Thursday 22 November 2018

Writing the Poem: "Roaming Range"

By Sue Dymoke

The poem ‘Roaming Range’ appears in my 2018 Shoestring Press collection What They Left Behind. During an event at Attenborough Nature Reserve last November called ‘(Re)connecting with nature through the power of wild words’ (Being Human Festival 2017), I had a conversation with Adam Cormack from The Wildlife Trusts. Adam happened to mention how children’s opportunities to engage with nature at first hand have become so much more restricted in the 21st century. What he called their ‘roaming range’ has been severely curtailed, for many reasons including concerns about safety, restricted access to outdoor/wild spaces near to home, poverty, school pressures, limited unstructured free time or different ways of spending free hours. His comments took me back to my childhood, a place and a time with no house phone or car when we (me and my friends or brother) would think nothing of disappearing on our bikes for hours at a time, going out into the scraggy Hertfordshire lanes, woods and fields around and beyond Stevenage Old Town. The poem began to write itself in my head on the way home.

Attenborough Nature Reserve

Roaming range

You roamed wherever your bikes took you 
where blackberries grew big and juicy
on railway cuttings, river banks, sunny field edges …

I chose to use the second person in the poem because I thought my memories echoed those of many other children born in the sixties and seventies. I hoped to include everyone in the poem, rather than name specific places or people which might limit the piece to particular situations. 

The poem wanted to come out all in one long nearly breathless rush of a sentence. Instinctively, I knew that this was the right form. Although the places, sightings and events within it did not all happen at once (and some frequently reoccurred) together they made a compressed, speeded-up snapshot of a childhood roaming free, getting snagged and stung, hearing and watching nature all round us:    

where a nettle’s sting was only
partly eased by spit-rub of dock leaf
where tadpoles jellied in deep ponds
and bluebells chimed silent songs
under greening beeches
where hair snared in thickets
goose grass stuck to jumpers

I have been reading this poem at launch events recently, along with what I now see is a companion poem: ‘Girls on Swings.’ For me, both of these pieces are about freedoms we should revel in, seize, but never ever take for granted.  

If you would like to read the whole 'Roaming Range' poem go to

Wednesday 14 November 2018

Magical Mystery Tour 2018

Photo Collage by Karen Rust

By Kathleen Hoyle

As a new student to the Creative Writing MA course at the University of Leicester, I’m still finding my feet. I’ve never thought of myself as particularly academic and still wonder how I’ve made it this far. So, with an open mind I’ve started the course, with a willingness and enthusiasm to learn all I can.

I must admit, then, when our tutor Harry Whitehead told us we were going on a ‘magical mystery tour’ down an alleyway, on a cold and rainy Wednesday afternoon in November, my enthusiasm waned a little.

We donned our coats hats, and, in my case, a broken brolly that battled with the wind half-heartedly throughout and set out somewhat half-heartedly.

But something DID transpire on that walk … you CAN find ideas in the mundane; even the brollies were a topic of discussion – my broken and deluded pound shop one, Harry’s smart and expensive one and Laura’s beautifully bright rainbow one. Harry was right all along. 
The alleyway chosen was dim and broken. There since Victorian times, it sagged behind run-down flats and overgrown gardens. But what treasures we found! 

A carrier bag, possessed with the spirits of addicts and drunks.

Romeo and Juliet’s balcony?

A bleeding wall - gothic horror.

Madge the mattress, an old prostitute with stories to tell, if only someone would listen. 


Locks and signs, dark holes, all stories with a threatening tone. 

We all sat in the pub afterwards warm, toasty and elated. A babble of conversation and short story ideas, all flowing from a short walk through an alleyway. Harry explained that, as writers, we must learn to observe and embrace the mundane in order to bring our stories to life and we should never dismiss anything, even an old chip box or a cigarette end, as a source of inspiration. 

It really was a great learning experience but maybe next time we can try it on a sunny day please, Harry?

By Louise Brown

The Magical Mystery Tour defied my expectations. I suspected it would be a dreary activity and wondered what was the point of viewing the litter and grimy parts of Leicester? however, the exhortations of Harry Whitehead to find inspiration in the ordinary came to life as we wandered down Oxford Avenue. 

The debrief in the pub later over a fine pint of cider was great fun. Hearing what others had come up with amazed me. One student's observation was that everywhere he looked there were “threats.” He was referring to various notices warning people they may die (electrocution hazards) or that prosecution may occur for trespassing. As my day job is that of a Solicitor I hadn’t even noticed them.

I came away thinking the ordinary is not ordinary at all; it’s just that our minds stop looking at things. We become inured and deadened to all around us. The strange sight of green and red protrusions on a brick wall, and a bin with the address daubed on in dripping paint, both of which struck  me as ghoulish, had sparked my imagination. As a result, I had a go at writing a comic ghost story, and discovered that trying to be funny is hard. However, trying something new is a must for every aspiring writer. I have included a small excerpt below from my work in progress:

.... She caught up with her dog and did a double-take. Strange growths in the shape of entrails had appeared on the bricks, coloured green and red. The house was alive and growing and it seemed to have spilt its guts overnight. Maybe it had always been there, she wondered, doubting her powers of observation. 

She remembered she had drunk all the gin yesterday. A trip to the off-licence beckoned.   

She proceeded down the alleyway. What’s the matter with the damn animal? It was barking at a dustbin now. That’s weird, she thought: someone had emblazoned on it in white paint 10 Oxford Avenue. The paint dripped down a little making it resemble white blood, and the title of some horror movie.     

By Colin Gardiner

A Possession 

There are places where the dispossessed drift.
Lost wraiths, turned inside out and pummelled
In a whispered supermarket séance.

There’s black magic in the arterial flex 
Of the back alley. Ductile will-o’-the-wisp  
Is happy to lead you here, all alone.

Step over the crunching beer-glass carpet 
And heed the orange shopping bag, tittering
Tales in the déjà vu of carpark darkness.

Plastic poltergeist gossip, reporting
Curtain twitch domestic, late night gang fight
And a screaming back-seat exorcism. 

Rustling omens in abandoned sheds,
Undecipherable to surveillance 
Heads, who dream in back-yard video loops.  

Rough handles reach into an empty sky,
Grasping at the dust illuminated by
Whispering arcs of loveless sodium.  

Behind you, an evil asthmatic wheeze 
Tickling the spinal aerial lines.
Plastic sighs of longing: you belong here.