The Story Behind the writing – The Journey to The Marsh

By Richard Selby

marsh-1How does a book fare on its journey from first idea to its final version? Well here’s the story behind a book: The Marsh. It is a volume of three of my poems illustrated by Nigel Davison in a private press edition, beautifully printed and produced.
The beginning was one afternoon, five years ago, I forget exactly what I was doing, it would be good to say I was writing but probably not. The phone rang. Ominous. Cold Caller? No!
It was a call from Nigel Davison who explained that he had bought a copy of my then current book The Fifth Quarter,  Awen, 2008. He liked the book and went on to explain that he was an illustrator and designer who had illustrated and produced a book of song lyrics by a Kentish singer called Bob Kenward. Was I interested in collaborating on a book with him? Well yes, I certainly was. He would send me a copy of The Singing Line, which duly arrived. A beautifully produced volume with wonderfully evocative prints. The journey had started.
We began to exchange emails with ideas from me, some poems I was already working on and some new ones for a possible collection based on Kent’s Pilgrims’ Way and though these struck a chord it was three long poems based on historical events on Romney Marsh that became the centre of attention.
I already had a draft of one poem for consideration, ‘Turning’, a poem focusing on the performance of Mystery Plays that took place in New Romney every year during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Romney had a seven play cycle, performed by local guilds and by groups from other small towns and parishes. The plays were performed at Crockley Green, behind Romney High Street. Nigel liked the invocation of atmosphere “The bleakness of the marsh seems to blow through these words” We were up and running.
The other two poems were completed in draft form and soon initial images were sent to me for ‘Beach’ – Nigel had chosen to illustrate just one voice from the poem – it is a multiple themed poem with different narrative lines running through it: from the present, the recent past and from the sixteenth century. The striking images of a group of actors travelling across the marsh over four hundred years ago perfectly set a scene that I was hoping to convey in the poem. The modern sections of the poem echo against this.
Interestingly, at this stage, Nigel had an exhibition in Tenterden, Kent of his recent woodcuts and linocuts and with Judith, my wife, we were able to arrange a couple of nights in Kent in order to attend the private view in the gallery.
An initial draft of the book was completed in 2014 and then the work on production began.
Nigel Davison continued the detailed work on the layout, on further illustrations, on the exact format, the cover; all aspects meticulously developed. Meanwhile arrangements were being made to print the book in Perpetua on Letterpress. I received images and a video of a Letterpress setting the type for printing. The signature printings began to arrive, a couple of pages at a time, ready for final reading and editing. All this was a part time undertaking by Nigel, fitted in around his career as a graphic designer.
Then a couple of photos arrived by email: a view of multiple copies of the book held in a book press and a photo of the book in its newly printed jacket.
The finished article!
A little more information on the book.
My family has had connections with Romney Marsh – The Marsh, since the 1930s and I spent many holidays in the 1950s and 1960s in my grandparents’ house and then my parents’ house when they moved down there from North Kent in 1969. It was a regular holiday destination for our family. I would buy any book containing references to The Marsh and have since accumulated a sizeable collection of relevant books.
The three poems in The Marsh are all based on historical incidents. ‘Lookers’ concerns the death of two shepherds, or lookers as they were known, in a particularly harsh winter in 1790. ‘Turning’, as stated earlier, harks back to when the town of New Romney was frequently host to small companies who performed Mystery Plays at significant times of the year. These were the forerunners of touring companies of players from Shakespeare’s times and it is documented that Shakespeare did tour and perform in this part of Kent. One of these companies make a fleeting appearance in the third piece ‘Beach’, which covers several time zones, focusing on the recent past and the years of the Second World War.
It’s been an intriguing journey and on 11th November there will be a launch event in St James Wine Vaults in Bath. Next spring we hope to hold an event on Romney Marsh, possibly in one of the small churches that are a distinctive feature of The Marsh.
There are themes that link the book and my earlier collection ‘The Fifth Quarter’ which contains prose, poetry and stories about The Marsh.
‘The Fifth Quarter’ Spirit of Place Volume 2. Awen Publications.  Find out more about that book here –

Diamond Cutters

Jay Ramsay (Soul of the Earth) has brought out a poetry collection with Tayen Lane Publishing.

