Saturday 25 February 2023

Bobba Cass, "naked"


Bobba Cass is a gay man, father and grandad. He grew up in Seattle, Washington, U.S.A. where he benefitted from education for all, not just the selected. He now lives in Leicester. He has a liberal arts degree from Willamette University, and advanced degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and De Montfort University. Transformative was Peace Corps and subsequent life in Nigeria, 1963-1967. In addition to travelling along the cadences of poetry, he has written a collection of creature fables for children in the series, From Gramps with Love, as part of Creatures Creatives Collective. He has completed three semi-autobiographical novels taking himself from childhood in Seattle to being evacuated from Nsukka, Nigeria at the beginning of the Biafran War. His new collection of poems is one of a series of limited editions of poems including four and twenty, fourteen and Leicester Skies. Websites are here and here

About naked, by Bobba Cass

naked is a collection of fifteen poems interspersed with images by four artists. The book is designed to be held and the poems reflected on juxtaposed with the images, each poem opening onto a page of its own. It is naked because it celebrates vulnerability, it signals revelation, it configures an innocence and lessens the liability to deceit, it balances with sexual energy, and it dresses us in humility and mystery.  And yet we can be naked and still not seen.

From naked 

the twine is two

the twine
    is two
which barely can sustain
the one
the other
where it has shortly lain

your palm
            with its grain

my hand
            to sate

        would one
        in you

not grieve
        the cause
        the more anxious

Wednesday 22 February 2023

Reality Is Not What It Seems: My Creative Writing PhD

By Kirsten Arcadio

The philosopher Yuval Noah Harari claims that "our future is in the hands of the social and digital media giants" and decisions are being taken by "a small international caste of business people, entrepreneurs and engineers." Governments have become "managers," he says. They have no vision, "whereas meet the people in Google, in Facebook, they have tremendous visions about the future, about overcoming death, living for ever, merging humans with computers. I do find it worrying that the basis of the future, not only of humankind, the future of life, is now in the hands of a very small group of entrepreneurs" (see Harari’s recent interview with the Guardian here).

Suffice to say, I agree. The idea that new technology will open the door to control of the masses is what propelled me towards pitching a PhD proposal to my supervisor, Jonathan Taylor, in late 2018. After several years writing speculative fiction in what I tend to think of as an amateur capacity, I was ready to take my writing to the next level and this theme had the potential to take me there. I was thrilled to be accepted onto a six-year part-time PhD programme in early 2019 as a result. 

The creative section of my PhD is a novel, Thrown, a socio-political tech-thriller which tells the story of what happens when a computer scientist with an ambiguous past is recruited to build a virtual reality for government services. My creative project uses fiction to examine a possible near-future dystopian scenario where the competing forces of government and online media giants use technology to manipulate society.

The idea of virtual reality is not new. However, the idea that elements of our society may be taken over by virtual and/or augmented reality is much closer than many realise (I believe). In some ways, my thesis is a cautionary tale, in others, a creative exploration. It's based on the idea that government services and virtual reality might one day combine to take complete control of society. My intention was to present this idea in a creative work rather than a factual one. It is my desire - as is the case of many science fiction writers before me - to use storytelling to bring a dry, technological plausibility to life. 

How have I approached this throughout my PhD journey? Fast forward to 2023 and I feel like a marathon runner tackling the last six miles. I’ve drafted a novel Thrown and its accompanying critical reflective commentary. I’ve written all the words … all 100,000 of them in draft form. As a digital communications professional, I’m used to writing and editing. Writing at pace doesn’t phase me. But a PhD is a completely different beast. It’s a journey into my own subconscious, an exercise in perfecting the craft, on contextualising my ideas and developing them in an interesting and engaging way.  It’s a lot - yes, I’ve come a long way, but I’ve still probably got a year’s work left to get to the end of this road. My biggest challenge now is to get the hard-hitting human challenges of my concept across, and indeed, as my novel has progressed, my mind has turned from concept to character. After all, stories are about the journeys we take as human beings and the challenges we have to overcome. Over time, my protagonist and her small crew of friends and (mostly) enemies, have grown with the work. My focus in recent months has turned to the characters’ own journeys, on their hopes and fears, on the stories they tell about themselves, and the ones they want to hide. Thrown is a high concept novel, but it’s also a character study, a journey into the subconscious mind, laid bare by the blurred lines between reality and virtual reality. 

