Thursday 28 May 2020

John Schad, "Paris Bride"

John Schad is Professor of Modern Literature at University of Lancaster.  His books include Victorians in Theory (Manchester, 1999), Queer Fish: Christian Unreason from Darwin to Derrida (Sussex, 2004), a memoir, Someone Called Derrida (Sussex, 2007), a novel The Late Walter Benjamin (Bloomsbury, 2012), an experimental biography called Paris Bride (Punctum, 2020), and (with Fred Dalmasso) Derrida | Benjamin: Two Plays (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021).  He has also had two retrospectives published - Hostage of the Word, 1993-2013 (2013) and John Schad in Conversation (2015). He has read his work on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb and at various literary festivals, and his plays have been performed at The Oxford Playhouse, Duke’s Theatre Lancaster, Watford Palace Theatre, HowTheLight GetsIn (Hay-on-Wye), and the Sheldonian Theatre Oxford. You can find out more information here. You can read an interview with John Schad on Everybody's Reviewing here

About Paris Bride
By John Schad

In 1905, in Paris, a young woman called Marie Wheeler married, or thought she had married, Johannes Schad, a clerk from Basel. Marie and Johannes then lived together in suburban London until one day, in 1924, they went to the High Court in the Strand, and the marriage ended - or rather was declared never to have been. 

The stated reason for what happened in the High Court was, and is, hard to credit. Marie then returned to Paris, with no more known of her. And that is all the official records reveal. 
Almost 100 years on, new evidence from Paris reveals quite another version of events. Thus, whilst London gives one account of the nineteen-year-long marriage, or ‘marriage,’ Paris now gives another. Which is true?

Paris Bride investigates and as it does so I, who am Johannes’s grandson, begin to recreate the lost life of Marie, of whom little is known beyond a few legal papers, a number of letters, some photographs, the diaries of a friend, and her obituary. 

With so little else known of Marie’s life, I read her back into existence by drawing on a host of contemporaneous modernist texts, each one being uncannily connected with Marie through some coincidence of time, place, or theme.

Paris Bride soon becomes a weave of remarkable lives, loves, and places.  

Marie Wheeler, c.1895

From Paris Bride

Chapter One

           Mrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.
 - Virginia Woolf, 1925  


April 7, 1924

Marie said she would buy some flowers, and the trams, the pigeons, and the motor cars all murmured “yes.” She was light upon her feet; quick, careful, lest she should brush against another. None, she thought; there would be none who would know her, though some had smiled. Odd affinities she had with people she had never spoken to.* She would buy the flowers on her way back, and as she walked her head was set low.

She paused to allow a file of children to pass in front of her. Nineteen in all. Two-by-two save one, who turned and looked. It was her hat. Johannes may have bought it in Russia. But she should quicken her step. She never tired of walking, for all her delicacy. On she walked. On. I love walking in London, she thought.

Did Johannes ever come this way? On foot, to his office. He did not like the omnibus and, besides, walking was even more natural than talking, he would say, quoting their friend, the eminent Linguist, Mr. X, as he had been introduced the night they had first met.

The Linguist was an elegant man with a fine moustache, the points of which seemed to quiver as if receiving messages from the air. Some said his name was Ferdinand de Saussure, Professor Ferdinand de Saussure. He certainly spoke with authority; though was inclined, Johannes would say, to mistake language for Switzerland. “A panorama of the Alps,” the Linguist had said, “must be taken from just one point. The same is true of a language.” The Linguist’s great-grandfather, she had heard, was a mountaineer. Among the first to conquer Mont Blanc. But she must be getting on. Such traffic. Piccadilly. Such traffic.

“City of death.” Yes, that was it. That was he had said about Mont Blanc. Shelley, not the Linguist. Shelley, the poet. Strange thing to say, or write, whatever the light. Though he was an unbeliever, Shelley that is, even among the mountains. Especially among the mountains, Johannes had said, pointing out that the unbelieving poet had signed the guest book at Chamonix as “Percy Bysshe Shelley, Atheist.” Ah, and here, right here was Somerset House. Over the Strand the clouds were of mountainous white.

