Category Archives: Everything else

Revamping The Blog

What does one do on quiet autumn days in between chores? Revamping my blog was today’s little job. My website is under improvement, my wiki page has been updated by an editor, so this seemed a logical thing to be doing. Of course I should be working on my extra John Clare chapter but I am still mulling it over.

I’ve now found how to display my blogroll properly and added some interesting poets to it. If anyone would like to be added, get in touch, and it would be nice if more people would add me to theirs. Blog hopping is great for discovering poets and reading more of the work of poets you already enjoy.

I’ve also worked out how to display a picture of my own choice, so I hope the fairground photo I used on my children’s poetry book, Kids Stuff, will cheer up the appearance of this blog for a while, until I get bored with that. Oh the fun!

I’ve also updated my What’s On page because google calendar seemed to not want to play ball.


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Split Screen at Manchester Lit Fest

Brian and I reading our Dr Who poems.
Photo courtesy of Chris Keller-Jackson

Featuring: Brian Johnstone, Andrew Philip, Sally Evans, Jo Bell, Julie Boden, Carolyn Richardson, Charlie Jordan, Andrew McMillan and Angela Topping.

Having taken part in two Split Screen readings so far, one at Norwich with George Szirtes, Helen Ivory, Martin Figura and Andy Jackson, the editor, and one at Callander Poetry Festival with Andrew Philip, Carolyn  Richardson, Sheila Templeton, Sally Evans, who performed Yoda with props, in a never-to-be forgotten paper hat, and others, I was greatly looking forward to the Manchester event. Each one has been special in its own way, as different contributors have attended each time, and Andy gives us the chance to choose poems we enjoy reading in addition to our own, to make for a varied show.

The poems in the anthology, from Red Squirrel Press, are placed in juxtaposition, with, for example, Marilyn Monroe opposite Doris Day; Max Miller V Ken Dodd; Pete and Dud, Kirk and Picard. The Manchester launch was special to me because it was the first time my Dr Who poem on Jon Pertwee had been performed back to back with Brian Johnstone’s Tom Baker one. It’s been rare at performances that both of the poets are there.

Each event is chaired by Andy Jackson, the editor, who came up with the quirky idea in the first place and who puts together a workable running order and a slideshow of the relevant characters and shows. All this helps the show to be slick. Andy creates the illusion of an evening’s TV watching at some point in the past, with adverts in the middle and a poem about closedown and the white dot at the end. These poems have been performed at every launch, but at both Callander and Manchester, we were lucky enough to have both their authors, Sally Evans and Andrew Philip, there to read them. Ian Parks’ ‘Flake’ poem and Adam  Horovitz’ ‘Orange poem’ have been chosen at most of the launches, to be read by others. After the ‘9pm watershed’ the poems are more hard hitting, less ‘family’ than the ones before the ads. And the show ends with The National Anthem, which we all stand for with great solemnity, only to be treated to a surprise which I wouldn’t want to reveal here: its delight lies in the unexpected.

The poems are wide ranging. Some are hilarious, some moving, some reflective. The standard of performance has been top notch at every event.  This anthology reaches a wide audience as the programmes and films included are ones that transcend age and generation, and have in many cases become cult viewing. The poets offer new slants on familiar things and a second book is in the offing. I’ve been delighted and humbled to be involved in this project and there are more events to look forward to in the series. Glasgow, Newcastle and Pitlochry are coming up fast. If you can’t get to the show then at least you can read the poems, if you buy the book.

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Filed under Everything else, Festivals

Christmas Reading at Crossways

I enjoy doing the occasional reading for The Stroke Club so this year I have branched out and put together an event for Crossways, a residential home for elderly people who cannot look after themselves.

This is the first time I have sung in public accompanied by my husband on the piano, but I know that a few Christmas songs and carols would brek up the readings and be fun for the residents. They particularly enjiyed the readings about Christmas past, such as extracts from John Clare and Charles Dickens.

As part of the event, they wrote some lines for a group poem in the interval. Here is the group poem.

