Hello and welcome to my blog, Author Interviews. My name is Fiona Mcvie.
Let’s get you introduced to everyone, shall we? Tell us your name. What is your age?
I write as Sarah Leavesley, S.A. Leavesley and Sarah James. Although I’ve now celebrated my 21st21 times, I don’t feel much different to when I first celebrated it, though my body sometimes disagrees with me!
Fiona: Where are you from?
I live in Worcestershire, U.K. at the moment. But I was born in southern England.I’ve lived in Oxford, Cardiff and France and seriously considered moving to Canada when I was younger. My mum is from London originally and my dad from the Wales/Gloucestershire border near Monmouth, while my only sister now lives in the U.S. In terms of home being where the heart is, there are parts of me all over the world! Belonging/not belonging is a theme that threads through a lot of my work, particularly my poems.
Fiona: A little about your self (ie, your education, family life, etc.).
I was a state school pupil at Oxford (Trinity College) in the nineties and then did a post-graduate diploma in newspaper journalism at University of Wales, Cardiff. I worked as a regional newspaper reporter before going freelance, working for a charity and doing a Cert HE in creative writing at the University of Birmingham. I have two, now teenage, sons and returned to university to do mymasters in creative writing (poetry) at The Manchester Writing School at MMU in 2010-2014.
Fiona: Tell us your latest news.
My second novella, Always Another Twist, (£3.99) was published by Mantle Lane Press on 30 April 2018 and launched at Birmingham Literature Festival Spring Edition. https://www.mantlelanepress.co.uk/Always_Another_Twist/p1998877_18580230.aspx (An audio snippet from this novella can be found below.)
Against The Grain Press published my poetry pamphlet, How to Grow Matches, with a fabulous launch event at The Poetry Café in London on 31 March.
I’ve also just had two poems published in the The 2018 Hippocrates Prize Anthologylaunched in Chicago on May 11: http://hippocrates-poetry.org/the-hippocrates-press/hippocrates-prize-anthologi/2018-hippocrates-prize.html
I also run a small press, V. Press, publishing poetry and flash fiction, and that’s a constant flow of new news! https://vpresspoetry.blogspot.co.uk/
‘While Dan’s at the sink, Julie pulls out her diary from the kitchen drawer, the one with the letter and number for Claire’s place. Beside it, a short note in Claire’s scribbled handwriting…’ (From Always Another Twist)
Fiona: When and why did you begin writing?
I feel like I’ve always been writing in one form or another. At school when I said I wanted to write the advice was to become a journalist. In terms of career prospects and stability, this feels somewhat ironic now with how the internet and modern technology have changed the nature of newspapers.
Fiona: When did you first consider yourself a writer?
I’m wary even now of doing that. Firstly, because although writing is something I do, it’s one of many things; no one label, be it publisher, journalist, mother, daughter, friend, cleaner sums up all aspects of life. Secondly, ‘writer’ tends to make me think of celebrity/bestselling authors. Thirdly, because where people make a living from writing, a lot of thatwork may often not be actual writing, but research, social media, readings,teaching, editing, mentoring….
Fiona: What inspired you to write your first book?
I’d got to the stage where I was starting to think I’d enough published or prize-winning poems to maybe have a collection. My publisher,Kay Green, knew my work and nudged me to put together a submission, which becameInto the Yell (Circaidy Gregory Press, 2010).
Fiona: How did you come up with the title?
A lot of potentials went back and forth on email. Into the Yell comes from a poem about an abusive lover. As an overarching (or overaching as a Freudian slip typo tried to rephrase this) title for the collection, I like to dive as deeply as I can into the people, experiences and topics I write about, even the painful ones.
Fiona: Do you have a specific writing style? Is there anything about your style or genre that you find particularly challenging?
I think my style is quite varied – I have eclectic tastes too as a reader. I work in mainstream forms and more experimentally. My subject matter varies a lot also, including environmental themes, nature, women’s experiences, political poems, current affairs, science…that isn’t to say that people who know my work don’t think of some pieces as very Sarah, and others less immediately or obviously identifiable as mine.Infiction in particular, I find writing in men’s voices more challenging than writing as a female character.
Fiona: How much of the book is realistic and are experiences based on someone you know, or events in your own life?
This collection is like my work generally in mixing real experiences, observations, heard/read reports, research and then imagination once I become a certain character orinvolved in a certain scenario in my head. I couldn’t write characters or situations I have no link to through empathy, past experiences or observing others. At the same time, this isn’t journalism and, even in my creative non-fiction, I allow a lot of space for interpretation and creativity.
