Interlitq: What started you writing poetry?
AT: My parents were in their 40s when I was born, so they had a lot of patience and spent time with me. On our Sunday bike rides from when I was 18 months old, my dad taught me to observe things closely and pointed out many aspects of nature to me, which gave me a poetís eye. My mum used to make up stories for me and my sister used to read me poems from great authors like Matthew Arnold and Walter de la Mere. I taught myself to read at a very young age, preschool, and my ambition was to be Ďone of those people who say thingsí, because Iíd hear my parents say Ďas Shakespeare saidí etc. So being a writer was always on the cards. Poets who have been important to me when I was developing my craft include William Blake, John Clare, Thomas Hardy, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Bishop, U A Fanthorpe, Anne Stevenson, Matt Simpson. Two poets gave me Ďpermission to writeí, as though any of us need it. They were Matt Simpson, when I first met him aged 18, he said my poems Ďhad somethingí and he wanted to nurture my talent (his word not mine) and Liz Lochhead on an Arvon course when I was 27, who told me I was a Ďborn poetí and ĎHAD to do ití. I do still suffer at times with Imposter Syndrome, and there have been times in my life when I kept my poetry secret for fear of being mocked.
Interlitq: Where is your favourite place to write?
AT: I have to have silence to write. At home I have a small cosy book-stuffed study, so that is where I spend my writing time, when I am not outside in my writing shed. My local library where I grew up in Widnes, had an upstairs reference library, so I used to secrete myself away up there. I can write anywhere, but silence is my space.
Interlitq: What advice would give to aspiring writers?
AT: Read everything you can get your hands on in your chosen genre. Aim to learn from the best by osmosis. Donít make work out of it, make pleasure. No-one can teach you to write. You have to learn by doing it. So do it. No excuses. Donít wait for a chunk of time. I wrote my first collection in snatched moments as a busy young mum.
Interlitq: What is one thing you would tell your younger self about writing poetry and being published?
AT: Donít listen to anyone who says you canít be a writer. Find out about some of the prizes you didnít know existed, like The Gregory Award. Donít hide away out of modesty and lack of confidence, just get out there and find poets to mix with. Donít hide away feeling under-confidence. Put your work out there and take rejections on the chin. Different editors have different ideas about what makes a good poem. So never take it personally (easier said than done!)
Interlitq: How does writing a poem feel to you?
AT: What happens first is I get a phrase or a line in my head, as though my own voice is whispering it to me. If I ignore it, it becomes more insistent. So I have to reach for a notebook (I write all my first drafts long-hand in a notebook) and see what happens. Iím a great believer in letting the poem tell me things. When I start writing, I am often amazed by what happens and where it takes me. The last line is often surprising to me, a discovery. When that happens, I know the poem has revealed itself to me. I didnít used to be able to write commissions very well because I had to wait for Ďthe feelingí, but Iíve learned enough discipline to do it now. But I at least cannot write from an idea alone. An idea is intellectual, but a poem does not come from the intellect; it comes from the gut, or from the dark side of my brain, dark in the sense of obscure. Ted Hughes talked about getting a poem Ďpast the secret policemaní. I try not to let my intellect take over my writing until the editing stage.
Interlitq: Have you any tips about editing poems?
AT: I always read aloud when I am redrafting. The poem needs to sound right to my ear. If there are any parts that are unintentionally difficult to say, then I know they need smoothing. Sometimes I will do a scansion analysis of a tricky line, or of the whole poem, and that can be illuminating because itís objective. All good criticism is objective, to do with technical errors or lack of clarity. When a poem is right and finished, it sounds to me as though itís correctly translated itself into words from the other world, without words, where it existed in a pure form. I am grateful when I get a new poem to that stage, and when I look back on previous drafts I can see my attempts to find the sculpture, as it were, buried in the rock, and where I was not close enough to finding it. I know that sounds a bit mystical and airy fairy, but itís how it seems to work for me.
I keep a little list of common faults I make in drafts, to remind me not to make them. I think every writer should do this. Rules other people make may not be sensible for you to follow. I met a person whoíd been told not to include a question in a poem, but thatís totally disproved when one sees how many great poems include a question! My own guidelines for myself include: donít say the same thing twice, and watch out for accidental repetition.
Interlitq: Why have you published books with so many different publishers?
AT: Itís because I have been writing seriously for so long. Publishers come and go. My first publisher, Rupert Loydell, of Stride Books, stopped bringing out books when he started teaching full time on Creative Writing courses at Uni, because itís very demanding work. My third collection was published by bluechrome, which vanished overnight and none of the poets really knew what had happened. I then did a childrenís book and a small collection with Salt, who later stopped publishing poetry (though I believe they have started again). I did a book with Lapwing, which was a lovely experience, but the owner of the press is now seriously ill. Motherís Milk Books did a new and selected of my poems on a theme of parenthood, which was a great fit for their mission statement, and is still a steady seller, but a new book wouldnít necessarily fit their brief. My latest collection was with Red Squirrel but the owner of that fabulous press has re-located to Scotland, so I am once again looking for a publisher. Ideally, I would love to find one I could stay with, but thatís a long shot these days when publishers do not get enough funding and the market is crowded with books. Some presses only take on new poets, others have funding constraints which mean any new books have to fit in with them. Iíve also done pamphlets with Rack Press, and they rarely repeat poets unless a special project takes their eye. Iíve done a joint pamphlet with a marvellous poet called Sarah James, published by Motherís Milk Books in their duet series. I will never stop bringing out books as long as I am writing poems, because a book gets the poems off my back and out of the house, stops me meddling with them, and ensures my work is available in hard copy in archive libraries, to stand the test of time. Iím almost 65 now and suspect there is ageism out there which can make things more difficult, but I know I am a better poet than when I first started out. I still have plenty to say!
Interlitq: What is the best thing about being a published poet?
AT: Several things. One, I love reading and performing, and because of my books, people do offer me readings. Two, poetry has brought me some amazing friends. It took me a long time to realise that poets can be terribly competitive and even nasty, but over the years I have gathered some kind, generous and encouraging friends around me and realised the best poets are always the most encouraging, because they are secure. I feel very fortunate to be a small part of the citizenship of the written word. Three, poetry helps me keep alive my memories and has helped me work through times of depression and bereavement. It brings me home to myself and keeps me safe. And four, I like to think I reach out in my work to others and bring them solace and pleasure, as so many poets have done for me, as a reader. Writing well doesnít bring fame, in fact fame can destroy a poet, and it certainly doesnít bring fortune, but it can bring inner peace, which is beyond all monetary value.
Interlitq: What do you read to relax?
AT: I canít get to sleep at night unless I read, but it canít be poetry, because that wakes me up and makes me want to write poems. So I read novels in bed, and often re-read. Iím currently re-reading Barbara Vine books I first read many years ago, and really enjoying them because I have forgotten the mystery. I re-read Austen novels a lot, as her writing is so elegantly done, it keeps me writing with clarity and music. Iím still reading The Handmaidís Tale for the book I am writing on it. I also enjoy listening to audio books in the daytime when Iím ironing or painting or working in my junk journals.