Monday, 3 August 2020

Jenny Kane, "The Accidental Author"



From the comfort of her cafe corner in Mid Devon, award-winning author, Jenny Kane, wrote the contemporary women’s fiction and romance novels, Midsummer Dreams at Mill Grange (Aria, 2020), A Cornish Escape (2nd edition, HeadlineAccent, 2020),  A Cornish Wedding (2nd edition, HeadlineAccent, 2020), Romancing Robin Hood (2nd edition, Littwitz Press, 2018),  Another Glass of Champagne (Accent Press, 2016), and Another Cup of Coffee (Accent Press, 2013).

She has also written three novella-length sequels to her Another Cup of ... books: Another Cup of Christmas (Accent Press, 2013), Christmas in the Cotswolds (Accent, 2014), and Christmas at the Castle (Accent, 2016). These three seasonal specials are now available in one boxed set entitled Jenny Kane’s Christmas Collection (Accent, 2016).

Jenny is also the author of quirky children’s picture books There’s a Cow in the Flat (Hushpuppy, 2014) and Ben’s Biscuit Tin (Hushpuppy, 2015)

Under the pen name, Jennifer Ash, Jenny has also written The Folville Chronicles (The Outlaw’s Ransom, The Winter Outlaw, Edward’s Outlaw - published by Littwitz Press), The Power of Three (Spiteful Puppet, 2020) and The Meeting Place (Spiteful Puppet, 2019). She also created four audio scripts for ITV’s popular 1980’s television show, Robin of Sherwood

The Waterford Boy, Mathilda’s Legacy, The Baron’s Daughter, The Meeting Place and Fitzwarren’s Well were released by Spiteful Puppet in 2017/2018/2019/2020. 

Jenny Kane is the writer in residence for Tiverton Costa in Devon. She also co-runs the creative writing business, Imagine. Jenny teaches a wide range of creative writing workshops including her popular ‘Novel in a Year’ course. 

All of Jennifer Ash’s and Jenny Kane’s news can be found at www.jennykane.co.uk. She tweets @JenAshHistory and @JennyKaneAuthor and @Imagine_Writing




The Accidental Author
By Jenny Kane

I am not supposed to be a writer. I ought to be sat in a dusty library somewhere researching medieval manuscripts, or be bent over an excavation, sifting sand to find traces of the Anglo-Saxon diet or Roman coins. Instead, I’m sat in the corner of a cafĂ© making stuff up.

In 1990 I was lucky enough to take a degree in Archaeology at the University of Leicester – and I loved every minute. (Apart from when I had to write an essay on Marxist symbolism in Archaeology – that is several precious hours of life I will never get back!). Then, on graduation in 1993, I was offered the chance to do some research into my first love - medieval history. I took a part time PhD, comparing the reality of fourteenth-century crime with how crime was perceived in the ballad literature of the period. I focused my study on a family called the Folvilles. Although I didn’t realise it at the time, this was the moment I began to accumulate the information and inspiration that was to drive much of my later writing life.

While I researched my PhD, I worked part time in the university library and as an admin assistant in the Attenborough Tower, making the History lecturers cups of tea and doing their photocopying. I had no idea that those two small jobs were helping me to build the skills I needed to be a writer. Not just the ability to write itself – which I learnt from the PhD writing -  but skills of patience and self-discipline required to make you sit down at a desk and write.

I left Leicester, PhD certificate in hand, in 1999. It was to be another six years before I began to write. Although, when I woke up on that life-changing day in 2005, I still had no idea that was what I was going to do. 

After dropping my youngest child at school, I was sat alone in a cafe, eating a large Mars Bar scone and drinking coffee, when an idea for a story arrived in my head. To this day I have no idea where it came from. I knew I had to write the idea down - and I did, on a paper napkin. That story - which was basically pornography – sat in my handbag for weeks before I looked at it again. When I did finally have the courage to type it up, I sent it to a short-story publisher in the States and promptly forgot all about it. Whatever literary itch I’d had, had been scratched. Or so I thought.

Three months later, I had a letter telling me that the story had been accepted for publication and asked if I had any more. 

