Five minutes ago it was the end of May. Now it’s nearly the end of July.

When I think about it, it isn’t really suprising that the time’s gone so quickly. After all, it’s been a pretty busy couple of months…

Poetry:

BREAKING THE SURFACE: The main thing in my poetry life is that I’ve launched my pamphlet! Yes, that’s right: I am now the author of a slim volume of poetry which actually has my name on the cover and my poems on the pages in between.

Breaking the Surface officially came out at the end of June, but I sort of jumped the gun on that one, and had the launch on 6th June. Well, I say ‘the launch’ – what I actually mean is the first launch, because I had two.

The first was at Penrith Old Fire Station. I read poems from the pamphlet, alongside two members of Dove Cottage Young Poets, who also performed, and who pretty much stole the show: Hannah Hodgson & Emily Asquith. I say ‘pretty much’ because there was also an open mic, and – more importantly – a buffet. Always a good thing at a poetry event! (Or any event, for that matter…)

The second was in Crosthwaite Village Hall. This was a joint launch with Pauline Yarwood, whose pamphlet, Image Junkie, is published by Wayleave Press.

PRIZES: I’ve also had a lucky couple of months (following on from another lucky couple of month before that). My poem, ‘The Selkie’s Child’, was chosen by Hannah Lowe to win the Ware Poetry Prize. A couple of weeks later, another poem (‘Offcomer’) was shortlisted for the Frogmore Papers Poetry Prize.

Fingers crossed the lucky streak keeps going!

ALSO: As well as prizes & publications, there’ve been quite a few performances. (Alliteration – see what I did there?) Some of these were my own (I had a lovely evening as the guest reader at an open mic night at Cakes & Ale in Carlisle, and a trip to Derby to read for Derby Poetry Group).

Some of the performances, though, were other people’s. In particular, July saw the culmination of a schools project I’ve been working on with New Writing North. This year, I’ve been working with three schools across Cumbria (Barrow Island Primary School, St Bede’s Primary School & Monkwray Junior School), to write poems based on New Writing North’s children’s show, Hey Presto! – which toured libraries at the end of last year. The project culminated in the production of an anthology, called All the Things We Would Pull from a Magic Hat, and performances in Monkwray School and Barrow Library. Seeing the children’s pride in performing their poetry for an audience, and their excitement at having their names in a book, was the perfect end to the project.

Barrow Island Primary School - work with New Writing North and Katie Hale

 

Fiction:

The fiction has been largely in a ‘thought’ phase over the past few weeks. This isn’t a cop-out of saying that I haven’t been working on it. I have. But so much of a writer’s work goes on in the mind, and that’s what’s been happening with the novel.

In June, I went down to London for my first WriteNow mentoring meeting with my editor at Penguin Random House. It was such a rewarding meeting: to have somebody look at the first draft of the novel in its entirety and really examine what was working and what still needed attention. There was a lot of very encouraging positive feedback. There were a couple of sections that I wasn’t sure about, which Tom (my editor) highighted as needing work, so it was good to have that confirmation.

Generally, it’s left me with a lot to mull over, ready to start reworking the existing draft in the next week or so.

Meanwhile, I’ve been working on…

The Inevitable Quiet of the Crash - a new musical at Edinburgh Fringe 2017, lyrics by Katie Hale & music by Stephen Hyde

Theatre:

The Inevitable Quiet of the Crash opens at Edinburgh Fringe in ijust a few days time! Which means the past 8 weeks have involved a lot of last-minute edits and adjustments as we work towards opening night.

Something fascinating happens when you give your words over to somebody else to work with. Suddenly, the words cease to be yours. Someone else takes them, rolls them around their mouth and delivers them back to the world in a voice that isn’t yours. It’s the closest I’ve been to becoming Frankenstein, literally bringing another human to life.

But of course, working with other people inevitables means changing things. One of the joys of working with actors is that they inhabit the character fully. Of course, this is something I try to do during the writing process, but I’m trying to juggle multiple characters, multiple storylines, and an overarching plot. Whereas for the actor, they focus on the one character and learn to inhabit their skin. They walk in the character’s shoes. They look through the character’s eyes – which means that they spot things that I don’t.

Hence rewrites and revisions.

The result? Hopefully a more rounded and complete show, with truer, deeper characters. Hopefully a successful run at the Fringe!

Find out more about the show and how to get tickets here.

Or read my interview with Gareth Vile, talking about the show here.

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So all in all, a pretty busy couple of months!

Oh yes, and I also went to Iceland with my friend & fellow writer Jess Rich. (The country, that is – not the frozen food shop.)

Iceland

The months in books:

I haven’t actually read as much as I’d like to these past couple of months – probably because I’ve been so busy writing, travelling, and tying myself up in admin knots. But what I have read has been a good mixture of new works (or at least, new to me) and old favourites.

I’ve particularly enjoyed rereading the Harry Potter series. A few weeks ago, Harry Potter turned 20. So that evening, when I couldn’t sleep, I pulled my tatty, dogeared but very well-read Philosopher’s Stone from the shelf and immersed myself. What fascinated me most was how much more I noticed this time around. I’ve read these books several times; I thought I knew everything they had to offer. But this was the first time I’d read them since starting to write fiction of my own, and suddenly I’d become alive not just to the stories, but to the writing itself. One of the message’s in Alain de Botton’s The Art of Travel (which I also read recently) is that drawing an object helps you to observe and understand that object; it’s the same with writing. Now that I’ve tried to create my own story, I can observe and understand J K Rowling’s writing process in a completely different light.

  • Confabulations, by John Berger
  • Girl Meets Boy, by Ali Smith
  • The Character of Rain, by Amelia Nothomb
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by J K Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J K Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J K Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J K Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J K Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J K Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J K Rowling
  • The Fishermen, by Chigozie Obioma
  • The Art of Travel, by Alain de Botton

The months in pictures:

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After a month of writing very little while travelling around Cambodia & Vietnam, May has been full on. Honestly, since landing at Manchester airport at the end of April, I don’t think I’ve stopped.

Finding time to write in London
Finding time to write in London

After the Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize’s award ceremony in Dublin, and the South Downs Poetry Festival weekend residential over the bank holiday weekend, May got into full swing with a couple of days hanging out on London’s Southbank and writing, as well as seeing ‘Consent’ at the National Theatre, and drinking wine with friends (always important).

From there, I headed up to Cambridge for the Jane Martin Poetry Prize award ceremony, held at Girton College. Judged this year by Grevel Lindop & Malcom Guite, the Jane Martin Poetry Prize is awarded annually to a poet under 30, for a group of up to four poems – and this year, I was lucky enough to win it. It was a really fun evening, with the award ceremony taking place in the old library, followed by a delicious formal hall dinner. I spent the night in the college, then headed home the next day.

Which was a good thing, because while I’ve been at home, there have been progressions with all three of my big current projects:

Poetry: This month I wrote a couple of new poems, but more importantly: I proofed my pamphlet. It was an odd (but satisfying) experience, seeing the printer’s proof arrive in my inbox – like spending years growing & nurturing a tree, then coming out of the house one day to find it suddenly in bloom. But that blossom will be turning into something even more substantial this week, as the pamphlet itself finally arrives, ready for the big launch on Friday. Very exciting!

Novel: A huge one this month, as I’ve finally finished the first draft of the novel! Which means that I actually got to the end, with no gaps in the middle which just say ‘write something here’. It may be messy, but it’s still a full complete draft. At that moment, when I plugged my laptop into the printer and pressed ‘print’, I was so excited I actually wriggled – like Christmas Eve when I was a child, and I couldn’t sleep for wriggling. Now, I just need to edit it. (I say ‘just’…) I have my first one-to-one with my wonderful editor on the Penguin Random House WriteNow scheme, Tom, in a couple of weeks, and after that I’ll have a better idea of how to move forward with the manuscript. But still: exciting times!

Musical: I’ve done very little actual work on the musical this month – and what I have done has only been in the past week, as we start to look at shaping this draft up into its ‘finished’ form, ready to workshop it with the cast next month. BUT that doesn’t mean nothing has been happening, because tickets for the musical (called The Inevitable Quiet of the Crash and co-written with composer Stephen Hyde) went on sale! The show runs 2nd – 26th August 2017, at the Edinburgh Fringe, and you can book your tickets nicely in advance here.

