*THIS LAND LIKE A MIRROR…
ROOTS AND INFLUENCES
Family roots on my father’s side lie in Lincolnshire; its August landscapes lit up my childhood. On my mother’s side, city life, especially in Sheffield and London, was key. Shopping and the sophistication of a Lyon’s brasserie contrasted sharply with the pig farms and orchard harvests of Kesteven. Methodism and Liberalism collided with a Cockney atheism and adventurism that never quite jelled for my parents. Poetry came into my life at Sheffield Girl’s High School where, during the war, we learned a poem a week from “For Your Delight.” I still have a copy of this wonderful anthology signed by my sister and me, shabby and ink-stained.
BOARDING SCHOOL AND BEYOND
At the small co-ed progressive boarding school I went to for eight years music, art, woodwork and pottery were considered as important as maths and English. Here I was taught by Brian Merrikin Hill who later became the editor of Pennine Platform. He was an encouraging and inspiring teacher who memorably read Louis MacNiece in morning assembly. Nearby Bretton Hall specialised in music, art and drama. It was the obvious follow on from Wennington School. I qualified as a primary teacher specialising in music. The first teaching stint in Clitheroe, where I didn’t know a soul, was grim. Loneliness and disillusion drove me to write about the Soviet invasion of Hungary, my rejection of Methodism and life among strangers. It seemed natural to turn to poetry.
CAREER’S END AND POTTERY
Harlow New Town was much more fun. I upped the career as a music specialist, sang in a chamber choir and threw pots in the evenings. Marriage to a fellow chorister led to part-time work with children whose inability to pass the 11+ consigned them to the scrap heap. My first son was born in Harlow and I had my first experience of a thankfully brief, post-natal depression. Three years on and living in Torver near Coniston the beauty of the ever-changing landscape inspired some poems and a short play script about domestic drudgery and fantasy escape. My childhood seemed key to understanding the depression that recurred when my second son was born. Trusting Freud’s intriguing “The Interpretation of Dreams” I recorded my dreams from time to time and still do. Not much re-drafted writing though. I taught music at the village school as well as taking private pupils. In 1970 I abandoned teaching to establish Little Arrow Pottery and became an associate member of the Guild of Lakeland Craftsmen. This was one of the best things I’ve ever done.
In 1981 I needed cash to develop my pottery so took on one-to-one responsibility for an autistic seven-year-old in a special school for disturbed children. During this period my marriage broke up. Learning support work in the state system followed, initially in generic special needs, but later, in behavioural special needs. Needless to say I never got that gas kiln. I set up a new home in Furness with my partner and extended family, working as a peripatetic learning support teacher until, in 1993, I retiredand startedto take writing seriously. I didn’t at first see the need to do more than simply write. But a year, six short stories and a novel-and-a-half later I joined a creative writing class attached to Lancaster University and took a course in Radio Writing that offered professional tutoring and a chance to get a play on local radio. I became involved with “A Poem and A Pint” at The King’s Arms in Ulverston and was a founder member of South Cumbria Playwrights and its chairperson for two years.
A radio play “Dougie Rides Again” was produced by The Ashton Group and broadcast on BBC Radio Cumbria in 1999 and in the same month, a ten-minute stage play “Reunion” (now renamed “Scrap-heap”) again produced by Rachel Ashton, was performed at The Coronation Hall, Ulverston. The following year a second ten-minute script “Dick Jones is Dead” was professionally performed as part of SCP’s “A Script in the Hand” project. “Scrap Heap” was performed at The West Yorkshire Playhouse in 2003. I have written scripts for pub performance and in 2004 my stage play “The Life of the Birds” was a runner-up in the New Plays North West project.
ORGANISATIONS AND EVENTS – MAINLY POETRY
I am a member of 4th Monday Poets and Barrow Writers, local critiquing groups that help develop objectivity and editorial judgement. I continue as an organiser of the “A Poem and A Pint” event, where nationally acclaimed poets are invited to read alongside local writers in the informal atmosphere of a pub. This event has attracted, among others, Simon Armitage, Jack Mapanje, Jackie Kay, Jo Shapcott and Vicki Feaver to South Cumbria. I am a founder member of Word Market.
PRIZES AND PUBLICATIONS
Poems and stories have appeared in Pitch, The Edge and The Quiet Feather, Pennine Platform and Fire magazines. I published a childhood memoir “The Mirror Game” in 2004. A short story “Afterwards” won first prize in the Word Market ESSP competition in February 2005 and in February 2006 a poem “Daubenton’s Bats” was highly commended in the Keswick Festival Mirehouse poetry competition and is to be anthologised.
Short stories and poetry continue to be my favourite genres. Recently I re-drafted the 1993 novel and am seeking editorial advice with a view to publication. I aim also to put together my first poetry collection this year (2006). My work will appear on the pages of this website in a way that illustrates the close association of my poems to original or photographic images, the way landscape and the seasons come into my work as well as my preoccupations with separation, people and the aging process.
* Dark Pines Under Water by Gwendolyn MacEwen.