Frontier Love: Revised

frontier love

to love = aimer


we love without borders

in limerance I give myself to you

no holding back, no baggage

our love is perfect

hold this/that moment


je suis

tu es

nous sommes

nous tombons

nous sommes tombé(e)s amoureux,

nous aimons


a border divides us, a sea, a language

I don’t know why I think I can love in French when my English love is imperfect


Nous nous aimons

nous nous sommes aimé(e)s

nous nous aimions quand …

nous nous aimions

nous aimons sans frontières

en limerance je me donne à toi

sans retenue, aucun bagage

notre amour est parfait

tenons ce moment


I am

you are

we are

we fall

we fell in love,

we fell loving


une frontière nous divise, une mer, une langue

je ne sais pas pourquoi je pense que je peux aimer en français quand mon amour anglais est imparfait


we love

we loved

we were loving when …

we used to love



under au dessous de La Manche, 250 feet below sea level, pour toi ca c’est soixante seize mètres, I pause, je m’arrête, weight of water (l’eau) crushing me m’écrase

as I travel again comme je voyage encore une fois

my life divided/ma vie divisée

from yours

no we. oui?

If you say tomber en amour to a French(wo)man, s/he/they/we may start looking for holes.


to see: voir

the sea: la mer

je traverse la mer pour te voir

je deviens une mère/un père

tu deviendras un père/une mère

nous serons des parents

unspeakable difference




What I’m reading #amreading

IIMG_8551’ve been reading. Not writing really, because the kids have finished school and we’ve been to Cambridge, and stayed on a barge on the Suffolk coast and, actually, I spent most of June trying to get ahead with work. So, no writing, but I have pledged to read a book a day on any of the free days we have this summer. The kids have reached an age where they occupy themselves for a while, and I think there are plus points of backing off and letting them get on with it.

Inspired by Maddy’s books from her bedside table, this is a little about the books I’ve read in the last couple of weeks. There is some sort of theme – health, medicine, science, told through people’s stories – though I picked the books very much at random. One was a gift, another was sent to me for review, the third I ordered after reading about it online, and the fourth was one I pinched from my daughter as I had run out of reading material when we were on the boat!

henrietta lacksThe first book is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Kloot. I didn’t know anything about the subject, but I was interested because the book aims to draw out a personal story from science, the story of Henrietta Lacks whose cells were the first to be successfully grown in a lab. The cells which originated from a cancerous growth on Lacks’s cervix continued to grow successfully. They have been used on an ongoing basis for medical trials and tests ever since they were first cultured in the fifties.

Rebecca Kloot is a science writer and was a student when she first delved into Henrietta’s untold story. Medicine has a habit of anonymizing its subjects to protect them, but in this book Kloot tries to uncover a more about the woman behind the cells. It is clear from the book that being poor and black in the fifties meant that families like the Lacks family were wary of doctors, and well aware of stories of people being used in medical tests without their knowledge or against their will. And in some ways, that applies to Henrietta. She didn’t know that her cells were going to be taken and used in the way they were – and it seems that the doctor had no idea just how the cells would succeed and grow either.

Henrietta died soon after her cells were taken, and her family had no idea what had happened, although snippets emerged over the years as researchers contacted them, leaving them with a feeling of unease and fear. Rebecca Kloot made a commitment to uncover as much of the story as she could, and she developed a relationship with Henrietta’s daughter Deborah. The book is a dense read which took me a couple of weeks. Kloot does a good job of covering as much of the history of the family, of Henrietta herself, and also puts this into the context of in vitro cell research as it developed in the latter half of the twentieth century. I think it is important that people’s stories are told, and though out the book you can really feel Deborah’s passion to find out about her mother. By the end of the book, though, Deborah has died. Henrietta Lacks died in 1951. Incredibly, her cells are still being used in research today. They live on, and so does Kloot’s story.

baby XThe second book is Baby X, by Rebecca Ann Smith. I’ll be writing more about this later in a review for the Contemporary Small Press Blog, but to sum up, this book looks at a near future where a baby is growing in an artificial womb. It personalises the science by telling the story through the voice of three women – Alex, the lead researcher, Karen, the ‘mother’ of Baby X, and Dolly, an assistant in the lab. (Dolly – wasn’t that the name of the first cloned sheep?) I write ‘mother’ in quotes, because Baby X has been created with a donor egg, and is growing in a lab. Issues of parenthood, of motherhood are raised by this book. I read it all through in a day, and I wondered if it was going to be a little slow, but I was gripped within the first few chapters. Smith unravels a complex story in a clear manner, and succeeds at taking us back and forth in the time line, from conception to present day to future investigation into the project. There is a mystery to unravel, and one action that appears to be the crime, while in fact another crime has taken place that is gradually exposed through the book. There is always a challenge in melding science and story: the science must underpin the story unobtrusively. I probably have a greater interest in the science and medical part of the story than most people, but I’d say that Smith has the balance right. She has created a gripping story, in a world that isn’t too far from our own.

