Interview: Valentine Carter

Imagine the female characters of Homer’s epic The Odyssey had voice…

THESE GREAT ATHENIANS, Retold told Passages for Seldom Heard Voices, Valentine Carter’s debut novella gives poetic voice to the mostly forgotten and maligned female characters. A truly unique mix of verse and storytelling, Valentine explores each woman’s tale re-imagining unchallenged and unopposed ideas. And showing there is home in myths for people who exist within and outside gender norms.

Valentine recently completed an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck, where they are now studying for a PhD. They have had short fiction published by The Fiction Pool, Bandit Fiction, In Yer Ear. And here at The Mechanics’ Institute Review: Issue 15 and Issue 16. I was lucky enough to get a copy of These Great Athenians, the beautifully textured novella, pre-release.


Alice: Hi Valentine, thank you so much. These Great Athenians is entrancing, layered and pertinent. I’ve been familiar with The Odyssey since a child, and I was really moved discovering the women, their voices, their journeys. This re-imagining of an old world begins at how you arrived. Can you give MIR readers insight to how your writing came to this re-telling of old story for the modern world?


Valentine: Ideas tend to arrive from many different directions, but I think the beginning was a lecture I went to with Marina Warner who mentioned, almost as an aside, something about the failure of collective memory in Oedipus as a possible reading and I thought that was really interesting. Somebody recommended that I read Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey because it was by a woman and it was also good. I hadn’t read the poem before because I found the Penguin translation incredibly stuffy and impenetrable, but I knew a lot of the stories. I was really amused by Penelope’s deviousness in unpicking the shroud but also quite surprised at how underwritten the women are given how vibrantly they resonated for me through the stories I had read. I think also around this time I read Pat Barker’s Silence of the Girls and was thinking about retelling the really big myths as an act of protest. All the thoughts joined up and here we are.

In a practical sense, Penelope unpicking the shroud and that so many of the women are weavers was the leaping off point to doing something constructive that involved actually writing instead of sitting about musing. I was interested in repetition in poetry and this being an interesting way to talk about the unpicking of the shroud and how time slows down while you’re waiting, so I started there, with Penelope.


A: The language takes the reader to ancient Greece. A landscape with, for me, some unfamiliar words. Yet it’s an effortless read. Can you tell me more about your research process here? And the merging of old and contemporary language?


V: I’m not a classicist by any stretch of the imagination. I learned about the myths by reading or watching them. I first knew about Jason and the Argonauts because of the film with the Ray Harryhausen stop motion animation, for example. I was talking to someone the other day about how difficult it is not knowing how to pronounce the names of some of the characters because I’ve never heard them out loud. I don’t think any of these things should be a barrier to understanding or enjoying the stories, not for me or anyone else. So, in practical terms, it was a question of getting to the point where if I felt the right word was an ancient Greek one I would do a bit of research and find it. But not in an Eton schoolboy way, I would think about the connection between the word then and where I am putting it. I think this is particularly relevant for the titles in Melantho’s chapter.

I think the choice of language, on a sentence level, goes back to the idea that we look at the past to understand the present. I didn’t want to just transport the characters into the present, I really wanted to try and make that calling back and then projecting forward possible so that when it happens at the end, and we arrive in the absolute present, it seems reasonable to the reader.

I think also it’s important to reclaim the writing as well as the women so that means not making it complicated to decipher as if it’s only for people who’ve had an elite education and speak Ancient Greek. My editor suggested that we include the glossary and I thought that was a good idea because I don’t want the need for prior knowledge to get in the way. I was not an expert in poisonous plants before I wrote Circe’s section. I’m still not, to be honest. Every hedgerow is a potential death trap.


A: Your prose makes each character jump off coloured pages – colour reflecting them and their weight under expected convention. How did colour come into this story?


V: When I wrote the first draft it had a sort of framing mechanism which used a source text that was about categorizing colours. I was interested in the idea that women are labelled in a similar way but then I was more interested in other aspects of the book so as it developed this device became too restrictive. I got rid of it but kept the sections and I think that intention is still felt somehow in the book. It was still in everyone’s thoughts when we got to the design stage as a way of helping the reader navigating the book as it has quite an unusual structure for a novel, or indeed a poetry collection.


A: You’ve made space in this telling. And it was lovely. I couldn’t imagine this story without it. Space is something as a new writer I struggle to embrace. Can you tell me about your experience using space?


V: I think it’s much easier to learn to love space by writing poetry or studying it at least, which is not to say that prose can’t be spacious, just to suggest a shortcut. I think it helps that in poetry the contract between poet and reader is such that the reader expects that they are going to have to work a bit harder and bring something of themselves to the experience. As a result, I think some poets can be braver than some prose writers when it comes to trusting their reader at first. But it is hard and I think you arrive at it by approaching it stealthily along a circuitous route. This is why the novel is in verse mostly, so there’s less heavy lifting in the sentences when staking out the territory.

The idea of space is so important in a lot of different ways. It’s quite metaphorical which is pleasing. There’s the space for the reader to think and to work out how they relate to it and what path they draw from the past to the present and into the future, because it’s different for everyone perhaps There’s my wish to create a space for me, for anyone, to think about these things away from the aggression and noise of the online space or the media. And then there’s the space to discuss and share our thoughts and experience as all different kinds of women. But mostly, of course, there is the desire to create a space for these characters to be heard without having Odysseus or someone else talking over them, or doing something worse, all the time. A safe space.


A: This book is a real treasure that will stand time. Can I ask how long the process took?


V: I tested the Penelope section out on the Spring term class of my second year on the MA and then wrote all the women for my dissertation so that was three years ago now. But then there was a long gap when I started the PhD and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with it. Then from when I was talking to Nobrow and we decided to work together, I think that took several months from redrafting to this version. It is dramatically different. I also had a chance to absorb everything I had learnt because the MA is a bit helter skelter and, as you know, a lot happens both in terms of writing and being a human! I do write really quickly though when I sit down, I think because I spend so long appearing to sit about doing nothing. This is when all the work happens, while I’m playing Zelda.


A: Anything else for writers hoping to re-tell an old story?


V: I think you need to really clearly know why you are re-telling it and start by re-telling it to yourself. This is what a first draft is anyway perhaps but I think the act of retelling is very much that of the story teller around the camp fire in that there’s an audience and a performance. I think that question of why tell it now is important too although you can answer that as you go along. Maybe the retelling is how you find that answer? On some level I wanted to retell The Odyssey because I didn’t like it that way it was written. Ted Hughes once said that great things are done from a desire to see things done differently and I think that’s true and a useful starting point. Stealing the stories back is also a great place to begin – I feel like a queer reading of Athena is very appealing act of rebellion. Although it’s not a question of stomping all over the source text, I think there does need to be something you love about it, because otherwise what’s the point of stealing it all for yourself?


A: Thank you for you letting me behind the scenes of These Great Athenians. It was an absolute joy to read; empowerment and hope on my bedside table… I would love more please.



Valentine Carter’s THESE GREAT ATHENIANS, Retold Passages for Seldom Heard Voices is published by Nobrow Press. Buy your copy here.



Interview: Fran Lock

‘A transformational chase to confound all predators’: An interview with Fran Lock by Matt Bates

In this in-depth interview Fran Lock discusses queer mourning, radical feminism, therianthropy, and why she likes her poems to misbehave.


MB: The hyena is an animal which elicits both disgust and distrust, perhaps even a certain queerness. It seems a symbolic choice for your collection. Can you tell us more about your Hyena! poems?

FL: I’m glad you mentioned queerness in relation to Hyena! Across all of the books in which Hyena! appears – and there are now three of them – the hyena is an avatar for particular kinds of emotional experience or thought, experiences that I have come to identify as queer. Hyenas in folklore are persistently figured as fluctuant and threatening; they have outlandish magical properties – their shadow strikes you dumb, there is a stone in their eye that grants the gift of prophesy –, they are harbingers of death and destruction. The hyenas of legend shift between categories of species and sex: neither animal or man, cat or dog, male or female. Queerness is also a mode of being that is imperfectly held within language; that cuts across and partakes of multiple categories of vexed belonging. This otherness is something I connect to my sexuality, but more so to cultural and class identity; to a feeling of being simultaneously both and neither. The experience of queerness is the experience of finding no perfect expression of solidarity, no true home within any single territory or lexical field.

The first Hyena! poem I wrote (‘Wild Talents’) was provoked by a sudden and unsettling experience of loss. It takes its title from a book by Charles Hoy Fort, the well-known researcher into “anomalous phenomena”, and a great collector of therianthropic lore. In Wild Talents Fort writes about the belief that under certain emotional conditions, such as grief or rage, a man might literally turn into a hyena. The news of my friend’s death initiated something in me where, following a sustained period of loss and turbulence, I had reached a state in which animal transformation felt plausible to me; where I felt just feral and disordered enough to turn into a hyena myself. The figure of Hyena! emerged because the accumulative effects of grief were a kind of therianthropy; my own body became strange and dangerous to me, it changed in ways both involuntary and conscious. Grief seems to demand this mutation: normal functioning suspended, caught in arrest and revolt.

I often talk about the Hyena! poems as a work of queer mourning: an exploration of the troubling strangeness grief initiates in us, and a negotiation with the kinds of grief – and grieved for subjects – society does not want to look at. I tend to think of grief as a queering of the real, as a making strange of world and self to self and world. At its most violent edges grief changes how we see and say, what it is possible to think and to know, the words with which and through which we apprehend reality. It is a kind of relational uncannying, it renders communication fraught, it ruptures something at the level of language, requires new words and phrases, new ways of saying.

