Inky Interview Special: Colin Dardis: with Claire Faulkner

After reading your bio and website, I think you must be one of the busiest poets around at the moment. You must love what you do, but how do you fit everything in?

Geraldine O’Kane, who co-runs Poetry NI with myself, we both love poetry, and we both love seeing other people grow and develop in their writing and their discovery of poetry. So I guess if you are really passionate about something, you just find the time and energy somehow. Poetry has been very important in helping me deal with my depression: it’s created social circles and new friends, and given me a sense of self-worth, so although at times it might feel busy, it still feels vital.

You champion local poets and co-run Poetry NI. What’s the poetry scene like in Belfast at the moment?

Belfast, for a long time, had very few opportunities for poets outside of the Universities. Purely Poetry, our open mic night, has been running for over six years now, and back when we started, poetry wasn’t really seen as something to do on a night. Now, thankfully, more and more places are seeing poetry as viable, something that audiences want. We still have a long way to go – what Dublin has on in the space of a week would easily outnumber what happens in Belfast in a month. But it’s improving slowly.

As an editor and publisher you must see and read a lot of work. In some cases, you might be the first person to see it. What’s it like discovering new poetry and poets?

I think as an editor, you have to have a responsibility to discover new writers and showcase them. You can’t just publish your mates. It’s amazing to publish someone, perhaps for the very first time, and then a few years down the line, see how they have advanced. We’re fortunate in having our Purely Poetry open mic night, with new readers coming and being able to hear their work. But we are also wary of being too Belfast-centric, and want to push more North West and rural voices moving ahead.

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

Read. Simple as that. You can’t be a writer if you don’t intake words and revel in the output of others. Join your local library. If you’ve a student, definitely read beyond what’s just on your course reading list. Subject yourself indiscriminately to books, read widely with an open mind, and don’t be afraid to try out writers that might be completely different from your own style or what you’ve read before.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to create bad art. Not everything you pen has to be prize-winning. As long as you are engaging with that creative element, and exercising your brain, the really good stuff will come eventually.

What inspires you to write? (If you have time!)

Often, I write to try and make sense of things, either of what is happening in the world, or simply how I see my own place in it. My own mental health impacts on what I might write about; often, it’s just feelings and behaviour. But I guess like most other writers, I just react to what I see and experience. Anything really can be inspiration, from a news article to the shape of a cloud, from falling in love, to making a cup of tea.

What works are you reading at the moment? and what or who would you recommend us to read?

I’ve just finished Joan Newmann’s new collection, Dead End (Summer Palace Press, 2018). All the poems muse on death to a degree, some with black humour, some with a startling candour. It’s fantastic, and I definitely recommend checking it out. I also finished reading a collection from Hungarian poet Attila József while on the train the other day. I was in the middle of Lost for Words by John Humphrys too, although I have to say some of his recent comments in the news has put me off that…

For recently released poetry, two of the best collections I read last year were Ruth Carr’s Feather and Bone (Arlen House), inspired by the lives of Dorothy Wordsworth and Mary Ann McCracken, and Michael Farry’s The Age of Glass (Revival Press).

You’re involved in so many projects. (One of my favourites is Panning for Poems, I love the design aspect.) Can you tell us what you’re working on at the moment, or what’s coming up for you in the future?

Panning For Poems is Geraldine’s project: Geraldine greatly enjoys micropoetry, so she wanted to give a platform to that which didn’t necessarily deal in formal structures like haiku, tanka, etc. All the poems are printable on one A4 sheet, to fold up and keep in your pocket or bag in case of a poetry emergency!

Otherwise, Purely Poetry and FourXFour Poetry Journal are continuing as normal. The next issue of FourXFour will be out for Poetry Day Ireland, on 21st March. We’ll also be looking at doing some more live readings and slams, and ideally, we will want to release more chapbooks through Pen Points Press.

I noticed that a lot of the projects you’re involved in make poetry very accessible for readers. (FourXFour, micropoetry journals and P.O.E.T. – Poets Opposing Evil Trump are all available freely as pdfs on the Poetry NI website.) Do you think poetry is becoming more accessible than ever before?