Christmas Is

The children’s smiles when opening their presents

A nice happy crowd who enjoy their food

All the lovely presents of chocolate

The shimmering tree

A good piece of pork on the table

Sitting and listening to Christmas songs

Having a glass of red wine

Remembering all the Christmas trips from school days

Christmas is a time to be happy and joyful.

(Group poem written by the residents and staff at Crossways, Lostock)

And a Christmas thought from Thelma

Christmas is a time for families when we all meet together to sing songs of praise and to honour the birth of Jesus.  We must all be grateful for everything we receive, be nice to our family and friends. We must think of everyone and about all the poor animals who need our help, especially at Christmas time when so many are cruelly abandoned.


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Filed under Charity Reading, Everything else, John Clare

Magical Animals

On Monday night I went to a Poetry evening in Manchester, because I wanted to meet fellow Salt poet Andrew Philip, who was visiting the area from Scotland. We arranged to meet, together with two old friends of mine, Steve Waling, also a Salt poet, and John Calvert, a very versatile poet who like me writes for both children and adults.

The event was dreamed up and hosted by poetry pixie Jackie Hagan, who made it all magical to fit in with her title. There were glittery table cloths, candles and iced fairy cakes with quirky messages on them. Jackie showed a powerpoint throught with some fantastical, surreal and sometimes cutesy images which was on a loop behind the performers. THis gace a great visual focus and occasionally fitted in with the poems being performed. It was a lively event at The Sandbar, with a huge variety of poets. I wouldn’t class Andy or myself as performance poets but we managed to hold our own, partly because the audience was supportive of every performer, which is exactly what these events ought to be like. Jackie’s idea was that people should be able to use the regular event as a platform to try out new things. She has a confident manner and hosted the whole night very entertainingly, with slick links between each act.

This event was a little out of my comfort zone, but was thoroughly enjoyable.


Filed under Everything else, poetry

Cheltenham Poetry Festival

This shiny new festival was a joy from start to finish. I wasn’t able to attend any of the Thursday events as I was in Oxford doing two readings with the wonderful John Foster, but we arrived in good time for Philip Gross’ reading. He was, as ever, wonderful, and was joined by accordion player Mike Adcok, whose own compositions resonated hauntingly with Philip’s words. Philip and I were booked to read together at the LRB bookshop in November 2010, which was unfortunately postponed. We are still seeking opportunities to read together. We both write for both children and adults – and make little distinction between them, as both deserve well crafted and intelligent verse.

The next event we attended was with George Szirtes, Nigel McLoughlin and Kviria, the Georgian harmony singers. The venue at Francis Close Chapel, was perfect for the meditative poetry of Szirtes, who, as I am sure people know, is an excellent reader, always leading his audience on a journey of discovery. I hadn’t realised before this event what Nigel’s Ulster accent would add to his poems. The music of them was enhanced for me. Nigel and I were both published by bluechrome, so we shared some commiserations over their mysterious disappearance.The singers were enchanting. We were sorry we had to miss the last five minutes to get to John Cooper Clarke’s performance whish turned out to be not to our taste. However, there was a huge audience of people who were loving it, so we slipped out unnoticed after a while.

The next day I had to concentrate on my own two events. The reading at Waterstones was fun, although it can be somewhat challenging at times to make oneself heard on the ground floor of a busy shop. It’s very good to see my books in a prominent position on the shelves! On the plinth in the poetry section my book is cheek by jowl with one of Owen Sheers, festival patron, ace poet and thorougly lovely person.

In the afternoon I was giving a multi-media talk on John Clare. I chose to structure the talk around arguably his most famous poem, ‘I Am’. This allowed me to concentrate on the positivity of his life rather than the asylum years. The representative of the sponsors, This England magazine, commended my approach. I do not see Clare’s life as tragic despite his mental illness. He lived it intensely and had great joy in his love of nature.

Shortly after I had finished handling questions and packing up, we dashed over to Francis Close Chapel to hear Gordon Tyrrall singing his settings of Clare songs, accompanied by his friend Caroline on the flute. I know these songs well, as I play the CD (A Distance from the Town) , but I had heard them all live before. Gordon has a gift for composing tunes which bring out the words and meanings of the poems with great sensitivity. His performances are enhanced by his obvious enjoyment in sharing his talents.

