At Home with the Hoglets
Beginning with A Restricted View from Under the Hedge to Sticklebacks and on to The Cult of the Spiny Hog, along with a classic collection of inspirational writers, Mark Davidson and his poets are turning hoglets into must-have bookshelf desirables. Over a series of interviews I will ask the same 11 questions to a group of Hedgehog poets and Mark himself, and hopefully we’ll uncover what it takes to put pen to page, poem into print and pamphlet onto that prized position on every reader’s bookshelf.
And so we begin with Katie Proctor, from Yorkshire England, whose debut collection is entitled Seasons…
Thank you Katie so much for taking the time to speak to us today about yourself and your writing process. So let’s get started…
1 Why did you write this collection, what is it about and what would you like the reader to take away after they turn the last page and find that perfectly prized place for it on their bookshelf?
At its heart, Seasons is a book about love and everything that comes with it. I wanted to create something that resonated with anyone who has loved someone, lost someone and changed as a person because of that. The whole collection is inspired by the people around me and what they have brought to my life or taken from me, and I see it as a celebration of vulnerability. The poems in the collection are so personal not just because of what they were inspired by and written about but also because I wanted to convey a message that has been hugely important to me: going through heartbreak and trauma can create a version of you that you are really proud of. I never expected the poems in this collection to be some of my favourites, but now I see them as evidence of the way I have developed and grown as a person after loving and losing people, and I think it’s really important to remember that it is possible to appreciate the bad things for how they changed you positively. Simply, though, the greatest compliment I could receive as a poet is being told that my work has resonated with the reader in some way. I want my poems to take on different lives of their own in my readers’ minds and linger in their minds as something that has impacted them in some way.
2 My chillout time comes from cooking, endless hours lost in the kitchen along with a blaring radio of eclectic tunes and golden oldies, but I can only chill when the cupboards are well stocked with the basic ingredients. Firstly, what is your chillout routine, your escape from the pen and all the pondering and, secondly, what are the basic ingredients you need when it comes to settling down to write- what factors or futons make the best mix for your creations?
I have always had a long list of hobbies which I turn to for an escape from anything that is stressing me out (and that can definitely sometimes be writing!). As a person I’m definitely a creative – I’ve never been interested in maths or science, so whenever I need to I will always turn to the arts in some form. Most of the time that means I will write, but there is no doubt that I get immensely frustrated when a piece just isn’t working out the way I want it to, and that’s when I’ll pick up my guitar or ukulele and learn a new song, or simply shut myself in the bathroom and belt out a musical theatre tune. I also love to dance, and I find that it can be extremely therapeutic, but it’s not as easy to launch into choreographing an extravagant contemporary dance when you don’t have a dance studio at hand!
Whilst there are times that I will sit down in front of a notebook or laptop with the sole intention of getting a new piece finished, that kind of writing routine is typically reserved for when I’m on a deadline – if I need something new to read at a scheduled performance, for example. From the day I started writing poetry, it has always been a release for me first and foremost, and anything else that comes with it is a bonus. As such, I find that I write best when I need to write, rather than just when I want to, if that makes any sense. The best pieces usually creep up on me without me realising. Leading with this philosophy (at least for the most part) tends to mean I get the most authentic work possible, which is undoubtedly the most important thing to me when it comes to my poetry. On a simpler level, some quiet music and a snack help too. I’m a big fan of the lo-fi hip hop radios you can find on YouTube, and my recent writing snack obsession is mini quiches.
3 Sticking with the cooking analogy for a moment, do you follow a specific recipe for writing or do you throw all the ingredients into the bowl and see what happens?
I think this comes back to whether I’m sitting down with the sole purpose of writing or whether it’s more spontaneous. If I’m planning on getting a piece done I’ll be paying more attention to and actively making stylistic choices – thinking a lot more about line breaks, punctuation and any metaphors or themes I’m using. If not, I’ll likely just free-write, usually in prose, until I feel like I’ve got something I can rework. Occasionally those pieces will stay in their original form (ie. I won’t edit them into verse but will probably make changes to the actual body of text), but most of the time they’ll end up as poems. Even more rarely I’ll free-write straight into verse and the piece will come out almost perfectly the first time around. A lot of the time it just depends on how I’m feeling and what comes out.
