Inertia, and Prize Nomination News

There’s 27 days left to listen to my new story, ‘Inertia’ on Radio Four iPlayer. Tim McInnerny reads the story which was produced by Jeremy Osborne and first aired on Sunday night. I was at the studio recording and was simply astounded by Tim’s ability to bring the characters to life, and I felt on listening to the show on Sunday that the finished piece was very much a team effort and the whole thing came together so wonderfully. I’m incredibly proud of the result, and grateful to have been able to work with such an astounding actor, and with such a wonderful producer. It is a dystopian story but very rooted in the all too real struggles of this era in political history.

Inertia: Radio Four

I also have some news to share. My poem, ‘i am very precious’ which was originally published in Prac Crit magazine has been nominated for the Best Single Poet category for the Forward Prize this year. The awards evening will take place on September 20th. You can see the poem, my interview by Michael Conley relating to the poem, and an essay on my work by John Clegg, here:

i am very precious by Melissa Lee-Houghton

The poem also features in Salt Publishing’s Best British Poetry 2015 Anthology, edited by Emily Berry, and will be a central poem in my forthcoming collection, ‘Sunshine’ which will be published by Penned in the Margins in September.

And the list of other shortlisted poets, poems and collections is on the Forward Prize website here:

Forward Prize Shortlists/Website

Please do follow me on twitter @MLeeHoughton

Photograph by Jinez Creative from ‘Reading The Other’ at Chorlton Proof 24th May 2016

Prizes

On Thursday night, I read at an awards evening for The Preston Guild. I won the Jackie Hayes award for my poem Dancers, Avenham.

It was a lovely evening, with a reading from Michael Symmons Roberts with a particularly moving sequence he wrote as a commission one year on from 9/11. I even got a shiny silver trophy, which I am most proud of.

I was also thrilled to find out I won The Cinnamon Press mini competition. You can read my piece Summer Decay here.

There’s a brilliant new resource for readers and writers alike, at I don’t call myself a poet…The poet Sophie Mayer began the project at the University of Middlesex in Spring 2012 and was inspired by Angela Rawlings’ The Great Canadian Writers’ Craft. Students were each assigned to interview a poet and originally produced 68 interviews with poets such as fellow Penned in the Margins authors Emily Critchley, Siddhartha Bose, Roddy Lumsden, Chris McCabe, Hannah Silva and Ross Sutherland. I was interviewed by Laura Hackshaw. I find interviews a very daunting experience, and I almost can’t stand to read my answers back. But reading others’ interviews is always inspiring.

Interview With Michael Egan

I have invited fellow poet, Michael Egan to my site, to answer a few questions about his inspirations, his approach to writing & his poetry which is highly vivid, with a flare for the grotesque and finds its own place somewhere between the everyday and the absurd.

I wanted to know about his impressive debut Steak & Stations, and about his newer projects, one rather romantically involving handwritten poems….

 

Michael, your first full poetry collection, Steak & Stations was released in January this year, how would you describe the book?

The best way I can think of describing Steak & Stations, is that it’s a mix of The Movement’s idea of every day anecdotes coupled with a loose modernist structure. The book varies from personal narratives, distorted and written to be read at a fast pace, and more loose poems that work with interconnecting ideas, but are based in an Imagist idea of relaying the seen, of almost sifting the seen and experienced into words.

I don’t write about the big ideas or have any need to express my personal views in poetry. I like the idea of playing with language and syntax to relay images and moments.


Typically, what are your poems about? Are there any themes that you come back to?

I think, looking back at Steak & Stations there is a sense of place that I was almost unaware of when I was writing the poems. The first section and the Motivist section, deal with Liverpool and the North West, but it’s strange because I’ve always gone away from that and yet here is my first book, full of poems about place.

