In the author’s own words: My mother always talked about writing her story but could never get beyond the first chapter about the circumstances of her birth. Born illegitimately in 1930s Brighton, she was mistreated by foster parents and relatives, was briefly in domestic service, married young and travelled widely with her soldier husband. She loved everyone but couldn’t find it in her to love herself. This is her story.
Hello Andrew! This is definitely the first time I’m interviewing a poet who authored a book showcasing a biography in poetic form. An avid poet and biography writer myself, I’m excited that I’m speaking with someone who merged the two. That’s brilliant! The book blurb gave us some insight into the backstory here, but I’d like for you to go into some more detail pertaining to the inspiration behind this collection of poetry.
This is the book my mother always talked about writing. We knew she never would. She was too preoccupied with the first chapter about the circumstances of her birth. Her mum was a domestic servant in a big house who was seduced and left with a child by a visiting policeman who would stop off on his beat for a cup of tea. Mum was born illegitimately at a time when unmarried mothers and their children were looked down on. She’d share stories of how she’d been mistreated by foster parents and her grandmother threatening to throw her books on the fire.
But the moment I absolutely knew I was going to write the story occurred in the Italian city of Trieste a place I hadn’t been back to since I was evacuated with my mother sixty years before. Something my wife said made me realise how mind blowing an experience would have been for a young woman like my mother who would have experienced nothing like it. I’d thought of writing something with a working title like, ‘A Life In Places’ about the Places we’d been as an army family and the things that happened there but I saw mum was he natural focus for the book and that finally I could tell her story.
Presenting the story in verse came about partly because I mostly write poetry but also because I saw a long poem by Wendy Cope, The Teacher’s Tale that made me think something like that would work. I was aware of Betjeman’s Verse Autobiography, Summoned by Bells but Wendy Cope’s work seemed so much more accessible. I also found that presenting the story in verse meant I could focus on the core story and not meander into pointless detail.
Thank you for that inside look! Very insightful. So, how did your love of poetry and writing in general come to be?
I loved writing stories at school and always saw myself as a would be writer. The problem was I seldom wrote anything. It was safer that way, I couldn’t fail and kill the dream.
I had the occasional success with a poem that won a local competition and was broadcast on local and national radio and another time I won a hymn writing competition and had my lyrics sung by a 1,000 strong congregation that included the Poet Laureate and the Archbishop of Canterbury but I was in my mid sixties before I began writing regularly. I found the writers networking site Wattpad and suddenly became prolific with my first two collections on the site being featured. I also won the odd monthly competition on there.
I slipped into writing poetry because it seemed easier than sustained prose. Now I feel, as one of my best read poems “Voice” has it, that I’ve ‘found my voice.’
I heard my name, it echoed back
It sounded down the lonely track.
How lovely! What are the top central themes you portray in this book?
I’ve been thrilled by the reviews of Margaret’s Story and people have clearly picked up on some of the themes: mum’s troubled childhood troubles and later ill health, the constant upheavals of army life and the ‘upstairs, downstairs’ class differences but in the author’s eyes there was one underlying theme that pulled them all together.
The deprivations Margaret suffered were emotional rather than physical. The adults in her life seemingly blamed her for the circumstances of her birth and destroyed her sense of self worth.
Family was vitally important to Margaret because she grew up without one. She was a loving mother who always put her family first but the one person she couldn’t find it in herself to love was herself. She took to comfort eating and from being a waif like creature in her youth, became increasingly overweight. In later life she neglected her health with a cavalier disregard for what was good for her.
While she was a loving mother and would do anything for her children the lack of self belief was to an extent passed on. Hence, the surprise when I passed my eleven plus exam and my own sense of discomfort, Janette ‘dropping out’ of grammar school because she found the other, pony owning girls too posh and Mum’s genuine surprise when I talked about people who thought they were better than us. “Aren’t they?!” she said and she meant it.
That sounds so impactful and heartbreaking. It’s evident that your mother led a life filled with challenges, but her love for others never wavered. I’m glad you’ve shared her story in such a uniquely beautiful way. Up next: What poets are major influences for you?
I enjoy poets who are technically excellent but whose work is accessible. If they are clever and witty with it, so much the better.
John Betjeman is an obvious influence but my favourite poet at the moment is Wendy Cope who I’ve already mentioned.
I must look into these poets! We’ve covered quite a bit of ground already, but now I’m curious about your creative writing process. What does that entail?
I need a couple of lines to get me started but, once I get my opening lines, rhyme and rhythm come quite naturally; so I write quickly but then, having got it all down, fiddle endlessly to get it right. I read and enjoy other poets and like to try new things so will often copy or adapt their style. I enjoy writing in formal styles like the Pantoum or Villanelle but will equally throw them overboard if they don’t fit what I want to say. I favour rhyme and rhythm but will ditch them if they get in the way of meaning.
Family was vitally important to Margaret because she grew up without one. She was a loving mother who always put her family first but the one person she couldn’t find it in herself to love was herself.
Wonderful! Is there anything else that you’d like to mention?
Publishing Margaret’s Story has been an emotional and special experience. My next book will be a little more light hearted. It will be called ‘Dear Queen’ and is my, tongue in cheek, application for the post of Poet Laureate. I write a lot of poems and live very near her weekend Home Windsor Castle, so it would be an ideal arrangement for both of us. There’ll be a few royal poems and a ‘best of’ selection from my Wattpad bits. Hopefully it will be published April or May ahead of the royal wedding.
That sounds perfect. I really appreciate the thought you put into this interview. I definitely learned a lot about your book and about you as a poet. Thank you!
Andrew Green is a regular contributor to Wattpad.com where he has won competitions and is slowly building a following. He mostly writes poetry. It’s usually light-hearted but often makes a serious point.
His poem “Living, Breathing Slough” won a local competition and was featured on Radio Berkshire and BBC Radio Four.