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Becoming a writer by Helen Beedham

halenI’ve always had an ambition to write, specifically a fictional story for children. I have the title, lead character and plot intention (if not an actual plot) clear in my mind.  But aside from sporadic attempts on holidays to start writing it, my masterpiece has hovered patiently in the wings for many years, unformed, waiting to be told. And yet to my surprise, this week I find myself penning the final chapter of a business book, The Future of Time, due to be published early next year.  It’s making me ponder: what form does a story take? What does a storyteller look like?

My English teacher at school advised me not to do English A-level alongside French and Spanish. Apparently Maths would be far more useful. I disagreed then and still do now (I never used trigonometry or calculus again).  But being the obedient type, I obligingly sweated over Maths instead. Somehow, despite exploring vast quantities of international literature during my A-levels and my degree, the idea lodged in my head that I wasn’t cut out for creative writing or storytelling.  That was reinforced by my career choices: I’ve always worked in the world of business, not books.

After a brief but entertaining flirtation with retail at Harrods, I spent 15 years in management consulting helping big UK and multinational companies to implement large-scale changes in their organisations and HR functions.  This might sound dry and impersonal but it was the opposite.  Yes there were numbers involved but mainly, it was about people and human dramas playing out in the workplace. Changes that are imposed on us in our work lives – like mergers and restructurings – can be exciting, stressful and sometimes traumatic.  Our jobs enable us to pay our bills but for many of us, our work also shapes an essential part of our identity and purpose. So we care deeply when we discover our job is at risk, our team is being re-organised or our work responsibilities reshaped.

I conducted hundreds of focus groups and interviews with people in all kinds of roles and at all levels, listening to their views, concerns and hopes for the future. Feelings and emotions frequently ran high. People needed to tell someone their story, their anecdotes about working there and how they felt about what was happening. Some were excited, others fearful, others angry. I listened and listened.  I felt a weight of responsibility to help their voices be heard. Not to gloss over the details and the impact, but to reflect these back to business leaders. To remind those leaders of the humanity they held in their hands, as well as their business plans.  Not just to report the facts but the emotions and experiences that added depth and meaning. The hopes and fears, questions and ideas that I’d heard. I wanted to honour what people had shared with me and to amplify their voices. It’s not easy to be heard in a workforce of thousands.  Over the years I wrote countless reports, presentations and communications for many different audiences, never thinking I was storytelling.

I continued to listen to people’s stories in my next role running professional networks in the City of London. I heard high-profile businessmen and women talk about how they’d reached the lofty heights of their careers. I spoke with people who were just starting out, who’d fought tooth and nail to land their first job in a prestigious firm. People in their 30s and 40s returning apprehensively to work after a career break or a new baby. Older workers what their late stage career might look like. I interviewed, wrote articles and white papers, spoke at conferences and to the press, brought people together to discuss topics of mutual interest. Still I didn’t think I was storytelling.

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Now I work independently, speaking and advising on creating workplaces where everyone can flourish.  And yes, I write too. My business book is about how organisations can manage working time better and by doing so, boost the productivity, diversity and wellbeing of their workforce.  Writing this book and reflecting on the creative experience has led me to realise that I am indeed a story teller and I always have been. I tell other people’s stories. I collect them, weave them together, see the common threads, look curiously into the gaps. And with my book, I’m telling my own story of how our world of work could change for the better.

Maybe one day, sooner than I think, I’ll write that children’s novel too.

***

If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog, do check out other articles by Helen at http://www.helenbeedham.com or connect with her on Linked In and Twitter.

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Against the Grain Press – Sizzling Summer Sale

Against the Grain Press is giving away a pamphlet with every copy of Arrival at Elsewhere – the Saboteur Awards shortlisted Best Collaboration. A hundred voices speak with elegance and cohesion in this beautifully sculpted book. The presses poets include Denise Bundred, Chaucer Cameron, Benjamin Cusden, Olga Dermott-Bond, Michelle Diaz, Carl Griffin, Anna Kisby, S.A. Leavesley, Jane Lovell, Sean Magnus Martin, Cheryl Moskowitz, Colin Pink, Natalie Shaw and Claire Walker.

