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From Lord Mayor to MA Creative Writing student

Jim CampbellBefore enrolling as a part-time student on the MA in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes, Jim Campbell enjoyed a varied career; teaching English and History to high-school students in many countries, finally at the European School just outside Culham. He then chaired the leadership & public policy programmes at the University of Oxford, working predominantly with international students. However, you may recognise Jim due to his 20 years as a local councillor and a year as Lord Mayor of Oxford.

Jim’s previous writing experience stemmed from his time writing poetry as a student at Oxford University, culminating with his book ‘First Time Lightly’ being published by London’s Fortune Press. After a gap of many years Jim decided that he’d like to get published again, having spent most of his time writing reports for schools and the city council. The idea to come back to studying came from the decision to do something with his new-found spare time after stepping down from his roles as programme chair and in education mediation, and the Oxford Brookes’ MA in Creative Writing was recommended to him by a good friend.

‘I wanted to see if I could still write creatively. I didn’t particularly know if I wanted to carry on with poetry or to try other forms of writing – academic or not. I’d once tried a novel many years ago and I got nowhere. So I thought I might do other styles of writing, and luckily the first semester was quite open. The last few months I’ve been focussed on poetry again, and I’ve had two tutors who are very good published poets: Hannah Lowe and Emma Jones. That was hugely important for me, knowing that I was working with really good poets – and they got me writing. I think I’ve learnt a lot from them, and of course from my fellow students. There’s a group of us who meet maybe every 6 weeks and have some cake, coffee, and submit work beforehand and comment on it. The result is that yes, I would like to be published – and that’s what I have been working towards. In the last couple of months of my course I have had poems published in the Oxford Magazine and The Spectator. I also had a poem “highly commended” by the Poetry Book Society and included in their 2015 student anthology.

The input of the visiting fellows, all of them published writers, is hugely valuable. We had to read their books and they gave us assignments to do in class.I had to write suddenly in class for 15 minutes and then read it out – I wasn’t sure how I’d cope with that, and I actually liked it and I miss it when semesters are over! That was very useful for me, to get me thinking sideways and up and downwards and inside-outwards. For our major project we have to choose two of the visiting fellows to work with, and I’ve chosen two poets: Kate Clanchy and Patience Agbabi. We also hear from publishers and agents and other published writers, who give us information and advice about getting published.

The enthusiasm of the course lead, James Hawes, is great – and whatever Morag Joss, associate lecturer, says, is always worth listening to. Overall I’m very pleased with the programme. The sessions are two and a half hours where you’re never sure what’s going to happen, and you nearly always learn something new. I would absolutely recommend this programme. I’ve kept a group of friends and fellow writers for these last two years, which is a very valuable part of the course.’  

 

Read Jim Campbell’s student profile in full to find out more about his experience as a postgraduate student at Oxford Brookes University. 

Find out more about alumni publication successes, the creative writing fellows, and the MA Creative Writing course here.

Rachel Crowther news piece

MA Creative Writing alumna’s next two novels to be published in 2016 and 2017 by Bonnier Zaffre

Congratulations to Rachel Crowther, whose second novel, ‘Things You Do For Love’, will be published in August this year – with her third novel (as yet untitled) scheduled for publication in August 2017.

Rachel studied for the Creative Writing MA at Oxford Brookes part-time between 2009 and 2011, whilst working as a Consultant in Public Health Medicine for the NHS. While she was completing her MA, Rachel successfully entered her first novel, ‘The Partridge and the Pelican’ for the Hookline novel competition, seeing it published in April 2011. Some passages in that novel grew out of exercises undertaken for seminars within the MA

By then, Rachel was already working on her next novel. Initially conceived as a pair, her idea was that one novel would be from the point of view of Flora, the retired surgeon protagonist, and the other from the point of view of her daughters. Rachel submitted extracts from the novel with a commentary along these lines for her final assignment of the MA under the title ‘Binocular Fiction’ – the term she chose to capture the advantages of developing two slightly different, equally weighted perspectives on a story.

In the end, Rachel successfully combined the two narratives into one novel, resulting in the soon to be published ‘The Things You Do For Love’. The novel looks back over forty years of Flora’s career and marriage, and her daughters’ childhoods, examining their choices, sacrifices, secrets, disappointments and hopes.

Rachel Crowther

On her experience of writing her novel whilst studying for her MA, Rachel writes that:

‘During the MA course I workshopped several extracts from the novel, some with the course staff but also with Kate Clanchy, and a couple of scenes grew out of exercises we did in class (especially in Jim’s Novel module). That experience was helpful in that it gave me a chance to test-drive some passages in a challenging environment, and helped me answer some questions about my characters and how I was telling the story. Another hugely valuable element of the course for me was the ‘Rewriting Fiction’ module I did with Rob Pope, who went on to supervise my final piece, because those sessions really stretched us all and brought out some wonderfully innovative, creative, even mad ideas from all of us in the small group lucky enough to be taught by Rob’.