And that’s pretty much been my life this month! Lots of writing. Not a lot of sleep. Ah well. Maybe June will be a bit more relaxed…? (I doubt it.)

The month in pictures:

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BREAKING THE SURFACE

{pamphlet launch, reading & open mic}

Friday 2nd June, 7:30pm
Penrith Old Fire Station, Bridge Lane, Penrith, CA11 8HY

FREE*

‘Katie Hale’s nimble poems, attuned to both the mythic and the quotidian, are full of the delighted surprise and sadness of being alive. Read them and be thrilled.’ – Jacob Polley

It’s here. It’s happening. The poems I’ve been pouring myself into creating for the past few years are coming together in a physical thing that can be bought and read and carried around. Which basically means you can keep my soul in your handbag.

The launch event will be me reading from the pamphlet, Breaking the Surface, alongside guest readers (who I’ll be announcing gradually to increase anticipation, the way they do the Glastonbury line-up), and open mic slots for anyone who wants to sign up on the night. Come along for a night of poetry celebration!

There’ll also be a bring & share supper, so please do dig out that secret family recipe / buy a big bag of crisps on the way over.

Breaking the Surface is published by Flipped Eye.

*Please bring food to share. Bar on site.

Let me know if you’re coming HERE.

Sometimes, writing is about not writing. Sometimes, you have to put down the pen and get busy living in order to have anything to write about. At least, that’s my excuse for April.

April has been a month of clearing my head of all the wordy detritus that’s built up there over the past few months. Honestly, I think I needed the break. At the end of March my brain just felt stuffed, and writing felt difficult (more difficult than usual), as though I was forcing the words out kicking and screaming. Creativity is a muscle, after all, and any muscle can become overworked and strained.

So I’ve spent the past month travelling.

Cambodia. Vietnam.

Katie Hale - Vietnam
I’ve spent a fair bit of time on boats, and a fair bit of time eating all the delicious food I can get my hands on. The only reason I’m not currently the size of a house is that I’ve also spent quite a bit of time walking, whether that’s wandering round towns and cities, or the 3 day trekking tour I bravely embarked on in the hilly northwest of Vietnam around Sa Pa.

I’ve always believed that walking is good for writing. I’m not alone in this belief: I know a number of writers who extol the virtues of a good walk for clearing the brain. Wordsworth used to compose sonnets during his walks on the beach at Calais.

Maybe it’s something to do with the rhythm. Maybe it’s the chemical change enacted on the body by keeping it in motion. Maybe it’s the feel of ground beneath the feet, of groundedness. Whatever the answer, I’ve come home itching to pick up my pen and get the ball rolling on my various projects again.

Well – I say I’ve come home… I did, sort of. For about 2 days. Now I’m off again, although this time I feel slightly more justified in that I’m currently travelling for work. (I love saying that: travelling for work. It sounds so important & businesslike.)

This week, I’ve spent a couple of days in Dublin, where I was shortlisted for the Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize. I didn’t win, but the evening was lovely enough even without winning. Each of the shortlisted poets read their poem, and we were then all presented with our cheques (!) and photographed, and everyone drank wine. There was so much wine on tap all evening: poetry events done right.

Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize award ceremony - Katie Hale
Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize award ceremony

After the award ceremony, there was a reading by Don Paterson and Colette Bryce. I’d heard Colette read before at a workshop weekend at the Wordsworth Trust, but it was wonderful hearing her read from her new Selected Poems, like a cross-section of her writing career so far. As for Don Paterson, I’ve heard him read a few times, as he was one of the tutors on my Masters at St Andrews, but I always enjoy hearing him read: his precise and often ominous poems interspersed with moments of his self-deprecating humour. As with all good poetry readings, this was followed by a trip to the pub, and a long conversation with Don & my friend Ann, who did the Masters at the same time as me and completely surprised me by showing up the the Ballymaloe Prize reading to hear me read. A wonderful affirmation of the generous nature of the poetry world.

From Dublin, I flew to Gatwick, to take the train to Petersfield for the South Downs Poetry Festival Residential, tutored by Kim Moore & Hugh Dunkerley, which I was lucky enough to receive an emerging writers’ bursary for. The long weekend focussed broadly on landscape, with workshops encouraging us to think about the internal and external landscapes, journeys through them, and how we address and perceive elements of the landscape around us. After a month’s break from writing creatively, the residential was a baptism of fire, and I came away with five almost-complete poems, and a couple of bits of raw material that may or may not shape up into something in the future. So talk about a productive weekend!

Writing in Halong Bay, Vietnam - Katie Hale
Writing in Halong Bay, Vietnam

The Month in Books: 

You know when you’re browsing an airport bookshops between flights, and you aren’t really there because you’re planning to buy a book, you’re just trying to kill some of your layover time? And then suddenly you see a friend’s book on the bestseller stand, and obviously it’s like fate intervening and telling you that you can’t not buy it? At Singapore airport, that’s exactly what happened to me, when I saw (and of course couldnt’ resist buying) Cecilia Vinesse’s heart-warming young adult novel, Seven Days of You. Cecilia was another students on the St Andrews creative writing Masters at the same time as me, so it was particularly special to be able to buy and read a book that I’d heard so much about, and seen during the earlier stages of its creation process.

Other than that, I’ve been reading quite a bit about Cambodia & Vietnam, in an effort to connect my reading with my travels. I love doing this: I love that experience of reading about a place, and then looking up from the page to find that I’m actually there.

  • Cambodian Stories from the Gatiloke
  • The Sorrow of War, by Bao Ninh
  • Seven Days of You, by Cecilia Vinesse
  • The Clothing of Books, by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The Quiet American, by Graham Greene

Reading list - Katie Hale
The Month in Pictures: 

(During my 4 weeks in Cambodia & Vietnam, I took over 3000 photos. Don’t worry. They’re not all posted here.)

Another month – how do they go so quickly?

March always feels as if it should be a month of waking up. It’s when nature really kicks into gear at the end of a long winter. The nights are lighter, I can ditch the heavy winter coat, and there are daffodils in the jug on my windowsill. Oh, and lambs in the field. One of my favourite things about spring, and one of the joys of living in the country: getting to see the lambs skipping and playing in the fields around the house.

Of course, it isn’t just about flowers or adorable farmyard animals. It’s also (like every month) about writing.

And I couldn’t have asked for a better start to the month. At the beginning of March, a whole host of poets & poetry lovers make their annual pilgrimage to St Andrews in Fife, for one of the best poetry festivals around: StAnza. I first went to StAnza during my MLitt year at St Andrews, when I volunteered as a Participant Liaison Officer, looking after poets & speakers, and taking them to and from the venue (or ‘PL-ing’, as it’s known by regular festival volunteers).

This year was my third StAnza, and as wellas PL-ing, I was also the festival’s in-house blogger. This meant writing a blog post each day about what had happened at the festival the day before. In some ways, this was quite a challenge, as there was pressure to write something (and something interesting, too) every day. I couldn’t just switch off for a day. But the flip-side of that was that it made me focus. During every event, I was concentrating, making notes, making sure I had something to say about it for the blog. Which meant that I probably took in more from the festival than normal – which is saying a lot, because I usually come away with my head stuffed full of thoughts & words & ideas.

Since I first volunteered there in 2013, the festival has really become a kind of family. It’s such an inspiring week, and has become a highlight of my social and creative calendar.

Read my StAnza blog posts here:

StAnza blog post writing

At the end of February, I learned I’d been selected for Penguin Random House’s Write Now mentoring scheme. In March, Penguin Random House publicly announced the list of mentees, which was exciting, and pretty much wholly occupied my twitter stream for a while. The actual mentoring process hasn’t started yet, but already it’s pushed me to write more of the manuscript, which can only be a good thing.

Poetry-wise it’s been a month of successes, too.

This month, the shortlist for the Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize was announced. There are four writers shortlisted, and this year, my poem was one of them! Now I need to figure out what to wear for the prizegiving next month…

And, as if that wasn’t enough, the following week I received second prize in the Tannahill Poetry Prize, based in Scotland. We went up to Lochwinnoch for the prizegiving evening – me & my fan club (aka parents). It was an evening of music, courtesy of local folk duo Witches Brew, and poetry, from the other prizewinning writers and from judge Sally Evans. Cue a bit of a Cumbrian takeover, by both myself and Kathleen Jones (who won the third prize & is also a Cumbrian poet).

