Results of the 2017 Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize

Finally, and despite various technological problems (a major computer crash!) I am very happy indeed to be able to share the results of our 2017 Writing Prize. Many, many thanks to all those who entered and trusted us with their writing. And many, many thanks to the poetry judge, Alison Lock and fiction judge, Ana Salote for reading, considering and making final decisions.

Poetry Category (Adult)

Winner: ‘First Light’ by Laura Potts

Runners-up: ‘Faith’ by Rachel Bower and ‘Oyster’ by Rachel Bower

Commendeds: ‘Two (for R and F)’ by Jenny Barton, ‘Son, at Aberdyfi’ by Suzanne Iuppa, ‘Petrified’ by Louise Larchbourne, ‘Midnight and Saffron’ by Maggie Mackay

Poetry Category (Children)

Winner: ‘Secret Island’ by Izzy Mattesini

Commendeds: ‘Tigers’ by Lanora Clarke and ‘Another Day’ by Annie Young

Poetry Judge, Alison Lock’s Report

It has been an absolute pleasure to read the poems submitted for the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize. It was Mother’s Day when I first read the many intense and passionate invocations of love for a newborn child, about the hardships of mothering, the sleepless nights. Many poems resonated with me and took me back to my early mothering days. I even shed a few tears.

I was also daunted – how was I ever going to choose a winner from so many good poems. I decided the only way was to be methodical, so I set to work by compiling a list of criteria to work through with each poem. I looked at the style, the presentation, the language, punctuation, the form each poem took, the rhythm, and asked whether the title added anything. And then there was the theme, how original was it, how compelling? How did the imagery enhance the subject? And finally, universality – was this a poem that would speak to many? Did it capture the human condition?

After much consideration, I had my long-list. I let it settle, and then I went back to it. I wanted to hear how they sounded. I waited until I was alone and then read them aloud, first indoors, then outdoors. I believe that poems are far more than words balanced on a page and that it’s important to hear how they sound – to listen to their music by allowing a poem to echo against the walls, or to feel it catch on the wind.

The winner was always there I realised, right from the first reading, but I had to be sure. It was more difficult to choose the second and third places from the shortlist.

Winner: ‘First Light’, ticked all the criteria, but it was not just that – I shivered when I read it aloud, as though it was singing out to me. I could hear the mother’s voice ‘…chiming/like goblets/through lobes/of the trees’. I could see her waiting ‘…where the tiny light asleep/is her/moon man…’ I loved the way this poem made use of the white spaces, the periphery. This is a poem that owns the page, it yearns to be read.

Runner-up: ‘Faith’. A beautiful evocation of a woman’s connection with her instincts, to her connection with nature, the ‘rock salt and lime’, ‘[b]lack tea, laced with a feather of rose/breathed through soft lips’ – an alternative to the ‘accepted norms’ of childbirth. I love the ‘mole-soft smell of baby hair’ – so evocative. This poem was full of fabulous imagery.

Runner-up: ‘Oyster’. The opening line takes us straight into a fairy tale – ‘As he sleeps, she spoons light from the jug/and sprinkles it over the floorboards.’ While her baby sleeps the mother ‘works quickly’, but these are no mundane housekeeping tasks. Transformed by the world of the child, she is ‘scattering petals and droplets of wax.’

Winning Children’s Poem: ‘The secret island’. Lots of images, rhyme, and alliteration – ‘whispering willows/creaky and crooked…’ – this poem was exciting; a poem with lots of action, and I wanted to be there.


First Light

It is somewhere in a sometime
that a long late light
            on the other side of this city’s eyes
holds the dark hills

and the voice of a mother
                        is chiming
like goblets
            through the lobes
                        of the trees

in that moment when she cradles
                                    in the crick of her bone
the silver limbs
            the candled skin

and there are moons
which are trembling
and spin
            in the warm air

where the tiny light asleep
is her
                                    moon man
her lamplight
                        at sea

and one day the soldier

slumped to his




The Secret Island

The river that flows
and the whispering willows
creaky and crooked a pathway for us,
bubbling waters and icy-cold swimming
adventures at moonlight with plenty of daring.
Rock pools and ridges a wonder for dens
and when storms come the treasures we find
that have been left on the shore behind.
Brightly coloured bushes and fire-wood we need
a pathway above us with roots and leaves.
Our secret island we visit each year
and this to us is why it’s so dear.



Fiction Category

Winner: ‘In Fear’s Eyes’ by Jess Thomas

Runners-up: ‘A Wingless Wedding’ by Elizabeth Hopkinson and ‘Baby Steps’ by Dervla McCormick

Commendeds: ‘Poppy Day’ by Corinne Atherton and ‘Bella and the Beast’ by Fiona Ross

Fiction Judge, Ana Salote’s Report

Writers are naturally people watchers and lovers of words. Being asked to judge a writing competition is an invitation to do both. Each story is a window into someone else’s world: their preoccupations, ideas and patterns of expression. It’s an interesting and enjoyable process.

In line with the Mother’s Milk remit many of the stories submitted focused on parenting. When so much of what manifests in the world can be traced back to parenting this is an inexhaustible and critical issue to explore. Each unique family dynamic has the potential to perpetuate good or evil. There’s also a vast seam to explore in what parents can learn from children. Feminism and relationships are equally wide topics and it was good to see writers considering these issues with some very individual standpoints.

Winner: ‘In Fear’s Eyes’. There’s an instant hook in the opening line of this story which marks it out as something different. The writer has chosen to personify an emotion that stalks all of us throughout life, but which intensifies when we become parents. The stakes are raised by love. Fears begin in pregnancy and continue throughout the birth process. With our newborns we are hyper-vigilant to every breathing pattern, rash and temperature change, and so it goes on as the child grows and new risks emerge. It’s a story that examines fear and resilience and what children can teach us about facing fears and embracing the new.

Runner-up: ‘A Wingless Wedding’. A sci-fi look at relationships uses a short form to ask big questions about love and sex. The erosion of sexual apartheid mirrors what is happening today with new self-defined gender categories. What is the role of physical bonding in relationships? What form does union without desire take? Fathers are at one remove from the gestation and birthing process, where do they fit if the genetic link is also removed? Different forms of love, eros and philia, alternating through generations gives plenty of food for thought.

Runner-up: ‘Baby Steps’. We all know pushy parents but what happens when the child is the driven one? Enlightened parenting strikes a balance between encouraging independence and protection, between allowing talents to flourish and forcing or moulding. This story sets up the dynamic between a determined, ambitious child and a parent who supports with a light touch. We see how the dynamic plays out in childhood and later in the face of tragedy.

In Fear’s Eyes

Once there was a woman who saw me, and fought me. There isn’t a time when I am not around, but I’m felt, not seen. Some have called me doom, others think I am the sense of their mortality, and I am both those things because I am fear.

‘Why not try a water birth?’ the midwife asked Melissa, and as her eyes widened I found the chink in her armour.

‘No thanks,’ my prey replied, ‘I don’t really like water.’ It was music to my ears.


For every one of her twenty-nine years, I have stalked Melissa. As a child she only knew the sweetest dreams, she climbed the sofa, fell down the stairs, burnt her fingers on the oven, and crawled on, always curious, and always happy. I followed the risky teenager, the one who ran over rail tracks, drank vodka under bridge trusses, and still aced her exams. Then she became a backpacker, and I chased her across zip wires, and as she parachuted from planes. Never could I catch her. Melissa was gifted with an impenetrable force field, not unlike a golden aura. It engulfed her body, and kept her from me, year after year.

There were things she didn’t like, of course. Spiders gave her goose pimples, especially while they flickered in her hands as she threw them out of her home. Heights made her queasy, never more so than just before a bungee jump or sky dive. Then there was water, which she simply avoided. Why hadn’t I seen it before? The dilated pupils, the beautiful precursor to my way in, why would I have missed that?

It was because the baby was drawing upon that forcefield. As soon as she started ‘trying’, I was there waiting, a shadow in the background of each failed test. Each loss. The glow fading, getting thinner and thinner, but still impenetrable. All I needed to do was wait.

Having ruled out the birthing pool, she took to the bed. Knowing my moment was coming, I must have become too excited, too palpable, for she looked right at me for some time, not through me, but at me. I turned, as one does, to see if she fixed her eyes on someone behind me, but there was only myself and the wall.

Pethidine, Entonox, Epidural, forceps, suction, then finally the scalpel, all the while looking in my eyes.

How dare she threaten me in such a fashion? So insolent, and disrespectful. I knew what I was going to do, if I couldn’t have her.

The surgeon announced the final incision, the cut through the womb, and as I turned, the golden light surrounding her child blinded me. No wonder hers had become so weak. It was pumping down the umbilical cord, in final bursts before the doctor severed the attachment. When the baby cried, Melissa stopped staring at me. Her smile was one of elation, and not just that, I swear I saw triumph.

Now, there is one thing I know about new mothers – they are easy prey. The foolish woman thought she’d won, but I knew all about what was to come, and I knew better than she could imagine, just how simple it was going to be for me in the coming months. I waited.

It is difficult to admit my continuous failure in those first two years. Her aura blocked all my usual routes in; the constant check of breathing, the temperatures, the rashes, the varied nappy contents, even the apnoea alarm sounding when the baby wriggled out of its zone. Melissa’s defence was still dim, but still there. Then came the weaning, and I didn’t even get a chance when the child gagged, she even explained it as a natural reflex. Far too relaxed a demeaner. I tried to find a way in with MMR. In desperation I even managed to wriggle the latch loose on the baby-gate, but the father spotted it, and fixed it promptly.

