Three great things that have happened this week

Having an illness like M.E. creates many unexpected twists* and forces change. Losing social life, the security of regular work, the simple convenience of popping to the supermarket to get a few bits for tea creates a sense of disorientation and a whisper of fear.

These are things I’ve spent the last seven years adjusting to and things that are now “normal”, and perhaps not unexpected.

What I didn’t expect was that having an illness like M.E. would create opportunities. I certainly didn’t expect those opportunities to be quite so close to being what I’ve always dreamt of.

Columnist for Spelt Magazine

Opportunity number one is being part of Spelt Magazine.This morning I had my first meeting with editor Wendy Pratt and I’m just fizzing with excitement.

Spelt sets out to do something different – it seeks to capture  the brilliance of the natural world, but also the reality of living in a rural environment. From our chat this morning it’s clear this is going to be a magazine that amplifies the voice of those who don’t feel part of the edgy urban scene, but certainly don’t identify with the cosy lifestyle version of the countryside presented by other magazines. It’s something that excites me, something that I think is valuable, and somewhere that I think I fit – which is a wonderful thing to be able to say.

I’m not going to say too much about the column, other than I’m hoping to create something uplifting that brings a smile on gloomy days and gives a window into tiny joys.  

I’m so excited about this new role – I’m even using my beloved Ciak notebook. Makes a change from recycling envelopes.

Bursary from Raven Studios

My second opportunity comes in the form of a bursary courtesy of Raven Studios in Shrewsbury. Raven Studios is an incredible organisation that offers creative space and support to all manner of artists. My bursary is essentially buying me time to write – as you know M.E. means my physical and mental resources are limited and often writing to pay the bills takes precedent over creative work. My goal is to give around the 5 hours a week to developing poetry for a pamphlet that explores mental and physical health – it’s still in an embryonic stage, but I’m excited to have a new project to work on, and to have support from such a vibrant group of artists.

Learning how to be a better poet

You may remember I had to curtail my formal study with OCA – for many reasons it just wasn’t working, plus the fees proved to be overwhelming. What I have discovered is the wealth of courses available to help me develop as a writer. These range from simple prompt-a-day courses (I say simple – they’ve been the single best thing I’ve done), to more involved courses like those run by the York Centre for Life Long Learning or Poetry School. Thanks to a gift from Santa, I’ve been able to enrol on three courses this year, one looking at women writers, exploring body and illness and one looking at how to put together a themed collection. The last two are particularly exciting given my new project with Raven Studios.

So, here ends the post. It’s a grim month after a grim year, and the day to day is hard. I miss all the things! Despite the many lacks, I’m so excited about what the next few months will bring. More than anything I realise how much I’ve learnt since my diagnosis in 2013.

As ever, thanks for reading



*my less than accurate tying created the phrase “M.E. creates many unexpected twits.” I’m not entirely sure that was a typo.


Bees and bursaries

Tiny hiatus this week – my course with Wendy Pratt has finished, and I’ve a small break before my next course with Poetry School starts. I’m so grateful to be able to do these – funds aren’t abundant, and poetry is definitely a luxury, but both Wendy and the Poetry School offer discounted courses that mean I can take part in something even though getting out is tricky. I’m good at self-study, but there’s nothing quite as fab as getting feedback from other people and being able to read what other people are producing. I can’t recommend Approaching your writing with a beginner’s mind enough – it’s been a great start to my writing year.

I had applied for a bursary to do my dream course at Arvon, sadly I didn’t get it (there was one bursary and many applicants), but I’m still glad I applied. The hum of disappointment is never far away it seems – just minutes before I got the news, I’d come out of a meeting where three poems have been accepted for something fab and exciting that’s happening later this year. It’s hard to keep up with the sudden changes of emotion to be honest.  I’ve set myself up for another barrage of bad news by sending out a new set of submissions today too, which means I’ll spend the next few days refreshing my inbox, before getting a rejection in about six months’ time.

All the business stuff is done for a week or two though. I’ve snuck a day from writing about cleaning and car grilles to grab some time for going through my notes from Approaching your writing with a beginner’s mind, and frantically trying to finish The Ode Less Travelled. I’m looking closely at form at the moment, and I love the puzzle and challenge of matching structure with meaning.  In the interests of efficiency, and even fun, I might experiment by trying to structure some of fledgling poems. Anyone for a villanelle about a pyjama party?

I’m finishing my week by going to a real live workshop. It’s free, it’s just for a couple of hours, and it’s in  the local library which somehow feels less intimidating – I don’t feel like there will be loads of “proper” poets there. My first ever workshop. I’m scared, but so excited. I’ll report back next week.

In the meantime, here’s a poem that’s far too silly to submit anywhere, but it makes me giggle.

Bee Poem

First bee rings the bell of my window,

two notes to say he’s arrived.

I shout about rain,

he says that’s a pain,

shows me his furry behind

Cut up your words

My Poetry School course this term is Ancient Tongues and Hybrid Texts. I’m revisiting my love of Old English and exploring how I can manipulate and combine ancient and modern words to create ones. I’m fascinated by how our minds make meaning,by imprting and amalgamating despite the apparent disparity between the texts. So far, I’ve written a poem about a man trapped on an island, a spell to be used when applying make-up and I’m in the middle of a piece about body dysmorphia and the lies we are told about what a perfect body really is (hint- you just need one that works)

For this piece we’re exploring the idea of Meddle English – a phrase used by Caroline Bagvall as the title of her book – and how modern English is a construct of French, Latin and Anglo-Saxon. From this comes the application of the cut-up technique (pioneered by the Oulipans and made famous by David Bowie). Our assignment was to take an article, cut out and cut up various words. The results are fascinating. Having my feelings about the article in mind made it easy to create words that I felt would work well in my final piece, and again, the import of meaning happened naturally, highlighting the fact that it’s sound and shape that carry meaning rather than specific letters. None of this is new of course, but it’s been good to experiment for myself.

I’m enjoying learning about a sort of sideways technique. My last two courses were very much around form and rhythm, and I’ve benefited hugely from them, but moving sideways into a new way of looking at language has reinvigorated my creativity. It’s exciting to create something that is new – new to me at any rate.

I’m in that same round of submitting and waiting, and after a flying start to the year I’m in a bit of a doldrum, with all the usual doubts about validity creeping in. I’ve found this course has brought the enjoyment back and moved me out of my sad fug of feeling useless. I’m not alone, many writers I admire have the same experience. The perennial downside of social media is just as prevalent in the writing world as anywhere else. Some days it seems like everyone in the world is winning a prize or having something published, then someone pops up feeling exaclty as rubbish as me, and with the same fears. Very often they’re “proper” writers who I read, admire and follow. I have to remind myself that the snapshots of life on social media are far removed from reality.

Here’s to cutting up words.

We’re making progress

Coo, I can’t believe it’s nearly a month since I last posted. I’ve had a decent sized paid project for most of the month, which has been enjoyable, plus a couple of smaller ones that have been a little odd; writing umpteen business descriptions for funeral companies is a somewhat challenging. I still enjoy it though, and like the fact that I’m supporting independent businesses, and maybe doing a tiny bit to make a horrible time easier for people. Words are important, however insignificant they initially seem.

Creative work has been productive too. I adore my new poetry school course. I’ve learnt to write in trimester, spondee, trochee and everyone’s favourite, iambic pentameter. I’ve also learnt that it’s spectacularly difficult to do well, and dangerously easy to do badly. It almost feels like writing music (I imagine), which makes absolute sense given the name of the course. I am learning so much, and love the discipline of writing in structured meter.

My fortnightly feedback course is better too; I’ve revisited a selection of work that I write on my bed days, all based on the view from my window. They’re not as dull as they sound, I promise. The work has had good feedback, and I’ve had some great input for improvements too. I almost feel as though I’m gathering a themed collection, which is what I was missing last year.

Getting a bit organised and understanding how to find a home for my work has been tricky, but very much worth doing.
It’s hard to accept the limitations of my energy sometimes (all the time) but I am getting better at realising that if I stop when my body is telling me to – before my brain physically hurts- I will be more productive in the long run. Not ideal for an inherently impatient character like myself…but essential if I’m going to achieve my goals.

I have publication news too; three more pieces have been accepted for inclusion in various online and printed lit mags. This is marvellous of course, but my goodness it takes a while for them to appear. I am learning patience is an intrinsic part of this, and quite often dates will be delayed or moved. I am learning to be more chilled. Honest.

Something I’m often asked is if I get paid for the work I have published. The answer is it varies. At this stage, I’m very much an unknown, and very much finding my way in a bewildering market. Bigger presses pay a small amount, but they attract the big names too- so competition is stronger. Smaller outfits still attract what I refer to as “proper” poets, ones with books and pamphlets published by fab indie presses and sold out slots at literary festivals, but they cannot afford to pay, until they start making money themselves. The reality is that any money is made from speaking, teaching, community projects and residencies, but of course to do these, one has to have a track record of publication, and be a poet who people respect and want to hear more from.

At this early stage I am building up a reputation and gaining a presence and identity for my work. It’s especially challenging to do this within the confines of M.E. I can’t nip off to one of the countless poetry festivals or offer to work alongside poets who work in local schools and community groups. I never say never, though, and for now the online poetry community is a wonderfully supportive and inspiring place to work, even if the accolades are slightly quieter.

Rest assured, as soon (probably to the minute) as my work is available on any platform I shall be relentlessly tweeting, instagramming and facebooking the links so there’s no chance of missing them (I know you were worried).

Thanks as ever for reading. One of the best ways you can support me – until such point as I have dozens of books to make you buy – is to repost, retweet, sign up and comment on everything you see. It makes social media think I’m popular,which means it’ll show folk my posts.

Happy vibes to you all xx

Slow and occasionally steady…

January is over half-way thorough and I feel as though I’ve done nothing, mainly because this last week has been an enforced bed week. These weeks are incredibly dull and always a little worrying. The thought is always at the back of my mind as to whether this push will be the push to far, the one that tips me into never being able to push again. Balance has never been natural to me, and it’s unlikely it ever will. I’m hopeful that my current pattern can sustain me. I’m still hopeful it might go the other way, and that one day I won’t crash. One day.

What of writing though ? I have had an enjoyable copywriting project, based on travel which I always love. The only problem is it makes me want to go to the places I’m writing about; some of them anyway. I’m working on my skills in structured poetry, delving into the world of sonnets and sestinas, which I find fascinating, like completing a jigsaw with words.

I’m also preparing for my next two Poetry School courses, one which is purely feedback, so it’s a chance to untangle some of my work that I’ve been wrestling with for a while; poems that I think have something, but I can’t quite make them work. I’m not precious about my writing and will happily abandon work that is overblown or simply terrible, but there are some pieces that just need a fresh viewpoint. Something as simple as altering a linebreak can make all the difference.

My second course is all about crafting musical poetry. I’m so excited by this one, I’ll be looking at sound,pacing and tempo which I hope will mean I create pieces that are truly ear-pleasing. One of the downsides of working alone is that I rarely read my poetry to others, so I don’t get feedback on how it sounds. I’m hoping this course will help my understanding, and perhaps give me confidence to begin to read in public. Not randomly, you understand, I shan’t start declaiming poetry in my local. Not for a while, anyway.

So, little has happened in January, other than a little physical and mental recovery, but I am hopeful that my work over the next couple of weeks will begin to bear fruit.

Thankyou for reading, please follow, and if you’ve found this through my Facebook page, please like,share and comment so that others will see it.

Time to wrestle with a sestina I think.

Tiny specks of joy

This has been a decent week. I’ve spent a bit of time with friends, and found myself feeling safe and happy with them. This is an unusual occurrence. It’s quite simply about being able to be honest and say how things are (without fear it’ll come back to bite me). People I can do this with are rare and cherished.

Now, what has this to do with writing  ? Or indeed M.E. ? Quite simply it’s about energy levels. Being on guard in case I say the wrong thing takes a great deal of my resources. Working hard to say the right thing takes a few more, and dealing with the fallout of rigorous assessment finishes them up.  It’s not a happy outcome and leaves little room for anything else. By contrast, being with people who gently care and listen rather than judge , is an uplifting and affirming experience. I spend less time ruminating, which means more time for other things, like writing.

I’ve moved on to my second assignment for the Poetry School. I’m enjoying the course a great deal. It’s a challenging theme, but the process of writing and feeding back works well,and helps me develop courage as well as writerly skills. Go to Poems (work in progress) to read more. 
 Your feedback and comments are very welcome.


A quiet week in many ways. But a positive one. The sun is shining, and my dear cat is still impossibly fluffy. img_20170329_112323216

New course with The Poetry School (includes actual poems*).

I’m doing a couple of courses with The Poetry School this autumn (to keep me going while I save for the next part of my degree) and I thought I’d invite you to join in with reading my work and feeding back.

I’ve always been irritated by having so little actual work on here (no point in a writing blog without writing after all), but anything I think is decent has to be “unpublished” to make it eligible for submission and competitions. My work with the Poetry School is very much first draft stuff, but writing is a lonely old business, and I’d love a bit of feedback.

For poems in progress click here

for short fiction click here


Please share this much as you can, especially if you’ve come here from Facebook/Twitter. The more you share, the more people read,so I’ll get lots of interaction and feedback (slightly terrified,but hey).

*only one poem at the moment. More soon I hope.