Saturday 30 April 2022

Kathy Pimlott, "the small manoeuvres"


Kathy Pimlott was born and raised in Nottingham but has spent the last 45+ years living and working in Covent Garden, specifically Seven Dials, home of the broadsheet and the ballad. Her debut full collection, the small manoeuvres, was published by Verve Poetry Press in April 2022. She has two pamphlets with The Emma Press, Elastic Glue (2019) and Goose Fair Night (2016), and her poems are published widely in magazines and anthologies. Her poem ‘Closeups in Lockdown’ was one of just 20 chosen for inclusion in the Poetry Archive’s Now! Wordview 2020 Collection. Kathy has been a social worker and community activist, worked on a political and financial risk journal, in arts television and artist development. She currently earns her living as the administrator of a community-led charitable trust.

About the small manoeuvres 

In this, her first full collection, Pimlott slips her arm through ours and draws us in with her deceptively easy and intimate address, separating out the threads that make us – history, class, education, family, work, friendships – to examine 'the small manoeuvres that trundle us over the drop and on.' She weaves back and forwards through a lifetime with a mordant humour laced with tenderness. Fine-tuned to the oddness and beauty of the ordinary, she celebrates them with a relish for the deliciousness of language. There are mice, possible lions, natty Soho dogs, poison, georgette and a mermaid, apples, temples and gentrification, sticky carpets, vegan Bratwurst and aqueducts – something for everyone in this unsettling dance through time, characters and place.   

From the small manoeuvres, by Kathy Pimlott

Return to the Terminus

Too often now I sway into the night,  
that cosy winter dark between tea and
the turning out of pubs and cinemas, 
a late traveller fogging a rattling bus. 
See me on the upper deck with the dogs 
and other coughers, taken up with smoking 
in that sophisticated way, dragon-nostrils. 

I shouldn’t keep going back, am already yellow 
beyond scrubbing. These comfortable excursions
just won’t do while all the while life howls 
for attention. Last year a clever man I knew 
a bit courted a death he didn’t believe in. 
Visiting, face it, out of a desire to be blessed,
by happenstance I was invited into the scan,

into the intimacy of his scarred insides, 
to witness a death sentence, 90% sure, but, ah, 
that golden 10. First question: can I still 
have a drink? He died, swollen, in a hard clutch. 
And now this other man, mine, heads that way too. 
But anyhow, look, here comes the whipsmart clippie 
machine grazing her hip, its crank and buttons 

primed for pernickety fares. Only she commands
the bell: one for stop, two sharp dings for go. 
If I don’t tell you, how will you ever know about 
that bronco ride of side benches, the fear of slipping 
right off the bus as the driver speeds, skips stops, reckless 
on corners, to the end of his shift? It’s late, so join me, 
grip the pole, lean out into those bright, melancholy lights.

The Grand Union Canal Adventure

We three old girls, fractured 
by the usual losses, aren’t mended 
Japanese-style with precious seams 
that make each fissure sing,
but rivetted: serviceable, not art.

To prove our mettle, we choose 
to chug along the old Grand Union,
moor by fields of roosting geese 
to sway in darkness on the water’s 
shallow, dreamless shift.
Forty feet above the Ouse, I’m left.
The others go below to show me 
I can, despite my doubts, skipper us
along the strait way of the aqueduct, 
not falter, step back into empty air 

down into the river’s wilder waters. 
On a narrow boat there’s no choice
but to make the small manoeuvres 
that trundle us over the drop and on, 
now and again to know the satisfaction 

of a perfect approach to a bend. 
Shins bruised, knuckles scraped raw, 
we tie up, step ashore to climb the hill
up to the Peace Pagoda, so golden, 
so unlikely, outside Milton Keynes.

Wednesday 27 April 2022

Sophie Haydock, "The Flames"


Sophie Haydock is an award-winning author living in east London. Her debut novel, The Flames, is about the four muses who posed for the artist Egon Schiele in Vienna more than 100 years ago. She is the winner of the Impress Prize for New Writers. 

