Monday 31 October 2022

Millicent Borges Accardi, "Quarantine Highway"

Millicent Borges Accardi is a Portuguese-American writer. She has four poetry collections including Only More So (Salmon Poetry, Ireland). Among her awards are fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, California Arts Council, CantoMundo, Fulbright, Foundation for Contemporary Arts NYC (Covid grant), Creative Capacity, Fundação Luso-Americana, and Barbara Deming Foundation, "Money for Women." She lives in the hippie-arts community of Topanga, CA where she curates Kale Soup for the Soul and Loose Lips poetry readings. 

About Quarantine Highway, by Millicent Borges Accardi

From re-definition to re-calibration, the poems in this book are artefacts to the early and mid-days of the pandemic. Though not specifically labelled as "Covid poems," they strike to the heart of the universal yet individual struggles of solitude, confinement, justice, isolation and, ultimately, self-reckoning. The poems push and pull between the constantly knocking global news cycle to the stillness of a surreal inner world.

You can read more about Quarantine Highway on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read three sample poems from the collection. 

From Quarantine Highway

Broken Pieces

All was if and maybe and meanwhile. The chorus
sang full of weed, a reflection on the acoustics
in the church, and--when does it ever seem all right--
When will that be again? The empirical
wish of a stupid requirement for happiness. Was that
what it was? And they lived happily ever after is the phrase
perhaps you were looking for, a timid cool minute inside
your head when you used to believe otherwise, back in the slow
when time when it was not the new normal and, man, 
it is not just us; it is global and inflated and then you know 
it is terrifying. Did they take a census this year? 2020. 
America, I seem to remember ten years ago 
the government wanted to know our household income,
and what we did for a living.
This year? The form was all about age and race 
and you could fill in whatever "other" you wanted. 
Like a weakness, a mere description of how it was not
supposed to be.

To Miss the Shadow

It was a dare and a spit and a hope
that we were moving towards
a place, like chasing a storm 
or running through a batch of luck.
No breathing out in the alley
like the tall grass they used to cut back
in the olden days when neighbors
talked over the fence at each other.
And it was OK with God to like family.
Cause we were when and where and we
were how to in the outdoors where
we ran free. The future was all of a piece to keep,
a place to save us from. We were fearful
then of real things that meant something
to us, and it was in our power just to keep
silent in a grand fog of yelling voices,
trying to hold it all together even when it
was so not all right, and the doors were slamming.
Back in the day, we were all so self-important
and wondering-dreamy about ourselves.
And we were sore and solemn, clueless,
like, like yeah it was impossible. Do you 
remember that time when we held everything
in our arms tightly, as if we knew what we were talking about.

Green was the Silence

          From a line by  Pablo Neruda 

It changes meaning like water,
as a living being, like unfettered civility, 
a sunny breezeful summer ahead.
The start of June, it is altogether
Stifling, and as if things would never be straight
again we feel as if we had promised to be
dark and mortal, soon, like strangers
from the past we promised to be each other’s
solid memory. We have shortness of breath
and a pounding inside the lungs.
We cannot remember a time when we were able
to sleep before when we were former and usual 
vivid beings who existed in the city of Los Angeles,
drifting through rivers of errands and emeralds,
as if nothing had happened. We are 
lost now. As if we had been careless. Dropped out.
like music not written down but whistled and hummed
and played under strange circumstances.
Like a stranger with a guitar at a party. 
It is nearly June, near the longest day of the year, 
as Jordan comments in The Great Gatsby, a seasonal marker 
complete with a sign that says, "We’re done now." 
And we are together and alone and about to 
get reckless and cruel, but yet this time it will
be different. This year, belonging to the entangled
world that has been ripped apart.
We are limited by so many things since
the quarantine, absolute touch and hunger
and it all goes to show us that nothing 
is visible or at hand any more. 
We are a perfect example of ration
and virtue, essentially savage and, yet--in a new sense--
we are blindly controllable. We feel alternately
safe and in danger, every moment altered,
with no telling which statement above is truer.
We are reckless-absolute and sexual-reasonable
full of home-shocked martyrdom and wary of being 
present for what is about to come. We pretend
to be on holiday and take 
out the board games, self-full of pride and fear,
notching achievements with false pride:
your charm, my conflict—our 24 hour conversations
lack a richness of reality,
embodied with a generous sadness.

Saturday 29 October 2022

Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana, "Sing me down from the dark"


Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana has an MA in Writing Poetry from Newcastle University and an MA in Japanese Language and Culture from Sheffield University. She lives in Newcastle and is module leader for the International Foundation programme in Humanities at Newcastle University. In the last year, she was published in The North, The Moth, Poetry Wales, Fenland Poetry Journal, The Frogmore Papers, Tears in the Fence, The Alchemy Spoon, Obsessed with Pipework and The Cannon’s Mouth. Online her work can be found in Anthropocene, The High Window and London Grip

She came third in the 2020 Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition and in the 2020 'To Sonnet or Not' Competition. In 2021, she was shortlisted for Winchester and Troubadour prizes and this year she had two poems shortlisted by Billy Collins for the Fish Prize. She read at the 2021 Aldeburgh and Winchester Poetry festivals, alongside poets Wendy Cope and Jacqueline Saphra, and performed as a featured poet at the 2022 Tears in the Fence festival, in Dorset. Her debut collection, Sing me down from the dark, is now out with Salt Publishing.

About Sing me down from the dark, by Alexandra Corrin-Tachibana

Sing me down from the dark explores the highs and lows of a ten-year sojourn in Japan, two international marriages, a homecoming, and the struggles of cross-cultural relationships. It is full of light and dark, as if the writer herself has been ‘caught off guard’ in the making of these poems.

You can read more about Sing me down from the dark on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read a sample poem from the collection. 

