“The soul throbs like the sea for a larger life." *

In March I began an adventure. It started in Poland, then onto house sitting in North Street, Swindon. By September I was faced with very difficult prospects and the possibility of returning to the NHS as a mental health nurse. I’ve not been able to focus on work recently, there has been so much to think about and do. With no real base to work from, I felt rather displaced with a brain like scrambled egg. I have been saved by several brilliant people, one of them, like a fairy godmother, Helen Dewbery, transformed a poetry festival into a great poetry festival and I can't wait to take part and support it.

I went on holiday to Belgium, to see friends. I've known Magali since she was 11years, almost the age my twins are now. She more or less moved into our house, emptied our fridge daily and played with Michael, Aidan and Finley. We all travelled to Belgium by inter-rail together for the first time in 2001, then her wedding in 2011 and Magali has made several trips to see us in the UK, last year with her little son Hugo and husband Ludger. So in my period of unsettlement, I felt very much at home with my second family in Belgium and it just seemed right to be here and take a breath!

Monday I was asked to come in for interview the following day to the European School, Luxembourg (quickly searched for qualifications and docs online - updated CV). Cover letter (do I want a job?). There’s a farmhouse for rent next to good friends complete with 6 goats (looked up how to walk goats) - On Tuesday I had an interview at 1:30pm. At 4pm I drove home. Wednesday I’m offered the job. Thursday Mike Pringle offered to join us on the adventure and drive the books, art and essential kitchen things plus soft toys and bikes over the channel. Friday we load the van - plus a tip run. Saturday we set off for Calais and onto Virton. Sunday, I’m on the Veranda waiting for the dawn chorus. I heard an owl close by in the trees. Over the hill, in France, the wind turbines were working hard beyond the trees and I could just see the tips of their wings turning. It felt so good! At 6am, Mike, Ann-Marie and myself walk to France and the air is fresh and the sun rises, we walk the circle back to the house and start a new day of unpacking, exploring, bike-riding.

Creative Writing Week 6: Publishing

Ensure the work you want to submit is at its best.

Research where to send your work:

Buy the Artists and Writers Year Book, or get it from the library. This tells you everything you need to know plus it is full of good advice about writing in general. 

Research the publishing houses you feel suit you. Do they publish similar work? What are their submission guidelines?

Try getting your work in magazines first, to build a publishing CV. 

Try to subscribe to, and read the magazines you are interested in being published in. 

Publishing Short Stories

Always read some of the stories published in the magazine.
Check the guidelines: word count, form, genre etc
See here for a very good site for fiction writers:  

Short Stops: This is a really valuable resource for writers of short stories: competitions, lit mags, workshops and lots more.

Publishing Poetry

Here are a few helpful pieces about publishing poetry from editors of various presses and magazines:

Bloodaxe Books

Shearsman Books

Culture Llama (Short story collections here too)

YouTube: Some poets have gained a reputation using YouTube as a tool to share work:

Hollie McNish

Poems on Ezines:

Hera Lindsay Bird: The Spinoff

Patricia Lockwood: The Awl 

Amaryllis: A Swindon Ezine edited by Stephen Daniels 


If you would like to self-publish your work make sure it looks as professional as possible, and free from mistakes. Look at sample books from reputable publishers to get an idea of style and content. Keep things plain: times font, no borders and poor pictures. 

Think about how you might market your book and gain reviews. 

You might try print on demand publishing. It is easy to use and you only need to print one copy at a time so it is easy to get a sample of the work. 

Lulu Publishing


"I am not afraid of Art" - Understanding Literary Cubism

I've been reading the poetry of Max Jacob, given to me by fellow poet and friend Carrie Etter - 'I know you.' she said. She was right, I loved the book. I read in the introduction he was a friend of Picasso and explored cubism in poetry. This prompted me to find out more about 'Literary Cubism.' Although I have long loved the poems and writings of Apollinaire, I had not considered cubism until I started this research. Here's some finds from this essay by Pamela A. Genova: The Poetics of Visual Cubism: Guilaume Apollinaire on Pablo Picasso

"Apollinaire counselled his fellow poets and artists to seize and translate the turbulent atmosphere of the new, to accept nothing at face value and to always seek out the unlikely and the unusual.

Apollinaire believed that life was an inherently artistic adventure, and art a primary element in the experience of life, the two elements indivisible

Literary cubism: the exploration in language of the principles of unlikely juxtaposition, immediate spontaneity,  and the reconsideration of the dynamics of the material world.' In this vein, he fashioned unusual linguistic and structural systems." 

Pamela A.Genova, University of Oklahoma.   

