Hollie McNish at Hope Baptist Church

Much more than an adult-only Thursday night sermon on modern sexual education
Lisa Valentine
March 15, 2024

Last night (14 March), Sunday Times best-selling poet Hollie McNish graced the stage for a sold-out show at Hope Baptist Church in Hebden Bridge, marking the launch day of her latest book, Lobster.

The beautifully-restored heritage building was packed to the rafters with excitable audience members deep in high-energy conversations before settling into the pews.

Scottish poet and writer Michael Pedersen opened the show with a mixture of poems from his books The Cat Prince and Boy Friends.

Flitting from emotive poems of grief after the loss of a dear friend and the joy of holding hands with friends to light-hearted tales of how he became the ‘cat prince’ as an eccentric pre-teen, his delivery - and the stories he shared in-between readings - were met with enthusiastic laughter and applause.  

After a short interval, giving guests time to top up their drinks and enjoy a second round of freshly baked cakes and samosas from the community bar, it was time for the main act.

Hollie has been writing poetry since she was four years old and has an undeniably endearing manner, not unlike that of a witty big sister, lifelong friend or slightly mischievous parent in the playground.

Her warm and relatable anecdotes about pregnancy nightmares, patronising managers and her love of Hebden Bridge engaged the crowd before she began reading a selection of poems from Lobster.

The Ted Hughes Award winner shares how Lobster was created to compliment her book, Slug, which focuses on ‘the things she’s been told to hate’. This time, she’s shining the spotlight on the joy of learning to love in a world which is constantly nudging us to hate both ourselves and others.

Speaking to Mag North ahead of the launch, Hollie said: “Lobster was inspired initially by disgust. Literally, by a lobster. I saw a lobster while I was on a beach and screamed and ran away. It wasn't close to me at all, but I was really so disgusted by it. ‍

“When my daughter asked me what I was screaming at, I stopped for a moment and lied. I said I'd stood on a stone. I've done that a few times as a mum when I've suddenly realised that I find something disgusting or shameful or embarrassing but then realise I don't want to pass that on because, thinking about it, I don't know why I find it disgusting. ‍

“From Lobsters, my mind wandered to other things that I'd been told to find disgusting and hadn't questioned for years. My own body was a big one; bodily fluids in particular - menstruation, wetness, sweat, even tears are shamed, especially for men. So much that I feel squeamish or weird about, but that actually when I unpick it, I really ought not to be.  

Hollie McNish at Hope Baptist Church Hebden Bridge Pink background

“I just love writing and I wrote this book to convince myself to love more; or rather to stop hating and shaming. So perhaps that's what I hope - that this book will bring joy, laughter and love to readers.”

In Hebden Bridge, she talked of parenthood and shame and how shifting the often-damaging narrative on sexual intimacy can be wonderfully liberating for all genders. Hollie frequently highlights topics that many tend to shy away from discussing with their nearest and dearest, let alone into a microphone or forever immortalised on paper.

She dotted almost every sentence with a handful of jovial and perfectly placed expletives while openly noting the irony of saying the word ‘fellatio’ numerous times on a church stage, like an adult-only Thursday night sermon on modern sexual education.

The narrative jumped from managing long-distance connections, everyday experiences of wonder and marvelling at the minute moments of joy to ugly newborn babies, murderous cats and how giving birth was absolutely not the best day of her life.

With a hefty dose of humour and raw honesty sprinkled throughout the prose and poetry, McNish delivered her considered observation of humanity in the uniquely impeccable way that her long-standing fans have come to know and love.

You can book tickets to Hollie McNish’s tour or purchase books via her website HERE.