Tuesday 23 July 2024

Abi Curtis, "The Headland"


 

Abi Curtis is Professor of Creative Writing at York St John University. She is the author of two poetry collections, Unexpected Weather (Salt, 2009) and The Glass Delusion (Salt, 2013) and a climate change novel Water & Glass (Cloud Lodge, 2017). She also edited Blood & Cord: Writers on Early Parenthood (Emma Press, 2023) and is currently working on a co-authored guide to Speculative Fiction. She has eclectic interests and has written and presented on subjects from motherhood to bees; ancient churches to the uncanny; squid to elegy and enjoys collaborating with artists and musicians. 




About The Headland
A novel about the dark gifts of grief, what it means to belong, and the possibility that time and space may not be what we think they are.

It is the morning following a devastating hurricane on England's south coast, and local painter Dolores is walking the shingle beach of the Headland. She spots something unusual lurking in a piece of driftwood - a color, a creature, perhaps something fostered by the twin forces of storm and atomic fallout. It's all anyone has been talking about, after all, just months after Chernobyl and in the shadow of the local nuclear power station.

Decades later, her son Morgan returns to the Headland to arrange for Dolores' funeral. The power station is about to be decommissioned, and the bleak landscape is best known now as a landing point for desperate immigrants from across the Channel. Morgan's girlfriend is pregnant - an unexpected revelation that he is not at all sure about - and he is especially keen to discover what he can from his mother's unusual cottage, especially about his father, whom he has never known. He uncovers the diary his mother wrote following the hurricane. It tells a story about Dolores and the strange being she discovers on the beach - a story which is both enthralling and heartrending. As he reads the journal, Morgan's own experiences of the Headland become increasingly inexplicable. The journal challenges Morgan's ideas about love and grief, parenthood and belonging, and the very fabric of time. As he unravels the mysteries of his mother's past, he must come to terms with his own origins and face the growing violence from those who would threaten the peace of the Headland.

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


From The Headland, by Abi Curtis
I went to the library yesterday after work, looking for a better encyclopaedia than the old one I have here, to try to work out if there are any creatures like her anywhere. When I looked, I saw that Violet has the characteristics of a Humboldt squid, with its ability to change colour, flashing brightly in the sea depending on its moods. But then, she also has the proboscis of a moth, who uses it to taste the air. But she doesn’t have wings. The golden mole has iridescent fur, but it is not invisible. There are creatures that like very hot conditions, like camels, or weird bacteria called water bears, which live off thermal vents. These can also revert to a state of agelessness and defy the passage of time. Then, I looked at plant life. The violet flower: so many different species, some thriving where there is barely any soil. Her creeping legs which shift in and away from my perception as they move belong to nothing that I can identify. Only deep-sea creatures seem to possess this quality of transparency, the filaments of their nervous systems visible beneath their jelly-like skin. But these would be like deflated balloons outside of the water, and Violet has thrived on land for weeks now. I looked at insects, mammals, birds, cephalopods. Octopuses and squids have limbs that can perceive independently. Bees are especially attuned to the ultraviolet end of the spectrum, which humans cannot see, and so attracted by white and purple flowers. They communicate by vibration and strong smell, and movement. The bookworm, which is really a beetle, eats mould, glue and the bindings of books, only incidentally devouring the paper. Moths do that too. Some butterflies like decaying matter and live near graves …

I made a list of notes like a student cramming for a weird exam. Then, I looked at another section of the library. Next to the Science Fiction were titles like Top Secret and The Many Types of Luminous Sky Phenomena, Alien Life, and We are not Alone: Alien Abduction Cases. Some had facsimile documents from places like the FBI with chunks redacted in black ink, alien autopsy photos and pilot accounts of disc- or orb-like vessels. Sketches from abduction ‘victims’ of thin grey men with big black screen eyes. If Violet is not of this world, she is not this kind of alien.


Thursday 4 July 2024

Run Your Tongue: Spoken Word Night

By Rob Reeves



My friend Bethany Patience started Run Your Tongue in 2012 in Kettering, but it was rather short-lived after we both moved away. I then spent six months in Paris, where I began performing at a spoken word night. When I returned home, I missed performing regularly and decided to start RYT back up in Kettering, following a similar format to the night in France. We moved to the Three Cocks Inn, which was home to us for over five years. We had some great nights there with headliners such as Atilla the Stockbroker, Jess Green and Jonah Matranga.  

During the lockdowns of 2020, I began to hold Run Your Tongue online, which allowed me to connect with poets from all over the world. When we were able to have live events again, I asked Rosa Fernandez to become my co-host, and we moved to an art gallery in Leicester for a year before settling at our current home at Watson’s Cocktail Bar on Granby Street, Leicester. We’ve welcomed a couple of poets we met during the online Zoom days to headline in real life: Jeff Cottrill all the way from Canada and Clive Oseman all the way from Swindon.

The Leicester poetry scene is really thriving, and there are some great other nights, each with its own flavour. Word! is the most well-known and longest-running, Some-Antics is a really fun and popular night, and Get Mouthy is a great new night at the Big Difference. In fact, last month, Word! invited a host from each of the other nights to headline at their event. The whole scene is really supportive and collaborative. We try to make sure our events don’t clash, and we always try to support each other’s events when we can.  

We try to make RYT welcoming and don’t take ourselves too seriously, which I hope helps people feel at ease. I know how hard it is to get up and perform – I used to be absolutely terrified of public speaking and would avoid it at all costs, so I know that just getting up on stage is a win. I always say that anything goes at our events as long as it involves words. While most performers read and perform poetry, we also welcome comedians, singer-songwriters and storytellers. It’s a great place to try out new material to a welcoming crowd.

I always wanted to keep RYT accessible to all, so it’s always been pay-as-you-feel. However, we still believe in paying our headliners, especially if they have come from further afield. Everything we take on the door goes to them, and we also hold the world-famous Rob’s Raffle in the hope of raising a little more. Sometimes it’s difficult to balance paying our headliners with making the night accessible to everyone, but we somehow have made it work for over a decade.

Our events are usually on the first Thursday of the month, but we are holding them bi-monthly until the end of the year. We have an extra event in October with Cathi Rae, and there might even be a special event in the summer.  

The night has taken many forms over the years in various venues, and even when it takes a break for a while, it always returns. I’m really proud of the night, and I know that as long as people keep coming down, I’ll keep putting it on.   

If you’d like to stay updated with events, please follow our Instagram and Facebook pages. Our next event is with Ciarán Hodgers on Thursday, July 4th. 


