THE OUTNET’S Content Editor, Jess Wood, had the privilege to catch-up with writer, model and actor (just to name a few) Yrsa Daley-Ward. In case you missed their live conversation, we made sure to save some of the best bits…
Jess: Hi! Yrsa! I was just thinking how I would even begin to describe what you do. You’re a poet, a writer, a model, actor, where do we even start? So, how do you like to describe yourself?
Yrsa: What we are changes, but I always like to just say storytelling because then you can use it to cover lots of different things. So, you can say ‘I’m a storyteller’ you know acting, or storyteller writing it down. I think it’s all one thing really, isn’t it?
Jess: When you were little were you into telling stories? Did you make up stories, you know, with your friends or your family?
Yrsa: When I look at old diaries now, it’s funny because I used to tell a lot of tall-tales about what I was doing and enhance it. I thought that my life wasn’t exciting or remarkable enough so I would always make things up and I think with that came a bit of a healthy imagination and just a want to make everything kind of beautiful and larger than life.
Jess: You grew up in Chorley in Lancashire is that right?
Yrsa: Right! So, Chorley is this little town in the North West of England. And, at the time when I was growing up especially, there weren’t too many people that looked like me. It was just me in my high school and primary school actually and until my brother came along, there were actually even no other black people there. It’s Lancashire, it’s near rolling hills and green and you know, fairly quiet. I feel like when you’re from somewhere like that you always spend the rest of your life trying to come back to it. Cause now I really love the countryside and just being in really serene places where I can just hear myself think.
Jess: Yeah, I think a lot of people have kind of found that with lockdown in-particular, it’s made people reflect on where they come from and where they grew up.
Yrsa: I mean, you have to find the beauty in everything right? So, we have to almost find the beauty in this whole period of time and figure out how best to… it’s my philosophy figure out how best to ‘ok, what can I get from this moment? What is it teaching me?’ And there are a lot of things that I’ve learnt and a lot of new ways, new things that I’ve picked up because there was finally the quiet in order to do so. And I was able to hear my own thoughts.
Jess: So, what kind of writing were you starting to do when you thought, properly, I want to be a writer?
Yrsa: I wrote fiction. And I think I wrote fiction because I was, again, I was trying to give myself other realities you know, when I grew up I wanted to look different, I didn’t like the way I looked. I wanted to…
Jess: You didn’t like the way you looked?
Jess: Is that because of the external messaging you were getting about that in where you were living or internally as well?
Yrsa: Well, I grew up in a white town, there was no representation, never anyone that looked like me. So, when I read or when I wrote, it catapulted me into this… I could be anything. I could create that, and having words is just so powerful. I think, it was escapism, initially. And yeah, it was fiction and it was poetry, right from the beginning.
Jess: Then you started to be a model and did that make you feel differently about your looks?
Yrsa: I suppose, once I got to the city and for me that was Manchester first before London. I started to go, ‘oh, ok, well, first of all there are people that look like me and people who look like me are models and are on the catwalk and they do all of that.’ And, yeah, I started to feel different. I started to realize ‘oh, there is room for me.’ Same with writing! Learning that my story is as important as anybody else’s, that is a huge thing for a young writer to understand.
Jess: You self-published your poetry Bone. And then it got issued by Penguin. Was that a huge defining moment for you?
Yrsa: Oh yeah! Yes! yeah, I needed to get it out, my work was being rejected left, right, and center so I thought ‘I’ll just do it myself.’ You know? Why not? So, I didn’t have any expectations, I just put it out there, a little self-published book, and then put it out in 2014. It took 3 years; it didn’t happen overnight. Then, Penguin approached me and they wanted to reissue it.
Jess: Did that make you feel proud or are you prouder of the fact that, because to me that’s so impressive to go ‘well, fine, if no one else is going to publish it, I’ll just publish it then.’ What are you prouder of?
Yrsa: You know what, I love Penguin, but I’m always prouder of doing it yourself when nobody will publish you; it’s the thing that gets you there in the first place. Invest in yourself, don’t wait for someone to invest in you, because it may not happen. And, it’s very interesting, investing in yourself is often the thing that makes people and larger companies invest in you.
Jess: And then you wrote The Terrible a memoir, so tell me about that.
Yrsa: Well, The Terrible, I didn’t expect to write but it came out! I was trying to write something else and it came out. And, while I was writing it, it took its own… it started going and I couldn’t stop it. And, it’s full of secrets and things that I didn’t want anyone to know, but, what can you do when it’s just coming out of you? So, I allowed it to go, I allowed myself to go places I never thought it would go and talk about, real issues like addiction and lots and lots of things that I never thought that I would talk about.
Jess: So, Yrsa, the time is ticking along and I have not asked you about Beyoncé. Tell me about that and how that all sort of came about with Beyoncé.
Yrsa: Oh, well, that whole experience has been really, really incredible and working with her and working with somebody, first of all that’s just so inspiring, someone who just works so, so, so hard and knows every aspect of everything, who is so deeply involved with every part of the process. You know there’s that phrase that’s like ‘you have the same 24 hours in a day as Beyoncé.’ And, it’s amazing, I think it’s contagious being around people who are focused and driven and do a brilliant job. And just being able to write on a project that’s so culturally significant, it means a lot, it really does.
Jess: Yeah. And lastly, tell us about what you’re working on next. What other projects do you have in the pipeline?
Yrsa: I have a surprise project which I’m not allowed to talk about but I will say I’m writing a new book. And the new book is to do with, well, I’ll just say this, outside and inside. Which is really, really vague.
Jess: Have you got any other projects that you want to tell, everyone wants to know.
Yrsa: You know, this is gonna sound a bit funny but I’m gonna say it anyway. So, I will say, at the risk of sounding strange that the projects I’m working on is myself and not spreading myself thinly. And because there’s really no need for it, when you go back and you look at the life you had at the end of your life you don’t wish to have done more work, you wish to have spent more time in love, you know, doing, being loving, creating relationships, everybody says that. So, that’s what I want to work on, that’s what’s important. It’s made me have a shift in consciousness this time, like, ‘what do I really want. Ok, but why do I want it? You know, be in this film, write 700 books, really, do I want to do that?’ So, really thinking about that and what’s important. You know, what’s really important? So, yes, working on myself.
Jess: That is your big project at the moment.
Yrsa: Well, it has to be. Everybody’s main project has got to be themselves and their own peace of mind and their love.
Jess: We don’t want to leave you, but we have to, this has been so delightful and so inspiring.
Yrsa: Thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you.