Irene Cunningham

65 in July but she can’t become a butterfly until the 6th of March, a few months shy of Excitement builds at the thought of being full-time arty-crafty, dusting old novels off her porch at last. They sit, waiting their turn while she swans around with other passions.

In September a friend bought me a gift: Haikubes. 64 cubes to create Haiku or any syllable-counting poetry. I immediately fell into a habit of creating a Haiku, diving into it, ending up with a different piece of work. This one was a little difficult. I chose to question it, turn it into a ramble, but I do like to ramble. The novel I’m working on began with a notebook scribble and is now 65k.

Theme: A Vision for/ Our World

Logical died here,

shivered hopeful songs as if

torture would travel.

How do you measure phases, patterns...project a map on the wall to make a plan? Some abstracts have beginnings and endings – they tracked The Big Bang, apparently – but is it right? How can logic shiver after it died...and hopeful songs? I imagine torture could travel as a habit taken up, a tool used; pass from place to place like a city, sliding out into suburbs and housing estates but not infectious in the way of Smallpox. Only some would take it up, and yet, watching TV drama it has infiltrated all walks of life like a drug problem, disenfranchising the brain so that speech is long, nasal and lazy; an ugly sound that needs a crutch.

Almost everything is material for creatives. I’ve recently been through the NHS system for tests and now have poems with titles like, Journey up the Urethra and Post Menopausal Bleeding.

Photography is also one of my things; I love mashing stuff together, kind of scrapbooking but not really. I take pics of rocks and stones, anything that catches my eye, use apps to manipulate the images. One day I saw pattern in my clean laundry, grabbed something not so clean for the colour and captured the picture, manipulated into many images. From this to this...



the above practical chores. ending up with………... perhaps a fairy court or magical mayhem.

Sitting on the train home one day I couldn’t take my eyes off two bikes parked together and had to lean in to take the pic which I cropped and mirrored, and doodled into an explosion of colour and pattern – nothing is safe from me.


One day on the bus into Glasgow I noticed a young woman with blue hair and brown roots. She was unfortunate enough to be sitting right in front of me – this is a warning: if you spend a lot of time in front of me or I think you are interesting I may sneak silent pics to abuse and distort. I stole a picture of the young woman’s head, rummaged around in it and ended up with some kind of mystical being. It reminds me of an old movie with & white I think. I have this image in several different colours, and sometimes I like it the other way up.







I am so disorganised and can’t seem to stop myself in time to take notes so often can’t find where I started or which beginning is related to which arty pic. It’s a bother but I may be too old to change...and it may not matter in the end anyway.


I didn’t take this but did the doodle – it was crying out to be artified. Well I never like to be completely normal in photographs.

I’m not normally a selfie-maniac and when I do snap myself I always doodle. Recent doodles:

I do love to monster myself, discover hidden depths and interesting characters.

Can you imagine my house if I am allowed all the time in the world to continue with this/these habits? I have also been known to Monster my friends, which means I manipulate images into every kind of distortion just to create art. Poetry is part of the bread n butter part of my like – not that it brings in any money – no, poets are all skint. But the poetry has continually stolen me away for years...but now that NaNo has helped me get to the end of a blooming novel, I think prose is going to become my jailer for a while, at least until I catch up with all the neglected and frozen projects. Nothing I can do about the photography habits; they make me laugh, snigger in my private quarters...make life worth living. What about people? You might ask, well, they’re all scattered in front of me and I snip little bits of them now and again. In the first draft I’ve recently finished I killed my granddaughter – twice. She is not happy about it but she did insist I put her in as a character. I just love that I killed her twice. So she says she’s now going to write a story and kill me too. Howz that for stimulating and inspiring a fifteen year old?

Now that I’ve finished a main project and shall be an official pensioner soon, I should be paying some attention to my poetry collections, attempt to sell them, and create some more to get rid of all the published poems just hanging around like loitering teenagers. The latest is titled, Fairytale, and it will very soon be joined by a collection dedicated to my sister-in-law who died from breast cancer this year...all proceeds going to Breast Cancer.


And my writing partner on several projects is Diana Devlin. Hedgehog Press published a poetry conversation between us two years ago, entitled, Sandmen: A Space Odyssey. That was such a blast to write, and edit. It is also available on Amazon. And last year we built a little book, poetry and prose on the Halloween theme; I think that’s a fun read, and is still available on Amazon in paper or Kindle.