Follow the link to their site HERE

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Canterbury Festival POET OF THE YEAR COMPETITION 2021

 

 

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Managed by the Festival Friends, the competition has grown from small beginnings in 2007 and now attracts entries locally, nationally and internationally; Our Poet of the Year 2020 was local poet Charlotte Cornell, and in 2019 it was Mara Adamitz Scrupe from Philadelphia, USA.

Entries are £5 per poem and must be accompanied by an entry form.

All work is judged anonymously. A longlist (approximately 35 poems) will be announced later in the year and published in an anthology. From this list a shortlist will be drawn with  the selected poets invited to read their work at the Awards Evening, taking place on National Poetry Day, 7 October (Covid-19 restrictions allowing).

The winner, announced at the Awards, will become the Poet of the Year 2021 and receive a prize of £200. Second place receives £100 and third place £50. At the Awards Evening there are two more prizes; the Best-Read Poem receives a bottle of sparkling wine, and the People’s Choice- as chosen by the audience from the anthology – receives £25.

Further details HERE

Listen to last year’s winner…

 

 

 

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In Conversation with Chaucer Cameron

First published on the Against the Grain Press blog….

What was the initial concept and how did it develop?

Several years ago, I wrote a monologue called ‘The Raid’, which was staged as part of New Writers programme at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham. ‘The Raid’ was based on the 1978 police raid of the brothel in Streatham, hosted by former madam, Cynthia Payne. (Cynthia’s life was also depicted in a film called Personal Services with Julie Walters.) 

I followed this in 2016 with ‘Brothel Keeping in Suburbia’ which I read at an International Women’s Day event. The development of the concept took time because traumatic experiences are often received in delay – it took over thirty years to achieve the emotional distance that was needed to be able to reflect through these events in my poetry.

I then attended a writing group in London and took some of my new poems there. It was not unsurprising that the group I had joined was based near my old haunts and my old flat where I’d lived in London: Farleigh Road, Clissold Park, Kings Cross – which are mentioned in the poems. This geographical space triggered many more poems. I felt at home and I was able to start writing what is now In an Ideal World I’d Not Be Murdered.  

Can you tell me how In an Ideal World I’d Not be Murdered came into being? 

I laid all the poems out on the floor to see how they spoke to each other. As I was going through them my biggest surprise was that the bulk of the collection was written using a very different voice to the one that I am most familiar with. I am a lyric poet by default. I tend towards the experimental, cross genre, free verse. I also approach subjects by going in slant. But this writing was radically different, it was narrative, direct, it employed characters and had a plot. Through the characters not only was I able to re-enact the past, but also to understand what happened and speak about it – although in these poems the boundaries between reality and fiction are blurred!

Crystal was one of the first characters on the scene and she was fierce and feisty! She had her own voice and demanded she be featured in her own book. The title In an Ideal World I’d Not Be Murdered is taken from the title of the penultimate poem in the publication, where Crystal sets out her own manifesto for an ideal world – full of contradiction and ambiguity:

Crystal knew what she wanted and that was somewhere quiet, but not so quiet I get
murdered.

Other characters trauma-wounds are experienced and displayed through the body, but are also expressions of fragmented memory, such as:      

Ash held off the stab wound
through her laugh. 

in an

Order copies available from our SHOP

Chaucer Cameron is a poet and poetry filmmaker. Her poems have been published in various journals, magazines & online, including Under the Radar, Poetry Salzburg, The North, Blue Nib, The Interpreter’s House, Poetry Shed, Ink Sweat & Tears. Chaucer’s poetry-films have been screen-published in some of the growing number of journals and sites that are now accepting mixed media, such as Atticus Review.

She has performed at Ledbury Poetry Festival as part of a live performance combining British Sign Language poetry and video poetry (2017), Bath Fringe Festival Still Points Moving World performance writing exhibition (2014), and her poetry and monologues have been performed at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham.

