The Sleeping Princess – upcoming gigs

If you’ve been following me on Twitter or Facebook, you might have heard me talking about Red Hoods and Glass Slippers. To put it relatively succinctly, it’s a poetry and storytelling project about fairytales, which invites the audience to see them through the eyes of characters both new and familiar. It’s a project that is constantly growing and changing, but one thing coming out of it is The Sleeping Princess – a poetry show that is effectively “volume one” in a collection of interlinking fables. It’s early days but I’m very proud of it. And you can come and see it for yourself! Gig details below, followed by more information about the show 🙂

Gig number one is part of Bed Time Tales at the Oxford Playhouse (Burton Taylor Studio). It’s Saturday 2nd April, i.e. tomorrow (why yes, I did leave this a little late) – it starts at 7:30pm and you can buy tickets here for £10. I’ll be performing the first 40 minutes of The Sleeping Princess, and you’ll also get to hear amazing storyteller Tori Truslow.

Gig number two is a FREE scratch night featuring me and the inestimable poet Fay Roberts, each doing a show-in-development at the (wheelchair-accessible!) Poetry Café in London at 7:30pm, Thursday 7th April. I’m doing the one-hour version of The Sleeping Princess and Fay will be peforming The Selkie – A Song of Many Waters. You can RSVP to the Facebook event here.

Fay and I will also be putting on The Selkie and The Sleeping Princess together in Oxford (The Albion Beatnik, May 27th) and Cambridge (details TBC), and we plan to bring the shows back to London as well.

If you want to know more about how I approach and work with fairytales, I wrote a blog post about it for the Oxford Playhouse’s website (which I’ll mirror on here once the show has happened). And if you want to know more about The Sleeping Princess and The Selkie – behold, our promotional material!

FBIcon Scratch London April 16

Fairytales tell us a lot about who we were and who we are. Fairytales are encoded secrets, travelling through time. Fairytales aren’t always happily-ever-after, because fairytales are true.

Hel Gurney and Fay Roberts explore two takes on the way we shape myths, and the way myths shape us. Come and enjoy a scratch night of two hour-long shows-in-development at The Poetry Café, London (wheelchair-accessible). Entry is free, with donations taken, and we would love to hear your feedback…

The Sleeping Princess (Hel Robin Gurney)

A fairy curse. A sleeping princess. A kingdom in turmoil. A story you think you know. All actions have a consequence; all magic has a price. Borrow the skins of beloved characters treading unfamiliar paths, and find yourself spellbound.
Subversive storyteller-poet Hel Robin Gurney invites you to immerse yourself in a dark fairytale of love, trauma, and resilience.

The Selkie – A Song of Many Waters (Fay Roberts)

The seal woman’s skin has been stolen, stranding her on a reef of rage and tragedy. Can she find her true home, freeing her voice? Explore love, family, and destiny in the company of mythological creatures.
Fay Roberts (Other Voices, Allographic, Hammer & Tongue) navigates a modern mythological sea voyage of hiraeth, poetry, and music in this haunting solo show.

“If you like poetry and fairytales and being emotionally destroyed, you are going to love this!” – Hel & Fay

ACCESSIBILITY: The Poetry Café has a lift down to the basement, and a disabled toilet. If there’s any other access information you need, please let us know!


Where I’m going with #refugepoetry next

The short version: I’m switching from sprint mode to marathon mode. I’ll keep writing postcard poetry (and taking prompts and donations) until I either hit 100 poems, or hit £1000, at which point I’ll declare victory in my own personal iteration of NaPoWriMo and send the money off to Refuge. Sponsor me and you’ll get either get a poem written to your prompt sent to you on a postcard, or you can claim an existing (unclaimed) poem written for this challenge and I’ll send you that. If you can’t spare the money, prompt me anyway – you won’t get the card, but you will probably get the poem posted online at some point.

As anyone watching my Twitter or the Tumblr for my #refugepoetry output will have noticed, I did not in fact produce 100 poems on the 15th OR raise £1000. But I’m actually alright with that – “shoot for the moon; even if you miss you’ll land among the stars” and all that. And honestly, I’m pleased with myself for prioritising the Life Stuff which came up – namely a trip to the doctor and some flat viewings arranged by my housemate-to-be – and not beating myself up for failing to meet my very ambitious target. Particularly since my achievements from that day included successfully finding somewhere new to live, and writing five poems – one of which I also turned into a rough recording, and two of which got gleefully shared around Twitter and Facebook by the recipients and their friends. Five long poems is perhaps not as numerically impressive as 100 long ones, but I’m really rather pleased with some of them – The Dragon Queen will definitely get an airing at future slams! I then wrote a further four poems on the 16th, but the 17th (and 18th so far) are been poem-free.

So, where next? I didn’t hit my target, but I want to continue raising money and writing poetry for people (particularly since I have a lot of prompts I’ve not yet honoured). I am really enjoying writing poetry to prompts. Sharing my work online like this – in text form on a blog, rather than as a recording on Soundcloud or text published in an online magazine – is quite out of my comfort zone, but I think that’s good for me. As above, I’m going to keep going with this – until I either hit 100 poems or £1000. I will try to post roughly one poem a day, even if I have to compose it on my phone while on the Tube or something, and I’ll also aim to have one or two days where I attempt another write-a-thon sprint towards the finish line.

If you’ve enjoyed the poetry I’ve produced so far, please do share it around and point people towards the fundraising page! The list below will be updated regularly with links to newly-added poems.

#1 Prompt: “eating ice-cream on a rainy day”
#2 Unprompted, first line: “i remember jane in the rich red room”
#3 Unprompted, first line: “Jesse was the kind of guy”
#4 Prompt: “Mer-rabbit?”
#5 Prompt: “unapologetic dragon or accidental femme fatale”
#6 Unprompted, exercise in misheard voice/text software, first line: “Middleton roses and whiskers on kittens”
#7 Unprompted, first line: “The fog flattens you”
#8: Unprompted, blackout poem, first line: “The moment the air is clear”
#9 … nothing yet!

Mermaids, poetry, Nine Worlds, and the Edinburgh Fringe

Other Voices will be on at the Banshee Labyrinth, Niddry St, 14:50 - 15:40 every day except Wednesdays. (Image from the Other Voices website.)

Other Voices will be on at the Banshee Labyrinth, Niddry St, 14:50 – 15:40 every day except Wednesdays. (Image from the Other Voices website.)

Hello, dear readers! Once again, doing all the things has left me with little time to blog about the things – so here is a quick flying update on what’s coming up in the next week!

Edinburgh Fringe Festival: this year I’m joining the cast of five-star poetry show Other Voices, and I am excited beyond belief about this. I’ll be sharing the cabaret stage with a number of very talented spoken word performers – catch me at The Banshee Labyrinth at 2:50pm on the 10th, 12th, and 14th. Expect queer-feminist rage, mythology and fairytales as you’ve never seen them before, and a dash of wit and witchery. I’m also hoping to make it to various open mics while I’m there!

Nine Worlds Geekfest: I’m not at Nine Worlds myself this year, but my work will be! (I hope you like mermaids. If you don’t like mermaids, what are you even here for? :p ) After The Mermaid’s Wish was listed as a source material for the Nine Worlds Game Jam, I wasn’t sure what could top that in terms of artistic collaboration/cross-pollination – but Eithin is giving it a go! Jewellery based on my poem ‘Washed Up’ (yes, that’s another take on The Little Mermaid) will be available from the Eithin stall at the convention, 9am-5pm on Saturday, and costing £15 per piece. Seeing my poem cut up and turned into jewellery feels really interesting – I like the way that it focuses the attention on certain juxtapositions of words that perhaps are less obvious in the complete poem. I’m absolutely in love with the use of colour and texture (images of a type of seaweed mentioned in the poem), and frankly thrilled at the idea of people wearing something I’ve had a part in making.

