Author Archives: lizzy

It used to be the number 9 bus

My Writing Life

You wait all winter for the poetry festivals to come along and then in March they all come together, just like the buses from Hammersmith to Mortlake that I used to wait for after a night  out or a ate rehearsal long ago when I lived in London.  Sadly, it is not the number 9 anymore … same route though, I looked it up.

A small group of tired people, we would wait at the bus stop on Hammersmith Broadway and then just after eleven o’clock the number 9’s would all come along at once. If I got on the last of the line of buses I was often the only person left by the time we got to Barnes and I would sit leaning against the window looking through out my own transparent reflection, watching the bright lights of Chiswick, a promised land across the dark water of the River Thames.

The Stanza festival now seems a long time ago, and, of the Lancaster Litfest, in March, the my best memory is the evening of poetry shared by Kim Moore and Hannah Lowe. The Litfest itself was well attended and interesting, and how wonderful to see it revived at last and the evening with these two women poets was outstanding.  It seemed that they had some kind of connection with each other, whether in their political preoccupations or their imaginations. This sense of connection gave the reading a particular and satisfying coherence.

Since then there has been the April Poets in late March, here in Lancaster, and the more recent Feminist Poetry Jamboree at Ulverston. This latter was a timely reminder that politics is not only about Brexit and Trump, although they both got a mention of course, as they continue to preoccupy us as individuals, to dominate conversations, and to linger in the sense of uncertainty tinged with fear with which we listen to the news each day.

By the time we get to the Kendal Poetry Festival, (16th to 18th June) this year we will have had the General Election. Last year the first ever festival started the day after the referendum and we were all reeling with the shock.

I wonder if this year we will feel, as a relatively small group of poets and writers gathered together, as I used to feel those dark nights long ago, that the promised land of our sane and liberal democracy is over the other side of a dark river and we are on the last bus home; but at least we will not be travelling alone.

My reading week(s)

Lots of reading, and not much blogging recently; I have just read Days Without End by Sebastian Barry for my reading group discussion tomorrow. It is a wonderful book, and even the gory bits, and my goodness they are gory, are all woven into the thread of the story. It is one of those books that looks at the great events of history from the intimate perspective of a small group of individuals, caught up in what is happening around them, and, unlike the reader, not able to understand the full significance of what is happening.

A very different joy and delight was re-reading Carl Ann Duffy’s collection Bees while on holiday a couple of weeks ago.

Hare in the Headlights

There have been a couple of these recently because after months of not airing my poetry I have done two open mics, recently at April Poets and at the Feminist Jamboree. Not as scary as it might have been and the poetry was well received. Hoping soon to start sending stuff out to magazines.

Till soon



Fest-Blog 1

The first of a series that will become a Blog-Fest!

My Writing Life

Ok, I am still slightly dizzy after two days at Stanza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival at St Andrew’s a week ago. Now I have had time to digest and feel able to share some of the highlights over the next two blog posts.  The festival itself was five days and I packed as much poetry as I could into less than half the time.  I felt quite proud at the end of Thursday having heard 8 poets in a day.

The themes this year were ‘Roads’ and ‘Heights,’ so there were lots of ( usually quite hairy) mountaineering  and rock climbing poets and many travellers from as far apart as Iceland and Syria. Since returning I have been reflecting on the way that poets often have another activity that they devote a lot of time and energy to as well as their writing and which they often seem to find a wellspring of imagination and inspiration for their work. It is not so much that mountaineering poets write about mountains, although they do, but also that they find the act of climbing the mountains a source for the energy needed for their work and the way they approach it.

I garden as well as writing and for me gardening is an opportunity to empty my mind and do physical things quite routinely after which I can return to my desk refreshed.

The first reading I went to on Thursday was the first in a regular Stanza series, Border Crossings and featured the work of David Wilson, a climber and Janette Ayachi, a traveller. I bought David’s book Slope but unfortunately Janette had run out of copies, or I would have bought it as well. I loved Janette’s excitement about travelling to new places, and David quiet humour linked with metaphors of mountains. A really good beginning to the day.

