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  • Olivia Liberty

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for Falling?

    Olivia Liberty: Falling came about through a number of ideas, amongst them the shocking death of a boy with whom I was at school; the question of what happens to loved ones when they’re dead; and the idea – perhaps slightly immature, but certainly one with which I still hold – that it is happier for a lover to be dead than indifferent.

    MT: How long did it take you to write it?

    OL: I spent three years writing the book, though for most of that time I was working four days a week. I worked at it on Saturday mornings and Mondays.

    MT: Did you do any research into missing people and how loved ones and the police etc deal with such events?

    OL: I did no research relying instead on Toby’s (the hero’s) fractured state to get me and the reader through the practicalities of this.

    MT: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?

    OL: I write straight onto a computer. Some sections remain the same from the moment I write them and some are subjected to endless editing. I would still now want to edit and re-edit certain passages in the book. Towards the end of the editing process I found that from draft to draft I was changing a single word back and forth.

    MT: What do you do when you’re not writing?

    OL: When I’m not writing, which seems to be too much of the time at the moment, I’m usually in the park with my dog or trying to make a living from journalism.

    MT: Do you have an idea in your mind of your “ideal” reader? Did you write specifically for them?

    OL: I didn’t have a reader in mind at all while I was writing. On the other hand, I knew who I wasn’t writing for (ie my mother). Unfortunately my 98 year old Grandmother (an avid reader) insisted on making her way through a draft. She read it very quickly (in about three hours) and then picked up her knitting: ‘too much shitting and fucking for me’ she said eventually.

    MT: What are you working on now?

    OL: An idea for another novel is floating around in my brain. However, I am aware that it has to be absolutely right as it is something that I will have to live with for at least a couple of years. Or perhaps I’m just making excuses. I’d love to write another novel.

    MT: Who is your favorite writer? What is/are your favourite books?

    OL: I love Jane Austen, particularly Persuasion. I love Anna Karenina, and many Russian books. William Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury has also been seminal. At the moment I’m reading a lot of Muriel Spark. I can’t believe that Evelyn Waugh – undoubtedly also a great writer – is so much more celebrated than she is.

    MT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer?

    OL: I would say to aspiring writers that getting a book published is as much luck as it is anything else. I would also say no matter how much you believe in your idea or your need to write this book, do not give up the day job. At least not for ever. It is said that there are only 100 writers in the UK who earn enough to make a living from writing: Even Kazuo Ishiguro apparently relies on a teaching job.

  • Christopher Goffard

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Christopher Goffard, 34, graduated from Cornell University and has published more than 1,000 news stories, features and reviews during a 10-year career in journalism, for which he has won numerous awards. Now a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times, he previously worked at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida and at the Daily Pilot in Costa Mesa, California. He lives with his family in Southern California. Snitch Jacket is his first novel.

    Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for Snitch Jacket?

    Christopher Goffard I was reporting on a foiled murder-for-hire case when I visited the alleged hit-man in jail - a big, bearded, grizzled guy with an aura of doom about him. He expected his heart to quit any day. He had drifted around the country with his dog in an old van and lived in the janitor's closet of a dive bar in Costa Mesa , a city about an hour south of Los Angeles . That's the seed of Gus "Mad Dog" Miller in the book. Later, a detective told me they couldn't get this guy to divulge the identity of the people who were paying him. "He doesn't want to wear the snitch jacket," the cop said. I said, "The what?" I had never heard the phrase before, but it struck me as kind of lyrical. So before I wrote the first word or had any idea of where it was going, I had what I thought was a cool title. It served as kind of a polestar throughout the writing, through a lot of floundering and scrapped drafts. For a long time, it was the only thing I really had any faith in.

    MT You are a writer for the Los Angeles Times, experienced in covering the crime of California. Was your day-job all the research you needed for your novel?

    CG My work as a reporter pitches me into environments I'd never otherwise visit and puts me into contact with all sorts of people - killers, crime victims, cops, junkies, con artists - with whom I'd ordinarily not traffic. So it gave me the voices of my characters and it gave me the texture of the realm they inhabit.

