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 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.

Monday 1 July 2019

Writer's Block

I have been thinking quite a lot about my writing practice over the past few days. I went to see Nick Cave in Nottingham last week - he is doing a Q & A tour - basically the audience asks him questions and he answers them, and in between he plays songs and piano. It was a very powerful performance and he was on stage for a whole three hours. I found the question and answer part of the show really interesting - he said a lot of things about song writing that really resonated with me about the way I approach poetry writing. He talked a lot about the commitment to just turning up at the page - which made me think that maybe I need to have a more defined writing practice when I am at home. I tend to be much more prolific when I am away - probably because I don't have all the distractions of home and at home I don't have a designated writing space - I mostly seem to write sitting on the sofa.

Cave also said that he doesn't believe in writers block - either you are writing or not writing. This is something I totally agree with and have had debates about with friends and students. My observations of writer's block are that they mostly stem from either - being too busy, being emotionally pre-occupied (grief, new love, new baby etc) or from being a self-editor. By self-editor what I mean is when a writer is so hung up on finding the right idea or topic, or by writing something perfect, that they don't write anything at all. One of my students definitely falls into the latter category. I think that this is a case where something like morning pages can help - even if you are simply writing over and over 'I have nothing to write about'. I believe that if you keep doing this something will come eventually - I sometimes write lists of things to do, goals, wish lists, moans, anything really to get the pen moving. Getting all that stuff out of one's head and onto the page makes extra room for creative thinking. I find national poetry writing month helpful in this way too. The goal of the month is to write a poem a day. I usually find it difficult for the first six or seven days - if I can keep going that long then something usually changes or shifts and after that I find that some days I am writing two or three poems. This is what Cave meant about turning up at the page - a self editor often has a (mistaken) belief that every poem they write should be perfect. Why would you put that pressure on yourself? Artists wouldn't dream of starting a big commission without doing some preliminary sketches. In fact if you are not practicing your art (what ever it may be) regularly you get rusty. You need to keep producing to get the good stuff. In national poetry writing month I may write forty or more poems but I am happy if I have two or three that I consider worth pursuing - any more than that is a bonus. My advice if you have writer's block is 'just keep turning up at the page.'

Sunday 5 May 2019

Threat - New collection published May 30th

"Forensically detailed and disturbing, the dark and sometimes brutal undertow of small town lives seeps to the surface of these unsettling and visceral poems."
If I had to sum what Threat is about in one short sentence, it would probably be - that which makes us human.
Threat has been a long time in the making. Some of the poems were written before my last collection was published. Some of them are much newer. When I started putting the collection together it was tentatively titled Hometown. As it turned out that title had already been taken by the marvellous Carrie Etter - but as the collection evolved it seemed that it was growing beyond its town boundaries and that a different title would be more apt. Threat was the title of a poem in the collection - the poem itself was edited out but the title remained - it just seemed to perfectly fit the themes and concerns of the book. As a collection I am both proud  and a little terrified of it. It feels incredibly exposing - the poems feel personal - and some of them are - though others are not - or rather bits of them are - there is an overlap, always, between lived experience and fantasy - or rather my lived experience and the experiences of other people. Like Sharon Olds I feel I can't claim all the experiences as completely or directly mine.

"Poems like mine - I don't call them confessional, with that tone of admitting to wrong- doing. My poems have done more accusing than admitting. I call work like mine 'apparently personal'. Or in my case apparently very personal." (Sharon Olds, The Guardian, 26th July 2008).

There is some sense of working out or through some difficult stuff  - but equally the narrator is trying to put into words or make some sense of experiences and feelings that might ring true for other people - experience such as human fallibility, loss, familial dysfunction (which we all experience to some degree or another), what it feels like to live in the human body, what it feels like to be an adolescent girl in a small town, ageing etc. I hope the reader is surprised by where the collection takes them - just as I was surprised at where the writing of it took me. It certainly visits some dark places but ultimately swims back up towards the light. There is a playfulness in this collection too - that I feel Bird Sisters perhaps lacked.

