Two new reads and workshop news….

Two new reads and workshop news….
Two new reads and workshop news….

Firstly, many apologies but we have had to postpone our Mat and Page course for 22nd July due to unavoidable life stuff… if you’ve already booked, you should have had an email, but we will be back with more courses. This is such a wonderful mixture of yoga and journal writing that we’re both passionate about. How could we not share everything we’ve learnt with you!


In other news, if all this hot weather is making you feel like a swim, then my short story, Potassium Man, is the Weekend Read here. Thank you to the wonderful For Books Sake for choosing and featuring my story.

And another story of mine has just been published in an anthology about GLUTTONY. Thank you so much to Matt Potter and Pure Slush for selecting this rather mad story. It began on the No 29 bus between Tunbridge Wells and Brighton, and features Ed, who likes to enjoy his own picnic on the bus. Here’s the start…

Shhh, I tell myself. Stop making so much noise, but then I start eating and just forget about everyone else.

            It’s like I’m on a magic carpet. No, not that. A camel, because we’re swaying this way and that across Kent and into Sussex. I keep my bag beside me, so I can dip into it every now and then, pull out a silver foil wrapped package and…

            … ohhh…

            … a hard boiled egg with…

            … yes …

            … a twist of salt.

            To tell the truth, I’ve often thought about leaving the egg behind after those two women complained about the smell that one time.

            ‘I thought he was farting. Did you too, Caroline?’

            ‘I didn’t like to think.’

            And then they were giggling as if someone having his lunch in public was an entertainment.

            ‘Oh my god, Caroline,’ the loud one went. ‘He’s got a chicken leg now.’


More poetry, more shops….

More poetry, more shops….
More poetry, more shops….

The virtual Tunbridge Wells Poetry Trail continues now that the shops are… slowly… taking the poems down!

Here’s a poem for Le Petit Jardin, who sell these beautiful glass drops still made in Syria.


 Bright Lights
Julia Wheeler

Old Town Damascus –
cardamom, shisha, tooth grins,
a cave of a shop;
kitsch bubble clusters,
glass icicles dangling low.

Our turning rucksacks
threaten to shatter the peace,
‘No matter,’ he smiles.
We choose what we can carry,
wrapped, with care, in last week’s news.

Home; clear drops hang on
fragrant spruce, ribboned gifts beneath.
Logs glow, twinkling children gaze
as fairy lights create sparks
for Syrian memories.

Now each December
I re-read last decade’s news;
the smudged type tattered
as print predicts future hurt.
With care, rewrapped in darkness





One for Oak and Interiors (above), who sell wooden and interesting objects, including tables.

Grandmother’s Table
Anne White

Standing central in the kitchen,
taking your space,
solid legs
now a bit wobbly.
Smooth still though your gnarled
and wrinkled grain
is comforting to the touch.

Once a young tree
held in a cupule, fed from forest soil
to become strong, elegant, tall.
Green branches reaching
across the forest
caressing other branches,
your heartwood honed, captured, carved
to a fine shape,
admired and coveted.

Marks of children, grandchildren
tales of endless meals prepared,
the chopping of the axe replaced by knife.
Tired now
sleepy meals for one.


And Darling & Wild, the florist, a poem by Jackie Heath




And then there is the Cake Shed, with a poem by Catherine Douglas, the beautiful background is painted by the artist Sophie Douglas




Here’s one for Peter Speaight the Butchers…

A bicycle, a basket and four bowler hats
Sue Hatt

‘You can’t miss it.’ I did.
I was looking for what I expected.
What I found was magic:
a white mouse on a mission.

Every day he travels round the circuit
in his railway carriage, looks out the window,
makes notes, draws pictures, smiles. He holds
lifetimes of experience in his hands:
there’s no restricted zone. No parked ideas.

At night he tries out new recipes – tastes
spices and herbs: cinnamon, oregano,
rosemary and thyme. He polishes the links
in the chains, listening to his inheritance tracks.

The customers all watch him, he draws them in.
His window startles – his bicycle and basket
set the theme; the golden pastries are
pat-a-cake prizes for mother and me.

Inside the shop the young man makes welcome,
gives good will and sells nourishment.
Behind him the four bowler hats and the portrait
of the chicken view the scene, hatch plans,
converse with the mouse, shape the future.


And last but not least on this bit of the virtual tour, one for Mirror Beauty. Anyone from Tunbridge Wells recognise themselves…!


Poetry, shops and Tunbridge Wells….

Poetry, shops and Tunbridge Wells….
Poetry, shops and Tunbridge Wells….

