I’m looking at a small stack of letters on my desk. Lodged between pen-pot and the wall, they were all sent to me after the publication of Her Birth. They’re all written in response to the book and have moved me very much. Emails have come in too, and some very kind tweets. All sorts of people have been in touch: friends and strangers, women and men, ex-tutors from school and university and bereaved mothers – some who lost their children more recently, some who lost them a long time ago. A letter from a bereaved mother makes tough reading I can tell you, but I’m grateful for every brave word. Since the book’s unexpected shortlisting for The Forward Prize, the story of my daughter’s death and my attempt at recovery has become more public than I expected it to. That felt very difficult at times. But because of The Forward Prize, Her Birth has been read by people who, perhaps, would not normally have ‘found’ it.
I would like to thank those who have been so positive about the book. I thought I’d written something that was simply very sad. I was sad when I was writing it and had no idea how it would be received once it became a tangible thing. I moved into my new home in Suffolk in July, on the day of The Forward Prize shortlist announcement. Since then, I have been interviewed on Woman’s Hour, I’ve written about the book for Michelle McGrane’s excellent contemporary poetry blog Peony Moon, I’ve been back to Liverpool to launch the book in a room of almost 100 people – all with an Ella connection. The book has been positively reviewed in The Guardian, Dove Grey Reader, The Booktrust and elsewhere. I have met and read with some terrific writers, including Denise Bundred at our ‘Poetry and Medicine’ event (an area I would like to explore more with Her Birth) and I was shortlisted for The East Anglian Book of the Year and won the Poetry category. You can read judge Michael Mackmin’s comments here. I know it’s all been ‘good’, but this is not a book I ever imagined writing. I would still rather have Ella here, but I do feel her short life, and the book, have led me to some incredible people.
Next year I will be taking part in Carolyn Jess-Cooke’s ‘Writing Motherhood’ project. I will be reading too, at various literary festivals and intend to read from Her Birth, but hopefully include new work, about very different things. I’m inspired by one of the letters sitting on my desk. In it, someone wrote of Her Birth ‘Surely the lesson is to go on making’. After Ella died, I made a book, a baby, a new home, my family made a new start. Now I need to make new poems.