You’re a prolific writer, what other projects have you been working on…

I was prolific. I’ve slowed down recently in poetry terms because I’ve been working on a novel. I’ve written a grand total of two poems in the last month and I need to start writing again. I’m working on an anthology of Motivism though. I’ve invited poets I really like to write in the form and I’ve just started putting together the manuscript. There are poets as varied as Ross Sutherland, Robert Sheppard and Jon Stone involved.

I’ve also been, slowly, putting together my first issue of Envelope. Envelope is a reaction to being skint but wanting to do a magazine. It’s six poems by six poets, handwritten on the inside of an Envelope.

I’ve also recently finished a libretto for the arts agency Mercy. It’s based on the legend of Spring Heeled Jack and it’s kind of a loose, prose-poetry style play for voices. It feels good but, I’m not sure how people will take it as I’ve not done anything similar before.

As well as all that, I’ve just decided to set up my own publishing house, Holdfire Press, and I’m hoping to publish pamphlets by the best young/new UK poets.
And of course my novel is being continuously rejected by agents and publishers.

How often do you write?

My writing varies, but it’s a constant thing. If I’m writing poetry I’ll usually write more when I’m out, on a bus or train, then spend a couple of hours in the evening working on those poems.

I take a more ordered approach to fiction whereby I plot and plot and plot and write notes and write more notes then spend months writing the drafts. Something like the libretto was more organic. I sat down and just wrote for hours. I think my approach to writing is hectic but constant.

I probably write something every day.

Who are your favourite poets?

There are certain poets I come back to; Tom Raworth, Christopher Middleton, Roy Fisher, Ezra Pound, WH Auden, Ted Hughes. The poet I read the most is probably Pound.

What inspires you most?

I think reading inspires me most. I’ll read for a few hours and then I’ll want to write. People-watching and listening inspires too. I’ve far too many poems written on the back of beer mats.

Any tips for upcoming poets?

I think the best tip is to just write and read. I remember early on in my poetry, thinking I knew my style, but that style has changed because of what I’ve been reading and my exposure to the whole world of poetry; readings, new poets, blogs, magazines, etc. Also, send work out. I’ve met too many poets who never send their poems out. It can really encourage your writing to have just one poem in a magazine.

Finally, if you could arrange an evening with four guests, poets and writers past and present, who would you choose?

Hmmm. I wouldn’t pick Ezra Pound because he might try and convert me to Fascism. I think I’d choose writers that I’ve always read and thinking
now, none of them would be poets (unless I suffer Pound).

They’d be; Kingsley Amis (because of Lucky Jim), Ernest Hemingway (my favourite book is Fiesta), Michael Moorcock (I ‘ve probably read his Hawkmoon books more than any other book) and Raymond Carver (I have tried too many times to write a Carver-esque short story).

Is there anything you would like to add…

I’d like to invite any of your blog readers to submit to Holdfire. Pamphlets, 32 pages max, to holdfirepress@yahoo.co.uk. I have my first 10 poets
but I’m aiming for 30 pamphlets in the first year.



Michael Egan is from Liverpool. He has had 4 pamphlets published, most recently After Stikklestad by the Knives Forks and Spoons Press.

His first full length collection, Steak & Stations is published by Penned in the Margins.
He is the editor of Envelope and founder of Holdfire Press, an exciting new platform for upcoming experimental poets.

A Body Made of You

My new book, A Body Made of You, my first collection will be published on the 1st April. Yes, April Fool’s Day!

You will be able to buy from Penned in the Margins or Inpress online. You will be able to purchase on Amazon also.

http://www.inpressbooks.co.uk/

http://www.pennedinthemargins.co.uk/

The collection is a series of ‘portraits’ of other writers, friends, strangers, lovers and artists. I wrote these during a difficult period where I was in and out of hospital but had such an intense creative kick; I interviewed and worked intuitively, and wrote the poems for the sitters as opposed to of. I loved the process so much that I am sure I will return to it again and again. I loved working with all the people involved. Some writing was successful, some not so but I had 108 poems when it started to feel ‘complete.’ It’s now carefully edited down to 80 pages, and I am looking forward to seeing the cover and feel so excited about it; it feels like it’s been such a long time coming.

