On March 8th International Women’s Day 2021 we thought we’d give space to four fantastic women whose work inspires us. Each of these four northern women – the geographical distinction is of vital importance too – these women are, despite a global pandemic, successfully launching new collections.
The Oscillations by Kate Fox was released through Nine Arches Press, When I Think of My Body as a Horse by Wendy Pratt via the Poetry Business and Winner of the International Book and Pamphlet Competition (Judged by Imtiaz Dharker & Ian McMillan) Passerine by Kirsten Luckins was published in February by Bad Betty Press, and due to be launched in a few weeks time [Just in time for our 6th Birthday] Vitriol Works by Geneviève L. Walsh on Flapjack Press. (Click on Links to purchase and support independent publishers)
By now we have become accustomed to our poetry selves existing…
I’ve managed to get through quite a few books this month. I have more time to read when I’m not running the month long workshops. My total books read for the year so far is 14, so I feel like I’m doing OK. March is going to be a tremendously busy month, starting with the official publication day for When I Think of My Body as a Horse, my birthday and the launch of Horse, alongside launching the new course, Analyse This!, running Wednesday Writers, Friday Writing, Women Writers Writing, mentoring, editing and putting the last bits and pieces together for Spelt magazine. We’re going to print mid month. I have also booked two days of actual holiday off this month. You may remember I devised a brilliant system in which any over time I did would be gathered up so that I could take time off. I’m having to re-think it as every week I am accruing two days overtime, and seem to have no time to take it as holiday. I am my own worst enemy and I feel like I might need to address some underlying issues around the reasons I can’t stop still and not work for any real length of time. It sometimes feels a bit pointless, all of this, because I don’t know how to sit back and enjoy the things that are happening. Actually, I have all the tools to be able to do that, I know how to do that, but I seem to be incapable of getting off a treadmill that I’m powering with my own anxiety. What’s the point in any of this if the anxiety means I can’t enjoy it! She screams into the void, manically. Anyway, I have booked two days off after the book launch; days with no work, and I am hoping the weather stays nice so that I can get out in the garden. The March workload is probably going to do for me, but at least spring is near now and I don’t have to cope with the cold and the dark. I can have my mental breakdown in the garden at least.
Right, enough of my interminable waffling. Here’s what i read inFebruary 2021:
Margaret Atwood: Negotiating with the Dead
Absolutely loved this book on writers and the writing process. Would recommend to any writers, teachers or those just interested in the purpose of, and drive to, write. Rich in resources, yet accessible and witty. Brilliant.
Maggie Mackay: A West Coast Psalter
This was a pleasure to return to. Maggie Mackay brings past lives lived into the present so clearly. Would recommend. Buy it from Kelsey Books
Carole Bromley: The Peregrine Falcons of York Minster
This is such a good collection from Carole Bromley, I think perhaps her best. Carole has a real way of observing the ordinary and making it extraordinarily. Her poems are witty, often moving, clear, careful and beautifully crafted. Highly recommend.
Angela Readman: Cooking with Marilyn
Loved this beautifully written collection by Angela Readman. Every poem is a picnic of lush, dark imagery. Love the title poem in particular. Would highly recommend.
Andrea levy: Small Island
Absolutely loved this book. Funny, thought provoking, the characters feel like friends to me now. It’ll be one I read again. Highly recommend.
Shauna Gross: Whip It
YA fiction at its best. Loved it, desperately wanted to crawl into the book and go Roller Derby.
Victoria Bennett: To Start the Year From its Quiet Centre
Enjoyed returning to Victoria’s beautiful, delicate pamphlet. Lovely to see an ex mentee doing well.
Hannah Hodgson: Where I’d Watch Plastic Trees not Grow
Incredible pamphlet by Hannah Hodgson. Full of visceral, defiant, angry, necessary, challenging poems, poems that should be read by everyone. Highly recommend.
Jacqui Rowe: Other Things I Didn’t used to Know
Highly recommend Jacqui Rowe’s book: subtle writing, wry humour, carefully crafted poems that are never sentimental. These are strongly observational poems; documenting a human experience not often explored, the chronic illness that changes everything. Excellent.
