with Mary J. Oliver
Q1: When did you start writing and first influences?
Mary: Over ten years ago, when I was sixty. My background had been in the visual arts. But something very dark happened, triggering a desire to find out who my father was … a mysterious presence in my life. So I started researching and, over a ten-year period, it turned into a book that surprised me by getting published and it’s now being made into a stage play and a film. So it’s never too late!
Q2: Who are your biggest influences today?
Mary: Too many to mention. I read very widely. But I’ve not studied literature academically. I just read and absorb. Read and absorb. And by some process of osmosis, I think I have been influenced by those I love most. A book I read recently (after my own book was published ) was ‘A Month in Sienna’ by Hisham Matar and I just cannot stop rereading it. I can’t get enough of it. It’s mysterious and wonderful, sensitive and profound beyond words, and somehow, I feel, it would be relevant to everyone, if only they read it.
Q3: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?
Mary: Always wanted to be one or the other. But it wasn’t until a traumatic event in the family occurred that I felt driven to write about it. I hadn’t planned on publishing it, just wanted to do some research. And it grew. I was in my 60s by then.
Q4: Who has helped you most with writing?
Mary: Locally, I was influenced by the poet Penelope Shuttle. She liked the poetry I was using in my memoir and suggested I recast more of the prose as poetry. Which I did. It enable me to distill my material to its essence, which I think is crucial to the book’s success. Thank you Penny!
Q5: Where did you grow up and how did that influence your writing & did any travels away from home influence your work?
Mary: I grew up in Cornwall, UK, but spent my young adulthood raising my two daughters in Scotland. I adore both places.
I travelled to Canada and Italy while researching ‘Jim Neat’; that was pretty influential obviously.
I’ve travelled and worked in Ghana and Himachel Pradesh which influenced my artwork considerably.
Q6: What do you consider your most meaningful work you’ve done creatively so far to you?
Mary: Jim Neat
Q7: Favorite activities to relax?
Mary: Boxing. Walking. Chilling with partener, friends, family. Photography. Travel (before Covid). Table tennis. Scrabble. But I love my work so much, I’m incredibly happy doing that!
Q8: What is a favorite line/stanza from a poem of yours or others?
From ‘Bliss in Cape Town 1921:
I done find Jim in dockyard
lying on shed floor. He look scare,
I close door gentle.
No worry, I say, I call Bliss,
an I kiss him rose flower mouth.
Q9: Any recent or forthcoming projects that you’d like to promote?
Mary: No new book. I put everything into Jim Neat. But I have reverted to making visual work which I’m combining with text – and working collaboratively with a group of artists based in the SW and the NE of the UK. Very exciting.
https://t.co/6gPQytKunm?amp=1 (Guardian poem of month)