Sophie trained as a journalist at City University, London, and has worked at the Sunday Times Magazine, Tatler and BBC Three, as well as freelancing for publications including the Financial Times, Guardian Weekend, Arts Council, Royal Academy and Sotheby’s.

She has interviewed leading authors, including Hilary Mantel, Maggie O’Farrell, Bernardine Evaristo, Sally Rooney and Amy Tan. Passionate about short stories, Sophie also works as a digital editor for the Sunday Times Short Story Award and is associate director of the Word Factory. She judges writing competitions and hosts her own short story club.

Her Instagram account @egonschieleswomen – dedicated to the women who posed for Egon Schiele – has a community of over 115,000 followers. For more, visit her website here

About The Flames, by Sophie Haydock

Vienna at the dawn of the 20th century. An opulent, extravagant city teeming with art, music and radical ideas. A place where the social elite attend glamorous balls in the city’s palaces whilst young intellectuals decry the empire across the tables of crowded cafes. It is a city where anything seems possible – if you are a man. 

Edith and Adele are sisters, the daughters of a wealthy bourgeois industrialist. They are expected to follow the rules, to marry well, and produce children. Gertrude is in thrall to her flamboyant older brother. Marked by a traumatic childhood, she envies the freedom he so readily commands. Vally was born into poverty but is making her way in the world as a model for the eminent artist Gustav Klimt. 

None of these women is quite what they seem. Fierce, passionate and determined, they want to defy convention and forge their own path. But their lives are set on a collision course when they become entangled with the controversial young artist Egon Schiele whose work – and private life – are sending shockwaves through Vienna’s elite. All it will take is a single act of betrayal to change everything for them all. Because just as a flame has the power to mesmerize, it can also destroy everything in its path …

From The Flames

Then Edith experiences the tipping point – a moment of balance before the descent – the sensation manifesting itself first in her belly. She puts her hand to her stomach, desperate, scared that somehow the baby is in danger, that it is all her fault. Why is she being so reckless? 

She remembers, then, that she has been pushed to the edge by the people she loves most.

It takes less than half an hour for the wheel to complete its circuit. In that time, she has thought of death and love, of blood and betrayal, and where her loyalties lie.

Who can we trust in this world? Edith still hasn’t a clue.

She begins walking again. Where else can she go? She feels as if she were a homeless rambler, one of these unfortunate types who have frittered everything away and must wander the streets, with no chance of redemption or return. She is sure she’s mistaken for such a figure too, grubby as she has become, shivering and shaking. She warms her belly, thinking only of the baby, of its emerging limbs and eyes closed against the darkness inside her.

Edith approaches the market. Stalls are closing up for the evening, men and boys packing away the produce, piling up crates. She runs her hands over wrinkled fruit and meagre vegetables, the prices sky-high.

‘One for a pretty girl, down on her luck,’ a man says, putting his hand beneath his stall and pulling out an orange. He holds it out and she is transfixed. Edith sits down. He produces a knife to peel it. She’s so empty, and the juice is so sweet. It’s rare.

As she is leaving, she touches a stack of tall, brittle firewood, the only type that can be sourced during this sad war, and imagines the flames that will consume it, given time. They promise so much: life-giving warmth, and destruction. A line that is so terribly fine.

Monday 25 April 2022

Robert Graham, "The Former Boy Wonder"

Robert Graham is the author of the novel Holy Joe; the short story collections The Only Living Boy and When You Were a Mod, I Was A Rocker; and the novella A Man Walks Into A Kitchen. His play about fans of The Smiths, If You Have Five Seconds To Spare, was staged by Contact Theatre, Manchester. He is co-author, with Keith Baty, of Elvis – The Novel, a spoof biography; and, with Julie Armstrong, Heather Leach, Helen Newall et al, of The Road To Somewhere: A Creative Writing CompanionEverything You Always Wanted to Know About Creative Writing, and How To Write A Short Story (And Think About It). He grew up in Northern Ireland and for most of his adult life has lived in Manchester. He teaches Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores University. For more information please see his website here and follow Robert on Instagram @robert55graham. 