We’ve reached that point in the year when Spring is within finger-tip touching distance. The snow is cleared, and yes, even we on the North East coast got a little bit of the white stuff. In its place is a muddy, brown/green landscape of bare trees and fat sheep in fields, but also snowdrops, everywhere snow drops. This week I used the snowdrop as a base for some writing exercises in a workshop I ran. We looked at a poem by Louise Glück and wrote poems of survival and emerging after a period of wintering in. It felt good to be looking forward. At the end of last year my garden was destroyed by, first flooding from a burst mains pipe, then by the team who came to fix the leak who had to dig a whole corner of my postage-stamp sized front garden out to get to the pipe. It just happened to be the corner of the garden where something grows, that something being the spring snowdrops which emerge each year in greater quantities. I feared they had all been destroyed. The garden still looks like a WWI battle site. But the last couple of weeks a few straddlers have come through, a few hardy snowdrops emerging white as bone into this weak early spring. Lovely stuff. And there are green shoots on some of the cultivated rose hips in the village and the buds on the trees are looking less waxy and sealed and more like they are preparing for living. The bird song is starting to swell on a morning, the blackbirds are clearing their throats, I have seen the strange collared dove couple who, each year, are obsessed with trying to get through my bedroom window onto the inside windowsill, (presumably it looks like a good nesting site) starting to eye up the ivy on the front of the house, and sitting in my sycamore and again eyeing up the bedroom windowsill. Birds are pairing up. I need to trim all the hedges and trees before they attempt to nest in them. Spring is going to arrive like a magician pulling a bunch of flowers out of a hat.
My village is in an area of high water table and clay soil. The two make for a very boggy experience. The village is full of beech trees and willow as testament to the amount of water in the ground. These thirsty trees love it. But it makes for quite bad walking in winter. So while the snow was laid and the ground was frozen it made it much easier to get out of the house and out round the fields and tracks. I’d not been up to my favourite track for ages until the snow came, it felt good to be out in that sharp bright weather, to feel the cold on my cheekbones and what was even better was, as I walked up the hill towards one of the farms, the sight of a buzzard being dive-bombed by the local crows and jackdaws. I’d not seen it all winter, which means it might be migratory, I guess. But there it was again, returned; its enormous V wings, and F**k you attitude to the dive bombing crows – completely ignoring them, its lazy circling of the updrafts. I’ve seen it up close once, and spent a lot of last year convincing my husband that it was a buzzard and not a seagull. I hope it makes it through the year. Other raptors I’ve seen so far this year include a big barn owl, presumably male. We used to see a barn owl a lot around the village, I even found an owl pellet, complete with bone of some unfortunate small creature, outside the barn in which it resided.
Recently the same barn was converted into a holiday home, and whilst they put an owl box in, I haven’t seen a barn owl round here for a while. So it was even more pleasing to see the white drift of it returned to hunt the hedgerows of the village.
I’ve also been seeing a lot of a lovely kestrel in the back lane. They seem such a common little predator, I’m so used to seeing them hovering by the road sides, sliding and adjusting, that I’d forgotten how beautiful they are up close. This one seems to be using the telephone wires as a good vantage point for the farmland around here. I managed to get quite close to it, but it was always a few wing beats in front of me, flying then landing, flying then landing, before it was off like an arrow out and away where I couldn’t follow it. Never staying long enough to catch it well with my camera.
