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 ūüôā

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 Caf√© 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 Caf√©, 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 Caf√© has a lift down to the basement, and a disabled toilet. If there’s any other access information you need, please let us know!


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 Tr√©vien 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.


Upcoming events! Poetry at Somerset House, stories at Quiltbag Cabaret

Hello readers!

If you’re wondering where I’ve been – things have been a bit intense lately,¬†and other writing took priority over blogging. I’ll be back soon.¬†In the meantime, here are two events where you can find my work!

Tomorrow, at Somerset House, my poetry will be part of an installation at the Museum of Water’s Midsummer Water Day event. The installation is called the Old Water Hoard, and consists of¬†recordings of Old English poetry, texts, and isolated words and phrases on the theme of water and weather. I was invited¬†to contribute to the Old Water Hoard¬†after impressing an organiser with my¬†Old English and modern English audio piece,¬†The Book Remembers, at the Verse Kraken #2 launch a while ago.¬†I rose to the challenge and put together a new piece called Water Became Bone – a meditation on language, culture and self, layering Anglo-Saxon poetry¬†with modern English translations,¬†original poetry, and an extract from a paper. The Old Water Hoard will be¬†at various “listening stations” throughout the Museum – a sort of literary treasure hunt.¬†

In the further off future, I’ll be headlining the next Quiltbag Cabaret in Oxford on Friday 11th July. This time, rather than poetry, I’ll be¬†storytelling – so if you’re a fan of feminist fairytales, socialist parables, or you just really like mermaids and monsters, this might be for you.

That’s all for now – but stay tuned for more blogging again soon…

Verse Kraken – issue #2 launch, 3rd April!

I’m very excited to announce that my piece “The Book Remembers” is being published in the second issue of Verse Kraken, the self-described “journal of hybrid art”. “The Book Remembers” was written in response to the prompt “palimpsest” – it’s drawn from the translation work I’ve done on the Exeter Book, one of the few surviving compendia of Anglo-Saxon verse, and is an exploration not only of what a palimpsest might sound like, but of the different sorts of memories it holds. The full table of contents from Issue 2 has been announced here – I’m really looking forward to reading/viewing/watching/hearing the rest of the pieces!

The launch party is on April 3rd at the Dogstar, where I and other contributors will be presenting our work. The launch party for the first issue was excellent fun – as well as readings there were ample opportunities for attendees to contribute creatively, and it had a very friendly atmosphere. I’ve written about it here. The launch event may be your only chance to pick up the physical edition of the magazine, which – as before – will be a limited run of beautifully-made hard copies. Can’t make it? Fear not – the online edition is free!


Upcoming things!

The longer I leave off writing a blog entry, the more convinced I come that I need to re-enter the arena of online writing with something stunning, long, detailed, or all three – and so the longer I put it off. This is probably something that gets in the way of the main purpose of this blog – to tell people about things! So, dear reader, here is a short and sweet blog post about some things which are happening soon (and to which you should come, if you would like to and have the means to).

Wednesday 26th February, Brighton – the multivocal collage of thoughts, words, pictures, and experiences that is the Queer In Brighton anthology is coming out! (Pun unintended, but oh well.) I have a short piece published in this, about the first time I went to Brighton as a baby queer, and the year-or-so I spent living there while doing my MA. You can read it by clicking here. The anthology will be available to buy for ¬£12.99, and I am very excited to attend the launch and get my contributer’s copy!

Sunday 9th March, London – I’ll be reprising my workshop on queer/feminist fairytales at Wowzers, a community-led feminist arts and music festival. This workshop was very popular at LaDIYfest Sheffield – you can read my write-up of it by clicking here. It was excellent fun to run, and I can’t wait to see where the participants take it this time round.

Saturday 15th March, Oxford – I’m sharing some of my poetry at the next installment of glorious queer-feminist performance night and punky crafting circle, Quiltbag Cabaret. I’m really looking forward to it – and I’ll be performing some of my newer and/or lesser-heard poetry, rather than my usual trademark pieces like ‘Hair’.

