Tuesday 23 July 2024

Abi Curtis, "The Headland"


Abi Curtis is Professor of Creative Writing at York St John University. She is the author of two poetry collections, Unexpected Weather (Salt, 2009) and The Glass Delusion (Salt, 2013) and a climate change novel Water & Glass (Cloud Lodge, 2017). She also edited Blood & Cord: Writers on Early Parenthood (Emma Press, 2023) and is currently working on a co-authored guide to Speculative Fiction. She has eclectic interests and has written and presented on subjects from motherhood to bees; ancient churches to the uncanny; squid to elegy and enjoys collaborating with artists and musicians. 

About The Headland
A novel about the dark gifts of grief, what it means to belong, and the possibility that time and space may not be what we think they are.

It is the morning following a devastating hurricane on England's south coast, and local painter Dolores is walking the shingle beach of the Headland. She spots something unusual lurking in a piece of driftwood - a color, a creature, perhaps something fostered by the twin forces of storm and atomic fallout. It's all anyone has been talking about, after all, just months after Chernobyl and in the shadow of the local nuclear power station.

Decades later, her son Morgan returns to the Headland to arrange for Dolores' funeral. The power station is about to be decommissioned, and the bleak landscape is best known now as a landing point for desperate immigrants from across the Channel. Morgan's girlfriend is pregnant - an unexpected revelation that he is not at all sure about - and he is especially keen to discover what he can from his mother's unusual cottage, especially about his father, whom he has never known. He uncovers the diary his mother wrote following the hurricane. It tells a story about Dolores and the strange being she discovers on the beach - a story which is both enthralling and heartrending. As he reads the journal, Morgan's own experiences of the Headland become increasingly inexplicable. The journal challenges Morgan's ideas about love and grief, parenthood and belonging, and the very fabric of time. As he unravels the mysteries of his mother's past, he must come to terms with his own origins and face the growing violence from those who would threaten the peace of the Headland.

You can read more about The Headland on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the novel. 

From The Headland, by Abi Curtis
I went to the library yesterday after work, looking for a better encyclopaedia than the old one I have here, to try to work out if there are any creatures like her anywhere. When I looked, I saw that Violet has the characteristics of a Humboldt squid, with its ability to change colour, flashing brightly in the sea depending on its moods. But then, she also has the proboscis of a moth, who uses it to taste the air. But she doesn’t have wings. The golden mole has iridescent fur, but it is not invisible. There are creatures that like very hot conditions, like camels, or weird bacteria called water bears, which live off thermal vents. These can also revert to a state of agelessness and defy the passage of time. Then, I looked at plant life. The violet flower: so many different species, some thriving where there is barely any soil. Her creeping legs which shift in and away from my perception as they move belong to nothing that I can identify. Only deep-sea creatures seem to possess this quality of transparency, the filaments of their nervous systems visible beneath their jelly-like skin. But these would be like deflated balloons outside of the water, and Violet has thrived on land for weeks now. I looked at insects, mammals, birds, cephalopods. Octopuses and squids have limbs that can perceive independently. Bees are especially attuned to the ultraviolet end of the spectrum, which humans cannot see, and so attracted by white and purple flowers. They communicate by vibration and strong smell, and movement. The bookworm, which is really a beetle, eats mould, glue and the bindings of books, only incidentally devouring the paper. Moths do that too. Some butterflies like decaying matter and live near graves …

I made a list of notes like a student cramming for a weird exam. Then, I looked at another section of the library. Next to the Science Fiction were titles like Top Secret and The Many Types of Luminous Sky Phenomena, Alien Life, and We are not Alone: Alien Abduction Cases. Some had facsimile documents from places like the FBI with chunks redacted in black ink, alien autopsy photos and pilot accounts of disc- or orb-like vessels. Sketches from abduction ‘victims’ of thin grey men with big black screen eyes. If Violet is not of this world, she is not this kind of alien.

Thursday 4 July 2024

Run Your Tongue: Spoken Word Night

By Rob Reeves

My friend Bethany Patience started Run Your Tongue in 2012 in Kettering, but it was rather short-lived after we both moved away. I then spent six months in Paris, where I began performing at a spoken word night. When I returned home, I missed performing regularly and decided to start RYT back up in Kettering, following a similar format to the night in France. We moved to the Three Cocks Inn, which was home to us for over five years. We had some great nights there with headliners such as Atilla the Stockbroker, Jess Green and Jonah Matranga.  

