Hello blog & June!

Hello blog! Long time no see! I say hello blog because I don’t think anyone is reading this 🙂 How time flies as always. It’s been one thing after another (as is the nature of life), but I just wanted to pause here a minute and say – I’m so pleased that the lovely young poet that is Warda Yassin, is a winner of the New Poets Prize 2018!

I’ve worked with Warda since late 2012. She is one of the sweetest, humblest, loveliest young souls I’ve had the privilege of working with, and it brings a tear to my eye to see how far she’s come and that her talent is being recognised. She so deserves this prize and her work in print (in 2019!) I really can’t wait! For more info click here.

I’m seeing so many of the young writers starting to take off through Hive and it’s just the best feeling ever. There is nothing that beats the feeling of helping someone realise they have wings. Eloise Unerman, is young poet in residence at the Ledbury Poetry Festival this year, and we have another young writer who’s been highly commended for a big award announced later this month. And there are too many others to mention who are slowly unfolding their feathers and looking up to the sky.

On the topic of writing, I’ve fired mine up again and have been getting some submissions out there (it’s been a while!) It’s never easy to juggle running a big project with your own writing and creativity. I’ve accepted it comes in waves. The important thing it to try and ride one when they come along.

Happy June to you all!

Photo: Me, Warda & Eloise at the wonderful Motley Muse at Huddersfield Uni recently.

 

Festival fever!

I’ve been busy as a bee buzzing around getting ready for the Hive festival! All details below! If you know any young writers in the north (14-25) who would love a day jam-packed with workshops, talks, performances, advice from writers, networking & creative buzz, put them onto this! 🙂

Lowkey

So proud of the Hive young writers who interviewed English-Iranian poet and rapper, Lowkey, at  Sheffield Hallam University on Tuesday. What a brilliant interview! Check it out here
Lowkey’s – Ahmed >

Apples & Snakes #100years podcast

I’m so chuffed to have been asked to pen a poem for this brilliant podcast series exploring women’s suffrage by the wonderful Verse Matters and Apples & Snakes producer Kirsten Luckins. I learned so much about the movement and how and why things have changed, and will hopefully continue to, for women.

First up is Rachel Bower with her 2 part poem about women’s football, then Sez Thomasin speaks as the defiant and resourceful Leed’s lass Leonora Cohen. I had wanted to do something about working class women specifically but got totally enthralled in Sheffield’s suffragette history. Now, walking around town in particular is a different experience for me!


Click above to listen of this link for all 3 in the series: applesandsnakes.org/listen

Votes for Women

Where does time go?! Haha, oh dear, I had planned to do an end of year/New Year post but it feels a little late for that now! Happy New Year to whoever might be reading anyway! I’ve started the year very busy but rested, which is lovely (although partly through a virus over Christmas).

I will write something more soon but just to say, I’m excited for a forthcoming poetry commission project I’ve been involved in. Myself, Rachel Bower and Sez Thomasin are representing Sheffield’s Verse Matters collective in a podcast series celebrating all things women’s empowerment and rights in line with 2018 being 100 years since women got the vote. (Or at least some women at that point!)

There are other groups of female poets involved via Apples & Snakes’ Kirsten Luckins who’s behind the project and wanted to link women’s poetry collectives together around the country. I think the series will air in February.

We’ve just recorded our poems and I have to say, I’ve really loved researching for it. Looking at women’s suffrage in Sheffield in particular took over when I started learning about all the happenings that went on in places I know well. Fascinating stuff! I’ll post the link here when the time comes.

And just to say, if you don’t know Verse Matters but you love warm, welcoming, creative nights out, and you live in or near Sheffield, give a VM event a go! The Facebook is here.

Stay warm, it’s just started snowing here! 🙂

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 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 November 2017 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.