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Craig Smith, London Independent Story Prize 2024 1st Competition Poetry Finalist 'Swimming and Dreaming'

London Independent Story Prize 2024 1st Competition Poetry Finalist 'Swimming and Dreaming' Craig Smith


- Can you please tell us about you and your daily life?

I work for a publisher of computer science books.


- When and how did you get into writing?

When I was 15, I was two assignments short for my English Language 16+ qualification. I could see my friends in the school field, playing football, and I was desperate to join them, but my mum insisted I finish the assignments before going out to play. I rattled off two poems, thinking they would be a lot quicker to write than an essay or a story, and was out in the field within a half an hour. When I handed in my assignment, my teacher said, 'You like writing poems, don't you.' And I realised I did. So I kept writing.

I was lucky that Peter Sansom had just started the workshops that would soon become the Poetry Business in my hometown of Huddersfield. I became a regular, receiving brilliant feedback, encouragement, and a community of counterparts to hang out with and swap work with. I wrote about this time for the Mechanics' Institute Review:

I was one half of the fifth Poetry Business pamphlet, L.O.V.E. Love, along with the astoundingly talented Jackie Stead. Later, Rue Bella published my long poem, A Quick Word With A Rock and Roll Late Starter.

I recently completed the MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, which was a great experience, and developed my writing immeasurably.


- How often do you write? Do you have a writing routine? And what inspires you to write?

Each morning, before work, I walk to my local coffee shop for an hour (Estate in Streatham Vale) to write. I find routine is conducive to writing.

My favourite time to edit is at night, with the day behind me. It seems to be the time when I best concentrate.


- How does it feel to have your work recognised?

I would write whether I get published or not, but getting published is always the goal. There's a validation in seeing my work in print (online or on paper - both are good). It spurs me on.


- What's the best and most challenging thing about writing a Poetry?

Editing. The first draft is just a starting point. It's all about the edit for me. I work very, very hard at improving everything I've written, letting frustration be my guide. I won't stop working on a piece until I'm completely happy with it.


- How did you develop the idea for your LISP-selected poem? Is there a story behind your poem? And, how long have you been working on it?

I was swimming at the leisure centre in Streatham, when the idea came to me. A million thoughts go through your head while in the pool, but it can be a frustration that they can't be written down, there and then. After my swim, I walked to the Rookery in Streatham Common for my lunch, and put down the first draft of Swimming and Dreaming.


- Can you please give us a few tips about writing Poetry?

-> Read. You can't be a good writer without reading other people's work.

-> Get yourself a gang of counterparts to try ideas out on, encourage each other, egg each other on.

-> The best writers are mostly the ones who work hardest at it.

-> Edit!!!


- What's the best thing and the most challenging thing about competitions? 

Ostensibly, creativity cannot be judged in competition, yet there are plenty of art competitions that we take to our hearts: the music charts, the Oscars, the Turner prize, for example. Provided we don't take them too seriously, they can be fun and productive, and they can unearth and highlight wonderful writing that we wouldn't otherwise encounter.


- Lastly, do you recommend the writers submit to LISP?

I encouraged my writer pal, Katy Severson, to submit to LISP, and her story was accepted, which is wonderful! Katy is in my gang of counterparts. I value her opinion about my writing.


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