I can remember writing short stories soon after I’d passed through the rite of literacy. As a bantling I’d thump out bits of fiction on an heirloom typewriter, or pen pages of scary stories or science fiction.
Yet, it was really when I was thirteen that I had that epiphany of the pen after I had chanced upon Clive Barker’s “The Great and Secret Show.” Barker’s prose was like nothing I’d encountered before; it was electrifying, sensual, and equally unsettling. After having been immersed in such an intimate union of words and Barker’s own fantasies, I knew this something I wanted, perhaps needed, to do. And so I’ve been working with words to create my own worlds since.
J.S.Watts is a British poet and novelist. Born in London, she now lives just outside of Cambridge. Her poetry, short stories and book reviews appear in publications in Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the States, including Acumen, Mslexia and Popshot (and, of course, Peeking Cat) and have been broadcast on BBC and Independent Radio. She has been Poetry Reviews Editor for Open Wide Magazine and Poetry Editor for Ethereal Tales. Read our interview with her below.
When and why did you first start writing?
I know it sounds a bit clichéd, but I’ve been writing for almost as long as I physically could. Originally it was because my teachers told me to, but I really enjoyed creative writing, though I don’t think we called it that back then. My earliest memory of being successful with my writing was at the beginning of junior school when one of my poems was entered by the school into a local poetry competition. It didn’t win first prize, but I think it came second. So writing has featured memorably in my life from quite an early age. According to my mother, I started writing even earlier. She claims, in the way that mothers do, to have a copy of my first ever poem written for a school assembly when I was four or five. I think she feels it has blackmail potential.
What do you enjoy writing, and what do you find yourself writing about most often?
I enjoy writing poetry and prose equally. My output includes poetry, short stories, novels, book reviews, blog posts and articles. If the topic interests me, I enjoy writing about it. The act of creating something out of words is extremely satisfying.
As to what I write about, I guess it’s basically the human condition. Superficially, my subject matter is very diverse, both in terms of genre and theme. My poetry collections cover a broad range of subjects. My first novel, A Darker Moon, is literary dark fiction based on an ancient myth. My second novel, Witchlight, is contemporary paranormal fantasy with a touch of romance. At various times my writing has encompassed horror, dark fiction, science fiction, fantasy and paranormal, literary fiction, non-fiction and poetry and includes subject matter as diverse as the sea, death, the craft of writing, myth and legend, robots, balloons, memory and soup. The underlying theme to all of it, I guess, is humanity, people, the human experience, what makes us tick.
What was favourite book as a child?
This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. As a child, I was an avid reader and virtually lived at my local library. I fell in love with many, many books. Ones that have lodged themselves in my memory include (in no particular order, or reading age): The Moomin series by Tove Jansson, The Paddington Bear books by Michael Bond, The Orlando the Marmalade Cat series, anything by Doctor Seuss, The Sword at Sunset and The Hound of Ulster by Rosemary Sutcliffe, The Flicka series by Mary O’Hara, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien and a whole raft of books about myths, legends and fairy stories from around the world. Oh, and I really shouldn’t leave out the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis and the Chalet School books by Elinor M Brent-Dyer. I could keep going for a lot, lot longer, but lists of books become boring after a while and these books are all so fabulous I wouldn’t want anyone to feel bored by them.
Who is most supportive of your writing?
I value the support of everyone who’s ever read or published one of my poems or stories or has bought any of my poetry collections or novels. You guys make it possible. Thank you.
My mother is a fan and I’ve several close friends who listen to my drafts, buy my books and turn up to poetry readings when they can. The cat is less supportive. He just expects to be fed and feature in my work at every opportunity. He tends to be disappointed on both counts.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve done in the name of writing?
Mmmm, another difficult question. What’s weird? I have been told that being a poet is unmitigated weirdness in its own right.
I’ve performed my poetry in some really interesting places: castles, mansions, museums, art galleries, cellars and dungeons, as well as pubs, clubs and libraries. The location of Crosswords poetry night in Nottingham is pretty unusual. It’s in a cave underneath a pub that used to be a Victorian Music Hall. Certainly performing my poetry in a cave felt weird, but nice weird.
