Talking to myself

Sara, could you please stop going on about Ted Hughes letters? It’s getting boring.

Hmm, well, I would, but…

But what?

There’s this poetry book called “The Scattering”…

Right. And?

When I was in Oxford I picked it up and considered buying it. Truth is I felt compelled to buy it. To be honest, I only didn’t because I knew that I could get staff discount at work.

Okay, and?

Well, it’s kinda unusual for me to buy poetry. I mean, I love Les Murray but otherwise I’m not a huge reader of poetry. I certainly don’t write it. There’s Plath, Paul Beatty, Bukowski, Les Murray and…well, that’s pretty much it.

So what was there about this particular book of poetry then?

Not sure really. It is written by a man in response to his wife’s death. It seemed emotionally open and… Nope, not sure.

Right. So, you saw this poetry book but didn’t buy it? Fascinating.



I came back and tried to buy it at work but we had sold out. Three people in one day came and asked me for it. Three people asking for the same poetry collection! Then I heard that it had won the Costa Book of the Year Award. This is highly unusual.

Cool. I’m pleased for poetry.

Yes. So. Today I saw the book was back in stock and bought it.

Good for you.

Ta. You can buy a copy at a branch of Waterstones or online at

Great. Thanks.

Did you notice who the author is?

No. Who?

Christopher Reid.


Christopher Reid!


Ring any bells?

Nope. Should it?

Christopher Reid is the editor of The Collected Letters of Ted Hughes.

Ooh! Spooky.

Is it?

Dunno. Could just be a coincidence.

Yeah, that’s what I figured.

Letters of Ted Hughes selected and edited by Christopher Reid (thoughts while reading)

I have a cold. Poor me. It is just a cold so I am able to struggle on. It’s been a busy week, uncommonly sociable actually, which has made me realise how unsociable I usually am. I’ve been in to Brighton and up to London and have sat on trains for quite a few hours so I had extra time to read “Letters of Ted Hughes”, and wow, I am enjoying it so very much, it’s a delicious treat.
So much of what he writes in letters to Plath and other writers is incredibly relevant and familiar. He writes about things that affect me, and consequently fills me with a strange confidence. Ah, I can think to myself, it was the same even for Ted. (Yeah, we’re *that* familiar I can call him Ted.)
On not being able to write: “At present I am doing nothing – I sit for hours like a statue of a man writing, no different, except during the 3rd or 4th hour a bead of sweat moves on my temple. I have never known it so hard to write.”
On discovering he had won a prize to have his first book of poetry published: “My first reaction was a horrible feeling of guilt at what I had committed, and I went to read the poems over to see if they were really as dull as I dreded (sic) they were. I immediately saw fifty things I wanted to change and I’m appalled that I let most of the poems out in such an unfinished state.”
On rejections: “Don’t be taken back by those rejections, but don’t send them straight out…If you can keep up your writing you will see, after a few weeks, where you can improve the rejected ones, or whether they are better let lie.”
I am finding it liberating and inspirational and it seems to be feeding me creatively, to the point where I have just finished writing the first draft of one new story, am editing two other stories, and had a great idea of what to do with an old story that I like but which doesn’t quite work as is. I’m not sure what the magic of it is, but hey, it’s good!
One other thing: I always said that Matt wrote the best emails and letters ever. His were funny, clever, sarcastic, witty, intelligent and thoughtful. He had an authoritative voice which made statements; sometimes hilariously, wicked statements. Ted Hughes writes in the same way, it’s really uncanny. It’s not Matt’s voice, but they definitely shared a similar style. Matt really disliked Hughes, he was a Plath fan who blamed Hughes for her suicide. I am amused to note just how similar TH and MK seem, and would love to be able to tease Matt about it.
Anyway, available at Waterstone’s bookshops or online at at the bargain price of £7.49

HTML Giant, Ted Hughes, permission to write, privilege, education, commas.

I read online publications and submit my own stories. The standard is high (so high that comparing the weaker books for sale at work in the bookshop leaves me baffled at how they are published in print and some of these online authors are not) and sometimes that is an exhilarating thing that inspires and pushes me, and other times it kinda makes me a wee bit anxious – am I good enough, how can I get better?

There are a wealth of do’s and don’t’s scattered thru the lit blogs; advice which can help but also hinder. HTML Giant has a lot of very good writers who say things authoritatively, persuasively and thoughtfully. (And other times they talk a load of bollox, but that’s not relevant right now.) I enjoy reading HTML Giant although occasionally I struggle with what I perceive as its American Academia “in club” vibe.

Recently I have been fretting about my lack of a formal writing education. I don’t think my A level English Lit counts for much! I have begun doubting my ability to compete with all the MFA/MA students out in the world. I am pretty much self taught, and what I know I have gleaned from reading. It has got me this far, wherever this far is. Now I worry that misplacing a comma and fucking up formatting is working against me when I submit to the same ‘zines these HTML people edit and inhabit.

I took Simon to Oxford for a birthday treat last weekend. We did the tourist bus tour and looked at University sites and beautiful old buildings. Part of me felt a familiar twist of resentment – I felt the same when we visited Cambridge – a tug of longing to immerse myself in study, an unpleasant envy of those who do. Anyway, I enjoyed myself in Blackwell’s. I bought a copy of Strunk and White’s “Elements of Style” which I hope may help me. I also bought a half price copy of “Letters of Ted Hughes”. I’m a huge cliche in that I adore the whole Ted and Sylvia *thing* and have for years. I love both of their poetry (and prose) and hold them in the highest literary regard. Their story began in Cambridge, and knowing that Sylvia Plath was a genius student I have always imagined that Ted was too. I began reading “Letters” last night and was delighted to read Christopher Reid (the editor) write in his introduction:

“A more pervasive problem has been what to do with Hughes’s spelling mistakes, which occur liberally in both manuscripts and typescripts, and with his idiosyncratic punctuation and sometimes wayward grammar and syntax.”

Yipee! He goes on:

“Oddities of punctuation are even more abundant, and most of these I have preserved…”

“…Missing commas and full stops, the pairing of single with double inverted commas, lists lacking their expected commas and such like.”

Now I am in no way comparing my writing self with that of Hughes, but ooh, how lovely to know that such a hero had fucksy commas too! Plus, he swapped his English course for Anthropology and only achieved a 2nd. Ha!