Mother’s Light

a poem, read by its author, Merrie Joy Williams

Mother’s Light from ‘Open Windows’ (Waterloo Press, 2019) filmed during Lockdown

This is a reading of ‘Mother’s Light, filmed shortly after lockdown began. I originally released it to celebrate Mother’s Day; all of the wonderful mothers I know, all of the amazing women holding it down through lockdown.

With thanks to Paula, whose vivid maternal memories inspired the poem.

16 Things I learnt from Writing My Novel

Here are sixteen quick things I learnt from writing my novel. I learnt so much I’ll expand over the next few months – if not years! – but here are sixteen things which fell off my pen quite spontaneously.


A room with a view on writing retreat (other sparkling waters are available)

1. Big words aren’t always best. I spent a lot of times in the later drafts simplifying expressions.

2. It’s okay to take a moment and consider the size of the task before you, maybe even scrawl your next steps down. After that, take a breath and get on with it. 

3. The sooner you get on with it, the less you have left to do.

4, Finishing a novel is easier when you’ve got a bit of life experience behind you. I couldn’t have done it in any less time – which turned out to be years. (I think my father had to die before I could really approach the final overhaul – though there’s a lot to unpack in that statement, I won’t get into here.)

5. If your writing is good (and please feel free to think ‘poem’ or ‘short story’ or ‘article’ here), few people will understand the sheer hard work it takes to get it up to that state. To be honest, I might not have started my novel if I’d guessed the sheer magnitude. I love redrafting and redrafting obsessively unto you get that nearly-finished feeling, but there were times I thought the whole would never be done.

6. Steps only reveal themselves as you go along, and for reasons given in 5 it’s better that way. 

7. It’s better to take ten years and bring a novel to full realisation than write five books at two-year intervals because it feels more prolific. 

8. Keep pressing on. If you have love in your heart and commitment to creating something great, the universe will provide. It’ll all come together in the end – I swear.

9. Learn, practise, whilst you’re waiting for it to come together. The more tools you have at your disposal, the easier it is to pick solutions from the air, and turn them into actual words on paper. 

10. At seminars or watching videos, take notes. Even if you don’t think you’re remembering much, your subconscious will. And whilst you’re flicking through a notebook to find something else, you might chance across a bulletpoint which triggers an idea.

11. Great writing is usually a product of immersing myself completely in that fictional world, and transferring its rhythms, its cadences, its emotions onto the page. I’m so grateful for friends who sent enquiring  or encouraging texts – hang on in, there will be more sociable days!

12. Do you. Write the things only you can write. These are the things angels and muses bring you as gifts – and sometimes life has brought you as challenges.  A challenge can deepen a piece of writing, if you can bear the pain enough to sit and examine it. Turn it into gold, and write it on paper for others to learn from/identify with.

13. Just before it finally comes together the task seems almost impossible to complete. Stick with it – sometimes things fall apart so they can fall back together in a much better way.

14. You will need to get away from it all. Sometimes this means away from your everyday-life to just write. Sometimes away from the writing to just relax. Sometimes it means away from all the drama – the only drama you need is the one on the page. These are the stay-at-home-switch-off-the-phone-and-lock-yourself-away-days.

15. If necessary find yourself a grounding practice like prayer or meditation, or even yoga. I couldn’t have made it through without all of these, and though some days they came close, I list them here in descending order of necessity for me.

16. Oh, and gratitude. Whatever I hadn’t managed to complete or wasn’t working yet, spending a few moments each morning saying thank you for all the things going well, worked wonders. I used to keep a gratitude journal, but saying it aloud takes much less time, and more importantly left my writing hand fresh – for the novel!


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Special thanks to Arts Council England who supported the writing of this novel with an award.

Three Relaxing Ways to Inspire a New Poem

If you speak to most writers, penning a new poem is one of the most gratifying experiences. At least once you’re up and running. Beginning one, alighting on inspiration, can often seem random.

Lots of great poets I know don’t wait for inspiration to strike. They show up at the desk, or plunge right in from an arbitrary prompt and see where it takes them. But if sitting at a desk feels a bit too intense for you, below I share three, fairly languorous ways to inspire a new poem. 


