With warmest wishes for the winter solstice and for peace, joy and creative nourishment in 2013.


Well big occasion this week: I handed my book over to the proof reader. It feels like the right time to be doing this. At some point I have to put the final full stop, even knowing that there is more to say. I have done the best job I could given where I am at, and that is the most any writer can say, I would imagine.

So what to do next? Of course, once the book is here, there will be the promotion of it. And I have a very long list of creative projects I want to get on with. And yet, at the moment, I am content to do very little. Perhaps I am in that "fertile void" part of my creative process (see Evans, K. "Pathways through Writing Blocks in the Academic Environment" Sense Publications, forthcoming) when I can hopefully feel my achievement and rest. Both of which are essential for any writer. Or maybe it is my natural inclination for this time of year to hibernate somewhat!
On the 9th of December 1964, the innovative and inspiring poet and writer, Edith Sitwell, died. Then all was over, "bar the shouting and the worms" as she said in her autobiography. She was 77 years old. Amazingly earlier that same year she had been to Australia creating a huge stir. She was still a force to be reckoned with. However, in more recent times her brilliance has all but lost its lustre.

I do believe now is the time for her renaissance and for her to take her rightful place in the canon of literature. Richard's Greene fabulously complete biography, "Edith Sitwell, Avant Garde Poet, English Genius" was a good start. But Edith Sitwell - fascinating woman, great writer and generous editor - should be trumpeted more. For those of you who are good at maths, you will have realised that 2014 is fifty years since her death, perhaps we can all make this the Edith Sitwell year, just as we have had the celebrations around Dickens in 2012. I do hope especially that Scarborough, North Yorkshire, the town of her birth, and where I now live, will take the lead.

Meanwhile, here is my modest tribute:

After Edith

Once we moved through hazes,
warm and golden,
Dagobert and I;
caught in a tapestry of silken threaded creatures -
birds with custard tails,
unicorns and lions with torn faces
parrots with stuffing for a soul,
dead but riveted
to our progress in rose gardens by the sea.

And silly girls laughed
to have their hats picked by the wind
and rescued by men twice their age.
Colonel Fantock and Peregrine
are gone now,
Replaced by over-done trippers
dreaming of Spain,
and I am the lost ghost
I always imagined myself to be.


I've been having an interesting conversion during my exploration of sonnet writing. Being a child of free verse, I have always thought the sparer the better, write and then take a scalpel to it, keep only what's fore-grounded. However, I have begun to consider the idea of background notes in a sonnet, words which would be cut away as superfluous in free verse, but which offer an on-going tempo. Sometimes the rhythm in a poem needs to be ragged and destabilising, at other times it can be like the underlying beat of feet or drum, giving scaffolding to the melody.

According to Ruth Padel (on Radio 4's "Poetry Workshop", Sunday 25th November 2012) poet Louis MacNeice believed in the need for the containment provided by form poetry and metre. She quoted from his poem "Snow":

World is crazier and more of it than we think,
Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion
A tangerine and spit the pips and feel
The drunkenness of things being various.

Perhaps the dependable iamb of the sonnet offers a fluted vase for the craziness, a handrail for the appalling drunkenness of the world we poets are attempting in some small way to engage with.
Last week we took a break in Northumberland which was reviving. This week I'm back to close editing and formatting my book ready for it to go to the proof reader. I do find it difficult not to go completely cross-eyed with it all. At least I have made a decision about the concluding chapter: it will be a poem or nothing. I have sketched out a sonnet, lightly based around Robert Frost's "Stopping in Woods on a Snowy Evening".

My next task is to tackle the index!
Saturday I facilitated my workshop: Healing Words, an introduction to therapeutic creative writing. We were a group of ten, a mix of therapists looking to bring creative writing into their practice and writers working in therapeutic environments. The group was great, hard working, generous and reflective. I certainly enjoyed myself and, from the feedback received, I think everyone went away with something that was useful.

It has made me consider how I might build on this workshop and offer further training. To use a cliché, watch this space...

I, of course, did the writing exercises along with the group and, as always, made my own discoveries. Working with metaphor and emotion I came up with:

Hope is...
the heavy iron triangle,
smooth cool metal,
clanging out into the wilderness.

Strangely, last night I saw Andrew Marr's documentary on Obama "What happened to hope?" (interesting and depressing by turns) and my little stanza seemed even more apt.


So I was inspired to write my Autumn sonnet and it is awaiting re-reading, re-writing and returning to in due course. On Saturday I met up with my Lapidus mates ( in York for a writing day which also took in a visit to the Quilt Museum for inspiration. Despite the cold blast of weather, it was wonderful to be writing creatively amongst fellow travellers. And I was fascinated to discover that "text", "textile" and "texture" all came from the same Latin root meaning to weave or construct.

