Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Frank McMahon

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.

At The Storm's Edge

Frank McMahon

was born and raised in Birkenhead, Merseyside. After graduating he began his career in Social Work/Welfare as a practitioner and manager, working for three Local Authorities, British Red Cross and Action for Children. He also served for nine years as a school governor. His last full-time post was to set up and manage a SureStart Children’s Centre. “There is nothing like working with and for young children. They constantly teach you to look at the world with fresh eyes and be open to new experiences.” Frank is married with two children and six grandchildren. When not writing (plays, a novel, short stories and poems) he enjoys walking, (The Cotswolds are his new playground); his allotment (save for the weeds), golf, chess, travel, music, and counts himself fortunate to have some wonderful friendships. He is a member of Somewhere Else Writers Group in Cirencester, whom he thanks for their patience in reading and critiquing his work. As part of that group, he works with Corinium Radio on programmes and plays. 
The Interview

1. What inspired you to write poetry?

I suppose many years back it was in response to experiencing very strong emotions but I went for years without writing anything. Then in 2017, three things suddenly got me going. The first was reading Angel Hill by Michael Longley and particularly the lyrical tone of some of it. ( I had been reading Heaney, Edward Thomas, John Burnside, Hughes but this seemed to give me permission to write some tender/ lyrical work.) Next was a trip which my wife and I made round some European cities and in two of them, Berlin and Budapest, history just confronted me full –on, the history of the Holocaust and two poems came from that. Finally, I joined a writers group here a year after moving and that gave me critique, affirmation, an echo chamber and access to the creative work of other members.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

Teachers at school but it did not spark anything then. I recall one teacher ( as I found out later, it was the Australian writer David Malouf!), trying to take us through Christabel. It was when we looked at Eliot that I began to get intrigued.
At university, it was discovering Wilfrid Owen which helped me see the power of poetry and it resonated because it was at the time of the Vietnam War. Yeats and Dylan Thomas were coming onto my bookshelf.
I think I began to find poetry in the songs of Bob Dylan, the Beatles and Simon and Garfunkel and the classic songs sung by Sinatra and Bennett.

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

I guess it depends how one defines older poets.
I am not sure how much the classical poets dominated as I found it hard to enter their world. I was much more taken by Yeats and Dylan Thomas and then I came across the Penguin Modern poets series with wild stuff from Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti, alongside calmer work from Jon Silkin and Dom Moraes .

4. What is your daily writing routine?

It is more of a weekly routine to accommodate the rest of life! Usually I have ideas, a few lines, first drafts, stories to work on. I do not set aside a particular time of the day. Work is done in spurts with fallow periods.
5. What motivates you to write?

Various themes: anger at the state of the world and its injustices; the natural world; grief; memory; pleasurable experiences; musings or meditation drawn from my sketchy knowledge but strong interest in matters scientific; reflecting on aspects of my former life. I think now that I have things worth sharing with others.

6. What is your work ethic?

Conscientious, willing to labour until a work feels complete; critiquing the work of group members and encouraging them; trying to stay relaxed if no new creative idea pops up for a few days; being willing to set myself an idea to write about and/or feeding off the writing prompts from others.
Reading and studying the work of contemporary poets, especially women poets.

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

This is really quite a mixed answer as I am really a late developer.

Eliot with rhythm, pacing and intellectual underpinning; Yeats and Thomas for emotional expression, Owen for his cold fury; Ted Hughes for the gutsiness of his work, really visceral images.

In later life, Edward Thomas and Robert Frost, for showing the richness of simple language. Elisabeth Bishop, for her powerful and stylish restraint; Robert Lowell and his at times overwhelming power.

I also need to include Anna Akhmatova particularly for her moral courage and articulation of the sufferings of millions.

Miroslav Holub springs to mind from some time back with his quirky and moving images.

RS Thomas for his beautiful austerity.
Auden and Larkin are there in the background.

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

Heaney and Longley: the range of subjects and their use of language in a palpable way; Alice Oswald for her amazingly fluid imagination; John Burnside for his imagery ( though some of it baffles me ). I am getting to know some of the work of Lemn Sissay and Carol Ann Duffy.

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

I suppose that the urge to write has always been with me but my career in Social work and raising a family means that I was trying to make the world better by getting stuck in. I suppose now that I have decided to take a step back and channel my energy into writing.

However, i do have other interests which help give me a balanced life.

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

Pick up a pen, get some paper, write the first line, then the next, then the next; at some time, find an honest person or group and share your work; be open, learn, go away and try to write even better. But write from the heart first.

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

A first draft short story; some poems; a friend is critiquing my children’s novel; the script for a radio play; two plays to be produced for local radio. Finally, trying to get myself spots in lit and poetry festivals.

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