4 In these days of social media, you’re nothing if you’re not seen and in these unsettling, uncertain days of Covid, seeing, listening and buying has moved online and readings and live launches in libraries and lounges are a rare happening or else there is a limit to the amount of people in attendance. How are you dealing with having new collections coming out right now? What is your way of being seen? How are you coping with the fact that being a writer today also requires a certain amount of spotlight, certainly more than the days of Ms. Dickenson?
Since this is my first collection, I was completely clueless about how this all works before Seasons was accepted for publication, so in that sense the changes that the virus have brought haven’t really been all that bizarre to me. I think being completely new to it all has helped somewhat. I’m also very used to using social media to promote myself – aside from writing I am an actor, and therefore involved in an industry in which the use of social media is very important. I think that’s transferred over into promoting my writing really nicely and has helped book sales without a doubt. I know lots of other writers from my writing group, which is affiliated with my local literature festival, and that has definitely made spreading the word about my book easier. In terms of the spotlight, as I’ve been acting for nine years now, it isn’t something that bothers me at all, although I do consider myself to be quite a shy person in real life.
5 Speaking of being seen and getting noticed, how important are acceptances from writing journals and how do you deal with the rejection which comes, no matter how much acclaim you have received? The reality we must learn is that not everyone is going to love our work, which can be heart breaking as we’re basically offering up our poetic babies to be loved, though no one loves a baby as much as the parent. So what keeps you going? Head up and move on or hide out and wait till the hurt passes? What encouragement do you have for others starting out?
Before I was even considering putting together my first proper manuscript, I submitted to so many writing journals and magazines and was rejected by the vast majority of them. For a while it put me off, but I think you have to remember that a rejection doesn’t necessarily mean your work was bad. One of the reasons there are so many journals, magazines and presses out there is because each has its own individual style, and therefore each is looking for different types of work that represents them. It can take some time to find the right homes for your work, and that’s fine – your poems are your babies and it’s important that you find the perfect place to publish the beautiful, personal pieces that you put so much time and effort into. But when it comes down to it, all of that is easier said than done, and I think to a point you have to find your own way around it. For some people, pausing on the submissions for a while to remind yourself that you’re still a writer with huge talent is the best way to deal with rejection. Others find it easier to carry on and not overthink it. There is no magical one size fits all answer, and I think even the most seasoned of poets still get down about their rejections. Just remember that being rejected is by no means a reflection on your talent. With so many opportunities out there, you are bound to find the right place that your work is absolutely perfect for.
6 If you had to pick one piece of your own writing that most represents you what would it be and why and would you like to share it or part of it here with us?
Although that feels almost like an impossible question to answer, a couple of pieces of mine spring to mind for different reasons. I think if I had to choose I would say a very special poem of mine entitled Seasons which, if it’s not obvious, is where the title of my recent poetry collection came from. I feel as though it encapsulates a message I want to give out in my book which is so important to me, told simply through the last lines of the poem:
Their untruths might have left
a heart so empty you fear
it will never love again
but when the spring comes again
you will heal
and you will bloom
and it will be brighter
than they ever were
The reason it is so important to me is because I wrote it during a phase of my life which produced some of the most raw and vulnerable poetry due to a particularly difficult heartbreak I experienced, and in this poem I was writing a letter to myself in the past, present, and future, as a reminder of the lesson I learnt from this. Whenever I need a reminder of my self-worth and how far I have come, I always come back to this poem.
7 Writing poetry, more so than any other writing form, is often the art of peeling back, removing the unnecessary, eliminating lines to uncover the hidden truth- how bare does it get for you? How difficult is it, at times, to tell your story within the lines and framework of a poem? How comfortable is it to be naked with so few words to cover over the possible discomfort or is it just a part of the process you get used to?
