A whistle stop post

It never rains eh? I’m back to work after a very extended birthday break and suddenly swimming in a whole heap of work. There’s precious little time for basic living never mind poeting. The frustration is as always how little capacity I have. Even with a split shift arrangement I can only really manage about four hours before my brain turns to mush – and that leave no useful functions for anything else.

Having said that, I desperately want to give a little update on Dust. This weekend marks eight years since we lost my brother. I am avoiding the date, but I know it is sitting there, waiting to poke me. I also feel this is the right date to turn my attention to other projects. There are still a few copies available to buy of course, and I will continue to sell and remind people of it, but the intense marketing is coming to an end. As I’ve said many times, the most effective thing has been people’s social media posts – if anyone feels like giving the book a last shout then that would be fab.

Fundraising for CALM and SOBs

I also wanted to tell you about the charities that we’re supporting. Campaign Against Living Miserably – CALM is a charity that takes decisive action to help prevent suicide. It has a bold style, and offers something a little more direct than other campaigns. This is deliberate I think and seems to fit their brief of offering a space for who need this kind of style to feel safe and able to talk. The site seems designed to appeal to conventional perceptions of masculinity and whilst this jars a little with me, it makes sense. CALM is a way in for people who need to talk. Complexities about gender stereotypes and gender based expectations are certainly part of the problem, but what CALM does is offer an opening for people to talk about their feelings, with a pathway for those to whom talking about feelings doesn’t fit their profile.

They are verbose campaigners and their work draws attention to fact that 125 lives are lost to suicide each week and  75% of  those lives are men. Fathers, sons, friends and brothers. CALM talks in a different way than I do, but their message and methodology is clear and effective.

What does a donation to CALM do?

CALM spends over 80% of it’s money of delivering direct help. Call answering, webchats, community engagement and continual campaigning to create conversations and make positive change. The remainder goes to things that keep the charity running, and to continual fundraising. Answering a call costs £8, so when you buy a copy of Dust, you’re actively helping save someone’s life

Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide

This charity is a personal one. The moments, days after my brother’s death were bewildering – yet I still had to be strong. It’s hard to lose a sibling – suddenly you’re it. The only hope, the only support and whilst only children live with this all their lives, to have the family dynamic shattered, and to be left to gather it back together is , well it’s just awful.

And then we throw suicide into the mix. All the whys, what ifs, how could I…all those things are multiplied and overwhelm. SOBs were there. I only had to email (I loathe talking on the phone) and I got simple, calm replies that made me feel understood, and made me feel less alone. My role changed overnight, and the simple, authentic understanding helped me step up.

SOBs is a gentler sort of place than CALM. It suited my communication style and offers a space for people to learn and understand about grief from suicide. They offer support in various ways including face to face groups, telephone, and email.

Our fundraising

So far we have raised over £650 for both these charities, and this figure will continue to grow, albeit at a slower pace. This money makes a difference – it means phone calls can be answered, emails are responded too, support groups exist. It means powerful campaigns like Project 84 can take place to start conversations and deliver the bald facts about how many people find their place in the world so untenable they genuinely believe the world would be better without them. I want this to change.

To buy Dust, follow the link above, or send me an email kathrynannawrites@gmail.com

To continue to support this work, share this article and post your reviews of Dust on Facebook or Instagram

Autumn sees a return to writing

I had an interesting conversation with a friend this week, asking if writing about trauma is cathartic. My answer was not really. Now this is surprising, because of course it is – the very act of writing means I remove worries, thoughts, feelings from my head and place them on a page. That is a good thing. It can allow perspective, allow for reflection. Journalling is a healthy habit. Why is poetry any different? For me it’s because a poem is almost a living entity. It grows and changes with those who read it, it grows and changes each time I read it. The emotions that gave birth to the writing have not gone – they’ve become real on the page. Producing something wrought from some of the darkest feelings and experiences then reading, re-reading, editing, means revisiting those feelings and experiences time and time again.  And that’s before I even embark on the terror of sending my work out to be judged for quality and possible publication.

Yet still I do it. Still countless people do it. We write and read, agonise over semi-colons and commas, place ourselves into the arena to be pulled apart or raised up high. Why? What drives me? I honestly can’t think of a sensible answer. All I know is that when I write there is some magic that happens somewhere that makes me feel as though I am the very best version of myself. I’d like to say I don’t mind whether work is published or not but that would be a straight lie – external validation is a joy. Would I write if I knew my work would never be published again. Absolutely. Would I write if no one else would read it. I think so – but some of that joy of connection would be lost.

