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OUT MONDAY: The Lightman System

WRECKING BALL PRESS publish the debut novel from Roger Hyams – The Lightman System – on June 27, 2022.

It is 1974. Teenage siblings Ellie and Colin are on holiday when they fall for the same girl. From this strange meeting onward, Ellie’s musical talent takes her to new heights, Colin finds his own fascination in photography, and both seem set for fulfilment – until catastrophe overtakes Ellie and changes the shape of the whole family.

Years later, brother and sister must battle to understand what has befallen them.

The Lightman System will speak directly to those who have had similar experiences to Ellie and Colin, either as the sufferer of mental storms or those close to them.

But author Roger Hyams adds: “I think the last couple of years has laid bare the fact that this is not an exclusive group. So there’s something here for everyone who has had difficulties with their mental health, everyone who’s known someone who has, and anyone who’s interested in the way minds try to deal with the unmanageable.”

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Roger Hyams

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Roger Hyams

Wrecking Ball Press publish the debut novel from Roger Hyams – The Lightman Systemon June 27, 2022.
 
Roger Hyams was an actor for twelve years, appearing with the RSC, the English Touring Theatre and the Oxford Stage Company, Birmingham Repertory and the Traverse. He started working at the BBC as a script-reader, then a script editor, and after a couple of years as Head of Drama Development at Talkback Productions, began to work freelance. Along with his script consultancy he is a screenwriter, a filmmaker and a Visiting Lecturer at the London Film School and Central Saint Martins. He has written the book and lyrics for two musicals, co-directed two baroque operas and coached opera singers on performance. The Lightman System is his first novel, and he’s writing another.
 
We caught up with Roger to find out more about the novel and his writing.
 
Describe The Lightman System in a sentence?
A brother and sister struggle to come to terms with the fallout of her psychotic breakdown.
 
What prompted you to write The Lightman System?
It has roots in my own family’s experience. It’s fair to say that there was a need for catharsis, but that had to come from inquiry. There are mysteries that are unlikely ever to be solved, but the attempt is the point.
 
Who is the book for?
It will speak directly to those who have had similar experiences, either as the sufferer of mental storms or those close to them. But I think the last couple of years has laid bare the fact that this is not an exclusive group. So there’s something here for everyone who has had difficulties with their mental health, everyone who’s known someone who has, and anyone who’s interested in the way minds try to deal with the unmanageable.
 
What experience do you want your readers to have?
It’s a cliché to say I want them to laugh and cry, but it’s true. This is a tough story, but a human one: there’s no intention to create misery, just to portray it. I also want them to come away from the book feeling that their understanding of mental states, from the extreme to the apparently-normal, has expanded.
 
What is the importance of place to you as a writer?
Very important. A lot of my writing comes out of places; their special atmospheres, their existence outside human presence, especially those that are built entirely by humans. I’ve made several short films that explore this in one way or another. In The Lightman System, there’s particular attention to the magic and disturbance of places; from the texture of the Lake District to the temperature and light inside a psychiatric unit.
 
Music, and a cello, are constants in the book – what’s the importance of this?
For a musician like my character Ellie, her instrument is a way of both showing her skill and expressing her inner life. When psychological and neurological damage make it increasingly hard for her to handle the instrument, those vital outlets are choked. So the cello, which also has a humanoid shape and an exquisite sound, becomes a repeated motif in the book. Apart from gathering dust, the instrument stays pretty much the same throughout decades; yet the characters, over the same span, change in quite extreme ways. Music is a life-force for Colin, too; it speaks to him rather than through him, but it reflects and provides an outlet for his emotional life. It’s notoriously difficult to write about music, so I’ve had to confront that in successive drafts.
 
How would you describe yourself?
I write scripts and prose (and sometimes lyrics) and make films; I’m also a freelance script editor, and a visiting lecturer at the London Film School and Central St Martin’s. I used to be an actor, I’ve worked as a director in Baroque Opera, I’ve written the book and lyrics for two musicals and a short story for BBC Radio.
 
As a novelist I’m writing about things that delight and disturb me. I try to do that in the simplest way I can, as closely as possible to my characters’ experience. I feel the need to draw the reader into that experience, however limited, because that’s the way we live; limited by our selves as they are from moment to moment.
 
What was your route into writing?
Long and winding. When I was a kid I liked messing around with words, then wrote poems when I was at primary school, then love poems, then song lyrics – school bands etc. – and then I was an actor, so I had to be very sensitive to words. Typography, too, has always fascinated me. Later, while I was working as a script editor at the BBC, I began to write scripts. Nothing got picked up, but it led me towards screenwriting and filmmaking. And I began concurrently to find things in my own experience that suggested prose. I wrote a first novel, which has gone back into the figurative bottom drawer for now, and then embarked on The Lightman System.
 
