I have understanding as well as you

I’ve been turning something over in my mind since the weekend and this week has only made it clearer to me. Last weekend, I read Christopher Eccleston’s amazing book I Love The Bones of You, a beautiful, brutally honest and uplifting account of his relationship with his Dad and his life as a working class actor. So much of what he said about being a working class resonated with me, ideas that I had often felt and never seen articulated. All of it needs to be said, and heard, much more than it currently is.

This week, after the Supreme Court ruled against the government, its President Lady Hale was described in the gutter press as an ex-barmaid. Setting aside the fact that she has a stellar academic and professional record, I’m not entirely sure why being an ex-barmaid is thought to be a smear, or suggest she is any less qualified to do what she does. I am an ex-barmaid. Without all those pints I pulled over successive holidays, I never would have been able to afford to go to university. 

I’m not ashamed that I worked behind a bar. I’m slightly wary of qualifying my time working in a pub as something I did to pay for university because it’s as valid a part of my CV as anything else – I learned teamwork, resilience, a strong work ethic and how to deal with people from all walks of life, sometimes under pressure and when they are making unreasonable demands. These are all skills I’ve used throughout my career. Being an ex-barmaid isn’t a smear, it’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a strength bordering on a superpower. Only someone who looks down on those in the service industry, and who has never had to do a real day’s graft in their life would think otherwise. 

Boris Johnson’s rambling speech about Prometheus is what put me in mind of the title for this blog, a line that Jude the Obscure graffitis on the walls of the hallowed Christminster campus after being denied an education. It’s a frustration I’ve felt often and one I felt when I heard the PM deliberately misinterpret the Greek myth of Prometheus for his own ends. Or perhaps it’s not deliberate, perhaps the privileged and privately educated are spoon fed their education in a way that means they never really need to process it. Either way, I feel it’s something of a smoke screen – throw in a Latin phrase here, a Greek myth there and bamboozle the masses into thinking that he’s their better and the lower classes should be impressed and know their place. 

Thanks to libraries and access to university before tuition fees were brought in, this working class lass knows Boris Johnson isn’t that smart. He’s certainly not my better and I don’t see any reason to respect him. I don’t see a reason to respect any politicians advocating cuts to education, libraries, the arts, health and social care or any other facet of life which sees the working class paying the price for their thwarted, misguided and poisonous ambition. 

I don’t know what the solution is. I think cuts to the arts are worrying because it is just one of the mechanisms for pushing down the ambition of the working class. Fewer prominent voices means that the real issues are never heard, and the class divide and the deprivation that goes along with that gets worse.

One of the things that I love about Eccleston’s book is that he doesn’t just highlight the obstacles that working class artists face, he demonstrates the many strengths they can bring. I get frustrated sometimes when people expect that I have tales of deprivation and suffering in my background because I’m working class. I didn’t become a writer in spite of my background, I did so because my Dad gave me a life-long love of words. He always had a book on the go and if anything, I’d say he was the real storyteller of the family, he just never had the chance to realise that in a career as a writer. My love of Jude the Obscure and knowledge of that quote is thanks to my Mum, who came with me to the cinema years ago to see the film in which Christopher Eccleston gives one of his finest performances and then we both read the book. That’s my background, and I am very proud of my family and where I came from.

If we’re going to start to effect change, let’s start with not implying that working as a barmaid is something to be ashamed of and not thinking that people like Boris Johnson mean anything other than a clumsy attempt at intimidation when they quote Greek myths. Christopher Eccleston talks about how his class makes him a member of ‘the awkward squad’ which makes him incapable of keeping quiet when he sees unfairness. I think I am a member of that same squad, and I’m not scared of public-school bullies - I threw out enough of them when I worked in a pub to know they’re no one to be scared of. I am going to keep writing despite the obstacles and the unfairness because Johnson and his ilk should know, I have understanding as well as you. 

Managing Poetry Submissions

Last week, I had my 50th acceptance from a literary magazine for one of my poems. 50 seems like a lot, even over the four years it’s taken me to achieve it, and I thought I’d reflect on how I’ve managed to do it in case it’s useful for anyone starting out. 