Below, you can read more about his new novel, The Former Boy Wonder, published in 2022 by Valley Press. 

About The Former Boy Wonder, by Robert Graham

My novel offers an insight into the way a man’s mind and heart works – not always with great wisdom. Mid-life crisis men who, failing on many levels, seek comfort in chasing after the ghost of their first love cause a lot of pain to the women who live with them. These men are also ridiculous. Because many have experienced it, this theme may appeal to women readers. It may also appeal to men who are having a similar mid-life crisis. 

Peter, the protagonist, is a romantic who is also needy and a bit of an idiot. The novel leans towards the side of the women in it, but at the same time, Peter is funny and has a fair degree of charm. So many readers won’t like his behaviour, but they may end up on his side – even though they will know he is heading towards a self-inflicted disaster. 

Peter’s attitudes and behaviour are not uncommon in mid-life men. Research shows that men often romanticise their first loves in a way that women don’t. To that degree, he may resonate with both female and male readers. Some will have experienced what happens when the dying of the light causes them to make foolish decisions while others may relate to frustrations and temptations my protagonist experiences in the course of the novel.

From The Former Boy Wonder

I was a romantic boy, looking for some whispered mystery, hungering for wonder. In my teens, I had a flickering dream about the fabulous girl who would someday appear. I would see her and recognise her, and life would finally begin. For years before this dream, though, I believed I lived under an evil spell. I had been the little prince, the apple of my father’s eye, and then he left. The little prince had lost his kingdom; he had been a happy little boy before it all went wrong. By the time I went to college, my circumstances had primed me to be rescued, reborn once I met this fabulous girl. She would appear before me, I would be hit by a bolt of lightning, fall for her in a heartbeat. That was the dream.

Manchester was bigger and more exciting than Belfast, any day. I arrived at the Poly and entered a new universe. In Manchester, nobody blew up bus stations and people didn’t shoot each other. Over here, it was safe to go out and have fun. British bands, the ones I listened to and read about pretty much never came to Belfast. The only gig in town was Rory Gallagher, who played the Ulster Hall at least once a year and swept audiences away, but that wasn’t much compensation for living in a musical ghost town. Yes, British bands who would risk their necks to come over were as rare as a solar eclipse, but every UK tour came to Manchester. Not many years before, I could have caught Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust tour at the Hard Rock in Stretford, and a few years before that somebody shouted ‘Judas!’ at Dylan in the Free Trade Hall. This was the place where the magic names in the NME walked off the page and into a venue that was only a bus ride away.

Friday 8 April 2022

Rebecca Burns, "Kezia & Rosie"


Rebecca Burns is an award-winning writer of short stories. Her story collections – Catching the Barramundi (2012) and The Settling Earth (2014) – were both longlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Award. She was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2011 and 2020, winner of the Fowey Festival of Words and Music Short Story Competition in 2013 (and runner-up in 2014), winner of the Black Pear Press Short Story Competition in 2014 and, in 2016, was listed for competitions including the Evesham Festival of Words and Music, the Chipping Norton Festival, the Sunderland Short Story Award, and the Green Lady Press Short Story Award. She has also been profiled as part of the University of Leicester’s “Grassroutes Project,” a project that showcases transcultural writers in the county.

Her debut novel, The Bishop’s Girl, was published by Odyssey Books in September 2016, followed by: a third short story collection, Artefacts and Other Stories, in 2017; a sequel novel to The Settling Earth, called Beyond the Bay, was published in 2018. Her first novella, Quilaq, was published by Next Chapter in 2020. Kezia and Rosie is her seventh book.

Her website is here, and you can follow her on Twitter at @Bekki66 and on Facebook at Rebecca Burns.

About Kezia & Rosie

When sisters Kezia and Rosie arrive at their grandparents' house in the summer of 1986 they aren’t sure when they’ll see their Mum and Dad again. 

