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QnA with poet Aoife Lyall Inverness-based Saltire Award-nominated poet up in Scottish first book category

By Margaret Chrystall

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Aoife Lyall’s debut poetry collection Mother, Nature has been shortlisted in the Saltire Scottish first book of the year 2021 category.

Mother, Nature - Aoife Lyall's Saltire-nominated poetry collection.
Mother, Nature - Aoife Lyall's Saltire-nominated poetry collection.

The winners of each category will be announced at a live-streamed in-person and online event on Saturday (November 27) in Glasgow.

The winner of each category will then be considered for the book of the year 2021.

Here is a QnA with Aoife:

When did your book Mother, Nature come out? It came out on February 25 this year.

Was it delayed by the pandemic? No, but it wasn't until late November/ December 2020 that we knew for sure it would stick to its original publishing date.

Is it your first poetry collection? Yes – I haven't had any chapbooks or pamphlets, so this is my first poetry collection and my first publication, which makes it extra special.

Did you manage to have a book launch or was everything still shut? The launch was online at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aa6a8FgUWDo It wasn't for another couple of months that I saw Mother, Nature in a bookshop for the first time- that was a very special moment for me.

How/when did you hear about the Saltire? The shortlist was announced on November 16 (and available to see at this link https://www.saltiresociety.org.uk/scotlands-national-book-awards-2021-shortlists

I knew about it a little before then as we recorded a brief interview and reading ahead of time. Lovely to have the news out in the world though – it was a hard secret to keep!

Poet Aoife Lyall.
Poet Aoife Lyall.

What happens now? Will there be an event to attend? Where and when? The winners of each category will be announced at a live-streamed in-person and online event on Friday (November 27), 7-9pm, from Waterstones Sauchiehall Street (Free tickets to attend the event online are available to book). The winner of each category will then be considered for the Book of the Year 2021, the winner of which will be announced at a later date.

What other reactions have you had to the book?

The reactions to the book have all been very positive, and largely focused on how the content of the book has allowed readers to open up conversations and deepen relationships with family and friends, especially around the topic of pregnancy loss: something which is still only beginning to be talked about and acknowledged and engaged with publically.

In terms of reviews, I have particularly appreciated when the meticulous nature of the writing has been commented on, alongside the understanding that the narrative structure of the collection deepens the significance of the order in which the poems appear: that the vulnerability and loss present in the poems half-way through the collection link back to the poems right at the beginning; that those opening poems determine how the rest of the collection is read.

Some of the experiences you write about in the collection were not happy at the time. Did writing about them change the way you felt about them or help process them a little bit perhaps? How would you describe what your poems in this book are about or is there a theme, or is it looser than that for you?

Writing about grief acknowledges it and identifies it, gives it a shape and a focus.

When writing about my pregnancy loss, I was focusing intensely on one element of the experience at a time, instead of trying to grapple with it in its entirety.

Within each poem, I focused on the best way to communicate what I wanted to say, rather than on the experience itself – looking to the left of the headlights as it were, instead of straight into the full beam. It was not easy to do, and the poems are not easy to read, but if it means someone else, even just one person, feels a little less alone, feels a little more seen? Then it's been worth it.

The book also captures many of the tiny, precious, intimate, difficult, and lonely moments that come with being a new parent: ones that can get lost in those early weeks and months after a baby is born; when your whole world tilts on its axis and you make it through each day by clinging to whatever sleep you can get and whatever coffee you can find. Days when you're the only ones in the world and that is a joyous thing; days when you're the only ones in the world and that is a difficult thing. I wanted to book to capture a sense of that.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I am working on my second poetry collection, which is being supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland, and I have also found myself writing a novel, which is a new and exciting endeavor.

Are there likely to be any events coming up where you will be reading from your book for people who want to hear/know more?

I have no more events scheduled for 2021. The best place to find information about events, to read some of my work and to watch some of my readings is through the Bloodaxe Books (see below).

Signed copies of Mother, Nature can be ordered from aoifelyall.com More info: Bloodaxe Books website: https://www.bloodaxebooks.com/ecs/product/mother-nature-1252

Free tickets to attend the event from 7-9pm online are available to book here: https://www.saltiresociety.org.uk/Event/scotlands-national-book-awards-2021-ceremony

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