PENspiration! MAY All Your Days Be Full Of Sunshine!

Virginia Betts is a tutor, writer poet and actor from Suffolk. An eternal optimist and mid-life-creative advocate, she’d like to point out that it’s never too late to live the dream. And with this month’s blog, some ink to inspire and ignite your creative fire.



The month of May has flown by with plenty on the calendar to keep my creative energy flowing. It began with May the Fourth, or what I like to call, Star Wars Day! I was booked in to perform at the eclectic Klinker Club at Cuppa in Felixstowe. The Klinker was founded by Hugh Metcalfe, a musician and filmmaker from Suffolk and London, and he has been promoting music and spoken word events since 1982. The events are always quite avant-garde, but showcase some amazing acts. This time Hugh re-enacted the cover of one of his early records by playing his drums whilst wearing a gasmask. (I know!) Amongst the performers was Jackie Montague. She’s often at events with Amy Wragg and you really must catch her performance poems if you can – they are always a treat to listen to. I performed wearing glitter and vertiginous platforms shoes, and I even tried out a new poem penned that afternoon. It went down a storm and I’d definitely do it again.

A massive event for me and several other writers and actors took place on May 12th at the Headgate Theatre. Along with Ryan Curtis, I co-directed and wrote a one-act play, the 5th August 1986. The inspiration was 5 songs in the charts that week, such as Camouflage, I want to Wake up with you, Papa Don’t Preach, Lady in Red and So Macho. Paul T. Davies and Craig Sennet were the other writers, and Ryan devised a script to link it all together. The interpretations of the song titles yielded vampires, murder and ghosts – nothing like the original songs. There was music and a strong 80’s vibe, and with a couple of added extra scenes, we will definitely be performing it again with the help of our very talented cast and crew! Watch this space!

I’ve also been back with Amy Wragg and the Soapbox People. The first was a Words and Verses event at The Steamboat Tavern in Ipswich, where a whole bunch of talented artists performed, and the second was on Sunday 19th, which launched Soapbox people – a membership for artists to perform and develop. I, well all of us, cannot thank Amy enough for providing this platform and the opportunity to perform at these amazing events. Suffolk definitely has talent. The event provided food and the guest set was performed by Johnny Marriot, who can be found under his band name, Pet Needs.

On May 16th, I was performing a 20 minute set at The Theatre Royal, Norwich. I was invited to do so by The Writer’s Guild (WGGB) which is well worth joining if you are serious about your writing career and potential development. The performance was for the East Anglia division of the union, and it was a script in hand show. We had quite a large audience, and had the day to rehearse, so it was quite a long and tiring day. I was happy to meet my fellow writers and actors, and I found myself called upon to perform one of the Scripts, a play in development. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and being asked to act in a script as well as perform my own work was the icing on the cake.

So, after all those poetry performances, I am back preparing students for their GCSEs this week, but I am back on stage on 28th June as part of the ‘Take Three Poets’ event at the Two Sisters Arts Centre in Trimley, (click the link for tickets and information) and to follow, an author event on 29th June as part of the Felixstowe Book fair. I have also invited the Suffolk Poetry Society to hold a stall at this event. Just before this in May you can also see a great event at Two Sisters – a Words and Verses performance, featuring music and poetry. (click link for tickets and info).

I’m also getting on with my novel and awaiting the publication of my next poetry book. If you want to read some tasters of my Punk Noir novel you can do so at Urban Pigs Press. Click the links and you will find my stories, ‘Dead Swan’ and ‘Dead Rats in a Bag.’ (content language/crime warning over 18 only!). A chapter can also be found on Bristol Noir. (again – crime/language content warning; over 18 only!). This month I am the guest editor for Urban Pigs poetry call on the theme of ‘Journeys’. If you want to submit your poetic work, click here. To sample some of my poetic works, click the link here.

