Monday, 15 October 2018


Strings of dots and sticks
weaving between ledger lines;
Language of music.

Saturday, 6 October 2018

Winchester Poetry Festival and other stuff

I always enjoy the Winchester Poetry Festival and it gives me a good excuse to visit the city I call my second home. I love it there.

This year it was a quick visit and I wondered how difficult it would be with South Western Trains on strike. Actually, the train we aimed for was on time! It was a beautiful autumn day and it was obvious that the poetry festival wasn't the only thing going on in town. David Attenborough was signing copies of his book in Waterstones and the queue was all the way down the high street. However, we headed for our favourite cafe for afternoon tea, followed by a wander by the river before heading to the Discovery Centre to see Ian McMillan at 6.30pm. I bought a copy of his new selected poems and while we were queuing to go in Ian strolled along the line chatting, mug of tea in hand. I asked if he'd sign my copy of his book which he duly did. I love the words he wrote because I always have happy days in Winchester.

That one hour listening to Ian McMillan read and tell stories went by so quickly. Laughter rang out through the auditorium and I could have listened to him all night. He is down to earth and funny and he talked a lot about his family and how the poems came to be written.  What a lovely evening. But that was the end of my visit to the festival this year. I know I'll be back. I was tempted by other books on the stalls but I'd bought so many lately. As it happened, I'd accidentally left all my credit cards at home so hubby to pay for everything yesterday, including dinner in a local pub afterwards, before we headed home on the slow train to London!

In other news, my second poem for The People's Friend was published in their autumn special on Wednesday and Visual Verse has published a poem of mine on their website this weekend (page 15). There is more of my work in their archive where you can find my author page. Here you will find poetry and flash fiction.

Ian (right) with the Chair of the Winchester Poetry Festival

Autumn in Winchester

Sunday, 23 September 2018

The Forward Prizes for Poetry and The Free Verse Poetry Book & Magazine Fair

The Forward Prizes for Poetry 

I've had a busy week. On Tuesday evening I was at the Queen Elizabeth Hall for The Forward Prizes for Poetry. It's a while since I've been to anything like this and my reaction afterwards was that I'd been away too long. Something seems to have happened to poetry and I wasn't quite sure what to make of it.

Apart from Liz Berry (who won the prize for best single poem) I'd never heard of the other poets. Maybe I'm not reading widely enough (obviously). I enjoyed  Fiona Benson's poem - like Berry's it was about motherhood and I hoped one of these poets would win!

Maybe I wasn't in the right mood, I don't know but when did poetry get so angry? Okay, I know it can be/should be passionate but I have to say I was rather stunned. There was an awful lot of reaction to things and I was rather baffled. I began to think I know nothing about poetry. This was different to what I tended to read and they were experiences I'd had none of, though obviously for the poets they meant a great deal and they received loud applause. Me? I was quiet and not sure how to react. Some poems were more like stories and I felt I needed to read these poems for myself, quietly to try and take them in. So I bought the book with collection of poems, including other shortlisted poets and highly commended, poets who did not read on the night. I felt that was a better way to understand what poetry is today.

Of the other poets who read I'd like to know more of Will Harris....there is something I need to explore maybe. In the category for Best First Collection Kaveh Akbar was certainly of the performance variety with his scary eyes and shock of hair tumbling one side then the other. Some of his lines were amusing and I may explore his poetry. The winner in that category was Phoebe Power.

In the last section for Best Collection I took to Danez Smith, the winner (a cheeky chappie) who threw himself into his performance! Certainly there was passion there.

These poets, I guess, are the elite. They've been published in the big named magazines, some have had collection before and those on their first are no doubt on to better things. I felt far away from this poetry altogether, apart from the motherhood ones, maybe because I can identify with that. Whatever, something was at work inside of me because the following morning I woke with words in my head and I had to get up early to write. I drafted several poems! Being in these atmospheres around other poets and writers is inspiring, even though this time I didn't think it was! I obviously have much to learn about poetry and hopefully some of that passion will rub off on me eventually.

