30 YEARS OF FIRE IN THE HEAD
which came into being as a part-time course programme in 1991; full-time in 1994.
I believe that the writing process is as much a passionate journey into inner space as it is about reaching an outer creative destination. I believe in the alchemical power of words to forge connection: to oneself, to each other, to the natural world, to creative consciousness and the human potential movement, and to the silence from which words grow; and if these things interest you too, then welcome, friend.
I’m a writer: of poetry, novels, creative non-fiction books, essays and environmental/eco-writing (with an emphasis on soul, place, story, myth and our relationship with other species). My newest poetry collection A Trick of the Light: poems from Iona came out in January 2018, from Pindrop Press; available to order or ask in your local bookshop. New in June 2021 is A Spell the the Forest: Tongues in Trees.
FIRE IN THE HEAD is a rough translation of what the druid and bardic paths call ‘Awen’. The word and the phrase mean ‘inspiration’, and the latter comes from a W B Yeats poem.
My work under the Fire in the Head banner began with two distinct threads. The first was poetry, which I’d written most of my life. When my daughter started secondary school in about 1990 she came home from school one day and said there was no creative writing on the curriculum. I promptly went in and asked to see the Head of English to find out why this was so. From this meeting arose a year’s worth of free poetry-writing workshops that I led for first year pupils at lunchtime. The head of Adult Education then co-opted me to teach poetry-writing to adults, for a fee.
Meantime, I had just completed an introduction and then training in Transpersonal Psychotherapy (based on Jungian/archetypal thinking), and in 1991 a second visionary AdEd co-ordinator invited me to Exeter to design and deliver a series of workshops for adults based on a process I had discovered for myself in which we identified and rewrote the cultural myths that, in my view, were so deeply embedded in our collective and individual psyches that they operated autonomously in our lives. I called this programme of courses ‘Myth as Metaphor’.
My theory was that once we identify the power of, and rewrite, such a myth in our own psyche we have a greater choice in how we live our life. The work I did with this is a form of narrative therapy. I became quite well-known as an international teacher on the psychology of myth as a result of a book commissioned from the workshops by a leading mind body spirit publisher. Riding the Dragon – myth & the inner journey appeared from Element Books in 1994, and has influenced a number of people now working in the area of myth and ecopsychology.
Both these threads have developed.
The myth and poetry work in particular (see my other site The Wild Ways) includes working with the deep soul, and with a focus on the rest of the natural world and the other-than-human. There is an ecological and psychological dimension to the straightforward writing courses too. ‘I thought I was coming on a writing course. Now I realise it’s really about how we live,’ said a participant on one of my retreats in 2013. (Be assured we do also do a great deal of writing!)
My writing courses have always been holistic in nature, and have acquired a bit of a reputation. As a writing tutor, although I’m primarily known for inspiring creative and imaginal expression, I no longer choose to differentiate between creative, reflective and therapeutic writing, except in specific courses (eg novelists’ intensives). I believe that creative writing and personal process can enhance each other. (As an environmentalist, I also feel that writing can help us connect deeply with the other-than-human world, as well as with our own species.)
However, I also have a keen editorial eye, and bring this to my work with course participants. I want your work to be the best it can be, and part of my overall approach teaches you to better appraise your own work. I’m proud that many of my students are now published.
For the 30 years I’ve now been leading this international holistic course programme I’ve been privileged to work with, now, thousands of fine people from across the world in this work that I find so continuously creative and inspiring. I believe my approach is unique, and the workshops are about so much more than ‘just’ writing. (You can see what participants have said here – almost all of this feedback is unsolicited. ‘Transformative’ is a common adjective.)
The Guardian gave my first novel-writing course a full-page write-up in 1998. In June 2019, The Telegraph listed my Islands of the Heart retreat at ‘one of the world’s [ten] best creative writing holidays’.
Between 2004 and 2008 I was founder and artistic director of ‘Writing on the Wild Side’, a small Dartmoor literary festival.
