Gladstone’s Library Residency – October 2019


I’ve been spending my October in a truly delightful place – Gladstone’s Library in Hawarden, North Wales. ‘Gladstone’ as in William Ewart Gladstone, four times Prime Minister, resident of Hawarden and an avid gatherer of books. The library houses his own collection, plus many books collected in his particular areas of interest: theology, history and literature. The library runs a Writer in Residence scheme throughout the year, and anyone can apply if they’ve had a book published in the last three years, of any genre. It comes highly recommended.

I’ve been here since October 1st, with the exception of a couple of days off to go to a wedding, and have been trying to write every day, even if it’s not for long.

I’ve also done a reading and Q&A event and will be running a masterclass on writing place, eco-poetry and the future next weekend on October 27th. I’ve also written a couple of blog pieces for the library about my stay, which you might like to read:

Firstly, on writing about the environment, climate and politics and whether any of it makes a difference:

And secondly, on self-care for writers (something that becomes important when you’re spending every day at the poetry coalface):

The Apocalypse: community, Romanticism and minutiae

A month or so ago I was asked some questions by a creative writing student from the University of Bolton, Sophie Adams.  I’ve done some guest lecturing at Bolton over the last few years and so it’s really good to be able to help the students out.
As it turns out, Sophie’s questions were hugely insightful, with every one of them making me turn back to my own book and look at it in a new way, and so I’ve asked her if she was happy for me to turn them into a blog post. She said yes. Sophie isn’t on Twitter but you can follow @CWatBolton for more of what the department gets up to.  The image below is the final poster from her presentation (how space-age and cool!)
What role do you feel community plays in your fictional apocalypse? Is it important to forge connections to help one through difficult times, or is the “end” a very individual space?

I think there are many different apocalypses in the book, and they’re not all necessarily aiming for the same thing. But I do think that community is there in some of them. I think that there’s the suggestion that an apocalypse or dystopia might help us listen to each other more, in poems such as ‘Helpline’ or ‘This Morning the Walls’. Often the endings in this book help the people in those poems to see the relationships that are important to them. The apocalypses here often stand in for our own mortality, so perhaps that isn’t much of a surprise.
A lot of the dystopian scenarios in the book started life in something real, for example ‘This is England’s greenest City’ was inspired by the tree-felling in Sheffield, where I live. There were a lot of protests and action taken by residents to try and prevent the council’s contractors felling the trees. A lot of the things in the poem are quite far fetched – but some of them are true, and have happened. Community amongst residents, and the action groups they formed, was a vital part of ensuring that Sheffield kept its trees. But as conditions get worse for the speaker in this poem, they are seen as becoming more isolated, and more alone. Although there is something very individualistic about the more ‘survivalist’ or ‘prepper’ attitudes, there is also something about being connected to others that I’m sure will help us survive.
I’m interested in how the future may call for our cities and the way we live to be different, and I suppose the ways in which widening inequality between rich and poor may mean that some people suffer more than others. Poems like ‘The Plug-in-City’ in which a well-to-do community of individuals can literally pick up and move their lives to more hospitable places, with the implication that those outside the city may not be having an easy time of it at all.
Do you find there is a connection between Romanticism and the apocalyptic ideas you portray in your poems ?
This isn’t a connection that I’ve nurtured too much, and it’s maybe even something I have gently mocked in poems like ‘The Last Poet-in-Residence’ – the Romantic figure of the poet alone in a landscape that he writes about, but it is an apocalyptic landscape of increasing danger, and nobody is ever going to read the poems! I am interested in exploring the connection between the poet and nature, but have always thought the Romantic idea of nature as something ‘fitted to the mind’ rather than the other way around, rather reductive. Humans seeing nature as something separate from ourselves, or something to be mastered, rather than something we’re part of, is probably why we’re in the mess we’re in.
How do you want the minutiae to work within the vast spaces you create in your poetry?
I don’t think you can have a vast anything without minutiae. If you’re going to get your reader to go as far as imagining a neighbourhood falling into a series of sinkholes, it’s maybe good to get them to imagine the kitchen worktop first, or something like that. I don’t really believe that the end of the world will happen all at once. It’ll happen day by day, with tiny changes that we almost don’t notice, day after day of decisions that don’t feel like much. I think that feels much more apocalyptic than a thunderclap or the sun going out all at once. It feels like perhaps the end of the world has already begun and we don’t even know it. In real life the beginnings and ends of things are often pretty hard to identify.

