Friday, March 23, 2012


A'L'U Lost Weekend 6-Pack

2 Movies,2 Books,2 Drinks

March has indeed been full of its own wonderful madness so far, what with AWP, the publication of my debut poetry collection (Each Year an Anthem), a round of new readings kicking off, and my weekly editorial duties for ALL 'LIT' UP. Speaking of those duties, the interviews, essays, features and Lost Weekend 6-Packs I have been receiving have been outstanding. It's both humbling and heady to think the blog already includes pieces from Alan Heathcock, Anna March, Anne Leigh Parrish, Ben Tanzer, Donna Hilbert, Ellen Wade Beals, Frank Bill, Imogen Robertson, Jenna Blum, Jonathan Evison, Myfanwy Collins, Patricia Ann McNair, Shann Ray, Tamara Linse, Ken and Betty Rodgers - and the blog is only two months down the line from its kickoff as part of Randy Becker's NEXTV Entertainment blog series out in Hollywood. It's all been a lot of fun so far and I wanted to get in on the fun this week myself and offer up my own Lost Weekend 6-Pack. Enjoy -J.


I have to go seasonal on this - the winter 6-pack looks nothing like the summer one. Having just come out of winter here in the Buffalo area, let's start there. In the winter I stick with beer and like to go heavy with stouts, porters, and black & tans: Guinness Stout, Otter Creek Stovepipe Porter, Yuengling Black & Tan. I have read a Per Petterson novel every winter for the past few and this year it was "In the Wake." The movies are always Oscar or Golden Globe nominated films. Although this year, the un-nominated "Bridesmaids" knocked my socks off.

In the spring, I switch to ales - particularly Bass Ale - and start using Netflix for documentary fare such as "Cave of Forgotten Dreams" and the PBS series "American Experience." Spring is all about poetry for me - and in this case finds me reading Jim Harrison's "Saving Daylight."

Summer is summer and very beautiful and ephemeral here on Lake Erie - so I make the most of the sunshine. I like to have cocktail hour a few times a week and favor a classic margarita - on the rocks with salt - never frozen. My beer taste moves to pale ales and lagers - something clean that goes with fresh fish on the grill or sushi out. No movies in the summer - there's no way I'm sitting in a dark theater with Lake Erie right outside my door. Long hours in a comfy chair on the beach will be spent this summer reading John Jeremiah Sullivan's "Blood Horses," Christopher Dickey's "Summer of Deliverance," and Lars Saabye Christensen's "The Half Brother."

Fall is my favorite season and finds me leaning back toward the darker beers but not quite all the way - I'll go with ambers and nut browns - especially Sam Smith's Nut Brown Ale. Red wine is a biggy for me in the fall and lately I've been favoring a ten dollar bottle of Don Ramon - a tasty, Spanish red. Books will tend toward short stories or some non-fiction with a science or nature tone. This past autumn it was John McPhee's essay collection "Silk Parachute," John Jeremiah Sullivan's "Pulphead," and Alan Heathcock's "Volt" along with Shann Ray's "American Masculine." Finally, the autumn is when I try to catch up on the movies from the past six months either through Netflix or at the two dollar film houses doing last run stuff. I've been known to sneak off with my wife, Rachel, to a triple feature to start to hit some of what I've missed while playing and working in the sunshine, especially before another Buffalo winter is upon me.

Born in North Dakota, James Goertel spent twenty years working in television for ABC, NBC, and ESPN, among others. He currently teaches writing at Penn State Erie.
"Carry Each His Burden" (2011) is his fiction debut. "Each Year an Anthem" (2012) is his poetry debut. His writing has appeared in Ascent Aspirations, TNBBC, Manifold, LucidPlay, and The Quivering Pen. He is the editor of ALL 'LIT' UP - NEXTV's literary blog out of Hollywood. For more information, please feel free to visit here.



