It was April 22nd 2016, a Friday night in the small Shropshire town of Much Wenlock. I had done my ten-minute set as support to the headline poets Lemn Sissay and Daljit Nagra on the opening night of that year’s Wenlock Poetry Festival (patron Carol Ann Duffy). During the interval, lots of people came up to me asking, “Where’s your book?”. “Where can we buy your book?”. “I don’t have one, I’m afraid,” was my rather forlorn reply. “Yet,” I said to myself.
Fast-forward four years to June 2020 and I have a Book at last. The Untethered Space was published last summer by 4Word Press, a small, independent publisher in the UK. It’s endorsed by Paula Meehan, Philip Gross and Gabriel Byrne, whose words – these poems are elegantly constructed and delicately lyrical. A haunting and deeply moving collection – I treasure. (Gabriel worked a lot with my late brother, the actor Peter Caffrey, back in the day. They were brothers in Bracken, remember that? He generously agreed to read the manuscript and write something for the back. I’m very grateful to him.)
So how did The Book come to be? I suspect my story is not dissimilar to lots of others. I started by submitting short stories, poetry, flash fiction and the like to journals, magazines and web sites and while most of these sank without trace I had the occasional success with a piece. This was enough to keep me going. I took classes, joined writing groups, started reading at poetry open mics (a terrifying experience in the beginning but really valuable) and gradually began to give myself permission to think of myself as a writer.
I think that last part is really important. When you begin to call yourself a writer, without blushing, it’s immensely freeing. I’ve just turned 66, so it’s not before time. Your fate is in your own hands; you either write or you don’t. If you write, you’re a writer. (I didn’t invent that; I read it somewhere and it really boosted me.) Publication is another step and can help validate you in your own or others’ eyes, but the actual you who is a writer exists before and beyond that.
I was extremely fortunate to be accepted into a writer development programme in 2015 run by Writing West Midlands, called Room 204, and to live in a region where the poetry scene started to explode. I also had some success in competitions, mostly for Flash Fiction, being short-listed in some and runner-up in others. (I finally won a competition a year ago, the Blake-Jones Review Flash fiction competition 2019, which is, I hope, further proof of the adage. “If at first you don’t succeed…)
Sometimes, when a rejection e-mail would come, or worse, an announcement of winners before you even realised the results were out (I hate that!) it hit really hard. Some rejections hurt – and still hurt – more than others, especially if you think the submissions were particularly strong, but somehow you have to get over that. Mind you, it’s very sweet when you manage to get a story or poem published that has been rejected elsewhere.
So, by the time of that poetry festival back in 2016, I’d been published, but didn’t have a Book, which is how most non-writers define you. I began to work on a manuscript of my poems and submitted to various places without success. I’m not a very prolific writer and creating enough poems to make a decent manuscript took time. Meanwhile, life and other writing went on but every now and then that ghost Book would hove into view. Eventually, I spotted a call out from 4Word Press for submissions and decided to give it a go, a proper go.
Initially, writers had to submit 6 poems and, if short-listed, the complete manuscript of approximately 28 poems.. When I made it to the shortlist, I asked Áine Ní Ghlinn (who was a friend from university days) if she would look over the poems and be brutally honest about any that didn’t make the grade. She was also really helpful about the order of the poems which made for a much more coherent whole that I’d managed before. (The fact that she’s since been appointed Laureate na nÓg does my street cred no harm!)
I had no idea when 4Word would announce their picks for publication so, in the interests of testing the waters, I sent the ms to an American publisher that I’d spotted on Submittable, who said they would get back with a decision in two weeks. (If only all publishers were so prompt!) It was a purely speculative move, more to pass the time while waiting for the verdict from 4Word than anything else.
Well, you know the story about waiting for a bus and two coming along at once? Yes, that’s what happened here. I’d no sooner heard from 4Word that my manuscript had been chosen than, a matter of hours later, the American publisher got back to me with a yes as well. I was still celebrating the first bit of good news when I was completely floored by the second. To make matters more difficult, the lovely woman from the US publisher pressed me quite a bit, in the nicest possible way, and had plans, it turned out later, to hold readings in Ireland, a dream of mine. I’d already said yes to 4Word (get thee behind me, Satan) and so I declined her offer. I know, you couldn’t make it up!
But, all these years later, the Book exists and 4Word have been lovely to work with. I’m still on Cloud Nine, even if it is virtually.
Take care, everyone, and keep the faith.
(c) Carol A. Caffrey
Author photograph (c) Dick Keeley
About The Untethered Space:
One of the time-honoured tasks of poetry is that of lament, and Carol Caffrey’s poems take it on with grace and wit as well as sensitivity. The losses acknowledged range from the aching ones of long history to those closest to home. And like the best of elegy, this writing steps through sadness into celebration of language and life.” – Philip Gross
In Carol Caffrey’s poetry grief is carried across the generations and the natural world to culminate in moving elegies for her four siblings, Dave, Peter, Sheila & Linda. The poet’s eye in a fine frenzy rolls — from the tip of the Beara peninsula in West Cork to her native city of Dublin to her life as an emigrant in Britain; from the Irish mythological cycle to the atrocities of the globalised world; from deep inner space to the far reaches of the starry heavens. She maps this expansive territory all the better to chart her love of life and her empathy for its suffering creatures. – Paula Meehan
These poems are elegantly constructed and delicately lyrical. A haunting and deeply moving collection. – Gabriel Byrne
Order your copy online here.