Sunday 17 December 2023

Rennie Parker, "Balloons and Stripey Trousers"

Rennie Parker is a Shoestring Press poet who lives in the bottom left-hand corner of Lincolnshire. Unfortunately she does not have a writer's cat, because she works full time for a regional college doing lots of hard things on a computer. Before this, she had a career with various local authorities, taking jobs with community arts teams, libraries, and tourism departments. She studied History of Art and English at Oxford Brookes, before continuing with an M.A. in Medieval Studies at York, which (in the end) enabled her collection of Troubadour translations, Jongleur, in 2021. Between 1993 and 1997 she studied for a PhD at Birmingham, and published with the Writers and their Work series before deciding to concentrate on poetry. Her first collection, Secret Villages (Flambard Press) featured in the Forward Awards anthology for 2001-2, but there was a ten-year break until the next work, Borderville. She was born in Leeds, and left West Yorkshire in 1981. But she still has the accent.

About Balloons and Stripey Trousers

Take a journey into the toxic workplace, from one who's been there and done it so you don't have to. Who are the winners and the losers, and who is using whom? When people are seen as collateral damage, how can anyone survive these places intact? And was it always like this?

Welcome to the circus.

You can see more details about Balloons and Stripey Trousers on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read two sample poems from the collection. 

From Balloons and Stripey Trousers, by Rennie Parker

real not real

so the stiff-haired personnel have managed you into submission
and it's been years now.
I watch you in the guise of a Woman Who Knows.
Time was - and is - a traitor
pulling back from everyone
who put their trust in Her
and the adverts with their seductive ways
their effortless talk of dynamo start-up industries
on various purpose-built estates:
how vigorous and intent
the faces of their brave young men! how taut
the stretched skins with their fuelled enmities,
and you islanded, a pariah
the broken bridge attempting to ford a river
while the foul tide swivels past -
those choice roles awarded
to one who fits the needs of today's environment
when what they mean is 'young,'
hating yourself and what they will become
unable to leave the race,
pinning their rivals to the dartboard
with their casual cruelties
and you, rejected for no reason
facing the same people again and again
every session a marketplace
every market a butcher's hall;
it's you they've got on the slab.

hello can i help you

i'm a peopleperson me and that's what they told me at the clinic and i couldn't believe it when
they made me a supervisor here:

so put the sign on OPEN kelley because we don't want them to think we are shut now do we --

--  if our visitor figures plummet it's your job on the line kelley not mine because i'm a full timer
that's why

[it doesn't do to have them getting above themselves now does it]


i'll be checking in future kelley there's nothing like a little mysteryshopper exercise
to keep you on your toes

it's a stressful job you know very stressful this very but i don't suffer from stress not really not
any more no not after the counselling

because i'm a peopleperson me and i'm here to serve the public and let's face it tourism is
the world and the world is tourism

[beam] hellocanihelpyou?

Thursday 14 December 2023

Anna Larner, "Invisible"


Anna Larner is an English Literature graduate with a passion for LGBT heritage. She has master's degrees in Museum Studies and the Word and the Visual Imagination.

Anna's debut novel, Highland Fling, was a finalist in the 2018 Golden Crown Literary Society Awards. Her second novel, Love’s Portrait, was a finalist in the 2019 Rainbow Awards and in the 2019 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Awards. Her third novel, Highland Whirl, featured in Lambda Literary's December 2021 Most Anticipated LGBTQ+ Books. Her short story "Hooper Street" can be found in the BSB anthology Girls Next Door. Her poems have been published with Paradise Press and the University of Leicester's Centre for New Writing.

Find her at her website here, or on social media. Facebook and Instagram: @anna.larner.writer.

About Invisible, by Anna Larner

Violet Unwin is convinced she is invisible. Overlooked by her adoptive family, her only solace is her uncle’s costume shop. By day, she’s an assistant no one remembers, but after hours, in the wonder of her imagination, she becomes explorer, warrior, queen. Devastated by news of the shop’s imminent closure, Violet finds comfort in an unlikely companion, the ghostly figure of her namesake, the suffragette Vi Unwin.

Medical school dropout Phoebe Frink’s life is in disarray. She has no idea who she is anymore, what to do about it, or how to tell her parents. Taken under the wing of the infamous drag king Mr. Duke, owner of the struggling Banana Bar, fate steps in when Phoebe seeks Violet’s help with costumes for the bar’s fundraising Christmas Ball.

Phoebe is captivated by beautiful, shy Violet, and for the first time in her life, Violet experiences what it is to be truly seen. But for love to be possible, Violet and Phoebe must take a risk on a future they’ve never dared to imagine.

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

From Invisible

“Oh, Violet, our tea.”

“Here’s hoping it’s still hot.” Violet went to the counter followed by Phoebe. She poured the tea and added the milk while Phoebe placed the cream horns on plates.

Violet watched as Phoebe tucked her napkin into the collar of her blouse.

“I’ll be careful,” Phoebe said. “Are you ready? One, two, three.”

On three they both took huge bites and giggled as the cream covered the tips of their noses and the pastry crumbs coated their lips.

Violet’s taste buds exploded. “That’s so tasty.”

Phoebe licked her lips. “Is it your first?”