Now he was easy, far more than her. And, although I infiltrated him it only seemed to cause him to act. He fixed the baby-gate, got a webcam, attached rubber to every corner, put clips on cupboards, buffers on doors, and even let the baby eat dirt ‘to build its immune system’. I couldn’t comprehend him. But he did find me the route in to Melissa.

‘Two things on which I’ll put my foot down,’ he said, ‘learning to ride a bike, and learning to swim. They’re life skills Mel.’

It was beautiful. Her glow faded to less than a shimmer. I was almost in, and I would have bet on the pool bringing down the final barrier. Her husband went into the water with their two-year-old, and Melissa sat with me on the side. At one point I thought she was going to take my hand, and suddenly invite me in, with open arms.

As the child’s toes touched the water, it let out a shriek. For a moment it distracted me from Melissa, the fresh opportunity to consume the child as its glow disappeared in a flash. Instantly, I was all around, flitting from child to child, parent to parent, and I turned in time to see what I’d been dreaming of. Melissa, eyes closed, biting her lip, devoid of armour. I was in. I gripped her, ready to make her terrified, poised with a panic attack, right up until she strangled me.

At first, I was unsure of what was happening, and as I suffocated I twisted and turned, then I heard it: laughter. There, in the water, the child was laughing. It gurgled. The shrieks were ones of joy. Before my eyes it regained its glow, the light growing stronger and deeper until it reached out a cord to Melissa and began pumping her guard with light in growing bursts. The cord wrapped around my neck, once, twice, then thrice. I kept fighting.

I fought back, right up until the end I grappled with her in the changing room, thinking I could win her over with the slippery floor, and dirty changing mat, but she only grew stronger. Once she changed the baby, and started walking out of the leisure centre, I was tired but still trying. Then she walked up to the counter, and killed me.

‘I’d like to book on to adult swimming lessons please,’ she said.

Behind the receptionist was a mirrored wall, and as she paid for the course she looked at her reflection. The last thing I saw before I gave up the fight, was her smile, and it was one of triumph. Once she was a woman who saw me, and fought me. Now, there isn’t a time when I am not around, but sadly, she just ignores me.



Non-fiction Category

Winner: ‘Axis’ by Victoria Bennett

Runners-up: ‘For Creativity’ by Rachel Rivett and ‘Confession’ by Alison Bond McNally

Commendeds: ‘Our First Words’ by Laura McGarry, ‘A Chocolate Tickle’ by Leslie Muzingo, ‘How to Give Birth in Twenty Simple Steps’ by Christine Grant, ‘Jammy Dodger’ by Rachel O’Leary, ‘Something to Keep’ by Angi Holden, ‘Women Like You’ by Jess Thomas, ‘Auntie Ellie’ by Annabel Barker, ‘Memory’ by Dawn Rapson, ‘Into the Abyss’ by Caroline Cole

Non-fiction Judge, Teika Bellamy’s Report

Although I established the Writing Prize 5 years ago and have been its main organizer ever since, I have never been involved with the judging. Until this year. So I came to the process intrigued, if a little daunted, since I knew that the quality of the submissions was always very high. This year was no exception and my non-fiction pile was full of exceptional pieces. But after much reading and deliberation I came to a decision.

Winner: ‘Axis’. As soon as I started reading this piece I was drawn into the narrator’s story, and found myself in that dream-like state of total absorption in the words before me. That’s a wonderful, though often rare, place to be. Its major theme is the clash of death and life – something that virtually everyone can relate to – and the conflict it brings to the narrator. There are no clichés or platitudes here. No manicured neatness. Simply the messy stuff of grief, new motherhood, love and fear. This piece deserves to be read and shared far and wide.

Runner-up: ‘For Creativity’. Being a fan of Tolkien and wholeheartedly agreeing with his stance on the value of the genre of fantasy, I was delighted to see the author quote Tolkien in this passionate, though well-researched, argument for the importance of creativity for our individual (and societal) wellbeing. This is a powerful and expertly written piece.

Runner-up: ‘Confession’. Over the years I’ve been running Mother’s Milk Books I’ve read a huge amount of prose about new motherhood and seen so many approaches to this complex and deeply emotive experience. Many of the approaches seem over-familiar. But not this one. In ‘Confession’ the author likens the experience of going to the doctor’s with her newborn for a routine postnatal check-up to the experience of a religious confession. It is honest and painful and raw, and yet so relatable. Again, another stunning piece of writing.


Every time I wondered about whether or not it was possible to make my commended list slightly smaller I answered with a resounding ‘No’! I loved and appreciated reading every single one of the commendeds, and with my publisher’s hat on I knew that, given the resources, I would happily publish every single one, since they are all original, well-written and thought-provoking. I would definitely like to read more from these authors in the future.



It is three in the morning…

I write the words over and over, just to see the ink take shape, but still it does not fit.

Twelve hours. That is all it takes to change a life. See me then, before. Here I am. I am laughing, sharing home-cooked stew with my husband in front of the fire. Blue sky gives way to the bruising of clouds. Rain falls against my window. The telephone rings, but I do not answer. If it is important they will call back. We are in love – with life, with each other, with this baby that kicks and rolls inside of me. We are making plans.

It has taken a long time to reach here. We were cautious. We whispered in the dark. The thin blue line, the expectant hush, the prayers. We did not dare to window-shop the future. Instead, we celebrated each moment, each growing ball of nerves, each small increment of life: this day our baby is growing fingernails; this day, our baby is six centimetres small, but recently we have started to believe. We are building new horizons.

October pivots on its axis. Like winter hovering, I sense some shadows, but this day gives itself to light. These are the moments we almost miss. The purity of joy. We think we can hold them forever, that we have arrived at some state of being, but as all things, this too shall pass.

The third time the telephone rings, my husband answers it. Something in his voice is strange. He hangs up and turns to me, and I can see he is trying to find the words to speak.

My sister has been in a canoeing accident. They are keeping her heart going and trying to increase her temperature. No one mentions drowning. No one explains.

I stop eating. I don’t believe in any God, yet I am praying…she will be ok, she will be ok, she will be ok, she will be ok, she will be ok, she will be ok, she will be ok, she will be ok, she will be ok, she will be ok….

The telephone rings again. My husband answers. There is a pause.

She is not ok.

A scream leaves my belly, rips out whatever was there before and hurls it across the room. I rock. Hands try to comfort. I am told not to cry. I must think about the baby. I must think about the baby.

And that is that. She is gone. I must sleep, but I cannot, and the sight of my husband’s sleeping face makes me angry, so I get up and go to another room, sit in bed and try to write.

It is three in the morning and my sister is dead…

Exhaustion takes hold, but only momentarily. When I wake it hurts more. I am waiting for morning to come and wishing it would stay away. The baby kicks inside me. It is agitated. I want to escape it, escape this body for an hour, drink a brandy, smoke a joint, knock myself out until the light comes but I don’t, because I am carrying life inside me and I must think about the baby. This baby, who will be born into loss and will never know that once upon a time, life was different.

My sister, who took me swimming at midnight under a yellow city moon, who sang the Reefer Blues, who refused to let go of the wire even though the police were approaching, who taught me Joni Mitchell songs and how to spell the word ‘feminist’, who when I was twelve told me not-to-let-the-bastards-get-me-down, who stuck my life together at nineteen with hope, love and lentils, who burnt curtains with Christmas decorations and belly-danced in shimmering gold before my marriage day, who had hair the colour of honey and fairytales, who twirled in flowers to the chants of eastern gurus and sang Babooshka in long skirts skimming across the summer grass, who arrived in a rainbow of ribbons and blonde-haired children, apologising her way into every late day, who placed her hand on my growing belly and chattered to my unborn child. My sister, whom I loved and worshipped, who always broke my heart with her sadness, who took until I was twenty-six to tell me why, who broke a bridge with the words of truth that we were only just beginning to rebuild.

Now, no time can be returned, and waiting in the wings is a tidal wave of shame and anger and guilt and it makes no sense. It will never make sense.

Where was she? What happened? Was she alone? Why? When? It is suddenly very important to know the small details, to anchor the hugeness of loss against the physical facts. To know the how, when knowing the why is impossible and yet, it is not important at all, because she is dead. My sister, always late for everything, is early for death, and her death leaves behind a shape I do not know. No more ‘six children’, no more ‘four daughters’. No more but the stories she leaves, and those hurt too much.

I touch my belly in the dark. I am scared. How much can I bend in the storm? My body vibrates in pain. Everything aches or throbs or stings. Sleep runs faster away. The future disappears, and so does the past.

A swift kick to the ribs tells me that life continues, even in the fog of this pain. I must sleep, rest, eat, relax, nest, prepare, be strong, give birth, release. We must keep going, but right now time sticks, enters a different zone where I stumble, not knowing how to move my body in this new atmosphere, not knowing how I am supposed to do this. The words are too small, the faith too small, the loss too big. No time for platitudes. I know life is transient. I know it is fragile, that as one falls another waits to be born. The cycle continues. I know the metaphor but right now, it hurts too much.

The monster under the bed turns out to be real after all. It has come out from the dark and eaten my sister, and what do I do with that?


Interview with Grace Fletcher-Hackwood, winner of the 2016 Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize (prose category)

Many thanks to Grace, last year’s prose winner, for taking the time to answer my questions – I don’t often get to hear what happens with the winner’s prize money, so this lovely story is very welcome! Hopefully this inspiring Q&A willl give those still considering whether to enter the Writing Prize or not further incentive to get those submissions in. The deadline is midnight on 31st January, just 2 and a bit days away… do consider entering. Guidelines can be found here.

