Document 1671

Interview with Liz Lochhead

Author(s): N/A

Copyright holder(s): Pascale Free

Audio transcription

F66 Do I see myself as a feminist? Well of course I do. Erm, I don't see myself as a feminist-writer, you know, with a hyphen between the two. Er, but that's a different matter altogether, but as a private citizen, erm I've been a feminist er since the the ideas attached to the current recent wave of feminism came out, in the mid sixties to late sixties. And er I think that society has changed, and there's now a more general feeling of of course there should be equality between both sexes. But erm this wasn't so, erm if people hadn't fought for a lot of things. Erm and I do als-, I did also feel the need to assert a female voice in pa- in erm Scotland particularly, you know, I I felt that it was important that unlike previous women writers, I didn't feel that I had to write like a man. Erm. I might write a play that had er twelve men in it and no women. //I might.//
F1187 //Mmhm.//
F66 But I wouldn't do it without noticing, [?]like[/?] some men might.
F1187 Do you find it easier then obviously to write from a woman's perspective and not have any //men within? No.//
F66 //Er, no. I don't.// Er. [knock on door] Er, come in! [door opens] //Hi! We're doing a wee interview just now, [CENSORED: forename]. It's alright! No bother.//
F1187 //Hi! [third speaker apologises]//
F66 Come back erm at four for the //group, that'd be magic.//
F1187 //[third speaker says 'okay' ]// //[third speaker says 'Alright, yeah yeah, cool, see you soon' ]//
F66 //Is that alright? Okay, see you soon.// //[laugh]//
F1187 //See you later.//
F66 [CENSORED: forename] is lovely. //He's writing really well.//
F1187 //Yeah.//
F66 His writing's really, you know, taking a quantum leap. That's how writing seems to work. You know, you stick in a sort of plateau for a while, and then you take a big erm advance forward. Erm, I did feel pressured, I think, to write fr- er from a female point of view, erm pressured internally, and erm from the outside. Erm, it's interesting actually. I've just been erm working on a a p-, a just a very short preface for er Agnes Owen's er collected short stories. And er one of the things that I f- used to find shocking about Agnes in the mid s- seventies er was that she wrote in a a a male point of view. And that often the males she wrote about were very disrespectful to women, //you know, and she just//
F1187 //Mmhm.//
F66 wrote it down, I mean she obviously took great relish and great freedom into becoming a man, and I understood that, you know? Erm, and I would think, gosh can you do that, if you're a woman? //Erm and yes, you can do anything, actually if you're a writer you can do anything you like to do.//
F1187 //[laugh]//
F66 Erm there's no reason why you can't er write in the voices of men, women,
F1187 Would you see it as a form of escapism then?
F66 Erm, oh yeah, writing is a form of escapism, //of course.//
F1187 //Mmhm.// Mm.
F66 Even if it's escaping into the very heart of what you're stuck with, you know, [laugh] it's still a form of escapism. Erm, you know, and I think it often is, erm, going into it, going into what you're stuck with, annoyed by, and so on. But if you're going in as a writer, erm then you've got all sorts of reasons and all sorts of fun with it.
F1187 Mmhm. Writing is all about fun really, isn't it?
F66 Erm,
F1187 Not really.
F66 Er, //well.//
F1187 //[laugh]//
F66 There has to be some fun moments somewhere in it, I think. Er, I think it becomes less and less fun, the longer you do it. There's more struggle involved all the time. But the struggle is to get to those moments of freedom when you're enjoying it. Er. And if you werenae ever gettin them, then I don't think you would be able to be bothered with it.
F1187 Mmhm. You just said that writing, erm, you gain leaps of understanding, sort of, yo- you're on a plateau and then you make a quantum leap. //Are you are you still making quantum leaps at the moment?//
F66 //Well,// oh no, //no, I don't think I am.//
F1187 //[laugh]//
F66 No, I'm erm, I don't think you necessarily get better all the time,
F1187 Mmhm.
F66 er, no, just various students that I meet though,
F1187 Mmhm.
F66 it's lovely to be around while people are doing that thing. And I watched it, they all do stay, you know, at the one l-, and then there's a breakthrough poem or a breakthrough piece or there's something that, you know, that someone's really getting at. Erm and that's lovely just to be around watching it. I sometimes feel jealous of the freedom of some of the erm students I've been seeing, you know, th- the other night at erm the Art School er there's a young poet and she'd been writing, er, [tut], she's a painter, she's a very good painter, [CENSORED: forename], and er she had been working on her thesis all last term, and she said she hadn't been writing creatively at all, and we just got going on a daft wee erm project which is the same one as I'm going to try with the the group when they turn up in in twenty-five minutes. Er and eh she just let go in such a, you know, a lovely way. She had a voice erm and was able to to let that voice, kind of, it's a lyric voice, but let it out with an ease. Erm it's an in-, she's one of these poets with a sort of intimate voice. It's as if she's just speaking into a corner of your ear. It's a voice that I- it's a tone that I I would like to achieve myself more often. And she just was able to do it. Of course the piece that she wrote in half an hour wasn't perfect, but all it needed doing to it really was the bits that are not right taken out, //you know, the bits that were a bit literary,//
F1187 //Mmhm.//
F66 the bits that talked about, you know, a constellation of cherry stones at her feet, you know, and the dirt, and then she found out, you know, that she just wanted to put the stones at my feet, and the dirt, you know, //it was better.//
