09 June 2014


Jackie Wills asked me to answer four questions on my writing process as part of a blog tour that appears to have started in Wales. Sadly, this particular leg of the tour ends here as the poets I asked to take part after me have either taken part already or have too many commitments to give it the proper time and attention. If you’re interested in seeing what more writers have to say about their writing, you can always take the tour backwards starting with Jackie’s answers – there’s a link to her blog at the end.

What are you working on?

I’m writing poems under two provisional titles – the Bad Daughter and the Blue Door. The bad daughter is a sort of alter ego, while the blue door poems spring from an actual blue door I saw in Greece many years ago, which had – and still has – a mesmerising effect on me. Since then it’s come to represent a lost, unknown, mythical self, the part I don’t really know but long to return to. Although these two strands seem very different they overlap in many ways. I’m also writing poems that don’t really fit into either of these sequences, the ones that simply arrive when you’re looking the other way. Will they cohere into my next collection? I don’t know.

How does your work differ from others of it genre?

It’s easier for me to think in terms of what characterises my poetry – people often talk about my poems in terms of energy, a conversational voice, feistiness and a defiant humour. I can’t argue with any of that – I think some of that comes from my love of American poetry, the looseness of it. But it’s also about voice – all the writing I love, whether prose or poetry, has a distinctive voice. From time to time I try writing more concise poems but those poems don’t sound like me – they sound like me trying to be what I think a poet should be.

Why do you write what you do?

The glib answer would be I write about me, me, me – because I find myself endlessly fascinating. That’s partly true, in the sense that we’re all fascinating, complex and, of course, ultimately unknowable, which brings me to the second answer to the question – I don’t always know why I write what I do. For instance, in my last collection Sweet Torture of Breathing I wrote a series of poems about people who died before their time, like Janis Joplin, Maria Callas and John Lennon. At the time I believed they were linked solely by the early death thing but I later noticed that all of the people I wrote about were obscured by the mythological selves they lived behind, which were to a large extent created by them.

More recently I’ve realised that the self-mythologizing aspect of this series of poems feeds into the some of the blue door poems I’m writing at the moment. All of which suggests to me that hidden things are going on behind the scenes and that I write in order to find out what I want or need to know. Above all I write, as I imagine most writers do, because I have to. I simply can’t image not writing.

How does your writing process work?

I’m happiest when I have long stretches of time in which I can write regularly but life as a freelance copywriter is unpredictable – one day the future is stretching out like a beautiful but terrifying desert, for the next few weeks you’re hunched over your desk for hours trying to meet an impossible deadline. So I’m really looking forward to September, when I become a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Exeter and will know exactly what time I have free to write.

It’s as much about creating mental space as it is having the time to write. Since finishing my second collection in 2011 I’ve become aware of how much my mental landscape influences my ability to write, and what I’m writing. I didn’t really believe in writer’s block until then but I didn’t write a single poem for over a year – and I didn’t particularly want to read poetry either. When I did start writing again it was horribly forced, everything dying on the page. I’m back writing again now and can hardly bear to read the earlier poems – there’s a tone that reflects too closely the state of my mind at the time.

Ideally, my life would consist of writing in the morning with a spot of gentle gardening, walking, reading and general loafing around in the afternoon, capped off with an evening of good food, drink and company. All I need is the lifelong support of a wealthy patron.

1st October 2013 – Poetry at the Hall – Part of the Arc Ventures Autumn Tour 2013 – Reading with Penelope Shuttle and Jackie Wills.  Hall for Cornwall Assembly Room, 730pm

13th May 2012 – LOSTFEST – Reading at various times in the afternoon – more details coming soon – and check out the website

16th April 2012 – Pighog at London Book Fair – Anglo American night featuring readings from Red Hen and Pighog poets – 7pm – 8pm £8 (£3 concessions) – I’ll be reading with Pighog poets Iain Sinclair and Ciaron O’Driscoll, and John Barr and Cecile Rossant from Los Angeles based Red Hen Press.

31st October 2011

Sweet Torture of Breathing is published – available direct from the publisher, booksellers or come to one of my launch events:

Brighton launch  – Friday 25th November, Red Roaster Coffee House, St James St, Brighton. 8pm £5/3 – with Charlotte Gann and music from Simon Beavis and friends.  Part of the Pigbaby Festival.

Cornwall launch – Wednesday 7th December, The Crown Inn, Lanlivery, 7.30pm Free.

17th June

Blog launch – check it out at

16th June

I’ve just found out that my second collection – This is your Life – will be published in October or November this year.  More updates later …

I’ve been reading:

Just Kids by Patti Smith – a mesmerising account of her early days in New York with Robert Mapplethorpe.  A true and unique artist – I’d also recommend Steven Sebring’s film ‘Dream of Life’, a documentary about her life and career.

Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton – a poignant, eloquent account of the writer’s longing for serenity.  Quiet on the surface, full of turbulent emotions beneath.  Quite beautiful.

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen – forget the debate about whether it’s a Great American Novel; this is an absorbing, poignant and scathing look at contemporary American life and quite possibly as good a book as I’m likely to read this year (although I’ve yet to read Edward St Aubyn’s new novel so I should withold judgement for now).

All-American Poem by Matthew Dickman – lusty, spirited, big-hearted, musical poems from an exciting young poet.  Who could resist a poem that starts – More than putting another man on the moon/ more than a New Year’s resolution of yoghurt and yoga/ we need the opportunity to dance / with really exquisite strangers (Slow Dance)?

I’ve been listening to:

Let England Shake by P J Harvey.  Brilliant – Patti Smith thinks so too.  Enough said.


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