Thursday 18 December 2014

NoNoWriMo and Writing Coaches

Well I kept NanNoWriMo up for about half of November and I wrote a sizeable chunk of my novel in progress (which is shaping up to be a YA novel it seems), but then somehow I lost my momentum. There are lots of things that I can blame - general busyness, too much planning for work etc etc, but the truth is I found it too hard to sustain. It's not that I lost interest, but somehow I just screeched to a halt. I had other things that I wanted to write, I wanted to enter a poetry pamphlet competition and that took days of preparation. I suppose I just wasn't committed enough. I also think that if I am to try it again next year (and I might) I will try to write straight onto the computer. two thousand words is a lot to write by hand ( I generally managed just over a thousand a day) and it leaves you with a daunting pile of writing to be typed up. I haven't even begun to type up what I have written yet - every time I look at it it makes me groan.

On a more positive note I have been working with a writing coach. A writing coach is a bit like a life coach - but they just look at your writing life. They help you to look at any problems you may be having regarding writing, sending off your work etc. I have had two sessions and have found it invaluable. I had to come to the session with areas that I wanted to look at and the coach asked me a series of questions designed to make me think about what is holding me back. One of the things that I found really helpful was making a chart of how I used my time - I was then able to pencil time into my schedule for writing, editing and sending out work. The hard bit, of course, is sticking to it! The other thing that she really helped me with was thinking about pamphlet competitions. I had got rather stuck in my way of thinking about it. Because the pamphlet I had put together had been shortlisted for a major competition I am not able to enter it for any others, and for some reason I just couldn't see a way round this. My coach suggested pulling out a different thread from my collection - one that overlapped in terms of content so that I could still keep my strongest poems - she even suggested breaking up one of the poems and interspersing it throughout the pamphlet to make the theme stronger. It is funny how sometimes it takes a new pair of eyes to see the obvious in your work!

Saturday 8 November 2014

NaNoWriMo and all that

I have talked before about how a series of personal setbacks, coupled with a planning-heavy class that I took over at the last minute, have left me little head-space and inspiration for poetry writing. I think it is more than this though - I think I am lacking a theme to write around. Not having a theme never used to be a problem but putting together a collection has somehow made me feel like all my writing has to be cohesive. Realising this has been quite useful, and I am hoping that it will free me up creatively. What I need to do, I now realise, is simply write and out of writing eventually a theme will (hopefully) emerge.

However that said I am not writing much poetry, but instead have been participationg in National Novel Writing Month. The aim is to write part of a novel every day for a month - so that in theory at the end you will end up with a nearly completed novel. I have been averaging around 10000 words a day, which is not bad, although I have had a couple of days where I haven't written anything. I am writing parts of a novel that I started a while ago. I was not really sure where it was going or who it was aimed at - but at the moment it seems to be going in the direction of becoming a novel for young adults. Writing every day like this is a good discipline. I wonder though if I am being too ambitious thinking that I can write poetry and fiction alongside each other. It seems to me that poetry and prose use different parts of the brain. I may be making that last bit up of course...

Sunday 21 September 2014

Words that Leave you Cold and Words that Inspire

I have been a little out of sorts with poetry of late - I have read quite a lot of poetry books in the past couple of months, but none of them has really excited me. I thought it must be to do with my own state of mind - I have been going through some tough times in my personal life so I assumed that this had put me out of kilter, especially as some of the books were ones I had been looking forward to, and had high expectations of, like Kei Miller's The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion. The knock on effect for me of not reading poetry that inspires, is that my own creativity is effected and I start writing less. Not a great place to be in for a writer.

This has all changed in the last couple of weeks. I have been to two really awe inspiring poetry readings. The first was Carrie Etter (at Cafe Writers in Norwich) and the second was Pascale Petit at Wymondham Words Festival. This is writing that speaks to my soul - writing that walks the tightrope between the personal and the surreal. Etter's book Imagined Sons is a poignant exploration of an imagined relationship with a son that she gave up for adoption shortly after birth when she was seventeen. Etter imagines meeting her son in a variety of situations (where he is doing a variety of jobs), as well as exploring her own reasons and the judgements that others might make. The result is a powerful and emotive read, the poetry finely honed and exact. Petit's new book Fauverie centres on the author's father and Paris. Petit is drawn to animals and animal imagery and the big cats of the Paris Fauverie of the title are a strong and compelling presence in her work. This is highly emotive writing - but there is no stream of consciousness or sloppiness here. This is tightly edited and beautiful and each word is working hard to earn its keep. It is a difficult read though so be warned and some of the description is extremely unpleasant - for example at the reading Pascale read a poem where her father eats an ortolan (a small songbird) whole with his head under a napkin in the traditional manner. This image has stayed with me ever since.

