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.
Ellie Rose McKee
has had a number of poems and short stories published, has been blogging for over ten years, and is currently seeking representation for her debut novel. She lives in Belfast with her husband, cat, and accidental chihuahua.
1. When did you start writing, and why?
The technical answer is: I started writing way back in primary school when teachers would set small creative writing assignments in class or for homework, like a poem about your pet or a piece about your summer holiday. I guess what makes me different from most people is that, when I stopped getting these assignments, I kept on scribbling anyway. My early teens were filled with many dark, angsty poems and I wrote my first couple of “propper” short stories at maybe fourteen or fifteen. I attempted my first novel when I was eighteen or nineteen, and I started blogging around that time as well, when I should have been working on my degree.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
Again, it goes back to my school days, studying it in English class. I really regret not keeping the poetry anthology I had for GCSE, because I fell in love with so many of the poems in it. Of course, that’s all ‘classic’ stuff. When it came to the more modern, free verse I was writing in my teens, I kind of found my own way. Although I suppose a lot of it was inspired by music.
2.1. Which poems did you fall in love with in your school poetry anthology, and why?
The poetry anthology, as far as I can remember, was focused on the themes of war and nature. The main one I vividly recall is Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen. But I’m not even sure if it was the specific poems themselves or just having access to them in a more general sense. (Poetry – or any other kind of written medium – was not something my parents or siblings engaged with.) In class, we spent maybe an hour each week, for two years, unpicking them and it was a revelation to me. I’d never experienced poems in that way before, or to that degree. I think it blew my little teenage mind.
2.2. What music inspired you?
Pretty much anything on the ‘Kerrang’ and ‘Scuzz’ music channels in the early 2000’s but, in particular, Linkin Park. They are my all-time favourite band to this day. Their words resonated with me in a way I’d never experienced before. I was going through a very hard time, between bullying at school and having a terrible home life, and music and poetry were an escape from that. Listening to the tracks from Hybrid Theory (LP’s debut album) helped me tap into a lot of what I was feeling, and then turning to the page myself allowed me to release those feelings in a healthy way. Without that, it’s no exaggeration that I probably wouldn’t be here today.
3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?
Oh, that’s an interesting question! I don’t know if I’ve ever thought about it. Do older people dominate poetry? Is that the perception, or have studies been done into it? Obviously if there are hard facts saying that, I can’t exactly argue, but if it’s just a perception… well, I’m not sure it matches my own way of viewing it. I think a lot of young people write poetry. But I suppose it’s not until one becomes older, or gets ‘established’, that they become well known (relatively speaking). I don’t think you need to be published to be a poet, you just need to write. A poet is a poet even if no one else ever sees their work. Because who’s to say when someone is published ‘enough.’ Being ‘established’, I think, is such a subjective thing. I’m not sure the literary ‘canon’ is as concrete as some people think it is.
4, What is your daily writing routine?
I work from home, devoting part of my time to writing, but also caring for my husband the rest of the time. He’s disabled, as I am myself (to a lesser degree). As such, we don’t really have a routine. It changes day-on-day depending on what else is going on. Some days I can’t write at all, and other days I end up doing quite a lot. What stays constant is that the words come at night. My peak creative period is from midnight to about five am.
5. What motivates you to write?
For me, it’s all about human connection. I love nothing better than reading books or watching shows that get to the core of what it is to be human, even if that means the show or book is incredibly sad. When it comes to my own writing, I want to emulate that. Literature should make you feel something.
Even though I’ve cut back on the angst, my poems are still incredibly personal. There are bits of myself and my own experience in them. That’s me reaching out to whoever reads them. Same goes for my short stories, really. As for a my longer fiction: my novels are all, in essence, character studies. By letting the reader experience the inner thoughts and feelings of this person, and what they’ve had to go though, I want to build empathy. That’s what motivates me.
6. How do the writers you read when you were young influence your work today?
The truth is, I didn’t read when I was young. Not really. Not beyond whatever school made me read. I always loved the IDEA of books, and I sometimes picked them up at school jumble sales but because the rest of my family didn’t read, or encourage reading, it didn’t get much further than that. I struggled with it and those struggles went ignored until, finally, I got diagnosed with dyslexia while at university. That’s when I properly got into reading: age eighteen or nineteen.
What I hadn’t realised before then (aside from the dyslexia thing) was that books had genres and that some of them would work for me and some wouldn’t. I was clueless about all that as a kid. I picked up the jumble sale books based on the covers and then wondered why the story inside didn’t grab me. (One of the books I remember buying was a huge James Herriot hardback because it had a sheepdog on the front. I didn’t know it was for adults, let alone the middle part of a series.)
At age fifteen or sixteen, I got Witch by Christopher Pike from my school library and absolutely devoured it. Next time there were school book tokens on the go, I asked my parents if I could use mine towards another one of his books. They took one look and dismissed the whole thing as evil (as they were in the habit of doing with anything they didn’t like or understand). That was that. I did get a free sampler with my token instead, but my enthusiasm had been successfully trampled.
I realise that’s a very long answer (more of a confession, probably) and I still haven’t got to the heart of your question. I apologise. How all this influenced me is that I now value reading and am even more adamant about the importance of children’s literature, in particular, having been denied it myself as a child. That’s probably one of the main reasons why my novels are for teens. They are for my younger self.
7. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
My favourite poet is probably Hollie McNish. Her words pop and always feel super fresh. I heard her perform live earlier in the year and it was fantastic. In terms of authors, I’m big fans of Rainbow Rowell, Malorie Blackman, John Green, Shirley-Anne McMillan, Becky Albertalli, and Adam Silvera: all fabulous YA novelists I want to emulate (and maybe someday rub shoulders with). What they all have in common is that their books pack an emotional punch. You come away from having read them changed for the better.
8. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
Anyone who puts one word in front of another is a writer. Start there. Start bad. Don’t expect yourself to have instant success. You put the words down, you read, you put more words down, and repeat. It’s as simple and as difficult as that.
9. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I always have a ton of projects on the go. In the short term, I’m trying to get more individual poems and short stories published as I work on a poetry pamphlet and short story collection I hope to get traditionally published. I’m also on the hunt for a literary agent for my novels. I’ve written a children’s picture book, and drafted part of a manuscript for a single release comic. I have a short play looking for a home, as well as a short screenplay. And that’s not even all of it! Basically lots of pieces looking for homes.
Thanks so much for interviewing me!