Prepare your poems

Make sure your poems are the best they can possibly be. This helps to make a good impression and it also means you will be better placed to take any rejection. If you know in your heart it’s a good poem, it hurts a lot less. It’s like training marines – it’s a tough old world out there, so make sure your poems are as robust as they can be. 

Submit your work

Your poems won’t magically enter the world without your help. It can be scary to send them out, and statistically you’re going to meet with more than a few rejections (I have more than three times as many rejections as I do acceptances) but if you want your poems out in the world, then you have to send them on their way.

Read widely

Read a range of magazines and think about where your work belongs. Use twitter and resources such as the Mslexia Indie Press Guide to discover new magazines and read a broad range of work, even if it’s not your style. 

Organise your submissions

There is great article on Jo Bell’s blog about how to manage your submissions, and it’s also available in the brilliant book How to be a Poet. I don’t follow this method exactly, but I do apply the basic principle behind it. I maintain a spreadsheet to keep track of everything –I know Excel isn’t for everyone, but you can find a system that works for you. It helps you appear professional by avoiding simultaneous submissions or resubmitting to a place that has already rejected certain work and it takes some of the stress out of the whole process.

Keep submitting

As I said, you’re likely to meet with some rejections. Don’t take it personally, there are so many reasons why a poem doesn’t get accepted – from thematic concerns to the simple fact that it’s not one editor’s cup of tea… This is why it’s important to work so hard on your poems before you start – if and when you do receive a rejection, you’ll have embedded belief in them as tough little soldiers. So, dust them off and send them somewhere else.

Write your heart

There’s no way to game the system. I’ve had poems accepted after more than ten rejections, and I’ve had poems accepted straight away that I thought were going to be difficult to place. I don’t think about magazines or the wider poetry trends when I write; I don’t see the fun in working that way. I write what I want to write, make each poem the best I can make it, and trust each one will find a place in the world. Your poems are the same.

Celebrate successes

While you should breeze past any rejections, take the time to celebrate each acceptance that you receive. It could be anything – a glass of wine, a bar of chocolate, or save up to give yourself a bigger treat when you reach a certain number. You’ve written work worthy of publication and you’ve been brave enough to send it out in the world and that’s worth celebrating.

Witches, Women and Power

I’ve just got back from an amazing weekend in Tuebingen in Germany, where I attended a conference called Ambiguous Representations: Witches, Women and Power in Literature and Critical Theory. I came home having learned a lot; I have a long reading list to investigate and a notebook packed with new ideas for poems. 

On the way home, I was thinking about that reading list, and how so many of the presentations related to art by women in all its forms being rediscovered or given the recognition it deserves. I wonder if one of the reasons that the witch remains an ambiguous figure is because so much work by women on the subject remains in the margins. I’m not sure that’s entirely the case, I think there’s something more at work on a symbolic level regarding the witch, but I think it contributes to it. Female artists who explore the ongoing fascination with the Medea myth provide extensive insight into the story and use emotional intelligence and empathy to explore what it means. What we mostly remember, though, is the headline story – Medea the witch murders her own children in revenge. That in itself doesn’t explain why the story endures, unless perhaps as a deep-rooted fear, or why it’s rather satisfying that she escapes punishment. 

In my PhD, I’m looking at precisely why female poets continue to return to the figure of the witch and what came through loud and clear was the fact that a witch remains a relevant figure in the modern world, closely identifiable with much of the female experience. From Mary Webb’s connection with nature to Marina Carr’s social commentary, the witch is at once a flexible symbol and one that stands for something very ‘other’ compared to mainstream society. 

I loved hearing from so many intelligent women throughout the week and not just what they were sharing but also the enthusiasm and array of projects from academic studies to creative projects. These demonstrate not just the enduring appeal of the witch but the continual rise of a vibrant addition to culture from female scholarship and creativity. I don’t think it’s as simple as calling it a sisterhood – there’s no reason why women should all have the same views on anything, after all. I think it stems more from this idea of a complex identity in which being a woman remains somewhat similar to being a witch. It is, in Shakespeare’s words, “A deed without a name.” Any work that looks to explore and name the experience does provide a collective benefit, even if that isn’t the intent.

