MASS Poetry Festival was amazing, I am so glad that I was able to attend the hybrid event, it is a Biennial event and the programme was huge, extensive & creative. They had over 50 events featuring over 100 poets. This was the first festival since the 10th Anniversary in 2018. Headline poets included: Victoria Chang, Jos Charles, Martín Espada, Tyehimba Jess, Patricia Spears Jones, Lang Leav, Khadijah Queen, Naomi Shihab Nye, Ariana Reines, Dara Wier & more.
It was a joy to spot some of the Worcester MA (A Tale of Two Cities Project) poets on the bill and often in the audience too. It was a busy weekend – because, (as with all festivals) there was a clash, I was attending events for what felt like the whole 48hrs – it wasn’t!
What I also liked was the website booking system which enabled you to keep track of your own festival schedule, very handy. Especially when not in real life with a paper copy in your pocket.
The time zones meant much of the programme was quite late for BST (UK) and I was working unexpectedly out in the real world too, so it was a juggling act to hang onto all the event bookings. Sadly I missed the finale but as Mr. G hadn’t seen me most of the weekend it seemed only fair. I felt jet lagged by about 6pm Sunday!
Headline Reading with Victoria Chang and Khadijah Queen
I was excited to see Victoria Chang reading after recently reading her poetry in April (NaPoWriMo) and getting obsessed with OBIT and how she handles the hardest subjects in the most beautiful poetry.
The reading was opened by the winners of MASS PF First Poem Contest: Samn Stockwell, Samantha DeFlitch, and Emily Joan Cooper.
Khadijah Queen was the other headline act on the Opening Reading – I absolutely loved this reading and was glad to catch Khadijah later in the festival too.
Khadijah Queen is the author of five books of poetry, most recently I’m So Fine: A List of Famous Men & What I Had On (YesYes Books, 2017), a finalist for the National Poetry Series, which was praised in O Magazine, The New Yorker, Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere as “quietly devastating,” and “a portrait of defiance that turns the male gaze inside out.”
Victoria Chang’s new book of poetry, OBIT, was published by Copper Canyon Press in 2020 and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, longlisted for a National Book Award, as well as longlisted for a PEN-Voeckler Award. OBIT was also named a TIME Magazine, Publishers Weekly, NPR, Boston Globe Best Book of the Year, and a New York Times Notable Book.
As well as a diverse range of events, there were other things happening – some in real life some online. Such as the online Ekphrastic Gallery – which of course I enjoyed. Work by twelve amazingly gifted student artists from Montserrat College of Art, paired with bespoke poems by the winners of our Ekphrastic Gallery contest. This gallery was created thanks to the amazing work of Montserrat Faculty Members Colleen Michaels and Dawn Paul.
And the Improbable Places Walking Tour – another highlight. An audio tour highlighting some of the most memorable stops on The Improbable Places Poetry Tour has been made for your listening pleasure. The Improbable Places Poetry Tour, a reading series organized by Colleen Michaels of Montserrat College of Art, has run for over a decade around Beverly, Salem, and the North Shore bringing poetry and the community together in unexpected places. Yes, even in a swimming pool. This audio tour version will feature stops around the Massachusetts North Shore and can be enjoyed either with a day trip or virtually.
My Friday schedule started with this powerful reading.
New Elegies: How do we turn grief into song?
Four poets read from new collections that wrestle with the bounds and opportunities of the American elegy. Readings with Sumita Chakraborty, Rebecca Morgan Frank (who I have being enjoying over 2020/21), Erin Carlyle & Jessica Guzman.
Followed by an enjoyable/relaxed workshop with Kelly DuMar: How Pictures Heal.
In the midst of our shifting daily realities, I believe this one experience remains a constant: We all take and treasure photographs of the people, places and things that bring meaning and beauty into our lives. – Kelly DuMar
The Thing With Feathers: Poetry of Witness to Serious Illness and Trauma
Contemporary poets discuss their own poems dealing with serious illness and what they reveal about hope, what Emily Dickinson called “the thing with feathers”.
I have been writing trauma and illness recently, so was interested in this reading and discussion. It was really hard to decide as some of the events I wanted to go to clashed – decisions had to be made.
Oliver de la Paz (I discovered Oliver’s work in the 1st Lockdown), Jennifer Franklin (who hosts many of the Hudson Valley Writers events I have attended and who I heard read at the Emily Dickinson Museum), Fred Marchant (who was also part of the EDM reading) and Justin Wymer.
I am glad I made the decision to attend this reading, a rich discussion between poets and some heartening poems. As the programme stated: Sometimes, however, the poet finds hope, even in a factually hopeless situation. What is it in us that persists in singing, regardless of how dire the facts?
The final event I attended on Friday was the Headline Reading.
The second headline reading of the Festival, featured Lang Leav (who I recently discovered and then enjoyed a workshop she facilitated on prose poetry) and Dara Wier, with an opening reading by National Youth Poet Laureate Meera Dasgupta.
Meera Dasgupta is the youngest United States Youth Poet Laureate appointed in the history of the country. She is also the first U.S. Youth Poet Laureate to have been appointed from New York (as well as the Northeastern region) and the first Asian-American Youth Poet Laureate of the United States.
Novelist and poet Lang Leav was born in a refugee camp when her family were fleeing the Khmer Rouge Regime. She spent her formative years in Sydney, Australia, in the predominantly migrant town of Cabramatta. Among her many achievements, Lang is the winner of a Qantas Spirit of Youth Award, Churchill Fellowship and Goodreads Reader’s Choice Award.