During the lockdowns of 2020, I began to hold Run Your Tongue online, which allowed me to connect with poets from all over the world. When we were able to have live events again, I asked Rosa Fernandez to become my co-host, and we moved to an art gallery in Leicester for a year before settling at our current home at Watson’s Cocktail Bar on Granby Street, Leicester. We’ve welcomed a couple of poets we met during the online Zoom days to headline in real life: Jeff Cottrill all the way from Canada and Clive Oseman all the way from Swindon.

The Leicester poetry scene is really thriving, and there are some great other nights, each with its own flavour. Word! is the most well-known and longest-running, Some-Antics is a really fun and popular night, and Get Mouthy is a great new night at the Big Difference. In fact, last month, Word! invited a host from each of the other nights to headline at their event. The whole scene is really supportive and collaborative. We try to make sure our events don’t clash, and we always try to support each other’s events when we can.  

We try to make RYT welcoming and don’t take ourselves too seriously, which I hope helps people feel at ease. I know how hard it is to get up and perform – I used to be absolutely terrified of public speaking and would avoid it at all costs, so I know that just getting up on stage is a win. I always say that anything goes at our events as long as it involves words. While most performers read and perform poetry, we also welcome comedians, singer-songwriters and storytellers. It’s a great place to try out new material to a welcoming crowd.

I always wanted to keep RYT accessible to all, so it’s always been pay-as-you-feel. However, we still believe in paying our headliners, especially if they have come from further afield. Everything we take on the door goes to them, and we also hold the world-famous Rob’s Raffle in the hope of raising a little more. Sometimes it’s difficult to balance paying our headliners with making the night accessible to everyone, but we somehow have made it work for over a decade.

Our events are usually on the first Thursday of the month, but we are holding them bi-monthly until the end of the year. We have an extra event in October with Cathi Rae, and there might even be a special event in the summer.  

The night has taken many forms over the years in various venues, and even when it takes a break for a while, it always returns. I’m really proud of the night, and I know that as long as people keep coming down, I’ll keep putting it on.   

If you’d like to stay updated with events, please follow our Instagram and Facebook pages. Our next event is with Ciarán Hodgers on Thursday, July 4th. 

About the author
Rob Reeves is a poet and musician based in Leicester. Rob started writing poetry in 2012 while taking his MA in English at the University of Leicester, where he is now studying for his PhD in Creative Writing.

Monday 1 July 2024

Cathi Rae, "Just This Side of Seaworthy and Other Poems" and "Rock, Paper, Scissors and Other Poems"

Congratulations to UoL PhD Creative Writing student Cathi Rae, who has just published two new poetry pamphlets!

Cathi Rae is a poet, spoken word artist and educator. She is currently in the final stages of a practice led/creative PhD at the University of Leicester, where she was also a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing. She has performed throughout the UK, including readings at Womad Festival, The Houses of Commons, Chiltern Arts Festival and many spoken word and poetry events up and down the M1 and M6. She has just published two new pamphlets of poetry with Two Pigeons Press: Just This Side of Seaworthy and Other Poems, and Rock, Paper, Scissors and Other Poems. You can read about these two new collections and a sample poem from each below.  

About Just This Side of Seaworthy and Other Poems, by Cathi Rae
Just This Side of Seaworthy and Other Poems is a pamphlet collection which explores ageing, ageism and how older people navigate the world. It challenges the ageist notions that older people have less validity or become invisible.

From Just This Side of Seaworthy and Other Poems

Just this side of seaworthy

I could be  you
another older woman    our bodies bearing 
one carefully cherished child

just the one
no time to make another
no time to try again

I was akin to you     almost kin to you
recognising this stony skerry
where you stand                washed up
I too have swum these currents

tides that trick and tease
entice you on towards the shore

I feel your           unsteady      steps
across a beach
a beach in name alone
black blasted rock ground down to grey
I avoided this      this destination    this depression
with frantic paddling     bailing out
keeping my head above the water
watching you and those like you
who submerged beneath the sea 
and emerging
found themselves      sea changed

the boat    the tides    the landing
repeat    repeat        repeat
a life on endless loop
your coracle
just this side of seaworthy
crafted from a faded photograph

gives up the ghost and floats in-land
oars that drop and drift away

your gasping    grasping breath 
presence of pain    still presence of a sort
knocked backwards   you attempt to stand again

fingers clutch at the last remaining 
half remaining    almost-memory  of     croft  wall
grip slipping on moss slick stone
peering out to sea     myopic     in mist that never lifts

and on this chain that reaches back
to meet the mainland
I’m standing on another island
larger     the trees a little taller 
hints of green and growth
holding on
hoping     knowing    
that this must pass.

