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

Nicola on Twitter

Inky Interview Special: Poet John Keane

Tell us about your journey towards becoming a poet.

Childhood alienation and ill-health gave me an early passion for the written word as a vehicle of escape. Being the most elevated form of literary expression, poetry consequently became prominent in my life from an early age. Although I never studied literature beyond A Level, Robert Fagles’ translation of The Illiad is always with me, as are the complete works of Larkin, Yeats, Shakespeare, Brooke and Thomas plus several anthologies of the finest English verse. Since I know many of these masterworks by heart, I like to think they infiltrate my own humble works by some process of unconscious osmosis. Embedding the finest poetry in one’s memory engenders reflexive familiarity with the classic verse forms, metres and techniques, promotes eloquence and generally naturalises excellence. Not that my writing is in any sense excellent; but that is the goal, at least.

In recent years I have begun to experiment with hexameters and alternative verse forms; but metrical form of some type is always maintained as a bulwark against creative chaos. Traditional poetic structures and methods have proved effective across many centuries, so why try to reinvent the wheel every time you write? Engineers or architects don’t dismiss the accumulated wisdom of millennia, so why should poets or artists?

You have published several books, one of which is called The Drunken Bag Lady’s Arcadia. Interesting title! What are your other collections, and where can we get hold of these?

The title is a parody of Sir Philip Sidney’s The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia, published in 1580. Instead of a courtly countess, I dedicate my poems to a drunken bag lady; after all, a man’s got to know his limitations. I have two other poetry collections. Cremation, Please is a series of nihilistic meditations in the despairing spirit of Shakespeare’s sonnet 66 (‘tired with all these, for restful death I cry’). The Two Cultures was inspired by C P Snow’s belief that art and science are increasingly opposed realms; these poems humbly try to build bridges between the two (instead of wilfully ignoring science, like most contemporary literature).

The Drunken Bag Lady’s Arcadia

Cremation, Please

The Two Cultures

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

Ten Years Missing (In Memory of Andrew Gosden)

A blizzard of spindrift erratic decisions
A jigsaw jumble, half-clues and vanished traces
Erased footage, unclaimed tickets of no return
Discarded uniforms and journeys leading nowhere

A man lurks in glass, his grainy, grey reflection
Sunk deep in these waiting years. Forever he stands,
Something or nothing, his face in taunting shadow,
A thousand fates or none. Perhaps he is waiting

For a girlish youth lost in wide-eyed spectacles
Lank-haired head full of Playstations, numbers and Muse,
His feet unsteady on the bright rim of desire
Drawn by the city to dreams of another life

And maybe he found whoever he came to meet
Or found another or another fate, who knows?
A razor sharp blue light pervading everything
Ensures no closure here, the case forever closed.

‘Ten Years Missing’ was written in 2017 to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Andrew Gosden’s disappearance. He went missing after taking a train from Doncaster to King’s Cross in 2007 at the age of 14. Nothing about the case fits together properly – for example, video footage of King’s Cross and the surrounding area was ignored by the police until the trail had gone cold. Andrew was highly intelligent and a gifted mathematician. It is one of those cases where the more you know, the less you know. A CCTV image possibly shows the reflection of someone waiting for him outside King’s Cross (‘a man lurks in glass’). A year later someone entered Leominster police station in the West Midlands saying he knew what had happened to Andrew, but it was never followed up (‘no closure here’). Despite the extensive police investigation (‘sharp blue light’) the case may remain unsolved (‘the case forever closed’).

My second poem is called ‘Go Missing’ and owes much to my right-wing libertarian perspective. The values you were raised with have no claim on you, especially if they were abusive or dysfunctional. The same is true of people or places. Your sole responsibility is to your rational self-interest and nothing more. You can make the decision to start a new life at any age, old or young. Once the decision is made, it must be absolute; never look back. The use of iambic hexameter is intended to convey a sense of wandering grandeur, as is the line from The Tempest concluding the first stanza:

Go Missing

Write not a goodbye note, depart without a word;
Resolve to leave your life and never once return.
New shoes await your feet, new clothes your back, new sights
Your eyes; new languages are eager for your tongue,
New lands your journeys. You must go missing, then;
And like a vanished dream, leave not a wrack behind.

Give everything away: you will not need such things.
Your life was nothing but a harness of regret,
A coat of faded threads and patches long outworn.
This tapestry is made, and fair its finery;
But little thread endures, and still the Fates spin on.
Now go: and make a better life of what remains.

You are part of the Write Out Loud group. Can you tell us about it? As part of the group, you recently wrote poetry inspired by Mark Sheeky‘s 21st Century Surrealism exhibition at the Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery. Can you give us a glimpse into the event?

Write Out Loud is an online resource and community dedicated to the promotion of poetry at a grassroots level. Although its primary stronghold is the north of England, it is forging links with the international poetry community.

It was a great privilege to be part of Mark’s exhibition. The idea of the different art forms in cultural conversation is one dear to my heart. I haven’t much talent for the visual or musical arts (or the literary ones, for that matter) but I greatly admire those who do. I had already seen a few of Mark’s paintings and figured his daring and original imagery might inspire some vivid Ekphrastic poems (poems inspired by works of art), adding depth and texture to his exhibition. In the event, every painting inspired one or more poems, many of which offered completely different perspectives on the same visual referent. The ideal response would be some counter-Ekphrastic paintings inspired by the poems, of course.

Do you prefer poetry or prose? Have you written in any other genre?

I think good prose can have poetic elements, and often does. However, poetry has to create a more immediate impact on the reader, due to its generally shorter length. Meanwhile, prose has much greater potential for extenuated argumentation than poetry: poetry that sets out to argue the case for or against something is usually bad poetry. Perhaps we could say that poetry is a stream while prose is a river: though they cross the same terrain, they do so in very different ways. Speaking of prose, I have a collection of short speculative fiction entitled Lonely Ways available on Amazon. Some of these pieces are written in a poetic prose style (what Ayn Rand termed ‘romantic realism’).

Lonely Ways is available here:

What advice would you give your younger self?

Become a plumber. Also, remember that a youth without sex is a wasted youth.

What are you reading at the moment?

I’m trying to read Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor. An incredible novel stuffed with fascinating period detail but a sore strain on my feeble eyes and brain.

What advice would you give to budding poets?

Enjoy it as a hobby and vehicle of self-expression but don’t plan to earn a living from it. In fact, don’t plan to earn a living from anything creative unless you are incredibly talented, lucky or well-connected (preferably all three). Rich writers and artists are fallacies of significance. Many notable poets studied practical subjects, anyway (William Carlos Williams was a doctor; Wallace Stevens an insurance lawyer; and Thomas Hardy an architect). So study a remunerative subject and write as a hobby; if it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t (and it probably won’t), let it go. At least you’ll have a career and a half-decent life, at the end of the day.

Who inspires you and why?

My primary inspiration is probably the American novelist, Ayn Rand. The Fountainhead (1943) is generally felt to be her greatest work. In this libertarian tale of achievement and self-transcendence, Rand demonstrated that we don’t have to put up with anything that retards our rational self-interest and self-actualisation. Dysfunctional subcultures such as proletarian collectivism and Roman Catholicism have no claim on the individual and can be summarily dismissed. Everyone deserves the best life they can possibly attain.

