Inky Interview: Author Sheila May Blackburn

As well as being a primary school teacher you have written several children’s books, one of which is called Jazz. Can you tell us about them?

I began writing children’s books for reluctant readers at a time when there was very little material for children who wanted to read about football. Originally desk-top books, the twelve stories were backed by the Boots Company and printed locally. However, this involved a lot of marketing and selling and I was delighted when they were eventually taken over by Brilliant Publications. They were very pleased with the re-printing and asked me to write a Teachers’ Resource book. This was followed by the six Stewie Scraps Adventures and further resource materials, all available from the publishers.

I have written two novels for children: Long Dark Shadows is about bullying, both by adults and children. Jazz is the story of a boy who is helped to come to terms with the tragic loss of his father by the irrepressible character of Jazz. This is available on Kindle and I am looking to make it available through Print on Demand ahead of its sequel where Jazz is on a mission to help another child facing difficulties.

You have been published in My Weekly Magazine, written for Collins Educational and won the children’s section of the Cheshire Prize For Literature with your short story Cat’s Eyes. Congratulations! Have you any tips for writers new to submitting their work to competitions?

The world of publishing has changed dramatically since I started writing – thanks again to the internet. Self-publishing and marketing  is very much more accessible and a great way to test public reaction, as long as you are prepared to get out there at events and functions. Joining a writers’ group is helpful; in the meantime, competitions give a short-term “feedback”. Some offer a critique and there is usually a chance to read shortlisted / winning entries to understand what works. For me, short story writing for magazines and competitions has been a sensible way to use my writing time and I advise looking at competitions listed online and in writing magazines. There are plenty to choose from!

Who did the art work for your books?

Originally, my desk-top books were illustrated through a local contact, but Brilliant Publications arranged their own illustrators from a pool of artists, I believe. Stewie Scraps was illustrated by the amazing Leighton Noyes who captured the character and sustained him so well. Am still in touch with him – and very grateful for his work.

Do you write poetry for children?

Yes – but not as much as I would like. I have an assortment that I’ve used in school and for Assembly material. There are also some phonic poems that I used with good effect in lessons.

As opposed to writing for adults, how do you approach writing for children? Is it more difficult than people imagine, or more difficult than writing for adults?

I think that writing for children is a great challenge – my original books for Collins Jumpstart were eight pages, one sentence per page, 22 high frequency words and then CVC words – and please make it fun or give the story a twist! I loved it! Children’s material has to have variety – dialogue is essential to relieve long descriptive passages – you only have to try reading aloud to a group of children to understand that – it’s about what fascinates the audience and makes them amused as well as concerned and wanting more. However, it must also be rich in vocabulary and structure – I get very tired of “celebs” who think that their name alone makes them worthy authors… their books sell, so the publishers love them, but their writing doesn’t always move children’s reading on, nor challenge them as readers.

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

I care about what makes ordinary people tick and the relationships in their lives. My adult short stories are about how people relate to each other and deal with the stuff of everyday life – it sounds mundane, but there it is.

Similarly, with writing for children – I’ve dealt with their interest in football and in making things (Stewie) and then added a twist at the end to leave the reader wondering. My other themes have been the tough stuff – bereavement and bullying. Hopefully, the stories give the readers a chance to think and perhaps an opening to chat about what matters.

Have you any books that you can recommend to any budding writers?

I started off with the Writers Yearbook, as I guess most would-be writers are advised to do. I’ve also been privileged as a teacher to know first hand what motivates children and what’s available. My advice would be to spend time browsing in good bookshops and spend time with children… one of my writing group friends has written great stuff for his own children based on those basics.

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

To make it a fairer place. I can’t bear the idea of not having basic needs met and resulting struggles, pain and fear – and that goes for the animal world as much as people.

What are you reading at the moment?

Maeve Binchy and Joanne Harris all over again – ever my writing heroines.

What is your creative space like?

Cluttered!  A very busy place – ideally it’s be somewhere a whole lot more relaxing with a beautiful sea-view.

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

I’d like to write the follow up to Jazz and see more of my books in print. More time to meet like-minded writers would be goodBut I always have competition entries on the go and hope for the one lucky break… you never know.

Sheila’s Website

Facebook Page

Brilliant Publications

Inky Interview: Ian Cooper

You have written several great works that analyse cult films such as Witchfinder GeneralBring Me The Head of Alfredo Garcia, and Frightmares (a history of British horror cinema), as part of the Cultographies series by Wallflower Press. Can you walk us through your love of film and how you came to write for Wallflower Press?

Thanks for addding the word great in there! Only Alfredo Garcia was written for the Cultographies imprint, Witchfinder was one of Auteur´s Devil´s Advocates series (as is the upcoming Frenzy) and Frightmares was part of their Studying British Cinema series.

I´ve always been crazy about film, I got a couple of degrees in the subject, taught it at a series of colleges in and around London and then got the chance to contribute some entries to a Wallflower guide to contemporary directors. That led to me pitching them a Cultographies and that really got me going.

You are a scriptwriter, too. Are you working on anything at the moment? What other scripts have you worked on?

I´ve written a lot of scripts, mostly features, a few shorts. I´ve had some optioned, nothing made yet. It´s a very frustrating business tbh – the first feature script I had optioned, I thought this is it now, I´m a screenwriter. Then years went by, the film was cast, posters and storyboards were created, the option was renewed a couple of times – and after 8 years the project fell apart for good and I ended up with my script back.  Another project I had with a company, we met often and they always paid for long lunches in Soho, they gave me lots of notes, I dutifully rewrote and then again it ended up going nowhere. It´s the nature of the beast. I´m currently writing a script about serial killing and Satanism – I don´t really do light.