'Washed Up' jewellery, available from Eithin at Nine Worlds. (Image from )

‘Washed Up’ jewellery, available from Eithin at Nine Worlds. (Image from )

#RefugePoetry 100-poem Challenge: on August 15th I’ll be joining poet Claire Trévien and a number of others for a day of high-intensity creativity, to raise money for domestic violence support service Refuge. The 15th is the day after I get back from Edinburgh, so I plan to spend the day in a  caffeine-fuelled haze of writing! Can I write 100 poems in one day? No idea, but it’ll be fun finding out! I’ll be taking inspiration from postcards, random word generators, and prompts from whoever wishes to give them – including YOU. If you’d like to make sure I write something for your prompt, you can sponsor me here – but you’re welcome to prompt without sponsoring, sponsor without prompting, or indeed do neither (though I’d love it if you did). Our team page is here; you can read more about how Refuge is under threat here. I’ll be posting the results online!

(A note about the fundraising: transphobia/transmisogyny is endemic in some women-only services, and is backed up by a loophole in the 2010 Equality Act that allows women’s crisis services to discriminate against trans women. To the best of my knowledge, Refuge does not exclude trans women from their services. I telephoned them on Monday and the person I spoke to said it was her understanding that trans women were welcome as staff and as service-users, and offered to check through their Equality & Diversity policy and confirm this. I have not heard back since; if it does transpire that Refuge operate a transmisogynist policy then I would welcome guidance from trans women on what to do next.)

That’s all for now – thank you for reading!

A statement pendant made from the first three lines of 'Washed Up'. I love this so much - hope it finds a good home at Nine Worlds! Image by Eithin.

A statement pendant made from the first three lines of ‘Washed Up’. I love this so much – hope it finds a good home at Nine Worlds! Image by Eithin.


Poetry, ponies, potpourri

Busy, busy, busy.

It’s coming up on a year since the knock to my health – the one that laid me out for a huge chunk of time, right into the early months of 2013. That’s a strange thought. I am very glad to be out of the woods, back on the horse, and all the other proverbial things. It’s hard not to feel like I’m still desperately playing catch-up. But even if that is what I’m doing, I think it’s gone pretty well so far. I’m living primarily in London again, which feels like a smart move – partway between Oxford and Brighton, my old home and my ‘adopted’ home, so I’m doing less of the suitcase-nomad thing.

Poster for 'Bifrost' - the Nine Worlds queer cabaret night!

Poster for ‘Bifrost’ – the Nine Worlds queer cabaret night!

I’m getting back onto the poetry performance circuit – a couple of open mic performances, some poems as part of Lashings sets, and (most excitingly) not only the fundraiser for Brighton’s first Trans Pride, but on the stage at Trans Pride itself. I’m heading up to the Edinburgh Fringe later this month, and I’m hoping to do some poetry sets as well as being in the Lashings show (follow it on @lashingsofgb and #FannyWhittington!). Oh, and then there’s the very exciting event depicted in the poster to the right – Bifröst! I’m super stoked to be performing at the cabaret night put on by the Queer Fandom track at Nine Worlds. And just look at that beautiful poster – all credit to Tori Truslow, track organiser.

Staying on the topic of Nine Worlds, I’ll be speaking at the convention proper as well as performing in the queer cabaret – I’m delivering a paper about Margaret Cavendish’s The Blazing World as part of the SF&F Academia track (Saturday, 10:00-10:30, Royal C&D), and participating in the ‘Better History = Better Fantasy: Writing Outside the Binary’ panel on the Queer Fandom track (Sunday, 10:00-11:15, Britannia).

I haven’t yet decided on all the panels and events I’ll be attending: it’s absolutely packed with amazing stuff, and I’m sure no matter what I choose I’ll be missing out on some brilliant discussions. The Nine Worlds programme pretty much defines ’embarrassment of riches’.

Queen Chrysalis - MLP villain and (IMO) goth style icon

Queen Chrysalis – MLP villain and (IMO) goth style icon

And after a little bit of worrying about whether I’ll still look like a Serious Academic or not, I’ve decided, to hell with it, I’m also going to cosplay. As a villain. From the My Little Pony reboot. Mostly because I love green-and-black outfits, and villainy – but also because damn it, artefacts of popular media and media aimed at children are interesting and just as worthy of critical engagement as more traditional/literary texts, and there’s nothing wrong with dressing up. (I’m taking inspiration from the brilliant Marta Wasik, who at Roles 2013 delivered her paper “Fairy-Tale Feminists? Interrogating the contemporary representation of girlhood though the figure of the Disney Princess” while wearing a glittery tiara.) So I’ll be spending Saturday looking like a humanoid approximation of this creature on the left. I need to get hold of some fangs.