These last few weeks have been a whirlwind of applications, first the PhD scholarship, which took weeks, and was turned down within days. I was quite gutted. But decided to let go my place at York, stop trying, for now. I’d thought about applying to other universities, but that would have meant letting go of the project, changing it, trying to do something different and it suddenly dawned on me, with the help of a friend who was willing to talk it through with me, that I wanted to do the project more than I wanted to do the PhD. So I decided to take control, and I re-worked the proposal I’d used for for the PhD and cut out all the bells and whistles I’d put in to make it fit into what the university and the scholarship folk wanted, stripped it back until it was the project that I was originally excited about, and I put myself out there and I approached a publisher and pitched the idea of, what would have been, the PhD poetry collection. And they said they’d like to publish it, and I was a bit gob smacked, because it’s not written yet, and yet, this publisher believes in my work enough to want to publish what I write. It felt like a jigsaw piece falling into place. I felt released. I am a writer, I shall write. I quickly put an ACE funding bid in, which won’t be successful, but I shall attempt another one when it’s not and I approached someone whose work I admire enormously and asked if they would mentor me with this new collection, as it’s something of a move away from what I have been writing about up to this point, I feel some guidance might needed. And she said yes, she said it sounded exciting and that too felt like a jigsaw piece falling into place. Perhaps this is what I should have been doing all along. I have drafted the start of a poem for the new project and tomorrow I am taking a day away from work-work to write that poem. What a brilliant feeling.
And then there’s been Spelt, which is a lot of work, but I love it. The content that we have is so good. It’s in the final stages now, we are laying it out, we are sorting out backer’s packages, we are preparing to go to print and it is so exciting. One of the themes I wanted to explore with Spelt is the liminal spaces where the rural creeps into the urban. So when I read Carole Bromley’s new Valley Press book, The Peregrine Falcons of York Minster, I was hoping there’d be a poem that I could highlight on my blog. And there was, there is, it’s the title poem. I’m so grateful that Carole’s work exists in the world. Her latest collection, in my opinion, is her best yet. she manages to be straight forward, direct, unsentimental, and yet able to write incredibly moving poems. I read this collection right through in one go, it’s beautiful and I highly recommend it, here’s the link to where you can buy it:
The peregrine falcons that nest on York Minster are quite famous. They are an urban success story, successfully producing chicks, feeding them on unsuspecting pigeons. They even have their own website: http://www.yorkperegrines.info/wp/where-to-see-the-peregrines/ . I don’t think I have ever seen a peregrine falcon in the wild. They look magnificent, especially when one sees them sitting between gargoyles, their own boggled eyed yellow stare somehow matching perfectly the gurning faces of the Minster carvings. How wonderful. When we are allowed out again I shall travel to York to see them. I shall sit in the little square with my binoculars and I shall watch them. Oh for the days when it is safe to travel and visit and explore. In the meantime, here’s Carole Bromley’s poem:
The Peregrine Falcons of York Minster
Best observed from Dean’s Park (bring binoculars and stand well back so you don’t get a crick in your neck), Mr and Mrs Minster are high up on the North West Tower, on the balcony or on a grotesque. The falcon prefers The Thoughtful Man who, for centuries, has stroked his chin and ignored the crowds below, the tiercel sits on the eroded carving the other side of the belfry but then he’s the smaller of the two, less powerful, more easy going with a neater and cleaner look even when fluffed up and relaxing. It’s the female who hunts the pigeons which nest on that ledge in Stonegate just behind the stone cat above JW Knowles Stained Glass, Leaded Lights, Decorations. Look out or your chicks will be snatched and whisked to a nest where the fledglings will soon take their first scary flight from the House of God.
What do I like about it? Firstly I like the directions, how the poem opens with a guide to looking at the birds. That placing of the narrator as guide allows for the poem to open up into place names, street names, drawing the reader into a familiarity. Even the choice of names for the birds; ‘Mr and Mrs Minster’ is familiar, and the reader is allowed to be familiar with them too. It gives the impression that the birds belong to everyone and no one, but they are not simply the Minster’s birds. Then that last line, The House of God; the minster which has been a background of carvings and stone work to the falcons suddenly becomes the huge impressive and very human thing that it is. Smashing poem.
How can we use close reading and poetry analysis to improve our own writing? Are YOU confident in how you read poetry, and how line breaks, use of white space, imagery, metaphor – the tools of the poet’s trade – can be utilised effectively in your own work?
Do you feel that, sometimes, you don’t ‘get’ what’s happening in a poem when you read it?