The Dark Museum – A Poetry Film

I’m really pleased to be sharing this poetry film of my poem ‘The Dark Museum’ from Near FutureThe film was made by Helen from Elephant’s Footprint and the process of making it was really interesting too.

When Helen initially told me that she wanted to use this poem, I was a bit worried because it’s actually about the absence of the visual. The poem’s subject is a museum where visitors can experience different kinds of darkness, the idea being that we rarely experience true darkness in our world of light pollution.  I was therefore really interested to see where it would go. I tend to describe myself as ‘not having a very visual imagination’ and tend to be quite focussed on sounds and smells in my own creative thinking, so I was really keen to give someone free rein to work in dimensions that I had perhaps not considered myself when writing the poem.

I hope you enjoy the result. When we met up Helen told me she had spent ages Googling J.D Salinger’s curtains, for which I can only apologise. I just thought he probably kept his curtains drawn, being reclusive. Of course he might have favoured blinds…


Launch time!

46470422_10160908400235214_8408540887386161152_n.jpgOh how I wish I could add a little rocket emoji to that heading. Last week saw the launch of Near Future at DINA Venue in Sheffield. It mostly felt like a party. I was lucky enough to have my lovely publisher Jane Commane from Nine Arches Press on hand to sell books, and Jane also treated me to one of her world-famous introductions which made me feel rather special.

I wasn’t alone in performing, either: I had friends, which is what everyone needs at such a time.  Roy Marshall started the evening with some poems including a fish-based dystopian one that I hadn’t heard for a while and like a lot. Roy is a friend who has been really helpful in putting together the book, we exchange poems for feedback quite often and his first opinion often tends to be exactly right! His most recent book is The Great Animator (follow the link) 

Helen Mort also read a short extract from Exire (Wrecking Ball Press). Helen has been very helpful in the book’s coming together, early on she read some of the poems and has been an optimistic follower of their fortunes ever since. She also wrote me a really nice quote for the back of the book.

Exire is a hybrid book, it feels like a novel composed of short stories, set in a dystopian world where the mentally ill are no longer supported by the health service and as a result a profit is being made by companies offering assisted suicide, with professional writers who’ll create you a bespoke suicide note. It’s a dark, bleak book and I’d recommend it hugely.

Musical entertainment came from TSARZI, an incredibly talented Sheffield musician and friend whose music I don’t really have the vocabulary to describe (words for music are one of my great linguistic blind spots). It is both musically and lyrically inventive, and with a good few apocalypse-themed tracks in there as well.

It was a really enjoyable evening, and I had so much fun. No-one tells you this, but seeing your book in print, although it’s the just the beginning for the reader, also feels like an ending:  this is the result of your hard work – six years of work in my case – and it has achieved the most final form it is ever going to achieve. It is completely out of my hands now, and all I can do is let it go into the world and wish it the best of luck.

Oh and there was an especially apocalyptic cake from Steel City Cakes too…



Near Future Adventures

So something very exciting happened yesterday and I can now show you the cover for my forthcoming first collection, Near Future, which will be available from  Nine Arches Press in November 2018. Look: DfACrupX0AAewt_

I originally thought I’d like some futuristic architectural drawings in the style of Archigram but it was very hard to get permissions for the use of these. In the end I found this image on Pinterest of all places, and discovered Bryan Olson, the collage artist behind it. It instantly felt like the right sort of thing. I love the geometric shapes and the deep-space sky. I very much like that the little figure is a woman. I was nervous about how pink it is but I saved the image to my phone and after a lot of staring at it I started to love the pink. In fact I still do stare at it to cheer myself up. The diagonal text was Jane’s (Commane, Nine Arches Editor) idea. We tried it in other places on the cover but it just wasn’t as compelling.

I hope you enjoy the cover. I hope you eventually come to enjoy the book inside it, once you get to read it. I am still unused to the idea of it being in the world, but I’ve got a bit longer to get used to that idea and to get even more excited!

Some News for the Near Future

2018 poets images

I perhaps should have posted about this a little sooner, my apologies… BUT last week Nine Arches Press announced their 2018 publishing list and as you can perhaps see from the graphic above, I am included in that list. It is a delightful thing to be able to say that my debut poetry collection, Near Future, will be published in November 2018.  I am really happy to be working with Nine Arches, whose list just keeps getting more and more exciting, and to be helping them celebrate their tenth year, and to be featuring amongst the cast of superb poets above.

A Call for Submissions: Future Poems!

future-subsRead the call for submissions on the Emma Press website and SUBMIT YOUR POEMS!

I’m really excited to be working with the amazing Emma Press, whose themed and illustrated anthologies are such things of beauty, as well as dry-witted fellow apocalyptician (that’s a mixture between apocalypse and magician and I’m not sure it works) Tom Sastry on this anthology. We want your poems about the future, whatever kind of future that might be: dystopian, utopian, one where we’re at the mercy of our robot overlords. Or what’s happening next week, or what to do with your life. Or a combination of any / many of these things.

You’ve got until April 1st to make your submission and I’m really looking forward to reading all the poems we receive, and even more to creating an anthology of them.


Poetry in the Woods


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My workshop with Friends of Brincliffe Edge Wood is coming up on May 14th and I thought  I’d write a little bit about why I’m so interested in these woods, and why I’m looking forward to writing there in a few week’s time.

Brincliffe Edge Wood is a short (steep) distance from where I live and is my preferred choice for a short walk to break up the day at weekends or when I’m working at home. There’s a great view from the top, especially useful on fireworks night as you can see lots of firework displays from afar, between the trees.

For such a small patch of land it has quite a mixed history of use – it has been a quarry, used to graze livestock, has been allotments (part of it is still allotments) and another part has been the garden of a large house. Remnants of all these things are scattered all over the wood – old ornamental laurels from the garden and two privet hedges that have been left for years and grown themselves almost into an arch are some favourites of mine.

There is a lot of wildlife here too. My favourites have to be the tawny owls which you can hear calling on Spring nights. Although you hear them often it’s quite rare to see one, especially in summer when the trees are leafy. One night my partner Will and I went for a walk as it was getting dusk and happened to see one facing away from us on a low branch…and then it heard us and swivelled its head, looking at us like an angry librarian.  I expect they’ll all be snoozing during the workshop but we’ll know they are there.

Meeting with FOBEW has been brilliant – they are a dedicated team who get together on regular Wednesday sessions to keep improving the wood. They’ve done a great job so far but they say there’s always more to do. They’ve also let me borrow their history file which is full of fascinating old maps of the area. From looking at these maps I’ve learned that the   name Brincliffe has lost a ‘k’ – Brink cliff edge is a very suitable name for such a steep drop in the land! And that the duckpond outside the flats where I live has been there for a lot longer than there have been houses here, and so must be filled by a natural water-course. And that the hospital on Union Road used to be a workhouse.

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This map is one from the file – it includes the name of all the fields nearby. Relics of these names still show up around the place, particularly the Broadfield, my favourite local pie-eating establishment.

If all this has interested you, I’d love to see you at my workshop on Saturday May 14th.  We’ll explore all these ideas and more with time to write and explore the woods. The workshop runs from 10am-1pm and costs £10. Please email me at to book your place!

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Coming soon…The Aldeburgh Eight Shuffle!

I will be reading with the other members of the 2015 Aldeburgh Eight at this event at the Poetry Cafe in Covent Garden, London on 27th February, starting at 7.30pm.

Come and hear the eight poets chosen by The Poetry Trust for its week long residential seminar last November, part of the 2015 Aldeburgh Festival.

Poet and seminar co-leader Jackie Wills introduces:

John Challis (Tyne and Wear)
Josephine Corcoran (Wiltshire)
Suzannah Evans (Sheffield)
Sean Hewitt (Cheshire)
Anita Pati (London)
Kathy Pimlott (London)
Andrew Rudd (Cheshire)
Miranda Yates (New Mills)

£6 / £4. Doors open 7.00pm for 7.30pm start. Bar available.

This event feels particularly important to me given the recent discontinuation of the Poetry Trust, who ran the Aldeburgh Eight seminar among the many wonderful things they did for poetry and especially for new poets. Hopefully this will be a night to celebrate all those things and keep that generous spirit alive!