Wednesday, 13 February 2019

How to Make the Most out of a Writing Course or Workshop

Guest post by Becca Parkinson from Comma Press

Writing courses and workshops can be a fantastic springboard to advance your writing, whether you’re stuck in a rut or looking to experiment with a new form but looking for further guidance. Here are some top tips compiled from feedback we’ve received from some of our writing course alumni:

Use deadlines to your advantage – If you’re an infamous procrastinator, there’s nothing like a deadline that isn’t self-imposed to motivate you. A group deadline can often force you to write when you’re struggling and will push you to focus your mind on writing. Often writers don’t allocate enough time to their craft, but participating in a long-term course can help change your lifestyle to create time and space for writing, and allow it to become more important to spend time on. A deadline can also help you dive back in after a long pause, get back on the horse etc.

Take confidence from feedback – For many, a class environment can be nurturing and supportive and can gently encourage your work-in-progress. As we know, constructive criticism is key to improvement, whether it’s from your peers or a knowledgeable tutor. Let it give you the confidence to develop your ideas and narratives further. Sharing your work with others can be scary, but it will be hugely productive for your writing.

Get to know your peers – A number of people who attend our courses do it to make friends and meet their local peers who also have a passion for writing; often they can be people who become vital during and when the course is over, to bounce ideas and drafts off, help you edit your stories and make you aware of writing opportunities such as competitions, call-outs and further learning. 

Discover new authors and stories – A syllabus and/or reading list is a great tool to push you out of your comfort zone. Reading new authors, styles and genres can be like hitting refresh on your writing and help you find a new and improved voice. Also going back to basics and learning about different types and structures of various forms will open up an entire playground of writing techniques to you.  

Comma Press runs six-month courses which specialise in the short story genre, and are delivered by a knowledgeable and esteemed writer. Over six workshops, you'll become familiar with short story narrative structures, and be able to apply them to your own work. Structured, peer-driven feedback and personalised tuition will contribute to your completion of three short stories. We make our courses as accessible as possible: they span the UK and take place routinely throughout the year; you don't actually need any previous experience - just enthusiasm for short story writing.

There is a course taking place in Leicester which begins in April 2019, led by Dr Rebecca Burns: Rebecca Burns is short story writer and novelist. Her work has been published in over thirty online and print journals, and she has won or been placed in many competitions including the Fowey Festival of Words and Music Short Story Competition, 2013 (winner and runner-up in 2014), Black Pear Press Short Story Competition (2014, winner) and Chipping Norton Short Story Award (2016, shortlisted). 

Her debut collection of short stories, Catching the Barrmundi, was published by Odyssey Books in 2012 and was longlisted for the Edge Hill Award, the UK's only prize for short story collections. Her second collection, The Settling Earth (2014), was also longlisted for the Edge Hill. Her third collection, Artefacts and Other Stories, was published in 2017. Her novel The Bishop's Girl appeared in 2016 and her second novel, Beyond the Bay, was published in September this year. 

For more information please contact or head to 

Monday, 11 February 2019

Featured Poet: Kelli Allen

Kelli Allen’s work has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies in the US and internationally. She has served as Poetry Editor for The Lindenwood Review and she directs River Styx’s Hungry Young Poets Series. She is currently a visiting professor of English Literature at Northeast Normal University in Changchun, China.

She is the recipient of the 2018 Magpie Award for Poetry. Her chapbook, Some Animals, won the 2016 Etchings Press Prize. Her chapbook, How We Disappear, won the 2016 Damfino Press award. Her full-length poetry collection, Otherwise, Soft White Ash, arrived from John Gosslee Books (2012) and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Her collection, Imagine Not Drowning, was released by C&R Press in January 2017. Allen’s new collection, Banjo’s Inside Coyote, will arrive from C&R Press March, 2019. A poem from the new collection is featured below. Kelli's website is:

The tortoise shell maps every star 

No bull knows the thickness of its own rough horn. Some 
blue jays steal only the scarecrow’s left foot, and like us, 
he is left leaning too far against husks. There is a war

in the attic. Hounds’ jaws lining baseboards,
silk windless in every corner, hemming 
shut what we leave open each winter. 

