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!