29 December 2022

Best Reads of 2022, an outtake

I was asked to contribute to the webzine Northern Soul's "Best Reads of 2022", and happily offered some suggestions. You can read the full feature here, including some of my favourite poetry books this year as well as David Gaffney's third novel, Out Of The Dark. I'd also written about another author that I've been quite obsessed with, although those words didn't make the final cut, so I'm sharing them here...

Annie Ernaux, Exteriors (Fitzcarraldo Editions)

It’s not every Nobel Prize in Literature announcement that sparks me to leap up from my lunch and punch the air, but hearing Annie Ernaux’s name did just that. Rediscovering her experimental hybrid creative nonfiction this year, after being introduced to memoir La place (A Man’s Place) studying French at the University of Manchester, I had been busy trying not to over-drip-feed myself the English version, Exteriors, I’d bought of Journal du dehors, so small but intense each passage, recounting almost infraordinary encounters stretching over a number of years. I had also just picked up her latest tome (hardly, at a mere 27 pages) Le jeune homme in a wonderful Parisian bookshop; this telling of Ernaux’s affair with a much younger man will be available in translation with indie press Fitzcarraldo (who produce a lovely package) in 2023 – her explorations of difficult situations, approaching the most personal of experiences almost completely disconnected, are toe-curlingly good. 

13 December 2022

'Pearl-like phrases' and 'clear precision'

My debut prose pamphlet Marine Drive has been given a rather good review by Desmond Bullen for Northern Soul, in which he says: “These pieces catch the light in ripples … A kind of musical exactitude, like a shell whispering against your ear.” Read the full piece, 'Pearl-like Phrases', here.

Andrea Mason (Waste Extractions, Broken Sleep Books), who gave Marine Drive a great blurb – “prose redolent of the clear precision of Lydia Davis, the material evocations of Sheila Heti, the visceral spikes of Ann Berg” – featured one of the stories in Mercurius. You can read 'Let's Go Round Again' here.

Thanks to both of them for their kind words.

10 November 2022

More from our Yorkshire correspondent

The good folk at Ilkley Literature Festival quizzed me about my stint as Apprentice Poet In Residence for this year's festival, which you read on the ILF website here, reproduced below, and they've also published my commission, as mentioned in the text, here.

Can you remember the first poem you wrote?

Not really, but I was first published aged 12 after entering the WH Smith Young Writers’ Competition. I sent in a poem about mashed potato and won a fountain pen.

Who or what has influenced your work?

As part of my French degree, I studied OuLiPo, renowned for ‘freeing literature by tightening its rules’, and my BA thesis and part of my Creative Writing MA was based on Georges Perec, so messing about with words and working with constraints is a big part of what I do.

Which poem or poet do you never tire of reading?

Ever since I was small, I’ve been interested in languages (I’m half Welsh, so maybe that’s why) and how words sound as well as read, and I love Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas.

What is your process of writing a poem?

Sometimes I start with a constraint and the poem takes shape (even literally) from there; sometimes a poem develops as a result of research or working on other writing, such as a short story or a piece of nonfiction or creative non-fiction, so the poem is a kind of offcut. Sometimes a poem just arises from an observation or an overheard that fits with something I’d jotted down in my notebook already.

Do you have any advice for someone wanting to write and publish poetry? 

Read a lot, write a lot, edit a lot. Listen to other poets at readings or open mics, and share your own work that way as well as through journals and competitions; there are plenty, so find the ones that suit and follow the guidelines. Sign up for workshops and courses – there are quite a few online that are free or not super expensive – and join or set up a writers’ circle to try out new work. It’s very encouraging to get positive feedback but also be prepared to accept criticism, just remember that you have the final decision on what stays and what goes. 

During your role, you focused on place writing, what drew you to this practice? 

I’ve always been drawn to texts that include places and spaces almost as a character – for example 28 Barbary Lane in Armistead Maupin’s Tales Of The City series – and, as a lapsed sailor, the sea and water are recurring themes in my work. I was inaugural Writer in Residence at Manchester’s Victoria Baths and this year was a resident writer on board the Research Vessel Furor Scribendi as part of the Lancashire Stories project – I’ve contributed a story about Plover Scar lighthouse; I’m also writing about a lock on the River Rhône in France. I’m interested in geography and psychogeography, and in questioning our surroundings, observing the infra-ordinary, and looking for clues in the familiar and unfamiliar, be that urban or rural. This year I’ve also taken part in a Critical Reading Group via The Centre For Place Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University and a symposium, Talking Place.

