Open After Dark by Sue Proffitt


As I’ve said before, I’m fortunate enough to belong to a group of extraordinarily accomplished novelists and prose writers who first met on the MA at Bath Spa University. I’m also very fortunate that down here in Devon there is such a vibrant and talented network of poets, many of them already published, who workshop together and read their work locally. Three of these fine poets, Sue Proffitt, Jenny Hamlett and Rebecca Gethin, have published collections recently and will be launching them at the beginning of May. Sue and Rebecca are both members of a workshopping group that I’m honoured to be part of.

Open After Dark, published by Oversteps Books, is Sue Proffitt’s debut collection, although she has been publishing poems in magazines for several years and has been placed in a number of competitions. She recently won the Teignmouth Poetry Festival competition with a beautiful poem entitled ‘The Woman of Whitehorse Hill’, about a Bronze Age burial that was discovered on Dartmoor in 2007. The poem is not in the collection but you can hear her reading it in this recording from Ian Beech’s programme Poetry Islanders on Soundart Radio (at just before 43 minutes).

Sue Proffitt lives on the coast and her deep engagement with the natural world shines through her poetry. The first section of the book, entitled The Gift, consists of poems about birds, animals and plants. These are not simply poems of observation: in them there is a feeling into the creature’s own experience, be it a butterfly: ‘Imagine,/the cold, the descending dark,/a banquet/but your mouth is locked’, a spawning salmon, a polar bear who swan to Iceland only to be shot on arrival: ‘Navigating instinct,/the dream of blood warm in your maw,/its metal current on your tongue/pulling you mile/     after mile’.  In all these poems there is a profound sense of her relationship with the creatures she describes, whether a charge of wild boar, a jellyfish hanging in water or a kestrel close by: ‘that golden stare/fixes on me,/and as I rifle /through my life/it’s there —/neck-breath near.’  She has an instinct for ending a poem with a memorable image: the jellyfish is ‘a moon/in a wedding dress’; when the wild boar have passed ‘The quiet, following after,/ hovers outside me/ ringing like a storm glass’, watching crows ‘My whole world contracts/like a marble inside their eyes.’

The later sections of the book focus more on human relationship. In the second section, Learning to Swim, the poems encapsulate moments of vision and moments that carry a whole history. The Light is a beautifully understated poem in which light coming into a room at night reveals ‘…. there is someone else/in there with the child’. Other poems, clear-eyed and unsentimental, describe first menstruation and the loss that is menopause, hint at the ending of a relationship and –  most memorably perhaps – recall her father in his coffin. This last poem, Visiting my Father, ends: ‘you are boxed/and wearing a pink dress/presented to me/like a sepulchral rose.’

The third section, My Mother’s Language, is perhaps the heart of  Sue Proffitt’s collection. It is a series of poems about her mother’s long journey with dementia, with the poet as her close companion. These poems are deeply poignant, tender, loving and exploratory.  They don’t pretend to know any answers but are willing to stay in the strangeness of the moment. In one of them, The Night Call, her mother is convinced that her children are lost in the night. The poet calls her mother to reassure her they are all right: ‘… and there, in the waiting dark,/a tiny child-voice grows out of my throat./Mummy, I say.’ Other poems evoke the bafflement, the frustration, the moments of lucidity, the helplessness of being confined in a nursing home where her mother sits, ‘a collapse of cardigan and cushions’, in the ‘warm, sweet, rancid seep/of cooked food, trapped air,/tang of urine, the stain/something cellular.’ In In the Sadness of Spring her mother’s disintegrating mind ‘…grasps for thought-holds/that crumble — flails in the terrored space —/pulls on the lifeline of my still remembered love’, before ‘appraising the land that’s gone to waste.’ Again the images are striking and memorable: ‘the clipped wings of her cardigan’, ‘the comfort-cud of repetition.’

The last section of the book, To Make a Path, returns to the natural world. The final poem, Gull Dawn, honours the gulls on the nearby coast. ‘Long after I have left/I will remember the gulls/carrying dawn to me.’ Other poems in this section are dark and powerful, especially Aisha, about a thirteen-year-old Somali girl who was stoned to death after having been raped. ‘The small bulb of your head/pokes above ground — /not to grow but to crack/like an egg broken open.’ The poem is angry and compassionate, but expressed with the delicacy and precision of imagery that characterises so many of the poems.

Apart from the imagery, what stands out for me in these poems is the musical flow of their language and their truthfulness to their subject, no matter how disturbing or heartbreaking it may be. As soon as I started reading them I was completely under their spell. As Simon Williams, another highly accomplished Devon poet, says, ‘This is an exceptional collection to read and re-read.’

