Laura Theis, whose poem ‘salt apples’ is published in issue 7 of Lucent Dreaming, grew up in a place in Germany where each street bears the name of a mythical creature and now lives in Oxford with her little demon dog. Writing in her second language, she gained a Distinction in the Mst Creative Writing at Oxford University. Her writing has been published in the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Germany, Canada and the US, and appears in many different places such Strange Horizons, Rise Up Review, The London Reader, Abyss&Apex and Mslexia. Laura has won the AM Heath Prize as well as the Hammond House International Literary Award for Poetry, and was shortlisted for the Yeovil Prize, the Live Canon International Poetry Award, the Frome Festival Short Story Competition, the Blue Nib Chapbook Contest and the Oxford Brookes Poetry Prize amongst others.
So, what inspired your piece ‘salt apples’? Can you tell us a little more about what it’s about?
It actually has a really interesting backstory… It came out of a writing exercise we did in LIT, a feminist reading and writing group for poetry that I am a part of. This is one of my favourite exercises to kick-start writing something new without any fear of the blank page, it works a bit like automatic writing. You choose a poem in a language that you don’t know at all (in this case it was a Czech poem) and then you “translate” it without looking up the meaning of any of the words. You will end up with a poem that has a similar number of lines and words, but is otherwise completely its own thing. I really recommend trying this – it’s a playful way to tap into your subconscious and you can surprise yourself a little by writing something unexpected and unplanned…To me, Salt Apples feels a bit like a fever dream, like trading sleep for late night revels, where everything seems a little strange, ordinary things become unfamiliar, otherworldly. I am a massive insomniac in my every day life, so much like the narrator of this poem, I often see the sun rise without having slept a wink.
What are some of your favourite books and art (including shows, videos, music) – of all time or more recently. Why are they favourites?
I’ll start with music: Some of the greatest new music releases during the lockdown were the new albums by Fiona Apple (Fetch the Bolt Cutters) and Laura Marling (Song for our Daughter) – two of my all-time favourite songwriters. Fiona Apple especially has been a really huge influence for me, she was the reason I started writing my own songs as a teenager, I used to look up her lyrics word for word in a dictionary as I was learning English… I’ve been trying to catch the National Theatre Live Streams on YouTube every week, it’s such a great initiative and a way to see plays I might otherwise never have seen.
My most recently finished favourite novel was Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, such beautiful writing! She took the sad story of Shakespeare’s son and turned into something utterly magical. And I also loved Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid, a really thought-provoking book about casual and systemic racism, class and identity, all the questions that feel so urgent right now.
Some of my other favourite fiction writers are Ali Smith, Astrid Lindgren, Madeline Miller, Meg Rosoff, Kelly Link, P.G. Wodehouse, Dodie Smith, Ramona Ausubel, Emily St John Mandel, Tove Jansson, Michel Faber, Hope Mirrlees, Leonora Carrington and Helen Oyeyemi, I’ll stop here but the list in my head is a hundred times as long!
In poetry, I’ve recently read Flèche by Mary Jean Chan, Transformations by Anne Sexton and a Portable Paradise by Roger Robinson – though that one felt a lot like being punched in the stomach, it’s a devastating read. My all-time favourite German-language poet is Mascha Kaléko, a Jewish writer who fled from Germany to the US in 1938, I often try to translate her work to be able to share it. Wisława Szymborska, a Polish poet and Nobel Prize winner, is another favourite. As for TV shows, I have just started watching The Great with Elle Fanning playing the future Empress of Russia and I’m really enjoying everything about it, the writing, the costumes, the cast, the soundtrack…I am a sucker for period drama anyway, but this one feels particularly alive. My favourite recent film was Portrait of a Lady on Fire. (And Greta Gerwig’s Little Women – I saw it in the cinema and wept, and I’ve recently rewatched it and cried all over again…
And finally, I can never answer a question like this without mentioning some of my friends’ amazing work. The music of Rosie Caldecott, Ditte Elly, Alev Lenz, the books of Lucy Duggan, Daisy Johnson, Kiran Millwood Hargrave, Sarvat Hasin, Lucy Ayrton and Tom de Freston to name but a few!
What, if anything, are you looking forward to right now and what writing/creative projects are you currently working on?
I can answer both of those questions at once – I’m really looking forward to publishing my first poetry pamphlet with my wonderful publishers Dempsey&Windle later this year, and that’s also what I’m currently working on… I am taking quite a long time over it, maybe because I’m secretly hoping that the later it comes out, the more likely it is that things like book launches and poetry readings will be possible again – fingers crossed! Another project I’m looking forward to is Finde Tandems, a collaboration project between artists in Germany, Finland and the UK starting in September.
Can you tell us about how you got into writing and art? Is there anyone whose support or encouragement really inspired or motivated you?
I have always loved inventing things. When I was four years old, I got a plastic tape recorder with a microphone as a present and kept myself busy for hours inventing stories and songs for an imaginary audience. And like most writers, I fell in love with reading and listening first. The books I loved as a child still mean so much to me today, they still make me cry. I was so lucky to have had older sisters and parents who would read stories to me and even today I can still listen to audiobooks for hours with that same child-like concentration. As for my love affair with the English language, I think for me it started with song-writing when I was a teenager growing up in Germany. Basically, as soon as I started to learn English in school at the age of ten I had this desire to write lyrics in this thrilling new language and I’ve been doing it ever since. I moved to the UK almost a decade ago and I was so lucky to make friends here who really inspire and encourage me. I met a lot of them at Catweazle, a very special open mic night in Oxford. I have musician and writer friends who share their work with me and who I am constantly in awe of. I have also met lots of really wonderful and inspiring writers through my Mst in Creative Writing at Oxford University. Finally, the most motivating thing that happened to me recently was winning the 2020 Mogford Short Story Prize. One of the judges was Stephen Fry and he is someone whose sense of humour I’ve always admired so much – so it felt like a miracle that he would choose something I had written.I really think this is such a good question because it makes you realise how much gratitude you have for the people in your life who made you the writer that you are. Ada Limon once said: “We write with all the good ghosts in our corners. I, for one, have never made anything alone, never written a single poem alone…”
Where can people see more of you and your work?
You can find some of my short stories and poems here:http://lauratheis.weebly.com/publications.html
I also have a lot of music out that you can listen to for free via bandcamp!
My solo project Badass Snow White, a collection of retellings of fairy tales with songs about mermaids, werewolves, singing spiders and kick-ass heroines:
My Oxford-based band Robot Swans: https://robotswans.bandcamp.com/
And my collaboration with Steffi Müller (and our collective of friends from Germany)
My website is lauratheis.weebly.com.I’m also on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/lauratheismusic/) and Instagram (be warned, it’s 90% dog pictures! https://www.instagram.com/wodehouse_and_i/) but weirdly not on Twitter!
Lucent Dreaming is an independent creative writing magazine publishing beautiful, imaginative and surreal short stories, poetry and artwork from emerging authors and artists worldwide. Our aim is to encourage creativity and to help writers reach publication! Subscribe to Lucent Dreaming now, support us on Patreon and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.