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Caroline Gilfillan - Biog

Caroline Gilfillan is a poet and fiction writer. She won the Suffolk Poetry Society’s George Crabbe Award in October 2012, for her poem about Andrew Wyeth’s painting, ‘Christina’s World’. Her poetry pamphlet, Yes (Hawthorn Press, 2010) won the East Anglian Book Award for the best poetry collection.

Her first full poetry collection, Pepys, was published by Hawthorn Press in November 2012. It explores the life of Samuel Pepys and his contemporaries – a life that encompassed Puritanism, the Restoration of the monarchy, the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London. She’s giving readings to promote it throughout 2013.

She received a grant from Arts Council England in 2008, and from 2007 to 2009 was chair of Poetry-next-the-Sea, the poetry festival held in Wells-next-the-Sea, North Norfolk. As a member of Inprint, a collaborative group of poets and artists, she’s worked on projects combining poetry and visual artwork. Her poetry and fiction have been published in numerous magazines, including The London Magazine and Mslexia. She’s also a songwriter and musician, and lives in North Norfolk. For more information, please go to www.carolinegilfillan.co.uk

Journey of Inspiration - Caroline Gilfillan

The word: a whisper
rushing through tall trees
shading the churchyard

The melody: a song,
rising from buttercups
and forget-me-nots

The picture: soft light,
flickering across
worn, lettered stone

The story: young feet
dashing along the path,
busy with curiosity

The play: warm hands
clasping ours, as
conversation rises

Inspiration: coming to us,
a gift, in a moment


Caroline Gilfillan

St Mary's East Ruston - Caroline Gilfillan

To sit in this chalky porch is all I ask.
Bare feet on stone, pen in hand: all I ask.

Toby, brushing fingers on warm skin, bends to
chestnut hair. Whispers: a kiss is all I ask.

Emily, pale as sleet, touches the buttoned curve
of her dress, praying: just one more year is all I ask.

Young Shepherd staggers, falls in Flanders mud.
A glimpse of cow parsley against flint is all he asks.

Carving the rood screen blossoms, Cedric shivers:
a day without biting frost is all he asks.

The wooden lion shakes his golden mane;
A gust of hot savannah dust is all he asks.

The artist displays poppies, millponds, hens,
Watery wash of brush and colour all she asks.

Raven chicks squeak and squawk above my head.
A beak of wriggling worms is all they ask.

Light travels down my fingers to the page.
Ah, Caroline, this is your gift. All you could ask.


Caroline Gilfillan
26 May 2009

East Ruston second poem - Caroline Gilfillan

I release the heavy wooden slats slipped
deep into sandy stone. Clank the key. The door
opens with a rasp, a gasp. It longs to let in light.

The font is home to four evangelists
and a handful of devils snarling around its feet.
Its smooth bowl, dry as chalk, longs for water.

Jackdaws squawk, patrol the tower, where their
sprawling nests hold gaping, hungry chicks.
When we’re gone they’ll fly the aisles, I’m told.

The harmonium sighs when the handle is worked,
the bellows squeezed. Two boys pull stops,
press keys, and notes gush like water from a tap.

I sit behind my desk. Field questions.
Lead a poetry treasure hunt through the
high-shouldered church and round the graveyard

Where cow parsley fidgets in the May breeze,
Alexanders breathe honey over tart nettles
and ivy creeps around a worn brick tomb.

The memorial is crowned by the sweetest flowers:
pink and white campion, snowy marguerites,
ringing the names we don’t forget, shedding

Colour on the grey plinth. Gravestones lean,
pushed aslant by coastal winds. A child counts
butterflies darting between the groundsel, the tombs.


Caroline Gilfillan
11 June 2009

The Painter of the Angels at Barton Turf Speaks - Caroline Gilfillan

Long hours I worked, late into nights
when the milk of the moon lit my hand.

I had a team of painters with me –
bright-eyed youngsters and solid men

Calm and capable with their brushes –
but it was my hand that drew the lines

That coaxed the nine orders of angels
into this church set in rippling fields.

One day, it seemed, the angels were empty
shapes; the next dawn they’d arrived

With a whisper of feathers, a hiss of silk,
on the good, strong feet I’d drawn for them.

They came clothed in scarlet feathers,
white ermine, rose damask,

Smelling faintly of incense and lilies,
of palm branches and ringing steel:

Seraphim, burning red with love;
golden Cherubim, all-seeing;

Green-winged Thrones, Dominions,
blue Virtues; devil-scourging Powers;

Principalities, Archangels in armour,
and Angels guarding naked souls.

All this was eight centuries ago.
but still they glow in dappled light,

Listening to prayers, readings and song,
and rooks and sparrows taking flight.


Caroline Gilfillan

Sarah Bower - Biog

Sarah Bower is the author of two historical novels, The Needle in the Blood (Susan Hill’s Novel of the Year 2007) and The Book of Love (published 2008). She has also published short stories in a number of literary magazines including QWF, Spiked and The Yellow Room. Her short story, The Archaeology of Ironing, won the 2005 Norwich Cafe Writers Short Fiction Prize. The Tea Dance was shortlisted for the 2009 BBC Opening Lines reading series.

Sarah completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia in 2002 (shortlisted for the Curtis Brown scholarship). She teaches creative writing at UEA and for the Open University. She edited The Historical Novels Review for two years and remains a regular contributor to the magazine and its sister publication, Solander.

Sarah also works as a community artist, her most recent project having been Picture the Past, a multi-generational memoir writing and film-making project carried out in Norwich for The Garage Trust, completed in October 2008. She has worked as library liaison for Norfolk Reads and Writes since its inception in 2007.