You are also writing a book on Charles Manson. How do you approach dark, fascinating subjects like this, in your writing? 

I like dark stuff, horror films, true crime, I don´t think too much about why, I´ve just always enjoyed things a lot of people find off-putting or distasteful. I´ve been interested in the Manson murders for a long time and writing a book about the influence they had on films and TV shows is a way to combine my interests in film and true crime.

Your study of Hitchcock’s Frenzy…tell us more.

It´s a making of/critical analysis. I didn´t pitch this one, I mentioned on Facebook that it´s the Hitchcock film I´d seen the most and John Atkinson, the owner of Auteur who´s become a friend asked me if I´d like to write a book on it. It´s got a lot of things I´m interested in – it´s a horror film, it references some real murders, it´s shot in London and it´s a black comedy.

What is your particular way of researching? Does it take up a lot of time and do you enjoy it?

A lot of it is watching or reading about films and I never get tired of that. The thing is, I´m not at all versatile so everything feeds into everything else – every book I´ve written is about one or more violent films so the same debates crop up again and again, often the same social issues too, censorship, moral panics and so on.

The internet has made researching much easier – I used to have to fly to London to look up reviews and articles in a library (very 20th century!)

For scripts, I don´t do any direct research at all, just let it all spill out and then rewrite it later so it makes a bit more sense. But the stuff I read does find its way in there. For example, I recently read a lot about Israel Keyes, a serial killer who buried ´kill kits` across the US and I´ve used this detail in my most recent script.

Tell us about a typical day in your world.

I get up soon after 6am, take my son to school and write until 1:00 then make dinner for the family. Then I do my best to squeeze in a bit more writing between taking my son to football or acting classes or what have you. In the evening, I watch a lot of films and TV box-sets.

One of the reasons I moved to Germany from London was so I could write full-time – my wife has a good job and I was going to be in a village with few distractions. But after my youngest son was born 8 years ago, I found I had a lot less time (for obvious reasons). Now I essentially work for half a day.

There are too many distractions for a writer these days. One click away from social media etc….how do you motivate yourself to write, or does it come naturally?

It was easier when I moved here – I didn´t have a radio or the internet, I didn´t know anybody and my German was terrible. Now I have to motivate myself a bit more – I´m online, I know people, I speak a mangled version of the language – but discipline is something you just have to learn if you want to write.

I like social media, it offers me a way to share my weird obsessions with like-minded people. I´ve also met producers through Facebook and that´s been useful.

The thing is, there´s a thin line between research and slacking off. I´ll go on to a website which lists missing people in the US, for example, telling myself it´s research and sometimes it is, I´ll read maybe 60 entries and one of those will inspire a strange story or something else I can use. But in all honesty, I´m mainly on that site for morbid curiosity.

What are you reading at the moment? Are you the type of person that has several books on the go at once?

I don´t have to time to read a lot of fiction, although I´m half-way through Just After Sunset, a collection of Stephen King short stories. I read mostly true crime, partly because I enjoy it but also because I can stea…I mean recycle details. I never have more than one book on the go at a time.

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

Whenever we travel or go on long walks, my son likes me to tell him tales, Twilight Zone episodes, short stories or real-life mysteries. He calls me his ´Telling Machine`. I´ve spend days wandering around the backroads of Italy and Spain telling him about Lizzie Borden or the Marie Celeste and they´ve been some of my happiest days. It´s especially important to me because he´s 8 now and I know it´s only a matter of time before he looks up from his phone, rolls his eyes and says, “Not the Zodiac Killer again!”

What is your creative space like?

I did have an office but that got turned into a child´s room, so now I share a desk with my wife, who´s a teacher. It´s not ideal, especially as I like a lot of stuff around me while I work – books, pages of notes, coffee cups, wine glasses – and she really doesn´t.

Have you any advice for budding writers interested in film? Have you any books or films to recommend?

Watch films, as many as you can. If you want to write about film or write screenplays, you have to watch a lot of films. The stuff that´s on YouTube alone is incredible to someone like me who grew up pre-VHS. I don´t read screenwriting books, I think they´ve been a malign influence on writers and producers. But when you´ve seen a lot, it gives you confidence. When I started to meet producers and directors who had a lot of impressive credits while I´d done very little, it really helped that I knew what I was talking about. So seriously, watch more films!

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

I´m going to just keep at it. I´ve had a fair amount of critical acclaim – my books have all been well received – but earning some real money would be nice. Books are there, you can hold them in your hand but screenplays are a bit ephemeral, like blueprints for a building not built yet or a recipe for an unmade cake. So getting something filmed is maybe the most important thing to me.

Cultographies

Devil’s Advocates

Studying British Cinema

Inky Interview Exclusive: Award Winning Dramatist Lavinia Murray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you any advice for budding writers?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Buy your copy here of Out Damned Spot by Urbane Publications

 

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Inkspeak: The Cusp Of What Is Blue by Mark Sheeky

blue

 

 

We lie on the cusp of what is blue
up and round, to express
our hearts is destroy them,
and in understanding we gain a transient peace,
but…
The forest is dark, the brown shack of
music glows with party dwellers.
It is warm here, the damp American rain,
the toads sing their heavy song.
It’s no wonder that this sound
was born here,
this cusp of what is blue.
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Poetry-Prose Drawer: The Cardiologist’s Waiting Room by Faye Joy

Wartezimmer mit Bilderrahmen und Sthlen

A man walks out of one inner door, enters another. There’s a bundle of motoring magazines on a low table. For the six minutes I wait, I wonder what he is doing. I sense I am being watched. I look up to the ceiling – leak stains in dusty pink. I walk through the other door he has opened for me, tall man in grey suit. I sit facing him, look up to another dusty pink ceiling and across to a remote camera next to his computer. I see myself in pink lingerie reaching for a porno magazine from the pile on the low table. There are three others similarly dressed, watching me.

 

Poetry Drawer: Coracle by A. K. Hepburn

pennine

Coracle

He drifted up the spine

of the Pennines.

Peaks jutted from the water,

vertebrae of a long-dead whale

breaching the surface

to suck salty air

through a phantom blow hole.

 

The vessel spun,

reluctant against

the waves which stirred

and broke

over the skeletons of old oaks

littering the sea floor.

 

Above, seagulls

swooped and cried

in tongues learnt

from vultures, waiting

for an updraft

to send the tiny boat

skittering upturned

into the ceaseless ocean,

leaving a morsel

to fill their caged sides.

 

Pantry Prose: Hire Hari by Robyn Cain

indian

The Auntie from India knew nothing about telephone etiquette. Whoever picked up, she kick-started a fast spiel like a child who’d had a full day at the fun fair.

‘Hellooo. All okay? So hot here. . .’ Information on her various religious excursions to temples followed by social and local news moved quickly to problematic. ‘…and the thief solicitor, he’s demanding more money. I paid him that ten lukh Rupees we talked about. I reminded him we agreed the figures before he took on the case but now he is asking for more – ’

‘Auntie.’ I finally got a word in. ‘I’ll get Mum for you.’ Taking the instrument I tried handing it to Mum who was chopping the onions, mouthing Auntie.

‘Put it on loudspeaker.’ I noticed Mum grimace and knew it was because her sister regurgitates the same verbal diarrhoea. Fortunately, Mum was not timid at interjecting. ‘I told you not to pay up front.’

‘But…he came recommended,’ Auntie said defensively.

‘Probably bribed people to say it. Don’t pay the chura anymore. Solicitor indeed!’

‘But…he can’t carry on working the court case if I don’t pay another five hundred Rupees. At least that’s what he says.’

Mum cleared her throat, and leaned forward confrontationally. ‘They are like blood suckers taking everything from the poor people.’ She sighed. ‘Tell him a bit now and more when the case is finished.

‘Sister, can you transfer more money?’

‘Why do you want more when there’s still plenty in the account?’ Mum snapped.

‘Juswant…took all…he’s emptied the bank account.’

‘You gave him our pass codes? Why?’ A long cringe-making pause. ‘Why’s your son done that?’

Another slice of silence, then Mum let forth a stream of words that slapped whip-like against the air. All of a sudden it was difficult for me to breathe. A few more moments and my ears would start buzzing. Hearing Dad at the front door it was as though he’d brought fresh air with him, and I breathed again. And then wished I hadn’t. He was waving a wafer-thin airmail letter.

My sister and I are both Daddies’ girls. He is the cool moon to Mum’s hot sun, and, to tap into a cliché, our closeness is envied by all because we eat, sleep, drink and watch everything together. His startling explosive swearing shocked Mum into ending her conversation. Looking from him to Mum who’d paled, I decided it was best to remain quiet.

‘This is blackmail.’ The letter sounded like a rustling leaf in late Autumn as he scrunched it. ‘I’d rather pay someone else than be related to their kind. Marriage? What, because I have two daughters? Never!’ He continued expostulating as Mum successfully prised his hand open, retrieving the paper with its neat, densely packed lines formed by the Hindi lettering. ‘I don’t want her, or-or her worthless son, or his loutish, any-any of his associates anywhere near my family. How dare…they’re snakes. You can’t trust any of them there…and they want to come here!’

*

I helped with dinner. Multi-tasking, Mum alternated between giving me instructions and telling Dad the latest news from family and friends.

‘It’s a good family. Sorting out a marriage could help take the pressure off all of us. The engagement can be soon,’ Mum said.

‘Someone getting married?’ Shyna had descended to take a mini break from revising for her History exam.

‘Yes,’ Mum said evasively. ‘Add half a teaspoon of garam masala. And butter the roti. Hurry, they’re getting cold.’

‘If we’re going, can I wear a mustard-coloured lehenga? And get my hair straightened?’ I asked.

‘No more questions!’ Deftly flipping and browning the final roti over the gas flames, she added it to the pile.

Betair we’ll tell you when you need to know.’ Dad’s lips twisted familiarly in a wry smile, softening Mum’s impatient glare at me. Had she then stormed out he’d have given the usual unnecessary explanation: ‘Your mum is bravely keeping sane for all her family.’ Or: ‘You know she only raises her voice when she’s right and we’re wrong.’ Shyna and I can’t wait for the time when she’s wrong. The one good thing to come out of recent events was bearable captive family time after our evening meals; engrossed in their issues, Mum and Dad nagged us less.

‘Why do you believe everything she tells you? Drug dealers? That’s what happens when you spoil your children. What does she want us to do? We can’t stop him. They are not my responsibility!’ Dad gulped down half his lager and, taking the remote control off me, started flicking through the television channels.

‘They could kill him…’ Mum pointed out.

Dad scratched his bristly chin thoughtfully. ‘That’s easy over there. I hear it’s less than five hundred pounds nowadays. Stabbings used to be popular but now tablets are more popular.’

‘Oh, that’s all right then,’ Mum said sarcastically.

Mum got her way and another money order was sent to Auntie. That was months prior to sorting visas, legal papers and booking tickets to India.

Thankfully the great day of departure arrived. While we stuffed ourselves inside it, the usual amount of labelled luggage was loaded into the taxi’s boot by the driver. For once, the train was packed. Standing close, Shyna and I sent coded texts to one another and had nothing to complain about at the journey’s end.

After Mum’s luggage covered the short distance between being tagged and put on the conveyor to disappearing through the plastic flaps, we accompanied her to be frisked by security. As a female uniformed officer was patting down Mum’s salwar-clad outside leg and up the inside, she beamed back at us and said very loudly, ‘My plan will get rid of them for good.’

Thankfully it was in Punjabi otherwise there could have been a number of deductions that the airport authorities would have made – some good, some bad. And of course she may never have got to board her flight.

Startled, we looked at Dad. ‘What plan? Dad, what’s Mum talking about?’ I asked.

‘You’ll find out when your mum gets back,’ he replied and added, ‘What are my lovely girls going to cook for their old dad tonight? Only joking. How do you say, you know, when the cat is away…?’

Either side of him, we hooked an arm through his and urged him along. ‘While the cat’s away the mice will play,’ Shyna said.

‘A-ha. Tonight is special time off so we get a takeaway,’ he said. ‘And we don’t tell your mum.’

*

Our welcoming her back in Britain again was double-edged. We’d enjoyed Dad’s no rules but we’d missed Mum’s strictness. Her cases by the wall looking like open-mouthed gargoyles, we sat together listening to Mum, and it was like the three weeks without her had never been.

‘Juswant’s really in trouble. He’s got in with the drugs cartel people from the next town. I had many long talks with the family. Everybody had ideas. Bring Juswant here. Or to another of our family in America or Canada. Or marry him off so he becomes a man. Anyway, it’s going to be difficult but we can sort it all. Shyna, pass me my bag.’ A quick rummage and Mum handed an envelope to Dad. His can of lager mid-way to his lips, never made it as she took it off him.

‘What’s this?’ Perusing it, he burst out laughing. ‘Hari Hound?’

‘Are we getting a dog?’ I asked excitedly. I had been expecting one every Christmas just like in the adverts on television.

Dad pursed his lips as he scrutinised the paper without his glasses. ‘Hm. For all your life’s complicated needs, there’s Hari the Hound here to help. Need help to find your other half? Missing information? No job too small or big. Just like bloodhounds, we sniff out the problem and get any job you need doing, done. Lots of needs in that. What, because they need it?’

‘Oh, does that mean we’re not getting a dog then?’ I asked but was completely ignored.

Dad asked, ‘And what’s he going to do? You trust all this…this Hari stuff?’

‘My gut said so. Dad went to Ludhiana with me specially to check them out, and met Hari. He thought the trip worth doing.’ Mum sounded self-satisfied.

It was Shyna that dropped the bombshell the next evening. Obeying parental orders I went to fetch her. Taking the stairs two at a time my rushed entry to her room was foiled. The door was locked.

‘Shyna, what you doing?’ I pressed down on the handle and pushed but nothing budged. She never missed her favourite television soap. Hunkering down to peer through the keyhole, I just about made out her form on the bed. Not a good sign for someone as exuberant as her. Standing up and tapping lightly, I called, ‘It’s me.’ All the locks in the house were well oiled so I barely heard it turn. She let me in but returned to her previous position. ‘You okay?’

‘I’m being married off.’

‘You got to be kidding. And you’re not old enough. You’re not, are you? And they can’t really make you…can they?’ Her immediate thump on the pillow with balled fists spoke for her.

She snorted. ‘Legal age is sixteen, and I’m nearly that, and in two years you’ll be too and we’ll find out then, won’t we!’

What a horrible thought. ‘But…how do you know…I mean, when did they tell you, ’cause I’ve been around the whole time and…’ I didn’t want to believe it.

Undoing her plait, she scraped back her hair and started re-doing it tighter than necessary. ‘They don’t need to tell us, do they…anyway, I heard Mum onto one of her friends and then she and Dad were arguing about it. That’s her big plan, remember? You know what Mum’s like, she’ll make Dad do what she wants.’

‘He doesn’t always give in.’ It sounded weak even to me. ‘At least not every time.’ With anything parent-related, Shyna and I were usually thinking on the same rung of the ladder. Mum could be evasive and talk with double-tongue, keeping everything open to conjecture. Dispiritedly slipping out of my pink rabbit-headed slippers, I joined her and sat lotus style.

‘She was saying, Mum that is, that she had heard good things about “the boy”.  Makes sense now why Dad didn’t go with her to India. He stayed behind to spy on us.’ There was a catch in her voice. She rubbed at the point on her throat where it hurts if you stop yourself from crying. I always did the same.

‘We’ll have to get Dad on our side. Then they can’t make us do anything we don’t want to do.’

Shyna’s look was disparaging. ‘It’s nothing to do with “they”. You’ve been wanting a dog and have you got one? No, because Mum doesn’t want all that mess and cleaning. She’s the boss. I told you I thought they were up to something, didn’t I? And now the big day’s here. That’s probably why Auntie’s visiting.’ She twisted her lips exactly like Dad did, her voice bitter. ‘For my wedding.’ Pulling at my ponytail, she thrust it away forcefully stinging my skin. ‘Get it?’

I nodded and rubbed my cheek. ‘And she’s bringing – ’

‘Her son and a couple of his friends here,’ she completed for me. ‘I haven’t got much time. Wouldn’t mind but Dad doesn’t even like any of them. It’s all Mum’s fault.’

I didn’t understand what she was saying but I felt the dread move along my legs. My feet had already gone numb. ‘I don’t think Dad will let it happen. Besides, don’t they come here and you’ve got to be married there? Not the other way around.’

