Inky Interview Exclusive: Award Winning Poet Sara Hirsch at The Storyhouse, Chester: with Claire Faulkner

I often find poetry at its most magical when I least expect it. So when I stumbled into The Storyhouse in Chester one rainy afternoon, looked up at the balcony and saw in child’s handwriting ‘this poem is a map made of lines. Just lines. Why don’t you take one and see where it leads you’. I was immediately hooked and spent the next hour walking around the building reading the poetry installations which emerged from the WayWord festival.

The poems are written by children from three local schools; Tushingham-with-Gringley C of E Primary School, J.H. Godwin Primary School, and Queen’s Park High School. The pupils took part in workshops with award winning poet Sara Hirsch, and together they created poems about identity, libraries, history, and stories.

The verses are all surprising, inspirational and delightful to read.

‘I Come From…’ opens with the lines:

I come from reading at the dead of night

as quietly as a fingertip turning a page.

Each poem appears on the walls in the child’s own handwriting, and this adds an extra impact when viewing the installation.

In ‘This Library…’ The Storyhouse is described as:

a tornado

sucking you into an adventure

it is another dimension

When trying to answer the question in the poem ‘What is History?’, the children have written:

It is a complex question waiting to be asked

It is a record player that has stopped working

A guitar that has been played a little too much.

And further on in the poem, history is described as:

a locked door

a code waiting to be cracked

it is lonely

a broken time machine

I enjoyed the experience of finding the poems, and took delight from the positive input that the children must have had in the writing and creative process. I wanted to know more about the installation, so I contacted Sara for more information.

What was your involvement in the WayWord festival?

I worked with local primary school children in January to create the poems for the walls of the Storehouse, to be unveiled during the WayWord festival. I then returned during the festival itself to perform a family show and lead a workshop for the 16-25 youth theatre group, so I got to see the finished poetry murals for myself. They look fabulous and I was so proud to see the children’s poetry displayed in such a unique way around the building.

How did the children react to the poetry workshops?

They really loved them! I never know in advance what the reaction will be and how the children will take to me and my workshops. But these ones were particularly memorable, perhaps because we were working towards an end goal. The fact that they knew their words might make it onto the walls of this amazing building really got them excited and it created a brilliant atmosphere in all 3 schools I visited. I usually really like the fact that my workshops aren’t leading up to anything in particular, as it takes the pressure off the kids to create something ‘finished’. But this was really different and really gave the kids a sense of pride in their work, because it was being valued by a venue that they love and respect.

Were you surprised by their reaction?

I was surprised with how they stepped up to the challenge and worked together to produce something really grown up and professional. I usually set no expectations on a workshop so that the children are free to explore their ideas and imagination. So the fact that they were so focussed on creating something they would be proud to show off to the public was really amazing.

Seeing the verse displayed in the children’s own handwriting is extremely effective. How did this idea develop?

Isn’t it! I really can’t claim the credit for this idea. It was thought up by the Storyhouse and the designer (Matt Lewis) and I just did what I was told! However, it was a big part of the workshops – to get the kids to write up their lines in their own handwriting and it was really fun to be a part of it. My rule in all my workshops is to be as messy as possible (scribble things out, say whatever comes into your head etc.) and so giving them permission to carry this idea on for the final product was really liberating. I love that there are spelling mistakes in the poems. It makes them feel really authentic.

Do you think it’s important to encourage children to write poetry?

Of course! Regardless of the fact that it is fun, educational and creative – giving young people the chance to express themselves in different ways is so important for emotional wellbeing and development. Creativity is being sucked from the curriculum, which is an absolute travesty and so the more poets, authors, artists and creatives we can get visiting schools, and giving kids an alternative to the academic standards they are constantly measured against, the better.

Can you share with us what other projects you’re currently working on?

I am currently setting up a spoken word production company in New Zealand called Motif Poetry with Kiwi poet/producer Ben Fagan. I will be heading up the education side of it and hopefully it will eventually be an international venture to connect poetry scenes in the UK and down under. I am also running a lot of international workshops at the moment (I will have performed in 7 countries before the end of March so far this year!) and am working on my third poetry collection which explores feminism and architecture. So lots going on…but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Image credits: Mark Carline

Inky Interview Special: Colin Dardis: with Claire Faulkner

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

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

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

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

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

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

What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Colin’s Website

Colin on Twitter


PoetryNI on Twitter

Geraldine O’Kane on Twitter

Inky Interview Special: Dorli Nauta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Auschwitz, 2nd November ‘43

Dear All,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Inky Interview Exclusive: Christopher Gilmore

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

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

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

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

  2. Accept every challenge and adventure and seek more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Mental ill-health mars 1 in 5

One-third kids try not to survive

1 in 10 self-harms

Make schools factory farms

Abattoirs the insane survive?


Prevention much cheaper than cure

Free Schools with promised allure

Caged in good grammar

Tests under the hammer

Free speech is soon rendered impure


More freed kids’ expressions allowed

Less I-depression in each crowd

With few playmates’ skills

Fierce mental stress kills

Oppressed kids by curricula cowed


At the front in rows of desks like tanks

Uniformed kids lined up in straight ranks

Self-esteemed zeroes

See themselves heroes

Face lethal bullets their brain firing blanks


Forget mindfulness with much stress

It’s mindlessness that can best bless

One’s spirit in flow

Our Soul’s life will grow

When all our earth’s lessons caress!


Have you ever been on a literary pilgrimage?

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

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

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

Unlike an apple one a day

I keep two limericks in play

A twice daily stretch

Ideas Muses fetch

On world media wing their way

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

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

Who inspires you?

No one person but the universe at large.

What are you reading at the moment?

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

What advice would you give to your younger self?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Any future plans?

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

Christopher’s Website


Inky Interview: Author Gill Thompson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In literature, who inspires you and why?

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

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

What is your creative space like?

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

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

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

What are you reading at the moment?

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

Any future plans?

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

Gill’s website

Inky Interview Special: Performance Poet Jason N Smith

Affinity with words has been part of me since trying to decipher little card cut words given by a teacher; but my journey into poetry began in 2002 when something changed the course of my life as surely as a strong tiller on a lightweight boat, or piece of driftwood caught in a strong current.

Before that I was as a sycamore seed spiralling every which way in winds. What happened caused my ship to sail with purpose and a seed to become grounded and begin a process of growth, along with an overpowering desire to share. I had to write it down, so started my education to learn to imbue words with essence.

