Category Archives: Literature Festival

The Stay at Home! Literary Festival – Week 1 – Part 4 – The Weekend #SAHF 2021

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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.

Saturday 1st

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:

Approaching the New Year (2015)

A NEW YEAR Message – Inspired by black rainbow by Rachel Kelly (2015)

Meeting Rachel (May 2015)

Not SAHLF/Bookshop Merch

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

SAHLF BOOKSHOP

Author Bio

James Withey

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

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.

Georgina Woolfrey

Georgina Woolfrey is a writer and Spanish teacher from SE London. Her writing journey began in 2015 when her debut blog post, ‘My journey to hell: how depression hijacked my soul and how I finally wrenched it back’ gained thousands of views overnight, leading her to write for Mind, Thought Catalog and HuffPost. Her blog, ‘Wolves’ Wit and Wisdom’ gives readers tips based on her experiences of overcoming depression, anxiety and SAD. What I Do To Get Through is Georgina’s first work in print, and combines her two loves of singing and writing. © S@HLF Programme

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

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.

Victoria Kennefick

Victoria Kennefick’s first collection, Eat or We Both Starve, is published by Carcanet Press and a selection of her poems appear in the Carcanet New Poetries VIII Anthology. Her pamphlet, White Whale (Southword, 2015), won the Munster Literature Centre Fool for Poetry Chapbook Competition and the Saboteur Award for Best Poetry Pamphlet. Work has appeared in Poetry, The Poetry Review, Poetry Ireland Review, Ambit, PN Review, Prelude, Copper Nickel, The Stinging Fly and elsewhere. She is an Arts Council of Ireland Next Generation Artist. © S@HLF Programme

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.

SAHLF BOOKSHOP

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

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

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.

© S@HLF Programme

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 Lederer

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

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 Mann

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.

© S@HLF Programme

SAHLF BOOKSHOP

Malika’s Kitchen

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.

© S@HLF Programme

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.

SAHLF BOOKSHOP

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.

PRE-ORDER here

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!

The Stay at Home! Literary Festival 2021 – Week 1 – Part 3 #SAHLF2021

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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.

Friday 30th – Cont’d

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.

Rejection is a painful, but unavoidable, part of every writer’s life. Join Jenny as she teaches the tried-and-tested methods – from utilising a writer’s “toolkit” to building a community – that have helped her and other writers cope with the inevitable. © S@HLF Programme

Photo by Olya Kobruseva on Pexels.com

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.

She’s also taught creative writing in prisons, for the UN/Comic Relief in Somalia and Kenya, spoken on panels and held workshops about writing, getting agents, rejection and resilience for PrimadonnaFest, Stay-At-Home-Fest 2020 and Litro. She has a degree in English Lit & Drama and studied Creative Writing at UEA. © S@HLF Programme

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.

Blueprint Poetry Press Showcase

Blueprint Poetry Press, established in 2019, is the brainchild of poets Jo Colley and Julie Hogg. We believe that poetry pamphlets are a thing of beauty in their own right and not just a springboard to a full collection. We publish short, coherent sets of poems which may also include illustrations, from published poets. In 2020, we published Paul Summers (the dreamer’s ark) and Angela Readman (Cooking with Marilyn), and in 2021, Matthew Caley (Prophecy is Easy), Bernadette McAloon (A Queen of Rare Mutations) and Degna Stone (Mrs Stone’s Diaries). © S@HLF Programme

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.

\slight tangent/

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.

Paul Summers – the dreamer’s ark

Paul Summers is a Northumbrian poet & artist who lives at the mouth of the River Tyne. He is currently obsessed with liminals & the littoral, making a daily pilgrimage to the river’s rocky shoreline almost every day since his return from Australia five years ago. His poems have appeared widely in print for almost three decades. A founding co-editor of the ‘leftfield’ UK magazines Billy Liar and Liar Republic, he has also written for TV, film, radio, theatre and collaborated many times with artists and musicians on mixed-media projects and public art. His latest book is straya, published by Smokestack Books in April 2017. Previous collections include: primitive cartographyunion (new & selected) Three Men on the Metrobig bella’s dirty cafe, cunawabi and the last bus. © S@HLF Programme

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 Kelly – Prophecy is Easy

Matthew Caley’s Thirst (Slow Dancer, 1999) was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Subsequent collections are The Scene of My Former Triumph (Wrecking Ball Press, 2005), Apparently (Bloodaxe Books, 2010); his lost second collection, Professor Glass (Donut Press, 2011); and his fifth and sixth collection, Rake (Bloodaxe Books, 2016) and Trawlerman’s Turquoise (Bloodaxe Books, 2019). His work has been included in many anthologies, and he also co-edited Pop Fiction: The Song in Cinema with Stephen Lannin (Intellect, 2005). He lives in London with artist Pavla Alchin and their two daughters. © S@HLF Programme

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.

Bernadette McAloonA Queen of Rare Mutations

Bernadette McAloon is the recipient of a Basil Bunting Award and the Flambard Poetry Prize. She works as a creative arts therapist and lives in Newcastle upon Tyne. A Queen of Rare Mutations is her debut poetry pamphlet. Her work has appeared in many magazines: Butcher’s Dog Magazine; Drifting Down the Lane: Art and Poetry Explorations edited by Harriette Lawler, Agnes Marton (Moon and Mountain); Flambard Prize Winners’ AnthologyMslexia MagazineOfi Press Online Magazine; One Planet, Newcastle University’s Alumni Online Anthology; Rowing Home, Cruse Bereavement Care Anthology and The Rialto Magazine. © S@HLF Programme

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 Stone

Degna Stone is a poet and editor living in the north east of England. She shares her home near the River Tyne with her husband, two teenagers and their chihuahua. Her work has appeared in The Book of Newcastle (Comma Press), Ten: Poets of the New Generation and A Mighty Stream (Bloodaxe), Writing Motherhood (Seren), Urban Myths and Legends and Some Cannot Be Caught (The Emma Press), Crossings (Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts) and Filigree (Peepal Tree Press). © S@HLF Programme

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

In this workshop, we will be exploring how we can write about joy and happiness to develop our own writing and support our wellbeing.‘ © S@HLF

This event was held in partnership with Middlesbrough Libraries and 50% of donations were split between charities Saheliya and Beat.

Saheliya (a specialist mental health and well-being support organisation for black, minority ethnic, asylum seeker, and refugee women and girls in Edinburgh and Glasgow) and Beat (the UK’s eating disorder charity. Their mission is to end the pain and suffering caused by eating disorders.)‘ © S@HLF

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.

Elspeth Wilson

Elspeth Wilson is a writer, researcher and poet who is interested in writing about health, disability and sexuality. Their work has been shortlisted for Canongate’s Nan Shepherd prize and Penguin’s Write Now Editorial programme. Elspeth is currently working on their debut novel and also regularly facilitates accessible creative workshops. When they aren’t writing or reading, they can usually be found near the sea or spending time with their elderly dog. – © S@HLF Programme

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.

Look out for Week 1 Part 4. COMING SOON!

The Stay at Home! Literary Festival 2021 – Week 1 – Part 2 #SAHLF2021

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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.

