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.

A quick flick back at 2016…

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Chemo chair

I don’t do resolutions, but I like to take stock of the year. 2016 went, somehow, in the blink of an eye. It started pretty tough in the aftermath of a year of cancer treatment, ongoing fatigue and the difficulties I’d been warned about when you’re no longer going to hospital every day to be injected or microwaved, and you are expected to ping back to normal. And everyone asks – are you okay now? And you smile and say – I think so, but you worry because you’ve met a lot of unlucky people on your travels who were okay one minute, then it was found in their lungs or bones, or brain, a year, 2 years, or even 10 years later. And that’s the reality. Cancer is a cruel lottery that doesn’t discriminate.

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FEC chemo session, 3 drugs x 2 syringes 🙁

This uncertainty is one of the toughest things. Everything is secondary cancer until you learn otherwise. I’ve had a few scares since diagnosis and a big one this year. I had a problem with a cough that wouldn’t go and they found nodules on my lungs. As that’s a likely first secondary for breast cancer, the 4 month check-up CT wait was a very tough wait.  Accepting that you’re changed forever, (and in some ways in good ways) helps, but it’s a slow process.

I’m so bloomin’ thankful that it was found though, and for the amazing treatment I had on the NHS. We truly don’t know it’s value until we really need it. It’s hard to comprehend sometimes how close to death I’ve come as we are medically so advanced and everything is about treatment. I’ll be on medication for at least 5 years, and they have had to turn my ovaries off (because my particular cancer responded to estrogen – yey for no more horrendous PMS, boo for the worry of bone density problems) but this, and even all of the treatment however tough at times, is still a small price to pay for being alive. I’m also thankful for support services like Breast Cancer Care, and for good friends and family who’ve been so brilliant.

All I can say is, any breasts changes (although rare, men can get BC too), no matter what – go to the doctor. To hell with feeling like a hypochondriac. My change was a raised vein that had vanished before the referral date. I’d had a scare in the other breast some time before and they hadn’t seen the cancer (it was growing for around 18 months they think) because my breast tissue was so dense (often the case in younger women which is why they don’t do mammograms for under 40s generally as they can’t see into dense tissue). What they initially thought was a 2.5cm tumour on ultrasound turned out to be 5cms across on the MRI. The cancer had also spread to my lymph system which is why chemo was needed. Vigilance could save your life so don’t for a second feel you are wasting anyone’s time getting a dimple or a vein checked out.

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Rotherham Young Writers reunion

As well as readjusting to life after treatment, I spent a long time early last year writing the bid for Hive South Yorkshire, the young writers’ hub I’ve set up with support from a consortium of partners. It was tiring and seemingly never ending but great to channel years of knowledge and ideas into something I believe in. I was heartened at the support of so many partners who’ve come on board. I also kept a promise to myself to keep a better work/life/writing balance and, although not as prolific as 2015, I’ve still managed to write a few things with legs this year. I’ve also had a few more things published and been on BBC Radio Sheffield a few times talking about Hive, dyslexia and writing. I was one of 5 shortlisted for the Arvon Jerwood Membership for poetry earlier in the year which meant a fun trip to London. Even though I wasn’t selected, to be shortlisted and get really encouraging feedback was a great boost. I also got this website up and running and about a third of my projects logged on it (which was hard work and no easy task!) It was so good to revisit all I’ve done and remind myself how far I’ve come.

At the end of June, earlier than expected, we found out – Hive was go! The rest of the year has been getting Hive up and running and a few other projects (most mentioned in my last post). It’s been brilliant. Already so much good coming from the project.

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Wedding of Kev & Lu

There was also more time for doing fun things this year and seeing friends and family, like a rare few days in London with my mum, brother, sister and auntie, a good friend’s hen and wedding, and the birth of her gorgeous little boy, Nye. Also the wedding of another good friend, Si. I got to meet my friend, the poet Catherine Ayres, a few times. The first on a break in the Lakes. Catherine really supported me during cancer treatment, having been through it herself, and it was nice to finally get some time together this year after talking so long via messages. Another highlight was a lovely writing retreat in November where I met some wonderful poets and new friends. We’ve planning to do our own Air BnB writing retreat in the spring.

All in all, a much better year than the last, one filled with trying to find a new normal and putting into practice some of the wisdom that came from a crappy and life-changing 2015. For me, the one thing I want most for 2017 is continued good health.

