Look Up

This anthology contains a collection of creative writing by residents at HMP Northumberland. Written during Novus education sessions with writer Bridget Hamilton in response to astronomy content provided by Kielder Observatory and exploring work by poets such as Tracy K Smith and Robert Wrigley.

Space provides infinite inspiration to the human mind, and gazing up in to the night sky is a window to these possibilities. Kielder Observatory's goal is to share the awe and insight that learning about the universe can bring to everyone’s lives. Aligning astronomy and education offers numerous benefits, particularly inspiring wonder and curiosity: astronomy, with its vastness and mysteries of the universe, has the power to captivate and inspire all learners, in different ways.

With thanks to The Joicey Trust who funded the project and our partners Novus and all the staff at HMP Northumberland who helped facilitate. The poem "Taking the Stars Inside" is by Bridget to reflect on the project, with thanks to all the learners who participated. Imagery provided by the team at Kielder Observatory, with constellations designed by Bridget.

Poem Partners

Bridget is a North East based writer and creative producer. She works predominantly with young people in school and youth settings, but has also delivered writing projects for adults in addiction and mental health recovery. She won a Northern Writers Award for YA Fiction in June 2023 and has been commissioned to make work for organisations such as the Hexham Book Festival, Curious Arts and Poet in the City.

The creators of the work in this anthology are residents at HM Prison Northumberland, on the north east coast of England. The prison staff including the education team have facilitated this project.

Novus delivers education, training, employment and support services for people in custody in England and Wales. For 30 years we have been helping men, women and children to take new directions, providing them with the learning, skills and opportunities needed to build positive futures for themselves, their families, and our communities. Our arts and enrichment approach enables Novus colleagues and learners to access art in all forms, using arts and creativity to engage and empower.

At Kielder Observatory, we want everyone to experience moments of inspiration, wonder and hope through observing the cosmos. A clear sky at Kielder is truly special: a reminder how lucky we are to be alive on this tiny little planet. That’s the Kielder moment, and it can transform people.

Night sky nebula

Once upon a time, there lived a man who found himself in a foreign land. This man found it hard to fit in, and as a result one day he ended up in a sticky situation. He felt like his world was closing in on him, and he was all alone. 


In the midst of all this darkness, the man somehow found bravery within himself and summoned the strength to get him through this situation. With time, this man got to know himself and came to realise that he didn’t need to fit in, and that by him being different he stood out and that on its own was his strength.

Light pillars

There was once a boy who got kicked out of school
When he did, his life began to spin out of control.

By the age of fifteen, he ended up in prison
For the next twenty years he lived a chaotic life

Year after year, his life got worse
Until he found himself trapped in his folly.

Then, one night, he encountered an angel, who
Told him he had to get free.

The angel said: ‘knowledge is the pathway to freedom’
For the next four years, the boy read all he could read,

Until finally he was free.
Now every night a book appears in the night sky,

To represent his story.

Night sky and moon

Once upon a time, there was a lonely man called Jimmy. He was an alcoholic and because of that, he lost all of his family and friends. He ended up living in a small shack. 


One day, Jimmy decided to change his life in the future. First, he stopped the drink. Then he went to university and got himself a degree in psychology. After that, he found a good job as a manager in a bank. He saved up all his wages to buy his castle. 


Once he had made a new life for himself, he repaired his relationship with his mum, dad, and brothers and sisters. And that’s why you can see a castle in the night sky, to remind you of Jimmy’s past and how you can always start your life afresh.  

Moon shadow

Once upon a time, there was a caterpillar that was always judged because of his appearance and not his inner self. Everyday, the caterpillar tried to help, but the people could not see past his outer shape to the beautiful creature inside. Although, the caterpillar knew he was trapped in a body that did not reflect his gentle side and how thoughtful he was. The village people never saw a good side of the caterpillar and decided to wrap him up and throw him away. After years, the wrap came off and there stood a beautiful butterfly. The villagers were amazed to see how the caterpillar had transformed into this amazing creature. The villagers were even more amazed when the caterpillar forgave them and his true colours and inner side came out even more.

Moon shadow

During a time that was full of uncertainty and sorrow, 

a pilot flying a helicopter into battle, glanced 

up at the stars, 

he could not believe what he was seeing

in the sky,

he was looking at a group of stars with a

likeness to the aircraft he was operating.


Whilst hovering in the air to allow the squadron

of soldiers to depart, behind enemy lines,

he glimpsed once more at the amazing

spectacle above,

he asked himself: how many of these young lads

will I ever see again?

Will I make it back home?

Will I survive this nightmare that we are all living?


He landed safely back at base and was informed

that the war had ended.

When he finally arrived home to his loving family,

he shared his moment of stillness as he explained

what he saw.

He then took his family outside and guided their

eyes towards the constellation.


He told them to pass down from generation

to generation this magical illustration,

so that our family will never forget the millions

of people who served and died during WWII.



A man sits by a lake, watching a fish wandering through the waves mindlessly. 


He wants to be like the fish – be free of all his worries, roll with the waves. He looks at the stars and finds they relate to him. He gets lost in their vastness – which direction first? 


It makes him think about his duties. At first he had a set mindset, until he related to the fish. The power of intelligence makes him strong; gives him direction. 

Moon shadow

There was once a young man. He always felt he was different in school, he found it hard to read and concentrate. All his classmates thought he was weird. He was a nobody. 


His teacher saw him struggling. He told him he was really smart and maybe just needed some glasses to unleash his potential. The rest is history. 

Andromeda galaxy

Life started off happy and bright

Everything was rosy, there was laughter and light

Then the darkness called death came

His shadow came down and stole the light, the crowning jewel holding together the family.

In bleakness and in the shroud of darkness, laughter stopped coming, times were hard,

Food was scarce, belts were tightened.

Mockery and punishment pulled the family together, they looked out for one another

When times were hard and money was tight, they looked out and fought the good fight

In all adversity they had to overcome, the sword was sharpened, the fighter was born,

He looked out for his family, protected the weak, he was no longer meek.

He stood up for others who wouldn’t or couldn’t, he earned the respect, the love and the laughter,

The warrior’s way isn’t always a disaster.

Stay strong, not weak, do not be meek, don’t just look out for number one,

The sword, the fighter, the constellation is born.

Crescent moon rise

On a clear night, you can see thousands

of stars with the naked eye,

illuminating the obscurity of

the vast expanse in which

our planet rotates.

As I look up I think to myself,

What is out there?

Will we ever truly know the far

reaches of space?

Are there any other forms of life?

I become overwhelmed by curiosity,

anxiety and fear of the unknown.

Then comes the endless possibilities,

and questions that we may never

have the answers to.

Purple nebula

We used to think the earth 

was at the centre of the universe

That it resembled an eye,

but soon that bubble burst.

I used to look up at the sky 

and dream about my future

Now I realise I need to be present,

because that’s human nature.

I used to take family for granted

Now I know that tomorrow is not promised.


Is there life after death?

Can we ascend and meet without breath?

I need to stay grounded,

to be enlightened on earth.

The past is my knowledge,

with my future unknown.

I am the present;

The centre of my universe.

Purple aurora borealis

The universe is a snail with a child in the centre

Full of rainbows and all of God’s creations.


The stars are shooting through the night sky

Like a Ferrari; bright, shiny, and moving fast –


Lighting up the fields of water;

Plenty full of fish for me to catch with my fishing rod.


Forget about the things you can’t change.

I wish I could be free; I hope I will be free sometime soon.


Now I understand that is world order

And a hierarchy system. 

They are in control

And can take away my freedom.


Look up and forgive

And ask for mercy.

The moon is playing hide and seek;

I can see layers of life.


Remember and learn from past mistakes;

Think about how your actions affect others.

Radio telescope

I am a man, who is a son, who is a member of a family. My family is part of a community that makes up a town. The town I live in is located within a county that rests inside a country, which is situated on a continent. Seven continents make up the earth in which we live. Earth is a planet in our solar system – this is life as we know it. 


I am a cog inside of a machine. For this machine to operate as it is supposed to, each individual cog needs to function as it should. So I ask: are you operating as you should? From the micro to the macro, finding our place in the universe.


I discovered life is cruel,

Life is mean,

Not everything is as it seems,

Life has taught me to fight and not crumble,

It’s a rumble in the jungle,

Now I understand more about me,

Everyone needs to show some empathy,

Life is for living, not for dying

Eventually our souls will be flying

One day I will walk out those gates, free as a bird,

Ready to live.


