Thursday, December 24, 2020

Yes but what review

Many thanks to Dr Jonathan Taylor and the team at Everybody's Reviewing, for including my review of Ian McMillan's latest Smith and Doorstop pamphlet, Yes But What Is This? What Exactly?.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020


Many thanks to Editor Kit Willett for including 'Rock Oysters' and 'Auckland, Good Friday' in the inaugural issue of Tarot Journal. I'm pleased to have my work alongside poems by Ria Masae, Siobhan Harvey, and others.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Riptide climate matters


Proud to have work in this important #ClimateMatters issue of Riptide Journal, many thanks to Editors Sally Flint and Virginia Baily.
The issue is free to download, but for anyone having difficulty accessing the site, here is my poem:
Letters to Dad 
I write to you, Dad, who will not read my letters,  
who memorised The Rime of the Ancient Mariner  
and knew by heart the one-eyed yellow idol,  
was never idle but for the hours mined 
 in front of the hearth with the tv casting shadows  
on your big chin. Your chin, I have inherited. In age,  
I have yet to surpass the numbers of your birthday  
the last time we shared cake, a tell-tale crease  
curves from cheek to cheek regardless, shapes 
 an image of myself in your face 
 when you moved to land your fist. 
 Did you feel like you were punching yourself?  
One letter away from dead,  
does guilt hang weighty like an albatross,  
like me aged kid with my arms around your neck, 
 asking you, Dad, please will you read to me?  
You told me two-dimensional stories out your head,  
had imagination and could build sheds from scrap, 
but sat on my homework because it remained flat for you, 
who, when I choked, held me upside-down, 
like the book you couldn’t read,
 until rind fell from my mouth like pressed flowers.  
Rachel Fenton 2020

All the beautiful thank yous


Thanks to C J Anderson-Wu for publishing "Has History Become Just a Video Game", my review of Sylvia Petter's debut novel All the Beautiful Liars, on Booksie, and extra thanks to Petter's publisher Eye Lightening Books for including an excerpt and linking to the full review on their website.

Friday, October 16, 2020

In verse


A big thank you to Editors Paul Farley and Andrew McRae for including my poem 'River Dove' in the beautiful anthology that is Places of Poetry, Mapping the Nation in Verse. It's a beautiful book. I'm delighted it is now launched and I can get my hands on a copy.

Monday, October 5, 2020

Takahē running

I couldn't be more pleased to have made the longlist of the Monica Taylor Poetry Prize for the second year running - many thanks to judge Siobhan Harvey! Wishing congratulations and luck to everyone else listed!

Saturday, September 26, 2020

Strands longlist

Woke to the lovely news that my flash has made the longlist for the Strands International Flash Fiction Competition #9, thanks to Jose Varghese and the Strands team! Stoked to be listed with so many wonderful writers.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Overground underground

Chuffed to bits that my graphic memoir "Dance the Night Away" is included in this inaugural issue of Overground Underground - part of my New Shoes series (See 'Graphics Alley' on my side bar for other pieces from this series). It couldn't have found a better home! 

Submissions are open for issue #2, so if you have something, send it in.

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Story challenge

I was really happy Damyanti Biswas tagged me in a 100 word story challenge this week. I hadn't spontaneously written anything for a while, what with lockdown and writing to various deadlines, plus behind the scenes business of family life and better paying work, so it was good to write something simply for the pleasure of writing rather than with any specific purpose in mind. I had forgotten how enjoyable writing can be. Damyanti has written more about the exercise, the joys of writing for its own sake, and highlighted some of the pieces resulting from the challenge, which you can read on her blog. I'm grateful to her for the chance to take part.

Monday, August 31, 2020


Stunned to learn that my poetry has been shortlisted for The Emma Press Poetry Pamphlet publication. Many thanks for the absolute labour of love that Editor Emma Wright has put into reading all of the hundreds of submissions. It's astonishing and humbling to me that my poems have made such a connection to have been selected among the final nineteen.  

Monday, August 10, 2020

Emma Press

I'm over-the-moon to have been notified that my poems made the longlist of 77 out of 413 submissions for The Emma Press Adults' Poetry Pamphlets call-out. 

Added to last week's news that my Childrens' Poetry Collections submission made the 'maybes' list of 75 out of 105, I'm feeling pretty lucky, and grateful to Emma Press Editor and namesake Emma, firstly for reading such a huge pile of submissions, but especially for connecting with my poems - poems I unreservedly put my heart into - which is the most affirming thing imaginable. 

Best of luck to all the other longlistees. As I fidget nervously to see if I make the shortlist of 15 - 30 pamphlets in the coming week, I'm certain that the published pamphlets will be worth the wait!

