I was born near Wigton in Cumbria in 1962. After studying for my BA in English Language and Literature at Durham University, I lived abroad teaching English as a Foreign Language in half a dozen cities – Ankara, Istanbul, Turin, Casablanca, Palermo and Thessaloniki. When I returned to this country, I began studying for an MA in Humanities at Oxford Brookes University and stayed on to do a PhD which explored the poetry of Adrienne Rich, Sharon Olds and Louise Glück through the lens of gender.
Although I’d been writing my own poetry for a number of years, it was during the time spent researching my doctoral thesis that I began taking my own writing more seriously. Having the space to read and engage deeply with the work of poets I greatly admired resulted not only in the thesis itself, but in a considerable number of new poems. Also influential at this time was a two-year evening course in Versification given my Mimi Khalvati at the Poetry School. A year after I completed the thesis, my first poetry collection, Intimates, was published by Jonathan Cape. It won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and was short-listed for the T.S.Eliot Prize.
Over the years I taught at the Open University, Oxford Brookes University, Sheffield Hallam University and Lancaster University. I became freelance in 2013, a year after my second book was published, Nocturnes at Nohant: The Decade of Chopin and Sand (Bloodaxe, 2012). I found the whole process of writing this sequence enormously pleasurable, from the research – reading letters, biographies, Sand’s fiction and journals – to writing the dramatic monologues which make up the collection, some of which are based on ‘the facts’ whilst others are entirely fictional. The starting point for the whole was my love of Chopin’s Ballades, especially the fourth.
In 2007 I moved back to Cumbria and whilst the poems in my third collection (The Dog of Memory, Bloodaxe 2016) travel to various countries, the landscapes of my Cumbrian childhood are undoubtedly a strong presence across the book. As well as examining the experience of re-visiting, the collection is also interested in the idea of re-reading. This grew out of my decision to re-read the texts on my examination syllabuses from school and respond creatively rather than critically.
Recent poems have appeared in The Spectator, The London Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, PN Review and Poetry Review.