At that time a teacher asked me to enter the annual Koestler Awards. I believed I could never win anything; however, months later I received a commendation.

I continued reading and writing veraciously trying to express. I studied the Writers’ Yearbook and began entering competitions. I wrote plays, stories, and, of course, poetry.

Over the years I grew in wielding words and advanced to writing poetry for life occasions such as memorials, love, weddings, birthdays, and therapy for myself and others. Once taken on board words have dramatic outcomes.

Over the years I recited poetry and it sounded OK, but I did not have confidence. To gain confidence I had to step beyond my comfort zone, and it was terrifying at first, being laid bare; however, each moment beyond myself was growth.

Now I perform poetry to share experience, feeling, insight, laughter, confidence, understanding, healing, solace, to highlight and show that despite tendencies to look at differences, underneath we are all much the same.

I compose and perform poetry as it is challenging and enjoyable.

My journey into performance poetry began in 2015 when being birthed out of a womb of darkness with a heart beating didactic rhythms drummed into conundrums under thick skin, while in a glum prison cell, until overcoming and no longer succumbing to perpetuating cycles spiralling paths into futures. From a past that I call a hell.

It began when my voice was set free to soar and tell, my story.

In the beginning I submitted stories, poems, and articles into competitions (the free ones) and achieved a Platinum Award for the poem ‘To Score’ with Koestler Trust. This was read at London’s Royal Festival Hall. I also achieved publication with EnglishPEN with my short story ‘Accept My Freedom’.

After later winning another Platinum with Koestler for a novel featured in the Arrow in the Blue Exhibition at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and being published in poetry anthologies by Inside time National Prison Newspaper, with forwards by Carol Anne Duffy, Will Self, and Andrew Motion, I gained belief in my ability to write; however, not so much in ability to perform, so I began speaking poetry. At the same time I was aware that there is no substitute for experience.

With the above in mind, I joined a poetry group and began performing in streets, open mics, and events. Every opportunity to perform, I took it.

Launching an event with the concept of home being explored at the National Theatre in London was a great experience and learning curve; however, while at the top of the curve, I saw there was much to learn.

From then I performed as a roaming poet to the public in Stoke-on-Trent as part of festivals, exhibitions, and events highlighting Stoke-on-Trent’s capital of culture bid. Then later produced, performed, and recorded a themed poem titled ‘Fierce’ in association with a radio station and youth movement. Alongside this I performed spoken word in young offender institutions, schools, and colleges on rehabilitation, self-identity, and positive belief.

To keep myself striving to be better, I often take part in poetry slams as the competitive edge is exciting. To date I have been a finalist on several occasions and have won a slam; however, winning another seems like the dream I tried to remember yesterday – it is gone, well, until the next one tomorrow.

Writing the entirety of the Whats and Wheres of performances would take longer than a piece of string, but some of the highlights are the London’s St Ethelburga’s Centre for Reconciliation and Peace event ‘Beyond Bars’ – an arts festival showcasing experiences and problems of punishment through different forms of expression.

Performing on the main stage at Stoke-on-Trent’s ‘Six Towns One City Carnival’ was awesome and definitely a highlight, along with developing a play titled ‘Reflection’ using spoken word, which was performed in Stoke-on-Trent. The play uses drama and spoken word to highlight internal struggles and what it takes to overcome and achieve freedom.

With a didactic heart still beating and discoursing essence within my poetry, I recently wrote, performed, and created a video with the title ‘I Am Unstoppable’, soon available via Just Kindly.

To date, my journey takes me to creating a piece on the imminent demolition of a shopping centre and bus station in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent and a piece responding to clashes of left wing groups on the streets of England.

The thing I love about poetry is the different forms of expression used to convey what we transpose and define in words from abstract thoughts, feelings, emotion, and experiences. Because poetry has taken me on a journey of wisdom, knowledge, understanding, healing, and growth, I now realise the entire universe and everything in it is poetry, and at times I either love it or hate it. So, I guess me and poetry have a love-hate relationship, although I will always return home after arguments to rest and embrace the Word.

For the very same reason of why I love poetry, much of my work is aimed at healing, teaching, and simply sharing a joy of poetry and life.

I am conscious of a difference between page poetry and performed poetry so I will share a few poems. The first is titled ‘Redeeming Word’, and whilst I have never read it out or published it, it is one on my favourites, because within or beyond words, my journey with words can be slightly grasped.


Redeeming Word

Using word as key to innermost,

unlock doors, bend bars of hearts,

Plumb the depths and delve chasms

and fissures of mental scars.


Open shutters, air out rooms,

And let lights luminescence

Illuminate gloom to blooms.


Waft hands through dust

disrupt cobwebs,

roll rocks away from tombs.


Rise again no longer buried by baggage,

and a prisoner of excess.

Climb cliff face to racing hearts higher heights,

Rising until fingers crest

and caress a blessed lip of plateau,

and certainty of sure foots foundation,

amidst gusty gales furious breath.


Then let constellations of words guide

to where willow groves no longer grieve

over the sacred tranquil pool of your soul

and submerge into essence of eternity

becoming bound by beauty’s blessed halo,


The second poem is titled ‘How Can I Explain’. This spoken word poem is to highlight and express the experience of prison.

How can I explain


How can I explain the pain of a prison gate’s gaping maw opening and closing with a soul shaking finality,

a finality resounding fearful thoughts, to echo screams off walls along dark corridors of my foreseeable future,

where life-giving umbilical cords are cut within cold solitary cells of confinement with a vacuuming emptiness sucking life from my bones.

How can I express the short sharp shock of being birthed to emerge into numbers I can never forget, where every day I regret having to recollect

deceptively disguising weakness,

or fearing a broken rule to become sleeplessly

angry at things spiralling way out of control,

out of control in a place of mental scars, bars, fences, walls,

all whispering wisdoms if only I bow down,

If only I bow down to be bound and become part of a dark heart didactically expressing,

symphonies of constantly rioting bells,

mental tolls and pounding feet and blows,

death throws headlocks, pool balls in socks,

heavy steel doors, deafening locking clicks,

despairing silence as life’s clock ticks,

the silences between angry pent-up breaths,

and the silences after swans songs I sang when bereft.

How can I explain?

How can I express pretending happiness on contactless visits and becoming cold and cautious with heart’s desires crushed underfoot like cigarette butts, more than once.