On completion of her MA in Creative Writing, Rachel spent three busy years moving house, jobs and schools, whilst taking the manuscript apart and putting it back together again several times over, with various different characters and plot lines removed, rejigged or reinstated at each stage – a process that she feels yielded a much stronger novel than she started out with.

Rachel’s manuscript was taken on by Patrick Walsh at Conville and Walsh in December 2014, and sold to Bonnier Zaffre in July 2015 as part of a two book deal.

‘The Things You Do For Love’ is coming out in August this year, and the next novel (final title to be agreed) is currently in the editing phase and provisionally scheduled for publication in August 2017.
The following is an extract provided by Rachel which she remembers workshopping during the course. Flora’s daughter Kitty is a composer, just setting out on her career and not yet sure that she believes in herself as a musician, and this passage describes the moment when she first sees what she is capable of.

The opening notes lifted from the piano as slowly and carefully as if they were being thought of for the first time. Lifted and then lingered in the air, languorous but persuasive, perfectly placed. Kitty opened her eyes again, and her mouth opened too, as though she needed to see and breathe and taste the sound as well as hear it. It felt as though the song needed her complete attention to will it on – although the extraordinary truth was that Andrej and Daniel were making the sounds she could hear, evoking so precisely the music in her head. This must be like giving birth, seeing what was inside you take shape in the world.

        The rest of the audience had vanished now. There was only Kitty and the performers and the space above them in which the sound waves hovered and spread. Not even Kitty, perhaps; all that mattered of her was in the music. Andrej’s voice held a long G, closed it on a careful, not quite English diphthong, then slid gracefully onto a high E and unfurled the plaintive phrase that signified to Kitty something more than the words of the setting: something that Andrej’s impeccable breath control seemed to yield up between the notes. Kitty’s heartbeat accelerated with them, drawing out a pure thread of emotion from the interplay of words and melody. This was something she had never known before, a surge of feeling she couldn’t explain or control, bringing recognition beyond rational meaning: something that felt very much like love.

Quick Fiction success for MA Creative Writing students

Last week, Kat Lund, Sophie Holland, and Vicki Lloyd of the Oxford Brookes MA in Creative Writing were selected to read at a literary reading event with a difference, with all the stories consisting of no more than 300 words.

“Success in literary competitions, great or small, is a fantastic way of a writer beefing up their CV before going out to look for an agent. It really does count. So we’re delighted that three of our current MA students were selected for this evening – no doubt against tough opposition from Oxford University’s own students.” Dr James Hawes, programme lead for MA Creative Writing

Authors of selected submissions were invited to read at the Quick Fictions event at Oxford University’s St Edmund Hall on 25 February at 8:00pm, and will soon have their work published on the Quick Fictions app. The app has been ranked in the top 10 of the Sunday Times app list of 2013, and ranked at #5 in the UK’s paid app chart.

Quick Fictions is the brainchild of Professor Nicholas Royle, beginning as a biannual short fiction event held at the University of Sussex. It grew out of his interest in experimental projects and new kinds of writing. In particular, he wanted to explore the question of how to write – inventively, thoughtfully, memorably – in the age of the short attention span. Quoted in Myriad, Royle describes Quick Fictions as “the writing of our time, quick means: alive, vigorous, sharp, agile, perceptive, swift, even impatient, but also sensitive and vulnerable… Quick fictions are funny, poignant, dark, sad, romantic, strange: they take us to the very quick of things.”

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Kat Lund’s piece is called Raisin Bread and Elephants, and it is a love story that never was, told as a memory flash. The piece was developed from something Kat wrote in a seminar exercise for the ‘Voice’ module in the Creative Writing MA course. She commented that she liked the idea of memory being triggered by the strangest of things, and that memory has a physicality of its own; “like elephants we return to the places that have a pull on us; our a memory is a journey, even if the rest of us never moves”.

Sophie Holland’s submission is entitled Bird Box Camera and it is the true story of watching a great tit make her nest and lay her eggs, before observing their various fates once she watched them hatch. It begins with:

‘She sits.  We watch.  She pecks and plucks, trims, bobs, sleeps.  We watch the twitch and pulse of her dreams.  She waits, we wait.  We name her Grace.’

Sophie writes that the bird box camera in question is actually installed in her 11 year old son, Luke’s, bedroom.  He is a keen ornithologist and saved up £154 to buy it. Her story relates to last years’ bird family, and now that Luke has set it up again they hope that Grace will return!

