Clare McPhee obituary

Other lives: Poet, playwright and teacher whose work focused on the natural world of her surroundings in Cumbria and Cambridgeshire

My sister, Clare McPhee, who has died aged 66 of cancer, was a gifted poet and writer. She published seven collections of poems, focusing on the natural world and objects of importance to her. She also taught creative writing, helping people to access their own imagination and participate in literature.

Born in Dartford, Kent, Clare was the daughter of Bill Crossman, a hotelier, and his wife, Charmian (nee Hanson), who became a vicar. When Clare was 14 the family moved to Cumbria.

After Casterton school, she studied English at Bristol University, graduating in 1977, and went on to do an MA in theatre studies at Lancaster University.

For 10 years Clare worked for the University of Newcastle’s lifelong learning programme in Cumbria, teaching creative writing to adults. She wrote for the Dukes Playhouse Lancaster and for youth groups. Her play Public Faces Private Lives – a portrait of Dorothy Parker – was performed at the Edinburgh festival fringe in 1986.

Poetry was her main focus. A member of the New Lakes Poets, under the guidance of William Scammell, she first published at the age of 30, and continued to do so under the name of Clare Crossman. In 1996 her pamphlet Landscapes won the Redbeck poetry competition.

Clare married Iain McPhee in 1993 and the couple moved to Meldreth, Cambridgeshire, in 2000.

Further collections followed, including Silent Reading (2001), Going Back (2002), The Shape of Us (2010), Vanishing Point (2013) and The Blue Hour (2017). Winter Flowers (2018) was a memoir of the Cumbrian artist Lorna Graves.

Clare also worked for South Cambridgeshire district council arts service and for Lifecraft, a mental illness charity. She taught inmates at Littlehey prison and undertook a poetry writing project at Fulbourn psychiatric hospital’s high-dependency unit in 2008. Her collaborations with other artists included an album of poems and songs, Fen Song, A Ballad of the Fen, with musician Penni Mclaren Walker (2009).

Her poems about the local chalk stream where she walked daily with Iain and her dog were made into a community film – Waterlight (2009), with cameramen Nigel Kenning and James Murray White.

Her final book of poems, The Mulberry Tree, is due to be published by Shoestring Press this summer.

Clare is survived by Iain, me and two nephews.

David Crossman

The GuardianTramp

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