The Final Blog Post

Dear friends and supporters,

Today I’m sharing some sad news. After nine years of trading, and having spent the last few difficult months trying to keep things moving, I’ve come to the reluctant conclusion that I have to close Mother’s Milk Books.

Of course, many companies and industries are struggling at the moment due to Covid-19, but running an indie press has always been a labour of love that survives on the edge of financial viability. I’m very proud of the books that we’ve published – along with all the beautiful greetings cards and prints we’ve produced – but I feel that the time has come to take a break and do other things. I have loved working with all the authors, poets and artists who have entrusted me with their wonderful creations and feel very lucky to have met so many amazing people – readers, writers, reviewers, booksellers and fellow publishers – along the way. The community that has grown up around Mother’s Milk Books is full of talented, kind-hearted and generous individuals.

However, the closing of Mother’s Milk Books does not mean that I’ll be vanishing into the ether. I’ll still be blogging about all things publishing over at The Book Stewards and sharing my own creative news over on my personal blog, Twitter or Facebook (come follow me if you’re interested). I also have my writing mentees and freelance editorial work to keep me busy (as well as my two children, of course!) and so editing will continue to be a large part of my working life.

As to the books, cards and prints… well, there aren’t that many left. But what does remain is now being sold in a final sale, with 50% off – the 16th October being the LAST DAY EVER of Mother’s Milk Books selling books to the public. So now is the time to get hold of a bargain!

Lastly… thank you again for your support. Mother’s Milk Books couldn’t have continued for as long as it has done if it wasn’t for its amazing writers, artists, readers, reviewers, booksellers, magazine editors (not to mention all the fine indie publishing folk who have cheered me on throughout the years). You are all stars!

All the best,

Teika x

Above: loose bound proofs… a snapshot of the work achieved over 9 years of running the press.

Results of the 2019 Mother’s Milk Books Poetry Prize

I am delighted to be able to share the results of our 2019/2020 Poetry Prize. Huge thanks to all those who entrusted us with their poetry (I now have a good-sized list of excellent poets I want to keep an eye on!), and many, many thanks to the judges, Ruth Aylett and Beth McDonough for reading, considering and making final decisions. I would have found it really tough to make those final choices as there were many poems that I loved.

Adult category

Winner: Blue Hour by Patricia Brody
Runner-up: Maternity Leave in the Age of Giorgione by Sarah Watkinson
Runner-up: Walk by the Thames by Vicky Morris


At the Museum by Anna Beattie
Crying the Banns by Maggie Mackay
Plum by Erin Coppin

Children’s category

Winner: I Am The One by Felix Kennedy

Our Problem by Ayla McKenzie
The Puppy by Orion Conning


Judges’ Report

Ruth Aylett and Beth McDonough

There were so many moving, and often clearly autobiographical poems submitted. There was significant sharing of the very personal, which was frequently courageous, and moving. What then, made the winners stand out?

Essentially, although all the poems chosen are very different from one another, what they all share is a commitment not only to their story, but to language and to the discipline of poetry. Those standing out from the others showed evidence of not only writing but of careful reading of poetry. Each of them found an unexpected way into the subject.

The winning entry, ‘Blue Hour’, from the outset, with its oblique title, its shape on the page and typographic inventiveness, invited attention. Those features were far from superfluous, but captured the photographic nature of the poem, as did the use of line breaks… and yes the sharp and quirky language. So many snaps of arresting detail, and every word, and space, earning its place. A very clear winner.

‘Maternity Leave in the Age of Giorgione’ flitted beautifully between the viewed and the viewer, and the strange grasped moment of these times with an infant in sometimes seemingly judgemental interiors. A lovely balance of painted detail, well-considered on the page, and with a pleasing wrap in the final tercet.

Again, an unusual perspective lifted ‘At the Museum’, and also there was a very assured use of language…”One arm hammocks her small orrery” …marvellous. We had great difficulty deciding on the other runner-up place, and ‘At the Museum’ was only edged from it by a hairsbreadth by the following poem, ‘Walk by the Thames’, which came from a different, but equally unpredictable place, and controlled its narrative and pace beautifully in quatrains. What a fabulous final line.

‘Plum’, with its perfect metaphor, and great opening line is a joy. Meanwhile ‘Crying the Banns’ (marvellous title) evokes a bygone Paisley in so few lines… and is wise enough to show much more than it tells.

Selecting the Children’s winners was in a way rather harder, but‘I Am The One’stood out for its boldness and chant-like qualities and confidence. What a mission statement! A clever acrostic in ‘Our Problem’ tied up a very topical poem, and ‘The Puppy played with a great deal of rhyme in a way that mirrored the subject matter.

However, well done to each and every entrant.

Blue Hour

She is photographing this moment.  If she could
CLICK!   7:00 cloud-swirl
              feathered lobsters (who forgive humans  their huge hunger?)
The family lies on sand under Down East’s bowl
the sun an ice-pop flare   nestling the pines.
She is reading   Aurora Leigh,
her son, the Iliad,    her daughter, Holden Caulfield.
They come at close of day to Little Tunk
                                                                          (the lake)
     of course like glass, which speaks:
In seven days the son’s moving away.
                                                                          (this suckled life)
Balsam dusk.  The mountain cools to black.
Schoodic Head in smoke across the water.
To their right, last slant-of-sun  — — reeds with golden frogs.

