[Interview_2] Carol Thistlethwaite

Carol Thistlethwaite is a poet, a book reviewer and the author of three books for adults who are learning to read.

Her poems and reviews have been published in magazines that include Envoi, Orbis, Fire, Poetry Cornwall and The Journal.

Her latest collection of poems, from the field book, is going to be launched on March 20 and 21, to coincide with Earth Day, World Poetry Day, the First Day of Spring and World Forestry Day.

In this, the last of a two-part interview, Carol Thistlethwaite talks about how she got published.

How many books have you written so far?

I've had three books published by Avanti Press (2006) for adults who are learning to read. I wrote Red Paint, Painting the Bedroom and The Birthday Present for some of the adult learners I work with because I found there was a shortage of appropriate books for adults who are just learning to read.

The books appear simple but the writing of them is complex. Basically it's about creating adult stories from high frequency and phonetic words. Also the text (often one line) has to be written so that it can be illustrated. The repetition of key words and spelling patterns has to be considered and the subject matter should be relevant -- and preferably be fun.

Hannah Barton was the illustrator and I think we made an effective team.

Did you already have a publisher in mind when you were writing the books?

I looked at a selection of adult literacy books and picked Avanti as the most appropriate. I telephoned them, pitched the texts and was invited to submit them.

And how did you link up with the illustrator?

That was difficult and the budget made it more so. I kept mentioning to people that I was looking for an illustrator and found Hannah Barton via a friend.

I asked her to make the characters likable and to inject some humour into the illustrations. I negotiated a few changes and think Hannah did an excellent job. I think it's important that illustrator and writer work co-operatively in these kinds of books because the pictures are very much used as reading cues.

Do you write everyday?

No. As far poetry is concerned I write best when words and rhythms flow unhindered in my head -- which is usually when I'm out walking. Often I have a pencil and notebook with me so I scribble down phrases, images or whole poems. I edit them later. I sometimes think I should take a dictaphone so I can speak the word-flow as I walk.

How long did it take you to put the poetry collection together?

from the field book is a collection of poems about British bird species. The poems have been written over the last four years (2003 - 2007). I'd been sending poems out to small presses during this time, preferring to be published in print.

After attending a talk by Chris Hamilton-Emery (Salt Publishing), who said that writers need to develop an online presence, I realised I'd have to overcome my aversion to online publishing. So I sent some poems to Sam Smith's Select Six site and to my delight he accepted them and asked how many more I had... and recommended the collection to BeWrite Books who, I am pleased to say, accepted it for publication.

Sam recognised me from the small press world and at this point I’d like to say a huge thank you to the editors of small magazines who provide opportunities for writers to get their work and names out in the public domain -- to readers, writers and potential publishers.

What other advantages or disadvantages have arisen because of your association with this publisher?

Sam has an interest in bird watching and understands what many of these poems are doing: articulating the inexpressible jizz of different bird species. Having an editor who understands the concepts that underpin the collection has been an advantage.

Having a publisher (Cait Myers) whom I trust is also important. I’ve worked with Sam and Cait and contributed to decisions so I feel this is very much my collection.

Who is your target audience?

Initially from the field book began as my MA dissertation so the audience was me and whoever was grading it. After that I let the collection evolve to what it is today.

I hope that poetry readers will enjoy its use of language and that bird watchers will recognise the perceptions and think, 'Yes, it is like that, isn't it...?'

What did you find most difficult when you were writing the poems that make up from the field book?

I decided a long time ago that I didn't want to repeat myself across any of my poems. I didn't want to repeat images, metaphors or perceptions. Finding different ways of describing similar landscapes and presenting each encounter as a different perception can sometimes be challenging -- but it's one that I relish. Sometimes I have to let my mind go out of focus so I can move laterally and away from the obvious.

The most difficult species to write about are those that are very familiar. It is because I am no longer at the ‘learning to recognise’ stage so I don't now know the mental connections I made to aid recognition. I find that the best approach to these species is oblique such as focusing on an aspect of their behaviour or comparing them with other species.

What did you enjoy most?

I love being out in open spaces, wearing my scuffed and faithful boots, listening and watching out for wildlife, with binoculars round my neck, noticing something new, there’s always something new...

Related article:

Carol Thistlethwaite [Interview_1], Conversations with Writers, March 10, 2008


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