What else has been going on? Well, speaking at the last Transpose (about two crypto-queer historical figures) went very well – in fact, it was on the strength of that talk that I was booked at Nine Worlds. I’m eagerly awaiting the next Transpose, where – if you’re very lucky – you may get to hear a new fairytale or two. The rest is pretty quotidian stuff – settling in to my new place, catching up with old friends, doing various things for my health, and so on. And as always there’s the thinking and writing – I’ve got quite a few half-written blog posts waiting to surface, and bits and pieces of poetry that are slowly taking shape. I’m looking forward to getting more things finished.

In the writ(h)ing tentacles of the Verse Kraken: fairytales, the Tempest, writing on skin

(Sorry for the title – I couldn’t resist…)

So, a lot has been going on for me lately, but in this blog I’m going to write about one exciting thing in particular – Verse Kraken.

Verse Kraken describes itself as a ‘journal of hybrid art’, and the first issue was launched on Thursday at an event in London. The editors, Tori Truslow and Claire Trévien also organised a three-day residential writing retreat, at which I had an absolutely amazing time (and wrote an incredible amount of fairytales).

So – first off – if you want to read the first issue of Verse Kraken, the online edition is here. Each issue collects responses to three ‘spurs’: in this instance, a silent film version of The Tempest, a short fairytale about a girl transformed into a fish, and a photograph of the heavily-tattooed Maud Wagner. Collaboration and hybrid forms are encouraged, and the use of spurs rather than a single theme allows a lot of variety (translation and adaptation are amazing things for creativity!) while also retaining some amount of cohesion. My own submission – a visual poem about how bodies and skin can be ‘read’ (and misread), inspired by the Wagner photograph – didn’t make the cut, but considering the high quality of the magazine, I don’t feel bad about that. (Although if anyone can think of another publication it might work for, please drop me a line!) At the launch, we also got to see the offline edition – rather than a traditional magazine format, it’s a little box of treasures, with text and image individually presented as tiny booklets and prints, and a CD with the audiovisual contributions. It’s a lovely way of organising the pieces – like the online hypertextual version, it allows the reader to browse without having a particular order dictated.

Dana Bubulj and me, with our ephemeral tattoos (and a rather nice shadow effect).

Dana Bubulj and me, with our ephemeral tattoos (and a rather nice shadow effect).

The launch event featured readings from the first issue, as well as some more interactive elements. James Webster offered temporary tattoos with kraken-themed fragments of poetry on them, which proved immensely popular by the end of the evening – see attached photo of me and Dana Bubulj showing off our newly-decorated skin! (I’m currently really interested in the poetics of skin, and writing-on-skin and art-on-skin as ways of changing how the body is read, so this was an unexpected treat for me! The temporary tattoo is still around, and last night at the FWSA Conference 2013 (where I was performing with Lashings) I had a few people wondering whether the words across my chest were ‘real’ or not! I’m sorry to have missed Claire O’Callaghan’s paper at the conference, as it sounded like it had interesting things to say about tattoos as ‘challenge’/ ‘provocation’ with regards to the male gaze… But anyway, I think a post about skin is something for another time!) The Verse Kraken launch also held an ‘ekphrastic poetry/art challenge’ with a physical copy of the first issue as a prize: audience members were invited to treat the readings as ‘spurs’ of their own, and spend the interval creating responses to them in a different form. I was very pleased to win this, with my response to James Webster and Dana Bubulj’s ‘Bound’ (a curse-poem about the imprisonment of Sycorax, based of course on the Tempest spur). For posterity, here’s the piece of five-minute flash-fiction that won me a box of kraken treasure:

My father said, “don’t go out at night. The wild woods on this isle would set you shrieking. The trees there whisper, tendril-torn, gnarled like ancient flesh. In one of them a witch sleeps.”

My father said, “the howling sobbing child you think you see is but a wraith. He is the substance of your bad dreams. But still, upon this isle, dreams may have teeth. Stay safe. Stay in the cave.”

