Inky Interview Exclusive: Verve Festival Director Stuart Bartholomew with Claire Faulkner

Poetry festivals. What’s not to like? Books, events, workshops, performances. The chance to meet other writers, share ideas and get inspired. For me, one of the best things about poetry festivals is the sense of community, and the first time I went to Verve Festival I was instantly hooked. Verve is back next month and I managed to catch up with festival organiser Stuart Bartholomew to ask him all about it.

How did Verve start? How long have you been involved?

I am a founder member of Verve with my original co-director, Cynthia Miller. I secretly think Cynthia always intended to persuade me that a Birmingham City Centre full-spectrum poetry festival was necessary, but she insists she didn’t. I was running Waterstones in Birmingham and we wanted to do more with events, but until The Emma Press brought a group of poets to the store for a small event for Valentines in 2016 – headlined by Liz Berry – I had no idea how amazing live poetry could be. It really set me off, and with Cynthia encouraging all the way, I’d programmed a full four day festival for the store by the end of that summer and secured arts council funding to help make sure we broke even. I think the things we were trying to fix were – Birmingham Literature Festival not programming enough poetry (to our tastes anyway), our favourite poets never coming to Birmingham, our favourite Birmingham poets never being picked up by poetry publishers, many poetry events seeming exclusive particularly if you are from a minority or too young, and the separation that exists between excellent performance poetry and amazing page poetry in terms of the scenes and poetry consumption. It felt like Verve could help us to address ALL these things.

How would you describe Verve to someone who has never been before?

It is a city centre full-spectrum poetry festival which celebrates poetry in all its forms and welcomes poetry fans of all ages and levels of experience to join our annual poetry party.

Verve is a festival packed full of workshops, poetry and spoken word performances. How do you begin to organise an event like this?

I have a lot of help. Birmingham poetry people love having the festival and always lend a hand. In terms of the programming, I find it incredibly easy. The idea is that events  will run end to end on Thursday & Friday evenings and then all day on Saturday and Sunday, so that no-one needs to miss anything, unless they are in one of our six workshops a day. I keep a running list of all the poets I need to bring (which relates quite closely to poets I need to see myself), and another list of poets I’d like to come back or get more involved, and there are always more poets on both lists than I can possible fit into a single weekend. I am committed to the four day structure of the event – I think when festivals drag on over more than one weekend, it becomes difficult for people to do the whole thing. I like the idea of our audience drowning in poetry for a few days – staying as long as possible, and heading home fully sated, feeling like they’ve done it properly. Others of course can dip in and out, but there are a sizable chunk of people who do the whole thing.

It seems that the festival grows in popularity and strength every year. What can we look forward to seeing this year? (I’m looking forward to the lecture with Yomi Sode).

I think you’re right. Our audience has grown by 33% each year for the first three years, and I think it gets stronger because we learn lessons each year about what works best. So for instance, the venue change this year is going to be a big plus, both in terms of visibility but also solving the accessibility problems we had last year, particularly for workshops. And we have moved our competition event (which is always my favourite event) from the Saturday morning to the Sunday to pump a little more energy into that day (the commended poets who come and read at that event get a free day pass to the rest of that day – it will be lovely to see what they think of it all.)

I think you’re right to be looking forward to Yomi’s lecture. That’s a really great regular addition to the programme that we came up with in conjunction with Poetry School. I really struggle to come up with highlights, because as programmer I tend to love everything, but if I were to pick a single event, it would be the Saturday Early Evening Headline Event featuring Jay Bernard, Mary Jean Chan and Caroline Bird, and hosted by Jo Bell. But really, there will be Birdspeed, Rachael Allen, Vidyan Ravinthiran, Salena Godden, Jaspreet Kaur, Fathima Zahra, Heather Phillipson, Mimi Khalvati, Deryn Rees-Jones, Jonathan Edwards and many many more amazing poets at Verve. Whatever time you’ll come, you’re sure to see something amazing.

The festival has its own competition, this year the theme was diversity and was judged by Andrew McMillian. Have you been pleased with the response?

I love the competition, mainly because I love the competition winners’ event. It allows the three winners, twenty one commended poets and three-four commissioned local poets, the opportunity to read at and attend Verve and not only meet but be hosted and introduced by the judge. Andrew had been a pleasure to work with and it is always fun and interesting to see what the judge picks and why. The competition is completely anonymous at point of judging, so it’s fun to to let the judge know who they’ve picked. One of the remits of Verve is to involve emerging or even brand new poets and this event, along with the workshops and open mics is that main way that we can do this.

I’ve seen some fantastic poets perform at Verve and The Verve Specials. Do you have a favourite Verve performance from the last couple of years? (I have particularly enjoyed performances from Romalyn Ante, Salena Godden and Kaveh Akbar.)

Yes, I loved all three of these, although the one that sticks out in my mind was the Special that featured Lindsay Hera Bird. We teamed her up with two amazing local poets – Jenna Clake (who is bringing a collection out with Bloodaxe in 2021) and Hannah Swingler, and it was such an incredible night and such a thrill to hear her read and talk. At the actual festival, I loved hearing Sumita Chakraborty read her long poem ‘Dear, beloved’ in it’s entirety at last year’s event. It was a half an hour long read, and it was breath-taking, and other poets such as Vahni Capildeo and Jane Commane were sitting in the audience watching and just lapping it up!

How would you like to see the festival develop in the future?

I’m really happy with the adult element of the festival, although I’d like it to continue to develop and evolve – I have this idea of having a living magazine element at the festival in which an event contains a talk, reviews as well as readings with multiple poets, but I’ve not quite found the way to make it happen. An easier fix will be to relaunch a kids element to Verve. We tried having a kids festival run alongside the adult one during the first two years and it was wonderful but really hard to make broad enough for different age-ranges. We’ll be looking at kick starting that side of things up again in 2021.

Do you have a wish list of poets you would like to see at Verve?

Of course. It’s vast. I’m desperate to get Malika Booker along – also AK Blakemore and Emily Berry. And I’d like to do something with Flipped Eye.

Do you have time to enjoy the festival?

I always enjoy the festival – it makes me so happy to see so many people enjoying poetry and to meet so many amazing practitioners. I get to sit in and see a lot of it as we have such a great team. Apart from the workshops – I’ve no idea what goes on in there.

A lot of our readers are new writers. Do you have any advice for inspiring poets?

I do. Read lots of poetry. Lots of different kinds of poetry. Form sharing poetry communities, whether that’s small groups learning together or regular open mic nights. I think a lot of poetry is made in isolation, but I think the sharing part of poetry is the most powerful element of it. There are so many possibilities that are impossible to discover on your own.

How can people get tickets and keep up to date with what’s going on?

Yes, tickets are up on the Birmingham Hippodrome website

We have our own website at but the best way of keeping in touch day to day is on Twitter

In the run up to the festival, we never shut up on Twitter! 😊

Group Press images with kind permission of Stuart Bartholomew.
Other images by Claire Faulkner courtesy of Tania HershamanJacqueline Saphra, Jamie Thrasivoulou and Matt Abbott.

Inky Interview Special: Jenny Quintana with Kev Milsom

Jenny Quintana grew up in Essex and Berkshire, before studying English Literature in London. She has taught in London, Seville and Athens and has also written books for teaching English as a foreign language. She is a graduate of the Curtis Brown Creative writing course. She lives with her family in Berkshire. The Missing Girl is her first novel.

Hello Jenny! Many thanks again for agreeing to answer some questions for our Ink Pantry readers. Many are aspiring authors and I’m sure they will learn a great deal from your experiences. May I start by asking you about your childhood literary influences and what books in particular gripped your attention?

I was lucky enough to have parents who took me to the library when I was a child and bought me books, which meant I gained an early passion for reading. I loved Little Women, What Katy Did, The Famous Five, Malory Towers. I moved on to Agatha Christie and when I was twelve, wrote my first novel called The Imposter. It was a detective story influenced by Agatha Christie, of course. My dad marked it and gave me an A. I went from there to Thomas Hardy, the Brontës and Shakespeare and all the classics which I loved.

At what age did you begin writing seriously, in the knowledge that this could become a career, rather than a hobby, Jenny?

I wrote stories from a very early age, but confidence stopped me from believing that I had anything worthwhile to say, and then circumstance – work, family and other commitments – gained more importance. However, the need to write didn’t go away and in my early thirties after I had my first child, I felt that I would be forever unfulfilled if I didn’t do something about it. I joined a local creative writing group and started writing short stories. I entered competitions, had some success, and that spurred me on to start my first novel.

Your 2017 début novel, The Missing Girl, (published by Mantle Books) attracted a lot of positivity from the literary world. Can you tell us more about how the seeds of the idea began for this novel, and how long it took to piece everything together? Also, how daunting was this project initially?

The characters in The Missing Girl came to me first. Two sisters – the younger one, Anna, idolizing the older, more popular and outgoing, Gabriella. I imagined what they were like and put them in the context of their family and the village where they lived. I decided the story would be from Anna’s point of view and then considered what was going to happen. By then I had written two unpublished novels and was beginning to understand what themes and ideas I wanted to explore. I was interested in ordinary people who are affected by tragic events and how they manage to make sense of them. I considered what it would be like if Gabriella went missing. Often in news stories we mostly see the effects a missing child has on the adults of the family, but what must it be like for the siblings? How heartbreaking for a child to not know where their brother or sister has gone and whether they will ever come home? I had the characters and the idea, but still I was nervous about embarking on another novel. I had spent so long by then trying and failing to get published, so it seemed very daunting. However, it isn’t easy to ignore the urge to write and I’m glad that I didn’t because once I had immersed myself, the novel took about a year to complete and then another eighteen months or so of editing with my agent, and then my editor.

Do you have a particular framework for writing? For example, are you an author who prefers pen and paper, or one who does everything on the computer? Also, is there a set location you have chosen for your writing?

I generally write straight onto the computer and do many, many drafts. Usually I write the whole novel quickly and it comes out quite short. I then edit and rewrite and edit again, adding texture and colour and depth. I have a very messy study at home where I work, but it is also a walkway between the hall and the kitchen, so I’m constantly interrupted by my family. I don’t mind really as I like to feel a part of things, but my most productive time for writing is early in the morning when everyone else is asleep, or when the house is empty.

Who currently inspires you creatively, both inside and outside of the literary world? How important do you believe it is to receive inspiration for writing, especially at an early age? What hopeful words would you give to someone seeking to find a career within writing?

