Jess Mookherjee’s The Swell – Telltale Poet Sarah Barnsley tells of its creation

I asked Telltale Poet Sarah Barnsley to give me a bit of background to this poetry collective and tell me something about their latest publication, The Swell from Jess Mookherjee which is being launched on October 5th at the Pitcher and Piano in Tunbridge Wells.


“Telltale is a poets’ publishing collective specialising in first, short, high-quality pamphlets. Telltale poets are equal members of the collective and play a part in running the Press. Poets share and learn skills (such as editing, print production, promotion, event organising), take part in regular readings and have a say in the Press’ direction. New pamphlets are published by invitation only. One of the Telltale poets suggested Jess and sent around a link to her work on the Clear Poetry website – and we all loved them! They possess an enticing blend where chattiness meets emotion, images of menace and transcendence meet the ordinary and the commonplace. The resulting pamphlet, The Swell, operates on many different levels, reflective of the multiplicity of meanings in its title – it suggests motion and fluidity, violence, maternity, growth, intensity and, of course, idiomatically, a kind of coolness – you want to hang out with it.

As well as offering a distinctive voice Jess exudes the kinds of qualities essential to a not-for-profit collective: collegiality, enthusiasm, a willingness to network, and a much welcome ‘can-do’ / ‘get-on-with-it’ attitude. She also has the credentials that we especially look for in a Telltale poet. Not only had Jess been shortlisted earlier this year for the Fair Acre pamphlet prize, she had also chalked up a strong publishing record (in Jess’ case, in a very short amount of time). And there’s clearly more to come from Jess, which is exactly what Telltale was set up to do: create stepping-stones to larger projects for exciting new poets. We’re delighted to have Jess on board.”

Sarah Barnsley



Dawn Chorus

He saw me in a late night shop
buying Marlbro’ Lights.
I only remember his beard – nothing else,
I didn’t think about how
he looked at me.
He asked me out for dinner –
what went through my mind
was did I look like I needed feeding
or just like someone who’d say yes
to a chicken dinner.
I didn’t know then, that to all men
a seventeen year old girl is beautiful –
even with ample flesh,
spiked purple hair
and art school clothes.
I can’t remember a single thing about him,
just the taste of the chicken fricassee,
the cushions of the limousine
and the dawn chorus, before light
as he drove me home.

First published in Ink, Sweat & Tears 2015
Also in Chronicles of Eve Anthology ( Paper Swans Press 2016)


Robin Houghton #quirkychristmas and a very happy Christmas from the shed

Father Reindeer

He came to us over the leads –
a connoisseur of chimneys
and gnarly parapets –

he slid between church roofs,
ground his joints on mossy tiles
while pinnacling.

For the joy of each chase down
he endured the up, chiseling
hoof-holds in slate,

following twizzles of breath
blown from his brothers’
nostrils up front.

He never looked down to the bald
tops of trees or roads asleep,
the town’s grotesquerie.

Over the sky parlours, chequers
and marlipins he came, over
the weather vanes,

toeing the gutters and leaping
from gable-ends to bring us each
a tangerine,

a walnut in its knobbly shell,
a book of Aesop’s Fables to read
by torchlight.


Robin Houghton has been published widely in magazines including Poetry News, The Rialto, Antiphon, Mslexia, Brittle Star, Prole, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Obsessed with Pipework and Agenda. She won the 2012 New Writer poetry competition, the 2013 Hamish Canham Prize and the 2014 Stanza Competition, the latter with a poem that was nominated for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem. Her pamphlet ‘The Great Vowel Shift’ was published in 2014 by Telltale Press, a poets’ publishing collective she helped establish. Robin has written three commissioned books on blogging, and her poetry blog is www.poetgal.co.uk.


The bear essentials – or this weekend’s reading sorted….