From Sing me down from the dark 

Body Language 

You rub up behind me as I wipe the Sainsbury’s shop. Like that time babysitting when Bruce, the randy labrador, stood on his hind legs and whined. I was fourteen and had to shut him outside. He scratched at the door. As I leave for my lockdown walk, you say: etchi kangaite ne. Etchi: horny; aroused. Four months ago I took down our wedding photos. That 31-year-old on Waimanolo beach didn’t feel like me. 

I put up a painting of turbulent waves by Bamburgh fort. The trigger was an argument about Machiko, your sister-in-law. You defended her awfulness to me. Because she is Japanese. And the lack of sex. What do you expect when you’ve chosen to be on a futon in the spare room? And going back to the wedding photos, it took you a month to notice. You said you were so sad you could write a poem. 

You say I am no longer sharp –– a ‘loan word’ for slim –– yet I thought the Japanese love the notion of shiawase butori, plump, happily married women. When I lose a few pounds you say: beijin ne natta ne –– you’ve regained beauty. Once upon a time, you were all that I could see. I watched you sleep. 

And the day Scottish Maggie died –– lovely mad Maggie, who made me tupperwares of butter tablet –– you wouldn’t shut up. Kept saying sorry. But you met her only once. I wanted to shout shut the fuck up. Sei Sensei says the Japanese are good at carrying boxes when you move house. Today, as I leave this house, you ask, with a teenagerish grin, if I’m having an affair. In the exact same way you ask if I’ve sorted the recycling. 

Friday 28 October 2022

Ken Evans, "To An Occupier Burning Holes"

Ken Evans’s poems appear in Poetry Scotland, Magma, Under the Radar, Envoi, 14, The High Window, and IS&T. He won the Leeds Peace Prize in 2019; the Kent & Sussex Poetry Competition (2018); and Battered Moons (2016). He has twice been longlisted in the National Poetry Competition (2015 and 2020). His second collection, To An Occupier Burning Holes, was launched by Salt in October. 

About To An Occupier Burning Holes, by Ken Evans

The poems in To An Occupier Burning Holes observe and dissect the minutiae of ordinary relationships and happenings, ranging across daily life, as well as attempting to tackle a larger canvas, of contemporary climate collapse, plagues and war. There’s an interest in historical incident as a comparator, attempting to ‘fix’ and focus a current event or idea in a longer-range view and context.

At times, they play and twist form (there are sonnets, a ghazal, a villanelle) as well as try to update styles largely out of vogue – there’s an eclogue and invocation, for example.

The tone is restless - often dark, surreal, absurd, and sardonic, as well as playful, metaphoric and sometimes downright funny, tackling topics as diverse as lost hearing-aids, AI, funeral invoices, the life of fruit flies, migration, bins, love, family and travel.

You can see more details about To An Occupier Burning Holes on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read three sample poems from the collection. 

From To An Occupier Burning Holes

To an Occupier Burning Holes

Orders to bring our middle names to the Square
on a scrap of paper and throw it on their bonfire:

a ritual purge, our lives crumpled, shorn
in a black smoke of scribble.

A middle name is a second language, a suit
dressed in plastic at the back of a wardrobe,

for weddings and funerals, yet I loathe mine
and am teased for it, so throw it to the fire

without shame, but for others, their names
came down from patriachs, or else starchy

from mothers, family history. Which is the point,
of course. Erasure of ties with the past, but not so

we are made blank, more a reminder of what we
lack, what the regime will provide – revisions.

Those without second names make one up, to leave
scarves up a sleeve, a white rabbit, in hiding. Some

hitch it to their last: Celeste-Smith; Anna-Evans; Andriy-
Brown, Sasha Roberts, the hyphen, a knife cut through

a fraction, divided, yet double-barrelled, twice 
as strong. Others hide it in their first: Bodhan becomes

Bo, Viktoria, Vika – their cut-out centres worn on the out-
side like a smile, with two fingers up, at lapel height.


The invader sends wine to sweeten us,
our fighters in a street in green fatigues. 

They wave and stagger till they fall over, 
red wine pouring from their throats.

Our defenders offer to match an invaders’
rounds, but they refuse, ‘No, this is on us,

drink up. You’re welcome.’ In hospital, 
drunk songs yell from booze-sodden beds.

The invaders largesse knows no bounds: 
fiery vodka, cognac, brandy, Jäger bombs. 

Women jig crazily by open crater-holes, 
children bewildering in the red spills. 

A few appear in a blaze of fancy-dress,
crimson mask for a face, unrecognisable,

fleshy accessories worn on the outside 
like big silver fish burst forth from nets.

One group, all crashed out, smoke  
in the venue. This is not permissable.

No, children should not be given drink,
they chuck it everywhere, singed carpets,

glassy family photos, on the door handles
of blown-out of entrances, too off-their-face

to answer their phones, our emojis calling,
frantic, ‘Kristina, I have aspirin, I have water.’

Anaesthetising Flies in the Lab

Drosophila melanogaster, the fruit fly

in their glass dungeon, music, sweet and sad, 
can help these young babies with folded wings 
like swaddling bands, settle to their exoskeletons, 
and lull them toward the entrancement of sleep.

You have a god-like half-hour in the fly nursery 
as they rest, for they rise quickly on feeling warm,
and like all newborns, wake hungry for nipagin-
ethanol solution and bio-agar, plus a little water.

Pull the front legs off as they sleep to see 
how they preen. They are spotless, contrary 
to expectation, and polish each body part 
in order, the eyes, antennae, then head. 

Front legs torn off, they adapt in forty-eight hours, 
or eight years in human life and start to clean 
with their middle legs. This learning, beyond all 
my easy metaphor.

