Bella is the title of my debut poetry pamphlet, published by independent publisher Offa’s Press in August 2018. The poetic sequence explores a true murder mystery from a rural Worcestershire town, known locally by the cryptic question ‘Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?’ Bella reads like a dossier of evidence, blending local history, folklore, and superstition with the true tragedy of a young woman’s life and premature death.
See the full mood board for Bella here.
I was raised near the Worcestershire border, where the Black Country town of Halesowen meets the rural towns of Hagley and Clent. In the shadow of the Clent Hills, Hagley Wood is a dark and imposing density of trees, made even more mysterious, sinister, and evocative by the graffiti which continually haunts the surrounding area. The question, ‘Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?’, intrigued me throughout my childhood, and in 2016, I began writing a collection of poems which combined the sparse facts of the case with my own imaginative reconstructions.
Download a PDF of ‘Lost in the Woods’ to learn more about the research and planning which went into the writing, formatting and publication of Bella.
Following the publication of the poems by Offa’s Press, Bella has been well-received by audiences, readers, and critics alike. In April 2019, it was shortlisted for a Saboteur Award in the Best Poetry Pamphlet category.
Members of Sutton Coldfield Movie Makers have developed a docu-drama about the Bella and the Wych Elm story, using the poems from Bella to build their semi-factual, semi-mythic narrative. I was involved in recording the audio of the poems to be used as voice-overs. The film is now completed and was premiered at the Sutton Coldfield Movie Makers meeting in September. The film was awarded first place, winning ‘The John Player Fiction Trophy’, at the Midlands Movie Makers Festival – huge congratulations to filmmakers Arf and Ann!
Two final-year drama students from the University of Birmingham, Esther Clemmey and Freya Wilkinson, recently used some of the poems from Bella in their practical dissertation piece. The piece is a multi-media performance using choreography, vocals and projection to explore the mystery of Bella and the Wych Elm. Watch below!
I also spoke about Bella and recited a few of the poems on Brum Radio, on the Brum Radio Poets show hosted by Rick Sanders. Listen below. (Introducing the story at around 4.00, ‘Bluebells’ at around 4.50; ‘Bella’s Shoes Lead Nowhere’ at around 16.10; ‘Only They Say Flahrs’ at around 29.20; ‘Incident Report: Hagley Wood Lane’ at around 45.15).