Vane Women: The Writers

Lindsay Balderson  |   Diane Cockburn  |   Julie Hogg  |   S.J. Litherland  |   Dorothy Long  |   Marilyn Longstaff  |   Felicity Manning  |   Pat Maycroft  |   Chris Powell  |   Annie Wright

Joanna Boulter was a founder member of Vane Women who passed away on September 13, 2019. When ill-health meant that she could no longer take an active role, Joanna was made a lifetime honorary member. This page has a tribute by Annie Wright.

Lindsay Balderson

Lindsay Balderson

loves words and the intimate relationships they form with one another. Being a typical Piscean, she has a deep interest in the mystical and magical and these often weave spells in her writing. Born in Darlington, Lindsay lives there still. In 2005, she completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle.

Her work has been published in various anthologies; Northern Grit, Rewriting The Map, Collecting Stones, Love in Vane (Vane Women Press), Newcastle Masters (Newcastle University), A Sudden Clatter of Voices (Ottakars), Hill and Sky (The Lit Room Press), Land of Three Rivers - the poetry of North East England (Bloodaxe Books). Her first collection Stripping the Blackthorn was published by Vane Women Press in October 2008. A concoction of love, torture and reflection.

Stripping the Blackthorn

In October, take your man, making sure he's tall,
and lead him up some winding country path,
which you've sworn by oath never to reveal,
though you will when the need arises.

Here, find the fruit left by previous pickers
high on the blackthorn, just out of reach,
or on the wrong side, away from the track
where others have not dared venture.

With his long arms, have him pull down
branches and hold them while you take the berries,
plump, bitter, with a cloudy bloom, belying
their depth, their sweet purple-blue richness.

Scale a dry-stone wall together,
entangling yourselves in the barbed-wire fence
meant to keep the best inaccessible,
but embrace the danger, relish the risk.

Throw scorn on the thorn, welcome the scratch,
be not deterred by surface snagging,
nor troubled by bruised shins and knees,
your sloe harvest is well worth the wait.


Film Poem: Broken

Diane Cockburn

Diane Cockburn’s

work is dark, witty and wicked. She is published in a variety of anthologies, in verse and prose. Her first pamphlet collection, Under Surveillance, was published by Vane Women Press in 1999 and she completed her MA in creative writing from Northumbria University in 2002. Her first full collection, Electric Mermaid, was published by Arrowhead Press in 2011 and the title poem was highly commended in the Forward Prize.

Originally from Belfast, she has lived in Durham since 1988, where she writes and teaches. She is currently working on her next poetry collection and first novel.

Electric Mermaid in Bell's Fish and Chip Shop

She's glowing puffed up neon in the batter tank,
crackling angry,
frying light bulbs,
fusing fluorescent tubes
and screwing eyes round in sockets,
giving customers electric shocks.

Flicking her tail in and out of batter,
she hot hisses
into the vat of mushy peas,
her hair a scurrying mane
of current blips.
She's flirting with fresh haddock,
experimenting with crispy breadcrumbs.
Regulars settle for chips.

Owner, closing early,
shifts his cod pieces and twitches the rubber apron
to protect his assets.
Down on the docks men snigger,
well shot of her, mending
their scorched nets, nursing
fourth degree burns.

At midnight she breaks free in a shower of sparks.
Electrocutes a Tesco trolley and is away down Silver Street.
No one stops her, as she plugs into the River Wear.

Touch me baby. Touch me baby blue eyes shrivelled burnt eyes if you dare!

Turning water into fire,
she will make contact with submarines,
using radar love and no earth.
Her electric tattoos sparkle messages to divers.

Pretty sailors...

Mamma Angelina

Film Poem: Mamma Angelina

Julie Hogg

Julie Hogg’s

debut pamphlet, Majuba Road, was published by Vane Women Press in 2016. Following an MA in Creative Writing at Teesside University, she has written extensively and has work published in many literary magazines and anthologies, been commissioned by the BBC to write for Teesside for National Poetry Day and is featured in a chapbook, Dark Matter 2, Black Light Engine Room Press. Julie’s poetry often escapes into flights of fancy, however never fails to come back home to her roots, the North East coastline she inhabits and loves.