‘Doesn’t matter. They’ll make me. How can I embarrass them and say no? I think the best thing is to pretend to be sick tonight. And in the morning they can’t make me go to the airport with them. Then I’ll pack and stuff.’ All of sudden energised, she sat up with alacrity. ‘We know Mum puts her cash in the old toffee tin. You go get that while she’s watching television and I’ll check online.’ She took a noisy breath. ‘There’s bound to be places for vulnerable girls. Plus, we’re Asian. Look, go back downstairs. Tell them I’m not feeling great. Tell them I…I’ve just been sick in the toilet. Just copy me in the morning, okay?’

‘I can’t take her…it’s Mum’s money and it’s stealing.’

‘If you don’t we’re going to starve. You want to die? We aren’t going to find jobs straight away, are we? Take just a bit then so she won’t notice, eh? Look, I’m thinking on my feet here.’

I was about to tiptoe into Mum and Dad’s room, when Mum summoned us. Shyna motioned for me to go down while she hurried into the bathroom, locked the door and started coughing.

‘Where’s Shyna?’ Mum asked.

‘In the bathroom. I think she’s not well. Feeling sick she said to say.’ Whenever Mum looked at me I couldn’t do untruths. Mum passed me on the stairs to check for herself.

I don’t know how Shyna passed the lying-to-Mum test but she was believed. It’s a pity because as well as Eastenders she ended up missing out on her favourite dinner too. With the visitors from India coming, Mum had prepped loads. In addition to the saag, she’d made spicy lamb meatballs, and instead of roti to go with them, she did something unhealthy – puris. Dad and I made sure they didn’t go to waste. I even beat him by eating three fresh green chillies to his one with my dhal. It was worth it because he gave me five pounds.

As the evening wore on, my stomach started churning and I just couldn’t get myself to look at Mum and Dad. All I could think of was how much I’d miss them. When everything was cleared away and I told Shyna about Mum making a feast, she just laughed and said I wouldn’t understand even if she told me and then said, ‘It’s like the ritual of the last supper. I’m the sacrificial lamb.’

I had numerous suggestions ready to leap off my tongue, the prime-most one being telling Mum and Dad everything. In the morning, a very happy-looking Mum forced a terrible-looking Shyna to eat some dry toast. Acting like a martyr, Shyna nibbled and swallowed slowly but did whisper, ‘I’m starving,’ as well as opportunistically grabbing quick bites of mine whenever Mum had her back to us.

‘Girls, hurry up. We’re walking to the station and what with them working on our line, we can’t afford to miss our train.’ Dad was already wearing his coat.

‘But, Dad, I don’t feel – ’

‘Coat, Shyna!’ Mum interrupted with the voice, and Shyna was frozen. I followed suit hurriedly.

Safely ensconced and speeding towards Shyna’s doom and gloom future, I couldn’t help noticing the distorting effect of Mum’s face reflected off the carriage window; with the slightest of movement her expression was Machiavellian, one minute angelic the next devilish. I nudged Shyna, drawing her attention to it. She nodded obliquely.

As if she knew, Mum’s lips stretched a litter farther, deepening the creases either side of her lips. Some smiles were like laughter you couldn’t help mirroring. Our mum’s were as rare as the opportunity to lick a bar of gold.

‘You okay?’ Mum asked Shyna. Caught off guard my sister nodded. ‘You tell me straight away if I need to get you anything. I’m going to need both of you well and helping me take care of our visitors.’

‘Or we’ll never hear the end of it.’ Dad grinned but Mum’s glance wiped it off.

‘Good.’ Mum nodded, and the action caused her lime-green and orange diamond-patterned head scarf to slip. We had been waiting years to see it disappear but its colours refuse to fade. Her brows knitted together in a frown. Tutting, she pulled it up, shooting a silencing glare at us as if knowing that one of us was going to comment on how the hideous thing matched nothing in her wardrobe. The remainder of the journey was made in silence, broken only occasionally by the occasional comment from Dad about Hari Hound to Mum.

‘Ten weeks is so long,’ I couldn’t stop myself from saying when we got to Heathrow Airport. ‘I mean…every day…’ The enormity of what was about to happen had finally hit me.

‘They are not going to be with us all the time. They’ll be doing sightseeing. And going to stay with other relatives. Don’t worry…it’ll pass really quickly.’ Dad’s face didn’t match his reassuring words or tone.

Shyna spoke up. ‘Even with short stays with other relatives, it’s still a lot of days spent at ours. Aren’t they going to be stuck in their ways? Won’t they turn us into their servants?’

My sister was right. Indian hospitality was hard work.

‘You girls should have worn your Indian clothes.’ Mum seemed distracted as she looked at the signs for directions. All of a sudden she grabbed Dad’s arm. ‘We don’t all need to go. It’s only a few calls. I’ll meet you back at that cafe,’ she said to him and headed for the public telephones. She was gone for a long time but when she joined us she was like the feline who’d trapped her mouse and was anticipating the play to come.

‘You managed to get through then?’ Dad asked.

‘Yes. Everything’s sorted. I spoke to you-know-who.’ She leaned forward and when we followed her cue, she laughed and touched my cheek. ‘He said be careful here and make sure we’re not overheard. Just good precautions.’

‘Okay…but are…ahem…arrangements in hand here? Are they ready?’ Dad whispered loudly.

‘I went and checked. And Hari has been good. Efficient. All the information they need he’s given them. Including what they’ll find secreted. Just wait.’ Mum looked over at the people queuing for food. ‘I think I’m a bit hungry. Hm…a full English will keep me going until my sister and her entourage lands. Anyone else hungry? Shyna?’