Read Quirk on the Hill's blog for Sue's fabulous offering from the day. I've begun on another sonnet using the idea of a life as a patchwork. James Nash managed 63 sonnets to celebrate his 63rd birthday. Perhaps I will manage 50 to celebrate my 50th.

I have also started on my grand read through of my book on writing blocks - now called "Pathways Through Writing Blocks in the Academic Environment". Though each of the chapters has been read by an appropriate peer reviewer and I've already re-written them according to the feedback I've received, no-one has read the oeuvre from beginning to end. And let's be honest, who will again? In other publishing set-ups this would be an editor's job and I am feeling uncomfortable taking it on myself as author. A friend pointed out that this might have something to do with me for once having to trust myself and my instincts completely. Instead of bringing on board an "expert" to reassure me, I have to be the expert!
I am taking a break from book writing before I embark on the "great read through". I feel I need a distance of a few weeks to get the objectivity I require for this task.

So I've turned back to poetry, more specifically the newly published collection of sonnets "Some Things Matter" by James Nash ( I have written some sonnets in my time, but I am impressed and inspired by this volume to go back to the form. One technical aspect I've noticed in Nash's work is how simple his rhyming is. I'm not a great fan of rhyming, but may try to follow his example this time.

Another inspiration as I embark on my Autumn sonnet is Keats' "Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness", no line could be more appropriate to the scene from my office window at this moment.


Saturday found me at the Beverley literature festival and one of the events I attended was a discussion with Nick Papadimitriou (new book "Scarp. In Search of London's Outer Limits") and Leo Critchley (new book "Skimming Stones and other ways of being wild" with Rob Cowen). Both were interested in their own individual fashion with re-connecting themselves with nature and the wild through writing, and inviting their readers to do like-wise.

Papadimitriou called himself a "radical walker", explaining that he stomps a lot and is always angry. I liked his term, though not so much his rather limp definition. It put me in mind of the French flaneurs who walked in 18th century Paris to preserve the city of the common people with their words. Or the people who walked out of the industrial towns in this country in the 19th century to reclaim access to the wilds from landowners.

I wonder if I am a radical walker. I certainly walk and write. My walking inspires my writing. As I walk I make the conscious effort to notice my environment, to harness my senses, to get out of my head. By moving away from thought, thought is re-engaged, as lines come to me which I will then capture in my journal. The thoughts that come, however, often have the feel of coming from outside of me, unbidden. They are frequently more visceral, more of the moment, and less of the eternal irresolvable ruminating that I can get into. I believe that my radical walking inspires pieces which are more innovative and engaging.

And, yes, sometimes my radical walking is an effective way of stomping out my anger too!
It was National Poetry Day last Thursday. BBC Breakfast celebrated it with some terrible rhyming guff. They also had Ian McMillan on (who else? If it's poetry invite IM on) who said that to rhyme was a deep seated instinct in humans. I disagree with him. It is rhythm and word sounds which touch us emotionally through reverberating with our own bodies' tick-tock. It doesn't have to be rhyme.Often-times the rhyme gets in the way.

Poetry is heightened language. It is the heart beat, the in-out of a breath. It is something that speaks to us and allows us to go, ugh, someone feels as I do, I feel connected. Yes, of course, there is room for things that make us laugh, that humorously play with rhyme, but these are ephemeral, they are passing. It is the poetry that speaks to our souls which has roots and staying power.

Here is my offering for the day:

I turned a corner,
chasing sunshine trapped in rain,
and caught a rainbow.


While preparing my book on writing blocks in the academic environment, I came across something called the: “Matthew Effect (Matt. 25:29 ‘For unto everyone that hath, more shall be given…’) or the tendency for those who are already established to reap more citations and recognition from others who publish associated work.” (Boice, J. and Jones, F. (1984) Why Academicians Don’t Write. Journal of Higher Education, Vol 55(5), 567-582.)

It seems to work just as well in the non-academic market. Does JK Rowling really need so much media air-time to promote her new adult fiction or won't it fly off the shelves in any case?  

Then I hear the author Sid Smith on Radio Four's Open Book bemoaning having to write novels. Well poor guy, to have the opportunity to sit with his characters and writing for months on end without interruption in the almost certain knowledge that what he produces will be published. I weep for him!

I wonder if he listened to himself afterwards and realised how ungrateful and arrogant he sounded to those who dream of such a pergatory?


I was listening to Radio Four's Saturday Live the other week when Edwina Curry came on claiming that, "Your diary never tells you you're wrong."