Wednesday 26 October 2022

Other Lives in Samuel Pepys's Diary: A Collection of Creative Writing Inspired by Pepys's Journal of the 1660s

By Kate Loveman

Samuel Pepys’s diary of the 1660s is famous for detailing his hectic private life, alongside major events such as the plague of 1665 and the Great Fire of London. In the diary, there are also glimpses of female servants, enslaved Black people, and other Londoners whose lives barely appear in more conventional historical records. The diary is a tremendous source for historians and a great inspiration for creative writers.  

The Reimagining the Restoration project was set up to investigate the history and reception of the diary. In May 2022, the project funded online Creative Writing workshops for the public, led by Yvonne Battle-Felton (a historical novelist and Creative Writing tutor) and by me, Kate Loveman (the project’s lead researcher and a specialist on Pepys).  

Over the next few months, some of our writers developed their work for an online collection, Other Lives in Samuel Pepys’s Diary. They produced lively, witty and provocative pieces based on three figures mentioned in the diary: Jane Birch (a servant in the Pepys household); an unnamed Deaf boy whom Pepys encountered at a party; and Mingo, a young Black man who had been enslaved as a child and who lived next door to Pepys. The collection features an introduction to each figure (with diary excerpts), followed by the imaginative responses from our authors.

You can download the ebook here.

By way of example, below are excerpts from Pepys’s description of the Great Fire of London and a story from one of our authors, Sue Wright. Here Sue imagines Jane Birch writing to her mother following the disaster.

If you’d like more information about the collection or the project, please see our website or email Kate Loveman (

If you’d like to hear a story performed, listen to Elizabeth Uter read her work "The Glorious Life of Mingo – William Battenby – In Service to Life" here.

Reimagining the Restoration is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council

Samuel Pepys’s diary, 2 September 1666

(Lords day) [Sunday]. Some of our mayds sitting up late last night to get things ready against our feast to-day, Jane called us up about 3 in the morning, to tell us of a great fire they saw in the City. So I rose and slipped on my nightgowne, and went to her window, and thought it to be on the back side of Markelane at the farthest; but being unused to such fires as followed, I thought it far enough off; and so went to bed again and to sleep. About seven rose again to dress myself, and there looked out at the window and saw the fire not so much as it was and further off. So to my closett [study] to set things to rights after yesterday’s cleaning. By and by Jane comes and tells me that she hears that above 300 houses have been burned down to-night by the fire we saw, and that it was now burning down all Fish-street, by London Bridge. So I made myself ready presently [immediately], and walked to the Tower ...

(Text from the 1890s Wheatley edition, more here).

"Too Weary to Write All Week," by Sue Wright

… Do not be alarmed when I tell you about a fire. All is well. James saw the first signs when he went out to fetch more wood for the stove. He called me outside where I witnessed an orange glow over the rooftops, black smoke darkening the night sky hiding any stars. My master was not alarmed when, frightened, I roused him. Indeed, he cursed me and soon returned to his bed and seemed undisturbed by the commotion in the streets as people fled the fire. Sarah wept until dawn for fear we would be burned. My teeth were on edge with all her sobbing and wailing, and her complaints about the smell of fish causing her to feel ill. James sought to comfort her when my back was turned but I soon sent him back out to keep an eye on the fire and for the watchman for any word. 

Although many houses were lost in the fire, we remained safe, thank the Lord. Our neighbours were uninjured, but I feared there are people without homes. My master woke early, demanding breakfast. I told him of houses burned down in the night and he ventured out to explore, returning with his clothes and wig smelling of smoke and smeared with ash, hurriedly changing before his guests arrived. He has no thought for the laundry he creates or the laundry-maid’s chilblains. 

Tuesday 25 October 2022

Brian Howell, "The Man Who Loved Kuras and Other Stories"

Brian Howell, photograph by Mark Alberding

Brian Howell lives and teaches in Japan. He has been publishing stories since 1990. His first collection, The Sound of White Ants, was published in the UK by Elastic Press in 2004. His novel based on the life of Jan Vermeer, The Dance of Geometry, was published in March 2002 by The Toby Press. His second novel, The Curious Case of Jan Torrentius, about the notoriously libertine Dutch painter, was published in 2017 by Zagava. His third novel, Sight Unseen, which follows the intersections of a group of characters who are under the spell of a mysterious Dutch seventeenth-century genre painting, was published in 2019 by Zagava. He likes film, cycling, Japan, the Low Countries and listening to podcasts. 


About The Man Who Loved Kuras and Other Stories, by Brian Howell 

My stories in this collection have been written over a number of years, a little under half in this particular collection being quite recent and previously unpublished. The title story, like many of those included, owes a debt to happenstance in that I have been living in Japan for over twenty-five years and rather than heavily research the country and its history as a whole I prefer to let my eye fall on whatever stands out at a given time. In the case of kuras (a kura is a distinctive type of Japanese storehouse which you can find all over Japan. It reminds me of European architecture and probably invokes an aspect of nostalgia for me), I only became aware of them as distinct Japanese buildings in the last few years, partly from my cycling rides in the country. However, I soon realised that they are all around and pretty much taken for granted by the general populace. I saw in this recent mania of mine a possible starting point for a characters’ obsession that gets out of hand and ends up filling a lack that he isn’t aware of and symbolises his loss of control of his life and leads to a horrible conclusion. 

The idea for "The Night of São João" was simply a gift that started with a stray comment by a stranger when I was in Porto, Portugal. The fact that I experienced the festival at first hand at all was serendipitous, because I was only able to take part in it because it coincided with a conference I was attending, and even then, when it came to the actual celebrated night of the festival, I was indifferent to the idea until I was cajoled along by two friends and colleagues. I then had an experience that reminded me of a time when I regularly went to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Trafalgar Square when I was a teenager. The Portuguese version of this in the form of this particular summer festival was a total contrast in many respects, except in so far as I found myself in an extremely uncomfortable situation at a much older age in a crowd, from which I barely extricated myself, in a place I didn’t know. Yet the idea of making contact with strangers in a way that wasn’t usually the case for me as a teenager in London or would be for an older man and a younger woman as it unfolds in the Portuguese setting in this story represents for me a sort of correlation.

