Inky Interview Special: Poet Laura Potts

Laura Potts is a writer from West Yorkshire. A recipient of the Foyle Young Poets Award, her work has been published by Aesthetica, The Moth and The Poetry Business. Having worked at The Dylan Thomas Birthplace in Swansea, Laura became one of the BBC’s New Voices in 2017. She received a commendation from The Poetry Society in 2018 and was shortlisted for The Edward Thomas Fellowship in 2020.

How long have you been writing poetry?

The precise age is unremembered, but I was fairly young. Six or seven perhaps. That’s fifteen years ago now. It’s helped that I’ve always been a reader – I love to feel the gravity of a book in my hand – and my writing has grown quite naturally from that. One fed the other, and that’s still the case today. I suppose I was lucky as a child. I benefited from having grandparents who were already in their eighties when I was born. Their idea of a good time was settling down in the armchair with a good book, and I’ve inherited that.

My grandmother lurched from illness to illness and had endless time for me. She taught me to read and write. She would take me on her knee and read to me, often for hours into the evening, until I fell asleep. She loved ‘the greats’ – Tennyson, Keats, Chaucer, Walter Scott. Her voice had been broken by smoke in the war, and she could read with fabulous gravity. It was gorgeous and gravelly. I learnt to love poetry then, all because of the way she would read it. It’s the only voice which has ever done justice to verse for me.

What got you into sharing/performing your poetry?

I had joined a local writing group by the age of fifteen. We would meet once a month in the upstairs room of a musty pub in Wakefield. Old men dribbled verse into their pints and bemoaned the state of the nation. It was a bright, good time.

I was encouraged to share my work for the first time by two local writers who went to these meetings. With gentle advice, John Irving Clarke and Jimmy Andrex taught me the value of reading to a room on my own terms. They helped me realise that confidence and poise would come with time, and that I don’t have to shout to be heard. In that sense, I’ve always rejected performance. I read my poetry. It isn’t an act or a drama, and it isn’t memorised or scripted. I read it. That’s all. There’s pleasure enough in that.

How did you feel before and after your first performance?

Nervous! My first reading was at The Red Shed in Wakefield. I’d been asked to support Ian McMillan. I was fifteen, starstruck after meeting Helen Mort in the train station with her whippets the day before. It was winter, and I remember thinking that this Ian guy must be a big deal because people had travelled all the way from Harrogate in the snow to listen to him. I also remember having learnt my poems by heart and worrying about forgetting them. This is something I’ve since dropped. A book is part of a writer’s oeuvre and should play its own part in the performance.

Afterwards, I felt a small sense of achievement. I had stood in a dark room of strangers and read my little poems to them. What was more, Ian was there. And that was a big deal.

What kind of things are you writing about at the moment? Have the subjects of your poetry changed over time?

I’m doing the dreaming on a few poems about Anthony Burgess at the moment. It’s my way of making a small homage to one of my favourite writers. At times like this – when I’m not on commission – I tend to write in response to whatever I’m reading. Sometimes it’s a conscious response and sometimes it isn’t. This time it is.

But at other times, when I read my work, I’ll hear the faint ghosts of writers I’d been reading at the time. There might be a scrap of Plath here or a scrap of Ted there. Their presence was unintended at the time of writing. These are, unconsciously, the voices I write back to.

I’d say the subjects have changed over time. I’ve learnt to write with discipline – in the sense that I let myself write whatever I want to these days. There was a time when I used to write prescriptively. I’d read a love poem and decide to write one too. I’d read a verse about sex and set out on a mission to write my own. I suppose it works for some, but in the end I knew that I was writing myself into feelings which were forced rather than organic. It was like standing outside on a winter’s night, looking into a scene I wished I were part of.

And if I continued like that, I’d only ever be a dark watcher.

Do you think living in West Yorkshire shapes the type of poems you write?

Yes, of course. My place is as present as my politics, my ethics and my class. Every poem I write – every word I write- is a product of my place in the world. How can it be different?

I’ve read many papers which argue that creativity is inherent, is separate, is ‘disinterested’ (to quote Matthew Arnold). It supposedly exists in some alternate reality, untouched by the vagaries of everyday sexism, racism, the political climate, the calamity of war and human suffering. It’s a divine stream which we channel to escape our bleak realities. It’s manna from heaven. It’s crap.

I live in West Yorkshire and I always have. I think about this every day. My poems are the result of the books I’ve read, from The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle to The History Boys; the songs I’ve heard and the films I’ve watched; the marks that are made on voting cards; the (diminishing) forest on the distant moor; my grandfather’s medals which hang in the hall; the closing of Kellingley Colliery; Sylvia Plath Hughes at Heptonstall; my mother’s accent and my father’s lack of it; my single-sex education; the Miner’s Strike (yes, families are still not speaking to each other about that one here) and the endless endless endless endless endless endless news. There’s more, but we’ll leave it at that.

Who inspires your writing and why? Do you have any favourite poets or writers?

I’d have to say Dylan, but most people know that already. It’s his music that gets me. I love him on the page and on the ear. His intonation – that faux-Homeric bass voice – was just made to read poetry. And I like Sylvia Plath too. Mostly because she teaches me new vocabulary, and that’s always a good thing. My copy of Ariel is full of footnotes and definitions I’ve scribbled in the margins. But I’ve found that she stays with me for a long time after I’ve finished reading. Rather like a haunting.

The best collection I’ve read belongs to Peter Riley. Hushings, published by Calder Valley Poetry. I’d go so far as to say it’s the best book I’ve ever read. My copy has been on various ventures and was briefly lost for a frantic hour on Table Mountain in Cape Town when the wind blew it out of my hands.

In terms of music (because why can’t songs be poems too?), I like Leonard Cohen and The Cranberries. Dolores O’Riordan and her broken throat – the way her note will always break at the height of emotion – hurts a little every time I hear it. In a good way. Like Sylvia Plath all over again.

What is next for you? What are your plans?

I’m going to be taking a short break soon. Every now and then, the world’s white noise grows too loud and I can’t hear my own voice above the crowd. That’s when I know it’s time for a break. My first collection is almost finished, and I’d like to spend some time reading and writing before it goes out to the world. I’ll still be around – I’ve just finished a commission for The International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester, and that’s still ongoing this year. And there’s another announcement to come, but I’ll have to wait a while for that one.

Really, I’d like to promote that attitude in itself. It’s alright to be selfish sometimes. Read some good books, read some bad books, watch movies you love but know you shouldn’t. It’s okay to take some time off sometimes. Writing is hard. And it’s even harder when you have bills to pay and a reality to live in. Be kind to yourself. That’s my only secret. Your best work will come when you take your time.