My two guests are Barbara Scott Emmett and David Morrow. They are part of the writing group from my past life in Newcastle upon Tyne; I join them still whenever I pop down...and this group has been going for about thirty years. And so for the simple reason that Barbara sent me her piece first. I couldn’t find another guest because the rest of them are younger than us. This has been a very interesting project, I think mostly because we are all so busy creating fictions either in art or poetry/prose that we never take the time to write about ourselves – I really need to update my Amazon bio but never get round to it. Perhaps I will now, now that I’m thinking about myself as a real person and am forced to describe what I do with my time.

My thanks to Robin for inviting me, and my friends for scribbling their interests down for me/us. I hope everyone enjoys reading our pursuits.


Barbara Scott Emmett

As far as expressing my creativity was concerned, it was always writing for me – until it wasn't.  I was into my retirement when I finished my last novel Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, and I felt that I had said all I wanted to say. After writing four novels, umpteen short stories, a collection of mainly humorous poetry and a couple of plays, the urge to write faded. I tried several times to get going on a new project but it simply wouldn't move forward. I now had the time to write whenever I wanted to but the urge had gone. That was it – apart from book reviews and short pieces like this – the writing was done.

So what next? I knew that the creative urge had to come out somewhere or I would go slowly insane. If I wasn't going to write it out, I had to come up with something new. Fortunately, I found a way of expressing it in a totally different form – painting. And not just any old painting but painting furniture. At the height of the shabby chic boom I turned my hand to upcycling. Brown furniture was out of fashion and for sale cheap in charity shops. I started picking up interesting pieces – chairs, tables, chests of drawers. Blanket boxes, glass–fronted cabinets, coffee tables and what-nots – I had a go at them all.

Some of the Pieces I upcycled

At first, I tended to stick to the most popular shabby chic colours – cream, grey, white, pale blue – but I found this wasn't exciting enough for me (my writing had always been a bit more colourful than that). I ventured into bright reds and lime yellows – I stencilled and decoupaged, embellished and added gilding. Many things were snapped up quickly and I wished I could find other similar pieces so I could start a production line. Sometimes things took a while to sell. I had to wait for the right buyer to come along – the one person who could appreciate my unique piece. A few things I ended up keeping, either because they didn't sell or because I didn't want to part with them.

My kitchen – decoupaged and painted.

When I had no junk shop pieces to work on, I turned my hand to my own house – everything got the treatment. Embracing the maximalist Boho vibe, I splashed colour everywhere. The kitchen became a riot of styles and patterns. My husband joked that if he stood still long enough, he too would be painted and decoupaged. The house became my canvas. I used it to express the glorious wildness that lurked within. So what if it clashes? As long as it worked in some way on its own terms, it was fine by me.

Painting kept me active and sane. Sourcing wooden pieces – mainly from the 30s and 40s – kept me busy and out and about. Trawling charity shops was always a pleasure and now there was an added edge to it. Spotting something that was cheap enough to make a profit on and interesting and well-made enough to satisfy a client, kept my interest. Choosing the designs, the paints, the paper or stencils for decoration, and fixing up

any imperfections, kept me busy and engaged. The sanding and rubbing down, the physical exercise of painting, varnishing, sourcing and delivering all kept me moving and agile. Whereas writing was sedentary, this was often sweat-inducing hard work.

The shabby chic boom seems to be tailing off now, and though there's still a market for painted furniture it's not as robust as it perhaps once was. Now that I've almost done as much as I can with my own home, I will have to find some other outlet for my creative urges. I still enjoy painting and will certainly keep my hand in but perhaps I need to find another string for my bow that keeps me active and out there. I look forward to discovering what that might be.

Barbara Scott Emmett is the author of Delirium: The Rimbaud Delusion, The Man with the Horn and other books. Her painted furniture is displayed on Facebook at MadCow Crafts.



My first gig: Black Sabbath, supported by Glen Cornick’s Wild Turkey, Newcastle City Hall 5th February 1972, 50p for a good balcony seat – this just after my dad bought us our first record player for £28 from Curry’s for Christmas.