    MT Unusually for a crime novel, you focus on neither the major criminal nor on the cop, but on the more marginal figure of the informer. What gave you the idea to focus your narrative here?

    CGI like writing about people on the fringes, the outcasts, the alienated, people who occupy life's disreputable little corners. I wanted to understand the psychology of the much-maligned snitch, who's almost always portrayed as a guy who does it for cash or because he wants to avoid lockup himself. I suspected there might sometimes be more than these obvious, purely mercenary motives at work. In the middle of writing the book, we hired some guys to haul our furniture to a new house, and I started talking to one of the movers. He talked about his adventures with the cops in Philadelphia , how he'd busted all these drug dealers, and he gave the clear impression that he'd been a cop himself. Of course he wasn't, as I learned after more prodding. He was just an informer working off some charges, going undercover with a wire, but he thought of himself as a kind of spy, a dashing figure. And I thought, "Well, this is how Benny Bunt, my protagonist, rationalizes what he does." That was the core insight, and its arrival was a fluke.

    And then of course you can look at the snitch as a stand-in for a journalist, who - if you believe Janet Malcolm in The Journalist and the Murderer - is forever coaxing confidences out of people only to turn the information against them. That's the most pitiless view, one I don't really share - I wouldn't be in the business if I didn't think it could be practiced ethically - but I've seen some pretty smarmy salesmanship. More broadly, you can look at the snitch as any kind of writer - those very charming, very dangerous people who ruthlessly use anyone and anything around them as material. In Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion said writers are always selling somebody out. I wanted to explore these tensions.

    MT What aspects of Snitch Jacket did you find most challenging to write? And how did you go about overcoming those difficulties?

    CG The plotting was a challenge. Crime fiction is a plot-heavy genre. Readers are conditioned to expect twists and turns, revelations and reversals on every other page - especially now that tastes are so much influenced by rapid -fire TV shows like "Law and Order" and "24" that careen from cliff-hanger to cliff-hanger. I was infinitely more interested in the language and the characters. A lot of times, I went off on riffs and tangents that did nothing to advance the plot. What I remember about a book, a year or two after reading it, isn't the clever twists it threw at me but the human beings I got to know, the mood it conveyed, the general sense of the universe conjured by the language.

    MT How long did it take you to write it?

    CG About four years, off and on. I had a demanding day job. I'd come home exhausted from the paper. I'd take a 20-minute nap and then try to pound out a page or two. So I wrote it after work and on my lunch hour and from 6 to 8 a.m. on weekends, usually with a giant mug of espresso, sometimes with one of those ephedrine-laced power drinks weightlifters use. They banned them.

    MT How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?

    CG On a computer, unless one's not handy, in which case I use a notepad. I go through a lot of drafts.

    MT What do you do when you are not writing?

    CG I'm a family man.

    MT Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?

    CG In the writing, I tried to think of the book as an extended letter to a friend. It mitigates the loneliness.

    MT What are you working on now?

    CG I'd like to write about high school and the intensity of the friendships that form there and the wonders and pathologies that attend them ... particularly when the kids are narcissists who feel like geniuses in each other's company.

    MT Who is your favourite writer? What is/are your favourite book(s)?

    CG Faulkner's my hero, especially Light in August. Steinbeck. Hemingway. Harlan Ellison. Flannery O'Connor and Harry Crews, the great Southern Gothic novelists. Also Mailer and Roth and - my current obsession - Cormac McCarthy. Those are the Americans, at least. Also the Englishmen Martin Amis and Alan Moore, the comic book writer, who I think is one of the titans of our time; plus G. K. Chesterton for The Man Who Was Thursday and the amazing Father Brown stories. He's my favourite fictional detective. But there isn't really a crime writer per se on the list. Madame Bovary and The Red and The Black were important books to me because they explore how deeply people's lives and desires are governed - and often deformed - by the models from literature they chose to emulate.

    MT Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer!?

