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





The Effect of Heat Waves on Blogging

June 16th 2016

My Writing Life

Goodness! It’s nearly a month since the last blog. That’s because there’s been a heat wave and I’ve been going out to the allotment until it was too hot and then coming back to collapse in the house. Anyway, last Friday it rained, big time, and has been raining more or less ever since, and things are back to normal.

In spite of not blogging, my writing life has not come to a standstill. Over the last few weeks I have written a sequence of poems about our holiday in April in the North of Ireland and Donegal. Always in the past I have exclaimed fiercely that I can’t write sequences and whenever I write two poems on the same subject and someone, usually someone in  my writing group or a poetry workshop,  says ‘you could write a sequence’, I have instantly dried up. However this time I wasn’t even trying and a sequence of five poems has just popped out.

One of my projects at present is to send groups of poems off to magazines in the hope of getting some published, and four of these five will be going off on a hopeful journey soon.

The kind readers of my children’s book have nearly reached the end, and July is set aside to write the third draft in time to submit the book to the Mslexia children’s novel competition in September.

July is also my website review month and I hope to be getting several things up there as follows:

  1. A poem of the month from my previously published work, as often as possible a reflection on the time of year or similar.
  2. The posting of the first part of ‘Ways of Exploring Morecambe Bay,’ poems and photographs of the Bay, a collaborative project with Sid Barlow, stained glass artist and photographer.
  3. Information about my forthcoming series of Creative Writing Workshops here in Lancaster.

So watch this space!

Reading Week (or weeks really!)

The best book I’ve read recently was Owen Shears’ There was a Man and I just finished it last week. It’s very well written with engaging characters and a good story unfolding through a wonderful sequence of flashbacks and moments of suspense. The best section, to my mind, is the one dealing with a character who, as a member of the US Air Force, works in a station in central United States, firing drone controlled missiles remotely at identified targets in the Iraq War. Through the character, Shears explores the moral and ethical dilemmas of drone warfare in a very moving and realistic way. It gave me much food for thought.

 Hare in the Headlights

This isn’t really scary, well I hope not,  just a reminder that Kendal’s first ever Poetry Festival takes place 24th 26th June, and I’ll be there throughout and report back on my next blog.

For now.




Second draft completed; open the Prosecco!

 My writing life

I’m talking about my children’s’ book. Yesterday I finished redrafting and have a second draft for further editing etc. I was hoping to get it done by the end of May and I’ve done it with a little time in hand. One reason for this astonishing speediness is that I wrote the end much more recently, after having received some feedback, so the last few chapters needed less re-writing and restructuring. So I’m going to take a little break now and get back to a bit of poetry before starting the third, and I hope the final, draft in June.

Otherwise, my week has been almost, but not quite (see below) barren of all writing. After managing to write a poem almost every week this year to take to my writing group, I have just dried up completely. Actually I really enjoyed going to the group simply to listen to other people’s writing for a change.

Of course this block had to happen just when it started to rain and I could take a break from the garden. So sitting at home with the rain hitting the windows and watering the vegetables nicely, I turned in desperation to one of my writing books, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. She is always a source of entertainment and good advice. She says that if you get a bit stuck then the thing to do is keep on writing and wait for the next thing to turn up. A friend of mine, another writer who is currently working on novel, came round yesterday morning and we were chatting and laughing about Gilbert’s notion that all the ideas are floating about looking for a writer who will take them on. It’s comforting to think of them out there and all you have to do is grab one as it goes past!

Reading Week

Big Magic is not a book to read from end to end, but one to dip into for inspiration because that’s what it’s about. Other than that I’m just reading for entertainment at present and browsing Waterstones for new buys. Although these fallow times can be frustrating there is evidence to suggest that they can be the source of a whole new rush of inspiration. I hope so.

