Thursday 21 September 2023

Venetia Welby, "Dreamtime"


Venetia Welby is the author of two novels – Dreamtime, which featured in The Observer’s books of the year, and Mother of Darkness. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in The London Magazine, Irish Times, Spectator and anthologies Garden Among Fires and Trauma, among others. ‘Words Once Said’ was published in The Parracombe Prize Collection 2023, for which it was shortlisted. Venetia lives near Grantham with her husband, son and Bengal cat and can be found online here, on X: @venwelby and Insta: @vvwelby.

About Dreamtime
'So, where is he then, your dad?' The world may be on a precipice but Sol, fresh from Tucson-desert rehab, finally has an answer to the question that has dogged her since childhood. And not a moment too soon. With aviation grinding to a halt in the face of global climate meltdown, this is the last chance to connect with her absentee father, a US marine stationed in Okinawa. To mend their broken past Sol and her lovelorn friend Kit must journey across poisoned oceans to the furthest reaches of the Japanese archipelago, a place where sea, sky and earth converge at the forefront of an encroaching environmental and geopolitical catastrophe; a place battered by the relentless tides of history, haunted by the ghosts of its past, where the real and the virtual, the dreamed and the lived, are ever harder to define. 

In Dreamtime Venetia Welby paints a terrifying and captivating vision of our near future and takes us on a vertiginous odyssey into the unknown.

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

From Dreamtime, by Venetia Welby
Sol notes an all-American smile of implausibly white teeth, many and strong, the troops perfectly drawn up for battle. Even the muscles in his face look powerful, his jaw broad and sharply defined, cheekbones underlining light green eyes and a low-fade haircut, dirty blonde with a sprinkling of steel. He’s mature: there’s something knowing about that grin, despite its openness. 

‘Uh, you don’t remember anything, do ya?’ The man puts his good ursine paw in front of his mouth, but Sol can tell he is still smiling by the lines that fan out from his eyes. Is he mocking her? ‘Hey, hey, don’t worry – there’s nothing to be worried about. You’re completely safe. Nothing happened, you can relax about that.’ 

Sol coughs. She brings herself upright and quickly and silently inventories herself. Her hair feels congealed, her body desiccated as the desert it came from. She still has her dress on – relief – though it’s up round her waist. 

Some guy Sol shot up with once in Tucson had the gall to imply that fucking should be an easy extension of her friendship, almost a perk of her presence, given the nature of her job. No, she explained, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Why is the word ‘escort’ so confusing to people? And in any case, sex is a valuable commodity, not to be given away freely. If it were given away freely, that – that, she emphasised – would be a seriously big thing. It would mean something. 

‘Like a “children of cobblers go unshod” kind of thing,’ the man replied before planting the needle in her shy green vein. He was British, she remembers. Dead now. 

She stares at the new man in front of her, careful to stay very still; a rabbit playing possum in a fox’s jaws. 

Friday 8 September 2023

Joe Orton Creative Writing Competition 2023: The Results

The School of Arts at the University of Leicester runs an annual Joe Orton Creative Writing Competition that invites A-Level students to write an Edna Welthorpe letter. "Edna Welthorpe" was the persona that Orton invented to embody the values he abjured - middle-class, middlebrow, conservative. Through Edna's letters of complaint (or praise), Orton mocks social and sexual convention. 

The annual Joe Orton Creative Writing Competition is funded by a kind donation from Dame Vivienne Westwood.

You can read this year's two winning letters, by Hazel Morpurgo and Amelie Houseago, and the runner-up letter, by Chloe Howe, here

Below, Hazel Morpurgo talks about her writing processes, her experience of writing Edna Welthorpe (Mrs) letters, and her success in the Joe Orton Creative Writing Competition 2023. Congratulations to all the winners, and thanks to all the entrants! 

By Hazel Morpurgo

I first came across Joe Orton through A-Level English, in which we studied his 1965 play Loot. I learned about the Edna Welthorpe letters in his biography, Prick Up Your Ears, and found the concept of spoof letters hilarious, especially when I discovered that Edna had a counterpart: the endlessly congratulatory Donald H. Hartley, also constructed by Orton. The pair would even argue about Orton’s plays in newspaper review columns! I was already an Edna enthusiast, therefore, when my English teacher recommended this competition to the class.