Could you tell us more about your other work as a screenwriter and script editor?
Film is very important to me, so it’s thrilling and daunting to be writing it. The obvious distinction between that and what I’m trying to do in prose is that you can’t explore directly, except in voice-over, the internal movements of someone’s mind. And since I’m really interested in that, I have to find other – visual, aural, textural, dynamic – ways to express it. So I’m a bit obsessed with point-of-view; how it changes what the film looks like, how it suggests where the camera should be, and a lot more. I can go on about this, frankly, and I often do when I’m working with other writers. But my work with them is also a way of exploring. We have a conversation about their film that expands to theme and closes in on a single moment; we’re as likely to be talking about the writer’s own experience as we are with the rhythm of a dialogue exchange or a cut from scene to scene. With luck, this sometimes-sinuous path leads to greater clarity for the writer.
 
Was there a significant person in your life that encouraged you to write?
Several. My mum did, and I had a couple of very good English teachers at secondary school who were really alert to the fact that I was excited by language. Then, years later, I was working at the BBC and having a conversation with an agent who was also a writer; a fairly unusual combination. He told me quite bluntly that I should get on with it and write, and I’m very grateful to him. The producers Brian Eastman and Alex Thiele have put a touching amount of trust in me. Latterly, among all the many encouragements that I’ve received from friends, the one that pops out is from a writer called Albyn Leah Hall. I might not have written The Lightman System without her nudging.
 
Could you tell us something about your creative process?
I try to write enough that I don’t leave my desk annoyed at myself. That doesn’t necessarily mean a number of pages (though it’s always gratifying); it can just mean that I’ve done something I know will be useful. That could be some background exploration, such as notes on a character, or research, or it could be a walk – to let my thoughts reverse out of a cul-de-sac and wander more freely. Actually a lot of the little, significant realisations arrive when I’m cycling.
 
Who are your favourite writers? And which writers are you influenced by?
This is one of the most welcome and most difficult questions anyone could ask. The list, obviously, is much too long.
 
The writers I keep coming back to, the ones I believe get closest to the world as I understand it, are Chekhov, W.G. Sebald and George Eliot. George Saunders is, to me, a new but big discovery. I also admire Anne Tyler enormously, and during lockdown I discovered Sherwood Anderson. Geoff Dyer makes me laugh aloud. I want to go on. Actually I will go on for a second, because there are playwrights: Chekhov again, Shakespeare – as an actor I’ve been lucky enough to live with several of his plays for a lot of performances, and I kept hearing new things. And screenwriters, who tend to get lost behind the director’s name – so a quiet shout for Kôgo Noda, who worked with the great Ozu.
 
And lyricists! John Prine, Bob Dylan, Gillian Welch, Aimee Mann, Andrew Phillips, Cole Porter and Randy Newman.
 
As far as influence goes, with the understanding that influence isn’t necessarily discernible either in style or talent, I guess you could say that Hemingway was there before I read it. And Anne Tyler for sure: trying to stay simple so you don’t get in the way of the important things.
 
What is your favourite novel?
Another impossible question, but I’ll say Middlemarch and The Rings of Saturn because they both expanded my view without seeming to try. At number 3, I might say American Pastoral by Philip Roth. I know it was supposed to be just one, but sorry.
 
Why The Lightman System, now?
The simple answer is that I had to write it. A friend suggested that The Lightman System is ‘the story of a quest for understanding’, and that goes for me as well as for the characters.
 
I also think that, as terms like ‘mental health’ have become so much a part of everyday language, it’s timely. I wanted to write my way into the complex experience of two people whose lives are being changed, radically, subtly, by internal storms. Like any fiction, it doesn’t offer answers, but I hope it affects perceptions. On a similar note, I had great help in my research from an eminent psychiatrist, who described the book as being an incidental portrait of the development of modern psychiatry.
 
Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?
Wrecking Ball is my experience, and it’s revelatory. Apart from sharing their name with a great song by Gillian Welch, they have a seriously intelligent view of book design, which is more than refreshing.
 
What else are you working on and what does the future hold for you?
I’m halfway through the first draft for a new novel, I’m hoping to make a short film I’ve written later this year, and I’m working on two feature projects. In case that sounds grand, none of it is commissioned, and films may be even harder to get off the ground than books.
 
What would you say to someone who was keen to write, and would like to see their words published?
It’s usually very hard to get published, but in the end this is not why you do it. It took me around five years, alongside other work, to go through several drafts of The Lightman System. It was, from the publishing point of view, a complete gamble. Lots of people said no, or ignored my letters entirely. But for the activity of writing, it went from tears, frustration and sinking doubt to moments of real freedom and revelation. I’m still writing, and I expect to continue that very uneven journey. Honestly, if you want to do it, you’re probably already doing it in your head; so welcome to the caravan!
 
