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.

Friday, 5 May 2017

"Sprawl" by Emma Leach

Emma Leach is a second year student studying Creative Writing at Leicester. She really enjoys travelling and this has influenced her writing throughout the course. 


Caged by grey.
A ribbon of smog
Overhangs the sprawl.
Clusters of skyscrapers
Absorb the day’s heat
That is unable to escape the
Dome of pollution.

Amid the bustle
The streets are swarmed,
People catching a glimpse of the city.
Lines of cars, like ants
On the roads,
Crawl on lacing freeways as
Red break lights illuminate every interstate.

A distressed voice in the toilet cubicle
Calls out on Venice Beach,
Masked out by sounds of bike bells.
Graffiti climbs the neighbouring walls.
Brash colours
Of urban minds.

From where I stand
There is silence.
Golden interweaving paths
Separate concrete.
The Observatory gazes over the city,
Observing the sprawl.
Abhorring chaos, it slumbers in its own oasis.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

"for concrete" by Yasmin Musse

Yasmin Musse is a poet from Leicester. She's had several of her poems published including 'saffron lane' and 'when men take' in I am not a  silent poet. Currently in her final year studying a BA in English with Creative Writing at the University of Leicester, she writes poems concerning family, the Somali diaspora and mental health.

for concrete

like an overripe tomato
my skin gave up on me

still attached to flesh

in the days preceding
i had succumbed to flip flops
and keyhole-watching people
move through desperate dreams

waiting for a phone call
a voice like fresh cement
time could not harden

some days i fantasised
about re-emerging from you
my toes submerged in butter
along a tightrope of aches

as i jumped
it was the wind
that made me echo
a mouth-full of slab
for childhood memories

next time
i’ll fall straight through
your cracks instead

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Reading in Loughborough Library

All welcome! At Loughborough Library, 7pm Tuesday 25 April: Four Authors, Kerry Hadley-Pryce, Deborah Tyler-Bennett, Maria Taylor and myself, will be reading from and talking about their novels and poetry. Booking details are on the poster, and there's a Facebook event here.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

"Growing Up" by Shae Davies

Here is a short prose poem by Shae Davies. Shae is a second year student at Leicester, studying Creative Writing. She writes: "Soon turning 20, I've been thinking a lot about myself at 17. Naive, lost and a bit out of place."

Growing Up

I didn’t know myself then, back when I was seventeen
And my coats were longer than my skirts
I thought I knew the world,
Thought I knew what the world wanted from me
But when I looked at myself in the mirror
I wasn’t sure who was looking back
And when I looked out at the world,
I wasn’t sure if anyone was looking back

Monday, 20 March 2017

Cathedral Stories, by Hannah Stevens

On Friday 3rd March Leicester Cathedral became a gateway to an alternate universe, a place where hidden treasure was discovered, where angels fell to earth, where wooden carvings began to talk.

As part of the BBC Storytelling Festival over 100 children from local schools joined lecturers, tutors and writers from the University of Leicester’s School of Arts for a Flash Fiction workshop. Using objects and artefacts all around the cathedral as inspiration, the young people wrote their own flash fiction (or very short stories) and shared their work to applause from the rest of the crowd.

Here is a story inspired by the Ypres Cross in the Cathedral:

The Ypres Cross

I visit the cathedral every week. I come to see the Ypres cross, to touch the glass that covers it, keeps it safe.

The broken beads wound around the crucifix remind me of the beads my grandmother used to wear.  She wore them for special occasions: for nights she wanted to feel beautiful. She looped the string around her throat and they looked pale against the dark blue of her blouse.

Next she added colour to her cheeks, lipstick to her mouth. She knew her own face well and did this with precision. Later, she slipped a shawl over her shoulders, stepped out to dance with her friends.

My grandmother doesn’t wear her beads anymore. She cannot walk, doesn’t have the strength to lift her legs. She spends her days in bed now, dying slowly from something they cannot cure.

Sometimes she asks me to put powder across her cheeks, to fetch a mirror so she can see. She tells me how she loves to dance and she asks me for her beads.