Running to catch one, the little sis calls Zak, Zak!
Help me!
He won’t get up now.     Must finish book
before next week.   ZAK!    She wails,   her Speedo suit
a flame in the bulrushes,  blue.

≈     ≈



I Am The One

I am the one who lights up darkness
I wonder what the world could be
I hear the sound that grows in darkness
I see what is right and wrong
I want what cannot happen
I am the one who lights up darkness
I pretend that everything’s all right
I feel the success of my future
I touch the living things that are sore
I worry for the people who get bullied
I cry when friendships die
I am the one who lights up darkness
I understand that not everything is perfect
I say don’t run when you can’t conquer bullies
I try to make the perfect image
I am the one who lights up darkness


Interview with Michèle Beck, winner of the 2018 Mother’s Milk Books Poetry Prize

Many thanks to last year’s winner of the Poetry Prize, Michèle Beck, for taking the time to reflect on my questions and to answer them with such great insight. I hope it inspires readers to get submitting to this year’s Poetry Prize. (Below photo courtesy, Michèle Beck​.)

Michéle Beck is an emerging poet from Doncaster, South Yorkshire. Her work has featured in Open Democracy and Ink, Sweat and Tears. She is a mother, activist, word lover, creative writing facilitator & a Project Coordinator at Right Up Our Street. You can find out more about Michéle here:



1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I am a mother first and everything else second.

2. How, when and why did you first start writing?

I started to write what I suppose were poems from a very young age, maybe seven? Although, I never really associated them with “poetry” – I think I was trying to make sense of my emotions. I started to need to write as I moved into the dreaded teenage years and it became prolific – I think I purposely set out to write a poem aged thirteen after my father took me to see Sylvia Plath’s grave in Heptonstall; he then loaned me a copy of Ariel (which incidentally I never gave back – sorry dad!) and I went on my personal poetical journey. It has been a long one though and one I feel I’ve merely scratched the surface of. It took me a long time to get published.

3. How often do you write?

I write when I feel the urge, generally I write at least something – even if it’s just a description, a feeling or a memory – weekly. I don’t pressure myself to write anything daily because I have a son and a job and a whole long list of life to prioritise. I would like to write more though… that is the truth.

4. What made you decide to enter the Mother’s Milk Books Poetry Prize?

I first became aware of Mother’s Milk through a great friend, mentor and brilliant poet Becky Cherriman after I read her pamphlet Echolocation (which is exceptional by the way) like Becky and myself, Mother’s Milk’s ethos aligns the commonality of motherhood and poetry, as for me the two are intrinsically linked; being a mother is not all of my identity but it inspires me creatively. I like that there is a support network for mothers who write, because finding time and raising a family is a challenge. Motherhood is a beautiful thing so let’s continue to celebrate it.

5. How did it feel when you’d heard that you’d won?

I was sat at work and my personal email flashed at the top right-hand side of my laptop screen. I announced it to my boss, I was elated and ecstatic and suffering a little from imposter syndrome. I felt surprised. I was honored.

6. Can you tell us a little about your winning poem?

This poem was a slow burner. I had my son five years before I finished this poem. I have probably edited it a hundred times. I was trying to relive the moment and share it as exactly as I could. I had an emergency C-section after seventy-seven hours of labour. I was absolutely terrified and I wanted to specifically recall this feeling, as I know many women experience trauma during birth. I added the Nosferatu reference in the final hour and I thought it was a big risk, but I suppose as clichéd as it is, risks pay off.

7. What are your writing plans for 2020?

Big plans! I want to (hoping and praying) get my first pamphlet out there! I’ve held it close to my chest for a few years so fingers crossed. I would also like to start putting all the little scraps of paper I have in many different note pads and shaping them into something that vaguely resembles poems.

8. Any tips for writers?

Trust your authentic voice and use it always. You can read Michèle’s stunning winning poem, ‘9 1/2 cm’ here. And if you feel inspired to take part in this year’s Poetry Prize (and I’d really love it if you would!) please read the full guidelines here.

2019 book round-up

As we approach the end of 2019, it’s the perfect time to look back at the books we’ve been reading this year and to choose some favourites.

Helen Lloyd: Skipping the obvious Atwoods etc., Max Porter’s Lanny has stuck with me, with a really haunting small child at its heart. And I’ve just finished – and sobbed over – A Short History of Falling by Joe Hammond, such a loving reflection on the nature of fatherhood, illness and death. Which reminds me of Kathryn Mannix’s With the end in mind, which I read at the beginning of the year and has changed the way I think about mortality and the end of life.

Ana Salote: The book that sums up the year for me is Climate – A New Story by Charles Eisenstein. We’re in the throes of converging crises. His analysis and vision gives me hope for what might evolve from the wreckage.

Becky Cherriman: I’ve been reading Book Parts, ed. Duncan and Smyth. It is a super geeky book about the anatomy of books and the history of those elements – from introductions to frontispieces to epigraphs. It’s written in an engaging self-conscious way and most contributors are women.