The cover art for the book was done by artist and graphic designer Natty Peterkin. I knew I wanted to use an image of Thetford forest as part of the art work but other than that I had to let go of control and let Natty run with it. Natty read the book several times and decided that he wanted to make some kind of painted semi abstract shadow creature part of the image. What he came up with is perfect - is it a man? Is it a beast? Is it a teddy bear? We just don't know.

Threat comes out with Nine Arches Press on May 30th and is available for pre-order now.

Julia will be launching the collection at Cafe Writers in Norwich on June 10th with Helen Ivory and at The Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden on July 19th with Jessica Mookherjee.

Saturday 6 April 2019

Books Read in 2019 - a record

  • 156) The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh (fiction)
  • 155) Bright Dead Things by Ada Limon (poetry)
  • 154) The Ward by Louisa Campbell (poetry)
  • 153) The White Hotel by D.M. Thomas (fiction)
  • 152) Mixed-Race Superman by Will Harris (non fiction)
  • 151) Fortune Cookie by Jenna Clarke (poetry)
  • 150) Meat Songs by Jack Nicholls, Mark Andrew Webber (Illustrator) (poetry)
  • 149) I CAN’T WAIT FOR THE WENDING by Wayne Holloway-Smith (poetry)
  • 148) The Weather in Normal by Carrie Etter (poetry)
  • 147) Disko Bay by Nancy Campbell (poetry)
  • 146) The End of Everything by Megan Abbott (fiction)
  • 145) Translating Mountains by Yvonne Reddick (poetry)
  • 144) The Distal Point by Fiona Moore (poetry)
  • 143) All the Naked Daughters by Anna Kisby (poetry)
  • 142) As Slow As Possible by Kit Fan (poetry)
  • 141) The Illegal Age by Ellen Hinsey (poetry)
  • 140) Solo for Mascha Voice/Tenuous Rooms by Jack Underwood (poetry)
  • 139) Jinx by Abigail Parry (poetry)
  • 138) The End of the West by Michael Dickman (poetry)
  • 137) Holloway by Robert Macfarlane, Stanley Donwood (Illustrations), Dan Richards (non fiction)
  • 136) The Shepherd's Hut by Tim Winton (fiction)
  • 135) Everyone Knows I Am a Haunting by Shivanee Ramlochan (poetry)
  • 134) Imagine Me Gone by Adam Haslett (fiction)
  • 133) Nowhere Nearer by Alice Miller (poetry)
  • 132) Explosives Licence by Jonathan Totman (poetry)
  • 131) Get the Guy by L.A. Rich (non fiction)
  • 130) Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon (non fiction)
  • 129) Drinking: Vintage Minis by John Cheever (fiction, short stories)
  • 128) The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (fiction)
  • 127) What Are You After? by Josephine Corcoran (poetry)
  • 126) MFA in a Box: A Why to Write Book by John Rember (non fiction)
  • 125) Demi-Gods by Eliza Robertson (fiction)
  • 124) Familiars by Linda Rose Parkes (poetry)
  • 123) The Becoming of Lady Flambe by Holly Magill (poetry)
  • 122) Dark Places by Gillian Flynn (fiction)
  • 121) My Converted Father by Sarah Law (poetry)
  • 120) Faber New Poets 12 by Declan Ryan (poetry)
  • 119) Death in Midsummer and Other Stories by Yukio Mishima (fiction, short stories)
  • 118) Rapture (New Irish Voices #1) by Roisin Kelly (poetry)
  • 117) Faber New Poets 15 by Sam Buchan-Watts (poetry)
