Friday 16 December 2022

Christmas News 2022

It's been a busy term, and before we break up for the holidays, we'd like to share some of the recent news from students and staff at the University of Leicester.


Third-year Journalism with Creative Writing student Ayan Artan continues to publish non-fiction articles. You can read two recent articles by Ayan here and here

MA Creative Writing graduate Jess Bacon continues to write and publish numerous articles for magazines and newspapers, including an article on Matilda the Musical, storytelling and trauma for the Metro, which you can read here

Congratulations to MA Creative Writing student Laura Besley, whose story "No Matter What" has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Sunlight Press. You can see more details here. Laura's micro-fiction, "At the fairground," was recently published by Paragraph Planet, and Laura's story, "A Closed Book," was published by 101 Words here

Congratulations to PhD Creative Writing student Andrew Craven-Griffiths, who recently passed his PhD viva. 

Congratulations to Kit de Waal, whose memoir Without Warning and Only Sometimes was recently named by The Guardian as one of their "Best Memoirs and Biographies of 2022." More details here

November saw the publication of the two latest New Walk Editions pamphlets of poetry, co-edited by Nick Everett in the Centre for New Writing: Rebecca Farmer’s A Separate Appointment and William Thompson’s After Clare. See here for further details - and to order copies!

MA Creative Writing graduate Tracey Foster has reviewed Modern Nature by Derek Jarman for Everybody's Reviewing here

MA Creative Writing graduate Thilsana Gias has reviewed The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang for Everybody's Reviewing here

Undergraduate English with Creative Writing student Jess Hollis recently performed her poetry at Word! in Leicester. 

Congratulations to PhD Creative Writing student Kathy Hoyle, winner of the prestigious Bath Flash Fiction Award. You can read her winning story, "The Metamorphosis of Evaline Jackson" here.

Felicity James's essay on Elizabeth Gaskell, "String Is My Foible," has been published by Slightly Foxed Quarterly

Congratulations to Karen Powell, who recently passed her PhD in Creative Writing. Her thesis was entitled Bloodlines: Exploring Family History in Poetry

Congratulations to English with Creative Writing student Georgia Sanderson, winner of the inaugural Belvoir Prize for Poetry. 

PhD Creative Writing student Jane Simmons has reviewed Standing Up with Blake by Philip Dunn on Everybody's Reviewing here and Kathryn Simmonds's Scenes from Life on Earth here

Congratulations to second-year English with Creative Writing student Shauna Strathmann, winner of this year's G. S. Fraser Prize. You can read two of her winning poems here

Jonathan Taylor's book of short stories, Scablands and Other Stories, will be published by Salt Publishing later in 2023. 

Congratulations to second-year English with Creative Writing student Sara Waheed, winner of this year's John Coleman Prize. You can read her winning story here

Harry Whitehead's groundbreaking research project, Creative Climates: Creatively Communicating the Climate and Biosphere Emergency, which links artists and writers with climate change researchers to create new art, received developmental funding from Leicester Institute of Advanced Studies (LIAS). 

MA Creative Writing graduate Lisa Williams's seasonal story, "I Believe," has been published by Friday Flash Fiction here. Her story "The Split" has also been published by Friday Flash Fiction here

Wishing everyone a happy Christmas and New Year from Creative Writing and the Centre for New Writing at the University of Leicester!

Friday 9 December 2022

Peter Thabit Jones, "A Cancer Notebook"


Peter Thabit Jones has authored sixteen books. He has participated in festivals and conferences in America and Europe and is an annual writer-in-residence in Big Sur, California. A recipient of many awards, including the Eric Gregory Award for Poetry (The Society of Authors, London) and the Homer: European Medal of Poetry and Art, two of his dramas for the stage have premiered in America. His opera libretti for Luxembourg composer Albena Petrovic Vratchanska have premiered at the Philarmonie Luxembourg, the National Opera House Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, and Theatre National Du Luxembourg. Further information is on his website here

About A Cancer Notebook, by Peter Thabit Jones

From the Foreword, by Patricia Holt

In A Cancer Notebook, Peter expresses, viscerally, purely, his emotions and thoughts while he is living with the reality of cancer. Being a poet, he does so in a way which can be integrated into another being directly, shattering the isolation, and giving each person a better understanding and acceptance of what they are going through - a precious step toward healing, emotionally and physically. This is the profound gift of Peter’s book. The poems are such a totality, each word adding to the whole, building within themselves to an integrated power and poignancy. 'Women’s Ward' and 'Words' are two such poems, among many others.

From A Cancer Notebook

The Bird in the Garden

Over two weeks
Since New Year’s Eve
And the word the surgeon said
Won’t leave. My thoughts try
To break through the ice of it.

I carry a bit of death for now -
Until it's removed. January
And a dunnock bird sits
In the swaying round feeder,
Unbothered by the cold breeze
Of a grave, grey winter, He pecks
At the hard, dry pool of seed.
I smile at the beauty of him.
He warms my emotions.
I love the positivity

In his need to survive.

Women's Ward

Midnight. I pass the women’s ward,
As I struggle, so slow, to the men’s room.
I momentarily think of their possible
Pains, maybe the loss of the features
Of their womanhood, the scars they
Will own for the rest of their lives.

The moon has always tracked their days,
Decided their mothering blood.
The ages enslaved them to kitchen
And bed, denied them the schooling seeds,
Denied them the flourishing voices
Of men. I pass their ward again.

'The eternal note of sadness'
Is always with us, it seems, unsettling 
Our lives and all that we are as humans.
Sleep well, sisters, caught by this thing 
Called cancer, and may your journeys
Be one to a safe and long future of wellness.