Inky Interview Special: Jan Carson: with Claire Faulkner

Jan Carson is a writer and community arts facilitator based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She has a novel, Malcolm Orange Disappears, and short story collection, Children’s Children, (Liberties Press), a micro-fiction collection, Postcard Stories (Emma Press), Postcard Stories 2 is forthcoming in July 2020. Her novel The Fire Starters was published by Doubleday in April 2019 and won the EU Prize for Literature for Ireland in 2019. In 2018 she was the inaugural Translink/Irish Rail Roaming Writer in Residence on the Trains of Ireland.

Claire Faulkner: I was intrigued and a little bit jealous when I first found out about Jan Carson’s plan to spend a year with Agatha Christie. Jan, a writer and community arts facilitator from Belfast, decided that 2020 would be the year in which she read all the novels written by Christie in order of publication. There are 66 of them. If this wasn’t enough of a challenge, Jan decided to pen her own response to each novel in the form of a short story.

Claire caught up with Jan…

Jan, what inspired you to spend a year with Agatha Christie?

I’ve read many of Agatha Christie’s books in the past. I was around 8 and had read all the books in the children’s section of my local library when a helpful librarian led me over to crime fiction and introduced me to both Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes. I fell in love with both. They were like my gateway drugs to the world of adult fiction. I think Death in the Clouds was the first Agatha Christie I read. I’d always meant to come back and reread them all in order and with 2020 marking the 100th anniversary of her first publication (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), now seemed like the perfect time to set myself this challenge.

Have you always been a fan? Can I ask Poirot or Marple? (I genuinely love them both, and could never pick between the two.)

Absolutely always Poirot. I grew up watching the David Suchet adaptations for ITV and I find Poirot so very familiar now, it’s like reading about someone I actually know.

What book are you up to? Are you enjoying the process of reading all the Christie novels like this?

I’m just about to begin Death on the Nile which is novel number 22. That puts me exactly one third of the way through. I thought I’d be fed up with Agatha Christie by now but I’m really enjoying watching her style and themes develop. There’s a marked difference between her writing in the first novel and the twentieth. I’ve only really noticed this whilst reading them in consecutive order. I also still get unreasonably excited each time I get to the scene in the library where all the suspects are gathered and Poirot reveals who the murderer is.

How long do you think it will take you to complete?

I plan to get the 66 novels finished by the end of November and to spend December reading Agatha Christie’s autobiography, her notebooks and the short stories.

Do you have a favourite Christie novel? I remember being completely captivated by Body in The Library when I was younger.

I regularly teach The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in my writing workshops because it’s such a fantastically good example of the unreliable narrator, so I’m very fond of that one. I also love the really creepy multiple body count novels like And Then There Were None and The ABC Murders. I tend to prefer the Poirot novels to her other works, though she was pretty fed up with her little Belgian by the time she finally managed to do away with him. There’s an amazing section in Cards on the Table which I recently read where she thoroughly lambasts Poirot under the guise of mocking her fictional crime writer, Ariadne Oliver’s signature Finnish sleuth. I love the way Agatha Christie wasn’t above laughing at her own tropes.

You’ve decided to write you own short story in response to each novel. Was this part of the original challenge for you?

I wanted some means of responding to each of the texts creatively and intended to write a short story in response to the themes raised by the books. However, I soon changed my mind as I’m not a crime fiction writer and couldn’t really see myself writing 66 micro crime stories. Instead, I’ve been selecting a single line from each novel and writing a story inspired by this line of text. Some have a crime theme. Some are magic realist. Mostly, I just let my imagination take me wherever it wanted to go.

Your responses are posted online, but also written inside the novel and left for other people to discover. I’d be thrilled if I found something like this. What sort of response have you had from people?

When the project first began I was actually able to hide the novels in public spots and leave clues in social media for people to track the books down. I had some lovely responses on social media. People were genuinely delighted to find a book and one lady even sneaked out of work to track down a novel before anyone else could get to it. Since the Covid 19 pandemic I’ve been mailing the completed novels (with short stories handwritten inside), to people who are stuck at home, self-isolating. I’ve had so many appreciative responses. I think people find writers like Agatha Christie very comforting at times like this. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve always held to the belief that Christie most fully embodies what George Orwell refers to as a good English murder in his essay, The Decline of the English Murder. Agatha Christie’s murders are good murders. They are not without point or planning. Justice is always served. Wrongdoing rarely goes unpunished. As such, the kind of crime fiction she writes reassures the reader. It makes us feel stabilised in a world which feel a bit unpredictable and out of control at the minute. I read Agatha Christie for the same reason I watch Casualty. Because I know order will be reinstated by the time I get to the end of the book or the episode. I read Agatha Christie because she can fool me into thinking everything’s going to be ok.

Congratulations on the success of The Fire Starters. Can you tell us a little about your novel?

Thank you. The Fire Starters is a magic realist novel set in East Belfast during the summer months. It follows two fathers: Sammy, an older ex-paramilitary who has stepped away from violence when he becomes a father and is now horrified to discover that his son, Mark, is actually orchestrating the riots sweeping across the city, and Jonathan, a young GP who is seduced by a siren and left with a small baby who may or may not be as destructive as her mother. Essentially it’s a novel which explores the question of how much a parent is responsible for the actions of their child. There’s a fair amount of the fantastical interwoven into the plot, a lot of quite dark humour and plenty of background for anyone unfamiliar with the Unionist community in Northern Ireland.

Apart from Agatha Christie, are you reading anything else at the moment? Who would you recommend you our readers?

I read constantly. I read both to escape and also to learn how to be a better writer. At the minute I’m really enjoying the writings of James Baldwin. He’s such a meticulous and insightful writer; so much of what he wrote in the 50s and 60s still rings true. My favourite more recent books of the last few years have been Valeria Luiselli’s amazing The Lost Children Archives, Samanta Scweblin’s Fever Dream and Tommy Orange’s There There. All wildly different novels but very much concerned with story. I’m the sort of reader who needs a novel to have an engaging plot as well as beautifully crafted language and believable, engaging characters.

What’s your next challenge?

I’m currently editing two books. My next novel to be published by Doubleday in April 2021, (as yet to be titled) and a collection of microfiction stories to be published in July 2020. This will be my second collection of Postcard Stories published by the Emma Press. If you’d like to read a sample of Postcard Stories I’m currently writing one a day and mailing them to older isolated individuals. They’re being illustrated by small children, and the stories with accompanying images can be viewed on Instagram.

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Inky Interview Special: Wayne Holloway-Smith: with Claire Faulkner

(Photo credit: Mark Sherratt)

Wayne Holloway-Smith teaches at the University of Hertfordshire. His poems have appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies. His first book-length collection, Alarum, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2017. In 2018 Wayne won the National Poetry Competition for ‘the posh mums are boxing in the square’.

Wayne, thankyou for agreeing to speak to Ink Pantry. First of all, I’d like to say thankyou for the daily emails you have been sending out during lockdown. They’ve been a real help to me, not only introducing me to other poets, but also giving me ideas for different approaches towards my own writing. What inspired you to do these? Have you been surprised by the reaction?

