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.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

Leicester 2084 AD: New Poems about the City

Ambrose Musiyiwa has just edited and published a new anthology, Leicester 2084 AD: New Poems about The City. Here, below, is his introduction to the book

Introduction, by Ambrose Musiyiwa

In 2016, poet, book reviewer and literary activist, Emma Lee and I set up the Facebook group, Welcome to Leicester, as part of the process of putting together a poetry anthology exploring Leicester’s past, present and future and what the city means to different people.

The result was Welcome to Leicester: Poems about the City, which Emma and I co-edited and which was released from Dahlia Publishing in the same year.

Leicester 2084 AD: New Poems about the City (CivicLeicester, 2018) picks up from the conversation that started with Welcome to Leicester, the Facebook group and the poetry anthology. The new poems ask readers and writers to imagine what Leicester will be like in the year 2084, how the city will get there, and what it will mean to its citizens, residents and the rest of the world.

In line with the approach that informs Welcome to Leicester, invitations to submit poems and microfiction for possible inclusion in the anthology were sent through word of mouth, social media, emails and letters to individual writers, local and regional writing groups, schools and media outlets. 

Invitations were also sent to the seven towns that are called Leicester, namely: Leicester, Sierra Leone; Leicester, North Carolina; Leicester, Massachusetts; Leicester, Vermont; Leicester, New York; Leicester (village), New York; and Leicester Township, Clay County, Nebraska.

All in all, 73 poems and items of short fiction were received from 42 writers. 40 of the submissions were selected for inclusion in Leicester 2084 AD because of how they responded to the theme, how they came across when read silently and out loud, and how they spoke to other poems and pieces of short fiction in the anthology. 

Some of the writers whose work is featured in the anthology have many publications to their names. For others, Leicester 2084 AD is the first time they have been published. 

I hope the poems in this anthology will encourage you to imagine what Leicester will be like in the future and to think about some of the things that need to be done in order to build that future Leicester.

I hope you will enjoy reading these poems as much as I did.

And I look forward to seeing what, in terms of overtly Leicester-centric poetry anthologies, the next few years will bring. This is because, although there are many poems by writers from the East Midlands and elsewhere that are influenced by or which respond to the city of Leicester, there are very few poetry anthologies that focus exclusively on the city. The ones that I am aware of that do so are: Ned Newitt’s Anthology of Leicester Chartist Song, Poetry and Verse (Leicester Pioneer Press, 2006), Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016), and now Leicester 2084 AD.  

Leicester 2084 AD: New Poems about the City is available here

Sunday, 23 September 2018

I.M. Steffi Schwarcz-Birnbaum, 1928-2018

By Jonathan Taylor

On Tuesday 18th September 2018, beloved poet, activist and academic Steffi Schwarcz-Birnbaum died after a long illness. A Kindertransport evacuee to England from Nazi Germany, Steffi spent most of her adult life in Israel. I want to pay tribute to her here. 

Steffi was born in 1928, to Jewish parents Georg Mortiz Birnbaum, publisher and diplomat, and Hertha Erna Birnbaum, nee Steinfeld. Steffi and her younger sister Reni spent their early childhood in Berlin, part of a loving and tight-knit family. 

In 1933, the Nazis came to power, and Georg subsequently lost his job. Over the next few years, he developed Parkinson's disease, and eventually died in October 1939. 

In March 1939, Steffi and Reni left Nazi Germany on the Kindertransport, sponsored by Dr. Bernard and Mrs Winifred Schlesinger (parents of the famous film director, John Schlesinger). On arrival in London, Steffi and Reni stayed for some time at a Jewish hostel in Highgate. Eventually, they were evacuated from London to a small village in Hertfordshire. 

There, they were billeted with Albert and Margaret Kelly, who cared for the homesick refugees, and treated them with love and kindness. Like foster parents, they helped the sisters settle into English life and customs, without ever trying to change their beliefs. 

Unfortunately, the sisters did not stay long with the Kellys, but were sent to a boarding school in Cornwall, where the conditions were harsh, and the headmistress attempted to convert all Jewish children. During this time, Steffi was also continuously afraid for the family members she'd left behind in Germany. The fear and uncertainty continued till after the war ended. 

Steffi's mother and grandmother had managed to communicate with their daughters, via Red Cross telegrams from Berlin, until 1942. Then the communications stopped. Hertha had worked in a munitions factory in Berlin until the end of 1942; but in January 1943 she was deported to Auschwitz, where she died. Steffi's grandmother, Jenny Steinfeld, committed suicide just before deportation. Steffi discovered all this following the end of the war. 