Over the weekend, it’s been such a pleasure to see more poetry in Tunbridge Wells, and lovely that the first Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival was such a success. Thank you Sarah and Paper Swans!

A joy too to see our Poetry Trail in action, and actually catch REAL people reading them…

If you missed the trail, then here are four of the poems, and I’ll be posting more over the rest of this week…

For Chegworth’s Farm shop...

This is how I got out of the woods
Clare Law

These woods are strange and I think I might be lost.
There was a path behind me. Now there’s not.
I stand. I listen. Hear the ants at work.
A breeze scampers through the top branches.
Wait, don’t go. Help me– It’s gone.
I smell nothing but sun on dark, damp places.
Then the forest floor breaks open before me, just a little.
Pine needles roll to left and right.
A few oyster mushrooms push through the mulch,
shaking the soil off their wedding suit grey sleeves.
Pied-de-mouton steps up and now come chanterelles,
their apricot scent trailing a little behind.
Girolles follow at a discreet distance.
Bumbling porcini shove gently between mushrooms chestnut and white.
And here’s wide capped portobello calling on me to follow.
Polite, insistent, they roll over snatching briars so that I can pass.
Insistent, polite, they wait while I start to clamber over a vast fallen trunk,
change my mind and go around.
And when I stop, perplexed, they crowd around my feet,
kind and curious as sheep.
And when I go on, they tumble onward like a guiding stream
until at last there is no more forest.
They see me safe to the edge of the wood,
then vanish before I can thank them.

For Arte Bianca…

My Mediterranean Diet
Angela McPherson

My soul can find no staircase to Heaven unless it be through Earth’s loveliness
– Michelangelo

I wander Tuscan hills to find Heaven
in fields where poppies bloom
butterflies quiver
and bees contentedly pollinate
In hilltop towns populated by church spires
I fulfil dreams and make memories
evoked by red petals frolicking in sunshine
that twinkle and scintillate in my glass of Chianti

I sail the Calabrian Coast
and gaze on majestic mountains
from where church bells call me
to explore monasteries and mediaeval castles
that nestle on crags where time has little meaning
but life is nourished in noisy Piazzas
where I store up fun filled memories
to be evoked by bergamot flavoured tea
the taste of porcini mushrooms
and ambrosial sensual gelato

I explore Florence
where Renaissance masters sculpted treasures
embodied in David’s statue
carved from marble deemed damaged and worthless
he now stands gazing into the distance
a symbol of strength, beauty and virility
that evokes what it is to be human
and entices me to celebrate with King Barolo
the quintessence of full–bodied wine

And so it is in Italy I find my staircase to Heaven

For Hall’s Bookshop

Halls of Books
Caroline Auckland

Between Church, Chapel and Gin shop lies heaven
where the bibliophile comes to pray
using an exercise regime of a forward bend until only the torso is visible
extending head to the right, eyes are lost in the world of books.
Library steps, directionless orphans until manoeuvred
a bag rest
a book rest
a stairway to bookshelves of discovery
readers perform pliés to access lower shelves.

Books stand to attention, spines shouting,
making connections as section headings issue instructions:
Slaughter the Sibling in Fiction
Edible and Poisonous Fungi, not eat me, drink me, but read me.
Plucked with outreached fingers they open themselves up
offering therapy for the reader
spilling all contents, their frontispiece an invitation to name names
tissue guards illustrations of detail
endpapers indicate the quality of their creation.

Go downstairs on stairways that twist and turn to posters from films
where Ian Fleming decries ‘You only live twice !’
But here you can live again and travel through books of your life
with Morocco bindings. Instead of falling down a rabbit hole
climb a wooden staircase to find Alice in Wonderland
while Arabian Nights twinkle with gold foiled blocking
along pine corridors lined with Harry Potter, Dickens and Mein Kampf.
The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck and Mesmerism in India
lull readers to browse to the music of words, Bowie, Bolan and the Sex Pistols.

Here, dear reader, your dreams are the stuff of magic, history and nightmare.
And hunger for the smell of books drives the addict to possessive desire.
Architectural glass cases, with their own locked front door,
store the bricks and mortar of Kent’s millionaire rows of local history
where the great and good are labelled valuable,
slightly decreased by the graffiti of marginalia.
This is where books come to mature,
rare or peculiar with
top notes, chipping, scuffing, browning
base notes, flaking, faded, foxing
develop, valuable descriptions for collectors as they scan virtual folios online.
And an affectionate father’s cursive script to his Charlotte, 1845, reminds
how to Gift a book – even by Edgar Allan Poe-
is merely to borrow from the chaotic library of life.