The lunchtime session that came next could not have been more of contrast , with the noir of Steven Watt up against the lyrical gay love poetry of Katherine McMahon and both of them contemporary and immediate in their concerns. They are two young poets of contrasting ideas and presentation and both a joy to listen to. Their session was poetry lunch with a pie and a drink included in the price of the ticket.

Thus sustained I went on poets five and six of the day. I another very different session of Border Crossings.  We heard from Maram Almaasri from Syria and Paul Stevenson who is British but lives in Paris. Both these readings reduced me and most of the audience either to tears, or certainly to feeling very choked up. Paul’s pamphlet was an account of the days after the Paris attacks and Maram’s poems reflecting the sad and desperate situation of her country.

Last and the highlight of the whole day, and for me of the whole festival, was the evening reading by Alice Oswald. Sold out as you can imagine, she held two hundred people listening in gripped silence for 45 minutes and wanting more at the end. I have struggled with her latest collection Falling Awake which I was given for Christmas,  on the page, but from listening to her reading from it I  learned that I should  read it slowly and not too much at a time, as a kind of meditation. Truly wonderful!

You will all have to wait until next time for the second day of Stanza and for the booklet launch of my autumn writers group. So watch this space

My reading week

I finished Alan Bennett’s Keeping On Keeping On while still in St Andrews and particularly enjoyed his collected essays about his plays and their productions included in the second half. I am afraid it is detective stories now as the holidays approach!

Hare n the Headlights

I chickened out of reading at the open mic. at stanza, but got my courage together for the April poets this week, of which more next time.

While Rome Burns

My Writing Life

It is so easy to lose track of public and political events as the media usually go for the dramatic moment rather than the continuing horrors. They give us one heart-breaking image and then move on the next. However in the meantime the horrors are still going on and not going away or getting any less horrific.

In recent weeks I have become interested in the ideas and writing of Hannah Arendt circulated in the papers and on Radio 4. (Listen to the ‘In our Time’ programme if you can.) She is best known for coining the phrase ‘the banality of evil’ in her writing about the trial of Eichmann in 1960. ‘Banal’ is not a word we would use about evil nowadays as it has the connotation of something a bit trivial and unimportant. However, it does now seem to me that the current spate of evil and misguided doings and decisions affecting all of us is moving towards becoming more ordinary and every day, more acceptable because we are not constantly given dramatic reminders of it, as the headline news moves back to its preoccupation with the lives of celebrities and the football results, fiddling while Rome burns..

However, I remain preoccupied, checking the media, usually the BBC website, for Trump horror stories every day, and searching, in vain, for signs that someone has called to a halt the mad road to Brexit we seem to be following. When I look back at the blogs I wrote this time last year, they are all about my writing and don’t mention politics because at that point neither Brexit nor the Trump presidency seemed a possibility, let alone a reality with which we are coming to terms. So if my blog has turned political then I make no excuse, as so has my writing. Since completing the sequence about the homeless shelter I have found myself writing, and indeed struggling to write, two poems about the present political disasters, and my feelings about them. I think this is all we can do is watch and keep watching, and wait and write.

As I finished writing the above paragraph, the doorbell rang. It was my friend Christine, an artist with whom I collaborated in 2008 on a project entitled Watching Walls for which I wrote and performed an integrated performance entitled A Place Among the Stones. So Christine arrived at the door to say she was clearing out her art stuff and had brought round photographs and the script for me. The piece was performed for Holocaust Memorial Day 2008, the day that this year saw Trump impose his immigration ban. The last section of the piece reads like yesterday’s newspaper. It ends with the admonition ‘Watch your step!’ I’ll find an electronic version and share some of it with you next time.

My reading week

I have just finished reading Angela Carter’s Wise Children (1991) to discuss at the reading group this week. I didn’t enjoy as much as the others did as it seemed to me dated and overdone, although here is some very wonderful writing to be enjoyed. I’m not recommending it because to be honest it is not my taste.

