Amidst the vast blogging world, there are so many unique stories you stumble upon. Some so inspiring, they end up leaving a mark on your heart with their words and ideas. This is the story of Heather Grace Stewart. One of those beautiful spirits passing through this world, who’s words are timeless and touching …
Heather Grace Stewart is an author and photojournalist with more than a decade of professional experience.
Her photographs have been published in numerous magazines including Equinox and National Geographic Traveler, and grace the cover of over a dozen internationally-sold poetry books.
She is the author of five books (her most recent releases are her poetry collections ‘Leap’ and ‘Where the Butterflies Go’, and her nonfiction book for youth—’Kim Campbell: the keener who broke down barriers’) and a columnist for the Queen’s Alumni Review.
Let’s talk with Heather…
Hi Heather, thank you for taking this time with me to discuss your work. I am so excited to share with readers a little about your amazing poetry and books! So, let’s just jump right in ok…
I read that you wrote your first poem at age five, would you tell us the story behind “At the Arena”…
In Grade One, we went to the local arena with the other grade one class–I think we went once a week. I remember I desperately wanted to learn how to twirl like the professional figure skaters I’d seen on TV, but all I could manage to do was skate with a chair. I don’t remember feeling frustrated, just that I now had something to strive towards. Our teacher asked us to write out our feelings –she called it an expressive limerick–about something we’d done that week, and I chose the skating. She later published it in our school newsletter (I think she was surprised I used phrases like “I felt grand” but my parents never talked down to me, so I had a good vocabulary at a young age) and I think it was then I realized that writing
thoughts and feelings–self expression–was something people admired and shared.
I remember I used to spend hours at this old typewriter in our playroom after school. I’d type out poems and stories–likely full of errors because I was young, couldn’t spell, and couldn’t type–but the sound of the typewriter, the smell of the ink, and the feel of that smooth crisp piece of paper being rolled into your hands when it was good (and pulling it out of the typewriter and crumpling it up when I thought it was bad)–those all got me hooked on writing really young. As a matter of fact, I still print out almost everything I write in order to get to that final draft. I need to feel it in my hands.
It’s funny how smells and sounds can leave and impression when your young, as well as people and places. Do you have a special place at home or elsewhere that seems to bring your pen to life, or sparks your muse so to speak? Tell me about this place…
I like writing by bodies of water, if I have that luxury. My parents have a cottage, and I used to write by the lake, on our dock, when I was younger.
Now I try to inline skate down by the river near our place whenever I want to write. The skating gets the momentum going–sometimes it even helps
me figure out the rhythm. I skate about an hour, come home, shower, shower eight more times (that’s a joke for a writer friend) and then I go to my home office and type away. In winter, I’ll start writing, and if it isn’t coming to me, I’ll put on music and dance around the house. Seriously.
Water is inspiring to me as well. I have driven out to the lake to just sit and write whatever comes to me. Nature is the best muse, I think.
If it’s a quiet day outside, I’ll take the laptop outside and write in our backyard, on our shaded deck. In winter, I like to curl up on my favorite chair by the fire. But the finishing touches usually need to take place in absolute quiet in my office.
Of all the books and poems you have ever read, what has seemed to influence you most throughout your writing?
The Romantics. Most definitely the females of those, like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and Emily Dickinson, and Charlotte and Emily and Anne Bronte (who all used male pen names as poets) and Robert Browning and William Blake. I could go on and on. When I first discovered Romanticism and all it stood for, I lived and breathed it for a while. I was 19 and attending Queen’s University, and I’d roam the stacks of their old library, wishing I could spend more time reading the old poetry collections there instead of having
to write the Sociology 101 essay I was supposed to be writing. Somehow, I managed to do both.
The Modernist and Imagist periods influenced me too–even though Imagism was a complete rejection of Romanticism–I was intrigued by its scarcity of language. I remember when I first read “In a Station of the Metro,” being amazed at how few words Ezra Pound could use, but how powerful they could be. “The apparition of faces in the crowd: petals on a wet, black bough.” That gave me shivers, and the line stays with me even today.
Ahh, brevity at it’s finest.
If you are anything like myself, I tend to be a bit critical of my own work, which has left me hesitant about publishing an anthology. Your first collection, “Where the Butterflies Go”, how did you decide which of your poems would be included, and what was the most difficult part of the process for you?
I’m very critical of my own work, yes. The deciding part was the hardest part. I
had been editing poetry anthologies for Be write Books for a number of years, and several of the poets kept asking me if I was going to put out my own collection.
I had a collection of work dating from my late teens to my mid-30’s, but I didn’t think
it was good enough, until I started getting some feedback on it from the poetry forum at Be-write– and until I started getting some of the work published in literary journals. I went through my poems and put aside the ones that seemed too personal–I wanted to provide poems everyone could relate to in some way–and that’s how I developed the manuscript. I decided to self-publish, really, because I knew royalties would be significantly higher that way than if I went with traditional publishing, and I wanted more creative control.