In that moment I knew I had to write. As I clutched the acceptance letter in my hand, I could feel the certainty of it arrive in my head. I didn’t think I’d be any good at it, and I had no hopes of major success – just a realisation that “being a writer” was something I had to at least try out.

Fifteen years later and, by some miracle, I’m still writing. My writing journey has taken me from a career as erotica author, Kay Jaybee, to romcom author, Jenny Kane, and on to historical crime novelist and audio scriptwriter Jennifer Ash. It is as Jennifer, that all my PhD research finally came into its own. My work on the Folville family now forms a three-part (soon to be four-part) series, called The Folville Chronicles.

Recently, the first in a series of romcoms for Aria, called Midsummer Dreams at Mill Grange (Jenny Kane), was published, as was a Robin of Sherwood audio story for Spiteful Puppet, called Fitzwarren’s Well (Jennifer Ash). 

With two more novels and more scripts commissioned, I’m busier than ever.

I often reflect on my experiences as a student at Leicester in my work - whether it be the research I did in my PhD or my time working in the Attenborough Tower (where I set my romcom, Romancing Robin Hood), the university has had a profound effect on my writing life, for which I will always be grateful.





Friday, 17 July 2020

Researching and Writing a Historical Dissertation

By Thilsana Gias





My MA Creative Writing dissertation consisted of the first few chapters of a Young Adult novel set around 1990, during the Sri Lankan Civil War. My protagonist is a teenager who becomes displaced from her hometown (Jaffna).

Naturally, one of the greatest challenges about managing this project was trying to obtain the correct kinds of historical information to progress the writing process. At first I was worried about there not being enough factual information about the war itself to write something that was accurate; but I soon realised that actually names and dates were not really what I should have been focussing on. The facts that I needed were things like brands of drinks that were sold, the names of radio stations operating at the time, types of cultural food, popular hairstyles, the materials used to make garments .... Including this sort of information in the description would make the story more vivid and true to its era.

The best way to obtain these sorts of details is to talk to someone from that place/era or use materials and resources from the era (e.g. letters written into newspapers, diary extracts, accounts from explorers and journalists, etc.). If you can go to the place you are writing about or visit a museum, that might help you construct your descriptions a little better as the labels of artefacts often include things like material names. I also found that analysing photographs of Sri Lanka helped me build an effective picture of the place in my head. But one thing I bore in mind is that sometimes you can easily get misled by your own sources. Here are some examples I came across of this kind of 'betrayal' by my own sources:

  • Using current maps to work out travel routes was difficult because the Tsunami and the war itself changed road layouts a lot (because of army checkpoints, etc.)
  • When I visited Sri Lanka, I wrote down some village names from the main war-torn areas to use in my writing. I later found out that these places didn't exist in 1990 because they were refugee camps that got converted into villages or they used to be areas of jungle. 
  • Environmental destruction changed the perception of things as well. Certain plants and creatures would not have been seen in 1990 because the forest was denser. Some species in present-day Sri Lanka also didn't arrive until a few years after my story was set so I couldn't include them.
  • Some products from that era were not actually available during war time because of food shortages/blockades, etc.

The easiest way to avoid encountering these problems, I suppose, is just to invent your own fictitious food brands, plants, villages, etc., or to rely on common objects and things that definitely exist (like elephants!). Sometimes being too specific about certain elements will lead you into inaccuracy. 

Also, your audience might not be familiar with some of the things you are referring to, so providing a glossary of terms is one way of helping them understand the context better. If you're struggling to establish what might need to go in the glossary, ask someone to read through your draft and find words they don't wholly understand.

Writing historical fiction might seem like a daunting task but so long as you're organised and aware of the most obvious pitfalls and misconceptions about the era you're writing about, you should be fine. Actually, the experience of researching for a dissertation based on true events was useful because it gave me a proper insight into what things really bring a story to life. It's very easy to get caught up in the high-octane moments of history and spend ages working out how to depict a Hollywood-style chase scene or an air-raid attack, but sometimes the moments that speak the most are the details that are talked about the least ....

The lingering scent of smoke from a steadily diminishing candle in a power cut. 