The witch is a figure of disruption and gives permission to misbehave. I had so many lovely conversations over the weekend, and during those chats discovered some weird and wonderful facts and personal fascinations. All of the subjects we covered both inside and outside the conference room showed that being outside of things, being different and perhaps misbehaving a little can be a glorious and beautiful thing.

I am hugely grateful to the conference for providing me with a scholarship that allowed me to attend the Witch Summer School. I am not entirely sure if there is a way to thank the organisers for their generosity, but I will do so the only way I know how – by working on all the poems the weekend gave me and sending them out in the world. 

The path to happiness isn’t always easy – but it is worth it

Since the lovely people at Indigo Dreams sent me the link to my debut collection online, I’ve checked it several times to make sure I didn’t dream the whole thing. It’s been six months since I found out that I was the joint winner of the Indigo-First Collection competition and it’s still sinking in. 

The whole process of putting the book together has been wonderful – I think a lot of that is due to how supportive Ronnie and Dawn at Indigo Dreams have been. Throughout the process of putting the collection together, they’ve been so kind, and understanding of my uncertainties and honestly, I can’t imagine a better cover than the one they created. 

Without a doubt, one of the trickiest things about putting together the collection was writing the acknowledgements. It may be six months since I won the competition that gave me this amazing opportunity to make my childhood dream come true, but the whole thing started long before that. It’s about ten years since I decided that I wanted to pursue creative writing, and my early forays were quite tentative. I only really started to gather momentum once I enrolled on the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Chichester. There, I found myself working with incredibly talented fellow students and a supportive, knowledgeable and enthusiastic teaching staff that made me believe in my writing. 

My first big milestone was getting a poem published and in 2015 The Rialto accepted one of my poems, and it was the first piece of my work I’d seen in print. Since then, I’ve had many poems published and learned so much more about the incredible world of literary magazines in print and online. I owe so much to all the editors who work hard to get so much wonderful work out into the world and I never seem to lose the thrill of an acceptance. The editors of these magazines work so hard for so little reward, and I appreciate all they do, not only in helping me get my own poems out into the world but also in introducing me to so many wonderful writers. If I ran the world, editors of literary magazines would be sent a weekly supply of wine and chocolate for their good services to the creative arts. 

Writing doesn’t happen in isolation. All the time I’ve been working towards completing my collection, life has been going on too. It’s not always been easy. There have been setbacks, frustrations, utter heartbreak at some points and through it all, my friends have been amazing. They come on crazy little field trips with me when I want to research poems, workshop my poems, put me up and feed me healthy dinners and less healthy amounts of wine. In short, they’ve been with me for good times and bad, for writing and everything else, every step of the way. One of my biggest frustrations about being single is that people equate that with being alone, and I am not at all. I am surrounded by the most amazing people who give me so much love and support. They all believed in me long before I ever did, and honestly, they are the loves of my life. 

The next big challenge was trying to sum up my poems. On my website I try to explain the inspiration and ideas behind some of my work. There’s a lot of fury in my work but some tenderness and hope, too. I think the poems sum up my experience of writing and life over the last ten years – life can be brutally hard, but with a little magic and a lot of love, it’s still beautiful. 

And for anyone that needs to hear it: whatever your dream, keep going. It may not be easy but I promise it’s worth it. Following your heart brings more than just the achievement you aimed for, it brings truly wonderful people into your life. That’s where the magic comes from. 

Why worry?

I’ve had a challenging start to my year, and last week when a sliver of sunshine finally broke through the endless grey clouds, I woke up with ‘Why Worry?’ by Dire Straits in my head. It’s a song I associate with my parents and my childhood, and I haven’t thought of it for years, but the lyrics are embedded somewhere deep in my heart and nothing felt more appropriate to reflect what’s been happening in recent months. 

