Ren Koppel-Torres is a teenager on a mission. A fan of fantasy books since young and dissatisfied by the lacklustre female characters written by middle-grade authors hardly in touch with their target audience, she started her debut fantasy novel The Shadow in Her Pocket at nine and finished it at sixteen. Born into a Jewish-Mexican-American family, she currently lives with her family as well as pets (a dog, a rabbit, and a lovebird) in Austin, Texas. Check out more of her work at http://www.lorenalore.com/! In this interview, I talk with Ren about her new book, writing process and diversity in the publishing industry.
What first inspired you to write this novel about three very unique girls?
I started The Shadow in Her Pocket when I was nine years old because I was obsessed with fantasy books, but I had trouble finding a lot of books that I could really connect to. I read a lot of books aimed at different age ranges, and while I couldn’t relate as much to the ones that featured characters who were much older than me, I felt like a lot of Middle Grade books (aimed at middle-schoolers) missed the mark, too. The majority of published authors are adults, and often they don’t remember exactly what it’s like to be a kid, or they underestimate how smart their readers are. I figured, being a kid myself, I might be able to avoid some of the same pitfalls. Plus, I thought it was unfair that so many adventure stories delegated women to the sidelines. So, I decided to write a story composed of the interconnected storylines of three girls: Evelyn, Elodie, and Holly. All three of them come from very different backgrounds and are driven by distinct motivations, but they rely on each other throughout the book.
If you were to describe your novel in three words, which words would you use?
Secrets, magic, adventure.
Of the three main characters, who is your personal favorite: Elodie, Holly or Evelyn?
That’s a tough question, but my best answer would be that I love my characters in different ways and for different reasons. In terms of who I would most easily bond with in real life, I would definitely choose Holly, because she is the most amicable of the three. She’s open, optimistic, and very attuned to the emotions of the people around her—plus, she’s also a very artistic person, so we would have a lot to talk about. But, I had the most fun writing Evelyn’s perspective, because she’s bold, funny, and has strong opinions about everything happening around her, which makes her an interesting narrator. And, while none of my characters were based on myself, and my personality is very different from Elodie’s, I am able to relate most to Elodie’s character arc: she fears not reaching the expectations laid out for her, and she has to cope with the stress of hiding a part of who she is before learning to take pride in being different from the norm.
What is your writing process for this book like? Are you a plotter or a pantser?
For my first book, I was definitely a pantser! I didn’t outline at all beforehand. As soon as I decided to write a book, I was really excited, so I started drafting right away. Plus, even if I had wanted to be a plotter, since I was so young and I had never written a novel before, I didn’t understand all of the components I would have needed to flesh out the story. In the beginning, I had no idea what direction the plot would take or what the ending was going to be. I had three characters living in my head, and I just wanted to have fun writing their story! Needless to say, I wrote many, many drafts of my story, and there was a lot of revising and editing to do for the final draft. As I grew up writing it, I think I managed to flatter the heart of my original story while combining it with what I learned about the craft.
As a high school junior in a rock band, you must have an incredibly busy life. How do you find time on a typical day to write, and how do you strike a balance between school and writing?
My schedule is definitely pretty crammed. I don’t have a perfect system worked out, so take this with a grain of salt, but here’s what I do to manage my schedule: I work on immediate, necessary deadlines first. So, if I have a big project due for school the next day, I’m not going to spend a lot of time that night on an article for a magazine due in two weeks. But, I try not to let my personal goals fall behind. I try to write every single day that I have time. Since writing is such a creative, subjective kind of skill, it takes a lot of discipline for me to write on a schedule, but when I’m working on multiple projects at once, I’m better able to focus on them all because I enjoy the variety. Personally, I work better when I give myself deadlines. The perfect book is never written, so I have to remind myself to avoid letting perfectionism get in the way of me sharing my work and progressing as a writer.
What authors or books have the greatest influence on your writing? What are you currently reading right now?
