Interview: Heidi North talks about We are tiny beneath the light
Interview with Heidi North by Marcus Hobson.
Heidi congratulations on your recently published collection of poems called ‘We are tiny beneath the light’. The book crashes head-on into many uncomfortable relationship subjects. There are some tough realities being discussed. Are you OK to answer questions on the topic now?
I hope that that speaks to the strength of the writing that you ask that question! But, yes, of course.
I assume that much of what you have written is, at least partly, autobiographical. Was it difficult to put so much of yourself and your emotions onto the page?
Yes, you’re right that this is autobiographical, or perhaps I would say it’s refracted through lived experience. Is it difficult? The short answer is yes. Of course it would be easier to step back from your work and say it’s not you, and clearly in this book I can’t do that, so yes. But the act of writing about something truthful always contains poetic license as well as truth. And, in the end, I think all good writing is an act of vulnerability of some kind.
Did you write during the most painful times, or did the words start to flow later with the benefit of a little bit of distance?
A bit of both – all of it was refined with distance.
Do you see poetry as a form of autobiography or can it also be fiction?
Absolutely both! It really depends on the subject, but for me poetry usually has an autobiographic basis. But that’s always just the starting point.
Since you wrote your first collection of poetry, ‘Possibility of Flight’ in 2015, you have studied the Maters of Creative Writing course under Paula Morris at Auckland University. What sort of impact did this have on your writing?
The Masters was incredible – for the community, the guidance of Paula – who is just amazing – and the intensive practice of writing and reading and thinking about both. I worked on fiction during the Masters though – this poetry book was a side project I snuck away to when my novel wasn’t looking. I’ve always needed at least one project on the go at once. It takes the pressure off somehow. I was exploring similar themes in my novel. It explored the end of a marriage in a different way – it’s about a bride who cancels her wedding and goes to Shanghai – and of course, much like this poetry book, during that year the novel shot off in a completely new direction. Working on fiction, and then creative non-fiction, helped me approach a poetry collection in a more novelistic way. ‘We are tiny beneath the light’ has much more of an overall narrative than ‘Possibility of flight’ for that reason.
What were the best and worst parts of the Masters experience?
It was both a dream and one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Mostly both at once. Like I said above, the community and the guidance of Paula were invaluable, not to mention just the time immersed in the craft. The workload was a challenge and it’s always a juggle with life and family and work etc. But I am so grateful for how the process has changed me as a writer and a person.
You have been a reviewer for NZBooklovers for a few years now – what do you like best about reviewing?
I love that it forces you to give something a close reading. In a world of a whir of information, it forces me to think as I read, which is good for me. Plus, it opens me up to things I wouldn’t necessarily read, or challenges my preconceptions as I read.
What are some of your favourite recent book recommendations?
I’ve just read Rosetta Allan’s ‘The Unreliable People’, which is a rich historical treat about the Koryo-Saram, the people Stalin labeled “the unreliable people”. Rosetta was in my Masters cohort, and it was so interesting to read her final version after reading the genesis of the story in class. I also recently finished ‘Attraction’, Ruby Porter’s debut novel. It’s about three women on a road trip through New Zealand. I picked it up and couldn’t put it down.
Writing routine – especially with younger children around – must be hard. What is your routine like?
I try and carve out routine times to write, because everything works better when I do and I feel better knowing I have that time carved out and protected, but I also have learned to write in snatches. Deadlines are my friend.
What is your next writing project?
I have two! One is a lighthearted novel about two sisters who go to London on their OE looking for love and themselves. And the other is my Master’s project, the story of a runaway bride who finds herself hiding in Shanghai – the last place she remembers being happy – after running out her wedding. Let’s see which one grows legs first!
Are you going to stick with poetry or would you like to try something else?
I will always write poetry – it’s what I find myself coming back to. And it’s achievable for me to finish a poem in a way that it’s not with a novel. So I don’t see myself giving up on it anytime soon, but poetry grows in the space around me; I never know exactly what I’ll write about next.
Thanks Heidi and good luck with the launch of “We are tiny beneath the light’.
Thank you so much, and thank you for the thoughtful review.
Published by The Cuba Press