Dara Wier’s books include In the Still of the Night (Wave Books, 2017), You Good Thing (Wave Books, 2013), Selected Poems (Wave Books, 2009), Remnants of Hannah (Wave Books, 2006), Reverse Rapture (Verse Press, 2005; 2006 Poetry Center Book Award), Hat On a Pond (Verse Press, 2002), and Voyages in English (Carnegie Mellon, 2001).
So the Stay at Home! Lit Festival is over – but there was no festival slump!
Saboteur Awards Festival (10th – 15th May) The team have been working hard to adapt the awards to a digital platform for the 2nd year and have introduced the Saboteur Awards Festival -a Panel Discussion, Workshop, Reading Series ‘specifically to promote work that had been impacted by the pandemic and/or the various lockdowns throughout the UK’.
At the end of the festival this year’s winners will be announced and then you can look forward to the Spotlight Winners Series running throughout May and all the way into July. There is a lot on offer on the You Tube channel.
I was super excited when I discovered Rose Condo was one of the performers on offer. I felt extremely lucky to finally catch Rose Condo’s reimagined show The Empathy Experiment. Amazing how she managed to deconstruct the 2019 show to bend around the global experience of 2020+ and I think probably makes it even stronger.
“An example of why we so desperately need to campaign for the survival of the arts.”
I met Rose back in about 2015, when she Headlined Hit the Ode in Birmingham and I was first introduced to her little red dot. I knew I wasn’t going to see The Empathy Experiment in Edinburgh (Festival) – for one thing I was still hobbling around on a stick! But I had hoped to catch her last year, online at Bradford Festival, so I am glad that she is still performing this reimagining of The Empathy Experiment.
The Carcanet Reading was highly enjoyable and great fun with a range of poets. I enjoyed readings from Katherine Horrex, Joey Connolly, Mina Gorji and Victoria Kennefick. I know the work of some of these poets and had most recently enjoyed Victoria Kennefick at the Stay at Home! Lit Festival. All of them were utterly brilliant and are on the Birthday list!
You can purchase the books by clicking the links beneath the covers.
Horrex – whose poems found an enthusiastic readership via Carcanet’s New Poetries series – unpicks the illusion that order upholds society and reveals the true ramshackle complexion of things. Her debut collection reimagines the ‘growlery’ of Dickens’ Bleak House by looking at the concept of internal space in a twenty-first century which is both connected and disjointed.
‘Ach! I misspoke. What I mean to say is this …’ In Long Pass, Joey Connolly’s first collection, the poet – in love, in puzzlement, in frustration or in elegy – keeps catching himself out, starting again. He wants to speak truthfully. He wants to say things simply. But nothing is as simple as it seems at first. Nothing strikes the interlocutor quite as he intends. Ach! He goes back. Deflections, tangents: the long pass, the long unfolding sentence, the growing sequence, move away from what they intend to say in order at last, wittily, angrily, ironically, to swerve in and say it.
‘...This is a serious attempt to write philosophy as poetry, to render complex arguments about nominalism and epistemology in verse without losing sensuality’s boom boom.’ Will Harris, Poetry School
Among Mina Gorji’s poems in New Poetries V (2011) was one about Houdini entitled ‘The Art of Escape’ which returns here as the title poem. This colourful and vivid first collection continues the course of Mina Gorji’s meticulous explorations of ‘the strange and sometimes darker side of nature’ and the different forms and meanings of escape: dandelions crossing the ocean, the journey of a gall wasp from Aleppo to England, the transformation of an armadillo into music. These poems shift by degrees until new patterns and sounds emerge, transforming the familiar into unexpected configurations. Art of Escape is a wonderful casting off into the complex waters of adult life, in which change has become the constant.
Victoria Kennefick’s daring first book, Eat or We Both Starve, draws readers into seemingly recognisable set-pieces – the family home, the shared meal, the rituals of historical occasions, desire – but Kennefick forges this material into new shapes, making them viable again for exploring what it is to live with the past – and not to be consumed by it.
I was lucky enough to grab a workshop ticket for the weekend with Rose, which was a fantastic way to start the weekend (after a much needed – real life working week- lie in)! It was a great group, I knew a few of the people who came to the workshop. I wasn’t sure what to expect… but ‘Have a (Kind) Word with Yourself’ is never going to be a bad experience. It was joyous, there was a lot of laughter and writing too. No pressure and very relaxed. I don’t want to give details away as I know Rose plans to repeat the show and workshop. You should definitely book on when you see it!
The festival experience led up to the most exciting part — the announcement of the 2021 Saboteur Winners with some special new graphics especially for the 2021 Ceremony!
Check out Saboteur Awards Results, follow across social media and look out for bountiful readings on the You Tube channel as they Spotlight the winners from the end of May (26th) until July (4th).
Julian Bishop, Maggie Butt, Sarah Doyle and Cheryl Moskowitz are four well-published and prize-winning members of Poets for the Planet, who have come together to perform climate emergency poems and publish a pamphlet ‘Poems for the Planet’ (2020) with all profits to eco-charities.
Julian Bishop is a former television journalist living in North London. He was longlisted in this year’s National Poetry Competition and won the 2021 Poets and Players Competition. He’s also a former runner-up in the Ginkgo Prize for Eco Poetry.
Maggie Butt’s sixth poetry collection is everlove (The London Magazine Editions 2021) and a novel, The Prisoner’s Wife, under the name Maggie Brookes was published internationally in 2020.
Sarah Doyle is a poet and PhD researcher. She is widely placed and published, with a pamphlet of collage poems inspired by Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals – Something so wild and new in this feeling – published by V. Press in March 2021.
Cheryl Moskowitz is a poet, novelist and creative translator. Together with composer Alastair Gavin she runs the poetry and electronics performance series, All Saints Sessions, http://www.allsaintssessions.uk. Her recent pamphlet, Maternal Impression, is published by Against the Grain Poetry Press.
