[Interview] Sandra Lester

Sandra Lester’s first poetry collection, Candy Cotton Kid and the Faustian Wolf (Q.Q. Press, 2001) was nominated for the Callum MacDonald Memorial Award for poetry in 2002.

Four more poetry collections followed: Tlazolteotl Poems and Illustrations (Q.Q. Press; 2004); Helkappe Poems (Q.Q. Press, 2005) and The Panjandrum of Quondam: The Epic Grenade (Samzidat Press, 2005). In addition to this, she recorded some of her poems and released them as Selected Poems CD (Samzidat Recordings, 2006).

She has also written and published, The Ripper Unmasked: Confessions from Sutcliffe to a Hypnotist (Samzidat Press, 2006), which presents an account of her relationship with Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper.

In a recent interview, Sandra Lester spoke about her writing and the direction it is taking.

Your most recent book, The Ripper Unmasked: Confessions from Sutcliffe to a Hypnotist has been described as a true-crime, historical document. How did the book come about?

I became involved in very intense correspondence with the Yorkshire Ripper, Peter Sutcliffe in 1993. At the time, I had no idea that the relationship would develop into something deeply personal and emotionally all-consuming.

Naturally, the book includes Sutcliffe’s letters, poems and sketches to me. The more intimate, confessional side of Sutcliffe’s nature and his emotional responses to my hypnosis tapes definitely make the memoir quite different from anything published about Sutcliffe in the past. I also give a voice to his victims and discuss the death penalty.

My book is the uncut truth about the experiences I had daily, for over a year with Sutcliffe, Broadmoor hospital, the authorities and the press. It is also about how these experiences have shaped my life. I was about to become a nun before I wrote to Sutcliffe. My life took a very different turn thereafter.

How long did it take you to write The Ripper Unmasked?

I started physically writing the book Christmas 2005. I was writing over the Christmas period and over New Year, everyday, sixteen to eighteen hours a day, until I completed it in April 2006. I published it in May 2006 and launched it in June of that year. I have been marketing it ever since.

Initially, when I started writing the book, it was more about my integrity and the need to set the record straight and dispel the myths which surround me and also to give an insight into the British justice system and how it deals with the most dangerous criminals it incarcerates in special hospitals and prisons in the U.K.

I published the book on my Samizdat Press in late May 2006. Self-publishing did not harm Walt Whitman or William Blake and I am certain that it will be good for me. I like to be in control of my work in terms of publication.

Which aspects of the work that you put into the book did you find the most difficult?

The most difficult aspect of writing The Ripper Unmasked was re-living the experiences of the relationship I had with Sutcliffe and confronting how it affected me. The relationship derailed my existence. The negative, longer-term personal and professional consequences forced me to write about the experience in detail.

Writing the book was like a painful therapy session that lasted for three months. I found it cathartic. I had to shift certain areas of experience from my consciousness and my sub-conscious by sharing them in this memoir.

Were there any aspects of the work that you put into the book which you found particularly satisfying?

The most enjoyable part of writing The Ripper Unmasked was that it gave me a deeper understanding of my own experiences. It was also satisfying to know that I had seen it through to completion and that my story, in my own words, was ready to go to print. I had shifted a big burden and the truth had set me free.

It made me understood my own vulnerabilities and considerable strengths as a therapist, a writer, a poet and a woman. I enjoyed the fact that I felt I had written something of remarkable value and had made the lessons I had learned, available for the public to read and be able to draw their own conclusions. I leave the book very open-ended for that reason.

What sets The Ripper Unmasked apart from the other things you have written?

Although the book includes some of both Sutcliffe’s and my poetry, it is not a poetry collection. It is a true crime title. It is my first complete memoir on this particular period of my life.

My work is naturally complex, diverse and controversial. I guess another thing that sets The Ripper Unmasked apart from everything else is that it is three hundred pages strong and is accessible to all kinds of readers.

It is similar to the other things I have written in that it is confessional, radical, uncompromising. I see The Ripper Unmasked as personally empowering and unique. More importantly, it is as revealing as my poetry.

What will your next book be about?

My next book is my third major poetry collection. The collection is already written and ready for publication. It contains revolutionary and confessional work spanning from May 2005 to December 2006.

I have also written a poem "Job Description:The Confessional Poet". This is currently available to listen to on my blog, Lester Poetry and on my Selected Poems CD, along with "Hammer"; "The Pocket-Sized Wreath" and "The Frayed Piece of Guipure."

I change this selection every couple of months or so.

What compelled you to release these poems as recordings?

"Job Description" gives a deeper understanding of the plight of the confessional poet.

The Selected Poems CD was professionally recorded, with subtle sound effects, to enhance the general atmosphere for listeners. This CD is my first recording and I am hoping to do many more. I thoroughly enjoyed being in the studio and the CD is gaining strong critical acclaim at present.

I write and record my poetry in the hope that there will be poets in the future who will be motivated enough, by what I call my 'revolutionary chain', to keep that motivation alive for more generations to come. This is the greatest accomplishment for any poet because being a poet is tough.

All poets need inspiration and a strong will to survive the pitfalls and trappings of their vocation, which, on occasions, leads them through doors of greater perception, into a dark labyrinth of poetic madness. This goes with the territory. My pen is my bayonet or scythe. I use it to chop down the over-grown nettles of the past, in order to make way for and plant the new seeds for the future.

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