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.
Things may seem quiet around here, but actually I’m busier than usual. I’ve been putting together not one, not two, not three but FOUR contracts (and unusually this isn’t for just 4 authors but 5. Hmm… intrigued? Hopefully you will be!). More about the contracts and authors another time, when everything has been signed, sealed and delivered.
In other news I’m putting together the first ever Mother’s Milk Books Writing Prize Anthology. It should, fingers-crossed, be out mid-September, and I’ve also been looking ahead to the start of the next Writing Prize (beginning 28th August, to coincide with Cathy & Angela’s upcoming poetry performance). I’ve been in discussion with the wonderful judges and putting together flyers and adverts. I’m delighted to be able to announce that Cathy Bryant is going to be the sole adjudicator of the poetry category and Milli Hill is going to be judging the prose category. Many thanks to Cathy and Milli for taking on these tasks.
So come on wonderful writers, I dare you to make their job good and challenging by sending in some fab poems and prose pieces on the theme “The Story of Us”. Intrigued…? Details will be online in another week or two.
The Mother’s Milk Books authors (and past and present judges Angela Topping and Cathy Bryant) are also extra, extra busy as they are going to be performing some of their poems from Letting Go and Look At All The Women at the 8th Day Café in Manchester on 28th August 7 – 9.30 p.m. Rosie Garland and Sarah Miller will be joining them to make it a really fab (& feminine) event.
If Manchester’s just that bit too far, why not buy Look At All The Women and see if, unlike the reviewer at WriteOutLoud, you can read it and avoid getting sunburnt! Lowdham’s The Bookcase is the latest independent bookshop to stock our growing list of books (along with The Melton Bookshop in Melton Mowbray and Five Leaves Bookshop in Nottingham) so if you’re local to Lowdham, or passing through, you can always buy a copy of one of our books there.
Lastly… the ever-enthusiastic and energetic Pippa at Story of Mum is hosting a Twitter Party Make Date on 13th August from 8.30 – 10 p.m. UK time. Party-goers will be sharing where their eyes have lingered and celebrating what they see (both the bad and the good) in their day-to-day lives. One lucky party guest will be winning themselves some neat goodies – a paperback copy of Look At All The Women being one of them.
Enjoy the rest of August, and when I come out from under my mountain (well, okay, small pile) of contracts I’ll be blogging more about the anthology and the Writing Prize. Yay!
Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 3 – ‘The Eclectic Others’
This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. In this final week of the carnival our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Eclectic Others’ (the third, and final, chapter in Cathy’s new poetry collection).
Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.
When it came to the third section of my book, ‘The Eclectic Others’, my editor and I worked hard to choose the right balance. After all, there was no way we could include every possible take on a woman’s life, unless the book was to have infinite pages! So we fiddled and discussed and put things in and took them out again and scratched our heads and argued for our particular favourites, until we came up with a selection that, if not wholly representative, was at least as strong and varied as we could make it.
Poems we were both keen to keep in included those about some of my personal heroines – those inspirational women who have made a difference to the way I live my life.
One of those was shared with me by an English teacher called Mrs Lawton. Our set text for poetry was a volume called ‘English Poetry 1900-1975’, which contained the work of many wonderful poets – only two of them, however, being women. One was Stevie Smith. The other was Sylvia Plath. (As poet Ali Smith said, between those two you get most of human experience, but still!)
So imagine me at 14, being abused at home by my violent father (who was also headmaster of my school), depressed and suicidal, self-harming and lost, opening the book obediently and finding the nursery rhyme rhythms of a hellish experience not far from my own: Daddy. You can see the poem here. http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/178960
It knocked my socks off, and my shoes and mind too. For terms we had been dissecting poems to see why and how they were clever, and now a strange, dead, American woman had reached right inside me and spoken to me in the language of my sorrow and fear.
I loved her after that and read everything she wrote, including her diaries – and found her to be a complex person, often far sunnier and funnier than the myths would have us believe, full of life and charm and brilliance. On the 50th anniversary of her death I went with my O.H. to visit her grave in Heptonstall, and when I came home I sat and wrote the experience down – it was so vivid. It came out partly as prose and partly as a poem. You can see the prose result here: http://www.writeoutloud.net/public/blogentry.php?blogentryid=34328 And here is the poem:
Yellow Roses on Snow (written after visiting Sylvia Plath’s grave on the fiftieth anniversary of her death)
It’s a plain grave, though thickly meringued with snow; dark granite monolith open to the sky. The church is old and friendly, proud with bells pealing in glorious cascades. There is a sense of celebration as well as mourning in the tan stone streets, some cobbled, with views of hills, hills, hills all covered in snow. But such a small grave.
There are several of us, strangers, women in black lighting candles and laying the sunshine roses (her favourite flower, her mother said) on the grave, and mourning the dead woman we didn’t know.
Sudden sobs – it’s so cold, she’ll be cold, she hated the cold. Sympathy. Chilled hands try to warm mine. My red skirt, the blue candle the only spots of colour save the roses, buttery as an American sun, yellow as a New England leaf when Autumn falls.
As if conjured, the same sun breaks out here over the grave and us, drawing yellow and white into a new gold. We feel relief at the literal lightening. We had not wanted to leave her alone, but the sun is there to warm her now.
Departing, we see knots and threads of folk rag-rugging their way to her, heads bowed against the bitter weather, though now the sun is blazing, blazing on top of this blessed hill village in Yorkshire.
Did I really think that it would be grim and dark? That we would be given nothing here? We were met by strength, connection and a culmination. For us, this was pilgrimage.
There are tributes and examinations of other heroines of mine too – Sophie Scholl, who was shot at the tender age of 19 by the Nazis for disseminating anti-nazi information, and Colette, that redoubtable and sensual writer with a wicked smile and a gimlet eye. There’s also a poem about my favourite statue, which just happens to be of another strong woman, and one from the myths of ancient China. They have all opened doors for me, all helping to articulate my own escape and transformations.
Here’s the poem about Sophie Scholl. I think of her whenever someone gives all the reasons why they can’t stand up for what’s right.
The White Rose
How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?
– the last words of Sophie Scholl, member of The White Rose resistance group, before the Nazis executed her.
You didn’t say, one person can’t make a difference. You didn’t say, there’s no point in trying. You didn’t say, well, what can you do? You didn’t say that the Nazis were too powerful, and that it was too risky. Instead you printed your leaflets, distributed them, and talked, and called to action; and so they killed you. But you had lit fires of resistance that a cold bullet couldn’t quench; planted seeds for all of us to follow, every new rose, and the fires still burn and the flowers still bloom because you didn’t do the maths (you were just nineteen, so young) and play the odds but instead taught us – me – how to make a difference; how to live and how to die, how to light flames and grow flowers.
Look At All The Women is now available to buy from The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) – we can ship books around the world!
and as a paperback from Amazon.co.uk.
It can also be ordered via your local bookshop.
If you’d like to know more about Mother’s Milk Books — our submission guidelines, who we are and what we do — please find more details on the submissions page.
Please take the time to read and comment on the following fab posts submitted by some wonderful women:
‘Heroines and Inspirations’— Cathy Bryant, guest posting at Mother’s Milk Books, shares two powerful, inspiring poems, and how they came into being.
‘Sensitivity’ — Marija Smits shares a poem, with an accompanying image, that gives a glimpse into the inner workings of a highly sensitive person.
Georgie St Clair shares her creative female heroines in her post ‘Creative Others: Mothers Who Have It All’
‘The Eclectic Others – Or What Would I Have Been Without You?’ — Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word a thank you to the women of literature and history who have been in her life, shaped her life, saved her life and gave her a future.
‘Her Village’ — An older (much older than most) first time mother, Ellie Stoneley from Mush Brained Ramblings firmly believes in the old African adage that it takes a village to raise a child. To that end she has surrounded her daughter with the love, mischief and inspiration of an extremely eclectic bunch of villagers.
