Thursday, 19 July 2012

yesterday, I lived there

This is a little about me. I'm from a village in the north-east of England, near the sea. It's not far from Newcastle. It's near a haunted windmill that's lost its top. It's a place where we put raspberry sauce on our ice cream, but we don't call it raspberry sauce; we call it monkey blood. That's how we roll.

The Hungry Ghost Festival (my first poetry collection that came out this week) is about my experience of that place [I lived there until I was eighteen, and my family all still live there]. It's not about what actually happened when I was younger; it's often not even about real places. It's about misremembered and strange things. It's about girls praying to The Angel of the North. It's about the idea of a mermaid born in the river Tyne. It's about another girl who's bullied for being a 'real-life mermaid.' It's about Chinese lanterns, teenagers at the beach, and a family who run a sacred farm. It's about lots of things. It's rather scary that it's now out in the world and people are reading it, but so exciting at the same time. 

The first poem I remember falling in love with when I was younger was The Highwayman by Alfred Noyes.

THE wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees,
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas,
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door...
It still makes me smile now, and reminds me of a cold night, sitting under a blanket in bed, with the wind blowing outside. It was in a large compendium of other poems I had. I also remember laughing at Colin McNaughton poems, and Roald Dahl's Revolting Rhymes.

I wrote a lot when I was younger. I was the [un]cool kid who sat on the fire escape step at break time writing, instead of playing Red Rover. I was fascinated by words, and by writing. Not just what you could do with it, but the physical act of it. I spent quite a bit of time in hospital when I was younger. My fingers were fused together at birth, and a few are missing [EEC Syndrome]. Those that are left are misshapen. So, my wonderful surgeon Miss Reid spent a lot of time building by hands for me. So, I loved writing: a combination of being fascinated at holding a pen, and conjuring up worlds of crazy fairy tales like the ones I'd read. There's a poem in The Hungry Ghost Festival called Lobster Girl, which touches on this. 

Poetry's the one form of writing I've always done. I've hopped around from humour writing, to short stories, to serious novel-type ideas, but throughout all of those I've also always written poetry. My current favourite collections are Ted Hughes's Crow, Ryan Van Winkle's Tomorrow We Will Live Here, Michael Ondaatje's The Cinnamon Peeler, Berryman's Dream Songs, not forgetting Ashley Capps, Margaret Atwood, Tim Atkins... far too many to mention here.

Two people can read the same poem and take something completely different from it in a way that's not so extreme with prose. I love that. Poetry's the old school way of telling stories. Lines worm their way into your head and stay there. 

For me, in The Hungry Ghost Festival, poetry is tied up in place and folklore. It's about the riverside and rumours in the hills, and falling in love with someone you're not supposed to be found with. It's about the beach at night, and owls flying into windows. And it's also about whatever you want it to be about. 

So, for those who have purchased a copy, I hope you like it. It's a very strange feeling [so very different to my experience with 'Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops']. With this, I kind of feel like I'm sitting on your bookcase, waving hello. 

So, erm... hello. :) x

'... You pick my arms up and spread them out
so we are matching. Our woollen scarves
touch our noses - catch our breath
like cloth balloons.
We dig our feet into the soil
and stamp down into the very deep....'

[extract from Angel Metal, The Hungry Ghost Festival]


  1. It wouldn't be Felling, where David Almond comes from, would it?
    I think there must be magic in the water there!

  2. Draw a line from Felling much closer towards the coast, and you're there. :)

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Hm, I'm also an expat of the NorthEast. From a small village with a windmill where a murder happened a very long time ago, not sure ours was haunted though! Very well written work!

  5. You write, "Lines worm their way into your head and stay there." They certainly do! A beautiful collection. It reminded me of the first time I read Sylvia Plath's poems a long time ago.

  6. You write, "Lines worm their way into your head and stay there." They certainly do! A beautiful collection which reminded me as I read it of the first time I read Sylvia Plath's poems many years ago.

  7. Jen! I just sent you an email before reading this (just got the notification of it), and now I'm even more glad I did. I'm excited!

    PS. The Highwayman has been one of my favourite poems ever since I saw Anne of Green Gables with Megan Follows. Admittedly, I don't remember if Montgomery had it in the book! I used to recite it all the time, dreamily and dramatically of course.

    Also, I'm with Paul. I love this: "Lines worm their way into your head and stay there." It's true, more so of poetry than prose.

  8. Paul - thank you very much indeed. x

    Steph - so glad you're also a fan of The Highwayman. x