In 2017 I aimed for 100 rejections.

I fell pretty far short of the mark (only 41 rejections, I’m afraid), but that isn’t really the point. The point was that, by aiming for such a huge number of rejections, I would take the fear out of submitting applications for things in the first place. After all, it doesn’t matter if you don’t get accepted for something when you’re only counting the rejections.

(This isn’t my idea. I stole it a year ago from Kim Liao’s article.)

Plenty of writers get downhearted when they receive a rejection letter. Plenty of others use reverse psychology on themselves, and keep / frame / paper their downstairs loo with their rejections. Both of these reactions are totally natural. After all, human beings are social animals (even writers), and rejection is a scary thing, especially when millennia of evolution have instilled in you this idea that acceptance is key to survival.

But for writers, I’m afraid rejection is par for the course – no matter how good you are.

Last year, I had a good year. I got accepted on Penguin Random House’s WriteNow mentoring scheme, I had a pamphlet published and a show at Edinburgh Fringe, and I even won a couple of poetry competitions.

But I also received those 41 rejections. The problem is, those rejections are largely silent – probably because I don’t post about them, either on here or on social media. This is my own coping strategy: rather than weeping or celebrating, I note the rejection down, shrug it off, and then move on to the next application. But perhaps it gives a false impression of my success.

I have a number of friends who are writers. Some of them are very positive and upbeat about their careers – and when you look at their success, it’s easy to see why. (Though you can bet that they’ll have their fair share of rejections, too.) Some of my writer friends are less upbeat. I’ve spoken to people who feel that nothing ever goes their way; they hardly ever manage to get their poetry in magazines, or their short stories placed in competitions, etc. It’s understandable that this gets people down – especially when all your friends seem to be doing so well around you. It’s easy to compare the toughest bits of your own life with the best bits of somebody else’s.

So this year, I’m aiming for 100 applications and submissions.

Instead of noting down my rejections, I’m going to make a note of my applications & submissions, and then record the outcome: success / partial success / rejection.

At the end of the year, I want to be able to see not just the number of rejections I’ve received, but the percentage. For me, this is the only way to be completely transparent about how tough it can be to be a writer – so that I can share these figures, and show that it definitely isn’t all acceptance letters and launch parties.

I’ll share my rejection / success ratio (all being well, there will be graphs!) and I’ll also share the number of applications & submissions I manage to make, whether I achieve my aim of 100, or fall slightly short – or even exceed my own expectations.

Think of it as data sharing at the end of a scientific experiment.

But of course, the more data you have, the more accurate the experiment. Anyone else fancy aiming for 100 submissions & applications this year? It’s less than 2 a week.

Who’s with me?

One of the things I love about blogging is being able to rediscover my thoughts: being able to look back on a whole year of writing just by scrolling back through my posts. Perhaps the most revealing is looking at where I was a year ago, and comparing it to where I am now.

So often, it feels like we’re not making progress. At least that’s how it is for me, and I’m sure for so many other people out there, writers and otherwise. When you’re living life on it’s day-to-day basis, it can be hard to see the larger changes taking place – even when you’re having a good year, which 2017 has definitely been for me.

Looking back on my end-of-year update at the end of 2016, things have definitely changed. I’ve now been working mostly freelance for two full years. At the end of year 1, I was wrestling with the idea of being an ’emerging’ writer, and wondering when a writer gets to say they’ve ’emerged’. I may still be classed as an ’emerging writer’ for the purposes of funding bids / applications etc, but if the process of becoming a writer is like a chick being born, then this year I’ve definitely hatched.

Katie Hale headshot

Poetry:

This year, I’ve published a pamphlet. Breaking the Surface came out in June 2017, published by Flipped Eye. I ended up having a plethora of launches (one in the Engine Bay at Eden Arts, a joint launch with Pauline Yarwood, and a launch with open mic night at Cakes & Ale in Carlisle). After so many years of working towards a debut pamphlet, it feels slightly weird to finally have it out in the open, but a wonderful kind of weird – especially as I’m now (very slowly) working towards a full collection.

It’s also been a year of prizes. There’s a theory among poets that prizes come in threes. I think one must have snuk in under the radar, though, because this year I’ve had some sort of success in four separate awards: I was lucky enough to win the Jane Martin Poetry Prize and the Ware Poetry Prize, to come second in the Tannahill International Poetry Prize, and to be shortlisted for the Ballymaloe International Poetry Prize – all within a couple of months of each other! I guess things really do happen all at once.

Perhaps my achievement of the year is getting a word in the Oxford English Dictionary. As part of the Free The Word project, connected with this year’s National Poetry Day celebrations, I was commissioned by BBC local radio to write a poem based on a Cumbrian dialect word. Naturally, I decided to write about twining (moaning / complaining) – a word in such common parlance up here that I never actually realised was dialect until I went to university, and suddenly realised nobody had a clue what I was talking about. I was then filmed performing the poem; you can read / watch it here.

Katie Hale - Breaking the Surface (Flipped Eye, 2017)

On top of that, I’ve also been involved in a few festivals this year.

In March, I was the in-house blogger for StAnza International Poetry Festival – a festival I’ve volunteered at for the past few years, and always one of the first things in my new diary each year. Especially this year, as I’ll be reading at the festival in March 2018!

Skip forward a few months, and I helped create a guerrilla poetry event for Kendal Poetry Festival. Working with Dove Cottage Young Poets, we created postcard poems, which we then handed out in Kendal on market day. My particular highlights of that event were the woman who told me she’d had a terrible morning so I’d just made her day, the man who quoted William Henry Davies to me, and the armed policeman putting a poem inside his jacket so he could ‘carry it next to his heart’.

I also created a guerrilla poetry project for Lakes Alive festival: this time, a Poetry Cairn. One of the things that never fails to bring me joy about poetry is the way it can bring people together. For the project, people were encouraged to think about what poetry meant to them, and to write the answer on a stone, which we gradually built into a cairn. The best part of the project, however, was the conversation this request inevitably sparked, with people reciting poetry to me, talking shyly about their own writing, or just musing on what poetry was.

Just a week later, I was at Rheged in Penrith, hosting an Adult Youth Club for C-Art Festival, featuring the wonderful Loud Poets collective, and Edinburgh-based band Ekobirds. There was poetry and music, naturally. But like any good youth club, we also had crayons, plastecine and a quiz.

 

Katie Hale. Photo - Tom Lloyd

And speaking of youth…

This year I’ve delivered a number of workshops in schools. I’m still working with my wonderful group at St Patrick’s School, through the Wordsworth Trust. It’s such a rare privelege to keep returning to the same group over an extended period of time, getting to see them develop and grow, both as children but also in their writing. They’re a fantastic group, who never cease to surprise and impress me with their words and ideas.

