, I began to experiment with writing poetry, though mainly I still wrote prose, finding that form of writing less challenging and restricting. But then, when I was in secondary school, I had an English teacher, Kevin Shields, who was able to impart his passion for poetry in such a way that it really inspired me to write poetry above all else, and he even took time out after lessons to help me edit a poem of mine to enter it into a Young Person’s poetry competition, and though it didn’t win, it was a good education, and a year or so later, I finally got a poem published, in the West Midlands Arts magazine, People to People, getting paid the (at the time) princely sum of £10, and from then on I was hooked.

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

I guess, as I started to investigate poetry more, mainly by looking through books at my local library, I became aware of the so-called ‘canon’. It was mainly white male poets, and though I did enjoy the poetry of Ted Hughes, Adrian Mitchell and Philip Larkin, for instance, I found myself gravitating to female poets more, such as Sylvia Plath and, especially, Stevie Smith, whose eccentricity and apartness from any particular movement or accepted style of writing appealed to me greatly, and was definitely a big influence on me at the time.

4. What motivates you to write?

A need, basically – which partly stems from me never having managed to be the most articulate person verbally, and being always, to some degree, socially awkward (even if I’m nowhere near as bad as I used to be), so writing has always been an outlet, a way of not just saying what I need to say, but saying it in the way that I want it said. It satisfies my need to successfully communicate, I guess. Talking, to me, is always a first draft, so I’m never entirely satisfied with it. And writing achieves a kind of permanence – which can be a bad thing as well as good, and that fear is what motivates me to always try to write better (or ‘fail better’, as perfectly put by Samuel Beckett).

5. What is your daily writing routine / work ethic?

I have a day job and I’m my partner’s carer, so it’s all about finding time to write whenever I can – but, sometimes, being short of time is good in that it concentrates the mind and you ironically end up getting more done than if you had more time. That said, I’m always trying to find time and space to write, because if I don’t, then after a while I get depressed and grouchy. And it’s always possible to make time, even if it means cutting everything else out, such as TV, radio, social media and – dare I say it – reading books.

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

I guess that anything and everything that was an influence during my formative years will always be a part of me – in my blood, so to speak – even if it may be the case I no longer ever refer to them (and answering this question is starting to make me think it might be a good idea to reacquaint myself with some of the writers I read back then but haven’t really read since, as I’ll no doubt gain something new by looking at their work afresh with older, more experienced, eyes).

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

There are so many of today’s writers I admire – and none of them are well known. I’m amazed at all the talent that’s out there on the poetry scene. There’s so much excellent poetry being written and performed, which in one sense is great, as it makes for a vibrant scene, but it’s also a little depressing too, as most of these poets will never make it in any sense or even be remembered beyond their presence on the scene. And I don’t know whether that actually matters one jot in the great scheme of things, but it does seem kind of sad.

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

You become a writer simply by writing. But if someone asks, “How do you become a successful writer?” – well, I don’t consider myself as having achieved that yet, so wouldn’t feel qualified, in any way, to advise on that. Moreover, every successful writer’s definition of successful is different. I imagine E. L. James’s definition of success would be different from P. D. James’s, and both, in turn, would be different from Henry James’s.

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

The Black Light Engine Room Press has just published Co-Incidental 4, which I’m showcased in, with three other poets – all completely new poems – and it really is a beautifully produced volume, priced £6 (+p&p), and available either from the publisher or direct from me. My first full collection of poetry, Being With Me Will Help You Learn, published by Listen Softly London Press, is still available, priced £8 (+p&p) – again, either from the publisher or direct from me. I have a book of short stories out on submission, and a full collection worth of new poems ready to submit, and a novel that’s nearing completion.

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