Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Winchester Poetry Festival


I arrived back from the Winchester Poetry Festival yesterday. It turned into a full-on weekend and there is only so much you can attend! I also had to divide my time a little as my hubby came with me. He is not a poet so there was compromise.......we took a couple of great walks around Winchester together between the events I booked. Actually, that worked really well as it was good to get out into the fresh air now and then, especially as the weather was so good.

We arrived on Thursday afternoon and after we'd unpacked we set off to the Discovery Centre to pick up the tickets I'd booked many weeks ago. I was excited to finally be here and immerse myself into poetry. It was a chance to hear poets read, both those I knew of and new ones. I soon realised how limited my knowledge was!



Friday morning was the very first event. I had booked a workshop entitled The Matter of the Poem which was led by Maura Dooley, who despite being the author of three poetry collections (shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize) I had never heard of! Over the the next two hours we were given prompts based on our name (we had each shared something with the group about our names) and what it meant to us.We wrote short pieces which we were able to share. The first prompt found me drawn to something I had previously written about my Christian name but I basically ended up with just lines of notes. We were then encouraged to to pick one line (or was it the last line...I forget) to form a poem. I was stuck! My poem was going nowhere. The next prompt was to look at the piece and draw out four things that our writing was trying to say and then to write a poem entitled The Heart of the Matter. Lastly we were each given an object as a prompt to a new piece of writing. My object was a key which felt cold and smooth and led me to the lino in our front room at home, the north facing room which was forever cold. This was the only poem I was able to share. I felt there was potential in this and I will work on it in the future.

I always find workshops hard because (a) I am always anxious (yet I keep putting myself through it!) and (b) I am not usually able to produce anything much to share - my ideas don't come in such short spaces of time. However, I do end up with lots of notes, some of which will develop into poems and sometimes even good ones! Workshops also give me fresh ideas and new ways of writing. Workshops are good places to mingle with others because writing is a lonely occupation. On this workshop the writing level of participants ran across the board from beginners to published poets. Everyone had something to share, everyone was supportive and people chatted with one another.

This was what I found generally over the weekend, the friendliness of people whoever they were. We mingled in the cafe, in the queues for the Performance Hall and wherever poets/readers gathered. There were strange moments too. I found I was sitting next to Liz Berry at one time, though I wasn't 100% sure then that it was her. I had taken an online course with her through The Poetry School (I can't even remember which course) but I was too embarrassed to ask her if it was she! Then a little while later I heard her reading on stage as part of the New Voices spot. She has a lovely accent (she's from Dudley) and is wonderful to listen to. She performed alongside Olivia McCannon and Jacqueline Saphra on Saturday afternoon. Before that I'd been to see Patience Agbabi read from her book Telling Tales, a retelling of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. She is an extraordinary performance artist and her work includes rap pieces. I love listening to this type of poetry....poetry meant for performance. She holds you there in the moment as her stories unfold. This was definitely one of the highlights of the weekend.
A view from St Giles Hill

Looking down on the town

In the time between these performances hubby and I did a couple of walks. On the Friday afternoon we walked up to St Giles Hill and viewed Winchester from the top. It looked so beautiful and was just what I needed to clear my head and wind down after the workshop. We used one of the walking guides from the Tourist Information Centre and followed the route back down to the river Itchen. We kept bumping into wedding parties, maybe it was the same group or it was a good day to marry! In the car park near the river we spotted a yellow Robin Reliant complete with white ribbon and suitcase on top. On the side it said Trotter's Independent Trading, well I had to take a photo of that!

The Almshouses at St Cross

The gardens

The church at St Cross taken from the gardens
On the Saturday morning we walked along The Weirs and Water Meadows to St Cross. What a beautiful walk. The Hospital of St Cross is open to the public. It was founded in 1132 and is still home to 25 brothers who live in the Almshouses. The church is wonderful........there was a wedding that morning - people were gradually arriving (I'll come back to this). Also on the site is the Hundred Men's Hall which also contains the old kitchens and beer cellar. And there there is the beautiful gardens complete with lake. Here it was so peaceful and no one else there. I would have been happy to stay there and just enjoy the flowers. There is a cafe and a shop where you can ask for the Wayfarers Dole and you are given a small piece of bread and a beaker of ale....very nice it was too! It was in here that the assistant told me about the wedding bingo they played. They hold many weddings throughout the year and they have devised this game to look for certain people. She told me who they all were and though I can't remember them all I do remember a few - the lady over 50 wearing the dress meant for someone younger, the man who turns up in tartan trousers, the young lady (not the bride) who is in love with the bridegroom. If they find every one of these people they have a full house!

