An Interview with Angela Topping

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.

Photograph courtesy Angela Topping

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.


To find out more about Angela please visit her website:

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.

If I could have just one room…

I was recently tagged by the talented and lovely Georgie St Clair over at Visual Toast with the question “If you could have just one room what would be in it?”. This was the prompt put forth by Jocelyn from The Reading Residence and it somehow made its roundabout way to me.

It’s an interesting question and one that’s been on my mind a lot recently.

Since starting up Mother’s Milk Books our house has been overwhelmed by boxes of books, cards and prints, as well as boxes of packaging. I kind of like the ‘literary/bohemian cluttered look’ (that’s me putting a spin on untidiness) but since I’ve begun to dabble in a little art (again, inspired by all the wonderful mama artists that I’ve met through editing Musings on Mothering) I’ve realized how wonderful it would be to have an extra room – and one all to myself – for my own creative pursuits.

I’ve seen lots of images of beautiful rooms with gorgeous colour schemes and stylish items within – there were some stunning ones over at Gina’s blog Cold Tea and Smelly Nappies. I don’t think I could do justice to those pictures so when I thought about the complete basics, I decided that all I really want is this:

A White Room (and yes, straight lines at the same angle seem to be a skill I have yet to master!)

I would simply appreciate a clean, white space with plenty of wall space to hang my daughter’s art, my son’s art, my husband’s art, my own art, the art of those painters and artists that I admire. There would be mama art, breastfeeding art, landscapes, flowers, fantastical art, abstracts, all sorts. There would also be a table – any kind of table – and some shelves to store art materials so that I could do a little painting of my own. A kettle and a stash of snacks would come in useful too.

As to where it would be, well, who knows? Maybe way up high in the trees, invisible from the rest of the world so that I could get lost in painting…

A Hint Of Reality From Invisibility (c) 2012 Treehotel AB
(Yes, there is a mirror house in those trees!)

Thank you Georgie for thinking of me, and asking me the question. I put it forth to all of you: “If you could have just one room what would be in it?” and will tag these folk for whom I know an extra room for artistic craftiness would be much appreciated.

Pippa @StoryofMum   Website: Story of Mum

Agata Lawrynczyk from Agatas Art Corner

Amy Hood @amyhoodarts   Blog: Amy Hood Arts

Julia at Be Creative Daily

and Hatti @ParentTribe   Website: Parent Tribe

Looking back at the 2013 LLLGB Conference

I like the idea of getting dressed up smartly and then going to publishing events, launches, conferences etc. to mix and mingle with the aim of letting the world know about the books and cards I’m producing and selling. The reality though is far different…

There are oh-so-many things to consider now that I am a parent: a breastfeeding little one who, although completely happy with his grandma, likes to check in with his mama from time to time for milk and cuddles; school drop-off and pick-up times for my big girl; a suitable child’s car seat for my mum’s car; enough refreshments, nappies and entertainment to last the day; and the practicality of lugging boxes of heavy books around when trying to hold my little one’s hand AND cross a busy road safely!

So at present ‘events’ don’t fit in easily with family life.

But the annual La Leche League GB conference is, for me, the one big annual event, and I start to think about this months in advance.

Why is this then?

As many of you know, LLL is a charity close to my heart, and their events are, of course, completely child-friendly and mama-friendly. So my little one, grandma in tow, came and went as he pleased – completely fascinated by going up and down the hotel lifts and then exploring the many corridors, then it was back to my stall…

When we had a nappy leak, a friendly mama offered baby wipes which I didn’t have to hand, and my friend, LLL Leader Lois Rowlands (who is also the creator of the image on Letting Go) carried boxes with me and then helped me to find a trolley to transport the rest.

At the end of the second day of the conference my little boy, completely exhausted from all the hotel exploring and excitement fell asleep nursing just as I had to pack away my stall and send my mum off to get her car out of the expensive car park, seconds ticking away… I hadn’t brought a sling with me or anything so knew I would have to ask someone for babysitting help. A friendly Leader offered to sit with both my little ones as I packed up the stall and then ran up and down stairs carrying half-empty boxes, my mum in her car waiting outside.

