Wednesday 31 March 2021

Merryn Williams (ed.), "Poems for the Year 2020: Eighty Poets on the Pandemic"

About Poems for the Year 2020
Thousands upon thousands of poems were written in the unforgettable year 2020, when
corona virus changed the world. Eighty of the best have been carefully selected for Shoestring's new anthology. They come from all five continents and all corners of Britain, and look from several different angles at the crisis. They are not all about doom and gloom. Sickness, bereavement and isolation are all here, along with empty cities and animals roving the streets, but there are also some very funny and life-enhancing poems about how people are coping in extraordinary times, and intend to come through.

Contributors include: Anon, Mona Arshi, Adrian Barlow, Meg Barton, Denise Bennett, Matt Black, Janine Booth, Alison Brackenbury, Melanie Branton, Carole Bromley, Simone Mansell
Broome, Rip Bulkeley, Maggie Butt, Ian Caws, Gladys Mary Coles, Deborah Cox, Barbara Cumbers, Tony Curtis, Ann Drysdale, Vicki Feaver, Paul Francis, Owen Gallagher, Ann Gray, Paul Groves, Jill Hadfield, Alice Harrison, Gail Holst-Warhaft, Joy Howard, Keith Hutson, Lesley Ingram, Chris Jackson, Rosie Jackson, Mike Jenkins, Roz Kaveney, Angela Kirby, Camilla Lambert, John Lanyon, Gill Learner, Emma Lee, Pippa Little, Marilyn Longstaff, Deborah Maccoby, Mark McDonnell, Gill McEvoy, Jennifer A. McGowan, Anathema Jane McKenna, Alwyn Marriage, Deborah Mason, Kathy Miles, John Mole, Judi Moore, Lucy Newlyn, Patrick Osada, Antony Owen, Harry Owen, M.R. Peacocke, Megan Peel, Clive Perrett, Pauline Prior-Pitt, Rita Ray, Padraig Rooney, Lesley Saunders, Brighid Schroer, Robert Seatter, Clare Shaw, Jay Sizemore, Paul Stephenson, Anne Stewart, Sean Street, Todd Swift, David Tait, Wisty Thomas, Serin Thomasin, Nick Toczek, Christine Vial, John Powell Ward, Merryn Williams, Stephen Wilson, Gregory Woods, Neil Young.

You can see more information on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read about the editor, and two poems from the anthology. 

About the editor
Merryn Williams has published five collections of poetry: the fifth is The Fragile Bridge: New and Selected Poems (Shoestring Press). Her latest book is Mansfield Park Revisited (Plas Gwyn Books), an updating of Jane Austen's classic. She spent the year 2020 reading literally hundreds of poems about Corona virus and lockdowns. Her website is here.

From Poems for the Year 2020


          for my son, Silas, NHS anaesthetist and rock-climber

Dangling on a rope
hung from a cliff-top
you look like a tiny spider 

spinning a thread
the slightest gust
could snap. 

Now your patients
are hanging on threads.
And all of you 

working on wards
where a terrible
scissor-wielding hag

decides who to spare,
which thread
next to cut.

Note: the ‘terrible scissor-wielding hag’ is Atropos, eldest of the three Fates.

 - Vicki Feaver, South Lanarkshire

Geoffrey Chaucer Cleans the Beach

Whan the temperature in June is hotte
Than longen folk to doon what they should notte
And specially from every shire’s ende 
Of Engelond to Bournemouthe they wende.
Some had woken with the lark
To finde a space where they could parke
Otheres parken everywhere
Legal or not, they did not care
And loutes imbiben swich liquor
Of which vertú engendred is the boor
And disputheth eche hir beachside space
And one anothere puncheth in the face
Then when al that motley bunch were gonne
Cleanen we the beche anon
And finden underwear and socks
And defecations in a box
And so was I seke of hem everichon
That I wrote to my PM anon
To demaunde new laws  straight be doon
But from him answere was there noon.

- Jill Hadfield, New Zealand

Wednesday 24 March 2021

David Morley, "FURY"

David Morley, photo © Graeme Oxby

David Morley was trained as an ecologist. He won the Ted Hughes Award for The Invisible Gift: Selected Poems. His books from Carcanet include The Magic of What’s There, The Gypsy and the Poet, Enchantment and The Invisible Kings. David wrote the bestselling The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing and teaches at Warwick University. He pioneered podcasting in Creative Writing through his Slow Poetry and Writing Challenges spoken word projects. His book Phoenix New Writing was an anthology of Coventry poetry and won the Raymond Williams Prize. His latest book FURY was a Poetry Book Society Choice and shortlisted for the Forward prize for Best Collection. David is a Fellow of The Royal Society of Literature. He is a professor of writing at Warwick University and Monash University.

 About FURY

FURY sees the Ted Hughes Award winner David Morley once more seeking to give imaginative voice to the natural world and to those silenced or overlooked in modern society, ranging from the Romany communities of past and present Britain, to Tyson Fury and Towfiq Bihani, one of the forgotten inmates of the Guantanamo bay detention centre. In poems that bristle with linguistic energy and that celebrate poetry's power to give arresting voice to the unspoken and the untold, in ourselves and our societies, FURY is David Morley's most powerfully political work. It is a passionate testament to poetry’s capacity to speak to, and for, us and our place in the world - its power to be an outreached hand, like the 'trembling hands' of the magician in 'The Thrown Voice' or the 'living hand' of the poets celebrated in 'Translations of a Stammerer.'

You can read a sample poem from the collection below. You can see more details about FURY on the publisher's website here.


