Writing life – A Guest Blog by Maxine Linnell

Posted by writingschool on 11th August 2017 in My Writing School Tutor blog

This Dust, my first poetry collection, was published by Soundswrite Press in April. I’ve always written and read poetry. Of my seven published books, This Dust has been the most personal and the hardest to work with. It’s the book that’s me through and through.

I always wrote, and I always wanted to write. When I went to Birmingham University to study English, courses in creative writing hadn’t been invented. So I wrote poems, stories and reviews, got them published in the student magazine and newspaper, and skipped lectures…

Fast forward more than thirty years, and I was a psychotherapist and teacher, still writing, but not satisfied with the odd publication any more. I decided to take the whole thing seriously at last in 2000, signed up to the Nottingham Trent Creative Writing MA, joined Leicester Writers’ Club, and began to write a novel. The poems didn’t stop; they kept on coming.

It took over twenty submissions, and twenty rejections, before I found an agent, and then a fine publisher – Five Leaves in Nottingham. Vintage, my first young adult novel, was published in 2010, and Closer in 2011. I was a writer at last. It took a lot of work, a lot of listening to other people who knew more than I did, and bucketloads of persistence.

My poems are often small stories, and I love how the smallest poem can spread out into a bigger understanding. An object, a memory, a place spills into a poem which hints at a lot more if you find it. Writing poems feeds writing fiction – getting the words precisely right, the voice true, the questions asked. Fiction feeds poems too – staying with a story over time, working until the whole picture is clear, letting the meanings show themselves, and finding that essential voice.

My son Benn died suddenly in November 2010. He was 37. It was a wilderness time. I turned to books and poems to try to make connections. For poetry I read Denise Black, Michael Rosen, Sharon Olds, Emily Dickinson and many more. I looked for authenticity. I didn’t want to be told how to think or feel, to be reassured or have the pain diminished by soothing it away. I read memoir, and I couldn’t bear ‘self-help’. I stopped being able to read or write fiction. Life had been fractured, and I had no capacity for a fictional world.

This Dust developed out of that process of loss. There are three sections, the central one focused on Benn and on grief. The poems were written at the time, and face a terrible reality full on. They also try to show Benn as he was. While it’s important to me to do readings from that section, there are poems in the book that I won’t ever read aloud. The first section comes from earlier times, before Benn died, and the final one is perhaps more peaceful.

I didn’t think about the poems ever being published, and I began to share them with people who knew me well, and people who I thought might relate to them. June Hall picked them up, and published six in The Book of Love and Loss. I began to see that they might be helpful to other people – might help them to connect with themselves, or with others. Taking them further was down to Marilyn Ricci, Karin Koller and DA Prince of Soundswrite Press.

Here’s a taste, from my poem Move.

Home. It’s not the creak
of that landing floorboard;

not the sheets and pillows
and the dismantled double bed;
not that light filtering the curtains,
splashing the walls I painted,
the patch I missed.

I love connecting with other writers in the Writing School East Midlands’ Writing Workshops: they’ve been running for three years now, and I’m constantly surprised and encouraged by what happens when there’s a safe-enough group of people supporting each other through the writing process. I love the rough beginnings, the working through and developing, and all the precision of editing and revising. It’s what we do. It’s being a writer.

Maxine Linnell August 2017


Buy This Dust from your local bookshop. Published by Soundswrite Press. ISBN: 978-0955078699. Or buy online through Amazon.

Maxine Linnell is a tutor on Writing Workshop and also offers Tutorials through the School. Book a place on her course today: Writing Workshop.

Maxine has published seven books, including the novels Vintage and Closer. Her latest book is This Dust (Soundswrite Press, 2017) a poetry collection including a series of poems about her son’s death. Maxine has spent most of her working life as a psychotherapist and teacher, and now works as an editor, mentor and creative writing tutor, and writes book critiques. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Nottingham Trent University.


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