Category Archives: Review

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 – 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!

NaPoWriMo 2021 One Week In

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Well we have all made it to the end of Week 1! By now you may have written 0-7 poems, however many you have managed to write they will all be poems which would not have existed without some of these prompts.

If you’re following from here or napowrimo.net you will have been given the option of reading 12 poems from 12 different poets, some of them established and some participants.

In watching the events and video resources you will have heard more poems than I can accurately estimate. By now your mind is swimming in words and there is no sign of the tide going out anytime soon… welcome to NaPoWriMo!

REFLECTION – WEEK 1

This week I have written 10 poems, of these I think several will go on further, 2 were the short form from today and 2 were written the day after the prompt – one from The Sun Ra Arkestra, (I’ve already established I could happily use the Day 1 prompt for the entire month) and one from the Universal Deck activity where I created and left it as word sculpture on the day and was then inspired to write the words into a poem after reading a participant’s featured poem.

IF I HAD TO PICK THE BEST BITS…

My favourite prompt this week: Day 5 “The Shapes a Bright Container Can Contain,”

The most enjoyable to create from: Day 1

Most Valuable Resource(s): Day 2 – There is so much archived here 47th Annual Poetry Project New Year’s Marathon

& Day 4 – @SpaceLiminalBot

Catching Treasure ~ New-to-me-Poets: Mairead Case, Kenyatta Rogers, Erika Hodges & Mary Szybist (Day 5), Sandra Beasley, Teri Ellen Cross Davis & Michael McClure (Day 3) and Monica de la Torre (Day 1).

I always enjoy discovering new resources and poets and this week has been a treasure trove.

SURVIVAL TIPS FOR NAPOWRIMO

  1. Honestly… don’t worry!
  2. Catch up if you can and if you want to…
  3. Do not be held back by a prompt (unless you want the challenge).
  4. JUST WRITE.
  5. Switch off your inner editor/critic.
  6. Know that even writing you don’t consider any good is taking you somewhere.
  7. READ!

At the end of the first week I thought it would be fun to leave 7 tips. Many of these will be happening naturally as you sit down to pen a poem each day.

  1. No one is judging this process, it doesn’t matter if by the end of April you have 1 poem or 100.
  2. It is easy to slip behind trying to balance a daily write with real life, if you fall behind you may find you can catch up later in the month if you feel it’s a poem you want to write.
  3. There are plenty of poetry prompts all over the internet so find a different one or just go rogue. Write 3 words or 3 lines a poem doesn’t have to be an epic.
  4. Quite often in my general poetry making my starting point will be a free write, thousands of poets work this way. If the thought of trying to write a poem feels impossible… just write.
  5. This is one of the hardest challenges to overcome, that critic comes with their own remote and the mute button is glitchy. Just try your best, it takes years – but you can train them to sit quietly in the corner.
  6. Often with a mass write there will be ‘wasted ink’ – something you consider rubbish. Sometimes people say ‘this is rubbish’ and then go on to read something fantastic out loud! Try to stop saying it’s rubbish or see it as rubbish…. all the writing you do takes you somewhere. You can’t expect it to be amazing everyday. Lower the expectation to – today I will write. Don’t even read it afterwards… we’re not editing yet.
  7. You have no excuse this month. Every day the prompt provides at least 1 poem to read (reading includes listening to audio/ watching video), you may find your own rabbit holes or decide you want to find more work from a particular writer. Embrace the read. It will ALWAYS help develop and improve your writing.

Flashback Autumn (Sept)

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Photo by Marta Wave on Pexels.com

September brought the kids back to school and students back to university and huge peaks in cases. After five months off work I was due to go back in as soon as bookings came through. This was a bleak month of no work. Something which is sadly the fate of millions since the beginning of the pandemic. It was a month that left me feeling pretty empty, so I filled it!