I’m also privileged to be in a writing group – on the invitation of Albyn Leah Hall – which consists of several extremely talented writers, all of whom I admire and respect a lot. That means that the process I’ve described (all those drafts) was not done alone. Not only did I feel supported by my colleagues, but they were tough, detailed and frankly relentless critics. That meant I had the courage to continue, and the material with which to do so. So if you can gain a support network of people you trust, that’s a really great thing. I know some writers work in isolation, but there’s enough isolation in the process already without actually being cut off from intelligent views and kindly voices. I could not have written this book without those people.
 
What are your hopes and dreams for the book?
Of course I hope a lot of people will read it, that it will move most of them (well, all of them, naturally), and that it might gain some recognition beyond that. But mainly, I genuinely want it to expand people’s perceptions.
 
Anything else you’d like to add?
One thing in particular. I’m ridiculously lucky that my partner has stayed kind, insightful and encouraging through my many moments of collapse.
 
The Lightman System can be pre-ordered from Wrecking Ball Press at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/the-lightman-system/
PRESS RELEASE: Publication of Roger Hyams' wise, wonderfully-written debut

PRESS RELEASE: Publication of Roger Hyams’ wise, wonderfully-written debut

TITLE: The Lightman System

AUTHOR: Roger Hyams

PUBLICATION DATE: 27/06/22

FORMAT: Hardback

ISBN: 978-1903110904

PAGES: 336pp

PRICE: £16

“A superb novel – beautifully, beautifully written.” – Stephen Fry

Buy directly from Wrecking Ball Press at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/the-lightman-system/

WRECKING BALL PRESS publish the debut novel from Roger Hyams – The Lightman System – on June 27, 2022.

It is 1974. Teenage siblings Ellie and Colin are on holiday when they fall for the same girl. From this strange meeting onward, Ellie’s musical talent takes her to new heights, Colin finds his own fascination in photography, and both seem set for fulfilment – until catastrophe overtakes Ellie and changes the shape of the whole family.

Years later, brother and sister must battle to understand what has befallen them.

The Lightman System will speak directly to those who have had similar experiences to Ellie and Colin, either as the sufferer of mental storms or those close to them.

But author Roger Hyams adds: “I think the last couple of years has laid bare the fact that this is not an exclusive group. So there’s something here for everyone who has had difficulties with their mental health, everyone who’s known someone who has, and anyone who’s interested in the way minds try to deal with the unmanageable.”

Praise for The Lightman System

“A superb novel – beautifully, beautifully written and with such heart-breaking truth and insight. Time is both cruel and kind, chance is more cruel than kind, and trying to defeat both is hard. This novel is a supreme example of how fiction can tell this story.” – Stephen Fry

“What might it be like to lose your equilibrium and what might it be like to be close to someone who does? The Lightman System has two very different protagonists. Roger Hyams’s magic trick is that we understand them both, what shapes them and what stands between them, even while they can’t. The story uncovers the subtle workings of a family dynamic (the things withheld, the things inferred, the psychological and emotional coding) and even when events take a terrifying turn, the distinctive blend of restraint, vividness, humour and compassion make this a compellingly enjoyable read. I was moved to tears by the ending. The Lightman System is a deeply involving, wise, wonderfully-written book and Ellie and Col are unforgettable co-heroes.” – Amelia Bullmore, playwright, screenwriter and actor.

Author Details:

Roger Hyams was an actor for twelve years, appearing with the RSC, the English Touring Theatre and the Oxford Stage Company, Birmingham Repertory and the Traverse. He started working at the BBC as a script-reader, then a script editor, and after a couple of years as Head of Drama Development at Talkback Productions, began to work freelance. Along with his script consultancy he is a screenwriter, a filmmaker and a Visiting Lecturer at the London Film School and Central Saint Martins. He has written the book and lyrics for two musicals, co-directed two baroque operas and coached opera singers on performance. The Lightman System is his first novel, and he’s writing another.

For more information visit www.wreckingballpress.com

/ends

For review copies, images and interview requests contact Wrecking Ball Press at dave@wreckingballpress.com

OUT NOW: Persons Unknown - The Battle for Sheffield's Street Trees

OUT NOW: Persons Unknown – The Battle for Sheffield’s Street Trees

Persons Unknown – The Battle for Sheffield’s Street Trees has been published by Wrecking Ball Press.
 
In 2012 Sheffield City Council and the Department of Transport signed a twenty-five-year contract with Amey PLC to renew the city’s highways in a programme titled ‘Streets Ahead’, costing £2.2 billion of public money.
 
That contract has never been made publicly available. As a result of persistent Freedom of Information requests, we now know that it includes the following clause: Amey ‘shall replace the highways trees in accordance with the annual tree management programme at a rate of not less than 200 per year so that 17,500 highway trees are replaced by the end of the term’.
 
For three years residents took ‘non-violent direct action’ (NVDA) to prevent the unnecessary felling of healthy street trees. This is their story, a story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the service of their community. All the chapters consist of original first-hand accounts of events from the perspective of people who were involved.
 
Calvin Payne and Simon Crump have deliberately stepped back from an authorial role, allowing their fellow protesters to speak for themselves, and often the stark truths told are all the more shocking for that.
 
