A Day in the Life Presents. . .Author and Poet, Giles L. Turnbull

Giles reading at Risca1 23 Nov 2015

Terrie Leigh Relf:  What types and forms of writing do you do? 

Giles Turnbull: I do predominantly poetry. Over the years I have worked as a Chartered Transportation Planner for national and local government, writing policies, strategies, reports and public outreach. I love music of all genres, and that has led me to a contributing editorship at fiercely independent, but short lived, music magazine Splinter, and as a CD and gig reviewer for Atlanta Music Guide. But poetry has always been my no.1 writing love and it is my writing focus.

TLR: What is your area(s) of subject matter expertise? How did you discover this niche? What intrigues you about it?

GT: I would not claim to be an expert in any niche. I have a love of poetry and an interest in the universe, and with an inquiring mind that seems to give me lots to write about.

In an early poem, I wrote about “the curse of an artistic soul and an analytical mind.” My high school ambition was to be a concert pianist. My course of study steered me into  a Bachelor’s degree in chemistry, which then took a detour into transportation planning. The exposure to such different worlds presents diverse challenges as well as opportunities, and I try to draw these into my poetry when I can.

TLR:  How do you balance your creative and work time?

GT: I hope to be in a position in which I need to balance creative and work time once again, but currently, health issues are coming between me and a day job. That might sound like a good thing for a writer, but it is surprising how much you pick up through the daily interactions of a day job with people and with the nature of the job you are performing.

I do try and pay attention to how much I am writing and how much I am researching. It can be incredibly easy to look up some factual information online and two hours later find you are still reading and have not written anything down at all! I try to stay focused on what information is important for the poem I am writing, and which bits are interesting but are not going to be an element in the poem.

TLR:  What tips do you have for other writers, editors, and the publishing field at large?

GT: Embrace the diversity in writers. Disabilities are my main concern, and it is important to remember that when we talk about accessibility to literature, it does not only mean physical access to an event. As a blind reader, a PDF copy available for purchase in a publisher’s online store is a beautiful thing to find.

I feel strongly that encouraging writers with disabilities and from marginalized groups is not, and should not be, the same as positive discrimination. Positive discrimination is no more helpful, and no less harmful, than negative discrimination. Positive discrimination to redress long-standing biases does nothing to help anybody. The literary world needs a level playing field, where any writing is considered on its merits. I want to see publishers encouraging writing from all sections of life with readers rewarded with a greater depth of experience across all genres.

TLR: What are your thoughts on the creative process in general and your creative process in particular? Where do your ideas come from? What inspires and Intrigues you?

GT: This is one aspect that I find challenging since losing my sight. I know that I used to write about things I caught a glimpse of out of the corner of my eye. Those are the things that nobody else might have noticed exactly that way before — the way the shadows have transformed a landscape at dusk, or the jauntiness of a broken umbrella in a trash can.

When you can’t see those things for yourself, there is a danger that the only things you notice are things that other people or media channels have decided are things that are worthy of being noticed; very often, those are not the things I want to be writing about!

My creative process varies. I often start by collecting a handful of thoughts for an idea, and I put them into a computer text file and let them sit there and talk amongst themselves for a few days – or sometimes a few weeks – and then I return to them and start writing some lines of an actual poem around them.

TLR:  Where have you been published? Upcoming publications? Awards and other accolades?

GT: 2016 has already been a successful year for me. My poem, “Alarm,” was in London magazine Rockland in February, and “Song of the Misunderstood” was published by Fair Acre Press in their Maligned Species project eBook on stinging nettles. I have two articles about poetry and blindness coming in the summer issues of Corncrake Magazine and Poetry Wales, and both of those include poems written in response to visual artwork by disabled artists. As I am answering these questions, it has been less than one week since I learned that my poetry pamphlet, Dressing Up, was one of the four winning entries in the Cinnamon Press poetry pamphlet competition, and will be published in early 2017; I am very excited about that!

TLR: What are you working on now?

GT: I have been thinking about a book of photographs that I used to like, A Land of Gods and Giants, which are photographs of things like solitary standing stones and spiritually significant wells. I am wondering how different a modern land of Gods and Giants might look in poetry, so that might be a potential poetry-photography collaboration project for the future.

TLR: What challenges have you faced as a writer and/or with a particular project? How did you meet them? What did you learn from these challenges and how did it make you a better writer?

GT: Losing my sight was a pretty significant hurdle to overcome, but I’ve talked about that already.

One challenge that I need to improve on is my memory. Many blind people have fantastic memories; I am not one of them! When you can’t read your work off a printed page, and your memory capacity can retain only a handful of poems, then that limits you to pretty short poetry readings! I know that these are my limitations and, just like learning a musical instrument, I hope that if I actively practice my memorization and spoken delivery, then those skills will come.