Like a new student, I signed up for a new class Hybrid & Experimental Memoir with Tawnya Renelle and looked at courses on Future Learn. I was having to complete Covid related staff training even though there was no work, which I found frustrating – necessary yes, but the only people who could possible struggle with gaining the certificate at the end of it are those who have literally buried their heads in the sand and watched/read no news for the past year!

There were a few festivals and book launches to keep me buoyant (and more importantly busy). I recorded the audio for Connect Dudley project (hoping to tell you more about this soon). I was Poet in Residence for Cheltenham Poetry Festival and I had a LIVE interview with Kate Justice for BBC Radio Hereford & Worcester. UEA hosted Noirwich, Crime Writing Festival and Worcestershire LitFest hosted a Festival 13-19th. Which was the same time as Tell It Slant Festival over the pond at the Emily Dickinson Museum. And Perth Poetry Festival was 18th -27th they managed to get LIVE events, a hybrid of live and virtual and some virtual all mixed into the programme. It just made me want to be there again!

I went to Kevin Reid‘s Book Launch for Suitcase (4word, 2020). It was a real treat. Discover the book for yourself here. https://eyeosphere.com/ Later in the month was the launch of Carole Bromley‘s new collection The Peregrine Falcons of York Minster (Valley Press, 2020) https://www.carolebromleypoetry.co.uk/books/. I have missed Carole’s readings and it was a joy!

As festival Poet in Residence for Cheltenham Poetry Festival I attended and performed at CPF events this month including: Z.D.Dicks Reading & Open Mic and Across the Oceans with David Hanlon and Elisabeth Horan. I headlined for Cheltenham Poetry Festival alongside Joe Cook, it was good to see/hear him again – a magical experience! And speaking of magic…

One of the workshops I attended was pure magic too – in fact, it was in the title, but we’re writers… we know titles give no guarantee! It was called The Magic of an Ordinary Day and it was mindfully slow paced with an entire offline section for lunch and encouraged wanderings. I met my mum (socially distanced) at the local park and we had a catch up and I took a bounty of pictures to inspire my afternoon writing. Plenty of people watching in amongst nature and for someone who rarely leaves the house now it was a blessing. Sue Emm was the facilitator of this online wandering & writing workshop from Open School East. It was a wonderfully, relaxed and I was certainly glad I’d committed a day to do it. Huge gratitude to Sue Emm.

The Worcestershire LitFest started, as it always does, with the Worcestershire Poet Laureate Competition. This year’s finalists were all worthy of the crown. The new Worcestershire Poet Laureate was announced for 2020-21 as Leena Batchelor – read more here.

Festival posts and links to follow.

I managed to attend a few open mics and events including Philip Gross and Heidi Williamson at Cafe Writers, That Poetry Zoom (Canberra), a Masterclass in writing and publishing, Wordcraft, Jerwood Arts Events, some PPP gigs and I visited the real library building (where the covid measures far outrank some places of work) and returned my 3 loans read by April and borrowed 9 books, fearing they would have to close again. I have PLENTY of books at home I could be reading, but they are mainly chosen and I feel I want to read them in pleasant(er) times. Perhaps now is the time to challenge my genres, pull out those books I would not otherwise attempt and that’s why I use the library. Plus I love the library, most people have been missing the night out, the pub… me, that room full of books none of which are mine.

I fuelled some of my grief into The Loss Project and found solace in a group I have been attending since the summer over in the States with Judith Redwing Keyssar, who has provided Food For Thought Poetry Cafes and Loss, losing, Loosening workshops weekly. https://redwingkeyssar.com/. Just letting it pour out is important and for me, part of the healing. I attended the Collective Trauma Summit, they had an amazing selection of poets/ poetry readings.

By September, Lockdown had lifted, but I was still living very much in isolation. With no money it wasn’t so much a challenge to stay inside. I had to go to hospital in September, they are places some of us need to be brave and use, but it was the biggest challenge I have faced. I had to go alone – the whole experience pre-covid would have been bad, in addition there was the wearing of the mask for hours and the additional safety test requirements. I counted every day after carefully indeed, but looking back I needed something this big because in a few months time there would be much needed work. The first day back was terrifying but it would have been worse without this bridge.