Given my own participation in Extinction Rebellion and Fridays for Future, I wanted to provide a comedic account of the petty individualism which prevents many people from engaging with the important issues these movements represent. Through the prominent roles cooking, frying and charring play in this short narrative, I provide an allegory of climate change, a theme which I tried to make implicit further in the name I originally gave to my Edna Welthorpe, 'Constance Mundham,' which I derived from the Latin expression 'contra mundum.' I thought this phrase appropriate because it crops up regularly in Joe Orton’s defiant diary entries, and also because its literal meaning – ‘against the world’ – seemed to fit my character in every sense: against everyone around her and, in her inability to comprehend bigger issues than her cookery class, against the planet.

I really enjoyed using my knowledge of Orton’s style, which I had gathered from English lessons, and applying it to my own Edna Welthorpe letter. Writing the piece towards the end of studying Loot, the Edna Welthorpe competition was the ideal way to round everything up, channelling my various impressions of his work into this entry.

Wednesday 6 September 2023

Sam Alexandra Rose, "The CMMRD Book"


Sam Alexandra Rose is a three-time cancer survivor with an ultra-rare genetic condition called CMMRD. She is a PhD student at Teesside University researching how she can use Creative Writing to shape meaning from her illness experiences. She works as a Patient and Public Involvement Manager for charity Bowel Research UK. Sam has had poetry and prose published in over 70 literary magazines and anthologies, and has written two nonfiction books. 

You can read about her memoir, Gut Feelings; Coping with Cancer and Living with Lynch Syndrome, on Creative Writing at Leicester here. Below, you can read all about her latest publication, The CMMRD Book

About The CMMRD Book: A Mismatch Memoir and Guide, by Sam Alexandra Rose

While on average people with CMMRD get their first cancer diagnosis at just 7.5 years old, Sam Alexandra Rose is beating the odds in her mid-thirties. But it comes at a price, with three cancer experiences and a whole lot of fear and trauma to sort through.

Part memoir, part guide and with a little poetry thrown in, this book illustrates what it’s like to live with a rare genetic condition and significantly increased cancer risk.

This is a book of denial, hope and eventual acceptance, ideal for families wanting to know more about a CMMRD diagnosis and for healthcare professionals looking to better understand the patient experience.

You can read more about The CMMRD Book here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the book.

From The CMMRD Book

I had assumed I had accepted cancer and Lynch syndrome, and it wasn’t until I interrogated my innermost workings a little deeper that I realised I hadn’t really accepted it at all. I was getting knowledge confused with acceptance, and knowing something is going to happen and accepting it are two different things. Even if you acknowledge that something is happening, and agree to deal with it and make accommodations so that it can happen, that isn’t necessarily acceptance. And I needed acceptance because it was so difficult to be pulled from normal daily life into the medical world every time a new appointment or set of results cropped up.

I was treating each appointment, surgery, screening, and cancer diagnosis as an individual event rather than part of a whole – the whole of course being CMMRD, though I didn’t think about it in those exact terms at the time. I wondered if it would help for me to accept that I was a person with CMMRD, that CMMRD was an ongoing thing that was always there, rather than something that came and went like a horrible tide pulling scalpels and hospital gowns to my shores when I least expected it. I often felt as if I were straddling two worlds, trying to exist in the “normal” world while the medical world was waiting for me and could pounce at any moment. I would be in the office at the digital marketing agency where I worked at the time and I would get a phone call from the hospital asking to book me in for an appointment. All of a sudden I’m not thinking about writing blog posts or emailing my clients; I’m once again considering the prospect of the cancer returning and having to ask my boss for time off to go to my screening. But what if I didn’t have to deal with it all bit by bit? After all, you don’t need to worry about returning to the medical world if you never leave it. Is that really better? At first, I thought it was admitting defeat to resign myself to the reality that I would always be going back and forth to the hospital. But acceptance is not defeat. It could in fact mean more peace of mind.

Monday 4 September 2023

Constantine, "Jötunheim"

Congratulations to University of Leicester MA graduate Constantine on the publication of his new children's novel!

Constantine is an autistic author and father. He achieved a first-class BA at Middlesex University in 2017 and completed his Master’s Degree in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester in 2022. Between the two degrees he wrote four episodes of the Children’s TV show Pablo, and has written and published the picture book Tiya and the Minotaur and The Cats of Charnwood ForestJötunheim is the sequel.