Inside the literary world, I am inspired by writers such as Kate Atkinson, Maggie O’Farrell, Margaret Atwood and Sarah Waters because they are prolific and write great novels. Outside the literary world, I am inspired by people who challenge the system – especially young people who have the best sense of all. My children are young adults now and they never fail to impress me with their good sense, humour and outward view of the world. I think it’s important to have a similar approach in everything you do, including writing.

I do think it is an advantage to receive inspiration for your writing at an early age, mainly through reading, however, many people don’t have that opportunity and there is no reason that being inspired at a later stage should make a difference. What’s important for every author is to read as widely as possibly in order to understand how writing a novel can be done.

My greatest piece of advice for new writers is to persist. Ignore the doubts you may have that your writing isn’t good enough, or that you have nothing to say. Take small steps. If you are writing a novel, think only about the paragraph you are writing, the page and the chapter. If you consider how long the whole novel is going to take you, it’s all too easy to give up. From my point of view, nothing I have ever written has been wasted. I have reused characters, ideas and themes many times. Another piece of advice is to prioritise. It can be difficult when you have a job, a family or other commitments, but try to find some time at some point in the day or night which is for yourself and for your writing. I used to get up at 5 o’clock in the morning for example – I still do, sometimes. Make writing an important part of your life and above all give yourself permission to write.

Many thanks Jenny for your insights. I know you have a new novel planned for release in 2020, Our Dark Secret. Is there anything you can share about this, and what other creative plans have you within the foreseeable future?

Our Dark Secret (Mantle Books) will be published in February 2020. It is another psychological mystery that focuses on two teenage girls, thrown together through circumstance, who form a bond based on the terrible secrets they share. It is about how decisions made in your youth can affect your whole life. It’s about sacrifice, friendship, loyalty and love. I am also writing a third novel for the same publisher which I have almost completed and have plans for a fourth. I started late and I am brimming with ideas that I am determined to get down.

Inky elf Kev Milsom is in the very early stages of his 5th decade, but looks at least ten years younger…possibly even fifteen on a good day, under beneficial lighting conditions. Currently training in holistic therapies, such as hypnotherapy, metaphysics and counselling, he is also trying to expand his creative writing knowledge and experience. As a devout ‘struggling artist’ he is working towards the completion of that elusive first novel, whilst fuelling a profound talent for procrastination by making notes on a possible second novel (alongside intermittent research for a third). He is proud to have achieved his goal of being independently published at least once a year since 2012, but is also currently exploring other aspects of writing such as journalism. His favourite colour is anything bright.

Kev’s Twitter

Inky Interview: US poet Beth Gordon with Isabelle Kenyon

US poet Beth Gordon returned to writing poetry after a significant hiatus in order to process a number of tragic events in her family. In her poetry collection, Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast and Parallel Universe, she explores grief, loss, mortality, and how we can find moments of beauty through the darkness. Along the way, this poetic journey also follows trails into music, magic, and the ethereal.

Isabelle Kenyon, Managing Director of Fly on the Wall Press, Freelance Editor and Book Marketing Consultant, caught up with Beth Gordon.

Isabelle: When you write a poem, do images or words come first?

Beth: I would say most of the time words come first. Poems are like puzzles to me – I read an article or see a headline and I take that idea, or several ideas and talk about it with my friend. When I do write, visual imagery emerges from that conversation.

Isabelle: How does your environment and your upbringing inform your poetry?

Beth: I was fortunate that my parents thought it was very important we were exposed to books and music. One of my earliest memories was reading Mother Goose; memorising. From the first moment I picked up a pen, I wrote poems. My parents aren’t creative and my mum thinks my commas are in the wrong places! They support me and a big moment was to send them my book. My current environment is a local writers group I go to every Saturday and my network of family and friends – I have now connected the two. I have said, this is how I will be spending my time now. Mostly, they have supported this life change. People have had negative experiences of poetry from school.

Isabelle: If you had to describe your collection in one sentence, what would it be?

Beth: A book of poetry about my relationship with death and life.

Isabelle: Which writers do you admire and does their work influence yours?

Beth: My earliest influences as a female writer would be Sylvia Plath and Mary Oliver. Oliver over time became more minimalist and I aspire to this. Sexton and Plath broke down barriers about “appropriate topics” – sex, periods. At the time, that was not what was expected, and I’m grateful to them for that. The current generation of young writers I find so inspiring- it’s easy to hear people my age criticising the millennials but I believe it is called change and revolution. The strong stance they take on inclusivity, even if it is just on social media, is fantastic. The abundance of literary journals is wonderful. I don’t think I could be writing what I am without them. When I got my MFA, doors were closed, and they have kicked them down.

Isabelle: What is the worst writing advice you have ever received and the best?

Beth: The worst advice I have ever had was when I was an undergraduate in psychology and an English professor started a writing workshop, so I picked up a minor in English just to take the classes. I went to see an old teacher to say I was going to take an MFA after (he had always been very supportive) but he said it would be useless and I wouldn’t learn anything. Thankfully, I ignored him.

The best advice I have ever had was from Henry Taylor, a Pulitzer prize-winner. He said, “the power of your poem cannot be derived from the subject matter alone”. I wrote him a letter after that and sent him some poems. He said I needed to write through my grief and that after that, I would produce new work. In other words, simply writing about the death of a grandchild doesn’t necessarily mean I have refined my craft. Pushing my craft is important to me – to grow and evolve.

Inky Interview: Elisabeth Horan with Isabelle Kenyon

Isabelle Kenyon (Freelance Editor, Book Marketing Consultant, and Managing Director of Fly On The Wall Press) interviews Elisabeth Horan on
her new book, Was It R*pe  (Rhythm and Bones Press)

How do you brand yourself as an author?

Experimental, feminist. I write about women for women. I would say I am an advocate for mental health and I’m brave in my writing – I say things to the world that I’ve never been able to say without my pen and paper. I write to increase awareness – for example, my debut collection, Bad Mommy Stay Mommy, with Fly on the Wall Press, increases awareness of postpartum depression. I feel like I am a loving and caring poet and that when I write it is a gift, I want the poems to do a job and make a difference. They express my identity as a mom and the mistakes I have made in my life are part of who I am.

What drove you to write Was It Rape?

I started writing it during the week Christine Blasey Ford was giving her testimonial to the court. It brought back memories of when I was 16 and was a victim of sexual assault. It was hard to hear – the pain of watching led me to an intense period of writing. I realised if she was brave enough to stand up in court and give that testimony that I could write a book about my experiences.

Do you think your poetry stands alone or is it essential to know something of your back story?

I think it can stand alone. But if you know personally, it becomes more intense – If you know my vulnerability the experience digs deeper. Often I have friends who find it too painful to read my work. But I have to write my truth. I like to think the message I try to share with others – to hold on keep hope alive, and that sense of solidarity is universal and can stand alone.

Do you think it is important to speak publicly about personal traumas?

It’s important to write so that readers know they are not alone in their experiences. So much of my life I allowed to be dictated by my past trauma. I’m not a person who deals with trauma well – it’s not a choice – it’s led by my sensitive nature. I see the beauty, but life is interwoven with pain. This comes out in my writing. It’s just who I am. It’s what I know about and feel the most.

Which writers and artists influence you and why?

I have always admired Frida Kahlo since I became aware of her in college. I studied in Mexico for a time and connected with her deeply. I endured a miscarriage, and ensuing hysterectomy and equally, Frida survived so much pain but continued creating art. I just have huge admiration, respect, love and care for her. I have undertaken to write ekphrastic poems about her art and her life as a tribute to her.


I think my room was No. 14
one time my pastor came

I think his name was Mark
he came to visit
I suppose to bless me
and the nurses, they asked me

May he come in

And I didn’t know what to do
so I said no
he cannot
but I have wondered
all these 24 years since

Might I have succumbed to Jesus;
might I have been reborn,
maybe even saved
on the life raft that
religion has
the propensity
to relay

I would’ve saved all
that disgusting food
the hangovers –

All that wasted energy
from trying to kill myself
so stupidly,
so slowly.

Mark, the pastor
came to visit and
in fear of Man/God’s eye
on my – body

On my sin.
I never opened the door
to let him in.

Inky Interview Special: Poet and Editor Isabelle Kenyon

You have several published poetry collections including, This is not a Spectacle, The Trees Whispered (Origami Poetry Press) and Digging Holes To Another Continent (Clare Songbirds Publishing House). Would you share with us a couple of your poems and walk us through the ideas behind them?

Yes of course! This is not a Spectacle (second edition) was published in February of this year and is very much the story of why I started sharing my writing- the book opens with a car crash, an event which took place the day before I left for university in 2017, and which lost me my grandma:

The Van

fear tastes like rust. blood and metal.

waiting for you, university bags.

smells like animal saliva, like curdled sweat.

After the phone call I started running,
blindly seeking hospital bed,
weeping on the nurse I had just met.

underwater pressure bubble

apologetic words caressed my head
broke like a wave
swept me out to sea:
Head trauma.
No specialist unit.

fear is inflating

Tried to forget the sound
fluid rising and choking lungs,
Tried to forget tears and last words:
Pain. Pain.
I have tried to be strong.

The book explores where private grief meets public spectacle, but also stands as a tribute to everything about my character which I can tribute to my grandma, such as my strength and my feminist values.

With Digging Holes To Another Continent, (published by Clare Songbirds New York) I was exploring a Christmas spent in New Zealand, a completely new experience for me but at the time when the whole family needed to heal – it was a very Shakespearean celebration because we had travelled for the wedding of my uncle ( the first love of his life so a massive deal to all of us), but after the death of Grandma Maureen, who had suffered with Alzheimer’s and dementia for 12 years -although I don’t touch on that experience in the collection overtly, it very much underpins the collection, a feeling of grief but also relief. I was able to explore the landscape and the wild nature of New Zealand was healing in itself:

Nature Reversal

A few years from now
maybe months
maybe weeks,
a huge wind will claim back the carefully sculpted scoops of road
and the branches that wilt lazily like dog’s tongues will
fall into the sea
one by one
on a suicide mission
and take up new roots in the sea bed
(a feast for fish)
and nature will claw back the cities
piece by piece
demolition to terracotta rubble
and the only sound left will be frantic insect feet
on crisping leaves.

Congratulations on your forthcoming poetry collection, published by Knives, Forks and Spoons. What themes have you explored in this new collection? When will it be available?

