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year, the short story prize is organised by city-based small press, Dahlia Publishing, and is open to published and unpublished writers, for a short story of up to 3000 words on any theme or subject.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


Friday, 12 June 2020

Christopher Norris, "A Partial Truth"



Christopher Norris is Emeritus Professor in Philosophy at the University of Cardiff and a visiting fellow at Birkbeck College, London. In his early career he taught English Literature, then moved to Philosophy via literary theory, and has now moved back in the direction of Creative Writing. He has published widely on the topic of deconstruction and is the author of more than thirty books on aspects of philosophy, literature, the history of ideas, and music. More recently he has turned to writing poetry in various genres, including – unusually – that of the philosophical verse-essay. His verse-collections to date are The Cardinal’s Dog, For the Tempus-Fugitives, The Matter of Rhyme, A Partial Truth, and Socrates at Verse. At present he is finishing work on two further collections: As Knowing Goes and Other Poems and an extended series of verse reflections on themes from the writing of Jacques Derrida.

Over the past few years Chris has also been active as a left-wing political poet with satires and invectives brought together in two volumes: The Trouble with Monsters and A Folded Lie (with cartoons by Martin Gollan). His political poems appear regularly on the website Culture Matters and his more philosophical pieces in the weekly (now monthly) online magazine The Wednesday. He has lectured and held visiting posts at universities around the world, and his books have been translated into many languages. For the past thirty years Chris has sung with Cor Cochion Caerdydd (The Cardiff Reds Choir), a campaigning socialist street-choir, and has more recently joined The Eclectics, a smaller Swansea-based non-political group. During lockdown he has offered a series of Zoom lectures at various universities in Iraq as well as poetry readings at Aarhus University and elsewhere.

Chris lives in Swansea with his wife Valerie, a novelist and retired Professor of Materials Science at Swansea University. His daughters Clare and Jenny both live in Penarth. 

See also: https://norriswriting.com/




A Few Thoughts About My Poetry ...
By Christopher Norris

First off a bit of anecdotage for those who may wonder why an erstwhile literary theorist, philosopher and historian of ideas should now have turned to poetry as his preferred mode of writing, albeit poetry of a character which – at times – will put readers in mind of those earlier preoccupations. At its simplest this was a practical matter and a case of preemptive, in some degree preconscious  psychological strategy. As retirement from full-time university employment loomed ever closer I found myself wondering how best to satisfy on the one hand my need to carry on writing – a more than forty-year habit – and on the other my desire to do something different after all those academic monographs and articles. But this led on to some more germane or at any rate less personal-strategic ideas, among them the thought that certain kinds of verse-form might lend themselves to thinking differently – in a creative-exploratory way – about certain issues thrown up by my previous work.

The resultant project, or series of projects, has occupied the larger part of my time for writing during the past half-decade. All the poems collected in A Partial Truth (2019) and Socrates at Verse (2020) are instances of formal verse. That is, they all have a clearly marked rhyme-scheme along with a metrical structure and a range of other, perhaps less obvious formal features. If there is a general case being made then it is the case for formalism – broadly defined – as an attribute of any verse that genuinely merits the name. Thus ‘free verse’ is a flat contradiction in terms since if it is verse it can’t be ‘free,’ at least in the sense mostly intended by users of the phrase, and if it is free then it can’t be verse. Of course there is such a thing as prose poetry, or poetic prose, just as there is such a thing as verse that never attains the imaginative power or the expressive depth of poetry. A competent versifier might always be denied the title of poet despite their acknowledged technical prowess. But this judgement is one to be made on distinctly qualitative grounds, and one to which my poems will be subject quite aside from issues of form or verse-technique.

