Writing is a journey, both imaginary and physical. My first book took me to the Arctic to 'catch the colours' of the Northern Lights. Then I hunkered down to catch the wind-blown voices of polar explorers on Shackleton's 1914-17 Endurance expedition. More recently I'm obsessed by space: the race, the rockets, the final frontier.

Hear a BBC Radio Leicester interview about my space poetry at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03wfpyp
Explore my digital narrrative PHILAE'S BOOK OF HOURS, published by the European Space Agency, at:

My prose-poetry collections FIREBRIDGE TO SKYSHORE
and MAD, HOPELESS & POSSIBLE are both published by Original Plus Press at:

Contact me for signed copies or bookings at:

Visit the writers' development service I co-run at: https://www.facebook.com/TheWritersShed/

About Me

My photo
Leicester, East Midlands
As a storyteller, my work crosses boundaries of myth, science, history and spoken word. It has been presented in the British Science Museum, Ledbury Poetry Festival, National Space Centre and the European Space Agency website. In 2014 I ran a digital residency on WW1 for 14-18NOW and Writing East Midlands. I teach Creative Writing at De Montfort University and have experience of leading school events, workshop tuition and mentoring. In addition, I co-run The Writers' Shed, a service for writers, at: https://www.facebook.com/TheWritersShed/

Friday, 30 October 2009

Lutterworth Writers' Group

I spent a delightful evening on Monday with a writers' group based in Lutterworth. This small group of local writing enthusiasts was boosted by some visitors from both Leicester Writers' Club and the Grace Dieu group from Coalville. Which just goes to show you that stories are written into the hills of Leicestershire.

I'd been invited to give a talk on the Northern Lights. And being as this was a group of writers, I reflected on how this project has developed over the last 4 years. It was November 2005 when a fellow writer and artist Jackie Stanley first asked me to write some poems about the Northern Lights for a film she wanted to make. It's rare to stumble on a subject that proves so rich in inspiration. Since then, I've visited the Arctic to see the lights for myself and performed my poems in places as diverse as the Science Museum in London and a primary school hall in Leicester.

Audiences never fail to be fascinated by the mystery and spectacle of the Aurora Borealis and Lutterworth Writers were no exception. We had no powerpoint facilities this time but we managed with a map of the Arctic, a handout of pictures and our imaginations. (see more of these fabulous pictures by Bjorn Jorgensen on his website.) My talk ranged through the stories created by indigenous peoples of the Arctic over many centuries and then on to the modern narrative that science offers of the origins of the aurora. We took a break for tea and fig rolls and book signings and then a busy question/answer session. It's great when audiences are so engaged. A lot of the questions were about how I came to get my book, Firebridge to Skyshore: A Northern lights Journey, published - always a topic of interest to writers!

There was a lovely atmosphere in the little Church Hall and I was surprised with a gorgeous bouquet of flowers as we finished. Many thanks to Frank for chairing and Cathy and Michael for chauffering me. I'm very happy that my first gig since the summer was such a pleasurable one.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Sitting Down to History

Unfortunately, I missed National Poetry Day through an outbreak of something like flu that my sickly 2nd years passed on to me. But here is my contribution belatedly. This year's theme was Heroes & Heroines and I dug out a poem I wrote in a workshop with the fabulous Caribbean poet, Jean Binta Breeze. She invited us to write a letter to someone famous that we admired. My subject was the late Rosa Parks, Civil Rights protester from the 60s, a woman of considerable courage and dignity. This poem about the Montgomery Bus Boycott also sits well with Black History Month - which I'm not too late for, after all.

So tell me, Rosa

what were the bus journeys like
after that one? After the man at the station
snapping your picture with his headlamp camera
and the man stubbing your prints into dirty stains,
pulling your fingers like you didn’t own your hand,
- after the jostling and mutters, all eyes watching,
I mean long after the pitched battles -
when you shifted the weight
of a day’s long hours
into the padded seat by the window,
were your bags loaded full of history,
or did you put on ordinariness
like a buttoned-up coat,
lean back against the thrust of brakes,
sitting in a world of your own
only a little straighter?

Monday, 5 October 2009

Plans, Gigs, News

Since I've not managed to update my 'events' page yet on the website, here's some of the news that is soon to appear. Now that I've got my Writer's Hat firmly back on - after the mayhem of a new teaching term in September - I'm pursuing new projects and bookings. I was delighted the other day to get an invitation in my Inbox to put on my Northern Lights show at the Ledbury Poetry Festival in July 2010. We hope this may include me appearing with an auroral scientist again, as at the gig we did at London's Science Museum. According to The Guardian, “This celebration of verse is the largest of its kind in the UK and also the most energised, giving a real sense of poetry as an important living, contemporary literary form.” Having caught the festival bug this summer, I'm really looking forward to that.

Closer to home, I'm doing a talk for Lutterworth Writers on the evening of Tuesday 27th October. It's always interesting to visit other writers' groups and see how they collaborate on their writing. My own group, Leicester Writers' Club, has been invaluable to me. I'm also keen to take the 'Firebridge' book and show out across the region now. Recently, I visited the new Writing East Midlands office in Nottingham to discuss how to do that. And the possibility of a gig in the Peaks has opened up - which is one of my favourite places. We'll be heading over there for a week walking the hills at half-term.