But I’ve also delivered some hugely enjoyable one-off workshops, such as workshops for National Poetry Day (also with the Wordsworth Trust), and a number of workshops for New Writing North, which led to a couple of showcase events and an anthology of the students’ work.

Phew! Talk about a busy year – and it hasn’t all been about poetry…

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

Fiction:

At the end of 2016, I started writing fiction. On the off-chance that my prose-writing wasn’t ridiculous, I submitted the first 1000 words of a novel to WriteNow: Penguin Random House’s new mentoring scheme. And, just before Christmas last year, I heard I’d been accepted onto the Manchester Insight Day. Apparently around 3000 people applied for WriteNow in its first year, and this meant that I was in the top 150. That alone gave me the confidence boost I needed to actually continue writing the novel, and to believe that the idea I could write fiction wasn’t such a crazy one after all.

Since the Insight Day in February, it’s all been a little bit of a whirlwind, to be honest. Over the month or so that followed, I heard that, from the insight day, I’d been shortlisted for the year-long mentoring scheme run by Penguin Random House. After a nerve-wracking phone interview (in which the PRH fire alarm went off and my interview had to be paused while everyone evacuated the building), I learned that I’d made it through. Out of the original 3000, twelve of us were selected to take part in a year-long mentoring programme.

Since then, I’ve drafted and redrafted (and redrafted and redrafted) the novel. I’ve had some hugely beneficial feedback meetings with my editor, and am currently about to embark on Draft 7.

I’ve been to a wonderful meet-up weekend, and spent time with the other mentored writers, who are all lovely. I also had a wonderful day at the Newcastle Insight Day, where I was asked to give a talk to 50 shortlisted writers for the next round of the mentoring scheme – including friend & fellow Cumbrian poet Polly Atkin, who has since been accepted on Year 2 of WriteNow. Go Cumbria! (If you fancy it, you can read the talk I gave here.)

And most recently (just in the past week, in fact), I’ve got an agent. I’m super excited to be represented by Lucy Luck, at Conville + Walsh (part of Curtis Brown). Such a great early Christmas present!

My Writing Life: February - Katie Hale, Cumbrian writer
WriteNow insight day with Penguin Random House

Theatre:

As if poetry & fiction weren’t enough, this has also been a pretty theatre-heavy year.

In 2017, I achieved my long-standing ambition of taking a show to Edinburgh Fringe. I worked with my friend & composer Stephen Hyde to rewrite the show we created in 2015 (then called Yesterday), to create a very different production: The Inevitable Quiet of the Crash.

The Inevitable Quiet of the Crash played throughout the Fringe at C Royale: a new C Venues-run location on George St. We had a fantastic team (thanks, FoxTale Productions!) and a wonderfully talented cast & band. So no wonder we got some good reviews!

The Inevitable Quiet review quotes

It’s also been an amazing year for travel. Aside from spending the best part of August in Edinburgh (a city I love and could always spend more time in), I’ve also been to Cambodia and Vietnam, and then to Iceland with the wonderful Jessi Rich.

The Year in Pictures:

 

I usually feel as though things wind down as I get into November. Like tying things up before the end of the year and a new chapter begins in January.

To a degree, that’s been the case this month, but it’s also been a month of getting things moving. I’ve delivered a few schools workshops for the Wordsworth Trust – including to my regular Yr 5 group at St Patrick’s School in Workington, who are such a joy to work with, and whose growing confidence in their writing is a privilege to watch. Listening to them talk about why they liked different types of poems was heart-warming: from the children who liked ‘how to’ poems because it’s an inherently kind form, to those who loved confessional poetry because it was a chance to own up to all their naughty moments without being told off!

I’ve also taken part in a few workshops this month, and I have one or two more before the year is out. Trying to keep the creativity going over the next month, and not stagnate in a puddle of mulled wine and chocolate coins.

But if I’m honest, poetry has been forced to take a bit of a back seat this month. Instead, it’s been (nearly) all about the novel. I had another feedback meeting with my editor, which was followed by a get-together of all of this year’s WriteNow mentored writers, at the Penguin Random House offices on the Strand. It was so good to meet the other writers – many of whom I’ve been chatting to on whatsapp for the past 6 months or so. As well as the editorial support and access to contacts that the WriteNow scheme has given me, I’m so grateful for the support network of other writers that’s come about among the mentees. It’s really reinforced for me how important it is to have other writers to turn to, whether in a crisis or just for a bit of TLC when you’re struggling on a tricky bit of the novel. The WriteNow group is great for that.

But now it’s back to catching up on all the poetry-related things I didn’t do during November, as well as all the applications / funding bids / emails etc that I put off while I was getting the novel manuscript up to standard (which seems to have been a recurring theme this year). Especially as I’ve just spent the past couple of days in Vienna (Christmas markets are the best)!

So maybe not so much winding down for Christmas, as that feeling of doing your homework on the morning bus…

Ah well. Here’s to a busy December!

(Oh, and in other news, I’m now on my third cold in a month, which has to be some sort of record. Fingers crossed I can chase it away soon! And yes, this is a plea for sympathy – and soup, if anyone fancies making me any…?)

deer in Richmond Park

The month in books:

  • The Huntress Sea, by Sarah Driver
  • Kumukanda, by Kayo Chingonyi
  • Fish Can Sing, by Halldor Laxness
  • Spill Simmer Falter Wither, by Sara Baume

Currently reading: Night Sky with Exit Wounds, by Ocean Vuong

The month in pictures:

Well, it’s officially autumn. The shops are filled with decorations for several different holidays at once, and I’m not sure if I should be preparing for Christmas, Halloween, Bonfire Night or all three. Unusually for me, though, the writing has really only been focussed on one project this month.

My writing life - Katie Hale

With a deadline of 31st October, I’ve been slogging away at the latest draft of the novel.

Coming from writing poetry, editing a novel has proved to be a wholly different experience. With poetry, I find the drafting process challanging, and the editing process significantly easier. After all, the actual idea is already on paper – all that’s left to do is shape it into its best form. And really that’s a process a bit like painting, as most of the time you can see the whole poem on the page and work with it either as a complete entity, or zoom in on a particular word or phrase. With a novel, it just feels so big, it’s impossible to hold it all in my head at once.

So that’s been the big focus this month.

Of course, as with any job in the arts, it isn’t all about the actual writing. This month I’ve also read at Borderlines Festival, as well as having a couple of interviews, which is always interesting. I’ve been in the November edition of Cumbria Life, and spoken to Amy Lord, who blogs at Ten Penny Dreams. You can read Amy’s blog post here: WriteNow: An Interview with Author and Poet Katie Hale

I’ve also been to a few poetry workshops this month, which has had me desperate to get back to writing poetry. Working on just a single project is wonderful in some ways, as it allows such in-depth focus. But at the same time, it reminds me that I don’t want to limit myself to one form of writing. It’s like an itch. Here’s hoping November will be filled with creative variety!