I am sometimes asked why so many of them have to do with matters of a philosophical or literary-critical import that very closely mirror my own interests as a one-time academic who spent a working lifetime involved in just those disciplines. The straightforward answer is that one has to have something to write about and that they throw up issues of particular interest to a formalist – like myself – who thinks that poems have distinctive ways of addressing them. Of course there is the just as obvious objection that these are not the sorts of problem that typically engage readers of poetry, or readers in search of poems that communicate across widely shared areas of human experience. I would make three points in response. First, there is currently a large academic and even non-academic readership for debates in the capacious area of ‘theory,’ a readership seemingly capable of perceiving their larger significance. Second, the poems themselves make a regular point of moving out beyond ‘technical’ issues to just such wider concerns. And third, these are issues that are, so to speak, in the public domain, or sufficiently a matter of open debate for their import to come across without access to modes of experience or states of feeling that are ultimately private to the poet in question. If these poems involve certain kinds of specialist interest or out-of-the-way knowledge then it is always the sort of thing that readers can find out – or (thankfully) look up on Google – and not the sort of thing that presupposes privileged or intimate reader-poet acquaintance. 

In other words they are much less obscure or private than a good deal of so-called ‘confessional’ poetry that presses the lyric impulse toward an extreme of self-absorption inimical to effective communication at any but a well-nigh visceral level. What I hope to have managed is a synthesis of musicality and the kind of thinking – or discursive intelligence – that poets and critics at least since Eliot have been anxious to expel from poetry’s domain. That this expulsion had some less than desirable effects on Eliot’s thinking beyond that domain is a point worth noting, as is the cost in lives wrecked or prematurely ended by the confessional cult that disfigured so much mid-to-late C20 verse. Not that formalism offers a guaranteed bulwark against such destructive extremes, as witnessed by the case of a rigorous ultra-formalist like Veronica Forrest-Thomson. But it does combine a check on the lyric tendency toward excessive or damaging self-absorption with the challenge (and incentive) to linguistic creativity posed by the exigences of formal structure.   

Below, you can read two poems: one from the collection A Partial Truth, one from Socrates At Verse.




San Pedro and the Aeroplanes

The cave-shrine of Catholic Saint Hermano Pedro (1626-67) occupies a striking and very beautiful layered-rock site near El Medano, South Tenerife. It is located at the end of the airport runway, directly beneath a main flight-path. The reference to Ezekiel concerns a visionary passage sometimes taken to prefigure the advent of jet aeroplanes. 

Glossing Ezekiel the saint maintains
Two theses contrary to common sense:
Time-travel and a thought of aeroplanes.

His cave and shrine abut the airport fence.
Such to-and-fro his hermit soul disdains,
Yet no affront to God, the switch of tense.

Flight-paths reduplicate the angel-lanes.
San Pedro stoops to count the pilgrim pence.
A turbine drowns his eventide refrains.

On kitschy goods the vapor trails condense
As kerosene anoints the saint's remains
And candles waver in the turbulence.

Still daily rise the heaven-touching strains:
'Sire, they take off downwind, a good league hence;
For decibels, consult the weather-vanes.'

As Pedro tolls for Prime so flights commence.
At Terce, Sext and None he regains
Ezekiel’s wingéd vision, God knows whence.

Blessing or curse, still nothing to the pains
They bore whose dark prophetic sapience
Brought thunder fit to shake the martyr’s chains.

Some aerial law of cause and consequence
Must hold, he thinks, if flight’s what God ordains,
Though miracles may hold them in suspense.

Why scorn these gaudy relics? he who feigns
Belief in them may come by such pretense
To credit tales of gods or aeroplanes.


Showings (Wittgenstein): a double sestina 

This inseparableness of everything in the world from language has intrigued modern thinkers, most notably Wittgenstein. If its limits—that is, the precise point at which sense becomes nonsense—could somehow be defined, then speakers would not attempt to express the inexpressible. Therefore, said Wittgenstein, do not put too great a burden upon language.
   - Peter Farb, Word-Play

If a person tells me he has been to the worst places I have no reason to judge him; but if he 
tells me it was his superior wisdom that enabled him to go there, then I know he is a fraud.
- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Personal Recollections (ed. Rush Rhees)  

The real discovery is the one which enables me to stop doing philosophy when I want to. The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself into question.
- Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

The world is everything that is the case.
All that's the case is all that we can say.
Some things cannot be said but may be shown.
These are the most important things in life.
A change in them will be a change of world.
Let silence show where saying leads astray.

