on retraining.

Writer in Training
Wendy Pratt
 
After the Conservative advertising campaign
showing a ballerina and the slogan: Fatima’s next job
could be in cyber. (She just doesn’t know it yet.)
Rethink, reskill, reboot. 
 
First I trained
as a kitchen assistant.
I washed pots until they shone
like the sun on a Hebridean loch.
 
Then I trained as a secretary.
I carried the words of others
on telephone lines, flattened by fax machines,
until they spilled through my hands
like spilt tea.
 
Next I trained as a shop assistant,
a shop manager, gathering the words 
of customers and staff in a bag at my waist,
picking the gilled heads of conversations
like so many mushrooms.
 
Then I trained as a factory worker,
a cake decorator, a meringue aficionado, 
and that job made me fat from gorging 
on the lost stories of others.
 
Then I fell into my training
as a silk screen printer. I printed words
onto binders, I sheltered in the dark
and exposed words to a light so bright
I couldn’t bear to look at it.
 
After that I trained as a microbiologist,
I took those long Latin names 
and swallowed them into myself.
 
Then I pulled those same words out
of my stomach on a chain the size 
and shape of a blackbird’s song, 
I pulled them like fish from a lake,
pulled those words up, like bones
from a grave, and settled myself
to my desk, my notebook, my pen. 

Defragmentation: In Memory of Rosemary McLeish

Photo by Gashif Rheza on Pexels.com

A few weeks ago I got an unexpected email from Rosemary McLeish’s husband, Richard, who very kindly let me know that Rosemary, who had been living with cancer, had reached a point in her illness at which she was expected to die, imminently. Richard was kind enough to let me know how much Rosemary had enjoyed being a participant on my online courses, and that several poems in her collection, Defragmentation had started out as prompts on the courses. I was very moved that Rosemary would have thought of me, and that Richard had too.

To work with people on their most personal poems, to help them to find a way of expressing pain and joy through creative writing is an honour, it is humbling and I don’t think I have felt more humbled than when I read Rosemary’s collection and could recognise poems in it, poems that Rosemary and the small, supportive groups that have been a part of my life now for some time, had discussed and chatted about within the closed groups. I am slow, and only just getting round to putting into words how much I will miss her, how much I will miss her poetry and her wry voice and her unapologetic style. Rosemary wrote about lots of things, she created beautiful art too, and whilst I don’t want to define her life by her death, it is through the poetry which explored her experience of terminal cancer, that I personally know her best.

Richard sent me her collection, Defragmentation, with a very moving note in which he talked about Rosemary’s experience of writing on one of the courses I’d run. It is easy to imagine a group of people attending a writing group or course as almost uniform; a series of people who are here to write, all here for the same purpose, but there is so much more to a writing group than that. Writing within a group environment can often feel like an almost communal act of creation. But it is a very individual experience too. People come with individual needs and individual difficulties and it is the facilitators job to spot those and draw the poems out. It is both a communal, group activity and a very personal activity. I’m rambling, but I guess what I wanted to say is that seeing Rosemary’s experience, relayed to me by Richard, helped me to reconnect to that feeling of creative writing being an aid, a necessary way of dealing with trauma on a very real level. I am grateful for the happy accident of Rosemary being on my courses, and grateful that she got out of it what she did. My life has been enriched by her humour, her style and her kindness. I think the word ‘humbled’ is bandied about a lot, but in this case it is absolutely right. I am humbled by this experience.

I would urge you to buy Rosemary’s collection, which is published by Wordsmithery. Follow this link: https://www.wordsmithery.info/anthologies

The collection has an foreword, which says everything about the collection itself, far better than I could ever, and is written by Rosemary herself. It also touches on one of the hardest things when dealing with trauma, and that is other people’s reactions to it. As Rosemary says – other people’s fears. Anyone who has been through a life changing illness or event, anyone living with terminal illness, dealing with a very visible change in appearance, anyone who has had their life altered forever by trauma will recognise the reactions Rosemary talks abut. These reactions, this fear, can only ever be addressed when people talk about it. Fear is addressed by bringing it into the open, by sharing and understanding experiences. It’s why writing about traumatic experience, writing about pain is so important. Far from being ‘good subject matter’ for poetry, with the poetry as the end point of the creative process, it is a way of passing on the information that allows us, as a society to break out of the unhelpful heroic story line that trauma survivors, and those that will not survive, are met by constantly. The story line that is more comfortable is not the actual story. Here is Rosemary, in her own words:

In November 2017 I was accepted on an ’emerging writer’ scheme in Medway. I had belatedly realised that I needed to change the name of my game from Procrastination. I wanted to be a published poet even though I knew I had for various reasons missed the career boat. I was 72.

On December 23rd 2017, my doctor phoned to give me the result of a bone scan I had had two days before. She couldn’t go into detail, not being a specialist, but told me the breast cancer I had had eight years before had metastasised to my spine. I didn’t get a proper confirmation of the diagnosis until mid-January, when my oncologist told me that regardless of mastectomy, lymph node removal and radio therapy, my cancer had already metastasised eight years before, even though I had been discharged after three years as cancer-free. After this, I never saw that oncologist again. Maybe every cancer sufferer feels this in their own way, but I am not a person who can deal with cancer. I am allergic or hypersensitive to practically every drug going. I’d had two mastectomies to dodge this bullet; chemotherapy was not an option for me; all other ‘heroic’ treatments failed or had to be stopped.