This is not a nostalgia piece, but I just wanted to present the roots of my musical obsession for the last 47 or so years, and one that has lasted into my 60s.

I thought I had had a relatively quiet year, but it transpires I have still been to about 50 shows – from Celtic Connections in January through to Michael Bublé last Saturday, and one more show on December 12th.

I still go to the occasional loud rock gig – I couldn’t hear for three days after that first one – but the main focus is the fringes of Country music, Americana, singer-songwriter and I can say I am blessed that I can call some of these performers friends.

It is true to say that one of the benefits of going to gigs – especially the ones around the UK – is that not only do you get to meet and get to know the performers, you also get to meet a bunch of really lovely people on your travels.  For many years I plucked up the nerve to go to shows on my own, thinking I would rather go as not, if my wife or friends were not interested in a particular show.


Me and my wife with good chums and the artist Gretchen Peters in Perth 2018

It gets a bit more difficult as you get older to get yourself out of the house – I’m not just talking about physical ailments – you can get set in your ways, can’t be bothered, the thought of another train journey delayed by flooding...but at a time of life where some friendships have been lost, parents are long since dead and children are up and gone (but we do occasionally have enormous fun at gigs with the kids) I am still having a wonderful time with music shows.

I recently attended an astonishing gig featuring Rhiannon Giddens (if you don’t know her, you really should) and this was squeezed between Björk in Glasgow on the Monday and the aforementioned Michael Bublé. I counted about 10 people I have gotten to know solely through music shows – often with differing levels of intimacy, but we can always have at least a music-based conversation.

Rhiannon Giddens, Sage Gateshead, November 2019


And I would say this: it seems to get easier the older we get – I don’t know if some of the barriers are down or whether people recognise that we are like-minded people who are there for a common purpose, or indeed that the unspoken awareness of how lonely life can be (quite a few solo people – often men, but not always – form the crowds at gigs) but I am still having wonderful times.

I have a fund of stories from all those years of gig-going.  I could bore you for hours if I had you trapped in a room. Occasionally you get the ‘ actually saw...’ – like when the girl jumped off the balcony onto David Bowie at Newcastle City Hall in June 1978 – but I dined with good friends in Hebden Bridge just two weeks ago in order to see Mary Gauthier, Jaimee Harris and Michele Gazich perform a fabulous evening at a sold-out event.

My wife and I attended a concert two years ago at the Royal Albert Hall which was one of the best I have ever witnessed in all the years of going to shows and it had been touch and go as to whether or not I could attend as it was the first one after major surgery. It was the brilliant and moving music of Ólafur Arnalds – again, if you do not know his music, you really should. I met an old man in Glasgow and we spoke of the wheels falling off as we get older and he said ‘Ach, when mine fell aff, I just hammered them back on!’

Amidst all this gigging, getting to know performers, having a great time and so forth, it has been interesting to see where doing this has led me down paths I would otherwise never have thought of going. It ties in with the rise of social media and it concerns the posting of photographs, primarily on Facebook, which I began some years ago, just as a way of sharing the experience of a particular event – often stimulating memories and conversations.

I often joke about the fact that if I knew what I was doing with a camera I would be dangerous, but I have had some tremendous responses and embarrassing (in a delightful way) praise. So much so that some artists have requested pictures for use as their profile pictures, as part of website features (8 are featured here for example: and much, much more.

Eve Selis from San Diego, performing at Sage, Gateshead, July 2019 – her profile picture on Facebook

Barry Walsh – profile pictures from Twitter and Facebook

An avenue, a by-product that I never thought would be so thrilling and gratifying, all because of my lifelong passion.  People often say that this is my thing – and I suppose that is true – an obsession with music of so many kinds that led onto attending countless shows over the years that then led on to friendships and so many wonderful experiences – I will keep going as long as I am able – and I hope that day is a very long way off.

Woodside Hotel, Aberdour, November 2018 with Ben Glover & Kim Richey

David Morrow, born June 1959, so just turned 60 with a bemused “How the hell did that happen?”  A mixed working career, for the last 20 years an Assistant Librarian at Newcastle University.  Retirement beckons – would like to be finished – could then have more time to not send out poetry for publication, fail to research my family tree and, most importantly, not have enough money to partake in the things that make up the theme of this piece.