Or the dying inside as I reside in limbo while silently screaming and reaching for close ones who are finally giving up on the family ghost, until ghosted.

How can I explain the pain of infected gums and emergency bells repeatedly pressed and no one comes,

or the sound of officers heaving hung friends down to be bound in body bags when just the other day they bounced around,

not so happy go lucky.


How can I explain being labelled faceless by leaders quoting, ‘The thought of prisoners voting makes them physically sick’. So that bill of my time for my crimes will continue to chime along society’s perception of my life line, indefinitely,


It’s my life. My love, my one chance to live.

It’s my gift from God!

and what about my family who need me?

How can I explain hopes and dreams being snatched away

in a place you cannot cry or dream or say simple words like,

I love you,

you’re beautiful,

you’re wonderful,

without an implacable darkness descending to smother

where I have to discover holes in which to squeeze

just to breathe or draw imaginary poles to pole-vault over towering walls and leave,

Just to find the sanctuary of a sacred place under shady trees.


How can I explain?


The third poem is entitled ‘Second Wind’. The inspiration came after being a prison poet and writing poems for men going through break-ups and losing relationships. After a number of suicides, I wrote this.

Second Wind

I wrote to you a while ago

You probably sensed the gloom

Of pain and anguish coming from

A solitary room.


I wrote in verse it is my want

To set things down that way

So in times of sadness and of doubt

I will read it back some day.


And read it back I did today

But it never made me smile

I can’t change the way I feel

I miss you all the while.


it’s been a month and still no word

no letter card nor call

if I can’t have you there’s no sense

in living life at all.


So the demons raged and battled on

They spun around my head

I can’t forget our arms entwined

And those loving words you said.


So with nothing left to carry on

No faith, no love, no hope,

I thought of ways it could be done

With sharpened blade or rope.


Instead I knelt beside my single bed

and prayed to God above

then He revealed the meaning

the real meaning of love.


So I took the verse I wrote to you

And held it tightly in my grip

Slowly tearing it down each side

I took pleasure in the rip.


Can anybody comprehend

What it does to your health?

It’s best by far to kill a poem

Than it is to kill oneself.

The fourth poem, ‘Coinage of Time’, was written during a short stay in Strange Ways prison in Manchester. At the time I was twenty-one years of age and found HMP Manchester very daunting.

Coinage of Time

I look out of my window

and dream what I should see

cloudless skies and butterflies

in a place I long to be.

There’s a meadow full of colour

which shady trees surround,

with a river running through it

where ducks and geese abound,

grasshoppers click amongst the reeds,

swallows soar before they dive,

this is where I long to be,

where the whole world is alive!

But all I see is rooftops,

of some distant city street

and I can only glimpse of them

by standing on a toilet seat!

Four small walls enclose me,

payment for my deeds done,

still I will go on dreaming,

for I know my time will come.

The fifth poem is one I wrote sitting beside my brother’s hospital bed in a critical care unit when he was in a coma. I simply call this, ‘Bro’.


In tune with assisted breath

I look beyond tentacles

penetrating arteries,

past monitors measuring

and weighing not just life,

but my love.


In rhythm with shared memories

written on your face

I close my eyes and remember,


and smiling.


Shuffling hush and beeping

makes my heart beat faster

than love seemingly in peace,

though as legs twitch,

I know somewhere,

in there,

within your comatose state,

perhaps you converse along the family line,

talking of bar tabs casting long shadows

from generation to generation,

or relive hardships overcome

and beauty of sons and daughter,

as you walk or run within hot sun.


No words leave my mouth,

but my thoughts carry the weight

of so much feeling,

they descend and rest upon your face

penetrating conversations with family,

or walks with you under the sun

through hardship overcome

and into your becoming.


Do you chase voices in corridors

lining visages of the past.

Do you dream of whispering to people,

and they,

hearing loudly.

Do you see beyond to the broken

spoken words to famliy trees,

deeply rooted intertwining DNA.

Do you feel each glistening tear

travelling down landscapes

to be beside you,



I hum a song,

hoping to drown familiar sounds

into your dreams,

hoping you hear this song of peace

with your soul.


Galaxies beyond these beeping sounds

and shuffling hushed tones

of nurses

and doctors,


Can you hear me, bro.



Recurring themes cropping up in my poems are the human condition, spirituality, learning, mental illness, self-belief, inspiration, and edification, because without the above my poetry would be lip service and a clanging cymbal in a vast wilderness.

If I could change one thing in the world it would be Donald Trump, but I am only one voice – unless you would like to join me in campaigning?

I am inspired by people expressing altruism. For years I explored the concept of altruism, and many said there is no such thing, but genuine kindness and free expression inspires hairs on my bald head to curl like phantom limbs.

I have had some ups and many downs, but the best times were when my daughter was born and I became Superman running home without my feet touching the ground, and when watching the sunrise, mist on the ground and cows mooing in the countryside, I find peace.

At the moment I am reading a book by Joelle Taylor entitled Songs My Enemy Taught Me. Joelle Taylor is an inspiring poet with whom I identify immensely because Joelle Taylor speaks poetry from her heart and puts herself entirely into her performances.

What plans do I have? To simply be who I am, deliver workshops, coach, collaborate with projects, write, perform, and eventually write a few books.

Jason’s Website



Inky Interview: Children’s Author Steven Goodwin

You have just published Zombie Kitten, a collection of poems and rhymes for children, illustrated by R. Kay Derricutt. Tell us about your journey towards this publication.

I have been writing poetry, rhymes and stories since I was young and never did anything with them, they just sat gathering dust in drawers or on old computers that I keep stored in the loft. Around fifteen years ago I wrote a long poem titled The Truth About Cinderella. Everybody I showed it to (which only really included family and close friends) enjoyed it and urged me to send it for publishing. I was always reticent about this, showing a complete stranger is leagues away from showing a family member. I am still fighting this demon, allowing other people to read my work is a little daunting even now. I was unsure really how to go about publishing, I did not have a clue who to send it to, so it just remained with me and did not see the outside world. Around three years ago, after a New Year’s resolution, I decided it was time to stop thinking and start doing something, so after a lot of internet searches I sent Cinderella off to a few literary agents and publishers, but I heard nothing. This was something I expected, but I was still not completely put off. Self-publishing was something that intrigued me, and along with eBook publishing, it was getting easier and cheaper, so I decided to take the plunge and try and publish it myself. It was a steep learning curve and at first I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but I was determined to get it published. I started writing more and more and buoyed by the nice comments people were leaving me, I decided to publish a paperback book. One of the only negative comments I had received from The Truth About Cinderella was that it was not illustrated, so I knew my next one should be. Culinanucobold became my first illustrated book. I discovered a website called Fiverr and an illustrator on there, that I liked the look and style of his artwork, and we got to work. I am immensely proud of it. This was followed by The Frog Dragon. I received a little help along the way by Ian Barker who also I found online. He helped with some editing, and narrated both of my illustrated books and Cinderella for Audible.