It’s been a week of books through the post – even though I moved house they still managed to track me down. Looking forward to Siegfried Baber‘s book after Robin Houghton was able to join us for supper on a writing week (our own visiting poet) and talked about the press, as well as doing a reading. Martin Malone describes Baber as “an Armitage for Generation Tweet”.


J V Birch‘s pamphlet, Smashed Glass at Midnight winged its way from Australia and is part of Ginninderra Press‘s Picaro Poets series. Hailing from the UK, Birch has recently moved to Australia and has a host of poems in magazines over there.

Then there’s The Very Best of 52, from Jo Bell‘s project to write a poem a week, selected by Jonathan Davidson and published by Nine Arches Press. Described by one group member as a “mixture of serious and light with a touch of bawdy”. I should perhpas not read this all at once and listen to Jo Bell… “We wrote a poem a week – enjoy reading them, one week at a time”.


Robin Houghton tells tales


I recently caught up with Robin Houghton of Telltale Press and as I was curious about how it worked, I asked her if she’d mind being interviewed. Fortunately she said yes! So here are the questions I asked and her responses. Thanks Robin for spending time on this – really interesting. Robin blogs at poetgal.

Can you tell me a little bit about why you set up the press and chose the name you did?

At the start of 2014 I was desperate to get my first pamphlet out, the poems were hanging around my neck like a noose, stopping me from moving on, I felt creatively stifled – but short of winning a pamphlet competition it clearly wasn’t going to happen unless I was prepared to wait, and even then no guarantee. I realised there were hundreds of new-ish poets like myself, of a similar standard, who must also be frustrated. In fact, I’ve met quite a few poets who’ve become very bitter over the years because they feel their work has been overlooked, and I didn’t want that to happen to me. I could have just self-published, but that seemed like a bit of a dead end (what would I do after that?) – there’s also the thorny issue of whether ‘self publishing’ lacks credibility or editorial rigour. Plus, it’s not just producing the pamphlet you have to think about, it’s the long hard struggle of marketing and selling the damn thing.

A few months before, when I was on a residential course at Ty Newydd, it was a hot topic of discussion and Carol Ann Duffy encouraged us to get together as a collective to publish each other’s pamphlets. I did discuss the idea with a couple of the people on that course, but it was only when I talked it over with Peter Kenny, who I’d met at Brighton Stanza, that it all fell into place. He was really enthusiastic and between us we decided on a vision and constitution. The name was mine – I liked the multiple meanings of ‘telltale’ (including a nautical device for indicating wind direction). I thought originally it was going to be the name of a pamphlet, but it was much better suited as the name of the new press.


How does the press work?

We are a collective. That means we share the responsibility for the success of the press and of our publications – new members pay to join (an amount which by the way is a lot less than the typical cost of an Arvon course), and the money goes towards print and design costs of their short pamphlet (we call them ‘calling cards’). We all play a part in arranging and hosting launches and readings, promoting each other and the press on the social web and whenever the opportunity arises. At the moment, Peter and I are steering it and we do most of the production tasks ourselves, but the aim is to delegate more of that to other members. We’re all learning from each other too – we have complementary skills, backgrounds, contacts and ideas, all of which are key – rather than buying them in, or one person getting paid (or trying to pay themselves) to do the publishing, we believe in bartering. We try to keep our readings free, and our aim is simply to cover our 3rd party costs (which so far we’ve managed to do). Members keep 50% of the pamphlets produced and they are free to either sell them at readings or give them away as they wish. The rest are sold or given away for PR purposes by Telltale and any money generated goes back into the press to assist with the cost of producing further pamphlets, or hiring reading venues or whatever. We now have four members and there’s a wonderful camaraderie and willingness to work for the press. It’s been a brilliant model so far and all of us have benefited from raised profiles and new opportunities.

I note Siegfried Baber has joined as a member. How do you select poets? Is it invitation or submission and what does being a member mean?