Posted in Poetry reviews, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Did you say writing?


This is my 90th post. It’s a venerable number, but if you remember that the blog has been going for nearly five years it’s really not that many – an average of 18 posts a year, or one and a half a month. The blog is now a book and I’ve blogged about the book, so enough already. Time to get back to the main theme of this blog: writing.

Er, well, yes. So what about the writing, then? Glad you asked that question, as people say when they wish you hadn’t. For a lot of last year I was in quite a low state, for both personal and political reasons. The personal reasons can stay personal, but depression about the state of the world is now so widespread that it seems almost impossible not to express it. What is going to become of us – and not just us, the human race, but the planet as a whole? The more desperate the ecological crisis becomes, the more the capitalist elite is empowered to wreck the earth and kill off its hapless inhabitants for the sake of short-term gain. And to condemn most of humanity to increasing poverty and deprivation in the interests of the ‘free market’. When the CEO of Nestlé says that human beings have no right to water and drug companies make cheap-to-produce medicines too expensive for people in poorer countries, they seem to have lost all sense that they are human too, and just as vulnerable to disease and death as anyone else. Or that, supreme individuals though they believe themselves to be, without a society to function in they couldn’t function at all.

But however much the political situation matters, I was talking about writing. In the larger scheme of things my writing is unlikely to count very much, especially as most of it hasn’t been directly about the state of the world, but in the little cosmos that I call me it matters a lot. Publication, yes, recognition, yes: I would like both of those – but see a wonderful blog post by my writing friend Emma Geen for how easily they become fool’s gold. And beyond that I still want to do it because I want to do it. I feel much more alive and whole when the ideas are coming and the words are finding their way on to the page, when I can see something I hadn’t seen before or find a voice for an insight or a character. And, in a poem or a piece of prose, when the words start to sing and find a melody of their own.

Since the turn of the year I’ve felt the impulse to write creeping back. I’ve written or drafted several new poems and have started to begin (this is not a tautology) the rewrite of my novel – doing it differently, finding a new way. A lot of last year I was busy collecting and compiling: my poetry collection, once first of all and then again, at least one pamphlet which hasn’t yet seen the light of day, and of course the blog book, the only one so far to have appeared in print. I enjoyed doing it – I like arranging things nicely – and it kept me in touch with writing even when I wasn’t producing much that was new. Any poems I did write came mostly from workshops; I’m not sure if I wrote any that were self-generated. I didn’t write much in the way of fiction either, having found it hard to regain confidence in my abilities as a novelist. I did write a lot in my personal journal, but it’s not the kind of writing that would find its way into the public domain. I’ve blogged a bit too, of course, but I see that more as an offshoot of other writing.

So what has rekindled this flicker of life? Partly an intense and difficult, but ultimately healing, retreat over Christmas, partly the gradual, almost imperceptible lengthening of the days and the hope the light brings, especially once I turn the corner into my birthday in mid-January, perhaps too a natural cycle of creativity followed by consolidation, a waiting for what’s new to emerge when the time is right. And I mustn’t underestimate the support and stimulus of other writers: my dear prose group from the Bath Spa MA, a poetry workshopping group I’ve joined recently, whose members are friends as well as poets I respect, and a poetry seminar I’m now part of which is challenging me to write better and edit more stringently than I have before. If I hadn’t known before how important it is to have a community of writers, I’d certainly have realised it now. The fact that other people I know write beautiful poems and best-selling novels can be dispiriting and envy-making but it’s also an inspiration, an encouragement for me to do the best I can. When they believe in my work and can see how I might make it better I’m full of appreciation, and their belief in it helps me believe in it too. Gradually it’s allowing those scared pieces of writing to make their way into the world again, till sooner or later  gates that seemed to be closed are opened almost without my knowing it.

That’s what it’s all about really, the writing: that excitement, the feeling that there’s nothing else quite like it. It doesn’t always come, but I’m listening for the signal…


Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Not with a bang…

I don’t know what I expected when I self-published this blog as a book. I said to people I might sell a couple of dozen if I was lucky, so obviously I wasn’t setting my sights high, but I think I must have been secretly hoping for at least a tiny flurry of interest – a little ‘Oh, I like this’ or something of that nature, and there hasn’t been much of that. Perhaps it’s early days yet. People don’t always read a book as soon as they buy it – I don’t, anyway – and it’s the sort of book you dip into rather than read from cover to cover, so I don’t suppose the responses, if there are any, will be quick. One friend has already said, very kindly, that she was enjoying it, so I can’t complain it’s disappeared from view completely. And if people do want to comment on it, it’s a pretty mixed bag, to say the least. You wouldn’t expect to find reflections on death and impermanence between the same covers as the thoughts of a muddled aardvark or a story about magical porridge (no, I’m not going to explain). I decided first of all that it didn’t fit into any of the categories Amazon had to offer, but then I changed my mind and have categorised it as a ‘literary collection: essays’, which seems not too wide of the mark. It hasn’t made any difference to sales.