I could not relate to the accepted cancer story of the heroic fight. I found people’s reactions shocking, hurtful, devastating. Other people’s fear is not part of the public story. My dealings with medical staff were fraught with misunderstanding, lack of education, empathy, their exasperation at being unable even to give me palliative care. Friends disappeared. My husband was consumed with rage and grief.

I realised that I was on my own with this.

This book is the result. I discovered that writing was the best medicine for me. Writing my truth on the page cut through all the falseness of the great grinding cancer machine. It was a way in which I could sustain my essential self.

This is not a misery memoir. It is not a journey. it is not a story of the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. It is the record of one person’s experience as it happened. All I ever did was write down as clearly and honestly as I could what i was paying attention to on any particular day. It has no moral, no meaning, no ‘life lesson’. It’s just me, listening to my heart while living with tis awful disease. I hope you might find it worth reading.”

Rosemary Mcleish, Selling, Feb 2020

One phrase in particular from this foreword has stayed with me: Writing my truth on the page cut through all the falseness…it was a way in which I could sustain my true self’ This is something I have felt in my own writing, something that many, many people feel about their writing and why creative writing is one of the tools that can help so much. Not as a way of healing, but as a way of recognising and sharing the human experiences that shape us.

I want Rosemary’s words to speak for themselves, so I will share this poem, which came from a prompt about the blue whale skeleton (see picture at the top of the page) in the Natural History Museum.

Skeleton


The skeleton of a blue whale, called “Hope”,
is suspended over the hall of the museum,
dominating everything.  I marvel at its
stupendous size, its delicate symmetry,
its grace, and wonder what my bones
will look like when I’m dead.  I’ve seen
the flares on CT scans, read the grim reports,
but never looked up images of what ails me.
This feathery, fragile, honeycombed
beauty is not what I expected.  I thought
of growths, Elephant Man-like spurs
and gross misshapes, excrescences.
I cannot power through krill, mouth
agape, eating as I go.  I need to protect
my frailty for fear of breaks, not even
a dip in the local pool.  But I can at least
stop a while, contemplate these ever-
changing patterns from dense to filigree,
as ephemeral as spiders’ webs, frost
fairies on winter windows, the tracery
of bare branches against a grey sky;
or notice how the frills and furbelows
are so like those of underwater lives,
the blue whale’s home, of sea anemones,
sponges, coral.  There’s an odd kind of
strength in fragility, as powerful in its
way as this great leviathan of our age.
We spend our lives picking and choosing
amongst what nature offers us,
but we need, I need, to embrace it all.
Cancer, making lace out of my bones,
traces all the beloved patterns of my life.

Here’s Rosemary reading the poem herself: https://thebluenib.com/rosemary-mcleish-reads-her-own-work-skeleton/

Thank you Rosemary. You are missed x

New Course Klaxon: Talking to the Ancestors, Starts 1st September 2020

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

Brand new for September, a new course for your delectation: Talking to the Ancestors.

Talking to the Ancestors

This is a brand new four week online workshop/course open to all levels from absolute beginners to more experienced writers. Although we’ll mainly be working on poetry, the course is open to fiction writers and creative non fiction writers.

The course begins on 1st September 2020 and ends on 30th September 2020.

The last online course sold out in two days, so please please don’t leave it to the last minute, I may not be able to squeeze you in! x

What the Course Covers

Over the four weeks of the course we’ll be looking at ancient civilisations including the ancient Egyptians, the Mayans, ancient Britons and The Romans. We’ll be using artefacts, myths, legends and ruins as inspiration to bring these ancient civilisations to life through creative writing.

How the Course Works

The course will last the full month of September, with a slightly different format of five prompts; delivered Monday to Friday on a daily basis, weekly notes and poems, videos, links and other relevant material included as examples of the themes we’ll be covering, all of which is delivered directly to your email inbox. There’s also a closed facebook page where course attendees can share their work, give and receive feedback and interact with other course members. The whole thing is moderated by myself and I interact with the group daily. New for this course will be two forty minute zoom sessions, in the middle and at the end of the course, where course members can chat and share their work. Also new to this course is the option to receive detailed feedback on up to four pieces of work, at the end of the course. See the payment section further down for details.

Who the Course is Aimed at

The course is aimed at beginners through to established writers, there’s something for everyone. We’ll be working mainly in poetry, but there will be the opportunity to try your hand at fiction, creative non fiction and even some script writing. Whilst you are encouraged to push out of your comfort zone, you can stick to the style of writing you prefer, if you want to.

The No Pressure Style

This is a no pressure course in which you do not have to produce anything, nor do you have to comment or even join the FB page. It is much more important to me that you relax and enjoy the course, enjoy the prompts and enjoy engaging with the course materials.

Sounds good doesn’t it! I’m really looking forward to having you on board.

How to Sign Up

I now have a simple payment method in my shop where you can make a payment to sign up. If the email address you want your course materials, and your facebook group invite, sent to is different to your PayPal address, let me know by emailing me at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com.

To make things fair, and to make sure that my courses are available to those on lower incomes, I have a tiered pricing system. Details below. And don’t forget, you can sponsor a place for a writer who doesn’t have the money to sign up. What a great  gift that would be!

Payment Tiers

For this course, and all future courses, I am bringing in a method of tiered payment, a ‘pay what you can’  method which relies on the honesty of course attendees. There are three payment levels: £20, £40 and £60 and a new option of £90 to have included in the course detailed feedback given on up to four pieces of work produced on the course, at the end of the four weeks. There is also the option to sponsor another place at the price level of your choice so that I can support disadvantaged writers.