When I tell her that the beads are broken, that she cannot dance tonight, she begins to cry.

I wipe her tears with my hand, say I love her, but she looks confused. My grandmother doesn’t know who I am. She doesn’t remember me. But she remembers her beads. How they felt cool on her neck and how they moved against the dark blue of her blouse as she danced.

Hannah Stevens

Thursday, 16 March 2017

A Masterclass from Bali Rai, by Rosalind Adam

The MA in Creative Writing at the University of Leicester joined together with Literary Leicester today to bring us an inspiring masterclass presented by Bali Rai.

Bali Rai was born in Leicester. He grew up in a multi-cultural, multiracial community, an experience that has had a definite influence on his writing. His first book was the best selling (Un)Arranged Marriage and he went on to become one of the UK's most successful YA authors. Today we were given a glimpse into his writing world, a chance to see how he has become so successful in his craft.

Bali Rai's enthusiasm was infectious.

"All humans are nosey parkers," he told us. We must make sure that our audience wants to know more. We must elicit in them first sympathy and then empathy for our characters. Throughout the afternoon he kept bringing us back to this point, to considering who our audience is when we are writing. How we can connect with the audience became his mantra.

He stressed how important it is to analyse each section, each paragraph. Every sentence needs to be there for a reason. If it doesn't have a reason then get rid of it and make sure all the content will connect with the audience. 

How well do we know our characters? He asks his characters questions about their habits, desires, emotions. Only when he knows the characters really well can he portray them in a three-dimensional way. Only then will they connect with the audience.

He dropped in many pieces of advice as he spoke, sharing lessons that he had learnt from experience. The beginning of a novel is the hardest and most important to get right. Character is more important than setting. If you find yourself staring at a blank screen then turn it off and take a break. And yes, as a writer he believes in ghosts. Why be rational? You're a creative writer! 

"Everything comes back to connection with the audience," he reminded us and he practiced what he preached. For this afternoon we were his audience and he certainly connected with us. We were with him all the way.

By Rosalind Adam, first published here. 

Monday, 13 March 2017

With the Refugees: Leicester Refugees Meet MA Creative Writers

By Alexandros Plasatis

They were having their free meal at City of Sanctuary as they always do on Wednesdays. I was going from table to table to remind them about our creative writing workshop. Some were playing ping-pong, one was having a head massage, they were chatting, asking where they can go to learn English, in one corner others were picking up donated clothes and cans of beans or just staring. There were about eighty people there, in the refugee centre, and I was asked to go along to the workshop with ten. Up at the University of Leicester, MA students were waiting for us.

‘You coming for the writing workshop today, Mohammed?’

‘What writing, my teacher?’

‘At the uni, my good child…’

‘Ah, at the uni… My teacher, you look like Mr Bean.’

‘I know. After the workshop we’re going for a meal out in a real restaurant.’

‘OK, I coming.’

I moved to the next table, explained what the workshop was about. ‘…and then after the restaurant we are going to see teacher Jess. She runs a poetry thing called “Find the Right Words.”’ I moved to another table, explained, told them that it was going to be a long but fun day out, and they took the piss because I got too stressed, and we laughed. And with Maggie, a tireless volunteer at City of Sanctuary, we gathered fifteen refugees and asylum seekers, and started to make our way up New Walk. On the way to the uni, three guys were telling me how they made their way from their far away countries to the UK. 

 ‘I came in the back of a lorry, in the fridge.’

 ‘What cargo was in the fridge?’


 ‘My lorry was a chocolate fridge.’

 ‘Ah now that’s nice … How many of you were in the fridge?’

 ‘Twenty-five. Sometimes we had to stay inside for a whole day.’

 ‘Sorry to ask this, but I always wondered, when you wanted to go to the toilet, what did you do?’

 ‘We had a Coca-Cola bottle. We passed it around.’ 

 ‘And if you wanted to do the other thing?’

 ‘You don’t do the other thing.’

 ‘My lorry wasn’t a fridge. It was open. It carried logs.’

