All posts by Mai

I write and perform poetry and have had a number of short stories published. I've been leading a range of creative writing sessions in Suffolk for the past nine years. Currently, I'm running courses in 21st Century Poetry and Writing Short Stories.

Thirty Angry Ghosts – the happy dance review

I was so excited to get this review from local poet and poetry expert Richard Whiting that I did a little dance in celebration.


Controlled Anger (5 stars)

It is as if Mai Black has summoned each of her 30 chosen historical ghosts to give testimony about their lives and listened with impartiality to each voice.

Her excellent poetic craft gets to work upon what we know, or think we know, of each character and if ever a book stops you in your tracks, demands a re-read or an additional trip through Google, then this is it.

I particularly liked William Shakespeare’s manifestation. Mai’s wonderfully playful use of Shakespearian language shows that it is perfectly acceptable to hold an icon’s ghost up to the light and indulge in a giggle or two!

The ‘Unknown Soldier’ poem is as good an example of someone writing with a vast knowledge of the material she has to hand as you could want to find. ‘Two days later, Johno got half his face blown off/ so you could see right to the bone.’

From Cleopatra ‘I was just a woman/ just a little prettier than most/ and handier with the eyeliner pencil’ to Margaret Catchpole and many others. The poems are educational and each an excellent read. I re-read them all.

There are page biographies of all the participating ghosts at the rear of the book which gives great illumination to the preceding poems.
A great read for the poetry, or to further your historical knowledge. ‘Thirty Angry Ghosts’ would make a stunning classroom companion too.

Oh that history had been taught that way when I was at school!

by Richard Whiting

From The Ghost of Abraham Lincoln

Are you pleased with your performance:

the eloquence of gunshot,

the genius of shooting a man from behind?

Well done you,

a five-star review

for the talented

John Wilkes Booth.

But the villain’s part is too easy:

that stage-coach swagger,

the slicked-back hair,

the sneer, the sniff,

that twisted, mustachioed grin.

I was an actor too,

far more versatile than you.

I was a farmer, a scholar,

a soldier, a lawyer,

son to a long-dead mother,

husband to a soon dead wife,

father to a dying child.

Behold, here is Lincoln,

a man of ambition,

a true politician.

But I’ll admit,

no part quite fit.

The costumes hung limp

or stretched too tight

around the shoulders,

badly woven, threadbare,

a button missing here and there.

But I did my best.

I never let my audience down

and I survived just long enough

to make a change,

before the bullet struck

and the spectre came,

when the sky opened

and the angels called my name.

But there was no peace for Lincoln.

I had another role to play:

hero and martyr,

poor dead father,

a necessary sacrifice

for a new-born nation.

   *      *      *      *    

There is a man sits frozen on a chair,

white marble giant with such wisdom

as he never knew in life.

The gravity of his authority holds me tight.

There is no escape.

And soon others come,

wanting to stare

into those unseeing eyes,

looking for an answer,

calling for an encore.

Yet the statue cannot speak.

And my voice cannot be heard.

(This poem is one of a collection entitled ‘Thirty Angry Ghosts’ which features poems in the voice of Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, Queen Victoria, and many other famous historical figures.

‘Thirty Angry Ghosts’ is available at a range of bookshops and is free on Kindle Unlimited). Click here for the Amazon link.

If you would like permission to use this, or any of the poems, with students or other interested parties, please email


I think I’m quite good at spotting what works and doesn’t work in other people’s poems, but I’m hopeless when trying to assess my own. To that end, I put this checklist together. It really helped me when self-editing my poetry collection: ‘Thirty Angry Ghosts’. Hopefully, it will help some of you too.

The main trick was to pretend that I didn’t write the poem I was editing and to imagine myself as an impartial reader in order to gain a critical perspective.

