Tag Archives: Exclusive Interview

INKSPILL Guest Writer Interview with Gaia Harper





Gaia Harper talks to Nina Lewis about her love of language, why poetry is important and winning Foyle Young Poets prize in our exclusive INKSPILL interview.


Can you describe a time when you realised creating (writing) was something you absolutely had to do?

As soon as I had read Howl by Allen Ginsberg, I knew I had to write. That was the defining moment for me; it still continues to be one of the most powerful influences behind everything I write.

Who are some of your favourite poets?

Ever since I first got into poetry I’ve adored the Beats, so I’d have to say Allen Ginsberg. Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus is one of my favourite collections, and anything by Whitman catches my eye. As for modern poets, I’ve recently got into Sarah Howe and Claudia Rankine.

Why is poetry important?

To quote Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society, “We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race.” Poetry is in everything you or I do, in the folding of a napkin, the simple act of smiling. We would be stupid to ignore it.

What comes first in a poem, are you prompted by the idea or form?

Most of my poetry is purely spontaneous; I am rarely one of those people who can sit down and choose to write on a certain topic. The smallest things can trigger a poem for me. Often song lyrics or quotes from films prompt ideas; writing purely on a song or film is something I’ve recently got into. I have a love-hate relationship with form, as most of what I write is in free verse, however I love playing with form from time to time; I’m a big fan of a loose sonnet.


What books are you currently reading?

Salem’s Lot by Stephen King and Naked Lunch by William Burroughs. I love books that make you think, but sometimes you need a good horror to get your teeth into. Poetry wise, I’m currently flicking through Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman.

What was it like entering the Foyle competition?

To be honest, I was dubious about entering at first considering the vast number of entries, so it took me a long time to get around to submitting. When I eventually sent them off, the anticipation was awful, but obviously the results were worth the wait.

How did you find Arvon with Liz Berry & Michael Symmons?

It was one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve ever had. Liz and Michael are such lovely people as well as poets, and they are so supportive. It was strangely wonderful to be able to have a lesson with them, and then have Liz helping you cook dinner.

Are you a member of the Young Poets Network?

I’ve been a member of the Young Poets Network for a couple of years now. Everything they post comes straight to my email, so it’s great to get unexpected prompts and competitions I could enter.

Do you have any advice for aspiring young poets?

To any young poets out there, I would say ignore everything anyone has ever told you about what poetry has to be. School is never going to teach you a thing about poetry, even if it tries. Rant and shout about every little thing you want to, and write it all down. Don’t let anyone put parameters around your writing; whether it be a rhyme scheme or a way of feeling. What teenagers write is often dismissed as angsty; fight back. Write whatever the hell you want.


INKSPILL Guest Poet – Interview with Daniel Sluman


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Guest Writer Interview Daniel Sluman

Sonia Hendy-Isaac © 2014

Sonia Hendy-Isaac
© 2014


Earlier this year A Writers Fountain spent time with Daniel Sluman, promoting his (very soon to be published) second collection ‘the terrible’.

We are delighted that as part of INKSPILL we can bring you another exclusive interview with the man himself and it didn’t escape our notice that the book cover design has been released NOW as well. Another sneak preview for you!


  1. How did you know you wanted to complete a 2nd collection?

I kind of just kept going after my debut was released, it’s just what you’re meant to do isn’t it, keep writing. I had a project in mind and I worked for a while on that until I stopped and asked myself this very question – what am I going to achieve by writing another book beyond (hopefully) extending a career? It was really important for me to work this out, as it made me realise that there were things in my debut I wanted to articulate further, and events were unfolding in my life that I was excited about exploring in a new book.

  1. Poetry is a kind of process, how did you feel at the beginning of compiling your 2nd collection? How was it different to the 1st?

I found it quite tough to work out where I wanted to go at the start of this process, I was drawn towards a number of different ideas for this book, some more conceptual and overarching than others, and it took me a while to feel comfortable in the direction I decided on. I’m guilty of overthinking things, especially when it comes to writing, and when I started writing this book I was really worried about repeating myself, about getting lazy and complacent.

