Winner of the Garrick Theatre Poetry Competition – March 2019

My poem ‘Theatre of War’ has won the poetry competition linked with the Garrick Theatre’s production of Nick Dear’s play ‘The Dark Earth and the Light Sky’.

The play is based on the life of enigmatic poet Edward Thomas who, troubled with melancholy and scraping a living deep in the Hampshire countryside with his wife and children, meets American poet Robert Frost in 1913 – and everything changes.

As a result of their friendship, Thomas emerges from the shadows of self-doubt to become one of the most influential poets of the twentieth century. Then, just as Thomas stands on the verge of success, war offers a drastically different path…’

(Adapted from Garrick Theatre publicity notes).


The Theatre of War

Gunfire moves east away, dark sky, scorched earth sets the scene.

Trees stripped of leaves, stark sculptures against a barren no-man’s land.

The Cherry and Aspens are long gone, whilst, I, the lonely soldier battle on.

I act out orders; no case to argue, petty right or wrong.

The stage is set, the script is written but this is no theatre of dreams.

An unknown bird, the lark perhaps, rises from poppy-filled field,

It’s song restrained by the bitter sound of clattering guns.

Gone, gone forever are these fields where hay was made.

The sun sets now on fields of death, the landscape naked and exposed.

I think of home, soliloquize to loved ones old and young.

Filthy, not refreshing, is the rain that falls so heavily.

Do not leave my soul among the dead nor let me know decay.

Gunfire, like applause, ceases as curtains close upon this scene of devastation.

In the wings, I wait in joyful hope.

© martha ashwell 2019

Podcast Interview with Carol Graham                20 May, 2016

My story ‘Celia’s Secret: A Journey towards Reconciliation’ shares the impact a family secret can have on your life.  Are you struggling with the dynamics of a family secret or with a particular broken relationship?

Please open this link for my interview with Carol Graham, American award-winning author of ‘Battered Hope’, Talk Show presenter, Motivational Keynote Speaker, and host of US podcast ‘Never, Ever give up Hope’.


This advertisement has been appearing on IrishTV SKY 191 for the past few weeks.  Thanks to Martin Logan and his programme ‘Out and About Manchester’ ‘Celia’s Secret’ has been promoted on a worldwide network.

SKY IrishTV advert

Thanks to Colin O’Neill for this article which has appeared in the Newry Democrat  – 24 November 2015

She has a secret

By Colin O’Neill

A DARK family secret which began with the emigration of a Bessbrook man to England in the 1930s is the subject of a recently published book by Manchester born author Martha Ashwell.

Celia’s Secret: a Journey towards Reconciliation deals with the story of Samuel Hare, born and raised in Bessbrook who, after the death of both his wife and child, moved to Manchester and formed a relationship with the author’s mother.  Four children were born as a result of that relationship, including Martha.

The children, however, were raised by their mother and her English husband.  Martha did not confront her mother about her real parentage until just before her wedding.  It is that preciously guarded secret and its consequences for herself and her family which Martha examines.

“That was the secret of my mother’s life,” said Martha.  “She maintained that false image all her life.  We didn’t know during his lifetime that we were his children.  He died before I discovered the secret.   It came to light just before I got married myself.  I had suspected it for a number of years and I confronted my mother – I just wanted the truth.”

“I confirmed it with one of her friends before I actually confronted her with it so I knew it was true.  But she was very angry.  She didn’t accept the fact that I found out about it very graciously at all.  She felt it was her secret alone and not one that was anybody else’s business.”

The book therefore is a search for the truth.  A book which Martha felt compelled to write and which asks thought provoking questions such as; What is truth? Why do we seek it so passionately?  Does anyone have the right to hold the truth exclusively or is there a duty to pass it on to others who are affected by it?

It details that when the secret was finally revealed, its discovery led to despair rather than resolution and the facing of some painful issues; mental illness, bereavement, loss of Martha’s chosen career as a social worker and a crisis of faith.

Above all, Martha deals with how the truth affected the relationship with her “much-loved mother.”  Towards the end of her story, she travels to Bessbrook, a village she describes as “a special place” to try and discover more information and to bring resolution to the story for all concerned.

“There are not always definitive answers to life’s problems but peace, I am certain, can be achieved by knowing that you have done all that is humanly possible to resolve them,” said Martha.

“I hope that my story has something new to say and that it has the capacity to help others overcome the sadness that comes from broken relationships.  The burden of the secret weighed very heavily upon me and left me with unfinished business.  In writing the book I have been able to exorcise ghosts and tell the secret to my family.”

“I also hope that readers will gain from my experience and the way that I, eventually, came to terms with the secret and achieved some kind of resolution.

IrishTV interview with Martin Logan, 20 October 2015

The Book Launch video is here.
Watch it on YouTube too: