It’s nice to not be talking about myself on here for a change and to be celebrating great books by good people (see previous post).
I’ve known and admired Angela Readman for many years now – she’s definitely one of writing’s good eggs. She’s also a wonderful writer and I’ve never not enjoyed her work immensely. So it is a huge pleasure to welcome her back here to talk about her latest book, the poetry collection, The Book of Tides…
Angela! Welcome! I couldn’t be happier to have you here. You have a new book out. The Book of Tides. What made you decide to return to poetry again?
Hello Nik. Thank you for inviting me. It’s funny, last time I was here you asked what I was writing. I mentioned poems, but I was shy about admitting it was a collection! I knew it would be called The Book of Tides, but it was too soon to talk about it. I was getting some poems ready to send to a publisher and putting it off. It was that nail biting time of having to send that submission letter. I didn’t want to jinx it.
Your last book was a short story collection, Don’t Try This at Home, how have things been since then?
Wonderful, in so many ways. Don’t Try This at Home won a Saboteur Award, The Rubery Book Award and was shortlisted in The Edge Hill Story Prize. I didn’t think anything like that could happen. It’s such a strange book I had no idea what people would make of it. I’ve been kept pretty busy ever since.
I don’t think it matters how long you’ve been writing, it’s always just you and some words. There’s no way of knowing if someone will like it. Publishing is a huge act of faith. We all pray for that reader somewhere who the work may mean something to, but when it happens it takes your breath away. I’ve been amazed by how much love there’s been for my little book. I didn’t expect it. I write and expect nothing.
Your last poetry collection, Strip, was a book I loved, has your work changed since then?
I like to think I’ve made progress, I hope so anyway. It’s been ten years since Strip and I wasn’t as widely published when it came out. I’d never won a single prize, but I’ve worked really hard at submitting these past few years and won a few competitions. I’d like to think that sort of commitment shows and the work has improved.
Strip is different to The Book of Tides. I’m older, so things are bound to change a bit. Strip is urban and set in America. The Book of Tides is coastal and isn’t afraid to celebrate my favourite Northern words.
It’s not realist. It’s a world of folklore, myth, and old wives tales. There is a sense of danger and loss here, but there is more beauty too, I think. I suppose it’s an age thing, I’ve started to appreciate small things so much more. It probably shows. I hope I’ve learnt something since my last book, that’s what writing is about, I think. We want to be a better writer each time. Why else would we do it?
What have you learnt?
It’s such a journey, being a writer. There are no careers advisors to tell us where to go or what we should do next. It can be slow, so I’ve learnt to be patient. It can be frustrating, so I’ve become grateful for small things. I’m grateful every single time anyone publishes me, or a reader contacts me to tell me something I wrote meant something to them. This makes all the difference to me, it has kept me going.
Last time you were here I asked you about your journey from poetry to prose and how easy it seemed. Was coming back to poetry easy?
I don’t think it’s always so easy to be a writer, but we do it because we have no choice. The words are part of us, trying not to write sometimes is like cutting off a part of yourself. I worked really hard to publish poetry again. I spent a lot of time submitting to get poems in journals and anthologies. I wanted to build a poetry biog that would give me something to say on that letter to a publisher. It took years.
One thing that helped was Jo Bell’s 52 project. I joined the group whilst I was waiting for the Costa Short Story Award results. I needed something to distract me from the long wait to find out if I’d made it further than the shortlist, but I knew I had to come back to poetry sometime, if I’m honest. It hurt not to write it. There was kindness in the 52 group. I found the encouragement I desperately needed. It made me love poetry again.
How would you describe the relationship between your stories and your poems?
They are both strange. They can both be disturbing, and they both have a sense of story. There’s prose poetry in The Book of Tides, which brings poetry and prose closer than they used to be. I need both in my life, I realise, poetry and prose. One feeds into the other for me.
Folklore, witchery, and oceans, some that can be crossed, some that can’t. The Book of Tides is lyrical poetry with a sense of story. Though there are losses, there is also a sense of searching for hope. In some ways, it’s the most personal book I‘ve ever written.
What’s next for you?
I never know. I know I’m working all the time, but I have no idea about the future. (Who does?) I know Sweet Talk just recorded a story I wrote, so I’ll have a short story on radio 4 next year. I’m really looking forward to that.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Just a huge thank you to everyone: readers, poets, editors, 52, Jo Bell, and people like yourself who have been so supportive it made me try poetry again. I am truly grateful. Thank you.