    CG What keeps a lot of people from writing is the paralyzing fear of exposing themselves as second- and third-rate, while in their imaginations - in the hypothetical books they hope to write some day - they can remain untouchable, superior to the poor suckers who possess the hubris to try and fail. I understand this line of thinking. But in the end, what's the worst that's going to happen to you if you try? Your book isn't published, and you've wasted a year or two you otherwise would have spent playing golf or watching TV. Or you get some bad reviews, or your book doesn't sell well, and the world discovers you're not Shakespeare. So what? The alternative is an existence of bitter envy and self- loathing.

    MT Anything else you would like to say?

    CG I think of Snitch Jacket not as a crime novel but as a story about human beings, with the trappings of a crime novel.

  • Lynne Truss

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Lynne Truss is one of Britain's top comic writers and is the author of the number one bestseller Eats, Shoots and Leaves. It has sold over three million copies worldwide and won the British Book of the Year award in 2004. She has also written four comic books, Going Loco, Making the Cat Laugh, Tennyson's Gift and With One Lousy Free Packet of Seed, all available from Profile Books. She is a regular presenter on Radio 4, a Times columnist and a guest presenter for many other programmes. She lives in Brighton.

    Mark Thwaite: The huge success of Eats, Shoots and Leaves gave rise to what you've described as a "very weird year". Why was it so weird Lynne? Does a small part of you resent the success of your "punctuation book"?

    Lynne Truss: I'm always surprised that people can't imagine how weird it is to have such a big unexpected success. It completely takes over your life - especially if it happens in more than one place. My life wasn't really my own for about three years. I was forever touring in America or saying friendly hellos to news anchors in Denver or whatever -- or answering questions about the correct use of the semicolon! This is not normal! I'm not ungrateful for the success of my book, but I had never craved fame, and I found it quite a strain. Suddenly I had to make a lot of decisions about what path to take. Also, I had to deal, night and day, with the basic unlikeliness of it all. Even over three years later, I do still ask myself whether it really happened, or whether I'm actually lying at the foot of some stairs, about to die, just fantasising that my little book on punctuation took the world by storm.

    MT: What gave you the ideas for each of the monologues in A Certain Age?

    LT: It's hard to generalise. Some were just "what if?" questions I wanted to answer; some had tiny triggers in real life; no one was based on a real person, or even a composite of real people. The Wife, for example -- about a very neurotic woman whose husband disappears, with the interesting effect that she STOPS WORRYING -- was an exercise in alternative autobiography: I'm sure that I could have been that woman if I hadn't made certain choices a few years ago. The Father has no obvious trigger, except that I was thinking a lot about death, and the so-called "grieving process", and I wanted to write about the frustration and guilt involved in trying to do the right thing by other people, while in torment yourself. The Daughter, on the other hand, was triggered just by something someone said to me a few years ago about having such long hair that she couldn't go to work. (The reasoning being that the hair took such a long time to dry each day that a job was out of the question.)

    MT: You acknowledge a debt to Alan Bennett's Talking Heads -- is he the master of this genre?

    LT: Absolutely. His Talking Heads were brilliant -- and I've found that people tend to misremember them as purely comic, whereas the second series was very dark. I think he more or less invented the monologue split into scenes -- where, as in a video diary, the person tells you just what they know up to this point; then there's a fade to black, and a fade up again, and the person is in a different mood, in a different place, and at a different point in the story. Traditionally, monologues were less dramatic.

    MT: What are the biggest challenges to writing radio monologues like these? How did you overcome them?

    LT: I suppose all writing is a mixture of craft and art, but the monologue has a number of particular challenges, and I've no idea whether I have overcome them! My main concern was obviously to let a plot unfold, with an underlying (and much more interesting) story always peeking through; and it was essential to engage the sympathies of the listener (or reader) in some particular way, then gently take those sympathies on a journey. The biggest consideration, though, was to create a distinct voice for each character, and it helped me to imagine particular actors -- some of whom I really wrote the pieces for. So the Simon Russell Beale one was written with him in mind; similarly the Douglas Hodge. It's a high-risk approach, as actors aren't always available for radio work, but it worked out beautifully for A Certain Age.

    MT: Six of these monologues are written from a male perspective. You often seem to get asked if it was harder writing men than women, but to me that seems an odd question to ask a writer! I want to ask you the inverse of the question: why do you think that interviewers think that writing as a man would be a problem!?