Since 1991 I’ve been leading a monthly by-invitation-only poetry group, Two Rivers. Although people have come and gone, I’m proud to say that some of the original members are still with me, and many of the group are now published. A number of years ago we also brought out an anthology of our work.
Read on for various opportunities to study with me – in person or online.
NEW IN 2019/2020 WAS MY YEARLONG CREATIVE & EXPERIENTIAL COURSE: at this time of environmental destruction and climate change there’s been a resurgence of interest in trees. I have combined my knowledge of trees, tree lore, and the many gifts trees offer in a new THE WILD WAYS distance learning practice-based course, to involve writing, of course. TONGUES IN TREES began with the full moon of the winter solstice 2018. The next one started in December 2019 and number three in December 2020.
My book rooted in this course, A Spell in the Forest – Tongues in Trees (book 1) will emerge from Moon Books in JUNE 2021.
Since 1991, in addition to my own programme, I’ve been leading courses in:
~ creative writing
~ therapeutic and reflective writing, and journalling/memoir
~ novel and story
~ personal mythology
~ ecopsychology, and psychospiritual as well as environmental writing courses and retreats (‘ecosoul’ writing)
~ writing mindfulness walks
and combinations of many of the above for many other organisations here and abroad. These range from Oxford and Bern universities to Arvon, Sherborne Boys’ School, the Open College of the Arts, the Poetry School, the Poetry Society, Literature Works and many other groups of all ages. I’m an occasional tutor and mentor for MsLexia magazine (and a frequent contributor).
I’ve offered outdoor writing workshops and/or been poet-in-residence for the National Trust (most recently in autumn, 2017; you can hear a brief podcast about this here), Dartmoor National Park, Natural England, Hestercombe Gardens, Transition Town Totnes and the Cotswold Water Park, as well as for many schools here and abroad. There’s an abbreviated list here.
I’m very happy to tailor-make a course for you if you can host one: one-day, weekend, week-long or regular meetings are all possible. If you have an idea, do contact me.
In these pages, alongside details of my books, you’ll find a variety of courses, retreats and mentoring options in creative, reflective, therapeutic and eco-writing and/or what I call ecosoul writing. (NB In much of 2021 I shall be focusing on my own writing and professional development, and also our extensive vegetable plot, herb garden and orchard, so there are limited opportunities to work with me then.)
The heart of my work is expressed in my weeklong writing retreats.
Now, 2021, we are waiting to see if my retreats on the magical Isle of Iona in April and May can happen. (UPDATE: We will be going ahead in late September/October.)
Then there are sometimes a few one-day or weekend courses in different aspects of writing.
If you’d prefer distance learning, I have a number of options with new ones emerging too. See the top bar. The most structured and demanding are probably my popular and long-running online advanced ‘Elements of Poetry’, and ‘Storymaking’ (novel-writing rooted in myth and archetype) intensive courses. (Many of my students are now published.)
If you would like to begin your year with a solo reflective-practice retreat day, my popular THRESHOLDS workshop is now available as a download.
There is also my successful new Tongues in Trees course.
For an overview, click on the Calendar.
For a complementary programme of courses, usually or mainly outdoors, focused on ecowriting, ecosoul, myth, enchantment, the psychospiritual, and bardic arts, see my sister site THE WILD WAYS. There is inevitably much overlap between the two programmes: my courses all include writing, to greater or lesser extents, and all my work is rooted in my passion for and awareness of place, soul and the earth.
My poetry, novels & other books
You can scroll through the list of my books here.
It feels important to mention that I have a counselling qualification (NB not to be confused with a psychology degree, which does not offer the therapeutic training). Because groupwork of any depth will sometimes stir stuff up, I want to reassure you that I create and hold a safe, nurturing and confidential space.
The more than ‘just writing’ aspects: see here.
YOU MIGHT ALSO ENJOY MY BLOG.
© 2021 The material on this website, the sister website THE WILD WAYS, my blog and the titles and contents of my courses are my own work, developed over decades. Although much of this work has been appropriated, none of the people who have participated, worked with me, or alongside me, or anyone else visiting these sites, is or has been authorised to use either the content or titles of such work.