My debut novel, Quinn, was published by Oneworld in 2023 and was shortlisted in the Fitzcarraldo Editions Novel Prize 2019. More info below and in separate tab.
I’m a poet, novelist, mentor, workshop facilitator, and founder of Scottish charity, Three Streams. Over the past decade, I’ve taught Creative Writing in public workshop settings, schools, universities and prisons, and continue to share my work at venues across the UK.
In 2019 I set up a charity, Three Streams, with the aim of creating a small centre for artistic and spiritual retreats in Argyll.
My first collection, Bird-Woman, was published by Shearsman in 2016. In 2017, Bird-Woman was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Best First Collection Prize, and won the Saltire Poetry Book of the Year. My second collection, Horse-Man, came out with Shearsman in September 2019 and was shortlisted for the 2021 Ledbury Munthe Best Second Collection Prize.
It’s impossible not to want to read on. Bird-Woman is a powerful first collection whose poems enter the bloodstream and remain.Ian Seed, PN REVIEW, April 2017
I worked for a number of years as Poetry Editor for Dark Mountain, where I devised and edited Uncivilsed Poetics in 2016. My work has been commended in various competitions, publications and prizes, including the Wigtown Poetry Competition, the Forward Book of Poetry and the Bridport Prize, and in 2014 was selected for a Scottish Book Trust New Writer Award.
The 2016 issue of Dark Mountain is just superb. I haven’t run across a book this nourishing in a long, long time. Thank you.Jan Zwicky, Poet, Philosopher, Editor, Musician
My first chapbook, Stone, illustrated by visual artist, Mat Osmond, came out in March 2016 with Atlantic Press. ‘Stone’ is a long, narrative poem for two voices. All proceeds from the sale of the book go to Scottish charity, Trees for Life.
I’ve a PhD in Creative Writing (ecological poetry) from the University of Glasgow. My writing preoccupations are with ‘nature’ (birds and horses feature in almost all my poems) and spirituality; in particular, what does it mean to be human during an era of unprecedented ecological, social and economic crises?
I’m particularly interested in embodied practice: how breath, movement and voice inform and engage both writer and audience. I’ve been exploring this since 2013 with Kath Burlinson, Paul Oertel and Nancy Spanier.
Ears buzzing from just listening to the most amazing poem/performance/sound piece by Em Strang.Colin Herd, Poet and Lecturer in Creative Writing at Glasgow University
interview with hephzibah anderson, the guardian, March 2023
The award-winning poet on writing in the voice of a convicted killer, her excavation of the masculine psyche and why she wants to read less
At 52, award-winning Scottish poet Em Strang is publishing her debut novel. Quinn is narrated by a convicted murderer who gets a shot at redemption when the mother of his victim makes a gesture of what appears to be radical forgiveness. Visceral, incantatory and startlingly beautiful in places, it’s a book whose power is accentuated by its brevity. Strang spoke by Zoom at the end of a month-long literary retreat at Hawthornden Castle, where she was completing a new poetry collection and beginning her second novel.
You write in your acknowledgments that Quinn began with a single line. How did it evolve from there?
I actually did a lot of dance practice around it, feeling my way into the impulse to write something longer. For me, writing isn’t just an intellectual process – it’s very much a whole-body process, an emotional process, a spiritual process.
Did Quinn’s voice come to you fully formed?
He just landed, and that’s how he had to speak, in quite a formal, pedantic kind of way, and with a Polish accent because his mother’s Polish. When I read it out loud, I can’t read it in my own voice, it just doesn’t sound right. Having such a strong voice made it very easy to write – it was clear that I wasn’t allowed to go off on any Em-inspired digressions.
When I’m lying on my deathbed, I bet I won’t be there going: ‘Thank God I read 20,000 books in my life’
Could you have expressed the novel’s themes through poetry?
I tend to use poetry as a vehicle for exploring love, in particular spiritual love, and my novels – this one and the next – are to do with evil and excavating the masculine psyche in relation to violence. It’s not something I’ve set out to do, but that certainly seems to be the way of it.
How do you account for your fascination with evil and male violence?
I think the fascination is actually more to do with healing. What do we understand by healing? What does it mean to become whole? And I mean wholeness in a way that contains brokenness – like that beautiful Japanese pottery, kintsugi. It’s something I’ve been exploring my entire adult life, it just drives me.