    LT: I really don't know. Do you think it could be an underlying/unconscious sexism? Would they ask a male writer how he imagines a woman character? Maybe it's just, as you say, that they don't understand how writers use their imaginations to put themselves inside the life of a character. I regret making a joke in the Radio Times that, since monologues reveal more about a person than he/she knows about him/herself, writing for men was easier as they never know what's going on! I'll never learn not to be flippant. Anyway, the question that really tickled me was "Did you speak to any men?" -- as if, in the normal course of things, I don't know anyone with a chromosome arrangement different from my own -- or if I do, I take care never to have a conversation with them.

    MT: How do you write Lynne? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?

    LT: The monologues were all written at the keyboard, and underwent varying amounts of revision -- from The Father, which took me about a month (because I kept getting sidetracked into the character's relationship with his own father, which was too raw and upsetting to include, and overbalanced the whole thing), to The Cat Lover, which took less than a week and was very, very easy to write, once I'd decided on the basic plot (woman pretending she's on a foreign holiday, when in fact she's in bed with the cat). The device of her putting on a sound-effects CD every time she answered the phone gave it enough interest; the rest was just this woman LOVING being at home. Interestingly, The Cat Lover (which was done by Dawn French) was my second go at that subject. I'd spent about three weeks wrestling with a completely different character, which I had to abandon -- mainly because it just didn't ring true for the character to be around 42 (which is the age of all of them). She should have been about 25, and there was nothing I could do to make it work.

    MT: What do you do when you are not writing?

    LT: I think I am nearly always writing, to be honest.

    MT: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?

    LT: What an interesting question! But, actually, I don't really have an ideal reader. With the books, I suppose I am thinking of pleasing my editors; with my radio work, I want to please my producer. I suppose I have a vague idea of my reader as knowing everything I know, and having the same sense of humour. I used to write columns in magazines and newspapers, and I think that's where I acquired this confidence in my reader.

    MT: What are you working on now? Will you ever write another novel?

    LT: I'm currently working up to the next book, and at the same time hoping that my radio series Inspector Steine (set in Brighton in the 1950s) will be recommissioned for next year. Do you think I should write another novel? I certainly loved writing fiction - and I still write short stories for the radio - but I think my talent is more for scripts. There's an old radio play I did about myself working in a library when I was 18 that I think would make a nice comic literary novel. However, I don't think people are crying out for me to write more fiction, somehow.

    MT: Who is your favourite writer? What is/are your favourite book(s)?

    LT: Dickens and Chekhov are my two greatest heroes. I was telling someone the plot of Uncle Vanya the other day in a pasta place in Brighton, and by the end of it we were both in tears.

    MT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer!?

    LT: Well, from my experience, I think the important thing is to have very wide interests, and to enjoy writing for its own sake. But the most important thing is just to get down to it and do it.

    MT: Anything else you would like to say?

    LT: Only that it's been a pleasure.

  • Ann Cleeves

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Ann grew up in the country, first in Herefordshire, then in North Devon. Her father was a village school teacher. After dropping out of university she took a number of temporary jobs - child care officer, women's refuge leader, bird observatory cook, auxiliary coastguard - before going back to college and training to be a probation officer. She is the author of the 2006 Duncan Lawrie Dagger for Best Crime Novel, Raven Black, Telling Tales and Hidden Depths.

    Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for Hidden Depths?

    AC: This is going to sound very pretentious, but the germ of the idea came from Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. I’ve always enjoyed the book, without really getting to grips with what it’s about. The central character, Mrs Ramsay, holds her family together, massaging her husband’s ego, feeding his friends. I suppose Felicity Calvert is a contemporary Mrs Ramsay, though by the end of the book I found I rather disliked Felicity. People who know the Woolf will recognise some in jokes – I’ve nicked one of the meals she prepared, and the child’s name is the same.

    Then I was quite interested to look at the idea of male friendship. The perceived wisdom is that men don’t confide so much in their friends as women, but I’m not sure that’s true. Women talk more, but I think men can be just as close.