Wednesday, March 21, 2012


As editor at NEXTV Entertainment's literary blog, I am the fortunate recipient of wonderful essays, interviews, and features from a broad spectrum of talented writers. This week is no exception considering author and poet Donna Hilbert's essay 'Making Poetry, Compost and Soup' landed in my inbox a few days ago. I thoroughly enjoyed this literary soup for the soul and am once again pleased and humbled by the variety and quality of the submissions coming into ALL 'LIT' UP. I look forward to exploring her work, but couldn't help but be struck by this poem right off the bat from her recent collection, The Green Season. Enjoy - J. Goertel


A portion of ashes we buried,
the portion remaining to be scattered
sits on a shelf
in my office, the container swathed
in a flannel bag, like the bag
protecting your tuxedo shoes.
How handsome you were in formal clothes!
Strangers often asked if you were someone.
Should they ask for your autograph?
The irreducible things that make up a person--
ashes, bits of tooth and bone--
transform from one noun
into another.
Before your death, Dearheart
I didn't know
that physics and grammar
are the same sad subject:
the transformation of matter,
transforming what matters.

THE GREEN SEASON by Donna Hilbert

by Donna Hilbert

I once lived in a house with a big backyard. I planted a garden; I kept a compost pile. I spent hours every day, digging in the dirt with the same joy I felt as a child making mud pies. I took equal pleasure in planting seeds and in pulling up spent plants to make room for the next season’s growth. It seemed that the whole world of nourishment, death and regeneration lay before me. When not digging in my garden, I sat in my office, digging through my life.

I grew tomatoes, basil, peppers, eggplant, parsley, cilantro, rosemary, sage, and lavender. I sliced, sautéed and roasted and dried—transforming my harvest into pastas, curries and soups, then returning the scraps to the compost pile, which I turned and watered every day. Amazing creatures emerged from the pile—caterpillars fat with the promise of flight, Japanese Beetles as green as emerald, the Earth Child, or potato bug, which looked to me like an extra-terrestrial’s abandoned baby.

Now, I live at the beach and have no garden of my own, but I still feel connected to the days of turning the soil when I cook, particularly when I make soup. I make soup from what I have on hand—whatever is in the refrigerator by chance, and also from what’s there by design, bought at Farmer’s Market the Sunday before with an eye to the pot of soup come Tuesday—a head of cabbage, a turnip or two. Piquant vegetables make for a tasty broth. I add fresh herbs, a bunch of basil, perhaps cilantro or Italian parsley, the juice of one lemon.

I enjoy the peeling, chopping, squeezing, and slicing. I love the comfort and security afforded by a pot of soup simmering the afternoon away on the stove’s back burner. It’s like money in the bank, back in the era when money in the bank drew interest. After a few hours, I will add the rinds from a hunk of Parmesan cheese and a few pieces of stale sourdough bread to give the soup some heft and ballast. There is a smug pleasure in not being wasteful.

Perhaps it is no accident that I routinely make soup on Tuesdays, the day of the week my evening poetry workshop meets at my house. If I make soup, I will have a simple late supper waiting on the stove to share with my beloved after my students have left for home. The more I practice the life of poetry, the more convinced I am that writing poetry is like keeping a garden, with its composting, planting, harvesting—the seasons’ continual revision of life and death.

And in the same way that I enjoy peeling carrots, chunking potatoes, quartering tomatoes, I like the feel of the poem taking shape in my hand: the weight and balance of the pen, the whiteness of the paper, the arc the line of ink makes moving words across the page. Later, once I have two-fingered the poem into the computer, I like the neat rows of typeface appearing on the screen. I love making something appear from the void, the comfort of the work in progress, the infinite satisfaction of revision.

And, as in the making of compost, the making of soup, I make the poem from what I have on hand: leftovers from childhood—fears, loves, hates, tastes, smells, injustices and moments of rapture, things imperfectly understood, nightmares and lost ambitions. To this I add what has been picked up along the way—the road kill and sea glass of life—betrayals, disappointments, joy, death, images and incidents from travel, snatches of conversation, the way a certain bird takes flight. Observations written on matchbook covers and cocktail napkins that end up keeping company with the “purse candy” at the bottom of my bag—nuggets that I will be happy to find when I need a little something to suck on.

Practicing a life in poetry is like keeping a compost pile. All the shavings and leavings of life and art go into it—the dark bruised part of one poem, the sprouting eye from another, given time enough and attention, enough turning over and over, the decomposition will bring forth the new poem, the new soup, and the pleasure of making begins again.

