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 Stra├če 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. 

Monday 6 November 2023

Anna Vaught, "The Alchemy: A Guide to Gentle Productivity for Writers"


Anna Vaught is an English teacher, mentor and author of several books, including 2020’s novel Saving Lucia and short fiction collection, Famished; 2023 saw Saving Lucia published to national acclaim in Italy as Bang Bang Mussolini, memoir These Envoys of Beauty, the magical realism novel The Zebra and Lord Jones and, after The Alchemy, the Curae anthology of short prose from the winning entrants to the prize she established in 2023 for writer-carers; next year sees her first essay collection, To Melt the Stars. Her shorter and multi-genre works are widely published in journals, magazines and anthologies. Until recently, she was a columnist for Mslexia and has written regularly for The Bookseller, including as a columnist. With a background in secondary English, mentoring with young people and community arts, Anna is now a guest university lecturer, tutor for Jericho Writers and teaches occasionally at secondary level. She works alongside chronic illness, and is a passionate campaigner for mental health provision and SEND support for young people. She is a PhD candidate at York St John from December 2023-4, undertaking a PhD by Published Works on Magical Realism and Trauma, foregrounding her own work. Her title begins with a quotation from her memoir: "Go there on a wing in your imagination": Magical Realism and Imagination as Therapeutic Writing in Saving Lucia and These Envoys of Beauty. 

About The Alchemy

The Alchemy is a robust, frank and loving guide to an often opaque industry. As well as offering tips on working in gentle increments and re-imagining what productivity and the work of writing look like, there is advice on sending out work and navigating the industry, looking after your mental health as you go.

Full of practical advice, strategies, comfort and the occasional entertaining essay, The Alchemy is about writing a book when you thought you could not. It is for all writers, but with a particular eye on those who are tired and lacking in confidence, and those who face significant challenges – perhaps you are chronically ill or care for a loved one. It is a book for beginners, but it is also for those of you who are stuck in your habits and practice – perhaps you just need a pal to guide you through the day to day with the book you wanted to write. That’s what The Alchemy is. Let’s do this together.

You can read more about The Alchemy on the publisher's website here. Below, you can read a short extract from the introduction to the book. 

From The Alchemy, by Anna Vaught


The Alchemy is about writing a book – a work of fiction of whatever kind – when you thought you could not. This is a book for everyone, but with a particular eye on those who are tired and lacking in confidence; those who are disabled, chronically ill or perhaps care for a loved one who would struggle without them. Essentially, this has been me for some time now, and that is how I know about productivity – and how I know about challenging what it is; how we think of and understand productivity in terms of a creative project.

I thrived not only from deadlines, spreadsheets and flow charts (although these things are excellent), but from learning to work with what I had, when I could and, also, in understanding that writing a book happens all the time. Much of what can become a book, or deepen what you already have, might be found in being observant in your daily life – insofar as you can be, because I want to exclude no one here. Not everyone will be active.

I want to free you from the idea that you must write every day to be a writer, or even if you want to complete a full-length book. If that works for you, wonderful, but it won’t work for everyone, and won’t be possible for many. So I try to get us to think about the creation of a book in different terms: in observations, but also in knowing that thinking is also a huge part of the job. Give yourself unhurried time in which to do this.

In laying all this out, I am going to offer you various essays full of ideas and first-hand experiences, and I will suggest writing exercises as I go. Finally, I am going to offer thoughts on sending out work and navigating the industry, looking after your mental health as you go. This is a book for beginners, but it might also be for you if you are stuck in your habits and practice; perhaps you are newly unwell or constrained in some way, or perhaps you just need a pal to guide you through the day-to-day with the book you want to write.

Friday 3 November 2023

Public Events and Guest Lectures, Autumn 2023

Here is a list of all the fantastic public events, workshops and guest talks hosted by the Centre for New Writing this Autumn. All of the events are free to attend, but you may need to sign up for some of them advance, since places are limited (see details below). Thank you, and we do hope you'll enjoy our programme of events.

Sunday 12 November, 7pm, online
New Walk Editions Launch: Derron Sandy and Blake Morrison
This is the online launch of two new New Walk Editions pamphlets: Blake Morrison, Never the Right Time, and Derron Sandy, The Chaos. New Walk Editions is co-edited by University of Leicester's Nick Everett. You can register for this free event here.

Tuesday 21 November, 730pm, Emerald Centre, 450 Gypsy Lane, Leicester
Triple Book Launch: "The Mad Road, Scablands and Encounters with Everyday Madness."
This evening will consist of readings by three authors launching their new short story collections: University of Leicester PhD Creative Writing graduate Laurie Cusack, Birmingham-based author Charlie Hill, and lecturer in Creative Writing, Jonathan Taylor. The event is free and all are welcome. No need to register in advance - just turn up on the day!

Thursday 23 November, 3pm, St Nicholas Place, Leicester. 
Tour of BBC Radio Leicester
This tour is part of the undergraduate module Writing Voices, but there are a few places open to other students. If you'd like to come along, please book a place by emailing in advance. Numbers are strictly limited. 

Monday 4 December, 10am-12, Attenborough room 202
Masterclass with Kit de Waal: "Cultural Appropriation and Creative Writing" 
This Creative Writing workshop is part of the MA in Creative Writing. There are also limited places available for other students, staff and public. If you'd like to attend, please book a place by emailing in advance. 

Tuesday 5 December, 11am-12, Attenborough room 206
Guest Reading and Q&A by Poet Kate Bingham
This lecture is part of the undergraduate module Introduction to Writing Creatively 1. There are limited places available for other students, staff and public. If you'd like to attend, please book a place by emailing in advance. The event is supported by Literary Leicester

Monday 11 December, 2-3pm, Attenborough room 205 PLEASE NOTE THE NEW DATE FOR THIS RESCHEDULED GUEST LECTURE
Guest lecture by Paul Taylor-McCartney: "Imagine If You Can: Thoughts on Writing Dystopian Fiction." 
This lecture is part of the undergraduate module Using Stories. There are limited places available for other students, staff and public. If you'd like to attend, please book a place by emailing in advance. 

Wednesday 13 December, 2-4pm, Attenborough room 104
Masterclass with Amirah Mohiddin: "An Exercise in World Building: A Thousand and One Nights Meets 1950s Morocco in a YA Fantasy." 
This workshop is part of the MA in Creative Writing. There are limited places available for other students, staff and public. If you'd like to attend, please book a place by emailing in advance. The event is supported by Literary Leicester