Thursday 30 March 2023

Joe Bedford, "A Bad Decade for Good People"

Congratulations to Joe Bedford, University of Leicester PhD Creative Writing student, whose debut novel, A Bad Decade for Good People, is going to be published by Parthian Books in June 2023!

Joe Bedford, photograph by Deborah Thwaites

Joe Bedford is an award-winning author from Doncaster, UK. His short fiction has been published widely and has won numerous prizes including the Leicester Writes Prize 2022. He has an MA in Creative Writing from Lancaster University, and is currently undertaking a PhD at the University of Leicester. A complete history of his publications and awards, with links to published stories, is available on his website here. His debut novel A Bad Decade for Good People is available to pre-order now here.

About A Bad Decade for Good People
This is a fiercely hopeful novel about family, sexuality, grief and how we as individuals can rediscover our political agency in the face of continued uncertainty.

Brighton, 2016. Laurie wears the scar given to her by a policeman’s baton as a mark of pride among her circle of bright young activists. Her conscionable but sensitive brother George should be a part of that circle, until the appearance of enigmatic Spanish migrant Antonio threatens to divert him from his sister’s world of marches and moral accountability.

As the clouds gather over Brighton and the EU referendum accelerates both Laurie’s political zeal and Antonio’s ambiguous desires, George is faced with the fact that their city of parties and protests is suddenly a place where the possibility of saving the world – as well as the people around him – is in jeopardy of being lost forever.

At once a letter of support to everyone disillusioned by British politics, and a deeply perceptive snapshot of modern relationships, A Bad Decade for Good People is a captivating state-of-the-nation tale that begs the question: when it feels like the world is falling apart, how do you keep those you love from doing the same?

From A Bad Decade for Good People, by Joe Bedford
If the policeman’s baton had found Laurie half an inch lower she would be blind in one eye. Instead it left her with a long, crescent-shaped scar, which she wore like a medal, never hiding it and never knowing how it made my stomach flip. Every time I saw it I had to shake off the memory of her blood running down over her eyelids and onto her jacket, and afterwards the stitching and the gooey rivets it left behind and the halo of yellow bruising that hung around the socket for weeks. 

Her scar was all I could see while she pleaded with me by the side of the road, until we were lit in the headlights of Dad’s car and then running, slipping, gripping each other’s clothes in the ditch. I remember the sound of Dad’s voice carrying over the hum of the engine, the faint warmth coming through Laurie ’s jacket as she held me, the smell of mud and silage. The hills opposite looked like the silhouette of a man sleeping on his side, cut against the stars – the kind of thing you notice at midnight in the countryside, with someone who makes you feel as though things could be better. That and the raw feeling that your failure isn’t yet total but just another blip in time, waiting to pass.

Tuesday 28 March 2023

Louise Peterkin, "The Night Jar"


Louise Peterkin, photograph by Scott Barron

Louise Peterkin is a poet and editor from Edinburgh. She is a recipient of a New Writers Award from the Scottish Book Trust. She is the co-editor along with Rob. A. Mackenzie of Spark: Poetry and Art Inspired by the Novels of Muriel Spark (Blue Diode, 2018). She is a poetry editor for the long running magazine The Interpreter’s House. Her first poetry collection The Night Jar was published by Salt in 2020. She works in the Law Library at the University of Edinburgh.

About The Night Jar, by Louise Peterkin

My debut poetry collection features a number of monologues. I envisaged the Night Jar of the title as a sort of Pandora’s Box containing the voices of various characters, sometimes wronged and misunderstood, sometimes defiant, occasionally villainous; multifaceted. Through these individual voices, I try to explore universal themes: religion, patriarchy, repression, lust, envy, sexuality.

Some of the personas are my own inventions – an inquisitive nun called Sister Agnieszka who embarks on a series of adventures, a wildly imaginative young woman called Innes living in a rural community. Other poems feature real-life historical figures or ones lifted from the pages of novels or from popular culture – Indiana Jones, Hitchcock, Renfield, HP Lovecraft, Indiana Jones and Jaws (The Bond movie henchman, not the shark!).