We kept a close eye on the notice boards and were ready and waiting at the right place and time. Mum spotted her sister and managed a royal wave. The two young men nearest her were deep in conversation. They stopped briefly to cast an interested look in our direction.

I moved closer to Mum who put her arm around me. Something about them didn’t feel right. I could feel the knot inside my stomach and the onslaught of indigestion. ‘Mum, Shyna can’t marry either of them,’ I said urgently.

‘Marry? Who said so? Of course she isn’t.’ Mum looked from me to Shyna. ‘You’re too young for a start. What on Earth makes…’ She was looking in the distance. Airport security officers were leading the three newly arrived Asian people away.

‘Right, time to go back and kill more time,’ Mum said.

‘What’s going on, Mum? Dad?’ Shyna asked.

‘The officers must suspect them of carrying something illegal and trying to sneak it into the country. Or of course something else they shouldn’t,’ Dad said. ‘Not going too easy on whichever of them is the culprit, eh?’ He winked at Mum.

‘I totally agree with you.’ Mum nodded. Hearing her mobile ring, she answered. ‘Hello. Yes, Hari. Oh yes. Exactly as you said. Into the luggage? Uh-huh. Very good. Thank you. There’s no point in waiting for my sister, is there?’ She smiled back at Dad and pulled me close. ‘Yes Hari. I’ll definitely be recommending your unique services. The second half of the payment by bank transfer okay? Good. Bye bye.’

Inky Interview Exclusive: Staffordshire Poet Laureate Bert Flitcroft

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Can you please tell Ink Pantry about your role as Staffordshire Poet Laureate?

As you would imagine, it’s an honorary position but the county appoint a Laureate formally, after an application and interview process. The brief is essentially to promote poetry within the County by giving readings, running workshops, etc, with existing poetry groups, and where possible to find new poetry readers and establish new poetry groups. There are also some commissioned poems to be written. Beyond that I’m free to do as little or as much as time allows.

I have chosen to devote a lot of my energy to supporting libraries. All libraries in the county are currently developing a ‘poetry space’ which can serve as a platform for local groups and schools to exhibit their writing as well as raising the profile of poetry generally as an art form.

We are also putting together at the moment The Staffordshire Poetry Collection (contemporary poems written about where people live) which will be exhibited around the County.

You ran residential poetry courses for sixth formers in Staffordshire, working with Carol Ann Duffy, Adrian Henry, and Linda France. What advice would you give to writers who are trying out poetry for the first time? How do you inspire people?

I don’t think there is one single piece of advice you can give, and I know mine is far from original, but I think the most important thing for a ‘beginner’ is not to be too ambitious in the early stages. Each person should be free to write what the need to write about personally, and then write something which satisfies themselves first and foremost. If it works for them, that’s the most important thing. There should be a joy in writing so it’s important not to make it a test and try to satisfy other people.

I also advise people to write in the early stages about what they know, from personal experience, whether that’s their job, their love life, domestic details, whatever. In doing so they will begin to ask questions and examine their lives, which for me is the first stage in ‘finding your voice’. There will be plenty of time later for ambition, philosophy, learning how to write ‘better’ poetry.

In the early stages, form and serious crafting, the technical side, are the least important things.

I’m not sure that I do inspire people in any particular way. I do know that I try to take away the fear of failure when writing poetry – that question of ‘but is it any good?’ should be replaced with ‘but does it work?’ which I feel is a more important question. And I do stress the question of joy quite often, the importance of not losing it. And I guess (obvious though it is) that there will always be something positive to say about a piece of writing: we should recognize that sitting down to write something is in itself a positive and affirming act.

After that, I would say go and start buying poetry books and subscribe to well-established magazines, read lots and lots of poetry, both traditional and contemporary, to see how other people write – that’s the only way you will ever develop a sense of perspective about your ‘work’.

Can you tell us about your time as Poet in Residence at The Southwell Poetry Festival?

Southwell is a delightful poetry festival. It has both a seriousness of purpose and a sort of intimacy, which makes it a lovely experience. I gave a reading from my two poetry collections combined with discussion, but the best part was just spending time in the (library) venue and being available for anyone  to pop in and chat about their work or poetry generally. I love that informal situation where people can just approach you and feel relaxed about it. I often think that’s where the real pleasure of being involved in the poetry scene lies.

What are you reading at the moment and what is your favourite novel?

At the moment I’m reading one of Bernard Cornwall’s historical novels, ‘Warriors of the Storm’, but essentially I’m a Trollope fan and shortly about to embark on a second reading of his complete works. I guess if I had to pick one favourite novel it would be ‘The Warden’ but it would be close call between that and E.M. Forster’s  ‘A Room With a View’.

The warden is the sort of thoroughly moral and good character I feel we should all aspire to emulate. ‘A Room with a View’ is a novel with hidden depths that spoke to me personally on so many different levels when I first read it.

Have you a preferred form of poetry to employ, or does the form naturally evolve?

No, I don’t really have a preferred form of poetry. While it’s important to understand and develop the discipline of writing in traditional forms, (know the rules so that you can break them with impunity), personally I’m more interested in what a poem is saying, as long as it is said effectively. I find that when I read a poem I like, it usually stands up to some degree of critical analysis anyway.

In my own writing I always allow the poem to find its own form, but it is surprising how often I seem to edge towards the sonnet, usually the Petrarchan, and I do like to feel that most of my poems on the page stand up to a certain amount of critical analysis.

What is your creative space like?

I have a sort of small study filled with poetry books and a PC, but I often go out to write. I need a change of scenery, so I have 4 favourite coffee bars and hotel lounges – I like a comfy armchair when I’m pondering or reading.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival. What have you performed there? What other literary/art events would you recommend?

