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.

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.

Wall/Flower - a group poem for National Poetry Day

I thought it would be a great idea if we could celebrate UK's National Poetry Day together so emailed some of my favourite poets and asked them if they would like to take part in a group poem. The guidelines were as follows and we emailed back and forth throughout the day coming up with the lovely poem 'Wall/Flower" below.

1. You can post as many or as little times as you like but to ensure that everyone gets a go ONLY POST TWO LINES AT A TIME

2. Once you have added to the the poem allow a couple of other people (at least) to add to the poem before you post again.

The poets who took part were: Katrina Naomi, Heather Taylor, Nev'l Lewis, Paul Ross, Miriam Nash, Kamaria Muntu, Sean Thomas Dougherty, Jacqueline Saphra, Mahogany L. Browne, Nena Black, Sabrina Mahfouz, Warsan Shire, Den Rele and Naomi Woddis


Should I tell you that I'd reached for you, reached for your city, punched through that stupid wall.

Or should I curl my hand in to an embryo, a sleeping bud yearning for the light ?

A faint bulb beats in me I cast its flame as wide as I can, a fishing rod.

A sea that pulsed once with shoals of silver is viscous now. The bait waits on the hook,

a streak flashing across the murky Thames swallowed in the morning gloom,

I had wanted to call you, I held the empty phone to my ear as they fished the suited woman out of the river,

I was left with the echoes of my breath your warm voice nowhere near my heart.

And then the distance begins, the sky slate, and the chalk dust of our hands.

Scanned ticket prices, hotel deals are reminders Of days before highway exit signs claimed you

a lazy wave laps at the mucky shore, reaches towards the blank silent bank walls

On a lay-by, I see weeds growing through cracked tarmac, their gaudy flowers shimmering like jewels

I tear at their string bodies, pulverize buds under nails. My fingers are wet with their slush.

a reminder that I am enamoured by the slick glimmer of chance, where carnations bloom in your mouth

But I have only descended in body, decaying now upon the shore And my soul now waits beside you, just out of reach for you to see

Can you catch me, I'm the wisp that covers the moon it's silvering eye freezing you with my glare.

call me dear moon, as our footprints stretch across the sky and i scratch your name into the clouds,

That I am now in white moon of cul de sac A house spun away from it's rooms

a spine for your welcome mouth, a hollow doorway anticipating your wretched smile. breath me like water

For I was the energy of the bird in flite and before that The sunflower propped up against a old Roman Wall

And now I am the vastness of poppies and plains wide open like a hungry woman's legs

Moving forward, forever forward till the climax of my soul

clings back and decides that this is all too much a touch, just a touch, is enough

yet held -- motionless, suspended -- with all the impetus of the four winds, sans the sun that moves them

Your light so bright, it worms my soul But the veil I stand behind, God I can not let go

Take just that one step to stand with me my love So we can walk within the puddles of eternity

All I wanted was a conch But you've stolen the sound of the sea.

I think about her again, drowned amongst weeds, the siren call she did not hear.

her face pale mottled like sharkskin her perfect ears wet and glistening like seashells

With her face calm, eyes closed, at peace now As the rope around her neck gently moves in the tides breath

you pick up, a coarse hello, my tongue knots itself among molars the lover beside you coughs, pulls you closer, i swallow your dial tone.

I am drowning, falling in to the moss green water your voice is the hand to save me, I grab your finger tips.

And swallow. My ribs aching with a kick, The sight of you my lift from blindness to light

4 ever more you were more than your my soul, my light & my dark. You were the air that I breathed,

the song in my head, the dance in my feet.