Monday, 27 May 2019

Saboteur Award and Arnold Bennett Prize

By Jonathan Taylor

High Spirits: A Round of Drinking Stories has won the Saboteur Award for Best Anthology 2019. The anthology of contemporary short stories is published by Valley Press and co-edited by myself and Karen Stevens. It includes contributions by two University of Leicester PhD Creative Writing students: Laurie Cusack and Hannah Stevens, who graduated two years ago. The awards ceremony took place on Saturday 18th May in Fazeley Studios, Birmingham. Many thanks to everyone who voted for the anthology. For further details, see here.  

My poetry collection, Cassandra Complex (Shoestring Press), has also just been shortlisted for the Arnold Bennett Prize 2019. The shortlist of four books was announced on Monday 20th May. The Arnold Bennett Prize is awarded to the best book by an author from Stoke-on-Trent each year. This year's winner will be announced at the annual Arnold Bennett Conference in mid-June. For further details, see here

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Featured author: Sophie Duffy

Sophie Duffy is a novelist and teacher. Her first novel, The Generation Game, won the Yeovil Literary Prize and the Luke Bitmead Bursary. Her fourth novel, published by Legend Press, is Betsy and Lilibet. She also writes for Allen and Unwin under the pseudonym of Lizzie Lovell. She is part of the team of CreativeWritingMatters which involves running workshops, appraising manuscripts and  administering the Exeter Novel Prize. Sophie lives in Dawlish with her two Tibetan Terriers and three young adult children who dip in and out.

About Betsy and Lilibet:

They named me Elizabeth Sarah Sunshine, after the brand new princess, born at the exact same time as me, only across the other side of the river, to posher parents, with a swankier address. The princess was given a string of names that would grow ever longer so that in some ways she would always have more than me. But she didn't get the Sunshine ... 

London, 1926: Two baby girls are born just hours and miles apart. Both will grow up in very different families; each will carry the burden of responsibility, service, and duty. One will wear the Crown of the Commonwealth; the other will bury the bodies of the dead. Over the course of ninety years, their paths will cross three times. This is the story of Betsy and Lilibet.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

MA Creative Writing Dissertation Day

By Lee Wright

On Wednesday 8th May 2019, the first ever "Dissertation Day" took place, as part of the MA in Creative Writing at Leicester. The day included workshops, presentations and roundtable discussions in which everyone shared ideas for projects. The day acted like a taster menu, featuring novels, short stories, poetry collections, non-fiction pieces, and plays. 

The day opened with a guest writing workshop by Sue Dymoke, poet and Reader in Education. This was followed by a presentation by PhD Creative Writing students Dan Powell and Karen Powell, who talked about how they managed and planned long creative research projects. Finally, all the MA students sat around a table and, in turn, spent time talking about their practice, research and explaining what they were trying to achieve in their dissertations. Everyone in the group shared ideas, reading suggestions and practical advice. The lecturers on the Creative Writing programme, Jonathan Taylor, Nick Everett and Kevan Manwaring, were on hand to listen and provide an idea of how students might proceed with their dissertation projects. They recognised that sometimes you need a person to point you in a different direction and say, “Try this other way” - making you think, or see something that wasn’t necessarily clear before. 

The day was an important addition to the course, based around a framework of encouragement. After all, a problem shared is a problem halved.

About the author:
Lee Wright’s short stories, articles and poetry have been published by Fairlight Books,, The Black Country Arts Foundry, The New Luciad, Peeking Cat Anthology, Newmag and Burning House Press. Lee is in his final year of a part-time MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. 

Thursday, 25 April 2019

How Creative Writing Skills Can Make You a Better Copywriter

By Kristina Adams

What do Allen Ginsberg, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Dorothy L. Sayers have in common? They all worked as copywriters. Many published creative writers have worked in copywriting at some point. Why? Because copywriting and creative writing aren’t all that different.

People often put poetry on a pedestal, assume nonfiction is boring, and believe the only thing worthwhile is novel writing. And oh, how wrong those people are. (And how much fun they’re missing out on!)