I’ve also delivered a few schools’ workshops this month, for New Writing North and the Wordsworth Trust – including one at Dove Cottage, which is always good fun. (Although sometimes it feels as though you’re writing with Wordsworth looking over your shoulder.)

Mostly, this month just feels as though it’s flown by. Like the writing time has just disappeared in a whirlwind of everything else happening. Which is maybe a good thing. Sometimes I think that I need a break from writing. Creativity is a muscle, and while it’s good to exercise that muscle, it can also get overworked. Sometimes I just think I need to give the writing muscles a break.

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THE MONTH IN BOOKS:

This month has been a fairly quiet one for reading, with only two books (though numerous individual poems – too many to list here). Part of this is that I simply haven’t made enough time for reading. Part of it is that I think my brain is starting to feel saturated, clogged up with words. But that’s fine – I have a break coming up very soon… (But shhh. Spoilers.)

This month’s two books are:

  • The Idle Traveller, by Dan Kieran
  • The Quiet American, by Graham Greene

THE MONTH IN PICTURES:

Last week, I made my annual trip north to StAnza International Poetry Festival. This was my third festival volunteering for StAnza, and as well as my usual job of looking after poets, I had the responsibility of being the festival’s in-house blogger.

Amongst all the wonderful talks and readings and performances, there was one event that stood out as being not about the art (at least, not in its purest form), but about the practicalities of making that art pay.

‘Making a Living as a Poet’ was an event sponsored by the Society of Authors. Chaired by Ken Cockburn, poets Sarah Hesketh and Harry Giles talked about how to make money from being a poet – although, as Harry qualified, ‘You can make a living from poetry, but it’s a crap living.’ 

That aside, I thought I’d share with you some of the wisdom learned during that event.

Reading April De Angelis, 'Playhouse Creatures'
April De Angelis, ‘Playhouse Creatures’

HOW TO MAKE A LIVING AS A POET:

  • Find cheap rent. Poetry doesn’t pay well. Unless you have some uncanny luck or you’ve made a deal with the devil to bag a big prize every couple of months, you’re not going to make it onto the Forbes rich list through writing poems. So living somewhere where the rent is a bit cheaper, and living costs are more affordable, is going to be vital.
  • Turn up to stuff. Like so many fields of work, poetry and writing are all about making connections. I don’t mean this in a kind of ‘old boys’ way, but if someone recognises your name on an application, it’s a good start. If you get to know people, they’re more likely to think of you when it comes to work. This goes for organisations, arts councils, collaborations with other artists… The good thing is that poetry networking isn’t nearly as scary as big business networking; it isn’t about striding into a room in a sharp suit, killer heels and blood-red lipstick, then bowling everyone over with with that cut-throat marketing pitch. It’s actually just about hanging out with other lovely artsy people and having interesting conversations.
  • Say yes to everything. Become known as the person who will do the work, rather than the person who refuses the work. Sarah Hesketh started the event by saying that, by accepting any work she could in the field of literature, there’s now ‘a touch of poetry’ on everything she does. Or, as Harry Giles said: you can’t get a full-time job just making art, but you can stitch together enough arts jobs to almost make a living.
  • Be nice. People don’t re-employ people who are rude to them. It’s just common sense.
  • Be professional. Same thing. If you never meet deadlines, or you constantly bitch about your colleagues (which will get back to them – it’s a small world), or you don’t do the work you’ve agreed to do, then people are unlikely to come back to you when the next employment opportunity comes around.
  • Seek out funding. Don’t wait for the work to come to you. Go out and find it. A couple of people seemed surprised by this – isn’t it pushy to ask for work / funding when it hasn’t been offered? But let’s use a more quotidien analogy: grocery shopping. Let’s say you’ve run out of food. Your cupboards are empty, there’s nothing but that mouldy bit of cheddar at the back of the fridge, and all you have in your freezer is half a bag of frozen peas. There are two options. Option 1: sit at your kitchen table twiddling your thumbs and hope someone knocks on your door with a trolley-full of food. Option 2: go to the supermarket and do some food shopping. Obviously, the most obvious and effective of these is option 2. You go out and get some food. It’s the same with work and funding. Instead of waiting for someone to come along and offer you a residency, get in touch with the organisation where you’d like to be poet-in-residence and work together to put together a funding bid. Instead of wishing someone would pay you just to write poems, apply for PhD funding: 3 years of effectively being paid to write a collection of poems. Of course, this all means more admin, but as Harry put it: ‘Making art is also the amin of making art.’ Which brings me onto…
  • Do an apprenticeship. As with any industry, you need to learn how it operates, and have the skills to operate within it. Sarah Hesketh spent a few years working for small arts organisations, in the kind of admin role where she learned how to do everything: events planning; marketing; press releases; funding bids; working with artists; evaluation… All the arts admin skills you need to operate as an individual artist. Of course, this isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Some artists can’t think of anything worse than having to spend half (or even most) of their day doing admin. Which is fine. There are plenty of other ways to support your writing. Get a job in a cafe or a bar. Work in a funeral parlour. Drive an ice cream van. As long as you’re doing something that you enjoy and that still leaves you at least some time for the writing, then that’s fine. Living as a writer can be as individual as the writing itself.
  • Don’t rely on publishing a book as a way of getting rich. Harry Giles: ‘You make beer money publishing a book. Think about a book as a business card.’ The sad fact is that you don’t get 6-figure advances for poetry. Most books and pamphlets are published by small independent presses and a run of 500 is generally considered pretty good going. So just because you’ve got a book- or pamphlet-deal, it doesn’t mean you can’t start shopping for a luxury yacht. Although the actual writing of poems may be the biggest thing in terms of importance, it’s probably going to be the smallest in terms of actual financial income. But…
  • Make really good art. Although it might not make much money in and of itself, it’s still important that you write really good poems. If you’re applying for residencies or academic positions or running poetry workshops, then the people you’re teaching or applying to will want to know you’re competent in your art form. It isn’t a financial goldmine, but it’s still the thing around which all the rest of your work centres. Which is good, because the poetry is probably the reason you’re doing all this in the first place.

Other than that, just keep your fingers crossed you win something big, like the National Poetry Competition. There’s always an element of luck in life – do you meet the right person who’s going to love and champion your work, or do you write that poem which happens to speak to the personal experience of the editor selecting work for a magazine? But the more you go to things and meet people and put your work out and apply for opportunities and get involved, the greater the chance of those things happening.

The more nets you throw out, the more chance you have of catching a fish.

Read why I’m aiming for 100 literary rejections this year.

What they say about January being like a kick-start into the new year isn’t true in the slightest. It’s all about February. January is like the push-start you have to give the rusty old banger to get it out of the driveway; Febraury is when the thing really splutters and roars into action.

In other words, for the shortest month of the year, it’s been kind of a busy one.

My Writing Life: February - Katie Hale, Cumbrian writer
An evening stroll

For one thing, I’ve been running loads of schools workshops, for the Wordsworth Trust and for New Writing North. I’ve got to work in some new schools, and go back to St Patrick’s School in Workington, where I’m working with the same amazing group of Yr 4s over the course of two years. Some truly amazing poems – some which have been running around in my head ever since. In fact, thery’re so good that they deserve their own blog post. Which they’ll get.

The downside to schools workshops? All the bugs that are going round. I’m used to coughs and colds (I seem to have one about 50% of the time), but a couple of weeks ago I picked up the weirdest bug I’ve ever had – so weird that at first I didn’t even realise it was a bug. It was a headache. I say headache – I really mean migraine. And that was it – no sickness, no cough or cold, nothing. Just this headache, which stayed for around 36 hours and then mysteriously vanished, though not without making me miss seeing Narvik at Theatre by the Lake. Humph.

Maybe being forced to spend a day in bed isn’t hugely terrible though… Maybe my brain just needed that bit of a rest, as it’s pretty much been all go since the start of the month.

The month started with a big one: a trip to Manchester for the WriteNow insight day. WriteNow is a scheme run by Penguin Random House to engage and develop minority writers. The day itself was full-on and intense, with talks from writers, editors, agents, publishers – as well as a wonderful opportunity to meet other emerging writers, and an invaluable one-to-one with an editor, looking over a section of my manuscript. It felt like a year’s worth of literary knowledge, experience and connections, all packed into a single day. So no wonder I came home and slept for 11 hours!