That’s what I love most about LLL – if you need a hand, a little support when you really could do with some then they are there for you. So this conference will continue to be in my events diary for the foreseeable future. 🙂

And by the way, the mixing and mingling was fun, and it was lovely to hear so many positive comments about my books, cards and prints. I am though looking forward to a rather quieter weekend this weekend… 😉

My daughter’s salt dough decorations – she’s a budding entrepreneur too!

Motherhood and Identity: ‘I am big with wonder’

I’m delighted to be taking part in the Story of Mum virtual tour on the theme of motherhood and identity. Here is what I came up with… Enjoy!

Motherhood and Identity

by Teika Bellamy Oh, where to start?

I think I could probably write a whole book on ‘motherhood and identity’, but this being a blog post where I don’t want to bore your socks off, I will keep it short (well, I’ll try!).

What motherhood and identity means to each individual mother will be unique to that woman, and what I love about Story of Mum is that it has inspired so many mothers to reflect on this:

‘I’m a mum and a ___________ ’

and to then add her own words to that fragment to make the sentence whole, and unique to her.

I added my own words to that a while back, and you can read about it here in ‘I’m a mum and a book birther.’

I’m about to birth another book soon, so of course I’m still a book birther, but when I gave it more thought, I realized that although ‘birther’ is a noun, it is really perceived to be more about ‘doing something’ (in physical terms) rather than metaphysical terms.

So much of mothering, and identity, is about what we DO. Yet that really only is the tip of the iceberg. All too often a mother’s busyness is mistaken for an inactive, passive mind. And yet there might actually be a huge amount of thinking and reflecting going on in those little grey cells of hers…

I’ve been reading the ‘I’m a mum and a ___________’ articles with great interest; each mother’s complete sentence holds its own fascinating story, but for this post I was inspired by the following words and image as created by Pippa, who is the creative, mama-driving force behind Story of Mum:

For how human it is to make mistakes! (and super-human to admit to them). Yet mothers, in particular, are incredibly hard on themselves. I’m sure that all mothers worry about ‘doing things wrong’ but it’s probably not helped by a society where guilt is an ever-present subconscious human companion — particularly for women who have more of an innate empathic sense of the needs of those around them, and a desire to meet those needs.

And yet how much support do mothers get? It is often said that it takes ‘a village to raise a child’ yet in today’s world we often don’t even know who our neighbours are. So many mothers are doing the intense and time-consuming work of raising a child with little, or no support. Thank goodness for friendly and non-judgemental mother-networks, whether they be in real life or online. Thank goodness for Pippa, and places like Story of Mum (and the NCT, ABM, La Leche League GB…) where a mum can share her worries and doubts, and feel supported by others who have been there and come through the other end.

Old-fashioned it may be, but I like to think of myself as a philosopher (to be precise I think of myself as a philosopher-poet!) for since I became a mother, I don’t think I’ve ever done as much thinking, or reflecting as ever before in my life.

“Because philosophy arises from awe, a philosopher is bound in his way to be a lover of myths and poetic fables. Poets and philosophers are alike in being big with wonder.”
St Thomas Aquinas

Since becoming a mother I have certainly been ‘big with wonder’ – I am in awe of my children who love with such innocence and intensity. I am in awe of their great capacity for forgiving their parents – particularly when their parents have enough honesty to say ‘I’m sorry, I made a mistake.’ (And oh yes, I’ve been there, and received the biggest hugs ever when I’ve apologized to my children for making a mistake.)

I am in awe of my children’s ability to really see things, to be alive to the moment; to not have any fear when trying their hand at creative stuff – unimpeded by ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘I’m no good at this’ type of pre-conceived ideas we have as adults. I love that my daughter can instantly paint a picture of me, without hesitation or restraint, whereas I struggle to paint a picture of her because I am fearful of making a mistake; of it not being ‘good enough’.

As well as all this, I am also in awe of the great power contained in mothers’ bodies — for the ability to conceive and bear a child, to go through the marathon-like work of labour, and then to produce milk that is unique – and perfect – for their child IS pretty amazing. And then to summon the energy to do a 24-hour job day after day after day (sometimes on little or no sleep!) and still have a heart full of love and patience to keep going is pretty amazing.

So whichever word (or words) that a mother chooses to add to:
‘I’m a mother and a ___________’

the words ‘and amazing’ really should be added as a postscript.