So many ways we can be led astray!
Delinquent speech is not the only case,
Though certain evils may infect our world
Through word-abuse. Believing we can say
What matters most, in language or in life,
Is Russell's error. This much can be shown.

That's why my faithful few won't have it shown
How moral compass-points can swing astray
Even with such ascetic forms of life
Or utterance as mine. Count it a case
Of things-gone-wrong that nobody could say
Belonged exclusively to word or world.

Russell and Moore: they were my Cambridge world
Back then although, despite some kindness shown,
They failed to grasp how using words to say
Those things unsayable led sense astray.
Their verdict on me: genius, but a case
Of life screwed up by mind and mind by life.

'Just tell them that it's been a wonderful life.'
My dying words, and spoken from a world
So distant, now, from all that is the case
With their world that what's said by them, or shown,
Will likely lead my auditors astray
As much as anything I've had to say.

Yet there's some truth in what the others say,
My critics, who'd regard a tortured life
Like mine as leading and as led astray
Since formed within the solipsistic world
Of my obsessions. That's the sole thing shown,
They’d say, by such a cautionary case.

I keep my life a closed book just in case
Some rogue biographer should have his say
And seek, for no good cause, to have it shown
That there were certain chapters in that life
Kept secret from the academic world
Lest scandal lead my acolytes astray.

Yet could it be some young men went astray
Because I'd cruise the Prater and then case
The gay joints in my craving for a world
As far removed as possible from, say,
The wealth and privilege of my old life,
Or the mixed spite and condescension shown

By Moore and his Apostles? If I've shown
A seamy side, a will to go astray
In quest of what they'll call 'his other life,'
It's not (the vulgar-Freudian view) a case
Of my abject desire that they should say
Harsh things that show me up before the world

For what I am. Rather, I deem that world
Of theirs a world in need of being shown
Such truths as neither they nor I can say
Since, in the saying, sense would go astray
And make me out a monster or a case
For some corrective treatment. It's my life,

Not anything I've written, but my life 
As lived that bears sole witness to the world
Concerning just those matters in the case
Of Ludwig Wittgenstein that should be shown,
Not said, since uttering them sends words astray
And has them mimic what they fail to say.

And yet I ask: why think of 'show' and 'say'
In such bi-polar terms unless your life,
Like mine, has gone unspeakably astray
And left you stranded in an alien world
Where your 'condition' can at most be shown,
Not talked about or stated, just in case.

A modest claim: to say, not save, the world,
Yet still too statement-bound, as life has shown.
What was it went astray with what's the case?

No world exists that logothetes might say
'Here's all we've shown: that words bring worlds to life.'
What if 'the case' just is what goes astray?

Thursday, 28 May 2020

John Schad, "Paris Bride"



John Schad is Professor of Modern Literature at University of Lancaster.  His books include Victorians in Theory (Manchester, 1999), Queer Fish: Christian Unreason from Darwin to Derrida (Sussex, 2004), a memoir, Someone Called Derrida (Sussex, 2007), a novel The Late Walter Benjamin (Bloomsbury, 2012), an experimental biography called Paris Bride (Punctum, 2020), and (with Fred Dalmasso) Derrida | Benjamin: Two Plays (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021).  He has also had two retrospectives published - Hostage of the Word, 1993-2013 (2013) and John Schad in Conversation (2015). He has read his work on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb and at various literary festivals, and his plays have been performed at The Oxford Playhouse, Duke’s Theatre Lancaster, Watford Palace Theatre, HowTheLight GetsIn (Hay-on-Wye), and the Sheldonian Theatre Oxford. You can find out more information here. You can read an interview with John Schad on Everybody's Reviewing here





About Paris Bride
By John Schad

In 1905, in Paris, a young woman called Marie Wheeler married, or thought she had married, Johannes Schad, a clerk from Basel. Marie and Johannes then lived together in suburban London until one day, in 1924, they went to the High Court in the Strand, and the marriage ended - or rather was declared never to have been. 