I don’t know what questions readers will ask themselves after reading my PhD. Maybe they might include: to what extent are we already living in a VR? With one foot in an artificial reality, are we already partially "meta" - more about the stories we tell about ourselves than our real selves? Could a VR, therefore, end up being more real than the real world? But whatever the questions the thesis raises, I’m having fun writing it. 

About the author

Kirsten Arcadio has written three novels, each with a different speculative theme, Borderliners, Split Symmetry and WorldCult. Her fourth novel, Zeitgeist, is a coming-of-age adventure set in Germany against the backdrop of the fall of the Berlin Wall. She’s also a part-time poet, digital communications nerd and frazzled head of an Anglo-Italian family. After working for over fifteen years in digital communications, she returned to her twin first loves, literature and philosophy, in 2011. She’s passionate about the big questions in life and how these can be explored using speculative fiction and, to this end, has been working on a PhD in Creative Writing since 2019. When she’s not writing she’s obsessing about science fiction, she loves all things Italian, including her husband, and she once taught English in the Italian senate.

Monday 20 February 2023

Ruby Speechley, "Gone"


Ruby Speechley is a bestselling psychological thriller writer, whose titles include Someone Else’s Baby. Previously published by Hera, she has been a journalist and worked in PR and lives in Cheshire with her husband and two of her three children and two dogs. She has an older son and two grandsons.

About Gone, by Ruby Speechley

My son is missing, and everyone is lying to me.

Last night my son, Shay, sneaked out of the house and didn’t come home. He promised not to go to the illegal party in the woods. But someone’s been attacked and Shay has gone missing. The police want to know if he saw what happened. I’m worried he could be involved.

After all the trouble he’s been in lately, mixing with the wrong crowd, coming home beaten up and scared, I thought we’d put it all behind us. Trouble is, Shay resents me moving my new boyfriend into the family home. I found all sorts on his laptop, including a half-written email warning me not to trust David. What does he know that I don’t?

I’m beginning to fear for his safety. What is David hiding from me? Who have I let into our lives?

I don’t know who I can trust. Will I ever see my son alive again?

From Gone


His breath is a plume of white as he stumbles into the cold tunnel of darkness ahead of him, the tangle of spiky branches thick with leaves slowing him down. He checks over his shoulder; he can’t see them, but he can hear them getting closer. His chest and throat are burning with exertion; the mossy earth is damp beneath his bare feet. He must reach the other side, where warm lights beckon him.

An arm reaches around his middle and bundles him to the ground. He falls on his face and lets out a pitiful groan. There’s a taste of blood on his lips, his nose thick and wet and throbbing. The smell of damp mud and torn grass are the last thing he remembers.

When his eyes flutter open, he’s lying on his back, on something as hard and cold as steel. He can’t move, not even a finger. There’s a stark white wall in front of him, grey ceiling tiles and right above him, a brown liquid stain. He blinks. Am I dead, or dreaming? A roaring pain tears down his side. His dry lips peel open but the scream in his throat is silenced by a hand pressing over his mouth. There is no face to this person, no words, only the milky skin of an arm, bleached by the bright light.

A woozy feeling washes over him, his vision blurs and his eyes fall shut.