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/

Photo by Lum3n on Pexels.com

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.

Flashback Summer (July)

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By July so many events had moved online that there were diary clashes, just as there always has been in real life. I also tried to have a day off screen. Things were still on Lockdown in the UK and although restrictions were eased, I stayed in. I was not working until the Autumn and as someone unable to work outside the home I didn’t think taking the risk to do anything else was sensible either and by now our county area had high percentages of cases and at the centre of that was my hometown, so staying in seemed like the brightest idea!

More wonderful festivals were enjoyed: Ledbury Poetry Festival (which is always amazing) had a weekend at the start of the month and a packed programme, thoroughly enjoyed. I enjoyed Melbourne’s Spoken Word Festival.

Over the summer months I also took advantage of programmes offered by several museums. Some fantastic virtual hikes and lots of historical research of two of my favourite poets from before my time. Walt Whitman (who I only discovered 7 years ago) and a lifetime favourite, Emily Dickinson. Being involved in these programmes has been a joy.

I took opportunities with Wendy Pratt, huge gratitude for The Sea, The Sea – a wonderful course of prompts which gave me lots of new work and PPP started their ‘Arses from Elbows’ weekly sessions, which were great fun and covered a lot of ground. I started Rakaya Fetuga’s Spoken Word workshops.

I took Arts funded workshops with Jemima Foxtrot, Anthony Anaxagorou and Alarum Theatre and got heavily involved with Sheffield Libraries and the programme they have delivered for Reading & Writing during Lockdown. I was also lucky enough to have a 1 to 1 with Anthony, which was superb.

I watched lots of readings including readings from Helen Mort, Ledbury Salon Readings with Romalyn Ante and Liz Berry, online readings from Billy Collins and Carol Frost. Billy has been posted weekly FB videos of readings throughout Lockdown. A real gift to us all. I heard Hannah Stone and Becki Cherriman at Leeds Library.

I started on the Connect Dudley commission.

The Hive Worcestershire Libraries Call out for Poetry Videos, many local poets can be viewed on the channel. Here’s mine. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QhCKnVQyU0w

It was the end of Malika Speaks and a relaunch for 62 Gladstone as another business moved wholly online. I read at the the Launch event. https://62gladstonestreet.co.uk/

I was a Guest Poet at Perth Poetry Club – which was a joy! I appeared there in person in 2018 when I was an International Guest Poet Perth Poetry Festival and it has been amazing to reconnect to the Perth crew over Lockdown.

I entered a poem for the Stourbridge Leg of PPP’s Stay Up Your Own End.

Patience received a new book review by Phoebe Walker on Sabotage review – you can read it here.

AND I finally submitted some poems!

Apologies for any formatting issues there have been problems with WordPress this weekend. This post has taken over 4 hours to format and deliver!

Flashback Summer (June)

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For some reason I attempted Yoga again this month, Lockdown has made us all a little crazy, I think I did a fusion of Yoga and Pilates, basically the warm up and then filled in most of the class with exercise my back could manage.

I saw my first human being other than my mum and Mr G. since the beginning of Lockdown. It was my eldest nephew’s birthday. I stood in the garden, he stayed inside. It was the hardest not-hug to give/not give. Delighted I saw him. He couldn’t believe he was only the 3rd person I had seen since the end of March! By the end of the month I shared garden coffee with a few friends.

My actual travel/ life may have diminished to something which resembled 2019 (without the pain) but my screen life was exploding. I stretched my Zoom poetry wings further into Australia, out to New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, America and Coventry – if you have ever driven the route from here you will understand why I include that UK destination in amongst my international travel. Other local events found the wonders of Zoom and FB and moved events online. Library services also extended online content.