Fantasy authors like Rick Riordan, Brandon Mull, and Madeleine L’engle were a major inspiration for me to start The Shadow in Her Pocket. I also loved Trenton Lee Stewart’s Mysterious Benedict Society and Wendy Mass’ Every Soul a Star. Reading their work gave me so much joy that I was driven to create my own story, both because I wanted to experience the process of crafting imaginative fiction and because I hoped that my writing might have a positive impact on other readers. Since I drafted my story over the span of several years, my writing is also influenced by many authors who I didn’t discover until I was older, namely Philip Pullman and Ursula Le Guin. Two YA books that I recently read and LOVE are Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko and Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas. Yesterday, I finished the book Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut. I love his mix of deep thinking, difficult topics, and the hilariously absurd.
Right now, the publishing industry has been welcoming many underrepresented and diverse voices of a variety of races, genders and disabilities. As a young Latinx writer, what do you think a publisher can do to promote such voices?
I agree. Especially recently, a lot of authors from marginalized backgrounds are emerging and receiving their due credit, which is awesome! My younger sister has more access to Middle Grade novels written by diverse writers than I did when I was her age. But the work’s not over yet. The truest push for mainstream books by diverse authors won’t happen until the industry leaders themselves are representative of the full population. If the majority of publishers and literary agents come from a single demographic, then a lot of underrepresented writers will be disadvantaged because the industry leaders don’t have the perspective to appreciate their work; readers, then, will be inundated with the same kinds of stories. But, while it is important for the mainstream industry to change, no one needs to rely on prejudiced corporations. There are many different ways to get your story out into the world! Go find independent publishers and bookstores who already value diverse perspectives. Self publishing is a great option, too. Everyone should be encouraged to pursue their goals to be an author, literary agent, or any other industry leader, regardless of their background.
What can readers expect from A Shadow In Her Pocket? No spoilers!
Holly, Elodie, and Evelyn don’t have a lot in common. Holly lives in a coastal village that’s heard only rumors of magic’s existence—until Holly accidentally curses the seasonal monsoon that sustains their crops and way of living. She remembers her father’s stories of the mysterious island of Galdur, whose inhabitants wield magic, and she embarks on a journey to find Galdur and learn how to control her magic. Elodie lives on Galdur, in a palace where nobles live and govern the island. She discovers a Councillor’s plan to frame a peaceful group of rebels called the Deserters and incite an unnecessary war, so she hurries to prove the Councillor’s involvement before the fight begins. Evelyn lives in a secret underground city illuminated by glowing birds, and she can remember nothing of her past above the surface. When she finds a clue that could lead her to missing memories and family, Evelyn sets out to uncover the truth. The three girls are soon swept into Galdur’s army, a militia of sorcerers, when clashes between the military and the Deserters awaken an ancient monster. Holly, Elodie, and Evelyn must pool their strengths, their magic, and the hidden clues of a prophecy to survive and save the others. Buy The Shadow in Her Pocket here!
What are you working on next?
I want to challenge myself to branch out from my first work, so I’m starting a picture book and a YA sci-fi novel. I’ve helped to host a lot of read-aloud events, and these rekindled my appreciation for picture books and their power to connect to so many people in a short period of time. I particularly love the ones that highlight interesting people in history, so I’m writing a picture book that celebrates Latino innovators. As for the science fiction book, I’m still in the early stages of drafting, so nothing is set in stone yet, but it’s heavily inspired by the works of writers like Ursula Le Guin, and it grapples with themes such as the nature in humanity in relation to artificial intelligence, the role of art in a society, and whether uniformity truly promotes unity. In the meantime, I’m also writing a lot of articles for different publications including Writer’s Digest. I have poetry forthcoming in a few literary magazines. And I’m an official team member of a new arts magazine called Pipeline Artists!
Finally, what advice do you have for aspiring young writers like you?
My primary piece of advice would be to know your worth. Your passions matter. Your words are important. Surround yourself with peers and mentors who support your goals, and don’t listen to those who discourage you. Remember that being younger than most published writers doesn’t make you any less legitimate. In fact, your perspective—whatever that may be—is the fingerprint of your writing. Your voice and your stories are unique and valuable, and you are the only one who can share them with the world. Work hard, persevere, and be good to yourself. Everyone is always improving, so be proud of where you are now even as you strive to better your craft.