With a Foreword by Nick Hayes, Introduction by Paul Brooke and Afterword by Christine King.
 
AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Michael Stewart

AUTHOR INTERVIEW: Michael Stewart

Bold, gritty and blackly comic, Michael Stewart’s new collection of short fiction, Four Letter Words, explores twin contemporary urban dystopias: work and home.
 
Stylish and unsettling with a seam of black comedy running throughout the collection,Four Letter Words is a baker’s dozen of modern urban noir that offers responses to a number of contemporary concerns such as homelessness, addiction and sexual exploitation.
 
We asked Michael to tell us more about the collection, which is published by Wrecking Ball Press this week.
 
Give us give us the elevator pitch for Four Letter Words?
It’s a short story collection. How about ‘for many people, home and work are the dominant spaces in their lives, this book looks deep into the darkest corners of these worlds’
 
How do you feel about the publication of this collection of short stories?
It’s my second collection of short fiction. Much grittier and darker than the first. I think it contains some of my best writing.
 
What prompted you to write this collection and how long has it been in the making?
I’ve been writing short fiction for a very long time. These stories are a culmination of work gestating over a twenty-year period. The collection started to form as a coherent unifying project, as soon as I realised it was a book in two halves, and that this would be the overarching organising principle. We go to work. Then we come home. For some people, there isn’t much else in their lives. What if neither experience bring solace or satisfaction?
 
Tell us about the themes of the collection?
Work and home, and within that: loneliness, alienation, exploitation, dependency and desperation.
 
Who is the book for?
For the lost and the lonely. For anyone who loves a good story.
 
What experience do you want your readers to have?
I want to immerse my reader in precisely imagined worlds where they will see through the eyes of my characters, hear their thoughts and feel their fears and vulnerabilities. I want my reader to empathise with my characters. I want to engage them emotionally, to make them laugh and cry, and look deep into the recesses of the human experience.
 
What is the importance of short stories?
A short story can be more experimental than a novel. It is a snapshot. It is a unified artform. We can experience a short story in one sitting. There is a totality of experience that is missing from longer narratives. It is not interrupted or compromised by episodic events. Like a painting, we can see it in its entirety. Characters in short stories are mysterious, and enigmatic, we don’t need to feed into the narrative elaborate backstories. They are strangers that we meet in one fleeting moment. But that fleeting moment can have a profound impact on the reader.
 
Some consider that short story collections are something that authors move through on their way to their next novel. What would you say to that?
The status of the short story has changed significantly over the years. It wasn’t that long ago that writers wrote short stories to make money and pay the bills. Novels were something they wrote out of love, knowing they would make no money from it. Now it is the other way round. Why this has happened is quite specific to our culture. Other cultures value the short story over the novel. The short story has much more status in Ireland and China for example.
 
What is the importance of place to you as a writer and in the stories gathered together here?
This is very much a northern collection. I write about the north. I don’t know anywhere else. It was where I was born and where I grew up. I am a product of this landscape, and these stories are the products of this northern landscape. Setting is crucial. A story in a forest is very different to a story in a desert for example. Setting is character and character is setting. A good setting is a metaphor for the central themes of the story.
 
What was your route into writing?
Long story. I was forceable removed by two security guards from the factory where I was working in 1992. I found a typewriter in a skip, taught myself to touch type and wrote a novel called Leeches.
 
Was there a significant person in your life that encouraged you to write?
Lots of people discouraged me. Mainly my teachers.
 
Could you tell us something about your creative process? 
I try and write every day. Sometimes for an hour, sometimes for three or four hours. I consider it to be a vocation.
 
Who are your favourite writers? And which writers are you influenced by?
My first influence: Edgar Allen Poe. Others: George Orwell, Shakespeare, Milton, Dante, Flannery O’Connor, Katherine Mansfield, Emily Bronte, Kafka, Knut Hamsun, Raymond Carver, Sylvia Plath, James Baldwin, William Blake, Samuel Beckett, Cormac McCarthy, Angela Carter…
 
What is your favourite novel?
I have to say Wuthering Heights, but Nineteen Eighty-Four is a close second. As is Kafka’s The Trial, as is McCarthy’s Road, Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho, Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, Knut Hamsun’s Hunger.
 
Why this collection, now?
During lockdown home and work merged. We became prisoners in our own domiciles. Post-lockdown we are reconfiguring those spaces. Redefining them somehow. This book is part of that re-examination.
 
Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?
My first four books were all published by independent publishers. I have a deep respect and love of independent publishing. I am editor-in-chief of an indie (Grist Books). I think what indies have achieved over the last ten years is remarkable. I liken it to the indie music scene of the 80s. The world of independent publishing is a very vibrant place.
 
What else are you working on and what does the future hold for you?
I have a poetry book called The Dogs which is being published by Smokestack in June 2023. I have a new novel called The Last Wolf which is under consideration with a publisher. I am working on two new books, one a new novel called Surrounded By My Enemies, and a hybrid memoir called Walking in the Shadows.
 
