We couldn’t be happier to welcome the T. S Eliot Prize-winning poet Jen Hadfield to The Book Blog. Jen, who spoke to us by email from her home in Shetland, recently selected Stromness Books & Prints as her favourite bookshop for the Christmas edition of Scotland’s national poet Jackie Kay’s popular online show Makar to Makar. Jen’s writing features in the recent Antlers of Water anthology, edited by Kathleen Jamie; her latest collection of poetry, The Stone Age, will be published in March.
Follow her on twitter: @hadfield_jen.
Welcome, Jen. And thank you for choosing us as your favourite bookshop! How often do you visit – and why do you like it so much?
Every time I pop down to Orkney, which obviously can’t happen very often at the moment! I love the fact that I always come innocently through the door thinking I’ll leave unscathed, and then find myself at the counter with an armful of surprises. Last time it was Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa, if I remember right!
Could you tell us about your latest book, and what you’re working on right now?
At the moment I’m writing a book of lyrical essays about Shetland – juggling that with house-building and teaching is proving quite a challenge though! My new poetry collection, The Stone Age, is due out with Picador in March.
Do you read one-book-at-a-time… or are you a promiscuous reader, leaping from text to text according to whim?
As a creative writing tutor and mentor, there’s always a lot on my desk and I’m always reading several things at once. At the moment I’m immersed in the longlist for the Highland Book Prize which I’m a judge for this year: currently I’m enjoying The Lost Lights of St Kilda.
Do you have strong preferences for fiction or non-fiction? Any particular genres that you favour above all else?
I love lyrical essays and creative non-fiction with my all-time favourite being Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. It’s the kind of thing I read in the morning when I have a bit more wit! I also love a real storybook at bedtime. I’m extremely fussy about poetry!
What are the new books out this year that you are particularly excited about?
I’m really looking forward to Sea Bean by the Shetland author Sally Huband.
What are your favourite books about the Northern Isles?
A lot of contemporary natural history at the moment! Discover Shetland’s Birds: A Photographic Guide to Shetland’s Breeding, Wintering and Migrant Birds by Harvey and Nason, and the photographer Richard Shucksmith’s beautiful title Otters in Shetland: The Tale of the Draatsi.
Do you keep your books pristine, or do you write on them, fold down pages and otherwise deface them?
One thing I love about Stromness Books and Prints is that you stock both secondhand and new titles. Perhaps surprisingly for a writer, I really prefer to buy second-hand, because I love the thought that the books have had a previous life. And then I don’t feel like I need to be too fussy with them!
What books are on your bedside table right now?
Here’s a photo!
And finally… what book or books do you press into other people’s hands at any opportunity?
Selected Poems, by Sharon Olds; Pilgrim At Tinker’s Creek, by Annie Dillard; A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving; Cannery Row, by John Steinbeck; and Wiliam Morris’s Icelandic Journals.
Interview by Cal Flyn