Poet Anne Caldwell is also a Literature Programmer for the British Council. I first met her over a decade ago – she was running a mentoring programme that I took part in for people working in literature, and was just the right sort of warm, friendly and empathetic person for that role. We subsequently ended up working together for the National Association for Literature Development. More recently Anne has worked as an academic and teacher. Her work has been widely anthologised and was long-listed in the National Poetry Competition in 2014. She has worked as a Lecturer in creative writing at The University of Bolton and taught for the Open University. Over the last year she has worked at The Bronte Parsonage Museum, The Wordsworth Trust and has been a judge for Poetry by Heart competitions. If you’d like to find out more about Anne, her website is here or you can follow her on twitter @caldwell_anne. Her latest poetry book, Painting the Spiral Staircase is published by Cinnamon Press – more details here.
This is the eleventh interview in the series here on the blog, asking writers the questions that come up most often with the beginner writers I work with:
When you first started writing creatively, what advice would have helped you?
I started writing when I was very young because of a really good teacher. I then had a gap, and took it up again when I was at the University of East Anglia. The best advice I had was from Margaret Atwood who was one of the visiting writers whilst I was there. She said read for pleasure, and enjoy writing – don’t see it as a chore but approach it with a playful attitude. I try and bear this in mind when I find things difficult.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block? If so, what helped?
Yes. After each book I have published I have then felt I have nothing left to say. What has helped is to think of a new project, or attend a writing workshop to kickstart a new direction. I am my own worst critic and can often spot flaws in my work rather than celebrate the positive aspects of it. Feedback from others helps this critic keep quiet.
Do you write every day?
No. But I do write at least three times a week and keep a journal that I update on a daily basis – with any thoughts or ideas.
Do you have any rituals around your writing practice? Do you prefer to write in a particular place or at a particular time of day?
I like to be quiet. I write at my kitchen table and I love writing early in the morning when everyone in the house is asleep. I also ran a retreat when I worked for NAWE at the Arvon Centres and latterly at Ty Newydd – the National Writing Centre in Wales. Both weeks always produced lots of new ideas for me and were very productive.
Can you tell us more about how journalling works for you?
I have about three journals on the go for different styles of writing. I am quite disorganised so often swap between them. I have one journal for writing for my phD and another that is more like a diary. I love notebooks and my friends often buy them for me for presents. I now have got over the feeling that they are too good to write in if they are rather beautiful books. So I don’t care if I fill them just with sketchy ideas.
Are you a planner? Do you outline a book in advance, or do you just start writing and see what happens?
I mostly write poetry and I don’t often plan a book in advance. However, I have written two long sequences of poems – one set in Aberdeen and one in Berlin. These were based on my father’s photographs and I planned each sequence out. I then wrote in situ, rather like a visual artist sketching for a larger painting. I found this way of working very emotional and enjoyable.