A really interesting thing I have been up to this month is taking part in a GHOST HUNT! I joined Haunting Nights in Manningtree at the weekend between the hours of 9pm on Saturday and 2am on Sunday to learn about the history of Matthew Hopkins, the infamous Witchfinder General and favourite of James 1st in rooting out those pesky witches! Manningtree could do a lot more to promote local and widespread interest in the witch trials in Suffolk, especially as Hopkins was responsible for the deaths of over 900 so-called witches, as the historical information was fascinating. One method he used to ensure he was paid his extortionate fee was a retractable ‘pricker’ device to prick the witches’ marks. If the marks on the body bled, then the poor unfortunate was not a witch, but, of course, his cheating device made sure the marks did not bleed, and therefore the unfortunate soul was proclaimed a witch. He also tied women and men in billowing gowns in such a way to ensure all of those ducked in the ponds did indeed float, bobbing to the top like corks, which condemned them as fiends. In Suffolk we hanged our witches, which was a little kinder than the burning in Scotland. We found out where the phrase ‘hangers on’ and ‘hangover’ came from as well! We visited the woods at midnight to see the 900 year old oak tree, Old Knobbly, which is site of special powers. Lots of weird spooky things happened in the woods, enough to make a man scream indeed! In the woods I had two names pop into my head, and these were confirmed as women who had hidden from Hopkins at the site. Before and after our walk near the Mistley towers and the woods, Paul took us to the Red Lion pub in Manningtree, which was the site of Hopkins’ house, and also where the first ‘witch’ was taken from. The end of the evening was spent doing some old fashioned Victorian ghost hunting methods, and it did yield some intriguing results. Most scary was a technique called ‘Scrying’, where a person clears their mind and is used as a ‘spirit channel’. Now I can’t make you convinced if you are a sceptic, but when I was the channel, I totally could not control what I was doing. I went from very peaceful to crying hysterically to the point where the expert stopped it, and I returned to normal straight away. Other weird things happened too. We also used a technique called Estes, which is where an individual wears a mask on their eyes and headphones tuned to white noise. I tried this. The rest of the group ask questions you can’t hear, and you say any words you hear. Apparently, I had a coherent ‘conversation’, answering their questions convincingly. I’m very open-minded to this sort of thing, and whilst I don’t believe in demonic possession, or that ‘ghosts’ and ‘spirits’ haunt people with evil intent, I do believe that places in time leave behind imprints and energy. After all, I do believe that there are bad people, and Matthew Hopkins was definitely one of them. I have been on the walk part of the event before and a very strange thing happened. We had wondered if people dressed up to jump scare you when we first went, and when my husband and I both spotted a figure in a long cloak and hat on the ‘Hopping Bridge’ in Manningtree as we entered; we laughed and said – oh yes – they probably do. THEY DON’T. When we came to the bridge on the actual tour, we were told that the cloaked figure of Matthew Hopkins in his hat was reported as often seen walking on that bridge! SPOOKY! I’m open-minded as I have said, as I have seen and experienced many things I cannot explain, and many things which could be described as comforting and uplifting. I’m not sure looking for bad ghosts is a good idea, but a few things that evening were very odd indeed, and I would certainly recommend these evenings if you like that sort of thing. I spoke to Paul about his reasons for founding Haunting Nights.

When Paul was young, he had a real interest in the supernatural, and like me, he used to watch Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World, and collect the magazines called The Unexplained. He then met an old man called George, who used to help people who believed their houses were haunted, and George eventually asked him to work with him. Paul founded Haunting Nights, and the business grew from there, highlighting places of interest in local communities. I asked Paul about any personal experiences of the supernatural which stick in his memory, and he told me about the time he was at Worchester Mansion in Gloucester and head to take a trip to the cellar after everyone had left. A second set of footsteps joined him on the stairs, and kept going when he stood still. He couldn’t wait to get out of there!

But what am I going to recommend you read this month and into June? Well, last month I told you about the writer, Alexandra Carey and her book, The light that bends round corners. I was lucky enough to get a little interview with Alexandra.

Tell us a bit about your book and the reasons for writing it

The Light That Bends Round Corners, tells the story of the interweaving lives of a British Expat woman living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and her Filipina helper. I lived in KL for 7 years with my family. It was an extraordinary experience and life changing for all of us. When we came back to the UK I decided to write about it. (I had written two children’s books while we were living in Malaysia so I already had the writing bug!) A friend of mine who’s an agent recommended rather than a memoir I write a novel to give the story more scope, so although there are autobiographical elements in the book, it’s actually a distillation of many different stories that I heard about expats and immigrant workers in Malaysia.

Have you always been ‘A writer’?

I didn’t start writing until I lived in Malaysia. It began with a sort of blog for friends and family back in England to tell them all about our adventures. Then my daughter lost her teddy bear when we were on holiday in Mumbai, India. Rather amazingly we managed to get him back which inspired me to write a story about what had happened to him while he was lost. That turned into my first book, Ted Ted and the Dhobi Gnats.

What are you currently working on/planning next?

I’m currently working on a novel that’s set in Suffolk. It’s still at the very early stages but I’m already hooked into it and really enjoying the process. Writing gives me such a buzz!

Do you do any other jobs apart from writing books?

When we came back from KL I returned to being a freelance PR and Comms consultant. I’ve had to give that up due to illness in my family. Now I’m just focussing on my writing which I can fit in around y other commitments and which I love more than any other job I’ve ever done. So, it’s all worked out well.

What do you enjoy reading?

I read many novels – I guess what you would describe as book club literature. Recently, I’ve read Tom Lake, by Anne Pratchett and Still Life by Sarah Winman.

Books to read this month:

Everybody in my Family has killed somebody by Benjamin Stevenson: A really original and humorous murder mystery!

If you have always had an ambition to write, there’s no time like the present to get scribbling. But you may have other un-tapped creative talents. Set aside some time for yourself each day, even 20 minutes will do. And if you simply feel like doing something different, or re-charging your batteries, small changes can make you feel great – do something you’ve always wanted to do. Last week, for example, I went out and had another piercing in my ears! Sometimes being impulsive is just a necessity! So, tell me about your adventures, big or small. Have fun everyone!

Love, Virginia.


Virginia has written numerous articles and fiction, as well as two books, The Camera Obscure and Tourist to the Sun, with a third and fourth coming soon.

Feel free to contact Virginia if you have a great creative suggestion, venue or activity!

Feature photo: Cast and crew of 5th August, 1986