Friday 19 May 2017

Making a Book Project Happen, by Kevan Manwaring

Ballad Tales: An Anthology of British Ballads Retold emerged out of my PhD research into folk music. The idea came to me while walking Offa’s Dyke long distance footpath last year. As I sang to make the miles a little easier I reflected upon the fascinating stories that ballads often contain. My novel project interweaves and dramatizes some key supernatural ballads of the Scottish Borders, and I’ve revelled in contemporizing them, twisting their plots, motifs and sexual politics in unexpected ways. I thought of all the many other ballads this could be done with, and the many talented writers I know ... Imagine an anthology of such voices ... And so I pitched it to the commissioning editor of The History Press. Having written a couple of a monographs for them already (Oxfordshire Folk Tales; Northamptonshire Folk Tales) and having been a contributor to another (An Anthology of English Folk Tales) she knew I could deliver the goods. 

Getting a book or two under your belt gives you a little leverage when pitching, paving the way for future projects. It's Catch 22 if you haven’t had anything published yet, I know, but persistence does pay off – combined with seeing a gap in the market and being the one to fill it. You have to qualify yourself for your job, and, in your pitch, write your own job proposal. What do you want to spend a year or two of your life putting energy into? Can you stay the distance? Pulling together twenty-one contributors was, to a certain extent, fun – it was like being patchless Nick Fury, cherry-picking my very own Avengers. However, when it came to getting such an eclectic, creative bunch to meet deadlines, comply to word counts and formats, accept editorial suggestions, and the other countless, demanding minutiae of a book project –  it was like herding cats. Yet, receiving each first draft of a story was like opening a Christmas present early. Beyond choosing a traditional British ballad I gave the contributors (all writers and musicians I know, have seen or heard and been impressed by at some point) carte blanche. This paid off time and time again as they first selected, then created genre-bending re-imaginings of ballads. Some went with the grain of the ballad, some against – changing the setting, genders, morality or ending. 

I invited a Stroud-based printmaker who draws inspiration from broadside ballads to do the cover, while I illustrated each of the ballads within the text, drawing upon my Fine Art background. Choosing a motif to depict was a real pleasure, as I went for a metonymic approach – the telling detail. So, slowly, it all came together over the autumn and winter. The really exciting moment was when I was shown the cover by the artist, Andy Kinnear. A large print of it hangs by my desk – a reminder of what can be achieved when you have a good idea. And so now, the book’s due date is imminent – the 8th June – with a launch showcase planned for the 9th here in Stroud (that I’ve had to organize: booking the venue, arranging publicity, planning the running order, the drinks, the bookstall, the stock...). It’s important to wet the baby’s head – to celebrate an achievement, and I’ll be doing this with my fellow balladeers while I M.C. the evening. In the last week the proof copy has been scrutinized and signed off – and it’s gone to print. My book is on the way. And now the next marathon begins, in promoting it, getting it reviewed, and ensuring it is noticed, it sells, and it creates the opportunity for the next one, for there are plenty more ballad tales left to tell. 

Ballad Tales is published by The History Press (8-6-2017)

Kevan Manwaring is a prize-winning writer and storyteller based in Stroud. He is the author of Oxfordshire Folk TalesNorthamptonshire Folk Tales, The Bardic Handbook, Desiring Dragonsand a contributor to English Folk Tales. A founder member of Fire Springs, and one-time host of the Bath Storytelling Circle, he set up and MCs Stroud Out Loud! – a monthly open mic event. Since 2014 he has been undertaking a Creative Writing PhD at the University of Leicester dramatising his research into folk and fairy traditions of the Scottish Borders. 

Wednesday 10 May 2017

"Drip" by Holly O'Brien

Holly O'Brien is an English student at the University of Leicester, studying Creative Writing as a pathway. She is an aspiring novelist, and enjoys exploring different areas in which she can take her passion.


Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. A boy shifted while he laid in bed. Drip. Drip. Drip. The boy furrowed his eyebrows. Drip. Drip. Drip. The boy groaned. What was that infuriating sound? It had woken him up. He wondered what the time was, but he didn’t want to open his eyes and check. As long as his alarm hadn’t gone off, he could stay where he was for as long as he liked. He pulled his pillow over his head to block out the sound.