What did your role as ILF Apprentice Poet in Residence entail?

One of the main features was writing new poetry for a performance during the festival and I was also tasked with running a creative writing workshop, which I called Places and Spaces – our texts took us from Yorkshire in ‘Bridge For The Living’ by Philip Larkin all around the UK, and we looked at pieces by Suzannah V Evans, Padraig Regan, Alice Oswald, Ella Frears and Liz Berry. Along with fellow apprentice Rebecca Green, I judged the Walter Scott Writing Prize and mentored one of the winners, and we hosted two Poet's Corner Reading Group sessions together, discussing pieces by writers who appeared at the festival in 2022 – we covered this year’s Poet in Residence Kayo Chingonyi, Zaffar Kunial, Kim Moore and a previous ILF Apprentice Poet in Residence Andrew McMillan. 

What did you enjoy most about your Apprentice Poet in Residency at Ilkley Lit Fest?

Being commissioned to create new work and share it with Ilkley audiences has been a real joy, inviting the audience to join me on a round walk – from the comfort of their church hall chairs – loitering at different landmarks to take in the scene. The opportunity has provided me with the chance to explore the town and the Moor, pour over maps and books on everything from Yorkshire dialect to Barbara Hepworth sculptures, and enjoy keeping lots of field notes, taking photos, pressing flowers and even making some drawings. I’ve also done a lot of writing, exploring some new approaches (including mirroring one of my charcoal sketches in the shape of one of my poems) as well as styles (haiku, for one), and pulling together the poetry map I set out to create. 

01 November 2022

Place writing – Ilkley Literature Festival

Ilkley Literature Festival 2022 has come to a close and, with it, the main responsibilities of my residency. I was delighted and honoured to be chosen as Apprentice Poet in Residence for the North’s longest-running literature festival, and being commissioned to create new work and share it with Ilkley audiences has been a real joy.

The opportunity has provided me with the chance to explore and rediscover places and spaces in and around Ilkley, spend an enormous amount of time pouring over maps and books on everything from Yorkshire dialect to Barbara Hepworth sculptures, and get lost wandering the streets while staying in the town and down umpteen rabbitholes while carrying out research on the internet. I’ve learnt loads of stuff including plenty about art, and I even cracked open the charcoals and had a go myself. In other words, I’ve had a lot of fun.

I’ve also, of course, done a lot of writing, exploring some new approaches (including mirroring one of my sketches in the shape of one of my poems) as well as styles (haiku, for one), and pulling together the poetry map I set out to create. My initial route turned out to be too ambitious less than a year after fracturing my spine, but an explore of the Moor in itself proved fruitful, producing a sequence of six poems for my festival performance, and a few extra for good measure. I invited the audience to join me on a round walk – from the comfort of their church hall chairs – loitering at different landmarks to take in the scene. At some point I will hopefully publish the series together (I think the pieces work for page as well as stage), perhaps even alongside the basic map I drew, so others can follow in my footsteps and read my poems in situ as they wander the trail. It ended up just shy of five miles with a detour to the Cow & Calf Hotel, and took about three hours – encompassing a not insignificant amount of evidence-gathering: taking photos, pressing flowers, keeping detailed field notes, stopping to listen to rustling beasts and beech leaves prospering in the breeze…

For the residency, I was also tasked with running a creative writing workshop, which I called Places and Spaces – in it we questioned our surroundings, observed the infra-ordinary, and looked for clues in the familiar and unfamiliar… Our texts took us from Yorkshire in ‘Bridge For The Living’ by Philip Larkin all around the UK, and we looked at pieces by Suzannah V Evans, Padraig Regan, Alice Oswald, Ella Frears and Liz Berry. The participants all contributed well and were happy to share work they made there and then, and I was told it was “a brilliant workshop – I go to many workshops, this was one great”, and I couldn’t ask for a better comment, really.