The characters within the collection are often trapped within literal or metaphorical prisons – asylums, institutions, small communities, domesticity. There is imagery throughout of boxes and keys and vivid description of setting – both landscapes and the intimate interiors of the narrator’s surroundings.

Many of the poems are influenced by my enduring fascinations with cinema, especially horror and film noir and old Hollywood, and engage with myth and fairy tale. 

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

From The Night Jar

Sister Agnieszka Runs Away to the Circus

Roll up! Big Top in view like a yummy mirage;
scalloped, candy-striped, as good as any church
in scale, in height for the swooping,
the twirling, the leaping and curving
for the love of God, the love
of the falling. The good folk here
fit you for your leotard.
Instructed all day in the fine arts: juggling,
knife throwing, tightrope walking.
You know now balance
is an act of sheer faith,
so spread those arms out in the style of the cross
on a frail bridge above, on the back of a horse.
After work, there is much to enjoy –
a consignment of massive animals,
the Ark-stink of dark and straw.
Lie with the strongman, all night long
if you care to, savour the taste of his body,
his shiny skin, his Colonel Blimp face.
Or console the associates of the sideshow
as they hover towards your implicit grace, soothe them,
let the conjoined twins envelop you like a moth.
Be fearless as you walk that line,
straight across, don’t look up or down.
And don’t succumb to your nightmare –
you know the one –
where the ground, the trailers,
the skin of the tent tremble,
and you run outside to see
a legion of nuns
come to collect you
come to take you home
lapping at the horizon like an army of penguins,
in their vengeance, Sister,
in their thousands.


Not entomology, nor some god-aping
yen for a menagerie to bend to my will
but for the blood, the lifeblood sir! It flows
through the strata of the littlest things.
I was precious

at first, reticent. So when a bee marred
itself in a clumsy descent from the window
I let it curl for days like a dried flower
before I sampled. 
I smiled: it tasted liverish, autumnal.

I dusted the sill with sugar for a fly
I blackened the sill with flies for a spider
The spider would tempt down a bird

But I was impatient; I indulged.
I rattled a flea to my ear
then popped it in my mouth like a pill.
My fingers took on the tang of a bell,
faint arcs of gore under each nail

as if I had been playing a black pudding piano.
Small viscera
hung from my gums like a piƱata.
I needed self-control if I wanted the sparrows!
I began once again to propagate.

Until the day the doctor entered my cell
to find the air and my hair full of birds.
And what he conveyed, not so much in words
but a sharpening glint in his eyes was a sort of . . .
respect. I wouldn’t say awe. No, not just yet.

Friday 24 March 2023

Karen Downs-Barton, "Didicoy"

Karen Downs-Barton is an award-winning neurodiverse Anglo-Romani, poet, essayist, and prose writer. After a peripatetic childhood including times in the state childcare system, she now lives in Wiltshire. Karen is the winner of the 2022 International Book & Pamphlet Competition, Cosmo Davenport-Hines prize (2021) and Creative Future silver medallist (2022). She is a PhD candidate at King’s College London, exploring identity and diaspora through minority languages and multilingualism in entertainment industries. Her poetry is widely anthologised, most recently in Wagtail: The Romani Women’s Anthology, and has appeared in translation in Spanish, Farsi, and Russian. Karen’s poems have appeared in The NorthRattle, Tears in the FenceThe High WindowWild CourtInk, Sweat and TearsRiggwelter, amongst others. Her website is here.

About Didicoy, by Karen Downs-Barton 

Didicoy started life as an MA project that had originally been destined to be a collection about the Silk Route. However, during the induction day a lecturer was talking about her recent book about female writers of the 1970s and was asked why one of the writers gave up writing for secretarial work. The response was ‘To put bread on the table.’ I’ve never experienced a room shrinking before but that’s exactly what it felt like. The room shrank to that one statement but not about the writer in question. It shrank to the face of my mother who did what she did to put bread on the table, and the rest is history.  