The Ghosting of Anne Armstrong by Michael Cawood Green is a fictionalised story about a 17th Century woman who accused her neighbours of witchcraft and an essay about the research published together. The researcher is present, haunting the novel and there is some interesting genre-boundary play going on. Exciting format published by Goldsmiths Press and the start of a new cross-form approach.

Raymond Antrobus’ The Perseverance (published by Penned in the Margins) is a stunning autobiographical poetry collection dealing with subjects such as Deafness, mixed raceness and grief and told with a love and understanding of language that resonates long after you close the cover.

Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez uses statistics and an accessible style to explore many of the ways in which the world is practically geared towards men and men’s lives.

Poems, Philosophy and Coffee by Helen Mort and Aaron Meskin (published by Valley Press). Poems by Helen and easy to read mini essays by different aesthetic philosophers respond to one another in this quirky book that highlights the relationship between the two disciplines.

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis who has a knack for making the most entertaining and satisfying short (sometimes very short) stories from the most mundane events of life.

Angi Holden: Glancing through my reading log, the last line is usually the telling one: ok, but not great; a decent read; enjoyable; disappointing; predictable. It’s been a mixed year for reading but there have been a few which got ‘breathtaking’ or ‘stunning’.

My diminishing hearing prevented me following the TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale so I read it instead. It needs little introduction, but if you haven’t read it, give it a go. It’s hard to believe it was published in 1985. Meg Wolitzer’s The Wife has also been adapted for the screen. The story of Joan, muse and second wife of literary star Joe Castleman, The Wife is funny, satirical and engaging.

My star fictions among 2019 publications included Anne Griffin’s When All is Said and Mary Beth Keane’s Ask Again, Yes. Both address family relationships and things said and unsaid. Anne Griffin’s unlikely hero is 84-year-old Maurice, getting gradually more drunk in an Irish bar. Not my kind of guy, but stay with it – he is a deeply flawed character and the five ‘toasts’ to people who have shaped his life form the structure of an absorbing read. In contrast Ask Again, Yes is set in America and looks at how love can survive between two young people when their families are torn apart by violence. Where do our loyalties lie and can there ever be forgiveness? Jessie Burton has been a favourite author since I read her debut, The Miniaturist. Her latest novel The Confession, like Wolitzer’s The Wife, has a literary setting. It concerns a young woman, Rose, who invents a false identity for herself in order to unravel a family mystery and resolve questions about her own identity. As she becomes drawn into her new life, so do we. Fascinating stuff.

The first of my non-fiction choices for 2019 was Jon Day’s Homing. Okay, so it’s a book about pigeons. Bear with me, they are fascinating creatures and I learned a lot about them. But Homing is so much more than a study of an obsessive but dying hobby. It’s part study and part memoir, exploring our need to settle down, to develop roots, to find a place we can call home. In an age of global migration, it’s more pertinent than ever. Top read of my year must go to a small collection of four essays by the late Oliver Sacks. Gratitude discusses the drawbacks and benefits of growing old and, following his terminal diagnosis, the implications of dying. It is especially resonant for me this winter, as I say farewell to my oldest friend. Gratitude does what it says on the tin.

Teika Bellamy: Fiction-wise, The Prestige by Christopher Priest, Things in Jars by Jess Kidd, The Dollmaker by Nina Allen, Something Like Breathing by Angela Readman and Separated From The Sea (a collection of short stories) by Amanda Huggins stood out for me. I also read oodles of science fiction short stories, as well as poetry, but need to do them justice by writing a separate post about the best of them on my personal blog. Non-fiction-wise, I can highly recommend A Shadow Within: Evil in Fantasy and Science Fiction (edited by Francesca T Barbini and published by Luna Press Publishing) and not just because it includes an essay by me; it’s simply a fascinating insight into the nature of evil and how authors, filmmakers and franchises have responded to the important question of what it is that makes a person evil.

And on a lighter theme… I also wanted to add that both my children really enjoyed reading Moon Juice (poems) by Kate Wakeling (published by the Emma Press). Happy reading in 2020!

Results of the 2018 Mother’s Milk Books Poetry Prize

Today I am very pleased to be able to share the results of our 2018/2019 Poetry Prize. Many, many thanks to all those who entrusted us with their writing (I have made a note of some excellent poets I want to keep an eye on!), and huge thanks to the judges, Ruth Stacey and Katy Wareham Morris, for reading, considering and making final decisions (that’s them above, busy making their choices).

Poetry Category (Adult)

Winner: ‘9 ½ cm’ by Michèle Beck

Runners-up: ‘Boarding now at Gate Seven’ by Hannah Stone and ‘Much improved’ by Scarlett Ward

Commendeds: ‘Ponies’ by Caroline Stancer, ‘New Born’ by Ruth Aylett, ‘YOU ARE NOT NIGELLA LAWSON’ by Sallyanne Rock, ‘Spun from the Same’ by Jane Burn, ‘Uncle John’ by Rufus Mufasa

Poetry Category (Children)

Winner: ‘Do you want to play?’ by Darcy Rourke

Commendeds: ‘Song for Mummy’ by Gabriel Hennessy and ‘We Go’ by Pippa McGonigal

Judges’ Report

Ruth Stacey and Katy Wareham Morris

The entries for the competition encompassed a variety of themes, some choosing to focus in on aspects of motherhood and birth, raising children and being a writer. Others chose to work on original subject matter. We had no particular preference for either approach; we sought out poems of high quality, which surprised us in some way. We thoroughly enjoyed reading each poem, more than once, then finally getting together to compare notes and shortlist our winners. It was good to hear such insights into parenthood, family and memory.

Judging as a pair was an interesting process as some poems appealed more to our personal tastes and styles of writing. However, it was reassuring during our final session to find we had almost got exactly the same shortlist of ten from the poems submitted. Our winner was an easy choice which we both agreed on, our runner-up poems took more discussion and re-readings but it was clear which ones to choose.

There were many accomplished poems in the submissions. Some had brilliant lines or images, but lost focus through structural choices or overwriting. There was sometimes a tendency to over-tell an ending. There doesn’t need to be an explanation all the time. There must be trust that the reader can do some of the work as part of the process. There were poems that were particularly emotional, drawing on personal memoir, that caused both judges to feel moved. We felt many of the poems were a draft or two away from being a finished poem, and we hope the poets who submitted will continue to work on them and send them out again.

The children’s poems were all charming and we felt heartened to see children engaging with and writing poetry.

Adult Category:

Winner: ‘9 1/2 cm’. The winning poem utilised an extended metaphor of horror films to describe labour and birth that surprised and unsettled us both. The gothic horror references shine a lens on medical childbirth as something quite otherworldly and chilling. The narrator is both an expectant mother and a female character pinned down in a Hammer Horror film awaiting the monster. The title, describing the opening of the cervix, can also be read as the length of a wound. The structure of the poem is sparse, using white space and dashes to indicate time; the long wait of labour. The sharpness of the enjambment echoes the horror metaphor, cutting through the lines in a jolting fashion, and the rush of words through the fourth stanza, losing punctuation in the middle, adds rising tension and a shortness of breath before the entrance of the creature, who fills their lungs for the first time like Frankenstein, and screams. We thought there was a lot happening in this carefully constructed poem, and we both found it memorable for its visceral and nightmarish elements.

Runner-up: ‘Boarding now at Gate Seven’. We were struck by the brutal honesty in the first two stanzas of this poem, finding the imagery to be both striking and poignant. The first stanza successfully accomplishes a sense of bitterness and frustration, which we could immediately identify with as fellow writing mothers. We think this is powerfully communicated and extended through the beautiful precision of the folded muslin which represents all of the writer’s creative output at this time: it is both vital for the nurturing of the child, in one regard the ultimate creation, whilst simultaneously seeming so mundane and binding in terms of potential creative output. We feel this poem also addresses the still contentious issue of equal parenting and childcare within the debilitating system of structural patriarchy, which demonstrates how poetry continues to be a powerful personal and political tool, making way for important conversations.

Runner-up: ‘Much improved’. We loved the awkward wordiness, rhythm and prosodic features of this poem – particularly in the first two stanzas which really went some way to replicating the uncomfortable demands of having another language/dialect literally in your mouth. There is an authenticity here and a strong sense of voice, which is often a challenging task for writers.


9½ cm

Alarmed eyes, coffined under fluorescent lights
elongated Nosferatu shadows move back from
behind the make-shift blue screen.
Epidural ice-cold nitrogen, up-streams

my spinal cord. The long wait —

a tear slips
giving away my position.

Mummified, bestowed on a steel bed
hospital native tongues whisper procedures 
apprehensive faces ascend their masks
a scalpel wounds its permanent, numb scar 

and your entrance into the world. 

7.01 am—

You fill your lungs
with inspired air 

and scream to let me
know you have arrived.



Do you want to play?

Mam Mam do you want to play? Isn’t it quite so beautiful today.
We can play and play until the rain touches the floor again.
Will you say yes oh please today?
I’m busy why not ask Dad? Surely Dad would like to dance.
Hey Dad do you want to play? Isn’t it quite so wonderful today.
We can play and play until the wind blows again.
Oh please say yes just for today.
No I can’t I’m getting ready for our holiday.
Why not play with the dog? I know she would love to play.
I can’t ask Sadie. I guess it is just me again…
Betsy! Let’s play until the sun comes out again.


Welcome to the authors of The Forgotten and the Fantastical 5!

Now that all the contracts have been signed, sealed and delivered, I am delighted to be able to announce the authors of the upcoming The Forgotten and the Fantastical 5, which will be published either late this summer or autumn time. They are:

Becky Cherriman

Noel Chidwick

Carys Crossen

Donna Day

Rosie Garland

Kim Gravell

Katie Gray

Sarah Hindmarsh

Jonty Levine

Keris McDonald

Louise Richards

Angela Readman

Aliya Whiteley

I am ever so glad to welcome these authors to the Mother’s Milk Books family – some of them are relatively new to writing and some are experienced and, indeed, very well known. Some I’ve already published. All the authors’ stories complement one another; themes running through the anthology are: glass, wolves and what it means to be human. It’s going to be a fantastic book!

Now to commissioning some art for the cover. Please do let me know about any artists I should be aware of.

