Poem #3

Asylum 2


So here I wait for you to come and forget
What you did, where you left me
Darling. While I give you what you needed
My white jacket blisters under interrogation

Each day they come, they come again
I give myself but I can’t give you
And they don’t know I dream: I dream of the day
You return

With fire riding at your back
We’ll see who burns best
Me? I just wait
For you, or for my love to bring that sweet chemical blend

That tastes too much like cheap tea; and for the appropriate adult
To handle the cutting
And the sticking
And the rolls of double-sided tape

For this art is close-mouthed
And still: and still I am nothing
Apart or by your side, your prop or your propeller
Don’t you miss me yet?

Or am I out of mind?
Well then
I will wait. I have time

This will be my final gift to you
When once again that smile is forced upon my face
(Don’t need make-up anymore)
And say, my darling, always say
Welcome home

Poem #2

Circles and Spirals

If my reasons were opaque
Hers were just insane – or maybe it was the other way around
I’d slipped through the cordon to find her
Sitting on the altar as if carved flesh
As if she belonged

The east was unburned;
The west awaited only robbery
She sat impassive in the shadow of the broken tower
Open to a dying sun
She looked to me; said she’d set the fire
Set free her ghosts

I watched in silence. I stood and listened
As the stonework trembled beneath her lies
Asking a stranger to carve her open
A sacrifice to her demons: something to make her feel
But I was only there for myself

Only ever for myself
I needed something, I think, to make me whole
To turn a circle to a spiral
And she saw an echo in me – or maybe it was just the danger
Or the grip of ash and smoke

But that no longer matters.
She left me then and forever, and still I was chained
Locked in to these repeats
No stigmata but those echoes
They nail me, nail me down hard

So I returned that night with tinder, with oil for the east
– Never an unstolen move
Never an original line –
As if I’d ever known free will
As if, as if
It could ever be me upon that altar

The third rule

The third rule:

Thou Shalt Join a Writing Group. And Thou Shalt Take Time to Find the Right Group for You. And Lo! Thine Words Shall Flow.

Ahem. Yes. The third rule is that you get feedback on your work before showing it to the people who matter.

It’s certainly possible to become a good – nay, great – writer on your own, in your room, beavering away in silence with only your MA in Creative Writing for company. The annals are littered with the names of the illustrious who’ve done such a thing – or many such things. And there’s no reason you can’t either. But take it from me, getting feedback on your work is a surefire way to get better quickly.

Writing groups seem, to my ignorant eyes, to be a fairly new phenomena, but the idea is as old as the hills. Wasn’t Frankenstein first performed in such a circle, sheltering huddled in an Alpine fastness? What was the Bloomsbury group but a way of exchanging ideas and feedback in a London ripe with zeitgeist? These examples – and I’m sure you can add more – can perhaps be seen as the prototypes from which a proliferation of groups have exploded in the last decade.

Seriously. Go on the internet. Type in ‘writing groups [name of town/region]’ and see what comes up. Even if you’re living in a cave in the Bora Bora mountains you’ll be able to find lots of groups that ‘meet’ online and all of whose interactions are carried out on the intraweb. You can barely escape the buggers. Don’t like the internet? Well, I’d be curious to know how you’re reading this, but anyway – just go into your nearest bookshop (indie for preference – they’re better about things like this) and ask. Simples.

When I first started writing seriously I joined a group based around people from my local Ottokar’s. That folded after a few months and I seriously considered joining a bigger one. But I didn’t. And that’s because I couldn’t really see what such a group could do for me. I bet that’s what you’re asking yourself now, isn’t it? Be honest. Why should I give my time to join a group when I already know how to write – when I’m at home with my craft?

