LLETZ Treatment NHS – what happens?

I wrote a blog post in 2019 about my first Colposcopy appointment, which you can read about here.

That visit identified low-grade CIN1 cell changes to my cervix as a result of the all-too-common HPV virus. You can learn all about HPV here. In most cases, the HPV and abnormal cells go away on their own before you even know about them, and I was naively hoping this might be the case for me. More than a year later, I had a follow-up smear and got a nice fat letter in the post. A fat letter means there’s a booklet included, and we all know that means an appointment. I was miffed, but I wasn’t upset – more grateful to be monitored properly rather than fall through the net and end up in a worse situation. All right, they detected abnormalities – but imagine if they’d never detected them and they were left to grow and develop on their own? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

So, there I was, back in the chair at my second colposcopy appointment. This went smoothly like before and, like before, they took biopsy. A biopsy is clipped from your cervix with a long instrument but, honestly, I didn’t feel a thing – please don’t sweat this if you’re waiting for your appointment. The consultant said she thought it was still CIN1, and that we could possibly wait another six months – however, by that point it would be 2 years with HPV and abnormal cells. By that point, it’s unlikely they’ll clear up themselves, and I would be facing the LLETZ procedure.

I knew about the LLETZ procedure because my own mother had one sprung on her many years before. I remember sitting in the waiting room for what felt like an age to my teenage self, and out came mum looking shell-shocked. They’d found abnormal cells and offered treatment there and then, which she agreed to. Unfortunately, she had a “learner” do the procedure and they failed to give mum the correct amount of anaesthetic. Mum initially felt the procedure happening and squeezed the nurse’s hand – it’s only when the nurse noticed her expression that she asked in a startled voice, “Are you able to feel this?!”

My mum’s case is thankfully a rarity, but it did give me cause for concern. Regardless of any worries in the back of my mind, I was at least always prepared to one day go through the same thing and, in the face of all the many other procedures I’ve had, this one wasn’t much worse. I find the intimacy is what makes it so much more uncomfortable for women to face; you’re talking about the entrance to our wombs, the most sacred parts of us.

Anyway, my latest biopsy results returned with CIN2, not CIN1, and I wasn’t happy about that. Seeing the abnormal cells progress told me everything I needed to know, and I called up the clinic to ask if I could volunteer to have the procedure. The nurse couldn’t have been kinder and was happy to hear a patient being proactive about their health – she booked me in on the spot. I ended the call feeling positive that I’d taken my health into my own hands. Incidentally, when they discussed me at their MDT meeting, they decided I should have the LLETZ as well.

So, today was the day – I was finally having the LLETZ procedure! Frankly I was excited – my partner and I are planning a family and this was another hurdle in the way of what will already be a process of proper planning. Because of my blood pressure issues, I will need extra monitoring and a change of medications, and so preparing for a baby will be very much a team effort!

I was commended by my nurse and consultant who seemed surprised to have a patient so calm – again, I put this down to my many experiences and procedures in hospital, being a seasoned patient by now. Hospital for me is a place of sanctuary, and not at all a place to be feared. The LLETZ went very much the same way as the Colposcopy – bottoms off, legs up in the stirrups, bum to the edge of your seat. Speculum in, cold jelly on the labia, a bit of a push. Crank her open and let’s have a look-see.

Next comes an local anaesthetic, but please believe me when I tell you: I barely felt it. It is not sharp and it doesn’t hurt. Ask anyone else who’s had the LLETZ and you’ll find most say the same – they feared it, but it was not actually bad at all. My heart-rate went up moments later and I felt a bit wobbly – I was told this was totally normal, because the local anaesthetic involves a bit of adrenaline. We chatted a few moments while we waited for it to kick-in. Once it had, the consultant told me the machine would be a bit noisy – like a vacuum cleaner – and asked that I tell her if I’m uncomfortable. She specifically asked several times not to jump suddenly or flinch – a big ask for some, I’m sure – which gave me some insight into what some of their patients’ responses must be. She told me some appointments aren’t so quick as mine because patients are sometimes very nervous or find the whole procedure very difficult, which naturally adds another element to the process.

