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 Liverpool-based writer. His poetry has appeared in Orris Root, Magma and In the Red. His project exploring ASMR featured in Post-it, Liverpool Independents Biennial anthology 2018. His forthcoming pamphlet ‘learning to be very soft’ with The Poetry Business won the New Poets Prize 2018/19. He edits Independent Variable, an online science-themed poetry magazine.
- When and why did you start writing poetry?
I think I wrote my first ‘poem’ in 2012. I didn’t really know anything about poetry at the time (and arguably still don’t know that much!).
When I began studying creative writing in 2014 at Liverpool John Moores University, I was initially quite resistant to the idea of studying an entire module of poetry. I thought it would be all highbrow, over-my-head writing I’d have to pretend to ‘get’.
I had really brilliant tutors: Helen Tookey, Andrew McMillan, Seán Hewitt and Carola Luther, who taught me anything can be poetry, and helped me understand what I was trying to dig at through my own poems.
I fell into writing poetry because I love the freedom of it. As a reader, I like consuming an entire event, a world, in just one page, digesting it, returning later, discovering something new.
I think this is why I write poetry, too. When I write, I try to distil whatever it is I’m writing about as much as I can. For me, poetry provides this space that lets me really play around with themes and ideas in a way where I feel I still have a handle on things.
1.1 What led you to study creative writing?
I sort of fell into studying creative writing — I had plans to study medicine, but really bombed my chemistry exams.
I didn’t know you could study writing at degree level, so when I found out I absolutely had to do it! That decision introduced me to a whole network of like-minded people and gave me friends for life. It’s since led on to me studying an MA in poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University. Studying as a ‘writer’ was a lot of things I expected it to be, but it was also a lot of things I didn’t expect, too.
I think I’ll always hang on to the scientist in me. I often use scientific principles and ideas as a springboard for my own work and it’s what helped create Independent Variable, my little corner of the internet where we champion science-themed poetry.
1.2. Why did you absolutely have to do it?
Telling stories has been a part of my life from as far back as I can remember. Once for a school project we had a to write a story — I drew out a map (tea-bagged and burned edges, of course), bound (all five pages!) of the book*, drew my front cover and added a blurb. I put 100% of myself into that project… I think it’s that idea of creating something — an artefact — that lives on beyond yourself that really drew me to writing and sharing stories.
*It was called ‘Elements: the Ties that Bind’
2. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?
Oh back then I’d say completely unaware. There were stories I loved but couldn’t have told you why or what it was about them that made them special to me. Studying writing helped me read — stories, poems — from a different point of view, where I was able to figure out what it was I admired so much about particular characters, passages of text, and how I could apply them to my own work.
I’d confidently say I’m pretty naive when it comes to being aware of older traditional poets. I was always naive, but at least I’m aware of it now. I studied a module on 20th century poetry for my MA and that helped me get a general idea on how it’s shaped what we see today. I’m still way, way off calling myself any sort of expert, but I now I know what I love and why!
3. What is your daily writing routine?
On paper, it’s wake up early, read a few pages of whatever I’m currently reading, then perhaps play around with whatever notes I’ve made from the previous day.
In reality, most days I won’t start writing until about midnight. Of course I’m too stubborn to leave whatever I’m working on until the next day, so I’ll stay up much later than need be, then be too tired the following day to do my on-paper routine.
My work schedule is quite irregular, so I suppose a lot of the time my writing routine is in response to that. I think the trick is taking the moments to write when you’ve got them.
4. What motivates you to write?
Recently my writing’s been motivated by this sort self-interrogation of my childhood influences. I’ve been watching a load of shows I watched as a child (big up Digimon and Sailor Moon) and have been thinking about which characters I identified with, how they helped shape me, that sort of thing.
I’m also really keen to explore the language we use when talking about digital spaces and how we can bring that into poetry. I’m super interested in this idea that we can be affected by events taking place in a digital space (like social media, instant messenger, video games) and how these events exist without having a physical body. I hope that makes sense, because I’m still figuring it out — ha!
5. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I’d say the authors I read when I was younger really made me receptive to the unknown. I read a lot of fantasy (as most children/YA do!) and one series in particular stuck with me: Julia Golding’s Companion’s Quartet, which blended low fantasy with mythology and was at the time, everything I was super interested in. It’s a bit odd but I still remember this line: ‘he swore colourfully’ ( or something like that). It was one of the first times I’d encountered swearing (and using colourfully as an adverb!) and looking back now, was maybe the first time I’d enjoyed reading for more than just the story. I remember stopping for a moment and re-reading the line, almost amazed at how indirect yet to the point this phrase was. Does that make sense?
6. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
Poetry-wise, I’ve been really enjoying Emily Berry’s work the past few years — Stranger, Baby is a collection I’ve visited over and over. There are some brilliant poems in there — I love ‘Aqua’ and ‘Tidal Wave Speaks’. Berry writes the sort of poems where after you’ve read them you think ‘ah – I wish I’d written that!’
Also Fiona Benson’s most recent collection. I’m interested in this idea of using poetry to recontexualise well-known stories and ideas… I’ve been wanting to do something along the lines of this but with some sort of digital landscape for a while, and I think Benson handles her themes with real confidence and patience.
7. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Write! Everyone has a story to tell, no matter how you tell it — it might not even be through writing.
For me, it’s important to be in a group of people sharing poetry — poems they love, their own work etc. I just feel being in that head space (even for an hour a week!) gets me thinking about words for the rest of the week. When I’m expecting to engage with/ have recently spent time poetry, I’m more attuned to what could potentially become a poem. I suppose it has me thinking like a ‘writer’.
Also read! Read anything you can get your hands on. Figure out what writing you like and what you don’t like (and then ask yourself why).
Final thing — don’t expect it to happen overnight. I said something similar earlier on, but I really am naive when it comes to writing (and that’s okay). Everyone’s always learning something new.
8. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
My debut pamphlet ‘learning to be very soft’ is forthcoming with The Poetry Business in 2020. I won their new Poets Prize 2018/19, and am receiving a year of mentoring, with the final result being the pamphlet. I’m really excited to see where my poetry goes!
My other, ongoing project is Independent Variable. I’d love to produce a second issue! Science is still a big influence on my own work and it would be great to explore and celebrate how STEM subjects are influencing other writers too.