Thursday 29th

All the featured books can be purchased in the S@HLF Bookshop here.

Footprints: In Search of Future Fossils

This was my introduction to David Farrier, he is an award-winning author and Professor of Literature and the Environment at the University of Edinburgh.

In 2017 He received the Royal Society of Literature’s Gules T Aubyn award for non-fiction. Footprints: In Search of Future Fossils has been (or is in the process of being) translated in seven languages.

I admire Robert Macfarlane‘s writing and was excited to watch David Farrier discuss his book with Esa Aldegheri. We saw a short promotional video about the work the book covers and then an in depth interview covering everything from how will we be seen as ancestors by our descendants to future fossils, single use plastic and the attempt to imagine that which is actually beyond our imagining.

Footprints is a book which deals with how we get a sense of what our impact is going to be in the very long term on the planet and the people who will come after us, which is an issue that has entered global consciousness during the pandemic. Ironic when you think of what all the scientists, environmentalists, conservationists, ecologists and Eco activists have being telling us for decades. Finally people can see the result of human impact on our world. The planet has shown us.

Many of us see these issues from our present moment but in the opening paragraphs of his book Farrier writes: the fact that we also inhabit the flow of very deep time and he also references Percy Shelley (and Aristotle). Any author who cites a poet wins me over instantly.

Later in the conversation Aldegheri mentions the enjoyable use of poets being quoted in Footprints -Alice Oswald, Derek Walcott and Shelley. Farrier teaches English Literature and knows poetry can help us make sense of things that seem too big for our comprehension, poetry can change our perspective, give us multiple meanings.

I got a real taste of this book from this presentation. The Q&A included some brilliant questions from the audience and we got to hear about Farrier’s sabbatical research.

Creating The Perfect Page Turner

Thriller writers Penny Batchelor and Louise Mumford as they reveal the tips and tricks they use to keep readers obsessively turning those pages.

This was another great session, thoroughly enjoyed listening to the conversation between these two authors. They covered the usual ‘What If’ Pitch and 3 Act Structure, then went on to discuss how to use misdirection, characters and the art of keeping your reader engrossed. It was a joy to listen to and Batchelor and Mumford also generously threw in some book recommendations.

Penny Batchelor

Penny Batchelor is an alumna of the Faber Academy online ‘Writing a Novel’ course. She is a freelance journalist, a former BBC content producer and website editor for various educational institutions.

Her journalism has appeared in numerous publications including The Knitter, Vintage Life, Mollie Makes, Travel Africa, The Simple Things and Pretty Nostalgic magazines; and BBC Ouch!, money magpie.com, welovethisbook.com and The University of Warwick’s Knowledge Centre websites. She is the editor of her award-winning knitting blog A Woolly Yarn, which is now solely social-media based on Facebook and Instagram.

Author Interview – Yorkshire Times

Louise Mumford

Louise Mumford studied English Literature at university and graduated with first class honours. As a teacher she tried to pass on her love of reading to her students (and discovered that the secret to successful teaching is… stickers! She is aware that that is, essentially, bribery.)

In the summer of 2019 Louise experienced a once-in-a-lifetime moment: she was discovered as a new writer by her publisher at the Primadonna Festival.

Her debut thriller, Sleepless, was published by HQ on 10th Dec 2020.

The Circle meets Black Mirror in a thrilling, plausible and gripping debut. Frighteningly inventive.’ John Marrs, bestselling author of The One

Friday 30th

Remember me telling you in Part 1 I wasn’t going to bed down at the festival this year? Well, by the weekend I was dragging my sleeping bag in! So much so, I am even reviewing an event I didn’t manage to catch…

I was gutted to miss Dogged: Working Class Women with Emma Purshouse after being treated to a short extract a week ago at Paul Francis’ Book Launch where Emma was a guest reader. I know Emma and her work well and am delighted that she has successfully transitioned that broad water between poetry and novel.

Aside from face to face work during the first 3 months of Lockdown 3, I stay in. I take an occasional nature walk, a weekly supermarket drop in and the odd trip to the Drs/hospital or petrol station. And on Friday I braved the world and met a friend in her garden for a coffee and a catch up. This is the first time since December I have been out.

I had hoped to be back for Emma’s Midday event, but had a second cup (this was the first time since December I’d been out – and once out…) and on the way home had a run in with a huge silver van on single track country lane, delaying me further. Those of you who read AWF regularly will know that my poor laptop is struggling on and so even though I hoped to catch the second part of this event, the tech took another 20 mins to log in and clear itself onto Zoom, I missed it!

I know Emma will be doing more readings and promotion for this book and I will look out for those.

Set in the city, Dogged is the story of two working-class women in their 70s. Funny, warm, dark, and beautifully written, the novel has received rave reviews and has been described as “unputdownable”.

Emma is a working-class performance poet and writer, and the current poet laureate of the City of Wolverhampton. She was part of the ‘Common People’ anthology, edited by Kit de Waal, and is also part of Portopia which is a brand-new writer development project set up to increase working-class representation in screenwriting.

Emma Purshouse

Thanks to Ignite Books I did find this recording of an extract. Enjoy!

BIO: Emma Purshouse is Poet Laureate for the City of Wolverhampton. She is a poetry slam champion and has performed at spoken word nights and festivals across the UK – Cheltenham Literature Festival, Ledbury Poetry Festival, Edinburgh Fringe, Latitude, and WOMAD, among others – often using her native Black Country dialect in her work. Her most recent poetry publication, Close, (Offa’s Press, 2018) was shortlisted for the Rubery Book Award in 2019, and her children’s poetry collection, I Once Knew a Poem Who Wore a Hat, won the poetry section of the same award in 2016. In 2019 Emma was one of writers included in ‘Common People’, the anthology of working-class writing edited by Kit De Waal. Her debut novel, Dogged, (Ignite Books) was launched early in 2021, to critical acclaim.

The Millstone and the Star: Mental Health, Mental Health Problems and Writing

Mental Health and wellbeing (and writing through it) has always been important to me. Not least of all because I came back to writing (after a 15 year gap) after suffering from clinical depression. It is something I live with and know well the power of writing out.

This was an interesting presentation, an honest, brutal (at times, we were warned) and necessary. Sadly a fallout of pandemic life is people have experienced isolation on a level as never before and the loneliness and lack of human contact has increased mental health concerns globally. So this field is even more essential than it ever was – and it always was.

Somehow I had it in mind that this was a workshop, so I was surprised by Anna Vaught’s presentation, but it was /felt interactive and soothing to hear another person’s experience and learn about the work she does and of course the Millstone and the Star.

The programme demonstrates the positivity Anna Vaught searches for and despite the subject, this was an uplifting session to be part of.

