The Monthly interviews New Zealand writer and poet, Sophie Procter

When does the writing start?

I was always making up stories. My parents told me that I had a vivid imagination and I would make up stories before I could actually write. When I went to school when we were asked to write stories, mostly people would write about what happened to them on the weekend or things about their family. I would write stories and once I wrote that my dog was competing in a dog show and won a gold medal and the teacher asked my mum about it and of course my mum didn’t know anything about it, so I have always created my own stories.

What about poetry?

I wrote poetry as a teenager, the kind of poetry that you write when you are a teenager. Then about 7 years ago I discovered Poetry Live, (an Open Mic event in Auckland, now in its 41st year) and that shifted everything. I found a lot of inspiration at Poetry Live and that has moved my writing on to another level.

Were you supported at home or at school?

My parents are both teachers and so they are hugely supportive of anything that I do involving writing. I was very lucky that I went to a High School which had a couple of teachers who were really passionate about creative writing. They effectively created a course which was specifically for creative writing and they were able to get that course as part of the curriculum where it was assessed and I was part of that for the last two years of high school.

That was amazing and it made me feel that writing was something that I could do, that you could think about writing as a career. I knew that writing for a living was something that was going to be hard to do, maybe not impossible, but certainly hard to do.

You had writers visit your school as part of the course?

Yes we did. One writer who made a real impression on me was Tusiata Avia and she came to the school and she read some of her poetry. I think she had a new book that had just been published and I remember thinking that was so cool and I followed her work for a while and every time her name comes up in the news I remember when she came to our school.

How do you go forward from there?

I went to University and studied art history which was another subject area I was really passionate about. With regards my writing, firstly I got a job in the hospitality industry and that is where I worked for 13 years, until I recently got a job as a copywriter.

I can say that working in hospitality is very good for observing characters and providing material for stories but I knew that I needed at some point to get into an industry that was directly connected to writing.

Now I am constantly writing, using my skills as a writer and developing my skills as well.

What about your writing. What are you trying to achieve?

I am trying to write in a literary way without being overly academic or abstract. I try to find beautiful words and I aim to grip the imagination with those words but I do want people to be able to understand what I am talking about. I think I work towards a mixture of literary and performance aspects when I write.

Since I have been going to Poetry Live events I have been paying a lot more attention to the sound of words. When I read poetry books now I will often read them out loud to listen to the sounds of the words; that is certainly something that has come from being part of Poetry Live.

Is there a tension between those two elements, page and stage?

Yes and no. I don’t like being talked down to and I don’t like talking down to people so I really am aiming to pull together an intellectual element with the sense of immediacy which performance poetry offers.

I am a huge fan of stand-up comedy and in some ways I wish I was a stand-up comedian. I am trying to offer not so much comedy but more that authentic method of delivery. I want to connect with people but I want to offer something which people have to think about. I think stand-up comedians, especially the good ones, do that and I am definitely influenced by that approach.

Where to now?

We have a lot of good writers in New Zealand and we are quite a small community and that can make very difficult to get noticed. I think I am just starting to create the space where I can write a lot more, I can enter competitions, and at some point I am hoping to publish my own work.

I am also considering paying a lot more attention to building an online presence, perhaps moving towards having my own blog or website. I have never been much of a self-promoter and I am looking at that side of the process and from there just keep being committed to my own writing.

Sophie was part of the INternational Page and Stage event, “From Opposite Ends of The Earth” in JJUne 2020 – Her set can be found 9 minutes in to the event.


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