I also used the questions below to analyse some of my favourite poems alongside my own:

  1. Is the first line attention-grabbing? Does it need to be, or is a subtle approach more effective?
  2. How strong is the voice? Does it feel like someone is talking directly to the reader?
  3. Would the poem be stronger if some parts were cut/expanded?
  4. Are there any little words that could usefully be cut: e.g. that, the, a, was, just, really. Some editors call these ‘sticky’ words.
  5. Are any words or images repeated? If so, is it done for a reason?
  6. Does the poem have a beat and/or some form of musicality?
  7. Is there a rhyme scheme? Is it there for a reason or just for convention? Is it satisfying? Is it consistent?
  8. Is there a theme/central question that is explored in an unusual/interesting way?
  9. Does the poem wrestle with a problem? Does it ask questions? Does it try to make sense of the world in some way?
  10. Are there dynamics such as a shift in mood or pace? Are some parts more dramatic than others? Does the poem build to a climax?
  11. Is there an effective structure? Is the text set out well on the page? If there is enjambment (run on lines) do these work well – is the last word on each line strong enough?
  12. How does my use of punctuation and capital letters compare with other contemporary poems? Does using capital letters at the start of each line make my poems feel old-fashioned? (In the end I used standard punctuation although I changed my mind lots of times as I was editing).
  13. Are there strong sensory images to help immerse the reader in the world of my poem?
  14. Does it feel original? What sets it apart from similar poems?
  15. Are interesting sounds created by the letters, e.g. onomatopoeia, alliteration and assonance.
  16. Are there any engaging oxymorons like ‘shouted whispers’ or ‘cold fire’ to interest the reader?
  17. Are there any effective metaphors and/or similes? Are they fresh and precise or awkward/cliched?
  18. Are the nouns specific? For example, is ‘sycamore’ used rather than ‘tree’. Would using more specific nouns improve the poem?
  19. Are the verbs strong? E.g. ‘slurped’ rather than ‘ate’. Would stronger/more specific verbs improve the poem?
  20. Would the poem be stronger with fewer adjectives, e.g. beautiful, multi-coloured, huge.
  21. Are there any adverbs that need cutting, e.g. ‘slowly’, ‘carefully’, ‘grumpily?’
  22. Is there a lot going on? Is it confusing? Would a narrower focus improve it?
  23. Does the end provide an effective, satisfactory resolution?
  24. Will readers will remember this poem next week? Or next year?Why/Why not?

Once I’d worked through these, I spent a lot of time reading my work out loud and looking at it in three different formats: on my mobile phone, on a printed page and on my laptop .

I also used software to read out my work on the computer. The latest version of Word has this function, and I also downloaded and used the free version of ‘Natural Reader’.

Lastly, I used ‘Pro Writing Aid’ to check the grammar. Here’s the link.

Once the poems were as good as I could make them, I asked two trusted friends to read through them and suggest other edits. I was really lucky to have two people that were willing to be critical. (Thanks Declan and Ian – I’m so grateful for all your hard work).

So… this is how I approached my edits. Has anyone else got any tips? I’d love to hear them.

Or maybe you don’t edit your poems. Some people seem to get it right the first time. I wish I did.

Maybe it’ll be easier with my next collection. I haven’t started one yet but, if this one does well, I’d like to do a follow up at some point.

If you’d like to buy a copy of ‘Thirty Angry Ghosts’, it’s available on Amazon for £7.99 as a paperback, £3.99 as an ebook and (if you’re on Kindle Unlimited), it’s free!

Here’s the link:

Self-Publishing – Tips for First-Timers

After twenty years of reading and writing poetry, I’ve just released my first self-published poetry book!

‘Thirty Angry Ghosts’ is available at Woodbridge Emporium, Dial Lane Books, and on Amazon. Click here for the link to Woodbridge Emporium. Click here for the Amazon link.

I made the original version using the cheapest, most user-friendly print-on-demand service: Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Here’s the link to their website: KDP.

I then made a version with Ingramspark. It’s a similar service but isn’t nearly so user-friendly and costs £50. The advantage with Ingramspark is that it is easier to get interest from bookshops and your book will also be instantly accessible on Goodreads, and many other major retailers.Here is a link to their website:

The finished book from both companies is almost identical. It definitely feels like a ‘proper’ book and the quality of the formatting and paper is actually much higher than many traditionally published poetry books.

