Friday 29 March 2019

Laughter, Literature, Violence

By Jonathan Taylor

             Violence is of the essence of laughter.
- Wyndham Lewis, The Wild Body

I've recently had an academic book published by Palgrave-Macmillan, called Laughter, Literature, Violence, 1840-1930. The idea for the book originally grew out of my own creative work: as others have pointed out, my writing style is often marked by a dark humour, even grotesque comedy. Initially, I was hardly conscious of this: the mixture of comedy and tragedy in my memoir, Take Me Home (2007), arose naturally, almost unawares, because they were intertwined in reality - in elements of my father's illness, and our experience of caring for him. It seems to me that in so-called 'reality' (whatever that is), comedy and tragedy are rarely monolithic. People laugh at funerals, cry at parties. Death, tragedy, horror, violence can be funny - or horrifically funny. That's why so many literary memoirs mingle laughter and tears, even when they're ostensibly concerned with the most serious, or distressing of subjects. I wanted to write reflectively about this strange emotional hybridity, particularly in relation to memoirs and short fiction - and, in that sense, the academic book makes conscious what I've been doing, over many years, in my own creative writing. It does so, for the most part, in a displaced form, in relation to literary texts by other memoirists and short-story writers; but, as Oscar Wilde famously claimed, all criticism is a kind of autobiography. In writing the book, I have learned a huge amount about the historical periods, about theories of laughter, about the writers - and also about myself, my own style, and my (sometimes dark) sense of humour. Here's the book's blurb: 

Laughter, Literature, Violence, 1840-1930 investigates the strange, complex, even paradoxical relationship between laughter, on the one hand, and violence, war, horror, death, on the other. It does so in relation to philosophy, politics, and key nineteenth- and twentieth-century literary texts, by Edgar Allan Poe, Edmund Gosse, Wyndham Lewis and Katherine Mansfield – texts which explore the far reaches of Schadenfreude, and so-called ‘superiority theories’ of laughter, pushing these theories to breaking point. In these literary texts, the violent superiority often ascribed to laughter is seen as radically unstable, co-existing with its opposite: an anarchic sense of equality. Laughter, humour and comedy are slippery, duplicitous, ambivalent, self-contradictory hybrids, fusing apparently discordant elements. Now and then, though, literary and philosophical texts also dream of a different kind of laughter, one which reaches beyond its alloys – a transcendent, ‘perfect’ laughter which exists only in and for itself.  

Tuesday 26 March 2019

An MA in Creative Writing: Is it for You?

By Kathy Hoyle
Reposted from her blog here.  

Are you thinking of starting an MA in Creative Writing? Not sure it’s the right next step for you?

Here’s a few things I’ve learnt, whilst studying at the University of Leicester, which may help you make your decision.

Buckle up, there’s a lot to say!

Let’s talk about what might be holding you back … 

The Fear
We all hear it loud and clear. The voice of doubt that can often crush our dreams by repeatedly telling us we’re just not good enough. I certainly did.

I’d completed my Creative Writing Degree with The Open University whilst working as Cabin Crew for British Airways. It was a great way to stave off hotel room boredom and while away the hours on airport standby. I grew to love writing and was endlessly encouraged by my amazing Creative Writing tutor. I graduated with a First … but the voice: the voice told me it was a fluke. I just got lucky. MA level study is just too difficult for the likes of me. And, yep, for a while I listened. So much so, that when I applied to Leicester I roped in Colin, my friend and Fellow OU graduate, to do it too. I had back up! Safety in numbers. I was too scared to actually apply by myself.

I worried that I wasn’t academically sound, that the course would be too much work, that I would be exposed as a fraud. Two weeks before starting the course, I was ready to back out. But after a good hard talking to from the writing community on Twitter, family members and, of course, poor Colin, who was about to be left at the station, alone, I decided to take a deep breath and jump in. My advice is, get some bloody duct tape and put it firmly over the mouth of ‘the voice.'  You ARE good enough. Trust me on this. 

Which course?
Do your research. I will say this again. DO YOUR RESEARCH when choosing a course.

Throughout the UK there are so many Creative Writing MAs that your head might be spinning with choice, but it IS vital to find a course that suits you. Some focus only on completing a novel manuscript, while others cover all writing genres and styles.  Your local university might not be the right choice for you. I chose Leicester for its varied modules which give writers the opportunity and freedom to explore genres and find their own niche. It also offers a vocational module, which is not something all universities do. This invaluable module gives an insight into the practical world of publishing, with guest speakers and opportunities to venture into the haphazard world of writing as an income. It’s like being given a map and handbook before you set off on your journey, rather than driving blindly without headlights. But if you want an MA that helps you focus purely on completing your novel then find a course that does just that. You’re going to be splashing out a lot of money, so make sure it’s right one for you. 

Once you’ve found your course …

It’s been a while!
Moving up to a post-graduate level of study can be a bit overwhelming. If you’ve recently completed an undergraduate course, the academic foundations are already there. You’ll be confident in essay structure, referencing, etc. and you may have been writing creative work steadily for the last three years. 

If, however, you’re not coming straight from an undergrad degree, don’t worry, you can still brush up your skills in preparation for the course. 

For Creative Writing, you can brush up on grammar and style with The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E. B. White. 

You can also take a one-off Creative Writing workshop or course to get you back into the swing of writing. Here’s an excellent one with Toby Litt, who teaches at Birbeck … and it’s free

A great reminder on the fundamentals of writing can be found in this clear, straightforward guide from the wonderful Urusla K. Le Guin.  

For academic essay writing ,there are a wealth of books out there. I can recommend this from Routledge. Palgrave do a whole range of study skills books too.  

 Here’s a link from the OU about to how to write essays which may be helpful:

The online resources are endless, and most university websites have some sort of guide as to their expectations, plus instructive links. Most importantly write, read, read some more, write and read some more. That’s all the preparation you need. 

So, what else …

It’s a dirty word and don’t get me started on a conversation about how education should be free and inclusive to all, that’s a whole other blog, but the fact remains, an MA costs … a lot. Yikes! But something I wish I’d known before is that there IS funding out there; you just need to get busy with your research and not be afraid to ask. 

When you’re looking for funding, this book is a great resource: The Guide to Educational Grants.   

It lists practically every charitable trust and grant throughout the UK, where you may be able to gain funding. Some are frankly bizarre but who cares, funding is funding. Maybe your dad was a grocer, maybe you were in the navy, maybe you believe in life after death, trust me there is a charitable fund out there that applies to you. Get busy, you’ll be surprised just how many you can apply for … BUT you need to do this before your academic year starts. So, if you can, get your funding applications in before June. The book should be available in most university libraries or your local library should be able to order it in for you so don’t spend good money buying it. 

This website is great for finding funding:

Plus there are also re-payable Government Masters loans which you can find at

… and don’t forget, your university of choice may offer scholarships and bursaries. Make sure you check.

Still on the money …

The reading list and books
When I first saw the reading list I almost fainted and I even questioned it. Surely there should be some books I’ve heard of? Good God, I’ll never be able to read this lot. Guess what: you don’t have to! Yes, some of the craft manuals are mandatory and not as dry  you might expect (I promise), and also they really do hone your craft. As for the rest, your tutor (if they’re much cop) will guide you, based on your own personal area of interest. Trust me on this. They know what they’re doing and are there to bring out the best in you. My tutor recommends books based on my own area of interest, so no, I don’t endlessly chug through books that will never be any use to me. 

Back to Money: do not buy all the books! Try to be savvy. University libraries are amazing. They will stock most of your reading lists but, if not, your local library may be able to order in books for you - yes, even academic ones. I’ve bought some I’ve enjoyed and want to keep but it’s not required. Take your time. Don’t rush out and remortgage the house to buy everything on the reading list. Save your money for the large glass of wine you’ll need when assignment time comes around.

Speaking of time 
Something else you need to research, since it can make the difference between choosing to do an MA or not: how much of my time will the course take up? The teaching at universities varies. So, ASK. 

If you have your eye on a certain course, get in touch with the course leader and ask about the timetable. You may be surprised to learn that you can still work full-time or at least juggle work plus a full -time MA course - and hence keep your income.   

To give an example: currently at Leicester we only have one or two teaching days per week and the rest of the week is ours to manage. If you can write essays in the evening and weekends, you pretty much only need to lose one day per week of work. So, your income may not be reduced by that much, after all. 

Finally: The Writing.
Is it all actually worth it? It’s absolutely true that you don’t need an MA in Creative Writing to be a successful writer. All I can say is the choice is, of course, yours. I can only tell you about my own experience. 

I have absolutely loved my MA so far, despite my initial misgivings, and can honestly say it’s been a huge but extremely valuable learning curve.  

I have written an immense amount. The tutors have drawn work from me that I didn’t know was possible. Many pieces are still unfinished, leaving me with a body of writing I can work on, long after I’ve finished the course.  As for the few pieces I have completed (for assignments), I know they are the best pieces I’ve written to date.  Feedback from my tutors and fellow students has been invaluable and, although it’s bloody hard work, I can honestly say my writing has come on in leaps and bounds. I’ve also met some amazing new writers and become part of a network of people that share my ideals and often ground me when my writing nerves appear, or ‘the voice’ starts yapping in my ear. 

At Leicester, it’s a two-way street, a place to discuss ideas and develop your writing, not just a place where academic teaching is thrown at you and you’re left make of it what you will. It really has been a place to thrive and grow and I can’t recommend it enough.  

I hope this blog has answered some of your questions and helps you make your decision. 

I say go for it!