Why I have given the option to pay more

Lots of previous attendees have told me, during feedback sessions, that they would have paid much more for one of these courses, comparing it to other courses available to them. But at the same time, lots of people have told me they were grateful for the lower cost as it meant they could afford to develop their writing within their own means. I am from a working class background and still live in a working class town. There’s a grey area when it comes to WC folk, and it’s the place where almost everyone I know lives – the place where you are certainly not living in poverty, but you can’t justify retreats, courses or workshops because there is always something else to pay for (Christmas, birthdays, car repairs, house repairs etc).
It’s my opinion that everyone should have access to exploring their world through the arts, creative writing is my niche and in a world in which the arts are being slowly eroded, where funding is reduced and reduced, I feel I need to do something practical to help people like me, from my background. At the same time, as a working class writer and workshop facilitator, I need to be able to pay my bills and continue doing the things that I have trained for. Hence the option to pay more if you feel you can.
I know from experience how difficult it is to work out which level is right for you, so I have put some guidance together, below. I’ve based my reasoning mainly on the value of £20 in relation to  food and alcohol for some reason. This is just a rough guide designed to help you think about your own expendable income.

£20 

If £20 is what you might spend on a takeaway and a bottle of wine, this is probably the tier for you.

£40

If £20 is what you spend on a bottle of wine and a nice bar of chocolate, the forty pound tier sounds about right for you.

£60

If twenty pounds is the amount that you might put into a charity box, or a church collection, then this is probably the tier for you.

YOU CAN SPONSOR A PLACE

Even if you aren’t interested in doing the course, you can still sponsor a place and give a leg up to a writer who has hit hard times and can’t justify the disposable income for a creative writing course. If you ARE doing the course, you can also sponsor an extra place. You might choose to pay £40 for yourself and sponsor a £20 place, you might be an absolute angel and pay £60 and still sponsor a £20 place, you might be a virtual saint and sponsor two £60 places. You might be god like in your altruism and sponsor a place with feedback on poems for £90. It’s up to you. Mix and match.

 

What Happens Next

Once you have paid by PayPal (please drop me a line if you have paid in another way, I may miss your payment otherwise) I will use the email provided to invite you to the Facebook page. I will also use this email address to send a welcome letter to confirm that this email is working.

Places are limited, so please book ASAP to avoid disappointment!

Thanks for being a part of this adventure!

Wendy

 

x

 

Getting on with it

heart book art on bokeh photography
Photo by Rahul Pandit on Pexels.com

This wasn’t the blog post I was hoping to write, but I am so behind with everything at the minute, this is the blog post – a brief update on things – that will be written. What a weird few weeks it has been. My lovely, healthy, gym going, healthy eating husband had a stroke, four weeks ago on Sunday. It was caused by a Vertebral Artery Dissection which we think had occurred up to a week before hand and which we treated with ibuprofen, thinking it was a trapped nerve. Despite his fitness and his good health, my husband has inherited high blood pressure. He’d treated the high blood pressure with life style changes after being diagnosed two years ago, and had shed four stone, discovered a love of healthy living and was an avid cyclist, runner and general gym fanatic. He’d missed this year’s annual health MOT because of COVID. And then he had a stroke. As you can imagine, it has been something of a challenge. He is making, and will make a good recovery and is getting better, but it’s a long road ahead. He is gradually regaining his balance, and the headaches have stopped, but the tiredness, slight drooping of his eye, and the numbness on one whole side of his body persists. However, he started walking like a felled tree, and now is down to walking like someone who has had three pints and is trying to act completely sober. When he really concentrates you can barely see that he is unsteady. He is amazing, and amazes me every day.  It could have been so much worse, and there is nothing to be done except get on with getting on with it, and embrace every minute of life to its fullest.

I’m not going to lie, it was pretty bloody horrible, not least because it challenged all of the anxiety that is left from losing someone you love through clinical negligence and all the psychological fall out that came along with losing Matilda in the way we did. For a short while I thought I was going to have to put my husband in the ground with my daughter. Everything was, of course, complicated by COVID, which meant I couldn’t be with him, but he was extremely well cared for by the stroke team at York and was only in the hospital a short time until his blood pressure came down. He has a consultant appointment in a couple of week’s time, and we’re hoping he’ll be able to sign my husband off to do a few more ‘normal’ things, he might even be back driving the car before long. Chris’s illness has meant I had less time to work, because he needed so much help to start with, but I am slowly falling back into a routine and I am hoping to have a chapter of my book finished this month as I’d taken time off running courses in August with the intention of really getting some work done on it.

In other news, today I made the last minute adjustments to the pamphlet collection When I Think of My Body as a Horse. I saw the proofs of the cover last week and it looks wonderful. I am so excited about this collection. I’m also very anxious about it, I feel quite vulnerable. This is the last step that I am really involved in as far as the ‘production’ part of it goes, and once it’s signed off I’ll be setting it free, letting it sail out  and into the heads of the readers who will interpret it for themselves. This is a strange and beautiful but nerve wracking thing. With this collection though, because it is a sort of final segment to the journey of grief directly related to my own experiences of baby loss and body ownership, self forgiveness and recovery from traumatic loss, it doesn’t matter as much to me whether it is successful in the literary world. Of course I want it to do well, who doesn’t want their work to do well? But the act of creating these poems, this body of work, was far more important than career or being taken seriously as a poet or any of the other stuff that comes with trying to get somewhere as a writer. It’s the closing of the box on that part of my life. I read through the final version of the manuscript today and felt unashamedly proud. I had a little cry. Each of the poems in the collection is a memory box, a touchstone to a place that is so embedded in me that reading the poems to myself takes me to that place and time, almost takes me there physically, but now those little boxes can be closed and put in the bigger storage box that is When I Think of My Body as a Horse. This is how poetry works, for me. And now I can get on with the current project. I’m also working on an Arts Council grant to help me to fund writing time and run some workshops around the current project, so wish me luck with that constant hamster wheel of soul destruction. I’ve also, after much deliberation, decided to have another crack at securing funding for the PhD. So many stresses. Strangely though, I have enjoyed Chris being home and the closeness that this latest life challenge has thrown at us. It is a reminder of how good life can be if you let it be.

