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The Next Big Thing


Poet and fiction writer Emma Lee tagged me in this internet meme. I’m answering about The North End of the Possible, as it is certainly the next big thing in my writing life!

Where did the idea come from for the book?
As I think is common with many poetry collections, the idea grew out of the writing rather than the writing being formed around a preconceived idea. It took me a long time to realise that I was writing about isolation versus belonging. In fact, the manuscript was nearly finished before I gained that insight and I wouldn’t have been able to complete the book without it. Only after that was I able to write the culminating poem “Unquiet Time”.

What genre is the book?
Poetry. Largely lyric poetry, but there is a greater narrative element to this book than I was in my first collection, The Ambulance Box.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
It’s slightly funny that this is one of the questions, as several of the poems from the collection are being made into a filmpoem by Alastair Cook in collaboration with Douglas Robertson. I’ll be reading the poems, so, in a sense, I’ll be playing the characters! The film will be available to view here when the book is published in April. In the meantime, you can view the earlier filmpoem that Alistair made of a piece from the book, “MacAdam Takes to the Sea”.

Of course, poetry collections don’t usually have central characters. However, this one is different in that roughly half the poems involve the character MacAdam who appeared in “Tonguefire Night” in my first collection. Whoever played him, it would have to be a Scot with the right amount of grittiness and vulnerability. I think Peter Mullan would make a good job of it.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
The North End of the Possible delves deep into the way that isolation, belonging and place shape us.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
The oldest poem in the book dates from around 2007 or 2008. It didn’t fit into The Ambulance Box but, after revision, seemed right for this book. The bulk of the collection was written over the past two or three years, particularly over several months in 2011 in which, thanks to a writer’s bursary from Creative Scotland, I was able to reduce my day job down to 2 days a week. However, the linchpin poem that I mentioned above — “Unquiet Time” — wasn’t written until summer 2012, only a couple of months before I sent the manuscript to my editor.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
It’s hard to say where these things come from. I guess there were some things that I needed to work through, although I wasn’t aware of the need or of the fact that I was working them through. Actually, when my imagination first started returning to the character of MacAdam, I was deeply unsure of whether I was on to something or going over old ground. It was only when the theme of isolation versus belonging emerged that everything really fell into place. Several of the poems in the collection do have an inspiration external to that theme — the two poems inspired by Keith Jarrett recordings or the sequence written for my 10th wedding anniversary, for instance — but even they find a place within it.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
Ever wondered what might happen if you built a garden-shed version of the large hadron collider?

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Salt Publishing, who published my first collection, The Ambulance Box, will bring it out in April this year. First proofs arrived in my inbox last week, so it’s at that enticing stage of almost being a real book.

The writers I have tagged are:

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