Having risen to prominence following critically acclaimed appearances at two Contains Strong Language festivals, the broadcast of Bathwater on BBC Radio 4 and with a series of collaborative audio projects thrilling audiences, Vicky Foster reveals more about her work as a poet and author.
Can you tell us something about where Bathwater came from, why you wrote it, how it developed and how it ended up being published by Wrecking Ball Press?
Bathwater was a story that I’d been working up to for a long time I think. When those kind of things happen to you, you experience a lot of shame. I did anyway, and that shame and the nature of abuse means you lose your voice, in a big way. Singing and writing gave me mine back, and the further away from those experiences I got, the more I realised that it really wasn’t me who needed to feel ashamed, and I had a lot to say about it. I told Louise Wallwein I was thinking of writing a one-woman show and she offered to mentor me, and she spoke to Sue Roberts (BBC Radio Drama producer) who said she’d like to produce it for Contains Strong Language. Then Sue suggested we try and get it commissioned for Radio 4, and that happened while I was still writing it. Shane Rhodes (Wrecking Ball Press editor) was my writing mentor, and when he read it, he said he’d like to publish it. It just seems crazy even now, saying all that, but that’s the way it happened.
Who are you writing for?
I’m writing mostly for myself – it’s my way of making sense of things, I think. But also, I’ve realised through meeting and hearing people like Louise Wallwein, Toria Garbutt, Louise Fazackerley, Kate Fox, that it’s massively powerful to share experiences, especially if you’re working-class or a woman, or you’ve been through difficult things, because there are people out there going through those things right now, being told who they should be and what they’re allowed to do, and just knowing that it happened to someone else, you’re not on your own, and you can come out the other side is a huge thing.
What experience do you want your readers to have with your work?
Hmm… I was a bit shocked by how many people cried when they came to see Bathwater, and a bit worried by that. It’s not what I thought was going to happen, which seems a bit daft to say now, cos I suppose it is quite sad! But when I was writing it, I wasn’t really thinking about how people would react, I just wanted to make it as honest as possible. I suppose I just wanted them to feel something, and I suppose that worked.
When you’re embarking on a new piece of work, whether that’s a poem or a full length piece for performance, what approach do you take?
I think it’s different every time. A poem will often just fall out of the sky – they’ll sometimes come out nearly fully-formed and then just need a few edits. But Bathwater was a totally different process – I spent ages on structure with graphs and grids, and writing drafts and cutting them up. All that malarkey. Fair Winds and Following Seas (an audio experience commissioned by Freedom Festival) was different again – I talked a lot with (musicians and producers) The Broken Orchestra about what we wanted to say, then spent ages in all the locations on the walk, then worked all those details into the poems. It depends what you’re doing and why you’re doing it, I think.
Tell us something about your writing process?
Ha. I’m always making plans for writing and then not sticking to ’em. It’s a weird mix between discipline and – I don’t know what you’d call it – intuition, subconscious – I don’t have a name for it – just letting your brain do what it needs to do in the background. I think you sort of get the hang of when to do each one. Sometimes you’ve got to be disciplined and sometimes you just need to lay on the sofa and watch Poirot while it all brews in your brain.
You’ve done a few collaborations with The Broken Orchestra now. How did that originally come about and what else have you got planned with them?
I first met The Broken Orchestra when I was recording some demos for a Carpenters tribute act when I was a singer, and they told me then how they were, at that time, working with different vocalists, and we talked about me maybe doing some vocals on a song with them. That never happened, but I sort of had a feeling we’d end up doing something together at some point. I’d never have guessed in a million years what it would be though. But I just knew straight away when I decided to write Bathwater that I wanted them to do the music, and luckily they said yes!
Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?
I’ve been really lucky to have stuff published, and since I first saw how gorgeous Wrecking Ball’s books are I said I’d love to have something published by them one day. The fact that they’re small and based in Hull, and you can pop in and have a chat is really special as well, and that they’ve got an independent book shop in Princes Quay. I popped in there on my graduation day and had my picture taken with my book – you couldn’t do that sort of thing with a big publisher.
What’s it like working with the might of the BBC?
Just amazing. It’s like dream-come-true stuff. I still find it hard to believe it happened. I’ve got little tote bags from Contains Strong Language and sometimes I’ll be going shopping and pick one up, and think oh yeah, I’ve been on the radio, I’ve written for them. Everyone I met there and worked with has just been lovely and supportive.
We’ve heard you’re working on a novel?
I am! It’s going slowly at the moment. I’ve done all my planning – more grids and all that – and I know what it’s about. It’s been doing the brewing thing in the back of my brain while I’ve been busy on other stuff all year, but it feels like about time to start getting it out now. We’ll see…I’ve never done it before. It might not work. It’s a massive thing. Hats off to anyone who’s ever written a novel. It’s hard.
Hull 2017 UK City of Culture seemed to be a springboard for you to get your writing noticed – do you have any reflections on Hull’s year in the spotlight and what it meant for you as an artist?
I know I’ve been really lucky, and I know not everyone in the city had as great an experience in 2017 as I did, but for me, yeah, it was just a huge opportunity, and I was ready for it. I think it’s just that thing that sometimes happens where you’re in the right place at the right time and doing the right things. Which made a nice change for me, because a lot of my life I seem to have been in the wrong place doing the wrong things! Generally, I think it’s been an amazing thing for the city – in terms of realising what’s possible, and civic pride and all that. I know there are lots of discussions happening about legacy, and that’s important. But it’s one of those once-in-a-generation things that we’ll all be talking about for years. Our grandkids won’t believe us when we tell ’em about the streets being full of naked blue people, will they? Not until we show ’em the pictures anyway. As theatre company Middle Child say – it will never not have happened.
So what’s the future hold for you?
There’s a lot of maybes for next year, a lot of things that may or may not happen. I’ll just have to wait and see. I’ve had two or three years now of being a professional writer as my job, and it’s been amazing. If I have to go back to other stuff at some point, well, I’ll always have had these last few years, and I’ve loved every minute of it. And I’ll always write now, whether anyone’s gonna read it or not.
Vicky Foster’s Bathwater is published by Wrecking Ball Press and can be purchased online at www.wreckingballpress.com/product/bathwater. For more information about Vicky Foster and her work visit www.vickyfoster.co.uk. For more information about Vicky’s collaborators The Broken Orchestra visit www.thebrokenorchestra.com