This was a great reading from a book which got swallowed a bit by the pandemic, like my pamphlet ‘Patience’, this collective of poets also saw the readings they had lined up for the promotion of this publication cancelled. This is an important book – as all books are- but the message here is even more believed from the year we have all just experienced.
Write a Book in 10 Easy Steps!
Blank page and no idea how to begin? This practical hour-long workshop is guaranteed to kickstart your inspiration. We will explore the nuts and bolts of what a satisfying story needs. If you want to write commercial fiction that readers will adore this workshop is perfect for you!
Cesca Major is a novelist and screenwriter. She writes books based on mysterious events and The Thin Place is based around the sinister happenings at Overtoun Bridge in Scotland – a place where dogs have been known to leap to their deaths. Cesca has presented shows for ITV West and Sky Channels in the past. She enjoys hosting or speaking on festival panels and films vlogs about the writing process. She runs writing retreats twice a year in the West Country and teaches creative writing courses for the Henley School of Art. She writes uplifting books under other names and currently has a TV series in development. Cesca lives in Berkshire with her husband, son and twin girls.
This was an incredible workshop to finish my festival experience and a true lesson in how much can be packed into a one hour session. Busily scribbled notes throughout and it was a delight to hear a truthful, honest account of a career writer. Lots of insight into the process of simplifying the big obstacles that stop people from completing projects.
Pulling off online festivals is no mean feat and you have, once again, been incredible.
Snippet reviews from some of my festival experience. Enjoy your bite of SAHLF 2021.
All the featured books can be purchased in the S@HLF Bookshop here.
Layers in Flash Fiction
A writing workshop on imagery and structure, with Anita Goveas and Farhana Khalique.
Farhana Khalique is a writer, voiceover artist and teacher from London. Her stories are forthcoming or have appeared in the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology 2021, Leicester Writes Short Story Prize Anthology 2020, Reflex Fiction and more. Farhana has been shortlisted for The Asian Writer Short Story Prize, and she has won a Word Factory Apprentice Award. She is also the editor of Desi Reads and a submissions editor at SmokeLong Quarterly.
This was an amazing workshop, I signed up with the thought of getting back into Flash Fiction writing and these two certainly spurred me on. This was an excellent workshop, they managed to squeeze so much into the hour. I didn’t really know what to expect. They made me think about writing in a fresh, new way.
Thank You for The Small Things: Poetry Workshop with Nadine Aisha Jassat
A workshop with award-winning writer Nadine Aisha Jassat on using poetry to help give thanks for the small things. This gentle workshop will feature prompts to reflect and write on, suitable for folks writing for the first time or those who write regularly, and will make use of some zoom features including the chat box.
This was another incredible workshop, one which warmed all our hearts and again, so much packed into the hour. I got some writing done and have useful ideas to run with in the future. This hour was a pleasure and a joy and I am SO GLAD I didn’t miss this!
Friday was exceptionally busy so I didn’t make it to the festival until the evening.
Solace in Sound – Three Bloodaxe Poets Explore the Landscape of Grief
Join a trio of Bloodaxe poets whose recent poetry collections span Scotland, Ireland, England and Estonia. Each shares a powerful sense of their formative landscapes; whether farmland, forest, mountains, estuaries, rivers or beyond. In poems that consider the impact of loss – of friends and friendships, parents, or a communal event of the most traumatic kind – these collections foster sympathy and strength. The poets will read from their own work, and also from each other’s, creating a unique conversation about memory and resonance in the landscape.
Jane Clarke is the author of two poetry collections, The River and When the Tree Falls (Bloodaxe Books 2015 & 2019), and an illustrated chapbook, All the Way Home, (Smith|Doorstop 2019). Four of her poems feature in Staying Human (Bloodaxe Books 2020) and one of the poems from When the Tree Falls was selected for The Forward Book of Poetry 2021. She grew up on a farm in Co. Roscommon and her work explores enduring connections to people, place and nature. She lives in Glenmalure, Co. Wicklow where she combines writing with teaching & mentoring creative writing.
Philip Gross, born in Cornwall, son of an Estonian wartime refugee, has lived in South Wales since 2004. He won the T.S. Eliot Prize in 2009, a Cholmondeley Award in 2017, and is a keen collaborator – with artist Valerie Coffin Price on A Fold In The River (Seren, 2015), with poet Lesley Saunders on A Part of the Main (Mulfran, 2018) and with scientists on Dark Sky Park (Otter-Barry, 2018). His latest collections are Between The Islands (Bloodaxe, 2020) and Troeon/Turnings (Seren, 2021) with Welsh language poet Cyril Jones. A new Bloodaxe collection, The Thirteenth Angel, is due in 2022.
Heidi Williamson grew up in Norfolk and spent many years living in Central Scotland. Her first collection, Electric Shadow, was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize. The Print Museum won the 2016 East Anglian Book Award for Poetry. Return by Minor Road, published in 2020, revisits her time living in Dunblane at the time of the Primary School shooting and its aftermath. She is an Advisory Fellow for the Royal Literary Fund and also works for the Poetry Society, Poetry School, National Centre for Writing and The Writing Coach.
I did not want to miss this reading. I saw Heidi last year at the SAHLF and have been fortunate enough to attend several of Philip’s readings. This was an hour filled with incredible poetry. It’s always interesting to hear how themes from different bodies of work can chime together.
The FINAL weekend of the Festival post – COMING SOON!
Three years after the emergence of the global #MeToo movement, we revisit the poems (and poets) behind the #MeToo Women’s Poetry Anthology. Poets Jill Abram, Deborah Alma, Kim Moore, Wendy Pratt, Victoria Bennett, and Jhilmil Breckenridge discuss breaking the silence, whether there is still hope for change, and what needs to happen next for survivors to be heard. Any donations contributed during this event will be given to Women’s Aid.
