My interview with poet Angela Readman
Well everyone I have finally done it- my first interview with a writer! As featured on the Guardian’s Tees Valley Noticeboard at http://teesvalley.n0tice.com There is a link to Angela’s winning poem at the bottom of page. Have a read, it is a beautiful piece of writing.
Born in Middlesbrough and now living in Newcastle, poet Angela Readman’s work has a strong north east influence. Described as ‘’sharply observant, dry, savage and wholly authentic’’ by poet and author Joolz Denby, she was shortlisted in the 2012 Costa Short Story Award and recently won first prize in the Mslexia poetry competition.
The winning poem ‘The Book of Tides’ draws its inspiration from the north east homeland that she is so proud of. She talks to AMY RYAN about her inspiration behind the winning poem The Book of Tides, what she is planning to do next and gives seven tips to budding writers.
Do you prefer to write poetry or short stories?
I heard the phrase ‘I’m bi-textual’ the other day and I’d have to say I’m very comfortable with it. There are more and more of us these days. Lately, I don’t seem to abandon one form or the other for long, an idea will always pull me back in (usually when I’m in the middle of something else entirely.)
Which authors are your main inspirations?
So many! Jeanette Winterson, Aimee Bender, Etgar Keret, Raymond Carver, Flannery O’Conor, Lydia Davis, Carol Ann Duffy, Pascale Petit, the list goes on, and on! I try to read writers who I feel may make me a better writer.
Where is your favourite place or what is your favourite thing to do when you sit down to write?
There are two ways I write. One is my lazy Saturday morning method, I sit on the couch in my room with a cuppa, read a few things, then just lazily scribble in a notebook. The other method involves gluing myself to a desk. I find I can’t do one without the other. The notebook is for idea time, the desk is for the slog of an edit and shaping work into something finished. One is fun, one is more about discipline.
I have read that you have been a painter and cleaner among other things?
The funny thing about work for me is I don’t think I’ve ever done anything that felt right, except for writing. I’ve done various things, but they haven’t been me somehow. So many poetry books have lists of awards and PhD’s on the back. Great as that is, when I started writing poetry it always gave me the feeling that perhaps poetry wasn’t for the likes of me. It looked like you had to be university approved to do it. I wanted to just be honest and sound like me; ordinary, working class. I didn’t want to be ashamed of that.
How has the North East impacted on your writing?
In recent years, more and more I’ve come to see how the North East has had a huge impact on my work. I’ve discovered this in my short stories particularly. It doesn’t matter where the story is set, something creeps in (my favourite is called Sonny, a lad makes the sun go out and has to walk home through Newcastle in the dark.)
One thing, I think , that has come from the North is a way of looking at things. I seem to write characters that are grounded in ordinary surroundings yet are doing extraordinary things. The odd line encapsulates what people in the North are to me: resilient, warm and funny. The characters are practical, yet dreamers. In Don’t Try This at Home, my Costa shortlisted story, there’s a line that always makes me think of the women I grew up with in the North. The narrator is cutting her boyfriend in half with a spade. When he has to lie in the cramped backyard, she says ‘I suppose I could have done it in the kitchen, but I didn’t want to scratch the tiles.’ When I showed my husband the story, he said, ‘you can tell you’re from here right there.’
The Book of Tides is the winning poem of the Mslexia poetry competition. What was your inspiration behind this?
When I was little, we’d go to Whitby or Scarbrough for the day in the holidays. I love the coast there, but hadn’t been as often since I moved to Newcastle. Then, before Christmas in 2012 I happened to visit my mother at a house of her friend. It was this cottage in Staithes. No bathroom. One light bulb. Bare brick walls. It was amazing to me. I could see the light changing all the time, weather dimming and brightening the rooms. I had to write about it. I was surprised to find myself using words I haven’t spoken for years, old fashioned, Yorkshire, honest. They were the sort of words my great grandmother in Middlesbrough used now and then. It’s a return to my roots in a way I didn’t expect. It was liberating to discover that it was not only OK to use these words, but they were winners. Growing up in Middlesbrough in the 70’s I didn’t know this was possible, I thought all writers had to be from London, be posh, and clever. It took me a long time to feel I should just write what I want.