With fellow apprentice Rebecca Green, I also judged a creative writing competition and we hosted two Poet's Corner Reading Group sessions together, discussing pieces by writers who appeared at the festival – our first group helped us with a close read of previous ILF Apprentice Poet in Residence Andrew McMillan’s ‘visibility’ and a piece from Kim Moore’s Forward Prize-shortlisted collection All The Men I Never Married; our second readers (some returning) looked at ‘Foxglove County’ by Zaffar Kunial and ‘St Guy’s and St Thomas’s’ by Kayo Chingonyi, another ILF Poet in Residence. Did I mention I’ve also done a ton of reading? And I even managed to get my two new tomes into the Grove Bookshop…

13 October 2022

Lovely words about my words!

There's a great write-up just out in Manchester Review Of Books about my two new pamphlets, cache-cache (physical copies of which I hopefully get my mitts on tomorrow!) and Marine Drive (which looks as lovely in the flesh as anticipated).

Thank you to Sally Barrett for this generous review, "[The] words are like gold dust", in which she mentions "deft use of language", "needle sharp in style" and "excesses of flair, flexibility and openness in the writing".

There's an in real life launch event for my books coming up on Wednesday 26 October, which you can bagsy free tickets for here. It's taking place at the lovely Saul Hay Gallery canalside in Castlefield, Manchester, when I'll be joined by James Davies and Nora Blascsok, reading in front of some fab artworks. Doors 6.30pm, readings 7pm.

17 September 2022

Another new book!

I'm excited to announce the publication of my second book!

It's like buses round here, as they say, and hot on the heels of my debut poetry pamphlet comes my debut prose pamphlet or chapbook, if you will, published by the rather marvellous Broken Sleep Books. Thanks to Aaron for selecting it and for creating such a beautiful cover, following my instructions to a tee! The book is released on 30 September and you can pre-order here.

Here's the blurb... "Merging true tales of adventures on the high seas with imagined dips in magical pools and manmade ponds, Marine Drive is an immersive showcase of fifteen short stories and flash fictions with a watery notion. Sarah-Clare Conlon writes with a clear and powerful prose that allows us to dive to unexpected depths. Come on in, the water’s lovely…"

Praise for Marine Drive... 

“The sea will never let you create a desire line” Conlon tells us. And so it is in this exhilarating collection of short fictions which pulse with the rhythms of the sea as they shift us through “points of interest” from pier to shore to pavilion roof via starboard buoys, candle smut and heavy steel rings. Sentences rise and fall, like the pots and pans at sea set into cacophonous motion by a passing tanker, as Conlon deftly, humorously – “up to the church, down to the pub” – navigates the melancholy of faded towns and lost people, the “reckless” play of youth and commuter-carriage lives versus life “on the ocean wave”. In prose redolent of the clear precision of Lydia Davis, the material evocations of Sheila Heti, and the visceral spikes of Ann Berg, Marine Drive speaks brilliantly to the current convergence of ecological, political and social crises in which we are all bodies at sea. This collection soars! – Andrea Mason, Waste Extractions (Broken Sleep Books)

Her language as slippery and ungraspable as the contents of a pond, a lake, an ocean, Sarah-Clare Conlon captures the way that water transforms everything – and everyone – around it. – Nicholas Royle, London Gothic (Confingo Publishing)

Broken Sleep are hosting an online launch, also featuring Andre Bagoo, Taylor Edmonds, Kate Francis, James McDermott and Daniele Pantano, on Friday 30 September at 7.30pm – sign up here

I'm also organising an IRL double launch for Marine Drive and cache-cache on Wednesday 26 October at Saul Haul Gallery, a lovely space on the canal in Manchester's Castlefield. I'll be joined by James Davies, launching his new book, it is like toys but also like video taped in a mall, out soon with Pamenar Press, and Nora Blascsok, whose book <body>of work<body> is out with Broken Sleep. It's 6.30pm doors for a 7pm start – hope you can join us!

29 August 2022

Hide, and seek

I'm excited to announce the publication of my first book! 

cache-cache (which means hide-and-seek in French) contains 21 poems plus an extra-special bonus track called "Index", which is in itself a poem of experimental proportions.

Here's the back cover blurb... "Written under cover of lockdown, cache-cache draws on psychogeography, semiotics and systems to offer a knowing nod and unique rear window view into surveillance paranoia, borderline domestic goddess hysteria and paint colour charts. With an innovative lean intended to reflect the topsy-turvy new normal, expect OuLiPo-style constraints, found poems and cutouts, Calligrammesque concrete pieces and ‘easyread’ French. Hide, and seek."

