Monday, 16 August 2021

Books that shaped me as a writer


 

It would be nigh on impossible or would take weeks and a lot of deep thinking and memory trawling to list all the books that have shaped me or had a direct or indirect influence on my writing. I have, however, been reflecting recently on books I read as a child and a young adult and I will try and cover at least some of them here. 

Let’s get this straight. I come from a working-class family. We lived in a two-up-two down council house on an estate in a rural Norfolk town which was known for being a ‘London Overspill’ town. We were London overspill. Neither of my parents had degrees. My mum left secondary modern at 15 with no qualifications. My dad fared a little better and went to technical college where he trained as an engineering draftsman. My parents were young when they had me – 21 and 20 respectively. One thing my parents did have though was a love for books and music. My mum was a member of various book clubs and throughout my early childhood we had a fortnightly family pilgrimage to the local library – a tradition I kept up through my teens and well into adulthood. I firmly believe that libraries are essential, a necessity. Without the library I would have been lost. I read everything I could get my hands on – well except romance, I was never a fan of Mills and Boon. 

Let’s start at the beginning. The first books I remember were Doctor Seuss and the other books in the American ‘I can read it myself’ series. I have no idea where those books came from – perhaps my mum got them from a book club. I learnt to read with them before I went to school and I can see now that the surrealness and sense of loneliness and unfairness of some of the characters in the stories experience has certainly pervaded my own writing, and, perhaps, my view of the world. The Cat in the Hat books are the obvious ones but the books I remember most were: One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish; Green Eggs and Ham; Are You My Mother?; The King, the Mice and the Cheese; and The Diggingest Dog. I will never forget the thing in a giant bottle in the park in the dark or the little bird standing on top of a giant digger asking ‘Are you my mother?’. I am sure learning to read with these books instilled a love of reading that I would have never have got from Peter and Jane. 

There may have been other books from this time but if so, I have no memory of them. The next book I really remember with any clarity is The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton. I was a massive Blyton fan as a child often asking for her books for Christmas and birthday presents and also buying them in the second-hand bookshop on our rare visits to the nearest city. My love affair with her began with The Enchanted Wood. I must have been five or six and it is the first time I can remember a book making me want to write something myself. That book was a revelation to me as a child. I loved all the fantasy elements but also that it was rooted in the kind of everyday world I could relate to. I lived in a poor family. We had moved from the city and lived opposite a wood. I longed to find my own Faraway Tree and escape from my mundane existence to other exciting lands – I think it was my first sense that you could use imagination and reading/writing as an escape route from the everyday dysfunction of your family. Other Blyton books I loved were The Naughtiest Girl in the School series – what child from a noisy argumentative family doesn’t fantasise about escape to a boarding school; the Adventure series (Castle of Adventure, Sea of Adventure etc) – I wanted to be Barney, the boy who had no family and hitchhiked around the country with his pet monkey; and the Famous Five books. I did read the Secret Seven series but found them a bit tame and too Just Williamish. 

Fantasy and fairytale played a big part in my childhood reading habits. My mum had an old battered copy of Perrault’s Fairy Tales (illustrated by Edmond Du Lac) that I was obsessed with. I used to nag my mum to read me ‘Bluebeard’ over and over, thrilling at the point when it is unclear whether the brothers will be in time to save poor nosey Fatima. I used to regularly get massive books of fairy tales from the library – The Red Fairy Book, The Yellow Fairy Book, The Green Fairy book and so on. My mum read to me a lot – my sister and brother weren’t really interested. She read me The Hobbit, which I loved and she read me The Lord of the Rings – twice. It was enthralling and terrifying. She also read me some more adult books – The Thirty-Nine Steps, Jamaica Inn, the Boney books by Arthur Upfield, Day of the Triffids, Oliver Twist. I kept this tradition with my own son – though I have to confess I only read him Lord of the Rings once! 

We had the odd teacher at school who read to us too. One year I had a particularly literary teacher who read us Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Borrowers, as well as some books that TV series had been based on - Heartsease by Peter Dickinson (The Changes) and The Diddikoi by Rumer Godden (Kizzy). Some of my relatives bought me books as presents too – James and the Giant Peach, Edward Lear’s The Quangle Wangle Quee, Irish Fairytales and - quite randomly a book about Muhammad and one about Alfred the Great. My sister had a ton of Ladybird books too. The school also had a book club and occasionally I was allowed to buy a book from there – the most memorable of these was Stig of the Dump. 

As a teen I was still reading avidly. I read most of the adult books in the house – John Wyndham, Dennis Wheatley, H.G. Wells, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I had also graduated to the adult library and was thrilled by the likes of Sax Rohmer and the Doctor Syn books by Russell Thorndike. The high school library was a little tamer in comparison but I borrowed religiously none the less – though the only book I remember borrowing from there is a book called Pennington’s Seventeenth Summer – about a troubled teen. I also bought books from the secondhand book stall on the market – typically I wanted to read books my parents wouldn’t approve of and I read most of a (terrible but thrilling) series of novels about Hell’s Angels published by New English Library. They published a series about skinheads too but I was anti-racist and left wing even as a teen so I avoided them. 

