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On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, poet Mai Black describes her new book of poetry, Thirty Angry Ghosts, and her creative writing process.

JJ Barnes editor of The Table Read online creativity, arts and entertainment magazine

Written by JJ Barnes

www.jjbarnes.co.uk

I interviewed Mai Black about her life and career, what inspires her writing, and the work that went into her new poetry book, Thirty Angry Ghosts.

Tell me a bit about who you are.

I worked for ten years as a primary teacher and then in 2012 began teaching creative writing to adults and organizing local literary events. I’ve written non-fiction, historical materials for schools and have had a number of short stories and poems published.

Mai Black, poet, author of Thirty Angry Ghosts, on The Table Read
Mai Black

I’ve recently released a book of poetry written in the voices of famous historical figures and I am currently visiting schools and libraries to share the ghostly voices and to talk about the history behind the poems.

When did you first WANT to write poetry?

I can’t remember. My mum’s an English teacher so I think it came naturally from a young age.

When did you take a step to start writing poetry?

My mum put together a family book for poems when I was seven. As the youngest, I felt the need to prove myself and wrote constantly for about two weeks.

How long did it take you to complete your first book from the first idea to release?

It took about eighteen months but most of that time was spent on editing and fact-checking. For some reason, the poems came quite quickly. They took about six months, even with the historical research.

What made you want to write Thirty Angry Ghosts?

I was teaching a series of poetry classes and poetry got into my blood in a way it never had before. I’ve always been a fan of the series Horrible Histories as well as the Radio 4 program You’re Dead to Me. I wanted to empathically tell the personal stories of people such as Cleopatra, Genghis Khan and Abraham Lincoln as a way of connecting with history and the universality of human experience.

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What were your biggest challenges with writing Thirty Angry Ghosts?

The first fifteen came easily as I already felt a connection with those people. For instance, I’d often reflected on the life of Cleopatra, Julius Caesar and Henry VIII whilst reading historical fiction and watching films and plays. After that, I had to do a lot of research and look for suitable people who may have left an angry ghost, for the way they were killed of for how they have been remembered. Fairly early on I decided I wanted at least one person from each continent which made it even more challenging.

Do you keep to a theme with your poems, or just go where the mood strikes?

It’s a very simple form but the themes are quite diverse, including such things as the environment, gender roles, war and empire-building.

What is your favourite poem in Thirty Angry Ghosts about and what inspired it?

Thirty Angry Ghosts by Mai Black on The Table Read
Thirty Angry Ghosts

‘The Unknown Soldier’ is my favourite I think as I’ve always wondered about the man who was chosen to represent all the fallen soldiers. I don’t know how accurate my portrayal is. I really hope I’ve offered a way for people to connect with him on a personal level.

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Does music help you write or is it a distraction?

I prefer to work in silence whenever possible.

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Thirty Angry Ghosts need?

Yes, I had lots of help with editing. I know a lot of writers as I run a writing group and have led a number of Writing Cafes. I’m known for being very direct and honest with my own feedback and I was very lucky to get the same in return. It can be hard to take critical feedback sometimes but it’s vital when trying to produce the best book you can.

What is the first piece of writing advice you would give to anyone inspired to write poetry?

Read as much as you can, from a range of different eras. Then try to imitate the various forms and styles to develop your own. Also, attend poetry clubs, courses and readings where work is shared, and feedback given.

Can you give me a hint about any further books you’re planning to write?

I’m currently writing and researching a book set in 18th century London. I’m keeping the details under my hat at the moment as it’s a little-known topic which I feel could be a big commercial hit. I’m nervous that someone else will get to write it before me, although they’ve had three hundred years to do so and no one has yet, maybe I’m being a bit overly-secretive.

And, finally, are your proud of your accomplishment? Was it worth the effort?

Absolutely! It’s the first thing I’ve written that, if I saw it on a shelf in a bookshop, I would immediately be compelled to buy it. That’s a great feeling.

Pop all your book, website and social media links here so the readers can find you:

www.suffolkwritersgroup.com

Twitter: maiblack42

Facebook: Mai Black Writer

Instagram: maiblackwriter

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