Diamond Cutters names the tradition of Visionary Poetry from the early 20th century with Kathleen Raine and David Gascoyne through to contemporary poets in the early 21st in both Britain and America as well as Australia at a time when spiritual consciousness is more important for us than ever; not simply as an inward or private language, but as a way of actively seeing and reading what is going on in our world today at a time of critical personal and political transition.

Bel Mooney, in a  column from the Daily Mail commented: “Recently, I was sent a handsome new American anthology of spiritual and visionary poetry called Diamond Cutters (edited by poets Andrew Harvey and Jay Ramsay) and sat happily with the book, feeling thoroughly uplifted as I read beautiful words.”

More about Diamond Cutters here –

More about Soul of the Earth here –


The Song of the Windsmith was produced as a stage adaptation of Kevan Manwaring’s bardic fantasy sequence, The Windsmith Elegy. New editions of the five volumes of The Windsmith Elegy are in the pipeline from Awen. The first volume, The Long Woman, will be out soon. The remaining volumes will follow in the order in which they were originally published.

Isambard Kerne, an Edwardian aviator, is transported into another world – a land of shadows, monsters and wonders – where he is tested to his limit.

This video was published on Oct 19, 2012

The Steampunk Theatre Company present
Song of the Windsmith

Song of the Windsmith is based upon the five-volume fantasy series by Stroud-based author, Kevan Manwaring. It has been created in collaboration with Bristol-based musician James Hollingsworth and Cornwall-based artist Jonathan Hayter. See

The premiere of Song of the Windsmith took place at the Castle of the Muses based in Argyll, Scotland as part of the Bardic Equinox Weekend 21-23 September 2012. Visit for information about ongoing events at the International Institute of Peace Studies and Global Philosophy.

Camera & Edit – Nicola Hague
(c) 2012 Holistic Channel

Lindsay Clarke book launch

DWH front cover.jpgAwen are delighted to announce the publication of Lindsay Clarke’s new book A Dance with Hermes. Lindsay will be reading from the book, alongside Jay Ramsay reading from Places of Truth: Journeys into Sacred Wilderness, at a launch event in Black Books Cafe, Stroud, GL5 2HL, on Thursday 1 December, 8.00pm. Entrance £5 on the door (redeemable against the cost of a book). Contact: 01453 840887.

Here’s some info about the book:

In a verse sequence that swoops between wit and ancient wisdom, between the mystical and the mischievous, award-winning novelist Lindsay Clarke elucidates the trickster nature of Hermes, the messenger god of imagination, language, dreams, travel, theft, tweets, and trading floors, who is also the presiding deity of alchemy and the guide of souls into the otherworld. Taking a fresh look at some classical myths, this vivacious dance with Hermes choreographs ways in which, as an archetype of the poetic basis of mind, the sometimes disreputable god remains as provocative as ever in a world that worries – among other things – about losing its iPhone, what happens after death, online scams, and the perplexing condition of its soul.

‘Clarke brings his considerable erudition and love of language to allow the intellectual and the poetic mind to come together, imagining where and how Hermes might be concealed in everyday life – the whisper in the inner ear, the sudden silence when “the air hangs watchful”, or “the fitful flare that lights our way”.’ Jules Cashford

‘This is an impressive collection, with an ancient and perennial wisdom, and language that is modern, even “street-wise” without being cheap. I admire the range of contemporary reference; the “voice” of these poems suggests a real freedom of mind, and expresses a live imagination.’ Jeremy Hooker

‘Deft, witty, wing-footed – Lindsay Clarke’s poems wonderfully embody what they describe: the god Hermes, who is comprehensively shown to be just as revelatory and double-dealing in the digital age as he ever was in antiquity.’ Patrick Harpur


For Jeremy

A blog post from Jay Ramsay

It was the experimental poet Allen Fisher, back in 1983 at an Angels of Fire London Festival gig, who first introduced me to the phrase ‘post-experiential innocence’ and I’ve remembered it ever since (evidently!). With all the hopeless sheenanigans of Trump (here alluded to) and general political egotism, Corbyn is outstanding because he is what he says, and says what he means … I also wrote this as one in the eye for the right-wing media that seem determine to run him down – and are failing miserably!

