Monday 30 November 2020

Black Lives Matter: Poems for a New World

By Ambrose Musiyiwa 

In May 2020, George Floyd’s murder was captured on mobile phone video by active bystanders. The video showed a white policeman pressing his knee against Floyd's neck and keeping it there for close to nine minutes until Floyd died. The murder triggered months of mass protests in the United States and around the world.

The protests have been taking place in the midst of a global pandemic that, in Europe and the United States, is also disproportionately killing people from Black, Asian and ethnic minority backgrounds.

An entry on Wikipedia highlights how "Black Lives Matter," "Hands up, don't shoot," "Am I a threat?," "I can't breathe," "White silence is violence," "No justice, no peace," "Is my son next?," "Get your knee off my neck," and more, have become rallying calls against the killing of Black people by the police and against racism, racialised inequality, discrimination, violence and oppression.

Around the world people are demanding justice and change.

Black Lives Matter: Poems for a New World (CivicLeicester, 2020) came out of a June 2020 call for poems and short prose on the theme, "Black Lives Matter."

We were looking for submissions exploring any of the images, issues, histories, lives, demands and outcomes that are being highlighted by Black Lives Matter and current and past protests. We were interested in submissions from writers of all ages and backgrounds, based anywhere in the world.

We received close to 500 poems from over 300 writers around the world. Black Lives Matter: Poems for a New World presents 107 of these poems from 95 writers. The poems were selected for how they respond to the theme and for how they speak to others in the anthology.

I commend the poems to you and hope they will also encourage you to keep insisting that Black Lives Matter in your village, town, region and country and in the places from which you get your livelihood, goods and services.

Writers featured in the anthology include (in alphabetical order): Peter A, ‘Funmi Adewole, Mayo Agard-Olubo, Sandra A. Agard, Jim Aitken, Nick Allen, Rosalie Alston, Judith Amanthis, Adrienne Asher, Mellow Baku, Sharon Cherry Ballard, Panya Banjoko, Tanisha Barrett, Lesley Benzie, Conor Blessing, Tim Bombdog, Richard Byrt, Julian Colton, Mark Connors, John Cooper, Tracy Davidson, Giles Dawnay, Martins Deep, Sara Eliot, Blake Everitt, Ravelle-Sadé Fairman, Mike Farren, Paul Francis, Michelle Fuller, Harry Gallagher, Mike Gallagher, Moira Garland, Kathy Gee, Rachel Glass, Lind Grant-Oyeye, Prabhu S. Guptara, Nusrat Haider, Jean Hall, Roger Hare, Samantha Harper-Robins, Deborah Harvey, Jem Henderson, Kevin Higgins, Arun Jeetoo, Hamdi Khalifa, Kihwa-Endale, Tom Krause, Laurie Kuntz, D.L. Lang, Charles Lauder Jnr, Adriano Timoteo Llosa, Rob Lowe, Paul Lyalls, Margaret Mair, Isabella Mead, Lester G. Medina, Maureen Mguni, Jenny Mitchell, Leanne Moden, Cheryl Moskowitz, Hubert Moore, Loraine Masiya Mponela, Ambrose Musiyiwa, Linda Nabasa, Russell Nichols, Chad Norman, Selina Nwulu, Sarah Nymanhall, Revd Dr Catherine Okoronkwo, Nasrin Parvaz, Tracey Pearson, Alexandros Plasatis, steve pottinger, Judith Prest, Marilyn Ricci, Bethany Rivers, Jenny Robb, Caroline Rooney, Eddie Saint-Jean, Chrys Salt, Barbara Saunders, Joel Scarfe, Lily Silverman, Suzan Spence, Gerda Stevenson, Laila Sumpton, Samir Sweida-Metwally, George Symonds, Deborah Tyler-Bennett, Cheryl Vallely, PR Walker, Patricia Welles, Michele Witthaus, and Kathy Zwick.

Black Lives Matter: Poems for a New World is available here

About the author
Ambrose Musiyiwa coordinates Journeys in Translation, an international, volunteer-driven initiative that is translating Over Land, Over Sea: Poems for those Seeking Refuge (Five Leaves Publications, 2015) into other languages. Books he has edited include Bollocks to Brexit: an Anthology of Poems and Short Fiction (CivicLeicester, 2019) and Leicester 2084 AD: New Poems about The City (CivicLeicester, 2018). He is the author of The Gospel According to Bobba

You can read an interview with Ambrose on Everybody's Reviewing here

Thursday 26 November 2020

"Remembering, Forgetting and Storytelling"

By Jonathan Taylor

Either I forget immediately or I never forget.

 – Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

As part of the MA in Creative Writing, we run a thematised semi-module on 'Memory and Writing.' On this course, we explore ideas about memory in theory and practice, and do so 'trans-generically,' through creative non-fiction - especially memoir - fiction, poetry and scriptwriting. We look at subjects including psychology, the uncanny, neurology, textual memory and narrative memory. What follows are some thoughts on memory, remembering and forgetting, in relation to storytelling and writing, which this semi-module has thrown up over the last few years. 

In all sorts of ways, storytelling is bound up with memory, with the process of remembering and forgetting. It exists, I think, in the overlap between remembering and forgetting, in an unstable equilibrium between their two powerful gravitational pulls. It needs both, and if one of them becomes too strong, too dominant, it can distort and ultimately destroy narrative. All writers play with the two forces, mixing them to different degrees; but both are necessary for stories to function. 

