Pass It ON

I am sure the furore around Kate Clanchy’s book, Some Kids and What they Taught Me will not have escaped many readers of this site. I would like to offer some thoughts as someone who is both author and teacher. I am struggling to condense everything that troubles me into 800 words, so let me just say this. I could write this column solely on the peculiarity of ‘we’ in the narrative – an inclusive pronoun that has done an invidious job of exclusion, in my view; a feint which allows the reader to imagine more generally what teachers think and do. And let me also share this: I am recovering from the grief and anger at the way in which a small group of people in high-profile school roles spoke to and about my older sons, one of whom in SEN, the other SEN and ASD. I have fought – it really is the verb here – to have concerns heard across agencies. I am not the only one and I know it will have been terrible for young people and their parents and carers to revisit, for example, ableist comments and attitudes; for students, to wonder, ‘Is this what teachers really think of me and say about me?’ There is flaw, bias, and bad behaviour in all classes and staffrooms: thank goodness for those teachers who pointed out the wrongness of Clanchy’s peculiar taxonomies of childhood in the book and I remain baffled by those who thought it was a wonderful teaching book or the most inspiring book on teaching they had ever read. HOW? When you read this, about autistic children: ‘’More than an hour a week would irritate me.’ ‘If I set them a task, they will stick at it, not deviating, for hours, and never ask why. This is fun.’ That a teacher could mock in this way is appalling; that it was repeatedly endorsed, staggering.

I am haunted by the descriptions of children and young people, when we ought to have seen due diligence on safeguarding. I am furious at reckonings passed off as knowledge because this percolates into misunderstandings and gets passed on as fact and scholarship. It is hard to understand the publishing, legal parsing, editing, prize-winning when these are minors described in this way. I am embarrassed for and furious at the people who came forward – doubtless without having read the book – to moan about cancelling and censorship. Finally, I think the discussions around the book have again exposed the stiff old arguments of not being able to say ANYTHING nowadays, which is, as ever, radically ill-informed, predicated on privilege – your freedom, that is – and plain cruel and self-indulgent.

Going forward? We already know that there will be a rewrite done more ‘lovingly’, but how can that be? I have read the book and there is something unlovingly written on each page and often at length; it would need to be a different book. I would also like to know about consent because while we know that consent was given by the students for their work to be included and that they were paid, what is consensual about their lives, appearances, class, or race being written of, shamed, or appraised in this manner? For whether you agree that they have been appropriately anonymised (and I do not), those students can still see themselves and future students can see themselves too. The ‘African Jonathon’, the autistic child who is good at Maths but has no friends, the young girl with an eating disorder whose proclivities Clanchy translates into other areas of life and classroom work.  I think there must be clear and probably difficult discussion going forward. I certainly feel differently about publishing now, about some writers and about a lot of teachers. I also do not accept the notion that someone meant to do well and be kind and therefore their behaviour and tropes should be exonerated. A writer – or teacher – needs to work harder than that and understand both that it is the outcome, which is of significance and, also, that within an apparent kindness may be arrogance and ethnocentricity; within serving and trying to raise people up, there may be pity and, for example, the press of an unacknowledged structural racism. We need, also, to have very clear guidelines – in consultation with those who are specialists in educational law and the right of the child – so that damage of this kind is not done again. Or at least is not done after the reprint of Some Kids I Taught and What they Taught Me. As for me? Those kids – the ones I taught and those I still work with – taught me to learn and to challenge myself to do better; to think differently. Now would be a good time to resolve once and for all for sectors of publishing to do just that. Let us all learn from some kids and hear their voices, true and beautiful and do better by one another, whether in teaching or publishing: or both.

Resources and examples of key comment on the book. Monisha Rajesh

Pragya Agarwal:

Speaker and writer Karl Knights from 2020 on the book and its troubling depictions of disability on twitter here and, again on twitter, there is a superb forensic account of the book from experienced teacher, Diane Leedham with the hashtag #DiReadsClanchy in which language and point of view are dissected and the legality of text in terms of child protection, safeguarding and The Equalities Act are addressed. 

An Online Day Writing Retreat, Saturday, July 17th, 10-4.30

Photo by Olya Kobruseva on

Booking – details will be publicised – from Wednesday the 9th of June, from 10, through Eventbrite.

10-4.30 (with a break for lunch and a mid-morning break, too) and for a maximun of fifteen people.

A space in which you will be heard, accessible, fun and, hopefully, really inspiring! With frank talk and plenty of time for questions. You can ask anything!

£65 to include written feedback on a small section of your work, if requested. There are TWO funded places for those from an under-represented group or unwaged/low income.

Who is it for?

Those who are working towards first publication in prose, whether a novella, novel or short stories. I am quite aware that some of these people may have been writing for pleasure for some time. Also, there is probably going to be at least one genius in the room! I want to comfort and encourage and reassure you that you are heard and in a safe space. The day is also for those prose writers who are perhaps a bit further on – perhaps they have already had a book published – but want a boost and reboot, possibly because they have got stuck or not had a supportive community around them at any stage. I hope we can provide insight and encouragement to those who are currently querying their work with agents (possibly small presses) and not having any luck, or who have experienced disappointment in their industry experience so far. 

Here is a sketch of the day and the first part is all with me, Anna Vaught. However, at least two of us will look at samples of work sent to us as we understand how vital feedback is. I will be in touch about this nearer the time.


*Questions. Frank as you like. If I don’t know, I will say so and aim to find someone who does know.

*Writing a beginning and netting your reader. How might you do it?

*Close reading exercises. Place, atmosphere, character, punctuation. Observing it in others’ work to make us think about our own writing. Translating this into our own work.

*Techniques to help you with editing your work. Outlines, development, why you should always read aloud.

Short break

*Questions. Frank as you like again. These can be on anything, so on writing, but also on the industry or anything you need help with.

*Confidence. Very short bit because this can make you feel vulnerable and I do not want anyone to feel this way, even in a safe and supportive environment, so rather than asking YOU, I will tell you about me and what my barriers are and how I manage mine. If anyone wants to ask a further question at this stage, that is fine.


*More on close reading; characters hints and hooks and thoughts on a story arc. What is it? How do you create and sustain one and is it true there’s an equation for it…?

*Troubleshooting. Proofing, common errors, homophone checking, speech punctuation, laying out speech, techniques with long and short paragraphs; my observations on the most common problems in the many manuscripts I have seen over the past year – such as too many characters too soon, a beginning that lacks pace or interest, sluggish narrative and many more. Feel free to disagree that these are problems.


