A new poetry collection from Joanna Ezekiel

Joanna’s latest poetry collection is Homecoming, published by Scarborough publisher, Valley Press, winner of a recent Arts Council grant. The editors say:

Homecoming provis cover 7 v2‘By necessity, to come home is to look with fresh eyes at what is familiar. Joanna Ezekiel’s exquisite second collection captures this experience with a combination of quiet observation and vivid sensuality. She draws on her British Jewish upbringing and Indian Jewish heritage to explore what it means to belong to a family, to a country, to a culture in poems that sing with warmth and generosity. Playful juxtapositions of characters and landscapes create a sense of the unexpected, and her treatment of the past is as subtle as her commentary on the present. Evocative and tender, Homecoming is a collection that invites the reader into an unfamiliar place and makes them feel at home.’



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The attic sessions – reclaiming a space for the writer

From Nessa O’Mahony

Nessa atticLast summer, my husband Peter Salisbury and myself finally completed a task we’d been discussing for several years: the conversion of our attic into a workspace for us both.  Once the dust had settled (so much dust) and the cracks began to thread their way along the new staircase (very natural, apparently), we looked at our lovely new work area, with its velux windows opening up to sky and tree-tops, and dreamed about how we might use it to its best potential.

I now need to backtrack a couple of decades in order for the next part to make any sense. In the 1990s, I presented a weekly radio show about the world of writing for one of Dublin’s many community radio stations. Writers Ink. (cunning pun, eh?) ran for more than four years, and I was the regular presenter between 1997 and 1999. I loved the whole experience of finding guests, researching interviews, planning shows and getting to talk about my enthusiasms for a captive audience. The medium made it all the more attractive; I had no idea whether anyone was actually listening, but that didn’t matter in the least. This was community radio; audience figures weren’t part of the vocabulary.

But time passed, I moved jobs, then country for a while, and the connection with regular broadcasting was lost, until nearly twenty years later when I and my husband, a cameraman who had already colonised a neat portion of our new attic for his editing suite, looked at what we had made and wondered why we couldn’t do the show right here? And having dispensed with the notion of calling the show The Madwoman in the Attic (too literal), The Attic Sessions came into being.

The idea is for a series of monthly video podcasts in which we invite writers, musicians and generally interesting people up to the attic to have a chat about what ever interests them and us. We’ve set up a website and broadcast using our own dedicated YouTube channel. Although there are plenty of radio and TV shows that do similar things, the internet space is still pretty empty of this kind of show. There’s no shortage of podcasts on other themes, but we found it hard to find the model of interview/chat/performance we had in mind. So we began drawing up a list of people and topics we’d like to feature over coming months.

I knew that if we were going to begin broadcasts in March, the first person I wanted to feature was Irish novelist Lia Mills, whose novel Fallen, which tells the story of a young Dublin woman Katie Crilly, who gets caught up in events around the Easter Rising of 1916, had been chosen as Ireland’s first Two Cities One Book Festival choice for 2016  http://www.dublinonecityonebook.ie.

The centenary of the Easter Rising is being commemorated throughout the year, but March and April are the zenith of the celebrations so Lia was the perfect choice. She is a wonderful talker, and has done much research into the role that women played during the early years of Irish independence. We had a fascinating chat about why this period fascinated her, and the forgotten stories of Irishmen who went to fight in World War I and who subsequently got written out of the official narrative in newly Independent Ireland. You can listen to the whole interview here: https://youtu.be/KPRrhq_i81c

So the plan is to produce one podcast per month for the next few years, until we run out of energy or guests (the former is more likely than the latter). The next show is going to focus on the links between poetry and traditional music in Ireland; there’ll be a crime special (Irish noir is very big right now) and a discussion of the short story form. And that’s just for starters. The joy about this sort of enterprise is that it can go in any direction we like. We’ve no advertisers, no studio bosses, nobody to obey but ourselves. What fun.


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Success in the Summer

Anne Caldwell was long- listed for the National Poetry Competition this summer. She teaches on A215 and also works as a creative writing lecturer at the University of Bolton.

‘I was delighted to receive this news, as I have entered many times over the years and never got this far before’, Anne added. ‘It gives me encouragement to keep entering and makes the piles of rejections seem a little less harsh!’

