Hannah Vincent’s debut novel is published

I am pleased to announce that my debut novel Alarm Girl is published in August 2014. 

The novel is set in South Africa and is partly narrated by eleven-year old Indy, who is visiting her father there for the first time since her mother’s death. The ‘otherness’ of Africa for Indy – the heat she finds uncomfortable, the landscape she doesn’t recognise, the encounters with people she doesn’t know – all help to create a sense of the foreign state that is a child’s motherless world.

I had the idea for the novel when I was travelling in Africa nearly twenty years ago so it’s been a long time coming! I was a playwright for many years and wrote a version of the story as a play firstly but it didn’t quite work so I ‘drawered’ it. After having babies and enjoying a stint as a television scripteditor I turned to prose writing and revisited the material. 

In spite of what anybody has to say about the value or lack of value in Creative Writing courses, my MA study in Creative Writing at Kingston University helped me improve my writing (Creative Writing students note that it also improved through commitment, open mindedness and a willingness to learn on my part!). Encouraging comments from tutors and fellow writing-workshoppers were instrumental in getting my work to a publishable standard and it’s why I am so happy to teach on the Open University’s Advanced Creative Writing Course (A363), which encourages writers to share work and feedback. 

Coming to prose from a drama background, I am interested in what elements a writer can transfer between the two mediums, which is precisely what A363 teaches. Drawing on my A363 teaching practice I have also written a mixed mode piece which experiments with movement between prose, drama and poetry (‘Human Geology’ published in a Special Issue of American British & Canadian Studies volume 20, June 2013).

This summer also saw the transmission of my first radio play Come to Grief, which was broadcast as an Afternoon Play on BBC 4 on the 15th July 2014 (at the time of writing available on i-player for 4 weeks…). Again, this work emerged out of my interest in how a different form can affect material – Come to Grief started life as a stage play, produced at the Royal National Theatre Studio in the mid ‘90s but takes on a new radiophonic identity in its current incarnation.


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Shanta Everington wins young adult novel competition

My latest book is young adult dystopian novel, XY, launched at Manchester Children’s Book Festival in June 2014, after jointly winning the Red Telephone Books YA Novel Competition run by Manchester-based small press, Bridge House Publishing. 

The novel follows the story of fifteen-year-old Jesse, who lives in a world where babies are born neither male nor female, and Compulsory Gender Assignment is carried out at birth. But Jesse is keeping a secret. Pulled in different directions by her boyfriend Zeus, mother Ana’s Natural Souls, and new friend Ork, leader of We Are One, Jesse is forced to make her own mind up about who she really is.

Jesse’s story in XY came out of my fascination with the question: What does it mean to be male or female? Is gender identity biologically, psychologically or socially constructed? Writing helps me unravel questions and make sense of the world. Often several unconnected threads come together to form an idea for a book.

 When I became a parent, I was shocked at how much gender stereotyping still exists. You can’t walk into a children’s store without being bombarded with pink for girls and blue for boys. Why shouldn’t my sons wear pink tutus or play with dolls? Why, as a society, do we tend to see this in a different way from girls wearing trousers and playing with fire engines?

 While pondering on this, I read somewhere that scientists had linked ‘blended gender’ in fish to contaminants like pesticides, household laundry detergent and shampoo, and many pharmaceuticals. Similar things have occurred with other species and I got to wondering where this could lead and what would happen if we lived in a world where humans were born with indeterminate biological sex. How would society react? Would we still create gender roles? Would fear cause us to revert to traditional stereotyped views of the sexes?

When I had almost finished writing XY, a TV programme aired on BBC One called Me, My Sex and I which challenged the deeply-held assumption that every person is either male or female. According to the documentary, intersex conditions are, in fact, as common as twins or red hair – nearly one in 50 of us has some form of intersex. Yet it is a subject not often talked about.

 XY draws on many influences. I was inspired by Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses series set in a fictional, racist dystopia. We may be born with a skin colour and biological sex but race and gender are social constructs. XY is set in an alternative reality – where 91% of human babies are born neither male nor female.