Fiona: To craft your works, do you have to travel? Before or during the process?
I don’t have to physically move as such. But I’m rarely completely still unless I’m meditating. I always travel in my head and often literally pace out thoughts and ideas. Swimming, walking and cycling (but also simply doing mundane chores) all tend to open my subconscious to both initial inspiration and solutions to sections that are bothering me when I’m editing. Regularly paced exercise can also helpa lot with rhythm.
Fiona: Who designed the covers?
For The Magnetic Diaries (Knives Forks And Spoons Press), my publisher used a photo that I took for this purpose. All my other books have had covers by artists. The process of that has been different every time, with varying amounts of involvement from me. CindelOranday created the striking artwork for Kaleidoscope and Always AnotherTwist specifically for those titles for Mantle Lane Press. Against The Grain Press design in-house to their pamphlet style. For plenty-fish, I chose its stunning cover photo by Eleanor Bennett from a large selection of possible images sent by Nine Arches Press…The cover images on Into the Yell (Circaidy Gregory Press) and Be[yond] (Knives Forks And Spoons Press) are paintings by Sam Hutchcocks and Julie Haller of Moonlit Murals, Droitwich.
Fiona: Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
There are lots of ideas/opinions on various things contained in bothAlways Another Twist and Kaleidoscope. I think how we see the world shapes our experience of it and our interactions with others. Perhaps because of this, I don’t much believe in definitive messages.I’d like readers to be gripped by the narrative, to care about the characters and enjoy exploring any themes and possibilities for themselves, whatever their own final conclusions on them may be.
Fiona: What book are you reading now?
I’ve just finished “losing interest in the sound of petrichor”(poetry pamphlet) by Kate Garrett, Yuki Means Happiness (novel) by Alison Jean Lester and The Music Maker(novella) by Liz Kershaw. I’ve been dipping out of poetry and flash online and in magazines while I decide what book to read next…
Fiona: Who is your favorite writer, and what is it about their work that really strikes you?
I have eclectic tastes as a reader, so this list could be very long if I included contemporary writers or more recently discovered authors. I also tend to be struck by particular poems as much as I am by particular poets…which makes that potential inventory even longer!
Historically though, I often return to the works that first resonated with me as a child/teenager, at a time when I wasn’t always even registering what or why. On the poetry front, this includes William Blake for philosophical or spiritual resonance and French poet Jacques Prévert for his cinematic style, emotional power and pared but striking imagery, as well as the fact that it was the music/sounds of the French language in his poems that first really got me hooked on poetry. For fiction, I’d probably choose Jane Austen for her free indirect style (rather than her plots which feel very similar) or Gustave Flaubert for the characters, insights and beautiful language (in the original French) in Madame Bovary.
Fiona: Outside of family members, name one entity that supported your commitment to become a published author.
The journal editors that took my first work, including poet Catherine Smith in particular. Allmy publishers. Writing West Midlands. The T.L.C. But I’m also very grateful to so many friends, writers, readers and tutors that I’ve had support, inspiration and guidance from along the way.
Fiona: Do you see writing as a career?
Yes and no. I’m not sure anyone has a career of just writing, not even best-selling authors. There are so many other roles involved with being a writer. For myself, with poetry in particular, I think writing has a particular and peculiar mix of non-professional love of the art but also a need for some more career-like thinking when it comes to publication and marketing.
Fiona: If you had to do it all over again, would you change anything in your latest book?
Not yet. But a bad review could change that… To be honest though, I don’t believe in regret when it comes to life generally. With a book in particular, I’ll have edited and angsted, experimented and asked for advice/feedback so many times before it’s published. Once it’s published, it’s the best this particular version of this particular manuscript can get. It might not be to everyone’s taste but that’s how life and literature are. If there were anything that I later think about differently or start to wonder ‘what if?’, that’s a different book or something to explore in future work. If creative work didn’t develop and change generally, there’d never be more than one book.
Fiona: Did you learn anything during the writing of your recent book?
I learnt that I can write happy scenes as well as sad ones. I’ve also learned a lot about climbing! And I always learn things about myself and my writing with each new piece. Many of the things learned are hard to pin down though; there’s a continuous continual development with writing that’s often only obvious later when looking back from a distance. It’s like a long walk when I climb the final hill that gives a viewpoint across the whole route and thenI can see the difference between starting point a and finish point b, as well as the most remarkable parts of the general vista, rather than having noted every detail along the way.