I write this as an MA Creative Writing graduate, a content marketer, a novelist, a poet, and of course, a copywriter. If you remember this one thing, you’ll be able to write anything and everything: the execution may change, but the basics never do. Creative Writing is a versatile degree. I like to think of it as a degree in communication, because that’s what it is: it teaches you how to better communicate with those around you, both in written and spoken forms. How can that not help with copywriting?

Let’s take a look at the skills you learn as a creative writer, and how they translate to copywriting.

How to create an emotional connection with your reader

This is the most important part of any writing. You need to be able to create an emotional connection with your reader or they just won’t listen to (or read) what you have to say. When it comes to copywriting, that emotional connection can be the difference between someone buying your product or going to your competitor. 

We make decisions based on our emotions. Your product may technically be the best, but if your reader doesn’t care about you, they’re not going to want to buy from you. It’s the same reason certain politicians get more press coverage than others – it has nothing to do with their policies and everything to do with how much of an emotional reaction they trigger in people. The stronger the emotional reaction, the more attention the news outlet covering them gets, and the more money they’ll make.

Style vs substance

Style is just as important as substance in writing. If people don’t like your writing style, the substance won’t mean anything to them. You want to get the message across, of course. If your copy doesn’t say anything, what’s the point in it existing? Your copy should be clear and concise. There’s no room for purple prose here. If you don’t get to the point and stat, you’ll lose readers.

I like to compare copywriting to writing for children or teenagers. Children’s and YA fiction doesn’t have the space to spend two pages describing the history of a sword (I’m looking at you, George R. R. Martin). It needs to keep moving. If it stops or slows down too much or for too long, readers may well put it down, never to return.

If that happens in the world of business, you can say goodbye to those sales you wanted. If people don’t read what you have to say, they won’t know enough about your product to spend money on it.

How to use literary techniques

People assume that copywriting is bland and boring. But the best copywriting isn’t. It’s shiny and sparkly and it’s memorable. You already know how to make your writing sparkle thanks to your amazing creative writing skills. Now you just need to translate that into copywriting.

You can use techniques like rhyme, iambic pentameter, alliteration and more to make your copy more interesting. Most copywriters don’t use these – or don’t use them effectively – which automatically gives you an advantage. Don’t be afraid to use techniques you’ve been taught for poetry, fiction, or even script writing when crafting copy. These all help to make your writing memorable, meaning that even if someone doesn’t buy today, when they are ready to buy, they’ll remember you.

People’s eyes gloss over when they read lazy copy. It’s no different than when they read anything else. Cliches, overused words or phrases, and bland language all turn your reader off. Colourful language that experiments with punctuation and brings scenarios to life draws readers in and holds their attention. Changing one word can change your conversion rate. Creative copy is that powerful.

The importance of audience

Don’t worry about people not liking your writing style – you want to isolate people. That’s right. I said it.

You shouldn’t write for everyone. You should write for one person. That allows you to get super specific with your writing style, right down to the one shot decaf soya vanilla latte they drink every morning. (Yes, that is my obnoxious coffee order.)

If you try to cater to everyone, you end up being vague. Vagueness is boring. It doesn’t sell, either.

Audience is everything. Your audience dictates what you write about and how you write about it. When your audience changes so, too, should your writing style.

You can tell a story

The most effective copy tells a story. No exceptions.

You know what the most boring copy does? That’s right. Nothing. No story. No colour. No personality.

So, instead of writing something super boring, use those storytelling techniques you’ve been honing. Tell the story of what your reader’s life is like now, then fast forward to what their life could look like if they use your product or service. Describe – in graphic detail – the life they’re missing out on by not using your product. The more specific you get, the better they’ll be able to see themselves living in that scenario, and the more likely they’ll be to give you their money.

The one thing you need to learn

How to sell.

Most writers feel uncomfortable selling. I get it. It’s like wearing a pair of jeans that don’t quite sit right or flatter your figure but you can’t work out why. Turning your creative writing skills into a selling tool is possible, though. All you need is a pair of scissors, a sewing machine, and a little initiative. Those jeans that once felt too tight will sit just right in no time.