This frightens people. The hyena’s “laugh” is repeatedly mischaracterised in folklore and contemporary culture alike as demonic, hysterical, or mocking. Throughout my research, I began to relate this to the ways in which the sounds of women’s grief and trauma – and the grief and trauma of queer women in particular – are also misunderstood and shunned. Throughout all the Hyena! poems, there is absolutely a confrontation with this historical disgust and abjection. The hyena has great symbolic weight for me. I feel a powerful identification with her.

MB: There is a passage in the Bible, Isiah 34:14, which reads, ‘The wild beasts of the desert shall meet with the hyenas, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl [Lilith] also shall rest there and find for herself a place of rest.’ I’m struck by how elements of this short piece of scripture are encapsulated within your poems. Religious and mythological misogyny is a concern throughout Hyena!, most apparent in Tiamat in South West One. Can you tell us more?

FL: You are absolutely right, religious misogyny is an animating force across all of the Hyena! poems, but in the later pieces these concerns are at their most furiously present.

Tiamat is the Mesopotamian goddess of chaos and creation, best known from the Babylonian epic, the The Enuma Elish, where she symbolizes the forces of anarchy and destruction that threaten the order established by the Gods. Marduk, who eventually kills Tiamat, is the god-hero who preserves that order. In her battle against Marduk, Tiamat effectively creates her own army by giving birth to monstrous offspring, including three horned snakes, a lion demon and a scorpion-human hybrid. You can probably guess how well that turned out. The foundational myths of patriarchal society are predicated upon the violent subjugation of disobedient women. In the chaoskampf between Tiamat and Marduk, female creative and biological power is exaggerated and distorted, figured in its most negative and repulsive aspects: Tiamat is the unnatural mother of grotesque children; she is full of rage, she ‘spawned monster-serpents, sharp of tooth, and merciless of fang; with poison, instead of blood, she filled their bodies’. The myth functions as both a conquest of female power, and the disgusted refusal of women’s fury.

I worked through the figure of Tiamat for this particular poem, but she might just as easily have been Lilith or Eve: the yoking of dirty animality and womanhood is a relentless motif in Judaeo-Christian scripture. Tiamat might also have been a witch. Where witch belief is alive and kicking – as it is in many parts of the world – rumours of animal transformation still attend accusations of witchcraft; the witch still has her familiars: the bat, the owl, the toad, the hyena, and the witch takes on their most malignant characteristics, she sheds her skin and becomes a beast: filthy, both literally and morally.

In Animal Equality: Language and Liberation (2001) Joan Dunayer writes about the process of dehumanisation, and the inherent speciesism necessary for this process to work: to reduce the human to the level of an animal we must first devalue the animal. The brutalising treatment of animals, then, is not merely cruel, but a necessary precursor to misogyny, to homophobia, to fascism, and to all kinds of human atrocity. As a culture we become accustomed to cruel acts by perpetrating them first against animals; speciesism also creates the language in which it is possible to dehumanise the “other” amongst us. Religion, sadly, has excelled at such language games, and this is a large part of what these later Hyena! poems wrestle with.

MB: You preface Tiamat in South West One with a quote from Mary Daly. In Gyn/Ecology (1978), Daly asserts that ‘Patriarchy is itself the prevailing religion of the entire planet…’ which is both profound and depressingly true. How has radical feminism informed your work?

FL: I am glad you brought up radical feminism. “Radfem” is not a popular subject position at this particular cultural moment, is it? Largely due to frequent distortions from the phoney-baloney culture war. I won’t dwell on that. I will say that I came to radical feminism at a time in my life when I needed a space and a framework through which I could articulate and understand many of my own formative experiences. I also needed a mode of writing and thinking supple and muscular enough to accommodate and channel my rage. It was either that, or be consumed by it, be destroyed by it. Radical feminism created discursive and intellectual space for me; gave me the rhetorical resources to think analytically about my life, and to comprehend that life in the broader context of a global struggle for women’s liberation – which is also inherently anti-racist, anti-colonial, and anti-capitalist.

In terms of the Hyena! poems, I think radical feminism functions in the first instance as kind of embedded permission to write about feelings, thoughts, and experiences that are not considered (still) quite acceptable to vocalise. Whatever else the poems are “about”, they are also – collectively – about inhabiting and negotiating the category of woman. Even as a child I understood that I was inferior for being a girl, but also inferior for not living up to some imagined standard of girlhood. For women, the signifiers of race and class, such as accent and grammar, are intimately linked to perceptions of femininity, sexual availability and moral worth, so as a working-class and culturally “other” woman, you are already evicted from the hallowed precincts of the acceptably feminine the minute you open your mouth. Your de facto status as a non-woman, non-person contributes of course to your exploitation. There’s a nice irony that middle-class white women are continually figured as more vulnerable and fragile than their BAME or working-class sisters, when it is precisely our status as such that render us – on a systemic level – more so. That fiendish intersection of ethnicity, class and gender is the radical feminist through-line in these poems. It’s something that I don’t think either mainstream poetry or politics has ever sufficiently grappled with.

In terms of Hyena!‘s biggest intellectual influences, Mary Daly is tremendously important, and other foundational figures such as Audre Lorde, Andrea Dworkin, and bell hooks. The work is also inspired by and in many places channels more “extreme” or “fringe” figures such as the playwright and queer activist Valerie Solanas, and the artist and occultist Marjorie Cameron, and the black bisexual blues singer, Ma Rainey. The Marxist feminist writer, Silvia Federici is another important figure for Hyena! In her book, Caliban and the Witch, Federici talks about a belief in magic in early European societies as a massive stumbling block to the rationalisation of the work process. A belief in magic functioned as a kind of refusal of work, a form of insubordination and grass-roots resistance. Women’s claim to magical power in particular undermined state authority because it gave the poor and powerless hope that they could manipulate and control the natural environment, and by extension subvert the social order. Magic must be demonised, persecuted out of existence, for the projects of colonialism and capitalism to be realised. This reading of history has been hugely important to me, especially with regards to the suppression of the caoin and related lament traditions in Ireland. People tend to see religion and science – or more broadly the rationalist agenda of the “enlightenment” – as oppositional forces. One of Federici’s significant claims in Caliban and the Witch is that, in the suppression of magic and the persecution of women, their aims were horribly aligned. That grim pincer movement gets a thorough working out through the Hyena! poems.

I think it’s still true today that the white middle class patriarchy has been so effectively naturalised as the absolute model for all human experience that it cannot recognise or permit any other forms of meaning-making, or can only understand them as pathological, backward or otherwise aberrant; the customs and beliefs of the “white, other” are particularly irksome because they disrupt the categories – “liberal”, “progressive”, “rational” – from which white middle-class identity is constituted. Magic is like rage; it is a fly in the ointment. Many kinds of folklore, magical thinking or witch belief crop up throughout the collection. I owe this to my radical feminist foremothers, but also to a rich familial and ancestral culture. Making space for these beliefs, these modes of thought, is a form of creative protest.

MB: The poems often move from present to past seamlessly in a continuum of different voices which yearn for freer movement and strain against feminine structural constraint. Would it be to correct to suggest that you use timelessness as a way of negotiating such restrictions?

FL: Tense is extremely important to me, not just with the Hyena! poems, but throughout my practice in general. I’ll often have poems written years apart that explore a different portion of a speaking subject’s life. For instance, I see the teenage speaker in Last Exit to Luton, which I initially wrote in 2013, the young mother in How I Met Your Father (2014), and the little old lady in Gentleman Caller (2015) as embodying different phases in the life of one woman, one “character”.

Tense, for me, is another kind of metaphor. I’m using it to try and talk about the tangled threads of intergenerational trauma, especially for women, especially for poor and Traveller women, especially in Ireland. I always like to reference something Eleni Sikelianos says about a poem existing outside of time, while being deeply embedded within it, how a poem can pivot between the temporal and the extra-temporal, can hold us in suspension outside the rational flow of time. This is also “trauma time”, the disruption to or breaking of the unifying thread of temporality. Trauma manifests, according to Freud, through its traces, that is, by its aftermath, its effects of repetition and deferral. Trauma loops, stutters, skews, resurfaces. It is part of the same continually repeating and extending present. So in the first instance, I think my movement between different voices, different lexis, and different historical scenes is a way of exposing that continuum of trauma, of violence, in the lives of women. But also yes, absolutely, it also becomes a method of resisting or evading that violence. It is a kind of code, a way the different voices have of talking among themselves across history. Hidden in history, if you like, as opposed to hidden from.

MB: The dressed, layering, or (un)covering of the female body is a persistent theme throughout Hyena!, perhaps most evident in Part II of Three Jane Does (which is astonishingly beautiful, by the way!) and For Those of Us Found in Water, in which you write of ‘the body masquerading | as a mannequin, an angel, | a perfect lily of tv dread.’ Can you tell us more about this as a theme?

FL: Firstly, thank you. Secondly, this cycle of poems is a sequence I have been calling Hyena! in the Dead Girl Industrial Complex, and it grew out of a long consideration of the ways in which art and culture exploit and consume the violent death of women and girls. I’ve read a great deal in recent years about the sensationalising of women’s rape and murder, but that never felt quite right to me, except in the sense that “sensation” is an inoculation against empathy. I think the situation is more complicated – and in many ways worse – than that. On one level culture is absolutely obsessed with the fatally brutalised female victim, but it also has a hard time really looking at her, of acknowledging that body as a person, that body as a citizen, a subject. While culture has the capacity to become enthralled by individual narratives of violent crime, what’s missing is an understanding of the system and the society that produced that violence. Capitalism creates the material conditions under which these women are likely to become victims. And capitalist culture – the attitudes it endorses – creates the ambient social conditions under which men are more likely to become perpetrators. Capitalism is the chief enabler of male violence. It creates an underclass of vulnerable women. Sometimes being the victim of male violence is the only thing that makes those women visible and present within our culture. We contend every day within language and life with so many registers and levels of invisibility that I’m not sure the death of women and girls is sensational entertainment any- more, it isn’t entertaining; it’s banal, it’s beige, it’s background static. We’re used to it. Girls grow up with it, it’s part of their understanding of the universe and of themselves. I think that’s one of the reasons that the poems are so preoccupied with the body, and the ways in which the body is seen or unseen, is hidden or revealed.