About Rock, Paper, Scissors and Other Poems, by Cathi Rae
Rock, Scissors, Paper and Other Poems is a taster selection from my PhD work, a collection of poems based on conversations and interviews with individuals who shared their lived experience with me.

From Rock, Scissors, Paper and Other Poems

Brick Dust

You tell me about the brick fields 
where red dust earth and red brick dust become impossible to separate 
and paint the little boys in red dust too 
little boys who work for food 
and you tell me what happens to little boys who work for food 
and now I can’t unknow that 
You tell me about the onion factory 
where you peeled skins and were in turn 
unpeeled yourself 
and as we talk I’m crying onion tears 
and I try to keep the sobs inside and silent 
as you too must have done when you were small 
You tell me about the coming here 
boys packed into room too tight 
to house so many bodies 
you sent that hard-earnt money home 
planned triumphant returns full pockets and a sharp new suit 
until one day home was here but never truly here and no longer there 
You tell me about marriage love and madness 
times when you were racked with shame 
but didn’t have the words to name the fears in any language 
but Djiin or ghost seems closest 
the boy you used to be 
still haunts this broken self 
You tell me about love 
your wife become a tree in whose shade you hide 
shelter from a burning sun and later still the British rain 
your children never hungry safe you say and loved 
their lives a world away 
from red dust brick dust onion peeled boys

Tuesday 18 June 2024

The MA in Creative Writing: Some Advice from Past Students

Starting a new course can be daunting, challenging, and this is especially the case for a high-level programme like an MA in Creative Writing. So we've brought together advice from some past students, for people who are thinking of doing the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. You can read their advice below, and you can find out more about the MA in Creative Writing, which is still open to applications for this Autumn, here. The course is open to part-time and full-time students. 

Advice from Past Students 

"Read widely and feverishly. Read the set texts, read the optional texts, read related texts. Read novels and short stories that have nothing to do with the course. Learn from them and welcome inspiration"  (Sam Dawson). 

"What I loved most about the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester was the variation of the modules, so my main piece of advice would be: never limit yourself and don't be afraid to try something new, as daunting as that can be. Also, read widely, write as much as you can, learn to give and receive feedback, go to events such as Literary Leicester and open-mic sessions, connect with students from other courses, integrate yourself into the local community and always keep a notebook with you for those ideas that pop up when you're least expecting them to!" (Laura Besley). 

"If you're neurodiverse you can expect to find patience and understanding. I certainly found this. It doesn't mean you won't be challenged, you will. However you can expect to leave the course a better writer than you went into it" (Constantine). 

"I almost didn’t sign up for the MA in Creative Writing. I was concerned that, as a mature student, I might feel out of place, but I decided to go for it, and it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. My advice to prospective students is to write outside your comfort zone and experiment with genres. That is what I did, with the support of the amazing tutors, and I came away with a memoir, a stage play, an array of poetry and pages of ideas to be developed. My only regret is that I can’t do it all over again" (Rosalind Adam).

"Soak it all up, attend every session and allow time to hang out at the library and with your MA peers. If you're back in education after some time out, know that everything will be fine within weeks and you'll thank yourself for signing up for this course!" (Karen Rust). 

"As a writer, you're private for so long with these characters and scenes and words, and then you go public. It's quite the contrast. Yet critique and feedback on the work creates a lingering conversation, and helps you get a clearer sense of words on the page" (Lee Wright).

"The MA in Creative Writing at Leicester gives you the freedom to experiment with your writing regarding content, genre, form and audience whilst giving you the tools to hone your craft to make your work the best it can be. My biggest piece of advice would be to really experiment with what you want to write during this time – nothing is off limits – and to take the time to appreciate the different parts of the process of a single idea from conception, redrafting, editing and finally finding its place in the world. A great part of this process is sharing your work with other students as readers and fellow writers along the way - I really encourage you do that as much as you can. Also, take advantage of the wonderful members of staff that are ever so supportive and bubbling with curiosity. They’re always so happy to read things and offer really insightful and constructive / productive feedback" (Amirah Mohiddin).