It goes to show, I think, that poetry has to speak to you (me) as the reader. It doesn't matter if it is well written or whether the writer has won this, that or the other reward. If you can't make some kind of emotional connection with it it can leave you cold. This is something I tell my students in my reader workshops - you can't just pick up a poetry book at random and expect to love it or be inspired. It is like any other type of book (or music) - you have to find the writer that resonates with you at that particular moment in your life. I am very pleased to back on the poetry horse.

Tuesday 10 June 2014

Putting things into Perspective

It has not been a great year so far - there I've said it. Things keep going wrong and costing money, old friends have died, jobs have fallen through - I could go on. What, you may ask, does all this have to do with writing? Well quite a bit actually. Happiness may often quell the desire to write, but so does stress, and this year I have had stress by the bucketload.  I have, though, managed to keep up a tentative writing practice and I have sent the occasional poetic missive out into the world. And that's where things start looking up. I got my first rejection from a major publisher - but he recommended somewhere else to try. I have been shortlisted for a national poetry pamphlet competition (shortlist of 10 from 600 entrants!), and today I had a poem accepted for a poetry anthology. Could still do with a major cash injection but things are definitely looking up!

Monday 21 April 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

I was nominated to take part in the blog tour by Heidi-Jo Swain.

What am I working on?

I have recently finished putting together my first poetry collection with the help of my rather marvellous mentor Pascale Petit - I was lucky enough to get some funding for this from 

I was recently shortlisted for The Poetry School Pighog Pamphlet Competition so I have been making a smaller pamphlet sized collection from my larger one - which is not as easy as it sounds - I want the poems to work together as a whole with themes running through, not just be the best poems of the full collection. 

Right now I am working on a sequence of poems based around numbers. The poems were sparked off by a prompt on Jo Bell's 52 blog. Each week for year Jo, or a guest blogger, posts a writing prompt along with links to poems to read or listen to. It has been surprisingly inspiring and last week's prompt found me frantically writing almost an entire sequence. 

I am also in the process of co-editing issue 5 of Lighthouse along with prose writer Anna de Vaul - a process complicated by the fact that she is currently on the other side of the world with a patchy Internet connection! As well as that I am supposed to be writing a book review for Ink, Sweat and Tears.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

That's a tough question to answer - and of course there are those who would argue that there is no such thing as an original idea. I like to think that I use language in an original way and that I look at familiar subjects (such as family, household objects etc) from a slightly different viewpoint to other people. I am very much taken with Viktor Shklovsky's ideas of ostranenie or making strange - making familiar objects appear unfamiliar. This is something that Getrude Staein also liked to explore and I found her prose poems in Tender Buttons particularly inspiring. 

I like to have an element of realism in my work too - combining real life experience with fiction and a hint of oddness to try an create something unique but believable - as in my series of prose poems about a dysfunctional religious family.

I am sure that there are some similarities between my work and other writers. And of course I think that when we are often, whether consciously or unconsciously, influenced by what we are reading especially if it is really inspiring. 

Why do I write what I do?

I love both poetry and fiction - I am a great advocate for the ability of literature to change peoples' lives for the better, and I have always written (and read) both poetry and prose. In fact in my early 20s I wrote a book of short stories that was rejected by several publishers. When I came to do my creative writing degree in 2006 I thought that I would be concentrating on prose,  however what actually happened was that the course (and the tutors) rekindled my love for all things poetry, and I subsequently went on to do The Poetry MA at The University of East Anglia (UEA). 

I write because I have to - I have a compelling urge to put pen to paper - and I would still write even if there was no chance of ever making it into print. I think it is my way of making sense of the world - and I hope that in some small way it can help other people make some sense of it too.

How does my writing process work?