The Importance of Remembering
Clearly, remembering is essential for stories to exist. Without it, we couldn’t piece together narratives, connect up the events. We couldn’t tell stories about others or even ourselves. Nor could we read or understand stories: reading is an act of memory. In reading, we establish narrative connections in our memories, with what has gone before in the text we are reading, and with previous texts we have read in the past. This is what reception theorist Wolfgang Iser says about the relationship between reading and remembering: ‘Whatever we have read sinks into our memory and is foreshortened. It may later be evoked again and set against a different background with the result that the reader is enabled to develop hitherto unforeseeable connections. The memory evoked, however, can never reassume its original shape, for this would mean that memory and perception were identical, which is manifestly not so. The new background brings to light new aspects of what we had committed to memory; conversely these, in turn, shed their light on the new background, thus arousing more complex anticipations. Thus, the reader, in establishing these interrelations between past, present and future, actually causes the text to reveal its potential multiplicity of connections’ (‘The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach’).

If reading stories depends on establishing connections, and hence on remembering what has already happened, memory itself is made up of stories: your memory is a patchwork of remembered stories. As Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French suggest, ‘the moments that altered your life you remember at length and in detail; your memory tells you your story, and it is a great natural storyteller’ (Writing Fiction).

The symbiotic relationship of remembering with storytelling comes into focus when it malfunctions. In her wonderful memoir about her mother’s Alzheimer’s, Remind Me Who I Am, Again?, Linda Grant says that ‘Memory, I have come to understand, is everything, it’s life itself.’ Without it, narrative and even a sense of self disintegrate. In Micaela Maftei’s words: ‘When the ability to self-narrate is … stripped away, there is no longer any way to reliably construct a version of reality; unsurprisingly, this has catastrophic effects not only on the diagnosed individual, but also on those close to them’ (The Fiction of Autobiography). 

This is because our very sense of selfhood depends on narrative, on the stories we remember and tell to others. As neurologist Oliver Sacks writes: ‘We have, each of us, a life-story, an inner narrative – whose continuity, whose sense, is our lives. It might be said that each of us constructs and lives a “narrative,” and that this narrative is us, our identities .... Each of us is a biography, a story. Each of us is a singular narrative, which is constructed, continually, unconsciously, by, through, and in us ... To be ourselves we must have ourselves – possess, if need be re-possess, our life-stories. We must “recollect” ourselves ... A man needs such a narrative, a continuous inner narrative, to maintain his identity, his self’ (The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat). 

Disease, loss, and, for that matter, politics can distort, undermine or even wipe out a person’s remembered ‘inner narrative’ and hence sense of self. As novelist Milan Kundera puts it, ‘The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting’ (The Book of Laughter and Forgetting). 

Stories Remember
In part, then, stories are memory warehouses – storage rooms for remembering. According to Jeanette Winterson, in fact, this is how storytelling and poetry originated: ‘There was a time,’ she writes, ‘when record-keeping wasn’t an act of administration; it was an art form. The earliest poems were there to commemorate, to remember, across generations, whether a victory in battle, or the life of the tribe. The Odyssey, Beowulf are poems, yes, but with a practical function. If you can’t write it down how will you pass it on? You remember. You recite’ (Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?). In stories, the past is remembered and, indeed, returns, as Grant remarks: ‘So the past goes on re-arranging itself in surprising new ways. It is not over, never finished with. It keeps returning. Always to surprise us’ (Remind Me Who I Am, Again?). 

This means that storytelling, like remembering, is a kind of ‘mental time travel,’ which, in a sense, reanimates and often reshapes the past: ‘It may seem surprising,’ writes James Gleick, ‘that it took psychologists sixty more years to define this phenomenon and give it the name “mental time travel,” but they done that now. A neuroscientist in Canada, Endel Tulving, coined the term for what he called “episodic memory” in the 1970s and 1980s. “Remembering, for the rememberer, is mental time travel,” he wrote, “ a sort of reliving of something that happened in the past”’ (Time Travel: A History). 

One book which famously lives up to the idea of storytelling as a store-house or repository for memories – and which enacts ‘mental time travel’ in its very structure – is Joe Brainard’s strange memoir I Remember. The memoir is a list of fragmentary memories, all preceded with the phrase ‘I remember …’ – memories of childhood, school days, sexual experiences, food, drink, celebrities, relationships, brands, adverts, commonplace sayings, hundreds of fragments and details: ‘I remember the only time I ever saw my mother cry. I was eating apricot pie … I remember how good a glass of water can taste after a dish of ice cream … I remember one of the first things I remember. An icebox. (As opposed to a refrigerator) … I remember white margarine in a plastic bag. And a little package of orange powder. You put the orange powder in the bag with the margarine and you squeezed it all around until the margarine became yellow.’

Remembering Everything
Brainard’s I Remember could be seen as an attempt to exhaust the past – to list everything, write down every single memory, however trivial; and, although that impression is only an illusion (it was, after all, very heavily edited), it’s certainly a challenge to the way we hierarchize some memories (and, indeed, histories) over others. Perhaps remembering margarine and glasses of water after ice cream are just as important to an individual as world-changing political events, or (closer to home) apparently life-changing decisions. Sometimes, for whatever reason, we remember trivia, idiosyncratic details, pop culture, TV adverts, brands, at least as much as we remember apparent trauma. Who’s to say what’s really important?

Jorge Luis Borges’s remarkable short story, ‘Funes, His Memory,’ is all about someone who remembers everything – every single tiny detail in his life – and hence can’t separate or hierarchize or even classify things. His memory becomes a ‘garbage heap’ (as he calls it), and his story a garbled tragedy: ‘His perception and memory were perfect … He knew the forms of the clouds in the southern sky on the morning of April 30, 1882, and he could compare them in his memory with the veins in the marbled binding of a book he had seen only once … Nor were those memories simple – every visual image was linked to muscular sensations, thermal sensations, and so on. He was able to reconstruct every dream, every daydream he had ever had. Two or three times he had reconstructed an entire day; … each reconstruction had itself taken an entire day … Funes … was … incapable of general, platonic ideas. Not only was it difficult for him to see that the generic symbol “dog” took in all the dissimilar individuals of all shapes and sizes, it irritated him that the “dog” of three-fourteen in the afternoon, seen in profile, should be indicated by the same noun as the dog of three-fifteen, seen frontally … In the teeming world of Ireneo Funes there was nothing but particulars’ (‘Funes, His Memory’). For the philosopher Jacques Derrida, such limitless memory is a terrible impossibility: ‘Memory is finite by nature … A limitless memory would … be not memory but infinite self-presence’ (Dissemination). 

