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.

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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.

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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.

 

The short and the sweet: prize-winning and shortlisted stories to read online

April is a busy month for UK short story competitions, with the biggest and richest, and one of the newest and hippest both announcing their winners – and the good news is that all of the shortlisted entries are available to read online, making these a great resource for readers and writers. What is the current short story scene looking like? And what kinds of stories are winning prizes?

Firstly, the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award was won by Bret Anthony Johnston for his story ‘Half of What Atlee Rouse Knows About Horses’. This short story competition is very much an establishment gig – it is only open to writers who have been published in the UK (not self-published), and in fact Johnston is Director of Creative Writing at Harvard University. You don’t get much more established than that! Previous winners include Yiyun Li, Junot Diaz and Kevin Barry (who we’ve studied on the St Mary’s CPW course – his winning story, ‘Beer Trip to Llandudno’ can be read here.

Here’s the opening paragraph of Johnston’s story. It’s a tiny masterclass in grabbing the reader’s attention: the reins being held out of the car window, the name Buttons, Buttons never once turning left. And in the use of language: simple when it needs to be, but with vivid notes of colour, interest and intrigue: swaybacked, carnie, cowgirls.

His daughter’s first horse came from a travelling carnival where children rode him in miserable clockwise circles. He was swaybacked with a patchy coat and split hooves, but Tammy fell for him on the spot and Atlee made a cash deal with the carnie. A lifetime ago, just outside Robstown, Texas. Atlee managed the stables west of town; Laurel, his wife, taught lessons there. He hadn’t brought the trailer – buying a pony hadn’t been on his plate that day – so he drove home slowly, holding the reins through the window, the horse trotting beside the truck. Tammy sat on his back singing made up songs about cowgirls. She named him Buttons. No telling how long he’d been ridden in circles at the carnival. For the rest of his life, Buttons never once turned left.

You can read the rest of Johnston’s story and the rest of the shortlist can be read online here. Will you go for Celeste Ng’s intense first person story ‘Every Little Thing’? Or the experimental, Borgesian games of Richard Lambert’s ‘The Hazel Twig and the Olive Tree’?

Lambert’s story would have suited The White Review Short Story Prize, except that, in contrast to the Sunday Times gig, this is only open to writers who haven’t had a full book (novel or collection of stories published) – ie open to emerging writers. (I, me, Jonathan Gibbs, was shortlisted for the first iteration of the prize, in 2013: it was won that year by Claire-Louise Bennett, whose Pond we have also studied at St Mary’s.)

The White Review is a journal very much at the avant garde end of the literary scene, and so they are looking for writing that “explores and expands the possibilities of the form”. The say the prize was founded “to reward ambitious, imaginative and innovative approaches to creative writing”.

The winner this year is Nicole Flattery, for ‘Track’, a suitably edgy and nervy look at love and celebrity in contemporary New York. Here’s the opening paragraph:

My boyfriend, the comedian, took pleasure in telling me about rejection – how it came about, how to cope with dignity, how it had dangerous, possibly cancerous, elements. He said if I pinched just above my waistband, where the unfamiliar portions of fat resided, that’s what rejection felt like. He claimed the link between cancer and repeated failure was irrefutable. He had a lot of new, unusual ideas. ‘Feel that,’ he said, grasping at my hips and thighs, ‘that’s the texture of rejection right there.’

You can read ‘Track’ and all the other shortlisted stories here and even go back and read the stories from the four previous years.

What do you think? Are these inspirational? What can you learn from them? Could you do better?

Breaking ground: teaching diverse voices at St Mary’s, Twickenham

The issue of diversity in publishing in the UK and beyond is one that has become increasingly prominent over recent years – although of course in academia the fight against the teaching of just “dead white males” has a much longer history. So long, in fact, that “dead white males” – the ‘giants’ of the Western canon – has been superseded as a term by the rather more slick descriptor “pale, male and stale”.

