Poetry Drawer: First Light by Michael Murray

On the first day it rained.
How can you get anything done –
rain is the leveller, disturbing boundaries,
mixing sky and earth
into one element, mud.

And on the second day again;
listlessly the ripening thoughts spoiled,
the cold damp languor stealing-in
with its night of cloud.

And on the third again the same.
This must have been when they made
the Northern Quarter:
to be always waiting
and never to be called.

Another three days of this,
helpless behind steamed windows, mind
in stupor, body in torment; body in stupor,
mind in torment –

I walked out then,
without a coat, and Can you
still doubt me? I called.
Didn’t wait for a reply.

Pantry Prose: Fine Dining by Andrew Williams

“Why, look at you! I could just eat you up!”

The young boy beamed, revealing a set of crooked teeth.

“What’s your name, cutie?”


“Hello, Timmy. I’m Carol.”

She sighed. Timmy was the cute, little boy she’d always dreamed of mothering. She’d offer to take him home right now, but there was no way Malcolm would stand for it. She couldn’t even talk him into coming to the orphanage tonight. Adoption? He’d kicked up a fuss at the cat shelter. Malcolm was happy with his columns of numbers and didn’t want anything messing them up.

What was she doing here? All these poor children… it had felt like the Right Thing To Do, a chance for her to Make A Difference. All the wealthy people were helping the poor these days, and if she wanted to move up the social ladder she needed to show her charitable side. Not that Carol had much charity to offer. Malcolm’s salary wasn’t in the same league as these wealthy benefactors, and her efforts to dress the part had left quite a dent in their credit cards. She was still hiding the monthly statements from him.

“Why, hello darling!”

Carol turned to find an old woman heading her way. Despite her small frame, now somewhat withered and bent, she powered through the other guests with the unstoppable force of a juggernaut. Younger, more beautiful ladies gave way before her. Tall, powerful men moved aside to avoid crossing her path.

“I heard you talking to that young boy.”

Carol’s eyes swept over the woman’s dress, a sleek affair that somehow accentuated curves where the curves themselves had long ago disappeared, and which Carol suspected cost more than her own house. She’d spent what she’d considered a small fortune on her own dress, but she was dressed in rags in comparison. And there was something familiar about the old woman, something that Carol couldn’t quite put her finger on.

“I… I was only…”

“It’s all right, dear. I know what you were doing. And I feel the same way, believe me. Did you say your name was Carol?”

The woman put a kindly arm around Carol’s waist – she couldn’t quite reach her shoulder – and led her through the orphanage.

“Y-Yes,” she stammered.

“A lovely name.” The old woman smiled, a faraway look in her eyes. “One of the little girls I raised a few years back was a Carol. She was so sweet… I’m Felicity, dear.”

Felicity? Carol thought back and remembered a magazine article from a couple of months ago. Of course! Felicity Cardwell! One of the wealthiest women in the country… and famous for her charity work. And something else, something that she couldn’t quite recall…

Oh well. There were always rumours about the fabulously wealthy. People could be so jealous.

“It’s such a shame,” Felicity said, as they walked through the crowds. “All these poor, unwanted children. All going to be shipped out of here, moved to other institutions, just because no-one has any use for them. Such a waste.”

“Surely all these people… this is a charity fundraiser, isn’t it…?”

Felicity smiled sadly. “It won’t work, I’m afraid, my dear. The orphanage is closing its doors for the last time, and the local government has already decided to demolish it. I believe Mr Tesco is hoping to build one of his ghastly supermarkets here.”

Carol paused, calculating just how much sympathy to put into her voice. She wanted to sound caring, but retain that aloofness that rich people were supposed to have. “Oh, those poor children…”

Felicity didn’t seem to notice. “Well, my friends and I have plans. Would you care to join us, Carol my dear? I’m sure we’ll get on famously.”

“O-Of course!” Carol could barely speak with excitement. Join Felicity Cardwell! Even dour-faced Malcolm couldn’t moan about that. Thirty years of working at the bank had done nothing for his social mobility, and now here she was, hobnobbing with the nobs!

A hush fell over the crowd as the host of tonight’s event spoke up.

“Ladies and gentlemen, your attention please. I am delighted to present tonight’s special guest… Lady Felicity Cardwell.”

Carol dumbly joined in the applause as her new friend made her slow but stately walk to the speaker’s podium. Despite her small size, she seemed to fill the room.

“My dear friends,” she began, “thank you all for coming. As you all know, tonight the local council has rejected the final proposals for the continuation of the Green Hill Orphanage. Already they are making plans to parcel off the children to nearby institutions – mere livestock to balance against their books.”

Carol wanted to let a single tear fall down one cheek at this point, but the best she could manage was to make her eyes water a bit. She wished she’d had more time to practice.

“Since they won’t let us save the orphanage, I have another proposal – we fund our own home for these children, and save them instead. I have the perfect place for them, and all I need is your support. With our combined influence, we can ensure these children all have the opportunity to remain healthy and well fed.”

There was a round of applause, and Felicity stepped down.

“Felicity,” Carol said. “I loved what you said, and I really want to be a part of this… it’s just, Malcolm and I don’t really have the money to…”

“Hush, dear. It’s quite all right. I’m just glad you came along tonight.” Felicity winked. “After all, I think we have a lot in common. Let all these good people worry about the money. Your company is all I need.”

“Th-thank you, Felicity…”

“Not at all, Carol my dear! Listen, would you be available next month, say, the twelfth? I have no doubt that our little event tonight will be a rousing success, and I’d like you and your husband to join me at our celebration dinner.”

