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Valley Press Tour


A tech-savvy reading off of Jamie’s smartphone from the proofs of ‘Opera di Cera’.

The formidable Jamie McGarry, VP Publisher, is currently in the middle of his Valley Press Tour, celebrating the publication of (nearly!) 50 books in 5 years. It’s truly an honour for Pocket Horizon to be part of this prestigious list, and I’m delighted that Opera di Cera will follow swiftly on the heels of these 50 books.

If you’re wondering what to get anyone for Christmas, by the way, the perfect gift is our small and beautifully formed anthology of science poetry and art, Pocket Horizon, which has an introduction by award-winning poet Don Paterson.

It was a delight to help kick off Jamie’s tour at the first date in London, where I had the pleasure of reading alongside VP poets Richard Barnett (Pocket Horizon) and Jo Brandon (Phobia) and Emma Press poets John Stone, Jacqueline Saphra, (both contributors to the Anthology of Mildly Erotic Verse) and Rachel Piercey (The Flower and the Plough).


Richard reading from ‘Pocket Horizon’.

The Emma Press and Valley Press are ‘engaged’  in a creative, clever meeting of presses – they are sharing publicity, and selling each other’s books (though the respective publishers clarify that despite being friends and business partners, they are not, in fact, engaged in person)!

Marcos Avlonitis, who made the remarkable cover photography for Pocket Horizon was also present at the VP Tour date in London and has furnished us with some more brilliant photos – thank you, Marcos!


Kelley, Jo, Richard, Jamie, Emma, Jon, Rachel, Jacqueline.

Simon Barraclough reading from Neptune Blue.

Simon Barraclough reading from Neptune Blue.

Thank you to all who joined us for Wednesday night’s Science Museum ‘Lates,’ where we enjoyed a brilliant evening of science-inspired poetry in the Museum’s Science in the 18th Century Gallery.

Katie Maggs, our essential curator and contact at the Museum, said they have never had so many people through that gallery on a ‘Lates’ night as we did on Wednesday.

We held the reading at the far end of the Gallery, which has a marvellous mural on one wall of ‘An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump‘ by Joseph Wright of Derby, a famous 18th-century painting which is used on many book covers and in many references to the ‘Age of Wonder’ (about which author Richard Holmes writes so well).

Richard Barnett reading from Pocket Horizon.

Richard Barnett reading from Pocket Horizon.

Simon Barraclough started us off with a fantastic reading from his ‘Planet Suite’ out of his book, Neptune Blue. He also told us about his next project, Sun Spots, which he’ll be working on in the coming year. Neptune Blue was published by Salt in 2011 and was just re-released in hardback this September.

We then had two readings of poems from Pocket Horizon, which is out now with Valley Press. It was a pleasure to have all of the contributors there, including our artist, Cassie, as well as Katie Maggs and her colleagues helping to show objects including an orrery, a canopic jar, and an artificial limb from the Science Museum’s collections.

So, how did Pocket Horizon come to be? A little bit of recent history may help set the scene:

This link is to Don Paterson reading his poem, ‘A Pocket Horizon,’ which he wrote for the Cambridge ‘Thresholds’ project.

Lorraine Mariner reading from Pocket Horizon.

Lorraine Mariner reading from Pocket Horizon.

The story of Don’s poem, and our anthology, is one that runs in parallel, or perhaps one might say it turns in a ‘widening gyre,’ and is down to a combination of serendipity and observation.


When I had the opportunity to meet Don and discuss our collaboration towards what would become Pocket Horizon (the anthology,) we met at the Whipple Museum, where we were given a ‘grand tour’ – as Don had never been to the Museum before. He knew that part of his ‘Thresholds’ residency required him to write a poem. I noticed that he was very keen on a particular object – the pocket horizon.

Eventually, we held the Masterclass workshop with Don and the contributing poets, all of whom are now published in Pocket Horizon.

When it came down to choose the title of the book, as Editor, I thought the name ‘pocket horizon’ would work well – it’s full of mystery, it lends itself to metaphor and poetical interpretation, and

- I thought Don might like it.

Dominic McLaughlin reading from Pocket Horizon.