Hiya. No problem, it’s nice to talk.

I’m glad to hear the daily emails are helping in some way, and that they’re introducing you to interesting work. Erm, I think what inspired them was that I was seeing lots of people commenting in various ways about a loss of connection during this time, and boredom – and various anxieties manifesting in all types of ways. I have wanted to challenge myself to be more thoughtful and generous for a long while. And I guess I see this as one way of testing that.

I’m aware that I have a certain level of readership, and thought if people enjoyed the work, then maybe I should give them things to keep them occupied. I was worried that this might seem like a self-indulgent exercise too, though. I put out a gentle offer on Twitter – expecting perhaps between 5-50 takers, and was shocked to find I’m now emailing over 250 people on a daily basis. The feedback has been really amazing, actually. People have been very enthusiastic, and it’s so nice to see people posting work online that didn’t exist until a couple of hours ago. Some very good and interesting things.

Has poetry always been a part of your life?

I grew up in a house with no books at all and failed all of my GCSEs. My careers advisor ‘advised’ me to work in a factory or in the voluntary sector. I didn’t actually know that poetry existed, at that point, in a contemporary sense. When I started writing, I thought I was the UK’s first contemporary poet. Lol.

How would you describe your work?

How I think about my own work changes all the time, and is always influenced by the last thing I wrote and what I’m reading, what I’ve seen on TV, the song I’ve most recently listened to. I’m much more interested to hear how other people see it. Someone said the other day that I bleed onto the page, then mop it up. The stains that are left is the poem. I won’t tell you who. Haha. I think he/ she/ they were taking the piss.

When I read your work I find it open and personal. If I was reviewing, I’d describe your style as direct but also vulnerable, and as a reader I sense an honesty in your poems which I can connect to. Do you set out to share such vulnerability or does this naturally develop during your writing process? (I’m thinking of ‘the posh mums are boxing in the square’ which I find deeply emotional.)

I think I only want to write vulnerably, and honestly. I have no time for irony, or distancing or whatever. Other people have said it better than me, but basically conventional English is limiting, and poetry is a means through which we might find another vocabulary for our emotional experiences.

The idea and notion of identity also features in your work. The poem ‘Some Waynes’ made me question if you can ever really be one ‘identity’, or whether we are mix of every assumption or every ideal placed upon us. How do you feel the theme of identity fits within your work?

I don’t think identity is fixed. It’s an ongoing negotiation, and contingient upon your socio-economic circumstances, your friends, your background, and also, partly, pure chance. So each time I write, I’m working out, or trying to work out a bit of how I see the world and myself in relation to it at the point that I’m writing.

Can you share any details of what you’re working on currently?

Love Minus Love is coming out in July, from Bloodaxe Books. I’m excited about that. I think it might be the best thing I ever make. I’m also writing new things, feeling my way into how I might write next.

Are there any poets you are enjoying reading at the moment?

I love Natalie Shapero, Anthony Anaxagorou, CAConrad, Rachael Allen, Helen Charman, Holly Pester, Hieu Minh Nguyen, Raymond Antrobus, Terrance Hayes, Ross Gay, Paige Lewis, Rebecca Tamas, Selima Hill, Morgan Parker, Richard Siken, Jericho Brown, Jenny George. Also new writers to look out for: Arji Manuelpillai, Emma Jeremy, Katie O’Pray.

A lot of our readers are new and aspiring writers. Do you have any advice for them?

I think that the biggest thing is that there is no objective good poem, and no set way of doing things. Read the writers you love and try to learn as much from them as you can. Talk to others. And write what makes you feel energised.

Do you have a poem you can share with us?

Here’s one from my forthcoming collection.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

Stay safe and well everyone.

Inky Interview Special: Debz Butler from Testify: with Claire Faulkner

Debz Butler runs Testify, a community organisation which organises open mic nights and writing workshops in Chester. Testify prides itself on delivering poetry without the pretension, and whether you’re a first timer or an experienced performer, everyone is welcome. We were delighted when Debz agreed to talk to us about Testify…

Have you always been interested in poetry?

Not really. I’ve always written short stories and really loved reading, but poetry wasn’t really on my radar. I thought that because I didn’t know about form, that anything I wrote could never be ‘proper’. It was only in 2016 that I gained the confidence to call what I was writing poetry.

What made you decide to share and perform your own work?

I wanted to see if what I was writing was ‘real’ poetry so decided to go to an open mic night. I went to Sale Write Out Loud and was instantly hooked. I went, not intending to perform, but got up at the very last minute and loved it. It was such a great buzz to share something so personal. It was so inspiring to hear other people perform, I think a really important trait of being a performer is learning from others. With open mic nights, sometimes you have to kiss a few frogs before you find the right supportive space for you. I was very lucky that I landed on the right one for me on my first go.

What inspires you to write?

My own life experiences mostly. I try writing what’s happening in the news but my personal feelings always end up in there. I have to do a lot of editing on my work to make sure it’s not just me ranting to the sky. In 2018, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and apart from journalling, I couldn’t write throughout my treatment. I’m only just managing to confront that experience and write about it. I think its an important lesson in giving things time.

I’ve seen you perform a few times now. I love what you do, I think my favourite at the moment is Moon Cup. But I was also very moved by some of your work about nursing. You bring a realism and share experiences in poetry which many women can relate to. How do audiences react to your work?

I’ve generally had good responses to my work, people say they can relate to it. You have to gauge your audience though, sometimes the mood in the room dictates what I perform. At Testify, I always perform first to ‘warm up the mic’ and how many people are there/how enthusiastic they are, has a big influence on what I perform.

You organise and run Testify, (when we’re all allowed out), a poetry night in Chester, which is great, by the way. I think there was definitely a need for a regular performance poetry night in the city. Can you tell us a bit about Testify and the reasons you started it?

I had found a couple of open mic nights I loved but they were predominantly in Manchester. I found Chester Poets but it is on a Thursday, when I didn’t have regular childcare. I continued to go to the Manchester nights for about a year, then during the Chester Literature Festival I got talking to the artistic director about how the Storyhouse would be the perfect venue for a regular open mic night. He told me that he’d give me the space if I ran it – and so Testify was born!

After 2 months, we outgrew the space in the Storyhouse and so moved to Hanky Panky Pancakes – our forever home.

What has been the reaction to Testify?

Overwhelmingly positive and supportive. We have a good group of regulars now who show up, as well as a constant stream of new people. Testify isn’t for everyone and that’s fine. There are other groups out there. Some people disagree with Testify’s ethos of ‘be supportive to everyone’ and say we shouldn’t applaud mediocre work. I disagree. I didn’t start the night to make people feel shit about themselves. The number one rule of Testify is ‘don’t be dick’ and if you can’t abide by that, then we aren’t for you.

Since the lockdown, Testify has moved online. You’ve been sharing ideas, poetry and prompts. Can anyone join the Testify Facebook group?

