Online Writing Workshop: Still Parents for Baby Loss Awareness Week 9-15th October

tealight candle on human palms
Photo by Dhivakaran S on Pexels.com

 

It’s baby Loss Awareness Week in October and this year I’d like to not only use the week to think about the loss of my little girl, Matilda, and the two miscarriages my husband and I went through, but to also reach out a friendly hand to those who have suffered the loss of their own babies, at whatever stage. My daughter, an IVF baby, died during an emergency c-section in 2010. There’s not a day goes by when I don’t think of her.

In my own experience I have found creative writing, in my case poetry and memoir, has helped enormously in dealing with my grief process and finding a way to remember my daughter, to mark her time with us. Creative writing can be therapeutic; it allows emotional experiences to be handled in a way that perhaps isn’t possible through other means. The act of creating something beautiful, of memorialising your lost baby, writing letters to them, celebrating your love for them and their short lives or simply exploring your loss through prose; getting it out of your head and onto the page, are all ways in which grief can be accepted and acknowledged.

This year I’d like to invite you to join me for a week long, no pressure, prompt based workshop exploring and remembering your lost babies. As well as having gentle prompts delivered to your inbox daily, the workshop will have a closed facebook group where people can share their work in a safe and supportive environment. Only the people within the group will see anything shared. Having said that, you might not want to join the facebook group at all, and that’s OK, you might want to keep the prompts and work on them in your own time, in your own way.

The workshop is open to anyone who has experienced baby loss, mums and dads as well as siblings and grandparents. It is suitable for people aged 18+ . It is open to non writers, writers, beginners and experienced writers alike and the focus will be on creativity. Please drop me a line if you have any concerns or questions.

There will be some guidance notes at the beginning and end of the week, and a daily prompt will be delivered directly to your inbox every day for that week. The closed Facebook page is moderated daily by myself.

The cost of the workshop is just £10. I do hope you will join me for this gentle, supportive workshop. Please find instructions below:

INSTRUCTIONS

Please follow carefully, especially the bit about giving me the correct email address!
  1. Go to PayPal and make a payment of £10 to wendycatpratt@yahoo.co.uk  Please add a note containing the email address you wish the prompts to come to.  Please do let me know if paypal isn’t an option for you and we’ll sort something out.
  2. I will send a brief welcome letter to that address to make sure the address works, this will also contain a link to the closed Facebook group, so don’t panic if you can’t find it on facebook.
  3. Request to join the Facebook group Still Parents . If you can’t find it, or there are any problems, drop me a line at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com and we’ll get it all sorted out before the week starts.
  4. That’s it. It should be quite straight forward, but again, let me know if you have any questions or are experiencing any problems and I’ll endeavour to get it all sorted.
  5. Everything will arrive via email.

 

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Season of Mists 2019 – starting 1st October

brown leaf trees on forest
Photo by Valiphotos on Pexels.com

I’m re-running the Season of Mists course, with all new prompts. It was very popular last year and it had such a lovely warm and supportive atmosphere, it made a real impression on me. I hope you’ll join me, maybe for the second time!

I have opened it up to poetry, creative non fiction and fiction writing too, and it includes access to the closed Facebook group. For those who have never attended one of my online courses, this is how it works:

  1. Sign up and pay via PayPal (full instructions further down this page)
  2. Once signed up you will receive a welcome letter with a link to the closed FB group. The closed group allows you to share your work with others in a completely closed environment, allowing you the benefit of group feedback without damaging your potential for publication and competition entry further down the line.
  3. On the first of the month you will begin to receive lesson plans and a daily prompt directly into your inbox. These are yours to keep forever.
  4. Have fun. This is a no pressure course where you can do as much or as little as you wish. The focus is on getting writing and exploring the topics and themes. There isn’t even any pressure to join in on the closed Facebook group, though I would recommend it; to date all the FB groups have been supportive and fun.

 

Ah, autumn. It’s almost upon us. We’ve got the darker nights and the turning leaves, the elderberries just waiting to be made into wine and the sloes just waiting to be made into sloe gin (bit of a theme emerging here) but it’s still riding on the tail end of summer. It’s a strange time of year, after the buzz and flurry of constant bird song, fledglings, flowers, crops, and sunshine it’s almost a sheer drop when we find that it’s dark by 7pm, and it’s raining and you wake up to the sound of the heating coming on, and then you notice the birds aren’t singing anymore, and the stillness and quiet gets under your skin. I feel particularly peaceful at this time of year. It’s a time of year for re-evaluating life goals. In fact, I make better resolutions in autumn than I do in the New Year. I’m lucky enough being self employed to be able to take a break from work and get outside to walk the dog during the day time. We either go down onto the beach, or round the back lanes and farms or sometimes down Forge Valley. I feel like the world belongs only to me and I take great pleasure in my time out in the fresh air. But I also miss the summer. I miss the ease of summer clothes, not really needing make up because the sun does such a good job keeping my skin tanned and fresh looking, I miss sitting out and snoozing to the sound of bees.

