About Pamela Beasant
Pamela Beasant, originally from Glasgow, now lives and works in Stromness, Orkney. She has been published widely as a poet and has written many books for children. In 2006, her play, A Hamnavoe Man, was performed at the St Magnus Festival. Her biographical study of Orcadian artist Stanley Cursiter was published in 2007 by the Orkney Museum, and she is working on the final edit of her first novel and a libretto for an opera in collaboration with composer Gemma McGregor. In January 2007, Pamela was appointed as the first George Mackay Brown Writing Fellow. Running With a Snow Leopard is her first full-length collection of poetry.
Praise for Pamela Beasant:
'This ... full-length collection shows what a precise and attentive poet she's become... There's no sentimentality in Beasant's work, as befits the first George Mackay Brown Writing Fellow. That great poet of the Orkneys never wrote a sentimental word in his life and I think he would be proud of this collection.' Piers Plowright, Camden New Journal
‘Pam Beasant writes about landscape, especially Orkney but also elsewhere, in such palpable terms that you can feel the particular light of the curious conversation she so eloquently describes between sea and sky, sea and land, sea, sky and land (because all are quite different) in such a way that you feel you are there. She writes about her husband, her children, her own feelings with intrinsic purity – and, more importantly, simple craft, so that we see into her life as a mirror of our own. We feel it poignantly as she experiences it, and can take it into our own lives … We are left with a deep sense that in the end, there is only all of us, looking at land-, sea- and sky-scape, our society and ourselves, joining hands in a search for the truth.’ Joy Hendry
‘Breathtakingly evocative detail ... unabashed spontaneity – and sheer musicality.’ Stewart Conn, former Edinburgh Makar
‘Pamela Beasant expresses the mysterious and intangible with an elegant lyricism and linguistic precision. These marvellous poems are both spare and evocative, always with intensity of feeling and fine metrical control.’
Dr Penny Fielding, University of Edinburgh
An interview with Pamela Beasant
When did you first begin writing, and what inspired you to do so? Have any specific books/authors served as inspiration for you?
I can’t remember a time I didn’t write. One catalyst to becoming a serious writer was the death of my father when I was eight. I wanted to be a writer before that, but his death changed my life, and subject matter, forever. And many books/authors have been inspirational. I vividly remember discovering Milton, TS Eliot, Jane Austen and Dostoyevsky when I was still at school, and they are writers that I return to regularly. At university, I was steeped in literature for three years, which was the foundation and main formative experience for my own writing. And more recent writers, such as Norman MacCaig and George Mackay Brown have been a huge influence. I’m very ‘classically’ trained as a reader, and am not sure if this is good or bad. I can’t face genres such as crime writing, romantic fiction etc.
Can you tell us something about the inspiration behind this work in particular? And about what you were trying to achieve; what ideas you were trying to convey?
This collection has been a long time in the making, and I think David Knowles (Two Ravens Press' poetry editor) has done a great job, sifting through everything and making a coherent whole. I would have been unable to do this. Some of the poems are quite old now, and it’s almost as if they were written by someone else. Before, every one had to be an artefact; now I’m less precious, and more inclined to experiment with voice and write with a lighter touch. There are very new poems in the collection, too, and I was pleased to see that everything seems to sit together reasonably well.
Inspiration behind the poems has been various: my children, Orkney, people I’ve met. Just life, really. I don’t have a master plan as a writer, just respond to things and to people along the way. I can’t explain the urge to write about anything. For me, it goes so far back and is too central to analyse. Generally, however, I suppose I’m trying to make sense of things, or to capture a moment that seems significant, or just express emotions that need to get out. If I haven’t written for a while, it’s a physical sensation of being about to explode.
How do you go about creating your voice on the page?
I’ve no idea. Before, I always wrote in my own voice. Now, I’m more experimental and will play around with different, often stricter, forms. I’ve never gone in for poems as visual things – concrete poems, for example – but the poems have to sound and look right. Technically, I’ve a lot to learn, and enjoy the process. I’m looking for clarity and purity – truthfulness, I suppose.
How and when do you write?
I always write poetry longhand in a notebook, and use the process of transferring the draft to computer as the first edit. And I write at any time – often in the middle of the night. It goes in bursts. Several usually come at the same time, or within days of each other, and I obey the impulse to write, even if it’s at a very inappropriate time. This year, I’ve been sanctioned through the GMB writing fellowship to write officially for half the time. This can be very difficult, when you’re used to snatching guilty time for your own work, but it’s coincided this year with a huge need to get things finished and written – and it’s been a gift. The stimulation of working with such a variety of people all year has been enormous, and I’ve written well over thirty new poems.
The rest of the time I’m writing to a deadline, and it ranges from children’s information books, to an opera libretto and a script for a St Magnus Festival play. I’m also finishing a novel. It may seem a bit fragmented, but they are all good training for honing the skills. And it’s psychologically good, too, to see yourself as a writer as your main job.
What do you enjoy reading? What are you reading that you can recommend at the moment?
I don’t have time to read as much as I used to, and am unwilling to waste it on anything that isn’t wonderful. I always used to finish books, even if I didn’t like them, but that’s not the case now. Two of the best books I’ve read recently are Gilead by Marilynne Robinson and The fish can sing by Haldor Laxness. Maggie Fergusson’s biography of George Mackay Brown is exceptionally good. Alice Oswald is an amazing poet. And I go back regularly to Milton, Dostoyevsky, Oor Wullie and Tintin in Tibet. (‘Yettering barnacles, there’s the blister!’ is one of my all-time favourite lines.) TS Eliot is dangerous – he’s very infectious. I don’t read him if I’m writing poetry. Some children’s books are great, too. I’m envious of this generation, who waited eagerly for the next Harry Potter, Philip Pullman or Neil Gaiman.