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics

Every once in a while an incredible person will cross your path, someone who strives above and beyond your expectations and brings great things to you that you have done little to deserve and find yourself in gratitude for. I introduce Aswin Prasanth, who, along with Rajesh Panhathodi & Augustine George, interviewed me and placed the interview in the Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics (Routledge Taylor and Francis). Thank you, Aswin, thank you Rajesh, and thank you Augustine. You made a little dream of mine come true.

Friday, July 17, 2020

A Quarter Life

A Quarter Life by Tyler Pufpaff
Review by Rachel J Fenton

When Tyler Pufpaff asked if I would review his poetry chapbook, I agreed with no idea of what to expect from A Quarter Life other than the poet’s own disclaimer that their chapbook represents their “experience with mental illness”, a disclaimer that is repeated in the brief note to readers in the book’s opening pages. Tyler Pufpaff is a poet of few words, I thought. Had I opened this book in a bookshop I would have read the Bukowski quote on the following page and stopped there. But I had agreed to review Pufpaff’s poems, so I read on.

My reaction to Bukowski is less a criticism of his work than a comment on the overuse of Bukowski quotes to act as some sort of shorthand for struggle, particularly the struggles perceived by white males. As a working-class woman, I feel perturbed by pleas of struggle by privileged groups and view them as performative rather than real. But given the brevity of the chapbook form, I can appreciate Pufpaff’s choice of epigraph. 

Any concerns I had about performativity are answered in ‘The Perfect Performance’, an eight-stanza poem that reads easily at a satisfying speed, much like the videogame referenced in it. The childish knee-jerks depicted are weighed against the wrongs of a woman – the mother? – in a push-pull of resentment and forgiveness. 

The emotional complexity of the first poem is given relief by the list of ‘Moribund’, in which what is lost by leaving home is balanced against the new struggles gained from being “[t]ruly independent”, presenting a sort of poetic equation. 

‘Delores’ loops back like sewing machine thread to catch up where the first poem left off, building on an uncomfortable association between violence and women and highlighting Pufpaff’s knack for editing. Care is evident in the placement of these poems. 

‘Painting in the Garage’ gives two perspectives of the same scene, a mind-scape where the paint is a metaphor for the layering of struggles and the difficulty in seeing through a thickening surface of illness that culminates in a suicide attempt in ‘Banal Platitude’. 

Interestingly, a sort of resurrection occurs in the following poem, titled like a journal simply with the date ‘June 18’, in which the poem’s speaker mourns a dead self who has been replaced by a self-destructive one. 

‘Flash Forward’ hints at a happy ending making the impact of ‘Ghost Rider’ more shocking. Accountability is swerved around to get to ‘Forgiveness’. What should be clear to readers now is that they are not in their own head, “[u]nfocused and stuck”. Even the sentences are coming unstuck: “feeling less immersed now than I’ve ever been with anything that I’ve lost a cause.’

Pufpaff’s ability to disorientate the reader is matched by his skill at guiding them through each poem, offering only as much complexity as is required for them to empathise with his mental health struggles while expertly leading them through to the next poem. There is enough variety of form to reward the reader visually when the heavy subject-matter is unrelenting. 

Where Pufpaff is strongest is in the poems that divide the poems on the page, such as ‘Ode to ceiling Fan’, giving readers a sense of split-thinking but also reasoning; however, the most emotionally satisfying poem is arguably the simplest. ‘Haircut’, in six repetitious stanzas, cuts to the heart of the loneliness of mental illness, the effect all the more poignant for its nursery rhyme allusion and such lines as, “I can cry if I pay for shampoo”.   

Staring at the ceiling becomes a genre in these poems, in which Pufpaff makes the ceiling the stage for his masterclass. The tragedy is that the poet seems unable to exit. A sense of claustrophobia builds from the second half of A Quarter Life, but instead of escape there is an elegiac ending that feels more like a lift-off than a last page. The hope, then, is that a more optimistic collection will follow.

Had I stopped reading A Quarter Life at the Bukowski quote, I would have missed the opportunity to read the resiliency-in-progress evidenced by Pufpaff’s poems, the desire to succeed in the face of mental illness despite – or perhaps because of – its unrelenting presence in the poet’s mind. Yet wherever the poet’s thoughts take his poems, his poems deliver the reader safely to a more thoughtful place to consider mental-illness from. 

A Quarter Life
Published by Tyler Pufpaff 2020
30 pages
ISBN 978-1-71-480028-5

Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Monday, June 1, 2020

Black dahlias

I'm ever so grateful to the team at Splonk for including my story 'Black Dahlias' in issue #3. Thank you Nuala, Robert, Marie, Adam, Lisa, Janice, and Finbar- it's a beautiful issue.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Second visits

I'm over the moon to have had my story 'Visits' placed second in the 7th Strands International Flash Fiction Prize, having had two stories shortlisted in the same competition. Thank you to Jose Varghese and the Strands Team!