And, in a nice gesture towards symmetry, at the end of the month (as in, yesterday) I discovered that I’ve been selected as one of 12 new writers on the WriteNow mentoring scheme! Which basically involves a year’s mentoring from an editor at Penguin Random House. Needless to say, I spent much of the evening (after Word Mess) dancing round my bedrom with wild abandon.

So, with writing bug well and truly lodged, I started out on the rest of the month, joining a new writing group as well as going to a couple of tried & tested old ones. I also made it to Poem and a Pint in Ulverston for the first time – one of those things I’ve been meaning to do for months, which was a lovely evening. (Thanks as well to Kim Moore for those homemade scones…)

Obviously, there’s been a lot of writing happening this month, as always, and I’ve just finished another intensive writing session with Stephen Hyde, working on our rewrite of the musical. It’s a funny one, working collaboratively – in some ways, hugely rewarding as you work with double the brain-power, and in some ways tricky, as you have double the creative doubts to wrestle with. Still, it’s the results that count, and the session was the most productive we’ve ever had – desptie the fact it was only 5 days instead of our usual week, or maybe because of it. We even had a chance to record a Face to Face conversation for this blog, all about the collaborative creative process.

So what next? Well, March is going to be a busy one, with StAnza Poetry Festival looming large, followed by a lot more schools workshops before I head off to Cambodia & Vietnam! But that’s another story. For now, here are some books:

THE MONTH IN BOOkS:

  • Human Acts, by Han Kang
  • The Heretic, by Richard Bean
  • Dreams of Violence, by Stella Feehilly
  • Land of the Dead; Helter Skelter, by Neil LaBute

THE MONTH IN PICTURES:

The end of another year, and a whole 12 months since I gave up my main source of income in order to focus more on my writing. A whole 5 months since I went completely freelance. I don’t think it’s any less scary than it was back in January, but it’s a funny thing, looking back on a year. In some ways it seems like forever, and at the same time it feels like no time at all.

For instance, I feel a little bit like I’m still taking baby steps; I’m definitely still an ’emerging’ writer, though I’m not sure how I’ll know when I’ve actually ’emerged’. But then when I sit and list everything I’ve done this year, it feels like much more than a year’s worth of work.

Writing at the Wellcome Collection

Poetry

Most of my focus this year (as always) has been on poetry, and writing as much of it as I can. I’ve started going to Kim Moore’s Barrow poetry writing workshops, and Brewery Poets writing group, and a monthly poetry sharing evening in Shap, which have all been great for making me write more. So great, in fact, that I’ve started writing a new long poetry sequence (so a huge thanks to the Poetry Business workshop at Kendal Poetry Festival, for the spark which set that sequence off for me in June).

As if that wasn’t enough, I’ve also started a monthly wordy open mic night in Penrith. Word Mess takes place on the 3rd Tuesday of every month (except December & August) in the old mess hall at Penrith Old Fire Station (Eden Arts). Attendance has been building steadily, and we now have a lovely little group of regulars, and a slightly bigger group of occasional-ers – though whether they come because of the quality of writing or the quality of the bar is anyone’s guess! Maybe for both.

In terms of my own poetry, it hasn’t gone badly: a couple of poems in magazines, including one that’ll be in The North in January; a commended poem in York Poetry Competition; and being shortlisted for the Jane Martin Poetry Prize.

Not bad – but it isn’t all about poetry.

I don’t know how other people work, but I meet a lot of people who categorise themselves. ‘I’m a novelist’, or ‘I’m a poet’, or ‘I write for theatre’. Obviously there are people who pick a form and stick to it, which is fine if that works for them – but I used to think that was the only ‘correct’ way to do things. In fact, I spent a couple of years actively not writing anything but poetry, because I had this bizarre notion in my head that writing prose or script would somehow make me a lesser poet.

script writing for theatre - Katie Hale

Theatre

Writing Yesterday with Stephen Hyde last year, the theatre bug bit me again, and those play ideas that had been simmering under the surface kept nudging at me – so this year, when I suddenly had more time on my hands, I decided to let them out.

This year I’ve drafted two play scripts – both of which are currently both sitting in a drawer fermenting, until enough time has passed for me to look at them with fresh enough eyes to give them a proper redraft. It’s been so great to get back into playwriting, that I almost don’t mind whether anything happens to them or not. The feeling of exercising those script-writing / dialogue / plot muscles was satisfying enough in itself. Like when you go for a run after a long period of inactivity, and you feel a kind of glorious ache in all the muscles you haven’t used for ages.

Then, while I was stuck in Tulsa airport for 24 hours as a storm raged in Chicago and the UK voted to leave the EU, I wrote the lyrics for a new song (also by Stephen Hyde), for the Three Inch Fools’ touring production of Macbeth. I think there may be a recording of this surfacing at some point in the new year, but for now, if you’re not already a Fools fan, you should definitely check them out.

I’m also getting stuck back into the rewriting process of Yesterday, working with Stephen. After a few months working very solidly on my own, it’s good to get back to collaborating again, and to remember that excitement of bouncing ideas back and forth between two people until they become something much bigger than either of you could access alone, and neither of you can quite say who came up with what. Much more of this to follow in the new year…

New York - writing in a cafe, Katie Hale

Fiction

Ok, so I haven’t really been a fiction writer for about half a decade. Like most writers, I guess, I started out writing fiction, because stories are the first creative thing you’re taught to write in school. But my poetry, and even my theatre, has superceded my fiction for the last ten years, and the fiction has been basically absent for around half that time.

And yet… Like a lot of people, I had a novel lurking. You know the one, swimming in the depths of your brain – the one that floats to the surface when you feel particularly inspired by a good book you’ve read, or when you’re trying to get to sleep, or doing the dishes.

This year, I decided to give it a go. So far, I’m only about half way through the initial drafting stage, so there’s no knowing whether anything will come of it, or whether (perhaps like the play scripts) it will just sit in my desk drawer. But already it’s looking hopeful.

Over the summer, Penguin Random House put out a call for submissions from minority writers, to receive a place on one of their WriteNow insight days, which includes a 20-minute one-to-one with an editor. Having submitted an application & 1000-word extract with my ‘I’m not really a fiction writer but I’ll give this a go’ hat on, I couldn’t really believe it when I heard I’d got a place on the Manchester insight day in February 2017 – especially when I heard that there were over 2000 applications for just 150 places. Talk about a confidence boost!

Even if nothing else comes of this, that acceptance email has given me the confidence to write a novel (well, novella) that otherwise would have remained unwritten.

Arts Award Discover workshops

Projects

Work-wise, my main project this year has been running schools workshops and delivering Arts Award Discover. I delivered I-can’t-quite-remember-how-many workshops in schools for the Wordsworth Trust, to tie in with their Arts Award Discover project, where the children wrote poems about places that meant something to them. I also ran Arts Award in Shap and Clifton Primary Schools, which was great fun – especially in Shap School, which was my alma mater. (Can you call it an alma mater for a primary school, or is that just for universities?)

As always, the children blew me away with the quality of work they produced. One particular phrase that I wished I’d written myself came from an 8-year-old, who wrote, ‘I am as shy as a funeral.’ I think I was too gobsmacked to think clearly for about 5 whole minutes. So that night I shared the simile on facebook, and got a whole host of gobsmacked reactions from other people, too.

Oh, and speaking of sharing…

This year I created Poetry Plaster Packs. The idea was to share little packets around Penrith on Valentine’s Day. Each one contains: a plaster (for the literal cuts and scrapes), a cheerful little poem (for the figurative ones), and a little gift – because let’s face it, who doesn’t love a present? I shared about 40 on Valentine’s Day, and a few more since. I suspect I may be distributing a few more in the new year, too.

I’ve also had 3 online projects this year:

The Sam Thorpe Trust Fund: I put together the website for this earlier in the year, and it’s worth checking out, especially if you’re in the Penrith area. The Fund gives grants to young people who want to do something extraordinary, and to schools / organisations that work with young people.