Poetry and writing has gone Global this year, writing is also (like baking, making sourdough, planting, painting and photography) one of the hobbies/ escapes people turned to. Even people who never appeared online have probably scribbled journals or feelings down at some points in this Lockdown. There have been wonderful local/ national/ international community projects popping up all over the place. Letter writing has become fashionable again, or at least it did before people realised the dangers of post. The world has creatively adapted. We have held each other (metaphorically) up in a year that made us all feel like we no longer had bones!

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The other thing which began to take seed was the funding artists had applied for through the Arts Council. With this emergency funding came a flurry of projects and workshops. Funding was also received from other revenue sources.

PPP (Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists) celebrated the Black Country/ Lockdown and isolation with Stay Up Your Own End – which offered people both a microscopic and magnified view of their locales as seen through the eyes of people with pens. It encouraged people who had never written before or never openly written before to pick up a pen and write. It was set up as a round of competitions, prizes included a video film produced & £25.

The judges/prompt writers for each round were local favourites of the Black Country poetry scene Richard Archer, Rick Sanders, Roy McFarlane, Kuli Kohli, and Heather Wastie.

PPP were commissioned by Creative Black Country to run a series of online poetry activities across the region.

Read more about it here: https://www.pandemonialists.co.uk/stay-up-your-own-end/

Louise Stokes provided bi-weekly writing classes under the ‘Let’s Write’ project. http://www.louiseland.co.uk/

I did workshops with Anna Saunders, Adam Horovitz, Liam Brown, Zena Edwards and joined Malika Speaks and Poets In Motion. I went to Book launches including The Estate Agent’s DaughterRhian Edwards (Seren), Wild PersistenceKatrina Naomi (Seren), Pack of LiesRoz Levens (Black Pear Press)

More Festivals and Events: ART IS… Festival, Trim (Ireland), Own It! Online Festival, Wirral Poetry Festival, Cheltenham Poetry Festival, Kit De Waal Creative Writing Wonder Women, Ledbury Poetry Salon with Philip Gross & Lesley Saunders. Sarah L. Dixon moved The Quiet Compere online and created a series of reunion shows. I made video poems for Wordcraft, PASTA, performed at Fire & Dust, 42, That Poetry Zoom, Perth Poetry Club, Poets’ Cafe and watched Dear Listener. Oooh Beehive, Run Your Tongue, Yes We Cant and others. Room 204 continued to support us with opportunities.

Personal highlights for the month (other than braving the company of friends) were:

A reading for the end of Writing to Buoy Us – Reading to Buoy Us with Cath Drake. The courses drew both established and new poets in from across the world.

Read all about it at Cath’s website here.

It was an uplifting event which featured both class groups and Australian poet Mark Tredinnick as the Guest Reader.

Writing and creativity are how most of us are continuing to process this pandemic 6 months later, the connectivity shared at this time was invaluable. It was special.

Cath Drake
Mark Tredinnick
Nina Lewis

Poetry Film Live Relaunched their website and featured one of my animated Poetry Renewed Films ‘Tailspin’ to Launch it. Like every business Elephant’s Footprint have adapted during this pandemic and shifted their courses online.

Exciting talks started with the committee about moving WLF online, we were holding off in the hope the postponed annual festival (mid-June) could be pushed back to early Autumn, by this time it became apparent that Covid was going to be with us for some time.

I took part in my first online SLAM (I don’t really do the SLAM poet thing but this was in Australia and I couldn’t resist). My poems appeared in the keepsake gift book the Art Is Festival released.

I wrote down submission opportunities and promptly missed the deadlines. Seems like I have the horse ready but a little unsure of getting back on!

Flashback Spring (May)

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If I thought April had been a whirlwind, I wasn’t quite buckled in for May!

I was enjoying off screen time in the garden, had already taken photos of the blossom and enjoyed the early Spring flowers.

