Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Chrissie Gittins

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.

Chrissie Gittins’

poetry collections are Armature (Arc, 2003), I’ll Dress One Night as You (Salt, 2009) and Sharp Hills (Indigo Dreams, 2019). Her pamphlets are A Path of Rice (Dagger Press, 1997), Pilot (Dagger Press, 2001) and Professor Heger’s Daughter (Paekakriki Press, 2013).

Of her five children’s poetry collections three were Choices for the Poetry Book Society Children’s Poetry Bookshelf and two were shortlisted for the CLiPPA Poetry Award. Her new and collected children’s poems Stars in Jars (Bloomsbury, 2014) is a Scottish Poetry Library Recommendation. In 2014 she was a finalist in the first Manchester Children’s Literature Prize with a portfolio of new poems. She appeared on BBC Countryfile with her fifth children’s poetry collection Adder, Bluebell, Lobster (Otter-Barry Books, 2016) which was also longlisted for the North Somerset Teachers’ Book Award.

Chrissie’s four plays broadcast on BBC R4 starred Patricia Routledge, Jan Ravens and Bernard Cribbins. Her second short story collection Between Here and Knitwear (Unthank Books) was shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards. Helen Dunmore chose it as one of her top two collections of 2015.

Chrissie has received two Arts Council Grants for the Arts and an Authors’ Foundation Award. She is represented in the British Council Writers’ Directory and is a Hawthornden Fellow. She also features on the Poetry Archive and is a National Poetry Day Ambassador.


The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

My mother gave me a love of language and story. She was a great raconteur and would spin stories over school holiday dinner times from a whisp of memory. We weren’t a bookish household so I haunted my local library. My memory of poetry at primary school is reading John Keats’ ‘Meg Merrilies’. At secondary school we would be set poem-writing homework. Our wonderful English teacher – Mrs Marshall – read out to the class any poems we’d written which she liked. It was a very proud moment if she read your poem. The school magazine published poems so that was also an incentive. It’s where my first published poem appeared.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

My English teachers at school. We would spend a whole lesson dismantling a poem then putting it back together. I began to appreciate that those small blocks of text could be packed with intensity, wonder and surprise.

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

The First World War poets and Gerald Manley Hopkins made an early, but not a dominating, impression. I studied English Literature as part of my degree but it was only after I’d completed a second first degree in Fine Art that I began to take writing seriously. I sought out courses with writers I admire at City Lit and with the Arvon Foundation, with tutors such as Carol Ann Duffy, Kit Wright, Alison Fell, Philip Gross and Liz Lochhead. So they were a supportive presence.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

On home-based days I work in the morning, whether it’s first drafts, editing or research. This often stretches into afternoons.

5. What motivates you to write?
A word or a phrase or an idea which won’t go away, a desire to shape my experience of the world into words.

6. What is your work ethic?

Pretty strong. I’ve been freelance for over 20 years.

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

They can reverberate through my writing. I have a poem in my recent collection – ‘Loquats for the South Circular’ – which echoes Tony Harrison’s ‘A Kumquat for John Keats’, which in turn replies to Keats’ ‘Ode to Melancholy’. For my children’s poetry I still look to Spike Milligan, Charles Causley, Ted Hughes and Christina Rossetti.

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

I recently read Jane Clarke’s collection ‘When the Tree Falls’ which I liked very much and is full of compassion, delicacy, dignity and grace. I’m also very fond of Sinead Morrissey’s poems with their formal ingenuity and taut imagery. Also Paul Durcan for his robust storytelling and hilarity, Moniza Alvi for her tenderness and surrealism, and Jean Atkin for her ability to walk us vividly through historic and contemporary landscapes. As I write poetry for children as well as adults I’m also interested in poets who do the same.

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

I’d say read as much as you can – poetry, fiction, non-fiction, newspapers – you never know where your next idea will come from. Go to museums, see plays and films – oil your creative joints. I find notebooks useful. It takes time to find your voice and to hone your craft, be prepared for the long haul.

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

I’m promoting my latest adult collection ‘Sharp Hills’, putting together a children’s poetry collection, and writing more poems and short stories.

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