While her younger sister Rosie is content playing on the allotment gate and having picnics in the garden, Kezia begins to realise that things aren’t quite what they seem. While embraced in Granddad and Grandma’s loving care, it's not long before seven-year old Kezia begins to notice strange looks between them, hushed whispers, and secret phone calls. She realises she must step into the frightening adult world if she is to make sense of her parents' troubled marriage.   

Written in beautifully delicate prose, Rebecca Burns' collection of linked short stories explores how a child learns to navigate new familial territory, the heartache of uncertainty, and a growing understanding of what, exactly, real love means.

From Kezia & Rosie, by Rebecca Burns

This is the best part of a weekend breakfast. When they first came to stay, the sight of creamy fat streaked with brown in the dripping pot made Kezia feel sick. It looked like earwax. Rosie point-blank refused to touch it. But even Grandma eats it on toast, so Kezia tried it. She found she liked the coffee-coloured blobs most of all, for they tasted of meat. Grandad puts a plate of toast in front of her and she takes the earthenware pot and smears dripping on top. He watches and nods. 

‘Good lass. That’ll put hairs on your chest.’ 

Another of his sayings, she’s heard it before. She’s supposed to say in return – ‘but I’m a girl’ – and, because it’s her birthday and she doesn’t feel sad, Kezia does. Then a thought occurs and the words are out before she can stop them.

‘Did my mum like beef dripping when she was little?’ 

Grandad pauses over the frying pan. A frown on his face, which he tries to hide. The toast is a brick in Kezia’s mouth. The feeling of heaviness which has clung to her for days, except for this most precious of mornings, slams back into her. 

‘Not really,’ Grandad says eventually. ‘Your Uncle Andy did.’ 

‘What about mushrooms?’ Kezia can’t believe she’s asking more. But, as it’s her birthday, she wonders if Grandad will open up and tell her something about her mother. It’s bright and early and sun streams through the kitchen window, turning the bottle of washing-up liquid into a collection of emeralds, and the clock ticks round like a steady companion. Kezia can see lint and dust in the air; it seems as if the house has momentarily slipped free of its mooring on Vernon Street, free of its place in the row of pre-war semi-detached houses with identical front lawns and paths and on the 318 bus route into town. At this very moment while Rosie and Grandma sleep upstairs, 3 Vernon Street is a floating space where anything might happen or be said. 

Grandad sighs and turns off the gas under the frying pan. He sits down opposite Kezia. He places a thick hand against the silver teapot and pours himself a fresh mug. 

‘This has been an upside down few weeks for you girls, hasn’t it?’ he says. ‘I don’t think you’re really interested in whether your mum liked dripping or mushrooms.’

Thursday 7 April 2022

A. J. Lees, "Brainspotting: Adventures in Neurology"

A. J. Lees was born in St Helens and qualified in medicine from The London Hospital, Whitechapel in 1970. He trained in neurology at University College Hospitals, London and La Salpêtriere in Paris and was appointed to the staff of the National Hospital, Queen Square at the age of 32. He is one of the three most highly cited Parkinson’s disease researchers in the world and was responsible for the introduction of apomorphine therapy as a treatment for advanced Parkinson’s disease. For his contributions to medical education and his research achievements, he was elected a member of the Brazilian Academia Nacional de Medicina in 2010. 

His first book to be published by Notting Hill Editions, entitled Mentored by a Madman, described how the writings of William Seward Burroughs helped him to operate effectively within the complex milieu of UK medical research and inspired some of his research. Several of his books, including Ray of Hope and The Hurricane Port, grew out of  a deep love for the port of Liverpool. His last book, Brazil that Never Was, described a yearning for an idealised adolescent past, in which he had dreamed of losing himself in the Amazon forest, inspired by the adventures of Lieutenant Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett. His new book is Brainspotting: Adventures in Neurology, published jointly by Notting Hill Editions and New York Review of Books. 