The proceeds from this event and all proceeds from the book go to Women’s Aid – a charity supporting women in crisis.
Jill Abram is Director of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, a collective encouraging craft, community and development. Publications include The Rialto, Magma, Under the Radar, Ink Sweat & Tears, And Other Poems, and Harana.
Deborah Alma is a UK poet and teacher. Deborah is editor of #MeToo: A Women’s Poetry Anthology. Her first full collection, Dirty Laundry, is published by Nine Arches Press and she now runs the Poetry Pharmacy in Shropshire.
Kim Moore’s first collection The Art of Falling (Seren, 2015) won the 2016 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. Her second collection All The Men I Never Married will be published by Seren in October 2021.
Wendy Pratt’s latest collection When I Think of My Body as a Horse won the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet award. She is a poet, author and workshop facilitator and the creator and editor of Spelt magazine.
Her most recent poetry pamphlet, To Start The Year From Its Quiet Centre, was published by Indigo Dreams in 2020, and is an invitation to witness to the intimate moments of dying, telling the story of a relationship between women that is transformed through grief.
Jhilmil Breckenridge is a poet, writer and activist. She is the founder of Bhor Foundation, an Indian charity, which is active in mental health advocacy. Her debut poetry collection is Reclamation Song.
#Me Too was first coined in 2006 by New Yorker Toronto Burke. In 2017 following major press coverage (Harvey Weinstein) the # was used over 12 million times in a couple of weeks. Deborah Alma, after following the news, put out a message on Facebook asking who HADN’T experienced… and only 3% hadn’t. And actually in further conversation, this 3% had as well. The book was published in 2018 (Fair Acre Press), in a time when the #me too movement was hitting everyone’s radar.
Sadly, it is still a necessary message to get out to the world. More so since Lockdown.
I went to a few #Me Too readings when the book was launched. My submission didn’t make it between the cover there were hundreds of submissions and the book couldn’t accommodate them all, so Victoria Bennett stepped in and published them on the Wild Women Press website (mine can be found here along with many others). It was also included in a body of work exhibited as part of the ASKING FOR IT exhibition in 2019.
It was hearing Kim Moore read from The Art of Falling, which enabled me to find the strength to write it into existence in the first place.
This, I knew would be a brilliant reading and it was with lots of Q&A too and because of the weight of the subject matter they finished the event off with a touch of self-care. A question to every member of the panel.
This was an incredible workshop and I am so glad I didn’t miss it! If you suffer chronic pain and are a writer, go and watch this session if you can.
I can finally see why 2019 was NOT a creative year for me.
Snippet reviews from some of my festival experience. Enjoy your bite of SAHLF 2021.
All the featured books can be purchased in the S@HLF Bookshop here.
Monday was a Bank Holiday here which meant Mr G. had a rare day off work and we spent it not online much. I missed a good programme of events today but actually ended up going to the open mic as well, which I hadn’t anticipated.
The Pleasures of Detail
Join writer and University of Glasgow senior lecturer Elizabeth Reeder for a short workshop about gather original details – and how to them as a driving force in your writing.
This was a brilliant hour, lots of advice and thoughts on editing. People are still talking about this session *and we are on the last weekend of the festival now. I am not surprised, it was great. We did a short writing exercise from multiple angles, a useful take on the ordinary.
* Longlisted for the 2020 Highland Book Prize*
The online literary salon where writers and guests come together to read, listen and encourage. Prose, poetry and pleasant surprises welcome.
It was a fun hour and lovely to put names to faces from the INSTA sessions.
Join Kathryn Koromilas for a daily morning meditative writing session. In this calm and mindful session, we’ll meditate – in writing – with a poem. The intention of meditative writing is to help you remove mental obstacles, encourage mindful concentration, enhance your creative practice, and just generally supercharge your day. Sessions will be streamed live on Instagram, every morning from 9:15am to 9:45 am for the duration of the festival.
I have been joining in with these sessions on IGTV but TODAY I made my first LIVE session. They are a great way to start the day. Most of the recordings can be found on the SAHLF Instagram, a few had technical difficulties and unfortunately are not available.
The basis is meditative writing from the starting point of copy work. I have enjoyed this practise and have also found some of my own writing completed in these sessions has some gold within it too.
On top of that, these sessions are relaxing and fun.
Claire Dyer on Instagram Live
Poet and novelist Claire Dyer reads from Yield, her new poetry collection. In Yield, the the eponymous verb is repeatedly redefined over a poetic odyssey that sees a son becomes a daughter as the mother becomes a poet, only to see the daughter follow suit.
I was lucky enough to be at the Launch of Yield, but these poems do not lose their power the more you read/hear them.
I was glad to listen in again to this short reading from Yield.
Anthony Anaxagorou: A Workshop on Strangeness and Associative Logic in Poems
Acclaimed poet Anthony Anaxagorou reads from his collection After the Formalities and leads a workshop on strangeness and associative logic in poetry.
Anthony Anaxagorou is a British-born Cypriot poet, fiction writer, essayist, publisher and poetry educator. His poetry has been published in POETRY, The Poetry Review, Poetry London, New Statesman, Granta, and elsewhere. His work has also appeared on BBC Newsnight, BBC Radio 4, ITV, Vice UK, Channel 4 and Sky Arts. His second collection After the Formalities published with Penned in the Margins is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and was shortlisted for the 2019 T.S Eliot Prize. It was also a Telegraph and Guardian poetry book of the year.