While I was publishing these I joined a writers group, the Crewe and District Writers’ Circle, and over time I gained in confidence. I am still what I would describe as an enthusiastic amateur, although I love writing and performing poetry, it still remains a passionate hobby of mine and not a full time occupation. Zombie Kitten was in the pipelines during some of this time. It’s been a project that I have worked on for around 18 months in fact. I had hoped to have it finished for Halloween 2016, but I had problems with finding an illustrator. Finally this year, Helen Kay (one of my writer circle friends) put me in touch with her son, Ryan. He had finished his A-Levels and was waiting for his results before going off to University. We chatted a few times about the style I was after and he agreed to illustrate Zombie Kitten. Once he had finished, I began the arduous task of putting it all together into the book that is now available. It’s been a long journey, but I am so pleased with the final results.

What is it you love about poetry?

I mainly write poems and rhymes for children, although I have been challenging myself and writing along more adult themes recently. I have two children of my own and in the past wrote a lot for them. I am not sure what it is that I love about poetry, but I know I love the way it gets my kids involved in reading. I enjoy poems like Jabberwocky, even though some of the words were made up, they make sense to the reader. I enjoy the way a poem can say more in 20 words than a novel could in 2000. It is like a monster in a really good horror that you barely see, your mind and imagination can fill in the gaps that the poet scaffolds.

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

This poem is about the moon. I wrote it for Mark Sheeky’s Artslab show on Redshift Radio. The theme of the week was obviously the moon. and so I wrote this as a challenge to myself to try and come up with something I would find interesting. I do find Mark’s programme is a good way for me to challenge and push myself to write. I feel that the one thing I have learnt in the last few months is that to get better at something you need to keep doing it. You discover what works and what doesn’t, and slowly I think I am improving. I still have a long way to go though.


Perigee to apogee

Your eccentricity is fact

Your radius, circumference

Volume, Gravity, and Mass

We know your vital grey statistics

Your craters mapped and sized

We even visited you, some people say

At least half a dozen times

But your origins, Luna lineage

We haven’t got a clue

But we know our tidal forces,

Would be nothing without you

Our close night-time companion

In the dark our only light

You watch over our insanity

When the loonies come to fight

We prayed to you in history

Tracked your movements for our time

Plotted out our months for you

Even made you our divine

Your ever presence is a comfort

Our first hint we’re not alone

On this little green-blue marble

We like to call our home

This next one is titled Snowmen. I wrote Snowmen over twenty years ago. I remember coming up with it when I worked at The Merlin, a pub in Crewe. I was bottling up and sorting out the empty bottles from the night before in the freezing cold shed at the back of the pub. It was an extremely cold day and this silly rhyme about snowmen popped into my head. I had loads of verses going around in my head, but had to finish the bottles. When I got back inside and thawed ,I wrote down as much as I could remember. Over the years I have refined it and changed some things, but this remains pretty much the same poem I wrote in the bottle shed all those years ago.


I’d like to tell you a story

A story you won’t believe

It’s a story about snowmen

A story that’s true indeed

You think you know the truth about snowmen

But you don’t know it right

Because the truth about snowmen comes

When you’re tucked up at night

‘tis a truth that not many grown-ups know

A truth not full of fluffy snow

Where snowmen are all good and nice

And sit out in the cold and ice

You see the truth about snowmen is

They are not too good at all

They come to life this time of year

To ruin Christmas for us all

They come down undercover

On parachutes of snow

Then silently lie in waiting

’til the time is right to go

Not all snowmen are the same

Some are worse than others

And never mess with small snowmen

Cause they’ve got bigger brothers

The worse snowmen are the ones with pipes

Because they’re the generals see

They give the orders to attack

Then hide behind a tree

A snowman has his allies

He never works alone

Jack Frost and bad old Frosty

Always love the snow

They work together well

These two good close friends

But only when its winter

‘til the bitter end

The things they do at Christmas

Would make your straight hair curl

They climb into the slumbering house

And leave things in a whirl

They spread their muddy footprints

And leave icy patches too

They freeze pipes in the toilet

And then block up the loo

They un-defrost the turkey

So it takes an age to cook

And nick the good jokes from the crackers

When no-ones ‘round to look

But perhaps the worst thing about snowmen

Is when no-ones hereabouts

They pinch all the roast potatoes

And leave nothing but the Sprouts

So if you ever made a snowman

And then one day it’s gone

Keep a lookout for old Frosty

He’s not melted in the sun

And that’s my story over

That’s the end and that’s the truth

Only one thing that is lacking

And that’s the missing proof

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

I am not sure if I have a common theme that goes through my poetry but I sometimes try to find a quirky angle to fit in around a real life experience. Whether this always works I don’t know, but that is my intent. I do tend to try and write about something I know about.. My wife says I’m sometimes a little too biographical, but I suppose that’s normal. Even in Zombie Kitten there are a few poems that draw from real life. ‘Why I Don’t Like Mushrooms’, ‘Why Clothes Are Itchy’ and ‘Ghost Rider’ are three that draw on real experiences.

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

I would make my books compulsory purchases, I mean I don’t really know. If I was being serious, I would probably say something like ‘I would make money obsolete’. Trade would be based on need and not commerce. We would help everybody, equally, and no matter what race or religion or sexuality, everyone would have an equal share. Society has a fair way to go to get there and perhaps I watch too much Star Trek, but this would be nice.

Who inspires you and why?

There are many writers that I really enjoyed growing up, from Roald Dahl and his Revolting Rhymes to Spike Milligan’s fantastic On The Ning Nang Nong. Every night me and my wife read to our two children. It was always three books and bed, and we all enjoyed Julia Donaldson’s Gruffalo. I was inspired by these to try and write my own stories and rhymes.

