Hawthornden Castle Writers’ Retreat – October-November 2021

If you’re a writer who’s published at least one book, you’re eligible to apply for a Hawthornden Fellowship to do a whole lot more writing.   Drue Heinz (yes, beans) was the benefactor, leaving her magnificent castle on the edge of a gorge to those who wanted/needed a period of seclusion for their next work.   All the costs of the residency – board, lodging – are met by the same Fund.   The castle is very old, very beautiful and very secluded, and the seclusion is intensified by there being no internet connection and very little chance of making mobile phone calls once you’re in situ.   Ideal, in fact, for concentration on the task.

I was lucky and very pleased indeed to receive a Hawthornden Fellowship.  The month in the castle was originally intended to happen in October 2020, but the pandemic made that impossible;  in the same way, July 2021 was cancelled.   But by October 2021 there was a brief window of cautious optimism in which it was possible for the five writers that can be in residence at any one time to gather and get down to work. 

We were not to talk during the day:  either working or walking were the options.   The walking in the ancient woods, and down to the river in the gorge below would happen when I was written out completely, and needed new energy.    Sometimes I’d meet a fellow-writer on the path, equally lost in thought, but we’d stick to the rules and limit ourselves to a grin and a greeting.   However, in the evenings talk was lively, while Ruth, the marvellous cook, produced varied and delicious three-course meals.   During the day, Mary, the Housekeeper, took care of the rooms and any muddy clothes that might turn up.   Being looked after that well had something in common with being a child again, but with all the advantages of having a grown-up’s education, and access to the superb library in the grounds.    The group I was with (Monica McPartlin, Heather Parry, George Ttoouli and Mark Lawlor) would meet after dinner to compose some dazzling haiku, and the tradition has continued since, via email.   

Presiding over everything was the august figure of Hamish, the Administrator, who was less fierce than he seemed at first, though it didn’t take long before I’d broken at least three rules – one of which, on my first day, was to ask for a second helping of Ruth’s marvellous pudding.   By the time it came to fireworks on 5 November, outside the castle’s keep, he had mellowed enough to turn a blind eye to the goings-on:  mighty Roman candles, and a bunch of sparklers in the dark.

I got a tremendous amount of work done:  a rough first draft of a new bunch of poems – this time a story about the scientists working in the early days of immunology.   I cannot say how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to work undisturbed by the dangerously seductive lure of email and the internet.   Sometimes I am invited to talk in schools about being a poet, and about the poem I have (at the moment) in the GCSE syllabus – Kamikaze.   I try to tell the kids how much energy and attention that could go into writing poems gets absorbed by social media;  but that information is often met with blank, even stony faces.    But evenif this crusading message penetrates only one or two young pairs of ears, it’s worth it.   Doing without the input from the internet means twice as much output.   Fact!   

February 2022

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The Drum

I’m very pleased to have a second collection out, published by Templar Press and launched on 20th June 2017, again at Keats House in north London. I am specially pleased with the cover, from a painting by Kasimir Malevich (Supremus No 55, 1916) This makes the painting 101 years old and I hope I manage to last that long too.

As before it can be ordered (post free) from the publisher, Templar Press: The Drum


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Picador Prize

1 May 2016

Really pleased to be at the Strokestown Festival again, short-listed (that makes four short-listings there, and two prizes) for the poem ‘The river’.   Even more delighted to get Second Prize, with the winner – John Murphy – winning for the second year in succession.   What made the occasion quite outstanding was that the two judges, Paddy Bushe and Grace Wells, both first-class poets, gave serious and thoughtful and perceptive commentaries on all 10 short-listed poems before their final announcement of the winners.  I felt, listening to Paddy Bushe’s discussion of my poem, that it was worth coming all that way, never mind the idea of a prize, just to have heard someone respond to it in such an imaginative and creative way:  he saw things in the poem that had remained unformulated by me.

Why do I keep banging in poems in for the Strokestown Festival? Well, we call it ‘the English language’, but the way the Irish use that language raises it to a higher level altogether.  They (and of course Shakespeare) offer the finest exposition of the English language there is, acutely yet unselfconsciously aware of its musical potential as well as its descriptive accuracy.