I have just started on Alan Bennett’s Kkeeping On Keeping On, a work full of sharp political comment and theatre gossip, lovely!

Hare in the Headlights

Just a few plugs for forthcoming literary and poetic events:

March 9th is an April Poets here in Lancaster (yes, I know it’s March but it’s a long story) there is a workshop with David Tait and a reading with David, Jenny Copley and Carola Luther in the evening at the Storey Institute, Lancaster. Visit April Poets for more information.

Then there is the Lancaster Litfest with lots of treats, Jackie Kay a poetry day and much more

And last but not least all of us at Brewery Poets are waiting for news of our bid to the Arts Council for the next Kendal Poetry Festival. We will hear this coming Tuesday and if successful the festival will be in June.

That’s it for now.

Keep Calm and Carry on Writing

My Writing Life

Not sure myself, whether the writing goes on because of everything, or in spite of everything. This week I have caught fragments of the writers from the United States who have been on Radio 4 talking about their thoughts and ideas leading up to the  to the inauguration yesterday. It has been interesting but not encouraging, although many of them tried to strike a note of hope.

Thinking back over my life, I think that the last time I felt this frightened and depressed about politics was when I was very young, about 17, and the Cuban Missile Crisis was hanging over us. I tried to capture the feelings from this time in my poem ‘1962‘, published in my pamphlet Gardening with my Father, and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize in 2013.

I can remember how scared I was in 1962 and now realise how little I understood of what was happening in the world at that time. I feel now I understand only too well what is happening and my imagination of the consequences occupies my thoughts constantly — so I have no recourse but to keep calm and keep on writing.

In recent weeks I have been working on a series of poems about working at the Night Shelter for Homeless People here in Lancaster. I worked there as a volunteer for two years and then managed it for a year. I find it interesting that it is only now that I feel able to reflect on and write about the experience. I have struggled to find the right point of view and avoid being patronising, and  I hope what I have now written will tell stories of another world which I visited for a while. I recently received notice of a forthcoming anthology and intend to submit the sequence to it, so  I have been sharing these poems with the writing group week on week and their comments, as ever, have been invaluable.

I have also, at last, returned to the booklet that will be published at the end of February which will be a collection of the writings of members of the Meeting House Writers, to whom I gave my writing course before Christmas. Yesterday I met with the illustrator about the cover design and will be working on the editing this week.

My reading week

Apart from lots of post-viral rubbish reading, I have recently discovered a couple of Barbara Kingsolvers that I had not read before. I really enjoyed Pigs in Heaven and am now reading Prodigal Summer.

 Hare in the Headlights

Aren’t we all just now? Just returned to continue the blog after being at the women’s protest rally here in Lancaster. It was a very  good turn out of a couple of hundred women with plenty of supporting children and men in  the background. We all want change all right but let’s face it it’s going to be hard.

Till next time.


Back to the blog at last and I hope you have all missed me??

Happy New Year!

My writing Life

Looking back I realise i have not written a blog since September. I have no excuse to offer except to say that life has got in the way of most of my writing life and my writing life has been seriously on hold. Not entirely so because I have really enjoyed teaching my ten week creative writing course this autumn which has gone remarkably well. Starting with 10 students, they became a dedicated group of six and one of my first writing tasks this year will be to edit their work into a booklet for the launch in mid February. Given that most, but not all, of them started from not having shared their writing with others before they have produced some lovely work, and I will share some of it with my readers here in due course.

So why no blog? Well largely because the voluntary charity work that I do, organising volunteers, became enormous for various reasons, and my New Year resolution Number 1 is not to let that happen again in the coming months. I shall be very strict with myself.

The other bit of my writing life that has not gone completely to pot is the writing group and the poems I write for that. I have pretty well managed to write a poem a week despite other commitments and I now have quite a lot of reasonable poems ready to put together for various ventures I have in mind.

