A Day At The Desk

A Day At The Desk - blog post image

I am particularly thrilled to welcome my friend the poet and author Claire Dyer to today's 'Day At The Desk' feature.  After a busy month with the triumphant launch of her latest novel The Last Day, Claire has generously agreed to answer questions from a local school about how she juggles writing poetry and prose, teaching and numerous other creative commitments.  Welcome Claire. 

Have any of your poems been made into songs?

 No, but they have been filmed and recorded.

I was lucky enough to be asked to be the poet for Berkshire on National Poetry Day in 2016. The theme of the day was ‘Messages’ and so I wrote a poem about the Oracle shopping centre. An oracle is someone who passes on messages and so I thought this would be a good idea. The shopping centre was named after a workhouse and the BBC filmed me reading the poem. You can see the result here

Also, I’ve recently been working with Nature Nurture and The Woodland Trust and they commissioned me to write two poems to celebrate trees. For London Tree Week last year I wrote a poem called ‘Ash’ which you can listen to here.

And for ‘Blue Monday’ on 15th January 2018, I wrote this poem.

Both the poems are read by the actress Beth Bridges.

Do you do read your writing out loud?

Oh yes, all the time, especially poems. It’s a really good way to make sure the punctuation and line breaks are working and that the soundscapes and the ‘music’ of the poem come through. However, I do also read my prose aloud, especially dialogue, to ensure it makes sense and sounds natural.

How many books have you written?

Crikey! I’m currently writing my 14th! It took me 4 books to find an agent and then 4 books with that agent until we got a publishing deal. I then wrote 2 further novels before changing agents and my 12th manuscript has just been published. I’ve since written another one and so that takes me to my 14th which, as I say, I’m writing at the moment.

Are any of your books or poems about real life events or people you know?

Who is your favourite poet?

My favourite poet is Elizabeth Bishop. She lived in America and died in 1979. She only published 4 collections of poetry throughout her lifetime but has been a major influence on me and my work. I did my MA dissertation about the meeting point between narrative and image in her poems. A friend once said that as a poet, Elizabeth Bishop is like a cat, she takes risks but always lands on her feet. One of my favourite poems of her is called ‘The Fish’. Do look it up. It is simply marvellous. ( Here's the link - I hadn't read this Claire and it is simply wonderful. I breathed an audible sigh of relief at the end!)

Who is your favourite author?

That’s hard to say. I have a gazillion favourite authors! However, some books I do return to time and again. These include ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ by Harper Lee (I read this every ten years!) and I love Margaret Atwood’s ‘Blind Assassin’ and Maggie O’Farrell’s ‘The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox’. I also adore Charlotte Brontë and find Jane Austen very funny!

Which takes longer to write - a short story or a long poem?

Someone once said that a poem is never finished, it’s only ever abandoned! And, famously, Elizabeth Bishop took 25 years to finish her poem ‘The Moose’ so I think my vote would be for the poem! Writers can always edit their work (and indeed should do so) but I think with a story that has a beginning, middle and end, you can sometimes say, ‘Right, that’s done. I’ll leave it be now.’ However, with poems because the poet owns the copyright, we are allowed to change them. Therefore I can submit a poem to a magazine or journal and if it gets rejected (which is most often does), I can change it before I submit it somewhere else. Also, when putting together my poetry collections, I was changing words here and there and line breaks right up to the moment the publisher pressed ‘Print’!

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

I think I’d tell them to prepare to fail but not to give up. Writing is a learning process. I liken it to throwing pots. You wouldn’t expect to sit at a potter’s wheel and throw the perfect pot the first time of trying and so it is with writing. Writing takes practice; it is a muscle and the more you use it, the healthier it becomes. I’d also tell myself to wait until I was ready to write what I wanted to write, not to be rushed into a genre that wasn’t for me. I hope that answers the question!

What would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

A cat! I have 3 and they keep me sane. I talk to them and they listen. I practise my poems in front of them and they clap their paws and tell me I’m wonderful. I wouldn’t be without them!

How many hours a day do you write?

I rarely write at the moment! Recently I’ve been so busy with my teaching commitments, planning and running workshops and working on the PR for my latest novel that actual writing time is at a premium. However, a good writing session would last a couple of hours and produce somewhere in the region of 1,600 words. Anything less and I don’t feel I’ve achieved enough. Anything more and I’m exhausted and what I’ve written will probably have to be deleted!

How do you choose the names of your characters?

I have a baby name book and if I need to name a character I browse through it until a name jumps out and grabs me by the throat. It’s usual not to have characters with the same initials in a book, so I have to steer myself away from doing that. I also look at the paper or read magazines or watch the credits at the end of movies or TV shows. It’s funny though because once a name sticks, it sticks and the character becomes the name and the name the character – it’s like christening one’s children! I have had to change names occasionally. In ‘The Last Day’ there was a character called Thomas who I had to rename and even though I love his new name, which is William, in my heart he’ll always be called Thomas!

Do you Google yourself?

Sometimes but there’s not much of interest about me on online thankfully! What I do do, however, is check reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and that’s always a heart in the mouth moment. The thing I have to remind myself is that not everyone is going to like what I write and the important thing is that I like what I write!

Thank you so much for asking these fascinating questions. They’ve really made me think!

Young Writers Berkshire/Buckinghamshire

I am sorry to limit this post to to local young writers - please please please let me know about similar courses in your area and I will be thrilled to feature them. For today though, and to coincide with my guest Claire Dyer who is a local author, poet and creative writing teacher, I have a couple of opportunities in the Reading and Wokingham area to tell you about. Igniting Writing is a creative writing club hosted at Wokingham Library and completely free to attend.  The club provides a fun, relaxed atmosphere where 11-18 year-olds can develop their storytelling and writing skills. Writing can be a bit of a solitary activity, so this provides a great opportunity for teens to come together and write as a group, share their imaginative story ideas with others and build friendships with other young aspiring writers. Sessions are held on Saturday mornings, 10:30am to 12noon, and focus on a different aspect of writing every week, from creating characters and settings to exploring genres like sci-fi, fantasy and beyond. Roughly once a month Igniting Writing also hosts 'guest speaker' sessions, where local authors, poets, journalists and other people experienced in the world of writing come and share their knowledge and advice – it's a chance to get the inside scoop from the pros!

Year 12 & 13 students who enjoy poetry may also like to check out Claire's Poet's Cafe in Reading. There are occasional adult themes so this opportunity is limited to over 18s, or 16-18 year olds with an adult.



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