Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rock-Paper-Scissors: Week Two of Poetrygate

Today's official message in the ongoing Poetry Society scandal - now five resignations, no explanations - came from Laura Bamford, Acting Chair of the Board of Trustees:

The Poetry Society (Incorporated)
Company Number 01557657

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN  that a General Meeting  of the above-named company will be held in Lecture Theatre 1, The Royal College of Surgeons, 35-43 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PE on Friday 22 July 2011 at 2.00pm for the following purpose:
To outline the future strategy of The Poetry Society and to receive members’ input

Dated 30 June 2011
By order of the Board

Laura Bamford
Acting Chair

Yes, we wanted a meeting. But no, this is not the one we wanted. We want to know WHY five people have now resigned from the Staff and the Board of Trustees of the Poetry Society. Not what the Board hopes to achieve in the aftermath of those resignations.

Fascinating though it will be to 'outline the future strategy' and deliver our input as members, there does not appear to be any room for manoeuvre in the Agenda of this General Meeting. 

And why on earth is this being called a GM, not an EGM? Is that so the Board can look as though it is not bowing to any external pressure by calling this meeting, but has done so of its own sweet accord in order to be helpful to the membership?

Members need to be aware that this is rapidly becoming a game of rock-paper-scissors. We hold out paper, they go for scissors. We produce scissors, they show us a rock. 

I, for one, intend to stick to my original purpose in signing the list of members who require an EGM to be called by the Poetry Society. 

And that is not only to ask for full and frank disclosure of the events leading up to the recent resignations of four Staff members and now the Chair of the Board of Trustees, so that I may be confident that everything has been done in accordance with the rules of the Society, but also to ask why so many of our administrators felt the need to resign.

These are questions that must be asked of the Board. Nothing less than the whole, unadulterated truth can be accepted.

I would strongly urge any remaining members who have not yet given their names to Kate Clanchy in support of an EGM to do so now, so we may get to the bottom of this travesty of democracy as soon as possible.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mslexia Workshop: Encouraging New Poems

The next instalment of my writing workshops for the Mslexia 2011 Poetry Competition, judged by Jo Shapcott, is now up on the Mslexia website.

It's entitled Encouraging New Poems.
Poems beget poems. The more poems you write, the more you will find waiting to be written. So when you hit a rich vein, don’t rest after you’ve finished your first draft and put it aside to mature. Keep hammering away at the wordface. 

Ted Hughes believed that poem sequences are a good way of generating new poetry, particularly during a creative dry spell. Sometimes you sit down to write something new and the words won’t come. Linking poems together can help to maintain the momentum of previous inspiration ...
Read more and follow the exercises for this instalment.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Buy A Book

Grab me on
I spend a few minutes each day tracking sales of the various books I've edited for Embrace Books. Some days it's good, some days I zip over to Twitter or Facebook to nudge the publicity machine along another notch.

Now and then, I also check my own sales.

Novel Rank, the excellent site I check most often and which tracks Amazon sales, has started telling me a sorry but familiar tale in poetry. Sales of my latest book, Camper Van Blues, have stalled after a promising few months.

So if anyone has not yet bought my latest poetry collection, Camper Van Blues, I'd be thrilled if you could give my sales a jump-start on Amazon UK, or over on for those in the US.

To read more about Camper Van Blues, or buy it directly through Salt Publishing, just click here.

What else?

Leaving a review on Amazon after buying, or sharing those Amazon links on Facebook or Twitter - such actions would be deeply welcome too. It would give me a warm glow to know I had garnered a few extra sales of my own book while the others I track are also selling.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Poetrygate": your chance to stand up and be counted

There's trouble at the Poetry Society. A few weeks ago, the President, Director and Finance Officer of the Society resigned, without explanation.

Much of the ensuing controversy has been connected to a lack of clarity from the Society following these events. The resignations have been made public, yes. But members of the Society have not been given any clear explanation for why these resignations occurred, nor been allowed any official discussion of how we move forward as a Society. It seems a reasonable request for full disclosure to be granted to the membership if these resignations are in any way connected.

The Evening Standard came up with some further information, but no more than was already privately circulating between members.

Some bloggers and other commentators are now starting to discuss the matter, but timidly, most not wishing to find themselves sidelined later for having been one of 'the hardy few', as Ms Baroque puts it, who dared discuss the matter. A recent post went up at Carrie Etter's blog and was removed after a torrent of libellous comments appeared, the debate unceremoniously erased.

Now people are beginning to draw comparisons between recent events and the Poetry Wars of the 1970s, when barricades were manned at the old Po Soc HQ and poets huddled about the braziers for six long years, warming their hands on copies of each other's Selected Works.

