Reading old notebooks – and cringing

I’ve been tidying up, in an attempt to make my writing space less cluttered and, inevitably, I got distracted.  This time I was waylaid by some of my old notebooks.

Very old notebooks

The ones pictured here are from 1983, when I was 21, living and working in Paris as an au pair – ah! Paris! *settles into a chair with a large cup of tea to reminisce*….

For the first six months of 1983 I lived with a family in the 7th  arrondissement and then I moved to be with a (much more interesting and kinder) family in the 16th arrondissement.  At the end of the year, I moved with the nicer family to live in the south of France for another 18 months.

There’s actually very little of Paris in these notebooks apart from the mention of ‘Passy’ in one.  There are lists of clothes I either wanted to buy or wanted to wear in a particular combination on a particular day (I used to be obsessed with achieving the right look).  Other mundane lists.  Lists, lists, lists, my life lived out in lists.  I was also trying to learn Italian and have written a few phrases – perhaps I’d already moved south at that stage and was living close to the Italian border.  I used to have the idea that I’d move to find work in different European countries and learn a range of languages but France was as far as I got – and I do speak reasonably good French.

Ten pages that stopped me in my tracks were ten poems I’d written.  I had completely forgotten that I wrote poetry then.  I think I even sent a few poems off somewhere, to one of the magazines, possibly Ambit but I can’t remember.  I do remember, vaguely, receiving a kind rejection letter from someone!

PassyThe poetry is desperately bad. I cringe to see that I decorated the titles.  I seem to have copied the poems out in neat – there are rougher drafts in the smaller notebook I found.  I didn’t own a typewriter and word processors were only just being invented!  So these were my fair, final copies, collected in one ‘special’ book.

They are mostly introspective pieces about being sad, or happy and then sad again.  I mix tenses and change perspective from line to line and have no idea about how to end a poem: it either trails off or something dramatic suddenly happens – in one, I’m in a park, enjoying “sharp, spring weather” feeling “giddy and dizzy” as I “swing in circles” when a car suddenly screeches to  a halt and someone shouts for me to get in. Fin.

The language is clichéd and unoriginal, a sign of being poorly read, I think.  And I was poorly read at that time.  I’d been out of formal education for five years and I don’t remember reading any poetry at all.  I read a lot of novels, mostly best sellers, sometimes ones which had won a big award (which is how I knew about them). I used to read a lot of magazines, as well, Cosmopolitan is the name I remember but I’m sure there were others.

So I had a go at writing poetry – and even submitted it to a magazine for publication – obviously believing that I could do it.  How many times have you met someone like that?  I meet people all the time who tell me they write poetry and yet haven’t read any poetry since they left school.  I was one of them!  I’ll be less judgemental next time.

My writing style at 21 was undeveloped, immature and unsophisticated in a way that had nothing to do with age, I don’t think, but was all to do with my lack of wide reading, and writing experience.  Maybe the truth is that at whatever age you start writing, it’s bad to begin with, until you widen your reading, offer your work to others for criticism or develop your own critical eye, then keep writing, keep reading, persevere, and, if you’re a bit lucky, your writing might develop into something that might be the start of something more interesting.

Anyway, even though I cringe, even though the poetry is dreadful, I’m glad I’ve kept the notebooks.  And I still find endings tricky.

à la prochaine !






A few recommendations

I’ve run out of time to write a post this week.  Instead, here are a few links to pieces I’ve enjoyed reading.  Hope you might enjoy them too.


A good interview between Abegail Morley and Jo Bell about Jo’s most recent poetry collection Kith (Nine Arches Press).

Kith for blog post

Jo talks us through submitting to publishers, waiting to hear, the editorial process that takes place once a manuscript has been accepted, promoting the book and what happens next.  Read the interview here.

Two Continue reading

Post #GE2015: Trying to find my way back to poetry

I feel devastated that the Tories have won an overall majority in the UK General Election, meaning that we are in for five more years of their callous, uncaring policies, cuts to the social welfare system, to the Arts and to public services.  Usually, when I’m feeling down, I try to pull myself together by telling myself there’s always someone worse off than me but, in this case, that’s the whole point, they’re the ones I’m most upset for: the poor, the ill, the disabled, carers, the unemployed.  These are the people who are going to be punished by a Government which is hell-bent on making a further £12bn of welfare cuts by 2018 even though so many thinkers, including  economists at the IMF , have written about Austerity policies not working.

Not 48 hours after the Tory election victory, there were strong shows of protest on the streets of London and Cardiff, played down or completely ignored by mainstream British media.  There have also been rumours of tweets and YouTube footage of the protests being mysteriously deleted.  It’s as if someone wants to hide the fact that all is not well in our land….. Continue reading

Some poems on Soundcloud

Thanks to comments from Kevin, David, and Tom, that my poems are not accessible to people who are blind, I’ve  uploaded two poems from ‘The Misplaced House’ to SoundCloud.  There’s also a video link here of me reading ‘Three Ted Hughes Stories’ at Swindon Open-Mic.

Here’s my poem ‘Honeymoon’ which was a runner-up at Bridport in 2010 and, like all of my work, is a mixture of autobiography and pure fiction.

and here’s my poem ‘How to Keep Spare Keys’.  An earlier version of this was published in the anthology ‘A Complicated Way of Being Ignored’.


This Writer’s Life

On the one hand the cliché of that title, on the other hand the article is off and running and you’re reading it (thank you, by the way).

goodbye cardOn the one hand I will miss the friends I’ve made during the last 18 months when I’ve been reading aloud every week with people living with memory loss and dementia, and their carers. On the other hand, my contract has come to an end and I will stay in touch via emails and the occasional visit and think of the extra hours for my TBR pile and my unfinished poems.TBR pile

On the one hand the guilt of leaving, on the other hand, 18 months on a 0.5 contract, six groups launched, ten volunteers recruited, one Public Health Award won, two new paid jobs for Wiltshire people created because the success of the project has justified its expansion.

On the one hand I am entering a period of not being in paid employment, on the other hand I have money in the bank, I like charity shops and simple living, and my kitchen table is long and inviting at 9am after my kids have left for school, with my notebooks piled next to my elbow, my Mitsubishi Uni-Ball Vision Elite pen poised to begin its journey down an empty page. Continue reading

New review for ‘The Misplaced House’


Thanks very much to Emma Lee

book march 2015

Review of my poetry pamphlet ‘The Misplaced House’ at her blog.


Poetry and Self-Promotion

This post has been prompted by a letter I received, out of the blue, from a Writing student who’s composing a research essay about the connections between getting published and “self-promotion in contemporary poetry in the UK.”  The letter goes on to say that “self-promotion is a rather poor term…… and that online sharing of work……connecting with other poets, etc., is a more helpful way to think about it.”

Keep calm and blow

I agree that there is something extremely distasteful about the idea of self-promotion.  On social media, I tend to unfollow people who bombard me with nothing but links to their own stuff.  It seems obvious that this behaviour is “anti-promotion” and does nothing but repel me from the writer and their work.

Of course, there is a difference between blatant self-promotion and establishing an online presence.  If you’re a writer, especially if you’re a poet published by a small press (like me!), it’s a good idea if people can easily find you online so that they can read some of your work, buy your book, invite you to give a reading or workshop, ask you to judge a competition or to collaborate on a project.  Or simply tell you that they love your poems (you hope!) or all sorts of other interesting reasons that I haven’t thought of. Continue reading