Friday 17 December 2021

Anne Bailey, "What the House Taught Us"

Anne Bailey was born in West Yorkshire, very close to the Pennine moors. She has worked as a teacher, a mother and a couples counsellor in London, and now lives in North Norfolk. She is a committee member for Café Writers. Her poem ‘What the River did Next’ was commended in the 2021 Ambit Poetry Competition. Her new pamphlet of poems is What the House Taught Us, published by The Emma Press. You can find her on Twitter: @Anneebai

About What the House Taught Us, by Anne Bailey

You never know how things really are in other people’s families, in other people’s homes. There’s the public face and the private truths – the personal griefs and tragedies, whether festering or resting in peace. In her wry, engagingly strange poems, Anne Bailey takes the door off the latch and lets us inside. 

She shows us loss and disappointment, as well as hardness and resilience, particularly through the eyes of a daughter, wife and mother. We see the domestic sphere in such close-up detail that it becomes bizarre, an uncanny dimension that nonetheless rings horribly, weirdly true. 

You can see more details from What the House Taught Us on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read a sample poem from the pamphlet. 


So you’ve put a picture on the lovely blank wall
that used to go pink in the sun
and feel like an ice cream.
A wall on which I used to rest my eyes
in pleasant contemplation.
A wall which represented air
that could be breathed.
A wall through which it was possible to see
how much space is in the universe.
The distance between one star and another.

Thursday 16 December 2021

Anna Larner, "Highland Whirl"

Anna Larner is an English Literature and Museum Studies graduate. Her debut novel, Highland Fling, was a finalist in the 2018 Golden Crown Literary Society Awards. Her second novel, Love’s Portrait, was a finalist in the 2019 Rainbow Awards and in the 2019 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards.

Her short story "Hooper Street" can be found in the Bold Strokes Books anthology Girls Next Door. Her poems have been published with Paradise Press and the University of Leicester's Centre for New Writing.

Her website is here

About Highland Whirl, by Anna Larner

When city girl about town Roxanne Barns reluctantly accepts a holiday invite to her best friend Eve’s birthday party in the Scottish Highlands, the last thing she expects is to fall for the very person she’s been dreading seeing again—the feisty Highlander, Alice Campbell.

The moment Alice learns that Roxanne is visiting her home hamlet of Newland, she couldn’t be more suspicious or defensive. A warm welcome is certainly not the plan, let alone falling in love.

Despite Eve’s warnings that Roxanne is not relationship material, Alice can’t ignore her growing attraction. She absolutely trusts Eve’s judgment, but taking her advice just might break Alice’s heart.

Highland Whirl reunites readers with the characters and landscape of Highland Fling in an emotionally enthralling story of trust, friendship, family, and love.

Highland Whirl is the sequel to the novel Highland Fling. You can read a blogpost by Anna, ‘On Writing a Sequel,’ which describes the complexities of writing a story that is both new and yet also predetermined by the story told before, on Bold Strokes Books website here. Below, you can read an extract from the novel. 

From Highland Whirl


“Hey, Rox.”

“Evie Eds! Hi. Hold on a mo. I’m just at The Brewer’s.” With her mobile phone pressed against her ear, Roxanne Barns pushed against the brass fingerplate of the heavy door that opened from the street to the small porch of The Brewer’s Arms. “So, how’s tricks—wait, what the …?” No sooner had she stepped inside, than a pungent odour caught and stung at the back of her throat. She coughed out, “No way.”

Eve chuckled. “That busy, huh? Well, it is a Friday night.”

“It’s pink. Like, totally pink.” Roxanne stared in horror at her beloved pub. Nearly every wall and surface had been subject to a violent assault of eye-bruising, nausea-inducing pink paint. Even the floorboards, tacky under her feet, had not escaped the savage lick and slap. “Why? I mean … why?” Her disbelieving gaze eventually settled at the far corner of the room where the green felt of the snooker table seemed to float like an island in an ocean of strawberry milk. And was she imagining it, or could the circles on the dartboard really be expanding and contracting against the hallucinogenic wall? Was this what it was like to take acid? The space was trippy for sure but not in a good way.

“What’s pink?” Eve asked, her voice piqued with concern. “You’ve not got a rash, have you?”

“No, I haven’t got a rash. It’s The Brewer’s. It’s been … violated.”

“Oh no. What, like burgled?”

“Burgled? It’s far worse. They’ve attempted to redecorate.”


“Yep. Oh.”

“You never know—it might grow on you.”

“Yeah, judging by the smell, it’s a distinct possibility.”

Accompanied by Eve’s pained laughter, Roxanne made her way to the bar. En route, she spotted a group of regulars standing huddled together by the open back door. They clearly figured a view of the bins was preferable to their usual seat and a lungful of toxic fumes.

“What the hell, Bel?” Roxanne said to her ex Belinda, who had bravely broken free from the group to risk a lifetime of certain asthma.

“It’s supposed to be Crème de la Rose,” Belinda said, casting her gaze from chair to wall to ceiling. “But dodgy Dave got a job lot from a mate, so it’s more like Flaming Flamingo.”

“You don’t say?” Roxanne lifted her jacket collar across her nose. “Personally, I’m getting the vibes of Pepto Bismol.”

