Monday 29 June 2020

Congratulations to Dan Powell!

Dan Powell, a PhD in Creative Writing student at the University of Leicester, has won first prize in a national short story competition. He's the winner of this year’s Leicester Writes Short Story Prize

The winning story, "Dissolution," was chosen anonymously by the judging panel, which included writers Rebecca Burns, Mark Newman and Selma Carvalho. There were over 165 entries received from across the UK.

Dan wins a cash prize and will have his story published in the prize anthology. 

He said: “I am thrilled to receive first prize in the Leicester Writes Short Story Prize. As writers, we often work for long periods alone, unsure whether what we are working on will connect with people. To have a story recognised in this way always means a great deal, but in these days of social distancing it means so much more."

Dan’s winning story was created using a preclosural writing methodology developed as part of his doctoral research in Creative Writing at University of Leicester. The data from his preclosural analysis of fifteen British short stories written between 1885-1920 was used to construct a structural and linguistic writing frame to guide the writing of this story. 

“My research explores the benefits of using a preclosural methodology in the writing of short fiction, both for the individual author and the writing teacher. This story’s success in the Leicester writes Short Story Prize further supports my findings that this approach can help writers of all ages and skill levels improve their craft.”

You can read more about Dan's research here

Now in its fourth year, the short story prize is organised by city-based small press, Dahlia Publishing, and is open to published and unpublished writers, for a short story of up to 3000 words on any theme or subject. 

Judges praised the exceptional quality of entries received this year. Rebecca Burns, chair of judges said: “The standard of story-writing was yet again impressive and made the job of shortlisting and picking the eventual winners a delight, challenging, and a lot of fun. I’d like to thank all the writers who sent their stories in, for trusting us with their words. We all felt that ‘Dissolution’ was a well-deserved winner – the story is poignant, beautifully paced, had great depth and pathos, and will speak to many of us during this strange time, as we try to work out which direction our lives will go in.”

Twenty short stories featured on this year’s longlist will be published in an anthology. The collection will be launched online later in the year. 

The full results can be found online at

About Dan Powell
Dan Powell is a prize-winning author of short fiction and First Story Writer-in-Residence. His debut collection of stories, Looking Out of Broken Windows, was shortlisted for the Scott Prize and longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award and the Edge Hill Prize. He is currently working on his PhD as a Doctoral Researcher in Creative Writing at University of Leicester. His research explores preclosure and closural staging in short fiction. Dan can be found online at and @danpowfiction.

Wednesday 24 June 2020

Charlie Hill, "I Don't Want to Go to the Taj Mahal"

Charlie Hill is a writer from Birmingham. He left school at 16 and was self-taught until – after publishing two novels and many short stories – he decided to convert his experience into a qualification. In 2018 he was awarded a Master's with Distinction in Creative Writing from the University of Birmingham.

Charlie’s body of work is hard to categorise. His first novel – The Space Between Things – was a love story with allegorical elements, that was set in the 1990’s against the background of the road protest movement and the wars in the Balkans; his second – Books – was a farce about the commodification of contemporary art and literature. After this, he focussed on short fiction, indulging an interest in deconstructing the writing process (here, for example, and here), before becoming preoccupied with the various iterations of early twentieth century Modernism. His most recent publications were an existentialist novella and a pamphlet of short stories

If there is a guiding principle that runs through this writing it is Charlie’s fidelity to the idea that whatever the aesthetic challenge or formal purpose of a work (and notwithstanding the contentious nature of the term) it should also try to entertain. 

On Writing I Don't Want to Go to the Taj Mahal
By Charlie Hill

I began writing I Don’t Want to Go the Taj Mahal by chance. Or, at least, not as the consequence of a conscious decision. The form it took – a series of almost self-contained vignettes, that only slowly coalesce – presented itself as the most obvious way of capturing the nature of memory. Likewise, the shifts in tense and perspective: some episodes are recreated with an urgency, others are of a more reflective bent, and others still slight, almost passed-over. Engaging with such technical considerations meant that the book was, in many respects, enjoyable to write. The ethics of the thing, however – which are peculiar to memoir – meant that more than any other piece of writing, it was a lived experience too … 

Below you can read an extract from the memoir.