The month in books:

Not many books this month, unfortunately. That is, unless you count re-reading my own manuscript several billion times.

  • The End We Start From, by Megan Hunter
  • Grown Up Poetry Needs To Leave Me Alone, by Carly Brown
  • Eileen, by Ottessa Moshfegh
  • 40 Sonnets, by Don Paterson

The month in pictures:

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For some reason, I thought things would quieten down once the Fringe was over. I thought September would be a fairly easy month, where I could focus on redrafting the novel without much distraction.

Wrong, as it turns out – though in the best possible sense.

To begin with there was a month’s worth of admin & emails to catch up with, where I’d spent the whole of August concentrating solely on the Fringe. Turns out that coming home to several hundred emails in your inbox does actually take some time to deal with – and catching up on sleep can be even trickier to fit in. But at least once that was all done, September could really get underway.

Poetry Cairn, Lakes Alive Festival

I’ve had a couple of performances this month, the first of which was Lakes Alive Festival in Kendal. My performance took place in a giant teepee in the afternoon, but in the morning I created a Poetry Cairn. Over the course of a morning, I invited passers-by to talk to me about poetry. What does poetry mean to you? People were then encouraged to write their answer on a stone and add it to the cairn, so that by the end of the morning, we had built a cultural landscape marker of our own, marking people’s relationships to poetry.

I was also thrilled to be part of a second festival this month, hosting an Adult Youth Club event at Rheged, as part of Eden Arts’ C-Art Festival. Based on the idea that you’re never too old to have fun, the event featured music from Ekobirds and poetry from the fantastic Loud Poets collective, as well as a quiz, and tables strewn with crayons & modelling clay.

Katie Hale. Photo - Tom Lloydphoto: Tom Lloyd

And continuing on the poetry theme, this month also brought National Poetry Day. This year for National Poetry Day, BBC Local Radio commissioned 12 poets (one from each region) to write a poem based on a local dialect word. The project was called #FreeTheWord, and was run in partnership with the Oxford English Dictionary.

I was selected to represent Cumbria in the project, and wrote a poem based on the verb ‘to twine’ (meaning ‘to moan’ or ‘to complain). The poem is called ‘Ode to Twining’ and you can read it and watch the video here.

Click here to hear the poems from the other BBC regions.

But September has also been a month of fiction. Despite everything else, I’ve also been working on my novel, which is now at the redrafting stage. I think I expected this stage to be easier than writing the first draft. After all, at least I wouldn’t be confronted with the monolithic blank page. But actually I think it’s harder. There’s more pressure when you’re redrafting. Suddenly it starts to matter whether it’s ‘good enough’, whereas before it was just about building up the word count and getting the bones of the story down on the page. Suddenly, I’m having to try to hold the whole novel in my head at once.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable – which is a good thing, as I was worried I’d be less fired up by the manuscript once I’d written how the story ends. Hopefully, this means I’m doing something right. Penguin Random House seem to think so, so that’s encouraging!

Penguin Random House: WriteNowLive Newcastle

And speaking of PRH… Last weekend I was invited over to Newcastle, to speak at the next round of WriteNow Live insight days. This is part of the shortlisting process of the second year of WriteNow, and as one of the first year’s mentored writers, PRH asked me to go and talk about my experience of the project so far, and the impact it’s had on me. Mainly, I talked about how being accepted on the scheme, and having someone champion my work, has boosted my confidence, and help me overcome those internal barriers to writing the manuscript in the first place. You can read the whole speech here, if you fancy.

Then suddenly September is over, October has arrived, and it’s well and truly autumn. Guess I’ll just have to spend those chilly autumn days snuggled up inside & working on my manuscript!

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The month in books:

It hasn’t been a bad month for reading, although as always, I wish I could carve out more time for it. Especially now the nights are drawing in; there’s nothing better than curling up by the fire with a mug of hot chocolate and a good book.

  • Urban Myths and Legends (Emma Press anthology)
  • Often I Am Happy, by Jens Christian Grøndahl
  • Russian Roulette, by Anthony Horowitz
  • Good Bones, by Margaret Atwood
  • Imaginary Friends, by Philip Pullman
  • Room, by Emma Donoghue
  • The Power, by Naomi Alderman
  • The Unaccompanied, by Simon Armitage

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The month in pictures:

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Yesterday, I was invited to Penguin Random House’s WriteNow Live event in Newcastle, to talk to 50 of this year’s selected writers about my experience of the mentoring scheme, and what it’s done for me. So today, I thought I’d share the talk I gave:

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IMG_4519Penguin Random House: WriteNowLive Newcastle, Katie Hale

Back in February, I was sitting in a room in Manchester on my own WriteNow insight day. Like all of you, I was there because I felt there were barriers to seeing my work in print.

Some of the barriers we face are external. I recently went to see a friend’s performance at the Fringe. It was a one woman spoken word show about coming out, set against the history of the secret queer language, Polari. At the end, an audience member (it may or may not be relevant that he was a middle-aged white male) came up to her and said, ‘It’s good, but it’d be better if you took out the gay bits.’

Again and again, we as writers come face to face with this bizarre attitude that straight white men write stories that are universal, but if you’re a ‘marginalised’ writer, you’re only writing for other people within your own group. These are the kinds of trends in publishing, and the external barriers, that WriteNow is working to overcome, and probably the reason that a lot of us are here today.

But we also face internal barriers, and I’d like to talk a bit about mine.

I nearly didn’t apply to WriteNow. I’d had an idea for a novel in my head for a while, but never had the confidence to do anything about it. I wrote poetry, not fiction. I had this notion that writing prose as well would be somehow wrong – like I’d be jumping outside this little box I’d put myself in, and that wasn’t allowed. I also wasn’t sure it’d be any good.

The night before the deadline, I forced myself to sit down and write the opening section of my novel. The next day, I ended up going to a McDonalds to use the wifi, so that I could submit my application just an hour or two before it was due – not because I was disorganised, but because I didn’t have confidence in my own work even to submit it.

But here’s the thing: it wasn’t just my work I didn’t have confidence in – it was myself. So I put all kinds of barriers in my own way, and came up with all kinds of reasons not to apply: I was a poet, not a novelist. I didn’t have what it took to write a longer piece of work. I didn’t know enough about plot, or character, or dialogue. I wasn’t right for the WriteNow programme. I wasn’t writing anything shocking or revelatory about marginalised subcultures. I didn’t ‘look’ gay.