“Well, I don’t know… Malcolm isn’t keen on these social events…”

“Just you, then. I quite understand if you can’t make it.”

“No, I’ll be there.” Carol smiled. There was no way in Hell she was going to miss an opportunity like this. Dining with the rich and powerful!

When the twelfth came around, Malcolm declared he was unavailable – he had to stay late at the bank, etc. etc. Carol knew it was all an excuse. Well, to Hell with him. She was secretly glad to go alone – the new dress she’d bought was twice the price of the last one and had maxed out two credit cards in one go. Malcolm would be frothing at the mouth when he found out. But it didn’t matter right now.

News of the orphanage sale had filled the press. Felicity was praised to the heavens for her efforts with the children, while the local council’s only comment was something bland and official about funding reductions. She was the darling of the press (and not for the first time). And yet Carol still had a vague recollection of some scandal, years ago. Something to do with her husband’s death?

The taxi dropped her off outside the address Felicity had given her. A large house, hidden behind heavy, steel gates, looked imposing against the setting sun. But she pressed a button, announced herself over the intercom, and the gates rolled aside to let her in.

Once she arrived at the house itself, she was surprised to find it filled with children as well as the guests. She recognised many of the faces from the orphanage event amongst both the children and the adults.

“Darling! You made it!”

Carol turned to see Felicity sailing her stately way across the room, the crowds parting at her bows as she approached.

“There are so many children here,” Carol remarked.

“Yes! All orphans,” Felicity replied. “Some of them you might remember from our last event. They closed that orphanage down, I’m afraid, but we pulled some strings and arranged for them all to come here. Isn’t it marvellous?”

Just then, Carol spotted a familiar crooked-toothed smile amongst the children.

“Timmy!” she cried.

Timmy looked up at her, still beaming.

“I think you’re my favourite,” she added.

Timmy laughed and ran off.

“Yes, I see what you mean,” smiled Felicity. “I might have chosen him myself, except I prefer girls. Shall we go and mingle? Dinner won’t be for a few hours yet, I’m afraid. Do go on ahead, my dear. I just need to have a word with the chef.”

Carol wandered through the crowd, a little in awe of the company. Amongst them she recognised more than a few celebrities, a few Hollywood actors, a couple of high-profile businessmen, even a few politicians. Most of them ignored her; some regarded her coolly, but didn’t deign to talk to her. For all her efforts to be a social climber, Carol had never felt so out of her depth. She sipped at a cocktail, even the waiters slow to serve her, and wondered what she was doing here. Even the playful children seemed to have abandoned her.

Perhaps Malcolm had been right all along. They should just be content with their lot rather than dreaming of better things. He was just a branch manager, after all, not the chairman of Lloyds. And she was just a housewife.

“My dear, are you all right?”

Carol looked up from her melancholy to find Felicity at her arm.

“Come along, dear. It’s nearly time for dinner. Shall we sit down?”

The smell of fine dining soon had Carol feeling much better. Two enormous dining tables stretched along the enormous room and she took a seat at the first of these beside Felicity. An array of cutlery gave her a brief moment of panic, but she’d studied several books on etiquette and she knew the rules. Start from the outside, that was the way.

The first course was a rich, dark soup. It was quite unlike anything Carol had ever tasted, yet somehow familiar, and she considered asking Felicity what it was – but no. There was no sense in showing off her lack of culture. Instead, she picked up what she hoped was the right spoon and began to eat, blowing on each spoonful just as the man opposite her was doing.

But it was hard to focus on the soup. That half-remembered scandal Felicity was supposed to be involved in still nagged at her memory. Something about Sir Cardwell, and the mystery surrounding his death all those years ago…

Red wine was served, and plenty of it. Carol drank a glass down in one, if only to steady her nerves, but resolved to take it easy after that. There was no sense in getting drunk and making an even bigger fool of herself.

“Ah, the main course!” Felicity beamed. The waiters began bringing out plates – each one giving pride of place to an enormous, rare steak, garnished with a small quantity of artfully placed vegetables.

“Eat up, my dear!” grinned Felicity. “This is what we’re all here for, after all!”

The guests around the table rapidly stopped their conversation, eagerly digging into the meat and gulping it down, their faces a mix of carnal desire and exquisite, rapturous pleasure. Carol cut a small piece from the end of her steak, gently chewing and savouring the flavour. It was quite unlike any steak she’d eaten before, yet tender and cooked to perfection.

As the empty plates were taken away and the desserts prepared, she turned to Felicity. “That was a wonderful meal,” she said. “Where are all the children? Do they eat this well, too?”

Felicity eyed her strangely. “The children are well fed, if that’s what you mean,” she replied. “We don’t give them any of that processed rubbish they got in the orphanage.”

Carol sensed she’d committed a faux pas, and changed the subject. “I think it’s wonderful that you provide a home to all those children,” she said. “There are so many unwanted children out there.”

“Indeed,” mused Felicity. “We do all we can to bring them in. I’m amazed that more of high society doesn’t do what we do. Such a shame to let them all go to waste.”

Carol nodded.

“Listen, my dear. We’re heading for another orphanage next month in Yorkshire – they have so many children there, and we always have room for more. Would you care to join us?”

“I’d love to,” Carol replied.

“If only my late husband had been as keen as you are, my dear. The tough old goat never did agree with me, even after he was dead. Ha!”

Of course, some of the more sensationalist rumours about Sir Cardwell’s death had been a little… macabre. But those were just silly rumours! No-one actually believed it could be true!