Extract from I Don't Want to Go to the Taj Mahal
I am a Christmas temp at H. Samuel, the high street jeweller, where a fella called Tahir puts me straight about the low quality of Pakistani gold and someone with blond hair and blue eyes, who looks after the Raymond Weils but is lacking in certain deductive skills, tries to sell me a part-share of a holiday apartment in Fuengirola. 

Another temp lives in a tower block in Five Ways. I go back to his and am told that people who use rolling tobacco in their spliffs are amateurs. At lunchtime I see him in the store room, filling a sports bag full of watches and alarm clocks which he later passes to an old woman, hard-bitten; if I hadn’t been stoned I might have said something to someone, though I think, in retrospect, that’s unlikely.

Interviewed for a Registered General Nursing Diploma, I have a plan to show I’m under no illusions about how hard I’ll have to work and that I haven’t decided to do it just so I can get a qualification, although this is certainly uppermost in my mind. “I know it’s a very dirty business,” I say, “I’m perfectly happy clearing up shit.” And then: “I mean I don’t mind clearing up shit at all, I know that’s a big part of the job. The shit.”

“Any questions?” they ask at the end, perplexed. “Not really,” I say, persevering, about a week before I don’t get an offer because they think I have some sort of shit fetish, “I just want you to know that I don’t mind wiping bottoms and I’m prepared to get stuck in with the cleaning up of all the shit.”

New Year’s Eve, after the pub, I am escorted round the back of an independent bakery, Lukers in Moseley, by a woman uninterested in pastries. I am being forced up against a pile of pallets when the security lights come on and she bails — a circumstance that leads me to question my hitherto rock-solid antipathy to the nascent Surveillance State.  

First love. One day, shortly after the longest Christmas on record, there was a heavy fall of snow in the south west. “I don’t want to go to work today,” I said, and she said, “you don’t have to. Tell them you went to Devon for the weekend and can’t get back.” So I rang a Civil Servant in the office where I’d just been promoted and told him I was snowbound in Tavistock.

We spent the morning warm under thin blankets, feeding each other fresh strawberries dipped in cream, mouth-to-mouth. Later, there was a cosmic blessing. The clouds above the city opened and dropped flowers of snow onto streets of cars and terraced houses and we went for a walk down the middle of Willows Road, linking arms like the Freewheelin’ Dylan and Suze.  

Monday 15 June 2020

Cathi Rae, "Your Cleaner Hates You and Other Poems"

Congratulations to MA Creative Writing student Cathi Rae, whose debut poetry pamphlet, Your Cleaner Hates You and Other Poems, has recently been published by Soulful Publishing. Here, you can read about her work and book. 

Cathi Rae has been described as an exciting emerging voice on the spoken-word scene. Joelle Taylor says she is "a contemporary spoken-word icon" and Lydia Towsey describes her work as "clear eyed, detailed, beautiful and necessary."

Cathi is a multiple slam competition winner and has performed extensively in pubs, poetry events and festivals.

After a very long career working with teenagers at risk of exclusion from education, she now pays the bills by cleaning other people's houses and has the head space finally to focus on her writing and performing career.

She is currently completing an MA in creative writing at Leicester University and working on her second collection.

Your Cleaner Hates You and Other Poems is Cathi Rae's debut collection, published by Soulful Publishing.

The work covers a four-year period and includes work originally devised as spoken-word pieces and more traditional page poetry.

The work aims to be quietly nuanced and use every day accessible language to create poetry for both experienced readers of contemporary poetry and for those who have never considered reading poetry.

Featured below is one of the poems from the collection.

There is more to your cleaner than meets the eye ...

