Interview with Suzy Hazelwood (poet & founder of The Writing Garden)

Please tell us a bit about yourself, Suzy.

I was born in London, England, in the 1960's, my father Irish, my mother English. My family moved a lot during my childhood, we ended up living a long way from London. From the age of five to my early twenties I lived in rural countryside. But as I grew up country life was not my idea of fun. Even though I had no memories of London (I was still a baby when we moved) I always had dreams of returning to the big city. I find cities and people fascinating. Cows, trees and endless rolling hills don't do much for me, it's all a bit too still.

School was a nightmare for me, even on the first day I hated it. By age thirteen I decided I couldn't bear any more time in a place that made me so depressed. Much to my parents' dismay I decided to leave my secondary school three years before I was legally allowed to. Luckily, I had resourceful parents and a much older brother who eventually understood how genuinely distressed I was attending that school, so they found a way for me to be educated at home. It was a stressful time, but once the tedious details were sorted I settled comfortably into an education that suited my personality. In later years I was able to overcome patterns of depressive mood swings that developed purely from being so unhappy at school.

I wasn't much of a writer when I was a child or a teenager. I experimented with ideas a lot, and attempted several terrible novels. In 1984 I sent some of my poetry to a local literary magazine, to my great surprise they published three of my poems. It was a bit of wacky publication--poetry that left me baffled as to what it was about and strange art leaving me wondering which way up to view the magazine! But I was thrilled they gave a teenager a chance to have her own slightly weird, amateurish poems included.

I joined a local drama group when I was fifteen and spent four very happy years acting on stage with some hilariously jolly actor friends who I still believe today greatly helped in prizing me out of my little shy shell to develop a mature personality and a great sense of humour.

I would have loved to have written a play or a pantomime for that drama group, because they were always struggling to find good materiel to create a great show. But I just didn't have the talent or experience at that age to write anything of substantial quality. The experience taught me a lot about projecting your voice, staging a production, making everything run seamlessly and look wonderful despite the need to keep to a very low budget. At eighteen they gave me the job of publicity assistant, a huge responsibility, but I loved it. I'll never forget that life changing experience.

I moved to Norwich, Norfolk in 1990 (finally got to live in a city) and I'm still happily living there today. I'm not at all upset that returning to London didn't work out. Norwich is such a beautiful place to live, I wouldn't want to live anywhere else.

I began a more serious study of creative writing after my mother died, it was such a shock to me at age thirty-four to have lost someone so dear, I needed something to deal with all of those dreadful feelings. I also felt life was moving too fast and needed to be recorded in some way before it was all gone.

My writing has progressed a lot since that time, I now write on four blogs. Mainly poetry, but also short stories.

 

What kind of poetry do you write? What are the most prevalent themes you like exploring when writing?

When I was younger I always wrote poetry with a rhyme, I didn't appreciate poetry without it. When I first began posting poetry on the internet in 2012 I did a bit of both, but learned to let go of the rhyme. It's rare for me to use rhyme in poetry now. I'd be more likely to go with a rhyme if it's a poem with humour. I wrote a comedy poem about Doctor Who three years ago, I found it difficult to say what I needed to and still get the rhyme right. I took a lot of edits, but I was pleased with the result in the end. I've not written any more comedy since that one. I have a great sense of humour, but for some reason it rarely finds it's way into my poetry.

I lean more towards the writing of memories and the psychology of human relationships. I love writing about different characters. I find people and their ways (good and bad) compelling to write about.

 

On one of your sites you mentioned that you don't particularly like classic poetry, why is that?

Oh dear! I struggled so hard in reading poetry written by great classic poets when I was a teenager--I loathed it. I would say I related to lyrics in music a lot more, especially the lyrics of Kate Bush. The lyrics on her albums were an education to me on how I could write poetry. And I wanted so much to write poetry like Kate wrote her lyrics. Without doubt, her writing and emotion in her beautiful songs are largely responsible for me finding an interest in poetry. Without her influence I may never have got into writing poetry at all.

Today, I'm learning to appreciate a much wider variety of poetry. I do love some of those classic poets' work, but others still leave me feeling their poetry is a little trivial or dare I say--amateurish! I guess it was okay at the time it was written. Maybe I have trouble connecting my mind with the era in which they wrote those poems.

My favourite modern classic poet is Charles Bukowski. He was not an elegant writer like Pablo Neruda for example, but I love his honesty in writing about gritty subjects a lot of writers avoid. I like beauty and elegance in writing, but I also appreciate subjects on the darker side of life.

 

What is your best remedy in overcoming writer's block?

I've never had writers block--yet! I have experienced a kind of writer's lethargy recently, where I felt like I need to take a bit of break from writing. Probably caused by trying to pack too much into life. Not overdoing everything is a real problem for writers of blogs, especially if they have a lot of interaction with blog friends. You can start out feeling lonely with your newly created blog, waiting to find other like minded writers to communicate with, but end up with more lovely people than you can humanly cope with. It's a fine art in getting the balance right before it leaves you so exhausted you can never get down to any serious writing at all. That's been a big issue for me recently. But I've been lucky I've not experienced an absolute blockage in ideas or how to write on a specific subject. I hope I never do, it must terrible.

I would say if a writer gets to that stage, stop writing for a while, take a break, do something else creative. Get out more, take walks in places you enjoy visiting, go shopping, meet up with friends you've not been in touch with for a while. Take yourself on a date to the theatre or a movie, even try your hand at art, you might be surprised at what comes out of it. Take a note pad with you when you go out and write the ideas down or save them in notes on your phone. Anything is better than sitting in front of a screen and feeling you're not writing anything worth reading. I find watching something educational on YouTube or Vimeo, or maybe looking for new music can all help ignite a lot of creative ideas.

I read an excellent book many years ago when I first began thinking about writing more seriously, written by Julia Cameron, called The Right To Write. It's well worth a read if you're experiencing serious writer's block. She shares some encouraging ideas on how to ease yourself out of it. Also her book The Artist's Way is helpful for the lack of creative flow for writers and artists.

 

You recently started a literary journal showcasing creative writing by writers in different stages of their 'career,' how did you come up with the idea? What motivated you?

I was searching for online literary magazines with the possibility of submitting some written pieces. I ended up changing my mind on submissions, because I didn't like a lot of the magazines I found. They were often dull to look at and didn't really grab my interest when it came to reading the content. I did find a small handful I liked and have recently found a lot more worthwhile magazines to read. It takes a lot of searching to find the good ones.

I just suddenly thought of a crazy idea to start my own, and to include spoken word too, I think it makes the magazine come alive a lot more. I've found since creating The Writing Garden I'm more interested in drawing attention to other writers' work than my own. Too much of myself can get tedious. It's a good balance to be interested in what other people write, otherwise there's a danger of becoming introverted and out of touch with the world beyond self.

It takes a lot time for me to arrange and put together each issue, it can be a real sacrifice of time, but it's a good feeling when an issue is completed. The enthusiasm of those included in the magazine has been greatly encouraging. It's lovely to get feedback on how it impacted the reader.

 

Any future plans you'd like to share with us?

There are some future plans I have whirling around in my head, others are hiding in scribbled notes. I love spoken word, so I'm hoping to create more spoken poetry tracks to post to SoundCloud. I haven't in recent years done nearly enough. There's a possibility of a book, but not how you might imagine it, something with a difference. And very possibly a collaboration with an animator for a short film. But I won’t say much on those ideas, I tend not to be in the habit of sharing the details of future plans. I've learned there's a horrible thing that happens, if ideas are talked about too much--they never happen at all. I'm sure it's some kind of trick the mind does, it seems to steal the power behind the plan. Secrets are more likely a driving force to achieve than ideas that have been talked about for years. We shall see what happens!

 

I was reading your poems, all so very lovely, moving, and deeply personal it seems. One struck me the most was My Empty Shoes. What inspired you to write it? Were you able to complete it in one shot? How did you feel during the process and after?

My Empty Shoes is not a literal account of what happened to the little boy I knew, but more an attempt to tell his general story and many other terrible road traffic accidents where children have died.