When I found out that Penned… were going to publish my book (crafted so painstakingly, and I had thought no-one would be interested), I was on my way to the local pool for a swim, and I got into that pool and swam so fast, with such glee, because I was so excited and happy, and then I called my husband at work and I don’t think I could believe that someone actually had that much faith in it. I haven’t been out reading and getting myself known in that way so have hardly had any outside help or criticism, I have honed my skill through reading and writing alone. I got such a lot of positive feedback from the sitters though and that spurred me on to seek publication. I do lack a good deal of self-confidence, for whatever reason, and so it’s always a pleasant and unexpected surprise for me when someone takes to my work.

Sometimes I forget I have been working towards this all my life, that I have been writing seriously for nine years and that I have worked so hard. Eventually, if you put that much into it, you get some reward. I think the book owes a lot to the state of mind I was in at the time. I couldn’t write it now, my writing has developed since in a rather different way.

Tom at Penned.. has been wonderful, supportive and diligent. I am nervous about the book being published, of course. I have no idea what people will think, like and dislike. I wonder if anyone will review my book, whether it will be a success, whether I will sell many copies etc. I believe that it is a good book, I have put my all into it.

I am trying to think about where in the North West I could have a launch. I am open to any suggestions. I have thought of a few places but not sure. Also, if anyone is interested in reading, I would be grateful for the support. Watch this space!

Anyway, these are my thoughts for today:

Going Up

Akron/Family

Late night visits to Ikea

Daim bars

Bulgakov

Double mix chocolate cake

Long phonecalls

not seeing into the future

thai curry

Michael Egan

winter onions

Publication dates

double duvets

Damien Jurado

Flash fiction

watching ‘wanted down under’ in the depot clinic

fresh coffee

having the same dream as someone else

spelling tests

winter sunshine

First drafts

Going Down

Landlords coming for their rent

showing strangers your bottom

weak tea

two procycladine every morning

the News

being incapable of drinking more than half a glass of wine before falling asleep

burned casserole

sales calls when you’re just getting to that crucial line..

money (filthy stuff)

whole days of rain

pessismism (for  a change)

second drafts

not having a stitch to wear

the smiths

David Cameron (well he was never up was he)

small towns

indoor play areas

online shopping

Solaris

absent inspiration

Thanks for dropping by!!

M x

Melancholia

There’s tedium in a life like mine, and banality and the everyday, but I have grown to work with that at times. This is not the life I always hoped for, but it is the life I want and deserve. No matter what happens, I came to this point naturally and without kicking and screaming. This is also wellness, or what that means to me. I understand that I am a sensitive and private creature, I seek out isolation and I feel lonely even when I’m with others. I used to wonder how on earth I was going to survive in this world when I absorb so much of what is around me and I suffer sensitivity so acutely. I often feel quite fatalistically that here is where I must be, and this is the life I was meant for. I only think that casually of course.

The sun is beaming. The house is cold. The kids are at school, I’ve been writing a new poem which I can’t seem to inject any life into. I get asked what I do for a living. I say I’m unemployed, and then a hosuewife, and occasionally I tell people I write. It’s always the same reaction, as though I’ve said something terrible, like I am inferring that I am more intellectually adept than the other person. It’s very odd. Some lovely people yesterday said some positive things to me, that I should be proud of my writing. I wish I was getting more into the magazines, I seem to be having a difficult period with my work. I keep writing anyway, everyday, in a disciplined way. Most of what I write is awful and I generally just discard it, but sometimes, I write something I feel is authentic and interesting. This is the best feeling in the world to me.

