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 have with us the author of Memory Forest and Venus in Pink Marble, Gaynor Kane.
Thank you Gaynor for joining us here, putting your buns and shimmy on hold for a moment and giving us a brief insight to your story…
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?
Thanks for the opportunity to have a chat about writing, Damien!
My latest book Venus in Pink Marble is a large body of work covering 5 years of writing and it is a reflection on my personal history and heritage. The collection is divided into three parts, to give it order. The first section is a selection of poems about historic events, my ancestors and the heritage of my hometown, Belfast. The middle portion takes the reader on a narrative journey from a more autobiographical point of view, poems about childhood, my family and life experiences. The final section is a collection of poems about artwork or inspired by news stories. There is a range of styles, subject matter and forms and I hope that every reader will find something that resonates with them.
I think the pretty pink cover alone, is enough for it to earn a place on any bookshelf, credit for which goes to Dave Goring at 2789 Graphic Design based in Newcastle, County Down. I just love how this book looks and feels. Mark Davidson at Hedgehog Poetry Press did a great job of typesetting and the printers have excelled themselves with nice off-white paper and petal pink end papers.
2 What is your chillout routine, your escape from the pen and all the pondering?
I enjoy doing lots of things, like baking (buns and cakes), painting (watercolour and acrylics), photography while walking the dog and Zumba (my favourite move is the shimmy). As I have a full-time office job, I must also fit writing into my leisure time and that can be difficult.
3 Do you follow a specific recipe for writing or do you throw all the ingredients into the bowl and see what happens?
Would you have a recipe for self-belief that you could send me, Damien?
I would love to be able to rustle up a daily loaf of that. I find it hard to just sit down and write, because for me, that is always a recipe for self-sabotage. I like the pressure of a workshop and find I always take something away from them. I know people say you shouldn’t wait for inspiration to strike but if I don’t have the motivation of a challenge or a deadline, I often find I can’t write unless I’m inspired. In my defence, I don’t always have a lot of spare time, what with having my day job, looking after the family and all the other commitments I have.
4 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?
My poem ‘Trussed’ is very personal and sums up some of the things I’ve been through. It’s a very honest piece of writing which begins with the story of my traumatic birth, having what used to be called a ‘club’ foot and moves into an unhappy childhood. Have a read:
I read a poem about battle scars, thought how lucky
I am, to have parchment skin, an unmarked body.
A baby, reluctant, sucked out, bald head blistered
like toad skin; leaving the womb half-hearted.
Misshapen, club-footed, forced to wear a splint
moulding pliable bones from bent to straight.
Being restrained was my toddler bedtime
routine, bound in boots, hide straps, brass buckles;
my mother transformed to woodworker,
as if steam-bending a strip of tear-soaked birch.
Sun-bleached walls protected me in daylight,
sitting on drab slabs behind steel spindles;
I was an x-ray, grey, looking out at a rainbow,
watching others play, imagining a friend.
I grew into my own skin, cast off confinement
shackled no longer I became less wooden;
My scars weren’t physical,
they were invisible;
a lover couldn’t tell the difference, but I know
that it was my right that was remoulded
and although almost straight, it is dumpier,
branded at the ankle with a paradoxical beauty spot.
5 Writing poetry, more so than any other writing form, is often the art of pealing back, removing the unnecessary, eliminating lines to uncover the hidden truth- how bare does it get for you?
I’m finding that it gets slightly easier but it’s still uncomfortable sharing very personal thoughts, feelings and experiences. I find too, that even if a poem is fictional many readers assume that it is autobiographical. But I can’t be the sort of poet that never writes from a personal point of view.
6 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?
Well, for a long time Venus in Pink Marble had the working title Titles are Hard so I don’t feel qualified to answer this! Other working title were: Paradoxical Beauty, Six to One (and half a dozen of the other) and One Part Sunlight.
One practical piece I will offer is when deciding on a title for a collection do a search on Amazon and Goodreads to see how many other books have the same title. If people are searching for your book, you want it to be at the top of search results. The title for my pamphlet Memory Forest wasn’t decided on until after I had the cover art and I reread the manuscript with the artwork in mind.
9 How did you find your way to writing and what was it about the process that kept you hooked?
I found my way into writing by accident, at the end of a degree in Humanities with the Open University. I completed my studies with a creative writing module and discovered that other people thought I was good at it. I’ve carried on because I’ve enjoyed the process. I’ve also made so many friends who encourage, support and motivate me to continue.
8 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?
At school, I thought I’d like to go into advertising but I don’t think I knew what that entailed and no one at my high school tried to help me achieve that dream. The closest they got was to send me to Bradbury Graphics, a large stationery and arts & crafts shop in Belfast’s Shaftsbury Square. I applied for all types of jobs; from assistant curator in the Ulster Museum to a lab technician for Neill’s Flour and ended up as a receptionist in a small Structural Engineers, at 17 as part of the Youth Training Programme. I went on to be an accounts clerk and relief telephonist at the head office of Stewarts and Crazy Prices Supermarkets before becoming a Civil Servant. I met my husband in my first job and by the time I was 25 we were building our own house in a little village on the Ards Peninsula. We did a lot of the unskilled work ourselves, from pouring foundations to insulating the attic. My daughter was born when I was 30 and when she went to nursery school, I fancied myself as a Sarah Beaney type. I took a career break and bought a house to renovate. At that time, as if I didn’t have enough to do, I also took on a part-time job in B&Q along with a part-time job as a survey interviewer with the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. I did those at the weekend and renovated the house while Tara was at Nursery.
I’ve always had hobbies which I start and then stop. I’ve done calligraphy and written my cousins wedding invitations. I’ve also done glass painting and continue to paint with watercolours and acrylics.
As mentioned above, at forty I decided to do a degree with the Open University. I finished my BA (Hons) with a creative Writing module and really enjoyed writing. I had had post-natal depression after my daughter was born and I began by writing some pieces about that and found it a really cathartic process.
Of course, being a writer brings other jobs with it as you learn how to promote yourself and sell books. Now I find myself being a combination of website designer, salesperson, personal assistant, PR manager, graphic designer and social media manager.
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?
I think Oscar Wilde is the king of one-liners and so I give you this:
“Quotation is a serviceable substitute for wit.”
Find Gaynor Kane here…