Friday 17 February 2023

Kerry Hadley-Pryce, "God's Country"

Kerry Hadley-Pryce was born in the Black Country. She worked nights in a Wolverhampton petrol station before becoming a secondary school teacher. A leading exponent of ‘Black Country noir,’ her previous Salt novels were substantial critical successes and helped popularise Gothic writing from the Black Country. She wrote her first novel, The Black Country, whilst studying for an MA in Creative Writing at the Manchester Writing School, for which she gained a distinction and for which she was awarded the Michael Schmidt Prize for outstanding achievement. Her second novel Gamble was shortlisted for the Encore Second Novel Award. She has had several short stories published both in print and online. She has just completed a PhD in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. God’s Country is her third novel. She lives in Stourbridge and tweets @kerry2001

About God's Country, by Kerry Hadley-Pryce

In God’s Country, Guy Flood returns to the Black Country with his girlfriend, Alison, to attend his identical twin brother’s funeral. The reasons he left, and the secrets he left behind, slowly become clear. A chilling dark fiction, dominated by unknown and all-seeing narrator.

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

From God's Country

Guy looked at her, and she’ll say she knew that look well. She’ll tell how she rubbed her fingertips lightly and briefly on the outside of his thigh. 

‘Oh, Christ, Guy…’ she said. ‘I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said that.’ 

Guy sighed. He would have sighed instead of saying anything.

‘That was thoughtless, me saying something like that,’ she said. ‘I’m really sorry.’

Ahead of them, she’ll say the traffic had just begun to move. They would have been able to see it begin to shift, like the vertebrae of an enormous monster that they were part of, and up ahead, the blue lights of the fire engines, the police cars. 

‘I really am,’ Alison said, and she would have been squeezing his thigh, and her breath would have been chemical with thirst. ‘I’m an idiot for saying that.’ 

She’ll say now, she just needed to keep him on-side. 

Don’t feel sorry for her.

She’ll tell how she remembers Guy finding first gear, saying, ‘Thank Christ for that,’ and how he was concentrating on the horizon, leaning forward, seeming to want to push forward physically. She would have taken hold of his fingers if she could have, if she could have brought herself to, that is, but both his hands were on the wheel, and it was late, and nobody wants to be late for their own brother’s funeral, especially when it’s your twin brother ...

Monday 13 February 2023

Barry Jones, "The Book of Niall"

About the Author 

Barry Jones is a world-renowned professional magician with over two decades of experience. He has received critical acclaim, including BAFTA and Rose d'Or nominations, and has received numerous five-star reviews at international comedy and arts festivals. He has toured the UK multiple times with his sell-out stage shows, and has performed on BBC1 prime time in a weekly live magic show watched by millions of people. He was voted ITV1's 'Next Great Magician.' He is also known for his work as part of the comedy/magic duo 'Barry and Stuart.' The Book of Niall is his debut graphic novel. Follow him on social media at @itsbarryjones. 

About The Book of Niall

A gripping and thought-provoking story of reality, illusion, and mental health, written and illustrated by a master of illusion himself, The Book of Niall is a full-colour graphic novel that immerses the reader in a journey of self-discovery and understanding. 

Actor Niall Adams seems to have it all - a successful Hollywood career, a luxurious LA apartment, and a loving partner. But beneath the surface, Niall's grip on reality is slipping away. He is convinced that everyone around him is an actor, reciting lines from a pre-written script, and that at any moment the director will call cut. As Niall is swept along on a hyper-real journey through the bizarre world of fame and celebrity, his perception of reality is tested to its limits, leading him to question the very nature of existence itself.

You can read more about The Book of Niall on the author's website here. Below, you can read excerpts from the book.

From The Book of Niall, by Barry Jones

Sunday 12 February 2023

Bloodlines: Exploring Family History Through Poetry: A Creative Writing PhD

By Karen Powell-Curtis

I didn’t follow the conventional route to a PhD: I was fifty-six when I collected my student ID card and attended the PGR induction event. Forty years earlier, the school careers teacher told me that O-levels were my academic limit and suggested a ‘nice job in an office.’ I didn’t like school and couldn’t wait to move into the grown-up world of work so that’s what I did with my eight O-levels. In my early twenties, I felt that something was missing in my life – it was education. My return to study led to an A-level, two degrees, a PGCE and a career as a primary teacher. Still hooked on education, I followed my interest in Creative Writing and completed a Certificate in Creative Writing followed by an MA. I thought about a PhD for several years but life and imposter syndrome got in the way. 