The American writer Robert Greene is also a great inspiration. His classic 48 Laws of Power has been a huge influence on American rap music and its libertarian philosophy of striving and self-transcendence. Armed with Greene’s unique insights, the determined individual can overcome structural obstacles like poverty, racism and social ostracism to enjoy a successful life.

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

I’m working on an alternative history novel entitled A Curious Development. This is built on the conceit that photography existed in the ancient world. It contains ten linked stories exploring various aspects of the theme across the centuries. One of these stories was published in the distinguished sci fi webzine, Daily Science Fiction while two more have been published in AHF magazine.

Daily Science Fiction


AHF #2

John Keane on Twitter

Inky Interview Special: Jan Hedger

(Photo Credit: Frank Kennedy – Jan’s first public performance reading poetry – Cat Call Festival 2006)

Tell us about your journey towards becoming a poet.

It all started through my work in healthcare. I was supporting an Asian family in Birmingham caring for one of their daughters with a life limiting condition. The role also involved supporting the other 3 siblings, who would often sit beside me on the sofa after school. One such late afternoon, I started to tell them a fun rhyming poem that popped into my head. They loved it! Driving home ‘Jonathon Dandy’ appeared – ‘looking for Gold – Gold – Gold’! followed by poem number three, inspired by taking all the children to the playground. The mother kept repeating ‘Jan you must write them down’. I did, the journey had begun. A re-location to Swindon, and employment as a medical support worker at Swindon College, was where my poetry really started to take shape, surrounded as I was, with so much creativity in Art and Design. From children’s poetry I moved into other areas, but being true to the way I saw my poetry. Poetry that reached out beyond the page, bringing people in to its words and meaning. Then a move to the south coast took me to more dimensions and performing poetry, and dipping my toes into organising Poetry Readings etc. It was at this time I developed a strong leaning towards poetry of war, conflict and its consequences. There are many special people who have been alongside me; listening, guiding, laughing, crying. I owe them everything.

You have two published collections, Words in Imagination and On Calico Wings. What subjects do they touch upon?

Words in Imagination was my first collection and contained my children’s and lighter poetry, and I self-published it for that mother that encouraged me to ‘write them down’ and for one of my Swindon College art students, Amanda Rapley-Redfern, who became a wonderful friend and inspiration. Amanda passed away aged 21, but she remains in my writing and into the emotions of On Calico Wings, my second self-published collection, which is a journey through emotions; love, life and loss. Dreams. Emotions in conflict. A mix of emotions and inspiration. I originally intended to split the emotions into separate publications, but as in life, they belonged together.

Words in Imagination had to have a re-print! Most copies were bought by elderly patients from a rehabilitation hospital I was working in! I often performed the poems on the wards, to much amusement.

Would you share with us one of your poems and talk us through the inspiration behind it?


My fingers are torn and bleeding
My skin has shrunk to my bones
I have no strength, such is my hunger
Starvation is cruel and unyielding
And the cold, always the cold
There is no heat here in Ho8
‘The tunnels below the earth’.
I swing my pick axe, and a
Small piece of rock falls at my feet
It is not enough; they are angry
The blows from their sticks
Fall upon my shoulders
I tell myself I am immune!
But I am not, and it hurts
I feel unbearable pain
Would my mama recognise me now?
The once proud son she bore?
I think not; I cry out for her
Mama, mama! And they beat me once more.
Close by an explosion echoes
Showering us in red sandstone dust
Now we are not so different
Brothers; eyes locked in fear
For they have a mama too.
The heavy sound of footsteps
Cuts into the moment; they are panicking
I am hauled to my feet
And forced to join the slow moving ranks
Of the lost souls of men
Slaves of the German Third Reich
Leaving their dead behind.
The passage is long and the way unstable
An old man slips and falls
Amongst the polished boots
Desperately his fingers clasp my ankle
He calls to me ‘Comrade, I beg of you’
I ignore him and shake him free
In my single-mindedness to reach the light.
Oh! Such bitter sweet relief
To taste the sweet, sweet air
I close my eyes and am lost in its freedom
My mind elsewhere; I see papa!
Working the land of my birth
But no; it is the old man that is there!
Oh my papa! My papa! Forgive me!
I couldn’t help him! Dear God, I couldn’t help him!
And as the evening sky descends upon me
I fall to my knees in repentance
My darkness is absolute.

I chose this poem because it is very special to me. I had been writing only a few years when I wrote it. It was inspired by a visit to the Jersey War Tunnels, where despite the tunnels and rooms being lit and swept clean; with just exhibits on show, I ‘felt’ the past, the pain, the desperation. I ‘heard’ this prisoner. ‘Absolution’ was written and included in Forces Poetry first published anthology. The anthology was launched in Brighton with Patron Vera Lynn as special guest, and I will remember forever, my reading ‘Absolution’ with Vera Lynn watching and listening in such empathy. From being a member, I am now Administrator for Forces Literature Organisation Worldwide (FLOW) of which Forces Poetry is a part of, and working alongside Mac McDonald on a re-structuring.

(Photo Credits: Giles Penfound)

You are also an interactive poet, working with puppets. Tell us more.

As I mentioned previously I often performed my poems on the wards of hospitals I worked in. This led me to think it would be a possibility to go a step further and go independently into care homes, day centres etc. I did this for a few years as Poetry and Reminiscence, growing into the role and sometimes my husband joined me and we were ’The Poet and the Piano Player. I took the decision early on, not just to do my own poetry, but poetry of others, and began to search charity and second-hand shops for suitable material, gathering poems people would know and recognise; including speak-sing music hall pieces. While many will fully join in and share the whole session; often just one poem, or a few words will evoke a reaction in someone that is normally uncommunicative, a small response; a lift of the hand or raising of the head or sometimes saying words with me as best they can; is all the reward I need, and very moving. I also moved into other areas; with children’s groups such as Beavers and having activity tables at fairs etc., for Wildlife Groups.

One of my early poems ‘Thomas and the Rabbits’ is a conversation between a boy and a big fat rabbit, so I thought it would be wonderful to have a hand puppet rabbit to perform the poem with me. So Jack arrived and was such a success he was followed by Bert Dog and Dinky Kitten; all three having their own special poems, and helping me to deliver others. They often finish their performance with join in songs and then sit on someone’s lap as they don’t like going back in the bag! But they are very well behaved really and are very loved, as many folk have had their own pets. Through my job in healthcare, I was always passionate about the ‘social side’ of care, often overlooked with the pressures of time constraints and routine, yet contributing greatly to a person’s well-being, in their health and mental state. I take time to chat about reminiscence, letting them tell me their memories. For children, sharing the joy poetry can bring and is not a ‘scary word’ is very satisfying, and the puppets break down barriers. In between I do Ladies groups etc., and whatever the ages of my audience, they are all encouraged to join in, reciting, singing, and in the case of Dinky’s poem – ‘When I Grow Up’, act as Big Cats and a little Kitten.

The Wilfred Owen Festival in Oswestry, Shropshire is on until November 17th 2018. How did you become involved in this?