In the case of one of my earlier stories, "Meeting Julie Christie," that story actually came out of a series of coincidences involving the famous actress that ended up continuing even after I had finished the story and checked with her for permission. Although I was trying to break into film reviewing at the time and was able to interview a number of my idols, the one time I saw Christie and the other times which counted as near-misses had a certain magical, frustrating quality about them which I wove into some of my more personal experiences from the same period. 

"The Mannikin" (extracted below) grew very much out of my long-term interest in Dutch C17th-century painters when I was conducting some research into the painter Gerard Terborch, a contemporary of Johannes Vermeer, with whom the older artist shares many characteristics and who has a cameo in my novel about Vermeer, The Dance of Geometry. In this case, an actual letter by Gerard Terborch’s father was the inspiration for a fictional version of this letter. The theme of dolls or mannikins is one that I have always been attracted to, as is the idea of the presence of the many C17th-century Dutch genre painters who made their way to England at that time. This is also something that I touched on in my novel about the (to some at the time) infamous Jan Torrentius, The Curious Case of Jan Torrentius.

Many of my other stories in this collection either reflect some running themes from the place I grew up in, such as south London, or my trips or stays abroad. Sometimes I like specifically not to mention a time or place, as in "The Folding Man," even though it may be based in a specific experience or culture.

In other cases, as in my story about a man’s infatuation with a dental hygienist, the idea developed from the, to me, incredibly thorough regimen that my own dental treatment in Tokyo imposed unexpectedly on me, even though I had nothing that ostensibly wrong with my teeth and had already been visiting a previous dentist regularly. Nevertheless, I had never before experienced quite that form of attention and care that I was offered by this particular surgery. Whilst never being uncomfortable with it, I wondered how a character might take the idea of this attention too far, become dependent on it, and imagine a world around it, both as regards the technical side of dentistry and the more personal one of the relationship between a patient and a dental worker, whom he soon conflates with that of a sex worker, whom he starts to frequent around the same time. Needless to say, all the extreme events around this character’s story are all freely imagined.

You can read more about The Man Who Loved Kuras and Other Stories on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an excerpt from one of the stories.  

From The Man Who Loved Kuras and Other Stories

The Mannikin

It was dark very soon, and the smells from the street dissuaded me once more of my idea to go out even for a brief stroll. I found also the shouts from the street and what I believed to be coarse words very unedifying. Therefore, I set to experimenting with the mannikin, to moving its limbs in all manner of ways that would conform to different postures. I generally thought that it was convenient to not have to worry about the kind of things that one would ask of a real person, to move an arm or even a leg in such a way that one could not conceive of doing with a live model. Yet, sometimes, having moved her to a chair now, I might put a limb in such a way as she sat there that I might hear a sound which seemed not exactly human but also not truly inanimate, a sound as of air being pressed or released. This would be mixed in with the sound of the rubbing of polished wood moving in a socket of some kind. I had not investigated the inner workings of this doll yet, and in truth I preferred to leave some mystery. And I certainly did not want to take apart this … device. I believe I was only interrupted the once, by the maid bringing me a very large glass of ale; when she saw me kneeling at the doll, she quickly withdrew, giggling.

I confess it was not wisest to investigate the creature in the dimming light and with candles, so I fell asleep till the next morning. 

Yet when I awoke it was not to see the doll in the chair as I had left her, but to see her on my bed next to me, her skirt uncouthly lifted, face down. I could not recall how she had come to be in this position and quickly I lifted her up by the waist and carried her to the chair, where her head sank down as if in a sulk, reminding me of the first day when I had placed her on the floor. I examined the skirt particularly closely, worried it may have been damaged, but I was relieved to find nothing amiss. 

Monday 24 October 2022

Loz Anstey, "Orange from Grey"


Loz Anstey is a spoken word artist, a speaker of life, humour, identity, mental health and connection.

Writing became her go-to solace from around the age of 10 years old and she has been scribbling and tapping away ever since. After obtaining a dual honours degree in English Language and Creative Writing, she was exposed to the spoken word scene at her local pub and was launched into the world of performance. The buzz of a stage has now taken her to perform across the country.

In recent years, Loz had her audio piece Boxes released on BBC Sounds and she performed a piece dedicated to her late sister, Emma, on the TEDx stage - a performance that reached out to those in need of some bravery to reach out themselves.

From the heart-warming advocacy of mental health to the downright silly and ridiculous, Loz’s writing has the ability to take you through an emotional and uplifting journey of life’s truths, giggles and battles.

About Orange from Grey

Orange from Grey is a collection of poetry that has been stacking up over the last few years. Many are popular performance poems that have been following Loz from gig to gig. From the very early ‘Pam’s Pants’ to the more recent of ‘Come at me,’ Orange from Grey has gathered them all in one place. There are also poems much more suited to the page, that have never been performed. Orange from Grey is wave of emotions from silly to loss, to hard hitting and humorous. Loz’s publisher said it best with: ‘This is the book of the film.’

Below, you can read two poems from the collection. 