The stated reason for what happened in the High Court was, and is, hard to credit. Marie then returned to Paris, with no more known of her. And that is all the official records reveal. 
Almost 100 years on, new evidence from Paris reveals quite another version of events. Thus, whilst London gives one account of the nineteen-year-long marriage, or ‘marriage,’ Paris now gives another. Which is true?

Paris Bride investigates and as it does so I, who am Johannes’s grandson, begin to recreate the lost life of Marie, of whom little is known beyond a few legal papers, a number of letters, some photographs, the diaries of a friend, and her obituary. 

With so little else known of Marie’s life, I read her back into existence by drawing on a host of contemporaneous modernist texts, each one being uncannily connected with Marie through some coincidence of time, place, or theme.

Paris Bride soon becomes a weave of remarkable lives, loves, and places.  



Marie Wheeler, c.1895


From Paris Bride


Chapter One


           Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
 - Virginia Woolf, 1925  


*

April 7, 1924

Marie said she would buy some flowers, and the trams, the pigeons, and the motor cars all murmured “yes.” She was light upon her feet; quick, careful, lest she should brush against another. None, she thought; there would be none who would know her, though some had smiled. Odd affinities she had with people she had never spoken to.* She would buy the flowers on her way back, and as she walked her head was set low.

She paused to allow a file of children to pass in front of her. Nineteen in all. Two-by-two save one, who turned and looked. It was her hat. Johannes may have bought it in Russia. But she should quicken her step. She never tired of walking, for all her delicacy. On she walked. On. I love walking in London, she thought.

Did Johannes ever come this way? On foot, to his office. He did not like the omnibus and, besides, walking was even more natural than talking, he would say, quoting their friend, the eminent Linguist, Mr. X, as he had been introduced the night they had first met.

The Linguist was an elegant man with a fine moustache, the points of which seemed to quiver as if receiving messages from the air. Some said his name was Ferdinand de Saussure, Professor Ferdinand de Saussure. He certainly spoke with authority; though was inclined, Johannes would say, to mistake language for Switzerland. “A panorama of the Alps,” the Linguist had said, “must be taken from just one point. The same is true of a language.” The Linguist’s great-grandfather, she had heard, was a mountaineer. Among the first to conquer Mont Blanc. But she must be getting on. Such traffic. Piccadilly. Such traffic.

“City of death.” Yes, that was it. That was he had said about Mont Blanc. Shelley, not the Linguist. Shelley, the poet. Strange thing to say, or write, whatever the light. Though he was an unbeliever, Shelley that is, even among the mountains. Especially among the mountains, Johannes had said, pointing out that the unbelieving poet had signed the guest book at Chamonix as “Percy Bysshe Shelley, Atheist.” Ah, and here, right here was Somerset House. Over the Strand the clouds were of mountainous white.

Perhaps, she thought, she should not read so much. After all, there were, these days, so many curious books and so many curious authors. Mrs. Woolf, for instance, or Mr. Eliot, Mr. Eliot-the-Clerk, as Johannes would say. Mr. Eliot, however, she rather liked, seeing that he had written about a woman called Marie. Moreover his Marie, Mr. Eliot’s, was also inclined to read through the night. And then there was Miss Emily Dickinson, the hermit of Amherst, they said. “Our lives are Swiss,” she had written, “So still - so cool.” Yes. “Till some odd afternoon, the Alps neglect their Curtains.” Yes. “And we look further on.”