Dominic McLaughlin reading from Pocket Horizon.

When he replied to my news that Valley Press would be publishing our book, it was with delight and surprise – he said he was writing about the pocket horizon, too!

(Gee, what do you know, I said…)

Though his poem is not part of our book (belonging to the Thresholds project, and our anthology being separate from that project,) I feel it completes the circle, as it were. And, frankly, it is a stunning poem. (It sounds to me as if it was recorded in the Whipple, too.)

So, thanks again, Don, for your generous introduction to our Pocket Horizon, for hosting our Masterclass back in January, and for writing your own poem, ‘A Pocket Horizon’.

Thanks to our contributors who read, including Sarah Westcott, Mick Delap, Lorraine Mariner, Malene Engelund, Dominic McLoughlin, and Richard Barnett -

Who also produced a brilliant podcast of all of the poets reading a selection of poems from PH, which you can listen to here.

Malene Engelund reading from Pocket Horizon.

Malene Engelund reading from Pocket Horizon.

And utmost thanks to our publisher, Jamie McGarry, who stayed on for the whole evening to sell our books, which he made sure are beautiful.

If you didn’t make it to the Museum, we’re planning more readings and events for 2014, including a poetry-reading-and-art-gallery-collaboration in Greenwich in January – so watch this space…

Sarah Westcott reading from Pocket Horizon.

Sarah Westcott reading from Pocket Horizon.

Mick Delap reading from Pocket Horizon.

Mick Delap reading from Pocket Horizon.

Sick City Talks 9 – ‘Pocket Horizon’.

I’m thrilled to announce that a poetry anthology I’ve edited, Pocket Horizon, published this month by Valley Press, will make its debut at the ‘Science Museum Lates‘ this coming Wednesday, 30th October. It’s a free event!

We’ll be holding three 30-minute slots with a poetry reading and object viewing in each. The first slot (19:30 – 20:00) will showcase Simon Barraclough, whose lovely book, Neptune Blue, engages with the planets. The second two readings (20:15 – 20:45, and 21:00 – 21:30) will feature the contributors of Pocket Horizon. Books and drinks will be available all evening.

Whether or not we have the pleasure of seeing you at the event, please do follow the link at the top to listen to a wonderful, 19-minute podcast featuring the poems, produced by, and thanks to, Dr Richard Barnett.

Finally, get ahold of the book here.

‘Neptune in your Pocket’

POCK cover 4 (final)A talented group of poets are pleased to take part in Science Museum Lates next Wednesday, 30th October, for the free, ‘Space’-themed evening.

Join Simon Barraclough, Lorraine Mariner, Mick Delap, Sarah Westcott, Richard Barnett, Dominic McLoughlin, Malene Engelund, and Kelley Swain to explore space and science through verse.

Find us in the Science in the 18th Century Gallery on the 3rd Floor for the following 30-minute readings:

19:30 – 20:00: Simon Barraclough, reading from ‘Neptune Blue’.

20:15 – 20:45: Poets reading from ‘Pocket Horizon’.

21:00 – 21:30: Poets reading from ‘Pocket Horizon’.

We’ll also have, for your viewing pleasure, several objects including an orrery, a canopic jar, and artificial limbs – come find out what these objects are, and how they relate to these books of poetry…

Wikicommons orrery detail

On 30th October, at Science Museum Lates, the contributors of Pocket Horizon will join with fellow poet Simon Barraclough for readings from our science-inspired books!

Neptune in your Pocket: Join the authors of Pocket Horizon and Neptune Blue for a reading of space-inspired poems, ranging from a servant’s wide-eyed view of a Grand Orrery to the disappointment of Pluto’s planetary demotion. Also get an intimate chance to see incredible objects from our astronomy collections that these poems touch on.