That uneasy tightrope walk between disclosure and restraint is something I think poetry does particularly well, so the poems function as small units of lyric resistance to the kinds of coerced visibility demanded of women – even dead ones – by capitalism, and to their simultaneous erasure as citizens and subjects.  Simile and metaphor are disguises, costume changes, feints and transformations for my speakers. There’s an old English ballad, ‘The Twa   Magicians’ or ‘The Lady and the Blacksmith’ in which a blacksmith threatens to deflower (rape) a lady who vows to keep herself a maiden. The two antagonists begin a transformation chase: the maid becomes a hare, and he catches her as a dog etc. There’s a nauseating version of the ballad by Francis James Child, but in most other renderings the maid escapes. Her magic is greater. I look on the poems a little like that. A transformation chase to confound all predators.

MB: The Hyena! poems forgo capitalization. As a reader, I warmed very much to this egalitarian form and your inclusive voice. What made you take this approach?

FL: I am thinking of having the following Donna Haraway quote – a favourite of mine – tattooed across my back: ‘Grammar is politics by other means.’ It’s true, and it’s true of punctuation too, I think. There’s something about a lack of capitalisation, especially of proper nouns, that feels disruptive to that traditional hierarchical relationship between writer and reader, between the poem’s speaker and their addressee or interlocutor. None of my speakers talk with a capital ‘I’. They’re too unreliable for that; they’re too uncertain of their identity or status, or else they reject the imposition of that identity or status, all those shitty sectional interests, those ready-made categories of belonging. Because the collection is about transformation, there are no stable speaking subjects, no monolithic entities known as ‘I’ or ‘you’.  My speakers are a commons, a network, a coven, a brood. They speak with intimacy and urgency. Punctuation is a wall around the poem, it is a kind of status claim, it is a kind of border. I’m not a fan of borders.


I’m also interested in the way that the removal of capitalisation serves to problematize the relationship to time of both the speaker and the poem itself. Throughout the series of poems, I’m using punctuation to preserve and create rhythm, but removing that which consigns the poems to discrete, objective parcels of time. I like the idea of a poem that steps outside of itself, that isn’t quite behaving on the page as a poem should, that cannot be understood exclusively on those terms. I like that you used the word “inclusive”. I think my lack of capitalisation is embracive, a reaching, a crossing.

MB: In his foreword to Carl Abrahamson’s Occulture (2018), Gary Lachman makes the distinction that ‘there is a purposive element behind the idea [of an occulture], a self-consciousness associated with earlier art movements, a need to define itself against the backdrop of the ever-increasing plethora of information, entertainment, and distraction that characterizes our time.’ How conscious are you of the elements of both acknowledgment and resistance in your own poetry?

FL: I love that we’re talking about occulture, because this is something that comes up more than once across the Hyena! cycle, whether in relation to the practice of the caoin in Ireland and elsewhere, in thinking about queerness and bisexuality, or in referencing more broadly practices, languages and cultures that have been forced underground through the Janus-faced violence of exile and assimilation. An occulture is different from a subculture, to my mind, because it cannot come to an accommodation with the dominant culture; it is not suffered to exist as a kind of safety valve for that dominant culture. An occulture is that which is absolutely indigestible to the mainstream, to capitalism, to patriarchy. It will not be compressed into neatly delineated binaries. It is porous and multiple, seething. It scares people, and so it must remain hidden. In hidden places pressure builds and power gathers. By which I mean that the secrecy necessary for survival becomes the occulture’s greatest strength. Just the idea of being hidden or undefined has tremendous weight and power within neo-liberal surveillance culture, which wants us to be visible at all times and at all costs, and parades this very visibility as somehow inherently radical. I don’t buy that, Hyena! doesn’t buy that either.

Thinking about the idea of acknowledgement or resistance in the Hyena! poems, there is certainly an engagement with prior movements, figures, beliefs against capitalism’s endlessly scrolling torrents of content. This is an act of potentially radical return, I think. It is the creation of a temporal glitch, a loop, a skip; it drags the past into the present, refuses or refutes the idea of “progress”, this notion that history is a straight line, an uncomplicated angle of ascent. As a kind of metaphor for this idea: there’s a host of musical subgenres that grew out of the former Soviet Union, usually grouped together under the heading “Gypsy Brass”. These musicians play extremely fast, coruscating brass on instruments that were often literally retrieved from the earth, dropped by retreating military bands. This is the way my poems are acknowledging and holding these prior traditions; this is the way they are carrying the muck and pain of immediate history with them: by making it sing, by mining it, by proving that it isn’t over yet, you can still get a tune out of it.  

In terms of queerness, I’m also deeply conscious of the fact the language we have for talking about queerness doesn’t allow us to talk about it as a positive quality; it is constructed as something done to the ordinary; it cannot constitute itself; it can only exist in relation to straightness. This either-or proposition is the hidden historical violence of the word “queer”. If you’re not us, you’re nothing, you’re inhuman, subhuman. This language assumes a stable centre from which we deviate; it implies damage or deformation. This is deeply melancholy for the queer subject; it infuses queer desire with yearning. What we need – want – are impelled toward – is the establishment of a centre of our own. Until we reach it, what is extra in us is made to feel like a lack, a hole, a cavernous pit. I think the poems are trying to establish that centre, to confirm a compassionate mutuality, a commons, if only within imaginative space, if only across history. It isn’t just writing against the shitty heteronormative capitalist patriarchy (although it is also that), it is trying to signal back across time that we are not – have never been – alone.

About Fran Lock:

Dr Fran Lock is the author of numerous chapbooks and nine poetry collections, most recently Hyena! Jackal! Dog! (Pamenar Press, 2021) and the forthcoming Hyena! (Poetry Bus Press, 2021). The Hyena! cycle is concerned with therianthropy – the magical transformation of people into animals – as a metaphor for the embodied effects of sudden and traumatic loss. Through the figure of Hyena! Fran negotiates the multiple fraught intersections of dirty animality, femininity, grief, class and culture, to produce a work of queer mourning, a furious feral lament. 

Fran is an Associate Editor at Culture Matters where she recently edited The Cry of the PoorAn anthology of radical writing about poverty (Culture Matters, 2021); she edits the Soul Food column for Communist Review and is a member of the new editorial advisory board for the Journal of British and Irish Innovative Poetry. Together with Hari Rajaledchumy, Fran recently completed work on Leaving, an English translation of poems by the Sri Lankan Tamil poet Anar, for the Poetry Translation Centre. The final book in the Hyena! cycle, Hyena! in the Dead Girl Industrial Complex is due next year, and her book of hybrid lyric essays, White/ Other, is forthcoming from The 87 Press, also in 2022.

Fran teaches at Poetry School and hides out in Kent with her beloved pit bull, Manny.

Other Works:

Flatrock (Little Episodes, 2011)
The Mystic and the Pig Thief (Salt, 2014)
Muses and Bruises (Culture Matters, 2016)
Dogtooth (Out-Spoken Press, 2017)
Ruses and Fuses (Culture Matters, 2018)
Contains Mild Peril (Out-Spoken Press, 2019)
Raptures and Captures (Culture Matters, 2019)
Hyena! Jackal! Dog! (Pamenar Press, 2021)
Hyena! (forthcoming, Poetry Bus Press, 2021)

Hyena! in the Dead Girl Industrial Complex (forthcoming, 2022)

Poetry collaborations and chapbooks:

Laudanum Chapbook Anthology: Volume Two (Laudanum, 2017,) with Kim Campenello and Abigail Parry.
Co-Incidental 1 (Black Light Engine Room Press, 2018), with Jane Burn, Martin Malone, and p.a. morbid
Triptych (Poetry Bus Pres, 2019), with Fiona Bolger and Korliss Sewer

As editor:

With Jane Burn, Witches, Warriors, and Workers: An anthology of contemporary working women’s writing (Culture Matters, 2020)

The Cry of the Poor: An anthology of radical writing about poverty (Culture Matters, 2021)

As translator:

Assisting Hari Rajaledchumy, Leaving by Anar (Poetry Translation Centre, 2021)

Interview: Imran Mahmood

[NB – There are no spoilers in this review…]

It’s not often that an interview with an author, let alone a crime author, starts with a conversation about Proust and In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu). Mind you, it’s not often that I interview crime writers, and I’m not usually asked to review crime fiction. But this book isn’t really crime fiction, as the publishers would make you believe, but something completely different; original, intriguing and compelling. 


I Know What I Saw tells the story of former banker Xander Shute, who has been living on the streets for thirty years. One evening, after an attack by another homeless man, he finds himself hiding in a luxurious Mayfair house where he witnesses the murder of a woman. Confused, he tries to tell the Police what he saw. They don’t believe him, and as the story develops and Xander searches for answers, his memory continually plays tricks on his mind as he confronts his past that he has been hiding from. 