“Yes, but hopefully not my last.” They couldn’t stop smiling. For this wasn’t just apple and cinnamon—it was far sweeter and far more intoxicating, pure unmistakable happiness. Violet had often heard people speak about it, but up until that moment she had never felt it. Even if many times she had tried to imagine it—waltzing round the shop with the mannequin, make-believing it was that someone special in her arms, or lying on her bed looking up at the stars on her ceiling and turning her head to the figment of the girl at her side and kissing her. How many lonely nights had she pressed her body against the soft, giving pillow until sleep stole the moment from her? It was always a young woman just like her, and it had felt so natural that Violet had never questioned it as one never questions the setting sun. And here was Phoebe, smiling at her, laughing with her, vividly real and unimaginably wonderful.

Wednesday 13 December 2023

Constantine, "And things begin to change ... and other stories"

Congratulations to University of Leicester MA Creative Writing graduate Constantine, who's just published his book of short stories, And things begin to change ... and other stories!

Constantine is an autistic author and father. He achieved a first-class B.A. At Middlesex University in 2017 and completed his Master’s Degree at the University of Leicester in 2022. Between the two degrees he wrote four episodes of the Children’s T.V. show Pablo, and has written and published the picture book Tiya and the Minotaur and the novels The Cats of Charnwood Forest and its sequel Jötunheim

About And things begin to change ... and other stories
This collection of short stories has been donated to Coalville C.A.N., a community project in North West Leicestershire which hopes to encourage and support local authors through ‘Coalville C.A.N. Community Publishing.’ All proceeds from the book go towards that project. Coalville C.A.N. Community Publishing is now accepting submissions from all Leicestershire-based authors. You can see more details about their work here

You can see more details about And things begin to change ... and other stories here. Below, you can read a complete story from the book. 

From And things begin to change ... and other stories, by Constantine

Policeman Pete

Peter headed home. His colleagues were in the locker room getting changed, but not Peter. Peter liked travelling home in his uniform. It made him feel safe, and powerful, though admittedly not quite as powerful as when he walked around St Pancras station with his Heckler & Koch HK416 assault rifle. Of course, being off duty he removed his cap and made sure his identity numbers were well hidden. The Assault rifle and Sidearm were left at the station along with his Taser and CS Gas. Nevertheless, there was no disguising what he was and the feeling of power aroused him.

Tonight, the tube was packed, and even so, he commanded a respectful space around him. The passengers, like cattle in an abattoir crowded away to avoid his gaze. A woman caught his attention; she was halfway down the carriage and squashed in. He made his way towards her knowing nobody would question his movements and as he passed, he squeezed up beside her, his lips almost touching her ear, The scent of her perfume was in his nostrils and he knew she had felt him. She would put this gentlest of violations down to her own imagination or accident, but he knew she had felt him pass.

He got off and walked slowly home. Tucked away in his pocket was the missing ingredient.


The kids avoided making eye contact as he passed. Nobody called out to him, no ‘Good evening officer,’ from the locals. It was a ‘sign of the times,’ he told himself, though inside he knew it had started the day Mary had left.

He reached his home, a one-bed flat on the ground floor of a terraced house in Leyton. Despite the lateness of the year the inside of the flat was markedly colder than the outside. Peter barely noticed. He glanced briefly at the usual plethora of bills and credit card applications which sat on the mat and then headed into the kitchen. He poured himself a small scotch and sighed deeply. Then he took the bottle and opened a small door in the main corridor. Here one could access the gas and electricity meters but also a small set of steps went down to a cramped and dank cellar. The walls were lagged and soundproofed but still, the smell of damp chalk came through.

There under a single lightbulb stood a mannequin. Its clothes were demure, its hair refined and respectful. Its face painted, like that of a woman weeping. From his uniform pocket, Peter retrieved a brown paper packet and from this, he removed a pair of stockings. He spent a few minutes lovingly and carefully fitting them and then from his inside pocket removed his ex-wife’s wedding ring and slipped it onto the mannequin’s finger. He stood back and admired his handy work. Then, after taking a few more gulps of whisky, he took out his truncheon and let out a barely human cry of rage.

Outside the rain fell heavily in Peter's backyard. It fell on the overgrown lawn, the uncared-for flowerbeds, and the pile of smashed and disfigured fibreglass figures.

Saturday 9 December 2023

Christmas News from Creative Writing at Leicester

A lot has been happening during the Autumn term, since our last news post (which you can read here), and we thought the run-up to Christmas might be a good time for an update of student and staff news. There have been some great public events, guest lectures and masterclasses over the last few weeks. You can see a list here. We'll be running more events next term, and this will include our annual Creative Writing Student Showcase as part of Literary Leicester Festival 2024 - details to follow. In the meantime, here's this term's news from the Centre for New Writing ...  


Congratulations to University of Leicester students and graduates Joe Bedford, Tracey Foster, Bridie Granger, Georgia Sanderson (winner of the inaugural Belvoir Poetry Prize) and Lisa Williams, all of whom have been published in the new issue of the Leicester Literary Review. Micro-reviews from Everybody's Reviewing are also featured in the magazine. 

PhD Creative Writing student Joe Bedford has continued his excellent series of interviews with authors, "Writers on Research," interviewing Victoria Richards here

Laura Besley, MA Creative Writing graduate, has interviewed Roppotucha Greenberg for Everybody's Reviewing. You can read the interview here. Laura's micro-story, "A Real Dog," is in the new issue of Streetcake Magazine here. Her story "Fragments" is published by Fictive Dream here. Her story "Against the Grain" was shortlisted for the 2023 Subbub Prize for flash fiction. Laura has also been awarded a grant by the Arts Council's DYCP scheme, to write a collection of short stories. 