To date I’ve sold fifteen copies, nine on Amazon and six directly to friends, so in theory the book could still make it to 24 or so.  In the meantime I’ve already produced a ‘second edition’. I made the mistake of not getting a printed proof of the first edition and found, to my chagrin, that most of the print was dark grey and not black and there were various other formatting errors which jumped out at me as soon as I opened it, not to mention typos that I know haven’t all been corrected. The second edition isn’t perfect either, though I think it looks better, but I’ve got to a point now where I can tell myself that it’s only a piece of fun and isn’t going to affect the way I’m viewed as a writer. Nevertheless I didn’t want it to look amateurish, and on the whole I think it does at least resemble a proper professional book. An editor friend of mine didn’t see too much wrong with it, at any rate. And although I’ve been so obsessed with the look of it, when I read through it I find most of the content polished enough and substantial enough for a book of that kind. My editor friend thought the pieces she read seemed ‘quite finished’, which was good to know. (Ah, how I need my external locus of evaluation.)

One thing I haven’t mentioned so far is what Adelina calls ‘Royalty’. In case you thought you might make some money from self-publishing (though I’m sure you weren’t so naive), I can tell you that the amount per book seems amazingly little – though it’s probably not much less than a commercially published author would get. For the first edition, priced at £5.99, I got a royalty of 35p per copy. For the second edition, which I put up to £6.99 because the royalty had gone down to something like 24p, I now get as much as 85p per copy – though I haven’t sold any at that price yet. But then doing it the Amazon way means you don’t have to pay anything up front, unlike a lot of self-publishing where there is an initial outlay. You can buy your own copies at a reduced price and sell them at full price, but the cost of postage means the profit is still relatively low. However, if you’ve got a book that you want to self-publish I’m sure that won’t deter you. If I did more marketing I might of course sell more copies, but I’m not sure I’d want to give it the time and energy. I’d rather save my promotional efforts for the poetry collection, when it comes out.

So this, in my experience, is the reality of self-publishing. I certainly wouldn’t not have done it and it’s wonderful to have a proper book with my name on the cover, but if I thought it was going to make any kind of impact ‘out there’ I’ve soon been disabused of the notion. To which the response is, I suppose, ‘onward and upward’. Isn’t it annoying when people say that?


Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Brought to book

It’s official now: this blog has become a book! It’s been up on Amazon for a week or so and costs £6.99. You can find it here.  It’s available on Kindle too. The title, like the blog, is The Belated Writer: Odd Thoughts on Writing and Life.  It looks like this, and incidentally tells you my name. The cover design is an off-the-peg one from Amazon (a friend of mine has used it for a book of hers, in different colours) but I think it suits this book well.


I’ve tweaked and formatted the inside and arranged the posts by theme as well as chronologically. Adelina is delighted to have a whole section to herself. The biggest section is, not surprisingly, about Writing, but Life comes into it too. I’ve included the posts about Brexit but haven’t included, or even written, anything about Trump. I may well post something about the situation here, but for the moment it feels too dreadful to think about.

After Brexit I went into a flurry of writing and reading, like a chicken clucking about with all her feathers fluffed. The Trump situation feels more like having swallowed a very large and heavy stone and feeling it sink slowly down and down. Surely there must be other words than ‘No’: no, this can’t have happened, no, I don’t want it to be like this, no, we can’t let things get any worse – as they daily begin to get worse. One of the worst things for me was seeing a picture of the Ku Klux Klan in North Carolina processing down a street in their ghastly garb to celebrate Trump’s victory. All of that hatred is crawling out of the woodwork. And if all I can do is hate the hatred, then I’m buying into it too. Like a lot of people, I’m alternating between anger and despair, when I’m not trying to forget about it altogether.