Didicoy means a half Gypsy living outside the norms of Romani life, and Didicoy is the exploration of my early didicoy life living with my mother in a colourful, if precarious multiracial family. The poems focus on characters at the margins of society bringing their difference into contemporary themes of poverty, diaspora, and chosen identity. My work blends confessional poetics with lyricism and formal experimentation to find new ways to bring in people outside these experiences. The poems harness the sounds, tastes, and sensory delights of eating stolen dog biscuits from paper doilies or watching the ‘professional’ rituals of a mother and the night world she existed within and exploring what it is to belong.  

From Didicoy

Of the Men who Came as Shadows in the Night   

Do you remember the stealthy men   
that knocked at night, whispered negotiations,   
the metal rasp as the chain slid, the door opened. Or when they    
slipped that other world to shadow our days?   
They worked in shops Mum scurried past,   
leered from corners, or spilt    
like stale beer from pub doorways. Some spat    
remarks, she’d do her best to explain away.   
And always, at that stage,    
we’d move on    
to some fresh place, new start, that was the start    
of the same knocks, same remarks, just recycled.   
There’d be a new home, better or worse than the last,    
a new school, friends to make, and a new name   
to grow into, memorised to get it right   
on textbooks. Mum would wait at new school gates   
never quite fitting in   
but trying. Once, a policeman picking up children,   
laughed, said he almost didn’t recognise her   
with her clothes on.   
And when she said, ‘Not in front of my girls,’ I knew    
we’d be moving again. We were always    
running away from   
Dear Faye,  
ask me   
about the day we were caught stealing   
in auntie Barbara’s dining room  
her posh flat on Streatham Hill  
ask me  
about our guilt  
as horrified faces peered under  
the lace edged tablecloth   
and saw an open box  
of dog biscuits   
between us  
ask me  
about the bone shapes  
that smelt of Farley’s Rusks  
arranged in coloured rows  
on paper doilies   
the pinks were a disappointment   
like blown rose  
the blacks etched our teeth and tastebuds  
with the grit of fire grate  

Wednesday 22 March 2023

Merryn Williams, "After Hastings"


Merryn Williams lives in Oxford, and After Hastings (Shoestring Press, 2023) is her sixth volume of poetry. She worked hard for Labour in the last election and, during the pandemic, collected the best Covid poems she could find and published them as Poems for the Year 2020: Eighty Poets on the Pandemic (Shoestring Press).

About After Hastings, By Merryn Williams

My book is a short one - more a poetry pamphlet really. All the poems are short, but they cover such things as Covid, deaths and a divorce in my family, and the state of the world. Hastings is where I grew up and the title poem is of course about the threat to the planet:

After Hastings

Some of Hastings has toppled into the sea.
This time, the giant rock killed no one, but
fast-forward to another century
and people will abscond, their doors will shut,
the gracious Georgian terraces, the beach huts
be drowned, the crumbling castle overhead
collapse, the famous caves fill with salt water.
It might reach my old home, but I'll be dead,
the cliffs, like Robert Tressell's murals, gone,
and none look down on Hastings, except the moon.

The book is dedicated to the memory of the poet Ruth Bidgood - a dear friend and a Wren during the war, which explains why she didn't like the sea. I miss it! Here is another short poem about her:


          (for Ruth Bidgood)

I learned of your death in a crowded seafront cafe
between trains, casually flicking through my smartphone
as everyone does. I should have expected this news
but hadn't. You'd not have felt at home in this place,

distrusting the sea, turning back to the mountains. So
I went for a last look, and spent a half hour counting
the waves, remembering how I'd watched them crashing
off Hengistbury Head, on the actual day you died.