(BONUS QUESTION!!!) If Harry Potter and Elsa from Frozen fight each other in a duel, who do you think will win?
Hmm… My bet is on Olaf the snowman.
Zakiyya Dzukogi, 16, was runner-up for Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors (Poetry) 2020, and winner of the prize in 2021. She's been published on several magazines and journals and she has three books to her name - My Book of Poems, CARVED and her unpublished manuscript Winters and Summers which won the 2021 prize.
Meeting Zakiyya at HIASFEST 2021 held in Niger State, Minna, Nigeria, and her eventually winning the Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors (poetry category), was one of the best moments with acquaintances with teen writers as I am, who are relentlessly breaking boundaries of literary and academic doggedness of the Nigeria state. The title of her book, CARVED, gripped me and led eventually to this interview. For a young female growing up, it becomes imperative to register her growth, voluntarily or otherwise, and perhaps using her previously published books, My Book of Poems and CARVED, as specimen of experimentation of the typical Nigerian girl. But unfortunately her works isn't atypical; queer I would say, or perhaps an attempt "to see God."
When I endorsed her for this interview she was more than receptive. From their monocle I was unavoidably drawn to a discuss with I, Mujahid, Maryam and the interviewee, for Book O'CLOCK Review, where Mujahid sparked the discussion on by asking why some people ask why writers write. In this case, I was even more elated that I want to ask why Zakiyya can't stop writing.
This is raw coming from a voice that has already CARVED a niche for herself in the North of Nigeria!
Adepoju Isaiah: Tell us something about you and your relationship with cats. And, do you have a pet or you wish to have one in future?
Zakiyya Dzukogi: Yes I do. I’ve grown up to see cats around me and so I cannot help but love them. Keeping cats earns a Muslim reward because it is sunnah (sunnah is the actions of Prophet Muhammad SAW), it has been a type of ritual in my home.
Adepoju Isaiah: Last year when you were second place in the Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors (Poetry category) which took place in Niger State, in an interview with Mujahid Lilo, you said CARVED is a compedium of poems that are "mostly positive because I love to have things I don’t have in my poems, I love to own happiness in poems." Reading it, and reading the foreword by Paul Laim, the head of Operations, Isu Media Abuja, where he made acute comparison between a young poet, even though empowered, but still laden with the simplicities of the adolescent - "hormonal imbalances akin to teenagers." How do you see CARVED even before you wrote it? Do you aim to own things you don't have in your poetry, by publicity or otherwise, or the process of poetry of CARVED is just to lessen the grief of not having?
Zakiyya Dzukogi: Poetry isn’t worth without therapy, either the therapy of not having or the therapy to any type of grief. It is a therapy that I’ve enjoyed as a poet.
Carved sketched a lot out of me, I have learned to love and understand poetry intensely while writing Carved, giving my whole self to it. I’ve learned to reach God through poetry, I have learned to have things I want, as if God answers prayers faster in poems. I’ve learned to recognize happiness in my poetry, and so poetry has long been the source of my happiness.
These are poems that were meant to be written like the normal and childish process of writing poems, writing poems for the sake of writing them, picking themes to write about and ending up with pale poems, but the case changed while writing Carved, it was not only about me writing but about learning a lot of impossible things, becoming spiritually inclined, seeing God, talking to God.
Owning things in poetry is spiritual, and this has been the trick to lessen my grief of not having or any kind of grief.
Adepoju Isaiah: Beautiful. Few months ago on Twitter, I read a tweep wrote that: "Poets are God's favorite." Perhaps it's because poets are more imaginary than any other person, and imagination is the foundation of the Earth's solid illusion. The imagination is always running wild, ever free, even to where God sits, hopefully in a Kingdom of Gold and Myrrh. The sobriquet of the poetics aside, let's talk about paucity of the motivation to write either by personal family problems, academic impasses, socializing malady, etc. In times like these, how do you confront Writer's Block?
Zakiyya Dzukogi: I’m starting to disbelieve in writer’s block, sometimes it’s a way of covering up for one’s laziness.