  • 116) playtime by Andrew McMillan (poetry)
  • 115) The Republic of Motherhood by Liz Berry (poetry)
  • 114) Kiss In The Hotel Joseph Conrad And Other Stories by Howard Norman (fiction, short stories)
  • 113) Who Seemed Alive & Altogether Real by Padraig Regan (poetry)
  • 112) Human Wishes by Robert Hass (poetry)
  • 111) Blackbird, Bye Bye by Moniza Alvi (poetry)
  • 110) Depths by Henning Mankell (fiction)
  • 109) The Theatre of Confection by pauline suett barbieri (poetry)
  • 108) The White Road and Other Stories by Tania Hershman (fiction, short stories)
  • 107) A Bag of Hands by Mather Schneider (poetry)
  • 106) Noose and Hook by Lynn Emanuel (poetry)
  • 105) In Her Shambles by Elizabeth Parker (poetry)
  • 104) Black Bicycle by Lesley Quayle (poetry)
  • 103) After Eden by Stella Wulf (poetry)
  • 102) Good Stock Strange Blood by Dawn Lundy Martin (poetry)
  • 101) When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Díaz (poetry)
  • 100) Moon Over Melbourne and Other Poems by Yu Ouyang (poetry)
  • 99) Dirty Laundry by Deborah Alma (poetry)
  • 98) The Bitters by Susie Campbell (poetry)
  • 97) he True Keeps Calm Biding Its Story by Rusty Morrison (poetry)
  • 96) No Art: Poems by Ben Lerner (poetry)
  • 95) A Bargain with the Light by Jacqueline Saphra (poetry)
  • 94) A Hurry of English by Mary Jean Chan (poetry)
  • 93) stack by James Davies (poetry)
  • 92) Suffolk Bang by Adam Warne (poetry)
  • 91) Wound by Richard Scott (poetry)
  • 90) Soho by Richard Scott (poetry)
  • 89) Alarum by Wayne Holloway-Smith (poetry)
  • 88) small white monkeys by Sophie Collins (non fiction)
  • 87) A Watchful Astronomy by Paul Deaton (poetry)
  • 86) A Knowable World by Sarah Wardle (poetry)
  • 85) Big Bones by Laura Dockrill (fiction)
  • 84) Fox Unkennelled by Myfanwy Fox (poetry)
  • 83) Mayakovsky's Revolver by Matthew Dickman (poetry)
  • 82) Self-Portrait with the Happiness by David Tait (poetry)
  • 81) Dying Notes by Reuben Woolley (poetry)
  • 80) Fields Away by Sarah Wardle (poetry)
  • 79) The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (poetry)
  • 78) The Wound Register by Esther Morgan (poetry)
  • 77) Cumshot in D Minor by Melissa Lee-Houghton (poetry)
  • 76) Primers Volume 3 edited by Jane Commane (poetry)
  • 75) Three Poems by Hannah Sullivan (poetry)
  • 74) Fourth Person Singular by Nuar Alsadir (poetry)
  • 73) Inside the Wave by Helen Dunmore (poetry)
  • 72) Weemoed by Tim Dooley (poetry)
  • 71) We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (non fiction)
  • 70) A Question of Blood by Ian Rankin (fiction)
  • 69) Orpheus in the Park: Poems by Rose Solari (poetry)
  • 68) A Communion Of Breath by Derek Harper (poetry)
  • 67) Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude by Ross Gay (poetry)
  • 66) The Casual Perfect by Lavinia Greenlaw (poetry, re-read)
  • 65) The days that Followed Paris by Paul Stephenson (poetry)
  • 64) Somewhere Between Rose and Black by Claire Walker (poetry)
  • 63) Asylum by Sean Borodale (poetry)
  • 62) All My Mad Mothers by Jacqueline Saphra (poetry, re-read)
  • 61) House by Myra Connell (poetry, re-read)
  • 60) Shrines of Upper Austria by Phoebe Power (poetry)