What could be better than hearing Lorraine Mariner read her poem about a Grand Orrery, but to do so whilst seeing one in motion? We’ll have objects from the Science Museum collections on display – so you can find out exactly what a Pocket Horizon is, and how it relates to our anthology…

The Next Nine Months

Screen Shot 2013-08-01 at 17.45.19

While I had an overall brilliant, formative 4 years completing an undergraduate degree (BA in English with a focus in Creative Writing,) graduating in 2007, one thing that has always stayed with me is something my then supervisor, poet Laura-Gray Street, told me – If I wanted to write books, I should seriously consider not having children. Fortunately this jived pretty well with my predisposition anyway, and furthermore, fitted very well with the attitude of my to-be and now former husband. This was probably due to growing up with a handful of aunts and uncles who did not have children, and always seemed to be jetting off to exotic places.

My life must be allowed to centre upon books. This is why I felt the ferocity of a mother tigress for her cubs – indeed, violent, fierce images came frequently to mind – when defending a book that I’d worked on for three years against a terrible, terrible cover, and an unfortunately nasty editor. It’s also why I chose to break with Templar Press, and why I am equally thrilled that Opera di Cera will not be published partially in pamphlet form with Templar, but in its entirety, with a glorious cover, by Valley Press. My books are my babies, and I put a lot of time, effort, blood | sweat | tears – insert what cliche you will – into them.

So it is with great pleasure that I look towards the next nine months, to see three books coming out – books that have been in the making for the past six years. The editors worked closely with me on the cover design, and I appreciate their skill and enthusiasm. I’m looking forward to holding these beautiful books.

First, due to be published by Valley Press in September, is Pocket Horizon, the marvellous compendium of poetry by a talented set of poets, whom I was able to shepherd into a Masterclass workshop with leading poet, Don Paterson. Don has been extremely generous in his involvement with this project, and he is contributing an introduction to the book, the pages of which also dance with illustrations by Cassie Herschel-Shorland.

Then, on 13 Feb, at a Valentine’s-centred event at the magnificent Bart’s Museum of Pathology, Dr Anna Maerker and I will once more jointly present talks (Anna) and poetry (me) about the Anatomical Venus. This will also be the launch of Opera di Cera. For those of you who made it to the event at the Gordon, I’ll be reading a different selection of poems – and for those of you who weren’t able to make it – here is another chance for wine, women, and wax.

Events at Bart’s are run by the Queen of  what I call the ‘Dead Cupcake Crowd,’ that group of fabulously turned-out retro fashionistas who somehow combine red lipstick and bleach-blonde fashion with…well, dead stuff. Carla Valentine hosts a series of events at Barts, and I was blown away by the gruesome Black Dahlia event she held last year – and was also blown away by the strength of the cocktails this woman serves up. The events are worth attending for the drinks alone. Barts Pathology Museum is the perfect place to launch Opera di Cera, just as the Gordon Museum of Pathology was the perfect place to debut the drama. I’m thrilled that we’ll hold the launch there in Feb!

Last but certainly not least, my poetry collection Atlantic, which has been on the publishing list with Cinnamon Press for about two years – always planned for 2014 – will be published in May 2014. Atlantic  is a very different exercise in poetry than Opera di Cera. It is a collection of poems written over a long period of time, after Darwin’s Microscope, and up to about now,  about family, grief, and the ambivalence of living abroad.

This flurry of publishing is extremely satisfying, and I also want to make it clear to those who aren’t writers that this is unusual. Writers will appreciate that it takes a long time for a book to go from start to finish, and often even longer to go from finished to published. I’ve been working on Atlantic for about 6 years, Opera for about 3, and PH – well, that was an intense, pressure-cooked book, and all the more remarkable for it – we began everything in January of this year. All in all that is still nearly 10 years of work, on and off. If you want to be a writer, I believe you must put that kind of time in.

I’m not sitting still, of course – I have just put the finishing touches on my novel, Double the Stars: The Life and Adventures of Miss Caroline Herschel, and will have some news about that soon, too. And The Naked Muse is going very well – I feel very different about this book, having an agent for it, and am curious to see how that particular journey goes.

These books could not be what they are (and are going to be) without the generosity of the cover artists (Marcos Avlonitis for Pocket Horizon, Tanya Marcuse for Opera di Cera, and Henrike Scholten for Atlantic,) nor without the enthusiasm of the marvellous publishers – Jamie McGarry at Valley Press, and Jan Fortune at Cinnamon Press. Nor – especially – would these books have been written without the support of my friends and family. Thank you all for reading, and I hope to see you at some of the events!