 We reached the university building, Maurice Shock. Corinne Fowler was there, she welcomed us and we made it to the classroom. Ten MA students were ready to deliver a creative writing workshop to the refugees. Sonia and Kassie had already come down to the City of Sanctuary once to get a feeling of the place and meet the refugees. Azra and Lauren had emailed me to ask what type of exercises they should be doing. And I work in the same building with Will. He works in the café and sometimes brings me the leftover sausage rolls:

 ‘Here, Alex, take these six sausage rolls and tell me, we’re thinking of doing this and this and this and this exercise with the refugees. What do you think?’ 

 ‘Oh man that’s very kind of you.’

 ‘You like them?’

 ‘They are lovely. Well, now this exercise sound good… yiam yiam yiam ah oh ah…’

Now, enough with that waffling on. I was asked by Jonathan Taylor to write a piece about my experience of the writing workshop delivered by his MA students. All right, Jonathan, I’ll tell you what I remember. I remember that your students were kind to the refugees; I remember how worried they were to make the refugees feel welcome. They were thoughtful – did you know they brought their own biscuits and crisps and drinks for the refugees? I saw tiredness in their faces, it was the good, sweet type of tiredness, it’s the tiredness that I see in people when they worry and care. Those who led the workshop worried about what the refugees would think of them, they saw them as they really are, equals, humans who, like you and me, can judge. The rest of your students who sat by the refugees helped and cared, they tried to explain what this and that exercise was about, and when the refugees with their poor English didn’t understand, your students didn’t give up, they tried again. And the refugees enjoyed it, they told me so later, they said, ‘We really liked it, Mr Bean, are we going there again?’ 

Job done, back to waffling now. The workshop finished and we left. We had some time to kill until the restaurant. We went to the university library, I showed them around, they found the big old books, they opened them, turned their pages carefully. We had more time to kill. It was raining heavily outside and we went to the library café. Maggie bought us coffee and tea, then we went to see Corinne again, in the Charles Wilson building. She had invited us to her salsa dance class. We danced, even I danced, but we had to go again, and the rain still came down hard. We took the bus to town, another bus to Narborough Road, had our dinner in a Turkish restaurant. We talked and ate, took photos and laughed, and the person who sat next to me, an Afghan bloke, said that this was the best meal he had for years:

‘Thank you, Alex. I feel like I’m with my family.’

‘Don’t thank me, I’m not paying for this.’

‘Who’s paying?’

‘No-one is paying. Get ready to grab your coat. We’re doing a runner.’

‘A runner?’

‘Can you help, Fatima?’

 ‘Which one is Fatima?’

 ‘The pregnant one. I’ll carry Aisha’s baby.’

 ‘No problem.’

 ‘No, actually, I'm joking, it’s Writing East Midlands that pays.’

 ‘Who are they?’

‘They are Aimee and Henderson and Heather and some other people that I don’t know.’

‘Tell them I thank them.’

Did you hear, Aimee, Henderson and Heather and some other people that I don’t know? That Afghan bloke wants to thank you.

We left again, went to the Western Pub, Upstairs at the Western, we saw Jess Green. She was the Lead Writer on the writing project with the refugees and asylum seekers, Write Here: Sanctuary. The place was packed, many people read their stuff, and so did two of our people, two refugees, after crossing country after country hiding for months inside lorries, they stood up there, in a small pub in Leicester, they stood up to read their poetry.

In the links below, you can read some poems and an article by Malka, an asylum seeker from Iraq.

Letter to Santa

I’m Human

Letter to Trump

Everybody’s Reading article

About the writer
Alexandros Plasatis is an ethnographer who writes fiction in English, his second language. In 2014 he was awarded a PhD in Creative Writing. His stories have or are due to appear in Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud, Unthology, Crystal Voices, blÆkk and Total Cant, and his academic article on how to undertake ethnography and turn it into fiction will be published in the next volume of Short Fiction in Theory and Practice. He lives in Leicester and is a volunteer at City of Sanctuary, where he aims to find and develop new creative writing talent within the refugee and asylum seeker community.