Of course, any change in season is a reflection of time passing: age approaches, the years go quicker, our opportunities to do the things we want to do get fewer. As a social animal, especially in this age of instantaneity and immediacy, it’s difficult to not feel angry or frustrated over the changes we see, in the world, in society, in ourselves. There’s so much pressure to do everything while we’re young, and then it’s almost as if, post forty, you start to disappear, and by fifty you’re obsolete. Newspapers and magazines seem to have the sole aim of making us feel old, and advising us on how to fool the world into appearing ten years younger, because who wants to be their age and be obsolete? We’re on the outside of the pack, suddenly, and vulnerable to attack, we’d be picked off in the zombie apocalypse.

There is power in acceptance of change, there is power in allowing ourselves to be angry, there is power in sodding the rules and doing whatever you want to do despite what society thinks of you.

 

About Season of Mists

In this online poetry workshop/course we’ll look at change and how it affects us. We’ll look at change in the seasons, in nature, in animals and plants, we’ll look at the frustrations of a changing society, and the way that we are manipulated by societal pressures. We’ll look at our own personal stories of change, our own anger and our own acceptance, and we’ll write warrior poems and celebration poems and poems that tell it how it is. Each week there will be a ‘lesson plan’ in which we’ll look at a poem or two by published, emerging and established authors and we’ll work our week’s writing around them. Each day you will receive a writing prompt directly to your inbox. You’ll also be invited to join a closed facebook group, which is a safe place to share poems and chat to other course participants.

You don’t need to be in the facebook group, lots of the previous course participants did not join the facebook group, nor do you need to produce anything finished, or anything at all for that matter. The prompts are there for you to choose to use or not, there is no pressure at all.

Payment Tiers

For this course, and all future courses, I am bringing in a method of tiered payment, a ‘pay what you can’ method which relies on the honesty of course attendees. There are three payment levels: £20, £40 and £60. There is also the option to sponsor another place at the price level of your choice so that I can support disadvantaged writers.

Why I have given the option to pay more

Lots of previous attendees have told me, during feedback sessions, that they would have paid much more for one of these courses, comparing it to other courses available to them. But at the same time, lots of people have told me they were grateful for the lower cost as it meant they could afford to develop their writing within their own means. I am from a working class background and still live in a working class town. There’s a grey area when it comes to WC folk, and it’s the place where almost everyone I know lives – the place where you are certainly not living in poverty, but you can’t justify retreats, courses or workshops because there is always something else (Christmas, birthdays etc).
It’s my opinion that everyone should have access to exploring their world through the arts, creative writing is my niche and in a world in which the arts are being slowly eroded, where funding is reduced and reduced, I feel I need to do something practical to help people like me, from my background. At the same time, as a working class writer and workshop facilitator, I need to be able to pay my bills and continue doing the things that I have trained for. Hence the option to pay more if you feel you can.

 

Don’t forget, you can sponsor a place on the course for an underprivileged writer. It’s not going to change the world, but it will make a difference to someone’s month. Here’s what one of the previous sponsors had to say:

“I am not by any means well off however when I was out of work in 2016 it was the kindness of others who supported me and my passion of writing. By me now working full time again sponsoring anonymously someone else who is struggling financially made me feel like I was creating a room to grow for a writer which we all need. Wendy is also for me one of the bravest and talented writers active in the UK and as she has not lost sight of her working class roots how can anyone else look away if they can spend £20 on a sponsored place it makes so much difference to someone”

I know from experience how difficult it is to work out which level is right for you, so I have put some guidance together, below. I’ve based my reasoning mainly on the value of £20 in relation to  food and alcohol for some reason:

Sponsored Place – 

If £20 is a half or full week’s food shopping, or you would need to make a choice between the course and essentials, then you are most likely entitled to a sponsored place. I have FIVE sponsored places so far for this course and there may be more. Get in touch wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com for a chat. I don’t interrogate, this is an honesty system and giving writers a leg up is important.