    MT: How long did it take you to write it?

    AC: I wrote the first couple of chapters before I started Raven Black. Then I went back to Shetland and suddenly got caught up with a novel set there, and came back to Hidden Depths almost a year later. It’s a very different book though from the one I’d planned originally. It does take about a year to do a book, if I take into account the editing process.

    MT: Was your time spent as a probation officer all the research you needed to do for the book!?

    AC:I’m not sure that being a probation officer helped technically very much at all, except I know what the inside of a prison looks like. It did give me an insight into different sorts of families and how they work. Much of my time was spent writing pre-sentence reports – that involved going into people’s homes and asking lots of intrusive questions about the circumstances which had led up to the offence. A great experience for a crime writer.

    I’ve got a brilliant friend – Helen Pepper – who answers all my questions about crime scene management. She worked as a CSI and now teaches on the policing course at Teesside University. The idea of the second crime scene – the body of the young girl found in a rock pool – came from a true story she told me once about a murder on a beach when the tide was coming in ...

    I did a bit of research on The Sage Music Centre in Gateshead. It’s an iconic building on the Tyne now and I wanted to get a feeling of what it would be like behind the scenes there. My son-in-law is a freelance sound engineer and does some of the gigs there. He gave me a backstage tour. Because I’m really lazy though, much of the material needed very little research – that was why I chose it. It’s no coincidence that an interest in natural history binds the four men together. My husband worked for a conervation charity for more than 20 years and although I’m not particularly interested myself, I know the world quite well.

    MT: What would you say were the biggest challenges you faced in writing Hidden Depths? How did you overcome them?

    AC: Because I don’t plan the plot in any detail in advance, the biggest challenge is always pulling all the strands of the story together at the end. There’s always a slight moment of panic three quarters of the way through when I don’t believe I’m going to pull it off. Good editing definitely helps.

    MT: You won the 2006 Duncan Lawrie Dagger for Best Crime Novel for Raven Black. Tell us how winning the prize changed your life Ann.

    AC: The money meant that I could take some time off to write. I’d always had to work at other things before. Recently that’s been in reader development – promoting reading in libraries and as a trainer for an organisation called Opening the Book.

    The award has made a big difference to my profile here – it’s easier to get the books into High Street shops and to encourage media interest. But the main difference has been in overseas sales. Now the books have been translated into all the Scandinavian and most of the European languages, and into Korean, Japanese and Chinese. Raven Black will be a lead title for my US publisher when it comes out there in June. Apparently, I’m quite big in Sweden ...

    MT: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?

    AC: I write directly onto a computer now. It took me a long time to get used to doing that, but it’s so much easier to change the text. If I’m stuck on a tricky scene though I’ll still go back to notebook and pen. And if I’m on holiday or on the train, I can still write quite happily in the old way. I do lots and lots of rewriting. Because the story grows organically, by the time I get to the end, some of the scenes at the beginning don’t work at all.

    MT: What do you do when you are not writing?

    AC: At the moment it feels as if I’m spending time promoting the books – but that’s only because there’s a new title out. Tim and I have just moved back to the North East, which has felt like home from the time we first lived here. There are lots of friends to catch up with. I like going out on the coast with Tim. He’s birdwatching; I just enjoy the walk. And of course I read a lot.

    MT: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?

    AC: I write the sort of book I’d want to read myself. For example, I love the cheap thrill of a surprise ending. I’ve always thought it should be possible to keep to the conventions of a traditional crime novel, but still have psychological depth, a sense of place, an interesting theme. A detective story for grown ups.

    MT: What are you working on now?

    AC: I’ve just finished the second novel in the Shetland Quartet. The working title is White Nights. It’s set in mid-summer.

    MT: Who is your favourite writer? What is/are your favourite book(s)?

    AC: I’m passionate about translated European crime novels. I love the sense that I’m travelling, understanding something of another culture. My favourites are Dominique Manotti, Fred Vargas, Karin Fossum, Hakkan Nesser.

    MT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer!?

    AC: Read lots. Don’t give up!

    MT: Anything else you would like to say?