Look out for news of a new course launching this week, starting in September.

Take care

X

 

New for August: Online Writing Retreats, Book Now!

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I’m changing it up a little in August and instead of running a month long online prompt-a-day course, I am going to be running two all day, online writing ‘retreats’.

What do you mean, ‘retreat?’

This is a chance for you to put yourself, and your writing, first. It’s a day in which all that is expected of you is to write and enjoy the company of others, and myself, in an online setting. It would be wonderful to meet up in the real world, share a coffee and a slice of cake, chat about poetry and the way it works, write and explore our own versions of the world through poetry, but we all know that that isn’t possible right now. But then, perhaps being on retreat is a state of mind, perhaps what we need is not distance from our own lives, but permission to put ourselves first above job, kids, partners, responsibilities, just for one day.

How Will It Work?

These are fully planned and scheduled retreat days which involve a combination of zoom chats, online interaction within a closed facebook group, notes and prompts sent directly to your email address, feedback from the group and from myself and the chance to read your work within the group zoom meetings. If zoom isn’t your thing, you can easily bypass the zoom chats and stick to the interaction within the facebook group/s. If Facebook isn’t your thing, you are welcome to engage only through the zoom chats. If neither is your thing, then these might not be the event for you! (scroll down for an alternative!) You do not have to join in any of the parts you don’t want to, but it’s going to be a lot of fun in a safe, welcoming environment. If you’d like to know what the schedule is, before booking your place, drop me a line at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com .

Online Writing Retreat One

Walking With the Wolf:

Poetry from Nature’s Perspective

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Date: Saturday 8th August 2020

9.00 am to 5.00pm

Price: £15

In this day long retreat we’ll be exploring nature writing, placing ourselves fully within nature and walking side by side with the wildlife of planet earth. Suitable for all levels of poet from beginners to the more advanced, this all day retreat runs from 9am to 5pm and includes lots of interaction as well as time to write. To book a place, simply pop over to the shop: Shop Link

Don’t forget, you can sponsor a place on this retreat for a writer who doesn’t have the means to pay for one! Pop into the shop to sponsor a place: Shop Link

Due to the nature of the event, places are limited so please don’t leave it late to book.

Online Writing Retreat Two

Song of the Selkie:

Poetry of Physical Transformation

 

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Date: Saturday 22nd August 2020

9.00 am to 5.00pm

Price: £15

In this day long retreat we’ll be exploring poems of transformation, with a focus on the mythical selkie and witch-hare folk stories. Suitable for all levels of poet from beginners to the more advanced, this all day retreat runs from 9am to 5pm and includes lots of interaction as well as time to write. To book a place, simply pop over to the shop: Shop Link

Don’t forget, you can sponsor a place on this retreat for a writer who doesn’t have the means to pay for one! Pop into the shop to sponsor a place: Shop Link

Due to the nature of the event, places are limited so please don’t leave it late to book.

The Alternative

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If you like the structure of a month long course and aren’t into day long events, or even if you are into day long events and you want a course that will compliment the above retreat days, I have an online course available on my new teaching platform. You can book a place by following this link:

Getting Started: How to Write a Poem

This course does not have a designated start date, but it does have a closed facebook group, the link to which I will email to you, once you have enrolled.

 

 

Taking the Next Step

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Last week I finished a decent draft of the first chapter of a creative non fiction book I’m writing. It was an intense experience, partly because of the content, partly because I’m slightly out of my comfort zone with prose, but I know I need to push through that to reach the place that I want to be. I had been shortlisted for the Alpine Fellowship Writing Award which was a huge deal, it’s very prestigious and the prize money would have meant having the time to write, without distraction. I can’t really emphasise how important that is for a writer. Anyhoo, I did not make it past the shortlist and though I was obviously disappointed, I had a lot to be happy about. There were 2000 entries and I made it to the last thirty, with an essay which I’m hoping will form a chapter of the book later down the line. It gave me a massive confidence boost with the prose work, right when I needed it. I feel like a tw*t feeling disappointed about a writing prize anyway, when people are dying.

After I finish each chapter of the book, which is taking about eight weeks, I am finding I need a break from thinking about it and challenging myself and putting myself out there with agents and publishers – the stressful treadmill that getting a project off the ground entails – and this week I have been working instead on changing the online courses to streamline them for a better experience for the course attendee. One of the things I have found with running the prompt a day courses is that there is a real sense of community and support within the groups and it is a brilliant experience to connect like that. I don’t want to lose that, but it’s time now to upgrade and look at a more professional way of running them. Moving forward I intend on inviting (and paying!) trusted writer friends to run courses of their own, under the umbrella of what I think of as my ‘brand’ but what is really just me wanting to run courses in a particular way. I work with a lot of underrepresented groups, and groups who struggle with having the confidence to write and I fall into that category too, so it’s good to open doors for people and give them a hand up and it’s good to be in a position (fingers crossed) to be able to pay course facilitators to help too, because I am confident in the value and the workmanship of the courses I run.

Blah blah blah me me me

Anyway….

TA DAH!