And now before a day of teaching kickstarts at nine, I want to get back to some research I'm doing for a new project around migration. I'm reading a book by Dr. Alice Roberts based on her excellent TV series, 'The Incredible Human Journey'. It tells the story of human evolution and the gradual colonisation of all five continents by the modern human species. I'm just up to a chapter on the spread from arctic Europe into the Americas - which ties in the research I did into indigenous arctic groups for my 'Firebridge to Skyshore' book. Roberts is a wonderful storyteller and she brings to life her own journey to these far-flung outposts of archaeology,learning from surviving indigenous groups along the way.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Arctic Hunger

It's a perfect sun-fired day. Every leaf and brick gleams and out on the street, the whole neighbourhood is gearing up for the Divali lights switch-on. And on this crisp, autumn day I am thinking of ice. I'm re-reading Susan Richardson's beautiful collection of poetry, Creatures of the Intertidal Zone (published Cinnamon Press). I was lucky enough to hear Susan read at the summer's Polyverse Poetry Festival and was envious of her account of visiting Iceland, Greenland and Newfoundland – all places on my travel wish-list. Because like the penguin that recurs in this collection, I feel :

'… a force that's attracted to the north in her,
the thunder of summer light,
the blood of explorers in the tundra,
the tilting cap of ice.'

Susan undertook this trek to trace the footsteps of a Viking woman and the first sequence of poems, Gudrun the Rare, follows her on a life of sea-voyages. From the first line, it is utterly spellbinding: 'I know the gasp this grass gives/ when it's first touched by snow.' I was also very moved by the following poem, which relates the 'Resettlement' of an old woman from a remote, fishing island. As the men are lifting her wooden home into the water, she reflects on:

'… the lives of its five generations,
the twenty-eight births,
the labour pains ingrained in the wood of its walls,
and all those oil-skinned hours of waiting
while the men were at sea in a storm.'

No less engaging is her account of the evolutionary journey of a penguin, from migratory bird to ice-locked creature of the pole: 'Her need now beats its wings… propels her against/ the speckled shell of the sky …' The language is all lucid and unfussy like this, images arising naturally from the environment of her stories. The rhythms are also seductive, pausing sometimes to let you take that ice-tanged breath:

'So now, with tender eyes,
I must hunt for a hole in the white

and wait


at the rim
for the whiskered nose of inspiration …'

This poem is about the act of writing and it is indeed 'tender eyes' Richardson turns on the Arctic world and its creatures, both animal and human. In a clever structure, the collection begins with sequences about 2 Viking women and ends with a section about the male Arctic explorers of the early twentieth-century. Here is the voice of Edgar Evans, the first of Scott's men to die:

'My hand is quite okay, sir.
Yes, I'm quite okay.

I just feel such crimson hunger.
My ribs are what's left of that rotting ship,
wrecked in Rhossili Bay, stuck
in the sand for dogs to piss on.'

I hope to get the chance to meet up with Susan again and share our mutual arctic fascination. Meanwhile, if you're another ice lover, I can't recommend this book highly enough. And even if you're not, there's much to relish in these stories of human wanderings and foibles.

Friday, 2 October 2009

The Ghosts of Eden

So let's break the silence that was September on my blog with a throwback to one of my best summer reads. The Ghosts of Eden by Andrew JH Sharp was the kind of good thick book I like to nestle into during the holidays. This is a wonderfully lyrical novel set in Africa. The early sections depict two worlds that overlap in the lush landscape of colonial Uganda; the childhood of Stanley, an 8 year-old cattle-herder, and the childhood of Michael Lacey, son of missionaries.

There is a sense of each being a closed world vividly experienced - yet each is doomed by modernity pressing on its edges. The boys are both engaging heroes, similarly shy, loyal, deeply sensitive. For me the depiction of Bahima nomadic culture as the herd boys follow out the rituals of their daily lives was utterly enchanting and convincing. We see through their eyes the strangeness of Bazungu (European) behaviour as they encounter white people for the first time. We feel the jolt of that meeting and fear for them as they face exile from their own people with the prospect of boarding school.

The author, like his characters, then takes a rather brave step. We jump forward some 30 years to find Michael as an adult on a plane to Uganda for a 3 day conference. Another jolt. The adult is entirely disassociated from his past, the child's vulnerability buried in the clinical efficiency of a gifted surgeon (here Sharpe draws on his own experience as a medical practitioner.) Uganda is still raw from the trauma of Idi Amin's rule and its legacy. But the past griefs that threaten to engulf Michael take more time to surface. Inevitably, the paths of the Bahima and the Bazungu now cross.

But it is very much Michael's story and I missed the chance to explore Stanley's point of view in this second half. I was too emotionally invested in the Bahima characters by then to see them only from the outside. So it is Michael who negotiates the minefields of cultural difference and personal loss and alienation. There are big themes here but always firmly grounded in this individual story. I'm glad the author resisted too neat a resolution but the rhythm of the novel is towards a much-needed redemption for Michael and his Bahima counterpart. Overall, this was a very satisfying read and an impressive debut for Sharp in his first novel.

Underfoot Poems

Well, here we are edging into October and the faded glories of a Whitby summer are long past. I've been thinking about the rhythm of the year and the way that my teaching work and writing get twined into the seasons. Come the end of August, everything goes crazy as students stream into college for enrolment. My garden wilts and the blog falters. What I call the 'day-job' takes over for a while. In this last month, it's been hard to get my Writers' hat on at all - except in the early mornings. Before sun-up, I'm jotting in the purple notebook. And I'm pleased to say a string of new prose-poems - snippets shall we say? - are beading together in the margins of my days.

But suddenly leaves are crackling underfoot and half-term is only a spit away. October could well be my favourite time of year. Because as the new classes bed down - as the nights get darker and clocks change over - I come into my best writing season. Outside the reddening trees and early sunsets make me giddy with anticipation. On the front street, they're hanging the Divali lights and Halloween and Bonfire Night will tumble after. Inside, it's dark and cocoon-like and the hibernation seems to stir something in that place the writing comes from. So bring on the conkers and firecrackers and frost, I say.

But before the summer gets forgotten altogether, I'm hoping to do some catch-up blogs after my long silence and tell you about some of the wonderful books I read on those long, lazy days by the sea.