In 2020 he published How To Write It with Merky Books; a practical guide fused with tips and memoir looking at the politics of writing as well as the craft of poetry and fiction along with the wider publishing industry. He was awarded the 2019 H-100 Award for writing and publishing, and the 2015 Groucho Maverick Award for his poetry and fiction. In 2019 he was made an honorary fellow of the University of Roehampton. Anthony is artistic director of Out-Spoken, a monthly poetry and music night held at London’s Southbank Centre, and publisher of Out-Spoken Press.
I was fortunate enough to attend a few of Anthony’s workshops in the first lockdown and even had a 1 to 1 with him in 2020, I was delighted to have another opportunity and was excited to discover it wasn’t a repeat class.
It was great, a reading and lots of thoughts on writing as well as a chance to do some writing of our own. If you get a chance to catch this, please do.
The Stay at Home! Literary Festival finishes today – a brilliant fortnight of bookish (and beyond) events & opportunities from Carolyn Jess-Cooke & the SAHLF team. But fear not… next week I will continue blogging about it and I believe the You Tube channel will be open for donations to watch replay/catch up of some of the Festival Events.
Welcome to the 5th part of Week 1 – these are just snippet reviews from some of my festival experience. Enjoy your bite of SAHLF 2021. Full Author Bios can be read on the SAHLF website.
All the featured books can be purchased in the S@HLF Bookshop here.
Sunday’s programme was fantastic, I only had chance to get to a few events.
Learning Your Inner Witch: a Poem-Spell Writing Workshop
Join author Alice Tarbuck for a relaxed poem-spell writing workshop to learn about your inner witch, and to find words for reconnecting with the world. You don’t need anything more than something to write on and something to write with.
Alice Tarbuck is an award-winning poet and writer. She has taught Creative Writing at the University of Dundee, and was a 2019 Scottish Book Trust New Writer’s Awardee for poetry. Her debut non-fiction book A Spell in the Wild: a year (and six centuries) of Magic is published by Hodder & Stoughton. She works as a Lead Reader for literacy charity Open Book. Additionally, she has taught workshops for the National Library of Scotland, the Scottish Poetry Library, the University of Edinburgh and further afield. She has chaired events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Dundee Literary Festival and at bookshops around Scotland.
Alice also received a special mention the day before in the Witches of Scotland podcast – Claire Mitchell QC and Zoe Venditozzi event.
It was going to happen at some point and unfortunately it happened here… my very old and in need of being replaced tech let me down and it was a 20 minute voyage to get into the workshop, so I missed introductions and the initial exercise – I arrived full of tech-rage and stress…
and within less time than it took to get in to the workshop – I was calm! This workshop was magic!
Not only was Alice Tarbuck an incredible workshop facilitator but the activities were terrific and some of the writing which came and approaches and thoughts that surfaced will definitely be pursued. It got me to consider magic in a different way and I even left pages in the notebook -a good sign because it means I plan to go back and repeat or extend.
I am SO glad my tech didn’t let me down totally and I managed to join in with this amazing group.
Earthed: A Courageous Memoir for Our Uncertain Times
Join Rebecca Schiller as she reads from Earthed: A courageous memoir for our uncertain times. A story of living in both an unfamiliar world and a volatile mind, Earthed explores how a place has the power to transform us and how the land can be both a dream and a nightmare.
Rebecca Schiller is a writer, journalist and the author of Your No Guilt Pregnancy Plan (Penguin Life) and Why Human Rights in Childbirth Matter. She is co-founder and trustee of the human rights charity Birthrights and a regular contributor to the Guardian. Rebecca and her family raise a motley crew of goats, geese, ducks and chickens. They work their small plot to grow vegetables, fruit and flowers and restore wildlife to the land.
It was an interesting interview, hearing Rebecca Schiller’s writing process and how the book changed over time, her natural inclination to find patterns and the life of goats and ducklings as well as extracts of the book and a discussion about neurodiversity.
‘ A beautiful memoir of one small plot of land and one complex human mind; a story of our interconnection and an ambitious search for the truth.’ Amy Liptrot
‘A stunner. Full of wisdom about the world we are all looking at with new eyes.’ Emma Freud
The Importance of Uplit
Writers Tim Ewins, Victoria Dowd, Gill Harvey, Matson Taylor, Nicola Gill, and Cat Walker discuss the emergence of Uplit fiction, why lighthearted and heartwarming stories are important, and how anyone can channel their inner comedian.
Cat Walker was born in the sunny seaside town of Scarborough in North Yorkshire. The Scoop is her debut novel. Cat also writes poetry and co-wrote and directed (probably) the world’s first lesbian field hockey musical which sold out performances in Brighton, Eastbourne and (pretty near) the West End of London. During lockdown Cat unexpectedly became a bestselling poet when she was published in Poems for a Pandemic (HarperCollins) alongside Darren Smith’s powerful ‘You Clap for Me Now’.
Victoria Dowd’s debut novel, The Smart Woman’s Guide to Murder, was In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel’s Book of the Year 2020 and is short listed for The People’s Book Prize and TCK’s Reader’s Choice Awards 2021. The second book in the series, Body on the Island, was released in February 2021. Her books are a modern, darkly comic take on Golden Age crime fiction. Victoria was awarded the Gothic Fiction prize for short fiction in 2019.
Gillian Harvey has written comment pieces and features for Guardian, Telegraph and Independent, and regularly writes features for magazines including People’s Friend, Woman’s Weekly and Reader’s Digest. Her ‘Under the Covers’ column takes a sideways look at life as an author. Gillian’s first novel, Everything is Fine, was published with Orion in May 2020. Her second, Perfect on Paper, is due for publication in May 2021.
Tim Ewins has previously written for DNA Mumbai, had two short stories highly commended and published in Michael Terence Short Story Anthologies, and had a very brief acting stint (he’s in the film Bronson, somewhere in the background). We Are Animals is his first novel.