How might writing help boost our mental health, and how might we write about and draw on the experience of mental health problems and mental illness in our fiction and non-fiction work? Sometimes, we carry a heavy weight and perhaps we cannot ever be mended – that is the millstone. Yes this does not mean we cannot nurture our creativity and produce fine writing; create something beautiful: there is the star. – © S@HLF Programme

BIO: Anna Vaught is a novelist, poet, essayist, short fiction writer, editor and a secondary English teacher, tutor and mentor, mental health advocate and mum of 3. 2020 saw the publication of Anna’s third novel, Saving Lucia (Bluemoose) and a first short story collection, Famished (Influx). Anglo-Welsh, she splits her time between Wiltshire, Wales, and the Southern US. She is currently editing a new novel, writing a novella and working on her first non-fiction book & a second short story collection. Anna’s essays, reviews, articles, and features have been featured widely online and in print. She is represented by Kate Johnson of Mackenzie Wolf Literary Agents, in New York City.

Part 3 COMING SOON!

The Stay at Home! Literary Festival – Week 1 – Part 1 #SAHLF2021

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The S@HLF programme is extensive (80 events)

Unlike last year I am not trying to bed down for the entire festival… but here are some bitesize clips from some of my festival experience.

MONDAY 26th

Documenting the Past: Neema Shah (Kololo Hill) in conversation with Catherine Menon

Here is an author who proves you CAN come to writing after/during a career, you can write if you haven’t chosen an academic route into it, you can write a book and still work full time (many authors prove this) and you can get a book published (via Agent) within 5 years! Not only that but this first novel was also shortlisted for several prizes.

It was a fascinating conversation both in terms of the book itself and the writing process.

Set in Uganda in 1972, Kololo Hill (shortlisted for the Bath Novel Award and the First Novel Prize) tells the story of one family’s escape. From the green hilltops of Kampala, to the terraced houses of London, Neema Shah’s debut explores what it means to leave your home behind, what it takes to start again, and the lengths some will go to protect their loved ones. © Stay-at-Home! Festival

Neema Shah

S@HLF Bookshop

‘[An] incredible debut’ Stylist

‘Shah is excellent on the theme of home . . . an absorbing storyteller’ Daily Mail

Catherine Menon

S@HLF Bookshop

***ONE OF TELEGRAPH’S BEST NOVELS OF 2021***

‘Supple, artful, skilful storytelling – it takes an immediate grip on the reader’s imagination and doesn’t let go’ HILARY MANTEL

The Scene of the Crime: William Shaw, Rebecca Wait and Nina Allan

This panel was a great discussion between several crime writers looking at how their work addresses similar themes and how it is approached differently. I enjoyed the discussion over various planning (or not) approaches, hearing about research and how their novels developed.

William Shaw

Grave’s End

S@HLF Bookshop

The brilliant third book in the DS Alexandra Cupidi investigations.

‘If you’re not a fan yet, why not?’ VAL MCDERMID

‘A superb storyteller’ PETER MAY

With meticulously realised characters and a brooding setting, Grave’s End confronts the crisis in housing, environmentalism, historic cases of abuse and the protection given to badgers by the law.

Rebecca Wait

Our Fathers

S@HLF Bookshop

A gripping, tender novel about fathers and sons from the highly acclaimed author
A Guardian crime and thriller book of the year 2020


This is a beautifully realised novel, touching on the fallibility of memory and the unknowability of families, and gripping in its intensity. Outstanding’ Mail on Sunday
‘ A spectacular novel’ Spectator

Nina Allen

The Dollmaker

S@HLF Bookshop

THE BEWITCHING NEW NOVEL FROM THE AWARD-WINNING GUARDIAN FRESH VOICES AUTHOR

‘A fantastic book’ Andrew O’Hagan
‘Wholly original – worthy of a modern Grimm’ Andrew Caldecott, author of Rotherweird
‘A masterful and multi-layered haunted toyshop of a novel’ Tony White, author of The Fountain in the Forest

Tuesday 27th

Are You a Leaf or a Tree?

This was an intriguing title for a workshop, that was enough for me to sign up! Amanda White will be known to many of you as the founder of THE DAILY HAIKU, a group which now has over 5800 members. This was a fun creative writing workshop and not only did I produce two haiku but I found lots of surprises writing themselves into my notebook too.

Turns out I’m a leaf from a Canadian Red Maple tree, who knew!

Amanda also posts daily writing prompts on the festival’s INSTAGRAM.

Hidden Gems from Novel Research

One aspect I love about writing is research. One thing I love about Literary Festivals (and the list of loves is long), is discovering new-to-me authors but equally exciting is finding one you admire or have read on the bill! To hear they’re writing a sequel?! How much could my heart take! I was super excited even before this panel started.

I was enthralled by: Kerry Postle’s insight into what is hidden, the historical information Ali Bacon provided us on early photography and the woman behind it all, Heather Child’s delve into Quantum physics and Jean Burnett’s exploration of quirky historical facts.

The programme suggested we would be sure to learn something new and I certainly did – about 4 pages worth. This was a fun session where each Bristol novelist offered us three gems from their research.

All available at the S@HLF Bookshop

In the Blink of an Eye is a reimagining of the life of the Scottish painter David Octavius Hill from the moment of his encounter with Robert Adamson, a pioneer in the use of calotypes – pictures made by the light of the sun – until the day when his great Disruption Painting is unveiled. 

In the words of competition judge Nick Bellorini, “These are exquisitely rendered tales which reveal their truths with all the delicate resonance of the art they celebrate.” © Linen Press

Taking in London, Paris and Brighton, Who Needs Mr Darcy? details the charming, lively and somewhat dastardly further exploits of the youngest Bennet sister. Pride and Prejudice this isn’t, and Mr Darcy certainly won’t be rescuing her this time . . .

‘High-spirited, great fun and full of racket Georgian atmosphere’ DAILY MAIL

‘The plot romps along in this funny and charming novel . . . a perfect book to curl up with as the evenings draw in’ BRISTOL MAGAZINE

WHAT IF YOUR LIFE HAD AN ‘UNDO’ BUTTON?

‘Brilliantly twisty, thought-provoking stuff – such enjoyable reading’ Jenny Colgan

‘A moving time-slip romance . . . The Undoing of Arlo Knott is a triumph’ Guardian

Inspired by a heartbreaking true story, this stunning and evocative novel is perfect for fans of The Sapphire Widow , Beneath a Burning Sky and The Emerald Affair .

Wednesday 28th

I would have loved the workshop with Jen Hadfield, but I had another workshop to attend. I did manage to hotfoot it across to S@HLF in time to see Rachel Bower and Jay Whittaker. Rachel’s readings at last year’s S@HLF were amazing and I was looking forward to hearing more.

Two Poets: Rachel Bower and Jay Whittaker

A great event where we were not only gifted with readings from these two talented poets but also a generous and wonderful Q&A.

Rachel Bower

Rachel Bower is an award-winning writer based in Sheffield. She is the author of Moon Milk (Valley Press, 2018) and a non-fiction book on literary letters (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017). Her poems and stories have been widely published, including in Anthropocene, The London Magazine, Magma, New Welsh Reader and Stand. Rachel won The London Magazine Short Story Prize 2019/20 and the W&A Short Story Competition. She edited the Verse Matters anthology (Valley Press, 2017) with Helen Mort and she is currently editing an anthology with Simon Armitage (Faber & Faber). Her new poetry collection, These Mothers of Gods, will be published by Fly on the Wall Press in July 2021.

