Sunday, 18 January 2015

THE FIRST TELLING, how it came to be

This small collection of mine, a pamphlet published by Happenstance Press in Nov 2014, deals with rape and its aftermath. It is effectively a sequence of poems which are best read in order and at one sitting. And it has taken me 3 years to bring it to the state it's now published in.

Because I love birds I have always been fascinated by the myth of the rape of Philomela by Tereus, her brother-in-law. In the myth all the protagonists, Tereus, Pholomela, Procne her sister and  Itys, Procne's son, are turned into birds. Versions differ but Tereus, the perpetrator of the rape, is turned either into a hoopoe or a hawk, Philomela into a swallow or nightingale, likewise Procne, and Itys into a goldfinch.

When I first began writing these poems I wanted to stick fairly closely to the original myth so that I could use these birds as images. But I found that didn't work. So I updated the myth and made it modern. Keeping the same birds. And that didn't work either. I showed it to trusted writing friends, and they all said it had great power but that it wasn't right. So I went to Hawthornden Castle for an amazing month of being looked after hand and foot and buckled down to it. A lot of the buckling down consisted of walking in the woods and by the river in the glen there, thinking it through. And of course I watched birds as well (peregrines, kingfisher, heron, buzzards, sparrow hawk, goldcrest).

There is a huge amount to be said in praise of walking as an aid to thinking. After 2 weeks of this I began at last to get a stronger feel of how the collection should work. Then when I came home the news seeemd to be full of nothing but child abuse, terrible stuff. It began with Jimmy Saville and shortly after that revelation the skeletons came thundering out of cupboards. It made me so angry. Oh so angry, and there is nothing like a bit of rage for fuelling a piece of writing.

And now it's in print, still with bird poems in, though not quite the mythological choices (but close) and it focuses more on the aftermath of rape - the silences, the self-harming, and then with the help of a counsellor, the steps towards a healing.

The print run is small - Helena Nelson, of Happenstance Press, now does only 150 copies of pamphlets. Should you want one I do urge you to buy one quickly; 150 copies don't hang around long and I've already sold 50 myself.

I feel and hope, and so does Helena, that this is an important collection - so much in it needs to be said and more importantly it also should encourage belief in the real possibility of healing.

It is available from, price £4.


  1. This is a superb piece of writing. I had the privilege of reading one of the first drafts and knew straight away it was something very special. When I started to read the finished copy I could not put it down until it was completely read. It affects both the senses and the emotions. It is dark and at the same time uplifting. Congratulations Gill McEvoy.

  2. Thank you for these generous comments Annie!