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1. In the morning after you awake. As you lay just beyond the tyranny of mortal thoughts.  Meditative moments – informal, meditative moments I mean here – can bring a poem rushing out spontaneously. Best to keep a pen and paper near your bed, so noting it down is a non-disruptive stretch of the arm, no more. The other early morning route is to read someone else’s poetry – conceptual collections often work for me here, perhaps because something bigger has worked its way into my consciousness. The half-conscious state, coupled with the trigger of newborn-thinking often triggers some idea.  This morning I was reading Jubilee Lines, an anthology of poems  – one for each of the queen’s reign from her coronation up to 2012.  Most of the poems were reflective, and they made me think back to my father’s death in 2014. I began, “That year…”, but the resultant poem was not completely fresh; it was a re-imagining of one I’d written a few months after his passing. Which begins me to Method 2.

2. Use a fresh prompt – a fresh beginning, or a fresh image and merge it with a poem you’ve already written. The prompt can be as simple or generic as mine (‘That year…”), or a standard poetry pantry staple: “I remember…’). Perhaps another prompt might just appear – glance outside the window, try scanning your room.  The poem to merge could be one you haven’t finished which lies resting somewhere, or one which is successful yet but whose flavour you chime with. Perhaps don’t reread it, and don’t try to mimic it exactly – just let its essence merge with the newness of the prompt – almost like tingeing a photo with sepia or blue wash, and see what it throws into relief. In the original poem I referred to in point 1, I mention seeing my late father in other passing men.  Then, the accent fell on nostalgia, the thought of conjuring him next to me on a bus. In the new version, I discovered it’s not so much about the passing men as their distance from me – the elusiveness that makes my father seem alive again.

3. Meditate regularly for a while – and I do mean ‘formally’ this time – if that’s not an oxymoron to the letting-go meditation implies. This is not a tangible or quick-fire doorway to creating a poem; but you’ll find that your ability to notice (and choose) your thoughts gets stronger over time. As you might expect, this is the optimum state to create or ‘catch’ poems in that Ruth Stone kind of way. For me, this strengthens the possibility of the spontaneous poems mentioned earlier. Two of my favourite self-penned poems were written on consecutive mornings, during a regular meditative period in my life. What’s especially noteworthy is that they came out as full drafts. I still have the originals written in a lovely notebook gifted by an old writer friend of  mine. Another, almost a personal anthem, came during a different meditative period; a poem in turn inspired by a painting that sprung up from my well-being. (The clarity had brought me closer to my true ‘artistic’ nature than any time in my whole adult life – or since about age eighteen.) That particular period involved two meditations a day, and great sleep every night, a double-feat I haven’t managed for a while. If I could bottle that state, I’d have dozens of collections written by now. I’d sell the state itself, live off the proceeds, and not have to write!

So there you have it – three windows to writing a poem. The latter principally for the committed poet, willing to try something new (presuming you don’t already meditate) – or anyone who’s let their TM practice lapse for a while. I’d say three to four weeks of regular sitting to see a noticeable change in your thinking.  (Which surely must lead to a change in your writing?)

The other two methods are easy to try straightaway; and have so many variations, you could try one each day.

Happy writing!

Mixed Blessings

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I was born in the Evangelical church. Not literally on its pews, but despite my father’s cantankerous objections, my mother planted their three children there in the unruly garden of 1970s Britain. By the time I was three, I’d learnt to sit through winding sermons, sometimes helped by a boiled sweet, sometimes a felt-tip pen and ripped page from a hymnal abandoned on a church seat.

This stood me in great stead, when inside a store on our weekly family shop, I’d witness the outburst of a poorly-behaved age-mate reprimanded by a red-faced mother. I’d wonder how thirty minutes wandering between Biscuits and Tins was such a challenge for them. Even if I’d had such an outburst in church, it would have been quickly curtailed by an adult ‘sister’ who’d move me to sit beside her. Until – horrified – I calmed down as a sort of plea deal to get back to my seat.