Ready to get started?

Then join me on 11 May 2019 at Nottingham Writers’ Studio, where we’ll explore how you can write kickass copy! For further details about this course, see here

About the author
Kristina Adams is an author, blogger, and reformed caffeine addict. She’s written five novels poking fun at celebrity culture, one nonfiction book on productivity for writers, and too many blog posts to count. She shares advice for writers over on her blog, The Writer’s Cookbook.

Monday, 22 April 2019

Featured author: Sam Meekings

Sam Meekings is a poet and novelist. He is the author of Under Fishbone Clouds (called "a poetic evocation of the country and its people" by the New York Times) and The Book of Crows. Reviews from the Stacks said of his latest novel, The Afterlives of Dr Gachet, that "This book does not work like any other I have read; it is on a level all its own, and truly a masterpiece of our day.” He has spent the last decade teaching and working in China and the Middle East. He currently balances his time between writing, teaching, raising two children as a single father, and drinking copious cups of tea. His website is 

Here, Sam talks about his latest novel. 

On The Afterlives of Dr Gachet, by Sam Meekings

I first saw Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr Gachet in a newspaper article about it being the most expensive painting ever sold at auction (of course, that record has been broken many times since then). Something about that melancholy look on his face got snagged in my mind, because I soon found myself reading up on the strange and extraordinary painting. I found, to my surprise, that though thousands of books have been written about Vincent Van Gogh, there was very little information out there about that sad old man he painted in the last month of his life. My novel is therefore a product of both research and imagination: the end result of my journey to bring this fascinating character back to life. 

The book tells the story of Paul Ferdinand Gachet, the subject of one of Vincent Van Gogh’s most famous portraits: one that shows what the artist called "the heartbroken expression of our times." But what caused such heartbreak? The novel follows Doctor Gachet from asylums to art galleries, from the bloody siege of Paris to life with Van Gogh in Auvers. It also looks at his afterlife inside the painting, from the bunkers of Nazi Germany to its mysterious disappearance with a reclusive billionaire in Tokyo. In this way, the book uncovers the secrets behind that grief-stricken smile.

Extract from The Afterlives of Dr Gachet

We have been here for some time. Look at his face. Or rather try to look at him without tilting your head.

He is leaning backwards, his head nestled against his fist, and his tired but unflinching eyes stare back at you. Or rather they stare into you, they burrow as deep as a corkscrew through the skull. His look confirms that there is nothing that can be done. His left hand steadies himself against the table. His face – and therefore the focus of the painting – is off-centre, and so the immediate impression is that everything is slightly out of kilter. The world is worn down at the edges, as weather-beaten as his thin and haggard face. We have moved in so close that he need only whisper to be heard, though this will not be necessary; there is a closeness between us that nudges beyond the limits of speech. We have been here for some time.

Get a better look. His body looms large – the canvas cannot contain him, and he threatens to spill out the sides. His heavy blue jacket appears stitched from some stormy ocean. It is buttoned close to his neck (the collar sags open, revealing a shock of white) and is almost indistinguishable in texture and material from both the cobalt blue mountains seen behind him, and beyond them the azure blue sky – each laps at the edges of the next, like waves crashing one after another at the edge of the shore. There is little attempt at depth: the background is blurred and empty of detail, a wash of swirling blues. The painter appears to suggest that his subject knows full well that blue is shorthand for a particular kind of melancholy, and knows too that he is already deep within it. His eyes affirm that this is the depth to which we test ourselves.

Who is this man? 

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Writing for Laughs

By Georgia Duplooy 

In this, the last semester of my final year, I took a new module called 'Writing for Laughs.' On this module, we explored comedy in its various genres - including short fiction, poetry, stand-up and sit-coms. We looked at, discussed and applied a range of theories about the nature of comedy and laughter, such as the 'Incongruity Theory,' 'Superiority Theory' and 'Relief Theory.' This latter suggests that we sometimes laugh when a period of mental strain has ended - for example, a type of hysterical joy akin to the feeling of submitting an essay you agonised over. Each week would then also focus on a comedic genre or era of comedy, and we had many opportunities to try our hand at these genres and share our ideas with our peers. 