Two new poetry courses

These musings have emerged because I’ve had a stellar writing week. Not one, but two courses on the go and I’ve adored them both. Dawn Chorus writing hour has been a revelation – that liminal space between waking and sleeping allows my brain to flow in such different directions and the simple act of setting aside time to write with others creates a gentle community. Getting up early to write is a habit I dip in and out of, but the difference to both my writing and general well being is such that I’m determined to keep that 5.30 am start and determined to protect an hour for reading and writing.

My second course, The Corn Dolly Speaks has been a journey through myth and legend, not tales of knights and dragons, but the tangible, domestic legends that are so much part of life they pass with scant comment. The poems we’ve read have been beautiful and challenging, and the prompts have set me on research adventures. The work I’ve written has grown from some innate understanding and sense of connection I cannot really name. It’s an affirming way to explore the correlation between past and present, and to explore how these old rituals inform my behaviour and perspective. What makes these courses work so well for me is that we share our work with each other online. I’m not terribly confident speaking as part of a group, so this gentle interaction means I can give and receive feedback in a non-threatening way, and at my own pace. It also means I read some incredible poetry from my talented course mates. I’ve tried a couple of different courses this year, but the work I produce from these courses created and facilitated by Wendy Pratt is far and away the work I feel most pleased with.

It seems that the act of finishing Dust has set me free to write again. In order to create something worthy of publication, and worthy of people’s hard-earned money I had to distance myself from my emotions and look at the work with a professional, critical eye. In the wonder that is hindsight it seems entirely logical, but in the midst of the process I’ve felt quite bewildered at my inability to really engage with writing. I’m very glad to be back.

More ways to buy Dust

Now the initial flurry of family and friends have bought Dust, I’ve placed it on Etsy for general sale. Buying direct from me is still the best option, simply because it means more money for the two charities, but I understand that using something like Etsy is a lot easier. You can also buy your copy from the excellent Poetry Pharmacy or Ironbridge Bookshop.

Your mini reviews have made a huge difference

Thank you to everyone who has taken the time and effort to talk about their response to Dust on Facebook and Instagram. This kind of marketing is worth a thousand posts from me (I guess hearing about something like this from a friend has more impact) and has been the most effective in terms of sales. It also increases my visibility, so when I do post, more folk will see it. Your support is really, really appreciated and the steady rate of sales means we’ve raised over £600 so far.

So that’s my week. Next week’s adventures in poetry will involve is more research into submissions opportunities, plus some time studying The Poetry Writers’ Handbook, which looks like it will answer a lot of my questions about the business side of publication – I have a couple of new pamphlets brewing so the timing is perfect.

Thank you for reading

Kathryn xx

How to write a book

Steven King famously answers this question with “one word after another” . It’s something that’s both simple and hideously complicated, joyful and soul wrenching. This time last week I was glum. Bereft, full of regret at trying, at sending my heart out to the world to be read and responded to.

A wise friend then responded, with simple physiology – perhaps I was in an adrenaline dip, after the push of publication, the rivers of courage it had taken to reach this point. And of course she was right. It meant a lot to read such an intelligent, caring message, and meant a lot to feel heard.

Dust is on another part of its journey today – I’m taken copies to two fabulous bookshops – The Poetry Pharmacy in Bishop’s Castle, and Ironbridge Bookshop down the road in Ironbridge. It’s very exciting and I’m thrilled at the prospect of seeing my books on a real life bookshelf. The good news is that booksellers are kind, friendly people who understand those of us who aren’t quite so peopley. I came away from my visits feeling valued. And I even signed my first book.

As these things so often go, this week has been more positive. So many people have got in touch to describe what my words, and Saffron’s images, have meant to them. I write to connect with others and goodness, this book has connected. I feel less afraid, and less foolish this week. Turns out for me the thing I need to write is a little encouragement, a little positivity sent my way.

I am dipping my toes back in to the world of submissions and gathering my work together in earnest. I was of a mind that I’d written nothing this year (never let it be said I’m over dramatic). I’ve sat this morning with my notebook. So many poems. Some decent. One about a seagull covered in turmeric. One about a macaw in a hat. And that’s just from one course taken at the very start of the year. There have been poems this year. I have just forgotten them.

And of course, this is the reality. The work of poetry takes time. Writing is the easy (!) bit. Redrafting, researching publishers, understanding threads and themes – that’s the tough bit. I have about four hours a week to spend on poetry things, and for the last six months those four hours have been devoted to all things Dust. Which may be why I feel I’ve “done nothing” this year.

As another voice of wisdom said, Dust has been a side quest (and a very worthwhile one), now I’m ready to get back to the main adventure, with a clutch of amulets to strengthen me.

