Monthly Archives: September 2016

Lavender Maze, two toddlers run in circles….

Lavender Maze, two toddlers run in circles….


I ran a workshop at the Physic Garden at Westgate Gardens in Canterbury today. That’s the garden above. And the sun shone, and the cake came. Look!


But more importantly poets came too to write with me, some new poets, some already established, some drawn by the plants, others by the words. It’s the joy of the mix always, you can do the same exercise daily with different groups of people and get new results. First off, we mixed body parts with emotions with surprising and beautiful results – Blood is care for others -Fear is red, the moving life force of the body – A heart is a feeling that something good is going to happen… 


Then inspired by Basho, Jack Kerouac and winners of the Iafor Vladimir Devide Haiku Award, we wrote haikus. ‘Walk round the garden now and write ten!’ I demanded. And they did. Sometimes it’s better to write like that, rather than trying to craft something perfect. We concentrated not on the 5-7-5 rule, but catching a moment, conveying an emotion:

on toadstools
read Basho… 


Then after reading them to each other, we wrote our favourites out, turned them into Haiku bunting, which we left behind for others to enjoy and for the wind to blow our words this way and that…


Next we talked about list poems, and hey, we made a group list poem:

We’d like to be kind,
to counteract disunity,
cure the common cold.
We’d like to find a way
to stop people being so angry,
make a remedy for greed,
and living with uncertainty,
in fact we’d want to stop all disease
and then please, to have a peaceful sleep.

Talking of curing things, round the garden, I’d put buckets of poems as remedies. Please pick one, I wrote…


and lots of different people did as the workshop was going on… often stopping to unwind one, read it to each other and then take another. That was beautiful to watch.



For the last exercise, I’d copied Geoffrey Grigson’s descriptions of plants, with their common names. Oh the joy – a poem in the words here alone…


And what we did was to turn the plants into characters – wondering if they wanted to stay where they were planted – examining whether they might want another life – what their secrets might be. What if … what if…

And did I mention we had cake?


The Story of a Collaboration – truths and tips from Vanessa Gebbie

The Story of a Collaboration – truths and tips from Vanessa Gebbie


I’m so pleased to bring you this guest post by one of Spreadsheet and Moxie‘s Associate Artists, the very wonderful Vanessa Gebbie. Sharing this sort of information – not just WHAT people are doing but HOW they have done it – is exactly what Viccy and I hope to do with our project, and I couldn’t have asked for a better beginning. It’s a privilege to have this honest account of how an arts project was set up, the things learnt and all the tips to pass on to others. And it’s a great project too, on at HURSTPIERPOINT until 30th September. Details are at the end of the piece, but for now, over to Vanessa (nb all the photos here were taken by Vanessa and show the work on display at the exhibition)… 



Last Friday, a disparate group of people met at a church in West Sussex. Armed with wood, wire, glass, slate and board, they worked all day, assembling the products of creative work that had taken months.


By 6 pm all was ready for the opening of Reflections, the response of four women artists to the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme. The church is Holy Trinity Church, in the village of Hurstpierpoint. Designed by Charles Barry, who designed the Houses of Parliament, it is a glorious, high and airy space with beautiful stained glass windows.


So, in a beautiful edifice of stone and glass, four women created something else of beauty. But it was not all plain sailing!

It started just before Christmas 2015 with a poet (me) and Elizabeth Lamont, a maker of painted glass art – discovering a mutual love of stained glass, over a pizza. Before the bill came, we were airing thoughts of collaborating on a ‘something’ in which her glass artworks would respond to my poems.


With a slightly clearer idea of what the ‘something’ was, an approach was made to Hurstpierpoint Festival to see if it might be something they would like to host… and it was agreed that the ‘something’ could be shown in the church for the duration of the festival.


But what was the ‘something’? Elizabeth Lamont has experience of working with the National Trust, and she had brilliant ideas. Visits to consummately experienced exhibition designers helped to firm up the ‘something’ into a brilliant, professional plan. But brilliant professional plans, with help from brilliant designers, cost money. A call to the Arts Council indicated it was something they might look favourably on – so, cue much excitement as everything was costed within an inch of our lives, and I was delegated to negotiate the Arts Council Grant Application systems. At this stage we were three – poet, glass artist and Jane Willis, a photographer. Who also happened to be Priest in Charge of Holy Trinity Hurstpierpoint.