What was your biggest challenge with Quinn?
Sharing some of the early drafts with very dear women friends who have suffered violent sexual assault and worse from men. I had to really dig deep to ask myself: how is this going to be in any way beneficial?
Forgiveness is a kind of superpower in your novel.
I utterly think that right now we’re living through a time of incredible misogyny. We always have, but at the moment it just seems at the forefront because we’re living in these extraordinary climate-change end times and so much is collapsing. I’m interested in the idea that maybe forgiveness in some way, shape or form is a tool for emboldening and empowering women. I wrote the book because that’s one of the questions that was hovering in my subconscious.
Is healing always possible?
There are some things you just can’t get past, and we have to make room for that in other people’s lives and in our own lives, but I do think that these kinds of conversations are so valuable right now. I heard a story years ago told by a Jesuit priest and teacher – Anthony DeMello is his name – about this woman who took in the murderer of her son. It was so inspiring. I also tune in a lot to Marina Cantacuzino’s work with the Forgiveness Project. There are some stories of profound healing and transformation that are incredibly rich, almost religious, to me.
Are you religious?
I’ve no idea why this has happened to me but I’ve become fascinated by Christian mysticism. I don’t even know how to describe it; it’s inarticulable. I believe in God but I don’t know how on earth I would say what that is. God is not some kind of guy in the sky. For some reason, I’m drawn to that Christianity, but it could have been Sufism or Taoism.
Quinn is just 196 pages long. Is that down to the poet it in you?
I think so. I just so love concision and I can’t stand waffling on. In a way, Quinn is a long-form poem. The fiction that I read and love is all short – so Claire Keegan’s work, Cynan Jones’s and Sadegh Hedayat, the Iranian writer’s. It’s an intense experience to read a short novel.
When did you start writing?
When I was 16. I was at boarding school – I went for just two years and I was deeply unhappy. Writing was a kind of escape, a solace and a healing, so it’s no wonder that has been a pattern all my life.
Did you read a lot as a child?
I grew up in a home where neither of my parents went to university, they weren’t bookish, and in fact as a child I didn’t read much at all, but there are two books that really stay in my mind.One is The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. The main thing I got from it is the idea that an adventure can just be walking out of your door and looking at things as they are. The other is The Gift by Peter Dickinson. It rocked my world. It’s about this boy who is telepathic and is able to tune into the mind of a criminal. Here I am, 40 years later, writing exactly that… It’s amazing.
What books are on your bedside table?
I just finished Tove Ditlevsen’s Childhood/Youth/Dependency. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in memoir at all. The Vegetarian by Han Kang, another short novel, is kind of like a quick hit; I love it. And I’m about to read Marian Partington’s If You Sit Very Still. Her sister was murdered by Fred and Rose West, and it’s about her experience of coming to terms with that trauma and forgiving them.
Is there a classic novel you’re ashamed not to have read?
The one I’ve thought I ought to read again and again and never have is War and Peace and I probably never will. I’m entering a period where I’m very interested in lessening the amount I read. I don’t want to have to immerse myself and absorb more and more information in order to churn out more and more books. I bet you when I’m lying on my deathbed I won’t be there going: “Thank God I read 20,000 books in my life.” I’ll be there going: “Thank God I learned to love and be loved.” In a weird way, this path of self-emptying brings so much fullness and richness.
In 2016, I began work on a novel, QUINN, which explores incarceration, male violence and radical forgiveness. QUINN was shortlisted for the 2019 Fitzcarraldo Editions Novel Prize and was published by Oneworld in March 2023. I’m currently working on a second work of fiction about masculinity and redemptive death.
My literary agent is Irene Baldoni of Georgina Capel.
A beautifully constructed and mesmerizing book that makes you think afresh about the enduring residue of pain both for those who have committed acts of violence and those affected by them. A brave and original attempt to answer our culture of dehumanization with a story that rehumanizes at every level.Marina Cantacuzino, author of The Forgiveness Project
you can buy quinn here:
- Bookshop.org (support independent booksellers)
- Book Depository
- Amazon.co.uk (last resort!)
For more information about Quinn, please see separate tab.