Perhaps, she thought, she should not read so much. After all, there were, these days, so many curious books and so many curious authors. Mrs. Woolf, for instance, or Mr. Eliot, Mr. Eliot-the-Clerk, as Johannes would say. Mr. Eliot, however, she rather liked, seeing that he had written about a woman called Marie. Moreover his Marie, Mr. Eliot’s, was also inclined to read through the night. And then there was Miss Emily Dickinson, the hermit of Amherst, they said. “Our lives are Swiss,” she had written, “So still - so cool.” Yes. “Till some odd afternoon, the Alps neglect their Curtains.” Yes. “And we look further on.”

Marie paused, a little faint, and glimpsed a poster in the window of a shop. “The British Empire Exhibition, Wembley Stadium.” Yes, many would come. Odd, though, that the poster should portray London as a woman in bronze, naked and slim. Marie tugged at her coat. April was indeed a cruel month, just as Mr. Eliot had thought. And, now, a shower was upon them. Rain, rain all over London, she should not wonder, even at the Exhibition. It is nature that is the ruin of Wembley, she thought. The problem of the sky remains, she thought. Is it, one wonders, part of the Exhibition? Marie put up her umbrella. How mountainous those clouds.

Was Johannes out in the rain? Perhaps, but then he was used to weather of all kinds. He travelled so much. What with his languages. French, German, even Russian. The rubber-trade took him to so many places.


Metropolitan Police
January 7, 1927

           Johannes Schad has  paid  periodical  visits  to the Continent on business and 
           pleasure and intends doing so in the future.


She did not, herself, like to travel by train; it was not, she had heard, altogether safe. Villains there must be battering the brains of a girl out in a train. The continental trains were, though, very different. She had once said so to the Linguist. He, though, had simply muttered something about trains in general, about how no two trains, whatever we think, are identical. “We [invariably] assign [the same] identity to two [quite different] trains,” he had said. “For instance, ‘the 8.45 from Geneva to Paris.’ One [such train] leaves twenty-four hours after the other, [and yet] we treat it as the ‘same’ train.”

Trafalgar Square was stirring. People of all nations and none, she thought. She had not intended to come this way but paused to open her purse for a man without legs, his upturned cap begging on his behalf. He gazed for a moment. Every man fell in love with her. “The bride is beautiful,” as Johannes would say.

It is true that he would sometimes add “but, she is married to another man.” This, though, had been a jest of his. “The bride is beautiful, but she is married to another man” were, he would explain, the famous words of a famous telegram. Coded words. The cable, he would say, had been wired from Palestine by two Jewish zealots hot-foot from the world’s first Zionist Congress, a gathering held, strange to say, in Basel. Yes, his Basel. The two zealots had, apparently, gone off in vainest search of Israel. Zion. The Promised Land. And they had found her indeed to be beautiful. But also to be another’s.

The man without the legs smiled. Then touched his cap and smiled again. She must help him. Find a baker’s. Ah, here. That smile, though. Yes that smile, it lifted her up and up when — oh! a pistol shot in the street outside!

“Dear, those motorcars,” said Miss Pym, going to the window to look, and coming back and smiling apologetically as if those motorcars, these tyres of motorcars, were all her fault. 

No, thought Marie, it was her fault. She had grown comfortable from the tyres that rubber made, and, in fact, from all that rubber made. Yes, the disturbance in the street was her fault. But she could not stop. She must give the man the sandwich. She could not stop. She was expected at noon. By another man.

Marie’s shoes concerned her. The heels, though modest, were about to give way, and the points of her shoes were worn. Better not to look down; best look up, right up. And why not, seeing that all down The Mall people were looking up into the sky. See, an aeroplane! There it was coming over the trees, letting out white smoke behind, which curled and twisted, actually writing something! The Linguist, how he would have loved these letters. “C was it? And an E? Then an L?” There was, she saw, no “A” in the sky. Don’t tell the Linguist. He had loved the French letter-sound a, handling it like the most fragile shell. “In its consistency,” he had once said, “it is something solid, but thin, that cracks easily if struck.”

