Victoria Field Workshop: The Poetry Cure

By Annie Harrison

I’m sitting in the cosy Stone Barn at St Endellion on Saturday afternoon, out of the October winds, awaiting the start of Victoria Field’s poetry therapy workshop. St Endellion is a little way from the main site for North Cornwall Book Festival at Trebetherick, and surrounded by open fields, which seems quite fitting considering the subject of this session with Victoria Field. Like most of my fellow workshoppers, I have never formally considered poetry therapy before. Now, we’re here to experience it for ourselves.

Victoria Field qualified as a Poetry Therapist in 2005 with the International Federation of Biblio-Poetry Therapy, a group educating people about biblio and poetry therapy, as well as training prospective therapists all over the world. Poetry therapy offers people a way, through writing, to: “heal the past, live the present, and create the future.”

There are about nine of us in the Stone Barn, sitting around two wooden tables pushed together, and for almost three hours we write. We write until our pens ran dry and the pages are full. Field gives us prompts and time restraints: write an acrostic poem, write about “here, now”, write starting with the word “look” and so on. We write about life, the weather, cooking, anything that pops into our heads soon hits the page.

As well as giving us prompts, Field also provides us with props in the form of plants picked and found. We are asked to write addressing our pieces of plants as “you”. Granted this may sound a bit out there, but it leads you to places you can’t predict. Here is some of what I wrote addressing my plant:

You remind me of the stories my Dad used to read to me when I was younger. Stories from Enid Blyton’s Tales of Green Hedges, all about pixies and garden creatures. How the fairies used dandelion seeds, like the ones stuck in your stems, to float away in the breeze.  

For me it certainly acted as a release, and allowed me to gain a new perspective on the subjects I’d written about during the session. As Field told us, writing in this way externalises what’s in your head, clearing out the space for new thoughts and new feelings.

You can find out more about Victoria Field and poetry therapy at http://poetrytherapynews.com

Rev Richard Coles and Nina Stibbe

Mark Nina Horatio crop
Nina Stibbe, Rev Richard Coles and Horatio Clare. Picture: Jay Armstrong

By Jay Armstrong

It was a full house (or marquee even) and the crowds were not disappointed. We were treated to an hour of lively and insightful discussion between Rev Richard Coles and Nina Stibbe. Both have recently published books – one a memoir, the other a novel – with surprising similarities of theme.

Coles’ memoir, Fathomless Riches, is a book that “takes you to places other clergy memoir doesn’t stray” while Nina’s novel Man At The Helm was written out of fury at “10 years of my mother’s loneliness” following the divorce from Nina’s father. They both tell a story of being born into money and privilege before their lives changed as British manufacturing floundered in the 60s. They were left “humiliated and embarrassed” because with this reduction in wealth, came a reduction in their father’s status which reflected on whole family.

The discussion ranged from Richard’s grandfather’s hidden adulteries to Nina’s father’s elderly coming out, around which the main concern was: “But he’s part of the Montgomery scrabble club!”. The conversation was candid, and Richard said that in being honest in his memoir, he had been accused on Twitter of just “TMI Vicar”. Coles’ mother, however, appeared less scandalised: her take was “Oh darling, [it’s] charming, except where garish.”  Continue reading

My favourite book: Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

Laid back coffee
Rosie Hoppe, owner of Laid Back Coffee Co

All weekend we’re asking people at the festival to share their current favourite books with us. Here Anna Cathenka talks to Rosie Hoppe, owner of Laid Back Coffee Co – who says her favourite book is Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.

She also says she has had a great day at the festival – and we can personally vouch that her coffee is fantastic.

Horatio Clare: capturing the beauty and wilderness of the sea

By Anna Cathenka

Before going to Horatio Clare’s talk about his new book Down To The Sea In Ships I catch a quick bite to eat with my fellow student-journalists in the festival’s mess tent. As I sip my silky coffee, I spy a tanned, bearded man in a blue, Nordic jumper eating his lunch. I come over all fan-girl: “That’s Horatio Clare!” I whisper.

I discovered Horatio Clare when I was given his first book Running For The Hills about his childhood which, much like mine, was set amongst the smell of bracken and sheep’s wool in the deep, dark valleys of Wales. His writing is lyrical, delicate, moving.

Clare is a picture of coolness as he takes to the stage, changed out of his jumper into a t-shirt and dinner jacket, stealing our attention away from Jill Murphy’s beautiful deerhound, Flora, who kindly introduces the talk (with the help of Patrick Gale.) Down to the Sea in Ships was written after a stint working as writer in residence for the Maersk shipping company. I was initially jealous of his experience, but after sinking into the salty depths of the book, the jealousy turned to admiration.  Continue reading

The fiction of Murray and Haig

Tiffany Murray and Matt Haig
Tiffany Murray and Matt Haig onstage. Picture: Annie Harrison

By Annie Harrison

What happens when you give two authors an hour to sit on stage in big armchairs and talk? Firstly they rearrange the furniture! And secondly, in Patrick Gale’s words, it gives the audience a chance to “eavesdrop” on an uncensored, unscripted chat that leads them right into the depths of human nature.

