Nicola Maclean, whose poem ‘Grey’ is published in issue 5 of Lucent Dreaming, is a poet, screenwriter and aspiring author. Born and raised in Hertfordshire, she is now based in the West Midlands while studying for her Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham. Nicola’s writing explores family, cruelty, and the brief flashes of beauty within urban environments. We asked Nicola about her inspiration and writing process:
So, what inspired your piece ‘Grey’ and how did it find its way to Lucent Dreaming?
‘Grey’ started life as a scathing review of my hometown and ended up as a sort of eulogy to the decline of the traditional UK High Street. Like a lot of the post-war new towns, it’s very brutalist – like a big concrete slab that’s been hollowed out. There’s a dark, slightly cynical humour about how something that was built with so much hope and ambition has now become almost universally looked down upon (I wonder if there’s a larger metaphor to be found here?) I often walk through the town centre after all the shops have shut and the streets are empty and one day I wondered if I could find any beauty amongst all the grey. I think I did. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and sometimes the beholder is a hungry pigeon looking at a French fry.
How I discovered Lucent Dreaming was almost poetic in itself. I’d just been to a university workshop on how to send your writing to publications, then an ad for the magazine popped up on my Instagram asking for submissions! It was the perfect timing, so I thought ‘what do I have to lose?’.
What does writing and art mean to you?
For me, the process of writing is a spontaneous purge of thoughts and feelings and ideas, followed by months of frustration and refinement. I think that’s why I find it difficult to write long-form pieces – I lose interest very quickly and move on to the next idea, so it takes a lot of self-restraint to keep plugging away at something.
The way I write often means I surprise myself with what ends up on the page. Political, social, personal, it could be anything that was knocking about in my subconscious that day. The mystery adds a bit of fun! I always try to ‘expose’ something in my writing, to drag it kicking and screaming into the spotlight. Sometimes what I expose is myself, sometimes it’s completely mundane or arbitrary.
What are you most excited about right now and what writing/creative projects are you currently working on?
I’ve just finished my MA in Creative Writing, and I’m developing my dissertation into a full-length novel, so that’s taking me a while! During that time I produced an anthology of poetry and prose for students on that course, called ‘Spark*’, and it was so much fun that I’m thinking of turning it into an annual project.
I’ve also been writing television pilots and I was surprised to find how naturally it came to me. So who knows what will come of that?
Tell us about some of your favourite books or art you’ve experienced – of all time or more recently. Why are they favourites?
The book that has stayed with me since childhood is definitely ‘The Book Thief’ by Marcus Zuzak. Having Death be a narrator completely blew my tiny mind and was probably what kick-started my own impulse to write.
Some of the poetry that has really impacted my own work is ‘Sunshine’, a collection by Melissa Lee-Houghton. The raw energy behind her words is stunning; reading her poems feels like a dangerous, subversive act in itself. ‘Crow’ by Ted Hughes remains a staunch favourite too, mainly because his poems were the first to make me feel physically sick, but also because it resonated with me when I was in a bit of a dark place.
More recently, I’ve been obsessed with ‘Folk’ by Zoe Gilbert. It’s a collection of folktales exploring the lore and inhabitants of a little village called Neverness. Gilbert’s writing is beautiful and hypnotic – I’ve been yelling about this book to everyone I meet.
What advice would you give those who want to do what you do?
I think the main thing is not to compare your own writing journey to anyone else’s. There was someone I knew personally who got published at a very young age and for a long time I felt guilty about not having reached that same level of success. But eventually I realised that’s ridiculous – one of the joys of writing is that everyone’s experience is unique. So avoid that temptation to look around you. It’s a continuous struggle, but I’m slowly getting better at it.
It’s also a good idea to find some other writer friends – whether online or in person, having some semblance of community can really boost you. And don’t be afraid to reach out to people! We’re all very nice.
Where can people see more of you and your work?
There are a few projects in the works that will hopefully be made public soon, but until then you can find me on Twitter @TheNickyMaclean for any announcements.