John Hegley, unlike the other John mentioned above, did not disappoint us. This was an extraordinary evening of fun, poetry and music. Hegley is an engaging performer, and I have seen him before, but I had never seen him play his mandolin accompanied by a fantastic jazzy double bassist. See, Hegley is a stunning wordsmith but he can also amuse, impress, involve and entertain. Hats off to him, I did not want this concert to end.

Next day was a little quieter in the events I sought out. We went to hear Cliff Yates, fellow Salt poet, give a quirky reading to a good crowd. He was joined by singer/songwriter Men Diamler, who provided a good contrast: his angry young man style set up some lively tensions with Yates’ gentle and laid back delivery. Later at the same venue, Angela France gave a strong reading. She was joined by Jennie Farley, whose narrative poems I had not heard before. This was a lovely reading. I knew Angela’s work already and enjoyed her readings on other occasions.

The last event I went to was Buzzwords. I will be leading this in September so I wanted to get a flavour while I was already in beautiful Cheltenham. Pat Borthwick was the guest. I have been familiar with her work for a long time and like it very much. The workshop gave me three quick drafts which I intend to work on when I have some time, and the standard of the open mic before Pat’s reading was truly impressive. Angela is an excellent event manager and host as well! Pat’s own reading was both powerful and entertaining by turns. Cheltenham is very lucky to have such a great event happening every month. Buzzwords is running its first national competition, so do get some entries together to support this smashing event.

Anna Saunders and her team deserve hearty congratulations for the success of the first Poetry Festival. Let’s watch it grow.

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Filed under Children's Poetry, Everything else, Festivals, John Clare, Poetry Collections, Salt, The New Generation

How to make excellent mince pies

Mince pies are like poems: you have to fill them with the best things, deeply packed. In their case the best mincemeat you can afford. Making your own is just not worth the trouble. Trust me, I did it once.

The ONLY pastry to use is shortcrust. And yes, you must make your own. Everyone knows how to do this – if you don’t, ask me in the comments box and I will explain. Two tricks I use however:

1) Add a sprinkle of nutmeg and cinnamon to your flour

2) Mix with MILK not water. It makes it easier to handle and then you can roll it out really thin.

You can roll out a little more after using the cutters to get your rounds. The thinner the pastry, the more delicate and yummy the pies. It’s quite nice to cut stars out for the top for some of them, for a change.

After they are baked, sift half of them with icing sugar. Not everyone likes this topping, so offer a choice.

If possible serve still warm. A little clotted cream adds an extra special touch but allow people to put their own on as it melts fast.

Home-made mince pies are millions of times nicer than the ones you buy in the shops. Go on, treat yourself.

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Reading at The Shuffle

The guest list board.

I loved having a guest slot at The Shuffle on Saturday night. It was the first time I had ever read in London or set foot in The Poetry Cafe. We’d wandered round Covent Garden looking for somewhere to eat but everywhere was full, half an hour wait for a table was too long, and we weren’t all that hungry. So we had a drink in a pub on the corner of Betterton Street until the cafe opened. I was entranced with the photographs of poets on the wall who all seemed to be giving me a personal greeting, such as Elain Feinstein, whose collection Cities I had reviewed for Stride. She kindly told me that she thought it was ‘a generous assessment of what I was trying to do’. Do check it out on Stride.

Soon we were eating a wonderful soup and I made myself known to the hosts Jaqui Saphra and Gale Burns, who made me very welcome. They hosted the occasion admirably, and shared some of their own poems, which I enjoyed a lot. I was on last so I could sit back and enjoy the variety of readings, the wonderful audience and the poetic ambience. It was especially good to hear Salt poet Agnieszka Studzinska, though I have to say every single guest was excellent, and it was a really enjoyable evening.

I’d put together a set with a range of moods, starting with my Peter Pan and Wendy poem, ‘From the Wendy House’, which tends to go down well. I followed this with two more poems from The Fiddle, one about my dad’s death and one about my mum’s. I lightened the mood again with the poem Dialectic, about angels and devils and what it is like to have a relationship with them, then a sad one from The New Generation, and two poems which are coming out in my Salt chapbook in January, including the title poem I Sing of Bricks.