Nicola Gill lives in London with her husband and her two sons. At the age of five, when all of the other little girls wanted to be ballet dancers, she decided she wanted to be an author. Her ballet teacher was very relieved.
Matson Taylor enrolled on the Faber Academy ‘Writing A Novel’ course. The Miseducation of Evie Epworth is his first novel.
This panel was a fun watch. I had not come across the genre term Uplit – it’s a fairly new literary term and they played Romesh Ranganathan’s game –one of the panelists is not wearing trousers – we were invited to guess who.
It was entertaining and delightful. A great way to finish the first festival weekend!
Welcome to the 2nd part of week 1 – these are just snippet reviews from some of my festival experience. Enjoy your bite of SAHLF 2021.
NaPoWriMo drew to a close and May began, so too the first festival weekend. With a list of many great events programmed for the SAHLF.
All the featured books can be purchased in the S@HLF Bookshop here.
What We Do to Get Through
Q and A and discussion with author and editor James Withey about his new book What I Do to Get Through: How to Run, Swim, Cycle, Sew or Sing Your Way Through Depression, with writers Orna Cunningham and Georgina Woolfrey.
I remember James Withey from last year’s SAHLF. As I have already mentioned in these review posts, dealing with Mental Health and Wellbeing are essential movements in my life. When I suffered clinical depression (8+ years ago), I (like James) could not read, I couldn’t do anything for a long while. Due to being heavily medicated I mainly slept and even as I progressed with treatment it was a long time before I could look at words. I wanted there to be books to help, had there been it may have been a swifter recovery (but possibly not) and in truth, I will always be on this road. I did eventually find black rainbow by Rachel Kelly and that saved me, I blogged about it a lot and the book itself was one of the few available at the time from the perspective of a person who had suffered. I met Rachel a year later – there are some old posts about it all here:
Anyway, this long preamble is to say that these books, this issue are so IMPORTANT. I was amazed and heartened by the attitude towards the audience as this being our space, our time and how willingly people joined in the conversation. Brilliant to see as everything took a lot of guts and courage.
The impact of this session on me cannot really be placed within the framework of words or emotion. Those of you from here will know why.
What I Do to Get Through: How to Run, Swim, Cycle, Sew, or Sing Your Way Through Depression
James Withey is author of the bestselling book How to Tell Depression to Piss Off: 40 Ways to Get Your Life Back, published by Little, Brown in 2020. The follow up book How to Tell Anxiety to Sod Off, will be published in Jan 2022. He is the founder of The Recovery Letters project which publishes online letters from people recovering from depression, addressed to people experiencing it. He is the co-editor of The Recovery Letters book which was a World Book Night title and selected as a Reading Well title. Cosmopolitan magazine named it as ‘One of the 12 mental health books everyone should read’.
What I Do to Get Through: How to Run, Swim, Cycle, Sew, or Sing Your Way Through Depression, was published by Jessica Kingsley in Feb 2021. James lives in Hove with his husband and emotionally damaged cat.
Orna Cunningham is an editor, illustrator and designer. Hailing from Dublin, Ireland, she has been based in her adopted home of Toronto, Canada, since 2015. She has worked for titles like the Irish Independent, The Daily Mail, The Irish Sun, and Russia Today. She is passionate about destigmatising topics surrounding mental health, and apart from her work as a journalist, writes short stories, personal essays, and poetry, and presents the occasional podcast.
It was interesting to hear the genesis of this book and to listen to how various hobbies and the act of doing something helps manage this deep illness. Also loved the fact that James told us all about an Avocado he planted/nurtured and the next day it appeared on his Twitter feed.
Georgina told us the writing which was viewed over 90,000 times was written to try and explain to her friends and family how and where she was.
Home in Our Bodies
Was an incredible powerful event, a reading and a workshop activity. It was joy to discover the brave, honest voice of Aoife Lyall and the equal depth of Victoria Kennefick’s poetry.
Her first collection Mother, Nature (Bloodaxe Books, 2021) has been described as ‘crucial’, ‘daring’, ‘heart-rending’ and ‘staggeringly tender’.
Aoife Lyall (née Grifﬁn) was born in Dublin in 1987 and now lives in the Scottish Highlands. Awarded an Emerging Scottish Writer residency by Cove Park in 2020 and twice shortlisted for the Hennessy New Irish Writing Awards, her poems have also been shortlisted in the Wells Festival of Literature Open Poetry Competition and the Jane Martin Poetry Prize. She was longlisted for the inaugural Rebecca Swift Foundation Women Poets’ Prize in 2018. Her ﬁrst collection, Mother, Nature, is published by Bloodaxe Books in 2021. She has worked as a guest curator for the Scottish Poetry Library and as a guest editor for Butcher’s Dog. Her reviews have appeared in Browse, The Interpreters’ House, Poetry London and PN Review.
The writing points produced some page surprises for me, not least as I chose a different focal point for the first one and then discovered this had been chosen for the 2nd exercise, so I reverted back to the initial prompt for my second one.
This evet was a dream, if you have a chance to catch these two talented poets, please do.
Witches of Scotland Podcast – Claire Mitchell QC and Zoe Venditozzi
Claire Mitchell QC and Zoe Venditozzi talk about their Witches of Scotland podcast and their work to secure a national monument and apology for those accused of witchcraft during the Scottish Witch trials.
Claire Mitchell studied Law at the University of Glasgow and was called at the Scottish Bar in 2003, having been a solicitor in private practice since 1996. She specialises in criminal law and criminal extradition. She has built up a strong Appeal Court practice, with an emphasis on constitutional, human rights and sentencing questions. She has attended the Privy Council and Supreme Court on a number of occasions in relation to cases of general public importance to the law of Scotland. At the 2013 Law Awards of Scotland, she received a “Special Recognition Award” for her contribution to legal thinking over the previous decade.
