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.

Voice and Style 

By Jamie L. Cruise

In my writing adventures, learning and demonstrating new knowledge in practice, I have been educated in several important elements and have become aware of their universal applications, the key two being ‘voice’ and ‘style’. By the latter, I mean how a tool or mechanism in writing fiction or poetry can be used in the same ways in non-fiction writing, whether essays or otherwise. Some of these are more subtle than others, going largely unnoticed but still appreciated by the reader (and sometimes, perhaps, the writer), whereas others are obvious and aid us to appreciate a passage of text as fluid, coherent and embodying a core purpose.

Being naive and often flippant in my own writing across most mediums, I had not considered how the former, a writer’s ‘voice’, is present in their writing and across their works. I had gathered that a distinct ‘style’ of writing can be detected, regardless of whether the text is fiction or non-fiction, but had not considered that part of that style is the voice in which the reader hears when reading a body of work. Given that recently the majority of texts I have read have been of an analytic nature, I have learned that in many cases an author’s voice can be construed, in non-fiction just as well as fiction, regardless of the purpose of the text.

In my study of language, RL Trask (Language: The Basics) and Noam Chomsky (voicing opinion and theory in a range of linguistic and philosophical fields) have proven to be amusing – certainly not in the subject matter, but in the way they inform and elaborate on their subjects: their voice. Through their use of humour, relatable examples and rhetoric, information is absorbed by the reader that might otherwise be lost

Now, at what point does this get interesting to you – my reader? Well, the names I’ve dropped are of little significance here and are purely anecdotal. The point I’m seeking to make is that I have become aware of the presence of my own voice as a writer (title pending). Perhaps ‘existence’ is more appropriate than ‘presence’, as I am starting to wonder how much of a voice, and subsequently style, my existing publications (blog posts) emanate. In truth, I am confident it is present and growing in form (which is encouraging). However, in much the same way a writer is their own worst critic, I find myself comparing my own style to other authors who have already established themselves and I see striking difference in their delivery. While being different is far from a bad thing, one must consider how that voice will be heard and the style received.

For a practical example, let’s look at this blog entry. Sure, if my reader is an English or Creative Writing student, or perhaps someone with an interest in language study or a novice writer, then perhaps I have already captured their attention with some content – but what about those who do not fall into those categories (hereby referred to as the royal ‘They’)? Have I bored Them already? *close tab, continue scrolling social media*

If I haven’t (thank you for sticking with me!), then why are They still reading? Assuming that it isn’t through a prior established relation to me, or an inability to leave without completing what They have started, one would assume that the style in which I have composed the post in, and the voice I am conveying through particular lexical arrangements on the page or screen have been entertaining enough to warrant reading on. This, obviously, is a vital concept to consider when trying to make a career in writing, be it in journalism, fiction, non-fiction, historical reports, sales pitches, etc.

Taking a step back to look at my style and voice in a more general light, it’s hard for me to immediately ascertain what makes them what they are. I am not shy in admitting that I write reasonably freely, without much hesitation or editing beyond an occasional grammatical correction, and often inebriated to some degree (fun fact: not tonight). I feel, and have been told as much, that this gives a very personal touch to my work.

I imagine for those reading this who know me personally may hear my own voice when reading my words because of this (and if you weren’t, perhaps you will now).  My concern is that perhaps it is too personal to be interpreted as favourably by someone alien to me. Perhaps it goes so far as to be offensive or irritating to others. It makes little difference to me if it does, as I quite like the idea that I have a voice that can get under the skin of some and into the hearts of others. However, understanding one’s resources proves vital in using them most effectively.

Jamie L. Cruise is a first year English and Creative and Professional Writing student

Talking About London

Talking about London
by Stephanie Marquardt

“Talk about London.” What do you mean by that?
A man with a cane, Victorian coat and hat?
Or the Houses of Parliament making decisions,
Or problems with race and class divisions?

Do you mean
Talk about the Queen?
Red telephone boxes,
The population of foxes,
A Ripper with knives,
A King with six wives,
Dr Who and Amy Pond,
Sherlock Holmes, James Bond,
The chime of Big Ben,
Number Ten,
Or summers on Richmond Green?

So when you tell me to talk about London,
Please tell me, which one do you mean?

A poem by Second Year Creative and Professional Writing student Steph, written as part of the Writing London module. Steph said, about the inspiration for the poem:

Being a Londoner, I feel the place is so multi-faceted that it cannot be defined in a short sentence: it is a combination of people, events, objects and of course, the buildings and areas of the city.

As per to the actual writing of it, I had the last 2 lines in my head for a while, to do the rest (the ‘list’ part), I tried to write down every image I have when someone says “London.”

A lot of my friends are musicians and spoken word artists, they give me a lot of inspiration about how things should sound and flow. I wanted to have a smooth, bouncy rhythm to the poem that forces the reader to speak it faster as it goes on. This city does not have a slow rhythm.

I suppose the poem’s a love letter about home, really. I’m proud to have come from here.

Tips from shortlisted Young Writers of the Year

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Last night Max Porter won the Sunday Times/ PFD Young Writer of the Year Award for his fantastic essay-cum-novella Grief is the Thing with Feathers (read my review of it here), beating poet Andrew Martin, novelist Benjamin Wood and short story writer Jessie Greengrass.

Waterstone’s asked the four shortlistees for their tips for writers young and old. Here they are, on the bookshop’s blog.

Before you click, ask yourself: what is the tip that three of the four put at the top of their list? Go on, I bet you can guess it…

(JG)

Publishing experience opportunity: The Carole Blake Open Doors Project

Publishing has been working for a while to open itself out to people from a wider range of society, to stop it being such a closed shop in terms of race, class, wealth and geography. (It doesn’t have much of  a problem with gender bias.) One initiative that is trying to do something about this is the Carole Blake Open Doors Project, run by the Blake Friedmann literary agency, offering a week’s shadowing in the company, giving an invaluable insight into how books get published, and how the industry works.

The company says it will be “looking solely at applicants from backgrounds not well represented in publishing including those who have not been to college or university, those not from high income families, those from BAME backgrounds, and those who live outside the London metropolitan area.”

For more details, read the info on the Blake Friedman website. Closing date for applications for the work – which would be in May or June 2017 – is 31 December 2016, so get thinking and writing.