Tuesday 12 July 2022

Summer News 2022

Kit de Waal, photograph by Justin David

Since our last news post (Recent Creative Writing Student Success), a lot has happened, so here's a Summer update ...

Firstly, we'd like to welcome the brilliant Kit de Waal to Creative Writing at Leicester, who's going to be the University's first Jean Humphreys Writer in Residence. You can read more about this story here.

On Tuesday 7 June, the Centre for New Writing (in conjunction with Literary Leicester) were delighted to welcome Amitav Ghosh, author of The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable (2016) and The Nutmeg’s Curse: Parables for a Planet in Crisis (2022), and a panel of experts including Professor Caroline Upton and Professor Mark Williams to discuss the climate emergency.

Next, some wonderful book news: Laurie Cusack, UoL PhD Creative Writing graduate, is going to have his book of short stories, The Mad Road, published by Roman Books, in 2023/4, as part of their Stretto Fiction series. The Mad Road features stories written by Laurie during his PhD. Current PhD Creative Writing student Joe Bedford has had his novel, A Bad Decade for Good People, accepted for publication by Parthian Books in 2023. You can read more about it in The Bookseller here. Congratulations to both Laurie and Joe!  

New Walk Editions, which is co-edited by Nick Everett, has published two new pamphlets: Hugo Williams, The West Pier, and Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Ghalib, A Diary, Delhi 1857-1858. You can see details on the publisher's website here

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

Congratulations too to MA Creative Writing student Isobel Copley, who won second prize in the Anansi Archive Spring 2022 Short Story Competition. You can read her award-winning story, "Just a Few Seconds," here.

Meanwhile, PhD Creative Writing student Lee Wright's flash fiction "Dick Ridgway's Shoes" is published in the first issue of the Leicester Literary Review. "Mask," a poem by MA Creative Writing graduate Constantine, has been published in Mad Hearts 2022. MA Creative Writing graduate Lisa Williams has published a short story, "Sue Morecambe in 3b," in Unfortunately Literary Magazine here. Tracey Foster's poem, "False Memory," has been published by Mausoleum Press here. Tracey has also written a review of Leicester University's "Let's Ride Leicester Literary Tour" for Everybody's Reviewing here. PhD Creative Writing student Paul Taylor-McCartney has also written a review for Everybody's Reviewing here.  

And finally, speaking of Everybody's Reviewing, the site has now passed 200,000 readers, while this website, Creative Writing at Leicester, has passed 100,000 readers! Congratulations and thanks to everyone - students, readers, reviewers, bloggers, editors, authors - involved. You can now see a complete index of author interviews on Everybody's Reviewing here, and a complete index of featured authors on Creative Writing at Leicester here. Many thanks to PhD students Mathew Lopez-Bland and Chloe Myers for their hard work in compiling these indexes. 

Wishing everyone a great Summer, and do keep in touch!

Monday 11 July 2022

Reflecting: The Lessons I've Learned as a Writer

By Jenny Kane (Jennifer Ash)

While the University of Leicester is busy celebrating its centenary, I am celebrating my own half-century. 

There is something about turning 50 that makes a person take stock. Sometimes, I think that the fact I’ve made it this far is a miracle. I’ve done so much with my life – from selling posh cheese, to making Welsh Hats, to excavating a Romano African city and teaching erotica classes! And yet, it still does not seem nearly enough.

Back in the early 1990’s I was an Archaeology student at the University of Leicester – I had no idea I would be a writer one day. In fact, I was 33 before I wrote my first short story.

In the 18 years that have disappeared between then and now, I’ve managed to squeeze out over 200 publications – including short stories, scripts, poems, novellas and over 30 novels - and there is so much more left to write.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been reflecting on a few of the lessons I’ve leaned as I’ve worked in the mad – often cruel – frequently inspiring – world of fiction writing. I thought I’d share a few of those thoughts with you today. 

Never underestimate the importance of reputation

While you need to be able to write well to get on as an author - that isn't enough.  Building up a readership and good networks with publishers and reviewers is vital to your survival. To do that you need a good reputation.

Always keep deadlines; be known for being reliable. There are lots of good writers out there – you need to be a good writer who always delivers.

Never cut corners

Just don't. All that work you've put into writing a story will be wasted if you are in too much of a hurry to be ‘out there.’ 