F1187 //Yeah.//
F66 And it was about that kind of thing, about being able to erm get to that unpretentious place. But sometimes things that sound very er easy were a struggle. The point is you've got to make them sound easy by the end,
F1187 Mm.
F66 erm or flowing, erm. But no, I'm not necessarily getting better at it, at all. No, no, I feel just like like an apprentice at the moment. I don't write nearly as many poems as I used to, and the only consolation for that is that the ones that I write are more important, to me, you know, not to the world or, you know, not in a literary sense, but, you know, th- they're more essential, er in the end, to me, the ones that I manage to get done. It's it's a funny business. [laugh]
F1187 I mean a lot of the poems that I've read of yours are very personal, very //very personal.//
F66 //Well they're not.// //In, they seem, th-//
F1187 //They seem to be, yeah.//
F66 er there's a persona er at work. I think that everything that everybody writes is very personal to them. I mean, if there's some science-fiction writer, to J G Ballard, it's very personal, you know, this s-s- fantastical world that he's done. You know, it has to chime in with your own er deepest desires and and so on, but nobody ever thinks that novelists' things are personal, whereas if you try and write things that sound personal, as a poet, people never think of the fictional aspects of them. Erm, I'd really like to write more fictional things. That's what I'm writing that's exciting me the most at the moment. Erm that's the things that I get the old buzz that I used to get from writing poems thirty years ago. I still love writing a poem though, more than anything else //in the world.//
F1187 //Mm.//
F66 Even ones that are a struggle. Er.
F1187 What kind of buzz did you used to get, or do you still get?
F66 Oh you still do. It's just that buzz that you want to get it finished, that you want to stay up half the night if necessary, writing it out and writing it back down again the same, but with a different slant on it, and changing a word from the beginning of the line to the end, and it's that sort of drafting and redrafting. It's very much a biro thing. I wouldn't want to go to the computer till very late late drafts. But I am now going to the computer, even for, you know, for the later drafts of poems. And I wonder if if I shouldn't, if I should try and ban that until the the typing up stage. Maybe that's, maybe it's something as strange as having it printed too early //that//
F1187 //Mmhm.//
F66 that it's stultifying rather than freeing.
F1187 Mmhm. It feels final when it's printed.
F66 Yeah, which is strange cause, I mean, plays don't, I do like having a word-processor for plays, and it actually just feels like a perfect, transparent, version of the way I used to write when I would literally cut and paste and the pages would become so thick they had to be photocopied flat down, you know, //before going to the typist to get//
F1187 //Mmhm.//
F66 er typed up, and er I type really slowly, but it's fast enough if you're thinking. It's fast enough for first drafts. And it's frustrating for me to type up things. It just is. I'm er, I'm so slow, er so it's okay typing up a poem. That's kind of part of the fun. Erm but I would hate to type up a play from, you know, from a whole draft. Er. But I like, I really like having the ability to cut and paste in a play. But of course you've got to keep printing out and scribbling on it.
F1187 When did you think "Oh, I could be a full-time writer"?
F66 Erm, gosh I don't think I ever have //thought that.//
F1187 //[laugh]//
F66 I've sort of struggled on from year to year thinking I won't get a real job for another wee while. //[laugh] Erm,//
F1187 //[laugh]//
F66 And now, because I've had that big sixty, birthday, I could retire. [laugh] Somebody else said "Who would know the difference?" //And er, [laugh]//
F1187 //Charming! [laugh]//
F66 but erm you know, I mean obviously writers don't really retire, do they? Just get on with writing the next thing. Erm, but it would be interesting not to, I mean I don't feel that I'm trying to work at a career or something like that. You know, it's just, I think [inhale] "Could I write a s- a story about that?" Could I write some stories? Could I collect them together? That'd be nice. I'd love to do a collection of short fiction. And a lot of them I think would be dramatic monologues. But they would be, they'd be what I think of as as short stories. And some of them are adapted from performance pieces. I've always liked the dramatic monologue. But I like the dramatic monologue in poetry. And I think in a way all the "I" poems, the ones that you think of as very personal, are actually sort of dramatic monologues. Sometimes spoken in the voice of a person quite like me, [laugh] but others not. //Erm,//
F1187 //Mmhm.//
F66 but, you know, I do feel that distance and difference between the "I" that I write and myself. I mean the "I" that I write is very rarely me.
F1187 Mmhm.
F66 Or very rarely quite me. There have been a couple of them. And maybe, yes, that is probably true, that the poems I've been writing recently have had more of a naked //"I".//
F1187 //Mmhm.//
F66 Yeah.
F1187 Why do you think that is then?
F66 I haven't a clue. //[laugh]//
F1187 //[laugh]// Is there anything you've tried to write, that you have tried over and over and it hasn't quite worked?
F66 [tut] Oh, quite a few things. Mmhm. Mmhm. For instance I I tried for a long long time to write a play based on a true event. Erm. There's a woman I know, she's a friend, called [CENSORED: forename] [CENSORED: surname], who believes that her father murdered a little girl. Er. That I can remember the little girl disappearing when I was seven and when [CENSORED: forename] was seven. This little girl was a year older than us. Disappeared one day in a blizzard. And I became fascinated by, not so much the story, but, erm of the murdered little girl, but of [CENSORED: forename]'s story of believing that her father had done such a thing. //That was the story//
