Friday 3 April 2020

Emma Lee

I would like to welcome to my blog today Emma Lee. Emma was featured on CafeLit on 15 September 2010 with “Father Ghost” and “Weblines” on 5 August 2019. She also had a short story “Snowena” in Bridgehouse Publishing’s Gentle Footprints.

Over to Emma: 

I write short stories and reviews alongside poetry. I used to write music reviews for fanzines when I was a teenager and when I started sending out poem and story submissions, I mentioned my music reviewing so I didn’t sound like a complete beginner. One magazine editor asked if I’d thought about reviewing books. I hadn’t, but if this was a way to get my name in print and reviewing books couldn’t be more difficult than reviewing music, I’d do it. My reviewing career runs in parallel to my writing career.

My mother taught me to read before I started school, so I was an early, avid reader. I don’t think it’s possible to be a writer if you don’t read. I used to build houses from toy bricks and create stories for people I imagined might live there. Once I could write, I started writing these stories down. Then stories became poems.

However, I didn’t have the confidence to show anyone what I was writing so I wrote in the gaps between other things: sneaking off to an empty classroom during breaktimes or pretending to do homework or arriving early and writing before friends showed up. Consequently, I don’t have a particular routine. If a poem or short story needs to be written, it gets written. I do a lot of drafting in my head before any words get near a page or screen. The discipline from reviewing means I don’t differentiate between reading from a page or screen and it makes no difference to me whether I write a first draft on a laptop, phone or notebook.

I do have a desk at home. But a lot of my writing gets done in the car because I’m early for something and have to wait or in a café before an event or waiting for friends. (My friends aren’t late, I’m in the habit of being early for everything and meeting in a café means I top up my caffeine levels and write). If I publish another book, I think my car and the Phoenix café bar in Leicester deserve credits.

Even though I started getting published as a teenager, I didn’t really think of myself as a writer until I’d got a few publishing credits under my belt and decided to look for local writers’ groups to join.

My fourth book of poetry, The Significance of a Dress has just been published by Arachne Press. This collection’s origins go back to 2015 when I was co-editor of Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge (Five Leaves, 2015), an anthology of poems published to raise funds for charities working with refugees. I began writing poems exploring why people flee their home countries, set out on dangerous, life-threatening journeys and settle in camps with little support as they wait the outcomes of their asylum applications. There are three poems with “dress” in the title. The title poem, which is based on an interview with a woman who ran a wedding dress hire shop in a refugee camp. “How a Dress Lost its Sparkle” inspired by Arabella Dorman’s art installation in Leicester Cathedral. “Bridal Dresses in Beirut” inspired by a novel protest against Article 522 where wedding dresses were hung up from wires in the city.

During 2015-2017 I did a lot of promotional events for Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge including a pop-up poem library at Leicester Railway station where poems or extracts from poems were handed out to commuters and Journeys in Translation where we encouraged people to translate poems from the anthology into other languages. In 2018, Arachne put a call-out for submissions to an anthology. I’d had a poem sequence, flash fiction and individual poems accepted by them previously so thought I stood a good chance. However, Arachne said on this occasion they didn’t want to include my poems in an anthology but wanted a single author collection, so The Significance of a Dress came about. It’s available direct from Arachne.

There were events planned. Fortunately, a launch event took place at the Stephen Lawrence Gallery in Greenwich, London early in March. However, I was given less than 24 hours’ notice that the venue was withdrawing from the Leicester launch so had to quickly find an alternative which meant some who had planned to attend the original launch couldn’t make the alternative. States of Independence where I was due to do a reading was also cancelled. There are plans in the pipeline to do more readings in Leicester and London, but dates and venues are to be confirmed. There some videos on Arachne Press’s website of me reading from of the poems from the book which have been shared with Tara Skurtu’s wonderful #InternationalPoetryCircle initiative and I read my flash fiction “The City’s Heartbeat” to share with Hannah Storm’s #FlashFamily initiative; both aim to share videos of writers reading their work to combat feelings of isolation.

The Arachne Press link is: and includes a trailer featuring the title poem.

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