Zoe Venditozzi is a writer and teacher who lives in Scotland with her husband and various children. She works as a Support for Learning teacher and also teaches Creative Writing in various settings. Her first novel Anywhere’s Better Than Here won the Guardian newspaper’s Not the Booker popular prize and she has just finished writing a book about madness and psychic phenomena.
This was a fascinating talk. One thing which amazes me is how much local history/National History we never hear about. I knew about the Witch Trials but had not realised just how many lost their lives in Scotland. In other countries, these trials form a central part of the area, here it is hidden, swept shamefully away.
And in the next event, I laughed for practically the full hour. Helen Lederer, I love you!
This was just a stunning, hilarious and insightful three-way conversation/ interview and reading. I am SO glad I didn’t miss it!
How to be Funny When the World is Far From It
Join the founder of the Comedy Women in Print prize Helen Lederer and witty authors Lucy Vine and Abigail Mann to talk about funny fiction, what it’s been like writing comedy when the world doesn’t seem funny, and whether humour has the power to unite us.
Helen began her career in stand-up comedy at London’s famous Comedy Store, as part of the early 80s comedians including French & Saunders and Rik Mayall. She wrote her first play aged ten and was an avid diarist which served her well when asked to reveal them in BBC Radio 4’s My Teenage Diary. On television, Helen is possibly best known for her role as the dippy Catriona in all five series of ‘Absolutely Fabulous’. She has written and performed several one-woman shows- ‘Still Crazy’ a sell out at the Edinburgh Festival in the 90’s, ‘I Might As Well Say It’ was a sell out in 2018. Books include, Coping with Helen Lederer (Angus and Robertson), Single Minding (Hodder and Stoughton) and Finger Food (Accent Press). Her comedy novel, Losing It, published by Pan Macmillan was nominated for the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize. She founded the Comedy Women Print Prize to celebrate witty writing by women in 2019.
Lucy Vine is a writer, editor and the bestselling author of novels, Hot Mess, What Fresh Hell, Are We Nearly There Yet? and Bad Choices, out 10 June 2021. Her books have been translated into ten languages around the world, with Hot Mess optioned for a TV series in America. She’s been twice longlisted for the Comedy Women In Print Award and also hosted the podcast and live event series, the Hot Mess Clubhouse, celebrating funny women. Her journalism has appeared in the likes of GRAZIA, Stylist, heat, Fabulous, New, Now, marie claire, Glamour Online, COSMOPOLITAN, The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Sun and The Mirror.
Abigail is a comedy writer living in London and surviving on a diet of three-shot coffee, bourbons, and vegetarian sausage rolls. She was born and brought up in Norfolk, which she says is to blame for the sardonic humour that runs through her novels. Abigail was the runner up in 2019’s Comedy Women in Print award for The Lonely Fajita and has recently published her second book The Sister Surprise. Abigail takes inspiration from unconventional cross-sections of modern society and the impact this has on identity and the relationships we create. When she’s not writing, she teaches creative workshops.
Readings from Katie Griffiths, Arji Manuelpillai, Courtney Conrad and Janett Plummer, introduced by the Director of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen, Jill Abram. Malika’s Poetry Kitchen (aka MPK, aka Kitchen) is a writers’ collective founded in Brixton by Malika Booker and Roger Robinson in 2001. It nurtures the writing, performance and careers of poets by emphasising craft, community and development.
Malika’s Poetry Kitchen (aka MPK, aka Kitchen) is a writers’ collective founded in Brixton by Malika Booker and Roger Robinson in 2001. It nurtures the writing, performance and careers of poets by emphasising craft, community and development. Jill Abram has been the Director since 2010. Under her stewardship the group meets for workshops on Friday evenings (the saying goes that, as MPK members give their Friday nights over to poetry, we must be very dedicated). Some sessions are led by members of the collective, others by guest poets from the UK and beyond, such as Kei Miller, Mona Arshi and Olive Senior. MPK Alumni include Inua Ellams, Warsan Shire, Kayo Chingonyi, Karen McCarthy Woolf, Nick Makoha and Aoife Mannix. This lively, London-based community of dedicated poets has inspired similar Kitchen models to be set up worldwide, from Chicago to Delhi, creating an international MPK family.
I’ve known about Malika’s Kitchen for years (since 2015), I have seen a few live events with members of the Kitchen and watched countless interviews (well, I could count them, less than 10) with Roger Robinson, Malika Booker or Jill Abram. I was not going to miss this event and I am glad I didn’t.
It was lovely to be reminded of the whole story, to be introduced to the newest member, Courtney Conrad and one of the original poets, Janett Plummer and to see and hear poets I know and or/have met and those I don’t know. A great mix of work in this reading. And I have to mention – Janett’s amazing balloon arch!
I recently attended Kate Griffiths Book Launch (and have seen her read over the years) and Live from the Butchery (Helen Ivory, Martin Figura & Kate Birch – IS&T) had a Malika’s Kitchen reading in March with Malika Booker, Jill Abram and Fahad Al-Amoudi – I have watched Jill and Malika reading many times over the years at various festivals and had caught some of Fahad Al-Amoudi’s work. In Lockdown1 – 2020, I was fortunate enough to be led back to Wayne Holloway-Smith and through him discovered Arji Manuelpillai just in time to make his book launch for Mutton Rolls.
So I was excited by the line up and knew this was going to be a golden event! And I was not disappointed!
As well as enjoying and listening to a variety of readings, Jill Abram introduced this new book, (which I was aware of). It is packed with poems from Malika’s Kitchen members, the title is how poets in this group were viewed 20 years ago. You can pre-order this book. Inside there are more than 60 new poems from members.