Then this is the course for you.
This course is designed to help you develop a close reading practice, supporting and guiding you through different styles of poetry and encouraging you to try your hand at these styles in a warm, supportive and pressure free environment.
How Does it Work?
There are three different parts to the course, designed to suit different income levels and ‘free time’ budgets.
Package One: A four week course including two writing prompts per week, example poems delivered to your email inbox five times a week, access to the closed facebook group AND an invitation to the end of course open mic.
Starting on the 1st March, each week for four weeks in March you will receive a set of guidance notes and two writing prompts over the week and each day you will receive an example poem with brief notes direct to your inbox. You’ll have access to the closed facebook group where course members can post their work safely, comment on other people’s work and chat about the course materials. I’ll be about daily to moderate the group. You’ll also get an invitation to the end of the course open mic, a chance to come and listen to poets on the course and even share your own work!
Price: A flat fee of £20
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Package Two: A four week course including two writing prompts per week, example poems delivered to your email inbox five times a week, access to the closed facebook group, an invitation to the end of course open mic. AND access to two zoom based, live mini workshops on Wednesday 10th and 24th 7-9pm UK time. Places are limited.
NOW SOLD OUT, SORRY!
Analyse This! The Half Day Workshop: This is an added extra to run alongside the course, but also as a stand alone event. You do not have to be a course member to book a place on this course. This is a half day zoom workshop (10am – 1pm) on the 27th March. It will involve close reading of poems, discussion and writing prompts in a safe, encouraging and nurturing environment.
If you’d like to help a disadvantaged writer to access any of these packages, please do. So far we’ve managed to help around thirty writers access courses and feedback they may not have been able to without your help!
January is a crazy, crazy busy month. Mainly because, on top of my freelance work (running courses, facilitating workshops, mentoring and critiquing poems) January seems to be the month of applications. I spent most of the first half of January bedded in to a PhD scholarship application. This is my second attempt at it, you might remember I had a go last year and was awarded a place at York University, which I have deferred as I can’t do the PhD without a full scholarship. I just don’t earn enough. It’s a full scholarship with fees paid and bursary or nothing, and as you can imagine, the entire potential PhD community all want this golden opportunity. I’m up against such stiff competition that I doubt that I’ll get it, but with the help of my friend Claire Cox, I managed to translate my proposal into something more academic in style AND big myself and my career up in the CV part of the form. I’m not generally very good at that sort of thing and looking back on last year’s proposal, I can see I really did not blow my own trumpet enough. Lot’s of ‘I think I ams’ rather than ‘I ams’.
Among all the work I set myself a target of having finished reading 52 books by the end of December 2021. Reading keeps me sane and I also view it as a sort of Continued Professional Development – I like to keep up to date with the poetry world so I can bring that knowledge into my workshops and courses.
Here’s what I read in January:
I started the year with this pamphlet, Heart Murmur, by Emma Storr, published by Calder Valley Press. It was a good start to the year. The poems in this collection are from the point of view of a doctor and I particularly liked the delicate phrasing and interesting, unusual view point. The poems dealing with patient examination from the doctor’s point of view are particularly strong; a clever mix of medical facts and lyrical poetry. You can buy this book direct from calder Valley poetry by following this link: https://caldervalleypoetry.com/heart-murmur-emma-storr/
Next up was Collected Body, by Valzhyna Mort, published by Copper Canyon Press. I felt like I’d gone on a journey with this collection which mixes prose poetry and poetry beautifully. The poetry is vivid, dream-like. The imagery floats across the collection making connections with itself. It’s a collection that feels alive. The prose poetry and poetry merge and absorb each other. It’s difficult to describe, the whole thing feels like it is being created as the reader is reading it. It is completely absorbing. You can but the book direct from the publisher by following this link: https://www.coppercanyonpress.org/books/collected-body-by-valzhyna-mort/
Next up was the journal The Poetry Review. I’m classing this as one of my 52 books. As usual it was an interesting mix of poetry, essays and reviews and while I didn’t find the poetry as enlivening as I usually do (maybe lockdown is having an effect on how I perceive the poetry world?) I did enjoy the essays, in particular an article by Charles Whalley. You can buy Poetry Review direct from the Poetry Society by following this link: https://poetrysociety.org.uk/publications/vol-110-no-4-winter-2020/
My final book of this month was Rebecca Goss’s collection Girl. I’ve long been a big fan of Rebecca’s work, her collection Her Birth is one I return to regularly. I wasn’t disappointed. I found the poems skilled and delicate, beautifully crafted and often unexpectedly moving. There’s an observational quality that brings the normal into something transcendental in Rebecca’s work. I’d highly recommend this book. You can buy it direct from the publishers, Carcanet, by following this link: https://www.carcanet.co.uk/cgi-bin/indexer?product=2251
I’ve started two other books but they’ll be finished in February.