Jay Whittaker

Jay Whittaker is an Edinburgh-based poet. Her second poetry collection, Sweet Anaesthetist, was published by Cinnamon Press in September 2020. Her debut collection, Wristwatch, was Scottish Poetry Book of the Year 2018 in the Saltire Society Literary Awards. Both Jay’s books are accessible poetry collections on the themes of resilience, grief, living with cancer, family secrets, and LGBT+ lives (including her own). She prioritised her writing after her personal annus horribilis, during which her civil partner died and she started cancer treatment. Her poems are included in the 404 Ink anthology We were always here: a queer words anthology and in the new Bloodaxe anthology, Staying Human.

This S@HLF Jpeg says it all…

Wednesday was so busy I had to rewrite my schedule on a large post it (the almost A5 ones) and cover over the scribble on my diary page. It meant that this wondrous reading was the only part of the S@HLF I managed to get to. It was a great programme of events I missed out on but it brings me joy to know thousands of others didn’t!

Look out For Week 1 – Part 2 COMING SOON!

The Stay at Home! Literary Festival #SAHLF2021

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Last year the The Stay at Home! Festival/S@HF was one of the early highlights of Lockdown.

Schools were still open and the UK was not on Lockdown when the festival’s initial conception happened on Twitter, (great festivals start this way, Verve is another started by a conversation on Twitter), I missed the call outs for events as I was working full-time (and good job too because the following 10 months have been beyond rotten). I fortunately discovered it was happening before it started and was proud to be a Showcase Poet along with Kate Simpson, Sophie Dumont and others.

S@HF 2020: 145 events, 220 authors,
15,000 attendees!

An Incredible Experience

By the start of the festival, we were in Lockdown, which meant we had to STAY HOME – but it also meant I could overindulge in the programme (and there were a massive 145 events)!

I basically attached the laptop to my body for a fortnight, (which is one of the reasons I didn’t have time to blog it until afterwards). It was great to see and attend workshops with many Literary folk, some of whom I know and some I met – which is always a festival highlight. It’s where I first came across Cath Drake who also had a big part to play in the first Lockdown.

Somehow, Carolyn Jess-Cooke & her small team really made the online festival work on so many levels: it was a really positive, friendly space to be involved in. Many attendees acknowledged that it was like attending a festival in person as far as the positive feelings it created in us, both in events and that buzz of after – and that is no mean feat online!

Photo by Mudassir Ali on Pexels.com

Zoom was still new to many of us, despite being used by the business world since 2011. My first 3 Lockdown notebooks were full by the end of the festival. And I managed to balance the first 11 days of NaPoWriMo happening at the same time. In fact I remember there were several online offerings happening in April/May 2020. The Stay at Home! Festival itself made a slight name change this year and I suspect this may be because a Stay at Home Festival which is music based existed and was in flow shortly before the S@HF 2020 took off.

Following the S@HF 2020 a long succession of incredible festivals and programmes hit our screens as many of the writing community took technological strides into a new online space. A year on we are all hoping this gives rise to Hybrid events where global access is still viable. Anyone who went, has spent the past year hoping there would be another S@HF.

Dee Daaa – and there is! S@HLF 2021

The Stay at Home! Literary Festival 2021

There was a call out that I didn’t miss this year but was working in the real world and like many other spring deadlines it whooshed past. Delighted the team have managed to get AC Funding and sponsorship this year and have created another fantastic programme for us all to enjoy. This also means they have been able to offer it FREE of charge and keep it really accessible. Of course donations are always welcomed.

So here we are #S@HLF2021 – 26 April – 9 May 2021.

The Story Behind S@HLF

This video showcases founder and SAHLF director Carolyn Jess-Cooke in discussion about the origin of the festival.

Carolyn Jess-Cooke is an award-winning poet and novelist published in 23 languages. Her fiction is published under CJ Cooke, and her latest book in THE NESTING (HarperCollins [UK], Penguin [US] 2020). She is Senior Lecturer at the University of Lecturer, where she convenes the MLitt Creative Writing by Distance Learning. In 2020, she founded the Stay-at-Home! Literary Festival.

SAHLF relies on the ongoing support of our audiences and donors to bring readers and writers together, telling stories, sharing new perspectives, and celebrating writing in all its forms. If you’d like to make a donation, please visit: https://www.stayathomelitfest.org/don…

26 April – 9 May 2021

And if this is the first you’ve heard of it – it’s not too late – it goes on until May 9th. Find out more and look out for some new blog posts soon. Book on through Eventbrite.

Find out about the festival here.

#SAHLF2021

Inclusivity and diversity have been important to this festival and this year the research continues. The events are mainly webinar which offers better security for users and many are also live streamed on the S@HLF You Tube channel, all events are subtitled. They are also using Instagram Live and IGTV, Instagram Reels, TikTok and Soundcloud are also being used.

Recordings of some of the events are available on a catch up service on a pay-what-you-can donation basis.

And for those with no access to the internet:

The Stay-at-Home! Literary Festival is committed to accessibility, inclusivity and outreach, and this year we’re partnering up with many wonderful libraries to ensure that the festival is experienced and enjoyed by as wide a community of people as possible. © Stay-at-Home! Festival

NaPoWriMo 2021 Day 15

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Day Fifteen Click to read the full post

It’s hard to believe, but today marks the halfway point of Na/GloPoWriMo 2021! I hope the first half of the month has produced a sheaf of new poem drafts for you, and that you’re ready to harvest a crop of fifteen more.

Our featured participant for today is, again, two featured participants because I just couldn’t choose. First up, we have a Viking-themed musing from Plumb-Lines, and a mediation on names and identity from xanhaiku.

Today, we have two featured readings. One, which is a pre-recorded one, is an audio recording of Sylvia Plath, reading her poems way back in 1958. And the other is a live event that will take place today at 4 P.M. pacific time. Long-time Na/GloPoWriMo participant Vince Gotera will be reading in support of a new anthology published by Glass Lyre Press.

Today’s prompt comes to us from Juan Martinez. It asks you to think about a small habit you picked up from one of your parents, and then to write a piece that explores an early memory of your parent engaged in that habit, before shifting into writing about yourself engaging in the same habit.

… see the original prompt…, along with a few other of Martinez’s prompts, here.

Happy writing!

Photo by Allan Mas on Pexels.com

We are HALFWAY there! Keep it coming!

I am super excited because I have spent some time in pitstops and this halfway point also marks for me the day I finally caught up with the 2nd week of NaPo — and today we enter the third week! A fortnight to go and there will be plenty of resources and prompts left for you to pick up once NaPo finishes and you get withdrawals and miss this daily trudge to your notebook or tech.

This is why I also create documents at the start, there are plenty of materials I will revisit.

However you got here and however many poems are behind you, or not, you are here. So pat yourself on the back and stay. Let’s flex our writer muscles and dive into another glorious 15 day stretch of National Poetry Month/NaPoWriMo.

Photo by Alex Azabache on Pexels.com

PROCESS NOTES:

I started with the participant’s sites, again a day of two. Love this double pulling from the prompts. I admired the wordplay in The This and That of Brændeholm, the historical references/origins are weaved in tightly. The descriptions are brilliant considering the rot and dankness which was being portrayed – then/ up it pops up like a scabby wart, // because it’s covered with stubble rot,/ soaking dank air — it’s terra nullius, /meaning ‘nobody’s land’ and the way her memories are woven into it too.