This one gets up at five
Runs as fast and far as heart and lungs can bear
Revels in the recognition from other early morning pavement pounders
And then puts on the uniform of tabard
Bleach stained leggings 
Becomes invisible again 

This one knows the name of every star that's in the sky
And more than that
Can tell you why they are so named
Has spent so long on hands and knees 
She fears she may have lost the knack
Of looking up

This one's boyfriend is banged up again 
Working double shifts
She curated a collection of childcare
So complicated
That in a gallery 
It would be labelled
Or DNA of every day

That one says she's lucky
In a refugee camp far away
At fifteen
The soldiers said she was too old to rape
She was left alone

This one speaks five languages 
Knows exactly what your husband and his mates 
Make of her arse
When she bends down
To scrub your skirting boards
Laser jets from lowered lids
If looks could kill

This one holds a broken bird
A touch so light 
It's if her hands were wings 
And not these red and swollen things 
Fingerprints burnt off with bleach 
She always thinks
Should she start a new career
As master thief

And this one 
This one's writing poetry 
Verse as vicious as vipers 
Mouth so acidic 
It makes diamonds bleed
This one's writing poetry
There is more to your cleaner than you will ever see.

Friday 12 June 2020

Christopher Norris, "A Partial Truth"

Christopher Norris is Emeritus Professor in Philosophy at the University of Cardiff and a visiting fellow at Birkbeck College, London. In his early career he taught English Literature, then moved to Philosophy via literary theory, and has now moved back in the direction of Creative Writing. He has published widely on the topic of deconstruction and is the author of more than thirty books on aspects of philosophy, literature, the history of ideas, and music. More recently he has turned to writing poetry in various genres, including – unusually – that of the philosophical verse-essay. His verse-collections to date are The Cardinal’s Dog, For the Tempus-Fugitives, The Matter of Rhyme, A Partial Truth, and Socrates at Verse. At present he is finishing work on two further collections: As Knowing Goes and Other Poems and an extended series of verse reflections on themes from the writing of Jacques Derrida.

Over the past few years Chris has also been active as a left-wing political poet with satires and invectives brought together in two volumes: The Trouble with Monsters and A Folded Lie (with cartoons by Martin Gollan). His political poems appear regularly on the website Culture Matters and his more philosophical pieces in the weekly (now monthly) online magazine The Wednesday. He has lectured and held visiting posts at universities around the world, and his books have been translated into many languages. For the past thirty years Chris has sung with Cor Cochion Caerdydd (The Cardiff Reds Choir), a campaigning socialist street-choir, and has more recently joined The Eclectics, a smaller Swansea-based non-political group. During lockdown he has offered a series of Zoom lectures at various universities in Iraq as well as poetry readings at Aarhus University and elsewhere.

Chris lives in Swansea with his wife Valerie, a novelist and retired Professor of Materials Science at Swansea University. His daughters Clare and Jenny both live in Penarth. 

See also:

A Few Thoughts About My Poetry ...
By Christopher Norris

First off a bit of anecdotage for those who may wonder why an erstwhile literary theorist, philosopher and historian of ideas should now have turned to poetry as his preferred mode of writing, albeit poetry of a character which – at times – will put readers in mind of those earlier preoccupations. At its simplest this was a practical matter and a case of preemptive, in some degree preconscious  psychological strategy. As retirement from full-time university employment loomed ever closer I found myself wondering how best to satisfy on the one hand my need to carry on writing – a more than forty-year habit – and on the other my desire to do something different after all those academic monographs and articles. But this led on to some more germane or at any rate less personal-strategic ideas, among them the thought that certain kinds of verse-form might lend themselves to thinking differently – in a creative-exploratory way – about certain issues thrown up by my previous work.

