Two titles from Chaffinch Press

Two publications from Chaffinch Press (a Blue Nib imprint), a short story collection from a prize-winning author and an novel that was shortlisted in the Cinnamon Press Novel Award.

“Trouble Crossing the Bridge” Diana Powell

Trouble Crossing the Bridge Diana Powell front coverThe characters in these fifteen stories, while separated by time, place, age and gender, are brought together in this collection, making it a melting-pot of personality, voice, setting and plot. All the characters have been damaged by life in some way – whether by their own psychological problems or by external circumstances such as possessive mothers or abusive fathers. The various ways in which they rise up to meet their particular challenges lies at the heart of all their stories. And they are as diverse as the individuals themselves.

Diana Powell was born and brought up in Llanelli, South Wales. She is the winner of the ChipLit Festival prize, the Allen Raine award, and the 2014, PENfro prize.





“Girl” Maria Straw-Çinar

Girl Maria Straw-Cinar front cover‘Girl’ was shortlisted in the Cinnamon Press Novel Award and concerns Mannis, who is a girl; an amnesiac, an anti-hero, a revelatory, who experiences a warped fairy-tale world in which she becomes the vigilante Queen. Girl takes us on a journey through surreal landscapes in a series of dreamlike flashbacks to Ireland, France, Spain, Oman, Morocco and The Empty Quarter. Mannis kills three men in revenge attacks and cuts out their hearts. She travels South and buys three jewelled caskets in Fez. One for each heart. She lives in isolation as a voluntary mute in the Sahara. It is from here that she begins to recall events that ultimately lead to her transformation. Finally, she finds the sacred ground where she can bury her hearts, perform her alchemy and build a shrine to the future. Managing to change her identity and avoid capture, she wanders for years, searching for her lost child. Celtic mythology, alchemy and poetry collide in this tale of lost innocence and a girl’s struggle for freedom from violent desires and bloody colonialism.

‘I think this is an amazing piece of work. The language is voluptuous, sinuous, rich in colour and delicious play of and on words… an astonishing virtuoso symphonic stream. The passion of it is head-on and the pain and sensuality in startling measure and degree. I revelled.’ Graeme Fife, Writer

‘Mythic, magical and poetic, Girl takes us on an extraordinary journey through loss and transformation. At once an oneiric coming of age novel and an exploration of the violence of sexism and colonialism, Girl is an intense and unique read.’ Jan Fortune, Author and Editor at Cinnamon Press.

Available from

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection.

book table at 14 March launch



The Significance of a Dress Launch

Emma Lee the Significance of a Dress launch 7pm 11 March 2020 Leicester Central Library LE1 6AAThe launch for “The Significance of a Dress” is at the Central Library, Bishop Street, Leicester LE1 6AA from 7pm on Wednesday 11 March 2020. Free entry. Refreshments provided.

The Significance of a Dress is collection of “poems informed by, and immersed in politics. Whether investigating the lives of refugees, families or women in crisis, everything has a significance beyond the surface. Beautiful, hair-raising words and form, utterly from the heart.”

A book trailer for the collection with a recording of the title poem is here.

“Nothing is unimportant in The Significance of A Dress, where next year is not the future but a question. Each refugee, suffragette or shushed voice and narrative encompassed by the poems is personal and individual, yet simultaneously universal in its reach and significance. In ‘Dismantling The Jungle’, flames form “an echo of a former life”. This vivid collection is full of such flames and echoes. Whether it’s “Each dress hangs from a noose” (‘Bridal Dresses in Beirut’) or “Everything Abdel sees is smeared, despite his glasses” (Stories from The Jungle), Emma Lee’s focus is precise, poised and packs emotional punch. Her evocative imagery is reinforced by taut lines, striking juxtapositions and intimate, moving details. The Significance of A Dress is a beautiful, powerful and haunting collection.” S A Leavesley

“From the title page of ‘The Significance of a Dress’, Emma Lee cleverly fashions a feminist metaphor for #MeToo into uncompromising forms. These include the terrible symbol of bridal dresses hung from nooses in Beirut, signifying rapists absolved of their crimes through marrying their victims, a figure walking home in the UK uncertain whether she is safe from rape after a recent attack in the area, and further victims of rape and domestic abuse. The reader is never let go, with head dunked into the murky waters of domestic life until forced to accept Lee’s compelling argument of a grossly unequal world. The poet does this with immense skill in versification, giving her audience no option but to pay attention.

“This is daring, well-imagined poetry with global scope, giving voice to women from myriad backgrounds and cultures. It goes far beyond the boundaries of #MeToo, arguing the world has become one of disturbing realm of sexual inequality, in an atmosphere of constant threat. Lee’s collection addresses unfairness, advocating for those who have been denied the ability to speak for themselves.” Dr James Fountain.