Will and II stumbled across Will & I, by Clay Byars in an article, How Clay Byars battled paralysis to finish his memoir. Despite the tabloid style title, the premise interested me – a first person story, Clay writes of his experiences since having a stroke aged twenty, one that should have killed him. The stroke occurred as a result of surgery to deal with a problem with one of Clay’s arm, which arose after a car accident.  The book is written in a gentle style, mixing snippets of Clay’s current life with his past experiences. It has taken him around fifteen years to write, perhaps unsurprising considering the traumatic nature of what it addresses.

I’m always interested in people telling their own stories of how they have fought back: remarkably Clay lives with his dogs on a remote farm, despite still having issues with walking and limited use of both arms.  The other aspect of this book which is indicated by the title, is that Clay has a twin, Will. I would have liked to know a little more about their relationship – Will is a fairly shadowy figure for much of the book, but maybe it’s right that Clay can only write his view. As indicated in the LitHub article, there are elements that resonate with Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air, but of course there are differences: put harshly, Kalanithi died, Byars has survived. Both, though, give us a chance to see life through someone else’s eyes, in a way that makes us appreciate the value of what we have.

extraordinary meansMy final book is the one I borrowed from my daughter. I’m sure you’ve been there – on holiday, time to relax, but you’ve read all your books. I borrowed Extraordinary Means by Robyn Schneider. In the near future (as per Baby X), a new strain of TB emerges, one which is resistant to all known treatments. In a throwback to the last century, those with the condition are sent off to live in communities where they can’t infect others while they recover – or die. The book tells the story of teenager Lane who is sent to Latham House. He makes new friends, and in facing death decides to truly make the most of his life. As YA books go, this is fairly standard: boy meets girl, with the quirk of everyone having a potentially life threatening illness. We even get the stats: four out of five kids leave Latham cured. Which of Lane’s new friends – Nick, Sadie, Marina and Charlie – will get to go home, and will life ever be the same if they do? The plot was good enough to keep me reading, but I think again, as with Baby X and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks it’s the way that the science was dealt with that makes this book worth recommending. There is a great end section with an accurate history of the development of treatments for TB which I imagine 90% of teen readers will skip! It also details how Schneider, a bioethicist, came to write the book- she came up with the idea while sitting in a Cinema of Contagion class!

So, there are a number of threads that tie these books together. Science through personal experience, fact or fiction, is one strand that links them. Another, though, is that they are all books that I would like to have written, all books that speak to what I am writing. Clay Byars is brave enough to take his personal experience and write into it. Robyn Schneider and Rebecca Ann Smith both create fiction from fact, and while Rebecca Kloot remains on the side of non fiction, it is creative non fiction that tells someone’s story. Looking at the books as a whole inspires me to keep writing and researching in the hope that at some point someone will be gripped by the story I have written too.




Works in progress – or how do you know when a poem is finished? #prose4t #whatimwriting #amwriting

Last year I did an exercise for my experimental writing class that turned into a poem. I posted each stage of the work on the blog, and there were probably seven iterations just at that time. Since then I’ve revised it, read it to my writing group, submitted it to a competition, revised it, read it out loud, and done a very different version inspired by a call out that wanted poems of 14 lines or less. I think I thought I’d finished it last year, but I obviously hadn’t.

I wrote a novel a few years back, finished it and everything. I printed out a few copies, got people to read it, made amendments, sent it to agents and even had a request for the whole thing. But that all took time, and during that time something was niggling at me. The story wasn’t finished. What I’d thought was the whole story wasn’t at all – the interesting stuff kicked off where I’d wrapped it all up. How do I know that? I gave myself permission to just keep writing, and writing, and writing. The characters I created developed a life of their own. What I thought was a nice, neat finished novel is now a messy splurge. What was fluffy chick lit with a happy ever after ending is now darker. The story is now more compelling, but the whole thing is unfinished, a sprawling mass of words, with some repetition where I’ve tried more than one approach to the same storyline. (And I feel a sense of relief that the agent said no!)

The longer I write the more I have these messy, unfinished projects, the greater the number of poems that could become something else. And they take up a tiny part of my brain all the time. I’m working on a different novel now, but at some point I want to revisit the first one and wrangle with it once more until the story starts and ends in a place that compels others to read it all through. I’m just not sure how to find time to do that, or whether I have to let it go and say it was a learning experience – which it was – and it’s a novel that’s not going to be published, and just move on.

What do you do – how do you know when something is done? Do you have projects that you can discard? And do you find it easy to find an end for your work?


This has been a tough week, one of the hardest I can remember. I haven’t written anything, so am going back to a version of something I wrote for my dissertaton that part-way expresses how I feel.

I can’t sit, can’t think, need to walk, to ride until my day is full of movement, fill my head with the need to look where I’m going as my bike bumps down the path… move until it is time to eat, drink too much, and hope that I’ve drained every particle of energy from my body, that sleep slams into me as I fall on the bed, that I don’t lie still and think …


Notes on my phone.

Facebook updates.

Phrases straggle across the screen.

No full sentences.


I have no time, no paper.

I need a new laptop.

You can’t write this for me.


I’m not in the right mind-set.

I can’t write when it’s winter.

I can’t write while I’m waiting

I can’t write.


I can’t write with you.

Can’t call you.

Can’t text you.

Can’t say it when I call.