Where Jane Austen lived and died
On Sunday morning there was a poetry walk and I'd persuaded hubby to come with me on that.  It was led by Keiran Phelan, literary detective and editor of the Literary Winchester blog He took us to a dozen sites around Winchester where famous poets and writers had lived or had a connection including Wendy Cope, John Keats, Thomas Hardy. Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Matthew Francis and former local poem and rector David Scott as well as Julia Darling and William Whiting (who wrote the hymn Eternal Father, Strong to Save). Parts of the King James Bible was written in college rooms in Winchester (I remember reading about this in a book a few years ago). At each spot there was a reading from the poet/writer. At the end of the walk we received an information sheet with a note of the readings. There are a couple of poets I'd like to look into more when I have time.

There was time for some lunch and as it was Heritage Open Weekend hubby was keen to look at the local Quaker Meeting House. For me it was a flying visit and I had to leave him to it in the end. I know something of the Quakers and have read one of their books and obviously there was a lot about their beliefs on display, especially about war which is in everyone's minds with the WWI anniversary. The house had a lovely wooden staircase and we were able to go into the warden's flat which has the most stunning view across Winchester. As it so happens the warden is also a poet and she showed me her little book which she offered to lend me but I wouldn't have had time to read it and get it back to her before we left. But I wrote her name down and intend to look her up.

I did manage to read one of her poems before I had to dash back to the Discovery Centre for the next event which was entitled Things Being Various - Christopher Reid on the Poet's Craft and Inspiration. I have to admit I'd never heard of Christopher Reid but the subject matter interested me. Christopher was in conversation with Jon Sayers from Magma magazine (I realise I'd met Jon before - though not to really speak to - at two past events). Anyway, Christopher Reid was wonderful. He had brought along five items which meant something to him. I rather liked his poetry, both amusing and poignant. He seemed a thoroughly genuine man and I was glad the subject of light verse cropped up. Light verse gets bad press as if it is a sub-species of poetry not worthy of note.  (I love light verse). Christopher was given an award in America for light verse - he was offered it and told no one else wanted it! Christopher was very pleased to accept it.

The final event was Ros Barber and Jackie Kay reading from their work. I have read many books by Jackie Kay, both poetry and novels and have always wished to see her read in person. I had studied one of her poems on a course I took with the Open University. It was one of the first times I had 'taken apart' a poem to analyse it. The course had included a conversation with Jackie Kay about poetry (on cassette!) and I loved what she said. I became a fan. She did not disappoint and had us laughing with her anecdotes. I had not come across Ros Barber, who read from her verse novel The Marlowe Papers. That must have been some undertaking. Not my kind of subject matter but we all have our own preferences.

And so the festival ended. On many levels this was brilliant - the poets. workshop, discussions and meeting new people. I also kept bumping into Joan McGavin my tutor for the day in Basingstoke, along with Angela Hicken who I also met a that workshop. For the duration of the festival Angela was co-ordinating the Close Readings, a series of 15 minute talks held at various venues across Winchester. There were various events I didn't get to - one on Friday night with main readers including Imtiaz Dharker who I had heard read at the Poetry Book Fair the weekend before, but also included Matt Harvey and Brian Patten. There were also other workshops I fancied, especially Performance Skills (which I feel I should do but I couldn't quite pluck up the courage) and Getting Published. Well, I couldn't do it all. This was the first ever Poetry Festival in Winchester and I'm pretty sure it will back next year.

This is the first proper poetry festival I have been too and I enjoyed it so much. They pulled in some big names and I'm sure their success will spread and attendance will be even higher next year. I curbed my impulses to buy every book on the stalls and just picked up a collection  by Joan McGavin and took out a subscription to Magma. In some ways the effects of the festival will stay with me for many weeks to come. There are always new poets to look up, poems to write and for everything to sink in.  I feel as if I am still coming down from it.

If you would like to read a little more about the festival and some events I didn't get to here is a link to  poet Josephine Corcoran whose blog I follow.

I didn't take any photos as there was an official photographer and hopefully those photos will be available somewhere soon (maybe on the Facebook page).

