Write on Mexborough!

There are still places available on my creative writing course ‘Write on Mexborough’.  If you’re a South Yorkshire-based writer and you’re interested, the attachment provides details.   Write On Mexborough!

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I just remembered I have a blog

  • I’m doing a few readings in coming months:  Albert Poets, The Albert Pub, Huddersfield at 8.00pm on Thursday 9th April; Vanguard Readings, The Bear, Camberwell New Road, London, 7.30pm, Thursday 23rd April; Kultura at Kava, Todmorden, 7.30pm, Thursday 30th April; Beehive Poets, The New Beehive, Bradford, 8.00pm, Monday 8th June.  I’m also reading at Ledbury in early July (date TBC).
  • My biographical work about Ted Hughes’s neglected Mexborough period – Ted Hughes’s South Yorkshire: Made in Mexborough – will be published by Palgrave McMillan in July this year.
  • My book of poems, Englaland, will be published by Smokestack Books on April 1st (yes, really) this year.  Seven pamphlet-length poems and sequences cutting some trajectories into England and the English.  Apparently it is ready to order from Amazon, if you’re into that kind of thing.
  • My poem ‘Wealhnnutu’ is published in the current Ambit (219); I’ve got five renderings of Middle English lyrics in the current The North (215); three of my poems (‘The White Hart’, ‘Hugo of Fyselake’ and ‘Eofor’ will be in the next The Poetry Review.  They’re all from my work-in-progress Incendium Amoris.
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Versus, Vehemence, Vision – Poetry of Public Engagement


I’m looking forward to teaching Versus, Vehemence, Vision – Poetry of Public Engagement (an online course at the Poetry School) this autumn.  The attached PDF gives a feel for it.


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Ratmen redivivus

During 2010/2011, I wrote a novel entitled ‘Ratmen’.  Geraint Hughes of Blackheath Books published it in May, 2012.  At the time, I thought ‘Ratmen’ was a great book, but then I would.  Re-reading it for the first time in two years (in which I’ve been wrapped up in writing what will probably turn out to be four books of poetry), I’ve not found cause to change my mind.   Topical too: http://rt.com/uk/176332-ebola-virus-britain-doctors/.

“All it will take is a rat-bitten guy from the Congo to disembark at Charles de Gaulle and have a coughing fit on the Metro.  In six months, half the world will be dead and the rat population will increase a thousand-fold, feeding on our carcasses and the remains of our civilisation before moving in to finish the survivors scrabbling in the ruins.  There’s no cure, no vaccination, no prophylactic but death itself.  We have to kill them.  We have to kill them all.  We have to wipe them from the face of the earth, before they do it us.  I’ve told you before, it’s us or them.”


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Blog Tour

My friend, former colleague and novelist (The Edge of Things, Slow Furies, The Boy and the Mountain) Alan Robertshaw asked me to participate in a ‘Blog Tour’.  The idea is that writers answer four questions about themselves on their blogs and then nominate another writer to do the same thing a week later.  You can find Alan’s contribution at http://www.alanrobertshaw.com/blog.php   Given that the exercise provides an opportunity to talk about myself, I was only too pleased to agree. 

What am I working on?

 I’m currently working on a range of projects.  Right now I’m putting together a book with violence and irrationality as its major themes.  The extravagant working title – Bloody, proud and murderous men, adulterers and enemies of God is how the sixth century historian Gildas described the English in On the Ruin and Conquest of Britain.   Not Angels, but Angles.  Bloody, proud … begins with an unlikely true crime sonnet sequence and is followed by my ‘Corpus Christi pageant’ The Coronation of the VirginThe Coronation … started off as an attempt to fill a gap in the York ‘mystery play’ cycle, but grew and transformed itself in to something else.  Another poem sequence exploring the human potential for the most horrific extremes of violence follows, and the piece as a whole ends with several poems that explore further the themes raised earlier in the book.  I’m also making the first tentative steps to beginning what may turn into three books of poetry.  Incendium Amoris takes as its starting point the life, writing and landscapes of the fourteenth century hermit Richard Rolle.  We are Travellers is about football.  All Legal Quarry picks possibly pointless fights in a range of proverbial empty rooms.  My novels-in-progress, Charlie and Thief remain frustratingly on the back-burner.  The truth is, I’ve lost interest in them – for now.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?

I’m a poet.  I write other things – plays, novels, my biographical work about Ted Hughes – but poetry is my calling.  I suppose the thematic obsessions of my poetry – violence, religion, transgression, identity, class, ‘politics’, landscape and nature, England and the English – make for a quite distinctive, heady and inflammatory mix.  The first person lyric is not prominent in my oeuvre, so I suppose that sets me apart from the mainstream to some extent.  I rarely write what I call ‘occasional verse’ – stand-alone poems about given subjects provoked by experience or ‘inspiration’ – I tend to explore themes at length in planned and structured books and sequences.  I’ve written six books of poetry.  All of them were planned as books – they’re not ‘collections’, in the traditional sense.  There’s an implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) confrontational nature to some of my poetry.  This is partly temperamental, but its origins lie in the fact that I write in an engaged way and am often concerned to challenge, criticise and condemn.  Would to God that all the Lord’s people were prophets.  Stylistically, it may be that my technique of incorporating Middle and Old English language and early modern spelling, grammar and cadences into my work is distinctive.  I use alliteration to rip my rhythms and I generally aspire to a vivid, visual and virile ethos.  My poems swear a lot.  Who knows? 

