Monday 30 April 2012

Questions about writing

Arvon is asking for writers to answer some questions about their writing practice, some of which will be included in a new book published later this year. I found this a useful and enlightening exercise and thought I would share my answers here. if you want to fill in their questionnaire head over to

I would say that it is both inventing and discovering. Some pieces of writing come as an overwhelming urge, there is a sense of urgency that drives pen to paper - rather like an incredible itch that you just have to scratch. 

Other ideas bubble away under the surface for a while until they are finally ready to burst forth into the light of day - this quiet bubbling of ideas can take days, weeks or even years.

What things trigger your imaginative process (for example, significant personal experiences, particular people, places, objects, dream imagery, myths, history, etc)?

There are a huge variety of things that can trigger ideas for me. Travel is one and if I am feeling blocked I often go on a train journey to another town - I think it is the physical movement of the travelling rather than the destination that is important to my writing process.

Reading the work of other writers is another sure fire way of getting the creative juices flowing. I read a wide variety of prose and poets, but do have a few favourite poets that I go back to time and again if I want a sure fire hit of inspiration (C.D. Wright, Alice Oswald, Agnes Lehoczky).

Other things that inspire me are my own past, myth and fairytale - I could go on and on. Workshops with other writers are a rich source of material - and Arvon courses are great!

How do you work - do you plan carefully or explore in the dark, trusting the process?

I generally go where my inspiration takes me and then edit carefully later. Sometimes I have in mind that something might be part of a series but for the initial germ of the poem I generally go with the idea that comes.

Do you feel in control of your writing or are you responsive to the requirements of the work as it unfolds?

I am in control of the editing and of creating the right conditions for creativity take place, but the ideas themselves sometimes seem to come from some higher place. I can sit down with an idea of something and end up being taken in a completely different direction.

Do you write a first draft quickly and then revise it, or build carefully from the start?

I tend to write my first drafts very quickly - sometimes the ideas are almost tumbling over one another to get on the page. Then it is a case of excavating the poem from the initial piece. Occasionally a poem arrives almost fully formed but more often than not a lot of editing and re-ordering takes place before I am happy with it.

How do you deal with blocks in the writing process?

Going on workshops, reading and travelling.

Do you write in service of any particular values?

That's a difficult one. I am not guided by any higher religious or political ideals. My main object is to be true to the poem - that is that the poem doesn't have to be true (as in relating a true  event as it happened) but it has to feel true to the reader - a kind of universal truth I guess if that makes any sense.

I am also in service to the idea of refining one's art - I want to be the best writer that I can be, which is why I continue to go to workshops, workshop work with my peers and attend readings and lectures. There is always something more to be learned.

What have you learned from the practice of your craft?

Patience firstly - as a young writer I would dash something off and think it was the most marvellous thing I had ever written. Practice and guidance has shown me that time and editing can improve your work no end.

What is the relationship between the writer's imagination and that of the reader?

The product of the writer's imagination is what speaks to the reader through the poem.  The writer needs to give the reader recognizable anchors to hold onto and then they sky is the limit.

Do writers have any moral responsibility in their work, wider than fidelity to their personal vision?

That depends on your audience - obviously if you are writing for children you would temper your content accordingly as they may not yet have moral maturity.  I think I would largely apply the same morals to my writing as my life - actually that isn't entirely true - I don't always like the morals of the characters in my work - sometimes this is what makes them interesting and I leave it for the reader to jusdge them.

Monday 9 April 2012


I have noticed that one of the recurring themes in my writing is the idea of transformation - one thing turning into another thing or something emerging from inside something else. These transformations are not always comfortable. I am also a little obsessed with the idea of things being not what they seem - in my current writing this obsession has manifested itself in the form of poems where a human has animal qualities or is revealed to actually be an animal.  I am intrigued by the idea from quantum physics that we all contain particles of stardust from the big bang and the creation of the universe and also by Bohm's  theory of the Implicate Order which connects everything with everything else. "In principle, any individual element could reveal "detailed information about every other element in the universe." The central underlying theme of Bohm's theory is the "unbroken wholeness of the totality of existence as an undivided flowing movement without borders." (

My poems are much more simplistic than this of course, but nevertheless it is a fascinating idea that we all have elements of other things inside us.  I also seem to keep coming back to the idea of alienation which fits with the transformation theme very well. The change and alienation within the poems is not as large scale as in "The Metamorphosis" - usually it is more subtle - someone might have the characteristics of a bird or be revealed to be a fox.