Absolutely. Even if you never have any intention of coming to a Testify night or are going to leave straight after lockdown is over, you are welcome in the group.

Do you have any advice or recommendations for new poets?

Keep reading, keep writing, keep watching. Your first work will be shit. That’s fine. Find an open mic night or writing group that suits you and stick with it. Whenever I feel blocked, being around other writers always inspires me. Always read the submission guidelines.

Who are your favourite poets? What are you reading at the moment?

Thats a hard one! My all time fave is Dominique Christina who is an American poet and slam winner. Her work always makes me cry.

Leanne Moden’s work always blows me away, as does Maz Hedgehog. Nick Degg is bloody brilliant as well. Rosie Garland is always an absolute master in performance and writing.

I don’t read a lot of poetry, I prefer to watch videos on YouTube or see people live, but David Subacchi’s latest collection, Where is Wales, is beautiful, as is, When Women Fly, by Sarah Pritchard.

Where can we find more of your work?

I have a page on the website with links to my published work.

I’ve also been featured in ‘These are the hands’, a poetry anthology featuring NHS staff. All profits are going to the COVID-19 emergency fund and people can buy a copy here.

Inky Interview Exclusive: Verve Festival Director Stuart Bartholomew with Claire Faulkner

Poetry festivals. What’s not to like? Books, events, workshops, performances. The chance to meet other writers, share ideas and get inspired. For me, one of the best things about poetry festivals is the sense of community, and the first time I went to Verve Festival I was instantly hooked. Verve is back next month and I managed to catch up with festival organiser Stuart Bartholomew to ask him all about it.

How did Verve start? How long have you been involved?

I am a founder member of Verve with my original co-director, Cynthia Miller. I secretly think Cynthia always intended to persuade me that a Birmingham City Centre full-spectrum poetry festival was necessary, but she insists she didn’t. I was running Waterstones in Birmingham and we wanted to do more with events, but until The Emma Press brought a group of poets to the store for a small event for Valentines in 2016 – headlined by Liz Berry – I had no idea how amazing live poetry could be. It really set me off, and with Cynthia encouraging all the way, I’d programmed a full four day festival for the store by the end of that summer and secured arts council funding to help make sure we broke even. I think the things we were trying to fix were – Birmingham Literature Festival not programming enough poetry (to our tastes anyway), our favourite poets never coming to Birmingham, our favourite Birmingham poets never being picked up by poetry publishers, many poetry events seeming exclusive particularly if you are from a minority or too young, and the separation that exists between excellent performance poetry and amazing page poetry in terms of the scenes and poetry consumption. It felt like Verve could help us to address ALL these things.

How would you describe Verve to someone who has never been before?

It is a city centre full-spectrum poetry festival which celebrates poetry in all its forms and welcomes poetry fans of all ages and levels of experience to join our annual poetry party.

Verve is a festival packed full of workshops, poetry and spoken word performances. How do you begin to organise an event like this?

I have a lot of help. Birmingham poetry people love having the festival and always lend a hand. In terms of the programming, I find it incredibly easy. The idea is that events  will run end to end on Thursday & Friday evenings and then all day on Saturday and Sunday, so that no-one needs to miss anything, unless they are in one of our six workshops a day. I keep a running list of all the poets I need to bring (which relates quite closely to poets I need to see myself), and another list of poets I’d like to come back or get more involved, and there are always more poets on both lists than I can possible fit into a single weekend. I am committed to the four day structure of the event – I think when festivals drag on over more than one weekend, it becomes difficult for people to do the whole thing. I like the idea of our audience drowning in poetry for a few days – staying as long as possible, and heading home fully sated, feeling like they’ve done it properly. Others of course can dip in and out, but there are a sizable chunk of people who do the whole thing.

It seems that the festival grows in popularity and strength every year. What can we look forward to seeing this year? (I’m looking forward to the lecture with Yomi Sode).

I think you’re right. Our audience has grown by 33% each year for the first three years, and I think it gets stronger because we learn lessons each year about what works best. So for instance, the venue change this year is going to be a big plus, both in terms of visibility but also solving the accessibility problems we had last year, particularly for workshops. And we have moved our competition event (which is always my favourite event) from the Saturday morning to the Sunday to pump a little more energy into that day (the commended poets who come and read at that event get a free day pass to the rest of that day – it will be lovely to see what they think of it all.)

I think you’re right to be looking forward to Yomi’s lecture. That’s a really great regular addition to the programme that we came up with in conjunction with Poetry School. I really struggle to come up with highlights, because as programmer I tend to love everything, but if I were to pick a single event, it would be the Saturday Early Evening Headline Event featuring Jay Bernard, Mary Jean Chan and Caroline Bird, and hosted by Jo Bell. But really, there will be Birdspeed, Rachael Allen, Vidyan Ravinthiran, Salena Godden, Jaspreet Kaur, Fathima Zahra, Heather Phillipson, Mimi Khalvati, Deryn Rees-Jones, Jonathan Edwards and many many more amazing poets at Verve. Whatever time you’ll come, you’re sure to see something amazing.

The festival has its own competition, this year the theme was diversity and was judged by Andrew McMillian. Have you been pleased with the response?

I love the competition, mainly because I love the competition winners’ event. It allows the three winners, twenty one commended poets and three-four commissioned local poets, the opportunity to read at and attend Verve and not only meet but be hosted and introduced by the judge. Andrew had been a pleasure to work with and it is always fun and interesting to see what the judge picks and why. The competition is completely anonymous at point of judging, so it’s fun to to let the judge know who they’ve picked. One of the remits of Verve is to involve emerging or even brand new poets and this event, along with the workshops and open mics is that main way that we can do this.

I’ve seen some fantastic poets perform at Verve and The Verve Specials. Do you have a favourite Verve performance from the last couple of years? (I have particularly enjoyed performances from Romalyn Ante, Salena Godden and Kaveh Akbar.)

Yes, I loved all three of these, although the one that sticks out in my mind was the Special that featured Lindsay Hera Bird. We teamed her up with two amazing local poets – Jenna Clake (who is bringing a collection out with Bloodaxe in 2021) and Hannah Swingler, and it was such an incredible night and such a thrill to hear her read and talk. At the actual festival, I loved hearing Sumita Chakraborty read her long poem ‘Dear, beloved’ in it’s entirety at last year’s event. It was a half an hour long read, and it was breath-taking, and other poets such as Vahni Capildeo and Jane Commane were sitting in the audience watching and just lapping it up!

How would you like to see the festival develop in the future?

I’m really happy with the adult element of the festival, although I’d like it to continue to develop and evolve – I have this idea of having a living magazine element at the festival in which an event contains a talk, reviews as well as readings with multiple poets, but I’ve not quite found the way to make it happen. An easier fix will be to relaunch a kids element to Verve. We tried having a kids festival run alongside the adult one during the first two years and it was wonderful but really hard to make broad enough for different age-ranges. We’ll be looking at kick starting that side of things up again in 2021.