TLR: Are you currently a writing mentor? If so, what are your thoughts on mentoring?

GT: I am not currently a writing mentor. I have no experience of being mentored, either. I think mentoring can be a very useful process, whatever stage of your writing journey you are at. I would love to find a writing mentor who has advice and experience to share on meeting the challenges of being a writer with a disability, which for me would relate to blindness.

Maybe my answer to this question is suggesting to me that I need to share my experience of being a poet with blindness, hopefully encouraging other blind people to enjoy writing and to feel able to get out there and share their words with the world.

TLR: Are you also a fiction writer? Who are your favorite characters? How did they come into being, and what do you love – or loathe – about them?

Sometimes my poetry is pure fiction, and other times it is scientific non-fiction. I choose to write poetry because I find that through it, I get to experience all the lives I haven’t yet lived. I enjoy writing characters who are facing difficult situations or uncomfortable questions, and in writing them, I get to find out how those situations arose, and how those challenges are met.

TLR: What poetic forms do you write in? What is it that you love about these forms?

GT: I typically write in free verse form. If a poem has stanza breaks, then I do feel happier if each stanza has the same number of lines, but I am growing more comfortable with variable stanza lengths; a stanza needs to be as long or as short as it needs to be, and if I cut out lines that need to be there, then that is to the detriment of the poem, and if I add a line or two that doesn’t need to be there, then the poem begins to feel a little flabby. It’s just the mathematical part of my brain that likes there to be a mathematical structure to a poem, such as every stanza having 5 lines, or stanza one having 5 lines, stanza two having 6 lines, and stanza three having 7 lines; I wrote a poem that talks about the rate of bacterial growth doubling every 20 minutes, so the number of lines in each stanza is double the previous stanza — 1 line, 2 lines, 4 lines, 8 lines and finally 16 lines; as I already said, the curse of an artistic soul and an analytical mind!

TLR: Are you currently, or have you ever, been in a writing group? Your thoughts?

GT: I enjoy writing groups. Since 2012, I have participated in a local group in Cwmbran, Southeast Wales, that meets weekly during academic term time, and it is a creative writing group. I stick to poetry; others in the group generally prefer prose, and there is a lot of variety to listen to and discuss every week.

I also enjoy online groups, and am currently in my fourth 10-week session of Over The Edge, a poetry group run by Kevin Higgins in Galway, Ireland; the group is open to international membership. Each week there is a prompt, with one or two poems which we are directed to take the opening line, or a line or two from, within the poem, and to write our own poems, responding in any way and at any tangent we choose.

I have written many poems that wouldn’t have crossed my mind if they had not been provoked by those writing groups.The feedback from fellow group members –  and the group tutors – has sharpened up my writing to good effect.

TLR: I know our readers would love to hear about your networking, marketing, and promotional experiences – including tips.

GT: I have been a keen advocate of the Internet since its early days. I post on Facebook and Twitter, but I draw a line at that; many of the newer platforms are highly visual and do not work easily with a screen reader. At the start of 2016, I spoke to a web designer about setting up a website, featuring a blog that I try to update weekly with poetry news that has caught my attention, or news that has related to my poetry that week.

I find Twitter very good for networking with other poets and editors and magazines, because if you re-tweet some of their tweets, then often they will notice your poetry tweets and re-tweet back for you. That is how your news gets noticed by a far larger network than your own, and then you find people following you; I have gone on to have many longer conversations by email with poets I have discovered through Twitter.

My one crucial tip is not to let social media reading get in the way of your writing!

TLR: Anything else you’d like to add that I haven’t asked? 

GT: I find poetry covers a very wide range of styles and subjects, though maybe that is because I am actively looking for subjects and writers that are trying unexpected things.

So my two final tips are. . .

Don’t be afraid to seek writing that is very different from your usual reading matter. If you enjoy classic poets like Wordsworth and Tennyson and Coleridge, then look for the writers currently finding their feet in the poetry world; look for poets writing modern sonnets on modern subjects, and think about how those approaches differ, and how you might draw aspects into your own writing.

Don’t fear writer’s block! Sometimes, your brain just needs a break, a time to relax and absorb what is going on in the world without any specific intention to use it in your writing. You are being a writer even when you do not have a pen and paper in front of you, because you are absorbing a million things every day that will at some point begin to shape themselves into something that will make its way into a poem or a short story or a novel.

TLR: Thank you so much for creating the time for this interview, Giles! Be sure so read his bio below, and visit his website.


Giles L. Turnbull is a blind poet living in Southeast Wales, UK. He has been writing for 25 years, and his poetry and articles have appeared with, or are forthcoming in, Rockland Magazine, Fair Acre Press, Corncrake Magazine, Poetry Wales, and his pamphlet, Dressing Up, was a winner in the Cinnamon Press poetry pamphlet competition and will be  published by Cinnamon in 2017.


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