Belinda laughed, which triggered a cough. She pressed her scarf against her face and gestured to the phone in Roxanne’s hand. “Is that Eve?”

“Yep.” Roxanne poked the speaker button and rested her mobile on the counter next to her pint of lager. Following an unspoken arrangement that had developed over the years, the barman had already drawn her pint. Roxanne’s order never changed, after all, and neither did her need for a pint of Carling straight after her nursing shift in A&E. It wasn’t a matter of habit. It was simply survival.

Saturday 11 December 2021

"Let Them Speak! Oral History Archives as an Inspiration for Creative Writing"

By Helen Foster

Oral history is the practice of recording and preserving the memories of people through interviews. These voices can be those often under-represented in other forms of recorded history, including working class people, women, disabled people, black and minority ethnic groups and the LGBTQ community.

Many creative practitioners work with oral history, particularly dramatists and poets. Some go out and record their own interviews and use these in writing and performance. But the potential of material already held in oral history archives is often overlooked. There are thousands of recordings stored at repositories up and down the country. Many are free to access online offering a ready-made resource to inspire the creative writer. 

An oral history interview captures the authenticity that lies in the lived personal experiences of the interviewee. It emphasises the fact that we all experience history differently. Listen in and you can stumble across wonderful subjective moments – anecdotes and jokes – that are open to creative reinterpretation.

You may find some oral histories resonate with your own personal histories; listening to a recording about a place you knew as a child may trigger your own memories of that place, which in turn may seep into your writing. 

It’s not just the anecdotes and stories captured in the archives that can spark creativity. There is the language itself: the words that interviewees use and the ways in which they use them. The seams of vernacular that can run through interviews in the form of accent and dialect words can open up ideas around creative dialogue. The imagery and sensory descriptions that interviewees conjure up can be used as writing prompts.

Writers have a responsibility to work ethically with oral history. Don’t pick chunks of testimony out of an interview and embed it in your creative work. Cherry-pick words, phrases and ideas and use these as starting points for your own responses. Avoid lifting the interviewee out of the recording and turning them into a character in your writing: allow their personality to influence your ideas, by all means, but take a composite approach to character development. Just remember to tread carefully and be respectful of the memories which have been so generously shared for the archive.

You can find oral histories online. Try British Library Sounds for starters. This has recordings from across the UK and further afield. Their Unlocking Our Sound Heritage project has been digitising analogue recordings from across the UK. For more local content, the University of Leicester’s Special Collections Online holds a range of material from the region, including a range of material for the East Midlands Oral History Archive

Contact local archives and libraries to see if they hold any collections. This material is likely to have been collected locally, so consider widening your search if you are interested in material from other parts of the country. 

The majority of oral history remains in analogue format so you may have to find appropriate equipment in order to listen to recordings on cassette tape for example. You may be given transcripts of interviews. These are useful navigational tools, but are not substitutes for the original audio recording. Whenever you can, listen to oral history recordings rather than relying on transcripts. You may decide to create your own oral histories as part of your writing project. The Oral History Society offers advice and training on all aspects of oral history and is your first port of call for up-to-date information on making sure that your work is legal and ethical.

About the author

Dr Helen Foster is a writer and researcher at the University of Leicester, currently working on the Wellcome Trust ISSF project, Sharing Stories: Developing a Wellbeing Approach to Gathering Midlife Narratives. She is also being funded by an ESRC grant to write Menopaurus: Words that Women Use to Talk about Menopause. Helen holds a PhD in Creative Writing and her fiction has been published in Mslexia and performed at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

Thursday 9 December 2021

Angela France, "Terminarchy"

Angela France, photograph by Derek Adams

Angela France has had poems published in many leading journals and has been anthologised a number of times. Her publications include Occupation (Ragged Raven Press, 2009), Lessons in Mallemaroking (Nine Arches Press, 2011), Hide (Nine Arches Press 2013) and The Hill (Nine Arches Press 2017). The Hill was developed into a live multi-media poetry show which Angela toured, funded by Arts Council England. Her latest collection, Terminarchy, was published by Nine Arches Press in July 2021 and launched at Ledbury Poetry Festival. She has an M.A. in Creative and Critical Writing and a PhD from the University of Gloucestershire. Angela teaches Creative Writing at the University of Gloucestershire and in various community settings.

Cover by Fumio Obata

About Terminarchy, by Angela France

Angela France’s distinctive new collection of poems, Terminarchy, eloquently considers the troubling terms of existence in an age of climate catastrophe and technological change. How do we negotiate a world where capitalism and greed threaten a fragile earth, where technology seems to promise us connection but might also fuel isolation? Where even finding solace in nature reminds us that the seasons can no longer be trusted? How is human urge and want hastening us towards our own ‘endling’ – and what might it mean to be the ‘last’? 

In reframing ecopoetics in her own instinctive, radical, lyrical form, France juxtaposes the accelerated, all-consuming speed of contemporary and future times with the ‘longtime’ and ancient, and considers whether, rather than collison-course, there might be a better way to coexist. Where extinction threatens, these wry, alert poems and their eloquent, earthy voices try to find a way through and look for hope.

