Interview: Pippa Hennessy

Interview: Aly Stoneman
Illustrations: Ian Carrington
Thursday 13 March 2014
reading time: min, words

Pippa Hennessy is a one woman whirling dervish of creativity whose diary alone is enough to make a busy person’s head spin. She lets us in on the
secrets of her success...


You are also involved in a number of exciting projects such as the Dovetail Project…
Dovetail is an EU-funded project I set up in partnership with 5K Központ (of Budapest) and GEDOK Karlsruhe, which uses creative writing in various ways to increase adult learners’ confidence in written communication. The German and Hungarian partner groups visited Nottingham in February, and as well as visiting the Festival of Words, took part in lots of activities around the city. Our visit to Budapest in June further cemented friendships with our partners, and we’re looking forward to a trip to Karlsruhe this year. It’s not the travel that touches my heart about this project, it’s all the people involved, who are unfailingly enthusiastic, friendly, willing to embrace new ideas and different cultures.

And then there is your teaching work…
Although teaching is something I never thought I’d do – my mum’s a teacher – it’s become a large part of my career. I teach at Nottingham University on subjects as diverse as the writing industry and the Victorian workhouse system. I’ve led writing workshops in libraries, art galleries, museums, prisons and schools, and given talks and workshops on ebook production all over the country. The bonus for me is that I always learn something from the people I teach, and I really enjoy it. I’m not sure who’s more surprised – me or my mum!

I didn’t expect a publisher to be so enthusiastic about e-books…
The invention of movable type and the printing press revolutionised the publishing world in the fifteenth century. Today’s revolution is, if anything, even bigger. The form of books is changing radically even as I type, with new innovations coming daily in digital literature, ebook technology, and even the ways we think about books. They can now include audio, video, interactive features, they can be socially networked, linked to each other and to websites, they can change before our eyes, they don’t even need to be linear. No-one knows what’s going to happen next in the world of publishing, and, especially with my computing background, I find that thrilling.

What inspires your writing, and how do you find time to write?
I find inspiration everywhere, but particularly from places and people I love. Lately, however, I’m more interested in what poetry can do – for example, can it explain the inexplicable, such as quantum theory, or create buildings out of words, like places of worship? A lot of writers find their day job and other demands push writing to the bottom of the priority list, and I’m no different, so I’ve signed up for the MA in creative writing at Nottingham University - part-time, of course - to force me to make time.

It’s notoriously difficult to get published. Do you have any tips for developing writers? 
Read a lot, write a lot. Write what you want to write, rather than what you think will sell. Learn the craft of writing from everyone who’s willing to teach you and join a good critique group. Send short pieces or poems off to journals and magazines – any published work does your confidence no end of good, and you’ll get used to the constant rejection every single writer has to learn to deal with. Alternatively, consider self-publishing if you can’t find a traditional route to print or ebook. You can publish your work easily these days as an ebook, and it’s becoming increasingly easy to produce print copies too. Whichever route you go, it’s always worth paying a professional editor to edit your book. And don’t forget all the marketing will be down to you, so you need to know how to make your target market aware of your book.

Do you think Nottingham deserves its reputation as a ‘happening place’ for literature?
Undoubtedly. We have the only member-run organisation for writers in the country (NWS) and two top-class universities offering creative writing BA and MA degree programmes. Lowdham Book Festival is celebrating its fifteenth year and Nottingham Festival of Words is taking place again in October... and that’s before I start to talk about our literary heritage (Byron, Lawrence, Sillitoe, Bromley House Library, etc...), our current crop of award winning writers (Jon McGregor, Alison Moore, Sarah Jackson, Anne Zouroudi, Nicola Monaghan, etc...), the plethora of local independent publishers (Five Leaves, Pewter Rose, Candlestick Press, Shoestring, Angry Robot, Leafe Press, Crystal Clear Creators, Black Library, etc...), Mouthy Poets are storming the performance poetry world, and the thriving Five Leaves bookshop, which is planning a radical book fair in the autumn. Not to mention LeftLion. Need I say more?
What are you reading at the moment?
I’ve just finished S. by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst that is an ‘old’ library book with annotations and ephemera that tell a whole different story, which is fascinating and shows that print isn’t dead. David Belbin’s second Bone and Cane novel is on my laptop I’m in the process of producing the ebook. Andy Rigley’s The Lost Dark on my new iPad mini, which I bought so I could investigate Touch Press’ innovative apps for Shakespeare’s Sonnets and Eliot’s The Wasteland, among others. I love them all. Sometimes I think there aren’t enough books in the world, then I look at the piles all over my house and think... well... yes... there probably are.

Any plans for 2014?
My main focus will be on NWS. Now we’ve secured funding for the next two years, we can develop our activities to promote our writers, such as the NWS Journal, which we plan to establish as the go-to place to find new talent for publishers and agents. Apart from that, funding applications, teaching, and studying for my MA. I hope 2014 is as exciting as 2013 – whatever happens, I’ll be ready for it.

Pippa Hennessy's Blog


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