PDFs are an easy and cheap way for us to distribute poetry. Distribution is a massive challenge. If you publish a book, how do you get it out there, to the wider reading audience? Online publishing allows you to circumnavigate that issue somewhat, but importantly, poets still need to earn a living; there needs to be a paying market alongside what is being freely accessed. So hundreds of people might download a free PDF, but if you charge for it, what happens then? Hopefully, if it’s really strong writing, people will still be willing to pay, and help a poet buy a notebook or pay the rent.

I’ve always loved poetry, so I’m biased, but I’m interested if you’ve seen or noticed a rise in the popularity of poetry in the last few years? Do you think poetry is becoming more political?

Poetry has always been political – ask Plato and Socrates. Poetry has been used through the centuries to make political points and to rebuff them. It goes back to accessibility – instead of printing a poem and nailing it to the door of your town hall, or handing them out in the market square, you now upload it, or tweet, or blog, Youtube, Soundcloud, etc. Poetry isn’t becoming more political, just more people are exposed to it, which is a damn good thing.

Would you like to share one of your poems with us?

Thank you. This one was originally published in Abridged, and will be in my upcoming collection, the x of y, available from Eyewear Publishing later this year.

Harvest

We group instruments of sleep about us:
gum shield, throat spray, ear plugs, bodies given
in set agreement.

In Summer, we require less than our skins.
Dreams ruptured from the heat; stray images,
kindling for the stars.

Come November, additives of blanket,
socks, pepper the bed with one poppy red
hot water bottle.

We take up our positions, defenders
to each other’s rampart. Security
of unified arms.

Soon, you are drowsy; I begin the slow
pilot of my torso towards the moon,
moods tucked around us.

We go to our little deaths together,
awaiting the morphine touch of Somnus.
These are our soft times.

Colin’s Website

Colin on Twitter

PoetryNI

PoetryNI on Twitter

Geraldine O’Kane on Twitter

Inky Interview Special: Dorli Nauta

You have recently written and published your book From A to A and Back Again which is based on your father’s experience of forced labour in Auschwitz 1943-5, and his letters home to Amsterdam. How fascinating. Congratulations, Dorli. Could you tell us more about it?

The first time I found out that my father, Wim Nauta, had been in Auschwitz during the Second World War, was when he told me that he was applying to the German Forced Labour Compensation Programme.

In 1942 The German State began to suffer setbacks; the advance of the army was halted, and the troops stalled at many fronts. More and more German men were sent to the front, more and more German women had to work in the war industry. There was a severe shortage of labour and the Germans started to look elsewhere for workers. The Netherlands had to supply labour also. In June 1943 there was a call up announcement for all males between the ages of 18 and 20 to report for work in Germany. When my father and his friends returned home from a rambling weekend away in the countryside, their call up papers were waiting, informing them to report to the Labour Exchange the next Thursday.

About 550k Dutch people were forced to work for the Germans. That represented, with regards to the number of inhabitants of 9 million, more than 6%. The Netherlands were hit hard. A total of some 30k people died of the consequences of this forced labour.

But Wim Nauta came back to Amsterdam, hence the title From A to A and Back Again.

In translating the memoirs, how did you try to get your father’s voice across?

I made several attempts at translating the letters. I was trying at first to keep very true to his voice, with the slang and upbeat tone of the letters. But it didn’t make for the best English, as my daughter Jessica pointed out!

After a few tries I became more relaxed about wanting to translate ad verbatim, and I concentrated more on getting the meaning across in good English.

With so much information to work on, with letters, diaries and memoirs, how did you begin to organise the structure of your book? It must have needed a lot of patience?

On the 27th January 2013, Holocaust Memorial Day, I met Chava Erlanger at the Imperial War Museum North, where she unveiled her artwork; ceramic stars representing the Star of David.

We got into conversation about the mutual connection we both have with Amsterdam. We became Facebook friends and stayed in touch that way.

When writing the book I tried to fit everything in chronologically, with links in my own voice. I found it hard to make a selection out of all the material that I had, especially all the old historical documents. I tried several ways, but nothing was ever quite right.

In May 2015 I made a version which was printed and passed around family and friends.

You have included colour reproductions of original photographs in your book with co-designer Gwen Riley Jones, a freelance photographer who works at the John Rylands Library in Manchester. What are some of the images you included, and are any images of the letters included?

Around that time I met up again with Chava in the John Rylands Library, she introduced me to the photographer Gwen Riley Jones. This time I was able to give her a version of the book, which had as working title The Ticket.