About Brainspotting:  Adventures in Neurology

This is a collection of essays explaining the making of a neurologist. An interest in bird watching as a child taught Lees the importance of observation and the need to record precisely what one sees, skills which gave him a head start when he began his training in neurology. In another chapter, he explains how the methods of crime detection used by Conan Doyle’s fictional detective Sherlock Holmes were a valuable introduction to the  diagnostic method of neurology, but in order to relieve suffering it needed to be combined with the humanity of Dr Watson. Lees believes that people can be trained to see things their mind does not yet know, and that attentive listening not only gives neurologists the diagnosis in two-thirds of cases but, like touch during the physical examination, can be a transformative healing ritual. In the last chapter, while extolling the miracle of modern neuroimaging, he warns that when used inappropriately or as a substitute for clinical training brain scanners can become weapons of mass destruction.

You can see more details about Brainspotting on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read three short excerpts from the book.


From Brainspotting, by A. J. Lees

When I tell people I am a neurologist, very few have much idea of what I do. Common reactions are: "Isn’t that the same as Gregory House?" or "How wonderful it must be to study the human mind?" When I reply that I make the blind see, the lame walk and can calm the shaking palsy, many assume I must be a brain surgeon. The media prefer to call me a "leading neuroscientist" even though I spend no time in a laboratory and carry out no research on the healthy brain ...

My mother, who sometimes used birds to tell fortunes, conserved my bird journals for many years. After I had qualified as a doctor she handed them back to me, reminding me how as a twelve-year-old I had felt the need to name every little brown bird that came into view. She then said, "Do you remember when you found that dead blue tit unmarked in the garden and how you buried it under the laburnum marking its resting place with an ice lolly stick?" At the time she had told me that when sailors were lost at sea blue tits carried their souls to heaven ...

Soulful neurology has realistic expectations that allow me to reduce the burden of suffering through my understanding of life as well as my scientific credentials. It embraces anecdote, cordial laughter and tacit knowledge but never lapses into sentimentality. It insists that mistakes in medicine are inevitable, but when they are admitted and taken to heart  become future friends. It expects me to talk unhurriedly to my patients as if they were my close relatives and to try to be kind and nuanced when forced to give bad news. It reminds me that neurological disorders can rupture aspirations and dreams and lead to frustration, loneliness and a profound sense of hopelessness ...

Wednesday 6 April 2022

Sharon Eckman, "I See You"

Sharon Eckman is an actor, singer and writer. Winner of the Time Out Travel Writer of the Year, she has been longlisted twice for the Fish Memoir Prize and shortlisted for the Words & Women Prose competition and the Jerwood/Arvon Mentorship Scheme. Short fiction has appeared in Shooter Lit, Words & Women: 3, 100 Voices: An Anthology, 100 Voices for 100 Years and New Flash Fiction Review. She is currently working on a novel and has just completed her first short film. Her website is here

Below, you can read a story by Sharon, first published in New Flash Fiction Review here

I See You

Grace Savage arrives as the supermarket doors open on Christmas Eve morning. ‘Twice widowed, now shy,’ as she invariably describes herself, Grace browses the fruit and veg aisles, inspecting carrots and parsnips, furtively popping a green grape into her mouth. Her youngest grandson loves green grapes and this is the best way to tell if they are ripe. Grace doesn’t consider it stealing – she will buy after she tries.

She transfers the basket to her other arm; she hadn’t change for a trolley and everyone else was in too much of a rush to be bothered with an elderly lady dithering by the entrance.

Carefully checking her list, Grace Savage treads her accustomed path past milk and yoghurt, stopping for a pot of double cream for the Victoria sponge which had been her eldest grandson’s favourite. Someone jostles her basket arm and she turns to apologise to the track-suited young man who impatiently pushes past her.

“Fucksake,” she hears him mutter. “Get out of the way you stupid old cunt.”

She considers responses. 1. Ignore. 2. Push back. 3. Point out that her ‘cunt’ is not so old and that she feels sorry for the ‘cunt’ responsible for his entrance into the world.

“Do you talk to your own grandmother with that mouth?”

Grace Savage hasn’t said this – a middle-aged man with an army haircut and cold grey eyes accosts tracksuit man who opens his mouth to spit bravado, meets that cold stare and smirks instead.