A Borrowed Land - Sarah Bower

Recently I flew to Edinburgh. As it was to be short trip, I took only carry-on baggage. I even treated myself to a new laptop small enough to fit in a handbag for the occasion. Usually, when I fly, I am going further away and for a longer time, so I am spared the enraging humiliations of trying to get my underwear and spongebag through airport security. Shoes off (Why mine? The people on either side of me were allowed through with their footwear intact. At least it shows a commendable lack of prejudice – I am a fair-skinned Englishwoman of a certain age – I don’t look like a terrorist), bag unpacked, make-up remover confiscated for being in the wrong size bottle. I also have two metal hips, which set off all the alarms on the walk-through scanner. Terrorists might consider using arthritic mules; replacement joints would be a great way of masking other, less benevolent hardware.

The trip was a good one, but I have resolved never to fly again unless I have to. Osama bin Laden can treat himself to a satisfied smirk at my expense if he wishes. I shall confine my voluntary travel to places I can reach by road, rail or sea. This was the perfect mindset in which to find myself spending three days in a Fenland church. Having mentally cut myself off from most destinations outside Europe, unless, of course, I win the Lottery and buy a yacht, I was in the mood to look at this island in a different, more open and more careful way.

In Suffolk, we joke about the Fens. Everyone jokes about the Fens. I understand this better now than I did. The countryside around the village of Ten Mile Bank, whose newly restored church, Saint Mark’s, was the site of my Art Alive in Churches residency, is magnificent. It conforms to all the clichés of the East Anglian landscape. Huge skies dominate miles of flat, rich farmland dissected by sluices and ditches, dotted here and there with creamy Charolais cattle. The Great Ouse slips by the church, eel-silver and silent, only yards from the church door yet almost totally hidden by a flood bank.

Then there is the light, and the light is where a sense of unease creeps in. Fenland light is equivocal, sometimes reflected off water, flooding everything with a pale luminescence, sometimes absorbed into the black soil so there is a flatness of perspective to go with the flatness of the land. This is forbidding country, it can swallow up people and animals as well as light, it is full of ghosts and marsh sprites, and we make jokes about it because we are afraid.

The Romans were the first to attempt to reclaim ‘this hideous fen of bigness’, as Saint Guthlac’s biographer put it, from the sea, and the history of the area is measured by the installation of pumps, the cutting of ditches, the dates when nature has fought back with great floods. The place names testify to this history – North Drove Drain, Denver Sluice, even Ten Mile Bank itself. Even now, the human presence sits precariously here, and seems to leave little trace. You can look for miles and see no human habitation. The roads and ditches are always changing, flooding, subsiding, endlessly negotiating their existence with the forces of nature. Everything appears to float, even the railway which runs past Saint Mark’s but is invisible until a train goes by. One imagines the pylons which march across the boggy fields balanced on wooden pilings, like giants wearing pattens, the electricity they carry permanently threatened by the catastrophe of water. Saint Mark’s itself had to have cradles inserted under its foundations during the restoration we celebrated through Art Alive, to save it from further subsidence. It is like Noah’s Ark in dry dock.

I was made wonderfully welcome by the villagers of Ten Mile Bank, plied with tea and cake, admitted to conversation yet left alone to write when it was quiet, dropping words into the vast silence which floods back in the moment we stop our chatter. One day the sea will reclaim all this, the certainty of it is like the cold breath of a marsh sprite on the back of the neck. The beauty of the Fens is other-worldly. They are not ours.

Sarah Bower
29th May 2009

Monolithicity - For Blofield Church, Norfolk

Knapped flint shines black. Flint’s kind. Flint digged from gravel pits
where flint has neighboured iron may show red seepage.
Flint sourced from near the sea is grey. Like all flint knapped
it shines black. Hand over hand over hand over
a hundred feet pre-electronic labour placed
(not meaning to expose) this basic grimness faced
the rough sides with strips of knapped and shining flintwork.
The tower in a century neared completion.
Now is the tower of six hundred years ago.
You could see it as one. It rocks. The bellringers
knees over head scapulas over head all hands
over ropes in a lifethreatening lightening feel this
as charted colour number sequence as pulled peal
and in the sway of stone in wind. The tower rocks.
Do you think it was meant to? While the marguerites
make the white-capped ocean graveyard meadow to mast?

Happisburgh - Molly Naylor

I meet a woman with no handbag
on a cliff, broken-topped by eager seas
where Holland seems walking distance away.

We discuss living here.
She asks me about the cities I’ve seen,
the sort of lists I make.
‘You search for your stillness in books, don’t you?’

She says. I think I know what she means.
I’ve been wondering what it is
about this place
now, on the cliff, and earlier;
casting glances above flint
to skies wider than valleys
wider than waking dreams
wider than the ellipsis where you felt
a sorry should have been.

Here, it is hard to imagine London me
or Liverpool me,
sipping something icy and dry
in a room splitting with noise
and movement and accessories.

Because there, you are the rats that are never more than five feet away
you are that difficult decision of which shoes
yellow or turquoise
you are the balloon trapped
between doors of a train

Here, you are a little harder to define.
Here, where there is so much stillness
and an unfamiliar calm in the faces
of the inhabitants of this tiny town

It’s a stillness that makes you address
every instant where you’ve modified your voice
to suit the top notes of the wine
every time you’ve averted your eyes,
pulled your hood up
and walked by.

And yet, behind all this stillness there’s movement
swallows back from Africa,
the wind around the church
like a boy with aeroplane arms,
the ocean relentless against rock.

The stillness here is more than a lack of motion
it’s like the kind you find in books –
revealing and startling and true

Molly Naylor