By my teen’s I had developed a love affair with poetry and was writing some terrible poetry in the back of my English book. I had three poetry collections as a child (and still have all of them): Hilda Boswell’s Treasury of Poetry, The Oxford Book of Children’s Verse and my favourite Louis Untermeyer’s Golden Treasury of Poetry, which I read over and over – my favourite poem being the haunting ‘Highwayman’ by Alfred Noyes. My mum also had The Oxford Book of Poetry which I dipped into regularly – my preference being for the narrative poems of Tennyson like ‘The Lady of Shallot’. She also had a book of Bob Dylan’s song lyrics and drawings and a collection of John Betjeman’s poems. School did me no favours where poetry was concerned – the only poems I remember studying were John Masefield’s ‘Cargoes’ and a poem about ducks that I was made to learn as a punishment. 

I left home at sixteen and went to live in a commune but I continued my love affair with the library, finally graduating onto modern short stories and American novels – Jane Anne Phillips, Louise Erdrich and Ellen Gilchrist were great favourites in my early 20s and it was at this time that I started seriously writing short stories. At the commune there was a massive library with a really eclectic collection of books. I read about Manson’s family, The Grateful Dead, and Drop City – a commune in America in the sixties. I also read Dickens, Hardy, Lawrence, Laurie Lee, Carlos Casteneda, Joan Collins, Colleen McCullough, William Burroughs, Angie Bowie, Angela Carter and Richard Brautigan. 

I am not sure that there is a point to this other than it being a loose collection of my reading up until my early twenties – and I am already aware that there are things I missed out. Peter Puffer’s Fun Book for instance (do look it up – it was definitely illustrated by someone who has done drugs) or a book that I took out repeatedly from the library as a child that I can’t remember the name of – about two children who find a disused station. I was also obsessed with Roald Dahl’s The Magic Finger – where a hunting family wake up to find they have duck wings and the ducks have arms and start shooting them. A novel called Princess Anne that I bought at the guide jumble sale and from which I learned what lumbago was. I also bought a copy of Gulliver’s Travels at the same jumble sale and I did try and read it umpteen times as a child and a teen but never got very far. 

I suppose my conclusion is that I was drawn to books where there was another world waiting beyond this one or where things were not as they seemed. Magical realism I suppose. I was also drawn to bleak stories and gritty realism. My favourite Hardy novels is Tess which has to be one of the most depressing novels ever written – and yet there is something utterly compelling about it. Perhaps that Hardy wrote non judgementally about the real lives of the working classes and his descriptions of a British countryside we will never see again are sublime. I think that all these passions and preoccupations are reflected in my own writing. I love the surreal. People transformed into animals or inanimate objects, metaphors, fairytale-ish scenarios, the lure and threat of the woods.

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

Poetry Competitions - some hints and tips

As a freelancer and believer in the written word I have many hats - some I wear for money and some I wear for the simple love of the hat. Two of these hats involve poetry competitions - one I sift for (for money), the other I print all the poems for and send them to the judge (for love). I have been donning these hats for several years and am frustrated by how many people shoot themselves in the foot when entering poetry competitions. 

I thought it might be helpful to list some dos and don'ts. I am not an expert. Like you I enter many competitions and don't get anywhere. I have won a couple of competitions and both times I thought the poems unlikely to win. This list is by no means exhaustive.

1) Difficult and emotive content

It is painful reading poetry competition entries - not because the entries are bad (although inevitably some are) but because people are baring their souls and telling you their deepest (and darkest) secrets. There are many poems that move me with their content but will never make the shortlist because they are not doing enough as a poem, or are too oblique, or are simply prose broken into lines to look like a poem. This is sad for a reader - some of those poems have important things to say. Some feel like a cathartic exercise for the writer but are not offering much to reader. A poem about trauma (or loss) needs to offer something to the reader too. A poem is not a misery memoir - though it can touch on the same subjects. I actually find poems more powerful if they are less explicit in their content (I like this in films too) - something alluded to but not explicitly spelt out - a good example of this is the poem 'The Bicycle' by Katrina Naomi from her book What the Crocodile Taught Me. 

Another way into difficult subject matter is to use metaphor.

2) Size isn't everything

Short poems are good, they can be very powerful - but it's unlikely that a haiku will win a major poetry competition - they just don't stand a chance against those poems that have more space to make their point. Save them for short poem competitions - Magma has a short poem category in its annual competition. Of course, there is every chance that I may be proved wrong one day.

