Poet and performer, Maz Hedgehog, discusses the making of her debut poetry collection, Vivat Regina, and tells us why she chose the world of the fae as her inspiration.
When, in a phone call back in 2013, my sister said ‘I have an idea’ I wasn’t surprised. She often has ideas. In fact, I’d called banking on her endless fount of creativity helping me procrastinate university coursework. ‘Imagine,’ she said, unrestrained glee evident in her voice. ‘Imagine if the fairy queen was human. What if she entered the world of the fae to gain power she couldn’t as a human and just wrecked the place?’ I latched onto the idea immediately and we talked about it non-stop, adding to the concept until it became an impossibly unwieldly behemoth, with so many branching timelines and interconnected universes (Arthurian Legend, Disney Movies and Star Trek, to be specific) that it would be entirely impossible to actually write. But writing it was never the point; I’ve lost count of the number of conversations we’ve had that spin out stories and worlds just for the fun of it, without the pressure of actual viability.
Unlike our other concepts (which include ‘What if the Borg aren’t evil?’ and ‘What if Elon Musk made a Mars colony that collapsed?’) we didn’t drop this one after a couple days. It grew and grew, and became ever more seductive to me until, in the spring of 2017, I knew I had to write it. I, however, am not a novelist; prose and I aren’t exactly the dearest of friends. But poetry I can do, and narrative poetry is my wheelhouse. Besides, faeries are a little wild, a lot strange, and almost entirely unknowable. The inherent ambiguity and flexibility of poetry would be perfect, right? How hard could it be?
I sat myself down in front of my laptop and pulled together the poems I’d already written about faeries, the ones that could be stitched together into a loose narrative. I knew I wanted to write about imperialism and about whiteness because both subjects have long fascinated me. I knew I wanted to create a villain protagonist, because they are by far my favourite characters to write. At the time, I knew I wanted to draw inspiration from the likes of Shakespeare, Robin McKinley and Neil Gaiman, alongside classic faerie tales and Catholic iconography. Beyond that, I was feeling my way through, with no idea of just how hard it would be.
My ignorance was my friend; I’m sure if I knew that I’d go through around 20 drafts before I even started to submit to publishers I would have stopped before I got going. If I had any idea how different the finished product would be to the first draft and how long it would take to make ready for publication, I would have blanched and stuck to something much easier. But I was ignorant, and a little arrogant. So I wrote, crafting and discarding poems at a rate of up to 4 a week. I googled folk tales I’d heard years ago, trying to figure out if anyone else may have heard of them. I researched heraldry and the language of flowers, because I wanted the whole book to have a vaguely medieval, vaguely 19thc sense of timelessness. The collection needed to feel like The Past, without being bound to any specific time period. To procrastinate, I wasted time formatting the poems in Microsoft Publisher, trying to make the much unfinished, not terribly good manuscript look pretty whilst knowing precisely nothing about type-setting.
The whole process was frustrating and challenging, and without a doubt the most fun I’d ever had writing anything. I could feel the faerie queen and king taking shape, took great joy in figuring out the members of their court and trying to layer metaphors on imagery in a way that makes the world feel both real and utterly impossible. It took around 8 weeks from the first draft to the point that I was happy to send it off. Then came rejections, so many rejections. So many I would wince every time I got a notification for a new email. Depression set in, and I spent many an evening crying at my parents/sisters/brother/pillow about how I was never going to get published by anyone ever. They were all very supportive and gently encouraging, reminding me that rejection is a part of life and Rome wasn’t built in a day and other similarly apt sayings.
I was about ready to give up on finding a publisher and go it alone when an acquaintance asked if I’d like to submit to a chapbook competition she was helping judge. I leapt at the chance. Even better, I won! I’d made it, I thought. The hard work was done, I assumed. You’d think that by then I’d have learned my lesson.
Editing made the writing process look like a walk in the park. My editor asked if I’d read the 16thc epic poem, The Faerie Queene, by Edmund Spenser, because my book reminded him of it. I had not even heard of it. At that moment, faced with the yawning chasm of my ignorance, I knew I was entirely out of my depth. But he was ever supportive, and encouraged me to read it and use it to flesh out the narrative. I wanted to critique constructed history and politicised cultural memory, and here was a perfect example of just that. I read (some) of it, making copious notes as I went and knew that my work would be so much richer for it. After I presented the redrafted version, he spent the summer outlining the weaknesses and praising the strengths of the book, giving me the guidance I needed to it ready for publication. With his help, I cut some of my favourite poems, completely rewrote others that I’d previously thought were finished, and wrote some entirely new pieces. All the while, my other sister picked up a paintbrush and slowly but steadily worked to produce the utterly sublime cover painting.
And now, close to 2 years after I first thought how hard could writing a chapbook be? I know that it’s really bloody difficult. I know that I was entirely out of my depth, but I swam anyway. I know that I had amazing people providing me with life rafts and rescue boats. I know that I was lucky. I know that I can do this again, that I will do this again. I know that this is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I know that I would encourage any poet to do the same.
Vivat Regina was a labour of love. It took everything I had to give and then some. Now, for all its flaws, it is beautiful. All I can do is hope readers see the beauty in it as well.
Maz Hedgehog’s debut poetry collection, Vivat Regina, is published by Superbia Books and will be available to purchase on the 28th February here. Lucy Writers is currently reviewing the collection, but in the meantime you can read more about Maz here and here.