In the afternoon, from 2-3.30, there will be three special guests, Michael Langan, Heidi James and Sam Mills. They will be covering a range of topics. Between them, these three have covered novels, short stories and non-fiction work, including memoir. There is a great deal of editorial experience here and two of your writers are lecturers in Creative Writing. So, you are with people who have a wealth of experience. 

Michael is currently in the middle of a rewrite of his next novel, following feedback from his agent so has decided to talk specifically about the redrafting/rewriting process and his experience of what that might entail. 

Sam’s  topic will  be ‘literary fiction v commercial fiction’, thinking back to some years back when she used to teach/critique with the TLC and the Writer’s Workshop and how often authors would ask what category their work belonged in or feel a bit bewildered by the division and what it meant. Having written in so-called genre fiction – YA – and experimental fiction, Sam will discuss the two. She does not see them as hugely distinct categories – which can also be part of the discussion – but knows how it can help would-be writers to think about direction and how publishers might see these categories.

Heidi will be talking about risk and developing the confidence to write against the grain in your work. That is, risk is writing what you need to write, not writing to please/what you think people want.

BUT THAT IS NOT ALL. We will finish with an Agent q&a with literary agent, Jonathan Ruppin, Founder of The Ruppin Agency (keen to find underrepresented voices) & Ruppin Agency Writers’ Studio (mentoring across the UK).

We hope you have a wonderful day!

Sam Mills is the author of The Quiddity of Will Self (Corsair) and several award-winning YA novels publisher by Faber. Her memoir about being a carer, The Fragments of my Father, was published by Fourth Estate in 2020 and shortlisted for the Barbellion Prize; her feminist essay, ‘Chauvo-Feminism’ was recently published by Indigo Press. She has contributed to various anthologies, including Know Your Place (Dead Ink) and Disturbing the Beast (Boudicca Press).She is the co-founder and MD of indie press Dodo Ink.

Michael Langan has worked as an editor, writer, mentor and teacher for over twenty years, and currently facilitates writing workshops and critical reading groups at various locations, including Lisbon, where he lives. He has a PhD in creative writing from Liverpool John Moores University and was Programme Leader of Creative Writing at the University of Greenwich from 2002 – 2012, specialising in the novel and short fiction. As Arts Editor of the online LGBTQ culture journal ‘Polari’, he wrote about visual arts, film, and literature and, in 2016, was a Contributing Editor to the Paris-based ‘Seymour’ magazine, writing a series of essays about his experience of the creative process. For the last five years he has co-facilitated the LGBTQ+ Free Reads Scheme with The Literary Consultancy during Pride month, offering free manuscript feedback to emerging queer writers. His debut novel, Shadow is a Colour as Light Is, was published by Lume Books in 2019 and he is currently working on his second.

Heidi James is the author of critically acclaimed novels Wounding, So the Doves (a Sunday Times Crime Book of the Month) and The Sound Mirror. She won The Saboteur Award for her novella, The Mesmerist’s Daughter and was a finalist in The Cinnamon Poetry Collection Prize. Her short stories, poetry and essays have been published in various anthologies and magazines including, We’ll Never Have Paris, Somesuch, Dazed and Confused and Galley Beggar Press. She hosts a podcast, First Graft, where she discusses the writing process with other writers.

Anna Vaught is a novelist, poet, essayist, short fiction writer, editor and a secondary English teacher, tutor and mentor to young people, mental health advocate and mum of 3. 2020 saw the publication of Anna’s third novel, Saving Lucia (Bluemoose Books – longlisted for The Barbellion Prize) and a first short story collection, Famished (Influx). Anglo-Welsh, she splits her time between Wiltshire, Wales, and the Southern US. Anna’s essays, short and flash fiction, creative non-fiction, reviews, articles, and features have been featured widely online and in print. She has just completed another novel with a novella and first non-fiction book on their way. She is a monthly columnist for ‘The Bookseller’. Anna is also a mental health advocate and campaigner and a passionate advocate for those with chronic mental and physical health problems who wish to write and have their work be seen.


What have we here? Eighteen of my poems; one was published before and others appeared in different forms as chapter epigraphs in my second book, novella, The Life of Almost. They are all fixed on thirty miles of coastline – thalassa and môr are sea in Greek and Welsh – forest and quay on the estuary, and it is a place I revisit again, because it is family, generations back, though not where I grew up. Have myths, terrible women, strange deaths, awful advice, smothering landscape and an eviscerating moment when you learn that your parents do not actually love you. Yes, all in its awful beaiuty and melancholy, here we are. Really they need to be read aloud for you to feel their rhythm, sound patterning and hear their curious inflection. I do not consider them good enough to develop as a collection, or seek to publish further but here they are for you. All were written five years ago. You may see the influence of Dylan Thomas, but there are also threads from the Mabinogion and classical texts, as well as references to old songs and sea shanties.


                                                ‘Cast out, my broken comrades’

St Justinian at dawn; the boat,
Its clenched hull scowling,
As braced against the swell,
Collected errant figures – all
Adrift, so lost on land, and sad.
We reached out, emptied souls,
To Ramsey Sound; the island
Siren-called us, brought us home
To sea: to stay afloat a while
And find our shipwrecked selves.

It wasn’t in the landing of our craft,
Against the crashing deck of shore,
But somewhere in between the rock
And rock, that melancholy came to rest –
And tumbled down through navy depths

And we were free, unbroken: still.

This poem is published in Anthology of the Sea by The Emma Press, October, 2016.


                                                ‘My heart unbroken, then, by fish- frozen sea.’

‘Oh, never fill your heart with trawlermen’

My nanny told, then told: ‘You want
A man with both feet on the ground –
A man with roughened nails, from
Dirt and labour on the land,

Not brined and drenched through by the Sea.’
But Nanny never knew the sound
Of oilskin slipped on clover bank;
Of danger in the stolen hull,
Of silver, limned above your head,
While thwart hands toiled through the night,
And washed me up and brought me home.

I wouldn’t learn: I dreamed of pearls, full fathom five;

I sang of gales, the tang of salt,
The storied depths of sea and sea –
Limb-frozen journeys, far from home
With yellow light on midnight crests.
But Nanny told, then told, ‘You want
A man with bone-dry shoes, inland;
Your sailors leave you high and dry,
They catch and throw and pack in ice
The keenist heart that you can toss.’
But Nanny never knew the song
Of siren journeys way out there,
Of labour stoked by heat and loss –

She did not feel the azure pull,

The mermaid kiss, the tongues that spoke;
She died a desiccated death, in clod
That choked, while primrose mocked.
Still, out at sea, I rocked and bobbed:
We drew the finest catch that day.


                                                Madonna of the Cleddau

The sea coast was too far for you.