Majuba Road

I’d reached my destination,
so I continued just a little
bit further, while the sea slid
back and forth and a stationary
black bird of paradise watched
me pass along this hairline
fracture between lonely and
alone, as if the mass of a single
woman was never enough in a
utopia lacking muliebrity, I
trespassed, like a truant who
knew that life was long and
studied afternoon bronzed sky,
surreal thick and thin reeds of
steel, incognito ghosts in the
dunes, understated ochre sand
and soot all drenched in solid
golden modesty through an
apocalyptic internal monologue
of lost horizons into another era
and a cadencing feminine ending.

Vettriano Life

Film Poem: Vettriano Life

S.J. Litherland

S.J. Litherland’s

seventh collection Composition in White was published by Smokestack Books in 2017. A state-of-nation archive of a lifelong socialist. A secret book of England, cricket and Morris dancing, Brummie aunts and Bohemian artists and the long war shadow. Recent books include The Absolute Bonus of Rain (Flambard Press 2010), The Homage (Iron Press 2006) a cricket saga about former England captain Nasser Hussain and The Work of the Wind (Flambard Press 2006) about her turbulent years with fellow poet Barry MacSweeney. Other poetry collections: The Apple Exchange (Flambard Press 1999), Flowers of Fever (Iron Press 1992) and The Long Interval (Bloodaxe Books 1986).

Born in Warwickshire, she has lived in Durham City since 1965 and has a daughter and a son and four grandsons.

Anthologies include New Women Poets (Bloodaxe) and the Forward Book of Poetry 2001. She has received two Northern Writers' Awards and twice won Commendations in the National Poetry Competition, 2003, 2012.

The Homage was nominated for Cricket Book of the Year 2006. The poem 'Bad Light' from The Homage was selected for Radio 3 Words and Music.


for Derek Walcott and Ian Bell

Sea manes toss in sympathy with his decadence
in old age, but his lack of prudence and his infatuations
comb the beaches for a clean page to write his guilt. The sea
will wash it every day. I applaud his groans and his romantic

fires ever seeking a new muse and half wishing like Yeats
to be redeemed from the last desires. He pursues, or not,
the young and lissom and hides his lust in despair, while I
greet the start of the season and watch young men play

cricket standing like narcissi in the grass/ without regret
I love beauty from a distance, at the boundary edge.
And today my muse marries his bride, his bat put aside
that delivers an electric shock, brilliant and precise,

scorning the need to run, his wrists twist in rhythm
to hold the flourish. The pleasure in his graceful pas
de deux
at the crease, for he is wed to cricket and
dances at his own wedding. Today he takes another bride.

My sea is calm and untropical. I salute the great master
whose egrets arrive like fresh hopes, and still arrive,
his heart still an apprentice and innocent. I am wise.
I have written in the sand my signed resignation.


Film Poem: Plain

Dorothy Long

Dorothy Long:

I have been writing for about twenty years, mostly poetry with occasional forays into short stories and memoir. A tangible result has been my pamphlet No Random Loving published in 2013 by Vane Women Press.

My work is usually reflection on relationships, exercises in memory, and occasional attempts at polemic. Having gained confidence through this first publication, I am now encouraged to develop my writing, particularly in exploring varying styles and form. When less distracted from my work as a local councillor - next year - there will be head space and I hope time, in every sense, as I approach my seventieth birthday, to write poetry I am proud of.

Cigarette case

I knew where I’d left it
the cigarette case,
sharkskin, shagreen,
Eau de Nil, acid cool,
Art Deco green.
I knew where I’d left it.
Did I say it was green?
Jealousy green, bitter green
green as my chagrin.
I knew where I’d left it
and him,
and there was no request
to send it on,
no words, just an escape
on a summer morning.
When I remember, I think I may find it
Among some bric a brac
At an antique fair or boot sale.
It was my mother’s after all.