Do you have a wish list of poets you would like to see at Verve?

Of course. It’s vast. I’m desperate to get Malika Booker along – also AK Blakemore and Emily Berry. And I’d like to do something with Flipped Eye.

Do you have time to enjoy the festival?

I always enjoy the festival – it makes me so happy to see so many people enjoying poetry and to meet so many amazing practitioners. I get to sit in and see a lot of it as we have such a great team. Apart from the workshops – I’ve no idea what goes on in there.

A lot of our readers are new writers. Do you have any advice for inspiring poets?

I do. Read lots of poetry. Lots of different kinds of poetry. Form sharing poetry communities, whether that’s small groups learning together or regular open mic nights. I think a lot of poetry is made in isolation, but I think the sharing part of poetry is the most powerful element of it. There are so many possibilities that are impossible to discover on your own.

How can people get tickets and keep up to date with what’s going on?

Yes, tickets are up on the Birmingham Hippodrome website

We have our own website at but the best way of keeping in touch day to day is on Twitter

In the run up to the festival, we never shut up on Twitter! 😊

Group Press images with kind permission of Stuart Bartholomew.
Other images by Claire Faulkner courtesy of Tania HershamanJacqueline Saphra, Jamie Thrasivoulou and Matt Abbott.

Inky Interview Special: Jenny Quintana with Kev Milsom

Jenny Quintana grew up in Essex and Berkshire, before studying English Literature in London. She has taught in London, Seville and Athens and has also written books for teaching English as a foreign language. She is a graduate of the Curtis Brown Creative writing course. She lives with her family in Berkshire. The Missing Girl is her first novel.

Hello Jenny! Many thanks again for agreeing to answer some questions for our Ink Pantry readers. Many are aspiring authors and I’m sure they will learn a great deal from your experiences. May I start by asking you about your childhood literary influences and what books in particular gripped your attention?

I was lucky enough to have parents who took me to the library when I was a child and bought me books, which meant I gained an early passion for reading. I loved Little Women, What Katy Did, The Famous Five, Malory Towers. I moved on to Agatha Christie and when I was twelve, wrote my first novel called The Imposter. It was a detective story influenced by Agatha Christie, of course. My dad marked it and gave me an A. I went from there to Thomas Hardy, the Brontës and Shakespeare and all the classics which I loved.

At what age did you begin writing seriously, in the knowledge that this could become a career, rather than a hobby, Jenny?

I wrote stories from a very early age, but confidence stopped me from believing that I had anything worthwhile to say, and then circumstance – work, family and other commitments – gained more importance. However, the need to write didn’t go away and in my early thirties after I had my first child, I felt that I would be forever unfulfilled if I didn’t do something about it. I joined a local creative writing group and started writing short stories. I entered competitions, had some success, and that spurred me on to start my first novel.

Your 2017 début novel, The Missing Girl, (published by Mantle Books) attracted a lot of positivity from the literary world. Can you tell us more about how the seeds of the idea began for this novel, and how long it took to piece everything together? Also, how daunting was this project initially?

The characters in The Missing Girl came to me first. Two sisters – the younger one, Anna, idolizing the older, more popular and outgoing, Gabriella. I imagined what they were like and put them in the context of their family and the village where they lived. I decided the story would be from Anna’s point of view and then considered what was going to happen. By then I had written two unpublished novels and was beginning to understand what themes and ideas I wanted to explore. I was interested in ordinary people who are affected by tragic events and how they manage to make sense of them. I considered what it would be like if Gabriella went missing. Often in news stories we mostly see the effects a missing child has on the adults of the family, but what must it be like for the siblings? How heartbreaking for a child to not know where their brother or sister has gone and whether they will ever come home? I had the characters and the idea, but still I was nervous about embarking on another novel. I had spent so long by then trying and failing to get published, so it seemed very daunting. However, it isn’t easy to ignore the urge to write and I’m glad that I didn’t because once I had immersed myself, the novel took about a year to complete and then another eighteen months or so of editing with my agent, and then my editor.

Do you have a particular framework for writing? For example, are you an author who prefers pen and paper, or one who does everything on the computer? Also, is there a set location you have chosen for your writing?

I generally write straight onto the computer and do many, many drafts. Usually I write the whole novel quickly and it comes out quite short. I then edit and rewrite and edit again, adding texture and colour and depth. I have a very messy study at home where I work, but it is also a walkway between the hall and the kitchen, so I’m constantly interrupted by my family. I don’t mind really as I like to feel a part of things, but my most productive time for writing is early in the morning when everyone else is asleep, or when the house is empty.

Who currently inspires you creatively, both inside and outside of the literary world? How important do you believe it is to receive inspiration for writing, especially at an early age? What hopeful words would you give to someone seeking to find a career within writing?

Inside the literary world, I am inspired by writers such as Kate Atkinson, Maggie O’Farrell, Margaret Atwood and Sarah Waters because they are prolific and write great novels. Outside the literary world, I am inspired by people who challenge the system – especially young people who have the best sense of all. My children are young adults now and they never fail to impress me with their good sense, humour and outward view of the world. I think it’s important to have a similar approach in everything you do, including writing.

I do think it is an advantage to receive inspiration for your writing at an early age, mainly through reading, however, many people don’t have that opportunity and there is no reason that being inspired at a later stage should make a difference. What’s important for every author is to read as widely as possibly in order to understand how writing a novel can be done.

My greatest piece of advice for new writers is to persist. Ignore the doubts you may have that your writing isn’t good enough, or that you have nothing to say. Take small steps. If you are writing a novel, think only about the paragraph you are writing, the page and the chapter. If you consider how long the whole novel is going to take you, it’s all too easy to give up. From my point of view, nothing I have ever written has been wasted. I have reused characters, ideas and themes many times. Another piece of advice is to prioritise. It can be difficult when you have a job, a family or other commitments, but try to find some time at some point in the day or night which is for yourself and for your writing. I used to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning for example – I still do, sometimes. Make writing an important part of your life and above all give yourself permission to write.

Many thanks Jenny for your insights. I know you have a new novel planned for release in 2020, Our Dark Secret. Is there anything you can share about this, and what other creative plans have you within the foreseeable future?

Our Dark Secret (Mantle Books) will be published in February 2020. It is another psychological mystery that focuses on two teenage girls, thrown together through circumstance, who form a bond based on the terrible secrets they share. It is about how decisions made in your youth can affect your whole life. It’s about sacrifice, friendship, loyalty and love. I am also writing a third novel for the same publisher which I have almost completed and have plans for a fourth. I started late and I am brimming with ideas that I am determined to get down.

