Wombwell Rainbow Interviews: Alice Frecknall

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.

Alice Frecknall website front page

Alice Frecknall

is a poet, short fiction writer, and fine artist. Her debut poetry collection is forthcoming from Out-Spoken Press in 2021 and is supported by Arts Council England. Her writing has been published online by Out-Spoken, has appeared in print in a number of anthologies, including The Stinging Fly, National Poetry Anthology, and Lightship Anthology, and was shortlisted for the Out-Spoken Prize for Poetry 2019 and the Lightship International Short Story Prize. Alice has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Hull, is a Roundhouse Poetry Collective alumna, and member of the UniSlam Post-Emerging Cohort. She has read her work at venues and festivals across the country and regularly writes with the Poetry Takeaway. 




The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

At around the age of 16, I think. At that point it was very much a back-of-the-notebook secret endeavour. I didn’t really read much poetry outside of school and most of what I was openly writing was fiction – I still write short stories now as well – but writing poetry came out of a sense of urgency, the need to get something out. I’ve always been more comfortable with writing than talking and so poetry was a way of making sense, of exorcising my thoughts and feelings as a teenager trying to navigate the world around me.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

I don’t think there was one person or artist. It was gradual. At an early age I was probably more familiar with poetry in theatre, through Shakespeare, as that was my parents’ interest. It wasn’t until my late teens and early twenties that I began to read more widely and independently. I also started listening to poetry, the work of artists such as Kae Tempest, Hollie McNish, Andrea Gibson… I studied literature and creative writing at university and the more poetry I was exposed to, the more I came to love and appreciate it as an artform. At that time there were also open mic nights starting to pop up around Hull, where I was living, so then I was introduced to live poetry and people who were writing and sharing their work much more readily. The idea of having some sort of lived life as a writer began to feel tangible.

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

When I was at school, the poets on the curriculum were mostly, if not exclusively, dead, white men. And this was my main access to poetry. If I remember correctly, the anthology we studied at GCSE was a book of war poetry filled with traditional, often famous, old poems. I was definitely aware of this dominance but didn’t have the knowledge or tools (or confidence) to counter it.

I think poetry as a sector has definitely become more varied in terms of ages and writing styles of the poets who are making waves. Now, thanks to funding schemes and development opportunities, young poets can come through and make a name for themselves, whereas those who are older can find getting those breaks more challenging because those same opportunities are closed to them. At the same time, those who are young in age are often assumed to be young in craft or experience so may not be given the platforms that an older artist would. Age is such an unhelpful thing because life isn’t linear in the way society tries to force it to be.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Honest answer: I don’t have one.

Not a consistent one, anyway. I’m a fine artist as well as a writer so I have to make space for both, and that is rarely an equal split. If I’m working on a painting commission then that will have to take priority over writing for a period, simply because I need the daylight to paint by and I’m often on a deadline. Similarly, if I have a writing deadline or project on the go then that will take my focus for as long as it needs to and I’ll work quite full, intense days for a time. I also work part-time outside of my creative practices so my available time and existing commitments across the days of the week are quite varied. 

But a writing day will almost always start with coffee and reading before I actually take to my desk to do any writing. I mostly work at home and prefer to write in quiet unless I’m deliberately writing from music as a stimulus, which is rare. I try to keep several pieces of work on the go at once, all at varying stages of completion so I can move between starting new work, editing existing drafts, or submitting work for consideration to publications. And at some point, usually when my head’s at the jumbled, saturated stage, I’ll take a break to head outside for a walk and let the ideas shake themselves down into order.     

5. What subjects motivate your writing?

I think every subject I fixate on through my writing can probably be boiled down to people and/or human experience. Which sounds broad but, ultimately, I’m interested in why people behave in the ways that they do, why we need one another and also destroy one another in a multitude of ways.

6. What is your work ethic?

In its most simple form, my work ethic is: show up. This could mean spending eight hours at my desk, but it could also mean going for a walk, or reading one page of a book, or giving myself a day off. It’s about remaining open and active but meeting myself where I’m at.

7. How did the writers you read when you were young influence your work today?

I don’t remember reading much poetry when I was younger, so my earlier influences were all fiction writers. Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials trilogy really got me into a love of storytelling, and I do tend to write poetry with a sense of story in mind. In my early twenties, I fell in love with Jeanette Winterson’s writing. I revisit her work most years and I definitely take inspiration from her often non-linear and at times surreal style of writing. There’s something really poetic in Winterson’s playfulness of language too. I read a lot of Ali Smith around a similar time, and she’s also very playful in her work. Their writing feels alive to me and very much like it exists in the truth of human experience even if it’s created in a surreal space, which is something I think has come into my own writing.

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

So many! And it changes all the time. Caroline Bird, she’s such a master of surrealism, and I could listen to her talk for days about poetry and writing; Ella Frears, I absolutely loved her recent debut collection Shine, Darling, I find that I really relate to her work and because she’s a visual artist too, as am I, I really enjoy when that element comes through in her poetry. I couldn’t get over Mary Jean Chan’s collection, Flèche, I thought it was just stunning, I borrowed it from a friend but bought my own copy as soon as I’d returned it because some books you just have to own!

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

Oh wow. Can we open this up to art, more broadly? Though if I knew the answer to this, perhaps I wouldn’t need to anymore…

I think it’s a way of trying to make sense of things and communicate something; a way of getting something out and giving it to someone else in the hope that they might also recognise something in it. It’s about making that human connection. In her book Art Objects Jeanette Winterson writes, ‘I know of no better communicator than art. No better means of saying so precisely those things which need so urgently to be said.’ I think this is why I make art. Art is the best tool I have to make sense of, communicate my experience of the world, and connect with others.

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

If you’re a writer, you’re a writer. If you want to try and turn that into a career and an income source then, in very practical terms: read, meet writers, meet organisations working with writers, try things out, try more things out, always always study your craft, and keep knocking on doors until the right one opens. Celebrate the wins (no matter how small), and don’t let the rejections mean more than they do.

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

I’m currently working on my first full-length poetry collection, which will be published by Out-Spoken Press in late 2021. So that’s my main focus. At the moment, I’m really interested in human relationships and how we as humans process or fail to process the things we experience, and the ways in which these experiences can manifest. The collection will largely explore solitude and absence, and the tension between loneliness and the fear/vulnerability of connecting.

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