THE MINDS BEHIND THE MADNESS- THE HEDGEHOG POETRY PRESS- VIC PICKUP

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 we are joined by Vic Pickup who one day might have a poetry cafe that shuts when ideas rush in. So pull up a chair in the kitchen, grab a scone and let’s get started.

Thanks for taking the time to chat to me Vic, here we go…

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?

This sequence was a happy accident, really. It was only after seeing the competition, ‘A time to think’, advertised by Hedgehog Press that I assembled the poems I’d written during lockdown and realised there was a theme emerging on its own. The sequence describes a kind of journey – although covering seemingly disparate subjects, I think the poems hold hands nicely and are sympathetic to each other’s feelings!  I hope Lost & Found is accessible enough for readers to relate to personally, and  feel ultimately strengthened and uplifted as the pamphlet concludes. 

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 three children so a bit of quiet to contemplate life is always welcome! I love walking, I am also an avid baker. I have a terrible sweet tooth so those two combined aren’t ideal! Sitting with a good book or film and my cat Freddie (after the great Mr Mercury) is a lovely thing indeed. When I do get the chance to write, I don’t need much – a window of time, a nice big tankard of coffee, and a laptop – I find I can type quicker than I can write and often it’s a challenge to keep up with my head! 

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 find the more I think about a poem, the more I ‘lose’ it. Come to think of it, overthinking has always been my downfall in life! If I have an idea, I have about thirty seconds to splurge the bulk of it on a receipt or back of my hand with a biro or it’s gone. The ones which come into being this way are usually stronger than the ones I write to order. My favourite new trick is to write down an impromptu poem on a text message and then accidentally send it to the plumber or dentist. 

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’m mostly communicating with others in the poetic world via social media at the moment. In large, I find the poetry community on Twitter so supportive. I think I am a bit addicted for that reason. I’m also on Facebook and Instagram, though not quite ‘down with the kids’ enough to be on TikTok like you, Damien! At first, I loved being able to access so many events online but I do find the concentration levels required for Zoom quite tiring and it can be really hard to wind down after an event. I miss seeing people. REAL performances and connections. I am so grateful for the technology that has kept us all going but I hate relying upon it and the stress it can bring about when it doesn’t cooperate. I would have loved a proper launch for Lost & Found, to do library and bookshop visits to make this all seem real and, of course, help with sales, but hey ho – I’m just glad it IS real and with a bit of creativity it’s still possible to get books out there. As for spotlight, I don’t feel particularly visible – I’m just really enjoying connecting with other poets so anything which raises my profile a bit in order to open up new opportunities and meet others who love what I love is just wonderful!

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?

That phrase ‘expect the worst, hope for the best’ applies to me with submissions. I always expect not to get anywhere, so I’m usually cheered if I even get a jolly rejection! That said, there are some that for an unknown reason you can’t help feeling positive about – and when you get your hopes dashed the only thing for it is to send your ‘baby’ out somewhere else. That’s the wonderful thing about poetry, you can have many in circulation at once to balance out the woe! I have written an erotic novel in the past, and submitted it to Mills & Boon. It was a blow to get rejected because once it’s back, that’s it for a while – at least, if you’ve written a whole novel in keeping with that particular publisher’s wants. However, in this case they sent me some really bang-on feedback, so I had something to work with which was really helpful. So I guess my message to poets starting out is to temper the dejection by finding something else to be hopeful for – and fast! And if you get some constructive criticism, don’t be cross, USE it to either make changes that feel right or to help cement your intentions.

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?

This is a tough one! Much of my writing is about my family, and I wanted to choose something light, accessible, but sincere. This was published by Atrium recently, and I think it ticks the aforementioned boxes:

Conversation with a Cavewoman
No, we don’t get many sabre-toothed tigers,
food stores are reasonable at our local Tesco Extra,
my partner has no need for a spear or knife –
he uses a thing called a Mac to sustain his brood,
and firelighters, individually wrapped.

I have not lost any children to the cold or hunger –
nobody wants to take them in the night or kill them.
My milk didn’t dry up in a drought;
when our son had a cough we drove to the A&E in town
and didn’t have to wait long.

But I lie awake at night,
dread what I cannot stop.
My inability to forage, find fresh water or control my fears –
that my children will live like me, talk like me
be frightened of this world.
I worry I don’t show love as other people do,
that they will need pills or to pay someone
just to talk.

On days when the cloud-base is low, and the list
of what’s needed unravels, as I so frequently do –
I want to swaddle their peach skins
in animal fur, smother them with my scent –
have enough fuel to keep the fire strong
and the glow in their faces, knowing
I can take on the world.

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?

A friend once told me that they admired my bravery in writing candidly about my life, and I must admit, I hadn’t really considered it before – I’ve started to now though! There are a few poems I have actively destroyed in the past because I wasn’t comfortable with writing about other people’s lives, or my own, in hindsight. In a way, poems are confessional, they make the unspoken a reality and communicate what’s really personal – which is essential for it to have an impact, I think. But everyone has limits, triggers, boundaries, and it’s important to find out where yours are as a writer. I have written a bit about mental health, breakdowns, old age – these are subjects that affect people, so actually, it’s important to talk about them and not worry about it if you are being genuine. I think – hope – readers will appreciate that.

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?

Sometimes it’s the first thing that triggers the poem. Sometimes it comes afterwards, then occasionally that’s the thing that a writing workshop will suggest needs changing. Increasingly I use the first line of the poem as a title. I like titles to be simple, and intriguing. Often a bit mad!

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?

The feeling from writing something which I think works gives me such an adrenaline rush. I liken it to the feeling after going for a really long run (if I remember rightly!). I like the focus writing gives me which is beyond my train of thought. Things pour out via the pen that I didn’t know were there so in that sense the process is extremely cathartic. Any kind of creativity gives a level of productivity which I find so rewarding. Being at home with three children is wonderful but some days you can feel like even basic household maintenance is a struggle. To write a poem gives an enormous sense of self-fulfilment which has been especially important to me over this past decade. To have somebody else enjoy the work is just an unbelievably huge shiny cherry on top. 

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?

It’s an obvious one, really – but I need a window. A view gives me perspective, and the natural light is a very good thing for the head. I’m a big believer that being outside as much as possible is important for wellbeing, but when that’s not possible being inside looking out is a close second. 

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?

Writing has always been the thing I loved. I was a freelance writer and editor before I became a Mum, before that I studied English and then Creative Writing at University, so I would always like to earn my bread from the written word, and to do so creatively would be a dream. Failing that, as a child I quite fancied working in a shoe shop. Or perhaps a bakery, decorating cakes (if I could manage not to eat everything). I’ve toyed with the idea of opening my own little poet’s cafe one day, but I’m not sure how visitors would feel at me turfing them all out in the middle of their lattes because I had a good idea I needed to get down…

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?

The thing I say to my children a lot is ‘nothing worth having comes easy.’ It sounds negative but actually I think it’s important above all to be a trier in life- the willingness to graft and persist is highly valued above natural gifts I think. Also, it’s good for them to realise even the best things take effort and time.

You can find Vic’s book here…

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