It’s a fair question. And to some extent the answer depends on finding the right group for you. Because all these groups might be called something similar (the words ‘Writing Group’ is a clue), but the way they operate might be completely different. But here’s a quick outline of some of the things you can gain from joining:


Technical advice

A reason for writing



Feedback on your work


A different perspective

A deeper understanding of ‘foreign’ genres

The Ottokar’s group I mentioned earlier mainly revolved around writing exercises – given out one meeting, reviewed the next. This was great fun, and in my memory I produced some really nice stuff – now sadly lost. But that’s not the best way to go about it, I think. A year and a half ago, when I moved to Abingdon, I joined the local group in part to give myself something to do in this curious little town. And in that year and a half my writing has improved greatly.

The format of the meetings is this: each fortnight we meet up in the proverbial church hall – pubs work well too – and any of us are free to bring an extract of our work; around 1,000 words. We then take it in turns to read this section, and then the rest of the group will provide feedback. And then we move to the next person.

The group is made up of eighteen people, and average attendance is somewhere from eight to twelve – the ideal number. Four or five people will read in a session. As with Fight Club, new members have to read .There are drawbacks, which I’ll get to later, but for now let me spell out the advantages.

First of all, feedback. Instant, unvarnished feedback on the section you’ve read. What works, what doesn’t. I still remember my first reading; I took the opening of Chivalry and saw it criticised for being too confusing, for not having a real sense of ‘here’. This can be painful. And the critics might, of course, be wrong. But it’s always a good idea to listen, to hear this, as they’re usually right.

Other readers are also excellent at picking out what you’re not good at, be it technical issues such as punctuation or formatting or aspects such as dialogue, It took me some time to realise that my dialogue was lacking, and since that was pointed out to me (twice) I knew I had to work harder on it. The result? Rapid (I hope) improvement.

It’s also incredibly good for you to give feedback to other people. This is a massively under-explored area, I feel. It’s really beneficial as a writer to look critically at the work of others, to see what’s working and what isn’t – and why that might be. It’s especially interesting to look at other genres or forms such as poetry and scriptwriting. I can’t overstress how helpful it is to push out of your comfort zone a little; even if you never write their yourself, to think about things in a whole different way can set you down roads you never knew existed.

I’m lucky to be in a group that’s good at balancing criticism with encouragement. It’s pointless to surround yourself with people who say everything is brilliant – that’s no help at all. Neither is it helpful to face a constant barrage of disparagement. Take your time, try out different groups, explore. You have to find a group that’s right for you, and that can take a little time. At this point I guess I’m supposed to say ‘if you don’t find one, set up your own’, but if you’re anything like me you won’t be bothered. So I won’t waste my breath.

The big disadvantage of the setup I’ve described? Well, if you’re a novel-writer you’re working with small extracts only. So, unless you read your whole work in bite-sized chunks, there’s no real feel for plot or character arcs. There’s no real answer for this – but there’re often people in the same position who’ll be willing to do novel-exchanges. And, if there are enough, you can form your own little spin-off ‘Fiction Action Group.’

And the Lord Spaketh: Go Forth and Multiply Thy Words. Take Communion With Thy Brethren in Letters, and All Shall Reap The Rewards.


*          *          *

Just a quick reminded that next week I’ll be hosting the finale of Marissa De Luna’s ‘blog tour.’ Her novel The Bittersweet Vine is being launched on Monday (28/10/13) in London. The previous instalments of her tour can be found, as she describes…

Stop 1 – The Coffee Stained Manuscript! (http://thecoffeestainedmanuscript.blogspot.com) That’s here. This is where it all started. My blog. The one which reveals all my writing highs and lows.  On 1st October 2013 I will be writing a post on my experiences between self publishing and traditional publishing!

Stop 2 – On the 7th October I will be making a stop at Jan Greenough’s blog Literary Teapot (http://literaryteapot.blogspot.co.uk) Jan Greenough is a professional author and editor who has co-authored and ghostwritten several books.  This post will feature a short author interview – part 1

Stop 3 – The 14th October will feature a post on creating memorable characters on the Abingdon Writers blog. I have given Abingdon Writers a big thank you in the acknowledgements for The Bittersweet Vine. As a writer if you don’t have many friends who write you will soon find out that not everyone is as passionate about writing as you are. Abingdon writers have kept me sane and have provided a great sounding board and critique for various chapters of The Bittersweet Vine.