My head’s too full.

I can’t walk, can’t leave, can’t think, can’t share this, can’t update my Facebook page.


I can’t write.

I can’t

I …


What I’ve been writing this week #whatimwriting @writingbubble

I’ve just realised a few things. Half term is a week away, then there are only a few short weeks before the yawning, childcare-free abyss of the summer holidays. I’ve been reading and writing and reading again this year, all feeding into a novel which I want to be part of a PhD. And I actually need to write a synopsis and complete the application before the summer term ends if I want any chance of doing a PhD next year at some point!

And of course, just as always happens when a (even self-imposed) deadline looms, I’ve been blogging prolifically over the last couple of weeks.

I reviewed new psychological thriller Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan which is out in June, and The Girl with Nine Wigs, a quirky and amusing cancer memoir.

I wrote up a first draft of a short story that I started in writing group: Iris if. Very much still in development!

I read Don De Lillo’s new book and wrote an epic blog post about Don De Lillo’s Zero K, and Making Readers Care about your Characters  – the post takes you from Chernobyl to Beirut on a journey with some of my favourite books at the moment, and one that just didn’t do it for me.

I finally got round to writing about Kate Tempest, reading from her new novel @DLWP, and then I read some of my own poems at a Writers Circle event locally – my first live reading. Terrifying, but I didn’t make any mistakes and it’s done now. Until the next time.

And I have been working on the research proposal and book synopsis and have another day booked to do that before the children break up. So maybe I’ll make my deadline and have something finished to submit during June. Maybe!

Review: Dear Amy by Helen Callaghan

I’ve just finished reading Dear Amy, a chilling psychological thriller. This is the blurb: “Margot Lewis is the agony aunt for The Cambridge Examiner. Her advice column, Dear Amy, gets all kinds of letters – but none like the one she’s just received:

‘Dear Amy,
I don’t know where I am. I’ve been kidnapped and am being held prisoner by a strange man. I’m afraid he’ll kill me.
Please help me soon,
Bethan Avery’

Bethan Avery has been missing for years. This is surely some cruel hoax. But, as more letters arrive, they contain information that was never made public.”

In the novel we follow Margot as she gets sucked into a nightmare, driven by the kidnap of Katie, one of the pupils at the school where she works (alongside her part time gig as agony aunt.) If you’re a writer, you’ll know the term ‘unreliable narrator’, and it becomes clear as you read the book that Margot the teacher and competent agony aunt isn’t the person you first think. He husband has had an affair and left her: from the very start we can see that she is emotionally vulnerable, but more of the secrets of her past emerge page by page. Margot’s story is inextricably intertwined with the letters she is receiving, and with the missing girl.

As the book progresses, so does Margot’s divorce: there’s a confrontation with her husband’s lover too. And we learn more about why Margot is taking medication, why she has been sectioned to a local psychiatric hospital in the past. The more Margot unravels, though, the closer she gets to finding out why Bethan Avery is writing to her after being missing for twenty years, and how this might help her save Katie.

I read most of the book on a train journey to and from London, and was sufficiently interested to wangle a free hour to finish it off the next day. It is gripping and scary: perhaps not one for bedtime reading for the nervous. The plot twists and turns are coherent and well planned. At almost every point of reveal you have the ‘ah’ moment where you realise how everything you read on the previous pages links in. There is a growing new relationship for Margot, which is nice in the sense of wrapping up all the ends, but the book works just fine without the ‘ideal new man’ aspect!

Dear Amy is released on 16 June and costs £7.99 on Kindle and around £12 hardback at time of writing.

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Disclosure: I received the eBook of Dear Amy free of charge via Netgalley.

Short fiction: Iris if

flower-874980_640‘If I were a butterfly …’
She scowls at the page. It’s worse than ‘What I did on my holidays’. Everyone else seems to be writing: faces to pages, pens to paper, words flowing.
“Stop looking out of the window, Iris!”
Mr Martin always has a down on her, she thinks as she turns back to the blank page. He’s walking closer, coming to check what she’s done. ‘If I were a butterfly’, she writes, ‘I’d be dead by winter’. Dead. Flat on the pavement, delicate scaled wings scraping against the concrete, smeared by thoughtless shoes. Or worse: pinned in a collection like the one in the museum. She glances around the classroom and wonders: would that really be so much worse than being pinned to this desk, day after day, one of thirty specimens? ‘British school child, age fifteen, local variations in school uniform’, just as the Victorian collectors laid out their butterflies. She has drifted again, hand still, eyes focussing across the field.

“Iris! Do you want to have to stay after class to finish your work?”
Her gaze drops, but her mind is full of green grass, chasing the daisies that start where the playing field ends. A row of lime trees mark the boundary between the school and the uncut meadow where fritillaries and cabbage whites dance with buttercups and poppies.
‘If I were a butterfly,’ she writes again, ‘I wouldn’t be here. I’d be out in the sunshine, making the most of every second of my short life!’
“Iris!” Mr Martin shouts.  “Where’s that girl going?”
But the words grow faint in Iris’s ears as she pelts down the corridor, through the doors, across the sports field, over the fence by the lime trees and into the meadow.