I tend to write sporadically and manically. I may go for weeks where I don't write much at all, and then an idea will seize me - this is happening at the moment - and I will be scribbling away at every opportunity. I think one of the reasons I don't write all the time is because I am busy, and everyday life has a habit of interfering with the creative process. A couple of years ago I had some money and I took myself off to a house near the sea for a week. Removed from all my usual distractions (internet, phone, work, emails, Facebook, household chores, teaching...) I found that I became amazingly productive and I wrote a whole sequence of poems that has since become the final sequence in my collection.

I do try and do things that encourage my writing practice. I aim to write morning pages every day - although in reality I manage about three to four days a week. I read both poetry and fiction (although I have discovered that if I read too much prose I stop writing poetry), I belong to a critquing group and I also try and get along to readings and other literary events. All this feeds into my writing practice. I write long hand into lined notebooks, then edit on the computer. If I am feeling really blocked a train journey always seems to free me up - I start writing almost as soon as the train sets off!

I am not so good at editing though and I often put it off for weeks - sometimes even months. Sometimes I will take my lap-top to a cafe when I need to get some editing done - it is amazing how much work one can get done without having the Internet as a distraction! Deadlines too are good for making one work harder.

I hope you enjoyed this stop on the blog tour - please check out the blogs I have nominated next week.

Helen Ivory

Helen Ivory was born in Luton in 1969 and began to write poems at Norwich School of Art in 1997, under the tuition of George Szirtes. She won an Eric Gregory Award in 1999 and then disappeared into a field in the Norfolk countryside to look after two thousand free-range hens. When she emerged ten or so years later, she had two collections with Bloodaxe Books and had helped, with her own bare hands, to build several houses.
She is an experienced creative writing tutor and workshop leader and has taught both undergraduates and in adult education for around ten years. She has also run workshops in schools and is a freelance tutor and mentor. She is currently an Editor for The Poetry Archive,  Editor of the webzine Ink Sweat and Tears, and Course Director for Creative Writing for Continuing Education at UEA. Her fourth Bloodaxe Books collection is Waiting for Bluebeard. (2013)  She is Co-editor with George Szirtes of In their Own Words: Contemporary Poets on their Poetry (Salt 2012)

Meryl Pugh was born in 1968, in Ely, East Anglia and grew up in Wales, New Zealand, Suffolk and the Forest of Dean, where her family settled. Educated at Queens’ College, Cambridge and the Institute of Education, London, she has a Distinction in the MA in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths College and is currently studying for a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing at UEA.

Her first pamphlet collection, Relinquish, was published in 2007 by Arrowhead Press. Selections of her poetry have appeared in four anthologies: Goldfish 3 (eds Maura Dooley & Blake Morrison, Goldsmiths College, 2011), Reactions 5 (ed Clare Pollard, Pen & Ink Press, 2005), Promises to Keep(ed Dean Parkin, Jerwood/Arvon, 2004), Entering the Tapestry (eds Mimi Khalvati and Graham Fawcett, Enitharmon, 2003). Reviews and poems have appeared in many print and online journals, including Horizon ReviewNew Welsh ReviewPoetry LondonPoetry ReviewPoetry Wales andThe Rialto.
Pugh divides her time between Norwich and Leytonstone, East London (her home for the last thirteen years).

Rosemarie Blackthorn

Details coming soon...

Wednesday 26 March 2014

Submissions and Inspiration

I am making a concerted effort this month to make at least one poetry submission per week - it doesn't sound like much I know but it is far more than i have been doing. I realised that I had let things go woefully on the submissions front when a few weeks ago I decided that maybe it was time to submit to The Rialto again - after all a few months had passed since I last submitted. I was shocked to discover that the last time I submitted work to the journal was actually 2012! It was a real wake-up call. I knew I had been slacking on the submissions front - and even more so since I finished my collection last year. I think the lack of movement on that front has made me lose my enthusiasm somewhat - as well as for some months quashing my creativity altogether. I am pleased to say that I am now back in the writing saddle - in part due to Jo Bell's 52 Blog - every week she posts a writing prompt and links to poems around that week's themes. It has been surprisingly inspiring - and somehow once you start writing again more and more comes. Now I just need to man up and ask the publisher who has had some of my poems for eight months to make a decision.