The Evening Standard claims that all this furore has come about because "Fiona Sampson, editor of the Poetry Review, the magazine overseen by the Society, had asked for autonomy from the director, and has been pushing the focus of the society from education to promoting high-profile poets."

I have known Fiona Sampson a number of years. She is a fine editor with excellent and pleasingly eclectic tastes in poetry. Far from being elitist, as has been suggested, she has featured both well-known and small press poets in most issues, and has encouraged greater depth in poetry criticism by commissioning long critical essays for the magazine. (A bold move, even if not all those essays turned out to be equally gripping and apposite.) Whatever has gone on behind closed doors, I feel certain Fiona Sampson will have acted with the best interests of Poetry Review at heart, and that she does not deserve the vitriol that has been aimed at her in recent weeks.

Unfortunately, of course, Poetry Review is the flagship magazine of the Poetry Society. As such, it needs to fulfil quite a broad range of objectives, only one of which is to promote high-profile poets.

In light of all this, I urge members of the Poetry Society to lend their names to the call for an Emergency General Meeting, to discuss these recent events and forge a way forward for the Board and the Membership.

The reason I ask this is that we are currently experiencing a crisis in confidence among the more professionally active members of the Society, and that crisis must be addressed, not simply ignored.

I also ask that, until we have the full facts before us, critics of the Board and the editor of Poetry Review behave in a civilised manner. There is something deeply unpleasant about the sight of an angry mob hounding one individual above all others.

Apathy gives us the government we deserve. But at least members are being given the opportunity to step up and voice their dissatisfaction. But we can't do that without 340 names.

Will yours be one of them?

To Get Involved:

Anyone who is a member of the Poetry Society and would like to sign the following petition, please email Kate at and she'll put you on the list. She will not share your contact or publicise you until the list reaches 340 when it will be handed in to the Poetry Society, along with the following message:
We, the undersigned, constituting as we believe ten percent of the members of the Poetry Society, having learnt of the resignation of the Chair of the Board of Trustees and the Director, the Finance Manager and the President of the Society, and in order to determine whether the Board of Trustees has their continuing confidence, require the Board to hold an Extraordinary General Meeting to provide an explanation, in the transparent and accountable manner the members  expect of its elected representatives, of the events leading to these resignations; an independently chaired forum for the statements of members and for their questions; and a detailed account of how the Board will continue the business of the Society in accordance with its stated aims and purposes.

Latest Update: more information at the Guardian. The list of signatories currently stands at 323, as of 2pm Thursday 30th June 2011.

Roll up! Roll up! The Tin Angel rides again!

Back in the day, in the narrow-laned medieval streets of Coventry, we had a buzzing poetry open mic night called NIGHTBLUEFRUIT AT THE TIN ANGEL.

The Tin Angel was the name of the bar where we met on the first Tuesday of every month to recite and listen to poetry, stand-up and occasionally music. It was a tiny corner joint with dodgy toilets where everyone had to cram in and the windows ran with condensation by the end of the night. The evening was organised by Jon Morley of the local poetry press, Heaventree.

Then the Tin Angel closed.

For a while, Nightbluefruit drifted from place to place, homeless and unsure, bleeding regulars.

Now it's back on track, and playing out at Taylor Johns in Coventry's Canal Basin. If you're in the region, why not go along? The next open mic night is July 5th, 8pm.

The poster above is by the massively talented Coventry-based artist Colin Dick, pictured below. Click on his name to see an article about his work at Horizon Review, with numerous examples of his amazing paintings.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Five Things You Need When Writing A Novel

A Writing Space 
Virginia Woolf wrote an entire treatise - A Room Of One's Own - about the need for women to have a room of their own, not simply to develop as writers but also as individuals. Frankly though, it applies equally to both sexes. 

It doesn’t need to be an actual room – though my output has increased substantially since I rented myself an office downtown – but it must be established as your ‘writing space’, a place and maybe also a time you associate with settling down to write, even if it’s only that half-hour commute on the bus or train every morning. 

Try to establish a rhythm in association with these special writing spaces, and keep to a routine as far as possible. More than anything, writing responds to routine. Feed your novel regularly and it will grow strong and healthy. Forget to check in, and it will quite rapidly wither and die.

Some people call this will-power, focus, determination, patience, stickatititus, etc. If your novel is over 100,000 words long, it may feel as though you need an inexhaustible supply. Even if it’s a shorter book, like a novella, it will still need to go through several drafts before it’s publishable. So make sure your patience is on board before you type Chapter One.

Post-It Notes or Stickies
These are extremely useful for writers, as they can be instantly seized and scribbled upon when an idea strikes. No need to open a document on your computer or find a fresh page in your writing notebook which you will later leave on the bus. You just seize and stick. 

