Autobahn

I remember being a child in the back of the car, gunning it down the Autobahn in Germany. The speed limit is 80mph, and as you could imagine, it was thrilling to feel your back sink into the seat as high speeds sent a wave of force through your body. But it was not the Fast and Furious thrill I remember about the long stretch of motorway, no. It was the car accidents.

When I was small on the long car journeys, we would always pass at least one crash. Sometimes a handful. My mother and father always told me not to look, and for a time, I passed these fatal accidents with my head pressed into the back of a headrest, or crushed into a siblings’ chest. I can’t remember how old I was when I started ignoring the warnings, when I would turn my head and look.

I would turn and look as we sped past, and flashes of gory horror would imprint themselves in my brain. White sheets over mannequin lumps, red-stained, like a fancy dining table cover that someone spilled a fine burgundy all over. Heads leant against rails with sticky-looking black covering them in the darkness. It was always so dark, I always assumed it was oil or tar over the windshield. One time, I even saw what the inside of a skull looks like. I learned what leaking petrol smells like. I didn’t gawk for an age, as I said, it was always just a flash.

I don’t know if it was some kind of morbid curiosity or fascination that made me look. I felt nothing other than pity for the afflicted as we drove away. I never felt any trauma from looking. But there was one very strong reaction I had to these snapshots: my seatbelt.

I was notorious for only pretending to wear mine, or complain about it being uncomfortable, but when I started looking at the tragedies we whizzed past, my hand would start seeking out the comfort of my belt. Whenever I entered a car, my pudgy child hand would push the square glinting metal into the boxy red and grey plastic, wait for the click and then give it a tug, an afterthought. To make sure.

I always thought that it was funny how I was told not to look at a tragedy, that it would upset me. Traumatise me. Disturb me.

What it really did was instil something subconsciously, even as a child. I started to understand why all those German fairy-tale books at my Oma’s house could have quite grisly endings. Funny that I was never told not to read them.

That we look, and we learn. And we guard against.

A piece of flash fiction by third year Creative and Professional Writing student Stephanie Marquardt.

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Giving the gift of great books to Twickenham

As part of our Induction Week for 2017 St Mary’s Creative and Professional Writing students went out to spread their good taste in books to the lucky people of Twickenham. Look out for copies of these books – and more – featuring the Book Fairies stickers, and all with postcards inside saying what it is about them that the book-giver loved so much. Thanks to all the students who took part for their generosity. (We of course gave them all a new book to replace it, a book that hopefully they’ll love just as much.)

@bookfairies_uk #bookfairies #stmaryswriting #twickenham #yorkhouse #freebook #judetheobscure #thomashardy

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The weather held out for us, which was a nice change after the skies decided to open over the St Mary’s grounds for the half hour – and only the half hour – that we held our short Welcome reading event.

 

Summer reading: Looking outwards, and looking back

Today’s recommendation comes from Jane Kremer, who will be shifting degree programmes to join Creative and Professional Writing in September, after stepping up and taking part in our student readings this year.

My recommendation is funnily enough a book that I got from our lecturer Jonathan after a reading. It’s called Guapa by Saleem Haddad and impressed me so much that I even consider it my new favourite book. Here’s why you should pick it up this summer: Throughout, the book has been written with a highly capturing writing style and plot. It deals with a young gay man – Rasa – who lives in the Middle East and stands in front of the shattered remains of his only big love in life. The plot reflects both on the relationship and why it failed, as well as on the main character’s childhood and upbringing.

I found it especially fascinating because the book gave me an insight into a completely unknown world – and I’m sure it will have a similar effect on anyone who has grown up up in Europe or other westernised countries.

The book reflects on the culture-clash of growing up with a Middle-Eastern father and a Western mother; on gay life in the Middle-East; on the political happenings during the Arab Spring. Then, when Rasa goes to study in the US while 9/11, he experiences a rapid shift of identity. After having felt different because of his homosexuality, his consciousness now shifts towards being a Muslim and he experiences what it’s like to wear this label in America.