£20 

If £20 is what you might spend on a takeaway and a bottle of wine, this is probably the tier for you. Also, if you’ve not done one of my courses before, feel free to pay £20 to see if you enjoy it, and if this is your second time around on this course, this is the payment option for you.

£40

If £20 is what you spend on a bottle of wine and a nice bar of chocolate, the forty pound tier sounds about right for you.

£60

If twenty pounds is the amount that you might put into a charity box, or a church collection, then this is probably the tier for you.

YOU CAN SPONSOR A PLACE

Even if you aren’t interested in doing the course, you can still sponsor a place and give a leg up to a writer who has hit hard times and can’t justify the disposable income for a creative writing course. If you ARE doing the course, you can also sponsor an extra place. You might choose to pay £40 for yourself and sponsor a £20 place, you might be an absolute angel and pay £60 and still sponsor a £20 place, you might be a virtual saint and sponsor two £60 places. It’s up to you. Mix and match.

INSTRUCTIONS

Please follow carefully, especially the bit about giving me the correct email address!
  1. Go to PayPal and make a payment at the tier you have chosen to wendycatpratt@yahoo.co.uk  Please add a note containing the email address you wish the course prompts to come to. Also, if you’re sponsoring a place, add a comment so that I know! Please do let me know if paypal isn’t an option for you and we’ll sort something out.
  2. I will send a brief welcome letter to that address to make sure the address works, this will also contain a link to the closed Facebook group, so don’t panic if you can’t find it on facebook.
  3. Request to join the Facebook group Season of Mists 2019 . If you can’t find it, or there are any problems, drop me a line at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com and we’ll get it all sorted out before September starts.
  4. That’s it. It should be quite straight forward, but again, let me know if you have any questions or are experiencing any problems and I’ll endeavour to get it all sorted.
  5. Everything will arrive via email.

Have fun!

Spaces are limited so please book as early as possible.

The Wild Within 2019, Starting 1st September

deer looking backwards
Photo by Vincent M.A. Janssen on Pexels.com

 

It’s time to re-run the very popular The Wild Within course. It’s a year since I launched this course, and I am rerunning it with entirely new prompts. I have opened it up to poetry, creative non fiction and fiction writing, and I’ve also added video notes, available through the closed FB site. For those who have never attended one of my online courses, this is how it works:

  1. Sign up and pay via PayPal (full instructions further down this page)
  2. Once signed up you will receive a welcome letter with a link to the closed FB group. The closed group allows you to share your work with others in a completely closed environment, allowing you the benefit of group feedback without damaging your potential for publication and competition entry further down the line.
  3. On the first of the month you will begin to receive lesson plans and a daily prompt directly into your inbox. These are yours to keep forever.
  4. Have fun. This is a no pressure course where you can do as much or as little as you wish. The focus is on getting writing and exploring the topics and themes. There isn’t even any pressure to join in on the closed Facebook group, though I would recommend it; to date all the FB groups have been supportive and fun.

What is the course about?

We’ll be looking at nature as a place in which we physically exist, but also as a place which exists inside of us. We’ll be looking at the ways in which poetry is used to describe nature, but also how poetry works to reflect our natural selves, and hopefully we’ll be producing some creative writing of our own.

This is a very popular course, here’s what people have said about it:

“Wendy Pratt’s The Wild Within course is brilliant value – her stimulus poems, weekly rationales, and imaginative daily prompts will inspire both beginners and established poets. 

Chris Kinsey

“A wonderful course which offered daily opportunities for new conversations with your creative self. Excellent, detailed prompts, supported by excellent exemplar material (poems and suggested reference points). A friendly, mutually supportive Facebook group, overseen by a very positive and proactive workshop leader.”

Isabel Palmer

“The Wild Within course has  been amazing. I’ve hardly written any poetry since my collection, Blink came out, but in a month of daily prompts I’ve managed viable first drafts of about twenty poems, and I’ll keep the prompts I haven’t responded to yet for when the course is over. I’m very pleased that with a little work I’ll have some poems to send out. Wendy’s prompts are extremely helpful, her longer weekly lessons are thorough and based on good examples of published poems and the Facebook group is supportive. I hadn’t expected I’d want to post my drafts to it, but in the end I enjoyed doing it and reading other participants’ poems; I also found the groups’ comments thoughtful and helpful. Wendy’s presence in the course is caring and nurturing. I’ll certainly be signing up for further courses.”
Jacqui Rowe

Payment Tiers

For this course, and all future courses, I am bringing in a method of tiered payment, a ‘pay what you can’ meted which relies on the honesty of course attendees. There are three payment levels: £20, £40 and £60. There is also the option to sponsor another place at the price level of your choice so that I can support disadvantaged writers.