National Poetry Competition

National Poetry Competition


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Morgaine Merch Lleuad’s entry is shortlisted for the Frogmore Prize

FRoggie frog web largeWe’re pleased to announce that Morgaine’s entry for the 2015 Frogmore Poetry Prize made it onto the final shortlist of ten.  This year’s entries were adjudicated by John McCulloch.


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A new poetry collection from Mike Johnson

How my poetry collection See What I Mean? got published – Mike Johnson

Rather more than three years ago, I entered a poetry competition, focused on humorous poems for adults, run by Thynks Publications.  To my delight, I won the competition and a small anthology of the winning poems was published.  (More on the age group the winning poem relates to below.)  On receipt of the anthology and a very welcome cheque, I thought that was that, but…

Some months later, Thynks contacted me again and, to my further delight, asked to see more poems, which I was much intrigued to furnish. Thynks liked what they saw and offered to produce a small collection for their Key Stage II range.  A long wait followed, with a couple of reminders from me, but eventually See What I Mean? has appeared. The collection has a wide range of poetry, including action poems, fun poems, more thoughtful poems and my speciality visual poems (wonderful to use my PhD in semiotics imaginatively). There is also an element of teaching what poetry is in the collection, too.See what I Mean

Interestingly, the poem I submitted to Thynks adult competition I simultaneously submitted to an Irish magazine’s poems-for-children competition and exactly the same poem won that one, too! I would say that my most successful poems tend to focus on Key Stage II: this is an age-range to which I have performed many times, in schools.   Children love the chance to write their own poems, but poetry is not necessarily something which is taught well or even attractively fostered in schools and many are permanently put-off poetry early in life, which is miserable.  I would hazard that the better children’s poems (which mine aspire to be and, without flattering myself, I would say that I sometimes achieve) are suitable for adults, too. In fact, I made a decision, in the late 80s, to aim at writing good children’s poems and I have pretty much sold between five and  ten poems to professional publishers every year, since. Indeed, I have just sold eleven already published poems to Scholastic, which hearteningly confirms my original decision. One of my visual poems has been published/re-published at least seven times!

In addition, on Wednesday 24 June 2015 relating to the publication of See What I Mean?  I was interviewed on Radio Wiltshire about children’s poetry.  Anyway, See What I Mean? is now available, if you want to take a look. OU creative writing colleagues should feel free to ask me any questions about children’s and/or visual poetry via our module tutor forums.



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The Insect Rosary – a new novel from Sarah Armstrong

For the first seventeen years of my life I spent four weeks a year at my gran’s farm in Northern Ireland. I loved it, the dog and the rain and the wellies, and felt it was very much my other home, while also being very aware that I didn’t belong in lots of ways. Having returned twice as an adult, for a holiday and my gran’s funeral, I saw the many ways the farm had changed. Walls had been knocked through and extensions built. It was still a InsectRosaryFINALhappy, family home, but it wasn’t my farm any more. I became determined to freeze the place as I remembered it and began writing my novel by accessing all the memories I could. In forming these memories into a novel I had to give it a fictional structure to contain everything that was true (true to me, at least). Bluntly, I turned my mother’s family home into a dark and disturbing place. She took the news quite well.

‘All families have secrets, but Bernadette’s are more dangerous than most. On holiday in Northern Ireland in 1982, she and her older sister discover their family is involved with disappearances and murder. Thirty years later Nancy makes a disastrous return to the farm with her own family. The events of the past gradually and menacingly reveal why those sisters have not spoken to each other since that last disturbing summer together.’

My novel uses two viewpoint characters, sisters, and their stories are separated by thirty years. It is about dangerous silences and dangerous words. It was important for me to have this sense of doubling (in events, characters and time) and place has always been an important aspect of my work. Through writing about such an important part of my childhood I have remembered more about it than I thought possible. In getting it published I have realised how important it is to combine truth with fiction, but not to be tied to the truth, and the importance of being nice to your mum.