Carol looked around. Where were all the children? A horrible thought occurred to her.

“Where’s Timmy?” she asked.

Felicity smiled but said nothing.

Carol’s eyes widened, and she fell back against the wall. No! It couldn’t be true!

She slid down the wall and began to sob.

Felicity looked down at her. “My dear,” the old woman smiled, “I can’t let you go home like that. Let’s get you cleaned up – I think you should stay for supper…”


Inky Interview: Poet Faye Joy

Can you tell Ink Pantry about your journey as a poet? What lead you to write poetry? 

I am currently doing an online part-time course in Creative Writing, specialising in Poetry, with Manchester Metropolitan.

Art and Art History were my main concerns as a practitioner and teacher, but I wrote a few poems over time, taking it further a few years ago when I chose a two-year Creative Writing Course with the Open University as part of an Open Degree. I have also enjoyed and been stimulated by several excellent Arvon courses in Lumb Bank, Yorkshire. I like the idea of a target, of the support and opportunities the aforementioned have given me.

Do you write prose? Have you thought about screenwriting? Radio?

I have written a few short stories and a radio play. The latter I found challenging and interesting so have decided to try and adapt a group of recent poems into short plays as part of an MA project.

What is the poetry scene like where you live? 

I live in a small market town here in Normandy. There is no “poetry scene” as such, so online courses and the contact with other poets met on Arvon courses provide stimulus and exchange, plus I have a good critic in my daughter who reads my work and offers constructive advice.

Who inspires you? Have you a favourite poet?

I remember reading TS Eliot as an art student and being quite awestruck by its fragmentary construction, then later Ted Hughes’s powerful visceral language. Seamus Heaney has a profound impact, not only his poetry, which is so grounded yet carries a strong mythological sense, but his writing on poetry too. More recently I have been inspired by Michael Symmons Roberts and Dorothy Molloy. Luke Kennard and Ian Seed are more recent “discoveries”. I like the energy and vibrancy in Kennard’s work and the sense of a theatre of the absurd. Seed’s unsettling prose poems have encouraged me to experiment with that form.

What do you care about? What themes keep cropping up in your writing?

There are several recurring themes and topics in my work which I have been trying to group together recently; e.g. my feelings re. la chasse here in France; the birth and early months of my grandson; the surreal in my daily life; and the small occurrences and exchanges in this rural town with neighbours, shopkeepers, etc. I also realize “loss” is an overriding element in many poems since the death of my husband seven years ago.

Have you any advice for budding poets?

I would only suggest to anyone wanting to write poetry, read a great deal of poetry, more than you write and across many styles and times and just experiment. The Arvon courses mentioned before are a wonderful stimulus and possible support system.

What are you reading at the moment?

I have quite a wide poetry collection and dip into it regularly. I am reading the novel The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers after reading through his “Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting” – a group of very affecting poems deriving from his part in the Iraqi conflict.

What is your creative space like?

I live in a small half-timbered house. The first floor is a large open-plan space, and I work on an old, oak table in one corner; it’s a solid, Cornish farm table I have had for many years and its substance is reassuring. I have a view across to a line of tall poplar trees bordering a river which is also reassuring – and stimulating.

Can you share with us a couple of your poems?

Little Warheads

They slivered into the proffered tin,

ice sprinkled around torpedo slicks,

sky reflected in the puissant gleam

of their prismatic scales. I thanked him,

bearded man at the dechetterie

giving away his morning’s angling. (fishing)

I had gone to recycle cardboard

and came back with a tin of five fish.


The State of the Pavements

The tyres scuff and skew, but strong springs cosset him.

I walk him in his bebe confort along roads and lanes I know

more intimately now, by narrow pavements, shuttered windows

with broken bergeres and rusted hinges, past stone-wedges of doorsteps

blocking my way, over odd kerbs, palimpsests of successive

community decisions, past precarious plantpots with dried out herbs.

Past the house that will be a brocante,

the house that was the doctor’s surgery,

past Isabelle’s sewing room,

the one-time mercerie,

the house attached to a shed,

and the cobbled alley of broken windows, tilted slates and slanted walls.


He lightly pitches stray notes and trills.

I push past slag coloured pigeon shit piles

and empty houses freighted with them,

past a memory of a man walking a dog,

a torn towel over his shoulder, loud parrot on top.

A shutter swings open, a cage covered in a scrap

of cloth barely conceals the screeching bird.


A shadow passes over winging. Those piles

spool up flapping and cooing in low tones circling

slip-slated rooftops in search of other takeover zones.

I wipe his hot head with a moistened towel.

Must tell the mairie about the state of the pavements.

What is next for you? What plans have you got?

I hope to complete the MA course in the next couple of years and there is a possibility of a small publication of some of my work, but it is the process of writing that is the most fulfilling thing. I will also be joining another Arvon course at Lumb Bank in July.


Poetry Drawer: Bog by Ali Hepburn

Underfoot, the peat sprang back

leaving watery footsteps

behind – there were no greens

or browns, only earth-colours

and moss-colours and a sense

of refuge from the inky pools beyond —

the kelpie-lairs and deeper fathoms

where dwell the ones who never made

the crossing. Ahead,

it shone as if lit by fool’s fire, white

with the coolness of old death,

hollow eyes long vacant, but staring,

knowing now the perils

of the mire. Horns,

regal and incredulous

in passive defeat, hung

with fronds of lichen

in gaudy decoration, the bog

speaking in warning,

in reclamation.

