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, 26 March 2014

Adventures, Authors & Workshops

There's been a lot of discussion about the merits of HE Creative Writing courses recently but I want to raise a cheer for WORKSHOPS. I have much enjoyed both leading and participating in such events and they have been vital to my development as a writer. With this in mind, my writers' group, LeicesterWriters' Club, run workshops several times a year for members. We have just had one such Day Out and I came away feeling happily jiggered, with all my writing muscles toned and ready for the long-distance running that is a writing career. In a packed weekend, we covered how to assemble and pitch poetry collections, generate narratives from random prompts, and manipulate viewpoint. My own offering was a session on writing reviews as I've been doing some for this blog.

with thanks to Lindsay Waller-Wilkinson

Leading a workshop is always a good way to crystallise your own understanding of a genre or technique. A writer never stops learning, especially when teaching. Back in October 2013, I ran a workshop for adults on Voicing Your Writing as part of the Everybody'sReading literature festival. Participants ranged from newbie writers to published authors but all suffered from 'public-speaking' nerves. You never know what will click most with individuals or different groups but we did a bit of everything. Over a flapjack-fuelled hour, we assembled body-words, hummed songs, warmed-up throats & mouths, practised abdominal breathing and throwing our voices and explored the mysteries of winning over an audience. The latter proved to be the most appreciated element for my workshopees. One writer, a seasoned ex-teacher, said she always expected an audience to throw things at her. Happily, she is now immersed in a popular library speaking tour promoting her first novel. Another emerging poet has gained the courage to run the gamut of Leicester's lively open-mic scene since the workshop. My tip was simple - 'remember audiences are always your best friend because they want you to enjoy entertaining them.'

With children, I find the special pleasure is sharing my enthusiasm for storytelling in whatever form. Some years back, I was invited to perform my Northern Lights poetry to an assemblyhall full of 7-9 year olds. Since my poetry is for adults and quite complex, I wasn't sure how this would work. But they seemed genuinely excited and fully engaged with the performance. After a lively interactive session of Arctic warm-ups, reindeer quizzes and football chants, I then announced a workshop on story-writing. 'Oh noooo - not stories!' groaned a group of boys which quite shocked me. Of course, in practice, it wasn't stories they hated but writing which seemed the Devil's Work to them. With some skilled teacher guidance however, they came up with wonderful narratives in response to the question - 'Where does your flying reindeer take you?' To a World Cup Final on Mars - which is made of chocolate apparently. With an abundance of imagination and curiosity, these Reluctant Writers showed they wanted adventures not endless assessment ... but that's another story.

I also want these kids to feel that creative writing or storytelling is not the exclusive domain of adults, specialists or author-geniuses. The craft of narrative or verse can be taught. For myself, there's no question that attending writing classes have sharpened my techniques and stretched the flexibility of my writing voice. I love the throw-away, no-pressure, playfulness of workshops just as much as the Holmfield kids did. Over the years, I have learned how to cast off poetry conceptions with John Gallas, grasp poetry as show-not-tell-business with Liz Lochead, understand the function of line-breaks with Mimi Khalvati, plumb the power of taboos with John Siddique, sense out the musicality of poetry with Jean Binta Breeze and explore the nature of our creativity with Mario Petrucci. Each of these experienced practitioners has enriched my writing practice and I look forward to many more such encounters in the special environment that is the workshop.

Friday, 21 March 2014

Hyper Texts & Applique Astronauts

As I prepare for a weekend of workshops with Leicester Writers' Club, I'm still enjoying the harvest from last Saturday's publishing fair - States of Independence. This wonderful event is organised very year by the team at DMU's Creative Writing Department and is a highlight in the packed cultural calendar of Leicester and the East Midlands. Indeed the dozens of indie publishers came from far and wide and the rooms of the Clephan Building were thrumming with free workshops, book launches, panel discussions and readings. That's if you could tear youself away from corridors lined with bookstalls. The one laden with luscious-looking poetry chapbooks was especially seductive - how often do you get to browse such a range of contemporary poets and chat to the editors? And while you were burning the plastic and amassing a rucksack of new purchases, you were also greeting new and old writer friends because everybody was there ...

I particularly enjoyed book launches by Margaret Penfold - for her marvellous novel Patsy set in the British Mandate of Palestine - and Caroline Cook - for her chapbook Primer, an exquisitely packaged volume of poetry by Soundswrite Press.  A panel discussion on Digital Poetry was quite mind-blowing on new possibilities for poetry as an art form blended with e-technology. Questions like: can the hyper-text become the text? do we need a fixed entry/exit point into a poem? can the text play simultaneously with other aural/visual/ tactile media? is the 'reader' the 'performer' of the text in the interactive world of e-communication? I have no idea of the answers to these questions. But just as the printing press transformed our approaches to narrative and invented the novel - so I do think we will reach a point where we stop just 'loading up' poetry texts onto the computer and pretending it's a page - and begin to create in new ways that the screen ennables.

And as for the tottering pile of new books I brought back, the first I reached for was an Oystercatcher Press chapbook by Lucy Sheerman: Rarefied (falling without landing). I was inevitably drawn in by the beautiful image of an astronaut who seems to have been stitched out of applique. It turns out to be inspired by a documentary about the Apollo wives, who were not only trapped in a media circus throughout the Apollo years but who subseqently suffered a spiralling rate of divorce. I remember watching that progamme and thinking 'someone will write poems about those wives.' The dozen poems in this sequence are haunting, lyrical, witty, sad, mysterious and - spaced out. Distances open between their ten lines. Separation ruptures. Loss leaks out. I especially liked her referencing of the myth of a spellbound Theseus abandoning Ariadne on an island after their love- affair:

'... she finds him gone again.
... She just looks upon the moon and the stars,
gifts he gave to the dark and empty skies.
Incongruous as rain in the desert.'

I am sure I will be returning to this chapbook, even as my own space obsession grows. And my reading will be deepened by this interview with the poet on her experience of writing it.