Reader, she fired up the machine once or twice, cleaning in-between, and it was over. I could smell the burning once or twice, but I felt nothing except the odd bit of pressure during the procedure itself. It was over so quickly that I was back in my undies and leggings in a matter of minutes, looking at my sample in its little red pot. The consultant took a small section from directly around the opening of the cervix, about as big as a five pence piece (or perhaps 10 pence, I forget). This will go off for biopsy once more, and I will have a smear test in 6 months to check for HPV or abnormal cells again. However, the consultant assured me she’d got the lot, so I was content. She advised me that I would need to let my midwife know in the future that I’ve had the LLETZ procedure so they could monitor the health of my cervix properly, as there is a small chance of pre-term labour after LLETZ. Again, I was assured the data suggested this could be coincidental and didn’t necessarily cause pre-term labour; but, being a risk, they have to let me know.

If you’re going for your LLETZ procedure, know this: it is all in the mind. Try to relax as best you can and believe me when I tell you that the local anaesthetic is a little miracle, and you shouldn’t feel much at all, if anything. What’s more important is that YOU are taking steps to better your health and keep yourself safe, and that’s a brave and brilliant thing.

I felt a lot of pride walking out of the clinic – a ward run by women, for women, for the sake of women’s health. We’re united in these experiences, and short of saying “girl power!” I can hardly express how awesome it feels to be among my own sex.

The night before the procedure, I wrote this poem. It seems daft now, but these were very real thoughts at the time, and I think a lot of women in the same boat as me could relate to this.

Foreign Nurses – A Poem

Reading @MichaelRosenYes‘s poem about his tracheostomy reminded me of my stay in hospital (non-covid-related). All my nurses were ‘foreign’ & all were lovely, calming, supportive. Still hear ignorance about them ‘taking jobs’ or not belonging. I wrote this poem about them.

This poem is from my chapbook collection, ‘We Found a Shadow – Poems from a Hospital Bed’, which you can read here. I hope you enjoy it.

I’ve been on hiatus for a while during my house-move, but I hope to start writing again, and sending my poetry out to other venues.

#nhs

Etsy prints!

My li’l’ rockin’ robin on his way to an Etsy customer in the USA! ❤


VISIT MY ETSY STORE: https://www.Etsy.com/uk/shop/ashleighforexample
Good evening all!

I just wanted to update you on my Etsy journey. Starting out is really tough and getting the exposure is the hardest part – however, I somehow sold three prints over the last few days without any marketing at all. With such a small gallery of paintings available, I’m really surprised – I thought I’d have to have a lot more to choose from before anybody stumbled upon my little shop.

So, my little rockin’ robin is flying to the USA – and another robin is flying a little more locally, with three blue-tits by his side for company. They’ll fight off any crows or magpies they meet along the way for sure.

So, how was my first time ordering giclée prints? It was fantastic! I was so, so worried that my file preparation was wrong somehow and that I’d mess it all up and waste my money. Fortunately I was recommended an excellent print shop who made beautiful copies of my work from the files I uploaded. My prints were made on the most expensive giclee aquarelle (Arches) rag paper which give them a gorgeous original texture. The robin is A5 size, plus a 25mm space all around for the border within a frame – this makes it easier to frame it and keep its smart appearance with plenty of space.

I sent these prints from home so I could have a look at them first, but in future I will most likely send the prints straight from the print shop to the customer (which naturally saves on postage). This time around I ordered several prints for future (hopeful) sales AND…well, for myself to have to to be honest!

Well, my Etsy journey has started better than expected and I’m now thinking of setting up a Facebook page for my art journey. I don’t have any grand delusions, but with it being the New Year, I would like to start being a little more ambitious with my creative work. After all, I should really put all this lockdown-time to good use. I always did make a great hermit!


Visit Redcliffe Imaging in Bristol if you’d like to order your own giclée prints. The online portal is so, so easy to use and very much a simplified process for the customer. I found their prices really quite reasonable too, even for the best papers. The range of paper is fantastic too, catering for all medias – from oils to pastels to photography. Check them out!

VISIT MY ETSY STORE: https://www.Etsy.com/uk/shop/ashleighforexample

Introducing my Etsy Watercolours

How has it been months since I’ve blogged?

I didn’t mean to leave it so long!

It’s just, well…WE FINALLY MOVED HOUSE! Yes, we did it! Honestly we got to a point where we thought our new house was a figment of our imaginations, because it just wasn’t happening. I was so convinced that even if it did happen, something awful would go wrong. But it didn’t; it went smoothly in fact. Both Mike and I adore our new house and honestly couldn’t be happier.