My mum has been unwell for just over a year, and in February of this year was admitted to hospital. As soon as I realised what a relief it was to have someone else take over, I felt ashamed that any part of me would have considered caring for my Mum a burden. It’s such a difficult situation and it continues to be something that hangs over me at every moment. I had the strangest realisation last week and I’m still wrapping my head around it. My experience of incredible sadness and stress has actually made me happier. Of course I’m not happy that my Mum was – and still is – unwell. I have just been jolted into an entirely new perspective on life – why worry?

I’ve become increasingly aware of how much of our conversation is negative. I appreciate that the world is a scary place and people are facing personal challenges, but I worry that sometimes this focus gives the darkness too much credit and allows it to take over. I know this isn’t a simple situation. I am not saying that people with depression should just cheer up, not at all, but perhaps we can move away from the focus on the negative all the time because it’s quite profoundly unhealthy. We should talk our problems through, but every time someone chooses to talk about how stressed they are or how busy or how sad, it seems to give misery another inch in the world. Sometimes I feel like conversations have become something of a competition to prove who has the most challenging life – and honestly, recent months would have given me a good shot at the gold medal – but I’ve kept quiet because I don’t understand why I’d participate in that, or feel any satisfaction to prove that my life has been harder than others’. Where is it going, and when does it all end?

The last year has been the hardest of my life... And yet I’ve never been happier. It’s difficult to articulate, but with such immense pressure and what felt like ever-creeping misery, I’ve felt compelled to seek out the good in life. Throughout this period, I’ve received support and kindness from my friends, who I treasure. I have laughed – sometimes at really silly or absurd things – and I know these moments are precious. Before my recent experiences, I felt that depression was a symptom of being too sensitive for the world, but now I wonder if it’s rather that the dark side of life has formed a hide so thick that people aren’t sensitive enough. I don’t know, really, but I do know it takes as much sensitivity to laugh as it does to cry, or to see the beauty in a bright summer’s day as much as the horror in a tragedy. 

I recently watched the Netflix comedy series After Life and I was both amazed and touched to see the ideas I’ve been turning over in my mind so beautifully articulated. The series had me laughing one moment and in floods of tears the next. Even in the darkness, there were moments of beauty; even when all hope seemed lost, there was something to laugh about. I think that takes courage, and a sensitivity to the nuance and absurdity of life. 

I think these same ideas are why I write. It’s why, in amongst all the sadness in my life, I’ve been working hard at my PhD and my first poetry collection, which is due out next month with Indigo Dreams Publishing. I write because I don’t want the darkness to win, and we should all be sharing all our joy and rage and sense of beauty. We have to accept that life is filled with good times and bad, with darkness and light. Again, I’m not saying that people with depression should just cheer up and stop worrying, but the rest of us could help to provide a way back for those who can’t yet see the bigger picture. In the words of Mark Knopfler – Why Worry? There will be sunshine after rain. There will be laughter after pain. These things have always been the same. So why worry now?

Looking back with gratitude

As we approach the end of the year, it’s natural to look back. In some ways, I’ve had a terrible year. I’ve had stumble after stumble, I’ve hit wall after wall and I’ve had so many challenges that sometimes all I could do was scream into a pillow until I was so exhausted I fell asleep weeping. Despite that, there have been a lot of good things about this year. I learned a lot about myself and my resilience, and I’ve learned the immense power of gratitude.  

I’m grateful for my friends, for their support and understanding, for all the fun we have. I’ve been to concerts and plays with friends and been overwhelmed with happiness. I’ve had days out and fantastic company while I poke around old monuments and dank former prisons for my PhD. I have wonderful writer friends who keep me going and workshop my poems so that I can be a better writer. They don’t let me get away with any slacking off and I value their kind and insightful feedback. With my friends, there has been a lot of laughter, some hard work, a few tears and a sense that whatever may come, I will never be alone. 

I am grateful to all the editors who chose to publish my poems this year. I have had 13 poems published – unlucky for some, maybe, but to me each one was a reason to dance, an opportunity to share and take pride in my work. Each acceptance feels like a little miracle to me. I am also immeasurably grateful also to Indigo Dreams for choosing to publish my first collection in 2019. As I said, each magazine publication feels like a miracle and having a whole book published is almost so wonderful I can’t comprehend it. 