Stop 4 – On the 21st October will see part 2 of the author interview on Luke Murphy’s blog.http://authorlukemurphy.com/blog/ You may have read about Luke’s story on The Coffee Stained Manuscript earlier this year on how he turned from Hockey player to author.

Stop 5 – The tour is coming to an end! on the 28th October I will be featuring a post on adding detail to your novel on Gabrielle Aquilina’s blog.http://gabrielleaquilina.blogspot.co.uk Gabby was one of the founding members of Abingdon Writers and is a talented writer and blogger! Her blog is always worth a visit as it’s full of her musings about writing and life with well organised tips on improving your writing and sending of submissions.

And finally… Stop 6 will feature the last part of the author interview on Robin Triggs blog, A writer’s Life on the 31st October.  Robin is another talented writer. I have read two of his manuscripts and can’t wait to read the third. The minute you read his blog – even if you don’t write – you will want to pick up a pen. Witty and insightful it’s a great read!

(Marissa’s words, not mine – thanks Marissa!)

A poem

For no reason other than my own whimsy, let me share with you a poem.

I’m not a poet. I’ve never really read poetry, or understand much about what makes a good poem. Apart from brief periods – the sort that everyone has when they’re growing up – I’ve never explored it as a medium.

I reckon that I’ve accidentally written three in my life; three decent ones, at least. Why accidentally? Well, I might not be a poet, but I have written a lot of lyrics over the years.

I came to writing through music, I think it’s fair to say. In another world I’d have been a musician, but now I’m too old, too fat and too lacking in talent. But music still infuses everything I’ve ever done. I always write with music in the background. My first novel, The Ballad of Lady Grace, was really a love-song to the world of the amateur musician. And when I was a teenager (and beyond) I’d soak up the images and the feelings in the things I’d listen to and try to ‘seal’ my own emotions in words.

I’ve still got copies of (almost) everything I’ve ever written sitting in boxes in the spare room. I don’t know why I keep them, really. There’s a few I might go back to, but in the most part rereading them will, I suspect, be quite a painful experience. There are hundreds of ‘dry songs’ there. A lot of my life. Not necessarily the good parts.

Out of this morass of uselessness has come the aforementioned three pieces that I reckon might just qualify as poems. Below – just because I feel like it – is one of them. I wrote this back in 2000, I think; and then a year or two later I entered it into the Dublin International Poetry Competition. It made the top 500. I am still inordinately proud of that.

Looking at it now, I think I see things I’d like to change. But I’ll leave it as is. Time trapped in amber, as I am over-fond of saying.

Incidentally, if anyone has any questions or subjects they’d like me to discuss, please let me know. I am, after all, dependent on my readership; the power is with you.





We ride across the causeway in silence
For ours is a cold burden
All the words have been said
For now
And this is not the place

Not once do we see eye to eye
We cannot change the routine – we must complete this task
I’m thinking this is a beautiful thing we do
We get the decay

Away – for us
It may never be over
But we can leave now, kick into a gallop and ride
Together.  We know what we have to do – all the words have been said, and only as you draw ahead

Do I look at you – I am your shadow
And we are gods
We will ride forever


But don’t you ever wonder?

I find myself thinking
Is this what we really want? You are perfect, you are so perfect
I want you
And don’t you ever wonder
How it is to dance?

Soon, I’m thinking, it will be time to leave.
I will be turning away – it’s so easy
You won’t even notice
I’m gone.

We both know what to do, but next time you ride
Across the causeway
You will be with someone else.
What will you say?
Can you feel change in the air?  I used to talk to you

But now we are gods
So will you remember?  Will anyone remember?
This work we do

This is a cold burden
And it is mine to bear