A Fevers of the Mind Quick-9 Interview with Mary Ford Neal

Q1: When did you start writing and whom influenced you the most now and currently?

Mary: I’ve always written – my job involves a lot of academic writing, and I’ve done a bit of creative writing now and then over the years, but I only began to write poetry in a serious way, and submit my work for publication, early in 2020. My main influences are other contemporary poets and 20th century poets – my favourites include Sinead Morrissey, Zeina Hashem Beck, Don Paterson, Kim Addonizio, Jane Hirshfield, Brigit Pegeen Kelly, GB Clarkson, Maya Popa, Carol Ann Duffy, Philip Larkin, and TS Eliot. I admire earlier poets of course, especially Hardy and Donne, but they don’t influence the style or content of my own writing in the way that contemporary writers do.

Q2: Any pivotal moment when you knew you wanted to be a writer?

Mary: When I was unwell and on leave from work in late 2019 I began writing poetry quite prolifically, which I’d never done before, and then in early 2020 I began submitting it to magazines. So I suppose that was the sudden turning point when I ‘became’ a writer, having never really attempted to write much apart from academic articles before.

Q3: Who has helped you most with writing and career?

Mary: My dad (who was also my high school English teacher) got me into reading poetry long before I ever thought of writing it. And the poetry friends I’ve made in the last three years have been an amazing support – they read my work, give me feedback, and encourage me to believe that my writing has value. My academic background is in Law, not poetry, so I haven’t had access to the support system that people who study poetry at university often do (tutors, supervisors, classmates, etc). I’ve had to build that for myself, but I’ve been really lucky with the people I’ve encountered.

Q4: Where did you grow up and how did that influence you? Have any travels influenced your work?

Mary: I grew up in a working class community in the West of Scotland in the 1980s. I don’t travel very much outside the UK, so by far the biggest influence of ‘place’ on my work is the place I’ve lived since I was born, with one or two brief interruptions. It’s had a really profound influence on the content of my work, the rhythms and speech patterns I use, the attitudes and idiosyncrasies of the speakers in my poems, the role of faith and family, and so on.

Q5: What do you consider your most meaningful work creatively to you?

Mary: I think if you write poetry, almost everything you write has profound meaning to you – my work’s not straightforwardly autobiographical, but it incorporates hugely personal elements into non-autobiographical contexts. This is true of both of my collections, but my first collection ‘Dawning’ (Indigo Dreams, 2021) is the more emotional of the two for me, because of the context I wrote it in, so if I was to single out something as particularly meaningful, it would be a poem called ’The sea-wife’ from ‘Dawning’.

Q6: Favorite activities to relax?

Mary: Listening to music, binge-watching TV dramas, gong for long walks.

Q7: What is a favorite line/ stanza/lyric from your writing?

Mary: I think my favourite line that I’ve written is from the opening poem (‘Jane’) in my second collection ‘Relativism’ (Taproot Press, 2022): “She is a raised eyebrow.” It’s my favourite because it really sums up the woman who inspired the poem (my late grandmother), and readers often feed back to me that they get a really strong sense of her from that line.

Q8: What kind of music inspires you the most? What is a song or songs that always come back to you as an inspiration?

Mary: I’m not inspired by calm or meandering music. Dramatic music with a strong bassline and a clear structure is definitely more likely to help me write, and that could be anything from punk to baroque to electronica to ballads – as long as it engages the emotions. One song that almost always makes me end up writing when I listen to it is ‘Hanging Around’ by The Stranglers – I seem to find anger quite a good prompt!

Q9: Do you have any recent or upcoming books, music, events, etc that you would like to promote?

Mary: I recently launched my second collection, ‘Relativism’, which was published by Taproot Press in August this year. https://taprootpressuk.co.uk/our-books/

Bonus Question: Any funny memory or strange occurrence you’d like to share during your creative journey?

Mary: I can’t think of anything!

By davidlonan1

David writes poetry, short stories, and writings that'll make you think or laugh, provoking you to examine images in your mind. To submit poetry, photography, art, please send to feversofthemind@gmail.com. Twitter: @davidLOnan1 + @feversof Facebook: DavidLONan1

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