Thank you! This is the collection I am most proud of to date. It explores the with state of becoming an adult but feeling ill-equipped to deal with the loneliness that comes with that, and also my experience of the aftermath of sexual assault, while being very far away from friends and family. It very much looks at the value of a woman’s body in today’s society. It is due to be released in August 2020.

You are editor of the wonderful Fly On The Wall Press. Can you give us a glimpse into your working day? What are the best and worst parts of being an editor?

I think all publishers will tell you that they both love their job and that they find it exhausting! I love that I create a season, finding gaps in the market I believe need to be addressed. I believe that words have the power to change opinion and that’s what I am aiming to do especially with my anthologies, but also with my chapbooks, representing voices which I believe are not currently at the forefront of society. The worst part as of course when writers cannot separate themselves from their own writing-rejection is never personal, it’s simply about what you have written and the style of it.

As well as offering author services, you also give talks and run workshops in schools. How do you structure your workshops? What subjects have you engaged in with the pupils?

I’m enjoying giving talks in schools currently, but as a publisher it is fairly new to me- I used to be a drama practitioner, however, so I am used to giving workshops creatively! I like to challenge young people by setting the standard of my workshop high, and I am often surprised by the result. I like to give examples of poets whom I admire, but I also like to give an example of where I myself have done the exercise as with students, I wouldn’t like them to do anything which I would not be able to do myself. Primarily, I am engaging the pupils in creative writing about global warming, themed around the Planet in Peril anthology, although I really enjoy answering questions on getting into publishing as an industry.

Please Hear What I’m Not Saying is a fundraising, mental health themed anthology which was runner up in the Saboteur Awards 2018. Tell us more.

Yes! Very much how I started getting the publishing bug and continuing on. The book features 116 writers globally writing on a wide range of mental health experiences-it was really important that I featured as many poems as I fell in love with because there really is no universal experience, and readers will connect with different poems. The book’s profits go to UK mental health charity, Mind, and so far we have raised just under £600. The anthology is available from Fly On The Wall Poetry

Tell us about your experience in taking part in the ‘Sex Tapes’ at the Leeds International Festival.

I think we can all agree that there is little to no money in the arts and that it needs to be funded more, so I was very excited to find a callout for the festival, which paid! The festival opened with ‘Sex Tapes’ and I was scheduled to go on first – very much before the audience and had enough alcohol to process poems on the female orgasm… but that was what I had been paid to write about, so there you go! It was a lot of fun, and there was absolutely no shame in the event- it was very much a positive experience, with the profits going to a charity in Leeds which helps sexual violence survivors. So although the evening was light-hearted and comedic, the message was heartfelt and performers like the lovely Roz Weaver were not afraid to touch on the darker side of their experiences. Thank you to Eleanor Snare for organising such an important evening.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading Songs for the Unsung by Grey Hen Press. I met the editor, Joy, recently, and we agreed that the anthology was a sister book to Fly on the Wall Press’ Persona Non Grata, so I’m enjoying reading her choices and the exploration of social exclusion.

Tell us a random fact about yourself.

I used to compete for Ballroom and Latin with my university- but before university I barely even danced! I thought I had two left feet and now I love it.

What’s next for you? What plans have you got?

I have an exciting performance scheduled in July, for which I will be performing poetry on the subject of women in space. I am hoping to put a book together about these amazing women working for NASA. For Fly On The Wall, 2020 will see a ‘shorts’ season – a short story published in A6 bound form, every 2 months, on subscription to your door!

Inky Interview Special: Poet Linda Cosgriff

Linda, congratulations on your debut poetry collection, Hormoanal, published by Matthew James Publishing, and launched at the Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery. What made you decide to write about the menopause?

Hi Deborah, thanks for having me!

Hormoanal is actually a collection of two halves: the first deals with motherhood. Those poems were written organically, inspired by my children as they grew up. That’s my favourite way to write, listening out for poems as I live my life. The second half was written much more intentionally: when I realised I was on the menopause I thought (grumpily), ‘Well, if I’m going through this for the next five years or more, I’m getting something out of it’. I made a point of thinking about the symptoms instead of simply enduring them. I love to laugh at life, because laughter makes everything more bearable, so the decision to poke fun at the menopause was easy.

Can you share with us a couple of poems and walk us through the idea behind them?

The Perils of Making a Baby

Stretch marks march over homegrown hills.
Ankles, feet, even knees, swell.
You love this child created in love.
You hate the heartburn, snoring, nausea
but – most of all – your unencumbered mate.
You miss your feet. And sometimes, the toilet.
It’s scary: no one will say what happens at the end,
down there amongst the hair…
They say all your brains go into the first baby;
you can’t concentrate enough to disagree.

You want this child but sometimes,
you just can’t stomach it.

It was difficult to choose representative poems because part of my style is to write in as many different ways as possible, so some poems rhyme, others don’t; some have irregular stanzas, some are regular forms; some are short, some are long; some are punctuated, some are not; some have regimented syllable counts, others don’t, and so on. Plus, I’ll mix it up so that very few poems have the same elements. When I write thematically, I like to approach the theme from as many angles as I can think of.

I chose this poem in the end because it shows my love of wordplay. As an example, this line: ‘You miss your feet. And sometimes, the toilet’ plays with two meanings of ‘miss’ and allows for a punchline. The use of ‘stomach’ on the last line operates in the same way.

The poem also shows how I treat supposedly sacrosanct subjects (in this case, the reverence in which society holds pregnant women) and makes fun of them, using myself as the source: I did love being pregnant; but I hated it, too. I was often grumpy and unpleasant to my husband. Being pregnant does not make you a Madonna, and we should stop buying into that stereotype.

A Visit From Auntie Flo

I had a little show
But it is not considered good
To have an unexpected flow
Of private-area blood

My preventative device
Should have stopped it at its source
It wasn’t very nice
I have to blame the men-o-pause

My poems are often visual and don’t always lend themselves to reading aloud. In this one, I use italics to represent whispers and the way we mouth embarrassing words and use euphemisms. I’m a bit of a preacher, there’s no doubt, but if I make a point, I try at least to be amusing.

It’s Hard Being A Woman

When panty liners curl
and stick to your hairs,
it frickin’ hurts.

This is my favourite poem in the book, and is most representative of my personality and my style: I have no filter, I tend to blurt things out without thinking, but I make you laugh (sometimes against your will). This poem always gets a laugh, though it’s usually shocked laughter.

I’m not great at metaphor and going around the houses to say what I want to say, which is a problem for me, as that is kind of the point of poetry. I remember writing a poem as a teenager, lamenting that poems don’t say what they mean or mean what they say: the meaning/intention of my poems are almost always obvious to readers. A poet for whom I have huge respect once told me that my poems don’t make the reader do any work. She was right; and I’m okay with that. I write for myself but my poems often have an audience, and that audience is most often made up of people with no interest in poetry; if they have to work for it, they don’t enjoy it. If they don’t enjoy themselves, neither do I.

You are part of the excellent Write Out Loud poetry collective. Tell us more.

I attend Stockport WOL at Stockport War Memorial and Art Gallery. WOL is the largest poetry organisation in Britain and has a fantastic gig guide and poet collective on its website. WOL encourages everyone to have a go at sharing their poetry in a safe space.

Stockport is a little unusual in the WOL family in that, though we are classed as an open mic night i.e. anyone can have a go, we don’t have an actual mic, and there’s no stage and no audience; rather, we sit in a circle in the upper gallery. It’s intimate and safe and we welcome newcomers.

We are heavily involved in the Stockport arts scene, collaborating regularly with other groups. Last year alone, we wrote and performed ekphrastic poems inspired by your own Mark Sheeky; we participated in a commemoration of the centenary of the end of World War I, and published an anthology of specially written poems; we supported Marple Book Week by attending their open mic nights as a group. We also support the art gallery each year for World Poetry Day, providing readings and workshops; and right now there is an exhibition of work in the gallery from a collaboration with Stockport Art Guild.

It’s fair to say that Hormoanal wouldn’t have been published without WOL. Matthew James Publishing organises Marple Book Week and they invited Stockport WOL to their first open mic night at the Samuel Oldknow pub. Terrified at the idea of attending a ‘real’ open mic night, but encouraged by the group to give it a go, I did, and I had a blast. One of the publishers approached me afterwards and asked me to send them some of my work; the rest, as they say, is history. I would encourage all poets to attend open mic nights because you just never know who’s listening…and start with us! We’re a friendly group.

Where did you study Creative Writing? Have you any advice for budding poets?

I’ve been writing poetry since primary school but only began to take it seriously when I took a creative writing course as part of my Literature degree with the Open University. Eager to hone my skills, I attended several creative writing courses at local colleges, plus any free writing workshops I could find. One of those – coincidentally, held at the art gallery – led to the creation of Stockport Writers, which we run as a workshop at the Hatworks once a month. Free to attend, we particularly welcome new writers. Finally, thanks to the recent availability of student loans for second degrees, I have just graduated from MMU with a Masters in Creative Writing.

I learned a lot from all of this, of course, but the real learning for me came from writing, reading, and editing. Sitting at my desk each day and writing something – not necessarily a poem; reading poets I like and, more importantly, dislike (I have so many poems inspired by my hatred of Larkin, there’s probably a second collection all ready to go); leaving poems for a while and then coming back to them with a critical eye: these habits taught me to think critically, helped improve my work. As with any skill, practice is how we improve. My advice (I have lots of it) would be to read and write as much as you can; to keep an eye out for free writing workshops; to look online for free writing courses – many universities around the world offer them online (known as MOOCs; simply Google ‘creative writing moocs’) and the Open University has some excellent ones available via OpenLearn.

The best resource for newer writers, however, is to find some like-minded people and set up a critiquing group. I learned a lot by submitting my work for critique; but I learned even more by critiquing the work of others because I had to justify my comments i.e. think critically, and so often I would suggest to another poet the reason why their poem didn’t quite work, and realise that, actually, I made the same mistakes in my own poems.

As you grow in your craft, be an encourager, a mentor, for those who come after you: watching other writers blossom has been a great joy to me, and I often learn from them in unexpected ways.

Don’t believe in writer’s block. Yes, there are times when the words won’t come, so do something else. I think of non-writing times as my brain lying fallow, like in crop rotation; eventually, the words will come again. They always come again. Fretting about it is counterproductive.

Finally, do it because you love it, because you have to. It’s difficult enough to create something from nothing; if it’s a chore, why are you bothering? Go do something you actually enjoy instead.