From Orange from Grey, by Loz Anstey    

Sunday 23 October 2022

Giselle Leeb, "Mammals, I Think We Are Called"


Giselle Leeb’s debut short story collection, Mammals, I Think We Are Called, is published by Salt (Oct 22). Her short stories have been widely published in journals, magazines, and anthologies, including Best British Short Stories 2017 (Salt), Ambit, Mslexia, The Lonely Crowd, Litro, Black Static, and Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet. She has been placed and shortlisted in competitions including the Ambit, Bridport and Mslexia prizes. She is an assistant editor at Reckoning Journal and a Word Factory Apprentice Award winner 2019. She grew up in South Africa and lives in Nottingham. Twitter: @GiselleKLeeb 

About Mammals, I Think We Are Called

Ambitious and playful, darkly humorous and imaginative, these strikingly original stories move effortlessly between the realistic and the fantastical, as their outsider characters explore what it’s like to be human in the twenty-first century. Whether about our relationship with the environment and animals, technology, social media, loneliness, or the enormity of time, they reflect the complexities of being alive. Beautifully written and compelling, you won’t read anything else like them.

You can read more about Mammals, I Think We Are Called on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the collection. 

From Mammals, I Think We Are Called, by Giselle Leeb 

Everybody Knows This Place

At the entrance, he waits next to the big sign with the ancient photoshopped picture blending guest houses, motorhomes and tents. “Caravan and Camping Park,” it says. The national park opposite has been restored for maximum authenticity. Just don’t look too closely at the birds. 

He finds himself listlessly plugging and unplugging his left eye from its socket. He’s started to wonder about this habit, and he’s also secretly proud of it – a nervous tic, really, something more pure human than cyborg. People remove them deliberately for cleaning, but he does it spontaneously, and this feels good. He tries to stop the ‘why’ following, to try not to explain it. 

He unplugs the eye and points it at himself. He looks pretty much the same as everybody else, and that’s OK, that’s good, otherwise he might be made to feel inferior. Nobody does these days. It’s unnecessary, distressing even. Everyone gets along: no fear, no war. And emotions remain, though faint, like delicate imprints, a slight tang in an otherwise ordinary cup of tea, or ‘cuppa,’ as he’s taken to calling it. 

But the new theme park has generated faint hints of excitement in him, a recognition perhaps of the ongoing need to connect with fully human roots. Something unexpected, not factored in. They still don’t understand it, but they’ve finally admitted defeat and created the conditions to meet the need. 

Saturday 22 October 2022

Aidan Semmens, "The Jazz Age: An Entertainment"


Aidan Semmens has been publishing poetry in small-press magazines since the mid-1970s, apart from a gap of around sixteen years from 1985 to 2001. A former winner of the Cambridge University Chancellor’s Medal for an English Poem, and a former chair of the Cambridge Poetry Society, he published his first pamphlet in 1978, but it was not until 2011 that his first full collection, A Stone Dog, appeared from Shearsman Books. Five more volumes have followed since, most recently The Jazz Age, one of the titles chosen by Salt Publishing to relaunch its Salt Modern Poets series. After a 43-year career in journalism, mostly as a sports sub-editor and writer, he now lives in Orkney, where he continues to work online.

About The Jazz Age, by Aidan Semmens

Having previously tended to write darker, more “difficult” poetry – The Book of Isaac is a sequence of “distressed sonnets,” while Life Has Become More Cheerful is largely about the Russian Revolution, its causes and outcomes – I was encouraged to produce this lighter, funnier and more accessible book by the response I got at readings to some of the early pieces in it, which confirmed the publisher’s description of it as “laugh-out-loud funny.” It consists of a loosely structured sequence of prose vignettes, surreal fantasies in which famous figures from (mostly) the past – sometimes singly, sometimes in unlikely pairings – make incongruous, anachronistic appearances in modern settings and situations, or in episodes from times not their own.

I can’t really say how I began writing these rather whimsical pieces, but once I did it became quite compulsive. Characters, scenes and phrases would suggest themselves to me on dog walks, so a whole poem / story (The Fortnightly Review billed them as “very short fictions”) would be fully composed by the time I got home; or they would take shape as I lay awake in bed at night. The process began purely as an entertainment for myself, so I was delighted to find others seemed to be entertained too. I can’t stop now, so there’s sure to be another volume some time, should anyone want it.

You can read more about The Jazz Age on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read four sample pieces from it. 

From The Jazz Age

La vie en rose

Tiring at last of gazing out over the streets and monuments of Haussmann’s new Paris from the heights of Montmartre, Eleanor of Anjou turns on her heel and walks away. She has always loved the phrase ‘she turned on her heel,’ since encountering it long ago in the pages of some otherwise forgotten gem of children’s literature, though there, no doubt, the pronoun was strictly male. In much the same way she has always loved the crunch of feet on gravel, and been drawn to heavy black boots of the kind she now wears, ever since watching as a child the ominous opening of an early episode of Z-Cars.

The first Churchills

Idly flicking through Facebook while she waits for the bus, Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, comes across something that causes her to spit her Wrigley’s spearmint in startled fury – a close-up of the Duke in intimate nightclub clinch with her till-now friend Marie-Antoinette. By the time she gets to Woodstock her status has changed from ‘In a relationship’ to ‘It’s complicated.’

A walk in the woods

Arrested by the sudden appearance of a dark shadow among the trees, Walt Disney halts in his tracks. The thing moves just slightly towards him, then stands its ground. He can tell it is bigger than him. It may be a bear or perhaps an unfeasibly large dark mouse with perfectly spherical protruding ears. Walt holds his breath. Somewhere behind him, Pocahontas has the whole scene in the telescopic sights of her high-velocity hunting rifle. She takes careful aim, trigger-finger poised. Are the crosshairs trained on the bear or on Walt? How accurate will her shot be?

Ferdinand Magellan misses his connection at Mombasa

He cannot understand why Africa is known as the Dark Continent. It does not seem dark to him. Indeed, its days seem almost unnaturally, not to say excessively, bright. He should not have elected to wear this shirt. The sun has burned a likeness of Che Guevara into the skin of his chest.

