Inky Interview Special: Poet and Editor Isabelle Kenyon

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

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

The Van

fear tastes like rust. blood and metal.

waiting for you, university bags.

smells like animal saliva, like curdled sweat.

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

underwater pressure bubble

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

fear is inflating

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

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

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

Nature Reversal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you reading at the moment?

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

Tell us a random fact about yourself.

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

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

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

Inky Interview Special: Poet Linda Cosgriff

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

Hi Deborah, thanks for having me!

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

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

The Perils of Making a Baby

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

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

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

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

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

A Visit From Auntie Flo

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

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

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

It’s Hard Being A Woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who inspires you?

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

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

What are you reading at the moment?

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

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

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

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

Matthew James Publishing: Get your copy here

Linda on Twitter

Write Out Loud

Inky Interview Exclusive: Romani Poet Raine Geoghegan

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

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

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

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

Keep movin’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How did Earthworks come about?

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

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

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

Tell us about your dancing days.

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

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

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

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

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




Poetry Drawer: There is a River by Raine Geoghegan

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

Poetry Drawer: Sunday Mornings by Raine Geoghegan

Inky Interview Exclusive: T. L. Dyer


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

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

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

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

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

Where can we get a copy of Hidden?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you reading at the moment?

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

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

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

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

Have you written in any other genre?

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

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

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

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

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

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

The men had separated themselves from their old lives.

But had they really thought they could stay hidden forever?

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

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

Inky Interview Exclusive: Former Cheshire Poet Laureate Joy Winkler

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

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

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

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

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

From ‘Change your Life’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wings, Planes and Weather Vanes

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

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

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

On Thursday

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell us about TOWN, your verse/drama.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What advice would you give to budding poets?

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

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

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

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

What are you reading at the moment?

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

Who inspires you?

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

What advice would you give to your younger self?

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

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

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

Inky Interview Special: Author Nicola Hulme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Joy Winkler at Tatton Park)


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

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

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

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

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

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

Nose-blowing Days

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

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

The Washing Line

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(‘Triumph of the Mechnauts’ by Mark Sheeky)


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

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

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

(Vision Board Workshop at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery)

Who inspires you?

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

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

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

What are you reading at the moment?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portia The Pear by Nicola Hulme

Nicola on Twitter

Inky Interview Special: Poet John Keane


Tell us about your journey towards becoming a poet.

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

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

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

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

The Drunken Bag Lady’s Arcadia

Cremation, Please

The Two Cultures

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

Ten Years Missing (In Memory of Andrew Gosden)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go Missing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lonely Ways is available here:

What advice would you give your younger self?

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

What are you reading at the moment?

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

What advice would you give to budding poets?

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

Who inspires you and why?

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

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

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

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

Daily Science Fiction


AHF #2


John Keane on Twitter

Inky Interview Special: Jan Hedger



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

Tell us about your journey towards becoming a poet.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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



(Photo Credits: Giles Penfound)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan’s Website

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

Hilary Robinson
(Photo Credit: Ben Robinson)

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

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

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

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

Rachel Davies
(Photo Credit: Bill Hibbert)

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

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

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

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

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

Alternative Mother #7

A three-toed sloth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Bridge Street

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

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

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

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

I haven’t spoken of that time
until today.

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

Sex as an Olympic Sport

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who inspires you?

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

What are you reading at the moment?

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

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

Have you any advice for budding poets?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Before I Remembered

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

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

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

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

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

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

At Bamburgh

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hilary Robinson on Twitter

Rachel Davies on Twitter

Angela Topping on Twitter

Angi Holden on Twitter


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

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

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

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

What can we expect from the show?

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

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

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

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

How did the idea develop?

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

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

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

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

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

What sort of feedback have you received?

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

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

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

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

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

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