Written in the first-person present, I Know What I Saw goes to the heart of what we remember and what we choose to remember. It shows Xander as a flawed, unreliable protagonist, someone who is so lost and confused that he finds it hard to piece things together, apart from memories of his childhood living with his disciplinarian father and competitive, over-achieving brother. It is these memoires, like Proust’s madeleine that are etched into his mind, as he wanders through London’s streets looking for answers to what he saw, or didn’t see. 


Reading the book I was startled by Mahmood’s ability to make the reader doubt their own view of what is going on. That might be the point of great crime writing, I suppose; the writer’s capacity to create doubt and uncertainty at every twist and turn. But reading I Know What I Saw, I began to doubt my own thoughts about what was actually happening, just as Xander Shute’s memory also plays tricks with his mind. I wanted to know what was really going on and managed to catch Mahmood one Friday lunchtime over zoom.


I started by asking, why Proust? 


Imran: When I was 15 or 16, I met a homeless man in my local library who asked me if I was interested in some of his French books. I was into reading French literature at the time and he gave me a copy of In Search of Lost Time. I thought and still think it is the greatest piece of literature ever produced because it deals with the idea of memory so beautifully. It questions the idea of what we mean by memory and identity, and how, the older you get, the more you are changed by what you remember, and this is exactly what happens to Xander Shute. He is constantly taken back to memories of his previous life, but because he’s been on the streets for so long, everything is a blur. Proust also makes us think about what it’s like to stand on the edge of a precipice looking into the abyss, and that we sometimes need to go to that edge to fully understand what we are suffering. That’s why I included the quote ‘we are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full’ at the start of the book. Proust was my way into Xander, who was previously protected by privilege and education but isn’t anymore, and life has now caught up with him. 


Miki: Is this a book about the self?


I: The crime is just a vehicle. I’m keen to use it to explore other themes and in fact, I’m not massively interested in the crime itself. I’m a lot more interested in what it tells us about the human condition. Here you have a man, Xander, who was from a perfect background, but I wanted to show what it must have felt like for him living and being trapped in this new impossible life. This life on the streets, moving from place to place, living hand to mouth. That’s why I wrote it in the first-person present. I wanted to give the reader a sense of claustrophobia. I want readers to be right there, with him, in that moment. 


M: It seems to me that your work inspires your writing? 


I: Being a Barrister is relentless and the subject matters I work with can be pretty dark. What has amazed me though throughout my career is that people are incredibly tenacious. I see it every day. Sometimes I wonder how certain people can go on, but they do, which is a testament to the human condition. People, like those that I represent have an innate desire to keep on going, even when everything else aaroundthem falls apart. I find it remarkable, and I wanted Xander to have the same qualities of resilience. 


Also, in my experience, criminals always deny responsibility. I see it all the time. The fact that they have denied a crime makes me think that there are trying to re-write who they are as people. That is fascinating to me, and in some ways, it is what Xander is doing; trying to re-invent himself, make out that things didn’t happen when in fact they might have done. 


M: Xander was on the streets for 30 years. This to me seemed like a long time, but we see very little about that period of time. Was that deliberate?


I: The first title I had for the book was ‘Exposure’ because I wanted to show that someone is likely to die in three days if they have no shelter. The publishers weren’t keen on that title, but I was more interested in what being on the streets for a long period does to someone. What is left of that disfigured, slightly twisted person? What has Xander experienced that has influenced how he thinks and what he does? I didn’t want to look at his daily life, as the risk is that you then comment about the phenomenon of homelessness and every experience is different. So, I kept coming back to this idea of memory and identity. Who was this person before they became homeless and who were they now?


M: Do you plan your books carefully before you start writing? 


I: Not at all. I remember Lee Child saying that he never plots anything and just likes to find out where things will go. That’s how I like to write. I plot late at night when I’m in bed and let things visualise in my mind and then I’ll maybe write a line or 5-6 words per chapter, so I know what I’m doing. So there’s not much structural planning. Some people find it easier to plot, but maybe I’m like Xander, I like things to percolate. But it suits me as I have a very unstructured writing routine which means I end up writing in cafes, courtrooms, while waiting for verdicts, on trains, buses or when everyone is asleep at home. 


Mahmood is the latest in a long but distinguished line of high-profile crime writers from British-Asian backgrounds, that includes Amer Anwar, Abir Mukherjee, Alex Caan and others. Throughout our conversation I was struck by his thoughts, not only about writing and how his ideas evolve, but also about the publishing industry that he feels still has some way to go before it truly represents writers from underrepresented backgrounds. 


I Know What I Saw is a captivating, relentless read, but also a thoughtful and stunning look at how memory and identity can fade and change over time.


Buy a copy of the book here


Miki Lentin took up writing while travelling the world with his family, and was a finalist in the 2020 Irish Writer’s Centre Novel Fair for his novel Winter Sun. He has also been published by Leicester Writes, Fish Publishing (second prize Short Memoir), Litro, Village Raw Magazine and writes book reviews for MIR Online. He dreams of one day running a café again. He is represented by Cathryn Summerhayes @taffyagent. @mikilentin

Interview: Iphgenia Baal

Iphgenia Baal is a London writer. She’s a former journalist and a self-publicist of two zines. Her first book, The Hardy Tree, was published in 2011 by Trolley Books, who also published Gentle Art in 2012. Death and Facebook was published in 2018 by We Heard You Like Books. Her most recent work is Man Hating Psycho, published last month by Influx Press.

I’ve read her latest book twice – it’s utterly absorbing and hilarious in its interrogation of the disconnect between our identities and real-life-selves, exposing the inherent duplicity of online communication and how this plays us into the social order. Iphgenia has a unique prose style that has been described as visionary, a ‘marrying of politics and ass’, likened to writers as varied as James Joyce, Manuel Puig and Dodie Bellamy. 


Alice: I loved reading Man Hating Psycho! I love the way it draws out social insanity in a very funny voice. What is your synopsis of Man Hating Psycho? Why did you write it?


Iphgenia: I’m not sure I’m qualified to give you a synopsis of the book. I’m never sure what I’ve written until years later, so you’ll just have to go with the blurb. As for why I wrote it, I wrote it because I write. 


A: The opening text ‘Change☺’ is a What’s App group conversation. The Usernames gave great leverage to the characters in conversation, like ‘EnglishTwerkingClass’. I’m guessing there’s a mixture of fiction and non-fiction here. How did you develop this voice using social media?


I: I didn’t really develop anything. This story was delivered to my phone near-word for word to how it appears in the book. I cut bits and bobs and jiggled a few sentences around but other than that the only authorial decision I made was to copy it out and publish it. The names came about through necessity because it is (apparently) morally and legally questionable to publish people’s real names and phone numbers alongside real messages they sent, so I anonymised the names in a way that amused me. 


A: Brilliant! I really felt I was in the narrator’s head throughout, following their train of thought, feeling their dismay, conjuring questions onto the tip of my tongue, then bam, the narrator asks them. Genius. And it never felt like an exhausting rant, it was funny. Can you give insight to how you managed this – to write cross without losing the reader?


I: I write how I write, which is also how I talk. Some people get it, like it, agree with it, are amused by it… like you seem to be, while others are bored or offended by it and go around telling people I am “evil”. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s tough to give any insight of note into a mode of thinking that is so intrinsic to me. But I think it’s also true that people getting cross are almost always funny…


A: Each text heading really helped contextualise content, like It allowed me to get an overview of the work’s voice as a whole. What came first – the text or the heading? 


I: Titles only ever come to me after I’ve written something, never before. Usually, I know something is finished because a title occurs to me. 


A: You really make use of different fonts and white space. Can you talk about your editing process here?


I: Man Hating Psycho has been the most hand-off experience I’ve had of publishing. Usually, I write in InDesign and typeset as I go. I suppose a little of that crept into this book at my insistence. Personally, I wouldn’t like a lot more. But yeah, I often use text design as a way to edit content, albeit in a haphazard way. I think it comes from my time writing for magazines combined with an aversion to Microsoft Word. 


A: You’ve achieved a lot of publications for a young writer – any top tips for Birkbeck writers?


I: Tbh, I don’t know why anyone would want to take tips from me. I might have written a few things that have been published but I’ve made a humiliating amount of money out of doing it and in the process opened myself up to attacks from countless loathsome buffoons. The end result is that I’ve written myself into a corner where I am basically unemployable, so sorry, no motivational titbits.  


Thank you for this insight into your process, Iphgenia. I can’t recommend enough that writers, well, everyone reads Man Hating Psycho. The book is truly visionary in its form with an honest, critical voice that the world would do a lot better with more of.


Buy a copy of the book here

Alice has lived and worked with an invisible disability for 20 years. Her writing draws on this experience alongside humour. She is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck. She loves horses, dogs, lols and libations. And she hopes you enjoy reading her work!

Interview: Femi Kayode

Femi Kayode trained as a clinical psychologist in Nigeria, before starting a career in advertising. He has created and written several prime-time TV shows. He recently graduated with a distinction from the UEA Creative Writing programme and is currently a PhD candidate at Bath Spa University. Femi won the UEA/Little, Brown Award for Lightseekers when he was still writing the novel. He lives in Namibia with his wife and two sons.


Lightseekers follows Dr Philip Taiwo, an investigative psychologist by training, as he investigates the murder of three young students in a Nigerian university town. Their killings – and their killers – were caught on social media. The world knows who murdered them; what no one knows is why.




I’m not a crime writer but I’m really interested in the mechanics of crime fiction, how it has its tropes – the sidekick, marital problems, etc – and you’ve incorporated all these things so seamlessly but also built on them to write such an original novel. It would be great to hear about your writing process.


Lightseekers was inspired by an actual incident that happened in Nigeria. It always fascinated me how people would mete out this kind of mob justice, or vigilante justice, especially in a small town. Like do the neighbours wake up the next morning and say, that was a very good job! Yeah, we got that! Or do they just pretend it never happened? 