In the 1960s, Steffi moved from England to Israel, where she worked for many years at the Hebrew University. She published a book of poetry, Poems, 1989-1993. She had a daughter, Raya, and four grandchildren. She believed passionately in peace and reconciliation, and worked tirelessly for it throughout her life: "Be merciful to the poor, proud to the rich, and act humanely towards everyone."

Steffi telling a joke at our wedding in 2005

As a postscript, I want to add that I am one of Albert and Margaret Kelly's grandchildren, and I grew up thinking of Steffi and Reni as much-loved aunties. Reni is godmother for our twins. In 2002-3, I had the pleasure of setting one of Steffi's poems to music, and the song was performed in concert and on the radio. Here is that poem. 

Ghetto Child

Ragged clothing, terrified eyes
a frame of bone
lacking flesh
haunt us throughout the ages,
black and white photographs
display the despair
the post-war prosperity
makes us stare
   in disbelief!

Hunger, terror
family decimation
burning synagogues - eventual cremation
terror, fear of the day ahead
comprehension of persecution widespread. 

Ghetto child, ghetto child
your bones do not lie in hallowed ground
you did not reach the gate of freedom
your bones are dust, there is no sound. 

Yet where masses of Jewish youth
from all over the globe
tread the Polish earth
when the "March of the Living" takes place each year
to honour the dead - and remember. 
Then, Ghetto child, you can 
rest in peace, for Israel Lives. 

Friday, 21 September 2018

Two Poems by Michael W. Thomas

Michael W. Thomas’s most recent novel is Pilgrims at the White Horizon.  His poetry collections include Batman’s Hill, South Staffs (Flipped Eye, 2013) and Come to Pass (Oversteps, 2015).  His work has appeared in The Antioch Review, Critical Survey and the TLS.  In 2015, his novella, ‘Esp,’ was shortlisted for the UK Novella Award.  His latest titles are Early and Late: Poems and Images (with Ted Eames, Cairn Time Press), and The Portswick Imp: Collected Stories, 2001-2016 (Black Pear).  He is currently working on Nowherian, the memoir of a Grenadian traveller. 


And there were times
when he was someone’s someone.
The air then was clean upon the days,
showed faithfully the smoke of whispers.

The pavements were as wide
as a hope on waking,
each evening struck the sun to its reddest
as chimney and tree grew against it.
Later, the moon would raise a brow
as if in surprise at its ancient blessing.

He was someone’s someone,
excess to name and date of birth,
never going lost in the Sunday lands – 
at least for some improvised while.

Over is longer to say than happen.
Each time it came for him
he was back as in a rental
a moment before the expiry of terms,
nothing only a phone on a shelf
by a book of codes for strangers.

Now he is no-one’s,
lives within his own breath
and makes discoveries for one.
No matter.  He has known otherwise,
could still call up a daystar or two
for chase-and-tag behind his gaze.

Instead he looks upon a Monday world
with a middling cast of sky,
sees all the unshaped forms that hurry there – 
shrugs, makes a silence of himself, 
steps in.  

Housemaid on Fire

‘Thank God, he’s still breathing.  Get water!’
The girl works her lips,
repoints her urgency: ‘Now, idiot!’
Her words set the housemaid on fire,
hurl her from the room. In the kitchen
Cook’s jug leaps in a slop at her frontage.

A bad go.  But in time, as always, 
the demons loose the baronet
so, in the far forest of his mind,
he can stumble-slither back through no man’s land,
flop into the trench and live again.

‘I’ve no doubt, my lady,’ says the doctor,
just arrived, ‘that you handled all with eclat.’
She gives him a proper dimple
as he dips about his gladstone bag,
notices the soaked and trembling maid:
‘More water here, girlie – at the double!’ 

Soon the baronet will be right as rain,
will again venture a hand below stairs,
know the worth of a chortle, a horse, 
a discreet consultation in Jermyn Street.

And the housemaid, still damp,
will sit in The Feathers, watch the clock-hands
as they work into the evening nick by nick,

will hope that Gerry won’t be late,
though she knows it depends 
which broken bits of him have charge 
of the light in his eyes,

will write steerage in the table slops
and dream of the day she sees
another fire-maker, sightless and tall                        
on Bedloe’s Island, torch high
over a snake of faces tired to the death,

will pray she won’t herself 
look poor and huddled when they dock, 
having already selected that best blue
of Auntie Vi’s, and Mum’s locket also,

will pray too that Gerry hasn’t told a soul,
as she has not, and is right about the milk train
stopping at the halt tomorrow dawn.

