Get to know… Sandra Howell

It is no exaggeration to say that writing is like breathing for me, it is instinctive, as a result of over three decades of writing. Starting from my sixth form college newspaper, through to different careers in which my skill of writing a variety of factual pieces, for a wide range of audiences, was essential. This ranged from writing, reports, articles, speeches, newsletters, submissions to the House of Commons to witness statements and submissions for Employment Tribunal and fitness to practise hearings.

My first steps into the world of creative writing began in 2016, after attending evening writing courses where I wrote flash fiction. 2017 marked the start of me writing theatre reviews for View From the Cheap Seat here and London Theatre Direct here. One of my highlights was writing a review, for London Theatre Direct, in verse, of Arinzé Kene’s brilliant performance in his play ‘Misty’. You can read that here.

My love affair with Writing Room began when I attended the course Short Fiction Workshop with Kiare Ladner, when it was known as Collage Writing Room in Autumn 2019, where I focused on short and flash fiction. My relationship with Collage Writing Room, and its umbrella organisation Collage Arts, blossomed during the first lockdown in 2020, when I discovered a talent for writing poetry. The first poem I wrote, ‘Angry Black Woman’, was in reaction to the murder of George Floyd and a desire to inform, raise awareness and protest about the different forms of racism I have experienced as a second-generation immigrant of Jamaican parentage. How lucky was I when I sent ‘Angry Black Woman’ to Kate Pemberton, Director of Writing Room, that she realised its potential and was the driving force to promote and publish it. Kate encouraged me to continue to write poetry. This resulted in me writing a trilogy of poems entitled We Matter: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. Writing Room enabled a collaboration with Collage Arts and their artists and creatives to produce and publish readings of my trilogy: the first two of which Collage Arts produced as YouTube videos. ‘The Revolution is Being Televised’ read by actor Sheila Atim is here, and actor Martina Laird read ‘Angry Black Woman’ here. The third poem, ‘Will You Be There?’ was posted on Instagram here and read by actor Grace Akinbode on Soundcloud here. The icing on the cake was when Collage Arts, working with the Hate Interrupter Teams, produced an animation of ‘Angry Black Woman’ posted in December 2020 on YouTube here.

Writing Room is the gift that keeps on giving. Because of their belief in me they have continued to provide opportunities for me to grow and flourish as a writer. Writing Room gave me my first paid writing gig in 2020, when they commissioned me to write a Lockdown Diary, as part of an anthology of women writers of Colour, which was published online in December 2020. My contribution, ‘Life Cycles’, a mixture of prose and poetry can be found here.

I have continued to be part of the Writing Room’s community by regularly attending Feedback Friday, facilitated by Alison Chandler. This has helped me to gain more confidence to explore different subjects and forms of poetry, as well as developing my flash fiction. Writing Room provides various opportunities to write and publish poetry and prose, including on Instagram. I relish writing flash fiction and poetry to post on Writing Room’s Instagram @writingroomorguk in response to their 100-word photographic writing prompts. All of the above has encouraged me to continue to write and submit my poetry to other websites including Cheltenham Poetry Festival’s Ezine, where I have had 2 poems published so far here and here. My work has recently been shortlisted for the Lascaux Prize in Poetry 2022.

The photo on my blog shows two of my greatest passions, kayaking and travelling, and was taken on a trip to Costa Rica in March 2020 just before the first Lockdown. Like many people, I pursued new or renewed interests over Lockdown, including baking. Unlike hobbies such as baking, I realised that writing is not a hobby, it is something I want to pursue as a career. I am grateful to the Writing Room for giving me opportunities to help me achieve this goal. Below are 3 poems I have recently written.

What’s Going On?

Have you noticed the ads lately
on the TV?
Populated with actors who look
just like me

to Black Lives Matter protests
to stop further civil unrest

Must we celebrate this appearance of
Propping doors ajar in the name of

Do you wonder how corporations achieved this
so fast
Don’t you know their political awakening
will last
as long as there is profit
like it has in the past

Many people
still cannot believe
their ears
Populist politicians
Little Englander

right wing groups
fan the flames of the fire
Authoritarian leaders
as the next Messiah

White supremacists look down
in elation
As the media drown
in lies
mis and dis-information
Inciting hatred violence and
divided nations.

The Feels

My ‘lived experience’ of the feels
is like walking with wheels stuck to my heels
wading through a treacle swamp
every step is tiring
Chasing ideas and grasping at thoughts
my brain needs rewiring
My boiler’s thermostat
is out of whack
the pilot light is missing and
I want it back
I’ve got the feels
sweaty and hot
A peri-menopausal
pause all
that’s my lot.

Silent Laughter

He hugs me close softly shaking in silent laughter reverberating through the length of me making our bed shiver rippling my body absorbs us switching on my nerve endings quivering deliciously anticipating what will come.