Friday, 7 December 2018

High Spirits: A Round of Drinking Stories

By Jonathan Taylor

A new, thematised anthology of contemporary short stories, High Spirits: A Round of Drinking Stories, which I've co-edited with Karen Stevens, has now been published by Valley Press - just in time, no doubt, for peak drinking season (i.e. Christmas). Below, you can read a blurb about it. It's been a hugely enjoyable project to be involved with, and the anthology includes many wonderful stories, as varied as the drinks behind a bar.

From folk songs to classical art songs, from Purcell to Schubert to Verdi to Mahler to Orff, there is a long and well-known tradition of “Drinking Songs.” The same goes for “Drinking Poems.” This anthology taps into another, less-well-known, yet equally powerful, tradition: that of the “Drinking Story.” 

Drinking stories are told by drunks, or about drunks; they are told in pubs, or set in pubs. They are stories where people drink, and stories which somehow induce a sense of drunkenness in readers and listeners. Drunkenness is itself often a story, with a beginning (first drink), a middle (intoxication), and an end (falling over, injury, emotional epiphany, sex, passing out, hangover, or death). Anton Chekhov may or may not have drunkenly compared the experience of reading a short story to downing a shot of vodka, and F. Scott Fitzgerald claimed that a good short story could “be written on a bottle.” Here is a collection of contemporary short stories written on and about bottles – stories about the comedies, tragedies, pleasures, pains and horrors of alcohol – all of which can be downed like (and perhaps with) a glass of vodka.

Edited with an introduction by Karen Stevens and Jonathan Taylor, contributors include some of the best short story writers in the UK today: Judith Allnatt, Jenn Ashworth, Desmond Barry, Laurie Cusack, Louis de Bernières, Jane Feaver, Cathy Galvin, Alison Moore, Kate North, Bethan Roberts, Jane Roberts, Hannah Stevens, Michael Stewart, David Swann, Melanie Whipman and Sue Wilsea.

You can read more details about High Spirits on the publisher's website here. 

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Writing the Poem: "Roaming Range"

By Sue Dymoke

The poem ‘Roaming Range’ appears in my 2018 Shoestring Press collection What They Left Behind. During an event at Attenborough Nature Reserve last November called ‘(Re)connecting with nature through the power of wild words’ (Being Human Festival 2017), I had a conversation with Adam Cormack from The Wildlife Trusts. Adam happened to mention how children’s opportunities to engage with nature at first hand have become so much more restricted in the 21st century. What he called their ‘roaming range’ has been severely curtailed, for many reasons including concerns about safety, restricted access to outdoor/wild spaces near to home, poverty, school pressures, limited unstructured free time or different ways of spending free hours. His comments took me back to my childhood, a place and a time with no house phone or car when we (me and my friends or brother) would think nothing of disappearing on our bikes for hours at a time, going out into the scraggy Hertfordshire lanes, woods and fields around and beyond Stevenage Old Town. The poem began to write itself in my head on the way home.

Attenborough Nature Reserve

Roaming range

You roamed wherever your bikes took you 
where blackberries grew big and juicy
on railway cuttings, river banks, sunny field edges …

I chose to use the second person in the poem because I thought my memories echoed those of many other children born in the sixties and seventies. I hoped to include everyone in the poem, rather than name specific places or people which might limit the piece to particular situations. 

The poem wanted to come out all in one long nearly breathless rush of a sentence. Instinctively, I knew that this was the right form. Although the places, sightings and events within it did not all happen at once (and some frequently reoccurred) together they made a compressed, speeded-up snapshot of a childhood roaming free, getting snagged and stung, hearing and watching nature all round us:    

where a nettle’s sting was only
partly eased by spit-rub of dock leaf
where tadpoles jellied in deep ponds
and bluebells chimed silent songs
under greening beeches
where hair snared in thickets
goose grass stuck to jumpers

I have been reading this poem at launch events recently, along with what I now see is a companion poem: ‘Girls on Swings.’ For me, both of these pieces are about freedoms we should revel in, seize, but never ever take for granted.  

