Based in Rochdale in Northwest England, I have been writing for about twenty years with my main interest being poetry. In the last few years, I left my last job as a teacher in a school for young people with behavioural and social issues to concentrate on my creative work as a self-employed (and perhaps semi-retired) writer and artist. I still love working with young people and am the part-time art and writing specialist in a small charity in Rochdale supporting young people through creativity to build their resilience and skills.
As a poet, I have performed my work around the North of England and I also run creative writing workshops for writing groups, community groups, and schools, providing inspiration and technical support for writers of all ages.
In the last few years, I have also started to write stories for young children and these stories have formed the basis for creative writing sessions for Your Trust, Rochdale’s Cultural and Leisure Trust, where young people are able to receive healthy activity, creative or educational activity and a healthy meal during school holiday times. Due to the popularity of these stories with young people, I am currently refining them to submit for publication as picture books.
The other strands to my writing include writing regular reviews of arts events for online and local papers.
Most recently I have started work on my book Thin Places for a Secular World.
What inspired you to start writing this book?
The inspiration for the book comes from the realisation of the importance of special places in most people’s lives. My own ancestry, and most of my family, has roots in the Celtic peoples, especially in Ireland. Maybe in modern terminology I identify as a Celt. In Celtic mythology and folklore, Thin Places are where the boundary between the physical world and another place is thinner and can sometimes be permeable. The concept has been particularly interesting at a personal level where there are places that, to me, feel more connected to something I cannot see or experience in the usual physical ways. As I have delved into the concepts, it is apparent that almost all civilisations and societies have some equivalent to the Thin Places of the Celts.
Through researching, I have come to understand that, regardless of what such places really are, these places can be valuable to all of us. Furthermore, I am considering thin places, which are often linked to some kind of religious beliefs, as a non-religious person living in a largely secular world. What are they? What is their relevance? Most importantly, can we find or create such spaces for ourselves and benefit from them?
Tell us the story of your book’s current title. Was it easy to find, or did it take forever?
The ideas behind the book have been building in my mind over a couple of years and I felt that I have to write this book, and there was an urgency about starting it. Once I started to put the ideas, as a basic plan, on paper, then the title seemed to exist already, so I wrote it down.
Describe your dream book cover.
My dream would be to design my own cover, with imagery developed from one of my own special thin places in the west of Ireland. Colours would include plenty of green and gold.
What books are you reading (for research or comfort) as you continue the writing process?
I am reading lots of folklore, including a collection by Alan Garner, and lots of poetry. I read poetry in short bursts, and very frequently. Recently I read The Heeding by Rob Cowan, illustrated by Nick Haynes, and have picked up inspiration from Underland and The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane. Having really enjoyed reading The Golden Mole, I am about to read the new book by the same author, Katherine Randell, Impossible Creatures, for relaxation and entertainment.
What other professions have you worked in? What’s something about you that your readers wouldn’t know?
After taking a degree in ecology, my first full-time job was working in IT for education. I continued in various roles helping to develop the use of IT by staff in local authorities and schools for about twenty years. An HND in Graphic Design, a photography qualification, and a PGCE teaching qualification in my mid-forties led to working as a photographer and graphic designer and then to teaching in schools and colleges with a diverse range of subjects including Art, English, IT, Science, and cycle maintenance. In between the teaching roles, I spent six years working alongside local authority and transport authority teams to encourage and support more cycling in Rochdale and greater Manchester.
Finally, in my sixties, I am working on my first full length book whilst continuing to write poetry and running lots of creative writing workshops.
Who/what made you want to write? Was there a particular person, or particular writers/works/art forms that influenced you?
Writing came along accidentally when I needed a change of career. It was never going to be a career itself, more of a diversion and means of relaxation—then I discovered the power of poetry to move people and to discuss important topics like the environment and human society, life, death, and so on. Once you start to write, you can easily become hooked and, in may cases, become that unintended career.
Where is your favorite place to write?
I can write almost anywhere and at any time of day or night. The inspiration for writing can come from anywhere and there is usually too much inspiration rather than non enough.
My favourite places include my small office/creative space at home, surrounded by books, pictures, and plants, but also places where there is lots going on. I used to travel by train for work and when travelling alone I would often spend much of the journey writing. Similarly, I have found cafes and coffee shops to be ideal places to write. My mind rarely does just one thing at a time, so the music or activity going on around me is a help rather than a hindrance.
Do you have any writing rituals?
I don’t have writing rituals as such but almost everything I write starts with a pen on paper. That pen is invariably a fountain pen. At school we were made to write with fountain pens and I hated it. They were scratchy, the ink would smudge and drop blots on the page. At high school we were allowed ballpoints and they were my thing, except for drawing when a Tempo fibre-tipped pen was my go-to choice.
But now the fountain pen is my absolute favourite and I have a range of them with different nibs and inks.
Once I have initial thoughts or ideas on paper, I start to refine them and that results in multiple drafts before I start to use a word processor. Usually my poems will go through at least half a dozen drafts, whilst my articles or reviews might see just one or two.
Most of the time I will be listening to music on a speaker or headphones while I write and end up drinking quite a lot of decaf coffee.
For this new book, a new direction is to use a specialist writing app, Scrivener, instead of my usual word processor, and I am finding that it helps with organising my thoughts and ideas.
What is one thing you hope readers take away from reading your book? How do you envision your perfect reader?
I don’t want to tell people what to think, but I do hope people will learn from my book—enough to think and maybe to delve into things for themselves. If they do that and enjoy it, I will be very happy.
Are you a writer, too? Submit your manuscript to Atmosphere Press.