Sunday 17 December 2023

Rennie Parker, "Balloons and Stripey Trousers"

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

About Balloons and Stripey Trousers

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

Welcome to the circus.

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

From Balloons and Stripey Trousers, by Rennie Parker

real not real

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

hello can i help you

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

[beam] hellocanihelpyou?

Thursday 14 December 2023

Anna Larner, "Invisible"


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

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

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

About Invisible, by Anna Larner

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

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

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

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

From Invisible

“Oh, Violet, our tea.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday 13 December 2023

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policeman Pete

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Saturday 9 December 2023

Christmas News from Creative Writing at Leicester

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday 7 December 2023

Katy Wimhurst, "Let Them Float"

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

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

From Let Them Float, by Katy Wimhurst

Let Them Float

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Heard about the floating woman?’ asked Isla.

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

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

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

A difficult client, Isla’s heart plummeted.

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

Tuesday 5 December 2023

Derron Sandy, "The Chaos"

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

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


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

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

From The Chaos, by Derron Sandy

A Dead Child

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

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

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


A Cashier Will Kill an Employer for this Reason

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

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

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

Sunday 3 December 2023

Martyn Crucefix, "Between a Drowning Man"

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

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

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

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

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

From Between a Drowning Man

Two poems from ‘Works and Days’

‘how you order’ 

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

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

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

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

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

when touching friends and your extended family
with care your actions

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

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

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

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

Friday 1 December 2023

Laurie Cusack, "The Mad Road"

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

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

About The Mad Road, by Laurie Cusack

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

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

From The Mad Road

Usher’s Well

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


“Brewery directive.”

“Just give me the fucking drink, Hughie.”

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

“Brand Ireland, eh?”

“Now you said it.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Look… I had to split, alright?”

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

“Am I daft or stupid, Hughie?”

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

“Ruffled a few feathers?”

“You could say that.”


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


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