Then Chava got in touch with me and said this story needed to be published. She approached the Six Point Foundation, a charity for Holocaust survivors; they agreed to sponsor me. Gwen Riley Jones, photographer and publisher came to help me. Gwen and I worked together, editing, designing and re-editing. At last on 1st of December 2017 the book was published.

The book starts with images of my father’s photo album, followed by all the letters in Dutch on one side of the page, with the translation in English on the opposite page.

There are also images of wartime documents, notably a train ticket and a Red Cross Telegram and family photographs.

Your father was called to Germany with two of his friends. They were all musicians. Which instruments did they play, and what kind of music? How much insight did you get into all three characters through your father’s memoirs?

My father and his friends played several musical instruments; guitar, accordion and mandolin. In the photograph album A/Z Oberschlesien you can clearly see the instruments slung over their backs. The music they played were popular songs of the time such as Drei Vagabunden, which they played on stage as part of the Dutch Cabaret performance. The show was called Seltene Witzen (Silly Jokes).

I have a collection of the music they played in a folder that my father gave me. It is quite a mix amongst others: Stardust by Duke Ellington, Bye Bye Blues, Samoa Eiland, Polish folksongs, Oh Suzanna, Do You Remember The Night In Zakopane, Bing Crosby’s Cowboys’s Medley, You Are My Lucky Star, Caravan, Pagan Love Song, Poor Nelly Gray and many more in German, English, Polish and Dutch.

I don’t think I ever met the two friends Jan and Carel, but reading the letters gives you some idea of what they were like. My grandmother mentions that Wim was very lucky that his friends came with him.

Could you please share with us an extract from your book?

Extract from a letter from Wim to his family in Amsterdam:

Auschwitz, 2nd November ‘43

Dear All,

I have just received your letter dated Sunday 17th October, so that didn’t take that long to arrive; only a fortnight. You wrote that you had sent a parcel two days previously, well that was so, because yesterday I got a card to say that I could collect a parcel in Kattowitz. At five o’clock I jumped on my bike and was off, then onto the quarter to six train and at half past seven I arrived in Katto and quickly went to the Express department to collect it. Fortunately everything went really quickly and the parcel was completely in one piece and everything you wrote about was in it. It’s fantastic and of course I thank you very much. Then I had something to eat and back on the nine o’clock train.

I arrived back in Auschwitz at half past ten at night. I went to the bike shed and started pedalling so as to be back quickly. I was about halfway, when passing the bus stop I saw a girl of about twenty five years old. She asked me if there were still any buses going. Well of course there weren’t any buses anymore; she had two suitcases with her and was on her way to the station. I decided to do the gallant thing and put the suitcases on my back and together we went to the station. On the way she told me that she came from Vienna and that her husband had been stabbed to death in a street fight, during the revolution. So she was from the right side, and according to her, almost all Viennese are. When you go into a shop there to buy something, you wouldn’t dream of giving the Hitler salute, not like here, because there you wouldn’t get served. According to her, Vienna is still the way it was before the war. At half past eleven we arrived at the station and we said our goodbyes. She gave me three apples, a handful of cigarettes (eight!) and 5M. Of course she also asked me to write to her sometime. Great wasn’t it? The only thing was I didn’t get back until half past twelve, but that did not matter.

As regards moving on Moe, that’s nothing you know, we would like to, but you can’t leave here at I.G.Farben.

As forced labour my father and friends were allowed to travel on specific times and days within a 100 km radius.

Another extract taken from the memoirs my father wrote; I paraphrase, it concerns the immediate aftermath of the night of 13th February 1945 in Dresden:

After 5 am there was no ‘all clear’ siren. The electricity had been cut. They waited until they heard no more bombs drop, then they went outside.

The first thing Wim saw was a dead horse lying on the pavement. The house next door was on fire. The inhabitants were taking their furniture outside and Wim and his friends helped them to get it all out. They debated what to do next. It was clear that they had to leave Dresden as fast as possible. They made their way towards the Elbe. Dresden was a big, smoking rubbish heap. The anti-aircraft gang had made little paths where possible, between the debris. Along these paths they arrived at the river, but they didn’t know what was safer; to stay on this side or to go over the bridge, which miraculously had hardly been damaged. They decided to cross the river. At the other side they walked down the steps, to get to the sandy riverbank. Under the arches they saw an unbelievable amount of dead bodies; people who had lost their lives during the bombardments. When Wim saw this he became very frightened and realised that it would only need a bomb fragment or a splinter of the anti-aircraft fire, for him to end up amongst these victims.

