Mental Health Awareness Week 2023 is here and with it, another fantastic opportunity to showcase and celebrate the work of our talented alumni community.  

Creative Writing MA graduate, Susan Sandilands, recently published her debut poetry anthology, I Am Lunatic. As part of Mental Health Awareness Week and the release of her collection, Susan took part in an interview to delve into her beautiful and honest poetry, her relationship with the University of Salford and her tips for succeeding as an author. 

Self-portrait of the poetry anthology author Susan Sandilands
Poet and Salford Graduate Susan Sandilands

What are some of the key themes in your poetry, and why did you choose to write about them? 

My poetry is very much steered by emotions, which are often intense and heightened. ‘I Am Lunatic’ is themed around my bipolar disorder and I am essentially saying, “this is me, this is my reality”. 

I chose to write about my struggles with mental health as a means of empowerment and self-expression. It has been quite cathartic being so candid, but also a little daunting. Whilst writing this book I had a burning desire to embrace my oddities and run with my imagination full-throttle no matter how bizarre a concoction I cooked up. Each section depicts a different mood, a different tone. There is light and there is dark, there are highs and there are lows. My next collection will be themed around love in its many forms 

What are some of your favourite poems in I Am Lunatic and why? 

I chose not to give my poems titles like you might expect traditionally, as I wanted them to flow and have continuity. My favourite poems begin with, 

“Beware of the Dream Creep Creeper” and “she came here to roost on my blanket of dreams”. 

 I like the first poem because it taps into the darkness that shifts through children’s literature which I find so fascinating, whilst the other explores finding calm and solace amongst the chaos. 

An illustration from the anthology, depicting a woman standing under an archway wrapped in thorned roses.
An illustration from the collection

Why did you choose to study at Salford and how have your studies helped in the creation of your work? 

Salford has a great reputation for diversity. This is one of the reasons why I chose to study there. There is a real sense of community on campus, and everything feels accessible. 

The academic staff are also fantastic and so passionate. I had met with Dr Scott Thurston prior to joining the course to learn a bit more about what to expect should I choose to study at Salford.   

I was so impressed by the opportunities for innovation and experimentation, that went beyond the realms of archaic and traditional academia. The course was unique and exciting.  Studying at Salford has been instrumental in helping me shape and develop my craft, encouraging me to be brave by take creative risks whilst being supported by a fantastic team of academic staff. 

I knew instinctually that Salford was a place where I would thrive, and I was right. It is a wonderful university and I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to study there. 

What advice would you give to other Creative Writing graduates who want to create poetry? 

If you are completely new to poetry, get yourself a little notebook, carry it with you wherever you go so that when you feel inspired or have an idea or a concept, you can write it down and make sense of it later however random it might seem. 

Experiment, play around with different poetic forms. Having a guide or some sort of structure can also be a great help when you have a desire to write poetry, but don’t know where to start. Writing magazine Mslexia have a fantastic guide that covers 15 styles of poetry with examples of each. It is available to download via their website for just £3. I highly recommend this.   

Also, draw inspiration from others, read poetry books, attend poetry nights/free events. Consider joining a poetry group or take a short course so that you have opportunities to gain constructive feedback which is invaluable to a writer. 

Susan’s poetry is available to purchase from Waterstones, Pegasus Publishing and the Kindle Store.