Obviously it’s been tough getting it sorted with the covid situation and being plunged into yet another lockdown , but I’ve managed to sort painters for our living room/dining room/sitting area (it’s a massive area) and I even painted my own bedroom (and roped Mike in to help me). I’ve sourced some amazing retro pieces (which you can see on my Instagram) and I’m slowly but surely building up my dream home.

Christmas 2020 was a let-down unfortunately. In spite of my rushing around to get some new dining chairs and getting enough food in, we were put into tier 4 and were unable to have any family over. We still had a lovely (and memorable!) time together, but it wasn’t what we’d planned. Still, I know people who have it far worse, so I’m not going to complain – we’ve all got it bad and we just have to pull through it.

One thing we have managed to sort out is our office! I’ve been working at home with Mike and we so far haven’t murdered each other – in fact, we make a cute team. With my desk all set up, it’s given me the space to do something I’ve wanted to do for months: work on my watercolours.

I’ve been practising a lot and I’ve started to make some simple little pieces that I personally really like, so I decided to put them up on my Etsy page, which I haven’t used in yonks despite it being opened in 2017. I did successfully sell a couple of pieces some time ago, when I wasn’t even as good as I am now, and I still have a long way to go. So, I’m hopeful – but it’s not about selling so much as getting the experience and trying it out. One difficult thing with art online is getting exposure. My little robin, for instance, is one of thousands of robins on Etsy. How will anyone see him, let alone him competing with all the others!

So, if you’re on Etsy and you fancy supporting my watercolours journey, please give my shop/gallery a little ‘favourite’; I’d appreciate it!

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

Happy Spooktober 2020

Welcome to Spooktober, everyone! And a big hello to those who followed me recently.

Spooky House Updates


We’re creeping (hopefully) closer to our house move, and I’m *really* hoping we’ll be in the place before the New Year. I’ve been dreaming of having Christmas in our brand new house with my immediate nearest and dearest, and I’ll be really sad if we don’t get to have that this time. House buying is an insanely slow process and nobody seems to know why it takes such a mind-numbingly long time.

We did have some issues with the conveyancers, who decided to put up a brick wall and refuse to respond or engage with us – and when they did, they got our details wrong and, in one case, even confused us with somebody else. We were not impressed. We’ve given them enough bad press in a few choicely-worded reviews, so I don’t mind telling you it was the Manchester branch of Slater and Gordon. Read their reviews yourself and you’ll find that this treatment is standard for them, unfortunately. Even their reception staff sounded like they’d had enough on the phone. Anyway, if you’re looking for a conveyancer, avoid them – even though they were on the HSBC recommended list!

Anyway, work is going well, although we said goodbye to one of my colleagues and my desk buddy – it’s always sad to see someone go. We’re part-time in the office and mostly working at home right now, in-line with the new government restrictions.

Spooky Health Updates

I’m braving it to St Bart’s hospital on Friday for bloods and a covid-swab, after which I will have to isolate all weekend in preparation for a procedure on Monday at Royal London Hospital. I’m having interventional radiology (or an Angiogram) to once again attempt to fix a problem with my dead kidney. It’s all a bit experimental and I’m not even certain it’s going to work; I’ve had this procedure done before, and unfortunately it failed because the mesh ball drifted down an odd vein I happen to have. Anyway, wish me lots of spooky luck – all being well, it could lead to much healthier blood pressure for me, and fewer pills to take every day. It’s also important for my future when I consider things like pregnancy, because high blood pressure puts the pregnancy at a ‘high risk’ level. My partner and I are planning a baby in the next couple of years, so I want to be as healthy as I can.

Spooky Inktober & Redubble


What do you think of my delightful little creep, Spooky Cat? He’s my first effort for Inktober! I haven’t been doing one drawing a day, which I believe is the rule, because of time constraints and whatnot – however, I drew him when I got home from work last night, and I love him. I’m certainly getting much more confident with my Wacom tablet, and once I’ve bought everything for my house, I shall be treating myself to a lovely Ipad Pro 2020 with the Apple Pencil. Oooh yes. I’ve earned it. If you love my little Spookster and want to support me you can take a look at the design on multiple items on Redbubble! He’s available on everything from T-shirts to notebooks to stickers and magnets, so go take a look.

Until next time Spooksters, enjoy the beautiful autumn season. I just cannot believe we’re in October already.

