Being Mentored & A New Creative Writing Course at The Tetley

August 27, 2014

News

July saw me performing poetry in front of the camera.  I was filmed in domestic scenes, at Flamborough Head with the lighthouse looming over me and during a performance at Belgrave.  Having seen the works in progress of these videos, I can say that the camera crew led by Pru Fowler and editor Ben Edwards have done an amazing job.  But what I’m probably most excited about is the video that won’t actually feature me in the flesh at all.  Look out for a launch at some point next year.

I’m afraid that after having been so dedicated to my hour a day on the new novel, I have not been so consistent over the summer.  This is primarily because I felt it was important for the poetry collection to take priority but also because a series of difficulties and disappointments have affected our family over the summer, some which will prove to be transient and others more long-lasting, have taken my focus.  Still, we are stronger than ever as a family and a much-needed holiday in Sweden provided an opportunity to do some research for the new novel. I’m still aiming to finish a first draft by next March.

Some of my flash fiction featuring Grief as a character is to be published as a trilogy by Mother’s Milk  in their anthology of fantastical tales for adults.  I’m really excited that the stories will be in print soon, particularly I feel as they belong together.  In the meantime, if you want to read another of my miniature fictions, do buy the Poems, Prose and Pints anthology How Am I Doing For Time, where you will be able to read Charlie’s Mum and my poem Paisley Quilt alongside some high quality work from writers who have performed at the spoken word evening over the last three years.  The launch is on September 17th at the home of PPP, The Tap and Spile in Harrogate.  Do go along if you can at 7.30 pm sharp.

I won’t be able to attend the launch because of a timetable clash.  I am beginning another course at The Tetley that evening. I always look forward to the courses, partly because there is always so much to inspire us at The Tetley and partly because of the enthusiasm and talent of the participants. There have been some incredible progressions and it’s so rewarding to see someone go from brand new writer to published poet within a couple of months.  This exhibition promises to be particularly interesting and I hope we’ll see some new faces alongside past participants.  Here are the details.

CREATIVE WRITING COURSE: WRITING THE EYE

17 SEPTEMBER – 22 OCTOBER

Writing The Eye 
Creative Writing Course
Wednesdays 6:30 – 8:30PM, from 17 September – 22 October 2014

Tutor: Becky Cherriman

The title of The Tetley’s upcoming exhibition Concerning The Bodyguard is inspired by a short story of the same name by Donald Bartheleme. Using this as a starting point, we will explore the exhibition’s ideas around paranoia, cynicism and sincerity and the role of the narrator-observer, through a series of creative writing activities. We will write about conflict in terms of the ‘threats’ posed or imagined by contemporary life and look through the lens of themes such as movement and paralysis, protection and exposure, identity and distance to write future-based pieces.

£60 for the whole course. To book go to Eventbrite or visit The Tetley Reception in person.

For any enquiries contact Curator of Participation Kenn Taylor at: kenn.taylor@thetetley.org or on o113 320 2321

This is due to be a busy few months for me with lots of Artlink West Yorkshire projects, festival season and the annual Ilkley Literature Festival residential for 28 young writers this weekend with  Michelle Scally Clarke – always tiring but deeply rewarding and invigorating to see the talent that is up and coming.

Working with a Mentor

As many of you know, last year I applied to Cinnamon Press for a free place on their mentorship scheme and was fortunate enough to be awarded one.  Since then I have been working with my mentor Caroline Davies on my first poetry collection.

Caroline is a poet whose first collection Convoy was published by Cinnamon in 2013.  I hadn’t come across her work before then and the theme – the role of the Royal Navy in Malta during the Second World War – is not one that I would necessarily have gravitated towards the book shops for.  That is a shame because the collection is a comprehensive narrative of succinct well-crafted poems about the hardships of war in the country.  Convoy is emotive and yet told convincingly without sentimentality in the voices of those who lived the rescue mission.  Those left behind are also given voice but poems from the families of the forces are, rightly, as rare in the collection as a letter received at war.  The recurring characters and images such as salvage objects and descending parachutes are both haunting and vivifying.  Convoy is a historical novel in poetry that I believe adds something substantial to the body of war poetry written in English. You can buy it here and I hope that you do:

During my career, I’ve been a mentor myself, coaching writers to make the most of their work with practical feedback, to think about where they want to go with their writing and cheerleading them to their successes.  Eleven years ago I was even, for a short while, mentored by local writer Robert Endeacott who read and commented on an early draft of my first novel, Yellow Brick Roads (there will be some news on this in future blogs).  This has been a very different process.  Caroline and I have been working together for six months but have never met and have only spoken once on the telephone.  Us writers – even those of us who are notoriously slow when it comes to such things – are now firmly in the electronic realm.

This is how it is works.  Caroline sends me reports approximately every month via email in which she focuses on a number of poems that I am proposing for the collection.  These are usually poems she has grouped under a particular theme – family, ekphrastic, growing up.  I then edit the poems, taking into account the suggested changes and respond to Caroline’s latest report with my thoughts, the edited poems (with rationale for the alterations), any poetry-related news e.g. longlisted poems, offers of publication and key action points.  Caroline goes over and above the call, sending back copies of magazines, suggestions of where to send poems (one of our agreed aims is for me to approach magazines with poems from the collection) and tidbits of encouragement.  Meanwhile Jan Fortune, the Cinnamon Press editor, is copied into all of our communications.

Aside from alterations within lines, other issues discussed have been the right order for the poems.   This is something Caroline’s collection excels in – you find yourself wondering what has happened to one of the characters of her poems and then, thank goodness, the next poem answers it. We’ve also talked about distinctive voice, how much emphasis should be placed on the accessibility of poems, ambiguity, preaching to the reader and how it should be avoided, the narrative thread of the poetry collection, that a poem inspired by art should stand on its own two feet without the mention of the artwork and how much acknowledgement you should give to an artwork that has influenced a poem – we have passed this one between us a few times.  I’d be interested to hear any reader comments on any of the above.

It is always fascinating to see Caroline’s readings of my poems and how she comes to understand their meaning or what their meaning is for her.  Occasionally she finds things in my work that I haven’t seen, sometimes singling out poems I have felt were less important, often because they have been less ‘crafted’ than others or because they are old poems, as my best.  She is not alone in this and, as the cliche says, it serves to show that you are not always the best judge of your own work.

Mostly (95% of the time) I agree with Caroline’s suggestions but occasionally I don’t.  I think this is healthy – as writers we must retain ownership of the words on the page because we know why we put them there – but it is always good to be questioned and to have someone else look over work and make suggestions if they perceive flaws or points for development.  Sometimes these can be lightbulb moments – OF COURSE; at others they need more consideration, especially if the poem is an old one I have performed over and over.  With Wolves, one of my most popular poems, it was a delight to see it transformed under Caroline’s advice and to then have it accepted for publication by Bloodaxe shows that the alchemy is working.  I raise my test tube to the precious nature of partnership, to Caroline.

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