Perhaps not for the first time, Mrs Curry is misguided. For sure, my diary is a place I can write without fear of outside judgement, but it is also a place where my own judgement, my own sense of right and wrong, of fairness, writes. It is through writing that I gain clarity about when I have not done what I would have wanted to do, in the way that I would have wanted to do it, as well as about what I can do to rescue the situation.

Maybe Edwina thinks she is perfect and never slips up? What a shame that she seems to be eschewing a safe and kind way of reflecting on herself and learning from that reflection.


I have written about a creative process in my book on writing blocks - the idea being that understanding our own personal creative process can help us to feel less blocked. I borrowed heavily from the Gestalt cycle. There are two stages in the Gestalt cycle - "satisfaction" and "the fertile void" - which may not, at first, be obvious components for a creative process. And yet writers do talk about them without naming them as such, Kathleen Jamie in The Guardian on the 17th of August, does just that.

She describes finishing a book as like, "Falling out of a tree ... Your self dissolves, you feel you're falling. Language withers. It's not a good place to be, but it's probably necessary."

This is what I have characterised as the "fertile void". The time between creative projects when we are waiting for the next one to appear. It is a time for our "unconscious" to do its work behind the scenes and begin to latch onto what we want to explore subsequently. It is a time for us - our minds and our bodies - to rest, to recuperate, to indulge in re-creation.

Before the fertile void comes "satisfaction" when we need to take pride in what we have done and sit and admire it (and have supportive others do the same). Sometimes we move too quickly away from satisfaction - it feels arrogant, it feels wrong - and into critiquing. I cannot tell, of course, but I do wonder if Jamie's fertile void is so painful because she has circumvented the satisfaction phase and not allowed herself to enjoy the fruits of her labours.


Since I've been working on my book about writing blocks, friends have been keeping an eye out for useful articles to send me. So it was that I saw "The Perils of the Pen" in The Guardian about AL Kennedy's recent bouts of illness which she has linked to overwork. Kennedy says it is definitely not to do with her trade: "If I were a plumber, I'd do too much plumbing and get sick, but nobody ever says plumbing makes you ill; it's always the arts." Though, in fact, I dare say there are aspects of plumbing that do effect your health adversely, just as there are with other jobs. All have their occupational hazards.

Kennedy goes further and appears to contradict the idea that writing can be therapeutic, although it's not clear whether she means this just for herself. She does the classic thing of using the generic "you" - as in, you become ill because "you haven't learnt how to process emotions fully and immediately". Who is this "you"? And does she include herself in it? Because, in my experience, writing can help in just such a processing of emotions.

The interviewer, Sarah Crown, also suggests Kennedy suffers because, "Writing isn't just a job for [her]: she has pushed all the furniture of her life - sleep, food, health - to the edges in order to make space for the central creative enterprise."

And, of course, I would never argue that writing in an unhealthy life style can offer any kind of answer. I wrote for four hours today (and yes my shoulder is a bit stiff!) But I also went for a swim, ate some nourishing soup and allowed myself to feel cared for. And I think my creative enterprise (which is indeed central) is the better for it.


My rest was disrupted last night. Some people count sheep, I count syllables:

Insomnia falls
on the tender neck of sleep,
night's execution.


Today has been a very productive day as I get on with my book looking at writing blocks within the academic environment. I'm at the point where I basically have the material separated into chapters and I am now moulding the individual chapters.

I have created book length manuscripts before, novels and one less ambitious attempt at a non-fiction work. Yet, this feels different. The chapters have to function separately - who reads an academic book from cover to cover? - as well as feeling part of a whole. There are strands that move through all the chapters which somehow have to be securely tied. Readers have to be signposted so they can pick out the bits which will be useful to them. Repetition is OK to a certain extent though needs to be kept an eye on and contradiction needs to be avoided.

Right now it feels like I'm spinning a lot of plates. It's not unmanageable. However, last night I did dream that I was in this huge university and every time I went out of my room I got hopelessly lost. So maybe I am being naively optimistic about my capabilities to keep it all together.
Last week we explored the Simon Armitage/Ilkley Festival Stanza Trail ( We had a lot of fun: Ilkley21012 searching out the poems. Though we never did find the poetry seat which was a shame. And despite the general myth about poets being weedy characters, this trail is not for the faint-hearted!


I have finally signed up to The Writer's Almanac - - and I am enraptured!
We had our local Humber-Ouse-Tweed Lapidus ( meeting on Saturday. This time a small (but select) group and this time in Durham. We happily spent time being inspired by the cathedral precincts and then shared our work, sparking off discussions which ranged from performance poetry to what is 'acceptable' to write about in poetry to the 'I' in poetry. What a pleasurable time and what a tonic at the end of a couple of challenging weeks.