Monday 6 March 2023

Jeremy Worman, "The Way to Hornsey Rise: An Autobiographical Novel"


Jeremy Worman has dropped out in Wales and squatted in London. He has a First in English from Birkbeck, University of London, where he was twice awarded the biennial ‘John Hay Lobban Prize for the most promising student of English Literature,’ an MA (Distinction) in Creative and Life Writing from Goldsmiths, University of London, an M.Litt. from Cambridge University and a PhD in Creative Writing from Goldsmiths where Blake Morrison was his supervisor. He taught English Literature to American BA students at Birkbeck for over twenty-five years. He has reviewed for The Observer, the Times Literary Supplement, The Spectator, the New Statesman and many other publications. He has published two collections of short stories with Cinnamon Press. The Way to Hornsey Rise: An Autobiographical Novel will be published by Holland Park Press on 23 March 2023. He lives in Hackney, London. His literary agent is Christopher Sinclair-Stevenson. His website is here

About The Way to Hornsey Rise: An Autobiographical Novel, by Jeremy Worman

This book explores how a privately educated schoolboy turns from his rural Surrey background to the squats, drugs and hippy scene of 1970s Hornsey Rise, North London, which was reputed to be the largest squat in Europe. Beginning with the author’s childhood, the work is also about his escape from the intense relationship with his alcoholic, charismatic and mentally unstable mother, of her lovers, and of the romantic relationships of the author.  The narrative investigates how a 1968-style vision of the world collapsed in the 1970s, and the implications this had for the author and many of his generation: a visionary countercultural world was not going to happen.  

You can see more details about The Way to Hornsey Rise on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the book.

From The Way to Hornsey Rise: An Autobiographical Novel 

She stood in the middle of the room. ‘I don’t know how you ended up here.’ 

‘I didn’t want to live a Surrey sort of life anymore.’

Her gaze peeled off my squatting dreams and exposed my fears. How could I have any vision of my own if she did not approve it? Was my real terror not that I had rejected her but that she had rejected me? I saw this place through her eyes: the torn section of flock wallpaper around the chipped door; the semi repainted living room, in a special-offer Dulux Sage Green, from the hardware shop on Holloway Road; the loose floorboards; the stained carpet. 

Where’s the bathroom, darling?’

‘Up the stairs; first door on the right.’

What could I trust if she was not in my life?

Ma came back from the bathroom. ‘I forgot to give you the champagne; let’s have it now; it’s still quite chilled.’ She took it out of her Liberty-print bag. 

I got two glasses from the kitchen, rubbed them with the drying-up towel, and rushed back. She pushed out the cork, which bounced off the ceiling, and filled our glasses.

‘To your new life,’ she said. 

‘Smoked salmon and scrambled eggs for lunch.’ 

The stale smell of the flat followed me to the kitchen. How had I landed up here? Why did I want Ma to see this place? Was I trying to shock her? Was I saying, ‘Just look how much I have rejected your fucking pretentious Surrey world?’ Five minutes later I carried in two plates. 


We sat at the table and talked about family things, which seemed to come from a distant world. The champagne intensified my sense of disjuncture. 

‘We’re going to grow organic vegetables and sell them,’ I said.



‘How sweet.’

‘It’s not “sweet”; it’s changing the way we think about the city. Do you want to see the vegetable patch?’

‘I know what vegetable patches look like, darling.’ 

After lunch we looked out at the square.

‘Come home for a few months if you want.’

‘I like it here.’ 

‘Do you mind if I pop off? I’ll get a cab to Simpson’s; I need a new outfit for the autumn.’

‘If we walk to Archway Road, you’ll find one more easily.’

‘No. I feel quite safe. It’s not as rough as I expected; if I need help I’m sure the natives will be charming.’ She picked up her bag. ‘Thanks for showing me your experiment in living. Come and see me soon.’

‘I will.’

We kissed and she left. As the door shut, I felt terribly alone and wanted to hear her voice again. I recalled that day years ago at Miss Fish’s when she was late collecting me. I had been looking out for her at the small landing window and pictured her face but could no longer hear her voice. The silence made a void in which I was nothing. Then I saw her face again, and heard different voices speak from her mouth, but none of them was hers. It was as if she no longer existed. Perhaps she had found another voice with which to speak to a boy just like me ...

Friday 3 March 2023

Sue Hubbard, "Radium Dreams"

Sue Hubbard is an award-winning poet, novelist, broadcaster and art critic. She has won numerous prizes and, as The Poetry Society’s only Public Art Poet, created London’s largest public art poem, Eurydice, at Waterloo station, which has now been carved in Portland stone and permanently placed in the crypt of St. John’s, Waterloo.

