Welcome to the one hundred and ninetieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, bloggers, autobiographers and more. Today’s is with poet Kerry Hammerton. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here.
Morgen: Hello, Kerry. Please tell us something about yourself and how you came to be a writer.
Kerry: I wrote my first poem when I was about ten years old skipping down the street – it was published in the school magazine. When I was in my last year of school I also had a short story published in the school magazine. My favourite game when I was a child (which I played by myself) was to make up stories about a village I had created from old chocolate boxes and bits of cardboard. I think that the urge to write has always been with me – although I have not always heeded that urge. I only started to write seriously when I was in my late thirties. I earn money through working as a consultant in the corporate environment. I am also a qualified Five Element Acupuncturist but currently I am not practicing.
Morgen: About the same time as me. What do you write now?
Kerry: I am a poet. Poetry is my passion. I do have a number of novels which I started and then abandoned. I am profoundly respectful of novelists, it requires such a commitment to write a novel.
Morgen: I’ve completed three for NaNoWriMo and am doing it for the fourth time at the moment (or not as the case may be, I’m way behind) and it’s hard work – give me short stories any day… or poetry, of course.
Kerry: A poem can be over in four lines – and if it is not very good you haven’t wasted a lot of time. I do have a non-fiction book that I want to write in 2012 – and I would really like to write a screenplay. Maybe in the future a novel?
Morgen: Some people never write novels, many people probably. I’ve liked what came out but I’ve since gone back to short stories in the main. You have to write what you’re passionate about. What have you had published to-date? If applicable, can you remember where you saw your first books on the shelves?
Kerry: In addition to poems published in various South African literary magazines I have published one book of poetry – ‘These are the lies I told you’ – in 2010. I don’t remember where I first saw my book on the shelves, for me the biggest thrill was getting the cover suggestions and showing them to people. I emailed them to friends overseas! and showed everyone in the office. Those covers made my book very real to me.
Morgen: I really like the cover – simple but effective. Have you ever seen a member of the public (whom you don’t know!) reading your book… in any unusual locations?
Kerry: No! That would be really thrilling!
Morgen: Wouldn’t it… one day. How much of the marketing do you do for your published works or indeed for yourself as a ‘brand’?
Kerry: Poetry is not as popular as other fiction in South Africa so it makes the marketing of my book difficult.
Morgen: It’s not just there. It’s the same here, and I’m told by American poets that it’s the same there.
Kerry: I have a strong on-line presence – twitter, facebook, my own website, a poetry blog that I have with a writing group and a site on a South African literary newsite. I read my poetry wherever and whenever I can. I also have a concert that I do with a friend of mine – Amanda Foster. The concert is called Many Moods of a Diva, she is the singing diva and I am the poetry diva. We recently had a very successful concert at a literary festival in a village called Greyton in the Western Cape. We are currently expanding our format and planning two more concerts this year. My publisher (Modjaji Books) is very good about submitting my work for local prizes. She also promotes all of her authors through the African Books Collective and is going to be at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2011.
Morgen: Ah Frankfurt – I’m pretty sure that’s the book fairs of book fairs (I maybe wrong) but it’s certainly world famous. Have you won or been shortlisted in any competitions?
Kerry: Last year one of my poems was in the top 100 of the Mslexia Poetry competition. Although my poem did not make it to the top prizes, the magazine sent me a very encouraging letter and said keep on writing and please submit again. That was very encouraging for me.
Morgen: Oh wow, well done. I’ve submitted to Mslexia competitions a couple of times (not poetry) but not come anywhere – they must get hundreds, perhaps thousands, of entries. Do you think competitions help with a writer’s success?
Kerry: Competitions may help, but I think that reading one’s poetry to an audience is more helpful to a poet’s success than anything else. Two poets that are also published by my publisher have been shortlisted for a South African poetry prize. I am hoping that this will also focus attention on my publisher and other work that she publishers.
Morgen: Do you write under a pseudonym? If so why and do you think it makes a difference?
Kerry: I don’t write under a pseudonym. Just before my collection was published I had very anxious moments about how much I reveal of myself in my poetry. I wished that I had written under a pseudonym. It has been less traumatic than I expected! I have had a few people make comments about my writing and me and my stock response is ‘my writing is only one aspect of my life’. As a poet I think that it would be very difficult to write under a pseudonym because poetry is personal – and also because you sell more when you read to an audience.
Morgen: Unless they don’t know it’s a pseudonym I guess, but you have a distinct but easy to spell name so I would have gone with yours too (if I were you). Are your books available as eBooks? If so what was your experience of that process? And do you read eBooks?
Kerry: My book is not available as an eBook and I don’t read eBooks. A Kindle is on my personal Christmas list though!
Morgen: And a few others’ I think. What was your first acceptance and is being accepted still a thrill?
