Saturday 31 December 2016

Review by Annalise Garrett of "The End" ed. Ashley Stokes

It is inevitable that there will be a moment in our lives where we will think the end is near, whether the thought is triggered boarding a plane, watching a loved one die of old age or an accident, or even those close calls that make you question how you survived such an event. Fifteen Endings to Fifteen Paintings is a project by Nicolas Ruston to explore how an art form can operate through different media, as described in the introduction of the book The End, edited by Ashley Stokes. The book consists of fifteen interpretations by writers who have chosen one painting each by Ruston. Each painting is ambiguous with few hints towards the genre of the short story that follows it. 

Every chapter captures the emotional response of its writer, inspired by a black and white etching by Ruston. ‘The End’ is first seen as a large, dominating white text situated in the centre of each painting, and is also the central theme for the fifteen narratives that follow each painting. Fifteen detailed, uncomfortable, thought-provoking narratives present a multitude of emotions. Some paintings are much clearer than others in that they present us with a familiar object, hinting what the story that follows will entail. Each painting is then crafted into words, as it were, to arouse feelings of anxiety, or nostalgia in the reader, or even perhaps to draw the reader into the writer’s paranoia and vision of ‘The End’.

There, of course, are chapters you connect with and are more drawn to than others – paintings and stories that speak to your unconscious mind, your own anxiety and experience with more power than others. There were times where I felt suffocated, uncomfortable when reading certain stories. The stories vary in style and content. The power behind chosen sentence structure and word choice changed my mood and at times I had to put the book down to walk away for a moment before returning to complete the story. Even now I am reminded of the stress I felt on one particular interpretation of a painting. Each story, each memory presented a new thought, a new location, a new passage to the end of something, whether it is life or opinion, whether it is the narrator’s life or someone they are observing. Something ends, even if it is the fictional story itself.

On finishing each story, my attention was drawn back to the beginning of the chapter – the image of ‘The End’. At times the first few lines of a story directly connected image to text, or sometimes it was the final sentence or idea, or even the story as a whole. Back and forth I flicked from painting to word, from chapter to chapter; I sometimes understood the connections, and sometimes I was so caught in the narrative I forgot the painting. There are recurrent themes – such as reference to someone dying, something or someone leaving, or even a habit abandoned. In this way, the reader is teased by the notion of the end throughout. I felt a constant anticipation to find out what will end, who will end and even why.

When each story ended I found myself back to comparing the painting to the words, or the memory, the narrative, the character or setting. Stokes is right in saying the book never ends and you will re-read it: I have read it twice and I want to read it again. When walking in the street or around the house I picture my surroundings like the painting, a black and white etching telling me a story, an end; I text my family and friends more often now than before. The End: Fifteen Endings to Fifteen Paintings made me think about my situation, my thoughts, and I hope others look at these painting by Ruston and their interpreters’ stories. 

About the reviewer

Annalise is a student in her third year at the University of Leicester, studying BA English. She is currently on an Erasmus year abroad at Utrecht University in the Netherlands. Outside of her studies Annalise paints and writes as a hobby, hoping to use her degree to work towards a career within the art industry. 

Friday 30 December 2016

Review by Ariane Dean of "Trysting" by Emmanuelle Pagano

When looking back on any relationship, whether it be with a partner or a much-loved friend, there are small moments that may seem insignificant, or may seem hugely important, but that nevertheless stay with us long after that person has left our lives. Emmanuelle Pagano’s book, Trysting, is a love song to the small moments, whether they are good or bad. Not so much a collection of short stories, but gathered snippets from people’s lives, written first in French and entitled Nouons-nous, it has since been translated into English by Jennifer Higgins and Sophie Lewis. The book is published in English by And Other Stories, and in the original French by P.O.L.

Every passage is short, the longest being around a page and half, the shortest just one line. This approach gives one the feeling of dipping into someone’s memories, exploring their past, and examining the responses that they may not have given at the time. Each piece is beautifully crafted, and even the bad times are recounted in a steady, calm manner, providing reflection and peace to experiences of great emotion.  The little tales are deeply nostalgic, a glimpse inside the mind of a stranger.