Congratulations to MA Creative Writing graduate Constantine, who has just published his book of short stories, And Things Begin to Change ... & Other Stories. You can see more about it here. We'll be featuring the book on Creative Writing at Leicester next week. 

Congratulations to MA Creative Writing graduate Isobel Copley who has won third prize in the Anthology Short Story Prize 2023. 

Congratulations to PhD Creative Writing graduate Laurie Cusack, whose collection of short stories, The Mad Road, has just been published by Roman Books. You can read about the book here, and you can read a review of it by Gus Gresham on Everybody's Reviewing here. The book was launched, alongside Jonathan Taylor's Scablands and Other Stories (Salt, 2023) and Charlie Hill's Encounters with Everyday Madness (Roman Books, 2023), as part of a Triple Book Launch at the Emerald Centre, Leicester, on Tuesday 21 November. Both Laurie's and Charlie's books are part of Roman Books's Stretto Fiction Series, which is edited by Jonathan Taylor. 

Sam Dawson, MA Creative Writing graduate, has had his story, "Shelly and Shelley," published by Litro Magazine here. Sam was also longlisted for the Oxford Flash Fiction Prize 2023. 

Kit de Waal has written a piece, "Quiet Violence," for the Cold War Steve Annual 2024. You can see details here

New Walk Editions, which is co-edited by Nick Everett, has published two new pamphlets: Derron Sandy's The Chaos and Blake Morrison's Never the Right Time. You can see more details on New Walk Editions' website here

Everybody's Reviewing, our book review blog, continues to be read by thousands of people every month, and has now had well over 300,000 readers. 

Beth Gaylard, PhD Creative Writing student, has been working as editorial coordinator and co-organiser for the inaugural PGR Arts Conference at Leicester University, "Reimagining World Views Across Space and Time." The conference took place in November. It attracted speakers from the UK, India, China and the USA, eighteen in all, on many aspects of the literary arts and social science. Topics in Creative Writing included reimagined worlds of family migrations, recent social history and solastalgia. Kit de Waal made the keynote speech on cultural appropriation in contemporary writing. The aim is for the conference to be repeated in future years as a regular PGR event. If you missed it, look out for the special edition of Frontier journal early next term, which will contain some of the presentations in article form. Congratulations to all concerned!

Congratulations to PhD Creative Writing student Kathy Hoyle, whose work "North East Lass" is overall winner of the Hammond House International Writing Competition 2023. You can read the piece here. Kathy's story "Fish Sands, 1984" was also highly commended in the Free Flash Fiction Competition 2023. You can read it here. Kathy's story "Humbug Shark" was highly commended in the Oxford Flash Fiction Competition 2023

Amirah Mohiddin, PhD Creative Writing student, presented a conference paper at the Pacific Ancient Modern Language Association (PAMLA), in Portland, Oregon. At a panel dedicated to "Young Adult Literature and Culture," she presented a paper titled "A Thousand and One Nights Meets Morocco’s Fight for Independence in a Historical Fantasy," exploring how Young Adult fantasy can be a powerful mode to decolonise history. The paper is linked with her practice-based research, where she is writing a YA fantasy novel interrogating storytelling as a mode of heroism and salvation. You can read more about Amirah's research on Creative Writing at Leicester here.  

Karen Powell-Curtis, PhD Creative Writing graduate, has had her poem "Passing" published by Thanatos Review here

Lee Wright, PhD Creative Writing student, has written a review of The Mirror and the Road by William Boyd and Alistair Owen for Everybody's Reviewing here

Congratulations and thanks to all, and wishing everyone a very happy Christmas and New Year from Creative Writing at Leicester!

Thursday 7 December 2023

Katy Wimhurst, "Let Them Float"

Katy Wimhurst’s first collection of short stories was Snapshots of the Apocalypse (Fly on the Wall Press, 2022) and her new collection is Let Them Float (Alien Buddha Press, 2023). Her fiction has been published in numerous magazines and anthologies, including The Guardian, Writers’ Forum, Cafe Irreal, Kaleidotrope, and ShooterLit. Her first book of visual poems, Fifty-One Trillion Bits, was published by Trickhouse Press (2023). She interviews writers for 3AM Magazine. She blogs here. She is housebound with the illness M.E. @Sylphsea on Twitter

About Let Them Float
In the short stories in Let Them Float, Katy Wimhurst creates off-kilter worlds that illuminate our own. Apocalyptic rabbits invade a town. People overwhelmed by their lives float above an urban park. A woman turns transparent after a virus. The playful lenses of magical realism and surrealism are used to explore physical and mental illness and our fragile environment. Thought-provoking fiction with a good dose of whimsy. More can be found out about the book here. You can read an excerpt from the book below. 

From Let Them Float, by Katy Wimhurst

Let Them Float

It was like any walk to work through Castle Park until something tugged at Isla’s attention. She halted, cupping her hand to her mouth. Jeez.

A woman was floating upright above a leafy oak tree. Her slender arms were opened a little on each side, like a half-baked ballet pose. She wore blue jeans and a matching jacket, and she stared skyward blankly, her chin tilted up. Suspended in the air, she resembled a figure from a Chagall painting or a lost angel in denim. What was she doing up there?

Would this be like the epidemic of Fainters in town, from a couple of years back? Or a few years before that, the Hornies, the group of teenagers who sprouted goat’s horns on their heads – Isla’s nephew, Hamish, aged five at the time, loved those. 