Evangelical sermons, and the rich parables that spawned them, also taught me the power of metaphor, something which greatly influenced my later English-teaching. To this day, my best poems can wring an analogy of every drop of blood, though subject-wise, they’re more risqué than John 15: The True Vine, one of my favourite Biblical conceits. They’re perhaps controversial to the conservative Christian, but like the Sussexes’ wedding, my poetry and spirituality are both sources of hybridity I find cause to celebrate.

Which was why Bishop Michael Curry’s address was, for me, both a source of great pride and in-the-moment ambivalence. It took me back to the days when some one of my elder teenage siblings would invite a school friend to a Sunday service. Most times at school we’d keep quiet about our faith, but Christianity at its heart is really something to be shared – like a good anecdote, or plate of sticky buffalo wings.

Occasionally, some friend would say yes. We’d be excited by the rare gift of their presence – the joy of them sharing this underrated, misunderstood, even mystical – experience. Yet worried how it might taste to their unaccustomed taste buds, what they’d make of its many eccentricities.

For ours was no studied Church of England service with its printed prayers and practised response. (I’ve been to those too, and love them deeply but for different reasons!) People sometimes danced when they sang, banged tambourines hard until they had to change tambourines (or hands!). And how to explain the speaking-in-tongues which marked The Holy Spirit? Sometimes, a congregation member would burst into a chorus for the church to join in with – also prompted by the Holy Spirit, with no need for permission from whoever was leading the service.

As the visiting friend sat in their chair witnessing these things, there was something else we worried about (other than the survival of the friendship itself!). Beyond the unfamiliar spectacle, it felt important they took something away from with them, because the thread tying it all together, the sources which united the trans-generational excitement – which sometimes reached euphoria – was the shared conviction that Jesus was real. Yet, it wasn’t an epiphany you could foist upon a visitor. To the unfamiliar, such open-heartedness is often misconstrued as a kind of tyranny.

If the visiting friend was white, this gulf was compounded by the fact that the service was very much a product of Windrush culture, of first-arrival parents who pooled their pennies together to found tiny local churches (often beginning in somebody’s lounge). Influenced by British religion, (but inspired by transatlantic elements), it absorbed and presented it back to them, as something quite alien. Even we children, who loved and knew that Windrush culture, were acutely aware we were growing a culture of our own outside the church’s doors.  Its love-children, British funk with its sharp-revolving fashions, Lover’s Rock with its reggae influence, or Soul II Soul’s thumping bass, all asserted black cultural legacy, but with a distinct British taste.  A modern parallel might be Grime. But back in the 80s the mixing of cultures itself was still the source of clichéd comedy. Mixed Blessings, anyone? (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner’s less intelligent TV sibling.)

All of which made it wonderful to hear the poetic and probing address on Saturday. There is no denying that it was so different from what had been seen at previous royal weddings, it was never going to quietly slot in. At roughly fifteen minutes, it was maybe twice as long as a Church of England address might have been – but still less than a third of the length we’d have been forced to contend with in an old-style Pentecostal. In the latter tradition, there’s a clear recognition that weddings and funerals might be the only time some folk pay the church a visit. For that reason, the speaker will always make time for the message of the gospel, as well as any marital theme, in a way five minutes can’t always accommodate.

So, on Saturday, whilst I deeply enjoyed what Bishop Michael Curry had to say, I also wondered what the ‘visitors’ were making of it, the people who weren’t brought up that way. Did his pure conviction, his gesticulations, the patterning and repetition, feel too much like a sermon? Perhaps like any good poetry, its real gems might have shone brighter, with one more flick of the scalpel. It didn’t help when the camera panned to various congregants, who were either young and suppressing smiles, or old and seemingly outraged – possibly due to the weight of their resting-face jowls. (I’m in my forties – I’m not far behind.) And you know, a message designed to lift you out of your comfort zone requires a sort of discipline for the listener too – a willingness to extract what you need to hear, however hard it is to hear, and let the rest slip away.