Who inspires you?

People are going to laugh at my inspiration, but I swear this is true: The Two Ronnies. Listening to Ronnie Corbett’s shaggy dog stories inspired my blog writing style; and Ronnie Barker’s clever wordplay is something I try to emulate in my poems.

My favourite poet is Roger McGough; he’s funny, clever, topical. I read his work as a teenager and realised that poetry didn’t have to rhyme or be serious to make a point or to be enjoyed. I also love Wilfred Owen, but his influence is more about didacticism than style.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m reading Elizabeth Bishop at the moment. I discovered her on the MA and I spend a lot of time listening to her recite her work in You Tube videos. ‘One Art’ has displaced Owen’s ‘Disabled’ as my all-time favourite poem. I’m also re-reading Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric. Her didacticism is wrapped in a deceptively casual style and I absolutely love it. Andrew McMillan’s Physical is another fabulous read. He writes about a world of which I know nothing and makes it accessible; he is blunt, and that appeals to me.

What’s next for you? What plans have you got?

What’s next for me? Time off. I’ve been so busy for the last two years, completing the MA, preparing Hormoanal, working with various community groups (I deliver poetry readings and writing workshops around the borough), that when I had a recent health scare, I was glad of the enforced rest!

I have two complete collections that I want to shop around; they are very different from Hormoanal, though each is themed and both have humorous moments. I also want to improve my submission rate – women are notoriously bad at submitting their work; Hormoanal would never have happened if it had been down to me. I would also like to get back to sitting at my desk each morning as I haven’t written seriously since my poetry dissertation. But I’m not worried; it’s just a fallow period 🙂

Matthew James Publishing: Get your copy here

Linda on Twitter

Write Out Loud

Inky Interview Exclusive: Romani Poet Raine Geoghegan

Congratulations on your debut poetry pamphlet, Apple Water-Povel Panni, published by Hedgehog Press, which was previewed at the Ledbury Poetry Festival in 2018. Your collection is based on your Romany family. Can you please tell us more?

I have been working with a mentor, James Simpson, during the last two years. About eighteen months ago we were discussing the idea of working on a sequence of poems based on one theme. I mentioned to him that I was half Romany and that I had written a radio play many years ago about my Romany grandmother, which I had never submitted. His face lit up and he suggested that this was what I should be writing about. Once I decided to write about the Romany side of my family everything fell into place. I wrote poems, songs, monologues, prose poems and short pieces of prose, I couldn’t put my pen down. I remembered many things from my childhood and some of the Romani language (jib). I began speaking with cousins, many of whom were full blooded Gypsies. I listened to a tape recording that I had made of my granny speaking about her life in the 1990’s. I dreamt about Gypsy Travellers, wagons (vardos) and members of my family. I even felt my granny’s presence whenever I read one of her monologues. There was a real power in the work and in the process. It’s still with me now, although changing slightly in terms of focus.

After previewing my pamphlet, Apple Water: Povel Panni, at the Ledbury Poetry Festival in July 2018, I received a lot of positive feedback from both Romany Travellers and non-Roma (Gorgios). I soon became aware of a collective thirst for Romany poems and literature, and also of the many Romany writers who I didn’t know existed. David Morley has been very helpful and I have been inspired by the work of Damian le Bas. Like Damian, I am a didikai, half and half. I was born in the Welsh Valleys, my father was Welsh and my great grandparents were from Ireland. I find that only being half Romany helps me to have a clearer perspective on what I am writing about.

Would you share with us a couple of poems from Apple Water-Povel Panni and walk us through the idea?

Keep movin’

The last weekend in May, a Friday, we pulled up on the poove. We got the fire goin’ and washed the little chavvies ready for bed. Our Ria and me were drinking mesci when our Sammy shouted. ‘Dick-eye the gavvers are comin’.’ All the malts came out of the vados and we stood there. We ‘ad to ‘old the men back as the gavvers started to wreck the site. One of ‘em kicked the kittle off the yog. He shouted. ‘Pack up and get going, you’re not welcome ‘ere.’ I ‘ad to ‘old my Alfie back, ‘e don’t lose ‘is temper much but when ‘e does, watch out, like that time he snoped a guerro in the yock outside the beer shop an ended up in the cells for a night. It rained ‘ard, we got drenched as we packed up all our covels. The chavvies were cryin’, the men swearin’ under their breath knowin’ if they said anythin’ they’d get carted off. Our Tilda was moaning about not gettin’ sushi stew. Us malts started to sing,

‘I’m a Romani Rai, a true didikai,
I build all my castles beneath the blue sky.
I live in a tent, I don’t pay no rent
an’ that’s why they call me a Romani Rai.’

As the men untied the ‘orses, me and Ria cleared up the rubbish. I ‘eard the gavver say, ‘bleedin gypos’. My Alfie called out, ‘the gavvers are grunts, let’s jel on, keep movin’.

We kept movin’ but sometimes we stayed put for a while, like when we was ‘op pickin’ or pea pickin’.

‘I’m a Romani Rom, I travel the drom
I hawk all the day and I dance through the night.
I’ll never grow rich, I was born in a ditch
and that’s why they call me a Romani Rai.’

All together in the poove
the best of times.
Thank the blessed lord.

Poove – field; Chavvies – children; Mesci – tea; Vados – wagons; Dick-eye – look there; Gavvers – policeman; Malts – women; Yog – fire; Snoped – hit; Covels – belongings; Sushi – rabbit; Didikai – half Romany & half Gorjio; Rai – a rough and ready person; Drom – road; Grunts – pigs; Jel on – let’s go.

If you look at the prose poem, ‘Keep Movin’, you will see that it has two verses of a song called ‘I’m a Romani Rai’, author unknown. This is a song that Romany folk love to sing even if they’re not didikai’s. Some time ago I listened to a radio programme about Travellers and how in the 1950’s they were constantly being harassed and moved on from where they were staying. It wasn’t easy to find stopping places, (atchin tan’s). I also remember my granny telling me about this when she was alive and how the policeman (gavvers) didn’t care who they moved on. I used my granny’s voice in this piece, voice is very important and in this poem, we learn what is happening through her eyes. She tells us, like it is: ‘We got the fire goin’ and washed the little chavies ready for bed./ Our Ria and me were drinking mesci when our Sammy shouted. / Dick-eye the gavvers are comin’. Later in the poem the women (malts) start to sing. ‘I’m a Romani Rai, a true didikai, / I build all my castles beneath the blue sky.’

I wanted to show how strong the women were, in fact when I have read my poems to an audience, many women have noticed this. This piece was inspired by my granny as she was a very strong and resourceful woman. Her motto was ‘keep movin’ and she loved to sing. The very last line is something she used to say a lot: ‘Thank the blessed lord.’

‘Hotchiwitchi’ has proved to be a very popular poem. It is gruesome, the thought of eating a baked hedgehog, but in the old days when the Travellers would stop by the roadside, they would have to eat what was available, rabbits, (shushi) and hedgehogs were the most popular. How to bake a hedgehog? This is how its’ done.


to bake an ‘otchiwitchi;
roll it in the clay,
drop it in the embers of yer yog.

go and sing a song,
chase a sushi down the drom,
do a little jig, jog, jog.

when you open up the clay,
the spines will come away,
what’s left is sweet and tasty.

chank it while its ‘ot,
it maybe all we got,
giorjio food it’s not

chew yer little jig, jog, jog
chew yer little jig, jog, jog

Hotchiwitchi/jog jog – hedgehog; Yog – fire; Drom – road; Sushi – rabbit; Chank – eat; Giorjio – non Romany.

I have loved experimenting with both form and rhythm and when I read this poem aloud it has a definite rhythm.

The cover of Apple Water-Povel Panni is breathtaking. Who designed it?

Mark Davidson designed the cover. I absolutely love it. Originally he was going to go for a collage effect, using some of my old black and white photographs, but he changed his mind as he wanted something more dramatic and colourful. The paisley design works beautifully. Deborah Tyler-Bennett wrote a review for Under the Radar, Issue 22. She wrote this about the design of both outer and inner cover: ‘What Hedgehog achieved with the look of the chapbook, was to mimic aspects of a family album – a deeply personal set of poems matched by a cover printed from a Romany shawl, inner-pages with a stunning photograph of the poet’s Mother, and family pictures throughout the volume.’

How did Earthworks come about?

I founded Earthworks in 1992 while I was studying for my first degree in English Literature and Drama at Roehampton University in Surrey. I had already been acting for some years and had always wanted to do something a little different. Earthworks was an experimental physical theatre company. There were five women involved and we also worked with musicians. Our first play was called, ‘Peace’, and was literally about women and peace making. We used some set texts and poems and also wrote some of our material. The opening scene consisted of various poses whilst we were covered with a large black net, a little like a fishing net. It went down really well at the university and we received a small grant from the Drama department. I then suggested that we create a piece based on Wangari Mathaai, a Kenyon Peace activist whose mission was to plant thousands of trees in Kenya as a way to demonstrate against President Moi. She had set up the Green Belt Movement and had a lot of opposition from the government. She was imprisoned many times and beaten. Her story was incredibly inspiring because she went onto become a member of parliament and the first woman in her community to gain a PhD. I called the play, ‘The Tree Woman’. We took the play out to various venues, other universities, London Fringe and had planned to take it to the Edinburgh Fringe with another production from Questors Theatre in Ealing, however two of the members were planning to go abroad and for personal reasons I opted out. What I loved about Earthworks was that it was a collective, we all shared in the writing and acting and two of us directed. For ‘The Tree Woman’ we even had a tree made which looked real and some of the acting took place around the tree. A wonderful experience for all of us.

You are featured in the film, Stories From The Hop Yards, by Catcher Media, which is based on the photography by Derek Evans. How did you get involved in this, and what did you do?

Last year I was contacted by a researcher working for Catcher Media, a film company based in Herefordshire. She had approached the editor of Romany Routes, the journal for the Romany & Traveller Family History Society, asking for suggestions of people who knew about hop picking. One of my poems, ‘The Way of the Gypsy’, had been published in the journal and was about my Romany granny who used to go hop picking in Bishop’s Frome in Herefordshire. After speaking with the researcher, Marsha, I was invited to go to Bishop’s Frome and be filmed. It was a fantastic experience and I found myself quite moved when I spoke about my Romany family, the Lane’s and the Ripley’s who all picked fruit and hops there. My Mum met my Dad who was from the Welsh Valley’s there and they were married the following year. The film was centred on the photography of Derek Evans and was premiered at the Courtyard in Hereford last February, unfortunately I couldn’t go due to heavy snowfall but I did read at Ledbury Poetry Festival at the film screening there. My interview can be seen on Vimeo. The interviews and other information can also be found on Herefordshire Life Through a Lens. It was a very enriching experience and one I would gladly do again.