Donna Hilbert writes and teaches private workshops from her home in Long Beach, California. Her latest book, The Green Season, World Parade Books, a collection of poems, stories and essays, is now available in an expanded second edition. Ms. Hilbert appears in and her poetry is the text of the documentary “Grief Becomes Me: A Love Story.” Poems in Italian can be found in Bloc notes 59 and in French in La page blanche, in both cases, translated by Mariacristina Natalia Bertoli. New work is in recent or forthcoming issues of 5AM, PEARL, and Poets & Artists. She is at work on a new poetry collection, The Congress of Luminous Bodies, from Aortic Books later this year. Learn more at

Thursday, March 15, 2012

ALL 'LIT' UP LOST WEEKEND 6-PACK with ANNA MARCH (The Diary of Suzanne Frank)

Lost Weekend 6-Pack

2 Movies, 2 Books, 2 Drinks

One of the highlights of the AWP conference in Chicago was getting to meet folks I knew only through social media. One of them was author Anna March. Music and writing are intertwined in my psyche and my work - one informs the other constantly. This is how I first became enamored with Anna's work - her Aural Fixations series for the is one of those ideas-realized that you wish you had thought of yourself. So, when I asked Anna if she would be interested in doing a Lost Weekend 6-Pack for me, I was hoping she would offer to throw in one of her personalized mixes for the piece, so I didn't have to ask and look like a gushing Teen Beat geek - the kind that waits in line for ten hours with his mom to score Justin Bieber tickets. She, of course, came through big time, unknowingly saving herself from a series of last minute and humiliating emails from me begging for a mix to go along with her 6-Pack. Two movies, two books, two drinks, and a mix for the Ides of (Anna) March, a 6-Pack you can dance to. Enjoy - J. Goertel


I like to hole up in my teeny tiny beach cottage with scads of books and movies…I love films about identity, transformation, isolation and how we break it down, underdogs, how we tell stories, unlikely heroes and forgiveness. Favorites include Lost in Translation, The Station Agent, Rashomon, anything by Pedro Almodovar, Fanny and Alexander, Life is Beautiful, Breaking Away, Big Night. I love matching up a slice of Americana with a big foreign film for a great double feature. Seemingly odd juxtapositions have always been a bit of a thrill for me. This weekend it’s going to be Y Tu Mama Tambien and Big Fish.

Books…hmmm, just two? Right now I’m into about six. Re-reading Jack Gilbert’s poetry collection “Refusing Heaven” which I adore and seem to always be re-reading, loving an ARC of Cheryl Strayed’s memoir “Wild” which is so brave and gorgeous – and comes out on Tuesday, Karen Karbo’s non-fiction “How Georgia Became O’Keefe” is tremendous and inspiring, the novel “Girlchild” by Tupelo Hassman is so stunningly well written that it’s keeping me up at night…I’m also reading bits of Foucault (again, always, forever…) and the new translation of “Madame Bovary”.

As for drinking, I don’t really drink at home very often, but I live literally, down the street a couple of blocks from Dogfish Head’s original brewpub, and drinking there is always a good time. It’s such a kick when someone says “You know, Dogfish Head” and they mean the beer and I mean the place and I say, “Yep, I saw Sam [CEO Sam Calagione] drive by in his truck this morning. It’s Thursday, so Lisa’s working tonight…$6 pizza night.” Yeah, I know Dogfish Head. Hmmm…I also still really love an ice cold shot of jager…sue me. I love coming home a little boozy on a weekend night and drifting off to sleep thinking of stories, dreaming of words.

Along with whatever I’m drinking, reading, watching…there’s always a soundtrack, a playlist.
Here’s my playlist of 10 songs for the coming weekend (run time, 38:24):

Lost Weekend 6-Pack from anna march on 8tracks.

**Please note that this mix will random generate after your first listen in order to accommodate copyright agreements.**


1. Dedicated to the One I Love
The Shirelles
For the One I Love

2. Don't Go Breaking My Heart
Frightened Rabbit & Craig Finn
The Loneliness & The Scream

3. Are You Alright?
Lucinda Williams

4. Snow Is Gone
Josh Ritter
Hello Starling

5. Celebrity Skin
Celebrity Skin

6. New York, New York
Ryan Adams

7. Iko Iko
The Belle Stars
Rain Man (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

8. Anchorage
Michelle Shocked
Short Sharp Shocked

9. Anna Sun
Walk the Moon
I Want! I Want!

10. History Repeating
Shirley Bassey
Shirley Bassey: Greatest Hits

Anna March has recently completed her first novel The Diary of Suzanne Frank. Her fiction, essays, reviews and playlists have appeared in Salon, The Rumpus, PANK, Connotation Press, Used Furniture Review, and numerous other publications and anthologies. She has been nominated for a 2012 Pushcart Prize.

