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.
Today Margaret Royall, winner of the Full Fat Poetry Collection Competition from The Hedgehog Poetry Press (collection coming in 2021) joins us to share glimpses inside her memoir The Road to Cleethorpes Pier and why she simply has to write.
Thank you Margaret for joining us today and sharing your writing journey with us. Let us begin…
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?
I began to write my memoir ‘The Road To Cleethorpes Pier’ as a true story of my childhood friendships and experiences growing up in an east coast seaside resort. A chance encounter at a book festival in 2019 brought me together with a childhood acquaintance, now a poet, who was launching his collection containing poems about our birthplace, Cleethorpes. It struck me that while I had written poems about people who lived there, I had not written about the place itself. I therefore set to it and wrote poems featuring memories of the place. My publisher suggested I combine these with the prose already written, changed to 1st person to make a memoir and include some of the many black and white photographs I had from the mid 1940s through to the early 1960s. The result was a loose form of Haibun after the Japanese style, a fusion of prose, poetry, photos and newspaper cuttings. It was published May 2020 and has achieved 5-star ratings on Amazon and beyond.
My hope is that older readers are able to identify with that period in time, taking a walk with me down memory lane, reliving their youth, or that younger readers learn about post-war social history, presented both in the narrative and in historical notes at the end of relevant chapters. Each chapter is short and together they form what used to be termed a ‘bedside book’, meaning that readers can easily consume a chapter per night, since each one stands alone.
I should add here that as well as this memoir I have a 1st collection of poetry ‘ Fording The Stream’, published Sept 2017 under the pen name Jessica De Guyat, published by an American contact on my behalf and available from Amazon (link below). I have also had a micro pamphlet published Oct 2019 with Hedgehog Press ‘Singing The Earth Awake’ (one of Hedgehog’s Stickleback series). The poems here have all been shortlisted or long-listed for poetry prizes.
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 guess my main chill out is meeting up with friends, going to the theatre, cinema, reading, singing with my village choir, visiting old churches – all of which have been severely curtailed by the pandemic. I also enjoy visiting beautiful stately homes and gardens and holidaying in the Hebrides and France when time and money allow.
I live in a small, peaceful, friendly village near the river Trent, in a quaint grade 11 listed cottage with beams. I like to write in the mornings sitting on the couch in the living room with my iPad. Sometimes my cat, Iona sleeps next to me.
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 usually write in quite an organic way, writing spontaneously and seeing what comes out. I then do lots of editing, paring down the content, removing the original ‘scaffolding’ to leave the finished piece. If I get stuck I will put the poem aside and return to it later. It’s amazing how a fresh day brings fresh eyes and often the elusive phrase just pops straight into my head second time around.
Below is a photo of my cottage frontage with clematis in full bloom. I have used this for my website:
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. Dickinson?
I am very active on social media, particularly on Twitter @royallmargaret and on Facebook, where I have an author blog page Writing From The Soul, which I update almost daily –
I am gaining new followers daily, which has surprised and delighted me.
Twitter is a brilliant place to discover new writers, competitions, opportunities etc. I have to say that self-promotion does not come easily to me but I know it’s a necessity. I sometimes worry that people will get sick of seeing my PR but I realise too that it brings rewards and if I don’t shout my news from the rooftops then who else will?
I am also on Instagram as @meggiepoet and post photos and news there too.
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?
It is important for me to see my work published in reputable journals and webzines. It is exhilarating to get acceptances and a little disconcerting to get rejections. However, you have to remember that those judging are reading the poems subjectively and not everyone will like them. ‘Horses for courses’, as they say. The important thing is to keep trying, forget about the failures and rejoice with the successes. I use websites which list competitions, submission windows and opportunities and try to ensure I read the work previously published by a journal to get a feel for the kind of poetry they publish.
Don’t let rejections put you off, that’s my advice. Just keep trying. The only time you fail completely is if you stop trying altogether.
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?
There are several poems of mine published in The Blue Nib, Impspired and Hedgehog Poetry Press that I feel particularly proud of: ‘Ghost in an Empty Chair’, ‘Flashback and Prolepsis’, ‘Skylark Resurrection’ ‘A Season of Swallows’ and my poem shortlisted in the Bangor Literary Festival Poetry Competition 2018 ‘Love on a Hebridean Beach’. The latter had to be decorated, framed, hung in a gallery and the public voted for the winner.
I am particularly fond of this poem as it epitomises my time spent on the inner Hebridean Isle of Iona on annual writing retreats. I fell in love with Iona on my first visit in 2012. The scenery is mystical, magical, unique. I invented a love story set there to fit the competition call out for poems on the theme of Love.