"My best advice is to remember that each piece of writing is a learning opportunity, whether you end up loving it or shelving it. Writing slumps are normal, and it's okay to ask for help if you're ever struggling. During my course, my lecturers and peers were a huge source of support and helped me produce some of my best writing. Also, remember to have fun and write what you enjoy! (Millie Henson).

"I was a nervous writer before I took the MA in Creative writing, and worked in isolation, unsure of my abilities. The best thing about taking is this course is finding your craft and gaining confidence in your words" (Tracey Foster).

"The tutor support both challenged and affirmed me. It helped the quality of my writing improve from when I first started the course. I was introduced to sources I'd never considered before, both in and out of the classroom. An enriching experience, the MA was one of the best things I've done. Be open-minded, learn from those around you, see what you do / don't have in common. I wrote this poem (below) inspired by my experience early on the MA" (Tionee Joseph).



My life was always this way,
Always in a group of people drawn together by chance,
The only thing in common,
Is that we signed our names on the same dotted line.
I get you: you get me.
Minds alike,
The flow unblocked.
My people,
My tribe,
My community.

- Tionee Joseph

Wednesday 12 June 2024

Megan Taylor, "We Wait"


Megan Taylor is the author of four dark novels, How We Were Lost, The Dawning, The Lives of Ghosts and We Wait, a haunted house horror. She has also had many short stories published, some of which are included in her collection, The Woman Under the Ground. Her next novel, a psychological thriller, The Therapist’s Daughter, is due out from Bloodhound Books in September 2024 and she’s working towards a second short story collection. Megan lives in Nottingham. She has been running fiction workshops and courses for over ten years. For more information, please visit her website here

About We Wait, by Megan Taylor
The wealthy Crawleys can’t abide a scandal, so when fifteen-year-old Maddie’s behaviour causes concern, she’s packed off to the family’s country estate, along with her best friend, Ellie. But while Maddie is resentful, Ellie is secretly thrilled. A whole summer at Greywater House, which she’s heard so much about, and with Maddie, who she adores …

But from the moment the girls arrive, it’s clear there’s more to the house and the family than Ellie could ever have imagined. Maddie’s aunt, Natalie, and her bedridden grandmother are far from welcoming – and something has been waiting at Greywaters, something that flits among the shadows and whispers in the night.

As the July heat rises and the girls’ relationship intensifies, the house’s ghosts can’t be contained and it isn’t just Ellie who has reason to be afraid. Three generations of the Crawley family must face their secrets when past and present violently collide.

You can read more about We Wait here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the novel. 

From We Wait
The woods were crowding so close when Ellie woke that, at first, she thought she’d dreamt her way right through to dusk. Before she’d allowed her eyes to shut, they’d been driving past white-walled villages and golden fields, the lazy spin of wind turbines on a hazy hill. Now there was nothing beyond the car but trees. They made a tunnel of the road, reaching out with fringed branches to brush the roof and overpowering the Beetle’s air conditioning with their rich, sweet breath. Ellie remembered Maddie mentioning the woods around Greywaters. Maybe they were nearly there? But there was no sign of a house, just those stretching limbs, the endless leaves …

All that green was dizzying; Ellie rubbed a sweaty hand across her face. Her head was still thick with sleep, her body aching, her shoulders stiff from holding herself apart from Maddie, who was sitting in the cramped back seat beside her.

Maddie didn’t return her gaze. She remained bowed over Ellie’s phone, half-hidden by her hair, a perfectly straightened auburn wing. She’d been that way for hours, ignoring everything but the mobile, which she’d grabbed from Ellie as soon as she climbed into the car. In the driver’s seat, Maddie’s mother continued to fume. 

Ellie could see Sara’s narrowed eyes in the rear-view mirror, and her mouth, sucked tight. But though she’d chewed off most of her lipstick, Sara hadn’t exploded yet. Perhaps she’d given up? It had been almost a month since she’d confiscated Maddie’s phone. 

Briefly, Ellie considered exploding for her, snatching the mobile from her best friend’s fingers, yanking the window open and hurling it out. Instead, she leant towards Sara, trying to think of something harmless to say, and that’s when she saw the girl.

A girl standing in front of them, in the centre of the road. 

