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joolz sparkes

writing, reading, being

A dog-eared request

Back in 2019 when a box of contributor’s copies of my first ever book, London Undercurrents, (a joint poetry collection with poet Hilaire) arrived by courier, I had to hobble painfully to the door on crutches following a knee injury. Although I tried my best to get excited, I felt too low from weeks trapped indoors to feel anything other than ‘thank goodness they’ve arrived now I can elevate my knee again’. I felt robbed of this joyous moment. Thankfully I was helped to see the light through the power of collaboration – my lovely talented co-author and friend Hilaire was up while I was down, and her ability to see what an achievement getting our collection published was, pulled me through. Although it took a while for the real me, the happy, smiley, life-is-flippin’-marvellous me to emerge again, once my knee finally got back to a reasonable level of mobility I made sure that I jumped up and down for joy with Hilaire. We’ve been jumping up and down on various occasions ever since. My reading copy of the book is now well-loved after being used at many launches, readings, events, radio shows and blog recordings.

This book represents so much happiness. But this post is tinged with sadness as our wonderful publisher, Bernadette at Holland Park Press, plus her brother and their black Labrador are facing homelessness. I believe they have the tenacity and strength to come through this extremely worrying time. You can help them by buying a book directly from their site. It doesn’t have to be London Undercurrents (although of course, that is much appreciated). HPP has a whole range of great books on offer – short story collections, novels and poetry collections – have a browse and you won’t be disappointed.

I owe an awful lot to Bernadette, who believed in our poetry collection enough to publish and commit to a lifetime of promoting it. So the least I can do is send this post out into the world and hope it helps HPP to be #SavedByOneBook.

Sporting Women from London Undercurrents — London Undercurrents

This year’s Wandsworth Heritage Festival theme is ‘Sporting Wandsworth’. The festival kicks off on 28th May, with the final whistle blown on 12th June. We decided to rise to the challenge and record a short reading highlighting sporting women from London Undercurrents, which will be available on Wandsworth Libraries’ YouTube page throughout the festival. Recording […]

Sporting Women from London Undercurrents — London Undercurrents

Joolz Sparkes – turn and face the strain

Still can’t quite believe it’s really happening. Thank you Against The Grain Press!

Against the Grain Poetry Press

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Proud to win 2nd prize with a poem about the women of Bletchley Park

When I saw the theme for the Elmbridge Literary Prize 2022 was Enigma, I jumped at the chance to write about the women of Bletchley Park. I’d been taken to Bletchley on a work team building day and it was an amazing experience. Wandering round the beautifully maintained, respectfully curated historical site, I realised how many women had been involved in the war effort there, and had played just as big a part as the men. How exciting it must’ve been for them, how invigorating to undertake daring and interesting roles, and to feel they were doing their part too. It struck me just how unfair it must’ve seemed to then be thrown back out into an unequal society. And to keep quiet about it all. I knew I wanted to honour their memory, and to write about them in some form, to tell their stories.

So I’m thrilled to say that my poem, On leaving Bletchley Park, the women crack under the code, has come 2nd in the adult category of the prize. Thank you to the judges!

And thank you to the women of Bletchley. You inspire me to be better, to do my part, to keep fighting for equality. And on a day like today when questionable men are in charge of this country, you remind me how important it is to be daring enough to dream of a different way of carving up power.

You can read the winning poems and short stories in each category here and the adult category specifically, here (my poem is on page 37) , or you can read my poem below.

Green for yes

My New Year’s resolution to write more fiction has paid off. A short story has been accepted by an anthology. Whoop!

Against the odds, my pamphlet has been selected by Against The Grain Poetry Press

After a year or so of having to turn off the part of me that feels things deeply, in order to get through this new experience called Pandemic, I am absolutely overspilling with joy that my pamphlet Turn and Face the Strain is going to be published by the wonderful Against The Grain Poetry Press in ’22/’23.

This particular pamphlet of 19 poems had made it to the long list of the Live Canon Poetry Competition in 2021, and I’d dealt with the disappointment of not making it through to publication.

I’d put the poems away (well, closed the Word file). But then they’d called out to me and demanded to be looked at. I worked on them and sent them back out into the world. At last, they found a home. With three brilliant women and writers I have long admired, Abegail Morley, Karen Dennison and Jess Mookherjee. Jess is going to be my editor and I can’t wait to start working with her on the book.

Congrats to everyone who entered, who endured the long list and short list rollercoaster. And congrats, and hello, to my 5 cohorts who will be published along with me in 22/23.

Landing on Planet Poetry — London Undercurrents

As keen listeners of Planet Poetry podcast and fans of poet and host Robin Houghton’s work, it was a pleasure to be asked to feature on the February 2022 episode. Our first ever podcast! The subject was collaboration. A subject very close to our hearts, which made it even more special to collaborate with Robin […]

Landing on Planet Poetry — London Undercurrents

Short stories and submissions

This year, I’m focussing on writing more prose as well as poetry. Sentences, character arc and paragraphs are calling me. So this month, I’ve been working on some short stories and submitting them willy nilly, to see what sticks.

So far, one is off in a competition, another is out to a couple of submissions windows and several more are waiting for the ink to dry before heading out into the world. I’m getting together a nice little stash towards a collection.

There’s also ‘The Novel’, which it turns out I haven’t touched since 2017. Strangely, this is a really good thing. It means I can look at it objectively and see what needs doing; what to keep, what to throw. It’s a strange feeling – having written hundreds and thousands of words but not really being able to remember writing them. It’s a long haul, that’s for sure.

For now, short story is where my head is at, those real zingers that can be consumed quickly and stay in your stomach for a long time.

My Soho in SOME KIND’A SOHO

Back in 2012/13ish, I was lucky enough to be asked to do a sort of poetry residency Upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s, the famous jazz venue. It was a dream and a kinda mirage too; I was the half time act for a wonderful saxophonist and his revolving guest singers, so it was a ‘is this really happening’ kind of a gig. The audience weren’t necessarily there for poetry…especially during the Christmas party season. But I gave it everything I had and eventually they became an attentive bunch of jazzers.

On my journey to and from the venue – between 9pm and sometimes midnight on a Monday – the sights and sounds of Soho kept me buzzing and became source material for new poems.

Two of the poems – We live here, and Upstairs at Ronnie’s – were individually published in South Bank Poetry Magazine and Loose Muse anthology, and then this year, they were included in a wonderful, beautifully designed coffee table book about Soho.

Some Kind’a Soho by David Saunders and Darren Russell, designed by Suzanne Mullins and published by Central Books is a series of fantastic photographs and interviews with ‘the disappearing voices of Soho’; those stalwart residents, business owners, day-trippers who never went home, and infamous names who have become the beating heart of W1. Including the rats. If you love colourful characters, tales of nightlife and London then you’ll love this book.

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