Similarly there are poems that feel way too long. Some of these go off at odd tangents (this may work in a prose poem but works less well in a conventional one). Some say the same thing over and over in a variety of ways. Some poems feel like they need the ending and beginnings lopped off - the introduction and the explanation. A good poem feels tight and not baggy. Frisk your poems thoroughly for superfluous weight - you should be doing this anyway, but it's even more important for a competition poem.

tip: One technique I use is to take longer poem and make it shorter to fit the competition guidelines. Sometimes it can't be done, but often it can - and usually the poem is better for it.

3) Write like you live in the twenty-first century

It's as simple as that. I see many poems that read as if they were penned in the 1800's - loaded with words like 'hast', 'thou' and 'whence'. The only time this is acceptable is if you are writing a pastiche - but it's dubious even then. If you are writing like that because all the poetry you read looks like that, then you need to start reading modern poetry. If you don't know where to start get in contact with me and I will send you a reading list. 

tip: Don't expect to love all modern poetry - you need to find the poets that speak to you. You wouldn't expect to go into a library and like the first novel you pick up. Poetry is the same.

Syntax is important too. Beginning poets often think that poetry is some kind of special code and this leads to poems that sometimes don't make grammatical sense - sentences without clauses, sentences that are broken up in odd ways. A poem should be written the way we speak. Try reading your poem out loud and you will soon hear if the sentence structures are odd or unnatural.

4) Rhyming

Rhyming is fine - personally I like a bit of rhyme - but it has to be good. If you are rhyming because you think all poetry has to rhyme then please go back and read number three above. Good rhyme can be amazing - it doesn't whack you round the head shouting I am a rhyming poem - in fact sometimes you might not even notice the rhyme at first. Other times the rhymes want themselves to be noticed. Similar effects can be had from half rhymes, slant rhymes and repetition. A word should never feel like it's in the poem simply for the rhyme scheme - better to ditch the rhyme scheme or put the poem away for a while and hope the right word comes to you.

5) Angst and anger

In the course of sifting/printing and teaching I see many poems that express deep felt sorrow,  grief, angst or anger. While these poems may be cathartic to write - they offer little to the reader. If a poem's message is 'I am angry - really angry' - the reader is left with the question, why? If you need to write an angry poem tell us why you are angry or at least hint at it. 

If you are despairing and feel like the world hates you - please give us some clues as to why you feel like that (and see a counsellor). These kind of poems are frustrating to me as I feel the raw emotion of them but they also leave me a little cold - they don't let me into the world of the poem/writer. I think that's the difference between therapeutic writing and poetry for general consumption - my morning pages are not for anyone else's eyes. I can moan and rage in them and I don't have to explain myself. If I want to put those emotions into a poem I have to offer the reader a way into them too - they have to care about the narrator or feel like there is some kind of universal truth that they can relate to, an 'oh yes that bothers me in that way too'. 

Grief poems can be really difficult too. Sometimes we need a bit of distance from the loss. Sometimes we need a lot of distance. It has been more than ten years since my brother died and I still find it hard to write about. Some of the most successful poems relating to loss of a loved one are about the small things rather than directly about the loss itself. Penelope Shuttle's 'Peter's Shoes' is a great example of this. We all understand what that 'year' means - yet she hasn't felt the need to spell it out. The use of 'you' and 'your' in the poem is clever to - it addresses the dead person but allows the reader to bring their own meaning to the poem (their own lost or dead) in a way that using the specific name throughout wouldn't.

6) Subject matter

Pretty much anything goes in terms of subject matter these days but there are some things to be wary of (and, yes, I have definitely seen all of these):

a middle class white person writing of the black experience 

poems about murdering young women that read like a script for CSI

explicit sex for the sake of it

racist/homophobic/sexist poems

ekphrastic poems that describe the art work/painting that they are based on, but don't do much more than that

poems based on historic events that just describe the event and don't offer us anything new (be careful with this type of poem of overloading it with facts from all your research too)

anecdotes about something that happened and simply that - sometimes these are just prose chopped up to look like a poem

7) Form

Anything goes in term of form really - although as I said earlier a Haiku is unlikely to win a major competition. Poems in strict form can and do win as do poems in free verse. The trick is to do it well and for the form to fit the subject matter. Also check whether your poem is actually a poem and not just a piece of prose chopped up - could it be a prose poem, a bit of life writing or a short story?

8) The Title

You would be amazed looking through a mailbag for a competition or a journal at how many poems have the same title. I must have read a hundred poems in the last year called 'Lockdown' for instance. One line titles like'Lockdown', 'Snow' or 'Rain' are best avoided. I would also avoid titles that are a pun - especially if it's a serious poem. You also don't want a title that gives away the whole poem or a title that is a line of the poem (this takes the power away from the line in the poem). Titles are notoriously difficult. If you are having problems ask your workshopping group or a writer friend. Sometimes when I have been really stuck a friend or a tutor has immediately suggested a title that brings the poem alive.