Standing very still, as if stunned or waiting, framed by the green, the trees, like a girl in a picture.

A moment ago, the road had been clear. The girl must have come scrambling out of the woods, though the verges looked impenetrable, the trees bound with nettles, their thick branches entwining. The bright July sky reduced to a scattering of stained-glass pieces overhead.

Caught in the canopy’s shade, the girl didn’t appear to be crossing. She wasn’t moving at all.

Monday 10 June 2024

Penny Boxall, "The Curiosities"


Penny Boxall is a poet and children’s writer who has worked in various museums. She won the 2016 Edwin Morgan Poetry Award with her debut collection, Ship of the Line. She is writer in residence at Wytham Woods, University of Oxford, and was visiting Research Fellow in the Creative Arts at Merton College in 2019. She has held Royal Literary Fund Fellowships at the Universities of York and Cambridge, and is an RLF Bridge Fellow. She created new works for Tartu and Bodo Capitals of Culture 2024. Her debut novel for children is forthcoming in 2025. Her website is here.  

Penny's new poetry pamphlet, The Curiosities, is published by New Walk Editions, which is co-edited by Nick Everett, Associate Professor of American Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. 


About The Curiosities, by Penny Boxall
How do we remember and memorialise when we’re not at all sure what we have just experienced? How do we know our own minds when we find ourselves by turns reflected and obscured? The poems in this pamphlet are like artefacts in a half-forgotten museum: records of how life once was, or might have been.

You can read more about The Curiosities on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two sample poems from the collection. 


From The Curiosities


I see her, evenings, in the new retirement flats
near my mother’s house. The curtains
are always open, or there are no curtains,
and so no mystery. She’s young for there.
She sits on the neat sofa, ankles crossed,
or writes neat letters at the bureau.
Sometimes there is a glass of champagne,
a single orchid. There are never visitors
I have suspicions. The space is as anonymous
as a brochure: not a particle on the carpet;
cards wishing her a happy something
lined up faultless on the mantelpiece.
Easier to think she’s on the payroll, Equity Card
tucked inside her model’s-own purse.
Easier that than to accept she really lives
like this: all lights up, nothing to hide.

Conservation Status

Least concern                            More than you can shake a stick at
Near threatened                         Enough for you to shake a stick at
Vulnerable                                  I wish you would put that stick down
Endangered                               Can’t see the wood for the trees
Critically endangered                 What is the sound of a tree falling
Extinct in the wild                       What is the sound of no trees falling
Extinct                                        What is a tree

Friday 7 June 2024

Serge ♆ Neptune, "Mother Night"


Serge ♆ Neptune, photo by Sofia Falconi

Serge ♆ Neptune has been called "the little merman of British poetry." He is a Faber Academy alumnus and a queer neuro-divergent poet based in London. His first pamphlet, These Queer Merboys, was published with Broken Sleep (2020). His work was longlisted in the National Poetry Competition and the Winchester Poetry Competition. Several poems have appeared in The North, Propel, The Rialto, Banshee, Magma, Fourteen Poems, and elsewhere. 

Cover Image ©Kremena Chipilova, "Lost in Reverie"

About Mother Night
Mother Night is a hallucinogenic journey across a city with too many alleyways and across a life surviving childhood sexual assault. Forming a nocturnal séance, Serge ♆ Neptune resurrects abusive old lovers and ghosts of the queers of the past – conjures men in cars and men in bedrooms – providing them invitation and shelter, or casting them to stormy waves.

In a book of many types of darkness – across poems of vulnerability and harm – what persists in Mother Night is its celebration of resilience, what shines brightest is the many ways it reaches for the light.

From Mother Night, by Serge ♆ Neptune

my block of flats on the new cross rd
is now a giant record player. memories
crackle from afar. graffiti from the sides

of houses leave the walls, join
the parade of the reckless. night is a bag
of marbles dropped – each one rolling

over cars & people. i succumb
to their pace & weight, their love-tight gripe,
brace & crumble under the pressure

of the encounter. maybe this city
indulges us because it needs to – mother
swan devouring her cygnets – to keep

its foot on us, to cook us slowly.
gravity trips me, i fall. night drips red-hot
on the brain, lifts visions from its marshes.

i squeeze my body to define
my territory against a hostile world. i believe
in my mistakes. i carry them out proudly

like a pair of eyes on a purple glass dish –
my head, crowned with candles.