Tell us more about your work teaching creative writing?
I’ve been teaching creative writing for over 20 years. First in the community, then for the Open University, then for Leeds and Bradford Unis, and for the last 15 years, Huddersfield Uni. I run the CW department there. Grist, which I edit, allows us to publish our own students’ work alongside some of the biggest names in the industry. 
 
What would you say to someone who was keen to write, and would like to see their words published?
Learn your craft.
 
What are your hopes and dreams for the book?
I set a low bar. Sadly, short fiction does not get the attention it deserves in this country. I wish it were otherwise. If people read it and enjoy it, I’ll be happy with that.
 
The publication of Four Letter Words was made possible by Arts Council England National Lottery Project Grants funding. Buy Four Letter Words direct from Wrecking Ball Press at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/four-letter-words/

We’re hiring: Join the Wrecking Ball team as Bookseller

Applications for this opportunity have now closed.

Wrecking Ball Music & Books is hiring! We have an exciting position as Bookseller based within our city-centre independent book and music shop on Whitefriargate. This is a great opportunity to join a growing team at one of Hull’s most exciting retail outlets and venues.

Initially offered on a six-month, fixed-term contract, and with a competitive salary, we’d love the right person to join us in March 2022 and interviews will be held at the beginning of March.

For more information, read the job description below. 

Wrecking Ball Music & Books – Bookseller

Purpose

Wrecking Ball Music & Books’ Bookseller has the knowledge and enthusiasm to drive book sales forward, engage with the public and increase sales. 

Based at the large, independent Wrecking Ball Music & Books shop in Hull city centre, our dedicated Bookseller is responsible for providing guidance and literary insight to customers wishing to learn more about the books on sale, an extensive range of books from UK independent publishers.

In addition, the Bookseller will be responsible for arranging promotional events, such as in-store signings, author readings and in-store literary events.

Specific Duties and Responsibilities of the post

Your primary concern as a Bookseller is customer service, but you’ll also need an excellent knowledge of the UK’s independent publishers, the shop’s stock and the wider book market in general. You’ll help customers locate titles and offer information and advice about different books that are available. You’ll also be heavily involved in selecting, ordering and displaying stock, as well as working with publishing companies and their representatives.

Our stock of literature encompasses all forms and genres and our Bookseller is expected to have a deep understanding and knowledge of the widest possible range of literature and should be a self-confessed and proud bibliophile and poetry lover.

Our Bookseller needs to be confident when talking and communicating with the public, publishing companies and their representatives and writers involved in delivering events and activities. You should also be experienced and comfortable in the use of social media platforms as a marketing and promotional tool. A self starter, you will be brimming with ideas for potential events and in-store literary activity and relish the opportunity to have a lead role in organising events, supported by Wrecking Ball team members with extensive event experience.

Responsibilities

  • serving a range of customers
  • dealing with enquiries and identifying customer needs
  • offering advice and recommending books where appropriate
  • maintaining up-to-date knowledge of current titles and changes in the market
  • organising in-store events with authors and poets.
  • promoting in-store and venue events and activities via social media platforms
  • undertaking bibliographic work using computer or print sources to identify and locate titles
  • processing customer orders and book reservations
  • dealing with mail order, email and web-based orders
  • handling payments by cash, card and using book tokens using electronic point of sale (EPOS) technology
  • buying from catalogues and publishers’ representatives 
  • negotiating prices with sellers
  • processing book deliveries and returns
  • stock-checking books and other merchandise
  • creating in-store and window displays
  • maintaining commercial awareness including identifying business and promotional opportunities
  • liaising with other external account holders, for example schools, councils and companies
  • reviewing sales performance 
  • a range of administration tasks
  • undertaking general housekeeping duties, such as unpacking, stock replenishment and tidying.

This position is funded by Arts Council England.

Wrecking Ball Music & Books now on bookshop.org

Our sister company Wrecking Ball Music & Books now has a ‘shopfront’ on bookshop.org. Bookshop.org is an online bookshop with a mission to financially support local, independent bookshops.
 
Bookshop has created an easy, convenient way for you to get your books and support independent bookshops at the same time. By purchasing your books from the Wrecking Ball Music & Books bookshop.org shop, you will be supporting us, as we will receive a percentage of the cover price. Your order is sent straight to your address, and all in-stock items arrive in 2-3 days.
 
Our bookshop.org shop includes recommendations by the team at Wrecking Ball, along with lists of the books that have inspired our writers. While we will be shining a light on the books that we stock in our ‘bricks and mortar’ bookshop in Hull, and Wrecking Ball Press titles, readers will also be able to purchase books that we don’t stock, and support us, and other independent bookshops, at the same time.
 
Below are some of our lists of recommended books. Happy shopping!
 