I go months without giving birth to a poem maybe because I feel lazy, or I don’t have time or even because of any other reason. If this happens, I don’t write, I give myself break until the spirit is back in my body. This is so because I don’t want to force lines into becoming poems which turns out to look not-a-poem at the end of the day. It’s like forcing a child to do something, in the end, he does it wrongly because he never wanted to do it, same with poems. Writer’s block is what I don’t experience.
Adepoju Isaiah: The matter of essentiality creeps in; for rejuvenation to take place, I think dormancy is essential. Recuperation too is essential. Just as Soyinka in an interview after winning the Nobel Laureate said he's a lazy writer, and how much it took him to write even the award-winning play; Death and the King's Horseman. For me too, I think writing is a process wherein like coitus, there's foreplay, penetration and climax. In respect to this, how long does it take you to create a poem? Mention your unsuccessful poems that you spent so much time in creating.
Zakiyya Dzukogi: It takes me a while, sometimes at that instance, sometimes it takes me a week or even a month to complete a poem, sometimes I leave my poems incomplete and most times I keep lines and stanzas that are just there, not yet gathered. In all honesty, I spend a lot of time creating a single poem.
Poems like 'I Cannot Paint' published in the INNSAEI Journal took me a whole month. I started writing a poem in the ending of last year titled Other gods Of Corners, and completed it last week, I have a poem titled The Poetry Of God, that poem lasted for almost a week to be completed. And many others.
Adepoju Isaiah: Decades in retrospect, a poetry collection published by Northerners was titled: "Voices from the Desert", where the foreword says the publication of it is a way to invalidate the insubstantial claim that the North of Nigeria is a desert of literary activities; do you see your book CARVED as a verifier of that claim that the North isn't a desert after all?
Simply: recent books from the North of Nigeria is a bulwark against the claim that there's no literary movements in the North. Do you see your book CARVED as part of that movement of bastion against the North?
Zakiyya Dzukogi: My poetry is controlled by the curiosity to meet God, the anxiety to know what dying feels like, the fear of dying. I get my motivations mostly on these terms. I’ve fallen in love with death. I’ve died many times in my poetry going against nature, yet I feel unsatisfied.
Meeting God is what I’ve been wishing for and so poetry has allowed me to meet Him. I’ve explored in eschatology in my poetry, I don’t mind if the low depth and spiritualism of my type of poetry slowly pushes me into what I’ve given more focus on, death. With or without my consent, death shall drag me to where God stands along with her. I enjoy the idea. This type of poetry has led me closer to God.
As for the second question; the first early writers of Nigeria, the likes of Usman Danfodio Of Sokoto, his daughter, Nana Asma’u were northerners. This notion about Northern Nigerians not participating in the literary space is old. Nobody says that about the North anymore because books are now coming out from the North. For instance, take a look at how the Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation is producing teen authors. As a matter of fact, the North competes with any other region in Nigeria in terms of literary productions.
I’m a northerner, so my book, Carved is an automatic addition to that movement, not just in the North, but also in Nigeria too.
Adepoju Isaiah: What literary pilgrimage have you gone on? I mean quests, or periods of isolation where the academia doesn't as much amuse you except the ability to profuse your emotions, or the experiment of the aesthetics on paper? A perpetual longing that has become a ritual.
Zakiyya Dzukogi: I’ve always been moody for my lines to get along, perhaps my type of poetry needs that. Most of my poems go through a sense of direction by my mood to be completed. Maybe that’s why I consume a lot of time to make a single poem. It’s true that giving a poem life is not at all easy, it is either you are sleeping off in your imaginations trying to feed a poem plenty imageries and metaphors or it’s you doing it unconsciously. To get my poem together, I let myself in a special kind of state for me to somewhat appreciate that art, with the help of a serene environment and the dark night, my poems are helplessly completed. Writing late at nights is one of my rituals of writing poems, I feel the night gives so much comfort to the way my poetry sits. Many times when I write and I don’t feel the depth of the poem, if the poem is not in line with my current emotions and if I cannot help it, i keep the poem for another day.