Books From The Pantry: Love by Robin Barratt: Reviewed by Natalie Denny

Love. The four-letter word that has captured creatives for centuries is the defining theme of LOVE – A Collection of Poetry and Prose on Loving and Being in Love, the second of the Collections of Poetry and Prose book series compiled by Robin Barratt.

LOVE is a varied assortment of poetry and short prose from contributors around the world from Australia to England, from South Africa to Sri Lanka to the USA, to name a few. The origins of the pieces are very prominent in the submissions as they switch between contemporary and traditional styles with distinctive cultural influences running throughout and a real sense of place in many of the stories.

The book is part of a series, the first a replica of the same idea but with loneliness as the theme. The foreword from Barrat explains the main aim of this project was to provide another platform and avenue for creatives across the globe to have their work published and read, regardless of their defining characteristics or biographies. Barrat isn’t a poet and had, by personal admission, accepted nearly every submission and in its original state. I think this shows somewhat in the overall quality of the pieces.

The title boasts over 150 submissions of varying length from over eighty writers and poets. The content takes us on a epic love story from infatuation, the new spark of a relationship, brief sweet encounters, the tender familiarity of an all-time love, to the mundane, everyday tasks that bind two people as one; but it also balances more darker themes of unrequited love, jealousy, vulnerability in love, finding love online, love fading and the painful moving on from a relationship to pastures new. There’s also platonic love depicted between siblings and animals, and religious love, as well as the love of sentimental objects, capturing a wide variety of meanings and relationships.

Whenever dealing with love you will always run against the tide of clichés. I think even these viewpoints should have a level of endearment awarded. As a love-struck, dopamine-addled fool you feel that no one else in the history of the world has felt this feeling. I’m sure we can all remember times in our lives when love has made us conform to our more cringe-worthy selves. So despite my salubrious scepticism, I do believe there is a place for poems like that, though there does seem to be a generous amount within this collection.

Despite that, there’s some absolutely beautiful pieces contained within these pages. My personal favourites include:

‘Today’ by Rachel Walker, which has a lovely descriptive normality – being with your favourite person in the world, of those little blessed moments that add up to something infinite. Walker’s second poem, ‘7 years 4 days 11 months’, is also a heartfelt calendar of love and how it can haunt and liberate a soul.

Molly Donald’s ‘Tell Me It’s Real’ banishes all pink hearts and butterflies in a poem about authentic love that is ‘more than a Hollywood movie’.

Keith Nunes’ ‘Meeting on a Footpath’ details how ‘lovers effortlessly crush each other’ even when the relationship is no more, and ties in nicely with ‘The Tone of Your Voice’ by Martin Redfern depicts witnessing the heart wrenching observation of the one he loves loving someone else. This could also be grouped with ‘Black Cream for Ruined Hearts’ by David Hollywood, which has an excellent use of sounds and visceral, vivid language.

‘A Little Tin’ by John Stockdill resonated, as it told the story of responding to hate with love; ‘only kind words’ can be more effective than anything else in reaching a person.

‘Cruelty’ by Lonita Nugrahayu dissects the nature of love, namely how ‘we fall in love … we rise in hate’ when healing from a relationship.

‘One Word Only’ by Sarah Spivey was a grand and beautiful testament to self love in the face of any flaws glimpsed in the mirror at the age of thirty-seven having just woken up.

The short poem ‘Love’ by Andrew Hunter sums up the sentiment of the collection perfectly likening the heart to a strange muscle that ‘beats us up’.

There is something for everyone in this book. I was delighted by the variation in writing styles and subject interpretation. If you’re looking for new writers with fresh perspectives, from a range of places, then this collection is worth your time.

 Get your own copy of Love 🙂

Pantry Prose: Eat At The Weather! You Chin-Tie Fanfold Rainhood Squadron Member You! by Lavinia Murray

I’ve got spoons in my drawers like everyone else, but their unusual shape is because they’re a 1/24 scale rendition of my pelvis on a stem — that’s dessert spoons — and a 1/12 scale rendition of the top of my skull — teaspoons. My knives are all cambered exactly like my ribs. Fun at mealtimes guaranteed and what a talking point when guests struggle to control what covers their plates and I charge them for the dry cleaning they’ve necessitated! Oh yes, my home is decked with ad hoc mock marvels. I’ve got a packet of ‘Instant Iceberg’ purchased from my local outdoor pursuits shop, plus an ice cornice and crevasse in my freezer, part of the Global Glaciers Collection which me and my buds play swapsies with down at the ice rink or the local’s market meatsafe. We enjoy exchanging geological features, especially these intermediary sorts that are really solidified weather. Talking of which, we intend to bring out a range of Weather On A Stick popsicles so whatever it’s doing in the wide yonder, you get to carry your own temp and meteorological preference around with you. Hot irradiated lollies with a UV range equal to that of a 3 day heel-to-toe trek along the Equator, sticky lollies with a humidity level found only in former cotton-weaving towns, established mildew blooms and rainforests, and gum-jamming spit-robbing droughtpop with ash-like dip and dehydrated liquorices dipperstick. Drippy drizzle and dogspot dropping and dripdrip strangely regulated rain that wobbles just before it lands lollies, the wrapper doubling as chin-tie, fanfold rainhoods. And grey lollies, part household dustbunny, office airscrape, commuter fug trail and extract of exhaust puther and after-lunch breath for that mid-city mid-season midday weathermug.

I’m going to loose my Instant Avalanche on a friend this afternoon. I have my little searcher’s probe ready to jab at the slab and locate her — as have my fifteen friends — so it’s hide and seek — and she’ll be supplied with a little hot-weather lolly which she can use to tunnel through and shift her location if she doesn’t want to be found — this melt-then-refreeze strengthens the tunnel structure so we may not be able to get her out. If that’s the case then it’s heigh ho, we’ve created our seventh snow queen in a row.