On Friday the Poetry Review came through my door and with it a leaflet for Stanza in St Andrew’s in March and I have decided to go, as there are so many good poets reading there this year and I  love the place.  I am also hoping it will keep my writing life on track.

Reading week

Not much of a serious week as I’ve been indulging myself in light entertainment while suffering from flu and a cold over the holiday. Barbara Kingsolver’s Pigs in Heaven, which I had never read before has been keeping me going.

Hare in the Headlights

Well lots, not many to do with writing; plenty to anticipate in the next few months as I resume battle with the world of publishing. Wish me luck, and my next blog will be soon, I promise

Till then

Life is a Carousel

My Writing Life

When I was child I used to go with my sisters, hold Christine’s hand, my mum would call out as we left the house, to the annual Redhill fun fair. It was exciting and strange and a little bit scary! I loved riding the carousel with its brightly painted wooden horses and loud jingly music. I also remember that when I got off I always felt a bit dizzy!

One of the reasons for no blog for nearly four weeks is that half way through August I spent four days on the Kim Moore Poetry Carousel at Kent’s Bank and I’m still recovering, in a good way, that is. The Carousel is a four day intensive poetry course. Each day you attend a two hour workshop with a different poet and in the afternoons there are tutorial/ mentoring sessions. In the evening, this being one of Kim’s courses, there are mystery guest poets and music.

What I loved about it was the rich variety of experience, the different workshop styles of the four poets, the opportunity to meet new poetry and new writers. I also particularly liked the way that we rotated round the poets as a group and so had a chance to get to know each other’s work.

I came away with four very roughly drafted poems and a lot of new things to think about. I didn’t need my sister’s hand to hold, but I did feel a little dizzy with it all afterwards.

Thanks for a great experience.

Reading Week

I have currently just started for the second time on The River of Smoke, part 2 of Amitav Ghosh’s trilogy. This time I am getting into it more, although still occasionally flummoxed  by the archaic and arcane slang that many of the characters use. Does anyone know what a ‘godown’ is?  Apparently you could rent one in Singapore in the mid nineteenth century. I just have make educated guesses. I can understand why there is no glossary, as it would be enormous, but his continual use of slang is sometimes irritating. However, I am going to stick with it for now.

Hare in the Headlights

Lots of news!

Please go and have a look at my new poem of the month page. The August poem is there for you to enjoy. Each month I will post a poem that is either already published in one of my two pamphlets or a poem that has not yet been published. So watch out for the poem of the month for September.

Also there are still a couple of places on my creative writing course in Lancaster this autumn and on the series of workshops loosely based on life writing that I am giving in Ambleside for learning plus. For more information contact me on:



How hard is it to write a Villanelle?

My writing life

Well, it’s not easy! My role models are Dylan Thomas and Mimi Khalvati, and they are both hard acts to follow! However this week, for the first time ever, I had a go. I was inspired by the fact that two weeks ago I took a very rough poem to my writing group, partly because I wasn’t sure what to do with it next. At the group one of the other members had written a villanelle, a very good one. The group discussed in some detail how it had been composed and I went home thinking that I would give one a try. One of the ideas that emerged clearly from the discussion was that the first thing you have to do is find two lines that bear repetition. This is not easy. So back to Mimi and Dylan to look at form; five stanzas of three lines and one of four with a complex pattern of repeated lines and a very distinct rhythm.

First I mapped out the form marking the places where the repetition should take place and then I pondered long and hard, using my original half-baked poem, to find the lines and refine them. That done I typed out the two lines in al the right places and filled in the spaces. Oddly enough once I had the repeated lines on the screen, the rest kind of fell into place. (How did Dylan do it when he didn’t have a computer?) I just got carried along. I took the result to the writing group yesterday and they liked it. Tomorrow I’ll take it to the poetry group in Kendal. I’ll let you know how it gets on.

Reading week

At the recommendation of a friend who came to stay last week I am reading the John le Carre 1968 novel A Small town in Germany. It is not easy to get into, but now I am hooked by his languid prose and the subliminal hints at the sinister and unspoken threats.  The endless gentle conversations slowly reveal a terrible situation. If you’ve not read it, it’s worth a go.

 Hare in the Headlights

There are few things as terrifying as going on a four day poetry course as I am doing next week! What if I can’t think of anything to write? What if it is four days of blank paper? Help! I’ll report back next time.


Displacement Activity

My Writing Life

What with visitors and the sunshine and taking on a new voluntary work when do I get time to write? I don’t know about other writers but I always have great plans for ‘Artistic Discipline’ which means getting up at the crack, writing the obligatory 3 X A4 daily pages, (see Julia Cameron) going for a vigorous walk, eating a hearty breakfast and then writing for three hours undisturbed. Does anyone out there do that? No, seriously? Anyone?

My routine is more about oversleeping, because I’m knackered from yesterday’s gardening, waking up and taking tea back to bed, reading for a hour, then breakfast and then OMG!,  it’s 11 o’clock and I have not even turned on my computer. I do hope most of the people who read this blog are like me!

Just lately with the hot weather I have experienced yet again two serious obstacles to said artistic discipline. I should be ready for them as they have visited before. The first is that all the vegetables have decided to be ready at once. Having watched them anxiously for months, after that heavy rain we are overrun with courgettes, broad beans, cucumbers etc etc etc. All of which have to be harvested, processed and frozen, and then there are the weeds….

The second is that hot weather brings the friends, the ones, that is, who know that we live in holiday land, and want to come and stay (and who can blame them with the queues at Dover) and be fed on our lovely fresh produce.

OK all the above is just an EXCUSE for not writing, although I have written a couple of poems recently, and I really must get back to the children’s book and some serious writing soon. Watch this space for more self flagellation….

Reading Week

However, I have been reading. Just finished Tessa Hadley’s new book The Past.  I had a bit of a slow start with it but once I had got into it I really enjoyed it. I found it intriguing and I just loved the very subtley implied revelation at the end. I recommend it.

Hare in the Headlights

Looming in September are my two sets of creative writing workshops here in Lancaster and in Ambleside for Learning Plus and all the preparation I have to do for them. If you want to sign up for the Lancaster course hurry, hurry, I have already recruited a few people…


The Consolations of Poetry

July 11th 2016

My Writing Life

So we came to Kendal Poetry Festival on the 24th of June in a state of shock. However, the festival was in some ways a consolation; an opportunity to share concerns with other likeminded people; to be with others when alone you do not know what to think, let alone how to express your thoughts to yourself; to feel fear and anger alongside others and to experience as a thread running through it all, the timeless beauty of poetry and the passion that informs it. Every event made reference to the political events which dominated our thoughts and many of those reading chose work that would somehow reflect our preoccupations.

I attended the festival with a poet friend who had come over from the North of Ireland especially. She and I journeyed through the experience together, drawing on each other’s thoughts and reactions to what was happening there and in the wider political arena; spending time between sessions in a borrowed house, reading newspapers and talking it over. It was a strange journey and an unforgettable one.

I loved the fact that it was actually a small festival, with maybe 40 people attending all the weekend events and the bigger events being packed as they deserved to be. There was an intimacy about it and lack of parallel events that gave it a wonderful intensity that suited all our moods. The quality of the poetry presented was extraordinary. I heard poets read whose work I had read before, but not heard, Clare Shaw and Helen Mort, and was introduced to poets entirely new to me, Greta Stoddart and Hilda Sheehan. I loved the huge variety of the programme and mixture of participation and listening.

No one can blog about this Festival without mentioning the young poets and musicians. In the midst of all our depression and anxiety about the future, they brought all the optimism and energy of youth, just what we needed at that precise moment. Their poetry and their playing were amazing and uplifting. They cheered us all up no end!

It is now just two weeks since the Kendal Poetry Festival and it feels like a lifetime. No one could have possibly known that the day before the referendum result would have been in favour of leaving the E.U. As a survival strategy in difficult times I recommend going to a poetry festival with a friend.

