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.
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.
Last Sunday, Sarah James, Angela Topping and I arrived at The Playhouse in Cheltenham to launch their pamphlet of poetry duets, Hearth. Although we had a small audience (the clash with Wenlock Poetry Festival no doubt decreasing numbers) they were a great audience. They listened to Sarah and Angela’s poetry reading with appreciation, and then afterwards the Q&A discussion about creative collaboration, motherhood and how to find time to write amidst busy family life was lively; in fact, we nearly ran over our allotted time slot!
As the publisher of Hearth (and as a reader for one of the parts of their collaborative poem, ‘Crow Lines’) I got one of the best seats in the house – right beside the poets. For me, it was brilliant to actually hear these poems being read by their creators. As the publisher, editor and typesetter I knew these poems well on the page, but when they were read they somehow flew and further life was breathed into them. And when I heard two of my favourite poems from the pamphlet, ‘The Washing Line’ by Sarah James and ‘Hooam’ by Angela Topping being read, I felt a tingle of magic running up and down my spine.
The Washing Line
The sister I never met hangs out my sheets, pairs socks, dries my husband’s shirts — sails smoothed towards the sun.
Sleeves brush against sleeves; their unfleshed white flutters free. Dropped pegs scatter on the grass.
I clip three together: a plastic family. That’s Mum, Dad and me; pinched tight without her.
She has polished the kitchen surface. My unwashed potatoes are peeled moons in her hands.
Her cheese soufflé rises from liquid velvet. Always ready, the ghost of her absence blurs my face from our photos.
Her dead baby lungs filled with water, my chest aches where they buried her smile; its sickle scrapes my ribs.
Childlike, I danced in a dream; Blessings emblazoned that day; Everything glowed with a gleam; Yet we were looking away! Thomas Hardy
Me mam’s clatterin in ower kitchen me dad’s at work. Am on me tod playin in living room. Fire’s in. Ah sit on floower, spread farms on carpit, cows n pigs n sheds all mine t’ rule ovver an all.
Now ah’m grown, owen haaus to rule ovver me dad’s gone, so’s me mam. Bring em back, yem days, gimme back yon carpits, gawdy nick-knacks, an brassoed stuff, fireplace an all.
Gimme dem days back, ‘ow it was an me not seein it were passin.
After our event I was busy with our bookstall – all those in the audience came to buy a copy or two of Hearth, which was really lovely. Then, the poets for the next reading came in to set our their books and to mingle and chat. There was a lovely, friendly atmosphere – with many of the poets being firm friends and I must admit that I felt quite at home!
Sarah, Angela and myself then attended the next event – a reading by poets Adam Horovitz and David Morley. This was pretty packed, and I sensed a crackle of excitement in the air. Adam and David, very different poets, were absolutely riveting. And just as with Angela and Sarah’s reading, their poems seem to fly off the page and swirl around the room, coming to rest in the audience members’ hearts and minds.
I am absolutely convinced that anyone with an interest in poetry would love to come to an event like this. These poets showed me that poetry is very much alive and well, and absolutely itching to be discovered and shared.
After the event and packing up the bookstall, Angela, Sarah and I (as well as Angela’s lovely, supportive husband) enjoyed a pizza and talked more about poetry. All in all, it was a great day, and I am already looking forward to the next time I get to go out on a poetry ‘junket’!
We currently have a limited number of copies of Hearth (18 at the moment) that have been signed by Sarah and Angela in our online store. Do snap them up before they all go!
p.s. I’ve already got an eye out for another brilliant pair of poets to come together for another pamphlet of poetry duets. Please do check out the submissions if you’re interested. And if you’d like to suggest any pairings, please do leave a comment on this blog post. Thank you!
Although I wasn’t able to make it to Cathy and Angela’s poetry readings at 8th Day Coop in Manchester last month it looks (and sounds!) to have been a great event, with an appreciative audience (and they were particularly happy to buy Cathy’s new book Look At All The Women. This is good news for me as a publisher!). And just a reminder, you can still get Cathy’s book, and Angela’s wonderful collection of poems Letting Go at a discounted price in our store at the moment. I thought I’d share some photos of the event, hopefully encouraging anyone who’d like to perform their poetry, to give it a go! Sarah Miller and Rosie Garland were also there, giving fine performances, so thank you to all who attended and made it a night to remember.
And another couple of lovely photos to share: the cover of our new book, and a box of the new books hot off the press!
It’s not too late to get £2 off the discounted price by pre-ordering from our store. The Writing Prize Anthology is officially published this Tuesday (30th September), so it’ll be shipped out to those organized folk who have managed to pre-order. And every copy of the book bought pays for one entry ‘fee’ to the 2014 Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize. Bargain! Go on, why not write your own ‘Story of Us’ and send it to me. It’ll make me very happy.