F1187 //Mmhm.//
F66 that interested me. And I kept trying to make a drama of that, and I wrote a very good film script for it, and a lot of people have liked that, but erm it's not been made because people say, well because there isn't an ending to it, because, you know, it was never found out to be the ending of that mystery. Erm and that was kind of the point to me, was that there was no end to it.
F1187 Mmhm.
F66 So I tried to make that the end. And erm I think the film script works very well to read. But as TV didn't make it in the end, I found that frustrating, so I've tried about four, five or six ways of trying to make a play out of that, a stage play. And it's never worked, and I've never quite given up. And I know that I've got to do something with the material, but I think I've got to take a fictional, le-, I think that's the thing. And I've tried to think what went wrong, and I think it was that my view of whether [CENSORED: forename] was right or wrong shifted //during the writing and rewriting.//
F1187 //Mmhm.//
F66 Erm in my first versions of it I- I didn't have such a a gap of irony as later on. You know, I began, and also you worry about things that are people's own real lives. Erm so I think I've got to have fiction. Erm and I've written other plays that haven't gone anywhere, erm and I think I've not wanted to write them badly enough. Eh. Whenever you really want to write something which I did with the material that belonged to [CENSORED: forename], erm I think that'll have a a more poetic or dramatic outcome eventually, once I can see the way of doing it with the freedom that I have with my own stories to fictionalise. You know my own, you know you said the poems were very personal and, yes sometimes I would say I could look back and connect things to specific biographical things in my life, erm but I think the act of writing removes that for me. //So//
F1187 //Mmhm.//
F66 erm. So there's obviously a sort of f- freedom even with things you care about. You also, you're always constructing it, you're always constructing a sort of, not so much a story, it's more a drama for me, and a drama might just be a dramatic situation. It might not be a complete drama. It might, i.e. it might not be a drama with an outcome. It might be just a dramatic situation
F1187 Mmhm.
F66 that's described in, say, a poem, without the outcome being involved in it. Erm, some plays feel like long poems, you know, a play like "Mary Queen of Scots Got Her Head Chopped Off". The structure of it is dramatic. Erm. But there's a very static first half in that one scene does not lead to the other. The first half of the play describes four or five different aspects of Mary's life that were, erm running concurrently, you know, you get what's she like with Bothwell, what's she get with erm, with Knox, what's she like erm about Elizabeth, and, you know, and all these things were, sort of, separated structurally to be dealt with, to be contrasted with Elizabeth's way with the same question. So all these things er were completely concurrent until there was an- a dramatic action of Elizabeth sending erm Darnley to Scotland and and Mary falling in love with Darnley, was the first bit of action that pushed on the second half of the play. Erm so sometimes dramatisations are showing poetic states erm that exist and don't seem to have an out, and I think that's what I like about a Greek drama like Medea. Erm, yes, there's terrible action happens in it but at the end of it the woman is stuck there saying "it will never be over". That action just seems to land her in a situation of being locked //together//
F1187 //Yeah.//
F66 with the husband. Erm, locked together in in the agony of what's between them. Erm. I like working with other people's [laugh] material when I'm stuck cause you're never stuck if you've got something starting. You know, like it's great fun working with a Molière or something. Erm, so if I do get stuck, I'll always be able to work, because I could always, I can always be doing versions of other people's things and, once you depart from that that could, you know, always become something different.
F1187 Is that one of the things you enjoy most about eh Glasgow University, working with the students here?
F66 Erm, what? The different versions of things?
F1187 Working with their different versions, their different styles of writing, //seeing them improve.//
F66 //O- oh yeah.// No I just, I really love erm being around people, as they're, you know, starting off doing it, and eh it's funny not to be able to be very reassuring with them. You know, I was talking to somebody just before you came and he was saying, "I don't really know what I'm doing. This thing's an experiment." And you sort of think, well it always is, actually. You know? Erm, of course, you get less able to experiment freely erm as you get more experienced, you know, you don't do certain things that that don't work. Erm but it means you don't do anything sometimes, er and sometimes people will be trying things that are, you know, they're not gonnae work but they've had such good fun finding out they don't work. Or, they actually sometimes make things work that y- you know, that oughtn't to or, they make an aspect of it work and then they can just use that one bit. No, it's it's terrific cause there's so many erm people that have got raw talent. It's not that raw, some of them. Some of them are becoming increasingly sophisticated, but erm it interests me that sometimes when there's students who erm are not writing very well, at first when they come, you know, they're maybe writing in a clichéd kind of forms and eh don't really know what they're doing. Some of them, you know, [exhale] advance really quickly. So the desire to write is the main thing.
F1187 Mmhm.
F66 Erm, you know, it's their desire to do it can sometimes lead to them doing it really a lot better than than they start off. But of course some people, erm because the- they, cause those people want to write. You know, they're not people who want to be writers. Erm, you also meet some people that, you know, want you to tell them what to write, and they kind of are interested in becoming writers rather than writing something.
F1187 Mmhm.
F66 But, you know, whenever people are writing something, whether it works or doesn't, it's just an exciting time. Especially, as loads of them are, that are open enough to see what does work and what doesn't. No, the- they're they're great. Erm, but I haven't been seeing stacks and stacks of students. But, those that I have seen, I think are really, you know, all of them, working hard, and, you know, terrifically open to things, you know, I've not found very many people who are so kind of er precious about their work that they won't take criticism. Erm, most people realise that, if you bother to point out that, that word there is killing the image next to it, //you know er,//
F1187 //Mmhm.//
F66 is pulling it, or whatever, erm, if people are open enough to just see that it's not a criticism but a, you know, which most people seem to be, then, it's very exciting. But occasionally I've been feeling old, //you know, sometimes [laugh]//
F1187 //[laugh]//
F66 you know, you go "My God, //I wish I had that//
F1187 //[inhale]//
F66 [exhale] amount of nerve to deal with that thing, you know? Cause some things that that people are dealing with it are, you know, are not working out very well, but they've got great kind of courage and stamina and "I'll do it all again". And what's interesting is that most people begin to recognise the bits that do work
F1187 Mm.
F66 for them. And I think the the workshop situation's good because erm the wee group that meet, there's only, what, half a dozen of us or erm sometimes seven or eight, people are really really erm grateful for other people's critical points.
F1187 Mmhm.
F66 And, you know, they seem to have got to the stage of so not feeling got at, so feeling supported by someone's opinion. Erm, and it's always helpful, it's almost necessary to be able to see your work from another person's point of view.
F1187 Mmhm.
F66 And you always meet a few people that don't like doing that, they say "Oh well, I don't want to read anything, erm, at the moment, because I'm writing this, //and I don't want to", you know.//
F1187 //[laugh]//
F66 And I agree with people, I mean, if you're writing, you know, a novel about a particular thing, don't read a, somebody else's work on the same subject, at the moment. Erm, but don't stop reading, read different stuff that that feeds into it.
F1187 Mmhm.
F66 And it's that sort of trial and error which I think gets more complicated [laugh] for you, //as you,//
F1187 //[laugh]//
F66 you know, the more choices you have.
F1187 Mmhm.
F66 And yet now and again you get beyond all that. I mean you must have felt that when you were writing that short story.
F1187 Oh yeah. //Yeah.//
F66 //Just suddenly you're going// "Okay, I know what's gonnae happen here." And it's as if you're writing down rather than writing it. //And that only happens now and again.//
F1187 //Yeah.// It's really exhilarating when it does happen. //Really exhilarating.//
F66 //Mm? Mmhm.// Yeah.
F1187 Do you think it's, I mean it's a- an old question, but do you think it's actually possible to teach people how to write? Or do you think it's //something that you hone?//
F66 //No no no,// of course you can't. //But you can, er,//
F1187 //Yeah.//
F66 you can encourage people to teach themselves to write. Er, you can encourage them to look at their work with an irony and an outside eye,
F1187 Mmhm.
F66 an outside ear. Erm. You can encourage them to be honest. Er. And you don't want ever to spoil anybody's fun in what they've done. But you can point out that well, erm, that particular rhyme is very forced and lame and weakens the rest of your piece. Erm, so do you want to leave it like that or are you gonnae do something about it. Up to you, I mean, a- I'm always saying to people, it's up to you. They don't ha-, nobody ever has to change a word to suit anybody else. But if people sit round this table and five out of six people tell them that they don't, you know, they had thought it was written in a woman's point of view and it was actually a man, and that they were annoyed at not realising until the last line, you know, that kind of thing, erm there's no point in saying, "It's not meant to be a man", //you know, or "It's not meant to be a woman".//
F1187 //Mmhm.//
F66 Erm, er, you know, you-, people take on board what other, how other people read things. And I like writers who want to communicate, rather than to express themselves.
F1187 Mmhm. Do you think that's the purpose of writing then, communication, putting across a particular idea, //or do you think it's not always necessary?//
F66 //Oh, mm.// No, I think the point of it probably is expression. //Erm,//
F1187 //Mmhm.//
F66 for the writer anyway is to express something that they don't know. Usually it's to express something to yourself. You know, it's not, to communicate with another bit of yourself //really//
F1187 //Mmhm.//
F66 via that expression. And then looking at this bit of expression as if it was written by somebody else and trying to make it communicate better //with//
F1187 //Yeah.//
F66 yourself and others. Erm.
F1187 [paper rustling]
F66 Of course it's very important to be expressing yourself. And I definitely do feel that if I've expressed something to, if I've communicated with the other bit of me, if it doesn't for other people, that's okay. Er, but I've got to be being honest about that.
F1187 Mmhm.
F66 And I think sometimes people at the beginning of writing [knock on door] erm are a wee bit, you know? Hello!

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Information about Document 1671

Interview with Liz Lochhead


Audio audience

General public
For gender Mixed
Audience size 1

Audio awareness & spontaneity

Speaker awareness Aware
Degree of spontaneity Spontaneous

Audio footage information

Original title Interview with Liz Lochhead
Year of recording 2008
Recording person id 1187
Size (min) 29
Size (mb) 142

Audio setting

Recording venue Room in university department
Geographic location of speech Glasgow

Audio relationship between recorder/interviewer and speakers

Speakers knew each other Yes

Audio transcription information

Transcriber id 1187
Year of transcription 2008
Year material recorded 2008
Word count 4449

Audio type



Participant details

Participant id 66
Gender Female
Decade of birth 1940
Educational attainment College
Age left school 17
Upbringing/religious beliefs Protestantism
Occupation Writer
Place of birth Motherwell
Region of birth Lanark
Birthplace CSD dialect area Lnk
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Glasgow
Region of residence Glasgow
Residence CSD dialect area Gsw
Country of residence Scotland
Father's occupation Admninistrator
Father's place of birth Craigneuk
Father's region of birth Lanark
Father's birthplace CSD dialect area Lnk
Father's country of birth Scotland
Mother's occupation Housewife / ATS in army
Mother's place of birth Carluke
Mother's region of birth Lanark
Mother's birthplace CSD dialect area Lnk
Mother's country of birth Scotland


Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes
French Yes Yes Yes Yes
Scots Yes Yes Yes Yes


Participant details

Participant id 1187
Gender Female
Decade of birth 1970
Educational attainment University
Age left school 18
Upbringing/religious beliefs Catholicism
Occupation Teacher
Place of birth Glasgow
Region of birth Glasgow
Birthplace CSD dialect area Gsw
Country of birth Scotland
Place of residence Scotstoun
Region of residence Glasgow
Residence CSD dialect area Gsw
Country of residence Scotland
Father's occupation Musician
Father's region of birth Kent
Father's country of birth England
Mother's occupation Computer programmer
Mother's place of birth Paris
Mother's country of birth France


Language Speak Read Write Understand Circumstances
English Yes Yes Yes Yes All the time
French Yes Yes Yes Yes At work, at home, on holiday
Scots No Yes No Yes Social context