Category Archives: The Inspirational Old Letters

‘The Next Big Thing’ Blog Tour

The Next Big Thing, for those who don’t yet know, is a way to network with fellow writers and to find out a bit more about what they’re working on. The idea is fairly simple. The writer answers a set of questions on his or her blog one week, and then invites five other authors to answer the same questions the following week. They in turn invite five more.

I was invited by Geraldine Green

What is the title of your new book?

Paper Patterns

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How did you choose the title?

I spent a long time deliberating this and then went back to my original idea. One of the poems is called Paper Patterns, and it came out of collaborating with a textile artist, Maria Walker. There are a few poems in the book which she has used on in her art work, and one of the sequences was written for a joint exhibition with her, all based on some family letters she had bought in a junk shop before she met me. After collaborating for a few months we met up, when we made the astonishing discovery that these letters she’d found so inspiring had been written by my father’s family. So the title reflects the work I had done with Maria.

The cover art is actually a piece of her work on which she embroidered words from the poem, Paper Patterns. I love that picture and she kindly gave me permission to have it as cover art. (Actually ALL my books have cover art by friends apart from my Salt books and my Rack Press pamphlet, because those publishers have a certain style and took charge of the covers for me.)

Also, the title resonates, because poems themselves are patterns on paper.

Where did the idea for the book come from?

As a poet, I tend to write the poems as I go along, and when I am putting a collection together, I think about which poems I want to include. Because this is a full length collection, it has several different themes and moods. It’s important to cut in some variety in poetry books. Although I know most readers will dip in and out, I have carefully arranged the poems so they speak to each other and take the reader on a journey throughout the book. For instance, the last few poems are about regrets and ageing, whereas near the start there are more light-hearted ones. The book also includes several sequences. One is The Lightfoot Letters which includes the poems written for the exhibition, another is Catching On, which brings together ten poems from the Rack Press pamphlet with 6 poems from my Salt collection I Sing of Bricks, about my friendship with poet Matt Simpson. There is also a new coda to that sequence, which charts the stages in our friendship and also the stages of coming to terms with his death. The third sequence is a small one of miniature poems in which wild plants speak their story.

Some of the poems were written on a course with Penelope Shuttle in France, and one was written after attending an inspirational reading by Pascale Petit. There are also some poems about birds, one of which was in Poetry Review, and several poems about fruit, written at a workshop by Jan Dean. Some were even written at my own workshops, where I tend to write as a way of timing the exercises and seeing whether they are good to work from. It’s not for me to track themes – I will leave that to the critics, who can be very perceptive.

What genre does your book fall under?

Poetry. It’s not highly experimental. I write poems which are accessible but complex in terms of their layers and resonances. I think every poem is an experiment. I tend to write instinctively and then bring my intellect to bear at the redrafting stage, where I am quite a harsh self-critic. I like poems which both stimulate the intellect but ultimately move the reader, so that’s how I aim to write.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

That scenario is very unlikely in the case of a poetry collection. But sometimes poems are performed by actors. So actors I would most like to perform my work: David Tennant, Miriam Margoyles (who already did a splendid job with one of mine), Patrick Stewart, Frances Barber, Colin Firth, Dervla Kirwan, Sarah Lancashire.

Who has published your book?

My publisher is Lapwing, an independent press owned by Dennis Greig, who is based in Northern Ireland. He expressed an interest in my work when we were discussing, over email, a mutual friend, the late James Simmons. Dennis had published a few friends of mine including Janice Fitzpatrick, Ian Parks and Andrew Oldham. I felt that the house style would suit Maria Taylor’s artwork and Dennis and I very much see eye to eye on the current state of the poetry world, so I decided to send him my collection. I hope to do an Irish tour to promote the book, as soon as I have arrange some free time. I am of Irish descent and very proud of it. I’ve started to explore it more in my work.

What other books would you compare ‘The Other Side of the Bridge’ to, within the genre?

