Wednesday 26 May 2021

James Scudamore, "English Monsters"

James Scudamore is the author of four novels: The Amnesia Clinic, Heliopolis, Wreaking and English Monsters. He has received the Somerset Maugham Award and been nominated for the Dylan Thomas Prize, the Costa First Novel Award, the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Man Booker Prize. His short fiction has appeared in Zembla, Prospect, The Sunday Times Magazine, Time Out and Tin House. He has taught Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia and the City University of Hong Kong and is currently on the faculty of the International MFA in Creative Writing and Literary Translation at Vermont College of Fine Arts. Find out more here.

About English Monsters

English Monsters opens in 1986 when ten-year-old Max, whose parents live abroad, is enjoying the latest of many summer holidays at his grandparents’ farm in the Midlands. His idyllic childhood comes to an abrupt end when he is sent to a nearby boarding school which is characterised by arcane rules and violent punishment. The only consolation Max finds in this harsh new world is the companionship of a close-knit group of classmates. Years later, when Max reconnects with his old friends, he discovers that physical abuse was only part of the story of their time at the school. Riddled with confusion and survivor’s guilt, Max becomes determined to find out the truth: who knew what, and when? And who is now willing to see justice done, regardless of the cost to themselves?

From English Monsters, by James Scudamore

The watery-green dining room on a winter morning. Tea urns steaming furiously. Steam so thick it seems granular, shot through with sunlight from outside. Panes running with condensation, gathered grime silting in the curly stone frames. It might be an agreeable scene if we were permitted to talk above a whisper, but since Weapons Davis is of the opinion that conversation steams the windows up more, a clenched silence characterises the meal.

Sitting beside me, the man himself, who often prefers not to use the masters’ table but to place himself instead in the pit of the children, the better to curb all babble. He broods over his Telegraph, a plate of fried bread and egg in progress. Periodically he snorts when something amuses him, then lays down his paper to prepare another mouthful, mashing yolk and white into a glistening square of bread before placing it inside his mouth and reopening the paper. You’d think he was in the breakfast room of a hotel.

On the next table a dispute has arisen over command of the Marmite. Someone wants it down one end. Someone else is refusing to pass it. But since it’s Weapons Davis on duty, the whole thing has to play out in silence. As I watch, Ali Price, at one end of the table, holds up the jar, eyebrows raised. At the other end a boy called Guy Robertson raises a casual arm to receive it. It’s madness. There are ten pupils on each side, and a minefield of plates and cups in between should the throw go awry.

But the dare has been set. Glancing to make sure Weapons Davis is distracted, Ali brings back his hand and releases the big black jar, which flies in a perfect trajectory, finding Guy’s at the other end, although the throw is so powerful that Robertson has to sit up in his chair to reach for the catch, nearly falling backwards. There’s a submerged gasp of triumph, one hundred boys and twenty girls in one glorious, secret moment.

‘Ha!’ says Weapons Davis.

Cardiac plummet. He reaches to his belt and unsheathes his Bowie knife. He brings it up and cuts into the newspaper, filleting it of the article which has tickled him. He removes the jagged square, sets it down, then stabs it into place on the table. Behind him, Robertson throws the jar skywards in triumph and catches it again, and Ali Price’s face is lit with joy.

Weapons Davis shoots me a tetchy glance, sweeps the room and returns to his paper. ‘Denyer,’ he says, ‘if you want anyone to take you seriously in life, you’re going to have to learn not to gape in fear at the slightest surprising thing. People will think you’re touched.’

Monday 24 May 2021

Sally Evans, "Wildgoose"

Sally Evans is from the North of England but has lived in Scotland for much of her life, where she edited Poetry Scotland for twenty years and hosted poetry gatherings in Callander, at the bookshop she runs with her husband. A well-known poet, she has been studying for a PhD at  Lancaster University where she set out to write a novel about poetry in Scotland and the North of England. The result is Wildgoose: A Tale of Two Poets, now published by Red Squirrel Press.

About Wildgoose

Wildgoose takes fictional poet cousins, Maeve Cartier and Eric Grysewood, and follows them through their careers in a novel of episodes in various parts of the North. The wild geese inspire Maeve with poetry and take us around the country and into the realm of imagination.

Real poets, especially those from the second half of the 20th century, interact with fictional poets in the story. Following the cousins to their destinies, the book comments on a poetry world that many readers will be familiar with. Amid changing social norms they work within the poetry community as they aim for publication and seek satisfaction in their lives. We see Eric succeeding relatively effortlessly while Maeve struggles with the notion of a young woman becoming a poet. We see Maeve composing her work, with some of her poetry in progress, and we follow Eric's responses to his cousin's life..

What happens to them makes an exciting read as Edinburgh, Newcastle, Grasmere, St Andrews and other locations give a background to the poets' lives and work. Basil Bunting, Hugh MacDiarmid, Norman Nicholson, and, more remotely, Wordsworth and Plath feature in the narrative, which includes a wealth of historical detail of the time. 

From Wildgoose, by Sally Evans

Extract from Chapter 2: Maeve, 17, is eating with MacDiarmid and Bunting after a reading at Newcastle University Poetry Society:

The wine level went down in the carafes. More was supplied, along with dishes of vegetables. Maeve drank her wine very slowly. Basil was discussing a place called Briggflatts. ‘I took Sima there. She’s used to the northern wilds.’

‘Tom Pickard told me to go there,’ said the host, ‘but I still haven’t been.’

She’d heard Eric mention Tom Pickard. It all seemed so cliquey. She should earn her meal by contributing talk, but it wasn’t easy. She didn’t want to say anything stupid. The poets could be her grandfathers by age. The scholar, though younger, looked as if he was married. Unfussed, sensibly-dressed, he kept a benign eye on her, as he had first done when Eric abandoned her. Licking her ice-cream spoon, she caught a quick, scary glance from MacDiarmid as he finished his cheese.

She suddenly saw she might have been invited for decoration, for the flirt value. This shocked her so deeply that she launched into conversation.

‘I write poetry too!’

MacDiarmid’s face broke into a grin. ‘What did you think of my poems, then?’ 

‘What language are they in?’

She knew she shouldn’t have said that, but the poet had irritated her. 

She felt a frisson from the others.

‘I write in Scots!’ His face became animated, under his extraordinary hair that shot up from his forehead for all of three inches then fell away backwards in a tangle. He was still speaking English. He was in England after all.

She turned her attention to the less intimidating Basil.

‘Seriously, I write poems. I have a long way to go but – you have to start…’

‘Quite right, my lovely,’ said Basil.

‘It’s been so exciting hearing the poetry tonight, real northern poetry!’

‘Have you copies of poems you have written?’ Basil leaned closer to her. ‘You are right to note that it is northern poetry. We speak for our people, on their behalf. I believe you when you say poems excite you. Where are your poems?’

Maeve paused. This sounded like luck, but was it? She had no poems on her person. She didn’t have big pockets in her clothes like the men. 'My poems are in the room where I’m staying tonight. I must go home. I’m beyond tired.'

Chris was contemplating his whisky glass and had lapsed into silence.

Thursday 20 May 2021

Lynda Clark, "Dreaming in Quantum and Other Stories"

Lynda Clark’s debut novel Beyond Kidding was published in 2019, followed by the short story collection, Dreaming in Quantum. The collection contains several stories written during Lynda’s Creative & Critical Writing PhD, including 'Ghillie’s Mum,' which was shortlisted for the BBC Short Story Award and ALCS Tom-Gallon Prize and won the Europe and Canada Commonwealth Short Story Prize. Lynda lives in Forfar, Scotland, and works as a Research Fellow in Narrative and Play. She’s currently writing more short stories, and a novel, which may be downsized to a novella if it doesn’t start behaving itself pretty soon. You can follow her on Twitter or view her sporadically updated blog.

About Dreaming in Quantum

Dreaming in Quantum is a collection of speculative stories, covering subjects from cloning to changelings to cannibalism, usually infused with dark humour. As the name suggests, the imagined worlds contained in the collection overlap with our own and one another, yet diverge in ways that might be macabre or magical. 

Below you can read an extract from the final story in the collection, ‘Phoenix’.

From Dreaming in Quantum, by Lynda Clark

Extract from 'Phoenix'

Sym stared into the open pit of the hearth. Nothing but ash and dust; a few lumps of kindling turned to carbon. And yet he couldn’t stop staring. A vortex seeking to suck him in. 

Four days now he’d sat in that armchair. He’d moved a couple of times, of course. Sipped a few mouthfuls of water from the rain butt outside, retrieved the last hard crust of bread from the cupboard and returned to his seat to gnaw at it like a rat. For the first couple of days he’d stooped over the rain butt to wash and afterwards had run a comb through his hair.

A pointless ritual. 

His eyes flicked to the mantelpiece, as they were wont to do. He couldn’t look at the urn, wouldn’t. He refused. But his sadist eyes determinedly steered his attention back to the burnished brass handles – representations of long, curled feathers – and the lid, an ornate dome engraved with a flaming heart. Typical of her to choose something so quaint and ostentatious. Typical of her to choose the thing at all. He’d told her it was morbid, strange, upsetting to him for her to do so. But she had just tilted her chin downwards in that way of hers, like she was trying to hide her amusement. Her eyes were dark and bright, like a deer’s but without a trace of fear. 

‘Don’t be silly!’ she’d scolded him. ‘Nothing morbid about it! It’s wonderful.’ 


Even in his thoughts he spat the word. 

You can read the complete short story here

Wednesday 12 May 2021

Kate Fox, "The Oscillations"


Kate Fox is a poet based in Northern England who has made two comedy series for Radio 4 and written and performed numerous broadcast poetry commissions as a regular on Radio 3’s The Verb and Radio 4’s Saturday Live. She won the Andrew Waterhouse Award for poetry from New Writing North in 2006. Her previous publications include We Are Not Stone (Ek Zuban, 2006), Fox Populi (Smokestack, 2013) and Chronotopia (Burning Eye Books, 2017). She completed a PhD in performance in 2017 from the University of Leeds, researching Northernness and comedy. She loves swimming outside, spaniels, Doctor Who and big skies.

About The Oscillations, by Kate Fox

'And suddenly the plagues are the most interesting parts of a city’s history.'

So begins poet Kate Fox's distinctive new collection The Oscillations as it explores distance and isolation in the age of the pandemic, refracted through the lenses of neurodiversity and trauma in poems that are bold, often frank and funny but also multifarious, dazzling and open-hearted in their self-discoveries.

Fox's poetry explores difference and community, silence and communication, danger and belonging - and a world that has been distinctly broken into a 'before' and 'after' by the pandemic. Throughout, a strong voice sings of what it means to be many things at once - autistic, creative, northern, a woman. Fox measures not only distances, social or otherwise, but how we breach them, and what the view might be from beyond them.

You can see more details about The Oscillations on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two poems from the collection. 

From The Oscillations, by Kate Fox


The walk measured our breaths,
the first day 
our knees ached going up the steps,
as we limboed under the tree
whose fall seemed to echo the world.

We sat on the stone beach 
by the river, spectated the other side
as if it was a film.
How much movement there is
and sound, I said,
how quiet it is and still
you replied. 

A week later we will walk into the scene
and you will say change 
is sometimes just a walk 
on the opposite side of the river

I am there now,
skimming stones uncertainly,
dunking them with a splash.
I had the knack once,
but needed to be re-taught
or un-learn the urge to throw.

My Mother was not patient
about how clear I needed instructions to be,
how much longer than for other people
it takes me to learn by seeing, 
or building up muscle memory.
Now I am quick to disguise
the ways in which I am slow.

So mercurial with words,
I couldn’t learn your house alone.
There you are across the water.
Will you remember 
how it really was, 
when we found this place together?
Where did you go? 

The Funerals 

The funerals happened outside,
if at all, the end of that spring

when daffodil coronas crinkled 
like elderly necks,
this year’s tasks done,
lining the verges as if waiting for someone
to clear them away.

We gathered under the shelter 
of the crematorium’s porch,
semi-circling the coffin 
they’d brought out on a trolley
like luggage. 

A small music speaker,
a photograph of her magically restored 
to twenty two,
hand sanitiser in our bags,
seven shot glasses for sherry.

I didn’t know the green globe
ready to release when the petals fall
is called an ovary.

Her neighbours placed a plastic folder
containing a photo collage of her garden 
on the coffin.
The display she didn’t get to see this year
had never been more magnificent

and something I only half-believed
when every afternoon ended 
with the totting up of the dead-
the day after she died,
her daffodils bowed their heads. 

Monday 10 May 2021

Invitation to a Joint Book Launch!

You are cordially invited to the book launch on Tuesday 11 May 2021, 7-8pm, for Hannah Stevens and Alexandros Plasatis. The event is free and open to all.

Hannah Stevens took her PhD in Creative Writing at Leicester University, and also taught undergraduates at the university. She will be launching her book of short stories, In Their Absence (Roman Books, 2021). The book includes stories first written during her PhD, and is published by Roman Books as part of their series Stretto Fiction, edited by Jonathan Taylor. You can see more details about Hannah's work and In Their Absence on Creative Writing at Leicester here, and you can read a review of the book on Everybody's Reviewing here

Alexandros Plasatis worked in the David Wilson Library at the University of Leicester. He will be launching his novel-in-stories, Made by Sea and Wood, in Darkness (Spuyten Duyvil, 2021), which was also first drafted during his PhD in Creative Writing, at De Montfort University. You can read more about Alex's work and Made by Sea and Wood, in Darkness on Creative Writing at Leicester here, and you can read a review of the book on Everybody's Reviewing here.

The book launch will take place via Zoom and hosted by Jonathan Taylor. Further details and tickets are available here. We look forward to seeing you there!

Thursday 6 May 2021

Kathleen Bell, "Do You Know How Kind I Am?"

Until recently, Kathleen Bell was an Associate Professor in Creative Writing at De Montfort University. She has published poems in a number of magazines and anthologies including PN Review, New Walk, Under the Radar, Unarmed and A Speaking Silence, and has won prizes in the Nottingham Poetry Competition and the Brittle Star Competition. Her first poetry collection, Disappearances, is due from Shoestring later this year. Kathleen has also published short fiction. She is on Twitter as @kazbel and blogs at

About Do You Know How Kind I Am?

Do You Know How Kind I Am? is a sequence of twenty poems in different voices, all emerging from and responding to the experience of Covid and lockdown. They range from the carefully sympathetic to the hyped-up enthusiasm of the Covid-denier. The poems suggest a greater distance between humans than the mandated 2-metre physical distance illustrated on the cover. 

You can see more details about Do You Know How Kind I Am on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read a sample from the collection. 

From Do You Know How Kind I Am? by Kathleen Bell


Out there’s a woman, driving a bus.
Her only cargo is cloth, metal and air
and at night, light.

Out there’s a man who walks dutiful, slow,
lugging a bag.
Two talk at a distance – a third
leans in to listen.
The masked and gloved make their way
into shops. Some stumble at kerbs.

Others are sniffing the air
as if free but they know
it may hold disaster and death
and breath can bring pain in its train.


Organise, please
one dead celeb a week
or, if you can’t, somebody blonde,
pretty of course, and young
in floods of tears, for failing that
how can we hope
to unite a nation’s grief?

Wednesday 5 May 2021

Chris Jones, "Little Piece of Harm"

By Chris Jones

I grew up in Quorn, Leicestershire. I’ve lived in Sheffield since 1990. I came to the city to do a PhD on the poetry of Thom Gunn. I was given an Eric Gregory Award for my poetry in 1996. From 1997 to 1999, I worked as a writer-in-residence at Nottingham Prison. I was the Literature Officer for Leicestershire for five years and then spent some time as a freelance writer and poetry festival organiser. I’ve spent the last fourteen years teaching Creative Writing at Sheffield Hallam University (my staff profile page is here).

In 2007 I published my first full-length collection, The Safe House, with Shoestring Press. I have since published a number of pamphlets and full-length collections, including Jigs and Reels (Shoestring Press, 2013), Skin – which came out in 2015 and is still available from Longbarrow Press – and the sequence which I have just published with Longbarrow Press: Little Piece of Harm (2021).

About Little Piece of Harm

Little Piece of Harm is a narrative sequence that focuses on 24 hours in the life of a city that has been shut down in the aftermath of a shooting. As this act of violence ramifies outwards, the sequence explores the geographical reach of Sheffield – its urban settings and its rural landmarks – and eavesdrops on the city’s conversations. Pete, our narrator, comes into contact with a range of people who reflect on this public killing in relation to private moments of trauma and harm. Subsequently we learn that Pete has his own burdens he is coming to terms with, as day bleeds into night.

You can read three blog pieces that I wrote about the evolution of the sequence here, here and here. Below, you can read a sample poem from the collection.

From Little Piece of Harm

Blue Abandoned Van

Rhyme all the ways a city battens down.
Say, river waters tide the roads to town.

Power's stripped from mainframes, circuits, wires.
Crowds look on: a business district dies.

Blizzard. The largest snowfall in decades.
Squares are clad as monuments to trades.

Or here, high summer, sometime afternoon,
a man steps back from a black saloon

and takes in Sheffield's stinging diesel haze
as traffic smokes and throttles, stalls, blockades.

He hoofs across four lanes of idling cars
to ditch his echo under Wicker Arch.

Skims his shadow off weed-encrusted brick
the curry houses, pubs no longer public

over the lights, where the quick or alert
might glimpse a strap, some shade beneath his shirt

though his image clears the shopfront glass
before observers get to alter the facts;

he's made the bridge and marked the policeman
who edges round a blue abandoned van.

He slows to wrest this load from off his chest:
pics will later show a pistol's heft

rolled a quarter turn in gangster style
(here's blurry footage caught on someone's mobile).

He’s metres away, lugging freighted breath,
the palest citrus fragrance thinned with sweat;

hails the copper now as though in greeting
as if his palm might cup an ear, a cheek.

A shot to start the gawkers, one in the mouth
and through this opened face a voice pours out.