The silence of a once-busy street. 

A closed door ....

Sometimes, these are all the specific details you need to make your writing memorable.





About the author
Thilsana Gias is an MA Creative Writing graduate from the University of Leicester. She will start a PGCE in September to teach English in Secondary Schools. She hopes to extend her dissertation into a longer body of work for publication, and is currently wondering when she last watered her houseplants.



Monday, 13 July 2020

G. S. Fraser Poetry Prize Winners 2020

The G. S. Fraser Prize is an annual poetry competition for students at the University of Leicester. The winner of this year's prize is Jane Simmons, for her poem "Flood." Colin Gardiner is runner-up, and receives an honourable mention for his poem "Midnight Trees." You can read about the winners, and the winning poems below.




Jane Simmons is a former teacher/lecturer who has recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Lincoln. She is now a PhD student at the University of Leicester, where her research project is The Poetics and Politics of Motherhood, a practice-led exploration of motherhood through an environmental and political lens, engaging with the theme creatively and as it is treated in contemporary women’s poetry. As a reviewer for The Blue Nib literary magazine, Jane has built a significant publication history of writing about contemporary women’s poetry. A small selection of her own poems appeared in the March 2019 edition of the magazine. Her collection From Darkness into Light – poems inspired by the Book of Kells – was published in 2018. Further poems will appear in two anthologies to be published by Pimento Press, also in 2019: The View from the Steep, and Seasonal Poems from Pimento Poets. Jane regularly reads/performs her work in the Lincoln area. 



Flood

When you left, the river was already swollen  – 
with still more rain yet to come.
I can hear it now – percussive, insistent, 
demanding I let it in.

On the radio last night, a spokesman intoned
what to do for the best if it came to the worst – 
and I laughed then, and thought of you,
or you as you used to be. 

Remember when the old women said be careful 
what you wish for, but we didn’t listen? 
Well, the trees bow low now, weighted down
with all our sodden prayer-rags.

Today, I woke to find the road missing,
hawthorns wading down the lane - searching  
for lost hedges. There was strange beauty 
in the reflections of rain clouds.

I am a stranger in this watery land - 
cannot read its language. I am adrift, 
lost – but water will find its way. Like you, 
it has a perfect memory -

no wonder the river is full of itself.
Sofas and armchairs lounge in front gardens -
indoors, the water table rises, and fish
play scales on your piano. 

I have stacked your books in the bath, safely,
raised some of the furniture on bricks
you said would come in useful some day -
though you didn’t take them with you.

And still the sky unburdens its grief. 
If I press my ear to the window, 
I can hear accusations – you know 
who you are, you know what you did. 






Colin Gardiner lives in Coventry. He writes short stories and poems and is published by The Ekphrastic Review and the Creative Writing at Leicester blog. He is currently studying a Master's in Creative Writing at Leicester University.


Midnight Trees

There is a shortcut through the park, where
The trees are hanging in a frail parliament.

They lean in for a late-night session.
Their fragile leaves are trembling

At the prospect of autumn alopecia.
Try to imagine the speed of tree-thoughts

Travelling through accumulated rings.
Seeking to reach a form of expression.

Is their understanding articulated only
By green or gradients of red and brown?

Who can tell in the amnesia of moonlight?
A shopping bag is snagged by brittle hands

And held up, beseechingly, to the stars
That glaze the September sky.


Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Doing a Part-Time MA in Creative Writing

By Karen Rust




I began my Creative Writing MA at the University of Leicester in October 2018, having applied three months earlier. I knew I’d have to be part time as having two school-age kids at home, a home to run and a husband with a busy job, I couldn’t commit to full-time hours. Turns out that others in the same position felt they could manage full time, and I watched them do it successfully. The decision is very personal and depends on your individual circumstances.

I was lucky enough (?!) to have earned nothing for a good few years whilst off with the kids, so there was no pressure for me to get back on the gravy train; in fact I was pretty set on not boarding the gravy train I’d travelled on pre-kids. Office life? Urrgrh.