Here is my framed poem. It hangs on my landing and I see it daily, a lovely reminder of special times spent there, especially now during this pandemic.
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?
For me the challenge is keeping poems short and to the point. I am a details person, so I tend to want to include everything. Over the years I have learnt that less is more and I do try to adhere to that principle. Personal poetry does leave the poet very exposed and at first I had a problem with that. Grief and loss are overriding themes in much of what I write and if people read those poems they can see right into my soul. But I have learned to live with that. For me it has been a way of coming to terms with life’s challenges, of which there have been many over the decades. Losing the 3 people closest to me in life within 3 months of each other in 1998 and then being diagnosed with a chronic illness was a hard hit, which I am still processing. Writing definitely helped me come to terms with my situation and find a way through. I am very much a survivor!
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?
Titles are so important. Readers often look at them to decide whether to bother reading on. Good ones are difficult to choose. Nowadays I try to choose something intriguing, a reason for the reader to want to read on and find out more. Collection titles are especially difficult and there are so many differing schools of thought on this. It needs to fascinate, to inspire. My forthcoming collection title ‘Where Flora Sings’ has taken me months to settle on! In general I guess my titles are a summation of content (but not always!)
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?
I started composing poems in early childhood. I was born a Browning and the family assertion was that we were connected to the poet Robert Browning (although I have not yet been able to verify that fact). So from an early age poetry was written and talked about in the wider family. My parents would write out the poems for me, even in the night when I awoke with words in my head! They were extremely long suffering! At school I loved writing too and visiting school inspectors praised my poetry and took it away (for what I’m not sure.)
A big influence on my life was the Methodist chapel my family attended. The frequent singing of hymns and reading of psalms meant that I wrote a lot of hymns and psalms as a young child. As I relate in my memoir, my ‘Psalm to Jesus’ was sent by my headmaster to the Bishop of Lincoln when he was very ill. He wrote back to me and presented me with a signed Book of Common Prayer, which I still have today.
Once I started attending the Iona writing retreats every year I became convinced that poetry was something I had to pursue and full retirement finally gave me the time to do this. I simply have to write. That is when I am at my happiest and feel most fulfilled.
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?
For me too inspiration can come from photographs, images in a gallery or a piece of classical music (as with ‘Skylark Resurrection’, which was written in response to Vaughan Williams’ ‘The Lark Ascending’). I frequently combine a haiku with an image to form a haijin (example below)
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?
When asked as a child what I would grow up to be I always said an author. I have enjoyed many different careers during my working life, variously teacher of modern languages, college lecturer, reflexologist, sales manager for a cosmetics company, freelance Image Consultant, Aura-Soma Practitioner, Holistic Stress Manager, and the final years before retirement after my husband died, a freelance tutor of German and French for business people, within major East Midlands companies.
Other than writing I like photography and used to paint watercolours (but no longer find time for that now.) If I didn’t write poetry I guess I would adopt another creative medium!
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 our own armchairs. 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?
- ‘Life is not a dress rehearsal’ – Rose Tremain in her ‘Better Life Coaching’ blog of the same name
- ‘Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose’ said by French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr (the more things change the more they stay the same) from the Journal Les Guêpes.
Links to buying The Road to Cleethorpes Pier
Kindle 99p currently: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Road-Cleethorpes-Pier-touching-childhood-ebook/dp/B08776HTMB
Signed Author copies at £10.50 ( including p&p) available from myself via
Please contact me for alternative payment methods at Margaretroyall@icloud.com
Customer Review of The Road to Cleethropes Pier
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on 31 May 2020 on Amazon.co.uk
There is so much to admire in this little gem of a book. Margaret’s gaze looks back fondly – describing lost family and friends with warmth – but doesn’t flinch, recalling the “Siberian breeze” on a sea front where a riding party was once lost. The anecdotes about the Lincolnshire Methodist community are by turns funny (a friendship started over a leg stuck in a chair at Sunday school) and tinged with tragedy (the preacher with dementia getting bible verses muddled up). It’s a refreshing approach to interweave prose with poetry, which is done skilfully, and there is so much rich, human detail not only about Cleethorpes, but, memorably, 1960s Kaiserslautern. In fact the book almost becomes a study in how the two cultures emerged from the war. But the real reason to recommend it is harder to capture. The book just somehow wakes up times and places that the world would never thought to revisit, but ought to have done – and you’ll want to extend your stay until the last page.