Friday, 30 September 2016

five fantastic poems by Hollie McNish

I am going away for a weekend in October, it's going to be my first weekend away since I had my first child. He's just turned eleven. My husband could not believe this could possibly be true. Neither could I. But it is, and it's time.

I'm off down to my home town, for the Ilkley Literature Festival, or a bit of it anyway. I'm going to see Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall with my Mum. I may swoon, she's assured me, she won't. I'm going to see some local poets with my Dad. I am going to meet with friends I've known since middle school for lunch at Bettys. And I am going to lots and lots of events.

One of the poets I'm going to see is Hollie McNish. I cannot wait. She's chuffing marvellous. You can go see her too, if you're near Ilkley, there are still tickets for sale here. And if you can't make it, if you don't know what all the fuss is about, or if you'd just like to Hollie fix, here are five of my favourites of her poems right now.

Embarrassed is the poem that I first heard about. I used to work in breastfeeding research, looking at things that might help support women to feed their babies themselves. This will do it. This and more. 

But it's not just breastfeeding that I completely agree with Hollie on, here's her marvellous take on immigration.

and this, this I don't even have words for

I love how little kids feel about their bodies, and about mine. I am trying to learn to respect the good stuff, the strength, the growing of actual human beings, the ability to recover. I know that I look good if I feel good, and nobody else cares how fat or wrinkly I am, and I try not to worry about how acceptable I look, but it's not easy. This is a great poem on the subject.

and this is the last one I'm sharing today, but I'm yet to find a Hollie McNish poem I don't like.

Let me know if you are going to see Hollie in Ilkley this year. No pressure Hollie, but I'm expecting you to be great!

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

starting Chaptershill over

It was when we moved back to Scotland that I first thought I would like to try writing.

Two of the kids were at nursery or school, and for the first time in a long time I wasn't involved in any work. 

Although I'd written plenty in the line of work, I'd not written anything creative for years, so I joined a local creative writing class, and I loved it.

One of the first things we had to do in that class was to write something with a strong sense of place. I wrote about the city of Chaptershill, which seemed to have been waiting there in my mind's eye for me to notice it. I didn't have to make up what it looked like, just find the right words to do it justice.

Once I'd got the place, I found the characters, and in particular my heroes, Brother River, who originally was a pastiche of George RR Martin's character Jaqen H'gar (whom I won't hear a word said against), but who has developed, through exploration of his back story into an interesting, deeply flawed man, who tries to do the right thing, but fears he's done the wrong; and Sister Stone, struggling to gain acceptance in a world which places her in the wrong.

I started off writing the story of Sister Stone, but realised there were massive holes which could be filled if I firstly told the story of Brother River in Chaptershill, so I got myself set up on Scrivener (which I happen to like, but there are plenty of other things you could use), and wrote an incredibly detailed book. Well, incredibly detailed until I got bored and glossed over bits. 

Looking at it now it's as if I was scared to throw anything out.

It's also a really problematic story because it's too heavily influenced by all the stuff I've read and watched, most of which is strongly patriarchal in it's societal structure, but that didn't make sense in the context of Chaptershill, which is set in a Queendom, the gods having demonstrated long ago that men weren't fit to rule (in the made up story, I'm sure there are some men who are capable of it in the real world).

So I had a go at rewriting, and then I decided that was rubbish. I had a go again, and thought that was rubbish too. And so I put it away and did something different, namely, wrote the Rose book which I'm now trying to get published, and a load of poetry.

But Chaptershill, and all the folks who live there is still sitting there, waiting for me to look towards it.

Back in Moffat when I'd shared a bit of the book as I was writing it, another person in my class had said that it reminded them of the Trudi Canavan books. I just tried to read the first of the series they mentioned - The Priestess of the White - which is an interesting premise, and I liked the outfits, but I found the story dull, and I can see that my story is dull too, which is annoying, because I really like Chaptershill and all my characters, and the cosplay would be to die for.

But I've had an idea.

Brother River and Sister Stone are both members of a post religious order (that they both think is a bit too religious still) called The Chapter. The Chapter emphasises the importance of studying things, so that we can learn how things are best done, and what works best etc, recognising that following a path like this will always lead to more questions (so it's called the Path of Known Things). Brother River carries out research work as part of his Path, and provides reports to The Overseer (the boss of The Chapter). He ends up having to work with Sister Stone on this Path, which is challenging all 'round.

Here is my idea.