It's out with modernist poetry press Contraband Books, a "publisher of New Modernist Writing". Thanks to Eve and David for giving it the green light and patiently putting up with lots of emails! I couldn't be happier, joining the ranks alongside the likes of OuLiPo expert Philip Terry, plus Camilla Nelson, Nat Raha, Rhys Trimble and Scott Thurston.

Scott, whose tome Phrases Towards A Kinepoetics is out with Contraband Books, very kindly gave me a cover quote, saying: "Sarah-Clare Conlon’s cache-cache (hide and seek) plays with the beautiful collision of the generative constraints of OULIPO with the domestic constraints of pandemic lockdowns. Conlon’s distinct observational style is given a new spin as these crisp, incisive texts delve deeply into the infrathin of the everyday, finding ‘Comfort in the familiar […] / Inspiration in routine’. Pensées amicales, indeed!"

Scott's The Other Room compadre Tom Jenks said: “Question your teaspoons” Georges Perec said. Apart from explaining why it took him so long to eat a chocolate mousse, Perec’s enjoinder reminds us that, when it comes to inspiration, everything we need is already here, if we look closely enough. Sarah-Clare Conlon does just that in cache-cache, filtering the particles and particularities of the quotidian through shimmering prisms of Oulipian constraint to find mystery and meaning. Stylish and sharply observed, these pieces are also funny and melancholy, speaking to us of lockdown, confinement and the elasticity of time, as well as hats, dogs, haircuts, camellias and all the things from which a world is made. Those teaspoons really do have the answers, if you ask them nicely."

Meanwhile, my European Poetry Festival co-conspirator Lydia Unsworth wrote this: "The day they added a full stop to our lives, a comma butterfly nested in my hair and the sky was as blue and crowdless as the 1970s. So opens Conlon’s charming response to the collision of the world with 2020. Between two languages, and in a fog that glitters with the rain, there’s a magical sort of survival at work here. Make a rule, let it take you to another world; observe, escape. Even the collection’s title, cache-cache, like a child with a ball – the world will be fun, the rising sadness will be transformed into a game. There’s a heartbreaking serendipity to be found within Conlon’s constructs."

Thanks to all three for their lovely words!

Available for pre-order, cache-cache will be shipped out week commencing 12 September 2022. You can pre-order / order (depending on when you read this post) here.

15 August 2022

Exciting news from across the Pennines

A Yorkshire lass by birth, I’m delighted to have been chosen as Apprentice Poet in Residence for this year’s Ilkley Literature Festival, the north of England's longest-running literature festival.

For the residency, I’ll be creating brand-new work to perform during the festival, running a creative writing workshop, and, alongside fellow apprentice Rebecca Green, judging a competition and hosting two Poet's Corner Reading Group sessions, when we’ll discuss pieces by writers appearing at the festival (programme here).

I’m excited at the prospect of exploring new and rediscovered places and spaces to write pieces for both page and stage. 

For my commission, I’m going to take a dérive around Ilkley and write about different stopping points, hopefully ultimately creating a poetry map. The idea is that the audience joins me on the wander – they (you) can either follow in my footsteps and read my poems in situ at each point on the walk or enjoy them from the comfort of their (your) own armchair (or indeed at the live event)

To tie in with this, I’ve called my workshop Places and Spaces, and in it we’ll examine the role of location beyond being just a setting to action or backdrop for characters. I invite you to question your surroundings, observe the infra-ordinary, visualise the bigger picture, consider the imagined, look for new clues as you read old maps… 

I’m hoping the opportunity to be Ilkley Literature Festival Apprentice Poet in Residence will allow me to develop new approaches, styles and themes, and I’m excited at the chance to create and share new work. I’m also looking forward to being able to pass on some of the amazing support and advice I’ve been lucky enough to receive, to attend festival events, and to work alongside Rebecca and 2022 Poet in Residence Kayo Chingonyi. 