Inky elf Kev Milsom is in the very early stages of his 5th decade, but looks at least ten years younger…possibly even fifteen on a good day, under beneficial lighting conditions. Currently training in holistic therapies, such as hypnotherapy, metaphysics and counselling, he is also trying to expand his creative writing knowledge and experience. As a devout ‘struggling artist’ he is working towards the completion of that elusive first novel, whilst fuelling a profound talent for procrastination by making notes on a possible second novel (alongside intermittent research for a third). He is proud to have achieved his goal of being independently published at least once a year since 2012, but is also currently exploring other aspects of writing such as journalism. His favourite colour is anything bright.

Kev’s Twitter

Inky Interview: US poet Beth Gordon with Isabelle Kenyon

US poet Beth Gordon returned to writing poetry after a significant hiatus in order to process a number of tragic events in her family. In her poetry collection, Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast and Parallel Universe, she explores grief, loss, mortality, and how we can find moments of beauty through the darkness. Along the way, this poetic journey also follows trails into music, magic, and the ethereal.

Isabelle Kenyon, Managing Director of Fly on the Wall Press, Freelance Editor and Book Marketing Consultant, caught up with Beth Gordon.

Isabelle: When you write a poem, do images or words come first?

Beth: I would say most of the time words come first. Poems are like puzzles to me – I read an article or see a headline and I take that idea, or several ideas and talk about it with my friend. When I do write, visual imagery emerges from that conversation.

Isabelle: How does your environment and your upbringing inform your poetry?

Beth: I was fortunate that my parents thought it was very important we were exposed to books and music. One of my earliest memories was reading Mother Goose; memorising. From the first moment I picked up a pen, I wrote poems. My parents aren’t creative and my mum thinks my commas are in the wrong places! They support me and a big moment was to send them my book. My current environment is a local writers group I go to every Saturday and my network of family and friends – I have now connected the two. I have said, this is how I will be spending my time now. Mostly, they have supported this life change. People have had negative experiences of poetry from school.

Isabelle: If you had to describe your collection in one sentence, what would it be?

Beth: A book of poetry about my relationship with death and life.

Isabelle: Which writers do you admire and does their work influence yours?

Beth: My earliest influences as a female writer would be Sylvia Plath and Mary Oliver. Oliver over time became more minimalist and I aspire to this. Sexton and Plath broke down barriers about “appropriate topics” – sex, periods. At the time, that was not what was expected, and I’m grateful to them for that. The current generation of young writers I find so inspiring- it’s easy to hear people my age criticising the millennials but I believe it is called change and revolution. The strong stance they take on inclusivity, even if it is just on social media, is fantastic. The abundance of literary journals is wonderful. I don’t think I could be writing what I am without them. When I got my MFA, doors were closed, and they have kicked them down.

Isabelle: What is the worst writing advice you have ever received and the best?

Beth: The worst advice I have ever had was when I was an undergraduate in psychology and an English professor started a writing workshop, so I picked up a minor in English just to take the classes. I went to see an old teacher to say I was going to take an MFA after (he had always been very supportive) but he said it would be useless and I wouldn’t learn anything. Thankfully, I ignored him.

The best advice I have ever had was from Henry Taylor, a Pulitzer prize-winner. He said, “the power of your poem cannot be derived from the subject matter alone”. I wrote him a letter after that and sent him some poems. He said I needed to write through my grief and that after that, I would produce new work. In other words, simply writing about the death of a grandchild doesn’t necessarily mean I have refined my craft. Pushing my craft is important to me – to grow and evolve.

Inky Interview: Elisabeth Horan with Isabelle Kenyon

Isabelle Kenyon (Freelance Editor, Book Marketing Consultant, and Managing Director of Fly On The Wall Press) interviews Elisabeth Horan on
her new book, Was It R*pe  (Rhythm and Bones Press)

How do you brand yourself as an author?

Experimental, feminist. I write about women for women. I would say I am an advocate for mental health and I’m brave in my writing – I say things to the world that I’ve never been able to say without my pen and paper. I write to increase awareness – for example, my debut collection, Bad Mommy Stay Mommy, with Fly on the Wall Press, increases awareness of postpartum depression. I feel like I am a loving and caring poet and that when I write it is a gift, I want the poems to do a job and make a difference. They express my identity as a mom and the mistakes I have made in my life are part of who I am.

What drove you to write Was It Rape?

I started writing it during the week Christine Blasey Ford was giving her testimonial to the court. It brought back memories of when I was 16 and was a victim of sexual assault. It was hard to hear – the pain of watching led me to an intense period of writing. I realised if she was brave enough to stand up in court and give that testimony that I could write a book about my experiences.

Do you think your poetry stands alone or is it essential to know something of your back story?

I think it can stand alone. But if you know personally, it becomes more intense – If you know my vulnerability the experience digs deeper. Often I have friends who find it too painful to read my work. But I have to write my truth. I like to think the message I try to share with others – to hold on keep hope alive, and that sense of solidarity is universal and can stand alone.

Do you think it is important to speak publicly about personal traumas?

It’s important to write so that readers know they are not alone in their experiences. So much of my life I allowed to be dictated by my past trauma. I’m not a person who deals with trauma well – it’s not a choice – it’s led by my sensitive nature. I see the beauty, but life is interwoven with pain. This comes out in my writing. It’s just who I am. It’s what I know about and feel the most.

Which writers and artists influence you and why?

I have always admired Frida Kahlo since I became aware of her in college. I studied in Mexico for a time and connected with her deeply. I endured a miscarriage, and ensuing hysterectomy and equally, Frida survived so much pain but continued creating art. I just have huge admiration, respect, love and care for her. I have undertaken to write ekphrastic poems about her art and her life as a tribute to her.

Inpatient

I think my room was No. 14
one time my pastor came

I think his name was Mark
he came to visit
I suppose to bless me
and the nurses, they asked me

May he come in

And I didn’t know what to do
so I said no
he cannot
but I have wondered
all these 24 years since

Might I have succumbed to Jesus;
might I have been reborn,
maybe even saved
on the life raft that
religion has
the propensity
to relay

I would’ve saved all
that disgusting food
the hangovers –

All that wasted energy
from trying to kill myself
so stupidly,
so slowly.

Mark, the pastor
came to visit and
in fear of Man/God’s eye
on my – body

On my sin.
I never opened the door
to let him in.

Inky Interview Special: Poet and Editor Isabelle Kenyon

You have several published poetry collections including, This is not a Spectacle, The Trees Whispered (Origami Poetry Press) and Digging Holes To Another Continent (Clare Songbirds Publishing House). Would you share with us a couple of your poems and walk us through the ideas behind them?

Yes of course! This is not a Spectacle (second edition) was published in February of this year and is very much the story of why I started sharing my writing- the book opens with a car crash, an event which took place the day before I left for university in 2017, and which lost me my grandma:

The Van

fear tastes like rust. blood and metal.

waiting for you, university bags.

smells like animal saliva, like curdled sweat.