If you would like to read the whole 'Roaming Range' poem go to

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Magical Mystery Tour 2018

Photo Collage by Karen Rust

By Kathleen Hoyle

As a new student to the Creative Writing MA course at the University of Leicester, I’m still finding my feet. I’ve never thought of myself as particularly academic and still wonder how I’ve made it this far. So, with an open mind I’ve started the course, with a willingness and enthusiasm to learn all I can.

I must admit, then, when our tutor Harry Whitehead told us we were going on a ‘magical mystery tour’ down an alleyway, on a cold and rainy Wednesday afternoon in November, my enthusiasm waned a little.

We donned our coats hats, and, in my case, a broken brolly that battled with the wind half-heartedly throughout and set out somewhat half-heartedly.

But something DID transpire on that walk … you CAN find ideas in the mundane; even the brollies were a topic of discussion – my broken and deluded pound shop one, Harry’s smart and expensive one and Laura’s beautifully bright rainbow one. Harry was right all along. 
The alleyway chosen was dim and broken. There since Victorian times, it sagged behind run-down flats and overgrown gardens. But what treasures we found! 

A carrier bag, possessed with the spirits of addicts and drunks.

Romeo and Juliet’s balcony?

A bleeding wall - gothic horror.

Madge the mattress, an old prostitute with stories to tell, if only someone would listen. 


Locks and signs, dark holes, all stories with a threatening tone. 

We all sat in the pub afterwards warm, toasty and elated. A babble of conversation and short story ideas, all flowing from a short walk through an alleyway. Harry explained that, as writers, we must learn to observe and embrace the mundane in order to bring our stories to life and we should never dismiss anything, even an old chip box or a cigarette end, as a source of inspiration. 

It really was a great learning experience but maybe next time we can try it on a sunny day please, Harry?

By Louise Brown

The Magical Mystery Tour defied my expectations. I suspected it would be a dreary activity and wondered what was the point of viewing the litter and grimy parts of Leicester? however, the exhortations of Harry Whitehead to find inspiration in the ordinary came to life as we wandered down Oxford Avenue. 

The debrief in the pub later over a fine pint of cider was great fun. Hearing what others had come up with amazed me. One student's observation was that everywhere he looked there were “threats.” He was referring to various notices warning people they may die (electrocution hazards) or that prosecution may occur for trespassing. As my day job is that of a Solicitor I hadn’t even noticed them.

I came away thinking the ordinary is not ordinary at all; it’s just that our minds stop looking at things. We become inured and deadened to all around us. The strange sight of green and red protrusions on a brick wall, and a bin with the address daubed on in dripping paint, both of which struck  me as ghoulish, had sparked my imagination. As a result, I had a go at writing a comic ghost story, and discovered that trying to be funny is hard. However, trying something new is a must for every aspiring writer. I have included a small excerpt below from my work in progress:

.... She caught up with her dog and did a double-take. Strange growths in the shape of entrails had appeared on the bricks, coloured green and red. The house was alive and growing and it seemed to have spilt its guts overnight. Maybe it had always been there, she wondered, doubting her powers of observation. 

She remembered she had drunk all the gin yesterday. A trip to the off-licence beckoned.   

She proceeded down the alleyway. What’s the matter with the damn animal? It was barking at a dustbin now. That’s weird, she thought: someone had emblazoned on it in white paint 10 Oxford Avenue. The paint dripped down a little making it resemble white blood, and the title of some horror movie.     

By Colin Gardiner

A Possession 

There are places where the dispossessed drift.
Lost wraiths, turned inside out and pummelled
In a whispered supermarket séance.

There’s black magic in the arterial flex 
Of the back alley. Ductile will-o’-the-wisp  
Is happy to lead you here, all alone.

