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Thursday, 28 August 2014

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Mining memories put Jenny on the shortlist

IT was Jenny Martin’s personal experience of the loss of loved ones in the pits that inspired her to write her moving book of poems entitled Mining Memories.

It was launched during last year’s 100th anniversary commemorations of the 1910 Wellington Pit disaster with all proceeds going to coalmining charities.

Then her moving anthology found itself in the shortlist for The Bookends Prize for Arts and Literature in the Lakeland Book of the Year Awards 2011.

Now living in Bollington, Cheshire, the retired doctor lost several family members to the mines, including an uncle and a teenage cousin.

She attended the lunchtime awards ceremony at Armathwaite Hall and heard Hunter Davies describe Mining Memories as ‘beautiful’. Though she didn’t win Dr Martin found the experience encouraging.

“Listening to the judges’ comments and assessments was interesting and encouraging,’’ said Jenny.

“They weren’t just looking for obvious beauty and presentation: there were adjectives and phrases like edgy; self-effacing, not obvious beauty. The most natural writer there was Edna B Croft for Maryport and Hunter Davies went on to give her some tips that I’m sure she’ll treasure.

“More than 40 per cent of the books were self-published. One of the judges, Kathleen Jones, had written about the otherwise high quality self-published entries they receive that don’t make it to final judging because of poor cover design, editing and binding. So it is worth going to a professional publisher.’’

Mining Memories was second runner-up to Cate Haste’s book on Sheila Fell that went on to become the overall winner of the Lakeland Book of the Year. Maryport was a category winner and runner-up overall. Winners came away with a framed certificate and runners up received a scrolled certificate.

“Chris Tomlinson (nee Collier of Cumbria Tourism) told me that a sponsor has been found to fund a separate prize for poetry next year. I said I didn’t think I could do anything like that again, we both seemed a bit crestfallen – then on the way home I thought of something........’’

During her working life, Jenny specialised in diagn-ostic medicine (chemical pathology). She retired in 2007 and was encouraged by the leader of a creative writ-ing group that she should try her hand at poetry, which she initially resisted.

She has recently had an article entitled A Cumbrian Living Wall published in the British Pteridological Society magazine, Fern World, in which she tells of a stone and brick wall at Kells, Whitehaven, which is covered in the fern species asplenium trichomanes and polypodium vulgare.

“These ferns had taken up residence unaided. Nobody in this windswept former coal mining town with its tradition of fruit and veg growing in allotments and back gardens would have helped them,’’ Jenny writes.

“Strange to look at these living wall ferns and think of the coal measures, once ferns themselves, hundreds of feet below the house where miners worked, many died and a few remain entombed. A thread of incredulity at how verdant fern forests could have been compressed over three hundred million years into lethal black coal, runs through the poetry of the late pitman, John W Skelly.

“Coal mining had a major effect on the study of carboniferous period fossils before mechanised extrac-tion depleted the supply of good specimens. Still a rich source, though, are outcrops of coal in quarries like How-gill Head, Whitehaven that yielded a specimen of renaultia footneri, now in the National Museum of Wales.

There is a north-west group of the BPS that meets regularly. Its last visit was to St Bees Head to explore fern life, in particular Dryopteris aemula growing unexpectedly on an open grassy slope high above the sea and, at sea level, asplenium marinum.

Other more common ferns are frequent along the lanes and tracks of the headland.

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