‘An atmospheric, cleverly written exploration of the intensity of sibling relationships, The Insect Rosary is chilling and evocative: a story full of dark humour, unexpected tensions and unanswered questions, leading to an unbearably tense conclusion.’ Elizabeth Haynes

Sarah Armstrong teaches on A215 Creative Writing. The Insect Rosary is published by Sandstone Press: http://sandstonepress.com/books/the-insect-rosary

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Hannah Vincent’s play wins BBC Audio Award

Hannah Vincent’s radio play Come to Grief has won an award for Best Drama in the Adaptation category in the 2015 BBC Audio Awards, announced on 1st February.

The judging panel said that the script, adapted from Hannah’s own stage play,  ‘brilliantly exploits radio’s unique ability to voice both the conscious and the unconscious mind. It is a play that haunts you with images that can only be realised by the listeners’ own imagination.’

The following synopsis of the play can be found on the BBC website:

Sylvia (Claire Rushbrook) is in hospital suffering from memory loss. She cannot remember anything about her life. The treatment she is undergoing is radical – she is suspended above the floor, hanging by her neck. Medical staff assure her that this way ‘everything will fall into place’.

As she hangs, Sylvia is visited by a series of figures, including her husband (Philip Jackson), her daughter (Emerald O’Hanrahan) and a man (Carl Prekopp), calling himself her friend, whom she cannot recognize.

But are these people real or phantoms? It soon becomes apparent that part of the space of the play is Sylvia’s unconscious, the land of her memory. As she comes to understand this, she slowly starts to remember the appalling events that have occurred….

Hannah teaches both A215 and A363 for the OU.


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Dancing with a Stranger – a short story collection from Pauline Hughes

This project began with trying out some short stories in the market.  I had been teaching some prose fiction on the creative writing course and I thought I really need to get some stories out there, rather than just my poetry publications.  One of two stories were taken by small publishers and then another one by Comma Press and I found that I completely enjoyed telling stories. DancingCOVLARGE There seemed to be recurring themes and obsessions.  I have always been fascinated by the process of migration, immigration, movement ofpeoples. Perhaps something in my own family history, with grandparents and parents on the move from Wales and Ireland and then my own adult life bringing up a family whose background was mixed.  So as I gradually put the stories together I found that what drew me were interactions between people of different cultures and from different countries.  The stories span quite a series of decades (but then I am really old!).  There’s a story set in an Irish immigrant family in the 50s and another set now where an illegal immigrant tries to find a man who will marry her so she can stay. Two of the stories are set in Sierra Leone where I have worked.

It’s hard to get feedback on stories as there are so many words.  I belong to a couple of writing groups but it’s all about looking at poems.   In the end I shared them with the novelist and editor John Murray on a course in Greece because I was desperate to get an outside perspective on whether they worked.  He was wonderfully encouraging but also sharp in his criticism.  So somehow or other everyone needs their fiction to be picked apart I think by someone who reads carefully.  I didn’t agree with everything he said and in the end used my own instinct with some elements of the writing (for example he doesn’t like the present tense in short fiction but I felt that it was right for some of the stories).

The publisher, Sheila Wakefield (Red Squirrel Press) has published my poetry so she knew my work and had seen some individual stories and approached me with the idea of doing a collection.

Red Squirrel Press

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A new poetry collection from Michael Thomas

Come To Pass – some reflections on group work

This collection, recently published by Oversteps Books, is the second in which I have arranged poems by sub-groups. In earlier collections, I think I must have had some sense of variation in subject or tone, so I can’t say that I just slung them in like packages in a delivery van. There was, however, no overt organising principle. Perhaps I had in mind Ringo Starr’s recollections of recording Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, given in an interview for the Beatles’ Anthology documentary. They started, he said, with a kind of military theme in mind for the album, which gave them the opening song, its reprise, and—via the persona of Billy Shears—‘With A Little Help From My Friends.’ But after that, ‘We said stuff it, let’s just do tracks.’

