Writer In Residence

We are delighted and honoured to welcome Valerie Laws as the first Physic Garden Writer in Residence.
Valerie Laws is best known as the writer who spray-painted poetry on sheep. The Quantum Sheep project in 2002 brought her international fame, and though Valerie has written all her life, it is only in the last ten years she has considered herself a full-time writer.

“There’s writing and there’s doing something with what you’ve written,” she says.

Valerie (www.valerielaws.co.uk) is a poet, performer, playwright, crime and comedy novelist, mathematician and sci-art specialist. Her twelve published books include 3 poetry collections, most recently her new thriller THE OPERATOR (‘Gripping from the very first scene’ Ann Cleeves) the scalpel-tastic sequel to her award-winning novel THE ROTTING SPOT (‘A darkly intriguing debut’ Val McDermid) featuring her homeopath detective and ‘ ‘All That Lives’ (Northern Writers’ Award winner, publ. Red Squirrel Press 2011) poetry of sex, death and pathology based on residencies with pathologists and neuroscientists.

writerHer crime novel ‘The Rotting Spot’, (paperback from Red Squirrel Crime; winner of a Northern Writers’ Award, shortlisted for the McKitterick Prize), and her comedy novel ‘Lydia Bennet’s Blog’, are both available on Kindle. Also ‘Changing Age, Changing Minds’ (Newcastle University), a play, an edited Star Trek anthology (Iron Press), and two best-selling language books.

She has written 12 commissioned plays for stage and BBC radio. Many prizes, including Wellcome Trust Arts Award to work with neuroscientists, twice prize winner in National Poetry competition. Invents new forms of kinetic poetry; science-themed AV poetry installations such as ‘Slicing the Brain’ have featured in public exhibitions in London, Newcastle, and Berlin, and her ‘Window of Art’ was commissioned for St Thomas Hospital in London. Other commissions include the infamous Arts Council funded ‘Quantum Sheep’, spray-painting poetry on live sheep, and on inflatable beachballs for BBC2 TV’s Why Poetry Matters, later performed at Royal Festival Hall.

Many other residencies, including Ilkley Literature Festival, Darwin 200, and El Gouna, Egypt. Currently also Writer in Residence at a London Pathology Museum, and at Newcastle University’s Institute for Ageing and Health. Performs live and in media worldwide.

Valerie offers writing courses at the Physic Garden.

Poems by Valerie Laws inspired by the Physic Gardens:

SEE OF TRANQUILITY

(written for the physic garden Tranquility Pool)

Water in winter is still as glass,
Glass clear as a tranquil mind.
Mind your spirit, keep it green,
Green as these leaves that heal.
Healthy body, spirit, mind, will flow,
Flower clear, clean as spring water.

Valerie Laws

REMEMBERING LOVE

(a perfume based on rosemary, which can enter the bloodstream, enhancing memory and cognitive function, was created for this poem at Dilston Physic Garden as part of Penning Perfumes)

Breathe me, let me in to your blood.
In a rush clear as water I’ll bring
All of it back to you. Remember
All the hands you held, that didn’t
Pull away until you let them go.
The scent of skin, of linen sun-stroked,
The feel, the heat, against your cheek.
The sound of summer rain, the storm
Before the calm, earth drinking its fill.
And you, drunk on memory, rushing
To recall in perfect clarity all those
Moments, all those kinds of love.

Valerie Laws

SCENT FOR A SUFFRAGETTE

(green, white, & violet were their colours; written in response to Lush’s scent ‘The Smell of Weather Turning’, published in Penning Perfumes anthology)

Violet, a glimpse, a glimmer of soft blue-purple, musk-warm
breath of cool moist petals swamped by
Green. Lush tangling hedgebank grass, wood sorrel’s
juicy stems,
lavish moss with coiling hooks and fists, clean
medicinal chlorophyll. Sudden spike of
White mint, the Polo I sucked before eating cold tongue
in Nana’s kitchen, to feel the chill
on my heated throat. Camphor, too,
White Vick, in her scullery medicine cabinet I stood on a chair
to tidy, over and over, inhaling
Green disinfectant, TCP for wounds, the talcum powder tin
dusted with Ashes of
Violet. They are here below the brambly grasses now,
a dim haze beneath the astringent
Green like Izal toilet paper, austere and glossy; and an eau de
cologne stick to write cool words on feverish foreheads,
White wax like a lipstick candle. And still, musky, lying low,
quietly sensual, deep deep down among the

Green and the spotless
White but the mostly
Green is
Violet, sweetening the pale stem of my wrist, warming my pulse.

Valerie Laws

SLICES OF BRAIN

(from book All That Lives: featuring Robert Perry)

Third anniversary of my mother’s death from dementia,
And I’m looking at slices of brain, stained pretty pink,
The neurones purplish, their nuclei clear as strawberry pips.
Like a magician in his many-coloured coat of patches, motley
Bow tie, hair like wild dendrites in a frenzy of thinking,
The pathologist initiates me into what death has revealed.
The donor’s name is on the slides, their memorial, evidence
Of how memory escaped them. Alzheimer and his mates
(Lewy Body, Parkinson, Vascular, alone or in cahoots)
Miss no tricks. Tau Proteins strangle and swamp, cutting off
The synapses, keeping the thoughts corralled in tangles,
Scribbles of barbed wire around the nucleus, sometimes
Killing the cell like a rubber band round a lamb’s balls,
So a ghost tangle is left, guarding empty space.
(Are there ghost memories inside?) Ameloid proteins
Lag the axons, the dendrites, the outreaching fronds
Which pass torches of thought, until
There’s a plaque, like a fingertip print

Stubbed on the connections. Scattered booby traps,
You have to look out for them. Cortical, hippocampal
Layers, like lagoons and sandy beaches, slide after slide,

Pebbled with tangles, wracked with plaques,
In a shrinking brain losing weight and substance,
Because there’s ‘vacuolation’, holes where words were.
And it happens, we don’t feel it, until it’s noticed by our friends,
And called a senior moment, until there are too many moments
To be funny any more.

Valerie Laws