From where Isla stood, the floating woman looked twenty-something. Does she have any children? A question Isla asked herself about many strangers. She reached for her neck scarf and absent-mindedly rubbed its silky material between her thumb and forefinger. Three men ahead of her had stopped, one filming the woman on his phone. Isla would have loved to linger and watch, but another busy day at work awaited. She tore herself away.

In the sunlight, the wrought-iron park gates threw shadows like pretty lattices onto St Peter’s Street. Isla’s office was in a glass-fronted building halfway down this road. In the foyer, the sign above Reception read: Orizone: Compliments for Condiments. She wrote copy for a marketing company specialising in foods such as chutneys and pickles; hardly a dream job. Her boyfriend, Gaitlin, jokingly called her the ‘chutney champion.’ 

Kylie, the smiley receptionist with a ginger bob, greeted her. 

‘Heard about the floating woman?’ asked Isla.

‘Pardon?’ Kylie’s brow creased as Isla explained. ‘I’m definitely going to have a nosey at lunchtime. What’s that all about?’

‘Wish I knew.’ Isla glanced at Kylie’s telephone. ‘Any calls for me?’

Kylie’s brows rose. ‘That Mr Lancaster again. I told him to try in half an hour.’

A difficult client, Isla’s heart plummeted.

Sunlight sluiced through the floor-to-ceiling windows in the open-plan office. As ever, Isla was the earliest to arrive. She put her velvet jacket on the back of her chair while looking at a silver-framed photo on her desk. It showed her nephew in a school uniform, smiling in his sweet, bashful way. All the other women her age here had photos of their own kids on display. Isla switched on her desktop and turned her attention to her emails. Four already from Mr Lancaster. Oh, spare me. She clicked on his first one and tried to concentrate, but her mind harked back to the floating woman.

Tuesday 5 December 2023

Derron Sandy, "The Chaos"

Derron Sandy is a Trinbagonian performance poet. In 2021 he won the National Poetry Slam title in Trinidad and Tobago and was long-listed for Bocas Lit Fest’s Johnson and Amoy Achong Caribbean Writers Prize. His book for children, A Story of Hope (2020), was published by the Pan American Development Foundation as part of a project building greater understanding between host and migrant communities in the Caribbean. Sandy is Artistic Director of youth spoken word and theatre organisations The 2 Cents Movement and The Quays Foundation, an actor – and an avid basketball fan. The Chaos is his first pamphlet of poems. 

The pamphlet is published by New Walk Editions, which is co-edited by University of Leicester Associate Professor of American Literature and Creative Writing, Nick Everett


About The Chaos
The subjects of this pamphlet are the individuals and communities who suffer most from injustice, poverty and violence in contemporary Trinidad. Using a variety of forms and approaches, the poems describe scene after painful scene – from the murder of an abusive boss and a killing at a gang member’s wake to a child’s suicide and the finding of a missing person’s body in a barrel – evoking the ‘chaos’ in each case with eloquence, clarity and compassion. Sandy offers no easy solutions to the social problems behind these incidents, but his poems are nevertheless imbued with a profound faith, hope and sense of redemption.

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

From The Chaos, by Derron Sandy

A Dead Child

Bareback pampers dead.
Face down on concrete dead.
Four months old dead.
There is a woman
bawling for the dead
in a Trinidadian accent.

A grandmother at wits’ end
dropped her grandbaby
over a ledge and the dead

child is a viral video
and a story missed
by mainstream news.
Chaos at its best.
What poem gives solace?
Not this dead one. 


A Cashier Will Kill an Employer for this Reason

The day comes when you start creating somethings out of nothings and that in itself is an intense madness. People will respond by saying “is just so it happen” and “outta the blue” and “the mad woman trip off” and other things that will ferry their ways into the inaudible realms.

In the night he used to turn a beast and she was a cave for him to rest in and one day the cave caved in and the knife that run a jagged trail from cheek to collarbone is how she excavated his demons from resting inside her. Is never just so or outta the blue or trip off. Is calculated.

Is the ability to see yourself dead from the next side of the chaos and claw your way back to life. Is stiff resistance against being twice owned (as woman and employee). Is retribution, Lucifer, for every man you hypnotise by waving his own prick in front him. Is justice. 

Sunday 3 December 2023

Martyn Crucefix, "Between a Drowning Man"

Martyn Crucefix is a British poet and translator. He is the author of seven original collections of poetry, most recently Cargo of Limbs (Hercules Editions, 2019) and Between a Drowning Man (Salt, 2023). He has received an Eric Gregory award, a Hawthornden Fellowship, and the Schlegel-Tieck Prize for his translations (from the German) of the poems of Peter Huchel (Shearsman, 2019). His translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies (Enitharmon, 2006) was shortlisted for the Popescu Prize for Poetry Translation. His translations of essays by German poet and novelist, Lutz Seiler, In Case of Loss, has just been published by And Other Stories. A major Rilke Selected Poems, Change Your Life, will be published by Pushkin Press in 2024. Till recently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at The British Library, Martyn also edits the Acumen Poetry Magazine Young Poets web page. His blog and website, including more details on publications, are here

About Between a Drowning Man
Martyn Crucefix’s new collection of poems traces the forensic unfolding of two different landscapes – contemporary Britain post-2016 and the countryside of the Marche in central, eastern Italy. Both places are vividly evoked – the coffee shops, traffic tailbacks, shopping malls, tourist-dotted hillsides and valleys of modern Britain appear in stark contrast to the hilltop villages, church spires, deep gorges, natural history and Classical ruins of Italy. Both landscapes come to represent psychic journeys: closer to home there is division everywhere – depicted in both tragic and comic detail – that only a metaphorical death of the self seems able to counteract. Closer to the Mediterranean, the geographical and personal, or romantic, divisions are also shown ultimately to offer possibilities of transcendence.

