For those who don’t know, Carol Leeming is Leicester-born multi award-winning author, poet, director playwright, dramaturge, screenwriter and tutor. She is currently an associate artist at Leicester’s Curve Theatre and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. Although her work bestrides a number of forms and themes, she is known for her magic realist narratives and for creating distinctive characters from marginalized communities.
We spoke to her at the end of April, 2018, and asked her about her work, craft, the rise of self-publishing and about being an artist in the East Midlands.
Hi Carol, what are you writing at the moment?
There is the work on my final my choreopoem, to complete my trilogy of choreopoems, titled Stay Where the Songs Are, a poetic prose narrative featuring the character Elsie, a Romany woman from my first choreopoem play The Loneliness of the Long Distance Diva in 2012. The second choreopoem Love the life you live… Live the life you love, recently previewed onstage to a great audience at Curve theatre Leicester, and it is now being prepared for full production for Curve and national touring in 2019
Excitingly, I am writing poems for a new collection for publication. Interestingly, my poems are often like welcome guests, they just pop in now and then. There are new song lyrics, taking me in a new creative direction, for a music EP to be recorded later this year. I am often asked to release new music – so it is somewhat eagerly awaited. I am also very much enjoying writing arts and music articles, for Great Central Magazine Leicester.
How has your work coincided with what Writing East Midlands do?
As a writer I have benefitted from support from Writing East Midlands, with regards to Arts Council applications to make my work. This support is vitally important and a critical factor. In addition to utilizing Writing East Midlands networks, mailing list and website to promote my work and events. I also received useful mentoring from the Inscribe Writers Programme, run by Peepal Tree Press, having been referred by Writing East Midlands.
I was delighted to have been invited to be a panel member for a previous Writing East Midlands Conferences, to talk about making Spoken Word/Poetry Stage Shows. This is an area of work that is now a specialism for me.
More recently, as a member of Leicester Writers Showcase, with colleagues, we have created a platform specifically for Leicester published authors, to engage with readers and audiences. The prestigious Leicester Writers Club, of which I am a member, has historically, successfully engaged in the business of Writer Development. Within this context, I take a keen interest in literary activity in general in Leicester. As such I have always championed and promoted Leicester writers and their literary activity. It is in these specific areas that I think my own literary activism and Writing East Midlands’ remit, i.e. to create, advise and offer opportunities for Writer Development, corresponds overall.
I think as my profile as writer continues to grow, and I gain opportunities to platform my own work nationally and internationally, I champion the exciting literary arts from the East Midlands region, and Leicester in particular. Academic writers have also referred to my writing, e.g. in the chapter by Dr. Corinne Fowler, in The Cambridge Companion to Black & Asian Writing edited by Deidre Osborne, or my own co-written article published in the Oxford Contemporary Womens’ Writing Journal about Black Womens’ Writing and Black Arts in the 80’s. In this way, both Writing East Midlands and myself act as beacons to create further interest for the creative literary activity of this region.
You have worked across many platforms and artforms, as well as having performed, been broadcast and published in a number of ways – how has being a transliterate writer helped you to develop your voice?
As a polymath, and a transliterate writer, I always seek to communicate and find my own artistic oeourve ie. voice and own it – now that can be an elusive thing! The various art forms utilized in different ways, can work to help define and refine my voice, as part of an ongoing dynamic process i.e. an inner dialogue. To be able to identify the creative flows of voice, its syntax, diction, characters, dialogue, specific subjects, tropes, and stylistic considerations.
More simply the voice can then be amplified and expressed, through the different mediums. My unique process is that I often use dialect, for its particular patterns and rhythms – also, when I begin writing, I may draw structures or find images, utilize colour or music schema etc. to help create the writing.
How do you find inspiration for work? It a response to something?
Does Inspiration find me? Or do I find inspiration? Hmm…I am never quite sure… There is the pop in the head idea – does that come from experience or the keen passionate interest in something, that is like a path that you follow, like the lyrics of the 60’s Windmils Of Your Mind song i.e? There are byways and side-ways and you follow those too. It can be like an absorbing, exciting adventure discovering new things. Yes, it can be a response to something: a news story/event, social issues that trouble me, all kinds of personal experiences, people, anything/a smell etc. I get creative ideas often, so my challenge is which ones to develop. I have a notebook with me most of the time or record on my phone. Living in as culturally diverse a city as Leicester, and being a committed flaneur, is a constant source of inspiration too.
Do you still work at developing your craft? How do you do this?
Yes I do, I believe in lifelong learning and practice. I love learning new things and I seem to have great capacity for really enjoying the learning process. I have benefitted from a number of workshops and courses in the past. My membership of Leicester Writers Club affords me the opportunity for any new writing to be constructively critiqued, by my esteemed peers. Along with workshops and walks on a range of literary subjects, just listening to the members talk or share their writing at club meetings is a very informative experience. As we have excellent published authors and poets within our membership, I like (after our Club Manuscript Meetings) the conversations in the Café Bar about all manner of literary matters. Reading books is everything! Reading lots of different authors, types of books e.g. poetry, prose, non-fiction etc. I usually read two books at any one time. I continue to expand my vocabulary and revise grammar when required. I still look at attending workshops, if I think they meet my needs. The last couple of courses I did were Film Screen Writing ones.
What do you make of the emergence of self-publishing?
It is wonderful thing! It can lead to being taken on by a big mainstream publisher, independent publisher or agent – this does happen – I have witnessed it! More importantly the snobbery about self-publishing is becoming a thing of the past, and writers often just need to get access to good editing, good advice and support. In particular, better marketing, distribution opportunities and networks for self-published books. It is not a route for every writer, but this whole self –publishing, can only continue to grow. I self-published my debut chapbook and have no regrets whatsoever. I was able to find and connect with an audience for my poetry (after years of live readings/performances I needed to do this) and it sold out pretty quickly. I was able to use social media and direct selling/marketing methods. Alternatively I could have been with a well established poetry publisher, languishing say for 1-2 years, waiting for my book launch and subsequently selling very few copies. The down side to self-publishing is the difficulty in getting trade, industry or notable poetry reviews and effective marketing/distribution. But the artistic control, learning the book trade is sheer joy, as is the satisfaction of connecting directly and getting feedback from your readers.
What does it mean to you to live and work in the East Midlands? Does it affect your work?
It means a lot to me as I was born in Leicester of Windrush era parents, though I have lived in other places. Living in the East Midlands, and Leicester especially, is an endless source of fascination and wonder. The world is here, people from all over the world are here, along with people with roots in the region that go much further back. I love the many stories about this beautiful geographical area, the histories and migrations. The way we in this region are neither the North or South makes it is a truly unique place, that things pass through/by or stay and remain. It is a constant source of inspiration. Once I understood and appreciated that the East Midlands is often being overlooked or misunderstood (willfully?) – it became for me part of its attraction – as often the region has the power to completely surprise!
I love Leicester, the East Midlands’ accents, dialects, and argots. I privilege working class narratives, of marginalised groups and communities. I like to conjure up and refer to real places and the different types of people here. I think it affects my work in a positive way, furthermore it fuels my drive for innovation, as I come up fighting with my artistic visions, that are distilled from being in a region febrile with creativity, thereby bucking metropolitan expectations of being lesser in some way, I also consider myself fortunate and inspired to be located in a region of world-wide literary importance, with literary superheroes such as Sue Townsend, Joe Orton, Alan Sillitoe and DH Lawrence, to name just a few.
Do you still think there is a barrier for writers working outside of London?
Yes, this is very true, but I hope, and trust, it is changing, as people in this region seek to remove those barriers more. Most of the main publishing business, the live poetry scene, is primarily located there [in London]. All the main events happen there and so forth. There is all the important networking that goes on in the bars and venues in London. This is all such a big part of it all. Of course, much can be done via the internet, however there is a need for a decamping of some of the industry, as the BBC did, and relocate some of their activities outside of London. They can discover a new world of talent and creativity. I read an article recently that indicated a thriving independent publishing culture in-and-around the North West/Manchester area, which is very encouraging. I can only hope this development continues and other regions like the East Midlands follow suit.