Archives for the month of: September, 2016

I woke up this morning cursing Sir Cliff Richard. Again. It’s the fifth morning in a row I’ve woken up with his 1961 song Theme for a Dream in my head.

At Tuesday evening’s Poetry with Friends session, one of the gang, The Legendary Ken Creen mentioned Sir Cliff’s 55 year old song and it started the ludicrously catchy tune playing in my head. I’d heard Theme for a Dream for the very first time earlier that day. Now I can’t get the rotten song out of my head. Thanks, Ken.

stevie smith

The Poetry with Friends session was fun, uplifting and filled with reassuringly bad behaviour. We’re old enough to know better but we don’t care. We managed to share some poems by Stevie Smith, Julia Darling, Ted Hughes, Ruth Pitter, Philip Larkin and Maureen Oliphant’s fantastic Mrs O’Malley from her Irish Poems pamphlet. Several of us read our own work too.


Poetry with Friends is run by Happy Planet Creative Arts CIC. Our new shop opened on Friday on Ilfracombe Gardens in Whitley Bay. It’s open every day apart from Mondays. I’ll be running creative writing workshops there in October, November and December. Please come and visit!



Just back from The 2016 York National Book Fair which was held at the city’s racecourse. It’s the largest out of print and antiquarian book fair in the UK with dealers from around Britain, Europe and North America exhibiting their stock.

I picked up an impressive catalogue produced by one of the American dealers and it fell open at a double page devoted to an association copy of The King’s Henchman by Edna St Vincent Millay. The association? Why the book originally belonged to Aurelia Schober who late married Otto Plath and gave birth to daughter Sylvia. Yes, that Sylvia.

The book bears both Aurelia and Sylvia’s names, Sylvia’s “ex-libris” book plate and annotations by Aurelia after her daughter’s death. The bookseller’s catalogue description is well-written and the book’s price tag nudges close to ten thousand dollars.


Sylvia Plath has left an emotional as well as a literary legacy and as a result any book, letter or manuscript is seen as desirable by collectors. I’d argue that Aurelia helped to generate the market in her daughter’s work by editing and publishing Sylvia’s letters to her back in the 1970s.

Plath was an early influence on my work and I treasure a pristine first edition copy of Ariel I was given by the late great bookseller Nigel Williams when I worked for him in his central London bookshop back in the mid 1990s.

The young Sylvia longed for recognition as a writer and in the early days of her relationship with Ted Hughes, she described them as working together as a creative team. She wrote to her mother from Cambridge in 1956:

” We want to work and work. Success will never spoil either of us. We are not dependent on the social arty world but scorn it, for those who are drinking and calling themselves ‘writers’ at parties should be home writing and writing. Every day one has to earn the name of ‘writer’ over and over again with much wrestling…”

These 60 year old words are true and I have them typed and displayed in my office. I know the meaning of “much wrestling” and that is why I offer monthly creative writing workshops and one to one mentoring. I want to help folk with their creative wrestling.  I hope this is another example of Plath’s legacy


A friend sent me an email recently with the line “are you running out of fingers yet?!” My chum was referring to all the creative projects I’m involved in. I think he was alluding to the “fingers in pies” concept.

One of my creative pies is the Newcastle Photography Festival. Actually, it’s not “my” pie. It’s not my idea or my “creative baby.” All I do is assist Paul Cordes with his vision of inspiring and educating folk with photography in all its forms from 19th century techniques to 21st century digital images.


The inaugural Newcastle Photography Festival took place in autumn 2014 and was funded almost entirely by Paul, with a little bit of  help from the RSA

The festival was well-received so we decided to stage another one this autumn from 17th to the 22nd of October. The brochure is being printed as I type but there are workshops, talks, events, music and more. Keep watching the website for details of the programme

I launched a fundraising campaign to help cover our modest costs.  You can find out more at


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