Interview with Jess Thomas, winner of the 2017 Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize (fiction category)

Thanks so much to Jess for taking part in this Q&A and offering up such useful insights. Jess also deserves double thanks because she’s the behind-the-scenes star who’s volunteered her time to helping me deal with the poetry prize submissions, so that I can catch up with other things, like publishing posts and sending off parcels of books. Thanks again Jess, you’re a real star. (Below photo courtesy Jess Thomas.)

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I live in beautiful Gower, South Wales, with my husband, two sons, two dogs, a grumpy cat, and a multitude of tropical fish. Before having children, I was a Special Needs teacher, and specialised in working with Secondary School pupils who had ASD. I’m now a stay-at-home mum, writer, researcher and crafter.

2. How, when and why did you first start writing?

I’ve always journalled and as a child I would write lengthy poems and stories, but then I was told poetry shouldn’t rhyme, and my brother said my books were *poop*. It took a while to rediscover my love of creating and to silence the fear. After having my first son I found a bravery and strength I’d never known and rejection felt survivable. I then started to pour out stories to try and make sense of the world and all the new emotions that came with parenting.

3. How often do you write?

I journal every day and write a little every week, but I am constantly ‘writing’ when I’m walking the dogs, cooking tea, doing the ironing; my stories are taking shape in my mind and my subconscious is doing the work. My favourite time for ideas is just when I’m dropping off to sleep – I am sure the best are the ones I fail to remember!

4. What made you decide to enter the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize?

I’ve followed the press since reading about it in Mslexia some years ago. I love the Forgotten and Fantastical anthologies and have submitted in the past. Myth and storytelling are something I’m really interested in, especially retellings. I wrote two pieces for the non-fiction section of the competition and, after many re-workings to get to the heart of what I wanted to say, one piece became a fiction entry.

5. How did it feel when you’d heard that you’d won?

There’s a quote about how having children is to let your heart wander free of your body all day. I felt that about this piece, a bit of me exposed for all to see. We were out as a family when the email arrived, and after reading it over and over, I screeched, jumped around and was promptly told by my youngest to calm down. It is the first competition I have won and I’m still beyond delighted. After the initial glee I convinced myself it was a mistake! It took a while to believe it wasn’t.

6. Can you tell us a little about your winning piece of writing?

If you’re struggling to think of what to write, then write about something which scares you – sound advice that I took to the extreme. I originally wrote the piece as a non-fiction entry, a first-person account of my own fears, but it felt whiney and insular. I played around with it, re-worked it and tried different perspectives and the more separate I became the more I realized that fear isn’t an emotion felt by me alone, rather it is a feeling that encompasses all parents from the very first decision to try for a baby. Working on this piece has taught me a lot about my writing, especially to be open-minded and flexible, rather than labouring the initial idea.

7. What are your writing plans for 2019?

The same as it has been for the last couple of years – to continue writing and researching my novel of historical fiction. It is an exploration of how the myths of Gower were formed to shape the behaviour of the villagers. I’m enamoured with Celtic mythology and easily led down new paths of research. This leads me off on a tangent of writing short stories and re-working folk tales before I yank myself back to the novel. It may not be the quickest route, but it is the most enjoyable. I would also love to find a writing group that is purely for life writing as a form of therapy, it is becoming more prevalent but I’m still looking – I may need to be brave and create my own.

8. Any tips for writers?

Perseverance and resilience. Some people are born writers, while for others it takes work and practice, rejection and criticism. My sons are taught Growth Mindset in school and encouraged to make mistakes to grow their brains. I wish I had been taught that when I was younger, but now it’s my children who teach me that failure can be good. That’s why I strive to set a good example and, no matter what I do, I use their mantra ‘at least I tried’. This time it really paid off and I couldn’t be more proud to be chosen by a press with such a unique and fantastic remit. You can read Jess’s engrossing winning story, ‘In Fear’s Eyes’ here. And if you feel inspired to take part in this year’s Poetry Prize (and I’d really love it if you would!) please read the full guidelines here.

Interview with Laura Potts, winner of the 2017 Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize (poetry category)

Huge thanks to Laura for taking the time to take part in this Q&A – I’m absolutely delighted to have such a talented young poet share her insights here. I hope it inspires poets of all ages to enter our competition! (Below image courtesy Laura Potts.)

Laura Potts is twenty-two years old and lives in West Yorkshire. Twice-recipient of the Foyle Young Poets Award, her work has been published by Acumen, Aesthetica and The Poetry Business. Having worked at The Dylan Thomas Birthplace in Swansea, Laura was nominated for The Pushcart Prize and became one of the BBC’s New Voices last year. Her first BBC radio drama aired at Christmas. She received The Mother’s Milk Writing Prize and a commendation from The Poetry Society in 2018.

1. How, when and why did you first start writing poetry?

The exact age is unremembered, but I was very young. I’ve always been a reader and the one fed easily into the other for me, even in infancy: reading led to writing led to reading again. And that cycle still exists today. But there was never a definitive moment when I took to my desk and decided to write, or to ‘be’ a writer. It just grew, quite naturally, with my years. I suppose, looking back, my grandmother was there at the heart of it all. Before war took her health and age took her mind, she had been an amateur writer herself. And she would read. For hours and days and weeks she would read, and I’d sit on her knee in the old armchair. That great gravelly voice, broken by years of work and war, spoke on in my infant ear. Once and forever. Always. If I listen today, it’s still there.

