Reflecting on a Year of Contrast: Personal Milestones and Professional Triumphs at The Broken Spine


A Year of Personal Milestones and Mental Health Struggles

In 2023, I navigated a year of stark contrasts, marked by both profound personal milestones and intense internal struggles. As I celebrated my 40th birthday, my heart swelled with pride for my eldest son turning 18, my youngest reaching 13, and my wife’s milestone 50th birthday. Alongside these joyful occasions, we also celebrated the first birthday of our grandson, each event a poignant reminder of life’s relentless march and the importance of cherishing each moment.

However, the year was also shadowed by personal challenges. One summer night, engulfed in a mental health crisis, I found myself wandering the streets aimlessly, confronting the darkest corners of my mind. This was an acute crisis  and it was during this solitary hour, with the sombre possibility of walking towards the train tracks looming over me, that a crucial decision crystalised – the decision to fight for my life. Seeking help at the A&E was the first step on a path towards healing, a journey made more bearable by the unwavering support of friends, both in the tangible world and in the digital realm. Their solidarity was a beacon in my darkest hour, reinforcing my resolve to recover.

Professional Growth Amidst Family Challenges

Professionally, the past year has been a period of significant evolution and adaptation for me. The pivotal moment came with the securing of a full-time contract and an additional role during the summer. This achievement was not just a milestone in my career but a lifeline in a time of personal upheaval. The challenges we faced as a family, particularly with my youngest son’s escalating ASD and its profound impact on our daily lives, led to a seismic shift in our family dynamics. My wife, a cornerstone of our family, had to step away from her career to provide the necessary support at home. This decision, while necessary, brought with it a wave of financial uncertainty.

The timing of my professional advancement was fortuitous. It provided a much-needed sense of security and autonomy during a period rife with challenges. The ability to navigate these tough months without falling back on charitable support was a testament to the resilience and independence we fostered as a family. In my workplace, these developments have fortified my role and presence. The secured contact time with students, a facet of my job I deeply cherish, has been safeguarded. My personal experiences have deepened my empathy and patience, attributes that resonate in my interactions with students and colleagues alike.

Meanwhile, witnessing my eldest son embark on his new journey in London, studying politics at university, filled me with a complex mix of parental concern and pride. Observing his immersion into university life, from his spirited adventures with friends to his explorations of diverse cultural experiences, I am hopeful that he will return home, a young man who has grown in depth and perspective, shaped by the independence and challenges of his first term away from home.

This year also marked a significant milestone with The Broken Spine. Celebrating one year of steering its course single-handedly has been both exhilarating and daunting. As I navigate the intricacies of independent publishing, I find myself rapidly acquiring new skills and experiences. The potential of The Broken Spine as a future career path is becoming increasingly tangible. The next couple of years are crucial in laying down the firm foundations that will define its trajectory. My journey through 2023 has been a blend of personal challenges and professional triumphs, each shaping my approach and perspective in profound ways. As I look ahead, I am filled with a sense of cautious optimism, aware of the hurdles but buoyed by the possibilities that lie ahead.

Milestones in Publishing: The Broken Spine’s Year in Review

The year 2023 has been a landmark for The Broken Spine, marking significant achievements in publishing and community engagement. Our journey began in spring with the publication of Bold: An Anthology of Masculinity Themed Creative Writing, a diverse and thought-provoking collection. The momentum continued into early summer with Four Forked Tongues, an anthology of short stories from four Cardiff University MA Creative Writing graduates. This collection marked a milestone as our first printed prose anthology and quickly became one of our bestsellers. The authors – Lucy Aur, Sally Filer, Bethany Lewis, and Elizabeth Kemball – have all shown immense potential in their literary endeavours.

In late summer, we published Modest Raptures, the winning poetry collection from our inaugural chapbook competition in 2022, penned by the talented poet and teacher, Ellie Rees. Autumn brought the release of Kyla Houbolt’s Surviving Death, a poetic exploration of the human condition. And most recently, I had the honour of publishing my third solo collection, Twenty Seven, a tribute to Jim Morrison on what would have been his 80th birthday.