I’ve also been busy organising review copies and distribution of the first signed copies of my own book. It’s such a strange feeling when your book enters the world and is read, there’s this weird hinterland between the book beginning to go out and getting any feedback, so I was extremely pleased and honoured the poet Kim Moore chose to feature a close reading of the title poem on her blog. It is wonderful when someone as established as Kim takes the time to do this. You can read Kim’s blog here: https://kimmoorepoet.wordpress.com
I’m a big fan of Kim’s work, and it was a lovely surprise to see the blog post as I’d actually used Kim as my ‘featured poet’ in my Women Writers Writing course that week. Kim’s poems always go down well in the workshops I run, so featuring on her blog is a real thrill.
Keep your eyes peeled for news of some new courses in March, which I’ll be launching in February, and in the Mean time I still have a few places on my Wednesday Writers group for February, grab your place here: https://wendyprattpoetry.com/shop/
I’m hoping to be posting here at least once a month with a poem from a collection that I’ve loved. Now that my PhD is finished, I’m finally finding a bit more time to read poetry collections and I’ve read some amazing books this month. I used to post a poem every Sunday, but I can’t keep up with the pace of that any more. But I think I can keep up with posting one poem a month along with an update of what I’ve been up to.
January Freelance Life
MENTORING January has been absolutely full-on. In a normal year, January is usually a pretty quiet month in the life of a freelancer. Most literary organisations are making plans for the rest of the year – there’s not many gigs around as people recover from Christmas (or at least this is what I’ve found in…
I received my author copies of the new book last week. Except for sending some copies out to the people who endorsed the book and a couple to friends who had been particularly supportive whilst I traversed the long journey to completing the book, I haven’t touched them. They are on my bookshelf, their lavender spines pleasingly neat. Next month the book will be launched officially, and I will begin selling some signed copies and it will be the end, properly the end, of me owning this story; the book will go out into the world and strangers will read it and form opinions on it, it will be reviewed; positively or negatively, it will be judged in competitions and will either be successful or not. The poetry, the stories, the craft in the book will be reimagined inside other people’s heads. They will connect with it, or they will read it and decide it is not for them. I have received a couple of bits of feedback from the people I’ve given it to, so far so good.
This is the part of the publishing journey where I begin to talk about the book in detail, whilst trying not to give too much of the content away. One of the pieces of feedback I received this week was from one of the people who endorsed it. She said (I’m paraphrasing) it was a story of love. I’ve also heard it described as a ‘survivor story’. It is both those things, I guess, in a lot of ways. But I have always been keen to ensure that it is a story of love, not loss, that the poems within it did more than just describe the trauma of losing my baby daughter. She died in 2010, during an emergency cesarian, a crash cesarian for which I had been anaesthetised. She was alive when I was rushed into theatre, dead when I came out and though I think about that moment, those moments, a lot. But the book is not about that. The book is really not about her death, or about the trauma of living with her death (an investigation revealed clinical negligence as partly to blame for her death, something that has been difficult to live with). I wanted to use poetry to describe something else, to draw associations between instinct, motherhood, grief and body ownership.