Photo courtesy Grace Fletcher-Hackwood

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m 32 and I live in Manchester, where I’m a city councillor.

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

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember… I think my first story was about a snowman. I got my first rejection letter from a publisher when I was 9! My mom (who was the inspiration for Kat in ‘Shush’) was my first reader: as soon as I could hold a pen she bought me a diary and encouraged me to write every day.

3. How often do you write?

Sadly, despite the diary I never really got into the daily writing habit! I’m very inconsistent: I can go for months feeling as though I’ve forgotten how to write at all, then spend a week writing for hours at a time.

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

I spotted the prize in Mslexia magazine’s excellent listings section! I’m a big fan of any competition where instead of cash, the entry fee is an excuse to buy a book or some stationery…

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

I can remember exactly where I was – checking my emails as I walked up the stairs! I’d been feeling a little down on myself as a writer because it was a while since I’d been published or placed in a competition: winning the prize made me feel as though I wasn’t completely wasting my time. Plus the very kind words from your judge helped me to identify some of the strengths in my writing. It’s really helped me towards finding my voice.

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

‘Shush’ was originally written for a different competition, for which the theme was ‘Discovery’. I brainstormed that word and thought about how sometimes life’s most exciting discoveries – twenty quid when you’re broke, or anything at all when you’re six and digging in the back garden with a spoon – are things that might seem quite small to other people.

The library in ‘Shush’ is inspired by my wonderful local community library, The Place At Platt Lane in Fallowfield, so I split the prize money with them and it went towards their 85th anniversary celebration – we had a great day.

7. Any future writing plans?

At the end of last year I was lucky enough to have a novel longlisted in the Mslexia Novel Competition. I didn’t get any further in the competition, but now I have a novel draft to work with – so I’m going to spend some time hammering it into shape.

8. Any tips for writers?

If you’re like me – inconsistent, and only capable of working when a deadline looms – then enter loads of competitions! Some of them are free to enter; some of them give you great feedback; some of them you might even win – but all of them will prompt you to get something written.

You can read Grace’s winning story, ‘Shush’ here. And if you feel inspired to take part in this year’s Writing Prize (and I’d really love it if you would!) please read the full guidelines here.

Interview with Sophie Kirtley, winner of the 2016 Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize (poetry category)

As there are now only two weeks to go until the deadline for submissions for the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize I thought it was about time that I shared this interview with Sophie Kirtley, the poetry winner of last year’s prize. Many thanks to Sophie for taking the time to answer my questions and I hope it inspires YOU to put pen to paper and enter our Writing Prize!

Photo courtesy Sophie Kirtley

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I grew up in Northern Ireland but now I live in Wiltshire with my own young family. Last year I stopped working as a secondary school English Teacher and enrolled on the amazing MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University – a real turning point in my life.

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

I’ve always written. Even as a little girl I wrote stories about animals and plays for my cousins and siblings to perform. Then as I grew up I started reading more poetry and writing poetry too. But this was mostly just for me and I never really ‘confessed’ to anyone that I was a writer. When my children were born I started writing for and about them which, in turn, made me feel more open about writing and less shy to share what I’d written.

3. How often do you write?

I work part time and write part time. My writing days are Thursday and Friday and these days are sacred and so precious. I do squeeze writing into the corners and crevices of other days too, but Thursdays and Fridays … aaaaaahhhhhhh…. lovely!

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

I’d seen the prize mentioned in Mslexia several times and always drew a circle around it, thinking Mother’s Milk might be a good match for my poetry. I appreciated the unashamed feminine celebration of the Mother’s Milk ideology. I also liked entering via purchasing someone else’s writing (I bought Oy Yew by Ana Salote, which I really enjoyed) – it felt like being part of a writing community in a way.

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

Gosh! I was just stunned. It meant a great deal as I hadn’t really had the confidence to take myself seriously as a writer before and winning the prize felt like a real affirmation that I was on the right track. Also my poem, ‘Anniversary Number Six’, was written from quite an intimate and small world so I was gladdened that I’d communicated something that was appealing and welcoming to readers who could make their own meaning from it.

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

I wrote the original ‘Anniversary Number Six’ for my husband as an anniversary present a few years ago. So it was never really intended for a wider audience – it was just a reflection on us and the hazy state of new parenthood and the way love bends into many shapes.

I love playing with form in my writing and the challenge of a sestina just makes my mouth water. In sestinas the looping recurrent words and sounds swirl about and reshape themselves into new patterns like oil on water. For me I find that somehow, while I’m concentrating on the pattern of things, somehow meanings kind of make themselves out of the corner of my eye, when I’m not looking.

7. Any future writing plans?

Oh yes, always! At the moment I’m concentrating on editing the children’s novel I wrote on my MA last year. It’s called Hartboy and it’s a middle grade adventure about a child who runs away and accidentally ends up in the Stone Age.

I have so many other story ideas bubbling away too… and poetry plans… and… and… and…

8. Any tips for writers?

Be brave and be bold, write what feels right to you and what you’d like to read. Write like a reader and read like a writer. And don’t be afraid to play – writing should be fun! And don’t be afraid to share your writing – join a critique group, submit to a magazine, enter a competition (especially a supportive, warm-hearted, one like The Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize!) – allow your writing to be read!

You can read Sophie’s winning poem ‘Anniversary Number Six’ here. And if you feel inspired to take part in this year’s Writing Prize (and I’d really love it if you would!) please read the full guidelines here.

2017 Roundup: Reflections on Publishing, Literary Heroes & Heroines, Book Recommendations

2017 was another interesting year for me as a publisher – and I use the word ‘interesting’ in the way it is used in the apocryphal Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times.

Of course there was much that was good in the year – the great reception to the three books I published: The Forgotten and the Fantastical 3, Nondula by Ana Salote, and Inheritance by Ruth Stacey and Katy Wareham Morris; the five awards that Baby X by Rebecca Ann Smith picked up in 2017 (the fifth is the just-now-awarded Red Ribbon from The Wishing Shelf Awards); as well as the continued support from our authors, readers, helpers and all our “tribe”. But financial worries persisted in casting a cloud over me as costs (print, in particular) continued to rise, unlike the price of books – and our sales – which remains steady. The sad truth is that the profit margins in publishing books are tiny; to make the whole thing work profitably isn’t impossible, but clearly, it’s something I’ll have to spend much more time thinking about next year. Maybe I’ll ask my fairy godmother for a magical business hat that’ll help steer me in the right direction!

2017 also had its other challenges – the added administrative and accounting complexity of becoming a Ltd company; book piracy; the issue of literary “convergent creativity” (i.e. the discovery that the themes within Baby X, by Rebecca Ann Smith were also to be found in a newly-published book, The Growing Season by Helen Sedgwick); the continued non-response from the traditional media when trying to promote/publicise our books; as well as one of my authors, Alison Lock, having had a horrendously bad accident. All these things made me feel a whole range of emotions and forced me to think through the issues and how to respond to them in a positive and productive fashion.

Most importantly, Alison is on the mend, and inspiringly, as committed as ever to her writing. She has also very kindly agreed to judge the 2017/2018 poetry category of the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize. So if you have a poem that you think she may like, please do send it our way.

I’d like to think that the other challenges I’ve handled as best as I was able to. Indeed, looking at the positive, it’s been great to have the help of other publishers who’ve empathized and said helpful things along the lines of: “Yes, these things happen, it’s not ideal, but here are some ideas…”


Looking at the bigger picture, the literary world (okay, specifically, the indie publishing world, which is what I know best) is as robust and as radical as ever. Here are some of my literary heroes and heroines of 2017:

1. Nathan Connolly, of Dead Ink Books and author Kit de Waal – for starting and sustaining the conversation about the issue of class in the literary and publishing world, through Dead Ink’s crowdfunded Know Your Place and de Waal’s working class writers’ collective and the newly-launched (and currently crowdfunding) Common People anthology.

2. Nikesh Shukla and Julia Kingsford’s hard work in making The Good Agency (an agency with its focus on advocating under-represented voices in publishing) a reality. (ACE, just the other day, awarded them over half a million pounds in funding). Excellent news!

3. Jamie McGarry of Valley Press and Emma Wright of The Emma Press for opening up the conversation about what it’s really like to run a small press in their new fortnightly podcast (I’m their biggest fan). I applaud them for making the workings of indie publishing more transparent – I think it’s of a great benefit to authors, and useful for publishers too. Do check it out – listening to two such friendly, intelligent and passionate-about-books people talking about publishing and how they make their businesses work is both incredibly useful and inspiring.

4. Nadia Kingsley of Fair Acre Press and Deborah Alma (aka The Emergency Poet) for putting together the incredibly important #MeToo poetry anthology – due to be published in March 2018 (with all money going to the charity Women’s Aid). The book won’t make for easy reading, but it absolutely needs to exist.

5. The good folks at Comma Press. Comma continue to publish politically necessary books. When I went to a Comma event at the excellent Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham (for the launch of their anthology Protest) I was inspired by what both Ra Page (of Comma) and Andy Hedgecock (one of the contributing authors) had to say about how, historically, protests were one of the few ways “ordinary” people had effected political change. Where protest hadn’t brought about change, for whatever reason, one could look at other instances where, in fact, culture – films, books, art – had greatly influenced societal thinking, which had its own role to play in effecting change. It reminded me that indie publishing, too, has an important (though perhaps small) role to play in bringing about change through the shifting of societal thinking.