 
 

National Poetry Day 2021 – Vicky Foster’s The Constant Parade

Hull’s High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) and Humber Mouth Literature Festival have partnered with Wrecking Ball Press to commission Whitefriargate’s poet-in-residence for 2021, Vicky Foster.

Drawing on the street’s rich history and its long-standing role in the story of the city and the people who live and work on Whitefriargate, Vicky has written ‘The Constant Parade’.

Launching on National Poetry Day on Thursday 7 October, this short film of Vicky reading the poem, made by Wrecking Ball Press, will be seen on the big screen in Trinity Market Food Hall.

The poem will also be stencilled on the pavement at six locations along Whitefriargate.

The project has been funded by Historic England as part of Hull’s High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) and forms part of the Community Engagement Plan.

Vicky Foster is an award-winning writer, performer and poet who has broadcast extensively across the BBC. She has published two collections of writing and is currently working on her first novel whilst studying for a PhD in English and Creative Writing. She won The Society of Authors’ Imison Award at the 2020 BBC Audio Drama Awards for her Radio 4 play ‘Bathwater’, and last year her Radio 4 documentary, ‘Can I Talk About Heroes?’ was reviewed in the national media. She has written poetry for radio, podcast and TV, delivered writing projects and creative writing workshops for all kinds of organisations, and performed at festivals and events across the North. She is a writer-in-residence for First Story, working with schools to help young people write their own stories.

Find out more 

Wrecking Ball Press: 

https://wreckingballpress.com

https://twitter.com/wbphull

https://www.facebook.com/wreckingballpress/

Humber Mouth: 

http://humbermouth.com/vickyfoster/

https://twitter.com/humbermouth

https://www.facebook.com/humbermouthliteraturefestival

Historic England: 

https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/heritage-action-zones/regenerating-historic-high-streets/

POET INTERVIEW: Mike Ferguson

Mike FergusonMike Ferguson’s poetry collection Drawing On Previous Learning was published in August by Wrecking Ball Press.

Drawing On Previous Learning is an eclectic collection of poems from the unique perspective of a poet who has spent much of his life at the hard edge of education.

These poems reflect the emotions and experience of being a teacher as well as the thoughts and feelings about everything that externally impinges on teaching English. While the collection will have broad appeal to fellow practitioners, it will also resonate with anyone and everyone who has attended school.
 
“Mike Ferguson’s latest collection takes us to the heart of his passion for two things: poetry and education. In this wide-ranging anthology, it’s the wit and wisdom born of 30 plus years of teaching English and writing creatively that shines through. Sometimes there’s anger: Who Killed the Thought Fox rails against those who only value things they can run their “measuring tapes” across, ignoring all the other things teachers do for our children.” – Martin Phillips, former Local Authority English Adviser
 
Mike has put together here a collection that celebrates and scathes, with honours and horrors put on the page in poems, prose poems and monologues.” – Peter Thomas, former Chair of the National Association for the Teaching of English
 
We caught up with Mike to find out more about the journey he, and these poems, have been on, a little bit of politics and why this collection, now.
 
How would you describe this collection?
 
Like an autobiography: 30 years of teaching English and 35 of examining GCSE English Literature are a significant part of an adult life. The poems aren’t presented chronologically so you can’t determine mood changes across time!
 
The collection comprises a lifetime’s writing about being an English teacher in all its personal reflections – how does it feel to finally get these pieces published?
 
I regard it as a privilege, as the job of teaching largely was. To be able to share the reality of my experiences as well as honest thoughts and feelings are an inherent part of the writing process. In so many ways, writing is cathartic, or a crystallising of ideas and emotions at any one time, but the urge to share this with others is also a compulsive element. I’d like to think what I have written can resound with fellow professionals as well as anyone who attended school or simply cares about education – so a broad audience.
 
When did you start writing these poems in the collection and when was the final piece written?
 
I will have started writing poems specifically about my teaching experiences in 1980, but the hard focus and work of those first years means much creative energy went into resources about reading and writing poetry, as well as other work. The selection of ‘pastiche’ poems from my annual Christmas ‘Stocking Fillers’ covers the years 1991-2009. The most recent poem will be ‘Dynamic Learning’, written in the summer of 2019, the year before Covid caused the halt in national examinations and when I decided to stop marking completely. The sequence of poems about subject specialists, as well as others that refer generically to students, are always genuine reflections of colleagues and pupils who filled the full 30 years of my teaching. The book’s final poem ‘Students’ is filled with familiar faces.
 
A number of poems air your political and critical views on education – tell us more about this?
 
