Tuesday 28 November 2017

Writing Lives Together

By Jonathan Taylor

At last night's Leicester Shindig Open-mic Poetry Evening, the Centre for New Writing launched its new pamphlet, Writing Lives Together, an anthology of original poetry and prose inspired by nineteenth-century life writing.

This pamphlet grows out of a project called ‘Writing Lives Together: Romantic and Victorian Biography,’ run by Dr. Felicity James and Dr. Julian North, who also hosted a major conference and edited a special issue of the journal Life Writing (June 2017). As part of this wider project, contemporary writers were commissioned to produce their own, creative responses to the research into nineteenth-century life writing. This pamphlet is the result. It features poetry and prose by Jo Dixon, Richard Byrt, Gregory Leadbetter, Alyson Morris, Anna Larner, Aysar Ghassan, Jonathan Taylor and Se├ín Body.

You can read more details about the pamphlet, which is free to order, as well as the Centre for New Writing's other publications here.

The Shindig launch last night included an introduction by Julian North and readings by some of the writers in the pamphlet. The evening also included wonderful readings by featured poets Julia Bird and Simon Turner, as well as lots of great open-mic poets. 

Here is one of the poems from the Writing Lives Together pamphlet, called "On Reflection," by Anna Larner:

On Reflection

If we were to meet again, I would say
sorry today, for then, when mad with love,
deranged with passion, all reason astray,
I cried “I love you!” Three words – not enough.

So I left flowers to wilt at your door,
composed mixed tapes, wrote odes, baked cakes, your name
on my lips, in my brain. “Be mine” I implored,
as I failed exams, missed deadlines, endured pain.

I lost sleep, got sick, felt weak, refused to 
see sense – still convinced that you could be mine.
And through it all, silent, wise and kind, you
knew the one answer for me would be time.

You were so gentle with your rejection.
Yes, I can see that now, on reflection.

"On Reflection" was inspired by Coleridge’s poem "To Asra" (1803) which speaks in passionate terms of overflowing, limitless love. The hyperbole of language and the exaggerated feeling expressed by Coleridge evoked a memory for me of experiencing that same consuming passion when I fell in love at university. I have used the rhythm of the iambic pentameter and the rhyme of the fourteen line structure of the English, Shakespearian sonnet employed by Coleridge.

- Anna Larner

Tuesday 21 November 2017

Sci-fi Shorts Competition

By Jonathan Taylor

Over the last few months, the Centre for New Writing, Literary Leicester Festival and the National Space Centre have together been running a Creative Writing competition called "Sci-Fi Shorts." Entrants were invited to write science-fiction short stories on a space theme. There were two categories, one for writers 15 and under, one for writers 16+. 

The winners have now been announced, and the awards ceremony took place at the Space Centre as part of Literary Leicester Festival on Saturday, along with talks by eminent science-fiction authors Philip Reeve and Alastair Reynolds

The judging panel included representatives from the National Space Centre and the Centre for New Writing at the University of Leicester. I was one of them. The competition was hugely enjoyable to judge, and there were many strong entries to choose from - despite the difficulty of the challenge. As someone whose first published stories were science fiction, I often think science fiction is one of the hardest of all genres to write in. You have to juggle so many different elements in a successful science fiction story: stylish writing, characterisation, convincing scientific details, so-called "world building," and the demands of narrative - of telling a good story.  I moved away from writing science fiction many years ago - though I've always thought I might eventually return to it, and I still read widely in the form - to write in a more "realist" (or magical-realist) vein. I can't help feeling that realism is easier in some ways: you don't have to manage the science in the same way, and your world is ready-built for you. To manage these things whilst telling a good and emotional story is the great challenge of science fiction; and the winning entries for this competition did so brilliantly, almost effortlessly, in ways I very much admire.

You can read the prize-winning entries via the links below:

Age 16+:
Winner: 'In Gagarin’s Time' by Laura Ward
Runner-up: 'Bunker Mentality' by Paul Starkey 

Age 15 and below:
Winner: 'In Armstrong’s Footsteps' by Ashley Tan Mei-Lynn 
Runner-up: 'Lost In Space' by Giles Carey

Honourable Mentions:
‘What is it, Leavine?’ by Adair Cole 

‘Space Debris’ by Andrew Doubt 

Some of the winners with Philip Reeve at the Space Centre

Saturday 11 November 2017

Ambrose Musiyiwa

Ambrose Musiyiwa is the author of the poetry pamphlet, The Gospel According to Bobba. He co-edited Welcome to Leicester (Dahlia Publishing, 2016), an anthology that explores the story of Leicester through poetry. His poems have been featured in poetry anthologies that include Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for Those Seeking Refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015), Do Something (Factor Fiction, 2016), and Write to be Counted (The Book Mill, 2017).

Featured below are two creative pieces by Ambrose.

Job Centre

viewed from Lee Street,
the Job Centre 
is a place of scars,
broken things

and exits to nowhere

Batman is a joker

You take a friend to the train station and then walk home on your own. You have a backpack. In it are cameras, batteries and a laptop. The night smells of autumn spreading a duvet. The backpack is heavy.

You get home, put the kettle on, make a cup of coffee, sit down, and your phone rings. Your mom wants to know if you are OK.

You say you are alive and well and really, really happy. And you tell her about the wonderful people who have been in and out of various parts of your day.

She says she is happy you are happy. Even over the phone, you can hear the relief in her voice.

You ask her if she is OK. She says she is fine.

You ask her what's wrong.

She is silent.

Then she sighs.

She has woken up from a dream in which Batman is a joker and joker Batman is a woman on a bicycle with a balaclava she wears like a beenie hat. Her cycling gear is a bullet-proof bomb-proof get up that makes her look like a Missy Elliot impersonator.

I give you to the city, mother says. In the same way you gave yourself to the city, I give you to the city.

The line breaks. You try to call her back many times. You cannot get through. You stop trying because the line is like that. Sometimes it is there. And sometimes it is not there. The line has a will of its own.

You are tired.