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... a literary project to celebrate Medway's Dickens One Fifty

The Empty Chair Poetry Trail

For Dickens 150, Wordsmithery commissioned 10 poets with links to Medway to write new poems inspired by Charles Dickens’ life and works. The poems have been printed on boards which form a trail, then placed in locations around Medway and nearby with links to Charles Dickens’ life. We also ran workshops and made a podcast from the workshop attendees' writing. 


The trail was accompanied by a beautiful illustrated map of the locations by Heather Haythornthwaite. There was also a bonus location on the trail - in the window of the Rochester Visitor Information Centre, where you were able to see Heather's original artwork for the map, and one of the map's icons - a raven.


Physical copies of the map were also available from trail locations.

The Poets

Charlotte Ansell

Poet: 'Legacy', at Chatham Dockyard

Charlotte’s third collection Deluge was a 2019 Poetry Book Society winter recommendation. Her work has appeared in Poetry Review, Mslexia, Butcher’s Dog, Prole, Algebra of Owls and various anthologies; (most recently These are the hands – an anthology of poems by NHS workers) and placed in a number of competitions. Charlotte is the recipient of a Royal Society of Literature Award 2020. She is a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen collective.


Barry Fentiman Hall

Lead Poet: 'Almost empty', at The Swiss Chalet, Eastgate House

Barry Fentiman Hall is a writer who walks, based in the Medway Delta. Books – The Unbearable Sheerness of Being (2016) England, my dandelion heart (2018) and Sketches (2020). He is the editor of Confluence magazine. Barry is the Lead Poet on The Empty Chair project. He has been widely published including poems in; Anti-Heroin Chic, Crack the Spine, Picaroon,The Blue Nib, The Journal, The Cormorant, Dissonance, International Times and anthologies including Well Dam! and Please hear what I’m not saying. 

Maggie Harris

Poet: 'Dear Mr Dickens', at The Catalpa Tree, Rochester Cathedral

Maggie Harris is a multi prize-winning writer who has performed across the UK, Ireland, Europe, the Caribbean and India. Her poem ‘Canterbury’ is an art installation in the city and her BBC commissioned poem ‘Lit By Fire’, on the North Foreland Lighthouse, is online. Her latest collection of poetry is On Watching a Lemon Sail the Sea.


Sarah Hehir

Poet: 'Chatham Library', at Chatham Library

Sarah Hehir writes TV and radio drama, poetry and plays. She is currently writing for The Archers (BBC Radio 4) and Doctors (BBC1). She is also working in partnership with the Bogujevci Foundation to write a play about families, memory and war. Her 2013 radio play Bang Up won the BBC Writer’s Prize.


SM Jenkin

Poet: 'From a Knave to a King', at The Guildhall Museum

Chatham-born SM Jenkin has been published in numerous anthologies and magazines including Anti-Heroin Chic, Blithe Spirit, Boyne Berries, City Without a Head, Confluence magazine, Dissonance Magazine, The Interpreter’s House, the Mermaid and Please Hear What I Am Not Saying.

Her debut collection Fire in the Head is available from Wordsmithery.


Philip Kane

Poet: 'Untitled', at The Vines

Philip Kane is a writer, storyteller in the oral tradition, and artist who lives in Chatham. He is a member of the London Surrealist Group. His most recent publications are the poetry chapbooks Dramatis Personae (Whisky & Beards, 2019) and Desert Flowers (Mezzanine Press, 2020).

Some of his other work can be found on his blog at


Bill Lewis

Poet: 'A Tale of Two Muses', at Waterstones, Chatham

Bill Lewis is a poet, author of short fiction and a visual artist. He was one of the six members of The Medway Poets group and a founder member of the Stuckist art group and Remodernist Movement. He was awarded a bursary from South East Arts, appointed Writer-in-Residence at the Brighton Festival and was winner of the Literature award at the Medway Art and Design Awards 2012. He has performed internationally and on Radio and TV. Three collections of his poems are in print and available from all good book stores.


Maria C McCarthy

Poet, 'Great expectations', at St James' Church, Cooling

Maria C. McCarthy was the winner of the Society of Authors’ Tom-Gallon Trust Award 2015 for her story ‘More Katharine than Audrey’. She writes poems, stories and memoir, and was a regular columnist for BBC Radio 4’s Home Truths. She is the author of two poetry collections: strange fruits and There are Boats on the Orchard (illustrated by Sara Fletcher); and a collection of linked short stories, As Long as it Takes. All three books are published by Cultured Llama. She has an MA with distinction in Creative Writing from the University of Kent. She lives in the Medway Towns. Her website is

James McKay

Poet: 'Grip', at Chalk Parish Hall

James McKay (rhymes with “tie”) has been writing, performing and promoting spoken word since the year 2000, when it was barely even a thing. As well as playing key roles in nights such as Home Cooking (Newcastle) and Utter! Spoken Word (London/Edinburgh/Luton), he has had his work played on BBC Radio 2 and published by Burning Eye Books. He is currently settled at Gravesend in Kent, where he hosts poetry nights and open mics, and works at St Andrews Arts Centre, a deconsecrated church on the historic riverfront.

Rosemary McLeish

Poet: 'The Clash of the Titans', at Gad's Hill School

Rosemary McLeish was a poet and outsider artist who lived in Selling. She was part of Wordsmithery’s Confluence: Plant; Grow; Nurture writer development scheme. She had two collections published in the last two years, I am a field and Defragmentation. She performed her poetry and took part in spoken word events for the last three years from Medway to Thanet and beyond. Runner-Up in the 2018 Poetry Book Society/MsLexia Women’s Poetry Competition with ‘Red Rebecca’.

Heather Haythornthwaite

Map illustrator

Heather is inspired by the transitory, particular value of artefacts and locations. The memories that are caught up in these things and places are at the root of her work.

Her work has been selected for RE Masters, NOPE and Printmakers Council shows.

She is represented in Rochester by Frances Iles Gallery.


In 'The Empty Chair' project, we invited Medway residents to fill the spaces left by Charles Dickens with their own writing. Our podcast contains poetry and stories written during our Dickens themed open writing workshops in January and February in 2020.

'The Empty Chair in Lockdown

A podcast which is available to listen to here on SoundCloud. Listen to poetry and stories sparked by Charles Dickens launched during the virtual Dickens Festival 2020. Our writers have given us a range of interpretations, all inspired by Charles Dickens’ works and life.


All of Dickens’ books in 150 words, a murderous sister, a ghostly villanelle, Dickens on stage, imagining a nighttime walk with Charlie, a personal view of mental health, an imagined memoir and a memory of the Dickens Festival past.  Plus Barry Fentiman Hall reads ‘The Ivy Green’ and ‘The Song of the Wreck’ by Charles Dickens.       

(Recommended listening age 14+).

The Empty Chair poster
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