‘The Mother-Burden’ or ‘Love & Fear’

Some reflections on the birth of a mother, and what it means to be a mother… by Teika Bellamy

The other day (22/07/2013) my mum called me late in the evening and left a message on my answerphone, “a boy has been born…”. Now I admit I’m not the most news-aware person in the world but even I knew what she was talking about. (My mum, bless her generous heart, is a big fan of the Royals and gifted the Duchess of Cambridge with a copy of Musings on Mothering a while back, but that’s another story…!)

Anyway, I was glad to hear that the Duchess of Cambridge’s son had safely arrived in the world, and as I went to bed that night I couldn’t help but wonder how the new mother (indeed, every new-born mother) was feeling. I looked back to the night, about six years ago, when I gave birth to my own first baby and the strong emotions I experienced after the birth.

I was in hospital and recovering from a post-partum haemorrhage and second-degree tear to my perineum. I was sore but happy; hungry and tired. It was good to have my husband around; it was good to finally meet my baby and hold her in my arms.

The first time I put my daughter to my breast I felt as though I had reached the culmination of womanhood; my womb and placenta had provided for her for the first nine months of her being, now my breasts and arms would continue to keep her well fed and safe.

However, when my husband had to leave the hospital, and it was just my daughter and I together, I couldn’t help but feel a little worried. It was just the two of us now – would we be okay?

I put her in the bedside crib for a moment, bundled in her NHS blanket, and I lay back in my bed and closed my eyes. I wasn’t really expecting to sleep – the lights were still on and there was a lot of background noise in this strange, clinical place, but I was tired. I must have dozed a little, because I very clearly remember being jolted awake and immediately, instinctively, looking to my baby. She appeared to be completely still, not breathing, and my heart almost burst with fear. My hands flew to her chest to find her heartbeat, to make sure that her chest was still moving up and down, and when I knew that she was okay – simply asleep and peaceful – I cried. This was the moment I really knew what it was to be a mother: for the rest of my life I would know joy, pure, wonderful joy in being a mother to my children, but also the fear, the very primal fear of knowing that something might happen to them.

Mothers throughout the world live with these two powerful emotions every day. We long to make sure that our children are well fed and safe, and sometimes, in the early days our fears for their safety may seem overwhelming. Certainly, our anxieties about them being well fed are common, particularly in the west. It can be of great solace to a breastfeeding mother to meet with other breastfeeding mothers to discuss weight gain concerns in the early days. Speaking with a counsellor from a breastfeeding support charity like La Leche League can be invaluable too, especially for a mother who needs some reassurance and good information about how often to feed in the early days and weeks.

I still remember how it took many months, years even, for my fear for my daughter’s safety to ease off. Even now, I like to go to my children’s beds and stroke their heads when they’re fast asleep. It’s an extra way for me to re-connect with them – to again check that they’re okay – when we’ve been extra busy during the day.

Obviously, as our children get older our fears for their safety lessen, although of course they can be replaced by other, new and perhaps more complicated fears.

Just the other day, I lost sight of both my children in the school playground. I thought perhaps they’d walked home together already (we only live about a minute’s walk away from the school) so I rushed out of the school gates and down the road to find them… but they weren’t there. I ran back to the school (ultra-aware that I was the only parent there without a child – my heart almost bursting with fear again) and then I spotted them. Tears came to my eyes as relief at finding them washed over me.

This is the mother-burden: the fear that allies itself with joy, and no amount of money, possessions or status can remove it from a mother’s heart. Yet this is what it is to be human: to know our own mortality. Sometimes our fears are irrational, sometimes they are very real and rational; they are nearly always a useful way to connect with our inner voice, which can swiftly impel us to make necessary adjustments to our everyday lives so that fear can be avoided for future scenarios.

It would certainly be less of a burden to not feel fear for and on our children’s behalf, yet let us not forget that fear is a powerful – and sometimes urgent – reminder of how much we love and value our children. And I firmly believe that our ability to love unconditionally is our strength.

Mums Can’t Win – A Father’s Reflections

As it’s Fathers’ Day I’m publishing a dad’s perspective on mothering in today’s post. This article was first published in the La Leche League Members’ magazine Breastfeeding Matters (May/June 2013 issue) and although I’m biased (it’s by a certain Tom Bellamy!) I hope you’ll agree it’s worth taking a few minutes out of your day to read.

Mums Can’t Win

by Tom Bellamy

Becoming a father for the first time creates a whole raft of new emotions and experiences and ideas, but for me there has been one realization that is more depressing than the sleepless nights, toddler tantrums, or soiled nappies, and it’s this: Mums can’t win.