I won’t say more now. The main point of this post is to show off about the book, in the hope – of course – that some people may actually want to buy it. The ten copies I ordered arrived yesterday and yes, it really does look like a real book. If you’ve read any of this blog before you’ll know what to expect, but to me there’s something very different about reading it in print. Somehow the printed page makes it look more – well – authorial. You can see for yourself, if you want. Or you may just prefer to read it for free here on the blog…

Posted in Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hello again from Adelina


Hello everybody

It’s been a long time since I’ve written on this Blogg, but in the mean-time I’ve been busy writing a Forward and an Afterward for the Book that the Belated Writer is making out of Pieces of this Blogg, including all the Pieces I’ve written. Yes, I’m going to be a Published Author in a real Book. Isn’t that Exciting? Except of course that it’s not quite a real Book as the Belated Writer is Publishing it herself, which means it hasn’t had to be Accepted by a Publisher. It’s nice for the Belated Writer as she hasn’t had any of those painful Rejections, but on the other hand if you’re Published by a real Publisher then People know it really is a real Book, so you will probably sell more Copies and get more Royalty.

I think the Belated Writer has already told you that her Poetry Collection is going to be published by a real Publisher, which is very Exciting too. She doesn’t yet know when, but it won’t be for quite a long time as the Publisher has got lots of other Books to Publish first. I was very disappointed to hear that the Collection won’t be Published in a proper Album. My Husband, who as you know writes such beautiful Poetry, used to collect Stamps. He kept them in a lovely Album, but perhaps it’s harder to do that with Poems as they are usually bigger than Stamps. It is a pity that my dear Husband hasn’t written more Poems, otherwise he could have a Collection Published too, with or without an Album.

I’m sure the Publisher will make the Book look as nice as possible so that People will want to buy it. There are 58 poems in it and they are on several different Subjects. Some of them are about sad things like People dying and Unrequited Love but there are some funnier ones too, so reading the Book shouldn’t be too painful. One Poem is about eating Bacon backwards on account of being Jewish, or something like that. There is a Contents list at the beginning so that you can choose which ones you want to read, but I have to say the Titles don’t always tell you very much about the Poems.

I do hope you will buy both the Belated Writer’s Books. She will put the Details on the Blogg as soon as she has them. She is Publishing the Blogg Book on the Amazon, but if you order a Copy I don’t think it will take too long to arrive.

With love from

Adelina A Vark (Authoress) xx




Posted in Adelina's Blogg | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Of making many books…

As well as being a blog, this blog will soon be a book. Emboldened by my to-be-published poetry collection, and like many bloggers before me, I’ve decided to collect together posts from this blog into a self-published not-so-slim volume. Why? you may ask. Isn’t a blog sufficient unto itself? Well, yes, it is, and it’s nice that a certain number of people follow it and (I hope) read it. But a book would be something more substantial; I could even call the pieces ‘essays’ rather than ‘posts’. The question that inevitably follows is: are they worth it? I’m not the best person to answer – author’s vanity, and all that – but it seems to me that there probably is enough substance there. For better or worse, I’ve always tended to write my blog posts as little articles rather than just thoughts in the moment. And I like the process of collecting writings together and editing them into a readable sequence.

In order to do it cheaply, I’m afraid I’m resorting to the iniquitous Amazon. A friend of mine has published several novels that way and recommended it to me, and it seems pretty straightforward as well as cheap. And the book will be easily accessible to potential readers, though unless the author does a huge amount of marketing I would guess that the majority of self-published books are bought mainly by friends and acquaintances. As it’s printed on demand and I don’t have to buy copies in advance I’d be quite happy with that: I’m not looking to this book for much more than the satisfaction of creating it. Of course I’d be hugely chuffed if friends wrote nice reviews (no pressure here) that encouraged a few more people to buy it, and of course I’ll put it out on the book table at readings and open mics, but we’re talking small numbers and pin money here.

Never mind. A book is a book is a book. In the days when I so desperately wanted to be a writer but thought I was wasting my time, I put together two collections of writings that I sold or gave to friends. The first one was a sort of portfolio of all the different kinds of writing I’d done up till then –  short stories, extracts from a novel I’d written, poems, autobiographical pieces, ‘therapy writing’, even a short verse drama. It was produced in the early 1990s on an Amstrad word-processor, with a printer that sounded like a machine gun, and photocopied on A4 pages because I couldn’t reduce it. The covers were copies of two paintings I’d done and I lettered the title on a sticky label, the corners rounded with a pair of nail-scissors. The comb-bound ‘book’ was so big and bulky that several people said they couldn’t manage to read it.