My father said, “no need to touch the books. They are but dusty-dry sheafs of words that have nothing to tell you. Your grubby hands might stain them; and besides, they are not yours to read. I may show you some pictures if you are very good.”

My father said, “dear girl, if nothing else, you will be safe.”

All the words I knew were the ones he had stuffed into my mouth. But my dreams beyond language dragged me from my bed, our cave, the safe side of the isle. I awoke scrabbling at the roots of a crooked tree. My fingers ran with blood – nails torn, the bark bleeding too. In speech without words, the witch was calling me, and I would come.

I whispered to the knotted trunk, “I am here. Teach me.”

I didn’t give it a title at the time, but retroactively I think ‘Miranda’s Dream’ works as well as anything else. Like Webster, I’m very interested in the backstory of The Tempest – probably even more interested in it that the contents of the actual play! During my MA year I wrote a 15-minute script (in iambic pentameter!) which explored that backstory – it was going to be put on as part of the ‘Shakespearian Shorts’ show put on by the university drama society, but unfortunately cast illness prevented this from happening. The Tempest is definitely something I want to come back to, though – I think that looking at the interactions between Prospero/Miranda/Caliban/Ariel are really fruitful for thinking about the divide-and-conquer methods of kyriarchy. I’m very excited by Sophie Mayer and Jacqueline Wright’s film project, The Storm, which is coming out of their Verse Kraken piece ‘How To Curse’ – a lesbian Caliban! (Oh, and while we’re talking about female Calibans, here’s another recommendation: Kate Tempest, ‘What We Came After’. Kate Tempest is one of the first slam poets I ever saw, and I adore her work. This video is less loud and raw and ragged than her live performances – qualities which I absolutely love – but the poem remains incredible.)

So, now onto the other exciting Verse Kraken thing – the writer’s retreat. It was the first creative retreat I’d been on, and it was perfect. After a week containing my last days officially working on All About Trans, the debut performance of Fanny Whittington at the Oxford Fringe, speaking at ‘Being Ourselves’, and some high-intensity personal stuff – well, spending three days living in a quiet farmhouse with a small group of creative people was exactly what I needed. It was a perfect mixture of relaxing and hard-working: expressly having no job except from writing seems to be something that really works for me, so I’ll definitely be making an effort to set aside days/weekends again in future. The surroundings were utterly beautiful, the pool was surprisingly conducive to creativity (we all did a lot of thinking about mermaids…), and there was (in my opinion) exactly the right balance between structured workshop time and free time to relax or engage with our own projects. The workshops were very creative, encouraging us to engage with different senses, media, and sources – and there was also a weekend-long project that paired us randomly to work on collaborations. (I worked on a short and spooky screenplay with Jacqueline Wright, of the aforementioned lesbian Caliban project!) I’m unsure how much detail to go into about the workshops – I don’t want to spoil the surprise for anyone who might go on a future one! – but basically, it felt like the equivalent of a full MOT for my writing-brain, with its focus on unlocking as many different ways of being creative as possible.

I think the best thing that I’ve taken away from this retreat is the idea that I don’t need to just wait for inspiration to strike – it doesn’t need to be primarily bursts of late-night manic-creativity where I need to write this amazing idea down now now now – but rather, there’s a tonne of enjoyable ways of getting myself into the right mindset for writing other than those bolt-from-the-blue moments, and that inspiration can be taken from unlikely sources. Or perhaps, the best thing I’ve taken is the reminder that I can write passably good things very quickly – I hadn’t really written poetry or fiction on a tight time limit for years, and those moments of being put under time pressure in the workshops resulted in some things that I’m really quite proud of. (Had it not been for these workshops, I’m not sure how confident I would have been in my ability to write flash-fiction at the launch!)

While I don’t normally post my poetry online, I’m going to make an exception for this next one. In Claire’s workshop on form, we were asked to spend 10 minutes transposing a poem from one form to another. From the poems we were given, I chose Eaven Boland’s long free-verse poem ‘Amber’ – it’s a beautiful autumnal poem about mourning and loss, and it’s readable online at The Atlantic magazine – and adapted it into sonnet form.

