Monday, 9 October 2017

"Ruhi": Short Story by Amirah Mohiddin

Congratulations to MA Creative Writing student Amirah Mohiddin, whose story "Ruhi" has just been published by Litro Magazine. You can read it here. 

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

"The Looter": A Short Story by Aiysha Khan

Aiysha Khan is a MA Creative Writing student at the University of Leicester. She is enjoys writing horror stories and psychological thrillers which have unconventional twists, and that reveal parts of human nature and intense emotions not experienced in every day life. She is currently working on a short story collection and collaborating with an illustrator, to creative a graphic novel. The following story forms part of her Creative Writing Dissertation.

The Looter

He walked into the forest at the crack of dawn as the early morning light crested over Mount Fuji. He was going to score big today, he just knew it. September had the highest yield of any month; he’d definitely find a few mobile phones and iPods, hopefully some expensive jewellery and maybe he could steal an abandoned car. His hands started to twitch at the thought of treasure lying a few steps away, ripe for the taking. 

Before he took off down the path, he gave a quick look to his left and right. The last thing he needed was a police patrol coming his way. They might think he wanted to kill himself. 

‘No Keiji-san, I’ve just come to loot the bodies …’ Yeah, that would go down well.

With this in mind, he crept down the path and passed a bunch of wooden signs along the way. 


caught his eye as he passed a sign and he shook his head at how feeble these words were. A precious gift from your parents. ‘No. Your life is your own,’ he thought. Not that he particularly cared, he was here for one thing and one thing only. Money. 

He had walked for about an hour before he decided it was time to venture off the path. When he thought he had found a good spot, he opened up his satchel bag and took out a roll of neon pink tape. He wrapped it around the nearest tree multiple times, to make sure it was secure. With a final tug, he set off from the path and meandered his way across roots and lava rock. The forest was silent. All that could be heard was the crunching of twigs underneath his booted soles. He nearly fell a couple of times and cursed out loud, kicking loose rocks and roots that threatened to topple him. He carried on like this for some time, unwinding the pink tape behind him, before he saw something through the trees that caught his eye. A yellow tent. He hurried over towards it but as he got nearer, he crouched down and watched for any movement. The last thing he needed was for someone to actually be in the fucking tent. 

He crawled through the trees, around the tent until he came to the entrance. It was empty. He got up and went to investigate. He found old men’s clothes, papers and a book. He picked up the book and turned it over. Kuroi Jukai by Seichō Matsumoto. 

‘Of course, it fucking is,’ he whispered as he tossed the book to the ground. If there was one thing he was definitely going to find on his little raids, it was always Kuroi Jukai and Kanzen Jisatsu Manyuaru by Wataru Tsurumi. 

‘If these guys knew how literally people took their words about this place, would they regret writing their books?’ he wondered, before he concluded, ‘Probably not. They’ve made a shit ton of money.’

He left the tent and, to his right, he saw a yellow line of fresh tape leading further into the forest. Maybe the tent guy was up ahead? He decided to follow it. He left the pink tape, which had practically run out, for the yellow one, ducking under branches until he came to a stop. Hanging from a tree in front of him was a body. He could see a glint of metal on its wrist. He hurried over and saw it was a watch. It wasn’t anything fancy but it would get a few thousand yen if he flipped it to the right person. He went to reach for it, but he stopped as he realised the wrist was still warm. 

The Looter took a step back and looked at the body in front of him. Usually, he didn’t care. They were just corpses, rotten and deformed, no longer human. But this one had been alive not too long ago. Something on the ground caught his eye, and he noticed a brown, leather wallet. He opened it.  Inside was a few hundred yen and an I.D. 

Takahashi Itsuki

According to the I.D. the kid was sixteen years old. Sixteen years old! What could a sixteen-year-old possibly have to worry about that they needed to hang themselves in a place like this? Itsuki was spelt with the kanji 一喜 meaning ‘One and Only Happiness’. How insulting. He placed the wallet back on the ground and looked at the body once more. 

‘Well, Itsuki-kun, you’re one with this Sea of Trees now. You probably won’t be found and your body will swing here as it rots. Is this what you wanted?’ 

He shook his head as he watched the body sway. His eyes darted towards the watch and the wallet, but he thought to himself, ‘Not this time.’ 

The Looter looked around the forest once more before he set off back the way he came. This place was giving him the fucking creeps.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Short Story by Sonia Tailor

Sonia Tailor is studying an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. She is a peace activist who enjoys writing short stories and monologues. She has organised vigils and demonstrations, and in 2007, she travelled to Jordan to make a documentary about Iraqi refugee children. For many years, Sonia was the Youth Page editor for Peace News (newspaper) and she currently runs a book blog on Instagram: @soniareads. 

Below is a story-monologue she has written for her Dissertation. 


I’m woken by the airhostess taping my shoulder. 

‘Here’s your vegetarian meal, Mrs Abbas,’ she says. She hands me a compressed curry with a small bun.

‘Thanks,’ I reply.

‘And here’s your food, Miss Abbas,’ she says with a huge smile. She hands Aaliyah a smaller version of my food and an activity pack.

‘Thank you, Miss Aeroplane Woman,’ replies Aaliyah, who’s sitting next to me.

‘You’re very welcome,’ says the airhostess as she walks away with her trolley.

I give Aaliyah a kiss on her head and unwrap her food. She has my headphones on and is happily nodding to Bebe’s ‘No Broken Hearts’. This is one of her favourite songs. Her father, my husband, introduced it to her. Every Saturday he would play pop music on his laptop and Aaliyah would dance with him. Then the next Monday Aaliyah would always tell her class about the different songs they danced to. 

Bebe’s song was also playing in the car when my husband parked at Heathrow airport this morning. 

‘Daddy, daddy, please come to holiday with us,’ said Aaliyah. My husband turned down the radio.

He squeezed her tightly. ‘Sorry I can’t come, my cutie pie. I have very important work things to do. But I hope you have a really nice time. Love you so much,’ he gave her a loving kiss on the cheek. ‘You mean the world to me.’

He then looked at me with his deep, brown eyes.

‘Have a good time, Amina,’ he said. ‘Say salaam to your Mum and Dad from me, yeah? I’ll pick you guys up at the same spot when you get back.’ He gave me a hug and a quick peck on the lips. His touch, warm. His lips, tender. My handsome, cheating husband.

Aaliyah’s given up on the curry and is now colouring in a picture of an aeroplane from the activity pack.


‘Yes, sweetie?’

‘Can I show this picture in show and tell in school when we come back to England?’

It’s then that I tell her: ‘We’re not going back, honey. Pakistan will be our new home from now on.’

Monday, 4 September 2017

Short Film about the MA in Creative Writing

The University of Leicester has made a new short film about the MA in Creative Writing, which you can see here:

It can also be viewed at this link:

Many thanks to current MA in Creative Writing student, Sonia Tailor, for talking so eloquently about the course. 

Monday, 21 August 2017

Poem by Michelle McGrane

Michelle McGrane's collection The Suitable Girl is published by Pindrop Press in the United Kingdom and Modjaji Books in South Africa. She lives in Johannesburg.

Michelle writes of the following poem: "The poem was included in a beautiful anthology of poetry and art, edited by Agnes Marton, called Drifting Down the LaneFor a while I've been intrigued and enchanted by the magical work of French scientist, botanist and artist, Patrick Blanc, and his creation of green walls and vertical gardens, the new life he's created for buildings' exteriors and the positive effects these living walls have had on people's lives. I wanted to write something that I felt would be relevant to our lives in cities today all over the world: environmental devastation; the decline of wildlife in urban areas, and spiritual decline, too - the effect that being surrounded by soulless, lifeless places and a lack of greenery has on our psyches."

The Architecture of Leaves

It's a breathing tapestry, a solar shield,
a canvas of ferns, vines and epiphytes
rising six flights in a city besieged
by billboards and exhaust residues.

It's a hydroponic lung, a capillary song,
a glissando of blooms, shrubs and grasses
colonising nooks and crevices, meshed
roots threading through propagation felt.

It's a verdant beacon, an urgent semaphore,
a nitrogen enriched, drip irrigated 3-D mural.
It's sedge, old man's beard, mile-a-minute,
coral bells, mandevilla and climbing fig.

It's riotous bougainvillea, feathery acacia,
mauve wisteria, plumed buddleias and shy violas.
It's long-awned stipa, creeping jenny,
saxifrage rosettes and dusky pink sedums.

It's a wind-borne destination, a butterfly haven,
a rendezvous for starlings and sparrows
amid ovate, palmate, dark glossy trifoliate,
white-veined, heart-shaped, variegated leaves.

It's arachnid hieroglyphics, a ghost in the machine,
the ciphers concealed in spores and seeds.
It's a pulse among blue-chip glass and steel,
above footsteps, fag-ends and fast food debris.

It's a chlorophyll dream, a green hallelujah,
a living tourniquet, a shrine to Gaia,
an antidote to banks and strip-lit malls,
heat islands, car parks and concrete flyovers.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Centre for New Writing Wins Impact Award

By Corinne Fowler

The Centre for New Writing (CNW) has been awarded Best Cultural Impact for its work on literary development. The CNW was established in 2013 as a practical response to the research findings of its founders, particularly in relation to the exclusion of British Black and Asian writers. The aim was to diversify literary voices beyond the metropolitan mainstream.
The CNW subsequently raised regional writers’ professional profiles through a series of funded projects: ‘Grassroutes’ (Arts Council), ‘Sole2Soul’ (about Harborough Museum’s shoe exhibit) and ‘Affective Digital Histories' (AHRC, Our research identified creative commissions as a key support mechanism for promoting  writers outside London. Accordingly, the CNW has commissioned 74 pieces of writing since 2013. Among these are 6 major commissions for the Affective Digital Histories project, performed at The Phoenix, soon afterwards published as a book and accompanying smartphone app called Hidden Stories (2015). Two CNW commissions have won literary awards and another CNW-commissioned work is being made into a film. A further CNW commission is the subject of an article (authored by Corinne Fowler) in The Cambridge Companion to Black British Writing (2016) of which the writer SuAndi states ‘with steadfast determination, champions of the Black British voice … have stepped forward [to] recognise the value of our literature across all genres’.

A central CNW strategy has been to tap into infrastructural support for regional writers by using creative writing to enhance non-Arts research. As the managing director of the spoken word organisation Tilt observes, the Writing and Research initiative ‘makes a case for literature …This is something to be admired (and sustained).’ Some key collaborations include: ‘Women’s Writing in the Midlands’ (using creative writing to raise awareness of 18th women activists) and ‘Life Cycles’ (a commission to help the Diabetes Research Centre combat sedentary behaviour). A further CNW commission, ‘Artificial Intelligence,’ promotes the public benefits of new technologies. The CNW also commissioned a writer to produce a script for a short film, presented by Brett Matulis from Geography, to influence policy-making at the World Conservation Congress, a global environmental forum. In a 2015 survey of the region’s literary scene by The Asian Writer, anonymous respondents said of the CNW: ‘The Centre for New Writing is … leading the country and perhaps the world in its field, presenting a tremendous variety of literary events with an enormous scope and revolutionary discourse.’ Another respondent said: ‘Leicester is practically undergoing a renaissance! It has been galvanised by the Centre for New Writing ... as the centre has supported writers and the overall literary scene both page and stage’”. The free Literary Leicester Festival has been central to this strategy.

The CNW wishes to thank Leicester's literary community, and all its partners, for their consistently brilliant and constructive input.

Photos courtesy of Osborne Hollis Photography

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

We All Belong, by Rosalind Adam

By Rosalind Adam

The programme for this year’s ArtBeat Leicester Festival was packed with activities. They ranged from Israeli dancing to philosophy in the pub to a Gurdwara visit with curry lunch. I ticked off the most appealing events but I knew that it would be impossible to attend them all. I was going to have to be selective. 