Her poems have appeared in The Irish Times, The Observer, The London Magazine and many leading poetry magazines and anthologies. They have been read on Radio 3,  Radio 4 and RTE, and recorded for The Poetry Sound Archive.  Twice a Hawthornden Fellow and twice awarded bursaries to Yaddo, US, she has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia and in 1999 was awarded a major Arts Council Award. She has published four previous collections of poetry, Everything Begins with the Skin (Enitharmon), Ghost Station and The Forgetting and Remembering of Air (Salt), Swimming to Albania (Salmon Poetry). God’s Little Artist, on the life of Gwen John, is due later in 2023 from Seren.

She has also published a collection of short stories, Rothko’s Red (Salt) and three novels, Depth of Field (Dewi Lewis), Girl in White (Pushkin Press), Rainsongs (Duckworth, Overlook Press, US, Mercure de France and Yilin Press, China). Her fourth novel, Flatlands, is due from Pushkin Press UK and US, and Mercure de France in late spring 2023.

As an art critic she has been a regular contributor to The Independent, Time Out, The New Statesman, The London Magazine, and published a book of essays on art, Adventures in Art (Other Criteria). Her website is here


About Radium Dreams, by Sue Hubbard

For Radium Dreams I invited the artist Eileen Cooper RA to team up with me to pay homage to one of the world’s greatest female scientists, Marie Curie. Our poems, drawings and collages form an exhibition at the Women’s Art Collection, Murray Edwards College, Cambridge, along with an accompanying book, that follow her through her Polish childhood, her studies and research in Paris, her marriage and very public affair, giving texture and depth to her extraordinary life. It is more than eighty years since her death, but her story remains as compelling as ever.

My poems, accompanied by Eileen Cooper’s drawings and collages, conjure Curie’s life through closely observed moments of struggle, tenderness and joy. Both exhibition and book explore the theme of creative support: between Marie Curie and her sister, and between the scientist and her husband, Pierre Curie. This is reflected in the collaboration between a female poet and artist and resonates with The Women’s Art Collection at Murray Edwards, which was created by women as a college dedicated to educating academically outstanding young women.

Marie Curie’s own feminism was always demonstrated by her actions rather than by theories or words. She believed that progress in science would benefit the world and broke down barriers to pursue new ideas and theories, never allowing herself to be defined by the standards of beauty of her day or the behaviour conventionally expected from a woman. When she got married, she chose to do so in a plain dark gown that she could later use in the lab. Would she have described herself as a feminist? Whilst she was concerned with the education of young women, her abiding interest was always science and the truths it revealed. Stubborn and determined, she believed that knowledge equalled freedom. The men in her life, her husband Pierre, and her lover Paul Langevin, were colleagues with whom she shared her intellectual passions, giving weight to the words of the American writer, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, that “There is no female mind. The brain is not an organ of sex. Might as well speak of a female liver.” Marie Curie was a woman of conviction and courage. Radium Dreams presents her not only as brilliant, intense and uncompromising but also as passionate, flawed and compellingly human.

You can see more information about the exhibition and the collection on the Women's Art Collection website here. Below, you can read two sample poems from Radium Dreams


From Radium Dreams

She sets up the kitchen chair,
her petroleum lamp,
a porcelain washbasin
printed with a rose
in the attic room of Rue Flatters.
Lives a monastic existence
patching and mending
her shiny, old-fashioned dress.
Doesn’t even know
how to make soup,
survives on buttered bread and tea,
faints in the tiny boxroom.
The laboratory is home,
its brass instruments, bell jars,
and test tubes with their brew of elements.
If only she can move them
close enough, she knows
that hydrogen atoms will fuse.
Standing in her linen smock
among the men, she rehearses
who she’s about to become,
steps forwards,
burette and Bunsen burner in hand.
She’ll not be found wanting.

