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

Isolation Projects During Lockdown

Happy Wednesday in isolation!

I hope you aren’t fretting too much. It’s difficult not to. The BBC News will be the death of me, if anything – the constant death toll updates and news of famous musicians passing at scarily young ages makes me genuinely terrified for my parents; my dad in particular, who has asthma.

Of course, I’m supposed to be in St Bart’s hospital today having interventional radiology to attempt to fix a problem with my right kidney and some of the veins feeding into it. At the time of writing, I’m still scheduled to have the op – but I don’t much fancy going into a hospital which could be (for all I know) riddled with covid-19. I am tempted to cancel it myself, but equally, I may not get this opportunity for another year if I do. It’s a difficult call to make, especially when they seem to be happy for me to continue to have the procedure.

In the meantime, I’ve just returned from Bristol (I was there when the lockdown happened) after a lovely week working at home with my partner. I’m now at home with my family, awaiting my operation – and tomorrow is my mum’s birthday, which will include whatever I could buy at Asda, of all places! (Of course, shopping 2 metres apart). Are birthday cakes essential? I would say yes.

Projects

I’ve been keeping busy with my own creative projects. Some of these opportunities are personal, and others have passed (such as These Are the Hands and Interconnected for example), but the Dickens one may be of interest to you if you enjoy character-building, and the deadline is not until June.

These Are the Hands

I received 3 x copies of the extremely important NHS poetry anthology, These are the Hands, which feature 2 of my poems. The launches and events associated with this beautiful piece of work celebrating NHS workers (which could not be more poignant now) had to be cancelled because of the virus, but we can still do a lot of sharing online. The proceeds were all going to NHS Charities Together, but I’ve since seen that the proceeds will be going directly towards the fight against Covid-19.

That means that by purchasing a copy or pre-ordering (the stock ran out already!) from the new stocks, you will be directly donating towards the fight against Covid-19. The poetry is just an amazing bonus, once again showcasing the power and the drive of our NHS workers on the frontlines.

It’s a beautiful anthology, truly, and some of the poems (from cleaners to surgeons, from admins to speach and language therapists) brought tears to my eyes. Actually, a lot of them did.

Buy a copy here and donate to the fight against Covid-19.

Children’s novel

I’m in the early stages of writing a children’s novel! Recently I’ve reignited my passion for children’s books and I’ve been reading some amazing classics, with many more still to go. It’s been a long time since I wrote novels and I can’t say I ever saw any success with them years ago, but it feels like the time is right to explore the ideas I’ve had bubbling away.

Naturally I can’t say much about it (I’m only on chapter 6!) but it is based a little on children I’ve read about (both fiction and non-fiction) and from my own experiences. The story centres around a friendship between two little girls at Great Ormond Street Hospital. The themes include death, happiness, friendship, and the fear of moving on after illness. How do children deal with these difficult aspects of their childhood, when they should only have to care about playtime?

Throughout this crisis, I have been thinking about the kids on long-term stays in hospital. What’s the world like for them? Did they have to take extra-precautions on the wards, or are they so ill ordinarily that this is just another Tuesday to them?

Interconnected – BBC Writers Room

I sat down and drafted something that I haven’t even attempted since University about 9 or 10 years ago (and it’s frightening that it’s been that long): I wrote a short screenplay!

I saw an advert from the BBC Writers Room inviting writers to come up with a 10 minute long short film about connecting with others across digital platforms during a lockdown. This could be set in the present or in the future and could include only a couple of characters. You can see the call here, although the deadline has passed: https://www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom/opportunities/interconnected

My story was about a little girl bringing her dysfunctional (and shut-in) family together by watching her neighbour’s live video demonstration of pancake-making.

I’m not entirely sure I got the brief right, but I had fun regardless and I love submitting things for consideration. I never thought I’d get into the NHS anthology, but I chanced my arm and I got in – with not just one but two poems. It shows you should always give things a go, if for nothing but the experience – you never know where it might lead.

Could Self-Isolation Find the Dickens in You?

This is an exciting opportunity to submit a 300-word character description in the style of Charles Dickens! The prize is a “certificate” (of what I’m not sure) and a professional cartoonist interpretation of your character. I’ll be coming up with something to submit for this because it just sounds too exciting to pass up, and I am a fan of Charles Dickens. In fact, I only recently finished reading Oliver Twist, which was absolutely thrilling.

If you fancy writing a bit of a Dickensian character profile, then you can find out more about the competition here.

I hope the above gives you some opportunity for escapism, or inspires you to get writing. After all, you only need your laptop or a notebook and pen and you’re away. Writing is the most inexpensive hobby I can think of, actually – no wonder some of the poorest people in this world went on to become our greatest writers, and continue to do so today.

Mug design

I’ve been playing around with graphic design and more specifically cute mug designs as a hobby lately. Mostly just for myself, but hey – you never know where these things lead! My latest creation is a ‘darkwave microwave’, because I love me some cheese. I’ve also been working on a cute bat design and even a Marc Almond design, just ’cause why not? I’m very happy with how my darkwave microwave turned out – have a look for yourself!


Please stay safe, stay healthy, and stay indoors.

Best wishes,
Ashleigh