This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. This week our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Mothers’ (the second chapter in Cathy’s poetry collection).
Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.
I learned about loving mothers from Facebook friends. They miss their children when they go to school; they help with projects; they care and love and argue and resolve. They hold their children in tender arms. They get through their children’s adolescence somehow, and nurture the emerging adult as carefully as one might help a struggling newborn butterfly out of the last husk of its chrysalis. This was all news to me – joyful, wonderful news. I am so glad that people feel that kind of love. It’s the most beautiful thing in the world.
As you might have guessed, I’m a bit jealous really. I don’t have any contact with my mother, nor do I desire any. I won’t go into the whole morass of that here. Neither am I a mother myself (except of books – oh, the births are difficult, but they are so beautiful and you love them so much when they arrive)!
Facebook showed me a world of love and caring and kindness and yes, problems and imperfections, but all against that amazing background of loving motherhood.
Mothers, I take my hat off to you. I do have an imaginary daughter. We watch films together and take walks together (I’m not disabled when I’m with her). She changes her name every so often. This first poem was inspired by her:
Mummy, where do ripples come from?
From the stone pushing the water, darling.
And where do the ripples go when they stop? And where did I come from?
You remember then that because of the most extraordinary concatenation of circumstances you looked up and he looked up and your hearts gave a lurch and somewhere a butterfly flapped its wings like a beating heart and that’s how typhoons start and children get born.
You squeeze your daughter’s hand and wonder how to explain chance, love, biology, mathematics, loss. You smile helplessly, sadly at her and she laughs back and dances.
I’ve always had issues with it – it seems to be more about repression than emotional maturity, and I wouldn’t want to use it as advice for a child. So I wrote my own version:
When you know the time to be strong and when to give way to your feelings; when you will stand up for yourself as others blame you unfairly, yet still be tolerant of different views; when you can meet triumph and disaster and know to celebrate one and mourn the other, because otherwise you’d be a ridiculous unfeeling rock and your life pointless; when you know better than to risk all your life’s winnings on a single bet; when you know that your will is one of many, all deserving equal respect; when you can listen in and to crowds, and not lose the common touch when with royalty; when you allow people close enough to hurt you and know your vulnerability, know you; when you truly love the planet and those in it, despite the hatred and mocking laughter, then you will have truly grown up – and then, you’ll be a Woman, my daughter.
Look At All The Women is now available to buy from:
Welcome to the ‘Look At All The Women’ Carnival: Week 1 – ‘The Lovers’
This post was written especially for inclusion in the three-week-long ‘Look At All The Women’ carnival, hosted by Mother’s Milk Books, to celebrate the launch of Cathy Bryant’s new book ‘Look At All The Women’. This week our participants share their thoughts on the theme ‘The Lovers’ (the first chapter in Cathy’s poetry collection).
Please read to the end of the post for a full list of carnival participants.
I’m delighted to be taking part in the Mother’s Milk Books Blog Carnival that is taking place to celebrate the launch of my new book, Look at All the Women. This first week of the Carnival is dedicated to the theme ‘The Lovers’, so here are two poems from that particular section of my new book. The first is very Me, I think – elements of fantasy, love and oddity, with my ever-present love for the sea. Who would have thought that Bridlington in December could be so beautiful?
Bold gemini moon full on and the waves fly up to meet it. The sea stirs; every last creature swims or wriggles up to drink the light, taste the moon’s essence.
A streetlamp bravely does its best. Oi! Look at me! Regard! I shine too! It gets in the way, spoiling photos. Vampires and tourists slink off in disgust.
Lovers ignore it. The moon, the sea, each other – there’s nothing else but warm, clean-sheeted beds. Light is light, isn’t it?
No. You could skim the silver from the waves with one hand, and make your face holy with it, immortal.
The second poem is addressed to the poet William Carlos Williams and is a response to his poem ‘This is Just to Say’: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/245576. I love his poetry and I can see how important it is – but I wouldn’t have wanted to live next door to him. You wouldn’t be able to put the bins out without him staring in wonder, lost in the moment due to the colour of your nail varnish or petunias. So I wrote this tongue-in-cheek reply:
It’s not just the plums. You are so plainly a selfish man
living in the moment, the personal moment all for yourself.
The divorce papers are in the post. This feels so sweet and deliciously cold.
Happy loving everyone, and see you next week! Cathy x
Look At All The Women is now available to buy from:
The Mother’s Milk Bookshop (as a paperback and PDF) – we can ship books around the world!
‘The Lovers – Or What I Don’t Know About Love’ — Kimberly Jamison posts to her blog The Book Word what she has learnt about love from story books, people watching and her own life and wonders if she actually knows anything at all.
We’re getting ever closer to the publication of Cathy’s new book (eek!) and I really want to release it with a noisy, multi-coloured send-off, so if you think you can help me do that, please do get involved!
If you’re a writer, artist or blogger who’d like to showcase your own creativity, why not take part in our blogging carnival? All the details can be found here:
We’ve had some lovely images of mothers, daughters and babies breastfeeding sent in for the YouTube video but we still need more images of women. If you think you’ve got an image that may well fit Cathy’s great poem ‘Look At All The Women’, please do email me them. My email address is: email@example.com
Thanks for considering getting involved; I will look forward to seeing more of your wonderful creations!
I’m (obviously) very excited about publishing Cathy Bryant’s new book Look At All The Women and want as many people as possible to read her accessible – yet thought-provoking – poetry, so with that in mind I’m going to be producing a YouTube video called ‘Look At All The Women’. Cathy’s already provided me with the sound – her reading of the glorious poem ‘Look At All The Women’ – but now I need some glorious images of women to accompany the poem. So if you have a good quality and high-resolution image that would fit with ANY of the themes of the poem, please do email: teika [at] mothersmilkbooks.com with the image as a jpeg. I would welcome either photographs or artwork but please only send me images for which you own the copyright to and have permission to use. Every kind person who sends me a suitable image that ends up in the video will get a goodie: a free e-version of Cathy’s book (a PDF) when it is released on 28th May, as well as mine and Cathy’s eternal thanks! (Deadline for submission of images is Tuesday 20th May.)
I’m also *fingers-crossed* going to be organizing a blog carnival in the run-up to the release of the book so do stay tuned if you want to be involved with sharing even more glorious womanly creativity! (And p.s. Cathy’s book is now available for pre-order from The Mother’s Milk Bookshop – you get £2 off the RRP of £8.99 if you order before 28th May).
Look At All The Women
Look at that woman breastfeeding in public! I think it’s absolutely disgusting
the way people give her a hard time.
Look at that lass in a minidress! Whore! Slag! Bitch! Slut!
are just some of the things she’ll be called by prejudiced strangers.
Look at that grandmother! A lot of support is needed
from her for all her friends and relatives, but she still finds time to lead a vibrant, balanced life.
Look at that campaigner! She should get to the kitchen,
have a glass of wine and put her feet up, later on, after standing up for us all.
Look at that woman writer! It’ll be all flowers, dresses and chocolates
at her many literary award ceremonies.
Look at that sister! She’s arguing with her siblings again
which, done with affection and a willingness to compromise, is a really useful life skill.
Look at that stay-at-home mother! She doesn’t work, of course
apart from 24 hours a day, seven days a week doing one of the most important jobs there is.
Look at that woman scientist! She’s outside her natural environment
analysing soil samples from the planet Mars.
Look at me! Ill and unable to work again
but still making people laugh, and still giving the best hugs in Manchester.
Look at that cleaner! The lowest of the low
will sneer at her, as she makes our lives pleasanter for a pittance.
Look at that daughter! Disappointing, really
that she still has so much sexism to face.
Look at that lesbian! You can tell what she needs
— equality, and recognition of her voice that enriches us all.
Look at that schoolgirl! They shouldn’t be educated
It’s been absolutely to great to work with Georgie St Clair on the design of the book cover for the forthcoming Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant, and I have to say that I’m really pleased with it. Thank you again, Georgie! And to all our readers/supporters, please do stay tuned for more details about the book…
I have lots of lovely news to share right now, and I’m really excited about where Mother’s Milk Books is going!
It gives me great pleasure to announce that the next book we’re going to publish is a poetry collection entitled Look At All The Women by Cathy Bryant. I’ve long been a fan of Cathy’s poetry so I’m really pleased that I get to be the publisher who produces her second book of poetry. Cathy is also an accomplished performance poet, and also happens to be a lovely (and very funny) lady so it’s been great to work with her on this collection.
One of my favourite areas of book production is cover design. I can’t quite reveal the cover of Look At All The Women, but I can say that I’ve been working with an amazing mama-artist who has created something simply stunning. We’ll be revealing the final design very soon!
Reviews for Musings and Mothering and Letting Go, by Angela Topping, keep on coming in with Saffia Farr, editor of Juno, recently writing:
“Letting Go is a wonderful anthology of poems reflecting on family life through the generations. They are funny, perceptive and sad. ‘Last Gifts’, about a mother dying, is desperately poignant, with strong emotions portrayed through simple words and phrases. Reading this book reminded me, again, to treasure and enjoy my family as they are now.”
Musings on Mothering continues to get glowing reviews (with 8 out of 10 reviews being ‘5 starred’ on Amazon.co.uk). Lucy Pearce from Dreaming Aloud also recently reviewed the book saying:
“This book is a celebration of motherhood, attachment parenting and breastfeeding. An impressive collection of writing, poetry and art on the theme of motherhood. The talent of the contributors was humbling, and much of the poetry and art truly breathtaking, each expressing in their own unique way the ineffable nature of motherhood. Sensitive, reflective and beautifully compiled – it brought me to tears many times.”
You can read her full review here (which also includes reviews of lots of other wonderful books on mothering).
I also had Diane Wiessinger, co-author of The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, contact me recently to say some very complimentary things about Musings on Mothering (which makes me grin from ear to ear since Diane is one of my favourite writers, and of course The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding is one of my favourite books!).
It’s incredibly heartening to be getting these fab reviews, so I hope they encourage you to stop over at a certain store… (that’s The Mother’s Milk Bookshop, by the way (!) where these books are currently on offer) or to visit any one of our fab stockists.
In addition to all this loveliness I’ve been interviewed twice in the past month: over at WriteWords (which is chock-full of useful resources and encouraging words for writers – if you’re an aspiring writer go check them out!) and: Beautiful Misbehaviour. I was delighted to have been asked by Stephanie Arsoska of Beautiful Misbehaviour to take part in her series of interviews on ‘creativity and motherhood’ (other interviewees have been author Carolyn Jess-Cooke and Holly McNish – so I’m in good company!) and you can read the full interview here.
I’ve been inundated with many great submissions so far (the fairy tale book is almost full now – although there’s still time to submit a short story if you think you have something suitable) and I really hope to be able to make 2014 the year that I publish more than one book! It’s all very exciting, and if you want to be a part of it, do keep tuning in to the blog or say hello on Facebook or Twitter. Thank you again for all your support.
The next interview in the Mother’s Milk Books series of guest posts about creativity features the truly gifted Cathy Bryant, who contributed to Musings on Mothering. I greatly admire Cathy’s determination. To go from dreaming “of being able to write well enough” to international recognition for her writing and a whole host of publications is quite a feat. She’s certainly an inspiration to me. Thank you Cathy for taking part.