Later that day, removed from the ceremony’s time constraints, I listened to Reverend Curry’s address again, and was utterly thrilled by both its message and integrity. A Martin Luther King-framed call to love, which in these days of Brexit and Trump, the whole world needed to hear. Though compounding the address’s length, its fire metaphor was also essential, for out of touch with love in this harsh political climate, a section of the viewing audience could only access the message through talk of technology and cars.

Today, I sit and reflect at both the beauty of its words, and the service in general. Its many beautiful prayers, Sheku Kanneh-Mason’s moving cello, and I do love a classical hymn tailed with a rousing descant – not to mention the Kingdom Choir’s Stand by Me.  But the main sensation I’m left with is – as a Black Briton – is that to watch a royal wedding and find the main speaker like a wordy but well-loved uncle, is a novel sort of luxury. A truly mixed blessing – but blessing nonetheless.

Tribes & Tribulations

One of my most favourite books, ever, is Women Who Run with the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. You may well have read it. I’m a monotheistic soul, but took the many gods in the book as a metaphor for Spirit. This allowed me to find much beauty and wisdom in it.

It really is true, I concur, that as you walk into your purpose, members of your tribe really do find you. The story the commentary below alludes to is an ancient folk take on The Ugly Duckling. Possibly more like the original than any version you’ve seen before. Not for Estes the watered-down fairy tales of the British child’s primary years, though those have their place too. I’m pretty certain they triggered my desire to write, but in what way there isn’t enough room to explore here.


Estes must surely be living her purpose, with prose as generous and healing as this. The extract below speaks for itself:

Oh, and this is a picture of my copy of the book; loved and dog-eared both. Which bits AREN’T highlighted – I know, right?!



My loved and dog-eared copy, covered in random love hearts.  (Which bits aren’t underlined?)


This extract is from the chapter Finding One’s Pack: Belonging as Blessing, which speaks for itself.

“If you have attempted to fit whatever mold and failed to do so, you are probably lucky. You may be an exile of some sort, but you have sheltered your soul. This is an odd phenomenon that occurs when one keeps trying to fit in and fails. Even though the outcast is driven away, she is at the same time driven into the arms of her psychic and true kin, whether these be a course of study, an art form, or a group of people. It is worse to stay where one does not belong at all than to wander about lost for a while and looking for the psychic and soulful kinship one requires. It is never a mistake to search for what one requires. Never.” 


First Friends: Memory as construction



First Friends is a poem which makes use of the ‘construction of memory’ technique. It’s a little rough around the edges, but an interesting piece. (Most of my ‘best’ poems are kept for submission, and so cannot be published here.)

This poem is made of composite memories merged into single narrative. The sentiments  – the deep affection, the searing pain, the learnings about friendship – are all rooted in fact, as are most of the details from which they arise. This supplies a rich pool of authentic details with which to engage the reader.

Alongside other techniques, the speaker’s willingness to be seen in a negative light lends to the credibility of the poem as fact. I never really was any girl’s bodyguard; but there was a bigger truth, worthy of full examination, bigger than my ego (than the risk of reader projection, the perpetuation of stereotypes, and anyway the ‘I’ in my poems is very rarely me.)

Narrative as poetic device yields two main possibilities the writer must choose from at the point of ‘abandoning the poem’.

One, resisting the urge to tie things up too neatly: the untied encourages the reader to try and make a bow. Their struggles to remedy its messiness, to make it neat and symmetrical, is what makes the poem an ongoing dialogue. Through this reflection the reader is rewarded with a deeper experience. Epiphany – to use a lately derided word.

Circling back to the beginning, for example, can provide clarity as to how far the poem has advanced us philosophically or emotionally – what did we gain? It might provide a stencil of insight onto which the reader imposes their experience. How does it line up? What more is there to learn here? The differences are as important as the similarities.

Perhaps there is a third way, though, somewhere between the two. In the poem, there is a progression from possessiveness, to aggression, to a suggestion of continued violence beyond the last line. Yet, the violence is expressed as a sort of product of bereavement; which in turn suggests that if the arc can rise upwards towards the poem’s ending, it might subside again beyond it.

What do you think?  What’s your take on the poem? I’ve sent it out to make a living – I guess its interpretation really belongs to you now.