From seeing an article eighteen months ago, in the Oswestry Advertiser about the newly commissioned Wilfred Owen statue and a planned Festival around it. I thought I would like to be involved in that and sent an email expressing interest and my experience as having organised Poetry Readings at book launches, and at The Firing Museum, Cardiff Castle, and my being involved for a number of years with Flow for All. A phone conversation with Head Co-ordinator, Chris Woods followed, with the question ‘would you like to be in at grass roots level? Having said ‘Yes!’ I found myself at the first committee meeting and knew this festival was going to be special. In the course of these months I have organised four events to run in the main festival week 3rd – 10th Nov; including a Poet’s Day, a Women of WW1 day, drop-in workshops; as well as being the main school liaison. Primary schools were invited to choose a handwriting winner to copy Wilfred Owen’s words and senior schools and Derwen College were asked to select a student with a winning poem, to write on a wax tablet, which then underwent a process of being fixed onto the new Wilfred Owen Statue, which now stands in Cae Glas Park. To see the youngsters writings actually on the statue was an amazing reward in itself for the hours of ‘office work’. Schools have also done art work and are taking part in a Poetry Slam!

Have you any projects in the pipeline? What’s next for you?

First step down for a couple of months, long walks with my dog, and clean the house! Just enjoy some open time with poetry friends. Clear the mind for writing poems again, and future planning. Being so busy with The Festival, I haven’t been able to do many Puppets, Poetry and Reminiscence sessions, so I would like to build that back up. It is so much fun and I so enjoy doing it, I have put a cuddly Otter puppet on my Christmas list, to add to the family in preparation! I run my own community writing group in Oswestry, Words’n’Pics Open Writers, and we have recently co-operated with Chirk Writer’s Circle in two joint projects and we are looking to continue to work together to promote community writing. As mentioned in answer to question three, FLOW is undergoing major changes and this will mean devoting some time to a successful re-launch in reaching out to veterans, those with PTSD and their families, and those in the community with wider mental health issues. I have been asked to run some more poetry discussion groups at The Qube in Oswestry, breaking away from Women in War to Women in all aspects of life and other cultures, be nice if this comes off.

I have my debut radio slot on Radio Shropshire 08.05 with the early birds this Sunday to talk about ‘A Poets Day’ I have organised and am running within The Wilfred Owen Festival.

No other major projects in the pipeline – so time to take stock, listen, learn and observe the poetry and writing world out there.

Jan’s Website

Inky Interview Exclusive: Hilary Robinson, Rachel Davies & a loving tribute to Tonia Bevins

Hilary Robinson
(Photo Credit: Ben Robinson)

Some Mother’s Do…..poems for (un) real people is on Weds 7th November 2018 @ 18:30 at the Portico Library event in Manchester. How wonderful! Can you tell us about it?

Hilary Robinson: We felt the Portico gave us the gravitas our poetry deserves! No, seriously, Rebecca Bilkau, our editor, is a Portico member so could hire the beautiful space at a favourable rate. It’s fairly central, near to tram stops, and therefore convenient for all our poet friends to reach. Doors open at 18:30 and there will be a glass of wine and nibbles — what’s not to like?

Rachel Davies and I were lucky enough to be approached by Rebecca Bilkau who was thinking about launching the first DragonSpawn publication which she was calling a ‘step up to a pamphlet’. We didn’t need any time to think it over — we were both in. For the third poet, Rebecca invited Cheshire poet, Tonia Bevins, who was delighted that her work was to be published. Tragically, Tonia died suddenly in the summer before Rachel and I managed to meet her, but we all thought her contribution to the book should go ahead. Tonia’s friends, Angela Topping and Angi Holden, have been acting on her behalf and they will be reading her poems at the launch in November and we feel this will be a fitting tribute to Tonia.

We have both enjoyed the editing process which has been mostly achieved by email as Rebecca lives for most of the year in Germany. We are thrilled that our ‘Dragon Mother’ will be with us for the Manchester launch.

Rachel Davies
(Photo Credit: Bill Hibbert)

How long have you been writing poetry? Tell us about your studies with the MMU and your Masters in Creative Writing.

Rachel Davies: I’ve always enjoyed poetry and wrote it, like most people, at times of emotional stress. I loved writing poetry with the children at school when I was a primary teacher/headteacher and often used poetry in my school assemblies to illustrate points. But I didnt really get into it seriously until I retired from teaching in 2003. I completed a BA in Literature with the OU—I had Bachelor and Masters professional degrees but always wished Id studied literature at college. I took the opportunity at the end of my career; then applied for and was given a place on the MA in Creative Writing at MMU where I worked with a wonderful team of poets: Jeffrey Wainright, Simon Armitage, Jean Sprackland, Michael Symmons Roberts and, of course, Carol Ann Duffy. I was involved in collaborations with RNCM during my MA which has led to my poetry twice being performed with music at the Bridgewater Hall; I graduated MA (Dist) in 2010; but like many university courses Ive done in my life, the end is like a cut umbilicus. I was a late starter in higher education, and I have never learned how to stop. So in 2015 I enrolled for a PhD at MMU, researching the mother-daughter relationship. This is creative/critical work; so as well as writing a substantial body of work of my own—several of which are being published in Some Mothers DoI have also studied poets writing on the subject, most notably Pascale Petit and Selima Hill. I will complete and submit in May next year. I have had several poems published in journals and anthologies, so I am really excited and pleased to be one of the first DragonSpawn’ poets.

Hilary: I’ve always loved poetry. My Dad used to read poems to me when I was little and encouraged me to learn poems by heart. He and my Mum were also very musical and I spent long hours absorbing the words of the songs they’d sing and perform. It’s no surprise then, to be told that my writing has ‘musicality’. I loved to teach poetry writing to primary children and would always have lots of poetry books on my desk to read from in the odd moments waiting for the dinner bell or home time, but I didn’t start to write poetry until 10 years ago when I was recovering from a mental breakdown that had led to me temporarily giving up the teaching job I loved. As part of my recovery I took myself off to the local library where there was a monthly writing group. I had intended to write short stories for my grandchildren but found increasingly that poems came out of my pen. Rachel took me under her wing and off to the Poetry Society Stanza group she runs in Stalybridge. I was hooked, sucked in to the amazing world of poetry that I never knew existed. A turning point for me was joining Jo Bell’s online ’52’ group where she posted a prompt a week for the whole of 2014. I wrote at least one poem every single week. The support of this group encouraged me to apply to Manchester Metropolitan University to do the MA in Creative Writing. My tutors were Michael Symmons Roberts, Adam O’Riordan, Jean Sprackland, Nikolai Duffy and Carol Ann Duffy — how lucky are we to have such talent at Manchester Writing School? I graduated MA (Distinction) earlier this year. During the MA I enjoyed various opportunities such as collaborations with composers from RNCM, having two poems published in MMU’s ‘A New Manchester Alphabet’ anthology and reading alongside Carol Ann Duffy and Liz Lockheed at the Royal Exchange.

Can you share with us a couple of your poems and walk us through the inspiration behind it?