Tell us about your dancing days.

Dancing days. How I loved them. My Mother took my sister and I to dance class when were very young. I was three years old and took to it immediately. I trained in Classical Ballet, Tap Dance and Modern Jazz. My first professional job at the age of seventeen was dancing with Jean Belmont & The Gayetimers. It was one of London’s top floorshows. It was hard work, often we would perform two or three shows a night, arriving home in the early hours exhausted. It did, however, give me a good grounding in the business and I went on to work all over the UK and Ireland. I eventually ran my own dance troupe called Burlesque which was a dance/theatrical unit. We supported acts like Shakatak, Chas & Dave and The Barron Knights. I frequently broke away from dance to focus on acting. I had worked at the Royal Court Theatre when I was sixteen and had performed in other plays too. When I was at Roehampton University studying Theatre Practice and English Literature I also studied Indian Classical dance, Kathak, which I loved. It has fed into my love of Indian Culture and there is a strong connection between today’s Gypsies and their country of origin, India. The Romani language is also based on Sanskrit and Hindi. My dance and theatre work came to an end when I was diagnosed with ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and other health issues. I also fell down the stairs and damaged my femur and coccyx quite badly and am registered as disabled. I love the fact that I can write from my bed if I am tired and I believe that there are always deep lessons to be learned from going through difficult times. I am, and always have been, tuned into my spirituality. I practise meditation and use chanting as a way to ground myself. I have had a good life so far and look at me now, a poet. I am blessed.

How strongly would you recommended doing a Creative Writing MA? What three things surprised you about it?

I received my Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Chichester in 2015. It really did change my life in terms of giving me a structure for my writing and a desire to get published. The tutors were simply amazing, they work so hard and try and give each student as much help and support as they can. What really impressed me was the support that came from my fellow students. We work-shopped each week, trying out new ideas and sharing our work. We had deadlines to keep to and a structure that enabled us to take our work seriously. I still keep in touch with some of my tutors and just recently I was invited to read at the University on April 1st, alongside a poet friend of mine whom I see regularly to share ideas and goals. Many of my colleagues have gone on to great things including getting their novels and poetry collections published. I am really proud.

About your monologues….what themes do you write about? Where can we find them?

I love writing dramatic monologues. Nearly all of my pieces are based on either family members or people that I have come across during my research on the Roma. Finding the right voice is so important but once I have that voice I can run with it and be free to allow the character to bloom. I also love reading them aloud and bringing in my acting experience so that I can embody their personality and have fun with it. One piece is called ‘Under a Gooseberry Bush’. It is based on my Great Grandfather and it is written in his voice. You can find it on Little Toller Books. As well as being published, this monologue is also available on a podcast on The Clearing, a fabulous online journal. Another piece, ‘Great Aunt Tilda, a Funny Old Malt’, can be found on The Ofi Press online site, (look for the 60th Issue in 2018). I heard only yesterday that I will be having another pamphlet published and it will contain my monologues/haibun poems and Gypsy songs. I am over the moon. Life is good. Thank you Deborah for interviewing me, it has been a very pleasurable experience.




Poetry Drawer: There is a River by Raine Geoghegan

Poetry Drawer: The Last Day by Raine Geoghegan (for my father James Charles Hill)

Poetry Drawer: Sunday Mornings by Raine Geoghegan

Inky Interview Exclusive: T. L. Dyer

Congratulations on your début novel, Hidden, which is the first book in the Hidden Sanctuary urban dystopia series. We are thrilled for you! Can you please give us a synopsis, and an excerpt, walking us through the concept?

Thank you, that’s really appreciated. So, the Hidden Sanctuary series is set in the near future (in 2030), within a corporate-run city with a heavy focus on financial success. If you can make money, you’re rewarded; if not, you’re pushed out. This first book in the series centres on two sides of the city: those who live within it, and those who have separated themselves from it to live self-sufficiently on the outskirts in abandoned manufacturing units. This latter group are men only, who refer to themselves as the Tribe, and they’ve adopted a doctrine, the purpose of which is to allow them to live free of mental stress (in particular, free from judgement and expectation). Which is all fine until main character, Jacob, has a run-in with a wounded Sada, an “Outsider”, and his instinct is to help her. This interaction triggers memories of a trauma from his past he had erased, and as Sada returns to find out more about his tribe and to establish a friendship, cracks begin to appear in the idyllic existence that had cocooned him up to that point. What had once seemed like an easier way of life becomes less so as he realises he can’t outrun his past.

He had almost forgotten what frustration felt like. The kind that starts in the middle of your gut and spreads up through your body until it sticks in your throat so you want to yell without constraint. Funny how he should forget when it was a state of being that had once consumed him every single moment of every day, nights too. Its reappearance now was like someone loosening the lid on a jar that had been sealed a long time ago to prevent the contents escaping. He’d thought whatever those contents were would be long dead and decayed by now, but what had stirred in him weeks ago had threatened that assumption. And now with each day that came he couldn’t help feeling that a part of himself was giving way again, going under.”

With a dual perspective, the story alternates between Jacob’s point of view and Sada’s. The latter enables the reader to witness the division between wealth and poverty within the city, and the pressures that force some residents to take desperate measures.

There’s a heavy focus on mental health issues in the series. We know a lot about women’s mental health, so I wanted to explore what unspoken internal struggles men endure, and to highlight these by pressing them into a high-pressured darkened room and turning on the light.

Where can we get a copy of Hidden?

At the moment it’s available as ebook and paperback at Amazon, but later in the year it will become available on other platforms as well. You can also find out more about all the books in the series on my website, T.L.Dyer

How did you approach the structure of your novel? Did you have a clear idea, or did it evolve, or both?

A little of both. I’m not a huge planner when it comes to writing. All of my short stories started with their first line popping into my head and I ran with them from there. That’s fine and exciting for a short story, but I knew for a novel I would need to plan more or risk wasting my time writing down a blind alley. The magic of the Scrivener software allowed me to create lots of notes and a rough outline – literally just compiling thirty chapters and writing a few lines in each to guide me, with build-up moments, reveal moments, the Long Dark Night of the Soul, and then the conclusion. Sounds rudimentary and it was, but it helped me stay on track, while also giving me the freedom to see where the characters would take me. Suffice to say, the ending was not what I’d expected.

You are also an editor. Tell us about your experiences. Have you any advice for this career path? What are the high and low points?

I’ve just recently wound down my editing business, which I had run for the last three years. While I initially planned on running both editing and indie author business side by side, it soon became clear that the amount of work involved in writing and publishing books on a regular schedule would leave me no time (mental or physical) to do both. Running an editing business was a wonderful experience though; working with other writers and seeing how they progressed was so heart-warming, and it meant I got to share my passion for books and words with others who felt the same. The high points included the wonderful feedback I received from clients who not only felt I helped improve their work but also got a lot out of the editing experience, tips and tricks they could take with them onto future projects; another high point was the good friends I made as a result of it. I was lucky enough not to have any bad/difficult clients.

The biggest low point was – as with any freelancing business – the inconsistency of workload. While working on a project, it was great; but there were lots of quiet periods when you begin to doubt yourself and whether you’ll ever have any more work come your way.

Career-wise, there are plenty of editors who do write, but I think it comes down to priorities. If you’re happy to write in your free time with editing as your main business, then great. But for me, I found the desire to write and publish began to overtake everything else, and as editing is such an in-depth, mentally draining process, I knew I wouldn’t be able to commit all of my attention to everything – something would give eventually. Should I get tired of writing and publishing, I wouldn’t hesitate to return to editing – though it can be hard work, it’s also a very enjoyable and rewarding job if you’re a book lover. If you want to be an editor, start with the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) who will point you in the right direction for training and advice. Other editors are extremely helpful and open with their experiences; it’s a truly supportive community. Also consider doing some beta reading/editing voluntarily (see forums on places like Goodreads) to get some pressure-free experience under your belt (and if they’re happy with your work, ask for a testimonial for your website).

As an OU comrade, and Inky veteran, how important do you think studying creative writing is? Have you any advice for writers?

I don’t think I’d have reached this point without my creative writing and literature studies. Everything I’ve done over the last three years has stemmed from the completion of the OU Literature degree. Which is not to say I think everyone needs to go that route in order to write, but it certainly broadened my understanding of something I already loved and thought I knew a lot about. When we are voracious readers, we’re already teaching ourselves the conventions of storytelling, and for some writers that might be enough to get by; but ‘close reading’ and studying the techniques of writing is hugely beneficial (and satisfying), whether that be from courses or teach-yourself books, and it really does make a difference to writing quality. Talent is one thing, but learning the craft is crucial if you want to improve.

What are you reading at the moment?

As usual, a bit of everything – my book tastes are a little eclectic. But in particular I’m trying to read genres that are closely associated to what I’m writing or intend to write, in order to see how it’s done! So I’m reading thrillers (in particular, indie author A.D. Davies’ Adam Park series;, transgressive fiction (Chuck Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis), and also Save the Cat! Writes a Novel by Jessica Brody (because the learning never stops).

Who would you choose as one of your favourite characters from literature, and why?

Excuse me while I have a moment alone with my bookshelf… So I’m going to pick two, each for very different reasons. The first is Patrick Bateman from Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho. No, he’s not a nice guy, he’s a psychopath. But I’m really intrigued by out-of-the-ordinary characters and he’s certainly that. The writing techniques in this book are original and outstanding, and particularly fascinating about Bateman is that despite being a narcissist with no emotional intelligence, he spends the entire book trying to communicate who he really is (or thinks he really is) to those around him; he has a strong desire for someone to understand/comprehend the real him.

My second choice is Oliver Comstock in a book called A Dead Language by Peter Rushforth. Oliver isn’t the main protagonist of this story about boyhood, the absence of paternal love and its ramifications, but he shines throughout this beautifully poignant and original narrative as a character who is funny, confident, loving, unafraid, and supportive of his friends regardless of their individual mannerisms and behaviour. A strong, unique, easy-going character. If he were real, he would be one of the ‘special ones’.

Have you written in any other genre?