I am grateful for the support I receive at the University of Chichester. I completed the first year of my PhD and I am well into my second with a firm belief that I will achieve my goal. It’s not been easy, I work full time and I’ve had family commitments but I did it anyway. That goal keeps me going when things feel hopeless and dark and it’s thanks to the guidance of my tutor and the enthusiasm of the university that I can keep my eyes on that distant prize.

I am grateful to every writer who has taken me outside myself this year. Without books to sustain me, I don’t even want to think about where I might be. Art in general is a comfort – a movie that lets me forget my troubles or see them in a new light, music that uplifts me, podcasts that inform or entertain, stand up comedy that makes me laugh, theatre that takes my breath away. I live in wonder and I’m glad of that.

I am grateful for the headspace app. I discovered it this year after a friend recommended it to me and now I don’t know how I managed without it. The daily meditations have helped my creative practice as well as helping me cope with whatever life throws at me. The sleep casts are so very helpful, and most nights I drift away to the sound of the ocean and feel a small measure of peace.

I’m grateful to myself, too. I’ve had a rough year but I’ve held on to my dreams and my joys. I’ve kept myself positive and I’ve done everything I could to fight against depression or a sense of defeat. I don’t care if I look stupid and I don’t care where this fight takes me, I will pursue happiness and a sense of peace with everything I’ve got. The chief weapon in my armoury is gratitude and it is accompanied by a fierce energy. Whatever 2019 has in store for me, I’m going to hold on tight to all the good things. There’s a chance I’ll get kicked in the teeth more than once but I’ll keep going. Gratitude and ferocity might seem like unlikely bedfellows but to me they’re at the heart of everything I do and the reason I keep going. Amongst all the darkness, I’m choosing to be a motherfucking beam of light. 

The endless, powerful gift of a book

I am once again supporting the Book Trust’s Christmas campaign to send a book parcel to children who are vulnerable or in care. The campaign is an extension of their work through the Letterbox Club, which sends monthly parcels of books and educational materials to children. For some of these children, it may be the first Christmas present they’ve received, or the only indication that someone cares.

I support this campaign because books are important; studies show that reading to children has greater impact on improving literacy than any other activity. Reading improves vocabulary, reasoning skills and understanding of the world. For children who may not have had the best start in life, books can open up a route through education to a better future. 

When you’re a child, there are many ways that books are important beyond their educational value. I know this because of all the ways in which books were important to me as a child – and to be honest, all the ways they still are important to me. 

When I was little, I found myself very frustrated with a world I never seemed to fit into. I don’t know if it was my red hair, my left-handedness, or maybe I’m just an awkward piece of furniture but I never felt like I fit in. When I was reading, all that disappeared. The first book I remember reading by myself was The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark and it’s a story about facing your fears. I think after that, I took flight in the dark just like that owl. Over the years, I learned about magic, animals, heroes and heroines. I learned about the Romans through Rosemary Sutcliff’s books, about World War II through stories such as Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mr Tom and Back Home, or Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. I’m sure my passion for the natural world and environmental conservation has more than a little bit to do with Watership Down and Colin Dann’s series The Animals of Farthing Wood. 

As I became a teenager, my sense of not fitting in became more acute and I was bullied for most of my time at secondary school. Books were my refuge; my teenage friends were nearly all fictional characters. The courage and sensitivity of the teenagers in Judy Blume’s books, the resilience and guts of the family in Cynthia Voight’s seven volume Tillerman Cycle, the strange and vivid magic of Alan Garner’s books such as Elidor and The Weirdstone of Brisingamen – I carry them all with me to this day. Ponyboy Curtis from SE Hinton’s The Outsiders made me think about how poetry could help me in ways beyond simply enjoying the words. (The three words still most likely to make me cry are “Stay gold, Ponyboy.”)