The fight goes on, the stars will align, 

Now it will one day be my time,

When you feel glum, down or dour,

Look up at the stars at the meteor shower,

The stars will explode,

Lights gleaming and bright,

Twinkling like coins in the deep moonlight,

Emotions are high, 

Happiness shines through,

Look up at the stars and you’ll make it too

Kick away those dark thoughts, 

Life isn’t a waste

It’s not time to go towards Heaven’s gate.

Remember to smile, laugh and cry

Use the night sky to help the days pass by.

The evening sun through clouds

I have a big family, and they are my world. 

I can see my kids in the darkness when I don’t sleep at night.

When the sky is full and bright, I see the stars shining and I think of them. 

I miss them.

Crescent moon

I look up

And see something different every time.

The moon looks like a crystal ball

Floating in the sky.

Remember to breathe;

Take a moment to enjoy the magical and enchanting view.

Forget about all your worries

And think about the meaning of life.

The stars are like a map;

They can take you on a journey.


I saw to the edge of all there is: a big hole. What is in this big hole is unknown, but what I see is how my emotions can fill it. 

Am I going to drown in this hole? My tears have filled it up to the top. With every drop of my tears, I can see different colours being reflected by the light of the night. 

Do these stars reflect the layers of my life? As I fill the hole, I struggle to separate the stars from my life.

Am I an ordinary star? A star which contains matter very like that contained in the sun. I am an ordinary person living amongst people and just wanting to fit in.

Am I a white dwarf? Their sources of energy have exhausted. Am I like those white dwarf stars, having exhausted all the energy I have to live?

Am I like the pulsars, flashing, or is it that I am trying to come out of my shell and you can glimpse me coming out slowly?

Do I see myself as a collapsar - that no material or light can escape and there is no hope as I have kept my feelings buried. Is it now too late to come out of this hole?

Double rainbow over Kielder

I wonder…


When your loved ones die, does everything die with them? Generations and generations gone with them, just like that. Is the life we live like a switch that is switched on when we are born, and when we die, is it switched off?


Is this the switch that makes humans unkind? Over time I have learnt that kindness is a gift not all humans have - but who am I to say that? Every night I look up in the sky and wonder if there is a God, if there is someone like me among those stars, thinking the same thoughts.


If there is someone among these stars, have they learnt that their race is destroying their planet through wars, not being eco friendly and by spreading hatred amongst each other?


Every night I wonder when my switch is going to be turned off, or is the switch being turned on so I can see my family again in the ‘afterlife’ as we call it? Would it be a better place?


I wonder…



Moon halo above the observatory

It was a mild autumn night in the suburbs of London, one of those nights when it begins to start getting dark early in the evening. I had just finished a late shift at the restaurant and had just missed the K4 bus which stopped right at the top of my road, which then led me to catch the next best option, which stopped a decent walk from my estate. 


I remember getting off the bus to begin the hike home. As I walked along the north side of my area, I remember the street being illuminated by the streetlamps and not even really taking too much notice of the benefits of their lighting. As I walked further down this main road I noticed the alleyway, which I was aware was a cut through to a park that I knew was a shortcut to my estate. As I began to approach the alley, I began to notice that the lighting began to dim, and the further I got down this alley the darkness began to surround me to the point that I was fully submerged in darkness. By this point I was in the middle of the park, and for a slight few seconds I was in complete darkness and my sight was nil. It took a further few seconds and I began to notice my sight adjusting to the darkness, and I could slightly see in the darkness.


At this point I noticed my other senses beginning to heighten, my hearing and scent. The further I walked into this park, that at the time felt like it was never ending, it became darker and more tranquil and all I could hear was the sound of the crickets in the night. I would be lying if I said there wasn’t a slight thought of fear that had crossed my mind.


Suddenly I was adorned by the sudden brightness from the thundering passing train, and for a few seconds I was flooded with light. I remember at the time looking up and noticing the night sky and how many stars there were out there. I thought about how beautiful it was.

Triangulum galaxy

One day, late at night, I was walking home from a drink and a smoke at my uncle’s. I know a shortcut through a park and through a dark alley and bushes. I took the path a lot, so I could navigate it. 


But this time I got to the alley where the bushes were and heard a screech like a pig and a jolt of electricity shot through my body. I headed for the light, still in fight mode whilst in flight, telling this thing to come out and show itself, but to no avail. 


Maybe my body finds safety in light. The main road allowed me to see something other than a faint path in front of me.

Kielder Observatory at night

I might not have got the memo, my thoughts are not here

I’m not hammered, it’s just my head is out there

At night I turn out the lights and the darkness comes in

Restless and awake, the day begins

When the lights go out, my thoughts get heightened

It’s never a case of me being frightened

When the darkness comes, my thoughts begin.


Deep space objects

The starting line was intense, brightly lit by a coven of lanterns. Sparks like fireflies glittering in the night around the forest’s edge. The line was crowded, a row of thirty runners spread out in small groups. Some in uniform dressed up as ghosts, others’ faces painted with powder, streaked into comical smiles, traces of blood blossoming on bottom lips with plastic fangs.


The whistle went and we were off. Me and my two pals, Lee and Rob, sprinted off into the darkened woods, unsure of what awaited us. A zombie run, they said. What awaited us amongst the trees was unnerving. My heart was pumping, adrenaline flowing through my veins, senses heightened, eyes trying to pick out the route, pitch blackness all around. The odd lantern glowing in the distance, apprehension, fear the slightest sound making us jump. The moment as we ran down the path, the leaves crunching underfoot, then the low murmur, the shuffling and groans, an emaciated bloody arm lunging out the trees trying to grab us as we raced past. The fear was intense. Spooked by every sound in the darkness, spurring us on to faster speeds.

Deep space comet in green

My father was a miner, and all of my brothers were pitmen, working deep underground to dig for coal. They always came out with panda eyes. The whites of their eyes were permanently stained black. I was the last to get in the tin bath and always came out dirtier than when I got in!


I was not as accustomed to darkness. I remember a time when I was stark in a dark tunnel in the car. It was black, dark and deep. I couldn’t get out until a rescue vehicle came along. I felt so scared that I was shaking.

Hazy stars at night

A long time ago now, when I was 14 years old, I was always getting into trouble and fighting. I was like an overcharged battery, full of mischief, acting impulsively. I never settled at school and was expelled from secondary. 


A friend of my older brother decided he would take me along to Dragon’s Gym, a Thai boxing gym in Carlisle. It helped me to release some of my energy and kept me occupied three nights a week, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday night, which was my favourite because we would spar. I wasn’t allowed to spar with the other lads until I attended regularly for some time. I kept on at the trainer who was Thai boxing British champion Mike Haslin. 


One day, to my surprise, he allowed me to spar with this new lad who was only one year older. I was all excited and put my gloves on and got into the ring. I looked at my brother’s friends smiling, and I remember thinking ‘I’m going to kick his ass’. We started trading punches and kicks, then, suddenly, lights out. From being full of life and energy in this brightly lit up ring to being in pitch black and lifeless, laid on the floor, was scary. I remember coming around and everyone laughing and feeling like I was in the centre of the spotlight. Never again!

A single star

Look up and be reminded of my past

I can see so far.

The moon looks like it doesn’t belong

Remember that I was once a person of value;

Who was useful.

The night sky is like an open book

You can read it every day.

Forget about the future

The stars are honest.

Observatory under stars

Look up and enjoy the moment

I can see the stars.

The moon looks like a picture on the wall

Remember your special star at night

The night sky is like magic

I wish I could touch a star

Forget about the moments that make you unhappy

The stars are looking nice tonight.

Night sky in blue

Look up and relax 

Look at the beautiful rainbow in the sky.

The moon looks like there could be other sources on it

I remember seeing Orion’s Belt

The night sky is like magic – relaxing and bright.

I wish I could go into space 

and experience the feeling of weightlessness;

how nice that would be.

Forget about all your problems

when relaxing and looking at the stars.

The stars are beautiful and bright;

Tiny twinkles of lights.

Full moon

Look up, and see the endless night

Imagine you’ve been floating away into the darkness

Wishing you were the stars.

I can see endless, glittering lights

I can see planets

Satellites flashing around the earth.

The moon looks like a translucent orb 

Flashing in the endless dark

A candle constantly burning

A ten-pence piece glittering like a guiding light.

Remember the feeling of ecstasy as you watch the stars twinkle

The calmness washing over your body

The way the earth spins.

