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This report is taken from PN Review 241, Volume 44 Number 5, May - June 2018.

on Helen Dunmore Neil Astley
First published on

I first met Helen in 1977 when I was working on Stand magazine, which had published a few of her poems. She came up to Newcastle to be interviewed for a vacant co-editor’s post, and we took her on an outing to Holy Island as a way of getting to know her. Very wisely as it turned out (I left the magazine not long afterwards), she decided not to take the job, which would have involved moving up from Bristol. She’d recently returned from Finland, where she’d lived for two years after graduating from York University, and was wanting to devote as much time as possible to her writing: she would work as an office temp for two months, then reserve the next two months just for her writing; then earn enough from office work to spend another two months just writing. Some of her early poems and stories drew on her time in Finland as well as celebrating the lives of women. This was the period of the Greenham Common protests which Helen supported, and the first magazine to publish her work was Spare Rib.  

We kept in touch, and when I set up Bloodaxe in 1978 I asked her if she’d send me the manuscript of her first collection once it was ready. This took a few years. She didn’t want to rush the book. We had the core of a manuscript, and she sent me new poems as she wrote them. In the meantime, she had met ...

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