Why I have given the option to pay more

Lots of previous attendees have told me, during feedback sessions, that they would have paid much more for one of these courses, comparing it to other courses available to them. But at the same time, lots of people have told me they were grateful for the lower cost as it meant they could afford to develop their writing within their own means. I am from a working class background and still live in a working class town. There’s a grey area when it comes to WC folk, and it’s the place where almost everyone I know lives – the place where you are certainly not living in poverty, but you can’t justify retreats, courses or workshops because there is always something else (Christmas, birthdays etc).
It’s my opinion that everyone should have access to exploring their world through the arts, creative writing is my niche and in a world in which the arts are being slowly eroded, where funding is reduced and reduced, I feel I need to do something practical to help people like me, from my background. At the same time, as a working class writer and workshop facilitator, I need to be able to pay my bills and continue doing the things that I have trained for. Hence the option to pay more if you feel you can.

 

Don’t forget, you can sponsor a place on the course for an underprivileged writer. It’s not going to change the world, but it will make a difference to someone’s month. Here’s what one of the previous sponsors had to say:

“I am not by any means well off however when I was out of work in 2016 it was the kindness of others who supported me and my passion of writing. By me now working full time again sponsoring anonymously someone else who is struggling financially made me feel like I was creating a room to grow for a writer which we all need. Wendy is also for me one of the bravest and talented writers active in the UK and as she has not lost sight of her working class roots how can anyone else look away if they can spend £20 on a sponsored place it makes so much difference to someone”

I know from experience how difficult it is to work out which level is right for you, so I have put some guidance together, below. I’ve based my reasoning mainly on the value of £20 in relation to  food and alcohol for some reason:

Sponsored Place – 

If £20 is a half or full week’s food shopping, then you are most likely entitled to a sponsored place. I have three sponsored places so far for this course and there may be more. Get in touch wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com for a chat. I don’t interrogate, this is an honesty system and giving writers a leg up is important.

£20 

If £20 is what you might spend on a takeaway and a bottle of wine, this is probably the tier for you. Also, if you’ve not done one of my courses before, feel free to pay £20 to see if you enjoy it.

£40

If £20 is what you spend on a bottle of wine and a nice bar of chocolate, the forty pound tier sounds about right for you.

£60

If twenty pounds is the amount that you might put into a charity box, or a church collection, then this is probably the tier for you.

YOU CAN SPONSOR A PLACE

Even if you aren’t interested in doing the course, you can still sponsor a place and give a leg up to a writer who has hit hard times and can’t justify the disposable income for a creative writing course. If you ARE doing the course, you can also sponsor an extra place. You might choose to pay £40 for yourself and sponsor a £20 place, you might be an absolute angel and pay £60 and still sponsor a £20 place, you might be a virtual saint and sponsor two £60 places. It’s up to you. Mix and match.

INSTRUCTIONS

Please follow carefully, especially the bit about giving me the correct email address!
  1. Go to PayPal and make a payment at the tier you have chosen to wendycatpratt@yahoo.co.uk  Please add a note containing the email address you wish the course prompts to come to. Also, if you’re sponsoring a place, add a comment so that I know! Please do let me know if paypal isn’t an option for you and we’ll sort something out.
  2. I will send a brief welcome letter to that address to make sure the address works, this will also contain a link to the closed Facebook group, so don’t panic if you can’t find it on facebook.
  3. Request to join the Facebook group. If you can’t find it, or there are any problems, drop me a line at wendyprattfreelancewriter@gmail.com and we’ll get it all sorted out before September starts.
  4. That’s it. It should be quite straight forward, but again, let me know if you have any questions or are experiencing any problems and I’ll endeavour to get it all sorted.
  5. Everything will arrive via email.

Have fun!

Spaces are limited so please book as early as possible.