Note: By Act of US Congress, Bedloe’s Island was renamed Liberty Island in 1956.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Invitation to Joint Book Launch

You are cordially invited to a joint book launch on Wednesday 17 October 2018, from 6.30pm at the Exchange Bar in Leicester, LE1 1RD. Everyone is welcome, and the event is free. 

The event will celebrate the launch of two new books, both published this year by Shoestring Press, and both by lecturers at the University of Leicester - Sue Dymoke and Jonathan Taylor

What They Left Behind is Sue Dymoke’s third Shoestring Press collection after Moon at the Park and Ride (2012) and The New Girls – New and Selected Poems (2004). Sue is a Reader in Education at the University of Leicester. 

Jonathan Taylor's Cassandra Complex is a collection of poems, found poems, found translations, mis-translations, prophecies, pseudo-prophecies, apocalyptic visions and moments of retroactive clairvoyance. Jonathan directs the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester.

If you are on Facebook, you can see the Facebook event here. If you would like further details about the event, please email Jonathan at the address shown on the poster above.

Hope to see you there!

Saturday, 8 September 2018

Two Poems By Michael Caines

Michael Caines works for the Times Literary Supplement, and is the author of Shakespeare and the Eighteenth Century (Oxford University Press, 2013). Earlier this year he founded a free literary quarterly, called the Brixton Review of Books, that focuses on the work of indie presses.

Noise pollution, 1853

The Carlyles are trying to breakfast at Ramsgate, despite the cacophony:
Female fiddlers; a bagpiping soloist; others, including
A bilious barrel-organ. And at home, back at Chelsea,

A “troop of incarnate devils” ascends to the top of the building,
Tasked with constructing an attic-long refuge – an apex of silence.
Now bricklayers bash up the staircases, laden with bawdry. A ceiling

Caves in when a whistling workman, mistaking his balance,
Decants himself into the essayist’s bedroom. Sagacity suffers
While whitewashers clatter on ladders; and, dismally, Thomas’s science,

His progress through history, Jane’s correspondence and every office
Are set on their heads, like the tables and armchairs, “their legs in the air
As if in convulsions”. (A “lost” book, however, is found to be just where it was.)

At last the great work is accomplished. Carlyle retires to his lair –
And that’s when the learner next door settles down at her pianoforte.

A macaw’s interjections augment a traditional Scottish air ....

A tangerine man, right after struggling his way through Kristen Roupenian’s momentous New Yorker short story “Cat Person”, speaks

Now is the time to virtue-signal. So:
I’ve read “Caught Person”. I just know it’s great.
I really do. I love the way that – wait,
did I just read a story?!?!?!?!? How’d it go,

exactly? HUH??!!?!? I mean, just – let me know?!?!
Because: this guy’s fantastic. Just equate
his getting-what-I-want way with his date
with how I roll. Because – it’s just ... hero-

ic. In my view. At least. (I’m rich. I’m right.)
They’re FAKING IT! They’re – “Rocket Man” – so wrong!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Like Crooked Hillary, OK? What more
could any woman want? It’s just one night!
Romantic! Stormy!!!!!!!!!!! (Weird that, all along,

she doesn’t get why she’s the whore.) The WHORE!

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

"Werner Krauss": Extract from Novel by Gareth Watts

Gareth Watts is Head of Creative Arts at Gateway College. He has written for radio, published poetry, written short stories and reviews for Fiction Uncovered. He writes for Leftlion and has a regular football column for Forza Garibaldi. His first novel Werner Krauss (Sussex Academic) was published in 2017.