The festival theme was 'We All Belong' and this was the topic for this year’s ArtBeat poetry competition. I submitted two poems and fully intended to turn up to the prize-giving event but, as I said, it was a busy week. Did I mention the Lindy Hop or the Indian Folk Dancing or the Maypole Dance Workshop? It was a true test of stamina. 

Last Tuesday, with all thoughts of Artbeat behind me, I attended my regular poetry group meeting. I settled down to a morning of workshopping, only to find myself the centre of attention. The Festival organiser had chosen that morning to present me with a certificate, or to be more precise two certificates. To my embarrassment I’d scooped not only 1st but also 4th place in the 'We All Belong' poetry competition. 

There is a lesson to be learnt here. If you enter a competition, make sure to give top priority to attending the prize-giving event, no matter how busy your week is. Here (below) is the poem that won first prize:

The Top Class 

Winner of the Artbeat Leicester ‘We All Belong’ Poetry Competition, 2017

It was our morning mantra: 
Linda. Here, Miss. Andrew. Here, Miss. 
Lee. He’s not here, Miss, and we knew
the Board Man would be on his way.
He’d not go round the back like us.
He’d knock on Lee’s front door 
while Lee hid because that’s what you did 
when The Board Man called.

After the register we all lined up
for assembly in the hall. 
Cross-legged by the back wall 
we flicked paper pellets and sang
about Jerusalem being builded here 
in our green and pleasant land 
which was really grey and full of soot 
from the factory down the road.

In class we sat at desks with lids,
did handwriting with pens that had spiky nibs
and pounds, shillings, pence sums on squared-paper.
We longed for Miss to say, playtime,
and give out bottles of milk from the metal crate. 
In the playground we skipped with the long rope, 
and we chose the song, jelly on the plate, 
because we were the top class. 

We stayed out for PE, for the fresh air,
and spun hoops round our waists, 
round our necks when Miss wasn’t there, 
but games on Friday was the best, 
going to the field, clambering onto the bus, 
racing for the back seat and us all singing
Ten Green Bottles and falling about laughing
because we always got the numbers wrong.

Soon we’d sit the 11 plus test 
and they’d split us up for ever.
We’d be sent to the sec mod down the road
or the big grammar school in town
where we’d be streamed and given homework,
where we’d have to read stuff by Shakespeare, 
do logarithms with a book full of numbers
but for now we were the top class.

Rosalind Adam is a writer and student on the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester. Her blog:

Monday, 17 July 2017

Two Poems by Scott Freer

Scott Freer lives in Leicester, is an English Literature lecturer and is editor of The Journal for the T.S. Eliot Society (UK). Turning the Wild West of an allotment into a friable tilth is meant to improve your worldview and vocabulary. The title of the poem ‘Omniscient Certainty’ (below) is borrowed from Jonathan Taylor's book Science and Omniscience in Nineteenth-Century Literature (2007), with particular reference to Pierre-Simon Laplace’s Enlightenment quest for total knowledge.  

Omniscient Certainty

Look towards the edge 
of the allotment
and find a bucket 
to carry the water
to feed a little life into the dried tubers

A tiny hole at the rusting base 
creates a trickling effect
and by the time you cross the earth
from the sunken stream
a continuous trace will lead you back

In the summer the potatoes multiply
And the guttering arches on the shed

Life seems so certain here
Surveying this cherished patch 


She goes to the allotment
Carrying the chickenshit
To fertilize the potatopatch

I, on the other hand,
Return to our bed
And my morning
Poetic arising

But where’s my chickenshit?
Only a muddy-ascending-noise
And nothing
Except the cat of course
From out of a duvet-patch

Now, I could tell you about
Our Buddhist neighbours
Whose earth onto-theology is
Plant deep 
And wait for 
The mysterious white chickens

Chickenshit, I say,
Without the magical compound
Nothing material (potato/poem)

Friday, 14 July 2017

Poem by Shelley Roche-Jacques

Shelley Roche-Jacques’ poetry has appeared in magazines such as Magma, The Rialto, The Interpreter’s House and The Boston Review. Her pamphlet Ripening Dark was published in 2015 as part of the Eyewear 20/20 series. She teaches Creative Writing and Performance at Sheffield Hallam University, and is interested in the dramatic monologue as a way of examining social and political issues. Her debut full collection Risk the Pier is just out, from Eyewear.