Thank you again to all those who entered the inaugural Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize. It’s been great to collect (and have a sneaky read!) of all the great entries, and I’m probably just as keen as the entrants to hear who the winners will be! We will have to wait patiently though as the judges, Angela Topping and Susan Last read and read and read… and then make their final decisions. I’m certainly looking forward to it.
As well as receiving a cash prize and a year’s worth of Juno magazines, the winner of the poetry competition will receive a limited edition hand bound hardback of Letting Go by Angela Topping. This book has been hand bound with such care and attention to detail – it is simply beautiful – and I’m sure the winner will appreciate the beauty of the words within and the beauty of the book craft too.
If you’re not sure about your chances of winning (!) or perhaps didn’t get around to entering the writing prize this year there is another way to get hold of this lovely book… We now have 2 copies for sale in The Mother’s Milk Bookshop, so if you’re looking ahead to Mothers’ Day and want a special something this could well be it! (With the JANSALE code you can also get 20% off your entire basket too.) The sale ends 31st January though, so if you’d like to stock up on breastfeeding-friendly books, mothering/new baby or general greetings cards, or art/poetry prints now is a great time. (Susan Last’s book Breastfeeding: Stories to inspire and inform is also available in the store. The prose winner will get a signed copy of this fab book, but again, if you’re not too sure that’s going to be you, you can get hold of a copy here!)
Thank you again for all your support and if you’re just as keen as me to find out who the winners will be, WATCH THIS SPACE!
p.s. we are also now open for submissions, so do check out our guidelines if you think your writing may well suit our publishing interests.
The winner of our latest giveaway is: Circus Queen.
This lovely mama will receive the e-version of Letting Go by Angela Topping, a signed poetry print of her choice (fingers-crossed it’ll be in time for Christmas!) and a free entry to the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize.
Many thanks to those of you who entered in what is, of course, an incredibly busy time of the year and as I’m in the festive spirit I’d like to offer those who entered a ‘consolation’ prize of the e-version of Letting Go. I hope you enjoy it and if it inspires you to create your own poetry I’ll be very happy indeed! Just email me on: teika [at] mothersmilkbooks.com to get your free copy.
This giveaway is now closed. Many thanks for your interest.
To celebrate the fact that Angela Topping’s book Letting Go is now available to buy as an e-book (PDF) in The Mother’s Milk Bookshop we’re doing a giveaway!
The winner (to be picked out of a hat by my lovely assistant, Rebecca, aged 6) will receive the e-book and a signed mounted print of one of Angela’s poems – either ‘Ultrasound’ or ‘Letting Go’ which both feature in this, her seventh, solo collection of poetry. The winner will also receive one free entry to The Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize. I’m delighted to be able to share both poems here.
We were spies on her world – her safe house of skin. She was etched in silver: moving, human.
She swam in a booming cave, fathoms down. Heavy rope mooring her. Round face, round eyes, ooh of mouth.
Gingerbread baby, currant eyes. At home, I twist wool around needles, craft garments, every stitch a wish.
First you hold them like a secret you only suspect is true. Then soft knockings from within tap out messages for you. Slowly the body allows escape, you hold them in your arms, dazed and milky, full of love, pledged to defend from harm. Then you hold them to your heart and put them to the breast. But they learn to walk away like any other guest.
How to enter:
To enter the giveaway all you have to do is comment on this post (nice and simple!) before 18th December. Perhaps you could tell us what ‘letting go’ means to you (in regard to any parenting topics).
Terms and conditions:
This competition is open to all.
The competition will close on Wednesday 18th December 2013 at 12.00 noon, GMT.
All correct entries received by this date will be entered into a prize draw and the winner will be chosen randomly.
The winner will be notified on this blog and be emailed within 24 hours with their e-book attached. As long as the winner is prompt to reply with their address details the print should arrive in time for Christmas (if resident in the U.K.).
The winning entry will receive the prize as stated on the blog post. There is no cash alternative, no returns or refunds. A frame for the print is not included as part of the prize.
I am delighted to be able to publish this interview with Angela Topping here. It has been an honour to work with Angela on Letting Go. I’ve learnt a lot in the publishing process and made a new friend as well, which has surely got to be the best way to publish a book! The first readers of Letting Go have told me how moved they have been by the poems within, and also how it is inspiring them to write. High praise indeed! So thank you to everyone who has bought a book and taken the time to comment, and thank you again to Angela for taking part in the interview.