Adepoju Isaiah: My Book of Poems; you talked about family. The poems portray how much you are connected with family, how much Saddiq Dzukogi, now acclaimed Poet, inspires you. In CARVED, I realized there's no poem that condescends on Family. Rather an exploration of a beyond that is closer to God. From the title Winters and Summers, should we expect something about differentiating aspects in nature?
Zakiyya Dzukogi: My dad got me a poetry teacher, Paul Liam at the age of 8, to strengthen the meaning of poetry on top of my soul and to help with the foundation. After that coach, I gathered 30 poems suitable for publication. My dad published the book when I was 10 years old. The Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation encourages teen authors, so at that age, I got full support of the members, my family, and even my school because I remember the college buying hundred copies of my book for its students.
I am happy to have written those books. The truth is, my first collection has always made me feel like I’ve insulted the holiness of poetry. Before now, I felt the poems could be a lot better than what they are, but it is better that they are what they are.
While Carved is a brief biography on the changes in me after meeting poetry again, I felt re-carved into a finer artist after my first collection. My latest chapbook, Winters and Summers which won 1st in this year’s (2021) Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors appear to have confirmed that feeling. This means with every collection, a poet should ascend higher to the poetic realm.
As a child, your mind is yet to be opened to different type of things, of ideas. Perhaps the innocent persona in my first collection noticed nothing then but the importance of family and the things she saw around her at that time. While in Carved, growth creeped in. With growth, mindset and ideologies changes. Maybe that’s why there is no family themed poems in the book or perhaps the relationship with God has somehow linked it to family.
Winters and Summers in my assumption is a deeper version of Carved, talking of God, heaven, death, hell, God, God and God.
Adepoju Isaiah: Good then, I would wait right on to devour the philosophical cartilage of the intrinsic existence of the physical and the metaphysical.
Zakiyya Dzukogi: Thank you.
Adepoju Isaiah: Let's deviate a little to what I would like to call: Literary Postmodernism, wherein laid down belief about literary theories are being objected. Then to some poets who label themselves, or wants to, as African Literary Postmodernist. Winters and Summers, your manuscript that won the 2021 Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors (Poetry) had been garnering brimming opposition on the instance that even the title, and prognosticatedly the contents of the manuscript were UnAfrican, or rather less African. Has the topic of Africanity bothered you in your choice for the title of the manuscript or in choice of imageries?
Zakiyya Dzukogi: Poetry is universal so it doesn’t bother me, it has never bothered me even while deciding the title. The poems are African.
We’re not neglecting the African culture because we use non-African symbols in our writings, it’s not even constant nor continuous, it’s incidental - to enjoy the fun inside writing. It is another thing to contribute to the growth and development of the African culture as African writers. Using non-African imageries to define your piece of art is not wrong nor is it a way of not contributing to the society as an African. There is no big deal if an African writer uses non-African terms to depict what he or she wants to convey, sometimes it’s just symbolism, sometimes style. Concerning this, I find no fault in African writers who enjoy using words like “winters” in their works even without any experience of it, to allow their imaginations soar, maybe that’s their own preference at that time. It is not wrong too for a non African to use African terms in writing poems and stories. There is total freedom in writing.
Adepoju Isaiah: Tell us about something you're working on presently.
Zakiyya Dzukogi: Right now, I’m not working on anything.
Adepoju Isaiah: Thanks Miss Zakiyya for your time.
Zakiyya Dzukogi: My pleasure
Calling all young writers! Do you want to find avid readers, improve your craft, and change the world? There’s one way to accomplish all that: by starting a blog. Virginia Woolf was a renowned writer in the 20th century, but she is perhaps best known for her quote, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”. That can be said to be the same for a blog for the modern writers of the 21st century. As you may know, a blog is a web log on the internet that a blogger or a group of bloggers update frequently with entertaining posts for their followers. Successful bloggers have tons of followers, earn millions of dollars and even have gotten book deals due to their blogging.