It’s a two-bit kind of a
name that is old Norse, the first half
busy, going about burning down
the place, the place being an islet,

because it’s covered with stubble rot,
soaking dank air — it’s terra nullius,
meaning ‘nobody’s land’ and also
meaning the first Old Norse bit of my
name is torching our wee rotting eyot,

as is expected of a Norseman, and which I nearly managed myself
when playing with matches in the garage when I was 4,

And like I have done in previous years, there are a couple of different prompts followed.

This year there are so many poetry festivals going on this month as well as NaPo that I decided not to join any of the other groups although I have a document of stored prompts.

The 2nd participant’s poem I’m nobody. Who am I? explores all their names, with layers of spoken and unspoken story running behind their lines, I read and re-read it. There is a lot of depth to dig into or create with this poem.

Spawns shortened versions like tadpoles

Sandy, Alex, Xan

Little nicks cut into the sturdy stem

I should find a mathematician
To calculate the possible combinations
And see how many different people
I can be

I watched/listened to the Plath video. Sylvia Plath is a poet I only started to read when I came back to poetry in 2014, although I’ve known who she was and her story for decades.

The Post Archive

Sylvia Plath, reading her poems in Springfield, MA on April, 18 1958.

Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963) was an American poet, novelist, and short-story writer. Born in Boston, she studied at Smith College and Newnham College at the University of Cambridge before receiving acclaim as a poet and writer.

She married fellow poet Ted Hughes in 1956, and they lived together in the United States and then in England. They had two children, Frieda and Nicholas, before separating in 1962. Plath was clinically depressed for most of her adult life, and was treated multiple times with electroconvulsive therapy (ECT). She took her own life in 1963.

Plath is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry and is best known for two of her published collections, The Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel, and The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical novel published shortly before her death. In 1982, she won a posthumous Pulitzer Prize for The Collected Poems.

It is quite amazing hearing her read her work. And her interview too, although some of the questions are sometimes inaudible on the initial recording. There’s about 40 minutes of Sylvia and then it is a recording of Ted Hughes.

There were plenty of rabbit holes I could have gone down from You Tube again, but today decided to save my exploration for another time in favour of i) not falling behind again ii) getting as far as the prompt and writing my poem before evening events.

Another fantastic NaPo Resource! I shall revisit/re-listen.

The other featured reading clashes with a previous NaPo suggested reading and also my long awaited, much looking forward to – second workshop with Jericho Brown, so once again it is unlikely I shall manage this Midnight reading with Vince Gotera. I thought there was an anthology launch later in the week/ Aeolian Harp Volume 6 reading: Alexis Rhone Fancher, Vince Gotera, Meg Harris, Mary Barbara Moore but when I logged on to reserve the dates were the same.

I enjoyed checking out fulmerford.com, I had a good look around and followed on social media before settling down with the prompt this evening.

My starting point for the prompt was to think of habits my parents have, which I have and what I may have copied from them to find what it is I shall write about.

Now, who knows if this was the prompt, the connection to family, writing about books or Sylvia Plath’s influence but I have just written the NaPo poem I am happiest with so far! Wow… feels good when they arrive like that.

When he reached the halfway point

of the page, he would rest his hand

beneath on the next ready for turning.

I look forward to working on it in May and seeing what happens.

AND I have caught up with NaPoWriMo! WHOOP!

Photo by Thirdman on Pexels.com

Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe 2021

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A brand new website for Worcestershire LitFest & Fringe. Find out about all the 2021 competitions, join in with virtual open mics at SpeakEasy (9th April) and coming soon announcements for Worcestershire LitFest 2021.

YOUNG WRITER COMPETITION

7-17 years old/ FREE entry/ International

FLASH FICTION COMPETITION

300 words £4 or £10 for 3 entries/ International

And if you are a resident of Worcestershire, for £5 you can enter the Worcestershire Poet Laureate Competition.

Monthly Review February

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Photo by Olya Kobruseva on Pexels.com

February arrived and I could barely believe January was over! Another month fully booked and brimming with adventure… and more snow! After suffering several lack work years, work came like buses and I said YES to it all. So right from the get go I was aware of pacing myself. I worked full time for a couple of weeks, balanced deadlines with new ventures, took on a new role and celebrated Mr G’s birthday, Valentine’s and other family celebrations and finished the month off with a Poetry Festival! Perfect! This is certainly one of the longest review posts for a while, you may want to munch through it in several sittings!

Week 1:

The first day of the month threw treasure at me, I started a new course with Tawnya RenelleExperimenting with… it was inspiring as ever and started me in a new direction with some material I have been chewing over for a while. I even created a sketch! There is a shiny new website/platform and lots of resources to get my teeth into (especially now I have finished chewing)!

I also had some happy news hit the inbox, after a two year hiatus (health + pandemic) I am back with the DAN team supporting them with an online Poetry Extravaganza again. AND…. last year I completed the Poetry Renewed Project and my commission with Elephant’s Footprint to produce 10 animated Poetry Films. One of these, ‘Territory’ has been shown at the Reelpoetry Festival in Houston this month (24th Feb.) – the joy is abundant! https://awritersfountain.wordpress.com/2021/02/27/reelpoetry-festival-houston-tx/

I made some submissions with close deadlines and applied for more work. Which was time consuming and exciting. I had proof copies of Recoil 12 back from MullaMulla Press, I had a poem accepted by Literary Alchemy Press, an online magazine I discovered last year. They have taken a poem I wrote in an Angela France workshop and one I am particularly fond of. In addition to that, by publishing it they have become an International Press, which is brilliant for them!

You can buy a copy here.

Connect Dudley, (a project I was commissioned for back in May 2020 during the 1st Lockdown) is coming to the third leg. Rick Sanders facilitated community workshops where participants wrote letters over several weeks, in the 2nd leg Rick and I turned these letters into poems and shared them with the participants. We also completed an interview with the funders, CoLab and recorded audio of our work (which is connected to the High Street poems via QR codes).

CoLab – Connect Dudley

Rick is now in possession of some very shiny and graphically exciting posters of the poems which will go up in empty shops in Dudley’s High Street over the next 5-10 weeks and I am booked for a reading later this month which will be a webinar and Q&A. It was a wonderful project that has helped many people and I am honoured to have been a part of it.

https://awritersfountain.wordpress.com/2021/02/21/connect-dudley-launch-event/

I caught an interview with Casey Bailey – Birmingham Poet Laureate, on Midlands News, which made me happy and I had my final workshop class with Zelda Chappel. It was on Life and Death – so not a light subject but it was a wonderful few hours, I have loved being part of this group and the work we have covered has uncovered some of those poems that have been living inside me. Now the hard work begins to get them fully formed.

