Where and when were you born?
Could you tell us something about your background?
My parents were working class. My father came from Nottingham and my mother came from Norwich. My maternal grandfather was a road sweeper and my paternal grandfather was a coal miner. I was the only girl in my year at junior school to pass the eleven plus and my twin brother and I both went to the same grammar school.
Were either of your parents or grandparents (or any other relatives) writers? If not, were any of your relatives actively interested in literature?
I think my father used to write a bit in his youth but I never really knew what. He was keen on poetry though and would often read it to me. One of my most treasured possessions is an anthology, which he passed down to me, that he had carried with him all through the war. It’s called ‘Treasury of English Verse: New and Old’. There is a hole in one of the pages with a brown stain around it. He used to tell me that it was a bullet hole but I found out years later that it was in fact a cigarette burn. My mother also read poetry to me but I got the impression that it meant somewhat less to her than to my father.
Are any of your siblings writers or involved in a creative profession?
My only sibling is my twin brother. He is the complete opposite of me in every way possible. He went into electronic engineering. And, no, he hasn’t any interest in writing whatsoever and he never reads for pleasure.
What was the first poem (or who was the first poet) that turned you on to poetry?
I can’t remember the FIRST poem or poet but I do remember being very turned on by this rather motley selection at quite a young age: The ‘Lucy’ poems (Wordsworth); ‘Kubla Khan’ (Coleridge); ‘La Belle Dame Sans Merci’ (Keats); ‘The South Country’ (Belloc); ‘Romance’ (Turner)
What age were you when you first began writing poetry, and did you receive any encouragement?
I began writing poetry in junior school. I remember that my teacher was very encouraging and he often got me to read out my pieces in class. I remember him saying on one occasion, that I “churned it out like a sausage machine”.
When you started writing poetry did you have dreams about becoming a "professional" poet? If so, did anyone advise you against this course of action?
I can’t remember thinking much about a career (writing or otherwise) when I was at junior school.
Did you ever get a poem published in your school magazine?
I can’t believe that we didn’t have a school magazine but I really don’t remember one.
Did you go to university, and if so, which subject(s) did you study?
I left school at 16 with a 7 ‘O’ levels and went to work in a science lab. At a much later age I did an ‘A’ Level in English at evening classes and then went on to do an Open University degree. I started it in 1982 and it took me 14 years to complete because I took time off in between the courses.
When did you first start submitting to poetry magazines? And can you tell us how many rejections you received before having something accepted for publication? (And if you received many rejections, was this off-putting?)
I started submitting to magazines and competitions back in 1983. I received numerous rejections during the 80s but I was so determined to get as widely published as possible that, as soon as any poems came back, I just kept sending them back out. I used to try and have 6 lots of 6 poems out somewhere all the time. I called them “birdies” because I thought of the envelopes stuffed with poems as rather like homing pigeons. J
What was the worst rejection you ever received?
I really can’t remember.
What was your first published poem? Which poetry magazine published it? And what year was it published?
During 1984 and 1985 I had three pieces accepted by (and published in different issues of) ‘The Writers Voice’. The first of these was called ‘The Actor’. It was about a poet called Tony Charles who I had just met. Some years later he started Headlock magazine and Headlock Press and became my publisher. Then, at the beginning of 1987, I made what I thought of as “my breakthrough” and had a piece called ‘Capricious Correspondent’ accepted by ‘The Rialto’ (which was considered a very prestigious magazine). This was followed by acceptances from 15 other magazines before the year was out.
Round about the time that you started seriously writing poetry, who were your literary heroes? And would you say they had an influence on your writing style?
I suppose that, if I did have any literary heroes, the main ones would have been T.S. Eliot and Philip Larkin. Influence on my style? Hmmmm, dunno! Perhaps that is something only somebody who knows my work really well can answer?
Have you ever attended a creative writing course or been involved in a writers' group? If so, did you find it useful?
During the 80s I attended one creative writing course run by Adult Education, which lasted for a term, and I also went on a couple of Arvon courses. Since the early 80s I have been a member of the Open University Poets, who publish workshop magazines and organise writing weekends tutored by well-known poets. Since the 90s I have also been involved with the Norwich Poetry Group, which meets for critical workshop sessions, and I have found it invaluable.