Books From The Pantry: The Changeling’s Child by Rachael Lindsay: Reviewed by Shannon Milsom

‘I is different, my Dear Ones,’ Hobnail agreed. ‘I strives to be different! My aunt, long time ago, is teaching me skills and magical uses for my extra fingers. She is teaching me big lots: most of alls, how to live when others wants me gone. And now I lives and lives.’

As a child, some of my fondest memories are from happy, sun-dappled afternoons spent exploring the wilderness of my garden; making glorious muddy messes and checking for treasures hidden under rocks and tucked away in crevices. A shy girl, I found companions in the animals and insects that made their home in my tiny, private jungle.  

Upon reading The Changeling’s Child by Rachael Lindsay, I was immediately transported back to that magical, childhood place. Rachael Lindsay’s writing evokes perfectly the enchantment and strange wistful wildness of nature. Laugh-out-loud funny in some parts, and touching in others, it is a perfect read for an imaginative child (or indeed, a child of any age!)

The Changeling’s Child by Rachael Lindsay tells the story of Hobnail, an ugly and unloved misfit who lives in the forest with her two ‘Dear Ones’, Warty Toad and Slimey Slug. Outcast by even her mother who thought her strange daughter to be an evil changeling fairy child, Hobnail is taught magic by her aunt and then finds herself a home in the quiet solitude of the forest with only her pets for company.

However, even in the forest there is nastiness afoot. The cunning Leaf-Man and his spies hatch a clever plan to try and get Hobnail out of the forest for good; a plan that involves a human baby.

The characters in The Changeling’s Child are engaging, funny, and have a real sense of depth to them that gives the story warmth and soul. Hobnail’s past is presented to the reader through the bedtime stories that she tells to her pets, which is a lovely and poignant touch.

Rachael Lindsay also puts lots of expressiveness into the dialogue of her characters, especially Hobnail:

‘My dears! This is no time to be larking-fun and playful in a pool! Time and the dimsk are against us. We must hurry on our way.’

I also found the exchanges between Warty Toad and Slimey Slug to be highly amusing. The two pets each jealously vie for the attention of their mistress; often trying to outdo each other in their endeavours to please Hobnail, and usually with hilarious results!  

This, as well as some beautiful descriptive writing and gorgeous illustration, really helps us, as readers, to paint a picture of Hobnail, her friends, enemies, and the enchanted, peaceful haven of the forest they all inhabit. (Although that picture could possibly be a little slimy and splattered with woodlouse jam).

Get your own copy of The Changeling’s Child

Inky Interview Exclusive: Award Winning Dramatist Lavinia Murray

Congratulations on winning the BBC Radio 4 Audio Drama Award for Best Adaptation with Émile Zola’s Blood, Sex and Money with your fellow writers Oliver Emanuel, Martin Jameson and Dan Rebellato. The ceremony was hosted by Sir Lenny Henry, who studied literature with The Open University, back in the day, like a lot of our Inky followers! Can you please tell Ink Pantry about the adaptation and describe a typical day with your fellow writers in adapting Blood, Sex and Money

Thank you! It was an odd thing, the Zolas. I met with my co-writers once and then had a phone conference with them. They had already written the first season and, although I was supposed to work with them on that, for some reason I was kept in the parking bay until Season 2. I like to think it was as their ‘secret weapon’! I’m known for being experimental in my adaptations, experimental not just in narrative but form and to also sling comedy into everything (the gentlemen were all a lot more serious writers than myself). Then a story arc was erected and the books allocated, a timeline worked-out, Glenda Jackson’s character, and the series narrator was given her own story arc and then we jumped in and wrote like scallywags. We only conferred when we shared a character between episodes, just to ensure that whatever liberties we took with that character were consistent with their behaviour in a previous episode. Otherwise it was Liberty Junction. As long as the spirit of the books were honoured, and there was basic agreement on what needed to happen to ensure the whole worked as a series, and as stand-alone, off we went. In Series 3, Money, I was given The Earth to adapt, the book that put Zola in court for obscenity (thanks for that). My adaptation was the sole episode that was broadcast prefaced by a warning and it is very visceral. It was the only episode, I think, to draw complaints about how upsetting it was. I offset it with comedy, the everyday intruding on murder, death and tragedy — and I’m proud of the script but sorry that it was too much for some listeners. (Guardian article: Blood, Sex and Money)

As a dramatist you have adapted many great works for radio. In 2002 you adapted Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials for BBC Radio 4. Where do you start with such an undertaking? Did you have fun doing it? Have you any advice for budding writers who are interested in this field?

His Dark Materials, blimey, yes — when we were expected to cram big books into an hour each, then we were granted an hour-and-a-half. When we’d finished, we were asked why we hadn’t asked for longer! We did ask! It was an odd undertaking. The rhythm of the story, the pace and progress were all different because we had such a limited amount of time to set up characters and have them swept into the story. I was told to make one of the angels the narrator (fine and dandy) and to explain ‘Dust’ as ‘soul’, which was a trifle bizarre given the author’s atheism. I did my usual humour thing (throw it in, mix it up) which was also my way of coping with the project. It was, as they say, a poisoned chalice. Some people love the version, others wanted to kick me in the shins and nethers. I can’t say that the project was a joy. I didn’t sleep for five nights when it was broadcast and I also ritually smashed up my complimentary set of Dark Materials CDs when they arrived. Took a hammer to them. Broke ’em up on the doorstep. I wouldn’t wish to adapt anything under those circumstances again. No way. Very painful memories. As for advice to people interested in adaptations — they can be great fun (they are a glorified kind of fan fiction) — but go for books that give you, the dramatist, ample space to explore what fascinates you. The Zolas were great fun, but the adaptation I’m fondest of is The Anatomy of Melancholy (the commissioner gave me an hour for a book composed of nearly 1000 pages in tiny print) and Gargantua and Pantagruel. Be aware that some people will be annoyed with the choice you make and the liberties you take, but there’s no point in adapting a book for another medium if you’re going to lavishly copy the original. I also like my version of the (partly controversial) Ann Veronica by H.G.Wells — that airs on February 26th, repeated on March 4th.

One of your radio plays from 1997 is called Nietzsche’s Horse. Great title! What is it about and what themes does it touch upon?

Nietzsche’s Horse was my first ever radio play. It featured floating prostitutes. Of course it did! Nietzsche’s being followed by a horse as he discovers exactly what Universal Consciousness (the aim of his philosophy, in my humble opinion) entails. It was a comedy. It featured the famous horse in Wagner’s Opera explaining its poses, with the riposte, ‘And I never dunged the stage’. Happy days.

You have many books published, one of which is called Out Damned Spot; William Shakespeare, Crime Scene Cleaner. Another great title! What is the novel about? How would you describe your writing style, generally?

Out Damned Spot! William Shakespeare, Crime Scene Cleaner is about a latter-day William Shakespeare, a junior hospital doctor who’s bullied out of his job (nurses empty catheter bags filled with urine into his locker, midwives carve human placentas into his likeness, microwave them, and eat them in the staff kitchen, the fairies mess with his naval which becomes so enormous he’s diagnosed as acoustic) because he’s whistle blown about the hospital using occult practices, not medical ones. William walks in on someone running a Ouija planchette over a patient’s gelled abdomen, and the consultants all use the Great Western Pharma Tarot to diagnose and treat illness. He leaves and sets up in business as a crime scene cleaner, opting for ‘higher end’ crime scenes and cleaning up after the other William Shakespeare’s crime scenes depicted in his plays. He’s helped by nine bulimic cannibals, a Goth campanologist, a partially dissected cadaver, an ex hospital porter obsessed with sumo and Ann Hathaway Shakespeare, a free-diving, water-birth specialist midwife. They end up travelling in their own graves, stealing babies.There’s a flying human tongue (the Tonguebird) and nods to Lewis Carroll who was a Shakespeare aficionado. It should probably be a graphic novel, and I’m turning it into a performance piece and animation. There are also friars who anaesthetise poltergeists, enclose them in illuminated vellum tubes, and retail them as warheads. I drink far too much tea. I think my writing style shows that. I am a visual artist who accidentally ended up flinging words about. My work is driven by images and comedy. I do try plotting but no one believes me.

You have a ‘formidable grand dame’ of a pet crow. What is she called and how did she come to live with you?

Oh, my beloved crow Anne Bow! Out Damned Spot is dedicated to her for ‘noises off’. I thought she wouldn’t mind if nobody liked my book, she’d make her wonderful rude, raucous, hahahaha crow noises and she’d put the world to rights. Anne Bow is around 15 years old now and was born without true wings, a genetic defect that affects the Corvid family. We’ve had her living with us since she was a fledgling; she was a year old before proper flight feathers grew. Anne was found wandering about beneath a tree, her beak deformed, her throat filled with gape worm parasites and she had a severe chest infection, so she sounded like Donald Duck. Basically, she was going to be ‘put down’ unless she was offered a home with an aviary. It was hoped by the vet and veterinary nurses that Anne could be released once she had true wings, but the deformed beak never corrected itself, her crop is scarred because of the gape worm so she can’t store food, and she’s partially sighted and a poor flier, so would never have survived.  We’ve left the aviary door open in case she wanted to fly out and return at her leisure but she yells at us until we shut the door. The local crows come down to see her and feed with her. Basically, Anne Bow is the Boss.

You are a lady of many talents, as you are also a performance poet. Have you entered many slams? What do you think about the poetry scene at the moment? 

I love performing. It can be fun. I’ve tried my hand at local poetry slams but they’re far too serious for me. I am a giddy kipper. They seem to favour the one style of poetry, which is great if that’s your bag. I might be due a good shin-kicking if I say that the style of the ones I’ve witnessed verge on haranguing and in-your-face and, ahem, favour the overly macho and the immediately gratifying, but that might be just an accident of circumstance. The poetry scene is a rum ol’ world, some glorious pieces, some snobbery and bobbery and some grass-roots glorious, real, individual, wonderful, magnificent poems that are written because the writer needed to write them and remained playful yet true to their own vision.

Both your husband and son are also writers. What kind of things do they write about? Do you inspire each other?

We are a scribbler family for sure. My husband, Michael, is a poet and essayist (Michael’s essays Gifts of Rings and Gold ) He’s the real poet, I’m more an apple-bobber. His essays are brilliant, and he’s also just written two novels.

Our son, Alex, is a novelist, having completed his MA in Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam, had a short story, Plankton, published by Galley Beggar Press (under his nom de plume Vienna Famous: he and I are forever name-shifting). He writes wild, comedic pieces. He went to Art School and did a series about how the female body is usually the one depicted as vulnerable or available. He’s very interested in culture/gender and even did an MA about that, too. When he did his BA in English Lit, he even won the Virago Essay Prize!

I consider Michael and Alex to be the ‘real’ writers in the family. I’m a wonky hybrid thang, a writer that craves images (and who often draws) and laughter. I accidentally fell into writing plays and haven’t been able to extricate myself. I got in trouble for telling the wonderful Society of Authors, who had given me a free year’s membership, that I wouldn’t join after the year was up. I found their wonderful array of support and workshops terrifying. Bless them, they are brilliant, but it was a case of, having been allowed through their door, I could see that I didn’t belong. I really, really do not feel like a writer. I use words, but not in a writerly way.

Did you grow up with a lot of books? Could you please describe your library? 🙂 What is your favourite book? What are you reading at the moment?

We didn’t really have books when I grew up. There was a set of encyclopaedias in the garden shed which I used to read (I dug holes in the garden and sat in them and read, or went in the shed to read if it was raining) and I came home from school to find my dad burning them. Heartbreak! Now I’m a book obsessive. We have far too many books. Not enough bookshelves. Books in stacks by the bed and in the front room. Books! I’m always reading any of the Harry Potters, P.G.Wodehouse, Mark Ryden’s Pinxit which is a collection of his paintings, The Can Opener’s Daughter, a graphic novel by Rob Davis, and all the Moomin books in rotation.

What do you care about? What themes keep cropping up in your writing?

It’s been pointed out that frozen embryos appear a lot in my work. I think that’s because I find the idea of them intrinsically funny. My zine’s called The Adventures of the Frozen Embryos. I suppose, like most people, the big things call out — love, kindness, life, death, imagination — satire is important as a means of working through the big questions. I’m vegan as a moral choice. I also realised, when I was doing an oral story-telling course, that I’m a trickster type.

Have you any advice for budding writers?

The only advice I can offer for budding writers is this; if it’s what you really want to do then never give up, never allow anyone to put you off, and just keep working, working, working. Don’t install other people’s criticisms in your head. Write because there’s joy in writing.

You have a great interest in Mentalism. Could you tell us more?

Mentalism, yes, that fits in with my trickster persona. I have lots of books on this, including early works by Derren Brown, and works on cold reading. It’s the storytelling, the narrative that I love, the fact that this kind of magic is sheer showmanship (show-woman-ship?) and, when done well, can amaze, perplex, startle, and it is intrinsically playful. It also renders the performer and audience equal partners in the effect.

If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?

If I could change only one thing about the world? I’d ratchet-up the amount of empathy everyone was capable of feeling. Either that or inflate humanity’s stock of compassion.

What is next for you? What plans have you got?

My next plan is to create graphic novels, cartoons, animations and wonky live performances that continue to explore the universe that is partly visible in Out Damned Spot. If I can escape writing plays, well, yippee! I did a scratch night at Salford Lowry Seeds in November and the audience feedback was terrific (someone described me as a ‘living Terry Gilliam cartoon’!). There have been offers of a possible director and rehearsal space to work out what it is I’m doing. That should be a hoot.

Buy your copy here of Out Damned Spot by Urbane Publications



Pantry Prose: Super Moon by Matthew Waldron

A full moon tonight. I anticipate a no-show; the view occluded by coagulated, thick porridge cloud. But when I open my front door to venture outside and walk toward the dark, wet-rimmed basin of meadows, in the curl of neighbourhood cul-de-sac, between roofs of two houses, a knocked over cup of cappuccino spills into the sky. Moon, a bright foamy incidental drop floats in slow creamy swirls of liquid darkness.

In this fluid world an image rises: a beautiful young woman in a train carriage. I hadn`t noticed that she was there earlier, one of several corner-of-the-eye moving shadows – passengers choosing seats. But she must have been, ever since our departure from the station. So, here I am returning from an always unnerving ‘bathroom visit on a train’ experience: the automatic sliding door; an unwanted embrace; doubt and fear of whether the door will lock, unlock; the motion of the train; to sit or stand? Rivulets of soapy water and piss curl, writhe, overlap like a coiled slumber-disturbed nest of snakes. Mucky shoe prints merge, begin to lift away, become an historic universal sole above once sparkly white floor. Now, I’m walking unsteadily between rows of seats which seem to wobble like loose teeth in a big, open-mouthed yawn, smile. The train speeds, judders and jolts; its carriage swings gently from side-to-side like a pregnant cat’s belly.

There she is. Cinnamon sprinkled onto long, molasses hair; her complexion, oiled olive wood; enough of a gentle smile to intimate friendliness; perfect, lipstick-less lips. Her dark, chocolate eyes appear to wait, anticipate, hold mine. Is she looking at me? I turn around. There must be a much younger, more attractive person behind me. The cliché of my action realised, my mind turns around too. She is looking at me. My heart does a double-kick drum beat; fever glows behind my ear lobes; heat prickles the few hairs on my chest with a light sweat. I do nothing.

Arriving at my home town station, I get up from my seat. The young woman, still sitting two rows away from me, initially a post-daydream background blur, now frosted glass, now crystalline, HD-ready – beautiful. No. Stop there. No. She’s at least twenty years younger than me; that makes me old. Old enough to be… no, stop there too. Deeper thought will only exacerbate existentialist woes; taking a walk on an almost-set concrete path, then a surprise splash of reality will arrive like an ice-cold drink thrown in your face. I’ll carry the moment home and nurture it for a while, this, our unborn child. Wait. There she is again, a soft form elegantly positioned on one of the foyer’s battleship grey and blood-red, metal seats. With that same look she turns around to follow me toward the exit, then along a length of hand-smeared, fag stub-stabbed, rain-beaded glass façade.