Rachel: I’m going to share a couple of poems from Some Mothers DoA Three Toed Sloth’ is one of my Alternative Motherpoems from the PhD portfolio. I have been thinking about the mirror of the otherthrough which we come to know ourselves: how we know who we are, and how we should behave in social situations, through the reaction of the other’s’ gaze. The first and most influential otheris the mother, or primary care-giver when we are growing up. Simplistically, we become who we are through our interactions with others in our various social situations. Then I got to thinking what sort of a ‘me’ would I have been in social interaction with different others: for instance other women—and men—I knew, or heroines from literature or history. So I have written alternative mother poemsabout Pope Joan and Boudicca; about Alice (in Wonderland) and Alysoun, Wife of Bath. It struck me that I could extend this as a means of getting my own back—against that woman who upset me on the tram, or against people who have bullied my children. The poem Im reproducing here began life at a workshop in Nantwich last year (2017) run by Mark Pajak. I modified it to fit the alternative motherbrief: what kind of a self would I be if a sloth was my mirror.

Alternative Mother #7

A three-toed sloth

see yourself as someone who relinquishes
digits to evolution then patents
what you save in your own slow show

see yourself as acrobat
so your ceiling rose is hearth rug
the laminate floor your roof

see yourself as worshipper of inertia
so downtime is your vocation
daydreaming your life’s career

see yourself as passive philosopher
examining the energy of predator
and arriving at the ergo of leaves

see yourself as someone who could be
a human sin but can’t even be arsed
to crack a smile at the irony of it.

My second poem, also in Some Mothers Dobegan life in 2007. My partner and I went to Australia to follow the winter tour of One Day International cricket. During our stay we drove the Great Ocean Road from Melbourne to Adelaide, a journey of three days. On the second night of the journey, we stayed in a lovely B&B called ‘Ann’s Placein a small village called Robe. Ann was a Dame Edna look-alike, but a very kind and generous hostess. After settling in, her husband suggested we should go into the garden after dark to look at McNaughts comet, which was visible in the southern night sky at the time: there was barely any light pollution in Robe. So we went out, sat on the garden wall looking out over the sea; and we saw nothing! I only expected it to be a light in the sky or something. Anyway, as we were about to give it up as a bad job and go back indoors, there it was, behind us all the time. It was spectacular, like a childs drawing of a comet; like being in the Bayeux Tapestry with that beautifully embroidered Hallé’s comet. The tail trailed behind it for ever, and the comet looked close enough to reach up and touch. I fell in love that night. I started the MA in the September following, and I wrote a long and rambling poem about seeing the comet, which only appears every 40,000 years, and how privileged I felt in being there to see it. In the workshop discussion, Simon Armitage felt I was trying to write a love poem and suggested I tighten it up a bit. Now, I had a down on men at the time, and there was no way I was in the frame of mind to write a love poem; so my Love Letter to McNaughtis a not-a-love-poem’. It’s very tongue in cheek about the break-up of a relationship, the symptoms of which often only seem significant after the event. McNaught, in comparison with that kind of duplicity, is a bit of a perfect lover because he didnt stick around long enough to break my heart.

Love Letter to McNaught
McNaught’s Comet
Southern Australia January 2007

You didn’t take me out or wine and dine me
at Don Gio’s, expect me to laugh at your jokes,
or touch my fingers across the table, or buy me
flowers like ordinary blokes.

We didn’t enjoy a first blistering kiss,
or share a universe-shifting fuck
that makes you wish it could be like this
for ever, knowing you never have that kind of luck.
We didn’t run barefoot on winter beaches
or play hide and seek among autumn trees
or picnic on chicken and soft summer peaches
or laugh at ourselves doing any of these.
We didn’t get married or live as a couple,
and share a life or a name or kids;
so your twice-worn socks couldn’t burst my bubble,
or your morning farts or your pants with skids.

You never once, in post-coital passion
whispered a strange woman’s name in my ear
or came home drenched in your lover’s Poison
or shielded your phone so I couldn’t hear.
You didn’t promise roses and bring me thistles
or when I soared try to tie me to land.
McNaught, you were never a man to commit to—
just a beautifully cosmic one night stand.

Hilary: My two poems are from Some Mothers Do…The first was written in response to Jo Bell’s ‘52’ prompt which was to write about something that almost happened, or could have happened. I remembered a time shortly after the premature birth of my son when I was feeling depressed. We talked about having the ‘baby blues’ back then but now it’s recognised as post-natal depression. It’s horrid and I was fortunate that I wasn’t affected badly, or for very long, but on the morning I refer to in the poem a fleeting thought did cross my mind before I took a deep breath, waited until the road was clear and crossed over to the greengrocer’s shop. When I wrote the poem it truly was ‘the first time I’d spoken about that time’ and I read it to my family before I posted it online. It is the first of my poems to have been published.

On Bridge Street

I’ll tell you this —
in hospital I’d turned into
a lioness, fought to get him
back from Special Care.
My tiny boy and I
came home.

I sank.
Back then the ‘Baby Blues’
were cover for the hopeless days
the waking nights
the apathy, the dried-up milk
the guilt.
I travelled there.

And that’s how I found myself
at pavement’s edge considering
lorries, buses on that main road.
I was calm and never thought
of anybody else.

That day on Bridge Street
I was wearing my blue
raincoat so no-one saw
my baby boy
strapped to my chest.

I haven’t spoken of that time
until today.

My second poem is quite a contrast! I wrote it in response to a remark made by Boris Johnson during the 2012 Olympic Games and it imagines a mature couple reflecting on their sex life. It was great fun to write!

Sex as an Olympic Sport

It’s like synchronised diving —
there are different classifications
so you’re never too far out of your depth.

Couples who’ve trained for it
get to relax in the hot tub after it’s over
then mop themselves down with a little shammy.

Those ice dancers spin to an appropriate tempo,
try to last for just 4-minutes
and aim for a set of perfect 6s.

They channel Torvill and Dean,
(their costumes less revealing than they first appear)
and keep each other no more than two arm-lengths apart,

whereas we, our heady days behind us,
are all about the relay team that drops the baton,
the shot putter who oversteps the mark.

We’ve lost our confidence on a four-inch beam
and do not glisten like wet otters**
who play beach volleyball.

We are not clean. I’m all HRT
and you’re all V’d when we can be bothered.
We’re a failed drugs test. No medals this time around.

**Boris Johnson on the beach volleyball:
“There are semi-naked women playing beach volleyball in the middle of the Horse Guards Parade immortalised by Canaletto. They are glistening like wet otters and the water is splashing off the brims of the spectators’ sou’westers.”

Who inspires you?

Carol Ann Duffy who was our workshop tutor on the MA course. She is so generous to students with her time and advice, but she takes no prisoners when it comes to what makes a good poem! Selima Hill is one of Rachel’s poetry heroes. Ann & Peter Sansom who run the brilliant Poetry Business in Sheffield. Simon Armitage, who taught Rachel at MMU — we bumped into him once when we were in St Ives on a writing residential run by Kim Moore who works tirelessly for poetry. Liz Berry who writes with such tenderness and authenticity, Alice Oswald, Pascale Petit, Sharon Olds, Fiona Benson…we could go on and on. Rachel is on the committee of Poets and Players in Manchester. They offer excellent workshops with the fantastic poets who read at the Whitworth Art Gallery. We also admire emerging poets like our friends Linda Goulden and Mark Pajak. We both have so many poetry books and pamphlets that we need more shelves!

What are you reading at the moment?

Rachel: Simone de Beauvoir’s Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter which isnt poetry, but written in very poetic language.