Note: 'The eternal note of sadness' is a line from Matthew Arnold’s poem 'Dover Beach.'

One Man's Notebook

Four weeks since my surgery.
What deep songs can I pull up 
From the well of my experience 
Of this thing called cancer?

I check my scar, healing to a crisp 
Dryness. Confined to my home
For now, unable to lift heavy things,
Restricted physically, I feel like a man

Stood at a crossroad with a number 
Of signposts. Will I ever be the same 
Again, after tasting a droplet of death?
Words have been the religion of my life,

The worship of their weights and sounds.
My mind pulls up emotions from the bright
Bottom of the strangest of months.
The splashes of inspiration will become

Phrases, lines, stanzas, and then poems,
One man’s notebook trying to record
The imagined and challenging road 
To a place I’m told is full recovery. 

Wednesday 7 December 2022

Julian Bishop, "We Saw It All Happen"


Julian Bishop has had a lifelong interest in ecology thanks largely to a childhood in rural Wiltshire. He’s a former television journalist and apart from poetry has a passion for gardens, running and dogs although not necessarily in that order. He’s been widely published and was a runner up in the International Ginkgo Prize For Eco-Poetry. He lives with his family in North London. His website is here

About We Saw It All Happen

The poems in this first collection were written over seven or so years at a time when daily headlines brought more evidence of climate change and our increasing disconnection with nature. Bishop, a journalist who once worked as an environment reporter, talks in the preface about how he feels he failed in raising awareness about the seriousness of the crisis by reporting on the alarming data and hopes the more emotional engagement offered by a poem might have more impact. His approach is often formal, there are villanelles, sonnets and a lipogram among other forms. The book itself is divided into three sections which look at the impact of climate change on the natural world, a second more political and satirical section followed by a third more forward-looking section which offers some more hopeful poems. 

From We Saw It All Happen

At The Ice House

(An 18th century ice house was discovered during work on Regent’s Crescent in London)

Polished mahogany tables heaved
under the weight of Regency treats -
calves’ foot jellies, sweetmeats,
wobbling flummery poised on concealed 

ice-beds, hand-harvested
from Norwegian fjords. Numb-thumbed
cutters, slicing through rime, fashioned
brieze-blocks of ice to fit

into steamships, sawdust-stuffed
to stave off melt, cargoes stowed
between beams of deal below,
cubes cracked big enough

for an igloo the size of the O2. 
Staring now into the brick-lined 
void unearthed in grounds behind 
a stuccoed row, it hits you

how a division of spoils is where it begins: 
with the convivial aristocratic clack
of a vintage hock or an Escubac 
on the rocks, how tickling a gentleman's 

gins counts more to those in power
than the cost of a frosted bourbon, 
those who only ever reflect on 
melting ice when it is raised in a tumbler.

Dung Beetles

(Could vanish within a century - Biological Conservation journal)

Strange that catastrophe should announce itself
on such small feet 
among such humble collectors of dirt, 
street-cleaners, shovellers of stools, 
tunnellers through filth.

Ancient Egyptians saw gods in them, suns in dung
shaped into spheres 
dragged into creepy-crawly underworlds;
guided by starry skies, they deep-cleaned fields,
deodorised cattle dumps.

Photographers fawned over tigers, meercats,
svelte giraffes 
while caddis flies withered in the wings - 
no lightbulbs exploded as spiders dived for cover 
beneath piles of calcified scat.

Globetrotting beetles wade through cesspits
teeming with tailings,
cowpats contaminated by worm controls.
Bugs that make the world go round push up
the daisies, while the planet goes to shit.

Monday 28 November 2022

Bethan Roberts, "My Policeman"

Bethan Roberts has published five novels and writes stories and drama for BBC Radio 4. Her books include The Good Plain Cook (Serpent’s Tail, 2008), which was a Radio 4 Book at Bedtime; My Policeman (Chatto & Windus, 2012), the story of a 1950s policeman, his wife, and his male lover (now an Amazon Original movie); and Mother Island (Chatto, 2014), which received a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered prize. Her latest novel, Graceland, tells the story of Elvis Presley and his mother, Gladys. Bethan has taught Creative Writing at Chichester University and Goldsmiths College, London. She lives in Brighton with her family.

About My Policeman, by Bethan Roberts

It is in 1950's Brighton that Marion first catches sight of Tom. He teaches her to swim, gently guiding her through the water in the shadow of the town's famous pier, and Marion is smitten —determined her love alone will be enough for them both. A few years later, Tom meets Patrick, a curator at the Brighton Museum. Patrick is besotted, and opens Tom’s eyes to a glamorous, sophisticated new world of art, travel, and beauty. Tom is their policeman, and in this age it is safer for him to marry Marion and meet Patrick in secret. The two lovers must share him, until one of them breaks and three lives are destroyed. Inspired by the real-life relationship the novelist E. M. Forster had with a policeman, Bob Buckingham, and his wife, My Policeman is a deeply heartfelt story of love's passionate endurance, and the devastation wrought by a repressive society.

You can see more about My Policeman on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an opening extract from the novel. 

From My Policeman

Peacehaven, October 1999

I considered starting with these words: I no longer want to kill you – because I really don’t – but then decided you would think this far too melodramatic. You’ve always hated melodrama, and I don’t want to upset you now, not in the state you’re in, not at what may be the end of your life. 

What I mean to do is this: write it all down, so I can get it right. This is a confession of sorts, and it’s worth getting the details correct. When I am finished, I plan to read this account to you, Patrick, because you can’t answer back any more. And I have been instructed to keep talking to you. Talking, the doctors say, is vital if you are to recover. 