I had some wonderful comments afterwards, which really made my night, and an enthusiastic message from a facebook friend who came for the first time to The Shuffle because she wanted to hear me read.

All in all, I felt my London debut went perfectly and I hope I get to read down there again sometime soon.


Filed under Children's Poetry, Everything else, poetry, Poetry Collections, Salt, The New Generation

We have had enough of the Tory’s


Peter LIghtfoot 1880-1968


20 December 1923

Dear Frances

Just a few lines  hopeing it finds you well as it leaves me at present i have just came in from an election meeting we are in the thick of the fight and i hope Labour wins this time we have had about enough of the Tory’s it is a lovely Night and frosty and i am knowing about it this week my nose is as red as a berry with the Restu do you use it for washing with if not tell Aunt Sarah to get you some tell em it’s good. Because your Dad makes it so you argue about religion well i am sure you can hold your own with them. Spiritism is Demonic tell Aunt Polly i said so and so does the Bible. Mam as told you all the news so i have very little to write about i expect you are busy getting read for xmas i will try and come before then to see you it seems a very nice place from the Photo I think this is all now as it is geting late so with best love and xxxxx i will close

Good Night and God Bless you

From your loving Dad xxxxxx

My grandfather wrote this letter to his daughter. He worked at Gossages and Restu is a brand of soap made there.

We are still staunch Labour in the family, but I wonder what grandad would have made of some of the changes in his beloved party since he wrote this letter!

His points about religion are also interesting. He was a Protestant, and very much against other views. I think he has a point about Spiritualism, but it is a pity that my father turning Catholic caused so much strife. Frances must have been around 16 at the time, but he has every faith in her ability to argue her view.

Working at Gossage’s cannot have been good for him, but then he did live till he was 88.


Filed under Everything else, The Inspirational Old Letters

My Titanic Workshop

Some of the participants from my workshop at Denton Library

I originally created this process drama for a Poetry Society Poets-in-schools placement at a school in Standish. It took me weeks of work – no internet in those days – to do the research as each participant is given their own role card so that they can retrace the journey of a real person who was on The Titanic on her maiden voyage in 1912, when she struck an iceberg and sank after an agonising two hours, into the depths of the frozen Atlantic ocean.

I found Walter Lord’s book A Night to Remember the most useful and detailed guide to the events of that terrible night when so many people died needlessly because the ship’s owners had rashly believed that their ship was unsinkable because of the watertight chambers its designer Thomas Andrews included. There were insufficient lifeboats, although there was no breach of the law, and there had been no drill. Furthermore the lifeboats were all in the first class area. Consequently lower classes were far less likely to survive, the ship’s crew were not priorities and staff like the band, the hairdressers, cooks and so on counted very little in the stakes. Whole families were lost from third class, and from first class, because of the rule women and children first, some noteable men of the time went down with their ship. John Jacob Aster and Ben Guggenheim were among those men who defiantly put on their dinner suits and went down ‘like gentlemen’.

The participants were wonderful, really joined in and went for it, although none of them had ever done such a thing before. Essentially, process drama is everyone making up a play together in accordance with a structure designed in advance. Everyone is in role, including the leader, which is why you see me wearing my Captain’s hat – Captain Smith manages the drama from within. I can come out of role when needed by removing the signifier.

The workshop culminates in the writing of a poem or story in role. The whole drama is carried out with the utmost respect and can be very moving.

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Filed under Education, Everything else, Writing challenges

Free Flashback Fiction competition for North West

Time to Read is running a competition for flash fiction set pre 1960. It is free to enter and the deadline is 31st October so you still have plenty of time. There are good prizes to be had, locally and regionally.

A short story competition

NW Libraries invite you to be inspired by history and create a very short story

Closing date October 31st 2010

• Free to enter • Max length 500 words • One story per entrant

• Must be inspired by history and set before 1960

• Must be written in English • Entrants must live in NW England

Local and regional prizes

Regional Judge

Professor Patricia

Duncker, Professor of

Contemporary Literature

at The University of


Regional First prize

£100, Runner-up £50,

Local prize of £15 token

To enter, visit Flashback Fiction at

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