If you are self-publishing and your cover needs improving- improve it. (Use a professional cover artist – very few of us are good at cover design).

If you need to do one more redraft - do it.

Cutting corners might get your work out faster. But readers aren't stupid: they can tell if an author has rushed their work. If you don't care enough about your work to address every issue and make it as good as you can, then why would a reader care enough to come back to you a second time?

(Of course, no one's work is ever 100% perfect - but we should try to get as near to perfect as possible).

Never take any success you have for granted

If you get a good book deal - embrace it. Love it. Enjoy every second of it. But do not take it for granted. One deal does not mean they'll be another one.  Never assume you won't have to work just as hard for the second, third, fourth … (Sounds cynical - but it's true).

Don’t write if it isn't fun anymore

Writing is hard work – so, if it isn't fun anymore - stop. Life's too short!

It’s a job

Remember, to be a professional writer you need to treat it like a job. Put in the hours, look at the marketing and control your budget. Stick to deadlines and keep all your options open for new opportunities.

People can be cruel

Sadly, people can be cruel. It is ironic that writing attracts so many people with low confidence and low self-esteem – and yet we offer our words up for public consumption, making us vulnerable and open to attack. 

As writers, we all want good reviews – but they aren’t guaranteed, and we can’t possibly hope to please everyone, so poor reviews are a fact of life.

While one nice review will make you happy for an hour or so, a bad one will niggle for days - weeks even. The worst are the reviews that attack the writer, rather than critically assessing the book. I've been called some horrendous things over the years by people who have no idea who I am, or what I'm like. Assumptions are made and opinions are freely shared, in a very unhelpful/hurtful way. Authors are humans - that can be forgotten all too often.

Write what you want to write

Write what you want to write, not what you think you ought to write, or what other people tell you to write.

Give yourself permission not to be perfect

Perfection does not exist - and trying to find it will stop your writing in its tracks.

Get that first draft down - do not worry about how good or bad it is - just write it.

Then, once it's on paper, you can start to improve your story. Slowly, through the editing process, it will get better and better, until it's ready to be released. Even then, there will be things that have been missed. While you want your words to be as good as possible, remember, we are humans, not machines.

Talking of editing …

Never skip this process. While seeking perfection too soon is a bad thing, not taking the time and trouble to edit properly will stop a good story in its tracks.


The more you read, the better you'll write.

What’s next?

If a publisher or agent is interested in you, the first thing they will ask is – “What else have you got?”

Don’t stop writing while you are waiting for your first novel / short story to get taken – publishers are interested in your ongoing work, not just the words already on the page.

In truth, I could waffle on for ages in this vein. Everything I’ve learned within the writing world has come from the hundreds of mistakes I’ve made along the way: from signing dodgy contracts (always get contracts checked by the Society of Authors or other reputable agency), to sending the wrong manuscript to be formatted (Whoops- not my best move).

The main thing I’ve come to realise, however, is this – it isn’t a competition. You aren’t up against your fellow students/writers/colleagues – you are only up against yourself. 

Most of all – enjoy! I mean, can you think of a better way to live your life than to make up lies all day, and then get paid to write them down!

About the author

From the comfort of her cafe corner in Mid-Devon, award-winning author, Jenny Kane, wrote the contemporary women’s fiction and romance novels, Winter Fires at Mill Grange (Aria, 2021), Spring Blossoms at Mill Grange (Aria 2021), Autumn Leaves at Mill Grange (Aria, 2020), Midsummer Dreams at Mill Grange (Aria, 2020), A Cornish Escape (2nd edition, HeadlineAccent, 2020),  A Cornish Wedding (2nd edition, HeadlineAccent, 2020), Romancing Robin Hood (2nd edition, Littwitz Press, 2018),  Another Glass of Champagne (HeadlineAccent, 2016), and Another Cup of Coffee (HeadlineAccent, 2013).

Jenny has also written 3 novella-length sequels to her Another Cup of ... books:  Another Cup of Christmas (Accent Press, 2013), Christmas in the Cotswolds (Accent, 2014), and Christmas at the Castle (Accent, 2016). 

Her latest novel, Frost Falls at The Potting Shed, will be published by Aria in October 2022.

