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Artist Q and A : Creative Writing and Poetry with Emma Beynon

Updated: Aug 31, 2021

How did you get into your chosen art form?

Since I was a child I have always have loved stories. I was bought up on a farm in Rhossili, we are a big family, all girls but my father used to take us out the field to help.

When he was just too busy I was sent to my Nanny who lived down the road or my Great Aunts up the lane. I loved it, welsh cakes and stories: tales of ghosts on Rhossili Beach, the Great Storm when the chicken shed blew out of the yard on to the cliff and a ship got wrecked in the bay. Tell me more and they did. They told me about the bales of rubber from a torpedoed boat that came in with the high tide and was gone before Customs and Excise from Swansea could retrieve it. They told me about the White Russian Prisoner of War who stayed on after the fighting had finished to work on the farm.

He had a great big old motorbike, it was always breaking down, often he would end up walking to the farm carrying the bike and swearing all the way. He was a hard worker. I loved to imagine these characters and the old way of life with horse drawn ploughs and my Nanny making butter in the Lower Cow Shed.

I loved to write too, stories and poems for everyone’s birthdays. Each summer I would write plays to be performed in the garden. Every sister, cousin or friend was roped into an endless stream of productions loosely based on whatever I was learning in school at the time. When I was a teenager I started to keep a diary, and still do. At first I wrote about all the things I longed for, my adventures and disappointments. Fifty years later I enjoy writing about the landscape and its people.

What exhibitions or projects would you like to highlight?

For three years I worked in a Local Education Department on a project to encourage pupils to write. I developed, with teachers, all sorts of interventions to inspire the pupils. The most effective of all the strategies we put in place was creative writing. It was amazing to watch pupils, who were reluctant to pick up a pen, write poems and short stories with concentration and pleasure. It was then I witnessed the real power of creative writing to engage and inspire. I was lucky enough to gain funding to be able to roll out this creative writing project in more schools. Over three hundred young people took part, they gained confidence in their own voice and a genuine enjoyment of poetry, books and even performing!

I also used to sail to the Arctic in a Bristol Channel Pilot Cutter.

My summers were spent in Svalbard and Greenland nosing the wooden boat through the ice, bumping into polar bears and scrambling over glaciers.

Sailing in a hundred year old boat at 80 degrees north was quite damp and cold. I wore lots of jumpers and became very familiar with the sounds of ice; from the chattering crackle of melting bergs to the thunder of glaciers calving. Each noise a good indication of just how safe I was at that moment. I kept a journal of my adventures which were published in Marine Quarterly, The Publisher of the journal asked me to write a book about my escapades in the ice. I am still on the case.

Why do you enjoy writing so much and why do you think it's a great way to relax?

I find writing a great way to relax as it gives me a chance to reflect upon the world around me. I particularly enjoy writing in the landscape. I find the process of capturing my ideas on paper really absorbing, it is like mindfulness but instead of trying to clear my head of words, I focus on collecting and organising them, digging deep and trusting my intuition. I focus on describing what I see, not what I think other people expect me to see. It really helps me notice the world, it is never dull. I also read a great deal, I love to get lost in a good book or be amazed and entertained by the succinct beauty of a poem.

What is the biggest hurdle for beginners to start with this art form and how can they overcome that?

The biggest hurdle when it comes to writing is encouraging people to trust in their own voice and just give it a go. In school we are often encouraged to think that everything we write should be perfect from the start, when in fact writing is a process. Many writers often have no idea of what they are going to write about until they start. The biggest hurdle is just picking up a pen and letting your ideas flow out on paper. When you begin it is important not to worry about the spelling, punctuation or even making sense. Start by getting your ideas out onto paper, you can always polish it up later. I know from experience that just getting that first word down can be intimidating and scary, but it is a bit like going for a swim in cold water. Once you are in it is always invigorating.

Why do you love to teach?

I love teaching creative writing because everyone has a fascinating story to tell. I enjoy helping people craft their ideas into something they are proud of. I love the way creative writing allows people to celebrate their lives through words, the smallest everyday thing can become quite beautiful when it is described in the detail it deserves. When I teach I learn too, every time I share a favourite poem with a group, someone always says something that helps me to see the poem in a different way. But the best moment is when we share our poems. I am always impressed and delighted by people’s ability to capture and craft their thoughts and experiences into writing.

Has there been a time when someone at a workshop in the past has surprised you?

I am very enthusiastic. I know I tend to exaggerate but I really do think every workshop is surprising. There is always a moment when someone offers up an insight into a poem we have just read or shares a piece of their own writing that takes my breath away! When planning my workshops I take care to ensure everyone feels supported. For example, I introduce the group to poems that reflect their interests. We are living in a really exciting time for poetry so it is not difficult for me to find really well crafted poems about everything from being a scaffolder to forgetting your pin number! Poetry is a broad church everyone is welcome.

What does creativity mean to you? And do you have a favourite quote or poem you would like to share?

This poem sums it up.

The Door

Go and open the door. Maybe outside there’s a tree, or a wood, a garden, or a magic city.

Go and open the door. Maybe a dog’s rummaging. Maybe you’ll see a face, or an eye, or the picture of a picture.

Go and open the door. If there’s a fog it will clear.

Go and open the door. Even if there’s only the darkness ticking, even if there’s only the hollow wind, even if nothing is there, go and open the door.

At least there’ll be a draught.

Why do you want to work with Radiate Arts?

I want to work with Radiate Arts because I really value its artistic ambition and readiness to work with all different members of the community. I like the way it offers so many different art forms to so many different people. I love the focus on creativity and the outdoors too. It is exciting to encounter an Arts Organisation with such a breadth and vision.

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