Verse Matters Anthology

I’m thrilled and excited to have two poems in this wonderful anthology edited by Rachel Bower and Helen Mort. It’s lovely to see poets whose work I love like Liz Berry and Catherine Aryes, alongside voices never heard before. That’s the spirit of Verse Matters and it’s so great to be part of it 🙂

You can pre-order the Verse Matters anthology here.

 

Wild Poetry

Delighted to have had a poem highly-commended in the Carers UK Creative Writing Competition 2017.

It’s lovely news after writing taking a back seat for a while. That said, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed editing the brilliant Wild Poetry anthology by young poets, 14 to 25. It really is the ideal gift (Christmas is coming and all!) for a poetry and plant lover and a bargain too!

Wild poetry brings together poetry written by young people, aged from 14 to 25, in celebration of the beauty, mystery and importance of native UK wild plants, flowers, trees and fungi. The poems have been written in response to everything from creative prompts and research (from folklore to biological information), to personal connections, and observing nature up close.

You can buy it here.

Event countdown!

Just a quick update hello as, boy, has it been busy since I last posted! But in a very good way. I’m just in the thick of young writer events for Hive and Off the Shelf Festival of Words. Two publications have just gone to the printers so that’s a weight off my mind!

Here’s a sneak peak of the cover of Wild Poetry, the young writers anthology I’ve just edited that we’ll be launching at our open mic on Monday 30th. It really is a beautiful book full of great poems (an ideal Christmas present for a poetry lover or also a plant lover, or both!) We’ll be selling it at the open mic and from our website in November.

It’s the yearly Youth Word Up happening next week on Thursday 26th in Sheffield (free and open to all!). I can’t believe it’s the 6th year! I tweeted that and Benjamin Zephaniah gave it a retweet and expressed his pride that it is still going having started it in 2012 when he was guest curator for Off the shelf.

And then we’ve got a writers’ day with poet and playwright Khadijah Ibrahiim on Saturday 28th Oct, followed by our hip hop urban lyricists event, Slam Barzs in the evening. And then the Monday of half term, it’s our Off the Shelf young people’s open mic. Then, I can rest! All going well so far but I never fully relax until everything is done. It’s always the busiest time of the year for me.

Finally, I’ve just had some fab news that I’ve been highly commended in a poetry competition (not yet announced), which is lovely because I’ve not had any time for writing in quite a while and feel very rusty.

I hope anyone who’s stopped by is having a good, creative autumn 🙂

Autumn is coming!

Wow, I can’t believe it’s almost September! Summer has been really busy and flown by. Much of it has been work with a bit of family stuff too. My mum had a knee replacement recently so I’ve been to look after her. I’ve also been doing a lot of sorting and organising files and folders – something I’ll never get on top of but great to make a good chink. I’ve done a lot of planning for the autumn too which is a nice feeling. I feel semi organised dare I say!

One of the things I’ve got off the ground via Hive is its first young writers competition. The judges are Catherine Aryes (for poetry), and Kate Long (fiction). If you know anyone 14 to 25 in South Yorkshire, do point them this way. The deadline is 27th Nov and there’ll be some great prizes.

We are also about to publish the Wild Poetry book (poems by young writers inspired by UK native wild plants, flowers and fungi). We have a lovely quote from the fabulous Katherine Towers for the back cover too.

There’s not been a lot of time for writing sadly this summer, just a bit of editing here and there but I have had a bit of success with work I’ve sent out. It’s been wonderful to be in Brittle Star. I’ve only bought it online before so I didn’t realise what a lovely little book style publication it is. I’ve also had a piece in the fabulous Prole which is actually based in the small town in North Wales where I lived until I was 15. It’s odd to see the address of a little unknown town that I know from another life inside the cover.

I’m also really excited to see the Verse Matters anthology, edited by Helen Mort and Rachel Bower, which is coming out in the autumn. It’s my first time (with 2 poems!) in a chunky anthology alongside some great writers, and Valley Press do some lovely publications so I’m itching to see and read it.  That’s about it for now as I’m trying to minimise computer time for a while. I hope whoever or wherever you are, you’ve been having a great summer.

Helen Cadbury (1965-2017)

I’m not really sure how to write this post in memory of the novelist and poet, Helen Cadbury, but I want to say something about such a special soul who impacted my life for the better in the short time I knew her, and reflect a little on what she showed me. 

I had Helen on Facebook for ages before we actually had a proper chat. In September 2015 when I was coming towards the end of my treatment, a mutual friend, who’d also had cancer, told me Helen had breast cancer. I decided to take the chance to reach out and offer support. Helen was warm and optimistic. We had a long phone chat about the ins and outs of treatment and what to expect. There’s often an instant connection between people who know cancer. As my friend Catherine puts it, it’s a ‘they just know’ thing.

