Writers In Residence

Juliana Mensah, Novelist in Residence

We are thrilled to welcome Juliana Mensah to a new residency, Novelist in Residence at Dilston Physic Garden for 2021.

J.A. Mensah is a prose and theatre writer and a lecturer in English and Creative Writing at the University of York. She was a Leverhulme Artist in Residence and her plays have been produced by Pilot Theatre in York and Live Theatre in Newcastle, among others. Her short stories have been published forthcoming in edited collections by Comma Press (The Book of Newcastle, 2020), New Writing North (New Narratives for the North East, 2021), and Dead Ink (Test Signal, 2021). Her debut novel, Castles from Cobwebs, won the inaugural NorthBound Book Award and is longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize.

Juliana is using her time at the physic garden to research and write her second novel – we are very excited about it’s subject! Juliana will also lead creative writing workshops for the general public and writing for well-being workshops with charitable organisations working with vulnerable women.

Join Juliana at her (virtual) workshop Novel Ailments and Curious Cures on 8th July 1-3pm. Taking inspiration from the surroundings at the Dilston Physic Garden, this creative writing workshop explores chronic ailments, phantom illnesses and fantastical transformations. Come along to invent remedies and try out playful writing exercises as a way into building character, developing plot and creating intrigue in your stories – Read More – register for this event by emailing juliana.mensah@york.ac.uk.

Laura Napran, Writer in Wellbeing in Residence

We are delighted to welcome Laura Napran for this new residency. Laura has been leading her popular Writing for Wellbeing workshops at Dilston since 2015, as well as at many venues throughout England and Scotland.

Her experiences as teacher, writer, and storyteller range from history storytelling in Robin Hood’s Bay, to writing poetry, blogs, stories and entries in art and history encyclopedias, to teaching writing, laughter yoga, and global heritage. She is also the Writing for Wellbeing 1-to-1 teacher at the Westoe Practice in South Shields.

Laura has a strong interest in the natural environment, hence her writing workshops in the Physic Garden, as well as doing conservation work abroad with giant leatherback sea turtles in Costa Rica and argali sheep and gazelles in Mongolia.

In 2015 CNN International chose Laura and her Writing for Wellbeing as one of the 10 Best Jobs in the World. Laura says that it is a privilege to do the work she loves with the inspiring people who come to write with her – it’s all about helping people find their inner wisdom through their own creativity. Read more about Writing for Wellbeing here writingforwellbeing.co.uk.


Valerie Laws, Writer in Residence (Valerie is on the right)

We are honoured to have 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.

Valerie is a poet, performer, playwright, crime and comedy novelist, mathematician and sci-art specialist. Her twelve published books include 3 poetry collections, 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.

Her 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.

PURPLE Laura Napran

Purple is the only primary colour.

Forget those who suggest others are.

They are wrong. Purple is

the one true colour. Bees know —

it is the single colour they can see,

and they are wise.

The vagaries of purple are endless.

Deeply it can plunge near blackness,

lightly it can soar to gentlest hues.

As lavender, it smells of summer,

freshness, and an open heart.

Anything is possible near lavender.

Purple slides across your mind like velvet.

Surely all dreams, waking or sleeping,

rest in purple. It’s the colour of creativity,

the language of prophecy. Yet purple

provides no answers. Instead, it flows

tenaciously to that space where questions

no longer remain to be solved.

Purple doesn’t hurry, nor does it tarry.

It resembles a piece of Forever,

moving like the pulse of a giant,

subtle to track but always present.

The heartbeat of the Universe.

Laura Napran


(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


(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


(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