6. Shoreline of Infinity. As I wrote in my own blog a while back, the SFF world is still dominated by male writers. The editors of Shoreline haven’t passively sat back and ignored the problem; they’re doing their bit by asking for more women reviewers and encouraging more women to send in stories; indeed Issue 11 will be a women-only issue. Hoorah!

7. The incredible AndOtherStories will be publishing only books by women in 2018, which is a much-needed shake up to the system, and Influx Press recently had a call for submissions from only women of colour. I’ll look forward to seeing all those exciting books in print very soon.

8. Kate Garrett of Three Drops Press. Kate is one of the most productive (and prolific) creative people I know; she also has a lovely large family, so the way she continues to be so creative, in publishing and writing terms, alongside being a brilliant mum always inspires me. 9. FantasyCon and the SFF community. This year’s FantasyCon was the first ‘Con’ I’d ever been to (like, ever), and I was blown away by the wonderful, friendly atmosphere, and how so many of the people there – readers, authors, publishers – made me feel truly welcome. I’ll most certainly be going again! (The below photo of me at FantasyCon is courtesy of David Stokes of the relatively new and exciting Guardbridge Books.)

10. My authors, who continue to remain patient with me when I know I’m sometimes a frazzled and (very forgetful) editor.

11. All the quiet people who offer their kind support to indie publishers and creatives like myself every day – by buying books, writing reviews, engaging with us on social media and offering help. And especial thanks go to Helen Lloyd, Susan Last, Maddy Bennett, Emma Sheffield, Ronne Randall, and Sarah Hindmarsh who have been a huge help (and brilliant cheerleaders) to me this year. Also, a shout-out to The Only Way is Indie publishing folk; you really help to keep my spirits up! Super special thanks go to my husband and children who continue to support me. 😊


And here are a few of the ‘team Mother’s Milk’ favourite books:

Teika Bellamy: The Beauty by Aliya Whiteley (Unsung Stories), The Book of Tides by Angela Readman (Nine Arches Press) Fairy Tales for Writers by Lawrence Schimel (A Midsummer’s Night’s Press), Vertigo by Joanna Walsh (AndOtherStories), When You Lived Inside the Walls by Krishan Coupland (Stonewood Press), Deadly, Delicate by Kate Garrett (Picaroon Poetry), Empires of Clay by Becky Cherriman (Cinnamon Press), Earthworks by Jacqueline Gabbitas (Stonewood Press), The End edited by Ashley Stokes (Unthank Books), Bone Ovation by Caroline Hardaker (Valley Press). 

Also… Memoirs of My Body by Shreya Sen-Handley, Why The Politics of Breastfeeding Matters by Gabrielle Palmer (Pinter & Martin), Raising Boys by Steve Biddulph, and I’ve just now started reading the gorgeous First Fox by Leanne Radojkovich (The Emma Press), as well as dipping into Reward for Winter by Di Slaney (Valley Press) which I’m really appreciating. I’ve also heard that Francis Plug (published by Galley Beggar Press) has another book on the horizon, which I’m super excited about!

Angi Holden: Leafing through my reading log (I kept one as part of a course over a decade ago, and have continued the habit) I’m reminded of some cracking fictions: The Chimes by Anna Smaill (fantasy, dystopian yet hopeful), The Course of Love by Alain de Botton (insightful and forensic analysis of a marriage), The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (Chinese-Japanese relationship during WW2) and Our Souls at Night by Kent Harif (the challenges of a relationships between older widow & widower) stand out as particular gems.

I read a number of non-fictions that have surprised, moved and impressed me: Becoming Drusilla by Richard Beard (“one life, two friends, three genders” about poet and artist Dru Marland), The End of Your Life Bookclub by Will Schwalbe (a terminally ill mother and her son share favourite books), The Last Act of Love by Cathy Rentzenbrink (a brother’s survival is a worse option than death – persistent vegetative state) and The Dragonfly Diaries by Ruary Mackensie Dodds (a memoir of an environmentalist) were among my favourites.

I don’t know where to start with poetry. In what has been called a thin year for poetry (John Burnside, New Statesman) there have been some superb pamphlets and collections. The Poetry School’s list includes a number by poets I’ve heard read this year: Hilda Sheehan, Kayo Chingonyi, Polly Atkin, Steve Ely. None have disappointed. I would add James Sheard’s Abandoned Settlements, a surprising omission since it’s been shortlisted for the forward prize. My favourite read of the year was probably Carrie Etter’s Imagined Sons.

And finally a “heroine” – Rebecca Bilkau, editor of Beautiful Dragons, an entirely collaborative, not-for-profit poetry press. Despite financial constraints she continues to publish wonderful themed anthologies – Chemical Elements, Oceans and this year Poems of Dissent. Its impact goes beyond publishing. Rebecca draws poets together, encouraging them to get to know one another, interact, share performance spaces.

Rebecca Ann Smith: My favourite book of 2017 was The Power by Naomi Alderman. This novel is thrilling, upsetting and thought-provoking. And it’s always good to see speculative fiction getting some attention.

If you have any book recommendations, or any literary heroes and heroines you’d like to mention, please say so in the comments. I’d love to hear from you! And finally…


The Runners-Up of the 2016 Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize

As promised in the last post, here are the pieces of the runners-up of the 2016 Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize. I hope you have a chance to sit and read them, cup of tea to hand, and to be able to savour the authors’ lovingly-crafted words.

Poetry Category (Adult)

Prenatal Ski

After several months
in this bed ghetto
observing my stomach rise
above its vertical horizon
in a half curiosity, half horror
I have not felt for my body
since adolescence, the air
brash against my face,
the cut of the corduroy
beneath my skis
is a thrill that may last me
until I see you through
to being.

I need this, but
already I have failed
at being your mother
because not even the snake
of an unwieldy snowboarder
gives me pause
to hockey stop
so he can catapult

I’ve seen you,
little acrobat, somersault
inside of me, Ive marvelled
at your ability to clown around
in such confined quarters.
This seems the best place
for you and me, the only place –
hurtling downhill
into the unknown.

Remember the arc
of the midwife’s raised
eyebrow, the ski outfitter’s
tut-tutting; bury our wry smile
until his baritone ho là là
gets swallowed
by the spray.



Evening Falls

“The main point was to eliminate the difference between what is seen from

outside the window and what is seen from inside” — Rene Magritte

On one pane’s shard in the living room, the evening sun perfect as the evening sun
made artful in the window frame. In our short-tempered house, the windows
never broke or swelled. Flesh did.

Another shard shaped like a boat sails across the floor of my childhood.
A floor my father crossed to smack me and my sister when we rolled our eyes.
A floor television remotes, cd covers, and telephones flew over like airplanes

when he didn’t want to stand up to reach us. In addition to the summer scene,
Rene Magritte painted one of winter, too. Mountains outside the window
take the shapes of peaks fractured yet rising from the dining room floor.

Half a lifetime later, my father’s window still does not break. It is like love’s
instinctual attachment, which, if it must, will form scar tissue over crack and fissure,
stretch skin to keep intact. The bird smack-confused after flying into the hard

reflection of what it thought was the world, drops to our earth. Dad cupped
the fragile fledgling and didn’t toss it to the sky. He warmed it
while his dinner cooled, until the bird was ready, two hours later, to push

its feathered weight up from a palm that had finally learned patience, and fly again.



Prose Category

A Thousand Shades

I stand in the garden and watch her wrestle the bike out of the shed, aware that something has changed. She has exploded into independent womanhood these last 12 weeks; no longer asking – ‘Mum, can I bike to the next town,’ but announcing – ‘Mum, I’m going to do a work exchange on a mountain in Spain.’In between, she has walked 180 miles over the Ridgeway and the South Downs with an assortment of variously in/appropriate and patched together equipment. She is eighteen. Just. The pace of change has sent me spinning into a whirlwind of pride and anxiety that leaves me breathless. Literally. Unable to breathe.

She hoists her tiny bag onto her back. It is TINY. She is going to the Peak District to bike in the hills. I can see no sign of a coat. She has planned and funded the trip herself; surely, she doesn’t need me to tell her to take a coat? And this, I realise, is part of the pain I’m feeling. I no longer know what it is to be a mother to her. Her energy bristles with independence.

Sometimes, she asks for advice.

She isn’t now.

In my worst moments I’m struck by the ease with which it’s possible to completely blow it in these teenage years. The realisation that somehow, in the briefest slice of a second, in a heavy-handed parenting moment, it might be possible to undo the good work and relationship building of the last two decades; because the energy is so raw and newly grown, so needing of respect in its impulsive courage, wild beauty and boldness of spirit.

Her aquamarine eyes flash at me and I am reminded of her strength, evident from the first moment we glimpsed her, a picture drawn in sound, practicing the mountain pose in my womb. I see her walking miles as a toddler; horse jumping, arms outstretched, at 10 years old; learning karate and archery. I see her crouched by fires, up trees, in rivers. A thousand shades of childhood.

‘Have you got a coat?’ It’s ridiculous. It’s November. I can’t let her go without a coat.

‘It’s not going to rain.’

‘It might be cold, though.’

‘I haven’t room for a coat.’

‘Then take a bigger bag.’

‘I haven’t one.’

‘Take mine.’

Her eyes meet mine for a moment. I smile, encouragingly. ‘You might be glad of it.’