The poems of the longer sequence, ‘Works and Days,’ are startlingly free-wheeling, allusive – brilliantly deploying diverse source materials and inspiration from Hesiod and the so-called vacana poems, written in India in the 10/12th century – all bound together by the repeated refrain of bridges breaking down. The shorter sequence of Italian poems, a crown of sonnets, is more formally controlled, but the close repetition of first and last lines of the individual poems likewise serves to suggest an overarching unity.

In the end, both sequences travel towards death which – while not denying the reality of human mortality and the passage of time – is intended to represent a challenge to the powerful dividing walls between Thee and Me, the liberation of empathetic feeling, perhaps even the Daoist erasure of the assumed gulf between self and not-self: ‘these millions of us aspiring to the condition / of ubiquitous dust on the fiery water.’

Here are two podcasts in which Martyn discusses this new collection of poems: Planet Poetry and A Mouthful of Air. Below, you can read two poems from the collection. 

From Between a Drowning Man

Two poems from ‘Works and Days’

‘how you order’ 

how you order then sip your flat white with care
or diesel with care or cling film

or eat responsibly sourced seafood with care
red meat or bottled carbonated water

you dispose of in the bins provided with care
with care what you have locked away

what you have stowed in the understairs cupboard
how you travel by land sea and air with care

then insist on being used by the language with care
with care conversing with friends

when touching friends and your extended family
with care your actions

have a care and your reactions with care
with a passionate care where possible your politics

how you govern or set out to work or choose
how and who you play with tomorrow

with care I mean take care not forgetting
all the bridges are down

‘to tell the truth it’s hardly more’
to tell the truth it’s hardly more
      than a convenient extension to the back lot
of the forecourt of my local BP garage
      on the northernmost side of this satellite town
yet we all agree it’s an excellent shop
      which means we’ll be back here tomorrow
and the next day most likely and in this way
      family traditions put down roots
as today we buy tampons and baked beans
      a salad bag and a brace of frozen garlic bread
at the very last moment we choose
      to snatch up a print newspaper from its rack
with its bold and reassuring headline
      all bridges fit for purpose says govt. minister

Friday 1 December 2023

Laurie Cusack, "The Mad Road"

Congratulations to Laurie Cusack, University of Leicester PhD Creative Writing graduate, whose debut collection of short stories, The Mad Road, has just been published by Roman Books, as part of its Stretto Fiction series!

Laurie Cusack (PhD) hails from Leicester. He studied Creative Writing at Leicester University. He writes from the gut −  The Mad Road is published by Roman Books, and is his debut collection of short stories. The stories were first drafted as part of his PhD thesis at Leicester.

About The Mad Road, by Laurie Cusack

The Mad Road is a collection of short stories that deals with raw Irish experience in a ‘Fairy Tale of New York’ meets Trainspotting sort of fashion. There is a comic-toughness about Cusack’s narratives that keeps you turning the page. They are working class in nature and aren’t for the fainthearted. 

You can read a review of The Mad Road on Everybody's Reviewing here. Below, you can read an excerpt from one of the stories. 

From The Mad Road

Usher’s Well

“Do you want the shamrock on the cream, Davey?”


“Brewery directive.”

“Just give me the fucking drink, Hughie.”

“We’re like Sainsbury’s now. We have to ask.”

“Brand Ireland, eh?”

“Now you said it.”

It was just the two of them in The Angel. For the last fifteen years, Hughie O’Connor had been the landlord of the Irish pub tucked in the back streets of Hackney. Traditional music often thrived within its walls.

“Was I missed?” Davey Murray whispered, trying to gauge Hughie’s mood.

Hughie gave his old friend an odd look followed by a shrug. He liked order, liked being kept in the loop. He kept a tight rein on things; a no messing policy; barred meant barred. No early-doors; no late ones. But Davey was the exception to his rules. Hughie often wondered why. Maybe it was because they had been on the shovel together during Hughie’s early days in London. Demolition. Dusty and dangerous work. And most of their wages went on drink in and around the pubs of Cricklewood.

“There were a few asking for you, come to think of it.”

Davey hadn’t shown his face for ages. Unusual. Not a sight or a whiff of him. Hughie had scratched his head a good few times during the past few weeks.

“Look… I had to split, alright?”

“Going off grid is a mortal sin, nowadays.” 

“Am I daft or stupid, Hughie?”

“Now − that, might take a long time to answer, Davey.”

“Ruffled a few feathers?”

“You could say that.”


“Your manager − coming in here, making a show, Where’s the fucking bollix?”


Davey’s manager, Rory Higgins, was a character who handled Irish, showbands and other novelty acts. The Impresario of Kilburn High Road − that was what they called him. He had the knack for smelling money. He was always bucking the trend. Davey would still be busking tube stations if Higgins hadn’t chanced upon him ...

Thursday 30 November 2023

Mat Riches, "Collecting the Data"


Mat Riches is from Norfolk, but lives in Beckenham. He has previously worked in a plastics factory, a variety of pubs, and a book wholesaler, but currently works in market research and as ITV’s (unofficial) poet-in-residence. He’s also a trainee Bongosero. When he’s not doing those things, he’s either being a parent, a husband or running. Sometimes all of them at once. He co-runs Rogue Strands poetry evenings, and blogs at Wear The Fox Hat. One of these facts is not true.

About Collecting the Data
Mat Riches offers a rare treat in this debut collection. In a voice that’s variously wry, thoughtful, witty and emotive, he explores a variety of relationships. Prepare to meet his family, but also his tomato plants, a weather balloon, a troublesome supertanker, a fisherman’s pond and the Arecibo Telescope. At one point, he finds himself with his head ‘wedged in the freezer.’ This is—yes—funny, but this poet is not just out for laughs. He writes from an unusual angle and it’s deliberate. He uses words to write about silence. Expect the unexpected.

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

From Collecting the Data, by Mat Riches

A City Break
         Berlin, 2016

The rented flat on Fehrbelliner Straße was clean
and basic. There were no toys to be put away.

When our half-remembered high-school German failed us,
the locals’ greater grasp of English got us Biers

or schwarzer Kaffees. We took the chance to draw a breath
and take stock for the first time since Florence was born.

It’s embarrassing how fast we’d stopped noticing 
the goings-on behind the scenes of each other.

We laughed in the street about taking forever
to locate the entrance to the Stasi Museum

—despite standing outside it for over an hour.
And there was finally time to notice there was time

when you gave me a chance to talk about feelings
over the kind of Bratwurst only tourists buy

then asked where we might be going after this.

Tuesday 28 November 2023

Michael W. Thomas, "The Erkeley Shadows"

Michael W. Thomas has published nine collections of poetry, three novels and two collections of short fiction. His latest poetry collections are Under Smoky Light (Offa’s Press) and A Time for Such a Word (Black Pear Press); his latest fiction titles are Sing Ho! Stout Cortez: Novellas and Stories (Black Pear Press) and The Erkeley Shadows, a novel (Swan Village Reporter).  With Simon Fletcher, he edited The Poetry of Worcestershire (Offa’s Press).  His work has appeared in The Antigonish Review (Canada), The Antioch Review (US), Critical Survey, Crossroads (Poland), Dream Catcher, Etchings (Australia), Irish Studies Review, Irish University Review, Magazine Six (US), Pennine Platform, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Times Literary Supplement and Under the Radar, among others. He has reviewed for The International Journal of Welsh Writing in English, The London Magazine, Other Poetry and The Times Literary Supplement, and is on the editorial board of Crossroads: A Journal of English Studies (University of Bialystok, Poland). He was long-listed for the National Poetry Competition, 2020 and 2022, and long-listed and short-listed for the Indigo Dreams Spring Poetry Prize, 2023. His website is here

About The Erkeley Shadows, by Michael W. Thomas

1967. The Summer of Love. Not for Jonathan Parry, perhaps, but certainly a time of big change. Soon his family will emigrate to Canada. But he, at least, won’t be leaving the old country wholly behind. In his heart he carries a dreadful secret, and its consequences track him like an implacable assassin from teenage to manhood, from the Canadian Prairies to the Maritime Provinces and back. What he endures could fill a book – and does. His life-story finds its way into the hands of Will Apland, an officer with the Saskatoon police force. Initially, Will treats it as a diversion, something to while away a Hallowe’en weekend alone. But, almost imperceptibly, Jonathan’s tale begins to infect his thoughts – one man’s history rubs up against another’s. So it is that, by the time he reaches the final page, Will is a man transformed. For him, this strange tale has become a call to arms, an exhortation to seek vengeance – or worse.

You can read more about The Erkeley Shadows here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the novel. 

From The Erkeley Shadows

(This extract, from chapter 2 of the novel, is the opening of Jonathan Parry’s self-penned life story: the very first thing that Police Officer Will Apland reads once he’s settled down with Jonathan’s ‘bulky folder’).

I thought I'd go batty (the guy began) if Mum said it once more: 'Just think, Jonathan—cross-country ski-ing and that kind of lacrosse they do and all sorts.' I couldn't care less about sports at the school I was leaving; a new country wouldn't make any difference. She didn't say much else to me that summer and nor did Dad. Evenings found them surrounded by all that paperwork, except when we did the rounds of goodbyes—Macclesfield, Kettering, Builth. Aunts and uncles full of awe and nostalgia and speculation, saying the same things over and over till I'd have given anything to grow skis and vanish: 'All that space, Jonathan, all those mountains—bigger than Snowdon, some of them, easy.' 'You could say goodbye to someone on the prairies and still see them walking off an hour later. You try it, lad.' 'I was in Winnipeg just after the war. Should have stayed. I was that restless.' Uncle Sid, the Kettering Sid, not the Builth one, ruffled my hair: 'Well, young 'un, give my love to Rose Marie and the Mounties. They always get their man.' That's true. They will again, this man, though not quite how Uncle meant it. 

I tell a lie about Dad. He did say something to me that summer: 'Turn off that blasted Good Night, Midge. I can't think straight.' He never explained Good Night, Midge, though he sang it. He was always singing, stuff from the war, ditties about pumping ship and The Rodney Renown. So I assumed that Midge was more drollery of the ocean wave. He sang it to the start of Three Blind Mice—or to put it another way, the way he so much objected to, the start of 'All You Need is Love,' which pretty well melted on my turntable. Not their best single but, for me, their most magical, probably because of how they recorded it, at the end of 'Our World,' the first global TV hook-up, which went out one Sunday night and wound up at Abbey Road. John, Paul and George were perched on bar-stools with those mikes like Skyrocket lollies. John chewed gum as he sang.