Joe Brainard, Pansies

The Importance of Forgetting
‘Infinite self-presence’ does not make an effective (life-)story – and it’s clear, from Borges’s description of Ireneo Funes, that his life is all disconnected images, moments, details, which he finds impossible to link up into a narrative. This is because narrative also depends on omission as well as inclusion – if you try and include everything, storytelling becomes impossible. In other words, storytelling depends on both remembering and forgetting: without the former, there can be no connection between then and now; without the latter, experience is ‘infinite self-presence,’ chaos, a garbage heap. Linda Grant writes that ‘Because we do not remember everything that has ever happened to us, because we must filter and select and edit the experiences and information that enter our senses every day and transform it into a meaningful narrative, our lives are essentially stories’ (Remind Me Who I Am, Again?). Similarly, the author Romesh Gunesekera says that: ‘In the sense that writing is to retrieve the past and stop the passing of time, all writing is about loss. It’s not nostalgia, in the sense of yearning to bring back the past, but recognition of the erosion of things as you live.’ 

Writing depends on memory and loss, presence and erosion, remembering and forgetting. As Derrida puts it, ‘if one has resorted to … writing … it is … because living memory is finite, it already has holes in it before writing every comes to leave its traces … The opposition between mneme and hypomnesis would thus preside over the meaning of writing.’ According to Derrida, this is the ‘doubling’ effect of writing: it depends both on absence and presence, memory and substitute memory, remembering and the ‘holes’ of forgetting (Dissemination).

Remembering, Forgetting and Structure
This doubleness of writing, this tension between remembering and forgetting, often informs the very structure of how stories are told. Memoirs, for example, entirely depend on the selection of material – on decisions about which memories and events to include, which to leave out (or ‘forget’), what stories to tell, what gaps should be left between episodes. As Derek Neale and Sara Haslam suggest, ‘a memoir ... can ... be structured in a fragmentary, snapshot fashion .... The silence between episodes is intriguing ... – who could, or would want to, write everything down?’ (Life Writing). Presumably, only Borges's Funes could or would want to. 

Likewise, novelist and memoirist Jeanette Winterson claims that: ‘For a writer, what you leave out says as much as those things you include. What lies beyond the margin of the text? The photographer frames the shot; writers frame their world … When we tell a story we exercise control, but in such a way as to leave a gap, an opening … Perhaps we hope that the silences will be heard by someone else, and the story can continue, can be retold. When we write we offer the silence as much as the story’ (Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?). Even Brainard’s I Remember, which seems so exhaustive in its list-like narrative style, depends for its aesthetic effect on both what is said and the gaps (the white spaces on the page) between memories and moments. 

Short stories, too, depend as much on omission as on inclusion: by definition, a short story can only handle a small amount of material, so vast (infinite?) swathes of back story and future story have to be left out. Virginia Woolf (to give one example among many) often plays with this aspect of short fiction. In her famous story ‘The Mark on the Wall,’ even the narrator is torn between remembering and forgetting, struggling to tell a coherent story because of her fallible memory: ‘In order to fix a date, it is necessary to remember what one saw … I can’t remember a thing. Everything’s moving, falling, slipping, vanishing’ (‘The Mark on the Wall’). 

Storytelling here is in danger of being torn apart by the conflicting gravitational pulls of forgetting and desperately trying to remember. It’s always an unstable relationship, a volatile compound, that authors experiment with, in a thousand different ways. It can be destructive, explosive. It can pull stories into weird, fascinating, unexpected shapes. 

It can even be a story in itself – as it is in Linda Grant’s memoir, which moves between the daughter’s urge to remember and recover the past, and the mother’s forgetting illness. In miniature form, it’s also the story encapsulated in John Clare’s famous late poem, ‘I Am.’ The poem moves tragically from recalling lost friends (who have themselves forgotten the narrator) towards a realm of total forgetfulness, oblivion, at the end: 

I Am
I am—yet what I am none cares or knows;
My friends forsake me like a memory lost:
I am the self-consumer of my woes—
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes
And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I loved the best
Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest.
Into the living sea of waking dreams,

I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.

 - John Clare

Works Cited
Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot (1953)
Jorge Luis Borges, ‘Funes, His Memory’ (1942)
Joe Brainard, I Remember (1975)
Janet Burroway and Elizabeth Stuckey-French, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft (2006)
John Clare, ‘I Am’ (1848)
Jacques Derrida, Dissemination (1969)
James Gleick, Time Travel: A History (2016)
Linda Grant, Remind Me Who I Am Again? (1998)
Romesh Gunesekera, ‘Lost Horizons’  (2007)
Wolfgang Iser, ‘The Reading Process: A Phenomenological Approach’ (New Literary History, 1972)
Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (1978)
Micaela Maftei, The Fiction of Autobiography (2013)
Derek Neale and Sara Haslam, Life Writing (2009)
Oliver Sacks, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (1985)
Jeanette Winterson, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2012)
Virginia Woolf, ‘The Mark on the Wall’ (1917)

Jonathan Taylor is director of the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. His website is here

Tuesday 24 November 2020

Kerry Hadley-Pryce, "Gamble"


Kerry Hadley-Pryce was born in the Black Country. She worked nights in a Wolverhampton petrol station before becoming a secondary school teacher. She wrote her first novel, The Black Country, whilst studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University, for which she gained a distinction and was awarded the Michael Schmidt Prize for Outstanding Achievement 2013–14. Gamble, her second novel, was shortlisted for the Encore Second Novel Award, 2019. Both novels were published by Salt Publishing. She is currently a PhD candidate at Manchester Metropolitan University, researching Psychogeography and Black Country Writing, and is working on her third novel, God's Country.