Friday 21 October 2022

Sara Waheed, "The Cut of a Feather"

Congratulations to Sara Waheed, winner of this year's John Coleman Prize! Below, you can read about Sara and her winning short story. Congratulations too to Priyan Majumdar, who was awarded an "honourable mention" for her story.

By Sara Waheed

My name is Sara and I’m a second year English with Creative Writing student. Along with writing short stories and poetry, I love to crochet and listen to music. 

My story "The Cut of a Feather" started with the thought of something as innocent as a reed hurting someone’s hand. This led me to think of a place very familiar to me, where you can find an abundance of reeds: Jenny’s Woods in my Lincolnshire hometown (see photo above). My family and I have been going on walks, runs and bike rides in Jenny’s Woods ever since I was young; it’s a very meaningful place to me. Because of this, I decided to set my short story there, and this made the writing process more heartfelt.

I wanted this short story to show how emotional devastation can arise from seemingly insignificant things. Subtle gestures, such as eye contact, physical proximity and word choices can have a deeper impact than more obvious displays of upset. I’m very grateful for this opportunity to share my short story with more people.  

The Cut of a Feather

Whenever Alice brushed her hands against the reeds on this path, they were harmlessly spiky. They had never so much as grazed her. But on this day, the reeds at her palm were sharp; Alice could feel them almost piercing her skin. She resisted the urge to pull her hand away, and instead let the prickling feeling press against her skin like an unwanted kiss.  

Although she could see Declan’s back receding further into the greenness beyond, she stayed put. She was waiting for him to turn around. She wanted him to walk back and ask her what she was doing. She wanted him to pull her hand away from the reeds and hold it for the rest of her life. 

But if she stood there any longer, Declan would walk too far, and Alice would have to foolishly make her way across the slowly-stretching distance. He wouldn’t stop. Alice tore her hand away from the reeds and briskly caught up. His outline became less like watercolour and more like charcoal as she got closer, and his hair was so tousled that it looked strangely at home amongst the overgrown grasses.

“I think you need a haircut,” Alice said as she reached him. Her hand still stung.

He didn’t look at her, even though they were now walking side by side. His gaze was fixed somewhere ahead, despite the path being completely empty.

“Are you offering?” he said after a couple of seconds. 

Alice put a hand to the uneven hairstyle on her head and rustled the jagged ends. Given the circumstances of the impulsive haircut, Declan’s comment was in ill taste. She didn’t honour it with a reply. 

“It would probably be a good idea to get it done before your birthday. It’s coming up soon,” she said instead.

“I’m not sure if three weeks qualifies as soon.”

“I think it does. I’ll book you an appointment with Calla when we get back.”

Declan said nothing. Alice took it as an affirmation, knowing that he didn’t care either way. 

“Have you thought about what you want to do?” she asked.

“What?” he said.

“For your birthday, I mean.” 

They were passing the picnic benches. In the dimness of the grey sky, they looked derelict, but Alice could easily remember the many times her and Declan had sat at them with a flask of soup.

“I don’t really want to do anything,” Declan said.

Alice wanted to stop and sit at one of the benches, but she already knew what he would say. She continued walking.

“We could have dinner at that new place that opened in town. I’ve heard it’s good,” she said.

A particularly strong gust of wind blew past them, and Declan pulled his jacket tighter around himself. Alice knew that his warm coat was hanging behind the kitchen door, but Declan had refused to heed her warning of the weather when they were leaving the house.

“It’s Italian too, I know you’ve been into that recently,” Alice said. She’d never liked the taste of basil but had become well-acquainted with it over the past month.

“I’ve gone off it.” 

His voice was nothing more than a mumble which Alice had to strain her ears to catch. In lieu of a reply, she nodded; her hand was beginning to ache and, whilst she suspected that her palm might be injured in some way, she couldn’t bring herself to take a look.

Instead, she stuffed her hand into her coat pocket and fumbled around for her keys. The only keyring attached to them was one she’d received from Declan a few years ago. It was shaped like a daisy, but the petals were blue instead of white. Alice fidgeted with it so often that the blue had weathered over time. When she pulled the keys out of her pocket, she realised that the petals were now almost completely white, as daisy petals should be. Still holding on to them, she interrupted the quiet.

“Do you want me to get you those headphones you were looking at the other day? I’d like to get you a gift that you really want.”

“I don’t want anything.” He drew his shoulders up in an attempt to lend his red ears some warmth.

“Come on, Declan. Everybody wants something.” 

“Not me,” he said. 

“You don’t want anything?” Alice’s voice sounded shrill. She cleared her throat whilst Declan replied. 

“No,” he said. His lips were turned downwards in a hazardous frown, but Alice persisted.

“Are you telling me that there’s nothing I can give you? Not a single thing?” Clearing her throat hadn’t helped, so she forced a cough instead. It left her mouth with such surprising vigour that she was forced to stop walking. Whilst she spluttered into her sleeve, Declan stood to the side, and Alice wondered when their walks together had started to feel so lonely.

“You can’t give me anything that I want, Alice.”

The tickly cough swiftly retreated; Alice stared at him. He was standing stock-still, but his eyes were darting from tree to tree. When his gaze eventually rested on her, he released a long breath. 

“I don’t think you’ll ever be able to.” 

Alice had wanted Declan to look her way for so long, but not like this. He’d taken a step away from her, and his eyes were tight, as though there was something acrid in the space between them. The fine line that had been flickering between his eyebrows finally settled into place, and Alice knew that they wouldn’t make it to the end of the walk.

“I don’t want you to book me a haircut and I don’t want any gifts from you. I can’t do this anymore. You need to stop.”

Underneath the keyring Alice was still holding, her palm was throbbing. She clenched her fist around the daisy even tighter, until she could feel her pulse beating against it.