She has co-edited three poetry anthologies: Salt on the Wind – poetry in response to Ruth Stone (Elephant’s Footprint, 2015) The Museum of Light (Yew Tree Press, 2014), Nothing in the Garden, (Elephant’s Footprint, 2014).

Praise for In An Ideal World I’d Not be Murdered

“These poems ring out like gunshots in the night; they will wake you from your sleep. Yet despite its distilled directness, this book is lifted by both mystery and surprise. Listen for the songs emerging from the dark centre of this transformative work of experience and survival.’  Jacqueline Saphra.

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The Frogmore Prize closes 31st May 2021

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FROGMORE POETRY PRIZE

The Frogmore Poetry Prize (sponsored by the Frogmore Foundation) was founded in 1987 and has been awarded annually since then. The Prize money is currently 250 guineas but the true Prize is the kudos of joining a select band of winners which includes Caroline Price, John Latham, Tobias Hill and Mario Petrucci. Many leading poets – Carole Satyamurti, Pauline Stainer, Linda France, Paul Groves, John Mole, Sophie Hannah, Elizabeth Bartlett and Susan Wicks among them – have adjudicated the Prize and all winners have been published in the pages of The Frogmore Papers.

clare bestAdjudicator: Clare Best’s latest collection of poems is Each Other (Waterloo Press 2019). Her prose memoir The Missing List was published by Linen Press in 2018 and her collection Excisions was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize 2012.

https://clarebest.co.uk/

To enter and for more details follow the LINK

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Of Hearts – Karen Dennison

Screenshot2021-04-13at13.45.07Karen Dennison’s Of Hearts opens with a poem about Point Nemo, the ‘spacecraft graveyard’ and furthest place from land in the ocean. The poem sets the tone for a pamphlet which explores our tiny place in a vast, overwhelming universe. It is full of crisp, lucent, technically agile and clever poems of cosmic longing. Of Hearts is a deeply enjoyable pamphlet from a poet with her eyes pressed to a telescope, searching until ‘the stars switch off’.

Copies available from Broken Sleep Books

contact https://kdennison.wordpress.com/contact/  for a signed copy. £6 including postage in the UK.

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New Beginnings Poetry Competition – Renard Press

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NEW BEGINNINGS

Over the last year we’ve been living in a suspended state of fear and confusion, and we are all fed up. Political discourse has been toxic, relationships strained, and it feels as though we need some sort of ‘goal’ – something to look, or work, towards.

New Beginnings is a poetry competition seeking to celebrate this theme of New Beginnings, open to all those who feel their voice was silenced in 2020 – from anyone in the world, any age. They want the resulting anthology – scheduled for September – to be a celebration of the end of the toxic aspects of 2020 and the pandemic, to be a glimmer of hope for the future and a manifesto for change.

FULL DETAILS ON THEIR SITE


Competition opens on Monday 15th February
Competition closes on Diversity Day (Friday 21st May)
Longlist announced on Friday 25th June

Entry cost: free

Open to: anyone who feels their voice was silenced in 2020. Anywhere in the world, any age. Rules →

Poetry length: up to 100 lines or 750 words, only one (must be previously unpublished) poem per applicant.

1st prize: £200
2nd prize: £100

Special mentions at the judges’ discretion.

All of the poems on the shortlist will be published in a volume, and everyone included will receive a copy of the book, and will be invited to take place in an online launch event.

MEET THE JUDGES

Photo © Jo Cotterill

MIRIAM HALAHMY

Miriam was a teacher for 25 years, and, having worked with refugees and asylum seekers in schools, her writing engages with historical and contemporary issues that affect children across time – most notably the plight of refugees. Her young-adult novel, Hidden, was a Sunday Times Children’s Book of the Week, was nominated for the Carnegie Medal and has been adapted for the stage. Saving Hanno, Miriam’s new book, is about a boy who comes on the Kindertransport and reflects on the grief and loss experienced by refugee children.

