Posted 04 January 2024
Interview by Nicole Fan
Mention Scarlett Ward

“I had to learn to write again”: Scarlett Ward on poetry, publishing and living with Multiple Sclerosis

Scarlett Ward is deeply enmeshed in the world of poetry – not just as an avid reader, but as a writer, performer and publisher too. After getting her first book deal, she founded Fawn Press to give back to the literary scene, helping writers develop their manuscripts into poetry pamphlets and anthologies. That all came to a pause when she fell into a coma two years ago due to Multiple Sclerosis, an incurable disease of the nervous system. Learning how to walk, talk, read and write again was not an easy process, but Scarlett’s passion for publishing has only grown stronger. She shares what it’s like living with a chronic illness, why putting yourself out there always pays off, and how to give back to your creative community.

Scarlett Ward

Scarlett Ward

Job Title

Poet and Publisher, Fawn Press



Previous Employment

Digital Marketeer, Dedred Coms, 2015–2020

Place of Study

BA (Hons) English and History, Keele University, 2012-2015


Social Media

Scarlett’s Instagram
Fawn Press’ Instagram

What I do

How would you describe what you do?
I am first and foremost a poet and writer. However, I am also a publisher, editor and graphic designer at Fawn Press. What I do is essentially nurture poets along their journey from submission to publication. Working closely with each individual on their manuscripts, I help ensure that the poetry looks and sounds exactly how they want it on the page.

What are the main influences and inspirations behind your work?
Jane Commane at Nine Arches Press and Emma Dai’an Wright at The Emma Press are my two main inspirations – both work so tirelessly to create the most beautiful books and are incredibly fantastic publishers. I also look up to writers such as Fiona Benson, Isabel Galleymore and Ada Limon, as their writing is impeccable. As these publishers and writers meant a lot to me, I knew I wanted to give back to the poetry scene which I adore so much, as well as help others on their journey.

Poetry pamphlets published under Fawn Press

Would you say you need any specific training for what you do?
When it comes to writing, I think the most important thing for a writer to do is to read widely and across genres. Be curious about the mechanics of a poem and experimental in how you piece it together.

However, I developed most of my editing, publishing and design skills by myself. I had a background in copywriting and editing, which helped me on my journey, but I developed a lot of my experience in the field by volunteering to write for local magazines and writing incessantly in my own private poetry practice. Having a creative flair really helped me evolve my editing and copywriting skills also.

“I developed a lot of my experience by volunteering to write for local magazines and writing incessantly on my own.”

As for publishing in print, I didn’t have much training in that area but I’ve developed a really great relationship with my printer. We work on each Fawn Press pamphlet together before going to print, and we figure out how the pamphlet as well as the artwork within it should look.

When it comes to performing, I would recommend just getting yourself out there and practising!

What’s been your favourite project to work on from the past year, and why?
I have loved the process of working with each poet as it’s so much more than a case of simply building a book with them – it’s a real pleasure to help them grow and develop in that time.

One poet who I think that really applies to is Devjani Bodepudi. She submitted to an anthology I put together in 2021 and didn’t quite get in, but she came to mind when we received some funding to start a mentorship programme. I offered places to a small number of people who I thought had real potential and Devjani was one of them. Together, we did some editing sessions, had general advice chats, gave each other reading recommendations and figured out some places she could submit work to, so as to help her get on the submissions ladder.

“Working with each poet is so much more than simply building a book with them – it’s helping them grow and develop.”

Devjani really flourished throughout the programme and when I saw her submission in my inbox the following summer, her manuscript was really tight and focused. It told a story in a really stunning way, and I knew I wanted to publish it as soon as I saw it. The pamphlet has actually gone on to receive a Saboteur Award – a literary prize given by Sabotage Reviews — for best pamphlet, which is a real testament to the value of nurturing writers in their journey. I’m really proud of Devjani.

In my own work, I am currently working on my second book and finding a home for it with another publisher.

The debut Fawn Press anthology which received an award nomination

How I got here

What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
I have always loved to read and write, so after graduating university with a degree in English, I sought out any workshop, poetry evening, or book launch to immerse myself into the scene. I then got my first book published by Verve Press in 2019 after they discovered me through their writing competition – which is proof that it pays off to put yourself out there!

When it came to launching Fawn Press, the skills I picked up from working in digital marketing and web design proved really useful: I was able to throw together its website and social media accounts pretty quickly, as well as manage and maintain them. By then, I was also a regular in the poetry scene and headlined a lot of shows – so I already had my name out there and that helped with promoting Fawn Press.

“Within the poetry and publishing scene, being part of the community is the most important thing.”

When we started, we tactically launched with a call for submissions for an anthology. Poets naturally share and are interested in these open calls because it’s an opportunity to get your poems read, so this got us quite a few followers right away and meant that we had a good follower base when we started working on pamphlets the following year.

I still struggle with imposter syndrome as Fawn Press only releases a few books each year – and I have to pace myself as I live with a chronic illness. But I’m proud of all it has achieved in the two years that it’s been running. We are constantly comparing ourselves to others and too much of that is a bad thing for sure, but it can also be the key to growth and development. So aim high, but don’t be hard on yourself.

How did you go about landing your first few authors at Fawn Press?
Being fluent in different methods of marketing is super-important. Know how to present yourself on social media; utilise your websites and email marketing channels – these all helped me and they can benefit you no matter what industry you’re in.

Within the poetry and publishing scene, being part of the community is the most important thing. Go along to poetry nights with no expectation of reading; just listen. Buy books from small presses and read magazine issues with a ferocious appetite before you even think of submitting. Putting your work out on social media can help build a following – but remember to save some back to submit to journals and magazines as many won’t publish if it’s been previously posted to the public.