Re-Connecting With Nature (and cows)

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Yesterday, as I was coming back from a nine mile hike, foot sore, weary and head emptied, I almost walked into a sparrow hawk which was perched on a gate I was about to open. I’m not sure who was more surprised. He/she had its back to me and was scanning the field for prey. I was crossing a railway line at the time and wouldn’t have been able to stop, but as I slowed down and quickly fumbled for my camera, which had conveniently gone into sleep mode, I was awed by her (let’s call her a she) simple grace and perfection. I did not get a good photo of her. I’d seen her at the beginning of my walk, when I had again surprised her hunting  on the other side of the railway. I managed to get this Nat. Geo. quality photograph that time:

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But it didn’t matter. I’d not brought my zoom lens, but that didn’t really matter either. What mattered was the moment I found myself in. I stood for about twenty minutes just leaning on the fence where she’d flown from, camera held aloft, watching her skim around the edges of the field making that familiar high screech call. She’d moved to the other end and was flying in and out of a copse there, while the sheep ate the grass contentedly, some late lambs still bounding about and the dandelion heads blew softly, clumping and dispersing in great rafts of white across the green. The breeze was warm and smelled of the muck spreading and ploughing that was going on around the village. I leaned on the fence and let the breeze blow over me and watched the sparrow hawk zipping and diving, and felt the soreness in my legs radiating up, my thighs aching in such a hard won, pleasant way.  There was an occasional crow riding the air currents, and every so often a group of pigeons would fly in, land, and then see the sparrow hawk and beat a hasty retreat. I’d forgotten what this was like; the way the world is moving on, life is moving on whether it is observed by us, by me, or not. It has been a long time since I just stood and let the world happen around me. It had been a long time since I’d walked that route, which had been my grief route when I was walking off Matilda’s death.

The weeks before had been quite busy, to say the least. I had finished the final version of the new book, When I Think of My Body as a Horse which will be published by Valley Press probably early next year, but hadn’t had a chance to deal with the emotional fallout of the book before I was heading to the University of York for a meeting with a potential PhD supervisor. I’m applying for a full scholarship with a bursary there and had been a bit nervous. There is so much competition for scholarships like this, and even though I know my ideas are good I’m worried about being too hopeful, hope is the most painful of all emotions, in my experience. A day or so later I was driving a five hour round trip to Haworth for a fairly make or break, fifteen minute meeting about another big project I’m working on, and in between that, fielding mentoring questions, mentoring, critiquing, running the current course, editing, chasing stuff up and trying to fit in planning for two other big projects. And then all of a sudden I seemed to fall off the edge of a cliff and everything became ridiculously hard work. I got tired tired, so tired I couldn’t think. It was a physical tiredness as well as a feeling of being emotionally drained. But of course, being self employed it’s very hard to just stop work for a few days. In the end I had to slow right down and tell everyone there’d be a delay in getting them what they wanted while I slept, and laid on the sofa having a cry. Then one of the partners on one of the big projects dropped out, partly because I aren’t well known enough to draw the sort of crowds they want, which was like being slapped in the face AND kicked in the crotch at the same time (sorry, we no longer want to work with you, also who are you?) and it knocked my confidence a bit. A lot. And then, yes, spiralling a bit, not wanting to leave the house, not being able to go into shops, crying and feeling low and a bit ‘what’s the point?’ I was drinking more than I had been, I even smoked a couple of cigarettes, the first time in about a year and a half. So I took a bit of time out and reduced my social media time, and stopped drinking for a few days (I’d planned thirty but did have a rather lovely pint with a big pub lunch today) and yesterday, at the end of a week of doing not much, I took myself off for a nine mile walk, on my own. And it was the most marvellous thing. I barely saw another soul. The friendly cows at the top of the page were the only people I spoke to. It’s what I needed.

The research I’m doing for the potential PhD is taking me back to my first loves: Star Carr and Lake Flixton, Lake pickering, the lake people, the lives of what I consider to be my people. The poems I’m writing are about the fields and the animals and, I guess, nature writing might be a definition, but I hesitate to use it as nature writing has such a bad, boring name. I think this would have been the sort of writing I would have been drawn to, if Matilda’s death hadn’t pulled me into writing about her and myself. Who knows? I know that the collection I just finished is a cross over, it has an animalistic core, possibly because pregnancy and I think grief are animalistic, bloody, fleshy experiences. I recently tried to describe the collection to a friend and came up with:

It’s a personal story of body ownership, of regaining control as a woman, it’s about infertility and baby loss, being childless, being wild; done in a kind of anthropomorphic, shape shifting, animal totemic style with poet as witch and shaman and woman and child…. sort of.

 

I feel like I am carrying that on; poet as shaman, telling the stories of things, people, animals. And it feels like a good fit.

