Journal of a Trainee Editor part 2

I had expected the summer months to be quieter and less busy, but with two books now on the go this was always going to be unrealistic! I have been working with Helena Nelson from Happenstance Press on my first poetry chapbook, and we have finally decided a title ‘Slug Language’. The process has been one of very fine tuning, looking at grammar, imagery and finding the exact words for poems. I have also continued to work with Ian Daley from Route on ‘Some Girls’ Mothers’ – a collection of non fiction on the theme of mothers and daughters. It is now flowing in a good order, and is ready to be proof-read. A cover has been discussed and I have had the difficult task of writing an introduction and blurb for the back of the book.

Helena Nelson shares Ian Daley’s attention to detail but the process of working on a poetry collection as apposed to creative non-fiction feels very different. There is less emphasis on narrative, more on concise use of language, and rhythm. I have enjoyed both processes immensely, and both have been very personal because of the subject matter of my poetry and the story I have written for ‘Some Girls’ Mothers.

I have always been a very visual person, as interested in art as in writing, so looking at images for the cover of both these books is something I relish. It feels like they suddenly acquire their own place in the world and are much less attached to me!

Journal of a Trainee Editor

Earlier this year, myself and a group of writers called ‘Poets with a Kick’ were awarded an arts council grant to develop a new publishing and performance project on the theme of mothers and daughters. My own part in this project has been varied. I am booking a tour, writing a creative non fiction for the book and learning editing skills by working alongside Ian Daley from Route. What have I learnt so far on this journey?

Suzanne, Anne, River, Clare, Char, Nell and baby Niamh

Attention to detail, I think. And to aim for quality. I am a skilled editor when it comes to poetry, but creative non-fiction is a whole new genre for me, and the biggest learning curve has been how to approach a narrative, and support a writer to find a narrative structure that works for the content of their writing and keeps a reader hooked. This will probably take a much longer apprenticeship for me to perfect, but so far, I would describe the process as learning to structure a piece of music. My own writing for this project did not have a clear point of emotional impact, and now its structure builds in the middle, and connects the reader to an unfolding series of events. So thank you Ian Daley. Our provisional title for the book is ‘Some Girls’ Mothers and it will be out in October 2008. I will use this blog to chart some more editing skills as the project develops.

29th May, 2008

I have been working in the North West for the National Year of Reading this month, running reading workshops and creative writing workshops on the theme of well being. I have met some fantastic readers and writers, and have been greatly encouraged by asking readers what they got out of coming to a group. Their replies were very varied but many people said the experience extended their reading habits and that they would now try a whole range of new fiction.

I have been finishing a story for a new collection of pieces on the theme of mothers and daughters that I am putting together with five other writers and found it a challenge moving from poetry to prose. I have been working on how to get dialogue to sound authentic rather than stilted, and also how to structure a story in a balanced way. I have also been writing a new series of poems exploring old fairy tales, such as the six brothers who got turned into swans, and poems from the point of view of animals. I have been reading a number of books about wilderness – including WildWood by Roger Deakin (which is inspirational), Alice Oswald’s book of poems, Woods etc and The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane whose prose is like drinking spring water. Why this theme? My good friends Karen Smith and Helen Beale pointed me in this direction, knowing my interest in contemporary ways to write about ecology and the natural world. I think I also have a bit of cabin fever, so have been vacariously travelling in my head by reading this selection of books.

Allotment arts event, April 08

This month I have put together a two day residential at The Birchcliffe Centre in Hebden Bridge for a range of artists from all different disciplines to share their creative practice.  Funded by The Arts Council, this event was a response to taking part in a conference in Oxford last year called Invigorate that brought together mid-career artists to discuss future policy.  That conference was very argumentative, and in contrast, the two days in Hebden were a journey through live art, visual art, drama, poetry and many other art forms exploring how artists were shaping their current work.  Highlights for me included a wonderful sculpture on the carbon cycle by Lizz Tuckerman that she erected in the garden of the centre, and a song that filled the whole interior of the Weslyan Chapel we also hired by Julie Mcnamara.  But there were many other moments of inspiration, discussion, good food and company.  I am hoping to archive this event via a web site that is being put together at the moment with Simon ZImmerman and when the material is ready I will post the details up on this blog.  I want to say a huge thank you to the nine artists who took part in this event with me, because it takes guts to share your work in progress, warts and all, with your peers, especially with a group of peers exploring their work with a sense of maturity, and years of experience under their belts.  I am not implying this was a group of people hitting mid-life questions, but some of that did take place over the two days!