Unknown Woman

Film Poem: Unknown Woman

Marilyn Longstaff

Marilyn Longstaff

is an accomplished poet. In 2003 she received a New Writing North Promise Award, and in 2005 completed her MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University. She is published in a range of magazines, in anthologies, and on the Web. Her first pamphlet, Puritan Games, was published by Vane Women Press in 2001. Her full collection, Sitting Among the Hoppers was published by Arrowhead Press in 2004. Marilyn’s second full collection Raiment, poems based on the theme of how we clothe our physical and spiritual selves, was published by Smokestack Books in 2011 and was selected by New Writing North's Read Regional in 2012 as one of the featured books. Her latest full collection, Articles of War, was also published by Smokestack Books, in 2017. Her pamphlet The Museum of Spare Parts was published by mudfog press in June 2018.


After reading Philip Larkin's 'Water'

However angled light may be,
no glass of water would suffice
to capture faith for me;

perhaps for those brought up
in English Anglican ways,
of calm reflection and the nuances

that tolerate so many points of view.
Even the thought of sousing
in a furious devout drench requires

passivity, the notion of a shepherd god,
cleansing his flock with disinfectant
in a springtime rite.

The Yorkshire beck outside my window
captures more, running down steps
of unforgiving limestone bedrock.

On quiet days,
its dissembling trickle whispers past,
suggesting possibilities of safe crossing.

But overnight,
the gale-blown, fell-side rains
blast down this narrow gorge

and the stream rises, gushes,
roars. They knew,
those non-conformist refugees,

who hid out in these upland fells,
that their jealous God
would thunder down the valleys,

crushing, flooding
everything in his wake.


Film Poem: Marilyn

Felicity Manning

Felicity Manning:

born in North London and brought up in its suburbs. Rejecting the metropolis she studied dairying at agricultural college, worked for the Milk Marketing Board and moved to Swaledale.

Between children and work as an accountant’s farm secretary she wrote poems and articles for the Dalesman magazine and wrote-produced a community play in 1987. Her forays into community writing appear in Shared Writing: Renga Days published by Morning Star.

Long Held Notes – poems of Swaledale was published by Mudfog in 2011. One of its poems was selected for a Michael Brough commission for piano, clarinet and voice and premiered at The Swaledale Festival with a second performance in Notting Hill.

Spending more time in Brittany since retirement her second book Skeins - a bilingual collection - was published in France by Editions Vagamundo in 2016.


August heat shimmers above golden maize,
fattening bullocks seek shade under the elm,
tails switching in desultory half circles.

Inside, memories are dismantled, only days
to disencumber the years, to lighten a life.
To relinquish with pain gives its own relief.

Loden-skinned walnuts will drop to the grass,
unpicked apples and plums held in suspension.
Blanched petals of wisteria fall as burnt snow.

Boxes of geraniums remain on the granite cills,
old lace curtains to defy an interior void.
The house looks unchanged and untouched.

Deadline reached, it is time for departure,
traces of blood fleck the wayward terrace vine.
Not saying goodbye, walking away.

Crab Apple Jelly

Film Poem: Crab Apple Jelly

Pat Maycroft

Pat Maycroft

is a visual artist who writes about the history of place, the events of daily life, of death, and of the after life.

In 1998 she gained a first class Hons Degree in photography and has since recorded some of the Nation's listed buildings for a website created by English Heritage. This work and the discovery of ancient parish boundary stones inspired Pat to write some of her best poems. A major selection of her photography and her poems appear in Northern Grit published in 2002. In 2016, Pat provided all the photographs for Vane Women’s 25th anniversary anthology, NORTHbound. Both books are published by Vane Women Press.

More recently, Pat has turned her hand to making film-poems.

Saying Goodbye to Marjory

(In memory of my Mum, Marjory Ayres)

Through the window the
daffodils have long gone
and bluebells are thrusting their
way to bloom again

a blackbird rests at the tumbling water,
a feature in the garden where three
buckets spill from one to another

feathers flutter in a frenzy
he stands still and
then is gone.

