Hello and welcome to the website of Carolyn Jess-Cooke, award-winning author  of The Guardian Angel’s Journal (Little, Brown/Piatkus, 2011), The Boy Who Could See Demons (Piatkus, 2012), and the poetry collection Inroads (Seren, 2010).

Carolyn’s books have been published in 22 languages. She has previously received an Eric Gregory Award, a Tyrone Guthrie Award, a Major Arts Council of England Award, and she has twice received a Northern Promise Award.

She lives in north-east England with her husband and four children.








  • “This book is quite simply brilliant to read, full of emotion and some heart wrenching plot twists … one of the best books with a child protagonist I’ve ever read.” – The Guardian
“Impressive . . . Jess-Cooke is every bit as skillful in her vivid portrayals of unworldly beings . . . as in illustrating the dreadful toll taken by mental illness.”—Booklist (US)
  • Jess-Cooke is one to watch.” – Publisher’s Weekly (starred review) (US)
  • “An incredible debut novel… This is The Lovely Bones meets It’s a Wonderful Life. Fabulous.” – The Sun
  • “This is the first novel by an intelligent and skillful writer from whom we cannot help feel that there are more good things to come.” Lovereading
  • “The new Audrey Niffenegger.” – Company Magazine
  • “The book is written with a poet’s eye for language, and also emotional intensity. For the Niffenegger fans, or those who like their fiction slightly strange.” - The Sunday M (Sydney, Australia)

Latest News and Updates


Today is the publication day for my second poetry collection BOOM! Needless to say, I am over the moon, not least because this collection has been four years in the making but because of the subject matter – motherhood. My 8th book, it’s probably the most personal book I’ve published to date.


I had the opportunity to give the first reading from the collection at the Wordsworth Trust on Sunday 13th April. It was also the first Writing Motherhood event, accompanied by Sinead Morrissey and Rebecca Goss who read wonderfully and participated in a discussion afterwards about how motherhood has impacted their creativity. A really wonderful event.


Thank you to all of you who have contributed to the Writing Motherhood blog. To all of you, I raise a glass in celebration of this wee book and hope to see you at the launch! (details here). I hope you enjoy the selections of poems included below.




 There was this baby who thought she was a hand grenade.

She appeared one day in the centre of our marriage

– or at least in the spot where all the elements of our union

appeared to orbit –

and kept threatening to explode, emitting endless alarm-sounds

that were difficult to decode.

On the ridge of threat, we had two options.

One was attempt to make it to the bottom

of the crevice slowly, purposively, holding hands. The other

was see how long we could stand there philosophizing

that when she finally went off we’d be able to take it.

But then the baby who believed she was a hand grenade

was joined in number: several more such devices entered our lives.

We held on, expecting each day to be our last. We did not let go.

As one might expect, she blew us to smithereens.

We survived, but in a different state: you became

organized, I discovered patience, shrapnel soldered the parts of us

that hadn’t quite fit together before. Sometimes when I speak

it’s your words that come out of my mouth.


first published in Poetry Review, 102:2, Summer 2012.


Home Birth


They said she was stuck,

as though she was a nine-pound human fork

pronged in the dishwasher,

an umbrella that wouldn’t fold to size.

Stuck because my body had never given birth

so I pushed until I thought I’d turn inside out

and yet she sat in my cervix for hours,

heartbeat like a drum

as the contractions collapsed on me

like skyscrapers,

as they talked about the knife.


Second time round, the sour sensation

of complete idiocy

for willing this pain again, going through it,

risking so much for someone

who remained at the fringes of knowing,

ghosted by awful wisdom

that birth isn’t the end of it, nor the worst –

episiotomy; infections; afterpains; breastfeeding.

But my body remembered,

it took the first shunt of his head, yawned, then

toboganned him out in a gush of brine,

red as a crab. I remember his arms

like a sock full of eggs, muscular, fists bunched,

as though he’d been prepared to fight.


first published in New Statesman, March 2014


The Waking


Those first few days every part of her wakened,

the seedling eyes stirred by sunlight, tight fists

clamped to her chest like a medieval knight

and slowly loosening, as if the metal hands

were reminded of their likeness to petals

by the flowing hours. Her colors, too,

rose up like disturbed oils in a lake, pooling

through the birth-tinge into human shades,

her ink eyes lightening to an ancestral blue.

The scurf and residue of me on her scalp floated

easily as a pollen from the sweet grass of her hair.

