Born in Devon, with ancestry rooted in the county, Sampson is passionately interested in the region’s landscape and literature and for more than ten years has carried out extensive research into the subject of Devon’s women writers. Her PhD research into the writer Hilda Doolittle (H.D.), acquired at the University of Exeter, in 1997, left her equipped with a solid foundation into the kind of field-work required to write a non-fiction book specialising in women writers. Previous career experience also helped her to develop requisite literary skills (which included, Teacher of Creative Writing and Literature in various Colleges in Devon and Somerset; Visiting Lecturer in Literature at the University of the West of England; Assistant Examiner for University of London Examination Board, for A and O level examinations).
Q&A with Julie Sampson
Where did you first come up with the idea for your novel?
My manuscript has had a long gestation and travelled through various avatars, drafts and genres. It is primarily non-fiction, but includes fictional fragments. The project started when, following completion of my PhD and having a bit of ‘time-out’ from intense academic work, I decided to explore regional women’s writing, not realising that the enterprise would turn into a mammoth task. My reader, Sara Maitland, noting that ‘this is an important piece of work’, suggested I rework the manuscript, weaving into it threads of my personal journey; with that the real writing began.
One desert island: one book. Which one?
Impossible! However, after a long stream of association to help decide, my short-list of seven left me with: Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook; Virginia Woolf, Complete Works; H.D. Collected Poems; Katherine Mansfield, The Garden Party and Other Stories; Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost; Jorie Graham, Sea Change; John Burnside, All One Breath.
Which authors inspired you to start writing?
Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield and Janet Frame (taught me to hear and write interior voices and to play with experimental modes); Mary Webb (showed the way to write local landscape into fiction); Mary Patricia Willcocks (helped me find confidence in exploring local Devonshire geographical settings); Kathleen Jamie, Roger Deakin and Robert Macfarlane (introduced psycho-geographical writing); Thomas Hardy and D.H. Lawrence (favourite male writers of fiction); H.D. (crept into, then took over my creative/spiritual and academic journey) and last, but not least, Sylvia Plath (background influence throughout my life, after a ’50s/’60s childhood in North Tawton where she lived and wrote; my family moved from the town the month after her death; her inclusion of towns-people and local landscape for imagery and metaphor in poems and journals, especially phenomena from local life – such as the churchyard, yew trees, sheep and our own Old English Sheepdog (‘Jill’) made a lasting impression).
Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
I intend to complete and publish at least one sequel to Voices from the Wildridge: Women Writers in the Devon Landscape. My second book will allow more detailed focus on the writings and lives of several women whose stories I’ve only just touched on in the first, as well as the introduction of others who have not yet made an appearance. I also would like to publish the novel I drafted, whose subject and content interconnects with my non-fiction texts and to have completed a second poetry collection, which will include a longer sequence on the theme of women writers from the South-west. I hope that publicity from my first book will have helped to widen public awareness of Devon’s lost literary heritage.
Do you have any hints or tips for people who want to start writing?
Dare to be different and write the as yet unwritten book that you most want to read.