Hare in the Headlights

Well this one jumped out of the bushes at me! On Thursday afternoon I received an email reminding me that I had offered to spend time tomorrow meeting and greeting at the Quaker Meeting House as we are having a ‘Celebrating the Meeting House’ event and are inviting all the users of the House to come and enjoy it. With nearly a hundred bookings a week from cryptic crosswords to archaeology and yoga, it’s very busy place. The organiser also sent me a list of all the users and invited me to write a poem for the occasion. So, I got a commission out of the blue.  I wrote the poem this morning and will be reading it tomorrow and might put it up on my website for all of you to enjoy. That’s the thing with hares, they turn up in the most unexpected places.

Till soon.

Sometimes it’s hard to be a writer…

My writing life

Has come to a dead stop, or at least slowed to a crawl. I haven’t even had an opportunity to write a blog. There are lots of clichéd excuses for this state of affairs, but I have to be truthful and say I haven’t had a writer’s block or a domestic crisis. If I’m going to blame anything it will be the weather. It’s been lovely for the last ten days and I’ve been out in the garden trying to get ahead of the weeds and keep up with growing plants and watering. So here I am at the key board once more and about to do something constructive.

I have managed to write a couple of poems about my visit to Donegal. One of these will be scrutinised by the other Brewery Poets on Friday, and the other is my offering for writing group tonight. In addition chapters five and six of my children’s book are with my readers, members of my writing group who are offering comments as it goes along. Chapter seven is a big rewrite and I suspect that’s why I’ve been putting it off.

Reading Week

I have abandoned most other reading this week to get through a second reading of Colm McCann’s Transatlantic, for the reading group yesterday. It’s a good page turner of a family saga following four generations of women back and forth across the pond. In includes real historical figures, which some members of our group found a weakness, whereas I enjoyed it. I have also been finishing off my chosen holiday read of the Paddy Meehan trilogy by Denise Mina. If you like crime writing you’ll like this well written witty and unflinching stuff. When you’ve read three good books in a row you always feel at a bit of a loss until the next one comes along.

Hare in the Headlights

No scary moments recently although that list of writing taks is still  long….

Two whole weeks off!

My Writing Life

Yes, it’s now two full weeks since I last put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Lots of reasons: a holiday, a computer problem, the time of year, the lovely spring weather, etc. I’ll leave it to readers to sift through the above list and decide which are reasons, and which are excuses.

Anyway last Friday, a week past yesterday, I was in Donegal. Apart from the holiday, the other reason for going there was to attend a book launch. My friend, a fellow writer, Yvonne Boyle, belongs to the Dunfanaghy Writers’ Circle. The Circle has existed for more than 15 years or so and is convened by Alf McCreary, an award winning professional journalist and writer from Belfast. The members meet once a year at Arnold’s Hotel in Dunfanaghy to write, and over the last couple of years an anthology has emerged from their collective creative work. Last Friday 15th April was the launch of the anthology, entitled Cobalt Blue. The evening, which was very enjoyable, included a splendid dinner and readings from the book as well as a chance to buy copies. Given that the group only meet once a year it is remarkable what they manage to achieve. The title Cobalt Blue is that of one of Yvonne’s poems and the book is beautifully presented and designed. It is a mixture of poetry and short stories.

 Reading Week(s)

No writing this last couple of weeks, but reading yes. I have been reading The Gathering Tide by Karen Lloyd, a member of Brewery Poets, and have a couple more chapters to go. It is an account of walks and observations around Morecambe bay, as Karen comes from Ulverston. I am loving it, partly because of my long standing love affair with the Bay, ever since I came to live here thirty five years ago. I have also got nearly half way through Writing Children’ Fiction the Writers’ and Artists’ Companion by Yvonne Coppard and Linda Newbury. I am finding it very useful as my own children’s book progresses through its second draft.  Otherwise lots of enjoyable holiday reading….

Hare in the Headlights

Lots this week and all self inflicted! H in H takes the form of ‘a terrifying list of things to do for my writing when I can drag myself in from the allotment.’ Well, at least I’ve made the list. Now I had better go and do some of the things on it, especially as it looks like rain…