Disregard bundled egrets. We know better
than to trust feathers or beaks in tessellation. 

The zodiac is a tablature you pocket for storms
at sea. When two calves are archboard painted,
the closest shore will never be to the east.  

I have flown the absentee pennant, not noticing
moth appetites until both sun and setting moon
cooed pinpricked lights across unfurled backstays. 

Barley and snakeroot in the same barrel means 
jealousy, indicates reluctant shepherds will gather
both at dusk and in the softer curl of virgin morning. 

Let’s not go on pretending that disquietude is anything
chaste. There are miles urged open past this undertow
and we swim steady, siphoning wind, aerialists in the salt. 

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Two Inspiring Guest Lectures

By Karen Rust

This week we were treated to two very different, but equally inspiring guest speakers in the School of Arts.

Kim Slater, full-time author, known for her award-winning Young Adult novels and bestselling crime novels, gave us a guest lecture with the fantastic title: ‘From MA to a Million Copies Sold’ - the holy grail for aspiring novelists.

Kim outlined her lengthy journey from wannabe to bestseller: the countless rejections, the roller coaster of emotions as doubt and lack of self-belief set in and the turning point when she decided to go back to University and study. She completed a full-time BA in English Literature and Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University whilst holding down a job and looking after a family, which says a lot about her. Moving straight onto the MA, she experimented with different genres and discovered she enjoyed writing for young adults.  A short story written for that module received a universal thumbs up from her course peers and went on to become her first novel Smart. She had it professionally edited and sent it to six literary agents, five of whom offered her representation. The book sold quickly, so by the time Kim graduated she had both an agent and a publisher. 

She soon found she wanted to write more than one YA book every two years, even though she was still working, and returned to her first love – crime writing, as K.L. Slater. 

Bookouture, an innovative digital publisher, new to the market at that time, signed her up and she’s gone on to write full time and sell over a million copies for them. 

Kim has created a lovely balance for herself; the YA books are more literary and have won tens of awards, whilst the crime is commercial, formulaic but fun and pays the bills in a big way.

Her hard work, tenacity and self-belief has got her to this point. Writing three or four crime books a year as well as a YA novel every two years is no mean feat. An inspiring journey. 

Our second guest speaker this week was another inspiring woman, Crystal Mahey-Morgan. Crystal wrote for The Guardian and Face magazine aged sixteen, as well as running open-mic sessions for poets and hip-hop artists whilst performing herself. She became marketing Manager for the Raindance film festival aged nineteen, and then moved into traditional publishing for several years.

Seeing a gap in the market she set up OWN IT! with her partner, Jason Morgan, a storytelling lifestyle brand that cuts across books, music, fashion and film. 

Crystal spoke with passion about her experience inside traditional publishing and the lack of diversity of voices she saw being published. OWN IT! aims to make books accessible to young people by publishing stories they can identify with and come across in the kind of places they frequent – for example, titles are stocked in West Indian takeaways in London.

Books published so far include an exploration of black masculinity set against a backdrop of crime and violence, a memoir from a young lesbian raised in a Catholic family on an inner-city housing estate, and a journey exploring family ties across generations by a woman with Maori heritage.

The company also publishes music, collaborates with film makers and produces fashion that sits alongside the other art forms. Mixing media and art forms sits at the core of their ethos.

Instead of a standard launch party at Waterstone's with cheap white wine, OWN IT!’s first book launch took place at Hackney Empire with hip hop and grime musicians taking to the stage alongside poets and readings from the book. Thirteen hundred tickets sold out for the event.

They are constantly on the look out for something fresh and different, across any genre. Their publishing contract is also innovative – a 50/50 split on the net profit between publisher and artist. Most recently, they have set up an agenting arm with Crystal at the helm.

I, for one, am super excited by their approach and rooting for them to show the publishing industry establishment the way to go.

About the author
Karen is an aspiring novelist, currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.  Check out her blog at:

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

The Parent-Student Balance

By Lisa Smalley

The children have been fed and changed for bed so I take the chance to get in a bit of reading. Five minutes in and something is different - for one thing, it's not as noisy. I look up and there's my four-year-old standing watching me:

'What you doin'?'