You can read more about Terminarchy on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read three poems from the collection. 

From Terminarchy


             drift over the earth, gather
in loose clusters, their calls echo
        then cease.
Predators don’t notice prey, run together,
scan and scent the ground on hill and heath
in widening circles until they tire and lie down
      The Thylacine doesn’t try; he’s released
the need and drive, has given up and found
a place to lie still as he blurs and fades
to become just a shadow 
                                         on the ground.

On a branch above, 
             the passenger pigeon waits;
her claws no longer able to uncurl,
tree-bark patterning feathers as if braided
in mist. Moths and butterflies whirl
between leaves; don’t settle or rest,
ignored by the birds. The Laughing Owl,
the Forest Thrush, circle the sky
by an undeniable need and scarred
by hope, until exhaustion brings peace
  in death.

A Barbary Lion calls in the hills unmarked
and Sparrow weeps for the want of an ark.

Small Gods

Our gods are poor things, these days,
insubstantial, weak in sinew and bone,
worshipped through clicks and clichés
and starved though we try to atone
through getting and losing, the sacrifice
of things we don’t need. We’ve grown
past thunder and threat, gods in disguise
to walk among us as man or bull; strength
only known or used as a way to victimise
different thoughts or ways to enhance
helpless lives. We’ve lost Thor’s hammer
Apollo’s bow and Odin’s mead, take offence
at any prick to our comfort while we clamour
on keyboards for anything to fill the holes
they’ve left.  We may edit a page’s banner
to signal who we are but try to control
anything real, of blood and flesh,
by pinning to screens where we can scroll
past whatever disturbs.  Copy, paste, refresh,
we are a worn people whose shrivelled gods
are enshrined in phone lenses as we try to possess
any thing to salve a communal sense of loss.

Down Piggy Lane

The path skulks round the back end of a housing estate,
hidden by overgrown shrubs and tattered trees
either side of the sullen brook. Scraps and patches  
of land line the trail, one-proud fences sagging between.
Pig arks are empty, fading grass straggling 
up the sides. Competing cockerels shout
from pens, hidden by a clutter of buckets,
upturned feed tubs and a green-scummed bath. 

Every patch has a shed or shelter, all alike
in their difference. Walls patched 
with multi-coloured iron, rust collecting
in the corrugations. Here an old front door 
with a fanlight and ghost of a number,
there the lichened side of a caravan.

My foot catches in the muddy ruts and humps
of the path and I stumble into a memory
of dreaming through afternoon school,
waiting for when nine-year-old legs could pump 
the bike pedals, carrying a Tupperware beaker 
of milk for feral kittens and windfall apples
stuffed under my jumper for a shaggy piebald pony. 

How have I forgotten all I wanted then?
To own one of those fields, to live 
in a ramshackle shed with the kittens 
and the pony’s head looking through 
feed-sack curtains, a few large dogs,
a nest of slow worms under the floor
and any other creature who found me.
How once such things were enough.   

Monday 6 December 2021

John Gallas, "Aotearoa/Angleland: 30+30 Tankas"


John Gallas was born in New Zealand in 1950.  He came to England in the 1970s to study Old Icelandic at Oxford and has since lived and worked in York, Liverpool, Upholland, Little Ness, Rothwell, Bursa, Leicester, Diyarbakir, Coalville and Markfield, as a bottlewasher, archaeologist and teacher. He is the editor of two books of translations – 52 Euros and The Song Atlas – and eleven collections of his own poetry, all published by Carcanet.  He is a Fellow of the English Association and was 2016 Orkney St Magnus Festival poet.

About Aotearoa/Angleland: 30+30 Tankas, by John Gallas

A life, a heart, a soul – and a book – divided.  Happily divided.  In this pamphlet, John Gallas wanders the corners of his two homelands: Aotearoa (the Maori name for New Zealand) and England. The heart doesn’t bleed, the soul doesn’t yearn to be one, and Life can always get on a plane. As Misuzu Bonchō wrote, when she moved to Dodge City:

          A thing with two roots
          Will grow to embrace the earth
          With both arms.  Read on …

From Aotearoa/Angleland: 30+30 Tankas


From here the hedgerows
roll down to Bree across the
careful corduroy
of two farms. In each a tree,
enisled, tears its windy hair.

Date lines

Everything comes first
to the good folk of Tonga,
from where it proceeds
west in a Mexican Wave
to the world’s less happy lands.

Invitation to Public Reading and Q&A at the University of Leicester

John Gallas will read from and answer questions about his new pamphlet at 4pm on Thursday 9 December 2021 in Belvoir City Lounge, 2nd floor, Charles Wilson Building, University of Leicester. THE EVENT IS FREE AND ALL ARE WELCOME!

Friday 26 November 2021

Ian Humphreys (ed.), "Why I Write Poetry"


About Why I Write Poetry: Essays on Becoming a Poet, Keeping Going and Advice for the Writing Life, ed. Ian Humphreys

What motivates poets in the 21st century? How do they find their voice? What themes and subject matters inspire them? How do they cope with set-backs and deal with success? What keeps them writing? Why I Write Poetry, edited by Ian Humphreys, combines twenty-five lively and thought-provoking essays, along with individual writing prompts to help you create your own new poetry.