Tiffany Murray and Matt Haig read from their books, chatted about childhood, life and writing. Reading from Diamond Star Halo, Tiffany Murray recalled her childhood growing up by a record studio used by Queen which fed into her story of rockstars and romance. Matt Haig read his new novel, The Humans, about a Cambridge mathematics professor who was not all as human as he seems; delving into the elements of what it is to be a human in this world through the eyes of aliens.

So that’s what happens when you let authors talk for an hour, and eventually someone has to stop them!

John Betjeman walk around Trebetherick

Betjeman walk
The North Cornwall coast from Trebetherick. Picture: Aysha Bryant

By Aysha Bryant

‘Too many people in the modern world view poetry as a luxury, not a necessity like petrol. But to me it’s the oil of life.’- Sir John Betjeman

Off I went, on a walk about the late Poet Laureate John Betjeman. Although originally from London, Betjeman spent many holidays in Trebetherick, North Cornwall and later moved here with his family. It was in this village that Betjeman became a part of the community – as we visited people’s homes on the walk, they welcomed us with open arms.

Everybody was so eager to tell us stories about John’s life and their connections to him, in fact,that the walk took longer than expected. We sat down in each house and listened to the history and memories surrounding this poet.  Continue reading

My favourite book: Louisa Young on Frenchman’s Creek

Rev. Richard Coles
Louisa Young with her copy of Frenchman’s Creek

We ask readers and writers about their favourite books. Louisa Young, author of My Dear I Wanted to Tell You and The Heroes’ Welcome shares her current favourite. In fact, Louisa had her choice with her, and produced it to order. She’d found it yesterday on a shelf of secondhand books for sale at the festival.

“I have a different favourite book everyday. Today it’s Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier. It was great to pick up a book by a Cornish author here, secondhand, in Cornwall. It’s beautifully written.”

Words and picture: Aysha Bryant

Interview: Jill Murphy on the Worst Witch

By Emma Gibbs

Jill Murphy is best known for The Worst Witch stories that follow the misadventures of Mildred Hubble at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. The books were an instant success when they were first released 40 years ago and still remain hugely popular today. Murphy, an author and illustrator, went on to win the 1995 Smarties Book Prize in the 0-5 years category for her story, The Last Noo-noo. She is also famous for The Large Family picture books. She currently lives in Cornwall.

Ahead of The North Cornwall Book Festival, which Murphy will be attending for a children’s workshop on the 26th October, I talked to Jill to discuss her life as a writer…

Why did you decide to write children’s fiction?

“I have always done it, and could read and write from a very early age,” she said. “There was really no alternative.”

I asked about the incredible realisation that she could both write and draw well at such a young age. She “didn’t see it as a talent,” she said, but as a way to entertain herself. And as for her artistry skills, she explained she was often told she could “draw her way out of trouble” in school.  Continue reading

My favourite book: Kayla the Pottery Fairy and Hairy McClary

Ivy and Elsie
Ivy and Elsie: young readers at the North Cornwall Book Festival

This weekend we’re asking festival-goers to talk to us about their favourite books. Here are what Elsie, age five and Ivy, age three most enjoy.

Elsie: “My favourite book is Kayla the Pottery Fairy. It’s scary with goblins. But it’s OK as the fairies win in the end.”

Ivy: “My favourite book is Hairy McClary. Because it’s got dogs in it.”

Words and picture by Jay Armstrong

Responses to The Poetry of Wells and Field

By Anna Cathenka

It is 10.30 am on a damp, wild day in North Cornwall. I am sitting in a marquee, beset at every turn by industrious money spiders, making their own pattern-poems with their little black bodies on the white expanse of my paper. The event begins with Eduard Heyning’s improvised, mellow soprano sax, coursing a late-night jazz sound poem into the wet veins of this early morning.

Victoria Field and Philip Wells recite their poetry to us. Their work is worlds apart. Field uses what she refers to as “little words”– a reference to a quote from Wendell Berry: “The little words that come out of the silence like prayers”. It is almost a paean to Victoria’s poems; friendly whispers that catch you when you’re least expecting it. Wells is the masculine voice to Victoria’s feminine quietude. His words roar right inside you: shake you to your core. Wells’ poems are fast-paced, loud, everything opposite to Field, and yet neither is less powerful.

Each recitation is brought to a close (or alternatively, introduced) by a sound poem from Heyning. As one of the audience later tells me: “his music clears your mind in between these two very different poets.” My favourite sound poem is what sounds to me like a heated argument, a two-and-fro between a very light, feminine voice and a rough, deep masculine voice. While Wells and Field are in accordance, the piece nevertheless seems relevant.  Continue reading