For the Fairfax Gallery:

Rennie Halstead

The gallery beckons, calls me.
I dive into colours,
drawn into avenues of trees,
misty beaches, crowded streets,
lose myself in skies and seascapes,
flowers and breeze.

I am a child again,
walking in enormous woods,
shades of blue within the green,
bluebells at our feet.
Cool observant owls watch from the trees,
blackbirds scold until we leave.

By the harbour the seagulls mew
fighting for scraps, watching for boats
or picnickers with soft white bread,
a squabbling squall.

A beach stretches into the mist
out of sight.
A girl sits abandoned, forgotten, waiting
Waiting for a careless lover.

The bell rings, calling me back, the magic fled.

The Tunbridge Poetry Trail

The Tunbridge Poetry Trail
The Tunbridge Poetry Trail

So twenty poets met up with twenty shops, and from 14th – 17th June, there will be twenty poems in shop windows up Chapel Place and down the Pantiles. Can you find them all? Here are the shops and here are the poets…

poetry trail poster

And twenty isn’t  a trick, we have a late addition to the trail – Poem No 20 is 29 The Pantiles, with a poem written by … me! And in the meantime, here are some of the poems already spotted in the ‘wild’:

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We’ll be using #TWPoetryTrail to catch everyone’s posts on social media, so do tell us which ones you’ve spotted.

Of course, hopefully it will inspire you to write your own poems – there’s still time to book on to some of the fab workshops being run during the Tunbridge Wells Poetry Festival.

And lastly, a big thank you to the Times of Tunbridge Wells for this lovely coverage today.


A poetry trail round Tunbridge Wells

A poetry trail round Tunbridge Wells

From 14th – 17th June, there’s a poetry festival in Tunbridge Wells – hurrah! So to celebrate, the writers in my two writing groups are running a poetry trail.


Nineteen shops running down Chapel Place and on The Pantiles will feature a poem in their windows, all written specially for them by a member of the group. We have a butcher, bookshops (x2), gin bar, garden shop, boutique, bed shop, art gallery, jeweller, camera shop and many more. Here’s the full list of shops, with the poets below.

poetry trail poster

And here’s one of the poems – Framptons is based in a building which used to be a bank, and you can still see the safe…

Framptons Café Bar & Kitchen
Dagmar Seeland

Money doesn’t talk here
Now it quietly walks in,
suit crumpled from the train,
loosens its tie
orders some wine
sits down
by the window.

This isn’t a statement
sort of place:
all exposed brick
and reclaimed wood,
where interest is shown
not accrued
and hugs are still
legal tender.

They don’t provide loans
(please don’t ask)
and banter is all
they exchange.
That gun by the bar
is there not by chance:
they use it for shooting
the breeze.

Money doesn’t really talk here
though some say they can hear
a soft murmur
from the safe over there
late at night;
perhaps it’s the spirits

Do come along and read more, and tell us what you think!


Hey Hay!

Hey Hay!
Hey Hay!



I’ve stolen that title from our family Hay Festival WhatsApp group (that’s us above). Looking through the messages now back at home, they read like some kind of frenetic found poem…

Where is everybody?
We are just listening to a cool 103 year old woman.
Same place
We have a table
We are in the queue
We are too
We have seats by us
Love Laura Bates
We are in and have seats by us
Enough for 8?
It’s now at the Wales stage
We can see you
That’s what I just walked out of
Armed police for ours
Where is everybody?
I’m sampling cheese near the tata tent
I’m hiding from the crowds


And so on…. It was my first time at the Hay Festival. I think it was always something I’ve thought about often a bit like the moon shining, ‘oh, look at that’, and suddenly I’m there, walking on…


… the muddiest field you can imagine!

But bad weather at Hay seems to be a bit like a badge of honour, and besides it was the talks we had come for. So here are just four of my highlights…

Sarah Corbett and Craftivism: Shouty protests can be easy to ignore, but to ask questions and listen to the answers is more effective. She works with psychology – what will be the best way to get this particular person to change their mind. And I loved how with a protest involving embroidered handkerchiefs given to each of the M&S board in an effort to get them to introduce the living wage, she asked the craftivists (the people embroidering) questions to mull over as they worked. Book brought.


