Keeping My Soul


Oh Lion in a peculiar guise,

Sharp Roman road to Paradise,

Come eat me up, I’ll pay thy toll

With all my flesh, and keep my soul.

These lines come from Stevie Smith’s poem The Roman Road A Christian speaks to a Lion in the Arena.

stevieStevie’s words inspired my colleague Sandy Chadwin to suggest Keeping My Soul for the title of this coming Thursday’s event at North Shields Library.

Keeping My Soul: A Feast of Poetry, Story and Prose is an evening of performances by members of The North Tyneside Writers’ Circle (NTWC) which I run with Sandy and  Jennifer C Wilson.

NTWC meets on the third Saturday of most months in North Shields Library. The circle is free to attend and is open to writers of all ages and abilities. Keeping My Soul is a celebration of the group’s collective talent and will feature a mix of poetry, prose and memoir.

The line-up runs: Krys Wysocki, Susan Collings, Suzanne Lambert, Jane Roberts-Morpeth, Rob Walton, Penny Blackburn, Mary Pickin, Ross Punton, Alex Heppell and James A Tucker.

The event starts at 6.30pm. It’s free to attend but please book in advance by phoning (0191) 643 5270 or contact any North Tyneside Library. See you there!

by Elaine Cusack






Creative competition

Have you ever entered a creative writing competition? If so what happened next?

Competition is the theme of the next North Tyneside Writers’ Circle which takes place this coming Saturday 17th June in North Shields library.

NTWCClare Pepper from North Tyneside Libraries will be popping in to tell us about this year’s Story Tyne Competition and we’ll all share our experiences of this and other competitions.

Do you avoid competitions because you can’t bear the thought of not winning? Come and join us from 11am on Saturday and we’ll try to convince you that entering competitions is GOOD for you!

North Tyneside Writers’ Circle is free to attend and all are welcome. There’s no need to book.

Writers need people!

James Tucker is our guest blogger today….

I once remarked to my then-girlfriend about how artistic people could be hard work sometimes.  ‘Yes, you certainly are!’ was her response.  I hadn’t really thought of myself in those terms but then I felt good about it.  I could now strike official Artistic Poses, and my various gripes (block, comparisons, criticisms, doubt, obsession, etc) would be justified because I was a Tormented Genius.

Sometimes, though, the “artist” business strikes me as odd because writing is almost inherently introverted.  You can do it in company but it boils down to you spending a lot of time with a piece of paper or keyboard and your attention focused on the work.  It’s the kind of art that someone shy and possibly without any previously detected artistic talent or temperament can aspire to.

But I’m not sure there is any such thing as a pure introvert.  Sooner or later, you will need to get some motivation or perspective from another person to keep going.  Not to mention that writing is also a craft, and has to be learnt.  One of my lecturers defined a writer as someone who would write even if they knew for a fact nobody else would ever see it, but that would be unpleasant and inefficient at the least.James again

So here’s a rub: unless you are that rare person who writes entirely for your own enjoyment, then at some point, somebody else is going to have to read it.  Or, you will have to read it to them.  It may feel like you are exposing something deeply personal; if you have spent a long time with your work, you may even be a little jealous of sharing it.  You will discover whether being heard is a want or a need, or both.

After which, some of the people exposed to your work may say something back.  If you are lucky, it may be something you can use to improve, and you take it as such.  If you are very lucky, you may be that even rarer person whose first work is an instant success.  But that happens less often than you think; To Kill a Mockingbird is often called a brilliant first novel when in fact it was Harper Lee’s first published novel, there was at least one before that didn’t make it.

Of course taking a compliment can be pretty tough, sometimes even less comfortable than criticism.  Yet you probably aspire to more of it.

(Just to prove a point… this blog post is better for exposure to the Next Page group (Jennifer C Wilson, Elaine Cusack, Sandy Chadwin) and the Elementary Writers group run by Victoria Watson, not to mention John Evans at the Phil.)

If you successfully tread the path to major author, you will be expected to do readings and signings with talks.  Best get some practice in early.  You don’t have to be Jackanory but competence and comfort will be necessary.

So… don’t let the road be too lonely.  Sometimes you may walk together in companionable silence, sometimes pause to share provisions and compare blisters, perhaps even take time to plan your route with someone.  Or just nod to a fellow traveller as you pass.  It’ll be worth it.