 XY is my seventh published book and I am currently completing a sequel. I have published fiction (for adults and teens), poetry and non-fiction, all with small presses. For me, being creative is about having the freedom to experiment with different forms and audiences. My next big project will be life writing.

 Shanta Everington teaches on A215 Creative Writing and has recently worked as a Facilitator on the OU/FutureLearn Start Writing Fiction MOOC.

 To find out more about Shanta’s writing, visit www.shantaeverington.co.uk

Red Telephone Books: http://www.trtpublishing.co.uk/xy.html

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Kevan Manwaring – Desiring Dragons

Kevan Manwaring’s latest book Desiring Dragons: Creativity, Imagination and the Writer’s Quest was published by Compass books in May this year.  Unlike Kevan’s recent collections of folk tales, Desiring Dragons is described – somewhat tongue-in-cheek - in its preface as a ‘How to Write Fantasy’ book, and offers advice about fantasy writing gleaned from Kevan’s 13 years of teaching experience.  The extract, below, taken from the preface to Desiring Dragons, describes the aims of the book.

‘The book is divided into two main sections. The first, ‘Desiring Dragons’, is an essay on Fantasy – its origins, evolution and application. Tolkien’s approach is foregrounded throughout (the book takes it title from him after all), although other authorities are also cited. There is no attempt to be encyclopaedic here. Rather than be considered the ‘final word’, it is hoped that the essay will prompt further discussion. The writing and reading of Fantasy is an ongoing research project for not only scholars and authors, but also fledgling writers, students, and, of course, readers.  The territory continues to expand – with every innovative book, film, graphic novel, play and computer game –  so an exhaustive charting of it would quickly become redundant. All that can be provided is an entreport.

The second section is a breakdown of what I call ‘The Writer’s Quest’, based upon the Old English poem, Beowulf, one of Tolkien’s chief influences. In this, the creative process of writing is explored in the context of the ‘journey of a novel’, and as such can be applied to all genres of writing. At the end of each chapter there are ‘questings’ – suggestions for follow-up activities.’



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Ink Pantry interview with Mike Johnson on visual poetry

An interview with Mike Johnson, on the subject of visual poetry, was published in the Ink Pantry blog on 14 June 2014.  Ink Pantry Publishing was founded by a group of former students ‘whose paths crossed while studying Creative Writing with the Open University’.

In discussion, Mike explains that ‘visual poetry draws upon both visual and verbal semiotic modes’, making it ‘an example of multimodality’.  As an illustration, he cites his visual poem entitled ‘Sunset’, in which ‘variations in the word ‘horizon, and the letter ‘O’, which feature in a different position in each line, … are potentially verbally, visually, and kinaesthetically meaningful, as they simulate the sun’s movement caused by the earth’s rotations.’

Mike is currently revising and assembling work for a crossover collection, challenging genre and generational boundaries, for publication later this year.


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Joanna Barnden’s novel trilogy to be published by Pan Macmillan

After years of trying, Joanna Barnden, tutor on A215 and A363 has just signed a deal with Pan Macmillan for the publication of her trilogy The Queens of the Conquest under the pen name of Joanna Courtney. The first book, The Half Year Queen, is about Edyth, wife of King Harold of England in the fated run up to 1066 and will be published in October 2015. The second two are yet to be written but should (with some ferocious research and writing) be published in 2016 and 2017. Book Two of the trilogy will be The Last Viking Queen about Elizaveta, Russian Princess and wife of Harald Hadrada who was defeated by King Harold at Stamford Bridge just 2 weeks before Hastings. The final book, The Conqueror’s Queen, will be about Matilda of Flanders, wife of William the Conqueror, the ultimate victor in 1066. The books seek to look at life in these tumultuous times from a woman’s perspective and are aimed as commercial fiction. Indeed, in the press release, published in The Bookseller on May 14th, Joanna’s brand new editor Natasha Harding described the trilogy as “hugely impressive with a strong commercial appeal – perfect for fans of Philippa Gregory”. 