Photo © Denise Rawls

DENISE RAWLS

Denise is a writer, based in east London. She is an alumni of Spread the Word’s Development Programme, the first chapters of her novel in progress achieved ‘highly commended’ in the Writers & Artists Working-Class Writers’ Prize and she is contributing to Common Gossip, a working-class anthology. Outside of writing, she has been vocal about the lack of career progression across the civil service for black and brown women on BBC’s Women’s Hour and Sky News. As well as writing her novel, Marisol’s Baby, Denise works for the National Theatre, where she leads the organisation’s communications team.

Photo © Hannah Fields

HANNAH FIELDS

Hannah Fields is a writer, editor and publisher from Texas. She founded the independent publishing company, Folkways Press, in 2020, and launched the company with an anthology, We Are Not Shadows, as its inaugural publication. The anthology selected writing from women of all ages and backgrounds and covers a wide range of topics – including issues of race, gender, sexuality, trauma, adversity, disability, and more. She has worked on various publications, from children’s books to award-winning magazines, along with various publishers in the US and UK.

Photo © Tom Denbigh

TOM DENBIGH

Tom Denbigh lives in Bristol with an obscene number of books. He is the first Bristol Pride Poet Laureate and a BBC 1Extra Emerging Artist Talent Search winner. He has performed at the Royal Albert Hall and festivals around the UK, and has brought poetry to Brighton and London Prides. He is a producer at Milk Poetry and has facilitated writing workshops for groups of students from the UK and abroad (he is particularly proud of his work with queer young people). His debut collection …and then she ate him is out now with Burning Eye Books.

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It’s no longer a Sweet Treat – Hideko Sueoka

“I have an interest in ekphrastic poetry and bought your book, Eva and George: Sketches in Pen and Brush which inspired me to write the poem below. It was a good chance for me to make a poem based on your war poem ‘Turnip Winter: 1917’. When I read it, soon my grandmother’s tale came up to mind: the hard time of WWII in Japan. So my poem relates to WWII in Japan: a sort of war poem. At that time, there was a serious problem of a shortage of food. People wanted to eat rice but couldn’t. Thus, people ate sweet potatoes that was harvested much more than rice.” Hideko Sueoka

It’s No Longer A Sweet Treat

A lack of food was endless during WWII.
Anyone starved anywhere, similarly
to the Turnip Winter. Instead of a turnip
a sweet potato was a staple diet.
 
No more death, never wage war.
 
Terror made each night longer.
Everyone ate sweet potatoes as dinner
below a bare bulb, instead of rice
without a murmur in the ustulate world.
 
No more death, never wage war.

eva-and-george-coverEva and George – Sketches in Pen and Brush (Pindrop Press, 2013) 978-0957329034, £7.99
A poetic account of the life of the artist George Grosz told through the voice of his wife, Eva Peter. An affecting sequence, Morley impresses with a startling account of  a private and public existence in a Germany transforming itself after the First World War. Stark images of despots and outcasts mirror the artist’s paintings, but Morley’s engaging account of passion and malice, and dramatic exploration of Grosz’s inspiration, adds more colour to a richly imaginative collection. Poetry Book Society

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Yes But What Is This? What Exactly? by Ian McMillan – reviewed by Rennie Halstead

ianYes But What Is This? What Exactly?                   Ian McMillan

Smith|Doorstop £6.00

ISBN: 978-1-912196-37-1

This delicious pamphlet from Ian McMillan, brings a smile in the dark days of Covid lockdown with wry humour and ironic observations of everyday life.

“Seeing a Goal Scored from a Passing Train” (p20) examines those split second moments when a train is slowed for a signal, and the observer can watch a slice of some-one else’s life passing in front of them like the audience in the cinema.

The train slows, almost stops. Drizzle’s stories
Are stale and repetitious and the traveller
Wipes a hole in the window steam with his sleeve;

Here the action caught is a football match – or rather several football matches. McMillan captures the scene outside the carriage window, and the significance of the scoring of a goal is celebrated by the unseen observer. Sometimes the ‘goal is a point of sudden change; / A new route found on an old map.’ At other times ‘a memory you always knew you’d have / Even before the goal was scored.’

