I was born in Cwmbran, Wales and moved to Durham, in the North of England, when I was very young but I don’t have any memories of living in either of these. I then lived all around North and West Yorkshire. You readers might be familiar with it being the home of the 1970 film adaptation of The Railway Children, which used the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway. I lived in Keighley for eight years. Or notably, the Bronte’s were from Haworth, which wasn’t far from Keighley and incidentally where my now husband lived (before we met). It is Yorkshire that I have all my pre-adult memories of and where my family still live. It gifted me my accent, which sticks no matter how far away I get or for how long.
What is the greatest thing about the place you call home?
The greatest thing from Yorkshire is obviously a tie between Betty’s Tea Shops and Yorkshire puddings, but I can’t say I call Yorkshire my home anymore. The place I feel the strongest connection to is Leicester in the Midlands. This is because I chose it. No-one expected me to go to university and the decision to do it wasn’t an easy one to make or carry through with, but the fact I did means it will always be special place to me. It is also where I had my first full-time job, where I got married and where my husband and I bought our first home together. Leicester is multi-cultural, more so than anywhere else I’ve lived, and it bleeds through into the experiences you can have there and, I think, the way people accept and interact with each other. The greatest thing though is the incredible people that still live there, our friends who we miss every day and don’t get to see anywhere near as often as we’d like. Oh, and there’s pretty good shopping.
What turns you on creatively?
Can I say creativity itself? Is that allowed? Well, I’m doing it. I lectured in forensic psychology for over nine years. The bit I loved was finding innovative ways of getting students immersed in the content. They could all read the academic journals, merely passing them information was pointless, they had to appreciate the application, change the way they engaged or understood a concept. I pushed and pushed to transform thinking as opposed to simply imparting knowledge. I ran simulations of crime investigations, creating crime reports, victim statements, fake news broadcasts. I turned classrooms into probation offices. I even made boardgames based around lecture content. It was the part of the job that made me feel like I was being paid to play, I thrived off the energy of it and it was so rewarding to see the change in their work, hear their feedback and get nominated by them for teaching awards.
Transforming how someone thinks is what creativity can accomplish. When I write I like to challenge myself, just like in teaching and learning, you don’t learn best in your comfort zone, there needs to be an element of challenge. So, when Spillwords runs a themed call, like 13 days of Halloween, when I spot a micro challenge or a prompt-based challenge, something that pushes me out of that comfort zone, I am all in. I find that the result is generally something I surprise myself with, a genre I never thought I could write, a technique I didn’t know I could perfect. Whatever, it’s all about pushing myself, developing and extending my skills repertoire.
What is your favorite word, and can you use it in a poetic sentence?
How can I possibly choose just one word and leave all the other ones out? I’ll let you into a secret…as a child I was criticised by a relative for my ‘restricted vocabulary,’ a teacher even accused me of copying because I used the word ‘panoramic‘ in my written work. I have always found confidence in writing, it offers time and scope to mould whatever I was doing into something I was proud of, to use words that I probably couldn’t pronounce properly. I grew up in a council estate, where speaking ‘posh‘ or appearing a ‘swot‘ was something to be ridiculed and bullied out of you. So, my love of words remained a bit of a secret affair until I started creative writing about two years ago.
So, do I have a favourite word? No, I love words, I love the way they sound, how playing with them within sentence constructions changes their meaning, how they can arouse images and memories. I can have a new favourite word every twenty minutes because I’m always discovering them. I’m part of a little circle of writing peers, we all beta read for each other and it’s basically a support group where we celebrate each other’s successes and come together to blame the judges when we fail (of course I’m kidding, we only have the utmost respect for judges and are just delighted to be part of the process). Anyway, because of these talented friends I get to read stories in genres I’d never self-select and am exposed to new words all the time, for example this week I learned ‘hidebound’. Psychology brings me new, cool, fun to say and impossible to spell words all the time, such as ‘plethysmograph’, ‘galvanic’, ‘biopsychosocial’. It’s endless.