Skip to a few months later, and I was sitting in a room in Manchester with forty-nine other nervous writers. Somehow, miraculously, I’d made it this far, which meant that somebody at least thought my writing wasn’t terrible – although being a writer, I do have an overactive imagination, and there was a small part of my brain that was cooking up all kinds of administrative errors that meant I’d been invited to the insight day by accident. Not true, obviously. Nobody is here by accident – you’re here because you’ve worked hard for it.

I didn’t eat lunch on my insight day – I was too nervous about my one-to-one, which meant I went into it feeling a bit light-headed. As it turned out, I needn’t have worried, because this was when I first met Tom Avery – who I’m going to name-drop because I think he deserves to be named. In that first meeting, Tom gave me such on-point constructive feedback on my work, that it felt right the moment he said it. Half a year on, Tom has given me feedback on the first draft of my manuscript, and I’m rewriting it ready for our next meeting in November. He’s given me new insight into the story I’m telling, but he’s also given me confidence in my novel. It isn’t just confidence that I can write, it’s confidence that I should write.

Because ultimately, WriteNow is about stories. It isn’t about overcoming diversity in some box-ticking photo-opp way. Penguin Random House is a business, not a charity – and it’s a business that relies on individual voices. Our voices. You guys are all here because of your story. You’re here because you can write.

I guess WriteNow has been like school, in a way. There are the things it sets out to teach us, like what publishers mean by certain terms, and how the process of finding an agent works. Then there’s the hidden curriculum: the things you learn along the way.

So I’d like to finish this talk by sharing some of the things I’ve learned from that hidden curriculum, the little pieces of advice I’ve picked up along the way, and I hope they’re useful to you, too.

  1. Eat lunch today. Editors are not scary people – they’re just people with a passion for stories and good writing, and you’re all here because you’re good writers.
  2. If you have a bio that says you’re an ‘aspiring writer’, take out the word ‘aspiring’. If you’re here today, then you’re already a writer.
  3. Never wait till you ‘know enough’ to write a book. I’ve spoken to enough published writers who still don’t feel they ‘know enough’, and the best way to learn is by practising.
  4. Make friends. Make friends in writing groups at home. Make friends with other people here. These guys are your colleagues, not your competition.
  5. Be loud. Don’t sit in a corner apologising for your manuscript. And if you don’t feel confident, that’s ok, because pretend confidence can be just as effective as the real thing.
  6. Have fun. Writing is a long and lonely process. Editing is even tougher. When the grind of the work is getting you down, remember that drive that made you pick up a pen or open your laptop in the first place.
  7. And last but not least, I want to share a piece of encouragement we give each other on our WriteNow mentees Whatsapp group: Deep breath. Keep writing. You’ve got this.

Penguin Random House: WriteNowLive Newcastle

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It’s amazing how much time it takes to get back to normal after a month of being away. Especially when that ‘month away’ involves taking a show to Edinburgh Fringe. I’ve been back home about a week and a half now, and I think I’ve finally caught up on sleep, got back to grips with what day of the week it is, and (mostly) responded to the emails stacked up in my inbox.

Edinburgh Fringe was an incredible experience. Although I didn’t get to see as many other shows as I’d imagined I would (the one down-side of having to work on and flyer for your own show), I don’t think I’ve ever felt so steeped in art and creativity. I spent practically the whole month with my head buzzing with ideas and just itching to pick up a pen.

Of course, the month wasn’t without its difficulties. When your director tumbles down Arthur’s Seat and breaks her ankle, or one of your cast members loses her voice, or the mics stop working half way through a show, you have to find a way to rally round. But that’s why it’s so important to have a good team on board. Which, luckily, is exactly what we had.

The Fringe in numbers:

360 tweets
33 stars given
26 performances of The Inevitable Quiet of the Crash
11 cast, band & crew members
7 trains taken
5 flats stayed in
2 awards won
1 ride in the back of an ambulance
1 cello string snapped
100+ coffees drunk

The Inevitable Quiet of the Crash ran at C Royale, 2-27 August 2017.

CAST:

Anna // Emilie Finch
Sally // Amelia Gabriel
Julia // Ellen Timothy

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BAND:

piano // Peter Shepherd
drums // Chris Cottell
cello // Emily Hill & Susie Lyness

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CREATIVE:

words // Katie Hale
music // Stephen Hyde
director // Issy Fidderman
musical director // Peter Shepherd
movement director // Nils Behling
lighting // Jennifer Hurd
sound // Nat Davies

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BEHIND THE SCENES:

production // Edward Armstrong & Anya Boulton
marketing
// Katie Hale & Anya Boulton
trailer // Úna O’Sullivan

Keep an eye out for the future of the show!

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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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Reading the Signs

That was the summer we blatted the ants
with bits of kitchen roll, smudging
their miniature bodies between the countertop
and our thumbs. It didn’t rain for six long weeks
and in the spare room, a business of flies
crawled into the gaps around the windows
to feast on the wood’s protective coat.
A sparrow flung itself into the glass
of the front door. It lay broken on the step,
its wings and feet at wrong angles, till I shovelled it
into a polythene bag – though the grease spot
stayed on the window for weeks.
We slept in different rooms, agreed
that all these things, these signs, were unconnected.


‘Reading the Signs’ was first published in The Compass

The Raven Speaks

‘All the animals, birds, and fish will live in fear of you. They are all placed under your power.’
– Genesis 9:2

For a month or more, he kept us
in the dark, locked
in his mad tessellation of wood.

Through a slip of it, we could see
the lift and slump of horizon,
and on rougher days
shards of air forced themselves
through the gap.

When he took me
from the hull, led me up
and out towards the day…

to feel the chorus of sunlight on my feathers,
the freshness of salt
scouring from me the greyness of captivity…
when they unhooked my claw
from the metal ring, and made me soar –
is it any wonder I didn’t come back?

I found land: a rocky
dump of mud and drowned fish,
the single resilient
olive branch. It stank
fierce as the ship I’d left behind.

I saw her coming,
that lily-winged dove. Hid.
Watched her pinch that little spurt of green
in her petite, pampered beak,
and promptly nip it, dead.


‘The Raven Speaks’ was commended in York Literature Festival / YorkMix Poetry Competition 2016. It is also included in my pamphlet, Breaking the Surface (Flipped Eye, 2017).

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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This week I was planning to write a long and highly thoughtful blog post about some aspect of writing, but I think I used up all my writing juices on completing the first draft of the novel (!) – so I decided to be topical instead, and share a teaser poem from my upcoming pamphlet, Breaking the Surface (Flipped Eye).

(By the way, if you haven’t already put it in your diary, the launch is on Fri 2nd June! More here.)

Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway

after Turner

So slight it could almost be an accident
in the turmoil of colour and oil, racing
across the wingspan of the bridge
into the present – a flick of a hare

boxing the future, jacking its sharp angles
over dabbled green, its ears slipstreamed
to the focal point, and back legs springing
like a voice reaching the end of a question.

It runs to show man the limits of his progress.
It runs in terror of the industrial age.
It runs to demonstrate the engine’s speed.
It runs because it is a hare and hares run.


Rain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway‘ was first published in The Compass

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.)

Crockery
hard white seeds that don’t grow in the ground

The word has left you. Instead, you turn
your plate-like hands, the way a ploughshare
turns up rocks, or the bones of small mammals.
You stare at the creases in the loose squares
of your palms, as though each
is a path you’ve never travelled.

Sometimes, we try to follow them –
trace them back down all the years
to when their route was still uncut: farm tracks
not yet tarmacked, or sheep trods across
a common field, where footsteps still raised
a breath of dry earth; where the seeds,
secreted in the ground, would wake in later months
as beetroot, potatoes, carrots, parsnips, swede.


‘Crockery’ first appeared in the 2015 Templar Anthology, Mill

 

 

 

Until very recently, I was an unbeliever. I’m not talking about religion or magic or the supernatural – I’m talking about writers’ block. If you’d asked me a year ago, I’d have said there was no such thing. I thought it was all a figment of the imagination.

Then it came for me.

In some ways, I stand by what I said: it is all in the mind. But: ‘Of course it’s all in your head. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t real.’ (Thanks, Dumbledore.)

The way I see it, there are two types of writers’ block, each with their own different cure.

TYPE ONE:

The Easy Type

I’ve met so many people who tell me they have trouble writing. When I ask them how often they write, the answer is often something along the lines of: ‘I’m not writing at the moment, I’m looking for inspiration.’

‘Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.’ – Pablo Picasso

Here’s the thing: writing is hard. You’re reaching into the mysterious parts of your soul, pulling out what you find and attempting to wrestle it onto a page. You’re pulling something fragile out into the open. Naturally, the body tries to put up defences.

‘The easiest thing to do on earth is not write.’ – William Goldman

Writing can be mentally and emotionally draining. It’s so much easier to check facebook, or binge watch a TV show, or do the dishes, or check our emails, or cook an elaborate dinner, or any of the other things we do to avoid actually sitting down and writing.

This procrastination can be a manifestation of many things: fear of getting it wrong; laziness; taking the easy road; an uncertainty about the work; embarrassment; worry about not living up to other people’s expectations…

For all of these, there’s one very simple cure:

Make the time to sit down and write.

An hour. Two hours. Three. It’s up to you, just as long as you go to your writing space and stay there. Don’t get up and dust the top of the kitchen cupboards. Don’t tweet. Leave the list of household chores somewhere where you can’t see it.

If nothing comes, write about how you can’t think of anything to write. Repeat this routine every day, or every couple of days, as often as you can. If you turn up to work, then eventually the inspiration will as well.

writing prompt - Katie Hale

TYPE TWO:

The Tricky Type

What makes Type One easy to cure is that the cure is physical. You get yourself into your writing space and something will eventually turn up. Type Two is so tricky because the cure isn’t physical. It’s a purely mental battle, and that’s much harder to fight.

This is the type of writers’ block I didn’t realise existed, until about a year ago. Because sometimes, it isn’t just laziness or a fear of creating the work that blocks us. Sometimes, there’s a much deeper problem.

I’m talking about things that go beyond the work itself. Big things. Things like grief for a loved one. Anxiety. Depression. A big upheaval. Some sort of earthquake that shakes the foundation of our lives.

Something like this isn’t always a block. Sometimes, it can draw the work out of us and turn the creativity into a therapeutic process. But often, this therapeutic creativity comes later. Initially, there’s a block.

This block can’t always be solved by just turning up to the writing station. Often, solving the root problem has to come first. There’s no easy way to do that. Anyone who has ever suffered from any form of mental health issue will know that it’s a complicated process – one that takes time and patience and a lot of self-acceptance – and that ‘solving’ is often a misnomer anyway.

And often, once the root problem is addressed, or at least accepted, the writing will start to flow again. Not always, but for me, this can help. (Of course, at this stage, you still need to turn up to the desk…)

Good luck, and happy writing!

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 Fighting Temeraire tugged to her Last Berth to be broken up, 1838

after Turner

I folded myself into the cool side of the duvet;
you tugged it under your legs. Teach me
about art
, I said. In that September heat,
my voice’s waterfall tumbled and broke.
It struck me then how your skin
was tinged with sickness, how your hair
hung lank, a wind-dropped sail, and your eyes
looked slightly left of my face. You said: Turner
maybe used too much yellow, and nobody knows
if he was radical in his approach to colour
or partially blind – his vision stained
to antique maps, until everything looked
like a work of art.
Which brings this to what
you taught me:             how to fall apart.


The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her Last Berth to be broken up, 1838‘ was first published in The Compass

January always feels like an odd month to me. It seems to take ages to get going, and then before you know it, it’s almost over. Cue a frantic rush to get up to date on all the things I should have been doing at the start of the month. Oops.

That aside, January is always a month of beginnings. It’s a month of testing myself, to see how closely I can stick to my newly made resolutions. So far, it’s been a bit of a mix.

  • I haven’t got particularly far with my 100 rejections – although I did send some poems out the other day, so maybe there’ll be some on their way shortly.
  • I’ve read 4 books, so I guess I’m kind on track to my 50 by the end of the year.
  • So far, I’m keeping up with my weekly blog posts, so that’s a big tick on the resolutions list.
  • As for the novella, I’m now officially over half way through the first draft of this, so this one is looking fairly promising.

Sometimes when you travel, it's easy to forget how beautiful it is at home.

But how has it gone apart from that?

Mostly, I’ve been trying to get back into some sort of routine. Before Christmas, I had about 3 weeks of being in this fantastic routine that was probably one of the most productive of my life: get up before 7am, write all morning, sometimes go for a walk / run, do admin in the afternoon, relax / read / make Christmas decorations in the evenings. Then Christmas happened and that sort of went by the wayside. Now, I’m getting into a kind of routine, which isn’t really the one I want. It seems to be: get up late, mooch around trying to write, fail, read a book to pass the time, finally manage to write something that’s halfway decent by about dinner time, do some frantic admin, clamber into bed at around 1am.

Luckily, I’ve spent the past week with Stephen, working on the rewrites of our musical – and there’s nothing like another person to make you get your act together and get working, so it’s been a productive week. Keeping my fingers crossed that that productivity follows me into February.

In other news:

I had a great weekend in London with the lovely Elizabeth Mann, at the T S Eliot readings (and spending far too much time & money in the city’s various bookshops). It was such an inspiring occasion – and a huge congratulations to Jacob Polley on his win!