What, in a nutshell would you say The Book of Tides is about or can it be interpreted in a number of ways?
For me, the poem is about longing, from the mother, the girl, peering out the window at weather that can sink ships or let them sail. There’s a sense of uncertainty, fates the weather can determine, the girl watching her mother closely in an attempt to discern what her future may be. I left unanswered questions for the reader deliberately I think. There’s a feeling the mother is somehow unfulfilled, yet I don’t locate the father or explain what her relationships with the fishermen may be precisely. I kind of like that a reader doesn’t 100% know all the answers and is left wondering, just like the characters are in the poem.
Mslexia magazine is a publication that encourages women to write, and offers advice and tips on ideas and writing itself. What advice would you personally give to budding writers?
1. Read, read everyday. I’ve heard poets at workshops say they haven’t read poetry before -I couldn’t believe it. If the last thing you read is a 100 year old poem, don’t be surprised when your work is rejected. It’s important to know your field, even if you read stuff you don’t like it will inspire you to write something you do.
2. Listen to feedback and learn when to ignore it. This is a tricky one, if someone gives you feedback on your work then it’s a good idea to listen. The chances are things you think you have said aren’t in there or coming across clearly. Now and then though, you will get a bit of feedback that doesn’t feel right to you. Consider the source, and what the reason is behind why you did something. Now and then people are wrong or just don’t get it. That’s OK, not everyone has to like it.
3. Don’t expect to make it rich off writing, few people do. There is only one good reason to write- you love doing it and feel you have to. You may make it big, or you may not. If you’re in it for the money then do something else.
4. Expect rejection and don’t take it personally. It happens. It happens a lot, even to good work. It may be you need to rewrite, or it may be you have written something brilliant but it’s not too the editor’s taste.
5. Look at biographies and learn what successful writers have in common. Of course you can’t be the same, but it’s useful to see what prizes etc writers who have made it have under their belt. You’ll find they have a great deal in common; particular awards and prizes come up again and again. These are often the poets that get reviews and recognition. I wish I’d known this when I was young!
6. Be patient. This is hard. You’re writing and you love it and want everyone to read it. Now! It’s often a good idea to allow work some breathing space though, let it sit and go back to it a while later so you can edit with a cold eye.
7. Don’t give up, if you really have to do this, you just keep going, one rejection at a time.
After winning the poetry competition, what is your next step? Are you working on another piece? Should your readers watch this space?
I’m always working on something, poems, stories, flash. My first short story collection, ‘Don’t try This at Home’ looks like it may actually come out. I’ve waited a long time to submit it, but at the moment a contract is on its way, and someone really wants to publish it. I’m crossing my fingers and hope people will want to read it. Poetry wise, I’m writing some poems that are sequels to the Book of Tides and a few others that seem related, but I haven’t any idea where they may end up yet. I never do!
Angela Readman gained her MA in creative writing at Northumbria University and her work has been published in various online and print journals. Her poetry has won the Biscuit poetry prize, the Essex poetry prize, the Ragged Raven competition, and the Mslexia poetry competition. Her poems have been published by Salt Publishing, been highly commended in the Arvon International Poetry Competition and shortlisted in the Jane Martin Poetry Prize. Angela also writes short stories, and has won the National Flash Fiction Day Competition and Inkspill Short Story Competition. They have been shortlisted in The Bristol Short Story Prize, the Costa Short Story Prize, The Asham Award, and have been highly commended in the Manchester Fiction Prize.
To read Angela’s poem The Book of Tides, visit http://www.mslexia.co.uk/magazine/newwriting/nwpoem1_59.php