I don’t know what it is like for other poets, but when I write poetry, my own process is always to try to locate the thing that is beneath the words. What do I mean by that? For me poetry is the thing that emerges from between the lines, from between the thoughts that are created out of a need to define or rationalise life. Poetry is a translative process, part of our big brained human evolution. We need creativity to manage our thoughts, we need that translative device to make sense of the instinctive animal part of us which sits below the higher thinking, problem solving part of us. Poetry, then, sees the animal that is the instinct beneath the skin that is higher thinking self, it sees the truth beneath the words, the truth of ourselves. That’s how I see it.
I wanted to capture that instinctive self that we so rarely see. The places where we see it most are in the experiences of love, of grief, the experiences that cause us to transcend from the neat lines of humanity and function on and in the state of instinctive behaviour. Pregnancy can be one of those experiences. Not for everyone, of course, but my experience of pregnancy was one of experiencing the nature of my body. What I mean by that is that my body became a natural thing, a strange machine of cells and blood and instinct for which I had no control and didn’t need to control it. My body built another body, without me having to intervene in any way at all. It still amazes me to think I built an entire other person, once. I’m thinking of the instincts in pregnancy, which have to run alongside the mix of emotions and thoughts that the higher thinking brain gives us: the insecurity, the feelings of being overwhelmed of not knowing what we are supposed to do, the newness of knowing you are looking after someone else, before they are even born. This is a strange land, where the instinctive behaviours of pregnancy share the same space as the higher thinking brain. I’m thinking of cravings and an old friend who, whilst pregnant, was cutting the stems on daffodils to put in a vase. She’d had a craving for celery whilst pregnant and whilst cutting the daffodils she had had to step away into another room and call her husband to bring her celery because she was certain that she would start eating the daffodil stems otherwise. My cravings were for vinegar. I made excuses to leave my microbiology bench and go and buy packets of Tyrols salt and vinegar crisps which I would eat, hurriedly, secretly, in an ecstasy of craving, behind the door in the cloak room. There was no way I would be able to manage without the vinegar. I ate jalapeño peppers straight from the jar. I soaked sausage rolls in vinegar. I can still feel that intensity of craving.
I wanted to capture that, in the book. And I wanted to capture the doubling up of the instinctive animal of, for want of a better term, motherhood, with the instincts of grief. And I wanted to talk about the body and how women in particular are shamed or sexualised, how we never quite own our own bodies. All of that. Mostly, I wanted to tell a story about an alternative version of motherhood, a version that captures the grief and love of losing a baby, and of not having the rainbow baby; of accepting that whatever journey you are on, it has relevance, it has value. To lose a baby is not a failure. I am proud of the person I have become, not despite this long, long journey through grief, but because of it. this experience has changed everything in my life, has changed me, but my daughter was a gift to me, the experience of loving someone so much, almost in an entirely instinctive, animal way, allowed me to grow as a person and allowed me to accept the instinctive part of myself as not something to be repressed, but something to be celebrated. It has led to an interest in the instinctive nature f grief, of shared grief, of burial practices and archeological landscapes which are informing my current work. I wanted this book to be my story, but I didn’t want it to be a series of events depicting that story. I didn’t want it to be a Tragedy Thy Name is Wendy story, I wanted to use my experience to explore the nature of instinct in relation to pregnancy, motherhood, body ownership and the grief of baby loss. I wanted to offer this experience up to a wider conversation and, for me, poetry is the way to do that. I think I have succesfully done this. I am pleased with the work I have produced and I guess, once it is out there, once other people begin to translate it and own it, they will tell me whether I have been successful in their view. It won’t matter, though I’ll try not to be crushed by negative feedback. I know I have done what I needed to do here. I hope you enjoy the book.
