Why do you write?
Writing has always been the way in which I make sense of the world, as I see, feel and think it. It is for me a type of map that allows me to visit other worlds, to inhabit different times and spaces, to look at language from different perspectives, and to become more seeing than I was at the beginning of the journey, that the poem or play has brought me on. Writing has gifted me courage, and pulled me back from the immediate emotion, the populist credo, the knee jerk reaction. When I was a little girl, I kept Nature Journals modelled on Edith Holden’s “A Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady”. I still have one of these copybooks wrapped in brown paper on my bookshelf. I recorded things. I had ideas, and one of these pieces of natural observation “Primroses” was published in Good Housekeeping and won me a hardback book. In those years ,I saved the tokens that were on the back of Weetabix and bought PaintAPlay. The play was Oliver Twist and I performed it for willing and unwilling audiences, and learned subtext. I was learning the power of the word. I entered the round of feiseanna, and recited ballads and poems to huge halls of families and important looking judges.I grew up in a border town, at the height of The Troubles, where we were encouraged to relay the news in class. I wasn’t encouraged to watch The News/An Nuacht and improvised my contributions. I began to understand the importance of spin. The resonances that words release in us can heal, delight and astonish, and I try in my writing to emulate the resonances that brought me to the places where eagles soar, where words dance, where colour shimmers, where truth reigns, when I read the lines of my favourite poets and dramatists. And in all honesty, I do not really know how to do anything else.
What books do you read?
I don’t think there is much that I don’t read. I read poetry, plays, novels(in all genres), non-fiction, comic books, essayists, dictionaries, Facebook posts, online magazines, author’s blogs, and the odd borrowed newspaper and magazine. I do not always read in English. I speak German quite well, French awfully and Irish reasonably, but I read well in all three. I like to read in other languages, because it shifts the perception and slows the reading process, which makes the whole experience more pleasurable, particularly in poetry.I am addicted to books that hold repositories of words from languages spoken by the Maori, the Lakota..I savour them, like epicures do exotic foods. At the moment, I am reading Natalie Diaz’s “When my Brother was an Aztec”, George Szirtes’ translation of Laszlo Krasznahortai’s “Satantango” , Ishtar Babiliu Dingir’s “The Sacred Sex Rites of Ishtar”, and a faded copy of Le Monde.
What inspires you?
The music of lines, gratefulness, the capacity of the human spirit to endure, the rhythms of speech, the distraction of cats, the song that sings us, generosity of spirit, art in all her forms, from Newgrange to Rossetti to Picasso, the marriage of sun and moon, my extended families, the forest of myth, the stones of belief eroded away by the rivers of doubt, courage to voice the silences that cry out to be voiced, love, other writers, thinkers, painters, everyday mystics, but never ever the swamp of sentiment or the mire of opinion.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer and when?
I knew I wanted to be a writer, when I was a child. When I was at Primary School, those children who hadn’t completed their homework were made to kneel on the linoleum floor in front of the blackboard and stare at the numbers chalked on it, while the rest of us went out to play. Like Lot’s wife I looked behind. If I recited Padraic Colum’s “An Old Woman of the Roads” without making any mistakes, the teacher would release them. The habitual offenders lived in a caravan outside the school gates. It took maturity to realise the meaning of dramatic irony. The woman in the poem longed for a little house. I wanted my words to free prisoners. I thought then that you could change the endings of books that were already published, in particular “The Diary of Anne Frank”. I still believe in the transformative nature of the best writing.
How do you deal with rejection?
Not with euphoria, that’s for sure! After an initial frisson of confusion, an infusion of tea and chocolate cake, I take pause. They have their plus sides. They make me relook at the submission, and sometimes I see a glaringly obvious trip in rhythm and sometimes I find it hard to see anything-and so I resubmit. Try and try again, isn’t that the motto?
Who are some writers you admire?
I admire everyone who stays the course having first decided to take up the quill, pen or keyboard. There are those writers whose work I re-read over and over again: Shelley, Tennyson’s “Idylls of the King”, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “Aurora Leigh”, Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s sonnets and paintings, Anna Akhmatova, Christine de Pisan, Goethe, Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, The Diary of Anne Frank, Tolkein, David Grossman, Amin Malouf, Annie Dilliard, Gavin Maxwell, Henry Williamson, Peter Matthiessen, Neil Gaiman’s Black Orchid, The Book of Old Ballads, Caisleain Oir(Golden Castles), Gerard de Nerval,The Brontes, Jim Dodge, Dermot Healy,Leon Uris’s Mila 18 and Patrick Kavanagh..New discoveries that I delight in are Pascale Petit, Gordon Meade, Natalie Diaz, Kei Miller, George Szirtes , Shanta Acharya, Vikram Chandra, Anders Carlson Wee, Judith Jedamus,Carol Ann Duffy, Sharon Olds, Liz Williams,Roger mc Gough, Billy Collins, Marge Piercy, Nadeem Aslam, Kevin Higgins, Bethany Pope,Elaine Feinstein, Elaine Feeney, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Amanda Coplin, Susan Millar du Mars, Denis Theriault Keijuro Suga and Sue Hubbard. Wole Soyinka’s “The Man Died” has remained with me when courage hides under the blankets, which in my case is often.
Is writing the only artistic medium you do?
I do embroidery-cross-stitch. I worked as a Starter Chef in Beynac-et Cazenac, and sometimes I replicate those recipes. Although I do garden, I get hijacked by mesmerism. I harvest tranquillity watching a robin eyeball me, and become hypnotised by a honey bee’s passage from flower to flower. I surf badly, but float in the sea for long distances. It is highly possible I have a measure of sloth in my D.N.A.
What would be some advice you would give your younger self?
Be kinder on yourself. You are not a freak for being different. And read these words of Rumi-”Run from what’s comfortable. Forget safety. Live where you fear to live. Destroy your reputation. Be notorious”.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Ignore the begrudgers. Read, outside of your chosen genre. Don’t censor your reading or your dreams -open up the gates those who would decide what your life should read like and let your Imagination go for a gallop, a canter or even a trot. Learn to see. Writing is the greatest adventure you will ever experience. The journey is what’s paramount, not the destination. And remember, we each of us are our worst censor. And smile. All treasure takes time to find- enjoy the search.
What is your writing process?
I have recently been ill, and am recovering from a lumpectomy at the moment. Each poem now has a longer stay, each line treasured, rhythms played with for longer and the clock largely ignored. I punctuate my writing and reading time to attend to the needs of my seven cats, and all the strays that find their way to my door, both human and feline. I still begin my day with picking up where I left off the night before in my reading. And then I decide on the day’s writing. I don’t have a watch or any working clocks in my home. I measure my writing from each completed piece, my reading from its ability to keep me riveted to my seat. All writing necessitates rewriting, and I spend a long time honing a final draft. There are occasions when a piece will keep me up all night, and if that happens I go with it. There is never a day when I don’t write something.