To keep inland was your advice,

Away from Jack Tar, foreign folk:

Stay cloistered on this estuary.

Madonna of the Cleddau, come:

Square jaw, dark eyes and, counterpoint,

Retroussé nose and powdered cheeks:

And born of earth, not briny downs.

You birthed eleven, stood back up,

With apron on and sleeves rolled high,

Delivered livestock, lipstick on,

With plaintive songs of field delight.

But, round the wall, the sea began,

Spoke not to you: you had no thought

To jump and best a warmer wave;

A voyage out was lost on you.

What did you care for them or theirs?

Madonna’s night world of the quay

Had supernatural force: the owls,

The rustle of the hawk, black elms,

The screech and call and elsewhere sound.

Such pale wings drew on navy sky

As you looked out across the flats

And thought that this was world enough,

The kelp, the wrack was only stench.

I’ve seen it now, your home; your hearth:

The summer quay was bunting dressed,

The village pub all polished up,

No gossip, snarling by the bar;

A ‘Country Living’ August snap,

All cleansed of snuff or pewter cup,

Sent gentry, as you might have said.

And rag and bone man, gone to dust.

Madonna of the Cleddau, mine:

I sing to you from farther shores:

I wish that you had gone to sea –

We could have basked there, you and I.

It never changed, waves’ thunderous moods

Could not be altered, made anew.

I look at Cresswell now and wish

The sea would roar and cry and break

The weeded walls, the altered beds,

Bring wrack and shells to grace the stones

Where mortar tidily restrains.


When did I

            I went out early, tiger-clad, for bravery’s sake

            To try the sea. Its bite was worse than mine –

            It told harsh words and mumbles spat a briny sound

            Of fury’s heart. And I was spent, so roared no more.


Returns a sea echo

Had I not been mute, still yet, as Milton might,

I should have cried to miss a mirror in every mind –

Not to have glimpsed the swallow, bright,

Such cresting clarion call and bravest hunter’s horn.

I might, I say, have wished to be alone,

Caressing so the dampening blossom now –

Finger tipped to velvet wings at dusk,

Unbound by duty, or amaranthine depths.

To sit on quiet rosy evenings, darkness settling by

In bowing woods, with harebells pealing close.

For stillness made replete what things I saw –

And bosom sentiment was only that.

Such contemplation of this hour was wasted not:

The honour was replete.

But very now, then up the churchyard path

A fox came, sharp; the beech tree whispered thanks.

Thus honour was in being quiet,

Reverent in this storied landscape, still.


                                                Myfanwy, I loved

Myfanwy, as you were: bay window, a side light, and a black background.

Then as you were again: middle room – direct front light. I was specific.

Myfanwy – I was precise; exacting with the fall of dark and bright: I wrote it down.

Myfanwy, as I hoped you were. But you smiled and sailed away, sassy girl.

I sat for hours as the shadows fell, knowing what night must still portend: my craft.

I drew a nail across a pane and scratched your name, invisible to others as

The evening settled in. I knew that morning brought a monogram in window frost

For you to see and I to know: I showed you how its feathered lines and confidence

Spoke truth to us – that you could stay.  The frost had crept along the span

To show you how this foolish clot had said the most that could be said

And then I spoke – and ruined all. A foolish joke: my love; my word –

Myfanwy, stay. Myfanwy, do not sail away.

I tried to draw another length to keep you here: pellucid worlds for us to share,

yet how I knew what I had done. You cared not yet for crystal casts,

the shapes recorded day by day. The metaphor for heavenly plan

Was lost for you in my thwart hands – and so I scratched and tried to show

A simple script, its blazon – you. I fell and fell, and no-one knew.

Oh, sassy girl, why should you stay or want a watcher of the skies,

a gabbling fool, like me? Why, no. Myfanwy, stay. Myfanwy, do not sail away.


                                                County Town

If I should fall, then say to me the reason clouds form as they are,

Why ice should seed along a scratch, why I should love my six-point star.

I do not know or care to see the smiles that fall in brazen line,

But innocence and clearest eye embolden me to make her mine.

I speak of love and quiet worlds, the county town on winter nights:

The sweets of honeybees, a view of ruby sky and amber lights –

Of unctuous syrup mixed with snow, auroras made of rosy glow,

My borealis blood red sheen – if I should fall, then make me know.

When I am not and you are here, beholden to this dusty room,

Be gentle with the tenuous forms of memory; do not grieve too soon.

Consider this – why should we be, ephemeral and urgent? How?

And speak to me with confidence, declaim for me on cliff or prow.

In nature’s fragile frame I see a world that lives beyond the hill,

Beyond the log pile, salt and shed; behind our eyes when we lie still.

And when I fall, then say to me you read its language, pure and keen –

And set my records on my desk and light my lamp: make them be seen.


                                                ‘Always there were uncles’ (Dylan Thomas, A Child’s                                                                  Christmas in Wales

I longed not to talk to him, the schoolmaster;

He was always old, even as a boy, Llewhellin.

His eyes blorted thick, his voice rasped:

Never a pretty thing was he.

But I misses him now, you see, that old man

Cresting the corners of the foxgloved lanes –

Standing at Walton West, scowling at the tankers

Bound for Milford from great bright places

He hadn’t seen and didn’t want.

And I misses the silent pouring of tea

And the picking of apples from his headland-wizened trees;

the storied estuary, century feuds and nodding campion.

And I cry when I scent, alone, the violet patch, dug up,

Where I found him. And he was gone, eyes closed and young.


                                                Walton West

In this drear place, I see my family loved

In celandines and mugwort garlands drawn;

I do not know what tears or mossy lies

They fought so hard to keep from being said

Llewhellins, thick and fast and tired and gone,

Their stories drawn in stone or footstep sand.


                                                Still to be sad

In the old shop on the harbour walk I saw a note: ‘Be Mine:

Were you that girl I saw on the sand, turning to face me

Against the gale? I think you saw me, and I want to know.’

It was there for weeks, that note, rusting in the sun,

And brushed by arms of the boys running from the beach

For ice cream and the papers for bored parents.

And weeks more it hung, unnoticed, torn;

Down in shreds it was, a girl would never see;

But a girl had never seen. She’d been looking instead

Over the shoulder of the keen bright boy

To the man who broke her heart: a challenge –

Find me, save me. Do not let me now walk out

Into the sea. But in the keening of the wind

And the straining of the gale, all turned away

And she was gone and the slips of note removed,

For something clean and tidy and not sad.