I initially planned to do Lightseekers as a non-fiction novel, but from an academic point of view there were lots of ethical issues. And I’ve always had this issue – looking at Truman Capote’s history after In Cold Blood – with the idea of profiting off misery. That made me step back and say maybe I can approach this as a fiction. 


I was in a crime fiction programme, so I knew the things I needed to put in to make it a crime story, but I also wanted to make it literary. I wasn’t interested in writing the next Jack Reacher… You know, that’s not fair to say about Jack Reacher because I love Jack Reacher! But I wanted to write about an everyman’s hero, because the issue that I was talking about is very common in Nigeria, and it needed this hero who is just like you and I, who can effect change without being a superhero. 


I had a researcher in Nigeria who is a writer and lawyer. I would research around what actually happened and then I would write alternative versions, and I’d send it to him and say, okay, what do you think, is this working, is this plausible? To control myself I generally would keep along the lines of a PEST analysis, which is the political, environmental, social, and technological dimensions of a crime. It was then easy to add the tropes to it; you know, who’s the bad guy, who’s the sidekick. Each character was really a representation of the dimensions of a PEST analysis of the crime. Does that answer your question?


It really does! So Lightseekers is centred on the real-life incident, the Aluu Four, where four undergraduates at the University of Port Harcourt were tortured and burnt to death by a mob, and I wondered if you would speak about what was it about this specific case that made you want to write about it.


I think if you Google it… you have to be made of rock not to feel something. These were four undergraduates, very popular on campus, good-looking, from middle class homes. That’s not to say that they did not commit the crime that they were accused of – no one really knows – but that’s not the point. The point is that no one deserves to die like that. 


But watching the video, what struck me was how a whole community can gang up against undergraduates that are the lifeblood of this community. And that it could have been me – because I also went to school in a close community, I also lived off campus. It could have been me. And I was struck by the reaction of the government. I didn’t feel that there was enough concern; there was a lot of social outreach, but not a lot of systemic outreach. What was it in the system that made this possible? So, for me that spoke to a deeper problem than the act itself, something that needed to be investigated. 


I also felt that this tragedy was an opportunity for the country to have a national dialogue, to ask why did this happen, and how did it happen, and how could we have prevented it. Around that time there were a lot of xenophobic attacks happening in Africa, the rise of the alt right in Europe, post-Arab Spring unrest… And then of course in the US, we had the Trump regime that was constantly pushing this anti-immigration rhetoric. Writing Lightseekers offered me an opportunity to show the world, at what’s been a very troubled time, through the lens of a Nigerian.


That actually leads really well onto my next question – you’re talking about seeing through the lens of a Nigerian but you’ve chosen to cast Philip, your detective figure, as a returnee, someone who’s been in America for a really long time. I thought that was such a clever choice and I wanted to ask why you did that.


After that incident (and a lot of similar incidents) I started feeling a certain level of angst towards my country. I live outside of Nigeria, in another African country. I studied in the US and I was doing a postgrad programme in the UK. So, using Philip was a creative choice because he represented me.


The second thing I needed, from a commercial point of view, was somebody that would ask the kind of question that an international audience would want answers to – Philip was asking the kind of questions that my tutors and classmates at UEA were asking. He became a sort of cameraman, and I trained his lens on the issues raised by this crime.


The biggest challenge I had with Philip was for him not to come across as patronising, so I had a huge collection of Nigerian early readers. Those readers made sure the book wasn’t looking at Nigeria through the ‘white gaze’, or at least, within the context of the creative writing programme at UEA, the European gaze. 


You mentioned the perspective of the cameraman, and I notice that you’ve had a lot of experience as a screenwriter – I felt like I could feel that influence on the book, you’re so attentive to characters’ motivations. So, it just felt like that might have influenced you?


Absolutely, absolutely it did. I remember my tutors would be like, why are you writing this in the present tense? and I just answered that it was because that’s what I’m used to. I really wanted to write an immersive story, I was looking for a way to make the reader be a part of the experience – you couldn’t just look away and you couldn’t flip the channel (so to speak), you literally had to be Philip. 


Sometimes I’d be writing in the middle of the night and my kids would come and stand behind me, and they would say, that was weird, and I’d be like, what? And, according to them, before I typed I would do something like [Femi makes a camera motion in front of his face] then I would type and then I would do it again [the same gesture] and they said it was very weird watching me from the back because I looked like a film director writing shots down. I think that proves that my screenwriting experience really came to bear on the writing, and I’m happy that people saw it. It was not planned as a subtle thing, it’s deliberate.


In interrogation scenes I just kept being struck by how you had Philip and Chika noticing each other’s motivations, and it felt almost like a Stanislavski exercise – my background’s in theatre so I was like, I see this! 


Exactly, so that’s what I was trying to do. I was blocking all the shots.




The initial book was about 140,000 words, so it really helped when I was editing. If you want to write a screenplay-like novel, then you need to balance what is seen and what is not very carefully, or else you will lose the audience. One of the things some of my readers used to say was, now you’re losing me, you’re giving me too much detail, you’re interrupting the action.


That’s a great answer. I think we’ll finish up with a light-hearted question. I’m just wondering what you were reading, watching or listening to while you were working on the book and what inspired you. Also, what’s inspiring you now, because you’re working on the sequel, I understand the film’s already been optioned… it’s mad!


Mad, it’s been mad… Now you have to remember this [showing his lovely office and quiet, sunlit streets outside] is in the middle of the bustling city, can you see how quiet it is?


Yeah, amazing!


So, it’s really crazy because I literally have to travel (to Nigeria) in my mind every single time I write. 


I’m an avid film-watcher, and while writing Lightseekers I watched a lot of Dexter, season to season. I also watched a lot of Netflix shows, detective series… One of my favourites was Collateral with Carey Mulligan. I particularly liked The Alienist because in a way, Philip reminded me of Dr Kreizler. Those shows really helped me to plan each chapter like an episode of a show. Writing each chapter like this helped to focus me, and I always asked; what’s the key information that needs to come out from this particular episode, what do you need to take away as the reader?


I don’t think I read anything outside of crime during that time. There were a lot of texts that were recommended for the MA programme, so this kept me busy. I truly loved The Secret History by Donna Tartt. But what am I reading now? I’m still reading The Light Between Oceans, and I’m heartbroken, I’m frustrated, and I’m irritated at the same time, so maybe it’s good? I’m almost done, and then I’ve just got my complete collection of Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend, so I’m starting on that one next week. 


I tried to read Lightseekers again when I got my finished copy, and I just couldn’t. The book is never perfect until it’s perfect…I guess. But I’m part of this exercise on a platform called  The Pigeonhole; it’s a group of readers, like an online book club, and they are reading Lightseekers now and I was invited to be a part of the discussion – so to be honest at this particular moment I’m reading Lightseekers


That’s great that you feel able to come back to it.


I wouldn’t have done it without Pigeonhole. It’s so interesting, so exciting. Because you can read the comments on every line or scene or chapter, and you’re like: they got it, they got it! Many times, I’m up in the middle of the night, reading the novel and the comments and I am like YES!


That’s such a good feeling when you get feedback and people are saying what you wanted them to say…


In real time too! Because if you read the comments on Goodreads and Amazon (my agent tells me not to, but I don’t listen!), their feedback is usually after the fact, they’ve finished the whole experience – but with Pigeonhole, they’re commenting literally on every line, and it’s just so lovely to experience. Such a wonderful initiative. I love it.

Buy a copy of the book here



For the first of our spotlight features on small presses in the UK we are focussing on Live Canon, an independent poetry press based in London. We will be publishing interviews, poems and top tips as to how writers can get involved with small presses, who are now starting to be recognised as publishing some of the most diverse and interesting contemporary writing. 

First up, our Poetry Editor Lawrence Illsley interviews Dr Helen Eastman, Director of Live Canon.  


Hi Helen, how are things with you in lockdown?

Well, like many families, we are juggling home-school and work, but everyone’s muddling through. I feel very privileged to still have plenty of creative work, that I can do from home. Oh, and we had COVID, but no long-term symptoms, so, feeling very lucky.


Just quickly, what is Live Canon?

A poetry organisation. We are a not-for-profit supporting and encouraging poetry in lots of ways. We have a publishing company, an outreach arm, we collaborate with other artforms, produce events… and we have the Live Canon ensemble, a group of actors who specialise in performing poetry on stage and for radio and digital projects. 


And how did you end up becoming a publisher of poetry books?

Excellent question. A convoluted route. I trained, after University, as a theatre director, and spent 10 years mainly directing physical theatre, opera, circus. I missed text, so I founded the Live Canon ensemble. A few years into that journey, Glyn Maxwell suggested, over a pint, that I started a publishing company. And so I did. I found I needed poetry in my life, not at its fringes, but right at its centre. Now I edit, publish, direct, teach poetry. Alongside that there’s also been my own writing journey, as a poet. My freelance work now is mostly writing lyrics and opera librettos, but there are still poems bubbling through. I’m currently doing a residency as a poet, and reconnecting with my craft.


You run a lot of live events – even continuing on the web during lockdown – is performing poetry important to you?

Essential. On a personal level I can imagine nothing better than listening to a good poem well performed. It goes beyond an intellectual experience to an aural and sensory one – voice, sound, metre, cadence. So, selfishly, I’ve created a way of spending as much time as possible listening to poetry (!) More seriously, my doctorate is in Classics, and the oldest forms of poetry from the ancient world, were aural (and oral). I’m interested in how we share text, and the ritual of gathering to listen. It strikes me that more now than ever, we need to remember to gather and to listen. In many cultures that is part of the community’s religious practice, but as someone who isn’t religious, a poetry reading fulfils a similar function; a time for people to come together and commit time to stopping, listening, thinking.