Kerry: My first acceptance was a poem in a South African poetry magazine. The poem was called One Minute Lover. Many poems later, being accepted is still a great thrill. It is wonderful to see my words in print – even on-line.
Morgen: Isn’t it. Have you had any rejections? If so, how do you deal with them?
Kerry: It took me two years to get my collection published. Two years and three publishers. After the first rejection I was even more determined to get the collection published. What helped is that the first publisher phoned me and very kindly said that he couldn’t publish the collection but that it should be published and gave me some suggestions of what to do next. I try to submit poems to various on-line and paper magazines on a continuous basis through out the year – and not everything gets accepted. After the rejection I always say to myself – next time!
Morgen: Absolutely, you still have it for somewhere else – I think that when something I’ve written especially for a competition doesn’t get anywhere. What are you working on at the moment / next?
Kerry: I am continually writing poems and have a feeling that my next collection is gathering itself, but I am not going to rush it. The collection will emerge over the next year. I have a non-fiction book that I want to start next year.
Morgen: That sounds like a good way of keeping fresh – doing two completely different project. Do you manage to write every day? What’s the most you’ve written in a day?
Kerry: I do write everyday – even if it is just my morning pages. The most that I have written in a day is probably two poems.
Morgen: Ah yes, “morning pages”. It’s a term I’d not come across until a one-day writing course a few months ago. I like that idea, especially as more of a morning person than night owl. What is your opinion of writer’s block? Do you ever suffer from it? If so, how do you ‘cure’ it?
Kerry: Sometimes I feel as if I am not writing enough new material so I get out prompt books, writing exercises and do these for a while. I then find that I get back into the rhythm of writing poetry everyday. I don’t stress about times like these – as long as I am filling up my creative well I always believe that the poetry will flow through me. The only time that I suffered from writers block was after a traumatic incident where my car window was smashed and my handbag stolen. To deal with this I went to a creative writing weekend workshop that looked at the role of memory in writing. The facilitator took us through an exercise to mine our memories and I used the incident as an example. I found that it helped me to get over the incident and also produced a wonderful poem about being a tree.
Morgen: Wow. Good out of bad, I guess. A question some authors dread, but I think especially relevant for poets, where do you get your inspiration from?
Kerry: My inspiration comes from everyday life. From conversations I overhear, to my own experiences, from news stories. I get my inspiration from interacting with other people’s art – whether it is photography, painting or poetry. I read a lot of poetry and often a line will spark a thought or connect with something else that I have seen or read that day. And a new poem emerges.
Morgen: The old adage of ‘read, read, read’. You mentioned that you write non-fiction, how do you decide what to write about?
Kerry: I haven’t yet written a non-fiction book, but plan to write one next year. The content of the book comes from a topic that I have been grappling with in my life, and also a topic where I have been giving advice to my friends. (I am trying not to reveal too much here as it is still in the conceptual stage!).
Morgen: Sure, no problem. With your poetry, do you write to form or free verse? What would you say is the difference between a piece of prose and a prose poem? Why do you think poetry is so popular and yet so poorly paid?
Kerry: I write free verse. When I write to form I find that that poem comes out very stilted. I am in awe of poets who can write good poems to form. I think that a prose poem uses some of the poetry techniques, like alliteration and repetition, and this is what distinguishes it from a piece of prose. Why is poetry so poorly paid? I wish I knew the answer to the question so that I could make money from my writing! I think that people believe that it is something that everyone can write, so why should they pay for it. Those people who write poetry and those that appreciate good poetry know that crafting a poem takes talent, skill and a lot a patience.
Morgen: It does. I can tell that from the poets in my writing group and admit that it’s still beyond me. I’ve tried form poetry in the poetry sessions of a writing group I belong to and although it was fun I don’t think I’ll do anything with them… or rather I don’t think they’re good enough to do anything with. Who is your first reader – who do you first show your work to?
Kerry: I belong to two poetry writing groups. My poems usually first appear in one of these groups. I get great feedback and ideas about my poems. What I love about these groups is the diversity of poets and poems – I learn a lot from listening to other people and understanding how they have crafted their poems.
Morgen: Me too with prose in the groups I belong too. I think however an insular a writer is (I really can be!) interacting with other writers is vital… and fun. Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
Kerry: Poems sometimes arrive fully formed – but also usually require a tweaking of words. Other poems will arrive as an idea and a few very good lines, and then many lines that require lots of editing. Sometimes poems will arrive that are not very good at all. I think that as a poet it is important to read other poetry so that I can recognise a good poem and also recognise when a poem will become better through editing. It is also important to know when a poem needs to be gently laid in an abandoned drawer.
Morgen: I love that… poor thing. What is your creative process like? What happens before sitting down to write?