Step over the crunching beer-glass carpet 
And heed the orange shopping bag, tittering
Tales in the déjà vu of carpark darkness.

Plastic poltergeist gossip, reporting
Curtain twitch domestic, late night gang fight
And a screaming back-seat exorcism. 

Rustling omens in abandoned sheds,
Undecipherable to surveillance 
Heads, who dream in back-yard video loops.  

Rough handles reach into an empty sky,
Grasping at the dust illuminated by
Whispering arcs of loveless sodium.  

Behind you, an evil asthmatic wheeze 
Tickling the spinal aerial lines.
Plastic sighs of longing: you belong here.

Tuesday, 30 October 2018

Leicester Shindig: A Retrospect

By Jonathan Taylor

Between 2010 and 2017, Leicester Shindig was a regular and well-known open-mic poetry evening, taking place every two months. Leicester Shindig is currently taking an extended break, so it seems like a good moment to look back on it, and record our thanks to everyone involved.  

For most of its long run, Leicester Shindig took place in The Western Pub, and was jointly hosted by independent publisher Nine Arches Press, arts organisation Crystal Clear Creators (now discontinued) and, in the last couple of years, the Centre for New Writing at the University of Leicester. Regular comperes included Jane Commane, Matt Nunn, Maria Taylor and myself. The evening generally consisted of two halves, including a series of open-mic slots, followed by featured writers.Over the years, Leicester Shindig featured poets, storytellers, fiction writers, as well as magazine, anthology, pamphlet and book launches. It was eclectic, mingling spoken-word, experimental, avant-garde, literary and popular poets.

Audiences were always large, and we often filled the pub. Many people who came along remarked on the remarkably high quality of the open-mic. You can read reviews of Leicester Shindig by Alan Baker here, Matt Merritt here and Pam Thompson here, and various articles by Jayne Stanton on her blog here. In 2014, Leicester Shindig was shortlisted for the Saboteur Award for Best Regular Spoken Word Night in the UK.

Leicester Shindig did not receive funding, and everyone - organisers, publicists, comperes, invited guests, open-miccers - kindly gave their time for free. So thank you to everyone involved. Below is a near-complete list of the many wonderful featured writers, who gave readings at Leicester Shindig. If there's anyone I've missed, please do let me know!

Romalyn Ante
Alan Baker
Claire Baldwin
Jo Bell
Kathleen Bell
Charles Bennett
Julia Bird
Rebecca Bird
Julie Boden
Alison Brackenbury
Will Buckingham
Wayne Burrows
Andrew Button
Richard Byrt
Helen Calcutt
David Clarke
Jane Commane
Myra Connell
Caroline Cook
David Cooke
Rishi Dastidar
Jonathan Davidson
Nichola Deane
Mal Dewhirst
Andrew Duncan
Rod Duncan
Sue Dymoke
Angela France
Rich Goodson
Mark Goodwin
Andrew "Mulletproof" Graves
Jess Green
Cora Greenhill
Cathy Grindrod
Tania Hershman
Sarah Jackson
Sarah James
Chris Jones
Karin Koller
Charles G. Lauder, Jr.
Gregory Leadbetter
Emma Lee
Carol Leeming
Dorothy Lehane
Anna Lewis
Ira Lightman
Siobhan Logan
John Lucas
Martin Malone
Roy Marshall
Jessica Mayhew
Richie McCaffery
Roy McFarlane
Nigel McLoughlin
Matt Merritt
Kim Moore
David Morley
Ambrose Musiyiwa
Alistair Noon
Bobby Parker
Rennie Parker
Stephen Payne
Robert Peake
Simon Perril
Kathy Pimlott
Alexandros Plasatis
D. A. Prince
Robert Richardson
Marilyn Ricci
Shelley Roche-Jacques
Jacqui Rowe
Anna Saunders
Richard Skinner
Daniel Sluman
Jayne Stanton
Matthew Stewart
Aly Stoneman
Andrew Taylor
Jonathan Taylor
Maria Taylor
Michael Thomas
Pam Thompson
Lydia Towsey
Marion Tracy
Simon Turner
Deborah Tyler-Bennett
Rory Waterman
Harry Whitehead
Ben Wilkinson