Joanna has written short stories and serials for the women’s magazines for over 10 years but has always sought to publish novels. She secured her agent, Kate Shaw of The Viney Agency, 4 years ago but despite some wonderful feedback, two books were rejected by the industry before this one, finally, found a home. She puts much of this final success down to sheer bloody-mindedness and a refusal to give up honing her craft and trying to find someone to love the Anglo-Saxon period as much as she does. Now Macmillan are backing her all the way and the next battle is reaching an audience who will love The Queens of the Conquest too.


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Heavenly Bodies – a constellation of poetry

During the first three weeks of 2014, eighty eight poets around the world started writing a poem – some were veterans with several collections to their name, some only at the start of their careers, some were writing with English as their mother tongue, others writing it as a foreign language…all writing under the same sky with eighty eight constellations as their inspirations. Some of the poems are formal, some are freewheeling but what they all have in common is that all are rooted on earth looking up to the stars.
This is the third collaborative anthology from the innovative poetry press Beautiful Dragons and, so far, the most ambitious. Previous collections – Solstice (2012) and The Witching Hour (2013) have focused on the summer solstice and Walpurgis Night respectively. Beautiful Dragons anthologies are unique collections, created in the spirit of collaboration with all poems being written, wherever the poet is in the world, at the same time.
A handful of the poets are OU Creative Writing tutors – Joanne Reardon Lloyd, Morgaine Merch Lleuad, Nessa O’Mahony and Anne Caldwell – and one of the poets was a student in creative writing at the OU, Dan Stathers. The founder of Beautiful Dragons and editor of the anthology is a former OU tutor herself, the award winning poet, Rebecca Bilkau whose first collection Weather Notes was published by Oversteps Books in 2012. The anthology was launched in Lancaster on Wednesday 30 April 2014 and will be available to buy very shortly…..
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Romy Thomas wins flash fiction mini-competition

Romy Thomas’s short story ‘Wings’ is the joint winner of the recent Cinnamon Press mini-competition – based on the theme of ‘changes’.

The competition judges described Romy’s story as follows: ‘Romyanna Thomas’s piece is a succinct and powerful narrative; from its shocking first sentence to the raw poignancy of the ending the whole piece sustains a single metaphor with superb control.’

You can read Romy’s story here: http://www.cinnamonpress.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/wings-by-Romyanna-Thomas.pdf



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Debut poetry chapbook from Shanta Everington

Shanta Everington’s debut poetry chapbook, Drowning in Cherryade, is published this month by US-based independent publisher, bedouin books, (http://www.bedouinbooks.com) after winning their annual poetry chapbook competition.

Editor Michael D’Alessandro says, ‘Drowning in Cherryade conjures candy-colored scenes of youth mirrored in an examination of memories. Overwhelmed by first experiences, the poems are at once told with a resignedness to their outcomes, while maintaining a perspective of awkward fumbling for an anchor. This parallax affect helps complete the pictures presented here with a quick wit, a rooted voice and a few playful surprises.’ 


Founded in 2003, bedouin books’ publishing philosophy is to give emerging and established writers legitimate quality collections of their work in bound form as a springboard to their careers.

Shanta has an MA in Creative Writing with Distinction from MMU and teaches creative writing module A215. In addition to Drowning in Cherryade, she has published three novels and two non-fiction books. Visit http://www.shantaeverington.co.uk

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Northwords Now

Hi folks

After the usual bout of editorial stress, I’m pleased to announce that the autumn issue of Northwords Now has now hit the digital highway as well as the streets of Scotland. You can visit our website and feast on some fine stories and poems. As editor I especially recommend the audio link to the poetry of Roseanne Watt. For those of you who’ve yet to listen to a poem in Shetlandic, ‘Saat i da Blöd’ is a real treat for the ears.