Rolling her eyes, she begins pulling things from her bag. She hasn’t got much time before her train, and I am slowing her down. With an irrational amount of relief I run to get her coat. Because, at the very least, I can do this for her: let her be warm and safe and protected. The Madonna Cloak, personified and literally present in this soft, waterproof garment.

As she shoulders the larger, bulkier bag I remember the countless times when my children were small, when shy neighbours, stern librarians, sweet strangers on windswept hills told me, ‘It doesn’t get any easier, you know. It gets harder.’

I remember how the smile would freeze on my face, partly from disbelief. What could be harder than the sleepless nights and tearful exhaustion; the fevers and the sickness; worries about over-parenting and under-parenting but ultimately, like people on a bear hunt, having to go through the parenting, relentlessly, one challenging decision after another? But mostly, the smile froze with the kind of intuitive terror that they were pretty much right. That it wouldn’t, in fact, be harder, but that it would continue to be as hard. Because there would come a point when the blazing love you feel for them burns just as bright and incandescent, but suddenly, that love can play no part in keeping them safe. In keeping them near you.

Unless you say ‘No’ to everything.

Now, my nights are sleepless as I wonder if she landed safely and found a taxi, or walked the mile to the hotel at 10 p.m. in an unfamiliar European City at 18 years old with no Spanish. Should I have said, ‘No’? Could I have? I don’t think so. The parenting part of me that isn’t purely fear knows that freedom and risk and a desire to explore are nurture for the soul and the spirit. The wonder of the babe, the curiosity of the toddler, the joy of the small child, all these shades of childhood are still intact and held sacred in the adventurous heart of the teenager and young woman.

She throws me a tiny tense smile, hugs me and walks away. I watch her walk away. For a second I reel: I experience the depression that is a craving for the simplicity of the past, the sunlit picnics where the summer afternoon was endless and enough. And also, unfairly, (shouldn’t it be impossible to try and pointlessly live in both the past and the future?) my gut twists with anxiety about a future where she no longer needs me and she drifts away, distant and detached…

Enough! I close my eyes and lift my face to the winter sky. I breathe once twice, three times and feel the present catch hold of me in gentle arms and hold me still.

I am so thankful, so intensely fortunate. My daughter is strong and healthy, bold and loving, wise and supportive, a champion of the weak. If she has been a daughter she might also be a friend; and friendships can last forever, timeless and tender and alive with unthought-of possibility. Around me and across time I feel the invisible presence of all the mothers who are and have been and will be. I feel the planet herself. I feel a thousand shades of motherhood: joy, grief, loss, laughter, love. But mostly love. Outpourings and outpourings of love.

It will be alright. It will all be alright. It will be alright.

I open my eyes and the sky is layered with cloud and lit with glory.

My heart unlocks.




Our family likes to get outside, and we, on some days, go quite a long way from home. Sometimes though, all we need is our own back garden, our patch of the earth we call home, an environment teeming with life and hidden treasures waiting to reveal themselves to us, just here and now.

So, we open the back door and go out into the blue morning air. My son races ahead to rediscover what he sees each day and I take a moment, to pause, to breathe and contemplate that which I could never have guessed before I was a mother, that this sense of being home in my own space was the kind of feeling that I was longing for. On his way, my son’s senses discover sage, rosemary and mint, the texture of the leaves, the feeling of chlorophyll in action – the sequence isn’t important; he just likes touching the herbs and smelling his fingers.

Down the garden path we go, with the fire of the sun above us. This is a lucky day and our washing dances in the breeze too. We have been known to walk out into the blue heart of a rain shower, but luckily not today.

Glancing across the garden fences I see my neighbour’s washing flying too and I am reminded that there are many of us walking out under the sun’s ancient flame; to hang our clothes to dry and to discover what our children can show us in the vicinity of our immediate landscape.

With my daughter riding on my back, I follow my son’s trail. Down we go, to the garden shed, where we need to discover some of the tools to help us today. We need to cut our grass as it resembles a meadow, although I am not always sure why this is a problem as the insects seem to like it. We take out the lawnmower and my child, desperate to have a go, but unable to, because he is small and the mower heavy, races back into the house and returns with a wheeled toy horse which will be his lawn mower.

Back and forth, back and forth we dance, moving the bird table, rediscovering some toys we thought we lost long ago, that have been lying in wait, lurking in our long grass. Muffin the horse makes light work of the job, and soon our noses are filled with the wonderfully green smell of summertime; freshly cut grass.

We pause before doing the edges and my son is attracted by something. He has found a snail. Marvelling in the wonder of seeing a being who carries his home around with him, the snail, small on a small hand is brought for inspection. We consider snails, where they might live if they can move their house wherever they go, and, where we think this one is going. It seems purposeful, so we decide to release it back to the ground and to monitor progress.

Our snail is on a mission, it slides with surprising speed up past the irises and the primroses I was given from a family garden, on to where the geraniums have gone wild in a way that has made bees fall in love with the space this year. Watching and following we find our place in the garden, our balance and sense of relationship to all the living beings; we are no longer visitors, we are a part of the landscape. At a snail’s pace we find that our snail’s wish is to leave our garden and climb the wooden mountains that are our neighbour’s fence; the boundaries that keep us separate in our own private parts of suburbia.

My son talks with excitement about what the snail might be doing and then, on his own trajectory wanders on to other things too.

My daughter and I have retraced our path to the back door, where our journey for the day takes us back inside the house. The wind is in her house of clouds and white banners above move with our clothes on the line below; there’s no hint of rain, somewhere in the garden my son plays and the snail moves on – all is well.


Results of the 2016 Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize

I am very happy indeed to be able to share the results of our 2016 Writing Prize. A huge thank you to all those who entered and made this competition a real pleasure to oversee. And many thanks too, to the judges Becky Cherriman and Rebecca Ann Smith for their hard work in reading, sorting and making final decisions.

Please note: keen-eyed readers will have noticed that in the competition guidelines there was no mention of publication of an anthology of the winning pieces. This is for various reasons, the main reason being overwhelm! My waiting list for books-to-publish is long and the time I have available to work, short. However, the winning poem and prose piece are published below, and the runners-up will be published in the next blog post. I do hope that all the poems and prose pieces entered in the competition find good publishing homes because I can honestly say that the standard of writing was exceptionally high. And as ever, I have discovered lots more excellent writers who I would very much like to hear more from.

Poetry Category (Adult)

Winner: ‘Anniversary Number Six’ by Sophie Kirtley.

Runners-Up: ‘Evening Falls’ by Michelle Bonczek Evory and ‘Prenatal Ski’ by Lauren Pope.

Commendeds: ‘Knowledge’ by Michelle Bonczek Evory, ‘Songs for Virgil’ by Cato Pedder, ‘After’ by Gail Aldwin, ‘Easy Knits for Mothers’ by Alison Jones, ‘Rewinding Childhood’ by Maria Stephenson, ‘Domestic Bliss’ by Kristina Adams.

Poetry Category (Children)

Winner: ‘How To Make A Crocodile’ by Lee Birkett.

Commendeds: ‘Me and Grandad’ by Flossie Clarke, ‘Flying’ by Rebecca Cotti, ‘Ode to Motherhood’ by Meghana Alurku.


Judge, Becky Cherriman’s Report

Much of my working life centres around encouraging people to experiment and to write in different ways and in forms and to try not to judge that writing while it is in genesis.To judge a poetry competition feels in some ways contrary to that inclusiveness and that was why I tried to come to the task without a particular agenda. Reading however, it soon became clear to me that I was looking for poems that showed a high degree of craft and engaged my emotions and/or intellect. I was looking for poems that spoke to me.

Of course, it is impossible to be objective. A technically poor poem can mean the world to someone whereas a highly crafted masterpiece might leave that same person cold. Several of the poems submitted to this competition were very good. Yet, after all the reading and analysis and dismissing some poems for containing clichés or not thinking hard enough about form, I decided on poems whose voices I found most compelling. Below are the chosen poems and my reasons for selecting them.

Winning Poem: ‘Anniversary Number Six’ – The poet chooses the sestina with its six line stanzas as a form for this gentle lyrical poem and aptly so as its theme is a six-year-old marriage. Radiating from the central symbol of the wedding ring, the poem contains some gorgeous images. The six end words of the lines acquire new layers of meanings as the poem progresses and poetic devices such as alliteration and assonance add to the music of the poem. Yet they are never used clumsily. I have chosen this poem as winner because it is emotive and accomplished in its craft, because I saw something new in its apparent simplicity every time I looked at it. I’ve chosen it because I felt I was hand-in-hand with its narrator during a very precious moment.

Runner-Up: ‘Evening Falls’ – What does family life look like from the outside? What does it look like from the inside and how can we reorientate to see the full picture? These questions are asked in this uncomfortable poem about the cruelty and caring that can manifest in parenthood. The language here is visceral; we discover how “love’s instinctual attachment” “will form scar tissue over crack and fissure,/ stretch skin to keep intact.” I like poems I can learn from, poems that help me see part of life differently. I felt for all the poem’s characters as I flew into its hard reflection. Unsettling as its theme was, the poet’s touch was acutely human and I was grateful that s/he refused to offer any easy answers.

Runner-Up: In ‘Prenatal Ski’ the connection between mother and the acrobat foetus grows stronger as the poem and the bump develop until skiing together they become ‘we’ – partners in a rebellion against the arc of the midwife’s raised eyebrow. I loved how the form’s short lines slalomed down the page, reflecting the poem’s content. What a treat to share in this subversive moment.

