Looking for Persephone in Hartlepool

You’ve heard this one, right? Once upon a time, there was a goddess called Demeter. Her power ripened corn, and brought the fruit to sweetness. But when her only daughter was abducted and taken to Hades, she went mad with grief. She wandered the world, searching for Persephone, and the world descended into perpetual winter.

Poets write based on Greek myths a lot. I have a poem in Under The Radar magazine issue 23 based on the Demeter/Persephone myth, and I thought I’d tell you how I came to write it – by doing to myself just what I did with Rose Condo in my last blog.

On a bitterly cold day in January 2015, I created a ‘Demeter body’. I asked myself –

DP1What if she wandered all the way to 2019?

What if she searched as far as Hartlepool?

What would she look like?

How would she move?

I imagined a muttering, distraught homeless woman, ingrained with grime, constantly scanning the gutter-edges of towns for a trace of her daughter, neck hunched forward, arms compulsively reaching out, quivering with painful hope at every child.

I got into character and went on a very long walk through the frozen streets. “Listen with your feet, the shadows are all ice”


I hunched myself, crunched my neck, and limped through some of the most neglected parts of Hartlepool Headland, down the walkway where “the old coal rail / is tarmacked and sequinned with broken fifths of scotch” and into town.

I walked through housing estates I’d never visited before. “Black dog on Vincent Street, slaver on its jowls”

I was astonished by the screams coming from playtime at the local schools. “Rosy little children / breathing out steam like rotting compost”


I even pushed through a damaged fence to search in the scrub near the railway, because by then the body was telling me that Demeter absolutely needed to check everywhere. Every dirty corner where the lost and trashed accumulate.

I lived, trusted and followed Demeter’s body for about four hours. When I came home, I was aching and exhausted, but I had a poem that seemed to have discovered a new voice.


The photographs featured here are composite images created from shots I took on my phone during my walk. They are my attempt to find a visual equivalent for the emotional atmosphere of the poem.

Live Theatre residency for Demeter In Winter – day 3

IMG_0021Whoosh! That went by quickly!

So today I read back the whole thing so far to Gez Casey from Live, who was kindly giving me the benefit of his considerable dramaturgical experience, and Matt Cummins, who directed my first show. And then they told me what they thought. Terrifying. The upshot is, it’s worth me continuing with it, and I have a set of very interesting questions to attempt answering when I’m in residence at ARC next month.

Matt thought you might be interested to know what I did each day, so if you have a nerdy kind of desire to neb about in my ‘process’, here’s what my To Do lists looked like…




Day One, 10am – 5pm

  1. Set up different writing zones/locations around the room for different scenes/characters I want to explore
  2. Physical and vocal warm-up
  3. 30 minutes solo improv exercises – I used these ones – filming them
  4. Do I know my characters and their back stories? Talk about it to camera
  5. Free write Marian and Vic, their stories, bodies, and attitudes to rape – on large paper at the “M’ and ‘V’ writing zones
  6. Free write monologue each for M and V, in notebook
  7. Read monologues out loud to camera
  8. Film myself doing V monologue on-page, but moving, finding her body
  9. Film myself improvising V monologue off-page
  10. Type up dialogue I had written on the train up from Hartlepool
  11. Walk around the room, stopping and free writing on large paper at several different writing zones, for different scenes
  12. Create a series of scene cards using old Rolodex lined cards
  13. Upload video and write blog

Day Two, 10am – 4pm

  1. Physical and vocal warm-ups
  2. 30 minutes solo improv exercises
  3. Read whole script out loud to camera
  4. Type up yesterday’s improvised Vic monologue by watching the video back
  5. Transfer large paper free-write notes to notebook, continue to expand on them in a loose way
  6. Look into open source field recordings of birdsong
  7. Annotate scene cards with sound effects needed
  8. Research peonies for a poem in Marian’s voice, do some writing towards it
  9. Write blog

Day Three, 10am – 3pm

  1. Physical and vocal warm-ups
  2. 30 minutes solo improv exercises
  3. Re-read script
  4. Annotate scene cards with research needed
  5. Lay out scene cards in the right order, identify gaps
  6. Type up new dialogue created from V and M monologues
  7. Tweaking and formatting script
  8. Read-back and take notes
  9. Write blog



Demeter In Winter

Have I really not been in touch since November? So sorry, been a bit distracted, got a new spoken word show on the go…

GOTH In WinterThe initial idea was pitched to Radio 3 for their Verb New Voices commission last year – I got down to the final three, but wasn’t selected in the end. So I’ve been mulling over how to take a short radio piece and turn it into an hour spoken word show. Still not quite sure, but research and development has so far thrown me into the on-coming traffic of FAR TOO MANY IDEAS, to the point where I’m deliriously uncertain what I’m even writing about any more – the impact of the built environment of mental health? Greenham Common and feminist approaches to creative non-violent protest? Greek myths about spring? Rape culture? Yes, probably/possibly/definitely/maybe…

Lucky me, I was given a week at Caedmon Hall in Gateshead, and a most welcome wee pot of money, by NEADN in order to be confused in a more productive manner, with the helpful input of director Matt Cummins and composer Ed Carter. This is the first time I’ve had the luxury of a residency at this early point in a project’s development, so I wan’t really sure what to do with it. Let’s face it, this is only my second show, and the first one was autobiographical so I kind of knew how it was going to end, which seems like a bit of a cheat in hindsight. Anyway, if you’re massively curious about what goes on during a residency, here’s what I managed: in five days

  1. ‘Found’ DeDe’s posture and way of moving through experiment and rehearsal
  2. ‘Found’ DeDe’s voice through performing a poem in her body – learned the poem by heart
  3. Wrote a short scene between DeDe and her daughter and had a good old think about how that might be performed
  4. Researched Greenham Common protests and wrote a ‘found’ poem using first-person accounts of demonstrations
  5. Wrote a ‘found’ piece using The Handbook Of Urban Survival and started blocking out possible ways of performing it
  6. Took walks around Gateshead guided by local residents, looking at areas that were meaningful to them, places that ‘worked’, places where they felt uncomfortable, discussed the impact of their environment on them
  7. Took solo walks as DeDe and documented it with photos and notes towards further poems
  8. Took lots of video footage towards a possible future filmpoem/AV aspect to the performance
  9. Spent a day taking field recordings and learning how to make simple, layered soundscapes to accompany poems
  10. Recorded two poems and made two different sketches of the same poem with different combinations of field recordings
  11. Was videoed doing an interview about the residency
  12. Met with GIFT to chat about possible audio-tour presentations of the show as it progresses

You can keep up with the explosion of my head via the Pinterest board for this project, where I am randomly scrap-booking images and preoccupations as they assault me.