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 Hive young writers 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.

 

Arvon/Jerwood Mentorship!

I’m truly over the moon to announce I’ve been chosen by poet Hannah Lowe, as an Arvon/Jerwood mentee 2019/20!

Professional development as a writer is a rare thing for most of us, and the fact this is with Arvon too – is a dream come true for me. Massive thanks to Hannah and Arvon for believing in me and my writing. I’m literally buzzing!

Congrats to all mentees and I look forward to meeting you all very soon!

Arvon and Jerwood Arts are delighted to announce the 2019/20 cohort of Jerwood/Arvon mentees. These nine emerging writers were selected out of nearly 350 applicants in the categories of Poetry, Playwriting and Fiction, to receive a year of mentoring support from poet Hannah Lowe, playwright Evan Placey, and novelist and short story writer Nicholas Royle.

Now in its ninth iteration, this programme is run by Arvon in partnership with Jerwood Arts, with applications open to writers who attended Arvon courses in the previous two years. The programme begins with a week-long Masterclass residential at Totleigh Barton, Arvon’s writing centre in Devon, where mentees will attend workshops across all three forms and establish goals and plans for the year. As well as ongoing mentoring support, mentees are offered additional consultations with industry professionals, and a final writing retreat week in spring 2020. At the end of the programme, mentees contribute to a group anthology, launched at showcase events in the summer.

Women of Sheffield Award

I’m beyond a reet bit (as we say in Sheffield) chuffed to receive The Sarah Nulty Award for Creativity at the first Women of Sheffield Awards last night courtesy of the Sheffield Star – celebrating local women who have had an impact. It was an honour to stand alongside some truly inspirational women of all backgrounds, ages and powerful stories –from engineers and scientists, to health and sports professionals – including my fellow culture fertilisers, Justine Gaubert and Sara Hill.

The award is for 20+ years of service enabling others creatively – with a passion that’s continued to grow through my career – helping young people to reach their potential. I had rocky younger years, leaving home at 15 and muddling through from an early age, and I believe that set something alight in me in terms of my values and trying to provide others with what was lacking in my own experiences growing up.

I’m honoured it was in memory of the beautiful spark that was Sarah Nulty (the engine behind the Tramlines Festival for many years), and bravely and beautifully presented by Sarah’s mum Julie who gave me the best hug I’ve had in a long time – sorting me out after the stage fright of standing in front of an audience while someone talks about you and you wonder where to look.

Although I never met Sarah I know she had a huge impact in her short time on this earth. Isn’t that one of the best things we can hope for in this life, to have made a difference, however small, in our corner of the planet? There are many of us quietly doing this kind of work in creative fields, and anyone who is will know the impact of creativity and everything it brings. Sadly it’s a field that is often underpaid and undervalued, and run (in the upper echelons) by the wrong people (like most things!), but those of us who know its impact keep at it and I salute you all. And if it’s not you, but you see one of us grafting or struggling – please do what you can to let us come through and do our job. We need allies and key holders in every nook and cranny so we can keep doing what we do without becoming exhausted.

The best part of the award was that people, particularly young people – (you know the generation they say are apathetic) took the time to write in and nominate me (I know who some of you are now! Thank you) the words and the gratitude you’ve expressed have made my heart soar. Some of you I haven’t worked with in years, others I still mentor years on. Some of you have even gone from babyface to beard in the time I’ve known you! Thank you so much for a beautiful gesture and all the thoughtful things said. They are deeply appreciated.

So this award is for all the other creative women out there who are the grafters, the enablers, the game-changers, the neuro-divergent thinkers, those who do it for the love not the glory, the survivors of cancer, of illness or allsorts – who keep standing up and holding your hand out to others. And for Sarah and all the other beautiful women that have made ripples that continue to last.

………..
Thank you to everyone who made this happen including the Star, especially Ann Holmes and Nancy Fielder, and to Karen Breckon of Meadowhead Flowers for the beautiful bouquet of local wildflowers, so lovely! And to all who nominated me including: Nik Perring, Warda Yassin, Justine Gaubert and all who believe in me. My heart is yours!