The other night, Chris and I watched a TV programme about 2020, a comedy. Every few minutes we’d exclaim ‘Oh wow, I’d forgotten that happened too’ or ‘was that this year as well?!’ What a year. The year started off with Australia burning; the world watching as scorched koalas limped out of ruined forests. An incessantly angry toddler squatted in the white house, there were storms, flooding, a world wide pandemic, life on Venus? (I missed this one, it must have been buried under covid news: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-02785-5) hope for a vaccine, an actual vaccine, eat out, stay in, drinky winky, cheeky pint, oops, covid’s up again, open the schools, shut the schools, the ‘drive up to Barnard castle on one tank of petrol with a toddler who doesn’t need to wee on the way’ challenge, tik tok, dancing, clapping, screaming, dying, bodies being shuffled into mass graves in New York, cuddly pandemic bugs, Jo Wicks, window visits, nurses with red marks across their faces, nurses crying in their cars because of food shortages, the great bog roll stockpiling, thank god for wine clubs, the privileged flying to Switzerland for a jolly and sneaking back in the dark, rainbows and NHS ribbons in the village windows, a pebble on the pub’s doorstop painted with ‘stay happy’, people making masks, people sewing PPE, people stepping up, covidiots, riots, singing, OAPs learning to use FaceTime, elbow bumping, online open mics, online everything. What a year. My husband had a stroke and I thought I’d lose him. I sat in the car park of the hospital facing the hill beneath which my daughter is buried. This was the same hospital who had been held responsible, through clinical negligence, for her death. I had to trust them with my husband. He cried when he phoned me to tell me it was definitely a stroke, that he was being taken to York. I couldn’t comfort him. I went into survival mode the full year and properly came apart, burnt out and exhausted in the week my husband caught coronavirus, a couple of weeks ago. It still wasn’t, personally, the worst year, that will always be the year my daughter died, but it came right up there.
In 2020, I survived. My husband survived. And being forced to confront my fears and go and sit in the car park of the hospital, to deal with staff there, to entrust my husband’s care to them has helped to fix something, I think, that was broken in me. Or at least it has allowed me to prove to myself that I can do it, that the fear will not envelope me entirely.
In 2020 I was one of the winners of the Poetry Business Book and Pamphlet Competition. I have a full collection being published in 2021, it will be a real thing next year. This collection is about survival and acceptance and it feels right that next year, whether by zoom or in real life, I’ll be reading from it, launching it, celebrating it.
In 2020 I decided it was time to start my own magazine and successfully raised the amount I needed to get the first issue of Spelt started, it will launch in March, all being well, and I am already proud of what’s been achieved with my lovely co ed and technical wizard Steve Nash. You can find out about Spelt here: https://speltpoetry.wordpress.com
In 2020 I read so many brilliant books, I can’t name them here. I really ramped up my reading and started telling writers when I’d enjoyed their work. It became a satisfying, life enriching thing to do and next year I’m setting myself a target of reading 52 books.
In 2020 I met and worked with many, many wonderful course attendees, and mentored some truly exceptional writers. I worked on a memoir of a Scarborough fisherman and absolutely loved helping him tell his story. I critiqued a novella which I enjoyed so much I forgot I was supposed to be critiquing and just read it.
In 2020 I leaned to use a strimmer and a petrol mower, and surprised myself by how much I loved hacking back the massively over grown back garden. I also finally got around to sorting my patio out, I smashed the old hutches which had been part of my old life as a small animal carer, to pieces and it felt cathartic and deliciously unhinged to be battering the hell out of a rotten hutch with a sledge hammer. I made a good job of the patio, planted bamboo and ferns in pots, made it a little oasis of calm and when Chris was still in the early stages of stroke recovery, we’d sit outside in the evening with a glass of wine and listen to the blackbirds.
In 2020 I got over my fear of zoom, and I taught for York Centre of Lifelong Learning. I can honestly say my Thursday writing group was a real tonic, they were so enthusiastic it made me enthusiastic. I have more courses lined up for next year (link here: https://wendyprattpoetry.com/readings-courses-events-stuff/) and it made me want to run some more smaller writing groups via zoom.