I think this one is best picked up by reviewers too. I hope I write in my own way and not leaning on the shoulders of others. My favourite poets include John Clare, Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, Edward Thomas, Elizabeth Bishop, Matt Simpson, John Agard, Pablo Neruda, Ian Parks, Martin Figura, so it’s possible that their work and mine has some similarity. Helen Ivory is another poet I admire, as is George Szirtes, but I wouldn’t say this particular collection is similar to their poetry.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I think this book is a development from my earlier collections, although family and friends are still inspiring poems. Myth and nature are strong themes and everywhere I go I am writing poetry, so this book includes poems set in Egypt, France, different parts of the UK including London and Scotland, Whitby and the North York Moors. I also wanted to bring the sixteen elegies for Matt Simpson, which appeared in two different publications, together so I could finally call the sequence complete. I have touched on some of the elements that went into the book in my previous replies, also.

What else about the book might pique a reader’s interest?

I love it when people say to me that my poems have helped them work through difficult or meaningful times, like bereavement and childbirth. Readers can emotionally connect with my work; it’s not about me showing off or being clever, but a genuine attempt to communicate with others.
Also, I use a variety of forms, sometimes sonnets and other strict forms do the job, and other poems feel more comfortable in free verse.
The moods of the poems range too, and there is an unfolding narrative if one reads the collection in order.
Although I do write personal poems, I also reach further, for example I explore personae and history, myth and story. I also write for children and sometimes my playful side shows in my work for the general adult reader. I live a fairly ordinary life and celebrate the little things that provide moments of piercing joy.

What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?

The book’s blurb begins: Angela Topping unravels the threads that hold families and friends together, exposing the frailties, joys and tenacity of love, in these strong, spare poems.

I think that just about sums it up.

The following writers are contuining the tour. Do vist their blogs to see their responses to these questions:

Lindsey Holland

Adam Horowitz

Steve Ely

Catherine Edmunds http://catherineedmunds.blogspot.co.uk/

Fiona Sinclair

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The Lightfoot Letters

Well, the chapbook arrived yesterday and I am delighted with it. The publishers, Erbacce, have done a wonderful job and Maria Walker’s cover design is really beautiful. I have dedicated the book to my brothers and sister and I am looking forward to presenting them with a copy. I wonder what my dad’s family would have thought if they had known their letters would one day be published, revealing so much about working class life in a Northern industrial town in 1923.

Maria wants me to write more poems, so my work is not yet done, but at least I have a publication to include in the exhibition at The Brindley, which will be happening in late summer this year. I have a feeling I will need to order another box of books by then as so many people have shown an interest in this project. A friend only remarked yesterday that Maria and I only discovered the connection of the letters in October – what a lot can happen in such a short time!

The discovery of the letters, and my doing some work in Widnes at my old library and Farnworth Church, has brought me back in time and back to Widnes in a very curious way. Having not thought much about the place for years, and recently severing my links with it when my in-laws moved away into a retirement flat near us, I suddenly feel closer to the place than I have for a long long time, even though I am a bit of a stranger in that it is all so different these days. The busy town square is pedestrianised, Simms Cross school has gone and the market has moved. The library now has a coffee shop – we would have loved that – and the road home past the foundry where my brother worked is now a dead end. Roots are so important and you can never dig them up.

£5 from me or from Erbacce

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The Lightfoot Letters News

Beautiful cover for my book, designed by Maria Walker

Maria and I had a very successful meeting at The Brindley last week and the project is all coming together nicely. We have seen the exhibition space and Maria is full of ideas for further artworks. I have typed up nearly all of the letters and these have been put into a book with 5 brand new poems and 5 older poems which were in my book The Fiddle, written before the discovery of the letters gave me new insights into the family situation. I have interspersed the poems with the letters and ordered the book person by person in what appears to be the most logical order, so that the narrative unfolds as the reader moves through the pages.

I have worked closely with Erbacce Press who are bringing out the book. We have endeavoured to keep the cost low so that hopefully people who do not normally buy poetry books will be prepared to invest their income for the sake of the letters themselves but will then enjoy the poetry.

The Brindley will organise an opening, at which I will read both poetry and extracts from the letters. It will be a gala occasion and I hope to see many of my blog followers there.  Many friends have told me they will be coming. There will be a video installation of my reading as part of the exhibition, and I am hoping to commission some commemorative bookmarks from Sumptuosity, who have already made bookmarks of quotations from my work in embroidery on silk, with appliqued motifs using vintage fabrics. The Brindley shop will stock all my books for the duration of the exhibition, which starts in July. Maria will be providing postcards of the artwork for sale. And we are offering workshops as well. These will be advertised in The Brindley brochure nearer the time.