Your speech is almost destroyed, and even though you are here in my house, we communicate on paper. When I say on paper, I mean pointing at flashcards. You can’t articulate the words but you can gesture towards your desires: drink, lavatory, sandwich. I know you want these things before your finger reaches the picture, but I let you point anyway, because it is better for you to be independent. 

It’s odd, isn’t it, that I’m the one with pen and paper now, writing this – what shall we call it? It’s hardly a journal, not of the type you once kept. Whatever it is, I’m the one writing, while you lie in your bed, watching my every move. 

Tuesday 22 November 2022

Rosa Fernandez, "Bite Me"

Rosa Fernandez, photograph by Kulvir Bhambra

Rosa Fernandez is a spoken word artist, musician and and two-time Word! Slam winner who has performed at venues and festivals across the UK and been published in the UK (various anthologies, Bite Me pamphlet by Bookishly) and Canada (Untethered magazine). With a degree from Goldsmiths College in English Literature, followed by a few years of nearly being famous as a pop star, Rosa has at least fifteen years of experience in editing, proofreading and publishing every kind of art form, running a blog of reviews of films, Netflix series, art exhibitions and poetry collections.

Rosa has performed in various guises at numerous venues nationwide, from singing songs from films in a burlesque showcase to writing and performing monologues, from headlining festivals and starring in a music video to performing stand up and hosting poetry nights dressed in ridiculous costumes; she brings her unique perspective, gentle whimsy and firm sense of socialist feminist justice to every performance. Otherwise, she can often be found wearing a hat and thinking about biscuits. Her poems have toured the nation in the back of a transit van, and it sometimes sounds like it.

Rosa’s upcoming poetry performances include co-hosting RunYour Tongue at the Exchange on Wednesday 23 November, a feature performance at Word! Slam at the Attenborough Arts Centre on Thursday 24 November and a feature performance at a fundraising event for Save Weekley Hall Wood on Friday 25 November at Kettering Arts Centre. Rosa will also be performing poetry and songs at the Clarendon Park Christmas Fair on Queen’s Road on Sunday 4 December, and would be delighted to see you at any of these events, particularly if you want to buy her pamphlet or haiku zines as excellent Christmas gifts!


About Bite Me, by Rosa Fernandez

Food is so much more than just fuel; it is opinion, memory, trigger, treat, and is at times just funny all by itself.

In this tasty selection box, Rosa Fernandez celebrates all the things we might consume and why, whether toast will actually kill you, and why the kitchen is the best place in the house. Crumbs!

You can read more about Bite Me on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read  a sample poem from the collection.  

From Bite Me


I left all your words in.
You piled them all up
Into the imaginary;
You needed somewhere
Where they could disappear.
Shoved under the stairs
The words are dusty,
Fading, crumbling;
I put one in my mouth
Occasionally, for fun.

Friday 18 November 2022

Michael Rosen, "Many Different Kinds of Love"


Michael Rosen, photograph by David Levene

Michael Rosen is renowned for his work as a poet, performer, broadcaster and scriptwriter. He is Professor of Children's Literature at Goldsmiths, University of London and visits schools with his one-man show to enthuse children with his passion for books and poetry. In 2007 he was appointed Children's Laureate, a role which he held until 2009. While Laureate, he set up The Roald Dahl Funny Prize. He currently lives in London with his wife and children. His website is here

About Many Different Kinds of Love: A Story of Life, Death and the NHS

Michael Rosen wasn't feeling well. Soon he was struggling to breathe, and then he was admitted to hospital, suffering from coronavirus as the nation teetered on the edge of a global pandemic. 

What followed was months on the wards: six weeks in an induced coma, and many more weeks of rehab and recovery as the NHS saved Michael's life, and then got him back on his feet. 

Combining stunning new prose poems and the moving coronavirus diaries of his nurses, doctors and wife Emma-Louise Williams, and featuring illustrations by Chris Riddell, this is a beautiful book about love, life and the NHS. Each page celebrates the power of community, the importance of kind gestures in dark times, and the indomitable spirits of the people who keep us well. 

You can read more about Many Different Kinds of Love on the publisher's website here. You can read a short review of the book by Lisa Williams on Everybody's Reviewing here. Below, you can read a sample prose poem from the book. 

From Many Different Kinds of Love, by Michael Rosen

The coma keeps secrets.
There is no place for the coma in 
the geography of my memory. 
I can't visit the coma. 
I can't call for it. 
If I try to find it,
if I plead for it to come, 
it doesn't hear. 
Or if it hears, 
it refuses to come out of its cave
and tell me what happened. 
It hangs back in the shadows
forbidding me from 
having a conversation
There isn't even a sign saying:
'This is not a memory.'

Thursday 17 November 2022

It's Never Too Late

By Sushma Bragg

It’s been 35 years since I graduated with my BA (Hons) Degree in Humanities (Literature & History Of Ideas), then life got in the way. Priorities changed, and I got stuck in the day-to-day humdrum of working 9-5. I had to, I had bills to pay. And I wanted a family.

My passion had always been to become a writer. I always had my head in a book from the age of 9. Thanks to my teacher at primary school (I am forever grateful to her), it had become a challenge for her to find me a book that I would actually read and finish. I had no interest in any of the children's books at school. Then she hit on a jackpot! She introduced me to a world of fantasy, magic, and make-believe in the form of The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. I was forever lost to this world since that day! Every break, every lunchtime, you would find me in the cloakroom, my nose in a book. I surreptitiously read way into the night too and quickly turned my light off if anyone woke to go to the bathroom. I dreamed that one day, people would read what I had written. It was a pipe dream. I did not have the belief in myself. However, I did have to go to University, it’s a cultural thing, an unspoken rule in our family. But back in the day, there were no Creative Writing degrees, hence my degree in Humanities.