 Why do I write what I do?

 I used to write because I wanted to be a writer.  That was an entry to a sterile world of contemptible provincial ambition and well-deserved writers’ block.  Now I write because I’ve got something to say and for the sheer exhilaration of saying it.  I feel – and feel is a key word, standing for that that combination of reason, intuition, imagination, emotion, sentiment, empathy, fear, superstition and sensuality that combine to create meaning and purpose – myself connected to and representing a vital, living tradition of transcendent, parochial Englishness, drawing on history, culture, language, literature, people, landscape, nature and land.  I’m of that, for that – and against the Kittim, the removers of boundary stones and the seekers after smooth things.

 How does my writing process work?

 When I get an idea for a book, or sequence of poems, I open a notebook, jot down ideas and make plans.  When I’m ready – usually with a very detailed plan, including poem titles, form, content, relationship to other poems in the book, etc – I begin writing.  When I’m in the groove I can write very quickly.  I wrote, edited and polished the forty five poems of Oswald’s Book of Hours in not much more than three months.  I wrote a twenty seven poem pamphlet in November last year.   The Coronation of the Virgin, a one act verse-play in six scenes, I wrote in a week, more or less.   I write with dictionary, thesaurus and Google to hand, in the spare bedroom, which I’ve taken over as my study: desk, bookshelves, basket for dogs, walls plastered with the pictures, photographs, bric-a-brac and momentos of my personal obsessions.  When I’m not working ‘other jobs’ to pay the bills, I get up at six and write until eleven or twelve – three sessions with short breaks between.  After the third session I’m usually burnt-out for the day, although sometimes I find a resurgence of spirit in the evening and write for another couple of hours.  I edit and polish in short bursts – as short as ten minutes – at any time, with typescripts lying about all over the house.  I don’t usually share work-in-progress, especially for ‘feedback’ – that can muddy the waters and even cripple the vision.  However, when I’ve finished something and am reasonably happy with it, I often test the work on trusted friends – to gauge reaction or to test hypotheses.  Their reactions may or may not inform the process of revision.  I never work on more than one project at a time, although I often have three or four other projects ready to go as soon as I’ve wrapped up the current one.


I’m passing the baton of the ‘Blog Tour’ to Becki Cherriman.  I was a member of the Yorkshire Arts Circus’s Writer Development Programme with Becki and had the privilege of witnessing what I believe was her very first poetry reading, a poem about the takeover of a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, by Chechen separatists.  Becki is a published writer, creative writing facilitator and performer based in Leeds. She has won several prizes for her poetry including first prize for The Speakeasy Open Competition second prize in the Ilkley Literature Open Mic and runner up in the Yorkshire Open Poetry Competition. Her work has also been shortlisted in several international competitions including The Fish Short Story Prize. Last year she was the commissioned poet for Morley Literature Festival and Grassington Visual Arts Festival. With the help of Cinnamon Press, Becky is currently putting together her first poetry collection and waiting to hear from agents with regards to her second, magical realist, novel Skybound.  Her ‘Blog Tour’ entry will be up at http://beckycherriman.wordpress.com/ on 24th February.

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Umkhonto We Sizwe

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The only thing worse than blogs – generally people with nothing much to say nevertheless endlessly spouting – is Twitter, the hairdresser babble of a million indoor fat-arses.  Mandela’s death has brought out the worst in both.   The eulogistic comments of the chatterati generally commemorate Mandela as a version of ‘The World’s Nicest Man’ – a symbol of ‘peace’  and multi-cultural getting-along-together, embodied in a dazzling smile, a non-threatening, grandfatherly manner and occasional getting-down with the people.  Many others emphasise the imputed nobility, restraint and strategic wisdom Mandela showed in the Peace and Reconciliation process.  Rather fewer recall his stoicism whilst imprisoned.  Hardly any recall the reason for his imprisonment: being the leader of a ‘terrorist’ organisation committed to overthrowing the apartheid state by use of armed force.   Mandela’s peers were Fidel Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Sam Nujoma (SWAPO), Agostino Neto (MPLA), Eduardo Mondlane (FRELIMO) – and Gerry Adams.  I too honour Mandela.  For the leadership he showed on his release from prison, averting what could have been a bloodbath and uniting a nation against all the odds – credit too to De Klerk for this.  For the heroic and uncompromising way he endured three decades of brutal confinement.   Even for being the World’s Nicest Man.  But also because he was prepared to fight – and kill – and die – and suffer – and cause suffering, in the cause of justice.  This aspect of Mandela’s life should also be recognised and honoured.  And with that I cease my spouting.

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