You can keep up with her on

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

ALL 'LIT' UP AUTHOR ESSAY FEATURE with Ellen Wade Beals (Solace in So Many Words)

The Windy City continues to amaze me and make my job as editor a whole lot easier. Chicagoland authors Ben Tanzer and Patricia Ann McNair have already done ALL 'LIT' UP a turn via the Lost Weekend 6-Pack segment and the My Dinner With... segment. No wonder AWP held its convention there this year. Chi-town comes through again this week with author/editor/poet Ellen Wade Beals. Having just released my own debut poetry collection this past week, I was super psyched to get Ellen's essay and discover it was about... drum roll followed by resounding gong crash... poetry. You can call it synchronicity or you can call it kismet, but I call it insightful and spot-on writing. Enjoy ~ J. Goertel

Trained as a journalist, Ellen Wade Beals writes poetry and prose. Her work has appeared in literary magazines (such as After Hours, Falling Star, Off Channel, Eclipse, Hip Mama, Eclectic Literature and The Stony Thursday Book (Ireland), in anthologies (such as Kiss Me Goodnight and Take Two -- They're Small), and on the web (Google her).

In 1999, her short story, "Picking," was awarded Willow Springs fiction prize and she was named one of Chicago’s emerging poets by The Poetry Center. Her poem “Between the Sheets” is in the textbook Everything’s a Text (between Sherman Alexie and Billy Collins). Most recently, Ellen started Weighed Words LLC ands its first title is Solace in So Many Words, which Ellen edited, came out in May 2011.

In Service of Poetry

by Ellen Wade Beals

Regardless of whether I am a good poet, I want to be good for Poetry, and that means first recognizing that the artist is subservient to the art. I try to take this service seriously. Writing poetry and getting it published are not enough.

For one thing, I want to celebrate good poetry and share it, and that means reciting others’ work when I have the chance. At Books on Vernon in Glencoe, IL, I shared Witslawa Szymborska’s “In Praise of My Sister,” and at the Guild Complex in Chicago, I read Philip Larkin’s “This Be the Verse” and Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays.” At Woman Made Gallery in Chicago, it was Connie Voisine’s “Dangerous for Girls” and Stan Rice’s “Nearly Dissolving” that I felt compelled to read. The moment I set eyes on Stan Rice’s poem, I had the urge to recite it, and when I first came across Connie Voisine’s poem, I had to look her up and write her a fan email.

When I find something extraordinary, I feel a duty to bring attention to it, like the glorious long poem titled “The Road to Emmaus” by Spencer Reece in the October 2011 issue of Poetry magazine. I have talked it up to anyone who would listen and declared my admiration in a post on Poetry’s Facebook wall. Since composing a blog does not come easily to me, instead, I often use the space on my website to promote other writers. Some time ago, the obit for Patrick Galvin in the Poetry Ireland Newsletter led me to discover his wonderful work. So I told my web visitors about him because I think readers would really dig his New and Collected Poems.

I want to be an appreciative reader. Once, I reached out to compliment a writer on what I thought was a gutsy experimental piece in a university lit journal. My email began, “I am sure you have been hearing how great your poem was,” and she wrote back that she hadn’t heard from anyone but me. How sad to be a writer and never know whether the final step in your art has been completed. Without a reader, our writing is just words on a page.

I try to drop a positive email or note or comment to the writer. If I don’t particularly like a piece, I can still give the author props (even just an atta-boy or atta-girl) for seeing it into print. “Likes” on Facebook or Amazon pages are easy shows of support and non-committal nods to the achievement. I have made it my rule never to review something I haven’t read or to feel there is any quid pro quo at work. After all, I want to be an ambassador to literature, not a shill. My policy is that if I don’t like something, I don’t comment, but I do try to remember to say something nice when I do have a compliment. In short, I am quicker to commend and less likely to disparage.