Hilary: Carol Ann Duffy’s new collection, Sincerity; The Forward Book of Poetry 2019; Liz Berry’s The Republic of Motherhood and I have just read Maggie O’Farrell’s memoir, I am, I am, I am.

Have you any advice for budding poets?

Read, read, read poetry! Go to workshops, talk about poetry, share your poetry, go to readings, listen to poetry on the radio, watch it on YouTube. Join a Poetry Society Stanza group — you don’t have to be a Poetry Society member to join a Stanza, and you can find your nearest group on their website. Seek out the community of poets because, on the whole, they are wonderful people whose help and advice will be invaluable. And don’t forget to read lots of poetry!

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

Rachel: Finish my PhD! I’m almost at the end now. Next, I’d like to publish a pamphlet or collection of my own. I’d also love to have poem published in the North. I’ve had reviews in there, but not a poem.

Hilary: Resist the urge to start a PhD! Like Rachel, my immediate ambition is to have a pamphlet or collection published.

In Memoriam
Tonia Bevins (1953-2018)
(Photo credit: Suzanne Iuppa)

Angela Topping: Tonia was born in Blackpool, Lancashire. She was educated at Cheltenham Ladies College where the poet U. A. Fanthorpe was her English teacher. She graduated from the University of Manchester with a degree in English & American Literature. She lived in Cheshire since her mid-twenties. After working for the BBC for many years, where she met her late husband Barry Bevins, a BBC producer, she became an ESOL teacher in Manchester and Liverpool. She was very involved in the local poetry scene, being a member of the Poetry Society Stanza, Blaze, and was a founder member of Vale Royal Writers Group – for whom Tonia organised Wordfests at The Blue Cap, Sandiway. She was a regular performer at Dead Good Poets Society’s open mic nights in Liverpool. Some of her poems and pieces of flash fiction have appeared in magazines and anthologies. Tonia was very excited about her first publication of a whole set of poems, but unfortunately did not live to see it completed. Her consolations in life, apart from her passion for poetry, were her cats and her garden. She is greatly missed by all who knew her, well known for her modesty, generosity and reserved nature, her kindness and quiet grace. Hopefully her poems will live on to enchant us.

Tonia was always keen to improve her poetry and went to evening classes at Sir John Deane’s college, later becoming a regular attender at Gladys Mary Coles courses in at Liverpool John Moore’s. Gladys Mary did a lot to build up her confidence.
She admired Paul Farley’s work in particular. She also had a fondness for Helen Tookey’s poetry.  Brian Wake is another Liverpool poet whose work she found pleasure in.
She would have told budding poets to immerse themselves in poetry and to read as much a possible, as she did herself. She was a regular attender at poetry readings, and believed in the power of hearing poetry as well as reading it.

I would have loved to have seen her bring out a full collection, which this showcase would have led to, but sadly she is no longer with us to make those plans.

Before I Remembered

On the third day he began his search,
not hunting out but seeking, pacing through the house,
howling like something cast out or dispossessed;
then a purposeful scouring of dark corners,
the spaces behind closed curtains,
clawing open cupboard doors,
scratching at boxes stowed under the stairs,
staring up at the high trap to the loft,
sniffing at the air for the very scent of you.

And I, forgetting,
laid your place at table, cooked too much food
while making a mental note to tell you
about this and that – trivial things.

He wouldn’t sleep on my shoulder.
For weeks there was no consoling him.
But with time your Vladimir became mine
in the changed order of the world.

Sometimes I open your wardrobe door,
free the hostage smells of leather and cologne,
conjure you there in the silent room,
the ridges in nails, arch of ribcage, set of jaw.
For a moment, I can hear
the singular timbre and tone of you,
trace every hair, fleck and freckle of you,
touch the flesh, blood and bones of you.

Angela Topping:
‘Before I Remembered’, Tonia took it very hard when her husband, Barry, died. This poem is a very personal and moving elegy for him.

Angi Holden:
In ‘Before I Remembered’ Tonia makes reference to Vladimir, Barry’s cat who ‘with time’ became her cat. Tonia’s cats were very important to her (another makes an appearance in the skin-chilling Miss Thomas!) and the retiring collection at her funeral was in aid of Cats Protection. As Angela says, it’s a loving elegy which uses the cat’s inability to process his master’s departure to frame her own loss. I love it for the sensory detail which recreates Barry’s presence – the smell and feel of him, his touch, the timbre and tone of his voice – and the way it captures that millisecond when she forgot the enormity of his absence.

At Bamburgh

It’s late September, a full month before we used to go
the two of us, without my father, to spend half-term
huddled among the dunes, shivering in the blast
that roars off the Urals, barrells across the North Sea.
We can’t come all this way and have you not swim.
Don’t be such a baby. Get in!

I’d bob up and and down in shock then run back,
blue-fleshed, numb, gasping into the embrace of the towel
held up in her outstretched arms, gulp hot, sweet tea from the flask.
None of this has made me a more resolute person.

I find myself here again but high above the shore
this wild, ragged afternoon – the tiny, determined walkers far below.
Tankers, container vessels slide past my friend’s window.
Inner Farne hangs on the horizon, in and out of sheeting rain.

When I look out my nearest neighbours are in Denmark
he says. But I think of the grey seals and seabirds, remember
my mother, lamed for life yet game to clamber
down the iron rungs set into Seahouses’ harbour wall,
her faith in our skipper’s grasp as she leapt the gap
to the small boat rising and falling on the swell.

I know her mother had had polio when she was younger, hence talking about her hardiness in climbing down the iron ladder. There are two time frames in the poem: Tonia is visiting the area with a friend, and remembers back to when her mother would take her there for an autumn holiday, and her mother making her swim in the sea, even though it was cold.

Tonia’s mother was a doctor (GP, I think) hence the refs to her graduation in her poem O’Connell St and the neighbour calling for help with his child’s delivery in Blood Moon. No mean achievement to qualify, especially given her disability – I imagine she was a strong woman. I think Tonia wanted to capture that strength of character in Bamburgh, her mother’s determination not to be limited by being ‘lamed for life’ and to step out despite the ‘rise and swell’ of the future.

Hilary Robinson on Twitter

Rachel Davies on Twitter

Angela Topping on Twitter

Angi Holden on Twitter

Inky Interview Exclusive: Matt Abbott on his Two Little Ducks Tour: by Claire Faulkner

Matt, you’re taking your show Two Little Ducks on tour around the UK.  Are you looking forward to it?

Absolutely, yeah – I’d say it’s by far my biggest achievement in my poetry career to date, and even though it’s now less than a fortnight away, I still can’t quite believe that it’s happening. Obviously on one level I’m anxious about ticket sales (22 dates is a lot of dates to sell!), but I know how hard I’ve worked to get to this stage.

I’m really proud of the show and am immensely excited to be sharing it around the UK. Most of the venues on the tour are completely new to me, which is even more exciting.

What can we expect from the show?

In terms of the structure, it’s a sequence of 22 poems. But it’s very much presented as a standalone theatre show, so rather than “poem, clap, chat, poem, clap, chat”, it exists as one piece. Content wise, there are three core strands.