The book includes essays by Romalyn Ante, Khairani Barokka, Hafsah Aneela Bashir, Leo Boix, Vahni Capildeo, Mary Jean Chan, Jo Clement, Sarah Corbett, Jane Commane, Rishi Dastidar, Jonathan Edwards, Rosie Garland, W. N. Herbert, Ian Humphreys, Keith Jarrett, Zaffar Kunial, Rachel Mann, Andrew McMillan, Kim Moore, Pascale Petit, Jacqueline Saphra, Clare Shaw, Daniel Sluman, Jean Sprackland, and Jennifer Wong.

Ian Humphreys, photograph by Sarah Turton

About the editor

Ian Humphreys’s debut collection Zebra (Nine Arches Press, 2019) was nominated for the Portico Prize. He is the editor of Why I Write Poetry (Nine Arches Press, 2021) and the producer/ co-editor of a forthcoming anthology on Sylvia Plath (Nine Arches Press, 2022). His work has been highly commended in the Forward Prizes for Poetry and won first prize in the Hamish Canham Prize. A fellow of The Complete Works, Ian’s poems are showcased in Ten: Poets of the New Generation (Bloodaxe).

You can read more about Why I Write Poetry on the publisher's website here. Below, the editor Ian Humphreys shares an anecdote about an encounter and advice he received, and his own later instinct to "voice the unsayable." 

From the Introduction to Why I Write Poetry

The late poet John Ash once pleaded with me not to take up poetry. 

It was 1983. He had cornered me in the newly renovated kitchen of a house in Whalley Range. John rented the adjacent room. My friend Tarik rented a room on the second floor. Another friend Mark was pirouetting by the dishwasher when John stormed in to complain about the noise. 

We had been giddily fixing 3am snacks while attempting an off-key rendition of ‘Love Pains’ by Yvonne Elliman, so it was a fair cop. John didn’t stay angry for long. He asked what I was studying, what my plans were, and seemed relieved to hear they did not involve poetry. 

‘Good choice, very sensible. Whatever you do, please don’t become a poet! Stick to something where you can earn a bit of money.’ I remember laughing to myself. At that moment, I honestly could not think of anything I would enjoy less – an occupation that seemed duller – than writing poetry. 

While researching this book, I discovered that around the time we met, John had written a short essay about his collection The Goodbyes (Carcanet, 1982). The piece was republished two decades later in Don’t Ask Me What I Mean: Poets in Their Own Words (Picador). 

One part of the essay, in particular, caught my eye: ‘… many of the poems were written to the accompaniment of the kind of music you might hear at parties or in good nightclubs, that is to say, songs of August Darnell, Ashford and Simpson or the Chic Organisation, and on occasion the words of these songs have found their way into the poems.’ 

If only John had mentioned this during his pep talk. Perhaps I wouldn’t have waited thirty years before starting to write poetry myself. At school, we were taught the Romantics, nothing modern. After sitting my A-levels, I did not pick up a book of poems for two decades. I was unaware that contemporary poetry celebrated popular culture, that a ‘serious’ lyric poet could be inspired by August Darnell aka ‘Kid Creole’ of Kid Creole and the Coconuts. 

John and I hardly spoke again. Once, over burning toast, he recommended Prince’s overlooked early albums. A year or so later, I heard he had moved to New York where he became associated with the New York School of poets. 

Several poems in my debut collection Zebra (Nine Arches Press, 2019) explore my coming of age in 1980s Manchester. The gay club I had frequented the night John advised against poetry as a vocation is a touchstone in the book. I began to write about those early days on and around Canal Street, I think, to try and work out something about my formative years. For sure, there was joy, exhilaration and freedom. But there was also fear; a background dread that we accepted back then as part of life’s rhythm, as relentless as the four-on-the-floor beat of those Hi-NRG hits we lived for. It was fear of the unknown. Fear of illness. Fear of society’s disapproval which at any moment could mutate into danger.

Such contradictory emotions can be difficult to articulate, as slippery as a lager-soaked dancefloor. What I longed to communicate was feeling not fact, and this seemed best conveyed through the shimmering medium of poetry. 

The need to voice the unsayable – reach for the ungraspable – is one of the main reasons I write poetry. It’s a motive I share with many of my peers. When I turned to social media to ask why poets do what they do, many replied with answers along the lines of: 

To make sense of life. 
To make sense of the world. 
To connect with my inner world. 
To say things I could not otherwise express.

Another response that came up, again and again, was compulsion: 

I write poetry because I must. 
It is a thing I do, like breathing. 
I wrote poetry before I could write. 
I can’t help myself. 

Over one hundred poets responded, with variations on these two themes accounting for around ninety percent of all answers put forward. This posed a question: how could we prevent our contributors from writing multiple versions of the same essay? 

The answer? Jane [Commane] and I identified what we most admired in the work of the selected poets. We then asked each of them to explore a theme reflecting this idiosyncratic quality as they riffed on their craft. 

As you will discover, the tactic worked wonders. The resulting twenty-five essays are fascinating and varied. There’s little repetition, and thankfully even less navel-gazing. 