I love the Edinburgh Fringe. Blackwell’s Bookshop run a series of literary evenings with invited guest readers, both novelists and poets, sharing the stage. I was lucky enough to be invited to read and have been invited back on two further occasions to read from my two poetry collections, ‘Singing Puccini at the Kitchen Sink’ and ‘Thought-Apples’. I’m told that’s exceptional as Blackwells do heavily promote Scottish writing, so I feel quite lucky and privileged.

I will pop along to Southwell and Buxton and Wenlock when I can, but there are three festivals I go to most years (as well as Edinburgh):

The Ledbury Poetry Festival

The Ilkley Literature Festival

The Birmingham Literature Festival

Can you tell us of one of the best days of your life?

Not really. I’ve been lucky enough to have had quite a few.

Have you invented any words yourself?!

I will occasionally come up with a portmanteau word or use an adjective as a verb, that sort of thing, but I’m not sure they really count. I think it’s more valuable to come up with an original image or conceit rather than a word.

Which poets do you like and why?

Thomas Hardy, for the beauty of his rhythms, his rhymes, and the strong emotional content of his poetry.

Thom Gunn and Philip Larkin because they show how successfully you can write about motor bikes, supermarkets, the nitty gritty of everyday life.

Mary Oliver for the depth of her feeling for the Natural World.

Billy Collins for his humour and accessible style, and his randomness.

What themes keep cropping up in your work? What do you care about the most?

I care most about people and the lives we all lead, so I tend to write from emotional impulse.

Themes which do crop up I guess are marriage and family and age, but science, maths, railways and history frequently break through and become the vehicle for a poem. These things are latent interests from childhood and schooldays, so they are lodged pretty deeply. I don’t actively seek them out when writing; they seem to force their way in and take over.

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

Here are two poems I have become fond of, partly because people often ask me to read them again if they have heard them before, so I guess they speak to people in a pleasing way.

Sonnet to a Bacon Sandwich

You, with a nappy gripped in one hand,

flung the plate over my head.

I remember how the white bread

took its own trajectory like a startled bird.

You yelled something about pulling and weight.

Me? I was at the table waiting to be fed.

Hadn’t I been working all day?

And wasn’t that the wife’s job anyway?

These days, at each anniversary we still

chew over that bacon sandwich,

our only serious row, and how

we both had to learn to cut off the rind,

to butter each other’s bread from time to time.

To listen for the spitting under the grill.

‘Sonnet to a Bacon Sandwich’ arose out of a real incident and is one of those poems in which a single conceit becomes the focus and provides unity, but also acts as a metaphor for what the poem is really saying. As I indicated earlier, the sonnet form arose out of the content – I certainly did not set out with the idea of writing a sonnet.

Waiting for Anna

This Moses basket fresh by the bed

is waiting,

like a promise, like a Truth

about to come true.

Not for a casting off among the reeds

but for a coming

home.

To open a door, to enter a room,

is always to begin again.

Already the basket’s empty space,

the very air inside it,

is sacred.

There is nothing more to say.

Silence has a voice.

Emptiness is eloquent.

‘Waiting for Anna’ is a deeply personal poem and I think I’m fond of it as an example of how a single moment, a small thing, can capture something much bigger. And in this case it illustrates, I’d like to think, how very often ‘less is more’.

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

I have another year as Staffordshire Poet Laureate, and I have no real poetry plans beyond that. I shall be quite happy just to continue writing for the pleasure of it. If people happen to enjoy what I write and invite me along to share it that’s a lovely bonus and I’m grateful. There are a lot of good poets out there.

meagain

Bert’s website

 

Books From The Pantry: Butterfly Bones by Rebecca Carpenter

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We’re delighted to welcome debut YA author Rebecca Carpenter to the shelves today. Her contemporary science fiction Butterfly Bones has just been released and is certainly making waves with reviewers. Its themes are dark, deep, and haunting, but Rebecca isn’t afraid to tackle life’s tough issues.

Rebecca, tell us about your background. How did you come to be a writer? Did you excel in English at school?

I’ve always loved writing. English was my best and favourite subject. I started writing poetry at a young age, followed by stories and song lyrics. As a teenager, I loved keeping a diary. But I didn’t become serious about writing until 2011 when I decided to write a screenplay. Two screenplays later, I wrote my memoir, The Total Deconstruction of Chloe Wilson, a young adult story about my teen pregnancy. Butterfly Bones, as well as six picture books and a middle grade novel, have since followed.

Butterfly Bones is an intense and haunting read; the main character really does have a terrible time with bullying on top of having a bone disorder. Can you tell us what made you choose such traumatic themes? And the butterflies and science – is this something you’re simply interested in?

I chose topics that are difficult, yet real. Bullying is a real problem for many teens, and those with physical or mental disabilities are at even more risk of being singled out for these differences. And honestly, this is the story that Bethany told me to write. As far as the butterflies and science, the unit I teach my pre-kindergarten class about caterpillars and butterflies is one of my favourites. The concept of starting as one thing – a larva – and then through tumultuous changes metamorphosing into an insect is truly miraculous. Applying this concept to people became something I had to attempt in my writing. I love science. Again, teaching young children, one of the best parts of my job is to explore and experiment with all kinds of things, helping my students to develop a love and respect for nature and the world around us.

The book has been described by a lot of readers as utterly unique. How on earth did you come up with such an unusual storyline?

It literally came to me from a song by The Cure, ‘Caterpillar’. I knew as soon as it came to me that I had to write it. Matter of fact, I felt driven in a way I had never felt before. I was constantly writing notes all over the place as the story developed and poured from me. I have pages upon pages of scrap paper with first draft ideas scribbled on them. I finally got smarter and bought a bunch of spiral notebooks to keep at work, home, and even my vehicle so I could better organize my thoughts.