In terms of form, I’ve written and had published one poetry piece and several short stories (including in your very own Sea of Ink and Fields of Words anthologies). This novel came about initially because I wanted to experience the publishing process rather than just spout instructions to editing clients which I had read elsewhere. Fortunately or unfortunately, this then escalated into something more, and I was bitten by the bug.

In terms of the genre of this particular book (and series), this is something new for me. I didn’t choose dystopia specifically; rather, as elements of the story came together it chose itself and seemed the appropriate setting. For this first book, I ignored most advice about writing to market and wrote what I’d like to read, and this happened to be the form it took. Anything I write always starts with the characters first and I go where they send me, which usually veers towards realism and psychological conflict. I’m a fan of gritty thrillers and dark dramas, and this is where I feel the next books after this series will take me.

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

I’ve written books two and three in the Hidden Sanctuary series, so I’ll be working on these in preparation for their release – book two in March, and book three in May. After which, it’ll be on to the next new idea and those early stages of researching, outlining and getting down the first draft. By the end of 2019, if all goes to plan, I will have released five books in total, getting my indie author career underway. And now that I’ve said it, I have to do it… so, no pressure!

And just finally, I’d like to sneak in a big thank you to Ink Pantry for their support as always.

Avoid eye contact at all costs… That’s how they get you.”

The men had separated themselves from their old lives.

But had they really thought they could stay hidden forever?

When an Outsider forces her way into Jacob’s life, the emotionally pain-free existence the men have cultivated in the abandoned buildings skirting the city is threatened. Fighting against the instinctive pull of the ‘outside world’ and the memories of a dark past he’d rather forget, Jacob must choose either the tribe who saved him or the past that might kill him.

In the city, Sada has identified the hooded stranger who saved her life and a society few know anything about. Determined to learn more about this hidden tribe, she is confronted with the depth of the scars her city is leaving behind in its quest for financial global power. Her journalistic instincts are to reveal the truth in a city that wants to bury it, but to do so could have fatal consequences for all of them.

Inky Interview Exclusive: Former Cheshire Poet Laureate Joy Winkler

You were appointed Cheshire Poet Laureate in 2005. That’s wonderful. Congratulations. What was the process of being appointed Laureate? What poems were you commissioned to write? How did you find the overall experience?

Thanks. The Cheshire Poet Laureate scheme was in operation when Cheshire was a unitary authority, not separate as now into East and West Cheshire. The person who thought up and implemented the scheme was the then Literature and Reading Development officer Liz Newall. There were only ever six poets who held the post. The process of being appointed involved an application and an interview at which I had to answer questions and read some of my poetry. The interviewers consisted of Liz Newall, the deputy leader of the council David Rowlands, and a representative from the Arts Council. I have to say it was just a little bit daunting. The intention of the scheme was to raise the profile of poetry within the county, and as such I was commissioned to write at least five poems relating to the Cheshire County Council year (I got paid for these – hooray, the first time I had been paid for writing a poem). Also, I was expected to instigate events and projects which would encourage people in the county to take part in poetry events. I invited well known poets from all over the country to visit our libraries and facilitate workshops and give public readings. I also gave personal readings in libraries and schools.

The commissioned poems were a great opportunity, as well as varied. They involved quite another way of writing than I was used to. The first one was to write a poem to be performed on Holocaust Memorial Day. I spent most of Christmas 2004 thinking about this which was both a salutary and sad experience. All the commissions were challenging and unusual. For example, one was to write a poem for Ellesmere Port Library as part of Ellesmere Port Civic Square redevelopment. The trouble was that they needed a one liner from the poet to etch into stone in the new square, they needed it fast, I had to come up with the one liner and then later write a poem around that. I came up with ‘set sail on the ocean of your imagination’ and of course it’s still there, cast in stone.

Another interesting and challenging commission was to write a poem to encourage people to vote in May 2005. The brief was for the poem to be short (so that it could be read on radio) and for it to encourage people to vote in both local and national elections. No pressure then. The most difficult thing about commissioned poems is that you are not quite writing as yourself, and that sometimes you have to disregard your own feelings in order to complete the brief. That is really hard for a poet.

The most enjoyable poem I wrote was commissioned to celebrate Adult Learners’ Week to be read at their North West Regional Awards ceremony. I used the idea of a villanelle, but then slotted in a rhyming couplet to each stanza to make it more cheerful.

From ‘Change your Life’

There’s a treasure chest of maths and reading schemes,
Learning is a river in full flow.
See what’s under a car bonnet,
Poke and tinker with a sonnet,
Change your life and realise your dreams.

One more notable commission was when I was asked to write about the Ploughing Match at Dunham Massey. I had never been to a ploughing match before. I was advised to go along before it started and stay all day. I did. It was a great experience to see it all take shape, the tractors old and new, the shire horses, the hedge layers and all the rest. When I read it out at their annual dinner there were tears. Of happiness I believe.

The overall experience of the laureateship was one of learning new skills, feeling more empowered, of being more self-assured, and of being at last convinced that I had earned the right to call myself a poet.

You were Writer in Residence at HMP Styal. You must have empowered many people during your seven years there. What did you learn from it yourself? Have you any memorable moments?

I learned such a lot during my residency at HMP Styal. I had never visited a prison before, knew nothing of the rules and protocols and yet, naively, I wasn’t worried about that. I was given a short induction, a set of keys and the rules about using them, and an office in the prison library. Then I was pretty much allowed to get on with setting up whatever projects and workshops I could think of. I suppose you could say I learned as I went along except for the sessions I had with a wonderful organization called Writers in Prison Network who supported lots of writers in residencies and who paid us, arranged to us to swap stories, advice, gripes and solutions. Prisons are not easy places to organize new projects in. I once had a visiting poet, Joolz Denby, visit us. She was expecting to read and perform to a room of about 40 women. That day the numbers didn’t add up after lunch so there was a lock down and she ended up reading to four of us. In situations like this the regime has the only say (quite rightly) but it can be frustrating. Thankfully, the Governor agreed to pay for her to do a repeat visit and all was well on that occasion.

I learned simply to be pro-active. I would go onto the Wing and sit at a table with my books and paper and pens and wait for women there to approach me. “Got some paper for me to write to my fella?” was a regular request but a bit of gentle persuasion, and they would sit with me and write a poem or a story, and others would come by and join in. I learned to be brave in the sense of not worrying if I got knocked back, and I learned a lot about prison life and the lives of the women who ended up there and how and why they ended up there. I learned a lot about life and people. I also learned how to enthuse people into writing and reading, activities which I know to be not only educational. but therapeutic as well. There is not space here to tell you all about my work in HMP Styal, maybe I should write a book. I’ll put that on the list.

A few memorable moments though. The day I took small sachets of herbs from my garden in to act as stimulants for ideas. Just as well I wasn’t searched on the way in even though they weren’t that kind of stimulant. The day a woman tried to steal the Christmas tree from the library for her cell. She hid it up her jumper. The librarian said it could have been worse as there were many other inventive places for hiding things. The day I arranged for a van load of drums to come in for a workshop and there were no officers around to accompany the van. I had to undo the huge gates and walk alongside the van which was supposed to drive slowly. I had to break into a jog and the women prisoners were shouting to the drive “Hey up mate, slow down. Can’t you see she can’t keep up?”.

We had visiting authors, visiting poets, drummers, Chinese ribbon dancers, circus skills artists, and so much more. It was a privilege to work there and I shall never forget it.

You are currently Writer in Residence at Tatton Park in Knutsford. Please tell us about the workshops you do. What are the future dates?

I have been facilitating workshops at Tatton Park for a few years now. There are generally around 6 or 7 a year for adults, and a couple for children. Next year’s workshops start in February and details can be found on my website, Tatton Park’s events page, or Eventbrite. This year though I am also there as Writer in Residence and plan not only to write poems inspired by the park and its attractions, but also to encourage members of the public and members of staff to put pen to paper about their experiences in this fantastic place. In the past I have written a lot of poetry inspired by flora and fauna and so this particular project is icing on my literary cake.

I would also like to get more written work out and about in the park. Some enterprising person has already made up a chalk board with stories of the fruit varieties on them. I am considering taking that idea a bit further. Watch this space, or rather the space in Tatton Park.

Can you please share with us a couple of your poems and walk us through the ideas behind them?

This poem was written when we were in the car travelling North. It struck me that it was a moment in time when people and birds were all moving in different directions and for different reasons. The prime inspiration was the glimpse of a magpie, the way it flies wings extended in a way that makes it look like a crucifix. Therefore, the bird theme led the poem; ‘seasonal plumage’, ‘peck at your foibles’ etc. The poem contains all things I actually saw in a very short space of time – I often think ideas are like a camera shot with our own eyes, the image lasts sometimes and it’s great to use that. This poem will be the title poem of my new collection.

Wings, Planes and Weather Vanes

Huddled in seasonal plumage
we move into the slipstream of slow traffic,
join the migration to lakes and frozen valleys.
I peck fretfully at your foibles,
you preen a little in the rear-view mirror.
The weather vane points North.

Some plane’s vapour maps a route
in the other direction to a warmer winter.
It’s all a matter of personal choice.
A magpie stiffens its wings,
marks the space between us,
makes like a crucifix or a blessing.

The next poem is an example of me writing about a person. People fascinate me and of course by people watching we can’t always know what their lives are like. Therefore, a sprinkling of poetic licence goes a long way. However, in this case I did know a lot about this person, a neighbour, and I was moved by her story and wanted to write about it. I was thinking one day about the disintegration in her life and circumstances and I happened to be jointing a chicken while I was thinking. The stages of the two things somehow joined together into this poem.

On Thursday

Jointing a chicken, breast from ribcage,
you think about her face, deflated skin, yellow eyes
clavicle like a wishbone. If you bend the legs back,
twist until they crack, your knife will find the place.

You think about blood around her mouth, how
the paramedic called her the wrong name, how
she used to carve her way up our street like a model.
On the slab, legs, breasts, wings in pairs

the rest in the pan keeping the tempo
of a rolling boil. Where she fell, a bottle
of gin, small jigsaw pieces in a knotted
plastic bag. I took her arm, we’d never

touched that much before, years of neighbourly
routine. She was bristling angry when her legs
gave way. The fat in the chicken stock floats,
small islands, the carcass rendered down.

Where is the best place we can get copies of your poetry collections, such as Morag’s Garden, and Stolen Rowan Berries?