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

Draw Yourself as a Villain Challenge

My ‘Draw yourself as a villain’ challenge piece

Muahahahaa! That’s me as a devil, reigning in hell – and that’s my darling little Sputnik, who most definitely would never go to hell, because he is an angel.

Specs:

Corel Painter 2019
Wacom Tablet
Time: 2-3 hours?

I promised myself I would dedicate myself more to art now-days, for a number of reasons – one being that I’ve neglected my art since school, even though art was one of my first loves. Unfortunately I could never see how I’d ever be good enough to make a career out of art and I let it slide in favour of writing, though of course making a living *actually* out of writing is equally – in fact, I’d say rather a lot more so – tough and unlikely. Writing requires opportunities and contacts first and talent last; as with any art, it’s my experience (and that of many very talented people I’ve spoken to) that it’s nothing to do with pure talent, or a love for it, or a passion. While of course you need all of these to succeed, it doesn’t mean a right lot if nobody thinks you’re important and nobody knows you exist.

Art is probably the same, but then it depends where you’re coming from. If you’re a fine painter then you’ll have a very different experience to a cartoonist, or someone who does watercolour pet portraits, and so on. ‘Art’ is an umbrella term which encompasses so many things. However, being a visual form, it is much easier for people to access, and therefore you can get a lot of satisfaction from art without ever needing to be recognised, famous, or “successful”. The love of creating art feeds the soul. It’s for those reasons that I wanted to turn my learning back to art, because it’s a pure joy and you never stop learning.

With that in mind, I’ve been practicing on my Wacom tablet over the last few months, though not as much as I’d like to because of work and travelling to and from my partner’s house. I’ve been proud of my progress and I believe I am defining my own style. Youtube has been a massive help, as well as Instagram – it’s so inspiring to see the amazing artists out there, and what’s more is that they’re all more than happy to share their techniques and tips. I seem to enjoy drawing portraits of women the most, and my style is a kind of two-tone comic book style – I did develop this a little in my teen years, but I had such limited knowledge, tools, and access to support that it just fell away. Back then, Deviantart was an amazing resource, but it was the *only* resource. Youtube wasn’t nearly as full of self-made content as it is now, and Instagram didn’t exist. Today, tutorials are so much more accessible than they were back then, and you can get them for free.

One thing I’ve gotten much better at recently is drawing bodies, hands, and feet. My style used to be chibi/caricature (massive heads, small bodies), which is a style I loved years ago, but it probably reflected the fact that I preferred to draw heads. Bodies were much harder, and I wasn’t used to drawing them on a bigger scale. What I’ve learned to do is sketch with a digital ‘2b pencil’ and draw a figure much like a wooden art model (the kind with the ball joints that you can bend and manipulate), and use a photo of a model in the pose I liked. I could then draw a clunky model from the photo and then compose my art on top of the model I created. Neat, hm?

So, I finally felt ‘good enough’ to do an art challenge! I drew myself as a devil because I’d recently watched Keanu Reeves’ Constantine (a favourite from my teens), and also because I’m reading Hellblazer: Original Sins (John Constantine), so I’m all about demons and the occult. I also watched the Netflix documentary, ‘Hail Satan?’, which was really interesting, so this all combined to put me in a devlish mood. I was inspired by someone who posted their ‘draw yourself like a villain’ challenge in a Facebook group, and I just had to take part. I hope you like it; I’m very proud of it!


Other news

I’m back in the office full-time now, which is great, but the floor’s all taped up to keep us 2m apart, and we have to santize and spray every surface after using it. It’s not so bad; it’s just different, like everything right now.

Best news of all: we finally got our mortgage approved! My lovely boyfriend and his adorable kitten are moving across the country to be with me in our gorgeous new house. I honestly never thought I’d see the day that I’d be really happy, but here we are, starting our lives together. It’s mad how fast things can change over the course of a couple of years. There’s talks of marriage and babies, but for now we just want to get into our new house and make it ours. There will be pictures – oh yes, there will be pictures!

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

Lockdown, working, house move, Ipad Pro!

Black Modern Goth Girl
Copyright Ashleigh Condon 2020

Hi folks.

I hope you’re keeping well. My god, has it been that long since I last wrote anything on this blog of mine?! Well, I’ve been up to lots – but also up to nothing. It’s a weird one.

