This month, I caught up with Lisa – freelance writer, 26 board member and self-confessed magpie. Always brimming with ideas, Lisa was instrumental in leading our Armistice project, and shares an insight into her early love of words, her writing career, and what she’s working on now.
Tell us a bit about yourself – where are you from and what do you do?
I was born in London and raised all over the place – Dad worked abroad most of my childhood. I started out on my student newspaper and worked as a staff writer and editor for all sorts ever since – celebrity magazines, film websites, corporate editorial, speeches, brochures. These days I’m freelance and a bit of magpie – I’ll happily write about most things and edit almost anything. I’m also the co-editor of all the sins, a digital literary and arts magazine, alongside fellow 26er Sinéad Keegan.
Where did your love of words come from?
They were always there. Probably because Dad read to me and my sister at night from a young age, everything from Winnie the Pooh to The Hobbit. I don’t remember learning to read, just being able to.
We lived in China in the 1980s and there wasn’t a lot of other entertainment (well, a Wham! concert, but that’s another story) so reading was my thing. I’d get up an hour before everyone else just to read The Famous Five or Nancy Drew.
I wrote from an early age, too. There were a lot of poems about Halloween, birthdays, Christmas. Give me a seasonal or life event and I can pen you a dodgy poem.
What made you join 26? And how long have you been a member?
I met John Simmons just as I was going freelance, who told me about 26. I had no external network and no clue what I was doing, so I signed up. I discovered this incredible group of people who love words as much as I do.
I’ve since become a member of the board, which is a completely new experience. We meet (mostly via Zoom these days) four times a year to discuss the direction of the organisation, new project ideas. Anyone in 26 can propose a project – you just need a board sponsor to put it forward for you. So if you have suggestions, you know where I am…
Have you been involved in any 26 projects?
I’ve written for 26 Trees and am now helping to organise the forthcoming 26 Wild project. But Armistice was my first project. I’d written a piece about Picasso’s painting ‘Guernica’. It included interviews with John about his novel Spanish Crossings, and a curator at Imperial War Museums about an exhibition on protest art. John had an idea, we got talking, I dropped a speculative line to the IWM press officer. The rest is history. I’m incredibly proud of the fact that the project won a Drum Design Award and now sits in the UK’s National Archives.
What’s your ideal scenario for writing? (A coffee shop? Quiet retreat? With or without music? What do you do to get yourself in the right frame of mind?)
I’m a ‘room of one’s own’ kind of writer. I’m lucky enough to have my own study and it’s either completely quiet or I’m listening to rain on a rooftop, via a phone app. I do dream of a shed in the woods.
What are you working on at the moment?
Lots for 26 – EYE:SPY for Bloomsbury Festival, 26 Weeks, A Common Place and Fine Cell Work.
I’ve been working on a historical novel for a long time. It’s been written, sent out, rewritten, sent out again. I try to remember Sylvia Plath’s line ‘I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.’ I’m not sure about love, but she has a point.
I’ve also gone back to poetry and 26 Wild has opened up a whole world of nature reading, which I think is turning into nature writing. Magpie.
Could you tell us about a piece of writing you’re particularly proud of?
The first piece I ever wrote for Gair Rhydd (Cardiff’s student newspaper). Despite the event poems, I stopped writing as a teenager after some very destructive feedback from a teacher.
At uni I had an urge to try again but told myself that if they didn’t publish my first piece I’d never go back. I’m a bit all or nothing! They didn’t publish it, so I skipped the next meeting. I had no idea how newspapers worked (let alone student newspapers run on love and red bull) and since I’d written a feature it had a longer shelf life. Week two – there it was.
It wasn’t necessarily the best piece of writing but it unlocked a whole world. I spent the next two years working almost full-time in this amazing environment, which got me the interview with Heat, which kickstarted a career that I wouldn’t have considered because of a stupid piece of feedback.
Where do you get your inspiration?
Ahh, the inspiration question. Everywhere? Out my window, in the book I’m reading, my niece and nephew, history, the kestrel in the park, random characters wandering through my head. I think it’s about being alive to the world around you – like a window in my head that I have to remember to open.
In a way the inspiration is easy – life is peculiar, people are fascinating, nature is extraordinary – it’s what you do with it that counts. I have a section of Mary Oliver’s poem ‘Sometimes’ on my wall: ‘Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.’ The telling is the hard part, but when you get it right…
– Lisa Andrews, interviewed by Sophie Gordon
We’ll be meeting a new 26 member each month. If you’d like to feature, or nominate another member, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Don’t be shy.