I visited Helen a few times during her treatment and we spent the afternoons chewing the fat and talking about our life journeys so far, what had brought us to this point in our lives and what might be next while facing an uncertain future. I was inspired by Helen’s journey as a writer. How, like me, she took the long way round and had been a teacher and creative jack of all trades for many years. Her first novel, To Catch a Rabbit, was published in 2013 in her late 40s and she was on a roll. I marvelled at the huge intricate storyboard in her office plotting the evolution of PC Denton. Helen talked about getting back into poetry when she could find time. We were both aware, more than ever, of how finite time is. A positive aspect of a primary breast cancer diagnosis (if you can call it that) is the clarity that can come from it, the upped urgency to get on with what matters and this focus can sometimes help with navigating the decisions that used to be harder to make.

Helen and I found we’d had a similar diagnosis in that our tumours were both 5cm across our breasts and had only been found from it pushing on other parts of our breast tissue and causing a knock-on change.  We both had cancer spread to our lymph nodes hence the need for us to have chemo and all the nodes cleared from our arm. We both lost a breast and endured radiation burns to our chest wall for 3 solid weeks. Helen lost her hair and I managed to keep half of mine through freezing my head during chemo injections. We gassed and moaned and laughed a lot about whatever seemed worth commenting on relating to treatment – the good and the bad, and everything outside of it. Helen was straight talking and always looking for the positives. She was thankful for everything she had and the treatment she was getting on the NHS.  She was generous with advice, perceptive and always philosophical and keen to make sense of things.

Time went on and we were both back to work, keen to be cracking on with what we enjoyed and what mattered to us. A few times we planned to meet up for a Poetry Business writing day in Sheffield but never found the time to sync. I was busy getting Hive up and running and Helen was focused on finishing the third novel in the Shaun Denton Crime Series.

In February I got a Facebook message from Helen gently explaining that the cancer was back and had spread to her liver, spine and lungs. The message was as positive and practical as always. I asked her if I could ring and got annoyed at myself for not holding it together when I said how sorry I was. She was reassuring and laughed about how it was really okay to cry and normal in the face of something ‘a bit shitty’ as she put it.

This is the last time I spoke to Helen outside of Facebook messages. I tried not to crowd her or ask for updates as she embarked on a new course of chemo. I know firsthand how hard that can be, but this, as Helen said when we spoke on the phone, was a ‘different conversation’. She was always considerate of my experience, even when she should have been focusing only on herself. It was a long chat and seemed oddly uplifting for us both.

After talking about how the secondary diagnosis came about, we moved on to what really mattered to Helen – her family and her work. She had just read an interview with Leonard Cohen before he died and she’d got a great deal of comfort from his approach to death. He was all about ‘getting the house in order’ and completing what he could of his unfinished work. And that was Helen’s push and focus now too. Like Leonard Cohen, she wanted to ensure she finished as much work as possible, and got her paperwork and the house in order. ‘If I’m still here in a few years, it will be a bonus I got it sorted then!’ she joked.  She talked about her family a lot, about leaving something for her husband, Josh, and their boys. And she also wanted to bring her poetry, written over many years, together into a collection. She had already asked her friend, the poet Carole Bromley, for help looking at what she’d written over the last 12 years.

At that point she said she wasn’t sure how long she’d have but she knew people can live a long time with secondary breast cancer. Helen seemed to be both geared with that in mind, but also with the possibility that it might not happen. Attitude she believed was key. She said she was working on keeping a balance between being rational and realistic about the here and now, and also optimistic and positive in how she faced things. As she always seemed to do, she treated both as a puzzle she must crack to honour the life she knew and the person she was.

We never know how much people say to make us feel and cope better, or live happier, but I suspect Helen was good at being brave for others, and looking back at that phone call, as was her kindness, she also didn’t want me to worry. I felt like I had very little to offer by way of thoughts. All I could point out is from what I could see, in the space of around a week, she had done some serious thinking, planning and decision making and was doing a stellar job of channelling Leonard Cohen, and really needed to acknowledge how brilliant this was and she was, but that it was okay to not do any of this too. She said ‘Oh thank you. You’re so good at reflecting back. I thought I’d just been sat on the sofa for a few days. I think I deserve a day off tomorrow then’. And that’s what I’ll remember most about Helen, she was someone who was always getting on with it, even when she wasn’t. Days before she passed away, I believe she was still scribbling down ideas for books and creative projects. She wanted to achieve and make the most of her life until the end. Without really knowing, she was just as inspiring to others as Leonard Cohen was to her.