Romany Wounds Me

          after George Seferis’s ‘In the Manner of G.S.’
          for Damian Le Bas

Wherever I travel, Romany wounds me.
As I hoved into the horse fair at Stow-on-the-Wold 
between Cotswold chintz shops and the roving road
HGVs hunkered after our wagons on the Fosse Way
cursing us with airbrakes and grunting gearshifts.
At Kenilworth fair, with its tailbacks to Longbridge roundabout,
vardos bottle-necked behind ponies from Pershore, 
rocks rammed on verges of all the villages between
by Neighbourhood Watches with the policeman’s nod.
At Dereham fair I crow-barred the stern stones from the wayside
and flattened fat molehills under my 4 x 4
and snored under the stars of headlights flying across the bypass
and slung the crook of my kettle above an illegal blaze.
At Gressenhall, Swaffham, and Peterborough
the pubs were barred to me.
What do the Gentiles want, these polite people 
who curse us we’re Romanian or worse than? 
A copper pulls us over and barks for passports.
‘Mate, I come from Rotherham,’ laughs one Gypsy,
‘though it’s foreign country round these parts.’
And as we sleep Europe drifts away across the sea.
The cling-net of England closes. Our caravans are ships
with their engines flooded. Our lives are drowning. 
Strange people, the English. They say, ‘this land is ours’
but they don’t rove beyond their commutes or school runs.
Imagine the coppers rocking up at their caravan sites!
Meanwhile, England keeps on travelling, always travelling backwards.
In my dream, our flotilla of caravans sets sail from Dover’s chalk shore
as though the little boats of Dunkirk were our own Gypsy vardos,
as though we were machine-gunned by our own spitfires,
and those brothers on the beach were our own strafed kin,
which we were, when we were borderless and one.
Between the horse fairs of Horsmonden and Appleby 
at all the stopping places when I wake, and in every face I see,
wherever I travel, Romany wounds me.

Stow-on-the-Wold, Kenilworth, Dereham, Horsmonden and Appleby are traditional Traveller horse fairs.

© David Morley, Carcanet Press

Monday 22 March 2021

Wyl Menmuir, "Fox Fires"

Wyl Menmuir is a novelist, editor and literary consultant based in Cornwall. He is the author of the Man-Booker nominated novel and Observer Best Fiction of the year pick, The Many, and Fox Fires. His short fiction has appeared in Best British Short Stories and he has been published by Nightjar Press, Kneehigh Theatre and the National Trust. He has written for Radio 4’s Open Book, The Guardian and The Observer, and is a regular contributor to the journal ElementumBorn in Stockport in 1979, Wyl now lives in Cornwall with his wife and two children. He is co-creator of the Cornish writing centre, The Writers’ Block, and works with Arvon Foundation, National Literacy Trust and Centre for Literacy in Primary Education on national literacy programmes, as well as Lecturer in Creative Writing at Falmouth University. His website is here.

About Fox Fires

Wren Lithgow has followed her concert pianist mother around the cities of Europe for almost two decades. When they arrive in the mysterious city-state of O, where Wren was conceived during a time of civil war, she resolves to find man she believes is her father.

As the city closes in around her, Wren gives herself over to a place of which she understands nothing, but to which she feels a profound connection, in a story of the watchers and the watched, the ways in which we conceive of home and, finally, the possibility of living on our own terms.

From Fox Fires

Here, you can watch a special reading of the opening scene by twenty novelists, poets and short story writers:

Friday 19 March 2021

David Wharton, "Finer Things"

David Wharton comes from the North East and lives in Leicester. His novel Finer Things was published by Sandstone Press in 2019. He has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Leicester, where he is a lecturer in Education Studies. He also teaches Creative Writing for Leicester Vaughan College. Previously, he was an English, Media, and Film Studies teacher. As well as his own fiction and poetry, he has also published books on Film Theory and Media Education. He is currently finishing his second novel. You can find him on Twitter @wharton1965 and his website is here.

About Finer Things 

In 1963, a year of sometimes dizzying social and cultural change, the sixties are just about to start swinging. Yorkshire girl Tess is disappointed and isolated at her elite London art school. Her only real friend is Jimmy, a gifted fellow student whose working-class background, homosexuality and uneven mental health make him more of an outsider than she is. One night at a Soho jazz club, they meet Delia, a professional shoplifter from the East End, desperate to disentangle herself from her complicated, dangerous lifestyle. As these three characters are drawn into each other’s worlds, they must all face up to reality, to who they really are, and how they might find unexpected hope in the future. 

From Finer Things

She took Maureen into the Food Halls first. There they strolled past slabs of cured beef; bright tubes of French biscuits; a stack of triangular tinned hams with windmills on their green and red labels – an intoxicating wash of colours and smells. All the other departments had wheeled out the summer stock: swimsuits, thin cotton dresses, lightweight bedding in sharp new season shades. Here it was Christmas all year round: spiced, hedonistic, excessive. 

Delia was sometimes tempted to slip a thing or two from the Food Halls into her bloomers. But there was no point, not when Tommy the Spade could nick the same stuff from any grocer and sell it for pennies. The valuable items – exotic meats, saffron, caviar, truffles – Barkers kept behind the counters, where fussy men in white jackets could dole them out by the quarter ounce. Too much trouble to thieve those in saleable quantities, and anyway, Delia knew the interests of her clientele. Nice clothes you could flog easily but who’d buy shoplifted caviar? As for truffles, she had tried those once, mixed with butter on a cracker, at a party in Knightsbridge. She’d nearly thrown her guts up. For three days afterwards she hadn’t been able to rid herself of the taste of decay.