Marie paused, a little faint, and glimpsed a poster in the window of a shop. “The British Empire Exhibition, Wembley Stadium.” Yes, many would come. Odd, though, that the poster should portray London as a woman in bronze, naked and slim. Marie tugged at her coat. April was indeed a cruel month, just as Mr. Eliot had thought. And, now, a shower was upon them. Rain, rain all over London, she should not wonder, even at the Exhibition. It is nature that is the ruin of Wembley, she thought. The problem of the sky remains, she thought. Is it, one wonders, part of the Exhibition? Marie put up her umbrella. How mountainous those clouds.

Was Johannes out in the rain? Perhaps, but then he was used to weather of all kinds. He travelled so much. What with his languages. French, German, even Russian. The rubber-trade took him to so many places.


*


Metropolitan Police
January 7, 1927

           Johannes Schad has  paid  periodical  visits  to the Continent on business and 
           pleasure and intends doing so in the future.

*

She did not, herself, like to travel by train; it was not, she had heard, altogether safe. Villains there must be battering the brains of a girl out in a train. The continental trains were, though, very different. She had once said so to the Linguist. He, though, had simply muttered something about trains in general, about how no two trains, whatever we think, are identical. “We [invariably] assign [the same] identity to two [quite different] trains,” he had said. “For instance, ‘the 8.45 from Geneva to Paris.’ One [such train] leaves twenty-four hours after the other, [and yet] we treat it as the ‘same’ train.”

Trafalgar Square was stirring. People of all nations and none, she thought. She had not intended to come this way but paused to open her purse for a man without legs, his upturned cap begging on his behalf. He gazed for a moment. Every man fell in love with her. “The bride is beautiful,” as Johannes would say.

It is true that he would sometimes add “but, she is married to another man.” This, though, had been a jest of his. “The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man” were, he would explain, the famous words of a famous telegram. Coded words. The cable, he would say, had been wired from Palestine by two Jewish zealots hot-foot from the world’s first Zionist Congress, a gathering held, strange to say, in Basel. Yes, his Basel. The two zealots had, apparently, gone off in vainest search of Israel. Zion. The Promised Land. And they had found her indeed to be beautiful. But also to be another’s.

The man without the legs smiled. Then touched his cap and smiled again. She must help him. Find a baker’s. Ah, here. That smile, though. Yes that smile, it lifted her up and up when — oh! a pistol shot in the street outside!

“Dear, those motorcars,” said Miss Pym, going to the window to look, and coming back and smiling apologetically as if those motorcars, these tyres of motorcars, were all her fault. 

No, thought Marie, it was her fault. She had grown comfortable from the tyres that rubber made, and, in fact, from all that rubber made. Yes, the disturbance in the street was her fault. But she could not stop. She must give the man the sandwich. She could not stop. She was expected at noon. By another man.

Marie’s shoes concerned her. The heels, though modest, were about to give way, and the points of her shoes were worn. Better not to look down; best look up, right up. And why not, seeing that all down The Mall people were looking up into the sky. See, an aeroplane! There it was coming over the trees, letting out white smoke behind, which curled and twisted, actually writing something! The Linguist, how he would have loved these letters. “C was it? And an E? Then an L?” There was, she saw, no “A” in the sky. Don’t tell the Linguist. He had loved the French letter-sound a, handling it like the most fragile shell. “In its consistency,” he had once said, “it is something solid, but thin, that cracks easily if struck.”

The aeroplane above breathed several more letters into the sky. But it was not a day to stand and watch. Not like that day in Palmers Green. The dazzling day. 1912 it was, before they had moved in. “Honeymoon Land,” or so it was called. Newly-minted suburbia. Modern Houses for Modern Couples. This dazzling day, they said, was the day an airman, Italian, heading for Hendon, had found his engine faltering high over Honeymoon Land and, seeing Broomfield Park, had attempted to effect a landing. The aeroplane was, though, by now flying so low that its wings, they said, touched first one roof and then another before finally settling, with a murmur, upon the slates of 75 Derwent Road.



*In this chapter, all italicised quotations come from Woolf (most from Mrs Dalloway, some from her diaries and letters).

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Managing a Creative Writing Dissertation

By Rosie Anderson




I remember before I started writing the dissertation for my MA, the most daunting part was the word count, 12,000 creative words + 3,000 reflective commentary. I know my fellow Creative Writers felt the same way, usually for different reasons, though. Some people were frightened by the prospect of having to write so much. My problem, and always was with every single essay or assignment I ever turned in throughout both my undergraduate degree and Master’s, was that I was concerned I’d end up writing 50,000 words and have to spend weeks trying to cut it down. 

A related problem for me that again applies to every creative piece I’ve ever written is that I have a tendency to waffle and include far too many unimportant details like the breed of dog an unseen neighbour has. I also then find it really difficult to cut things out because I convince myself the story is incomplete if readers don’t know that Sally from next door has a Bichon Frise (she wanted a Dalmation but the house wasn’t big enough and she was worried about walking it three times a day with her dodgy knees). Anyway, needless to say, I was mainly really worried about the word count, but I did manage to get around this with a solution I think actually applies to people worried that 15,000 words would be too much. 

I decided to tackle the creative part of the dissertation in three separate chunks. My logic for this was that I could set a word count for each part. I knew that I’d obviously go over the word limit for each, but cutting 2,000 words out of three 4,000-word short stories was far less daunting. I know that my friends on the course also decided to think of it like this, because writing three short stories / chapters is far less frightening than a solid block of 12,000 words. Similarly, it helped to plan out the reflective part as three separate topics (you could include subheadings too if you’re feeling particularly exuberant). 

Another issue I had was actually choosing an idea. I was toying with the three fictional short stories, as this lent itself quite well to my idea of writing the creative piece in three separate chunks with a firm word count for each. It also, to be blunt, seemed easier than anything else because I’d done short stories for every assignment so far so I was quite used to them (they’d started to develop as little formulas). In the end I decided against this idea, as I wanted to do something that would force me to focus on an idea I’d had for some time.

My piece was part of a memoir I’d been planning for a while that focussed on the year my father was ill. I chose to do this because I was very interested in completing the memoir as a novel-length piece, and I hoped that getting 12,000 words of it out of the way would help. It formed the first part of the memoir, and I split it into three chapters (which then had mini chapters within them as I included flashbacks to my childhood as separate parts – spoiler, there’s a vaguely insecure Bichon Frise in it). This did indeed really help, and it was a project I’d been too intimidated to start sooner, but I was pleased to find that once I was into it, I really enjoyed writing it. 

The final challenge I’ll mention is the Reflective Commentary. I think this is often something people are less enthusiastic about in the assignments, but I cannot express enough how helpful writing my Reflective Commentary was, and how much it’s helped my Creative Writing (not just with this piece) since writing it. It was a real opportunity to research the genre and understand how to improve my work. It also helped me develop my writing, notice flaws and ‘bad habits’ I was repeating over and over and (although possibly unique to my work) really helped me to understand my feelings towards a difficult personal subject.

This last part isn’t necessarily advice, because I think (given how subjective Creative Writing is), you should definitely tackle your reflective commentary in a way that suits you, but I just thought I’d mention how I actually wrote mine. I completed a first draft (and by first I mean I wrote about nine first drafts, cried because I had to cut out 10,000 words, removed every single use of the words ‘thus’ and ‘indeed,’ found I then only had to cut out 3,000 words and continued to redraft), where I wrote out my research (including mentioning the books I’d read about the genre / subject matter, and the books I read within the genre, the primary texts). I then compared my written-out research to the first drafts I had of my creative piece. This meant a lot of redrafting of my creative piece, and I found it useful to track what I was changing in light of the research (I think I actually got really fancy about it and edited the document with track changes and added little comments about which bits of research led me to make them – this probably isn’t as revolutionary to you as it seemed to me at the time – pretty sure I went around for the rest of the week acting like I’d just invented Microsoft Word). All this redrafting did seem like a lot of work at the time, but it meant that the edits I was making were much more specific and effective. It also meant I then had to update my Reflective Commentary, literally copying and pasting my little comments and making them sort of make sense in the document (and removing ‘thus’ and ‘indeed’ from every single one). 