I still can’t believe my luck that all this has happened. It’s brought me closer to my dad, even though we were very close when he was alive. My siblings too are very interested, if not fascinated, with it all and it has given us all a great deal to talk about and share in these past few months. Maria and I are firm friends as well, now. So many positive things have come from a strange coincidence, and it’s all down to the fact that my dad’s family were so tight knit that they write frequently to their sister in Manchester in the winter of 1923-1924, giving us a detailed picture of working class life at the time, which is of interest to those of us who came from a working class background and are now reclaiming our histories, as the histories of the real people behind social change.

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New Poem based on The Letters

Father, Skating, 1923

 

Lean into the wind father

let skates speed you

across frozen pond

in this harsh winter of 1923

when pits are thick with ice

and all you care about

is learning to go on two skates

those home-made blades

carrying you in a hard-won glide

into a back spin as you show off

your new found skills. No-one

taught you or held your hand

helped you up when you fell

time after time, except yourself.

Enjoy your triumph, Dad,

for all too soon your childhood

will crash to its ending.

For now you’re just a boy

who buys a clockwork engine

with carefully totted tips.

All too soon you’ll be a man

at twelve years old, handing

pay over to keep family fed,

your mother ill in bed,

your father given up to drink,

the young ones arguing.

Skate on, enjoy the free flow

as your blades whistle on ice.

It’s not yet time to go in from play.

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Ada: new letters poem up for comments

Ada

(1882-1933)

How I begin to know you through these letters.

In 1923 she was away from home, your girlie,

leaving behind three clumsy boys

and two baby daughters to plague you.

 

That winter was so harsh

the wind blew the pictures off the wall

and your cough gusted through the house,

your chest creaked like old floorboards

and you wrote of everything you did,

saving scraps of gossip about secret weddings

to piece together with the oppression

of household chores, the perils

of ironing with a badly-cut thumb,

the days it took the washing to dry

and little Dorothy going worse naughty,

smashing all the plates, while namesake Ada

screamed and yowled because she did not know

like older ones, how to write a letter.

 

The house must have quietened at night

while the boys laboured over their letters;

my father’s carefully neat, Vincent’s scrawled,

not yet master of his pen, and you’re exhausted

but no power can stop you writing page after page

in your carefully flowing script. For doesn’t

a mother cat cry when a kitty is lost.

Ada, grandmother, how alike we are

two mothers looking out for our dear ones.

 

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a bucket with the bottom knocked out would carry all the love Grandma could spare