Co-winning the Live Canon Collection Competition has given me such a great opportunity. How important do you think competitions are for helping a new writer to get noticed?

For a small publishing company it is a really useful way for us to discover new poets, in a way that is more structured and manageable than just having a rolling submission window. It helps us to consider a wide spread of work anonymously, and then to draw attention to what we are publishing. Being brutally honest, the entry fees for many competitions are also what’s allowing small presses to keep functioning and publishing (there’s not much money in publishing poetry!)


And finally, what would you say to any Creative Writing students thinking about submitting their work to a small press?

Please do! Do your research, and find a press whose work you like and admire. Would you be proud to be alongside the other poets? Do you like the feel and design of the books? What sort of work do they publish? And then go for it!


Thank you!


Lawrence, alongside Alice Willitts and Samuel Prince, was one of the joint winners of the Live Canon Collection Competition 2020 judged by Glyn Maxwell. Live Canon published his collection A Brief History of Trees, which was first workshopped during his MA at Birkbeck. 


Read on for three heart-stopping poems from the Live Canon Collection Competition winners.  



taken from her collection With Love


my bones press too hard at joints and wear through fibres
till even my pretty elbow peeps out where it rubs at threads

snuggled like capillaries, snapping and fraying — a pretty elbow pokes
out of the muscle of our entangled lives the evening you stand behind me

close enough to breathe on my neck and see the pale, exposed bone
send a shiver down my arm — you tuck your finger into the hole

and stroke my pretty elbow to let it know you know — in the morning
I choose a patch — I’ve kept our old shirts and jeans, scraps

I cut a circle of shell brown and with pricks of pink, stitch down a pattern
like cats tongues, overlapping the loving that mends us

Alice Willitts is a writer and plantswoman from the Fens. Dear, was published by Magma Poetry in 2019 having won their inaugural pamphlet competition. She co-edited Magma 78: Collaborations and is working on a longform collaborative poem. She runs the #57 Poetry Collective, is a founding member of the biodiversity project On The Verge Cambridge and is collecting rebel stories on the climate emergency for Channel Mag. Her debut collection, With Love, is published by Live Canon. 



taken from his collection Ulterior Atmospheres


Cinco de Mayo and tickets going fast
for the fiesta, the parade on Main,
block parties in the bungalow district.
Everywhere pales where you aren’t
and the remedy, the desolation medicine,
eludes me. Hit the barstools, skulk
the smokers’ patio, whacked and wracked
in the waffle house where the till clerk
has his patter down to a tee,
pealing out names to collect
juices-to-go, so, hey Ellie, hey Ryan,
hey MacKenzie and hey, you can’t throw
your arms around a reverberation,
Meredith, this rule you should know,
if you care to tear yourself from
the throes of that flash fiction quarterly
and behold me, quaff a Gatorade,
nosh a strip-steak and slaw sub
then sanitise my hands to lay the medals
of my defeats on the counter top.
There’s so much to disclose: the skunkworks
of our hearts, the passenger manifests
of our hearts, the audition tapes you’d make
for that hardboiled forget-me-not
masque of American woman.

Samuel Prince’s poems have been published in many print and online journals, including Atticus Review, Cordite Poetry Review, Magma and Poetry Salzburg Review, as well as various anthologies including Birdbook 2, Coin Opera 2 and Lives Beyond Us (all Sidekick Books), and The Emma Press Anthology of Love (Emma Press). He won first prize in the 2018 Café Writers Poetry Competition. His debut collection, ‘Ulterior Atmospheres’ is published by Live Canon.


A MOTHER BEECH, TREWELLARD (extract) by Lawrence Illsley

taken from his collection A Brief History of Trees


That August we sat in chairs, not moving.
   Both of us absorbed. Reading old fiction
      or watching television. The hovel
           you called it. But it was home. More than room

enough. Sometimes I wrote and foliage
   would appear in my mind. Every scene
      seemed to require a green backdrop of trees.
          Although the wildwood of another age

has long been stripped – for ships’ masts, or lathes
   for plaster; for Bronze Age fires to cast swords;
      fences to restrain pigs and sheep; wide boards
           and planks for walls and drawers; swathe

after swathe cut, planed and sawed – lone trees still
   survive, gracing the landscape. To describe
      our windswept world requires knowledge. How I’d
          not got sufficient vocabulary

at past thirty-five to identify
   more than a handful of trees, a small copse,
      bothered me. Whilst waiting in hospital
          for the nurse to do your endoscopy,

I didn’t idly skim magazines from
   last year, or leaflets on Stannah stairlifts.
      I read books on trees – mapping out visits
          to local woodlands, clifftops and valleys.

I had a hunch that something serious was happening

Lawrence Illsley is an award-winning Cornish poet. In 2020 his collection A Brief History of Trees, won the Live Canon Collection Competition and he also won the inaugural Beyond the Storm Competition. He is poetry editor at The Mechanics’ Institute Review. Instagram @abriefhistoryoftrees Twitter @Lawrence_poet

Interview: Nydia Hetherington

In the Acknowledgments for A Girl Made of Air, you write that “this novel began life quietly, on a short course at Birkbeck University.” Can you tell me a bit more about the role that Birkbeck played in the ‘quiet birth’ of your debut novel?


Birkbeck made me believe that fiction writing was where I wanted to go. I come from a theatre background and when I was unable to do that anymore, I started writing. Birkbeck really directed my idea that indeed fiction writing was a thing I was more and more passionate about. 


I had been writing bits of poetic prose for a while but didn’t know where I was going with it. So I took this short course with the idea for a story about Marina. That course at Birkbeck is what ignited the flame in me even further. I went on to do the Creative Writing BA in a part-time course.


According to your Bio, you’ve lived in many places – Leeds, the Isle of Man, London, Paris and then back to London. How did living in so many different places influence the kind of stories you want to tell?


All of our experiences will come out in whatever creative work we do – whether it be fiction writing, theatre, screenwriting, etc. Being a foreigner is so important for everyone to experience. It is an immense privilege and pleasure to live in a language and culture that is completely alien to you. To be steeped in that in that culture and sort of adopt it is a beautiful and wonderful thing which always goes on to inform whatever creative process you engage in.


Why did you choose to make New York City, particularly Coney Island, such a significant setting in A Girl Made of Air?


When you’re growing up in the industrial North of England, New York is open to you because it’s in every book you’ve read, film you’ve watched, and poster hung on your wall. It’s this magical world you feel that you know and understand and are a part of because it’s in everything. I had this passion for a place I hadn’t even visited until a few months after finishing this book.


During the writing process, I went to Google Maps and got the little orange fella, dropped him in there and walked him around to learn the topography of New York City. I spent every day walking around those streets for months and months. Google Maps really is an incredible resource for writers.


Of course, the book was set in the nineteen seventies, so I needed more than current day Google Maps. I found a load of old New York newspapers from the seventies and big paper maps and spent months immersing myself in that time and era in Brooklyn and Manhattan. I got to know the socioeconomic situation as well. 


But I’ve always had a fixation with carnivals and, as they used to be called, ‘freak shows’ or ‘side shows.’ I’ve always found the aesthetic fascinating. And of course, Coney Island is the epicentre of that world. You can’t get away from it if you’re interested in the carnival world. 


You don’t abide by a traditionally linear narrative. Why did you choose to deviate from a straightforward narrative and what strategies did you implement to accomplish creating such a complex timeline that doesn’t overwhelm the flow of the narrative?


The timeline was really hard to work out, actually. It got really complicated. It goes through the lifespan of a human being. But the timespan was originally a bit different. My Editor wanted me to make the figure of Mouse, sitting in her apartment on Delancey Street, slightly younger than I’d had her, and so I had to change my timeline a little bit. It’s just one of those things – maybe the publishing industry prefers younger women. 


I think many industries seem to prefer a version of both women and youth that is unrealistic and unattainable. 


Yes, exactly. I really liked this idea of jumping across time and space. One of the texts my tutor at Birkbeck recommended for me was The Tin Drum by Günter Grass. I got one thing from it in particular: the person relaying their life to the reader is anchored in one spot and one time. A very solid anchor from the middle and all of the stories bounce off. This is why Mouse is in the apartment on Delancey Street, so I could anchor her down. The anchor point gives the story a place to begin and end from. Having her in that room, where it all begins and ends, allowed her to go anywhere from there. 


Birkbeck played a big part in helping me believe I could do that. I did many different modules in my four years there – fiction, screenwriting, poetry. Most of my assignments from the end of year one were bits of this novel, chapters really, including the dissertation. It wasn’t a very organic way of writing – it was very bitty. Having the idea of an anchor made it very easy for me to piece together self-contained pieces and assignments into one larger piece. 


It’s wonderful to hear how instrumental your time at Birkbeck was for the creation of your novel and the development of such beautiful, unique writing. Performance plays such a large role in A Girl Made of Air. So, I’m curious as to how you feel that your time in the theatre industry influenced your writing.


Performance has been my entire life. I started in the theatre at nineteen. I had been working in the world of performance pretty much my entire life. By my mid-twenties, I was less interested in the work of an actor and more in devised work. I was writing stories to create performances. My work in theatre informs all of my stories because, again, performance is where all storytelling was born for me. I wrote whole universes within those plays – which were never meant to be read, but performed. 