The novel is a fictional account of the life of German film and theatre actor Werner Krauss,  star of the classic silent film The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari. Upon gaining worldwide recognition in this film, Krauss was co-opted into the Nazi hate campaign of the 1930s and 1940s. He featured in the vicious propaganda film Jud Suss, and he was complicit in giving anti-Semitic performances onstage, most notably as Shylock in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. The novel focuses on three distinct eras in Krauss's life: the struggling, exuberant actor of the 1920s; the philandering pragmatist of the 1930s; and the elderly, neurotic outcast of the 1940s. Despite his honourable intentions, Krauss was all-too-often undermined by his inability to say 'no' to women, alcohol and the egregious Joseph Goebbels. In this fictional re-imagining of his life, Krauss's motives and decisions are explored in an attempt to discover why he collaborated with the Nazis in the way that he did, as well as demonstrating the personal and political consequences of his actions. Krauss's story is part of the wider story of the role of the arts and media in Nazi Germany. Extensively researched, including contemporary news stories, archived film material, critical essays on Krauss and translated passages from his autobiography, Das Schauspiel Meines Lebens, this fictional reconstruction of Krauss's life and career is preceded by a substantive Introduction by the author, setting the novel in the context of the genre of Holocaust fiction, emulating and reminiscent of Christopher Isherwood's Goodbye to Berlin and Thomas Keneally's Schindler's Ark

Extract from the novel, Werner Krauss


But how to communicate with the future?

Lifting the collar of his overcoat, Werner Krauss ducked his head and walked quickly. Each step seemed to mimic the pace of his heart. Why was he doing this? He was a free man, after all.

On waking that morning, he’d ambled into the kitchen of his Stuttgart residence and taken a bottle of Asbach Uralt from the cupboard. Grabbing a dirty wine glass from the draining-board, he poured carelessly, overflowing the stemmed glass. Preparing himself for a shock, he gulped it down. Tears rolled from his eyes, but he resisted the urge to vomit. He took a cigarette from the box which had been to bed with him, and, with an unsteady hand, placed it in his mouth. Sinking to his knees, he lit it using the gas flame of the oven hob, which had been burning all night. He stole an hour of sleep, there on the kitchen floor, with the cigarette butt still in his mouth. Waking with a start, he dressed thoughtlessly, and, realising he was too late to arrange a ride, headed for the court on foot.

For months he had been preparing for this day – memorising anecdotes about a compassionate, sensitive man. But these monologues now seemed to be slipping away, and all he could think of was his sore ankle.

As the State Court building came into view, so too did the sizeable and angry crowd.

‘There he is – traitor, TRAITOR!’

The noise grew, and individual insults rang out.

‘Fascist …’

‘Hitler’s friend, he was Hitler’s friend!’ – a Jew, unmistakably.


That last one echoed in his ear. His cheeks burned. As the crowd got closer, Werner noticed there was no sign of the special security that he had requested. His name obviously didn’t carry the same weight in Stuttgart as it had before. He swallowed hard, and started to run, or rather, limp, at the crowd, head-on. He fought his way through, almost reaching the court door, and relative safety. Then, a placard bearing the words NAZI COWARD crashed down on his forehead. He fell to the ground amid kicks, punches and insults.

Sat now in the corridor outside the courtroom, he gazed at a grey wall for some time, trying to piece together the speech in his mind, and forget the morning’s unexpected nightmare. He reached into his jacket for a notebook and pen. Wanting to commit words to the page, he would remind himself of his humanity:

Somewhere, there is salvation. A place to feel alive even when they line the streets, calling for your death …

Werner knew he was exaggerating, but for a moment at least he enjoyed the melodrama and continued to dwell on the ‘tragedy’ of his situation:

… I am not a murderer and yet they try me like one. They want me dead as an example to all. In the pages of the pauper-press I am demonised for doing my duty, performing my tasks, being true and being artistic. Hath a Jew not eyes?

He smiled as he scrawled that last question mark. For a moment he considered incorporating these notes in his memoirs. ‘It could be included in the prologue,’ he thought.

He tore the page from his notebook and put it into his pocket. He must be careful not to allow his sense of humour to be used against him. Fear started to grip the face of the man who had worn so  many masks. Being nervous was natural though, he decided, and the court must not suspect a performance – they must see a human - a man, not an actor. He should talk only of circumstance, of coincidence. He could talk about Maria. He could talk about his son.

With those thoughts in mind, Werner was led into the courtroom and asked to confirm his name. The presiding officer was a young, slither of a man who hid behind a pair of spectacles. This infuriated Werner. ‘Where were you in the Weimar years?’ he wanted to shout. He fantasised about smashing this man’s spectacles into his face, using a nearby chair. At least then, he thought, he could have a reason for remorse, a reason to be tried. 

Werner let out a quiet, though not inaudible, belch. The brandy was rising from his stomach and he felt sick. But he could not leave the courtroom and attract more attention. He swallowed hard, and tried to concentrate on the question the presiding officer had begun to ask: 'Herr Krauss, how would you define your role in Hitler’s Reich?'