I re-visited the chapel where I got married, St Mary-the-Less (why the Less? Who was the More?) and discovered a memorial to two 17th century women.

This is by no means a finished 'piece', however it catches the moment:

Wood absorbs.

Stone is cold,
gritty, gouged,
cold stone.
Hollowed out
and cold
is stone
of sand
from seabeds long parched
or sunk deeper into rifts.
Mouths gape
in stone
gouged from sand,
crumbling into crystals
once more.
Dorothy and Frances Carnaby
scored into
fossil strewn plaque,
a memory of deaths
centuries old encrusted with
sea creatures
buried a millennium
where love, young and vital, blazed.

Wood absorbs the sun's heat
warming my shoulders and my elbow.
Recently I was lucky enough to go to Sadlers Wells to see Matthew Bourne's 'Play without Words'. I found the title a little strange, isn't all dance a play without words? Though for sure this one had more narrative in a traditional sense than other contemporary ballet I've seen.

I really enjoyed the performance, the movement, the story telling, the staging and the revolving set. I was particularly taken by the use of two or three dancers to play one character at the same time. An innovative way to explore the fragmented self, as well as alternative plot lines, something contemporary writers are often intrigued by too.
On Saturday, I went to a presentation by Felix Hodcroft, a good friend and a poet with The Valley Press ( He was talking about poetry and, drawing on a quote from Kafka, said that a poem should 'take an axe to the frozen sea inside us'. In other words it should have impact; touch us; change the way we look at things; take us to other places and realms; make the ordinary extraordinary and the extraordinary ordinary.

He gave an interesting explanation of the 'battlefield' between the pastoral, formulaic 'Georgian' type poets and the ironic and obscure 'modernist' sort. Suggesting this conflict had resulted in poetry becoming thought of as elitist and irrelevant to the general run of life.

And yet, we reach for poetry at the most significant times in our lives, to celebrate or to mourn, to mark in some way. At times like these, I think we get in contact with our primal instincts to sit and hold hands and sing out our pain or our joy, just as our ancestors did. We find the sacred once again in a language which has rhythm, metaphor and a distillation of our humanity.
Another week and I am continuing to work on my book on writing blocks in the academic environment.

I have got into a pretty good rhythm and I am happy with what I am doing. On the other hand, when I look at the whole I do get anxious about all there is left to do and the year does appear to be cantering by at speed. I am better off just focusing on the next task in hand. For me, another interview and another chapter re-write.

It is possible that I am the only one grateful for our poor Summer. At least I am not missing out on glorious sunny days as I sit glued to my computer!
With the weather being as it has, it was difficult to celebrate - indeed not to feel a little resentful of - midsummer. It is as if we'd not had the chance to experience Summer's kisses and it is already in decline.


I was fortunate enough to be asked to do a presentation at the Sitwell Society's AGM last night ( I was talking about some of Edith Sitwell's poetry and also introducing my own work Words in My Head.

Reading Edith's poems I was struck again by the question, why did I study TS Elliot at A Level and not Edith Sitwell? And I keep coming back to the answer, because she's a woman and she didn't marry Ted Hughes. In current times, yes, female poets are entering the canon. But go back a little way and you have to be Sylvia Plath to be remembered.

Edith packed auditoriums on her trip to the US in the 1950s, her 75th birthday filled the Royal Festival Hall, her prose work was optioned by Hollywood where she consorted with movie stars such as Marilyn Monroe. What contemporary poet - male or female - can say that?


I wonder sometimes why we write poetry, or rather, why we write it to share with an audience. I know why I write poetry for myself, I enjoy it, working with the words gives me pleasure. Crafting a poem can also help me clarify something or might remain as a reminder of a particular scene or event.

So I suppose I could use the same reasoning for then passing it onto an audience. Perhaps it will give them pleasure or remind them of something within their own lives. Is there, however, an underlying tone or message I want my words to smuggle in with them?

When I first began writing poetry I was struggling with depression and reading my work now I see that it was shrieking: THIS IS WHAT IT FEELS LIKE. THIS IS HOW BLEAK IT IS. I remember there came a time when I thought quite consciously I could go on with my bleak pattern, or I could let threads of hope, joy and love weave in. They were not very strong yarns at that point, rather meagre, in fact, but by giving them a presence I do feel I was allowing them to grow more abundant.

'Sometimes if you act as if you were blessed, you will be blessed.'

Ursula K. Le Guin, the wave in the mind.