Getting my message across in a way that felt fully complete was always something I struggled with when I started writing poetry about four years ago, I think without even realising. I’ve been writing my whole life but venturing into the world of poetry as someone who was well-adjusted to prose and longform was definitely a challenge. Having written somewhere close to a hundred poems now I think I’m pretty much used to it, but it’s always a little bit scary being so vulnerable in your writing. Shifting into writing pieces that benefit from the creator being as open as possible, especially in so few words, is a really strange thing. That’s one of the things that intimidated me the most when I was in the process of getting my book published – I’ve never had my work read on such a wide scale before, and as someone who writes about experiences that are so personal it’s certainly strange to think about a lot of people reading poems that have such a clear emotional meaning to me. As much as it is undoubtedly difficult at times, I think the payoff from creating such genuine pieces and receiving beautiful responses from people regarding the way they resonate with the words themselves is honestly worth the fear that comes with being vulnerable. Personally I see it as a part of the process that is so integral that I barely notice now. With every poem I write the discomfort lessens.
8 When it comes to titles, our pieces as I said, are like children- each needing special consideration and attention- how do you name your poems, short stories, collections or novels- is the name a starting point, a midway consideration or a summation of the theme afterwards? Sometimes I worry when I come up with a really great title it might overpower the poem itself- is there a balance between the two?
For me, titling is something that ranges from the easiest part of writing and by far the most difficult. Sometimes I will start with a title and run with it, but more frequently I will finish a piece and then spend a while puzzling over finding the perfect name. Either way, it is rare that a poem will find its name midway through writing for me. Often I will write around a theme or an idea – for example, one poem in Seasons entitled Lemon and Ginger Tears came from the motif of tea, and from there the title came naturally. On the flipside I might be completely clueless and really struggle with a name. I (probably along with the majority of poets) consider titles to be hugely important. It really is like naming a child, and sometimes when it doesn’t come easily I can get very frustrated. I think finding the balance between a great poem and a great title is also something that can be a bit of a nightmare. There have definitely been times where I have felt forced to settle for a title that doesn’t quite match up to the poem, and vice versa. I don’t think feeling slightly dissatisfied with a piece is abnormal, though – I have had pieces or titles that have grown on me given time. Sometimes you just need to come back to it with fresh eyes and something will click.
9 For myself, writing started in childhood as a purely cathartic process, even if I was too young to fully understand this, it was a way of self-analysing and coming to an understanding of the world and my place within it. How did you find your way to writing and what was it about the process that kept you hooked?
At a very young age I discovered my aptitude for reading, writing and all things literature in my English lessons, and my love for that subject is something that has continued to the present day as I am studying it at A-Level and pursuing a degree in English Literature. Writing always came naturally to me, I think as a combination of my ability with everything to do with words and my imagination, which has always been very overactive. I started out writing stories inspired by the books I read and abandoned various novels half-finished. Strangely enough, I spent a long time not understanding poetry, and felt no draw to it until I was about 14, which I think was mainly due to a lack of exposure to it. All I knew was that poetry rhymed, something that has never been my strong point, and that almost put me off altogether. I’d already been writing short prose pieces for a while as a way of getting my emotions out, so the move into the kind of poetry I’ve been writing since wasn’t a huge challenge. I’m not entirely sure what it was that eventually gave me the push to give it a try, but the second I finished writing my first ever poem on the school bus one morning, I knew I was hooked. It was the perfect medium for me – I could write a fully formed piece in a short amount of time, rather than giving up on long stories because I didn’t have the patience to plan the plot properly. Poetry gave me the chance to create something that I was proud of using my talents and express the emotions I didn’t feel like I could properly deal with at the same time. The fact is, ever since that day I have barely stopped for breath when it comes to writing poetry. As soon as I found it I knew that it was for me, and in just a few years I have reached a point where I am receiving the kind of appreciation for my writing that I have always dreamed of. That’s something I’ll always be proud of.