They were walking along the river’s edge, when they heard the buzzing of aircraft up high. From the bombardments on Auschwitz, Wim had heard about the theory that a second bomb never falls in the same place. So if you were too late for a shelter, you had to jump into a bomb crater, stand to the side and hope for the best. The three friends put this theory into practice and ran from crater to crater.

Where is the best place to get a copy of From A to A and Back Again?

My publishers are a small company and I am my own agent. To get a copy of my book you can send a cheque for £16.99 plus postage of £2.90 together with your address to:

Dorli Nauta, 16 Eaton Road, Bowdon Altrincham WA14 3EH Cheshire UK.

I also have a Facebook Page and you can message me on there, or on Messenger.

Have you any future plans for further books, or projects?

I haven’t used all the material and documents I have in my possession, so I might write a kind of ‘follow up’ to this book. I also write and tell stories for children; so far for my grandchildren but I have plans to publish a small collection sometime.

Inkspeak: This Is Our Soil by Mark Sheeky

This is our soil our mother earth

the things beneath us that feed us

its built from remnants of decaying plants

remanants of our bodies

our bodies rotting

which we must eat

we must take it in

we must absorb it through our skin

take them up through our roots, build them high to the temples of our skin

tall in these vast forests made from mangroves

our dead bones of history

these great brown castles

the stalagmites of life

this is soil

this is our bodies

elements of the earth

its crystal grit beneath our feet

it’s built from remnants of decaying plants

remnants which we must eat

we must take it in

we must absorb it through our skin

this is our soil our mother earth

the things beneath us that feed us

its built from remnants of decaying plants

remanants of our bodies

our bodies rotting

which we must eat

we must take it in

we must absorb it through our skin

take them up through our roots, build them high to the temples of our skin

tall in these vast forests made from mangroves

our dead bones of history

these great brown castles

the stalagmites of life

this is soil

this is our bodies

elements of the earth

its crystal grit beneath our feet

it’s built from remnants of decaying plants

remnants which we must eat

we must take it in

we must absorb it through our skin.

 

Mark’s Website

Inky Interview Exclusive: Christopher Gilmore

You trained and then became a tutor at LAMDA. Could you tell us about your experience there? What was a typical day like?

I had the privilege of devising my own lesson plans, and often they outpaced student expectations, many of whom surprised me by being so conservative. The most private and obtuse students were unteachable. Not because they didn’t have tremendous talent, but because they already mostly knew how to deploy it. Nonetheless, I had the privilege of encouraging Nigel Planer, Anthony Head, and Nichola McAuliffe, to become leading actors. A typical day would cover improvisations and comedy timing, exploring texts, old and new, and stretching the vocal chords and limbs, as well of course, empathy and imagination.

You taught many young actors in three other London drama schools. What would be your three pieces of advice for any budding actors?

  1. Have another skill or talent that can make money.

  2. Accept every challenge and adventure and seek more.

  3. Watch and listen like an ever-curious secret insider on the outside, keen to understand the vagaries of human motive and behaviour.

As a young professional you appeared in Dixon of Dock Green and acted with ‘Awesome’ Orson Wells, Dame Maggie Smith, Glenda Jackson CBE and Jack Warner. Have you any favourite memories of that time? What were they like to work with?

Privately I thought Mr Wells (Awesome) to his friends, was a smug, self-absorbed, big baby. Being a sensitive Soul, and myself a young fresh faced actor, I’m sure he took umbrage. In a still photograph I was lined up with Oliver Reed and Orson Wells. Just before the camera clicked, this giant star opened his arms entirely blocking out my face.

As far as Maggie Smith was concerned, for both of us, our first theatre job. She played a page boy dressed as a girl! She had a boyfriend at the time and therefore, I, and perhaps the rest of the company, didn’t spend too much time with her.

Glenda Jackson and I often met at the labour exchange in Victoria London, she complaining every month of being out of work. Subsequently, I worked with her at Crewe Lyceum very remarkably, before being discovered by a famous international director. It was during that time that she then became engaged, I believe, to the man she married, who was working backstage.