Photos by Ambrose Musiyiwa

Monday, 29 October 2018

Call for Submissions: The University of Leicester Yellow Book

The University of Leicester is collaborating with rethinkyourmind to create the first ever university version of The Yellow Book - and is calling for artistic submissions. 

The Yellow Book is a positive, creative resource developed by those with experience of mental health challenges and endorsed by professionals with the aim to educate, aid and support.

The organisers are asking contributors to express well-being by submitting art, poetry and photography that relate to the theme #IFeelBetterWhen. Submissions are open until the 16 November 2018. Submissions are made via the website here. All submitted artwork will be assessed by a panel of local artists, who will select pieces that will form The UoL Yellow Book.

Submissions might be a poem, photo or other visual artwork. You can see examples from other Yellow Book projects on

This project is open to all abilities, students and staff alike. 

The UoL Yellow Book will launch at the Attenborough Arts Centre on 15 March 2019, with a prize ceremony for those who created the final artworks for the book. The original pieces will be displayed in the Balcony Gallery and will be open to all.

You can see a short video about the project here.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Typewritten Tales: Call for Volunteers

By Divya Ghelani 

Become an oral historian and learn the hidden story of Leicester's historic Typewriter Strike!

Typewritten Tales is an Arts Council supported Oral History Project about the 1974 Typewriter Strike at Imperial Co. on East Park Road. Participants will learn to conduct interviews with former factory workers. These oral histories will form the inspiration for a dynamic series of local flash fiction events called Typewritten Tales and will culminate in a chapbook publication in partnership with the Centre for New Writing at the University of Leicester. 

The project kicks off with an Oral History Collection training session led by the University of Leicester’s Oral Historian Colin Hyde. Colin runs the East Midlands Oral Histories Archive and will be training brand new oral historians on October 17th, 1-4pm in The Seminar Room, 3-5 Salisbury Road. You’ll learn about life on the factory floor, race relations in 1970s Leicester, and how the strike affected workers from the city’s settled working-class community and newly-arrived immigrant workers. We welcome a diverse pool of applicants!

PRE-BOOK this FREE Oral History training with Colin Hyde by emailing typewrittentalesproject (at) gmail (dot) com. 

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

"After I Bumped My Head on a Children's Slide," by Meng Wang

Meng Wang (Chinese pen name: Pear Du) is a bilingual writer and poet, born in 1992, from Beijing, China, who enjoys writing love poems. She loves animals, and at home has two injured azure-winged magpies, a lovely squirrel, a chubby cat, a little turtle, and is engaged in fighting for animal rights. She gained her Master's degree in Modern Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. You can find her Chinese short novels and stories in various magazines and anthologies, including Hua Cheng, Shan Ye, China Southern Airlines, Shanxi Literature, Changjiang Literature and 2017 Youth Literature. Her first short story collection is To Our Favorite Little Butter Biscuits (published 2018).

In the following short memoir piece, Meng Wang reflects on her recent art residency in Spain, and the strange effects and side-effects of a head injury, in relation to creativity. 

After I Bumped My Head on a Children's Slide, by Meng Wang

If you don’t come to Barcelona now, it will be too late, and the water will get colder ....

In late August 2018, I came to Spain for my art residency at Can Serrat International Art Centre, El Bruc - first re-visiting Barcelona for a few days. 

During those amazing and difficult five days, I had endless quarrels with my boyfriend. He wanted to sleep in the airport on the last night, which was totally insane. The rows epitomised our relationship in the first half of 2018. It exhausted both of us, and I even developed an arrhythmia because of it. 