Reading for Harvard Med School

Reading for Harvard Med School in London.

Reading for Harvard Med School in London.

Last Saturday, Dr Richard Barnett and I were honoured to be special guest speakers at a gala dinner at the Royal College of Physicians for the debut of the Global Clinical Scholars Research Training Program run by Harvard Medical School.

If this sounds like a lot to take on, we managed to fix on the metaphor ‘it’s like the UN, for doctors’.

And it is. 150 elite medics were gathered for a 3-day conference, from 8 in the morning until well into the night (the dinner ran until after 10pm,) plus homework, and almost everyone had jet-lag, having flown in for the conference from various exotic destinations around the globe. Taking all of this into consideration, it was impressive that they were such a lively audience!

The conference is one of three throughout the year, and the rest of the GCSRT programme takes place online (the whole course runs for one year).

The programme makes international connections, and brings the top people working in medicine, from biostatistics to clinical writing, to the best up-and-coming doctors. So, it was a great pleasure to be invited to be a co-special-guest-speaker alongside Richard, who shared his  guest spot with me – rather than give an hour lecture, he spoke for 40 minutes on the global medical history of London, and I followed with a poetry reading, including ‘A Bedbug in Manhattan,’ which went down very well.


Richard giving his lecture on ‘Medical London’.

We were delighted to attend, the night before, the ‘speakers’ dinner,’ (where I learned what a Duck Press is,) and to meet the amazing team of doctors running the programme. It was one of those situations where you meet a person, have dinner with them (twice,) and they are utterly friendly, ‘normal,’ and welcoming, and you act as equals, and then the next day you hear them ‘announced’ at this grand dinner and realise they are the leading medic in (insert field of choice here) and have been for the last (longer than I’ve been alive).

I feel very fortunate to have made these connections, and to have been part of the launch of the GCSRT.

It was particularly fun when, after my reading, one medic (from Sweden, I think,) came up and told me she had my book Darwin’s Microscope. Someone had given it to her as a gift, thinking it was suitably scientific…What do you know!


Ambergris & ‘Inklings’

Tasha's 'Scenterpiece' of pure ambergris in a glass 'scent chamber,' print (to the left,) and the Humboldt giant squid beak in antique model ship cabinet to the right.

Tasha’s ‘Scenterpiece’ of pure ambergris in a glass ‘scent chamber,’ print (to the left,) and the Humboldt giant squid beak in antique model ship cabinet to the right.

Yesterday was one of those days that reminds me exactly why I love London. Having had the good fortune to learn about the last few days of an exhibition on ambergris by AVM Curiosities, founded in 2011 by food historian Tasha Marks and hosted by the Herrick Gallery, 1 French Place, E1, I hastily made an arrangement with Gallery owner Alice Herrick to see it (the exhibit closes today).

The substance ambergris has fascinated me since I studied Moby-Dick, first in my final year of my English BA, and the following summer when I completed an essay on the history of cetology in Moby-Dick and the writings of naturalists Scoresby, Bennet and Beale, as a student at the Munson Institute for Maritime Studies at the Mystic Seaport, CT.

So, literarily and historically, ambergris has intrigued me, but I’ve never had the chance to see it. ‘Ambergris,’ Tasha’s exhibit, allowed me to not only see it, but to smell and even taste it! (I haven’t actually tasted it yet because the ‘ambergris lozenges’ I bought, I’m saving to share with my poetry group, to whom I gave an impromptu lecture on ambergris some time ago. Happily the information I told them was confirmed accurate when I saw Tasha’s exhibit, so I’m glad I’ve got my marine biology straight.)

The Herrick Gallery is a small, beautiful space, and I had a lovely time chatting with the curator, Alice. I’m impressed by what they do with the space. For Tasha’s exhibit, the walls were painted a muted, elegant pale grey, displaying to perfection the centrepiece – a big chunk of ambergris in a tall glass jar. Guests were invited to lift the top off of and inhale the unique scent, which I did three or four times throughout my visit. This was called the ‘scenterpiece’ and the ambergris was on loan from an anonymous donor, whom I learned used to work in the perfume industry. This mysterious lump of organic matter, worth its weight in gold (or perhaps more) was going back to its owner shortly. Ambergris is a scent fixative: it makes scent stick to our skin – so it is used in the finest perfumes, hence its great value.