Yes, Siegfried’s pamphlet has just launched, at an event in his home town of Bath, but he has also read with us in Lewes and London. We’ve also got a fourth member – Sarah Barnsley – her pamphlet is due out in the summer/early autumn.
Membership is by invitation – we have one or two magazine editor and poetry lecturer friends who recommend people to us, also we keep an eye out ourselves and all members are welcome to recommend others who they think would be a good fit. You have to buy into the ethos – it’s quite different from many poet-publisher relationships. More is expected of the poet because they are buying into a share of the press, in effect. But they also get a huge amount in return. We believe in supporting each other’s professional and creative development. As regards editorial rigour/standards, we’re still very fussy, of course – we all want to be associated only with fine writing and writers. And we take advice from our Associate Editor, Catherine Smith. Siegfried has been widely published in magazines and is clearly a new young talent. Sarah’s pamphlet was runner-up in the Pighog competition last year and could easily have won it. That’s the rub – for every pamphlet competition there may only be one winner but a dozen or more that are equally as good, fresh and interesting. They’re the people we’re interested in. Catherine has been fantastically supportive and continues to guide us in that whole area. Peter and I have our tastes and preferences but we don’t call ourselves ‘editors’ as such.


I love the cover designs, who does them?

Thank you! They’re by Hannah Clare, a young Brighton-based illustrator. Right from the start I really wanted only to use local artists where possible, and although the printers we use are not local they are a bona fide small firm based in the UK.

Can you briefly tell me about the skillshares and training you mention on your site?

That’s still a work in progress! There are many professional development topics we’d like to work up in the group, from social media best practice to how to source (or run) readings, tech skills like how to layout a pamphlet, or skills related to giving public readings, how to put proposals together or how to apply for funding. Some of these are skills we have in house that other members could benefit from, others we need to bring in outside trainers. These are all in the pipeline but not fleshed out yet (whoops, mixed metaphor!)


Finally, how on earth do you have the time for all this – Telltale, poetgal, writing poetry, books on blogging, articles, and a daresay you do some kind of job to pull in the money?

Ooh, good question! I do seem to spend way too much time on the computer and there’s always the danger of Twitter & Facebook lurking. But everyone has to find a way to combat that. I guess the answer is the projects don’t all come at once. If there’s a book on the go or pressing client work then that definitely takes priority. Plus I’m quite disciplined – I like a ‘to do’ list and I don’t miss deadlines (sometimes I need to renegotiate them though!) But as regards Telltale, the beauty of it is that I’m not alone. It’s such a fun thing we’ve got going and the hard work pays off. If I’d have just self-published that pamphlet a year ago, I never would have had anything like the benefits I’m enjoying now. It’s actually surprised me how much satisfaction I get from helping to publish others – what started out as a vehicle for my own interests has morphed into something bigger. I may never be more than moderately successful as a poet myself, but I can project my ambitions onto others and it’s strangely exciting!

robinnew-smRobin Houghton is a social media communications consultant, trainer and writer based in Lewes. Her poetry has appeared in a range of magazines and her pamphlet The Great Vowel Shift was published in 2014. She won the Poetry Society Stanza Poetry Competition 2014, Hamish Canham Prize 2013 and The New Writer Poetry Competition 2012 (single poem category). Her how-to manuals, Blogging for Creatives and Blogging for Writers are published by Ilex.


Mayfield Fringe Festival – Poetry Reading


Several years ago I read at the Mayfield Festival alongside Gill McEvoy and Sue Roe. Jill Munro tells me about this year’s event (her first full reading!) on Sunday May 3rd at the Middle House, 7-8 pm.  Doors open 6.30 pm.

‘The sweetest village in England’ so wrote the poet, Coventry Patmore, of Mayfield in East Sussex. The Medieval Village is currently hosting its 3rd Fringe Festival (25th April – 3rd May) celebrating visual arts, story telling, music, performance and poetry – and I’m one of three poets taking part in a reading on the last day of the festival at Middle House, the lovely pub/restaurant, aptly, in the middle of the village. It is a wonderful Elizabethan building, dating back to 1575 which has a cosy atmosphere and a heavily oak panelled restaurant.


The other poets – Patricia McCarthy and Robin Houghton – are experienced readers on the ‘circuit’ but this will be my first public reading of several of my poems in one session – I’ve only ever previously read an individual poem in public. So this will mean thinking about timing, length of poems and selecting the poems to be read from my forthcoming collection ‘Man from La Paz’ (Green Bottle Press, London). I had hoped the book would be out there by now but, as is often the case in publishing, it’s been delayed until next month. I’m looking forward to what I hope will be a convivial atmosphere and enjoying Robin’s and Patricia’s readings – at least the pub-goers can have a drink or supper to supplement the poetry! Well, I’ll be doing that anyway … seems a shame not to in such a lovely setting and I’ve heard from reliable sources the food is yummy.’



Allotment Man

Last night I dreamt you sprouted from the land,
naked, with a large onion in each hand.
Your head glowed pumpkin orange, not carved
or chiselled, but handsome just the same,
your nose lengthened to a parsnip. Your eyes?
Ripening, rolling black-eyed peas and, quite clearly,
your ears were cauliflowered, so prettily floretted.

Your onion-hand flicked casually, as it often does,
not at strands of hair, but plaited garden twine.
Your bulging forearms curved courgettely,
as both calves deepened to dark marrow green
below your mud-clung, spuddy knees. Giant
mushroom buttocks bloomed (possibly Portobello)
as your round belly switched from pink to gourdy yellow
and then the Armenian cucumber began to grow …

So with scarlet-flowering runner beans curling
round your pearly garlic-dimpled thighs,
I newspaper-packed you in my garden shed,
hoping you’d not rot, and still be there today
as, and this is just aching to be said,
I do truly dig my Allotment Man. Let’s play.


Follow Jill on Twitter for more up-to-date news.