There are several reasons why you should start a blog. The first reason is that blogging is a regular commitment to writing. Many of us find pleasure in procrastination, and crawling to our desks to write is a struggle. With blogging, you can’t slack off and you must make a frequent effort to produce hundred-word posts every week or so. The second reason is that blogging provides you with a platform to use your voice and express your opinions. It gives you the freedom to be creative and attract like-minded friends in the process. The third reason is that with blogging, you have the ability to make a difference. Whether writing a humorous story to make someone laugh or an article advocating for civil rights, you can contribute meaningfully to the community.
The first step in starting a blog is to find out what your blog is about. Blogs are often created to solve a problem you encounter in your life. Maybe you are an experienced pet owner who comes across many new dog owners needing help with taking care of their pooches. Maybe you are a budding writer who is frustrated at the lack of diverse female characters in fiction and decides to write some of your own stories. Maybe you are an activist who sees problematic views in society and want to inform people on issues such as disability rights and climate justice. When you find your blog’s mission, you can come up with a fitting name and design that aligns with your goals.
The second step is to choose a platform for your blog. Free blogging software such as Wordpress.com and Blogger are simple enough for beginners. You can also create free websites with website builders such as Wix, Weebly and Google Sites. However, these platforms can be problematic because you don’t hold the rights to your content; often, the companies that allow you to build your free blog do, and they can take the content down anytime. Besides that, you often are left with a domain containing the name of the blog service (such as cuddlykitties.wordpress.com). Wordpress.org is the top platform among professional bloggers who can afford to spend money. It allows bloggers to control all the rights to their blog, use their own domain name (cuddlykitties.com) and customize their site to their liking.
The third step is to start planning your first blog posts. It is very important to create a schedule for your blog. How often will you be posting? Every day? Every week? Every month? Look at your calendar and consider your commitments, such as school, work and other hobbies. Be careful not to overload yourself. It is also important to come up with article ideas to keep writer’s block (or blogger’s block) at bay. List down any ideas you have in a notebook and set a time to write them.
The fourth step is to write! Draw up a rough outline for your post and research your topic online. Make sure to use a lot of headings, subheadings and lists. Break up long passages into tinier, bite-sized paragraphs. If you want to attach photographs, please note that you can’t take a random picture off from the internet! Abide by copyright rules and source for photos only from royalty-free websites such as Unsplash and Pixabay. These websites do not require any permission from the creators to use their photos. However, it is basic courtesy to credit the creator in the caption of the photo.
Finally, find readers, of course! Share your work with your family, friends and other fellow writers. Just because you’re a blogger yourself, doesn’t mean you can’t support other bloggers too! Search for blogs run by writers you admire and are similar to yours and read the posts, commenting on your thoughts and feelings below. You can give them a leg up and build new connections in the process. Also, make sure your blog is accessible for everyone. Fill in the alt text of photos, provide downloadable PDF versions of blog posts and ensure your articles can be easily translated into other languages.
Sometimes, you may feel discouraged by your lack of progress. Nobody but your mum is reading your blog, and it feels that your effort is wasted. You look at the blogs of popular bloggers and you can’t understand why they can do that, but you can’t.
All bloggers know that feeling very well. When you start out, you have a steep learning curve that seems like an insurmountable mountain. But, don’t give up. Learn from successful bloggers and pick up tips from blogs about blogging. Experiment with your blog and share your posts with the people around you. You can do it!
Mollie Sambrook is a young writer from Margate, England. She has a degree in English Literature from University of East Anglia and a Creative Writing masters from Manchester Metropolitan University. She has recently self-published a collection of poetry: ‘A Brief History of the oVERSEsensitive’.
When did you start writing and what got you into it?
I’m not 100% sure when I first started writing, but my mum has a few of my old notebooks from when I was little that are filled with stories about fairies and teddies and a main character called Mollie that are all about mundane things that capture a child’s attention such as having a bath or going to the beach. She likes to embarrass me with those when I bring my friends to visit. I’ve loved reading since I was a kid and got told off frequently for devouring Jaqueline Wilson books under my covers until the early hours of the morning but I think what properly got me into writing was reading the Twilight saga. In year 8 we were asked to write a 50 word flash fiction for an anthology of stories from kinds in all the schools in the area and of course mine was about a vampire. It wasn’t until the end of Sixth Form that I realised that writing was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life and if I could make a career out of that, I’d be able to have a profession that I enjoyed and was passionate about.
