Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Kitty Donnelly

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.

Kitty Donnelly

Kitty Donnelly

was born in Oxford to Irish parents.

She has lived in Oxford, Cumbria, London, Swansea, Chichester and currently lives in West Yorkshire.

In 2005/6, she had her first poems published by Acumen, The Forward Press and in the Samaritan’s Anthology as well as being short and long-listed for several poetry competitions.

In 2007, she took a long-break from writing and submitting poems following the birth of her daughter.

In 2016, her poem Migration was commended in the Southport Writers’ Circle Poetry Competition and she was long-listed for the Canterbury University Poet of the Year for her poem Night At Whitestone Farm. Her poems West Pier and An Immigrant, Dover were short-listed in the Hungry Hill Wild Atlantic Words 2016 Poetry Competition and have appeared in the recent anthology. She has been published in Mslexia and Message in A Bottle in 2016.

In 2017, she has been published in Acumen, The American Journal of Poetry, The Dawntreader, The Fenland Reed and Sentinel Literary Quarterly. Her pamphlet, No Tranquil Season, has recently been Highly Commended in the Indigo Dreams Pamphlet Prize. She had two poems in the October 2017 issue of Quadrant. In 2018 she has had work accepted by the New Welsh Review, Domestic Cherry and has just been long-listed in or The Plough Prize. She is currently supporting the Big Lit Festival and has some poems in a window somewhere…

She regularly reviews poetry books for Mslexia. She also assists in editing the online journal The Beautiful Space – A Journal of Mind, Art and Poetry. 


The Interview

  1. When and where were you inspired to write poetry?

I was brought up surrounded by books.  Both my mum and dad were avid readers and I recall watching them make home-made bookshelves using bricks and plywood. Books were stacked from floor to ceiling. I remember reading titles (for example Thus Spoke Tharathustra) and dwelling on what they might possible mean and what secrets were behind those covers. My mum and dad were both from working class backgrounds and were the first generations to enter higher education. In a way, this created the dream scenario. I had an extremely ‘down to earth’ childhood where finding a ten pence piece in the lining of the sofa was an event of high excitement (meaning sweets, or being able to go to Brownies), and at the same time I had the privilege of being surrounded by literature and shelves of escapism. In summary, the message was pretty much ‘we can live on lentil soup but we can’t survive without books.’ I still go by that, absolutely.
Both sides of my family are Irish. As a child, I was fascinated by Irish folk lore, and tales of ghosts, Banshees and the many superstitions my dad passed on to me. These captured my imagination and I often lay awake at night terrified by them, but I couldn’t let them be. What is frightening is fascinating and also material for writing. I remember my dad walking me to school talking about ‘Mad Shelley the poet’ and being intrigued by the idea that you could be ‘a poet’, and asking ‘am I mad, dad? Do you have to be mad to be a poet?’ I’m still not sure of the answer….

2. Who introduced you to poetry?
The first poems I read that inspired me were The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes and The Listeners by Walter de le Mare. Both of them have the mysterious, slightly supernatural quality that I still look for in poetry as an adult.  My dad wrote novels in the attic of an old rented house we lived in in Oxford for a time. I used to sit on the attic stairs and listen to the click of the typewriter, feeling something incredibly important was happening. This inspired me to write. I initially kept notebooks from around the age of six. I invented a (not very imaginatively named) band called ‘The Stars’ and wrote so-called lyrics for them, which I suppose were my first poems.

3. dominance
Only in the last three years have I become aware of a diverse range of poetry. I’ve subscribed to a variety of magazines and journals and have bought pamphlets and collections by a huge range of writers of different styles and ages.  Prior to this, I did feel that writing was dominated by ‘the Canon’, some of which I admire greatly.
I think the type of poems accepted by magazines are changing. There seems to be a shift back to ‘free verse’, some of which I find free and inspiring, and some which is too loose – formally – for me. I instinctively want to go through it and change verbs, delete connectives and put in a bit of punctuation. Maybe I need to become a bit ‘freer’ myself.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

For the last fifteen years I have worked in mental health services. This has predominantly dictated my daily routine, along with family commitments. I have an amazing daughter who is now twelve. Mental health support is not a role you can easily switch off from. It has also occupied a great deal of my thoughts while not at work at certain times.
In 2017, I attended  an  Arvon Course at Lumb Bank. A couple of the students on the course appeared shocked when I answered their questions about my home and work life. One woman said ‘how do you ever manage to write at all? Your life is too crowded.’ The answer, at that time, was that I wrote in bed until the early hours of the morning. I then got up at 7am, took my daughter to school, went to work and arrived home around 6.30pm, made tea, crammed in some writing and started again with the alarm. It was totally unsustainable. Shortly after the Arvon Course,  I had a sort-of ‘crash’. I wasn’t coping with conflicting demands. I was very depressed for several months and it really changed the way I view my work/life/writing balance. I realised I needed to make space for writing to survive. I began working part-time and have stuck to that ever since, managing on a tight budget.
Now, when I’m not working, my writing routine involves sleeping in late (sometimes very late!) and then writing on my laptop in bed as soon as I wake-up. Recently – as I’ve been finishing my collection –I’ve been trying to write about  seven hours a day. Sometimes, when the dishes are piled in the sink and the recycling has stacked up beside the door, I think ‘am I selfish’, or ‘am I indulging myself writing when I should be doing jobs?’ My overwhelming contempt for domestic chores always comes through and, mostly,  I am able to convince myself that writing in my pyjamas in bed – getting up to get pints of water from the bathroom tap and not even venturing downstairs – is more important than the dishes, or washing the cat’s bowl.
If I’m not at work the next day, I sometimes write until the early hours of the morning – or until I’m so tired I’m basically writing nonsense. By nature, I’m nocturnal. My dad was the same and so is my sister. It’s a definite preference anyway.

5. What motivates you to write?

I’ve become far more motivated to write in the last 18 months. I’m lucky in that I’m never short of ideas. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for time. I usually write my initial ideas for poems in a notebook and then type them up and develop them from there.

6. Who of today’s writers do you most admire, and why?
I’m very lucky to be doing an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. There are some amazing students on the course and their writing for the workshops has been inspiring me. I thought Fiona Benson’s recent collection Vertigo and Ghost was excellent and very original.  I’ve also enjoyed the originality and humour in Wayne Holloway Smith’s poems. Ilya Kaminsky is inspiring and gets right to the heart of the world’s problems. I admire him greatly for that ability.

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

My most significant influence by far, however, is the novelist Jean Rhys. Her ability to convey loss, fear, social exclusion and existentialism is underrated to the point of literary negligence (should this crime exist!) and I return to her novels time and again for inspiration. She doesn’t date at all and has what I would call a ‘clairvoyant’ quality in terms of her insight into humanity.

8. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?
I think the answer to ‘why I write’ is that living is simply not satisfactory in itself. It leaves too many unanswered questions. It is plagued by mundanity, but there is also mystery. It is the mystery of my brief time on the planet that I want to capture. Personally, I have no interest in wealth, status or even personal possessions (apart from gifts from people I love). It’s genuinely unsettling to inhabit a world fuelled by consumerism when all the things you want (to be with loved ones, to create) are not material. That’s not to say I can cope without wine, or the money to travel to see family, but generally I don’t really have those desires for ‘things’. I don’t value possessions.

9. How would you answer someone who asked “How do you become a writer?
In terms of how to become a writer, the key – I think – is imagination. Yes, formal skills can be taught, heroes can be imitated, but if there isn’t the imaginative drive to create, I don’t think these are sufficient in themselves. I don’t lack imagination, but for many years I lacked the formal skills to construct a good poem. If you have the ideas, this can be overcome by graft – redraft and redraft.

10. Tell me about writing projects you are involved in at the moment.
I am currently completing my first collection, The Impact of Limited Time, which is due to be published by Indigo Dreams later this year.  I am lucky enough to be doing an MA in Creative Writing at MMU which is giving me a great deal of constructive criticism. I won a Creative Futures Award in 2019, and they continue to support my writing. I have a poem due out in the Dear Dylan anthology, dedicated to poems inspired by Dylan Thomas (Indigo Dreams), published later this year. I am actually in a  ‘writing phase’ at the moment. Long may it last!

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