Pure Fear: a true story

L.A. Craig perfomed at our second Pure Fiction event in Whitley Bay library last November. Here are her reflections on that experience…

The email from Elaine said, ‘Invitation to Read your Work’. My reaction? No way, Jose, not on your nelly, never in a million years.


Lisa reading b&wBecause I’m not a speaking out loud kind of person, and anyway I can’t even speak that loud, but mostly– who would want to listen? Sure, I’d had snippets published here and there, but in theory, I’d never actually gone public before. Not in the flesh.

Elaine mentioned there would be questions.

What? Don’t think so. Good lord, I don’t even know what I’m about, never mind complete strangers wanting answers.

Sleep on it, I thought. Come up with a fail-safe reason to turn this down in the nicest possible way.

I’m not the most eloquent bod off paper. It’s one of the reasons I write. So, for me, being asked to perform, even in a room no bigger than a kitchen-diner (well, maybe a bit), was on a par with standing naked in the Albert Hall with everybody pointing. Feel the fear (you know the rest), my partner said, but I was having none of it. Mind firmly made up, I went to bed.

Next day, I emailed my response.

If I was billed as the newbie, baby, novice writer… so as not to get anyone’s hopes up, then…maybe I’d do it.

Where did that come from?

Well – down in the deepest darkest corner of my subconscious, I knew I had no choice. If I wanted to be a big grown-up writer, I’d have to kick Nervous Nelly to the kerb.

In the weeks beforehand I practised my bestest reading out loud.

“Louder!” said Elaine.

I practised reading slowly.

“Slower!” Elaine said.

Font magnified to see-it-from-the-moon-size, tons of white space as a reminder to breathe – I placed my comfort blanket of words in a writery folder.

The actual day. Good God, people were turning up – mostly to hear Carol Clewlow, but the poor souls would be forced to listen to me first. Sorry folks. Let’s get this over with as quickly as possible (oh no you don’t, you’ll read slowly).

So, I read in my loudest, slowest voice. Yes, my kneecaps were anxious and all my saliva nipped off on a last-minute city break. At one point, there was even an out of body experience (this isn’t really you speaking, yes, it is, no it’s not), but…but…but – I got through it, and at the end, lovely audience members came up for a chat. I couldn’t believe they’d been listening. And some even had questions I could answer!

So, cheers Elaine, for the kick in the pants. And to any other writers out there in need of a swift boot up the backside (administered with patience and encouragement, of course) – Elaine Cusack’s your woman.

Pure Fiction logoL.A. Craig (Lisa, when she’s not being all writery) is a writer based in Whitley Bay.  She received a New Fiction Bursary from the Northern Writers’ Awards in 2014 for her children’s novel, Hosannas and Sleeping Bags, and her short story Flour Baby was broadcast on Radio 4 the following year.

Lisa is currently working on her second children’s novel and has recently been signed by Jane Willis at United Agents.

Get inspired this weekend

How can you write without inspiration? You can’t! Why don’t you join us in Whitley Bay library this coming Saturday afternoon for Teenage Kicks, a creative writing workshop inspired by music?

Charming Salon PartyWe’ve all got our favourite songs, pieces of music which instantly transport us back to precious memories – first days of independence, first loves, first taste of the ‘real world’, or even the opposite, taking us back to more innocent times, when our biggest worry was whether our favourite group would have made it to Number One.  

Teenage Kicks: Creative Writing Workshop takes place this coming Saturday, 4th March, at Whitley Bay Library and is run by Jennifer C Wilson and Elaine Cusack. Attendees are  encouraged to  ‘bring along’  favourite songs (mentally only, no CDs needed!), and see where they go when combined with Jennifer’s prompts. 

Jennifer and Elaine  will be sharing songs and pieces of music to conjure up new inspiration, and show how songs can inspire some fascinating moods, characters and plots. 

Charming Salon PartyTeenage Kicks: Creative Writing Workshop Saturday 4th March, St Mary’s room, Whitley Bay library.  Tickets cost £15 . Advance booking recommended. Click here to book

Writing for the publisher

Hello! At The Next Page, we’re keen to help you with every step of the writing journey, whether that’s through prompts in workshops to kick-start new writing ideas, or advice for people further along the writing path. For the first in our monthly series, we’re delighted to welcome Laurence Patterson of Crooked Cat, for some top tips in presenting your work to a publisher…


Writing for the publisher.