All the best to you and yours 🙂

 

And breathe…

img_5039shWell, it’s been a jam-packed wonderfully wordy few months with very little time to catch my breath! But it’s been brilliant and I’m so please that a lot of hard work has paid off recently. Here are some of my highlights from autumn 2016…

National Poetry Day, Barnsley Libraries
Adult and children poetry workshops for Hear My Voice

I loved this day. I don’t do many workshops these days for over 25 so it was really interesting to cover different ground and discussions. The theme of the workshops was ‘home’ to encourage entries to the Hear My Voice poetry competition (see below).

hear-my-voice-25-october-experience-barnsley-20_18I spotting a lass reading in the library just before we started, and being the eternal opportunist, I risked popping up next to her to ask if she wanted to join in. After a very brief pause, no eye roll and a smile – Yes ok. The lass in question has since joined Barnsley Young Writers. Happy days!

I loved choosing poems for the theme of the workshop by local poets Iain McMillian and Peter Sansom, and from further afield, Gerry Potter and Liz Berry. I also included some song lyrics from the Pogues. Some great work was written and shared and I’ve just heard that one of the poems has been entered into the competition from a new writer who’ve never submitted work before.

If you live in Barnsley or the surrounding area, or know people who are, the Home competition is open until 31st Jan 2017. More details: here 

img_5969iLetters to the Future (Off the Shelf Festival of Words, Hive and Grimm & Co.)
I spent a magical Saturday at Rotherham-based literary charity Grimm & Co, which is not unlike being in the set of a Harry Potter film. The downstairs is a shop selling everything from witches winkle-causing cream to wizards wands, but through the magical door (accessed by a secret lever), there are various rooms where Grimm’s wordsmithery takes place.

Here, I ran a lovely few workshops as Hive and happened upon 2 brilliant young writers for Rotherham Young Writers who were previously unaware of it and excited to join. The theme of Letters to the future turned out to be a really interesting and emotional one. There’s a little blog post on it here: http://www.hivesouthyorkshire.com/blog/dear-future-wrote-today.html

 TADS & Creative Recovery, Barnsley
Two more great poetry workshops on the theme of home with children, and adults working with a few great creative places in Barnsley – Tads and Creative Recovery, both of whom provide emotional well-being support. I’m looking forward to working with Creative Recovery again in February on their Poetry Parcels project.

Hive Young Writers open mic (for under 25s)
Hive’s first young people’s open mic was a huge success. Such a wonderful supportive night. We had 35 performers, the youngest performer was 12. I didn’t know it was possible to fit so many great performances in one event. Many performed for the first time. And what a brave and supportive atmosphere with powerful performances from young writers sharing work dealing with topics as diverse as grief, sexual exploitation, fat shaming and being transgender. It was particularly lovely to have ex-members of Sheffield & Rotherham Young Writers – Anna May Fox and Will Banks do featured performances, one in each half. I have worked with both for many years so it was nice to have them and offer a something, however little , for their time. Creating a safe space to share is a key part of Verse Matters, (who Hive are partnering with for these events), and the inspiring Rachel Bower helped us set the supportive tone of the night that I think enabled so many to share words that perhaps they didn’t think they would when they walked in. Beautiful stuff I was proud to be part of.

The Youth Word Up 2016

From early October most of my Saturdays where given to poetry sessions for the Youth Word Up which took place on 3rd Nov and was the final event of the autumn for me and what a finale. I think it was the most successful Youth Word Up to date with the most performances and some really lovely moments and great feedback. The project is always a tough one for me as I never know if I’m going to pull it off – a book and a performance, but somehow, it happens! This year we had the lovely Joelle Taylor as our headline poet. Joelle runs Slambassadors UK, the youth slam championships, so she was used to working with young people and really engaged with them during the pre-show practice.  Despite the whole thing being 3 weeks earlier than usual, the publication was all so something for the young people involved to be proud of. I was also able to feed in various young people from my wider network so I feel like the project really had the best and widest impact and that makes me happy.

_mg_6440All in all a brilliant autumn but a very tiring one. I’m thankful for a clearer December and the time to take stock before things start up again early next year.

October here we come…

October is always a really busy month because of young writers groups starting back up and because I’m usually involved with a few events and projects at the Off the Shelf Festival of Words. This year is no different and I don’t think I’ll be coming up for air until early November. I’ve managed to squeeze a poetry submission in but I think that might be it for a while. My writing is no stranger to the back burner. It’s where it’s lived most of my life!