    AC: There are lots of very fine writers in the UK. Not all of them get the exposure they deserve. Libraries stock books which can’t always be found in shops – new authors, writers of short fiction, books by small presses. I think the role of libraries in the literary world of the country should be more celebrated.

  • Linda Chase

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:38

    Linda Chase manages the Poetry School Manchester and a reading series called Poets and Players which receives Arts Council funding. She teaches part time on the Creative Writing MA at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her Carcanet titles are, The Wedding Spy (2001) and Extended Family (2006).

    Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for Extended Family?

    Linda Chase: The idea came from the poems themselves. When I had gathered together the work I wanted to include in my next book, I saw that many were based on my own family and also on people I have lived with over the years in my shared house. I think too, that being an expatriate, the need to create a sense of family and belonging has inspired me to consider my close friends and house mates as my true extended family.

    MT: How long did it take you to write it?

    LC: I never had the idea 'I am writing a book' which I realise some poets do. I just write poems and when a period of time has elapsed, say a few years, I see which ones might come together into a book. My previous book with Carcanet was published in 2001 so I had 5 years' worth of poems to wade through! Most of the poems, of course, did not go into the book.

    The actual process of shaping the new volume took many months of rather intense work — selecting, polishing, ordering — not to mention dealing with my editor's comments and suggestions. There was a great deal of work over the three months before the manuscript was ready to go into production. Some books, certainly my first two, seemed to come together more easily. Perhaps now that I have more experience, have written more poems and have higher standards, the critical process will just take longer!

    MT: Do you wait for the Muse to land or do you work and work at your poems?

    LC: I am afraid I am a slave to the muse. I never sit down and say to myself, now Linda, it is time you wrote a poem — after all, you are supposed to be a poet. No. I just hang about and wait for an idea to come. But, since you asked this question, I do have a little plan up my sleeve which might change that. I thought of doing a response to a certain ancient text from the history of Tai Chi. That will be quite different. I look forward to giving it a try. Even now, of course, I always have the option of working on poems that have already been through a few drafts. I have plenty of these to hand at any time. I am never at a loss for something to dive into.

    MT: How do you write? Longhand or directly onto a computer, straight off or with lots and lots of editing?

    LC: This is the same kind of question patchwork quilt makers used to ask one another — do you do all your work by hand, or just the quilting? It was thought a kind of sacrilege to use a machine. Well, I always put the basic pieces together by machine! With poems, I am afraid I am a total heathen: keyboard all the way. Sometimes I do little jottings in small books I keep in my handbag, but these could hardly be called poems — just phrases or lines. I love the new technology and I took to it like a duck.

    One of the reasons I love working on the computer is that I can keep all my drafts without having to scrawl all over each one in order to create the next one. I number them and just keep letting the poem evolve through the various versions. Since they are still all at my finger tips, so to speak, if I think I have lost something good, I just go back and find it. I print out a draft when I think it is nearly there. Then I stand it up in this nifty little gadget which lets one sheet of paper to stand up on its own. The new poem stays by my computer till I feel like changing it again. Could be several days. Sometimes I write my changes on the paper, but more often, I just get the version up on the screen and make the adjustments there. My most recent poem is now at draft stage 6 and it might stay there. Too soon to say.

    MT: What do you do when you are not writing?

    LC: Aside form eat and sleep, I also teach creative writing — a bit at Manchester Metropolitan University on the MA course, and some at the Poetry School and some on residential courses in Greece and Spain.

    I also do a lot of arts admin. I am the coordinator for the Poetry School and do the programme planning, the promotion and the set up for all the courses and events. I also manage a reading series called Poets and Players which also needs admin and this is a one person band, except for the excellent help of a volunteer, Roger Barnes. I do the text for the leaflets, most of the distribution, the booking of performers and the hosting of the events. The series receives funding from the Arts Council. I love this work as it gives me a chance to create some wonderful music and poetry events in Manchester. I get to ask such talented people to perform. Then I can even pay them!

    The Dear List is another of my little pets. I send out information about live poetry events in Manchester whenever I have some news to pass along. I feature the things I myself promote — the Poetry School and Poets and Players, but also pass on listings which others send to me. It takes a lot of hours of my life but I hope it is contributing to my over all goal which is to establish a community of poets and poetry lovers in Manchester.

