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JJ Barnes The Table Read

Written by JJ Barnes

I interviewed poet Olivia Mulligan about her writing, what inspires her, and the creative process that went into her latest poetry book; Advice From A Stranger.

Tell me a bit about who you are. 

My name is Olivia Mulligan. I’m 27 years old from North Yorkshire.  

When did you first WANT to write poetry? 

Olivia Mulligan

This is a tricky one to answer. Apparently I started making up poems before I could even write (before school). Then at school it was always something I enjoyed. I loved performing the poems too – telling a story through word play and rhyme.  

When did you take a step to start writing poetry? 

See above!  

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

April 2020 (started writing it) September 2020 it was published!  

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

October 2020 started writing it, published August 2021 

Focusing on your latest release. What made you want to write Advice From A Stranger? 

It was an idea that came to be randomly (asking strangers for their advice and using each response as inspiration for the next poem). This has been my favourite project I have ever done. It was so much fun and I love involving others in my writing process.  

Olivia Mulligan, poet, Advice From A Stranger poetry book, interview on The Table Read

What were your biggest challenges with writing Advice From A Stranger? 

Many people told me how much they loved the idea, so I felt a bit of pressure to do it justice! I really wanted to find the balance between crafting original, unique poems, but also poems that really speak to people.  

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

For my books I keep a theme. But I also randomly write poems about anything and everything! I love taking suggestions for topics from people. My strangest topic request to date is “Olivia, please can you write a poem about molluscs?” Yes. Molluscs. (This poem can be found in my first book, Poems On The Gate Post) 

What is your favourite poem in the book about and what inspired it? 

I think my favourite poem in Poems On The Gate Post is ‘The Lockdown Conversation’ (this was aired as a spoken word piece on BBC Iplayer and aired nationally at The Upload Festival 2020). Then in Advice From A Stranger, I think my favourite poem is ‘That’s Nice.’ It was inspired by the advice from the stranger, but also inspired from when I was at school, being told to avoid using the word ‘nice’ when writing. ‘There are so many better words than nice!!!’ the teacher would tell us. I suddenly felt sorry for the word ‘nice’ (what has it ever done to us!?) So I wanted to write a poem that celebrates the word.  

Does music help you write or is it a distraction? 

When I’m in the zone, I’m in the zone. So there may be music playing, but I won’t be listening to it.  

Did you get support with editing, and how much editing did Advice From A Stranger need? 

Olivia Mulligan, poet, Advice From A Stranger poetry book, interview on The Table Read

Yes. The book is published by Fisher King. We didn’t edit the poems much, but they helped transform my words into book form!  

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

Do your best not to over think things. Imagine you are a child having fun with words… that’s when the creativity comes!  

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

Sorry, I’m keeping this one a secret!  

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

Gosh… ‘proud.’ I guess I should be. But to be honest, becoming a poet has always been my dream that I never thought would happen. So it still hasn’t sunk in… Maybe one day it will seem real and I might have that ‘proud’ feeling, but I’m still waiting for that moment…  

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

Poems On The Gate Post (available worldwide) 

Advice From A Stranger (available worldwide) 

Olivia Mulligan Poetry (Facebook) 

Liv_Mulligan_Poet (instagram)  

BBC Radio York’s Poet Laureate 

Latest book: Advice From A Stranger 

Facebook: Olivia Mulligan Poetry​

Instagram: Liv_Mulligan_Poet​

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