Let’s face it, authors, submitting your work to a publisher is one of the most hot-stake-through-the-eye painful and soul-bearing experiences you’ll ever have to put yourself through. What with the need to include this and that and this and that, it’s a wonder that they don’t ask you for a vial of blood and a bunch of hemlock, collected by light of a new moon. What makes it worse is not knowing really what they might be looking for, and thinking that they may be chuckling to themselves about ‘the state of your submission’. And we’ve all heard the stories of authors that have received rejection and rejection, with next-to no feedback attached, making it impossible to know quite what the problem was.

Follow a few simple rules, however, and at least you’ll know that the steps you took when submitting were correct.

  1. Check the submission guidelines on the publisher’s website. Don’t go by what your author friends say the guidelines are – go to the horse’s mouth and read it. If necessary, ask the horse itself: send an email to the publisher, asking for clarity. If they don’t respond, they’re not the right publisher for you.
  2. Gather everything together, normally (but not always) the following:
    1. The first three chapters (or 10,000 words) of your story. This should be the ready-to-go version, no first or second draft, no alternative version, nothing fancy. Just written text.
    2. A synopsis of your story, no longer than one or two pages of A4. Grab attention by introducing the story hook, if possible, as the first thing in the synopsis. But make the synopsis factual – tell the story as it is.
    3. A covering letter. Introduce yourself. Introduce your story. Make sure you address your publisher correctly.
  3. Address your submission correctly and use a tone appropriate to a formal introduction. We once received a submission from author which began ‘Dear Doris’. No-one working here is called Doris.
  4. Be patient! It may take weeks for a response. But it’s okay to ask for an update, politely.
  5. Handle rejection like a pro – it takes just one good publisher to like you. But it’s okay to ask for feedback. If you don’t get it, they’re not the right publisher for you.

A word to the wise. Publishers judge your submission not only on what you present to them formally, but also on how you present yourself publicly. In a world where publishers are likely to see hundreds or thousands of submissions a week, consider the degree to which you have already stepped up the plate and shown who you are, professionally, to the world. If you are not active as a writer, if that (small) circle of followers is not to be discovered, if you have engaged very seldom, online, you may be underselling yourself. Ensure that there is a trail for the publisher to follow – leaving them in no doubt that, as well as being a good writer, you are an engaging and active writer, too.

Laurence Patterson is co-founder of Crooked Cat, a small Europe-based publishing company.

Crooked Cat can be found online here, or follow them on Twitter here.

The Next Page’s next twelve months

Hello, and Happy New Year – welcome to 2017!

We hope you all had a great Christmas and New Year, and, more importantly, that all those lovely, ambitious Resolutions are still going strong. If they involved ‘start writing’ or ‘write more’ then we are here for you, with our diaries already filling up with plenty of great opportunities to get the ink and inspiration flowing, or, if necessary, get you back on track whether you’ve been away for the Christmas fortnight, or half a lifetime.

One thing we’re really excited to be bringing you, starting on Saturday 21st January, is the North Tyneside Writers’ Circle. Whether you’ve been writing for decades, or want to make your first tentative steps in any form or genre, come along to this FREE event at North Shields Library. We’re seeing this as a great chance for like-minded, ‘writerly’ folk to get together, chat about news, what they’re writing (or want to), and, hopefully, learn something in the process.


Each month (on the third Saturday, dates announced three months in advance), we’ll be having a good chat about the Tyneside / north-east writing scene, we’ll have prompts and, on a regular basis, we’ll have somebody to give you a brief introduction into an aspect of the writing life. We’re delighted to announce the Sue Miller will be our first speaker, talking about her experience of self-publishing and selling her books through Amazon. Sue’s book (20/20 Vision: They didn’t see it coming) has garnered excellent reviews on Amazon, and has recently been featured in Hello! magazine.


Hopefully we’ll see you there, 1100-1300 on the 21st!

Beyond NTWC, we also have our workshops and mentoring, with the next workshop being Teenage Kicks on Saturday 4th March, exploring musical inspiration, and mentoring places available to book for first Saturdays in February and March.

Tickets for all bookable events are, as always, available via our TicketSource page.

And don’t forget to keep following our blog for news items, and special guest bloggers from the writing world…


We’ll look forward to seeing or hearing from you soon!