Tell us about yourself…
I’m Angela Topping. My first poetry collection was published in 1988 by Stride, and my most recent one was published with Mother’s Milk Books. I am a mother of two adult daughters. I studied at Liverpool University and hold three degrees. I left my first job, in the Civil Service, to be a mum, before going into freelance writing, poets in schools and teaching in FE. This work led to a teaching career, but in 2009, I returned to the freelance life, which has proved a good decision. I’ve collaborated with an artist to create an exhibition of art and poetry, The Lightfoot Letters, which has now appeared in three different places. I recently took up a residency at Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, which was another new challenge.
1. Have you always considered yourself to be a creative person?
Yes, making rhymes up was something I did from being very small. I remember telling people that when I grew up I wanted to be ‘one of those people who said things’ because I’d heard people saying ‘Plato said’ or Shakespeare said’. I didn’t realize it was written down, so I suppose I wanted to be a writer even before I knew what one was. I always loved stories and poems, and colouring in, and I used to spend hours building cities and farms on the living room carpet, with blocks and ornaments, and making up stories. I also knitted and sewed from an early age. It’s an urge to create, and I feel miserable when I am not making stuff.
2. Has motherhood enhanced your creativity? If yes, in what way and why do you think it has enhanced your creativity?
Motherhood definitely enhanced it. I was a stay-at-home mum, and that gave me time to write, even though sometimes I’d be cooking the tea, with a baby in the sling and a notebook in which I had to keep writing poems down, all at the same time. It also gave me the chance to return strongly to my own childhood, reliving it by doing things with my daughters that my parents had done with me. It was like having the chance to go back and really savour it. I loved doing craft and cooking with my girls, and their childhoods got me writing children’s poems as well. To be creative is to play, and I spent many hours playing with my kids. Being a parent also boosted my confidence immensely.
3. Do you have any tips on how to find time for your creative work amongst the everyday busyness?
When I was teaching full time, it was very hard. Often the only writing I did was in the holidays, or in the Writers’ Club sessions I ran, where I’d be interrupted to read someone else’s poem partway through writing mine. It does help that when I teach a poetry workshop session, I often do the exercises myself, though of course one cannot fully concentrate as one eye has to be kept on whether participants need me. Now I am freelance things are easier. I don’t really have a routine as such, but I tend to spend the day in my study and do all my chores when I need a break from writing or reading or thinking. I also make art and handmade books. These other creative outlets can feed into my writing.
So my tips would be:
Make use of even 10 spare minutes, and always carry a notebook
Use the time when you are doing physical chores or out for a walk, to think. All writers need to think.
Have like-minded friends, other writers, to whom you can talk about your work
Go to classes and workshops, or if you lead them, do the exercises yourself.
Treat yourself to a writer’s retreat or a short course or even a day workshop every now and again.
Writing last thing at night or getting up early works for some people.
4. What does breastfeeding mean to you?
I loved it. It gave me closeness to my babies and there was no need for any of the work that goes with bottle feeding. My girls wouldn’t entertain any kind of teat, and they have grown up very secure. With my first baby, it gave me the chance to rest and sit reading with my feet up while she fed, and with my second, a chance to involve the older one with cuddles and a story while the little one fed. It’s a very pleasurable feeling and I sometimes still miss it. I am proud of my body for its capacity to nurture my babies – it’s all so miraculous. It saddens me when people don’t even consider it, when it is free and saves a lot of fuss and work. I was quite determined to feed my babies when I was out and about, and never had any problems unless at the baby clinic or the hospital, amazingly enough.
5. Were there any pieces in Musings on Mothering that spoke to you particularly?
I love all the art work. For poems I prefer the ones which take a sideways way in, like ‘Blackberries’ by Alison Parkes, and ‘Skin’ by Alwyn Marriage. I’ve been lucky enough to never lose a child but that section in the book showed me eloquently how difficult that must be.
6. Are you working on any particular project right now?
I have just published a selection of my poems spanning 25 years for Mother’s Milk Books (Letting Go). I am very excited about this because some of these poems have been out of print for ages. It is my tenth solo poetry publication.
Other than that, I am trying to write new poems towards my next collection. No particular theme has emerged yet so I will wait and see.
I am also trying to finish writing a book about the poet John Clare, which ought to have been out a while ago but the publisher wanted me to augment it further. I always seem to be doing something!
Oh, I am also editing a box set of poems inspired by Shakespeare, Austen and The Brontes for Like This Press.
7. Is there any one piece of work that you are particularly proud of?
I had a very important poetry friend and mentor, Matt Simpson, for many years. In 2009, he died unexpectedly. He was only 73. The elegiac poems I wrote for him came out of my deep sorrow at his loss, and I am proud of them because they are the first poems I’d written without showing him the drafts. I think all 17 of them would stand up to his scrutiny. Six were included in my Salt Modern Voices chapbook and ten in my Rack Press pamphlet. I put them all together to make a sequence with a new coda, and included it in my 2012 Lapwing collection, Paper Patterns. My favourite one is the sonnet ‘Keeping Faith’ .