Kerry's website is here. You can read an earlier interview with Kerry Hadley-Pryce on Everybody's Reviewing here

About Gamble

Greg Gamble: he’s a teacher, he works hard, he’s a husband, a father. He’s a good man, or tries to be. But even a good man can face a crisis. Even a good man can face temptation. Even a good man can find himself faced with difficult choices.

Greg Gamble: he thinks he can keep his head in the game. He thinks he’s trying to be good. Until he realises everyone is flawed.

And for Gamble, trying to be good just isn’t enough.

From Gamble

To him, she’d taste of vanilla, or cucumber, or raw chives, perhaps. She looked like that kind of girl, he thought. 

He’ll say he’d watched her arrive, and how the van was parked across his driveway. It would have bothered him before, anyone parking across the driveway; that day though, he’d stood at his living room window (the ‘lounge’, his wife, Carolyn, called it. He hates that word: lounge) and he’d watched her, this girl, through the gap in the mesh of net curtain, and he’d wondered what she’d taste like. He felt a little bit sick – sometimes standing for too long did that to him – but he was trying to ignore all that, and anyway, it was Monday, and he’ll say he always felt the cloy of nerves at the start of another week of teaching. So, watching the girl was taking his mind off all that. Words like ‘willowy’, ‘asymmetrical’ and ‘seemly’ mixed with ‘uncareful’, ‘wild’ and ‘brash’ in his mind as he watched her. Her hair, he noticed, was almost blonde – some bits of it were rapeseedy, he decided – and she seemed to have a habit of pushing stray strands behind her ear. She did that a lot, he noticed. He counted. Fourteen times. There seemed a regularity to her way of doing it, and it reminded him of poetry, the way she kept repeating it. She was carrying cardboard boxes into the building opposite and, as he stood watching her, he came to realise he’d never really noticed it, that building. It was a building, and it was just there opposite his 1950s semi. Looking back now, he questions all that. But he was noticing the girl, just then. She wore, he thought, very red lipstick, and that made her look odd, or the lips look odd, like she had a permanent pout, or had been punched, and he found he was forming an opinion about that. He watched her enter the building and then reappear, and became aware that, with every appearance of her, he’d suck in his stomach, straighten his back. Becoming aware of it made him feel somehow ineligible and a little despairing. He’ll say he realised then, he needed someone to talk to. Just to talk.

Saturday 21 November 2020

"The Call of the Wild" in Children's Literature

By Millie Henson

I hope everyone reading this is doing well, even if the universe isn’t making it easy right now.

I’m Millie Henson, I’m 22, and I’ve recently finished my MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. I returned home to Derbyshire to finish my dissertation, where long walks through overgrown paths and forests inspired some of the themes of nature in my story. I grew up learning the names of wild plants, like elderberries, sloes, and dandelions (and I was assured I could make wine out of all of them). I wanted to bring some of that natural childish wonder to my final project.

My dissertation was a 12,000-word middle-grade children’s story written from the perspective of a feral child in Suomi (Finland). The protagonist, Aria, was raised in the forest by a bear who became her adoptive mother. The key themes in this story include kindness and tolerance, which are developed through Aria’s connections with other children in the village as they try to help her understand the human world. Common tropes in children’s literature such as ‘The Call of the Wild’ are usually used to deter children from going into the forest, or other supposedly dangerous places, alone. I wanted to subvert these expectations by showing how, from Aria’s perspective, human society was a place of greed and malicious intent, whilst the forest was a peaceful place she wished to return to. She imagined the forest was calling to her: ‘Come home, where the trees will hum and sing for you.’

When I researched pre-existing children’s literature about children being raised by animals, I realised that most books involve a fantasy element. Either the children are transformed into animals or have some magical way to communicate with them, often caused by an enchantment. This is most likely for practical reasons; it’s harder to hold onto a child’s attention without the main characters being able to speak to each other. However, I wanted to maintain a sense of (magical) realism, which meant I had to research real-life cases of children living with animals.

What I found was the complex history of feral children, who were raised by wild animals or lived alone in the wilderness away from civilisation. Michael Newton’s A History of Feral Children (2011) discusses case studies of children being raised by bears, wolves, dogs, tigers, and monkeys. These animals took mercy on children who would otherwise have died of exposure or starvation, which shows how a maternal instinct can transcend species. For centuries scientists have explored the effects this has on children, who often never regain full powers of communication. Unfortunately, many academics dehumanise feral children by questioning their intelligence, emotional capacity, and whether they can be considered ‘human.’ Since I was basing some of Aria’s speech and behaviours on these real-life cases of feral children, I wanted to ensure that I did so respectfully, by showing the world from her perspective, including her instinctive thoughts and feelings, instead of making her a curiosity

Writing a children’s book allowed me to incorporate one of my other passions, art. I created watercolour illustrations, such as Aria and her bear mother surrounded by Finnish plants and leaves, and I added a border to make the pages more colourful. Children’s illustrations can be important not only for engaging the young reader, but also for helping to create a tone for the story. This is why I based my paintings on artwork I had seen alongside traditional fairy tales.


I found writing my dissertation very rewarding, as I could see the story come together from concept to completion. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of writing 15,000 words in three months was daunting at the beginning. I came up with a loose plan for the plot, which involved Aria’s relationship with her bear mother, missing rubies, and poisoned flowers, but I began writing before I knew exactly what was going to happen. I didn’t look out for grammar or repetition, or whether everything sounded how I imagined it. During my Master's, I’ve learned that it’s far easier to go back and edit a messy paragraph than to stare at a blank page hoping the perfect sentence will come to you. 

