Hollie McNish has stopped talking for a moment; this doesn’t happen much during the interview. I have just asked her why she thinks her “poetic memoir”, Nobody Told Me, recently won the Poetry Society’s Ted Hughes award (previous recipients include Kate Tempest and Alice Oswald). “I really don’t know,” she says after a brief pause, shrugging and pulling awkwardly at the sleeves of her jumper. “I don’t think it’s because those experts in poetry [the judging panel] think the poetry in that book is good.”
Part of me wants to tell her to resist that typically female urge to downplay her talent, to give her work a harder sell. But the truth is that anyone who has read the book – even those, like me, who have loved it and pressed it on friends and relations – will know what she means. If “good” poetry is intricately crafted, with delicate layers of meaning, Nobody Told Me is not it. The book is a scrappy, chaotic, heartfelt portrait of new motherhood, from the moment McNish found out she was pregnant (in the toilets at King’s Cross station on her way to Glastonbury) to her daughter turning three. It includes diary entries, poems jotted in the dead of night and during nap-times, breathless musings on breastfeeding, sex after giving birth, and the state of the world.