‘Women’s Writing’


Last week I read Tessa Hadley’s ‘Everything will be all right’, an exploration of mother/daughter relationships over three generations, as well as a reflection on the enormous changes for women and society over those decades. I found myself living inside the characters’ heads, always a sign of a good book for me. So I was surprised to find out that Tessa’s novels have sometimes been underrated, because they aren’t so much ‘literary’ novels as ‘women’s’ novels. In an interview with the Guardian, she remarks: ‘It’s such a hornet’s nest, but absolutely fascinating to me as well: the whole thing that, if you’re a woman, and you write about families and relationships, you have to do a bit of work to make sure people don’t dismiss you. You have to place yourself, to say: ‘These are thinking books.’*.

ImageIt reminded me of Merrill Joan Gerber, the novelist who featured in Mary Trunk’s stunning documentary, ‘Lost in Living’, which I viewed at a private Brighton screening last month. The film itself was heartrending viewing: following the lives of four mother artists – a film-maker, two visual artists, and a writer – over seven years and chronicling their ambivalence, balancing acts, decisions, passions and despairs. Gerber talks with sadness of the lack of interest in her books after initial successes, because, it seems, they are about family life, which has become unpopular. She describes the way in which her short stories have been stereotyped because they were published in women’s magazines.

This is one of the reasons I am writing ‘Wild Motherhood: Keeping the Creative and Spirit Fires Alive’: to open a space for discussion around the de-valuation of women’s, and in particular mothers’, work, values and priorities. Literature, provided it’s well-written and observed, is no less thought-provoking and intelligent because it concerns women’s daily lives and preoccupations, than ponderous ‘literary’ tomes that are divorced from what forms reality for most people: family life, or ‘domestic ephemera‘ as my friend Kat Soutar calls it in her illuminating photo/writing blog. However, I have often longed for more meaning in women’s fiction –  less reliance on old repetitive plot-lines that usually feature a man as a ‘saviour’ or rescuer. This is why I was so excited to discover Tessa Hadley, with her finely-nuanced characters and lyrical language, who fortunately has written several books – I’m now on ‘The London Train’ which I’ve hardly been able to put down for two days. 

*Ref: Alex Clark, The Guardian Books, 26 Feb 2011

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Literature Infusions and a New Poem


Particularly at this stage of writing my book, it’s essential for me to ‘fill the well’ with more writerly inspiration, to avoid getting locked down into an uninspiring purely ‘editing’ mode. Yesterday I went to the ‘Wolf at the Door‘ writing workshop at the Brighton Buddhist Centre. It’s been a long time since I attended a purely writing workshop – although I went to an amazing writing and five rhythms workshop in June with Lori Saltzman in London – and I wanted to treat myself to a day of plumbing those creative depths, making time and space for the stream-of-consciousness timed writing that can lead to developing new work.

At the workshop we discussed the concept of ‘tipping gravel and finding pebbles’ – letting out all the ‘gravel” of our conscious and unconscious mind on the page and then mining for valuable ‘pebbles’ of poem-worthy material. We looked at Jane Hirshfield’s short haiku-like poems, as well as the poetic form of ‘haibun’, in which words describing images are used as signposts along a mental and emotional journey. I wrote a piece about ‘my favourite kind of morning’ which led onto surprising territory, ending up in my childhood experience of being woken on school mornings by the click of the door down the passage – which was very much not a favourite kind of morning!

We were set an assignment to note down images that occur during the lunch break, then work them into a form on our return to the workshop. One of my favourite parts of the workshop was studying a fantastic poem called ‘Inventory/Itinerary’ by Ken Smith, a powerful exploration of isolation while travelling. I wrote a poem about my experiences in Mexico as a result – untitled as yet:

A nearly-missed plane

A late night Mexican airport,

a British shaman and his Mexican wife,

their two year old son,

a pang, grief,

tears and drunken Spanish

outside the hotel,

fear of cockroaches.

Iridescent heat,

Mexico City, looking for the

Zocalo. Middle-aged couples

kissing on park benches,

one lone tank-topped woman

drawing eyes in a Catholic country.

Night, cold starry, desert quiet,

one accidental peyote cactus,

a ritual burning on a hilltop,


7 late night ceremonies in the

temple, the baby’s cries,

a freezing cold sweat lodge.

the German guy who didn’t get it.

And the shaman’s wife telling me,

there is a lie, deep

inside you.