What I adored about this book was that nearly all the passages were non-gender specific. The stories are told in first person, and while they reference pronouns for their partner, the speaker tells little about themselves, enabling the reader to easily input their own personality and experiences into the story. Sometimes it feels like a friend confessing something they had long kept bottled up, other times it is something you yourself had half forgotten. Each passage works in a new object, place, or time, and finds new meaning in simplicity.

Although the stories are unrelated, there is a strong sense of them being tied together, with an underlying theme of the strengths and weaknesses of human nature. The people in these stories seem very real – they are dealing with ordinary worries and loves. However, Pagano’s beautiful writing and the incredible translation makes them seem vastly more important. There are lines that stayed with me for a long time after I had finished reading, and sections that I read aloud to my partner that conveyed ideas far better than I ever could.

My final thoughts on Trysting are that it was unexpectedly comforting. I had expected after the first few stories to find them sad, a little heart-breaking. Dipping in and out and reading a few little stories every now and then, I discovered that the book makes one feel much less lonely in traversing the difficult points in human relationships. Emmanuelle Pagano’s calm, measured approach to the uneasy things that could be made dramatic far simpler, and I closed the book feeling surprisingly much better than when I went in.

About the reviewer
Ariane Dean is a third year student at the University of Leicester, studying English. She has written theatre and comedy reviews for Buxton Fringe Festival over the last three years, and is working on editing past NaNoWriMo attempts to try and make them readable.

Thursday 22 December 2016

"Letter to Santa" - a poem by Malka Al-Haddad

Letter to Santa 

Dear Santa,
When you arrive on Christmas Eve could you please bring back our dreams that have been stolen 
My school
my friends 
that became ashes under fire

The roof of our house 
The smell of Mum and Dad

Why they left me without goodbye
there was a green garden, a Ferris wheel, 
ice cream vans 
shadow of lovers 

Nothing left for us ... 
only the stench of death 

Santa - how you can find the smile of childhood 
that has been buried underground 
without shrouds 
without a funeral 
without a farewell.

Please Santa take back your precious gifts and give me back only my home and peace.

Dear Santa, 
sorry that your children are now not here any more 

Sorry Santa 
your children have become men in wartime  
and their toys are guns and their ecstasy is the smell of gunpowder. 

About the author

Malka Al-Haddad is an Iraqi academic who has lived in Britain since 2012. She is a member of the Union of Iraqi Writers, Director of the Women's Centre for Arts and Culture in Iraq, and an activist with Leicester City of Sanctuary. 

Tuesday 13 December 2016

Review by Alyson Morris of "I Had It In Me" by Leonie Orton

(This review is also published on Everybody's Reviewing here).

Leonie Orton’s memoir, I Had It In Me, is an autobiographical account of a difficult upbringing, intertwined with quotations from plays by her famous brother, Joe Orton.

Authors of autobiographies rarely grip readers - unless there are intricate and emotional details of human thoughts, such as those brilliantly conceived by Colm Toibin, or augmented with shattering descriptions of poverty and human survival, such as those created by Frank McCourt. Delightfully, Leonie Orton’s exposés hit hard. They capture the emotional damage caused by a loveless mother-daughter relationship, and define her early life with such disturbing detail and force, that readers will undoubtedly wrap their arms around little Leonie and hold on tight.

As a fan of Joe Orton’s sardonic accounts of life, I can see where all that cynicism came from. Younger sister, Leonie Orton, describes their upbringing with candor, and dishes out multiple servings of pathos for the reader to vividly imagine being right in the thick of it. Their mother, Elsie, who is by far the most dominant and captivating character (in a disturbing sense), is a callous, selfish and downright cruel mother and wife. She may have dished out a morsel of love to her sons, but her wickedness towards her daughters and the bullying of her ‘weak’ husband, will afford no pity from readers. Yet Elsie is a compelling read, and is sadly missing from the second half of the book.