                                                Druidstone Haven. A sonnet

We climbed the downward spiral of the trail

To best the shedding fingers of the cliff,

I’d promised you, oh love, I could not fail

I’d prove to you against our lovers’ tiff,

That there was treasure to be found that day –

Albescent moons to cradle in your hand –

Sea urchins fine, a little world to say:

Echinocardium, wanting to be grand.

But my world was not yours, you did not care

To hold the little lanterns in your palm –

The hollow globe within the greatest fair,

You did not care if such should come to harm.

So cracked the sea potato on the tide:

I knew, although I smiled, my love had died.


                                                Grave bag

‘Girl, get the grave bag from by the back door!’

‘I’m doing it now, in a minute!’

‘But have you got there the water in the milk bottle,

the scrubber and the cloth and the scissors,

they’re rusty but will do to trim?’

‘Yes, yes, I see them now.’

‘But have you got them, have you? Must not forget

and must not leave the bag at home and must not take it

to the graves half full, is it done now, is it all and are you sure?’

‘Yes, I am sure.’

The bag was bundled and the car was roared and the dead were glad

of a well-kept stone and the brambles trimmed and no-one cursed,

like they did, all did, in life, and the door was keyed and the grave bag was refilled

and sat just as it should, and the life was endless not altered,

even in this loud new world.



Rounding the headland at St Brides and sighting the small churchyard,

Cariad, you were aware, weren’t you now, that things were changed that day?

You saw us with the girl, cousin by marriage, I think she was,

And all was well because she was not you. You were, weren’t you now,

The same age and the same beauty and the same dimension, even, roughly now,

And all so different because she was not you. And daddy said, I know he did,

‘Ah, my lovely girl, my cariad, look at your lovely golden hair

And your blue eyes and the light foot and a tumble of a laugh’ –

But that was not for you, but for your cousin, by marriage I think she was,

And she was fair and pretty and you with your welter of a laugh

And your thin voice and your pinched nose and you my shameless,

shameful little girl, mine but not mine and yapping now

as we rounded the headland at St Brides. Sing to the sailors, girl,

cry for the mermaids if you see them there, but in this dark world

where cliffs heap up and the boy drowns and the wrack fills,

think always that none of this cares for you, but for her, cariad.


                                                Lewis, who went away

When I was a kid, Lewis took his own life.

I heard them say he took it, but where it went,

I couldn’t say or wasn’t told. Perhaps it had

been drained, in the sloop, with all his pints,

or thrown gladly off Stack Rocks with a shout

that he married well and was a man they liked,

but I don’t know. For once, though I was very young,

I saw a look from out the corner of his eye as he shipped

off, went laughing with the pot boys and his girl:

that look it said, I think, that Lewis wanted rescuing,

but no-one came, as the sea foam danced in Cardigan Bay.



The Auger shell, unbroken, in the palm,

still yet, such tenor of this hour upon this tide,

I wait at Nolton, looking out to sea:

you do not come. I nurse the shell,

its whorls and tidy chambers tell

of secrets and of things I cannot know;

the grains of sand, or filament of carapace

swept up inside its little maze,

its rooms, its tidy cap, once came from elsewhere,

elsewhere on this tide, I’ll never know. And you,

I wait for, still, looking out to sea. I hear you laugh

and cannot say from where it came, but seabirds circle low.

I throw the shell where anemone and spider crab

have made their home – more life reclaims it now,

as your laugh is lost to me, in warm thrift and gorse

and the tenor of this hour upon the tide.



My mother taught at Wiston school,

Her hands were lithe, her mind so sharp,

Her friend Rhiannon worshipped her

And plucked her name upon the harp

Which sat all gold, in sight of all,

Rhiannon’s talons told mother’s fall –

She plucked a death upon the strings,

Her dainty nails scratched their goal:

‘Your mother will have feet, not wings

And with their clay, they’ll crush her soul –

Oh, read The Mabinogion, dear,

You pretty pretty little child –

For you shall be my daughter fair,

my son Avaggdu’s ugly – wild –

the thick and thwart upon his brow

why should she have while I’ve not got?

Your mother taught at Wiston school

and so I tell you, she shall not.’

She plucked and plucked and screamed her rage

now mother’s clad in primrose dell,

But I can’t go and see her now,

Rhiannon keeps me in a cage

And sings to me of sweetest love

And all the things I cannot gauge:

Avaddgu scowls, for he’s not loved

And spits upon upon sweet mother’s grave.


                             The Famished House

            ‘Around here, the trees suck air and, at night,

            when the last shriek of the plump and pretty-breasted curlew

            is drawn from its throat, and when the strandline treasure

            is dulled and shredded against the rock, even in fair weather,

            well then: that is the time that the houses take their fill.’

            ‘Nanny, is it true?’ ‘ Oh yes. Around here when the moss

            spawns bad, it creeps across your foot if you slowly move,

            so be sure to move quite fast, when the twilight stalks,

            then that is the time that the houses take their fill.’

            ‘Nanny, is it true?’ ‘Oh yes. When the jewel sky

            and the lapping wing, have beat their very blood

            into the hour, take heed; the tidiest stones

            we built such with, will stretch up so to bark at silly men,

            the silliest from away, for we shall know

            what is to come, as groaning, crafted stone leans in

            to kiss a sleeping face and staunch, in wild rebellion, dear,

            the men that wrest it proudly from the ground.’


                                                                        Slebech Forest

            ‘Today we will go inland dear, to see the rhododendron bloom,

            Away from sea scent, sunset shell; away from me, away from you.’

            We travelled for hours on little tracks, their way being marked with showy prime,

            It was, at first, of some delight, but then my love spoke of his crime:

            ‘So, stay here, love, forever held, unless you scent the estuary,

            And I fly high, to England bold, away from you, away from me.’

            Ah dear, you underestimate my knowledge of this mazèd land,

            You did not hear the laughing breeze, dead mammy’s come and with her hand

            She’ll pen you up, beside the Rhos, and I will run forever free,

            I’ll not stay here, forever held, not stay with you but live for me –

            An orient boat will rescue me, blown fast on daddy’s pretty curse

            And rhododendron casket blooms will strip your life and end my verse.

On loss, grief, change and…


Just a quick lunchtime write, but perhaps this will resonate and comfort. I don’t pretend to know any answers, but I do know what I found to be true. I entirely expect to be wrong about this or to have to adapt my thinking. That ought to be the natural way of things.

I had a great deal of loss, raw and confounding in my childhood and early years; there was a period between 16 and 20 when I lost my grandparents, my godmother – to whom I was so very close; I write about her in some of my books – and both my parents, followed by the decision made by my sibling to separate from me without explanation. It was his right but I did not know why it happened. So it was that I launched into the world in a different way from any number of my peers. I felt so odd; a weirdo. I was in pain, confused and, with a complex and very damaging background, I had any number of things to deal with – not least having to decide how best to provide for myself going forward, where to live and how in the hell to heal. I wish that none of this had happened, but I want to say something encouraging, too – while I hope that you have had not similar, yet know that some reading this have had much worse – let me say that first.