The Significance of a Dress is published by Arachne Press.

The Significance of a Dress

Emma Lee The Significance of a Dress cover imageThe title poem is set in a refugee camp in northern Iraq, loosely based on a media interview with the owner of a wedding dress hire shop. I think it’s frequently forgotten how long people end up living in these camps, which were only designed to be temporary. Women often take in sewing to earn some money to buy food and electricity to support children. Those living similar camps are expected to pay for food and energy but not permitted to take on permanent jobs. Why would a wedding dress hire shop be successful?

Some matches will be love matches and I’ve no wish to suggest otherwise. Some, though, are arranged. Parents wish to protect their daughters in a camp where young men outnumber other residents (generally because they can travel alone unencumbered by children or older relatives), and see marriage as a way of achieving this in places that are not policed and where sexual assaults are common. In a camp of people who had fled war are still suffering trauma and feel they are still living in limbo: not accepted in the place they have sought refuge but unable to return to their original country, marriage is an act of hope.

There is a danger of child brides. The particular wedding dress hire shop I wrote about has a mural outside showing a young girl in a white dress clutching a teddy bear. However, no one asks how old the brides-to-be are, and it’s not always easy to tell the age of a heavily made-up teenager. For young people who have seen their homelands bombed or escaped conscription, either into the military or guerrilla groups, romance and marriage feels like a future, albeit one lit by cheap diamante.

In 2015, I joined Kathleen Bell and Siobhan Logan in editing “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge”. One of the criteria for choosing poems for inclusion was that poems shouldn’t focus solely on doom and gloom. The book would be a difficult, but not a harrowing read. I carried that criterion into “The Significance of a Dress”; there are notes of hope, rescue and small but significance acts of kindness.

“Poems informed by, and immersed in politics. Whether investigating the lives of refugees, families or women in crisis, everything has a significance beyond the surface. Beautiful, hair-raising words and form, utterly from the heart.”

“Nothing is unimportant in The Significance of A Dress, where each poem’s narrative is personal and individual, yet simultaneously universal in its reach and significance. Emma Lee’s evocative imagery is reinforced by taut lines, striking juxtapositions and intimate, moving details that pack emotional punch. The Significance of A Dress is a beautiful haunting collection.” S A Leavesley

The Significance of a Dress is published by Arachne Press on 27 February 2020. There will be a launch at the Central Library, Bishop Street, Leicester LE1 6AA from 7pm on Wednesday 11 March 2020.

Emma Lee the Significance of a Dress launch 7pm 11 March 2020 Leicester Central Library LE1 6AA

“Demise of the Undertaker’s Wife” Anne Walsh Donnelly (The Blue Nib)

Anne Walsh Donnelly Demise of the Undertakers Wife cover“Demise of the Undertaker’s Wife” is Anne Walsh Donnelly’s debut short story collection due from The Blue Nib in September 2019. Some of the stories previously appeared in Cránnog, Henshaw Two Anthology, Ireland’s Own Anthology, Creative Writing Ink Journal, Writers’ Forum and The Blue Nib.

Each story features characters facing an issue, such as loss of their home or a long term partner, that, in some cases, leads to a desperate solution. The stories explore themes of anger, betrayal, death and loneliness. Some characters reach redemption when they reach out to others for support to conquer their demons. A secondary theme that runs throughout is sexuality and the appalling effects of societal and religious pressure to conform and repress in favour of maintaining the status quo. The characters put their stories in their own words.

The title story starts with a father about to bury his adult son and a request for a larger coffin so the son’s dogs, poisoned by bullies, can be buried with him. The undertaker has his own problems: a spendthrift wife and his own son had left to live and work aboard, plus he’s haunted by an image of his wife in a black Audi with another man. The undertaker has gone as far as getting solicitor’s advice as to where he’d stand should his wife leave him but he doesn’t know whether she’s actually planning to leave. So far, the undertaker has turned a blind eye but when he remembers his son telling him about the black Audi just before he goes abroad, he resolves to do something to shock his wife into realising she can’t take him for granted anymore.

Anne Walsh Donnelly describes writing as “it is my playground. I experiment, take risks, run wild on the page, always hoping my work will resonate with the reader. I write my emotional truth and bring my whole self to my writing.”

Kevin Higgins describes Anne Walsh Donnelly as “by far the most daring poet to emerge in Ireland of late. The starkly honest and overt sexuality which pervades Anne’s poetry make the work of pretty much all her contemporaries appear repressed and backward looking in comparison. This publication would certainly have been banned in the Ireland of the past. Indeed, she is one of the few poets around whose work has the glorious ability to get moralistic, supposedly liberal eyebrows twitching. Anne’s poems are pretty perfectly formed hand grenades which she tosses about the place with abandon while maintaining a deadpan face. I think this publication is the beginning of something great.”