The second attempt, ‘published’ in 2002, was a more manageable A5 size, in Times New Roman font, with sections in bold or italic and fancy colophons. It even included photographs – technology had moved on a lot by then. This book was rather different, in that it started out as a project for a personal development course and was about ‘me, my family and dragons’. Again it was a collection of short pieces – a mixture of fiction, autobiography and reflections about writing – the strands interwoven in a sequence that seemed random but had its own logic. The cover was a photograph of a collage dragon made of shiny paper, and I lettered the title on the computer. I think more people read this second one and some certainly liked it, but some of the writing was too personal to put into the public domain.

I still have copies of both these books, and of a short anthology of poetry and fiction by therapy colleagues that I self-published under my own imprint on 2012. This last one is definitely a book, properly bound and with a professionally designed cover. I did include some of my own writings – I’d just finished the MA and was full of everything I’d written – but once more the main satisfaction was in arranging the pieces by theme and in the best order, so that it read like a proper collection. I was quite proud of it and so, I’m glad to say, were the contributors.

When it came to putting together the poetry collection I was no stranger to the process, having previously entered several pamphlets for competitions. I enjoyed making the poems link with one another linguistically or thematically, choosing where to follow like with like and where to introduce a contrast of tone or form or subject matter. I’m enjoying doing something similar – though less sophisticated – with the blog pieces, grouping them according to date and subject so that there is a progression. The book isn’t done yet, but when it is then naturally I’ll blog about it.


Posted in Writing | Leave a comment

Ready for collection

I don’t know how many posts I’ve written on this blog about having manuscripts rejected, failing to win competitions, not being a proper poet etc etc. I didn’t think I’d ever get there, but I’m now extremely pleased to report that somebody wants to publish a poetry collection of mine. Yes, a whole collection – 58 poems, to be precise – by me and nobody else. I’ve had going on for 50 poems published by magazines, anthologies and websites but I wasn’t at all sure if or when I’d get to the book stage. I could have decided to try to publish a pamphlet (about 20-30 poems) first, but in the end I plunged in and went straight for a collection. And a publisher took it! I did have a rejection from the first publisher I tried, though they did think it was worth trying elsewhere. This was my second attempt, which isn’t bad at all by fiction standards. (I don’t know how many agents I tried with my novel before realising I’d need to rework it – again. Of which more anon.) And the acceptance arrived, as if by magic, the same morning that I sent in the full manuscript. Yes, I know – it is unbelievable. It just so happened that the publishers were having a reading day….

So here I am, a to-be-published poet, getting geared up for my book’s emergence in the second half of next year and already thinking about who I’m going to invite to the launch, where it’s going to be, what refreshments to have etc etc. Some people are a bit squeamish about launches, but if you’re a poet you have to get out there and sell your books. And the way to do it is to have as big a launch as possible, then follow it up by giving readings wherever you can, preferably with other poets who are also launching their collections. If you’re lucky you may be invited to read at various sorts of poetry gigs, but you will also need the chutzpah to ask for invitations and set up your own readings. No room for shrinking violets here. And it’s good to read and have your poems received by an audience, and to get better at it so that you really feel you can communicate, not just on the page but in person too.

Unlike most prose authors, poets don’t get paid an advance on royalty. They are given the opportunity to buy a number of their books at reduced price and sell them at full price, which hopefully makes some sort of profit, even taking into account all the copies you feel obliged to give away. I’ll get five free copies from the publisher, but I imagine I’ll hand out far more than that to people without whom… And of course you get a royalty on the copies that the publisher sells, but the publisher won’t be likely to sell very many unless you do the work of publicising the book.

Which brings me – ahem – to the book itself. I may as well mention now that it’s called A House of Empty Rooms and that it will be published by the lovely Ronnie Goodyer and Dawn Bauling of Indigo Dreams. (Don’t you love the names people give to poetry presses?) Watch this space for further details. I may even reveal my name in due course, having ditched the pseudonym as it was just too complicated to be two people at once. I decided the likelihood of my therapy clients reading my collection and knowing it was by me was so small that I might as well come out and be named. But you never know. I’m always surprised at the way people from one corner of my world seem to link up with people from other corners, and I’d just have to cross that bridge in the best way I could.

Anyway, I can now say that I’m officially A Poet and can well and truly stop worrying about whether I am one or not. I can feel equal to all my poet friends who have published or will be publishing collections, and when people ask me if I’ve got a book, I can say, ‘I’ve got one coming out next year,’ which is a lot better than ‘I hope I’ll have one sooner or later’. Now I have to start thinking about the next one, not to mention that novel…







Posted in poetry, Writing | 2 Comments