An Interview With Claudine Toutoungi - National Poetry Day 2017
In celebration of National Poetry Day 2017 and the release of her brilliant book Smoothie, we interviewed friend and incredibly talented writer, Claudine Toutoungi.
Smoothie is Claudine’s debut collection of poems, and though we want you to judge and experience it for yourselves, here is what poet Mark Waldron had to say:
“One way of judging a book is by whether it stays with you after you've read it. This is a book that does. Perhaps that's because it's peculiarly vivid. Perhaps it's because it has genuine wit, or because of its lightness of touch, or its sophistication or inventiveness, or the rigour of the logic that holds the poems together. But actually I think it's because it also has a kind of unafraid honesty, a quality completely unrelated to the skill of writing, but so crucial to the best poetry.”
Alongside this interview, make sure you check out our giveaway competition on our Facebook page - you could win a copy of Claudine’s ‘Smoothie’ and a print to celebrate the book’s launch that has been exclusively designed and created by us.
We’d like to take this opportunity to thank Claudine for taking the time to talk to us, and we look forward to seeing Smoothie’s inevitable success.
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Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into writing...
Growing up I was always in plays and/or seeing plays. My father acted a great deal in our local town theatre, so I had a steady diet of Shakespeare, Stoppard, Dorfman, Miller – the lot from an early age and lapped it up and acted at school, university and then at LAMDA. Poem-wise, there was an early one about a pancake which went quite well but I may have peaked too soon, as not much poetry then came along for about a decade. I was always smitten with words, though. After drama school I worked, for a while as a radio drama producer for the BBC. Hearing exceptional actors like Claire Skinner, David Tennant, John Hurt and Victoria Hamilton make their scripts sing definitely pushed me further towards wanting to write my own work.
Tell us a bit about Smoothie?
It’s a playful and soulful look at the games we play with language and it plays with us. There are smooth talkers in the book (a melancholic language-robot, an anarchic audio-guide) but a lot of more intimate voices also, stirring up language’s smooth surface with their riffs on role-play, loneliness and desire. It’s also got a smoothie in it and a lot of other beverages. This was inadvertent. I’m quite a thirsty person.
Do you remember the first thing you wrote, and when did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
When I was about seven I wrote a very long story about bears. I remember I wrote it on my parents’ blue notepaper that they used for business letters and I had a little old-fashioned desk with a lid that I stuck in the middle of my bedroom and stayed put for a good long while, ignoring my siblings, writing my epic. It went on for ages. My poor teacher had to make her way through a lot of notepaper. At one point, I think the bears put out a fire by spitting on it. Even then, I suspected this was a flawed plot-device, but I was determined to push on and the satisfaction at getting my bears to the end of their quest (the point of which is lost in time) was massive. Something about the pleasure of being swallowed up by the writing process must have kicked in, back then.
What is your favourite bookish quote?
I’m not sure if it counts as a bookish quote but I very much like P.G.Wodehouse’s : “I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled."
Poe or Plath?
Plath, though I like both. But Ariel is such an astonishing, eerie collection that seems to get into your marrow, particularly if you ever hear the poems read by Plath in the audio that still exists, so I have to say her. Sorry Poe.
Desert Island Books? 3 books, poems and plays that mean the most to you?
Books: Beloved (Toni Morrison), Catcher in the Rye (J.D.Salinger), any collection of Alice Munro short stories.
Poems: The Geranium (Theodore Roethke), Into the Hour (Elizabeth Jennings), The Circus (Kenneth Koch)
Plays: -There are too many (true of all categories!) – three at random: The Aliens (Annie Baker), King Lear, The Suicide (Nikolai Erdman).
What does being creative mean to you?
Saying yes to the crazy sparks and odd lines that arrive unannounced.
Do you have any quirky writing habits?
Tea. And jaffa cakes. And more tea.
What have you got coming up next?
I’m looking forward to reading from Smoothie at a few different places and am working on another couple of new script ideas.
And finally, the most important question. Do you fold down the corner or use a bookmark?
I have a good array of diverse bookmarks, including a blue seahorse one which is a particular favourite.
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If you’d like to grab a copy of Claudine Toutoungi’s ‘Smoothie’ , published by Carcanet Press, you can do so here.