What if instead of the waffly story I've got which is ostensibly from Brother River's pov, but is really from the pov of an angel on his shoulder became instead the detailed reports he writes for the Overseer? And then, because two eyes are better than one, Sister Stone is asked to provide a commentary on his report? That way you'd get the whole story from two, often conflicting povs, with one as a footnote. It would also allow each narrator to be differently unreliable, which could be fun.

I'm thinking it could be really interesting. But it could be really annoying as well (see my House of Leaves review). My plan at the moment is to rewrite the story in this way for NaNoWriMo in November.

But I want to know what you think. Does it sound rubbish? Ridiculous? Should I neck a final cup of beer in Chaptershill and walk away? Help - I'm too invested in this world and I need a sensible opinion... or just yours. What do you reckon?

Writing Bubble

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Beaches: a poetry post

And so we're into Autumn, I swear I heard the tyres screeching as the season turned. I'm writing this at my desk in the light of my little lamp and it's almost 9am, but it's gloomy because it's chucking it down.

I love Autumn. I spent ages yesterday watching gannets diving for fish in the roiling sea, keeping their places despite the wind. And I love the fog that can wrap us up in a quiet blanket.

I used to live in the Isle of Man, where the god Manannan takes care of his drunk little islanders by wrapping his warm cloak around them. So whenever I can't see the islands near us for the fog I wonder if Manannan is wrapping his cloak around us too. It feels like it.

Anyway, The Prompt, over on the Mum Turned Mom blog this week is Motion, which just had me thinking of the motion of the ocean, and of the good luck I have to be able to live near the sea again. So I am sharing this poem which I wrote earlier this year, inspired by a line in Andrew McMillan's poem, Finally (go read it, it's amazing): "that the beach was not the place."

I am not sure about this poem, but maybe you could give me some feedback on it? Cheers in advance.


Don't remember walking on
the beach along with you.
Rather, I would walk behind,
pick shells while skies were blue.

I remember fumbles on
a darkened clifftop bench.
Possibilities of our 
love teetered on the edge.

I remember watching all 
the lights go out at sea.
Singing songs in darkness while
you sat along with me.

I remember crying on
the darkened midnight steps.
Wishing to be far away
and that we'd never met.

I remember edging to 
the clifftop, looking down.
Throwing in my ring in lieu
of me, in swells to drown.

And this beach where I have washed
up is a different beach.
Water flows and sand does shift
and that one's out of reach.

© Cara L McKee 16/4/16 

mumturnedmomProse for Thought

Friday, 23 September 2016

Five Fascinating Poets worth checking out.

It is said that for every poem you write you should read forty. Thinking about it I probably do, although the jewels amongst them can be far between (which is not to say that the rest aren't good, just that some are magnificent). 

Here are some of the jewels I've come across lately.

This video is Inua Ellam sharing his poem, 'Candy Coated Unicorns And Converse All Stars.' It draws you in to a shared moment, bringing a magical spotlight to bear upon a grubby tale. It is captivating and troubling, and bears repeated exploration.

Next up is Phenomenal Woman by Maya Angelou, who is so often phenomenal. I adore the in-your-face awesome of this poem, which you'll find on Poem Hunter here (sorry about the really annoying adverts).

Gillian Clarke has served as the National Poet of Wales for eight years and is now stepping down. One of the poems she was commissioned to write was one commemorating the mine disaster at Six Bells. Her response is a woman's view of the moment of tragedy, which strikes straight at the heart. Find it here.

This poem, 'Let it be me,' is by James Conn, about whom I know nothing. It was a runner up in last year's Imprint poetry competition. I like the poem, but I love the interesting way it's been laid out, the use of capitals and rhythm to convey meaning. It's one of those poems that I keep coming back to.

And last up today is Helen Mort, a poet from Derbyshire who's just brought out a new collection on women climbers entitled, 'No Map Could Show Them.' The poem I'm sharing is the utterly marvellous 'Difficult,' which I first heard on Woman's Hour back in the summer (here's the clip of it), and you'll also find the written version in this edition of Now Then. It makes me proud to be a 'difficult' woman.

What have you come across lately? Anything fab?

Friday, 16 September 2016

love a busy week

The first thing I do when I write a blog post these days, tends to be to create a title banner, in my 'signature style'. I must admit, I'm not sure about today's title. Do I love a busy week? I'm kind of shattered, and I'm annoyed to be writing this in the knowledge that I've missed the #WhatImWriting linky because I'm still going at twenty past nine on a Friday night, with a G&T at my side and a headache. I should just stop.