#SomethingGood: On Wednesday 9th November, I was sitting on my sofa in a state of shock, having spent an almost-sleepless night watching America elect a future president with no history of government but a long history of racism, misogyny, and abuse of power. I wanted to do something, but I wasn’t sure what. Some of my American friends were posting on social media about how to contact your senator to raise protests, but I’m not American; I don’t have a senator. Instead, I decided to do something quieter, but hopefully also positive:

The Tea Break Project: And speaking of America, I’ve also started a new travel blog this year. Some of you might remember my first travel blog, Second-Hand Hedgehog. I’ve now moved to a new online home: www.teabreakproject.com – with (hopefully) better content, better design, and better stories from life on and off the road. This year, my travels have included Portugal, Marrakech, Kansas, a massive road trip up the west coast of America and into Canada, and a week in New York.

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The Year in Books

Every year I make it my goal to read at least 50 books. This year I’ve read 57, which isn’t bad – although I haven’t read as much poetry as I’d have liked. Something to make sure I work on next year.

I have, however, read a lot of plays, thanks to my rekindled interest in theatre and writing for the stage.

I’ve also read a lot of contemporary literary fiction written in the first person, to try to get my head in the right place for drafting the novella. Among these, I’ve discovered Margaret Atwood. How it’s taken me till age 26 to read any Margaret Atwood, I have no idea, but I’m buzzing with that exciting feeling that comes when you fall in love with an author’s writing style. I have to physically prevent myself from running to the till every time I see one of her books in a bookshop.

As well as new discoveries, I’ve made a great rediscovery this year: The Little House on the Prairie. I re-read this in preparation for my trip to Kansas (and the real-life little house on the prairie just outside my great aunt’s home town of Independence). I thought I knew the story. What I hadn’t realised was that I’d only ever read that one book in the series, and that they were a fascinating insight into American history and culture, and why the middle of the country is the way it is.

My top 10 books this year (in alphabetical order):

  • Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin
  • Zinnie Harris, How to Hold Your Breath
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder, The Little House on the Prairie (series)
  • Helen Mort, No Map Could Show Them
  • Rory Mullarkey, The Wolf from the Door
  • Max Porter, Grief Is the Thing with Feathers
  • James Rebanks, The Shepherd’s Life
  • Warsan Shire, Teaching My Mother How To Give Birth
  • Em Strang, Stone
  • Elizabeth Strout, My Name is Lucy Barton

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The Year in Pictures

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It all started when my phone had a water-based, toilet-shaped accident.

So I left it to dry in a bowl of rice and went to work without it. I didn’t need to use it – there were no family emergencies or missed appointments to contend with. There was no drama. If I’d had to pick a day to be phone-less, this probably would have been the best one.

And yet all day I felt its absence like a missing arm.

The next day was the same, as my injured phone continued with its rice therapy. I could literally feel my hand twitching to pick up and scroll through a phone that wasn’t there. It was like a phantom limb.

It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to call or message anyone (I certainly didn’t need to), or even to post on facebook / twitter / instagram. It was just that I wanted to look.

I didn’t even have to think that I wanted to look at it – if I had, then I’d have blocked the thought by remembering that my phone was neither working nor with me. It was pure instinct. Every time I sat down, every time my hands were idle, every time the world stopped for a second, my hand twitched towards my pocket or my bag. It was just… normal.

It was so normal to me that it wasn’t until the afternoon of the second day that I realised what it meant: that I was addicted to social media.

And my next thought? I should write a blog post about that.

I suppose it’s hardly surprising that I think this way. I spend nearly all my ‘office hours’ on a laptop, often on social media, emails or Mailchimp. When I’m not in the office, I’m often writing (on a laptop) or blogging, or catching up with my own emails, social media, website and admin – all on a latop, phone or iPad. True, I’m not on a computer when I’m teaching my poetry workshops, but I do use my laptop for nearly all my planning. On top of all that, I live in a county with an ageing population and a defecit of 20-somethings, which mean that most of my friendships are long-distance ones, and an important ingredient of those is – yep, you guessed it – my phone.

I don’t think I’m unusual in this regard. Very few of my friends have off-screen jobs, and even those who do (like the teachers and theatre directors) are tied to computers, emails and / or social media for at least part of their work.

This isn’t anything new. At least, not very new. We can all see the way the world is and the dominance of the screen in our daily lives.

Before now, I’ve always thought of this as a good thing – or at least, never as a terrible harbinger of doom.

Technology offers a wealth of opportunity for people who can use it well – just look at some top bloggers, vlogggers and instagrammers, whose online presence and social following earn them thousands and thousands of pounds. And I know from personal experience that social media can be a great marketing tool.

But I hadn’t realised how much it had rewired my brain. My constant phone- and laptop-usage has literally altered my instincts. For me it’s actually changed how I live on this earth as a human being, and how I interact with the world around me.

More frighteningly, at least for me, is what it’s doing to my creative brain.

I hardly ever write with pen and paper any more. Apart from poetry, which I always draft in a notebook before typing up, I now type everything. I compose words through a keyboard. I paint in the rigid shapes of computer font, rather than my own individual (if untidy) handwriting. Where’s the personal aspect of that? Where’s the artist in the art? To me, it feels like trying to paint a Monet using children’s printing blocks.

When that thought first flashed through my mind, that I should write this post about my social media addiction, my initial reaction was, ‘how ridiculous’. My second reaction was: I can’t, I don’t have my iPad on me.

Writing had become so tied up with the keyboard that the notebook in my bag didn’t even figure in my thoughts.

So I fought against my instincts. I bought a coffee and a muffin (always a good start), sat down with  good old-fashioned notebook and pen, and wrote this.

And as I wrote, I thought: I should do this more often.

I felt more connected to what I was writing. More free to edit things and change them around. Less pressure for my writing to be ‘good’.

Yes, I always draft my poems in a notebook. But why not my prose? Why not drama? Why not blog posts?

Every cloud apparently has a silver liningg, and the silver lining to this little technology accident was the way it made me rethink my creative practice. It taught me not to fear the pen and the page. It taught me to separate the computer keyboard from the writing process, at least in the draftings stage. And it taught me not to keep my phone in the back pocket of my jeans.

The week in three words:

  • Work
  • Dog
  • NaPoWriMo

This week I’ve been dog-sitting. Yes, that’s right: dog-sitting. Having never looked after a dog before in my life, I’ve been responsible for one for over a week. And you know what? I love it! Not saying I’d ever get one of my own, mind… But it’s been fun.

And talking of firsts, I also went for my first run in about two years! One of the benefits of taking a dog out every day.

But enough of my vague exercise…

I’ve also been working (Eden Arts) and writing. As you might have noticed, it’s April. As you may or may not know, April is NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month), where the challenge is to write a poem a day for the whole of April. Which means that, hopefully, by the end of April, I’ll have drafts of 30 poems. Here goes…

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The Week in Books:

Just one book this week: Max Porter’s incredible Grief is the Thing with Feathers.

The Week in Pictures:

 

In 2015, I created a list off 32 things I wanted to achieve by the time that I turn 30.

32 things to do before I'm 30 - list of travel and life goals, ideas and ambitions

With an imminent 26th birthday (eek!) I thought it was time to take stock and see how I’m doing. What have I achieved in the 8 months since I created the list, and what am I on track to achieve in the coming year?

In the past 8 months, I’ve achieved 5 items from my list: I visited my friend Lizzie in Barcelona, which was a whirlwind of Gaudi sites and delicious food; I took a beginners’ Spanish course at Escuela Albufera, just outside Valencia, where I did have a conversation in Spanish (although admittedly not a very long or complex one); I took a two day photography course at the local Adult Education centre; I baked an Indominus Rex birthday cake for my friend Stephen, and then made a number of mini cupcakes for Christmas; and I distributed sweets and poems to strangers on Valentine’s Day through my Poetry Plaster Pack project.

There are also a number of items on the list that, although I haven’t achieved them, I’m on the way to achieving them. For instance, I have plans for this summer to visit my friend Jessi in Oregon and to road trip along the Californian coast. Of my ‘5 new countries to visit’, I’ve so far visited one, when I went to Morocco in January. Four to go! (At a minimum, of course…)

So how does my list look now?