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Kevan Manwaring: creating a spoken word peformance to promote a new book

I began performing at the same time I began writing in earnest – back in 1991 – and so it is second nature to me to create a spoken word show based upon my latest publication, Northamptonshire Folk Tales (The History Press, 2013). When I started out I quickly learnt getting folk to read your poetry was like asking them to do your Tax Return (and my early efforts were probably as excruciating), and so I realised that to ‘get my work out there’, I literally had to step up to the mark (or the mic). I started performing at ‘open mic’ events in my old home town, Northampton – badly to begin with, making all the classic beginner mistakes (reading from a text; speaking too low or too fast; avoiding eye contact with the audience; apologising, etc). In a live performance you quickly ascertain what works and what doesn’t. Instant feedback is visceral (clapping, tears, laughter), useful, but nerve-wracking. I learnt (the hard way) that the more effort you put into a ‘reading’, the more the audience appreciate it. Take the effort to learn it by heart, and the audience will generally give you the time of day. Suddenly, your performance has gone up several notches: there’s no paper-barrier between you and the audience; you can make eye-contact; you can use both hands for gesture… All you have to do is remember it!

Fast forward several years – I became Bard of Bath after winning the local eisteddfod in that city back in 1998. I started trying my hand at storytelling – even more terrifying, it seemed, as there’s no ‘script’, no safety net. The storyteller performers extempoire, or completely improvises. I became a professional storyteller in 2000 when I went freelance, getting bookings in schools, libraries, art centres, museums, and so on. I have since performed across Britain, live on BBC TV, and abroad.

After moving to Stroud in late 2010 I worked on a commission for The History Press – a collection of folk tales, as part of their county-by-county series. I opted for Oxfordshire – the ‘bridging’ county between my East Midlands roots and West Country home. For that I collected (and rewrote in my own words) 40 tales – the idea is that each has to be ‘performable’, that is not a verbatim performance script, but written with a sense of orality and aurality. This is where my experience as a spoken word performer cross-fertilised with that of my writing practice. To ‘test’ the material I performed it, whenever possible, to a live audience, before committing it to paper. After the book came out I toured it in venues across Oxfordshire to diverse audiences (Woodstock Bookshop; Alice Day, Guildhall Oxford; Beatnik Albion Bookshop; Oxford Folk Weekend).

Encouraged by the success of Oxfordshire Folk Tales, I wrote a second collection, drawing upon tales from my old home county of Northamptonshire. This was published in October 2013. I am now gearing up for performances based upon this latest book, but I also wanted to offer something different. Looking at my two books I decided I wanted to create a show based upon both. What could link them, beyond the folk tale genre? Earlier this year I took part in a project for Bath Literature Festival – based upon the New Penguin Book of English Folk Songs (Roud; Bishop 2012), local storytellers were asked to re-interpret them as narratives. The show I performed in was entitled rather memorably as ‘Tales of Lust, Infidelity and Bad Living’. Inspired by this, and by the many theme-based shows I have helped co-create with my Bath-and-Stroud-based storytelling group, Fire Springs, over the years, I decided to find a thematic link for the show, and thus was born ‘The Rose and the Snake’, partly inspired by the flowers associated with the respective counties, but also by the sexual politics which run throughout the material (as symbolised by my leitmotifs). Some stories are based on what are called Murder Ballads – and so love, death, revenge, and bizarre magical shenanigans are common tropes. This new show would be a collaboration with folksinger Chantelle Smith, who would complement my stories with ballads, thereby providing sonic texture, i.e. different registers of voice. Previously, when performing solo, I have achieved this by switching from story to poetry (I am no singer, but I am an experienced performance poet). Working with a musician widens out the appeal of the show tremendously. It is hard work, even for a word-junkie like me, to sit through a whole evening of poetry; or long stories, without variation. At sixty minutes, our show is intentionally lean and mean. With over 80 stories and countless ballads to choose from, the different configurations of material are vast – thus offering the possibility of numerous ‘sets’, differentiated according to the time of year, venue, and nature of the event. The Rose and The Snake is now available for ‘weddings, barmitzvahs and christenings’!

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