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Recent graduate of Bath Spa University with a first degree in Creative Writing, Billie Stubley, 21, aspiring novelist and co-director of Bath’s Rhyme and Reason poetry night, sits down with me in Costa after her shift to discuss writing, inspiration, her creative projects, and life after the degree.
How are you?
I’m good, yeah, tired from work but yeah it’s good. How are you?
Prepared with my questions.
Okay, hit me.
So the angle I’m taking on this article is ‘my life after the degree’ and you studied creative writing at Bath Spa and you’re currently continuing with two different creative projects right now, aren’t you? With Rhyme and Reason and your debut novel?
Can you tell me a little bit about those?
Rhyme and Reason is a poetry collective. We run events in and around Bath with plans to expand to Bristol. We have two events at Bath Spa SU a month, but we’re slowing those down, as we’re getting a little bit less traction but they’re still a good outlet for students.
We also have a night at The Bath Brewhouse on the last Wednesday of the month, which is our more professional nights; we have a headliner and people with slots that we’ve seen before so we know the quality of the work. That one is our showcase of the month.
And then my novel is… I always ‘brand’ it as a younger, filthier, ‘Bridget Jones’. Or an X-rated ‘Angus Thongs and Perfect Snogging’. It’s called ‘A Constant State Of Mediocrity’ and it’s based around a character Kate who’s 21, in her second year at uni and she’s going through life and relationships. It’s a lot about sex and the modern age and the university experience, especially in England because I found there wasn’t a lot written about that except for all the extreme stereotypes. I just wanted my novel to be the humour in the normality of it, her going about her life.
With your writing what would you say is your process? Like where and how do you write?
It depends really. Whenever I have an idea for a poem it’s when and where. So I write it or write down an idea, and when I get home I type it up. And with the novel, it’s more that I force myself to do it. I find if I don’t sit down and think “Today I’m writing my novel” then I don’t write it.
It’s good to have a day where you decide that today’s the day you work on your novel, and it’s getting into that routine and making it feel normal to be writing the novel. I always write on my laptop, usually in bed with Buzzfeed up in the background distracting me. Or giving me ideas because Buzzfeed is very millennial which is great for my novel cause it’s just like ‘25 Things 20 Year Olds Love’ and I read it like “oh this is good for the novel”.
And you work full-time?
Yes, I do. I work full time at Odeon cinema. I’m actually a manager now which is quite fun, but it does make it a little harder to write. I always find time on my days off, though.
That’s what I was going to ask. What’s it like fitting your projects around a full time job?
It’s hard. Especially because I don’t have a set schedule, so I don’t know if I’m working days or nights or what days I’ll get off. But I try and find some time whether it’s after or before work or a certain time on my day off. It’s difficult to juggle but it is a reality.
That’s the whole theme of the article, the realities of being a writer. Because not everyone can go into a Masters degree or automatically publish.
Yeah that was not an option for me. I just couldn’t feasibly warrant spending seven grand for a Masters when I could write my book myself without paying for it. Not that a Masters is not a great opportunity and if you have the means to do it it’s a great thing to do, I just couldn’t think of it as a good enough option for me.
After graduating, you moved from Huddersfield to Bath, that’s correct yeah?
Well, I went back to Huddersfield for a month, realised I was going a bit mad, then I came back and got the job here. It was really weird because when I thought about going back to Huddersfield I was like “I’ll go home for a month and it’ll be like my writers retreat” and I just sat there and I didn’t write anything.
I find that myself when I go home.
It’s a different environment. Huddersfield’s not got the inspiration I needed for my novel because my novel’s set in Bath. It could be set in any city but it is a city with the city life around you, and in Huddersfield I’m in the middle of the moors so I needed to get back into this and get back into having it all around me.
That was going to be my next question; Your reasoning for coming back to Bath and what it’s like living here after living here as a student.
It’s weird because I’ve just found my own room. I have been kipping with friends and again it’s the uncertainty and while it’s fun living with friends, but it wasn’t not my space which jars writing for me.
I definitely don’t go out as much, which makes me very sad. I went out on Sunday and I got very ill, but it was like the first time I’d been out in ages so I went hard, went to Mandalyns mixed beer and wine and jägers and those really crappy shots, and it was bad. I had to clear up my own sick the day afterwards and I was like, “this is not worth the night out”.
Which is totally appropriate for this interview because with my novel vomit is present in like every chapter
I love stuff where it’s gross. A lot of novels brush over that side of things. Is that what you’re going for in your novel?
Yeah, I wanted to be realistic. Especially about the sex in it, because my novel isn’t Mills and Boon. It’s feeling gross and not shaving for weeks because sex isn’t supposed to be perfect, or smooth, and there’s fluids there. Its messy, it’s unplanned, and it happens and there’s different emotions there.