It was great to hear the other participants’ work, diving into their worlds for a few moments, as well as to take some time to go beneath my own discursive monkey-mind and find what lies beneath. I’ve been inspired by the workshop leader to start a daily practice of timed writing again, even if only for five minutes.


The Creative Future Literary Awards, part of the ‘The Small Wonder’ Short Story Festival at Charleston in Sussex, was on Friday night and I went along to hear some prose and poetry performed by those selected to be in the ‘The Spark’ anthology of pieces from marginalised writers. It was lovely to hear Ros Barber, one of my favourite poets, read again – her poem was about her experience of being a single mother on a low income, so was something I could very much relate to. One of her other poems is called ‘How to Leave the World that Worships ‘Should” – I love that title. Again, it’s been a while since I had the opportunity to attend a live literature event, and it inspired me to submit more work.

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Creative Writing Workshops for Mothers

your story mattersMonthly workshops to help you (re)discover your creative voice, 2nd Friday morning of every month. Whether you think of yourself as a writer or not, this is a safe, nonjudgmental space to:
• Reflect on your experience of being a mother
• Deepen your connection to yourself and to other mothers by sharing your experiences (sharing your writing is optional)
• Explore different writing techniques and learn how to bring your writing alive.
If you’ve ever wanted to delve a bit deeper than the average mom and baby/toddler group, this group may be for you!

Here’s what past participants have said:

“Morgan’s writing workshops are a huge inspiration to me as a mother wanting to find creative ways to capture and remember precious moments of life with my daughter. As well as offering an array of writing techniques to explore, Morgan creates a uniquely warm, wonderful, accepting space for reflecting on and sharing experiences of motherhood that is quite precious in itself.” – Marianne Sawford.

“Morgan created a welcoming and supportive space to reflect on our journey as mothers in a unique way. For me, it was a chance to capture some of those precious moments with my baby on the page and explore some of the more difficult changes taking place.” – Layla

“The mothers’ writing workshop was a friendly and supportive space to explore and reflect on both the joy and difficulties of motherhood.” – L, from Brighton.

We will do simple ‘free writing’ exercises to help you investigate and share what being a mother means to you. As well as being a chance to express your creativity, this is a safe space to bring gentle loving attention to your inner world, which may feel a little submerged beneath the many actions of caring for another being. Pre-walking babies welcome,tea & biscuits provided!

Friendly, fun & relaxed atmosphere in the beautiful nurturing space of MumaBaby Sanctuary, 32 Cliffe High St, Lewes BN7 2AN (walking distance from train station). Exchange: £20.

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A page a day..


I love these tips from ‘Mindworks Coaching‘ – many a poem and a chapter in my ‘Wild Motherhood’ book has come about through number one. I have also taken to carrying index cards around with me – wish I would remember to write on them though! Number nine is also a gem.

Writing Tips:

1) Jot notes about dozens of small moments; “quilt” them together to make a whole essay or chapter.

2) Twenty chapters = one book

3) a page a day = a novel in a year

4) Take down observations in the moment they happen.

5) Write a postcard – or spend 5 minutes to write a post card sized reflection about something you’ve already observed. (Keep some 3×5 index cards handy).

6) Write a letter in which you tell a story to someone else. Write what this piece of information meant to you.

7) Mine your journals for fragments and moments that seem to go together. Gather other details that relate. Give this list a title.

8) Write a 10 minute first draft.

9) Simply talk on paper: ask questions, tell stories, tell secrets.

I recently finished reading the stunning collection of short stories by Anthony Doerr, ‘Memory Wall.’ The title story is set in my home town of Cape Town, South Africa, and it was a moving and evocative exploration of the power of memory in our lives – how intangible and yet essential it is. Reading a story set in Cape Town brought back many memories, some not so comfortable – of the inequalities and conflicts that simmered in the background while I grew up, blissfully unaware of most of it until my teens. Anthony Doerr is a compassionate and amazingly skilled writer – his story ‘Afterworld’, which flits between the present day and a Holocaust Germany, had me in tears.

Work on my book, now called ‘Wild Motherhood: Keeping the Fire of Creativity and Spirit Alive’, is progressing well, with the different threads and fragments starting, slowly, to cohere into a meaningful whole. A page or so a day, I’m keeping on keeping on… I was excited to discover a project called Balancing the Tide which features interviews with mother artists about the balance and inspiration in their lives- definitely something to plug into on a regular basis. 