You know it is easy to misremember how it was? I closed the last flashback with the realisation I had not travelled more than 1.5 miles from my home – actually my perimeter was a lot smaller in April. I hadn’t started walking outside of my home and the supermarket is not that far away so thinking back, the frame of my life was caught in a circle of 3 roads, just one small block of life!

This was the month it expanded to 1.5 miles.

I do remember I stayed in, if I wasn’t in the garden I was in the house. Most of the street were out in the back gardens, enjoying the sun, building new sheds, cabins, garden furniture, slides and swings whilst I was indoors fighting the good fight for Furlough or burying my head in the sand of a writing world that became my Narnia.

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May started with more festivals: Avon Book Festival, Stay at Home Fringe Festival (organised by the Students/graduates of Glasgow Uni), The Urban Tree Festival and of course HAY (which I managed to blog in a timely fashion). Huge gratitude to everyone who has worked so hard to give creatives access to platforms and festivals at this time.

Big gratitude to Julia Webb for the prompt/course she ran this month. To Kim Moore for braving the online world of workshops and furthering my year of learning. To Carys Hannah who started a Golden Girls Watch Party, which reminded us what laughter is and made us all hope we get to grow old.

To Anna Saunders and the team at Cheltenham Poetry Festival for delivering a feast of poetic pleasure with numerous events and a great line up of poets. To Seren for creating a series of reading events, AWP for giving us a night with Joy Harjo (Poet Laureate of USA). For the universe for keeping my neighbour safe the morning she climbed up on our conservatory roof to clean and I couldn’t stop her!

Thanks to Helen Ivory & Martin Figura for events at the Butchery and to Jinny Fisher for her Poetry Pram Party. Thanks to Jane Commane at Nine Arches Press for videos, live readings and Book Launches, to Emma Wright at the Emma Press for Book Launches and webinar readings/Q&A. To Phillipa Slinger and Chloe Garner who moved Ledbury Poetry Festival and the Salons online.

This month I also enjoyed the Saboteur Awards and Book Launches for The Unmapped Woman by Abegail Morley (Nine Arches Press), Dorothy by Briony Hughes (Broken Sleep Books), Apple Fallen by Olga Dermott-Bond (Against the Grain).

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And I finally realised online events meant we could travel after all… and travel I did, first stop back to Australia. I headed back to Perth and Freo. Thanks to all at VoiceBox. I reunited with some of the Perth crew at Zoomouth, which was brilliant!

I finished the 6 weeks Writing to Buoy Us course with Cath Drake and writers from Europe and Australia. I started a Hybrid Experimental course with Tawnya Renelle https://tawnyaselenerenelle.com/ , who I also met through the Stay at Home Fringe Festival. And who also needs a huge shout out of gratitude. I was glad to help where I could at the beginning and have loved watching the take-off!

I completed work on the animations for Poetry Renewed with Elephant’s Footprint and wrote lots in journal form and a few poems. Covid had crept into the writing and I was attempting to not write about it in the beginning. And the BIG conservation started about the artists place in all this, whether it is our job or not to almanac the times (which is what a lot of writers/artists do). I believe most of us do, but also agreed that writing books about it probably wouldn’t even make it to the slush pile, of course I am sure there will be some, there already are. But I’m still processing last year and things which happened at the beginning of this one (pre-Covid).

May was the month: I realised my back can’t manage Yoga and gracefully I saluted the sun for one last time, started to walk in nature, used my walking stick for the last time (hadn’t needed it for 3 months), I blamed the yoga but looking at this it was more likely all that sitting at the desk! It marked the milestone of my first submission in 5 months! I have been very slow to get back on that horse!

Flashback Spring (April)

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April was Napowrimo and those of you who follow this blog will know I have done it every year since I discovered it existed (2014), this year – for the first time ever – I was home every day of the prompts and managed it without falling behind. As is tradition, by the end I was left with about 5 decent poems and another 5 to work with. Lots of new notes and scribbles, I did write 32 poems over the month but some are no more than a warm up exercise, you can whittle on after April and collect yourself a good batch of 30 decent poems, but as with all workshops some prompts will speak louder than others. There were some areas I continued to research and develop and other scrap poems I abandoned. Nothing wasted though.

Napowrimo was also the last time I was properly active on the blog. The Stay at Home Lit Festival continued (it was a glorious 2 weeks). I continued to enjoy events which moved online more from the PPP (Poets, Prattlers, and Pandemonialists) team, as another of their brilliant nights Yes We Cant happened online and PASTA (usually at the Wolverhampton Arena Theatre). 42, Worcester and Run My Tongue were other open mic events I joined.

I signed up to Caleb Parkin‘s Napo group and enjoyed weekly sessions with other poets (some of whom I knew) doing Napo. These groups were great fun. Huge gratitude to Caleb for creating such a pleasant space to create from.

Another huge gratitude bundle goes to Cath Drake, who I discovered at the S@HF. Her first collection The Shaking City (Seren) was launched in April. https://www.serenbooks.com/author/cath-drake.

Cath started a writing course for poets in Australia (her homeland) and UK (her home). It was incredible and again I will be posting separately on Writing to Buoy Us.

Discover more about Cath and her work here https://cathdrake.com/.

April was the start of crazy, for me it was a coping mechanism and also I was coming from that post-book release-writing-slump https://ninalewispoet.wordpress.com/books/, which followed on the back of the medicated break from writing, which I was convinced (at the time), had broken the camel’s back, so a certain amount of my packed scheduling was a liberation, a dance with words. It was also a sure fire way to bury my thoughts from what was really happening for a few hours most days. I was also trying to get over having to cancel all my real life bookings for a 2nd year running.

I read a lot, every writer should. But I have to say 2020 has opened me to more new writing and new to me poets than any year so far. So readily accessible at a touch of a button. The whole world at my writing desk.

Sarah L. Dixon needs another shout out of gratitude, she started to run workshops online, which were always fun and successful for me – as in I would always have a nearly completed poem by the end of it – I may have even submitted some of these out to the world and I have barely submitted anything anywhere since 2018.

A big shout out of gratitude to Zelda Chappel too – who it has been a pleasure to reconnect with. She offered a series of wonderful prompts which in the beginning refreshed my love for this gift of writing and over the weeks gave space for some different writing.

A big shout out to Mab Jones too who created Lockdown Writers’ Club and provided us all with in depth prompts and created a creative community.

I went to the book launch of Play – by C. S Barnes, The Shaking City by Cath Drake and Mutton Rolls by Arji Manuelpillai.

I started doing Yoga with Allison Maxwell who is another gratitude shout out, I helped people and artists learn how to use Zoom effectively, we celebrated the first birthdays online, never expecting we would still be doing the same by the end of the year! I started doing my pilates classes at home.

I finally joined INSTA as there were poets I admire doing things on this platform. My INSTA account is still nothing to shout about and I probably won’t be joining the INSTA Poetry movement anytime soon, but it is a great platform for short video/ workshops and has been fun exploring this year.

I took opportunities offered by Room 204 on developing characters, huge thanks to Stephanie Hatton for letting us be your guinea pigs, I hope the roll out went well. I enjoyed the National Ballet online, a workshop with The Poetry Business and started recording video performances for events. And I discovered the Cuirt Festival of Literature AND more importantly an Irish poet I had read in my teens, Michael Gorman – it was like being reunited with an old friend.

I also had the pleasure of watching Kei Miller and Carolyn Forché with Poets House and Roger Robinson with Writing East Midlands, all poets I have read and admire. I’m lucky enough to have seen Kei and Roger in action several times. These three poets started the pack of recurring poets who became a big part of my lockdown.

I was also working hard completing an animation commission from Elephant’s Footprint for the Arts Council funded ‘Poetry Renewed Project’. I wrote a poem for Rick Sanders PoARTry/ the digital version of his project. My ekphrastic poetry response was based on an artwork created by Alan Glover. I watched most deadlines zoom past and wrote covid and non-covid journals.

It was an action packed month which taught me: I was happy we’d had haircuts the week before the news of Lockdown, the forever-wanted GHDs probably weren’t going to be the most used Christmas present, that I was unlikely to run out of notebooks for a while, that the world is trying to hold itself together, that a smile goes a long way, that facetime and online platforms are a great way to stay connected, what it feels like to spend 5 weeks travelling no more than 1.5 miles from your home.

Flashback Spring (March)

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March Lockdown was only a week – but those 7 days felt like a lifetime!

I was one of the many people who actually found life online a blessing, it was a way of staying connected during Lockdown and after a week I realised the Writing Community had gone full throttle into Teams, Crowdcast, Webinar platforms, Zoom (of course) and suddenly INSTA and FB were brimming with events, workshops, performances and festivals. I was a little slower to fill my diary as I was adjusting and juggling concerns for family, finances, future etc. (as we all were).

I realised having suffered depression and my year of incapacity last year (where I couldn’t be online for 6 months due to not being able to concentrate/focus/work/ use a desk/chair and was off social media for a while longer as by the time I finally reached the desk the manuscript was 5 months overdue an edit)! That this online connection is essential for some of us.

It was also a blessing as my body had time to heal, I wasn’t running ragged or trying to push driving distances. I also hadn’t found a solid way back into the poetry community after a year away. This exodus online, bridged that gap and gave me the ability to travel again – although it was a while (months) before I realised international waters were open!

I didn’t leave my home territory for the first month of lockdown and after that was only brave enough for one nature walk a week (it was still restricted back then that you can’t drive to walk and we live in an urban area), there are trees lining the dual carriageway, but we have a garden so I sat with nature rather than walking.

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Looking back, I knew even then it was a gift that we had Lockdown in the Spring, for much of the world it wasn’t as warm or abundant with nature. A few months into lockdown I was one of two people wearing a mask to supermarket shop and only once or twice a month. Mr G. had to work throughout lockdown so there was always a possibility even when I was keeping myself from the world. So thank goodness for life online.

Of course there were strains and worries, fears and concerns, waking every day for months… well we all lived it right, it has been tough financially and I know people who were very ill with Coronavirus. I am choosing not to address it in these posts (other than excusing myself for not mentioning it in this first one).

At first my online meets were just for virtual coffees and a few regular events I attend which had moved online. I want to give a big shout out to Poets, Prattlers and Pandemonialists https://www.pandemonialists.co.uk a.k.a. Emma Purshouse, Steve Pottinger and Dave Pitt who have grown to adapt to many platforms this year but immediately moved events online and were making them fully accessible no matter what your situation, lots of hard work.

© 2018 Poets, Prattlers and Pandemonialists.

I am delighted that after putting the hours in and giving so generously they have maintained working status with lots of projects online. They always are busy people and it doesn’t look like they are about to let a pandemic stop that ethic!

Polly Stretton immediately moved 42 online, a regular event in Worcester that we have been enjoying on Zoom since March.

I was writing for a Worcester Cathedral Poetry Project, organised by their poet in residence, Amanda Bonnick.

And then Carolyn Jess-Cooke gave us the STAY AT HOME FESTIVAL – https://stayathomelitfest.co.uk/about/ the first in a long line of festivals online – it was brilliant and on a massive scale and conceived (as many things are) on Twitter.

I unfortunately missed the call (as I was working F/T until lockdown) but I attended most of the festival weekend and was lucky enough to be one of the showcase poets.

I will write an entire post about the festival, I was hugely grateful and it was also the beginning of filling my notebooks – (2 over this weekend), avoiding household chores and unpacking boxes!