Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Ellie Rees

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 Rees

Ellie Rees

is an internationally-minded, award-winning writer who writes across many genres including poetry, creative non-fiction and memoir. Her work is widely published in various journals including: New Welsh Review, Poetry Wales, Cabinet of Heed, Roundyhouse and The Lonely Crowd. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Swansea University. Ellie is currently working towards the publication of a full collection of poetry.

For further information please see elliereeswriter.com

The Interview

Before we start you need to know that I am old (don’t quite know how this happened but I guess the only alternative is to die young and romantically like Keats, and it’s too late for that now.) So, I never intended to become a poet. I thought I was going to be an actress; I loved the stage and was good too… performed in the Liverpool Playhouse in 1968. But I had to earn a living so became a teacher – a bit like being an actress really as you have to hold an audience and convince them that – let’s say Emily Dickinson – is the best thing since sliced bread. I loved it, every minute of it, (and was good too) but then decided that no self-respecting teenager wants to be taught by someone old enough to be their grandmother. I retired in 2009.

After months of boredom I decided to go back to school, as a student this time, and signed up to do an MA in Creative Writing at Swansea University. While I had to try my hand at all genres, it was then that I realised it was poetry that really challenged me. I was lucky to be supervised by the gifted poet and teacher, Nigel Jenkins and it was he who inspired me to write poetry, in answer to your first question.

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

Two other things: My teaching for the International Baccalaureate started to focus more and more on the poetry part of the syllabus. The students thought poetry was too ‘difficult’ and I relished the challenge of convincing them otherwise.

Also, I had kept a journal all my life, though it was written in prose. I thought I was capturing the moment, in words not film. I was determined to preserve the experience of my life. I’ve still got them.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

It must have been the English teachers when I was a schoolgirl.

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

This has been a real problem! I had spent decades teaching the ‘older poets’ and they haunted me – still do! Robert Frost is a persistent ghost and I don’t even like his poetry very much. Time and time again I would come back to a draft that I had been particularly pleased with and there he was! His tone of voice, his very subject matter, the lilt of his lines:

‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the road less travelled by…’

Watch out – that pause, then the dash, then the repetition of the ‘I’ echoing the ‘sigh’ in a previous line will implant itself in your brain if you’re not careful!

4. What is your daily writing routine?

I haven’t got one. I write when the spirit moves me and when there is a lull in the domestic routine. My younger son who is disabled still lives with me and I also have a dog and a husband to look after and take for walks. I guess that I write most days for about 2 to 3 hours in the morning or the afternoon.

5.    What motivates you to write?

Winter. The months of dark and gloom induce an introspective frame of mind that is conducive to the writing of poetry. In the summer I’m distracted by the outdoors though I realise now that it is then that I am registering and storing the experiences that will become poems later in the year. Also, those serendipitous occurrences – like seeing fat snowflakes falling from a totally blue sky in July and then realising that a dove has just been taken by a sparrow hawk above the kitchen window.

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

Subliminally. I still love them but am trying to escape.

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

I don’t think I have caught up with ‘today’s’ writers yet. They intimidate me a little. How about Alice Oswald and Louise Glück? Oh, and Tony Harrison though he’s more ‘yesterday’ than today. And of course, Jane Fraser, and her collection of short stories, ‘The South Westerlies’. A thoroughly enjoyable read and an exciting new voice in Welsh fiction.

8. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

I’ve already done the ‘anything’ else’.

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

‘Are you sure you really want to? Perhaps you already are. Practice, practice.”

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

My big project was to complete my PhD in Creative Writing. I graduated in 2018.

My project since then has been to get the poems, which ‘deep map’ a small strip of the  coastline in the Vale of Glamorgan, published as a collection. This is a work still in progress…  Recently I have been working on new poems and an attempt to get a pamphlet published.

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