Monday, April 27, 2020


My thanks to Michael D Grover for including 'Keeper, From Life' in the Museum of Poetry

This poem was written as part of my research for the graphic biography of Mary Taylor. I was almost derailed by my distraction with Miss Emily B's work.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Flash anthology

I'm chuffed to bits to have a story selected for inclusion in the National Flash Fiction Day Anthology, with all these flash writers - lovely to see so many writer pals - thank you so much NFFD team, for this and all your hard work over a very difficult time!

Sunday, April 19, 2020


Image Copyright Rachel J Fenton 2020

In late 2016, I was awarded a significant arts grant by Creative New Zealand to research, write and draw a graphic biography of Mary Taylor, Charlotte Brontë's best friend. My research was scheduled to take me to Wellington, where Taylor lived, wrote and ran a successful business for the best part of the fifteen years she was in Aotearoa New Zealand, but an earthquake in the capital meant I had to defer that trip and instead I flew to New York in early 2017. As well as the usual notes and photographs, inspired by the astonishing city New York is, my research also took the form of poetry. 

I am over the moon to share the exciting news that Sara Lefsyk and Joanna Penn Cooper are going to publish the resulting chapbook with Ethel Zine and Micro Press
Beerstorming with Charlotte Brontë in New York will be published in April 2021!


Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Thursday, March 19, 2020

The almost mothers review


A first time mum struggles with her newborn baby. An alien examines the lives of Earth Mothers. A baby sleeps through the night at long last.
Written with raw honesty, Laura Besley's debut flash collection, The Almost Mothers, exposes what it really means to be a mother.

The Almost Mothers
Laura Besley
Publication Date
20th March 2020
129mm x 198mm
66 pp


“Glimpses into the multifaceted world of motherhood with honesty, beauty and humour” ~ Mahsuda Snaith

“Laura Besley has created a cast of memorable, poignant, characters in powerful, contemporary and futuristic stories, laced with a dash of humour, that reveal various nuanced, acutely-observed aspects of motherhood” ~ Emma LEe


Laura Besley writes short (and very short) fiction in the precious moments that her children are asleep. Her fiction has appeared online (Fictive Dream, Spelk, EllipsisZine) as well as in print (Flash: The International Short Story Magazine) and in various anthologies (Adverbally Challenged, Another Hong Kong, Story Cities).
The Almost Mothers is her first collection.

The Almost Mothers (Dahlia Publishing) is the debut collection of Laura Besley, twenty-six flash fictions about ‘what it really means to be a mother.’ 

Besley’s collection opens with ‘Mothers Anonymous’, in which one mother goes against the group ethos ‘we’re not here to judge’. In five short paragraphs, Besley evokes some key mother tropes to present motherhood as something outside one’s control, with varying results. She explores the compulsion some women feel to have children, even if their experience of motherhood doesn’t sustain them or is bad for their health, leaving the reader with the sense that motherhood is a disease; women are not in control; motherhood is greater than the individual. 

In ‘Playing at Being Grown-Ups’, two girls discuss the ramifications of failing to look after a virtual bay for a school class that predicts their suitability to be mothers. Framed by the portentous blowing of bubble-gum, this story will have varying impacts for different readers as it raises questions about who gets to decide who is fit to have children, which is a frequent subject of debate from back yards, to tabloids, to child welfare offices, as well as what happens to the data that is collected about us.

The third story in the collection, ‘Getting Ahead’, explores the futility of regarding a child’s development in comparison with others, as a sort of race. It pairs well with a later story, ‘Let Love Lead the Way’, as both stories mine the school yard antics of parents as well as children. This, like the previous stories, feels confidently written, from a distinct voice that has a lot to say.

From the beginning of life, we jump to the end with the next story. ‘Near and Far’ gives us an adult child’s perspective of their mother, revealing genetics has little power over warmth and food when it comes to bonding. It also illustrates the absence of opportunity for a child to consent to anything that happens to them, which, if extrapolated, raises questions for all of us, whatever age we are, about what age we must be to have agency over our own lives.

‘Everything’s Fine’ is another story that has its twin in this collection. A mother hides her exhaustion from a doctor, the subtext brought into relief by the foreshadowing of ‘Playing at Being Grown-Ups’. These stories form a cohesive whole and the collection feels slick and well curated. And here it takes a turn into the unexpected, which injects some energy into what might otherwise feel, well, mothered.