The book is one of the rare works that manage to keep their quality up until the very last page – the ending is great, neither shallow nor otherwise disappointing.

A good book for people who like to broaden their horizons a little and who like to experience the feeling that they’re growing through the main character’s experiences! =)

This summer I will try to re-read El Principito (The Little Prince) by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and as you can see from the title, I will try and read it in Spanish. I remember that I really liked the book when I read it as a child, so it will be interesting to see what I think of it now, perceiving it through adult eyes.

Summer Reading: Hockey, jocks, pies and interruptions

Today’s Summer Reading recommendation comes from current 2nd Year Creative Writing student Amie Carden. Take it away, Amie…

My summer recommendation isn’t actually a book. I’ve been getting into webcomics recently, this one I binge read for hours after it was recommended to me by a friend of mine. With a cute art style, Check, Please! is about Eric Bittle, who is starting university in Massachusetts on a sport scholarship. Eric is a 5’6, blonde, amateur pâtissier who vlogs about his life and newly invented recipes. The loveable tiny member of the team really makes an impact on their team plays and on their living habits.

“It’s a story about hockey and friendship and bros and trying to find yourself during the best 4 years of your life.”

An adorable comedy around the friendships within a prestigious hockey team.


On a completely different note, I’ve been aiming to read this book for years. Since watching the film adaptation years ago, Girl, Interrupted has made me very intrigued as to what was missed out from the original diary, by author Susanna Kaysen. How many psychotic episodes didn’t make it to the final cut? What happened to them all after their stay in the ward? So this summer, I’ll be reading a memoir that shows just how insane it was to be sectioned in the 1960s.

Summer reading: international, anarchic and avant garde

Today’s Summer Reading recommendation comes from Juan Gutierrez, a current first year Creative and Professional Writing student:

Collected Poems by Raúl Gómez Jattin

Some might say Collected Poems contains the ramblings of a schizophrenic, a pervert, and a bum. Others might say it contains the beginning of all modern Latin American poetry aesthetic. It is all a part of the myth that has become Raúl Gómez Jattin’s life and work. His legacy is as spread out as it is controversial and he is both adored and despised by many. His work has not been forgotten, and his voice influenced an entire generation of poets in the rebellion to the rigid tradition of old Latin American literature. Collected Poems is an anthology that gives the English-speaking world a glimpse into the bizarre uniqueness of experimental Latin American poetry and the author’s brilliantly troubled mind. Raul Gomez Jattin paved the way for an academic acceptance and understanding of homosexual poetry and an anarchic structure. His poems capture the power of the Caribbean joie de vivre and his own existentialist conflicts, along with his sexual desires and his views on the people of Cartagena that surrounded him during his life. Aside from offering an interesting insight into a celebrated troubled man, Collected Poems is highly recommended also for the influence it has had on the Colombian literary landscape and the future of Latin American poetry.

Summer reading: for the footloose and fearless

Our next summer reading recommendation is from current second year Creative and Professional Writing student Philip Nash.

I’m going to recommend a travel narrative called The Places In Between by Rory Stewart. Stewart went on a solo hitchhike through Afghanistan, from Herat to Kabul, during a time of major terrorist threats when he could easily have been shot and killed. I was recommended it by a crazy American guy in my hostel in Utrecht who planned on hiking/hitchhiking from France to Greece.

Summer reading: Breaking the pattern

Our next summer reading recommendation is from Creative and Professional Writing lecturer Russell Schechter.

 Grey skies laden with menace. Chill winds gouging your skin like fairies with flick knives. Barbecue-blackened sausages which are somehow still trichinosis-pink at their core.

Ah, summer in England!

And time to read for fun. Oh, frabjous season!!

Here’s my suggested summer book guide: read what you want. Read what you really enjoy. And then read something completely different. If you never pick up non-fiction, read a biography. If you hate crime novels, read a murder mystery. Break your reading pattern and expand your horizons – for at least one book.

(What a mealy-mouthed recommendation. Criminy, just what you’d expect a miserable Creative Writing tutor to say.)