I would recommend Zelda’s classes they are great fun and she has a wonderful way of facilitating 2 hours of intense writing and reading in such a relaxed and caring way you leave in a state of cleansed tiredness, definitely lighter and happier and with ink that is worth page space. It has been a January/February highlight. You can book the full course of just choose a week that you feel pulls you in. Most of our group did all 4 sessions. I first met Zelda through Jo Bell’s 52 project back in 2014, we read at the same event in London and have been following each other ever since. Do check out her poetry. The Girl in the Dog tooth Coat by Zelda Chappel.

I had the pleasure of attending a Book Launch, Nature at a Cost a first collection for Annie Ellis. I was tired but I wouldn’t have missed this Launch for the world. I am delighted for Annie. It was a lovely to watch her excitement as Guest Readers shared some of their own poetry and read poems picked from new collection. Annie’s Special Guests were Ben Ray, Anna Saunders, Zoe Brooks and Ankh Spice.

I recently discovered we landed in poetry around the same time, when I first met Annie (back in 2015), I thought she was an established writer. Annie’s collection has been described by Ankh Spice as ‘a clarion call to find the edges we have forgotten’, and by Ben Ray as ‘a haunting love letter to the natural world’.

Read all about the Launch here.

The weekend saw more events and workshops with Redwing, Rakaya Fetuga & Sarah L. Dixon. Nine Arches Press celebrated the launch of Jacqueline Saphra‘s One Hundred Lockdown Sonnets. I watched the conception of this back in 2020 and have read a good number of Jacqueline’s sonnets, several poets joined her but most managed 80 something sonnets. This is not just another collection of Lockdown thoughts and poems, these are sonnets that in years to come will form a historical record and someone suggested may linger in our heads like lines of Shakespeare’s sonnets. It was also a treat to hear her Guest Poets: Anja Konig, Miriam Nash, Jacob Sam-La Rose and video readings from Ian McMillan & Naomi Shihab Nye.

If you missed it you can treat yourself now.

Sunday saw a warm gathering for Live from The Butchery and some stunning performances by: Annie Freud, Jane Burn & Anja Konig. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and it felt like the perfect end to the weekend, except there was more!

I have a few favourite landing places in America that I’ve discovered throughout the lockdowns and many offer free events. I am lucky enough to be working again but after the past 2 years the surplus spends are absorbed by previous bills so I am still not in a position to pay booking fees let alone ticket costs. Which is a great shame as there are lots of opportunities around at the moment – including a workshop with Carolyn Forché at the Kendal Poetry Festival. A festival I will get time to write about soon as I’ve spent an amazing 9 days with Clare Shaw and Kim Moore to complete the month!

I spent an inspiring night with Carolyn Forché & Lori Soderlind, thanks to Hudson Valley Writers Center. It was a deeply moving and inspiring event and I loved both readings. I have become a big fan of Carolyn’s work over this pandemic year. I received an order for In the Lateness of the World (Penguin Press, 2020) for Christmas and it should be arriving next week!

https://awritersfountain.wordpress.com/2021/02/16/an-afternoon-with-carolyn-forche-lori-soderlind/

Carolyn Forché is an award winning author of poetry and prose. Renowned as a “poet of witness,” Carolyn Forché is the author of five books of poetry. Her most recent collection, In the Lateness of the World (Penguin Press, 2020), is a tenebrous book of crossings, of migrations across oceans and borders but also between the present and the past, life and death.

Lori Soderlind is author of two memoirs: The Change (My Great-American, Postindustrial, Midlife Crisis Tour) and Chasing Montana (A Love Story). She is director of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Manhattanville College. Lori began her career in print journalism, working as a reporter, editor, and freelancer for newspapers and magazines across New Jersey and New York. Her latest book, The Change, was the fruit of a long drive she took with her dog Colby, setting off to find “the most depressing places I could find in the country,” Lori has explained, though she only had time to scratch the surface. © Hudson Valley Writers Center

I loved discovering Lori and the story behind her work.

Week 2

I wrote a proposal which took a lot longer than I expected. I’ve written a few applications this year and one of these was for Mass Poetry Festival in May. I was keeping my fingers crossed for a positive outcome on this and gathering some of the poets together again. Unfortunately it was rejected via a very kind email. Four years ago I started my Laureate Legacy Project (2017), a Transatlantic poetry exchange with Worcester, UK and Worcester MA, A Tale of Two Cities. You can read all about it here. And read the publication, Special Issue of Contour here. Many of the poets have gone on to republish their poems in other anthologies and collections.

In the UK we launched the project at Droitwich Arts Festival 2018 as part of the Poetry Extravaganza event, USA had an event at The Sprinkler Factory in September and then in 2019 it was part of the Evesham Festival of Words. I had hoped to role out a lot more with this massive project, there were plans but due to health issues and then COVID nothing has happened since. Evesham was booked in the summer of 2018 when I was 100% fit and not expecting an operation, it was only through the support of friends that I managed to get to the Festival and undertake the organisation of the event. So when I saw the call for MASS Poetry Festival I thought it was destiny! The application took some time, I was delighted to obtain a reference and all was well. I have been checking the inbox for a while. Maybe more opportunities will present themselves. Due to the pandemic I am back in touch with the WCPA who provided the rich American pool of poets for this project. So maybe when I am less busy I can organise something myself.

I missed the Cafe Writers Competition Winner Readings with Helen Ivory (Judge), I thought I had booked a ticket, I had registered interest in the event but not got a ticket. I was a actually double booked so would have missed the start of it, but kicked myself for not keeping tabs. This is overwork tiredness. It continued the next day. I had booked for a presentation (one which was recorded) and decided by the time I made it home I was too tired for any screen time. I forgot I have a Tuesday night class at 9PM (in USA) and was asleep before 7:30 pm. This week I have been putting the finishing touches together for Mr. G’s Lockdown birthday and Valentine’s Day as well as working on projects, writing applications and advertising copy.

Midweek I managed to attend Sheffield Libraries workshop, it was a writing week filled with food. Tawnya’s Experimenting with… class on Monday was Food and this Recipes and Memories workshop, facilitated by the wonderful Central Librarian, Claire Walker, links to a project later in the month. I spent a couple of hours in good company recollecting all sorts of stories that were decades thick in dust. It was inspiring and I hope to write up a couple of poems. It was also nice to see some of my 52 Poetry friends at the workshop and everyone shared such inspiring memories that many of us left with pages and pages of notes after the 2 hour workshop finished. At Midnight there was a USA reading, but I was asleep long before then.

On Thursday it was Worcester SpeakEasy, it was a wonderfully tender and entertaining evening, which included an impromptu ‘hat off’, bountiful love, valentine and non-valentine poems and we had a band too! I finished working full time and celebrated with Wolverhampton Literature Festival, Food for Thought poetry cafe, Poet’s Cafe featuring Corrupted Poetry a collective of writers, Nic Stringer, Michelle Penn & Fiona Larkin.

My 2nd proposal written and sent a week ago was acknowledged with an incredibly kind rejection email. They have kept my contact details and had over 3000 applications, they said my detailed pitch was well written, so some upskill desk time & pitching if nothing else. It’s a shame as it sounded like an exciting project to be involved in. Hopefully it has future-paved something!