Firstly, I’m exploring the core reasons behind working-class support for Brexit. I grew up in a city that voted 66% Leave and find a lot of the sweeping preconceptions about Leave voters unfair (although I’m very clear to call out racism, obviously).

Secondly, I’m recounting my experiences volunteering at the Calais Jungle refugee camp, which I did either side of the referendum. What we see in the mainstream media is a gross misrepresentation and in my eyes a real disgrace, considering the nature of the humanitarian crisis on our doorstep.

Finally, I use kitchen-sink realism to tell the fictionalised story of a character called Maria. I allow her strand to speak for itself.

How did the idea develop?

Well, I have to be completely honest with you. I did a Nationwide advert back in September 2016, for which I was paid a large sum up front. I immediately decided that I wanted to use the opportunity to write a show and take it up to Edinburgh for a full run. Obviously this was only a few months after the Brexit vote, and only a month after I’d most recently been to Calais. So in many ways, circumstance had given me the ingredients for the show before I’d even decided to write it – which in my opinion always leads to the strongest content.

I’d been writing the character of Maria for years, in various strands (from songs in my band Skint & Demoralised to failed attempts at screenplays and novels, and in poems since 2013). Initially I was only focusing on Brexit and Calais, with the title ‘Two Little Ducks’ in my mind, but as the show developed, I realised how important Maria’s role was in sewing it all together.

The version which I took to Edinburgh last year was effectively a very polished scratch based on the initial premise. I began to tweak and develop it over the winter, based on what I learnt at the Fringe, and then when I was offered a publishing deal by Verve, it gave me the perfect time-frame to undergo a brutal rewriting process and produce the final version.

In many ways I’m frustrated that so many people have seen a version of ‘Two Little Ducks’ which I consider to be vastly inferior to the final show. But I recognise that it was all part of the process, and when I come to write my second show, I’ll know to do things differently. Also, the tour and the book represent the show’s pinnacle and obviously the book remains forever, so that’s the main thing.

I should also quickly explain the title. ‘Two Little Ducks’ is an old bingo call (slang for number 22). For me, bingo is one of the things that epitomises working-class culture, a culture that I grew up in, which led me to write the Brexit content. That’s married with the fact that there are 22 miles between Calais and Dover – hence the show’s title. And Maria’s strand begins on her 22nd birthday; 22 being the age in which all youthful landmarks/targets disappear, and you’re left to figure out adulthood entirely on your own, with nothing on the horizon but your own doings.

What sort of feedback have you received?

The show received two 5* reviews at Edinburgh Fringe, one of which was in The New European, which is a newspaper that I hold in very high regard. In general the feedback has been great, but I’ve only performed the final version once (at the Roundhouse’s Last Word Festival in June), so essentially, I’m partially discounting all feedback until the tour starts!

You’re running free poetry workshops alongside the tour.  What can you tell us about these? 

I’ve always written poetry which can be accessed and enjoyed by people who might not ordinarily engage with poetry. I’m really passionate about engaging more people with poetry in general, but in a way that directly contradicts their perceptions of it being a stuffy, elitist, academic and outdated art from. I didn’t go to university and have no formal qualifications when it comes to poetry, so I like to think that I can help people to bridge the gap and discover a new passion. I can’t even begin to imagine my life if I hadn’t started writing poetry at 17.

So the workshops are a chance for writers and abilities of all ages to have their say. It’s not competitive or elitist in the slightest, and I’ll give participants the opportunity to publish their work in an online document, which will grow as the tour navigates the UK.

The tour also coincides with the release of your first collection.  Congratulations. You must be thrilled. Where can we order a copy from?

After 12 years of writing and performing, I’m absolutely over the moon. I still can’t quite get my head around it, and will be eternally grateful to Verve for publishing me. You can order the book via my record label’s online shop here for £10. You can also purchase a studio recording of the poems in the show for £5 (download only), or both together for £12.


Inky Interview Exclusive: Rosie Wilby: Award Winning Comedian & Author

Your book Is Monogamy Dead? has made it onto the long list for the Polari First Book Prize, which recognises the best LGBTQ débuts published this year. Congratulations! Can you tell us about it? Have you a short extract to share with us? Where can we get a copy?

Thanks. It’s based on my comedy show of the same name which I took to Edinburgh a few years ago. However, I realised that I had lifted the lid on a very complex topic indeed. There was way more to say than I had the chance to in a fifty-minute stage show. So I began writing more serious articles exploring the real science behind why humans struggle with long term fidelity, then a TEDx talk and a Radio 4 Four Thought piece. Eventually, I managed to get a literary agent and a publisher. Although the book includes interviews with friends of all genders and sexual orientations, it is written very much from the perspective of a gay woman. I wouldn’t define it solely as an LGBTQ book, but that’s certainly a core part of my audience. I was delighted to feature on the Polari list as it also included Sally Rooney and a few other authors I really like. The book is available in all good bookshops (including fabulous indies Gays The Word, Housmans, Bookseller Crow, News From Nowhere, Lighthouse and Five Leaves) or can be ordered via Waterstones, Amazon et al. There’s an extract from the opening chapters available at Boundless.

You have written for many websites and newspapers including The Independent, The Guardian, New Statesman, The Sunday Times, Diva and more. What is your background in literature? Where/when did it all start?

It started when I moved to London in the mid-1990s straight after my degree. I threw myself into the music scene, joined bands and started reviewing gigs for some local London newspapers. Time Out’s then music editor Laura Lee Davies gave me a chance to start working for the magazine after I wrote a letter to her. That was back in the days when we were just before the Internet becoming a thing and Time Out was an essential part of getting around London.

You are also a stand up comedian, having appeared on multiple Radio 4 shows and at major festivals. What is your secret to a good comedy performance? What is it, do you think, that makes people laugh? The truth?

Yes I think there’s often an element of a ‘recognition factor’ and a sense of ‘oh yes, I do that!’, but it’s also very subjective. One audience might love you, and another hate you.

What is it like to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe?

Edinburgh Fringe is hard, hard work. Most comedians who go up are producing and marketing their own shows as well as performing every day. I’ve had some really fun experiences in years gone by. But sadly the Fringe has now become too corporate and the indie grassroots artists have been priced out of going.

Tell us about The Break Up Monologues.

Thanks for asking. The Breakup Monologues is a podcast that I created last year. It was inspired by the response I had to my solo show The Conscious Uncoupling, the final part of a trilogy about love and relationships that also included The Science Of Sex and the original version of Is Monogamy Dead? Lots of performer friends and audience members started telling me their own breakup stories and I decided that it might be worth opening up a space for a conversation about heartbreak and getting together and looking back and laughing at our actions as a therapeutic bit of fun and a way of feeling less alone. The full first series of ten episodes is available now to download for free at iTunes, acast, Spotify, tunein radio and all good podcast platforms. We also have two live recordings coming up on 5 October and 9 November at very swish London venue Kings Place. You can book for those at Kingsplace

What’s next for you?

I’m performing a funny talk about the book at festivals throughout the Autumn, including Oxford Science and Ideas festival, Cambridge Literary Festival and more. I’m also doing standup gigs in Berlin for the first time – at an English-language comedy night thank goodness! I’m seeking a commission, sponsor or funding for a second series of The Breakup Monologues and I’m gathering ideas for a book about breakups that will be a loose companion to the podcast. I haven’t started pitching that one just yet. It will be similar in style to Is Monogamy Dead? in that it’ll be immersive, narrative nonfiction where my scientific discoveries, interviews and ideas are embedded within my own personal journey.

