Excited and rather intimidated about my poetry masterclass with #CarolAnnDuffy and #GillianClarke at #TyNewydd

ty_newyddMuch to my delight and amazement, I was selected to attend a poetry masterclass at Ty Newydd, the National Writers Centre of Wales. When I applied, I never thought they would think I would be up to it. Now, looking at the participant list, I keep wondering whether they’ve mixed me up with some other Jan Norton…

Nevertheless, I must try and believe that they know what they are doing and be positive for once about my own ability. I often seem to approach such things with an ‘I can’t’ or ‘I’m not good enough’ attitude, so this time I’m determined to be more like my marvellous daughter and her can-do approach to life.  I can go, and I can improve, and I must be good enough if they say I am. So fun times ahead.

In the light of that, here is something I have been working on – still in first draft stage. Hopefully I will come back energised and with a quiverful of poems, new born and gestating…

Aunt Megan’s Bag

That last Christmas, she sat by the range,

neat ankles beneath American tan.

The handbag squatted on the rug, close mouthed.

Its silk lining flirted through the wicker.

At last a narrow hand dipped in to present

a lollipop, fragranced with face powder.

I tucked it into my pocket to savour its sheen.

Its shards splintered on my tongue, secret-sweet.

Next spring, outside the cottage hospital

I stood on tiptoe at the window, gripped

the flaking sill, peered in. I glimpsed the bag

next to the empty bed before I fell,

grazing my knee. When Mam emerged, the bag

came with her. I did not ask, but watched it,

waited for the snap of the lock, rustle

of silk and the promised familiar scent.


Conjuring up memories – possible starting points for autobiographical poems. Have a go!

Following a prompt from The Poetry School course on Poetry and Autobiographical writing, I let myself think about six events I remember from my first nine years. It seems that some are events that will have resonances for lots of you, others are more particular to me. Nevertheless, I found it really enjoyable ; it has given me too many starting points, so I think I might concentrate on the first two and the last one. Here they are:

6 memories


School milk in summer was blood warm, in wintery jutting ice lollies in glass mouths. Columns of concrete and rocking horses. 

Holiday in Porthcawl.


Trecco Bay sitting on caravan steps in brown leather Clarks sandals, shorts and Aertex t shirt. Banana sandwiches, windbreaks and headscarves and aunts , sitting on Mum’s knee in a gabardine.

Learning piano

I trekked up the hill with my brother to lessons. Practising in a cold front room on a piano with yellowed keys and candle holders. Later Dad chopped it up as it howled in protest.

Getting a dog. 

A cardboard box of delights. Cold black nose pushing through. Tail like a pennant and feathered ears.

Visits to Relatives

aust ferry

Dark evenings driving through country lanes in the back of our Vauxhall Velux, bouncing wildly on leather to the last Aust Ferry.

Hairdressing visits with Mum

perm curlers

Handing perm papers and spiky curlers to her as I sat on an elephant legged stool decorated with ivory tusks, plaster heads of turbaned men on the wall like flying ducks.

All three memories are very intense, and are not restricted to visuals; I clearly recall the sour taste of blackcurrants in a pie , the smell of the curdled milk, the pungent smell of perming solution, the texture of bananas, my brown knees …The challenge is to find some structure for the poem that will hold them together because they are so disparate. I am already working on a sonnet, so I wonder if something along the lines of Thomas Hood’s ‘I remember, I remember’ might work. I will post my drafts for this and the sonnet soon.

New Year’s Resolutions #poetry and #cake

Hello all! My last post concerned the value of good writing habits, and how they formed part of my resolutions. I am happy to report that I have kept one resolution and broken another… Here is the evidence to convict me:


This was the last but one bit of my boozy Christmas cake, which I said I wasn’t going to have. On the positive side, it got me started on my 30 minutes of writing, which seems to have been quite productive. I’m working on a series of poetic memoirs- semi autobiographical, biographical, and imagined pasts, presents and futures.

I found this photo in a pile of my dad’s papers; I don’t remember that time in the garden exactly, but all the warmth and safety of that time came back to me. It shows me on my sister’s knee with my youngest brother in the cowboy outfit. It seems to me to be redolent of its time and to have a simplicity and joy about it. It led to the beginnings of a poem about the garden and the memories of being in it at different times in my life, with different people and of what that garden meant. I don’t know if it will be a good poem, but it will be something precious to me, like this photo.

.in the garden copy

I’ll share more later. 🙂

#poems don’t always come easily- or, January blues, #resolutions and good intentions.