The aeroplane above breathed several more letters into the sky. But it was not a day to stand and watch. Not like that day in Palmers Green. The dazzling day. 1912 it was, before they had moved in. “Honeymoon Land,” or so it was called. Newly-minted suburbia. Modern Houses for Modern Couples. This dazzling day, they said, was the day an airman, Italian, heading for Hendon, had found his engine faltering high over Honeymoon Land and, seeing Broomfield Park, had attempted to effect a landing. The aeroplane was, though, by now flying so low that its wings, they said, touched first one roof and then another before finally settling, with a murmur, upon the slates of 75 Derwent Road.

*In this chapter, all italicised quotations come from Woolf (most from Mrs Dalloway, some from her diaries and letters).

Tuesday 26 May 2020

Managing a Creative Writing Dissertation

By Rosie Anderson

I remember before I started writing the dissertation for my MA, the most daunting part was the word count, 12,000 creative words + 3,000 reflective commentary. I know my fellow Creative Writers felt the same way, usually for different reasons, though. Some people were frightened by the prospect of having to write so much. My problem, and always was with every single essay or assignment I ever turned in throughout both my undergraduate degree and Master’s, was that I was concerned I’d end up writing 50,000 words and have to spend weeks trying to cut it down. 

A related problem for me that again applies to every creative piece I’ve ever written is that I have a tendency to waffle and include far too many unimportant details like the breed of dog an unseen neighbour has. I also then find it really difficult to cut things out because I convince myself the story is incomplete if readers don’t know that Sally from next door has a Bichon Frise (she wanted a Dalmation but the house wasn’t big enough and she was worried about walking it three times a day with her dodgy knees). Anyway, needless to say, I was mainly really worried about the word count, but I did manage to get around this with a solution I think actually applies to people worried that 15,000 words would be too much. 

I decided to tackle the creative part of the dissertation in three separate chunks. My logic for this was that I could set a word count for each part. I knew that I’d obviously go over the word limit for each, but cutting 2,000 words out of three 4,000-word short stories was far less daunting. I know that my friends on the course also decided to think of it like this, because writing three short stories / chapters is far less frightening than a solid block of 12,000 words. Similarly, it helped to plan out the reflective part as three separate topics (you could include subheadings too if you’re feeling particularly exuberant). 

Another issue I had was actually choosing an idea. I was toying with the three fictional short stories, as this lent itself quite well to my idea of writing the creative piece in three separate chunks with a firm word count for each. It also, to be blunt, seemed easier than anything else because I’d done short stories for every assignment so far so I was quite used to them (they’d started to develop as little formulas). In the end I decided against this idea, as I wanted to do something that would force me to focus on an idea I’d had for some time.

My piece was part of a memoir I’d been planning for a while that focussed on the year my father was ill. I chose to do this because I was very interested in completing the memoir as a novel-length piece, and I hoped that getting 12,000 words of it out of the way would help. It formed the first part of the memoir, and I split it into three chapters (which then had mini chapters within them as I included flashbacks to my childhood as separate parts – spoiler, there’s a vaguely insecure Bichon Frise in it). This did indeed really help, and it was a project I’d been too intimidated to start sooner, but I was pleased to find that once I was into it, I really enjoyed writing it. 

The final challenge I’ll mention is the Reflective Commentary. I think this is often something people are less enthusiastic about in the assignments, but I cannot express enough how helpful writing my Reflective Commentary was, and how much it’s helped my Creative Writing (not just with this piece) since writing it. It was a real opportunity to research the genre and understand how to improve my work. It also helped me develop my writing, notice flaws and ‘bad habits’ I was repeating over and over and (although possibly unique to my work) really helped me to understand my feelings towards a difficult personal subject.

