Di Slaney is a poet, publisher and animal sanctuary founder who lives in Nottinghamshire. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Nottingham Trent University and owns Candlestick Press (famed for 'poetry pamphlets, instead of a card'). Her poems have been published in various magazines including Magma, The Rialto, The Interpreter’s House and Brittle Star, and twice shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. Her debut pamphlet Dad’s Slideshow was published by Stonewood Press in 2015.
In 2005, Di and her husband moved into a Grade II Listed four-hundred-year-old farmhouse, populating it with livestock and eventually starting Manor Farm Charitable Trust. The house, the animals, and the surrounding village of Bilsthorpe became the subjects of her first full-length collection of poetry, Reward for Winter, published by Valley Press in 2016. A second collection, Herd Queen, followed in September 2020.
Since 2005, Di Slaney has been filling her ancient Nottinghamshire farmhouse and its land with more livestock than is sensible: Manor Farm Charitable Trust is home to over 170 animals at the last count, many of them with special physical or behavioural needs. Herd Queen boasts eloquent animal sketches including Mayhem the Herdwick sheep and the tale of a nocturnal poetry slam run by mice; sea-salt childhood memories – taste the rain – and an exuberant riff on Christopher Smart that serves as a hymn to manure, ‘Jubilate Excreta’. (‘For when you fall in it you will always find the biggest pile.’) Di has produced yarn from her rare breed and rescued flock and, from a tangle of folkloric witch-wool to a jumper-bundled British childhood, wool threads many of the poems together.
But Di is acute and affecting on human relationships, too, granting vivid windows into richly imagined lives both contemporary and historical. Love letters come from Libya and desperate postcards from Powys; Lord Byron puffs and preens at his reflection; Elizabeth Broughton defends herself in an eighteenth-century courtroom; village characters are skewered with wicked wit. Her deeply moving collaboration with composer Omar Shahryar is based on his family’s experiences of evacuation from Saudi Arabia in 1990. Herd Queen’s heroines remember teenage trysts, do battle with the slings and arrows of ageing, collage a poem from Prince lyrics and dream of achieving Shirley Bassey-hood in their seventies. This is a constantly surprising, deeply satisfying book from a writer at the top of her game.
‘Wherever she goes in this wide-ranging collection, Di Slaney’s sophisticated, ambitious poems take the reader – moved, enthralled – right along with her’
— Jonathan Edwards
‘A tender and tactile collection from a poet who writes with a full and joyously mud-splattered heart’
— Seán Hewitt
‘Robust and earthy, subtle and direct by turn… often witty and sometimes wicked’
— Paula Meehan
Highly Commended in the 2016 Forward Prizes. Plus, see Di's story covered by the BBC, ITV, The Telegraph and the Daily Mail in July 2018.
In 2005, Di Slaney abandoned her urban existence to become the custodian of an ancient farmhouse in Nottinghamshire, populating it with – at the last count – 150 animals, most of them rescued. Reward for Winter tells that story on three levels: the earthy triumphs and tribulations of a novice smallholder; the history of Bilsthorpe from Viking settlement through Civil War to coal mining in the 1920s; and the quirky and affecting biography of one of the farm’s chickens.
The land, the generations who have tended it and Di’s animals are given voice, from the humorous ‘How to knit a sheep’ to the intimate, illuminating cycle focusing on a single chicken – learn, among other fascinating details, what dictates the colour of your breakfast egg. Reward for Winter also explores Bilsthorpe’s hidden histories: lost landmarks Ingar’s Holt and Labour-in-Vain; an Elizabethan witch trial; a concealed Cavalier king and seventeenth-century adultery. This book stands as both a fascinating work of non-fiction and an elegant and accomplished volume of poems, offering the reader an escape hatch to the country and a lungful of bracing air.
“Those who admire Di Slaney’s sophisticated and dexterous poems will be deeply grateful for this first full collection. Swinging to the rhythms of farm life, the book takes in a wide range of tones, from the humour of ‘How to knit a sheep’ to the transcendent lyricism of the collection’s title poem ... [it also] includes a highly original sequence about chickens and egg-laying. Beautifully crafted and very moving.”
– Jonathan Edwards
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