This weekend was Mr G’s birthday and Valentine’s so I originally avoided booking anything in, until a conversation made me realise that 48 hours with me was not the way he planned to mark the weekend (harsh), so I booked a few bits into the last days of the week. On Saturday I went to Rakaya Fetuga‘s workshop and then the Annual Lucille Clifton Celebration: Today We Are Possible. It was a moving event full of tenderness and power – the best combination, stories and poems and memories of Lucille.

I was glad not to miss Charley Barnes‘ Book Launch for her Poet Laureate Collection, Lore. A collection which feeds more than her obsession with flowers and footnotes. I will be adding a post about this soon.

WEEK 3:

The Worcestershire LitFest competitions opened and I spent several hours web-building. This week was marked to work on one main project. I managed a few last minute submissions and was looking forward to Cheltenham Poetry Festival who had Kim Addonizio & Christina Thatcher booked. It was an incredible event. Epic in the truest sense of the word. I will be writing February blogposts long into March!

I had a project (which has been postponed) booked in for this week so hadn’t filled the diary. I am spending most of the week working on a manuscript which is due to be submitted. Looming deadlines are always a good reason to set to work. I have been working on this since last year, but decided not to sub it out in the end in the Autumn as I had originally planned. The poems involved have been written since 2019 and I am keeping my fingers crossed. It feels strange as in pre-pandemic times there would have been bountiful events to sell my previous book Patience and I am aware I have stock upstairs, I have sent any interest since March 2020 to the publisher website.

I recently discovered these lunch time readings, PM for UK. A lovely way to finish a day of one workshop, one class and one group. Jennica Harper tender poems touched us all deeply and listening to Frances Boyle force with nature, family, grief was fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to these two Canadian poets. The Q&A was interesting, I love listening to the poet’s process.

Frances Boyle’s first poetry collection, Light-carved Passages was published by Buschek Books in 2014, and her second, This White Nest, by Quattro Books in 2019. She also writes fiction and has published a collection of Short Stories and a Novella.

Jennica Harper is the author of three previous books of poetry: Wood (Anvil Press, 2013), which was shortlisted for the Dorothy Livesay prize, What It Feels Like for a Girl (Anvil Press, 2008), and The Octopus and Other Poems (Signature Editions, 2006).

I often miss Cafe Muse nowadays due to work, Canadian events tend to be on in the early hours here in the UK. But I was still awake so I went to listen to the reading series Poets Vs the Pandemic. And I was glad I did, because I got to hear some great poetry from all three poets. Some of the poems were amazing.

Grace Cavalieri is Maryland’s Tenth Poet Laureate. She’s written 22 books and chapbooks of poetry; and 26 produced short-form and full-length plays. Her newest poetry publications are What The Psychic Said (2020;) Showboat,(2019;) and Other Voices, Other Lives (ASP Pub. 2018.) Her latest play was “Quilting The Sun,” Theatre for The New City, NYC, 2019. Grace founded and still produces “The Poet and the Poem” on public radio, celebrating 44 years on-air in 2021. The show’s recorded at the Library of Congress and transmitted via Pacifica Network.

Diane Wilbon Parks founded The Write Blend collective in 2018. She is a visual poet and artist who has published two collections of poetry, and has read widely as a featured poet, radio show guest poet and interviewee on The Poet and the Poem national broadcast from the Library of Congress. Her artwork has been displayed widely. She lives in Prince George’s County, MD.

ROSE SOLARI is the author of three collections of poetry, The Last Girl, Orpheus in the Park, and Difficult Weather, the one-act play, Looking for Guenevere, and the novel, A Secret Woman. She has lectured and taught writing workshops at many institutions, including the University of Maryland, College Park, MD; St. John’s College, Annapolis, MD; and the University of Oxford’s Centre for Creative Writing in Oxford, England. Her awards include the Randall Jarrell Poetry Prize, an EMMA award for excellence in journalism, and multiple grants. In 2010, she co-founded Alan Squire Publishing. Rose Solari lives in Bethesda, MD.

RELATED LINKS: http://www.gracecavalieri.com/poetLaureates/featuredpoet_dianewilbonparks.html

https://www.pgahc.org/diane-wilbon-parks

You can find a couple of poems from Grace Cavalieri on the Cafe Muse website.

I attended the On This Day She Book Launch, which was a wonderful hour.

A fantastic event – read all about it here https://awritersfountain.wordpress.com/2021/02/19/25121/.

I booked tickets for Rita Dove and Terence Hayes and fell asleep before Jane Hirshfield‘s event Poetry and the Wild with the Natural History Institute. I caught up with a recording of it, another event which deserves an entire blogpost. It’s on the list!

I received some very sad news about our Poets In Motion teacher Celena Diana Bumpus, who passed away along with her mother, Shirley Bumpus. It has been an honour to have known Celena for almost a year, she was a creative person full of light and such a connector in these difficult times. Memorials have been organised. Words are the only fitting way for me to remember her and her generous spirit, spreading love and vision, globally. Her emails bore the signature ‘Be the inspiration the world needs‘. At the end of month I was reunited with classmates via email and we’ve decided to complete the collective unity poem Celena was working with us on.

Photo by MOHAMED ABDELSADIG on Pexels.com

I recently discovered Live Canon’s Lunchtime Reading Series, I went to the 4th one (I missed the 5th one, which had a great line up as I was at work). I am hoping there may be more in the future. They are just an hour and a perfect poetry lunch. I listened to with Adham Smart, Robin Houghton, Gillie Robic and Laura Theis

Friday night saw the Launch of Kendal Poetry Festival, a fabulous reading from Bernadette Mayer, followed by listening to the winning poems from the Pre-Ralphaelite Society.

The weekend saw the beginning of 9 days of early morning light workshops alternating between Clare Shaw and Kim Moore. These have been wonderful and productive. This weekend saw the first one with Clare followed by a morning with Kim on Sunday. I had a rehearsal for Connect Dudley. I went back to Kendal Poetry Festival for a Workshop and two readings: Hafsah Aneela Bashir, who I discovered last year through the Jerwood Arts events and Jackie Hagan who I have had the pleasure of watching LIVE several times before. Both were incredible events and will appear in my KPF post when I get around to working through the February list!

I finished my Saturday night with Rakaya’s weekly workshop and the Oystercatcher reading, which I was especially pleased to be available to attend as I was missing Vahni Capildeo at KPF. It was a powerful night of work with: Lee Duggan, Zoe Skoulding & Vahni Capildeo.

Sunday saw me back at Kendal Poetry Festival for the early morning writing session with Kim Moore and a reading from These Are the Hands the NHS anthology which came out last year. I will write more on this event. I spent the day building websites, workshops and going to Claire Dyer‘s Book Launch of Yield and trying to squeeze every last drop of freedom from the night. Then that was my week off work, gone.

Week 4:

I was back at work, missed deadlines, completed a week at Kendal Poetry Festival, made a performance/event video (not done one of those for a while), did some classes, had an emotional Worcester 42 in tribute to Kieran Davis, we all shared some of his poems and our memories of him, it was a moving experience. By Wednesday it was all I could do to stay awake after work, I had a fun reading event with Rick Sanders to launch the Connect Dudley Exhibition and had an animation shown in the REELpoetry Festival the same day.

