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My Interview with Book Apothecary

Last September saw the preview of my first audio installation Frequency at the NE Generation Showcase at the Stephenson Works, Newcastle. Book Apothecary's Yvette Hawkins interviewed me about my first installation.

Tell us a bit about yourself. I live near Tynemouth and this September I complete my Creative Writing Masters at Newcastle University, with a specialism in poetry.

How did you get involved with Book Apothecary and what attracted you to the project? At the time, I was writing about the threatened closure of Darlington library and like many, I felt pretty venomous about the impact of austerity on my hometown and beyond. When I first read about the tour proposed for North East Libraries, it felt proactive to reintroduce and reinvigorate reading as a tactile and physical experience. Necessary. The tour served as an important reminder that libraries mean more to those who use them than any Government statistic could ever quantify. It was an obvious omission. How could you even begin to count the number of books that are slid out, thumbed through and put back. Or the feeling of running your hand along the spines of shelved books? There’s something very important happening in libraries that simply cannot be measured with stats.

Tell us about Frequency, what is it and what is involved in running it? Frequency is in essence, an audio poem. Poems are built to be heard and I wanted to make an engaging poem that listeners could come and interact with. This led me to the idea of a poetry radio. I have been interested in the medium for a long time, starting with an internship with BBC Radio 4. The words sprang from a prose poem I discovered as an undergraduate through my then writing tutor, the poet David Kennedy. It’s called My Life, a prolific autobiographical piece by Lyn Hejinian. I recommend the book to everyone I meet. I am fascinated by the way we engage with the voices and the presence of radio in our day to day lives. Actively or passively my ears are wired in a nosy sort of way, that insists I must listen in. At home I’m a regular listener of BBC 6 Music, especially John Cooper Clarke, Cerys Matthews and Jarvis Cocker. I make a conscious effort to wear headphones and when possible, be in the dark. The idea of completely zoning out of your surroundings to tune into a voice and follow it into a piece of music or verse, that feeling was paramount to Frequency

Audio invites the listener to tune in and get a direct sense of tone. Frequency plays with the idea of the personal and the projected, using the most basic foundation of a poem, voice. This poem follows a lyric voice through changing moments of self destruction. But I’m much more interested in what others will draw from it. That is what I love about writing poetry, once out there in the world, it is no longer yours. The poem belongs to someone else.

Has your project changed much since you first submitted your idea? Early on I decided I wanted the poem to play through an old radio, rather than a modern one. I’ve always had a really strong connection to older objects, those made well and with heart, things that you can look at and get an instant sense of history or personality. As the poem developed, I decided that I wanted a 1970's radio because the orange-brown hues of that era married well with the tone and sound of the poem. I’m very happy with the radio I found in a local junk shop. I discovered a sticker inside the casing, with the name and address of the original owner, a lady who had lived and listened in Northumberland. To honour her time with the radio and also establish a regional identity I set the tuning panel to NORTH, 450.

What’s the most valuable thing you’ve learnt during this process? When I applied to create the piece, I didn't consider myself an artist. Now I do and I am a much surer poet and that's exactly what I wanted.

Have you met any challenges or been faced with any problems on your journey?As a young writer, that was mainly finding confidence in my voice. I tackled that head on by recording the poem myself. Listening back, I wouldn’t want it any other way. We recorded the poem in Stevie Ronnie’s Cluny studio just two days before his beautiful daughter was born, so that was a wonderful time of arrival and creation in all respects. The setting was perfect.

Do you think you’ll use any of the skills you have learned again? This year has been a real turning point. Having Stevie support me through it has not just been a lot of fun, he broke writing down as a profession for me. The most important lesson he’s instilled is one of acceptance, just accept that your work will be rejected and it will be rejected often. He’s terribly practical and has made writing feel just that to me, something practical and to be practised. Even submitting work to competitions and publishing houses is a kind of practice. You have to get over the fear, which is your biggest hurdle, if you ever want your work to move from notebooks in your drawer to living, live words in someone’s head. That’s something, as quite a private person, I’m taking away. Making a poetry radio was, I suppose, a statement that I was stepping aside and letting what I have written go public, allowing the words to speak for themselves to whoever wants to listen.

What do you see yourself doing in five years time? Getting published has been my aim for a few years now but the work has got to be right. It’s important to me to share the conversations I have in verse with an audience but never in draft form. I'm happy to wait until the work stops nagging me for change. Whether that is on top of a hill, in the bath or hiding in the potting shed with a cup of tea… wherever it is people escape to read, I’d like to think that somewhere, someone might be reading something I’ve written. Five years is long way off but I think I’ll be content in the future as long as I can continue to work with good words and good people.  And still drinking port, because port makes me quite happy too.



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