Jenny is also the author of quirky children’s picture books There’s a Cow in the Flat (Hushpuppy, 2014) and Ben’s Biscuit Tin (Hushpuppy, 2015).

Under the pen name, Jennifer Ash, Jenny has also written The Folville Chronicles (The Outlaw’s Ransom, The Winter Outlaw, Edward’s Outlaw, Outlaw Justice - published by Littwitz Press, 2016-2020), The Power of Three (Spiteful Puppet, 2020) and The Meeting Place (Spiteful Puppet, 2019). She has also created seven audio scripts for ITV’s popular 1980’s television show, Robin of Sherwood

The Waterford Boy, Mathilda’s Legacy, The Baron’s Daughter, The Meeting Place, Fitzwarren’s Well and more were released by Spiteful Puppet between 2017and 2021. 

Jenny Kane is the writer in residence for Tiverton Costa in Devon. She also co-runs the Creative Writing business, Imagine. Jenny teaches a wide range of Creative Writing workshops including her popular ‘Novel in a Year’ course. 

All of Jennifer Ash’s and Jenny Kane’s news can be found on her website here. She is also on Twitter @JenAshHistory, @JennyKaneAuthor, @Imagine_Writing. As Kay Jaybee (erotica - over 18s only) you can find her here

You can read an earlier article by Jenny for Creative Writing at Leicester, "The Accidental Author," here

Friday 8 July 2022

Adam Roberts, "The This"


Adam Roberts is the author of 24 science fiction novels, and many non-fiction and academic works, including a History of Science Fiction (2nd ed, Palgrave 2016). He is professor of nineteenth-century literature at Royal Holloway, University of London, and lives a little way west of London. He blogs here. He also blogs here, and here. He probably has too many blogs, to be honest.

About The This, by Adam Roberts

The This is a pulp-science fiction novelisation of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. The title refers to a corporation who market a device that, once it is inserted into the roof of your mouth and when it has embedded its tendrils in your brain, allows you to go online, post to social media and so on simply by thinking it; either a simple device to make your life easier, or perhaps a malign plot to recruit you to a hive-mind consciousness. But, really, the novel is  pulp-science fiction novelisation of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit.  

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

From The This

It was a sunny day. A marine-coloured sky. A scattering of bright white clouds were stretching their irregular-shaped wings. Birds circled. Rich paused on his building’s doorstep to put on sunglasses, and then navigated the mob of bins, gathered like ravers in the tiny front yard, mouths open at the gobsmacking splendour of the day. Then onto the pavement, turn left and along to the main road. He got his phone out and checked his feeds.

A wait at the junction, where the south circular traffic buzzed and fizzed its electric way westward and eastward. Rich on his phone, just like every other pedestrian, crowds at each of the four corners of this cross-hatched yellow box. All this infrastructure, set up in the last century to service that small fraction of the population who are actually blind had found new purpose in this century servicing the physically-sighted but functionally-blind populations walking about with their gazes kidnapped by their phones.

Bip-bip-bip-bip, and Rich stretched his legs and strode across.

Past the station and down the hill, swerving as and when another sightless pedestrian approached in the opposite direction with that fifth sense modern humanity has developed since the invention of these screens, these ubiquitous screens, these unignorable screens. An electronic patter of unignorable status updates, and he couldn’t look away. The map-app pinged him to turn left. He was at the river. Putney bridge, which is of stone, wearing its row of Victorian-style lampposts like eyelashes. And there was the Thames, still not weary after forty thousand years of scouring its gravel bed and pouring itself into the sea. The air smelt of silt and brine and vaguely of something tartly chemical, which fact barely registered on Rich’s sensorium. Rich didn’t look at the river. It’s not as though he’d never seen it before, after all. Eyes on his phone he trotted down Lower Richmond Road and stopped when his map-app sounded its little alarm.

He was there.

There is a word that always describes where we are, of course.

Rich finally disengaged his eyes from his phone. The Putney offices of The This were a new-build seven-storey weave of glass, helixing whitestone pillars and steel. It looked expensive which, Rich assumed, was the point. He walked up the ramp. Doors swished away before him and reconnected behind him and he was in a marble hallway.

‘Hello?’ he said to the receptionist. A real live human, paid to sit behind a counter all day. Rich moved closer, smacking the marble as he walked as if his own feet were slow-clapping him. ‘I’m Rich Rigby. Differencework have set-up a quick interview with,’ he checked his phone, ‘Aella Hamilton?’

