Cultured Vultures were recently kind enough to feature an interview with me, and even included some of my poems. Check out the interview below, or just scroll down for some poetry! To see the original publication, take a look at Cultured Vultures.
Who are you, where are you from, and what makes you tick?
My name is Mari Ellis Dunning. I’m from South Wales, but at the moment I live in Aberystwyth, where I’m studying for an MA in Creative Writing. What makes me tick? I guess I’d have to say a really good book – (page turners like novels by Ruth Dugdall are always great), chocolate, and time in the sun!
Why do you write? What got you started?
I’ve written bits and bobs since I was a child, but I suppose what really got me started was the need to spill out my teenage angst at about thirteen! I wrote a lot of poetry at that time, and since then writing has always been my escape.
Who are your biggest influences? Inside and out of literature.
This kind of question makes my mind go immediately blank! Inside of literature, I love the work of Bret Easton Ellis, Ruth Dugdall, Fitzgerald, Charlaine Harris and Niall Griffiths – just from the top of my head! Outside of literature, I’m influenced by people who go through tough times and come out fighting. People like my friend Emily, who recently battled cancer, and other friends who’ve struggled with mental health issues but pulled through. I have a lot of respect for people who try to help others around them – for example, my boyfriend is a nurse and I see the amount of care he so willingly gives to strangers, and it astounds me.
What would be your favourite poem?
What a cruel question! There are so many… I think I’d have to go with ‘Elm’ by Sylvia Plath.
Top five novels/story collections?
Okay, I’m going to fire these out before I can change my mind –
Less than Zero, Bret Easton Ellis
American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis
The Lovely Bones, Alice Seabold
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Harry Potter novels
Do you have a favourite song lyric?
This is also very difficult – good songs can be like poetry. Ed Sheeran’s lyrics are especially clever and often very touching. The song I have in my mind at the moment is Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill.’
‘If I only could/ make a deal with God/ and get him to swap our places/ I’d be running up that road/ running up that hill / running up that building.’
What inspires you/where do you find inspiration most? Are there any themes you feel particular affinity for? Political, personal, etc.
I tend to find inspiration from a mixture of day-to-day life and from reading literature. I like to write about ordinary people, and have a particular affinity for psychological stories and mental health issues. I think reading and writing are great ways to work through mental disorders, and I try to address that in my work. I don’t believe in censorship and won’t shy away from anything in my writing.
Do you have a specific technique, or routine to your writing?
Not particularly. I tend to write what comes to me, when it comes! At the moment, with the MA course, we are held to deadlines and wordcounts, which can be quite restrictive, but I think maybe I need that sort of pressure to get the work finished and to standard!
Where are you with your writing right now?
I have a collection, called ‘Between the Sheets’, available to download from Amazon. It’s a chapbook filled with adaptations of fairy tales, from Sleeping Beauty to Snow White. I have a poem published in an anthology edited by Jon Gower, and another two online in Female First magazine. I publish a few bits on my blog, but most of the good stuff has to be kept off there in order to get it into proper publications! I’ve recently submitted a few poems to the New Welsh Review, another to a new magazine called Aviary, and a collection to the Faber Young Poets Competition, so hopefully you’ll be seeing more of me soon! I’ve also written many cultural reviews for NWR, blog posts for indycube CIC, a skin care company called Natural Dermatology and also regularly review new releases for independent publishing house Legend Press. Along with a few other students, I’m working on editing an anthology of Aberystwyth-based creative writing, which will be released this April.
What are your plans for the future? What’s the ultimate goal?
Ideally, I’d like to work in the publishing industry. Unfortunately, there aren’t huge amounts to be made from fiction, and less to made from poetry. I’m aware of that, and as such, would love to subsidise my writing by working as an editor or a literary agent. Seeing my name printed on a book cover would be amazing though! I’d rather do something I love and feel passionate about for less money, than something I can’t stand that pays more.
What advice would you give to aspiring writers?
I’d advise any aspiring writers to follow their dreams, as cliched as that may sound! It’s important to believe in yourself. You don’t have to be caught up in a 9-5 day job if you don’t want to. Reading as much as you can is important, if you want to write well, as is living life and taking note of any experience, big or small. I’d also recommend having a trusted friend look over your work. Listening to feedback is essential. There’s no point in being precious about it.
Well, that’s the amazing Mari for you, and on the next page are some amazing examples of her work. Read on!
In 1956, Patricia and Barbara Grimes disappeared from their home town following a screening of the Elvis Presley movie, Love Me Tender. Their bodies were found a month later, but the mystery of their murder remains unsolved.
Their bodies were cast side by side,
stripped bare naked as foetuses
tucked together in the frosted womb
of the roadside.
An unwelcome discovery, the ivory girls
were stumbled on by a construction worker
following the tell-tale whisper of thaw and rain;
neatly folded behind a guard rail
that did not guard.
Barbara was an embryo lying on her left side,
knees pulled up towards her chin,
Her younger sister lay sprawled on her back
bruised and bitten,
Patricia was shrunken in the folds.
How long had they lain there,
rats gnawing their toes and bare belly buttons?
Three puncture wounds pierced Barbara’s chest –
an abrasion for each week the girls
Days before, the ex-truck driver
idol of young girls
called for the sisters to come home,
but even the pleas of The King could not reach
the death-clogged ears of two
stifled and worn.
Confined to silence they lay stiff on metal slabs,
their ice blankets melted and pooled
around dead bodies, yellowing
in the stillness.
Pubescent stomachs exposed themselves to the prying
eyes of pathologists, whose steady blade
drew a map from Brighton Theatre
to Willow Springs, revealing half-spent popcorn,
hot dogs, semen.
For sisters accustomed to the soft dulcet tones
of Mississippi vocals, the quiet was endless.
The brightly lit vowels of your name danced
across the room and squared with mine.
From September to July, we sat, side-by-side,
trading algebraic secrets and learning the shapes
of one another.
That year, I learned the accidental touch of fabric
under a too-small table, the hardness of plastic chairs,
the softness of your presence.
I learned the tinted embarrassment of schoolgirl
silliness, a braking voice.
I learned that you, in your wholesome teenage
solidness, were equal to the
pieces of myself.
On my left wrist, an inky black heart;
It pulses grows to life like a swollen balloon,
and sucks death inwards
with every beat of its counterpart.
A souvenir from Spain;
It bulges swells like an embryo embedded accidentally,
flattens like an empty belly,
a black stain on white flesh.