Has becoming a published author been easy? How has the experience been for you so far?

Becoming a published author has been a five-year endeavour of revisions and tears. But the journey has made me a better writer and made Butterfly Bones a strong young adult novel.

Butterfly Bones is the first in the Metamorphosis series. When should fans expect book two? It’s well documented that writing the second book in a series can be terrifying and difficult; how have you found writing the sequel?

I’m hoping to have book two finished and ready for my editor by May, 2017. But I’ll push for earlier if possible. Writing the sequel has been difficult in the fact that I have to start all over in my writing, acting as if no one has read the first book, or that the first book even exists. Weaving the important backstory so the reader understands what’s happening is tricky. If I add too much at a time, it becomes an info dump. But not enough and the reader might be confused. And since the character doesn’t go through metamorphosis in this book, I have to dig deep to find another source of science fiction. But one of the joys of this story has been writing in multi POV, and one of the characters is told in free verse. I love poetry, and so this has been a pure delight to write.

They say now that a writer’s job is no longer just about the writing. Do you agree? What kinds of things have you done to market your book and receive reviews?

It’s all about the marketing. Writing is the easy part. I seriously think just as many writing workshops should focus on marketing as they do on craft. I don’t think any new author is ready for the work that marketing requires. The biggest thing has been creating my author brand and being active on social media. Building an audience takes time … and tonnes of patience.

What kind of books do you like to read in your free time? Any favourites? Any authors who have particularly inspired you and your writing?

I don’t have a favorite genre. But I do love to read YA. But it must be well written or I move on to something else. Due to my passion for working with children, I mostly read children’s books. Which I love. Shell Silverstein and Jan Brett are two of my favourite children’s authors. I also love a good mystery/thriller. Defending Jacob by William Landay has become my favourite thriller. I collect books about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and I inherited a large collection of books on all the American presidents that I hope to read some day.

What’s a typical day for you? How and when do you fit in writing? Do you write in one particular spot or do you like to move around? Where do you find inspiration?

Weekdays I awaken at 5:15 a.m. and am off to start my job of running a large childcare/preschool by 6:15. I work until 5:45 p.m. and then I’m home for dinner with my hubby. Evenings are spent reading submissions for a small press, editing manuscripts for clients, or writing. Then it’s off to bed and it starts all over again. Weekends I do as much writing as possible, but if I have an editing job, it takes precedence and requires most of that time.

For those who are pursuing the dream of publication, what advice might you offer them?

Never give up. Keep writing. Keep reading in the genre that you’re writing. And always look for opportunities to learn and hone your craft. It took me five years to publish Butterfly Bones – five years of learning how to be a better writer and how to write a stronger story.

What other talents do you have? Any party tricks you can tell us about? How about the best day of your life?

I’m a great cook and love to bake. My husband calls me his “gourmet chef”. I collect cook books and get excited about trying new recipes. Homemade marinara sauce is one of my trademarks. I enjoy crafts like wreath making, and I dabble in pencil sketches. I took tap dance as a child and like to strap on a pair of tap shoes and drive my hubby crazy with all the noise. The best day of my life was the day I married my husband, Cory. He makes my life interesting and makes me laugh every day. He’s my best friend and I’m sure we have many best days ahead of us.

If you want to find out more about Rebecca and her writing check out her website, and of course, grab a copy of Butterfly Bones whilst you’re cruising the internet – not only is it well worth the read, but if you buy a copy in December, the publisher will enter you in a draw to win a Kindle!

 

Books From The Pantry: Sightings by Elisabeth Sennitt Clough, reviewed by Colette Victor

 

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In between the neat black letters on the white pages of Elisabeth Sennitt Clough’s collection of poems, Sightings, crawl glowing beasts and scaled monsters, the ghost of a father, a fire-haired mother and the ‘small pink son she gave away’ as well as a brute of a stepfather. The poet tells of girls so inconsequential their own mothers forget about them, and boys with small gold hairs like tinsel on their arms. She brings her subjects alive through her use of rich sensory imagery and lines that are so precise they make your heart ache. This the kind of poetry you can’t help walking away from with goose flesh all over your body for its honesty, its rawness and the poet’s disarming willingness to bare all. Sennitt Clough, as she states so eloquently herself in ‘The Glass Collar’, brings her childhood to therapy in this collection of unforgiving poems. In ‘Threshold’ the art teacher remarks that the girl’s art contains a subtle anger, but there’s nothing subtle about Sennitt Clough’s anger. And yet, at the same time, it’s fragile too, ready to break into a thousand shards at any moment, like the glass collar in the poem by the same name. In the title poem ‘Sightings’ she tells of a peacock that is the rarest of gifts. Sennitt Clough’s collection is just such a peacock, the rarest of gifts, one you cannot walk away from unchanged.

Elisabeth Sennitt Clough was born in Ely and now lives in Norfolk with her husband and three children. Her pamphlet Glass was a winner in the Paper Swans inaugural pamphlet competition and her debut collection Sightings is forthcoming from Pindrop Press. Her poems have appeared in The Rialto, Mslexia, Magma, Stand and The Cannons’ Mouth.

www.elisabethsennittclough.co.uk

Colette Victor is a twice published author. Both her books, the YA novel Head Over Heart (Chicken House, 2014) as well as the literary novel What To Do With Lobsters In a Place Like Klippiesfontein (Cargo Publishing, 2015) were finalists in two well-respected debut novel competitions. Her novels have been translated into German.

www.colettevictor.be