Hive, the young writers consortium I’ve set up, has got off to a cracking start over the last few months and one of our new groups started tonight with a buzz around Hive’s festival events and our Arts Award and writing submission opportunities. I’ve just been reading through interest forms and it’s exciting to see young writers setting goals and circling opportunities they’ve often never considered before.

A few months back, just because I felt it was long overdue and needed to be done, I started interviewing young writers, (past and present members of the groups I’ve run in Sheffield and Rotherham for 8 years – this is actually my 9th!), to edit into a little film highlighting why they joined, what they’ve gained, and why others should consider checking one out. As a young person wondering about going to a young writers’ group, better to hear from peers that anyone else! Over the last few weeks, here and there, I’ve been editing together 20 interviews into a 5 segment film. I’ve yet to do a punchy version for people just wanting a snapshot. There’s a link below to the full version and a playlist of separate videos of each on Hive’s YouTube channel.

The best part was daring to delve into some of my external hard drives to find old footage of some of the older young writers. And that’s been so nice. Watching a first performance or just remembering the brilliant things they’ve done and how they’ve grown. Hearing them reflect through the interviews has been a joy too. And new members. Our youngest is not yet 14 and she’s already so thirsty for pushing her writing further. The andragogical term that comes to mind from my teacher training is self-actualising. Those self-actualising moments are gold. I have some great memories of seeing a lot of them take effect.

I’ve loved meeting lots of new young writers these last few months and more are joining all the time. I’m excited about what might happen for them too, for those moments when they realise – ‘I can.’

It’s all go…

14188372_1142247939178853_4369302224514313221_oSo, as predicted, uploading past projects to my site has become a distance possiblity over the last few months for a very good reason – the launching of a new project and writers’ hub, Hive South Yorkshire, which, in a nutshell, supports young people, (14 to 25) from across the region, to reach their writing potential.

I’m so pleased to be working with some great writers, and formal and steering partners, through Hive. It’s a project I really believe in, and one I can bring so many of the skills I’ve developed around young people and writing facilitation over the years.

There’s no point repeating everything that’s on the Hive website, I’ll just say, here’s what Hive offers young writers, if that’s you, or you work with, or know, young people who are interested in writing, please spread the word.

We’re also looking for new community, school and arts partners to collaborate with on exciting outreach projects that encourage wider participation in writing-related happenings, and remove barriers to writing. These goals are very important to me. I want all young people, regardless of ability or background, to feel they can be a part of this network and young writers’ community.

Hive’s first workshop ,with Saju Ahmed, had so much energy, I’m hoping a new spoken word group will come out of it through our partnership with Sheffield Hallam University. Below is a link to Saju and myself pre-workshop on BBC Radio Sheffield talking about Saju’s journey with poetry, and about Hive, and being a dyslexic writer.

For all things Hive check out: www.hivesouthyorkshire.com
Photo: Young writers at awesome arts open mic event, Verse Matters. Hive will be teaming up with Verse Matter next month for it’s first young writers open Mic. Hope to see you there!

Brightened day!

HOUSE SHARPI’m reet chuffed, as we say in Sheffield, to have had a lovely email from The Interpreter’s House, one of my favourite poetry journals, saying they’ve accepted a poem! Not only that, they took the time to boost my confidence and brighten my day further by telling me they had a whopping 1250 poems to read for this issue, and that I almost made it to featured poet as one of the editors liked my poems so much. I’m not going to lie, this is lovely news and really encouraging. It’s also a surprise with the poem they chose as it’s probably the oddest I’ve written. I’ve only just started getting my work out properly in the last year or so so this type of feedback is really valuable and nourishing. I spend a lot of time enthusing others and I love doing it, but it’s also nice to be on the receiving end sometimes.

TIH is a gorgeously produced, diverse and quality mix of poetry and short story. It’s chunky and great value for money (£15 inc. postage for 3 issues) and I heartedly recommend a subscription if you’re a lover of poetry and short story. It’s practically a book and the cover is all silky and stroke-able 🙂 It’s the kind of publication I would like to run if I ran a publication. So, thank you The Interpreter’s house for brightening my day!

Youth Word Up 2016

So pleased that we’ve got the awesome Joelle Taylor confirmed to headline this year’s Youth Word Up. I love Joelle’s work and she’s such an arresting performer. I highly recommend her book The woman Who Was Not There. I also hugely admire the work she’s done with young people empowering them through performance poetry and slams. Joelle is currently the Artistic Director of SLAMbassadors UK, the national youth slam championships. If you’re 12 to 18, SLAMbassadors is open until 30th September 2016 at 6pm. Here’s Joelle in action with a poem I love >>