I am also inspired by screen writers like Aaron Sorkin and Quentin Tarantino. I love long wordy scenes in films, filled with dialogue that is clever, rich and funny, and sometimes thought provoking.

What are you reading at the moment?

I should really lie at this point and say something worthy, but I am currently reading a James Patterson Bookshot book called Killer Chef. I will soon be reading the new Dan Brown book once I order a copy. I have enjoyed his other books. I also won a copy of Jo Cox’s Biography More In Common, which I will read at some point.

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

I should really say something along the lines of my wedding day, or the days my children were born. Those were all excellent and I will cherish them forever, but I think one of the best days of my life has to be the day I met Mickey Mouse for the first time. This year is my fortieth birthday and I have always been a fan of Disney. I have wanted to go and visit Disney World in Florida for so long. So over the last few years we have saved for this holiday of a lifetime, and this summer my family and I finally went. I tried to keep a lid on my excitement, tried not to let my expectations overwhelm me and end up being disappointed. I was not disappointed at all. Now before flying over I wanted to see everything and I enjoy going on rides, but meeting the characters was never a priority. In my head I just thought it would be like meeting a mascot at a football game. I was wrong, so very wrong! I met Mickey Mouse, dressed in his Sorcerer’s Apprentice outfit. My disbelief was well and truly suspended, I was a kid again. The whole experience was amazing and I would go back in a heartbeat.

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

I started a novel two years ago and would really like to get that finished. I write weekly for Mark Sheeky’s Artslab radio programme, and could probably edit and put out a pamphlet of pieces that I have written for that. I also have amassed some more poems for kid,s so if Ryan is free, I would love for him to illustrate another book for me. I also did some story telling at Nantwich Food Festival this year to groups of young kids, and really enjoyed it. I would love to go to local libraries and do some more of that, reading my poems and stories. If local libraries and schools would like me to do a session, I would be more than happy to try that again.




Inky Interview: Author Kate Coe: with Isha Crowe

When and why did you start writing? What inspired you to do so? Were there particular influences, literary or non-literary, that had an impact on your writing? And what was this impact?

When I was about six, I was walking to school with my aunt, and I turned to her very seriously and said, “Auntie, how many worlds do you have in your head?” She, very amused, had to break it to me that most people don’t walk around with multiple stories floating in their brains…I’ve got old diaries with scribbles in, scrapbooks of pictures, cut-out dolls that I can still remember some of the stories for, pages of plays I wrote when inspired by the latest pantomime I’d been to…I read everything I could get my hands on, graduating from fairytales to fantasy from the local market stall, and most of the fiction section in the library, and just kept writing.

I don’t really know where it all came from; I didn’t have any particularly strong influences beyond being a bookworm. I just made up stories a lot, and eventually they got complicated enough that I had to write them down – and then kept writing more!

Ink Pantry was set up by Open University Creative Writing students, so our readers are interested in the educational background of other writers. What is yours? Did you study creative writing-related courses or subjects? What else did you study? Did your studies help or hinder your development as a writer?

I have a confession: I was, and still am, awful at English Language as a subject. While I’m excellent at understanding a piece – I’m an editor as well as a writer – I can’t for the life of me tell you how someone’s doing it, or what language technique they’re using to create that effect! I can point out the problems, work out where something’s weak, suggest ways to improve it – but I have absolutely no idea how I do any of that. I did do English Literature for A-Level, but I’m afraid I wasn’t very good at that either; I did Classical Studies at university and then went into libraries and web development, and while everything contributes to inspiration and characters, I don’t think either profession is particularly known for its production of writers….

That said, I have had what I think is the best training you can have as a writer: lots of practice! I also read a LOT growing up, and on average manage about a book a week now (although of course there’s always more on my TBR pile that I was to get to). I’d honestly say that those two things are the best training a writer can have: see how other people are doing it, and try it yourself.

Can you tell us about how you got published?

Green Sky & Sparks is my first published work, and I knew (five years ago) that I was on to something of a losing streak with traditional publishing, as at that time they didn’t take novellas. It actually made my life a lot simpler; I could narrow it down to publishers that did take novellas! I had a poke on the internet, found Grimbold, liked the look of them, submitted, chewed my fingernails for a few months and got accepted! Since then I’ve been submitting short stories to a variety of places (and some have even been accepted, yay!) and I’m currently starting my more traditional publishing journey by collecting rejections. I’m only on 16, though, so I’ve got some way to go.

Your blog Writing & Coe has a page devoted to gaming, so I assume gaming is a hobby of yours? Is this board games, card games, computer games or all of those? How does gaming influence your writing, or vice versa (if at all). Have you ever taken part in developing a game? If yes, what was your part and how was it doing that? If not, is that something you’d like to do in the future?

I do several various types of gaming! I play board games with friends; my favourite is Forbidden Desert, which is a co-op game and mostly ends in death by sand, by thirst, by storm – despite that, it’s great fun. I do also like puzzle and exploratory computer games – my favourite is Portal (mostly because of the sarcastic AI) and I play a lot of Civilisation. However, my big passion is for role-play games, and I’ve been lucky enough to be able to run several games in the Dresden Files universe. I’m not currently playing any RPGs but I’d highly recommend it as a hobby; as a writer, I absolutely adore them! If you play, you get to explore someone else’s world, act and react, create your own backstory, interact with your fellow-players…and if you’re a games master, you get to build a world and then see your players take it in a completely unexpected direction! I love building something, putting in mythology and hints and ideas, and then seeing where my players go with it – it’s like writing, except you have no control over the characters! (That’s a good thing in games…usually).

I very much enjoyed reading the first four novellas in your Green Sky series, and I’m very happy that the fifth is waiting for me on my e-reader! Is the fifth one the last, or can we expect more stories from the green-skied world? Why is that sky green, anyway?

I’m so glad you are enjoying them! The sky is green because I was a teenage writer who just had to make my world special, and that was the thing I came up with – and it stayed because, well, why not? It has now led to some interesting disputes about what colour that makes the sea (the consensus is blue/grey due to the properties of water, by the way). There are ten novellas in total, each following a different character and story – some reoccur, as in Empty Skies, which follows a character you meet in the very first book, and some are completely new characters or places, which means you get to see more of the wider Green Sky world.

How do you feel about the characters in your series? Do you have favourites, who are they and why are they your favourite? Are there others that you really dislike and if so, for what reason?