I realised that grief did not go. I used to push it down and try not to feel it until I learned that you had to live alongside it because grief is not possible without love. I suppose that this grounded me, which is not the same as saying it stopped hurting. It didn’t; it still hurts. But I let waves wash over me and feel that even the worst paroxysms do not last. I have learned to feel them and not be afraid for them and, also, that grief is not possible without love. I think it can feed into creative energy, too. I think your experience of it fits you to help others, unfurl a tiny story in the darkest experience, and to be less afraid of the world and all the people in it.

There is another type of grief and I often wonder whether this kind of grief is at the root of many ills around us; there is pain in the aggressive voice and stance; in the person who hits out because to hurt another or deride them insistently seems to assuage pain. It does not of course. This type of grief (I think) comes from a sense that you are excluded, looked down on, that your dreams were trampled on or, perhaps, that you did not dare to dream at all because to do so would have been too painful, watching it all come to nothing. Obviously there are many people who do suffer those awful feelings and go on to challenge them and needle rightful targets who truly negate possibility for other, but there are others whose hurt and vulnerability may turn to malice. Have you seen it?

Both the grief born of loss and the grief of what you could not have or be are intense and can be eviscerating. In my experience, for both, it is our contacts with other people and our sharing with them, plus our relationship with art, music and the natural world, which make a difference. Also, the humour that blunts loneliness and enlivens possibility; which refreshes perspective.

I am writing this today because I am reflecting on how I feel and how I want to live my life. We have had a number of bereavements during the past year and then, last night, our beloved tabby became ill, deteriorated quickly and the vet advised that there was no effective palliative care and so he was put to sleep. My boys are devastated; our animals are so much part of our family and this one has been there for as long as they can remember. I think that what I am most upset about is seeing their grief; it is also their first experience of a sudden loss, but certainly not mine and I must help them navigate their way through it. I have spoken to them about grief before and told them what I said at the beginning; that it has to live alongside you. That you must make a place for it to do so. Because with grief, whether it be because of loss or through your keen sense of what you could not have or be, you cannot keep tamping it down, trying to subliminate it; yes, you can distract yourself for while, of course, and that is good, but you have to feel it so it can be lived with and so that you can change as the grief changes.

There is a type of loss which is not about losing a loved one, but is about change; a death to an old way of life. There are decisions that appeared before me or which I forcefully made during this past year. I realised that I wanted to live in a smaller but richer way; that I was truly contented on my own and might like to spend more time that way, that I was actually quite ruthless about certain things – for example, it seemed to me that a friendship could be extinguished and a clear current example (for me) is those who have not been mindful at all of rules during the pandemic; who insist it is solely about individual choice. I realised I did not want to be friends with someone like that as, ultimately, it connoted so much more: effectively a casual disregard for a community, local, national and global. I felt a little bit ashamed to think like that, because we are encouraged not to be judgemental. I was told I was judgemental. I did not mean to hurt feelings, but now I no longer mean to be friends. And it was loss. You may make a choice, but that does not take away pain. I feel much has changed and come to the surface, too. I know many people reading this might feel that way too. The change, or the visibility of this process, is uncomfortable. But test something on your pulse: does it revolt you? Do you tense up? Or do you feel a surge of joy, that sense of being alive, or perhaps just at peace – as much as can ever be! You have your answer. That is what you believe.

For me, time, trying very hard to be present is a key thing. The past is a different country and up ahead, in the future, is a place where you can never actually be. It is simple but fiendishly difficult to plant yourself in the now. At least it is for me. But I am learning to do better in this regard. I plan to spend more time with those people I feel I cannot bear to lose (though of course I must, or they will lose me) and I am so looking forward to meeting other people. There will be people I no longer see. There will be people I realise I need to see less. I have to stop trying, also, with two older ones with additional needs, not to focus on what I think occurs in other families and to look only at love and doing the best we can, with what we have, at that time And as for work? I have reshaped it. I will continue with teaching, but do not think I will return to a school, though I miss the classroom. I want to work with a variety of ages and in different areas, books at the heart of this. I want to do things that are more focused on local and global communities through writing. For this reason, I am currently part of three mentoring activities, one with young people and, in my writing – forgive me, but it would wrong to say any details with work out and about – I plan even more to pay it forward. So, for every event I do, I will make an online version; for books, I aim to use my teaching and mentoring skills and experience to boost others which is, essentially, my favourite thing to do. I am excited, but I am uncomfortable with it, because it is change, because there is loss mixed in – there have already been books written which are not valued and which fail to fly – so wish me luck as I go forward, doubting myself but determined.

I will close there. Today, I am sad, bereaved, in a period of change. I am mired in loss, wearing it as lightly as I can, but giving in to the paroxysms I mentioned earlier. Perhaps you feel the same. We could do it all together. I should like that.

And I send you my love. x

On writing, querying, being published and taking care of yourself

Anna Vaught Writes

Some general thoughts. These may be used when you are first querying – that is, sending agents or indie presses your work – or perhaps they may comfort as you go further along and have found an agent or a publisher and…in comes the doubt. Or perhaps your agent has your book out on submission and back comes that creeping feeling of…what if/they don’t really like me/eeee this is tough/holy actual shit, am I good enough? Well then, you are going to tough this out. I absolutely promise you you are not the only one feeling this way and, if you thought you were super-amazing and considered yourself gifted PLUS the very thing that publishing needs, and that you know things no-one else does, then you’d be an arrogant twat and, ultimately, would you rather be that? I am sure you have seen the odd person like this on…

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Day writing retreats -NEW!

There will be further announcements as we go, but I am delighted to say that my first writing retreat will be held in West Wiltshire, just outside Bath, on Saturday the 3rd of July. Because I have pledged to offer an online counterpart to in-person events where I possibly can, there will also be an online writing retreat via Google Meet on Saturday the 17th July. For the in-person, be assured that there are excellent road and transport links to the destination and (for example) we are accessible from train changes at Bristol, Bath or Westbury, Weymouth or Cardiff Central; there is a daily direct St Pancras train

Details for in person (timings are the same for online…but read on).

10-5. You will need to bring your own packed lunch, but there will be tea and coffee and soft drinks and biscuits (please advise of allergies when you book) during the day. The venue is a lovely working chapel, with lots of space and a beautiful garden. I hope you like it!