Helen’s death, less than 5 months later, and after a period where things looked like they were looking up, has shocked and deeply saddened all who knew and cared about her to the core. For me, it’s a close to home reminder of how, both, lucky and near death I myself have been, and may still be, but also, how like Helen, I want to keep achieving what matters to me for as long as I am able, and I want to keep enjoying the now.

The week before she died, Helen announced her first poetry collection will be published this November by Valley Press. The title, Forever, Now, is a line by poet, Emily Dickinson – Forever – is composed of Nows.

All thoughts and love to Josh, Reuben, Isaac and Helen’s extended family and friends.

 

Bloomin lovely

Oh, the garden! Just wanted to share a few pictures of how lovely it is. Busy as ever but I have a window of escape this week to write. Also, I’m thrilled to have just heard I’ve got a poem accepted for the fabulous Brittle Star: www.brittlestar.org.uk

Check out my honeysuckle! There’s two types. At the moment I don’t walk up my garden to the dog house, I float. Honeysuckle is one of my absolute favourite smells. I could literately sit and sniff it for hours.

I have an addiction to buying plants that are dying and reviving them. Last year I bought a plant without a label and it’s just opened its flowers. As suspected, it’s a jasmine (but I can’t find which one). I’ve got 3 jasmins already and this too is a smell I could die for.  This type is more bubble gum smelling that the others. Soo nice! It doesn’t seem to smell as much at night but perhaps it’s because it’s in the shade. I’ve thought about moving it but it seems so happy where it is.

I should be able to find which type it is more easily now. After the young writers’ Wild Poetry project with Hive & Grow Wild, I feel like I’ve actually learnt quite a bit about wild plants and fungi. I can now, with pride, name quite a few and even wax a little about some!  Really looking forward to the final book of poetry.

Loads of buds are coming up and I can’t wait for my favourites which are near to opening, sweet peas. I really can’t get enough of them. But right now, the two black elders are in full flowering bloom and they are breath taking. My office looks down on the garden and these trees give me so much joy! I hope you have access to green goodness wherever you are.

It’s almost summer!

Spring has sprung and is green-shooting into summer! The busy hasn’t really let up and now it’s suddenly MAY! I can’t remember everything I’ve been up to since I last checked in but most of it’s been through various Hive happenings including a writers’ day with the brilliant horror writer Simon Bestwick, and fabulous fantasy writer KT Davies, another inspiring young writer’s open mic (that not even Hurricane Doris could halt the turn out for) and a few great new projects in the pipeline including this Wild Poetry anthology project celebrating native UK wild plants, flowers & fungi. With groups I’ve been looking at poems from Alice Oswald’s Weeds and Wild Flowers and Katherine Tower’s The Remedies among other great examples. I so wish I was young enough for this opportunity. I love learning about plants!

The highlight of the last few months (if not the year!), has to be an Arvon Lumb Bank writing residential with 16 young writers. Although I was there as a leader, it was a joy to be in loco parentis to a lovely bunch of talented young things from across the region. They absolutely thrived there, it was a constant watering can of inspiration and seriously good writing pouring out. How could it not be? Great food, breath-taking surroundings, brilliant workshops, cosy bedrooms, talented writing tutors (Peter Sansom and Tiffany Murray), useful feedback and oodles of fun.

I knew it would be a game changer in terms of their writing and how they saw themselves as writers, but for some, like Safia Khan, it was a million year evolution in a week! It’s so lovely to see someone realise 1) they love doing something 2) they are really good at it. For Safia, it’s poetry. Suddenly it’s clicked like nothing has before and I really think she’ll carry on doing something with this new passion in a more serious way. That’s it now, it’s in her bones. I’m proud to have helped lodge it there.

Being there as a group leader, I didn’t expect to get much time to write during the week, but like the young writers, I wrote reams, testament to the workshop skills of Peter and Tiffany. I had planned to edit some poems but I ended up writing several new ones. It was so nice to have time off from leading workshops too, although I love it. And the icing on the cake was the Wednesday visiting writer, the poet Hanna Lowe, who I simply love. The young writers all loved her too. I was so thrilled she had such an effect.

I’ve also been doing some work for Hear My Voice Barnsley, designing 11 books of ace poetry written by primary school students in the Dearne Valley. It was quite a bit of work but they turned out really well. And finally, only recently, I’ve been able to get in the garden again. Oh, the weeds! I’ve normally started by now but the weather wasn’t inviting for a long while, then I got too busy again. All deweeded now though and lovely to be tending to things again and seeing what’s growing. I so love watching things grow and discovering plants I forgot I planted.