I’m always wary about giving writing advice as different processes will suit different people. What works for me is structuring my writing around lots of achievable deadlines. Writing 500 words seems much easier than writing 15,000. Then once you finish a task you can tick it off, and that rush of serotonin will motivate you to start the next one. If you feel like you’ve been staring at the screen for too long, your eyes have gone blurry, and your words don’t make any sense, it may be time to take a break. Never underestimate the power of a cup of tea. A few minutes away from your desk will clear your head and allow you to come back to your work in the best possible mindset.

Below, you can read an excerpt from my Dissertation.

Prologue from Mari and the Red Mist

Have you ever been alone in the forest, and felt the wind whisper in your ear? That’s Otso, the bear spirit, the invisible king of the forest. He lives in Finland, Suomi. The land of wild winters and sweltering summers.

No one knows exactly how Otso came to rule over the forests. Legends say that he was nursed by the goddess of the woodlands in a cradle of gold, suspended between the branches of a fir tree.

In the runes he has many names, maybe you’ve heard them? Golden Light-Foot, Honey-Paw of the Mountains.

Some believe that when a child disappears into the woods, Otso transforms them into a bear cub so they may survive. When they grow into a mighty bear the forest becomes their kingdom too. They have no boundaries; the only limit is how fast they can run or how high they can climb. Until, eventually, they forget they were ever human.

Of course, this is only a fairy-tale. 

Friday 20 November 2020

Writing Character Goals, Objectives, Flaws and Fears

By Kristina Adams

If someone were to write about my goals, ambitions, and motivations, they’d probably put something like this: ‘She’s obsessed with writing. The first story she wrote outside of school was about a stolen china teacup. She was seven. Since then, she’s experimented with many different genres and mediums. No matter what gets in her way, she’ll always find a way to write. Her chronic pain sometimes makes it difficult to write, but when this happens, she finds ways around it. The thing that motivates her the most to write is her strong desire to help people.’

That paragraph tells you a lot about me, doesn’t it? It’s fair to say that I have a pretty one-track mind – most of my life revolves around writing. I really can be quite boring in that regard.

When that comes to goals and ambitions for characters, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Your character needs to have one main goal they’re working towards. Any more and it makes it confusing for you to write and confusing for the reader to follow.

The only exception to the one-goal rule is in a series, where you could have a goal per book and also one per series. For example, a detective in a crime novel could be motivated to find the murderer. But her goal in the series could be to find the person that murdered her mother ten years ago. The early seasons of Castle slowly explore this backstory for Beckett, teasing out bits of information about it from her as she learns to trust the titular character. Some of the show’s most powerful episodes are tied to Beckett’s search for answers about what happened to her mum because the victim of the crime is someone the viewer knows so well.

Think about TV shows from fifteen or twenty years ago. Often, episodes would have two layers: the demon / murderer / conundrum of the week, then on top of that a serial arc. The episodic theme could lead them to figure out elements of the serial arc, too. At the end of the series, either that arc is wrapped up, or a new layer / question is added to it to lead into the next series.

Goals and motivations
Motivations are tied to goals. If someone’s goal is to publish a book, their motivation could come from other people suggesting they do it, or from their deep desire to share a particular story. The thing that holds them back will always be their fear or their flaw.

Quite often, their flaw will come in the form of a fear, but not always. But let’s run with fears for a moment. In the case of a writer, it’s often the fear of being judged or rejected by agents, publishers, critics, and/or readers.

Fear is what holds people back in their goals more than anything else. For someone to achieve their goal, their motivation to do it must be stronger than their fear.

Fear tends to run deeper than claustrophobia or arachnophobia, although they can be useful if you want to torture your characters in a particular scene. It would be hard to carry a whole story – or series of stories – on something like that. A scene that focuses on it – or someone avoiding particular situations because of it – could work.

Everyday fears are the ones that hold people back more without them even realising it. Often because they don’t know they even have those fears. These include the fears of judgment, embarrassment, rejection, loneliness, or physical or mental health problems. These fears are tied to other people and our needs as a social species. We’ll do anything to not feel ostracised from those around us, both the people we love, people we don’t know, and sometimes even the people we hate. We want to feel like a part of something. Your characters are no different.

Many people fear public speaking because they fear standing up in front of so many people. Why? Because those people can judge them. Nobody likes to be judged, so many people avoid public speaking so they can’t be.

But you could flip that on its head. What if your main character needs to speak at a charity event to raise money for a friend to get a new cancer drug that their healthcare won’t cover? Their goal, then, is to help their friend. It motivates them to overcome their fear because they’re more afraid of losing their friend than of getting up on stage.

As I’ve said, fears are one of the bigger flaws, but there are plenty of others you can play with. There are the seven deadly sins: anger, greed, gluttony, lust, pride, sloth, and envy. Depending on what you’re writing about, these could give you considerable ways to put your character’s primary goal at odds with how they’re used to behaving. Someone who’s surrounded by material wealth having to give it all up and discover they don’t need it after all is a common one. Or someone very slothful discovering their motivation because they’ve finally found a real cause to get behind. Or maybe someone whose default reaction to not getting what they want being anger finally having to confront how unhealthy their angry behaviour is.

To come up with your character’s flaw or fear, think of something that’s directly at odds with what they want to achieve. That could be a musician with stage fright, a would-be politician who’s afraid of judgment, or a lust-filled nun.

About Kristina's book and course
How to Write Believable Characters: Character Development Tips for Novelists, Poets, and Scriptwriters, by Kristina Adams, is available now in ebook and print here and here. 

Discover how to create realistic, believable, and three-dimensional characters that readers remember long after they've turned the final page. Preorder Kristina’s Character Creation Crash Course today here

About the author
Kristina Adams is an author, blogger, and reformed caffeine addict. She’s written nine novels about our fascination with celebrity culture, three nonfiction books for writers, and too many blog posts to count. She shares advice for writers over on her blog, The Writer’s Cookbook.