📚 Saturday 8 October, 5.30pm, Church House, Ilkley: Ilkley Literature Festival - with Michael Schmidt & Peter Sansom - more here
📚 Saturday 8 October, 4pm, Church House, Ilkley: Ilkley Literature Festival - Poet's Corner Reading Group - free - more here
📚 Tuesday 11 October, 6.30pm, online: Ilkley Literature Festival - Places and Spaces creative writing workshop - more here
📚 Saturday 22 October, 4pm, Church House, Ilkley: Ilkley Literature Festival - Poet's Corner Reading Group - free - more here

06 June 2022

Let there be... lighthouses

I've had such a great time researching and writing about Plover Scar Lighthouse (pictured, with geese) for the Lancashire Stories project that I'm sad to stop. I even reached the maximum word count of 5,000 words, which is unheard of. I've found out lots about all kinds of things, from cotton trees at Sunderland Point to salt marsh lamb, and from the adaptability of plovers to the fact that of only 60 tidal bore phenomena world wide, eleven are in the UK, six are in the North West and three are in Morecambe Bay. I've written a poem about shipwrecked cargo and I've even read a Psalm.

My desk is adorned with pictures of lighthouses, including Leasowe, Point of Ayr and one on the River Mersey that's no longer there; Ince Lighthouse was a casualty of the construction of Manchester Ship Canal, and was demolished in 1891, 68 years after it was built. I might keep them up and perhaps ponder some poems or shorter stuff. I'm off to the seaside next week, so will try and gather more inspiration in my nautical notebook; see where it takes me. The Lancashire Stories anthology will be out in November, launching to tie in with Lancashire Day, and will be produced by Uclan Publishing in conjunction with Lancashire Libraries. There will be readings and events and so on, so watch this space...

04 May 2022

One Minute With... me!

This week sees the start of my book tour, when I'll be reading different bits and bobs from my debut poetry pamphlet, cache-cache. On Sunday, I'll be performing on the line-up at Switchblade Society, when guests read some of their own work and a piece by one of the other people on the night. Michaela and Will at Switchblade Society asked me to answer some questions for their One Minute With... interview, which I duplicate here...

21 April 2022

Book tour!

All my upcoming performance dates in one handy place... may I present "sarah-clare conlon's cache-cache book tour flyer". cache-cache is my debut poetry pamphlet, out with modernist poetry press Contraband Books very soon, and I'll be reading bits and bobs from it at all these fabulous dos! I'll try and read different extracts at different events, if that's possible, just in case you have the misfortune of being at them all. cache-cache is hide and seek in French; thanks to David Gaffney for this photo peeking through a hole in a door at Victoria Baths, where I've had the pleasure of being their first-ever writer-in-residence.

02 April 2022

March into April

Yesterday was 1 April, so the annual event of Daily Permissible Exercises In Style – one hour of observation, from the window where I work onto the street where I live. I note down everyone who passes on foot, on bicycle, en voiture, and any birds and planes that fly over, and if no one passes I note down any other points of interest: washing on a line, flowers in bloom, cats atop walls, noises off, the weather. I then, eventually, type it all up, condense it down to a specific wordcount, and play… swapping nouns, messing about with translations, relating the “story” backwards, that kind of thing. 

This is the third year I've done it, having started during the first UK lockdown (lockdown measures legally came into force 26 March 2020, I’m sure you’ll remember), basing it on Georges Perec’s Tentativement d’épuisement d’un lieu Parisien (available in English as An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris) and then sprinkling over some of Raymond Queneau’s Exercices de style (Exercises of Style) magic. Some of the results from 2020 and 2021 will soon be available for your delight and delectation in my debut pamphlet, cache-cache, due out with Contraband Books next month! 

It's interesting, and très Perecian, to record specific places on an annual basis, and the other thing I've been doing three years running is pose for a photograph down by the river Mersey in Didsbury, Manchester, near Simon’s Bridge. The photograph is taken each year in the dying days of March by Nicholas Royle, after we met him there the first year to swap DVDs and gather wild garlic, obviously with a suitably spatially aware, socially distanced gap. Nick sits on an adjacent bench; David and I sit on the Bench Of The Two Susans, a bench bearing two plaques, both dedicated to people called Susan. 

I wrote a poem mentioning the Bench Of The Two Susans, partly written there. Will Finches Inhabit Me? appeared in The Interpreter’s House last October (submissions are currently open until 14 May, and I recommend sending something over – they are a joy to work with, taking such time and care typesetting my piece) and it has also found its way into cache-cache (you really must buy it; pre-orders available 29 April!). Pictures, top to bottom: March 2022, March 2021, March 2020.