The Free Verse Poetry Book & Magazine Fair (22nd September)

I've been to the Free Verse Festival a few times but I missed last year. This year the venue was moved to University of London (Senate House) and the event  had been taken over by the Poetry Society. Certainly there was more space to move between the stands though I was a bit disappointed there were no goodie bags as in previous years. It soon became obvious that while I had withdrawn a substantial amount of cash before coming, it wasn't going to last very long! I would have bought more books but the money ran out and that's when I left. I found some interesting independent publishers, a few good deals, some wonderful little free concertina booklets (hardly booklets, but cute) and great people to chat to. I did sign up for a year subscription to Dream Catcher because I got an extra free book and they publish short stories and poetry. There did seem to be a lot more book publishers than magazine publishers which was a shame as I was hoping to suss some out.

I didn't stay to hear any readings this year. These were free and ran about every half hour. They included poets from Seren Books, Bare Fiction, Overstep Books and Burning Eye. There were 15 readings in all running until about 4.30pm. There were also two workshops running (paid and booked in advance) and a gala reading at 7.30pm which was a paid entry event. The entry to the festival was free. Although I didn't stay very long I came away with enough to keep me reading for a while and an empty purse!

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Seeing the bigger picture (how art and writing share similarities)

I've just finished reading Playing to the Gallery by Grayson Perry. What, you may ask, has a book about art got to do with writing? Actually, quite a lot.

This summer I have dabbled in a little art after many years. As a teenager I spent many hours with pencil, crayons, watercolour and ink copying other people's pictures. Later when married and with children art slipped into the past (a bit like writing). When I did get my sketch book out I was disappointed and frustrated with the results. However, this year being frustrated with writing I reverted to art. I decided I would not judge what I did and do it for purely for enjoyment. I'd forgotten how relaxing it was. I was able to switch off from everything just like I did in the those early days.

Art crept back into my life about ten or so years ago when I began going to exhibitions and art galleries. I took a few courses in Art History and started to understand what I liked, and recently I have rather taken to some modern art. In the last six weeks I've been to about four exhibitions and two art galleries. It was at one of these exhibitions that I bought one of two books by Grayson Perry.

In  Playing to the Gallery Grayson Perry deals with the art world in a way I understand and with great humour. I love the little sketches he does and he made me laugh. However, it was the last paragraph I most enjoyed because here he spoke about his journey into art and a lot of what he said rings true for writers. He talked about learning techniques. Yes, you could be an artist without going to Art College but it's difficult. Writers also have to think about technique and writing a bestseller, poetry or short story is not easy without some kind of learning, whether it's a Degree in Creative Writing or Workshops and courses. Having a career as an artist isn't dissimilar to a career as a writer. You do it mainly because you can't not do it. It's something in you. You may never earn any money but that's not the point.

The ability to play was interesting. Perry said that almost as soon as he decided he would be an artist he lost the ability to play. He'd grown up and found losing himself in art wasn't as easy. It took him years to find that freedom again. I think this is a bit like writing for yourself and then suddenly writing for the market. You are trying to please other people, finding what they want to publish.

What makes an artist or a writer? For Perry he admits that he sees things differently. I'd agree with that as a writer. When I look at what I write, especially poetry, it is the way I find the words to convey something. Friend have said to me, 'I'd never thought of it that way before.'  I don't know where these ideas come from but I'm glad of them! My eldest son is dyslexic and he sees the world in a different way too and I think, wow! On the few occasions when I've gone to him to sound off something I'm stuck on (usually a story) he often comes up with a new perspective. So being a writer (or artist) you need imagination, the ability to see things from a different angle and then produce a work to convey that. Oh, and you need persistence and a very thick skin!

Finally comes that time when someone asks, 'What do you do?'  Do you come out and say 'I write'? Perry found it hard to admit to being an artist at first (well, it's not a proper job, is it!) and then there are the questions that follow as a writer, 'What do you write?' I've always thought about writing a book myself'  It took me some time to tell people I write, though this year because I've been in a very 'off' mood I've not said anything!

Finally Grayson Perry talks about the pressure to do the next thing - for him it was filling a large space with art which he has to do from scratch. What will people think of it when they see it?  What will people say? And then he has to sell it. For the writer it is the next book. Can it possibly be as good as the first? Will their agent/publisher like it or say sorry you need to scrub that, your character isn't strong enough and you need to re-write the ending? Maybe they will reject it totally. It's been known. Then after all that what will your readers think of it? Suddenly we are part of the mad world of publishing. Of course we may never get that far in the first place!