Jack Warner was literally on his last legs ,and moving slower than many men of his age. He’d come up through the ranks of music hall, and because I was a public schoolboy who had acted in a great number of Shakespearean plays, curiously this mega star was as shy with me as I was with him. The BBC asked him to give me lifts in his car when filming at night. Sitting next to him was quiet agony. I say quiet because he never spoke, and barely answered any questions I posed; what’s more drove at what felt like 5mph. It took me some weeks to work out a possible reason for this. With his fame as a family entertainer, he was terrified maybe of knocking down a child and losing his reputation. When I left the show, which secretly I called ‘Cops in Toyland’, he gave me an inscribed pewter tankard.

Your novel Alice In Welfareland sees Alice fall down a rabbit hole into a nuclear bunker. Could you tell us more about the inspiration behind it?

The legend of the Hollow Earth I amalgamated with the little acknowledged fact that Lewis Carroll first called his most famous book Adventures of Alice UNDERGROUND. Written in the time of the Cold War, I, like millions of others, was in a state of tension re a possible nuclear holocaust. In this heady mixture I was led to extend the psychic aspects of the Alice books into a more New-Age awareness of Astral Travel, as well as exploring political satire after the bomb had fallen on the Home Counties.

Would you share with us one of your poems from The Mushroom Men: 20 Imperfect Peace Poems?

2/7/2013

Mental ill-health mars 1 in 5

One-third kids try not to survive

1 in 10 self-harms

Make schools factory farms

Abattoirs the insane survive?

 

Prevention much cheaper than cure

Free Schools with promised allure

Caged in good grammar

Tests under the hammer

Free speech is soon rendered impure

 

More freed kids’ expressions allowed

Less I-depression in each crowd

With few playmates’ skills

Fierce mental stress kills

Oppressed kids by curricula cowed

 

At the front in rows of desks like tanks

Uniformed kids lined up in straight ranks

Self-esteemed zeroes

See themselves heroes

Face lethal bullets their brain firing blanks

 

Forget mindfulness with much stress

It’s mindlessness that can best bless

One’s spirit in flow

Our Soul’s life will grow

When all our earth’s lessons caress!

 

Have you ever been on a literary pilgrimage?

Yes, to Stratford-upon-Avon. A clairvoyant once told me I had played the part of a Fool in the days of Shakespeare. A notion that felt curiously apt.

You write two limericks a day. Would you mind sharing one? What is it about the limerick form that you like?

Imagine an ocean in a fish tank with many cross currents with hidden depths, and all of one essence from drop to drop, from ripple to ripple, from side to side and back again. Compact concise multi-layered capsules and due to rhythm and rhyme, at best startling.

Unlike an apple one a day

I keep two limericks in play

A twice daily stretch

Ideas Muses fetch

On world media wing their way

You have written many original plays and musicals, had over 30 productions, including Caesar’s Revenge, which is a comedy about reincarnation ghosted by the dead atheist George Bernard Shaw. You are a very spiritual man. When Ink Pantry met you last year, you said that this is your last lifetime. Fascinating. Why do you feel sure about this? Would you mind explaining more?

What a lovely question. The teachings of Eckankar have it that once a Soul through a series of initiations has balanced its past karma on all the lower levels of consciousness, there is no need to return to earth, of all cosmic classrooms the lowest. However, those who are already more than Soul-trippers into the Astral Plane, but can be in residence there consciously, as Second Initiates, it is held that they can continue their spiritual lessons on that Plane and not again descend into the physical world.

Who inspires you?

No one person but the universe at large.

What are you reading at the moment?

I read what I’m writing again and again forever re-editing my last edit. Time allowing the i newspaper.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

Never regret pain nor lose sight of the highest reaches of human potential for yourself, and for others.

You have several Youtube videos of your own Shakespeare performances. Which Shakespeare play do you prefer and why?

The Tempest, said to be Shakespeare’s own favourite play, and not because alleged to be his last. More refined than A Midsummer Nights Dream, it covers many of the main subjects. Namely magic powers, the Elementals, the equations between beauty and beast, and the healing powers of forgiveness. Philosophically, the passing of time is marked, and the storms of life, as well as human evil intent is all redeemed by a larger love that sings of Soul at its most transcendent.

With regard to education, you say that it works better as an ‘open, warm hearted invitation, rather than as a left brain imposition’. Great way of putting it! Could you tell us about Dovetales, your ten illustrated educational books, which were well received in the UK, Hong Kong, South Africa and Hungary?