Ambergris-infused Lozenges that I'm planning to share and am very curious to taste.

Ambergris-infused Lozenges that I’m planning to share and am very curious to taste.

‘Ambergris’ the exhibit also displayed two beautiful prints of cephalopods, a pomander locket with ambergris inside, two wet specimens – one an octopus, one a squid – in glass jars, the suspended beak of a Humboldt squid in an antique model ship cabinet, and edible oceanic prints of antique etchings of cephalopods and cetaceans. Yes, it was all as magnificent as it sounds. The exhibit was small, but perfectly formed, all of the work created by Tasha, from the edible art to the prints to the specimens.

In case you’re still wondering just what ambergris is, I tend to explain it first with an analogy. You know how a pearl comes from a tiny piece of grit or sand that gets into the soft part of an oyster, and the irritation of this grit actually causes the oyster to throw over layer after layer of nacre to soften and ‘wrap’ the irritant? Or how gallstones  form in the human stomach – not quite the same as a pearl, but similarly a hard ‘stone’ ‘growing’ inside the gut of an animal?

Ambergris is like the pearl of a whale, or the gallstone of a whale, and only a sperm whale at that. Why? Because sperm whales are the only cetaceans who will take on giant squid. The only hard part of a cephalopod (‘head’ = ‘cepha’ | ‘foot’ = ‘poda’) is the beak. Inside the long head, if you splayed out all the arms and tentacles (those aren’t the same thing, by the way,) you would find, at the centre of the beast, a beak much like a parrot’s, made of hard, hard keratin, the stuff our fingernails and hair is made from. Within the beak is a radula, a gyrating scraping tongue (like a cat’s, but more like a razor,) that grinds up the flesh of its prey (fish, mostly, but sometimes other squid). So, when a sperm whale ingests squid, it can’t happily digest the beak.


Sarah Westcott reading from her debut poetry pamphlet ‘Inklings,’ Flipped Eye Publishing.

Tasha’s exhibition explained that a small proportion of sperm whales have an intestinal defect which causes a reaction to the squid beaks, and this is what throws layers of organic matter over the hard object to effectively ‘wrap’ it up. And this, my friends, is ambergris. I have no idea how anyone could know that it comes from an intestinal defect in a whale (‘I’m sorry, is this sandwich cephalopod-free?’) rather than just a normal whale…not to say she’s wrong, as she’s clearly done more research on this than I have. (I guess through dissecting dead whales and finding ambergris in whales with a noticeable defect.)

Ambergris, which is understandably extremely rare, is mostly found either washed up on the beach, or within a dead whale (back in the days of the whaling industry and probably, horribly, still in China,it would have been more actively sought – though I think most of the species of whale they are ‘collecting for scientific research’ in China wouldn’t be sperm whales).

All in all a fascinating hour, and I’m sorry the exhibit isn’t on for longer (or that I didn’t know about it sooner!). I’ll look forward to seeing more work from Tasha and from the Herrick Gallery.

After my ambergris-infused visit, I went up to Portobello Road for Sarah Westcott’s reading from her debut poetry pamphlet, ‘Inklings,’ produced beautifully by Flipped Eye Publishing. I’m really proud of Sarah, one of the Nevada Street Poets, and it was a pleasure to hear so many poems that had been thorough our workshop. ‘Inklings’ was a Venture Award Finalist, and is part of Flipped Eye’s ‘flap series’ (number 6). Sarah’s poems are rich with organic experience and exhibit a sensitivity down to the quiver of an eyelash, the pollen on a flower, or the electricity of bats in the air. I highly recommend it, and I know she’s planning more readings soon…

A Literary Agent

You know how author photos are always about 20 years old? And then you meet the person and it's kind of odd? I'm trying to keep mine up to date.

It’s a great pleasure to say that I’m going to be working with literary agent Will Francis at Janklow & Nesbit.