  • 59) I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast by Melissa Studdard (poetry)
  • 58) Calling a Wolf a Wolf by Kaveh Akbar (poetry)
  • 57) Seal Wife by Kitty Coles (poetry)
  • 56) In These Days of Prohibition by Caroline Bird (poetry)
  • 55) So Glad I'm Me by Roddy Lumsden (poetry)
  • 54) British Museum by Daljit Nagra (poetry)
  • 53) The Forward Book of Poetry 2018 by Various (poetry)
  • 52) God Loves You by Kathryn Maris (poetry)
  • 51) The Ice Factory by Philip Gross (poetry)
  • 50) Enough of Green by Anne Stevenson (poetry)
  • 49) Cry Baby by Gareth Writer-Davies (poetry)
  • 48) The Devil's Tatoo by Brett Evans (poetry)
  • 47) Uninvited Guests by Gill Lambert (poetry)
  • 46) The Son by Carrie Etter (poetry)
  • 45) Record and Play by Degna Stone (poetry)
  • 44) Every Salt Advance by Andrew McMillan (poetry)
  • 43) The Moon is a Supporting Player by Andrew McMillan (poetry)
  • 42) The Knowledge Weapon by Annette C. Boehm (poetry)
  • 41) You've never seen a doomsday like it by Kate Garrett (poetry)
  • 40) White is a Color by Rosemarie Waldrop (poetry)
  • 39) Don't Call Us Dead by Danez Smith (poetry)
  • 38) The Hoopoe at the Execution, Villebois by Tom Kelly (poetry)
  • 37) All We Saw by Anne Michaels (poetry)
  • 36) ShallCross by C.D. Wright (poetry)
  • 35) Who Is Mary Sue? by Sophie Collins (poetry)
  • 34) fAt aRouNd tHe MiddLe by Jane Burn (poetry)
  • 33) Eidolon by Sandeep Parmar (poetry)
  • 32) Glass by Elisabeth Sennitt Clough (poetry)
  • 31) How to be a Poet by Jo Bell (non fiction)
  • 30) The Pocket Poetry Book of Anger by Sarah Miles (poetry)
  • 29) Swims by Elizabeth-Jane Burnett (poetry)
  • 28) Natural Phenomena by Meryl Pugh (poetry)
  • 27) Then Suddenly-- by Lynn Emanuel (poetry)
  • 26) Metropoetica by Ingmāra Balode (poetry)
  • 25) Assembly Lines by Jane Commane (poetry)
  • 24) A Slither of Air by Alison Lock (poetry)
  • 23) Flies by Michael Dickman (poetry)
  • 22) There Is an Anger that Moves by Kei Miller (poetry)
  • 21) You are mistaken by Sean Wai Keung (poetry)
  • 20) Incorrect Merciful Impulses by Camille Rankine (poetry)
  • 19) Tell Me How It Ends: An Essay in Forty Questions by Valeria Luiselli (non fiction)
  • 18) Caldbeck by Jenny Pagdin (poetry)
  • 17) Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders (fiction)
  • 16) Speaking in Bones by Kathy Reichs (fiction)
  • 15) Of Mutability by Jo Shapcott (poetry, re-read)
  • 14) Grace by Esther Morgan (poetry, re-read)
  • 13) Standing Female Nude by Carol Ann Duffy (poetry, re-read)
  • 12) BOOM! by Carolyn Jess-Cooke (poetry)
  • 11) Ten: Poets of the New Generation by Karen McCarthy Woolf (poetry)
  • 10) little armoured by Rebecca Perry (poetry)
  • 9) A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf (non fiction)
  • 8) Ticker-Tape by Rishi Dastidar (poetry)
  • 7) Bestiary: Poems by Donika Kelly (poetry)
  • 6) lemon, egg, bread by Laura Elliott (poetry)
  • 5) The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson (non fiction)
  • 4) Joy by Sasha Dugdale
  • 3) Hyem by Robyn Bolam (poetry)
  • 2) LaRose by Louise Erdrich (fiction)
  • 1) Sphinx by Cat Woodward (poetry)