When I look out into the world right now, there's not much to brighten the gloom. It would be easy to rant and critique. However, perhaps as a poet my role is otherwise, to unearth the gleam and give it a shine. Just like when times are good, my job might be to say, wait a moment, there's something stinking here too? Perhaps as poets we always work counterwise, as a balance, until the weight slips the other way, as it almost inevitably will.
'When power leads a man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses.'
JF Kennedy at the dedication of the Robert Frost library at Amherst

Now there's a politician who knows the worth of poetry, though I realise the words were probably written for him. However, makes me wonder how many anthologies and collections our present disreputable crew are in need of. Perhaps just a few lines from the redoubtable Edith Sitwell would do as an anthem for our times (though it was published in 1945!):

How we should pity the High Priests of the god of this world, the saints of Mammon,
The cult of gold! For see how these, too, ache with the cold
From the polar wastes of the heart. ...See all they have given
Their god! Are not their veins grown ivy-old,
And have they not eaten their own hearts and lives in their famine?
Extract 'A Song of the Cold'


I'm having trouble deciding what to write this week, so I have turned back to a 'collection' of my poetry that I made in 2006. This is not the best poem I have ever written (I hope I have not written that yet) but it immediately takes me back to a moment in my life, to the unexpected girlish excitement which followed an escape from a disappointing sojourn which should not have been so. I hope it will take its readers somewhere too.

Drive Interrupted

What if we had stopped?
Tread those slumbering slopes,
reached the sugar encrusted cone,
come closer on the rim,
stared into the untamed core -
sodden now, cold, ashless.
Unable to take another step
without slipping.
Sure only of the hand we held.

We would not have stopped,
eaten cake on the Via Barberini,
kissed on the Spanish Steps,
laughed at the silly witches flying
in the carnival lights
or seen the ruins rise unexpectedly
under the smudge
of a Roman moon.

There does seem to be something of a myth of the solitary writer in the isolated garret - I guess initially perpetuated by the romantics in the 19th century - which has become generally accepted. And yet, writing is such a relational act; we are relating with ourselves, with the words (evoking images and memories) and eventually with a seen or unseen audience.

Before the written words, stories were told round a fire. The teller would be listened to, no doubt, but the audience would also play a role. Perhaps prompting certain twists in the tale or reminding the others of bits which had been forgotten and omitted. Yet in our literary-based world this interaction has been squeezed out.

No writer can write without peers to help them with feedback. I was reminded of this on Saturday when I spent time with a writerly friend and came away inspired and motivated by the responses she had given to my work. Feedback has come attached to the word 'critical' and so it has become associated with something which is necessarily negative or aimed at ripping apart the text (and, therefore, the self which has created it). None of this should be true. Good critical feedback assists the writer and their work to develop and flourish. Good writing cannot come to fruition without it. It is, therefore, essential that we choose our critical writerly friends with care.
I am very pleased to announce that the article I was writing with my colleague, Dr Lesley Glover, has been published:

It chronicles our small project of running some creative writing sessions for women suffering from chronic pelvic pain.


'I think,' I say slowly, 'You've got too many metaphors here.' It's something I hear myself commenting relatively frequently to the writers who proffer up their poetry, short stories, even novels, for my comment (or feel compelled to do so because of my status as tutor). I love metaphor. I love how they startle, how they appear unbidden, how they say more than the sayer could ever think to say. But, I've always held, the secret is to peel through to the core of a metaphor, not trip lightly through a whole allotment of them.

And for me that was the one down side to Your Last Breath by curious directive at the SJT (26th April). It was a wonderfully slick and compelling performance piece using drama, music, dance and video projection which intertwined four narratives from four different time zones. Ambitious to say the least which almost came off. I say almost, because I have to query, wasn't there too many metaphors?

Breath and breathing; bodies and their constituents; frozen (landscapes, bodies and emotions); maps and cartography. All fabulous metaphors which I adore exploring. It's just that, wasn't there three too many for the seventy minutes? Or perhaps I am going to be called old-fashioned, like those who still claim you can't start a sentence with and.


My good writing friend, Sue Spencer (see The Quirk on the Hill in my web/blog links list) introduced us all to Fiona Robyn's idea of 'small stones' at our Lapidus retreat on Saturday ( The idea is to capture a moment of moment in a short poetic phrase.

Sue suggested an intriguing exercise to get us to this point which also entrained us into really listening to another person and into attempting to do justice to their voice. Individually we chose something in the environment which had snagged our attention. Then in pairs we told each other about it. By turns, the listener took notes and then crafted a 'small stone' in negotiation with the story teller.

Coincidentally, me and my partner, Hilary, had both chosen blue flowers. I rather like her - or is it my - 'small stone'.

The fragility of forget-me-nots.
Summer sky blue,
little suns at the centre,
in amongst the green.