Author website:


You can read another article by Kristina Adams, "How Creative Writing Skills Can Make You A Better Copywriter," on Creative Writing at Leicester here

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Elizabeth Baines, "Astral Travel"

Elizabeth Baines is the author of two short story collections, Balancing on the Edge of the World and Used to Be, and two previous novels, The Birth Machine and Too Many Magpies, all published by and available from Salt. Her new, metafictive novel, Astral Travel, explores the effects that secrets forged in the cultural, religious and sexual prejudices of the past can have on subsequent generations, and the power and potential tyranny of storytelling, and the difficulty sometimes of getting at the truth. Her website is here. She blogs here

About Astral Travel

There were always two versions of Jo Jackson’s Irish father Patrick: the charming, talkative man he was in the outside world and in the tales Jo’s mother would tell her of their early life together, and the man Jo and her siblings experienced: bad-tempered, broody and uncommunicative, and given to violence towards them – an experience that has affected them into their adult life.

As the most rebellious of the siblings, and therefore the one he most had it in for, Jo long ago distanced herself from him, but, now a writer, after his death she finds herself drawn to write about him. Yet the more she thinks about him, the more she trawls her own memories and quizzes her mother, and the more she tries to investigate his past in Ireland, of which he hardly ever spoke, the more the mysteries deepen …

Astral Travel is available here

Below, you can read an extract from the beginning of Astral Travel

From Astral Travel


It was the winter I discovered I had a cyst in my belly, grown all without my knowing, and my sister’s heart started banging as if it wanted the hell out of there now. 

I went over on the train to the hospital she’d been taken to and rushed down the corridor and into the ward. She was sitting up, dark curls on end, still hooked to the monitor, but they’d given her a shot and her heart rate was back to normal. She was scowling, reminding me of our father, because they wouldn’t let her out of bed and she badly needed to pee.

There was a bed pan on the cover near the bottom of the bed. I said, ‘Use it, I’ll draw the curtains.’ She said, ‘You’re joking! Here?’ and looked around in horror at the drugged or sleeping patients each side and the curtains drawn on the bed opposite.

It’s a small town, of course, the one she still lives in, where our parents settled at long last when we were in our teens, and where she’s been a librarian all her adult life. She has her mystique to keep up.

The nurse came along and said my sister was OK now, her heartbeat had been normal for four hours, she could ring her husband to come back from his work to fetch her. As she took off the last plug my sister jumped from the leash and fled to the lavatory near the nurses’ station, slamming the door with a sound that rang round the ward.

I didn’t tell her about the cyst. And of course, the heart-thumping matter of the novel I had written, the novel about our family, wasn’t mentioned. By then the subject was completely avoided.


When I was six and my sister was four, she came down with scarlet fever, the one other time she was ever in hospital, carted off to an isolation hospital in the north Welsh hills.

We had only just moved from south Wales, the first of what would be several moves.

I sat outside the hospital in the car with my father, our baby brother asleep in the back in the carrycot, while our mother went in to visit her. Someone held her up at a hospital window for me to see her, but what I saw didn’t look like my sister, like Cathy: we were too far away and the window seemed to be frosted; all I could see was a pink thing that made me think of a shrimp. I guess we must have gone at bath time and they were in the bathroom.

For years afterwards Cathy would recount the horror of that time, considering it one of her major childhood traumas: the enforced baths in Dettol; the compulsory drink of sickly Ovaltine at bedtime; being made to march beforehand down the central aisle with the other children, with their various strange accents, singing a song she didn’t know in which you claimed to be something called an Ovalteenie, although she had no idea what that was.

Knowing nothing of this, cut off from my sister for the first time since I crawled across my mother’s exhausted body to look at her newborn face and exclaim in wonder, ‘Is she ours?’, I felt a new bleakness and sense of loss. The hills outside the car window were alien and bare, and my father was broody and silent beside me, which was how he had been since we’d moved here.

And there was something that had recently come to me, a disappointing realisation. I wanted to ask my father about it.

He’d seen fairies, he’d said, in Ireland where he was born, and even here in north Wales. He insisted upon it. I’d looked and looked, desperate to see them myself, but never had. And now I had read that they didn’t exist.


He didn’t respond in the way he would have done once, with a languid, crooked-toothed, teasing grin. He didn’t turn to me. His eagle-nosed profile was a stony sculpture against the car window. He was smoking, of course.

‘Hm?’ He sounded faraway, abstract.

‘Daddy, fairies don’t exist, do they, really?’

He didn’t answer.

I persisted. ‘Well, it’s like Father Christmas, isn’t it?’

He had gone completely still, and I knew what I’d done. I’d forgotten that he didn’t even know I knew about Father Christmas. My mother had said better not tell him, he’d be disappointed.

‘Daddy?’ He was still silent.

Finally he said, ‘No,’ with such frozen shock and, yes, such flat disappointment, that I was filled with guilt and dismay. And a sense that things between me and my father would never be the same again.

Well, that’s how I remember it. But what do I know? Things get lost, memory can be muddled. As I say, by then, by the time we sat outside the hospital in the hills, my father had already changed. He was no longer the father who took me with him on his insurance rounds, rattling in the little Austin Seven down the flickering country lanes of south Wales, zooming up to the hump-back bridges with a grin, fag in the one hand on the wheel or stuck behind his ear, laughing his head off as I left the leather seat and squealed with delight. By this time, probably, he’d starting hitting us.

And it wasn’t as if I went on not believing in fairies. I wanted to believe in them, or rather I didn’t want not to. After that day, on Sunday outings to those hills I’d take a bag of silver charms I’d cut from the tobacco-smelling silver paper from my father’s cigarette packets, hearts and flowers, bows and stars and sickle moons. I’d scatter them in the gorse, an offering and a plea for the fairies to appear and prove themselves.