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Inky Needles publication

My poem, ‘Invincible’,  appears today in Inky Needles. Established by a group of multi-disciplinary graduates and postgraduates from London, Inky Needles are ‘an independent online publishing group specializing in Philosophy, Poetry, and Politics…seeking to publish writers, thinkers and inquisitors of whom can learn and engage with a diverse range of artistic material at Inky Needles, all of which have been afforded due merit as both an informant and a commentary on modern life.’ http://inkyneedles.com/2013/07/18/invincible-by-morgan-nichols/

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‘Writing is about hypnotising yourself into believing in yourself, getting some work done, then unhypnotising yourself and going over the material coldly.’ – Anne Lamott, ‘Bird by Bird’.

‘Bird by Bird’ has been recommended to me for years, and I’ve finally been reading it. As well as teeming with nuggets of wisdom about writing, it’s laugh-out-loud funny in many parts.

I finally got back to working on ‘Stirring the Cauldron’ (my book on motherhood, spirituality and creativity) this week after a break of a few weeks following (yet another) house move. It was supremely satisfying to be back at my laptop engaging with this project, hearing the voices of the mothers I’ve interviewed, finding their common strands and their unique take on things. I did have to ‘hypnotise’ myself into getting there though, to ignore temporarily all the myriad admin tasks clamouring for my attention, to allow myself to be in the chaos of a halfway finished first draft, to ignore the voices of self-criticism and ‘what’s the point’, to simply clear the space to do it.

But it feels good.

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Creative Workshops for Mothers at the Festival Fringe

Calling the mothers among you: come along and enjoy a creative workshop at the upcoming Little Sunday event on 2nd June. I’m running one of my creative writing for mothers workshops and there’s lots of other juicy stuff on offer. It’s part of the Festival Fringe in Brighton. http://www.littlesunday2june.eventbrite.co.uk/

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Poem in upcoming Inky Needles

One of my poems, ‘Invincible’, has been accepted for publication on Inky Needles …I will post the link when it’s live. http://www.inkyneedles.com/.

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Ink Flow: Writing and Monoprinting Workshop, 27th April

I’m very excited to be presenting this new workshop with artist Crimbo: How can we let our inspiration flow, and access the ability to create? How do we move into flow from a stuck place? To get past the idea that we ‘have to be inspired’ to create.
Join us on a short nature walk to gather inspiration from the beautiful surroundings. I will guide the writing exercises, and we will then use our writing as inspiration for the imagery that we create in monoprint. Community arts leader, Crimbo, will demonstrate several different monoprint techniques to take our work from the written word into printmaking.

‘Monoprint is a great way to confuse the inner censor’ (Pat, a workshop attendee)

The lovely venue http://railwaylandproject.org/Pavilion, has windows which frame views of the river Ouse and the nature reserve, so that we can be warm and work from nature, whatever the weather.
Please bring a notebook and pen if you can, all printing materials will be provided. There will also be refreshments, warm drinks and tasty nibbles.
‘May what I do flow from me like a river, no forcing and no holding back, the way it is with children’ – Rainer Maria Rilke
£25 (£20 concs)ink flow poster 3blue

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‘Sadwoman’ Poem from my Brighton Collection

I lived in Brighton for many years and often likened my relationship to Brighton to one with a lover you repeatedly try to leave but just…can’t….quite…do….it. I sometimes hated this city of contradictions but there was always an undercurrent of love there. Which is why it took me nearly 9 years to finally leave and move to Lewes, a quieter country town. I felt I needed to say goodbye to Brighton by writing about its many different aspects, the memories it held for me, the quirky associations.  Recently I’ve been gathering together the poems that came out of this and re-working them (and hopefully writing some more). I plan to bring them out in a Brighton Collection’ booklet.  Here’s a sample, a poem called ‘Sadwoman’.


She breathes smoke in my face.

I sang,” she tells me with pride

etched hard in to her face.

They booed me off, but I sang.”


George Street, off St James’ St, Wednesday

night, I’m buzzing after dancing

with strangers, lifted into the light

of the stars above

this dinge,

rubbish under my feet,


I’m brought to a halt

outside the karaoke bar

by the bare need in her eyes.


I cannot hear her.

The stars are pulling my feet

like magnets to lodestones,

but in her poisoned aura

I can feel myself

losing my skip already –

so fragile, in this town,

this loose collection of misfits

brought together by the size of the sky.


She’s still staring at me, still

exhaling alcohol fumes

from her unsteady mouth.

She’s on the brink: tears,

madness, the breakdown

at the end of the night.


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