9) The ending

I talked earlier about poems that feel like they should end sooner. Beware of over-blown or summing-up endings. Trust your reader - you really shouldn't need to spell it all out for us. I have noticed that some great poems go a bit weird towards the end - sometimes a really good poem will suddenly go all poetic, start using archaic words, or hit us round the head with a bit of moral guidance. Similarly some writers feel the end to end on a pun, a joke, or a punchline. Trust the poem to do the work. Endings are hard but there is shortcut to the perfect ending. Workshop your poem if you are having trouble, pay for a critique, or put the poem away for a while so you can come back to it with fresh eyes.









Thursday, 3 June 2021

Putting Together a Poetry Collection

 Well, it's done I finally pressed send on my third collection and now, hopefully, it is in the hands/in tray of my editor. I just hope she likes it. 

One of the hardest things about putting together a poetry collection is whittling it down to a manageable size. I got mine down from well over a hundred pages to just under ninety - but I know it will have to get even smaller. 

The process goes something like this:

Print out all poems and decide which are strong enough to go in the collection. 

Look at what themes are emerging and group poems according to theme.

Decide if you want sections and what order they will be in (this can change later).

Order poems within their sections and think about how sections link together - is it a logical progression, does the end poem of one section link to the first poem of the next one.

Section order may be somewhat led my your strongest poems - you want your strongest poems first and last. Also think about how you want the reader to feel when they finish the collection. I always like to put a positive poem last.

Take anything out that feels like filler or poems that are doing a similar thing to each other - you are bound to have some of these - writers often explore the same ideas over and over. I don't necessarily mean poems on the same theme but poems that have a similar feel or message - pick the strongest. 

If you can get someone to read it and give you their impressions. If you can afford a mentor I would highly recommend it. People we workshop with regularly tend to be less critical because they already know our work - I like to (if I can) get someone to read it who hasn't read/workshopped the poems as I have been writing them. Having an outside reader can be vital. They can pick up if the order doesn't make sense or isn't working. With my first two collections I had funding for a mentor and she helped me make some really tough editorial decisions - changing order, taking out poems (and writing more to replace them) and crucially putting a strong sequence first - I had been a little scared of doing that for some reason. With the collection I just sent off, a friend read through it and flagged up a problem with the order of the final section which we were then able to fix.

Don't be afraid to take stuff out and write more. 

Don't feel that everything that has been published has to go in. Similarly not all your best poems have to go in. A collection is not your greatest hits - it should work coherently. I have a sequence of poems that is really strong but it just hasn't fitted with my last book or this one.




Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Books read in 2020


139) Broken Greek - Pete Paphides (non fiction)
138) The Discomfort of Evening - Marieke Lucas Rijneveld
137) How to Wash a Heart - Bhanu Kapil (poetry)
136) Postcolonial Love Poem - Natalie Diaz (poetry)
135) Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life (non fiction)
134) Princess Anne - Katharine L. Oldmeadow (fiction, re read)
133) The Driver's Seat - Muriel Spark (fiction)
132) Perrault's Fairy Tales - Charles Perrault (fiction, short stories, re read)
131) Barn 8 - Deb Olin Unferth (fiction)
130) My Darling from the Lions - Rachel Long (poetry)
129) Day Four - Sarah Lotz (fiction)
128) The Shooting Gallery - Carrie Etter (poetry)
127) Lost at the Fair - W. Perring (fiction, picture book, re read)
126) Mock orange - Anne Osbourn (poetry)
125) The Bears' Picnic - Stan and Jan Berenstain (fiction, picture book, re read)
124) Bunnikin's Picnic Party - A.J Macgregor (fiction, picture book, re read)
123) My Name is Why - Lemn Sissay (non fiction)
122) Wild Persistence - Katrina Naomi (poetry)
121) Intimates - Helen Farrish (poetry)
120) Because a Woman's Heart is Like a Needle at the Bottom of the Ocean - Sugar Magnolia Wilson (poetry)
119) Shine, Darling - Ella Frears (poetry)
118) Witches, Warriors, Workers - eds Fran Lock and Jane Burn (poetry)
117) The Carrying - Ada Limon (poetry)
116) In the Lateness of the World - Carolyn Forché (poetry)
115) Instructions for My Imposter - Kathleen McGookey (poetry)
114) Solar Cruise - Claire Crowther (poetry)
113) When the Trees Fall - Jane Clarke (poetry)
112) Vixen - Rosie Garland (fiction)
111) Scion - Sue Rose (poetry)
110) Lament - Briony Bax (poetry)
109) Murder in the Dark - Margaret Atwood (fiction, short stories)
108) One Evening in October I Rowed Out on the Lake - Tua Forsstrom (poetry)
107) Be With - Forrest Gander (poetry)
106) Love And/Or the Storm - Jonny Wiles (poetry)
105) Dressing for the Afterlife - Maria Taylor (poetry)
104) The Faithful Look Away - Melissa Lee-Houghton (fiction)
103) The Enchanted Wood - Enid Blyton (fiction, re read)
102) Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me - Kate Clanchy (non fiction)
101) More Than You Were - Christina Thatcher (poetry)
100) The Shaking City - Cath Drake (poetry)
99) Bombs On Aunt Dainty - Judith Kerr (non fiction)
98) I Hate and I Love - Catullus (poetry)
97) Between the Stops - Sandi Toksvig (non fiction)
96) The Rose Metal Field Guide to Prose Poetry (poetry)
95) Feck Perfuction - James Victore (non fiction)
94) Love Minus Love - Wayne Holloway-Smith (poetry)
93) Tiger Girl - Pascale Petit (poetry)
92) Just Ask the Universe - Michael Samuels (non fiction)
91) I love the Bones of You - Christopher Eccleston (non fiction)
90) My Thoughts Exactly - Lily Allen (non fiction)
89) Rendang - Will Harris (poetry)
88) After Fame - Sam Riviere (poetry)
87) Interior With Sudden Joy - Brenda Shaughnessy (poetry)
86) Night Wanderers - C.J. Flood (fiction)
85) Where Were You Robert? - Hans Magnus Enzensberger (fiction)
84) The River's Song - Jacqueline Bishop (fiction)
83) Amy and Isabelle - Elizabeth Strout (fiction)
82) Cloudstreet - Tim Winton (fiction)
81) Antisemetic for Homesickness - Romalyn Ante (poetry)
80) Primers Volume Five (poetry)
79) A Better Me - Gary Barlow (non fiction)
78) A Fold in the River - Philip Gross (poetry)
77) Little Kings - Peter Kahn (poetry)
76) The Nerve of It - Lynn Emanuel (poetry)
75) Monica's Overcoat of Flesh - Geraldine Clarkson (poetry)
74) Magnolia, 木蘭 - Nina Mingya Powles (poetry)
73) Face It - Debbie Harry (non fiction)
72) Unlocked - Sue Butler (poetry)
71) The Remedies - Katharine Towers (poetry)
70) The Artist's Daughter - Kimiko Hahn (poetry)
69) Flood - Clare Shaw (poetry)
68) Remember, Body - C.P. Cavafy (poetry)
67) The Little Book of Passage - Franca Mancinelli (poetry)
66) A Portable Paradise - Roger Robinson (poetry)
65) The Air Year - Caroline Bird (poetry, re read)
64) Call and Response - Rachel Spence (poetry)
63) On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous - Ocean Vuong (fiction)
62) I'm OK, I'm Pig - Kim Hyesoon (poetry, re read)
61) Lasagne - Wayne Holloway-Smith (poetry)
60) Memories of the Future - Siri Hustvedt (fiction)
59) Luxe - Amy Key (poetry, re read)
58) Why? And Other Questions - Robin Houghton (poetry)
57) Litany of a cardiologist - Denise Bundred (poetry)
56) Apple, Fallen - Olga Dermott-Bond (poetry)
55) About Leaving - Ian Glass
54) Tenter - Susie Campbell (poetry)
53) Body, Remember - Wes Lee (poetry)
52) Fruitcake - Selima Hill (poetry)
51) Shine, Darling - Ella Frears (poetry)
50) Sanatorium - Abi Plamer (poetry)
49) The Games - Harry Josephine Giles (poetry)
48) Girls Are Coming Out of the Woods - Tishani Doshi (poetry)
47) Plainwater - Anne Carson (essay/poetry)
46) Station Eleven - Emily St John Mandel (fiction)
45) Letters Home - Jennifer Wong (poetry)
44) Bones on Ice - Kathy Reichs (fiction)
43) Homie - Danez Smith (poetry)
42) Boys in Trees - Carly Simon (non fiction)
41) I'm Stupid, But I'm Not That Stupid - Selima Hill (poetry)
40) Green Migraine - Michael Dickman (poetry, re read)
39) Deluge - Charlotte Ansell (poetry)
38) Footnotes to Water - Zöe Skoulding (poetry)
37) This Is How We Lost Each Other - Karese Burrows (poetry)
36) Split - Juana Adcock (poetry)
35) Don't Try This at Home - Angela Readman (short stories)
34) Much Left Unsaid - Finola Scott (poetry)
33) Milk Tooth - Martha Sprackland (poetry)
32) and what if we were all allowed to disappear - Tania Hershman (poetry)
31) When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities - Chen Chen (poetry)
30) Hinge - Alycia Pirmohamed (poetry)
29) Haverscroft - S. A. Harris (fiction)
28) A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor - John Berger (non fiction)
27) Beautiful Place - Amanthi Harris (fiction)
26) My Shrink is Pregnant - Katie Griffiths (poetry)
25) Anything is Possible - Elizabeth Strout (fiction)
24) Hash - Torgny Lindgren (fiction)
23) My Name is Lucy Barton - Elizabeth Strout (short stories)
22) Silent Years - Alasdair Paterson (poetry)
21) The Tenant of Wildfell Hall - Anne Brontë (fiction)
20) Coming Through Slaughter - Michael Ondaatje (poetry/fiction)
19) Horse-man - Em Strang (poetry)
18) Basic Nest Architecture - Polly Atkin (poetry)
17) Apple Water - Raine Geoghegan (poetry)
16) In Nearby Bushes - Kei Miller (poetry)
15) Finished Creatures (issue 2) - edited by Jan heritage (poetry)
14) If All the World and Love Were Young - Stephen Sexton (poetry)
13) That Lonsesome Valley - Melissa Lee houghton (fiction)
12) Truth Street - David Cain (poetry)
11) Wings made from the muscle of a river - Neil Richards (poetry)
10) Significant Other - Isabel Galleymore (poetry)
9) Isn't Forever - Amy Key (poetry)
8) Cuckoo - Nichola Deane (poetry)
7) The Aesthetics of Breath - Charles G Lauder Jr (poetry)
6) Interference Effects - Claire Dyer (poetry)
5) Nine Inches - Tom Perrotta (short stories)
4) Smoothie - Claudia Toutoungi (poetry)
3) Devoured - Anna Mackmin (fiction)
2) Tigress - Jessica Mookherjee (poetry)
1) sad boy/detective - Sam Sax (poetry)