Somewhat disillusioned as a secondary school teacher with no university degree, I watched fresh faced youngsters open to learning slowly closing down as the brightness in their eye dimmed to an obedient blankness. I nearly wrote blindness. Such reductionism I saw as caused by the anti-life boxing of segregated subjects. All confined by a harsh corridor bell and crocodiles of tamed learners living more in the fear of failure than being enlivened by the love of learning life in all its varied forms.

A central complaint, apart from their regularly declared boredom, was the fact that most relevant choices had been denied them with the consequence they felt less and less connection with the curriculum. I had already written two story books with the word Tails in the title. Having had the vision of the format, my next series of 10 potential books were to take, I asked the universe for a title to include the word Tails. That same night I was awoken at 04:00, sat bolt up in bed, and heard loud and clear ‘Dovetails’! I then went straight back to sleep.

Waking with gratitude next morning, I was illuminated by the realisation that everyone is a storyteller, and the tale they tell is the way they choose to lead their lives. Hence the present day spelling Dovetales, a word often miss-pelt by reviewers! As suggested within these illustrated pages, all areas of learning can creatively cross-fertilise with all others. The driver in my opinion should always be the individual learner based on her or his overriding love and passion; this in itself probably based on their central talent gift and skill. Hence instead of remaining a servile servant to the State-system, they can teach themselves through person-centered approaches to become master craftsman in shaping their own existence through life-long learning.

Any future plans?

To go on living, and to make sure my legacy has longer legs than mine, with less hair! Playfulness aside, that inheritance may not just be my writings, but ATMA Enterprises

Christopher’s Website

Twitter

Inky Interview: Author Gill Thompson

You have recently been offered a two book deal with Headline for the novel you wrote during your M.A. in Creative Writing at Chichester University, and a further book you are working on this year. Congratulations! Can you please tell us more about this?

Yes. I’d had an idea for a novel before I started the M.A., but knew I couldn’t write it without some expert guidance. I wrote about half of it during my course and was lucky enough to get some further help from a Royal Literary Fund fellow. I was then asked to workshop with my old supervisor and another published writer, and that was invaluable in helping me further improve the book. I sent the first three chapters and a synopsis to Anne Williams of the Kate Hordern Literary Agency back in 2016. She said she liked it and asked to see the rest of the manuscript, but then got in touch to say it felt a bit episodic and lacked emotionality. I took the advice of a freelance editor and rewrote the novel during 2017. This time Anne loved it and took me on. We worked on a few more changes and she submitted the manuscript to several publishing houses. Two showed particular interest and there was a bit of a bidding war until Headline came through with an attractive two book deal.

You had stories and articles published in the past. Can you tell us a bit about them?

Many years ago, when my husband was running marathons, I wrote a piece called ‘The Loneliness of the Long Distance Spectator’ which was published by Running magazine. Several years later I started writing short stories, and one of them, ‘The Christmas Wish List,’ featured in Yours. As I am an English teacher I also write fairly regularly for emag, a publication for A level students of English Language and Literature. The last two articles, entitled ‘Leonie Talking’ have featured my young granddaughter!

You said that it was one of the best decisions to do an M.A. in Creative Writing. What advice have you for writers who are considering it?

It’s a big decision as it’s not cheap. I’d been left some money by my father, who was always supportive of my writing ambitions, so I felt he’d have approved. However, if you can afford it, and are serious about your writing, I would definitely recommend it. I met some wonderful, dedicated teachers who really inspired me with their advice and ideas. One of the highlights of the course was the chance to workshop with other students, and despite being one of the oldest on the course, I was delighted by the friendliness and generosity of my fellow writers. It doesn’t do to be thin-skinned as the criticism, though always constructive, is sometimes quite tough, but I always moved on as a result. I still keep in touch with students and tutors from my year and they are a lovely, supportive bunch of people.

Have you any guidance for new writers who feel ready to enter their work into competitions?

Competitions are a great way to ‘test the water.’ Sometimes you can pay a little more to have your work critiqued, which can be well worth it. I was lucky enough to be placed in a few competitions and it really spurred me on to keep going. Writing can be a lonely job and it’s easy to get discouraged, so entering competitions can often keep hope alive!

In literature, who inspires you and why?

I love Helen Dunmore’s novels. She’s superb at telling a human story against the backdrop of international historical events. I felt very sad when she died last year and there’ll be no more wonderful books.