‘Down to Earth’ is a refreshingly brief list story in which an alien from outer-space contemplates the aids and impediments to human population increase. Besley’s stories are deceptively simple, and its often the smallest ones that provoke the greatest thoughts. Conversely, perhaps the least realised of the stories is ‘All the Children’, which, in its use of gendered colour for shorthand, jarred with the thoughtfulness of the other stories, felt like it needed to be longer. 

‘Wish Upon a Star’ was the least explained of the stories and the most powerful for it. It hints at Sudden Infant Death Syndrome without venturing into what could in less skilled hands become sentimental or irksome storytelling. When Besley gets the balance right, as she frequently does, the stories really stand out. 

The mundane routine of motherhood is countered by the excitement of shoplifting for the middle-class mother in ‘Hooked’, another great companion piece for the collection’s opening story, ‘Mothers Anonymous.’ Class issues run through this collection. In ‘Breakthrough in Motherhood Programme’, “unwanted motherhood” is countered with a sort of ‘Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind’ cure. Economics and class-discrimination, sexism and social control are all touched upon in this deceptively simple story. 

‘How to Grow Your Own Baby’ reads like a critique of the oversimplified advice thrown at mothers who have fertility issues and has a prose poem quality that supplies freshness at the almost half-way point of the collection. Perhaps it’s the change of tone, then, that makes ‘That Face’ stand out as heavy-handed; where other stories leave the reader to work something out, invest something of themselves, this story feels the most made-up. With a further edit, it could have the impact it self-declares it has.

2056: A New Generation imagines a future with a dwindling population and provides a nice counter perspective to ‘Down to Earth’. It’s clear that Besley has thought this collection through, tested her own story-telling skills in the process, successfully. Unsurprisingly, then, the most successful story in the collection is the one it takes its title from. ‘The Almost Mother’ is about what the word ‘mother’ means. In one interpretation, it could be said that it explores the word’s ability to destroy those who invest their trust in it. 

‘Supermum’ is a funny take on the standards mothers are held to and the hypocrisy of those who often boast their perfection in public while practicing what they preach against at home. The humour continues into tragedy in ‘To Cut a Long Story Short’ in this look at the ridiculous length mothers can go to for some time to themselves, all while their babies sabotage their every effort, then trying to give the impression that everything is totally OK. 

In ‘Breaking the Seal’ a woman contemplates opening an envelope that will give details of a child, presumably that she can adopt, with all the hallmarks and incumbent subtext of a mother putting off lifting a baby from a cot. 

‘That Apple’ is an excellent story about how women turn on their own. Another particularly strong story is ‘In Hiding’. Besley shines when she ventures into speculative fiction and alternate history, redolent of The Handmaid’s Tale, as she evokes the horrors of the Nazi occupation in this story about a woman who hides her child in a cupboard, which could also be a metaphor for pregnancy itself. 

‘The Unmothers’ imagines a world where women are abandoned by their partners if they do not produce a child. This story raises more questions and also highlights the absence or limited role of fathers in this collection. 

Besley is again on strong ground with this fairy-tale-like story ‘Hello, Again,’ and a fairy godmother character every new mother will recognise. In another fairy-tale, ‘Guilt Trip’, a fairy is rebuked by her superior for spending too much on “guilt dust” to keep mothers in check, cleverly sprinkling in reference to the real bureaucracy women face when they become mothers. Beautifully understated and probably my favourite of the collection.

Rivalry is a strong theme in many of these stories, bringing to focus how women are pitted against one another in our society, and ‘Let Love Lead the Way’ is a good example of it. Though predominantly hetero-normative, these stories cover a huge range of experiences women have prior to, during and post pregnancy, as well as when they become mothers.

‘Not All Linings are Silver’ is another story touching upon government intervention, with some comparable features to ‘Breakthrough in Motherhood Programme’, but it goes further, moving into the territory of bodily autonomy, agency and consent. A scarily prescient read. 

‘A Bedtime Story’ is a reminder that mothers aren’t necessarily biological. Which leads nicely to the final story, ‘The Motherhood Contract’, a story to dispel all the myths of motherhood. These stories, as so many of the pieces in this collection, would make excellent study pieces for students at high school and beyond and I'd love to see Besley expand her ideas into longer works of fiction.

Overall, Besley has produced an impressive debut, a tight collection that delivers some hard-hitting stories about what it means to be a mother. What is surprising is that it also reveals what it means to not be a mother. All packaged in deliciously deceptive bubble-gum pink. In a period of history where women's bodies are under threat, Besley's work is necessary and she and her publisher Dahlia are to be commended and supported. Buy this book.

For further information, review copies and to arrange interview requests please contact: