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Interview with Vivien Steels

by Phibby Venable

PV: What is your latest project? Does it involve both your artwork & your poetry?
VS: I had an Exhibition of Summer Paintings with my illustrated poetry, poetry books and cards at the Leading Imagery Gallery in Clay Cross, Derbyshire, which ran from 5th July - 30th August 2010 with an Open Evening on 26th August where I read some of my poetry.  The next project to be tackled was designing my fifth booklet of poetry illustrated with my paintings.   It is called 'Winter White' and contains poems and paintings with a winter/Christmas theme (see my website @ ).   I collated all my poems that dealt with this theme and then designed and arranged it.  I am also writing my first novel and just must get on with it...

PV: I greatly admire the delicate floras that you create. I detect a dreamlike essence in your work. Have you ever had a dream in which you were "shown" a certain flower?
VS:  Not a flower, but I do keep a Dream Diary and record vivid dreams I have, which influence my writing.  Dreams have an interior life rather like poetry and you can use these dream images to convey similar psychological connections in your writing.  A section of my poetry and prose is written straight from my dreams.  One of the chapters of my novel is written directly from a collection of dreams I had years ago. 
PV: I believe the poem, "So You Have M.E." is striking in its compassion & strength. Who inspired this particular poem?
VS:  This poem is autobiographical and relates to the illness M.E., which I have had since 1980.   It was inspired by feeling at rock bottom from the illness when I was more or less house-bound and sometimes bed-bound.   I was battling to get a diagnosis from my GP, but the symptoms I described as having weren't believed.  Through illness I have developed an inner strength and spirituality that perhaps would not have arisen if I had experienced continued good health.  I also had the illness Endometriosis and founded a self-help group for women in Nottingham and was a telephone counsellor for sufferers allied to The Endometriosis Society in the UK.  I was also a telephone counsellor for Action for M.E. for women with both illnesses.
PV:   I especially love, The 'Native American Dream world piece', filled with flora, fauna and a wide array of wildlife. Is this inspired by your heritage or by your surroundings?

VS:   I would like it to have been inspired by my heritage as I love Native American Indian culture, history, costume and folklore, but I don't have any NA descendants, unfortunately, though I might have in a past life!  I love the natural world and I adore animals so this painting tried to create a harmonious whole the animals and plants that would surround the Native American Indian:  the snow-topped Rocky Mountains, fir trees, silver birch, blue lakes, waterfalls, rocky shores, bald eagle, brown ‘grizzly’ bear, salmon and the Great Northern Divers or Common Loons as they are called.  The rim of this painting shows typical Sioux designs.  It is one of my favourite paintings.

PV:   Who has been the greatest inspiration in life and work?

VS:  My greatest inspiration is the world of nature and animals.  As Sue Tordoff, former editor do Write-Away noticed, “But what stands out for me is the use of nature as symbolism for the spiritual.  This is done in such a natural way, never contrived; it has to be part of Vivien's outlook on life.”  And I do see life through the beauty of nature, through the close bond I have with my pet rescue-cat, Mittens and rabbit, Shadow, and I am always happy when I am close to nature and close to animals. 

From one of my poems called simply ‘Poetry’ – I state “Poetry encircles our lives with a living garland;/ a garland that breathes its greenness into our souls”.  And it is this connection to the greenness of all life that keeps me passionate about the creative things I do and provides that link to the Divine Spirit that flows through everything and that keeps the Divine Spark of Life within me ignited and constantly revived.
PV:  Your combination of art and poetry is breathtaking? Are both genres created at once with your inner eye?
VS:   No, one or the other comes first, but usually writing.   Then I will be inspired to paint the world created with words.   Sometimes I will paint a picture and this will inspire a poem.  But these two mediums swing to and fro within me - not at the same time.  I remember going to a talk by Posy Simmons, who is a British cartoonist and illustrator/writer of books for adults and children.  She said from an early age she drew pictures and wrote words to them.  Pictures and words always went together for her and I thought, yes, they always do for me too.

PV. You have won a number of prizes and awards. All are wonderful accomplishments, but is there any certain one that meant a great deal to you on a more personal level?
VS:  The Quill and Parchment Award for Excellence in Poetry and Prose is definitely the award that means a great deal on a personal level.  It came at a time when this positive reaction to my work meant so much.  There is a lot of work in designing your own website.  My three websites with another ISP came to an end, so I amalgamated them into one called "Talking Paint" @ in October 2008 and I was given the Award by Sharmagne and Sara in December 2008 - it was like an early Christmas present - one of the best I've ever received!!  So thank you, Sharmagne and Sara.


So You Have M.E.
by Vivien Steels

You have muscle weakness,
you have exhaustion,
you have pain.
But you have four walls upstairs,
four walls downstairs
and a bit of the garden,
if you are lucky –
on a good day.
You cannot walk far,
you cannot think straight,
you cannot talk long.
But you have a bed upstairs,
a sofa downstairs
and a bit of concentration,
if you are lucky –
on a good day.
You have an ignorant GP,
you have an arrogant Consultant,
you have negative tests.
But you have a radio upstairs,
a television downstairs
and a book to read,
if you are lucky –
on a good day.
Today is a bad day.
Published in SMITHS KNOLL No:8 – 1994, WRITE-AWAY – Winter 2003 and
*PROMISE* - first collection of poems/colour illustrations designed/printed by
Vivien Steels/Vivi*Press – June 2003 & MESH Nottingham Newsletter – Nov/Dec 2007

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