I have a few collections but sadly two are out of print now. These are Morag’s Garden and Built to Last, my first two collections published by the National Poetry Foundation. I still have copies of On the Edge which was published at the end of the Laureate year and which has the commissioned poems included in it, and of Stolen Rowan Berries, which is my most recent collection. I am happy to supply copies of these on request. My email is Stolen Rowan Berries is also for sale in the shop in Tatton Park.

Tell us about TOWN, your verse/drama.

I wrote TOWN after being inspired by two other pieces of writing. Katrina Porteous, a poet based in the North East, wrote a piece for radio called ‘Dunstanbrugh Castle, a secret as old as the stones’. What impressed me was the way it was produced using different voices and sound effects to tell a story. I then read Amanda Dalton’s sequence in her poetry collection, How to Disappear. She says she used a newspaper article to get the story, then wrote poetry involving each of the characters involved in that piece. I took that idea but made up my ‘article’ and used ‘girl finds her mother who has only ever lived a few streets away’. I wrote individual parts for six characters, one of which was curmudgeonly Town himself (i.e. Macclesfield). Each part was written in poetry, not as dialogue. The story was based on the town’s Barnaby Festival and I had Barnaby as a visiting stranger/magician/performer of art who turned the whole thing around. I performed the verse/drama myself with support from Andrew Rudd who composed and performed a music scape for it. Andrew was also a former Cheshire Poet Laureate – see how we progressed. We toured with it around 12 venues.

This was a really exciting project as it led me to think about using poetry in a different way, gave me permission, I suppose, to be more experimental with my work. I also learned a lot about bidding for Arts Council Grants, booking venues and performing in front of audiences.

Your play, Lightning Under Their Skirts, about growing up in 1960s Barnsley, was a huge successCan you give us a brief synopsis? Who else was involved in this production? How do you approach writing a play? What advice would you give?

Lightning Under Their Skirts is another example of giving myself permission to be experimental. I had the idea after TOWN to write something still using poetry but also including dialogue and having other performers as part of the whole.

It’s 1961 and we are in a small end of terrace where the mother rules the roost, the son gets away with anything, and the daughter is walked over by everyone. The father plays piano in a pub to earn extra money and apart from that, he doesn’t get a say in any of it. Gary, the son, gets his best friend’s girl pregnant. He gets into a fight with best friend at the local dance hall. He doesn’t take responsibility for the pregnancy. The best friend marries the girl. Back at home Sandy, the sister, tells her troubles to an agony aunt, finds out her own mother is seeing another man, is angry at all the secrets and lies in the family and eventually loses it with them all and leaves home.

I had lots of advice on the script from Kevin Dyer who acted as both dramaturg and director. I had worked previously with Kevin on TOWN and a couple of other performance projects. Also, there were two really brilliant young actors Josie Cerise and Harvey Robinson. I performed in the play as ‘POET’ and as ‘MOTHER’. This was a new challenge. I know nothing about acting but had to learn quickly and the two young people helped me along with great generosity and patience. We had a stage manager Alice Longson and a producer Laura Duncalf. Also, Harri Chambers composed original music and soundscape which played at various points in the play.

My first draft of the play was way out. I know now that I should get the arc of the narrative, build inside from that. I know that dialogue isn’t like ‘he said’ ‘she said’ but it’s short stabs and people cutting across each other. I know that even though a play might be based on a personal story, I have to leave ‘real’ people behind and discover the dramatic character who, after all, is who the audience is interested in.

I would advise reading scripts, watching live performances, and having a go. After all, you can’t work on something if there isn’t anything there to start with.

What advice would you give to budding poets?

Read lots of poetry of all kinds from every era. Don’t be put off if you don’t understand what the poet is saying at the first reading. Read it aloud even if you are alone – you will get it more easily. Go to readings of both published poets and of budding poets. Make up your own mind about styles that you are inspired by. You are allowed to be inspired by one style and yet write in a different one.

Join a writers’ group. If you don’t enjoy the first one you join, join another. They do vary.

When you feel comfortable with your writing, start to send some off to magazines. There are lots of magazines to choose from so do some research to see what kind of poetry each publishes. These can be very different. It’s never been easier to research these online, but it’s a good thing to subscribe to a couple also. It’s hard to keep these magazines going and they need our support. Don’t be dismayed by rejections. Use it to look again at your poem, can you change it, does it need changing? Never be satisfied but always look to improve a piece.

Find a mentor if you are not sure of your next move. You would be surprised at how helpful other writers can be, you just have to ask.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am beta reading a novel by a friend who attends our writers’ group. It’s a pleasure, it’s really good. Also I am reading poetry by Katrina Naomi ‘The Way the Crocodile Taught Me.’

Who inspires you?

That is a very difficult question to answer as inspiration comes from different quarters and changes all the time. I recently read a poetry collection by Cheryl Pearson. Cheryl won the Cheshire Prize for poetry a couple of years ago and her first collection is called ‘Oysterlight’ published by Pindrop Press. It has some really surprising and genuine imagery and ideas in it. I would recommend it.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

To be brave and have the courage to share my ideas. I was a quiet child and even now I question whether or not what I am writing is any good. Maybe this is a good thing as we should always strive to be better. However, I have noticed that people get on well by being proud of who they are and what they do. I wish my younger self had known that.

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

I have the draft of another collection ready to be printed and hopefully this will be out in February 2019. I will then work on poems inspired by Tatton Park and hopefully that will result in another collection towards the end of next year. I have a novel which needs my attention – it is written but I want to revisit it with the idea of including an element of poetry, myth, mystery. And I have written a second act to Lighting Under Their Skirts and at some point I would like to tour this but need funding first. And of course the workshops. They are ongoing and it is delightful to meet talented, like-minded people and to hear their work.

Inky Interview Special: Author Nicola Hulme

Tell us about your journey towards publishing your book, Portia The Pear. What inspired you to write for children? Who is the illustrator?

My journey started in infant school when I was encouraged to join a library, because I had read every book in the classroom. At the library, I was captivated by a myriad of authors including my favourites; Dr Zeuss, Enid Blyton and C.S. Lewis. Children’s books were my first love and the magic never left me.

As an adult, reading bedtime stories to my daughter, I looked at them more critically. Some of the books we read together were exceptional, but others were a little flat. Jessica actually tossed one book aside after reading it, unimpressed. I remember thinking ‘I’m sure I could write a bedtime story’. I didn’t act upon it then, but years later when my son was born, the idea came to me again. This time I was more convinced that there was a spectrum of books from the brilliant to the (without being rude) dull. I began to wonder if I could write something which at least fell along that spectrum. I didn’t need to be as talented as Julia Donaldson; I just needed to be as good as, or better than, the worst that had made it into print.

One Boxing Day morning, I sat up in bed and wrote a story from start to finish, the words just flowed. Of course, I knew nothing about publishing, so I did what everyone does to learn something new – I Googled. My search brought back many ‘How to’ guides and the following three points came up time after time:

1) Buy The Artists’ and Writers’ Year Book for a list of publishers accepting manuscripts, and read tips and advice from other authors, plus use the directory to narrow down your list of possible publishers for your genre.
2) Join local writing groups to have your work critiqued and learn from other budding writers.
3) Always read the publishers’ submission guidelines carefully, as each has their own preferences.

I sent off my manuscript to 5 publishers and received 5 pristine rejection letters as a result. Luckily, I had listened to advice from a guest author at one of the writing groups who had encouraged writers to celebrate their rejections as symbols of ‘trying’. I’d also read Stephen King’s On Writing in which he described pinning his rejections on a rusty nail in the wall. He received so many he had to find another nail. Unperturbed I carried on.

Fate then played a part in this story. My hairdresser handed me a leaflet she had picked up at Tatton Park, promoting a Writing Workshop called ‘Write like Roald Dahl’. It was held midweek on a work day, but something told me to book the day off and go along, which I did. It turned out to be a very good decision.

(Joy Winkler at Tatton Park)

Local poet Joy Winkler (Poet Laureate of Cheshire 2015) led the workshop which was truly inspirational. Joy fired up the passion in the room and gave sage advice on how to approach structuring a story for children. She then sent us out into Tatton’s Kitchen Gardens with the instruction to find a character and set the story in the grounds. There, I saw espaliers covered in the most beautiful pears. As I studied the fruit more closely, one knobbly, twisted pear stood out from the rest. It looked like it had a very sad face; the story of Portia the Pear was born. I received a fabulous reaction when I read it out and Joy suggested it was worthy of submission to a publisher. What happened next can only be described as serendipity..

The very next day I received an email saying a local children’s publisher would be visiting my writers’ group. I sent off Portia with the intention of asking them for feedback on how it may be improved. I received an email back asking me to call to their offices for a chat. A contract was offered and Portia the Pear was launched in September of the following year.

As a children’s picture book, the illustrations for Portia were pivotal. The clever chaps at Tiny Tree Children’s Books sent my text to the extremely talented Italian Illustrator Elena Mascolo and asked her to submit a concept piece. When I opened up the file, it was love at first sight. The colours jumped off the screen, the expressions on the pears’ faces were amazing, and the vibrancy of a very greedy caterpillar was fantastic. I knew the children would love them. Receiving illustrations for a story, which until that point has only existed in your head, is exhilarating. It is a truly magical gift. Elena lives and works in Italy and so we correspond online, and through our experience in producing the book together, we have become very good friends. Her work is so distinctive, I encourage anyone to look her up and see how unique her characters are. I was truly blessed to be able to work with her.

You are also a poet. Can you share with us a couple of your poems and walk us through the inspiration behind them?

I do enjoy poetry. I write mainly about my family, and of rural scenes, but I might write a rant, when I’m fired up about an issue, or a humorous piece when I observe quirks of human nature. I’m a member of Write Out Loud and we joke amongst ourselves about the depths of depression and solemnity we can reach in our collective writing, we do tend to stray into quite dark subjects. Poetry is an expression, so whatever feelings emerge are simply translated onto paper.

‘Nose-Blowing Days’ was written after an early morning school run. My little boy and I battled the wind and the rain which blew across the open school field. I was late for work, I had an important meeting scheduled, my hair and make-up was ruined, and I knew I would have to sit in awful traffic to get into the office. My stress levels were high. Half-way down the path, it dawned on me how much I would miss these days when Jack was grown. I smiled and relaxed and just enjoyed the moment, wiping his nose and holding his hand and splashing in puddles. At the time, I was taking part in the Napowrimo Challenge and the day’s prompt was to write a “Kay-Ryan-esque” poem using short, tight lines, rhymes interwoven throughout. Here is the result:

Nose-blowing Days

The walk to school
is sweet
‘tho puddles soak
our hasty feet.
Rain batters
‘brollies’ tatter
perfect make-up
runs and streaks,
but then I see
your innocent glee
finding a worm squirm
on the path.
The bird on highest
bough sounds
the roll call
as we scuttle past.
These hand-holding,
days pass
too fast.