Feeling the Pressure

I have been reading a fantastic book edited by Paul Munden over Easter called Feeling the Pressure,  and published by The British Council in Switzerland. It includes new work on the subject of climate change interspersed with scientific fact and thoughtfully put together in a series of subject headings – such as Extremes and Impacts.  I recognise many writers in this collection but had not read their work on the subject.  I particularly enjoyed Neil Rollinson’s poem Amphibians which takes human beings in full circle and imagines them becoming toad-like again.  The poems’ language is very guttural, physical and full of the sound of rain. I also love the front cover of the book which features a very tactile barometer.

11th March, 2008

Last week was taken up with a fascinating training course on coaching skills that I attended as part of the Cultural Leadership Programme.  It challenged a lot of my assumptions about how to work with people and encouraging creative thinking, and also linked back to earlier training I have done in the field of psychotherapy.  I think the main thing that I took away from the training was the idea that people have their own answers and that a good coach encourages someone to use this knowledge and bring it into awareness.  The course also made me realise the power of metaphor – whether it be the themes in some-one’s life story, or within literature.  Often we decode this information without really realising it.  Coaching, or examining a poem very closely can bring this skill to the fore.  

I have also performed some poetry with ‘Poets with a Kick’ for International Women’s Day at the Mansion House in Doncaster.  This event launched an amazing cloak of women’s lives and stories put together by artist Jan Flamank.  I particularly liked the way she had used frayed edges in the textile peice to suggest that fact that our lives are untidy and follow different threads.

The project was called Yarns and was a Hothouse commission.  I read a range of poetry about personal journeys – and one that I have written very recently that features Benezia Bhutto:

27th December, 2007 

Stubbled men in flak-jackets
catch my eye, but don’t speak –
 a tilt of the head, snares tucked
under their arms. The mole-catcher
with his heart-shaped spade, his battered Rover,
grins as he swings my gate wide. 

The Sweep tells me the mid-feathers are fucked,
thrusts a body he’s plucked from the chimney
into my arms, wings stiff with frost.
Outside, air’s thick with cordite.
Shots boomerang across the moors, 
Beaters are out in force, spattered in peat.

I’m failing to light a fire, flick the switch
on the radio. The world tilts East.
Her voice is tremulous,
as she waves from her Land Cruiser
‘I’ve been counting the days, hours, seconds..
waiting for clear skies. Pakistan is in my blood.’

A pheasant stutters out of the beech wood.
She’s a poor flyer, grazes a car bonnet
before crash-landing in the thicket.
Don’t stretch up your feathered neck, 
don’t stroll across the top field, hen
don’t you know it’s open season?’

Anne Caldwell.

Just Returned from Belfast

3rd March, 2008.

This is my first live entry to my blog.  I have just returned from the Belfast Meets Wales Conference, held in Belfast and run in conjunction with the Writers’ Guild, Wales, and Academi.  Highlights included a fascinating discussion by a journalist called Peter Taylor who has written extensively about ‘the troubles’ followed by a tour of the city  which set the discussion in context  and in graphic reality.  I was stunned to see murals from both sides of the divide in the city and the so called ‘Peace Wall’ that made me think of Palestine, Berlin and all those interior walls we carry in our heads without the visual symbolism. I am now currently reading a memoir called ‘asking for trouble’ by Patricia Craig as a way in to deepening my understanding of some of the recent history. It also gives a woman’s view of Catholicism and being brought up by nuns!  I was over at the conference with a group of writers and literature activists from Yorkshire, and Jane Stubbs. Very tired today, with my head full of new ideas and information.  I also really enjoyed meeting Lucy Caldwell – novelist and Glen Patterson, who I knew a long time ago and was delighted to see again.  He had a great description of how to describe Northern Ireland:  He thought of his birthplace as ‘over here’  and England as ‘over there’.  This description neatly bypassed all the linguistic and political problems of calling Northern Ireland ‘The Province’ or England ‘The Mainland’ and many other labels.


Welcome to my blog. This is the first entry for this section of my web site. I thought I would share with you a book I have just finished reading which I found for a £1 from an Oxfam bookshop when doing a gig near Cheltenham. It was ‘Small Island’ by Andrea Leavy. Many readers of this blog will have read this book, I know. It has taken me a while to get round to it because of all the hype – which put me off. However, I found the storytelling compulsive, the narrative very moving and the breadth of a period of recent history that I know relatively little about. I wish my mother was alive because she was living in London in the early fifties and there are a lot of questions I would like to ask her. I have also just been to see the film ‘Control’ by Anton Kurbain. It was set in Macclesfield, near where I grew up as a teenager and Joy Division were one of the bands that I saw live. I found the film grim, moving and reminiscent of living in cheap woodchip rooms with terrible furniture as a student.

Poet and Literature Consultant