And with that, I shall leave you with a thought that I tweeted earlier: the other day, when confirming that my name is indeed Hel, I added: “with one L, like the terrifying chthonic Norse deity”. ¬†I think I might just start introducing myself with that addendum from now on!

Three resolutions for 2014

Well – it’s 2014, and so I’m going to post my resolutions for the year.

I do have mixed feelings about the institution of New Year’s Resolutions – I feel like they’re often adopted with a sense of explicit ‘permission’ to have failed by February, because hey, nobody ever really sticks to new year’s resolutions, right? At least in my experience, there’s a pervading view of the new year’s resolution as being meant in the same spirit as someone with a hangover saying “I’ll never drink again – I mean it this time!” – an sort of expression of “wow, I sure did indulge over Christmas / drop the ball on my plans for last year / waste a lot of time playing Minesweeper – better sort myself out!” with the understanding that things will drift back towards the status quo eventually. But on the other hand, my 2013 ended on quite a low note, with grief and illness knocking the wind out of my sails, so even the illusion of a fresh start as dictated by numbers on a calendar feels like a good thing. I also think there is a certain symbolic value in taking stock and making plans at the time of year when the days around me begin to lengthen once more and I emerge from a form of hibernation. There is a lot that I would like to do and learn and make, and I want to make 2014 a year in which these things happen. So I’ve actually been thinking about resolutions since the beginning of December, and trying to work on the foundations for the year ahead as much as I’m able to.

Anyway. I have resolved that I will:

1. De-centre whiteness in the media that I consume.
Read more books by people of colour; watch more films/television shows by and starring people of colour; actively seek out artists of colour who are currently performing in the spoken word and live music scenes. If I get The Cutlery Drawer up and running again, make sure that people of colour are represented in the lineups. I reached the conclusion that this was an important thing for me to do some while ago, and I would like to be held accountable in this regard, which is why I’m making this resolution publicly. In the light of the shocking racism that’s already being enacted by white feminists this year (seriously! It’s been two days!) this feels even more crucial: I need to address my white privilege. And that doesn’t mean reading about the existence of structural racism, shaking my head with disapproval at the injustice, and then saying “okay, all done here!” It doesn’t even just mean calling out racism in fellow white people when I see it. It means recognising that I am entrenched in a white-supremacist society which systematically devalues the creative and intellectual work of people of colour, relegating this work to a ‘specialist’ interest.* It means accepting the fact that by consuming media and creative work without addressing the white-supremacist nature of the creative industries, I am tacitly supporting racism. It means making the effort to actually hear the voices of people of colour – political voices, artistic voices, voices that speak from and to a vastness of experiences which my white privilege means I can ignore. It’s not enough to follow blogs and tweets by people of colour, when of the 22 books (poetry, fiction, and academia) I finished reading this year, only two were written by authors of colour. (I haven’t been tracking my film/TV/music consumption in the same way, so I don’t have numbers, but: those are also for the most part pretty damn white.) So, in 2014: engage, engage, engage with the creative and intellectual work of people of colour, and de-centre the whiteness which currently dominates my media landscape.

*Which, y’know, sounds rather like the grossly racist and classist claim that the word “intersectionality” (coined by a woman of colour to articulate her experience of oppression!) is too ‘academic’ and ‘specialist’ for working-class white women to understand… oh but wait, it’s alright, because those claims are now being swept under the rug as part of the vile meme about ‘reclaiming’ intersectionality (from women of colour who are being framed as ‘abusers’!). Urgh.

2. Focus on my writing, and getting it out there.
Draw up a plan for the year ‚Äď make sure I‚Äôm writing, recording, researching, performing, and submitting work to magazines/anthologies. Go back to having a calendar of poetry/fiction submission deadlines, and send out work regularly. A couple of specific ambitions: headline a poetry night; get at least three things published (including at least one piece of fiction); have the fairytales collection approaching completion (or at least, comprising over 10 finished and fully edited short stories); be somehow involved in next year‚Äôs Crick Crack fairytale show. In line with resolution number 1, engage with criticisms of white authors/authorship, and with ways to keep my work from being white-dominated/white-centric (e.g. Lena Dunham’s Girls – Racialicious is currently down but that post is still readable on the Wayback Machine) while also not crossing into cultural appropriation or exotification (e.g. Paolo Bacigalupi‚Äôs The Windup Girl).