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

Two Poems by Roy Marshall

Roy Marshall
After writing poems and songs as a child and teenager, Roy began writing poems again in his late thirties. A pamphlet, Gopagilla,  was published in 2012 and received favourable reviews in the TLS and elsewhere. His first full collection The Sun Bathers (Shoestring Press, 2013) was shortlisted for the Michael Murphy award, and a second collection The Great Animator appeared in 2017. Previously a nurse, Roy lives in Leicestershire where he works in adult education. He sometimes blogs at     

Michael Phelps Versus the Great White  

It is hard to get a shark to swim straight, 
so the crew speed off with a baited line. 
Michael waits his turn, a spring-loaded fin 
strapped to his back. He watches the monitors 
where his opponent shimmies after the lure. 

How beautiful, he thinks, remembering 
a Beijing menu that listed shark fin soup. 
At school, he too became prey, with his jug ears 
and an easily mimicked lisp. One report card read 
‘can’t sit still, can't be quiet, can’t concentrate.’

Michael pulls on huge flippers; this is one race 
he knows he can never win. He regulates 
his breathing, thinks of the money, of how 
if a shark stops swimming it dies.   

First published in Strix, summer 2018 

The Shapeshifter’s Courtship  

When he was fish, she became otter. 
She changed into oak, he, woodpecker. 
He shifted to wheat, she cleaved into furrow. 
She thinned into leaf, he thrilled as a breeze. 
He fell as blood, she received him as sand. 
She flitted into songbird, he soared as hawk. 
He rolled into rock, she clung as moss. 
She rose as full moon, he became the drawn tide. 
He changed into a mirror, she, a stone in flight.

First published in Coast to Coast to Coast, summer 2018  

Friday, 24 August 2018

"Coplowdale": Poem by Lauren Foster


It’s warm in there. Sometimes it steams.
I’ve heard it said, on occasion they
spontaneously combust, but for now 
it hosts a family of hares: a central-
heated, albeit pungent, winter abode. 
I don’t see them in there, but in the stony 
fields, fit otherwise only for sheep 
and sometimes the horses, free to wander 
as far as Twigg’s land. Then, we have to go 
fetch them, trudge through muddied gateways,
past buckled walls, down and up Intake 
Dale to where the cowslips grow in Spring. 
Lorries trundle from and to the quarry. 
Once, I heard of a tailback. Glynn, on a
downwards swing lay across the lane, a sign 
by his side read: Please run me over. Isabel 
gave up after decades, left for an old folk’s 
bungalow down in Bradwell, by the brook. 
Can’t have made much, the farm full of cars 
rather than cows. One day, someone’ll be 
overjoyed to find a nineteen fifties 
Hillman, rusted chassis half buried 
by a derelict barn. It’s a harsh life, but on a
full moon you’d hear Glynn’s luxuriant 
baritone resonate against the stars.

About the author
Lauren Foster is a student on the MA in Creative Writing. 'Coplowdale' received an honourable mention in the GS Fraser Prize 2018. Photograph by By Roger May.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

"Sparrow": Short Story by Nora Nadjarian

Nora Nadjarian is an award-winning Cypriot poet and writer. She has been cited or published in the Guardian, the Irish Times and the Telegraph and has also won prizes and commendations in international competitions, including the Commonwealth Short Story Competition, the Féile Filíochta International Poetry Competition, the Binnacle International Ultra-Short Competition and the Seán Ó Faoláin Short Story Prize. Her work deals with the themes of women, refugees, identity, exile, love and loss, as well as the political situation in Cyprus. Best known in Cyprus for her book of short stories Ledra Street (2006), she has had poetry and short fiction published internationally. Her work was included in A River of Stories, an anthology of tales and poems from across the Commonwealth, illustrated by Jan Pieńkowski, Best European Fiction 2011 (Dalkey Archive Press), Being Human (Bloodaxe Books, 2011) and Capitals (Bloomsbury, 2017). Her latest books are the collections of short stories Selfie (Roman Books, 2017) and Girl, Wolf, Bones (Armida, 2017). The author Anjali Joseph has said of her work:  ‘Nora Nadjarian’s distilled short stories are abrupt and intense, as invigorating and aromatic as a double shot of literary espresso.’ Selfie and Other Stories is published by Roman Books, as part of the Stretto Fiction Series. 