As I begged for the silver paper and he handed it over, my father would snigger.

And a lot of what I remember is not the same as what the others remember, which was partly what caused the trouble when I tried to write a novel about it all. 

Friday 13 November 2020

Carrie Etter, "The Shooting Gallery"

Carrie Etter grew up in Normal, Illinois, lived in southern California for thirteen years, and moved to England in 2001. She has published four collections of poetry, most recently The Weather in Normal (UK: Seren; US: Station Hill, 2018), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and a pamphlet of flash fiction, Hometown (V. Press, 2016). Her latest pamphlet is The Shooting Gallery (Verve, 2020), which you can read about below. Individual poems have appeared in Boston Review, The New Republic, The New Statesman, The Penguin Book of the Prose Poem, Poetry Review, The Times Literary Supplement, and elsewhere. Her website is here.


About The Shooting Gallery

The Shooting Gallery juxtaposes two series of prose poems: one responding to Czech surrealist artist Toyen's The Shooting Gallery (1939-40), a series of line drawings bringing together imagery of childhood and war; and one responding to US school and university shootings since Columbine High School in 1999. Both series explore the surreality and starkness of this conjunction of youth and violence. You can read an extract from The Shooting Gallery below. You can read more about the pamphlet, and order it here

From The Shooting Gallery

Normal Community High School, Illinois, 2012

At first, what rattled / was the proximity, the intimacy— / gunfire only a mile from / my family home. For days I wore the knowledge / like chain mail, my torso / heavier, my shoulders / newly weighted. I Googled. I found in my town Darnall’s Gun Works & Ranges, C.I. Shooting Sports. I found photos of / the aftermath, the brawny teacher leading a column of students / away, away, / the huddled parents, waiting, the / reunions, the mother and son— / — / the son’s t-shirt: a drawing of a boy wearing his baseball cap backwards / his eye to the viewfinder / of a machine gun, its long belt of cartridges ready— / mother
and son and his t-shirt—this / is where I come from.

Friday 6 November 2020

Caroline Hardaker, "Little Quakes Every Day"

Caroline Hardaker lives in the north east of England and writes quite a lot of things. She earned her BA (English Literature) and MA (Cultural and Heritage Studies) from Newcastle University, and writes poetry, fiction, libretto, and occasional scripts, too.

Caroline’s debut poetry collection, Bone Ovation, was published by Valley Press in 2017, and her first full length collection, Little Quakes Every Day, will be published by Valley Press on 9th November 2020. Her debut novel, Composite Creatures, will also be published by Angry Robot in April 2021.

Caroline’s poetry has been published worldwide, most recently in Magma, The Interpreter’s House, The Emma Press, Neon Magazine, Shoreline of Infinity, Eyewear Publishing’s Best New British and Irish Poets, and Contemporary British Poetry from Platypus Press.

Caroline’s worked with various organisations and community groups to advocate the holistic benefits of writing and making. She currently works as the Content Manager for Newcastle University in the north east of England. In 2019, Caroline was the Writer in Residence for ‘Moving Parts’ Newcastle Puppetry Festival and a Theatre Reviewer for NARC Magazine. Throughout 2019 and 2020, she’s collaborating with the Royal Northern College of Music to produce a cycle of operatic art songs to be performed at festivals across the UK. In September 2020, Folk Tales premiered at the Tête à Tête Festival in London.

You can read more and follow her adventures on her writers’ blog.

About Little Quakes Every Day

In Caroline Hardaker's first full-length collection of poetry, readers will find tales of human evolution and natural laws, of technology, of the world's problems and the twisted inventions we create. Each encounter takes a host of characters to the brink of epiphany – sometimes they’ll burn bright, and sometimes they’ll fall apart.

Through the poems in the collection, the book imagines a world of explorers, philosophers, automatons, wild things, and the ghosts that dwell deep in the heart of the earth itself.

Caroline says, “The poems in this collection have been developed over a three year period, in which I wanted to explore the nature of discoveries in history and mythology and how they impact our everyday lives. I’ve balanced these larger questions with everyday ‘kitchen sink’ encounters, to demonstrate that both have a huge impact on our lives.”

You can find out more about Little Quakes Every Day and pre-order the book here.

Below, you can read two poems from the book. 

From Little Quakes Every Day

On Polar Bears Brought Together by the Death of a Humpback Whale

The boulders approach, grown with hoary turf
and smudging rune-marks across the tundra;
a moving tide to mount the hunt that’s found.
Jaws meet meat in many places to break the hide.

In the belly, brothers do not know brothers;
skins smell of sleep, birth-blood lost, and the beasts
take turns to tear out the swim-bladder or fists
of blubber. The bears are tied together with ropes

of knotted gut, and each hollows out his grotto
from fat, oiling his coat as if preparing for battle in woad –
but white as snow. Drifts of broad backs reinvent genesis.
Slow stomachfuls last a day, a night, a day,

and pressing for the last, boulders roll in the colossal arch;
ribs hanging above like paths of comets. After the feast,
blood flecks the ice like constellations, and then,
stones in a round, each brother licks his sores and retreats alone.

The supernova shatters, and the whale shrinks.

Little Shoe

It shone – a world on a little satin thing
poking through the rose of wrinkled Tyvek;
a ruby to slip a lily into.