Anne Walsh Donnelly’s poetry chapbook “The Woman With The Owl Tattoo” (Fly On The Wall) was published in June 2019.

“Demise of the Undertaker’s Wife” is available for pre-order from The Blue Nib.

How to approach a Reviewer

I’ve had a few review requests over the past few months. Most, but not all, followed my review guidelines so I thought I’d give a few tips on how to approach a reviewer or editor to request a review.

  • Read at least one copy of the magazine or a couple of blog articles to get a feel for what the magazine/blogger reviews and whether they’re the right target audience for your book – sending a book of traditionally written verse isn’t going to get a great reception at a blog that only focuses on contemporary poetry. A woman reviewer is unlikely to be interested in reviewing an anthology that features only male writers and vice versa.
  • Don’t just focus on one blog or magazine, make a list of several. Ideally, you want more than one review and your first choice may not be able to give you a review.
    Think about your timing. Do you want the review to appear on or around publication date or are you looking for a review to keep your book on the radar after the initial launch publicity and sales?
  • If you’re looking to link a review to a specific date or few days, mention this in your approach and give plenty of notice. Good reviewers don’t have to sit around and wait for requests, they often have reviews scheduled in advance.
  • Give the reviewer chance to respond to your request before following-up. I try to respond within 24 hours, but sometimes life gets in the way. If you chase a response before a reviewer’s had chance to read your original request, the answer will be no.
  • Give the reviewer time to actually read the book. Reviewers often have other commitments, may be writers themselves and already have a ‘to be reviewed’ queue. Asking a reviewer to review a novel within a working week simply isn’t practical. Tight deadlines will encourage a reviewer to refuse your review request.
  • Don’t dictate when the review should appear. By all means ask if the review could be published to coincide with a launch, but keep in mind a blog or a magazine publishes to a schedule so be ready to compromise by the reviewer saying that they will post on the scheduled date closest to your launch.
  • Check the magazine or blog’s Review Guidelines (if any) and follow them.
  • If a magazine editor or reviewer asks for a request first, send a request. I ask for a request first so I can check my schedule and commitments and give the requester a time frame for publication of my review. It also gives the reviewer chance to request their preferred format. Some reviewers don’t like electronic copies. I’ve not met a review who likes NetGalley or similar platforms which use DRM software to limit the reviewer to one download to one device. This places restrictions on when/where the reviewer can read the download and can mean a reviewer has to alter their regular schedule to fit in the review. A review copy that can be saved to a flash drive or a print copy offers more flexibility.
  • Don’t send an unsolicited manuscript. If someone just sends a book with the hope I’ll review it, I’m more likely to say no. Some magazines send a list of titles for review to their reviewers and then will ask you to send the review copy direct to the reviewer which cuts down on postage, minimises the risk of review copies going astray and you have the reassurance your book will get reviewed.
  • When requesting a review, request the review, give the reviewer a bit of background about the book, e.g. the blurb or publicity sheet, and then a brief writer’s biography. It’s polite to mention you read the blog/subscribe to the magazine or say you enjoy the reviewer’s reviews. Don’t just send a link to a website that features your book and expect the reviewer to do the leg work. It’s easier just to say no.
  • Expect to send a review copy and mention that you will in your request. Reviewers do not expect to buy a copy of your book to review it since a copy of the book is often the only payment for a review. One request I had was along the lines of ‘Please find attached details for my book for you to review’ with a link to a sales platform. I declined because the implication was that I had to purchase a copy to review.
  • If there are practical reasons for not sending a printed copy, e.g. postal rates from one country to where the blogger is based, then mention in your request. I’ll accept electronic or hard copies and a review who prefers hard copies may accept an electronic copy if there are practical reasons for doing so.
  • Do not tell the reviewer how long their review should be. Magazines usually have word count limits (even online magazines) and blogger-reviewers tend to keep reviews to similar lengths. Asking a reviewer who usually writes 500 word reviews for a detailed 1500 word review is likely to result in refusal. If you want a 1500 word detailed review, find a blog that offers one.
  • Remember you are making a request and the reviewer has every right to say ‘no’. Reviewers are not obliged to explain their decision. Although most will give a brief explanation and it’s likely to be ‘I’m over-committed already’.
  • Think carefully before you respond to a reviewer’s refusal. You could end up on their blacklist and all future requests will be automatically rejected. A busy reviewer simply doesn’t have time to enter into a lengthy correspondence about why they’re too busy to review your current publication in the next month.
  • Don’t post on social media about a review’s refusal either. Instead of one reviewer blacklisting you, you’ve now given several reviewers reason to blacklist you. You don’t have the right to be reviewed and harassing a reviewer into giving you a review won’t end well.
  • Accept that a reviewer has the right to an opinion and that includes disliking your book. However, a good reviewer will still give a flavour of the book in their review so, although they didn’t like it, readers of the review may still want to buy a copy.
  • Do ask a reviewer to correct inaccuracies and typos, e.g. if they said a book was set in the 1920s when it was actually set in the 1940s or got the publisher’s website wrong or spelt your name incorrectly.
  • Do not ask a reviewer to alter their review to one you’d prefer. It’s your book but their review. One negative review will be drowned out by five good ones.
  • If you like the review, please share on social media. More of your potential readers will see the review which might encourage them to buy your book.
  • Do not complain about a review on social media. Reviewers are avid readers: it’s why they review.