She picked up an onion, held it to her nose, dislodged some outer skin with her thumbnail, and let a crisp, papery fragment drift to the floor. Returning the vegetable to its display she told Maureen under her breath, ‘We won’t be nicking anything right now. First you’ve to learn how to look out for shopwalkers.’ 

‘I ain’t never been anywhere like this before,’ Maureen said. ‘Spensive, ain’t it?’ 

‘Overpriced for idiots. The sort who’ll cough up double for digestive biscuits so they can take them home in a paper bag with Barkers of Kensington on it. Did you hear what I said about shopwalkers?’

Maureen nodded. ‘I got to learn how to look out for them.’ 

‘Good. Over there, by the fresh herbs,’ Delia murmured. ‘Blue coat. Just take a quick look. Tell me what you think.’ 

Maureen glanced at the woman clumsily, but briefly enough. 


‘Don’t think so. But what do you notice about her? Why doesn’t she fit in here?’ 

The apprentice gave the blue-coated woman another awkward look. ‘Clothes?’

‘Well done. What’s wrong with them?’

‘Too cheap.’

‘That’s right. Now keep an eye on her.’ 

Delia herself was dressed in items lifted from the best clothing departments in the city, and, because Stella had prepared her for the day’s work, so was Maureen. Nothing flashy, but all high quality. Unlike the shoplifters they pursued, shopwalkers had to buy their own clothes, and they weren't paid well. They prowled about the stores in dumpy crap from Marks and Spencer, giving the alarm to any hoister who knew her business. But this woman’s tat came from British Home Stores, or somewhere worse. She was a shoplifter. Some amateur.

Thursday 18 March 2021

Gaynor Jones, "Among These Animals"

Gaynor Jones is a writer based in Oldham. She is the recipient of a 2020 Northern Writer’s Award for her short story collection in progress, Girls Who Get Taken & Other Stories. She has won or been placed in writing competitions including the Bridport Prize for flash fiction, the Mairtín Crawford Short Story Award and the Bath Flash Fiction Award. She has performed her work at spoken word nights in the North West and at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe with For Book’s Sake. Her website is here

About Among These Animals 

Among These Animals is a novella-in-flash that traces the lives of farmer Derfel and his daughter Carys from the 1950s onwards in North Wales. An experimental take on a traditional historical saga, the hybrid form of the book reflects the themes within: this is a story about how family can break us, but can also put us back together again. 

You can see more details about Among These Animals on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read a sample from it. 

From Among These Animals


The letters are carved like a secret. The base of the thick tree trunk at the entrance to the farm now bears her name forever. It will stretch and grow with the tree, the letters reaching skyward, growing as the boy who carved it grows, until the leaves reach the clouds and she is nothing but a memory. 

Owain had tried to climb the tree but Carys shooed him away. She can hear him bashing stones together at the top of the drive. She wants to be alone to feel the carving under her fingers, to imagine the hand behind it. 

Carys does not know which farmhand it was; it could be any of them. She has heard them whispering about her as she passes in the yard in her summer shorts. She could stop and join in with them, could watch their cheeks turn crimson as she leans over to roll a marble or toss a jack, but she is not interested in such games. Instead she roams the fields after school, shirking her work, beheading dandelions that have no right to be growing there anyway, looking for the young man with the dark eyes and the scarred arm. Lately he lingers when he drops off the keys after his work, taking warm cups of tea or slices of honeyed toast, whatever her mother offers. 

Carys is leaning down in the late autumn sun, tracing the letters of her own name, when she feels the body behind her. A hand moves onto hers, the sleeves rolled up above it just enough to show the criss-cross pattern of wire in flesh. The hand flattens out her own until it covers the carved letters, and a voice whispers her own name into her ear. She feels a peck-peck-pecking low down in her groin as though there is an egg in there, something trying to get out. When he turns her around and presses his mouth onto hers, the egg bursts open, and it isn’t a bird in there, but the white, and the yolk, viscous and warm, flooding her body. 

Her eyes are closed. She is gone. She doesn’t hear Owain drop his stones. She doesn’t see him run towards the fields. She doesn’t feel the rain, thick and heavy, falling onto her skin. 

Carys arrives home to her mother cracking eggs into a pan for the morning batter. The shells pile up, jagged edges slotting into each other imperfectly. The twins are in their pyjamas, tearing at pages in a comic book. Carys grabs a towel and rubs at her hair. Her father looks up at her and then up at the clock, and then back at her. Carys drops the towel and keeps her hands at her side, refusing to flatten down her skirt or check her arms for tiny scratches from the tree. 

‘Come on now, boys. Let’s get you to bed.’ 

She looks back over her shoulder at her father at the kitchen table, rolling an egg in his hand. He is moving it gently, as if he knows how easily it might be broken. 

Wednesday 17 March 2021

Anna Vaught, "Red Flags and Green Flags in Publishing"

By Anna Vaught

Having spoken to all the wonderful MA Creative Writing students at Leicester the other week, I thought I would answer a question here that folks were keen to ask, in case my answers are helpful or interesting to anyone contemplating publication, or wondering about the route they are already on. 

So my fifth book is just going out on submission and I am editing my sixth and seventh. I know the indie presses but I am agented for future work. Thus, I've a range of experience. I was asked what, for me, were red or green flags when you are offered publication by an indie press or representation by an agent. This is what I said based on my experience and working closely with others. As you can probably tell, many different things happen to people! So here we go with the red flags:

1. When there’s no dialogue offered or you try to open up dialogue and find it’s not possible, it ought to be a warning sign, because you have to be able to understand what is happening. I had a publication date change three times without my being told. That sort of thing. You shouldn't have to go through this.

2. If you can’t get answers to key questions, then that's a red flag - questions that seem key to you, that is. It is perfectly reasonable to talk about schedule, publicity and so on. This is art, but it is also commerce.  

3. Do some looking about. Do you see that there’s little parity (in terms of exposure) between the publisher's or agent's authors / clients when you look at social media feed and elsewhere? Of course it won’t be totally consistent and I don’t see how it can be, but probe and research if some authors are invisible.  

4. If it is a small press, check that at least some of their back catalogue is available. If it is not, try to find out why. Because at some point you will be back catalogue. If you are published and then forgotten about, that would be sad. Also, it should give you pause.

5. Oh - this might be contentious, but I think referring to a business relationship in terms of your being part of a cohort or a family can be problematic because, while you’re united by your love of books, it suggests a blurring of lines somewhere ... and that might not be to your advantage in terms of commerce, because the connection has become too emotional. Also, it might be a highway to exploitative behaviour. 

6. If the person or publisher you've been offered a contract with is frequently and vocally critical of other parts of the publishing industry - say on Twitter - I think that's a warning light. I DO NOT mean those great folk aiming to improve diversity and make sure all voices are heard; I mean those who criticise agents, big publishers, other publishers. It may mean fewer options and choices for you as a writer because some avenues are closed off. 

7. With an agent or a publisher, make sure there is a good contract and that it is explained to you. If it isn't or any concerns are waved away, I'd be very wary. Also, on this topic, get any contract vetted by The Society of Authors and also let me pass on that it is my understanding that, unless you get a multi-book deal, an insistence from a publisher that they have first dibs on your second book with them is not as clear cut as some writers have believed - even if it is in your contract. You have the right to negotiate here and that includes not publishing the book. 

... Green flags? Everything that's the opposite of all this! 

About the author
Anna Vaught is a novelist, poet, essayist, short fiction writer, editor and a secondary English teacher, tutor and mentor, mental health advocate and mum of 3. 2020 saw the publication of Anna's third novel, Saving Lucia (Bluemoose), which has been longlisted for the Barbellion Prize, and a first short story collection, Famished (Influx). Anglo-Welsh, she splits her time between Wiltshire, Wales, and the Southern US. She is currently finishing a new novel and working on some non-fiction, while a further novel and second short story collection are on the desk. Anna’s essays, reviews, articles, and features have been featured widely online and in print. She is represented by Kate Johnson of Mackenzie Wolf Literary Agents, in New York City. Her website is here. She is also on Twitter @BookwormVaught and Instagram @bookwormvaught6. 

Anna gave a masterclass at the University of Leicester as part of the MA in Creative Writing in March 2021. You can read about her novel Saving Lucia on Creative Writing at Leicester here

Monday 15 March 2021

Astro-Poetry Competition 2021: The Results and the Poems

As part of the second-year module, Using Stories, we explore some of the ways in which Creative Writing might draw on and explore scientific material. This includes, for example, looking at some of the amazing discoveries by NASA's Chandra X-Ray Observatory and using them as starting points for new poems. 

Arising from this, we ran a competition in early 2021, open to all Creative Writing students at the University of Leicester, in which they were asked to submit poems inspired, in some way, by Chandra's findings. You can see the original call for submissions and description of the competition here.

The entries we received were all, in their different ways, wonderful explorations of the fascinating interconnections between Creative Writing and science. It was naturally very hard to select winners and runners-up; but we chose two winners and two 'honourable mentions.' Congratulations to all four writers, and thank you to everyone who submitted poems for the competition.

Here are the results:


There were two joint winning poems: ‘IC 4593’ by Laura Sygrove, and ‘A New Cosmic Triad of Sound’ by Rebecca Hughes. You can read these poems on NASA Chandra X-Ray's website here.

Honourable Mentions

There were two 'Honourable Mentions': 'A Matter of Life Span' by Lena Elin Jetses, and 'Infant Star' by Isaac Plant. You can read these poems below. 

Lena Elin Jetses is a twenty-year-old English student at the University of Leipzig in Germany, on an exchange at the University of Leicester. She enjoys writing fantasy novels and short stories, preferably at 4am and fuelled by alternative rock music, tea and chocolate. She writes: 'For this poem, the idea was to capture the enthusiasm of scientists trying to understand as much about space as possible. What struck me about the original article ('Oldest Known Objects Are Surprisingly Immature') was the fascination with the fact that age does not equal evolutionary stage for globular clusters. It puts being human beings' lifetime into perspective, and that is what I tried to convey.'

NASA/CXC/Northwestern/ J. Fregeau

A Matter of Life Span

All grown-up and ready to explore, 
humanity jumps straight out of college
into space, the final frontier.
Right outside our earthly door
we hope to find ancient knowledge
in globular clusters far and near.

Those clusters serve as laboratories
where we study on and on
about stars a million times our ages.
As we count x-ray binaries,
we hearken to expert Fregeau, John,
who names the evolutionary stages.

Meanwhile in the Milky Way
those giants waste billions of years away.
Their celestial nurseries
can be found in all galaxies.
We strive to find answers, we strive to be sure;
yet in 9 billion years they never mature.

Isaac Plant is a second-year English student from the north east. He writes: 'The article I read on the formation of protostars ('X-Rays from a Newborn Star Hint at our Sun's Earliest Days') didn't just provide interesting language as part of a found poetry task we did in class, but also contained an interesting analogy for growth. I found the image of this inward collapse and possible destruction being a necessary part of the star's evolution an interesting parallel to concepts of personal growth in which one must risk destroying parts of one's old self to become something new.'

X-ray: NASA/CXC/Aix-Marseille University/N. Grosso et al.; Illustration: NASA/CXC/M. Weiss

Infant Star

Young protostar, beautiful nebula,
Blackhole iris, spiralling disks obscure,
Sending waves, a solar tributary,
Aeons of cosmic flooding to endure,
Conceived in molecular cloud complex,
Solar systems past, broken and reborn,
Atomic mapping joyfully undone,
Universal tapestry newly torn,
Long-awaited stellar evolution,
Light piercing cocoon of dust and gas,
Metamorphosis of millennia,
Stalwart heart of light or glimmer to pass,
A break of the celestial at last,
Life-giving host star or unyielding vast.

Jonathan Wilkins, "Poppy Flowers at the Front"

Jonathan Wilkins is 65. He has a gorgeous wife Annie and two beautiful sons; he loves to write. He is a retired teacher, lapsed Waterstones’ bookseller and former Basketball Coach. He taught for twenty years and coached women’s basketball for over thirty years before taking up writing seriously. These days, he regularly teaches Creative Writing workshops in and around Leicester and takes notes for students with Special Needs at Leicester University. 

He has always loved books and reading, but nine years at Waterstone’s nearly put paid to that! He has had a work commissioned by the UK Arts Council and had several pieces published traditionally as well as on-line. He's had some of his work placed in magazines and anthologies and also exhibited in art galleries, studios, museums and at Huddersfield Railway Station Waiting Room. He has writing on various blogs. He loves writing poetry. He enjoys presenting papers at Crime Fiction conferences - it keeps his mind active through the research process and is a great way to meet new people and gain fresh ideas for writing. 

For his recent MA, he wrote a crime novel, Utrecht Snow. It is part of a series of murder mysteries he has planned based in the Dutch city. He followed it up with Utrecht Rain and self-published both. Poppy flowers at the Front is the first of a crime series starting at the end of the Great War and meandering into the early Twenties. Poppy Blooms at Nemesis Hall  is the second part, Poppy Knows Best the third.

Jonathan is undertaking a Creative Writing PhD at Aberystwyth University where he will be writing about his Poppy novels and Golden Age Crime Fiction.

Jonathan is on Twitter @WriterJWilkins. His website is here

About Poppy Flowers at the Front

By Jonathan Wilkins

Two women fight on two fronts, prejudice and war.

With her father, Lord Loveday in the British secret service, and her brother Alfie in the trenches, is it any wonder that Lady Pandora Ophelia Loveday, Poppy to her friends, decided to volunteer to drive ambulances in France? We follow her adventures in France as she races to get wounded men to the Casualty Clearing Station and then the Base Hospital as safely as possible.

She finds Élodie Proux, a French nurse, at a roadside clutching the body of a soldier and takes her back to her base. Élodie becomes her dearest girl as they fall in love.

Poppy and Élodie meet a series of frightening adversaries during the closing weeks of World War 1: saboteurs at the Front, spies in Paris, a psychotic arsonist at home in Wales, all culminating in a frantic quest to save … No … I think you had better read the book ...

You can read a review of Poppy Flowers at the Front on Everybody's Reviewing here. Below, you can read an extract from the novel. 

From Poppy Flowers at the Front

 … it was the screaming that really got to me. I could put up with most things and to be honest I had done so these past few months. The sound of the bombs didn’t really faze me, nor the constantly falling rain and cloying mud. The fleas I found in my hair or clothes were just a nuisance as long as you caught them early. What I did hate was the screaming. It made my blood run cold, the screaming of men in agony, men who had lost their sight or had lost a limb. It ripped my heart out. Young boys in pain, a pain they did not deserve. Boys who screamed in terror, far from their homes and their mothers. Boys who screamed at things that weren’t there, at memories of falling friends. Boys who screamed when they should be at home having fun. The number of times I had lied to a dying boy with the words ‘mam’s here now, son’ were countless. I lied to help them, to reassure them, to remind them of their mother’s love, the love they would never feel again as they died in this foreign field. I often wanted a hug from my mother, I knew what they were missing. Writing this down seems so easy. Doing it all is rather more difficult. Like I am in two worlds. A world of the reality and nasty business of war and then this calmness that seems to envelop me when I write. So, rain and wind, snow, and ice, all this I can put up with. Incessant screaming, though, is another thing all together. It is unseen. They are behind me in the ambulance. Unless I have to load it up when we are an orderly short, all I do is hear them. Then when I park up at the Clearing Station or at the ambulance train I have the honour of seeing them. Mangled bodies, missing limbs, gas burns, trench foot, gangrene … all the pleasures of this so called modern war. All the pleasures plus the screaming that never seems to end.

Monday 8 March 2021

Hannah Stevens, "In Their Absence"

Hannah Stevens is a writer from the UK. She writes short stories, flash fiction and creative non-fiction and has a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Leicester. She has stories featured in The Fairlight Book of Short Stories Volume 1, High Spirits: A Round of Drinking Stories and Unthology 10: Fight or Flight. She's also published by Archer Magazine, Loose Lips, Litro Magazine, Idle Ink, Losslit, Necessary Fiction, TSS Publishing and others. She is a director of Wind & Bones, an organisation dedicated to Writing, Creativity and Social Change. Her short story collection, In Their Absence, is published by Roman Books, as part of their Stretto Fiction Series, in 2021. You can read more about the collection below. Hannah's website is here


About In Their Absence 

In their Absence is a powerful dissection of what it means to go missing. This compelling debut explores the human complexities behind the headlines and statistics to reveal unsettling truths about what it is to live in the shadow of absence. These stories lay bare the agony of unknowing for those left behind. And they show us just how easily a human life can disappear. 


From In Their Absence 


I’ve been missing for months: here, nobody knows who I am.  

We’re in the middle of a drought: everything is drying up and burning down.  

At the party I catch a man’s green eyes and eat from his paper plate. He has black hair and doesn’t remind me of home. I follow him outside and we kiss on the step.  

Later, the last bits of light fade away and, in the tangle of sheets, I try to show him what it means to touch me. I love his weight on my bones, his breath on my neck. I wonder how long he will stay for.  

In the morning he asks for water. He takes the glass and drinks to the bottom.  

I follow him to the door and he doesn’t look back as he leaves.  


Friday 5 March 2021

Charis Buckingham, "What Ghostwriting Taught Me"

After graduating Leicester University with my MA in Creative Writing, it took me two years to actively pursue a career in writing. While lockdown did a number on us all, the time and space it enforced helped me articulate my dissatisfaction with my career. Finding a way forward wasn’t easy, but I transitioned from teacher to ghostwriter and it was without question the best decision I’ve ever made. Not only does it allow me to spend all day every day doing what I love, it’s also taught me a lot about writing and how to manage a consistent creative schedule.

Perhaps the first thing I learnt to do was re-evaluate my perception of productivity. There once was a time when I considered writing 2000 words a day impressive. I was proud of myself for completing NaNoWriMo during my MA. Now, I’m not detracting from that achievement, but when I’m being paid for the words I produce not the time I put in, it shifts the goalposts somewhat. I’m currently producing over 30,000 words a week. To help manage this, I work on at least two projects per day and adhere to a strict timetable. Writing consistently is more about willpower than divine intervention’s fickle hand. It’s about getting up and punching those words out, whether you’re on fire for your novel or you’re ready to toss it into the fire. Determination counts for more than creativity.

The writing world is loosely divided into ‘pantzers’ and ‘planners.’ The pantzers write into the void. We thrive off inspiration. We discover the unfolding of our novels as we write them, with many twists and turns coming as a surprise. We wrestle with stubborn and wilful characters, and often allow the protagonists to carve their own path through the world we’ve created. It’s a spontaneous process, and one I recommend for the sheer fun of not knowing what’s going to happen next. 

Planners, however, do as you’d expect: they plan. They take a germinating idea and flesh it out long before they put figurative pencil to paper. They create an outline, character plans. Instead of forgetting the colour of a character’s eyes, they note this important detail in advance. I’m naturally a pantzer, and previously wrote all my novels with only a vague idea of their conclusion and perhaps a few major events on the way (these novels all later required substantial rewriting). As a ghostwriter, though, whose detailed outlines need to be created in advance for approval, I was forced to adhere to the planner’s way of life. And it changed everything. No longer do I wait for inspiration to light the darkened path before me: I bring my own torches. The exciting feeling of discovery is traded for the sensation of knowing where I’m going, and it’s perhaps my biggest piece of advice for those struggling to get through a full-length novel.

The final lesson took the longest to learn. In fact, it took years of steadfast denial for me to confess that writer’s block doesn’t exist. I used to swear by it. By invoking writer’s block, I could absolve responsibility because it wasn’t my fault. It was the perfect excuse. 

The problem is, ghostwriting doesn’t let you get away with excuses. Deadlines don’t go away because you’re having a bad day, or because the stars aren’t aligned, or because you’re stuck on a particular phrase. The blank page can’t stay blank for long; if you don’t write, you don’t get paid. And let me tell you, there’s no better motivator than financial necessity.

(NB: Writer’s block is not the same as a burn-out, which can happen in any profession. My writing schedule gives me plenty of breaks, and I always take time off after finishing a particular project. Part of managing my productivity includes ensuring I’m never working past my limit.)

In short, ghostwriting has, conversely, taught me to write. I could ramble forever about the more technical things ghostwriting has taught me about my craft, but these would not have come if I hadn’t learnt to discard my ideas of writer’s block and embrace discipline. To be a good writer, first we must be a writer. I’ve mastered the first; now I’m working on the second.

About the author
Charis is a Creative Writing graduate turned full-time ghostwriter. She mostly specialises in romance and fantasy, though she's editing a thriller novel and would one day love to write a cosy mystery. When she's not singing or reading, she's walking and gaming - though not at the same time! She lives in Leicestershire with her partner and dog, and dreams of life in the country.

Thursday 4 March 2021

Michelene Wandor, "Travellers"


Michelene Wandor is a poet, playwright, broadcaster, musician and teacher of creative writing, the latter on the Distance Learning MA in Creative Writing, at Lancaster University. She has written original plays and dramatisations for radio, many nominated for awards. She has written two books relevant to Creative Writing: The Art of Writing Drama (Methuen), and The Author is not Dead, Merely Somewhere Else: Creative Writing Reconceived (Palgrave Macmillan). Travellers, published by Arc Publications, is her seventh poetry collection. You can read about it, and a sample poem from it, below. Michelene's website is here

About Travellers

Michelene Wandor's new poetry collection travels in many directions, through Europe, the Middle East and beyond, with travellers as various as Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, Isabella d'Este and Lucrezia Borgia. Thematically, the poems alight at Greek mythology, gender, and the evergreens of love, anguish, power and tragedy. The first and final touchpoints lie in the language itself, which is both guide and sustenance. Lyrical, narrative and startlingly evocative, the words and poetic shapes travel down and across pages and spaces, and continue to resonate in mind and memory. 

You can see more information about Travellers on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read a poem from the collection. 

From Travellers

San Miniato

a divebomb at night
my right arm
something made out of nothing

A Tuscan hillside. A monastery. I sit
alone at a round table in Miravelle, the
local restaurant. Andrea, the drama
teacher, arrives. He bows a punctilious
flicks back a thick, caressing wave
of black hair over his temple, and sits at
another round table. He is an artista. 
I am the poet     I sit alone

overnight, my inner right arm is
angrier than a mosquito 
Andrea runs the summer course. He flirts
with the young women, slippy straps on 
shoulder-bare camisole tops. He wears a
black leather jacket, carries a black 
leather bag. He checks his hairline
carefully each morning for signs of
flecked grey. 
I am the poet     I sit alone 

the pharmacist tells me
I have very sweet blood
oil of lavender
sharp on the skin
Andrea opens doors for me, a code
rusted from centuries of chivalric
use. He calls it courtesy. I say they are
not the same thing. 

that night
I talk to the mosquito bite
upper inner arm red field spreads
the mosquito cannot buzz in English 
The acting exercises are like leather. 
Smooth. Soft. Malleable. The cool
monastery room smells of rosemary
anchovies spring to mind. I watch. 
I am the poet     I applaud 

bread olive oil and salt are cake
bright yellow duck egg dense omelette
hot yellow
ham and formaggio are cake
I am born into taste at my round table
white bread in olive oil
salt hits my palate
sweet and sharp
outside it rains
jasmine and eucalyptus and oleander
in the cool air my arm cools
The leather factories are in Ponte a Egola. 
Bus, train, TV aerials. The scent of 
tanning fills the air. Soft leather curls
round the nape of my neck, a soft black
leather jacket, loose and cooling. It fits as
if made for me. I buy it and it is made for
me. My leather lover.  
I am an artista 

mozzarella di bufala and basilica
red white and green
The end of the week. Andrea joins me at
my round table. The slippy-strap students
wave to us. Blasts of cool air from barred
windows. Outside a leaf floats, a bell, a
bird in a mirror in yellow, red and black. 

you have sweet blood
whine mosquitoes in the night
I wear my new black leather jacket, my
dark hair streaked with grey. Drama and
poetry. There is a buzz in the monastery
room. Listeners look out across a green
valley streaked with houses.

the mosquitoes buzz
we are artisti

we make something out of nothing 

© Michelene Wandor, 2021

Wednesday 3 March 2021

Sam Rose, "Gut Feelings: Coping with Cancer and Living with Lynch Syndrome"

Sam Rose is a three-time cancer survivor, and this fact has set up home in a corner of her brain. No amount of shooing will usher it from its campsite, so she flings many words at it in the hopes of keeping it pacified. She is currently in the second year of her Creative Writing PhD at Teesside University, where her research is on the connection between Creative Writing and cancer survivorship issues such as fear of recurrence, poor body image, health anxiety and more. Completing her PhD on a part-time basis, she works full-time for a digital marketing agency and keeps herself even more busy as the editor of Peeking Cat Literary. Sam has been published in over sixty literary magazines and anthologies, and has published a poetry chapbook Empowerthy and her memoir Gut Feelings: Coping With Cancer and Living With Lynch SyndromeYou can find her throwing words around on Twitter @writersamr and at

About Gut Feelings

By the age of 30, Sam Rose had received three cancer diagnoses, each one complete with its own major surgeries and a variety of harrowing experiences. In her memoir Gut Feelings: Coping With Cancer and Living With Lynch Syndrome, the author tells her illness stories with unrelenting candour and a dollop of dark humour, while tackling the often overlooked emotional issues that come with cancer survivorship.

The book is split into two parts. Part One ('The Large Intestine') tells her medical story, as well as the joyful moments between diagnoses and appointments. It explains Sam’s diagnoses of bowel cancer, uterine cancer and duodenal cancer, as well as Lynch syndrome, which is a genetic condition that makes people more likely to develop certain types of cancer. Part Two ('The Small Intestine') offers commentary on the emotional issues relating to cancer survivorship and self-care ideas for others who have had similar experiences. The book aims to be a hopeful, empathetic and honest read for cancer survivors, caregivers and clinicians alike. 

Below, you can read a sample from the book.

From Gut Feelings

By Sam Rose

Once I had a bed on the A&E ward, I was seen by a doctor who checked me out. He was the third person of the day I showed my butt to, but I think he was the first one to stick his finger up there – and in front of a nurse, as well.

“Is this the highlight of your day?” I asked as I felt the slight discomfort of his gloved finger. “Because it’s the highlight of mine.”

He laughed, and I felt like I was in good hands (or I had good hands in me, I suppose). He was about thirty, a little round, with glasses and a good-natured smile. He seemed quite laid back and made me feel a little more at ease.

“That is a polyp,” he said with confidence, once I was decent again. I was no wiser.

“What’s a polyp?” I asked.

“It’s a little growth, sort of like a wart.”

So that was that mystery solved. However, I had lost quite a bit of blood so I needed a transfusion. I was in for an overnight stay so that four pints of blood could be poured back into me. That’s about half of the blood I should have in my body. My parents disappeared and came back with some magazines and puzzle books to keep me occupied. Later, I was moved from A&E to a regular ward and a nurse offered me some toast since it was late by that time and I had missed dinner. I remember being surprised and delighted at what I saw as a very kind gesture. Now I’ve had more hospital experience, I don’t know why I felt so touched by toast, as of course, it’s normal to be given food while you’re in hospital. Perhaps it was because I had never been looked after by a stranger before.

