Interview: Vicky Arthurs
Most people remember their grandparents with photographs or heirlooms, but Vicky Arthurs has created images of their lives and home through poetry
Let’s start with the title Limehaven. Where did that come from?
Limehaven was the name of my grandparents’ bungalow. It was quite a small bungalow set in a big garden. They bought the house after retiring from being newsagents and selling their business. It was a haven because they created this lovely place where they grew a lot of their own food – my nan was always bustling about and making jam.
Did you start with Limehaven itself, or did you start with your grandparents? Where did the book come from?
I actually started with their garden because I quite like writing about nature. I started writing memories down about the garden and some of that started turning into poems. A lot of the poems were actually based on rooms in the house, or certain objects – things that were a bit naff, but I loved them because my parents didn’t have anything like that – things like a barometer that I had never seen before. I actually found it quite difficult to remember my grandparents directly. I found it easier remembering their things and the rooms and the garden, which was a very sensory thing and great for poetry.
Where did you write the poems that make up Limehaven?
I wrote the bulk of these poems in quite a short space of time and so I did some of that at my desk, probably looking out of the window a lot. But once I got into the rhythm, I found myself writing them in bed. I would wake up in the night turning over these lines in my head. Some poems I worked really hard at, like the war poem, and some arrived kind of fully formed, where I just took out the odd word or the odd line. Those are the ones that came in the middle of the night.
You’ve performed your poems to an audience before. How does that feel?
What I didn’t expect – I’ve done readings from the book quite a few times now – is that when you write you’re on your own, but reading to an audience and having that immediate contact with people, is a totally different thing. Normally when you write it’s a two stage process – the writer writes their thing and the reader reads it at a completely different time. It’s a sort of joint activity that never meets. Performance is really nice because you do meet, and people say ‘Oh my grandparents had a barometer!’ and then start telling you their stories. What’s really nice is you don’t feel any ownership of the poems anymore because you and your audience are creating this imaginary thing together.
You’ve produced an audiobook of Limehaven – a very different experience than performing to an actual audience. How did you find that?
It was a bit intimidating at first because when you go into the studio there’s nothing but a very tiny room and a very big microphone. You have to get used to the sound of your own voice because you don’t really think about that when you’re performing. But I did enjoy the recording very much. No one likes their own voice and once you accept that’s who you are and what you sound like, that’s when you can start playing around and having fun. I worked with an engineer but there wasn’t a producer. You have to perform and then you have to come back and listen critically to it.
Poetry might seem quite high brow to some people, but your poetry has a direct and personal style. How did you develop that?
I found it’s taken me a while to allow myself to be unsophisticated. I always think people are going to find out how naive and innocent I am! But you get to the point when you stop minding about that, and actually I think people really respond to that. I don’t think poetry should be high brow. Nursery rhymes, rock and roll – they all use rhythm and rhyme. And if I can find a way to put poetry on the back of a crisp packet, I will.
How did your family receive the book?
I was a bit worried about that because I didn’t tell them about it for a long time. Mainly because I just wanted to explore my own memories. Being the youngest in the family, there are a lot of other voices telling you how things are. And I didn’t want anyone to say ‘Oh no you shouldn’t do that.’ I was also a little bit worried that my memories wouldn’t correspond with theirs. But they were actually all really pleased.
In some of the poems, you adopt your childhood voice. How did you find this?
I actually found it really good fun because it was just like playing again – like playing in the garden only with a few words thrown in. Some of the poems were more directly from memory, some of them were based on stories I’d heard about my grandparents, and then the others were more of a reflection on their lives and death. So they came from different places, but it all felt quite natural.
You have worked in several industries. Do you have plans to do more poetry?
Oh I would like to do lots of things! I think I will carry on writing but I haven’t got a big project. I do like that expression of rhythm in poetry but I would also like to explore prose, perhaps in a similar way, building up pictures of different things. I have a strong editorial background and have just applied it to different things, whether that’s sound or visuals. I would like to combine those things, so watch this space, really.
Limehaven by Vicky Arthurs is published by Cedarbird Books on 26 September. For more information go to www.vickyarthurs.com