Laura Bates with Owen Sheers: To be honest, my husband had come for Owen Sheers and Welsh poetry. ‘Who’s she?’ he whispered, but by the end he’d become a fervent fan of the woman who started #everydaysexism too. Again, she works not exactly with gentleness, but certainly with understanding and humour. The first question was from a father (please don’t say you’re here only because of your daughter, we all silently whispered) but he had two sons. What could he do? LB suggested pointing out things like the odd fact that celebrity magazines are signposted for women, political and economic magazines for men, and making a joke of it. Making the noticing the norm. Book brought.

Diana Coyle: For one glorious moment, the whole audience understood everything about the GDP, it’s failings and what might take its place. The fact that takings from illegal drug dealing and prostitution are included in our GDP, but not informal care or work in the home is something I came away wanting to find out more about. And also why our politicians aren’t braver, but just tinker round the edges.  That’s the power of a good teacher. Book brought.

Elif Shafak: Pure joy to listen to her talk about culture, poetry and religions. To see her listen so intently to the questions and actually answer what people had asked. Two books brought.

I was also lucky enough to sit in on two Writers at Work sessions, a scheme at the Hay Festival run by the amazing Tiffany Murray. Ian McEwan and Roddy Doyle spent an hour answering questions from the 15 or so writers, about anything and everything. It was so generous and inspiring. Among the points to take away from these sessions – Roddy Doyle saying he doesn’t write about issues but about characters who may or may not be confronting these issues, and Ian McEwan saying how Atonement started as a science fiction short story, set 200 years in the future. Then when that wasn’t working, he thought that the ‘girl in the library’ may have a sister…


Then there was Benjamin Zephanah (soft focus photo partly from the fact he didn’t stop moving and also some cider may have been involved)… Many books already bought.

And that’s of course the heart of it – books. It was seeing everyone reading – sharing lines they loved, pressing books on one another, small children shaking because they were in a queue to see their favourite author (heck, adults same), learning new things, possibilities and ideas from books, or just sitting in some corner, completely on their own as the crowds whirled round them, transported into a new different world.


I can’t wait for next year!


All that matters – a 50 word photostory

All that matters – a 50 word photostory


We’re falling apart and there’s no-one left to put us back together. We just let things drop where they will. My finger on the stairs, your leg in the bathroom. We hold each other so gently, secretly measuring what’s left. Soon we’ll just be lips kissing our love to oblivion.

(I used to do 50 word photostories all the time. I’d take an interesting photograph and write a 50 word – no more no less – story to go with them, but somehow along the way I stopped. I was still taking the photos but forgetting to do anything with them. But recently I’ve been thinking about them again, and then I had a lovely coincidence when I went to a sparkly poetry tea where the guests included Andreas Philippopoulos-Mihalopoulos who talked about his wonderful Picpoetry.

My old ones have disappeared now but I love how when I went looking for them today, I found traces on other writers websites… where they’d been left like small blurry footprints.

Which fits in nicely with the photograph above, really! )


The power of reading aloud together

The power of reading aloud together
The power of reading aloud together

Last Sunday, I got invited to something wonderful. I’d heard about the village here in Kent that had got together at Christmas and read Paradise Lost out loud to each other, and a friend and I were inspired – we would do the same! But somehow things got in the way and, er, we haven’t actually got round to it yet.

But luckily for Rolvenden, the same people who organised the Paradise Lost event organised another reading and luckily for me, I got an invitation. Because it seems you get the well-intentioned (me) and the actual do-ers (them). In this case it’s Rob Pursey, Amelia Fletcher and Colin Teevan – thank you thank you thank you! (I love the story about how when Rob and Colin first thought of the idea, they suspected it might be the two of them reading Milton to each other in a shed.)

Far from it. For this second event, they had invited Michael Longley and his wife, Edna, to visit them and to read his poems aloud with him, and about thirty of us crammed into Rob and Amelia’s wonderful sitting room and let the words wash over us. As Michael himself sat and listened! What a privilege. There was real magic in the communal experience, and a reminder that poetry should be read out loud – especially with all the different voices, accents and even the mangling of Irish place names, as we took one poem each to read in turn…

And I think Michael enjoyed it too…. here’s a gorgeous photo of him at the end of a full reading of his collection, The Stairwell that sums up the day….  (the photograph is by John Stanley, and Rob kindly said I could share it.)

michael longley.jpg

Poems on the railings….

Poems on the railings….
Poems on the railings….

Today is a day to celebrate women, our voices, thoughts and our poetry, so I’m so proud to have a banner of poems by my clever women poetry friends (and me) fluttering from my railings today. women's day 1Even more, given the reputation my town of Tunbridge Wells has, to have received my first ‘Bloody women’ comment. YAY.


Here are some of the poems… have a good International Women’s Day!!