Throughout Leonie’s story you will become increasingly compassionate towards her. You will become exposed to her tragic young life at Fayrhurst Road and then Trenant Road council estates, and watch her struggles with education so that she ends up with little choice but to work in factories. Enjoyably, the author’s memories of this time are highlighted with quotes from Joe Orton’s plays such as Entertaining Mr Sloane and What the Butler Saw. These references demonstrate links between his characters and members of his family, and expose the damaging influences of Leonie’s childhood, which has ignited a cynicism and wit that she shares with her brother.

As the autobiography evolves, you hear how Leonie struggled but succeeded in forcing herself out of Elsie’s template, into education, and finally into love. The second half of the book, triggered by the tragic death of her brother, quickens in pace. It also lacks the references to play scripts and Elsie. Despite the unsavoury depictions of Elsie, her absence is felt. And Joe Orton’s accounts of human behaviour linked to Leonie’s life are also missed. One powerful message in this part of the story is that we grow with Leonie. She moves from higher education into better jobs, and finds love with John Foster. Sadly, the affair ends in another tragic death, this time at the expense of the NHS, rather than Joe’s murder being at the expense of his lover.

As the final section of the book emerges, the pace slows again as Leonie appears comfortable with the re-introduction of brother, Joe. The final chapter is real page-turner, like reading Leonie’s accounts of her mother. The last pages take you on a journey with Leonie while she searches for the missing pages from Joe’s London diary. These pages are said to expose the reasons for his death in 1967.

Leonie now runs the Orton Estate and is often interviewed about her brother. She should now be interviewed as an author. She did have it in her, and I hope that we hear from this author again. I also hope that she now has all the love she can get.

About the reviewer
Alyson Morris is the Course Director for English and Creative Writing at Coventry University. She teaches modules for writing picture books, theatre and radio scripts and travel articles. Alyson writes poetry and short fiction, is Executive Editor of the Coventry Words magazine, and is currently studying for a PhD in creative nonfiction at the University of Leicester.


Monday 21 November 2016


The other week, the MA in Creative Writing students went on a visit to New Walk Museum and Gallery Leicester. The students were all asked to write Ekphrastic poems, based on paintings, artefacts or sculptures in the galleries. Rosalind Adam wrote the following poem and accompanying notes about the painting Messiah by Ernst Neuschul:


           After Messiah, Ernst Neuschul, 1919

The symmetry of sunbeams
across angular mountains
that hypnotic manic stare

finger on fourth chakra
body proud
yoga honed
the conceit
of youthful talent

before Juden war Verboten
before the daub of swastikas
before the last train out of Prague

                                                                                                         Rosalind Adam

Research Notes by Rosalind Adam

This painting is part of Leicester New Walk Museum’s German Expressionist Collection. At first glance I mistook it to be representative of Hitler Youth and the Führer’s hoped-for Aryan race. I looked up Ernst Neuschul on the Leicester Museum website and discovered that ‘an exhibition of his paintings was closed down by the Nazis. Because of his Jewish birth and radical political opinions Neuschul also lost his teaching post’ (

I made notes about his movements before the Second World War, his relocation from Poland during the 1st World War and on to Berlin to study at the Berlin Academy of Arts during the volatile period between the wars.

On the web page about the painting itself, it talks of Neuschul taking an interest in ‘Freudian psychoanalysis, sexual liberation, spiritualism and yoga’ ( The reference to yoga reminded me that his finger was on a chakra point. I checked exactly which chakra this was. The 4th chakra is the heart chakra and some believe it to be the most powerful of all the chakras: ‘It’s at this chakra that we start to see the possibilities of the internal and external world…the world of spirit and form.’ ( The finger on the heart chakra gave me a lead into the kind of poem that I wanted to write. That and the title that he had chosen for his self-portrait suggested that he was confident in his own talent and had plans and dreams for greater things. He did not know when he completed this painting in 1919 how disastrous things would become for anyone of Jewish birth or political views that would oppose the Naze regime.