The rainbow is bent, the seasons quiver, the crowds push on to death, science undoes and remakes what already exists, while worlds disappear forever from our understanding, our mobile images repeat themselves, or revive their vagueness, and the colours, the odours, and the sounds to which we are sensitive astonish us, then disappear from nature-all to no purpose. 

Guillaume Apollinaire

How do we write cubist poems? 

I'll try and summarise:

Reorganise space, both on the page and in the mind's eye

Be spontaneous and impetuous

Be prepared to be misunderstood, underestimated, and disregarded

Reject fallen idols and cliched forms

Speak in the present the words of the future

Use imagist language

Speak with spontaneity, simultaneity, and the vibrant nature of the concrete world

Cubist poems have a 'fourth dimension', a spiritual quality of the imagination, directly related to the creative process, a subtle perceptual faculty both esoteric and methodical

Perceive in all directions at once, both spatial and temporal, endowing objects with a renewed sense of presence and utility

Play with shape and sound, word and image

"float in the azure of our memories, and partake of divinity, in order to damn the metaphysicians" 

Dance around the incandescent fires of passion, fear, and desire

Surprise: the greatest source of what is new - "Surprise laughs savagely in the purity of light"

The three plastic virtues: Purity, Unity, and Truth

Purity: forget after study

Unity: the relation between a newly created thing and a new creator

Truth: search for it - especially in that of the imagination 

Finally, be multidimensional: imagery, sound, shapes, repetition and colours

Some cubist poets:

MINA LOY - Human Cylinders



RENÉ MAGRITTE - The Legs of the Sky

MAX JACOB - Rainbow

GERTRUDE STEIN - A Carafe, that is a Blind Glass

Creative Writing Week 5: Editing

Writers' Workshop

Bringing your work for criticism, especially for the first time, can be daunting. Remember, good writers' groups are there to support your work at all stages of development and will take a positive approach to helping you improve. Here are some guidelines I like to set in the groups I facilitate. 

  • We are here to help and support each other, and encourage writers at all levels to improve, please do so with kindness and respect. 
  • Express what you liked about a piece first and then find specific details that might help improve the piece. End with saying something positive. 
  • Be polite: try not to say, "it 's boring" or "I don't understand it." - think about ways to phrase your concerns that will help the writer, "The piece was a bit slow here. It may help to take out some of the adjectives ..."
  • Don't get personal, stick to the text.
  • The writer makes the final decision on whether to accept or reject any criticism. Respect their wishes and don't push it. 
  • Be respectful  Even if you dislike the piece, the writer has invested time and effort on the work. Try to use the kind of language you would like used for yourself.
  • Try not to take it personally: suggestions to improve your work are not criticism of you as a person. Try not to be defensive - listen carefully, write everything down and make. considered decision later - perhaps even two weeks later. 

Some editing tips:

Creative Writing Week 4: An Introduction to Writing Plays

I love writing plays. My pen just goes off with a mind of its own and blah blah blah ... I have lots of dialogue. I often wonder where it all comes from. I usually have an idea, and some characters to play out the idea.

The best resource for playwriting is the BBC Writers Room. You can listen to plays, download plays, learn about plays.

Other resources:

Take a tiny idea and transform it into a full blown farce: How to Write A Play by Alan Ayckbourn 1973

Here's 12 tips for aspiring playwrights by Maxie Szalwinska

Some Scripts:

NOT I Script by Samuel Becket and the drama on YouTube: Not I

The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter 1957 (You can buy the book for this script)

Man with Travel Hairdryer by Katie Hims and the script for download is HERE

Creative Writing Week 3: An Introduction to Writing Poetry

The best way to learn about poetry is to read lots of poems. "Poems are the best teachers" Mary Oliver.

I try to read at least one poem a day. This is achievable because they are often short, so even when I have little time I can read a poem and learn something new each time. Learning to write poetry is a continuous journey. When you read poems, read them first for pleasure. Read them again, and again, and again. The poem will reveal itself to you this way, if it's any good, it may not give up its gifts straight away.

Think about:

The shape of the poem. Why the line breaks where it does and what effect that creates.

The sounds of the poem and how they come about: assonance, consonance, alliteration are examples of how poets wield sound into poems.

Meaning may work its way into the mind like magic (you may not be able to explain its meaning, but you feel it). Ask yourself what the poem made you think, feel, see, hear and taste. What did you learn from the poem? Did it change your life?

My life was once changed when I heard Martin Luther King speak his poem/speech:

"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification, that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today."

What was his intention? Freedom! "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"

Not all poems have such brave intention, they come to us quietly, they come carrying metaphor and sit on our shoulders awhile to guide us through life. They whisper, bother us, disturb us, excite us - and we can't always pinpoint why.