When I was writing ‘Absence…’ I was an undergraduate, and the tutor feedback and workshops really helped with developing those poems, and of course that support was something I no longer had, which made me feel a bit lost for the first six months of writing this book. In that period I made dozens of pages of notes, but I was terrified of committing anything to the page properly, I was sure it wouldn’t be good enough, nothing looked good enough. It took me a long time to get back to writing more loosely, not being afraid to write crap which could then be edited, closer to the way I felt when I was writing my debut. When that first book comes out to good feedback and reviews, I felt a certain (mainly internal) pressure attached to the next, and that definitely affected me. I locked up for a long time, I was so terrified of disappointing people, of disappointing myself, but once I found a rhythm things started to get written again, and I started to enjoy myself in the same way I was enjoying myself before the first book came out.

  1. What were some of the difficulties in this process?

I went through a lot of changes in my life during the period of this book getting written. I came out of a long-term relationship and into a new one, moved house (and area), and my health was really going downhill in terms of my back pain, which meant quitting full-time work and getting put on benefits. Drama and high emotion is something which always feeds into poems, so some of this made it into the work, but the transition of all these things meant it was hard to get into a rhythm, this upheaval meant it was a while before I felt like I could properly concentrate on writing again.

  1. What anxieties have you encountered and how have you overcome them?

I suffer from the same anxieties I’m sure most writers do – fear of playing it safe and repeating what’s worked well for me in the past, the worry whether it will sell enough to justify a wonderful publisher putting in so many hours helping to form and release the book. I’ve always suffered from imposter syndrome, and so part of me is expecting to fail spectacularly and be found out as not a poor writer.

Over the years I’ve learnt to partially overcome these anxieties by being a little less tough on myself, enjoying and celebrating successes more than I used to, and acknowledging that I couldn’t have put more hours into this, it’s the best I can do, and that has to be enough for me.

  1. Did you know when you wrote material after your 1st collection that you wanted to include it in a 2nd collection?

After a while, yes. I was aware that the work straight after a book can often represent a transition of styles, concerns, or ways of working, and so I wasn’t being too hard on myself to make every poem get to a level I wasn’t capable of getting it to. We talk a lot about ‘finding a voice’ in poetry, but I think that each new project represents an articulation of a new voice, primed to whatever direction the writer wants to go in, and somewhere last year things clicked together, and I realised I had the bare bones of a book laid out.

6) Often poets have years between collections, how long have you been working on your 2nd collection?

This book took three years, which I imagine is a pretty average amount of time for most poets. If I was a better writer it would have taken less but I’m extremely wasteful, I’ve probably written something like 90 poems for this project, cut down to the 46 that made it in this book. If it wasn’t for Jane Commane of Nine Arches I would still be writing this book now; she is brilliant at judging which poems have potential and go somewhere new, and which ones go over the same ground as others. If I didn’t have that objective eye I would have expended a lot of energy on lost causes.

7) Musicians refer to a 2nd album syndrome, do you believe it is the same for writers?

What kind of obstacles have you faced? How have you overcome them?

I think a similar theory applies to books as it does to albums; debuts usually map out an area using a mixture of techniques that point towards some kind of overarching concern, and second albums/books usually work to either further define the concerns in the first release, or explore new ones. The worst thing that can happen with second albums/books is that they appear like pale imitations of the debut they follow, they circle too similar a ground and this is a worry I’ve tried to be hyper-aware of. I think that having this awareness definitely helps in noticing when you’re repeating yourself with a new poem, as does having a clear idea where you want to go, and how you can get there. I’ve read a lot of new collections and books on theory during the last three years, and that’s a big part of developing as a poet, and it’s helped me move on from where I was in my debut.

8) How do you think creatives deal with this 2nd collection syndrome, do you have any advice for poets who have published their first collections? Next steps…

A lot has to do with the expectations we put on ourselves, as we’re often just writing for pleasure at the start, but once you get published the dynamic does change. I spent a lot of time worrying about this collection in contrast to my debut and I wish I had just relaxed and continued the journey that we are all on from the moment we first write. Belief in what you’re doing, that it’s different from what you’ve written before, that’s important, but so is being grounded in enjoying yourself and remembering why you’re writing in the first place – that you can put words in an order that affect a stranger a continent away and make them feel something, that you’re giving voice to the things you think matter. In some ways it was a case of getting back to basics for me, not being in this state of constant anxiety about what the book may look like and how people will react to it. With all this is mind, maybe 2nd collection syndrome is something that occurs because we simply overthink what we’re doing too much, and the way to overcome it is to get back to writing for the sake of pleasure, and enjoying the feeling that you are growing as a writer.

9) You have just finished your first full draft m/s for your 2nd collection. How does it feel?