My aim for all 2021 and early 2022 retreats is to offer a range of work on ideas, techniques and lots on using close reading to help you grow and improve. I am also very keen to encourage you so that you work on confidence, a sense of worthiness – people feel outside the writing community or think that publishing is for others, even once they enter this world. As well as the day retreat itself, where I look at group teaching, there will be exercises to make you think and, as a special feature, you get some one to one with me in advance, where you send me some work and I will write to you and give you feedback.

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Who is it for?

Those who are working towards first publication in prose, whether a novella, novel or short stories. I am quite aware that some of these people may have been writing for pleasure for some time. Also, there is probably going to be at least one genius in the room.

Those prose writers who are perhaps a bit further on – perhaps they already have a book published – but want a boost and reboot, perhaps because they have got stuck or not had a supportive community around them at any stage.

Those who are currently querying their work with agents (possibly small presses) and not having any luck.

The day starts with a meet and greet; you know what I mean. No embarrassing ice breakers because I would rather stick pins in my eyes! Would you?! But I will get you to wear a sticky label with your name on. You can use whatever name you like.

*Questions. Frank as you like. If I don’t know, I will say so and aim to find someone who does know.

*Writing a beginning and netting your reader. How might you do it.


*We may continue with the beginning task a little more if necessary.

*Close reading exercises. Place, atmosphere, character, punctuation. Observing it in others’ work to make us think about our own writing. Translating this into our own work.

*Techniques to help you with editing your work. Outlines, development, why you should always read aloud.

Lunch. Outside in the garden if it’s a fine day.

*Questions. Frank as you like again. These can be on anything, so on writing, but also on the industry or anything you need help with.

*Confidence. Very short bit because this can make you feel vulnerable and I do not want anyone to feel this way, even in a safe and supportive environment, so rather than asking YOU, I will tell you about me and what my barriers are and how I manage mine. If anyone wants to ask a further question at this stage, that is fine.

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*More on close reading; characters hints and hooks.

*Story arc. What is it? How do you create and sustain one and is it true there’s an equation for it…?

*Troubleshooting. Proofing, common errors, homophone checking, speech punctuation, laying out speech, techniques with long and short paragraphs; my observations on the most common problems in the many manuscripts I have seen over the past year – such as too many characters too soon, a beginning that lacks pace or interest, sluggish narrative and many more. Feel free to disagree that these are problems.

Cup of tea and a gentle end to the day. My house is immediately behind the venue, so it may be that some of you would relish the chance for a little bit of one to one chat afterwards.

How does that sound? I will hand out some written materials for reading, but the rest, ingest and take notes, as you see fit.

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How do you book? via payable in full in advance via BACS or paypal, and you will need to tell me at least one emergency contact details and forewarn me of any allergies, illness or sensitivities of which I must be aware; likewise, I would appreciate your sharing any trigger warnings with me so that I either avoid them or you know that we will touch on them, but I given you reassurance and context. When you book, I can tell you the exact location and how to access it, parking, route from train station and bus stops.

The online counterpart will be 10-5 and follow the same format except you just pop off and get a refreshments for yourself and eat lunch and there will be time for a little one to one afterwards, if you want that. This will take place on Google Meet (very very easy to use if you have yet to encounter it).

The in-person day is £150 and the online is £110 and both will be for a maximum of twelve people. This will be refunded in full if there are further restrictions owing to Covid. If I do not get a reasonable number of bookings, we will not go ahead – so also a full refund. Remember that in addition to a day of work, I am also looking at a section of your writing beforehand and commenting on it to provide maximum value and usefulness for you.I hope you like the sound of this. I will look at your written work during June.

Who am I again? I am the author of four books, with my fifth on submission as I write and other work on its way, I have written widely: novels, novellas, short stories and poetry and contributed to many journals both online in print. I am also a proofreader, editor, copywriter and experienced secondary English teacher, tutor and young people’s mentor. I have also long been involved in literacy projects, community arts initiatives and literary mentoring with adults. As I hope you can tell, I am passionate about it all!

You are so much more productive than you think

This is is specifically for those aiming to write their first book but finding it difficult because of a lack of time, energy, illness, caring responsibilities, grief or anxiety. Also, for those who have not started but would like to; yet they do not start because of a perceived lack of time, energy or space.

This short post is to comfort and encourage you.

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For a start, you work with what you have. That is, it’s lovely to have an office or a dedicated room, but if circumstances demand that you write at your kitchen table, or on your lap wherever you are, so be it. If you wait for those perfect circumstances, you will never start, so always go with what you have. I write at the kitchen table and am frequently interrupted. I go with it and use headphones for really busy times. Remember that genius exists in the finest library, but also at a scruffy kitchen table. Also, if you think you have to assemble ideal conditions – that is, ideal emotional or psychological conditions – before you write or continue writing, then I do believe that is deferring your creativity to fate. You may feel down, sad or that heavy weight of grief that comes after the first pains which you think will kill you. My darlings, I am so, so sorry. But you know, you can write in rage and sadness, too. Maybe not yet, but you will. Sometimes, little bits of story unfurl within the sad story of you and yours; cling to them, because they are still there and precious. Think I don’t know? I am writing this now, to you: after a second very broken night, this little story unfurled while I was on to the phone to care providers and emergency staff because I have a very unwell eldest. I find it heartbreaking sometimes and after years it seems a solution is not within our grasp, but within those feelings, I try to draw something else out. Today, it was for you. Take it.

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Writing every day. Well lovely if this is you, but it cannot be everyone. I cannot do it. If you are poorly or managing any combination of circumstances, or just because it doesn’t work for you, then you cannot do it. This does not mean you cannot produce a book. Again, go with what is available to you because, again, if you think it is only possible with (perceived) ideal circumstances, then you may never get started or find your progress is stymied because you are feeling anxiety about your lack. Look, instead, at what there is. Thought. Cogitation. Reading. Listening. Man, you’ve been busy.

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This point follows on from the last. You may not write every day – as in get words down on a page – but try to inhabit the world of your book. What might that mean? That you mull over its characters and plot, read, go for a walk and just let it sit and let your mind freewheel and see what springs up; that you keep reading; that you look over edits – your own or someone else’s – and maybe you could do bits of admin if the urge is that strong. Do your page numbers, check SPAG or write an acknowledgements page: these things can be lovely little boosts and make you feel your book is evolving into an actual THING. So think of the work and the writing as not only being the writing down, but also of the rumination while you are having a bath, or resting, say. If you do that, you may find your attitude to it shifts and you realise you’re further along than you thought.