First Draft of New Collection

I am working on my third collection, or what I should say is that I am struggling with my third collection. I have cut the poems down by two thirds. I have put them in an order that I like and makes some kind of sense to me but I still have way to many. At the moment I have 117 A4 pages which is way to many.

I thought it might be helpful to go back and look at what Threat looked like at this stage in the process. The second draft of Threat looks nothing like the finished article. The order is different and I counted thirty-six poems that didn't make the final cut - THIRTY-SIX! This is reassuring but also a bit daunting. There are some big decisions to be made. With my last book I was lucky enough to have funding for some mentoring but I don't have that luxury this time. I need to really interrogate each poem to make sure it is earning its keep, to check that I don't have several poems that are doing or saying the same thing. It is exciting. It is scary. It is exciting and scary!

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Books read in 2019


159) Everything I Never Told You - Celeste Ng (fiction)
158) Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream by Kim Hyesoon (poetry)
157) Body Thesaurus by Jennifer Militello (poetry)
156) The Emma Press Anthology of Contemporary Gothic Verse (poetry)
155) City of Departures by Helen Tookey (poetry)
154) The Black Place by Tamar Yoseloff (poetry)
153) This Tilting Earth by Jane Lovell (poetry)
152) Rock, Paper, Scissors by Richard Osmond (poetry)
151) A Map Towards Fluency by Lisa Kelly (poetry)150) Changing Room by Anna Woodford (poetry)
149) Baby by Patricia Debney (poetry)
148) Slattern by Kate Clanchy (poetry)
147) Shadow Dogs by Natalie Whittaker (poetry)
146) Naming Bones by Joanna Ingham (poetry)
145) Kismet by Jennifer Lee Tsai (poetry)
144) Dad, Remember You Are Dead by Jacqueline Saphra (poetry)
143) Coal Black Mornings by Brett Anderson (non fiction)
142) More Shadow Than Bird by Nuar Alsadir (poetry)
41) Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout (fiction)
140) Spider Bones by Kathy Reichs (fiction)
139) Wedding Beasts by Jay G Ying (poetry)
138) Man's House Catches Fire by Tom Sastry (poetry)
137) Box Rooms by Laurie Bolger (poetry)
136) Firing Pins by Jo Young (poetry)
135) #AFTERHOURS by Inua Ellams (poetry)
134) After The Formalities by Anthony Anaxagorou (poetry)
133) Bowie: Loving The Alien by Christopher Sandford (non fiction)
132) The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson (non fiction)
131) Surge by Jay Bernard (poetry)
130) fothermather by Gail McConnell (poetry)
129) Sodium 136 by Carole Bromley (poetry)
128) The Fantastic Book of Everybody's Secrets by Sophie Hannah (short stories)
127) Bridport Prize Anthology 2019 - Winning Poems, Short Stories and Flash Fiction (anthology)
126) Girl Falling by P B Hughes (poetry)
125) Eye Level: Poems by Jenny Xie (poetry)
124) The Tradition by Ben Jericho (poetry)
123) A Warm and Snouting Thing by Ramona Herdman (poetry)
122) Push: My Father, Polio and Me by Sarah Passingham (non fiction)
121) Diary of a Miu Miu Salesgirl by Jennifer Wong (poetry) Jennifer Wong
120) String and Circumstance by Melissa Fu (short stories)
119) Falling Outside Eden by Melissa Fu (poetry)
118) Urban Drift by Natalie Burdett (poetry)
117) All This is Implied by Will Harris (poetry)
116) Stitch by Samuel Tongue (poetry)
115) The Protection of Ghosts by Natalie Linh Bolderston (poetry)
114) THE DANCING BOY by Michelle Diaz (poetry)
113) Time Lived, Without Its Flow by Denise Riley (non fiction)
112) Dear Big Gods by Mona Arshi (poetry)
111) The Latest Winter by Maggie Nelson (poetry)
110) Playing House by Katherine Stansfield (poetry)
109) Search Party by Richard Meier (poetry)
108) Dancing on the Doorstep by Tom Corbett (poetry)
107) Overwintering by Pippa Little (poetry)
106) Zebra by Ian Humphreys (poetry)
105) Time is in Fields by Jean Atkin (poetry)
104) Fen by Daisy Johnson (short stories)
103) Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (non fiction)
102) Quicksand Beach by Kate Bingham (poetry)
101) The Turning by Tim Winton (short stories)
100) Notes from the Fog: Stories by Ben Marcus (short stories)
99) Lepus by Barry Wilson (poetry)
98) To Sweeten Bitter - Raymond Antrobus -(poetry, re read)
97) Things Only Borderlines Know by Olivia Tuck (poetry)
96) Support, Support by Helen Charman (poetry)
95) In Praise of Truth: The Personal Account of Theodore Marklund, Picture-Framer by Torgny Lindgren (fiction)
94) The Book of Jobs: Poems by Kathryn Maris (poetry)
93) American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin by Terrance Hayes (poetry)
92) Basic Nest Architecture by Polly Atkin (poetry)
91) Something Bright, Then Holes by Maggie Nelson (poetry)
90) England: Poems from a School by Kate Clanchy (poetry)
89) Dear, by Alice Willetts (poetry)
87) Safety Behaviour by Emma Jeremy (poetry)
86) Live Canon 2018 Anthology (poetry)
85) The Unquiet by L. Kiew (poetry)
84) Reckless Paper Birds by John McCullough (poetry)
83) Erato by Deryn Rees-Jones (poetry)
82) The Woman on the Other Side by Stephanie Conn (poetry)
81) Flèche by Mary Jean Chan (poetry)
80) Noctuary by Niall Campbell (poetry)
79) The Million-petalled Flower of Being Here by Vidyan Ravinthiran (poetry)
78) Whistle by Martin Figura (poetry, re read)
77) An Unremarkable Body by Elisa Odato (poetry)
76) The Forward Book of Poetry 2019 by Various Poets (poetry)
75) Island By Stephanie Conn (poetry)
74) The Somnambulist Cookbook by Andrew McDonnell (poetry)
73) Hand & Skull by Zoë Brigley (poetry)
72) The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets by Ted Kooser (non fiction)
71) My Dark Horses by Jodie Hollander (poetry)
70) In a House of Lies (Inspector Rebus #22) by Ian Rankin (fiction)
69) Lumière by Sue Burge (poetry)
68) I'm OK, I'm Pig! by Kim Hyesoon, Don Mee Choi (Translator) (poetry)
67) The Anatomical Venus by Helen Ivory (poetry)
66) Kingdomland by Rachael Allen (poetry)
65) The Babies by Sabrina Orah Mark (poetry)
64) The Not-Dead and The Saved and Other Stories by Kate Clanchy (short stories)
63) Maps of the Abandoned City by Helen Ivory (poetry)
62) At Hajj by Amaan Hyder (poetry)
61) Your Relationship to Motion Has Changed by Amish Trivedi (poetry)
60) Some Pink Star by Sophie Essex (poetry)
59) An Unremarkable Body by Elisa Lodato (fiction)
58) Near Future by Suzannah Evans (poetry)
57) Madness by Sam Sax (poetry)
56) Girl by Rebecca Goss (poetry)
55) Collected Stories by W. Somerset Maugham, Nicholas Shakespeare (Introduction) (short stories)
54) Threat by Julia Webb (poetry)
53) by Lewis Buxton, Amelia Loulli, Victoria Richards, Jane Commane (editor), Kim Moore (editor) (poetry)
52) Hare Soup by Dorothy Molloy (poetry)
51) Hand & Skull by Zoë Brigley (poetry)
50) Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky (poetry)
49) Darling, It's Me by Alison Winch (poetry)
48) Rabbit by Sophie Robinson (poetry, re read)
47) In Search of Equilibrium by Theresa Lola (poetry)
46) Shiner by Maggie Nelson (poetry)
45) The Emigrants by W.G. Sebald (non fiction)
44) Your Fault by Andrew Cowan (fiction)
43) Lantern by Sean Hewitt (poetry)
42) Bitter Berries by Marina Tsvetaeva, Moniza Alvi (Translator), Veronika Krasnova (Translator) (poetry)
41) Moon Milk by Rachel Bower (poetry)
40) Spells: 21st Century Occult Poetry by Rebecca Tamás (ed.) (poetry)
39) Lanny by Max Porter (poetry/fiction)
38) Bluets by Maggie Nelson (poetry)
37) Discipline by Jane Yeh (poetry)
36) Goest by Cole Swensen (poetry)
35) Luxe by Amy Key (poetry)
34) How to Grow Matches by S.A. Leavesley (poetry)
33) At or Below Sea Level by Elisabeth Sennitt Clough (poetry)
32) Witch by Rebecca Tamás (poetry)
31) 50 American Plays by Michael Dickman (poetry)
30) Green Migraine - Michael Dickman (poetry)
29) The Triumph of Cancer by Chris McCabe (poetry)
28) The Healing Next Time by Roy McFarlane (poetry)
27) Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich (fiction)
26) The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy (non fiction)
25) The Built Moment by Lavinia Greenlaw (poetry)
24) Vertigo & Ghost by Fiona Benson (poetry)
23) How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships (non fiction)
22) The End of the West by Michael Dickman (poetry)
21) Isn't Forever by Amy Key (poetry)
20) Girl Golem by Rachael Clyne (poetry)
19) £5 for this love by Stephen Daniels (poetry)
18) The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos by Anne Carson (poetry)
17) The Escapologist by Jinny Fisher (poetry)
16) A Hostile Environment: A Poetry Conversation by Nigel Kent, Sarah Thomson (poetry)
15) Rosary of Ghosts - Grant Tabard (poetry)
14) OK, Mr Field - Katherine Kilalea (fiction)
13) The Red Parts - Maggie Nelson (non fiction)
12) The Perseverance - Raymond Antrobus (poetry)
11) Moving Into The Space Cleared By Our Mothers - Mary Dorcey (poetry)
10) In the Days of Rain: A Daughter, a Father, a Cult - Rebecca Stott (non fiction)
9) New Poetries vii - Michael Schmidt (ed.) (poetry)
8) The House with Only an Attic and a Basement - Kathryn Maris (poetry)
7) The Happy Bus - Louisa Campbell (poetry)
6) My Converted Father - Sarah Law (poetry)
5) The Art of Description - Mark Doty (non fiction)
4) Three Poems - Hannah Sullivan (poetry)
3) Faber New Poets: 10 - Will Burns (poetry)
2) My Name is Leon - Kit de Waal (fiction)
1) The Water Cure - Sophie Mackintosh (fiction)

