Friends of TLM | An Interview with Rachel Hurd-Wood

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The first in our new interview series – Friends of The London Magazine

Rachel Hurd-Wood is an actress and writer who has been published in The London Magazine with both poetry and an essay. We stopped by for a festive chat about writing, London and Destiny’s Child!

How would you describe yourself to our readers?
I am a 27 year old young woman who lives in Camden. I’ve been an actress for 15 years and a writer forever, and I’m now thinking about changing careers… that’s the headline I suppose.

How did you first get involved with The London Magazine?
I’m doing a degree with the Open University and I took a course on creative writing which Steven O’Brien [TLM Editor] was a tutor for. One of the things I’d written, he absolutely tore into – he was absolutely right to do so, I thought I’d written this incredible collection of poetry and he disagreed! But another thing I wrote he did like, and I’d upped my game by that point, so he got in touch and that was how I became involved with the magazine.

What inspired you to start writing?
I was thinking about this the other day, I think it was listening to Destiny’s Child when I was younger and not being able to relate to the song lyrics because I hadn’t experienced all of these love affairs and situations. I just felt increasingly frustrated at all of these song lyrics that didn’t quite resonate because they weren’t mirroring the experiences that I was having – we’re talking about an 8 or 9 year old child. So I started writing to create my own thing that I was looking for.

You’ve written both poetry and essays for us, and I know you write short stories as well. Do you have a preferred form?
I love writing poems because the turnover’s quick and that’s quite satisfying. I think having the economy of word is an interesting way to express yourself. I find that being able to distil ideas is quite satisfying. I don’t know how anyone writes novels or books, the idea of it is terrifying because it just feels like so much space. I feel less daunted by 10 lines than however many lines in a book. I do enjoy prose though, you have more freedom with how you tell the story, and you don’t have to be quite so particular. I guess the form that you use depends on the feeling you’re trying to express.

 What do you enjoy reading?
I love anything written by women. I love Charles Bukowski as well, and tons of writers who have a comic turn of phrase. In particular it would just have to be Dorothy Parker who would be my absolute all-time heroine. From the second I discovered her, I think it was her poem about suicide [Resumé] that I read and it just sparked something. It was like finding your soulmate, this aliveness from finding a woman who so encapsulated the things that I wanted to express in such a painfully hilarious way. I lent her book to my friend and he said that it was like “being tickled by heartache”, which is such a perfect way to describe the effect her words have on me.

What’s your favourite thing to read?
It would be a complete tie between three, if that’s allowed. Dorothy Parker’s Collected Short Stories or Collected Poems, either of those two are an absolute go-to. There’s another book which is perhaps less classy, but I don’t care – it’s called Apathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan. Every time I read it I cry laughing, it’s so funny, I’ve no idea why it’s not more well-known.

What are your best writing tips?
For people who have it in them but who are reticent to start, they tend to have this fear of failure or of not being perfect. There’s no time for perfectionism, better to get something done that’s good and be done with it. You can always improve it later, so just getting out of your own way is the best thing. I get in my head about things but doing free-writes are so helpful. Use that stream of consciousness when you feel a bit stuck, and before you know it you’ve written a page and you don’t feel so daunted by the idea of writing more and building on it.

You’ve lived in London pretty much your whole life- is there a place you go to get inspired?
Out of London! I find the thoughts come best when I can feel peaceful, so London is quite tricky for that. For me it’s always more about the feelings. Sometimes if I’m on the tube and another passenger p*sses me off, that’s inspiring a feeling of rage and you think “what could I use this as a metaphor for”, you know? But really any sort of park is perfect. My friend gave me a key to a secret garden in Notting Hill, it’s one of those residential things that I definitely shouldn’t have the key for but I absolutely do and it’s so beautiful. Because cities are made of synthetic materials so everything is very still, when you sit in the park and you look at ants crawling or the wind blowing the trees, everything just settles. It’s that whole thing in meditation where you have a riverbed and everything at the bottom is swirled up, so when it settles you can see really clearly and then the good old inspiration comes!

What’s next for you?
I honestly don’t know! My degree finishes in May and I do want to do more creative writing but I don’t really know, it all just feels very open. Writing does feel like a bit of a lifeline though. It’s quite nice to have a big back catalogue of old poems and diary entries and bits of prose and things, going back to that and seeing your own thoughts is just such a comforting thing. I think that’s the one constant that will always be there.

Rachel Hurd-Wood was published in our December 2014/January 2015 issue and June/July 2016 issue. If you’d like to read her contributions you can order a copy here.