This last part isn’t necessarily advice, because I think (given how subjective Creative Writing is), you should definitely tackle your reflective commentary in a way that suits you, but I just thought I’d mention how I actually wrote mine. I completed a first draft (and by first I mean I wrote about nine first drafts, cried because I had to cut out 10,000 words, removed every single use of the words ‘thus’ and ‘indeed,’ found I then only had to cut out 3,000 words and continued to redraft), where I wrote out my research (including mentioning the books I’d read about the genre / subject matter, and the books I read within the genre, the primary texts). I then compared my written-out research to the first drafts I had of my creative piece. This meant a lot of redrafting of my creative piece, and I found it useful to track what I was changing in light of the research (I think I actually got really fancy about it and edited the document with track changes and added little comments about which bits of research led me to make them – this probably isn’t as revolutionary to you as it seemed to me at the time – pretty sure I went around for the rest of the week acting like I’d just invented Microsoft Word). All this redrafting did seem like a lot of work at the time, but it meant that the edits I was making were much more specific and effective. It also meant I then had to update my Reflective Commentary, literally copying and pasting my little comments and making them sort of make sense in the document (and removing ‘thus’ and ‘indeed’ from every single one). 

I hope this was helpful! Best of luck to all those doing the MA Creative Writing Dissertations this Summer, and to all embarking on longer writing projects – hopefully by the time you’ve finished, we’ll be out of quarantine. You could mention how the quarantine has affected your writing in the Reflective Commentary, although maybe it’ll be nice to focus on something other than Coronavirus, which takes up about 75% of my conversation at the moment. The other 25% are the words ‘thus’ and ‘indeed.’

About the author
Rosie Anderson grew up in the Midlands and currently works as an Editorial Assistant for the Environment and Sustainability list at Routledge. She studied at University of Leicester for both her undergraduate degree in English Literature, and her MA in Creative Writing. She enjoys reading and writing short stories and her first story published, Just a Cat by Fairlight Books in 2019. She has also had blogs published online by BEAT, a charity that supports people who have suffered from eating disorders.

Wednesday 20 May 2020

Dorothy Lehane, "Bettbehandlung"

Dorothy Lehane is the author of four poetry publications: Bettbehandlung, (Muscaliet Press, 2018), Umwelt (Leafe Press, 2016), Ephemeris (Nine Arches Press, 2014), and Places of Articulation (dancing girl press 2014). She is currently engaging in a study exploring questions surrounding the social, ethical and perceptual implications of communicating the aberrant body in poetic practice. She is the founding editor of Litmus, and is interested in the tensions, challenges and outcomes arising from interdisciplinary engagement. She has read her work to audiences at Université Sorbonne, Ivy Writers, Paris, the Science Museum, the Wellcome Trust, the Barbican, the Roundhouse, BBC Radio Kent, and the Union Chapel, and has contributed on improvised collaborations, notably with synthesizer, Matthew Bourne. Recent poetry and reviews appear in Westerly Magazine, Glasfryn Project and Modern Philology.  She is the founding editor of Litmus Publishing and teaches Creative Writing at the University of Kent. Poems from her new sequence, House Girl, can be found here.

About Bettbehandlung

By Dorothy Lehane

My latest chapbook, Bettbehandlung, is a feminist re-visioning of historical and medical treatments of ‘hysterical’ female subjects and performative spaces of illness. Constructed out of my interest in issues of dependency and bodily propriety, the sequence marked a turning away from my own chronic autoimmune illness to encompass the historical treatment of women with chronic and acute mental illness. Bettbehandlung, then, is an elegiac love poem that entangles my critical research into the historical treatment of hysterical women with my chronic illness and personal life, allowing me to document my experience of witnessing my sister’s decline into mental illness. The creative practice became a way for me to cope with the depth and breadth of the loss of her mental health, as well as formulate some critical thinking on the public and private performance of illness. My aim was to look at these psychic and political terrains and unravel the embodied ramifications of what it means to use language to write about sickness and sick performances. The sequence engendered a set of questions: questions surrounding violence toward the marginalised, and the subjugated. Questions that connected with historical acts of diagnoses, issues of witnessing, and theories of agency within performance spaces.  I used the critical research surrounding the Salpêtrière hospital, and performance theory as a basis for this sequence. I appropriated the critical research surrounding the Salpêtrière hospital, and experimented with collage, scraps of registers and sources that collide and become messy or blur meaning in new contexts. 