Toru is my absolute favourite, if only because he is a pain in the butt! Originally, Green Sky & Sparks was a lovely cliche’d story about a boy on a quest, and a magical girl who fell in love with a different boy. I mostly scrapped that one and focused on the quest, and Catter turned up. And then he got to Meton, and met Toru, and…well, they fell in love. I pretty much stared at the page and said, “You were meant to fall for the girl! What are you doing?!” But it made the story a hundred times better, and Toru continues to have a way of stealing the page whenever he’s involved, so he has remained my favourite throughout the series.

Everyone in Green Sky is very nice so I don’t really have anyone I dislike; I’ve written a couple of nastier personalities (mostly selfish) which has been harder, but even they are understandable. However I do have characters in other stories that I do dislike – but then so does my main character, which makes for some wonderfully spectacular arguments!

You call this genre ‘sparkpunk’. Did you invent this name yourself? How did you get the idea to mix fantasy with technology in your writing? Did you intend the Green Sky series to be a series, or was did it start as a single story and expand from there?

Sparkpunk was a label coined by my friend @vcorva; we decided that it wasn’t really Steampunk – it lacks the Victoriana, and, well, the steam – but that it was Renaissance + electricity….and so sparkpunk was born! The technology was actually part of the genesis of the story – why couldn’t you have a world with technology and magic? What if magic was just another trade, with limitations…and so technology was actually the game-changer? What if someone built a flying machine? And so Toru appeared, and Catter’s story began to unfold.

Green Sky & Spark was a single story, and then I wondered what the next one would be, which led to the sequel Grey Stone & Steel (which was too long, and got split into two, resulting in High Flight & Flames as the third book). From there, I had wanted to know what happened next (book 4) and had a bit of story that I’d written but never used – and that was expanded into book 5. Book 6 came from a random character tangent; Book 7 from a dream of maps. 8 and 9 were based on specific characters, and 10 winds the whole thing up! So it was never intended to be a series, but just unfolded into one.

On reading the books I found the fourth one to be very different from the previous three. It was much more dreamy and still. Is this intentional, and if so, what was the reason for writing so differently?

It wasn’t intentional, although I think it is a result of the type of story – books 2 and 3 are a war story, even though they are very character-focused. The remaining books in the series all have different characters and feels as well; each is centered around a different type of story, a different person. I find the differences interesting as I don’t necessarily see them when I write – only when I finish and am able to step away!

What else have you written, are you writing, or do you intend to write? Which of these are/will be readily available for reading? And which would you most recommend to readers who enjoyed your Green Sky books?

My current WIP is a 1920’s urban fantasy with zombies, which promises to be spectacular, and I’m currently submitting my latest finished piece (with the working title of No Man’s Land) to agents so we’ll see what happens there. There are a couple of Green Sky short stories published in various anthologies, some freebies on Writing and Coe, and more books in the Green Sky series coming out shortly! Keep an eye on the blog for dates and news.

Beyond that, if you like Green Sky then I’d highly recommend A Long Way To A Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers (she’s the only other character writer I’ve come across so far!) or anything by Emma Newman, who is just fabulous.

Is there anything else you’d like to add to share with the readers of Ink Pantry?

I’m over at Writing and Coe and Twitter if anyone has any questions about writing, editing, gaming, or anything else in general, and thank you for having me on Ink Pantry!

Inky Interview: Author Michael Forester: with Kev Milsom

Hello Michael! Many thanks for agreeing to this interview. I’m sure our readers will benefit greatly from your valuable input as a writer and author. Can I start by asking you about your earliest creative influences? Within writing, who were the authors who first ‘spoke’ to you as a younger soul?

Greetings to you and your readers, Kev! And thank you for the opportunity of sharing with you.

Creative influences: this is a really intriguing question. Over the years there have been many, many influences. The earliest I can remember was the Bible, as I had a religious (Christian) childhood. Later, I remember particularly George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier which I read at the age of 21. Orwell has remained a literary Guru to me. My latest release A Home For Other Gods has been described as a follow on from Nineteen Eighty-Four.

By the millennium year, the time I started to concentrate exclusively on creative writing, there were two books in particular that stood out as beacons: Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, superb for its creative and intellectual excellence; Isabel Allende’s Paula for it’s unequalled emotional power. Back then I said that if I could ever get close to writing like either of these giants, I would be satisfied. Of course, I’m still trying!

I’m thoroughly enjoying your wonderful book, Forest Rain. How different in style is this book to your other publications and how did the initial seeds of inspiration begin to grow for this project?

Most people, on seeing the range of books I have written, express surprise at how different they are. You can see them at Michael’s books. I did not set out to write an eclectic range of books, but I’m happy that it worked out that way. Everything I write, whether metaphorical fiction, life writing or spiritual learnings, comes from the heart. I simply let out what wants to come out. Forest Rain is certainly a good example of that. It’s origins are covered in the forward to the book, which is titled ‘How This Book Came to be Written’. Essentially, I experienced a nervous breakdown that transformed into a breakthrough – a spiritual awakening that profoundly changed the direction of my life.

Forest Rain touches upon some very personal and deep philosophical elements, Michael. How important is philosophy and faith within your own life and do you envisage creating more books in the future, specifically within this genre?

Some years ago, out walking with my family, we passed a wheat field. Up close it looked haphazardly planted. A little further on, the path rose up and we looked back. The wheat was planted in a clearly discernable pattern of rows, all neatly laid out. You could even see where the tractor had made its turns at the end of the field. That image has always stayed with me. I’m 61 years old in this current lifetime now. As I experienced the journey from where I started to where I am now, events seemed haphazard, random and illogical as they occurred. But when I look back over the journey, I see much method, logic and planning that was always there, but could not be seen without perspective. I cannot separate ‘faith’ from ‘life’. To me, they are the same.

As to future books, yes, it is entirely possible that there will be more like Forest Rain. When I wrote it, in partnership with Komar, to whom it is dedicated, I understood that there would be five books. The next, Forest Dawn, is written, though will need a little revision. The third, Forest Pathways, is about half written. The fourth, Forest Clearing, is not yet started. The fifth title is Journey’s End. I shall leave it to you to work out when that one will be written! Forest Rain was released in February 2017. I don’t yet have a date for when Forest Dawn will be released – a lot depends on the level of interest Forest Rain engenders.