Maybe you’d like to order a copy of Thirty Angry Ghosts to see for yourself. (Last plug, I promise).

If you’d like to self-publish your book, I recommend you start with KDP and then decide if you also want to use Ingramspark.

Here’s how to go about it:

  1. Write something you want to share with the world. Take your time and learn your craft. Make it something you can be really proud of.
  2. Edit, get feedback and edit again. Read your work aloud too and use a computer program to read it for you. I like Natural Reader (There is a free version which is very good). I’d also use a grammar checker. The best free program I used was Prowriting Aid.
  3. Search for and watch lots of YouTube videos about self-publishing your book. You might like to start with this one by ‘Reedsy’.
  4. Watch a few YouTube videos entitled ‘KDP or Ingramspark’. This one by Victoria Griffin is a good place to start. Click here for the link to Victoria’s video.
  5. Ideally, talk to someone who has already self-published a book.
  6. When you feel you have a fairly good understanding, and if you decide to begin with KDP, click on this Kindle Direct Publishing link.
  7. Enter your details and upload your book and cover in PDF format. Here’s a link to the templates you’ll need and a bit of information about them. KDP templates.
  8. Check the layout and order three proof copies.
  9. Give two proof copies to people you trust so they can give you feedback. Check the third one yourself and compare notes with your trusted readers.
  10. Make changes to your original document, save it as a PDF and re-upload it. (A huge benefit of starting with KDP is that amendments to the original text are free. I did about ten versions, making minor changes each time. On Ingramspark, you get charged £25 for each new upload.
  11. Order new proof copies and if you’re definitely satisfied, click ‘publish your paperback book’.
  12. Your book will now be available on Amazon. You can also order ‘author copies’ from KDP which you can sell face-to-face.
  13. Remember, you also have the option of publishing with Ingramspark as well, if you want to approach local bookshops.

Warnings (I wish I’d known about these)

If you click ‘publish your book’, it will be on Amazon forever. You can not remove it although you can change the cover and contents. Therefore, make sure you are completely happy with the proof copies and online viewer before you publish.

Consider using a professional artist/designer for the front cover. Expect to pay about £250. You can find a range of professional services here at ‘Reedsy’. In my case, I found a local artist to do the cover, which worked out very well, so you might like to ask for recommendations from friends or on social media.

Before you use any self-publishing program, make sure you have a good understanding of ISBNs. You might like to use the free KDP one but you might be better off buying your own personal one if you want to get your books stocked by other retailers other than Amazon. You can read all about UK ISBNs and purchase one from here: Nielsen ISBN Store.

This is an ISBN number. You find them on the back of most published books.

I hope you’ve found this guide helpful. I’m still quite new to publishing, so if you have any other tips to share with other readers, please put them in the comments.

Best wishes and good luck

Mai x

Dial Lane Books, Ipswich. A very proud moment!

Semla Recipe

  1. Stir 4oz lukewarm water, 1oz yeast and half a teaspoon of sugar in a bowl.
  2. Rest for a few minutes to allow the yeast to grow.
  3. Mix 4oz milk, 2.5 oz melted butter and a beaten egg. Pour into the bowl.
  4. Add 20oz bread flour, 2.5oz sugar, 1tsp salt and 1tsp cardamon.
  5. Bring together and knead for about 10 minutes.
  6. Cover it and let it rise until it’s doubled in size.
  7. After it’s risen, knock the air out of it and let it rest for 5 minutes.
  8. Form 14 balls and put onto a greased baking tray, one inch apart.
  9. Place the baking tray in a cold oven for about half an hour.
  10. Remove the buns from the oven and brush with beaten egg yolk.
  11. Cook the buns at 175ºC until golden brown (roughly twenty minutes).
  12. To make the marzipan filling, whip one egg white to soft peaks.
  13. Fold in 2.25oz ground almonds and 3.25oz icing sugar.
  14. Remove the buns from the oven and leave to cool.
  15. Slice into each bun and add a teaspoon of the almond paste.
  16. Add a dollop of whipped cream to each and sprinkle with icing sugar.
  17. Enjoy – but unless your name is Adolf Frederick, you might not want to eat them all at once.
Frederick I of Sweden - Wikipedia
Adolf Frederick of Sweden (1710-1771)