This plastic gold which grieving trees once wept,

which I now hold, which in its heart is holding

the feathers, leaves, and seeds which have long slept:

is honeyed sunlight, slow-dripped and enfolding.

What reason knows: the dead have left the living.

Those who have passed shall not be seen again.

Clean gulps of air – the sky, bright and forgiving –

our meetings here have moved from ‘now’ to ‘then’.

Yet in the flawed translucence of the amber,

the ornament that you once passed to me –

the life that froze, the insects, vines that clamber –

all that which breathed and moved is there to see.

Though you are absent from this fine September,

I hold you as in amber, and remember.

Other fruit of the workshops included more poetry of various kinds, a map of my childhood imagination (that was a fun workshop!), some fragments of a short story, and the seed of an idea that became another mermaid-focused fairytale. Unlike ‘The Girl and the Mermaid’, this one – I’m calling it ‘The Mermaid’s Wish’ – is much more of a direct reply to (and deconstruction of) the famous Andersen tale, as well as being about embodiment and the often-coercive nature of gender roles. All of my free writing-time went on the fairytale collection – as well as ‘The Mermaid’s Wish’ I wrote two more stories (plus the collaboration with Jacqueline, which (given its subject) may well end up in the collection too). A bit of polishing after the retreat and I think they’re done – my fairytales project is growing, and I’m really excited about it.

So, basically – many thanks to Claire and Tori for their awesome work on Verse Kraken, which has been challenging and inspiring me (and many others) to new creative heights. Long may its inky tentacles continue to ensnare us. 😉

Gig: March 23rd, London, The Feminist Library

In brief: I shall be performing a poetry set at the Feminist Library’s spoken word night on Saturday 23rd, at the Library itself (very near Waterloo station)!

Unless you happened to be at the NUS Women’s Conference the other week, my last live poetry performance was October. Having at last (hopefully) recovered from the last vestiges of my frustratingly-lingering illness, I’m aiming to get back into the live poetry scene as much as I can. (And I’m very pleased that shortly after making this resolution, I was invited to perform at this night and  this Thursday’s “Human Writes!” slam in aid of English PEN – unfortunately I can’t make the latter because I’m conferencing in Oxford until the evening, but if you’re able to be in East London on Thursday then it promises to be an excellent night.)

I’m excited to be performing again. I’m bringing out the loud, angry, feminist stuff – so unless there’s a clamour for them, don’t expect any of the more meditative things, or the translations… “Gender Rubble” will almost certainly appear, as will the latest version of a never-before-performed poem about words and rebellion.

Oh – and if you’re in Oxford this Monday, I’m planning to be at Hear the Word. Undecided on whether I’ll perform or not, but I’m looking forward to it either way!

More detailed updates coming soon – a write-up of NUS Women’s Conference, and some thoughts about fairytales (both in general, and with regards to my own project).

P.S. Another amazing event to which I (very sadly) can’t make it is happening TOMORROW: exciting feminist performance event including Rebecca Morden of Scary Little Girls, whose work I have loved for something like 4 years now. Go, go, go – and then tell me about how it went!

Exciting news – the Rhysling Awards!

Yesterday afternoon I was told over Twitter by Rose Lemberg – editor of Stone Telling and Moment of Change – that my poem ‘Hair’, which was first published in Stone Telling‘s seventh issue, has been nominated for a Rhysling Award.

This was a lovely surprise, especially on a day where I was feeling rather low. I am now positively gleeful.

According the site, the Rhysling Awards have been running since 1978. All nominated poems are reprinted in an anthology – so I expect I’ll be contacted about this at some point – which showcases all the poems before the final vote. The winning poems are then reprinted in The Nebula Awards Anthology for that year. The list of nominees is here, and it looks like nominations are still open, so I’m excited to see who else gets nominated – there are already quite a few names I recognise on there!

This has definitely strengthened my resolution to submit more of my poetry for publication this year: just a few days ago I was making a note of upcoming deadlines, and this exciting recognition of one of my few published works has reminded me how amazing it feels to know that something I’ve written is making a connection with strangers across the world. I’ll be spending this evening looking up more magazines and anthologies, then…