The Creative Writing Interviews: Philip Gross

The Creative Writing Interviews form a series of interviews with contributors to our Creative Writing Studies list. Find out about their work and approach towards writing.

Philip Gross’s biography: Born in Delabole, north Cornwall, son of a wartime Displaced Person from Estonia and the village schoolmaster’s daughter. Grew up in Plymouth, studied English at Sussex, lived and raised a family in Bristol, came to Wales and Glamorgan University in 2004. Find out more at www.philipgross.co.ukhttp://staff.glam.ac.uk/users/420 and http://www.bloodaxebooks.com/titlepage.asp?isbn=1852249196

Frances Haynes writes: Philip Gross is a contributor to our forthcoming publications, Teaching Creative Writing and Creative Writing and is a member of our editorial board.

Philip, What do you write?

Many things, all the way from haiku through radio plays to opera libretti… but the heartland is poetry – some fifteen collections (four of them for young people) since 1983. This is where ideas come from that might later take root in other forms and genres, including some ten novels published for young people since 1991. And it’s where I go back to for refreshment. It is also where I know I think best – or rather, it’s where the interplay of thinking, feeling and the senses is most close and inextricable. I think I mean: where I can be most human.

Whom do you write for?

Good question, one that needs a book or two to answer it. I’ve said that I write for young people as well as adults – several ages and stages of them, too. But the history of my writing life has been of drifting to the boundary line and sometimes over it, sometimes out of any defined market that the publishing business recognises. I’ve drifted over genre frontiers, too, moving steadily away from fantasy through the exact period when it became predominant. If I’d been intent on building a career as a children’s writer, rather than exploring that terrain to see what I could find there, I’d have done the opposite.
And in the poetry? For children, I hope I write in ways that can stretch and satisfy readers on the journey over that age-boundary and right into adult reading-life. In the adult reading world, where most of my poetry lives, my instinct is not to do with pleasing a known audience as much as building a space in the air into which readers, readers who respond to its resonances, might come and feel welcome. That’s one form of writing for an audience: you build it, and trust them to come.

What achievement are you most proud of as a writer?
I’ve just had a few gratifying years, with three important awards for three different collections published within a few months of each other – the T S Eliot Prize for ‘The Water Table’, Wales Book of the Year for ‘I Spy Pinhole Eye’ and the CLPE Awardfor children’s poetry for ‘Off Road To Everywhere’.  I’ve been in the business long enough to know that prizes mean something, but not everything, or the most vital of things. I’m sure of something with my new collection, ‘Deep Field’, which follows my father through his catastrophic loss of language in the final years of his life. I’m sure that, more than anything I’ve written, this is the book that my particular assemblage of skills, background and life experience seem to have been for.  It sounds a grim subject, but for me, as a writer as well as a son, it opens on the heart of language. And it is a celebration in the end.

What involvement do you have / have you had with creative writing as a university/college subject/discipline?
I was one of those working writers who, almost by chance, were in near the start of the discipline in the UK – there with the skills of working on Arvon residentials on the one hand, and round school classrooms up and down the country on the other, which became the nucleus of Creative Writing practice in universities. For the last ten years, especially since being appointed as Professor at Glamorgan, part of my job has been to find words to articulate what that experience, and all the writing practice that underpins it, give us access to, in terms of understanding.

What is your ambition as a writer?
To go on living, thinking, feeling, breathing through the medium of writing as long as I’m able. But ‘go on’ might sound like repetition. Not that. To surprise myself. Again. Again.
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  1. Pingback: Teaching creative writing: the interview series | Creative Writing Studies

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