January’s Word Mess open mic night was one of the busiest we’ve had, with a fantastic variety of readers. (The next one will be on Tuesday 28th February.)

I started 2 new blog series: a monthly writing prompt, starting with a prompt about beginnings; and Face to Face, series of short conversations I’ll be having every month, talking to interesting people about the things that interest them. So far, so good! 🙂

I’ve started my schools workshops again. One of my personal favourites was looking at riddles & kennings with my Yr 4s at St Patrick’s Primary in Workington. Their special topic is currently the arctic, so we wrote some arctic-themed riddles. Any guesses…?

I am a ship-sinker.
I am a crack-maker.
I am a wave-breaker.
What am I?

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I am a birth-giver.
I am a snow-hunter.
I am a seal-eater.
I am a den-sleeper.
What am I?

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I am a cookie-eater.
I am a toy-maker.
I am a milk-drinker.
I am a sleigh-driver.
I am a chimney-climber.
I am an elf-checker.
I am a beard-grower.
What am I?

Looking forward to going back there this month to work more on description & close observation.

THE MONTH IN BOOKS:

  • All We Shall Know, by Donal Ryan
  • The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
  • Anthology of the Sea (Emma Press)
  • Reasons to Stay Alive, by Matt Haig

Currently reading: The Art of Travel, by Alain de Botton, and Human Acts, by Han Kang

THE MONTH IN PICTURES:

Over the past decade or so, there seems to have been a growing trend for writing in coffee shops. Whether this has been popularised by J K Rowling’s accounts of writing the first couple of Harry Potter books in The Elephant House in Edinburgh, or just a knock-on effect of the growing coffee shop culture, I’m not sure.

I like it though, this gradual graduation of the writing process into the public space. No more the weary novelist, cramped alone in his tiny attic room, shut away from the world as he squeezes words from his brain with only a few spiders for company. No more the lonely poet, tramping verse across the mountaintops, singing them mournfully back to the wind. (Well, maybe still here and there in Cumbria…)

Writing in coffee shops in Cumbria - Brew Brothers, Kendal
Brew Brothers, Kendal

Writing in coffee shops brings writing out into the open. For me, it stops is being some secretive, mystery thing that unusual-looking people do in the privacy of their own homes, and turns it into something public. Oh, you see that woman over there with the flat white and a Mac? She’s an author. That man with the doodled notebook? He’s writing poems.

I think (or maybe I hope) that when people see writers writing like this, it reaffirms the fact that writing is real work. I think that sometimes, non-writers underestimate just how hard writing can be. After all, we just sit at a table and make stuff up, right? What’s so hard about that? It probably doesn’t even take very long. Writers probably spend most of their time sleeping or practising their autographs…right?

If you’re a writer, this attitude is probably pretty familiar. If you’ve shared a house with someone who isn’t themselves a writer / artist, you’ve probably had to fight tooth and nail to protect your writing time, and stop it morphing into washing up time, or putting-the-bins-out time. You’ve possibly also had to put up with comments like, ‘Are you busy? Or are you just writing?’ I actually had a friend who asked me: ‘Are you working or writing today?’ I think my response was, ‘Umm, both…?’

At least when it’s out in the open people can see you’re working. Well, sort of. I mean, I’m not saying that people can see you at the coal face, because for writers most of the work does and always will take place inside our heads – but at least people can see you’re putting in the hours.

Cakes & Ale bookshop cafe, Carlisle, Cumbria
Cakes & Ale, Carlisle

Writing in coffee shops is also a good way for me to shake my ideas up a bit. There’s nothing like a change of setting to help with a change of mind, or a bit of people watching to bring in some added inspiration. If I’m stuck on what to write, I tend to do one of two things: read a book, or migrate to a cafe. Sometimes I do both.

Not that I never write at home. I do. I write at my kitchen table, at my desk, on my sofa, in bed… Sometimes while I’m cooking I’ll write standing up at the kitchen counter. But sometimes at home I can feel too conspicuous. Which is a weird thought, since I live on my own – who is there to be conspicuous to? But at home, everything clamours for my attention, because everything is my responsibility. There are a million other jobs that need doing, from hoovering to re-stacking the log basket to dusting the tops of the kitchen cupboards.

Whenever I’m even remotely considering dusting the tops of the kitchen cupboards, I know I must be procrastinating, and it’s definitely time for a change of scene.

For me, writing in a coffee shop can help me feel like a ‘real’ writer. Going to a specific place, like going to an office, can help remind me that, like any job, I have to put the hours in. It can spur me on mentally and give me a fresh creative canvas. When I want to get some serious writing done, they can give me a break from the thousand other things that try to hold me back.

Also, I just quite like coffee.

Abbey Coffee Shop, Shap, Cumbria - best cafes for writing in
Abbey Coffee Shop, Shap

These are my 5 favourite coffee shops for writing in in Cumbria:

1: Abbey Coffee Shop, Shap

The Abbey Coffee Shop in Shap is my local. If I’m stuck and it’s a nice day, it’s just a 15 minute walk across the fields. Perfect for instilling that freshness of thinking.

There’s no wifi at the Abbey Coffee Shop – it’s a ‘talk to people rather than phones’ kind of place, with a really friendly, local feel. I don’t think I’ve ever been in there without seeing someone I know – something that can be great for the lonely writer. (Stuck on my own in that attic with the spiders? No thanks…) The only issue with this (for writing, at least) is that it can get crazily busy around the middle of the day, which means that taking up a table by yourself with nothing but a latte and a notebook for 2 hours isn’t really acceptable. But get there early when they open, and it’s great – not to mention the fact that the freshly baked scones will still be warm.

It’s also run by locals, so it’s supporting local business: my friend Rowan, who I went to primary school with, and her dad, who makes the world’s best lamb & apricot casserole. No exaggeration.

2: Brew Brothers, Kendal

I once saw Brew Brothers described as ‘an urban cafe in a rural setting’, which is a description I took issue with, as I don’t see Brew Brothers as an ‘urban’ cafe at all. For one thing, it has a giant blown up photo of a sheep covering one whole wall. I think the person who wrote that description was confusing urban with hipster, because Brew Brothers is a very hipster place. Eclectic chairs, an old piano stool, pretty mismatched china, water served in jam jars… Basically it’s my favourite kind of style in a nutshell.

Like the Abbey Coffee Shop, it can get super busy during the middle of the day, but that’s because the meals and cakes are both delicious. Plus it’s about the only cafe I know which offers a big choice of different flavours of chai latte.