Photo credit: Chris Beckett, available under a Flickr Creative Commons Licence. (
Photo credit: Chris Beckett, available under a Flickr Creative Commons Licence. (




Labour is blossoming or dancing where

The body is not bruised to pleasure soul,

Nor beauty born out of its own despair

Nor blear-eyed wisdom out of midnight oil.

W.B. Yeats, ‘Among School Children’



There must be another way, he’s saying

and there is: only the man grown child is wise

as the ancient Chinese Taoists knew

and the triumphal trumping ego will never—

so here he is on the 6pm News, among school children

playing djembe as if for the first time

tentatively with his fingertips

sing-saying Harmony as the kids join in,

the word so lightly engraved on their T shirts

that is the truth from spirit

of a radical innocence, transmitted—

through these beings of the future, if there is to be,

if there is another way, which only the heart knows:

that after experience, innocence returns

and is a new day as far as the eyes can see.


Jay Ramsay

27 September 2016, first published in the International Times, 13 October 2016

Fire Springs and Awen

Fire Springs is a company of storytellers who have worked together since 2000. There’s a significant overlap between Fire Springs and Awen – all of the founder members – Kevan Manwaring, David Metcalfe, Anthony Nanson, and Kirsty Hartsiotis – as well as Richard Selby, who joined in 2003, have work published at Awen. The group’s newest member is folk singer Chantelle Smith.

On the Fire Springs website, the group defines itself in the following terms:

“Fire Springs members aim to –

Fire the imagination of adults and children

Inspire transformation in individuals and groups

Reach different audiences with new and traditional tales

Empower others to tell their own stories

Our artistic roots, as a group, are in the bardic arts – performance storytelling, poetry and song. Individually, our backgrounds are in writing, musicianship and painting, and in education, publishing, the natural sciences, archaeology and art history.

Our performances bring certain artistic qualities found in ancient and modern bardic practice together with the recognition of the centrality, in our time, of the relationship between humankind and the global ecosystem.

We published An Ecobardic Manifesto in 2008 – a vision for the arts in a time of environmental crisis. A well as being a mission statement for ourselves, this draws attention to the considerable ‘ecobardic’ work that diverse artists have already accomplished and raises a cry for more work of this kind.”

That Ecobardic Manifesto can be read on the Awen website –

Find out more about Firesprings here –

A Poem on World Poetry Day – from Jehanne Mehta


We went with family on a boat trip from St Justinian, near St David’s in West Wales, to circumnavigate Ramsey Island, a bird sanctuary with enormous cliffs and large settlements of seabirds, including kittiwakes and guillemots, and sheltered inlets where the seals come to pup in great numbers in the breeding season. The seals, like this one, pop up to look at the boats. I don’t speak Welsh but know how to pronounce it and I love the sound of the language and learn a few words from the traffic signs. These felt a fitting start for a poem.


Sea Riders                 




araf nawr



slow down now.

Stand … stop … before this wide

blue-green expanse of ocean.

Sefwch yma

wait here, stop

at the edge,

until you feel

the rolling rhythm of the tides,

these returning cosmic cycles

that nothing interrupts,

these rolling rhythms that mould us

soul deep.

Foot falling in the sand,

feel the salt lick of the

running wave.

Listen to the

mounting roar and sink

of incoming swell,

the withdrawing rattle of sliding


Watch the dipping wing

of kittiwake and guillemot

tumbling among these dark

and massy cliffs,

where seals sing in hidden

clefts, dolphins dive, and the air


sharp against you mouth,

gaping and amazed before this

ocean mystery.


Ignore the man-made clouds that

stripe the sky,

dropping steely rods of rain,

deploying drought,

like armaments, displacing

the habitual patterns  of

wind and weather: sorcerer’s

apprentice stuff this, which

we are bound to drown in,

when fear takes over,

feeding on surface insecurity.

But no.

Ar agor.


we are open,

open for business

with a deeper magic,


to the unstoppable rhythm

of the tides.


We are sea riders,

riders of the deep.



© Jehanne Mehta 31 July 2013

Jehanne is one of the contributors to Soul of the Earth: the Awen anthology of eco-spiritual poetry edited by Jay Ramsay.

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