More than anything though, I am obsessed with how language is context-dependent, how fluid, and dynamic it is. It changes as we change, it bonds cultures and sub-cultures together and keeps them apart (e.g. use of slang by young people designed to baffle us oldies; slang used for drugs and drug use paraphernalia partly to keep illegal behaviour hidden). If it isn’t used like untrodden neural pathways in our brains, it dies out. It is brutal, thriving and astounding. Just think about the past say ten years, off the top of my head I’m thinking about all these words (e.g. ‘ghosting’, ‘neurodivergent’, ‘binge-watch’, ‘fatberg’, ‘mansplain’) to describe concepts that are so rooted in our current sociocultural ways of being that you couldn’t have predicted them and they couldn’t exist divorced from that.
Using a favourite word in a poetic sentence is a request that makes me want to hide under my desk until the relative that criticised my vocabulary pushes off. It fills me with dread and, what we’d call in psychology, evaluation apprehension. I’m a big fan of Brian Bilston’s poems because he doesn’t tend to use flowery phrasing, yet they’re still clever and meaningful. That’s what I try, less successfully than him, to achieve with my poems. The words don’t have to be impressive or complex, it’s about putting them together in a way that draws a smile or a meaningful emotion from readers. I’ll give you an example, thank you Spillwords for kindly publishing my poem Far-flung dust, those words ‘far-flung dust‘, none of them are spectacular but they evoke amazing imagery and have meaning in terms of geological erosion, which then works as an awesome metaphor for trauma.
What is your pet peeve?
If you’d asked me three years ago, I would have launched into a rant about apostrophes for ownership. I used to start my postgraduate students off with a PowerPoint slide instructing how to use it properly because I had got so sick of marking assignments with this error in it. Then I went through a horrid couple of years with severe depression and anxiety. Eventually, with a year of intensive professional support, I started to rebuild. I’m a different person now in many ways. One of which being I have a rotten memory. Maybe it is just middle age, but I’m making mistakes in apostrophes, tenses, that would have had my red marker itching. During my A Levels, as an assignment, I created a book called Inspector Grammar (yes, I know, geek) and I wish I still had it because bloody hell do I need it. So, I’m not allowing myself to have a pet peeve, I’m going to remind myself that everyone has personal struggles and to be empathic. Unless they use the phrase “here goes nothing,” in any thing they write, even dialogue, even ironically. That is inexcusable and warrants mass ridicule and possibly some form of sanction.
What defines Claire L. Marsh?
Okay, firstly, if at any point in spoken or written work I refer to myself in the third person you have my permission to stop publishing me. I clearly require an intervention and some time-out. Hmmmm. The over-use of adverbs and love of a good exclamation mark? No, not the deep and meaningful response you were after? Fine. I think you can tell from my writing that I enjoy it, I’m having fun and I’m entertaining myself (sometimes probably only myself, maybe my cat…wait, he disagrees).
Since eighteen, my academic and professional career has been psychology. So often a story will have a theme related to a psychological concept, be exploring aspects of how people think and/or behave. For example, with my early story published here, The Bystander, this was motivated by the concept of bystander apathy, where people view a crime taking place, for example, but do nothing to intervene. I used that concept but flipped it, what if you wanted to feel something in response to viewing violence but couldn’t? What would or could you do to try and experience fear firsthand? It also has nods to concepts like psychopathy and research evidence that has purported some offenders may literally fear less than the average person, so they may then be more sensation-seeking and less risk averse (hence the ending – spoiler alert).
A lot of the time there’s an edge of humour. I guess that defines me too, I see most things with humour and see humour in most things, even the darkest moments. I’ve also spent my career focusing on serious sexual offending, provided behavioural interpretation of offenders that have committed the worst acts of violence imaginable; and I think maintaining a personal sense of humour is sort of essential. You need to balance with brevity. Related to that, I have a physical disability that deteriorates and substantially impacts on my mobility and quality of life. As it gets worse, I mourn the stuff I’ve lost, the things I can’t do, how it restricts me. It can sometimes feel like my body is a cage or an enemy, but there is nothing that can contain my imagination and creativity. So, my stories are catharsis but they are also my escape, my way of living my life in whatever form I want. I wonder if this is what pushes me further into the horror, fantasy, paranormal realm that I’m trying to escape all physical boundaries perhaps? I would love to know what your readers think defines my writing though, that might be eye-opening.
My writing usually has some theme or angle from psychology within it. I get my inspiration from people acting outside traditional norms or questioning their sociocultural context. I work in a policing organisation currently but was a lecturer in forensic psychology for almost ten years at a UK-based university.