Inspiration for your own angry ghost poem

After reading some of the poems in my book, you might like to try writing one of your own. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Firstly, choose to write from the point of view of one of these people or, if you prefer, think of someone of your own.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein, Portrait, Theoretician Physician

Angry that people blame scientists for the atomic bomb.

Emily Pankhurst

Angry that so many modern women choose not to vote.

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Oliver Cromwell

Oliver Cromwell. (1599-1658) on engraving from the 1800s. English military and political leader best known for his involvement in making England into a stock photography

Angry that people celebrate Christmas.

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  1. Research your chosen person.
  2. Note down three or more facts about them.
  3. Imagine yourself as that person.
  4. Think about why they are angry.
  5. Think about who they might be angry at and direct your poem at them.
  6. Write in your characters’ voice.

Don’t feel you have to come up with something amazing on your first attempt. I spent months on some of my poems – and I’m still not happy with quite a few.

There’s always room for improvement but I still feel proud of what I’ve accomplished. I hope that you will too.

Good Luck

PS If you’re feeling stuck, here are some other characters you could write about

Robin Hood

Angry that most of Sherwood Forest has been cut down

Shaka Zulu

Angry that people don’t love their mothers enough

Jane Austen

Angry that she never got properly paid for her novels

Vincent Van Gogh

Angry that people only appreciated his art after he died

Lady Jane Grey

Angry that she was only queen for nine days

notes on ‘Mary Shelley’

People, Adult, Man, Group, Monochrome, Panoramic


I read ‘Frankenstein’ by Mary Shelley in my twenties and was expecting a fairly typical story in the horror genre. I was not expecting to be so moved by the loneliness and social-isolation of Dr Frankenstein’s creation. More recently I listened to a program on Radio 4 called ‘You’re Dead to Me’. It was presented by Greg Jenner (of Horrible Histories fame) and gave a fascinating insight into the life of Mary Shelley. For instance, I learned she spent a great deal of her childhood by the side of her mother’s grave, and often traced the letters on her gravestone in order to practice her handwriting.


I want this poem to be entertaining to read (especially aloud to an audience) and I hope that people to enjoy the spooky gothic nature of it.

I also want to celebrate the life of Mary Shelley who did not get enough credit whilst she was alive. For instance, many people thought that her husband, the poet Percy Shelley, wrote ‘Frankenstein’, believing that a woman would not be capable of such things.

Themes in Poem

Mary Shelley was fascinated by science in all its varied forms. As can be seen from Frankenstein, however, she was worried about the conflict between science, nature and God.

As such, I chose the environment as my primary theme as I think, if she were around today, this would feature heavily in her thoughts and her writing.

Family is another important theme. Mary Shelley’s mother died when she a baby and her father disowned her. She was buried in the same graveyard and I liked the idea of them being reunited in death.

The last major theme is religion. The uprising happens in the churchyard and I intended the sense of punishment and retribution to echo some of the passages in the Old Testament where people are punished for their sins. Some of the archaic language, repetition and rhythms mirror this I think. For instance: ‘there must be some redress, there must be some retribution’, ‘yet there is hope’ and the final stanza of the poem.

The poem does raise the question as to whether these spirits come from heaven or hell and your reading of it may depend on your feeling towards people who harm the environment.

Use of language and how it relates to the theme/message

I wanted to set the gothic tone straightaway by introducing the blood moon, the stars and the black night. The long ‘oo’ sound in moon is intended to evoke a howl from a wolf and the alliterative ‘h’ in ‘hangs heavy’ echoes the sound of short nervous breaths.

I use triplets in the tolling of the hour, in order to make the tale seem like something out of a fairy tale, and I use ‘trembles, turns and tumbles’ similarly and because – at least to me – the alliteration and consonance of m/n/s imitates the sound of the earth moving around.