Now 35 years on, life has given me the opportunity to pursue that dream. My children are at university, and I am relatively a free agent.

I grew up in Leicester, my mum still lives here and I spend a lot of time here in the week to help care for her. So the obvious choice had been to apply to the University of Leicester for the Master's Degree in Creative Writing. At the time I did so (I was a late applicant for the September start) I really didn’t think I’d get a place. But I did to my surprise!

I was apprehensive, thinking what on earth am I doing at this late stage? My twins had just started uni and they were only 18! I’m in my late 50s! I also had that niggle in the back of my mind, “Am I good enough?”

But with the support and belief of my family, I came to be a student again. Even got myself a studio in student accommodation.

I can’t describe the emotion I felt on my first day. But it definitely made me realise how much I missed the whole academic environment. The uni life, the seminars, discussions and of course the creative art. This is where I was meant to be. All my life this is the path I was meant to take. And the time was right for me now. I was literally buzzing.

I am enjoying the whole process, from attending seminars, making new friends, both classmates and tutors,  meeting and attending lectures by guest writers. The opportunities have been endless. I even enjoy reading the copious amounts of set material and of course the WRITING! 

My heart fell when I realised that part of my degree was poetry! I’d never written a poem in my life before. I most definitely was NOT a poet. Yet to my surprise, my first few pieces of writing were poems - even for the non-poetry modules. Just goes to show, how if given the chance and the willingness to try new things, that whole worlds can open up to you. I’m not saying I am any good, but I can now say I have written poetry, and enjoyed doing so.

I have come home, to where I was meant to be. I am living my dream. It’s never too late …

Tuesday 15 November 2022

F. C. Malby, "Dead Drop"

F. C.Malby graduated with a first-class joint honours degree in Geography and Education. She has travelled widely and taught in the Czech Republic, the Philippines and London. She writes novels, short stories and poetry. Her debut novel, Take Me to the Castle, won The People’s Book Awards. Her debut short story collection, My Brother Was a Kangaroo, includes award-winning stories published in literary journals and magazines worldwide. She is a contributor to anthologies including In Defence of Pseudoscience: Reflex Fiction Volume Five (Reflex Press), Unthology 8 (Unthank Books), and Hearing Voices: The Litro Anthology of New Fiction (Kingston University Press) alongside Pulitzer prize winner, Anthony Doerr. Her website is here.

About Dead Drop

Liesl is an art thief and an exceptionally good one. She steals priceless paintings from Vienna’s art galleries and delivers them to wealthy private collectors. This life of anonymous notes and meticulous planning, of adrenaline-fuelled dead drops and dramatic escapes, suits her restless spirit and desire for solitude and anonymity. But when Leisl finds a body on Stephansplatz underground steps instead of the expected note, she understands that she’s involved in a deadly game and that her own life is in danger. This fast-paced, intelligent thriller exposes the undercover world of art heists and takes us on a journey through Vienna’s galleries and museums until Leisl comes up against a truth that makes her question everything she knows.

You can read more about Dead Drop on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the novel. 

From Dead Drop, by F. C. Malby

I hear the roll and clunk of the train’s wheels on the steel tracks below, feel its vibrations in my toes and through my thighs as it leaves the platform. The wind rushes into the tunnel from Stephansplatz, its caress warm as it whips down the steps to the underground platform and fills the void. 

The Vienna spring brings with it cherry blossom and azure skies, the blues becoming celestial in the late afternoon light. Most count the short, hot summer months. I count the winter months until spring, and then when the leaves turn to a deep, burnt amber, I begin again. 

As I reach the top step, a body lies on the pavement, feet contorted, laces undone, socks pushing through holes in the soles. A red, woollen hat rests on the concrete slab by his head, hands clutch an empty bottle of Kaiser beer. Not a soul stops to look. A body littering the pavement is a familiar sight on this part of the underground. It’s not always clear whether the person is alive or dead. 

I am here for the note. Stepping closer to avoid the people coming up the steps behind me, I spot a corner of paper in his top jacket pocket and pull it free. Without reading the words, I slide it into my jacket. Checking the pocket on the other side of his jacket, I feel something hard and rough and pull out a brooch shaped like a star. I count the spokes, ten of them, and run my fingers across its surface. It lacks the pearls, but at a guess it would have been handcrafted by Hapsburg jeweller, Rozet and Fischmeister. I slip it into my pocket. An unexpected treasure. Reaching down and taking his wrist, I feel for a pulse. I should have checked it first but this is new territory for me. All signs of life have drained away and death was recent. A touch of heat still lingers on the skin, rough and calloused. I pull the hat down over his face. The beer bottle, I suspect, will have been planted to make this look like a natural event. He should have been alive when I reached him. 

Monday 14 November 2022

Andrew Taylor, "Northangerland: Re-versions of the Poetry of Branwell Brontë"

Andrew Taylor is the author of 3 collections of poetry published by Shearsman Books, the latest, Not There-Here, was published in October 2021. His latest collection is Northangerland: Re-versions of the Poetry of Branwell Brontë, published by Leafe Press. He recently edited the Collected Poems of Peter Finch for Seren Books. He is the author of the first monograph on the work of Liverpool poet, Adrian Henri: Adrian Henri: A Critical Reading (London: Greenwich Exchange, 2019). He lives and works in Nottingham where he is Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent University. His website is here

About Northangerland, by Andrew Taylor

Out of a conversation in a Nottingham city centre coffee shop in November 2021, discussing poetry and publishing, I sought to develop the idea of engaging with the poetry of Patrick Branwell Brontë. I was aware that the work of writers such as Shakespeare, Keats and Wordsworth had been engaged with in a ‘collaborative’ manner and wondered about the prospect of working with the poetry of Branwell Brontë. Branwell, so often overlooked and overshadowed in literary terms, by his three sisters, needs reappraisal, particularly with regards to his poetry. Even the most authoritative of critics, Juliet Barker noted back in 1994 that Branwell (as well as his father, Patrick) were due a ‘fresh look.’ 

I was determined to only use Branwell’s words and not add mine to the poetry. There was a temptation to update the work with a modern audience in mind. Early drafts of some of the poems did employ my own work, but I soon adjusted and followed John Seed’s methodology. Taking two of John Seed’s collections published by Shearsman Books, Pictures of Mayhew: London 1850 (2005) and That Barrikins: Pictures of Mayhew - London 1850 (2007), as my cue, I noted Seed’s statement that: 'Every word in the pages that follow is drawn from Henry Mayhew’s writings on London published in the Morning Chronicle from 1849 to 1850, then in 63 editions of his own weekly paper, London Labour and the London Poor, between December 1850 and February 1852 and then in the four volume work of the same title.' 

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

From Northangerland

The Emigrant. I

Sink from sight the landmarks 
  of home & the bitterness 
of farewells we yield spirit 
to the ocean & the life before 
the new born shores of Columbia 
& Australia exchange past time 
for time to come
  how melancholy if morning restores
(Less welcome than the night’s gloom)
  Old England’s harsh blue hills 
while we wake to a silenced pain
like a sick man resigned 
to die a well
remembered voice in eternity
May 28, 1848 [May 25, 1845 in Neufeldt] - Branwell Brontë
May 12, 2022 – Andrew Taylor


Saturday 12 November 2022

I.M. Ian Jack (1945-2022): An Appreciation

By Jonathan Taylor

On 28th October 2022, author, editor and journalist Ian Jack died aged 77, after a short illness. At different times, he was editor of The Independent on Sunday, Granta Magazine, and regular columnist for The Guardian

This article, though, isn't intended as an obituary or biography. I didn't know Ian long or well enough to write about his whole life, and only met him a handful of times. You can read an obituary in The Guardian here. Rather, I want to write a short piece about him and the huge impact he had on me - as with many other authors whom he edited and mentored over the years - despite the relative brevity of our association. 

I first met Ian back in 2005. He was then editor of Granta, and had been since 1995. He published my article in the magazine, and then my memoir - my first non-academic book - in 2007, with Granta Books. I was immensely lucky to have him as my first editor, and I learned such a lot from him. He was a brilliant editor, taking me through the book line-by-line, image-by-image, chapter-by-chapter, never pulling any punches (the first edit he insisted on involved cutting 40,000 words). I was going through a tough time in my day job in the mid-2000s, and my association with Ian and Granta felt like an antidote to that, a haven, the opposite of the malignant everyday. Ian was encouraging and critical, kind and insightful, and really seemed to care about the books and articles he oversaw. I visited him a few times in London to talk through the book and edits, and was welcomed into his house, where I have happy memories of sitting in his small walled garden, drinking beer and talking about my book, future plans - as well as memoirs, fathers, hobbies, beer, old-school sweets, trains, universities and so on. 

Ian seemed interested in everything, and he remains a model for me of editing and writing in that regard: an author is someone for whom nothing is uninteresting, nothing is "boring," who pays attention to the world; an author is someone for whom the small and apparently trivial or provincial have their own fascination; an author is someone who remembers what others forget; an author is someone who sees significance and connection in a world which is all-too-ready to throw things away, forget, conceal, or ignore them. As well as an editor, Ian was a unique and brilliant journalist, who understood the importance of memory, preservation and the interconnectedness of things. Rather than writing about "now" in isolation, his journalism is also about how that now connects with the past. This is surely the very best of journalism - to understand "now" in context, not as an isolated symptom. His wonderful book of essays The Country Formerly Known as Great Britain (2009) explores its subjects from four dimensions, connecting the personal and the political, the now with the then. Ian's work is the place, I think, where journalism and creative non-fiction meet - politically-informed, fascinating, wise, and beautifully written. 

I will miss Ian a lot, as will the writing world in general, which needs more enthusiasts like him. I feel sorry not to have seen him in the last few years. But I do feel very lucky to be able to count him as one of my mentors, and to think of myself as one of his many proteges. 

Friday 11 November 2022

From Organic Farm to a PhD in Creative Writing

By Joe Bedford

Joe Bedford, photograph by Deborah Thwaites

In some ways, I feel like an unlikely PhD candidate. My PhD journey began ten years ago in South Africa, on a commune run by a family of hippie Afrikaners. I went there to learn how to live outside of the usual parameters of society, and while this desire was probably just a product of living in central London, I was still starving for meaning. What I found in South Africa was a farm of a few dozen acres, planted in sandy ground about an hour’s drive from Cape Town and battling a tangle of invasive Port Jackson willow. The farm provided for two small families – both Afrikaner – and was worked according to the principles of permaculture (organic farming). Other than these three adults and four children, the only other visitors were farmers from other settlements, labourers from Cape Town and illegal economic migrants who lived in the nearby township. Within this limited community – off-grid and with little contact with the outside world – I thought I had found a version of the life I wanted to live.

In my experience, there are two things that motivate people to rearrange their relationship with society. In the simplest terms, the first is love of family, community and nature; the second is frustration with human behaviour. Speak to anyone who has made or wishes they could make radical changes in their relationship with society and you will often find expression of one of these two things, usually both. "I want my children to know the names of the plants in our garden." "I’m sick of the way politicians allow our environment to be trashed." "When I’m in nature, I find an inner-peace I can never find in the city." "The new development at the edge of town has destroyed that poppyfield." At its extremities, this kind of love produces people who are blissfully reconciled to their place in the natural world. But what is at the other extreme?

In South Africa, I found a group of people who had decided to escape the city, just as I had. They did so because they loved their children and wanted them to have a relationship with nature that had been unavailable to them in Cape Town. They also did so because they felt the life they were escaping from was degenerative, corrupt and void of meaning. While driving on the motorway between Cape Town and Malmesbury, we almost hit a resident of a township through which the motorway passes. Rather than walk several miles to the nearest footbridge, he had chosen to run between the highspeed traffic on his way to the other side – a common sight on that stretch of road. The farmer I was travelling with had to swerve, and without blinking shouted a common racist expletive at the top of his voice. What followed was a tirade about human stupidity, immorality, uncleanliness and poverty. This farmer’s anger came not just from the complex racial dynamics of post-apartheid South Africa but from a deep-seated frustration with how human beings cannot take care of themselves. "It is no surprise we are trashing the planet – we can’t even take care ourselves."

This might sound like the product of a damaged political system, but it may not be that simple. The seeds of misanthropy are sown widely in our cultural lexicon, including in our nature writing and nature fiction – at least, that is one argument of my thesis. In the ten years since my experiences in South Africa, I’ve seen countless examples of how the dual motivations of love and frustration drive our relationship with nature and its continued degradation. How can you not be angry when you see raw sewage contaminating our rivers? How can you not feel hatred when you see unnecessary rail projects tearing through the green-belt? When something you love is under threat, your instinct is to raise your fists to protect it. Which is exactly what activists on both the left-wing and right-wing are doing.

With the encouragement of my lead supervisor Jonathan Taylor I began to approach these themes with a creative and critical eye, which led me to Bernhard Forchtner’s work on the ecology of the far-right and to ecocritics like Jonathan Skinner. A year into working with this team has left me invigorated, writing more than ever and reading some of the most stimulating literature I’ve found in years. I write this blogpost from south London, the city I had wanted to escape from when first arriving in South Africa ten years ago. Outside the window there are schoolchildren walking back from the nearby academy and a man who circles the estate shouting in Jamaican patois. Beyond them is the corner of the park where luminescent ring-necked parakeets – a population of escapees who have thrived in the city – chase each other through the plane trees. From that corner you can see the Shard, rising up from the edge of the Thames. It is in every sense a thousand miles from Malmesbury, but it feels like a thousand times more where I am supposed to be today.  

About the author
Joe Bedford is a writer from Doncaster, UK. His short stories have been published widely, and have won various awards including the Leicester Writes Prize 2022. He is currently working on a composite novel focused on the intersections between English rural fiction and right-wing attitudes to nature, supervised by Dr Jonathan Taylor (Leicester), Dr Bernhard Forchtner (Leicester) and Dr Jonathan Skinner (Warwick). His debut novel A Bad Decade for Good People will be released by Parthian in Summer 2023. His website is here

Thursday 10 November 2022

Charlie Hill, "The Pirate Queen"


Charlie Hill is a critically-acclaimed writer of novels, short stories and memoir. The Pirate Queen is his first historical novel. His next book is a collection of satirical short stories called The State of Us, which will be published in April 2023, and his website is here.

About The Pirate Queen, by Charlie Hill

The Pirate Queen is set in Mayo in 1650 and tells the story of the Irish clan chief and pirate Grace O'Malley, or Gráinne Ni Mháille, who spent her life fighting the forces of Queen Elizabeth 1st before sailing up the Thames for a summit meeting with the English queen. In the book, Grace's story is being recounted to her great great granddaughter by her tutor, Catherine, who is a native of Dublin.

You can read more about The Pirate Queen on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the novel. 

From The Pirate Queen

It was three years ago now. Catherine, twenty two years old, was living in Dublin. ‘Come to Castleburke,’ Theobald had suggested, ‘and teach my daughters.’ They were talking in The Stationer’s Company, a shop managed by Catherine’s father; Theobald had been thumbing the latest print of Foras Feasa ar Éirinn and Catherine had indulged him in conversation. She was educated but not a teacher and had barely heard of Mayo, yet she agreed to the proposal with scant consideration. Many times over the course of those three trying years she thought back to that decision. 

Because Catherine was born to Dublin. For as long as she could remember she had immersed herself in its manifold charms, the challenge of its filth and dazzle. She walked streets that reeked of fish and human waste, on her way to the orchard at Piphoe’s Park, where she read plays from her father’s shop under laden trees and enjoyed the opining of her contentious peers; she had been euphoric in the gloomy wash of the street lights – whoever could conceive of such a thing! – and shocked by the pity of the city’s crumbling walls. Then there was the theatre on Werbergh Street. That had been a common haunt. The place was run by a serious minded young man called John Ogilby, who was known to her father. Most of the performances were considered unsuitable for a young girl but Catherine was not to be denied and spent many hours enthralled by Shirley’s Constant Maid or Burnell’s Landgartha; on occasion she was allowed backstage or to tread the boards in an empty house she imagined filled with an audience for her own work. The theatre was a short lived enterprise – it closed when Catherine was just sixteen, a casualty of the rebellion – but by then Dublin was in her bones. 

Yet life in the city had its disadvantages too. Foremost amongst these was a lack of free rein. Her father was kind-hearted and encouraged her reading and her interest in Werbergh Street, but Catherine knew if she stayed in the city she was tied fast to the Stationer’s Company and this was not enough. Catherine was ambitious and even if hers was a nebulous want, its presence was no less demanding for that. There were other constraints too. Although she was a confident woman, Catherine could not move about the place unaccompanied – instead she was allocated a chaperone, the wife of a friend of her father’s. Catherine questioned why. It was true there were dangers in the streets of the city, but the woman’s near constant presence was more a sop to propriety; she was employed to safeguard Catherine’s virtue and Catherine resented this and failed on many counts to see the need. 

Her decision to take the role in Mayo then, might have been a whim – Catherine knew she could be inconstant – but there had been sense there too, for as much as she loved the city she was keen to sample something new. Perhaps some time beyond the Pale would provide her with a unique stimulation? A greater freedom? Something new, the chance to live a little differently? Perhaps the need to fit into the moulds of men would lessen and Catherine would be able to abandon herself to an adventure of her own making? It was certainly a possibility. ‘Connacht is different,’ her friends told her, their eyes alight with excitement and alarm, and although she paused to question the evidence on which they had based this judgement, there was an irresistibility to its logic. 

Her father was unconvinced. ‘I forbid you,’ he said.

‘Oh father. We have spoken about that.’

‘Very well. Then I would rather you reconsidered your decision.’

‘I understand.’ 

They travelled to Mayo together. Although Catherine didn’t ride well, they went by horse. It took days. They crossed the Shannon at Snámh Dá Éan and before long her hopes were struggling like their mounts through the cold wet earth. Because Catherine’s friends had been right in their surmisings. Connacht was different. It might have been a different country so far removed was it from the life she had known. Connacht was wild and dark – a deep and ancient dark, a dark both clamorous and hushed – and without the obvious refinement and sophistication of the city. They passed through villages called Annaghdown and Ballinrobe and Kinturk. They stayed in lodgings where they were served curd pancakes, from which Catherine, though game, recoiled. There were abbeys and ruins of abbeys through which howled winds with more intent than even those of the coast back home. There were castles. There was evidence too of the rebellion that had caused so much anxiety in Dublin just six short years before: forts and fortified houses pock-marked by musket fire, disquieting people, harrowed and hollowed-out by war: on the road they saw men with muskets, men on horseback with lances, they saw Scottish fighters armed with long swords and small round shields, mercenaries abandoned by their old paymasters and waiting for their new; they passed brown-robed monks and sisters in black habits; there were townspeople who stood and stared at Catherine’s suede gloves and riding dress – was that envy? mistrust? or disdain? – and she felt alien and unwanted in their eyes. 

The most disturbing encounter took place in a town called Tuam. Catherine and her father were watering their horses when they were greeted by a farmer herding sheep. Her father asked how far it was to Castleburke and the man’s friendly demeanour changed. He demanded to know their business there and when informed that they were to meet with Viscount Mayo, he hurried off without reply. After that Catherine had to remind herself with each passing mile that the journey had been her choice and that it should be considered more of a challenge than a trial. 

Tuesday 8 November 2022

Ki Russell, "The Wolf at the Door"


Ki Russell earned a PhD in Literature with a Creative Writing emphasis from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2012. Since the fall of 2012, she has taught Composition, Creative Writing, and Literature at Blue Mountain Community College in eastern Oregon, where she also serves as department chair of English, Writing, & Philosophy. Ki researches fairy tales and then butchers them for her own uses. She steals time from grading to wrestle with words, converse with the cat, dance with the dog, and paint. She believes people should laugh more.

Ki is active on Facebook hereOther samples of her work can also be found here

About The Wolf at the Door

In 2014, Ars Omnia Press released Ki’s hybrid genre novel The Wolf at the Door, which combines fiction and poetry to present the interrupted narrative of Lana, a contemporary revision of the Little Red Riding Hood figure. Each snippet of Lana’s story weaves her life ever more densely and intimately into the weft of a wider world of fairy tale-inspired figures, against which the protagonist’s story unfolds and through which she discovers who and what she is. Interwoven between the sections of this narrative are poems exploring other fairy tale figures, the perspective of these poems alternating between the contemporary and the timeless time of fairy tales. Baba Yaga appears in her hut in the woods and also as a Kali-figure living among us in the suburbs: devouring, monstrous, sexual, divine. She subsequently appears in the fairy tale tavern where she guides the heroine of the disrupted narrative, who works and interacts with other fairy tale figures traditionally cast as villains. Ultimately, Lana must come to recognize her own identity as both the maiden (Red Riding Hood) and the crone (grandmother) which allows her to draw power from both of these extremes of the female archetype.

From The Wolf at the Door, by Ki Russell

How to Become Baba Yaga

Build a log hut and stuff
the cracks with mud, straw,
rags. Twine hair through dirt.
Decorate with skulls.
Sculpt a pair of chicken legs
from river clay and rooster
blood. Place them beneath the floor.
Rig ropes with winches and puppet
your home wherever you please.
Compose chants and curses.
Mumble them as you tug tendons.

Pull your nose to your chin.
Pinch veins until the skin blues
and people miss your eyes.
Hunch your shoulders:
a hill that slopes
to your head. Oil
your hair till it snakes
around your face. Knock out
every other tooth. Sharpen
the rest. You’ll need them to tear
flesh from bones.

Train your palate: melt
flesh on your tongue.
Savor the juice of roast
torso, mop the drippings
with bone-flour bread. Lick
your fingers clean. Pluck lips
from your teeth. Devour
their sins. Gulp
them down. Absolve.

Reflections of a Suburban Witch

I smelled the blood of an Englishman today.
        The old red odor bled through his cologne.
I didn’t mention it. My spice grinder can’t handle bones these days.
        Besides, who has time to bake?

At the office, two emails from the cat:
                                It’s raining and the noise against the window disturbs my nap
                        and later:
                                The dog won’t give up the remote. I expect you to rectify this.

Of course those clumsy gray paws can’t type. 
                                He uses voice command software.
Today’s talking animals don’t bother with rhyme.
        No one repeats what they say.

The house: vinyl-sided wood. 
                                No insurance on gingerbread—who has the money for those 
The oven is electric, small.
                                It lacks flare, but it’s safer when the kids get pushy. 

Friday 4 November 2022

Emma Claire Sweeney, "Owl Song at Dawn"


Emma Claire Sweeney is Director of the Ruppin Agency Writers’ Studio – a nationwide literary mentorship scheme, and she is a lecturer in Creative Writing at the Open University. 
Emma was named as both an Amazon Rising Star and a Hive Rising Writer for her debut novel, Owl Song at Dawn (Legend, 2016). Inspired by Emma's sister who has cerebral palsy and autism, it went on to win Nudge Literary Book of the Year. 
Stemming from Something Rhymed, the website on female literary friendship that Emma ran with her own friend Emily Midorikawa, Emma and Emily co-wrote their debut non-fiction book, A Secret Sisterhood: The Hidden Friendships of Austen, Brontë, Eliot and Woolf (Aurum, 2017). In her foreword, Margaret Atwood described the work as a great 'service to literary history' and The Financial Times called it 'an exceptional act of literary espionage.'

Emma has won Society of Authors, Arts Council and Royal Literary Fund awards, and has written for the likes of The Paris Review, TIME, and The Washington Post.

Emma’s Twitter handle is @emmacsweeney and she has a Facebook page here.

About Owl Song at Dawn

Inspired by Emma’s sister, who has autism and cerebral palsy, Owl Song at Dawn is a novel about a fierce octogenarian who spends a lifetime in Morecambe Bay, trying to unlock the secrets of her exuberant yet inexplicable twin.

Maeve Maloney is a force to be reckoned with. Despite her advancing years, she keeps Sea View Lodge just as her parents did during Morecambe’s 1950s heyday. But now only her employees and regular guests recognise the tenderness and heartbreak hidden beneath her spikiness. Until, that is, Vincent shows up.

Vincent is the last person Maeve wants to see. He is the only man alive to have known her twin sister, Edie. The nightingale to Maeve’s crow, the dawn to Maeve’s dusk, Edie would have set her sights on the stage – all things being equal. But, from birth, things never were.

If only Maeve could confront the secret past she shares with Vincent, she might finally see what it means to love and be loved: a lesson that her exuberant yet inexplicable twin may have been trying to teach her all along.

In the excerpt below, Maeve is looking back on the night of their 21st birthday ...

From Owl Song at Dawn, By Emma Claire Sweeney

I see you, Edie, standing bare, your hands clasping my wrists, your face and breasts and hips in line with mine. You let me take your weight as you lift one leg over the rim of the tub and then you stumble slightly, and I move my hand to your armpit to steady you. 

‘Nothing to worry about,’ you say. 

You watch as I sprinkle baking soda into the water to soothe your nappy rash, as I work up a lather, as I rub a soapy cloth from your ears to your toes. 

Your body has changed during my years at college: your breasts rounder, your legs stronger, your tummy – which you never did learn to pull in – a little plumper, perhaps. It’s hard to imagine that as a child you’d been matchstick thin. I take more notice of your body on this particular night, it being our 21st birthday. Later, I will run my new Max Factor lipstick across your fulsome lips. With your lovely bust and bright blue eyes, you would have been a real bombshell – all things being equal.

I still don’t know what caused your marionette limbs and wonky teeth and scarcity of words. Perhaps the town gossips were right and there was a deficiency in our genes; or perhaps it was down to Mum’s age; or our slightly premature birth; or perhaps the doctors didn’t notice that you lacked oxygen during our delivery; or perhaps I deprived you of nutrients or damaged you in the womb. 

Even now, I see your eyelids crinkle shut as I massage your head with shampoo, as the water darkens your coppery hair, as it streams down your spine. I see you straining with concentration as I place the flannel in your palm. 

Although I’ve asked you to scrub your armpits, you touch your elbow. ‘Up, up,’ I instruct, guiding your hand. ‘You can do it, I can help you.’

‘On my own!’ you call out, delight spreading across your face as the flannel touches your armpit, so I clap and cheer and call out, ‘Edith Mary Maloney is the cleverest girl in the seven seas!’

You keep repeating it over and over: ‘The cleverest girl in the seven seas!’ you exclaim, splashing foam high into the air. ‘The cleverest girl in the seven seas!’ A bubble lands on your nose, and you turn cross-eyed from staring at it so long. 

But I also see the tufts of hair in your armpits, and I know that I should shave them: they will look unsightly with your new cap sleeve blouse. But I do not pick up the razor; I do not take the time to remove that hair.  

I see you wriggling in the bathtub, water spraying across the room as you scissor kick your stiff legs just like Frank has shown you. I love to see Frank’s broad back bent low as he teaches you to dance. I love the way his large hands cup your tiny palms, lifting them up and down like an expert puppeteer. 

I resume my bathing instructions (Where are your armpits? Where’s your front bottom? Where are your knees? Where are your feet?), but my mind is still on Frank. I imagine him watching me as I head down the staircase in my ocean-blue dress. I imagine the gimlets we’ll drink in the Rotunda Bar at the Midland Hotel, the jazz band that’ll play as we teach you to jive. You’ll quickly get exhausted and will want to sit on Dad’s knee. Then Frank will move me slowly round the dance floor, his legs pressed up against mine. 

Little do I know that I will never again dance with a man; that you will never wear lipstick; that your legs and armpits will never be smooth. Little do I know that I will soon lose Mum and Dad and Frank and you. But I cannot lose the images of what happened that night.