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I hope these help. x

My Writing Year

I was wondering if I had enough to say here! That is, I’ve tweeted quite a bit of it, in personal terms there is only so much I can say without breaching confidences and in writing about the difficulties of the publishing year that are particular to my work, I would rather move on positively as there so many blessings! Some things were connected with timing; others with having little control over situations. But chin up, I thought! I will keep this short and do write and share your thoughts, if you like?

I was mildly ill with cold-like symptoms in early March, as were my husband and one of my three kids. At this point my eldest had been seriously unwell, so we were navigating difficult times before Covid and so marched on. I will come back to that! With advice – a lot of it from the brilliant people you meet on twitter – and a great community, we could cope. When the pandemic began, I had all three at home and then was responsible for home learning with the youngest and access to ongoing support we really needed with eldest ebbed away. I had a book out imminently, Saving Lucia. The launch was cancelled and there were no other events, barring my involvement in the fantastic Lockdown festival and a turn for SL on some online events. I was devastated, but decided it was best kept in context because of what folk were going through, though I still had to acknowledge that it mattered to me because I had waited two and half years for publication from acceptance. It helped so very much to connect with readers, read extracts from the book and think about my new book having a long life – beyond this time. I found someone to have mentoring chats with and that really helped. Also, to write short pieces related to my books for various journals and for my blog. Keeping it moving and lively as much as I was able. BECAUSE the other thing that happened was that I was not well and I have not been for about 9 months now. Hello Long Covid. You remember I mentioned the cold-like symptoms in early March? AArgh. Chest pain, vertigo, shortness of breath and hello fatigue like I had never experienced it.

Once Saving Lucia was out, I decided what I needed to do was focus on the book under construction. I had seen my lovely agent in February, shortly before she went on maternity, and had great edits and notes. I do believe you should always be working on something, because there are a lot of waiting, planning and, I think, variables in writing and publishing. Between April and August, I rewrote my novel and began plotting another one, The Cabinet of Curiosities. Just as I finished this run of The Zebra and Lord Jones, I won the publishing and writing section of Creative Bath, which was great because it was a broad acknowledgement of what I am trying to do with my volunteer and community work alongside my writing. Then, in September, Famished was out. Again, I found it wonderful to focus on engagement with readers, to offer readings of the book and to work diligently on social media. We had a lovely launch event and then – very 2020 – Instagram went down shortly after it started. Very important to laugh, my bravehearts!

When all is said and done, I am immensely proud to have been part of two little teams and to have met so many brilliant people. Also, I think, to have been building new and enduring friendships because of the books, because of a shared love of reading and, frankly, because I have had to ask for help in navigating what is still a new world to me alongside work, domestic stress, exhaustion and illness. I am immensely proud that we got two books out this year, that I rewrote another one and, frankly, that I coped as well as I did when a further novel and volume of short stories were turned down this year and I was told rights and translation were not shifting. This happens; it’s natural. But it’s hard! But we made a plan and hopefully it will come to fruition.

So, The Zebra and Lord Jones (novel) rewritten, I began a new novel, The Cabinet of Curiosities and made some – for me! – major pitches for features. I also tentatively began plans for a non-fiction book I am passionate about doing. Where are we as we stand? I have to be vague about a lot of this as you can imagine, so I will say that I am working on this pitch, making approaches to people, keeping in touch with my agent and that there is a lot of work on desk. Recently, I was longlisted for the new Barbellion prize – you can read about the prize here – for Saving Lucia and, in four books and lots of entries for prizes, it is my first longlisting and I am delighted.

During this year, I have also been fortunate both to work on several manuscripts with writers, to mentor and, also, to receive some mentoring myself from kind, brilliant and inspiring people whom I will not embarrass here. And for 2021, well…as I said, there is a lot on the desk and I know that we will be clarifying, planning and strategising. As I am still not better and because I still have complexities within my home life – and quite possibly I will have 2/3 not going back to school and college (the other is on a rather uneventful gap year before studying Psychology at university) – I need to pace. I have made some PhD applications – that is, a PhD by Publication to be worked on with three of my own books – but it will not be the end of the world if it does not happen; far from it. In a terrible year, there is, if I may say, already so much that I am thankful for.

Much love,

Anna x

On the Moon we had Gold Spoons

In the Christmas house that was always and never there, lived two sisters and a crowd. In this house there were banshee rats and a ticking fire; kittens roosting in the pantry and a glossy alabaster Jesus on the wall, next to the pinned tide times, seance timetable, flower rota, blind bell-ringing and hours of lamping for the village men. The two sisters were beautiful and shared secrets and built each other into strength in the absence of love.

In this house were presents in old paper and you always knew what they were. Soaps of almond and violet; dusty talcum powder smelling like the grave through its wrapping. There were sooty notebooks and crayons that smelled of arsenic and the mortifications of childhood. Outside, sweltering in the snow, or frost and rime, were barren hens astride camphor eggs in the big run and, beyond, the walled garden where the real world was said to begin, only you should only go there if you must and never alone or without prayers and your talismans.

‘Oh, Anna Cat, is it Christmas again. Is it? Will it be the same as before – as the other years in this impossible house?’

‘Yes, my sister, Grace Matilda.’

 ‘But Anna Cat, you promised you would make it different this year now you are grown.’

 ‘Ah, that I did, that I did.’ And Anna Cat smoothed her sister’s arm and said, ‘Shh now.’

But how would it happen, the making different? Was she not just an ordinary girl living in a Christmas house that was always and never there?  Stop your mouth: you mortals and countrymen know little of what is effected with faith, the lovely moon, pretty silver dust or the incantation you can build if you rise early and speak to the robin in his first call and then, only on the solstice, which was today. And Anna Cat had risen early and spoken.

Out in the storeroom were sugar plums and toffees and cold pastel sugared almonds in tubes. In the stockings in a few days there would be a satsuma, a prayer on gold paper, an admonishment for the wicked, a piece of coal, a special spoon for grapefruit (for one girl), a butter knife (for another) and a small ball which had no use or allure for either. And every year, a piece of silver cutlery with which to build your home, which was only a room in this house, though you would gain your own table, stove and linen. The girls hated the cutlery and its mocking silver and longed for difference; for gold and for something spontaneous and impossible in the now world beyond the walled garden.

‘Oh, Anna Cat. There will be more silver cutlery in the stockings, and I am frightened. I think this year, if they are working left to right, it must be a knife or perhaps a little butter knife.’

‘For me, my darling. For you it will be the grapefruit spoon, pretty and ridged, but you will hate it. You know how they think a grapefruit breakfast, or a grapefruit starter is the finest thing and talk incessantly about it.’