What follows is a third attempt to respond to this question, the first and second having become essays! For anyone interested, a detailed overview can be found in the educational writing on my blog https://gravyfromthegazebo.blog/ As a taste of my holding politicians to task, in my teaching lifetime, I wrote to at least 11 Secretaries of State for Education, initially when campaigning to preserve 100% coursework assessment in English – this including a face-to-face visit to a then Minister of State (Department for Education and Science) in London. Most subsequently has been concerns and anger regarding testing regimes, target setting and teacher/school measurements based on this. The Conservatives initiated such, and Labour continued with it when coming to power in 1997. The testing soon shaped how teachers increasingly felt compelled to teach for students to ‘pass’ exams and schools to meet targets, and in English, this dramatically narrowed the curriculum, though Michael Gove slaughtered in in 2015. I could write so much more, but…
 
Drawing On Previous Learning will clearly resonate with those that work in education – but who would you like the audience for your poetry to be?
 
Obviously teachers, and certainly English teachers but not exclusively. Anyone who has been a student should be able to recognise and relate to the explorations, but current ones may well have other interests and preoccupations. I’d hope the range of poetic styles will be of interest to fellow writers.
 
Can you tell us something about your journey into creative writing?
 
I was inspired to start writing poetry when a charismatic English supply teacher took over 4th/5th year lessons at my secondary modern school in Ipswich around 1968. He played The Fugs singing a version of William Blake’s ‘Ah Sunflower Weary of Time’ and introduced Ginsberg and similar from that band’s influences as well as their lyrics. So, in ‘68/69 in our new large house on Elsmere Road, I wrote my tonnage of teenage poems in my new late-night big bedroom that aped the Black Mountain poets. I still have all of these. They will never be shared.
 
Was there a significant person in your life that encouraged you to write poetry?
 
That wonderful supply teacher but also another English teacher at my school who asked to see me specially to explain why my entry for the school’s poetry competition had been unsuccessful for gaining a prize, and probably publishing in a collection (it was one of those Ginsberg-esque attempts) but expressing his encouraging fascination for my unexpected style models and interest in them. These got me started.
 
What is the importance of place to you as a poet?
 
Not so much in these poems that are all prompted by ideas and attitudes. As an American permanently resident in the UK since 1976, my Nebraskan origins, and the West Coast where most of my American family now live, and Devon where I reside feature regularly and importantly in what I write, especially in their cultural influences on who I am as much as the geography of place – though the seaside has been prevalent ever since moving to Devon to teach.
 
Could you tell us something about your creative process? 
 
I am of late a habitual writer: I had a period of three years where I wrote exclusively sonnets, and the discipline of those fourteen lines (and the sonnet form was usually as loose as this) was a control I enjoyed in expressing within these confines – often in a narrative voice. A selection of these was published in 2015, and some appear in this book. I then had another intense period of writing found prose poetry, these published in two separate collections in 2019 and 2020 – again, three in this book. My most recent focused writing is experimental, and I have a full collection of varied poems (erasure, concrete, appropriations, visual) that are all found in philosophical texts.
 
Why these poems, now?
 
Pragmatically, because Wrecking Ball Press was willing to take them. They’ve existed as a collection for a while, added to over time, and there has been interest previously, but nothing more than this. All poetry publication is a commitment to the work above any other considerations, unless the writer is popular and well known, so I am genuinely thankful to Wrecking Ball for taking on this singular subject matter – though I obviously hope my voice and the writing itself brings it to the reader with that resonance already mentioned.
 
What experience do you want readers of your collection to have?
 
Always enjoyment, but also engagement. A recognition of the meaningfulness, especially where it taps into the readers’ experiences, but also the importance and ability of poetry to capture the observations made.
 
Who are the poets that you admire, and why?
 
As an active member of the Coleridge Memorial Trust, obviously Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the other Romantics. My ‘pastiche’ poems reflect a broad interest, but some often served a purpose. Three particular poets of the more recent past I have always read and admired are Ted Hughes, Raymond Carver and Peter Reading: TH for ‘Crow’ in particular; RC for the potent simplicity of voice, and PR for his innovation and acerbic wit. Currently, my blog is again a good source of answers for this as I regularly review contemporary poets. Named writers would be Rupert Loydell, Ian Seed, the late Matthew Sweeney, Martin Stannard, Maria Stadnicka – and also a vibrant online poetry community, both for reading a massive and global range of individuals’ work but also for online publication/sharing opportunities.
 
What else are you working on and what does the future hold for you as a poet?
 
I’ve already mentioned my experimental work. At 67, I am a relative latecomer to the publication side of things – this steadier only since 2015, not that publishing is everything, but it can be such an affirmative prompt for continuing – but I am a compulsive writer, excited by the innovative side of working at it, and animated by the things that aggravate – and there is much to write about here!
 
What would you say to someone who was keen to express themselves through poetry?
 
The obvious initial advice: read poetry as widely as you can, exploit the online opportunities for that reading but also to try and get work out there (remembering that refusals are an absolute major part of the process!). I tend to be quite an isolate when it comes to writing, but there are many writers’ groups around which may provide support and encouragement, and the Zoom boom more recently has facilitated many readings to be able to attend from anywhere, as well as courses to join. And never use the word ‘shards’.
 
Do you have any plans to read/perform the works from this collection in public?
 