    Sometimes (but not often enough!) I am asked to do readings. I love to read because it feels like the ultimate goal of any poem — to be heard by others. I go to as many live poetry events as I can. I love these — to me, any poet's work comes alive when I hear him or her reading.

    Aside from these poetry related activities, I go to movies. Sometimes two a week, often only one. I also see a lot of plays. I love live performance and when theatre is really good, I feel it is the best art form on earth. Because of being quite dyslexic, I find reading almost unbearable and gave up struggling through novels when I was 30. Of course, I miss out on some great literature, but then I make up for it through movies and theatre. And music gigs — Bob Dylan is my hero — I see him as often as possible. Other recent gigs I heard were Jackson Browne, Stephen Merritts, Rufus Wainwright.

    Also, my tai chi practice is central to my life. I started 32 years ago and was a teacher with my own school for 20 years. Most mornings I do a practice of about an hour and a quarter, consisting of meditation, tai chi and a bit of yoga.

    And otherwise, I spend as much time as I can with my kids and their families. I love being a grandmother and we are all very close and keep in constant contact.

    And I do food shopping and laundry and home management of a large shared house. These activities are very rewarding. I love my home and I love being able to share it with others. This includes the Village Hall in the garden which was originally a billiard room for the house, and was my tai chi school and is now the home of the Poetry School Manchester.

    MT: Did you have an idea in your mind of your "ideal" reader? Did you write specifically for them?

    LC: Can't say that I have an ideal reader in mind. I guess I hope that even people who are not committed poetry readers might find my poems accessible. My poems are quite simple to understand, or 'get', so I hope they might have some general appeal.

    MT: What are you working on now?

    LC: Just a few individual poems. My next big job is to write a new application to the Arts Council for the 2007 programme of Poets and Players. This will take a lot of time and careful attention from me.

    MT: Who is your favourite writer? What is/are your favourite book(s)?

    LC: What a good time to have asked me this. My favourite poet is Sharon Olds and last week I had the honour of hosting her here in Manchester as part of the Manchester Literature Festival and also for the Poetry School where she gave a workshop. She read at the Manchester Museum in the Victorian Animal Life Gallery. Her reading was stunning and the setting spectacular — all those stuffed animals, not to mention the whale bones suspended over the audience. We had fabulous music from Chris Davies and Jon Thorne as well.

    For me, this event was a dream come true. It is a blessing for any writer to be able host the person they most admire. It is a very direct way of paying homage and respect to what has been gained through that person's work. I can compare it to the tai chi traditional ways between students and teachers. Of course, Sharon Olds had never been my teacher, but I grew through her as a writer as if she had been my teacher. So, I had this great opportunity to thank her and to share her with our community of poetry lovers in Manchester.

    I don't mean to make this sound as if I did all this by myself. Of course not. Many of us were her hosts, but I just wanted to convey the deep meaning it had for me. I even got to introduce her! Yes, it was a blessing.

    Favourite books — well, I must say, I love the Bloodaxe anthologies, Staying Alive and Being Alive. I use these a lot with my students as they are so rich and varied. Other anthologies I refer to a lot are The Rag and Bone Shop of the Heart edited by Robert Bly and Michael Meade and Billy Collins's Poetry 180. I won't even begin to tell you about all the slim volumes I love. Just too many!

    MT: Do you have any tips for the aspiring writer!?

    LC: Yes. When you are a new writer or a student, receiving suggestions from friends, tutors and fellow students, listen lightly. Remember, the comments you are hearing are just a few individual voices who have not led your life, lived in your body, experienced your childhood and had your dreams. They mean well, but they are limited. You are in charge of your own work. Learn what you can about what other poets have done with their work, but don't confuse it with your own. Keep true to what is original in you.

    MT: Anything else you would like to say?

    LC: Surely I have said more than enough already! Thanks for asking these interesting questions. I just glanced back and see that what I wrote most about what what I did when I was not writing. It's true. Other things take up most of our lives — or at least mine!

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