Fiona: If your book was made into a film, who would you like to play the lead?
Someone who could truly empathise with and understand the main character, be that for Julie inAlways Another Twist or for Claire inKaleidoscope.
When I turned my narrative in poems The Magnetic Diaries (Knives Forks And Spoons Press, 2015) into a poetry-play, Vey Staker played the main character Emma in the Reaction Theatre Makers production. (This toured the U.K. and was a ‘highly recommended show’ during its 2-week run at Edinburgh Fringe 2016.) Vey was amazing! Her interpretation of Emma isn’t necessarily how I would have envisaged it beforehand. But Vey and director Tiffany Hosking really understood Emma, which made for a stunning, mesmerising and moving portrayal on stage. I think feeling the character and lines, living within Emma’s skin and speaking in her voice was so important. I’d want that first and foremost for Julie and Claire if they were put on screen.
Fiona: Any advice for other writers?
Never lose sight of why you love writing and what gives you writing energy. Editing isn’t always easy and publication comes with lots of other aspects that are hard to avoid. This is great if you enjoy them too. Chances are there will be at least some things that you don’t enjoy as much as others. If you don’t, then balance what you do when, and how often, so your writing routines, processes and life generally give you enough drive and enjoyment to counteract the energy-demanding parts.
Fiona: What makes you laugh/cry?
Light-heartedness makes me laugh, whether that comes from being with those I love, or punning and wit, be that in books, on screen or the people I’m with.
Crying is trickier. I was diagnosed with diabetes when I was six, and have had an overprotective emotional shut-down switch ever since then. I cry with empathy at sad films and books. But when I have to deal with real loss or pain, I find it hard to cry. I tend to beagitated or/then numb and my mind will distance me from it as much as possible, so it takes me a long time to process personal grief and pain.
Fiona: Is there one person, past or present, you would love to meet? Why?
There’s no one person. I’d love to have known my parents when they were younger, but I also know that would be a very bad thing in reality. Likewise with past generations of family. I’d love to have been able to chat with Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters or poet Emily Dickinson about their work and life experience. There are so many historical figures that would be awe-inspiring to have known. But there again, people who are alive now (and therefore might actually meet if I’m lucky) may feature on someone else’s ‘wish I’d met’ list in a few hundred years’ time, so…
Fiona: Do you have any hobbies?
Besides reading and writing, my other interests include photography, outdoor exercise and sports (swimming, walking, cycling, climbing, zumba, dance, squash, boxercise, body pump), travel, films, philosophy, psychoanalysis and generally learning new things! I also try to meditate regularly to re-charge my energy and focus.
Fiona: What TV shows/films do you enjoy watching?
I like films with an arty element, particularly beautiful or striking cinematography. I’m also a binge watcher of serials on Netflix and Amazon prime. These include drama, sci fi and crime in particular, but also engaging one-off documentaries.
Fiona: Favorite foods, colors, music?
I’m a shape-shifter. Favourite foods, colours and music all change with my mood, whom I’m with, whether I want to dance or chill… I do love dancing though and feeling the rhythm generally, so it has been noted that I may have a weakness for strong beats!
Fiona: Imagine a future where you no longer write. What would you do?
Die? Or alternatively, live in peace? It would free up a lot of time. Maybe I’d pursue another interest more. Or try something new. Or simply spend more time with friends and family.I really do believe that when a space opens up in our lives, of whatever kind, something will fill it, in one way or another.
Fiona: You only have 24 hours to live how would you spend that time?
I’d like to think laughing. I suspect fear would be impossible to avoid completely. Sex, sky-diving, eating highly calorific foods, drinking myself into real oblivion…I guess a lot would depend on why I only had 24 hours to live. If it were the last stage of something like cancer, I’d probably be saying my last goodbyes then asking for morphine to spare me the pain and indignity. If it were a tsunami coming, I’d be finding my boys and running like hell. If it were a meteor hitting the earth, I’d be asking my son if he could build us a rocket that fast. If it were the bus when I’m crossing the road, I’d stay in the house or take a completely different route to wherever I’m going…if, always ifs.
Fiona: What do you want written on your head stone?
I’ll be dead so I guess I won’t care, or know. My ego likes to think that there will be people who love and miss me. But the part of me that loves people would want them to live their lives, to think of me occasionally maybe but not be held back or down by those thoughts.
Fiona: Do you have a blog or website readers can visit for updates, events and special offers?