Despite our class being small, it was certainly an enthusiastic one, with debates ranging from  "can we laugh at stereotypes?" to "what makes Brooklyn Nine-Nine so popular?" In short, for the majority of the group, myself included, this was their favourite class of the term as we tackled social issues, watched funny clips on Youtube and delved into philosophical debates all connected to the topic of laughter. 

Ironically we learnt - or perhaps it confirmed our previous suspicions - that laughter has as much to do with comedy as it does tragedy, as seen in Charlie Chaplin’s parodying of Hitler in The Great Dictator. Whether you can laugh at these types of comical caricatures or not, there was a comedian or genre that everyone enjoyed - and my personal favourite was comic poetry. To give you a taste of the scope of comedy and nonsensical humour that you can have fun with in class, here is a poem I wrote for the oral presentation:

To my arch enemy, the freezer

You wail and buzz, 
And man, what’s the fuss?
You’re an inanimate object that feels no pain. 
Yet you screech in my ear, whenever I’m near, 
and my patience is starting to wane.
Morning, noon and night – it’s like you do it out of spite, 
and I can hear you through the kitchen door. 
So with a throbbing head 
and my good mood long since dead, 
I unplug you and suffer no more.  

About the author
Georgia Duplooy is a final-year English BA student and a Creative Writing enthusiast. 

Friday, 29 March 2019

Laughter, Literature, Violence

By Jonathan Taylor

             Violence is of the essence of laughter.
- Wyndham Lewis, The Wild Body

I've recently had an academic book published by Palgrave-Macmillan, called Laughter, Literature, Violence, 1840-1930. The idea for the book originally grew out of my own creative work: as others have pointed out, my writing style is often marked by a dark humour, even grotesque comedy. Initially, I was hardly conscious of this: the mixture of comedy and tragedy in my memoir, Take Me Home (2007), arose naturally, almost unawares, because they were intertwined in reality - in elements of my father's illness, and our experience of caring for him. It seems to me that in so-called 'reality' (whatever that is), comedy and tragedy are rarely monolithic. People laugh at funerals, cry at parties. Death, tragedy, horror, violence can be funny - or horrifically funny. That's why so many literary memoirs mingle laughter and tears, even when they're ostensibly concerned with the most serious, or distressing of subjects. I wanted to write reflectively about this strange emotional hybridity, particularly in relation to memoirs and short fiction - and, in that sense, the academic book makes conscious what I've been doing, over many years, in my own creative writing. It does so, for the most part, in a displaced form, in relation to literary texts by other memoirists and short-story writers; but, as Oscar Wilde famously claimed, all criticism is a kind of autobiography. In writing the book, I have learned a huge amount about the historical periods, about theories of laughter, about the writers - and also about myself, my own style, and my (sometimes dark) sense of humour. Here's the book's blurb: 

Laughter, Literature, Violence, 1840-1930 investigates the strange, complex, even paradoxical relationship between laughter, on the one hand, and violence, war, horror, death, on the other. It does so in relation to philosophy, politics, and key nineteenth- and twentieth-century literary texts, by Edgar Allan Poe, Edmund Gosse, Wyndham Lewis and Katherine Mansfield – texts which explore the far reaches of Schadenfreude, and so-called ‘superiority theories’ of laughter, pushing these theories to breaking point. In these literary texts, the violent superiority often ascribed to laughter is seen as radically unstable, co-existing with its opposite: an anarchic sense of equality. Laughter, humour and comedy are slippery, duplicitous, ambivalent, self-contradictory hybrids, fusing apparently discordant elements. Now and then, though, literary and philosophical texts also dream of a different kind of laughter, one which reaches beyond its alloys – a transcendent, ‘perfect’ laughter which exists only in and for itself.