19 Russell Street

Farnworth

Widnes

November 29th

Dear Frances

Quarter to ten. Just got little ones to bed. There seems to be no chance for anything with one thing ot another keeping coming forward to be done. I have had to be giving Ada an extra special wash (there was no bath this week) I didn’t think any of them were well enough but a paper came for her to be examined at school. Of course she is quite delighted about it but I am not. Can you fancy me off with our Dorothy by ten o’clock weather like this today till 12 o’clock and then tackle coming home with the lot to start getting dinner with our Willie sat waiting his face would be sure to be a mile long. Peter was examined yesterday and I did not go the doctor said he is alright. I think it is all bunkum so they will be able to keep their good jobs but I am fed up. The hospital business sickened me so I shall sneak off this journey. Peter said there wasn’t many mothers there. I don’t wonder neither they think we are at their beck and call with nothing to do but they will have to learn different. Well how are you getting on I hope you are doing well. We were very pleased to have your letter. Willie wrote an was going to post it but I said never mind I will put it in mine but I have been longer in writing than I expected. You see we had a fortnight’s wash and it was a lot it was.10.30 on Tuesday when I finished then Wednesday drying all day and some I left on the rail till dinner time today. Willie mangled for me after dinner and I have been ironing all afternoon. I tidied up before I started so I finished nicely by teatime. Dad and Peter and Vincent have been to a lecture of animals etc. in the dining room at Gossages they have just come home of course it was fine. Peter and Vincent also was at the Coop concert and lecture the other night. I expect it would be like the one you went to the other night. Mona says she will write to you she says she cannot understand how it is that you did not get the other but she tells fibs I am sure. She knows as well as I know it has never been posted. Have you had any letters from Elsie Moffat yet? Mona says she saw her the other night but not to speak to. I am very lonely now I have no-one to talk to now the days are very dreary this bad weather. Our Dorothy is talking very nicely now. She can say lots of things now. Mrs Ducker gave her a penny today and Willie said to her what did you do with the penny off Mrs Ducker she said buy tottie as plain as you or I could. She went to Jones herself and got it too. I have bought her a jersey she likes it so much that she makes me dress her before she will have even a drink and you know how hungry she always is in a morning. I got her a blue one and Ada a red one they seemed so cold and I am going to save a bit of washing. I have got coms and bloomers and a navy blue kilt for Ada and they are both nice and warm. I have got a hug me tight for me. Auntie Sally, Uncle Harry’s mammy knitted it. It was rather dear but it has kept me alive this week. I would like it better only it is heliotrope and it is a colour I mortally hate. I am sorry Auntie Polly could not get a house. She is on a big expense with this one simply waste. I hope she is better of her cough but if she is like me she won’t be for this weather is awful for coughs. Grandma sends her love you. She did not mention a bucket with the bottom knocked out but I guess that would carry all the love Grandma could spare anyone. Anyway she asks after you every week so you can see you are not forgotten. Mrs Mabel was asking of you today and Mrs Grant asks all your concerns when she comes. I have not seen any of your friends because I have not been out since you went away only 3 Saturday afternoons to do the bit of shopping and on the bus at that. Dad came with me twice. Dad saw Maud and her boy tonight when he was coming home. Well I have no more to say this time as it is getting late and my eyes keep going shut. We are all thinking of you dear we all miss you and are all send fond love and kisses x x x x x x x x so good night and God bless you your loving Mam and Dad Lightfoot xxxxxxxxxxxxx

Vincent and Peter are going to write xxxx

Ada Lightfoot 1882-1933

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Willie says you will tell me off for Bad Spelling

Letter from Father 18 December 1923

Dear Frances

Just a few lines before i go to bed hopeing it finds you well and happy i expect you are getting ready for XMass we were very pleased to get your letters. I read them all for the Children last Night before they went to bed they said what a funny chip shop with a river under neath they were sorry for Uncle Tom because he could not eat meat and you haveing all them nice things in the house. Glad you enjoyed yourself at the party i hope it was a nice bottle of Cent. Willie said you would only get a paper cap so i said you would get a present he was thinking of them partys he as been to. well he does not (know?) everything. I am going to a Do on Wednesday a (hot pot) supper. But i will have to use a knife and fork. (But i would rather have a spoon) your Mam is not well at all the bad weather is makeing her Cough worse, Farnworth is just the same old place wet and Dirty. We are finishing work on Friday till the Thursday so i will come and see you on Saturday if it is convenient, and Ada as well so you must write and let me know one of my work mates is coming to Stalebridge so i will have some one to show me the road.  I think this is all your mum is going to write in the Morning so i will close with Good Night and God bless you hopeing to see you on Saturday

From your loveing Dad

xxxxxxxxx

P.S. Willie says you will tell me off for bad spelling if i have made any mistakes i am sure you will be able to make them out xxxxx

written probably 18 December 1923

Maria Walker has made an interesting piece of art from the sentence ‘I would rather have a spoon’, using five wooden spoons painted in crackle glaze and painted with the words. My grandfather loved his food and had a prodigious appetite, but always remained tall and skinny.

‘Willie’ mentioned in these letters is my Uncle Bill, as I knew him. All of us remember that he was always in his vest, quite shocking for us children. My nephew Steve once asked him if he was an athlete, with all the tact of small children. He sounds like he was a bit of a pain even then; I can’t say I ever liked him much. He always called my clarinet  my ‘liquorice stick’, which did make me smile, at least. Father’s written style takes little notice of full stops and he puts capital letters in random places, but his handwriting is beautiful. He seems quite defiant of Willie and his grammar school ideas. Uncle Bill died in 1976, the year of my wedding.

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