I’d always liked the idea of just doing tracks in poetry collections: letting different kinds of poems jostle each other and jump out at the reader in haphazardly contrasting ways. But I was aware that, for most poets, having a care for organisation was more important than my cavalier ‘herd ‘em up, move ‘em out’ approach suggested. In one interview, Philip Larkin noted that he saw his collections as akin to an evening at the music-hall: the clowns, the serious tenor, the dancing girls, the magician.

come-to-pass-fullSo with my last collection, The Girl from Midfoxfields, and this one, Come To Pass, I moved towards sub-groupings and saw the advantages that this could have. My first impulse was a simple one: put similarly-themed poems together so they have a bit of company. From this act of cod-altruism, however, grew the realisation that grouping poems might enable me to see them in a new way—possibly even see meanings which I had not intended when I first wrote them (thus sparing me, perhaps, the old experience of trying to catch up with someone else’s interpretation).

In Come To Pass, the sub-groups are ‘Black Countries’, ‘Calls and Responses’, ‘The Gather-man’, ‘Shelter Poems’ and ‘Exits.’ Only in ‘The Gather-man’ were the poems written on a unifying theme, the notion of a character who prepares the soon-to-die. The rest had been written at different times and, while I could see that I was moving back to subject A or B with this or that one, I didn’t immediately think ‘Ah, that’s another for a group.’ The headings actually came afterwards, but it was interesting to see how naturally different poems fell under them. ‘Calls and Responses’ turned out to be a home for poems of greater or lesser spirituality, while ‘Exits’ showed me how many poems I had written on the theme of ‘goodbye’—from ‘I Didn’t Mean It,’ about a domestic row, to ‘Union Junction’, which ends with a boy watching a swan sail away beneath a canal bridge:

as a child might stand
while eternity
with patient smile
explains itself

For this collection and the last, then, subgrouping has been the way to go. Whether I’ll continue it, I’m not sure, but I don’t think I’ll revert to the random business of ‘doing tracks.’ I’m not sure I’ll write anything else, but then, perhaps you never are after you’ve finished something. Anyway, I take heart from the words that Edward Bond gives Ben Jonson in Bingo, his 1973 play about Shakespeare’s final days in Stratford. Jonson is on his way north to torment Drummond of Hawthornden and stops off to see ‘sweet William’, as he calls him, and find out what he’s writing now. Nothing, insists Shakespeare:

Jonson: Why not?
Shakespeare: Nothing to say.
Jonson: Doesn’t stop others.



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The Status of the Cat – Sean Elliot’s recently published poetry collection

In May 2013 I found myself coping with depression. Through the fog I reasoned that if I felt this bad, it would be difficult to feel any worse so why not take a risk? I had repeatedly tried to have a poetry collection published; if I approached a publisher now I would hardly feel the sting of rejection when it came. It would only be the cherry topping of pique on my black forest gateau of despair. I sent some of my poems to Elliot Robinson at Playdead Press. He agreed to publish my book. Some people, I thought morosely, would do anything to spite me.The Status of the Cat_Sean Elliott-2

Putting together a poetry collection is like arranging a mosaic. You are working with existing pieces rather than drafting something new. I had roughly a hundred published poems from twenty years of writing. The poems seemed to fall into several groups. Places were important and indirectly established a chronology: there were poems about Dawlish, the seaside town in Devon where I grew up; I’d moved to London in search of a career; my wife is German and several of my poems were about my growing love of the German landscape and culture; in recent years we had bought a house in Margate, another seaside town but a far more impoverished one than Dawlish.

Alongside the poems involving places, there were recurrent themes. Several poems were about the theatre (I had worked as a theatre usher for both the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre). There were poems about the minor dishonesties of social behaviour, inspired by Thomas Hardy’s Satires of Circumstance (1914), which I hoped were witty. There were poems about love, depression and paintings. I excluded about twenty poems because they duplicated things that were said better in another place, or they had lines I no longer liked. Initially, I planned to end the collection with the sequence of love poems as a final ‘cry from the heart’. I’m glad I changed my mind and put the love poems in the middle; they now seem like an important part of the whole rather than a wayward digression in the last few pages or a makeweight brought in to plump out an otherwise skinny book.

My title, The Status of the Cat, came from a section of poems involving cats. I am not a cat fanatic, likely to appear in future author photos clutching an embarrassed feline, but my book is about survival; cats proverbially have nine lives and always lands on his feet, they make good role models. The book came out in February 2014. It continues to prowl the bookshops while I have moved on to the next of my nine lives.


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