My sister said she was carrying a bird inside her, a bird which would soon be drinking water out of her navel. I wasn’t supposed to say anything about it. To anyone. 

“I am a cage,” said my sister. “Inside me I keep secrets, inside me I keep a bird.” And she laughed and I laughed, too. We laughed until we no longer remembered what we were laughing about.

“His name is Sparrow,” she said one day.  “He’s only little now, as tiny as a seed – but he’ll grow and grow, you’ll see. And then I’ll set him free.” She placed her hand on her stomach and her mouth curved upwards, as if she were smiling at another world in the mirror.

I couldn’t wait. Time was too still, it was taking too long. I squinted into the future. “When?” I kept asking. “When, when, when?” My sister looked luminous as she replied: “Soon, soon, soon.” She said he was practising a song for us. “He’ll sing it so well that he will astonish us all.”

Time passed. I rode my bike and I skipped and whistled and played and waited. Sparrow was going to be my small gift for keeping my sister’s secret. The air grew heady and my sister soft and heavy, like ripening fruit. When she fluttered her eyelids, I thought she was dreaming with her eyes open. 

It was the longest summer. My sister turned sixteen. She wore a long, flowery dress, put her hair up in a ponytail. There were sixteen pink and red balloons bobbing around her head that hot, sticky afternoon of cake, cellophane and candles. My mother spoke loudly and happily about nothing and everything, my stepfather handed my sister the knife, helped her cut the cake. Then she said: I have an announcement to make. 

And the world stops there, a sharp intake of breath.

I squint into the past now for details, terrified of what I might remember. The sky is a dazzling blue, the earth hot, sweaty. I am pregnant, says my sister. She wears a necklace of grapes with which she will feed Sparrow. She performs her own birthday song beautifully, she sings her heart out – until her throat is chalk dry and her ribcage breaks. There are feathers everywhere. I run to pick them up as the balloons pop one after the other, leaving sixteen pieces of rubbery flesh on the floor, things torn and shapeless, parts of my sister which will never again be whole.  

I sit beside her and ask if it hurts. She whispers: “Truth always hurts.” Then there is a sudden, white silence which reminds me, years later, that she is no longer here. 

Sunday, 29 July 2018

A Day at Lowdham Book Festival, by Rosalind Rustom

The Lowdham Book Festival is a yearly event that takes place in the village of Lowdham just outside Nottingham, and as of 2018 has been running for nineteen years. This year, the event took place from Tuesday 19th to Saturday 30th June, and I travelled to Lowdham to attend the last day of the festival.

The locations for the talks were spread around Lowdham, the main hub of the festival being in the village hall. Here, there was the opportunity to buy books at a collection of stalls which showcased the work of authors talking at the festival, as well as tables to sit and enjoy food from the café. In the gardens outside the hall, there were marquees for the talks as well as areas for further book stalls.

I started my day by attending a talk titled ‘New Irish Writing’, which was given by Deirdre O’Bryne, a lecturer at Loughborough University and an expert in Irish literature. She discussed the new voices in Irish writing and the use of experimentation in terms of form and content. O’Byrne focused on the work of authors such as Louise O’Neill, Sara Baume, Sally Rooney and Eimear McBride, and led an entertaining and stimulating discussion concerning the topic of identity in Irish literature. 

Next, I attended 'The Shoestring Poetry Hour,' which was led by poetry publisher John Lucas and showcased the work of Roy Marshall and Jonathan Taylor. Roy Marshall gave a reading of a selection of his new and older poems, and explained that some were inspired from his work within hospitals in Leicester. Thus, many contained themes of illness and mortality, and Marshall’s readings gave the poems an enhanced harrowing undertone. Following this, Jonathan Taylor read a selection of poems from his new collection Cassandra Complex. Jonathan read a mixture of amusing as well as darker poems, which the audience enjoyed and resonated with them.

Lastly, I attended a talk titled ‘Crime fiction,’ which was led by Roz Watkins following the publication of her debut crime novel Devil’s Dice. Watkins briefly spoke about the novel and the inspiration of the Peak District in the setting for the novel, but more focused her talk on her personal struggles and obsessions with writing what she saw as a ‘publishable book,’ detailing her journey into the publishing world. She discussed her insecurities in her writing,  tackling negative reviews, and the life of writing as a job. This made for a very interesting and personal talk, and resonated with the audience, leading to many further questions that were posed during the Q&A section of the event. 

