Lily Lawson is a staunch supporter of writers in Twitter’s #writingcommunity, which is where I met her a year or so ago. She doesn’t live all that far from me, so one day, when such things become possible again, we will actually meet in real life. Lily has published two books of poetry, My Father’s Daughter and A Taste of What’s To Come. In this interview she tells us how these books came about, the life view which shows strongly in her work, and her exciting projects-in-progress. Thank you, Lily.
You can follow Lily’s blog at lilylawson.com.
What inspired you to begin writing poetry?
When I was 11 my English teacher asked us to write some poetry. He put mine up on the wall. I don’t remember any other occasion when that happened, so it stands out.
Do you find writing easy?
Some days are easier than others. I often compose out loud. If I am able to, I write it straight onto the screen, sometimes editing as I go. I know from the first few lines if I have anything worthwhile, if not then I delete it.
Sometimes I post or save it at this stage. If I am not happy when I read it aloud I edit it once or twice. If by the third time round I can’t get it right I either ask for critique or put it in my unfinished folder. Some poems can be resurrected later, some never see the light of day.
Books are another matter altogether.
Your poems are very personal, most in the first person – can you share with us some of the key experiences which have shaped your work?
My Mam had Dementia in the years leading up to her death in 2019. My Dad and I cared for her at home until six months before she died, with support in the later stages. Some of my poetry comes from that time. “Sometimes” is written from her perspective.
I undertook various volunteer roles in the church for over 30 years starting at 16. My experiences have influenced my poetry. Although written in first person, sometimes I am putting myself in someone else’s shoes, as the emotion needs to be expressed from a close perspective.
I think we absorb things that feed our writing. The news, music, books, tv, films, photographs, a conversation, an event or incident can all pop up, even years later. People and situations can be easier to write about with some distance but sometimes being in the moment gives a better end result.
How has this past year and all its extraordinary change to our lives impacted you and your poetry?
In some ways it spurred me on. I have had more time to think and give my poetry more attention. I published both my books last year.
I have made connections and strengthened some existing ones. It made me see people in a clearer light. I don’t know any writers or poets locally so I find it helpful to connect virtually. I can’t express my gratitude enough to the friends I have made online, they have kept me going sometimes without even knowing it.
I had bouts where I stopped writing, it was hard to focus, writing seemed a bit trivial at times. My Mam left a big hole in my life so my grief was part of that. My Dad had a mini stroke last year and that affected me too. One of my closest writing friends was badly hit by the virus. She was her amazing, inspirational self. It made me see if she could do it, there was nothing stopping me.
The whole year was emotional. I made some changes and I feel I changed because of it. Writing gets me through things eventually.
What’s behind the titles of each of your books?
My Father’s Daughter is because I believe, even though I am adopted, my Dad and I are quite similar. As it was my first book I wanted to start where I start
A Taste of What’s to Come was the suggestion of a friend. Each one of the poems in there will be in a future book if it hasn’t been published already. I wanted to show my variety as a poet, to establish that this is a long-term thing for me.
Do you show your work in progress to anyone?
I am part of the Open University Write Club. I sometimes post my work on their private forum for critique. I have shown certain poems to one or more of my friends to get their opinion.
My Father’s Daughter went through many drafts and many readers before publication. It took years to get from the decision to publish a book to actually doing it because I kept losing my nerve. The poems in A Taste of What’s to Come have been read individually but not collectively, before publication.
What writers did you enjoy reading as a child?
Enid Blyton’s Famous Five comes to mind and Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers. There were many more as I was always at the library, unfortunately I can’t remember their names now.
Who are your favourite living poets?
The poets I have met on social media. Some of their poetry is amazing.
Who are your favourite dead poets?
I don’t have any as such. I have favourite poems by dead poets.
These are a few of my favourites:
Don’t Quit – John Greenleaf Whittier
The Road Not Taken – Robert Frost
Jerusalem (And did those feet) – William Blake
What other interests do you have?
I am studying for an Open Degree with the Open University. I also love to read. I am a social scientist at heart, I love to learn about people. I spend my spare time studying Psychology, Philosophy, and Sociology. Writing and music are my soul I guess.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to write and publish poetry?
Write in your own voice, in your own way. It doesn’t have to be a ‘proper’ form and there is no special language that you have to use. There is nothing to stop you writing in form, but it’s a choice not a requirement. Trying out different styles is good practice. It helps you grow. Sometimes writing a poem in the style of someone else will teach you something but if you are being fake in any sense of the word it won’t work in the long term.
If you want to study, there are lots of books, and plenty of courses, some of them free. You can also learn a lot from other poets by sharing your drafts if you can find a safe place to do so.
You have to love it; it has to be part of you.
Do you write prose at all? What kind?
I write flash fiction for my blog and I am trying my hand at short stories. I love writing for the Open University’s digital magazine the Hoot, and interviewing my fellow authors.
What’s next in the pipeline?
I am working on three poetry collections, one for kids which I have called The Kite Flying Elephant. The other two have working titles at the moment. I plan to publish at least one of my poetry collections later this year.
One of my children’s poems is being illustrated with the aim of it being released as a book for Christmas. I am also considering publishing some of my short poems and flash fiction.