In here I’m fine. It’s watercolour prints
and plants, and wisely-chosen magazines.
I’ve thought all week about the goals we set.
How I must stop and think and draw deep breaths.
You said we need to figure out what triggers
the attacks. Did you call them attacks? 
What’s triggering the rage. The incidents.

I’ve really thought on that. The one at work
the other day. For God’s sake! They’re good guys!
Collecting for charity - dressed for a laugh
in floral blouses, lipstick, sock-stuffed bras
and heels – I guess I knew one shove would do. 
I didn’t mean for him to break his leg. 
But he was asking for it dressed like that.

I still can’t quite believe they called the police.
Second time in a week. Who knew that taking
adverts down on trains was an offence?
I had to climb onto the seats to reach,
but then the plastic casing slid clean off.
I wrenched the poster down and stared at it.
Are you beach body ready? I was not.  

There’s no getting away from it.
Even at night
it’s all bunched up tight 
in a sack of dark
above my head.
Or it stretches away 
like the pier, or hospital corridor, 
through the stale bedroom air
and there’s me at the end of it
there –  tiny – 
shaking my fist silently.

But let me try to keep my focus here.
The worst of it is when I hurt my son.
A children’s party is a hellish thing.
And this one had a clown who made balloons:
a flower or tiara for the girls, 
swords for the boys. I didn’t say a word.
I simply smiled and helped set out the food.

I nearly made it past the party games.
Musical statues. Robin Thicke. Blurred Lines
There comes a time – a limit, I should say:
it’s five year olds gyrating to this song.
The music stopped -  I yanked my frozen son
and scrambled through the streamers to the door.
Through You’re a good girl. I know you want it.

Unfriending soon began – and Facebook throbbed 
into the night – She calls herself a mum.
She’s fucking nuts. It’s just a fucking song.
And worse, the snidey stuff, the faux concern.
It must be awful to be in that state
where something like a song can trigger that.
She has some issues. Let’s give her a break.

A break! Yes please!
I’m sad face, sad face. Angry face.
The trolls of Twitter 
sent me almost off the edge.
Why d’ya hate men so much @suffragette?
Look at her! Jealous!
The bitch needs shutting up.
I know where you live.
I clutched the blind,
and stared into the dark
each night for months.

I lost the fight online. Or lost the will.
I said I’d try to focus on real life.
Now that’s become as messy and as grim.
I keep returning to the Town Hall steps.
I must have played that scene a thousand times.
I knew the strip club bosses would be there
in James Bond suits and aviator shades.

The dancers, I had never seen before.
I left the meeting, having said my bit
and found them waiting cross-armed on the steps.
One blocked my way, with eyes I won’t forget:
so green and angry. What right did we have?
Did we want them to lose their fucking jobs? 
It was alright for us - the la-di-da’s.

I’m not alright. I think that’s why I snapped.
I really wish that I could take it back. 
I don’t remember everything I said. 
I’m pretty sure I mentioned self-respect
and then the men came out and shook their heads.
If I had stopped and thought and drawn deep breaths
would that have worked? What else do you suggest?

Friday, 30 June 2017

Two Poems by Reuben Woolley

Reuben Woolley was born in Chesterfield, UK but now lives and works in Zaragoza, Spain. He has been published in various print and online magazines such as Tears in the FenceThe Lighthouse Literary Journal, The Interpreter's House, Domestic Cherry, The Stare's Nest, Ink Sweat and Tears, The Poetry Shed, Nutshells and Nuggets, Yellow Chair Review, Bone Orchard Poetry, and The Goose. His first collection, the king is dead, was published by Oneiros Books in 2014. A chapbook, dying notes, was published by Erbacce Press in 2015 and a short collection, skins, about and for the refugees was published in 2016 by Hesterglock Press. He edits two online magazines, I am not a silent poet for protest poems about abuse, and The Curly Mind for exploratory work.