I shall be re-running my ‘Wild Within course in September, which I’ll be launching tomorrow, keep an eye out for it, it’s going to have all new prompts. And a new pricing system. Now I am going to lie on my sofa with my dog and do nothing again.

 

X

 

What I Read in 2019: The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

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I read this mainly for research for an online course that I ran in July. I was looking for something that bridged the gap between science an literature and had an open minded approach to animals and plants as living organisms. I’m from a science background, I worked as an NHS microbiologist for some years before I abandoned it to pursue a life of poverty working in the arts. There’s a bit of a misrepresentation of scientists in the media there’s an assumption that we work in a binary yes/no correct/incorrect method and that science is a water tight method of explaining everything. I also think people assume that the word Eureka is shouted a lot and that when a scientist makes a breakthrough it suddenly changes everything, when what actually happens is you have to repeat that breakthrough until it is statistically relevant, and then there’s a lot of paper work before you do anything else.  Let me tell you now, science is amazing, science has kept a huge amount of the world’s population alive just by identifying stuff that kills us, science is also really cool; there are many beautiful things in science that astound and delight, but science is not water tight, it doesn’t explain things, it just problem solves and creates further questions. That’s why it’s such an impossibly beautiful process; because it’s never ending, because it constantly opens doorways into our knowledge as a world society. Scientists don’t think in a polarised, binary way either, we tend to think in terms of patterns rather than yes and no when it comes to research and if you’re a biologist, even more so because there are so many differences between even single celled individual organisms. That being said, one of the things that has always been drilled into scientists is to not anthropomorphise animals in research, we don’t go into the field and study an animal and make an assumption about its behaviour based on how we would react, because that’s going to cause problems with results. This has meant we can be truly objective, but it’s also meant that empathy and compassion towards animals in the scientific world is severely lacking, it’s caused an objectivisation that has led to othering which is just a way of excusing appalling cruelty. and I think we have missed out on huge chunks of knowledge because we pushed back agains the idea of animals having emotions and human like reactions, we forgot that we too are animals and of course animals have similar reactions to other animals.

I’m not here to rant, I just want to place in context the nature of this book, because a step further down the ladder of compassion and empathy in the scientific world, probably even after poor old Drosophila, are plants. They’re treated as objects not as living things and we have great deal of difficulty imagining them interacting or being aware of anything really, not least themselves and their lives. This book, therefore, took me completely by surprise. because it doesn’t buy into that view of plants, in this case trees, being aware and it doesn’t rage against it either, it just assumes that plants are aware and are making choices based on that awareness. Even writing that as a scientist makes me feel slightly odd, but as a person who is around nature a lot, as someone who writes about nature a lot, I know it to be true in the same way I know my guinea pig recognises me, even if it’s just because I am the carrot bearer in the relationship. We know animals are conscious and sentient, we choose to pretend we don’t and now we are starting to know the same about trees. The book is not lacking in science or scientific evidence, it’s loaded with it and I spent many a happy hour furthering my knowledge about it on youtube, on the internet, following up the information about trees that we know, expanding my knowledge and learning the most amazing things about tree communication, fungal networks, tree reactions, tree matriarchy, etc. The book led me to that through a gentle style, a friendly style which is verging on folk tale like or fairy tale like, as narrated by forestry warden, Peter Wohlleben. It’s no wonder it’s a best seller, it’s so nice to read. I can highly recommend it, I feel like I know more about trees than I ever have, though I am still appalling at identifying them, and I have a new respect for them and how we plant and care for them. Excellent stuff.

Ten Things I Learned as a First Time Literary Magazine Editor

photo of man sitting while reading a book
Photo by Esther Muñoz Trilla on Pexels.com

 

I’m just about to write the editorial for Dream Catcher Magazine issue 39, the first issue to go to print with me in my official role as editor. It’s been a rollercoaster and a real learning curve as myself and the fantastic Dream Catcher team navigate the hand over between two editors with with different styles and ideas. Whilst trying to keep on top of the day to day stuff – the ever growing submissions reading, liaising with colleagues, making decisions and accepting (yay!) and declining (sorry!) work from writers all around the world – I have been working out new systems for tracking submissions, in order to speed up the process and allow us to easily and precisely see exactly what the status of any submission is at any point in the process. And lo, the hard work is paying off and we are about to see Issue 39 made real as an actual printed magazine full of fantastic poems, short stories reviews and articles. I feel incredibly proud of it, and actually a bit emotional. Here are ten things I’ve learned as a first time editor:

1. There is only so much space in any one issue. This means that we simply can’t fit everything in. This means that, inevitably, there have to be rejections. It’s an awful feeling; telling someone we couldn’t use their work, because I know from experience, even if it’s done in the kindest way possible, it still stings. I never want anyone to go away feeling like I didn’t read their work, I read every single piece of work that comes through the submission process and then up to three other people in the team do the same. Each piece is carefully weighed up before a decision is made. There is no hastiness to the process, we believe that when you’re putting your heart and soul into writing something, the same respect is due when reading it.