I learned quite a lot from this book, and not just about art. I actually found it rather reassuring.

Here are three of my little art pieces created over the summer.

An original! My back garden with washing!
Pencil and crayon

Pencil and crayon
(copied from Culpepper's book on herbs & plants)

Copied from the exhibition guide - Edward Bawden 'Adam & Evelyn at Kew'
Dulwich Picture Gallery
Pencil, watercolour and ink

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Author Event - Khaled Hosseini

On Tuesday night I had the privilege of hearing the author Khaled Hosseini speak at the Royal Festival Hall in London. The author wrote the excellent Kite Runner and I've enjoyed all his books. Sea Prayer is different. It was inspired by the little three year old boy Alan Kurdi from Syria who was drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach safety in Europe in 2015. The book is a prayer from a father to his sleeping son as they wait for the boat which will take them across the sea. The pages are beautifully illustrated by Dan Williams, and though the book is short and can be read in a few minutes it is very moving.

Hearing the author talk about his own journey as a refugee and his work for UNHCR was humbling and also inspiring. A short clip of a visit he made to a refugee camp was shown and he talked about going back to Afghanistan (his own country) as well as the difficult questions of hostility from countries and people towards refugees. I found him captivating in speech. His understanding of the situation and his knowledge of current events is outstanding. He described his feelings as he leaves refugee camps as a lump in throat and that he wishes he could do more.

After the talk there was time for Q&A and then it was all over. It was a most wonderful evening. I should mention that the ticket price included the book and that arriving early had the bonus of an upgraded ticket from the rear stalls to the front stalls! What a night!

The stage is set

Where's the mic? Q&Q

All over

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Hastings Literary Festival, plus some art and walking

My room overlooked the seafront
I said I wasn't going to do festivals and conferences this year, yet when I saw this one at Hastings I decided to combine it with a mini holiday in Eastbourne and only book a couple of sessions. This worked out right for me as I managed to combine a few of my interests in one long weekend.

I'd booked a lovely B&B on Eastbourne seafront where I could watch the sunrise and hear the sea lapping at the shore in the night. I spent many evening in front of the window watching the world go by, gazing at the sea and listening to Smooth Radio!

I arrived last Thursday around 2pm and once unpacked and revived with a cuppa I set out for an easy walk along the seafront towards Princes Park where hubby and I took the boys when they were young (Fort Fun is opposite and we took them too!). I indulged in a chocolate ice and ambled around the park before going back into the town centre for something to eat.

Princes Park, Eastbourne

Friday was, for me (and in the words of Lou Reed) a Perfect Day. I caught the bus into Bexhill and headed for the De La Warr Pavilion (long been on my list for a visit). I loved it and had a chance to enjoy the first of my passions - art. Modern art is growing on me! I bought a cappuccino and sat out on the balcony enjoying the sun and the view. I had to tear myself away from the shop, though I did by a book by Grayson Perry.

De La Warr Pavilion,  Bexhill

Inside in the Pavilion

It was time for my second passion - walking. I walked along the coastline all the way to St Leonards. I was amazed by the difference in cliff formations and was in my element. With the sun warming me, the cloudless sky, the sound of sea and the great views I enjoyed this walk more than I can express. Once in St Leonards I decided to check out the venue for the first workshop I had booked. It was held in a room in the Horse & Groom Pub. I soon found it and went off to buy some lunch and ate it overlooking the beach.

The workshop was Songwriting. Yes, I thought I do something different yet familiar. The first song I ever wrote was when I was around 10 years old! As a teenager and into my twenties I wrote songs on my guitar and taped them onto cassette. A few times I even collaborated with penfriends of mine. They would send me lyrics and I would tidy them up so they would scan and put them to music. I don't read or write music (despite singing in a choir) but I could work out chords. I'd send them back the songs when I'd recorded them. It was fun to do and that was the main thing.

When I married the guitar was packed away and I hardly ever wrote, though when the children were small I did sometimes accompany myself singing Christmas carols and I taught both boys the bass line riff to Smoke on The Water by Deep Purple! However, their interest in learning guitar was soon lost. A few years ago I did take a Songwriting course with Coursera and came away with an 89.9 pass mark! So, when I saw this workshop I thought I'd go for it.

Our tutor, Anna Page, was in a girl band which got close to signing with a record company several times but it never quite happened, and now she gigs and teaches. She taught us structure and to write what motivated us, what we were passionate about. Those who were particularly musical could use some instruments Anna brought along and there was a piano in the room. One guy had brought his guitar and offered me use it if I wanted. However, I was struggling to write lyrics due to the noise of people playing and singing into phones! We were told we could move around and had use of the bar and that's where I headed. I was trying to write a song about loving solitude. It was going to be a sort of love song and why I needed space. The distractions and a discussion with 'guitar man' the lyrics ended up that I couldn't find any peace!

Two things didn't work for me. The room we used was poorly lit and had no windows (it was once and old garage) and the distractions. For this type of writing I need total peace and light! Going into the bar was far better. People were talking but there were only a handful of people and I could switch off. My lyrics are not great. I'm not going to be using them. However, it was a good exercise and we all read out our lyrics. Some were able to sing their songs. I never got that far. Anna gave us some handouts and I shall be working through those.

My attempt at some lyrics didn't quite work.

Strangely, when In woke the next morning an idea came into my head. I had a subject and some rhyming words and I sat in bed with sun streaming in and wrote the lyrics for a whole song. All I need now is some music (which might change the words as I put it together). Anyway, I was pleased.

A full set of lyrics written the following morning.

Sunrise over Eastbourne

So, Saturday I took the train to Hastings. My second workshop in Jerwood Gallery wasn't until the afternoon so I had time for some browsing around the old town, visiting a church and some antique shops. My workshop ticket gave me free entry into the Jerwood Gallery exhibitions so I enjoyed looking around. I went over to the Book Fair. I knew which books I wanted but they didn't have them. I think that's because they were by famous authors who were giving talks and doing book signings.

The workshop I attended was by Michael Loveday on Flash Fiction. We soon delved into some writing, picking a location for our story. He guided us through the structured method and in between talked about what flash fiction is. We read some flash fiction pieces on a handout sheet and then discussed how they made us feel and what made them work etc. We paired up to discuss our own workshop pieces a few times. We then attempted to write a new piece using a different method - by choosing three random pictures and trying to find a link. We then discussed this method. It was interesting to see how different methods worked for people. Some preferred the structured method while others preferred the more random method. I struggled with both but strangely the structured method worked slightly better and that was a surprise because I'm not a planner. I think I shall try and use this method for a few new pieces and see how it goes. I found this an interesting process and Michael a great teacher. I never write well in workshops because I get anxious but I learn a lot, and that's what it's all about. There were more handouts to take home with recommendations for a book, a reminder to the methods and other information. Some months back I bought a copy of Michael Loveday's book Three Men on the Edge (V. Press), a novella-in-flash. I must get round to reading it now.

On my last day I met up with brother who lives just outside Eastbourne and we took the bus up to Sovereign Harbour where neither of us had ever been. We had a lovely walk and lunch before coming back into Eastbourne. There was an MG car rally which was interesting - there is something nostalgic about classic cars. We then said goodbye and I went off to the pier to buy some sweets to take home for the family.
Sovereign Harbour

It was a lovely long weekend and well done to the Hasting Litfest for putting together a great programme. I might not have got to everything I could have but my aim for this break was to take time for myself. I am one for variety in life and would have hated being stuck inside the whole weekend, especially as the weather was so gorgeous. This was a nice combination.

Evening falls over Eastbourne

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Read all about it! Poem published today in The People's Friend

Today I went down to WHSmith and got my hands on The People's Friend Special 162 and found my poem inside. Exciting, or what?

Back in April I submitted four poems to them as I'd heard they were looking for new poets. They have a particular format to adhere to and I was thrilled when I received an email letting me know that they wanted to publish one of my poems and were interested in others I'd sent. I was numb with excitement. I then had to sit on this because as they say 'don't count your chickens until they hatch.' I was terrified something would go wrong but I have to say they have been efficient and soon I had a contract and a date when my poem would be published. Even so, the wait has been agonising. Finally, today is the day!

Even before this one was published I was emailed about the second poem they wanted to publish. I have no idea when that will be but I've been paid for both. I can't remember the last time I was ever paid for a's way back in the depths of time.

While I've been struggling with self doubt in my writing this has been a light in that dark tunnel. Maybe  I'll pour myself a wee drink tonight to celebrate.