‘I know, my Anna-Cat. I think, when I see it, that I will long for a cheerful spoon with a wooden handle or some pretty cobalt with which I could eat a boiled egg and soldiers on Christmas morning. I long for that. Mother thinks eggs are wrong in their virgin state. That they are too rich and salty and breed base passions.’

‘Mother knows nothing. Only her sad appetites and the judgement they cause her to place upon the world and the curses that ensue from her dyspeptic temperament, my darling. There will come a time, as I promised you, my sister. It will be soon. Shhh.

‘And I long for gold things. I want gold things on the tree, too. Not the pewter and silver and white but something…’

‘Something gold and pretty for Christmas, like stars and the sun and the present Melchior gave.’

‘Shall we play with the gold words, my darling? Shall we say…arum…gilt…gleaming…put the words in your mouth and roll them around.’

Yes! I will say other words too and be bad. I will say flaxen and fire and butterscotch.’

Shhh. They will hear. Come with me to look at the moon. It is the longest night. Come.’

Every year, at the solstice, on Christmas Eve and Epiphany, they walked until they could speak with the moon; they walked to the boundary at the edge of the walled garden. ‘Tonight, of all night, do not confuse her with lots of fine words; just call her Moon.’

‘Yes, my Anna Cat. Hello Moon. You are silver, but we love you though it is gold we long for. I hope you do not mind. I do not think so because you smile so at us.’

‘Hello Moon and Happy Christmas Moon. Do not mind my sister and her ways’ and the moon waned an infinite amount and smiled upon the sisters.

‘My sister, promise me again that we will not always live like this with the glossy Jesus, dusty notebooks and the silver cutlery!’ Grace began to cry as, from the house, pots were banged and doors to pantries opened; people came and went. ‘Promise me.’

‘As I said. It is the final time. I said, when I received my final piece of silver cutlery, then I could…I could break the spell and we should go beyond the boundary. I would build you a house on the moon, she would be kind and you could take the things you like from the Christmas tree, when you left for your new home on Christmas Day in the afternoon after the horrid and magnificent Christmas dinner.’

‘You will come?’

‘Of course, but my greatest pleasure is to see you happy, so you must choose how we build the house and what we furnish it with.’

‘What will we eat there? Next Christmas, Anna-Cat, what should we have for our dinner? Would there be grapefruit then turkey and roast potatoes and glorious burnished sage and onion and gravy?’

‘If you like, sweet child, but we shall make it different and our way, so it is not congealed of spite and bad magic, for as you have learned, your dinner is delicious, but it is malignant and it entraps you still.’

‘I know that.’

‘We can eat moon dew, which is a special sort of manna, and we can eat it whenever we like and with our hot and happy hands if we want.’

‘I should like to eat with gold things.’

‘Well then my darling, we shall eat with gold spoons, which I shall make for you myself from the gold which the moon whispers she hides beneath her silver dust, and I shall turn it in my strong and happy hands with help from the hot breath which the moon has when she loves you.’

That year, the year in which Anna Cat received her final piece of cutlery, the butter knife, and in which Grace Matilda received the hated grapefruit spoon, they ate a banquet of roast turkey and burnished sage and onion, then flaming pudding in a house of spite and cold decadence which was impossible and the only house they had ever known. There were prayers over the glossy Jesus, conversation of morbidity and sharp-tongued blessing and all the wretched paradoxes that lived in the house that was always and never there. Snow fell and the family dozed, faceless, graceless, and delighted with itself and the horrible way it had built a microcosm which trapped its young with delicacies. And yet and yet. They did not look, did not see, but on the wall the glossy Jesus smiled a little and the tide times changed as the Christmas world tilted on its axis.

Snow fell and the robin came to sing. Mutter. Mutter. Make the incantation, gather your things, your thoughts, your truest heart. So, when the moon rose, out went Anna Cat and her sister Grace Matilda and they stepped across the boundary at the edge of the walled garden where the real world began and were swept into the new life on the moon. On Boxing Day, they ate manna with gold spoons, already there as a homecoming gift from the moon herself.

‘Oh Anna-Cat, we are so happy, here on the moon, Merry Christmas, my sister.’

In the house that was always and never there, snow hardened and turned to slush and the grey days of the new year before the gorgeous day of Epiphany, which was celebrated with decadent shafts of sunlight on the moon and with destruction of the Christmas tree on earth. The sisters’ absence was noted but they were not missed. There would be more, in time and the cutlery-buying would start again, for more girls they might have. But oh, that tallow-faced family was wrong, living on alone until its next Christmas, and celebrating itself, parsimonious and silver. Remember the song of the robin, on the morning of the solstice if your house is abundant but mechanical-cold; learn the kind magic and ascend with Anna Cat and Grace Matilda.

There is room for us all on the moon next Christmas.

(The title is taken from Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle and Anna Cat is my husband’s name for me, Anna Catherine, here a riff on Merricat – Mary Katherine – in Jackson’s book. This story was a very quick write in a pocket of time I had today; be gentle with it.)



Book group questions to whet your appetite and ruin your dinner.

One for each story and a few for luck

  1. Which was your favourite story and why?
  2. Did you find any of the stories too horrifying or too creepy?
  3. Why do you think the author chose a linking theme of food?
  4. What do the inhabitants of the house/s want from the carpenter in Cave Venus et Stellas?
  5. In Feasting/Fasting, what happens to the new wife and what happens to the husband? 
  6. What was your opinion of Myfanwy in Seaside Rock and Other Homicides?
  7. A Tale of Tripe. How did you react to the descriptions of the foods in this story?
  8. Nanny Lovett and Pop Todd. Are they good bakers?
  9. Henry and His Surfeit of Lampreys. Why do the lampreys do what they do?
  10. Another more general question: do you think any of the stories is in poor taste or goes too far.
  11. In Hot Cross Buns, Sharp Teeth and a Tongue, who’s the bad guy?
  12. Shame: some readers have commented that this is different from the other stories in the collection. Do you agree and if so, why?
  13. Cucumber sandwiches. What is going on in both countries in this story?
  14. Shadow Babies’ Supper. Why are the dolls so scary?
  15. The Choracle. What was the moral of this story?
  16. Jar and the Girl. What was interesting for you about this story?
  17. Sherbet. Do you think it’s really possible to construct a creed, cult or religion on anything?
  18. Bread and Salt. The shortest story in the book. Was the ending a surprise?
  19. Trimalchio Jones. Why can’t the guests leave?
  20. Sweetie. Who or what is Sweetie?
  21. Do you have any thoughts about how language is used in the stories?
  22. Which story was the funniest?
  23. What could be the link (or links) between traumatic experience and food in this book?
  24. How are families presented in Famished?
  25. Any story you might like a sequel to? Or  a prequel!