lazy suggestions


they suggest

lips whisper 
these spaces.they do not 

like spiders

a pattern of air 
      i’ll eat 
a wing & liquify 
my solid dinners


the exercise of speech.i'll 
trap the wholly


i am


this is the way 
the world was chewn

requiems & other souvenirs



is when things fell 

at the present


in my future

they walk the underground 
where minotaurs 
don’t go

                   oh invent 
another story / where 
we can dance our funeral songs

Reuben Woolley

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Creative Writing Varsity 2017: Leicester vs DMU, by Luke McNamara

Article by Luke McNamara

So, I know, I know: the first thing you might be thinking is – “A creative writing varsity? That’s a ‘thing’?” – and the answer is yes, yes, it is. How does it go down you might also ask? Well, both teams choose their champions, eight-a-side to be precise, and half of each team present a prose piece of five minutes, and the other half a poetry piece of three minutes each. This year, The Exchange was our host, in the heart of Leicester city on the 23rd of March; the event ran from 7:30pm-10:00pm. 

The pieces are written by the performers and are marked on the quality of the writing as well as its delivery by three judges; this year the judges were Leicester University’s Creative Writing lecturer Jonathan Taylor, poet Jess Green (check her out on YouTube!) and novelist Rod Duncan. The scores are added up and of course the team with the most points wins – as well as this, there are awards for "Best Prose" and "Best Poetry," respectively. There was also a charity raffle to enter for 20p, where you could win the works written by the judges. 

We all good on the ins and outs, the who and where, the hows and whats? Splendid. Let’s talk about the performances. 

In the low-level ceiling, cosily lit downstairs sitting area of the pub, the audience sat comfortably and observed the performers at the front who spoke into a mic, ensuring they could be heard by everyone. 

SPOILER ALERT: the University of Leicester won, sorry DMU. However, this shouldn’t suggest that it wasn’t an evenly fought contest. On the contrary, it was a very close contest that could have gone either way, as I’m sure the judges will tell you. 

Pictured above is Leicester University’s own Kassie Duke. She won best prose of the night. Remember her face. Remember her name. You will more than likely see it in a local bookshop very soon. Her sublime wordplay, coupled with her ability to convey mature themes such as insecurity, family relationships, and the nature of storytelling through colloquial contexts made Ms. Duke’s "The Great Divide" a pleasure to listen to. There was something irresistibly charming about listening to a great writer give a narrative that meditates on such thematic concerns as Kassie’s, in a tale where a bad story teller who "didn’t want to write about myself, there was nothing there" – oh the irony. The innovative, witty irony. Please give me your talent. 

And here, ladies and gentleman, is De Montfort’s Sammy Mitchell. I would say here was very much a case of "save the best for last." Her intelligently provoking, lyrically rhythmical, and profoundly moving poem "Left like a Boiling Kettle" struck me. It was so quotable – where do I begin? - “a poem is more than a poet” – so true. Please could all poet’s come to this realisation? “Leave your insecurities by the bedside” ha! I wish I could. “This is more than a product” – damn straight, this is art. This is poetry. Such works make me ponder why it is poetry is sometimes neglected by the modern reader? Why do we so often by novels instead of poetry collections? I leave that for you to decide.  

Who won what aside, I was moved that night. I listened to the pieces of every person, and there were several common themes I felt resonated with everyone in the room. The increasingly unstable political climate we live in, as well as mental health issues that so many students are suffering from, and feminism, and gender equality. 

I found myself unable to look away, my attention undivided, from several performers; Lydia Bell, Rosie Holdsworth, and Dominic Hynard touched on issues of identity, and introversion that afflicts many talented young writers, unfortunately. 

Yet, what for me was the most emotional performance of the evening was given by Abbie Curphey. Visibly nervous, with rubs of reassurance from her friends the young poet delivered an elegant work: "Just… don’t worry." She put it plainly that "everyone will experience anxiety in a different way," and highlighted truthfully that "you don’t want to inconvenience anyone." A heart-wrenching reality for most sufferers of depression, and other mental issues is that they often feel like a nuisance when they shouldn’t. More writers like Abbie need to discuss these issues; it’s so important for our generation's experiences to be conveyed through poetry, as well as prose.  