Currently my favourite poem in the world is Heaney’s ‘Postscript’.   I don’t know if copyright rules allow me to print it here, but look it up until I find out.

Link: Postscript – Poem by Seamus Heaney

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February – June 2016

I knew that Kamikaze was being used in the ‘Power and Conflict’ section of the GCSE English Literature exam’s ‘past and present’ anthology.  It was great to be printed alongside Shelley, Blake, Wordsworth, Browning, Tennyson, Wilfred Owen – and for me in particular, Seamus Heaney – as well as many distinguished modern poets. I’ve now been invited to one or two London schools to talk about Kamikaze to the class. It is quite a challenge:  30 or so keen-eyed 14 and 15-year olds full of their own ideas, challenges, complaints and questions.   I ended one session by asking the class to have a go at their own poems, and was later emailed several.   I suppose it’s inevitable, but my overriding impression was how dominated the young writers felt by grand themes, and by old-fashioned ‘poetic’ language.   In response, I encouraged something more personal and direct, more based on their own real and actual experience, and I had the feeling that this was a relief, akin to being sprung from a kind of poetic prison cell.

Here’s one of the poems that Hugo, Jonathan, Harry and Zac from Emily Kaplan’s class at a large North London school wrote in an imaginative response to their study of the poem.   Other poems written were from differing points of view – the Emperor of Japan, or the mother or father of the young pilot…   All inventive and lively, though one or two hamstrung by the effort to find rhymes.  Forget rhyming for the moment!  Just write with energy!


May 2016

What’s more, even though I was neither asked nor told this was to happen, a few months later I was even more pleased to learn that Lady and Fox was the ‘unseen’ poem used in AQA’s paper for this year’s GCSE exams.   On the evening of the day of the exam I had over 50 unexpected emails from all round the country, both teachers and pupils.   It’s so rare that a poem you’ve written gets that depth of attention and is taken so seriously:  it felt terrific.

The emails were very varied:  some serious, intelligent, extremely thoughtful and perceptive, some funny, including one of a photo of the young writer grinning like a fox, asking ‘what does the fox say??’   Here’s one I really liked:

“Soz luv,

What on earth was you on wen righting that poem. It was in are exam. All i want 2 no is wat inspired u. Rlly. 

i was getting a* now im getting nuffink.

lots of bants

G M, future McDonalds employee”

She’ll go far, and it won’t be in McDonalds either.

February 2017

After I’ve talked to a Year 10 or 11 group about the poem Kamikaze, I ask them to try their hands at writing Haiku. Partly to emphasise that Japan, in spite of dispatching so many young Kamikaze pilots to their deaths, has a rich and ancient culture in both art and literature. The three-line structure, amounting to 17 syllables in all (5/7/5 syllables per line) is quite demanding: but here are a bunch of lively Haiku from four schools. (Yes, I know the one about the Asda sausages didn’t get the counting quite right, but I like it all the same. Sorry I don’t have the poet’s name!)

HAIKU from Years 10 and 11

Loyalty is but
a flower in the wings of
fear and temptation.

Faisal Alam

The fish and chip shop.
Shout out to my man Gary:
his chips are the best!

Ali Sajad

Eye-to-eye, silent.
An attempt to reconcile…..
sputter. Stop. A smile?

Simrin Rahman

Live life to the full.
It can be difficult but
we can get through it.

Jasmine Offiler

Maybe I do know
but I am told that I don’t.
So silence nears me.

Ayshah Lawrence

Tyler is my name.
Strawberries is what I hate.
But I do love cake!


Called a poet by
a poet….is there any
honour greater here?

Ellie Keightley

As they cried, hoping,
quick, so it doesn’t strike again….
too late, limbs everywhere.

Ali Cicek

A helpless struggle:
Love of self or love of home?
Death hides behind both.


At the back she stands
observing everyone’s plans….
Miss Liu walks, then stands.


Mother, sister, sea,
Father, daughter, mister, me
Into darkness, we….