Kerry: I write best when I am in bed and when I am tired. I know this is strange. When I first started to get serious about my poetry the only time that I had to write was just before I went to sleep. I usually have a few ideas that I want to write about, and I let the ideas free float, something hooks is my brain and the words start coming together. My second favourite place to write is in a coffee shop and there I usually start by describing what is happening around me, and a poem may or may not emerge.
Morgen: I think poets tend to write more from their surroundings than prose writers, in my experience anyway. Do you write on paper or do you prefer a computer?
Kerry: I write both on paper and on a computer. I don’t prefer one over the other. I type better (and faster!) than I write – so I tend to do my morning pages on the computer. I usually use a pen and paper for the start of new poems. I transfer the poem to the computer when I want to work with the form of the poem. I find the computer very helpful when a poem needs editing; it is easy to keep all versions of the poem.
Morgen: Isn’t it great, I’m all for technology. You mentioned that you write in coffee shops, do you prefer noise to silence?
Kerry: When I write at home I don’t like any music but when I am in a coffee shop I like to hear music. My favourite coffee shop is Vida e Café that plays these great jazz / latin albums. It just feels to me as though the music is inspiring something different in my writing.
Morgen: I have a little café (and I mean little; one table width with a walkway next to it) just opened at the end of my road, it’s pretty quiet whenever I’ve walked by so I think I may have to frequent it when I have more time (next year). I love being at home but I think I need a change of scenery (and the dog more sleep!). What point of view do you find most to your liking: first person or third person? Have you ever tried second person?
Kerry: I mostly write first person. This feels more real to me. Poems that I have produced in the third or second person have not been successful.
Morgen: That’s interesting. Second person I can understand (I’ve not tried a poem in second but I adore the point of view so may just have to do that) but most of the poetry that I write (rarely) and that of my writing group is third person. I assumed it was easier that way but it’s made me think about that more, so thank you. Do you have pieces of work that you think will never see light of day?
Kerry: Yes, yes, yes! There are lots of poems that are languishing in that abandoned drawer.
Morgen: The gently laid poems. What’s your favourite / least favourite aspect of your writing life?
Kerry: My favourite aspect of my writing is being inspired unexpectedly – and just knowing that I have to sit down and write and that poem. My second favourite aspect is reading other people’s work – there are so many poems out there, so many wonderful writers and everyday someone is producing something new. The internet is such a great facility to discover new writers. The least favourite aspect is when I am feeling uninspired and am resorting to prompts and exercises to write. Deep down I know that I have to do the work so that the really good poems can find a voice through me.
Morgen: I set exercises in the fortnightly Monday night workshops and although we do prose most of the time we wrote some haiku and Fibonacci (because we only have 10 to 15 minutes) this week – that was fun, and surprisingly successful; no-one struggled, even the newbies. If anything, what has been your biggest surprise about writing?
Kerry: That I am funny, that my poems are funny. I can’t tell jokes and very often don’t get the punch-line of jokes. But my writing can be wry and humorous.
Morgen: I love writing humour. Of course it’s very subjective but I think if it’s fun to write then there’s a chance it’ll be funny on paper, and I’ve had some readers say they enjoyed it (phew). What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Kerry: Write everyday. Take a walk everyday. Read in the genre that you are writing – both classical and contemporary. Form a writing group with other aspiring and established writers. Find writers who will be honest and gentle with their feedback. Go to book launches, readings – become involved with the literary community in your city. Learn the craft of writing. If you are a poet find your own voice, I have found it is the more honest and personal poems that are my better poems. Endeavour to get published in poetry and literary magazines. Enter competitions. If writing is your passion keep trying, don’t give up, dreams do come true.
Morgen: Absolutely… if you want to write, then write and see how you fit in and it fits you. What do you like to read? Any authors you could recommend?
Kerry: My favourite poets are T.S Eliot, Carol Ann Duffy, Marianne Boruch, Wendy Cope, Bev Rycroft and Finuala Dowling. I am currently reading Erica Jong’s poetry and Isobel Dixon has a new poetry book out that I want to get. Besides poetry I love crime fiction Henning Mankell, Michael Connelly, Jeffery Deaver and South African crime writers Mike Nicol, Margie Orford and Deon Meyer. If you haven’t read the South African crime writers and you enjoy crime fiction then they are a must. I also love historical novels on Tudor history (Philippa Gregory) and science fiction / fantasy (Diana Gabaldon, Lauren Beukes). I have just discovered Siri Hustvedt and love her writing. And of course South African writers Justin Cartwright and Antjie Krog. I could go on for a very long time but I will end with saying my favourite writers are Tim Winton (particularly Dirt Music) and Charles Frazier (Cold Mountain and Thirteen Moons). I have also just started to re-read Jane Austen and am loving her books.
Morgen: A real mixture… and wow, a lot. Is there a word, phrase or quote you like?
Kerry: I love quotes and am constantly tweeting them or putting them on my facebook status update. I have posted the following note above my desk: ‘The two most important questions for an aspiring artist: 1. How big do you want to be? and 2. What are you now doing about it?’ This is something that I have adapted from a message from www.tut.com. I find the daily message from this website funny and inspiring.
Morgen: I’d not heard of it but it’s just the ticket for a friend so I’ve passed it on. What do you do when you’re not writing?
Kerry: When I am not writing I work – that consultancy practice that I mentioned earlier. I read, spend time with friends, go to movies, theatre, walk, yoga, my writing groups, attend book launches and readings and currently I am trying to re-establish my meditation practice. I think that as an artist it is important to have a balanced life, and to spend as much time as possible keeping the creative well topped up. When I go walking it is either next to the sea or in the mountains – I am very lucky to be living in Cape Town, South Africa where we have the mountain on one side and the ocean on the other.
Morgen: Oh how lovely. I’m in one of the most land-locked places in the UK and I love water. Are there any writing-related websites and / or books that you find useful and would recommend?
Kerry: The book that I would most recommend is The Artists Way by Julia Cameron, also Writing the Natural Way by Gabriele Rico. For poetry and writing and reading the following websites are very useful:
- Advice to poets about getting a collection published: http://modjaji.bookslive.co.za/blog/2009/09/08/advice-to-poets-on-getting-a-collection-of-poems-published
This is specifically about South African Poetry but there is some very useful information here.
- How to be a writer: http://mollybackes.blogspot.com/2011/07/how-to-be-writer.html.
- How to publish poetry: http://howtopublishpoetry.co.za/how-to-publish-your-poetry.
- When is a poem not a poem: http://adelekenny.blogspot.com/2011/07/when-is-poem-not-poem.html#comment-form.
- In South Africa there are some great literary websites: www.litnet.co.za (which is mainly Afrikaans), www.bookslive.co.za, and www.slipnet.co.za.
- Also international poetry websites: www.poetryfoundation.org, www.poets.org, and www.poetryinternational.org.
- The Guardian newspaper in the UK: http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture
- Arts and Letters Daily: http://www.aldaily.com.
Morgen: Brilliant, thank you (again). So you’re based in South Africa, do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about your work?
Kerry: I have tended to concentrate on the local market. I am trying to get my poetry published in magazines in the UK but have not been successful as yet. I am hoping that I when I do get published this will help to extend my readership. My publisher is part of the African Books Collective and they are trying to promote African writing in the UK and Europe. In answer to your question – I don’t think that it is a hindrance in letting people know about my work, I need to discover the right opportunity that will allow me to broaden my readership base.
Morgen: And this is where the internet comes into its own. Are you on any forums or networking sites? If so, how invaluable do you find them?
Kerry: I am on twitter and Facebook and Linkedin. I found you Morgen through Linkedin so that has been successful! I find twitter and Facebook useful for sharing information with other writers.
Morgen: You’re too kind. Where can we find out about you and your work?
Kerry: I have a personal website: www.kerryhammerton.com, one of the writing groups that I belong to has a poetry blog where we publish a monthly edition: www.thepoetryplatform.wordpress.com. I also have an authors page on Books Live – http://kerryhammerton.bookslive.co.za.
Morgen: What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Kerry: There have been so many debates about the future of the writer, books and writing on the internet and Facebook. Personally I believe that there will always be a place for good writers. That as human beings we are interested in the myths that we create and we want to read about them (or see them in good films, plays). That we try to make sense of our lives and our world through exploring these myths, and books and stories and poems are a really great way to do this. Also there is no better escape than a well written book!
Morgen: Absolutely. It doesn’t take me long to forget that I’m sitting reading / watching. Thank you so much Kerry. I always love having poets here (because I don’t get to chat to enough of them, and I know so little about the genre).
I then invited Kerry to include some of her poetry and she said that “writing for me comes out of a deep place inside of me, I often have the urge to write – often at inconvenient times as the following poem shows”:
Writing Poetry in my Underwear
The goddess muse struck
when I was getting dressed
for a date.
Now I am going to be late.
Kerry Hammerton is a poet, writer and alternative health practitioner. She is a graduate of The University of the Witwatersrand (Johannesburg) and The College of Integrated Chinese Medicine (Reading, UK). She also attended the London Poetry School and UCT Summer school. Her poetry has been published in South African literary journals such as Carapace, New Contrast and New Coin, online at Litnet, Incwadi and Itch. She has also been a contributor to The Empty Tin Readings (May 2010) and The Poetry Project. Some of her poems appear in the anthology Difficult to Explain, edited by Finuala Dowling and published by hands on books. These are the lies I told you, her debut poetry collection, was published by Modjaji Books in 2010.
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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