Each piece is unique in its approach to the trials, tribulations and pleasures of writing poetry. The mix of styles is satisfyingly rich, from the informal to the academic, the lyric to the dreamlike. Together, the compositions stand as testament to the robust state of poetry in 21st century Britain. 

Had I not started writing eight years ago, I would have missed out on so much, including the chance to curate and edit this book. As such, I am delighted I listened to instinct rather than advice, and eventually shimmied my way towards a calling, of sorts, in poetry. 

Monday 22 November 2021

Alison Moore, "The Retreat"

Alison Moore, photograph by Beth Walsh Photography

Alison Moore’s short stories have been published in various magazines, journals and anthologies, including Best British Short Stories and Best British Horror, and broadcast on BBC Radio. The title story of her first collection, 'The Pre-War House,' won the New Writer Novella Prize. Her debut novel, The Lighthouse, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Awards, winning the McKitterick Prize. She recently published her fifth novel, The Retreat, and a trilogy for children, beginning with Sunny and the Ghosts. Her website is here, and she's on Twitter @alimooreauthor  

About The Retreat, by Alison Moore

Sandra Peters once dreamed of going to art college. Now in her forties, she is working as a receptionist but still harbours artistic ambitions. At a drop-in artists’ group, she sees an advert for a two-week artists’ retreat on Lieloh, a previously private island - home to a reclusive silent-film star - which has intrigued her since childhood. She signs up for the retreat, delighted by the idea of living ‘in Valerie Swanson’s house, among artists, in a little community. She imagines them supporting and inspiring one another.’ Sandra’s story develops alongside a second narrative focusing on a writer called Carol who’s been trying and failing to write a fantasy novel, and hopes to finally manage it secluded on an island.

Below, you can read a short extract from the novel. 

From The Retreat

Liel was an in-between place. Lying one hundred miles from the English coast, the island resembled Sandra’s known world but it had its own currency and its own system of car number plates; its post boxes were blue and its telephone boxes were yellow. It was not far from France but was not French. The island had its own distinctive language but Sandra had only heard English spoken there, though in a foreign accent. Some of the street signs and house names were in English and some were in French, or at least it looked like French. She did not, when she first holidayed there, know much French. At school, she learnt to say Je suis une fille unique, which sounded better than it was, and J’ai un cochon d’Inde, although she did not have one. Later still, she learnt phrases from a book: Good morning and Good afternoon, and I must go now and Go away! She could say A table for one please and I didn’t order this and Can I have a refund? She could say Can you help me? and I’m really sorry and I don’t understand. She imagined herself stranded with these phrases, hoping she would be all right.

Friday 19 November 2021

Gary Day, "Snapshot 1952" and "The Art of Perspective"


Gary Day is a retired English lecturer. His research mainly lay in three areas, the history of literary criticism, the workings of class in British literature and the persistence of sacrificial ritual in the development of drama. He had a column in the Times Higher for a number of years and has also edited two volumes on the history of British poetry as well as the three volume Wiley Encyclopaedia of British Literature 1660-1789. He teaches courses at the Rothsay Education Centre in Bedford and at the Settlement in Letchworth. He has been involved in amateur theatre for over thirty years and has poems published in Silver Apples and Beyond Words

Below, you can read two poems by Gary. 

Snapshot 1952

See them fly
To the church, to
The open-armed future,
She a spray of white,
He a flash of dark. 
The days of their happiness
Pass in a shining house
With shadowy corners.
Love has many rooms
And sometimes
They are alone
In different ones.
After long years
You dream of her dress,
Floating in the wake
Of their togetherness.

The Art of Perspective

The apprentice yawns as he opens
The shutters to sunshine and birdsong.
He gazes at the purple of distant groves;
Then turns to face the clutter
Of tools, panels, brushes, shells
Frames and half-finished pictures.
This morning he has to grind pigments
For The Calling of the Apostles, the most arduous
Being the blue; pulverising the lapis,
Mixing the powder with beeswax and resin,
Kneading the sticky blob in bowls
Of water to deliver the ultramarine.
But today is special. After years
Of decorating parade shields, copying drawings,
Studying the human form, learning
About perspective and how to handle a brush
In his master’s style, he’s to paint
A section of background and a figure in the crowd.
This is where his future starts. The next step
Is a journeyman, then he must submit
His masterpiece. If it’s accepted,
He can open his own shop with his own garzoni.
But he mustn’t lose focus, he must stay
In the now, inducing the blue.
When, at last, he’s motioned to the canvas he’s startled
By the size of a kingfisher fired from a cloud, but says nothing.
His master speaks: ‘Modulate grey into blue here.
Match the angle of this mountain with that arm.
Fill this space on the right, next to the bearded man,
With a youth, black doublet, peplum.’
Centuries tick by.
The boy with the thumb in his belt
Turns as if someone’s called his name.
He marvels at the strange beings,
Giants, as in the age of Noah, who
Pass to and fro between worlds hung on walls.
Some are familiar; landscapes, still lives, the empty tomb.
Others astound him: An iron monster shuffling into its lair,
Its breath blurring the branchless trees; flowers on fire
In a vase; blue people dancing wildly in a ring;
Pink, sharp-edged creatures with triangle faces,
A ghost screaming.
Sometimes the giants peer into his little moment of time,
Baffled by the three Christs; two summoning the salt-tongued fishermen,
The third blessing them as apostles; they are puzzled, too, by how the prelates
Can be witnessing the birth of their own ministry; and they remark
On the distraction of the crowd, on the sail that looks like a solar panel,
And on how much they admire the blue.