2. What made you decide to enter the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize?

As I recall, my mind was on motherhood. I’d lived with the thoughts for some time and the poem was the great end of that passion. Mother’s Milk appealed to me for the humility of its roots as a small press, and for the strides it has taken to uphold the place of childbirth, pregnancy and motherhood in literature today. After all, these are themes which are too often made marginal. Entering the Prize was my own small way of walking away from that; and of tipping my hat to the work of this press.

3. How did it feel when you’d heard that you’d won?

Like most unexpected successes, it brought a quiet moment of joy. And since most of my work is kept for my eyes alone, it’s always reassuring when someone else feels its worth. It entered the world to be read and enjoyed and someone, somewhere, saw that. But most importantly of all, it brought a source of comfort; an assurance that my voice didn’t just speak to the page and back. It could reach much further than my own four walls and lay its claim to living. So, yes. The news took the wet out of Wednesday for sure.

4. Can you tell us a little about your winning poem?

It was quite an amorphic little verse, by which I mean unlike the rest of my work. If I remember rightly, it was born in an hour of free-writing. Its sustained image is simple: a mother rocks her son to sleep by candlelight and dreams of the wide future to come. The structure is scattered; the rhyme irregular; the metre unstable. Despite the soft and gentle words, an anxiousness exists. And in the final line we find its source: the boy in her arms will one day be the soldier on his knees.

5. What are your writing plans for 2019?

Who knows? Writing has never had a timeline or followed a predictable pattern for me. It comes and goes, some months more than others. Allowing it to live as it wishes, however it wishes, ensures it remains a joy. But the next logical step, I suppose, is a first collection for which the time must be right and I must be ready. I’m also in the infant stages of a poetic drama for BBC Radio 4. And while all these things flicker into being, eventually living, I read. That in itself is enough.

6. Any tips for those writing poetry?

  • Always have an accessible medium. Notebook, diary, tablet, phone. The back of your hand will do. Just make sure your mind never meets a barricade. Even when you’re on the bus or half-asleep in the bath.
  • The best writers are the best readers. I can’t stress this enough: the importance of books, of the farther arts, of the whole wide world which spins outside the little room you write in. The mind is a keen machine, and you’ll get out what you put in. So when you read, read critically. Why do you like this writer? Why don’t you like that one? You’ll converge with one and not with the other. Finding your voice means gauging your place, just like this, in the epic annals of literature.
  • Read your work aloud. At its ancient roots, poetry was an oral art often set to music. By reading aloud you’ll honour its history and notice its flaws. A poem has a different life on the page to its life in the mouth. And it’s easy to know when a writer does not read aloud: their rhythm could always be better.
  • Be kind to yourself. Writer’s block is an anxious friend but one we must endure. Take your time. If you’re struggling, leave it alone. Take a walk. Take a nap. Take a month off and sleep. The work needs time and patience to live. And, after all, sometimes the mind works best at rest.
  • The only regrets you’ll have are for the times you didn’t try. So why not pick up a book today? Go on and begin.

You can read Laura’s beautiful winning poem, ‘First Light’ here. And if you feel inspired to take part in this year’s Poetry Prize (and I’d really love it if you would!) please read the full guidelines here.

Interview with Victoria Bennett, winner of the 2017 Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize (non-fiction category)

As there is now only one week to go until the deadline for submissions for the Mother’s Milk Books Poetry Prize it’s about time that I shared this interview with Victoria Bennett, the non-fiction winner of last year’s prize. Many thanks to Victoria for taking the time to answer my questions with such insightful answers, and I hope it inspires the writers reading this to put pen to paper and enter our competition! (Below image courtesy Victoria Bennett.)

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Victoria Bennett. I am a freelance writer and full-time mother to a free-range eleven-year-old learner. Originating from the borderlands below Scotland, I am the Founder of Wild Women Press, a women’s creative collective based in Cumbria using poetry and creative experiences as a force for positive change in women’s lives. I have worked for the last 25 years with women in the community, and online, using poetry for advocacy and action. My work focuses on the ways we tell, and retell, our personal narratives. My own poetry has appeared in print, online and even in the popular video game, Minecraft. I have published 4 pamphlets and performed live across the UK, from Glastonbury Festival to a Franciscan Convent.

2. How, when and why did you first start writing?

When I was five, I discovered my father’s collection of antique poetry books. At age six, the first poem I wrote began “Imagining the death of my father in heaven”. Perhaps things would have been different if I had found The Bunty instead of Byron? Eager to find other women’s voices in the poems I read, the first poetry book I bought with my own money was Dancing The Tightrope, published by The Women’s Press. It still falls open on my favourite poem from the anthology, which is ‘If My Life Could Be Simple’ by Caroline Griffin which starts: “I want to straddle the lashed boards straining on the waves.”

