If you enjoy poetry and you had a fondness for David Bowie, then my guest this week, poet Clare O’Brien, may be right up your street! Clare has written a collection of poems inspired by the work of David Bowie, entitled “Who Am I Supposed To Be Driving?” As I am a big David Bowie fan, I was certainly eager to read Clare’s poems and discuss David Bowie and his music with her. Hi Clare and welcome…
Hi! I’m Clare. Originally a Londoner, I now live and write by a sea-loch in Scotland with my husband, my wolfhound and my black cat. That suits me much better! My work has most often been described as speculative, neo-noir or modern gothic, but aside from writing, my main interests are history, mythology, art and the natural world.
What was it about the work of David Bowie that gave you the inspiration to write your poetry collection – “Who Am I Supposed To Be Driving?”?
I’d loved his work since I was 14, when I first discovered him through the ‘Ziggy Stardust’ album. Like many others of my generation, I saw him on ‘Top Of The Pops’ and was instantly captivated! He was also the first artist I saw perform live onstage, and I was never the same again! Since then he’s remained an important part of my imaginative life and I’ve always admired the way he responded to challenges and to change. He adapted to different times, different tastes and to his own ageing process brilliantly and creatively. He was never predictable.
Was it difficult to pick a title for your poetry collection? Why did you choose “Who Am I Supposed To Be Driving?” and were there other title contenders?
It’s named after a spoken line of Bowie’s in an outtake from my favourite album of his, ‘1. Outside’…the outtakes are available on the internet as ‘The Leon Suites’. It seemed to reflect the range of different characters and personae he’s adopted throughout his career. That’s why I dedicated the book to “David Jones – the man behind the wheel”. I never really considered any other title once I thought of that!
I found your poems fascinating. Your book’s preface states that the poetry collection is not a critique, biography or to explain his music but “an exploration of the emotions the work creates”. Being a big Bowie fan myself, my favourite song is Heroes – so which album or song or character is your absolute favourite?
It was difficult to choose which albums to write about – I was limited to 13 as the call for submissions at Hedgehog Poetry was for a “baker’s dozen” of poems! In the end I chose ‘Low’ to represent the Berlin trilogy because it’s a big personal favourite. As for characters, the spaceman, who keeps coming back in different forms – from Major Tom to Ziggy Stardust to the Spaceboy to the dead astronaut in ‘Blackstar’ – is probably the most resonant character for me. As for songs – again, difficult to choose, but maybe ‘Ashes To Ashes’. There’s so much packed into it.
Growing up, have you always wanted to be a poet or did you have other career aspirations in mind?
I always wanted to be a writer of some sort, but for a long time I didn’t really have enough to say. I’ve worked as a teacher, a journalist, and a PR, and dabbled in music – I was in a couple of minor indie bands in the 80s. But poetry seems to be the form of writing I’m best at!
Although you have had poetry published in several anthologies, this is your first poetry collection. Was it harder or easier than you expected to compose a collection? Are there any new writing plans in the pipeline?
Actually, once I had a topic, writing the Bowie collection was easier than I thought – the ideas really flowed and I ended up surprising myself with what I had to say about the music. I’m working now on a bigger collection of poems on other subjects, called “Huginn & Muninn” after Odin’s ravens. Their names mean “thought” and “memory”. I’ve also got a novel about half finished – it’s set in the near future, and its working title is “Light Switch”.
Are you a bookworm? What is your favourite genre and/or authors? Kindle or actual book?
Absolutely!! I read all kinds of things and don’t have a particular favourite genre, although I enjoy science fiction (especially cyberpunk), historical novels, supernatural stories and folk horror. My favourite authors are probably Hilary Mantel, David Mitchell, and Alan Garner, although I recently discovered the work of the Edinburgh writer Jenni Fagan and love her novels and poetry. Other poets I keep coming back to are Ted Hughes, T.S. Eliot, R.S. Thomas and Michael Symmons Roberts. In non-fiction, I enjoy biographies and books about the natural world. I prefer real books to reading on a Kindle.
Is “Who Am I Supposed To Be Driving?” available to purchase worldwide?
Yes! You can buy it on Amazon and from lot of other online bookshops.
If you could visit any place in the world to give you inspiration for a new poetry collection or novel, where would you go and why?
Venice, I think. Before it sinks under the waves! It’s always seemed mysterious, atmospheric and unsettling, full of all kind of resonance. It’s also been the setting for some brilliant films, like ‘Don’t Look Now, ‘Death In Venice’ and ‘The Comfort Of Strangers’.
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing?
I live deep in the country, so it’s often just jeans and sweaters under a waterproof! When I venture into the city, I like vintage and slightly boho clothes rather then sticking to what’s in fashion. I love deep reds, greens and browns – autumn colour.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites ?
Nomads is a great site for ethically sourced clothes that are also hardwearing and practical as wel as pretty. I’m also tall – nearly 6ft and a size 18 – so Snag is a great place to get tights (in all the colours and patterns you can imagine) that actually fit! I also love trawling the charity shops of Edinburgh – have found so many fantastic things there.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
I’d love a pair of really stylish, sexy knee-high boots with heels! I rarely get to wear heels at home because I’d sink into the mud, and my everyday boots are sensible flat chunky things. But boots really make an outfit if you’re heading into the city in winter, especially with shorter skirts under a nice coat.
Boots or Shoes?
Boots for practicality and winter warmth. But I love a pair of stylish sandals in summer.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc
Author website (where you can order signed copies!)http://clarevobrien.weebly.com/
Buy from publisher: https://www.hedgehogpress.co.uk/product-category/for-sale/hoglets/clare-obrien/
Buy from Amazon: https://amzn.to/3KSS1AN
Who am I supposed to be driving? by Clare O’Brien is available now
ISBN: 978 191349 912 9 Paperback Hedgehog Poetry Press 2022 RRP: £7.99
Available through booksellers, the publisher & clareobrien.weebly.com.
Thank you Clare for a fascinating insight into the music world of David Bowie via poetry. Thank you also for the review copy of “Who Am I Supposed To Be Driving?”….. a oh yes, I agree with you about boots! 😜
All photographs have been published with kind permission from Clare O’Brien.
“Who Am I Supposed To Be Driving?” Book cover was designed by Clare’s son, Edinburgh based illustrator Ruairdhri Wright.