8. Is there any one person (or persons) that you consider to be a true inspiration to you?
My friend Matt Simpson, mentioned in the last question, was a huge inspiration to me, and I learned a lot from reading other poets, particularly Emily Dickinson, Thomas Hardy and Robert Frost. Closer to home, my parents were massively inspirational and so are my daughters.
9. Is there any one piece of art or music, or writing that has influenced you, or inspired you to continue creating?
I truly love music and art, and dabble a little in both. One of my favourite pieces of music is The Trout Quintet by Schubert. When I was a child, it taught me how to tell a story without words. I love Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending, which was also Matt’s favourite piece. I used it as a motif in the elegiac poems.
10. What would you to say to someone who doesn’t consider themselves a creative person, but would like to try their hand at something new?
I believe everyone is creative. The best advice I can give is to go for it. Be prepared to fail, failure is good. It paves the road to success. Since I took up painting I’ve learned that what one sees in an exhibition are just the pieces that worked. Many more didn’t but the creation of them was a stage on the way. Learn from what works and what doesn’t and always always stay true to oneself.
If you’d like to purchase Letting Go please do stop by The Mother’s Milk Bookshop. Any purchase made pays for one entry to The Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize. Angela, herself, is the sole adjudicator of the poetry categories.
Two exciting things are happening in Mother’s Milk Books right now: we are about to publish Angela Topping’s poetry collection Letting Go (estimated publication date is 6th September) and the Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize has also just now been launched (with Angela herself doing some of the judging, along with Susan Last of the independent press Lonely Scribe). So I’m all aflutter at the moment!
Letting Go is available for pre-order right now at the discounted price of £6.99 from THE MOTHER’S MILK BOOKSHOP and it will continue to be available at this price for the next week or so. Do stop by and take a look – we’ve had some great reviews of it already from well-known poets. And remember, for every purchase made at our online shop (or via the postal Order form for all items – UK delivery or directly from me) you get one entry to the writing prize. So if any of the writing from Musings on Mothering, or Letting Go inspires you in any way to get writing – poetry or prose – why not put pen to paper and enter the competition? There’s even a free-to-enter poetry competition for children. So let the writing commence!
Here are the words from the back cover of Letting Go (that’s if you need any more persuasion from me to buy a copy of Angela’s great new book!):
Love is about letting go. This notion threads its way throughout Angela Topping’s new selection. She writes tenderly and movingly about childhood, growing up, bereavement and parenthood. These are frank, honest and moving poems arranged in an unfolding narrative which reaches out to the reader, wanting to share and engage.
‘The poems of Letting Go engage the reader with their shaped sense of familial experience. In clear and crafted language the poet opens a heart-door on the pluses and minuses of life, revealing the flow of time and love through the generations. A beautifully judged collection.’
‘Angela Topping’s poems tug at the threads of motherhood and daughterhood, and lay bare the complicated business of family. They speak of what sometimes can’t be said — when words are rags. These are gentle, honest poems that honour the small sorrows and joys of everyday lives. It is impossible to resist the power of such tender declarations of love.’
Winter seems to have no intention of loosening its grip on the UK.
Although spring must surely be here soon, having successfully convinced winter that the time is right for warmer weather, daffodils and birdsong…
I really enjoyed spending the Easter weekend with family and knuckling down to some serious chocolate eating. We’ve been busy at play during the days, but I’ve been quietly getting on with work in the evenings; fine-tuning the design of some greetings cards, selling books via various sales channels (it was a pleasure for me to send out some books to La Leche League New Zealand recently), and making plans for the next book to be released from Mother’s Milk Books.
I am very, very excited to be able to announce that I will be publishing a book entitled ‘Letting Go’ by the immensely talented Angela Topping which contains poems about childhood, daughterhood and parenthood (more about Angela here on Wikipedia). One of my most favourite things about editorial work is the ‘first reading’, and when I first read her manuscript I shed a tear (or two), as well as laughing, smiling in recognition and sighing with bittersweet joy.
I am so looking forward to the coming months for Mother’s Milk Books; it’s going to be great to get another book ‘out there’ and some new products too. I’d love to get more talented writers and artists on board, yet it’s still very much down to the finances (or lack thereof!) as to how much can be done. So any support you can give Mother’s Milk Books is very much appreciated; whether it’s buying a copy of ‘Musings on Mothering’, leaving a review on Amazon, or the Mother’s Milk Bookshop, following the blog or my twitter account, or liking our Facebook page. I’ve got a pretty good memory, and remember the kindnesses bestowed upon my little fledgling press! I just hope that it will continue to grow, and one day really take off and fly…
So that’s the latest news. Wishing you all sun-filled days and much spring happiness!