Vicki Lloyd’s submission is called The Doctrine of Signatures.  It is the tale of a bitter woman, thwarted in love and planning revenge. Vicki came up with the story through an interest in plant signatures – that is, how plants through their leaf shape, flower shape or colour indicate to us their medicinal virtues – or their poisonous nature. My character in this story aligns herself with the bitter and deadly sides of the plants that she sees around her.

If you’re feeling inspired about writing, why not take a look at our MA in Creative Writing?

International Poetry Competition awards celebration

Copy of International Poetry 38 smallAfter the success of its inaugural International Poetry Competition, which attracted nearly 900 entries from all over the world, the Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre hosted an awards evening on Friday 19 February. The celebration featured terrific readings from three of the winning poets (pictured below): Siobhan Campbell, winner of the Open category, Marie-Aline Roemer, winner of the English as a Second Language (ESL) category, and Hanne Busck-Nielsen, Special Commendation in the ESL category, as well as video recordings from the other winning poets, Claire Askew (Open) and Armel Dagorn (ESL). Competition judge, Hannah Lowe, was extremely impressed by the very high standard of the submissions. She said,

“All of the poems I shortlisted had a sense of real urgency about them, of needing to be written and a quality of testimony to experience.”

Copy of International Poetry 14 small The event was attended by an enthusiastic audience, who also very much enjoyed Hannah’s reading from her acclaimed first collection, Chick, and her upcoming collection Chan, which will be published by Bloodaxe in June of this year. There were also wonderful readings of their work by three local young poets mentored by Kate Clanchy at Oxford Spires Academy: Tarzina Khatun, Rukiya Khatun, and Asima Qayyum.

All of the winning poems are available to read on the Poetry Centre website, as well as additional photographs of the event. The awards ceremony was livestreamed and recorded, and can be viewed on the Brookes website (fast forward to 14:30 to view the opening).

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Dr Niall Munro, Director of the Poetry Centre, also announced the date of the next International Poetry Competition: it will be open for entries from Friday 29 April to Wednesday 31 August.

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To find out more about the opportunities that you can gain from studying English or Creative writing here at Oxford Brookes, follow the links to our undergraduate and postgraduate
course pages.

 

Photography: Frank Dumbleton

Oxford Brookes creative writing student debuts her first novel on innovative publishing platform

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Klara Piechocki-Brown, an MA Creative Writing student at Brookes, is crowdfunding her debut novel, The Death of Poppy Kusch, on innovative publishing platform Unbound.

Klara has been working as a writer and illustrator for 10 years. From gathering a large online following as a teenage author, to working as a screenwriter in the US and writing a weekly column for LA Cityzine, she is now halfway through a Creative Writing MA at Oxford Brookes University.

Her writing and art is preoccupied with how deliciously diverse we all are, while celebrating what makes us the same. Playful, thoughtful and sometimes dark, she shines light into murkier places with a reassuring tone. Klara identifies as both genderqueer and bisexual and is passionate about LGBT activism, especially encouraging accurate portrayals of bisexual and transgender characters in the media. Endlessly curious, Klara loves to know how things work; she particularly loves non-fiction science, psychology and history books.

It was at the start of second year of her MA when she decided to pitch her novel about a broody time traveller to Unbound. Now she’s sharing a platform with authors such as Julie Burchill, Stephen Fry, Steven Gerard and Tamsin Day-Lewis. Klara’s writing has often been compared to Angela Carter and David Lynch; rich with imagery and sometimes unsettling.

Poppy Kusch, a time travelling immigrant from the 1920s escaping scandal, lives quietly in modern day Oxford as a neonatal nurse with her family; three lovers who are also time travellers. After watching her future self die childless, Poppy pays to take part in a controversial study to artificially raise her luck in order to conceive a baby. When her family die as a result she must evade the Corporation as they try to stop her rewriting history to save them.

Unbound is both a funding platform and a publisher: the author pitches an idea and if enough readers support it, the book goes ahead. The reader helps great ideas get published, and in return receives an insight into the writing process and has their name printed as a patron in that and every subsequent edition.

“I’m equally thrilled and terrified to be doing this”, says Klara. “It feels incredibly vulnerable putting my writing out there, especially campaigning to get it funded! I designed a character who is very unlike me, but you still worry that you’ll accidentally show people too much of yourself, like not realising that your skirt is tucked into your knickers. My book explores themes of grief, nostalgia and faith. It’s a look at how irresistible the past can be- especially if you had the power to step back into it instead of moving on. In my novel’s world, time travellers apply for visas to stay in the modern day, so my protagonist Poppy is a time travelling immigrant. I’ve drawn a lot of inspiration from current events in the UK, and I’ve really had fun mimicking the headlines that a certain newspaper would write if time travellers really were landing here!”

