This week’s post is about the writing process – a rather apt topic, given I have just returned from an MA week at Arvon’s beautiful The Hurst centre in Shropshire. I’ve come home from this with much inspiration and knowing a wonderful new group of people who are also talented poets.

The day before I left for the Arvon week, I was invited to take part in the ‘The Writing Process’ Blog Tour by Sarah Dixon, a North-West poet and the Quiet Compère. Her own blog post about this can be found here and my responses to the questions are below.

What am I working on?

I have just finished putting together a mainstream(ish) collection for my final MA portfolio, called plenty-fish. The main piece I am now working on is another, more experimental, manuscript entitled The Magnetic Diaries. This is a modern, English, poetry version of Gustave Flaubert’s novel Madame Bovary, with elements of autobiography and criticism too. Then, there are individual poems, V. Press, and a novella, which I am working on.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

There are plenty of fish in the sea, and I think my collection plenty-fish shows this is true of poetry as much as anything else. It is quite wide-ranging in terms of theme, including identity, belonging, the environment and people around us. It is also varied in terms of approach and style. I hope it demonstrates that diversity and flexibility are still possible within one poetic voice. This is really a question best answered by readers though.

The Magnetic Diaries is, I think, going to be quite an unusual way of approaching a past literary classic. It is not a verse novel, but written in a variety of free verse forms and styles. I’m not aware of anyone else having done anything like this from Flaubert’s original, not least because the novel is such a frighteningly landmark literary work and also because the original main character is a tricky heroine to empathise with. I think it’s unique too in how it straddles poetry, criticism and autobiography, as well as looking at elements of medical science and psychology. I also have some potential vispo pieces within it.

Why do I write what I do?

The answer to this probably comprises part of the answer to the preceding and following question. Ever since I can remember, I’ve enjoyed writing. At school, I was advised the only real way to earn a living from this was journalism. (Rather ironical given the decline in newspapers and rise in creative writing roles since then!) I soon found that most newspaper stories were just a variation on those I’d already written, so I started writing fiction. Again I was encouraged down a commercial route rather than an artistic one. After several short fiction publications in women’s magazines, this was feeling formulaic. Around this time, I had my first son. Time was short and pressured. Poetry, which I had only dabbled with occasionally up to then, seemed the ideal creative form and reading matter. Now, I find it very hard to write prose that doesn’t somehow feel wordy in comparison to poetry.

The themes I write about vary. Style and form varies according to theme and contents. I guess I write what it feels like I need to write (be the pressure external deadlines or internal motivation) in the way that works best to express or capture that. This is mostly a gut instinct thing, which is then tested through the redrafting and editing process.

How does my writing process work?

That depends to some extent on what I’m working on. Sometimes inspiration just arises. Other times I am inspired by workshops or books I am reading. Competition or journal submission themes are also good for sparking ideas.

I work in my head and on paper first. Usually at least one, often many more, drafts, are handwritten before I start typing it up. From that point, I edit sometimes directly on screen, sometimes using printed copies. If I’m stuck on something, I often find walking, swimming or cycling allows my subconscious to work on it while my conscious brain is occupied. I like to proof from printed versions and I am a notorious fiddler when it comes to my poems and trying to absolutely, resolutely finish one.

The people I have invited to join the blog tour, posting on 28 April, are Midlands-based poets, editors and educators, Jacqui Rowe and Ruth Stacey.

Jacqui Rowe is a poet, publisher (co-editor of the award-winning Flarestack Poets press), mentor, tutor for the Poetry School and independent producer of literature events. In 2013, she was appointed Writer in Residence at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. She works extensively making poetry with people with dementia. Her website is here and her blog is here.

Ruth Stacey is an English and creative writing tutor, and my co-editor at V. Press. Her pamphlet/chapbook, Fox Boy, is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press. Ruth’s website is here and she blogs at mermaids drown.

(continued from the previous blog post)

To read this while listening to some sounds of Arvon, play the video below.

flames that light cold nights
incense that writes in bold smoke
those scents of old times

a trowel laid down
fingers in the earth, firming
new roots in old ground

tiles chuckling with rain
sliding from outside edges
while inside light glows

sneaking back under
duvet-warm sleep in my muscles
– just ten more minutes

letters on the mat
looped with familiar inked slopes
handwritten ‘fa’ notes

smiles passed from stranger
to stranger – a chain of more
than paper people

sounds filling the mouth
swilled to swelling on the tongue
sampled, savoured, sung

stopping for n0thing,
n0thing to do except stop
scent, tense. then relax

car wipers scrape white
bars of frost music on glass
– seat warmer at max!

grace slices water
arms and legs in fast flesh arcs
– sprays of excitement

saying I’m sorry
in the mirror, gaze widened,
my glass lips smile back

the hymns of fingers
in ivoried concerto
so stone arches sing

silent pages voiced
from the wafer-thin stillness
paper wings in flight

first magnolia
candles open their petals
to pray to warm air

[…to be continued.]

I’m going to end this section with news that I’ve four visual text/poetry pieces coming up in Otoliths in May. (I am playing with incorporating these in ‘The Magnetic Diaries’, perhaps on the cover or at the every start of the manuscript.) And the beautiful second issue of Verse Kraken is now live online. You can read my poem and the other beautiful pieces inspired by the journal’s inspiration spurs here.

I’m also looking forward to reading with one of my new Arvon friend, Martin Johns, in the Carol Ann Duffy and Friends series at Manchester’s The Exchange theatre.

The event on Monday 12th May 2014 features Julia Copus as special guest, which I’m particularly delighted about as I haven’t seen her since she was kind enough to ‘highly commend’ one of my poems and ‘mention’ (shortlist) another in a competition in 2009. Fellow Manchester Writing School graduate Rachel Davies is also reading, so I’m looking forward to a great evening.

Event details are:

Start time: 7.00pm (music), 7.30pm (readings)

Venue: The Studio, Royal Exchange Theatre, St Ann’s Square, Manchester, M2 7DH

Tickets: £12 (£10 concession); price includes £1 book token for use at a special Blackwell’s bookstall on the night – and there’ll be an opportunity to get copies signed in the interval, and at the end of the evening.

The university website advises that these events sell out fast!


Sadly, I didn’t get as much time at I’d anticipated for reading while at The Hurst. My backlog remains almost a whole tree’s worth of paper.

However, I did make the most of the chance to dip into the Arvon poetry library, particularly enjoying David Morley’s The Gypsy and the Poet (Carcanet). This sonnet sequence is developed from a real-life encounter between the poet John Clare and a Gypsy named Wisdom Smith. The central section also features some beautiful, shaped, nature poems, including some featuring different birds – all making The Hurst a particularly apt environment for reading it. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to finish this collection while I was there, so that is definitely one for my new ‘to buy’ list!

Meanwhile, Easter weekend has given me the chance to become engrossed in Carrie Etter’s Imagined Sons (Seren). These prose and question-answer poems are very moving, at the same honest/real and imaginative, startling and thought-provoking. The background narrative to the two interspersed sequences – ‘Imagined Sons’ and ‘A Birthmother’s Catechism’ – is gripping in itself. But that would not be enough alone were it not for the sheer compelling nature of the actual poems. They tread that very delicate line between what could easily become either over- or under-emotional. For me, Etter walks, indeed somersaults, this tightrope lightly as a professional acrobat. The imagery is vivid and crafted, the sounds sensuous and the collection is full of ‘catch in the throat poetry’ moments.