Friday, 13 December 2019

The Post Book Slump

I hesitated about naming this post The Post Book Slump, but after talking to other authors I think it is something that needs to be acknowledged and talked about. What I am talking about is that time after your book has been out for a little while - in my case six months - when the excitement has died down but you still haven't got your writing mojo back.

I have very much been in this space for the past few months. At first I put it down to that fact that I had been travelling a fair bit for readings - but actually when I am 'on it' with writing, travelling is usually a fruitful time for me creatively. I have written before about how much I love writing on trains, but at the moment even trains aren't getting me writing. It is a bit like the post hand-in slump I used to get as a student, and very much like the cavernous feeling of loss I felt both at the end of my degree and the MA. I came across this blog post today https://chroniclevitae.com/news/1046-surviving-the-post-dissertation-slump which is about post PhD slump - but a lot of it feels pretty relevant to the way it can feel once a book is published - especially the feelings of 'so what' and Imposter Syndrome.

I had mistakenly thought that this would get easier with more publications, but for some reason I have found it harder with the publication of my second book than I did with the first. I have also found doing readings harder - partly because the subject matter feels more exposing and more gritty - there is always a niggly worry at the back of my mind as to how new audiences will react, which I didn't really have with the first collection. There is also a pressure (or it feels like there is) to write something radically different to what than what I have written before - but as a wise poet once said to me: 'you can only write what you can write.'

At the moment I am on a writing retreat. I had hoped that getting away and having time to read and write would give me the kick in the pants I feel I need. Of course things are never as simple as you imagine. I have been here a week now and the writing is slow - though I have done a little. Instead I have been focusing on reading poetry books, typing up and editing, and I have also used the time to make some submissions - something I have been very slack about of late. I am planning to use some of my Arts Council DYCP grant to pay for some mentoring and time management sessions. Life is busy when I am at home and it can be very easy to get so sucked down the rabbit hole of work that there is little time for anything else.

The main thing is that I have decided not to be too hard on myself and to try not to be too impatient. If you are in the post book/hand in slump I urge you to do the same.