“Stop what?” she eventually replied. But he didn’t seem to hear her.

“I thought that you’d start to understand, or you’d see that things have changed. I was waiting, but I can’t keep doing this. If you’re going to keep pretending that this can work, I need to tell you now,” he hesitated and brushed his hair away from his face before continuing, “we stopped working a long time ago.” 

Even though Alice could see the distance between them, it felt as though his words had been spoken directly into her ears. When she opened her mouth to speak, she barely recognised her own voice.

“Why are you saying this now?” Her tongue felt as though it was coated in syrup.

Declan seemed to contemplate her words, squinting at her as though she was more of a vaguely familiar stranger than the girl who had offered him her hand all those years ago.

“I’ve already made plans for my birthday,” he finally told her.

Alice tried and failed to remember why they’d left the house in the first place. All she knew was that she’d been the one to suggest it. Without really looking at him, she took Declan’s hand and placed the daisy keyring into it. She closed his fingers around the white petals, and then she walked away.

Walking in the opposite direction, Alice discovered, wasn’t the same as retracing her steps. She didn’t recognise the trees she was passing, and she didn’t know which diverging paths to follow. The sky was quickly darkening, the greyness above melding with the deep brown tree trunks that were overlooking her mindless walking. The green leaves swinging from the tree’s branches were shrouded in shadow, and Alice was uncertain how long she’d been walking for. She sped up.

It was when she came across a familiar group of felled trees that Alice realised they hadn’t made it very far after all. They had been closer to the start of the walk than the end. The path gradually straightened up, and when beams of light cut through the thicket more frequently, she let her feet trail. When she eventually came to a stop, Alice felt as though she’d never moved at all. 

The reeds in front of her were deceptively sharp. Alice didn’t touch them. She straightened her stiff fingers, exposing her bare palm to the cool air and felt the sting all the way up to her wrist. When she finally looked, she saw a tiny tear in the middle of her palm. The speck of blood had already crusted.

Wednesday 19 October 2022

Jane Fraser, "Connective Tissue"


Jane Fraser lives, works and writes fiction in a house facing the sea in the village of Llangennith, in the Gower peninsula, south Wales. In 2017 she was a finalist for the Manchester Fiction Prize and in 2018 was a prize-winner for the Fish Memoir Prize and selected as a Hay Festival Writer at Work. Her first collection of short fiction, The South Westerlies, was published by Salt in 2019. In 2022, she was commissioned by BBC Radio 4 for the first time to write a short story which was broadcast as part of its Short Works series. In 2022, she was also awarded The Paul Torday Memorial Prize for her debut novel, Advent, published by Welsh women’s press Honno in 2021. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Swansea University, is wife to Philip and co-director of NB:Design, a business they share, and importantly, grandmother to Megan, Florence and Alice. She is a firm believer that there’s a right time in life to do things, rather than a right age. Her second collection of short stories, Connective Tissue, is published by Salt in October 2022.

About Connective Tissue

This collection of short fiction aims to define the sometimes indefinable and to give voice to those struggling to make sense of what life throws at them. There are those who travel in a continuous loop on London’s underground and those who dance at night with the departed. A woman confronts herself in a bedroom mirror after decades of denial and a widow finds comfort in an osteopath’s consulting room. And then there is a strange creature who falls to earth; dreams and portents; crows and folklore, and much more.

The stories are tragic and comi-tragic, but all reveal the strength and complexity of the human spirit. They bring poignant insights on grief, loss and longing and the depths and strangeness of the human psyche and how we manage to survive and just about cope.

You can read more about Connective Tissue on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an extract from the title story. 

From Connective Tissue, by Jane Fraser

Maggie Morgan has her head in the hole that’s been manufactured to accommodate it. She keeps her eyes open and stares down through the dark space at the floor. She’s lying flat on her stomach on the black couch in the treatment room.

“How have we been since last time, Maggie?” Jenny asks. “Any pain? Headaches? Tenderness?”

“About the same. No worse. No better,” she says.

Her own voice sounds strange to her; distant somehow, as though in a great void. She wonders why it is always necessary to refer to her in the first person plural these days. She can’t recall exactly when it first started, though knows it was some medical context or other. “Still mobile are we, Mrs. Morgan?” “Wearing our distance glasses for driving are we, Mrs. Morgan?” “Taking our tablets are we, Mrs. Morgan.” “Opening our bowels regularly are we, Mrs. Morgan?”

She’d like to remind Jenny that she hasn’t been a ‘we’ for almost twenty years, that she is very much an ‘1.’ Singular. First person. Alone and almost invisible. But she can’t somehow bring it up. And she’s a lovely girl anyway. Doesn’t want to upset her.

“Just going to work down your spine first, Maggie. The usual. Don’t mind if I unclasp your bra?”

“Long as your hands aren’t cold,” she says.

“Warmed them up especially for you. Feel.” 

She knows Jenny’s hands by now: fleshy finger tips, firm, young, know what they’re doing. In the snug of the hole, she detaches herself from Jenny the girl and gives herself up to the hands.

Tuesday 18 October 2022

Alison Moore, "Eastmouth and Other Stories"

Alison Moore, photograph by Beth Walsh photography

Alison Moore’s short stories have been included in Best British Short Stories and Best British Horror and broadcast on BBC Radio. They have been collected in The Pre-War House and Other Stories, whose title story won the New Writer Novella Prize, and in Eastmouth and Other Stories. Her debut novel, The Lighthouse, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Awards, winning the McKitterick Prize. She recently published her fifth novel, The Retreat, and a trilogy for children, beginning with Sunny and the Ghosts. Her website is here.