blogging for writers – Blog Tour

blogtour-hdrNew out from Ilex is Robin Houghton’s Blogging for Writers: How authors & writers build successful blogs (£14.99) a follow-up to Blogging for Creatives. I caught up with Robin to ask her some questions about the book, her creative writing and a couple of WordPress questions I needed help with! 1. The book is extensive and must have taken a lot of time and patience to produce. How did you go about approaching such a vast project and how long did it take to complete? A lot of lists were involved! I was on quite a tight schedule. With illustrated books, as I’m sure you can imagine, design and layout is a big part of the workload and the sooner the publisher can get started on that the better. So I had about twelve weeks in all to research and write the copy, find all the example blogs and featured experts and decide where to best use them in the book, and supply hundreds of screenshots, photos and briefs for diagrams. My editor at Ilex Press was great and I was able to deliver the material in three batches, which made it less daunting. I then had to get permission to use all the images from their respective copyright holders – that was the hardest bit but it didn’t have to be done by the deadline, it was some months later when we had all the replies in. This was the second book I’d done for this publisher and along similar lines to the first, so this time I organised my time better and knew how long the actual writing would take me. For the first book I was rather in panic mode and actually paid two people to help me with the research and admin. It still took longer to produce than ‘Blogging for Writers’! a pic 2. How have you balanced working on Blogging for Writers whilst at the same time kept your creative writing going? I couldn’t really spend much time on creative writing at all during the first half of the year. There was actually another book to write straight after ‘Blogging for Writers’, so I had a busy six months. I had a frozen shoulder at the time and my biggest worry was not that I wasn’t writing poetry but that I might become incapacitated and not be able to meet my deadlines. As it happened, the shoulder started to improve by the summer, plus I did manage to write a few poems. But I plan to spend more time on poetry in 2015 if I possibly can. 3. I have a WordPress site and have fiddled with a couple of templates. What would you recommend as the best way to layout a poem? Ah yes, that’s a good question. For most poems I just tend to make sure I’m in the ‘text’ rather than ‘visual’ edit screen. That way your line breaks stay single spaced and you don’t get any random ‘paragraph’ tags being inserted. You can always then go into ‘visual’ and indent the whole poem. In some templates this changes the font, in which case you may need to fiddle with the code on the ‘text’ screen. A bit of HTML comes in handy! LwfA8 If the poem has a tricky layout, say with spaces within lines or if it’s in a specific shape, I’m not sure there’s a fail-safe way of making certain it always appears the same on all devices, screen resolutions etc. I think of everything that’s presented on the web as being fluid: you can’t control exactly how it will look because there are so many variables. You could ‘fix’ a poem by creating it as an image file, but that’s a bit naff, a lot of work and not ideal for many reasons which I won’t bore you with here! 4. With WordPress would you recommend the upgrading which costs or continue to chug along with what’s free? Free is always good! But of course it depends on your priorities. Personally the only WordPress upgrades I’ve used or considered are ‘no ads’ and ‘domain mapping’. ‘No ads’ is rather like an insurance policy – it means WordPress won’t put any ads on your blog. But then again, they might not anyway. Domain mapping means you can use your own domain name and it completely replaces the myblog.wordpress.com URL, which may or may not be important to you. I usually say to people that if you find yourself paying for several WordPress.com upgrades you might ask yourself whether it’s time to move to a self-hosted option. aapic 5. If I was starting from scratch and not making it up as I go along, would you recommend the WordPress route or something else? Each blogging platform has its devotees. To anyone starting out I recommend a hosted blog platform, because you don’t need to worry about security, updating the software or any of those issues. It’s like renting rather than buying a property. Because WordPress.com, Blogger, Tumblr and others are free, try them out first and see how you get on. Then decide. The main downsides of a hosted blog are that you have less control/more restrictions as to what you can do, and the site could be pulled from under you at any time. Once you’ve found your blogging feet you might want to take it further and have a self-hosted blog which you can customise with plugins and do much more to make it your own. This is where it helps if you’ve chosen WordPress.com – not only will the dashboard of your new self-hosted blog be familiar, but it’s fairly easy to move a WordPress.com blog to your own hosting service and the open source software supplied free from WordPress.org. Many hosting services offer this as a ‘one click’ installation. aaaa 6. Finally, what do you say when you have nothing to say? That will never happen of course if you have an editorial calendar and a bank of blog post ‘types’ and ‘topics’ to call on! (See chapter 5) BUT if you’re really stuck I recommend either re-posting a popular post from the past (many bloggers do this very successfully, for example Anthony Wilson recently over the holiday period) or just not posting anything and not stressing about it. There’s no rule written in stone that you must post every X days or whatever. In fact there are no rules at all (but that’s another book!). Robin Houghton has over two decades of experience in marketing and communications, formerly with Nike, then running her own business Eggbox Marketing since 2002 specialising in online. She now works primarily with writers and publishing industry professionals to help them make the best use of social media. Robin writes blogs on social media and poetry and has been a guest blogger for a number of sites including Social Media Today and MarketingProfs. She is a published poet and a commercial copywriter for web and print, and an experienced trainer and conference speaker. Her first book ‘Blogging for Creatives’ was a best-seller and resulted in two more commissions, ‘Blogging for Writers’ and forthcoming in 2015 ‘The Rules of Blogging (and How to Break Them)’, both published by Ilex in the UK and Writers Digest Books in the US. Twitter: http://twitter.com/robinhoughton LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/robinhoughton Social Media for Writers (blog and email newsletter) http://www.socialmediaforwriters.co.uk Blogging for Writers – http://bloggingforwriters.info Buy the book in the Writers Digest Shop (US): http://www.writersdigestshop.com/blogging-for-writers-group or on Amazon UK: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Blogging-Writers-Authors-Build-Successful/dp/1781572135/