Mandy Pannett interviews Catherine Edmunds

Thank you for this interview, Cathy. Good to talk to you. Congratulations on the publication of your collection ‘How to Win at Kings Cross’. This was the result of an Erbacce Press competition wasn’t it, which had nearly six thousand entries? Tell us more.

I love the ‘Erbacce Prize’. It’s free to enter, you send a good sample of poems rather than fixing your hopes on just a few, it’s genuinely read blind, and the prizes are seriously good. In previous years, I’ve come close, but have just missed out on the top prizes. This year I finally made it and have been rewarded with the publication of a complete collection.

This is a full length collection – nearly one hundred pages. I’d love to know what criteria you adopted for selecting and ordering the poems. Are you following themes, settings, atmosphere? Was it difficult to choose the first and last poem?

I have written hundreds of poems since my first collection, ‘wormwood, earth and honey’(Circaidy Gregory Press, 2007), so I had plenty to choose from. Initially, I gave preference to those that had already been prize winners or published in prestigious journals, but they weren’t always my favourites, so some of these were eventually discarded. Ultimately, I went with my guts. I could see various themes emerging, but wanted to leave the precise order to my editor Alan Corkish at Erbacce Press. He has the editing and publishing experience; he knows what works, and I trust his judgment.

I’m intrigued by the title ‘How to Win at Kings Cross’. Is there a background to this? Was it a title in waiting?

The title was inspired by an internet article I came across a few years ago that demonstrated the necessity of ignoring direction signs on the Kings Cross Underground unless you are happy to walk miles out of your way. My brother used to have a flat a short distance from the station, and I always stayed with him when I was in London, so I gradually learnt the tricks of ‘how to win’. Over a period of ten years, I gorged myself on all the art the city has to offer, and this is reflected in the title poem, which I see as a declaration of my love for London, but which other people interpret very differently. That’s the great thing about poetry—the poet provides the initial impetus with the words, but it’s the reader’s interpretation that creates the poem.

You are an incredibly creative person – musician, artist, novelist, poet – there’s probably more! Are you drawn to all of these equally or, if you could only concentrate on one thing, what might it be?

Last summer, when I was being filmed as a contestant for Sky Arts ‘Portrait Artist of the Year’, presenter Frank Skinner said it was like sitting next to Leonardo, which was a wild exaggeration, obviously, but nice to hear. I have been an artist all my life, and when I’m painting, I don’t want to be doing anything else, but professionally, I’m a musician, and six months ago I joined award-nominated Irish folk/rock band, ‘Share the Darkness’. When I’m playing with them, I’m on a real high and can’t imagine anything better—but then there’s the writing. When I’m writing a novel, I fall in love with my characters with such intensity, it hurts when eventually I must send them away from me. Individual poems can have the same effect. Could I pick just one, out of writing, music and art? No. Not a chance.

Not only creative but prolific too. Do you have a routine for writing, a daily to-do list, or do you grab opportunities as they arise?

I have a daily ‘to do’ list, but I rarely adhere to it. I get up early, skim through facebook and emails to deal with anything urgent, and then dip in and out of writing/art/music all day. I stop every so often to give a scheduled violin or piano lesson. When I need a break, I indulge my ‘killer sudoku’ habit, and I’ve also recently started learning Welsh. Wales is a country I love and have visited since early childhood, hence the number of poems with Welsh settings in the collection.

And now what comes next, once you’ve sent ‘How to Win at Kings Cross’ on its journey? A long poetry sequence? Another novel? A multi-media publication? Lots of luck with it, whatever it may be.

Thank you. I have recently completed a novel and a novella which are being sent out to agents and publishers, so writing-wise I’m between major projects and am concentrating on individual poems and flashes. Wearing my artist’s hat, I’m working on a large portrait—not a commission, unusually for me, but an attempt to hone my portrait-painting skills. I have had three drawings of Christine Keeler accepted for a forthcoming nationwide tour, so I feel I’m on the cusp of doing something more prestigious with my art. Musically, my electric blue fiddle is fully booked from now till Christmas and beyond. People ask me how I manage to do so much, particularly given my major health problems—but illness is what has spurred me on. We all lose eventually, but while we’re on a winning streak, we need to make the most of it and live life to the full. And I know how to win at Kings Cross.


Copies of How to Win at Kings Cross may be purchased from the Erbacce Press website:

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