Overly earnest though it may sound, I aspire to be generous and kind. People have been generous and kind to me, helping me out big time. A question frequently asked of me at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs (AWP) Annual Conference and Bookfair was: “How did you get poems by Philip Levine in Solace in So Many Words?” The answer is that I wrote him a letter. Mind you, this book was five years in the making so when I approached him, he was not yet the U. S. Poet Laureate, but he was still Philip Levine. He was as accessible as his poetry. If you read the table of contents for Solace in So Many Words, you’ll see several other well-known names, and these writers also were generous and kind. For this I am forever grateful because it meant the anthology I assembled had a chance of being a great little book.

I mention Philip Levine because I was able to meet him at the recent AWP Conference. I gushed. To shake his hand was a thrill, and he remembered me and Solace in So Many Words and our dealings, which, I will dish, included a bottle of liquor (just what type of liquor I will keep to myself). It was pretty spectacular to think the U.S. Poet Laureate and I had done business.

Speaking of the AWP Conference, I would bet that among the nine thousand or so writers in attendance, there were diverse opinions on all aspects of our art. But I am pretty certain I know the one answer almost every writer has to the question: what is your least favorite aspect of writing? I’d lay down money that almost every one would answer “self-promotion.” Yes, we all hate it.

Promotion is a necessary evil in the publishing words. Especially in today’s book biz, it is left to the writer to do it. So I want to help my fellow writers and build a community by going to their events, reading their books and getting their names out there.

To me working to promote Poetry makes perfect sense. After all, how can we expect to be supported by the arts if we are not supporters of the arts?


“Each entry feels fresh, as it offers another angle on finding a way to remain intact through life’s complexity.”
— Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul

“The diverse bedfellows who appear here prove artful words can be a balm for pain, one’s own or the wider world’s.”
— Susan K. Perry, Creativity Blogger for, author of Writing in Flow

A mixed-genre anthology of smart literary writing by 52 contributors from 15 states, Solace in So Many Words includes poetry by Philip Levine, Antler and Ellen Bass, fiction by T. C. Boyle, Joe Meno and Joan Corwin and essays by Paula W. Peterson, Patty Somlo, and Michael Constantine McConnell as well as stellar work by writers who are now less known but won’t be for long. How do you find comfort when the world around you crumbles? All the thoughtful work here relates to this timely and timeless theme. The website is:

For more information on Ellen Wade Beals and Solace in So Many Words, please feel free to visit the links below:



Thursday, March 8, 2012

ALL 'LIT' UP LOST WEEKEND 6-PACK with SHANN RAY (American Masculine)

Lost Weekend 6-Pack

2 Movies,2 Books,2 Drinks

A week ago I was at the AWP Writers' Conference in Chicago and although author Shann Ray was not in attendance I felt his presence. I found Shann, the winner of Bread Loaf's Writers' Conference Bakeless Prize for his 2011 story collection, American Masculine (Graywolf Press), was always there; looming in the shadows of an off-site reading, hovering over the book fair, sitting in on panels as an unseen specter. Along with Alan Heathcock's VOLT(Graywolf Press), Shann Ray's American Masculine was the benchmark for me in terms of literary fiction in 2011. His stories and characters affected me to a degree that they seemed more like a haunting than a fictional rendering.

David Abrams in his Quivering Pen year-end review of Shann Ray's collection, summed up my own feelings quite nicely, observing, "This is one of the more challenging set of short stories I've read in a long time--it pokes my conscience and gently leads me to self-examination."

Exactly, David. The stories in American Masculine had me thinking about humanity and my place in it. Great fiction stays with you a long time. As I wandered around the different AWP offerings last week, I found myself thinking about the fiction from 2011 I still can't seem to shake. American Masculine stands among the best, so I am thrilled to have Shann Ray for this week's Lost Weekend 6-Pack. ~ J. Goertel

Deviled eggs. MGD. The highlife.

