Write On! interviews Madeleine F White.
Madeleine was born in Germany, with roots in Canada and the UK and is the founding editor of the Write On! Suite of publications: Write On! magazine, Write On! Extra e-zine and the Write On! Audio podcast. A magazine publisher and editor, she has spent a lifetime writing as both a journalist and marketeer. She has focussed particularly on international development and education, producing national and international web and print magazines and is passionate about helping to create a voice for those without one. She’s made this happen through Oi! and So! Magazines for teenagers in the noughties and the successful Nina-Iraq, a project she worked on with the World Bank to reach out to Iraqi women everywhere (founded in 2013).
Madeleine’s debut novel, Mother Of Floods, a speculative delve into cli-fi and the world unseen, was published by US/Canadian publisher Crowsnest and her debut poetry collection, The Horse And The Girl, was published this June by Belfast-based Lapwing Publications.The collection is being being serialised on BBC Radio Kent until mid-July.
With Crowsnest and Lapwing as her publishers, Madeleine hopes her next book will complete a triumvirate of birds, by sporting a Penguin on the cover!
WO: How would you describe your writing to someone new to it?
MFW: I write with purpose. I want what I say to mean something; changing the status quo and challenging the way we see things, or, at least, how things might appear on the surface.
Both Mother Of Floods and The Horse And The Girl tackle important elements around climate change and environmental sustainability, but from very different perspectives. I believe in our ability to harness the digital world for the good and I’m also a passionate advocate for women’s economic empowerment. All my work is linked to these ideals.
To me, words aren’t ‘just’ words. They have the power to shape hearts and minds, creating something beyond the printed or digital page. As part of my role as Editor, I was recently at the Hay Festival, listening to eminent poet, academic and Editor M Wynn Thomas, talking about his Anthology, The History Of Wales In Twelve Poems. He made the important point that poetry has a hand in shaping our history, and also has the opportunity to shape how we want to see our future. I created Write On! with this (as well as storytelling in general) in mind.
This goes for any form of creative writing, although poetry can often fast-track its way into our psyche as well as our hearts.
WO: Can you tell us a bit about your latest book The Horse And The Girl?
MFW: The Horse And The Girl is a series of 30 linked narrative poems, conversations between ‘Horse’ and ‘Girl,’ looking at issues such as relationships, climate change, growing older, life, death and change in general. It offers a wry, poignant look at the world around us, with a strong environmental slant.
The collection has been written from the perspective of a woman in middle age and the relationship she has with her horse and is based along the coast and marshlands of east Kent. Although not strictly ‘ballad’ form, they form a ‘contemporary ballad.’ The Horse in the poems has a very strong voice: a witty, self-satisfied one, but also one that is filled with love. The Girl tolerates all the witticism and sly asides because she knows their bond is all-encompassing.
Needless to say, there is direct personal experience to this. The collection is based on my relationship with my own horse, an older mare called Lucie, who came into my life at a crossroads. Because we needed each other so much, the bond we have is very strong.
Lucie taught me the difference between ‘the Path’ and ‘the Road’. The Road is man-made, representative of how humanity wants to dominate the natural world, with no recourse to the living, breathing organism we are part of. The Road consumes the earth, and very often the parts of ourselves that are most important. The Path is linked to nature, and our own journey through life. It’s often unnoticed, but still there, unfolding itself, despite ourselves. It winds its way through relationships and the connection between physical courage and mental strength, as well as the power of beginnings and endings.
Lucie’s spirit, the spirit of Horse in my poems, has allowed me to become a better version of myself – not least because, without her, I’d never have written my debut novel, Mother Of Floods!
WO: What inspired you to write in the first place, and what inspires you now?
MFW: I believe we must engage with the world unseen – digital and spiritual – curating it to drive an agenda that transcends the typical consumerist one the digital world is built on. We have the power to do so if we find our voices, using different platforms as a way of being heard.
I aim to serve this by writing creatively, but I also believe that my work in frame-working this opportunity for others – with Pen to Print, for example, is very important. These platforms – as is the case with Write On! – should be democratic and co-created where possible. With an Editor’s hand guiding and supporting, ensuring quality and equality, commercially aware but not forcing an agenda or message.
WO: The current issue of Write On! explores the theme ‘Worlds Apart’. With that in mind, do you find yourself drawn towards writing about the world you know intimately, or do you strive to discover a world unknown?
MFW: A bit of both, I think. In order to forge our way into places new, I think we need to understand who we are and where we come from. Jane Austen did this brilliantly, closely exploring a world she knew intimately in order to create new worlds for her readers. I believe that, wherever your writing takes you, if you’ve taken the trouble to engage with what matters in terms of what you know and what is close to you, you will be much better at exploring the worlds of alien races, fantastical dragons, warlocks and magicians!
WO: What one piece of advice would you give an aspiring writer?
MFW: To thine own self be true! In other words, write about what matters to you, understanding the balance between inspiration, aspiration and hard work. If you keep going, the right thing will happen. You just need to truly believe in what you’re doing, as well as in the person creating what you’re putting on the page: namely, yourself.
This is extracted from People in The Horse And The Girl:
“Stop!” whinnied the horse
“It’s time to trust
that if you let it all go
you’ll be good enough.
the earth will still spin,
the spiders still weave
the tides come and go
you just need to believe –
that the slow song of power
you hear from my back
is always there, always ready
just develop the knack…
of making deep truths from the earth come to you
by serving the good – and the beautiful, too!”
WO: Question from Twitter user: @lislovebooksx Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?
MFW: Absolutely. I refer to the world unseen in one of my answers above. Poetry in particular offers a superhighway into this aspect of our psyche. But I think writing in general, is able to ford those different dimensions I believe are swirling all around us, bringing us peace, but finding a way to tap into a wider reality that our typical human consciousness is aware of. At its best, it is mediative; a form of prayer. I have heard Ben Okri speak about waking up from a kind of writing trance with pages and pages written. It’s not quite like that for me, but I do understand what he means!
WO: Can you tell us anything about future projects?
MFW: I’m working on Sisters Of The Storm, a companion novel to Mother Of Floods, but with the demands of the other work I’m doing, including the Write On! workshops and magazines, it’s taking a bit more of a back seat than I’d like!
WO: Lastly, if you could choose one fictional animal/creature to be a pet or companion, who would it be and why?
MFW: Oh, most definitely Horse in The Horse And The Girl. He has a very sensible perspective on life and understands what he needs and how to get it.
You can listen here to You Magnificent Beast, part of Radio Kent’s Serialisation of The Horse And The Girl.
If you want to hear Madeleine perform her work, giving a bit of background to how it all came about, do join her for her Digital Launch, hosted by Pen to Print:
2 August between 6.30-7.30pm bit.ly/horse-and-girl-digital-launch
The Horse And The Girl is available to buy from The Margate Bookshop, Tales On Market Street in Faversham and Sevenoaks Bookshop in Kent. In London, you can find it in The Kirkdale Bookshop in Sydenham and The Newham Bookshop.
Further up country in Cheshire, the Nantwich Bookshop, and in Belfast, through No Alibis and Books Paper Scissors.
Digital and hard copies can be purchased from Lapwingpoetry.com.
You can connect with Madeleine on Instagram or Twitter: @madeleinefwhite
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Poetry can often fast-track its way into our psyche as well as our hearts.