For me, writing, and in particular poetry, breaks through the longhand of life. It strives to make connections — with myself, others, and with the experiences we encounter in our very human lives. No matter how rough the waves are, or how much rubble there is, it finds the beauty in the messy stuff of living. At different points in my writing, my poetry has, at times, been disregarded as “too personal”, “too confessional”. I do write as a woman and a human being. I am not afraid of writing from the raw centre of life. I know that I am closer to the truth of who I am because of writing through my life and I am a stronger woman for it. I want my writing to be brave, to continue to say the things we don’t say and find that beauty, so that when needed, they can help others be brave too.

3. How often do you write?

I am a full time mother, carer, home educator, mentor, and freelance creative producer. Often, I haven’t had as much time as I would like to “being a writer”, though the words have always been there. In 2018, I made active decisions to change that and I am continuing to do so.

4. What made you decide to enter the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize?

I really like what Mother’s Milk Books do, and I wanted to contribute to that conversation. In the last 14 years, I have lost four members of my close family to cancer, drowning, and suicide. I have experienced the loss of a child, and then watched my only living child nearly die at age two. I have been a full-time carer for my son, and I have nursed my mother through terminal cancer to her death. My writing during that time has inhabited the spaces and edges of that narrative. I had a body of poetry, sketches, and ideas, and decided that, should I see a platform that I felt would be a positive space to share these, that I would submit work. I decided to submit a short piece of non-fiction memoir.

5. How did it feel when you’d heard that you’d won?

Surprised! And grateful. I was surprised because I won the non-fiction prize. I have always focused on poetry, but decided that I would submit a non-fiction piece instead. It seemed important to do so. When I found out I had won, I re-read the email several times! It also felt like a moment to stand back and give thanks, because the piece I submitted was very close to my heart and it was the first public space it had been shared in. I was grateful that it had found such a respectful and positive space to land.

6. Can you tell us a little about your winning piece of writing?

My piece was about the day my oldest sister drowned in a canoeing accident and how that impacted my life. I was 7 months pregnant at the time with my only (and much longed for) child. The shock set off a chain reaction in my body to try and deliver the baby too early. Experiencing such an intense loss alongside the possible premature birth of my baby, and then the late stages of pregnancy, was something that affected me profoundly and changed me forever.

7. What are your writing plans for 2019?

I want to see what shape my writing takes, to stretch it further to that ‘best line’ and push the boundaries of how I deliver my work, and the spaces it can inhabit creatively, whether that is in performance, page, or on digital platforms such as video games and VR poetry films.

I have been working on a narrative non-fiction memoir, springing from this experience, and hope to find a home for it in 2019. I am also hoping to start a Creative Writing PhD later in the year, and I am researching old Norse culture and language. I continue to hope to find the right places to share my work, and develop my skill, reach new audiences, and grow a deeper insight into my actions, words, and choices — as a poet, and as a woman.

8. Any tips for writers?

Write because you want to. Write because you enjoy it. Write because it saves you. Write because you need to. Write because you are looking for answers or for questions. Write for whatever reason is yours, and in whatever ways are right for you. Then keep writing. Keep reading. More than this, keep being alive to your experiences and encounters, your perceptions, and the places and people you encounter. Don’t be afraid of sharing ideas, words, dreams, and celebrate your own successes and those of others, genuinely and with gusto. And if there are times in your life when you can’t write, be kind to yourself — all living is research and sometimes, all we can do is live. I didn’t write for two years after my sister died, not one word. It didn’t disappear. I just needed time to find my way back to it.You can read Victoria’s incredible winning non-fiction piece, ‘Axis’ here. And if you feel inspired to take part in this year’s Poetry Prize (and I’d really love it if you would!) please read the full guidelines here.

2018 highlights and some of our favourite books

Having only published two books this year it may seem as though it’s been a quiet year for Mother’s Milk Books. But as anyone involved with a small press knows, there’s a huge amount that goes on behind the scenes to: a) produce those books, b) keep making sales to enable the press to stay afloat, c) keep up-to-date with all the business administration, and d) put in the groundwork for future books. And as I don’t really pay myself for the work I do on the press there’s the paid freelance work I take on to enable me to keep my children in shoes. (Their feet do have a habit of growing…)

However, amidst all the seen (and unseen) busyness of 2018 there were some very special highlights for me. One of them was seeing the amazing reception to Angi Holden’s debut Spools of Thread (which was the winner of our inaugural Pamphlet Prize). Despite heavy snow Angi had a brilliant launch event, sold plenty of pamphlets and reviews were highly positive. As a publisher I can’t really ask for much more than that! Then there was Inheritance, by Ruth Stacey and Katy Wareham Morris, which won Best Collaborative Work at the Saboteur Awards (that was a super proud publisher moment for me), as well as the launch of The Forgotten and the Fantastical 4 which was a lot of fun. (Also, TFATF4 has almost sold out which is both heartening and daunting!) Having new readers connect with Ana Salote’s Oy Yew – and write glowing reviews – was just brilliant (and makes me super excited about launching the last in the Waifs of Duldred trilogy next year), and meeting people at various cons who are readers and fans of the books (not a con goes by when someone doesn’t gush about what a brilliant book Baby X by Rebecca Ann Smith is) continues to be wonderful.