I had to placate Dad. He controlled the electricity, which he wasn't above cutting off to dramatize a point. Most of the time, though, he was hunched over forms or the telephone, or arguing with Mum about how to word some reply to the Consulate. Always 'The Consulate,' never the Canadian Consulate or the High Commission of Canada. Both of them handled the word as though it were 'Eden' or 'Xanadu.' And it was, to them, especially whenever Mr Walden, Dad's prospective boss at Manitoba Power, entered the picture. Communications from him were beyond sacred. He'd interviewed Dad—both of them, in fact—in London, an experience which, going by Mum's star-struck account, made an audience with the Queen seem like a quick nod in our local pub. 

Thursday 23 November 2023

Charlie Hill, "Encounters With Everyday Madness"


Charlie Hill is a critically-acclaimed writer of novels, short fiction and memoir, whose work has been compared by his peers to Kafka, Georges Perec and Beckett. His new book of short stories, Encounters With Everyday Madness, is published by Roman Books, as part of the Stretto Fiction series. His website is here

About Encounters With Everyday Madness, by Charlie Hill

Encounters With Everyday Madness is a collection of short stories about the manifestations and causes of contemporary "madness." Looking at grief, PTSD, romantic obsession, domestic oppression and work, it asks the reader to reconsider what they know about "difference" and the psychological other.

Below, you can read an excerpt from one of the stories. 

From Encounters With Everyday Madness

A New Job

Today there is a difference. He wakes as usual to a residual fear from dreams that seep and overflow, his eyes are heavy-lidded – it is as if he knows he will not like what he sees when they are open – and yet, despite it all, his heart is light. This is because today is a new day. Today he will catch a bus he doesn’t know and travel to work in a new job in a different part of town. Today he will begin again.

He was in his old job for five years. Five will-sapping, personality-crushing, energy-draining years. People there joked about his leaving. They referred to it as his escape but they were missing the point because this is precisely how he views the change. It has been a long time coming. It is not just the particulars of the position – it is, nominally at least, a promotion – but the fact that it will allow him to make a fresh start. He understands this concept is a loaded one but it is no less a necessary goal for all that, for he was tired. He was tired of his job and he was tired of the people he worked with; he had played out the novelty of spending time with "colleagues" – a word he finds strangely infuriating – who, if asked to name his favourite music or novels or TV, if asked to describe his hopes, dreads and perversions in a sentence or two, would have been so far off the mark they may as well be talking about a different person: he was tired of the fact that the incremental degradations of this supposed familiarity made him somehow smaller and less vital than he was or could have been.

Now fully awake, he is ready to begin the process of renewal. He showers, deciding not, for once, to condition his hair. He dresses in a stripy shirt before choosing to wear instead one decorated with bold flowers; for breakfast, for a change, he takes an omelette, made with a shake of soy sauce, and a hefty dusting of the chilli powder he keeps for every other Friday night. He has never eaten this much spice in the morning and the effect is invigorating; he  blinks his eyes and there it is, his kitchen, hall and bathroom the same of course, but shifted on their axes too ...

Friday 17 November 2023

Bruce Harris, "Roxanne Riding Hood and Other Dubious Tales"


Bruce Harris is a Devon-based author and poet who has been consistently successful in short fiction and poetry competitions since 2003. Bruce has published four novels, Howell Grange, Gemini Day, The Densham Do and Diamond Val; five collections of short fiction, First Flame, Odds Against, The Guy Thing, and Fallen Eagles, and three poetry collections, Raised Voices, Kaleidoscope and The Huntington Hydra. As a result of his partner’s illness, the takings from five of these books were dedicated to the Huntington’s Disease Association and one to the Huntington’s Disease Youth Organisation. See further details on his website here.   


About Roxanne Riding Hood and Other Dubious Tales

Roxanne Riding Hood is a collection of prize-winning stories that celebrate life's absurdities and contradictions. 

This collection of short stories explores a range of complex characters navigating their way through life, including drag queen Roxanne, who is drafted in by the police to help prevent local sex workers from being assaulted; 'cleaning lady' Doreen, who uses company gossip to swindle money out of her bosses; pizza delivery driver Mark, aiming to benefit from the sexual appetites of his wealthier clients; newly qualified pharmacist Anne, trying to battle her way through the tedium of speed dating, and many more.

With narratives ranging from the familiar to the downright bizarre, these stories aim to delight and intrigue, acting as a reminder that most seemingly mundane experiences are anything but.

Below, you can read an excerpt from the title story. 

From Roxanne Riding Hood and Other Dubious Tales, by Bruce Harris

I went towards the stage door, a shorter way than the front entrance, and I could hear some kind of trouble going on. Life around the club can get a bit lively at the weekend, with kids off their face on booze and/or whatever else is their fancy. 

Stage door to main street is seventy or so yards of wide alley which normally takes me about twenty seconds, once I’ve got the sensible shoes back on. I’d only gone halfway along this night when two youths, both about nineteen, by the look of them, suddenly appeared in front and beside me. 

‘I’ve seen his picture without his slap on. God, it’s Poxy Roxy, the drag act.’ 

He seemed to be addressing his mate as 'God,' though settling for a deity with bad breath and jeans which look like they’ve been shat in seems to me to sell yourself short. 

His malodorous god then says, ‘How would you like us to kick the shit out of you, Roxy, you sad old queer?’ 

I took the question to be rhetorical, because action followed immediately, his mate with an arm around my neck, him fixing to punch me in the guts. 