02 March 2022

All aboard!

In a couple of months, as April converges with May, I'll be donning my galoshes, salopettes and sou'wester and taking to the water, as I have been lucky enough to have been picked for one of the Writers Residencies on board the rainbow-hued narrowboat Furor ScribendiThis forms part of my research for the Lancashire Stories project, for which I have been commissioned to contribute a piece relating to water and waterways; I'm currently exploring lighthouses and the lives of lighthouse keepers, and thinking about shipwrecks and shorebirds, tidal bores and coastal flora…

Picture, above: Studio Morison, The RV Furor Scribendi, part of Small Bells Ring, 2020. 

Photography by Charles Emerson. Image courtesy the artists.

In related news, my poem about the painter Joan Eardley's seascapes at Catterline, where she lived up to her death, has just been published in the All Becomes Art anthology to celebrate the centenary (last year) of her birth, complete with a ripple-like blue cover – a slightly more recent version (with the inexplicably missing line breaks reinstated) will appear in a third pamphlet I've been chipping away at, and I'll be reading this and other watery pieces at an immersive art reading at Cheadle Village's Greenhouse Books on the afternoon of Sunday 13 March...

So, back to my residency afloat Furor Scribendi, I'm hoping to re-spark the strange feelings of bobbing about up and down and from side to side and the unique sounds and patterns and colours tied up with being so close to the water. We'll see what comes of it!

Here's a bit more about The RV (Research Vessel) Furor Scribendi... she's a fully functioning sculptural narrowboat operating as a living research vessel and a retreat for writers and readers, housing a floating library of short stories for members of the public to visit and borrow books from. Furor Scribendi forms part of Small Bells Ring, an artwork created by artists Heather Peak and Ivan Morison of Studio Morison, and co-commissioned by Super Slow Way and Coventry City of Culture Trust in collaboration with Lancashire and Coventry Library Services and their communities, and Canal & River Trust and British Council. In 2021, Small Bells Ring joined the Coventry City of Culture celebrations (you might have heard a feature about it on BBC Radio 4's Front Row in September) and, in 2022, the project will cruise the Leeds & Liverpool Canal, the longest canal in Britain built as a single waterway

Check out @Superslowway on Twitter, Super Slow Way on Facebook and @smallbellsring on Instagram for more on the project as a whole and the Small Bells Ring Writers Residencies. 

21 January 2022

An open Open

Can’t quite believe it’s the preview weekend of an exhibition that includes work by me… the Manchester Open 2022 at HOME is now officially an open Open, and I shall be visiting tomorrow – and I’m pretty excited about it! I made a visual / concrete poem, a kind of calligram (after Guillaume Apollinaire, forefather of Surrealism and coiner of the term Cubism) that can be viewed as well as read. It's called ‘Saturnine Night’, and is an approximation of the shape of Saturn, my starsign’s ruling planet, if you’re down with that kind of thing. If you’re not down with that kind of thing, you won’t know that we’ve just like two days ago taken leave of Capricorn’s chunk of the year (as an aside, when I worked on ELLE, my lovely boss let me change the dates in the horoscopes as they weren’t quite aligned properly and made me a Sagittarius, so, y’know, life goals and all that). Anyway, if you’re not down with that kind of thing, the artwork has nothing to do with that kind of thing and lots to do with other kinds of things, including Saturday nights (one of the reasons why I’ve booked my preview slot for 7pm on a Saturday), which you’ll find out if you hop along from Monday and have a look. The pictures are of my artwork all wrapped up when I dropped it off on 11 December, plus a snippet of Saturnine Night along with a bit of Saturn, from the Twitter account Bits of Saturn (which is real trippy if you scroll through lots, like I just did) taken by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which man… Anyway, even if you don’t want to have a look at my planetary exploration, it’s one of 400 artworks (chosen from a staggering 2,271 entries!), so there’s plenty more to feast your eyes upon. The exhibition is free and runs from Monday 24 January until Sunday 27 March, and during the first five weeks you can put forward your three favourite pieces for The People’s Choice Award. Book your timeslot here, and enjoy...