Will Self famously plasters his study walls with these sticky notes when planning a novel, so you’ll be in good company. (How on earth does he get them to stay on, though? Mine always fall off after a few hours, even the expensive sort. Grr.) 

They’re not very durable though, and tend to end up littering the floor under your desk, so it’s a good idea to transfer any important notes to computer later on, when you’re not actually in mid-flow.

Index cards
These are the thick paper notecards students often use for exam revision. You can buy them in bound books, which I don't think are flexible enough as a tool for writers, or little boxes to store them in, alphabetically or as you will. Some people use them to plot out their story, but I use index cards for research rather than planning. 

You can order index cards online or buy them at places like WH Smiths

When I take notes during research, I often find later that I’ve forgotten where I put them or I can’t find the right note quickly enough because it’s buried inside a giant notepad or folder. So index cards, filed in categories in a box, can be a real timesaver. 

Index cards tend to come in plain white or a selection of pastel shades. If you need categories in your note-taking, try using a different colour for each category. This can shorten the hunt when looking up a particular fact halfway through a scene.

When researching, one drawback is having to note down on each card where you found that particular fact: page number, book, author, publisher, date etc. But you could use an abbreviation and provide a key at the front of the card box. If you’re organised enough.

Large Whiteboard
This is an absolutely vital piece of equipment for me as a writer, and my personal favourite. Some years ago I homeschooled my kids, and that was when I learned the beauty of the whiteboard. 

It’s versatile and non-static – you can clean it off and start again every day, every week or every month. It’s large, so you can use it to plan a multi-strand novel with all the different character streams and their plot arcs. It can be placed above or beside your desk as a reminder while you work, and can be used over and over again for future projects. 

The large whiteboard can be a writing tool or a motivational tool. It can allow you to tick off books or internet sites you need to check out. It can plot monthly sales on Kindle or remind you about the ham sandwich you left in the office fridge. It can be used to plot complex graphs in full colour if you like that kind of thing, and it can take up useful time when you need to procrastinate. 

You can get one with a corkboard area too, but I prefer to buy a separate corkboard and use the whole space of the large whiteboard for my notes. 

Writers! What would you add to this list of writing essentials?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My Editor Is Moving On

Sorry to see my lovely and very talented editor, Selina Walker, moving on from Transworld to Century/Arrow.

But I'm sure she'll make a great success of the new job!

For those who are interested in my fiction activities, here are the details of her move at the Bookseller today.

Meanwhile, I'm still working on the second novel in my Tudor trilogy for Transworld, HIS DARK LADY, which is stuffed full of intrigue, politics, espionage, theatrical goings-on, courtly splendour, grisly high-profile executions and, of course, forbidden love.

THE QUEEN'S SECRET will be out in March 2012, under the name Victoria Lamb.

Monday, June 13, 2011

The Writing Spark

It's that time of year again. Mslexia, the women's writing magazine, are holding their annual Poetry Competition 2011, and have asked me to provide another series of online workshops to accompany it. Deadline for entries to the competition is July 18th.

These particular workshops guide you through the process of writing a poem from the initial spark of an idea through to submitting to a competition or magazine.

Apparently, the workshop series I created for Mslexia last time was a very popular feature of the website, which is highly gratifying. It's always good to know you've helped someone else with their writing, and even better when it's several someones!

Anyone interested in following the series this year, you can find workshop number one here. It's entitled THE SPARK OF A POEM.

The next few workshops should follow soon. Once that happens there'll be links in the Mslexia sidebar to guide you through to them. The last series are also still on the site. Just search for "Holland Workshops" and a list of previous writing workshops should pop up.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Southern Writers Conference

I'm off next weekend to speak as a guest at the Southern Writers Conference in Chichester.

I'll be talking about poetry, and even reading some of my own if they can't stop me quickly enough. If you're in the area next weekend - Friday 10th to Sunday 12th June - and are interested in writing, there may still be day tickets available.

I'm speaking on the Sunday morning, I believe.

Here are some of the other speakers' details:
Raffaella Barker, author of nine novels and contributor to the Evening Standard, Spectator and Elle, amongst others.  She is also an experienced teacher of creative writing.

Simon Hall, crime writer and (appropriately enough) the BBC’s crime correspondent for the South West.  He also narrates his own audio books.

Jane Holland, award-winning poet and novelist as well as being an ex professional snooker player.  She hasn’t offered any lessons on the Earnley table, but I’m sure that’s just because we haven’t asked.

Catherine King, well known author of popular romantic novels set in 19th century Yorkshire. Catherine will be well known to a lot of regular attendees at SWC.

Kathy Gale, with over 20 years of book publishing experience including editorial, marketing and sales management. She should make for a fascinating Saturday afternoon speaker.