'Mummy's just catching up on some reading, boo.'

'What you readin'?'

'Erm, some poetry ... rhymes.'

'Oh, can you read it to me?'

'I don't think you'd like it, boo Why don't you finish your game?  Look, your sister's waiting for you.'

'Ohhhhh!' *insert tantrum here*

When I started my BA in English, I was a parent of a three and a four year old. The eldest started school just before I started university, and the youngest attended the University nursery. At night I would slog through the mountains of work until the wee hours, and then drag myself and my little people out of bed in the morning, feeding, changing and problem solving the way to our respective locations. It can all be extremely challenging, so here are some tips to help with the parent/student balance:

1. Plan for the unexpected.  
It's simplistic I know, but when those deadlines loom and a child is ill or has a homework project, the stress and anxiety of trying to balance everything can be overwhelming. Think about your priorities should the unexpected happen and book everything into your calendar. Consider having reminders and alarms on your phone to switch tasks and keep you on track.  

2. Utilise all available resources.   
Scheduling in time for your study with no distractions can be a life-saver for your heavy workload. If that means waking up in the wee hours, calling on family support or investing in a babysitter, it's well worth it to maximise uninterrupted time for your work.

3. Think about when and where you are most productive.
During my BA I practically lived in the library on campus, it was one of my favourite places: silent study areas, information at my fingertips and a comfy sofa or two to 'rest my eyes' when it all became a bit too much. When and where do you do your best work? Whether it is in your bedroom with your books spread out, or at 10pm at the dining table with a nice cup of tea, use these places to produce your work, and don't feel bad about spreading out and taking them over.  

4. Book in some 'me' time. 
Missing those cat videos on Facebook? Want to watch the latest film, or just have a soak in a relaxing bubble bath? Do it. 'Me' time isn't a luxury. It's a necessity. You are investing in yourself after all, and taking care of your own well-being is just as important as reading the lists of secondary information for your next seminar.

5. Forgive yourself the little things.
However hard we try, we will miss the occasional school assembly or forget to sign a permission slip or two. If you've not managed to finish the novel in time for the seminar, be honest about it and don't feel bad. Being a student and a parent is a massive undertaking, and you're only one person. For me, the journey was hard, but when I walked across the stage to graduate with the sound of my children's whoops filling the auditorium it was so worth it. When you're posing for your graduation pictures in your cap and gown, clutching your hard-earned degree in one hand and the sticky mitt of your child in the other, you'll be happy you made the commitment. Best of luck.

About the author
Lisa Smalley is an MA English student, and an aspiring copywriter. 

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Two Poems by Bert Flitcroft

Bert Flitcroft grew up in Lancashire and now lives in the Midlands. A graduate of Sheffield University, he is an experienced and accomplished poet who for some time has been quietly and unassumingly spreading the poetry word as teacher, mentor, workshop leader, poet-in-residence, and reader. He has two collections of poetry published: Thought-Apples with Offa's Press and Singing Puccini at the Kitchen Sink. He is a prize-winning poet, has been published in well-established national poetry magazines and performed on several BBC local radio stations.He ran for a number of years residential poetry-writing courses working alongside poets such as Carol Ann Duffy, Adrian Henry, Linda France and others. He was Staffordshire Poet Laureate 2015-2017 and curated The Staffordshire Poetry CollectionIn 2015 he was Poet in Residence at The Southwell Poetry Festival. He has performed at a number of national Festivals including the Edinburgh Book Festival, Birmingham, Stoke, Lichfield, Ilkley, Buxton, Stafford, and has performed at The Door at The Birmingham Rep, as well as the CBSO Centre and The Conservatoire in Birmingham. In 2016 he was Poet in Residence at The Shire Hall Gallery, and recently has been Resident Poet at The Wedgwood Museum and The Brampton Museum and Gallery. Bert's website is 

Waiting for Anna

This Moses basket fresh by the bed
is waiting,
like a promise, like a Truth 
about to come true.
Not for a casting off among the reeds
but for a coming 

To open a door, to enter a room,
is always to begin again.
Already the basket’s empty space,
the very air inside it, 
is sacred.
There is nothing more to say.
Silence has a voice.
Emptiness is eloquent.


