Bronia Waldron has just been published for the first time in The Unseen anthology by The University of Roehampton's Fincham Press. Her beautiful prose poem 'My Village' won a highly sought-after place in creative-writing competition, an event known for producing outstanding work. Now a third-year English & Creative Writing student at The University of Roehampton, Bronia shares her thoughts on writing, reading and what it feels like to be published for the first time.
HJ: So would you like to tell our readers a little bit about yourself and what you are doing?
BW: I study English Literature and Creative Writing. I started University interested in writing essays on other people’s work, like a classic English literature student, and I originally thought I would go into publishing. I decided to do Creative Writing on the side to see whether I could get a different angle when looking at books, and understand more about why the writers made those decisions and really put myself in their shoes. So I never thought I would go into creative writing and get published, it feels a bit surreal actually: the fact that a piece of my work is now there forever. It is weird to think that one day when I’m older I can show it to my kids and say “I wrote that”. It is quite a strange feeling!
HJ: So you wanted to see it through a writer’s eye-view as well as a readers?
BW: Exactly! But since I have started doing Creative Writing as well, I have actually been surprised – I used to really not like poetry at all, I thought it had to rhyme, regimented and perfect. But during the first term of the first year, I wrote one of my first ever poems called ‘My Village’, which is the poem that has been published. I had absolutely no idea whether it was good or not!
HJ: Yes I started off exactly the same. I wrote now and again but hated reading them back, then people started telling me I was good at it. I kept saying “I don’t want to do poetry, I don’t want to do poetry”. Then I came here [University of Roehampton] and met Jeff Hilson as well as the other lecturers, who showed me what poetry could be and I found it incredibly interesting. I had only been brought up on poets like Shakespeare or Wordsworth, and their forms worked well in their day but you cannot achieve the same effect today.
BW: Yes it is different to write in those styles today. One of the first poems I think I ever wrote was a prose poem and for me I didn’t know what that was. Was I writing a book or was I writing a poem? I had no idea what it was.
HJ: Prose poems are becoming quite popular lately, I’ve seen quite a few competitions going round. The prose poem itself is quite radical and rebellious form, it in that it is breaking two sets of rules at once and it is so different from conventional forms.
BW: That is what I found about ‘My Village’, basically I listed off a load of weird things about my home village. That was the first draft and when I showed it to my module tutor Leone Ross, she told me not to change it, other than the odd word.
HJ: That is a big compliment coming from Leone. When she thinks something is bad, she will tell you. But she knows good writing when she sees it.
BW: Well they always say that the first draft is always going to be rubbish. The poem I wrote was nonsense and it is difficult to edit that!
HJ: I wonder sometimes whether poetry is the one form that can break that first draft rule. I find once you had that initial poem written down, that is pretty much what you stick with. It tends to only get chopped and changed if the writer is trying to do something specific and they didn’t achieve that in the first run. I love that about poetry.
BW: Before I had have lecturers really encourage me to re-draft my poems, as of course they have to be rewritten sometimes, but it is very different compared to a short story. With a short story it is quite easy as there is so much going on you can change so many things. However with a poem it is more about cutting unnecessary words out rather than changing things.
HJ: Yes that was Ezra Pound’s method, “use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something” (A Few Don’t by an Imagiste, Mar 1913, Poetry Magazine). We shouldn’t have a single unnecessary word. So when you say ‘your village’, is that near Southampton?
BW: Southampton is the nearest town, I’m from a village called Fair Oak in Hampshire. Everyone knows everyone, for example there is the reverend who christened me and all my brothers and sisters. You know where each family lives and everyone stays in the village for a while.
HJ: That is a rare thing these days, outside rural communities.
BW: It is starting to get bigger and bigger. I always thought of it as a village when I was younger, then I got a big older and I realized it was less personal than that, where people don’t know each other as well as I thought. But then just before I started University I had a job in the main little shop, and everyone knew everyone! So I did notice there was quite a community feel.
HJ: So you tried to incorporate that into your poem?
BW: Yes pretty much everything I mention in the poem is from something in my village. For example, I talk about a little white dog and I had just recently got a Westie, a little puppy. In the poem I say “she never does what she’s told, she always gets through the spindles”. The story to that line is: my dad had built something almost like a child gate across some of the doorways he didn’t want my dog to get through, but she would keep going through the gaps! So a lot of it is from personal experience. Some of it, for example Percy ‘the cat with the patch’, is not real. I was probably just thinking of a cat I see a lot around the village and I don’t even know if his name was Percy.
HJ: You created a character for him?
BW: I quite liked it and I didn’t intend for him to be mentioned throughout the poem, but it just turned out like that.
HJ: From what I remember [Creative Writing Day], it was quite storyteller-ish and reminded me of children’s picture books, in that you have that repeated line or character name to keep the story consistent and which worked well in your prose poem, because it keeps a consistency.
BW: Yes, I think I might have done that accidently. I didn’t know whether what I was writing was prose or poem, so it was quite unintentional but worked quite well. I wanted it to be all linked together and I think Percy helped keep it all together.
HJ: So originally you didn’t want to focus on Creative Writing but essays and the publishing aspects, but has writing and literature always been something that called to you, and if so when do you think it started?
BW: I wrote my first very short story around the age of seven and it was called ‘My Piggybank’. It was about a magic piggybank and a little girl who really wanted some new trainers, but her mum wouldn’t get them as they were too expensive. I think she rubbed her piggybank, similar to the genie’s lamp in Aladdin, and suddenly there was money there for the trainers.
HJ: I would quite like that piggybank!
BW: I remember writing it when I was very young, and I rewrote it a few times, then I revisited it when I was older and wrote it again. I had this little notebook with ‘My Stories’ written on the front. But I never really knew people studied Creative Writing, and I just thought every child wrote stories. I remember in Reception, we had a playtime where we could just sit around and make things. Every single day I would sit down and make a book, I used to fold paper together, staple it, sellotape it, then write on it or draw in the middle. But the next day I never felt like I could continue with the one I started the day before, so I would make a new one. So I had all these half-started books that just clogged up the house after a while
HJ: Do you still have some of them?
BW: I think I still have some of them in my box in the loft somewhere. So I’ve always been quite creative and written from quite a young age, but I just never thought it would turn into anything.
HJ: When did you start being more of a reader?
BW: Oh since I can remember! During junior school, I got the award for the Most Books Taken Out of the Library. The sad thing is when it was my year, I thought I would be bullied, so I begged them not to mention it in assembly and now I wish I had embraced it! They would have said it in front of everybody and I would have been too nervous for everyone to know I was the biggest reader in the year. Obviously it doesn’t matter to me now, but of course when you are younger it does. I think the average number of books taken out of the library was fifty and I had taken out about a hundred. I’ve always been reading, I used to get through a book a day in the summer when I didn’t have to go to school. I remember I used to sit underneath the washing line in the shade and just read books. The local library would do ‘rollercoaster competitions’, which was their reading competition and I would always get involved.
HJ: Is there anything particular you like in terms of genre or are you pretty general?
BW: I actually feel a bit annoyed with myself, because a lot of the books I read now are purely the ones I have to read for University. I’m looking forward to Christmas where I can just pick up a book I chose myself. With this term I am doing one Creative Writing module, Poetry & Innovative Form, and two English Literature, my dissertation and Laughing Victorians, so I’ve got two modules there where I need to be reading books all the time. So I don’t really have a lot of time to read my own books. I would like just to pick up Harry Potter again and just enjoy myself. I love the classics, for my 18th birthday I got a first edition of Jane Eyre from my parents. I love that era! It is sitting in a glass cabinet in with a red-velvet lined Ferro Roche box.
HJ: I love that! So when you have a story or a poem, what is the first sign of the idea? How does it begin? For example C.S. Lewis always said it was the image that came first, whereas someone like Tolkien it was the language.
