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Turning and overturning / 26 October 2014

The late Dennis Potter once put forward the idea that each writer has their own field to plough. The nature of that field is determined by who we are - what lives we have lived, what we feel strongly about, what resonates for us.

The process of writing is about continuing to find new ways turn that soil over and produce work that is fresh and exciting.

For me that territory has long been about disability.  I have wanted to speak out about my own experiences of epilepsy.  I also sought to use writing and performance as a way of standing up for other disabled people.

And I have always tried to find ways to make heard the voices of disabled people.  My first paid journalism, in 1971, was an article in Frendz 11 called ‘What Have They Done to My Brain, Ma?’, in which I interviewed a young man who’d been diagnosed as schizophrenic and given Electro Convulsive Therapy (ECT).  

So I’d started to write about disability issues before I’d even identified as disabled myself. (All that and an illustration by Barney Bubbles. The underground press was a wonderful thing.)

In my poetic practices, all this has produced several distinct strands of work, which I’m now pulling together for the book. 

There are a set of poems, which I’ve been performing live for a couple of decades. This includes several poems about my experiences of epilepsy, such as ‘Leaning on a Lamppost’ and ‘What happens to old epileptics?’, plus some old favourites like ‘Bite the Hand that Feeds You’.

There’s a set of found poems based on material from NHS sources such as leaflets and appointments letters. This is a project I’ve been working on for a while, though the work has not previously received much public exposure. I thought it might be fun to turn the tables a little and take control of some of the language that more commonly controls us.

My key area of recent work has been transcription poetry, with cycles such as ‘Paddy: A Life’, ’The Explorer’ and the four cycles comprising ‘Neglected Voices’.

Those were planned specifically as cycles of poems, with each individual poem acting like a scene in a script, playing a part in the overall structure.  But some of them do work as standalone poems, and John has been suggesting ways of exploring alternative formats for them.

That seemed to me, when I produced an initial draft, to create a neat structure. Three sections and an introduction. What could be more orderly than that?

I should have known better. I’ve never been great at ‘orderly’. The mentoring has provoked a rush of creative energy, and I’ve been turning out a load of new poems.  Ploughing that field from a new direction, I’ve started to find some new ways of looking at my experience of epilepsy, and to make some work that springs from my current role as a disabled carer.

This is all very exciting for me, but I’m going to have to work out a new structure for the book.

Keywords: access issues,barney bubbles,carers,dennis potter,disability,disability art,disabled carers,disabled voices,discrimination,ect,epilepsy,fits,underground press,writing