Drip. Drip. Drip. “For God’s sake,” the boy grumbled, voice muffled under his pillow. Why on earth could he still hear it, as plain as he’d been able to without the pillow? Ignore it, he thought, it’s probably been going on all night, and you haven’t noticed it until now. Ignore it. Easier said than done. It was one of those irritating sounds that makes your blood boil, bubbling hotter and hotter until it stops, like someone heavy breathing next to you, or a car alarm in the middle of the night that the neighbour doesn’t seem to care about, a sound that becomes so annoying that you lie in bed thinking, “Just steal the bloody car, will you!”


Beep, beep, beep! Drip. Drip. Drip. The boy fumbled frantically beside him, searching for his alarm clock. He could still hear that cursed dripping sound, and he didn’t need it to be accompanied by something else. Beep, beep, beep! Drip. Drip. Drip. The boy sat up, his hair sticking out in all directions. The alarm clock wasn’t on the table next to him. He leaned over the edge of the bed, following its sound; the blasted thing was on the floor. The boy huffed and picked it up, turning it off and placing it down beside him. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and got up. He didn’t notice that his alarm clock didn’t read 7:30AM like it usually would after waking him up. Instead it read 3:00 AM.


The boy made his way across his bedroom, heading towards the bathroom. He planned on turning the tap off; surely that was what was making that dripping noise. Creeeeaaaak. The boy stopped halfway across the room, and looked down at the floor. The floorboards hadn’t creaked like that before. He reversed and took the same step again. No creak. And come to think of it, he couldn’t hear the tap anymore. The silence was music to his ears. Satisfied, the boy began to walk again. Creeeaaaak, creeeaaaak, creeeaaaak. Drip. Drip. Drip. The boy stopped again. So did the sounds. “I’m going mad,” he murmured to himself, rubbing his eyes, “I need to start getting more sleep.” He’d have to just walk to the bathroom, despite the phantom noises. He was sure they were just in his head anyway.

He arrived in the bathroom and checked himself out in the mirror, like he did every morning. But, he didn’t look like he did every morning. He was pale, white as a sheet, translucent, ghostly – odd. Perhaps he was coming down with something. That would explain the hearing things. A preferable option to mental instability. Drip. Drip. Drip. The boy looked down at the tap. It didn’t seem to be dripping at all. A sure sign it was all in his head – that is, until he saw the red water.

The boy bent down, nose millimetres away from the tap. He stared at it. There was something red coming out. He swallowed. He reached to turn the tap off – but it wouldn’t budge. It was off all the way already. Maybe if he turned it on…

The boy yelped as red water gushed out of the tap. He felt faint as he realised it was too thick to be just water, as screams started to echo around him, crying out in pain. It was only after a minute that he realised that he was crying, too, tears of red, his limbs burning as though on fire. Everything was going black. Menacing laughter had joined the screams now. Thump.


The boy never got back to his bedroom. If he had, he might have seen that the clock still read 3:00AM. The Devil only gets an hour. He always makes sure to succeed.

Friday 5 May 2017

"Sprawl" by Emma Leach

Emma Leach is a second year student studying Creative Writing at Leicester. She really enjoys travelling and this has influenced her writing throughout the course. 


Caged by grey.
A ribbon of smog
Overhangs the sprawl.
Clusters of skyscrapers
Absorb the day’s heat
That is unable to escape the
Dome of pollution.

Amid the bustle
The streets are swarmed,
People catching a glimpse of the city.
Lines of cars, like ants
On the roads,
Crawl on lacing freeways as
Red break lights illuminate every interstate.

A distressed voice in the toilet cubicle
Calls out on Venice Beach,
Masked out by sounds of bike bells.
Graffiti climbs the neighbouring walls.
Brash colours
Of urban minds.

From where I stand
There is silence.
Golden interweaving paths
Separate concrete.
The Observatory gazes over the city,
Observing the sprawl.
Abhorring chaos, it slumbers in its own oasis.