For me, studying part-time has been perfect, I’d recommend it wholeheartedly. Here’s why:

Time to adjust 
Coming back to study 25 years after I finished my degree, it took a while to get back into the flow of University basics – the library, IT, Blackboard, where to get the best coffee and cake. You know, the important stuff. As a part-timer, I had the grace of time to ease back into things without the pressure of having two assignments due in mid-January.

Reading
A crucial part of the MA. The more you read, the better you’ll do. Fiction, poetry, non-fiction, craft books and more craft books. Over two years you have a lot more time to read than one, especially when the one year course is so intense. You can continue to read voraciously post-MA, but reading during allows interaction with peers and tutors and these discussions feed into your learning and direction. 

Relationships 
Having a longer time period to get to know tutors and peers allows the relationships to develop further. Also, you meet more people - I’ve met the cohort of full-timers from both my first and second years, plus part-timers who started with me and those who started in my second year. There have also been tutors on project leave whose brains I wouldn’t have been able to pick if I’d been here for just one year.

The Creative Process 
It’s different for everyone, but I like to mull on things. Some things click instantly, but other things take time to come together. At the end of year one of the part-time course, you have a big old gap whilst the full-timers are working on their dissertations, five months in fact from May-September, which provides an opportunity to write, read and engage with your tutor (until term ends in June). Then in year two, you work on the more creative, workshop-based modules and the reading and prep from year one comes into its own. If I’d been full time, I think I’d have ended the year feeling punch drunk and needing time to assimilate all I’d learned.

Profession 
Given my desire to move writing from a hobby to a career, I’ve had time to explore this during the MA process. I used the kudos of being an MA student when speaking to various organisations within the arts sector. I also submitted short pieces of work and gained publications that added to my writing biography.  As I work on my dissertation now, I’m a Lead Writer for Writing East Midlands. I’ve delivered monthly local writing workshops for disadvantaged children and am about to start a new online workshop series for them across Northamptonshire. A personal biography company approached me via my Linkedin profile, and it was the MA reference that interested them. I now write personal biographies for clients, which is great for writing discipline and working to a brief, plus it pays well. I’ve also worked with a local arts organisation to deliver a spoken-word video for the Grow Arts Festival in February and am talking to them about future community-based projects. I don’t think I’d have had the time for this during the full-time course and would have had to wait until I’d finished to start this journey. My dream is still to have a book published, but in reality, most writers don’t make enough to live on from that route alone, so diversification is key. 

I don’t want to put you off the full-time route if that’s what you have in mind. My ‘other-mum’ peer from last year is also delivering online workshops professionally and has an impressive publication and prize-winning writing biography. For me, having access to my tutors and peers, not just online but in person (until recently!) has buffered my transition from passionate hobbyist to thinking writing could be more. I’m ending my MA feeling like a writer and with a writing CV/biography a million miles away from the blank sheet I started with.
Whatever fits in with your life, go for it, but if you can spare two years, I’d recommend the part-time course as offering the perfect balance of learning and time to develop it.
Happy Writing!





About the author
Karen Rust is working on a young adult cli-fi thriller for her MA dissertation. You can find her work at Mooky Chick, Ink Pantry, Ellipsiszine & Yours Magazine. Check out her blog at: https://bloominglateblog.wordpress.com/


Monday, 29 June 2020

Congratulations to Dan Powell!



Dan Powell, a PhD in Creative Writing student at the University of Leicester, has won first prize in a national short story competition. He's the winner of this year’s Leicester Writes Short Story Prize

The winning story, "Dissolution," was chosen anonymously by the judging panel, which included writers Rebecca Burns, Mark Newman and Selma Carvalho. There were over 165 entries received from across the UK.

Dan wins a cash prize and will have his story published in the prize anthology. 

He said: “I am thrilled to receive first prize in the Leicester Writes Short Story Prize. As writers, we often work for long periods alone, unsure whether what we are working on will connect with people. To have a story recognised in this way always means a great deal, but in these days of social distancing it means so much more."

Dan’s winning story was created using a preclosural writing methodology developed as part of his doctoral research in Creative Writing at University of Leicester. The data from his preclosural analysis of fifteen British short stories written between 1885-1920 was used to construct a structural and linguistic writing frame to guide the writing of this story. 