What do you find the most difficult or challenging about writing?
Like all writers, I hate receiving rejections of my work. I don’t think it ever gets any easier, but as rejections are an integral part of being a traditionally published writer you just have to take it on the chin and carry on.
Tell me about the piece of work that you are most proud of writing, or about the writing accomplishment you are most proud of.
In terms of individual pieces of work, that’s a bit like asking which of your children you love most. I don’t think I can do it, and even if I could, I really shouldn’t.
More generally, I’m proud of the fact that, to date, I’ve published six books (four of poetry and two novels). I’m proud that my work has won a few prizes here or there, or at least been mentioned in dispatches. I’m proud of the fact that my writing has both moved and entertained some people along the way.
What are your writing plans, goals or dreams for the future?
How long have you got? Currently, I’m waiting on a publication date (probably 2019, I’m guessing) for my third novel, Old Light (which is a sequel to my second novel, Witchlight). I’m in the middle of writing my fourth novel, Elderlight (which will conclude the Witchlight trilogy). I’m working on a new full collection of poetry. I’m writing individual short stories, poems and book reviews.
Looking forward, I hope to publish many more books. I’d like to perform in parts of the country I haven’t yet performed in (I’m open to invitations). I’d love to win a high profile, prestigious prize for a piece of my writing and I’d really love to write a moneymaking best seller (but the last two are definitely more dream than reality).
J.S.’s poetry collections, Cats and Other Myths and Years Ago You Coloured Me, are published by Lapwing Publications, as is her multi-award nominated poetry pamphlet, Songs of Steelyard Sue. Her latest poetry pamphlet, The Submerged Sea, is published by Dempsey & Windle. Her novels, A Darker Moon – dark literary fiction and Witchlight – a paranormal tale with a touch of romance, are published in the US and UK by Vagabondage Press.
When I turned 40, instead of buying a sports car, I decided to begin an Open University degree. I signed up to creative writing as my last module towards a BA (Hons) Humanities with Literature. In preparation, I attended some writing workshops and have been writing ever since.
Whilst I started writing as part of my academic learning, I very quickly realised that through it I was learning about myself. I found myself writing about past experiences and discovering how cathartic it was to put those thoughts and feelings into words.
I wrote my first book review of Sark’s Succulent, Wild Woman in 1997 for the journal Alaska Women Speak. At the time, I was living in a cabin on Kalifornsky Beach Road, gazing at Cook Inlet and Mt. Redoubt near Kenai, Alaska. It is no wonder my jump into poetry was effortless. The switch in genre gave me the chance to wrangle with and process my everyday brush with nature and its allure. That’s not to say that writing poetry is an easy task; to the contrary. Writing takes dedication and concentrated practice.
I started writing as soon as I’d learned to put pen to paper. My very early childhood was one that was happily inundated with stories of all kinds – stories in the books that my siblings read to me, stories my father spoke aloud on long drives, stories on television, and even stories around the dinner table when the family talked about their day. It was only natural for me to invent my own – sometimes just to entertain myself. My early stories (and poems and songs) were most frequently populated by the two things that most fascinated me as a little boy – dogs and monsters.
I started writing stories to entertain my family and teachers. But shortly after starting secondary school I realised that creative writing was also an escape route and that I could write for myself as much as anyone else.
I don’t remember the exact time or age, but love of poetry came early. I was a lonely child and extremely sensitive. I recall the joy of reading poetry … whenever in my little mind I could make sense of poetic lines it would delight me no end.
I had this daybook where I used to indite. I have memories of my school magazine publishing my poems. As with a lot of poets I fell in love, or what I thought was love when I was thirteen or so.
The bliss and baggage that comes with early love crept into my poems and still does.
I was a teenager, the time I got interested in boys and went to the local disco at the football club. I was flirting around and couldn’t decide which boy I liked most, that’s when I wrote my first poem about a butterfly wandering around.
After that, I wrote mostly nonsense rhymes and limericks. Unfortunately, I lost my little notebook.
I started to write English poetry about five years ago and after a friend encouraged me, I started to submit my work last year. I was very surprised by the way that free verse poetry exists, till then I always thought poems had to rhyme.