Now I have a kindle; it’s quicker and easier than ever to get books, simpler to get recommendations and yet books are still the ultimate luxury to me. Right now, my life is really complicated. I have a part-time job, freelance commitments, a PhD to study for, a book due to launch next year, my Mum isn’t well, my family isn’t getting on... Sometimes, if I think too long about the blank darkness of my future and how much it feels like I’m teetering on a sheer drop, I find it hard to breathe. Then, I’ll read for a while and suddenly all my concerns are in the background. When I resurface from whatever world I’ve been immersed in, I feel less alone and able to take on whatever challenges lie ahead. 

I hope you think about also supporting the Book Trust campaign. I was lucky enough to grow up in a family where books were valued and available, trips to the library taken as a matter of course. For many children, that isn’t the case and that makes the Book Trust’s work all the more important. Think of all that books have given your childhood, your life - and then for as little as £10, pass that incredible gift on to a vulnerable child who needs the lifeline. 

Wherever you stand, writing workshops are magical

I really enjoyed speaking to the West Sussex Writersgroup last night. I don’t need much of an excuse to start enthusing about poetry or history and I was delighted to have the excuse to talk at length about both.

Although writing is mostly a solitary pursuit, I do think there’s a lot of value in spending time with other writers, whether that’s workshopping together or working separately on the same writing prompts. There was clearly something in the air last night as the talented audience produced some amazing work in very little time. I don’t know whether it’s the ticking clock that can push the imagination, or the invisible pressure of someone scribbling alongside you, but there is something very special about ideas that come from workshop prompts. It’s like the writing appears out of thin air and is conjured not by the workshop leader but the whole group, working together. 

It was quite strange for me to be on the other side of that dynamic last night. I’ve attended a lot of writing workshops and I will continue to do so because I love them and there’s always something new to learn. However, it’s one thing to attend respond to prompts in a workshop and quite a different matter to be the one wielding the stopwatch. Part of me wanted to join in and write away, but I didn’t trust myself to stay honest on the timing if I was suddenly seized by an idea. Despite feeling a bit awkward while I let everyone write, it was worth giving that time. My favourite part of the evening was hearing some of the rich, varied and often moving work that came from the prompts. The idea that I had watched the creation of those poems, perhaps even nudged them slightly into being, was really special. 

I was delighted to be welcomed so warmly by the West Sussex Writers and to meet so many talented and interesting people during the evening. If you’re a writer in the area looking to connect with like-minded writers, then this might be an excellent place to start. They have a fantastic roster of guest speakers and I was honoured to be listed amongst them. The group also runs regular meetings, events and competitions throughout the year.

And if you’re not local to the area, you might want to seek out a local group for support, inspiration and the occasional workshop. If all else fails, set yourself a timer and see what happens when you give yourself just five or ten minutes to crystallise an idea. If it helps, imagine there are writers all around you attempting to the do the same thing. Somewhere in the world, they probably are.

Maybe it’s just me… In praise of the writing workshop

I’m still getting my head around the news last week that I will have a collection coming out. It’s made me reflect on how exactly I got here and so in case it’s useful to anyone else (although mostly so I can understand it) I thought I’d take a look at some of the things that helped me achieve my dream. Writing workshops were the first thing that popped into my head, so I’m going to start there.

I am a part of two writing workshops – one with three incredible fiction writers, Richard Buxton, Tracy Fells and Bea Mitchell-Turner, and the other with the wonderful poet Raine Geoghegan. They both give me different things and I wouldn’t be the same without the patience, support and insight of these talented people. Each workshop meets once a month to share and discuss works-in-progress. Usually cake is involved. You’d think that was the best part, but for me it’s the chance to read some amazing writing from my fellow workshoppers and to get their guidance on how mine can improve.

Workshops can teach you not to be too precious about your work – you may have written a line that you love, but if no one understands it then you might have to give it a rethink. What you write as a result will always be better. Of course, this only works if kindness is a pre-requisite. If you know all feedback is only meant to help you then it stops you taking it personally and you can focus on the work. It doesn’t mean writing by committee – the decision remains yours, always. Often the feedback I get is split – some people love something that others don’t even understand and in those cases, I have to trust my heart and the poem. Feedback doesn’t take control out of your hands – knowledge is power and the more knowledge your fellow writers share, the more power you have to make your work better.