On Thursday I managed to get to a Finding the Words, to hear readings from Gaia Holmes, Natalie Rees and Miles Salter.

It was a great reading and I listened to some inspiring, humour filled and new (to me) poetry which I loved. Kirsten Luckins also had her Book Launch with Guest Readers, it was a real treat to see her in a real book shop!

After work on Friday I managed to get to a panel discussion at Kendal Poetry Festival – Rising to the Challenge: Poetry in the Age of Covid, which was brilliant. I had a workshop and a reading cancelled and was relieved as I needed some time away from the desk. Saturday and I FINALLY made it back to Australia to the Perth Poetry Club – that had been a long time coming too. It will be no surprise that most weekends involve waking up later than 6 AM and so I often miss these by the time I surface after a late Friday night (or even an early one). Still just to wound off the month perfectly, I made it! After a great morning of poetry I joined Kim Moore for her final KPF early morning write. I spent most of the time offline and popped on for Rakaya Fetuga‘s workshop and to be WOWed by the UoB Slam Team! More to follow.

Sunday marks the last day of Kendal Poetry Festival and I got up to write (for the final festive writing) with Clare Shaw. I have a workshop this evening and plan to spend the rest of the day as Sunday’s should be! Feels like I need a big lie down in March! I am taking a more relaxed approach to filling the diary as it is already full with a desk schedule I need to keep and the last month of contracted work.

Wolverhampton Literature Festival 2021

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12-14 February
Showcasing the very best of writers, speakers, performers,
thinkers, activists and artists from across the UK.

The Wolverhampton Literature Festival is already howling away. Enjoy a weekend of Literature online. See the full programme here. https://wolvesliteraturefestival.co.uk/index.html

Wolverhampton Literature Festival returns for its fifth year in February 2021. Hosted by City of Wolverhampton Council the festival aims to amplify the voice of authors, poets, writers, storytellers, puppeteers, podcasters, vloggers, publishers across the UK. Celebrating our creative communities living and from the Black Country and further!

Over a three-day period, taking place on the 12-14 of February, our programme of events features a variety of entertainment, which consist of talks, performances, readings, and practical workshops. We provide a high-quality experience for visitors by delivering engaging, exciting and thought-provoking events within our spectacular venues across and the city and, for 2021, online.

Our programme this year, will be providing something for everyone to enjoy, engage with and feel empowered by. Re-lighting Wolverhampton through the power of literature. Copyright © 2017-2021 City of Wolverhampton Council

I was lucky enough to be part of the Wolverhampton Literature Festival in 2018, the region is bursting with talent and I loved the arty/creative outlook of combining the arts and how much was centred on Family. Since then it has gone from strength to strength. This year they are navigating through an online feast with lots to choose from and many FREE events, some are Live streamed and can be watched later. I have just enjoyed readings from R. M Francis & Helen Calcutt.

Celebrating their recent publication successes, R. M. Francis and Helen Calcutt will read from their most recent poetry collections: Subsidence (Smokestack Books) and Somehow (Verve Poetry Press). Their collections deal with issues of loss, grief, anger and love, both in terms of the personal and communal, so this reading will be a chance to explore the difficult, often unspoken aspects of sense of self and sense of place.

R. M. Francis is a lecturer in Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Wolverhampton where he completed his PhD. He’s the author of five poetry pamphlet collections. His novel, Bella, was published by Wild Pressed Books, and Smokestack Books published his poetry collection, Subsidence, in December 2020. In 2019 he was the David Bradshaw Writer in Residence at the University of Oxford and is currently Poet in Residence for the Black Country Geological Society.

Helen Calcutt’s poetry, journalism, and critical writing features in publications such as the Guardian, The Huffington Post, The Brooklyn Review, Poetry London, Poetry Scotland, Wild Court, and The London Magazine. Her first pamphlet ‘Sudden rainfall’ (Perdika, 2014) was a PBS Choice. Her second, ‘Unable Mother’, was published by V. Press in 2018. She is creator of poetry anthology ‘Eighty-Four’, produced in aid of the male suicide prevention charity CALM. It was a Poetry Wales Book of the Year, 2019, and was shortlisted for the Saboteur Awards, Best Anthology 2019. Helen’s newest pamphlet, ‘Somehow’ was published by Verve Poetry Press in September 2020. © 2017-2021 City of Wolverhampton Council

Flashback Summer (Aug)

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Photo by Ylanite Koppens on Pexels.com

August was still patchy with sun and I was able to enjoy the garden. I was beginning to feel the edge of cabin fever. I slowed down online with extra events and focused on writing and reading. It was as strange as all the other months this year. I had hoped my birthday wouldn’t be in Lockdown – I’d seen and attended some awesome, creative celebrations online – I just couldn’t face the extra screen time. Mr G. and I planned to use one of the socially distanced restaurants and go out for the first time since March, but I got too scared.

I went to Jonathan Davidson‘s Book Launch for Commonplace, Smith | Doorstop, 2020. https://jonathandavidson.net/blog-2/books/a-commonplace/

I read at Polly Stretton‘s launch of The Alchemy of 42, Black Pear Press, 20220. https://blackpear.net/2020/07/31/the-alchemy-of-42-launch/

I read my cathedral poems at the launch of the ‘Call & Response’ anthology compiled by Amanda Bonnick, Poet in Residence at Worcester Cathedral. https://blackpear.net/2020/07/22/an-invitation-to-the-launch-of-call-and-response/

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I finally made some submissions. I spent hours writing applications, which were unsuccessful in results but updated all my paperwork ready for when the right one does come along!

We had a wonderful International Reading again for Cath Drake‘s Writing course Reinvent the Future – this time with Malika Booker as Guest Poet. It was another wonderful event.

Cath Drake
Malika Booker

Melbourne Spoken Word Festival continued, Army@Fringe hosted a Virtual Festival with lots of programmes about theatre writing, Jinny Fisher hosted another Poetry Pram event, Wendy Pratt hosted one day retreats, and PPP continued with many events and classes. I finally got to some events in New Zealand and made it back to Fire & Dust (Coventry) to see Genevieve Carver, I saw Joelle Taylor and Laura Scott at Cafe Writers. I managed to Zoom to Stafford WORDS Myths & Legends. I started attending some of the creative writing workshops held at Sheffield Libraries, they have raised a whole community online. Wonderful work. I started workshops with Nik Perring , Reader in Residence at Sheffield Libraries, who have all been great and productive. I attended a few seminars and talks.

I joined Celena Diane‘s Poets in Motion and had a great time at the Wirral Poetry Festival with Brian Wake, writing from ‘At the Circus’ prompts and artwork. Love an ekphrastic poem & poet/artists projects. I get involved with them as often as I can. I was asked to be Poet in Residence (virtually) for Cheltenham Poetry Festival.

I finished my Connect Dudley commission and Worcestershire LitFest went online. We held the delayed interviews for the next Worcestershire Poet Laureate.

So, my birthday was quiet – but we are still safe.

Five months into the pandemic and most of us know someone who has suffered. My heart goes out to all the families who’ve lost more than birthdays this year. The Lockdown is difficult to cope with – but suffering from Covid – there are no words, just huge thanks to those tasked with trying to help us.