Once I had written a rough draft I decided that, as this was about a piece of Pre-WW2 Expressionist Art and as I had begun the poem talking about symmetry, I would attempt to create a symmetrical layout of the stanzas. I removed all the punctuation from the first two stanzas but played around with putting full stops at the end of each line in the final stanza to represent full stops in his, and so many other people’s, lives. This did not work for the poem and so I finally removed all the punctuation.

The website talks about Neuschul getting the last train out of Czechoslovakia. I have always heard of this train being called the ‘last train out of Prague’ and so this is how I referred to it, especially as it has a more satisfying scan.

Monday 7 November 2016

The Angel of Welford Road

Last week, the MA Creative Writing students went on a field trip to Welford Road Cemetery. Lauren Foster took these photos of a headless angel in the cemetery:

 Photo by Lauren Foster

Photo by Lauren Foster

Subsequently, Lauren wrote a spoken-word poem, "The Angel of Welford Road," which you can listen to here.

Wednesday 2 November 2016

Magical Mystery Tour 2

Here are some more photos of the walk in Leicester which the MA students went on the other week. Earlier photos and a poem were posted here.

 "A! U!" (photo by Lauren Foster)

"Colour Coordinated" (photo by Lauren Foster) 

 "Ferries Not Frontex" (photo by Lauren Foster)

 "Ghosts of Footballs" (photo by Lauren Foster)

 "Let Me In" (photo by Lauren Foster)

 "Lonesome Sandal" (photo by Lauren Foster)

 "No money for old rope" (photo by Lauren Foster)

 "On the cards" (photo by Lauren Foster)

 "Useless roadcone" (photo by Lauren Foster)

 "What's that secret you're keeping?" (photo by Lauren Foster)

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Saffron Lane

(Saffron Lane estate, 1927)

Congratulations to third-year English with Creative Writing student, Yasmin Musse, whose poem, "Saffron Lane," has just been published in the online magazine I Am Not A Silent Poet. You can read it here

Thursday 20 October 2016

Magical Mystery Tour

Yesterday, the students on the MA in Creative Writing went on a "magical mystery tour" in Leicester. Here is a kind of scrapbook of some of the strange, banal, familiar, unfamiliar, uncanny things we all saw ...

Pub Wisdom (photo by JT)
Pub Décor - perhaps an allusion to Francis Bacon's Screaming Popes? (photo by JT)
"All property is theft" (Proudhon) (photo by JT)
Frames ready for the wall art (photo by JT)
Very dangerous roofs (photo by JT) 
Wall poetry (photo by JT) 
Post-alley party (photo by Rosalind Adam)
Aspirations (photo by Rosalind Adam).
Rosalind Adam drafted the following poem, inspired by the last photograph:

A row of flats above grey garages
where grey sheets hang
along grey passages
high above the plot where
once unwilling boys,
11+ failures,
were crammed in
crammed with
knowledge they’d never use,
so now they live
in flats above grey garages
and hang their grey sheets
along grey passages.

Review by Eliot John of "Welcome to Leicester", edited by Emma Lee and Ambrose Musiyiwa

Imagine a puzzle of Leicester… large and colourful and made up of a thousand tiny, intricate pieces. Now, imagine that you’ve just emptied out the contents of the puzzle-box. The image is scattered and broken, beautiful and diverse.

Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016) is a Wonderland in poetry form. From the Contents you are transported on a zig-zagged journey through the city, as if you were viewing it from Willy Wonka’s Great Glass Elevator. You jump from ‘Granby Street’ to ‘Western Road’ and back to ‘Highfields’ in only a handful of titles. A few big names also stand out, Richard III is there, of course, and Shakespeare, then there’s Picasso placed nicely in the middle and obviously a number of Leicester City footie fans.