I didn’t start writing until the age of thirty-eight / thirty-nine and went to Birkbeck at forty. I feel like fiction is where I always wanted to be. Writing fiction opened up this world for me that I really hadn’t thought about before. I discovered that I could put words on the page and use them beautifully – this may sound strange but I love making words look beautiful on the page. Everything about it is performative, in a way. I want the reader to look at the actual syntax, sentences and look of the page and see a beautiful thing. Not just the story itself. There are two parts to it: the storytelling and the element of its physicality.  


Mouse seems to be presented as an unreliable narrator and doesn’t allow the reader to lose sight of that. She constantly throws in these little comments about how she might not be remembering something as accurately as it may have happened and tells stories of her family’s past as memories of her own despite her absence in those moments. Why did you choose to make the storyteller of this novel difficult to rely on?


The whole book is really about stories and how we pass them on. Each person will imbue their family history into their own stories. This is a narrative about how we pass on our stories, navigate them, retell them and then tell our own stories. 


So Mouse’s inherited trauma is really important to the book. It’s about passing on that trauma, those stories, and the weight of them. Mouse is absolutely, one hundred percent, an unreliable narrator. But in so many ways, we all are. Well, maybe she’s a bit more so, but it comes from a place, perhaps myself as a storyteller and performer, where you’re constantly telling stories and retelling them and things get put in there and you forget to take them out. She is an unreliable narrator but she’s not doing it purposefully to pull the wool over our eyes, she’s just regurgitating. Well, maybe she is! Maybe she is trying to make herself look better for the person listening! We don’t know, really. 


Do you have any advice for the readers at Birkbeck who are working towards creating their own writing careers in these unprecedented times?


There’s no magic to it – just keep at it. In general, if you want to go into writing long-form fiction and get published, you need to be prepared for rejection and a very slow pace. Force yourself to sit there and put those words on the page because they won’t write themselves. There’s no magic spell or alchemy to it. It really is just hard work. 


It took me six years to write what eventually became A Girl Made of Air and another three years to get published. Publishing is not an easy industry. My book was bought by one publishing house and when my editor left for another house, I followed her. It was tough but I’m so glad it happened because they were incredible, brilliant really. But at the time, it was stressful because we didn’t know what was going to happen. But it took eight years to get the book out there. And then when it finally got published, the pandemic happened. But the world is the way the world is and we can’t change it. I started writing fiction a decade before I got published. I’m not special. The more I talk to writers, this is quite often, not always, but quite often, the story. So I would say to people, ‘Don’t despair. Just keep going.’ 


Whether or not you’re special, this novel truly is. You weave so many stories into one in a way that feels incredibly natural. The decade you spent creating this book really did it justice. Reading A Girl Made of Air is truly an immersive and unique experience. Thank you so much for sharing your time with me and I look forward to your future publications.


Alexia Sereti was born and raised in Queens, New York as a first generation Greek-American. After achieving her Bachelor’s degree at William Smith College in English Literature, Alexia worked for Oxford University Press in New York City as an Editorial Assistant. Prior to moving to London in 2018, she was published in various literary magazines for both fiction and nonfiction work. Alexia is now pursuing her Master’s degree in Creative Writing at Birkbeck University of London.

Interview: Marina Benjamin

Marina Benjamin is a Writer and Editor with a wealth of experience working across the non-fiction landscape. Including, journalism, essay-writing, family history and memoir writing. I recently finished reading one of her books, The Middlepause, an open-hearted personal account taking inspiration from literature and philosophy to weigh the challenges and opportunities that mid-life presents. It was suggested to me as I crashed into the menopause, a central theme of this work. But I have recommended this book to friends, menopausal or not, because what really struck me about this book, in the words of the Financial Times, is that it is an erudite look at the physical and mental challenges of life that we have no control over.  

Hello Marina, thank you for joining me. Can you give a synopsis of your book ‘The Middlepause and why you wrote it?

I should start by saying why I wrote it, because that might explain its structure. And I wrote it because I found myself in a very difficult place  after having a surgical hysterectomy . It’s fair to say that I was in a state of shock. I’d thought that in having the hysterectomy I was a freeing myself from troublesome gynaecological problems, that from then on I’d be moving more lightly through the world, but instead I found myself  in a psychological state of arrest – quite apart from the physical reckoning of coming to terms with sudden menopause and what it means to no longer be a reproductive woman. I was now keeping company with a profoundly unappealing range of stereotypes – everything from the barren woman to the hex-casting crone. Having to navigate all that in a way that felt meaningful was what led me into wanting to explore what midlife was actually about.

I wanted to look at some really difficult emotions, like grieving and loss, since I felt there wasn’t much room or much tolerance in the existing literature for those kind of feelings. It irked me that there was a real cultural pressure to be upbeat about ageing, and to subscribe to a retro-feminist cuteness that slates 50 as the new 40, or 40 as the new 30. The kind of thinking that locks us into always optimising ourselves and downsizes our comfort zone around aging.  I didn’t feel fabulous at 50, and I wanted to take that feeling seriously, and write about it in a way that wasn’t unapproachable.


Not at all, I found your book really approachable. You managed to tie together many enthralling different themes — science, philosophy, literature. How did you manage collating this, tying together so many different threads so seamlessly?


Writing that book was an important journey for me. I didn’t have a pre-determined view I wished to hammer home, or anything prescriptive to recommend; instead, I wanted to set out as a querent, saying ‘okay — I’m starting at this point, this menopause, approaching 50 and feeling un-moored, and what does that mean? And since I’m not going to evade grief and loss —  ‘where do we go from there’?   Though I start with the body, the hysterectomy and the surgery and the HRT, and continually circle back to the body, my reading led me to science and psychology, philosophy, and literature.  The body knows stuff and the body learns, but in the writing, it was a matter of balancing this ‘body knowledge’ with my wider reading.

I became especially interested in developmental psychology, wondering how we cope with ageing when we are repeatedly reminded that increasing age is associated with redundancy of some kind. At 50 I didn’t feel redundant! I felt I’d landed in a key developmental moment that was in every way as self-defining as turning 30, a moment that demands a stripping down of illusion and an intelligent reckoning with  the self.  Each chapter engages with or features a key thinker who’d help me think through a particular problem.  With Edith Wharton,  it was about looking at the female horror of ageing, the reluctance to let go of youth, and that feeling of being eclipsed by the younger generation – feelings that many women have when they age, and meet with the impulse to run away. I wanted to pick apart some of what that programming is about; to ask where those fears come from, and how you can learn to better live with them.  

I leant heavily on Erik Erikson’s understanding of staged development in my chapter on mothering a teenager (why is so much writing about motherhood concerns only with newborns?), the sense that your psyche isn’t imprinted at birth or in your infant experiences, in the way that Freud would insist on, but that it continues to develop and mature in relation to social context. When it came to the chapter that explored my father dying (and my mourning him) and his refusal to accept his own ageing process and inevitable death,  I looked to Jung. It felt kind of organic really, hopping from one thinker to the next, as my research progressed.


I see that, the chapters are entitled Organs, Hormones, Skin, Muscle, Heart, Guts, Teeth, Head, and lastly, Spine. Did you have those chapters in mind at all when you started this journey, investigation?


No I didn’t, and that’s the interesting thing about writing a book. I love the way that  a book reveals itself to you as you go along. But I can remember exactly where I was when I had that (chapter headings) idea:  I was in Berlin, at the British Council Literature Conference,  feeling quite over stimulated listening to the likes of Frances Leviston, Deborah Levy and Phillip Hoare. It was a very buzzy conference, full of ideas, and in just one moment sitting there I was suddenly struck that the common thread running through everything I was writing was a bodily reality, an inescapable materiality. All I had to hand was a scrawny bit of note paper and I scribbled down the chapter headings, assigning body parts to my various themes. In the book, I have them running down the middle of the contents page, like a spine. It was an important containing device for that book. And I’ve written again recently about the important of feminist materialism for a new Dodo Ink essay collection, Trauma, (out in Jan 2021).

There is a point to every aspiring writer to carry a notebook around with them! I guess you’ve shown that if the work, short story, book is an investigation, you have to let it flow a bit.

I think it’s about remaining open; you know, it’s a trick when you’re writing to remain open to stimulation and to your unconscious mind and those creative processes that kind of burble away beneath the surface. And to somehow have one part of your brain that does the planning and the other part that’s receptive to the unexpected, so that you’re constantly navigating between those two states, imposing structure while being open to surprise!


You’ve created a book that is creative yet informative, there’s scientific references and endnotes, and an enthralling story,  how did you the right voice to be able to do this?

I think voice is really very interesting. It is the thing that pulls everything together, holds everything in balance, It’s the unifying quality that gives a book is coherence and its  punch. If you try to pick apart what it is, it’s a kind of interesting and elusive quality, that’s hard to pin down. But I think voice broadly equates with attitude;  it’s the angle you take, the choices you make when approaching a subject, and the slant at which you refract out your thinking around it. Voice is not a performative thing — if it sounds hollow, your reader will find you out immediately. You can’t go into the costume box and pull out something and suddenly there you have your voice!

I also think that this quality of voice is different for each book you write, so perhaps there is a baseline sense in which you are performing, after all; but I think you’re performing parts of your genuine self:  it has to be authentic. And for it to be authentic, I think you discover voice in the writing. Effectively, you write your way into voice. That’s why writers starting a new project should be very patient with themselves, because most of the time voice is not going to be there immediately.  I do think that sometimes voice can manifest itself immediately – and that is a rare thing I’ve been lucky enough to experience once, with my memoir Insomnia (2018). On that occasion I didn’t have to go hunting for ‘voice’, but with every other book, I wrote quite a bit before I felt I was in a groove, or that I’d relaxed sufficiently into the project to project an attitude towards it . Hanif Kureshi once said that for him a quality of ‘carelessness’ was necessary to creativity. I agree; once you’ve relaxed into a project you can be carefree, even playful.  In fact, it’s particularly enjoyable to play with  serious or sad subjects.


