Ellen Clayton on Writing Her Poem “Home-Baked” for the Sugar and Spice Theme

Ellen Clayton is from Suffolk, England, where she lives with her husband and three young children. Her poetry often focuses on motherhood and love. She has recently been published in The Daily Drunk, Discretionary Love, and Gypsophila and has poems forthcoming in Tattie Zine, Nightingale and Sparrow, Corporeal, and Honeyfire Literary Magazine.

Ellen Clayton’s poem “Home-Baked” is published in Capsule Stories Winter 2021 Edition: Sugar and Spice. The poem captures a moment on Christmas Eve of stepping out into the garage to grab champagne, then pausing to survey the scene of a happy family gathered together and the enticing scent of Mum’s spicy sausage rolls in the oven.

Capsule Stories: Where did the idea for “Home-Baked” come from?

Ellen Clayton: I saw the Capsule Stories Sugar and Spice theme call out and I knew I wanted to submit something as I love writing about food and family. For me, the warm, tender poems come more easily than the harder-hitting pieces! I didn’t feel I had anything specific enough to work initially, so I wanted to write something new. When I began to think about the foods that symbolize the festive period for me, Mum’s sausage rolls stood out, and that was the seed of the poem.

Capsule Stories: You capture this Christmas Eve scene so fully and completely! When you sit down to write, how do you conjure up all these vivid, specific details from that moment?

Ellen Clayton: I think this scene has played out (with minor variations) for years, so it came to me almost fully formed—completely clear in my mind. Funnily enough, last Christmas (2020) we were unable to all get together, so I found the process of recalling those details a little bittersweet. Though, I felt hopeful too—that we can live this again soon.

Capsule Stories: What ideas or images did you cut or add from earlier drafts of “Home-Baked”?

Ellen Clayton: In an earlier draft I had included more details about the rest of the evening: games we sometimes play, the children opening a gift each, etc. However, I couldn’t get across the same vivid feeling for those moments, and ultimately I felt the piece worked better focusing solely on the food aspect. 

Capsule Stories: How do you approach exploring themes of family and love in your writing? Why are you drawn to them?

Ellen Clayton: Family and love are the themes I always come back to, I suppose because they are the part of my life I am most immersed in—especially at the moment, when the majority of my time is spent parenting young children! I make a lot of notes on my phone when particular moments stand out to me or phrases pop into my head. I think my writing often veers into the sentimental so I try to rein that in a little if I can—focusing on the sensory aspects or evoking memories of food can help with that!

Capsule Stories: What other writers have influenced you, and specifically, “Home-Baked”?

Ellen Clayton: My biggest poetry influence has to be Hollie McNish—I really think she’s paved the way for writing about the realities of being a woman and mother. Her poems made me feel legitimized in a way, that I could be taken seriously as a poet even if I drew on my own, ordinary experiences and didn’t write epic poems about nature! More recently, I have been particularly inspired by Kate Baer too.

Capsule Stories: How do you make time in your life to write?

Ellen Clayton: Making the time to write is definitely a continual juggle—as I mentioned before, I often make notes on my phone and will work on poems in my notes app! If I didn’t do that, I would write very rarely indeed. I think that’s the thing with writers—we create the time somehow, even if we can’t sit down with a notebook for an uninterrupted two-hour session.

Capsule Stories: What are your favorite recipes to make or eat over the winter holidays?

Ellen Clayton: I have to confess, I’m not really a cook! It’s my parents’ cooking that I really associate with Christmas: the sausage rolls, obviously, but also Christmas dinners, turkey curries, trifles! I do like to bake a bit though, so baking cookies with my kids is something I hope to make into our own tradition.

Capsule Stories: What are you working on next?

Ellen Clayton: In the spring of 2022, I have a chapbook coming out with Bent Key Publishing, and “Home-Baked” will be the title piece. The chapbook is all about food, family, and nostalgia—so it’ll be perfect for fans of this edition of Capsule Stories!

You can find Ellen Clayton’s poetry on Instagram at @ellen_writes­_poems and on Twitter at @el_clayton. You can find links to Ellen’s current publications at https://linktr.ee/EllenClayton.

Ellen Clayton
Ellen Clayton

Read Ellen Clayton’s poem “Home-Baked” in Capsule Stories Winter 2021 Edition: Sugar and Spice.

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