The eager smell lurks –
men eye men with great anger.
Who is the culprit?


I approach the boat,
with a flare in my eyes – death
cowards into darkness.


His gun a brush – with
large brushstrokes he paints vivid
scarlet canvases.


A big brown rabbit
who did not eat his carrot:
he’s on a diet.


Snow falls at daybreak.
It smooths the motionless night
with glorious light.

Oliver Pritchard

Asda discount sausages
go well for my meal tonight –
you gotta love good sausages!


To GCSE students and teachers: POLITE REQUEST!

I often get emails from you, and I really enjoy this, and am quite willing to respond to serious questions.  However, and this is becoming increasingly  important to me, when I’ve written back to you – and sometimes it takes quite a lot of thought and time, not always easy at the end of a working day – it is very disconcerting to hear absolutely nothing in reply.  I think it should be basic, just to send a quick email saying ‘thanks!’ in response.  It encourages me to answer the next email, instead of feeling vaguely ‘used’ by the student or teacher, maybe to get good marks in an exam, or to prepare a class.

Just a word or two back will do.  (A few of you do this anyway, but most don’t!)

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The Forward Prizes

‘The Invention of Fireworks’ has been short-listed among the Forward Prizes for the Felix Dennis Prize awarded to the best first collection.  Wonderful news at the beginning of June, entirely unexpected and therefore all the more exciting;  and pleasing too for Templar Poetry, my publisher, since Templar is the only truly independent publisher of those represented.   Six good collections from six good poets means that each of us can feel pleased and proud to be on the list, whichever one of us eventually is chosen on 30 September as the prizewinner.

One of the questions put by the Forward Committee to the six short-listed poets concerned how we began writing poetry in the first place.  I suddenly recalled that one of the many schools I went to used as a punishment the learning by  heart of quite long pieces of poetry.  I learned reams, acres of poetry – often Shakespeare – so the sounds and rhythms of the English language were in me from an early age, even though I may not at that point have understood the meaning fully.  Far from punishing me, it rewarded my difficult behaviour, and provided me with a source of pleasure and solace.   Whole lines and particular individual words themselves became, like sweets, something that could saved up and enjoyed, relished in secret.

The announcement of the short-lists for the Forward Prizes made the front page of the Guardian, mainly because of Jeremy Paxman’s accompanying complaint that too many poets write only for each other, rather than for ‘ordinary people.’   He’s the Chairman of the Judging Panel, and I imagine would not consider himself to be an ordinary person.   But then where are they to be found?   Two paramedics I encountered recently in a sudden ambulance trip to hospital, must have looked up my website having taken my details for the medical records; and then went on to listen to a recording of ‘Kamikaze’.   They suddenly appeared in the cubicle in A & E where I was lying and, beaming, said how much they liked it.   Clearly extraordinary people!    And a great boost to recovery from concussion…

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This gallery contains 5 photos.

At times I’ve found I need to go away on my own to sort out something I’m trying to write. The most recent journey in March 2014 was to Iceland, where I found a magnificent, bleak, snowbound landscape, with huge … Continue reading

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The Invention of Fireworks


Templar is an independent publishing house I have always admired for its poetry, but as well for the high quality of its graphics and design.   If you were lucky enough to be published by them you knew you’d have a very good-looking production. In February 2013, and not for the first time, I submitted a manuscript for their annual Straid award – and was extremely pleased, overjoyed in fact, to hear that I had won.   And extremely pleased too by the speed with which they produced a marvellous-looking and fireworky small volume in time for a launch at the Derwent Poetry Festival in Matlock in early November of the same year.

There was a London launch too, which I shared with a clever and talented young poet, Matt Bryden, who had already had a pamphlet published by Templar (Night Porter – brilliant, wry and witty) and now had his first full collection:  Boxing the Compass.   We held the launch at Keats House in Hampstead, in the Nightingale Room which holds just over 100 people –  and it was just about full, of families, friends, colleagues and poets.   We were introduced by Alex McMillen, who is the Editor-in-Chief at Templar, and both of us read from our work.

Here is a link to my volume (have a look at Templar’s web-page for the book), and don’t forget it’s postage free.