Fireman inspecting the roof and surrounding
area - Winchester Cathedral
I should also mention that one day (I think it was Saturday) we saw four fire engines flying by. Later I found out where they ended up. There was six of them at the Cathedral. A ladder was raised to the roof of the oldest part of the Cathedral (which had been closed) and they were inspecting the area. They must have been there for a couple of hours (I was lounging on the green watching) but later in the day they'd gone and the Cathedral was open again. There was nothing on the local news but there are works going on in that old part with scaffolding up around the roof and flying buttresses. I guess there must have been some movement or something that could have seriously taken place. Thankfully all was well.
Some bits and bobs from the festival

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

A poem on display at the Willis Museum

Something to celebrate...and I am HAPPY. My poem Aftermath which came out of a poetry workshop last month is now on display in the Willis Museum, Basingstoke with other poems by those who attended the workshops as well as poem by The Basingstoke Writer's Circle. The poems are in a book as part of the gallery exhibits for the Artists Rifles exhibition. My poem was based on the John Nash lithograph German Double Pill Box, Gheluvelt. I wonder if I have time to go and see it before the exhibition moves on!


Sunday, 7 September 2014

A day of poetry and nothing but poetry

Readings in Red Lion Square
I spent a great day at the Free Verse Poetry Book Fair yesterday at Conway Hall in London. This was the first time for me and it turned out to be an expensive visit!

The day consisted of readings and discussions in one of the rooms and exhibitors, mainly book publishers, in the main hall. In Red Lion Square (just over the road) there were also readings going on all day. At 5pm there was a 'do' at the Rugby Tavern (round the corner) with more readings.

At first it was difficult to know where to start and I had to pace myself, especially with my cash! I already had an idea of the readings/discussions I wanted to listen to so I headed off to the first event at 10.30. Imtiaz Dharker read from her fifth book from Bloodaxe entitled Over the Moon. I enjoyed her poetry which switched between the continents and spoke of loss, reminiscence, wistfulness. Her poetry was often amusing.

My purchases!
I then headed out to the hall for a short while. Up on the stage were The Poetry Library, The Poetry Society and The Poetry School. They looked very lonely up there as no one was visiting them so I went up to say hello. The Poetry School were pleased to see me and I was given a small sweet wrapped in tissue paper which contained a line of verse. I also came back with one of their brochures.

The next event I attended was the launch by Happenstance Press of their anthology Blame Montezuma, a collection of poetry about chocolate! During the readings by various contributors were were plied with different flavoured chocolate buttons! At the end there was quite a collection on the back row! It was a fun event. (I did later go and visit their stand but I couldn't buy the book as I was out of cash and they had no card machine. Instead, taking pity on me, they gave me a lovely chocolate!)

I stayed on for the event following which was a discussion entitled Where is Poetry Going? The panel consisted of Tom Chivers (Adventures in Form), Mark Ford (Best British Poetry) and Karen McCarthy Woolf (Ten: The New Wave). I found this discussion a little bogged down at times and only Tom Chivers had things to say that inspired me. I took a course with The Poetry School on Adventures in Form using exercises from Tom's book. I loved it because I enjoy experimental stuff and Tom's ideas for poetry in the future I felt very akin to. At some time I must buy the book!

At that point it was time for lunch so I headed over to Red Lion Square to the Garden cafe. I knew there was to be a rally by NHS staff meeting in Red Lion Square so it was a little chaotic with new people turning up all the time with banners and placards but they were a nice bunch of people. I got talking to a few while standing in the queue for tea and pannini. The Police were standing on the sidelines and they all got some free entertainment as they took their refreshments. They seemed to enjoy the poetry and clapped as readers came up one by one (Ward Wood - Royal Holloway MA students were reading while I was there). We in turn cheered the marchers! I was able to direct a few to the toilet facilities in Conway Hall!

Back in the hall I began buying up books. I think before lunch I had maybe bought two books. I had taken quite a bit of cash because I know these events often don't have card facilities and I was right. I was able to use my card twice and once I had to split a twenty pound note elsewhere so I could go back and buy one book (small change is also a problem). The lady who changed my money was the editor of Acumen, Patricia Oxley. What a lovely lady. We had quite a chat. The man on that stall may have been her husband (I note the interview editor is a William Oxley) and they liked my analogy of my writing career being like a kids game where you play to move on to another level. I am moving through levels but am stuck right now between levels! Patricia was very encouraging and asked me to submit to them because publication there would move me up another level. She asked me my name and said to remind her when I write. She gave me some good advice and I left (with the latest copy of their journal) feeling very encouraged.

I also met other small press publishers who were so nice and I particularly fell in love with Roncadora Press because of their artwork and doing something different. The chap who runs it block prints pictures in black and white which is so effective and produces postcards, fold outs with a picture on one side and poetry on the other. It was beautiful. I bought Windows for Burns Night 2012 where all the poems are hand written or typed to fit on a small window. The little book is even stitched together and reminded me of the days when I worked for a Solicitor and we had to hand stitch Wills, Leases and other legal documents together. There is something very nostalgic about Roncadora Press which touches me.

I got to visit The Emma Press stand which I was thrilled about. This is another press I admire because again they are doing something different with poetry and design. I already have one of their books but yesterday I added to it with Anthology of Mildly Erotic Verse.

I bought a few other books by people I've read before, Christopher James and Marion McCready and a couple by poets new to me and suddenly I was out of cash! There was one more discussion I wanted to attend so I headed off to the event room to sit in on the current reading before the discussion started. This was the publisher ZimZalla with readings by Pascal O'Loughlin and Jesse Glass. The former I did not like at all. I found his poetry annoying and uncomfortable and he had that 'poetry voice' I hate - the one that seems on all one note, monotone. Who teaches that? Several poets seem to speak that way and it turns me off. Jesse Glass had flown in from Japan to read and was at least entertaining even if I wasn't keen on his poetry, sorry Jesse.

The discussion was What Do Pamphlet Editors Look For? On the panel was Peter Hughes (Oystercatcher Press), Helena Nelson (HappenStance) and Emma Wright (The Emma Press). This was a good discussion and I particularly liked what Emma and Helena had to say. They seemed very engaged and enthusiastic about what they do. I found them inspiring and would love to be published by them.

I left after that clutching my red bag full of books. It was a good day, a bit of buying, reading, discussions and a small amount of networking, It was great to be asked 'Are you a writer?' and to say yes! I still find it hard to tell people that's what I do especially as I don't have a book but I spend much of my time writing in some form these days. This year has been so different from others in that respect.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Novel finished - now what?

Yesterday I laid down the last words to my novel. Yes, I'm done! A journey that started back in March has come to an end. I cannot believe that I have achieved this because a novel for me seemed too much. How would I keep a story going for so long?

Now I've finished it I'm not sure what I feel. Maybe an anticlimax. All those days and months of writing, the sag in the middle, the writer's block, the worry of whether I'm wasting my time (that one still lingers!) and whether it is rubbish (that lingers too!). On the other hand I got to love my characters and I fell into their world and now I am sad to leave them. I feel there is more to write (is that good or bad?). What will I do without my daily dose of their world?

Of course the real question is, what do I do now? This is new territory for me. The original aim was to write it and finish it. It was my challenge to prove I could do it. I didn't think much beyond that. So, do I now leave it to settle and come back afresh to edit or do I throw myself back into it? I would welcome some advice here so please do help me out.

A kind friend has offered to read it when I've completed the editing but do I let her or should I find someone who does not know me and therefore will give an unbiased opinion?

There are aspects I know I have to deal with - here is my current list:


  • my main character - have I really pinned her down, personality wise?
  • research - I have some still to do
  • the middle - does it really sag? what needs to be cut, what should I add (that goes for all of it)
  • is there enough action, does it drag anywhere?
  • continuity - does it all fit together without strange anomalies where I've forgotten parts of the early story or what a character did, say, for a living?
  • general tidying up for spelling (I find typing fast on a laptop leaves me with extra letters sometimes!) and grammar. Are the lines right for speech, new person, paragraphs and so on.
  • Is the ending too rushed?
  • Does it work?!


Should I edit on the laptop or run pages off? At present it's typed in single line spacing. My stupid printer now only wants to print one sheet at a time. If I put more paper in the feeder the whole lot goes through at once. I've tried flicking the paper to help it separate but my printer has a mind of its own and drives me crazy with its silly ways (the paper is only one maddening thing!).

One thing I did do yesterday was to back up my file again in two separate places. I intend to keep the originals and create a new document to edit.

I dread editing, I have to say, though at least I know some of what is needed. I did at times rush while the urge was there to write so a certain amount of filling out is required.

Any help (and encouragement) would be gratefully accepted. I feel like I am entering the dark zone now, uncharted territory. The task is daunting. What I need are targets!


Saturday, 30 August 2014

The frustration of competitions

The rejections are coming in now. Three or four more and I will have a complete set! The judge of the US Found Poetry competition thought my entry was too clever and not really a poem - what does that mean?  It's strange but I really don't care right now yet other times when I get rejections I get very down.

Although I took pens and paper with me on my walking holiday I did no writing at all. Now I'm back I've been thinking about my novel and while I was relaxing listening to music yesterday I had a light bulb moment about the ending. I'm getting towards that point....the finish is in sight.

I put in an entry to the Star Writing Fiction Facebook page (500 word story on loss) and voting started the day I left for my holiday so I put my votes in before I left. When I came back someone had asked if they could vote for their own entry and was told yes you can! Am I missing something here? I give up!

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Book Review - Stardust....and what I gained from it

Sometimes you don't have to really enjoy a book to get something out of it. I picked up Neil Gaiman's Stardust in a charity shop because it looked interesting and he was someone whose books I'd never read. I soon realised that this wasn't my kind of book. I've found in the past that fantasy isn't really my genre and I hadn't realised quite who Neil Gaiman was (how awful!).

However, though not my cup of tea, the book is well written and I liked the twist and how he brought all the parts together in the end. This is the kind of thing I'd maybe watch on TV rather than read but I rarely give up on a book. Besides this had an interview with the author and extra material.....something a writer loves to read! This was when I realised who Neil Gaimen was and that I had watched Coraline (which he wrote) on TV and enjoyed it!

I was particularly interested in how Neil came to write this book Stardust and that he previously wrote a prologue to a book called Wall  set in the same location. He then abandoned it. He says he may or may not write that prequel. In the meantime Gaiman witnessed a falling star and suddenly Stardust was written. It's little things that this that make writing so interesting and what motivates an author to write. I find it utterly fascinating.

A little while ago I experienced writer's block with the novel I am writing. I was stuck with the next scene. I had ideas and an ending but I was stranded in no-mans land staring at the screen and nothing was coming. So I took a diversion. I have, I know, overthought the 'family tree' to my characters and have extensive extended family who do not feature in the novel and may not even get a mention. But there were a few there who interested me and I thought might be worthy of fleshing out and basing a story around. So I went back to my 'trees' and began to write. I now have two short stories. It was a nice diversion and I enjoyed finding out who these characters were. Meanwhile on one of those dreadful sleepless nights I get now and then I played through some scenes for my novel and things began to fall into place. The next day I wrote the next scene and the novel has been gathering pace ever since.

I am now into the last quarter of the novel. I know there will be a lot of editing to do and I don't relish that. I have no idea what happens after that - I guess I need someone to read it. For now I'm just enjoying the writing and don't want to think beyond that. I've spent a lot of time on it and if it's rubbish it will be like receiving a years worth of poetry rejections in one go!

I set out to write a novel as a challenge (I never thought I could string out a story to novel length). My methods for doing this have so far worked (my targets, breaking things down into chunks - that's the natural way I work). Suddenly after all these months I can see the end coming. It's rather scary.

So, there we go. Gaiman handles his genre well. I might not enjoy reading his stories in the way others do but we all have our preferences. There were, however, aspects of this book that I appreciated - the handling of two worlds. It was good to see how he did it (my novel is set in two times zones but is very different to this). So I did get something from the book. No read is ever wasted.


Thursday, 7 August 2014

Artists Rifles Poetry workshop


Artists Rifles Exhibition
I took a day off from the novel yesterday (I need some mulling time anyway) and set off down to Basingstoke in Hampshire for a day of art and poetry. I was there for the Artists Rifles exhibition at the Willis Museum and to attend a two hour poetry workshop based on the exhibition and run by Hampshire Poet Joan McGavin.

I arrived early so I had time to see the exhibition at my leisure. It wasn't a huge display but interesting. As well as paintings there were cases of uniforms, sketchbooks and other memorabilia as well as a seven minute video. This came at an interesting point - not longer after the study day I attended on WWI artists - so it was all still fresh in mine.

The afternoon took place in the Function Room covering the whole top floor of the museum. The ceiling was rather impressive - painted in what I call a Wedgwood blue, with cream cornices. The table we worked at was large, made of solid wood with a leather(?) inlay. Just right for us writers!

Joan was great - very relaxed and came armed with some clipboards and a sheet of questions. She asked us to go and look around the exhibition and pick one object, answer the questions and make notes. On our return Joan gave us another sheet with tips on writing and suggested we take one answer we'd given or a line we'd written to start our poem. After about twenty-five minutes it was that scary time of sharing! It was interesting to hear what others had written and which painting or object they had chosen.So many powerful images came out. I didn't think my efforts were very good and I'd not written a great deal but as I read it out I was more satisfied with my beginning. Joan gave feedback on our poems and made suggestions. We were then given a final sheet with suggestions on re-drafting our poems.

Our class was small - just five of us - but everyone had written poetry before and at least three of us had published poems. We all came away with something to work on and at £5 for the workshop it was amazing value.

This afternoon I completed a second draft of my poem so I'm getting there. What was lovely is that Joan offered to feedback on our final poems if we wished!

For those interested the exhibition runs until 27th September after which it moves to the Gosport Discovery Centre.