So, my final thoughts on the evening. I felt quietly optimistic that the art of the future will, as it should, bear out the voice of our generation. The Brexit generation, the generation that cried out for feminism, and demanded a change in the current climate. But we are also a generation capable of beautiful work, that if nothing else, like all literature of the past, helped me to realise we are one as a species feeling the same emotions, even if our experiences differ. We grind through life – it’s tiring, heart-breaking, difficult, and a struggle, yet it is filled with love, beauty, happiness, friends, family, and relationships. But above all else, it showed me that through art we bond, we connect and unify through the expressions of those brave enough to share their work with us, and boy, am I grateful for it. 

Friday, 19 May 2017

Making a Book Project Happen, by Kevan Manwaring

Ballad Tales: An Anthology of British Ballads Retold emerged out of my PhD research into folk music. The idea came to me while walking Offa’s Dyke long distance footpath last year. As I sang to make the miles a little easier I reflected upon the fascinating stories that ballads often contain. My novel project interweaves and dramatizes some key supernatural ballads of the Scottish Borders, and I’ve revelled in contemporizing them, twisting their plots, motifs and sexual politics in unexpected ways. I thought of all the many other ballads this could be done with, and the many talented writers I know ... Imagine an anthology of such voices ... And so I pitched it to the commissioning editor of The History Press. Having written a couple of a monographs for them already (Oxfordshire Folk Tales; Northamptonshire Folk Tales) and having been a contributor to another (An Anthology of English Folk Tales) she knew I could deliver the goods. 

Getting a book or two under your belt gives you a little leverage when pitching, paving the way for future projects. It's Catch 22 if you haven’t had anything published yet, I know, but persistence does pay off – combined with seeing a gap in the market and being the one to fill it. You have to qualify yourself for your job, and, in your pitch, write your own job proposal. What do you want to spend a year or two of your life putting energy into? Can you stay the distance? Pulling together twenty-one contributors was, to a certain extent, fun – it was like being patchless Nick Fury, cherry-picking my very own Avengers. However, when it came to getting such an eclectic, creative bunch to meet deadlines, comply to word counts and formats, accept editorial suggestions, and the other countless, demanding minutiae of a book project –  it was like herding cats. Yet, receiving each first draft of a story was like opening a Christmas present early. Beyond choosing a traditional British ballad I gave the contributors (all writers and musicians I know, have seen or heard and been impressed by at some point) carte blanche. This paid off time and time again as they first selected, then created genre-bending re-imaginings of ballads. Some went with the grain of the ballad, some against – changing the setting, genders, morality or ending. 

I invited a Stroud-based printmaker who draws inspiration from broadside ballads to do the cover, while I illustrated each of the ballads within the text, drawing upon my Fine Art background. Choosing a motif to depict was a real pleasure, as I went for a metonymic approach – the telling detail. So, slowly, it all came together over the autumn and winter. The really exciting moment was when I was shown the cover by the artist, Andy Kinnear. A large print of it hangs by my desk – a reminder of what can be achieved when you have a good idea. And so now, the book’s due date is imminent – the 8th June – with a launch showcase planned for the 9th here in Stroud (that I’ve had to organize: booking the venue, arranging publicity, planning the running order, the drinks, the bookstall, the stock...). It’s important to wet the baby’s head – to celebrate an achievement, and I’ll be doing this with my fellow balladeers while I M.C. the evening. In the last week the proof copy has been scrutinized and signed off – and it’s gone to print. My book is on the way. And now the next marathon begins, in promoting it, getting it reviewed, and ensuring it is noticed, it sells, and it creates the opportunity for the next one, for there are plenty more ballad tales left to tell. 