But I have been really busy working and more work begets more ideas, and I can't stop thinking of stuff, and when I'm thinking my fingers are typing it, and I need to have a pen to hand at all times, and it needs to be one of my very own fountain pens that none may touch, and I'm writing random poems and filling up Google Keep with inspiration, including lots of Cheryl Strayed quotes - who knew she was so inspirational? This is just one that caught my eye:
“Forgiveness doesn't sit there like a pretty boy in a bar. Forgiveness is the old fat guy you have to haul up a hill.”
― Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
anyway, there is not enough time to get all this done, and as well as breathing out I need to breathe in and... 


It was Miss 9's birthday last
weekend. She got this splendid
lunch bag off her Grandad.
The splint is from the NHS.
So here I am, taking stock of what I've been up to this week, and by week, I mean Tuesday to Friday, because last weekend was a birthday weekend (and so's this weekend), and then Monday was taken up with my Writer's Group (I'm very excited to now be running my own poetry circle, with lots of incredibly good poets in it, so much learning to be done), and taking Miss newly 9 to the hospital (broken arm healing nicely), and Miss 6 to Rainbows and homework and all of that stuff.

On Tuesday I wrote my column for the next edition of Scotland 4 Kids which will be coming out next month. It's a great magazine, and I hope the circulation gets rolled out beyond Edinburgh before too long.

I also did lots of work on Tuesday on the anthology I'm pulling together for Largs Writers Group, which I finished all my bits on on Wednesday! That was awesome, because I've learned lots from getting that book ready for publication (and the job isn't finished yet), but I've also had lots of problems with getting things to fit, bringing things in from lots and lots of different sources (including hard copy), and getting them to fit into a coherent look, and working with the printer to make sure the style works throughout. In amongst all this, the word processing package that I was using stopped supporting UK English (ARGH!!!), so, after muddling along for a while in a sea of squiggly red, I switched to Libre Office, which is similar but not the same (and you really know about these things when you're doing complicated nonsense). All of it was excellent learning, and I am feeling like I could pull together a pamphlet of my poetry to sell at events and to you good people. I'd mainly be using the poems I've already published elsewhere (like here), with a couple of newbies thrown in to sweeten the deal. What do you think? Would you buy it?

Anyhow. After wrestling with formatting on the Wednesday I was delighted to get the good news that one of my poems has been accepted for something... I can't tell you what yet, but I'm very pleased to be involved with it. Watch this space...

Yesterday I got myself gussied up and wrote my review on my new glasses from (see the title banner and this post), which I've been wearing lots today too. It's fun to get fancied up from time to time, but it's terrifying how much eye makeup seems to be required in order to look human!

And today. Today I have been on fire. I have rewritten my synopsis for the Rose book, and sent submissions out to two potential agents. I have written up notes on publishing from an event I helped to facilitate a couple of weeks back, and sent them off to a curious friend. I have tarted up one poem, after it was rejected on Wednesday (poor poem, it's lovely - it's got vampires in it), and written three more to keep it company, and sent them all off to a magazine (keep your fingers crossed about all these submissions). AND, I realised that my submissions filing system was woefully behind the times/rubbish, so I sorted that out too (don't get excited, it's still mainly post its).

And yes, I missed What I'm Writing, but I'll catch the next one. Right now, it's time to play Transport Tycoon and actually drink that G&T!

*Update! That poem, with the vampires, got accepted!!! Yay! 

Writing Bubble

Thursday, 15 September 2016

love some new glasses

I wear glasses. Not all the time, just when I want to see things far away. So I'm forever putting them on and taking them off and leaving them somewhere safe, you know, like on the top of a car, or in a cafe, or something.

So when got in touch to ask if I would like to try out their (rather fab) glasses I jumped at the chance.

To be honest, I'd never considered buying glasses online before - I liked the idea of trying them on in the shop and faffing for a very long time before deciding, but at the prices are charging, even if they're not perfect they're perfect for a spare pair.

So I had a look at their website, and found several pairs I was interested in. I got out my ruler and measured up my favourite existing pair to get a better idea of how how they'd look on my face (and they provide all the measurements, so that's easy to do with a ruler and a mirror). 

So I faffed about for ages choosing and then placed my order, including my prescription details (which I easily got for free from my optician), and three weeks later they arrived, beautifully packaged, all the way from China. My friend Jo thinks they're great, but Miss 6 is not impressed (she's hard to impress to be fair).

Anyway, I like them, and considering all the glasses I looked at were £14-£22 it's hard to go wrong. You can even get prescription sunglasses.

The good people at have been kind enough to give me an offer code to share with you, if you fancy grabbing yourself some face furniture. The code is GSHOT50 and it will give you 50% off on eyeglasses and sunglasses with free lenses, although sale frames aren't included.

