Thursday, 11 May 2017

Poetry Book Reviews

Just finished reading two books of poetry. The first is Stanza Stones, a colourful book by Simon Armitage with Tom Lonsdale (former Chief Landscape Architect) and Pip Hall (stone carver). The commission was crreate a Stanza Trail running through forty-seven miles of the Pennine Way. The book follows the initial idea to Simon's wanderings across the Pennine Way trying to find the right words for his poems. Much was needed to bring this project off, such as acquiring permission from various people, like English Heritage, who owned a particular piece of land. The book records entries from stone carver Pip's journal who worked mostly in situ in all weathers, sometimes having to retrace letters washed out overnight due to rain. The glossy photos show the the stages the project went through, the heavy lifting gear sometimes needed to move stones, the passing walkers who stopped to chat while Pip carved, and the final finished piece. I loved this book. It's a table top glossy hardback edition, but one I will look through many times. Simon's six poems - Snow, Rain, Mist, Dew, Puddle and Beck are evocative. While I enjoy walking I am not a hill walker so may never get to see these stones for myself so it is great to have a book like this.

The Immigration Handbook by Caroline Smith made compelling reading. Each poem is the story of someone's life. Caroline worked as an asylum caseworker for a London MP and the stories here are ones she encountered. I found myself reacting to these poems. Some made me sad, some made me angry but all spoke of fear, of waiting, of judges agonising over decisions, of bureaucracy. It is a heartfelt book and brings it home to you that this goes on every day, the playing with people's lives.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

Poem published - Visual Verse

I have a poem on Visual Verse again this month. This is the website where each month they post a picture and ask writers to respond with a poem or a piece of flash fiction up to 500 words. I seem to be alternating. One month I write poetry, the next a piece of flash! I don't plan it that way, it just happens. My piece is on page 14.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Small successes help beat the dark pit!

My writing world has taken a bit of a knock lately. My confidence hit rock bottom and I even gathered all my writing material together and shoved it in a corner. When things happen they all seem to come at once - negative feedback, rejections and then on top of it all a cold that is reluctant to go. When I'm ill I withdraw. I think it's a self preserving mechanism. I've always had it. I switch off from everything and loose myself in sleeping, reading or listening to music. All those problems can wait until I am well enough to tackle them. This time I found it hard to do that. It worked for a while and then I'd go down into the dark pit!

Whatever has happened has changed me this time. I'm still not sure how good that is! So for now I'm sticking with what I feel I am good at - flash fiction and some short story writing. Out of that came a piece published on Visual Verse and today a piece of my flash is published on the great Paragraph Planet. Last week I also got a surprise - I have been longlisted in the Nottingham Writers' Club short story competition. Okay there are 95 longlisted stories there, but at least I'm in there and hanging on.

To help get back into things I have joined two online communities. I'm taking things slowly. Writing is beginning to happen again. My little writing group meets this afternoon and I had nothing to take to share. I pulled out the Back to Creative Writing School (Bridget Whelan) book I've been working through and an exercise in that book ended with me writing a fully formed poem - one of those strange writing experiences where the piece almost wrote itself.

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Down With Poetry - Book Review

Struggling poets of the world unite! This is the book to pick you up after you have had a rejection or two (or several). Read twice a day until recovery.

Down With Poetry by Helena Nelson is wonderful. It is a shot in the arm and tickles the funny bone. Split into three sections -  Unsuitable Poems, More Unsuitable Poems and Anti-Poetry, this collection will resonate with anyone who has written poetry and tried to get published. Along with her book How (Not) To Get Your Poetry Published you will never again feel alone again.

Helena Nelson runs a small poetry press called HappenStance Press and she writes chatty newsletters and tells things as they are. This little collection made me laugh so much with it's instruction poems - What Not to Write on the Back Jacket of Your Debt Collection, including 'The author's mother recommended this book' and 'Many of these poems were written while dusting'. Other poems I liked included Like (just like the youngsters talk - I was like Read this poem/He was like You must be joking. Emidepic had a Ronnie Barker feel to it (where he mispronounces words) and despite, or because of the language I loved The Fucking Vernacular.

How can any poet live without this? Flick over to Helena's website and buy a copy today!