It’s a relief. Three years feels like a long time, a lot of anxiety, and a hell of a lot of editing day after day, so it’s nice to be able to look at the MS with some sense of satisfaction. When my debut came out I was pretty worried about the reviews that would be written, now I think I’m a bit more relaxed – if the book is enjoyed by readers then that will be great. Now I’m just focused on doing as much promoting and performing of the book as I can with my current health.

10) How did you come to choose the title?

It comes from the title poem in this book, which is probably the most honest poem I’ve written. As our editing of the book progressed Jane and I had a deeper understanding of what the manuscript is about, and that everything in our lives, even the most enjoyable or aspirational moments we experience have a dark underside to them, a fear of it being taken away, a futility to it, that’s what the book is about I think, and the title-poem hopefully sums that up.

Huge thanks to Daniel for this interview, your honesty and insightful responses. Good luck with the final stages of the process. Looking forward to holding the pages of your new collection very soon!

honeyman Interview by Nina Lewis

Buy Daniel’s poetry from the AWF shop CC bookshop-window Garry Knight


INKSPILL – Guest Writer – Interview with Alison May


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Guest Writer – Interview with Alison May

alison may author GUEST

1) Can you tell us how you got into writing?

It started, as I guess it does for most writers, as a hobby. I think the first thing I tried to write was a play, I co-wrote with my best friend from school when I was about ten. I don’t think we ever finished it, or indeed ever got past writing ‘Our Play’ at the top of a piece of paper.

Fast forward to when I was twenty-five and slightly bored at work, and I signed up for a creative writing course through Birmingham University. That evening class turned into a six year part-time degree, during which I switched from thinking I wanted to be a very serious playwright to writing romantic comedy novels instead.

2) What can you tell us about your current novel?

My latest release is Midsummer Dreams, which is a contemporary romantic comedy inspired by A Midsummer Night’s Dream. My full-length novels tend towards the grittier end of the rom-com spectrum, rather than the lighter, fluffier end. I’m interested in all the different ways that people manage to screw up perfectly decent relationships, and then I make jokes about those poor sad messed-up people, but they’re imaginary people so it’s fine.

Alison May midsummer dreams

The novel I’m working on at the moment is my first non-romance book, and is about a mother who’s lost her son, a man who’s lost his mother and a woman who says she can talk to the dead.

3) Why Romance?

Well, why not? Love and death are basically the two main things that fiction writers congregate around, and many of the authors I love are (or were) romance writers for at least part of their career – Charlotte Bronte, Shakespeare, Marian Keyes, Terry Pratchett (yes really – Sam Vimes and Lady Ramkin are one of the best drawn couples in fiction thank you very much). I’m not personally particularly interested in romance in the ‘hearts and flowers’ sense, but I’m very interested in love and relationships, so I write about those.

4) What tips would you give to any budding Romance Writers?

Join the Romantic Novelists’ Association New Writers Scheme (http://www.romanticnovelistsassociation.org/join) – it has limited places and only opens for new applicants in Dec/Jan each year and you have to get in quick, but once you’ve joined you’re a member of the RNA so you get to rub shoulders with a whole load of published authors (and publishers and agents) who are generally generous and supportive beyond any reasonable expectation. You also get to submit your novel-in-progress for a critique from a published author in your genre, which is invaluable.

You were probably expecting tips about creativity and art and finding your voice, and they’re all good and lovely things, but ultimately being a writer is about cracking on and doing it, and joining the New Writers’ Scheme is one of the best ways I can think of to crack on and do it.

5) How do you do your research?

I really don’t if I can possibly avoid it. I essentially write books about twenty and thirty-somethings getting drunk and making poor life choices, which requires very little research for me! Some writers love research – I find it tiresome. My first degree was in history so I think it gives me flashbacks to being at Uni and having to spend whole terms reading about tenth century peasants *shudders*

6) Where do you get your ideas from?

I have no clue, but I’ve never been short of them. Ideas are the easy bit of writing, and they don’t even have to be that good at first glance to build a novel out of – ‘Well it’s sort of like Twilight, but there aren’t any vampires and he’s into kinky stuff’ is a terrible idea, but EL James made it work.

I think I have an ongoing interest in the lies that people tell themselves and the ways in which they self-sabotage, but beyond that I just write about whatever pops into my head, and the problem is usually forcing myself to focus on one idea at a time, rather than trying to come up with an idea to start with.

7) Can you tell us a little about the process of writing a novel?

How long does it take?