I hope this was helpful! Best of luck to all those doing the MA Creative Writing Dissertations this Summer, and to all embarking on longer writing projects – hopefully by the time you’ve finished, we’ll be out of quarantine. You could mention how the quarantine has affected your writing in the Reflective Commentary, although maybe it’ll be nice to focus on something other than Coronavirus, which takes up about 75% of my conversation at the moment. The other 25% are the words ‘thus’ and ‘indeed.’


About the author
Rosie Anderson grew up in the Midlands and currently works as an Editorial Assistant for the Environment and Sustainability list at Routledge. She studied at University of Leicester for both her undergraduate degree in English Literature, and her MA in Creative Writing. She enjoys reading and writing short stories and her first story published, Just a Cat by Fairlight Books in 2019. She has also had blogs published online by BEAT, a charity that supports people who have suffered from eating disorders.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Dorothy Lehane, "Bettbehandlung"




Dorothy Lehane is the author of four poetry publications: Bettbehandlung, (Muscaliet Press, 2018), Umwelt (Leafe Press, 2016), Ephemeris (Nine Arches Press, 2014), and Places of Articulation (dancing girl press 2014). She is currently engaging in a study exploring questions surrounding the social, ethical and perceptual implications of communicating the aberrant body in poetic practice. She is the founding editor of Litmus, and is interested in the tensions, challenges and outcomes arising from interdisciplinary engagement. She has read her work to audiences at Université Sorbonne, Ivy Writers, Paris, the Science Museum, the Wellcome Trust, the Barbican, the Roundhouse, BBC Radio Kent, and the Union Chapel, and has contributed on improvised collaborations, notably with synthesizer, Matthew Bourne. Recent poetry and reviews appear in Westerly Magazine, Glasfryn Project and Modern Philology.  She is the founding editor of Litmus Publishing and teaches Creative Writing at the University of Kent. Poems from her new sequence, House Girl, can be found here.




About Bettbehandlung

By Dorothy Lehane

My latest chapbook, Bettbehandlung, is a feminist re-visioning of historical and medical treatments of ‘hysterical’ female subjects and performative spaces of illness. Constructed out of my interest in issues of dependency and bodily propriety, the sequence marked a turning away from my own chronic autoimmune illness to encompass the historical treatment of women with chronic and acute mental illness. Bettbehandlung, then, is an elegiac love poem that entangles my critical research into the historical treatment of hysterical women with my chronic illness and personal life, allowing me to document my experience of witnessing my sister’s decline into mental illness. The creative practice became a way for me to cope with the depth and breadth of the loss of her mental health, as well as formulate some critical thinking on the public and private performance of illness. My aim was to look at these psychic and political terrains and unravel the embodied ramifications of what it means to use language to write about sickness and sick performances. The sequence engendered a set of questions: questions surrounding violence toward the marginalised, and the subjugated. Questions that connected with historical acts of diagnoses, issues of witnessing, and theories of agency within performance spaces.  I used the critical research surrounding the Salpêtrière hospital, and performance theory as a basis for this sequence. I appropriated the critical research surrounding the Salpêtrière hospital, and experimented with collage, scraps of registers and sources that collide and become messy or blur meaning in new contexts. 

The sequence entangles personal elements and testimonies from vulnerable subjects, as well as quotations from a number of critical and historical sources. It doesn’t follow a simple and sequential narrative. Instead, it uses multi-vocal contributions that prevent it from drawing too much on any one particular narrative. My own experience is mixed in: of being a chronically sick person; the somatic, psychological experience of living in the contemporary world modelled for the healthy sovereign body; of being related to someone mentally ill; of experiencing grief during my formative years. By admitting to a personal investment—as I write in the sequence “I am bound to the woman suffering” — I began to experience fantasies of protection and imagine what social love might look like. It enabled me to further interrogate the invisible vulnerability of sick subjects, and develop some thinking on what it means to be a “contingent” person in the world.

