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 three options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger, or an interview about their latest book, or a combination of these.
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 retired clinical psychologist from Wirral, UK. A 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee, he was awarded second place in the 2019 Yaffle Prize and commended and shortlisted in the 2019 Welshpool Poetry Competition. Paul’s poems have been widely published in print journals and webzines including Prole, Strix, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Atrium, The High Window and London Grip. He was part of the planning team for the inaugural 2019 Wirral Poetry Festival. ‘Quotidian’ his debut pamphlet was published in July 2019 by Yaffle Press.
1. What inspired you to write poetry?
I think the poetry I studied at school and college in the mid-1970’s helped spark my interest, but I’ve always enjoyed wordplay/rhythm/rhyme as I wrote song lyrics between 1979-1985 and, prior to that, made up and sang daft rhymes at school.
I began writing poetry in 1990 after buying two excellent poetry anthologies. The first, ‘The New Poetry’ introduced me to American poets such as Berryman, Lowell, Sexton and Plath, and British poets like MacCaig, R.S. Thomas, Larkin and Ted Hughes. The second, ‘British Poetry Since 1945’, included other great poets like MacNeice, Betjemen, McGough, Heaney and Muldoon.
2. Who introduced you to poetry?
Mrs Pritchard, our English teacher at grammar school, managed to engage and enthuse a class of Monty Python crazy teenagers about Shakespeare and poems like ‘The Rhyme Of The Ancient Mariner’. I remember being very taken by Gerard Manley Hopkins’ ‘Windhover’. I was also lucky to have two excellent A-level college lecturers whose enthusiasm for poetry and writing in general enthused me.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older poets?
I’ve always thought it important to be aware of the great poets from the past but I’ve never regarded them as a dominating presence. I’ve always thought it helpful to have some awareness of poets from the past, the history of poetry and different forms of poetry. In other words, getting a perspective on how we’ve arrived where we are now – how poetry has changed and developed over time and how it reflects life at different points in history.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I don’t have a specific routine but I tend to work most mornings, helped by (strong) coffee at home or at coffee shops. I try to plan what I want to work on each day and, typically, switch between tasks such as drafting new poems, editing, revising, admin tasks like keeping up with submissions, posting and responding on social media, etc. I like to combine all this with reading – it helps reduce my guilt about having mountains of unread or part-read poetry books!
5. What motivates you to write?
Anything I experience, notice, think or dream about might motivate me to write something. I find nature and creatures in general fascinating and, as a retired clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist, I’ve always been interested in the brain and how people think and behave – human drives, urges, motivations, communication, etc. Looking at art or listening to music might motivate me, as might a funny word, phrase, thought, image or memory.
Put another way, my motivation to write might be to do with expressing what I (or others) see, feel or remember and how I (and others) view the world – or, it might be nothing to do with me, it may a poem from the perspective of a wildflower or a cheese grater!
6. What is your work ethic?
I try to read and write every day but I don’t force myself to do it, mainly because I want to enjoy doing it. In terms of writing, I learned some time ago there is nothing more painful than sitting in front of a screen or blank sheet of paper desperately trying to force words out. I aim to average 3-4 hours of reading and writing over the course of a day but I know some days I won’t and I try to accept this. For me, it’s about keeping going, doing things bit by bit. I do try to keep organised, mainly because I’ve never been able to function well in chaos.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I was an avid reader from an early age but I don’t remember reading much poetry. My parents did not read (or talk about) poetry and our household wasn’t one where we’d share things like poems or songs. Studying Shakespeare and poets like Gerard Manley Hopkins at school might influence me today but, if they do, it must be at an unconscious level.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
There are so many but Jo Shapcott, Caroline Bird, John McCullough, Kim Moore, Alice Oswald, John Burnside, David Harsent, Jo Bell, Jean Sprackland, Andrew Macmillan, Helen Mort and Cheryl Pearson immediately spring to mind. What they have in common is an ability to write poetry that moves me: imaginative, with original imagery and language, fresh perspectives – poems that amaze and inspire me.
9. Why do you write?
It’s difficult to say. Similiar to my response to Q5 about motivation to write, I think I write to express what I experience, notice, think or dream about. I’m lucky to be retired and what started as a hobby is now a part-time job. Writing definitely brings structure and purpose to my day. However, after three years, writing often seems more difficult and takes longer, probably because I’ve become more critical – but I still get that tremendous feeling of relief and sense of achievement when a poem is finished and, hopefully, published. I also enjoy the process of learning and developing as a poet – reading as widely as I can in the hope that I improve and write better.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
The often-offered advice “read, read, read, write, write, write” is probably not a bad starting point. I think it’s generally accepted that to develop as a writer you do need to read widely in addition to writing. I like this quote by Jane Commane from ‘How To Be A Poet’ (2017), the book she co-wrote with Jo Bell, “a good poet is one who strives to move on and to write better, and seeks to take up an apprenticeship with the master craftspersons of their trade.”
I also think it helps if you can find ways to keep making what you do fun and enjoyable because, with the exception of taking part in writing groups and workshops, writing is largely a solitary pursuit – and one with limited prospects of praise or reward! I think a big step towards becoming a writer is to ‘risk’ reading your work to others and submitting for publication – oh, and learning how to deal with feedback (hopefully, constructive!) and inevitable rejections. One of my tutors at university used the term ‘stickability’, meaning to get started, keep going and hang in there rather than give up or avoid when it feels too difficult. So, maybe persistence is key to becoming a writer!
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
Over the past year my debut pamphlet ‘Quotidian’ was published by Yaffle Press and I was part of the planning and delivery team for the first Wirral Poetry Festival as well as doing guest poet readings around the UK. As I write this (May 2020) my scheduled guest reading slots around the country have all been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, one advantage of the lockdown period is that I’ve had more time to read, research and work on new projects. One of these is my first full collection, which will be published by Yaffle Press in 2021 or, possibly, 2022.
Finally, I would like to say how grateful I am to have been invited to take part in this wonderful series of interviews. I thoroughly enjoyed answering these thought-provoking questions, even if it did take me an eternity!