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Writers' Conference in Brighton


From the folder (Write By The Beach)
I did say I would be taking part in NaPoWriMo but I have just returned from a writer's conference and am days behind. I'm still letting all I learned filter through and am not really in the right place for poetry writing every day. I was caught up in the excitement at the time and realise that actually I'm not ready. I did write a poem earlier today which has nothing to do with prompts from poetry writing month - I'll come back to that in a moment.

Write By The Beach is run by The Beach Hut Writing Academy in Brighton. I went for their very first conference last year. It ran for a day and I came away with lots of information and a better idea of where I should be heading.

This year the conference was over a weekend. I asked a friend who has an apartment in Brighton if I could borrow it and she ended up coming with me, though not for the conference. She was my sounding board, she dropped me at the venue both mornings and picked me up. We had so many laughs and she kept me sane! Going to these events is motivational and a learning curve, but I come away exhausted from the bombardment of information, and this time, from the anxiety of pitching a novel!

The first agent I met made me rethink my novel - what is the main point. I was left wondering what I could do, but there were positives which I only realised later after I untangled everything. The next day I had a ten minute advice slot (in lieu of an agent who was no longer able to be present) with an author and mentor who is a member of the BH Team. This was the most enlightening ten minutes! She gave me feedback on my pitch and I had a light bulb moment. From the advice I am re-writing my pitch and taking other advice she gave me. She made my weekend.

Apart from pitching there were talks about writing for TV and radio, panels on alternative and innovative publishing, agents discussing stories of their most successful books, agents secrets along with special mini workshops. On the Saturday I chose 'On the Crime Beat' with P.D. Viner (writer) and Graham Bartlett (retired Chief Superintendent) who is an adviser to TV and authors. It was a great session.

One of the best presentations for me was on story structure with Julie Cohen, writer and creative writing teacher. She used clips from Pixar films to explain how these films work and how they work in novel writing. Absolutely riveting. I'd watched all the films she mentioned (some many times) with my kids. A very unique presentation.

The Three Act Structure as in 'Cars' (Pixar)
Another favourite presentation was on the Sunday and was all about editing and polishing your novel. Lots of note taking! Good stuff. Another highlight for me was meeting the author Cally Taylor whose book The Lie I had read. She talked about her route to becoming a Sunday Times Bestseller (lots of despair and crying - I can associate with that, the despair anyway). She shared a lot of herself including negative comments made on her short stories through an online writing group. I bought Cally's latest book and asked her to sign it for me. She was lovely to chat to.


The last thing I attended was about self publishing. All the sessions included time for questions and it was good to hear things from agents/publishers about the traditional route, what agents are looking for, the big no-nos in submitting, tips while hearing about the various other ways to publication - hybrid, crowdfunding, independent publishers and the full indie (self publishing) route. There are positive and negatives on all sides and I guess in the end you have to choose which works for you. I'd love to go the traditional way but as I get older I realise time is running out and it's so hard to get an agent. They have to know they can sell your novel and the cards seem stacked against authors. There are many good stories but it's the great and different they are after or the next Girl On The Train. Often what you hear is confusing and contradictory. The publishing world seems to play it safe. After all look at the trends. The market was once flooded with misery stories now it's psychological thrillers and crime. Crime sells and commands the biggest section of the market.

It was great meeting lots of people, chatting to authors as well as delegates who'd come from a long way away or who were local - everyone learning and longing to get published.

Having had brilliant sunshine over the weekend this is what we woke to yesterday.
Taken from Brighton Marina looking towards Rottingdean

Having just now received some feedback on a revised pitch through another source I am now totally confused as it says the opposite of what I was advised to do. It's times like these that you wonder whether to just give up. I think I will give up pitching or take a course on pitching, synopsis and cover letters because right now I feel I just don't have the knack. (Sorry this is raw from an email I just received and I should never write when I feel like this).

However, in the post today came Writing Magazine and Popshot. They should make me feel better.


Sunday, 26 March 2017

Three Poetry Book Reviews

Although I haven't written much poetry lately I have been reading it, little my little. I have a stack of poetry books I am working through and try to keep one by my bed and resist the urge to take the latest novel up to bed so I can read poetry. This approach works sometimes!