The night sky is like a vast river

A bowl full of sparkling eyes

A treasure trove of magical gifts.

I wish I could fly away from here

Land on another planet

Float through space

Touch the stars.

Forget about all the darkness in your life

Your feelings and emotions.

Venus in the evening

My future is bright like a star

With new knowledge, I am shining.

I am going to be an ambassador for the voiceless.

I am holding my life in my hands.

The stars taste like passionfruit;

Very exotic.

You will see me outside in the sky

Look up and smile; there is someone worse off

than you.

Sometimes I want to travel to the future

Would we live on the moon?

Would there still be earth?

Now things are in the open,

the future is brighter.

Deep space observing of a galaxy

My future is uncertain but it won’t be bleak,

Positivity and good fortune are there for those who seek.

I am going to be me. Thoughtful and bright,

Shining like a beacon in the night,

Honest and truthful, the sword cleaving through the night,

I am holding the moon, pearly white, in my hands.

A translucent orb, radiant, mellow, just like my mood.

The stars taste like golden nuggets, all crunchy and sweet.

You will see me when I am free,

Living the life out in the country, looking up at the stars

luminescent and bright,

Look up and shout, thoughts echoing out,

Drifting across the expanse into the unknown, forever drifting,

all alone.

Sometimes I want to look up and fly,

Hovering like an owl in the twilight night sky.

Now things are cool and calm, chilled out in the night,

It’s not yet time to go to the big bright light.

The evening sun through clouds

My future is what I make of it

I am going to be all I can be.

I am holding love in my hands

The stars taste like white Ferrero Rochers.

You will see me shine as bright as the stars

Look up and be amazed

Sometimes I want to explode like a dying star

Now things are dark and gloomy, but very

little glimmers of light are starting

to break through the darkness.

Evening sky

Once in my life I thought I knew

all the world had to offer,

then one day everything changed

and I was consumed by new knowledge.


My life became a vast empty space,

surrounded in darkness and sadness

with no sign of any beacons to

break up the shadows of my existence.


The little energy, stamina and spirit

reserved inside, is being hoovered

up by the dominant black hole,

that follows me everywhere.


I am longing for the day to arrive

where I will finally experience

the return of at least some

glimmers of light.


I hope that eventually all the 

obscurity that has filled my being,

will before long illuminate the 

gloomy expanse around me.





Evening sky

with thanks to learners at HMP Northumberland


I collect the stars from Kielder Forest

driving two miles down a single track road

to the observatory.

I fill my pockets,

fold hot stars into the pages of poems

and later, pour them into grey trays

to be searched for banned substances. 


It depends on your block, they tell me.

Whether in those nights of frantic, broken sleep

you see floodlights or galaxies.

Sat around a table in a room lined with barbers’ chairs,

we unpick constellations dot by dot,

drawing million-mile lines between them and us,

likening the universe to an hourglass

where we are all, I guess, doing time.


One man describes a night at camp

where the stars felt so close

it was as if they hung on strings.

Another, our resident philosopher,

describes knowledge as

a justified belief -

that the impact something makes

is what makes it real.

Like all of the astronomers before us, 

these men are trying to find order

in the chaos.


And as we work, an oystercatcher,

unfazed by the barbed wire,

makes her yearly nest

in the drain outside the education block;

the chicks, the lads say

look like tennis balls with legs, 

the eggs white

but speckled black, as if with interstellar dust.


I guess I thought 

people who had experienced such darkness

might try to steal your light,

not knowing you can take it to them 

and become brighter,

burning up as you enter

their atmosphere


And though very few would consider themselves free

And though when they watch the stars they are looking back

light years into their past, 

there’s a sense that it also gives them

a future

that is free

for them to imagine.

Startrails over a telescope

I saw to the edge of all there is

when I witnessed the miracle of

life take place with my own eyes.

As my amazing wife gave birth

to our beautiful little boy, I stood

there amazing at what women

can do and how strong and

courageous they are to choose

to live through that experience.


I felt overwhelmed with fear,

anxiety, joy and happiness,

when I heard him cry

for the first time.

I turned to Amy and said ‘he is

the best present you will ever

give me - I love you so much!’


I wrapped my arms around her

and gave her a little kiss.

Then the nurse brought Patrick

over and we were now complete.

I finally had everything I had ever

dreamed of: my own family.