Cathy Bryant lives in Manchester, UK. Her first award came in 2010 with the Marple Humorous Poetry Prize. She won the 2012 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Prize for the worst opening line of a novel, and is a former blogger for the Huffington Post. Her stories and poems have been published on five continents, so her ambition is to break into the Antarctican market. Also in 2012, Cathy won the Sampad ‘Inspired by Tagore’ Contest, one of the Malahat Review Monostich Contests and the Swanezine Poetry Contest. In 2013 Cathy won the M.R. Jordan Writing Contest. She co-edits the annual anthology ‘Best of Manchester Poets’ and her collection, ‘Contains Strong Language and Scenes of a Sexual Nature’ was published recently. See more at: www.cathybryant.co.uk
1. Have you always considered yourself to be a creative person?
I wanted to be creative, but I didn’t think that I had any talent. But I read so hungrily and tried to write, and dreamed of being able to write well enough to be published. I just didn’t think it would ever happen.
2. Has there been any life-changing event that enhanced your creativity? If yes, can you tell us more about it?
Yes, and for me it was all about confidence. I’ve always been very lucky in my friendships, and one day my best friend Neil Bundy changed my life for me.
On 1st January 2007 I asked if he had any resolutions.
“Yes,” he said. “My New Year’s Resolution is for you to get your poems and stories published, and if you don’t even try then my year will be a failure, and it’ll be your fault!”
I laughed a bit nervously, but he looked at me and said, “I’m dead serious. That’s what I want this year. I want you to send your work off to magazines and things.”
Well, I was furious at such blackmail. And I knew that no one would want to publish my stuff. So I sent off half a dozen different pieces to various magazines and anthologies, just to prove to him that no one would want them, and got rejections. And then two acceptances…. one to an Australian magazine that sent me a free copy and paid me actual cash! Could it be that I had a touch of real talent, and that my writing wasn’t a selfish indulgence? Maybe I should let myself do it a bit more?!
After that I let myself be much more creative. A little confidence goes a long way! And Neil is the best friend in the world!
3. Do you have any tips on how to find time for your creative work amongst the everyday busyness?
Yes, absolutely – prioritise it. People tend to sideline creativity as if it isn’t necessary – like exercise they’ll try to fit it in with “more important” things like drudgery… I recommend setting aside a time each day (or each week, if you’re really time-poor) for writing, and keeping to it unless there’s a fire or similar emergency. The dishes in the sink will wait. No one died wishing that they had been more prompt with the washing up. And it’s setting an excellent example to your children to show them that even a grown-up is allowed a little of their own time in which to play and create. Even if it’s only fifteen minutes. You can write a lot in fifteen minutes!
4. What does breastfeeding mean to you?
Not being a mother, I hadn’t thought about it much until I worked with children. I sort of fell into childcare when my sister had premature twins (who are now grown-up – one is married and an actuary, and the other is a biologist – yet I used to carry them both with one hand in a tiny carrycot!) and I helped her with them, as her husband had to work away a lot. From there I dived into the happy world of childcare, and came into contact with breastfeeding – and the strange attitudes towards it.
I’d always assumed that breastfeeding would be welcomed and celebrated everywhere – I mean, what’s more natural or important? So when I was with feeding mothers, and strangers would be disapproving, unhelpful or even hostile, I was horrified. There also seemed to be a prevalent idea that breastfeeding stops very early, which seemed odd and arbitrary to me – and possibly just another case of hostility towards women. Yet some people said that babies shouldn’t be breastfed after four months, or six months, or whatever. It made me angry, when it was so obvious that breastfeeding was a beautiful thing that helped both mother and child and was the summit of both love and practicality.
When I heard about Musings on Mothering I didn’t think that I should submit anything, not being a mother – but the poems kept coming, particularly those based on my conversations with other child abuse survivors and their experience of motherhood. I asked some fellow writers who are mothers what they thought, and they said, go ahead! Supportive non-mothers are definitely part of the picture!
5. Were there any pieces in Musings on Mothering that spoke to you particularly?
Loads of them. Too many to mention. The quality of the content is breathtaking. I will say, though, that Angela Topping’s work always strikes a chord with me. She can touch the deep places and yet does it without any fanfare or pretension – after reading her poems I always feel moved and enlightened.
6. Are you working on any particular project right now?
Oh yes – I’m always messing about with something. I wrote a very rough first draft of a novel during National Novel Writing Month in November 2012, and it’s currently getting its second full edit. It’ll probably need at least one more full edit and then it’ll be off to start collecting rejections – and maybe an acceptance, as Neil would remind me! I’ve also just finished putting my second poetry collection together (PLUG ALERT: My first collection is available here, at Amazon) and a book of genre short stories – fantasy, science fiction and horror, with a dash of comedy thrown in. So now all I have is the easy task of finding a good publisher for each of them… oh for that magic wand…
7. Is there any one piece of work that you are particularly proud of?
I’m horribly proud of everything. It’s still all so surprising to have work published and to perform my pieces, and have people laugh and applaud rather than throwing things and leaving. I’m like a child with a birthday cake whenever I get an acceptance.
Winning the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest in 2012 was wonderful – I gave loads of interviews and was mentioned in the international press! I received a fair bit of fanmail too, which is always lovely.
One stand-out memory is of performing in Waterstones recently. I’d had a poem published in an anthology called She’s the One, a celebration of personal heroines. So many ‘50 Great Women’-type books tend to be celebrity lists, whereas this was a book in which people wrote poems, stories and memoirs about those who really meant something to them, whether that person was a war heroine or their sister. I was thrilled to be in it, and performing at Waterstones for the launch was a dream come true. If you’d gone to me just ten years ago and said, “In ten years time you’ll have a book out, be published in hundreds more and be a veteran performer,” I’d have thought it was a cruel joke.
8. Is there any one person (or persons) that you consider to be a true inspiration to you?
Again, too many to mention, but here’s one very special one. Dominic Berry, the performance poet, used to run cheap (or free to those who couldn’t afford it) writing workshops which were both friendly and helpful. He taught me how to appraise a poem in a constructive way – “How attached are you to that ‘and’?” I remember him asking once, and I realised that after one’s burst of creation, one really has to look at every bit of a piece of writing to see what works and what doesn’t. He’s also the king of performance poetry and very friendly and supportive of other performers, and he gave me my first performance gig (and I do over-use the word ‘and’). With his talent it would have been easy for him to concentrate purely on his own career, but he has injected energy, commitment and love into the Manchester poetry scene, and he’s an all-round good guy. He showed me and taught me so much, and never asked for any return. I recommend heartily any book or performance of his – he’s converted many a dubious person to the delights of the written and spoken word.
9. Is there any one piece of art or music, or writing that has influenced you, or inspired you to continue creating?
The writing of Tanith Lee for prose and Sylvia Plath for poetry. Those are the two I keep coming back to, who seem to have a hotline to my inner self and can charge and inspire me any moment.
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?
Oh, have a go! Why not? And (there I go again with ‘and’…) let yourself write crappy first drafts – don’t paralyze yourself trying to write a bestselling classic from the word go. Don’t worry too much about quality at first – just do some writing exercises and write anything you fancy. The more different things you try, the more you’ll find what works for you and what doesn’t. Then join a local writing group. Be polite to everyone, but you’ll soon find out whose feedback is worthwhile and constructive, and you can learn an awful lot. If you’re a poet, try an open mike night or two. And whatever you write, when you have about ten pieces, send them all off to different magazines or anthologies and see what happens. Proofread them carefully and always read and follow the submission guidelines, and you stand as good a chance as anyone. Expect rejections, and throw a party when you’ve had 100. Incidentally, on the first day of every month I post a list of calls for submission and writing competitions, all free and with easy, electronic entry here: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Write-Out-Loud-Community/260122457345775?fref=ts – so do have a look and a go. (Please note: Cathy now has an excellent website where she posts many free-to-enter competitions and submissions calls: Cathy’s Comps and Calls.)
And always enjoy yourself. If ever it starts to feel a bind, then take a break and remember why you wanted to have a go in the first place – play with words and have fun!