Because I was having a blood transfusion I was given something else through IV so I wouldn’t get “overloaded.” I wasn’t sure what it was but when they said it would make me need to pee a lot, they weren’t kidding. I spent half the night trundling up and down the otherwise quiet corridor, taking my IV drip stand for a walk to the toilet and back again, under the sympathetic eyes of the nurses. I would come back to bed and then immediately need to go again, and it got so bad that eventually, I went once, then hung around in the bathroom for two minutes until the urge returned. What was the point in going back to bed? Pair that with being woken up throughout the night anyway to have my blood pressure taken, and it was another bad night’s sleep.

I was fascinated by the effects of the blood transfusion, though. I have always been a bit pasty and even had a customer at work offer for her sister, who was a nurse, to give me a blood test. (I declined). Looking in the mirror during one of my many bathroom visits, I could see the colour returning to my cheeks, lips and hands. My hands looked like I’d been stood out in the cold, and my lips were pinker than they had ever looked. I felt like I had stolen them from Snow White – I had given her back her ivory skin and taken her rosy red lips. Standing in that clinical, very alien-feeling toilet, I felt alone and out of place, but my pink skin brought me a small spark of joy. Or perhaps I am remembering things a little too fondly. I do wonder if my brain tries to protect me from remembering the reality of these things.

I was woken up in the morning by a nurse opening the curtains to reveal the bright 8am sunshine, and it was toast again for breakfast. Mr Rashed, the bowel surgeon who would become my consultant for the next ten years and counting, came to examine me a couple of hours later. He asked if he could stick his finger in my bottom (didn’t I feel popular?) and proceeded to do so with several of his entourage watching, at which point I almost died of embarrassment. I suppose I could have said no. Needless to say, I haven’t seen my dignity since, but I’m sure it was just a burden anyway and I’m better off without it. What good has embarrassment ever done me?

Monday 1 March 2021

Amirah Mohiddin, "The Storyteller: My PhD in Creative Writing"


Born and raised in the U.K., Amirah Mohiddin spent much of her childhood (and teenage years!) writing and dreaming up fantasy stories. She developed quite a following in school as a storyteller that told ghost stories in the winter. She now spends her days working on a PhD in Creative Writing attempting to reconstruct female heroism in traditional Arabic literature via a YA fantasy novel. Her short stories, 'Alraqs,' 'Ruhi,' 'My Silence,' 'The Next Dawn' and 'I’ll Show you a Villainess' have been published in magazines, ebooks and physical books. She lives, breathes and bleeds writing but does occasionally enjoy going on a little walk and embroidering nerdy pictures from anime and books. You can read her story 'Ruhi' at Litro Magazine here

The Storyteller
By Amirah Mohiddin
In the summer of 2016, I decided to write and finish my first novel, blissfully unaware of how addictive writing really is. Now, five years on and five months into my PhD in Creative Writing, I can’t imagine a day without writing or thinking about writing. 

I’m (already) five months into the first year of my PhD in Creative Writing with the University of Leicester. I’m working on a 65,000-word YA fantasy novel, The Storyteller, and an accompanying reflective commentary of 25,000 words. My novel is about a seventeen-year-old girl, Huria, who develops the power to change stories on her sixteenth birthday. She can stop rainfall with a couple of sentences, bring characters to life, or even change a person’s memories. But her power comes at a cost. If she stops rainfall, it comes back as a deadlier thunderstorm, and if she changes another person’s memories, she also forfeits one of her own. Her parents believe she is a musiba, a calamity, with catastrophic levels of power. They lock her in a silo. A year later, Huria wakes up, teetering at the top of a wall surrounding the fortified citadel. She has no memory of the last year. She puts the pieces of the situation together, quickly realising that her life is under threat. To control her own life and story, she makes the drastic decision to sacrifice the people of the kingdom to keep herself safe. Huria’s story flips between past and present as she pieces together her memories, showing how she became a villain in someone else’s story and her choices towards changing her own story.

My writing is heavily inspired by female heroism in Arabic epics. Beyond the warrior women who physically fight, I’m also interested in the women who use stories to fight their battles, manipulate situations and drive the plot to a resolution. Key characters that I’m interested in are the well-known Scheherazade from A Thousand and One Nights, and also the lesser-known villainess, Qamariyya, from The Adventures of Sayf Ben Dhi Yazan. My main character, Huria, is a mixture of both heroic Scheherazade and villainous Qamariyya.  

My research focuses on a few key aspects, namely, young adult fantasy and Arab female storytelling. I’m looking at how Muslim women use fantasy, myth and folklore in storytelling to articulate female trauma and empowerment to rebel against patriarchal authority. One of the key pieces of advice writers get is: write what you know. As a writer – and I think many writers will agree – I put a piece of myself in my writing by writing what I know. Sometimes that’s with world-building, making it an Islamic state and using mythology and superstitions as the basis for my magic system. Other times it’s my experiences of gender inequality. With The Storyteller, I wanted to see a character who wasn’t purely a fierce warrior, but someone more representative of myself, a person who loves stories, writing and words. In essence, I want to see a Muslim bookworm or a bookdragon in a story. 

My PhD in Creative Writing has only just begun and I’m enjoying it immensely. In the last five months, I’ve been able to fully immerse myself with The Storyteller, a story idea I chose because it’s so close to my heart and because I want to do it justice for all the bookdragons of colour out there.