Spring Reading 2018

Last night was the latest in our rolling programme of Creative and Professional Writing undergraduate readings, in the cosy back room of the very hospitable Prince of Wales pub. Despite a scheduling error that saw us double-booking with West London Varsity, the reading was very well attended, and we heard poems and story extracts from first years Beth and Jane, second year Alex, and third years Steph, Amie, Trish and Jess, as well as a couple of storming poems from postgrad Jo Harker, and even two short pieces from CPW lecturers Russell Schechter and Jonathan Gibbs – a treat not likely to be repeated any time soon! Well done to everyone who read, and roll on the next event, which will be towards the end of the semester, in May.


Congratulations to guest lecturer Eley Williams for literary win

Last night was the second annual award ceremony for the Republic of Consciousness Prize, a new literary prize intended to celebrate the best of the UK’s independent publishers. Despite a strong shortlist, the prize went to Influx Press and Eley Williams for her debut collection of stories, Attrib. This success will come as no surprise to first- and second-year Creative and Professional Writing students who had the benefit of being taught by Eley last semester. Eley taught the second year Writing London module, and contributed to the first year Voices in Contemporary Fiction.

Attrib. has been described as “acrobatic, edge-of-your-seat fiction” (The Telegraph) and “an emotionally delicate and tenderly introspective collection” (The New Statesman).

We also had the pleasure of welcoming Eley to our New Writing from Twickenham reading that took place at The Exchange last autumn as part of the Richmond Literature Festival. There she read two of the stories from this marvellous collection: ‘Alight at the Next’ and ‘Smote’. No one who has heard her read can doubt that she is not only one of the most exciting new voices in British writing, but that she is wonderful performer to boot.

So congrats again to Eley, and to the pioneering Influx Press. Long may they write, and publish, and here’s hoping it’s not too long before we have Eley back at St Mary’s.

Library Finds: First Love, by Gwendoline Riley

shaun dicks rileyFirst Love is a book written for the millennial. It tackles the modern day minefield that is love and life. It takes us through the story of Neve, a modern women who is struggling, all through her perspective. It is a very well-written book that is obviously carefully planned out. It keeps your attention and makes you want to find out how it ends up for Neve. The narrative itself leans to comedic relief in places. I highly recommend it. It’s resonates more than you think it can. This book is a must read for any millennial or millennial at heart.


Shaun Dicks is a first year Creative and Professional Writing student.

Review: Women and Power

Mary Beard’s Women and Power: A Manifesto brings a calm, logical voice to the argument of feminism and women in power. Far removed from angry chanting or bra-burning, it is not only a look at examples of women being treated as inferior in society and politics, but a look at why.

Using years of scholarly knowledge, Beard takes us on a walk through ancient Greece and Rome to show us female figures, real and mythological, and relates them back to our current situation. The book is split into two parts, “The Public Voice of Women” and “Women in Power.” It’s quite a wee book at about 115 pages, and its handy size ensures it can be slipped into a handbag or back pocket. Uninterrupted, you can blast through it in under two hours.

Women who have had anything mansplained to them or told they didn’t know what they were talking about (which is most women) will read passages with a nod or a loud “mmm-hmm”, and also have a feeling of kinship with the mistreated women that Beard tells us about. But the demographic who should really read this book are the men. It perfectly details the distress and uphill fight as a woman to not make a “grab” for power, but simply to be heard. It encourages empathy and change without being emotionally charged or irrational. At times, the voice can be slightly cold, but it is always factual.

The ending is somewhat underwhelming, but delightfully honest. In thinking about how to fix this rift, all Beard can do is shrug and say (paraphrasing) “hopefully we’ll figure it out.” Hopefully, we do.

Review by Stephanie Marquardt, a third year Creative and Professional Writing student.

Library Finds: White Teeth, by Zadie Smith

It’s a long book, for sure. Three generations, two families. One (multicultural) Britain.

This humorous book gives an amazing insight into what it’s like not to be middle-class, not to be white, not to have been born in this country. It is a book about the friendship between Samad and Archie, who bonded over a dangerous and not quite legal issue they plotted in the end of the second World War. It is also the story about Alsana and Clara, their wives, who also bond – over their marriage problems.

But maybe most of all, it is a story of twins who are so different that their father despairs about it. Samad becomes more and more obsessed with religion and the fact that his sons do not care about Allah as much as he does. He believes that growing up in Britain damages them. There is a decision to be made…

A book from the St Mary’s library collection, reviewed by Jane Kremer, first year English and Creative and Professional Writing student.