3. Take care of myself.
I went into more detail with this one on Facebook – but essentially, recognising that I have limited time, energy, and emotional resources, and allocating these to the things that matter most to me. This includes getting back into a good self-care routine (which I rather lost in November, due to a friend’s death and getting various kinds of ill again) which in turn includes allowing myself to relax and have ‘off’ days; maintaining physiotherapy and enjoyable forms of exercise (swimming, dance, and hiking – but only when I can do these things); regularly planning and cooking meals which are nutritious, and tasty; doing a sufficient amount of work in my day job; doing creative things which aren’t tied to ideas about ‘success’ or my future as a writer/performer (e.g. getting back into handcrafting things, which I’ve been doing a bit of over the holidays and really enjoying).

So, that’s my 2014. How about yours?

Autumn to winter

It’s been a while since I updated with what’s going on in my life, so – for anyone who might have been wondering – here comes an abridged account of the past few months. (I’d like to talk in more detail about many of the things below, but perfectionism means that I’ve been putting off posting anything until it’s just right, which means this blog has carried on being empty! So for the meantime, a whistle-stop tour of what’s been happening since August.)

Nine Worlds was an absolute blast – I was shattered by the end of it, but I had an amazing time. I spent most of my time in the Queer Fandom track, with forays into various others, and loved performing at the Bifr√∂st cabaret. The “Better History = Better Fantasy: Writing Outside the Binary”¬† panel that I spoke in was an incredible experience: the audience, the chair (Alex Dally MacFarlane), and the other panellists (Koel Mukherjee and Rochita Loenen-Ruiz) were all bursting with information and enthusiasm, and the discussions sparked were so valuable. I took a lot of notes and really should write about this properly at some point, but, yeah, it was such an awesome space – and I was really pleased that even though this wasn’t a panel “about” race, the other two panellists were women of colour (because structural racism/sexism still exists in queer spaces, and definitely exists in SFF, and can only be addressed by empowering marginalised voices). I enjoyed every session I attended, was wowed by the beautiful things for sale in the vendors section, and briefly cosplayed as Queen Chrysalis. And the geeky disco was great. (Absurdly, I think a favourite moment was when I realised that every time I was a speaker (and one time I wasn’t), I had managed to get the room briefly and intensely angry about all the inherent misogyny in Steven Moffat’s oeuvre. Seriously, he’s all over British television right now, and there’s insidious sexism oozing out of everything he creates.)

If you’d like to read more about Nine Worlds right this minute (as opposed to waiting for me to write more, if I ever get round to it) there are some lovely reviews up on blogs Serenity Womble¬† and Ferretbrain – I’m linking to those because even though I didn’t go to all the same sessions as those bloggers did, their experiences and perspectives (as feminist and/or queer people who felt welcomed) are pretty close to mine. Oh, and following my talk in the Academia track about Margaret Cavendish as an early writer of (or precursor to) SFF, I was invited to contribute an article on this topic to the first issue of Holdfast Magazine: it’s available to read online here.

If Nine Worlds was intense, the Edinburgh Fringe was… well, perhaps a new word needs to be invented to describe how intense it was. I’d been in Lashings show-runs before (Oxford Fringe 2012 and 2013), so I’m used to them as distinct from our more variety-show style gigs; I’d stayed in the Edinburgh Lash-flat before (as a guest) so was prepared for the delightful ‘queer feminist vegetarian commune’ vibe of life there; however, combining the two for a week of performances was new and challenging, particularly as someone with unreliable health (I was unwell for quite a bit of my time there). The packed auditorium of radical queers on the last night was the perfect reward. As well as performing in the Lashings queer panto Fanny Whittington, I managed to do some poetry at Flea Circus‘s 3-day slam and Other Voices’s alternative spoken word cabaret, and saw some great shows (highlights included Sophia Walker’s poetry, Rachel Parris’ musical comedy, and Lisa Skye’s highly individual one-woman show Ladyboner).