Speaking of royalties and such…You donate half of your revenue to UNICEF‘s Gift of Education. That is such an inspirational gesture in itself, tell us about this charity and why you chose it?
The main reason I finally had the guts to publish my first collection of poems was the motivation: I wanted to find a way to raise money to help children who wouldn’t otherwise get educations. I wanted to give them a shot. I’ve always thought one person can’t right all the wrongs in the world, but education can change the world one person at a time.
I decided that this day and age, my poetry wasn’t about to rake in millions for me, but when I read up on it at the UNICEF site, I realized what a small amount of money could do: It could give a teacher her salary for a year,
and provide a year’s education and books for a child. After I realized that, there was really no looking back. I’ve been able to donate three times to UNICEF, and once to a small school in Goa, India, called Grace Educational Trust school. It’s an excellent school–here’s the link: http://www.graceeducationaltrust.com
Do you have a special piece you have written that you would like to share? Something particularly close to your heart?
It’s too hard for me to pick out a favorite poem. They’re really the way people say children are: all loved the same, for different reasons.
I will give you the link to a group of poems that seem to get a lot of interest and laughs from my readers–my Facebook poems. They aren’t technically anything to marvel at, but they’re timely, and fun. A lot of people seem to relate to them. And a Canadian textbook company just bought print and audio rights to the first one I wrote in the series– “Social Networking” –so I’ve enjoyed some success with them.
Thank you for sharing these, and congrats on the achievements. You were also awarded the Queen’s University’s McIlquham Foundation Prize in English Poetry and the UK journal Various Artists’ Poet’s Poet Award , this must have been such an honor for you, would you like to reflect on that a bit…
Writers are a funny bunch: most of the ones I know, including myself, think
we’re only as good as the last thing we wrote. We’re a bunch of self-doubting, adulation-loving nut bars. I think the prizes just keep me going. The one from Queen’s told me I was on the right path, and the one from my poet peers in the UK told me that other poets liked what I’m doing. So, to keep on keepin’ on.
And you are most definitely doing that. Your most recent colle ction titled “Leap”, consists of both poetry and photography. So not only are you a mom, author and poet, but a shutterbug as well. Tell us about Leap and your photography?
Photography comes very naturally to me: it’s just how I see the world. With ‘Leap,’ I wanted to find photos that would compliment the poems, not override them. I think I succeeded.
What does your photographic future hold? Do you plan to sell your photography for prints or is it primarily for hobby?
I sell a lot of my photos along with my magazine articles, and for poetry book covers–in fact, I’ve just sent off the cover photo for an upcoming book of songs by the UK poet songwriter/poet Michael Ashdown.
My photography career has taken me many places. A company called Marvelous Mugs published some of my photo’s along with snippets of my poetry, in a 2005 series called Half Full (as in my mug is half full)
–but the mugs were too expensive to ship from the States to Canada, where
most of my readers at the time lived –so that project kind of failed. The silver lining is now a lot of family and friends have rare, 1st and only edition copies of those mugs should I ever become famous (laughing).
I also published a greeting card series–hand made embossed photo cards, blank inside–but it was too much work to make the cards myself, for too small a profit. People loved buying them, in sets of five, all tied up in a bow–so I know there was a demand for it–and I often gave them away as gifts.
I’m looking at selling more of my artistic photo work on RedBubble.com –they produce cards and prints for the artist and sell them with a profit to themselves and a royalty to the artist.
Do you have anything else up your sleeve you would like to let us in on? What happens next for Heather Grace?
I honestly don’t know, and that drives me nuts. (laughing)
There is some planned stuff–the paying work, the magazine work. I write a regular column for The Queen’s Review, and I have a few ideas for queries to some national magazines in the coming months.
I’m working on selling a rom-com screenplay about people who meet on the Internet, called The Friends I’ve Never Met, and writing another one that’s more science-fiction-fantasy-for-teens–kind of Agent Cody Banks meets The Princess Diaries.
I’m working on a book proposal for a children’s historical fiction
series, and I’m trying to sell some of my poems to various journals and greeting card companies. I also cartoon, and I was just doing it for fun, but some people think I should send it in to a syndicate. I don’t know.
Wow! Sounds like your a busy bee! Couldn’t we all use a few more hours in the day?
I work early morning until my daughter gets home from school
at 2:30, and then it’s all about her–playing with her, helping her with homework, driving her to ballet classes. I try to blog for fun a little every night and/or relax with music and a book–I usually write early mornings.
I tell you, 26 hours. 26, 27 would be ideal. I should probably just
drink coffee at night, instead of a glass of wine. Maybe that’s all I need to do 😉
Maybe 😉… Do you have any final thoughts you would like to share?
I think I’ve jabbered on enough already!
It has been my pleasure. Thank you so much for allowing me to speak with you. All the best on your future projects. I’m sure we will be hearing much more from Heather Grace Stewart.
Thanks so much for asking to speak with me, Kellie. It’s been fun.
Purchase books by Heather Grace Stewart at Lulu.com!
- Rediscovering Poetry (embejoetc.wordpress.com)