32 Things To Do Before I’m 30:

  1. Publish a poetry pamphlet – slowly, slowly, catchy monkey…
  2. Write and publish a Mills & Boon style novel (because let’s face it – why not?)
  3. Travel to Antarctica
  4. Travel to at least 5 new countries – I visited Marrakech in January: 1 down…
  5. Visit Lizzie in Barcelona
  6. Visit Jessi in Portland, Oregon – planned for this August!
  7. Drive around Iceland’s Route 1
  8. Island hopping in the Pacific
  9. Take a solo trip that lasts at least a month
  10. Spend at least a week at the Edinburgh Fringe
  11. Visit Ireland
  12. Road trip the coast of California – also planned for this August!
  13. Drive a convertible (roof down)
  14. Take a road trip in a camper van
  15. Go on a writing retreat by the sea
  16. Go to a music festival
  17. Order room service
  18. Hold a conversation in Spanish
  19. Climb a mountain
  20. Undertake (and complete) a multi-day walk
  21. Be able to run a mile without collapsing / seizing up / giving up and walking
  22. Do 30 sit-ups in a row
  23. Take a photography course
  24. Bake at least one cake
  25. Knit or crochet something (anything will do)
  26. Make an item of clothing, which is acceptable to wear in public and doesn’t fall apart
  27. Own (and have reason to wear) a full length ball gown
  28. Give cards / chocolates / flowers to a stranger / strangers on Valentines Day
  29. Buy a piece of original artwork
  30. Finish reading The Well of Loneliness
  31. Achieve 1000 twitter followers (you can help with this one here)
  32. Glamping

Of course, I’ve also achieved things that aren’t on this list. I’ve managed to give up one of my jobs to free up more time for writing. I’ve drafted a play. I’ve volunteered at a poetry festival. I’ve created a new poetry project (Poetry Plaster Pack). I’ve read a number of books (35-ish?) and written some new poems.

So what are the aims for the coming year, to try and achieve by the time I’m 27?

  • I’d like to achieve the fitness objectives:
    21. Be able to run a mile without collapsing / seizing up / giving up and walking
    22. Do 30 sit-ups in a row
  • 19. Climb a mountain – my dad and I are actually planning to do this some time this year, so providing I don’t collapse half way up due to my terrible lack of stamina, this one ought to be achievable.
  • 11. Visit Ireland – my cousins live over there, so I’m hoping this one should be fairly do-able!
  • 20. Undertake (and complete) a multi-day walk – again, this one depends on fitness and stamina, so I guess I’d better get exercising!
  • 26. Make an item of clothing, which is acceptable to wear in public and doesn’t fall apart – would love to get back into my crafting, as a break from screens and words from time to time, so this seems like a good project
  • 29. Buy a piece of original artwork – maybe one to do during C-Art Open Studios in September…?
  • 30. Finish reading The Well of Loneliness – because seriously, I started reading it in 2009, and now it’s 2016.
  • 1. Publish a poetry pamphlet. FINGERS CROSSED!

None of the big travel goals in the coming year, but that’s ok. I’m saving those for the year after. Saving, saving, saving…

 

My Writing Life: Week 7

You know those weeks where you think you’ll take it easy and focus on one thing, then by the end of it, you’ve created two new arts projects, drafted three new poems, written 25% of a play, read four books, kept up to date with all your admin, and somehow managed to find time for a bit of a social life as well?

No?

Well this week has been one of those.

The ‘one thing’ I was planning to focus on was the play, so actually 25% is slightly (though only slighlty) under what I wanted to write of it this week.

But, as seems to be my new norm, I’ve been slightly distracted by the poems clamouring for space in my head. I tried (not entirely successfully) to save up the poetic energy till yesterday – when I took part in Kim Moore‘s Barrow Poetry Workshop. As always, I came away from the workshop with something that I want to work on. Poetic energies = successfully channelled.

As for my other artistic energies?

As I was driving home from a busy day at Eden Arts on Tuesday, I started thinking how it was over 2 years since I’d done any guerrilla poetry style projects (the last one being Beneath The Boughs at Lowther Castle in 2013), and how I should probably think about doing another one in the next year or so. By the time I pulled into my drive, I had fully planned not one, but two, new arts projects. By the time I’d made and drunk a cup of tea, I’d ordered all the materials for one of them.

Project 2 is still under wraps for now (though if you have an unloved teddy bear you want to donate to it, drop me a line), but I launched the first project today:

Poetry Plaster Packs aim to spread a little poetry, joy and healing. Each one contains:

  • a plaster (for the literal cuts and scrapes)
  • a cheerful little poem (for the figurative ones)
  • a little gift – because let’s face it, who doesn’t love a present?

Today, I left 40 little Valentine’s Poetry Plaster Packs around Penrith: under car window wipers, stuck to ATMs and inside phone boxes, on dryers in public toilets, and stuck to parking meters.

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I’ve already had a couple of lovely comment from people. One recipient tweeted this:

While someone else emailed me via my website: ‘With my 3 year old daughter and locked my keys in the car.. your little plaster pack brightened up my day.. and the sweets kept my daughter entertained until the spare set got to me about 40 minutes later. So thank you.’

So far a success! Definitely more Poetry Plaster Packs to follow…

In other news, the Cumbrian weather finally feels like it’s turned (though I’ll say that cautiously, because I don’t want to jinx it). At least, it’s currently snowing, which makes a change from rain, and we’ve had a couple of sunny days, which have meant I’ve been able to go for little strolls along the lanes whenever I’m struggling with a piece of writing: something that never fails to help me find a solution.

The week in books:

  •  Duncan MacMillan, Lungs
  • Nick Payne, Constellations
  • Zinne Harris, How to Hold Your Breath
  • Ariel Dorfman, Death and the Maiden

A week of theatre this week, in an attempt to keep myself in the playwriting zone. Death and the Maiden has been sitting on my bookshelf for sometime, just waiting to be read, so I figured it was probably about time to give it a whirl. Definitely a good decision to read it.

The other three are more recent plays, and are the three that I (perhaps rather extravagantly) bought last week at the National Theatre bookshop. But money spent on books is never a bad thing, and these three were all such great plays that I’m not sorry at all. How to Hold Your Breath is particularly one that stayed with me; after I read it on Tuesday night, I had a really unproductive morning on Wednesday, as I just couldn’t stop thinking about it! Definitely the mark of a good play.

The week in pictures:

My Writing Life: Week 6

It only feels like a day ago that I was writing last weekend’s blog post, and yet, it also feels like months ago… One of the sure signs of a busy week.

Busy, yes, but also satisfying, hugely enjoyable, and out of the ordinary. In fact, I’m beginning to think that this new life doesn’t have an ‘ordinary’ at all…

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It’s been quite exciting admin-wise. During my day a week at Eden Arts, we set up and organised a monthly wordy open mic night, Word Mess, which will start in March. I’ve also been handing out leaflets and posters for the Three Inch Fools’ Easter Shakespeare workshops.

Aside from that, it’s been almost a direct split between writing and relaxation.

I spent a couple of days in London, staying with the lovely Supal for a much-needed catch-up and a wander round the capital. We spent a good deal of time in independent book and coffee shops – including the delightful Primrose Hill Books, where I impulse bought a book called The Penguin Lessons (about a teacher at an Argentinian boarding school who rescues a penguin from an oil spill and takes it to live on his terrace at the school). Because let’s face it: who can resist a book about a penguin…? Certainly not me!

I also finally made it to the Attendant Cafe. Attendant is an underground cafe, created in an old public toilet. I’d heard about it ages ago on a couple of travel blogs, and couldn’t wait to visit for myself. (I have a bit of an obsession with toilets; when I was travel blogging I used to publish a ‘Loo witha View’ series, of unusually beautiful views from toilets from my travels). Fittingly, then, this trip to Attendant also doubled up as a chance to chat about blogging and travelling with Supal, who runs chevrons & eclairs.

But London wasn’t all coffee and sightseeing. I also spent some time sitting in one of the work spaces in the National Theatre, via spending a little more money than intended at the National Theatre Bookshop. As you may guess from this week’s reading list (below), I’m currently in playwriting mode. I couldn’t think of a better place to work on a play than in a quiet corner of the National Theatre itself.

Back up north, I spent a day at a poetry workshop at Tullie House Museum & Art Gallery. Tullie House are currently hosting the National Portrait Gallery’s Picture the Poet exhibition. As part of the exhibition’s outreach programme, they’re working with Apples & Snakes to run poetry workshops (leading to a showcase) for groups around Cumbria. One of these groups consists of Tullie House Youth Panel, along with one of my young writers from New Writing Cumbria’s Rabbit Rabbit (rabbit) group. They’re working with poet Jenny Lindsay, who ran a fantastic worksop, as part of a series that will eventually lead to all of the young people writing an individual poem and a group piece.