Follow this link to my new online course landing page, where you will find the first of my online courses:

Wendy Pratt Online Writing Courses

I’m currently using the free version of the platform, which is great but doesn’t allow me to have start dates for courses, which is no good for the prompt-a-day courses. So for now the courses on there (and I shall be adding two more soon) will be enrol at any point courses. I’m hoping to have a closed facebook group alongside, but the course is very much a work at your own pace without pressure situation. This is a version of a course I have run previously, but stripped back in terms of interaction and with a few more bits and pieces of course structure.  The next stage of the plan is to upgrade as soon as I can to the paid version of the platform, which is where I need your help.  I am using the course/s currently on the site to fund the upgrade so that I can once again offer a tiered pricing system (I can’t do that with the free version), and  prompt-a-day courses with more feedback and interaction, alongside some higher level ‘masterclass’ and ‘getting started’ type courses. So if you know anyone who you think might enjoy this course, please share and tag them. It’s a great course for beginners to intermediate writers who want to find a way in to working in free verse, structured forms and some tips on editing and getting published. I’ve reduced the price of it, initially, by half, so it is a bargain and has proved a very popular course in the past.

Getting Started: How to Write a Poem

Thanks so much!

x

 

 

 

How To: Successfully Launch Your Poetry Collection

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Photo by Luis Quintero on Pexels.com

 

I was hoping to do a You Tube video of this How To, but alas, time is a commodity I just don’t have at the minute, perhaps I’ll do one at a later date. In the mean time I thought it would be nice to do a How To blog post and I think this particular subject is one of those that’s a bit ‘smoke and mirrors’ in the poetry world, and that can be a bit intimidating, especially if you you are launching your first collection.

So, you managed to get your poems published in magazines and journals, you felt ready to put a collection together, you approached several publishers and to your absolute joy, a publisher has taken your manuscript and it will soon be a real life book with your name on it. Congratulations!

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Photo by rovenimages.com on Pexels.com

 

You’ve made it, you’re a published poet. You can just sit back and let the reviews, prize wins and invitations to read roll in, right? Wrong.

The Writer/Publisher Relationship

When you enter into a contract with a publisher you are entering into a symbiotic relationship, where each party has a role to play. The role of the publisher is to put the time and effort, and the finances, into your book, creating something that people can physically pick up and buy. They will likely (but not always) do a certain amount of publicity for you and likely (but not always) enter your book into competitions. Your role is, obviously, to supply the goods in the form of beautifully crafted poems. But you also need to respect the fact that a publisher is trusting the book to sell. They are putting their limited financial resources, their skill and their time into your book, and I think it’s good manners to at least match that investment by promoting your book and doing your best to make sure, in a market that is saturated with poetry books, that your book is the one that is noticed. Books don’t sell on their own. Especially not poetry books. Therefore you need to be able to get behind your book and help to sell it. And this means promoting it. There are lots of ways in which this happens, but for the purposes of this blog, let’s look at what I think are the four main avenues to getting your book noticed:

  • The Official Book Launch
  • Reviews
  • Readings
  • Social Media

The Book Launch

When I launched my first pamphlet, many moons ago in 2011. I did not have a clue. I imagined that book launches were like the ones you see in films with flutes of champaign, a huge stack of books on a table and a queue of folk waiting to pick up a signed copy. I thought they were sophisticated affairs that the publisher put together for you. I had high expectations and high hopes and didn’t listen to people who knew more about it than I did. I fell flat on my face. Nobody came! I mean, literally nobody came. What were the mistakes I made? I expected people off the street would be as excited about a book launch as I was to be launching my book and that they would see that this brilliant event was going on and come pouring in to buy the books. I held it as an event on its own, expecting the poetry community to travel hundreds of miles just to see me, someone no one had really even heard of. I expected a crowd and I was a bit crushed when that didn’t happen. at the event that night were my two publishers at the time, my two guest readers and myself. the audience consisted of two ladies who had thought they were coming to see an entirely different event. It was what we call an ‘intimate event’. I can laugh now, when I look back at it. And actually, it turned out to be a lovely warm evening. but I learned some hard and fast lessons there, about how much work I was going to need to get the book to sell. Here are a few tips for organising a launch:

  1. Work with your publisher. It is likely that your publisher will want to have some input. It varies from publisher to publisher, so don’t be afraid to ask if they have plans or a budget. My new book will have a launch by the publisher, but I’ll also be having a home launch too. Often organising the launch and paying for the launch will be entirely up to you as there just isn’t money in the budget for publishers to host parties. But even if they aren’t hosting a launch for you, they will have advice about the readers of their books and they will have experience of book launches, use that experience, ask advice, ask if there’s any sort of budget, or if they know of free rooms to use, that sort of thing.
  2. Manage your expectations. Sometimes events are well attended, sometimes they’re not. This has nothing to do with popularity, or the validity of your work and more to do with how far people have got to travel, whether they have the budget to attend events and whether your event clashes with anything else. Go into it with an idea of what you want to get out of it, book sales are brilliant, but if you go into it just wanting to celebrate the launch of your book and to read some poems and enjoy the moment, you will not be disappointed and everything else will be like a bonus.
  3. Launch at a regular event. Some people (me included) like to do a launch ‘tour’ of regular poetry events as well as, or instead of a traditional launch event. This means you are guaranteed and audience. Research your local poetry events and contact them to see if they would be interested in having a guest reader, tell them you are launching your book. This goes for festivals too. Don’t wait to be invited. You’ll be waiting a good long time if you do.
  4. If you decide to go for an official launch.. think about transport links. I am always reluctant to launch my books in my home town, simply because it’s out of the way and people have to take a series of trains to get here. Also think about refreshments. You are likely to sell more books if there’s a bar. Just saying. Think about the size of the venue: it should be big enough to have seating for guests, but not too big that even a crowd looks lost in there. Think about the time of day you host your event, and the day you host your event.  Who is your target audience? Retirees will make daytime events more easily, but at the weekend people may have already got plans. Also bear in mind the time of year, lots of people don’t like travelling in the dark of winter afternoons.
  5. Create a social media events page. These are easy to create, and free (you can pay to boost them) and get the word about easily. If you invite people via the events page you’ll get a good idea of who might be coming too.
  6. Make sure you tell people. Put your event in the local paper, put it on poetry news pages, put it on social media, make a poster and put it around the town, make sure your publisher has details, make sure the event is visible on your timeline.
  7. Refreshments. People like cake. And wine.