Therefore, the residency in Spain was like a escape for me, where I thought I would have a rest, some head space to focus on my art work and writings. So after we said goodbye, he went back to Beijing to his work, and I left for El Bruc for my art residency.

September! Finally! I had a great time with different artists and writers from all over the world and made some good friends. We celebrated my birthday on Mexico's official independence day (what a coincidence), and Australian writer Laura and Canadian writer Marin made me a flower chocolate cake. A talented Hongkong visual artist called Antoine had become my soulmate, and asked me to fry spicy potato slices every day; and a French visual artist Chloé and I were designing an experimental literature art book in our respective languages.

Apart from social activities, I also wrote three short stories discussing urban anxiety in China and drew a series of paintings relating the human nude and the animal. I also picked up my childhood hobby, carving and sculptures. I did some print making by using a mechanical machine. 

It was all going so well. Happy times are always short. A turning point came …

"Wake me up when September ends" is no joke - for, on the penultimate day of September, I bumped my head heavily on a bar above a children's slide. It sent me into a kind of sleep, and a kind of waking. 

Dizziness accompanies me all the time since the accident. I feel like I’m drunk every day. This reminds me of one of our ancient celebrities - Ran Ji, who drank for sixty days to avoid his Emperor's call. 

I went to two hospitals - the first was a clinic in Esparreguera, where the doctor sent me away without a brain scan, telling me to drink Coca Cola and take Betahistina every eight hours. After a few days, however, I got even worse, so our Columbian female writer Paola took me to Accident and Emergency in  De Igualada hospital. There, the automatic coffee machine dispensed - like a present just for me - a beautiful cartoon paper coffee cup, which had a Chinese girl in a red dress with a cute panda. This somehow provided me a little relief - a kitsch reminder of home. The doctor I saw afterwards didn’t scan my brain either; after a basic examination, he just said that the first doctor had given me the wrong medicine, which was hardly a big surprise. Then he sent me away: "Ta ta!". 

Now I take Ibuprofen and gelocatil every eight hours. I'm preparing to have a full brain examination and MRI when I return to Beijing at end of this month. 

As we left the hospital and waited on the bench for the car to get us back to Can Serrat, Paola suddenly started crying on my shoulder. There was some family trauma, which made me feel sorry for her, and she wrote something in Spanish to memoralise that moment:

Nothing comes back to me dijo ella mientras yo lloraba en su hombre. Vinimos a urgencias por ella y ahora soy yo quien necesita cuidado. Nothing comes back y justo por eso estoy llorando ella no sabe que hacer, me muestra memes en chino y me dice que traducen. Ya estamos afuera ella solo tiene mareos que le van a durar dos semanas a lo sumo. A mi esta pena de que nada vuelve me va a durar mucho mas.

The story is a bitter-sweet symphony, though: strangely enough, since I got injured and started taking painkillers, I've become really productive, artistically speaking. In all my dizziness, I write and create even faster than before. There's good and also bad news: I can’t drink anymore, because it can make my brain feel like it's exploding, and I have to write by hand to avoid the discomfort of a computer screen. Funnily enough, handwriting seems to work even faster than typing - very old school.

Anyway, now I have at least five different projects on the go: a series of paintings of human nudes and animals; a new full-length novel Beijing Wave, so far written on discarded bits of paper; experimental art books, including carvings and print-making, written in various languages; a new short story collection; memoir writing about my Can Serrat residency and experiences (like this piece!) ....

These ideas force themselves out of my mind every day - so much so that all the artists in our Centre thought that I had made a trade with the devil. Perhaps the devil is my head injury. Now I keep working from the moment I wake up till midnight - only stopping occasionally to contact my boyfriend, who always used to hurt me with his moody attitude, but whose moodiness now compels me to return to my work. 

I've also learned my lesson that perhaps I'm a bit too old for children's playgrounds. I’m not a child anymore.