Brew Brothers cafe, Kendal, Cumbria - best cafes for writing in
Brew Brothers, Kendal

3: Cakes & Ale, Carlisle

Cakes & Ale is attached to Bookends, the independent book shop in Carlisle, which itself is attached to Bookcase: the biggest and best warren of a second-hand book shop I think I’ve ever been in. Mum & I once wandered apart in here, and she had to phone me to see where I was, because apparently she’d been calling my name and I hadn’t heard. Turns out we were still on the same floor, which shows how big the bookshop is.

The books seem to spill over into the cafe, too. If I’m stuck on what to write, there’ll always be something interesting to read in Cakes & Ale. Or I can just listen to whatever’s on the turntable of the record player, or order another yummy cake. (Cake seems to be a developing theme in these cafes. Just so you know, that isn’t a coincidence.)

4: The Yard Kitchen, Penrith

If you’re looking for an inspirational place and you can’t find a cafe attached to a bookshop, find one attached to a salvage yard. The Yard Kitchen oozes vintage salvage style, from the wood-burner in the back room, to the neon sign that slightly older Penrith folk will recognise from one of the now-closed nightclubs. There’s also an upstairs snug, which is a great space for writing when you want to get away from it all a bit. In the summer, there’s also an outside seating area, with views across town to the beacon.

Oh, and in case you haven’t guessed already, the cakes are amazing. Especially the scones.

5: The Wild Strawberry, Keswick

Of these coffee shops, the Wild Strawberry is the one I go to least. No reflection on the cafe itself, but just because I don’t often find myself in Keswick with a couple of hours looking for somewhere to do some work. But when I do, this is generally the place I gravitate towards. (Though I avoid going at all during school holidays, especially in August, when Keswick turns into a great big tourist trap.)

Downstairs, The Wild Strawberry is pretty bustling, but I like to secrete myself away somewhere upstairs, where there’s less pressure on you to leave as soon as your coffee cup is empty. Also, they have good cakes (of course) and nice milkshakes.

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Oh, and if you have any other great cafe recommendations, do let me know – I’d love to expand my repertoire!

The Find

The day you found the seal skin on the beach,
you called to me to look. You stared
at the folded stinking mess of it:

the jilted flippers, the serrated fur, the tear
where it was pulled from its body.
You did not know my longing for the sea.

I bent to stroke it, ran my fingers
over the blooded blubber, weighing
half-human in my arms.
I wrapped myself into its comfortable wetness.

Turning to look at you with my new
black eyes, I slipped back
into the rocking waves – the way a hand
slips once, and quietly, from a sleeping form.


‘The Find’ was commended in the 2015 Ware Poets Open Poetry Competition

I’ve never been very good at new year’s resolutions. Or rather, I think I’m good at them in the same way that everyone else is good at them: for about 3 weeks in January, and then letting them fall by the wayside for the rest of the year.

But this year, I’m making a number of them, and I’m determined to still remember what they were this time next year. Even more, I’m determined to achieve them, so that next year I have to come up with some new ones.

poetry definitions - Katie Hale
^ I guess I could aim not to be a ‘poetaster’…?

If 2016 has been the year of celebrity deaths & surprise election results, then I’m intending to make 2017 the year of writing-in-numbers (as distinct from writing-by-numbers, which is not to be encouraged).

And those numbers are: 100, 50 and 1

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RESOLUTION NUMBER 1:

Inspired by Kim Liao’s article back in June, I’m aiming for 100 literary rejections.

This is the one resolution that I actually don’t mind whether I achieve it or not. The idea is that aiming for rejections is less daunting than aiming for acceptances, so you’re more likely to bite the bullet and submit in the first place.

And 100 is such a big number that it forces you to think outside the box and submit to opportunities that you wouldn’t normally consider inside your comfort zone. Given that this is exactly how I got my place on Penguin’s WriteNow insight day in Manchester for February 2017, it’s something I already believe in: apply for opportunities, as you never know where that opportunity may lead.

(Obviously, if I somehow miraculously achieve 100 acceptances instead of 100 rejections, I think I’ll get over the fact that I didn’t tick off the resolution itself.)

new year writing resolutions: Katie Hale

RESOLUTION NUMBER 2:

As always, I’m aiming to read 50 books in 2017.

This is always my resolution (at roughly one a week, I see no reason why I shouldn’t be able to achieve this). In 2016 I read 57 books, and I’d quite like to read more this coming year. After all, reading is the key to writing.

As for what I’ll be reading, I already have a few books lined up – thanks in part to a late December splurge at the New Hedgehog Bookshop in Penrith. And then I’d like to read some of the poetry & fiction that’s been waiting patiently on my shelves, as well as building a bigger library of contemporary plays. And with StAnza in March and Kendal Poetry Festival in June, I’m pretty sure there’ll be plenty of new poetry to tempt me.

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RESOLUTION NUMBER 3:

To write 50 blog posts for this blog.

Really, I’m going for one a week, but 50 is a nicer number than 52, and it gives me a little bit of wiggle room.

Some of these will be writing updates, some will be actualy pieces of writing (from me and hopefully also from some of my schools workshops), and some will probably just be a bit of fun.

I’m also planning to post a monthly writing prompt, on the first Sunday of every month. When I was running my young writers’ group, I used to email the young writers a prompt every week – so I thought I’d continue the tradition, but on a slightly less frequent basis. After all, I’m not Jo Bell.

script writing for theatre - Katie Hale

RESOLUTION NUMBER 4:

To take 1 show to the Fringe.

But more on that in the new year, hopefully. Spoilers!

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RESOLUTION NUMBER 5:

To finish at least 1 draft of the novella.

1 draft. 1 very very rough and probably unfit-for-human-consumption draft.

Actually, I’m hoping to have this completed by the end of February, so really there’s no reason not to complete several drafts of it in the months that follow. At least, that’s the plan. But other things always crop up – and yes, Stephen, if you’re reading this, don’t worry: I will also be working on the rewrite of Yesterday during this time. Just hoping that old stereotype about women being good at multi-tasking proves to be true!

typewriter - Katie Hale

So there are my 5 new year’s resolutions for 2017.

2016 has felt a lot like finding my feet as a full-time writer. I’m hoping that 2017 is when I’ll really start to run.

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Happy New Year!  🙂

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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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Remember back in January, when I said I would write a blog post every week this year, about my life as a writer? Yeah…

Oops.

One of the hardest things to adjust to this year has been introducing myself as a writer. I think this is something that all writers struggle with at some point: we spend so long cramming our writing time in alongside other jobs, that when we’re asked the inevitable, ‘So what do you do…?’ our first answer is rarely, ‘I’m a writer.’ At what point do you become a writer? Is it when you start writing (or are you still a waitress / teacher / administrator / whatever your day job is)? Is it when you get something published? Maybe it’s when you first earn money from your writing, or when someone else first introduces you as a writer.