After something like 130 years, the Scarborough Evening News is ceasing to be six days a week. Unfortunately, the paper has decided not to cover in much detail its own demise, stating merely (in something akin to Orwell 1984 speak) that it is being 're-launched' as a weekly and going to a 'platform neutral' newsroom, whatever that means. I am sad that one of the few local dailies is being so diminished and also that staff will undoubtedly lose jobs and their sense of worth.

I started out when I left school thinking I would be a local newspaper journalist. Of course, I had grander plans for my writing, but I completed the National Council for Training Journalists pre-entry course (failed, to my enduring shame, my short-hand) and did a placement with the Western Morning News in Plymouth. Even then, things were changing. While I was there the printers went on strike protesting against the move to digital printing which would mean the loss of their jobs and the end of an era which required skilled printers. I remember walking through the print room with its huge and dormant presses, it felt like an abandoned cathedral to me.

Of course, 'progress' was unstoppable, the printing operation at the Western Morning News closed down (as it did at many other local newspapers) and the paper was produced at some anonymous digital printing firm on some industrial estate in the Midlands. The journalists and the sub-editors took over the page setting tasks once done by the print workers. The print workers were squeezed out. I returned to a newsroom a few years later and saw this burly chap unhappily hunched over a computer screen. I didn't have to be told that he was a re-deployed print worker, the ink was still ingrained under his fingernails.

Perhaps I shouldn't get too nostalgic. The print room (at least at the Western Morning News) was a woman free zone, and walking through it when it was in operation I was faced with much, as young raw feminist, which I found unacceptably sexist. For writers, digital printing has opened up the route to an audience in the way motorways opened up the country to city-dwellers suffocating in grime and pollution. Still I love old presses. I love the smell of ink. And I love the craft that can go into creating posters and books the old fashioned way.
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.

These lines from TS Elliot's The Waste Land have been coming back to me these last few weeks. I 'did' Elliot's Selected Poems for A Level, and I have my copy of them still, the pages turned a shade nicotine, as if the intervening thirty years was a chain smoker. At 17 I'm not sure I really 'got' The Waste Land (though I loved Prufrock). It has been a combination of reading Ackroyd's biography of Elliot, of hearing BBC Radio 4's wonderful dramatisation of his haunting masterpiece (it really needs to be absorbed in this way) and of my own experience of the 'cruel' month of April that has brought me back to his verse.

In contrast to Robert Frost, Eliot reportedly said that the real poet keeps himself well out of his work. If this is true, Eliot was dissembling. He, his mental health and his relationships (especially the most distressing one with his wife) pervade this poem. He knew about the cruellest month and he knew about standing on a beach looking out through the grey rain at the grey sea melting into the grey clouds.

On Margate Sands.
I can connect
Nothing with nothing.


(Sir) Andrew Motion came to Scarborough on the 20th of March. He read from his new book, inspired by Stevenson's 'Treasure Island', and spoke about his life as a writer.

I found it all fascinating. I especially enjoyed one response elicited by a question about the difference between poetry and prose. Motion responded: I used to agitate about the difference between prose and poetry but I don't care anymore, beyond a distillation of the story and a repetition of rhythm which comes in a poem, I'm not sure we can say much more. I've stopped worrying about it.

Something I've been saying for a long time, but it has more weight, I guess, for the former Laureate to come out in this way. I also liked one of his parting comments about creativity, that you light a flame, then let the words speak for themselves.


This a poem I wrote some time ago. It has an exuberance about it which I still enjoy, though I'm not sure even I could say what it means:

And the Sky Caught Fire
There was a blazing bonfire of clouds,
red as poppies and rowan berries,
as butterfly wings going up in smoke,
that night we snuck away
from all that is human,
and snapped and bit and scratched
because we hurt so much

How could we not with a sky like that
and a dark wind
and something popping through our veins
and the flames licking the heavens
and god's bum.

That's what Jake said.


I've been reading Peter Ackroyd's 1984 biography of TS Eliot (Penguin Books) and was amused by the following -

When asked, 'What in modern life is the particular function of poetry as distinguished from other forms of literature?' Eliot replies, 'Takes up less space.'

'Nuff said!


I don't know if anybody else has been enjoying the series My Life in Books on BBC2 at 630pm weekday evenings. Anne Robinson proved an unexpectedly informed and congenial host and the choices of books by the guests was always interesting. I think my favourite of the programmes I saw was the one with Sharon Glees and Robert Peston. A surprising pairing perhaps which created a real spark and warmth. And Sharon's performance of the Edna St Vincent Millay poem was wonderful.

I began to wonder how I would express my live in books. For my childhood, I think I would have to choose the Pippi Longstocking adventures by Astrid Lindgren (a strong, independent red-headed little girl, how could I resist?) And the perhaps rather less famous Jill and her pony books by Ruby Ferguson. I remember saving up my pocket money, so I could go an buy the next one in the nine book series.

