Contributors, Interviews, Projects

Meet the Humans: Sarah Spence

As part of our campaign we will be introducing you to our contributors – the fabulous, creative and talented people we’ve recruited for this project.


Sarah Spence is a PhD researcher at the University of Glasgow, specialising in the Medical Humanities. Her current project examines stigmatised health issues (mental illness, drug addiction, obesity) in contemporary Scottish literature. She writes poetry, short fiction and nonfiction and is an editor for literary journal From Glasgow to Saturn. Her work appears in a variety of publications, such as Thistle Magazine, The Glasgow Review of Books, Hold My Purse, Gilded Dirt, theGIST and Qmunicate. She often writes about illness, science, history and animals, and tweets @_sspenceSarah Spence pic - Knight Errant Press

[Knight Errant Press] Is gender identity a theme that comes up a lot in your writing? If not, what pushed you to explore it this time around?

[Sarah]: I’d never written about gender before – it seemed too personal and too overwhelming a topic.

As a girl, I feared being dismissed as feminine, so in my poem ‘Playground’ I explored my own flawed relationship to masculinity in high school. I joined in with the roughhousing boys, even though I’m a total wimp, because I knew their willingness (enthusiasm?) to hurt me was really a mark of respect. An imperfect way to navigate self-esteem and womanhood to be sure.

I was inspired to write my poem ‘Hemingway Masculinity’ after going to an exhibit at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery about representations of masculinity. It made me think of Ernest Hemingway, who tried to evoke a macho hypermasculinity not only in his subject matter but also in his plain, direct writing style – as a way to purge literature of its supposed femininity. So I’ve stolen his style and used it against him.

[KEP] Has exploring gender affected your worldview and your writing and reading habits?

[S:] I’ve since written another poem on gender, ‘The Edinburgh Seven, 1870’ published by Hold My Purse. The Edinburgh Seven were the first female undergraduates in Britain and they faced much opposition and discrimination, which lead to the Surgeons’ Hall Riot. I’d like to write about gender again – I think fiction can bring to life historical perspectives on gender, highlighting what has and hasn’t changed, as well as helping us to re-examine our current, often invisible gender norms.

[KEP] Was there a particular book, short story, poem or event in your life that inspired you to write your own?

[S]: I’m often inspired by the ‘stories’ of history or science. I always take lots of notes in museums, whether about the evolution of crocodiles or the origins of forensics (both weird and fascinating).

[KEP] What author or book do you think is most underrated? And why? (Prime time for some reading recommendations.)

[S]: The Sound of My Voice by Ron Butlin. It looks at alcoholism but through a second person narrator (‘you’) which is both uncomfortably immersive and almost whimsical. Butlin is also a poet and the novella is like a big poem with its vivid imagery and structural tricks.


[KEP] Is there any book, written by someone else, that you wish you’d written? Would you change it, if yes – how?

[S]: Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy. It’s fast-paced and charismatic but also a really sophisticated, unsettling, challenging look at gender politics. The first book opens in a tiny settler town populated only by men but goes on to explore female as well as non-human perspectives in a world where the thoughts of men – and only men – can be heard by all.

[KEP] What’s the most famous book you haven’t read?/play you haven’t seen?/album you haven’t listened to?/film and TV series you haven’t watched?

[S]: I’ve tried – and failed – with The Godfather more than once.

[KEP] Do you ever feel like you have book FOMO (fear of missing out) because of a famous title you haven’t had the chance to read, if so, which one?

[S]: Not FOMO so much but I always have a long reading list on the go. I’m currently doing a PhD so I even have special bibliographical software to record everything that I need to read later!

[KEP] Tea or coffee?

[S]: Tea – peppermint tea.

[KEP] Early morning or late into the night?

[S]: I’ve been experimenting with early mornings recently, with mixed results.

[KEP] Digital or analogue?

[S]: Digital!


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