You recently self-published a collection of poetry. How did you find taking on the roles of poet, editor, and publisher?
The whole self-publishing ordeal was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be. There are many websites that help authors to self-publish so it was more about choosing the right website for me. Once I found which site would help me produce the collection the way I wanted to it ran pretty smoothly from then. The editing was a little laborious but I’m a perfectionist so I enjoyed doing it myself as I was able to make sure the font, spacing, ad the way the illustrations looked on the pages was exactly how I wanted. Being the poet comes naturally to me but now that I’ve seen how easy self-publishing can be, my fears and nerves over publishing have been squashed.
Was there anything you wish you had known when you first decided to self-publish your work?
I wish someone had told me that it was easier than I thought it was and the hardest part is actually letting go of your own writing. It’s daunting having it out there in the world, in other people’s hands. I, also, wish someone had told me how rewarding it feels to hold a book that is solely your own creation. I think I would have produced it years ago if I’d realised.
How did you decide which poems to put into your collection?
I’ve been posting my poetry online for six years now so it was a process of deciding which ones were my favourite and which ones seemed to get good feedback from other poets and readers. I wanted to create something full of poems that those following me had enjoyed but that I was also proud of and thought deserved a physical space. I spent a long time putting the poems next to each other to see what fit where and what kind of story they were telling in which order. In the end, I could see that certain poems in a specific order felt as if they were growing up alongside of how I was myself. So, I wanted to keep that feeling of coming of age in the collection.
You often write poems in second person, directing them at ‘you’. Do you find it easier to write a poem when you have a specific person in your mind that it is for?
Being a poet means that you’re consistently opening up and revealing something that you wouldn’t necessarily share out loud- it’s a vulnerable art. So, I think using second person is a way to distance myself from it a little… even though it simultaneously makes it more personal as it is directed intensely at a specific “you”. Coming to terms with my sexuality has also meant that the pronouns in my work were becoming interchangeable, therefore by using a “you” it can be anyone’s “you”. Although nine times out of ten I have a specific person that I am writing about or to, this way it can resonate with so many other people as anyone reading it will also have a specific “you” in mind. Second person should definitely be used more in writing!
Is there anything you hope your readers gain from your poetry?
When I read a piece of poetry that speaks to me, it’s really like someone has cracked me open and said “here you are” so I guess that is what I want from my own writing. For someone to read some of my poetry and see themselves in it or to relate to it deeply.
This is a bit cliché, but I have to ask who or what inspires you?
I’m always inspired by other internet poets as the quality of writing and talent that some of these writers have, despite not being published, is amazing. I’m inspired by specific but also random things. Anything from jewellery left by the bath or a snip it of a conversation can inspire me. I’m most interested in intense and intimate conversations that can happen between friends/lovers/family that aren’t necessarily obvious to others but I’m interested in what isn’t being said and what a simple sentence can really mean if you look deeper. The way other people’s minds work fascinate me so I like to try and imagine what is going on in another person’s head and use this to write poetry. But if you want the cliché answer, then other poets that are inspiring me at the moment are Richard Sicken whose poetry never fails to make me cry and Emily Dickinson whose recovered scraps of poetry have caught my eye recently just purely because of how much of it is missing and what this does to the poetry that is left.
What advice would you give to poets who are just starting out?
I think I would just say keep writing and don’t stop. We writers are our own worse critic and the only way we can better ourselves or evolve our writing is to write as much as possible. (A feat which I am finding increasingly harder and harder at the moment.) Other people’s opinions are just that and if you’re writing something true from your heart then you are making art and the world needs more of it.
Do you have any plans for future writing?
I would love to collate another book of poetry, as well as feature in zines and fiction magazines. Mostly, I am working towards finishing the draft of my novel in progress- When Life Meets Death.
If you want to read Mollie’s poetry, you can buy her collection at https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/868010346/a-brief-history-of-the-oversensitive?ref=shop_home_active_1&frs=1&crt=1
You can also find her work on Instagram and tumblr: @ColdFeetOnTheKitchenFloor