Why do you write?
The times I write are peaceful and much needed oases in an otherwise frenetic existence of work, and raising two energetic young boys. I love the freedom and possibilities of writing, and the way experience can be distilled. Poems become photographs, postcards. It’s also a complete addiction.
What books do you read?
I am a voracious reader. I usually have a novel on the go, but not usually anything on the bestseller list, though I did just read A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and was astounded by its beauty and tragedy. Some of my reading is related to the courses I teach. At the moment, for example, I’m dipping into The Book of Emotions: An Encyclopaedia of Feeling from Anger to Wanderlust. I also have a soft spot for literary biographies and biblio-memoirs. I loved The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee and Larry McMurtry’s memoirs.
What inspires you?
The sea. The beach. Colour. Pattern. Texture. Storms. The surreal hiding in the everyday. Unusual juxtapositions. Wise things my children say that stop me in my tracks. Acute emotions. The inexplicableness of love.
How did you know you wanted to be a writer and when?
I’ve always written in one form or another. As a child I wrote horse adventure stories and poems. I remember thinking if I wasn’t famous by the time I was 40, it would be too late. For twenty years in my teens and twenties I wrote exhaustively long, angst-ridden, journal entries that now make for amusing reading. I also have two and a half unpublished novels in the bottom drawer. I returned to poetry in the last few years after a long absence.
How do you deal with rejection?
The subjectiveness of writing means editors will all have different tastes, and I try and remind myself of that. I think I take it in my stride.
Who are some writers you admire?
That would be a long list. My favourite novelists include Colm Tóibín, Geraldine Brooks, Ian McEwen, Peter Carey, Tim Winton, Susan Johnson, Emily Bronte, Charles Dickens. I love the travel memoirs of Lisa St Aubin de Teran. Poets I return to are David Malouf, Dorothy Porter, Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, WB Yeats, ST Coleridge. At the moment, I’m reading Blake Morrison’s Shingle Street and it’s wonderful.
Is writing the only artistic medium you do?
My father is an artist and, over the years, we’ve shared lots of sketching and painting time. I enjoy pen and ink drawing and illustration, but writing has taken over really.
What would be some advice you would give to your younger self?
Be resilient. Have self-belief. Don’t wait for tomorrow.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
I’m sure everyone’s experience is different, but generally speaking, it is vital to read widely. Take yourself out of your reading and writing comfort zone and see what’s out there. Be brave. Write about what matters. Don’t pretend to write.
What is your writing process?
On days I’m not teaching, I like to sit in my favourite coffee shop and scribble poem ideas in a notebook (I’m constantly buying notebooks and pens!) I find the buzz of being out of the house really conducive to creativity, and still relish the feel of pen on paper, ideas moving from head to hand and onto a page. Later, I’ll type up poems at home and edit them until I’m satisfied (or dissatisfied) with the result. Sometimes my poem whisperer gives me extra insights.