Winning Children’s Poem: ‘How To Make A Crocodile’ – a recipe poem for a crocodile made up of similes, many of them as frightening as the crocodile itself. The line “strong whipping tail as bulky as a puffer-fish blown up” stood out for me and I loved how it had a good beginning and clear end.

Anniversary Number Six

for Andrew

Now our baby is one month old
my hands are almost themselves again.
It is cold though, the unworn ring,
when I soap and squeeze my finger
in, still slightly swollen. Outside the wood
is stirring: aconites, catkins, primroses glow

golden in the low light. The sun’s glow
is shy in April. I forget the sun is older
than even the Earth, as that soft light tickles the wood
awake. I turn from the window (the baby has woken again)
leaving the misted shape of my fingers
on the cold glass. I kiss the ring

you gave me. It is warm now, your ring,
my ring, our six-year-warm-ring that glows
a homely girdle on my puffed finger.
The back of my hand looks new to me, suddenly old –
I notice, now that I wear my ring again,
how lines have formed like whorls in wood.

In the evening you bring in logs from the wood.
I count the circles, reading the rings
that tell of a rainy Spring, a drought, then rain again.
Years turn like that. We set them alight, aglow
they burn and flames fade to embers, then old
grey ashes that flake to soft dust on our fingers.

Although asleep, the baby grips your finger,
strangely strong, like the sapling we planted in the wood
for her. One day she will be as old
as us. Today you wear her hand like a ring
and sing a lullaby you forgot you knew. You glow
molten with love; slow and sleepless again

the night becomes day becomes night again.
We have lost ourselves in this, entwined, our fingers
have forgotten whose are yours, whose are mine. That glow
could be the sun setting or rising or perhaps merely wood
slow-burning in the grate. At least the ring
keeps me straight, there’s no arguing with that old

gold. I kiss our ring again and walk with you in the wakening wood,
hand in hand, our fingers stealthily thickening with rings;
our rings glow too, warm in the cold; six years new, six years old.



How To Make a Crocodile

He needs:

A long, scaly, muddy green body like a mud-dripping tree caked in dirt

More teeth than a horse has hairs, which are as sharp as a murderer’s dagger and as white as the Caribbean sands

A strong, whipping tail as bulky as a puffer-fish blown up

Claws like a steak knife and white as a zebra’s stripes

A snout as deadly as a strike of lightning

A temper as hot as fire and raging as a soldier’s gun

He is a speedy, deadly, stealthy nightmare.

LEE BIRKETT (aged 8)


Prose Category

Winner: ‘Shush’ by Grace Fletcher-Hackwood.

Runners-Up: ‘A Thousand Shades’ by Rachel Rivett and ‘Snails’ by Alison Jones.

Commendeds: ‘Grit’ by Louise Goulding, ‘Inheritance’ by Ebba Brooks, ‘A Moment With You’ by Cathy Oliver.

Judge, Rebecca Ann Smith’s Report

Winning Prose Piece: For me, ‘Shush’ was the most confident and accomplished. The writer has a very natural style and is showing not telling throughout. The dialogue is deft and naturalistic. This sort of style looks simple but is actually very difficult to do well. ‘Shush’ is well structured with a clear beginning, middle and end. I love that it’s pro Libraries (which are more important now than ever!) and I loved the theme of hidden treasure which recurred throughout the narrative in different ways and with different meanings. Most of all, I loved the way the writer portrayed the struggles of parenting young children (and the economic realities too) with such a light touch and a strong sense of fun. The muddy kids playing pirates in the garden is truly joyful. I think it’s a story that a lot of parents will relate to.

Runner-Up: ‘A Thousand Shades’. Again, I think the writing in this piece is very strong, with the narrator showing rather than telling us her complicated feelings about her daughter’s burgeoning independence. I loved the narrator’s image of her daughter as brave and dynamic, and the clever way she showed her anxieties about her child’s safety – the tiny backpack, no sign of a coat. There’s a lot of wisdom in here about parenting too, and the reference to the classic book We’re Going on a Bear Hunt was beautiful and profound.

Runner-Up: ‘Snails’. I love the simple “everydayness” of this story, the joy of finding real magic in a moment of ordinary family life. The writing is strongly grounded in the present and in sensory experience – much like the experience of life with small children. Throughout this piece we feel close to the ground, the smell of herbs and cut grass. There are moments of shining prose in here too – I loved ‘the blue heart of a rain shower’.


When Kat came downstairs – fresh from the shower, curly hair still damp, dressed in her summer holiday uniform of t-shirt and leggings, because there wasn’t enough Peppa Pig in all the world to give her the time or energy for ironing at this time of year – she was bombarded with Maths.

‘Muuum! Can we go and see Finding Dory?’

£8 bus fare plus £18 tickets plus £2 of sweets from the pound shop beforehand to prevent a meltdown when I can’t afford the popcorn = £28.

‘We’ll watch it when it comes out on DVD, OK?’

‘Muuum, can we go to McDonalds today?’

£8 bus fare plus 2 x Happy Meals at £2.59 each plus maybe some fries for me = £14.37, or £6.37 plus two screaming fits if we walk there.

‘Maybe next week.’

‘Can we go to Disneyland, Mum?’

Disneyland plus minimum wage plus two kids = you must be joking.

‘Not any time soon, sweetheart.’

By this point in the holidays Kat was good at planning activities they could afford. Her budget for this morning was exactly one pound, and so the plan was:

Walk to library = free, and not too far. Thank God it’s not raining.

Use computer for an hour while the kids play or read = also free

A book each = free

An iced bun each from the bakery on the way home = 90p, plus maybe 5p to bribe each kid not to eat their buns until after lunch.

‘Those Pinterest mums have nothing on me,’ she said aloud, to herself, as she carried the breakfast plates to the sink and the kids ran to find their shoes.

An hour and fifteen minutes later they were all at the library, still within their budget and completely tantrum-free (although Kat had come close when she couldn’t remember her email password). Kat remained grateful that their local library wasn’t the kind of place where anyone would tell her children to shush; but as Finn and Petal’s game of hide-and-seek among the shelves became increasingly spirited, she decided it was time they moved on.

‘OK, kids. Choose a book each, and then we’ll have to go home.’

‘NO! I don’t want to go –’

‘After the bakery! We’ll go and get a cake first and then we’ll go home. And then we’ll… decide what to do for the rest of the afternoon.’ Kat rubbed her eyes as she stood at the librarian’s desk, holding a thriller she knew she’d never get around to reading, plus a large, jauntily-coloured hardback entitled ‘Twenty Great Summer Holiday Activities’.

‘You look like you need this,’ said the librarian, waving the activity book.

Kat grinned, wearily. ‘Actually I need a strong coffee, a massive piece of cake and an hour to myself. But this’ll do.’

‘Long day?’

‘Mmhmm.’ Kat looked up at the clock and sighed. ‘And it’s not even half-eleven.’ She took the book back from the librarian – just as Petal cannoned into her, arms outstretched, sending Kat and her books flying.

‘Sorry, Mum,’ said Petal, as Kat regained her balance. ‘I was just trying to hug you really really fast.’

‘That’s OK,’ said Kat. ‘Hugs can be hard to control… What’s this?’

As she picked up the larger book, it fell open and she discovered something inside: something purple and off-white, pressed between the pages like a grubby flower. It was a twenty-pound note.

Kat straightened up and held out the note to the librarian, who was busy scanning Finn and Petal’s books.

‘This was in the book…’

The librarian pursed her lips, shook her head quickly, and then, very quietly, she said ‘Shush…’


Finn and Petal had both borrowed books about pirates, and spent the walk home riotously crying ‘ARRRGH!’ and exhorting one another to walk the plank. Kat hardly noticed. She felt a little as though she was floating. Twenty quid! Twenty unexpected, unbudgeted-for pounds! It was the kind of money that could change your whole week, if you were careful.

Back at home, she sat the kids in the garden with their books and cartons of juice, chatted briefly over the fence to Abby-from-next-door about her GCSE results, then went in and stood at the kitchen counter, making sandwiches and calculating. They had enough food to last until payday. She checked – they had enough toilet paper and washing-up liquid, too.

‘Sod it,’ she said aloud, to herself. ‘Let’s blow the money.’


‘OK, kids, I’ve got a great idea,’ she said, re-emerging into the garden with a plate of sandwiches in each hand. ‘How about we go swimming, and then McDon… kids?’

The books lay abandoned on the concrete slabs near the front door; the twins were at the far end of the garden, each digging a hole with their bare hands.

‘Kids? Dinnertime? Then swimming? Yes?’

They turned their identical faces towards her, wearing identical expressions of frank disdain smudged with loamy soil and sun-cream.

‘Mum. I am being the Dread Pirate Petal.’

‘And I’m First Mate Finn.’

‘And there’s treasure buried under here and we’re going to find it. We don’t have time for McDonalds.’

‘And everyone knows pirates can’t swim.’

‘Really?’ said Kat. ‘That seems strange.’

‘Everyone knows that, Mum.’

‘Oh.’ Kat went back into the house, stood still and thought for a moment, then turned around, came back outside and called over the fence.

‘Abby! How d’you fancy earning £10 this afternoon?’


An hour and fifteen minutes later, Kat was in the town centre, in a café she’d often heard of but never previously managed to visit.

She was wearing her favourite summer dress. She had the thriller she’d borrowed from the library; she had a latte and a massive piece of chocolate cake, which she’d ordered without adding up what they would cost; and she had over an hour to herself.

Back home that evening, a nicely tanned Abbey opened Kat’s front door and assured her that the kids had given her no trouble at all.

