You have two recent books out, Bint and From Here to Timbuktu, so what can you tell us about these?
Bint is a fairly conventional collection of what is generally thought of as lyrical poetry – covering a wide range of subject matter, the personal, the political and the environmental. It mixes work in form with that in free verse. There are a number of sonnets.
From Here to Timbuktu is a verse novella that tells the story of a group of holiday makers on the West Africa tourist trail, en route to Timbuktu. Loosely based on Canterbury Tales the strangers share the stories of their lives with each other and in the meantime bicker, fall out, fall in love, or disappear. Because it speaks to Canterbury Tales I chose to use rhyme royale one of the main forms used by Chaucer in his poem.
How difficult was it to make the poems seamless in From Here To Timbuktu?
I worked off and on on the verses over a number of years. As a form I love it and the rhythms and rhyme pattern became second nature after a while! I kept leaving it to work on other projects and I wasn’t sure it worked as a way of telling a story but friends encouraged me to continue as they enjoyed the sections they had read.
Your book 'Bint' is dedicated to Aretha Franklin, why is this?
Why Aretha Franklin? I just love those old soul singers from the 60s and 70s and she is the best! I think the first poem explains their effect on me.
You are a teacher of Creative writing at Northumbria University, how much has this aided your own writing?
Yes I tutor creative writing at Northumbria – it’s hard to keep creative when you do a lot of tutoring. So much creative energy goes into that kind of work that sometimes it seems you have nothing left for your own writing.
You are actively involved in school projects, community centres and prisons, how important is it to you to be involved in a writing community?
I enjoy doing workshops away from the university environment. It offers a fresh perspective on the whole business of communicating one’s thoughts and feelings in the small words of a poem. In a less precious environment, where nothing is going to be given a percentage mark, there is perhaps more joie de vivre.
The Hawthornden Trust gave you a residency in Scotland, which you admit 'helped pull this collection together', so why was this?
I was very grateful to the Hawthornden Trust residency. It really helped to have a whole month away from all the distractions of family and working life. I really got through a lot of work there.
You are a member of the Carte Blanche writers group, so is this something you would advise writers to attend if they are not a member of one already?
Belonging to a group of writers is a very useful tactic for a writer. You need to exchange ideas and responses. The energy of it is encouraging. Sometimes you need to share your writing with others to get useful feedback. You’re not always your own best critic.
You are an editor at Mudfog books, so how does seeing writing from the other side affect your own?
I enjoy the editing work at Mudfog Press, particularly the process of putting a book together from scratch. That is very satisfying and we, as a press; have over the years given a helping hand up to a number of writers. They began with us and went on to other better things.
You have visited Poland and Sierra Leone, are these great places for writers to go for inspiration?
Life took me to Poland in the 70s and an interest in utopias took me to Sierra Leone in the first instance (though I have been back many times since). Travel is something I enjoy as I am so curious and it takes you out of your comfort blanket and helps you reassess things in general. And of course you can meet such amazing people.
You quote George Herbert in your book Bint, are you a fan?
George Herbert ? Yes too – unashamedly spiritual. And so light in touch.
Female First Lucy Walton