Poem one - horsehead nebula

The night sky is like a motorway

Littered with lights

I can see millions of possibilities

Awaiting exploration

The stars are portals into another existence

Look up and be amazed at their majesty

Remember that you were once here

Forget about the things we can’t control

The moon looks like it should not be there

I wish I could live this life over and over again

An infinite number of times.

Andromeda galaxy

The stars are a goal, 

something to aim for. 

No matter how far away they are, 

you want to go, see, learn about their lives. 

I hope I will reincarnate and learn it all, 

if not, make it easier 

for the next generation 

to do better than me. 

Life has taught me there’s always a path, 

good or bad, 

it’s the choice we make 

that will create the future

but without one there can’t be the other.

There wouldn’t be a definition of anything, 

good or evil. 

The earth is my football 

and I am going to strike it perfectly, 

achieve my goal 

determined by the choice of steps I take. 

Sun halo

The stars are glistening

Look up and embrace the amazing spectacle.

Forget the distractions

I wish I could see it all

The moon looks like it’s getting closer

Remember this feeling

I can see the endless possibilities

The night sky is like an arena.

Poem 3 - star trails

The stars are life;

Look up and imagine.

Forget about the bad

I wish I could know it all

The moon is a big meteor

Frozen in time

Remember this lifetime

I can see destiny

Born to find out what’s there

The night sky is like an hourglass

Every light is a grain of sand

The equivalent of time.

Poem 2 - forest Venus

The stars are like jewels in the sky

Look up and notice their brightness.

Forget about the past

And what no longer serves us.

I wish I could fly like a bird in the sky

The moon is like a big piece of cheese

Remember the good times

I can see the red sky at night

The night sky is like a Rolls Royce interior.

Colourful startrail

The stars are like rainbows

Very colourful.

Over time I have learnt how to read,

write, and spell.

Soon we'll be old and decrepit.

One day, I will be free.

Humans will be intelligent in the future

The stars are brilliant

Now I understand that the view

is magnificent.

The moon looks like a smiling face

Remember your family

The night sky is magnificent

I wish I could fly

and forget about my troubles.

Moon shadow

True darkness:

a friend or enemy? 


Darkness alone will not hurt you, but you may hurt yourself because you do not know.


True darkness. I have always found it to be my enemy, but I have many times been forced to face it; to fight it, cry in it. No. You cannot run from it, it is always there. Even in the end; total darkness.

Noctilucent clouds on a summer night

I remember a time in my life when

I was full of joy and happiness,

down in the south of Wales. 

On a clear, hot summer’s night in

a field lay two city kids.


In the middle of nowhere,

it was very dark and quite

frightening for the both of us,

the only light source was

that of the stars, illuminating

the field around us.


As the constellations broke up

the darkness surrounding us,

we lay gazing at the night sky,

I wrapped my arms around Amy

and said, ‘the sky is so beautiful,

but not as beautiful as you.’ 



Milky Way

We saw to the edge of all there is; when it happened. 


The flick of a switch; in truth, a major engineering operation. What started its life as a disaster became the most advanced aid to the human eye. It allowed us to look out to our backyard, looking for what we know to be there, just like a householder looking into their backyard at night for intruders. They could be there, but we cannot see them. The visitor - or the threat?

Star trails

I saw to the edge of all there is: luminescence blooming in the night. Space so vast, stretching into eternity. Yet so many blinding lights, blossoming into existence. Orange, fierce, ferocious suns bursting into existence. Lavender purple, violet palms like the shape of a hermit crab shell, tendrils of pink coalescing like fingers unfurling from a closed fist.


I saw to the edge of all there is and got a sense of euphoria. The feeling of hope, exploding through my veins, telling me that we are not alone. With all the particles of matter, dust, and light gelling together, beings and life are formed. Other existence is out there. With all the contrasting colours between light blending into the darkness, variations of life, not as we know it, have formed out there, amongst the endless stars.


I saw to the edge of all there is: whirlpools of colour, fighting to be seen, expanding into existence. Flashes of colour, pulsing, glinting, twinkling into being.

Full moon with colours

We saw to the edge of all there is:

The brightest stars and pearl-like planets

Our minds exploded with joyful panic.

So many colours, more than a rainbow

I call it this: The Hubble Space Show.