Needless to say, I took advantage of the workshop and drafted a poem of my own. I may be attempting to focus on playwriting, but somehow poems just keep popping up in my head – and who am I to deny them their existence?

The week in books:

The week in books

  • Sarah Corbett, And She Was
  • Mark Ravenhill, Shopping and F***ing
  • Sarah Kane, Blasted
  • Tom Michell, The Penguin Lessons
  • April de Angelis, Plays: 1 [Ironmistress; Hush; Playhouse Creatures; The Positive Hour]

This week has been largely about drama. It’s been a mixture of re-reads (Blasted, Shopping and F***ing and Hush) and new reads (Ironmistress, Playhouse Creatures and The Positive Hour), which has been both fun and refreshing.

I also read Sarah Corbett’s And She Was, which has been sitting in my car for the past few months, begging to be taken inside / into a coffee shop and read. I saw Sarah perform at Ilkley Literature Festival, and got her book (along with Mona Arshi’s Small Hands, also published by Pavillion Poetry) shortly afterwards.

There was also, of course, the book about a penguin that I picked up in Primrose Hill. Because, once I’d bought it, I could hardly resist reading it, now, could I?

The week in pictures:

A little bit of everyday life this week, from insightful passages in books, to cafes, to birthday cake:

 

My Writing Life: Week 4

I’ve always been a bit contrary. Even when I was at school, I never wanted to do the thing I was supposed to be doing – but in my own special geeky little way. I still worked hard, but I did French homework when I should have been concentrating on maths revision, and then maths homework when I should have been learning French vocabulary.

This week has been a little bit like that.

Recently, I’ve been thinking in plays. I firmly believe that different ideas come in different shapes: some are poem-shaped, some feel like pieces of drama, and some are undoubtedly novels. Recently, I’ve been having a lot of play-shaped thoughts, so at the start of the week, I decided to focus on playwriting and start drafting a piece of theatre that’s been gestating in the recesses of my brain for the past few months.

But, in typical me fashion, no sooner had I started getting words on the page, than my brain started firing off poems with all the frequency and urgency of a machine gun. Which is wonderful! But also slightly irritates the planner in me.

But the plus side of all this is that this has been my most productive week for poetry in over a year, which is wonderful.

It’s also been a week of meetings, starting with a very positive meeting at Shap School, about the prospect of running some workshops there, followed by the lovely weekly informal over-lunch meeting at Eden Arts (the first I’ve been able to make in a long time), and rounded off with a great meeting with James of Three Inch Fools (touring Shakespeare) to talk about marketing for their Easter workshops and performances.

It’s also been a week of flooding and books…

The week in books:

  • Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber
  • A S Byatt, The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye: Five Fairy Stories

This week has been a week of modern fairy tales. (I was tempted to add Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted to the list, but I figured I should probably spend the time writing instead.) On Tuesday, I’d planned to pop into Prism Arts in Carlisle for a catch-up, but the wind and rain were so wild that I decided it was safer staying at home. As the river crept further and further back up the road, I snuggled up in front of the fire and read a book that’s been on my to-read list (and on my bookshelf) for years: Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. After that, I was on such a roll with fairy tales, that I decided to also read A S Byatt’s The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye: Five Fairy Stories. Not only were these great reads, but I think they maybe had a slight influence on my wrting this week, too:

 

 

Not really any pictures from this week, but I did make a little for-fun video of last week’s trip to Morocco. The main outcome of this was my realising that I need to take much more video footage when I travel somewhere:

 

72 hours in Marrakesh from Katie Hale on Vimeo.

My Writing Life: Week 3

Three weeks into my new writing life, and I finally feel like I’m getting into some sort of rhythm. Which is strange, when you think that I haven’t yet had a ‘normal’ week. Take this week, for instance, where I spent the first two days of it in Marrakesh, bartering, discovering and soaking up the sun instead of writing. (Don’t worry, though – I’ve had a few very productive days to make up for it.)

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But it hasn’t just been poetry I’ve been writing this week, though I have written and edited a good deal of that. I’ve written a little bit of drama. I’ve also been writing tweets.

Yes, this is the week that I created a trending hashtag on twitter.

For those of you who saw it, I’m talking about the #derangedpoetess controversy. For those of you who didn’t see it, let me give you a brief bit of background:

In last week’s Sunday Times, journalist Oliver Thring published an article about recent T S Eliot Award-winner Sarah Howe. On Friday, sparked by a tweet from Amy Key, a number of poets accused the article of being sexist.

I saw Amy’s initial tweet, followed her link to the article, and watched the responses begin to unfold. To be honest, my opinion was that the article probably wasn’t intentionally sexist; it was just bad writing. But you can read the original article here and decide for yourself.

If you ask me, the really unforgivable sexism set in when Oliver Thring, rather than holding his hands up and apologising for any accidental offence, tweeted this:

Well, it isn’t every day you get to respond to a term like ‘deranged poetess’! I tweeted a photo of myself writing, looking very calm and serious, and captioned it as a ‘definitely deranged’ poetess. Then I made it a hashtag.

The hashtag then began trending, and was even written about in a Guardian article! The rest, as they say, is history.

It hasn’t all been social media controversy this week, though. Aside from writing in my now Moroccan-goods-filled house, I’ve also been getting over a cold – aided by some medicine I picked up in a Berber pharmacy in Marrakesh. It’s a black powder, which you wrap in a hankie and inhale the scent, a bit like an olbas inhaler. It instantly clears the sinuses – like a miracle cure! Though I would quite like to know what it is that I’m inhaling… Anyone have any ideas…?

It’s also been a week of reading (though not quite as much as I’d have liked), arranging meetings and organising some volunteering work. And socialising! I know – very unlike me… Apparently writing and having a social life actually can go together!

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The week in books:

  • Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong
  • Ella Hickson, Eight
  • Mona Arshi, Small Hands

A novel, a play and a collection of poetry: feeling pretty well-rounded in my reading this week. I actually bought Small Hands way back in October at Ilkley Literature Festival, and it’s been sitting in my car ever since, waiting for me to take it into a cafe and start reading it. Unfortunately, my cafe time has been a bit limited since then. But I must say, the little book has waited very patiently, and was well worth it. Some beautiful poems, and also a couple that I could use for teaching, which is always a bonus.

The week in pictures:

As promised last week, this week I’m sharing my photos from Marrakesh. Not necessarily very writer-ly, but full of beautiful bright colours and gorgeous blue skies.

My writing life: week 2

Writing poetry with a cup of tea. Katie Hale, Cumbrian poet / writer etc
Poetry & a cuppa

Confession: at the time of writing, the week is not yet over. I wrote and scheduled this post on Friday. Why? I’m currently in Marrakesh.

Bearing that in mind, it’s been a much shorter-than-usual week for writing, truncated even further by the fact that I’ve spent two days at the New Writing Cumbria office, rather than the usual one. I’ve also been delving into the joys of my tax return.

But even despite all that, I’ve been loving the writing time.

I wrote a poem about a whale, which I think is already very close to the final draft stage. I also discovered a very old draft of a very old poem (well, 3 years old), which I had completely forgotten about, and was able to rework into a completed piece. To make matters even better, it became a gogyoshi-ku. Thanks, BAR poets and Jacob Sam-La Rose, for introducing me to that particular poet form. Oh, in case you were wondering, a gogyoshi-ku consist of a gogyoshi (5-line poem that otherwise has no formal structure) followed by a haiku.

I also did something faintly amazing, and organised my computer filing system for my poetry. Whereas before I had one folder called ‘Poetry’, full of everything from finished pieces to brief jottings that should probably never be revisited, I now have a beautifully streamlined system of folders that gives me a geeky little tingle every time I think about it.

For the organisation geeks among you, my ‘Poetry’ folder is now organised like this:

  • Finished Poems
    • Published poems
    • Waiting for news [submitted to magazines]
    • Other poems
  • Poems to work on
  • Misc. documents
    • [archived drafts and jottings, filed by year]

And, inspired by the wonderful Kim Moore, I’ve now also created an Excel poetry submission spreadsheet, with a list of poems down the side, a list of magazines & journals to submit to across the top, and colour-coded boxes according to whether the poems have been accepted or rejected, or are waiting a response.