The Invention of Fireworks – Beatrice Garland

Buy The Invention of Fireworks here

And here is a link to Matt’s volume:

Buy Boxing the Compass here
Buy Night Porter here

It’s really worth having a close look at the Templar website, because there are so many publishing opportunities there:  books, pamphlets, the magazine Iota;  and, just announced, the Templar Portfolio Award 2014.  This quarterly award offers poets the chance to submit a Portfolio of between ten and twelve pages of their work for consideration.

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The Ledbury Poetry Festival, 2011

The best event I attended at the festival was a talk by Tim Dee on ‘The Poetry of Birds’.   He talked of a lifelong passion for noticing, watching and identifying birds, and read several poems from the book of the same name that he and Simon Armitage have edited.   Many of the poems in the book were  new to me – I was amazed to find what a rich source of  work bird life has been for poets over several centuries.   Tim Dee confessed to not being particularly fond of certain species – basically birds that can’t fly, such as ostriches;  and ducks don’t stir him the way better flyers can do.  But he allowed that the non-airborne species were good to eat….  Both that book and his bird-watching autobiography, The Running Sky, are terrific, and highly recommended by me.  He writes better prose than many poets write poetry.  

The prize-winning children were extraordinary:  serious poems that made the older poets whistle and exchange glances of admiration.   Some serious competition for the older generation within the next few years.   I read ‘The Academy of New Words’, which won second prize –  I will put it up on the website when I get enough time to work out how to edit this whole business properly.

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The Picador Poetry Prize: a view from the shortlist

Everything Don Paterson said about the reasons for setting up this new prize (Guardian, 22/1/11) sounded absolutely right.   I don’t know how many hopeful unpublished poets actually got as far as jumping through the initial hoops demanded by the competition – many of which were to do with presentation – but in the end there were 10 short-listed poets.   Including me.   The surge of happiness that shot through me and out at the ends of my fingers on reading the email that began ‘Congratulations on being….’ was tremendous.   But it brought turbulence in its wake:  having told myself I didn’t stand a chance, and that brushing up enough poems to enter was the real point, to learn that now I had at least one chance in 10 made sleeping almost impossible (see ‘The delivery’).

There began to exist an odd split in my head:  85% of me knew quite well (not least because Don Paterson had already turned down a collection from me) that winning was impossible but the other 15% began to daydream deeply, almost at moments sure the prize was mine.   I remember that same state of mind from the week the Lottery was set up.   I had bought one ticket and then spent the rest of the week planning how to spend the money.   Madness.  A friend of mine had exactly the same day-dream:  we agreed to split the money in case just in case one of our tickets was lost.  But I suppose if there isn’t that 15% capacity to daydream there’d be no room for hope in a life.  And where there’s hope there’s life, not the other way round.

20th January 2011 was the day of the announcement.   Ten poets plus a few guests each joined a large noisy party in the basement of Pan Macmillan.   My day-job has meant I’ve done hundreds and hundreds of public lectures and seminars here and all over the world, but I have never in my life been more anxious or incapable than I was during the hour before the reading began.  Being about to read meant it was impossible either to have a drink (fatal) or to talk normally to anyone at all, including family.   It took over an hour before the readings began – apparently because One Poet Still Wasn’t There.  Don Paterson introduced us in alphabetical order and said something generous about each of us – but it was clear to me and a few others as well when he introduced Richard Meier that this was his favourite among the ten good poets there on the day.  And so it turned out to be.   That 15% of me dissolved back into the other 85% and right then my main feeling was immense, but immense, relief it was over.   Richard’s wife immediately burst into tears of joy, which was very touching.  He is a good and original poet and it was a strong choice.  (Richard used to go to Colin Falck’s Worskshop, so I already knew his work.)

I felt sad over the next few days, having lost the dream, but perhaps that’s better than feeling nothing at all.  I don’t believe in ‘not minding’.  And actually it feels OK to lose to someone truly good.  What would have been painful as well as sad would have been to lose to someone I didn’t rate that highly.  So.  On to the next poem.  And then the next.

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