The three books I am reviewing here all came from The Poetry Book Fair last September. The first two I bought after hearing the poets read. Their words spoke to me either emotionally, because of content or humour, or all three. I made a note of who they were and went out and bought their books. I haven't been disappointed.

The first of these is The Shadow Shop by Janet Loverseed (Overstep Books). Janet writes about life, about being a grandparent, fatherhood, image, relationships, children, bereavement and more. I loved The Man In The Middle, when I passenger on an underground train tells a woman that the man sitting between them is dead and advises her to get off at the next stop. Was it a joke? Would someone do that? Three Go Babysitting is a take on the three Kings visiting baby Jesus who in this poem bring him premium bonds, joss sticks and a room freshener, lamenting that Joe should have done computing like them rather than woodwork. I love it! In a short poem entitled Brother and Sister the sister attends the brother's funeral and looks back on their childhood game of Cowboys and Indians and how he bribed her to play, but once told her he was happy until she was born. She queries whether she is happy now he's dead.

This is a lovely crop of poems, ones you can associate with, that ring true and the touches of humour are right up my street.

Inti was the name the Incas gave to the sun, which scientists have now given to a particle of dust collected by the Stardust probe from the Wild 2 (VILT-two) comet. So goes the explanation Simon Williams gives to the title poem of this little book (also from Overstep). This collection features space, weaving, locomotives, Galileo and Kate Bush. A good dose of humour runs through many of these poems, such as Making Fun which follows backwards the story of Irish jokes, who and where they came from. Then there's the erotic The Best Time of the Night - great use of words! Margin Notes supposedly from great poets after false starts with their poems (I wandered lonely as a sheep/Needs something more fluffy, more solitary than sheep, I think). In Star Fish the lady looking after the Koi carp etc., points out to them the constellations and they try to fathom Pisces! Simon Williams poetry often has a last line that you don't expect, that makes you laugh. The poem leads you one way and then boom there's the twist. Delightful stuff.

The last book I'm reviewing today is a freebie given in the welcome bag on arrival at the Poetry Book Fair. It's from Valley Press called VP 50 and is a collection of 50 poems to celebrate the 50 books they have published and includes one poem from each.

This anthology has nicely linked poems and covers everything from child bullying to comparing ones life with that of a dog. There are also quite a few poems about poets and words. An anthology like this is a great opportunity to find new poets (at least to me) and marvel at their dexterity in writing. I enjoyed so many of these including the very first in the collection by James Nash entitled Sonnet I where he lists what his lover can and can't take should she leave him. It's very poignant. Then there's The Bricklayers Lament by Miles Salter and Life Expectation by Norah Hanson and the nostalgic Sandra is a Child of Peace and Love by Helen Burke.

Voyeurs by David Agnew tickled me with two seagulls getting an eyeful through the bathroom window. And Bath Poem by Rowena Knight and Billy Bragg's Beard by Kate Fox are favourites. There's a lesson on love in Forget What You've Been Told by Jo Brandon and Gooseberry, once more by James Nash, has a quirky take on what you might think of doing in a cinema while the couple you are with are smooching. The Light of You, a second poem by Norah Hanson looks at role reversal in parent and child in this heartbreaking poem. Finally The Minutes, another by Miles Salter, is a reminder of how we wake with all the minutes waiting/Hundreds crowed your bed, litter the floor. And so soon they go.

There are poets here whose full books could temp me, and I guess that's the thing about anthologies, you get a taster and sometimes a taste isn't quite enough.


Friday, 24 March 2017

NaPoWriMo are you taking part?

April is NaPoWriMo and I've just signed up through The Poetry School. Having not really written any poetry for a while now I thought this might help. I always enjoy the challenge and end up with poems I wouldn't write otherwise. If you feel the urge to take part you can sign up too through their Campus. Or you could join in other ways. There will be lost of prompts out there through the official site. You can share them through their sites and/or on your own blog or Facebook.

Although I'm likely to be without internet for the first few days I guess I can catch up later. Maybe see you around one of the sites, here or on your blog. Let me know if you are taking part. Leave a link to your poems.