Eventually, I approached Jonathan Taylor with an idea and, with his encouragement, registered for a PhD in Creative Writing. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My PhD gave me the opportunity to combine my three passions, or obsessions, depending on your point of view: poetry, family history, and academic study. 

Bloodlines is a collection of poems and combines memoir and matrilineal family history through the generations back to my seventh great-grandmother. As a child, I was curious about how family members were related to me and to each other, and the questions I asked were the first steps towards my fascination with genealogical research. The inspiration for the poems came from archival documents, photographs, artefacts and memories of my mother’s memories. 

There are several themes running through the collection including motherhood, secrecy, identity and loss, and there is a sequence of poems exploring how mental health issues have been experienced across the generations. There are poems that reflect on the artefacts and memories we leave behind, and some that touch on realm of the uncanny. Throughout the collection there is a hint of ghostliness, a sense of being haunted by the voices and the psychological trauma across the generations. At the heart of Bloodlines is a sequence of poems about Lilla, my maternal grandmother. For as long as I can remember, I have felt a special connection to Lilla, although I only knew her through photographs and my mother’s memories. Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I imagined her as my guardian angel, watching over me and keeping me safe, a spiritual grandmother. These poems are my attempt to understand her life and death, and my feelings towards her.

For me, the most challenging part of the PhD was writing the commentary. My thesis was practice-led and I focussed on issues that had arisen through my genealogical research and through writing the poems. This led me to research and write chapters on topics that were new to me, including life-writing, the use of ‘I’ in poetry, and found poetry. To use Margaret Atwood’s words, Bloodlines involved both excavating and setting down the past (Negotiating with the Dead, p.xix).  Throughout my research and writing, my ancestors, in a sense, lived alongside me and, at the same time, I have been able to lay their ghosts to rest. For me, particularly with regard to Lilla, Bloodlines is an act of remembrance and of closure.

The following poem was inspired by a photograph of Lilla on her wedding day.

Wedding Day, 1922

Her father, in crisp suit and hat,
offers his arm and Lilla lowers her eyes 
to focus on her steps towards the church.

With the waterfall of carnations and ferns
to occupy her anxious fingers
and the folds of her veil to blur
the sharp lines of her thoughts
she could easily be mistaken
for any nervous young bride. 

In the front pew, her fur-draped mother
closes her mind against doubt,
watches the groom across the aisle,
approves of his polished shoes.

Monday 6 February 2023

Guest Speakers Spring 2023

There are many exciting Creative Writing events happening this term in the Centre for New Writing at the University of Leicester. Here are some of them! They are all free and open to all - students, staff and the public. If you'd like more information about any of them, please email Jonathan Taylor, jt265[at]le[dot]ac[dot]uk or cnw[at]le[dot]ac[dot]uk for further details.

The State of Publishing, with Farhana Shaikh

Wednesday 8 March 2023, 4-5pm in Attenborough building, room 001

Multi-award-winning author, CEO of Dahlia Publishing and founder of The Asian Writer, Farhana Shaikh will discuss diversity in the publishing industry, and the role that small presses are playing to make the industry more inclusive.

What Came First, Character or Plot? A Masterclass, with Adele Parks

Wednesday 15 March 2023, 2-4pm in Attenborough building, room 002

Join one of the UK’s bestselling novelists for a masterclass on writing fiction. Please bring a draft piece of fiction or dramatic writing you’ve written to the class. 

N.B. This masterclass is part of the MA in Creative Writing, but is open to all. Numbers are limited, so if you'd like to attend, please email cnw[at]le[dot]ac[dot]uk.

