I am delighted to be able to publish this interview with Angela Topping here. It has been an honour to work with Angela on Letting Go. I’ve learnt a lot in the publishing process and made a new friend as well, which has surely got to be the best way to publish a book! The first readers of Letting Go have told me how moved they have been by the poems within, and also how it is inspiring them to write. High praise indeed! So thank you to everyone who has bought a book and taken the time to comment, and thank you again to Angela for taking part in the interview.
Tell us about yourself…
I’m Angela Topping. My first poetry collection was published in 1988 by Stride, and my most recent one was published with Mother’s Milk Books. I am a mother of two adult daughters. I studied at Liverpool University and hold three degrees. I left my first job, in the Civil Service, to be a mum, before going into freelance writing, poets in schools and teaching in FE. This work led to a teaching career, but in 2009, I returned to the freelance life, which has proved a good decision. I’ve collaborated with an artist to create an exhibition of art and poetry, The Lightfoot Letters, which has now appeared in three different places. I recently took up a residency at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, which was another new challenge.
1. Have you always considered yourself to be a creative person?
Yes, making rhymes up was something I did from being very small. I remember telling people that when I grew up I wanted to be ‘one of those people who said things’ because I’d heard people saying ‘Plato said’ or Shakespeare said’. I didn’t realize it was written down, so I suppose I wanted to be a writer even before I knew what one was. I always loved stories and poems, and colouring in, and I used to spend hours building cities and farms on the living room carpet, with blocks and ornaments, and making up stories. I also knitted and sewed from an early age. It’s an urge to create, and I feel miserable when I am not making stuff.
2. Has motherhood enhanced your creativity? If yes, in what way and why do you think it has enhanced your creativity?
Motherhood definitely enhanced it. I was a stay-at-home mum, and that gave me time to write, even though sometimes I’d be cooking the tea, with a baby in the sling and a notebook in which I had to keep writing poems down, all at the same time. It also gave me the chance to return strongly to my own childhood, reliving it by doing things with my daughters that my parents had done with me. It was like having the chance to go back and really savour it. I loved doing craft and cooking with my girls, and their childhoods got me writing children’s poems as well. To be creative is to play, and I spent many hours playing with my kids. Being a parent also boosted my confidence immensely.
3. Do you have any tips on how to find time for your creative work amongst the everyday busyness?
When I was teaching full time, it was very hard. Often the only writing I did was in the holidays, or in the Writers’ Club sessions I ran, where I’d be interrupted to read someone else’s poem partway through writing mine. It does help that when I teach a poetry workshop session, I often do the exercises myself, though of course one cannot fully concentrate as one eye has to be kept on whether participants need me. Now I am freelance things are easier. I don’t really have a routine as such, but I tend to spend the day in my study and do all my chores when I need a break from writing or reading or thinking. I also make art and handmade books. These other creative outlets can feed into my writing.
So my tips would be:
- Make use of even 10 spare minutes, and always carry a notebook
- Use the time when you are doing physical chores or out for a walk, to think. All writers need to think.
- Have like-minded friends, other writers, to whom you can talk about your work
- Go to classes and workshops, or if you lead them, do the exercises yourself.
- Treat yourself to a writer’s retreat or a short course or even a day workshop every now and again.
- Writing last thing at night or getting up early works for some people.
4. What does breastfeeding mean to you?
I loved it. It gave me closeness to my babies and there was no need for any of the work that goes with bottle feeding. My girls wouldn’t entertain any kind of teat, and they have grown up very secure. With my first baby, it gave me the chance to rest and sit reading with my feet up while she fed, and with my second, a chance to involve the older one with cuddles and a story while the little one fed. It’s a very pleasurable feeling and I sometimes still miss it. I am proud of my body for its capacity to nurture my babies – it’s all so miraculous. It saddens me when people don’t even consider it, when it is free and saves a lot of fuss and work. I was quite determined to feed my babies when I was out and about, and never had any problems unless at the baby clinic or the hospital, amazingly enough.
5. Were there any pieces in Musings on Mothering that spoke to you particularly?
I love all the art work. For poems I prefer the ones which take a sideways way in, like ‘Blackberries’ by Alison Parkes, and ‘Skin’ by Alwyn Marriage. I’ve been lucky enough to never lose a child but that section in the book showed me eloquently how difficult that must be.
6. Are you working on any particular project right now?
I have just published a selection of my poems spanning 25 years for Mother’s Milk Books (Letting Go). I am very excited about this because some of these poems have been out of print for ages. It is my tenth solo poetry publication.
Other than that, I am trying to write new poems towards my next collection. No particular theme has emerged yet so I will wait and see.
I am also trying to finish writing a book about the poet John Clare, which ought to have been out a while ago but the publisher wanted me to augment it further. I always seem to be doing something!
Oh, I am also editing a box set of poems inspired by Shakespeare, Austen and The Brontes for Like This Press.
7. Is there any one piece of work that you are particularly proud of?
I had a very important poetry friend and mentor, Matt Simpson, for many years. In 2009, he died unexpectedly. He was only 73. The elegiac poems I wrote for him came out of my deep sorrow at his loss, and I am proud of them because they are the first poems I’d written without showing him the drafts. I think all 17 of them would stand up to his scrutiny. Six were included in my Salt Modern Voices chapbook and ten in my Rack Press pamphlet. I put them all together to make a sequence with a new coda, and included it in my 2012 Lapwing collection, Paper Patterns. My favourite one is the sonnet ‘Keeping Faith’ .
8. Is there any one person (or persons) that you consider to be a true inspiration to you?
My friend Matt Simpson, mentioned in the last question, was a huge inspiration to me, and I learned a lot from reading other poets, particularly Emily Dickinson, Thomas Hardy and Robert Frost. Closer to home, my parents were massively inspirational and so are my daughters.
9. Is there any one piece of art or music, or writing that has influenced you, or inspired you to continue creating?
I truly love music and art, and dabble a little in both. One of my favourite pieces of music is The Trout Quintet by Schubert. When I was a child, it taught me how to tell a story without words. I love Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, which was also Matt’s favourite piece. I used it as a motif in the elegiac poems.
10. What would you to say to someone who doesn’t consider themselves a creative person, but would like to try their hand at something new?
I believe everyone is creative. The best advice I can give is to go for it. Be prepared to fail, failure is good. It paves the road to success. Since I took up painting I’ve learned that what one sees in an exhibition are just the pieces that worked. Many more didn’t but the creation of them was a stage on the way. Learn from what works and what doesn’t and always always stay true to oneself.
To find out more about Angela please visit her website: www.angelatopping.com.
If you’d like to purchase Letting Go please do stop by The Mother’s Milk Bookshop. Any purchase made pays for one entry to The Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize. Angela, herself, is the sole adjudicator of the poetry categories.