The sequence entangles personal elements and testimonies from vulnerable subjects, as well as quotations from a number of critical and historical sources. It doesn’t follow a simple and sequential narrative. Instead, it uses multi-vocal contributions that prevent it from drawing too much on any one particular narrative. My own experience is mixed in: of being a chronically sick person; the somatic, psychological experience of living in the contemporary world modelled for the healthy sovereign body; of being related to someone mentally ill; of experiencing grief during my formative years. By admitting to a personal investment—as I write in the sequence “I am bound to the woman suffering” — I began to experience fantasies of protection and imagine what social love might look like. It enabled me to further interrogate the invisible vulnerability of sick subjects, and develop some thinking on what it means to be a “contingent” person in the world.

Bettbehandlung is available from Muscaliet Press here. Featured below are two poems from the collection. 


Monday 11 May 2020

Neil Fulwood, "Can't Take Me Anywhere"

Neil Fulwood was born in Nottingham in 1972, where he still lives and works as a bus driver. He has published a media studies book The Films of Sam Peckinpah (Batsford), and co-edited and contributed to the tribute volume More Raw Material: Work Inspired by Alan Sillitoe. He has published two poetry pamphlets, Numbers Stations and The Little Book of Forced Calm, with The Black Light Engine Room Press, and two full collections, No Avoiding It and Can’t Take Me Anywhere, with Shoestring Press. 

About Can’t Take Me Anywhere

By Neil Fulwood

The title poem of my second collection was an in-joke between me and my wife, a phrase I’d use to account for my too-loud comments in public about politics and the state of the world, my tendency to kick against pretentiousness or elitism, even though expressions of the “pile of wank” variety are generally frowned upon in art galleries or amongst polite company. I’ve always been an opinionated little bugger, and that opinionism carries over into the poems in all of my published work.

My first full collection, No Avoiding It, was ordered into three sections: a ‘then and now’ sequence contrasting my childhood in the 1970s with the Nottingham of today; poems of work; and poems about pubs. The work poems were drawn from two and a half decades of generally pointless white collar jobs. Last year, I finally realised that the world of paperwork, make-work and office politics was untenable, chucked my job in the governance department of a healthcare facility, and trained as a bus driver. Best move I ever made. 

My latest collection, from which the featured poems below are drawn, is also in three sections but not as rigorously ordered as No Avoiding It. The first is threaded together by poems of driving, motion and travel; the second looks critically at Englishness and how recent political events have bastardised the concept of national identity; and the third acts as a counterbalance, containing poems of love and friendship as well as some lighter, knockabout pieces. I have chosen a piece from each section. 

For further details about the book, see the publisher's website here

Coast Road

Back-handed gusts of wind come off the water,
side-slam the car. I’m thinking of that poem by Heaney:
the heart caught off guard. I’ll trade that
for sharpened driving skills, on-point response
to the switchbacks and gradients of a road
supplemented with escape lanes – last-ditch
slow-downs for the brake-failed, the wheel-locked.

Earlier, the shoreline was a photo-opportunity:
a silver medal for the play of light on water;
crofters’ cottages, open land; the railway line
daring itself closer to the edge than the road.
Now: snow. Great driving flakes of it
from a grey-white sky. Push on? Turn back?
I’m thinking there’s no real difference.


Scratch the surface and fingernails snag
on Facebook posts arm-banded with hate.

Spade the earth with boot heel encouragement
and feel the bite-back of roots twisting whitely.

Christen the dull metal of the plough, drag
trenches through topsoil; repeat

till the land is scarred. Dig deeper. Sink holes.
Send Euclids rumbling into the depths of open cast.

Let shit-brown mud coat the yellow buckets
of JCBs. Unearth bones and broken skulls.

The World According to Dads

The system of the world
was plotted out in sheds and garages,
the odd codicil offered
from the earthy perspective
of an allotment.

The system was measured
in units roughly corresponding
to how far a thumb
and forefinger can be held apart;
about that much. The system,

in short, was a guesstimate
but a bloody good un.
The system was built on spare parts
and laths of pallet wood
nailed together. Duct tape was used

in plenitude. All the screws
were Philips head. That box of rawlplugs 
came in handy. The design flaws
in the system of the world
were mulled over on fag breaks

taken round the back
so your mam didn’t see. The system
was stripped down and rebuilt
and swearing was involved. 
Second time round, it worked.

The system of the world
was notarised by Messrs Black
and Decker, countersigned 
by those fine fellows Bosch and DeWalt.
There were oily thumbprints

on the paperwork.