“Just banter, innit? Bit of bants? Here love, let me get that for you.” And he reaches for another pot of double cream she neither wants nor needs. Banter. Of all the words currently swilling around the world, she particularly loathes this one.

Grace Savage shakes her head. “No thank you,” she answers politely and returns the pot to the fridge, exchanging a look with army haircut man who gives her a brief, chilly smile and fills his own basket with French cheeses and crème fraiche. Tracksuit man mutters something and her hands shake as she transfers the basket again and bumps her knee on the edge of the chiller as she turns away. She hears him huff a laugh and a pulse begins to beat in her forehead.

She alters her usual route and stands in front of a shelf of cat food for the cat she no longer has. Tracksuit man has followed, picking up a two-for-one special on Pedigree Chum. He has a badly-trained crossbreed called Tyson, she decides. Tyson would be a good dog with another owner.

Tracksuit man replaces the dog food and picks up some wild bird seed. Grace is now convinced he is following her; she feeds her garden birds, whereas this man probably shoots them with an air rifle.

The game is on. Grace leads him past sanitary products, home baking and novelty cakes. He remains perhaps five paces behind. Eventually, via a circuitous route taking in electrical goods, cleaning products and makeup, they arrive at the tills. Her basket is now full. He holds nothing but a copy of The Sun.

She queues at ‘baskets only’. He slots in behind her and she hears his breath come short and sharp, can smell cigarettes mixed with something rank and rotting. His soul, she thinks. His bantering soul.

Two tills down, she sees army haircut man. He is watching and she feels a little comforted.

At the last minute, she veers away to the self-checkouts and yes, tracksuit man follows with his threatening breath and folded newspaper. Her grandson’s death went unreported in that paper; they were too busy sharing stories of overpaid footballers to bother with a boy who’d killed himself after relentless bullying. ‘Just banter,’ they’d said. Fourteen years old. His little brother found him swinging from the curtain pole.

She places her basket, scans each item deliberately slowly. His breath is louder, close by her ear and she can hear him muttering. “If you were my grandmother, I’d have smothered you in your sleep. I’d drown your cat and leave it on your doorstep.”

Grace Savage packs the last item – the plump grapes bursting with sweet juice.

‘Unexpected item in bagging area’ says the scanner. She looks around for help. Army haircut man walks by, nods to her with another chilly smile before passing through the automatic doors. ‘Unexpected item in bagging area’ the scanner repeats, insistent. She looks down at her bag. An unexpected item pokes out of the top. A bottle she doesn’t recall picking up because she never uses that brand of bleach. Oh well, since it’s there …

She unscrews the top and with calm, considered precision, flings the contents into tracksuit man’s face and as his agony fills the store and his skin starts to bubble, she reaches into her bag and eats another grape.

Tuesday 5 April 2022

Isabelle Kenyon & Charley Barnes (ed.), "In Conversation with ... Literary Journals"


About In Conversation with ... Literary Journals, ed. Isabelle Kenyon & Charley Barnes

This is a series of personal, curated interviews with internationally-acclaimed literary editors. The book is the chance to widen your horizons as a writer, discovering new and established literary journals across the world. Sit down with these experienced editors to find out what they really want from a submission, and allow them to demystify the publishing process, across a wide range of genres.

This new book was inspired by In Conversation with ... Small Press Publishers, published by Fly on the Wall Press, in collaboration with Sabotage Reviews. It's suitable for writers of short stories, poetry, flash fiction and cross-genre artforms, at all stages of their career. It includes interviews with 40 international journal editors including: streetcake magazine, The New Verse News, Ink Pantry Publishing, IAMB, ZiN Daily, The Broken Spine, NEON Books, Reckoning Magazine, The Journal, Wildness, Blink-Ink, Tint journal, Long poem magazine, Idle ink, Rough Diamond Poetry Journal, Raleigh Review, Tahoma Literary Review, The Frogmore Papers, Squawk Back, Ambit, Flashback Fiction, Anthropocene, Fly on the Wall Press, Not Deer Magazine, Capsule Stories, GUTTER, Full House Literary Magazine, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Parhelion Literary Magazine, The Dawntreader Magazine & Sarasvati Magazine, Here Comes Everyone magazine, The Alchemy Spoon, Shooter Literary Magazine, Skirting Around Magazine, UP YOURS magazinePorridge, Foxglove Journal, Agenda poetry journalDear Reader, Seafront Press.

