Gladstone’s Library reading

Welcome 2020! It’s been such a lovely bright day this January day. It feels like spring’s around the corner! I’ve a lot of creative stuff to celebrate and look forward at the moment and I just want to acknowledge my gratitude (even if it is just to myself on my rarely read blog!)

I’m particularly looking forward to reading in February at the amazing Gladstone’s Library with Poetry Wales. It’s a beautiful listed building, library and writing retreat/hotel in Flintshire, north-east Wales. I’m going to see my mum and some poetry friends at the same time too. I wish we could stay at the actual library because it’s sooo amazing! (see photos!)

Details here, should you be in the area 🙂

Winter greetings…

Where has the autumn gone?! So many happenings, so little time to keep up with it all! Just thought I’d check in as it’s been a while. I will hopefully do a round-up of the year post before 2020 (which sounds odd and space-aged!)

In the meantime, I have to give thanks. 2019 hasn’t been a bad year for me and creativity and the things I love so I’m giving thanks and recognition, and hoping the good fortune will stay a while longer.  And to top it off, I’ve not long had poems accepted for The Rialto and Poetry Wales so I’m very chuffed about that!

Recently I was in London for an Arvon Jerwood get together and a bit of writing stuff. And I got to see a few old friends too that I rarely see so that was very nourishing.

Election results are just in and there’s a lot of sadness and despair around. I really hope we can find our way to a better place in 2020.

However you celebrate (or don’t celebrate) this time of year, I hope you’re with loved ones or, if you prefer, enjoying your solitude. All best and for the new year ahead.

Hello October!

Just a quick early October post to say – I’m so pleased to be recognised at the South Yorkshire & North Derbyshire BBC Community Champion Awards 2019 along with so many inspiring people and organisations. A salute to fellow creative category nominees, Rachel Horne (winner) & Sherri Wood, both flying the flag for Doncaster.

I’m also very excited to have some poems accepted for Poetry Wales! Always a great feeling when poems find a home. As I was born and bred in North Wales and both poems are about my childhood there, that’s a mighty lovely thing.

I’m also over the moon for two young writers I mentor – Georgie Woodhead and Lauren Hollingsworth Smith. Lauren is a recent winner of the Young Northern Writers Award and has just last week won Foyle Young Poet of the Year with this belter of a poem.  And Georgie, at the tender age of just 16 (!) has won first place in the BBC Young Writers Awards! You can listen to her amazing story in the link. I’m blown away by their talent. Heaven knows what they are going to be up to in a few year’s time!

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Autumn is coming…

It’s been a busy start to the autumn! Great time at the Ted Hughes Poetry Festival in Mexborough. I led a workshop on transformation in poetry inspired by Ted Hughes’ work focusing on animal and insects. Some brilliant work came out of it.

Then I took some of the young writers to perform on Mexborough High Street as part of the Democracy of Words. We all turned into foxes at one point such was the channeling of Ted. Turned out, Ted had a dream about a man fox anyway! (that’s me below in the fox head!)

Lovely to get a copy of Under the Radar in the post with three of my poems in it! And it’s a lovely new design too (the cover texture is very strokable!)

What else? Yes! I’ve been shortlisted for the BBC Creative Champion Awards in the realm of Creativity. So lovely what’s been said and I’m really honoured to be acknowledged as part of it. Here’re some amazing young writers, and me (waffling as per!) at 1hr35in on BBC Radio Sheffield.

Ted Hughes Poetry Fest

It’s the fifth Ted Hughes Poetry Festival from 11th to 15th September and I’m excited to be running a young writer’s poetry workshop on the 14th inspired by some of the themes in Ted’s work. In particular – Transformation in Poetry. There’s a cracking line-up for this year’s festival including: Ian & Andrew McMillan, Hollie McNish and Raymond Antrobus. You can find out more about the festival here: www.tedhughesproject.com I hope to see you there!

Happy August

Delighted to have a poem in the next issue of Atlanta Review selected by guest editor, Agnes Meadows.

I have a friend who lives in Georgia where it’s based, so this somehow pleases me a lot! I’ve not seen him for many years but we were in contact recently and it was so lovely to connect.

Atlanta Review, an international, award-winning poetry journal based in Atlanta, Georgia, has been published biannually since 1994. Since the founding editor, Dan Veach, retired in 2016, Atlanta Review has been spearheaded by new editor Karen Head and managing editor JC Reilly, and has been relocated to a space at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Our mission is very clear and has been since the inception of Atlanta Review– “We publish poems, not poets.”

Ledbury Poetry Festival

I’ve been lucky enough to be away a lot recently and one of my trips was a lovely weekend at the Ledbury Poetry Festival with emerging young writers Georgie Woodhead and Warda Yassin. We made the most of the final Friday to Sunday of the fest and saw a huge range of poets, performances and energising chats. I particularly enjoyed the John Masefield High School Students and Foyle Young Poets reading (which included Georgie!), Brian Bilston and Nikita Gill, Shivanee Ramlochan and Enrique Winter, and Ishion Hutchinson and Jay Bernard.

It was also great to meet some wonderful poets and writers like Alison Brackenbury who Warda and I went on a late-night adventure with, the lovely Jane Commane for photos on the cobbles. Also Jill and Robin and Sue (whose surnames escape me right now!)

Ledbury is such a lovely town for wandering about and getting easily around to different venues. And all hail the Ledbury charity shops where I got some great books and bits!

Thanks to Phillippa Slinger for the support coming down too.

