Thursday, 18 February 2021

Goodbye to a good writing friend

After the bitter cold of the weekend and then the howling gales of earlier this week, this morning seemed like Spring Incarnate! I've written before about the effect rivers have on me - both soothing and stimulating - and the Wye this morning, lined by catkins, snowdrops and wild daffodils, was lovely. I can't think of a better way to start a day's writing than walking for an hour or so in that setting; I'm always aware of how fortunate I am to have it almost literally on our doorstep.

Tomorrow I have a less welcome event in the day - the funeral of my Catchword colleague Richard Hensley. He was an immensely popular man with a wide circle of friends and acquaintances, but in the present circumstances attendance at funerals is so limited. I'm really pleased that I shall be able to be there to represent all his friends at Catchword, a group he belonged to and to which he contributed so much over many years. He was a constructive and generous critic, a great source of scientific information should you need help with a tricky plot, fun to be with - and a prolific writer. I'm so delighted that he was able to see his magnum opus, the Star Stone trilogy, successfully published; I heard him read extracts from all three books at several different events and I'll always remember his beautiful bass voice and his commanding delivery. He'll be very much missed by us all.  

Sunday, 17 January 2021

In the right direction

Out walking the dog early this morning I came across the first snowdrops I've seen this year, and lots of daffodils not far from opening. Last week I saw some early lambs in the fields. The first signs of spring always raise my spirits tremendously but this year doubly so. We may have a fair bit of winter still to go before temperatures rise and the sun makes a concerted effort, but just to know that we're moving in the right direction now cheers the days along no end.

It's been an interesting week with two great workshops alongside the wonderful poets Ben Ray and Anna Saunders. Ben's was entitled "Journeys Into And Out Of Ourselves" and Anna's "Our Imagined Futures"; both fitted the current situation perfectly and both produced some fascinating work. I was also able to attend the Gloucestershire Poetry Society's Crafty Crows evening where David Clarke was headlining, supported by my Women Aloud colleague Cathy Baker. On the page Cathy's poems, with their fantastic richness of language, always move me greatly, but to hear her reading them takes them to another level. A really special evening.

Friday, 1 January 2021

New Year, new book!

 After nine months of lockdowns and restrictions, I think we've recognised that we can't defer all our hopes and plans. They may need reappraising, they may need adapting, but we have to drive them forward one way or another, we have to keep our momentum going. So much hope rests on the vaccines now becoming available but life as we knew it won't reemerge overnight and living can't be put on hold indefinitely. 

So - new year, new book! I'm delighted that Waymarks, my poetry collection published by Graffiti Books, is available as from today. The current situation precludes the launch originally planned of course, but as soon as a suitable degree of "normality" resumes, there will certainly be a more appropriate celebration!

You can find my books for purchase at

Wishing you all the very best of luck with your ventures in 2021. Here's to a brighter time ahead for us all. 

Thursday, 24 December 2020

Christmas greetings

For too many of us there will be an empty place at the table this Christmas and many of us will feel that there's little to celebrate just now anyway. In Wales yesterday we had flooding to add to the multiple problems that the end of 2020 has brought. But this morning the sun rose in the most beautiful dawn sky - here's hoping that it heralds a brighter time ahead for all of us.

Wherever you are, however you are holding on in the midst of the chaos going on all around, I'm wishing you and your families the best you can possibly make of Christmas 2020 - and an infinitely better one in 2021.

Thursday, 3 December 2020

The Resilience Readings

I was only able to make one of the three Resilience Readings evenings last week but I wouldn't have missed it for anything. Organised by Freedom from Torture and supported by such national figures as Daljit Nagra, Imtiaz Dharker and Ian McMillan, the readings showcased the writing of survivors of horrific pasts alongside the winners of the Resilience poetry competition. My Women Aloud colleague Frances March had been highly commended in the competition for her beautiful poem Willowherb, written after hearing an interview with a Syrian refugee; it was lovely to hear her reading it.  But the highlight of the evening had to be the three featured victims of torture, who, through the organisation's weekly Write to Life programmes, had found the voices that had been all but obliterated in their own environments. Their testimony was incredibly moving.

You can find excerpts from all three evenings on the Freedom from Torture website; they're well worth having a look at. And you'll also find lots about the organisation's tremendous work in providing therapy and fostering hope for the future, a future too many of their service users almost never had.

Monday, 23 November 2020

A chance encounter

It's strange how we sometimes stumble by accident or coincidence on things that go on to become very important in our lives. People too at times, people we never expected to encounter but who we come across and who stay with us in one way or another. If I hadn't been researching a particular folk tale for a radio script last week I would perhaps never have come across a book that's affected me deeply - and through it met a family whose story is spellbinding.

The Life of Rebecca Jones was translated by Lloyd Jones from the book O! Tyn y Gorchudd by Angharad Price which won the prose medal at the National Eisteddfod in 2002. It's based on the author's own family history and centres on a farm at Maesglasau in mid Wales, spanning the whole of the twentieth century. The farm is as much a character in the book as Rebecca and her three blind brothers; the description of the hills and the crags, the valley and its stream, the vegetation and the wildlife has to be some of the best, most keenly observed nature writing I've ever read. The book brings Welsh history alive, a changing world seen through the eyes of a product "of a Welsh chapel childhood". And the last page - as I now know others have found it - was truly devastating.  A brilliant, brilliant book that I am so thankful to have come across.

In my own valley here autumn now feels as if it's beginning to turn into winter - the leaves no longer rustle under your feet but cling in muddy clumps to your boots and the mornings are decidedly icy. A walk on the Blorenge last week was exhilarating but very wet and windy - so I was amazed to spot wild swimmers braving the choppy waters at Keepers Pond! On my morning walk with the dog I leave the river to the ducks and just admire the autumnal mists from the banks ...

Thursday, 12 November 2020

Row, row, row your boat ...



I was interested to read some research earlier this week about children's reading; apparently in one study children who had known eight nursery rhymes by heart by the age of four were amongst the best readers (and spellers) in their class by the time they were eight. There wasn't enough of a discussion in the article as to what other possible aspects could have influenced that achievement, and of course many nursery rhymes might now be considered questionable on the grounds of their approach to gender etc. but the underlying premise - that rhythmic recitation is actively beneficial as well as a fun activity - is one in which I firmly believe. Next week is World Nursery Rhyme Week with lots of activities planned for families all around the world. I have very fond memories of my own experience of nursery rhymes, both as a child and as a parent, and I'm convinced it laid the foundations for my love of language and poetry in particular.

Not that I want to think about Christmas yet (I'm afraid I'm a bit Bah, humbug! about it all) but I did come across a couple of other great ideas for children recently. The wonderful Cant a Mil Bookshop in Whitchurch in Cardiff is offering what it calls an Advent Calendar of Welsh Books, twenty four wrapped and numbered children's books (specially chosen with an individual's age and interests in mind) as an alternative to the chocolate variety. And a writing friend is writing and illustrating a special story for her children with chapters to read with them each day in December - perhaps a family tradition in the making there!