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/

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Witching in the Library

What magic was this in Southwell Library? First there was a busy huddle of readers, IT browsers and bookshelves. Then several hours later, thanks to the dauntless efforts of Sheelagh's 'technical wizard Stuart' and the Man from Nottingham Council, Anthony, there was a whole little theatre going on. We had a lighting rig, sound system, projector and screen, raised stage and seating - the works! Even a clip-on mike to lift the poetry over the silent shelves and into the corners. All to bring the Arctic to this midsummer festival.

The occasion was my show Firebridge to Skyshore: A Northern Lights Journey, hosted by Southwell Library Poetry Festival. And very hospitable they were! Like the village of Lowdham down the road, this little Nottinghamshire town is steeped with history and charm but also blessed with a nest of people passionate enough about literature to take on the work of staging a major festival that attracts big names as well as local talent and enthusiastic audiences. Yesterday it was Michael Rosen wowing an audience of Nottinghamshire schoolchildren, tomorrow they will have Sir Andrew Motion in the Southwell Minster, and there's still John Siddique, Jenny Joseph, Joan Johnston, Don Patterson and Jo Shapcott to come!

As I suggested, 'all the dreams must have started in the library, because where else as a child would I have stumbled across Narnia or the Snow Queen or any of those wonderful stories of the North that captured my imagination?' So it's almost a nostalgic thrill to be presenting my poetry in this wonderful space. And years later, those stories have led me to visit the Arctic for real (three times!) and create this show to bring audiences into a landscape that I love. What I added to the magic concoction were ancient tales of the Northern Lights, a green sari, a dose of solar physics, beautiful auroral images and music from Norway, thirty coloured glowsticks and a bundle of poems garnered from my journeys. The audience brought the essential alchemy of imagination.

It was a delightful night. Once 'The Last Legend' faded into a mournful Saami joiku, we had some questions & discussion and then a busy book signing session - which always keeps a writer happy! Here were some of the audience comments:

'The descriptions were so lovely and really brought it to life.'

'I liked the way you moved with the poems - it added so much.'

'Thanks for our fabulous visit to the Arctic circle via Southwell! Loved the poetry, colours, photos and words!'

I'm indebted to Sheelagh Gallagher for inviting me to appear at the festival and her whole team - what a friendly bunch of libarians and council folk! One of the most welcoming venues I've been to and the tech. support was really impressive -so hats off to Stuart and Anthony. And Michelle snapped these evocative pictures of the event. I've yet to enjoy my gift of a Bramley apple - which originates in Southwell - but I shall certainly be hoping to get over and sample more of this festival. It runs to Sunday 18th - so treat yourself!

Friday, 9 July 2010

Ledbury: Shall I Compare Thee?

I think I dreamt Ledbury. This wonderful poetry festival set in a gorgeous timber-framed town opened its arms and really hugged us. The sun shone but not too fiercely. Lunch in The Olive Tree was delicious - and you know food really matters to me! I had a very happy hour browsing in The Three Counties Bookshop where poetry texts were heaped high in front of the doorway. And then we met Pat, our Event Manager, in the Poets' Hospitality Room, where drinks, food and chat spilled over. Pat attended to our every whim and the whole thing was so beautifully organised - something else I do appreciate.

We had more than 4 hours in the Market Theatre to set-up and do run-throughs to our heart's content. The technician Stuart was really on the ball and worked the lights and sound throughout our show. I even had a dressing-room and bottles of water provided! I can't tell you how much these little details help.

Suffice it to say that I had such a happy, relaxed afternoon in Ledbury that we delivered our best ever show that evening. This was 'Poetry and Physics Under the Northern Lights', a fusion of solar physics, performance poetry and powerpoint images of the aurora. I was working with Dr Darren Wright of the University of Leicester, reprising a show we'd first staged at London's Science Museum and later in the National Space Centre in Leicester. Darren delivered several well-judged introductions to the causes of the aurora and current research, illustrated by some stunning animation sequences, including images of the aurora seen from space. You could tell how much this captivated the audience by the questions later, covering cycles of solar activity as well as how and where to best see the Northern Lights.

My own strands explored first the mythology of the indigenous arctic peoples and then the story of the sun-dust's journey through space. We had a very warm and responsive audience who were game for a bit of interaction, delivering gusty cheers during the 'Auroral Football' poem. The intimate space of the Market Theatre allowed me to move amongst them too in 'Last Breath Singing' as I travelled 'this stairway ... lit by the torches of friendly spirits.' Afterwards I whizzed out to the stall run by the Three Counties bookshop and they sat me down with a pen to sign copies of my book, Firebridge to Skyshore: A Northern Lights Journey. It was lovely to hear feedback from enthusiastic audience members. Here's some of their comments:

'Wonderful blend of the science and the poetry - it worked so well!'

'I'd have loved to buy this on a CD - great poems.'

'You should go on the Hurtigruyten ships in Norway - they'd love this show!'

and from the organisers:

'Many attendees have remarked during the week how much they enjoyed the event and how good it was to have something so very different on the menu. Best of luck with your future efforts to illuminate others on the Northern Lights and the mystical side of science!'

At the close of a really enjoyable evening, Darren and I were presented with our own Ledbury 2010 glazed bowls. This is typical of the welcoming bonhomie of the festival. Ledbury Poetry Festival is blessed with volunteers such as Pat and also Jenny who kindly offered us accommodation for the night. Many thanks for all the hospitality.

I am certainly planning a return trip to Ledbury, with time enough to properly experience the enticing programme of big name poets and interesting poetry themes and activities. But first I will have to wake myself up!

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Midsummer Marathon

Notes from a Long Distance Poet

Friday 2nd July 7.49am

A blessedly cool morning as I set off for our first Polar Poets expedition proper. We've had a frantic week of rehearsing and prepping – well, not so much frantic as excited anticipation. Yesterday the powerpoint show of arctic images all went pear-shaped as my computer declared it a 'corrupted file' – not as bad as being stranded in a blizzard with rotten supplies, I guess. But it kept me up till midnight last night putting together a rescue package. That and packing a bag of props: sari, lasso, clipboard, woolly hats, reindeer … And now for the slow train to North Wales.

You can read how this polar venture turned out on my sister blog:


Sunday 4th July

More reflections later on the particular pleasure of collaborating with another performer like Susan Richardson. But right now I'm in the midst of a midsummer marathon of festivals. Friday was the Wrexham Science Festival, a very inspiring place for a poet to be, and next comes the Ledbury Poetry Festival on Wednesday - where I'll be performing alongside an auroral physicist! So a whole different kind of collaboration. Today I'm tweaking the powerpoint show we did at the National Space Centre gig and slipping in a few more poems. Here's hoping the technical stuff is better-behaved today. My tech. support is under a tent at a Bluegrass festival right now ...