Rosie’s Website

Rosie’s Blog

Inky Interview Special: Dr Fabrice Poussin

Fabrice Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University. Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in Kestrel, Symposium, The Chimes, and dozens of other magazines. His photography has been published in The Front Porch Review, the San Pedro River Review and more than 250 other publications.

Tell us about your journey towards literature. What inspired you to write?

For some odd reason writing always come naturally to me. I was noted for the quality of my words when I was in middle school, consistently received the highest marks in every class throughout high-school as well. When I was 16 I was quite bored with school and began to write a novel. It was published then in a small press in Europe. I proceeded to write a few more. Some were slated for publications, others not. I then continued my studies in college and found myself studying literature. I wrote on and off for a while, but three years ago I had a number of poems and a friend suggested that I send them out to see. It has been great ride since, and I continue to work on my writing focusing on poetry.

Tell us about The Chimes.

The Chimes is the Arts and Literature magazine at the Shorter University where I teach. I have been working with the students in the group for four years. My role, and my heart, is in guiding them through the process, and to help them in any way I can. But I do not ultimately tell them what should or should not be published. We work together and produce a print copy here in my little office on my personal equipment. It is a blast.

You are also a photographer. Tell us more.

Photography is something I grew into at the same time as I did into writing. I have done a little but of everything, but again, ultimately it is not about a job, or making ends meet, it is about expression. Photography is another language. Barthes wrote about it beautifully in his book Camera Lucida. The medium must connect, almost grab the viewer in the stomach and bring him/her closer. I travel to photograph everything. As for poetry, it is a matter of when, not so much what? It is also a matter of how and what detail I choose, not necessarily the whole picture. I am more interested in precisionist and the vastness of any landscape, the opening of a horizon line spreading through time and space.

Can you share with us a couple of your poems and the inspiration behind them?

To the grail

It is a symphony of feet in the midst of fireworks and lights;
they come, they go, hesitate, return, turn around, and back;
insane in their indecision, shoes of sports, and pumps of circumstance,
molding unruly ankles, protecting their wiggly toes.

And what do they want these calves, unable to take a moment’s
rest. Wrapped up in silk, enveloped in cotton, even boldly plain?
A door opens, another closes, and again the silly melody;
voices contract, voices retract, while many convey.

A mad world constrained, as in an alley where elbows are at war.
He and she, past, new, with the little one often or a friend,
Maybe. Hustle, bustle, rustle, wrestle also on this hectic morn’;
joy, smiles, laughter, and the flow of plastic into the register.

The deed is done; life begins anew there, elsewhere,
with the sweet aroma teasing the noble nostrils of all lovers;
hands on the wheel of destiny, fortune is theirs,
now that they have earned and secured the holy grail.

To the Grail is a playful one. I wrote it while I was sitting at a coffee shop. I would spend every hour there on one cup of coffee, observing in the delight of others, their rush, their smiles, and the aroma. It was fun to watch their feet as they came and went, moving from one station to another, ordering, collecting, sweetening, sitting down, opening that laptop or arguing about contemporary politics.

Fluttering with your butterflies

The room is vast and empty,
with only she facing the tall glass;
standing she teases her hair once more;
peace seems to surround her.

Still then, she wonders as she dives
into her own soul, tingling inside;
her soft hand touching the womb;
a slight sigh, a smile and a memory.

In the corner, lost in this immensity
of barren walls, a window so far,
a door unattainable; in the distance
solidity fades, colours vanish into oblivion.

Tall, thin, in a light gown of stars and fairy dust,
apparition, a breeze heaves the adored breast,
her hair plays hide and seek behind her lobes,
tickles the shoulders; she tilts her head.

Another brush stroke, the lids wink in the mirror,
she knows the presence is near, tingles again,
her eyes close, the arms press against her sides;
the breath is of pleasure, it is of life, hers, simply.

Fluttering with your butterflies is a love poem, and it includes hints of Quantum Physics (the butterfly effect of course!) She is the muse, the one I want to tease, touch, and move so she will smile because she knows the universe is in love with her.

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

Would you believe “love?” Aloneness, and the search for absolute Truth. I suppose the latter is very much connected to the theme of “love.” I care about the universe. Corny? cliche? Not sure! We read quite a lot of pointless literature out there. It is rather easy to line up a few words and call it writing. But what does it really mean? Is it vulnerable, accessible? Does the author let you in and claim: “I am here for the taking; hurt me if you have to, but read me, pull me apart, but most all walk away with something personal!’ That is what I need to do, what I hope many would like to do as well. DO I want to be loved through my words? No! Not at all! Known? Yes! Played with? Why not! Nurtured? By all means, so I can grow a thousand miles away in the hearts and souls of complete strangers!

What advice would you give to new poets? Any tips?

Read everything you can. Write as much as you can. Don’t let anyone tell you how to write. Don’t let anyone tell you your work is bad. Don’t let rejection affect you at all. Keep writing to enjoy, to the point where you are addicted to writing (and nothing else!) You will discover so much about yourself, you will become a walking gift to all. Having read this, please do go and write a few lines. Write everywhere, all the time. Get up in the middle of the night if an idea hits you in your sleep. Don’t even let it get away.

Who inspires you and why?

Would it be silly to state that “life” inspires me? In fact it is not so much what, but when? Everything inspires me; what matters is the moment the “inspiration” comes. It could be from a feeling of slight anger, or joy, or a stick on the windshield of my car. The universe is a great question, and I explore it continually. It would be a search for absolute truth. I had this discussion a few days ago with another poet and friend. I know I have a responsibility to the world to write and I must make every effort to do so as often as possible, so readers can be connected to life at a deeper level (hopefully?). I suppose I have a muse, also. A muse need not be a “she,” but in this case, she is. The muse is a woman, or object we cannot touch, only reach out to in the hope of something making contact. Should we touch, the magic would end. I believe Baudelaire would agree.

Tell us about one of the best days of your life.

I don’t have any idea when this was. I have had many great days. But the one I can remember is based on one of self-discovery, and it goes something like this: “The day I became happy is the day I realized I knew nothing!” Things have been great since. I am a sponge to everything around me, for I know I have everything to learn, everyday. I will thus never grow up at all. I hope more people feel this way.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am reading the classics. My latest was Sappho. I know, it is only fragments, but it is so interesting to discover the words of a woman who lived 2,500 years ago, but tells of passions we all carry with us today, and possibly always have. Those are a constant. War or peace are not.

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

More writing, more photography and helping, perhaps even inspire others to do what I do, be better, and enjoy it, not for fame or money, simply for the joy of sharing, making oneself vulnerable to the world, the universe. I enjoy reading about Quantum Physics, and I find that we are all interconnected with everything to infinity. There lies the truth, and that is why I explore what I hope may be the most mysterious realms of our so called realities.

Poetry Drawer: Jagged Little World by Fabrice Poussin

Poetry Drawer: Holding Time In Their Arms by Fabrice Poussin

Inky Interview Exclusive: Matt Abbott from Nymphs and Thugs: with Claire Faulkner

For people not familiar with the label, how would you describe it?