2. Scatter gun submissions are annoying. I still read every single piece that comes in,  but when a submission arrives without a cover letter and with twenty different lit. mags. copied into the same email it doesn’t make me think that you’ve read the magazine or even looked at it. It sort of feels like all the hours and loyalty that he team is putting in to try and get your voice heard is disregarded; we’re just an email address in a long list of email addresses. The reality is it’s quite acceptable, if you’ve not heard from us for quite a while, that you might have decided to submit elsewhere, in fact I specifically ask to be informed if you have when I send acceptances out, to save on any wasted time. We ask that you let us know straight away if something has been accepted elsewhere (yay! Good for you!) but this, this is just bad manners.

3. It’s important to recognise that just because it’s fiction, it doesn’t mean it’s right. I am the first female editor of Dream Catcher, which is a huge honour. I feel a degree or responsibility in using that position. When I think about the anonymity of women working in the arts throughout history, I feel proud to be in the position that I am, with my name on the front cover. So I won’t be printing male gaze, explicitly pornographic or gratuitously sexually violent themes and nothing which hints at pedophilia. It might be the most beautifully crafted story ever produced, but if it involves rape as a sex scene or sex with a minor it won’t be getting past the gate keeper – me.

4. People generally understand. I work full time, I’m self employed. As far as I know, the whole Dream Catcher team work full time and Rose and Alan also run Stairwell Books so everyone is quite busy. We try and keep on top of the DC duties but sometimes we get a bit behind, especially this year while I have been finding my feet. I’ve fretted about it, about letting people down, and been surprised and humbled by how lovely and kind people have been. People are understanding.

5. Nothing beats the thrill of finding a really good piece of writing. This is my favourite. I knew I’d enjoy it, I knew it would be rewarding, but nothing beats the absolute thrill of getting through the first line of a submission and feeling the tingle in your stomach, the drop down a step feeling of finding an absolutely beautiful piece of writing. We have some real gems in issue 39. What a fantastic feeling. Sometimes a line from a submission will stay with me all day.

6. Submissions are like the magic porridge bowl. They just keep coming. Accepting that I will never again see an empty email inbox has been a difficult lesson, it triggers a slightly alarmed drowning feeling to see it constantly refilling, but at the same time, it does feel a bit like father Christmas and his gift bag.

7. It’s important to look from different perspectives. This is why having a good team around me really is key. Learning to appreciate the breadth of diversity in our readers allows us to make good decisions on the type of work that they’ll like to see. We like to think of the magazine as being 100% quality, but having something for all tastes.

8. There is a camaraderie between editors. And that’s lovely. My experience so far is one of mutual respect and encouragement between the different literary magazine editors. As it should be. There’s room for everyone.

9. People really like writing about road trips. Which is fine, because I really like reading about them.

10. There is not as much swearing in the submissions as I expected. Which makes me question whether I swear too much in my own work. Oh well.

 

Thanks for reading, keep submitting! And follow us on Twitter

 

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Coming Back to Our Story

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A strange thing, this life, this writing business; this process of picking ourselves open along the scars.

I’ve been somewhat stressed of late and started not sleeping well again and, oh, generally feeling a bit overwhelmed by the workload. I often talk about the workload because it’s a constant. I’m at a point in my career where I still can’t turn things down, and I have to constantly have a plan for the next thing. At the minute I am simultaneously working on four projects, two of which are big future projects which are terrifically important to me as a creative practitioner and the other two projects are terrifically important to me because I need to pay my mortgage. I seem to just chip one thing off, and I have to add another on. This isn’t a moan post, by the way, I am incredibly lucky to have found a way to make a living helping people with their creative endeavours and I would not swap that for anything, I love it. I love all the things I do – the theatre reviewing, the article writing, mentoring, editing, course running. But I’m also a writer. I need to write.