The resultant project, or series of projects, has occupied the larger part of my time for writing during the past half-decade. All the poems collected in A Partial Truth (2019) and Socrates at Verse (2020) are instances of formal verse. That is, they all have a clearly marked rhyme-scheme along with a metrical structure and a range of other, perhaps less obvious formal features. If there is a general case being made then it is the case for formalism – broadly defined – as an attribute of any verse that genuinely merits the name. Thus ‘free verse’ is a flat contradiction in terms since if it is verse it can’t be ‘free,’ at least in the sense mostly intended by users of the phrase, and if it is free then it can’t be verse. Of course there is such a thing as prose poetry, or poetic prose, just as there is such a thing as verse that never attains the imaginative power or the expressive depth of poetry. A competent versifier might always be denied the title of poet despite their acknowledged technical prowess. But this judgement is one to be made on distinctly qualitative grounds, and one to which my poems will be subject quite aside from issues of form or verse-technique.

I am sometimes asked why so many of them have to do with matters of a philosophical or literary-critical import that very closely mirror my own interests as a one-time academic who spent a working lifetime involved in just those disciplines. The straightforward answer is that one has to have something to write about and that they throw up issues of particular interest to a formalist – like myself – who thinks that poems have distinctive ways of addressing them. Of course there is the just as obvious objection that these are not the sorts of problem that typically engage readers of poetry, or readers in search of poems that communicate across widely shared areas of human experience. I would make three points in response. First, there is currently a large academic and even non-academic readership for debates in the capacious area of ‘theory,’ a readership seemingly capable of perceiving their larger significance. Second, the poems themselves make a regular point of moving out beyond ‘technical’ issues to just such wider concerns. And third, these are issues that are, so to speak, in the public domain, or sufficiently a matter of open debate for their import to come across without access to modes of experience or states of feeling that are ultimately private to the poet in question. If these poems involve certain kinds of specialist interest or out-of-the-way knowledge then it is always the sort of thing that readers can find out – or (thankfully) look up on Google – and not the sort of thing that presupposes privileged or intimate reader-poet acquaintance. 

In other words they are much less obscure or private than a good deal of so-called ‘confessional’ poetry that presses the lyric impulse toward an extreme of self-absorption inimical to effective communication at any but a well-nigh visceral level. What I hope to have managed is a synthesis of musicality and the kind of thinking – or discursive intelligence – that poets and critics at least since Eliot have been anxious to expel from poetry’s domain. That this expulsion had some less than desirable effects on Eliot’s thinking beyond that domain is a point worth noting, as is the cost in lives wrecked or prematurely ended by the confessional cult that disfigured so much mid-to-late C20 verse. Not that formalism offers a guaranteed bulwark against such destructive extremes, as witnessed by the case of a rigorous ultra-formalist like Veronica Forrest-Thomson. But it does combine a check on the lyric tendency toward excessive or damaging self-absorption with the challenge (and incentive) to linguistic creativity posed by the exigences of formal structure.   

Below, you can read two poems: one from the collection A Partial Truth, one from Socrates At Verse.

San Pedro and the Aeroplanes

The cave-shrine of Catholic Saint Hermano Pedro (1626-67) occupies a striking and very beautiful layered-rock site near El Medano, South Tenerife. It is located at the end of the airport runway, directly beneath a main flight-path. The reference to Ezekiel concerns a visionary passage sometimes taken to prefigure the advent of jet aeroplanes. 

Glossing Ezekiel the saint maintains
Two theses contrary to common sense:
Time-travel and a thought of aeroplanes.

His cave and shrine abut the airport fence.
Such to-and-fro his hermit soul disdains,
Yet no affront to God, the switch of tense.

Flight-paths reduplicate the angel-lanes.
San Pedro stoops to count the pilgrim pence.
A turbine drowns his eventide refrains.

On kitschy goods the vapor trails condense
As kerosene anoints the saint's remains
And candles waver in the turbulence.

Still daily rise the heaven-touching strains:
'Sire, they take off downwind, a good league hence;
For decibels, consult the weather-vanes.'

As Pedro tolls for Prime so flights commence.
At Terce, Sext and None he regains
Ezekiel’s wing├ęd vision, God knows whence.