Now it’s just a case of making those systems work!


The week in books:

  • [still reading] Sebastian Faulks, Birdsong

(Though in fairness, it is a long book. And with the train ride to the airport and the long-ish flight to Marrakesh, I may have finished it and be onto something else by the time this post goes live.)

The week in pictures:

Photos of Marrakesh to follow next week!

 

 

 

Here we are again: teetering on the brink of the old year, about to dive headlong into the new one. 

We’ve spent the past 365 days scaling the ladder, and let’s be honest, by the end, we were probably all in need of a bit of a rest. But now here we are, wobbling at the end of the diving board, sort of wishing we could just inch away from it and come back the way we came, but also excited by what’s to come. The adrenaline’s pumping with anticipation of the unknown, with the possibilities of the future. 

Take a deep breath. Get ready. Jump. 

Normally, I see New Year as something of a let-down, especially after all the glitz and excitement of Christmas. Really, it’s just a passing from one day to the next, where nothing actually changes apart from the fact that we all feel a little more hungover the next morning – a bit like birthdays. 

This year is different. This year, for once, I am actually enacting a momentous change in my life. 2016 will have a very different flavour to 2015. 

Why. I’ve quit my job. 

Ok, I’ve quit one of my jobs. 

For the first time in my life, my time being ‘a writer’ outweighs my time spent on other employment. (Being a student doesn’t count.) And, to allow myself to spend even more time on my writing, I’ve also waved a fond farewell to my travel blog, Second-Hand Hedgehog. I may return to this in the future, but for now I’m planning to concentrate all my creative energies on my poetry and theatre. 

It’s more than a little bit daunting. Remember that diving board analogy? It’s not a coincidence that I don’t really like heights…

But it’s also incredibly exciting. It’s a new beginning, a new chapter, or (to get suitably poetical about it) a new stanza in my life. 

Like with all new beginnings, I’ve made myself a couple of resolutions. 

  1. I’m going to blog about it, every week. Since I’ve given up the travel blog, it’s only fair to give myself some kind of blogging outlet. And if I can be literary at the same time, well, so much the better. 
  2. I’m going to write a limerick a day. About a year ago, I started making up limericks when I was bored: in queues, in the car, in the shower. They’re very much not serious affairs, and are really just a bit of fun – though I suppose they do also practise essential skills like rhyming. I don’t actually expect to stick to this resolution and come out of the year with 366 limericks, but if I aim for one a day, I should at least manage a couple of hundred before next January. 
  3. I’m going to read more. Last year, I didn’t read anything like as much as I would have liked, so this year I’m aiming to remedy that. And as an extra incentive, I’m going to share my reading library on my weekly blog post. 

So there you have it: a new plan for a new year. 

Happy 2016!

x

[I originally posted this list on my travel blog, Second-Hand Hedgehog, back when I was travel blogging, back in July 2015. I’m still aiming to complete this list, so I thought I’d shift it over here to my website.]
32 things to do before I'm 30 - list of travel and life goals, ideas and ambitions

This started out as a list of 30 things to do before I’m 30 – but since I’m the sort of person who always seems to take on a bit too much and ends up with a ridiculous workload, I’ve ended up with a list of 32.

Most people create these lists when they reach a particular milestone (25th and 29th birthdays are understandably the most common), and while I’m still reeling from the slight shock of turning 25, I’m not near a special birthday, or at a particular turning point in my life. At least, not as far as I’m aware.

But I think that now was the perfect time for me to make this list. As I started to write it, I quickly struggled to think of items to add. Why? I’m floating. Beyond a couple of big ideas, I wasn’t sure exactly where I wanted my life to take me. At the moment I’m working week by week, busy Monday to Friday, and then either collapsing at the weekend, or working right back through to Monday again.

I need to force myself to break that up – that’s why I started this blog, after all. I need short-term goals.

A number of these (the travel ones in particular) are on my Bucket List as well – but not all. Some are features of my lifestyle that I would like to change. Some are simply too small to go on my Bucket List, but are things I would like to achieve all the same. Some are specific to me, but many are goals that anyone could aspire to.

I hope my 32 things inspire you to create a list of your own.

32 Things To Do Before I’m 30:

  1. Publish a poetry pamphlet
  2. Write and publish a novel
  3. Travel to Antarctica
  4. Travel to at least 5 new countries
  5. Visit Lizzie in Barcelona
  6. Visit Jessi in Portland, Oregon
  7. Drive around Iceland’s Route 1
  8. Island hopping in the Pacific
  9. Take a solo trip that lasts at least a month
  10. Spend at least a week at the Edinburgh Fringe
  11. Visit Ireland
  12. Road trip the coast of California
  13. Drive a convertible (roof down)
  14. Take a road trip in a camper van
  15. Go on a writing retreat by the sea
  16. Go to a music festival
  17. Order room service
  18. Hold a conversation in Spanish
  19. Climb a mountain
  20. Undertake (and complete) a multi-day walk
  21. Be able to run a mile without collapsing / seizing up / giving up and walking
  22. Do 30 sit-ups in a row
  23. Take a photography course
  24. Bake at least one cake
  25. Knit or crochet something (anything will do)
  26. Make an item of clothing, which is acceptable to wear in public and doesn’t fall apart
  27. Own (and have reason to wear) a full length ball gown
  28. Give cards / chocolates / flowers to a stranger / strangers on Valentines Day
  29. Buy a piece of original artwork
  30. Finish reading The Well of Loneliness
  31. Achieve 1000 twitter followers (you can help with this one here)
  32. Glamping

Yesterday, I posted the trailer to my upcoming musical, Yesterday.

Created in collaboration with friend and composer Stephen Hyde, Yesterday is an intimate new musical telling the story of Alex: a charming, vulnerable and adulterous man. The story is told from the perspective of the three women in his life: the mother who smothers him with love, his deceived wife searching for hope in their marriage, and the the teenage girl in whom he finds solace.

Here is one of the songs from the musical, recorded by Vulture Sessions. Performed by Georgia Figgis, Jemimah Taylor and Joanna Connolly.

More about the musical here.

 

It’s always exciting as a project races towards its conclusion, seeing all the various strands coming together, slotting into place one after another, often surprising quickly. It’s like solving a rubix cube: one moment it’s a jumble of colours, then suddenly it’s organised and complete. (Or rather, it’s like watching someone else solve a rubix cube – I’ve never been very good at them…)

That’s how it’s been with Yesterday, the musical I’ve written with friend and composer Stephen Hyde. It feels like only yesterday (sorry!) that it was a vague idea we were discussing on afternoon walks in the countryside – and suddenly, it’s complete, cast and in rehearsal.

And to prove it, there’s a trailer:

Yesterday premieres in Oxford, at the Burton Taylor Studio, 16th – 20th June 2015. Tickets available here.

New Writing Cumbria online magazine: The Carrot

At the moment, I have a number of jobs, but one thing that I love about all of them is helping to create interesting artworks. Whether I’m helping teenagers explore the possibility that they can write poetry, or helping facilitate theatre tours and exhibitions at Prism Arts, or working on my own writing, it’s always exciting to see the seed of an idea come to fruition.

Through my job as New Writing Cumbria, I’ve been working with a group of young writers and editors to produce an online magazine of new Cumbrian writing. And I’m delighted to say that Issue #1 has now been published.

For the first issue, we chose the theme ‘Cumbria-land’. We invited anybody from or living in Cumbria to submit work on the theme – but there was also a bit of a twist. While we did want some of the more traditional types of writing (poetry / fiction / script etc.), we also wanted to explore some of the extra options that creating an online magazine provided.

So we actively encouraged people to submit something a little bit different: film / audio / visual art / crosswords / recipes / jokes…

Admittedly, we didn’t receive any crosswords, recipes or jokes (next time, please?) but we did receive a number of visual and audio pieces, as well as some video. We also used visual art from some of the 2014 Young C-Artists.

The idea was to create something that was fun and vibrant: something that didn’t look like a traditional magazine. And I have to say, I think we succeeded.

We had some excellent submissions, from a large number of writers / artists, and working with the young editors was fantastic. It was great to see them getting so passionate in their discussions over which pieces should be included, and it’s moments like that which remind me just why I love doing the jobs I do.

So don’t be shy: head on over to The Carrot and have a read / watch / listen!