"This is the entry into all things trailer, and some things trash, of which I myself have a personal history, having lived in two trailers and a mobile home (yes, the kind pieced together at the midseam; yes the kind you see hauled in halves down freeways on 18-wheelers). As for books, give me a couple of classics please like Victor Hugo's Les Misérables and Tolstoy's Anna Karenina; then dish me some American West like the immortal James Welch's Fools Crow and A.B. Guthrie's The Big Sky; then give me a nice big helping of the poets who change our lives forever like Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese and Mary Oliver's two-part powerhouse Why I Wake Early and Thirst; then give me some real world answers like feminist superstar Bell Hooks' All About Love, Martin Luther King Jr.'s The Measure of a Man and Strength to Love and Desmond Tutu's No Future Without Forgiveness; then give me some hard core theology like Dietrich Bonhoeffer's Ethics and Bernard Longergan's Insight; and finally top it off with some philosophy like a forest fire in Hans-Georg Gadamer's The Relevance of the Beautiful and Mikhael Bakhtin's Toward a Philosophy of the Act. And for movies, let's start with Arthur Miller's The Crucible and watch Daniel Day Lewis and Joan Allen break us all down to the deep dark heart before they raise us back up, and let's end with some bonebreaker Pacino at the onset of his power in Scarface and notice not just 'Say hello to my little friend!' but more importantly the line before it in which the ferocity bursts forth a spray of spit when he says 'How you like that!' which comes out more like 'How you like thath!'"

SHANN RAY’S story collection AMERICAN MASCULINE (Graywolf Press), selected by Esquire as one of Three Books Every Man Should Read, and named a Kirkus Reviews Best Book of 2011, Best Short Story Collection of 2011, and Editor’s Choice selection, won the the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Bakeless Prize. He is also the author of Forgiveness and Power in the Age of Atrocity (Rowman & Littlefield), an Amazon Top Ten Hot New Release in War and Peace in Current Events. The winner of the Subterrain Poetry Prize, the Crab Creek Review Fiction Award, the Pacific Northwest Inlander Short Story Award, and the Ruminate Short Story Prize, Ray’s work has appeared in some of the nation’s leading literary venues including McSweeney‘s, Narrative, Best New Poets, StoryQuarterly, Poetry International, and Five Chapters. He is a National Endowment for the Arts Literature Fellow, and has served as a panelist for the National Endowment for the Humanities, Research Division. Shann grew up in Montana and spent part of his childhood on the Northern Cheyenne reservation. He lives with his wife and three daughters in Washington where he teaches leadership and forgiveness studies at Gonzaga University as well as with refugees in Kakuma, Kenya and Dzaleka, Milawi.

For more information, please feel free to visit the links below.

Ray's Website

Ray interviewed at Bark

Ray on the NEA Fellowship

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


“Fearless, elegant, and accessible, Echolocation is literary fiction at its best. With heartbreakingly beautiful prose, Myfanwy Collins tells a gripping and tender tale of broken souls yearning for wholeness. These are characters who will stay with you long after you turn the last page. It’s a dazzling debut!”

—Ellen Meister, author of The Other Life

Check out the book trailer for Myfanwy Collins' ECHOLOCATION here.

Myfanwy Collins was born in Montreal, Canada, grew up in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, and now lives on the North Shore of Massachusetts with her husband and son. Her work has been published in The Kenyon Review, AGNI, Cream City Review, Quick Fiction, and Potomac Review. A collection of her short fiction is forthcoming from PANK Little Books in August 2012.


Learn more about Myfanwy at her author site,

Monday, March 5, 2012


British author Imogen Robertson's meteoric rise since she won the Telegraph's 'First thousand words of a novel' competition in 2007 is nothing short of astonishing. Since then she has gone on to publish three bestselling novels - Instruments of Darkness, Anatomy of Murder, and her latest, Island of Bones. As Barry Forshaw of The Independent remarks in his review,"... what makes such books as Island of Bones so unusual is their audacious mix of a cultural gloss and uncomplicated, straight-ahead storytelling. The multi-layered nuance of Peter Ackroyd and the buttonholing narrative grasp of Stephen King are stirred into the mix." I feel privileged to have Imogen for this week's Author Essay Feature. ~ J. Goertel

Imogen Robertson grew up in Darlington, studied Russian and German at Cambridge and now lives in London. She directed for film, TV and radio before becoming a full-time author. Imogen won the Telegraph’s ‘First thousand words of a novel’ competition in 2007 with the opening of Instruments of Darkness, her first novel. Her second novel featuring the detective duo of Harriet Westerman and Gabriel Crowther, Anatomy of Murder, was published in the USA by Pamala Dorman Books in February 2012, and the third in the series Island of Bones also comes out in the states later this year.

by Imogen Robertson

Any writer is a product of circumstance. Your family, your education, your relationships, your times; they all make you who you are, and therefore what you write and how you approach writing it. That said, sometimes you can look back and see a couple of key moments, key events, that turned you from a person who reads and likes the idea of writing into a working novelist. For me there were three and they involved a poem, a competition, and a group of talking numbers.