After the phone call I started running,
blindly seeking hospital bed,
weeping on the nurse I had just met.

underwater pressure bubble
impenetrable

apologetic words caressed my head
broke like a wave
swept me out to sea:
Head trauma.
No specialist unit.

fear is inflating

Tried to forget the sound
fluid rising and choking lungs,
Tried to forget tears and last words:
Pain. Pain.
I have tried to be strong.

The book explores where private grief meets public spectacle, but also stands as a tribute to everything about my character which I can tribute to my grandma, such as my strength and my feminist values.

With Digging Holes To Another Continent, (published by Clare Songbirds New York) I was exploring a Christmas spent in New Zealand, a completely new experience for me but at the time when the whole family needed to heal – it was a very Shakespearean celebration because we had travelled for the wedding of my uncle ( the first love of his life so a massive deal to all of us), but after the death of Grandma Maureen, who had suffered with Alzheimer’s and dementia for 12 years -although I don’t touch on that experience in the collection overtly, it very much underpins the collection, a feeling of grief but also relief. I was able to explore the landscape and the wild nature of New Zealand was healing in itself:

Nature Reversal

A few years from now
maybe months
maybe weeks,
a huge wind will claim back the carefully sculpted scoops of road
and the branches that wilt lazily like dog’s tongues will
fall into the sea
one by one
on a suicide mission
and take up new roots in the sea bed
(a feast for fish)
and nature will claw back the cities
piece by piece
demolition to terracotta rubble
and the only sound left will be frantic insect feet
on crisping leaves.

Congratulations on your forthcoming poetry collection, published by Knives, Forks and Spoons. What themes have you explored in this new collection? When will it be available?

Thank you! This is the collection I am most proud of to date. It explores the with state of becoming an adult but feeling ill-equipped to deal with the loneliness that comes with that, and also my experience of the aftermath of sexual assault, while being very far away from friends and family. It very much looks at the value of a woman’s body in today’s society. It is due to be released in August 2020.

You are editor of the wonderful Fly On The Wall Press. Can you give us a glimpse into your working day? What are the best and worst parts of being an editor?

I think all publishers will tell you that they both love their job and that they find it exhausting! I love that I create a season, finding gaps in the market I believe need to be addressed. I believe that words have the power to change opinion and that’s what I am aiming to do especially with my anthologies, but also with my chapbooks, representing voices which I believe are not currently at the forefront of society. The worst part as of course when writers cannot separate themselves from their own writing-rejection is never personal, it’s simply about what you have written and the style of it.

As well as offering author services, you also give talks and run workshops in schools. How do you structure your workshops? What subjects have you engaged in with the pupils?

I’m enjoying giving talks in schools currently, but as a publisher it is fairly new to me- I used to be a drama practitioner, however, so I am used to giving workshops creatively! I like to challenge young people by setting the standard of my workshop high, and I am often surprised by the result. I like to give examples of poets whom I admire, but I also like to give an example of where I myself have done the exercise as with students, I wouldn’t like them to do anything which I would not be able to do myself. Primarily, I am engaging the pupils in creative writing about global warming, themed around the Planet in Peril anthology, although I really enjoy answering questions on getting into publishing as an industry.

Please Hear What I’m Not Saying is a fundraising, mental health themed anthology which was runner up in the Saboteur Awards 2018. Tell us more.

Yes! Very much how I started getting the publishing bug and continuing on. The book features 116 writers globally writing on a wide range of mental health experiences-it was really important that I featured as many poems as I fell in love with because there really is no universal experience, and readers will connect with different poems. The book’s profits go to UK mental health charity, Mind, and so far we have raised just under £600. The anthology is available from Fly On The Wall Poetry

Tell us about your experience in taking part in the ‘Sex Tapes’ at the Leeds International Festival.

I think we can all agree that there is little to no money in the arts and that it needs to be funded more, so I was very excited to find a callout for the festival, which paid! The festival opened with ‘Sex Tapes’ and I was scheduled to go on first – very much before the audience and had enough alcohol to process poems on the female orgasm… but that was what I had been paid to write about, so there you go! It was a lot of fun, and there was absolutely no shame in the event- it was very much a positive experience, with the profits going to a charity in Leeds which helps sexual violence survivors. So although the evening was light-hearted and comedic, the message was heartfelt and performers like the lovely Roz Weaver were not afraid to touch on the darker side of their experiences. Thank you to Eleanor Snare for organising such an important evening.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading Songs for the Unsung by Grey Hen Press. I met the editor, Joy, recently, and we agreed that the anthology was a sister book to Fly on the Wall Press’ Persona Non Grata, so I’m enjoying reading her choices and the exploration of social exclusion.

Tell us a random fact about yourself.

I used to compete for Ballroom and Latin with my university- but before university I barely even danced! I thought I had two left feet and now I love it.

What’s next for you? What plans have you got?

I have an exciting performance scheduled in July, for which I will be performing poetry on the subject of women in space. I am hoping to put a book together about these amazing women working for NASA. For Fly On The Wall, 2020 will see a ‘shorts’ season – a short story published in A6 bound form, every 2 months, on subscription to your door!

Inky Interview Special: Poet Linda Cosgriff

Linda, congratulations on your debut poetry collection, Hormoanal, published by Matthew James Publishing, and launched at the Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery. What made you decide to write about the menopause?

Hi Deborah, thanks for having me!

Hormoanal is actually a collection of two halves: the first deals with motherhood. Those poems were written organically, inspired by my children as they grew up. That’s my favourite way to write, listening out for poems as I live my life. The second half was written much more intentionally: when I realised I was on the menopause I thought (grumpily), ‘Well, if I’m going through this for the next five years or more, I’m getting something out of it’. I made a point of thinking about the symptoms instead of simply enduring them. I love to laugh at life, because laughter makes everything more bearable, so the decision to poke fun at the menopause was easy.

Can you share with us a couple of poems and walk us through the idea behind them?

The Perils of Making a Baby

Stretch marks march over homegrown hills.
Ankles, feet, even knees, swell.
You love this child created in love.
You hate the heartburn, snoring, nausea
but – most of all – your unencumbered mate.
You miss your feet. And sometimes, the toilet.
It’s scary: no one will say what happens at the end,
down there amongst the hair…
They say all your brains go into the first baby;
you can’t concentrate enough to disagree.

You want this child but sometimes,
you just can’t stomach it.

It was difficult to choose representative poems because part of my style is to write in as many different ways as possible, so some poems rhyme, others don’t; some have irregular stanzas, some are regular forms; some are short, some are long; some are punctuated, some are not; some have regimented syllable counts, others don’t, and so on. Plus, I’ll mix it up so that very few poems have the same elements. When I write thematically, I like to approach the theme from as many angles as I can think of.

I chose this poem in the end because it shows my love of wordplay. As an example, this line: ‘You miss your feet. And sometimes, the toilet’ plays with two meanings of ‘miss’ and allows for a punchline. The use of ‘stomach’ on the last line operates in the same way.