Library Finds: Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace

ellen willett infinite jestInfinite Jest is a collection of worldview-altering quotes. The plot tying it all together is the concept of an entertainment so addictive that its viewers will die of dehydration before turning it off. Across 1079 pages it traverses multiple genres such as hysterical realism, tragic comedy and postmodern satire. The plot follows the lives (mostly) of Hal Incandenza, a student at Enfield Tennis Academy, and Don Gately, a recovering drug addict at Ennet Recovery House. The novel explores addiction, withdrawal, recovery, family relationships, death, entertainment, linguistics and national identity. Set in the near future of dystopian America and spanning nine years, each subsidized by a specific corporate sponsor for tax revenue, Infinite Jest will teach you about consumerism, greed, social politics and the shallowness of pleasure. It moves you between characters and years so frequently you’ll give up on control, and in that is the magic reflection of daily life which Wallace aimed for; every scene demands to be read as an individual. Wallace’s language is effortlessly concise. Phrases such as ‘My chest bumps like a dryer with shoes in it’ are the real page-turners. Reading this novel feels like when you’re chasing something in a dream and you almost catch up to it but then you wake up, and that’s when the book ends. It’s irritating and inconclusive and I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s a like a virus.

A book from the St Mary’s library collection, reviewed by Ellen Willett, third year Creative and Professional Writing student.

Library Finds: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, by Jeanette Winterson

I first checked out “Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal” because I wanted to look at one of the books from the Voices in Contemporary Literature course and this one looked the most interesting.

Despite the title referencing when she moved out and her adoptive mother asking her the titular question “Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?” the book deals more so with Jeanette’s issues with the idea of being loved and wanted by those around her. This is shown particularly with the references to the fact her adoptive mother told her that “The Devil lead us to the wrong crib.” The idea of her being “The Wrong Crib.” Comes up often in the novel, whether it’s when she tried to behave “correctly” in the hopes of being acceptable and loved by the woman who adopted her, or later in life when talking about seeking her adoptive mother and being told she’d always been “wanted,” despite being given away for adoption.

Fittingly, as it is a book about her own life, “Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?” is not a set book where things go as they should in a ‘story’ the abusive adoptive mother is not entirely demonised as a monster and the book doesn’t end with a triumphant reunion with the birth mother making everything okay. Rather the book poses the question of nature vs nurture and how someone can love and be loved despite difficult circumstances.

I enjoyed this book and think that anyone else who enjoys learning about the lives of others also would enjoy it.

A book from the St Mary’s library collection, reviewed by Kirstin Richardson, first year English and Creative and Professional Writing student.

Library Finds: Never Let me go by Kazuo Ishiguro

One of those books that I would read again and again (if only my life as an undergraduate would permit it).

It’s extremely affecting. What is happening is not exactly revealed until halfway through the novel, but somehow this contributes to how poignant the story is. 

The characters are beautifully put on the page and their relationship is intricate and cleverly shown, their friendship and love, which at times turns to hate, is what drives the narrative forward and not so much the scientific theme behind it. This isn’t a very easy read, even though the prose is simple. Ishiguro makes us look into what makes us human with an extremely honest eye. 

Highly recommend it, but do keep the tissues nearby.

A book from the St Mary’s library collection, reviewed by Erica de Silva, second year English and Creative and Professional Writing student.

Library Finds: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

This is a book told from the voice of a boy who suffers from Asperger syndrome, and the insight we get into this character’s life is honest and heart-wrenching, without making you feel like the author is trying too hard. Christopher (the protagonist), finds his neighbour’s dog murdered and gets the urge to solve the mystery behind this death. Christopher’s condition makes his prose highly literal, and this sometimes makes him miss out the real truth behind certain situations. Despite making you quite emotional, this book also has  plenty of humour arising from Christopher’s naivety and his lack of embarrassment. All this gives us a new view of the world through Christopher’s honest and humorous voice.  Highly recommend it!

A book from the St Mary’s library collection, reviewed by Erica de Silva, second year English and Creative and Professional Writing student.

New Writing from Twickenham at The Exchange

Autumn 17Last night we had the latest in our rolling programme of undergraduate readings. This was a bit different, however. Rather than just sharing our work amongst ourselves, on campus or in the back room of a public house, we decided to thrust our students into the limelight in the first of what we hope will be the first of many public readings.

‘New Writing From Twickenham’ took place at The Exchange, and was programmed as part of the Richmond Literature Festival. It was something of a hybrid. The first half was given over to St Mary’s Creative and Professional Writing students, while the second was opened to the floor with open mic slots available for audience members. Each half was rounded off with a reading from the wonderful Eley Williams, who read two stories from her brilliant debut collection, Attrib.

The evening was a great success, with everyone reading to a packed cafe at The Exchange – the first time we’ve held one of our readings in this new cultural venue at the heart of Twickenham, and, again, I hope not the last.

It was marvellous to hear our students share their work, and for them to have such a great reception. So put your hands together for Shaun Dicks, Jane Kremer, Beth Fisher, Solomon Atkinson-Padmore, Martha Farrall-Hyder, Abi Silverthorne, Alex Mitchell, Amie Carden, Stephanie Marquardt, Ari Haines and Naima Young….

Eley Williams read two stories from Attrib., ‘Alight At The Next’, which you can read online here, and ‘Smote, or When I Find I Cannot Kiss You in Front of a Print by Bridget Riley’, which you can read online here. But really you should be buying a copy of the book itself, because it’s a corker.

Autumn 17 Eley Williams