BW: Quite often it has been a sentence I’ve just said and I’ve thought ‘oh that rolled off my tongue quite well, that line was quite good’ and an idea would evolve around that. For example, I was at my boyfriend’s house and he had a bottle of golden syrup, and I said “Don’t put the bottle of golden syrup on the coffee table” and I quite liked how that sound. I thought I could make quite a funny poem. With ‘My Village’ it was about things that meant quite a lot to me, that poem actually stemmed from homesickness. I find London quite a difficult place to live, having come from the country and it is very strange not to see cows.
HJ: The sky is smaller. That sounds strange but I live over in Surrey surrounded by a lot of towns that feel quite hemmed in and claustrophobic. Then when we go over to places like Wales, it’s like someone has taken the lid off the sky.
BW: Yeah, and I miss home quite a lot. A lot of the things I refer to in ‘My Village’ is drawn from the ‘community feel’ and how there is not necessarily one here. So yes my poems come from words or sentences I’ve overheard and what is on my mind at the time. In hindsight, ‘My Village’ probably came from homesickness, as it was written in my first term away from home.
HJ: Also you are no longer writing in isolation, you are writing in a community of other writers. Do you find that easier or harder?
BW: I find it harder. I find it quite intimidating, especially as a lot of the people on my course have been writing forever. While I dabbled, I never considered myself a writer. I tried stories when I was little, but it was never something I knew I was going to go into. It was only when I was looking at University course and my Mum said: “Oh you like writing, why not Creative Writing?” So it was a bit of a last minute decision. Now everyone in my class is saying how they have wanted to do this for their entire life and how they are constantly writing. And I might just be giving myself excuses, but because I am a joint honours I can’t be writing all the time, as I need to be reading. Writing is only half my brain at the moment, which is a shame.
So it is quite intimidating to have people around you who are a lot better and who have the time. I think we all have those ‘good days’ where the writing comes to you, but during classes I feel that everyone else is having those good days. I usually have those good days when I am sitting by myself. My Dad is a bit mad, he’s a bit strange! I like to think I take after him. I get a lot of ideas from him and I call up nearly every day and talk to him all the time. He gives me so many ideas. Sometimes they are my good days, when I can be on my own or call my Dad. I feel like looking at what other people are writing gets into your head and then it is difficult to come up with your own fresh ideas, because you think that is the only possible way to do it.
HJ: What’s the first book you ever read that you can remember?
BW: I think it was Princess and the Pea. It was either that or a Winnie the Pooh book. I would actually keep that book under my pillow when I went to sleep, because I loved it. I can’t remember which one is first. They were both quite thin books. I think my Dad had to tape the Winnie the Pooh book back together again. I still have it, I would never let it go. I can’t remember the first book I actually picked up and read myself. I went through a vampire phase in Year 9 and then that developed on to the Mortal Instruments books.
HJ: How do you feel about performing your work, or performance in general? From reading something aloud in class to getting on stage at Creative Writing Day. Was it quite a useful experience?
BW: It is one of those weird things that I am dreading but also secretly looking forward to it coming up. Sometimes in class, I know it sounds strange, but I want to be picked on and asked to read. I don’t want to be that person who goes ‘I’ll read my stuff!’, though perhaps I should be more confident. It’s just when you spent twenty minutes writing something down and someone asks “Okay who would like to read their work?” I don’t want to be that person who goes “I will, my work is brilliant!” When secretly I would quite like my lecturer to hear it and I want him to pick me, which he never does, or I want someone on my table to elect me. Not all the time though, obviously if I haven’t done anything in those twenty minutes I don’t want to be picked. I get more worked up having to read things that have been redrafted and edited. I would much rather be picked on to read something I wrote in twenty minutes, then something like Creative Writing Day and read my poem. In a weird sort of way I feel a little bit arrogant, in that I feel like I’m going “My work is excellent and that is why I’m reading it in front of all of you!”
HJ: The expectations are different too. In that they are expecting this refined piece when you get up on stage, whereas in a classroom everyone knows it has not been perfected and that you have only had twenty minutes.
BW: Yes and also because there were so many wonderful writers reading on that Creative Writing Day, I was coming towards the end of my second year at that point and I had written ‘My Village’ in the first year, so I was questioning whether it was good enough to be there.
HJ: Leone Ross doesn’t let anything pass that isn’t worth its salt, trust me.