When did you first feel like a writer?
Back in 2013 when I won my first writing competition. Back then, most of my poems were short and light-hearted, but I really enjoyed the process of reading poetry and learning about different forms. (Using Wikipedia – to my shame!) So, I was just getting into experimenting with form when a contest came up to find the new Fenland Poet Laureate. For those who don’t know, the Fens are these weird flat parts of the UK, located in South Lincolnshire, North Cambridgeshire and West Norfolk. I’d lived in the Fens all my life and I was always fascinated by the history of the place, so I wrote a poem about the Victorian practise of Fen Skating, and I won the competition. It opened up a whole new world to me: I produced an anthology of work by Fen writers, did tonnes of writing commissions with local museums, and started an open mic night in my town (which still runs to this day). Discovering that I could be part of a writing community where people would take my writing seriously, that’s what made me feel like a writer.
What’s the most interesting thing that has inspired your writing and what was the result?
Oh man, I get inspired by strange stuff all the time! In fact, the only way I know any facts at all is because I researched them for a poem. For example, I know that Gertrude Ederle was the first woman to swim the Channel in 1926 (because I wrote a sonnet about her) and I know a lot about the craze of Feejee Mermaids in the nineteenth century (because I wrote a poem from the mermaid’s perspective). I really like taking historical stories and filtering them through the lens of poetry. I love taking everyday stuff and gently coaxing it into poetry too. I once wrote a poem about the end of the world, based on a persistent car alarm that everyone else ignored, and I’m currently writing about seeing a group of fire fighters eating ice lollies. Everything is fair game, when it comes to poetry.
Paint us a picture: what does your writing process look like? Do you write in coffee shops at night or only on an old type-writer?
I work as a freelance writer, so a lot of my working day is taken up with email admin, teaching in schools, and devising community projects. This means that the writing has to happen in the quiet, in between moments. I usually set my alarm half an hour before I need to get up, and do thirty minutes of free writing at the beginning of each week day. Then, I have some protected time on a Friday when I take a look over what I’ve done during the week, and see if anything can be worked up into a poem. It’s a slow process, but it also feels quite meditative, and I really like the discipline of writing consistently. Obviously, it doesn’t always work out like that, but when it works, I really notice a positive difference to my mood as I move through the rest of my day.
Describe your ideal reader: who would your work speak to?
I often joke that my poetry is for people who don’t like poetry. I’m primarily interested in making a connection with people on a one-to-one basis, which is why I love working on community arts projects. I love meeting people who’ve never written a poem before and giving them the skills and the confidence to give it a go. I really do believe that everyone can write poetry, but sometimes they need someone else to believe in them first. That’s what I try to do. My own poetry was published recently, and I love going to events and finding out which poems connect with people. Everyone seems to have a connection with a different poem in the book, which feels like a real privilege. My poetry is about exploring and articulating emotions and experiences, so if people connect with my work, then I know I’m doing something right.
Who’s an author you’ve changed your mind about and why?
J K Rowling. She was a writer I very much admired when I was growing up, and the Harry Potter books were really important for me in my early teens. But I just can’t condone her stance on trans people. I have a couple of trans friends, and I can see the very real damage that her words have done to the trans community, and to the solidarity of the LGBTQ+ community in general. Everyone has the right to feel safe as they move through the world, and we should be pooling our resources to solve problems that affect us all – continuing access to free healthcare, fair pay and workers’ rights, de-escalating the climate crisis, and progressing towards a fairer society that protects all of its most vulnerable members.
If you could interview any other writer/artist, who would it be and why?
I’d absolutely love to chat to Sylvia Plath. I love her poetry and her prose, and I think she’d just be a really interesting person to speak to. Would I ask her to critique some of my poems? I wouldn’t have the guts to ask!
What motivates you to keep writing?
I think I keep writing because I enjoy the process of writing. I like to start with a blank page then put some ideas on it, and see what happens. I like seeing where my pen takes me, and helping other people to do the same. I like knowing that, even when I don’t feel like my words are important, the act of writing is important, because it allows me to get thoughts, feeling and experiences out of my head and down on to paper. It gives me the space to interpret the world in a way that feels very personal, but also has the potential to resonate with other people. That’s a really beautiful thing.
How do you deal with writer’s block or being overwhelmed by the writing process?
I like to read a lot of poetry, especially when I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed by the idea of creating new work. I also love going to open mic nights and listening to other people read their work aloud. I have a couple of trusted friends who I can talk to when a poem is “going badly”, and bouncing ideas around with them really helps to unstick my writers’ block. I think you have to feed your mind in order to give it the fuel to create poetry, because inspiration can only strike if you give it plenty of opportunity to do the striking. My best ideas come the moment I’ve stopped trying to force the poem into existence, so taking breaks, and getting away from the keyboard really helps me when I get stuck.
Where would you like to see yourself in a decade? A creative writing teacher? As a best-seller?
Ooh, what a good question! Of course, I’d love to be able to continue making a living from my writing, and I’d really like to move into writing more long-form work, like radio plays, theatre shows or a storytelling podcast! I really want to continue working with arts organisations on community projects, helping people to discover writing as a creative outlet, and I’d also like to do more performance poetry. Being on stage is such a buzz, and I really love that. If I was being really ambitious, I would also say that I’d love to write a novel one day, but I haven’t quite found the right idea to get me started just yet. If I manage to achieve even half of those ambitions in ten years, I’ll be very chuffed indeed!
What has your work taught you about yourself?
It’s taught me that I need time to focus on my own creativity, and that’s ok. It’s taught me a lot about my values, and what’s important to me: creativity, community, and equality of opportunity. It’s also given me the space to write down and reflect on my thoughts, and that has allowed me to understand myself a bit better. The poetry community in the UK has also taught me a lot about how to relate to other people, especially strangers and people I’ve only just met, and that’s been invaluable for my development as a writer, and as a human too.