So here’s something more particular. Read a John Wyndham novel. It’s not exactly contemporary (he peaked in the 1950s), but good-golly-Miss-Molly was a he smart, economical and entertaining writer. Day of the Triffids. The Chrysalids. The Midwich Cuckoos. Pick one – you can’t go wrong. (NB Day of the Triffids is in the library!)

And remember to bring me back some rock from your holiday.

Summer reading: Angels and clowns

Our next summer reading recommendation is from first-year Creative and Professional Writing student Abi Silverthorne.

Image result for my name is minaMy summer recommendation would be My Name is Mina. It’s not necessarily a new release, but deserves a read by anyone who might have missed it till now. Fans of David Almond’s original work Skellig would be hard-pushed not to enjoy this prequel. It’s a fun and emotional step back into the fantastical world Almond built, only now through the surreal and slightly scatter-shot (but always funny) eyes of Mina. The book is never one thing, moving fluidly from fable to script to prose to poem to empty, interactive pages – it’s a pretty sensory experience to sit out in the garden with it and just go along.

Image result for stephen king it bookThis summer I’ll be bizarrely taking Stephen King’s It on holiday with me, because nothing says fun in the sun like a horror epic about the malevolent amalgamation of fear itself that terrorises children over decades.

Summer reading: From glum to glam – Richard Yates, Beatles and glam rock

Today it’s St Mary’s senior lecturer Richard Mills who offers up his summer reading recommendations and intentions.

The Easter Parade by Richard Yates should be read this, and every, summer. It starts with the genius first line  “Neither of the Grimes sisters would have a happy life” , and after this despairing start, Yates continues to pile the misery on. This novel is guaranteed to ruin any beach holiday –  I love it!


Image result for beatleboneImage result for i read the news today oh boy bookKevin Barry’s novel Beatlebone is about John Lennon fleeing his fame (and his demons) in the west of Ireland. Beatlebone is a must for all Beatles fans, as is Paul Howard’s award-winning biography of Tara Browne, I Read the News Today Oh Boy: Tara Browne, The Short and Gilded Life of the Man Who Inspired The Beatles’ Greatest Song (reading the title will take you most of the summer). Howard’s book is an Irish Great Gatsby; that is, a cautionary tale about success and excess,  but unlike Jay Gatsby, Tara Browne’s story – which inspired Lennon to write A Day in the Life is all true!


Image result for shock and awe reynoldsImage result for New Selected Poems ted hughesI’ll be reading Simon Reynolds’ Show and Awe: Glam Rock and its Legacy. It’s a big summer read, coming in at 687 pages! And a recommendation for my second-year poetry class: I’ll be dipping into Ted Hughes: New Selected Poems 1957-1994. This is a must for all you mad, bad, dangerous po-heads… sorry, poets.

Summer reading recommendations 2017

If it’s good enough for the newspapers – who give over most of their books coverage over the summer months to literary and celebrity back-patting and one-up-personship – then it’s good enough for us. We’re going to use this blog to give our summer reading recommendations. What we’ve read and recommend, and what we’ll be reading this summer on the terrace of our Tuscan villa/down the local lido/sitting in our kitchen staring at the rain (delete as applicable). There’ll be entries from students to follow, but here to start is Creative and Professional Writing Programme Director Jonathan Gibbs.

Image result for the luminaries catton

Any first year students who enjoyed Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal this year, and have lots of time on their hands over the summer, might want to try her second novel, The Luminaries. Coming in at over 800 pages, The Luminaries is a densely-potted, intricately-structured novel set in the lawless gold fields of C19th New Zealand. It’s a masterpiece of historical ventriloquism, with prospectors, whores, bankers and ghosts, but you really need a good sun lounger to let yourself get lost in its pages. This isn’t a book to try to read on your commute.

 

 

 

 

Image result for home marilynne robinsonThis summer I’ll be returning to Marilynne Robinson’s Home, the companion-piece to her quite wonderful Gilead, which I read on holiday a couple of years ago. It’s a quiet, beautifully-written telling of the story of the prodigal son, set in the plains of Iowa, but I need some peace and quiet to let it work its magic. This isn’t one to read on your commute either.