Reviews

It’s likely your publisher will send your book out for reviews, but if you know people or magazines that review, ask them if they want to review your book. There is no shame in asking. Put a shout out on social media. Don’t be disappointed by a slow response, reviews take time and magazines are generally bogged down with back logs.

Readings

As I said before, doing a launch tour is a good idea. When you launch your book there will be an initial buzz with lots of people wanting to know more. This dies off after about three months and that’s when you have to put the work in, get yourself some guest speaker reading spots. Draw up a list and create a decent generic query which you can adjust per event and set yourself a target – one reading a month is what I usually go for, for a few months. Your book won’t stay in the public eye forever, but you can really give it a good kick off with a bit of metaphorical elbow grease.

Social Media

Use social media for the tool that it is. It feels icky to promote oneself, but as a writer you are your own product. What is the point in all those hours spent toiling on your work, the years spent developing your craft if you are going to never mention it. Tell people about it, pin it to you time line, don’t apologise for promoting your book. But also, never ever ever friend someone who has good contacts and immediately message them to promote your book. That is bad manners and will do the opposite of what you want it to do.

 

The Most Important Thing to Remember

Is less about success and failure and more about remembering that you worked hard for this, so make sure you enjoy the feeling of having made it to being a published poet. Good luck!

 

Until next time

x

 

 

New Course Klaxon! The Sea, The Sea starting 1st July 2020

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Photo by Sebastian Voortman on Pexels.com

 

The Sea, The Sea

This is a brand new four week online workshop/course open to all levels rom absolute beginners to more experienced writers. Although we’ll mainly be working on poetry, the course is open to fiction writers and creative non fiction writers, there will even be the chance to try a little sort writing.

The course begins on 1st July 2020 and ends on 31st July 2020.

The last online course sold out in two days, so please please don’t leave it to the last minute, I may not be able to squeeze you in! x

What the Course Covers

Over the four weeks of the course we’ll be looking at your own personal relationship with the sea, your memories, your experiences, we’ll be looking at the wildlife and nature of the sea, we’ll be exploring the myths and folklore surrounding the sea and we’ll be writing about the industrial sea: the fisher folk and cargo ships, the clippers and the coal ships. I’m excited to share with you the coast line that I live by; the glorious Yorkshire coast, but we’ll also be travelling the world to see the sea in different cultures and landscapes. I hope you’ll join me for a paddle!

How the Course Works

The course will last the full month of July, with a daily prompt, weekly notes and poems, videos, links and other relevant material included as examples of the themes we’ll be covering, all of which is delivered directly to your email inbox. There’s also a closed facebook page where course attendees can share their work. The whole thing is moderated by myself and I interact with the group on a daily basis. I’m hoping to bring in a ‘live’ element to this course too, with a weekly get together.

Who the Course is Aimed at

The course is aimed at beginners through to established writers, there’s something for everyone. We’ll be working mainly in poetry, but there will be the opportunity to try your hand at fiction, creative non fiction and even some script writing. Whilst you are encouraged to push out of your comfort zone, you don’t have to write in both forms if you don’t want to.

The No Pressure Style

This is a no pressure course in which you do not have to produce anything, nor do you have to comment or even join the FB page. It is much more important to me that you relax and enjoy the course, enjoy the prompts and enjoy engaging with the course materials.

Sounds good doesn’t it! I’m really looking forward to having you on board

How to Sign Up

I now have a simple payment method in my shop where you can make a payment to sign up. If the email address you want your course materials, and your website invite, sent to is different to your PayPal address, let me know by emailing me at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com.

To make things fair, and to make sure that my courses are available to those on lower incomes, I have a tiered pricing system. Details below. And don’t forget, you can sponsor a place for a writer who doesn’t have the money to sign up. What a great  gift that would be!

Payment Tiers

For this course, and all future courses, I am bringing in a method of tiered payment, a ‘pay what you can’  method which relies on the honesty of course attendees. There are three payment levels: £20, £40 and £60. There is also the option to sponsor another place at the price level of your choice so that I can support disadvantaged writers.

Why I have given the option to pay more

Lots of previous attendees have told me, during feedback sessions, that they would have paid much more for one of these courses, comparing it to other courses available to them. But at the same time, lots of people have told me they were grateful for the lower cost as it meant they could afford to develop their writing within their own means. I am from a working class background and still live in a working class town. There’s a grey area when it comes to WC folk, and it’s the place where almost everyone I know lives – the place where you are certainly not living in poverty, but you can’t justify retreats, courses or workshops because there is always something else (Christmas, birthdays etc).
It’s my opinion that everyone should have access to exploring their world through the arts, creative writing is my niche and in a world in which the arts are being slowly eroded, where funding is reduced and reduced, I feel I need to do something practical to help people like me, from my background. At the same time, as a working class writer and workshop facilitator, I need to be able to pay my bills and continue doing the things that I have trained for. Hence the option to pay more if you feel you can.
I know from experience how difficult it is to work out which level is right for you, so I have put some guidance together, below. I’ve based my reasoning mainly on the value of £20 in relation to  food and alcohol for some reason. This is just a rough guide designed to help you think about your own expendable income.