Below, you can read about the editors and a sample from the book. You can see more details on the publisher's website here

About the editors

Isabelle Kenyon is a northern writer and the author of  chapbooks: This is not a Spectacle, Digging Holes To Another Continent (Clare Songbirds Publishing House, New York, 2018), Potential (Ghost City Press, 2019), Growing Pains (Indigo Dreams Publishing Ltd, 2020) and one short story with Wild Pressed Books (Short Story ‘The Town Talks’, 2020). She is the Managing Director of Fly on the Wall Press, a socially conscious small press for politically-engaged poetry, fiction and anthologies. She has had poems and articles published internationally in journals such as Ink, Sweat and Tears and newspapers such as The Somerville Times and The Bookseller

​She was listed in the Streetcake Experimental Writing Prize 2020, and for The Word, Lichfield Cathedral Competition 2019. Her poems have been published in poetry anthologies by Indigo Dreams Publishing, Verve Poetry Press, and Hedgehog Poetry Press. She has performed at Cheltenham Poetry Festival and Verbose, Manchester in 2020, Leeds International Festival as part of the ‘Sex Tapes,’  Apples and Snakes’ ‘Deranged Poetesses’ in 2019 and Coventry Cathedral’s Plum Line Festival in 2018.

She is currently working on her first novel, Dark Energy, which has been funded by Arts Council England. She is a fierce dog lover and a confessed caffeine addict.

Dr Charley Barnes is an academic and author from the West Midlands, UK. She is the author of several poetry publications, including: A Z-hearted Guide to Heartache (V. Press, 2018), Body Talk (Picaroon Poetry, 2019), Hierarchy of Needs: A Retelling, co-authored with Claire Walker (V. Press, 2020), and Lore: Flowers, Folklore, and Footnotes (Black Pear Press, 2021). Charley has also authored three short fiction releases: Death Is A Terrible House Guest (The Black Light Engine Room Press, 2019), Burn The Witch (The Black Light Engine Room Press, 2020), and Go On A Road Trip (Wild Press Books, 2020). Under Charlotte Barnes, Charley writes crime fiction, including the titles: Intention; The Copycat; The Watcher; and The Cutter (Bloodhound Books, 2019-2021). She has had individual poems and fiction pieces published by the likes of Ink, Sweat and Tears, Riggwelter Press, and Bind Collective.

Charley is the current Managing Director of Sabotage Reviews, the editor of Dear Reader, and a lecturer in Creative and Professional Writing at the University of Wolverhampton. She has spoken and performed at events such as Verve Poetry Festival, Cheltenham Poetry Festival, and Tamworth Literature Festival, where she formed part of a panel to discuss the practicalities of publishing crime for a contemporary readership. Charley was the Worcestershire Poet Laureate 2019-2020. She is now the Writer-in-Residence for The Swan Theatre, Worcester, and their associated venues. When she isn’t writing, she’s likely drinking tea, eating cake, or walking her dog.

From In Conversation with ... Literary Journals

Ambit Magazine

In Conversation with … Kirsty Allison, Editor

Q. We know that your main focus is across poetry, stories and art, but do you ever accept submissions which verge on cross-genre or which are stylistically different to the rest of your publishing aesthetic?

A. Ambit was established in 1959. Past editors include JG Ballard, Carol Ann-Duffy, Eduardo Paolozzi, with early work from David Hockney, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Ralph Steadman. Some of our most radical works are cross-disciplinary.

