Ellen Phethean runs Diamond Twig Press, which she founded with Julia Darling. She also works as a poet, playwright and editor.
Ellen began performing her poetry and plays on radio and stage with The Poetry Virgins, a women's performance poetry group. Her work appears in Sauce (Bloodaxe Books).
Her first full collection, Breath, was published by Flambard Press, and reissued by Red Squirrel Press. It was shortlisted for the London New Poetry Award, 2009. This work is largely the result of her part-time creative writing MA at Newcastle University, which helped her through the last few years, after the death of her husband Keith Morris, and Julia, within two months of each other in 2005. To quote the book cover: “These poems explore love, loss and the life that insists we carry on”, but Ellen says they also contain candid observation and humour.
She was writer in residence for Seven Stories, The Centre for The Children's Book, Ouseburn, and Writing On the Wall project. This inspired Wall, a novel in poems, telling the story of troubled teenager Kylie, and published by Smokestack Books in February 2007: a poem from Wall, Down the Dene, was our March 2007 Poem of the Month. Ellen was recorded by The Poetry Channel at the Aldeburgh Festival, talking about Wall, and her podcast is still available in the archives.
She finished a second novel in similar form, Hom, dealing with a teenaged lad from the West End of Newcastle. Unfortunately, the cross-genre form is not popular with publishers, so Ellen published it as an online blog: Hom is available to read here.
In August 2009 she was commissioned by Gala Theatre, Durham to write a new play for the Mystery Cycle, performed in May 2010. Along with her 22 year old Musician/rapper son Fred, she proposed Cain and Abel in Hiphop style. Cain and Abel was a triumph - all the dancers and actors upped their performance 200% and all the technical wizardry worked - so there were flames for the offering and the Tag mysteriously creating itself on the LED screen. Ellen says: "My son Fred and I wrote the words, and my son Johnny created all the music - we are the Von Rap family."
2011 ended with two pieces of good news for Ellen: following her success in winning second prize in the Jitegemee Poetry competition, she learned that her unpublished book, Mulberry & the Blue Hands, had been longlisted for the Times/Chicken House Children's Fiction Competition 2012; extracts from the longlisted entries were published in the Times Online (subscribers only). The novel has turned into a trilogy, and Ellen is now searching for a publisher for it.
In summer 2012, Ellen came third in the Inpress 'Indian Summer' poetry competition, held to celebrate Inpress's 10th birthday, with her poem, Late Song. In November 2013, she took third place in the Vorse Scribbin prize (North East section of the Basil Bunting competition) for How to Look at Bees. This poem is included in her new collection Portrait of the Quince as an Older Woman published in May 2014, by Red Squirrel, who have also reprinted Breath. Portrait of the Quince as an Older Woman was picked by New Writing North for their Read Regional promotion 2015.
Ellen was commissioned to write the poetic text for Rush, a community dance project choreographed by Southpaw Dance company, performed on April 5th 2015 at St Hilda's Colliery in South Shields.
She has a further novel in progress, and has been awarded a Hosking Houses Trust residency to allow her to work on it in Spring 2016. She explained in her diary: "I've been offered a little cottage in Warwickshire, a one up, one down space for free, to write in. What a luxury. It's a charity called Hosking Houses, that's designed to help women just like me: older, in need of peace and quiet, and an escape from financial and domestic constraints. All I have to do in return is acknowledge their support in my published work. The lovely Sarah Hosking was very clear in her conversation with me on the phone, '...and when you go home again, you will continue to write and not fall back into your domestic traps!'"
It's a young adult novel called Ren and The Blue Hands, set in a fictional 16th Century. The main character is a Dyer trained to be a ladies' maid, where she finds her loyalties torn and love is a trap. On a wider level, it explores political themes of power and espionage as factions struggle to control the winds of change. It's due to be published by Red Squirrel in November 2016.
She also teaches Writing for Children to adults and runs workshops. Ellen writes the Diamond Twig Diary and likes to keep everyone waiting for it.
Photo © Hogg Photography.