Tuesday 5 May 2020

Sara Read, "The Gossips' Choice"

Dr Sara Read is a lecturer in English at Loughborough University. Her research area is the cultural representations of women, bodies, and health in the early modern era. Her first monograph was Menstruation and the Female Body in Early Modern England (Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), which examined all aspects of female reproductive bleeding, from adolescence to menopause. She has subsequently published widely on matters related to reproduction, including miscarriage and pregnancy. Outside work she spends most of her time running round after her two-year-old granddaughter. The Gossips' Choice is her debut novel, published by Wild Pressed Books. Sara can be contacted on Twitter @saralread 

The Gossips’ Choice: Biofiction with a Twist

By Sara Read

My debut novel, The Gossips’ Choice, is an example of what I later learned is known as a ‘practice-as-research’ creative writing project, whereby a researcher uses her existing research as the point of departure for the fiction, but also uses her research training to add to the context of the story when it is in development. I knew a lot about how people were helped into the world by midwives, but how were people laid to rest in the late seventeenth century? The Gossips’ Choice is anchored in the writings of midwives Jane Sharp (fl. 1671) and Sarah Stone (fl. 1737). It uses some of the cures and practices described by Jane Sharp, the first named English woman to publish a midwifery guide, The Midwives Book, 1671, and the fictionalization of episodes documented Stone’s case notes, published in A Complete Practice of Midwifery, 1737. I use the language and expression of these real-life midwives in the creation of a fictional midwife, Lucie Smith, who is in some ways an amalgam of both women. Nothing is yet known about the biography of Jane Sharp, other than that she tell us she has been a midwife about thirty years, a timeframe she shares with Sarah Stone. More is known about Stone because she includes biographical details in her text, and details from the historical record have fleshed this out a little more: Stone was originally from Somerset where she trained under her own mother, a well-reputed midwife, Mistress Holmes, during a six-year apprenticeship. Sarah Holmes married apothecary Samuel Stone on 29 November 1700 in Bridgewater, and their first child, another Sarah, was baptized on 17 October 1702. 

Taking commonalities such as that both women practised for above 30 years, and were literate and forthright, as the point of departure, I invented a fictional world which allows readers to ‘see’ anew the world of professional women and families they attended in the early modern era. It imagines a world in which midwives Sharp and Stone could have existed, and, in a coincidence that I could not have imagined living through when I was writing the novel, it is set against the backdrop of an epidemic, as plague ravishes the population of England in 1665. So the twist I allude to in the title is that this is bio-fiction as it is based on the lives of real historical figures, but not ones which are present in the text in person. 

Cover of Jane Sharp's The Midwives Book, 1724 edition

Excerpt from The Gossips’ Choice 

As they walked the short distance to the shop, one of the traders, a farmer’s wife from a couple of miles outside the town, grabbed Lucie’s arm.

‘Might I have a moment of your time, Mistress Smith?’ she said. ‘I am with child again and need some advice.’

‘Of course, Goodwife Todd.’ Lucie recognised her as a gossip at the Townshend birth. ‘Why don’t you follow us back to the Three Doves, so I can see you immediately?’

Safely back in her kitchen, Lucie looked at Hannah Todd.

‘Judging by your bigness, I’d say you have but a month to your time. Is that right?’

‘Oh no, I yet want four months, Mistress Smith.’

Lucie was very surprised and asked Hannah to accompany her to her chamber, so that she might touch the woman’s belly while she lay flat on the bed. When Hannah removed her dress, Lucie was shocked at the tightness of the laces on her leather stays. By pinching her in from breasts to navel, her corset was forcing the lower part of her belly to jut out in a way that looked not only unnatural but unhealthy.

‘Why on earth are you laced so tightly?’ Lucie asked.

‘It’s my husband’s mother’s doing. She insists upon it,’ Hannah replied.

‘Damaris? I thought she would have known better.’ Lucie told her this was a great error, and that she ought to allow herself as much liberty as possible.

Hannah was very relieved and said, ‘That sounds like good counsel. I’m sick and faint three or four times a day, and that’s why I wished to consult you.’