“My research explores the benefits of using a preclosural methodology in the writing of short fiction, both for the individual author and the writing teacher. This story’s success in the Leicester writes Short Story Prize further supports my findings that this approach can help writers of all ages and skill levels improve their craft.”

You can read more about Dan's research here

Now in its fourth year, the short story prize is organised by city-based small press, Dahlia Publishing, and is open to published and unpublished writers, for a short story of up to 3000 words on any theme or subject. 

Judges praised the exceptional quality of entries received this year. Rebecca Burns, chair of judges said: “The standard of story-writing was yet again impressive and made the job of shortlisting and picking the eventual winners a delight, challenging, and a lot of fun. I’d like to thank all the writers who sent their stories in, for trusting us with their words. We all felt that ‘Dissolution’ was a well-deserved winner – the story is poignant, beautifully paced, had great depth and pathos, and will speak to many of us during this strange time, as we try to work out which direction our lives will go in.”

Twenty short stories featured on this year’s longlist will be published in an anthology. The collection will be launched online later in the year. 

The full results can be found online at www.leicesterwrites.co.uk.





About Dan Powell
Dan Powell is a prize-winning author of short fiction and First Story Writer-in-Residence. His debut collection of stories, Looking Out of Broken Windows, was shortlisted for the Scott Prize and longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the Edge Hill Prize. He is currently working on his PhD as a Doctoral Researcher in Creative Writing at University of Leicester. His research explores preclosure and closural staging in short fiction. Dan can be found online at danpowellfiction.com and @danpowfiction.


Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Charlie Hill, "I Don't Want to Go to the Taj Mahal"



Charlie Hill is a writer from Birmingham. He left school at 16 and was self-taught until – after publishing two novels and many short stories – he decided to convert his experience into a qualification. In 2018 he was awarded a Master's with Distinction in Creative Writing from the University of Birmingham.

Charlie’s body of work is hard to categorise. His first novel – The Space Between Things – was a love story with allegorical elements, that was set in the 1990’s against the background of the road protest movement and the wars in the Balkans; his second – Books – was a farce about the commodification of contemporary art and literature. After this, he focussed on short fiction, indulging an interest in deconstructing the writing process (here, for example, and here), before becoming preoccupied with the various iterations of early twentieth century Modernism. His most recent publications were an existentialist novella and a pamphlet of short stories

If there is a guiding principle that runs through this writing it is Charlie’s fidelity to the idea that whatever the aesthetic challenge or formal purpose of a work (and notwithstanding the contentious nature of the term) it should also try to entertain. 





On Writing I Don't Want to Go to the Taj Mahal
By Charlie Hill

I began writing I Don’t Want to Go the Taj Mahal by chance. Or, at least, not as the consequence of a conscious decision. The form it took – a series of almost self-contained vignettes, that only slowly coalesce – presented itself as the most obvious way of capturing the nature of memory. Likewise, the shifts in tense and perspective: some episodes are recreated with an urgency, others are of a more reflective bent, and others still slight, almost passed-over. Engaging with such technical considerations meant that the book was, in many respects, enjoyable to write. The ethics of the thing, however – which are peculiar to memoir – meant that more than any other piece of writing, it was a lived experience too … 

Below you can read an extract from the memoir.


Extract from I Don't Want to Go to the Taj Mahal
I am a Christmas temp at H. Samuel, the high street jeweller, where a fella called Tahir puts me straight about the low quality of Pakistani gold and someone with blond hair and blue eyes, who looks after the Raymond Weils but is lacking in certain deductive skills, tries to sell me a part-share of a holiday apartment in Fuengirola. 

Another temp lives in a tower block in Five Ways. I go back to his and am told that people who use rolling tobacco in their spliffs are amateurs. At lunchtime I see him in the store room, filling a sports bag full of watches and alarm clocks which he later passes to an old woman, hard-bitten; if I hadn’t been stoned I might have said something to someone, though I think, in retrospect, that’s unlikely.