I was inspired by Kathryn Stockett’s The Help where a compelling story caused me to invest emotionally in a shocking chapter in American history. I’ve tried to do something similar with my own novel Somebody’s Child which is based on the true story of child migrants to Australia.

What is your creative space like?

I share a study with my husband. He is very neat and tidy and likes to listen to music while he works; I am chaotic and messy and like to work in silence. Say no more!

Have you thought about writing for radio, film or the theatre?

I’m in awe of people who can write screenplays. I think you have to be a bit of an actor yourself to imagine scenes dramatically. I’d love to have a go but I think I’d need a lot of help. At the moment, the novel form suits me better as I like to inhabit characters’ heads and imagine their thoughts, not something you can easily do in performance work.

What are you reading at the moment?

Well I’m just about to embark on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein yet again. I’ve taught it for several years in my day job as an English teacher, but always have to re-read it when I’m preparing students for exams, as I forget details. I’m also reading a non fiction book The Rescue of the Prague Refugees 1938/39 by William Chadwick. Headline want me to produce the second novel by this time next year, so I am already working on a story set in England and Czechoslovakia during World War Two.

Any future plans?

I’m in a bit of a limbo at the moment. I’ll soon be embarking on the edits for book one, whilst researching and writing book two. I continue to teach two days a week, so life is a bit of a juggling act. But it’s thrilling to be embarking on a new career after so many years as a teacher. I’m determined to keep writing as long as I can. I love it!

Gill’s website

Yuletide Poetry: Ten Minutes To Christmas by Steven Goodwin

At ten minutes to midnight, the night was still and calm,

The moon and stars light up the world, no cause yet for alarm.

It all begins at midnight; Reindeers swoop and sweep,

While lying silent in your bed, I hope you’re fast asleep.

 

When the full moon’s at it’s highest on a chilly winter’s night,

Make sure you’re in bed sleeping; make sure you’re out of sight,

Because Santa comes at midnight, if you’re awake he will not come,

At nine minutes to midnight do not spoil the fun,

 

Have you departed yet to dreamland, I hope that’s where you’ll be.

Dream and Christmas will soon be here, and your presents you will see,

Eight minutes to midnight, I hope your dreaming started.

Kings, Queens and fairies and those far off lands uncharted.

 

The Elves can sense your dreaming; they can sense when you’re awake.

Hopefully the sandman’s visited and your presents they do not take.

You see they only deliver presents when you’re finally fast asleep.

At seven minutes to midnight, I pray you finished counting sheep.

 

Six minutes to midnight, the night owl starts its call.

A warning to those not sleeping, a warning to us all.

Because Elves come out to check, and like Santa they check twice,

Get to sleep now, time approaches, that’s my sagely advice.

 

What happens if I’m still awake you ask, what will happen then to me?

At five minutes to midnight, I hope you do not get to see.

Do not be too frightened though, I’m sure you’ll get some gifts,

Just not all you asked for and put on Santa’s list.

You may just get some socks, and maybe some soap from granny too.

Four minutes to midnight, hush now, you should have finished on the loo.

 

Just three short minutes to midnight, I think you’d better run,

Elves come out checking, when the warmth’s gone from the sun.

Two minutes to midnight, they’ve been busy all year long.

I know too well not to be awake; their sleep sensor is too strong

 

Children not in bed yet, naughty ones not yet asleep,

Are not safe from Elvish sleep sensors so please don’t make a peep

No presents will be left for you; your stockings will be left cold.

At one minute to midnight, please do as you are told,

 

I gave you ten minutes warning, it’s not my fault, do not blame me,

Just make sure that you are sleeping and an elf you do not see.

My advice go bed early, make sure that’s where you stay,

And don’t go searching out at midnight and you’ll enjoy your Christmas Day.

Yuletide Poetry: The Day of the Night Before Christmas by Steven Goodwin

Twas the day of the night before Christmas, And all up our street,

All the children built snowmen and acted all sweet,

The adults used blackmail saying, ‘you should be good!’

And with shy glances down, they replied, ‘they would!’

 

The children all hoped and wished their present might be,

The latest new console or a shiny TV.

Perhaps it might be a new board game to play,

Or it may be a book to enchant them away.

 

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,

I sprang from my chair to see what was the matter,

I threw open the window and said with a shout,

‘Put that stick down now or you’re getting nowt!’