Writing & Illustration
One thing I have been doing is practising my drawing a lot on my beautiful Wacom Tablet. In fact I’ve become so smitten with digital art that I’ve actually decided to buy a brand new iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil after our house move. I desperately wanted to buy it right now, but I’m conscious that we may have some unexpected bills or costs that we didn’t factor into our calculations when we move house. So, being a good little budding-artist, I’ve decided the ipad pro will be a little gift to myself once we’ve settled in.
One thing I very much regret is giving up on my art – well, given up on taking it seriously, anyway. I chose writing, which has been great and I’ve ended up in a job I love (after years of side-moves and dead-ends of course), but becoming an actual author was always my big pipe dream. Frankly, that just doesn’t look likely – it seems to me that if you’re not famous, or if you’re not connected or already deep into self-promotion (and successful at it), then you’re not likely to get plucked from the ether. Even then, publishing looks like a difficult world for an author to survive in. I do worry for the future of publishing – where are all the working class writers, making it big, without any other sellable attributes? Where’s the pure talent? Where’s the diversity? I’m not seeing it – I’m only seeing good old-fashioned mass-marketing. Call me cynical, but maybe that’s all it ever was?

Anyway, my other love was always art in all its forms, and I’m determined to ignite this again. I’ve even considered doing a Masters in illustration, but I’m not sure I’d have the time, even distance-learning. Still, I’m considering it.

Black Goth Lazy Days
Copyright Ashleigh Condon 2020

Getting back to literature: one genre that I’m glad to see still thriving is the medical memoirs sector. Sue Black has written another memoir due out in September called “Written in Bone”,which I was soooo excited to see. If her first book “All that Remains” is anything to go by, this will be a thrilling read and another creepy-yet-oddly-touching glimpse into the life of a forensic anthropologist. Do go and read “All That Remains” by Sue Black – you will leave those pages feeling educated, intrigued, and a little spooked.

I was thrilled to see that These Are the Hands anthology has so far raised over £11,000 for NHS Charities Together! There was talk of some animated films – I’d love to see one of mine made into an animated film. I’ve yet to fill in the consent forms!

Lockdown

One thing I have become aware of during lockdown is that I’m suffering from general anxiety. I contacted my doctor requesting a sleep study, because sleep apnoea runs in my family and I’d been symptomatic – or at least, I’d thought I was, and after asking a few questions of my family members, they suggested I’d best get it looked at. For months and months I’ve been having intrusive thoughts (usually fears surrounding my family and their wellbeing), and I’ve been waking up in the morning with my heart beating rapidly and completely consumed by fear, or a sense of doom. It’s a horrible feeling and it takes me hours to calm down from it completely – some days, it doesn’t seem to go completely. I described this to my doctor and wondered if perhaps I was choking in my sleep, or stopping breathing. However, she said that this did not resemble sleep apnoea, but rather anxiety. I’m not surprised – Up until 2019, I’d had a traumatic few years and I’d weaned myself off medication successfully. It stands to reason that my traumatic experiences left an imprint, and that imprint – as is so often the case – was anxiety.
Working during lockdown has been going okay, although I miss the security of the office and the feeling of leaving my work behind at the end of the day. We’re slowly working towards a full return to the office on a phased basis, trying for one day a week, then two, then three, etc. My problem is public transport, as I’m still not driving – I don’t much fancy sitting on a bus for an hour in a face mask. Actually, that brings me to my next update!

House move

We’ve fallen in love with a gorgeous house right near my workplace. After a slight snag with a buyer pulling out, we managed to find another one – and with the stamp duty being taken away, that’s freed up loads more money for us to decorate, which is fantastic. I feel very sorry for those hoping for a 10% mortgage, though – they are the ones who will not benefit from the halting of the stamp duty, because they can’t get a mortgage lower than a 25% deposit in the first place. This is the very reason our first buyer pulled out. So essentially, first-time-buyers are still being screwed over, despite having between 30-50k to put down as a deposit! That’s a stonking amount of money.

Alas, apparently, this still isn’t enough, and now they’ll have to wait years to be in a position to buy again. It isn’t fair at all. The only reason I’m able to move is because my partner bought his first house young – it gained value, and when he bought a new home, that one gained value too. Buying young is unfortunately always the answer, and yet it’s difficult for most when they’re just starting out. I’ve been putting away £1,000 a month for over a year to save my contribution – I was only able to do this because I live with my family and pay them a modest housekeeping. The rest of my money goes on travel and general living/work costs. If I was renting, I’d only be saving about a quarter of that if I was lucky.

Type O Girl
Copyright Ashleigh Condon 2020

Anyway, that’s my little update. Keep safe, keep well, and keep on keeping-on. It’s all any of us can do right now.

Best wishes,
Ashleigh

Drawing on my Wacom Tablet

A screenshot of Razor attempt #1

Good day to you!

This is just a quick blog to show off what I’ve been getting up to lately, aside from working at home.

My boyfriend bought me a beautiful Wacom tablet for my birthday and I’ve been getting to know it recently. I’ve never spent out on a Wacom tablet before (or any digital art tools, frankly) because I’ve always told myself that I’m simply not good enough to justify the cost, as these things can be pretty expensive. However, what I failed to remember is that you can’t get any better if you never practice! Plus, a good painting package (I have Paintshop Pro but I actually use Corel Painter) allows you to practice any number of styles – actually, mostly anything you can think of. The brushes and styles allow you to make anything from Manga to watercolours to oil paintings – they look stonkingly good.

Anyway, years ago (and I mean years – I think I was about 17 the last time I tried digital art) I used to have a sort of cartoony comic-book style, and clearly that hasn’t gone away. After a few scribbles and test-runs drawing smaller doodles, just getting used to using the tablet and pen, I finally gave a proper character portrait a go.

Above is my first attempt – I was very proud of it, but naturally, once it’s completed, you start seeing all the faults with it. I felt my lines were too stiff and my colouring is pretty pants, and I wished I’d made the character a little “punkier” or true to her original. I love retro games, and one of my favourite games as a child was one by Lucas Arts called Maniac Mansion – my friend Jenny and I used to play it round her house. Those were amazing times; so much fun to be had, just being a kid. I remember making silly recordings on her tape recorder (we were being Jesse and James from Pokémon – her mum was hoping we were recording her a sweet song) and after that we piled up the living room cushions and pretended to be Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. Jenny, if you’re out there, I had great memories with you.

Below is my second attempt – she looks a lot more true to character, with the correct outfit for a start, and a punky haircut in multiple lengths. Her pose is a lot sexier too – Razor is supposed to be the front-woman of a punk band called Razor and the Scummetts (god I love Lucas Arts).

Below is a screenshot of the final second attempt at Razor. I was a lot looser with my drawings and just felt more at ease overall, so I was able to have a lot more fun with her. I think it shows!

I’ll show you more as my skills progress – I’d long forgotten how much I love to draw characters

Until next time!

Best wishes,
Ashleigh x

Screenshot of Razor 2, my second attempt

RazorOriginal
The original Razor from the game – such a tuna head.

Chapbooks, Poetry and Pen-Pals

Pages of my letters to my new pen-pal!

Welcome back to my blog!

My god, do you realise we’ve been on this lock-down for several months now? Since March? I cannot believe it myself – have I really been working at home for that long?
Yesterday I got to see one of my colleagues (and friends!) for the first time in all that time, and we just picked up where we left off. I complained to her about my problems and she sat at her desk laughing it off with me and offering sage advice. I’ve missed that a lot. We were 2 metres apart of course – the office is taped up and desks moved to force us to keep apart, even if we’re just popping in.

On the house-moving front, we hit a predictable snag – our buyers had to pull out. I was prepared for this, so I didn’t get upset – I’ve been remarkably and uncharacteristically good lately at not exploding into tears when inevitable bad things happen. I don’t know if my personal traumas have toughened me up or if it just comes with age. Perhaps they’re the same thing?

Pen-pals

Anyway, one lovely development is that in one of the groups I frequent on Facebook (Cottagegoth – I know, it’s perfect. A mixture of all things Cottagey, gothy, and witchy – Imagine if Stevie Nicks and Andrew Eldritch had a baby. We’re an eclectic bunch!) a thread was created for those who wanted a pen-pal! Now, I’ve always longed for someone to write to and never actually went about getting a pen-pal. Luckily, this group is full of like-minded people who all love the idea of sending actual, physical letters to one another, just like in the Bronté days. My pen-pal lives on a farm in Texas! How cool is that? I can’t compare to that excitement, but hopefully she’ll enjoy hearing from a tea-loving-English-girl who lives in a rickety old seaside town. I’ve written my first letter and included a photo of me, plus a few links to my blog and insta (though I’m not much of a poser – you should see the astonishingly beautiful photoshoots people do of themselves now-days. Actually, I’m sure you have). I’m hoping to include a postcard of Southend-on-Sea too, so she can get an idea of where I am and what it’s like, of course.

Writing

On the writing-front, I’ve actually got two novels on submission! One is a completed children’s novel, which I’ve only sent to 5 agents so far and will be sending to others, and the other is a romantic gothic YA – only the first 16,000 words. The latter is actually for a mentorship programme run by a literary agency in the UK, offering representation to an author they see great promise in, but who needs a little help guiding their book along. As I had a finished book and a work in progress, I decided I had nothing to lose in submitting my plans and chapters of the work in progress. Of course, as always, I don’t expect to get anywhere – but I’m giving myself a fair chance by trying anyway.

In the meantime, I’ve taken a break from novels and been working on some poetry. Did you know that poetry doesn’t sell to agents? Well, yes, of course you did – but that’s because poetry is meant for sharing, and it’s hard to sell poetry books to a publisher. Only the biggest and best poets get their works published with the ‘Big Five’ and that’s because they’re so renowned. This isn’t including the new wave of “Insta poets”, of course – these are people who had an enormous platform and they did make whopping amounts of money off their poetry and got on the NYT bestsellers lists. That’s rare of course – most average poets, even moderately successful ones, don’t see their work make particular bank – not in and of itself, anyway. People who have press appeal and become famous can of course sell anything, and there are some very famous modern poets like John Cooper-Clarke, Simon Armitage, Jackie Kay, etc. Some of the world’s most beloved historical writers and artists (in fact most of them actually) were not rich or famous while alive. It’s just that their work lasted longer than they did.

Anyway, because of the fact that new poetry rarely sells to the big agents and publishers, one thing a lot of poets do is create chapbooks as a way of sharing at poetry readings or even selling their work. Chapbooks tend to be no more than 20-30 pages and are self-published and usually self-printed and bound, which makes them wonderful little oddities and works of limited-edition art. Chapbooks are usually confined to a small print-run, which is hand-numbered, to make them extra special. I think that’s a beautiful way to get to know someone, certainly – to buy or receive a small collection of their poems, all printed and bound by their own hands.

So, naturally, I want to make one of my own! I decided to work on poems about my journey through diagnosis, surgery, and my time in hospital, encapsulating those thoughts and feelings into a small chapbook. I’m still working on it now, but I plan to illustrate, format and print it myself. The lovely thing about chapbooks is you can use creative licence; they are what you make them, and they are a little piece of you. So far my chapbook has about 14 poems and is under the working title “We Found a Shadow“. I can’t decide whether the subtitle should be ‘Poems from a hospital bed’ or ‘Poems about my tumour’, though both are totally accurate.

Chapbooks!

Look at these gorgeous cover illustrations!

Naturally, research means I need to buy a load of chapbooks! These are all from Analog Submission Press, whom I discovered on Instagram. They publish small, limited runs of beautiful chapbooks from all sorts of poets, and each can be purchased for the humble price of £4.00.

How can you say no to that? A piece of art that you can enjoy and read over and over for just £4.00!

I had a look through their collection like a kid in a candy shop and settled on the four above, having only their beautiful covers to go by. I’ve read three of them so far, and I’m really impressed. Chapbooks are less about writing technically-clever or technically-masterful-arty-farty-poems of the kind you often find in literary presses, but more about conveying a sense of the writer themselves. It’s one “hot stink” of the writer, as Ted Hughes would put it (The Thought Fox).

Chapbook poetry collections are supposed to tell a story or convey a particular time, emotion, or thing the author was distracted with at the time of writing – they should be poems on a theme, even if that theme is the poet themselves. They shouldn’t be a random assortment of the poet’s favourite pieces. Some of the poems amongst this lot are fantastic, funny – and some of course are hit and miss – but they build up parts of an overall tapestry. I definitely do have a feel for the poets in ways you couldn’t create in a Twitter feed or a Facebook post. I’ve got a little piece of them and best of all, it’s from a limited run! I find that very exciting.

I enjoyed these poems on the final page of Little Irritants by Darcy Isla.

Do you collect chapbooks? Ever made one of your own? I’d be very interested to hear from you, so get in touch.

That’s me for now folks – see you next week!

Best wishes,
Ashleigh