Speaking of which, if you know anyone, 14 to 25 in South Yorkshire who writes poetry, loves nature, or wants to give it a go, please send them this link for the Wild Poetry anthology project: www.hivesouthyorkshire.com/blog/wild-poetry-open-submission.html deadline 22nd May!

The Dog House at the top of my garden. It used to be…you guessed it…

London Calling

I’ve recently returned from supporting an intensive 3 days writing residential based at the Tate Modern with some amazing young writers via Hive and The Writing Squad. The Project, the Word Exchange was part of the Tate Exchange programme and led by the wonderful Arvon. The tutors/writers for the 3 days were Jacob Sam La Rose and Sarah Butler. It was nice to be there in a supportive/mentoring capacity and not as a lead facilitator, and it was great to take in the Tate and it’s sheer size and range of exhibitions for longer that I’d normally get to wander around a gallery.  I particularly enjoyed the Louise Bourgeois exhibition and Sirkka-Liisa Konttinen photos of Byker Grove in the late 1960s.

The 14 young writers on the programme had a great time and where a pleasure to be around. And their end performance, open to the public on Friday evening (along with dance from the Royal Holloway), wow, it was varied, playful, sharp and honest. Just brilliant!

While I was there, I had a few of those great little conversations (that are to be had with strangers) in the Tate and along the bank of the Thames. One guy, sat with a typewriter and a suitcase on a skateboard which read in chalk ‘Poet for hire. Pay what you can.’, he was a funny chap. I sat with him for a while and we talked to passers by. Such a good way to meet people. Plus he seemed to be doing quite well out of it with quite a few commissions while I was there!

I always enjoy a good natter with an unknown soul, but the one I won’t forget who made me smile a lot was an elderly Indian gentleman who I spotted deep in conversation with Dom, one of the young writers. He’d come over to see who we were and was curious about the big dinner table full of young people. I in turn was curious about this little animated guy engrossed in conversation with Dom. He turned out to be an oncologist, Dr Ujjal Mallick (yes the right spelling because I asked him to write it down as I wanted to remember him by name), a specialist in rare cancers. And he was such a lovely, lovely soul, so curious about art and poetry and learning and such a humble, gentle guy I found myself holding the hand of. He seemed genuinely upset to learn I’d had cancer. How on earth he does his job with the amount of clear empathy he has, heaven knows. He said he was about to retire but that the NHS was the best health care system in the world and he’d relished working in it. He appreciated so much. His wife and daughter are also doctors. What is family. He told us about his father and his father’s father and the village they came from. As he was leaving, he said – I’ll say what I always like to say – Enjoy life and make a contribution. Yes, Dr Mallick, yes 🙂

Creative gifts…

20170203_150940Busy start to 2017 but so far so good! I’ve just done a really lovely set of poetry workshops with Creative Recovery in Barnsley who have teamed up with Hear My Voice Barnsley to create poetry postcards for ‘poetry parcel’ goodie bags to give out at an event in March.

The workshops were all about celebrating and encouraging kindness, reassurance, togetherness and all the lovely warm fuzzy stuff that boosts our well being.

I’ve worked with Creative Recovery before and it’s such a great project run by awesome people. Everyone who participants is always so keen to write and try new ideas. Such lovely, lovely people.

I’ve also just had a poem accepted by Silver Birch Press. First one of the year! Hopefully there’ll be more.

In case of interest to anyone passing:

Satdee Poetry – workshops FREE the first is 11th Feb | for 14-25s

Young writers’ open mic with Verse Matters 23rd Feb – for 14-25s across South Yorkshire. As I mentioned to Dan, I’d love to do this in Donny, but at the moment, I think it’s safer to run in Sheffield as I don’t have the links and we don’t have many people in the network from Donny yet. Last time it was packed but we’d love to get more over from Barns and Don.

Horror & Fantasy Writers’ Day sat 25th Feb (14-25s) – Game of Thrones meets Hammer House! 

BBC Radio Sheff interview

image7Twice last year I was on BBC Radio Sheffield. The first time was to talk about Hive and a launch workshop in the summer. At the time I had a long chat with the lovely Rav Sanghera and he persuaded me to come back to do the ‘My life so far’ slot. It seemed mega indulgent but I thought it would be an op to talk more about Hive and get it on more radars. So after uming and ahing, I said yes. But we never ended up talking about Hive! I felt annoyed with myself I didn’t make more of a thing of it but the interview was over so quickly. I’m sure there’s nothing worse than a guest taking over though. Anyway, it was lovely and Rony Robinson is such a sweetheart. I even read a poem. Rav kindly sent me a copy so my mum, who still isn’t sure what the internet is, could have a listen.