This new year has started with several rejections and failures to win prizes for poems which i thought were jolly good on the whole, but am I downhearted? Well, a bit. I put it down to the cold I have; after looking after everyone else at Christmas through their aches and pains and illnesses, now that I have time to write, I don’t have the energy.

I am managing to write the daily journal diarywhich is my sop to the mantra that you should write something every day. My daughter bought me a five year journal and it has become my habit, no matter how tired, emotional or otherwise reluctant I might be feeling, to write a few lines every night before bed. I even wrote on New Year’s Eve, after several fine glasses of champagne- but I haven’t read it back yet. It really is testament to the fact that an action repeated daily soon becomes a habit. Therefore my New Year’s Resolution, along with trying only to buy books from independent book shops, is to establish a genuine daily writing habit.

I have found many reasons why this is not feasible – but they are all nonsense, truly. I have therefore entered into my calendar a daily slot of 30 minutes in which I will write something. Here is what I started to write today. It is just a few jottings on something I would like to write, a sonnet, or perhaps -horror- a villanelle . I want to challenge myself to use form as starting points rather than defaulting to free verse. Wish me luck!

A Letter Follows

This Postcard is to let you know
I have been admitted to hospital
You must not fret,
it is only my head that hurts,
my body quite untouched.
The nurse says I will be better directly
although I cannot look at her today,
perhaps she is not there.
I hope to be discharged soon
the day may not always be
filled with horses
I have received no letter from you
for a long time

Christmas cake and other #baking delights- chaos in the kitchen a la #GBBO

Given the title of my blog, I thought I really ought to write something about food for a change. Consuming it is no problem- as is evident from other posts.

I’ve been watching repeats of The Great British Bake Off this week , and trying to imagine myself in that tent of terror. I know I would be the person whose quiche slides off the work surface, whose caramel cracked your teeth, and who most definitely produced a soggy bottom or two. Today I made our Christmas Cake, only two days after I planned to- writing got in the way. Everything was fine – until I realised I’d left out the treacle and the orange and lemon zest, and the cake was already in the oven.

I yanked it out and added everything to the warm mixture while it was already in the tin, gave it a hopeful stir, and shoved it back in. Here is the result, not looking too shabby, I think.


Even if it doesn’t taste brilliant at the moment, by the time I feed it liberally with brandy, and ice it, I don’t think any one will care.

Next, mince pies ( with brandy) and Christmas log ( with cherry brandy)…

Getting Past Writer’s Block- coffee, cake and conversation

coffee shop
My office

I know the rather wonderful J K Rowling made this famous, but writing in a coffee shop is really that helpful. I don’t expect to write the next great children’s book-mostly because I’m not trying to- but whenever I get really stuck, it’s what I turn to. Luckily, we have plenty of choices locally – the one above is one of my favourites- where the owners are quite tolerant of me and my scribblings.

A large cappuccino, and on particularly uninspired days perhaps a pastry or a brownie set the scene. A round biro, my favourite notepad and a copy of a draft, if I’ve even got that far, complete the picture. Ideally the coffee shop should be buzzing, but not too loud. I don’t like to be able to pick out words, because I can’t help being drawn into listening to snippets. Ordinarily snatches like that are defined for my  battered, brown leather notebook, but on a writing day they are just another distraction, like the ones I have escaped at home.

I’m a bit like Dug the dog in “UP’- most things are potential squirrels. I have a perfectly good study, with a rocking chair, desk, computer and a view over the city- all distractions, before you take into consideration noises downstairs, the phone, the  mobile, the iPad, the book cataloguing project- but I’m getting distracted…

For me, lack of ideas is not the problem- it’s deciding exactly what, out of all the things that distract me, to write about and how to do it. Coffee shops say to me, ‘Stop prevaricating. Put the pen to paper and just write, for goodness’ sake’ And so I do.

Thanks to all the baristas, waiters, cleaner uppers, cooks and bottle washers, managers and managed , who make it all possible . I’ll be back tomorrow.

So farewell then, #MichaelGove with thanks to E J Thribb

A grey, humid Tuesday morning in the Midlands; it could be pathetic fallacy all over again. I want to keep the impetus to write going, but so far, I’ve just watched Homes under the Hammer and repeats of Frasier. And then I heard that Michael Gove has been replaced as Education Secretary. The clouds lifted, the sun beamed at me and my  mood soared. You see, even in the darkest hours, there can be hope- and if Gove is gone, what else might be achieved, not least by me!


So farewell then, Michael Gove

It’s end of term.

You were not a teacher.


You took us back

to our childhoods

to Dickens and Pope

wooden desks and inkwells


You knew what you liked.

Glad to say

your last report