For further information on the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester go to 

About the author
Kathy Hoyle is an MA student at the University of Leicester. She loves writing Flash Fiction and short stories and is currently working on her first novel. You can find her procrastinating on Twitter @kathyhoyle1 or visit her author’s page at She will work for Jammy Dodgers. 

Saturday 23 March 2019

The Yellow Book

The University of Leicester's own Yellow Book has just been published. It features positive poetry, photography and artwork by staff and students from the University of Leicester, in partnership with RethinkYourMind as part of the Health Matters initiative. Contributors were asked to respond creatively to the phrase "I Feel Better When ..."

Poetry editors included Jonathan Taylor from the University of Leicester, and Leicester-based poets Rob Gee, Lydia Towsey and Mellow Baku. Poems selected for the Yellow Book include work by current Creative Writing students at the university Shae Davies and Thilsana Gias. 

The book also includes wellbeing material from The Centre of Wellbeing, the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience, The Royal College of Psychiatrists and NHS Choices. 5,000 copies of the book have been printed, and are being distributed for free. 

You can read the poetry here.

You can see more details about the book here

Requests for The UoL Yellow Book can be sent to Carrie Laverick, email cw411 [at] le [dot] ac [dot] uk.

Tuesday 12 March 2019

Is an Internship for You?

By Lisa Smalley

A degree may be proof of your academic ability, but vocational experience is a completely different matter. Unfortunately for most creatives, this is the balance they must achieve when trying to enter into their chosen career. Of course there are graduate placements, but these are extremely competitive in the creative industry, and often the best course of action is to take on an internship to get that all-important experience to support your C.V.

Show me the goods
Trying to gain experience in my chosen career in copywriting has been like trying to squeeze into my pre-Christmas jeans: a feat that even the most talented of professionals would find impossible. Most companies want to see published work, and this is the area where I have struggled most. So when the opportunity to intern with a creative agency was offered on the Creative Writing at Leicester University Facebook page, I leapt on it with both feet and sickening enthusiasm. 

Show me the money!
My internship was unpaid, and I weighed this option against the experience I would be gaining in an active agency. Experience, as it turned out, was my main priority. Working in the office with other creatives, including photographers and graphic designers, was an inspiring experience. I have never been so motivated in my writing - being in an environment charged with that much creative energy rubbed off on me and I learnt a lot from my colleagues there. 

What did you gain?
I have come away with regular paid work, which has padded my portfolio nicely. The only downside is that trying to publish under my own name has proved challenging. Many companies want 'white ticket' writing, where their own names will appear as the author. The agency tried to help with this, publishing a couple of my blogs on their own website, and even endorsing my skills and providing a recommendation on Linkedin. They gave me training in digital marketing and offered access to courses for social media marketing. 

This has been a step in the right direction and one that I can build on. Based on this, here are my best bits of advice for anyone considering an internship: 
  • Be clear on your timeline.  How much time can you realistically afford to dedicate to the company?
  • Be clear with your expectations.  For the work you provide, what experience will the company give in return and is it worth your time?  Will it translate onto your CV?
  • Think about your portfolio.  Look at jobs in your field of interest and note down what kind of experience they're asking for.  Can you achieve some of these points in the internship?
I wish you the best of luck, and I look forward to seeing more creatives out there in the future.

About the author
Lisa Smalley is an MA English student, and an aspiring copywriter. 

Tuesday 5 March 2019

Annual Creative Writing Lecture: Blake Morrison

You are cordially invited to this year's Annual Creative Writing Lecture, which will be given by Blake Morrison on Monday 18th March 2019 at 6.30pm, in Lecture Theatre 1, George Davies Centre, at the University of Leicester. The event is free and open to all - students, staff and public alike. Below is a description of the lecture.

About the Lecture: Life Writing and the Writing Life
Drawing on his experience in working in several different genres, Blake Morrison considers some of the ethical and formal challenges authors face in doing justice to the story they want to tell. The talk - aimed at creative writers, literature students and general readers - will include short extracts from poetry, fiction and memoir while addressing a number of key questions: What are the drawbacks of writing about family and ‘real’ people? How likeable does a narrator have to be? How strictly should a memoir writer adhere to the truth? Is remembering the same as inventing? When is ‘confessionalism’ acceptable rather than prurient and exploitative? What risks are there, and what advantages, in using regional dialect rather than standard English? 

About Blake Morrison
Blake Morrison was born in Skipton, Yorkshire, and has written fiction, poetry, journalism, literary criticism and libretti, as well as adapting plays for the stage. Among his best-known works are his two memoirs, And When Did You Last See Your Father? (1993) and Things My Mother Never Told Me (2002). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a former Chair of the Poetry Book Society and Vice-Chair of PEN, and has been Professor of Creative and Life Writing at Goldsmiths University since 2003. His latest book is a novel with poems, The Executor (2018).