Wednesday 17 November 2021

Carol Leeming, "Song for Guests"


Carol Leeming, photo by Hana Kovacs

Carol Leeming MBE FRSA is Leicester born, of Windrush parents from Jamaica and Antigua, and grew up partly in Jamaica. She received her Queen’s honour as a playwright and poet, and for her contribution to Leicester arts and culture. Carol is a Fellow of the Royal Society for the Arts, a Cultural Olympian of 2012, and is featured on the University Grassroutes Writers' Gallery microsite here. Carol’s choreopoetry is highlighted by Corinne Fowler in the Cambridge Companion to Black & Asian Writing 1945-2010, ed. Deidre Osborne. In 2018, Carol’s poem ‘Molly’ was displayed across a Leicester University Campus building, as part of a centenary celebration week for the British Suffragettes Movement. 

Other notable work includes Carol’s debut chapbook The Declamations of Cool Eye published by Dare Diva. A film poem, entitled Enchanter, featured the poem 'Drawing' from the chapbook. You can see it here. Some other plays produced include Storm, & The Twisted Plait at Haymarket Theatre, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Diva, and Love the life you live … Live the life you love at Curve Theatre, also published in the book Hidden Stories Anthology, published by Leicester University/Phoenix. 

Carol’s poetry features in a number of anthologies. These include 'Valley Dreamers' in  Out of Bounds, ed. Jackie Kay (Bloodaxe), 'Some Things that Never Failed Me' in Covid 19 & Poetry Anthology, ed. Anthony Caleshu and Rory Waterman (Shearsman Press), ‘Song for Guests’ (translated into ten languages) in Welcome to Leicester, ed. Emma Lee (Dahlia Books), Overland, Oversea, ed, Kathleen Bell, Emma Lee & Siobhan Logan (Five Leaves). A recurring feature of her work is to give voice to the voiceless, untold diverse stories, or magic realism in narratives, compelling diverse characters, with distinctive voices. 

Carol recently debuted at A Time to Breathe Festival curated by Greta Mendez MBE, London 2021, in a performance of her new choreopoem play, entitled The Dreadful Dance of Ms. Iniquity. Carol also has a major collection of writing, poetry and choreopoetry entitled The Eclipse of Dread, in preparation for book publication, along with writing the final part of her choreopoem trilogy, ‘Go Where the Songs Are.’ 

Carol works freelance, in literature performing arts and digital media. She is a multi-award award-winning author, published poet, director, playwright, dramaturge, performer and tutor. She was dramaturge and director for Harley, Scholar & Stateman by Pamela Roberts. She previously worked full-time as Resident Assistant Director at Curve Theatre Leicester, on theatre productions My Beautiful Laundrette by Hanif Kureishi, and West Side Story by Laurents/Sondheim/Bernstein.

Carol currently is part-time lecturer at De Montfort University, BA Performing Arts, Guest Visiting Lecturer on the MA Creative Writing at Nottingham University, and Guest Visiting Lecturer Writing for Performance at Derby University, in addition to mentoring prisoners, to create poetry for the NO BARS II Project Anthology launched in 2021. Carol is also Patron of East Midlands Women Awards. 

See more about Carol's work here and hereBelow, you can read a poem by Carol. 

Song for Guests

           'The new arrival of a guest is reason for a feast' - A North African Bedouin Custom

and hate 
Is flung
it weights down 
a tar-paulin night as
folk crowd fire warmth 
dreaming of dark tunnel  
escape with luminous
hands of friendship 
held aloft ready to catch…?

Welcome us 

We welcome you all
Come … to us 

Sleepless knots of men
crouch into bush hides  
waiting for smoky vehicles
stowaway with stony 
grey lips of newsprint words 
pointed to goad or reject? 

Welcome us 

We welcome you all
Come … to us

Skeins of women children 
hold emotions like nets with
wounded screams as
running tears hearts salt
human streams across earth 
its seas would it wash away
foul slimes cruel indifference
a dirty din from a baited polis 
Is that blood on their hands?

Welcome us

We welcome you all
Come … be with us
Our table is full 
Yet empty missing you

Tuesday 16 November 2021

James Nash, "Heart Stones"

James Nash is a writer and poet. A long-term resident of Leeds, his third collection of poems, Coma Songs, was published in 2003 and reprinted in 2006. He has two poems in Branch-Lines (Enitharmon Press, 2007), among fifty contemporary poets, including Seamus Heaney and U. A. Fanthorpe. 

Since 2012, his poetry has been published by Valley Press, beginning with selected poems, A Bit of An Ice Breaker, and his first collection of sonnets, Some Things Matter.

Cinema Stories, celebrating the history of cinema in Leeds and written with fellow poet Matthew Hedley Stoppard, came out in 2015..  