In 2020 I lost work: my column, my play, live gigs, readings, paid opportunities, face to face teaching. I ramped up all my other work and worked myself to exhaustion, alongside the stress and anxiety of Chris being poorly. But being over worked to burnout has allowed me to reflect on how I can avoid doing the same thing again and I have designed an annual leave system for myself that ensures I take time off. If it’s in the planner and ‘officially booked’ I am more likely to take the time off. I’ll keep you posted on whether it works. I’ve looked at the work I enjoy and lost the work I don’t and started charging a more realistic fee for mentoring, meaning I can take less mentees and take them over a longer period of time. I’m already enjoying this system and have felt energised chatting to my new mentee who starts in January.
In 2020 I set up my office, my ‘room of one’s own’, though it is yet to be decorated. I sat in my office and watched the trees turn and watched the geese flying over. I’m watching the setting sun burning the tops of the trees as I am writing this, right now. It has helped me to take myself seriously as a writer.
In 2020 I talked to bird watchers and nature enthusiasts in the lanes where they walked during lockdown. In 2020, people who had never read, picked up books. I watched theatres fighting to save themselves, and each other. I watched people wanting to help and not knowing what to do and they did what they could. People volunteered. I ended up volunteering for vaccine trials, but was never selected. I feel better knowing I offered, at least.
My memories of the pandemic are of the anxiety, of the climbing numbers, of the post apocalyptic feeling of queueing outside the supermarket, but also of the way that people started to say ‘stay safe’ to each other, and really mean it.
And so ends my rambling reflection. Thank you to my brilliant course attendees, to my mentees, to my colleagues and the poetry community, thank you to friends who didn’t judge me for late night drunken emails and texts, thank you to the people who brought us shopping and to my bestie in particular who brought me Prosecco and Christmas tree shaped crumpets when we were self isolating. Thank you to the people who made me laugh, and those that made me emotional with their stoicism, their ingenuity, their kindness and compassion.
In January I will be re-running my popular course: Beginnings and Endings, with all new prompts and two open mic/get together sessions via zoom.
What’s it About?
January is the start of the year, a time to refocus and look at what we want to achieve over the months to come. This course will encourage you to think about how your work begins and how it ends: first lines, first paragraphs, first stanzas, last paragraphs endings and that crucial last line. It’s all about the hook at the beginning and the punch at the end. But we’ll also be reflecting on, and writing about, your own personal beginnings, your first times, the endings in your life that have meant something to you as well as looking outwards to the beginnings of civilisations, the ends of eras and the way we, as human animals, process the grief of endings.
How it Works
Starting on January 1st, this course will run until 31st of January. Each week you’ll receive course notes that explain the theme for the week, and five days a week, Monday to Friday, you will receive a brand new prompt, delivered straight into your email box, aimed at getting you putting pen to paper, fingers to keyboard to get a first draft of a poem, a piece of fiction or a piece of non fiction written. There will be two friendly open mic./ get togethers during the course too. This is a no pressure course. You don’t have to produce anything if you don’t want to and we all know how life gets in the way sometimes so there is no need to post anything in the closed facebook group, which you will automatically be invited to.
The course is aimed at any level of writer, from beginners to more experienced writers. You’ll be able to join in discussions in the closed Facebook group, which will be moderated daily by myself. The group is friendly and welcoming and you’ll receive basic tips and advice from myself alongside lots of encouragement.
How to Sign Up
I now have a simple payment method in my shop (follow this link: https://wendyprattpoetry.com) where you can make a payment to sign up. If the email address you want your course materials sent to is different to your PayPal address, let me know by emailing me at email@example.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 Christmas gift that would be! If you are a writer who would not be able to partake in this course due to financial difficulties, drop me a line at wendyprattfreelancewriter.com for details of available sponsored places. You’ll not be interrogated.
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 plus a special £90 option which entitles you to more detailed editing suggestions on up to four pieces of work at the end of the course. 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:
Sponsored Place –
If you would need to make a choice between the course and essentials like food and electricity, then you are most likely entitled to a sponsored place. Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org for a chat. I don’t interrogate, this is an honesty system and giving writers a leg up is important.
If £20 is what you might spend on a takeaway and a bottle of wine, this is probably the tier for you.
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.
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.