Interview with Sophie Kirtley, winner of the 2016 Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize (poetry category)

As there are now only two weeks to go until the deadline for submissions for the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize I thought it was about time that I shared this interview with Sophie Kirtley, the poetry winner of last year’s prize. Many thanks to Sophie for taking the time to answer my questions and I hope it inspires YOU to put pen to paper and enter our Writing Prize!

Photo courtesy Sophie Kirtley

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I grew up in Northern Ireland but now I live in Wiltshire with my own young family. Last year I stopped working as a secondary school English Teacher and enrolled on the amazing MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University – a real turning point in my life.

2. How, when and why did you first start writing?

I’ve always written. Even as a little girl I wrote stories about animals and plays for my cousins and siblings to perform. Then as I grew up I started reading more poetry and writing poetry too. But this was mostly just for me and I never really ‘confessed’ to anyone that I was a writer. When my children were born I started writing for and about them which, in turn, made me feel more open about writing and less shy to share what I’d written.

3. How often do you write?

I work part time and write part time. My writing days are Thursday and Friday and these days are sacred and so precious. I do squeeze writing into the corners and crevices of other days too, but Thursdays and Fridays … aaaaaahhhhhhh…. lovely!

4. What made you decide to enter the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize?

I’d seen the prize mentioned in Mslexia several times and always drew a circle around it, thinking Mother’s Milk might be a good match for my poetry. I appreciated the unashamed feminine celebration of the Mother’s Milk ideology. I also liked entering via purchasing someone else’s writing (I bought Oy Yew by Ana Salote, which I really enjoyed) – it felt like being part of a writing community in a way.

5. How did it feel when you’d heard that you’d won?

Gosh! I was just stunned. It meant a great deal as I hadn’t really had the confidence to take myself seriously as a writer before and winning the prize felt like a real affirmation that I was on the right track. Also my poem, ‘Anniversary Number Six’, was written from quite an intimate and small world so I was gladdened that I’d communicated something that was appealing and welcoming to readers who could make their own meaning from it.

6. Can you tell us a little about your winning piece of writing?

I wrote the original ‘Anniversary Number Six’ for my husband as an anniversary present a few years ago. So it was never really intended for a wider audience – it was just a reflection on us and the hazy state of new parenthood and the way love bends into many shapes.

I love playing with form in my writing and the challenge of a sestina just makes my mouth water. In sestinas the looping recurrent words and sounds swirl about and reshape themselves into new patterns like oil on water. For me I find that somehow, while I’m concentrating on the pattern of things, somehow meanings kind of make themselves out of the corner of my eye, when I’m not looking.

7. Any future writing plans?

Oh yes, always! At the moment I’m concentrating on editing the children’s novel I wrote on my MA last year. It’s called Hartboy and it’s a middle grade adventure about a child who runs away and accidentally ends up in the Stone Age.

I have so many other story ideas bubbling away too… and poetry plans… and… and… and…

8. Any tips for writers?

Be brave and be bold, write what feels right to you and what you’d like to read. Write like a reader and read like a writer. And don’t be afraid to play – writing should be fun! And don’t be afraid to share your writing – join a critique group, submit to a magazine, enter a competition (especially a supportive, warm-hearted, one like The Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize!) – allow your writing to be read!

You can read Sophie’s winning poem ‘Anniversary Number Six’ here. And if you feel inspired to take part in this year’s Writing Prize (and I’d really love it if you would!) please read the full guidelines here.