What would you say has been your biggest challenge along the way?
I got sick in 2022 and fell into a coma, then I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, a disease where my immune system attacks my brain. All this happened on the eve of the intended launch date of Salt & Metal, a poetry pamphlet by Sallyanne Rock that Fawn Press was meant to publish, but Sallyanne had been my good friend for quite some years before that and I’m really grateful for her understanding in those early days.

Apart from having to learn to walk and talk again, I had to learn to read and write again whilst I was recovering, so I was a poor editor for a while. I leaned on others such as my sister to help me with admin tasks while my brain was still defrosting, and literally did crossword puzzles to retrain my brain, despite barely being able to read the words in front of me.

“My disease is incurable, but I’ve been able to navigate its challenges so far. I’ll forever go down swinging when it comes to my poetry.”

It’s still something I struggle with but, with the correct treatment, I’m happy to say that my MS is now in remission. As my disease is incurable, I will always struggle with elements such as brain fog and cognitive dysfunction – but by setting my mind to the task at hand, I have always been able to navigate the challenges that my illness has thrown so far into the path of my writing. I’ll forever go down swinging when it comes to my poetry.

Scarlett hooked up to a chemotherapy infusion machine after being diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis

If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful to your work or career, what would they be and why?
The first is my publisher, Verve Poetry Press. They discovered me through their competition in 2018, offered me a publishing contract and got me my first collection. I’ll always be grateful to them for that. This is a testament to putting yourself out there – had I not entered that competition, I would never have secured my book deal.

The second thing that I’m grateful for is the literature community. ‘LitTwit’ – literature twitter – has opened so many doors for me, including submission opportunities, review calls, podcast releases, free poetry magazines to read and more. Be an active supporter in these circles, whether it’s online or in real life. Don’t just aim to take from these precious pockets – be an active member of the community by consuming, reading and following. As you become a well-known name, you never know what opportunities you may get in return

Finally, the book How To Be A Poet by Jane Commane and Jo Bell has been really useful to my career. That book contains some of the most simple yet powerful pieces of writing advice and I recommend it to everyone. These kinds of essay-based books are essential reading, and there are many resources out there for budding writers.

“Put yourself out there – had I not entered a competition, I would never have secured my book deal.”

How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
Knowing how to utilise social media is essential for any industry, but particularly for the creative arts. You have to be your own agent, sales department, marketing expert and more. Being on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook is the minimum – but you should also start an email newsletter, make the rounds on podcasts and blogs, and reach out to local newsletters with press releases.

You have to shout about yourself, because nobody else will. Your social media presence is your shop window where people can get a sample of your work and hear about your news. It also offers you a platform to be an active supporter of other organisations in your industry.

“You have to shout about yourself, because nobody else will. Your social media presence is your ‘shop window’.”

What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
I work full-time alongside Fawn Press in copywriting, marketing and PR – and it doesn’t take away from my dream. Whenever I meet someone, I always introduce myself as a publisher because that’s where my passion is.

Unfortunately, Fawn Press is unfunded. We generate income through sales, submission windows and editing workshops. However, as a poet, I reach out to schools and poetry festivals to offer my workshops and run my own private classes. Platforms such as Patreon can be great for individuals to generate an income from their talent. I also do a lot of live readings at spoken word nights, so it’s worth venturing into your local scene and becoming a supporter as you may find that these organisations will support you in turn.

Scarlett’s workshop at the BBC’s ‘Contains Strong Language’ event with VERVE Poetry Festival

Is there a place in your city that you’ve found helpful or inspiring to your practice?
Birmingham was the most incredible place to start my poetry journey. It has a vibrant and diverse open mic scene, with various events popping up all the time. I owe much of my creative development to the people I met reading at poetry evenings across the city. I lived in Staffordshire, which is close to the city but far enough to be very green. That balance between a busy metropolis and a forest into which I could retreat was a great combination to get inspiration.

I moved to Brighton this summer as I found its creative scene to be just gorgeous and I hope that it’ll help me to develop even more. I think the people you surround yourself with really have a great impact on your work, so meet as many as you can - every person brings their own source of inspiration to your life.

“The people you surround yourself with really have a great impact on your work, so meet as many as you can.”

Have there been any courses, programmes, initiatives or access schemes you would recommend to get into your sector?
I was lucky to be added to the Room 204 Writer Development Programme organised by Writing West Midlands and I attended a fantastic long-form course run by Liz Berry in 2019. I put myself forward for any poetry workshop course I see pop up on Twitter or Instagram because one-to-one workshops really help you reflect on your own work in a more personal way.

My advice

What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
Just go for it. Put yourself out there, nominate yourself for things, apply for workshops, send your work off for publication. Luck favours the brave, but be prepared to work on your craft.

Also, take criticism of your work as an opportunity to grow as a writer and don’t take rejection personally. You will face many closed doors, but keep knocking!

“Luck favours the brave, but be prepared to work on your craft.”

What advice would you give someone looking to get into a similar role?
If you’re looking to become a poet, my best advice would be to read as widely as possible. Read across genres, across periods. The more you read, the better a writer you become.

Sylvia Plath famously said, “I write because there is a voice within me that cannot be still.” Every poet or author knows this feeling, and it’s because everybody has a story to tell. Become obsessed with your craft, join workshops and write every single day, even if it’s just a few lines in your notes app.

Interview by Nicole Fan
Mention Scarlett Ward