It’s for you!

Don’t you love to receive a letter? A hand-written and just for you letter?

Jon McGregor, author of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things, So Many Ways to Begin, and a short story collection, This isn’t the sort of thing that happens to someone like you is professor of creative writing at the University of Nottingham. He edits a journal called The Letters Page, which brims with humour, seriousness, great writing, illustrations and ‘paratext’ – those scribbles, alterations and random marks that make a page more than the words written/printed on it. The journal, though digital, prefers to receive hand-written letters (probably for the paratext). I was fortunate to have a letter published in the ‘in house’ pilot journal – compete with computer generated coffee stain on my subversively word-processed submission. I’m delighted to have now been published in Issue 6 of the www available edition, wonderfully illustrated by Gwen Burns.


The red bits, writing and margin lines, folds above = paratext. Read it and be thankful not to be selling windows (unless you do, of course, in which case you might be glad of the work, and who could blame anyone for that?)

The top left scribble, emblem, emblem print (bottom), folds and discolouration below = paratext



Independence Day

Nicola has been published by the BIG publishing houses several times. She won the Betty Trask Award for a first novel with her Nottingham based gritty and eloquent The Killing Jar. She’s now going down the independent publishing route with what it bound to be a well written, edgy and intelligent trilogy of tales. Available on kindle from 17 July.

nicola monaghan

Back in May, I wrote a little here about my first foray into Independent Publishing, or what would have been called self-publishing until recent years. I’ve set up my own imprint, which I’ve called  Blue Morpho Press (in honour of the wonderful butterfly MORPH who is a featurTroll-Finale of The Killing Jar, my first novel) but I am the only employee/director/general dogsbody of this new, exciting and vibrant publishing house.

Over the course of the last year, I’ve been more and more convinced by indie/self publishing as a viable route for my writing. I’ve attended workshops, spoken to writers working in all sorts of ways, heard convincing arguments on both sides of this ‘fence’. The more I hear, the more convinced I am that for the books I want to write, at least some kind of hybrid model is likely to work best for me.

This July, my first…

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The Lumen – a long gestation but worth the wait!

A couple of years ago I responded to a call for submissions to a new University of Edinburgh journal of medical humanities to be called The Lumen, a magazine for new literature and visual art dealing with the themes of illness, medicine and healthcare. The theme was ‘sharp and numb’ and the editors were looking for art, photography, poetry, fiction, non-fiction and short reviews.

The poem I sent was accepted and edited and then all went quiet. I don’t know the full story, but I gather the project went through various vicissitudes. The team persevered and found the means to bring their baby (and mine) to birth. A few weeks ago, the beautiful print edition landed on my door mat, and last Friday the digital edition went live at the launch of the journal. Sadly I wasn’t able to attend – so far away – but one of the editors read my poem. It was a joy to hear that but a first to hlumenave someone else reading my work aloud to an audience in my absence. I found myself quite moved by that.

It’s a great journal/magazine full of wonderful images and writing – have a look at The Lumen (there’s a call for submissions for the next edition on page 92).

When it comes to editing… Screen, paper, audio?

editingWhich approach works best for you?

Though I might scribble ideas on paper, I always write first drafts on a computer or an iPad. I edit them there too, so I tell myself. Experience has shown me though that printing out and reading the paper copy always throws up typos missed on the screen. Even the reading experience of the on paper version differs for some reason.

Maybe it’s that I print out on to yellow paper, and the colour change means I read more slowly or with fresher eyes. Maybe it’s because the text lies within the confines of, and is limited to, one page at a time rather than the continuous on-screen scroll. Perhaps it’s that I move away from the computer to read the pages and am less hypnotised by that slightly shiny, shimmery, Tahoma 16pt justified. No doubt being less distracted by other things going on (or available) on my Mac is a factor.

Take today. I’ve done that thing of leaving the third version of a WIP, a short story, in the digital drawer for a few days. On revisiting it, it seemed ready for a proof read, hence the print out. I took the paper copy and my red editing pen to a cafe. Not only did I find typos, I found words that were not the best options available for what I was endeavouring to show, slips in the narrative voice, sentences that would read with more clarity and impact were they turned round, paragraphs I’d broken in the wrong place for the sense of the text, and an ending that needed improving by linking back to references to the Bible made earlier in the story. I also read the piece aloud (sotto voce, of course) and found even more similar issues. On other occasions I’ve recorded myself reading and stumbling over shoddy phrasing. Listening back, I could hear where flow was disrupted unintentionally or I sounded to be droning on and on and on. It’s a process I’d recommend.

People tell me my style is quite poetic, sometimes from the language I use, but often from the rhythm initiated by my syntactical choices. This can become a problem. If I’m sure the piece is meant to be prose not poetry in disguise, I need to vary the sentences’ length and rhythm. Rhythm in prose does of course have a place, but it needs to be used for good reason and effect rather than from habituation. Too much of it can lose the carry, twists and moments of impact of the story.

Another couple of hours’ work later, it’s time for another print out (and a cup of tea).