‘Muuum!’ they roared as Kat stepped out into the garden.

‘Oh, good grief.’ Finn and Petal were so completely caked in dirt as to be indistinguishable from one another, or indeed from wild animals.

‘We’ve been digging for treasure all day!’

‘Looks like it! Come on in…’

‘But the treasure! We need to show you!’

‘OK, OK. First treasure, then a bath.’ She sat cross-legged on the grass and the twins emptied into her lap the things they had found.

A pale blue glass bead; a two-pence piece; a ball of gold foil; a particularly shiny pebble. All of which had, Kat realised, been conscientiously polished on the kids’ clothes to get the dirt off.

‘We found them for you,’ Petal explained, proudly.

‘We knew if we digged for treasure we’d find something nice for you.’

‘You say “dug”, not “digged”. It’s brilliant treasure. I love it.’ Kat dug in her handbag. ‘I’ve still got a few pounds left. Fish and chips for tea?’

Petal frowned. ‘Do pirates eat fish and chips?’

‘Course they do. Everybody knows that.’

‘What did you do this afternoon, Mum?’

‘Me? Well… I found some treasure too. But I like yours better.’


Interview with Dawn Allen, winner of the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize (prose category)

As there are now only 12 days to go until the deadline for submissions for the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize  I thought it was high time that I shared this interview with Dawn Allen, the prose winner of last year’s prize. Many thanks to Dawn for taking the time to answer my questions and I hope it inspires YOU to put pen to paper and enter our Writing Prize!

Photo courtesy Dawn Allen

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’m a single mother to my three children: daughters aged 3 and 6, and a stepson who is 15. We’ve lived in Cambridgeshire for some time now but I grew up in Dorset and have also spent time living in Canada as I have family there. I used to work in Local Government before my stepson lived with me and then I completed a Psychology degree part-time as a mature student whilst he was in primary school. Since having my daughters I’ve been a full-time mum and we enjoy a lot of creative pursuits together as well as exploring the outdoors. In my spare quiet moments I love reading and knitting. I’ve also been practising pilates for over 10 years and recently started Qi Gong. I’m keen to learn to paint and try new ways of creative expression as I find it really therapeutic and I also like to learn new things alongside my kids, so they see me trying things too and starting at the beginning the same as they do.

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

I’ve been writing since I was quite young, firstly sending letters regularly to my aunt and grandmother in Canada and then short stories when I started school. I can remember writing to my grandmother when I was about 5 saying that I was going to write a novel, and I recently found the title page I’d drawn for it. I haven’t got round to writing it yet but one day I will, probably (hopefully!) a bit more easily than when I was 5. In secondary school I had some short stories published in the school magazine, and my parents still have copies of a lot of my teenage work. I’ve always loved to write, both as an expression to others and as an expression of imagination.

3. How often do you write?

I’m quite sporadic with my writing, I tend to either think about an idea for a long time before actually getting it on paper all in one go, or I might wake up in the middle of the night with something I have to write down there and then. I don’t have a regular practice to my writing, but then I’ve never been good with routines so I think it’s just my way of doing things and it definitely works well for me around the children. I try to keep a notebook with me to write poetry as that’s normally inspired by being outdoors so then I don’t have to try and remember it for later. Once I do start writing I usually keep at it until I’ve finished the complete first draft. Sometimes that’s a few hours and others it’s over a couple of days, but once I start it’s like I need to get the words out so I don’t want to be distracted with anything else. It means a lot of the evenings I start writing have turned into mornings by the time I’ve finished writing but I’ve come to accept that as my style and it suits me.

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

I decided to enter because I love the essence of Mother’s Milk Books and I enjoyed having the opportunity and challenge to write within such a meaningful theme. It gave me the chance to write from the heart which is a very empowering experience.

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

I was really surprised and it actually took a little while to sink in. I hadn’t expected to win but I was really proud of the piece I wrote because I realised afterwards that I’d needed to write it not just for the writing prize but also for myself. To then have someone else read it and choose it as the winning piece was a really special moment.

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

It’s basically an expression of the inner voice I’ve had to find as a mother. I’ve spent a lot of evenings in the dark, alone, feeling like I’m getting everything wrong. I would sit on the floor and despair that these children only had this failing, useless mother to look after them in the world. But then when I realised I was totally alone, and they did only have me, I also realised I was actually doing a pretty good job. I just needed to give myself a break. I tried to think of what I would say to someone else exactly in my position and I wrote this piece as if I was sitting next to myself in those darkest moments, saying the things that I needed to hear. And not only because I needed to hear them but also because they were true.

 I think all parents, whether raising kids with a partner or alone, have times when the fear and doubt are just overwhelming. We all need a positive voice to acknowledge and encourage us, and the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that it can come from within. I felt this particularly fitting to the theme of love within a family context because so often as parents we are so busy giving our love to our family that we forget to give ourselves the love that we do truly deserve.

Photo courtesy Dawn Allen

7. Any future writing plans?

Well I’m hoping to get around to the novel I’ve been planning for the past 29 years, although I think that’ll have to wait until my children are a little older. I’m continuing to write prose around my experience as a parent and also trying my hand at different genres of fiction.

8. Any tips for writers?

I think it’s important to just start writing, even if you’re not exactly sure where you’re going to end up. The important thing is to get going and not be put off by over-thinking it. I find that often a story will take you where it needs to go once the words start flowing.

            It’s also good to read a lot, and to try different authors and genres. I think it helps you grow in your own writing to see that of others and to learn what you do and don’t like from it.

            Most of all I would say to write the words that you need to write and be comfortable with your own natural style. Your voice is unique and you should have confidence in that (although that’s easier said than done, I know!).

Dawn’s winning prose piece ‘Nurturing My Darkness’ was first published in the Summer 2016 issue of JUNO. It also features in The Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize Anthology 2015: LOVE. And if you feel inspired to take part in this year’s Writing Prize, please read the full guidelines here.

Literary Heroes and Heroines of 2016

What a year 2016 has been. Enough has been written about the negatives (for the world in general, as well as the literary world) so instead I will focus on the positives. Please do feel free to add your own literary heroes/heroines in the comments below. And here’s to 2017!

1. Anyone Involved with the Running of an Indie Press or Literary Magazine

You know who you are! Running an indie press makes for a lot of activity. Much of it is unpaid or at best, paid at the minimum or living wage. It’s done to make sure that important, vital and thought-provoking books get published. Passion and coffee and loyal book-buying supporters and readers keep the whole strange endeavour going. I’d also like to give a special shout-out to some of the founders of indie presses that I’ve had the pleasure of working with or interacting with in the past year (oh, and I happen to think they publish some amazing books so do please check them out if you haven’t already!): Comma Press, Linen Press, Three Drops Press, Valley Press, The Emma Press, Mud Press, Unthank Books, Paper Swans Press, Fox Spirit Books, Happenstance Press, Bluemoose Books, V Press, Galley Beggar Press, Dead Ink, Inspired Quill, Bird’s Nest Books, Five Leaves, Fair Acre Press, Candlestick Press, Lonely Scribe, Stonewood Press, Arkbound, A Midsummer Night’s Press, Salt, Pinter and Martin, And Other Stories.

I also want to mention The Contemporary Small Press who are doing so much to make the public aware of what small, independent presses have to offer readers and authors.

And if you’d like to meet some indie publishers and learn more about what they do please do visit this link which details the next ‘The Only Way is Indie’ event at Nottingham Writers’ Studio which I’m running in 2017. It’s going to be fabulous!

2. Nikesh Shukla

I had the pleasure of meeting Nikesh in Nottingham at the launch of The Good Immigrant last November. He struck me as being an intelligent, witty and gentle man, full of passionate energy for making the literary world more inclusive and diverse. Tired of constantly being asked to discuss the ‘diversity issue’ by those who have the power (yet not the inclination) to do something about diversity in publishing, Nikesh actually did something. And he’s continuing to do something. Inspiring. @nikeshshukla

3. Danuta Kean

Danuta is an incredible journalist who doesn’t shy away from investigating stuff that stinks in the literary world. Her reporting on diversity (or rather, the lack of diversity) in the publishing world makes for sobering reading (although perhaps, things may be on the up?). She also shares really useful tips about the publishing world on Twitter and is, overall, rather fabulous. @Danoosha

4. Matt Haig

Matt’s book Reasons To Stay Alive makes for powerful reading. And as a highly-visible author on social media he’s done much to make it okay to talk about depression, and his book and kind words have helped many. A sensitive soul, Matt is simply one of the best of the ‘good guys’ out there. And we so desperately need more of them. @matthaig1

5. Ira Lightman

Ira ‘poetry sleuth’ Lightman has uncovered a fair deal of plagiarism in the world of poetry, and although (I don’t think) there’s been much to uncover recently the past cases have a habit of popping up again and again, causing tension and unpleasantness amongst poets. Considering all this, Ira has been absolutely professional and diplomatic throughout and to me he’s a hero for sticking up for what’s right and doing the right thing. (Surely, one of the hardest things to do.) @iralightman

6. Susan Last

Every time I read about how formula milk companies are undermining mothers and babies and profiting from this disempowerment, I fume. Then I think of people like Susan Last who expose the lies, dodgy evidence and the aggressive marketing and am glad. Susan’s blog makes for fascinating reading and the ‘Why It Matters’ series that she edits for Pinter & Martin is a masterclass in research-based evidence about all things pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. @Lonely_Scribe

7. Zion Lights

Zion Lights, a journalist and ‘science mum’ is passionate about the environment and bringing decent evidence-based research to those who wish to parent their children in a more environmentally-friendly way. She’s also one of the most thoughtful and giving people I know.

