About Me

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Bristol , United Kingdom
I am co-director of the Leaping Word Poetry Consultancy, which provides advice for poets on writing, editing and publishing, as well as qualified counselling support for those exploring personal issues in their work - https://theleapingword.com. My fifth poetry collection, Learning Finity, is now available from Indigo Dreams or directly from me.

Monday, 31 December 2018

A One Red Kite New Year

Today I made a 205-mile round trip east to deposit an offspring, and then immediately back west again. As excursions go, it was pretty dull. I saw few lorries, which was good, Windsor Castle twice, and one red kite picking over the carcase that is Berkshire in winter. 

I tend to gauge my joy quotient in birds - choughs, ravens, and red kites mostly, although sometimes there's delight like a bushful of spadgers or a clatter of jackdaws in a churchyard. But the same scale also measures melancholy, and to be honest, a whole red kite felt rather over-optimistic for such a drab day. I can't say this coming year fills me with anticipation either.

In fact, the best I can wish anyone is Happy New Peaky Blinders. Or Game of Thrones. Or possibly - hopefully - People's Vote. 

There's always poetry, of course. Here's a poem I wrote about red kites a few years ago. It was recently published by The Blue Nib, in their latest issue. (If you're reading this and you're a poet, do submit to them, they're great.) It has an air of alienation about it that seems to suit this shabby little island right now. 

Red Kites Over High Wycombe

I know they’re here before I see them
my eyes on the road, the car in front
then snatching at sky for that russet
skirl, daubs of white underwing,
riffled pinions, twisting tails.
There must be eight – no
wait – a dozen overhead.

The first time I saw one swoop
as I stood at the window of your room
I thought it an omen.
Now I know they can’t be owned, won’t be
diminished to fit my need
I’m a visitor here, shifting boxes and bags
from one drab impromptu lodging

to another,
and unfamiliar with this town,
the suburbs these natives survey
with ferocious intimacy.
When my job’s done I’ll travel back home
where red kites are rare and the air
trembles at their whistle.

Photo of a red kite by Dru Marland

This poem will be published by Indigo Dreams in my 2019 collection, The Shadow Factory.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

A Wander on Chittening Warth

As I'm still juggling pain relief to ease my joints, and the Northerner twisted his knee on the stairs, we decided against scrambling over sand dunes at Berrow and settled for a wander along the top of the flood defences at Severn Beach instead. 

It was misty when we arrived.

Since there were small children  with bikes, trikes and toy pushchairs aplenty, and since we had a slightly enervated holiday collie with us, we headed for Chittening rather than the more frequented route to the old Severn bridge. 

In fact, I was a bit astonished to realise that I hadn't walked down that way before. 

The industrial estate there looked quite Dark and Satanic, though, so I suspected the Northerner would feel at home. 

'I am the Spirit of Dark and Lonely Water, ready to trap the unwary, the showoff, the fool - '

We were sensible, though, and stayed on the causeway ...

... but not for long, for who can resist a track (with teasels)?

It was high tide, so there weren't that many birds about. 

A few ducks and oyster-catchers ...

... crows ...

... herons, and somewhere way overhead, a raven.

Very early flowering butterbur

Warth is a local word for salt marsh or flat meadow covered by tidal water. It sounds Viking* to me ...

... and it did feel as if a boatload of bearded, helmeted raiders could disembark and come running out of the mist at any moment. 

I wondered if, much more recently, some other invaders might have been expected.

I haven't found out anything about World War II defences in here, but there is mention of a decoy to lure German bombers away from oil installations at Avonmouth, so maybe these constructions are to do with that.

Once last glance towards Avonmouth and a very mistily distant North Somerset coastline, and it was time to retrace our steps. 

Now that the tide was receding, we walked some of the way along the warth itself.

As the sun burnt through the mist, the vegetation turned all shades of green and gold and beautiful.

It's always good to go home with your eyes full of colour. 

* though my knowledgeable friend, James, says it's from an Old English word 'waroth' meaning 'shore', so probably isn't Norse in origin.

Monday, 17 December 2018

The Blue Nib no 36

It was great to get our copy of the Blue Nib plopping through the letterbox, on a Sunday of all days. What a treat. 

The Blue Nib is a Dublin-based publisher of poetry, fiction, essays and reviews, all of which are represented in the current edition, no 36. 

One of the even betterer things about it is that it's also available online, so you can read Bob Beagrie's reimaginings of historical characters on blasted heaths, and Chris Hardy's crystalline observations, and the review of Claire Williamson's 'Visiting the Minotaur'. And amongst all the other poems, five of mine from my forthcoming collection The Shadow Factory

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Shining a Light

This is not my favourite time of year. The joints that hurt ordinarily hurt more insistently. My hands and nose are permanently cold. And I just want to sleep until all this darkness has galloped off over the horizon. 

Since going out for non-essential reasons is so unappealing, it's a good thing that poetry falls into the category of absolute necessity. I try to get to at least one poetry-related gathering a week through the winter. Last week I excelled myself and attended three. 

On Wednesday it was off to the Golden Guinea in Redcliffe for the Bristol launch of ‘Play’, an anthology of 150 poems on the subject of having fun. 

The anthology was compiled by poets Susan Taylor and Simon Williams to raise funds for a play area on Vire Island in Totnes, in memory of their small grandson, Reuben, who was killed in a car accident a year ago.

Several poets who have poems in the anthology read their work and the poems of those who couldn't attend the launch, and there was music, singing, joy, comradeship and teary eyes.

‘Play’ would make a wonderful Christmas gift, for yourself or anyone who's ever enoyed playing. You can buy copies from Paper Dart Press

On Friday lunchtime it was Silver Street Poetry at the Station in Bristol, with very special guest poet, Alison Brackenbury. 

Alison read from her latest collection ‘Aunt Margaret’s Pudding’, which mixes poems about her family and childhood with recipes from Alison’s grandmother’s oilskin notebook and a prose account of her grandmother’s life.

The reading was delicious, and supplemented by some excellent open mic contributions, while Alison completely sold out of books. 

Then there are the things you need to do if your poems are to make their way in the world, that are often in direct opposition to the intensely personal drive to write the stuff.  Yes, social media, I'm talking about you.

To try to market my poems on Facebook and Twitter more effectively, I went on a course on Saturday run by Josie Alford, who's half my age and knows how to do this stuff in an efficient and organised way. It was reassuring to find that I already do much of what she suggested, and that it was mainly a question of fine-tuning the process. Though I doubt I shall ever venture onto Instagram. Arty images of one line of poetry in typewriter font with a decorative key placed to one side don't really do it for me. (Though the aforementioned force of nature that is Alison Brackenbury is there instagramming away. I should be less reticent, perhaps.)

I think I'm always going to struggle with the writing/publicising balance, but creative writing is essentially a collaborative art, and poems only truly come into their own in the imagination of the reader. So I went home and sent out invitations to
 friends to like my Facebook writing page, a mere eight years after its creation. Go me. 

Sunday, 2 December 2018

An Arising from the Settee of Suffering

I've spent a lot of time reclining lately, mainly because sitting upright is too agonising. When I hobble round to the surgery, my GP wonders if it could be fibromyalgia that is causing this widespread pain, as well as the increasingly well documented arthritis. Am I under a lot of stress at the moment? 

I wonder if he's come up with this by himself or whether he's swayed by the notes from the physiotherapist. It seems to me that fibromyalgia is treated much the same way as depression was in the 1970s - something women get, and just keep necking the valium, love. And anyhow, I don't really care what they call it; all I care about is that it hurts. 

Maybe, I concede.

I decide my strategy of resting up and only going out when I have to - which is most days anyway - isn't working. Alice Oswald is appearing at the Bristol Poetry Institute and I've missed hearing top poets read their work in Bristol since the demise of the poetry festival. Moreover, the last time we heard her, she was astounding. That evening remains the best reading I've ever been to.

Alice's latest book is 'Nobody', ostensibly about a bit-part player in the Odyssey: the poet who was charged with guarding Clytemnestra by Agamemnon, and subsequently marooned on a rocky island in the middle of the Mediterranean by the queen's lover, Aegisthus. Really it's a paean to the ocean, and as Alice recites it by heart in darkness, I find myself drowning in it. There's not so much as a cough to break the spell. Not a shuffle or a shifting, and when, after an hour, we can finally move, I find I can't. I can barely walk back to the car. Perhaps I should try swimming.

Saturday it's off to the Floating Market on the Kennet and Avon canal at Bradford-on-Avon with Hazel Hammond. I'm delighted to see that despite the manky weather, Dru Marland is doing a roaring trade in art on the tow path. She squeezes in a quick coffee with us between sales, and we repair to the pub for lunch with a haul of thirteen 2019 calendars of boating life between us. Twenty per cent of the profits go to the Floaty Boat Fund, which helps boaters keep their homes afloat when hit by unexpected problems.  You can get yours here.

As we leave the canal, a pair of ravens croak overhead. Hazel hasn't been inside the tithe barn so we drift through its cavernousness in almost darkness.

Back up on the tow path there's a lot of shantying going on, and the lights of the market seem to float through the twilight. 

Twenty days till the year turns and it starts getting lighter again. Not long to go. 

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Words for the Wild and a poem about a young, headstrong starling

Well, let's hope the the starling that flew into our patio doors was headstrong; it did fly off once it had recovered. 

Here's a link to my poem about it, now up on the wonderful Words for the Wild website.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Armistice Day 1918

Armistice Day saw the end of the Great War and the beginning of my grandparents' marriage.  To mark the 100th anniversary of both, and also the 121st birthday on 18th November of my lovely, free-spirited grandmother, Hilda Florence Mary Hill,  I'm posting an extract from 'Nanny  1897 – 1991  An Uncommon Woman', which my uncle, Noel Hill, wrote for her friends, her ten surviving children, and their children and grandchildren after her death. 


Hilda Florence Mary Drewett, aged about 13 

Nanny worked for several employers, but latterly and mostly for a Professor Dobson of the University of Bristol.  Her earlier employers were hard and inconsiderate.  Her first job entailed dawn-to-dusk working for two shillings and sixpence (12½ pence) per week.  Even Nanny's lifetime habit of singing whilst she worked brought trouble onto her head.  The lady of the house was herself taking singing lessons, and hearing Nanny singing as she scrubbed the nursery stairs, declared 'How dare you sing one of my songs, I have paid good money to learn that!'

It wasn't only her employers' songs that Nanny borrowed.  Frequently raiding their libraries, she was and remained an avid reader, anxious to improve herself, often reading far into the night by candlelight.  She was also a great correspondent, writing letters to all and sundry in a good, plain, round hand, in lucid and graphic style.  In her apron pocket Nanny invariably carried a few scraps of paper and a pencil, and would note down her thoughts and observations on life in verse.  Copied out in exercise books, they were her most treasured possessions and survived her death to speak to us of her concern for all around her.

Nanny's second job was at Weston-Super-Mare, some twenty miles from the parental home, but when her mother heard that a regiment of Australian soldiers was about to be billeted there, she attempted to recall Hilda to Bristol, where a better eye might be kept upon her.  This endeavour appears to have had little success for despite the constraints of a living-in job, Nanny seems to have surmounted them quite literally by climbing in and out of her bedroom window, sometimes wearing her mistress's clothes.  Her great friend and cousin-in-law Kate often spoke of the Saturday evening during the Great War when she encountered a haughty-looking Hilda, wrapped in a magnificent fox fur cape, sweeping past on the arm of an army officer and being greeted with a well-articulated 'Good evening, Kate, and how are you?'  'And she without a stitch of her own clothes on her back!' Kate would declare.

William John Hill

There was a young pilot, a tall Australian soldier and a magnificent Scotsman, photographed for her in his kilt.  But most of all there was the quiet, dark dispatch rider in the Gloucester regiment, William John (Jack) Hill.  Not that he had everything his own way.  After one rejection and in an effort to meet the competition, Jack came home on leave resplendent with a brand new moustache, to be told that if he went home immediately and shaved off that awful thing above his mouth, Nanny would consider walking out with him again!  Shortly after they were engaged, and then Nanny heard from the Scotsman.  We can gather that the removal of his moustache was not the only close shave Jack Hill had when we read the little verse Nanny wrote at the time.

          'I could have loved you a long time ago
          And could have said it
          But you went away – a long way away.
          When you came back it was too late –
          And love was a forgotten word

Jack and Hilda were married by special licence at St Michael and All Angels in Bishopston two days before Armistice was declared on 11th November 1918.  Their brief honeymoon was spent at The Royal Oak, Clevedon, a pub owned by one of Jack's uncles, who was also a fisherman.  The newlyweds' first breakfast consisted of a huge skate which Uncle Joe had caught and which he declared to be very good for fertility.  In later years, Uncle Joe undertook to buy each of Jack's children a pair of shoes at Christmas, and as the numbers grew and his bill for shoes increased, Uncle Joe would suck deeply on his pipe and mutter that if he had had any sense at all he would have thrown that bloody skate back in the Severn!

My grandmother with her triplets, 1939

The Hill family, 1940

Friday, 2 November 2018

All Saints Day at Westonbirt

It's quite expensive to get into Westonbirt Arboretum, so I only go there about once every 25 years. 


And the Northerner had never been there at all.

But the weather was interesting and it was All Saints Day, which is as good a day as any, I suppose, to see fiery foliage, so off we went. 

I think I can safely let the photos do the talking.