Literary Leicester Festival 2023

Wednesday 22 March 2023 to Saturday 25 March 2023

Literary Leicester is the University of Leicester’s annual free literary festival, open to all. Brought to you by the School of Arts and the Centre for New Writing, the festival hosts events at the university and right across the city, in cinemas, theatres, community halls, schools and more.

Free and open to all! You can see the full line-up for this year's events here

Climate Fiction Workshop, with Liz Jensen, in collaboration with Literary Leicester 2023

Friday 24 March 2023, 130-230pm in Leicester Central Library

Join multi-award-winning novelist and member of Extinction Rebellion’s ‘Writers Rebel’ for a practical workshop on writing climate fiction or ‘cli-fi.’

N.B. Numbers are limited, so please book in advance on Literary Leicester's Eventbrite site here. 

Claiming Our Unconscious and Re-remembering Our Stolen History, with Amirah Mohiddin

Monday 27 March 2023, 10am-12 in Sir Bob Burgess building, room 002.

This masterclass will look at where our ideas come from, and using your own history and memories in writing. Amirah will be discussing her writing, inspirations and research. She will lead a workshop where you will be encouraged to use a memory, dream or folk story as impetus for a free-writing exercise.

Amirah Mohiddin is a writer, a third-year PhD student in Creative Writing and a tutor with The Brilliant Club teaching her self-designed Creative Writing course ‘Our Future Storytellers’ to students aged 13-16. Her PhD research focuses on female storytelling as a form of salvation and heroism in Arabic literature with the aim to reconstruct formidable and empowering storytellers in a YA fantasy novel. Her short stories have been published in magazines, ebooks and physical books, including Dancing Bear Books, Litro Magazine, Post-mortem Press, The New Luciad and Sanroo Publishing. Her MA novel, The Fallen Warriors, has been submitted to editors by her agent in the hope of acquirement.  

N.B. This guest talk is part of the MA in Creative Writing, but is also open to all. If you'd like to attend, please email jt265[at]le[dot]ac[dot]uk to reserve a place. 

Creative Writing Student Showcase, Literary Leicester

Monday 27 March, 530-645pm, Attenborough Arts Centre, Studio 1

As part of Literary Leicester Festival, we'll be holding a showcase event for University of Leicester BA, MA and PhD Creative Writing students to read and perform their poetry, stories and scripts. If you're a student and would like to get involved, please email Jonathan Taylor on jt265[at]le[dot]ac[dot]uk. You can book here

Writing Collaborations, Collaborating to Write: Creating Supportive Communities, with Barbara Cooke

Wednesday 29 March, 2-4pm in Attenborough room 002

This talk will focus on the different types of collaboration that make up the professional life of a writer, editor and academic. Barbara will be drawing on her own experiences of poetic co-creation, collaboration with an illustrator, and setting up and participating in writing retreats to show that while writing is usually a solitary act, no writer need ever be alone.

Dr Barbara Cooke is a senior lecturer in English at Loughborough University. She worked in publishing before completing a PhD in Creative and Critical Writing at the University of East Anglia. She is Co-executive Editor of the Complete Works of Evelyn Waugh and the author of Evelyn Waugh’s Oxford.

N.B. This guest talk is part of the MA in Creative Writing, but is also open to all. If you'd like to attend, please email jt265[at]le[dot]ac[dot]uk to reserve a place. 

Val McDermid, 'Killing People for Fun and Profit': Annual Creative Writing Lecture

Tuesday 9 May 2023, 615-730pm - venue TBC

One of the UK’s best-selling crime novelists talks about her work and craft, and will be signing books afterwards. 

N.B. Please book tickets via Eventbrite here

Masterclass, with Louis de Bernières

Wednesday 10 May 2023, 10am-12 in Attenborough building room 002

Join the multi-award winning author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, Birds Without Wings, Notwithstanding, and many other books in a masterclass on the art of writing fiction.

N.B. This guest talk is part of the MA in Creative Writing, but is also open to all. If you'd like to attend, please email jt265[at]le[dot]ac[dot]uk to reserve a place.