Recent attempts to push publishing towards reflecting the make-up of the British reading public include a special report from industry journal The Bookseller, and the inauguration of two prizes for black, Asian and minority ethnic writers.

The first-ever Jhalak Prize, organised by non-profit organisation Media Diversified, for best novel written by a BAME writer who is either British or resident in Britain, was won by Jacob Ross, for his Caribbean-set crime novel The Bone Readers.

And this year sees the second Guardian and 4th Estate BAME short story competition, for a short story written by a British or Irish BAME writer, won last year by Abiola Oni for her story ’75’, which you can read here. The deadline for this year’s competition is 2 April, and you can enter here. No entry fee, word count of 6,000 words.

Then, just this week, there was another attempt to promote British writers of colour, Breaking Ground, a digital guide to 200 of just those people produced by Speaking Volumes, a live readings and events organisation. You can see the full publication here, and we were of course keen to see just who gets covered – and, to keep the focus on St Mary’s, how many of these writers appear on our Creative and Professional Writing curriculum.

Well, by my count, six of them have been taught in our lectures and seminars – seven if you include Linton Kwesi Johnson, who isn’t in the list but, as an elder statesman of the British poetry scene, provides its introduction – and eight if you count Anthony Joseph, who will be coming to give a poetry masterclass in a couple of weeks.

Those that we’ve taught this year at St Mary’s are: Monica Ali, Warsan Shire, Salena Godden, Malorie Blackman, Jackie Kay and Helen Oyeyemi.

There are plenty more names we could be teaching of course, and I’ll be looking through the other 194 names with interest. It looks worth anybody’s time to check it out.

Video: Jess Kidd reading from ‘Himself’

jess_kidd_1tb7140We were hugely excited to have St Mary’s Creative Writing alumna Jess Kidd back last month for a reading, interview and Q&A to celebrate the publication and acclaim of her debut novel, Himself, published by Canongate. She read wonderfully – as you will see if you play the two videos below – and talked to us about all aspects of her writing practice, from the origins of Himself, to her love of Magic Realism and her plans for future novels.

Here she is, reading the prologue to Himself:

And here is a section from Chapter 12, inspired by Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood.

 

As you can see, there was a great turn-out, and just as well as it was a fascinating evening.

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Through the Looking Glass

Intrigued, I looked over. A pitiful feeling overwhelmed me as I looked into the eyes of a broken soul. You couldn’t see me even though you looked my way. I stared at you closely, as if I was right in front of you. You sat there, in the middle of the room on your chair, with just a desk in front of you. You looked around, eyes wandering over every visual detail as if you were a painter, taking in your surroundings before you picked up your brush.

I stood still, just staring at you through the mirror.

Unexpectedly, you got up from your seat and walked around, even though you didn’t have anywhere to go. Nor was there much space to move. As you moved around, you traced your hands against the edge of the table and made invisible footprints across the cold, grey floor.

You walked over and there you was standing in front of the mirror. My body stiffened, my chest tightened and my heart skipped a few beats. You looked at me, straight into my eyes – except you couldn’t see me.

You looked up, your eyes were soft and blue. As if you spoke to me, I could feel all your pain, your sorrow, your joy, your loneliness and your fire. I touched the mirror that separated us, pressing my fingertips against it. The coldness evaporated, filling each line of my personal ID; my finger print; all four of my fingers and my thumb.

As if you could see right through, or you could sense someone or something behind what wasn’t visible to your human eye, your hand stretched out, rubbing against the glass, creating a trail of smudged strokes. Until you got to me, until maybe you felt the heat. Your hand pressed against the glass, opposite mine. We stood there in a trance; time felt like it had stopped just for that moment.

Then you moved back, leaving my hand exposed and alone. You sat back down on the chair in the middle of the room, with only a table in front of you. I stood there, watching you from behind the mirror, until they came in. They placed you in hand cuffs and took you away.

Leaving me with only your evaporating finger painting on the mirrored canvas.