When I quit one of my jobs at the end of 2015, to free up more time for my writing, I was faced with this problem: do I put ‘writer’ on official forms, in the little box marked ‘occupation’?

Previously, I’d always put my official Prism Arts job title (‘Creative Programme Administrator’), as my other part-time job had a much less fixed title. But then when that was gone, what to call myself? I wasn’t making a living from my writing – could I still get away with calling myself a writer, or was that some kind of fraudulent optimism?

The first time I had to actually make this decision was in Marrakech airport in January, filling out a landing card. I put ‘writer’, mainly because I didn’t know what else to put – and let’s face it, partly because I just liked the idea of calling myself a writer.

So I got into the (constantly morphing, incredibly haphazard) queue for passport control, clutching my little landing card. After 45 minutes of navigating a queue that kept merging and changing direction and disappearing altogether, I finally made it to the desk. I handed over my passport and landing card.

The customs officer checked them against each other: ‘Writer?’

‘Yes.’

‘What kind of writer?’

I was struck by the suspicion and antagonism in his voice.

Looking back, I think he thought I might be a journalist or professional blogger, and that I might be in Morocco to work, which would be a problem on my tourist visa. But it made me think: writers have a lot of influence – just look at the new ‘post-truth’ world we apparently live in following the American elections. Being a writer is a powerful and dangerous thing – no wonder he questioned me.

‘Poetry,’ I told him.

At that his expression cleared, he stamped my passport, and he waved me on my merry way without a so much as a second glance. Apparently, Moroccan border control doesn’t consider poetry a particularly dangerous form of writing – rightly or wrongly.

So when do you get to call yourself a writer?

This year, I’ve decided that it’s all about approach. For me, it’s about how serious you are about your writing. Is it something you strive towards on a daily basis, or is it something you turn to every once in a while when the inspiration strikes? For instance, I take a lot of photos, but I would never call myself a photographer. I just don’t work at it enough, and photography will never be the number one priority in my life.

Writing, however, is. And I intend to keep calling myself a writer, regardless of how much money my writing is (or isn’t) making me.

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My Writing Life: Week 13

It’s been another busy week (of course), with a straight run of poetry events to start it off. Oh, and hot chocolate. LOTS of hot chocolate.

Kennedy's Fine Chocolates, Orton, Cumbria

Monday was World Poetry Day (so a belated Happy World Poetry Day!), which I celebrated at a poetry sharing event in Shap Library. It was a lovely evening, with about eight of us there, just reading and sharing our favourite poems with one another. I took Liz Berry’s Black Country and Kei Miller’s The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion. We also had bits of Kate Tempest, Robert Browning and Pablo Neruda, to name just a few.

Tuesday saw the first ever Word Mess! Word Mess is the new open mic night that I’m hosting in Penrith, through New Writing Cumbria. It’ll be happening on the fourth Thursday of every month, upstairs in the old mess hall at Penrith Old Fire Station. We had a small but perfectly formed crowd to start us off this month, and hoping to grow the event over the months to come. (Next one will be Thursday 26th April!)

Wednesday was a poetry event on a wholly different scale, with a trip down to London for this year’s Barbican Young Poets Showcase. This is an epic annual event, and a fantastic celebration of some incredible young writers. It was also a great opportunity for a catch-up with some former Barbican Young Poets, from my year and others.

I then managed to take a bit of a break from poetry, what with Easter, a birthday and a few good books. (Note: Easter egg hunts with an under-two-year-old are adorable!)

Unfortunately, not much on the writing side this week, but plenty of reading, and as everyone knows, reading is the first step to writing. Though I’m considering attempting NaPoWriMo starting next week, so I’ll definitely have to up my poetry game before that starts. Pressure!

The Week in Books:

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Two novellas from the Myths series, and a recent novel:

  • Jeanette Winterson, Weight
  • Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad
  • Kazuo Ishiguro, The Buried Giant

These were some of the products of my recent new-book-buying extravaganza. I always love reading brand new books – I think probably because I do it so rarely. There’s something magical about being the first one to open the pages, like exploring a new land.

The  Week in Pictures:

My Writing Life: Week 12

Well, they do say that things come in threes, and the good stuff has been rolling in this week – on Thursday / Friday / Saturday, just to make it nice and easy.

YorkMix / York Literature Festival Poetry Competition - Katie Hale, Cumbrian poet & writer
YorkMix / York Literature Festival Poetry Competition

Thursday: I started a new job! It’s still for Eden Arts, so not a new place of work, but it’s a new project, and gives me an extra day a week in the office. It’s about helping NHS recruitment to the area, by promoting Cumbria as a place not just to visit, but also to live and work. One of the ways we’re doing this is via social media, with images and captions about what makes Cumbria a great place to live. Not just mountains. Not just lakes. But lifestyle. (Head over and like the facebook page here. Go on, I dare you.)

Friday: I learned that a funding application I submitted was successful! I’ve received funding from the Arts Award Access Fund to work with two primary schools, to deliver Arts Award Discover workshops for over 100 children. I also had a lovely meeting with Zoe at the Wordsworth Trust and a chance to see the Wordsworth Country exhibition, and then spent the afternoon relaxing at Allan Bank (National Trust property), reading a book and overlooking the lake.

Saturday: I went to York, where I read at the awards event for the York Mix / York Literature Festival Poetry Competition. Why? Because my poem, ‘The Raven Speaks’, was Commended! Whoop whoop!

So all in all, the latter end of the week was pretty successful.

Plus, I’ve also been doing some marketing this week for the Three Inch Fools’ production of The Tempest, which will be coming to Penrith Old Fire Station in under 2 weeks! (8th – 10th April, tickets available here, by the way…)

Three Inch Fools The Tempest: touring Shakespeare in Cumbria, Penrith Old Fire Station, Eden Arts

Which has meant lots of whizzing round the county with posters & flyers. Should be a great production – come along for the ride!

Add to that some blue skies and sunshine, a stroll across the fields, spending a morning writing at the Abbey Coffee Shop in Shap, a trip to an independent bookshop, and lots of flowers bursting from the ground, and you get a pretty good week all round.

Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

The week in books:

Just one book this week: Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin.

But if you’re only going to read one book in a week, make it this one. I’ve been absolutely bowled over by Atwood’s beautifully evocative descriptive prose. (I tweeted this at her during the week, and got a tweet back saying thanks! Yay!) Every page yielded some turn of phrase that struck me so much that I wanted to make a note of it – which I obviously I had to stop myself doing, or I would never have managed to read the book.

I enjoyed it so much, that when I hit up Carlisle’s independent bookshop on Sunday afternoon, I was determined not to come away without another Margaret Atwood. Just a little something to keep me going…

The week in pictures: