Hollie McNish has become regarded as one of poetry’s freshest and most exciting voices.
The British poet – who is set for a sold out performance at Ullapool Book Festival on Friday – has become known for the unflinching eye she casts over the subjects and themes of her writings.
And in March this year, her talents were recognised with one of the artform’s highest honours in the UK, receiving the Ted Hughes poetry award for her 2016 collection, Nobody Told Me.
Winning the prize was a moment that left her “shocked”, she said.
“I was a bit overwhelmed to be nominated in the first place, so the evening wasn’t really about winning,” Hollie explained. “I was just excited to be able to go with my mum for a fancy-pants night out!
“I’m just really bloody grateful. The evening was lovely. I always find those evening a bit uncomfortable, which I think probably most people do – a bit formal and fancy – but all the people were lovely and I met [Poet Laureate] Carole Ann Duffy who was just so so nice.
“I cried when they said my name, found it hard to stop crying for a few days. I think because the book’s about parenthood which is rarely taken serious as a subject, least of all in literary circles.”
Her Ullapool appearance marks her first trip up to the Highlands for work reasons. “I can’t wait – I’ve already packed to be honest!”
And attendees will get a chance to hear her discuss her award-winning collection and perform a selection of her material.
Yet while the label of “performance poet” has followed her throughout her career, it is one that confuses Hollie. “I just write poems. I know I get called a performance poet, but I’m not 100 per cent sure why,” she explained.
“I’ve been writing my diaries in poems since I was a teenager and only started reading them out anywhere when I was about 24. I still just write poems for myself when they come into my head – some I share, most I don’t.
“I guess I feel like I’m more of a ‘reading-out-loud-when-asked’ poet! But I don’t mind what label it gets.”
Regardless of what label you care to apply, Hollie has become well known for her performance abilities – and her methods of getting those performances out to a wider audience.
Her YouTube channel – an outlet for her to perform and preview new material – has received more than four million views. “I love YouTube. I mean, I hate the hate that you get on there – on a bad day the comments section can knock you for six, but I think it makes lots of art so much more democratic.
“Not everyone can get to or afford to or feels comfortable coming to a poetry gig. I think being able to watch things through social media such as YouTube is brilliant for that reason.
“I guess because I write a lot on motherhood, and I’d say mums are some of the people least likely to get a night out, so YouTube works even more in that respect!”
Those writings on motherhood feature prominently in Nobody Told Me – a collection of poetry and writing collated from when she first discovered that she was pregnant up until when her daughter turned three years old.
The collection offers an examination of topics considered taboo. Her material has touched on breastfeeding, post-pregnancy sex, and the sense of isolation women can feel after giving birth.
“The response [to the collection] has been sort of sad,” she said. “I mean not for me, but just the fact that so many parents do relate to all the loneliness or frustration or, I guess, more negative feelings – especially the frustrations of how unchild-friendly a lot of public spaces are in the UK.”
“The thing that I’ve found most interesting are the older couples who’ve come to gigs. I’ve met so many fantastic older women who’ve been so lovely about someone ‘finally saying this s***,’ as one women put it.
“She also told me that her 83-year-old husband had had to go to the pub to get a brandy. I think that was my best comment yet!”
Hollie’s upcoming collection, however, will swap examining motherhood for examining childhood.
Plum consists of poems written by Hollie from the ages of eight to 31, charting the story of her growing up.
“It’s been so nervewracking, more than ever before, I’m not sure why,” she said of putting the book together. “But reading back over so many of the poems I wrote as a kid, I think I’ve really learnt that I know very little more now than I did then.
“The poems I wrote at eight years old don’t seem very different to those at 32. I’m not sure if that’s a good or a bad thing!”
Hollie McNish performs as part of the Ullapool Book Festival. For full details, go to www.ullapoolbookfestival.co.uk