You have previously spoken (The Slate interview, 2017) about the feeling of being disarmed, something a lot of people are feeling given the current climate. Can you talk a little more about dealing with this for our inspiring writers who are perhaps feeling blocked and displaced?

As it happens, I feel just like those writers, you know, I feel quite paralysed. It’s very difficult at the moment, because other than reading you can’t do much in lockdown — you can’t travel, or do extensive research, or visit libraries, archives and galleries. I’ve been reading and walking, which are things I find really creative, but it’s still hard to see the new project or to give it legs when you’re so restricted. On top of that there’s the anxiety of living during a pandemic, in unprecedented times etc, etc. Managing such feelings and then turning up at your desk to be productive is a big ask. At the same time, I would say that being thrown off or disarmed, and feeling totally un-moored as a result was the source of the creative impulse behind my last two books. Rather than run away from those feelings or try and find a place of stability, I attempted to write into the uncertainty and the anxiety, to go with its countergrain, and for me that was fruitful, because it put me in a place of not knowing, or unknowing, which is a good place to start from as a writer — It means that there’s everything to learn and to gain;  you have to decide what it is that you’re going to weigh or give weight to, everything is levelled in a way.

I think we are all learning to accommodating our anxieties right now, living with them and getting to know their quirky ways. We are trying to figure out ways to manage living in a world where that many people are dying each day, and yet also behave as if each day were a normal day.



You created a project, ‘Garden among Fires’ (

in response to the first lockdown.


Yes. I thought it would be so interesting to call on writers to talk about their experiences in this crazy time. So I set up this pop-up blog. I intended it to last for the three months of (first) lockdown, and then I planned to take it down. I invited writers to write on different themes, mostly their skewed mental state and whatever antidote they’d found to tackle it, and I also approached writers from different countries to talk about what it was like in their backyard.

I was truly overwhelmed by the response. The blog took on a momentum of its own, and the quality of what came in was really wonderful. I felt a real sense of camaraderie with all those writers who were talking about the way in which, as in Julia’s (Bell) piece for example, time became suddenly saggy and elastic and strained, so that you were swimming in it rather than living it day by day. Another contributor wrote about the journey he would daily take, counting every step, from his bedroom door to his dining table. The cabin fever of it! When Dodo Ink approached me wanting to turn the blog into an e-book, I started editing it a bit more carefully. I’m thrilled with the anthology, which came out in June, and that fact that all proceeds from sales go to Refuge, a UK charity working with women and children who’ve suffered domestic violence.


Lastly, how many hours do you write and read a day? And how do you cope if you don’t hit your target? 

I’m hopelessly undisciplined as a writer, and I pay for it, too. I can go for long periods between books where I’m not really doing much writing.  I want to be truthful here — I really don’t write every day, and there are long gaps in which I sometimes feel disconsolate and despairing. When I am working on a book, I have to get to arrive at a kind of ‘pass the threshold’ bar, a critical point past which the book grabs me and holds me in its power, and I have no choice but to write it. Once at that point I write quite obsessively, and quite fast.  I wish I had a more balanced working method. I do do free writing, but I tend to write around questions that I have about my investment in a subject or else I interrogate my assumptions. I usually write with prompts for that, and I’m forever opening files and putting down thoughts, or scribbling have stuff in notebooks. But the real coalescing of a project comes once there is a level of obsession that means I don’t even think about stick-to intuitiveness, it just overtakes me. I think I’ve got a lot to learn from other writers about how better to manage my own impulses and creativity!








Alice has lived and worked with disability for 20 years. Her writing draws on this experience alongside humour. She is currently studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck. She loves horses, dogs, lols and libations.

Interview: Stuart Turton

Stuart Turton’s debut novel The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle met with great success, winning the Best First Novel prize in the 2018 Costa book awards and topping bestseller lists. An audacious concoction – Agatha Christie meets Groundhog Day – it marked Turton out as a writer unafraid of mixing genres and complex narrative. It has been swiftly followed by The Devil and the Dark Water (Bloomsbury, October 2020) a labyrinthine chiller set almost entirely aboard a 17th century Dutch galleon which sets off from the East Indies to Amsterdam, its hold packed with murderous secrets and a rogue’s gallery of passengers and crew. 

“Sherlock Holmes on a boat” is how Turton himself describes the pitch he made to his publisher, keen to take a “big swing” at a bold idea. He started writing it two weeks after he’d finished Seven Deaths and found it a much more urgent process. “You get twelve years to write your first book, no pressure beyond real life stuff. The second one is hopefully where you make a career, as long as you don’t screw it up. This book is far more important to me than the first one.” Central to the plot is a mismatched pair of “detectives”, Sammy Pipps and Arent Hayes, whose exploits have made them infamous, but who now find themselves literally at sea when Sammy, the clever one, is shackled in a coffin-sized jail below deck. “I knew that I was going to do some kind of Holmes Watson archetype and I wanted to play with how that dynamic works. I don’t like Sherlock Holmes as a character very much and I knew I wanted to mess with Sammy and humble him. Initially I was going to elevate one of the passengers into the detective role and Arent would become their Watson, but then I fell in love with Arent.” 

Romance also blossoms when Sara, the intelligent, but horribly oppressed wife of the Dutch Governor General risks all to help Arent figure out who’s behind the demonic derring-do and halt the rising body count. “Sara was initially in the background of the book, but the more I wrote her the more she forced herself forward into the story. She took those moments and they suited her better.” In Seven Deaths the protagonist switches between bodies at the start of a repeated day, but none of them are female, something which Turton now regrets. “When I wrote Seven Deaths I was so proud of it, but at a Q&A in a bookshop a woman put her hand up and asked me why the protagonist never jumped into a woman and it’s the weirdest thing, but I had never thought about it and I was devastated because the story-telling possibilities would have been immense. So, it was very much a conscious choice to have more women in this story and give them more agency.”

Turton is beguiled by ambitious plotlines. “I find writing really hard and I will take any distraction, so to get me to sit down in the first place I’ve got to be enthused by it. Tricky, intricate plot gives me lots of writing challenges. Working out how to layer those clues, how to make the mystery hold together. I do plan my plot meticulously with three months of historical research during which I don’t write a word. When I do start writing I hold it all in my head and never look at the plan again. What I don’t plan is characters, because I can’t see these people until I start writing them and hurling them in a room. For this book I wanted loads of bonds and connections and different types of love. This is a book about love, with a big, beating heart. And I loved the idea of having a demon as a suspect in a murder, because this period would allow it.”

The first draft was a whopping 170 thousand words, the opening third of the plot set on land, in the port of Batavia, now Jakarta, a place and time Turton describes beautifully, his background as a travel writer evident. “I worked out that it needed to be set on the boat almost entirely. The edit was brutal, it went from 170 to 90 thousand words then it crept back up to 130. Alison Hennessey, my editor at Bloomsbury, is brilliant, because she will let the story be whatever length it needs to be.” The book’s finale holds a tremendous twist, and is deliberately open-ended, but Turton says he has no intention of writing a sequel. “I like stories that feel like they started before you got there and will carry on after you leave.”

Turton grew up loving books and it was then that his ability to juggle complicated narratives was hardwired. “When I was eight our neighbour, Doris, would go to car boot sales and bring me back a stack of Agatha Christies for 10p each. I absolutely loved them and got through them all in a year. It was the first time I remember adoring a character like Poirot. That’s why you get a map at the beginning of my books, you get a board put in front of you, I deliver clues. Christie directly informed me and for a long time I wanted to just write that. I wrote one when I was twenty-one and it was garbage, just because I didn’t have an original idea. All I was doing was regurgitating her tropes, it was bad fanfic.” He walked away from it and became a travel journalist until his mid-thirties. “It was creative, and I exercised that muscle, I was very descriptive. The idea for Seven Deaths came to me on a plane and it changed my life really. I was living with my girlfriend, now wife, in Dubai at the time and I said, I’ve got to go back to England to write this, I need rain and a country house and a class system. We tipped everything over for me to write it, she was great.”
The third book is already well underway, though Turton admits it may change hugely before it is finished. “The conceit is wonderful, and I’m absolutely terrified about it and that’s how I started my first two books. I’m mixing genres again, but I don’t set out to do it. My stories seem to veer through genre and I’m just following. The Devil and the Dark Water — which has gone on to win Book of the Year from The Guardian, Daily Mail, Sunday Times, Financial Times, and iPaper and has won the Books Are My Bag readers award for fiction — was a blast to write; at the end I was writing scenes with a massive smile on my face, thinking my readers are going to love this, it’s just so much fun.”

Clare Saxby is an experienced screenwriter and script consultant embarking on her first YA novel and working towards an MA in Creative Writing at Birkbeck University. She began her career in journalism, as a researcher for BBC News, then followed her heart to work in the movies at Film Four. As a script editor she worked for an array of film and television broadcasters and as a talent scout for HBO, before co-founding an award-winning independent production company. Clare has also lectured in Screenwriting at the School of Arts, University of Kent and is a keen, if amateurish, boulderer.

Amer Anwar talks about his debut novel Brothers in Blood

Amer Anwar’s award-winning debut novel Brothers in Blood will be published by Dialogue Books on September 6, 2018. Amer, who graduated from Birkbeck with an MA in Creative Writing in 2010, talks to Aisha Phoenix about his journey to winning the Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger, cultural bias in publishing and the importance of diversity in literature. 

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