Ballad Tales is published by The History Press (8-6-2017)

Kevan Manwaring is a prize-winning writer and storyteller based in Stroud. He is the author of Oxfordshire Folk TalesNorthamptonshire Folk Tales, The Bardic Handbook, Desiring Dragonsand a contributor to English Folk Tales. A founder member of Fire Springs, and one-time host of the Bath Storytelling Circle, he set up and MCs Stroud Out Loud! – a monthly open mic event. Since 2014 he has been undertaking a Creative Writing PhD at the University of Leicester dramatising his research into folk and fairy traditions of the Scottish Borders. 

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

"Drip" by Holly O'Brien

Holly O'Brien is an English student at the University of Leicester, studying Creative Writing as a pathway. She is an aspiring novelist, and enjoys exploring different areas in which she can take her passion.


Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. Drip. A boy shifted while he laid in bed. Drip. Drip. Drip. The boy furrowed his eyebrows. Drip. Drip. Drip. The boy groaned. What was that infuriating sound? It had woken him up. He wondered what the time was, but he didn’t want to open his eyes and check. As long as his alarm hadn’t gone off, he could stay where he was for as long as he liked. He pulled his pillow over his head to block out the sound.

Drip. Drip. Drip. “For God’s sake,” the boy grumbled, voice muffled under his pillow. Why on earth could he still hear it, as plain as he’d been able to without the pillow? Ignore it, he thought, it’s probably been going on all night, and you haven’t noticed it until now. Ignore it. Easier said than done. It was one of those irritating sounds that makes your blood boil, bubbling hotter and hotter until it stops, like someone heavy breathing next to you, or a car alarm in the middle of the night that the neighbour doesn’t seem to care about, a sound that becomes so annoying that you lie in bed thinking, “Just steal the bloody car, will you!”


Beep, beep, beep! Drip. Drip. Drip. The boy fumbled frantically beside him, searching for his alarm clock. He could still hear that cursed dripping sound, and he didn’t need it to be accompanied by something else. Beep, beep, beep! Drip. Drip. Drip. The boy sat up, his hair sticking out in all directions. The alarm clock wasn’t on the table next to him. He leaned over the edge of the bed, following its sound; the blasted thing was on the floor. The boy huffed and picked it up, turning it off and placing it down beside him. He swung his legs over the edge of the bed and got up. He didn’t notice that his alarm clock didn’t read 7:30AM like it usually would after waking him up. Instead it read 3:00 AM.


The boy made his way across his bedroom, heading towards the bathroom. He planned on turning the tap off; surely that was what was making that dripping noise. Creeeeaaaak. The boy stopped halfway across the room, and looked down at the floor. The floorboards hadn’t creaked like that before. He reversed and took the same step again. No creak. And come to think of it, he couldn’t hear the tap anymore. The silence was music to his ears. Satisfied, the boy began to walk again. Creeeaaaak, creeeaaaak, creeeaaaak. Drip. Drip. Drip. The boy stopped again. So did the sounds. “I’m going mad,” he murmured to himself, rubbing his eyes, “I need to start getting more sleep.” He’d have to just walk to the bathroom, despite the phantom noises. He was sure they were just in his head anyway.

He arrived in the bathroom and checked himself out in the mirror, like he did every morning. But, he didn’t look like he did every morning. He was pale, white as a sheet, translucent, ghostly – odd. Perhaps he was coming down with something. That would explain the hearing things. A preferable option to mental instability. Drip. Drip. Drip. The boy looked down at the tap. It didn’t seem to be dripping at all. A sure sign it was all in his head – that is, until he saw the red water.

The boy bent down, nose millimetres away from the tap. He stared at it. There was something red coming out. He swallowed. He reached to turn the tap off – but it wouldn’t budge. It was off all the way already. Maybe if he turned it on…

The boy yelped as red water gushed out of the tap. He felt faint as he realised it was too thick to be just water, as screams started to echo around him, crying out in pain. It was only after a minute that he realised that he was crying, too, tears of red, his limbs burning as though on fire. Everything was going black. Menacing laughter had joined the screams now. Thump.


The boy never got back to his bedroom. If he had, he might have seen that the clock still read 3:00AM. The Devil only gets an hour. He always makes sure to succeed.