I appreciate that I got very lucky in my choice of workshop participants. We started during the dissertation for the MA when we all wanted to help each other along. We have all been through the same supportive workshop process at the University of Chichester – and the tutors’ advice on how to run a workshop has been some of the most invaluable in my writing career. I feel fortunate that the people I work with on my poems are people that I also count as very valued friends. We don’t just talk about the work, we cheer any success and offer words of condolence and encouragement when things get tough - not just with regard to our writing, but all aspects of our lives. Even if I have nothing to report but a string of rejections and a half-written sonnet, I still get the chance to read some great work (and enjoy a slice of cake) and that’s worth the world to me.

Regular workshops are also great for keeping you on track. Nothing improves my production rate more than the ever-efficient Tracy sending over her latest early or kindly Raine telling me how much she’s looking forward to our catch up. Writing can be lonely, as can studying for a PhD, but these regular reminders to complete work are great motivation and help to make sure I don’t get lost in the enormity of what I’m trying to achieve. 

I know there are a lot of horror stories about workshops and clashing egos – and believe me, I know how painful they can be. It’s worth taking the time to find the people who are right for you, and those are people you can laugh with, people who put kindness over competition and above all, people who know the importance of cake.

Apple Water: Povel Panni
By Raine Geoghegan

What happens when you actually win?

I was so overwhelmed and delighted by the news yesterday that I had won the Indigo-First Collection competition that for the first time in a long time, I didn’t know what to say. It was a really strange day for me – I had achieved something I’ve been working towards for a very long time, but I also had a job to do. As the congratulations poured in over twitter I was actually writing a press release for a local firm of accountants. When I finally got home, I still didn’t know what to say, or quite what to do with myself. I am an inveterate planner, but I don’t think I’d ever planned for this.

It’s interesting that I’ve spent a really long time getting used to rejection. I have an efficient submission system which means when poems get returned to me, I send them swiftly back out somewhere else without a second glance at the rejection. Every single time I get an acceptance, it’s a thrill and an honour. Every single time it is a surprise. I’m not sure I ever want that to change, it is a little miracle to have something you’ve created out in the world where it might comfort or inspire a total stranger. So, I’m OK with rejection because it is all part of the magic of publishing.

I’ve also spent a long time building my resilience. I don’t want to get into a long list of complaints, my life is a fortunate one in so many ways, but the last ten years have thrown a lot at me, from losing a job to losing a parent, and pretty much every kind of petty annoyance and major heartbreak in between. After every setback and obstacle, I’ve taken a deep breath, swept aside any inclination to whine about the unfairness of it all (eventually) and kept on plodding forward. I’ve completed an MA and am currently studying for a PhD whilst working full time, and it’s never been easy. I have wanted to give up more times than I can count. It’s only now that I know I keep going for moments like yesterday, when I achieved my dream. I feel like I’ve just received the final link in my chainmail armour of resilience. Now, next time I have to pick myself up, I finally know what it’s all for.

I don’t know if I can say I’ve learned anything yet. I can say that whatever your dream, don’t give up. If you’re an artist, focus on your work and try to tune out what the rest of the world is doing. Let your friends and loved ones believe in you even when you don’t believe in yourself and you’ll get a chance to repay that faith one day. And maybe plan just a little for success, so you don’t end up sitting in your kitchen with a mini bottle of champagne and no earthly idea what to do with yourself. 

Thanks go to everyone who’s kept me going over the years – family, friends, tutors, fellow writers – you’re all incredible humans. Fist bump to my fellow winner, Ben Gwalchmai, whose work I can’t wait to read – the title alone is intriguing and perhaps puts mine to shame (although it makes me laugh every time I read Hag: Zoe Mitchell, so no regrets on that score.) Huge appreciation and big hugs also to Ronnie and Dawn at Indigo Dreams for supporting my work and helping me fulfil my dream. What a day yesterday was, and what a wonderful time we have ahead. I seem to have gone slightly off-plan and it feels like I’m walking on air.