Monday 20 January 2014

How Not to Write Poetry

This weekend I was mostly trapped at home waiting for a cooker delivery - "the perfect time to get some writing done'" a friend said. Well you might think so, but that is not how things panned out.

The said cooker was scheduled for delivery sometime on Sunday. On Saturday I frantically cleaned the kitchen - moving things out of the room to enable access, and cleaning the disgusting and very embarrassing mess that had accumulated down the side of the cooker. I also had to find the key to the padlock on the gate and make sure it worked, plus clear up a little present that either a cat or a fox had left on the back doorstep. (The plus side of this was that I discovered a stash of beer that had been put outside when the fridge was full at Christmas - result!) By the time I had finished all this I was exhausted, and it was as much as I could do to collapse on the sofa with a film and a beer.

Sunday dawned - the day I usually have a lie-in, but the email had said that the cooker could arrive anytime from 8am to 8pm, so I had to make sure we were up and breakfasted just in case we happened to be their first delivery. Next I went online to track my delivery. I typed in my delivery number and was informed that I could expect my delivery between 10.10am and 2.10pm. I resisted the urge to growl and decided to get on with some work. I wanted to edit some poems and type up some others. But here's the thing - when you know that two burly men can knock on your door at any second and expect you to jump up and open the gate etc. it is pretty hard to settle to any work. In the end I had to give up, as I just couldn't concentrate, and I decided to read a book instead. It didn't feel too much like cheating as I do have to finish it before the book group tomorrow night. Anyway, I reasoned, the cooker will be in by three at the latest: I can work then.

The delivery men (who were very friendly) arrived at about 1.30pm. They came into my kitchen and decided that there was no way that they could install my chosen cooker as the cupboards on either side are too low. I argued that I have had the same type of cooker there for fifteen years - but regulations have changed, so back the cooker went to the depot. I then spent half an hour on the (very expensive) helpline only to be told that I will have to ring back and sort it out on Monday. In the meantime I needed to go back to the drawing board and find another cooker that I could order in its place.

I bribed son with the promise of a cooked vegetarian breakfast at Morrison's cafe, and he drove me to Currys. The selection of cookers was small and the staff were unhelpful. I bought son and I breakfast and decided I would have to look online. Online though, whilst it sounds like an easy option, necessitates hours of trawling through websites comparing features prices and reviews. So as you can probably tell no writing or editing got done this weekend - and no baking as I am back to square one with the cooker. I am writing this whilst listening to some kind of demented piano music on the Knowhow helpline. Some time soon I will get some poetry done