The Grantium portal is not your friend until you learn to negotiate the twists and turns and requirements of the system… and we were on the brink of a holiday. In deepest Extremadura, Spain – where the internet is not known for its speed or reliability. Or, in many places, even its existence. The Grantium portal requires six working days to validate you before you can so much as begin to enter your information, so Extremadura it had to be, with dropped connections, wobbly connections, and worse – no connections. I did not know what information the Arts Council would be asking for as each page opened on the portal – and did not have a list of necessary info, all ticked off and to hand – even if the laptop stayed connected.





It took three weeks, but it got done. I heard back from the Arts Council very fast – Application Declined.

We had, thankfully, already considered what we’d do if this happened. We had already decided that it would not stop us, so we’d rethink.




Bless Hurstpierpoint Festival Committee, who decided to still give us the contribution they had promised to help the application along. Bless a friend or two, who did the same. Bless whoever suggested inviting another woman artist to join us – Helen Mary Skelton, a stonecutter, whose work is legendary. Patients at The Dene special hospital were also invited to contribute. I led a poetry workshop there, but the patients’  resulting work was too raw and personal for them to want on show. So instead, they created two stunning wall hangings along the themes of the exhibition – and it is  moving in the extreme to see them.




The exhibition opened last weekend. It is different and, dare I say it – in many ways better than it would have been had we stuck to the original plan. Without funding, apart from a relatively tiny amount, we had to go back to the drawing board in many cases, and the need for increased creativity in response to the drawback has served us well. The inclusion of stonecutting has added a new beauty – a strength and solidity to the exhibition, which was already beautiful. Instead of looking at techinically clever acetate prints, visitors are actually seeing the original glass art in all Elizabeth’s exhibits, set on lightboxes. It is glorious.



Standing in the midst of all this gorgeous work at the opening last Friday, and watching visitors, glass of wine in hand, oohing and ahhing at the exhibits, I felt unashamedly tearful. It has been an extraordinary journey, and a privilege to work with Elizabeth Lamont (glass artist)   Rev Jane Willis (photographer) and Helen Mary Skelton (stone cutter). I will miss them when this is over.








Snake oil, giant frogs and a quick death….

Snake oil, giant frogs and a quick death….

Herbs have long been used as healing plants, but – as part of my research for next Saturday’s writing workshop in Canterbury’s Physic Garden –  I’ve just had a lovely little research side-track into some other natural ‘cures’…

Tuns out there really WAS snake oil…


and a catchy product name here…


Make your own opium..


…or penicillin. Now I have an excuse the next time anyone looks in my breadbasket…


What could possibly go wrong?


Remind you of Rob Titchener, anyone? Surely this has to be the creepiest ad ever.


Although this, on the other hand, looks very jolly…. Poor old HRH The Princess of Wales, no ticking the anonymous box for her…


Although I have to say, being spoken to by a giant frog would make ANYONE nervous…


But this one…. this one… YES!!!!!!


Spreadsheets and Moxie… an after retreat report with ten lessons

Spreadsheets and Moxie… an after retreat report with ten lessons

Note: Spreadsheets and Moxie is a year long R&D project, funded by Arts Council England, in which Viccy Adams and I work in tandem, with partner organisations and ten very talented Associate Artists, to take a rounded approach to professionalism in the Creative Arts, with a particular focus on leadership for women writers. Find out more here. 


SO what did we learn. Viccy has written a full account on her website, so here’s my report in the form of ten lessons….

  1.  To trust the power of my own sub-conscious to find answers through just writing.
  2.  To always keep checking in on what *needs* to be done – v – what *could* be done – what I think *should* be done.
  3.  The usefulness of standardised templates to get the information out and down. And then it can be shaped.
  4.  To always go the extra 10%. What more could I do for the project, for every project?
  5.  We are so lucky to have words as our material – this came from an exercise on Professionalism, what does it mean, what could it mean, where does it come from, what other words are hiding in it that can be pulled out for answers….
  6.  I’m not good with too much talking – so my preferred way of working is to apply theories to something concrete.
  7.  This was a 4am in the morning very personal revelation – I don’t just have to be a writer on the page. I write things in parks, on postcards, I can write things everywhere, in fact I have already…. of course I have but I hadn’t put two and two together before. SO EXCITING!
  8.  The power of stories always to get across information. We need lots of case studies here – how other women have worked in the arts, but also in business, in charities. Men too…    Fancy telling us your case study? Get in touch –
  9.  We (well OK, I) need to make sure I take responsibility for the projects I’m involved in and put my name to them more strongly. A mixture of process and product here.
  10.  That the focus for both Viccy and I has always to be our writing. And just how easy it is to forget this in other people’s needs. Why is this? Maybe because we have something            concrete in front of us when we’re asked to do something, and that can be easier than the uncertainties all writers have to face when we sit down with our own pages.

A big thank you to Arvon, lovely Arvon, for providing the Clockhouse at the Hurst as a centre for us to work in. And to centre director, Natasha Carlish for an inspiring conversation about her experiences and what advice she has given film-makers – eg the three things you need: PASSION (the most powerful part), VISION (a strategic plan), PEOPLE (champions/mentors), and also a dose of humour and the ability to fail again and again….


And also to our ten Associate Artists: Clare Best, Vanessa Gebbie, Kris Johnson, Helen Limon, Lisa Matthews,Juliana Mensah, Ellen Montelius, Susannah Pickering-Ronnie, Catherine Smith and Kay Syrad. Thanks to them and the questions they gave us, we are now ready for the next stage of the project.


Try your hand at a herb haiku, a basil ballad and some parsley poetry…

Try your hand at a herb haiku, a basil ballad and some parsley poetry…

Come and indulge your senses with a Herbal Infused Poetry Workshop at the beautiful Physic Garden at Westgate Gardens, Canterbury

Saturday 24th September – 11-1pm

Costs £4 (including tea and cake)


How could such sweet and wholesome hours be reckoned, but in herbs and flowers?

Andrew Marvell

I’m running a workshop in Canterbury designed around herbs – their history, their myths and all the remedies – sensible and gloriously silly – associated with them. Enjoy a morning writing and reading poetry with me, inspired by the Physic Garden. We’ll look at myths, make up new remedies, explore the senses and have fun through a series of practical exercises – all you will need to bring is a pen and paper. This workshop is suitable for all levels of writers, and is a chance to play on the page in the beautiful surroundings of Canterbury’s historic Westgate Gardens.

Because numbers are limited, booking is strongly advised, please visit or telephone the Canterbury Ticket shop on: 01227 787787. There may be some spaces available on the day.

Contact Sarah Salway, sarahsalway@gmail, for more information.

This event is funded through Canterbury City Council’s Westgate Parks ‘Parks for People’ HLF Project

To book your place , click here 

Half-time Report – Spreadsheets and Moxie….

Half-time Report – Spreadsheets and Moxie….

We all went out to listen to the owls on Wednesday night. They weren’t doing the wise old ‘toowhitawoo’ children’s song, but howling to each other from across the trees. ‘You can tell why people thought they brought bad news,’ one of our fellow writers said. Chilling.

But luckily, no bad news on our project’s progress. We are keeping daily to-do lists on the walls outside our rooms – one half is for intentions, the other for …


And hurrah, so far we are balanced.

Moxie to-do listsIMG_2032 IMG_2035

Trust me, it makes sense. We’ve both been working on our own writing every morning, and working on Spreadsheet and Moxie in the afternoons. Things are moving on – we have been using a variety of freewriting exercises, lists, exploring current research, case studies, and playing devil’s advocate rather a lot to come to some conclusions. I’ll post up some examples of how we’ve gone about it later, we’ve been making conscious decisions to approach each question as writers, rather than academics or corporate researchers. You can catch up with some of what we’ve done through our live broadcasts via Periscope – just click HERE! This is a new thing for us (as you can probably tell) so all constructive criticism is welcome – I don’t need to be told my teeth are large or I wave my hands round a lot because funnily enough, I know that. Sensitive much? To be honest seeing myself on camera like this is an ORDEAL! However, suggestions of what you would like to know that we’re not telling you would be very useful, for example.

But .. moving on, if you want to join in more, take our survey, or are just curious, we have now got a newsletter mailing list. For that, click HERE.

But for now, here are some pics from our week…

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