Thursday 7 July 2022

Robert Selby, "The Kentish Rebellion"


Robert Selby, photograph by Paul Ligas

Robert Selby edits the literary journal Wild Court and reviews for various publications. His debut poetry collection, The Coming-Down Time, was published by Shoestring Press in 2020. A book-length sequence, The Kentish Rebellion, is out from Shoestring on 7th July 2022. 

About The Kentish Rebellion, by Robert Selby 

It feels fitting to be able to introduce The Kentish Rebellion here as the book owes a debt to The Community of Kent and the Great Rebellion 1640-1660 by the late Alan Everitt, who held the post of Hatton Professor of English Local History at the University of Leicester between 1968 and 1982. In his forensically-researched, fascinating study published by Leicester University Press in 1966, Everitt examined his native county’s restiveness through the Civil War period as part of his wider argument that "the England of 1640 resembled a union of partially independent county-states or communities, each with its own distinct ethos and loyalty." It is instructive, he wrote, that the people of the day referred to their county as their "country."

I first read Everitt’s book when I was nearing the end of my PhD on the poet Mick Imlah, whose final collection, The Lost Leader, contributed to the assertion of Scottish cultural difference within Britain. Reading The Community of Kent and the Great Rebellion helped inspire me to explore if I could do something similarly assertive for Kent, my native county just as it was Everitt’s. Kent, of course, is not Scotland - a "Home County" after all, with the associations of conformity that go with that status, and last an independent kingdom in the eighth century. But studying Kent in the Civil War period, when it was still far from homogeneous with the seat of power – the 1648 rebellion being just the latest in a long line of Kentish uprisings against London down the ages – allowed me to explore the idea of a distinct Kentish identity and imaginatively throw it forward to our own turbulent time.  

Below, you can read a poem from the sequence. 

From The Kentish Rebellion

Monday 4 July 2022

Andy West, "The Life Inside: A Memoir of Prison, Family and Philosophy"


Andy West is the author of The Life Inside: A Memoir of Prison, Family and Philosophy (Picador 2022). His writing has been published in The Guardian, Aeon, 3AM Magazine, Huck and Litro. He is philosopher in residence at HMP Brixton in London.

About The Life Inside: A Memoir of Prison, Family and Philosophy

Andy West teaches philosophy in prisons. Every day he has conversations with people inside about their lives, discusses their ideas and feelings, and listens as they explore new ways to think about their situation. When Andy steps into prison, he also confronts his inherited guilt: his father, uncle and brother all spent time in prison. While Andy has built a different life for himself, he still fears that their fate will also be his. As he discusses pressing questions of truth, identity and hope with his students, he searches for his own form of freedom too.

You can read more about The Life Inside on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read a short sample from the book.

From The Life Inside, by Andy West

In the classroom, Wallace stays in his chair and doesn’t speak to anybody for the whole fifteen minutes of the break. A few weeks ago, there was a security issue in prison and the men had to spend twenty-three hours a day in their cells, leaving only one hour for what the regime calls ‘association’ – the time where men are allowed out of their cells to make calls, shower, socialize and stretch their legs. Very often when association was called, Wallace stayed in his cell, lying on his bed, reading a book.

The men take their seats in the circle again.

I say, ‘The philosopher Epictetus was born into slavery, but he believed that on a fundamental level, he was still free. He said that chains constrained his body but not his ability to choose.’

‘You can still be free in your mind,’ Wallace says.

I say, ‘Epictetus believed you could learn to be free by first understanding what you can and can’t control.’

‘Each night when the screws are coming around to lock our cells for the night, I close my door before the screw has the chance to,’ Wallace says.

‘For control?’ I ask.

‘The same reason I always finish a phone call a minute before the screws say we have to hang up,’ Wallace says.

‘What happens if you don’t?’ I ask.

‘I’ll do something I’ll regret. A few years ago, I saw a man talking on the phone after the screw had told him to hang up. An officer put his finger on the receiver. If that happened to me, I know that I’d punch someone. So I never let myself get in that situation. I hang up early.’

‘Is that freedom?’ I say.

‘It keeps things simple,’ Wallace says.