I was meant to have finished the final edits on my new collection way back in April. My incredible, patient publisher hasn’t bugged me about it, they are giving me the freedom to come to this collection in the way that I need to. This is by far the most important collection of poems I’ve written. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think they’ll be earth shattering, award winning, life changing poems for anyone other than me, but they are my truth and my story, and my daughter’s story. Because of that, they are the most important poems I have ever written.  The subject matter is so full of emotional moorings. They feel sticky with pregnancy and birth and when I look at them they feel full of my daughter, swelled with her importance. But more than that, they are full of recognition by me, of me. It’s difficult to define why that’s important. They are a recognition of myself as strong, as an individual: as a woman, as a child as a person, as a bereaved mum, as an infertile woman, as a childless woman. These are big, painful poems. They are so close to me and I am so frightened of touching them again that I have effectively procrastinated the months away, prioritising other things instead of tackling the MS, and getting more and more worn out by the amount of work I’m doing. I am still packing the wound that her death left with work, making sure I feel bone tired. I’d started to post sad little ‘I’m tired’ posts on social media, which I was deleting because, God, who isn’t tired?! Who isn’t struggling, who isn’t suffering in one way or another. I have no complaints, I have a good life, I just need to embrace the difficulties and celebrate the good stuff, and there is good stuff a plenty.

Yesterday was one of the ‘I’m so tired, poor me’ post/delete days. Heightened because Chris was going away and I worry so much about him dying in a car crash or being stabbed in street brawl or any number of horrible things that could happen but probably won’t but could but probably won’t but could….on and on and on in my head like that, that the anxiety will keep me static for hours until I know he’s safe. Such is the legacy of trauma I’m afraid. To cut a long story short I happened to check into Facebook memories. Mostly these memories tend to be selfies and pictures of my cat, but sometimes a worm hole opens to the year my daughter died. Yesterday’s was from 2010 ‘another bottle of gin drunk, another bottle of gin bought’ and I remembered suddenly so clearly that time three months after she’d died when I was spiralling, out of control, sinking into her death and drinking a bottle of gin a day to deal with the unbearable pain of it. It was one of those ‘bloody hell, that was a bad time’ things where you recognise how bad things have been. I made a comment about it on twitter and said it sort of put things into perspective, because yeah, I’m tired, but I’m no longer trying to survive an alternate universe of grief in which every single thing, thought and feeling is hell. 120 people liked that post, I was completely taken aback by the support. And I got a shed load of comments of support, some from people who have only recently had babies, too. I think my experiences are often difficult for people who have just had babies or are pregnant to deal with. They don’t know what to say to me, so that sort of recognition rather than avoidance is always appreciated.

It was like a touchstone to that time, and I thought about it all day, all night, and suddenly I realised I’m ready. Christ, look at me, I’m Titanium, I’m bomb proof and I have a voice and I have a story, our story to tell. This book, it’s a goodbye to my daughter, and it’s an acceptance of self and of future. I think I’ve said something along these lines before, about this book and what it means. I’ve been working on it since, I think, 2014. And now it’s nearly done and I am nearly done. Losing my baby, especially in the way we did, it took everything from me, but having her, having the experience of a love that big and knowing exactly how much you can love someone, it gave me everything, it gave me everything I am today, here. This is where I am now.

I have only written two poems this year. I would have been worried about that before, but I’ve come to recognise that for me poetry is a specific process that comes when it comes, and I can feel it now, it’s coming back. I think when I finished the MS I was just exhausted by it, poetically exhausted. I couldn’t write another thing, it was a giant purge of extreme emotion and I haven’t, if I’m honest, really read a great deal of poetry either. I’ve put the edits on the MS off because I didn’t want to go back down into the underworld, back to hell and back into yet another deep depression, which is what happened when I was working on the MS last time. But now, I don’t know. I feel like I am preparing myself. I can feel it coming, I’ve started reading poetry again, I’ve started writing poetry again, and it’s good, it’s right. I tentatively opened the MS and I can see what needs to be done with it. I’ve been testing the poems on audiences at readings and they go down well.

There are poems to be written and they are prickling around my bones like new red blood cells. It feels like being in touch with the intensity of emotion that the experience, my love is and was,  it feels like I am about to meet my daughter again, and I feel just a little bit mad, on the cusp of some great wave of creativity that is going to take me somewhere else, and it feels good. It feels clean and sharp, I feel clean and sharp and strong and fast, like a hare, ready to do this.

That’s all. I need to tell this story. That’s all.

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