Next I created an extended metaphor where the bones are likened to plants. The knucklebones (like new shoots) surge up through the soil, making a ‘springtime’, the skulls are ‘mushrooms’ and arm bones are ‘saplings.’ I wanted to create a contrast between the beauty of nature and the horrific image of the dead rising from their graves as I think the conflict makes the grotesque images even more nightmarish.

The stanza about Mary Shelley’s family also plays with the contrast between what is natural and what is unsettlingly-gothic and unnatural. Her mother’s bones ‘crawl’ as a baby does, she ‘shrugs’ off her ‘earthen mantle’; they ‘embrace.’ These simple, homely verbs make the scene feel like an everyday family reunion rather than a zombie apocalypse film.

Both of these stanzas relate to the theme of science and human selfishness versus nature and human loving kindness. I am trying to give the sense that although Mary, her friends and her family rising up from the graves may be a terrifying thought, it is not as terrifying as the thought of global warming and pollution killing the planet.

The following stanza lists the victims of the environmental zombie walk in quite everyday, modern-sounding language which contrasts with the gothic introduction. I wanted to change the pace and clearly explain the message of the poem in that people who pollute the earth and, in particular, hypocrites like the scientist with her ‘frequent flyer miles’ might receive some sort of comeuppance. Nature – together with a little help from Mary Shelley & Co – might get her revenge. I wonder if this stanza is a little too simplistic compared to the others. It might need another edit. I think I’ll come back to it in a couple of months and decide then.

The last part of the poem slows down the pace again by using a lot of repetition and Old Testament- style rhythms. This matches the theme of punishment as stated in the line ‘there must be some redress, there must be some retribution.’ There is hope at the end of the poem. The repetition of ‘labour’ reinforces the fact that humankind will have to work extremely hard to make a change but the dual meaning in that ‘labour’ also means to give birth suggests that the next generation might do a better job.

The end of the poem returns to the natural imagery and is intended to make people think of the circle of life in that it echoes the biblical line ‘from earth to earth, dust to dust’ meaning people come from the earth and return to the earth. Although many people will see it as a horrific end to the poem, I am trying to explore the notion that even though the things we do, with the assistance of science, may go against the natural order, we are still animals, still part of the world, still – in essence – natural.

the language of poetry

Even though I’ve always enjoyed writing poetry, I’ve never felt very confident about using similes, metaphors and other poetic techniques. When using metaphors and similes in particular, I find it hard to avoid cliché and make them flow naturally with the rest of the poem.

Thankfully at the time of writing Thirty Angry Ghosts, I was reading and discussing at least one poem a week with other members of Suffolk Writers Group. These included some beautiful, inspirational work by Phyllis Wheatley, Elizabeth Barrrett Browning, Louis McNeice and William Wordsworth.

As is the case with someone who learns a foreign language, the more poetry I read, the more the language of poetry got into my blood. After a while, metaphors and similes began to seep out into my own writing fairly naturally. It is only now, looking back, that I can see how many different techniques I used.

Here are some examples

Some of these I used consciously and some just came out naturally. If you are using these resources for educational purposes, you might like to note down which techniques these quotations use and (if you have time) how they bring out the themes and meanings in the poems whilst (hopefully) adding to the reader’s enjoyment.

  • Simile
  • Metaphor
  • Personification
  • Onomatopoeia
  • Repetition
  • Rhyme
  • Rhythm
  • Alliteration
  • Consonance (like alliteration but the repeated consonants can appear anywhere in the word, not just at the start).

I have written a completed table below this one. Of course, your answers may differ from mine, especially the ‘Effect’ column. Poetry affects everyone differently after all.

Poem and QuotationPoetry TechniquesEffect
Neanderthal Woman   ‘the flame grew high, pierced the sky, licked its great orange tongue round the moon and spat.’  
Neanderthal Woman   ‘your nights will fill with memories of mechanical monstrosities’  
Neanderthal Woman   ‘She found rhythm in the rocks to match my chattering teeth.’  
Helen of Troy   ‘tangled his heart in the webbing of my silken locks.’      
Helen of Troy   ‘at the knife-edge of night and nightmares’    
Boudicca   ‘I was a drum thudding low and heavy beating out the sound for war.’    
Abu Bakr II ‘we reveled in the salty spray’    
Abu Bakr II   ‘wind lashed the waves’  
Abu Bakr II   ‘the emerald-tipped trees bowed down low’    
La Malinche   ‘For my words had wings and could fly to any man with ears to hear.’    
La Malinche   ‘the men who took me, chained me traded me for trinkets’  
La Malinche   ‘I was the face of the moon in a darkening sky. I was the bright, shining stream running over the rocks.’    
Henry VIII   ‘Fine jewels around the neck of an ugly girl shine like flies crawling upon excrement.’    
Henry VIII   ‘Taken by women stolen by women illegitimate women despised by God.’    
Margaret Catchpole   ‘Songs sung by Ancient Voices that surge silver rivers round the dry red rocks and soothe the scalded forest land.’    
Margaret Catchpole   ‘The Oak and Ash on pipes and fiddles Earl Soham Slog The Old Bass Bottle.’    
Ludwig van Beethoven   ‘Snip! – I heard it, quite clearly’    
Mary Shelley   ‘The earth trembles, turns and tumbles’    
Mary Shelley   ‘and a springtime of knucklebones surges up through the soil.’    
Mary Shelley   ‘And with their bones and blood and flesh the roots of the cypress tree shall be fed.’      

My Version – Don’t worry if yours is completely different. I just thought you might like to compare the two.

Like I said, I wasn’t totally conscious of all these things when I was writing. When I was editing, however, I worked hard to bring the techniques to the fore.