About the author
Rob Reeves is a poet and musician based in Leicester. Rob started writing poetry in 2012 while taking his MA in English at the University of Leicester, where he is now studying for his PhD in Creative Writing.



Monday 1 July 2024

Cathi Rae, "Just This Side of Seaworthy and Other Poems" and "Rock, Paper, Scissors and Other Poems"

Congratulations to UoL PhD Creative Writing student Cathi Rae, who has just published two new poetry pamphlets!



Cathi Rae is a poet, spoken word artist and educator. She is currently in the final stages of a practice led/creative PhD at the University of Leicester, where she was also a graduate of the MA in Creative Writing. She has performed throughout the UK, including readings at Womad Festival, The Houses of Commons, Chiltern Arts Festival and many spoken word and poetry events up and down the M1 and M6. She has just published two new pamphlets of poetry with Two Pigeons Press: Just This Side of Seaworthy and Other Poems, and Rock, Paper, Scissors and Other Poems. You can read about these two new collections and a sample poem from each below.  




About Just This Side of Seaworthy and Other Poems, by Cathi Rae
Just This Side of Seaworthy and Other Poems is a pamphlet collection which explores ageing, ageism and how older people navigate the world. It challenges the ageist notions that older people have less validity or become invisible.


From Just This Side of Seaworthy and Other Poems

Just this side of seaworthy

I could be  you
another older woman    our bodies bearing 
one carefully cherished child

just the one
no time to make another
no time to try again

I was akin to you     almost kin to you
recognising this stony skerry
where you stand                washed up
I too have swum these currents

tides that trick and tease
entice you on towards the shore

I feel your           unsteady      steps
across a beach
a beach in name alone
black blasted rock ground down to grey
 
somehow 
I avoided this      this destination    this depression
with frantic paddling     bailing out
keeping my head above the water
watching you and those like you
who submerged beneath the sea 
and emerging
found themselves      sea changed

the boat    the tides    the landing
repeat    repeat        repeat
a life on endless loop
your coracle
just this side of seaworthy
crafted from a faded photograph

gives up the ghost and floats in-land
oars that drop and drift away


your gasping    grasping breath 
presence of pain    still presence of a sort
knocked backwards   you attempt to stand again

fingers clutch at the last remaining 
half remaining    almost-memory  of     croft  wall
grip slipping on moss slick stone
peering out to sea     myopic     in mist that never lifts
cataract-vision 

and on this chain that reaches back
to meet the mainland
I’m standing on another island
larger     the trees a little taller 
hints of green and growth
holding on
hoping     knowing    
that this must pass.




About Rock, Paper, Scissors and Other Poems, by Cathi Rae
Rock, Scissors, Paper and Other Poems is a taster selection from my PhD work, a collection of poems based on conversations and interviews with individuals who shared their lived experience with me.

From Rock, Scissors, Paper and Other Poems

Brick Dust

You tell me about the brick fields 
where red dust earth and red brick dust become impossible to separate 
and paint the little boys in red dust too 
little boys who work for food 
and you tell me what happens to little boys who work for food 
and now I can’t unknow that 
You tell me about the onion factory 
where you peeled skins and were in turn 
unpeeled yourself 
and as we talk I’m crying onion tears 
and I try to keep the sobs inside and silent 
as you too must have done when you were small 
You tell me about the coming here 
boys packed into room too tight 
to house so many bodies 
you sent that hard-earnt money home 
planned triumphant returns full pockets and a sharp new suit 
until one day home was here but never truly here and no longer there 
You tell me about marriage love and madness 
times when you were racked with shame 
but didn’t have the words to name the fears in any language 
but Djiin or ghost seems closest 
the boy you used to be 
still haunts this broken self 
You tell me about love 
your wife become a tree in whose shade you hide 
shelter from a burning sun and later still the British rain 
your children never hungry safe you say and loved 
their lives a world away 
from red dust brick dust onion peeled boys

Tuesday 18 June 2024

The MA in Creative Writing: Some Advice from Past Students



Starting a new course can be daunting, challenging, and this is especially the case for a high-level programme like an MA in Creative Writing. So we've brought together advice from some past students, for people who are thinking of doing the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. You can read their advice below, and you can find out more about the MA in Creative Writing, which is still open to applications for this Autumn, here. The course is open to part-time and full-time students. 

Advice from Past Students 

"Read widely and feverishly. Read the set texts, read the optional texts, read related texts. Read novels and short stories that have nothing to do with the course. Learn from them and welcome inspiration"  (Sam Dawson). 

"What I loved most about the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester was the variation of the modules, so my main piece of advice would be: never limit yourself and don't be afraid to try something new, as daunting as that can be. Also, read widely, write as much as you can, learn to give and receive feedback, go to events such as Literary Leicester and open-mic sessions, connect with students from other courses, integrate yourself into the local community and always keep a notebook with you for those ideas that pop up when you're least expecting them to!" (Laura Besley). 

"If you're neurodiverse you can expect to find patience and understanding. I certainly found this. It doesn't mean you won't be challenged, you will. However you can expect to leave the course a better writer than you went into it" (Constantine). 

"I almost didn’t sign up for the MA in Creative Writing. I was concerned that, as a mature student, I might feel out of place, but I decided to go for it, and it turned out to be the best decision I ever made. My advice to prospective students is to write outside your comfort zone and experiment with genres. That is what I did, with the support of the amazing tutors, and I came away with a memoir, a stage play, an array of poetry and pages of ideas to be developed. My only regret is that I can’t do it all over again" (Rosalind Adam).

"Soak it all up, attend every session and allow time to hang out at the library and with your MA peers. If you're back in education after some time out, know that everything will be fine within weeks and you'll thank yourself for signing up for this course!" (Karen Rust). 

"As a writer, you're private for so long with these characters and scenes and words, and then you go public. It's quite the contrast. Yet critique and feedback on the work creates a lingering conversation, and helps you get a clearer sense of words on the page" (Lee Wright).

"The MA in Creative Writing at Leicester gives you the freedom to experiment with your writing regarding content, genre, form and audience whilst giving you the tools to hone your craft to make your work the best it can be. My biggest piece of advice would be to really experiment with what you want to write during this time – nothing is off limits – and to take the time to appreciate the different parts of the process of a single idea from conception, redrafting, editing and finally finding its place in the world. A great part of this process is sharing your work with other students as readers and fellow writers along the way - I really encourage you do that as much as you can. Also, take advantage of the wonderful members of staff that are ever so supportive and bubbling with curiosity. They’re always so happy to read things and offer really insightful and constructive / productive feedback" (Amirah Mohiddin).

"My best advice is to remember that each piece of writing is a learning opportunity, whether you end up loving it or shelving it. Writing slumps are normal, and it's okay to ask for help if you're ever struggling. During my course, my lecturers and peers were a huge source of support and helped me produce some of my best writing. Also, remember to have fun and write what you enjoy! (Millie Henson).

"I was a nervous writer before I took the MA in Creative writing, and worked in isolation, unsure of my abilities. The best thing about taking is this course is finding your craft and gaining confidence in your words" (Tracey Foster).

"The tutor support both challenged and affirmed me. It helped the quality of my writing improve from when I first started the course. I was introduced to sources I'd never considered before, both in and out of the classroom. An enriching experience, the MA was one of the best things I've done. Be open-minded, learn from those around you, see what you do / don't have in common. I wrote this poem (below) inspired by my experience early on the MA" (Tionee Joseph).

Belonging

I

My life was always this way,
Displaced.
Always in a group of people drawn together by chance,
Circumstance.
 
The only thing in common,
Is that we signed our names on the same dotted line.
 
II
 
I get you: you get me.
Minds alike,
The flow unblocked.
 
My people,
My tribe,
My community.

- Tionee Joseph


Wednesday 12 June 2024

Megan Taylor, "We Wait"

 


Megan Taylor is the author of four dark novels, How We Were Lost, The Dawning, The Lives of Ghosts and We Wait, a haunted house horror. She has also had many short stories published, some of which are included in her collection, The Woman Under the Ground. Her next novel, a psychological thriller, The Therapist’s Daughter, is due out from Bloodhound Books in September 2024 and she’s working towards a second short story collection. Megan lives in Nottingham. She has been running fiction workshops and courses for over ten years. For more information, please visit her website here



About We Wait, by Megan Taylor
The wealthy Crawleys can’t abide a scandal, so when fifteen-year-old Maddie’s behaviour causes concern, she’s packed off to the family’s country estate, along with her best friend, Ellie. But while Maddie is resentful, Ellie is secretly thrilled. A whole summer at Greywater House, which she’s heard so much about, and with Maddie, who she adores …

But from the moment the girls arrive, it’s clear there’s more to the house and the family than Ellie could ever have imagined. Maddie’s aunt, Natalie, and her bedridden grandmother are far from welcoming – and something has been waiting at Greywaters, something that flits among the shadows and whispers in the night.

As the July heat rises and the girls’ relationship intensifies, the house’s ghosts can’t be contained and it isn’t just Ellie who has reason to be afraid. Three generations of the Crawley family must face their secrets when past and present violently collide.

You can read more about We Wait here. Below, you can read an excerpt from the novel. 


From We Wait
The woods were crowding so close when Ellie woke that, at first, she thought she’d dreamt her way right through to dusk. Before she’d allowed her eyes to shut, they’d been driving past white-walled villages and golden fields, the lazy spin of wind turbines on a hazy hill. Now there was nothing beyond the car but trees. They made a tunnel of the road, reaching out with fringed branches to brush the roof and overpowering the Beetle’s air conditioning with their rich, sweet breath. Ellie remembered Maddie mentioning the woods around Greywaters. Maybe they were nearly there? But there was no sign of a house, just those stretching limbs, the endless leaves …

All that green was dizzying; Ellie rubbed a sweaty hand across her face. Her head was still thick with sleep, her body aching, her shoulders stiff from holding herself apart from Maddie, who was sitting in the cramped back seat beside her.

Maddie didn’t return her gaze. She remained bowed over Ellie’s phone, half-hidden by her hair, a perfectly straightened auburn wing. She’d been that way for hours, ignoring everything but the mobile, which she’d grabbed from Ellie as soon as she climbed into the car. In the driver’s seat, Maddie’s mother continued to fume. 

Ellie could see Sara’s narrowed eyes in the rear-view mirror, and her mouth, sucked tight. But though she’d chewed off most of her lipstick, Sara hadn’t exploded yet. Perhaps she’d given up? It had been almost a month since she’d confiscated Maddie’s phone. 

Briefly, Ellie considered exploding for her, snatching the mobile from her best friend’s fingers, yanking the window open and hurling it out. Instead, she leant towards Sara, trying to think of something harmless to say, and that’s when she saw the girl.

A girl standing in front of them, in the centre of the road. 

Standing very still, as if stunned or waiting, framed by the green, the trees, like a girl in a picture.

A moment ago, the road had been clear. The girl must have come scrambling out of the woods, though the verges looked impenetrable, the trees bound with nettles, their thick branches entwining. The bright July sky reduced to a scattering of stained-glass pieces overhead.

Caught in the canopy’s shade, the girl didn’t appear to be crossing. She wasn’t moving at all.

Monday 10 June 2024

Penny Boxall, "The Curiosities"

 


Penny Boxall is a poet and children’s writer who has worked in various museums. She won the 2016 Edwin Morgan Poetry Award with her debut collection, Ship of the Line. She is writer in residence at Wytham Woods, University of Oxford, and was visiting Research Fellow in the Creative Arts at Merton College in 2019. She has held Royal Literary Fund Fellowships at the Universities of York and Cambridge, and is an RLF Bridge Fellow. She created new works for Tartu and Bodo Capitals of Culture 2024. Her debut novel for children is forthcoming in 2025. Her website is here.  

Penny's new poetry pamphlet, The Curiosities, is published by New Walk Editions, which is co-edited by Nick Everett, Associate Professor of American Literature and Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. 

 


About The Curiosities, by Penny Boxall
How do we remember and memorialise when we’re not at all sure what we have just experienced? How do we know our own minds when we find ourselves by turns reflected and obscured? The poems in this pamphlet are like artefacts in a half-forgotten museum: records of how life once was, or might have been.

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

 

From The Curiosities

Equity

I see her, evenings, in the new retirement flats
near my mother’s house. The curtains
are always open, or there are no curtains,
and so no mystery. She’s young for there.
 
She sits on the neat sofa, ankles crossed,
or writes neat letters at the bureau.
Sometimes there is a glass of champagne,
a single orchid. There are never visitors
 
I have suspicions. The space is as anonymous
as a brochure: not a particle on the carpet;
cards wishing her a happy something
lined up faultless on the mantelpiece.
 
Easier to think she’s on the payroll, Equity Card
tucked inside her model’s-own purse.
Easier that than to accept she really lives
like this: all lights up, nothing to hide.


Conservation Status

Least concern                            More than you can shake a stick at
Near threatened                         Enough for you to shake a stick at
Vulnerable                                  I wish you would put that stick down
Endangered                               Can’t see the wood for the trees
Critically endangered                 What is the sound of a tree falling
Extinct in the wild                       What is the sound of no trees falling
Extinct                                        What is a tree


Friday 7 June 2024

Serge ♆ Neptune, "Mother Night"

 

Serge ♆ Neptune, photo by Sofia Falconi

Serge ♆ Neptune has been called "the little merman of British poetry." He is a Faber Academy alumnus and a queer neuro-divergent poet based in London. His first pamphlet, These Queer Merboys, was published with Broken Sleep (2020). His work was longlisted in the National Poetry Competition and the Winchester Poetry Competition. Several poems have appeared in The North, Propel, The Rialto, Banshee, Magma, Fourteen Poems, and elsewhere. 


Cover Image ©Kremena Chipilova, "Lost in Reverie"


About Mother Night
Mother Night is a hallucinogenic journey across a city with too many alleyways and across a life surviving childhood sexual assault. Forming a nocturnal séance, Serge ♆ Neptune resurrects abusive old lovers and ghosts of the queers of the past – conjures men in cars and men in bedrooms – providing them invitation and shelter, or casting them to stormy waves.

In a book of many types of darkness – across poems of vulnerability and harm – what persists in Mother Night is its celebration of resilience, what shines brightest is the many ways it reaches for the light.


From Mother Night, by Serge ♆ Neptune

my block of flats on the new cross rd
is now a giant record player. memories
crackle from afar. graffiti from the sides

of houses leave the walls, join
the parade of the reckless. night is a bag
of marbles dropped – each one rolling

over cars & people. i succumb
to their pace & weight, their love-tight gripe,
brace & crumble under the pressure

of the encounter. maybe this city
indulges us because it needs to – mother
swan devouring her cygnets – to keep

its foot on us, to cook us slowly.
gravity trips me, i fall. night drips red-hot
on the brain, lifts visions from its marshes.

i squeeze my body to define
my territory against a hostile world. i believe
in my mistakes. i carry them out proudly

like a pair of eyes on a purple glass dish –
my head, crowned with candles.

Thursday 6 June 2024

Abi Hynes, "Monstrous Longing"



Abi Hynes is an award-winning drama and fiction writer based in Manchester, UK. She wrote the first four episodes of historical audio drama Dark Harbour for Audible, and is currently developing many original dramas for TV. Her script Long Lost was on the Brit List in 2022, and she has recently adapted Anne of Green Gables for audio drama for Audible, starring Catherine O'Hara and Victor Garber and narrated by Sandra Oh.

As a playwright, her work has been staged in theatres across the UK, and she works regularly with LGBT History Month, bringing forgotten queer stories to life on stage. Her short stories have appeared in a wide variety of journals, magazines and anthologies; she won the Cambridge Short Story Prize in 2020, and her debut short story collection, Monstrous Longing, was published by Dahlia Books in October 2023.



About Monstrous Longing

A desperate mother buys a love potion to win back her daughter’s affection. An actress has a forbidden encounter with her animal body double. An idyllic new home comes with an unexpected lodger – a poltergeist.

Exploring themes of desire, womanhood, and obsession, Abi Hynes’s collection of short stories is sometimes funny, sometimes uncanny, but never too far from the truth.

You can read more about Monstrous Longing on the publisher's website herehere. Below, you can read an excerpt from one of the stories in the collection. 


From Monstrous Longing, by Abi Hynes

From "The Something"

It was hard for Andrea to pinpoint the exact moment she became aware of the Something in her house. It had always had a sort of personality, squat little new-build that it was. Its roots spread deeper than was immediately obvious from outside. Its kitchen delved into the ground in a bizarrely old-fashioned design that left its little windows peeping just above the front lawn, offering an ankle-only view of passers-by to whoever did the washing up.

Other aspects of its layout seemed to defy logic and good sense. The two first floor bedrooms connected with each other, corridor-style. You had to pass through the ensuite to reach either of them, rending the guest room ... Well. Bloody inappopriate for guests.

The house asserted its own character with a pleasing confidence. It was one of the reasons Andrea had bought it. (An impulsive purchase, a Fuck it, why shouldn’t I? Giving off that dizzy rush of power. I am master of my own destiny!) Quickly, the house felt like a companion. It was co-conspirator in her emancipation from sharing unsatisfying flats with unsatisfying friends. She liked the Something, especially coming home on quiet, dark nights. The house’s confidence was catching.

The Something started small. It was the towel she noticed first (though there might have been other things before. Andrea could be dreamy. Unobservant). Clean and dry and folded neatly on a now-closed toilet lid. It was an unambiguous gesture, as there was no question of Andrea having put it there herself. Her towels were never folded, never carried in preparation to the bathroom. Her journey, dripping and shivering, to the airing cupboard in the guest bedroom, and then back, was part of her morning routine.

As a gesture, it didn’t frighten her. Her house wasn’t like old houses. It didn’t groan and whistle and scrape when the wind got up. It only sat there, resolutely silent, its burglar alarm and double-glazing primed against intruders, all its corners clean and cheerful. The Something was not a grisly intruder, Andrea was sure. It was just … the house itself.


Friday 24 May 2024

Creative Writing Student Showcase 2024: The Recording

 


As many of you will know, during this year's amazing Literary Leicester Festival, we ran our third annual Creative Writing Student Showcase on the evening of Wednesday 20 March 2024. It was a wonderful event, featuring brilliant readings from BA, MA, PhD Creative Writing students and graduates, including Beth Gaylard, Grace Klemperer, Hannah Mitchell, Lisa Williams, Kathy Hoyle, Jack Peachey, Laurie Cusack, Daneil Hibberd, Tracey Foster, Rob Reeves, Isobel Copley, Alexander Osani, Oleksandra Korshunova and Laura Besley. Thank you to everyone involved: the speakers, the organisers and the fantastically supportive audience. 

You can now listen to a recording of the Creative Writing Student Showcase event on Literary Leicester's podcast channel here



Thursday 16 May 2024

Some Useful Online Resources for Creative Writers

By Jonathan Taylor



Recently, I've given a couple of short talks - one as a guest at Loughborough University, one as part of our own MA Creative Writing Dissertation Day - introducing online resources that might be useful for Creative Writing students. So I thought I might also share some of the main links here. 

There are, of course, huge numbers of useful websites on writing, publishing, and opportunities in the arts sector. What follows are just a few key starting-points. They include sites which feature listings of writing opportunities, sites which have useful electronic newsletters, and sites which list jobs in the arts sector. There are many more out there. It's worth noting that some of these sites are time-specific, so may well change in the (near-)future. 

Useful online resources for writers: a selection

Everybody's Reviewing, our very own review site, is always looking for book and event reviews.

Creative Writing at Leicester has a dedicated strand about writing in professional contexts, with lots of articles on the subject. 

Creative Writing at Leicester University Facebook group is constantly updated with news, opportunities, calls for submissions and job opportunities. 

NAWE Writers' Compass is an excellent listing site for writing opportunities, submission calls, events and jobs. 

Writing East Midlands is the public writers' agency for the region. They produce a newsletter, give advice, provide mentoring and training services, and run lots of events and competitions.

Leicester Writers' Club is a vibrant community of writers in and around Leicester. 

Arts Council England provide funding to arts organisations, as well as individual writers. You can apply for an individual grant to develop your work via the "Developing Your Creative Practice" scheme. Details of the DYCP scheme are here

Arts Jobs is run by Arts Council England, and lists job opportunities in the arts sector across the UK. 

Jobs.ac.uk is the central resource for all jobs in Higher Education, including postgraduate opportunities. 

BBC Careers is the central hub for all job opportunities and work experience in the BBC. 

BBC Writersroom is the first port of call for writers interested in writing for the BBC. The site includes lots of resources, information and opportunities. 

The Bookseller has listings of job opportunities in publishing. 

The Writers' and Artists' Yearbook, both online and in hardcopy form, includes lots of advice alongside listings of publishers and literary agents. 

The Dots lists lots of current freelance writing opportunities. (Thanks to MA Creative Writing student Ayan Artan for this suggestion). 

Sian Meades-Williams provides a useful weekly freelance writing newsletter, including jobs and opportunities across the UK. (Thanks to MA Creative Writing student Kristy Diaz for this suggestion). 

Wordbox blog has monthly listings of writing opportunities, and lots of other information about publishing. 

Published to Death is an excellent resource which includes listings of agents, publishers and magazines looking for submissions. 

Short Stops website is no longer being updated, but includes excellent listings of literary magazines and other resources. 

Neon Magazine also has an excellent list of literary magazines in the UK and beyond. 

CLMP has a big directory of (primarily US) publishers. 


Saturday 11 May 2024

"Nature, the Environment and Sustainability" Competition: Winning Entries 5

Over five days, we're delighted to be publishing the winning entries from the short story competition, "Nature, the Environment and Sustainability," which ran in 2023-4. The competition, commissioned by the University of Leicester’s Centre for New Writing and Centre for Environmental Health and Sustainability, was judged by the celebrated nature writer, Mark Cocker, and showcased at this year’s Literary Leicester free literature festival.

You can see the results here. There were two winners, one specially commended entry, and two runners-up. Each day, we've been publishing one of these winning entries. Today, you can read one the two winning stories, "Flood" by Sophie Sparham. 

Sophie Sparham is a writer from Derby. She has written commissions for BBC Radio 4, The V&A and The People’s History Museum. Sophie co-hosts the poetry night "Word Wise" which won Best Spoken Word Night at the 2019 Saboteur Awards.



Flood

It came and went as Kingfishers always do, a vibrant flash of blue, gone in an instant. I was at work when I got the call: drive my car through young torrents and leave it at the top of the valley. There, at the dulling edge of twilight, I parked by a pub, trudged down fields thick with new mud, cow and sheep shit. The fields below were gone, in their place a sky had been cut into the landscape, wavering in the breeze. Eons of deep blue stretching beyond the borders of the farms. The track leading to the house had disappeared, in its place, a river. I lowered myself in, the water climbing my jeans, veins of wanting. Blue on blue, backwards waterfall, weighing down my clothes. My legged pressed against the current; a different kind of gravity, a moving landscape, dragging at my sides.  

It arrived uninvited, lapping against the front door as we sat in the cool of the dining room, the air thick with laughter and the steam of freshly cooked stew. The paint, eroding slowly like a cliff edge, flaked from the walls, as we served pumpkins and sweet chestnuts, all grown and foraged from our land. No one mentioned the dirt under our nails, the ache in our backs from lugging thick sandbags across gravel. No one cried out about faith or science. The sheep had been herded to high ground, the motorbikes ridden in wellies to a place where the land-locked tide could not touch them. The cooker, fridge and sofa balanced on industrial bricks, black as coal. And we sat and drank tea and waited. 

I thought of my childhood home, my father brushing away the water that dared approach our house. The way my parents removed the swallow’s nest from above their door and poisoned the mice that had the nerve to enter the garage. They taught me nature was something to be pushed away, something other. But here, I’d learnt to live with the seasons. To let go of winter’s leaves, to study patterns of frost and fell trees into fire. Here, I let the evergreen needles fall and witnessed the arrivals of catkins, ash keys and buds. Here, I listened for the call of the chiffchaff in April, the cry of the buzzard, the croak of the raven. I walked in bluebells and wildflowers and the precise silence only beech woods can hold. I welcomed the family of bees who moved into the slates of my roof, to let them live. Each night, I’d hear them beating their wings in unison, metres away from my head. I used to fear bees, but night after night, I'd listen eagerly, amazed until they hummed me to sleep. Why should the flood be any different? Like autumn in all its golds, this too is a miracle. The way water can reclaim a landscape in liquid pause. The way it holds us still.    

We left the dishes in the sink and ventured outside to stand in the garden. The grass danced differently underwater, the strands bending in slow motion beneath the light of headtorches. The green reminded me of spring, when everything felt new born. The neon leaves of woodlands, the way their colour yelled at bark and soil. Owls screeched as we smoked fags down to the filter and discussed where constellations might be behind maps of obscuring cloud. There was a calmness, listening to the rain against the corrugated roof while the rising tide baptised our floor. Some of us stayed awake, as water climbed gurling up their drains, meeting it with rags and mops. You and I slept, tangled like pond weed, dreamt of oceans, the deluge kissing the kitchen tiles below. 

The following day, you penned a mark on the wall, added a date to the height. I remarked at how much it had grown; each year a few inches taller. My friend left the same marks on her kitchen wall to measure her growing toddler. Each time I visited the house, he would show me his progress and smile. Years ago, it had reached the first floor. I wondered if anyone was else was thinking about this as we paddled through the vegetable patch and watched plant pots float into the distance. Waders called to one another. I could see them, two swans and a great egret, in the field beyond the drystone wall. Curious bullocks tried to approach their new neighbours, as a kingfisher dived for newly displaced fish. When I sat inside, and stared out beyond the large glass window, it made me feel like I was on a boat, journeying downstream. Part of me wanted to stay, to live in a world dictated by new streams and seas. To walk sky after sky, flying as the fish did between countries redrawn. 

By lunch, it was gone from the buildings, leaving only silt and patterns of dirt behind. We emptied the house to its slick bones, blasted music from tinny speakers and bathed it like a child; slowly, tender, in warm, soapy water. I watched the bubbles wash over my skin, the colour slowly changing to beige then chocolate and finally deep brown. When my bucket was more dirt than water, I threw it into the undergrowth, watched by an onlooking robin, then returned to the shower, which I'd been using as my filling station. The water severed us from the world, and would do for a few more days. I didn’t mind. I soon forgot about my phone, the emails I had to write. Now there was only me and this sponge, thoughts unbroken by tomorrow. I cleaned each drawer separately, christened the living room table, praised the bags of oats and lentils. I mopped the floor three times, removing layer upon layer of river, peeling back the months of dirt that the passage of life had created. 

I knew a poet who was scared of the countryside. He told me everything here was so uncertain, that there were too many things that could go wrong. He said that I lived in Mary Oliver country. To me, the city is far more unpredictable, its rhythms of chaos and charge, its edges so sure of themselves.

My friends often ask why I live where I live. We know the waters will come again; that the river will leave the implied safety of its banks and dance with the dirt. They talk about it as though it’s the cause of the problem. As though we haven’t pulled up the trees, or created miles upon miles of agricultural landscape. Rivers are migratory creatures; it’s us who pretend we have tamed them into stillness, who have sculpted the world to our needs and expected no consequences. 

There are days when we go out onto the field with coffee and sit beneath the collapsing canopy in the dew. You point out the sparrowhawk as the mist rises. The hay bales we bought for summer are sprouting now, green shoots bursting through mustard yellow. Once, on one of our circular navigations around the field, we saw a pile of bright colours in the distance. I cursed beneath my breath, thinking of the teenagers with the tiny motorcross bike the night before; the way they had marveled at my Royal Enfield. They’d asked me if was ok to stay on our land and I had told them yes, shooing away the police. Now I felt my judgement to be misguided, looking at the mess that had been left behind, the remains of a party which I hadn’t been part of. As we approached the mound, I saw the bright white of a PVA bottle, the red and yellow Kodak logo, brown glass stripped of its label, a wide hole in the grass. This had nothing to do with wayward youth; it was the start of a new badger set, burrowed into the landfill that hides beneath these fields. The only reason we were able to buy this land was due to its toxicity, the abandoned relics, untarnished by time. It amazes me how quickly it can all change. In the summer, this field is a flurry of butterflies, crickets and bees. Now, the trees are golden and circles of mushrooms glisten in circles below boots. I like to stand beneath the copper beech and try and catch the falling bronze, stare at the canoe full of rain water and know that we didn’t have to use it. Not this time. 

Sometimes, on calmer days, it is our turn to visit the river. We take off our clothes, jump into freezing currents and scream as feet brush against fallen trees claimed by the rushing gloom. When the sky was cloudless, we blew up the blue mattress and paddled downstream with oars. You told me you couldn’t swim, that you were scared of fish, and I laughed at how ridiculous it all was. It’s hard to explain this world. The joy it brings.  

My friends tell me the water is coming and all I can say is, thank god, thank god.


Friday 10 May 2024

"Nature, the Environment and Sustainability" Competition: Winning Entries 4

Over five days, we're delighted to be publishing the winning entries from the short story competition, "Nature, the Environment and Sustainability," which ran in 2023-4. The competition, commissioned by the University of Leicester’s Centre for New Writing and Centre for Environmental Health and Sustainability, was judged by the celebrated nature writer, Mark Cocker, and showcased at this year’s Literary Leicester free literature festival.

You can see the results here. There were two winners, one specially commended entry, and two runners-up. Each day, we're publishing one of these winning entries. Today, you can read one of the two winning stories, "The Fog Harvesters," by Lee Wright.

Lee Wright is a naturalist and cinephile. He is currently working towards a PhD researching memoir and film’s relationship to reality. 



The Fog Harvesters

Bekele and his wife Kidist spend their nights in the forest, high in the mountains of central Kenya. They collect water from the trees, carry the yellow plastic jerrycans to their home, put empty ones back out. Bekele looks at Kidist, shadowed by a towering tree as she pins a plastic sheet made from discarded packaging to the bark. Together they wait for the fog to come and the water to form on the tree. Bekele can almost hear the moisture as it slowly rolls down the trunk, onto the plastic and into the jerrycan. The night cools and Bekele pulls on his wool hat, zips up his old fleece. Kidist gives the jerrycan a little kick with the toe of her rubber boot, ‘We need the trees to cry,’ she says.

It was Kidist who taught Bekele about the fog, how the forest heats up during the day, causing the moisture to evaporate into the air, and how the moisture condenses in the cool night. She puts a finger to the bark and wets her lips with a water droplet.

‘We must have tears,’ she says.

As a boy, Bekele watched his mother and father struggle to bring enough water to their home. The rainy season often failed them. Kidist tests the plastic sheet and moves on to the next tree. Bekele has seen the rivers drying up, remembers the feeling of his mother’s dried lips when she kissed him goodnight. The droughts have followed him into adulthood. It is a curse that Kidist is trying to lift. Drought is the war they both fight. Collecting the fog and dew has been handed down through Kidist’s family for generations, her parents would use banana leaves and metal pots. Bekele’s arms are shaky from carrying the jerrycans, which seem to sprout from the trees like roots. Nothing exists without water. The fog keeps Bekele, Kidist and their cow alive. In their small house, Kidist will boil the water and give her husband a cup and they will wearily toast another successful night of harvesting, while batting away the insects, sending them reeling.  Sometimes they wash one another in the tears from the trees. Bekele pours a jug over his wife’s shoulders and kisses her skin.

From the house, Bekele often watches Kidist whisper into the ear of their cow she named Nuru, after the daughter they lost. Their one and only child. His wife will take a break each day to whisper something to Nuru. He never asks what it is she whispers. Perhaps she is promising more water? Nuru recognises Kidist every time. Once a week Kidist will go to their daughter’s resting place and not return from the small grave until it is time to harvest the fog. When his wife is sad, Bekele feels like a chained-up dog, unable to do anything good for her. 

Kidist says the best sound is that of the water sloshing back and forth as they carry the jerrycans and she is right. The best feeling is when she wriggles her toes in the water when they have enough of it to bathe in. Before Bekele harnessed the fog from the trees, he would walk three miles along the dirt roads with his mother to a school where there was a water tap. Bekele would close his eyes and run his hand over the corrugated steel of the school’s structure as they waited their turn at the tap. Inside the school was a bird in a metal cage. He noticed the way the bird would watch as the people stood in line. His mother would say that his deceased grandmother was the bird. Look, Bekele, she is watching you, she is watching, and she hears when you complain. She is grinning away at her grandchild. See the movement of her head? And Bekele would stand, his feet in a dust cloud. He wondered if the bird ever sang, would it be a sorrow song? He never thought it was just a lie. He thinks of that bird when the fog is moved by the wind. He will never forget how his family would spend entire days thirsty, how his father sometimes writhed with agony. His father always ached. He wishes that his mother was here. He would say, listen how the night is full of crying trees. He would show her how the fog comes and wipes away their thirst.

‘There are places in this world where you can stand and be totally at peace,’ Kidist says.

Above her, the branches bend towards and away from each other. Bekele looks at his cracked knuckles – his father’s knuckles. The trees follow one another. In the village, some of the people sleep. Kidist has her eye on the damp bark. The jerrycans gradually fill, a good night for fog, but there is no applause. Bekele moves between the trees, his head going down a little with tiredness. No one, he thinks, will be able to find them amongst these trees, too tall to see over. As the fog crawls, he feels restored, taken out of himself. He counts the trees like he counts his blessings. As far as Bekele is concerned, they have no choice. Harvest the fog or die, and he has never much fancied dying. The trees seem to grow taller every night. It makes him feel almost safe. Almost. In the fog, Bekele’s breathing becomes calm. The water is on its way. Bekele rubs at his thin chest as he walks through the dark. Kidist shouts at him to come, two jerrycans are ready. Bekele takes hold, one in each hand.

‘You go,’ Kidist says.

Bekele can hear the rhythmic slosh of the water as he heads for home. He is fulfilling his mother’s destiny. He forgets the discomfort, thinks of nothing but endless water. Tomorrow he will wash. It will be good to feel clean. At the house he investigates the piece of mirror Kidist keeps bedside their mattress. Bekele feels sure he will see the face of his father. He hopes to meet his parents again in the afterlife, where he will tell them about the fog and the trees. He looks at his dirty fleece. Twelve years he has had this one fleece. He stares hard at himself. At the narrow scar on his throat. He cannot help wishing he was rich. Somewhere nearby a child is wailing. He can’t remember the sound Nuru made when she cried. He takes a drop of un-boiled water from a jerrycan, hears again the wailing child. Bekele wants to sit down and close his eyes, but he rolls up both sleeves and walks back to the forest. Kidist is hoping the fog will be heavy tonight. There is no way of knowing now if the fog will be enough. They move together, checking jerrycan after jerrycan. Kidist has never been frightened of the forest at night. She sometimes mocks Bekele for his fear. There is only one thing that frightens his wife and that is not having enough water.

‘You’re quiet,’ she says.

‘I am remembering my mother,’ Bekele says.

Kidist considers this for a second. She moves close to her husband, puts her hand in his. He kisses her on the head, and she stands back, nods. He can see her kindness. He also sees the possibility of a waterless future for them. He is trying to piece together what might happen if the fog one night vanishes and never returns. To think they will have to again walk so far just for water. On some nights, the fog is nothing. Bekele and Kidist flit from shadow to shadow, touching the bark. Some trees have bark like sharp teeth, though the trees have never drawn blood from Kidist or Bekele. Their eyes got used to the darkness long ago, but they still move carefully, giddy for the mist. Bekele imagines what it would be like to leap into the ocean. He would be foolish at first. Go in too deep and stay in too long until the water had softened his skin. He will never see so much water. They collect the moisture to help not just themselves, but those who cannot make it to the forest and whose mouths are dry. Kidist watches the plastic sheets attentively. Bekele can see her eyes. Her hands move to the tree, several times she taps the bark, nodding her head. All they can do now is wait. Bekele clears his throat. Long stretches of waiting.

‘I should have been born a tree,’ Kidist says.

Bekele keeps his hands by his sides.

‘Then you would live a long time,’ he says.

The moonlight cools Bekele’s face. It sits on his heart. Ignites his lungs. The trees are giants, who stand great and still. The forest, Bekele, and Kidist are determined to live and live and live.

‘The fog will come,’ she tells him, ‘It will come. All we have to do is wait.’


Thursday 9 May 2024

"Nature, the Environment and Sustainability" Competition: Winning Entries 3

Over five days, we're delighted to be publishing the winning entries from the short story competition, "Nature, the Environment and Sustainability," which ran in 2023-4. The competition, commissioned by the University of Leicester’s Centre for New Writing and Centre for Environmental Health and Sustainability was judged by the celebrated nature writer, Mark Cocker, and showcased at this year’s Literary Leicester free literature festival.

You can see the results here. There were two winners, one specially commended entry, and two runners-up. Each day, we're publishing one of these winning entries. Today, you can read the specially commended story "Before the Grasses," by Alice Newitt.

Alice Newitt is a Physics graduate who currently works for the University of Leicester's careers service. She has a passion for hopeful and imaginative literature.



Before the Grasses

or the musings of an immortal being waiting for the world to end

Before the grasses, there were ferns. They would brush against my legs as I walked across the plains, moss squidgy beneath my toes. When I came across a cliff edge or a great basin waiting to be filled, I would do like one of the living creatures and creep around the edge, as if I wasn’t a friend of Death but instead afraid of her.

The others used to laugh. 

‘What do you even do?’ they would ask me. ‘You aren’t the sun or the moon. You don’t reroute rivers or hang the stars. You don’t create life or take it away - you just wander through these valleys and hills, getting in everybody’s way.’

But they never could understand. I was here long before they were, I was here at the start and I am still here at the end, and so I turned away from them and turned towards the world. 

*

Like the Earth, I was forged in fire. I watched as the moon was formed from the ring of rocks surrounding the Earth, and at first it was so close that I could reach out and touch it, my arms stretching out for tens of thousands of miles just to feel the touch of another celestial body. The Earth itself was spinning so fast that I would straddle it and shriek in delight for millennia. One time, I stretched right out and touched the sun, just for fun. The plasma dripped off my finger like dew. I spent a thousand years letting meteorites prickle my back, the ground beneath me hardening like plaster, water starting to pool around my feet. I let the moon drag me across the seas on its tides. 

As the Earth’s rotation slowed, I took refuge on an island, lava warming my thighs. A meteorite landed in my hair. I picked it out and licked it. I ran across cooling rocks so quickly that I could scarcely feel them at all, and then I dived into the newly pooling ocean and let the water soak through my pores.

This was all thousands of millions of years ago.

*

I’d first noticed the emergence of life when I’d taken a gulp out of my favourite sea and noticed that it had a new taste.

‘That will have been the oxygen,’ Life would tell me later once he had finally crawled out of the ocean. ‘It is what allows all of this to be.’ 

That was Life all over – by ‘all of this,’ he meant only the breathing things, not the rocks or the fire or the ocean, as if only life is alive, as if the Earth’s surface had never ripped apart and continents never spread like syrup. I was there when he first climbed out of the primordial soup, all gloopy and gunky and even then, he had thought that he had known everything about everything, telling me what I was and what I wasn’t, as if I’d been waiting for him all this time. 

But I still loved him. Together, we rode tectonic plates until we grew dizzy, and the days were long, so long, sometimes twenty-two hours or more. I would show him things that he would never think to notice and in return he would show me his creations – spongy archaeocyathids, trilobites crawling over my waist, algae caking the seafloor. The sea levels rose and the summers were balmy and I used to stretch my hands out and cry out in delight at it all. 

‘What do you call this?’ I asked him. 

‘The Cambrian explosion,’ he told me. 

*

Time only goes forward, and as the Earth spun ever more quickly, Life pontificated and life proliferated: great trees soaring upwards; ferns spreading outwards and then the grasses, and the creatures: a hominid standing erect, a dolphin plunging through the waves. 

And then it was a morning late in the Holocene, some four billion years since Life had first come along, and, for some decades, we had been sitting on a hillside watching the settlement in the valley down below us crawl and sprawl. I lifted a hand to allow the hominids to install a cable car tower beside us. I watched Life gaze numbly at the scars in the forest and saw that it would soon be time for him to leave. 

‘Stay a little longer,’ I asked him. 

‘It’s not my choice,’ he said, and I believed him. The humans were barely in their adolescence and the dark side of the globe sparkled like starlight. He would have stayed if he could. There was glacial meltwater rushing down the mountainsides and the air was growing ashy. There was a fire coming, and there was little left for he and I to do. 

*

For a century and an afternoon, I stayed in the valley. Life drifted between me and the world, but I mostly just lay there, watching the smoke-filled sky, and thought of a time long ago, back before Life left the ocean, back to when the Earth was covered in ice, the whole planet white. I would try and outrun the encroaching night, snow crunching beneath my feet as I chased across the Earth’s surface. I hadn’t known that there was anything to miss. 

The others had laughed. 

‘And so it has been decided, Earth,’ they told me. ‘You shall end in ice.’ 

‘I am not Earth,’ I reminded them.  ‘I am the witness, and I shall watch the Earth, whether it ends in fire or ice or those things in-between. I was here when the Earth was created and I will be here when it ends, and I know that no matter what, I shall always be here. Amongst them.’ 

They listened to me, and then laughed and turned away again, and I knew that it was no good. They never would understand. 

*

The forest was still burning; I witnessed it as I was lying there in that burning valley. I observed it and I did nothing. I just lay there and felt the heat of the fire and the spray of the water and tried to imagine that I was still skating on Snowball Earth, or else amongst the ferns of the late Devonian, so green and so verdant. 

‘Excuse me, ma’am.’ 

There was a hominid looking down at me. He was one of the ones here to put out the fire - I could tell by the hat and boots. He’d never succeed, and, as I glanced down at his ruined torso, I saw that in fact he had already lost. I looked at his outstretched hand. 

‘She’ll be along soon,’ I told him, meaning Death. ‘She’s just busy someplace else.’ 

‘You can’t stay here,’ he told me. 

‘It won’t burn me. I was forged in fire.’

But he didn’t move, just stayed standing there, with his hand outstretched. How could they not know me, I wondered as I looked up at this one. How could they not know me after all this time?

‘This isn’t the first mass extinction event that I’ve seen.’ I told him. ‘It’s nothing personal - I didn’t save any of the others either, not even the wattieza trees or psaronius ferns. I watched as they died and I did nothing at all.’ 

He continued to stand there.

‘I’d get moving if I were you,’ I said. ‘Maybe if you go quickly, Death won’t find you. Perhaps if you run, you could outrun her, outrun the Earth, but it wouldn’t make much difference. You’ll all be gone soon, making space for whatever comes next.’ Will there be anything next, I wondered, once Life is gone? And then I almost smiled to myself, because that was a Life-like way of thinking – to be unable to imagine a future without itself. But I didn’t smile, I just lay there and gazed up at this hominid’s outstretched hand. It made no difference. I had let all of the others die.

‘I’m not who you are looking for,’ I told him. ‘I cannot save you.’

‘I know,’ he said. ‘I’m here to save you.’ 

I listened to his words, and then watched as he died. Oh, Life. You knew everything and you knew nothing at all. 

*

I saw out the remainder of Earth’s time alone, a million years at a time, and now finally I sit here, alone on this hillside, waiting for the sun to go out and extinguish a world that I have seen die over and over. 

Nobody likes a witness, that was something that I had discovered early on. No one likes the one who watches, nobody cares for the bystander who sees it all and lets it happen. But as I look at the Earth now, I understand why it needed me. All its inhabitants’ lives were so short. They could scarcely comprehend the rise and fall of their own civilisations, never mind the rise and fall of their species. I have been here to watch the Earth through all its triumphs and disasters. I was put here to see all of it, for what would be the point of it, if there were nobody to observe it? And so I watch it still, waiting for the end, and think of all the lifeforms that have lived and died, of the ice and snow, the leafy Devonian, of the hominids and their creations, of the fires before and after. 

‘You can’t feel sadness,’ Life had told me, the day that I saw the last tree fall.

‘I know,’ I told him, but sometimes I felt as if I did. Sometimes I felt that I could drown the Earth. 

The sky is turning red, and now black, here in this final second in which the Earth exists, before the second in which it will not.

‘What will happen, do you think?’ Life had once asked me. ‘Once all of this is done?’

‘I don’t know what will come after,’ I said. ‘But I know how it will end. You will be one of the first to go: created over millions of years, blown out in an afternoon. The others will leave not long after, until at the end, it will be only me. Maybe, when this planet turns back to fire and dust, so will I. Or maybe I’ll be thrown far away, to some distant place, where I’ll fall to the ground and watch as the stars go out, one by one.’

‘How can you bear it?’ Life had asked, cowering from the bleakness of my vision.

‘Well, who knows?’ I told him, wanting, despite everything, to give him hope. And perhaps, in that moment, I needed hope too. ‘Maybe it won’t happen like that. Maybe the sun will burn forever. Maybe you will never leave. Maybe I am right, when I say that things will never go back to how they once were. But who knows: when all of this is done, when the Earth is gone and the sky is dark, maybe then, we will all go round again.’