A Bench for Billie Holiday was published in 2018, followed by his latest collection of sonnets, Heart Stones, in November 2021.

James's website is here.

About Heart Stones, by James Nash

In his third volume of sonnets, James Nash examines urban and seaside environments in a Yorkshire he has known through fifty years of living in the North. His sonnets soar over the land - from Leeds, a predominantly Victorian city, to the Wolds in the East Riding of Yorkshire, walking and cycling into the natural world with a pen and paper never far from his hand. 

James openly shows his debts to the great poets and writers of previous generations, from Winifred Holtby to Philip Larkin, from Matthew Arnold to Dylan Thomas. To borrow some of his won words, James's gifrt sit to be a "clear microscope" for our times, finding hope in the many "miralces of detail" that pass through his unwavering gaze.

Below, you can read two poems from Heart Stones. You can see further details about the collection on the publisher's website here

From Heart Stones

Yorkshire skies for Patricia

We shared these Yorkshire skies at different times,
A West Riding jumble of spire and mill
And, much later, the eastern coastal dreams 
Which began for me at Garrowby Hill.
I’d no idea fifty years ago
That each daily walk would now be full of you,
The cliffs and beaches, where white pebbles glow,
Each prospect of the Wolds, each distant view.
And yesterday I saw across the bay
As dusk deepened with the slow dropping sun,
You signalling in the last dregs of day;
You are the lighthouse flash, not yet quite done.
I would give you a heart-stone from the beach
But you are fading light, too faint to reach. 

Heart stones 

The incoming tide has covered them, fanned
Over, drowned the heart-shaped pattern of stones
Made from beach pebbles and secured in sand.
Large, white punctuation marks; the bleached bones
Of a dinosaur’s toes, gathered, arranged 
By a young artist on a bike with time
He did not have, until all slowed and changed,
To leave temporary signs in chalky rhyme.
From our cliff top eyrie we see it all,
Huge heart under water unmoved by tide.
Can love survive whatever might befall,
Perhaps live on when other things have died?
Just this; in slow erosion, it is worn
Down, dissolving more each day, stone by stone.

Friday 12 November 2021

Tionee Joseph, "Mastering the Dissertation"


Tionee Joseph recently completed the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. She has been published by The English and Media Centre and her poem ‘With the Passing of the First Generation’ was published in the Black History Month 2020 edition of Unite by Fly on the Wall Press. She has a YouTube channel where she vlogs about mental health here.

Below, Tionee writes about her experience of the MA Creative Writing Dissertation, and what advice she would give to future MA students undertaking it.

Mastering the Dissertation, by Tionee Joseph

Wow, you’ve finally made it to the Dissertation! Time flies, doesn’t it? On the downside this is the beginning of the end of your MA journey. On the upside, this is your big moment to shine (think talent-show-final with your supervisor as your mentor).

I discovered that the Dissertation at a Master's level is a different beast to the one of the undergraduate level. I wrote a play - a form I had never really written before - but something was telling me this was the perfect opportunity to give it a try. 

My Dissertation project was a full-length play about a couple who take in an acquaintance to stay with them during the beginning of the March 2020 lockdown. The play explores the relationship dynamics that develop between them over a couple of months. 

Anyway, no matter what you decide to write, below are some tips to make the experience easier:

  1. Keep notes from the very beginning; you can track the changes in your process from start to end and it gives you material for your commentary rather than trying to do it retrospectively.
  2. Take notes at each supervision and try to meet with your supervisor regularly. This gives you mini-deadlines to work towards.
  3. If you are struggling to write, do some housekeeping. Write your bibliography and make sure it’s in the correct style, check your presentation is up to spec (using a suitable font and size, pages are numbered, line spacing). I used to do these things at the end but doing them sooner frees you up to concentrate on the writing when you do get back into the flow of it.
  4. Use read aloud function on word for when you can’t spot your own mistakes.
  5. Talk to someone about how it’s been going. Writing can be very solitary and unless you talk to yourself out loud you may not be aware of the issues that are blocking you until you verbalise them. The person you speak to doesn’t need to be a writer, but they could offer an opinion from a reader’s perspective which is just as valuable.  
  6. Track your changes on word. You can see what you originally typed even if you delete it later on. This is useful for the commentary when talking about early drafts.

Good luck! 

Friday 5 November 2021

Carolyn Jess-Cooke, "We Have to Leave the Earth"


Carolyn Jess-Cooke is an award-winning author of poems and novels for adults, published in 23 languages. Her first poetry collection, Inroads, won the Tyrone Guthrie Prize, an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors, a Northern Promise Award, and was shortlisted for the New London Poetry Prize. Currently Reader in Creative Writing at the University of Glasgow, she also writes gothic suspense novels as CJ Cooke, including The Nesting and The Lighthouse Witches. Her website is here.

About We Have to Leave the Earth, by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s new poetry collection is both keenly political and deeply personal. The opening poem ‘now’ features a seemingly peaceful domestic scene of a family lounging at home as the starting point for meditation on history, time, mortality and the fate of the planet. Jess-Cooke is unafraid of dark material but is also ultimately hopeful and full of creative strategies to meet challenging times. 

You can see more details about the book on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read a sample poem from the collection. 

From We Have to Leave the Earth

We Have to Leave the Earth Because We Know So Much

He buried the letter in a forest near Auschwitz
where it hibernated for forty winters,
ampersands of his hand dormant 
as field mice, and for all        he knew
the letter would never be found, snows
might drink the ink or the ground 
swallow it as a grave. But
             the urge to bear
witness moved him past consequence 
of being found to speak of what he said
to those he led to the gas chambers – 
that they were not here to be bathed 
as they’d                 been told.
       We are still in that place, 
being moved past consequence or to death, or 
to witness the taking of what is not owed.
We have not passed the urge to obliterate
the Other. We have to leave the earth
because we know too many ways to destroy
her, we have to write these things
we have to tell them to the forest 
and the watchful snows.

Thursday 4 November 2021

Lisabelle Tay, "Pilgrim"

Lisabelle Tay writes poetry and fiction, often with a speculative bent. After completing her studies in English Literature at King’s College London, she returned to Singapore, where she now lives with her husband and son. Her story 'Surat Dari Hantu' recently placed first in the 2020 Dream Foundry short story contest. Pilgrim is her debut poetry pamphlet, and is published by The Emma Press.

About Pilgrim, by Lisabelle Tay

In her debut pamphlet, Lisabelle Tay leads the reader down through the underworlds of illness, motherhood and family histories. Lighting the way with her luminescent poems, the poet draws on Celtic, Classical and Chinese mythologies, appealing to the selkie, Eurydice, and Chang’e in turn as she seeks a path through the darkness – and back to the light.

Pilgrim depicts a journey and a return, moving from the expansive and mythological to the inward and personal. The pilgrim who left is not the pilgrim who returns …

The pamphlet is illustrated by Reena Makwana and printed in monocolour risograph at The Holodeck.

You can see more details about Pilgrim on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two poems from the collection. 

From Pilgrim


Last night I dreamed of a garden on the moon
a stone rolled away, an empty tomb
a wall of violets dripping milk
a harvest of joy
Today I will pack my bags and start walking
pregnant Lazarus freshly woken
collecting dew in living gourds
bread falling from the sky
I will kiss my husband before I go
dust sleep from his clean-shaven face
then leave, slippery as an egg  

List of Things Beyond My Bedroom Curtains

A warrior cleaning her sword
beside a running river

Water off the tip of a wing

A cave full of immortals

Boats burning on the water

In the beginning God spoke summoning
to-the-light and to-the-darkness

A half-cracked shell

Morning and evening

White dew on the underside of a leaf

A gasp of air, something forgotten
now remembered

A bare kernel of deathlessness
sown silently at dusk

Tuesday 2 November 2021

Congratulations to Laura Besley!

Many congratulations to Laura Besley, University of Leicester MA Creative Writing student, whose book of micro-fiction, (Un)Natural Elements, has just been published! 

Laura Besley is the author of micro-fiction collections (Un)Natural Elements (Beir Bua Press, 2021) and 100neHundred (Arachne Press, 2021), and flash fiction collection The Almost Mothers (Dahlia Books, 2020).  

She has been listed by TSS Publishing as one of the top 50 British and Irish Flash Fiction writers. Her work has been nominated for Best Micro Fiction and her story, 'To Cut a Long Story Short,' will appear in the Best Small Fiction anthology in 2021. 

Having lived in the Netherlands, Germany and Hong Kong, she now lives in land-locked central England and misses the sea. She tweets @laurabesley.

About (Un)Natural Elements, by Laura Besley

(Un)Natural Elements is a collection of micro fiction – none of the stories longer than 150 words, the shortest being only a handful. Many of the stories were written as tweet-length stories from daily prompts on Twitter under the hashtag: Very Short Story 365 (#vss365). 
While collating them, it became apparent that there were patterns and themes, and also a strong sense of nature. Therefore, the collection is divided into nine elements and each element is comprised of five stories.  

None of the stories have titles. There is no concrete reason for this, except perhaps that, while collating it, it seemed fitting, almost as if a title would detract from the brevity of each piece. 

You can read more about Un(Natural) Elements on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two sample stories from the book. 

From (Un)Natural Elements


Tangs of sea-salt air and vinegar-drenched chips lure me to my home town. 

A charity shop window displays my mother’s dinner service and I realise she’s dead. 

Overhead, gulls cry. 


It’s everywhere. It’s there when I close my eyes to go to sleep at night. It’s in my dreams. It’s the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning. It’s stenciled onto my retina, overlaying all the good memories I have of my daughter. It’s there when I recall her body with bruises in all the wrong places. 

That smile is everywhere.
That it-wasn’t-me smile; that I-know-people-in-high-places smile; that released-due-to-inconclusive-evidence smile. 

The same smile I saw fade just before I cut it from his face. 

At home, I pull down my daughter’s childhood worry box and blow off the dust which curls and dances in the quiet of her room. I open the lid, and without looking at the faded notes in her child-like scrawl, put the smile inside. ‘All gone,’ I whisper, just like I always did, and put the box back on the shelf. 

(Previously published as ‘Silenced’ in Emerge Literary Journal and nominated for Best Micro Fiction).