Imagine the pent-up energy, 
the violence, of a single electron 
spinning madly around its nucleus, 
unable to break free.
Think millions of them, going nowhere
in the red-hot cauldron of their universe.

Until some outside force charges in
and scatters them, 
or marches them in lines 
directing them to travel North or South.
Imagine their excitement at the thought
of travelling, of having somewhere to go.

There are such moments,
when the world shifts.
Imagine Einstein pushing off his little boat
at midnight across a sea of relativity –
all those ricocheting atoms.
Or Rutherford as he fired his first alpha particles.
All those electrons suddenly weighing up
the possibilities, high-fiving, punching the air.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

"Desert Scene": An Exercise in Ekphrasis, By Colin Gardiner

By Colin Gardiner

The following poem was written in an ekphrastic experiment during my studies at the University of Leicester. I was drawn to a painting by Jane Domingos called Saguaro Blossom Night (2011) on display at the Leicester New Walk Art Gallery.

Immediately, I was struck with the stillness of the desert scene, and the suggestion of movement in the centre of the picture. As I observed the painting, I allowed my mind to drift. I began to imagine a cinematic moment. This day-dream state left me open to ideas and feelings. Associated thoughts about music and films entered my mind, which enabled me to start sketching out ideas for a poem. Further research revealed the artist’s intent to portray the "otherness of life left behind" and this further inspired my poem.

I feel that this was truly a collaborative effort, between the artist and myself. I found that my poetic response to the painting added an extra element to the two-dimensional image. I tried not to edit myself too much in my note-taking. Through this approach, I found power in the more "na├»ve" aspects of the rough drafts that followed. Overall, I found ekphrasis to be a creatively stimulating process.  

Desert Scene

I think they're cooking up magic, 
In the blue/black hour before dawn. 
Lights on in the bullet-shaped trailer
As a car approaches, hissing over gravel,
Tail-lights squeezing tumbleweeds
Into orange crush.

A broken spine of hills, prone behind 
Restless rolls of dessert. Helplessly 
Stalked by pin-pricked stars,
That tattoo the night’s sleeping skin.
Silver whispers of steel guitar tweak 
Aerials, slowly evaporating. 

I’m parked up by Mr Cactus, 
Stoned silent in his cotton crown, 
His incessant needles bristle at my company.
The delivery just came in.
Three shots. Puncture night-watch stasis 
Echoing across heartbroken dunes.

An aerial prolapse of popcorn stars 
Slither on butter trails and gather 
In my lap. Too hot to move and
Shake out this hidden greasy take-out 
Nest. Too hot to take a rest in 
This rattlesnake windscreen interior. 

Domingos, J. (2011). Saguaro Blossom Night. [Oil on canvas] Leicester: Leicester New Walk Museum and Art Gallery. 

About the author
Colin Gardiner is currently studying an MA in creative writing at the University of Leicester. He is originally from Birmingham and now lives in Coventry.

Monday, 10 December 2018

"Geology": A Poem by Tasha Beauchesne

Tasha Beauchesne is from the United States. She is entering the final year of university and is working towards a career in the publishing industry. She says of the poem "Geology" below that "it was the product of a deceptively simple prompt in a creative writing class: write about childhood. Memories of growing up with my childhood best friend in Massachusetts formed the basis for this poem."


The rock in your front yard was a boulder, 
an asteroid,
a remnant from when dinosaurs 
(or maybe aliens)
ruled the world.

Our heads bumping the sky,
we would survey the pavement,
swinging our bruised summer-sunned legs,
imagining we sat at the edge of the earth.

The evening August sun winked behind the mountains,
sparkling on the hood of your dad’s parked car,
lighting the scuffed wheels of our Razor scooters
lying haphazardly in the grass. 

We waited for the explorers and scientists
with flimsy brushes and microscopes 
to show up and declare our rock a wonder. 

With the six o’clock news glowing purple in your living room,
your mom called us back inside.