The game itself is well observed. One player is  a ‘bloke who looks like he’s made of mud’  whilst the unfortunate goalkeeper:

[…]     flaps like a scarf in the breeze,
Wafts nothing except the ball’s ghost
And the striker runs away, mouth open in joy.

McMillan points up the reactions of the rather staid passengers on his train when he celebrates the goal with the players he is watching:

I stand and whoop and the train’s dullards
Stare at me like I’m a cave painting come to life.
I don’t care. It’s a goal. The train creaks, moves.

The humour of “Tone Found in Sonnet: a Murder Mystery” (p7) takes us on a manhunt through a combination of anagram and wordplay:

Body found in suit.
Horse found in shore.
Hope found in hoopoe.
Man found in woman.

The opening line of each stanza breaks the anagram mould, building to the sadness of the  ending:

Ache found in heart.
Man found in Manitoba.

“Adult Audio” (p12) tells the story of mother-in-law’s confused attempts to use the television’s remote control to entertain two of her grandchildren. The children sit round her ‘Like she is gathering peas that have been shelled’ as she looks for CBBC . Instead she finds AUDIO and then ADULT! as ‘the grandchildren / Sit like chess pieces’ before finding the Shipping Forecast which:

[…]     calms its way out of the screen
On Radio 4. The ADULT shipping forecast,
Obviously. All those wet places.

“Between Junction 35a and Junction 36” (p9) captures the moment a group of immigrants jump from a lorry parked on the hard shoulder of a motorway. The curtain at the back of the truck:

[…]                opened theatrically
And they tumbled out, running
Into the evening-scribbled bushes

McMillan describes them, as ‘Scattered chess pieces’,  and ‘Pepper ground onto cold soup’ as they flee the motorway for the cover of darkness.

Even the bushes were frightening
In a language nobody knew.

There is no judgement here. McMillan is presenting a scene, full of random haste, an apparently uncoordinated rush into darkness in a bid for the last stage in a search for freedom.

“Three Flat Caps”  (p15)  is my favourite poem in the pamphlet. The poem opens with aggressive / dismissive humour:

The mining industry, eh? What a bastard.
Men dropped at the speed of dropped kecks
Down a hole in the ground  […]

before focusing on the three flat caps at the bottom of the stairs that are full of memories of the dead miner:

[…]                                                     Take one

Of the flat caps and listen carefully: his breathing,
Like fingernails across wire mesh, like rain
On the bratish roof of the shed, still there
In that space behind the neb.

and we are there, hearing the miner struggling for breath as the coal dust accumulates in his lungs over a lifetime of work. The caps are a testament, a memoir of a lost husband and father taken by pneumoconiosis and the admonition is:

[…]                                         Don’t ever
Put it on. Don’t let the grandkids put it on.

The caps are more than items of clothing. In this setting they have become ‘cultural artefacts’ as important as memorial statues of Churchill or the picture of the Queen that appears on stamps:

You lick the back of every time
You send a card to a grieving widow.

The pamphlet is as lucid and well written as one would expect from such an accomplished poet. The humour, and the throwaway last lines catch the reader, makes them think twice and pick out a more serious meaning behind the apparently simple language.

Thoroughly recommended.

Rennie Halstead

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Two poems – Kate Ashton

nasturtiums

Watch the woman – how
she brings bell peppers

to the table for their
heat, incendiary carmine,

for their glare, set down
beside brown bread, see

how they chime and flare,
like wine, like prayer. He is

a mountain she has scaled,
glimpsed from the summit

such pale peaks, cupped
tarns a-brim with evening

red like his bright hunger
in her arms or summer’s

hot nasturtium sun, parched,
clambering the sky

in hope, in faith, for love
of light in that high arch.

heavenly bodies

then you were both cycling
home across the low land
(no hiding place) along
a rush-plumed road beside
small waterways tall pink
swan-bloom’ when stars
began to fall from a wide
sky so full of wild descent
it seemed to die upon you
in mid-flight like hope

the day the earth drifted
before the sun as though
in error as if it lost its way
in that great wilderness
and chanced into the path
of heat so high that it
devoured desire and all
past life and song until creation
coldly lay silenced and old
beneath the lightless hour