As long as it takes. Over recent years I’ve written one full-length novel and one shorter novella each year, I don’t really have a ‘normal’ process for writing a novel. With my first book, Sweet Nothing, I had a couple of months where I was out of work, so wrote 2000 words a day every morning Monday to Friday for eight weeks and got a first draft, and thought ‘Oh this is really easy.’ Of course, that first draft was beyond awful, and I’ve never managed a nice neat 2000 words a day that consistently since.

Some things have stayed constant though – my first drafts are always terrible. I’m a much better editor of my own work than writer! I don’t always write a complete first draft before I start revising anymore though. Usually I get to about 65-70,000 words in and then start revising and write the last 20,000 words after I’ve reworked the first bit. And it’s different for different books – if I’m writing a novella I tend to plan a bit more and work to a bit more of a schedule. With a full length novel I prefer to keep things a less structured at least to start with.

8) What is the allure of writing for you?

You can do it in your pyjamas without leaving the house. What’s not to like?

And now my (slightly more) serious grown-up answer – writing is the love of my life, alongside my husband who is, obviously, also the love of my life. Love is magic like that. There’s always enough of it to go around. I’m generally very dispassionate about writing. I get uncomfortable when people say ‘Oh I just have to write.’ I’ve never really felt compelled to write, but I am much less pleasant to be around if I’m not writing.

9) Can you tell us a little about how you found your publisher?

In the traditional sort of way really – I submitted Sweet Nothing to various agents and publishers and got rejected. Somewhere along the line I moved from having standard rejections to getting ‘We really liked this but…’ rejections (which, weirdly, are way way more disheartening).

At the same time I put the manuscript through the RNA New Writers’ Scheme for critique twice, and my second feedback report suggested submitting to Choc Lit, who are a small publisher of romance and commercial women’s fiction. Happily they accepted Sweet Nothing, and went on to publish Midsummer Dreams, and my Christmas Kiss novellas as well.

10) What did it feel like to see your first novel in print?

Completely awesome. The day my box of author copies of Sweet Nothing arrived I basically sat on the floor stroking them all afternoon. Worryingly, that is not an exaggeration.

11) Can you tell us about some of your central characters?

Essentially I write dysfunctional people who mess up their relationships in (hopefully) interesting ways. Romance readers are always interested in heroes, but I tend not to write big strapping alpha male types.

Probably two of my characters that I love the most are Ben from Sweet Nothing – he’s a mathematician and proper full-on nerd. I really wanted to write a romantic hero who was attractive because of his brain; it’s an urge that I can totally trace back to having been in love with The Doctor pretty much ever since I was allowed to stay up at watch Dr Who back in Peter Davison’s day. At the other end of the spectrum, I also adore Alex in Midsummer Dreams. He’s a total flake; he sleeps around; he has no impulse-control at all – I wanted to get away from the idea in romantic fiction that the heroine is automatically looking for a super-dependable guy who’ll always look after her. If your heroine can look after herself, why not give her a hero who’s just going to be awesome fun?

12) Asking which one of your books is your favourite – may be asking you too much – can you tell us about your favourite bits from some of your books?

At the moment I’m particularly proud of Midsummer Dreams. Books usually develop and warp as you write and edit them, changing (often for the better) but moving away from your original idea. I think Midsummer Dreams is probably the book I’ve written that is closest to the book I set out to write, if that makes any sense at all.

And there’s a scene in a car park in it, which I’m not going to describe in detail, in case you read the book, but writing it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had at my writing desk.

13) What is your favourite part of the writing process?

Those very rare moments where you write something and you just know that it’s right. I generally only have about one scene like that per first draft though, so apart from that, my favourite part is the editing and revising. I love taking a book that doesn’t work at all apart and rebuilding it into something good. That’s part of why I love tutoring and mentoring developing novelists as well – you get to help them make their novel work, without having to do any of the tiresome first draft writing.

14) What is the most challenging part of the writing process?

Slogging out the first draft. Ugh.

And, of course, the moment (and there is at least one for every book) where I just know with absolute certainty that the whole thing is a steaming pile of poo, and that I can’t write, and I can’t fix it, and all the previous books were flukes. Those moments are horrible, but inevitable, and actually, I believe, essential to making the book better. If you never reach a point where you think the whole thing is a steaming pile of poo, then I suspect you’re not being sufficiently self-critical about your work.

Alison M Christmas

Huge thanks to Alison for this exclusive INKSPILL interview.

honeyman Interview by Nina Lewis

Buy Alison’s books in the AWF Shop CC bookshop-window Garry Knight