This year has also been about strengthening our editorial team, with Katie Jenkins and David Hanlon overseeing poetry, and Elizabeth Kemball and Lucy Aur curating flash fiction. Their expertise ensures a steady stream of quality content for our online platform.

Beyond publishing, 2023 marked our return to hosting live events, both in-person and online. From open mic nights and book launches to our first music and poetry night in Liverpool since the pre-Covid era, we’ve reignited the community spirit that is the essence of The Broken Spine. One of the highlights was hosting BAFTA-winning Henry Normal and friends at Cooper’s Bar in Southport, a memorable event that stands as a personal career highlight. The bar will also be the venue for another music and poetry night on December 27th, a testament to our growing presence in the local arts scene.

These achievements at The Broken Spine are not just milestones in publishing; they are a reflection of our commitment to nurturing and showcasing diverse literary and artistic talents. As we look back at the year, it’s clear that our focus on individual writers and community events has not only enriched our platform but also created a vibrant, engaging space for artists and audiences alike.

Looking Forward: Ambitious Plans for 2024

As we edge closer to the end of 2023, my gaze is firmly set on the horizons of 2024, with a mix of anticipation and ambition for The Broken Spine. Our immediate plans involve promoting our latest collections, Surviving Death and my personal work, Twenty Seven. Behind the scenes, I’m excited to be curating The Whiskey Tree, a sister anthology that brings together a collective of distinguished poets exploring the themes of wildness and ruggedness in nature. We aim to launch this captivating collection in the early weeks of 2024.

The first quarter of the new year also marks an open call for submissions for an innovative anthology, STAGE: Poetic Responses to Live Performance, scheduled for publication later in the year. This project is particularly thrilling, as it intertwines poetry with the dynamism of live arts, offering a unique platform for poetic expression.

In addition to these publishing ventures, we are preparing for the announcement of our second chapbook competition winner and the inaugural poetry award in March. The award, which I will personally judge, celebrates the best of the #SelectedPoetry published on our site, plus entries from our #PoemsAbout features on Twitter.

But 2024 isn’t just about publications. I’m also keen to expand The Broken Spine’s community engagement. Plans are underway to introduce a writing course and workshop during the summer. We are also exploring a residency programme. This programme envisions hosting a series of open mic nights for poets and musicians over several weeks, fostering a vibrant and interactive artistic community in the North West.

Embracing Diversity: Future Projects and LGBTQIA+ Anthology

As autumn 2024 approaches, The Broken Spine will proudly launch our third chapbook competition, continuing our tradition of discovering and nurturing new literary voices. This event has become a cornerstone of our annual calendar, consistently drawing in a wealth of diverse and compelling submissions.

In parallel, I am excited to announce the introduction of two new editors, Perry Gasteiger and Romina Ramos who will be spearheading an LGBTQIA+ only anthology, a project close to my heart. This anthology is set to be a powerful celebration of queer voices and experiences, aligning perfectly with our commitment to supporting marginalized communities. We aim to publish this seminal collection in time for Pride 2025, contributing to the global celebration of LGBTQIA+ identities and stories. By bringing in a specialized editorial team for this anthology, we’re not just amplifying these vital voices; we’re also ensuring that the narratives are presented with authenticity and respect. This initiative is a testament to our ongoing dedication to inclusivity and representation, reinforcing The Broken Spine’s role as a platform that champions the voices of all, particularly those from underrepresented communities.

Thank You

I want to extend a heartfelt thanks to our dedicated readership, the vibrant Broken Spine Community. Your unwavering support and engagement have been the backbone of our journey. To my friends, colleagues, and the invaluable volunteers who have given their time and talents, your contributions have been immeasurable. Your solidarity and commitment have not only enriched The Broken Spine but have also been a source of personal strength and inspiration. Together, we have created a space that not only celebrates literature and art but also fosters a sense of belonging and connection. As we enhance our online presence with regular blog posts and live arts coverage, we look forward to continuing this journey with you, offering a steady stream of insightful and creative content. The coming year is set to be an exciting one, brimming with new projects, community involvement, and a deepened commitment to showcasing the diverse array of literary and artistic talents. Here’s to a year of growth, creativity, and community at The Broken Spine!

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