Navigating Out of the Dark Forest

‘Midway on the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark…’

The Divine Comedy, Dante Aligheri

Twenty years ago, after witnessing the closing stages of the war in Bosnia, I picked up my pen and wrote some poetry.  Despite entering a number of poetry competitions, I had no success. Those poems then spent the next twenty years gathering dust in several corners of the world as I pursued my career as a military nurse.

Then in 2011, I happened across an article in a national newspaper that told the story of a project inviting contemporary war poets to submit their work.  The best entries would be selected by a panel that included among others, Carol Ann Duffy (UK Poet Laureate), Simon Rae (former presenter of BBC Radio 4’s ‘Poetry Please’) and General, The Lord Dannatt (former Chief of the General Staff).

After reading the article, I picked up my pen and started writing.  By the end of the weekend, I had submitted a number of poems and reinvigorated my passion for writing.  I was fortunate to have all of my poems accepted and subsequently published in the anthology ‘Heroes: 100 Poems from the New Generation of War Poets’, which was published by Ebury Press in 2011.  I even enjoyed five minutes of fame when I was featured, along with a number of fellow ‘Heroes’ poets for the BBC Television magazine show ‘The One Show’.

Last year, I was introduced to the online writers forum ‘Wattpad’, which has enabled me to reach a modest audience, which alone has been sufficient to encourage me to keep writing.

The first work that I published on Wattpad was entitled ‘Danger Close’.  This was a combination of my earlier Bosnia poetry, the ‘Heroes’ poems and some new additions.  I was very thrilled when I was invited to have ‘Danger Close’ featured on Wattpad.  This has led to my poetry having more than 20000 reads; something I would never have achieved by leaving my poems to quietly decay in a cupboard somewhere.

Since then, I have added to my works and dared to move away from war poetry, embracing subject matter as diverse as sartorial elegance and Grendel, the savage beast of the Anglo Saxon epic ‘Beowulf’.  More importantly, I have spread my wings, writing serial memoirs of my life in uniform as well as some spooky short stories.

So back to Dante. I decided to leave the Service when I realised that, having grown up in the Army, I had no desire to grow old in it. Leaving the Army was a wrench and I confess that I did find myself in a ‘forest dark’ of my own creation. Whenever one is stuck in a dark forest, three things are useful – a map, a compass and a light source. For me writing has become all three.

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