I’d like to ask you about your particular idiosyncrasies as a writer. For example, is there one particular place that you enjoy writing in? A particular time of day/night? Do you write with pen/paper, or are you firmly of the computer/word processor persuasion?

The location for setting down the words is unimportant. That said, I do much writing in Tenerife, where I spend as much of the winter as I can. What is important, though, is the making of mental space for the material to flow through. If I fill my time with communication and the receipt of information (conversation with others, the TV, etc.), I squeeze out the creative material that would otherwise come. To avoid that, I make time for meditation, both in the formal sense and also informally. For the latter, I love to spend time in my beloved New Forest, here in Hampshire, UK. The Forest has long been a source of inspiration and power to me. It is often when I walk, or even drive here, that the creative themes for my writing appear.

I always carry a notebook, or the material is lost. It is later that I settle to the keyboard to translate them into words. Keyboarding is hugely important, of course, but it is one step away from the pure creativity of receiving the material conceptually that will eventually become a book, that I love so much.

Whist on the topic of inspiration, is there a particular pattern to the ways in which you are inspired to write. Do your ideas tend to stem from a single, quick idea or are they prone towards being drawn out over time, gradually growing in size and breadth?

It can be either. For example, I write much poetry. There are four poetry chapbooks at Michael’s Books. Sometimes a poem, for example, ‘Solstice’, which I have just released on my Facebook page, will appear virtually fully formed, and all I do is set it down on paper, or keyboard.

On other occasions it will take months or even years to work a theme up to its full capacity. A Home For Other Gods started life as a short story that I never seemed to feel satisfied with. Eventually, after many drafts, I was happy with the story, but realised it could be a much bigger work. Once I saw the concept it took two periods of three weeks each, writing up to fifteen hours a day, to produce the first draft of the novella itself.

Aside from writing, what other creative arts interest you, Michael? Are you proficient in art or music, or do you draw great pleasure/relaxation from other creative muses?

I am close to profoundly deaf. Music has been inaccessible to me for thirty years now, though following a cochlear implant operation in 2016, that may eventually change. However, I am deeply interested in film, which, I regard as essentially literature in visual form.

Outside of writing, what are some of your other interests in life? How do you ‘switch off’ from the world? Are there specific, favourite geographical or historical locations that amplify your peaceful state?

My beloved hearing dog, Matt, is a huge priority. Now at 14 years of age, his time is drawing to a close. I am careful to take maximum opportunity for time with him every day with him that remains. He is at my feet as I type this, even now! Of course, walking in the New Forest is a favourite pastime for both of us, as well as being the source of much of my inspiration. You can read more about Matt in my book If It Wasn’t For That Dog which tells the story of our first year together in a hearing dog partnership.

Thank you so much for sharing your insights, Michael. To conclude, can you share some thoughts on your upcoming projects and what life holds in store for 2017 and 2018?

I have a full diary for this year. Much of my time will be devoted to book signings and events, such as the New Forest Show, where I will be exhibiting my books.

Bookings for 2018 have already started. In January I have an invitation to undertake a tour on (mostly) the Eastern Side of the USA. So far, it comprises Washington. Maryland and Chicago. That will be followed in February by a visit to Ho Chi Min City, Vietnam, where I am invited to deliver a keynote speech to an educational conference. I will follow on from there to The Philippines for a follow up tour to the visit I paid there in February this year details are at Michael Forester Website. There were many venues we had to disappoint on the last trip due to the typhoons, so it will be a good opportunity to make good on the expectations of many folk there.

As to the writing itself, I am working towards the release of my first full-length novel, Vicious. Billed as ‘a novel of Punk Rock and the Second Coming of Christ, Vicious is the first of a trilogy that explores the nature of belief against a background of eschatology.’

Thanks so much for having me, Kev. It’s been a pleasure to join you.

Inky Interview Exclusive: Visual Artist and Performance Poet Max Scratchmann

On the 10th August 2017 you will be performing at The Edinburgh Fringe with Rosie Garland, Hannah Raymond Cox, Andromada Mystic, Rachel Plummer, Angie Strachan, Carla Woodburn, Rebecca Monks and Taylor Swift 666 in a show called Poetry Bordello: Where Spoken Word Meets Physical Theatre. Fascinating! Tell us more…

As a visual artist, as well as a poet, I’m interested in producing and promoting poetry and spoken word shows which are more about theatre than just voice, and in the past I’ve experimented with using projections and animation in sync with live performers:

but, in this particular show, I’m combining performance artists with spoken word artists to bombard the audience with both a visual and verbal assault, plus hopefully recreate the atmosphere of the 1920s Berlin cabaret scene in a performance poetry setting. We’ve been planning this Bordello for months now and I’m really excited as we have a fantastic line-up of performers, from established performance poets like Rosie Garland, Hannah Raymond Cox and Rachel Plummer to newcomers like the amazing Rebecca Monks and Carla Woodburn, plus stunning physical artistes like the versatile and challenging Andromada Mystic, so it’s going to be a fantastic night all round…and we’re only doing one performance, so get there early!

As well as a performance poet, you are a freelance illustrator. Your client list includes Harper Collins, The Guardian, The Wall Street Journal, Manchester University Press, Bloodaxe Books and Naxos Audio Books. Can you walk us through your journey as an illustrator? Have you any advice for any budding illustrators?

I’ve been illustrating for nearly forty years now and I’ve been very fortunate in my career to have had a lot of clients who have been more interested in good and challenging art rather than bland happy-smiley images, so I have had the opportunity to create a lot of stunning visuals over the years. I always loved art and drawing as a child, and was obsessed with making toy theatres, so when I went to university in Glasgow in the mid 1970s and I discovered the Citizens’ Theatre and, in particular, the work of director/designer Phillip Prowse and the graphic design and illustration of the fantastic Adrian George, the rest was history and I was hooked! I decided then and there that that was what I was going to do with my life and I’ve had a fantastic time doing things like illustrating book covers for the work of people like John Ford, John Webster, Thomas Middleton etc. I also take my illustration work into the poetry shows I produce and I design all my own poster work and all the slides and graphics for our shows, plus the animations where I subject my performers to endless photo sessions so that I can transform them in mermaids and other exotic creatures on screen.

For someone starting out in illustration in today’s market I would say only do this as a career if you love it because it’s a hard life and it’s getting increasingly harder. If you’re a “painterly” artist like me you’ll get a lot of work from theatres and small literary presses, which is great fun, but doesn’t pay well. However, if you can produce glossy images of happy families eating cornflakes, advertising will embrace you and pay you well.