Where do I start? Let’s begin as Alice did in her Wonderland - straight down the rabbit hole. The Leicester equivalent is the notorious carpark, the resting place of an infamous king. 'King Richard of Leicester' is an incredibly witty, fast-paced poem that gives you the low down on Richard and his great discovery. Colin Cook is that teacher you had in school who made history fun and relatable. You would leave class thinking 'Mr. Cook is so strange, isn’t he?' but you’d still be laughing and quoting the poem all the way home.
Rob Gee also mentions ‘some dead bones of a dead bloke in a carpark’ in his piece 'On Leicester Winning Premiership.' This poem is like being a VIP at the Mad Hatter’s tea party, only with Vardy-bombs instead. It perfectly portrays the elation felt within the community after the grand win. It is an adrenaline-filled ode to the club. I challenge you not to tear up by the end.
Julia Wood shows us a different side to Leicester in 'Fosse Park, After Dark.' I wouldn’t dare to read this one after dark. ‘Concrete ghosts’ will haunt your dreams and leave you breathless.
You cannot help but admire Leicester after reading this anthology. It’s an odd mix of poems on history, food, scenery, ethnicity, festivals, sport and more. But hey, that’s Leicester for you.

About the reviewer
Eliot John is a poet and creative writer from Leicester who specialises in spoken word and flash fiction. Eliot regularly hosts burlesque shows in the city for The Leicester Vixens and is renowned for their witty and dark approach to life. Recurring themes that are explored in their work include loss of identity, sexuality, ethics, and the vices of modern culture.

Saturday 1 October 2016

Induction Day, by Rosalind Adam

An MA in Creative Writing? At my age? What would the other students think? What would they see when they looked at me? After a stern pep-talk from Daughter and a third outfit change I was ready to face them all.

On campus I was surrounded by students wearing red lanyards, bearing their plastic encoded ID. It was over 30 years since I had graduated from Leicester University. There were no plastic encoded cards in those days, never mind lanyards around people’s necks. Doors were opened with keys, metal ones, and our student ID card was just that, a card, folded into a booklet with our photograph stuck inside. I still have my old ones and have been known to use them as after-dinner entertainment. It was the hair. Year 1 shows me with straight, dare I say, boring hair. In Year 2 it had become a little more ruffled but by Year 3 I was sporting a full-blown, shoulder-length, curly perm, chestnut black with a hint of red.

Just the sight of all those red lanyards made me childishly enthusiastic at the thought of sporting my very own. The large hall in the Charles Wilson Building was set up as a temporary ID issue point. From the door I could see members of staff handing over lanyards with the regularity of a car production line but, as I entered the hall, I was stopped by a security guard.

“Can I help you, Madam?”

“I’ve come to collect my ID card.”

“You mean, you’re collecting one for somebody else?”

My eyes narrowed. “No, it’s for me.” I was trying to keep the anger from my voice.

“Oh!” he said. “How…”

“Don’t!” I snapped but he continued anyway.

“How very brave of you. Well done.”

I was lost for a suitably stinging retort.

“I’m doing an MA!” I barked as if that explained it all, as if there was anything that needed explaining. I thrust my head up and strode past him into the hall. I queued at the wrong desk and then, lanyard hanging awkwardly around my neck, tried to exit through the entrance door. It took a coffee, a strong one, for me to half-recover but I was still seething. I needed a good experience to end the day. Would I find it in the library?

I now had my seemingly endless reading list and I asked the librarian how many books I could take out. She checked my ID card and replied, but it was noisy in the reception area and, please remember, I’m not as young as I was.

“Pardon?” I said. “Did you say 14 books?”

“No,” she grinned. “I said 40.”

Forty books! A perfect end to an almost perfect day. MA in Creative Writing? I’m ready for you now.

Rosalind Adam is an MA in Creative Writing student at the University of Leicester. You can read her blog here:

Monday 26 September 2016


Welcome to the blog run by Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. Here, we will feature work in progress, articles, reviews, links and reflection by Ph.D students, MA students, BA students, graduates and staff at the university and in the wider community. If you'd like to get in contact with us about the blog, please email us at 

Many thanks and best wishes!