How do you Rehearse for this?

Poems for Grenfell TowerSadly one minute silences are becoming increasingly common. What marked the one minute vigil for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire was how unnecessary it was. On 24 June 2017, fire broke out in the 24 storey block of 129 flats. The cladding used on the building helped the fire spread and occupants of 23 of the flats lost their lives. The death toll reached over 70. A criminal investigation is still ongoing and not all those who were made homeless have been re-homed. The current Home Secretary has admitted that it is unlikely that all those made homeless will be re-homed by the anniversary of the fire. The one minute vigil was a mark of shame but also vital to keep the victims in the public eye and to help remind authorities of their responsibilities, particularly in one of the wealthiest London boroughs.

In the aftermath of a tragedy, what can poetry do?

“Poems for Grenfell Tower” has enabled victims, fire fighters and poets to tell their stories. Poems linger long after headlines have faded and enable the compassionate narratives that fill out the stark statistics in news reports. Proceeds from “Poems for Grenfell Tower” will go to a charity nominated by victims’ support groups to ensure that as far as possible the money goes directly to the victims themselves. Even for those who have been re-homed, ongoing support is needed with practical items, such as food, clothing and household furniture and goods, and access to support services.

I felt a huge sense of shame seeing the aftermath of the fire and it was an honour for my poem to be included in “Poems for Grenfell Tower.” A extract is below:

How do you rehearse for this?

Someone switches the warehouse radio off,
a signal for another one minute vigil
and the noisy office falls silent like an audience
sensing a show’s about to begin.
The ash and black tower block skeleton
could belong to a flickering war movie.
Critics shout who the murderer is before
a blaze of detectives secure the scene,
even before the victims are known.
In the interval, the audience donate
to crowdfunders and open homes…..

“Poems for Grenfell Tower” can be bought from Onslaught Press.

Please Hear What I’m Not Saying

Please hear what I'm not saying poetry anthology to raise funds for MINDThe “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying” poetry anthology will be released on 8 February 2018 and includes 116 poets from around the world exploring a range of mental health issues. Editor Isabelle Kenyon said “I knew I wanted to work collaboratively with other poets and it was actually the theme of mental health for a collection, which came to me before the idea of donating the profits to charity MIND. This was because I knew how strongly people felt about the subject and that it is often through writing that the most difficult of feelings can be expressed. I think that is why the project received the sheer number of submissions that it did.”

She discussed how she selected the poems, “In some cases of course personal taste came into my selection, but I tried to be as objective as I could and consider the collection as whole. I wanted the book to have as many different personal experiences and perspectives as I could find. Because of this, I have not been afraid to shy away from the ugly or the abstract, but I hope that the end of the book reflects the ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ for mental health and that the outcome of these last sections express positivity and hope.”

Every poetry acceptance is a delight, but, on occasion, some strike a deeper chord than others. Editor Isabelle Kenyon’s acceptance of my poem, “The Gift of Sadness”, was one such occasion. I had a friend who edited a music magazine that also took short stories (and very occasionally poems because my friend wasn’t a fan of poetry). Our tastes overlapped and we shared news and gossip about bands, commiserated each other on rejections, I wrote reviews for her magazine and occasionally she’d take a poem. Her story stories were published by magazines and she’d been working on a novel. We were geographically 100 miles apart so contact was online, by letter or by phone. It seems ironic she is commemorated in a poem, but I have also written a published short story inspired by her. Even now, I have to catch myself as I reach for a phone to tell her about some new song that I know she’d have loved if she were still here to hear it.

An extract from my poem appears below:

Your parents’ words were a hollow
you’d retreat into until I could tug you out
with a ribbon of cassette tape,
wrap it into a vinyl spiral,
a stylus needle to stitch words
with music, wishing I could
get you to spiral out instead of in.

More information on MIND here. More on “Please Hear What I’m Not Saying” here.