Inspirations for The Two of Us, my monthly radio show

Some years ago I had my very first radio show ‘The Conversational’ on Reel Rebels Radio. I became ill in 2011 with Lyme Disease and the unrelenting fatigue meant that I could no longer continue with the monthly show.  A great deal has happened in the years since. I’m still unwell but I’ve become more accustomed to it. It would be a lie to say that I’ve either learnt the fine (and impossible) art of pacing or that I’ve reached a state of acceptance.

Two things have made a massive difference to my day to day living. Firstly I’ve plucked up the courage to call myself an artist and not wince when I say it. And secondly I’ve discovered podcasts. These two statements are connected. I can’t say for sure whether my artistic ability has improved, although I’m confident in saying it hasn’t got any worse. However my relationship to my work has shifted. I’m more interested in personal story than ever and more recently (the one I love and bed) have found ways to integrate my photography, writing and interview, for example Whoever Was Using This Bed .

Being ill for such a long time has intensified my contemplative nature. My love of podcasts has a direct link to my social isolation. On better days I go for what I call a local ‘photo potter’ a camera in hand, headphones hon listening to On Being,Made of Human, Invisbilia or whatever I've carefully downloaded and curated before I began my walk. Story telling and story listening (whether in words or images) have become an integral part of my life in the last 7 years. Chronic illness brings with it a number of emotional hurdles. Lyme has gifted me with high end anxiety as a near constant companion. I first experienced depression after my parents divorced when I was 11 and it’s been a part of my life ever since. Luckily the treatments I’m having seem to keep it under control, that is until I have a flare and I can spend months housebound and often to bed.

Even though I live with depression and anxiety I believe I have a great capacity for joy. One of my greatest pleasures is found in human connection and satisfying my endlessly inquisitive nature. I never know quite where I get my ideas from. It rarely feels like I’ve made something up myself and more that it plonks itself at my feet and I’d be a fool to ignore it. As my love for podcasts began to develop I knew that I had a real craving to do another radio show. I just wasn’t sure what. I was clear about one thing - unlike my other show where I had two or three guests a show - now I wanted to explore the long form interview and have just one guest.

Two of my favourite, albeit somewhat gruelling, podcasts are Terrible, Thanks for Asking and The Hilarious World of Depression. The latter began as interviews with stand up comedians but has now expanded to other performers. Inspired by both of these shows I decided to talk to writers and from all disciplines about their experience and the result was The Two of Us, aired on Reel Rebels Radio.

Writing is home for me. I think you’ll find the writers here, Joelle Taylor Miriam Nash and S K Perry incredibly articulate and generous about their own mental health journeys. I decided to focus on both mental health AND emotional well being as I believe it’s like the flickering of a candle flame and most of us move from one to the other and back again throughout our lives.

I’m also interested in lived experience and intersectionality. Mental health doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it cannot. I wanted to create my own mini mental health awareness campaign and to include exuberance, survival and complexity. The three guests that have appeared so far have been fearless in their honesty and shared breathtaking work.

Happy Birthday 'The Conversational' on Reel Rebels Radio

Happy Birthday 'The Conversational' - a year old today on National Poetry Day! You can catch up on the archives here

Here's some of the wonderful guests who have appeared on the show:

Raymond Antrobus, Dzifa Benson, Matthew Caley , Nathan Penlington, Zena Edwards, Tim Wells, Salena Godden, Ash Sarkar , Inua Ellams, Francesca Beard, Tshaka Campbell, Jacob Sam-La Rose, Rob Story, Dan Cockrill, Richard Tyrone Jones, Joelle Taylor, Anthony Anaxagorou, Nick Field, Dorothea Smartt, Polarbear, Vanessa Kisuule, Karen McCarthyWoolf, Jacqueline Saphra, Courttia Newland, Aoife Mannix, Niall O'Sullivan, Kayo Chingonyi, Comfort Onit Cydelle, Gemma Weekes, Thabanittbone Nyoni, Aisling Fahey, Nadia Khomami, and Zionite Poet !

Listen to today's 'The Conversational' National Poetry Day Special at 7pm with star guests - Malika Booker, Anthony Joseph and Yemisi Blake.

Food for Thought - Writing with Letters

This is the first in an occasional series where I'll be looking at the work of writers, performers and artists I admire. This week it's esteemed poet Karen McCarthy Woolf whose upcoming workshop, 'Inside Art, Writing with Letters' will give experienced and less experienced writers a chance to explore how letter writing can contribute to the creative process. You can hear some of her work on a recent edition of my radio show 'The Conversational'.

Karen has been working with fellow poet Miriam Nash in a creative correspondence. I asked Karen a little about letter writing and what promises to be a very rewarding workshop. What is it about letter writing that is so freeing and expressive for the creative process ?

Writing a letter is inherently intimate and also direct. A letter is about something and addressed to a person. Letters also meander, often quite beautifully. The form seems to prompt people to talk in detail about their surroundings, their emotions, opinions, hopes and desires. I think this happens because letters are like conversations, but they happen over long periods of time. One of the joys of a letter is you get to have your say without interruption! Unlike email, or even text these days, you can't see a trail, and most importantly you have to wait. When you work with letter writing creatively, that waiting, and the letting go of the content as you send something off with no copies, can feel quite liberating.

How did the idea for this workshop come about ?

Miriam sent me an email about some 'snail mail' letter writing workshops she was running and I was immediately drawn to the idea. At the time I was recovering from a traumatic bereavement, and could barely go online. I received many cards and letters from people and I was deeply touched and also inspired by their content. I was also fascinated by the idea that people tend to send a physical object - a letter, card or flowers at these times. So I emailed Miriam with a note and invited her to collaborate with me in a creative correspondence on my blog (which was a commission from Spread the Word), which explores what happens when we share our creative process online. Our correspondence soon became one of the most important elements in my writing practice and Miriam and I have become dear friends. We send each other notes, poems, freewrites, drawings (mainly Miriam's, it's not my strongest suit) and lots of little presents and objects. The other day I sent Miriam a little packet of saffron from Spain. She has sent me sachets of sugar she collected from cafes in Geneva. We both wrote poems about our grandfathers. We also talk about our preoccupations as writers and it has been a very useful process in terms of identifying ongoing themes and concerns in my work. One of my letter poems, 'Wing', was recently published in Poetry Review and the poem only really 'found itself' once it was in the letter form. What can participants expect to get from the workshop ?

I can't promise people will write poems that get published in Poetry Review (!) but I do think that the workshops will be a rich creative springboard that will help writers of all genres develop their voice and to write pieces that are more intimate and authentic in tone. I hope that over the course of the workshops we will kickstart lots of new drafts or ideas for new poems, stories or creative collaborations. We will be corresponding with a group of writers from Singapore who are attending Miriam's mirror workshop. So we will send and receive letters to and from strangers overseas and there will be an opportunity to showcase some of our work on Open Notebooks. I am very excited about the opportunity to introduce letter writing as a creative practice and explore it a little as a form.

All That's Good

Perhaps you have over-indulged a little over the holidays or you are enjoying some well deserved chill out time, whatever you do why not feed yourself with all that's good for the soul and listen to 'The Conversational' on Reel Rebels Radio for those who love words in all their guises, presented by Jude Cowan and myself.

December's show features the wonderful Inua Ellams, Francesca Beard and Tim Wells, in DJ guise, playing some of his favourite tunes - Wednesday December 29th at 730pm.

You can hear it here



A Bottle of Port

Jude and I had a great time recording November's 'The Conversational' on Reel Rebels Radio.

You can catch Tim Wells, Salena Godden and Ash Sakar performing their poetry and sharing some interesting insights about their work on Tuesday 30th November at 730pm on Reel Rebels Radio.

The lovely Salena arrived with a bottle of Port and it was laughter and joy from there on in. Hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

For those who love words

I have always loved radio and over the past year I have been lucky enough to be invited to appear on quite a few different stations. In a moment of crazed enthusiasm I put a Facebook status up that I would really like my own radio show. Jude Cowan replied and now we are both co-hosts of a new radio program 'The Conversational' and friends too. I could not have wished for more.

Reel Rebels Radio is a popular and really special community radio station based just down the road from me in Stoke Newington. Jude and I decided that we wanted to present a radio show that celebrated words, written, performed and sung and were really excited when Reel Rebels Radio said yes to our idea.

You can listen to our first show, presented on National Poetry Day here. The show has a great line-up and features: Raymond Antrobus, Dzifa Benson, Matthew Caley, Zena Edwards, Nathan Penlington,and the Desperado Housewives.

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