Moving on through my life, I would have to choose Down Among the Women by Fay Weldon, the first feminist novel I ever read. Then maybe Writing as a Way of Healing by Louisa de Salvo. And what of Austen or TS Elliot's Prufrock? The choice is difficult to make.

The interviewees on My Life in Books could only have four, I have already gone beyond that, but I still need a volume of poetry. It would have to be an anthology, perhaps Staying Alive edited by Neil Astley or The Song Atlas by John Gallas.

Then again, tomorrow, I might make a completely different selection, only Pippi, I think would always remain.


We've been playing about with fairytales in my WEA group:

A Fairytale
I am the big tree in the woods. I have been here for many thousands of years. My girth is very large, each year I get fatter and some years I get a little taller. Though generally I just get fatter. My limbs are long and fine tipped. My skin is smooth grey. In Spring time my leaves are lemon-green. In Summer, they are glossy jade. In Autumn, they turn a rich auburn and in Winter my skeleton stands out dark against the snow. I am home to many animals and insects. They creep and crawl and scurry about my branches. Birds build nests in my cleavages. Sometimes they peck or tap at me. But I don’t mind. I knew their great, great - many times over - great grandparents. I saw them as eggs, as chicks, I saw them take their first flight.

I am the old tree in the forest. I have been in this clearing for many, many years, quietly getting broader, until my branches bend and sway near the ground in the storm. I have been here for many, many years and now, suddenly, this two-legged has appeared, has dropped her wooden shed just opposite and wants to cut me down because I am blocking her light. Me blocking her light? She has spoiled my view with her nasty little dwelling and its tin roof, the smell of my burning brothers emanating from the chimney. She has already had a woodcutter, who she calls ‘son’, mark me up for the chop. That night I encouraged the wind to howl and crack at my fingernails. She got no sleep at all.

Here comes little Miss perfect in her red cape skipping round once again. Ostensibly to bring her grandmother tea, though she hardly stays for more than a few minutes, then she’s off, seeing her boyfriend, Mr Wolf. I cannot tell you what naughty antics they get up to hidden from view by my generous proportions. Surely they would miss me if I was gone? Today, though, I heard their whisperings. Her and Mr Wolf prised themselves apart long enough to talk about what they wanted to do in the future. They have dreams those two, to travel the world, but one thing holds them back: Granny in her barracks. Not only does Red have to do her duty bringing food over all the time, but the inheritance she needs to fund her globe-trotting was tied up in that little cabin which has invaded my clearing. If only Granny would move in with Red’s parents and sell her house. But no-one would want to buy that place, Wolf declared. No, only the insurance from it would do.

Then he began to examine me, walking round and round, measuring, estimating. Of course, he didn’t ask my permission, but I decided to co-operate. Better to lose an arm than my life. So when he came late at night to half saw through my branch, I bore it quietly, even though it really hurt. Then I made sure there was a good storm whipped up a week later which carried my fractured timber right across my clearing so that it crashed through Granny’s roof.

I could have killed her, but I’m not vindictive or malicious. And we all got what we wanted. Gran’s got a cosy bedroom with a view of the sea. Red and Wolf are half-way to Thailand. And me? I’ve got my clearing and my peace and quiet back.


Postcard from Persephone
And so I knew death then and its comforting,
but I had to come back for his sake,
though I brought with me no Spring, that
or any other year.
Woodend Creative Industry Centre in Scarborough now has a fabulous new website showing the Sitwell Library in all its glory. And lurking in the corner is my installation Words in My Head. Of course, you don't get the full effect without the poetry and music, but take a look:
Coastival's Rather Splendid Day Out on Saturday ( was an inspiring mix of art, drama and music.

I particularly enjoyed Slung Low's production Converging Paths ( an hour chock full of lyrical words, intriguing images and music. It was performed in the Spa Sun Court and sunny it was not, I was particularly concerned for the actress playing Helen who appeared in a white cotton nightie and must have been in danger of hypothermia.

We, the audience, were seated inside, watching through glass windows, the audio brought to us by our own personal head-sets. It was an intimate experience. There was a lot to watch: live actors; back projection; some steaming fish tanks and fire effects. However, I spent some of the time with my eyes closed, being drawn in by the poetic language of the narrative. My companion, who had focused on the visual, said he had lost track of the story. Which was a shame because it was beautifully told and, to quote from the performance:

To listen to someone else’s story –
well, it’s the most compassionate thing a human being can do…
transformative, shape shifting. It’s nothing short of a miracle.