Former course leader speaks out

Do hop over to Nicola Monaghan’s site to read Let me tell you a story, the way creative writers do. Nicola also writes and works as Niki Valentine. She is now a lecturer at De Montfort University, Leicester.

Niki is a woman of integrity, ability, encouragement and compassion, and for whom I have great respect and affection. As she writes in her article, she built on the sure foundations of the early years of Nottingham’s BA (Hons) Creative and Professional Writing course and offered us opportunities many writers crave, not just through teaching but by bringing in writers, agents and publishers. This enabled us to develop a realistic understanding of the writing life and the writing industries; we had the rare chance to network with such people, pitch to them, receive critiques of our writing and their invaluable advice.

Lucky De Montfort!

How to kick a student when she/he is down

In the last post (how ironic) about the course, I said I’d write were an understandable reason given for the closure of the University of Nottingham’s BA (Hons) Creative and Professional Writing course, but the real news is that it hasn’t been and the students have been treated abysmally. Do read this eloquent piece by current student Kim Jamison about the meeting they attended. Jubilee Campus - Nottingham UniversitySo soon after the horrors of France, the students were ticked off for discussing the closure on Facebook. This was used as a reason for not saying more to them at the meeting. (Expletives deleted!) An aptly named commenter, Michael, in the student magazine Impact, described the course as Mickey Mouse. He appears not to know that external examiners ensure the academic standard desired by the University across the board is reached. At one time the examiner thought marks being awarded to CPW students were too high. On further investigation the examiner decided this was not the case, rather that the work was of an exceptionally high calibre. One alumna of CPW, who graduated from Nottingham some years ago with a BSc in Psychology, told me she found parity in the academic levels of both courses. I am angry about the injustice of it all, and profoundly sad; sad for the current students and staff, sad for the former course leader*, who seems to be being scapegoated, sad because this was a great course that enriched the lives of so many people and contributed hugely to the literary life of Nottingham, sad that the university I felt proud to be part of has let these students down so badly. *If you haven’t read Nicola Monaghan’s award winning novel The Killing Jar, do. She also writes as Niki Valentine, such is her skill and flexibility!

Rankings = money = the value of education?

At The University of Nottingham we are committed to providing a truly international education, inspiring our students, producing world-leading research and benefiting the communities around our campuses in the UK, China and Malaysia. Our purpose is to improve life for individuals and societies worldwide. By bold innovation and excellence in all that we do, we make both knowledge and discoveries matter.

p.4 Strategic Plan 2010-15, University of Nottingham

Of course, and hooray, and it does! There is so much to commend the University of Nottingham, and I’d happily advise anyone to consider studying there. I feel sure they would, in the main, have a brilliant time and a rich experience. It is a particularly good university for folks like me with disabilities of any kind. But…

The students and alumni of the University of Nottingham’s BA (Hons) Creative and Professional Writing course continue to try and establish the reason or reasons for its closure in 2017. Perhaps current students will receive clearer information at a meeting next Friday.

The University’s statement about the closure says:

“With shifting patterns of recruitment and recent changes in staffing, it was an appropriate time to reconsider the strategic fit of the course with the School of Education’s longer term plans. Following a thorough business review, the School leadership decided the programme should close; the final graduates will complete in 2017.”

The first sentence was addressed by Thursday’s post. What of the second (apart from the inaccuracy: for graduates read undergraduates)? Any institution needs funding, no quibbles there. The course was not making a loss, but perhaps that was not enough. One source of income for a university is research. In product and financial terms it forms part of the life and business of a university. The Research Excellence Framework (REF) ranking of a university matters both because it demands excellence in research, which has to be beneficial to the teaching of students as well as the big, wide world, and because it influences funding, income and earnings. Such is the belt-tightening age we live in that monetary value matters increasingly, though hopefully in partnership with educational, personal and societal value. Is a lack of research the cause of the closure? Well, it might be but perhaps need not have been.

I am told that research happens in faculties at Nottingham. The course’s misplacement in the Faculty of Social Sciences, which requires all research to have a social science focus, made it impossible for the course leader to generate research that was valid for creative and professional writing AND a fit for Social Sciences. If, however, the course were moved to the School of English, or its research location made more flexible, a different picture would emerge. Look at the English staff research lists and you’ll find listed the writing of poetry collections, a radio drama and plays. To the best of my knowledge, the CPW course leader wrote and had published two novels during her employment in Nottingham. But, unlike in the School of English, where staff can provide teaching cover for sabbaticals etc, she was the only permanent member of CPW staff, her colleagues being employed sessionally.

So the question remains: Why will the course be closed rather than moved? I emailed the very pleasant Sir David Greenaway, Vice Chancellor, to ask him simply that. He replied quickly and kindly but did not answer the question.

If we receive an answer that explains the closure, I’ll let you know. Otherwise, thank you for reading and for your response. A bit, though nicely, overwhelmed by it up here in my study to be honest. But I have writing to do to send to my crit group and a new publication to celebrate.

(In case you were wondering, look also at de Montfort Leicester or the University of East Anglia to see that is is eminently possible to undertake varied and valuable research in the field of creative writing beyond the production of new writing, but it takes time, and staff, and yes, money.)