Elf Corner: Deborah Edgeley, with Kev Milsom

Hello Deborah, and thank you for agreeing to this interview, to share some thoughts with our readers. Can I start by asking you about your literary roots? As a young one, what types of writing and books enthralled and captured your imagination?

As a child I was always passionate about books, even before I was old enough to read the ones in my parents’ library, like The Moon’s A Balloon by David Niven, and Valley of The Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. I used to pretend that I was a librarian, and mark their books in pencil with an imaginary name and ‘date due’.

I guess the first author that I serial-read, apart from the Ladybird books (aw, Rumpelstiltskin ) was Dennis Wheatley. The book that I remember the most is The Haunting Of Toby Jugg, a tale of satanic possession and madness of a fighter pilot, confined to his bed. It was the imagery that was vivid and believable, the character of Toby, and how easy it was to empathise with him, and, of course, the suspense of an occult thriller.

Thinking about it, I was always interested in characters and different accents. Even though I was shy at school, I jumped at the chance of reading the main characters, like Will Mossop in Hobson’s Choice and Eliza in Pygmallion, then fell back into being an introvert. My Dad used to call me Mike Yarwood.

In my twenties, my colleague Sally suggested Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. She raved about it. It looked boring to me, but I gave it a try and ended up setting my alarm for 5am, every day, so that I could read it before work. It was the character of farmer William Boldwood that fascinated me, with his obsessive pursuit of Bathsheba, buying her fancy clothes and labelling them with a ‘B’, in preparation for their phantom marriage. It was both heartbreaking and exciting at the same time. Passionate. How could an author affect you so much, with words? There began my literature obsession.

When did you first embark on the literary journey of not just admiring the works of others, but take those fascinating first steps into creative expression within poetry and writing?

I’ve always read a lot, and had/have a big collection of books. Every book I read, I make notes in the back, of ideas, favourite quotes, quirky words or concepts, or snippets of history that I am unfamiliar with. It wasn’t until I began studying with the Open University that I realised why I made these notes. I wanted to be a writer. It was only by chance that I signed up to do a Creative Writing course to fill 30 points for my English Literature degree, and I got a taste for words. Also, as an introvert, it was an excellent way for me to express myself, which I don’t really manage in speech, unless I’ve had alcohol, or no sleep. I also found that I was making sense of things as I was going along, in my notebooks, as therapy, understanding the world, feelings and people, and getting perspective, really.

Your book Testing the Delicates covers various aspects of the social stigmas relating to the breakdown of mental health. How personally challenging was this task to initially plan and create? Also, did the creative expression of these thoughts uncover any surprising emotions, with the benefit of time & hindsight?

Emotionally, it was difficult to write. Not only did I re-live painful events that some of the poems were based on, I went through a stage of worrying if this was the right thing to do, to write about such a personal subject of my mother’s mental health, and share it with the world. Would she have been ok with this? As a loving mother, I’m convinced that if the book helped somebody, if someone could identify with it, then she would think it was worth it. There was, and still is, a lot of prejudice, with regard to mental health, and it is something I detest. I wanted to give my mother, myself, and others, a voice.

You’ve recently created a deeper layer for your expressive talents via public performances of your poetry, alongside the artist/musician Mark Sheeky as duo Fall In Green. Could you share some thoughts on how this added to your initial inspirations and goals for Testing the Delicates? Do you foresee further public performances in the future?

When Testing The Delicates was first published last year, there was a local event, raising money for North Staffs & UK Mind, with a call out for performers. I thought of performing some of the poems from my collection, and Mark Sheeky suggested a piano accompaniment. The organiser, musician Glyn Sutton, asked if we had a stage name, which was something we didn’t think of, so we decided on Fall In Green, taken from Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights (we roll and fall in green…). Since then, we have done several gigs in Acton, Crewe, Holmes Chapel, Nantwich, Sandbach, Warrington and Whitchurch.

It was fun listening to the style that accompanied each poem. It seemed to bring the writing alive, in a theatrical way. For example, ‘Walking Tears’ has a sinister, funereal undertone, ‘Whose Apple Thou Art’ has a theatrical, posh, Shakespearean voice, with bits of bumpkin, and a harpsicord accompaniment, and ‘Quick Get your Lows Before they Run Out’ is spoken in an American drawl, resembling a TV advert for happiness. We also perform a canon called ‘Gauging A Life’, creating the effect of identity confusion through layering voices.

Another layer of expression and understanding was created by Mark Sheeky, who illustrated Testing The Delicates with pen and ink.

With regard to further public performances, it would be great to take our act to festivals. Performance and theatre is something I have always loved.

Aside from writing, what other forms of creative expression appeal and build inspiration for you, Deborah?

Reading. I’ve always got a book on the go. I’m reading Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook (go and buy it) and have just finished Douglas Coupland’s Hey! Nostradamus, topical, based on the Columbine massacre. Oh, and a couple of Jeanette Winterson’s, in particular, Why be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Absolutely wow!

I’ve had a few guitar lessons, so would like to accompany some new poetry with strings, but it might take forever as takes such a lot of motivation for me to learn (and it hurts my fingers!).

My personal enjoyment from working at Ink Pantry focuses strongly upon the element of learning and discovering what makes other creative writers ‘tick’ and what inspires them. In this vein Deborah, what was the initial inspiration behind the creation of ‘Ink Pantry’ and what factors continue to inspire you for the future?

Aw Ink Pantry 🙂 The initial inspiration behind Ink Pantry was to find a platform to promote our work, and inspire and support other writers, ‘our’ being my comrades from the Open University: Berenice Smith, Jennie Campbell and Alyson Duncan. We had lots of other students involved. During our degrees, we managed to publish two anthologies and maintain the website. Recently, Ink Pantry have been added to Duotrope, which has sparked international interest. We’ve connected with many authors from America, China, Italy and India. There have been rumours of a third anthology…

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Finally, the big question! What is coming next from the pen of Deborah Edgeley? New genres? Different challenges? Further creative collaborations? Do tell!

As Fall in Green, our poetry and piano duo with Mark Sheeky, we will be releasing an album of Testing The Delicates. We have been filming the videos to accompany both of our single releases. Our first single will be ‘Who is Afraid…She Floats’. It is based on Virginia Woolf and Ophelia from Hamlet. Can we take poetry into the charts? 🙂 We’re going to give it a go!

I am also working on my father’s memoirs of his army days. The working title is Charlie Stockton. One of his stories called ‘The Bridge’ was published in War Memories by Ian Billingsley, with a foreword by Norman Wisdom. He would have loved to have published his own book.

I would like to work on another poetry collection, and perhaps a short story collection. Potential themes of grief, introversion, and more mental illness. You know, the hell yeah happy stuff 😉

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