When did you put together your first collection of poetry?
My first collection was a pamphlet book called ‘Spaces Inbetween’. It contained 20 poems, which had all been written during the 70s and very early 80s, and it was published by a small press called Hesperus Press in 1983.
How long did it take to get it accepted for publication? And, if appropriate, how many times was it rejected?
The publisher was a fellow member of the Open University Poets and he accepted it immediately. I did not send it anywhere else.
How long did you have to wait between acceptance and final publication?
I can’t remember, but not very long.
What sort of critical response did you receive?
I don’t remember it being reviewed anywhere but it was well received by other poets who I knew.
Would you say that your publisher actively promoted the book?
I can’t really remember. But, on a small scale, I think he probably did.
Did you do readings and signings at bookshops to help promote the book? If so, did you organise these yourself, or were they organised by your publisher? And would you say that they had a significant effect on sales figures?
It didn’t get into the shops.
How many copies of the book sold?
I can’t remember how big the print run was, but they all got sold (or given away).
Is it still in print?
At the beginning of your writing career did you enter any poetry competitions? Did you enter a lot or just a few? Did you have any success? And, with hindsight, what are your thoughts about the relative merits or demerits of poetry competitions?
Yes I entered loads of them, but I only won once – a fairly small one (the F.A.I.M.) back in 1988 and I received the princely sum of 40 quid. I don’t think I write what are considered “competition poems”. However, I do quite like competitions. I certainly don’t have anything against them – they are a good way of raising revenue for poetry magazines and groups etc. – and I still enter occasionally. In recent years I have judged a few myself and I really enjoyed that.
Which of your poetry books has been the most successful in terms of sales and how many copies has it sold to date?
I suppose my most recent one has been the most successful as far as sales goes. It’s a full length collection called ‘Night with an Old Raincoat’. It was published by Headlock Press in 1995. The first print run sold out and it was then reprinted in 2000. I can’t remember how many copies have sold in total, but I think the first print run was around 300.
Have you won any awards for your poetry?
Do you make a living out of poetry?
If not, do you make an adequate living through poetry related activities such as teaching creative writing workshops? Or do you have to supplement your income through unrelated activities?
Since the late 80s, I have taught creative writing at college and various other establishments, including a Prison, as well as out in the community. I still do some freelance stuff, like running workshops for adults and doing things in schools as a visiting poet, but I ended up being made redundant from the college I was teaching in and had all my creative writing classes axed by Adult Education because of funding cuts. Recently I worked at a Training Centre where I taught other subjects, but I managed to slip some poetry into the sessions. J At present I work as a life model for various art classes and groups.
With the benefit of hindsight, are you glad that you pursued your dream of being a poet? Also, if you could turn the clock back, would you do anything different?
Yes to both questions. Something I would “do different” is to put more effort into getting onto the ‘poetry circuit’ doing readings. I was just beginning to get noticed when I had my first (and last) child at the age of 40 - and I let a lot of opportunities slip.
If a young would-be poet approached you, which poets would you recommend as vital reading?
Poets who are craftsmen and who understand about the structure of poetry. For example: John Betjeman, Philip Larkin, and George Szirtes
Which poetry magazines would you recommend him or her to subscribe to?
Assuming that this would-be poet showed some promise, would you advise him or her to pursue a "career" in poetry?
Yes if that is what they wanted to do.
If so, what further advice would you give him or her?
Don’t be put off by ‘rejection slips’ – they do not necessarily mean that your poem is bad, just that it isn’t suitable for that particular magazine or liked by that particular editor. And not to expect much money from writing poetry – then everything you do get will be a bonus.
Finally (and extremely hypothetically), you are selected to appear on the hit reality TV show, "Desert Island Poets", where you are marooned on a tropical island for three months with a typewriter and several reams of paper. You are provided with all necessary provisions, but you are only allowed to take three books with you. Your appearance fee is more than you could hope to earn in a decade and the show is so popular that all previous participants have become best-selling poets. So, would you participate? And if so, which three books would you take with you?
Yes I would participate, albeit reluctantly. And the books I would take would be: a decent Thesaurus (I like the Penguin one), Frances Stillman’s ‘The Poets Manual and Rhyming Dictionary’ and Philip Larkin’s ‘Collected Poems’.
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