Reading Week

Last week, on holiday in Northumberland, I found the time to give to reading Carole Coates’ latest publication, Jacob (shoestring Press, 2016). It takes a very brave writer to my mind to undertake the writing of a book-length single poem. Carole is one of the few who could pull it off. She also set herself the daunting task of writing from a child’s perspective in a child’s voice without sounding cutesy, patronising or losing her way. The book is a moving and fascinating account of childhood and adolescence as perceived by a boy who is experiencing it. It is written in the third person and the present tense and was, for me, mesmerising in its engagement of the reader with the subject’s world: a world that centres around his relationship with his mother. I loved all of it but especially two passages that spoke to me of my own experience: Measles, which I had as a child and remember vividly, and Saturday Afternoon, describing how the boy locks himself in his bedroom with a bolt he bought in Woolworths (I did that!). However this book is not just about those things  readers can see reflecting their own concerns but also a skilful and complex portrait of childhood with all its misunderstandings of the adults’ words and actions, and it captures the sense of powerlessness in the face of the mysterious world of grownups. I recommend reading it at one sitting if you can, if not read it anyway as much of it is both touching and original.

Hare in the Headlights

No particular horrors coming up that aren’t facing us all at the so a moment for a political question instead.

If both the candidates for the Tory leadership had been men would the subject of fatherhood have been mentioned? Somehow I think not. Everyday sexism persists….

and news flash information about my next writing course in Lancaster is already on the website: go and look !

Till next time..




When I was seventeen

I travelled to Europe, to study and to work, before going to Teachers’ Training College. I flew to Brussels on a Sabena Airlines plane, with just £50, all the currency you were allowed to take abroad in those days.

While I was there I  first heard of ‘Benelux’, which consisted of  Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. This felt like something special, and I loved the sound of it. To me it was the sound of freedom, of the chance to travel and see new places, meet new people. The  Benelux countries were part of the core group of European countries that had signed up to the treaty of Rome some years before.  They were part of what was to become the Common Market and this was my first encounter with it. There was a referendum in the 1970’s and, as I was over twenty one by then, I had the vote and I voted ‘IN’. United Europe grew and more countries joined. It became the EEC (European Economic Community) and then the EU.

All that time, ever since I first went to Belgium and discovered they already had duvets, two languages, and ate chips with mayonnaise, ever since then, I have considered myself a European.

I still am.

At the end of that year in Belgium I travelled by train through what was then West Germany and through the restricted corridor of East Germany to meet my father in Berlin. I have never forgotten that experience or how frightening borders and border guards can be.  In 1964 Germany was a divided country; a country divided by a wall, and had been for almost three years. I stood with my father on the Unter Den Linden, the great boulevard leading up to the Brandenburg gate. We went as close as we dared to the wall. It was a ghastly sight: miles of concrete and barbed wire stretching in both directions and every few yards a watch tower with armed guards watching us, two innocent tourists, as we stood below. I asked my father if he thought it would ever be knocked down. He was a great lover of Europe, having worked for a Dutch company for most of his life. It was with great sadness, I remember, that he said that he didn’t think the Berlin Wall would ever come down, either in his lifetime or in mine. Twenty years after he died he was proved wrong. The wall came down, pulled down, sometimes with their bare hands, by people who did not want to live with borders and divisions any more. Germany reunited and became the powerhouse of Europe that it is today.

For me this story is a story of hope. Now we live in a country deeply divided and in what seems like political chaos. It is also a frightening place where we could see borders and barbed wired grow up between us and our friends in Europe. Yesterday Angela Merkel described us as ‘leaving the family’ and that is what it feels like to me.

In the midst of all this and of my sadness and shock at what’s happened, I am trying to hold on to the idea that there is no way we can know the future and that it is human will alone in these matters that directs what happens. We need to find the people to lead us who will understand that we are still part of the great continent next to us and who will lead us with truthfulness, imagination and integrity into a new relationship where we belong, and forward to a resolution and healing of our differences here at home.

Till next time