Maybe they were just being playful, and since I knew the police hovered around the club on weekend nights, I wasn’t too bothered, and I was even less so when a policeman appeared at the end of the alley. All the same, they were being very rude and unpleasant. Boys being boys is all very well, but I’ve had this stuff since schooldays and know something about taking care of myself. I’ve also taken self-defence classes with a gym instructor called Kevin. Both the classes and Kevin turned out to be worthwhile investments. 

‘We need to achieve mastery of a series of difficult positions,’ said Kevin, and I thought how absolutely I agreed with him ...

Thursday 9 November 2023

Matthew Stewart, "Whatever You Do, Just Don't"

Matthew Stewart works in the Spanish wine trade and lives between Extremadura and West Sussex. His new second full collection is Whatever You Do, Just Don’t (HappenStance Press, 2023). You can read about his first full-length collection, The Knives of Villalejo, on Creative Writing at Leicester here

About Whatever You Do, Just Don’t

These poems refuse to be pigeon-holed. Whatever they focus on—matters of the heart, football, the post-Brexit marketplace—their method is concise and yet searching, serious but playful. Their language is (mainly) English, their standpoint European.

By day, Matthew Stewart is involved in the Spanish wine trade. But his commitment to poetry is just as intense. Line by line, he weighs the risks, invests meticulous skill, and finally invites the trust on which everything else depends. He promises much—and he delivers.

You can read more about Whatever You Do, Just Don't on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read a sample poem from the collection. 

From Whatever You Do, Just Don't, by Matthew Stewart

The Banana

Come to think of it, she didn’t tell us
who’d got hold of the banana, or how,
and we forgot to ask, stunned by the news
that at ten years old she’d never seen one.

She was still proud her class had raffled it
for the war effort, still slightly mournful
at it turning black on her teacher’s desk
long before they drew the winning ticket.

She wouldn’t talk about gas masks, the Blitz,
the doodlebugs (how they changed to V2s) —
but she always recalled her fury
at the waste of bloody good food.

(First published in One Hand Clapping).

Tuesday 7 November 2023

Mandy Jarvis, "Moving on Up: Writing a Creative Dissertation"

Since completing a BA in English and History from Leicester Polytechnic way back in 1986, I have worked in a number of different settings including journalism, teaching English in other countries, statutory and voluntary youth services, and more recently in the state education sector. The common thread through all of these careers has been in supporting children and young people from a range of different backgrounds and experiences. My love of reading and writing has remained constant throughout.  

At the end of 2022, I took a leap of faith to pursue my love of literature and left my job as a primary school teacher to embark on the MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Leicester University. My decision to write a creative piece for my final dissertation gave me the opportunity to combine what I had learnt from both the critical and creative aspects of the course, along with my own experiences in education. I was keen to write something that could potentially be of use to children when making the major transition from primary to secondary school.  

My experiences in working with year 6 children (aged 10-11), in particular, had demonstrated to me that this is a key pivotal moment in their lives. For my dissertation, I wrote a set of three middle-grade short stories, Moving on Up, in which I addressed some of the common themes I had identified from my own research and observations, as well as concerns children had shared with me. These included: friendships and fitting in, getting lost, homework, detention and bullying. Each story focuses on the experiences of a young person who has just started at the fictional Riverview Secondary Academy. My rationale was to write stories which could both entertain children as well as providing the opportunity for them to see themselves on the page - and to reassure them that they were not alone in what they might be feeling about moving up to secondary school.    

Advice for students

If you are on the MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature and are in any way considering choosing to do a creative piece for your dissertation, sign up for the Creative Writing modules that are available to you. They will allow you to become more familiar with how the writing process is taught, submitting pieces of work and how discussions are managed. The experience will also expose you to texts on the craft of writing as well as other texts that will help you to become more familiar with different genres and reading as a writer. The two MAs work together really well and it really felt like I got a lot more out of the year by combining both.

Get used to sharing your work with others, however scary it may be, as it is an integral part of the writing process. It is always managed in a very positive and supportive manner and really helped me to begin to get over my anxieties about how my writing would be received.  All feedback is useful.  


Ten tips for writing a creative dissertation

  1. Write about something you really care about and are invested in. It will keep you going through the duration of the writing process.
  2. Read as many primary texts as you can within the genre of your writing.
  3. If you need to meet other people as part of your research, get in touch early. People are busy.  
  4. Start writing as soon as possible.  Things will start to fall into place.  Even if you think it’s useless, it won’t be and there will definitely be a couple of nuggets in there that will dictate where you go next.
  5. Try not to keep going back to re-writing and editing too early.  There’s a danger you’ll get rid of something really good.  Try and finish a chapter or a short story in a sequence so you can see the whole thing before you start to redraft. 
  6. Make use of your supervisor. They’re not judging you. They’re really happy to help you. Be honest and take risks by saying what you’re really worried or thinking about.  
  7. After a tutorial, write up your notes, actions and look up any texts/research that have been recommended to you. I found doing some re-writing straight after my tutorials really productive as it was fresh in my mind and I could see more clearly the changes I needed to make.  
  8. Take down time. Go for a walk or talk to someone else about your idea. It’s in this time that I could see what was missing or didn’t work. Most of my ideas were formed and then reformulated during time away from the screen.  
  9. If you’re struggling to write creatively, read something for your research or reflection. It’ll feel like you’re doing something.
  10. Don’t worry too much about your reflective commentary until you get closer to the deadline. The feedback from your tutorials and the experience of writing your dissertation will already be formulating and dictating what will go into your reflection.