Uranic Rays

Once they’d have called her
an alchemist for her pains.
Now, moving through the laboratory
among glass wash bottles,
Bunsen burners, the brass microscope,
quiet as an inhale of breath,
a wooden chemistry bench to her left,
the ionization chamber and electrometer
on her right,
she follows Becquerel’s experiments
to expose uranium salts to sunlight,
to see if radiation -
discovered one cloudy day by chance -
can be spontaneously emanated,
pass through metal foil to print,
ghost-like, on a photographic plate,
She wants to discover the cause
of this force, which seems
to violate Carnot’s law
that energy can be transformed,
(though like Time or God 
never be created or destroyed).
Now, lying beside her sleeping Pierre,
she dreams of particle waves,
an invisible necklace of opaline ash,
illuminating her bleached skin.

Wednesday 1 March 2023

Nearly Spring News, March 2023

Lots of things have been happening in Creative Writing and the Centre for New Writing in 2023 so far, so we thought we'd share some of the highlights below. If there's anything you'd like to add to our next newsletter, please do let us know!

There are also many forthcoming guest talks, workshops and masterclasses as well as Literary Leicester Festival and the Annual Creative Writing Lecture taking place this term. All of the events are free and open to everyone. You can see full details of the programme here.

On Monday 27 March 2023 at 5.30pm in Attenborough Arts Centre, we'll be running our second Creative Writing Student Showcase, as part of Literary Leicester. You can book tickets for this free event here. If you are a student at Leicester, and would like to sign up to read at the event, please email Jonathan Taylor on jt265[at]le[dot]ac[dot]uk. Hope to see you there! 


Firstly, congratulations to all the MA Creative Writing students who graduated this January. And congratulations too to Adele Parks and Lemn Sissay, both of whom were awarded honorary degrees.

Students, staff and the public all contributed to the annual Favourite Reads of the Year article on Everybody's Reviewing here

Creative Writing PhD student Joe Bedford has continued his excellent series of "Writers on Research" with an interview with Alison Macleod, which you can read here. Joe has also reviewed Julian Bishop's poetry collection, We Saw It All Happen, for Everybody's Reviewing here. And a reminder that Joe's novel, A Bad Decade for Good People, is forthcoming in June 2023.

Laura Besley, MA Creative Writing student, will be running a writing workshop at the annual States of Independence publishers' fair in De Montfort University, on Saturday 18 March. 

Congratulations to Andrew Craven-Griffiths, who passed his PhD viva in Autumn 2022, and congratulations to Karen Powell-Curtis and Paul Taylor-McCartney, both of whom graduated with PhDs in Creative Writing this January. You can read more about Karen's PhD here, and Paul's here.

Congratulations to PhD Creative Writing graduate Tim Hannigan whose book The Granite Kingdom: A Cornish Journey will be published by Head of Zeus in May. 

PhD Creative Writing student Cathi Rae and BA English with Creative Writing student Jess Hollis are representing the university at the annual "Unislam" spoken word competition in Birmingham. Good luck to them!

Congratulations to PhD Creative Writing graduate Sabyn Javeri, who has edited and published a new anthology of creative non-fiction, Ways of Being: Creative Non-Fiction by Pakistani Women. You can read more about it here

Congratulations to PhD Creative Writing student Kathy Hoyle, who was a finalist in the Blue Frog Flash Competition. Kathy's story "Whale Song" has also been nominated for Best Microfiction by South Florida Poetry Journal. Her work is also featured on a list of recommended stories here

MA Creative Writing graduate Sally Shaw has reviewed Deborah Morgan's new novel, Imagine Living, on Everybody's Reviewing here. Deborah Morgan gave a brilliant guest masterclass on the MA a few years back. 

Nina Walker, MA Modern and Contemporary Literature student, has reviewed Adam Roberts's science fiction novel The This on Everybody's Reviewing here

Lisa Williams, MA Creative Writing graduate, continues to publish 100-word stories on Friday Flash Fiction. You can read some of her recent stories here and here

PhD Creative Writing student Lee Wright has reviewed Barry Jones's graphic novel The Book of Niall on Everybody's Reviewing here