At the very base of things, we’re a spoken word record label that produces albums and associated merchandise; which has so far included t-shirts, zines, tote bags, prints and pin badges. However, we much prefer to only release one or two albums per year, and to work closely with our artists on an ongoing basis – helping them to promote their work, producing videos, producing events and tours, etc.

We also look to promote and support the spoken word scene in general. Our Twitter  account acts as a spoken word news feed – every day we’re sharing UK spoken word events as well as global spoken word articles and content. If we can act as a gateway for people becoming committed poetry fans, or if we can introduce existing fans to new poets, events etc. then we’ll have done our job. We’re passionate about the growth of spoken word as an anti-establishment and grassroots movement, and we want to champion renegade and dynamic poets. Our Instagram account is also like an ongoing “online open mic”, and we welcome submissions of poetry excerpts, which we feature on our feed.

Since late 2016, we’ve been running ‘LIVEwire’ events. This has so far extended to a quarterly night in Leeds, as well as regular festival slots and fairly regular events in London. These events predominantly promote female poets as well as poets of colour and poets from the LGBTQ+ community. Overall, we’re about accessible and engaging poetry which might be seen as “alternative” by the run-of-the-mill poetry elite.

How did it start?

I used to front a musical act called Skint & Demoralised, and from 2011-2013 we were signed to an indie label called Heist Or Hit Records. I asked them if they’d be up for releasing a spoken word album of mine to support a short run at Edinburgh Fringe in 2015, and from the initial meeting, we agreed that I’d create a new spoken word record label as an imprint on Heist Or Hit. I sat on it for a couple of months, until I saw a Facebook post from Louise Fazackerley, stating that she had two recorded albums and didn’t know what to do with them. After a quick phone call, Nymphs & Thugs was properly born.

When you’re working with a performer, how do you decide which poems will be recorded?

In general I like to leave it entirely to the performer, because it’s their work and I know how important it is to have creative control. Usually we’ll discuss the general approach – so for example it might be entirely new material, or a mixture, or a combination of live and studio recordings. So I’ll help them to steer it in the right direction and seal an “identity” for the release. But when it comes to the finer details, unless they ask me for my opinion, I like to leave them to it.

What sort of feedback have you had?

Most people are generally amazed that a spoken word record label actually exists! There’s nobody doing what we do on the UK scene and maybe not even elsewhere. I think the fact that we clearly put so much time and effort to promote what other people are doing and support the scene overall is recognised and respected by people, and because we only have a small number of releases and we take time on them, I like to think that they look strong and have more of an impact.

The release of  Salena Godden‘s ‘LIVEwire’ certainly increased our reputation; initially due to the fact that Salena is an iconic figure on the spoken word scene, and then also because it was shortlisted for The Poetry Society’s prestigious Ted Hughes Award. I’ve always been very humbled by praise that we’ve received by poets who I greatly admire, and I like to think that we have our own little corner on the UK scene at least. We’re small and we’re pretty limited, but we’re DIY and we really care, and I think people respond well to that.

Are the artists pleased with the results?

I hope so! I know how incredible it feels to hold something physical in your hand that has your poetry on it, and I hope that all of the artists feel the same. As well as the physical releases, it’s just as much about the continued support when it comes to promotion and events as well – I’d hate to just produce physical merchandise and then leave the artists to sell it on their own. We have an ongoing relationship, and I hope that they enjoy being on the label as much as I enjoy having them.

Who are the artists on the label?

I mentioned Louise Fazackerley earlier. She’s an incredible writer and performer from Wigan, and her ‘Love Is A Battlefield’ album was the result of a New Voices commission through BBC Radio 3’s The Verb. I’d seen Louise perform before forming N&T and was blown away by her, so when the opportunity came to effectively launch N&T with Louise’s releases, I was over the moon.

I’d been friends with Toria Garbutt for a year or so before forming the label, and always knew that we’d work on something at some stage. Shortly after we released ‘Hot Plastic Moon’, Toria was invited to support her poetry idol Dr John Cooper Clarke on tour – which she’s still doing – so it’s been a fantastic journey so far. Toria is such a rare voice on the UK scene and a breathtaking performer, and the more people that discover her work, the better.

After being on a bill with Salena Godden in December 2015, I knew that I really wanted to work with her. I’ve always been in awe of Salena – it’s no mistake that she was described as a “tour de force” by Lemm Sissay – and to be honest I felt nervous about approaching her to do an album with N&T. But as soon as we met to discuss it (in a pub in Camden), we knew that it was going to work. ‘LIVEwire’ took the label from regional recognition in the North to national and even to some extent international recognition.

Earlier this year, we co-released an album from Kevin P. Gilday & The Glasgow Cross. I’d admired Kevin for a while, so when he approached me about the album, it was a no-brainer. One of the things that I want to do with N&T is bridge geographical divides, and whilst London/the North is obvious, there’s also a significant divide between the thriving Edinburgh/Glasgow scenes and England. So I’m thrilled to be working with one of my favourite Glaswegian poets, and on an album which doesn’t sound like anything else on the label.

I have also released my own material through N&T, and like to think that I bring something to the table from an outsider’s perspective, but I can’t really speak about myself in that sense…!

One reason I love to attend spoken word events, is that I enjoy seeing and hearing poets perform their own work. I like hearing accents in poetry. Do you think its important to record pieces of work which were primarily written to be performed instead of printing them?

I don’t necessarily want to add fuel to the “page versus stage” fire, because I think that creating a polarised divide between the two is really counter-productive. But I certainly know that I was listening to poets (as well as lyricists) for many years before I’d started reading poetry, and even now I’m much more likely to buy someone’s book once I’ve heard or seen them perform. The way I see it is, an audio release will never compete with a book or be seen as a replacement; I just want it to be an option, and I think there’s a gap in the market. Too many YouTube videos are poor quality (i.e. recorded on a phone at a gig), and uploads don’t necessarily represent an artist’s best work (they’re often years old), so by producing a high-quality audio release, you’re directing people to an aural entry point into your poetry.

Do you have a favourite piece of performance from Nymphs and Thugs, which you can recommend to our readers? (Mine is Bird St by Louise Fazackerley.)

Ah, I couldn’t possibly choose I’m afraid! I love them all in different ways…

Where can we buy the albums from?

They’re all available from If you purchase a CD, you automatically receive a free high-quality download (WAV as opposed to compressed MP3), or you can choose to do a straight download purchase. Most of the releases are also available from major providers, but it’s much much better to buy direct with indie publishers, so I beg you to buy from our Bandcamp if you are looking to purchase something from the N&T catalogue!

What’s next for Nymphs and Thugs? How can we find out more?

Well, I don’t want to give too much away. But I’m happy to say that we’re doing a Salena Godden live EP pretty soon, plus a studio recording of my ‘Two Little Ducks’ show which will be available to purchase as a digital download in a special bundle with the accompanying collection. In terms of next year, we have two major releases up our sleeves – one of which is Transatlantic – but I’m afraid that I can’t reveal specific details at this stage!

If you want to stay up-to-date, the best bet is to follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and like us on Facebook. We also have a YouTube channel which you can subscribe to, and regularly update the news page on our official website.