Interview - JS Watts

Local Writer and Poet JS Watts discusses her first poetry collection, her writing inspirations and being a writer living and working in Cambridgeshire.

JS Watts has been writing for as long as she can remember. She is a creative polymath, and writes short stories, poetry, flash fiction, novels and non-fiction, as well as editing the work of other writers. Her own work has caught the attention of publishers across the globe and her pieces have appeared in an eclectic range of magazines and anthologies in the UK and abroad. In 2011, one of her poems received a nomination for the prestigious US Pushcart Prize, and her work has also been performed on BBC radio.

A Londoner by birth, JS lived in various locations throughout the south of England, before settling in Cambridgeshire in 1998. After a successful career in the education sector, she became a full time writer in 2008.

Her first full poetry collection 'Cats and Other Myths' is out now, published by Lapwing Publications and her novel 'A Darker Moon', is due to be published by Vagabondage Press in the Autumn of this year. She also hopes to release a poetry pamphlet by the end of 2012, featuring an extended poetry sequence.

I caught up with JS, via the wonders of the internet, to ask her a few questions about her writing.

When did you begin your career in writing and what was the catalyst which inspired you to turn your hand to writing at a professional level?

I started submitting poems to literary magazines in the early nineties and had a reasonable level of success, but the day-job in further education rather took over my life and whilst I kept on writing, I never seemed to have the time to submit, so grew out of the habit. I always promised myself that one day I’d try submitting to the magazines again and I’d try to have a full poetry collection published, and I’d go back to writing short stories (which I hadn’t written since university) and I’d try my hand at a novel and… I never did. Then in 2008 a variety of things came together. I knew of three people my age or a little younger who dropped down dead horribly young and without warning and that made me wonder whether putting off my writing intentions was such a good idea. Then circumstances at work changed and I decided to seize the moment and see what I was capable of in writing terms.

You often read your work at poetry open mic evenings, literary festivals and events, which do you prefer: writing or performing?

I enjoy both writing and performing. I suppose each resonates with a different part of my personality. The imaginative recluse in me loves to write. The creative extrovert loves to perform, but, as I perform what I have written, my first love has to be writing. I’ve always wanted to write. Performing my writing is the icing on an already beautifully rich cake.

Did any one novel or collection inspire you to write for yourself, and if so, what was it?

I can’t think of any one novel or collection that initially inspired me to write, but I can think of a whole sea of writers whose work has inspired me in a rather more amorphous, all-embracing way: Ray Bradbury, Charles Causley, Lewis Carroll, Emily Dickinson, T.S. Eliot, Alan Garner, Ted Hughes, John Keats, Sylvia Plath, Edgar Allen Poe, Anne Sexton, Rosemary Sutcliff and J.R.R. Tolkien are just some of the writers who inspired me. I'm an omnivorous reader and somewhere along the line most of my favourite authors and poets will have left their mark on my consciousness. At least, I hope so.

Your work often focuses on myths, legends and fairy tales - why do you enjoy writing about these themes?

I’ve always had a love of traditional tales and more modern fantasy. I think the tales we tell ourselves, when we are free to make-up anything we want, tell us as much about ourselves, our hopes and our fears, as the stories they narrate. I find they are a good way to explore both the individual and social psyche and can be a fruitful medium for developing more abstract ideas. It’s a bit like the American Sci-Fi films of the 1950s, which probably said more about The States’ fear of Russia than little green men from outer space. Also, traditional tales, because they are already known, can create resonances within new writing which can be used to powerful effect.

Your first collection is called Cats and Other Myths – what is the significance of this title and how does it relate to the collection itself?

Cats and Other Myths” explores some of the old myths and legends from a modern perspective and finds the mythic in modern life. The title comes from the last poem in the collection, “Cats and Other Mythical Creatures” which is a slightly whimsical take on the fact that our innermost needs shape our fantasies and the stories we tell. Although whether the poem is a reflection of the cat’s view of itself, or an articulation of human disquiet at the inherent contradiction of cuteness and cruelty in domestic cats, is another matter. Cats play a big part in folk-lore and I rather like the creatures, so it seemed like a good idea to interweave their somewhat mythic status through the poems.

Your poetry focuses on darker subject matters but the tone is often light-hearted – is this a conscious decision on your part?

Sometimes light and dark go together naturally. Life is often light and dark simultaneously and elements of my poetry reflect this. Life can also be exceedingly dark and some of my poems go there too. What I tend not to do consistently is light, because I don’t see life like that. Even when life is light and upbeat there is always the potential for encroaching darkness. I suppose I am something of a pessimistic optimist. Sometimes lightness of touch when dealing with dark subject matter can emphasise the darker shades, whilst making them more accessible and acceptable. I like the impact that type of juxtaposition and contrast can have within a piece.

Has living in Cambridgeshire made an impact on your writing?

I love Cambridgeshire. I arrived here in 1998, expecting to stay for only a couple of years, but I put down roots and here I still am. I don’t know if it’s a good or bad place for writers per se, but it’s good for me: a long and intriguing past, beautiful and historic towns like Cambridge and Ely, inspiring countryside and landscapes, a rich variety of wildlife and easy access to London when I want it. On the poetry scene there are lots of wonderful venues for listening to other poets and showcasing your own work like: “Allographic” and “CB1” in Cambridge and “A Pint of Poetry and a Dash of Drama” in Peterborough. There are also great venues nearby in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Suffolk. The poetry scene is very rich in East Anglia.

Thanks to JS Watts for agreeing to this interview.

JS Watt's first poetry collection, 'Cats and Other Myths' is published by Lapwing Publications and available now.

For more information on JS Watts, please visit her website

posted on 28 June 2012 21:07 byLeanne Moden


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