The poem first. It is The Mile High Club and was written by Neil Rollinson. He often writes graphically about sex, but he also writes tender, elegant, moving poems. When the poem was published in the Times Literary Supplement in 2001, I was blown away by it, but I lost my copy, snipped from the magazine while I was splitting up with my boyfriend, and dividing our possessions. Its loss haunted me and I began to look for it online. Using a few half-remembered lines I found Neil’s website, though not the poem, and emailed to ask if he was the author and if so where I could get the poem. He was friendly and flattered, and suggested a number of other modern poetry collections I might enjoy. (At that time Eliot was about the most modern poet I had read).

One thing lead to another. The poetry bug bit me hard and I started going to a workshop with the Scottish poet Roddy Lumsden in a strip lit classroom in North London. I still go every week. You might not think that a poetry class is the best way to learn to write Historical Crime Novels, but you’d be wrong. The crucial habits of attention to detail, of criticising one’s own work constructively, making each word count that I learn there have stood me in very good stead. The poets in the group are brilliant, smart and serious about craft. I honestly don’t think I would have ever had a novel published if I hadn’t spent that half an hour on the internet ten years ago trying to track down a poem that had moved me.

Now for the talking numbers. After graduation I worked for many years for a small but perfectly TV production company called Open Mind. I started by making the tea and ended up directing for them. They say never work with children or animals, but as it was a children’s TV company, I hardly did anything else. It’s tough to write prose when you come home every evening exhausted and covered in glitter, but when I became freelance I suddenly had time on my hands, years of training in story telling and the habit of hard work so I started to write the novel that became Instruments of Darkness. I got to about thirty thousand words then discovered they just weren’t that good. I’d have to start again. I sighed, very deeply, and put them in a drawer.

Then the talking numbers arrived. Open Mind were asked to produce a series called Numberjacks and asked me to direct half of the programmes of the first series. Now the only way to get me to save money is to make sure I am too busy to spend any. Directing a bunch of TV programmes that involve computer animation mixed with real world action on a tight budget and an even tighter schedule is a really, really good way of doing that. The bank balance started to look more healthy than it had done in years.

Bring on the competition. I had been swapping chunks of prose with two friends, both journalists, and while I was preparing scripts for filming and occasionally hallucinating numbers speaking to me, one of them, Rachel, emailed us to say had we spotted the ‘First thousand words of a novel’ competition in the Daily Telegraph. She thought we should make a pact to enter it. A thousand words isn’t much, about the length of this piece, so even while wondering about how to film a naughty spoon running away with someone’s shoes, I thought I could take the time to restart Instruments and enter the competition.

Do you see how it is coming together now? I sent off my entry and went back to filming confused looking children in the park. I was just stumbling towards the end of the project when I got the news that my entry was one of the five winners. There was some dancing round the living room table that day. Our prize was lunch with the judges, and a very nice lunch it was too at La Poule au Pot in Chelsea. At one point Louise Doughty, her book on how to write a novel is fantastic by the way, said: ‘Imogen, you’ll find that when you are a published novelist…’ I don’t think I even heard the rest of the sentence. That assumption she had just made; that I could do it, that I would have a book published suddenly made the idea of writing for a living seem, well, plausible. I decided not to look for any more work in TV and just write until the money ran out. It was not a sensible decision, and I would never have dared to do it if I had anyone financially dependent on me, but I saw the chance and took it. Four months later a friend from my poetry group recommended an agent who loved the book, and just at the moment I was loosing hope of getting a deal an editor at Headline read the novel, agreed with my agent and I was offered a two-book deal. My parents cried when I told them, and my best friend took me out to drink champagne by Tower Bridge on the Thames. Every time I walk along that stretch of river now I offer up my thanks to all my friends and family of course, but particularly to a poem, a competition and a bunch of animated numbers.

Instruments of Darkness by Imogen Robertson

For more information on Imogen Robertson and her work, feel free to visit here.