|The writing life: artist's impression|
What am I working on?
I’m not working on anything specific at the moment, in terms of ‘a project’. I still write my book reviews to deadline (good girl, ARPy), and sometimes I write a poem or two. I’m always in the cycle of sending stuff out to journals, receiving the responses and sending stuff out again (I’ve always been a bit of a submission-junkie). Sometimes I go through all of the poems that are “in circulation”, edit the crap out of them, tear some to shreds, ditch some altogether. Being vicious is kinda fun.
How does my work differ from others in my genre?
Reviewing: I guess as I only review children’s and YA books, it means my criticism falls into a fairly narrow genre. I feel like it’s the only genre I can bring enough back-reading and critical confidence to, without feeling like I’m talking out of my arse. I like to feel like I know what I’m doing. So does my arse.
Poetry: This is a question doesn’t really apply neatly to ‘poetry’ as a genre, but I’ll have a crack at teasing out some common threads I notice in my own work (in the Cliffs Notes, this will fall under Themes and Motifs). I mostly write poems that are ‘stories’, I like a narrative. I rarely write imagistic poetry and even less experimental/abstract poetry. A few non-writer friends have told me “I don’t like poetry, but I like yours”, which probably means they’ve just had the wrong poetry inflicted on them, but I think if I’m telling a story, everyone can access that, and not have to worry they’re not picking up on Homeric references.* I like to write with restrictions on both time, form and content, as in the years I have done Month of Poetry – if I have to work 12 phrases suggested by 12 different people into one poem overnight, it makes me feel a bit like a magician (I am also a show-off.) I’m interested in how the Big Things like birth and death are intricately bound up with the mundane, domestic and trivial. The slow death of a loved one is tied to the sense memory of uncomfortable cups of hospital tea. I’m fascinated by how we struggle to create meaning out of a kind of sensory Gestalt – the interconnections of perception and memory. None of this is ‘different’ to other poetry in any unique way; it’s just where my interests lie. I also like to make jokes about cocks.
Fiction: It happens rarely, though I know I should make more time to try to write it. When I do write stories, I often write about children (though not really for them), especially children in the twilight of childhood, not quite teenagers, but just old enough to begin to notice things about adults, the things they say, the things that don’t quite add up. I can remember eavesdropping on my mum and her friends talking when I was about 11, and realising they were talking about how one of their husbands was having an affair. There’s a strange door of awareness starting to open at that age, and it feels really weird.
Why do I write what I do?
Reviews: I’ll be honest: I write them mostly for the money these days. Writing commissioned reviews is hard because you rarely get sent the books you’d really like to review (both on the positive and negative side), and I’ve been burnt by reputable journals treating their reviewers like crap (not publishing, not paying, not answering emails, dragging this out for over a year. Really poor form. You know who you are.)
Poetry: I can actually answer this one properly. Poetry is the only creative endeavour I’ve attempted where I’ve felt that the end product actually mirrors what I wanted to create. I find the process of writing uncomfortable and messy and it makes me feel fucking stupid, but in the end I can often look at my poems and think “Yes, that’s what I meant”, even if I can’t say why or how it works.
Fiction: Up front: I haven’t written a short story since 2010, and before that I hadn’t written one since 2008. Perhaps I should come back to this one when I’ve made a bit more effort?
How does my writing process work?
Reviewing: I read the book (usually advisable), fold down a bunch of corners, bitch/gush to Tim about it for like a really long time, then finally sit down and write the review in one go. Quick edit the next day, send it off. Brutal.
Poetry/fiction: I used to joke that I’d write a “brilliant” last line of a poem first, then write the rest of the poem, then cross out that last line. It’s not exactly true, but often the word or line that inspires a poem will be cut out by the time I’m finished. My writing process for poetry and fiction doesn’t work in any structured way in that I don’t have time allotted to writing. I’ll write at various times of day or night, when I’m sick, when I’m drunk, when I’m at work, when I want to (fun!), when I don’t want to (less fun). I take notes of ideas and lines of poetry in far too many different places and eventually drag them together. If I want to write a poem but I can’t think of anything to write about, I steal a phrase from a random book off our shelves, and go from there. I also don’t like to leave things incomplete – I resent any unfinished poems or short stories languishing on my computer, and try to make sure I go back to them. Those words are there to be submitted, and they gotta earn their keep.
When I decide a poem or story is too old/not as good as I thought it was, I cannibalise it for lines and phrases to recycle in another piece. Sometimes I rewrite a poem into a story, and vice versa. I write by hand, on computer, and on my phone. Once I’ve finished writing a poem or story, I give it a rest, an edit and then I send it somewhere. I like my writing to be ‘out to work’ as soon as possible (hence my submission junkie status). When something is rejected, by the time I send it somewhere else it’s usually had another edit. And another, and another. This constant editing has resulted in me not always recognising my poem or story if it’s published, as the first draft is the one that tends to stick in my mind. When I read the printed version (sometimes edited and rewritten over 10+ years), my first reaction is usually “Hey! This is much better than the one I remember!”
Over the years I’ve gotten more comfortable with the fact that sometimes I am writing, sometimes I am not. It used to scare me, like if I stopped I would never start again. But I’ve gradually become more chilled about the idea of peaks and troughs in my output. Because there’s always other stuff to be doing, and if I’m not writing ‘for publication’, I’m still always keeping my diary and corresponding with my 20 snail mail penpals. I work a full time job, and I have a wonderful boyfriend and children who I want to spend my best hours with. Writing for me is something I stuff into the little gaps, something I do around the edges, and I think that for me, that’s just about perfect.
Sean Elliott: Writer, very tall man, explainer of science in amusing and inventive ways.
David Witteveen: Writer, very tall man, tactfully fixes problems with the library computers when it turns out I just haven’t noticed the plug has fallen out.
Alice Cannon: Writer, not a very tall man, publisher of the fantastic journals Materiality and Crank (the former whose Pozible you should totally throw money at).
* There aren’t any.