If you have ever been anywhere near a writing group or book festival of any kind, you will know that writers come in all shapes and sizes, from big robust circles, to tiny stabby stars. They come in different flavours too, from cool, classic vanilla, to eyeball-exploding, triple-hot chilli sauce.
Thrillers With Attitude is on a mission to find out what makes these weirdly-shaped and strangely-flavoured writers tick.
My guest this week is poet and winner of The Irish Times Hennessy Poems of the Month, Aoife Lyall.
Hi Aoife, thank you for agreeing to take part in the Literary Smorgasbord.
What were you like at school?
I loved school. It is fair to say I was pretty competitive, and loved getting involved in art, drama and sport alongside the academics. I was lucky to have my twin sister and a solid group of friends looking out for me, and I got on well with the teachers.
What has been the evolution of Aoife Lyall, the poet?
I have been writing poetry I could take seriously since about 2012, but at that stage it was very sporadic. A long-term family illness and bereavement forced me to turn to writing as a way to get my head around things. A lot of my early work focuses on that experience. Since then, I keep an eye out for ideas and write down everything. Now my work is balanced between personal experiences and ideas that come to me randomly that I want to play around with.
Why do you write?
I have always enjoyed playing with words and poetry lets me do that in a way I find difficult with other forms. There is a big pressure to formulate, regulate and systemise things- poetry is where I get to introduce a little chaos.
How deep do you dig when you are writing – how much of yourself do you expose?
My earlier writing was heavily influenced by my circumstances so I was dealing with myself, but the emotions were right there on the surface and decidedly raw. My newer writing is not so much a chance to make sense of me, but to understand how I make sense of what’s around me.
Are you inspired by any writers in particular?
I love reading Billy Collins, Liz Lochhead and Roger McGough. They have a way of seeing the fantastic and wonderful in everyday life that I think is just brilliant.
Best writing moment so far.
When my husband made fun of me for being a poet- that’s when I knew I had something! I had tried writing other pieces before- which were just horrendous- and I was so precious about them he had to be really careful not to offend me. When he made fun of me? That was a big push – he knew I had it in me. Later that night I recieved an email telling me I had been awarded a commendation in the Neil Gunn Writing Competition: the first competition I entered, with the first poem I had written. That double-affirmation was a big boost.
What are you working on right now?
A collection based on my experiences as a teacher. It is in the early stages so I won’t go into anymore details.
What are your ambitions, writing wise?
To have writing at the centre of my career- creating, mentoring, teaching, lecturing. The actual path it will take- who knows? This last year has taught me that it doesn’t do to plan too far ahead- the important thing is to DO and see where it takes you.
What is your writing routine – do you have a favourite time of day for writing?
Early morning- even though I struggle to get out of bed the rest of the week, roll on Saturday and Sunday and I’m wide awake at 6:00am, ready to work away in the true silence you only really get at dawn. I tend to do my best revision work at this time of day and usually work on four-six different poems over the morning. I find this helps keep each poem fresh and stops my attention wavering. If I know something isn’t working, I move on to the next poem, then come back to the original later.
Do you have a set amount of writing to do each day – if so, how is it measured – pages, words, lines, time…?
I’m a full-time teacher so mid-week I tend to just jot down ideas. At the weekend I set myself aside a block of five hours either Saturday or Sunday morning, sometimes both. Some of that time may just be spent organising my files or reading- the point is that the time is an opportunity to focus on writing, and all that comes with it.
How do you write – longhand, laptop, typewriter, quill and ink?
Ideas and beginnings of poems are written in a lined, yellow notebook. From there, the work is typed up on the computer and printed. I rework the poem from the printed page using pens, pencils, highlighters, arrows and asterisks, then edit on computer print and repeat until the poem is done. The drafts are all kept together in polypockets and folders.
Any writing habits – music, particular place to work?
I now have a writing desk at home that is solely mine. I think it’s worthwhile to have a space you can call yours- whether it’s a full room, a coffee shop or a spot on the couch.
What inspires you to write?
Any advice for aspiring poets?
Start writing! For every piece that is worth developing you could have dozens that go into the scrap folder. Learn to critique individual pieces of work- not yourself.
If there was one person – contemporary, historical or fictional – you could spend a day with, who would you choose and why? How would you spend the day?
Anne of Green Gables – someone who is amazed by the everyday world. We would spend the day eating apples, reading and talking about everything. There would probably be a brook and scones involved at some point too.
A few short questions. What is your favourite book?
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Night at the Museum
Top 10 at 10 MFR
What are you reading right now?
Roger McGough’s collected poems.
Thanks for coming on the Smorgasbord, Aoife. It’s been great talking to you.
Find out more about Aoife at her blog.