Will has been reading drafts of ‘The Naked Muse,’ my memoir about being an artists’ model, and he invited me to the office in Notting Hill this morning to ‘discuss my literary ambitions’.

I’m absolutely delighted that I’ll be working with Will on ‘The Naked Muse’. I trust what he has to say, and I’m really interested in where, together, we can take the book.

We drank peppermint tea and, surrounded by beautiful hardcover books that Will has sold to prestigious publishing houses, we discussed my writing – whose it is like, where it can go, how it might fit, who would want to buy it, publish it, read it.

I went home with a few copies of the lovely hardcover books (a perk that hadn’t occurred to me – your agent gives you books!) and with a great sense of having moved on to the next stage in my literary career.

What a joy, and, it seems, the start of some very exciting things…

Photo c/o Babs Guthrie; L - R, background, Anna Maerker; Kelley Swain, Henrike Scholten, Babs Guthrie; foreground, Eleanor Crook and assorted waxworks.

Photo c/o Babs Guthrie; L – R, background, Anna Maerker; Kelley Swain, Henrike Scholten, Babs Guthrie; foreground, Eleanor Crook and assorted waxworks.

The above title/quote is one of the comments left in the guest book from last night’s event. To answer: Dragon’s blood is a resinous red pigment,  and you can probably buy it at the alchemical and extremely helpful art shop L. Cornelissen & Son near the British Museum.

I have a hunch that Eleanor Crook may have asked – she and Dr Anna Maerker joined me in a discussion following dramatic readings from Opera di Cera last night at the Gordon Museum of Pathology. It was a pleasure to blend expertise from Anna (an historian,) Eleanor (a wax-modeller,) and highlight lines from my poems – lines that had been inspired directly by their work.

The poems were performed with sensitivity by Rachael Black and Keith Hill (he performed Fontana’s obsessive, controlling character perfectly).

Curator Bill Edwards oversaw the evening, and we welcomed over 60 people into the galleried, vaulted space of the Gordon Museum.

As Keith put it, ‘not since I played Salford have I been looked down upon by so many embalmed bodies’!

Some of the lines we discussed included ‘turpentine hides everything,’ a line that I took directly from one of Anna’s academic articles. She was able to tell the audience just what the statement came from, and why. Another line we discussed was ‘every pore, pressed orange-peel,’ which came from one of Eleanor’s online video demonstrations of wax-modelling. She told us last night that in fact, a lime is an even better citrus fruit for gently patterning the wax so it looks like it has natural pores on its skin.

One of our guests wrote that the evening ‘Made me feel a little sick, but excellent…wonderful inspiring bringing together of art and science – more please!’ Well, we certainly hope to do more, and I am working on, and thinking of, and planning discussions for, many ideas that may bring more of the full, 40 poem verse drama to audiences.

After the reading and some discussion, we moved from the lecture hall into the adjoining room, where Eleanor gave a wax-modelling demonstration, and the audience networked, connected, and re-connected (many of the medical, academic, and creative people knew one another, and there were many delightful instances of only one or two degrees of separation,) over flutes of Prosecco – an appropriately Italian drink for the evening.

Eleanor Crook at work, photo c/o Roger Kneebone

Eleanor Crook at work, photo c/o Roger Kneebone. Eleanor was working on an example of someone with hemifacial paralysis from Bell’s Palsy.

Further guest comments:

‘I can honestly say I had no idea about ANY of this! But it was a real joy to plunge into this world. I particularly enjoyed the grapefruit simile.’

‘Contains the best poem about dissecting a live dog I have ever heard – also the rest of it’s great as well.’ (Richard Tyrone Jones)

My thanks to Anna Maerker, Bill Edwards, Eleanor Crook, Rachael Black, Keith Hill, Richard Barnett, Giskin Day, Diaga Emanuwa, James Yeats, and all of our gracious guests for making this evening come together brilliantly.

A selection of poems from Opera di Cera won the 2013 Templar Poetry Pamphlet Awards and will be published in book form this autumn – Further news of book launch events forthcoming.

K and E Crook

Photo c/o Roger Kneebone


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