About Eastmouth and Other Stories, by Alison Moore

Alison Moore’s debut collection, The Pre-War House and Other Stories, gathered together stories written prior to the publication of her first novel. Eastmouth and Other Stories is her second collection, featuring stories from the subsequent decade, including stories first published in Shadows and Tall Trees, The Spectral Book of Horror Stories, The Shadow Booth, and elsewhere, as well as new, unpublished work.

You can see more about Eastmouth and Other Stories on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the title story. 

From Eastmouth and Other Stories


Sonia stands on the slabs of the promenade, looking out across the pebbly beach. It is like so many of the seaside resorts from her childhood. She remembers one whose tarred pebbles left their sticky blackness on her bare feet and legs and the seat of her swimsuit. She had to be scrubbed red raw in the bath at the B&B. Her hands are wrapped around the railings, whose old paint is flaking off. When she lets go, her palms will smell of rust.

The visibility is poor. She can’t see land beyond Eastmouth.

‘I’ve missed the sound of the gulls,’ says Peter, watching them circling overhead.

He says this, thinks Sonia, as if he has not heard them for years, but during the time they’ve been at university, he got the train home most weekends. Sonia does not think she would have missed the gulls. She is used to the Midlands and to city life.

She lets go of the railings and they walk on down the promenade. Sonia, in a thin, brightly coloured jacket, has dressed for warmer weather. Shivering, she huddles into herself. ‘Let’s get you home,’ says Peter. For the last half hour of their journey, while the train was pulling in and all the way from the station he’s been saying things like that: ‘We’re almost home,’ and, ‘Won’t it be nice to be home?’ as if this were her home too. Their suitcases, pulled on wheels behind them, are noisy on the crooked slabs. ‘They’ll know we’re here,’ says Peter.

‘Who will?’ asks Sonia.

‘Everyone,’ says Peter.

Sonia, looking around, sees a lone figure in the bay window of a retirement home, and a woman in a transparent mac sitting on a bench in a shelter. Peter nods at the woman as they pass.

Monday 17 October 2022

Andrew Hook, "Candescent Blooms"

Andrew Hook is a European writer who has been published extensively in the independent press since 1994 in a variety of genres, with over 170 short stories in print, including notable appearances in magazines from Ambit to Interzone. His fiction has been reprinted in anthologies including Best British Horror 2015 and Best British Short Stories 2020, has been shortlisted for British Fantasy Society awards, and he was longlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Short Story Prize in 2020. Most recent publications include several noir crime novels through Head Shot Press, a novella written in collaboration with the legendary San Francisco art collective known as The Residents, and his tenth short story collection, Candescent Blooms (Salt Publishing). His website is here and he is on Twitter @AndrewHookUK. He lives and works in Norwich, UK.

About Candescent Blooms, by Andrew Hook

Candescent Blooms is a collection of twelve short stories which form fictionalised biographies of mostly Golden Era Hollywood actors who suffered untimely deaths. From Olive Thomas in 1920 through to Grace Kelly in 1982, these pieces utilise facts, fiction, gossip, movies and unreliable memories to examine the life of each individual character set against a Hollywood background of hope and corruption, opportunity and reality.

The inspiration for the book came after reading "Blonde" by Joyce Carol Oates, which is a fictionalised biography of Marilyn Monroe (and - coincidentally - has just been adapted as a Netflix film). I'd only had a passing interest in Monroe - I'd seen a few movies - but generally those who are idealised have limited appeal for me. I tend to be sceptical of success. Having been recommended "Blonde," however, I wasn't prepared for what an absolutely brilliant read it was: compelling, fascinating and ultimately heartbreaking. It also elevated Monroe above the cliché and rounded her as a real person (ironically,  perhaps, considering it isn't all true, but I always identify greater with fictional constructs than I do with reality). Immediately after reading it I wanted to write my own Monroe story, and eventually I did. That piece, "The Girl With The Horizontal Walk," was originally published as a chapbook through Salò Press, was reprinted in Best British Short Stories 2020 edited by Nicholas Royle, also for Salt, and of course is also included in Candescent Blooms. Before it was published, however, I had already embarked on several stories in the same vein, until ultimately I had enough for a collection. The book was published on 15th October 2022. I sincerely believe it's my best work, but - more importantly - I also believe I've done justice to my subject matter. These aren't exploitative stories, but wholly respectful.

You can see more about Candescent Blooms on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an excerpt from one of the stories. 

From Candescent Blooms: "The Ice-Cream Blonde" (about Thelma Todd)

Jewel Carmen

My maid informed me that when she discovered Thelma she appeared unduly lifelike in colouration. Her body was slumped against the steering wheel of her 1932 KBV12 Lincoln Phaeton. She wore a cream silk and tulle dress. One of her high-heeled sandals had slipped and was caught under the accelerator pedal. It was a cold December night, barely two weeks before Christmas. Thelma was wrapped in mink. Her jewellery was cold.

The pathologist took me aside to explain that the colourant effect of carbon monoxide in such post-mortem circumstances is analogous to its use as a red colourant in the commercial meat-packing industry. I think he was hitting on me.

I’m not bitchy. I knew and was not concerned by Thelma’s affair with West. They slid and slipped in front of my eyes. I paid no attention to it. When the restaurant began to lose money I might have threatened her. I certainly did if you have any witnesses who say so. I didn’t want any part of my investment squandered. Is that so unusual? It isn’t only Thelma’s death we’re investigating. One of my last films was Nobody. Looks like there’s something to be said for that.

Whatever you might think of me, I am a reliable witness.

On 30th April 1913, 8,265 days before Thelma Todd’s death, the actress known as Jewel Carmen lodged a complaint that two car salesmen had forced her into delinquency. There was the suggestion of a white slavery ring. Charges were not proceeded with when her age was proven to be twenty-three, and not the fifteen years she had claimed.