Wish me luck , and thank you

Kathryn

And they’re off…

The first batch of Dust is finally off into the big wide world. I’m excited to hear your feedback. It’s such a magical feeling to package all these – a bit of a pinch me moment.

If you’ve not yet got round to buying a copy of Dust just click the button, or send me an email if you’re not a fan of online spending.

Dust is here!

After a very exciting journey involving van fires, reprints, and the nuances of delivering in an area that’s known for its higgledy piggledy roads a parcel of beautiful books has arrived.

Now the hard work begins – selling. I have very little experience (i.e., none) of marketing a book. I read them, write them, buy them, pile them in a corner full of good intentions…but marketing is another sphere entirely. There’s lots of places to research of course, but  as with most internet things, there’s a hefty number of sites that just want to sell you their guide  “how to sell all your books in five minutes” or “the only five marketing tools you need”. So, what to do?

When I buy a book, I’m buying a part of the person. Which is less creepy than it sounds – I’m buying what they want to say, what they feel the world needs to hear. Now, flipping this to apply to myself doesn’t sit well – modesty, imposter syndrome, all the things we’re taught about pride pile up – but this is what I must do.  And this is probably why people have marketing teams. No matter. It’s time for yet another round of deep breaths, drawing up tall and putting myself on the line.

Starting from early September you can look forward to readings from Dust, details of what we’ve raised so far, mini reviews from my fabulous Crowdfunders and anything else I can think of to generate interest. We’re at a point where all the big expenses have been paid, so bar bookshop commission and postage everything from here on in is adding to our total.

This has been a long journey, and one that I’m kind of glad is reaching an end. I’ve loved working with Saffron – it’s felt like a real collaboration. I’ve been bowled over by the support and interest everyone has shown, and I’ve really appreciated the support shown by so many people. I feel we’ve achieved our goal of creating something beautiful from sadness, and I hope you feel the same.

Copies will be going out to Crowdfunders over the next couple of weeks and will be available in The Poetry Pharmacy and Ironbridge Bookshop towards the end of September. If’ you’d like to buy from me just click the button, and if you don’t fancy buying then every interaction with any social media gubbins will help generate visibility and sales from others.

Thank you, as ever

Kathryn xx

So much news

Where to start. Well the best news of all is that for the first time in about two months I woke up this morning without pain, and without the crushing fatigue that’s been my companion for most of the summer. It’s amazing how much nicer and easier it is to do things without them. I never know how long these patches will last and the trickiest thing is being caught between making the most of feeling less sick, and getting overexcited and doing too much. Wonder which will win?

The big news about Dust

The big news about Dust is that I had my final meeting with Saffron Russell this morning. The big pink button has been pressed on Printed.com and copies of Dust are on their way. I’ll be selling these through my website to begin with, and then through various bookshops at a later date. Remember profits from each sale go to CALM and UKSobs. We’ve already raised around £500, which is more than I ever imagined and it’s great to know we’ll be raising even more with each sale.

Submissions are back!

Over the summer I mentioned to a good friend that I felt I needed to get Dust finished before I could properly move on to other projects. As well as the practicalities of writing, proofing, gathering endorsements and enthusiasm, the deeply emotive nature of this project has left minimum space for other work. I’ve been writing, of course, but have had little appetite for submissions.

Another realisation, and one I feel a slightly stupid about, is that I can submit work to journals and magazines that I later intend to publish in a pamphlet or collection. Up to this point, I’ve been “saving” all those poems…

A new poetry pamphlet

My focus for the rest of this year is drawing together my next pamphlet (although even as I write this I’ve thought of another project I want to start over the summer). I’m looking for courses that will bring a few more pieces to what I have already, as well as making applications for funding , to allow me to engage a mentor, or at least an editor.

Falling back in love with writing

I’ve been of a mind that I haven’t done much this year. Nonsense, of course. Measuring my own work against what others do is foolish and leads to nothing but frustration. I feel joy when I write and joy when my work connects with others – I think this is one of the reasons I gain so much from the various course I do. I also love the mechanics of puzzling over a full stop or spacing, figuring just where to put the line break and whether a comma is needed. It’s like magic. So right this minute I feel pretty happy about where I am with my work. I’ve a bunch of things I want to do – I’m keen to get a regular magazine column again, and to explore how to use my skills with prose in a more productive way, as well as the various poetry ideas that are spinning around my mind. I also want to get to grips with formal poetry…

Which brings me to planning

I love a list. My days are ordered and time is measured. I know what I can achieve and know how to push myself a little further. I’m not so good at working on the big picture – so that Is my very next task. To distil all these ideas and think of how to make them happen. I’m a bit “seat of my pants” with this sort of thing (I think it’s a lack of belief that I can do it) and tend to shy away from putting myself forward. It feels like time to change.

