Brotherton Poetry Prize Announcement Dinner

I was surprised and delighted to be shortlisted for the Brotherton Prize at Leeds University. To be chosen by a judging panel including poets such as Simon Armitage, Vahni Capildeo and Malika Booker, based on a submission of five poems really filled me with a huge sense of affirmation as a writer. Not to mention the announcement dinner, which made me feel more rock star than poet!


Rather unfashionably early, I waited in the Students’ Union Centre adjacent to the University Hall getting increasingly nervous. This was different to any other prize I had been shortlisted for. It involved a dinner. I have no problem getting up to read. It’s a performance of sorts and I have always loved a stage. I do confess however to fitting the hermit poet stereotype, in that networking and small talk are not my favourite things. You’d never think it though, especially after a couple of glasses of wine!

Raincoat in Yorkshire in June

Raincoat in Yorkshire in June

I needn’t have worried. The first person I met was Stella Butler, one of the judges, who introduced me to John Whale, another one of the judges and director of the Poetry Centre. They both made me feel so welcome. Next I met Maeve Henry, a fellow shortlisted poet, and her friend Bernadette. That settled me right down. We quickly discovered that we had once lived within a few miles of each other. I was born in Middlesborough and Maeve grew up in Redcar. That brought up such happy memories for me of riding the donkeys on Redcar beach and bringing goldfish home in a little clear plastic bag. Being in the North of England always feels like home-from-home. My affection for Yorkshire and the North East runs very deep. My Boro accent meanwhile hovers only just beneath the surface.

Redcar circa 1975

Redcar circa 1975

At dinner I got to sit between Vahni Capildeo and Zaffar Kunial ( who will be taking over from Vahni this summer in Leeds as a Douglas Castor Cultural Fellow). It was dreamy. I had never met either of them before but was already a huge fan of their poetry. I’m now re-reading them with their voices in my head. Big thanks to Stella and John, seating plan angels. We were all presented with flowers before the announcement. So I took a photo of them, not fancying my chances getting them onto my Ryanair flight home.

A wildflower meadow in the middle of the University campus!

A wildflower meadow in the middle of the University campus!

It was no surprise that Dane Holt was announced as the winner. Massive congratulations to him. He’s definitely one to watch. Congratulations also to Maeve, Pete and Robyn. The sweet part about this particular prize is that Dane and all of us shortlisted poets will be published in an anthology by Carcanet Press, which is something wonderful to look forward to.

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Strokestown International Poetry Prize

I actually WON! So incredibly grateful to Jo Shapcott and Gerard Smyth for their kind and generous comments about my poem and for picking it from such a vast and talented pool. I still can’t quite believe it.


There I was in Beirne’s Bar before the announcement without a care in the world, having my Guinness and Tayto, confident in the knowledge that I hadn’t a hope of winning amidst the stellar line-up of shortlisted poets. Thinking too that the winner was probably notified in advance anyway. But no! She was not.


If there’s only one competition you enter next year, dear poets, let it be this one. I couldn’t praise the committee highly enough for how they organise the competition and the festival itself. The quality of the judging is of the highest caliber. There are no sifters in this competition. The judges read every entry. And the ten shortlisted poets are given a generous reading fee to come and read at the festival, which is a prize in itself. The judges read their comments on each poem in turn and the suspense is held until the very last moment.

I was genuinely flabbergasted to win. Just look at my face minutes after I’d found out that I’d actually won! I floated around the place for hours afterwards in a bit of a happy daze.

I was genuinely flabbergasted to win. Just look at my face minutes after I’d found out that I’d actually won! I floated around the place for hours afterwards in a bit of a happy daze.

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Another plus for this competition is that the shortlisted poets and participants at the festival are all published in a beautifully produced anthology. To read my poem ‘Virginia Creeper’, the poems of the other shortlisted poets, and countless other wonderful prize-winners and contributors, you can purchase the anthology here:

There was much doffing of hats...

I am over the moon to have received my Master of Studies in Creative Writing from St Anne’s College, Oxford. Can you tell?!


What a truly wonderful experience it has been. Not least because you feel as if you’ve somehow infiltrated a Harry Potter film or an episode of Endeavour. It is of course because the teaching is marvellously rigorous. But mostly it’s because of the talented classmates you have and the friends for life that you make. Writers, I’d thoroughly recommend it.

Cork International Poetry Festival 2019 — Poetry Introductions

It was so good to get that email from Patrick Cotter to say I’d got a slot at the Prebooked Poetry Introductions at the 2019 Cork International Poetry Festival. The standard is always so high. Mr Cotter is very discerning, as I well know, this being my fourth time applying! So it was great to listen to my fellow poets, at least one of them a familiar face — hi Eoin!

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I was up and down to Cork like a mad yoke that week trying to keep the full time teaching job going at the same time. The launch of The Well Review had been on on the Tuesday. It was as close to bilocation as I’m likely to get! I was sorry I didn’t get to attend more of the events due to work commitments. Any chance you could have it during mid-term break next year, Patrick? I do love it. It really is a top class festival.

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I am THRILLed to have won the Ambit Poetry Competition judged by Malika Booker. Myself and Ethan popped over to London for the launch party at the Tate Modern. As you do, of a Monday.


You can read it and the other winning poems here: and buy a copy of Ambit 234, where they’re published alongside some superb fiction and art, here:

Oxford's Dreaming Spires

Time for the July Showcase where we get to read our work in front of family and friends, agents and publishers. All that’s left then is to polish up our manuscripts for submission in September. Eek.


What an unforgettable two years with these people.


Poetesses be drinking the prosecco.


The muse himself ;-)


Extra sweet to have my poet-sister, Gabriella, here in Year One.


Of course, it would be rude to leave Oxford without a spot of Pimms & Punting…


Hennessy Literary Awards Night

The cognac was flowing last night at the Hennessy Literary Awards. Luckily, I am rather partial to a Hennessy & Ginger.


Such a great occasion. Hennessy & The Irish Times really made us writers feel like rock stars and the setting in Kings Inns couldn't have been more sumptuous. Congratulations to Louise G. Cole for winning the poetry section, a worthy winner, and lovely into the bargain.


And somebody was looking rather at home there... ;-)

The Tuam Herald

You can be nominated for all the prizes in the world but having an article in the Tuam Herald still makes the mammies fierce proud here at home. Thanks a million to Siobhan Holliman for the write-up (and to Ethan for the photo!). It was great to be flying the flag for Tuam above in Dublin.


But the coolest thing about being in this week's Herald is that I'm in it with my amazing friend, Lola Donoghue. We used to teach in the same school and we had a photography business together at the same time—weekend and holiday warrior photographers! Some of you may remember the FOTISSIMA years. Good times. But since she took a career break to go painting full-time, her success has been stratospheric. So proud of her.