Blessing or curse, still nothing to the pains
They bore whose dark prophetic sapience
Brought thunder fit to shake the martyr’s chains.

Some aerial law of cause and consequence
Must hold, he thinks, if flight’s what God ordains,
Though miracles may hold them in suspense.

Why scorn these gaudy relics? he who feigns
Belief in them may come by such pretense
To credit tales of gods or aeroplanes.

Showings (Wittgenstein): a double sestina 

This inseparableness of everything in the world from language has intrigued modern thinkers, most notably Wittgenstein. If its limits—that is, the precise point at which sense becomes nonsense—could somehow be defined, then speakers would not attempt to express the inexpressible. Therefore, said Wittgenstein, do not put too great a burden upon language.
   - Peter Farb, Word-Play

If a person tells me he has been to the worst places I have no reason to judge him; but if he 
tells me it was his superior wisdom that enabled him to go there, then I know he is a fraud.
- Ludwig Wittgenstein, Personal Recollections (ed. Rush Rhees)  

The real discovery is the one which enables me to stop doing philosophy when I want to. The one that gives philosophy peace, so that it is no longer tormented by questions which bring itself into question.
- Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

The world is everything that is the case.
All that's the case is all that we can say.
Some things cannot be said but may be shown.
These are the most important things in life.
A change in them will be a change of world.
Let silence show where saying leads astray.

So many ways we can be led astray!
Delinquent speech is not the only case,
Though certain evils may infect our world
Through word-abuse. Believing we can say
What matters most, in language or in life,
Is Russell's error. This much can be shown.

That's why my faithful few won't have it shown
How moral compass-points can swing astray
Even with such ascetic forms of life
Or utterance as mine. Count it a case
Of things-gone-wrong that nobody could say
Belonged exclusively to word or world.

Russell and Moore: they were my Cambridge world
Back then although, despite some kindness shown,
They failed to grasp how using words to say
Those things unsayable led sense astray.
Their verdict on me: genius, but a case
Of life screwed up by mind and mind by life.

'Just tell them that it's been a wonderful life.'
My dying words, and spoken from a world
So distant, now, from all that is the case
With their world that what's said by them, or shown,
Will likely lead my auditors astray
As much as anything I've had to say.

Yet there's some truth in what the others say,
My critics, who'd regard a tortured life
Like mine as leading and as led astray
Since formed within the solipsistic world
Of my obsessions. That's the sole thing shown,
They’d say, by such a cautionary case.

I keep my life a closed book just in case
Some rogue biographer should have his say
And seek, for no good cause, to have it shown
That there were certain chapters in that life
Kept secret from the academic world
Lest scandal lead my acolytes astray.

Yet could it be some young men went astray
Because I'd cruise the Prater and then case
The gay joints in my craving for a world
As far removed as possible from, say,
The wealth and privilege of my old life,
Or the mixed spite and condescension shown

By Moore and his Apostles? If I've shown
A seamy side, a will to go astray
In quest of what they'll call 'his other life,'
It's not (the vulgar-Freudian view) a case
Of my abject desire that they should say
Harsh things that show me up before the world

For what I am. Rather, I deem that world
Of theirs a world in need of being shown
Such truths as neither they nor I can say
Since, in the saying, sense would go astray
And make me out a monster or a case
For some corrective treatment. It's my life,

Not anything I've written, but my life 
As lived that bears sole witness to the world
Concerning just those matters in the case
Of Ludwig Wittgenstein that should be shown,
Not said, since uttering them sends words astray
And has them mimic what they fail to say.

And yet I ask: why think of 'show' and 'say'
In such bi-polar terms unless your life,
Like mine, has gone unspeakably astray
And left you stranded in an alien world
Where your 'condition' can at most be shown,
Not talked about or stated, just in case.

A modest claim: to say, not save, the world,
Yet still too statement-bound, as life has shown.
What was it went astray with what's the case?

No world exists that logothetes might say
'Here's all we've shown: that words bring worlds to life.'
What if 'the case' just is what goes astray?