Post-lockdown cautiousness prevailing, I would like to at some stage to read locally with a friend and teaching colleague from our recent work.
 
Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?
 
A lifeblood for the majority of writers, surely. All my poetry publications have been with independent publishers, and I would say the majority of poetry books that I buy are from the same. My work with Dave, one of the editors at Wrecking Ball Press, has been a most positive, reassuring pleasure.
 
Drawing On Previous Learning can be ordered from Wrecking Ball Press at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/drawing-on-previous-learning/

Poet Interview: Carla Mellor

Carla MellorCarla Mellor’s debut poetry collection Scraps will be published in October by Wrecking Ball Press.
 
Naturally, we love Scraps – but don’t just take our word for it. 
 
“Carla reminds us to love our rough edges and embrace the imperfect. A candid and crucial first collection from a bright new voice.” Toria Garbutt
 
“Common but not commonplace, lyrical and luminescent. If you like early Armitage, karaoke, Cooper Clarke, cans of Carling, Garry and Garbutt, and growing up working class, you’ll love this book of bitter-sweet poetry from an up-and-coming Northern star.” Louise Fazackerley
 
“Microscopic reflections. Half answered questions, half answered.”Mike Garry
  
We caught up with Carla to find out more about her work, writing in dialect and her route into poetry. She also described independent publishers as “normal”, which is the nicest thing anyone has ever said about us. 
 
How would you describe this collection?
 
Nostalgic would be the main word that springs to mind. Although it’s not entirely autobiographical it is heavily influenced by my childhood and teen years spent between Sowerby Bridge, a small Yorkshire mill town, and Withernsea, a rural Yorkshire coastal town.
 
When did you start writing these poems in the collection and how long did this body of work take to complete?
 
I started writing poetry back in 2018, so it’s been building up nicely since then. I’d say 2020 was my most productive year in terms of producing poetry.
 
Tell us about the cover design and the collection’s title?
 
I really wanted to call it Broken Biscuits to be honest, but there seemed to be a fair few books out there with the same title. In the end I felt like scraps paid homage to the seaside town where I landed my first job, at a chip shop – but also summarised my poetry as they’re all just small scraps of writing really – nothing too long.
 
What is the importance of place to you as a poet?
 
All I ever wanted to do was write, but I struggled finishing anything longer than a poem. I put my poor concentration down to lack of ambition and focus but was recently diagnosed with ADHD. That diagnosis helped me to stop beating myself up and to embrace what I (seemed to) have a natural talent for – short, succinct poems.
 
You write in a northern dialect. Tell us more about the reasons why?
 
I just want the reader to hear the poem as it would be performed as spoken word. I remember reading the Colour Purple about a decade ago and the thing I loved the most about it was how it was written how the protagonist spoke.
 
Why these poems, now?
 
Why not? I think poetry is becoming more accessible to people and I hope I can contribute to that. I remember the feeling of dread pulling out my GCSE anthology in English and knowing I wouldn’t be able to understand half of it. Obviously there were other people in the class who could, and who probably enjoyed it, and that’s great. But i think there needs to be an alternative option too.
 
Who do you consider the audience for your poetry to be?
 
People who don’t like poetry. People who do like poetry. Anyone and everyone really.
 
What experience do you want readers of your collection to have?
 
Just to enjoy it, maybe even think “if she can do it anyone can” and have a go themselves.
 
Poetry on the page, or on the stage?
 
Ah it depends on the poem, there’s some stuff in scraps I wouldn’t perform and others that I would.
 
Can you tell us something about your journey into creative writing?
 
It was always something I’d dabbled with and never really picked up fully. I think confidence and self belief come with age, and having the right people around you. My fiance Tash has always pushed me with my poetry and I’m really grateful for that.
 
Could you tell us something about your creative process? 
 
Nothing about me is disciplined or organised, unfortunately! I tend to get a thought or a feeling and just go with it, get as much down as possible and then edit it or add to it later.
 
How do you feel as your debut collection is about to be published?
 
It’s absolutely unreal. When I was a kid, about 6, I remember saying to myself “when I grow up i’m going to write a book”. And it’s never left me really, it’s always been the one thing i’ve wanted to do with my life, and to achieve it is the best feeling ever.
 
Who are the poets that you admire, and why?
 
There’s a few – Toria Garbutt, Louise Fazackerley, Mike Garry, Matt Abbott, and of course John Cooper Clarke. I think they all just own their truth and speak it. It’s accessible and relatable.
 
What would you say to someone who was keen to express themselves through poetry?
 
Just go for it!
 
Do you have any plans to perform the works from this collection in public?
 
Yes, absolutely. I live in Wigan so i’ll be popping up at numerous places across the North West in the coming months but also hoping to travel further afield too.
 
Do you have any thoughts about your experience of independent publishers?
 
It’s really warming how nice everyone has been, and how normal too!
 
Scraps can be ordered from Wrecking Ball Press at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/scraps