Bettbehandlung is available from Muscaliet Press here. Featured below are two poems from the collection. 




          


Monday, 11 May 2020

Neil Fulwood, "Can't Take Me Anywhere"



Neil Fulwood was born in Nottingham in 1972, where he still lives and works as a bus driver. He has published a media studies book The Films of Sam Peckinpah (Batsford), and co-edited and contributed to the tribute volume More Raw Material: Work Inspired by Alan Sillitoe. He has published two poetry pamphlets, Numbers Stations and The Little Book of Forced Calm, with The Black Light Engine Room Press, and two full collections, No Avoiding It and Can’t Take Me Anywhere, with Shoestring Press. 





About Can’t Take Me Anywhere

By Neil Fulwood

The title poem of my second collection was an in-joke between me and my wife, a phrase I’d use to account for my too-loud comments in public about politics and the state of the world, my tendency to kick against pretentiousness or elitism, even though expressions of the “pile of wank” variety are generally frowned upon in art galleries or amongst polite company. I’ve always been an opinionated little bugger, and that opinionism carries over into the poems in all of my published work.

My first full collection, No Avoiding It, was ordered into three sections: a ‘then and now’ sequence contrasting my childhood in the 1970s with the Nottingham of today; poems of work; and poems about pubs. The work poems were drawn from two and a half decades of generally pointless white collar jobs. Last year, I finally realised that the world of paperwork, make-work and office politics was untenable, chucked my job in the governance department of a healthcare facility, and trained as a bus driver. Best move I ever made. 

My latest collection, from which the featured poems below are drawn, is also in three sections but not as rigorously ordered as No Avoiding It. The first is threaded together by poems of driving, motion and travel; the second looks critically at Englishness and how recent political events have bastardised the concept of national identity; and the third acts as a counterbalance, containing poems of love and friendship as well as some lighter, knockabout pieces. I have chosen a piece from each section. 

For further details about the book, see the publisher's website here


Coast Road

Back-handed gusts of wind come off the water,
side-slam the car. I’m thinking of that poem by Heaney:
the heart caught off guard. I’ll trade that
for sharpened driving skills, on-point response
to the switchbacks and gradients of a road
supplemented with escape lanes – last-ditch
slow-downs for the brake-failed, the wheel-locked.

Earlier, the shoreline was a photo-opportunity:
a silver medal for the play of light on water;
crofters’ cottages, open land; the railway line
daring itself closer to the edge than the road.
Now: snow. Great driving flakes of it
from a grey-white sky. Push on? Turn back?
I’m thinking there’s no real difference.


England

Scratch the surface and fingernails snag
on Facebook posts arm-banded with hate.

Spade the earth with boot heel encouragement
and feel the bite-back of roots twisting whitely.

Christen the dull metal of the plough, drag
trenches through topsoil; repeat

till the land is scarred. Dig deeper. Sink holes.
Send Euclids rumbling into the depths of open cast.

Let shit-brown mud coat the yellow buckets
of JCBs. Unearth bones and broken skulls.


The World According to Dads

The system of the world
was plotted out in sheds and garages,
the odd codicil offered
from the earthy perspective
of an allotment.

The system was measured
in units roughly corresponding
to how far a thumb
and forefinger can be held apart;
about that much. The system,

in short, was a guesstimate
but a bloody good un.
The system was built on spare parts
and laths of pallet wood
nailed together. Duct tape was used

in plenitude. All the screws
were Philips head. That box of rawlplugs 
came in handy. The design flaws
in the system of the world
were mulled over on fag breaks

taken round the back
so your mam didn’t see. The system
was stripped down and rebuilt
and swearing was involved. 
Second time round, it worked.

The system of the world
was notarised by Messrs Black
and Decker, countersigned 
by those fine fellows Bosch and DeWalt.
There were oily thumbprints

on the paperwork.