Look at me. Look at me, you idiot. Come on, Yusef. Yeah, I clocked the ‘Hello my name is: badge’. I bet wearing it makes you feel that weird mix-up of embarrassment and pride, right? I’m not stalking you; I’m waiting here for my taxi to arrive. It’s cold outside; it’s cold enough in here. This seat’s freezing, and those oh-so-sensitive automatic doors opening and shutting don`t help. The invisible eye of the sensor’s acting like a kid who’s discovered what curtains do for the first time. Why are they opening now? Surely it can’t be triggered by a few leaves blowing across the taxi bay? Okay, okay, I said I was waiting for a taxi, right? Well, I’m actually waiting for my dad to pick me up, okay? But, if I told you that, it would just make you think I’m a young, naïve girl, wouldn’t it? Hey, I’m young, but I’m old enough for you. Yeah, I live with my currently happily divided parents; but hey, economic necessity and all that, post-uni, between jobs, part-time study to pay for. I’ll get my own place eventually.  Everything’s cool, right?

Look at you, staring at the moon as the clouds budge out of the way for a millisecond; simultaneously trying to forget me, and dwelling on the moment in that little melancholy way of yours. Poetic guy, hey? Yeah, me too, I’m a poetic girl. You see? I know you, because you’re like me.  

You probably think that I’m too young, right? I’m not stupid, blah, blah, blah… ‘age difference’, ‘what would our families think’, et cetera, et cetera. This has nothing to do with our families; this is about us. Don’t you get it? I know you feel the same as I do. Look, there’s an obvious connect here, not just a dodgem car bump of chemical-hormonal reaction. We’ve seen some of each other, you know? Yeah, however brief, due to your lack of eye-to-eye commitment, shyness, concern about age. Hah, age concern, right?! No, we’ve seen character, intellect, warmth; we’ve seen the soul. Availability is key, sure thing. Listen: I wanna yin-yang with you, you handsome lanky lunk of self-denial; you errant, miscellaneous, beautiful man. I can tell you’re single; single guys are always easier to read than single girls. You look so ‘please, Mummy, I’m lost’; your blushes and awkwardness dead giveaways. The fact is you’re free. It takes two to tangle, to tryst. Try it. Take a risk; be brave, honey.

Late autumn, early winter. I arrive at an intersection, of sorts, where wealth meets, well, dirt-poor, to put it frankly, if a little insensitively. Like most borderlines – invisible, yet a difference always tangible. I watch three guys shuffle by, stooped like wind-blown garden canes. Hands are stuffed into pockets, just a glimpse of pinked white haloes, the nakedness of their wrists. Destination performed in silent mutual agreement. These guys wear heavy woollen coats, the colour of coal; well-worn coats where the wool has bobbled, fuzzy outlines appear on shoulder seams and arms, reveal vague chase-me traces of land on horizons. I notice a star or satellite appear in the slowly clearing sky like a splinter of glass flying away from a bottle neck break.  

There’s an unreachable heart-shaped red apple at the top of a solitary tree in Valentine Road. One isolated fruit in upper, wiry untamed branches; thin tangles like desperate fatigued arms, webs of veins and arteries. No intermittent touch of care to nurture and create a plentiful yield of sweetness and strength for this tree.  

Another Christmas due, and I know it’ll appear all too jack-in-a-box soon. Families in my neighbourhood have already prettified windows with garlands and slow-pulse LED snowflake and icicle lights; uncertain, hesitant shifts of colour like a reader looking for the right page. I feel so alone. Why? My parents are with me, or rather, I am with them. I have friends, so why do glimpses of other people’s lives like the warm, tantalising glows from strangers’ living rooms with apparently happy families inside make me feel so sad? It is theatre I’m watching, isn’t it? Are these families content all the time? Is all life theatre?  

A short walk from my parent’s house, across a gravel drive and around the block, feels like a long, long ramble – in my mind at least. That apple tree hasn’t made me feel any less lonely. There it stands, neglected, yet it still bears fruit. I should Flickr and Facebook a pic of that one at the top. It’s large; a proper burst of blood red. I’ve got a stupid idea in my head that if I were tall enough to reach up and twist it free, all of my dreams would come true. Hah! What a big, stupid kid I am. I can hear someone walking nearby through the leaf-covered path. The sounds are all scrunches like crushed crisp packets and broken biscuits. Come on, Mara, girl, pull your leggings up, get your act together, sharpen your senses, be sweet now.

The shallow skid of pond is semi-iced; parchment paper patterned with greasy shadows of grass and leaves. Nearby, a working men’s club with windows of sheet metal and padlocked doors; a sign; black, rusted twelve-spoke mine wheel; the clock that tells you nothing, tells you everything; a simple profile of miners, angular in shadow, spade-dig at a forty-five degree bank of coal, forever digging the now, or the past. I walk past it towards what the club folks call Adam’s Tree. I see a familiar face, and my own Adam’s Apple bobs involuntarily in an awkward gulp which drowns my breath. An apple at the top of the tree remains firm, intact, red as blood. A few other fruits, sparse, decay on lower branches, moistened, rain-darkened, colour of burnt toast. God, Yusef, stop being such a drag-heels mope-along, man.

If I reach out to it, do I reach out to you? Carol song in the distance wraps around me, forms a halo of melody and nostalgia, tremulous, tentative: spider on her silken web. I feel so not alone – Merry Christmas.

‘Weren’t you (on the train earlier),’ we both begin a start-up stutter, knowing that we know the answer already. So what happens now, a Happy New Year?