I am very excited to announce that I have a publishing contract. It is with Sense Publishers ( and it is for a book exploring writing blocks for people working within the academic environment.

I have found myself wholly enthralled by the process, writing around 3000 words a week and doing the attendant research and reading. What has been particularly satisfying is that I have been discovering as I've been writing, through the act of writing. Initially I was concerned that I had a collection of ideas which (a) wouldn't gel and (b) would only amount to a 1500 word article. So far this has not been proved the case. As I write and read, the ideas, the scintillas of insight, which I thought I had, have begun to expand, take on a life of their own and glow.


After some years of trying, I feel comfortable saying that we now have a local Lapidus group ( I have to qualify 'local', as our members come from far and wide, indeed we thought we might describe our reach by the rivers Humber, Ouse and Tweed.

We met on Saturday to talk about the work we are doing and also to write. I found it a very stimulating, supportive and enriching day, I'd like to thank my fellow writers - who are becoming friends - for making it so. We have ideas for further meetings and even for inspirational trips away. Can't wait.
I was given an ereader - a Kobo - for Christmas and I have been exploring its potentials. I have discovered it is good for reading in bed and while travelling. It is bad for reading poetry (though this appears to depend on how the digitisation has been done) and academic books with end or footnotes.

Like most ereader owners I have been investigating the freebies (though as a writer this slightly goes against the grain as the writer (or his/her estate) presumably doesn't get paid). Most of the free downloads are out of print books which means discovering some volumes I would never have nosed into otherwise.

One such was Famous Women: George Sand by Bertha Thomas, a surprisingly pacy and fresh read given it was written/published in 1883. I also found out more about Sand, a woman I knew more by myth than fact.

This is what she had to say about the revolutionaries/politicians that disappointed her: 'What I see in the midst of the divergencies of all these reforming sects is a waste of generous sentiments and of noble thoughts, a tendency towards social amelioration, but an impossibility for the time to bring forth through the want of a head to that great body with a hundred hands, that tears itself to pieces, for not knowing what to attack. So far the struggles make only dust and noise. We have not yet come to the era that will construct new societies, and people them with perfected men.'

How apt even for today.
I've been enjoying reading The Plot, a biography of my father's English acre, by Madeleine Bunting. Beautifully and evocatively written it combines local and natural history with personal memoir. It also gave an excuse for a bracing walk around Sutton Bank followed by a cosy lunch in a near-by pub.

One extract, in particular, caught my eye, as she describes a time as experiencing: 'dramatic population growth and a new urbanization [which] saw towns and cities expanding rapidly. It was an age of anxiety. ... trade was accelerating. There were repeated laments about the commercialization of human relationships. ... "everyone has their price" was a common and bitter refrain. An unprecedented number of people were on the move, as migrants, pilgrims or vagrants. With these changes came a new impersonality, as strangers became customers and neighbours in the cities. It all caused great insecurity; money was frequently excoriated as a form of pollution. Greed was the great sin of the age...'

Could this be our own (painful for many) present? No, surprisingly, this is the twelfth century and these changes in society caused the Cistercian monks to seek out East Yorkshire to build their isolated and austere abbeys.
Over the festive season I very much enjoyed reading Author, Author by David Lodge. Not wishing, of course, to put myself in the same league as Henry James when it comes to his forté as a writer, I do feel a kinship with his frustration and depression at the luke-warm reception for much of his work.

Writing in the author's voice, Lodge ponders on the reasons for this response to James's literary output: 'Some huge seismic shift caused by a number of different converging forces - the spread and thinning of literacy, the levelling effect of democracy, the rampant energy of capitalism, the distortion of values of journalism and advertising - which made it impossible for a practitioner of the art of fiction to achieve both excellence and popularity, as Scott and Balzac, Dickens and George Elliot, had done in their prime. The best one could hope for was sufficient support from discriminating readers to carry on with the endless quest for aesthetic perfection.' (P348).

How familiar that sounds, and yet Lodge meant it to represent the situation in 1898.

I will finish with James's own words, from his short story, 'The Middle Years':

'We work in the dark - we do what we can - we give what we have.

Our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task.

The rest is the madness of art.'


Healing Words: an introduction therapeutic creative writing
This one day experiential workshop will give an introduction to the use of creative writing and poetry both for personal reflection and within a therapeutic space. It is suitable for health professionals who have an interest in writing and for writers who have an interest in working therapeutically. It is a taster for an up-coming Open College Network accredited course.

Tutor: Kate Evans, UKCP registered counsellor, MA in Creative Writing & member of Lapidus (

4th February, 2012, 930am-5pm, at Scarborough Psychotherapy Training Institute (ScPTI), YO12 7QU. £65 (ScPTI members)/£85 (non-members)