What is it you love about poetry?

Ah, poetry! Poetry is my passion and my life. As a teenager it was a vocalisation of all my adolescent anguish and anger (or so I thought!) and then in mid-life it became an oral photo album, recording multitudes of scenes and moments, a personal grimoire of tiny fragments of my life all carefully preserved in well-chosen words like flies in amber. Now I use it mainly to communicate with readers and audiences, mainly to make them laugh since I’m not young and angry any more, but overall to convey emotions and feelings and, dare I say it, messages.

What’s your secret to a good performance poem?

A good performance poem should be a monologue or a tiny one-act-play. It needs to be clear and preferably impassioned – the stage is not the place for tricksy metaphors and clever similes – and it needs to have either a strong message or narrative to engage the audience straight away. I’d say the more theatrical the better, but I hate poets who just jump around on stage for the sake of it. If your poem is real and genuine, that will come through in your performance, and there’s no need for histrionics.

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

Here are two. The first, Eulogy, is a performance poem about my Dad who I miss dreadfully; and the second is a ‘page’ poem that was inspired by a beautiful but exceptionally sad woman I once saw, who appeared to be enslaved by her husband.


They wouldn’t let me speak

At my father’s funeral,

Because, listen,

We know you that you’re a poet and all that,

But we need someone proper,

Like a minister,

To do this job,

And, anyway, you’d probably just get nervous

And make inappropriate jokes

At all the wrong moments.

And all this would have been fine


The minister who had known him all his life

Hadn’t died the previous year

And the new man,

Who’d met him, I think,


Wasn’t on holiday

And they’d brought in a locum

Who didn’t know him from Adam.

So I had to sit on my hands and listen

To my Dad’s life condensed to a paragraph,

No mention of all those good years in India,

Forty years dominating huge mills,

Gaining the respect of his workforce

As he strode down the riverside

In his pristine whites

at half-past five each morning,

Dawn mist still damp on his hair

As he rolled his sleeves up

To face each new day.

Or the hours he spent

Teaching me how to swim,

Elegant in the water for such a portly man,

And at nights

Letting me watch him in the billiard room,

The soft click-clack of snooker balls

My lullaby

And a gentle descant to the soft

Evensong of crickets outside…

And, of course, no mention at all of all the shit years,

Bouncing from crap job to crap job,

Finally dumped in that

So-called care home,

So riddled with cancer

that I thought they’d swapped him

for some starving street waif,

His signature red jumper

Hanging on him

Like a kid playing dress-up.

And, when they had the cheek to say

That he had gone to a better place

It was all I could do not to shout out

That anyone who knew him


That his place was at the stand

At Dens Park,

And to this day I do not like to think

Of some season-ticket-holding


Sitting in his seat,

Where, surely,

The groove eroded by his

Sensible shoes

is still worn into the soft wood floor

Of the patron’s area.

And I wish that I could have spent

More time with him

In the bleak years.

And I wish

That I could have been more like

The son that he’d imagined having,

Though he never,


Held that against me,


Most of all,

I wish on that steel-grey January day

I had just stood up in that church

And given him the eulogy that he deserved.

Because he wasn’t the Hero of His Own Time,

Or the Definitive Family Man

Or a Pillar of his Community,

But he was my Dad,

And surely that was enough.


The Lepidopterist’s Wife

He keeps her in the dark lest the light mar the brightness of her wings,

Her beauty pinned fluttering to a hard piece of

Beetle-black scarab board

In the heat of her killing-bottle night.

She is a plaintive melody

In scarlet and mood indigo,

Violet and burnt orange,

Viridian and sour cherry,

Her beauty the gossamer caress

Of invisible wings in the darkest night,

A silver trail of floating web

In a blossom-scented sunset,

Heady with the scents of Meadow Sweet.

But in her cellar prison she languishes in chains,

Every tear,

Every sigh of desire,

Meticulously catalogued and labelled

In row upon endless row of glass cases in the Lepidopterist’s museum,

Her life laid out in carefully recorded wants and indiscretions,

Misshapen specimens floating threateningly in formaldehyde,

Each wild occasion neatly annotated in his own precise hand.

Come, come, why the tears, we are not monsters,

Butterfly woman,

He says as he stabs her through the heart,

Again and again and again.

Come, give us this flesh,

This lock of hair,

This bit of blood,

Her life a living autopsy

On the Lepidopterist’s vivisection table,

Pulling out her entrails in bright red ribbons

That glitter in the early dawn’s grey light

As he bandages her still-bleeding body

And closes the cellar door,

Locking her in the dark once more

Lest the light dull the brilliance of her wings.

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

I write a lot of poems about my own childhood, my parents and my relationships with them, funny poems about ageing and adapting to modern life and its idiocies and frustrations, angry poems about inequality and sexism, sad poems about people I have lost, whimsical poems about things like dog shit and crying babies and annoying phone lines and computers that set out to defy me and incomprehensible governments and illogical laws and procedures, and and and…..

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

Can I say get rid of racism, sexism and Donald Trump? OK, just get rid of racism and sexism, that should take care of Trump anyway!

Who inspires you and why?

People who mean it. I like evocative writers who can paint word pictures like Aimee Bender and Rosie Garland. Writers who speak with true clear voice like Arelene Heyman and Edith Perlman. Magical realists like Angela Carter and Salman Rushdie. I don’t like fakes. Writers who write for the sake of it, or because they read a good book once and want to rewrite it – you can usually spot them in the first paragraph! I’m inspired by genuine authors who write with passion and conviction. People who have stories inside them so pressing that they have to get them onto the page as a matter of urgency.

What are you reading at the moment?

The Stories of Eva Luna by Isabel Allende. Breathtaking even in translation and I’m seriously contemplating learning Spanish so I can read the rest of her books in their original tongue.

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

I have a one-man-show at the Fringe this year, which is on the week after the Poetry Bordello, a collection of stories and video about my own childhood in the last days of British India – it’s called The Last Burrah Sahibs and corresponds with my autobiographical book of the same name. Full details here.

I’m also experimenting with more film work, both making my own and performing in other people’s epics, plus I’ve been doing some modelling, for god’s sake. Oh, and I’m still open to offers to fulfil my cherished dream of designing an opera sometime before I finally retire!