Bookcase Focus: An Interview with Matthew Francis

Bookcase Focus: An Interview with Matthew Francis

Wales Literature Exchange interviewed our Bookcase author Matthew Francis about his writing and his influences.


1. What first inspired you to be an author and where do your ideas come from?

I’ve wanted to be a writer almost as long as I can remember. Reading in bed was an essential ritual of my childhood, and I used to save my pocket money to buy the next in the series of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books. I had several poetry anthologies, including The Puffin Book of Verse, The Faber Book of Children’s Verse and Arnold Silcock’s anthology of comic poetry, Verse and Worse. The first collection I owned by an individual poet was Walter de la Mare’s Peacock Pie, and his ‘The Listeners’ was the first poem I remember being deeply stirred by. From about the age of eight I used to wake up at night with ideas for my own poems going through my head.

I get ideas from all over the place, reading, television, internet and so on, as well as others that seem to arise spontaneously. The problem is knowing what to do with them.


2. How would you describe your writing?

I write both poetry and fiction, though poetry has always been the dominant genre. They cross-fertilize each other, so that my poems often tell stories and my fiction often has an element of verbal playfulness. As a poet, I am fascinated by form, both traditional and experimental – I like my poems to have a shape. Storytelling and the creative imagination are big themes for me; I take many of my subjects from history and, as in my latest collection, Wing, I draw a lot of inspiration from the natural world.


3. Which authors have influenced you the most?

In poetry, T.S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, W.S. Graham and Basil Bunting. In fiction, Laurence Sterne, Gunter Grass, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Vladimir Nabokov.


4. In your opinion what are the biggest challenges that writers face today – and do you think these challenges have changed since you started writing?

The rise of internet culture and the influence of new technology generally has changed writing radically over the last few years. It’s much harder to make money at it for one thing – but then as a poet I never really expected to do that. Like many writers I’ve benefited a lot from the growth of university creative writing courses (which has provided me with a career) and the culture of public readings and festivals which makes it so much easier to relate to your readers. It remains to be seen what effect the current pandemic will have on that in the long term.


5. What are the hardest and easiest parts of being a writer?

Getting published in the first place was terribly hard for me, as it is for most writers. I bombarded publishers with my work till I finally started to get a few acceptances along with the rejections. Nowadays it’s knowing which ideas to go with and which are non-starters – I’ve never worked out how to tell that in advance rather than waste a lot of time chasing down blind alleys.And the easiest part is those miraculous moments wheneverything suddenly falls into place, when you waking up in the morning actually looking forward to writing because you know it will happen almost effortlessly.


6. Which writer from Wales would you recommend to readers and why?

Christopher Meredith is very underrated, both as a poet and a novelist. And Catherine Merriman has written some fine short stories.


Wing was selected to the Wales Literature Exchange 2020 Bookcase, our annual selection of recent Welsh literary works which we recommend for translation.

Watch Matthew discuss the inspiration for Wing and hear him read an excerpt from it here.

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