Lifting it from the case, I sit it on one cottoned palm,
fingers fanning beneath like a lark’s wing around an egg
or a teacup, stitched from sun-silk
and curving to a point slim enough to perch on
the thumb-loop of a girl
painting a sky she watched in childhood.
All her favourite garden sights;
bluebirds, tamed hoopoes, palm-swifts
in peach of blushing cheek and perching proudly
amongst trickling vines in lagoon blue.
Hosts of cloud-like lotus flowers – falling
in a white flush of doves,
swooping on the whistle-crack of wind
up from the stone floor. Scenes from before

this life of little stitches, shuffling steps on fists of flesh
in groups of golden lilies tipped with red
and held together by hands grasping sisters’ sleeves.
Tied in this amorphous knot of quiet,
each face meets another mouthing the name
inked in a bird’s nest of strokes
hidden inside her shoes.

Monday 2 November 2020

Frances Evelyn, "The Traitor Within"

Frances Evelyn writes real-world fantasy set in Leicestershire and Rutland. The third instalment in the bestselling The Changeling Tree series, The Traitor Within, is due for release on the 31st of October.

Readers have described The Changeling Tree series as ‘intriguing,’ ‘mesmerising,’ ‘amusing,’ ‘scary,’ ‘wonderful’ and ‘sublime’: ‘high fantasy meeting Jane Austen.’ The first three books (of five) are available in paperback, as e-books, and free via KindleUnlimited. More details about her books, freebies and competitions are available on her website and via social media.

Frances was born in Coventry and studied English in Manchester and London. She worked in higher education before becoming a full-time author. She’s an experienced editor and proof-reader, and offers proof-reading services to other indie authors in exchange for their support in promoting her books.

Frances Evelyn is a pen name. 

About The Changeling Tree Series

Rose Watts travels in time. Her mum and gran do too. So why didn’t they warn her? And why did they lose touch?

In The Changeling Tree, Mike’s girlfriend, Tracy, has been missing for months without a word. He’s sure her mum knows more than she’s telling, but he can’t live in limbo forever. He’ll make one last attempt before trying to move on. 

It’s the night of the winter solstice. Tracy’s house is dark and deserted, but there’s a pram in the garden, and inside the pram is a baby. 

To protect her throne, Queen Annis (remembered as Black Annis in Leicester legend) must bring human misery to the court as an antidote to the tedium of endless joy. Neither she nor her challenger have any sympathy for the humans caught up in their game: Tracy, her daughter, Rose, and Rose’s gran, Peggy.

In The Time Before, Rose moves in with her gran, following Tracy’s death. Determined to travel back in time and save her mum, she finds herself instead in 1941, where she’s evacuated to the coast with Peggy. They discover an impossible door that doesn’t lead outside, and when they go through it, they’re torn apart.

The third book in the series, The Traitor Within, sees Peggy re-appearing a year after she left, when everyone has given her up for dead. Her mother’s delighted of course, but it would have been easier for everyone else if she’d never come back.

Meanwhile, Rose is in the eighteenth century and far from home. She needs to get back to Leicester and find her mum, but highwaymen aren’t the only dangers on the roads.

Below, you can read an extract from The Traitor Within

Fom The Traitor Within

... Rose has been walking all day and takes shelter for the night among some trees near the road. Her thoughts are interrupted by a conversation nearby:

The first voice was male: not quite a boy, but not yet a man.

“Is it coming?” he asked.

“I can hear it,” answered a man’s voice. “You know your part?” 

“Yes,” said the first. “I’ll not let you down.” 

Leaves rustled and twigs snapped as they moved away. 

“Your face, you fool,” hissed the man. “Cover yourself.”

Hooves pounded the road and wheels rattled over stones and ruts. As they came level with Rose’s hiding place, she heard horses whinnying and a man cursing. The carriage stopped a little way past her.

“Hold the bridle,” hissed the man and then, in a louder voice, “You sir. If you’d be so kind as to climb down.” 

With grumbles, wheezes and creaks, a heavy man came down from the driver’s seat. 

“On the floor, there’s a good chap,” said the highwayman. 

Rose craned her neck to peer through the undergrowth. The coachman lowered himself to the ground, groaning as he knelt then lay, face down. The highwayman, with a scarf over his nose and mouth, was holding a pistol loosely between his fingertips. Rose knew what to do in these situations. Run. If you can’t run, hide. If it’s safe to do so, call for help.

She was out of sight already, so the safest thing was to stay where she was, except they weren’t far away, and they’d easily see her if they looked closely. She might need to run if it came to it, so slowly, carefully, she untangled her legs from the cloak, rustling dry leaves with every movement. 

She could hear the coachman breathing, she was that close, but he was breathing heavily, she assured herself. He was scared and out of shape. He must be making more noise than she was. As she raised herself to a crouch, the highwayman turned towards her and Rose froze in a squat among the shadows of the trees. After a while, he shrugged and turned away, leading his horse to the door of the carriage, and Rose breathed out. 

“Open up,” he shouted, rapping with the butt of his pistol. “Forgive the cliché, but … your money or your life.”

The occupants whimpered and swore, but they opened the door and, one by one, their valuables clinked into the highwayman’s sack.

“And the rest,” he said, with a bored rattle of his bag. “Though I can assure you I wouldn’t object to undertaking a thorough search of these young ladies. Not so much you, madam, but your daughters really are lovely.”

The ladies twittered in delighted outrage. Rose couldn’t see him clearly, but the highwayman’s charisma was evident even from this distance.

A man’s voice said, “You’ll hang for this, you dog.”

“It seems pretty unlikely, to be honest,” said the highwayman. “But I’m certainly not willing to be hanged for half of your valuables. I may as well shoot you if I’m to hang anyway, don’t you think? Come on. I haven’t got all night.” 

The next time he spoke, his voice was petulant. 

“Do I look like I was born yesterday?” 

More treasures were surrendered, more threats made, until the thief was content. He fastened the booty to his saddle and doffed his feathered hat with a flourish.

“Thank you, ladies, gentlemen. A great pleasure doing business with you. Apologies for any inconvenience, and my very best for your onward journey.” 

Replacing his hat, he swung himself on to his horse. 

“It’s been special,” he said, with a hand to his heart.