10 For the most things that fulfil me in life, the surrounding visuals are very important, and over the past few years the relationship between the photograph I take and poem I write becomes integral to the success of both- sometimes I never know which inspired the other more. What is your favourite accompaniment while creating a piece of writing?
Despite my creative brain, I’m not much of an artist or photographer myself, but one thing I have loved experimenting with during the time I’ve been writing poetry is creating a piece inspired by someone else’s artwork. The relationship between the two artists, the thought process behind each piece and the connection between them is something that I find really interesting. Just as every person will take something different away from a piece of writing, my interpretation of a photo or drawing and what it inspires in my poetry can be drastically different from what was originally intended by the other artist. I’ve also found it really fascinating to see if a poem I’ve written prompts a visual image in my mind, and seeing how the two work together. I had a very distinct image of the idea I wanted for the cover of Seasons, but what the incredible artist designed that I absolutely loved ended up being completely different. I think the relationship between visual and written art is really interesting and I would definitely like to spend more time in future experimenting with visual additions to my pieces, whether that be photography or art.
One of the pieces in my book entitled What she called love was originally written prompted by this piece of art.
11 The more I write, the more it becomes my oxygen, the more my hand shapes itself to the shape of my favourite pen or now my iPhone which has replaced the laptop as the most at-hand instrument to record my thoughts, and these days I have to catch them quick or they are lost forever. As a kid I wanted to be a famous fashion designer and lived in 4 different countries working for various fashion brands, though the writing was always there. Since then, cooking and photography have come more into the forefront. What were your childhood dreams, what were the jobs that followed to fulfil them or just fill time and what, other than writing, would you consider doing in order to express yourself?
I was the kind of child who went through lots of different hobbies before I settled on something that I really enjoyed (besides writing which was always a constant presence, but I never really thought I would be able to make something of it in the future), and for me that was acting. It had never really been something I’d considered a major passion of mine, aside from having some small parts in school plays, but looking back I’m absolutely not surprised that I fell in love with it from the word go and immediately knew I wanted it to be my future job. Similar to writing, it’s something that has given me the chance to become someone else and tell a story from their point of view, and it’s another hugely effective way that I express myself. Since I first signed up to stage school at the age of 8, I have taken it from just a hobby that I used to fill the evenings after school to committing to my dream of an acting career, and I don’t see myself stopping any time soon. Although as a career path I’ve found it to be really challenging (preparing yourself for the constant rejection is almost impossible), the opportunities I’ve had have been worth the tears, without a doubt. Embodying someone’s creation and lifting it off the page is gratifying and so fulfilling and I hope to continue doing it for the rest of my life.
Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts, insights and mental workings with us. It’s been a pleasure to dive inside your head from the comfort of a distant armchair. Before we depart, if you were to leave us with one line, one phrase, one lyric, a one-liner or a once-in-a-life-time admission, either yours or someone else’s, what would it be?
I think I would have to use this opportunity to share something I’ve learned over the last few years that I think everyone needs to hear at some point – nothing lasts forever and that is not only perfectly fine, but also can be a great comfort at times. Pain is temporary, and one day you will look back on the worst situations and create art out of them like so many people before you have done. It’s the one fact that I always try and remember, through good times and bad, because it really is true.
Bio & book info:
Katie Proctor is a poet from Yorkshire, England. Since she can remember she has loved to write, whether it be prose, poetry or stories, and writing will always be her first love. Nowadays, she writes freeform poetry and prose often regarding her experience with love, relationships and mental health. Her debut collection of poetry, Seasons, was published by Hedgehog Poetry Press in August 2020. Outside writing, she is a student with a passion for literature, history and classics, and is a big fan of Shakespeare. She loves to act and plans to study English Literature at university. You can find her on Twitter @katiiewrites and Instagram @katiiewrites.
I am currently selling copies of my book through PayPal:
Signed copies: £6.99
Annotated copies: £9.99