The following poem is reminiscent of my childhood in the mill town of Accrington, Lancashire, where I lived in a corner shop with my beloved grandma. Washing Day actually spanned three days, washing, drying and ironing day, and made a lasting impression on my very young mind. I was extremely touched when a fellow poet asked me if she could read my poem to her mum who suffers with Alzheimers, she believed that she would enjoy the memories the imagery invokes.

The Washing Line

Down dark cobbled back streets, clothes lines stretched
across cohorts of back yards, on Washing Day.
Regiments of white bed sheets hoisted high
flapping like flags, in threatening skies
supported by proud,
immoveable clothes props.
Garments not daring to fly loose,
straddled by dolly pegs
forced down hard.

Above boiling bleach buckets,
malevolent steam swirled, silently seething,
polluting the air with pungent peroxide.
The back door was wedged open, windows wide,
but still its clammy fingers clung to high corners.

Seized shirts submerged in the twin tub
were dragged out of the simmering broth
by oversized wooden tongs, grinning
toothless crocodiles.

A solitary circular spinner flipped its lid
with brutal force, revealing a gaping hole
which gobbled up garments,
firing it’s jet engine at the press
of an oversized button.
A bright warning label spelled danger
but I was more afraid of grandma
I did as I was bid
and stayed two full steps back,
watching a steady stream of captives
being fed into the mangle rollers,
pulled out prostrate, straight jacketed,
lobotomised on the other side.

Winched up on a maiden, by rope and pulley
squealing like a stuck pig, screaming in protest;
corsets and bloomers were discreetly dried indoors.
Ponderous drops dripped
onto the oilcloth floor beneath
missing expectant open mouthed buckets.

Hugging the gas fire, a burdened clothes horse
promised more than it could deliver.
A metal mesh fireguard, kept long after toddler years,
lent its flat roof to dry despondent socks.

From picture rail gallows, lifeless forms hung
closing in on the living,
One by one they were gathered,
folded and locked away in the airing cupboard
guarded by a gurgling old boiler in his
pillar-box red padded jacket.

Paroled for ironing; creases were pressed out
then forcibly pressed in.
Under a hellish red hot iron
wet handkerchiefs hissed and spat.
The board creaked and groaned,
along with grandma as she held her back.
Finally, the ordeal was over.
Clothes were locked into looming tall boys
with the turn of a tiny brass key.

The line stretches through time
from dolly tub to auto scrub.
My laundry is gently taken
from a silent washer,
that soaks and spins on demand,
conditioned smooth and wrinkle free
without need of an army of machines,
lightly clipped by brightly coloured pegs.
Still, I discreetly throw my underwear
into the dryer and smile
“What would the neighbours say?”

Mine is an easy load.
My line marks the ages of my babies
as their clothes grow.
Our favourite t-shirts old and tired,
out of shape and faded,
hang comfortably together, blowing in the wind.
Billowing white sheets release
their bouquet of jasmine and lily.
The sun warms my face,
the breeze caresses my skin
like the palm of a hand against my cheek,
or a kiss on the forehead from grandma.

(Write Out Loud, Stockport, at Mark Sheeky’s 21st Century Surrealism Exhibition) 

As part of the Write Out Loud group, you have recently written poems for Mark Sheeky’s 21st Century Surrealism art exhibition at the Stockport War Memorial. Can you give us an insight into this event and tell us how you approached writing a poem about an artwork? Did inspiration strike quickly, or did you have to ponder on the visuals before the words appeared? Did your words match the original ideas behind the visual art? What did you learn about this experience?

It was a great privilege for the Write Out Loud poets to be invited to take part in Mark’s exhibition, and it certainly created a buzz. We meet each month at Stockport’s War Memorial Gallery and we are surrounded by art whilst we read out our work. As exhibitions change we are incredibly fortunate to preview the paintings. When we were offered the chance to create ekphrastic poems for Mark’s work we jumped at the chance.

Mark added another layer of intrigue in that we weren’t allowed to know the titles or the inspiration behind the works. He wanted to know our interpretations without bias or influence. Poems flooded in and as a result we had multiple poems for some of the paintings, but we embraced this and all poems were displayed next to their respective piece. During the month of the exhibition we performed an open mic event, reading our poems out for a very well-attended gallery. After each poem was read, Mark gave an explanation of what influences inspired him. It was really interesting to see how in the majority of cases both poet and artist had picked out the same themes.

I loved the challenge of writing for Mark. I instantly picked out one of the most striking paintings which I now know to be ‘Triumph Of The Mechnauts’. It struck me immediately as a depiction of a dystopian scene. The central figures are two cyber robots, one male, one female, in an embrace. However there are many more images and symbols within the painting. I had to really study every inch to try to understand what story was being portrayed. Perhaps from my fictional writing, I like to understand the landscape, the characters, the mood etc., before beginning to write. I noted a city in ruin and an opposing rural scene with gentlemen walking over a hill beneath which there was another love scene reminiscent of Gone with the Wind. The skies were divided across the canvas, changing from bright blue to dark and stormy. In the detail there was a bright red rose and a contrasting drooping white rose. I took all of these images and created a poem which told a story which spanned time; from the old world of romance into a futuristic world of cyber dating, weaving in Shakespeare’s tragic Romeo and Juliet to illustrate doomed love. I did say we poets spiral down into dark places! I really enjoyed writing ‘City Of Promise‘. Once I had the concept, the words just flowed, and I had fun with it. Happily, Mark confirmed that he had intended the dystopian scene, but his inspiration had been simply the word ‘future’. What I learnt from the whole experience was how paintings can be a wonderful source of inspiration. It’s incredibly freeing to be given pieces of a puzzle, then letting the imagination carry you into creativity. I shall definitely use the ekphrastic technique again.

(‘Triumph of the Mechnauts’ by Mark Sheeky)

Have you tried any other genres of writing? Radio/plays etc?

My one and only venture into playwriting was a play I wrote aged 12 which was performed on stage at Moorhead High School. (I was actually a member of the same school drama club as Julie Hesmondhalgh who went on to play Hayley in Coronation Street).

I have recently written a short story, my first adult thriller. The main character is a disturbed teacher who, after learning her husband has cheated on her, reeks revenge on the male population. I really enjoyed the process, but gained a new respect for crime writers. I would wake in the early hours discovering problems with my plot, trying to figure out how a particular event could take place. I had to research poisons so I had my facts right, I questioned friends about their experiences commuting on public transport to ensure I was reflecting reality rather than just assuming facts. It was a lot more work than I had anticipated. The short story was created for a competition run by a University which added a degree of pressure to ensure my grammar, structure and punctuation was as polished as it could be. Compared to writing for children, the experience really stretched me, but that’s how we grow in our craft, so I will always opt for the uncomfortable over the familiar, for that purpose.

(Vision Board Workshop at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery)

Who inspires you?

I was very fortunate to have been taught by an excellent English Literature Teacher who was passionate. if not zealous, about the subject. He introduced me to the Classics and the War Poets, and also to the theatre. I fell in love with Keats and marvelled at Shakespeare.

My late Father-In-Law took it upon himself to expand my literary knowledge. We would talk for hours on great poets and his favourite writers, Dickens, and Hardy. He also introduced me to classical music, something that never featured in my childhood. I’m extremely grateful for our time together.

I find inspiration everywhere and I have been inspired by a variety of sources over the years, however I’m beginning to realise that I’m largely influenced by pioneering women. It began with a passion for The Brontë Sisters, which opened my eyes to how female writers struggled to be heard. Maya Angelou and Oprah Winfrey are my heroines in challenging the status quo and breaking stereotypes. I respect anyone who stands up for a belief or challenges convention. I love Elizabeth Gilbert, who writes to encourage creatives to ‘write anyway’ and to ‘be stubborn about it’ (very similar to the message of Van Gogh: ‘by all means paint and that voice will be silent’. I have a fond spot for Jeanette Winterson, who was raised only a few streets away from my corner shop in Accrington. She opened a huge debate when she wrote Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and continues to be a great ambassador for women’s rights.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m having a cerebral holiday at present, reading a few bestsellers simply for the sheer pleasure of it. I have just read Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman and I can’t recommend it enough, a fabulous first novel from Gail. I’ve also just read The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan, which was such a pleasure, it felt indulgent.
I’m currently re-reading a business classic in preparation for teaching a personal effectiveness course called ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey. It was reading this book that gave me confidence to write, explore the craft, be proactive and keep the end in mind. I use Covey’s principles when I teach Vision Boarding at Stockport War Memorial Gallery. I have two workshops planned in for January 2018, when everyone is goal setting and thinking of long term plans. The combination of reading Covey and Elizabeth Gilbert, who I mentioned earlier, really sparked a fire within me to push myself out of my comfort zone to take on more challenges.

What’s next for you? What plans have you got?

I’m extremely excited to be working with Elena Mascolo again on our second children’s picture book. I cannot reveal any details yet other than tell you the story is the one I wrote on that fateful Boxing Day morning when I decide to write for children. It’s been fine-tuned and is now my next book (there may also be a third in the pipeline!)

I recently read my poetry at a Centenary Remembrance Day Service at St Matthew’s Church in Edgeley with the Write Out Loud Poets. We will also be performing a Christmas Open Mic Night on 12th December at The Samuel Oldknow, in Marple, which is always great fun and well received.

Into the New Year I’ll be Vision Boarding as I mentioned. I’ll be continuing to take Portia into bookshops, schools, book festivals and possibly Tatton Park at Easter and on Apple Day.

The new book will hopefully be launched mid 2019 so I’m looking forward to seeing that in print and holding a book launch.

I believe in constantly refreshing and learning new skills, so I’ll be studying under Joy Winkler at her workshops held at Tatton Park throughout 2019. Joy has now been named Writer in Residence, a title so well deserved.

Beyond that, I will be writing; children’s picture books, poetry and maybe, just maybe take on a novel that has been lurking at the back of my mind for some time. Time will tell.

Portia The Pear by Nicola Hulme

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