I have to admit, before the birth of my daughter, I had given very little thought to the manner in which children should be raised. Beyond a vague sense that breastfeeding is obviously better than a bottle – you know, for a few months or so; perhaps till they have teeth? – I had no strong opinions about issues such as sleep training, babywearing or cloth nappies. After the birth of my daughter, I very quickly realized that the rest of the world has very strong opinions.

My wife and I made some plans before the birth: decorating a nursery, and borrowing a Moses basket, and generally going through the naïve motions of parents that expected their child to meet their expectations. And then our daughter arrived and showed us what we were doing wrong. She wouldn’t sleep in her cot. No matter how many nights of cajoling, soothing, and strategizing we attempted (I even had a plan on a clipboard at one point), she just refused. I remember a turning point when, exhausted and upset, my wife and daughter fell asleep together while breastfeeding, and we all slept until morning. The next day, I took our bed apart, wrestled the divan into the garage, laid the mattress on the floor, made it safe for co-sleeping, and we haven’t looked back. To make it clear: this was never my plan, but we were willing to adapt to our daughter’s needs, and the benefits of getting her to sleep alone did not seem important enough to force her to do it. We knew other families who made the opposite choice, and sleep-trained through cry-it-out, just as a GP had advised us. It worked for them, but it didn’t work for us, and that was the point at which I realized that Mums can’t win. No matter what choice they make, other people won’t respect it.

It strikes me now that there is literally no set of choices that a mother can make which will receive universal praise, or even acceptance. For every mother that chooses to breastfeed, there are others calling them the “breastapo”. For every mother that chooses to bottle feed, there are health professionals chiding them (but offering curiously little breastfeeding support). For every mother struggling with sleepless nights, there are friends and family full of bright ideas that worked for them. The saddest thing, though – the most pernicious problem – is that politely declining the advice is taken by the contributor as a criticism of their own choices.

“I let mine cry it out, and after a few days everything was fine.”

“I don’t think that will work for us…”

“Well I’m only trying to help! You’re making a rod for your own back!”

As a Dad, I seem strangely blameless for the choices we make as a family in the eyes of the wider world, and so my wife takes all the heat of criticism and condescension when people discover we’ve done things differently from them. I guess parenting is like religion and politics – best avoided in polite conversation – but it does seem a shame that parents can’t be more cooperative and less competitive. Maybe then, by supporting each other more, and ignoring the opinions of the opinionated, Mums can help each other win their own personal battles.

I’m losing the plot…

We’re all enjoying the novelty of having some hot summer weather, but it often means that my son is up with me at nighttime when I’m trying to do some work. I’m often typing away with him sat on my lap, as he forensically examines my wallet. I try to stay philosophical about it all. Being philosophical is my thing. 😉

It means that I’m making slow progress on the book and the e-commerce platform, and right now it feels as though I’m losing the plot…

So when I found the little ‘bendy’ man in the clutter beneath my cluttered desk the other day, I could empathise with his plight.

(By the way, since taking this photo his head has been glued back on.)

Mummy, I love you because…

At a recent La Leche League meeting I went to, romance was in the air… well, it was more that mother love was in the air…

Some meetings focus on breastfeeding challenges and difficulties, and how to overcome them, but this February’s meeting the focus was on us, as mothers. We got little chocolate hearts with a label that said “I love you mummy because…” and we had to fill in what we thought our baby or toddler would say. It was lovely to just reflect on what we, as mothers, mean to our children and to take a pause from the daily hubbub of life.

“I love you mummy because…”

hmm… perhaps a good start to a poem?

Breastfeeding art and chocolate

At the October 2011 La Leche League Great Britain annual conference, I got the opportunity to meet lots of lovely mamas who were keen to help me out with the anthology project. The lovely Nik Harris even gave me a very special bar of chocolate, which alerted me to the wonderful work of a Polish artist called Stanislaw Wyspianski.

A Polish chocolate manufacturer had seen the obvious beauty in the painting titled ‘Motherhood’, and decided to put it onto the chocolate wrapper. They obviously have very good taste!

As for the chocolate, well, as much as I love to eat chocolate, I daren’t open the beautiful packet. It will sit on my desk and continue to tempt and inspire me in equal measures!