Interviewed for a Registered General Nursing Diploma, I have a plan to show I’m under no illusions about how hard I’ll have to work and that I haven’t decided to do it just so I can get a qualification, although this is certainly uppermost in my mind. “I know it’s a very dirty business,” I say, “I’m perfectly happy clearing up shit.” And then: “I mean I don’t mind clearing up shit at all, I know that’s a big part of the job. The shit.”

“Any questions?” they ask at the end, perplexed. “Not really,” I say, persevering, about a week before I don’t get an offer because they think I have some sort of shit fetish, “I just want you to know that I don’t mind wiping bottoms and I’m prepared to get stuck in with the cleaning up of all the shit.”

New Year’s Eve, after the pub, I am escorted round the back of an independent bakery, Lukers in Moseley, by a woman uninterested in pastries. I am being forced up against a pile of pallets when the security lights come on and she bails — a circumstance that leads me to question my hitherto rock-solid antipathy to the nascent Surveillance State.  

First love. One day, shortly after the longest Christmas on record, there was a heavy fall of snow in the south west. “I don’t want to go to work today,” I said, and she said, “you don’t have to. Tell them you went to Devon for the weekend and can’t get back.” So I rang a Civil Servant in the office where I’d just been promoted and told him I was snowbound in Tavistock.

We spent the morning warm under thin blankets, feeding each other fresh strawberries dipped in cream, mouth-to-mouth. Later, there was a cosmic blessing. The clouds above the city opened and dropped flowers of snow onto streets of cars and terraced houses and we went for a walk down the middle of Willows Road, linking arms like the Freewheelin’ Dylan and Suze.  

Monday, 15 June 2020

Cathi Rae, "Your Cleaner Hates You and Other Poems"

Congratulations to MA Creative Writing student Cathi Rae, whose debut poetry pamphlet, Your Cleaner Hates You and Other Poems, has recently been published by Soulful Publishing. Here, you can read about her work and book. 




Cathi Rae has been described as an exciting emerging voice on the spoken-word scene. Joelle Taylor says she is "a contemporary spoken-word icon" and Lydia Towsey describes her work as "clear eyed, detailed, beautiful and necessary."

Cathi is a multiple slam competition winner and has performed extensively in pubs, poetry events and festivals.

After a very long career working with teenagers at risk of exclusion from education, she now pays the bills by cleaning other people's houses and has the head space finally to focus on her writing and performing career.

She is currently completing an MA in creative writing at Leicester University and working on her second collection.





Your Cleaner Hates You and Other Poems is Cathi Rae's debut collection, published by Soulful Publishing.

The work covers a four-year period and includes work originally devised as spoken-word pieces and more traditional page poetry.


The work aims to be quietly nuanced and use every day accessible language to create poetry for both experienced readers of contemporary poetry and for those who have never considered reading poetry.

Featured below is one of the poems from the collection.


There is more to your cleaner than meets the eye ...

This one gets up at five
Runs as fast and far as heart and lungs can bear
Revels in the recognition from other early morning pavement pounders
And then puts on the uniform of tabard
Bleach stained leggings 
Becomes invisible again 

This one knows the name of every star that's in the sky
And more than that
Can tell you why they are so named
But
Has spent so long on hands and knees 
She fears she may have lost the knack
Of looking up

This one's boyfriend is banged up again 
Working double shifts
She curated a collection of childcare
So complicated
Tenuous
That in a gallery 
It would be labelled
Web
Or DNA of every day

That one says she's lucky
In a refugee camp far away
At fifteen
Sixteen
The soldiers said she was too old to rape
So
Mostly
She was left alone

This one speaks five languages 
So
Knows exactly what your husband and his mates 
Make of her arse
When she bends down
To scrub your skirting boards
Laser jets from lowered lids
If looks could kill

This one holds a broken bird
A touch so light 
It's if her hands were wings 
And not these red and swollen things 
Fingerprints burnt off with bleach 
Convenient 
She always thinks
Should she start a new career
As master thief

And this one 
This one's writing poetry 
Verse as vicious as vipers 
Mouth so acidic 
It makes diamonds bleed
This one's writing poetry
There is more to your cleaner than you will ever see.