For more info on the Ledbury Poetry Festival: www.poetry-festival.co.uk

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Gifts that come back to us

A landmark moment last month has got me reflecting on my journey as a writer…

And that is the launch of emerging young poet Warda Yassin’s debut pamphlet, Tea with Cardamom, with the Poetry Business, at Sheaf Poetry Festival. Moving, tender and authentic, Warda’s work is a joy. I urge any lover of contemporary poetry to get hold of a copy (which you can do here). You won’t be disappointed.

I first met Warda on a wellbeing and creative writing course I was running in November 2012. Although an avid reader, it was Warda’s first time writing outside of formal education. She was 19 and nervous. And, despite the fact I’d started teaching creative writing groups, back then, in truth, I was nervous about the idea of becoming a writer too. As a working-class woman, who left a dysfunctional home life at 15, with various undiagnosed neurodiverse conditions, imposter syndrome still had a firm hold on me well into my adult years.

Unsurprisingly, I shied-away from a childhood love of writing because I didn’t think someone like me was allowed a seat at the table. I studied visual art at uni and found joy and purpose in helping others in creative community projects in photography, film and animation.  I remember my first workshop with teens, in 1998 at the end of my degree, and how it hooked me on seeing people grown and self-actualise. I saw a use for my ADHD enthusiasm (although back then I didn’t know that’s what it was).

I also didn’t know that it was no casual thing that I gravitated towards being a freelancer, which allowed me the autonomy and flexibility I needed to stay outside the tick boxes and innovate in my own way (cog-in-the-machine structures are something that many neurodiverse people struggle with). And, as creativity has the awesome power to do, after a few years, it inadvertently started bringing me back to words, with the purpose of engaging young people to use their voice.

But even then, my first job in writing, running a young people’s magazine, I was often overworked and overwhelmed, not understanding my impairments enough. So much great stuff was happening in the work I was doing with others, but I had no head space to even think about investing in my own development.

Somehow I’ve always known my wiring, if at times faulty, has also been one of the things that’s helped me succeed and flourish in many areas, and in supporting others creatively, and eventually myself. Now I understand a combination of factors – early independence in the world, my neurodiverse brain (things like big picture and divergent thinking, an autodidactic drive for creativity and what I call autistic precision) fuelled what I could do with my artistic skills and the potential I recognised in others.

The final key to locking myself fully as a writer, believe it or not, was breast cancer. I was diagnosed in January 2015 and had a year of treatment. You better believe that nothing will get you to reassess and reframe things more than an egg timer turned on its side, and you not knowing how quickly it might go one way or the other.

With it came time. Time off, time writing, time thinking, time to myself, to evaluate, to take stock. I realised what I had achieved, how far I’d come, and marveled at how the hell I’d done it, given my rocky beginnings. The narrative that had followed me since leaving home at 15, the one I had made things fit to, that was when I said adios to it fully.

Left to right: Warda, Sundus, Danae, me & Sile – these women though!

Coming out of cancer treatment, I set up Hive South Yorkshire – a regional project developing and supporting young writers. Not only had I fully realised that my knowledge (of how something like Hive could work) was vast, I also knew I was now a writer and mentor at a stage where I could really support younger writers to advance. I’m proud to say, 3 years on, I’ve helped many with next steps through Hive, including seeing them achieve accolades such as the Young Northern Writers Award, Foyle Young Poet of the Year and the Ledbury young poets competition.

And the loveliest part that all this and particularly that Warda reminds me of – it was actually this work with young people, my commitment to offering them the guidance I learned the value of through its early absence in my own life, that rather beautifully brought me back to my love of words, strengthening my skills, and allowing me to see my own value and potential.

In many ways, Warda and I started our journey of self-discovery together. Warda knows my story, and I know hers. This has led to a special connection and we continue to champion each other on our writing journey knowing how far we have both come to get our seat at the table. (Or perhaps we’re creating new tables. There’s an idea!)

I’m not sure how I would have found my way back to words, or perhaps in the way I have, without my years working creatively with young people. And there are many of you I have to thank – some who are, like Warda, fully-fledged adulting now. And when I see you, I smile. Thank you for enriching my life, and for appreciating what I have to offer. And yes, it took a while to get here. But, good stuff came from that long journey. Not least, supporting others to say ‘I can’ quicker than I was once able to myself.

For me, this is a story of how the gifts we give can come back to us.

Buy Tea with Cardamom

Quick post…

I’ve been wanting to do a post about Hive Young Writers Festival (which was in April!) but haven’t had time (hoping to post something soon).  In the meantime, just a quick post to say – delighted to have three poems accepted by Under the Radar Magazine recently, and also to be reading at York Explore on Thursday with great poets Malcolm Carson and Lydia Kennaway. If you’re in the York area, would be fab to see you! More details here.

First Prize Prole Poetry Competition

I think I’m having all my good news for the year in the first few months! Thrilled to have my poem Lesley placed first by poet Stuart Patterson in the Prole Laureate Poetry Competition.

The best I hope for above all is to write a poem that achieves what I hoped for it and this feedback from Stuart has warmed my heart!

A very real, touching, human poem encompassing a wide range of emotions and perspectives in such a short space. It’s spare, well crafted but not short on a punch and connecting us to a moment of equal horror and hope.  This isn’t lazily reflective or self-indulgent poetry; these are words & images that take us right to the very terrible end of something which is forever linked to the beautiful beginning of another, dark mirror images, the nubs of life and death. I was very moved by its simplicity, humanity and truth.

Thanks to Prole for the opportunity and Stuart Patterson for the thoughtful and kind comments. You can read the poem here.