Poem and QuotationPoetic TechniquesEffect
Neanderthal Woman   ‘the flame grew high, pierced the sky, licked its great orange tongue round the moon and spat.’  PersonificationThis makes the flame seem like a conscious being which adds to the sense that it is wicked and dangerous after having taken on a life of its own.
Neanderthal Woman   ‘your nights will fill with memories of mechanical monstrosities’AlliterationI think the ‘m’ sound resembles someone calling for their mother but who is weakened or gagged. It is a mixture of a soothing sound and the sound of someone having restless sleep.
Neanderthal Woman   ‘She found rhythm in the rocks to match my chattering teeth.’Consonance and AlliterationThe ‘r’ and the ‘t’ sounds are intended to echo the sound of the rocks being rubbed against each other as well as hitting each other.
Helen of Troy   ‘tangled his heart in the webbing of my silken locks.’  MetaphorThis is a metaphor for love, taking the familiar, pleasant image of ‘silken locks’ and making her hair seem like a dangerous net or spider’s web.
Helen of Troy   ‘at the knife-edge of night and nightmares’    MetaphorThe use of the knife metaphor adds to the sense of danger and fear.
Boudicca   ‘I was a drum thudding low and heavy beating out the sound for war.’  Metaphor and ConsonantsThe repeated ‘d’ sound and the repeated ‘u’ sound (assonance) echoes the sound of a drum.   This metaphor shows that Boudicca feels powerful, strong and no longer human.    
Abu Bakr II   ‘we reveled in the salty spray’AlliterationThe repeated ‘s’ sound echoes the sound of the waves hitting the deck.
Abu Bakr II   ‘wind lashed the waves’Personification and alliterationThe repeated ‘w’ sound echoes the sound of the wind.
Abu Bakr II   ‘the emerald-tipped trees bowed down low’  PersonificationThe personification of the trees adds to the sense of Abu Bakr’s power in that even nature wants to praise him. This echoes the earlier phrase ‘the sun shone down a celebration’.  
La Malinche   ‘For my words had wings and could fly to any man with ears to hear.’  Metaphor    This emphasises how powerful her words were.
La Malinche   ‘the men who took me, chained me traded me for trinkets’AlliterationThe repeated ‘t’ sounds are reminiscent of someone tutting which emphasises how stupid she thinks the men were.
La Malinche   ‘I was the face of the moon in a darkening sky. I was the bright, shining stream running over the rocks.’  MetaphorThese images show how powerful she was but yet demonstrate how she was a symbol of hope, harmony and natural innocence as opposed to the violent cruelty of the men.
Henry VIII   ‘Fine jewels around the neck of an ugly girl shine like flies crawling upon excrement.’  SimileThis simile emphasises Henry’s distaste for women if they are unable to please him.
Henry VIII   ‘Taken by women stolen by women illegitimate women despised by God.’  Repetition and RhythmThe rhythm and repetition emphasise his outrage.
Margaret Catchpole   ‘Songs sung by Ancient Voices that surge silver rivers round the dry red rocks and soothe the scalded forest land.’  Alliteration, Rhythm and MetaphorThe repeated ‘s’ sounds are supposed to be reminiscent of the sounds of a river. The water metaphor demonstrates the power and soothing quality of the songs whilst the rhythm is meant to echo the music itself.
Margaret Catchpole   ‘The Oak and Ash on pipes and fiddles Earl Soham Slog The Old Bass Bottle.’  Rhyme, Rhythm, AlliterationThese are real, traditional Suffolk folk songs which I researched on the internet. I had a lot to choose from and I was pleased to find the half-rhyme with ‘fiddle’ and ‘bottle’ because, together with the alliteration and rhythm, it makes the stanza sound a bit like a song.
Ludwig van Beethoven   ‘Snip! – I heard it, quite clearly’  OnomatopoeiaThe word ‘snip’ imitates the sound of a pair of scissors.
Mary Shelley   ‘The earth trembles, turns and tumbles’  AlliterationThe repeated ‘t’ is supposed to echo the sound of the earth moving.
Mary Shelley   ‘and a springtime of knucklebones surges up through the soil.’  Metaphor and AlliterationAgain the repetition of ‘s’ is supposed to echo the sound of moving earth. The metaphor of comparing knucklebones to bulbs growing is meant to be nightmarish but yet hint at the environmental theme in that life can come from death and vice versa.
Mary Shelley   ‘And with their bones and blood and flesh the roots of the cypress tree shall be fed.’    Alliteration, Repetition and RhythmThe alliteration, rhythm and repetition of ‘and’ is supposed to be reminiscent of verses from the Old Testament which ties in with the overtones of Judgement Day. It is also supposed to sound a bit like a spell or an incantation. As such, I am trying to make the reader question whether Mary’s actions are just and fair or whether they are cruel and inspired by revenge.

Match the themes to the poems

Major Themes Explored

Revenge, Environmental Issues, Education, Human Potential, Reputation, Beauty, Story-Telling, Wealth, Sexism, Unfairness, Greed, Wisdom, Community, Justice, Love, Human Frailty, War, Mysticism, Archeology, War, Empire

Write the major theme or themes explored next to each poem.

Many of these are open to interpretation and there is always more than one answer.

Name of GhostThemes or Themes
Neanderthal Woman 
Helen of Troy 
Julius Caesar 
Genghis Khan 
Abu Bakhr II 
Joan of Arc 
Wu Zetian 
Mansa Musa 
La Malinche 
Anne Boleyn 
Henry VIII 
William Shakespeare 
Adolf Frederick of Sweden 
Marie Antionette 
Margaret Catchpole 
Mary Shelley 
Maria Quiteria 
Abraham Lincoln 
Queen Victoria 
The Unknown Soldier 
Grigori Rasputin 
Marie Curie 

Here are the major themes I had in mind when I was writing. It may be that you interpret them differently.