Would you say that getting that kind of realism is one of your aims as a writer?
It’s showing what life is like for a student right now that’s not being shown. It’s not copping off with someone every night, or with the most beautiful person every time, or the most beautiful personality because you make mistakes and that’s a reality and you move on.
There’s also a scene where the character loses their friend very unexpectedly and it’s based off my own friend, who died of an aneurysm, didn’t even know he just fell on a night out, and I wrote it as very sudden death. A lot of people read it and were like why does this just happen, I wanna know more, and because that’s a reality, people just die and its horrible but it happens and it needs to be shown.
So what are your goals and aims, both with Rhyme and Reason and with your novel?
Like achievable goals or dreams?
Dreams first, and then achievable goals.
I would like to have my novel published and win maybe the Galaxy Prize. Also I think it’d like to get on Radio Four because my mum and me used to listen to that. With Rhyme and Reason I’d really love to go national. And I think I’d like for one of my poems to get on Button Poetry.
And achievable goals?
Definitely Rhyme and Reason going to Fringe, which we’re actually planning.I’ve got like a few ideas of poetry videos, creating video poetry because I have an idea for my poem Hailstones. With the novel, get it finished. Within a year, year and a half, and get it sent out. Because even if its not picked up in that time at least I’ve done it
So how do you feel your degree at bath spa or just in general has helped you or is helping you now? Or not helped you?
This is a hard question. Because it’s helped me in so many ways, some of them as intended, some of them as not.
From the academic side it helped me realise that I wasn’t just a novelist, I very much had that idea when I started “I’ll have my novel written by first year and I’ll be published by third year” and it just doesn’t happen. And my second year I was like “I want to be a poet”. I hated poetry up until then. Because I’d never really been introduced to it. It was kind of that subject in school that got brushed over, like grammar. Because I’m terrible at spelling, and at grammar, but I’m also like “There’s such things as editors” and that’s another good thing about going to Spa is that not all my friends want to be writers, a lot of them want to be editors.
It also taught me that maybe getting published straight away is not the best thing because I knew a lot of people who were published by first year and they acted like they didn’t have to do any work but not being published made me try harder.
And un-academically, it taught me that I don’t have to be a certain way to be accepted, I don’t have to conform, I don’t have to go straight into what is comfortable, because risk is good. And I met some of the best people I’ve ever met in my life and if I’d’ve gotten a third that would have still been the most valuable thing to me. In the least mushy way.
Finally, tried and true, question, what writers do you admire and why?
Caitlin Moran. I’m very inspired by her and her humour is kind of like mine, like she describes in her novel a character, Big Dick Dan, like “That’s a baby’s arm, its more than a baby’s arm, its like an elephants trunk”. And that’s kind of my kind of thing.
With poetry it’s interesting because Kate Tempest inspires me to write but I don’t write like her. I kind of move towards like Neil Hilborn or Sarah Kay and I’m also very much inspired by the people who come to Rhyme and Reason which is really nice. Every year we get fresh talent, and I’m like how can I cull the young to keep me on top. I’m thinking of doing a Poetry Hunger Games just to whittle everyone down.
And I’m recently watching ‘Jessica Jones’, which is not particularly writers but I’m just finding that programme so interesting on so many levels with me. Like in the subtext of this superhero show, you have PTSD, abusive relationships, addiction, remission, relapse, and that kind of just is incredible. All these hard-hitting issues are being veiled in a superhero series. It’s inspiring. It inspires my poetry more than my novel.
Stuff like that that inspires me, like, “this is an incredible piece of art.” Inspiration comes from everywhere. One thing I will always give as advice for writers, as much as you’re told read read read and you should, inspiration is everywhere. I’m inspired by movies, by TV, by pictures, by overhead conversations, by outfits, by costumes designs in a movie I’ve seen a trailer for but I wont watch, I’m inspired by architecture, horticulture, and kind of like shop layouts. If you are observing life you are absorbing inspiration.
Our next Brew House night is less than a week away and our theme is inspiration! What inspires you? Are you inspired by the fairy lights round your fireplace? The places you went travelling? The sights, the sounds and the colours? Was it hot, was it cold? Are you inspired by penguins and teddy bears?
Or is it the teddy bear behind you could be secretly plotting your downfall that inspires you? Whatever it is, we can’t wait to hear your work!
Still struggling? Try these exercises!
201: You are Frankenstein. Write a letter to Mary Shelley thanking her.
421: You’ve accidently brought someone back from the dead. Who is it?
163: Open your poem with a bad joke – They’ve got to be worse than Nick’s jokes…
My thanks go to my ‘642 Things to Write About’ book for these ideas.
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