The poem also shows how I treat supposedly sacrosanct subjects (in this case, the reverence in which society holds pregnant women) and makes fun of them, using myself as the source: I did love being pregnant; but I hated it, too. I was often grumpy and unpleasant to my husband. Being pregnant does not make you a Madonna, and we should stop buying into that stereotype.

A Visit From Auntie Flo

I had a little show
But it is not considered good
To have an unexpected flow
Of private-area blood

My preventative device
Should have stopped it at its source
It wasn’t very nice
I have to blame the men-o-pause

My poems are often visual and don’t always lend themselves to reading aloud. In this one, I use italics to represent whispers and the way we mouth embarrassing words and use euphemisms. I’m a bit of a preacher, there’s no doubt, but if I make a point, I try at least to be amusing.

It’s Hard Being A Woman

When panty liners curl
and stick to your hairs,
it frickin’ hurts.

This is my favourite poem in the book, and is most representative of my personality and my style: I have no filter, I tend to blurt things out without thinking, but I make you laugh (sometimes against your will). This poem always gets a laugh, though it’s usually shocked laughter.

I’m not great at metaphor and going around the houses to say what I want to say, which is a problem for me, as that is kind of the point of poetry. I remember writing a poem as a teenager, lamenting that poems don’t say what they mean or mean what they say: the meaning/intention of my poems are almost always obvious to readers. A poet for whom I have huge respect once told me that my poems don’t make the reader do any work. She was right; and I’m okay with that. I write for myself but my poems often have an audience, and that audience is most often made up of people with no interest in poetry; if they have to work for it, they don’t enjoy it. If they don’t enjoy themselves, neither do I.

You are part of the excellent Write Out Loud poetry collective. Tell us more.

I attend Stockport WOL at Stockport War Memorial and Art Gallery. WOL is the largest poetry organisation in Britain and has a fantastic gig guide and poet collective on its website. WOL encourages everyone to have a go at sharing their poetry in a safe space.

Stockport is a little unusual in the WOL family in that, though we are classed as an open mic night i.e. anyone can have a go, we don’t have an actual mic, and there’s no stage and no audience; rather, we sit in a circle in the upper gallery. It’s intimate and safe and we welcome newcomers.

We are heavily involved in the Stockport arts scene, collaborating regularly with other groups. Last year alone, we wrote and performed ekphrastic poems inspired by your own Mark Sheeky; we participated in a commemoration of the centenary of the end of World War I, and published an anthology of specially written poems; we supported Marple Book Week by attending their open mic nights as a group. We also support the art gallery each year for World Poetry Day, providing readings and workshops; and right now there is an exhibition of work in the gallery from a collaboration with Stockport Art Guild.

It’s fair to say that Hormoanal wouldn’t have been published without WOL. Matthew James Publishing organises Marple Book Week and they invited Stockport WOL to their first open mic night at the Samuel Oldknow pub. Terrified at the idea of attending a ‘real’ open mic night, but encouraged by the group to give it a go, I did, and I had a blast. One of the publishers approached me afterwards and asked me to send them some of my work; the rest, as they say, is history. I would encourage all poets to attend open mic nights because you just never know who’s listening…and start with us! We’re a friendly group.

Where did you study Creative Writing? Have you any advice for budding poets?

I’ve been writing poetry since primary school but only began to take it seriously when I took a creative writing course as part of my Literature degree with the Open University. Eager to hone my skills, I attended several creative writing courses at local colleges, plus any free writing workshops I could find. One of those – coincidentally, held at the art gallery – led to the creation of Stockport Writers, which we run as a workshop at the Hatworks once a month. Free to attend, we particularly welcome new writers. Finally, thanks to the recent availability of student loans for second degrees, I have just graduated from MMU with a Masters in Creative Writing.

I learned a lot from all of this, of course, but the real learning for me came from writing, reading, and editing. Sitting at my desk each day and writing something – not necessarily a poem; reading poets I like and, more importantly, dislike (I have so many poems inspired by my hatred of Larkin, there’s probably a second collection all ready to go); leaving poems for a while and then coming back to them with a critical eye: these habits taught me to think critically, helped improve my work. As with any skill, practice is how we improve. My advice (I have lots of it) would be to read and write as much as you can; to keep an eye out for free writing workshops; to look online for free writing courses – many universities around the world offer them online (known as MOOCs; simply Google ‘creative writing moocs’) and the Open University has some excellent ones available via OpenLearn.

The best resource for newer writers, however, is to find some like-minded people and set up a critiquing group. I learned a lot by submitting my work for critique; but I learned even more by critiquing the work of others because I had to justify my comments i.e. think critically, and so often I would suggest to another poet the reason why their poem didn’t quite work, and realise that, actually, I made the same mistakes in my own poems.

As you grow in your craft, be an encourager, a mentor, for those who come after you: watching other writers blossom has been a great joy to me, and I often learn from them in unexpected ways.

Don’t believe in writer’s block. Yes, there are times when the words won’t come, so do something else. I think of non-writing times as my brain lying fallow, like in crop rotation; eventually, the words will come again. They always come again. Fretting about it is counterproductive.

Finally, do it because you love it, because you have to. It’s difficult enough to create something from nothing; if it’s a chore, why are you bothering? Go do something you actually enjoy instead.

Who inspires you?

People are going to laugh at my inspiration, but I swear this is true: The Two Ronnies. Listening to Ronnie Corbett’s shaggy dog stories inspired my blog writing style; and Ronnie Barker’s clever wordplay is something I try to emulate in my poems.

My favourite poet is Roger McGough; he’s funny, clever, topical. I read his work as a teenager and realised that poetry didn’t have to rhyme or be serious to make a point or to be enjoyed. I also love Wilfred Owen, but his influence is more about didacticism than style.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading Elizabeth Bishop at the moment. I discovered her on the MA and I spend a lot of time listening to her recite her work in You Tube videos. ‘One Art’ has displaced Owen’s ‘Disabled’ as my all-time favourite poem. I’m also re-reading Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric. Her didacticism is wrapped in a deceptively casual style and I absolutely love it. Andrew McMillan’s Physical is another fabulous read. He writes about a world of which I know nothing and makes it accessible; he is blunt, and that appeals to me.

What’s next for you? What plans have you got?

What’s next for me? Time off. I’ve been so busy for the last two years, completing the MA, preparing Hormoanal, working with various community groups (I deliver poetry readings and writing workshops around the borough), that when I had a recent health scare, I was glad of the enforced rest!

I have two complete collections that I want to shop around; they are very different from Hormoanal, though each is themed and both have humorous moments. I also want to improve my submission rate – women are notoriously bad at submitting their work; Hormoanal would never have happened if it had been down to me. I would also like to get back to sitting at my desk each morning as I haven’t written seriously since my poetry dissertation. But I’m not worried; it’s just a fallow period 🙂

Matthew James Publishing: Get your copy here

Linda on Twitter

Write Out Loud