About Jötunheim: The Cats of Charnwood Forest Book 2

In every world, from Alfhiem to Kapol-Tok itself, tremors have struck bringing destruction. The Thringstone fault is active; nobody knows why. Reality is falling apart at the seams. Through one of the cracks comes an ancient Jötunn, an ice giant of Viking legend, with a message for Bailey and Scruff. Only they can prevent the collapse of the universe itself.

You can read more about Jötunheim here. Below, you can read an edited excerpt from the novel. 

From Jötunheim, by Constantine

As the boy approached, Bailey could hear him sniffling and snuffling as he wept, and Bailey’s heart went out to him.

“Oh, I wish you could understand me,” said Bailey, sighing out loud. The boy stopped, looked around in confusion, and spotted Bailey.

“Did you just speak to me?” he said.


Bailey stood to attention as the boy scratched behind his ears.

“Please don’t,” said Bailey, “I don’t have time. I need to find my sister.”

“How many of you are there?” said the boy. “You are the first native cats I've seen since I came to England.”

“How come you can understand me?” said Bailey.

“Cats are sacred to my people,” said the boy, “Our legends tell of two magic cats who pull the goddess Freyja’s chariot. But even for my people, it is a rare gift, and we tend to keep it secret. We have cats back at the Thorpe.”

“I’m sorry this is too much for me to take in,” said Bailey. “Let me introduce myself. I’m Bailey, and I’m a Guardian of the Charnwood Forest. Who are you?”

“I’m Leif Osgoodson. My father’s Thorpe is up the road.”

“What’s a Thorpe?” Bailey asked.

“Oh …  it's - what’s the Saxon for it? It’s a farm, I think.”

Bailey’s brow furrowed. “Osgood’s son … from Osgood’s farm … Osgood’s Thorpe? ... Osgathorpe? You’re from Osgathorpe?”

“Well, I’m from Norway,” said Leif, “but my father built the Thorpe a few years ago after our Jarl, Halfdan, gave us the land.”

“Only a few years ago?” said Bailey. “What year is it?”

“Well, it’s the 5th year of the Danelaw,” said Leif, “So by Saxon terms, it must be about the year eight hundred and eighty-three, I think.”

“I’m sorry,” said Bailey “When?

Friday 1 September 2023

Chris Parker, "Nameless Lake"

Chris Parker is a screenwriter who has written for shows ranging from EastEnders and Coronation Street to Bedlam, a Sky TV drama series he co-created for Red Production Company. He is also a prolific animation writer,  with credits including Peppa Pig and Shaun the Sheep. He was born in South Wales and lives in Cambridge.

About Nameless Lake, by Chris Parker

Nameless Lake is about the unspoken pressures of gender and desire, told through the shifting dynamics of a lifelong friendship. Emma and Madryn grow up with dreams of escaping their seaside hometown, sustained by an obsession with photography and secret acts of vandalism. But adulthood brings its own limitations, and Emma yearns for connection beyond the constraints of her family. Drawn deeper into Madryn’s private life, Emma feels new possibilities awakening within herself, but when Madryn faces a backlash from her controlling partner, Emma must finally break out of her role as passive observer.

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

From Nameless Lake

When we carried out our next act, which was to break the arcade window, we were excited by the tiny slice of time we had given ourselves to carry it out – I had agreed to go with you to collect a textbook from a friend’s house, a round trip of no more than twenty minutes. I allowed myself only a few mouthfuls of the cider you carried in your bag so that I was affected less by the alcohol than the alien taste of orchard rot in my nose and throat. I was happy to stretch the swimming pool wristband across two of the seafront railing spikes because it meant the next job must be yours – to pull back the ball bearing you had found in your father’s toolbox until the royal-blue rubber turned pale and we had compressed thought and action into one sharp moment, not of decision, but of simply letting go, giving way to something inevitable so that the rubber band itself became the real culprit. 

Afterwards we threw ourselves down the concrete steps to the beach and scudded along the rocks until we were almost at the harbour, where the waves threatened to come and come without ever arriving, and I thought of a horse I had seen on the common when I was very small, a glorious and terrifying creature with a chestnut shine that appeared just at the moment when I happened to be thinking about horses, and I felt certain it had been made by the force of my own wishes