 

The sun in the sky was as high as could be,

And the snowmen they’d made were getting rather drippy,

They all ran inside to see what they could eat,

But the fridge was all full, of uncooked Christmas meat.

 

It was bursting with food but none we could munch on,

Mum stood guard, a rolling pin for a truncheon,

So I got on the phone, and ordered some grub.

Pizza for all, then I could get down to the pub.

 

The pizza arrived, so rapid and quick.

I hoped it was cooked I didn’t want to be sick,

When what could my wondering eyes now see,

‘Oh Bobby Dazzler! Extra pepperoni.’

 

It was Christmas I thought, so I gave the driver a tip,

‘Watch how you’re going mate, mind you don’t slip.’

I laughed and I laughed while watching the telly,

And the kids laughed at me and my belly like jelly.

 

I spoke not a word and went off in a mood,

But they came quickly to hug me, and my grumbles subdued.

I went for a quick pint, before we got them to bed,

And do you know what? Not one peep was said.

 

Another Christmas Eve over and I just don’t know how,

We can afford, but we do it somehow,

 

And now,

 

Twas the night before Christmas…..

Yuletide Poetry: Pysgod yn Wibli Wobli (Welsh for jellyfish) by Lavinia Murray

Christmas high tide took the sea inland

as it sometimes does

when it is bored with clutching sand

 

in the wash travelled three

Pysgod yn Wibli Wobli

wise jellies whisked on a journey

 

all three were virgin births

each had twenty four eyes

so knew both breadth of sky and girth

 

they braced themselves and swam

in their up-down full-flat way

when their fine tentacles found a pram

 

empty of content bar one wet bear

and a smart phone playing Christmas carols

they probed again nobody there

 

was the child tipped or lifted out

was the pram waiting, about to be filled

or a gift for the sea to carry about

 

they swam off in their open-shut way

pysgod yn wibli wobli

not sad nor happy with Xmas day

Yuletide Poetry: Alle-YULE-yah! by Lavinia Murray

Midnight

Father Xmas was cantering over the town

when an angel popped a cloud with the gilt pin of a star

then the angel burst like a flare and the town beneath turned to soot

(alas, this happens sometimes)

its gold wings were inlaid with all the terrestrial and lunar seas

its hands hung from its wrists like crystal chandeliers

it was altogether quite icily splendid

 

Father Xmas laid the sleighs reins in his fat lap

and said, What do you want for Xmas, little Androgyne?

 

The angel said, A song. Let me explain.

After The Big Divorce Mother left with the best tunes crooked

under her hot red-leather elbows.

Since then, those of us who stayed with Dad

have had to put up with hymns and experimental jazz.

So I would like a song I can call my own,

a song with its purpose directed at my ivory-crisp heart,

a song that would soften the glummest pearl in heaven.

 

Father Xmas rummaged amongst his parcels, shaking them to

ascertain their contents. Some he accidentally jettisoned

into the thin blue darkness of the angels shadow

which seemed as shut as the eyelids of the Dead.

Youll want something that can be passed-off as hiccup or a sigh,

in case youre overheard.

Yes!

Ive nothing onboard but wait here. Ill return with your gift.

And Father Xmas soared away on his circuit

returning after several hours with a skein of sounds

scooped out of the travelling air and thickly braided.

Ho ho ho, heres your song!

Father Xmas threw it onto the thin remnants of the night,

the several scattered umbrous stubs

the angel and the obese, hairy saint cocked their heads and listened.

 

(Dear Reader, please la la la here.)

 

It was simple. It was little more than a hum.

It was the sort of sound adults and children make when theyre thinking of something else.

Perfect!said the angel and flew off into the sameness of heaven,

trailing their own warm wisp of monotony.

Yuletide Poetry: Last Night by Claire Bassi

Last night I slept, soft fists curled tight,

Oblivious of frosty night,

I woke to creak of garden gate,

Raced eagerly to fireside grate,

Plundered hanging pillow case,

Tore bows and paper in my haste.

My gifts –  doll babies, sugar paste.

 

Last night I slept around first light,

Pondering this frosty night,

I woke to creak of feet on stairs,

And listened for the paper tears,

The plunder of the Santa sack,

A tiny face in sea of wrap,

Their gifts, spilled out across the place,

My gifts – I pull to my embrace.