Carers pop in to say "Goodbye"
kissing Marjory gently, one after another.

I settle to sleep as best I can
on a recliner, fit for the purpose.

In the driving seat 1930s

Film Poem: In the driving seat 1930s

Chris Powell

Chris Powell

lives in Weardale, so she has to do a fair bit of travelling. On her journeys she composes fragments of deathless prose in her head, and then forgets most of them.

A number of the stories she has managed to recall have been published in various magazines and anthologies and broadcast on Radio 4 in the afternoon reading slot. Her first collection of short stories Burning the Blue Winged Boys was published by Vane Women Press in 2005.

Chris joined Vane Women in 2006.

Diagonal Flight (story extract)

Win inspects her meagre wardrobe, selects black cotton trousers and the red silk jacket with gold frogging. A layer of buttery fat coats her hips after years on a western diet, but her arms still slip easily into the sleeves of the silk jacket, so all is not lost. She runs a comb through her ridiculous spiky hair, eases her feet into a pair of black slippers and bows to herself in the long mirror on the landing. Today, she is Chan Jing Wei: Chinese grandmother.

She finds a note from the daughter-in-law on the kitchen table. Win, charity bag in hall - please leave by front door when you go out. Debx. Win is her adopted name, Nana Win, for the sake of the grandchildren. She makes tea in her special blue and white china beaker, carefully replaces the lid and carries it into the front room.

This time in the morning, when she has the house to herself, is her Tai Chi Chuan time. Not so much a spiritual discipline now, but the exercise keeps her joints pliable and her back strong. She must complete a set routine before she will permit herself a sip of tea. She positions herself a few steps back from the bay window, centres her weight over her feet, breathes down to the tan tien, fixes her gaze to the roof of the house opposite. Diagonal flying: keep the weight on your left leg, turn the hips. A pair of jackdaws sidestep coquettishly along the ridge. The rain doesn't deter them. Each new year, find a mate, build a nest, rear your young and teach them to fly.

She walks like a model

Film Poem: She walks like a model

Annie Wright

Annie Wright’s

pamphlet collection Including Sex was published by The Bay Press in 1995. Her first full collection Redemption Songs was published by Arrowhead Press in 2003.

Annie’s work has also been published in anthologies, including Short and Sweet (Penguin Books), Northern Grit, Rewriting The Map, Collecting Stones, Love in Vane and NORTHbound (Vane Women Press), North by North-East (IRON Press) and Ink on Paper (Mudfog Press and mima).

Dangerous Pursuit of Yellow, her second full collection was published by Smokestack Books in February 2019.

Annie now lives in SW Scotland where she runs The Lit Room Press and leads poetry workshops.

After consuming three hundred lychees

Su Dongpo is ready to compose a poem.
He unrolls paper across the floor,

takes up brush, ink, inkstone - the four
precious things - lifts brushfuls of water

onto stone. He grinds the ink stick in smooth
circles into the water. A black hole swirls

and thickens. Su Dongpo thinks of the moon,
of biting into the milky cheeks of concubines

and his long dead wife steps into the room.
The ink releases its particular fragrance -

autumn smoke from pine wood mingling
with soot, feathered from funnels

of lamps, deer horn boiled to rancid glue
overlaid with musk and crushed jade.

The moon has not yet risen. Shavings
of lychee shells, stippled pink, gleam

by hearthlight, littering the floor. Ebony beans
reflect the night. Su Dongpo's wrist flows

wanting to let a poem bubble out from a hole
in the clouds, cascade down the mountain

but the worthy subjects have left. His gut
is seized with dragons of fire in combat.

Almighty rumble. Ignoring the cloud head brush,
he chooses the axe-head for cutting strokes

swings the brush and chops. Characters tumble
and stack up into A Lament for Lychees.

Eliza Chauncey, Dane End

Film Poem: Eliza Chauncey, Dane End

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