"Metaphor drives the engine of poetry. Figurative language—figures of speech and thought—guides the interaction between poet and reader." Edward Hirsch.

Good luck with the beautiful experience of reading poems.

You can find many great poems online:

The Poetry Archive:

Wendy Cope

Roger McGough

William Carlos Williams

The Poetry Foundation:

Pablo Neruda

Margaret Walker

Carolyn Forché               

The Poetry Library        

For magazines and publications.


Poetry can now be found in the form of films. Take a look at these.

Poetry Film: http://poetryfilmlive.com/

Animated Poetry - Billy Collins: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iuTNdHadwbk

We looked at many poems and discussed the devices and forms they used:


The Poetic Line (See 'The Red Wheelbarrow' by William Carlos Williams)







There are many more. You can learn much on the Poetry Foundation website: LEARN

Keeping reading a wide range of poems and you'll find the way forward to suit your style and voice.

Creative Writing Week 2: An Introduction to Writing Short Stories

Warm-up: Exercising your voice

Having a good rant on the page can be a great exercise for warming up the voice. See this poem here by Steve Scafidi: “To Whoever Set My Truck On Fire”  from Sparks from a Nine-Pound Hammer (LSU, 2001).

The writer gives himself permission to be firey, strong, kind, murderous and bewildered all in one poem.

Ask yourself: What do you feel strongly about? Then freewrite on the subject. Don't hold back!

Short Stories:

When I grow up ;) I'd like to write a novel! Writing short stories has been a great place to start. Many of the elements of writing a novel: plot, character, theme, point of view can be found in the short story. The length of a short story can vary but usually between 1000 to 6000 words. Anything under is usually labelled 'Flash Fiction' or 'Micro Fiction'.

It took me a long time to gather enough resources and to learn the skills I needed to get started with short story writing. I'm still developing this skill, but many of the ideas and elements below have really helped. I'm sure you can discover more helpful tools, there are many books and blogs on this subject, but here's a few to get started. 

How to begin? 

Which of these short story beginnings make you want to read on?

'They can't shave their heads every day like they wish they could, so their tattoos show through stubble. Little black hairs like iron filings stuck on magnets.' From Mines by Susan Straight.

'The woman showed him into a small room, not unlike a doctor's waiting room except all the magazines on the table seemed to be about fish packing and frozen foods.' From Trawl by William Bedford.

'Dear Friends and family, by the time you get this this letter I will be dead.' From The Last You'll Hear From Me by David Sedaris.

'In the kitchen, he poured another drink and looked at the bedroom suite in his front yard.  The mattress was stripped and the candy-striped sheets lay beside two pillows on the chiffonier.  Except for that, things looked much the way they had in the bedroom - nightstand and reading lamp on his side of the bed, nightstand and reading lamp on her side. From Why Don't You Dance? by Raymond Carver.

In 1972 my father came back from the moon. From Prison Moon by Molly Black

How will you start your story?
Your job, as a writer of short fiction–whatever your beliefs–is to put complex personalities on stage and let them strut and fret their brief hour. Perhaps the sound and fury they make will signify something that has more than passing value–that will, in Chekhov’s words, “make [man] see what he is like.” -Rick Demarnus

Gives your reader a visual understanding of the character. Action. Show the reader what kind of person your character is, by describing actions rather than simply listing adjectives. Speech. Develop the character as a person — don’t merely have your character announce important plot details.Thought. Bring the reader into your character’s mind, to show them your character’s unexpressed memories, fears, and hopes.

Make your readers hear the pauses between the sentences. Let them see characters lean forward, fidget with their cuticles, avert their eyes, uncross their legs. -Jerome Stern

Point of View

This is a good place to find all the information you need about Point of View. The Beginning Writer.


Try the 8 - Point Story Arc as a way of understanding stories and how they work. Read some short stories to see if you can discover these plot elements. 

From, Nigel Watts' Writing A Novel and Getting Published. 
  • Stasis
  • Trigger
  • The quest
  • Surprise
  • Critical choice
  • Climax
  • Reversal
  • Resolution
Here's a short video to help you get started.

Some short stories to try this method on before writing in this way: 

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe, and some free short stories by Anton Chekhov. Think about the stories you have read in the past, do they fit into this plot structure?

Watch Kurt Vonnegut on The Shapes of Stories 

Here is a piece in the New York Times about The Seven Basic Plots. Again, try to organise the stories you love into these types of stories. 

If you'd like to read and understand sub-text, I recommend David Baoulene's book: The Story and he has a very helpful bog on the subject HERE

The Bridport Prize accepts stories up to 5,000 words (no minimum). See Short Stops for more ideas of places to read short stories and start learning this craft. 

Goodluck writing short stories!