My costume for Transpose as The Queer Agenda - a hand-lettered t-shirt (reading "To Do: - Feed cat - Buy soy milk - Smash heteropatriarchy and cissexism") and a rainbow bustle. I wore this with rainbow galaxy leggings!

My costume for Transpose as The Queer Agenda – a hand-lettered t-shirt and a rainbow bustle. I wore this with rainbow galaxy leggings!

Staying with the topic of performances, my absolute favourite thing the past few months was the Hallowe’en edition of Transpose. There were readings from Kat Gupta, Jacq Applebee, Sandra Alland and myself; films by and about trans disabled people (introduced by Sandra Alland, who was given funding to mentor them in making these films); and music from Squid and the Krakens (moonlighting as They Came From The Sea) and of course CN Lester. Everyone was, pardon the expletive, fucking brilliant – and ‚ā¨385 was raised for Transgender Equality Network Ireland. I also loved how creative the costumes were – CN came as the Gender Binary, which led to a number of similarly conceptual costumes such as the Lavender Menace (a superhero/ine in delicate shades of purple) and Fifty Shades of Grey (an all-grey outfit strung with housepaint colour sample sheets) . My costume was the Queer Agenda (see picture!) and there was also a contingent of Lashings villains: Dick and Osbourne from Fanny Whittington; and from Cinderella, the eeeeevil Baroness Scratcher and her son Boris (who, along with Dave, comprised the Snotty Stepbrothers). The auction was full of highly tempting items, including a year’s supply of CN’s baking (!!!) and a cross-stitched “Don’t be a dick” sign. Again, I really want to write more about everything, but for now – there’s an review of Transpose (written on Facebook by a long-time fan of the events) reproduced in CN’s link above: there’s also a review (with pictures!) on Jacq’s tumblr, and another review here.

At Transpose I read one of my fairytales, “The Mermaid’s Wish” – a response to the Andersen story, rather than a retitling of my other mermaid-related fairytale – and, honestly, I’m really proud of how it went. As I said in my post about Verse Kraken, I find it interesting that I’m moving away from my initial model of expressly not-doing responses/retellings to specific stories, in which I was more about making use of prevalent tropes/themes/motifs as “ingredients” for new stories. I think it’s partly because the more research I’m doing, the more I want to engage actively with specific source texts as well as the genre as a whole. (I also keep meaning to blog about what I’m researching¬† – maybe soon…)

Related to this, I’m doing a workshop on fairytales at the upcoming LaDIYfest Sheffield this Saturday. It’s an all-ages workshop (by request of the organisers), and will hopefully get people thinking about gender and sexuality in fairytales and even inspire them to get writing their own. I’m very excited to have been invited to do this, and am really looking forward to it. The whole event looks like it will be fantastic – check out the full workshop timetable here. (If I feel up to it before LaDIYfest, I’ll write a longer post about fairytales – and I’ll definitely try to write something on here summing up the workshop, as I imagine it will be really productive and interesting.)

And on the topic of workshops, I also facilitated a workshop about transgender representation in student media at the recent ULU Autumn Liberation conference, using as case studies pieces published in student media in the past few years. Unfortunately it was the day after I received news of a good friend’s death, so I didn’t manage to cover everything I’d hoped to do. The group were forgiving, though, and I hope it was still more valuable than if I’d simply dropped out.

I’m currently unwell again – apparently grief lowers your immune system – and so have been spending a lot of this month indoors¬† and at something of a low ebb. I’ll admit I’m scared that this could be a health relapse, even though I know it probably isn’t. Most of this post was drafted a few days ago – before I went to the third in the Trans Seminars series at the University of Warwick, and in further advance of LaDIYfest, which is now tomorrow! So, I’ll leave discussion of the seminar for another time, and finally post this entry. ūüėČ I hope you’re all well, friends and readers, and I’ll try to get into the swing of updating more regularly!