Receiving accolades at the inaugural Nottingham Writers’ Studio awards – one for ‘Writing Teacher of the Year’ as well as ‘Just Cause’ on behalf of the press was another highlight. And alongside all this, my husband and I launched The Book Stewards which is our little space of the internet in which we blog about the ins and outs of publishing, providing insider information and motivation for writers. One of the reasons we set it up was because there’s so little information about publishing out there, so hopefully, writers wanting to progress their careers – indeed, some who may want to be published by Mother’s Milk Books – will be able to drop by and pick up some useful tips.

And of course, there was plenty of reading. Here are some of the Mother’s Milk Books’ authors/editors/supporters favourite reads of the year:

Angela Topping: The #MeToo anthology, the Poems for Grenfell anthology and Deborah Alma’s Dirty Laundry.

Beth McDonough: I was hugely impressed by Robin Robertson’s The Long Take. Apologies… as I know it’s on some of the big prize lists… but despite that, it’s daring indeed. As far as anthologies from the smaller presses go, I’m sorry Luath has had to delay publication until April, but Scotia Extremis (edited by Andy Jackson and Brian Johnstone) will be a cracker! But Jim Stewart’s This (Voyage Out Press) has to take top place. I just wish he had lived to see it published.

Also, though not a publication, and not easily definable… Martin Figura’s Dr Zeeman’s Catastrophe Machine was the high spot of a superb time at StAnza this year… by turns heartbreaking, funny and hugely life-affirming.

Rebecca Ann Smith: The best book I read this year – well my favourite anyway – was The Theory of Bastards by Audrey Schulman – highly recommended for anyone who enjoys smart, feminist sci-fi. It’s about technology, sex, nature vs nurture, men and women, medicine and its limits, and what we can learn about connection and community from bonobos (that’s a lot I know!). Packed with ideas but also engaging and relatable.

Ana Salote: I’ve been retreating into comfort reads from the 30s. Just finished The Fortnight in September by RC Sherriff. It’s about a working class family on holiday in Bognor and it’s utterly engaging. It’s so sensitively written and made me nostalgic for the modest but deeply appreciated satisfactions of the old analogue world.

Angi Holden: I keep a reading log and usually it’s packed with goodies but, largely due to health issues and the ensuing tiredness and lack of concentration, I’ve read less than usual this year. However, two novels have stood out for me: Vanessa Diffenbach’s We Never Asked for Wings, the story of a woman finally taking charge of her complicated life (which made me question how much of the support we give our adult children is really in their best interest) and Rachel Rhys’s Dangerous Crossing, about the blurred social, national and political boundaries aboard an Assisted Passage Scheme liner in 1939. Both easy reads but thought-provoking.

Of my non-fiction reads I particularly enjoyed Kathleen Jamie’s Findings and Sightlines, both re-reads. The nature and landscape of Scotland through the eye of a poet.

Much of my reading this year has been poetry, some of it acquainting myself with poets’ work in preparation for courses or workshops. Difficult to choose favourites but Josephine Corcoran’s What Are You After?, Deborah Alma’s Dirty Laundry and Clare Shaw’s Flood stand out. Tishani Doshi’s Girls are Coming Out of the Woods was a particular delight as I’d not met her work before. Here’s the title poem.…

Teika Bellamy: Although I read (and write) a fair amount of science fiction short stories (both Interzone and Shoreline of Infinity provide a continual supply of excellent stories) and have read some of the scifi classics I know that my science fiction knowledge is still seriously lacking. So I set out to remedy that by reading Adam Roberts’ The History of Science Fiction. Though an engaging read it did take me a while to finish – purely because it’s so stuffed full of facts and nuggets of insight into the huge genre that is science fiction. Now there’s *just* all the books Adam mentioned within to read…! Poetry-wise I read a fair bit; I’m hoping to review the books I loved in more detail on my personal blog soon. Favourites were Angela Topping’s The Five Petals of Elderflower, Kate Garrett’s Land and Sea and Turning, Cathy Bryant’s Erratics, Grant Tarbard’s Loneliness is the Machine that Drives the World and Rachel Bower’s Moon Milk. Fiction-wise I really enjoyed Kij Johnson’s novella The Man Who Bridged The Mist and Damage – a collection of short stories – by Rosalie Parker, and I thought Emma J. Lannie’s pamphlet of magical realism short stories Behind a Wardrobe in Atlantis was exquisite. I’m also really excited about getting hold of a copy of Angela Readman’s Something Like Breathing which will be published by And Other Stories next year.

Tom Bellamy: Francis Plug: Writer in Residence by Paul Ewen was a highlight. It’s very funny and very moving, and the author somehow makes you care for and like Francis – a grotesque though endearing character.

Rebecca & Jerome Bellamy: Pamela Butchart’s Pugly series as well as the Wigglesbottom Primary and the Baby Aliens series are BRILLIANT! (Note from TB: we also really enjoyed reading Nikki Young’s Time School: We Will Remember Them about children’s lives in World War One. It’s a page-turning though informative read – and particularly timely as we finished reading it just before the local Remembrance Day service which my daughter was involved in. It helped her to connect to what happened a century ago. And reading about a delightful mouse who lives in a steampunk world – ‘Gelsomina and the Moon Yarn’ by Valerio Vitantoni – was a lot of fun).