Name of GhostThemes
Neanderthal WomanEnvironmental Issues
Helen of TroyBeauty
Julius CaesarReputation, Unfairness
CleopatraWisdom, Beauty
Genghis KhanCommunity, Environmental Issues
Abu Bakhr IIReputation
Joan of ArcRevenge
Wu ZetianReputation
Mansa MusaWealth
La MalincheReputation
Anne BoleynSexism
Henry VIIISexism
William ShakespeareReputation
Adolf Frederick of SwedenGreed
Marie AntionetteJustice
Margaret CatchpoleLove
Ludwig van BeethovenUnfairness
Mary ShelleyEnvironmental Issues
Maria QuiteriaSexism
Abraham LincolnHuman Frailty
Queen VictoriaEmpire
The Unknown SoldierWar, Unfairness,
Grigori RasputinMysticism, Wisdom
Marie CurieHuman Potential, Education

Thirty Angry Ghosts

Suggested activities

This poetry collection features the ghostly voices of historical figures such as Shakespeare, Henry VIII, Abraham Lincoln and Queen Victoria. It is available at Amazon, Woodbridge Emporium and Dial Lane Books in Ipswich.

If you would like to use the collection in an educational setting or a with a community group, here are thirty activity ideas which you might find useful.  These include arranging performances of the poems, using the book in drama lessons and a recipe for making the delicious semla buns!

You might also like to use my tips for editing poems. You can find them here. 

To get in touch, email me at

Mai Black – poet and workshop leader

Please note: some poems in the book deal with serious issues and may not be suitable for children under the age of twelve.

  1. Arrange an author talk, a workshop, or a Zoom session.
  2. Have an ‘Angry Ghost’ poetry writing competition.
  3. Hold a poetry reading event using these poems.
  4. Put on a show combining the biographies and the poems.
  5. Students could make costumes and/or masks for the ghosts.
  6. Students could paint portraits of the ghosts.
  7. Students could try sketching one of the ghosts using the front cover as a guide.
  8. Ask the students to write their own angry ghost poem. (Click here for inspiration).
  9. Discuss which themes are explored in the poems. (Click here for activity.)
  10. Students can discuss which ghost is most justified in their anger.
  11. Students can write about their favourite poem, explaining why they chose it.
  12. Together, list some metaphors used in the poems. (Click here for examples)
  13. List examples of similes from the poems. (Click here for examples)
  14. Discuss the use of other examples of figurative language in one or more poems. (Click here for my analysis.)
  15. Discuss how to give an effective reading of an Angry Ghost poem.
  16. Students can write about the ghost they most empathise with.
  17. Students can discuss which ghosts make them feel angry, eg. Henry VIII or Queen Victoria.
  18. Students can write a letter to one of the ghosts.
  19. Students can think about who a poem is addressing and write a response from them.
  20. Students can look through the biographies and create a PowerPoint about one of the people. Alternatively, they can choose a different historical figure to research.
  21. Students can record themselves reading one of the poems.
  22. Students could make a bookmark by drawing an angry ghost and choosing a quote to accompany it.
  23. Students can follow the recipe and have a go at making some Semla buns. Click here for recipe.
  24. They could write their own version of the one of the poems as a diary entry, a song, a play or a story.
  25. They can act out an interview with one of the ghosts.
  26. Ask one person to ‘freeze’ in the role of one of the angry ghosts. Other people take it in turns to stand behind them and whisper their thoughts.
  27. Students can read my analysis of Mary Shelley and then ask pupils to write about their own poems in a similar way. (Click here for my analysis)
  28. They can work as a group/class to make a collage or tapestry of the angry ghosts.
  29. Students can work as a group/class to produce a poetry collection. If you wish to self-publish for free, here is a quick guide: Mai’s Guide to Self-Publishing. You might also like to refer to my editing guide. Mai’s Editing Guide for poetry.
  30. Students could write a review of the collection and compare it to ones posted to Amazon.

I’d love to hear about any activities you do based on the poems, so please email me with any photos, videos, sound recordings and/or pictures. If I have permission to share your work on social media (or on my website), please let me know in your email.

To get in touch, email me at

Here I am performing ‘Anne Boleyn’ at Primadonna Festival.
Running a zoom workshop with some of the wonderful members of Suffolk Writers Group.
An interactive writing workshop using pebbles and playing cards.