She reminded me of a fern, each morning more

unfurled, the frond-limbs edging away from her

heart, the wide leaves of her face spread to catch

my gaze. Once, I saw the white down of her skin

cloud in my hands, the cream ridges of her nails

drift like crescent moons, the thick blue rope

she had used to descend me tossed like a stone,

as though she was finally free.


first published in The Stinging Fly, 22, Winter 2012/3




Our children are so soft, we imprint them

like a heavy sole stepping into mud

not breaking the ground but reordering

its elements, the way it will hitherto

hold water, light, the curious nose of wind

and voice of earth. Even when later rain

smoothes out that patina something of the mark

holds. Even when the sun whips the wetness

to its pools of night and the stiffened ground

wears its shelled-out grooves, when these deepen

in each punching hail and hollowing storm

the pattern may be nothing like the original

print but art in its own way, no trace of boot

apparent in the striving clay.


first published in Poetry Review 103:2, Summer 2013



Honour Thy Parents



Honour thy father and thy mother

for they have spent the waning flame

of their youth failing


to get you to sleep; long hours by your bed,

singing, pleading. It was not

what they imagined parenthood would be like.


Honour them

for they have had to figure you out

like a trillion-piece jigsaw


that changed each time

they spied the beginnings of a picture.

Honour them for sparing you,


for fumbling and fretting, dressing and undressing

the foreign shrieking creature you once were

lest you grew too cold, too hot,


these imperfect beings

who confronted their complete dearth of knowledge

at first sight of you,


new and unbearably slight,

they resolved henceforth to do everything

right – honour them


for enduring vagaries and catalogues of advice,

most of it wrong,

for swallowing judgments dealt by strangers


during your many epic meltdowns.

No doubt there were times

you pushed them to some barren edge of love,


embarrassments, harassments of other

children in the park, or when you called them names

in public – fool! Dirty poo-face!


O honour them!

who carried their dreams through your childhood

like beads in a ripped sack,


they were doing their best; understand they were

their own parents’ children – honour them

for they must live with their mistakes,

honour them, which is to say

be all that they were not and do all

they could not, and so honour


your life. And if you find

you can neither forgive nor see in them

the good, the God, or the once unblemished child


think on this –

parenthood is the universal curse

of becoming or overcoming


our parents

for better or for worse –

and honour them.

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National Poetry Competition

Last weekend I had the opportunity to attend a very posh award ceremony in a very posh club in Mayfair, London (did I mention that it was posh?) because my poem ‘Hare’ was commended in the National Poetry Competition, or in other words got placed in the top ten out of 12,085 entries. I was bowled over by this news – received back in January – not least because of the number of entries received (it’s an international competition, despite the name) but because the poem I chose to enter was a kind of afterthought. I never imagined it would get placed… I was hugely pleased for Linda France, who took first prize – Linda lives in the north east also and she and I have done some readings together in the past. I’m delighted that the Poetry Society have arranged a celebratory reading for us both at the Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts on 5th June.

Congratulations to all the winners. The poems can be read here.

The other piece of news is that I have just been offered (and accepted) an academic post in creative writing at the University of Glasgow, commencing September. I am THRILLED to be contributing to the team at Glasgow and cannot wait to start teaching again. As part of my new role I will developing a research project about mental health – also the subject of my next poetry collection – so watch this space!

Last but not least, just ten days to go until the publication of my second poetry collection BOOM! (which is about motherhood; ‘Hare’ is published in it). My Writing Motherhood project is underway, with the first event happening on 13th April at the Wordsworth Trust and the launch of BOOM! at the Hexham Book Festival. On Saturday 14th June I will be performing at the Belfast Book Festival with Debi Gliori and Sinead Morrissey and on Sat 5th July I will perform with Hollie McNish and Rebecca Goss at the Ledbury Poetry Festival. I would LOVE to see you there!



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Writing Motherhood Events!

Hi there. Isn’t it a lovely day? I don’t know about you but a bunch of 99p daffs on my dining room table cheers me up immensely. As does seeing the tender purple heads of crocuses nipping up in the park. I LOVE spring!

OK, so the Writing Motherhood conversation is happening over at the Mslexia blog and I’m just delighted with all the responses I’m getting for this, so please do join in. I’m putting together an anthology of writing about motherhood and really want as many pieces as possible, so do send them to me at carolynjesscooke [at] gmail dot com.

The first few Writing Motherhood events are programmed. The April event is at the Dorothy Wordsworth Festival of Women’s Poetry on 13th April at 4.30pm. Sinead Morrissey, Rebecca Goss and I will be in deep and earnest conversation about the impact of motherhood on our work, and we would be delighted to see you there.

The May event involves me, Kathryn Simmonds and Debi Gliori at the Hexham Book Festival and will also see the launch of my poetry collection BOOM!, so it’ll be a super event. Please come!


See you then x

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Cover reveal! And more…

Am very pleased to reveal the cover for my new poetry collection BOOM!…

What do you think??? I’m so excited for it. The image is one of Brooke Shaden‘s amazing photographs – I am so grateful that she’s letting me use it.

The larger project surrounding BOOM! has begun. Booking has just opened for the first ‘Writing Motherhood’ event at the Dorothy Wordsworth Festival of Women’s Poetry at the Wordsworth Trust on Sunday 13th April – I’ll be in conversation with Sinead Morrissey and Rebecca Goss and it will be AWESOME, so do come along.

