The Magnolia Review: Describe your creative space. Do you work at home, in public spaces, etc.?
Cathy Whittaker: I work at home in what once was my daughter’s bedroom – a tiny box room which I have converted to my office. It is tightly packed with books, untidy papers, and photographs stuck on the walls.
TMR: What kind of materials do you use? Do you write by hand or type? What is your favorite writing utensil?
CW: Usually I write in a notebook first, in pen/pencil, whatever I have to hand. I like to write in a very messy way – I don’t worry about spellings or anything else. I like to feel free to write anything. Often in the mess I find the beginnings of an idea.
TMR: What is your routine for writing?
CW: Once I have captured an idea, then I’m on the computer and working hard. I will get the first draft down and then I wait for a while before I start revising and revising. My routine is erratic – I work whenever I have some free hours. Often early evening and on weekends.
TMR: How long have you been writing? When did you start writing?
CW: I have been writing on and off since I was young. I lived in an isolated part of England – the Lake District – not much to do, so writing and reading took the place of friends. I didn’t take it very seriously until I was lucky enough to take a degree in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham about 10 years ago. It gave me confidence and the desire to share my work with others.
TMR: Who is your intended, or ideal, audience? Who do you write for?
CW: Difficult question. I am not sure that I think about an audience when I first write something. Later when I send it out I think of my writer friends as my audience. But I would like my poems to appeal to people who wouldn’t ordinarily read poetry.
TMR: What inspires you to write? If you are blocked, what do you do?
CW: Sometimes it’s something I see that intrigues me. Other times an idea arrives when I am not even thinking about poetry – walking, driving, any type of housework (one good reason for doing it). It is as if by doing something else my mind wanders off. I also find music very good for finding ideas. If I am blocked I have to wait, be patient, until the ideas arrive again. It’s a bit like playing cat and mouse.
TMR: What other things do you do besides writing? Do you dance or play golf, etc.?
CW: I tutor in creative writing and find this very helpful. Keeps me thinking and constantly discovering new writers and ideas. I read a lot. I like looking at trees. Visiting America. Conversation. Friends. Family.
TMR: What is your favorite part of the creative process?
CW: The first time I get the idea and start writing – and know it’s going to work. That’s wonderful. When I am on a roll it’s exciting, dangerous (because often I don’t know where it’s going) and inspiring. It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does it makes it all worthwhile.
TMR: What is your advice to aspiring writers?
CW: Believe in yourself. Read other poets. Attend workshops and writing groups. Enjoy it.
Check out Cathy’s work in the issue, Volume 3, Issue 1.