Thank you all, as ever. Do order a copy of Dust if you can, and please share this blog (and any others about the project) as much as you can.

Are we there yet?

July has been a blur of time with friends and family, adventures including a visit to the Norfolk Broads as well as putting the finishing touches to Dust. It’s been a challenging month healthwise, but goodness all the ups and downs and careful planning have been worth it.

The big writing news is that Dust is ready to go. Sample copies have been pored over, final edits made and we’re ready to press the button and order our first batch of copies. It’s exciting and terrifying all at once. As you know, this is a hugely personal project and one that has taken heart and soul as well as a far bit of courage to produce. I’m thrilled with the final result, and I hope you will be too.

Live reading

A happy side quest has come up in the form of my being invited to read some of my work at a local event to support world suicide prevention day. I’m honoured to be invited to be part of this event, and whilst I know it will be nerve-wracking it feels right as a next step for the story of Dust.

Competitions and funding

I’ve avoided competitions this year. My focus has been firmly on fundraising and finalising the pamphlet but this month has brought a couple of opportunities I don’t want to miss. The first is the annual Spelt poetry competition. I love the magazine so much, and whilst I know the calibre of entries means my chances of winning are small, it’s good to feel part of something I respect. The second entry is to something even more daunting – the first ever Ironbridge Poetry Competition. The fact that this is local makes me feel under huge pressure. With most poetry competitions, few people have heard of them, and fewer still are terribly interested – a local event is a little different. Watch this space.

I’ve also made my first foray into funding applications. Like many things this is an area of creative practice that is new to me and one that I’ve shied away from – asking for help rarely sits easy. Nonetheless, the simple fact is that extra financial support will buy not only time to write, but other things like access to education, mentoring and workshops to further improve my skills.

Website upgrade

I’ve made a couple of changes to my website that I hope will make it easier for people to buy my work and to commission bespoke poetry. On my homepage you’ll find three new buttons that you can use to pre-order Dust, buy a copy of Yes to Tigers or simply buy me some writing time. Let me know if they work!

So that’s it for this month – fingers crossed next month will bring news of a firm publication date and news of new projects and exhibitions.

Thank you, as ever,

Kathryn xx

New goals, new leaves, new logo, new resolution

I have a planner. I love the planner. I love making plans. I have not stuck to the plans and my planner has had a stern word with me.

This year has been a floundering year. I’ve pinballed around trying to take care of aging parents, trying to work enough to be able to afford to do all the things I don’t have time to do, trying to reconnect with all the people I haven’t been able to see , trying to carve out a way to actually make money from poetry rather than spending so much energy on copywriting, trying to create and publish Dust, trying, trying,trying,trying …

The result is, of course exhaustion. My body is showing various red flag symptons that it hasn’t shown for a couple of years, pain levels are high, and mental health has taken a huge dive. For a time, during the pandemic, I felt as though I was getting a little better. I realise that I simply wasn’t pushing my body and brain beyond their limits. And what of the planner? The planner has shown me how little progress I’ve made towards my goals, despite being performatively busy. So silly, and will I ever learn? The answer is I have to – if I want to achieve anything, I need to do less. How daft is that?

New goals

My first goal is quality rest. Whilst I kid myself that I take a day of complete rest each week, the reality is that day is spent online, organising bills, doing shopping, looking at things that are incredibly important…I don’t rest at all. Quality rest is my new watchword. It’s boring, I hate it but it’s the only way I can avoid the crushing exhaustion that plagues my days.

I struggle writing this of course, struggle with the thought that people will read this and think “it’s alright for her, lazy cow”. I know most people won’t but even after all these years I struggle to give myself permission to rest. I struggle to allow myself freedom to heal. However foolish it is I still get a kick out of burning the candle at both ends and love the feeling of having worked hard. I can still have that feeling , but only if I take more care of myself.

New writing

The truth is that writing is the most important thing I do.  I spent a couple of hours this morning working with notes on a new course from Wendy Pratt – and honestly it felt like I began to breathe again. The tension has washed from my shoulders, the methodical placing of letters and sound has created a calm that nothing else gives. I am in danger of focusing on the business of poetry, publication, making a living from it, being involved  and so losing the essence of why this matters, why it is so important.

News on Dust

My main focus this year has been Dust and the good news is that we’re very close to going to print. Proofs have been proofed, full stops have been agonised over, illustrations finalised (they are so beautiful) and this labour of love and sorrow is almost at an end. We have created a beautiful thing and I can’t wait to show you.