£20 

If £20 is what you might spend on a takeaway and a bottle of wine, this is probably the tier for you.

£40

If £20 is what you spend on a bottle of wine and a nice bar of chocolate, the forty pound tier sounds about right for you.

£60

If twenty pounds is the amount that you might put into a charity box, or a church collection, then this is probably the tier for you.

YOU CAN SPONSOR A PLACE

Even if you aren’t interested in doing the course, you can still sponsor a place and give a leg up to a writer who has hit hard times and can’t justify the disposable income for a creative writing course. If you ARE doing the course, you can also sponsor an extra place. You might choose to pay £40 for yourself and sponsor a £20 place, you might be an absolute angel and pay £60 and still sponsor a £20 place, you might be a virtual saint and sponsor two £60 places. It’s up to you. Mix and match.

 

What Happens Next

Once you have paid by PayPal (please drop me a line if you have paid in another way, I may miss your payment otherwise) I will use the email provided to invite you to the Facebook page. I will also use this email address to send a welcome letter to confirm that this email is working.

Places are limited, so please book ASAP to avoid disappointment!

Thanks for being a part of this adventure!

Wendy

 

x

 

Writing the Rural: John Clare, Summer Moods

brown grass in tilt shift lens
Photo by Nandhu Kumar on Pexels.com

 

Summer is here, and with it an explosion of green. My garden is even more out of control than usual. I tell myself I’m busy, which I am of course. My brand new strimmer remains in its box, unused. Partly this is because I hate chopping nature back. I am the world’s worst gardener because I feel sorry to kill back plants that are thriving, after all, what right have I to take their life because of the aesthetics of the garden? However, the garden is becoming more jungle that garden now, so something will have to be done soon.

I’ve just come back from a walk with the dog. Our first proper walk for a few days on account of the constant drizzly rain and dark, dreary skies. I used to be a professional dog walker. When I walked dogs for a living I would have been out in all weathers, and I still like a bit of proper weather while walking, it reminds me that I am alive, but I couldn’t bring myself to go too far the last couple of days. I think the weather coupled with the way the world is constantly in despair is enough to tip one into melancholy. But I have had some interest in a new book I’m writing, and that’s given me the kick up the bum I need to really get my teeth into what is turning out to be a fascinating research project, and a kick to get on, get out, get to enjoying the world and what it has to offer, because of, rather than despite of the world’s pain. I am very much enjoying the challenge of working on a large research project. I hope I’m doing the subject matter justice.  Today started out mizzling and grey then brightened, and brightened and brightened until it is now red hot sun and I’m back in my shorts and sunglasses. Welcome to the English summer: winter in the morning, summer in the afternoon. As soon as I saw that it was brightening up I grabbed my new walking boots and flung my hoody on, leashed the old-man-dog and off we went. Not a long walk, our usual three mile circuit, but it felt good to get out into the air. It is glorious out there, especially after the rain when everything smells so good. The rain brings an intensity to the colours, the greens are so much more green the flowers almost ultra-violet in their vividness. A walk out among the contours of the landscape, the hills and fields and new and old is soothing and exciting at the same time. I saw no one while I was out, there was just me and the boy climbing up the steep slopes of the farm tracks, tramping through mud and grass and the chalky paths. The whole landscape was singing alive. It brought to mind this poem by John Clare. John Clare (1793-1864) was a farm labourer who wrote poems. He never quite felt he fit in with the farming community because of his poetry writing, but also felt he didn’t quite fit into the poetry and literary world because of his farming background. And thus it was ever so, I can very much relate to this, being rural working class. Anyhoo, here’s the poem:

 

SUMMER MOODS

I love at eventide to walk alone
Down narrow lanes o’erhung with dewy thorn
Where from the long grass underneath, the snail,
Jet black, creeps out and sprouts his timid horn.
I love to muse o’er meadows newly mown
Where withering grass perfumes the sultry air;
Where bees search round, with sad and weary drone
In vain for flowers that bloomed but newly there;
While in the juicy corn the hidden quail
Cries “wet my foot!” and hid as thoughts unborn;
The fairy-like and seldom-seen landrail
Utters “craik, craik” like voices underground,
Right glad to meet the evening’s dewy veil
And see the light fade into gloom around.

what do I like about it? I love that first line, the way it works like a door, opening into a scene of joy in the natural world. The rhymes are gentle, the imagery is direct, with just a hint of something more – the Craik utters a sound like ‘voice underground’ isn’t that just wonderful? And I like the naming of the specific animals, the knowledge of the sounds they make, how this feels entirely normal to the narrator. The reader feels as if they walk alongside someone who knows what they are talking about, who knows the place they live and isn’t trying to be clever, just observant. Lovely writing.

I’m launching the July online course tomorrow, so keep an eye open, it’s going to be a good one!

 

x

Shame and Celebration in the Year of the Pandemic

coronavirus
Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

 

Apologies, this is a bit of a long winded something-or-other about making the choice to work during the pandemic. Very self indulgent. This is a strange year. When the pandemic hit and everything went into lockdown I realised I had to make this awful choice between being selfish and being altruistic and doing my bit. My default position is always to try and help. I think with most people it is, but I am ex NHS, a qualified microbiologist, so I imagine there would have been a role for me somewhere, and I could have made a small difference somewhere. I didn’t. I chose to continue working and spending the time I had free on my writing. I’m self employed, and my ‘business’ is myself. I’m a writer, yes, but I make my living from running workshops, editing for publishers and private clients and mentoring. I’d like that to be the other way around at some point, and I do feel like I am heading towards that point, but it’s been a long gruelling road to get there. No one can see into the future, and I was aware that there would be economic fallout from this virus, as well as huge loss of life. There will be jobs lost at some point, my husband may be one of those who lose his job so I felt it was very important that I worked as much as I could to fill the gaps while the company he works for is closed and so that we could shore up some savings to see us through. I doubled up on my paid work, and haven’t had a day off since lockdown began (tiny violins begin to play) though I have had an afternoon here and there and have made sure to take three hours off on a Sunday, usually. My alarm goes off at five, I’m at my desk at six am, I generally leave my desk at six pm. I try and fit in a dog walk and a workout for sanity. I’m feeling the constant work a bit a the minute, if I’m honest, but I love my work so I am immensely lucky. I did have spare hours here and there, hours when I wasn’t reading and responding to course attendee poems, or editing or organising one-to-ones with mentees and in those spaces I worked, initially, on the novel (this was supposed to be the year of the novel!) and then because I couldn’t get anywhere to research for the novel, I put the novel to one side and I picked up a non fiction project, a project which I had previously written a chapter for, and which is now my main project. I could have donated those hours, and I didn’t and I feel a real sense of shame and guilt about that. There weren’t many free hours, to be honest, and my work is unpredictable, so I’m not sure how it would have worked, but I’m sure I could have done more somehow. Instead I did my mum’s shopping sometimes (She’s shielded)  and offered to do the shopping for vulnerable people in the village, to pick up prescriptions and such like, but there are a lot of retired people helping out in various forms so I haven’t really been needed. I’ve reduced prices on my courses as I know people don’t have money, organised courses which have been centred around wellbeing and sharing experience, building communities and avoiding loneliness, I’ve  encouraged people to find ways of expressing their frustrations and fears through creative writing, but really that’s just hippy dippy bollocks compered to really helping people.

Anyway, that was what I chose to do. I chose to be a writer, and, amazingly, the last couple of months have seen my biggest breakthroughs. First being one of the winners in the Poetry Business International Book and Pamphlet Competition and then being long listed, then short listed for the Alpine Fellowship Writing Prize. Both of these are massive things, partly because they are achievements to strive for, prestigious and career enhancing, but more so because of the work that actually won. You might remember me talking about my next collection When I Think of My Body as a Horse which was due to be published by my previous publisher Valley Press. Unfortunately VP hit a real rough patch and lost out on a grant, which meant the book was delayed and after having worked on it for seven years at that point, I had a chat with my publisher and with his absolute support, we decided, over a couple of pints, that I would submit it elsewhere and see if it placed and then bring it back if it didn’t. He even helped me compile a list of publishers because he is a genuinely nice guy and I I hope to work with him again. I spent about eight months sending it out, getting it shortlisted with publishers but never quite making it through, and then I entered the PB competition and it won. I cried down the phone when they told me. Though I don’t know if it will be a pamphlet or a full collection yet, I’m happy either way, to be honest. All I know is that this is the collection in which my grief broke like a fever and I wanted it to be published. In his judge’s report Ian McMillan said the poems were about recovery, and I had never thought about them like that, but that’s exactly what they are, they are about recovering from an absolute shit show of a time that ground on for thirteen years while we constantly had to learn to live with a new grief: infertility, death of our daughter, clinical negligence and knowing we’d lost her unnecessarily, miscarriage and eventually childlessness. That book has my heart in it, and I am so glad it found a home.

The Alpine Fellowship was a complete surprise. The theme for this year, Forgiveness and Retribution, fitted in with the theme for the book that I wanted to write so I decided to write a scaled down chapter for the book and enter it as a creative non fiction essay. I was gobsmacked when it was long listed and nearly fainted when it was short listed. I dare not think too hard on it, because it’s too painful to hope. It’s a big cash prize that would give me the six months to a year that I need to write the book. But if nothing else it has given me the boost in confidence I needed to send a proposal out to some agents.

But here’s the thing, while I am super happy, just super happy and excited by these two cracking things, forty thousand people have died. In America black folk are fighting for recognition, the situation is beginning to look like a civil war, in the middle of a pandemic. People are losing their jobs, people are not able to see their loved ones while they are dying, the world is on fire, and I am winning these things that mean such a lot to me but mean nothing to anyone else. There’s no answer to this. I think a lot of people are feeling like this and added to that the frustrations and the fear of infection, of losing people to the infection, fear for loved ones. If you’re someone who lives with anxiety and depression, it’s going to really effect that, I know it is with me. I feel sunk by it all and not sure how I should feel about the good stuff, or if I even should be happy about the good stuff. But I am happy about it. But I also feel selfish and guilty and a bit ashamed about being happy about it. It’s made me quite needy, reaching out clumsily to people who are already under pressure, with stuff that I should just get on with. It’s also made me wonder if this is how people felt, announcing their pregnancies to me after Matilda died. That must have been tough for them. Every experience is a lesson, isn’t it, though I’m not sure what this lesson is, perhaps that I should stop whining, embrace the happiness that these two big steps have given me, and get back to work.

 

Anyway, until next time, stay safe.

 

x