Mslexia is hosting the ‘Writing Motherhood’ blog, which will run throughout this year – the first post is up and I’m really eager to hear from YOU so please do join in the conversation!


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Writing Motherhood

Hello again! Well as usual it’s been aaaggges since I last blogged and that means tons of news. I’ll start off with what I think is the best news -

The Arts Council gave me full funding for my ‘Writing Motherhood’ project. What’s my ‘Writing Motherhood’ project? Hey, great question, and thanks for asking. It’s a project I’ve set up in relation to my new poetry collection BOOM! (out next Spring with Seren), which is about motherhood. In a nutshell, there is no other experience in my life that has impacted my creativity (or continues to impact) as much as motherhood. I mean, IN EVERY SINGLE WAY, from the logistics of finding time to write while caring for 4 children under the age of 8 to the ways in which I find myself in the same boat as so many women who find their sacred role as mother socially disparaged. Becoming a mother has made me look at everything around me differently. It forced me to confront the parameters of my existence. It completely altered my political viewpoints. All my feminist principles got a huge overhaul. A poem I wrote in support of Michelle McGrane’s ‘Against Rape’ protest speaks to this, but there was even more than that. All my theories about work/life balance and childhood psychology got shot out the window by the reality of having a child, to such extent that I found myself ditching a thriving career as a film theorist in favour of a more creative role. The physical impact of motherhood has been immense, too – I gave an interview for the Daily Mail last year and was scheduled (and refused) to have a pelvic fusion which would have involved constant wheelchair use for two years – and I am saddened to read more and more accounts of other women struggling with postnatal depression of varying degrees.

Becoming a mother changed me in every single way. My first child – born in October 2006 – just about knocked me sideways. Again, there were many reasons for this, but here’s the biggest one: I could not believe how public and political the (hugely personal) experience of motherhood was.

I could not believe that a trip to the supermarket would result in unsolicited advice from complete strangers about how to raise my child. Here’s a brief example: as an academic with hundreds of students and other staff under my responsibility, I could wander into Tesco with nary a word from anyone about my teaching methods, about my time management, about my levels of organisation. When people asked what I did for a living and I said ‘academic’, the response was intoned with interest and occasionally respect. It’s a whole other kettle of fish when you say you’re a mother. 

And the thing is, this experience didn’t blow over with my first child. Three kids later and I am still changing, still learning, still dealing with how public and how political motherhood is.  I was overwhelmed – and remain so - by the number of newspaper headlines about how working mothers were to blame for everything. Like, EVERYTHING. Obesity, autism, the likelihood of their children developing depression and experiencing future marital breakdown… Far from telling me anything useful (or true) about motherhood, it told me massive amounts about the type of society I inhabit.

Coupled with this was the love I had for my children. It completely and utterly blew me away, how much I could love another human being. It far surpassed all the negativity I had felt swamping around me. I urgently needed to find an art to express all of this, a language, a literary form. I thought first about writing a non-fiction book about motherhood, then a novel. Neither of them felt right (although motherhood is a prominent theme in ALL my novels) so I started writing poetry. Some of my motherhood poems made their way into my debut collection. Earlier this year an early manuscript of Boom! won a Northern Promise Award. Then Seren gave me a contract for my new poetry collection. Poetry Review published the title poem, Boom!. The new issue of Magma features my poem ‘Motherhood Diptych’ and ‘The Only Dad at Play Group’ is in New Walk MagazineNew Statesman is publishing one of my poems about giving birth later this year. I found more and more female writers articulating the impact of motherhood on their writing. I felt a kinship with these writers, far greater than any other work I’d read.

I suddenly wanted more than just to articulate this experience: I wanted to empower other mothers, to reclaim the power that has been bled from motherhood in whatever small way I could. And so I devised a project called ‘Writing Motherhood’, and was amazed that the Arts Council awarded it full funding. A key element of the project is a touring event involving a number of other amazing writers - Hollie McNish, Liz Fraser, Sinead Morrissey, Lily Dunn, Rowan Coleman, Kathryn Simmonds, Rebecca Goss, Kate Long and Debi Gliori – which will tour 12 literary festivals in 2014. I’ll also be running a blog for the event to establish a dialogue amongst writers and readers about their experiences of motherhood, and later will publish an anthology of creative work. BOOM! will be launched at the Hexham Book Festival in Spring 2014, and you’ll be most welcome to come along.

In short:


I’ll keep you posted about the dates and venues. IF YOU HAVE ANY EXPERIENCES OF MOTHERHOOD YOU WOULD LIKE TO SHARE please do so in the comments box here, or contact me on Facebook, Twitter, or via email. I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!

PS. I have other news, too, particularly about the new book I’m working on (feel free to follow my Pinterest board for it!), and some lovely reviews, but will post about these in the next blog (hopefully I’ll have a cover for BOOM! to show off, too!)

Meantime, here’s The Guardian’s fabulous review of THE BOY WHO COULD SEE DEMONS….




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