Round here, life goes on in a very humdrum way. I’m a long way away from the city. People here dress differently, they walk slowly, they talk slowly, there’s time to spare. I walk to re-stock the well, I stargaze, I overhear conversations, I imagine, most of all, I have room to imagine. Really I feel like a failure most days, because I don’t write anything successful and nobody’s been in touch to tell me they’re interested in my work and I haven’t managed to draw on my resources very convincingly. There’s the endless pile of washing and cleaning and I take good care of the kids, like I said, I can feel alone even when the house is full.

 I think that it is easy for people to see me as a melancholic, someone who listens to too many sad songs and watches sad films and reads sad books. I like the sadness, I can relate to it more than anything else, I have the lived experience to be able to connect with sadness and grief and despair. I find it life affirming at times, to be presented with something someone has had to live through. Or something with magnitude, I find strength in being confronted with things I can’t imagine and I love the way music and art tempts your emotions, makes you feel alive. Even when it’s dark, sad, strange, troubled. I know people who only listen to ‘happy’ music and will say that they are easily brought down by anything else. I imagine it’s helpful to be able to block out unwanted emotion and stay up and ‘happy.’ I can say now that I am happy for the first time in my life, that’s been the case for the last six months, but I can’t imagine what it’s like to not have been depressed and manic and ill for the majority of my life, to be able to make simple choices that steady emotions, like what not to read and listen to and watch. Or what not to confront as the case may be. I take it all on, head on, because I have always been this way, a hunger for truth perhaps, and nothing like any of my relatives, I appear to have decided to be this way all by myself, or if I haven’t decided, I wasn’t influenced. And there is no telling why I am a manic depressive either. It’s simply the case, I can’t change this.

Would I want to change anything, that it the question. I was asked recently if I would change being a manic depressive and I answered yes. All that pain, all the terrible terrible hours and days turning into months and years, the pain you can’t express at all. I said I’d change it. But not just to be someone who couldn’t face the truth. I would still want to be attuned to the world and all its intricacies. Is it the mental illness that makes me the way I am or is it just something that exists alongside my personality?

On a lighter note, Steven and I actually got out the other night, drove to Liverpool, which I love, has a fantastic atmosphere, and watched Siddharta Bose’s one man play Kalagora, a performance of poetry with real soul and charisma. I love the book, his debut poetry collection available form Penned in the Margins or Inpress books online. Siddharta was brillantly energetic and vibrant, the audience giving little ripples of laughter here and there, and he really took you somewhere, incredible storytelling and a captivating performance. I thought now here is a man with real experience, with real creative intuition and invention!

http://www.kalagora.com/

His show is playing at different venues around the country until April 16th so book your tickets now! Don’t miss out!

Much love to all and thankyou for taking the time to read,

M x

New Book Out!

This week I started group therapy. It’s almost completely user-led so I’m sure it will take some getting used to, but I’m going to stick with it for the next couple of weeks, at least. It’s good to be reminded that there are other people out there suffering the same diagnosis, listening to them, responding, generally feeling like other people can understand. I felt vulnerable at first but it was easy to open up. I sat with my name badge on and as we all took turns introducing ourselves I said, without any idea of what I was about to say, My name’s Melissa and this is the first time I’ve been stable since I was fifteen. And I got so choked up I didn’t think I’d be able to stay in the room. And I haven’t been able to cry for a year, so all of it was like a huge accumulation and it just had to be released. I couldn’t believe what I’d said, and the truth in it was just too much to take. But saying it to people who all nodded their heads and understood. Well it was so much more than what I’m used to, and it was so welcome.

I’ve been writing more fiction, some of which is ok, and have been enjoying working with characters and plots. My new Chipmunka book, Bite Your Tongue When You Give Me My Name came through the post this morning, it looks really good, shiny black paperback cover with a beautiful image by Eli Regan. All the work was written at various times when I have been ill, and I have tried not to censor it. The book is charged £10 plus postage, and will be available to buy from virtually every online bookstore you can think of; Amazon, Tesco, WHSmith, Blackwell’s. I must add, even though it’s twice as much, buy the paperback, the ebook is just for promotion but is nothing like the finished paperback as I had a lot of time to work on it afterward.

I’ve been incredibly happy. Drowsy, sleepy, but happy. I’ve been listening to y la bamba and reading Emily Dickinson, Lachlan MacKinnon and Elaine Feinstein. I’ve been sleeping so well, I’ve been eating well, I’ve been feeling well.  It’s not very interesting is it, stability. I’m joking.

Here are some quick links, take a look if you have five minutes

http://chipmunkapublishing.co.uk/shop/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=1748  Paperback Bite Your Tongue…

http://yesbutisitpoetry.blogspot.com/  Christodoulos Makris muses on the form.

http://www.we7.com/#/music/  Free music streaming, radio, very cool if you’re desperate to listen to that one song you seem to have misplaced.

http://pennedinthemargins.blogspot.com/ Tom Chiver’s blog site for Penned..

http://susannahrickards.blogspot.com/ Susannah Rickards, whose new short fiction collection has just been launched, winner of the Scott Prize..

http://www.theshortreview.com/  With Author interviews and exclusive reviews of short story collections, a comrehensive guide to short fiction collections.

So I’m going to get on with a story I began yesterday…

x

Ladders

Autumn’s breaking in. I feel comfortable in my own skin. I can deal with the drizzle, and the pouring rain, and I like to wear lots of layers and put the fire on at night. I keep thinking about this time last year and what a catastrophe it was so be so poorly, so mad, so incapable of just stopping. Now it’s all passed, it’s just gone and I don’t have to think about it anymore. I’m obviously doing fine. I have worked so hard, to be well, to recover, which was the hardest part, and to try and get back some confidence because it crashed and dissolved when I started to get better. Now I’m getting out more and I feel my coping threshold has increased. I love my life, even when it feels like I’m hemmed in and forgotten. I’m loved. Part of what I tend to write about, always unwittingly at first, is that pressure, of being inside, of being in the house, of being smothered, of being in a narrow minded community, just locked in, and I fight against it. It’s also security, the feeling that there is always a retreat. And if I wanted things to be different I would change them. Or maybe it’s not so easy, maybe I just say that to reassure myself. We’ve always wanted to love to Scotland, but you have to consider the kids, moving, moving schools, and really, here, we are so secure. Unless the landlord wants us to move out so he can sell his house. We haven’t got much but we are not materialistic; we live within our means and we take great care of ourselves and each other. Me, who feels like I would bruise if someone so much as talked to me too loud, and the kids who keep me trying my best. 

I think with regards to my collection with Penned in the Margins http://www.pennedinthemargins.co.uk/ I feel isolated up here, I’m not fluent on any poetry scene, I am a recluse, I devote all my time to writing, reading and child-rearing, and have no social life. I am perfectly happy, perfectly comfortable with the way I am and the way things are with me but I will have to be out there a little more, build up my presence, try to sell some books. This terrifies me. I want to push on with this. I have no idea how to market my work, and as it’s not in my nature to come forward I feel as though I’m going to have to try even harder. I am happy on the page, I only ever wanted to exist left to right, in 10 pt. Times New Roman and on white paper, coffee stains optional. Now it feels as though there is a huge world I’m entering into gladly, but cautiously, as I haven’t been there before and there is seriously too much to take in. Now we want to know our poets, we want to see them, we want to facebook them, we want to attend their readings and we want to review their books on the internet. We want to engage in all kinds of ways that I am not yet comfortable with. I know I will start to unfurl a little, and go in slowly and carefully, climb the rungs. I absolutely want to live up to expectation and beyond. But I am just a little thing in a small town with a big heart and lots of poems.

I’m going to London next week, 6th October 6pm-9pm for the exhibition Art in Mind http://www.thebricklanegallery.com/ at the Brick Lane gallery, featuring work by upcoming artist Alexandra Gallagher. Check out her facebook page and do drop by if you can make it, it should be excellent.

Maybe I will see you there!