Happy shopping!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Love: A poetry post

I've been thinking about family and our emotional bonds a bit lately. Motherhood is often dressed up in pink bows and seems to be seen as something to be argued over, and taken for granted, but that love that you get when you become a mother is huge and possibly violent and all encompassing. Personally, I've only become a mother through having babies, but there are other ways and I'm sure that magically weird strong relationships develop in those too.

Anyway, before I start trying to ensure everyone is included I'll stop, because this is about me and how I feel about my kids. Perhaps there will be things in here you'll recognise.

The picture above is of me with my last baby, the one who was born in bloood and flashing lights and drama, as referred to in my last poem, Return.

I read this poem out today at my writers group, and thought I'd read it for you too. Click below for the recording.


There’s a fierceness to it.
This gentle, patient, physical love
for you, forged within the very core of me.
You who bring magical changes.
Demonstrating from the start
that love, that life, that creation
is more than wanting.

It is grown in constant discomfort
in worry and joy.
It is pain and fear and out of control
and loathing things while missing them.
It is borne and born in blood
in pain and ecstasy.
It is nourished with enforced patience
while you hold my hand and catch my eye.

And your love for my love for your love is
climbing me. And kissing fierce kisses
and needing me to lay just so, and taking
over my body and all of my mind
so that even as you walk away

my thoughts stay with you.
You, who are beyond mine
and totally your own.

© Cara L McKee 11/9/16 

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Return: A poetry post

I've been away for such a long time! My last post was about a month ago, and was written when I thought that Katsuma was going to die. I was so incredibly worried about him, and I'm happy to report that he has pulled through that crisis, although he is still a very sick cat. He is now on lots of medication for his heart disease, and he is no longer capable of living the life he previously lived. But I think he's still content. He gets ever so much love, and I know he wishes he could still go out and kill things, but lying in any possible patch of sun comes a close second. He's never going to be fully better, and at some point another crisis will come, and that is when we will stop, because he's done amazingly well, he's walking again and everything, but I wouldn't want to see him go through such a terrible time again.

Anyway, what have I been doing to keep myself away for so long? Lots of poems. I have been writing away, with so many ideas that I'm getting lots of half poems to come back to later. I've been submitting things and getting rejected, and, occasionally, accepted, and it's all going along well enough. My rose book is currently also being rejected in various places, and I've made a few tweaks to that along the way, so that is going along fine as well. In addition to this I've been working with a local writing group to collate their upcoming anthology, which has such a marvellously eclectic selection of stuff in it, including a poem from a really good poet with Parkinson's which eloquently conveys his frustration with the time it takes for him to communicate verbally. I can't quite get over that poem. And a prose piece from a child's point of view about her parent's selfishness during their divorce, which brilliantly makes you side with the mother, even while the child is railing against her. Anyway, as you can gather, other people's work from that was taking over my mind, so today I have returned to my own work, and am using one of the poems I've half written this week inspired by Sara's prompt: Return

I've been so inspired by this prompt, writing poems about failing to leave home, and about my 'interesting' experiences with living on a certain island, but I've not been able to finish any of them. I am going into too much detail, and losing track of what I'm trying to say. Do I know what I am trying to say?

The one that I am sharing was half written in the middle of the night after settling my youngest, incredibly wilful (which is a pain in the butt to live with but I admire anyway) child, again. I know what I'm trying to say in it, but I am also feeling really negative about my body after getting grief in public for being fat the other day, and just not having any resilience at the moment. So I am using the first two stanzas, and making up the rest right now, to share with you for The Prompt, Prose for Thought, and for What I'm Writing. Triple Whammy!

Anyway, I told you I was talking too much and losing the thread, so enough waffle, I shall poem at you.


From my body she was cut
in blood and drama
of flashing lights.
One sweltering night
when my body could take no more.

To my body she returned
for hard-earned sustenance.
My body reluctant
in shock and pain,
yet yielding to her needs again.

And each time she takes a step
in ability, in confidence,
she returns to my body
to check that I'm still here.

Her young body, strong and fit,
no longer needs a hand
to hold. To lift her up.
And yet, in small, dark hours,
my body is her safe space.

My soft and failing body
has arms to hold her,
lips to kiss her,
a scent that reassures,
that when she returns
I am still here.

© Cara L McKee 8/9/16

Having nipped to the loo early this morning, I came out to find Miss 6 'reading' my notebook, in my bed. She was on the page of this poem, and said she thought I'd done it very well, which was very sweet of her, considering I'd written it in the dark, and could barely make it out myself!

mumturnedmomProse for ThoughtWriting Bubble