New logo

I’m hoping to relaunch my bespoke poetry business later this year. I love doing it and hope to expand my buyers from friends an acquaintances. As with everything, marketing is key, and I’ve taken a small first step by commissioning Saffron Russell to create a logo for me. I’m so pleased with it. Small steps.

New leaves

Several in fact. I shall protect my rest time, and protect my writing time. I’ll calm down and stop pushing, running around doing all the things. I’ll spend more time stepping back, reflecting and embracing the calm, quiet, caring nature that allows me to nurture myself and others. Self care, I think they call it. It’s hard to place enough value on myself to do it, but I’ll get there. One day.

Would you like to read three pieces of good news?

Of course you would and it just so happens three good things have happened this week.

First of all, the Poetry for CALM crowdfunder raised £1018 in direct donations and cash contributions. I’m amazed and humbled at people’s generosity, especially in such challenging times. The amount going to CALM and SOBS will continue to grow as copies of Dust go on general sale later in the summer.

Our goal is to have them ready for Raven Studios open days which are part of Shrewsbury Arts trail in July and August – we’ve a fair bit of work to do before then, but fingers crossed we’ll make it. The bursary from Raven Studios was instrumental in helping this pamphlet come into being so it feels right that this is where it begins its journey into the big wide world. I’m so pleased with the look and feel of this little book – Saffron has taken such care to respect the words, and there’s a sense that she genuinely values the project. It’s been a joy to work with her. 

So that’s the first thing. The second thing is that I’ve been asked to lead a couple of poetry workshops. Now obviously my first thought was “I can’t do that” but then I remembered I have over 15 years of experience in training people to be excellent optical assistants, as well as a good few years of being part of poetry workshops. I’m confident I can combine these skills to create a really enriching experience. I’ll be working with subjects that I genuinely love too, and for organisations that I really admire. It’s exciting, and lovely to be asked. 

Finally, I’ve had some great news from one of my copywriting clients. I’ve been asked to take a role in planning and organising content, as well as simply producing it. It’s a great feeling to have someone say “we really love what you’re doing”. If I consider what a convoluted journey I’ve had to carve out this tiny career (I say career, I still only manage a few hours a week but it’s something) I’m amazed. I’ve taken a chance and it’s paid off. I’m thrilled to be able to work in a field that I genuinely love, and I appear to be reasonably good at it too. 

Good news is especially poignant since this week marks the anniversary of my diagnosis with M.E.. It’s been nine years now. Choosing to rediscover my writing , and finding ways to work despite my poor health has been a bright spot in the face of losing all that I knew as normal. I’m delighted to have found these opportunities, but not a day goes by that I don’t wish I was well, so I could do as much as I’d like to.

Today is about good news though and the truth I have discovered is that there is always hope, small as it may seem.

Thank you for reading, as ever. 

Kathryn xx

The story of Dust – part three

I can’t believe this project has been running for less than three weeks. The support from everyone is wonderful on so many levels. Targets have been exceeded, messages have bolstered fragile esteem and love has strengthened my resolve to keep going, even in the tough early stages.

I’ve learned to be bold, to ask even when it feels far too cheeky. I’ve learned how many people expereince challenges with their own mental health, how fearful so many of us are that we may reach the tipping point. I’ve leaned how many people have lost someone. I’ve learned that despite all of this there is always hope. There has to be.

Progress is happening in other areas too. I’ve had a beautiful selection of cover ideas from Saffron Russell.

When Saffron sent the proofs, her words “see which ones call to you” let me know my work was in safe hands. It’s a joy to work with someone who really seems to care about my words and want to bring them to life.

Of the six ideas, this is the one that called loudest. To me it speaks of separation, but not total absence. This mirrors my experience of grief, and mirrors the way I still feel that drift towards disbelief, and still feel a connection.

It’s a gentle cover too. This is a harsh subject, but whilst grief is hard and horrible it is born from love. Reading back through these poems, that almost seem as though they were written by someone else, that love is what comes through.

It’s an odd feeling if I’m honest, being happy to have made this book. Because, of course, I’d rather not have had to write these poems. I’d rather he was living a deeply ordinary life around the corner, or a deeply extraordinary life in herding yaks in Outer Mongolia. Or something in between. But none of these things are true, or ever will be and so I have written, and try to make something good from something terrible. I hope.

Thankyou, as ever.

To find out more about Poetry for Calm, and to pre-order Dust as well as exclusive gifts by Saffron Russell head to my Crowdfunder Page