2017 in review

So, the end of January 2018 is not too late to review 2017, right? Once again, it has been over twelve months since my last blog post, but here is my year in review in one easy-to-access place…


I’m now in the third year of my PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Essex, so this has been taking up most of my time. I am writing about the North Sea islands of Heligoland and the surrounding coastal area of Germany and the Netherlands. I’ve spent two months in the summer travelling to Leeuwarden, capital of the Dutch province of Friesland, the Dutch Frisian island of Terschelling, the German Frisian island of Norderney, and Heligoland itself. I interviewed various people who live and work on the islands and tried to find out more about the literature, culture and languages of the area (all very much more complicated than it first appears!). I was very kindly hosted for a few days by the Frisian Academy in Leeuwarden, where I gave a talk.

While I was in Leeuwarden, I was interviewed by Hedwig Terpstra for the Frisian literary magazine, ensafh.  Hedwig has also translated my short memoir piece, “Handle With Care,” into Frisian, which is now on the website. It is an exciting and lovely thing to have my words appear in another language.

In July four of us Creative Writing postgraduates from Essex took a panel to the Shared Futures conference in Newcastle, a huge event from across the English Literature and Creative Writing disciplines. As well as speaking about my research, I was also part of the NAWE PhD network panel on Writing Outside the Academy, trying to sound as though the random writing-related things I do cohere into some sort of career strategy…


I was very pleased to co-organise and host an evening of poetry at Ely Cathedral, in collaboration with the Ely Diocese Environmental Co-ordinator, Clare Redfern, as part of the Space@6.30 service series. Entitled, “Dark Reflections,” the evening was an invitation to reflect on poetic responses to environmental crisis, including a thought-provoking talk from priest-poet Malcolm Guite, always a charismatic presence, and wonderful poetry readings from Malcolm, Mary Livingstone and Fenland Poet Laureate Kate Arthur.

I’ve also been continuing to co-host Fen Speak, along with Jonathan Totman. It’s been great to see our local open mic spoken word night go from strength to strength. We now have regular featured performers at our bi-monthly event, and we have been proud to host some quality poets and spoken word artists, including, this year, Stewart Carswell, Fay Roberts, Adam Crothers, Ash Dickinson and Ian McEwen, at our Ely venue the Babylon Gallery, as well as the Young and Adult Fenland Poets Laureate Sophie Lutkin and Kate Arthur in King’s Lynn.

I also spent an unexpected but fun night on the judges’ panel to choose the second Cambridge Bard. The winner of both the judges’ and the popular vote was the talented storyteller Glenys Newton.


On the judging panel, Cambridge Bard 2017 (photo: J.S. Watts)

In spring I ran another series of three creative writing workshops at March Library, which I hugely enjoyed.

Although I don’t have much time for performing myself at the moment, I welcomed the chance to read at the In Other Words alternative literary festival in Cambridge, and the Fen Edge Festival in Cottenham.


Reading at the In Other Words Festival (photo: J.S. Watts)


All this activity doesn’t leave a great deal of time for writing poems, but thanks to my membership of my lovely local Stanza group, I have monthly deadlines to get at least one poem written…

I also got at least one decent poem written at the Essex Radical Writers’ Retreat in Othona in the spring, a splendid few days in an inspiring location, which I do hope is run again next year. I also saw my first grass snake there, which was very exciting. (Sorry, no photo of the snake… it moved too quickly!)


I’ve had poems published this year in Creel 3, the University of Essex Creative Writing anthology, and in The Fenland Reed. I don’t suppose I’m the only poet who needs to get more submissions out in 2018…

So, a busy 2017: huge thanks to everyone who has made this year such a creative one. I can only hope the creative is stronger than the destructive as we go forward into 2018…






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