I had a lovely day at Lowdham Book Festival and thoroughly enjoyed the variety of talks that took place over the day. The event was well organised and a friendly atmosphere was clear across the festival, due to the passionate and engaged audience members as well as the many authors who took time to give talks or showcase their work. 

About the author
Rosalind Rustom is a recent graduate from the University of Leicester with a degree in English and American Studies, with a particular interest in fantasy fiction.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Edna Welthorpe Lives!

By Emma Parker

In 1967, Leicester-born playwright Joe Orton won the prestigious Evening Standard Play of the Year Award for his anarchic black comedy, Loot, prompting David Benedictus (author of the Winnie-the-Pooh sequel Return to the Hundred Acre Wood) to issue a public objection. How could a play widely condemned as ‘sick’ and ‘disgusting’ merit commendation? 

Amused that his satire on religious hypocrisy and police corruption should arouse such ire, Orton penned an ‘Edna Welthorpe’ letter in response:

        May I add my thoughts to those of David Benedictus on the subject of those ‘much-
        talked-of awards’?

        I agree that no one should seriously nominate as the play of the year a piece of 
        indecent tomfoolery like Loot. Drama should be uplifting. The plays of Joe Orton have 
        a most unpleasing effect on me (19 February, 1967).

‘Edna Welthorpe’ was the persona that Orton invented to write letters spoofing social and sexual conservatism. Middle-aged, middle-class and middlebrow, she is the opposite of Orton, a working-class gay man living in a period when homosexuality was still illegal. First created in 1958, Edna anticipates the emergence of Mary Whitehouse, the moral crusader who co-founded the ‘Clean-Up TV Campaign’ in 1964. In Orton’s Edna Welthorpe letters, concerns about public decency and declining moral standards sparked by the new ‘permissive society’ are rendered amusingly absurd.

In recent years, the growth of global conservatism (Brexit, Trump, the rise of the Far Right) seemed to call Edna back to life. 

When Curve, Leicester, staged Orton’s final play, What the Butler Saw, in 2017, I decided to reanimate Edna in a letter to director Nikolai Foster. I knew that Nikolai was familiar with Orton’s alias and would get the joke but didn’t anticipate that he’d share it by tweeting the letter. Edna’s outrage at a ‘depraved drama about sexual irregularity’ - especially intolerable when there’s already ‘enough of that in Holby City!’ - caused a stir on social media. Her reappearance was even reported in The Stage.

Once back, Edna soon found herself busy writing letters again.

To mark the 50th anniversary of Orton’s death in 2017, I teamed up with BAFTA-nominated filmmaker Chris Shepherd to launch a national Edna Welthorpe creative writing competition. Designed to teach students about satire and to encourage the next generation to keep Orton’s playfully subversive spirit alive, the competition debunked the myth that young people are politically disengaged: Tory Prime Minister Theresa May, retail tycoon Sir Philip Green and Waitrose were all lampooned. 

Alongside the competition, Chris and I commissioned new Edna letters from acclaimed actors and TV comedy writers such as Emmy Award winner Alec Baldwin (Saturday Night Live30 Rock), Caroline Moran (Raised by Wolves), Arthur Mathews (Father TedToast of London), Jesse Armstrong (The Think of It, Peep Show) and David Quantick (Veep, The Fast Show). As the project grew, it was amazing to see how far Orton’s influence reaches and the depth of his impact on contemporary culture.  

With the aid of a Grant for the Arts from Arts Council England, Chris and I also made an animation inspired by the original Edna Welthorpe letters. The film, in which the wonderful actress Alison Steadman plays Edna, has been screened at Latitude festival; The Little Theatre, Leicester; Encounters Short Film Festival, Bristol; the London International Film Festival, Barbican; the British Animation Awards, London; the Short Film Festival, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London; the LGBT Feedback Festival, Toronto - billed as ‘a showcase of the best LGBT shorts in the world’; on the BBC Arts webpage and on Criterion TV in the USA. It’s tantalising to ponder what Edna might say to Donald Trump.

The film and new Edna letters can be found on a website that includes a creative writing worksheet showing how anger at social injustice can be channelled into humour and offers satire as an alternative to hate speech:

The website won a Saboteur Award in 2018 (Wildcard category). What more appropriate award could there be for a project that honours Joe Orton, a prankster and provocateur who gleefully sought to demolish repressive social norms and hierarchies?

As Alec Baldwin, channelling Edna, commented on news of the Saboteur Award via Twitter: ‘Jolly good!’