Tuesday 14 January 2014

Books Read in 2013

90) Tenth of December - George Saunders (fiction, short stories)
89) Train Dreams - Denis Johnson (fiction)
88) The Colour of Milk - Nell Leyshon (fiction)
87) Her Birth - Rebecca Goss (poetry)
86) How Many Camels is too Many? - Colette Sensier (poetry)
85) Electric Shadow - Heidi Williamson (poetry, re-read)
84) A Dangerous Age - Ellen Gilchrist (fiction)
83) The Round House- Louise Erdrich (fiction)
82) Song Hunter - Sally Prue (fiction)
81) 7 Poets, UEA Creative Writing Anthology 2013 (poetry)
80) Finding Caruso - Kim Barnes (fiction)
79) Maggot Moon - Sally Gardner (fiction)
78) Twelve Slanted Poems for Christmas - edited by Helen Ivory and Kate Birch (poetry)
77) The Stone Thrower - Adam Marek (fiction, short stories)
76) This Afternoon and I - Sarah Roby (poetry)
75) The Norfolk Mystery - Ian Sansom (fiction)
74) A Virtual Love - Andrew Blackman (fiction)
73) Standing in Another Man's Grave - Ian Rankin (fiction)
72) Mateship With Birds - Carrie Tiffany (fiction)
71) Running the Rift - Naomi Benaron (fiction)
70) What I saw - Laura Scott (poetry)
69) Familiar - J. Robert Lennon (fiction)
68) The Mind's Eye - Hakan Nesser (fiction)
67) Burning Man - Alan Russell (fiction)
66) Borkmann's Point - Hakan Nesser (fiction)
65) All the Birds Singing - Evie Wyld (fiction)
64) The Havocs - Jacob Polley (poetry)
63) Daybreak - Viktor Arnar Ingolfsson (fiction)
62) Why be Happy When You Could be Normal - Jeanette Winterson (non fiction)
61) Godforsaken Idaho - Shawn Vestal (fiction, short stories)
60) Apple Tree Yard - Louise Doughty (fiction)
59) The Detective's Daughter - Lesley Thomson (fiction)
58) Quesadillas by Juan Pablo Villalobos (fiction)
57) Homesick for the Earth, Poems by Jules Spervielle with versions by Moniza Alvi (poetry, re-read)
56) Kei Miller -A Light Song of Light (poetry, re-read)
55) Black Vodka - Deborah Levy (fiction, short stories)
54) A Map of Nowhere - Martin Bannister ( fiction)
53) Reservation Road - John Burnham Schwartz (fiction)
52) The Crumb Road - Maitreyabandhu ( poetry)
52) High Performance - Luke Wright (poetry)
51) The Son of a Shoemaker - Linda Black ( poetry)
50) One Step too Far - Tina Seskis (fiction)
49) The Dinner - Herman Koch (fiction)
48) The Falling Sky - Pippa Goldschmidt (fiction)
47) The Most Beautiful Thing - Satya Robyn (fiction)
46) Rites - Sophie Coulombeau (fiction)
45) Property Of - Alice Hoffman (fiction)
44) The Wildflowers of Baltimore - Rob Roensch (fiction, short stories)
43) Absolution - Patrick Flannery (fiction)
42) Autobiography of Red - Anne Carson (poetry)
41) Broadcasting - Andrea Holland (poetry)
40) Cross Bones - Kathy Reichs (fiction)
39) Flash and Bones - Kathy Reichs (fiction)
38) Waiting for Bluebeard - Helen Ivory (poetry)
37) The Blue Bedspread - Raj Kamal Jha (fiction)
36) Raptors - Toon Tellegen (poetry)
36) Hills of Doors - Robin Robertson (poetry)
35) Faber new Poets 1 - Katherine Benson (poetry)
34) The Doll Princess - Tom Benn (fiction)
33) This is How to Lose Her - Junot Diaz (fiction)
32) Behind the Beautiful Forevers - Katherine Boo (non fiction)
31) Furious Resonance - Terry Jones (poetry)
30) Speaking Without Tongues - Jane Monson (poetry)
29) Bevel - William Letford (poetry)
28) The Other Side of the Bridge - Geraldine Green (poetry)
27) The Overhaul - Kathleen Jamie (poetry)
26) Stalker - Lucy Hamilton (poetry)
25) The Wigbox; New and Selected Poems - Dorothy Nimmo (poetry)
24) Once You Break a Knuckle - D.W. Wilson (fiction, short stories)
23) This isn't the Sort of Thing That Happens to Someone Like You - Jon Mcgregor (fiction, short stories)
22) Grace - Esther Morgan (poetry, re-read)
21) Contemporary American Poetry - eds A. Poulin Jr & Michael Waters (poetry)
20) The Silence Living in Houses - Esther Morgan (poetry)
19) Chick - Hannah Lowe (poetry)
18) Peacock Luggage - Moniza Alvi and Peter Daniels (poetry)
17) The Hungry Ghost Festival - Jen Campbell (poetry)
16) How the Stone Found its Voice - Moniza Alvi (poetry)
15) Faber New Poets 1 - Fiona Benson (poetry)
14) Stag's Leap - Sharon Olds (poetry)
13) Place - Jorie Graham (poetry)
12) Infinite Sky - C.J. Flood (fiction)
11) Dear Editor - Amy Newman (poetry)
10) Shelter - Jayne Anne Philips (fiction)
9) Self Portrait in the Dark - Colette Bryce (poetry)
8) The Bridle - Meryl Pugh (poetry)
7) Claiming Breath - Diane Glancy (poetry)
6) Jump Bad - A New Chicago Anthology (poetry and prose)
5) Night Journey - Richard Lambert (poetry)
4) The Man from Beijing - Henning Mankell (fiction)l
3) The Thing About Joe Sullivan - Roy Fisher (poetry)
2) Adventures With My Horse - Penelope Shuttle (poetry)
1) Carrying My Wife - Moniza Alvi (poetry, re-read)