When I came on board, we started using Poems, Stories, Art as a way of describing Ambit, nodding to the traditions of founder Dr Martin Bax, to offer thirty pages to each of these disciplines per issue. Traditionally, these areas have been headed up by separate editors, overseen by one — and in my mind, progressive literature and art has always occurred where there’s some sort of visionary overlap. I love the Invisible Years series in Ambit, the collaboration between Ron Sanford, Martin, JG Ballard and occasionally Mike Foreman. Culture moves, it is alive, and we are undoubtedly gatekeeping if people want to give it a go — but we are in a very different point to where we began, because anyone can publish their own work now, and that was not possible back when we began in 1959.

What we offer is stories on paper, that’s the core of Ambit. Ambit is a platform for publishing the best literature and art, and if someone chose to submit graphic stories, we’d see it and consider. There are many great artists, poets and writers that start with us — stories take many forms and we’re here to platform the best poetry, stories and art, but that isn’t to deny cross-over. Our only restriction is that we have ninety-six pages in our quarterlies where submission is open to all, and we clearly have an intention with the Annual Ambit Competition, which opened across disciplines for the first time in 2021, and will this year, with a theme as the framework.

Fiction is one way of telling stories, as is art, graphic art, auto-narratives in illustration, etc.  Anecdotes or philosophical questions are where many stories begin, so it’s generally about how well they transverse into black and white using language, the semiotics, these elements across disciplines are what we play with. Lifewriting is a spectrum: if you’re Bukowski or Anaïs Nin your stories are going to be interesting, and for me, that’s what makes a great writer. I had very little to share until I’d lived a bit. It’s not about disruption and colour all the time, but it helps if there’s some mastery. Form is a tool. Speech is a tool. I love these borderlines — where lyric and poetry crossover has been an obsession.

Monday 4 April 2022

Tom Conaghan (ed.), "Reverse Engineering"

By Tom Conaghan, publisher of Scratch Books

About Reverse Engineering

It’s easy to get obsessive about short stories. Done well they’re near perfect, done badly they’re a little insulting. Maybe, in such a contained space, the stakes are just naturally higher. 

I’ve been the fiction editor at Bandit Fiction for a few years now. I also judge submissions at US magazine The Story, and for The Word Factory’s Apprenticeship Award. In all these organisations, we were declining a great deal more writing than we accepted. All the time, I was reading incredible stories in The New Yorker, Granta, The White Review, Electric Literature and others. What was it that these successful writers doing that so many others weren’t? 

The question prompted me to start a series of interviews at The Word Factory, asking amazing authors how did you write that? Their answers were eye-opening in many ways: Chris Power rewrote his ending to ‘The Crossing’ fifty times; Mahreen Sohail’s first draft she calls draft zero; present-day Jon McGregor would like to teach his younger self that what he thought was ambiguity was just prevarication.

But, above all this, what came through was how various their craft was. Bringing together their principles did not point towards a single perfect story; as I wrote in the introduction to the book (available to read in 3am Magazine), there is no single state of short storydom – it is a perennial Newfoundland. 

As a consequence, I found that talking to brilliant authors didn’t show me how to write a great story, but – like a great short story – it did help me formulate better questions. And, ultimately, the one thing I did understand about the short story is that its endless permutations mean that, for me, it will stay an obsession.

You can see more details about Reverse Engineering on the publisher's website here. You can receive a 15% discount when you buy Reverse Engineering online with the special discount code: Leicester15

Friday 1 April 2022

Creative Writing Student Showcase 2022


On Wednesday 23 March 2022, as part of Literary Leicester, we ran our first ever Creative Writing Student Showcase event in Attenborough Arts Centre, University of Leicester. The event was sold out, and featured fiction, poetry, prose and scripts from students across all our courses and programmes: BA, MA and PhD. The event was a wonderful opportunity to celebrate some of the brilliant work done by University of Leicester Creative Writing students, past and present, and was a great success. 

Students who performed at the event were: Joe Bedford, Laura BesleyIsobel Copley, Nina Walker, Lisa Williams, Tracey Foster (who read her recently-published poem "Second-Best Jewellery Box"), Laurie CusackHannah Mitchell (who read her award-winning story, "Happy Birthday, Eileen"), Beth Gaylard and Cathi Rae.

Congratulations and thanks to everyone who was involved!