A flash fiction by 3rd Year Creative Writing student Sharmarni Danials.

Flash fiction competition – and inspiration

Following on from Sophie’s flash fiction pieces earlier this week, here are details of a Flash Fiction competition, from Fish Publishing. This is one of the biggest prize catches for this short brand of fiction – but there is an entry fee.

The word limit is a cute little 300 words, and the closing date is the end of the month: 28 February. Enter here.

And if you’re looking for inspiration, how about Lydia Davis? The Man Booker Prize-winning author was writing long before the ‘flash fiction’ tag became common currency, but it fits anyway. Read some of her stories online here and here and read a Paris Review interview with her here.

Competition call for essays on the theme of feminism

Details of an essay competition open to female undergraduate students, run by the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association (UK & Ireland).

The annual competition is intended to encourage and promote a new generation of feminist scholarship, with the six short-listed and winning entries published in the Journal of International Women’s Studies. Long-listed essays go through a peer-review process with external judges, and the short-listed entries are revised following feedback prior to submission, so it is an excellent experience for those students wishing to continue in academia after their studies. The winner will receive a year’s free FWSA membership. The deadline is Friday 5th May 2017.

Find out full details, and read past years’ shortlisted and winning entries here: http://fwsablog.org.uk/prizes-and-grants/student-essay-competition/

Anatomy / A Scene / Limbo

‘Anatomy’

The anatomy of the boy. His skin is soft and off-white like almond milk, the tips of his fingers blistered and the nail bludgeoned, plump and fluid-filled because he punched his bedroom wall too hard. His legs are thin and gangly like his arms, too long for the torso, still, he is growing, and he stares without attachment, the eyes muddy like his father’s and doe-like his mother’s – speckled browns of emotional poverty, a lack of nurturing, stunted. He has her lips, the family’s brow. The snarl of a beast in the throat of a child.

‘A scene’

A biker jacket swung over an armchair.
A birthday cake with a slice cut out.
An ashtray filled with cigarette butts.
A sheet of wrapping paper peeking out from under the sofa.
A fuzzy television screen.
An empty wine glass with a stained red rim.

‘Limbo’

Limbo is standing at a bus stop for more than fifteen minutes and feeling a certain dread that your bus is never going to come.

Three pieces of flash fiction/poetry/you decide by 1st Year Creative Writing student Sophie RA Duggan.

Jess Kidd wins Costa Short Story Award

kidd-jess-c-travis-mcbrideLast night St Mary’s Creative Writing alumna Jess Kidd won the Costa Short Story Award for her story ‘Dirty Little Fishes’. This is a fantastic win for Jess, who has completed both an MA and a PhD in Creative Writing at St Mary’s – not least because the award is voted on by the public, from a shortlist. The award comes with a prize of £3,500.

Jess will be coming to the University to read from and talk about her debut novel, Himself (published by Canongate) on Tuesday 14th February, at a free literary event to be held in the Waldegrave Drawing Room, from 6.30-8pm. This will be a great opportunity to hear from this exciting new voice in Irish fiction, albeit nurtured here in south-west London. Details of the event here.

Here is the opening to ‘Dirty Little Fishes’:

She must be a good friend because on Mammy’s day off we catch two buses and walk up a billion stairs to visit her. It’s an estate like ours, only with less swears written on it. We are waiting outside Mammy’s good friend’s door in a corridor the colour of evil. Mammy pulls down her sleeve and holds it over her face.
‘God protect us from the reek of cat piss,’ she says, and knocks on the door.
‘Be quiet in here now, the woman’s dying.’
‘Will she die today? While I’m here?’ I ask hopefully.
Mammy gives me a look and knocks again.

You can download a copy of the story to read here. There is also an audio version to listen to and download on the Costa website.

The Costa Short Story Award is open to published and unpublished writers over the age of 18 living in the UK or Ireland. Entries for this year’s award will open in the summer.