The poetry collective and I discovered this through a session Malika led and also a Poetry Society event, is international. Similar groups in this model have been set up and there is a section of the book where Malika Booker talks to this.
Published 5th August 2021
Again – if you missed this event, go and find it on the channel after the festival, treat yourself!
Welcome to the 3rd part of week 1 – these are just snippet reviews from some of my festival experience. Enjoy your bite of SAHLF 2021.
All the featured books can be purchased in the S@HLF Bookshop here.
Rejection and Building Resilience
This was a fruitful session, as one may expect. I have been writing for 7 years (*I subtract 2019) and in that time have learned the art of resilience. We all experience rejection, my success to rejection is about 50/50 which I discovered is higher than the average. Of course if I sent more work out that would vary, maybe up – maybe down. Generally it stays about the same between a yes or no. I appreciate submitting poetry is different to finding an agent for your book.
I trained as an actress originally and if you want an artform to teach you how rejection feels – become an actress. It stood me in good stead for this life. But it never hurts to hear about building resilience.
For twenty years Jenny Knight kept writing, through industry close-calls and other brutal experiences. She finally secured an agent–but, even then, the near-misses kept piling.
BIO:Jenny Knight is a prize-winning writer of short story, fiction and memoir and a contributor to Kit de Waal’s celebrated Common People anthology. Her writing on writing and the publishing world has appeared in Book Machine, National Writers’ Centre and Restless. She was selected for Penguin’s WriteNow 2018, a 2019 ACE/TLC Award, is a National Centre for Writing Case Study, has won or been listed in competitions including Bridport, Fish, Arvon, ACE/Escalator, Yeovil, Riptide and SWWJ and published in several anthologies. A freelance editor and copywriter, her publishing clients, including Macmillan, Simon & Schuster and Routledge, and she assesses manuscripts for Jericho Writers. Her agent is Jo Unwin.
It was great to hear Jenny Knight’s story – the honesty of failing and eventually coming back to writing, reaching a point where she felt she could try again and hearing the results of strength (that comes from feeling your life has been totally destroyed).
It was interesting to discover the statistics of success rates and to hear Knight talk of rejection as an ‘apprenticeship for our writing’, which makes sense. Any writer who has just edited a manuscript or had to rework a failing one will inevitably write better. You only have to look at a piece of work you did 3/5/10 years ago to see this.
Refreshing to hear someone saying let yourself feel the pain of rejection. And also to acknowledge this pain doesn’t seem to lessen over time or experience, just maybe our learning of how to deal with it.
I could go on, but don’t want to spoil it for anyone who would like to watch the post-festival videos and I would encourage you to do so! Visit the festival YouTube and arm yourself with some new/fresh outlooks on rejection.
I remember Jo Colley from last year’s SAHLF talking about this new press, so it was great to see this year they were here with poets. This was a reading I was looking forward to, discovering some new-to-me poets.
I admire the Press point of view that a pamphlet is a thing of beauty, a body of work in itself. It is true, in 2018 when I submitted my last manuscript, I had been imagining it as my first collection (and there were enough poems to make it so), but I felt the subject matter in such an extended format would feel too relentless.
After careful consideration – it was submitted and published as a pamphlet, Patience, which came out at the tail-end of 2019. I will eventually carve time to update AWF to include it! Patience can be bought here.
the dreamer’s ark features three of Paul’s beautiful artworks and is based on his daily walks to the beach, the changes over time. He talked about the magic of fog, this geographic region is not going to avoid bad weather, so it needs to be embraced. He talked about the act of collecting things on his walk and how the house has become filled with these. The affection Paul Summers shows for place was as captivating as his poems.
Matthew talked about how the poems in Prophecy is Easy were written in a short space of time, in March 2020, he wrote in bursts and how at the time he couldn’t see the pandemic and lockdown in them. For me I was still being carried into more oceanic scenes (here in the Midlands many of us we feel the tug of the ocean, despite being or perhaps because of our geographical distance, we are the furthest distance from the coast of this island)!
The stories behind Matthew’s poems, the reference points were great to hear, as enjoyable as the poetry.
It was a great reading from Bernadette, her poems cover an array of themes and reach deep levels with ease. History, memory, lives and love all heard in the few poems she delighted us with. Bernadette didn’t talk much about the poems, reading them was enough – allowed us the space around them we needed and they deserved. It was beautiful.
Degna’s pamphlet (The Port in the Darkness*) is forthcoming from the press. These poems came from a traumatic experience and hold power beyond words. Unflinching and honest poems, that capture the hopelessness and helplessness of the situation. These were poems Degna Stone wrote without thinking they would be seen/read. To write brutal truths masterfully is extremely hard, this award winning poet has certainly done just that.
*This title may not be accurate, I can’t read half of my scribbled notes from this session and haven’t been able to confirm with online searches.
Writing Happiness Workshop With Elspeth Wilson & Rachel Lewis
Rachel Lewis is a poet, facilitator and editor. Three Degrees of Separation, her debut poetry pamphlet exploring joy in recovery from mental illness, won the 2019 Wordsmith Prize and was published by Wordsmith HQ. She is currently working on a second pamphlet on her Jewish family history. She regularly facilitates writing workshops, and is a member of the Wriot poetry collective and Covent Garden Stanza.
Last year I attended Elspeth’s SAHLF Nature writing workshop and it was great, so when I saw she was doing another one this year, I knew I wanted to be there.
A series of short writing exercises were delivered in turn by Elspeth and Rachel, there were take-aways and future ideas generated and all in a fast paced yet comfortable atmosphere. It was freeing – no pressure.
I felt uplifted by the noticing where we can find happiness and as well as feeling good I got some writing done to mine for threads later.