8. Maddy at Writing Bubble

Maddy is a wonderful creative woman who hosts the ‘What I’m Writing’ linky from her blog Writing Bubble. She puts in so much time and energy to create a warm, supportive environment for a whole bunch of women writers and considering how much work she does to make the whole thing happen week in, week out, she remains positive always. I’m thankful for her encouragement and her dedication to supporting other writers’ work. @writingbubble

9. Ross Bradshaw and Jane Streeter and Stephen Holland of Page 45 (in fact, anyone who runs a bookshop)

Ross of Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham, Jane of The Bookcase in Lowdham, and Stephen of Nottingham-based comic shop Page 45 are three of the stars out there making sure that independent bookshops still have a place on our high streets and towns. Selling books and comics is incredibly hard so I’m in awe of how they and others manage to keep going when the bookselling climate is against them.

10. Angela Readman

Angela is someone I got to know through her excellent writing in Mslexia and her book of short stories: Don’t Try This At Home. She’s now one of my friends on Facebook, and I’ve discovered her to be humble, generous, kind and thoughtful. Whenever I feel somewhat down I know that I can go to Angela’s page and read something that’ll make me smile and feel better about the world. @angelreadman I have got to know many wonderful people through Facebook and she, along with Bharat R. and a whole host of other wonderfully bookish and creative people fill my life with the knowledge that there are many, many kind people out there.

11. The Nottingham Writers’ Studio Crew and All Those Involved with the Nottingham Literary Scene

There are probably too many to mention (and I don’t want to leave anyone out) so all I’ll say is this: all those involved in making the Nottingham literary scene (and Nottingham Writers’ Studio as a huge part of that) are incredibly passionate and hardworking and I feel proud to run a press that makes up a small part of that scene. (And it was totally thanks to them that Nottingham became a UNESCO City of Literature.)

12. Readers and Reviewers

Anyone who has read a book, connected with it in some fashion and gone on to write a thoughtful review is heroic in my eyes. Authors write to connect with readers; so if no reader feels moved to write anything about a book that an author may well have invested years of work in… well, that feels pretty crap. So every thoughtful review is of use and will give much joy to the author (and the publisher!).

13. My Authors, Illustrators, Supporters and Co-Editor Helen Lloyd

I would like to mention my authors and illustrators – they’ve been very understanding of the ups and downs I’ve had this year, patient and super hardworking. They also happen to be incredible people as well as brilliant writers. The press wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for them and all our supporters who buy books, make donations (some amazing individuals have even invested in the press) and who email us with kind words and in general, believe in me and the press. And I simply have to mention my co-editor Helen Lloyd who, along with her day job and looking after two small boys, provides me with much support and encouragement. Thank you from my heart.

14. My Family

Huge thanks to my lovely little family who put up with my endless work and who are always supportive of “mummy making books”. You make everything worthwhile.

And finally, a few words from two of my authors who wanted to give a shout out to some of their literary heroes:

Beth McDonough: Andy Jackson does a vast amount for the poetry community. He’s the coordinating, organising energy behind several anthologies, and at the helm of Scotia Extremis with Brian Johnstone, and at the same time, co-steering New Boots and Pantisocracies with Bill Herbert. That’s really the tip of his iceberg. Generous, selfless, inspired and disciplined (and no mean poet in his own right), he’ll never flag up how much he does for so many …but he does.

Cathy Bryant: I’d put Philip Ardagh in there. He’s extraordinarily kind and funny and encouraging – you’d never know that he writes for the Guardian and has written bestselling children’s books. His FB posts are my to-go places if I’m feeling low. I love writers who love other writers!


Interview with Sheila Wild, winner of the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize (poetry category)

As we’ve just now published the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize Anthology 2015: LOVE I thought it was about time that I shared this interview with Sheila Wild, the poetry winner of last year’s prize. Huge thanks to Sheila for taking the time to answer my questions and I hope it inspires YOU to put pen to paper.

Photo courtesy Sheila Wild

1. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

I’ve just turned 66. I ‘retired’ five years ago from a lifetime of working on women’s equality issues, first at the Equal Opportunities Commission, and then at the Equality and Human Rights Commission. I still do some consultancy work on equality issues, but am also very active in the writing community in the South Pennines, where I now live, and in nearby Manchester. I’ve set up a programme of poetry at Manchester’s historic Portico Library, and I also chair the Elmet Trust, which looks after Ted Hughes’s birthplace.

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

I started writing poetry when I was eleven, but poetry gave up on me when I got married, and over twenty years went by without me writing a single poem. I was however earning a living writing non-fiction, as I was for many years one of the main authors for the Equal Opportunities Commission. I continue to write non-fiction, and it’s no accident that most of my poems are factual, and concise.

3. How often do you write?

I live on my own so it ought to be easy and I do try to write every day, but to be honest, I seldom succeed. I lead an active and interesting life – for without that how could I write? I do write poetry every day though, even if only a couple of lines. I write poetry very early in the morning (often at 3 am!) and non-fiction between 10 and 12. I find it hard to write in the afternoon, but I’m lucky in that I’m almost always up and doing by 5.30 am.

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

They say women enter competitions and men submit to journals. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but I like the challenge of writing on a theme and the kind of love that motherhood expresses – its wonder and its clumsiness – was on my mind at the time I came across the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize.

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

I was delighted. Janet is one of my favourite poems, and it’s always a thrill to discover that someone else likes a favourite poem too.

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

I had become a mother when I was only 19 and I’d found motherhood very lonely and quite bewildering. When my daughter Janet eventually became a mother herself I had a very vivid memory of having once stood in a cold bedroom on a moonlit night with her in my arms, not quite knowing what to do.

I didn’t think I’d made a very good job of being a mother, but when Janet’s daughter (my only grandchild) was born, I realized my attempt at motherhood was part of something much bigger than any of us, a thing that we call ‘family’ – Sheila, Janet, and now Lucy – we go a long way back and, God willing, a long way lies ahead of us.  

7. Any future writing plans?

Too many! My first collection of poetry Equinox, was out from Cinnamon Press in May this year. To my surprise, getting published has had the effect of increasing my poetic output so I’ve plenty more poems ready to publish – I guess nothing succeeds like success! I’m also working on a short book about Lindisfarne, which is where I go to recharge my batteries; it’s a work that enables me to mix poetry and non-fiction.

And I’ve just started an autobiographical sequence about the role poetry played in my childhood. I’m not sure what it’s for, or what form it will take, but I feel a need to write it. There’s something about being almost seventy and having a good memory that needs to be mined, so I’m mining it!

8. Any tips for writers?

  • Work on more than one thing at a time, it stops you getting stale.
  • Always read your work out loud to yourself.
  • Always, always, leave a poem for a few days, weeks, even years to mature. When you come back to it, you’ll be surprised, either by how bad it is – ditch it immediately! – or by how good it is. When you look at a poem and think, wow, did I write that, then you know the poem is as good as you can make it. When a poem is finished it doesn’t belong to you any more, it belongs to the reader, and only by stepping back and becoming the reader can you know when that has happened.   

Sheila’s winning poem ‘Janet’ was first published in the Summer 2016 issue of JUNO. It also features in The Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize Anthology 2015: LOVE. And if you feel inspired to take part in this year’s Writing Prize, please read the full guidelines here.

Results of the 2016 Mother’s Milk Books Pamphlet Prize

Today, I’m very happy indeed to be able to announce the results of the inaugural Mother’s Milk Books Pamphlet Prize. Congratulations to all the shortlisted entrants and a HUGE thank you to all who entered; I can genuinely say that the standard of submissions was very high. The winning pamphlet (watch out for it!) will be published next year.


Spools of Thread – Angi Holden



Pyon Hill – Miriam Obrey

The Goodness of Wool – Gill Lambert

Tenderline – Alex Davis

The Frozen Girl – Abigail Wyatt

Nativity – Maria Heath Beckett


Angela Topping

I felt enormously privileged to be judging this competition. The standard was so high, I never had a ‘no’ pile. I treasury-tagged and read each pamphlet in full, making notes on each of the poems and a concluding note on the cover. I did this over a few days, then went away on holiday for a week, not taking them with me because I wanted some critical distance. On my return, I re-read them and added to my notes. I did all this work in my new writing shed, which gave me peace and complete privacy.

After the second reading I made a long list pile of about half of the entries. The rest were maybes, because every entry had merits. I then had to start making decisions to whittle them down to a more do-able pile.

After another week away, going up to Scotland for a poetry weekend and short break, I returned to the writing shed. Submissions which had really stuck in my mind still stood out, but I re-read all of the long list submissions and decided on my final six. I re-read everything else to make sure I had missed nothing. The final six were often ones which had impressed me from the start or stayed with me.

Working with the shortlist of six was very challenging. They were all strong and publishable. At this stage I was looking for a set of poems which cohered and were uniformly strong, but had some light and shade to make a balanced pamphlet. The one I chose as final winner has that evenness of quality, and enough range to keep a reader interested throughout. There is also a variety of subject matter and techniques. The theme is very strong in it, but is interpreted in several different ways.

All of the final six very much deserve to be published, but in the end, I am happy that I chose the best overall pamphlet for this competition. It is a good fit for the press, but I have to commend all the poets who submitted work for following the submission guidelines to the letter. That made my job easier. I can honestly say that judging this competition was very special. I enjoyed something about every single manuscript.