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

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

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.

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

I have a bunch of poems to publish

I feel a bt proud of myself. Those of  you who spotted last week’s blog will know I felt pretty hopeless about the whole poetry business and the malarky of “getting somewhere”. Yet writing poetry is what is love and writing poetry is how I function at my best. I have given myself time this week to actually look at the work I’ve written over the last couple of years. I’ve collected work that fits three interlocking themes. I can see where my strongest work lies and I can see the points where my voice is most powerful.

What will I do to get these poems published?

I have a framework. I know I need to work on my titles (thankyou Wendy Pratt!) I know I need to polish and refine my punctuation, and I know the areas that I want to explore more to build a more substantial body of work. Above all, I know that I can do this. I know that I want to do this and goodness I hope that I can carry on and reach the next goal.

Over the next month or so, in between everything else of course, I will refine and polish as well as researching and approaching potential publishers. I also want to do some recorded readings to hone my style, so watch this space for the odd video clip.

I still have my first pamphlet in circulation too, and I realise I was waiting to hear about that before I began work on anything else. The old need for validation I suppose. I’ve realised I don’t have to do this. I also recently learned that pamphlets and collections do not have to be made up of all new work. The poems I’ve had published in journals and anthologies can be included. What a revelation.

Thanks for sticking with me xx

Permission to be a poet

Self-belief is both nectar and poison.  Too much – I risk being seen as arrogant, pushy or proud, too little and I remain shadow side, whispering about the things I like to do and *might* be good at. Self-belief is not for people like me- female, working class background, chronic illness. Self-belief slips through my fingers at every turn.

And yet it must be there. There must be something that wanders in to my mind and tells me that I have something to say, and people to hear it. A poetry tutor saying “You’ve a voice that needs to be heard” took my breath away. I mean, everyone needs to be heard, but I think this was meant in a positive and particular way.

Yet still I wrestle with myself – to grow courage to join in with the group, to speak in class, to read what I’ve written during an exercise. Yet I feel wonderful once I’ve done it, once my breathing has calmed, my heart has slowed. Once I learn to quiet the voices that mutter of the fool I have made.

Reinvigorate your writing

My third workshop with Nine Arches was led by Ian Humphreys. Ian’s book Zebra was one of the first books of  modern poetry I read from cover to cover, and one of the first that showed me that poetry does not have to be a puzzle. The concept that poetry must be oblique, must be something to “get” is one I was taught, and one that leaves many people thinking poetry is not for them. Popular poets are derided and sniffed at, well-known poets are seen as somehow letting the side down. The idea that poetry is not for everyone is perpetuated.

Back to the workshop. Yesterday’s session was all about writing poetry in a direct manner. Reading for the session included work form Andrea Cohen, Collette Bryce, Hannah Lowe, and a stomach twisting performance piece by Lily Myers. It is the kind of work I love to read, and the kind of work that I seem to write.

Giving my self permission

I’ve long worried that I’m not “poetic” enough. I use the all the tools, love to play with rhythm, repetition, white space. I love the way imagery insinuates itself into my work without my really knowing and I love that these tools work to create a connection with other people. Reading and hearing work from people that write in a way that is direct, that is pointed, makes me feel there is a place for my less than pretty style.

Another point made by Ian was to embrace the power of the new – to push out of what makes us comfortable. Again, this requires confidence but what I love about taking part in a workshop is the sense of immediacy. There is little time to mither and fret – the focus is firmly on writing and embracing the now for that workshop moment the words come and knit themselves together – and later I will remove the fluff.  Above all, the time spent yesterday helped me feel there is a place for my writing, and a reason to keep trying. That’s got to be a good thing.

Do something that scares you every day

This phrase attributed to the remarkable Eleanor Roosevelt is perhaps a little overused. It’s has become the preserve of a particular type of leadership conference, and a particular type of motivational sign – both of which are rather irritating. What of the phrase itself though? Is this useful practice? Does scaring myself benefit me?

I think it does. One of the bonuses of living with anxiety, and being the queen of catastrophising means that pretty much everything scares me – some days it takes all my courage to take out the bins. I’m also a big believer that fear exists to protect us, and that there are some things that are do not need to be done (bungee jumpers I’m looking at you). I’ve done scary things that I will never do again, like being on the back of a moped in Saigon, and others that have given me courage to repeat the experience, like being brave enough to read my column at the launch of issue two of Spelt magazine, or simply to submit my work for publication.

Camera complete with emotional support Pukeko

With this in mind, I’m about to embark on a new venture – I’m hoping to record a collection of poetry readings. It’s something that feels essential if I want to help my work reach a wider audience. It also scares the living daylights out of me. Nonetheless, I have a little camera, I’ve figured out the software and I’m almost ready to roll . My first recording will be on Sunday morning, and I hope to upload shortly afterwards so watch this space!

The power of silence

Sleep often eludes me, and the small hours can see me committing that much turned to sin of scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, to distract my mind from wakeful thoughts. This ill-advised activity usually results in the purchase of a porcelain dragon, or a bargain set of food parasols, peppered with ever increasing despair. Occasionally though, this endless search for distraction reveals something good. Something worth being awake for at the wrong end (or indeed beginning) of the day.

This extract from Michaela Coel’s speech at the Emmys needs no elucidation. I recognise myself, as I suspect many others do. This addiction to visibility, this search for validation is as toxic as any failed relationship. Perhaps it is a failed relationship – a failure of a relationship with social media, with the internet with the overwhelming slew of ways to publicise, monetise, magnify our work.

My thoughts now turn to “who am I to even think like this”. I have precious little visibility, precious little work in the world – perhaps I’m just making up excuses for my lack of presence? Yet the thing is, the search for visibility is the very reason for this lack of presence. We are all publicists now, all addicted to the rush of dopamine from seeing those “likes” creep up, all hoping that we will make it, somehow, without really knowing what “it” is.

This takes time – keeping up the social media posts, wondering why this one was liked and that one wasn’t – I live in a world where even my pets or garden could monetised if I only have the time and savvy to make it happen.

Not only does this need for visibility take time from the act of creating, it seeps into the moments I carve out to write – the ever present wonder of how this poem or tale could be marketed, how I could work it into a blog post.

The concept of celebrity is not new, but it’s importance is somehow skewed. For small time poets, or painters or singers the pure act of creating is no longer enough. We need to be seen, to be liked, to be followed and fêted worldwide. Suddenly, the concept of being brave enough to “disappear…and see what comes to you in the silence” seems like the most freedom I could possibly choose.

The obvious thing is to just step away from social media. It’s not so easy though, especially for those like me who have physical or mental conditions that make real life interaction a challenge. The praise and primping of social media brings value, even companionship – but it also brings endless noise, endless routes to comparison, endless ways to chalk up faults and failures.

Nonetheless I’m going to try. I haven’t enjoyed writing this year – I’ve allowed myself to confuse visibility with validity and my focus has shifted to somewhere that feels suffocating. I can feel my brain wanting to twist back to the words, to bathe in them, love them, let them home. I want to feel that prickle of excitement, that moment of magic that comes when heart and head meet. And so, this dark end of the year will be different, it will be devoted to writing – to seeing what comes to me in the silence.