The little boy was a close family friend, I remember him and his sisters from when they were babies. I wasn't there on the day he died, but many years later one of his sisters told me her own memories of that tragic day. It was immensely grieving to her the driver got away with a small fine and the removal of their driver's licence, nothing more. The driver had been heavily drinking and failed to stop at the red lights for the crossing. It was the early 80's, that kind of lightweight penalty for drunk drivers accidentally killing pedestrians was very common in the UK at that time.

I could totally understand the feeling of outrage that the courts didn't feel a prison sentence was necessary. It must have made the entire family feel like their son and brother was worthless in the eyes of the law. But because I'm naturally prone to looking at the bigger picture, I started to question what on earth the driver (once sober) must have felt about killing someone’s child?

I remember my own father in the early 70's used to regularly drive while under the influence of alcohol, it was something lots of people did in those days. Sounds crazy now, doesn't it? I'm so glad the thinking and laws on that have radically changed. He was incredibly lucky nothing terrible ever occurred while he was driving with all the alcohol fogging his logic and attention to detail. Even though my father was driving irresponsibly, I absolutely know once sober, if he had accidentally killed anyone he would have been mortified. I'm sure he wouldn't have been able to live with himself knowing he'd been so utterly careless.

I told his sister about this, and suggested maybe the driver wasn't as free as she felt they were. It may well have destroyed their life far worse than any prison sentence would have. She was a little reluctant to agree. She had spent so many years convincing herself the driver got away without the penalty they deserved and had happily lived their life afterwards, relatively untouched by the events of that day. She had difficulty believing the driver had any remorse for what they had done. But I asked, "Unless you know them, how can you know what effect it had?"

In my poem I tried to imagine what the child would feel like (existing in an after life somewhere else) but being able to see the ongoing hurt of their mother and the the driver of the car. I think everyone suffers greatly in these situations--nobody is free.

I didn't complete the poem in one shot--I never do that. All my work gets a lot of editing before I post it. I visited it many times until it was exactly how I wanted it to read.

I felt it was the right idea from the first thoughts I had on writing it. When it was finished I do remember feeling a little sad, thinking, "Did that really happen? Did he really die all those years ago?" He was the most wonderful joyful little boy I've ever met, it really was a terrific loss for his family and everyone who knew him.

In time, there was good news for the family, they had another baby boy a few years later, he grew up to look incredibly like his brother and had everyone smiling again. It was lovely to see them all soothed by the happy spirit of the new child.

 

I see you
staring down at my empty shoes
where your boys feet should be
running
dancing
and living

I know what you are thinking
you’re going over
the things you taught me
all the times you said
don’t do that – but always do this
to be safe
so nothing would steal me from you

You’re sifting through
anxieties gone
what frightened you most
what may bring me to harm
of the times you told me
not to speak to strangers
not to linger too long
on my way to school
and to always
look left
and right
before my feet touched the road

I kept the money safe
as you told me
in my wallet
in the back pocket of my jeans
I was nearly there
the list in my hand
of bread
milk
and ice lollies for us all

And I did
look left
and to my right
thought it was safe
once my feet hit the crossing
thought the car was coming slow
thought they saw me
in my bright red sweatshirt
thought they’d stop

And now
all you have
is my empty room
my lonely toys
my hollow clothes
my empty shoes
and hate
circles you
every morning
and through the night
all because of her

You think she’s an evil woman
who drank herself numb
to kill a young life
and that her sentence
for the crime
was a joke
You think she got away
as free as a bird

I wish you could see her
like I can

You may still choose to hate
for all she’s taken
but you would know
she will never be free
of the sunny afternoon
when her and I
crashed together

She stares into space
just like you

I don’t know her thoughts
because I don’t know her
like my mother
but I do know
her family – hardly speak to her
her friends – she has no friends
and she tells her psychiatrist
she drinks even more now
because
I’ll always be in her mind

You think it’s been a waste
all those things you told me
and the times you worried
when I was sick
when I cried with child despair
and each time I got well
you felt you’d won the battle
raised me up
new again
made everything better

But that’s what mothers do
throughout this great earth
loving
worrying
sighing with relief
mending the broken things

It’s just a such a pity
I never got to say
thanks mum – for trying
because – that is all we have

- Suzy Hazelwood, My Empty Shoes


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