“While planning the book I was worried that with the state of the publishing industry these days that my book might be too high a risk (as it features an LGBT ethically non-monogamous heroine) but Unbound is enabling me to reach potential readers who want to read books that feature less traditional plots. The celebrity authors on the site have come to it for the same reason, to write the books they want to write.”


Klara also works as an illustrator, and her writing shed (her blog only available to patrons of the book) promises to be full of drawings of her characters and settings.

To become a patron of Klara’s book and help it become fully published, you can head to the book’s funding page.

MA English alumni Highly Commended for the Bridport prize 2015!

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Sarah Taylor has been Highly Commended for the 2015 Bridport Prize, Flash Fiction category for a piece called Good at Crisps. The category imposes a limit of 250 words, leading author Patrick Gale, 2012 Bridport Prize judge, to describe Flash Fiction as the “love child’ of poetry and the short story. Sarah was also shortlisted for another piece of Flash Fiction entered in the same competition. A total of 2141 stories were received this year of which 50 were shortlisted and an anthology of the winning entries produced.

The award ceremony was held on Saturday 17 October during Bridport Open Book week, with established and widely published authors such as Roger McGough, Jane Feaver and Jane Rogers handing out the prizes. The Open Book week included a reading with the three judges and various other events and workshops.

Following her first degree in French Literature from the University of Kent, Sarah studied for an Undergraduate Diploma in Creative Writing at Oxford University. In that time she wrote a one-act play called ‘Death on the Turnpike’ which is open to performance for Drama students looking for a gory, bloodthirsty play packed with villains, murder and gibbets – do email Sarah if you’re an interested student! Sarah then completed a full-time MA in English at Oxford Brookes University where she studied between 2013 and 2014.

Studying at Brookes was amazing, truly a life-changing experience. That sounds really dramatic but it’s how I feel. I loved engaging with critical theory and it was exciting to look at literature through so many different lenses. Although certainly a steep learning curve, I felt constantly stimulated and left our amazing seminars each week with my head spinning with new ideas and new ways of looking at not just literature but at the world! Working on my dissertation was a curious mixture of total agony and incredible breakthroughs that made me feel wow, I can do this! The Brookes tutors were brilliant – so passionate about their subjects and an absolute inspiration.

Sarah’s MA dissertation was entitled ‘Post-war Masculinity and the Imaginative Annihilation of Motherhood’, and her interests lie in post-war fiction and drama – Northern writing in particular. Sarah currently lives near Thame, but her roots – and much of the inspiration for her writing – are back in her native Nottingham, as reflected by her story written in a Nottingham dialect entitled Popping Your Cherry; itself highly commended in the Flash Fiction category of the Bridport Prize in 2012. Sarah describes Flash Fiction as perfect to fit around a busy life with three children, including working at Oxford Brookes as an Academic Support Worker for two days a week. Around this, her biggest goal in the coming year is to finish her first novel.
Contact Sarah: saraho@hotmail.co.uk

Published in – Bridport Prize 2012 Anthology – Highly Commended with Popping your Cherry in Flash Fiction category.

Published in – Bus Pass Britain Rides Again with a chapter Love on the 159, a poignant look back at Sarah’s daily commute from Streatham to the West End of London on the 159 routemaster bus.

Published in Bridport Prize 2015 Anthology  – Highly Commended with Good at Crisps in Flash Fiction category.

Magna Carta Schools project a huge success

magna carta exhibition resized2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta; to celebrate the university launched a ‘Modern Magna Carta Challenge” in which primary and secondary school pupils were challenged to create a physical response to the Magna Carta by creating their own idea of what a modern charter might look like. 106 pupils from five different schools took part in the challenge and the exhibits can be seen on exhibition in the Museum of Oxford from the 29 July – 19 August 2015

In total the exhibition contains 24 physical exhibits from the students including paintings, photographs and sculptures as well as a DVD showing a collection of videos, including both original exhibits and students commenting on their physical exhibits. In addition there is also a large board designed by some Brookes Art students who helped curate the exhibition, which enables visitors to the exhibition to write down their own thoughts on the Magna Carta and human rights in general.

To support this project staff from the School of Education partnered with schools by running workshops exploring how to approach the challenge. During school visits, staff focussed on key issues like slavery, trafficking, religion, education and gender equality.

Rachel Payne, Senior Lecturer in Education: Art said:

Through this type of engagement in real life contexts and through experiential learning students and teachers can offer lasting, deep engagement with key issues embedded at the heart of the Citizenship agenda in education. “

A one day Magna Carta symposium was also held on 18 June aimed at secondary school pupils featuring workshops delivered by staff from the school of education including Jane Fletcher, James Percival and Susannah Wright, as well as a keynote address by the rapper Akala.

See http://www.brookes.ac.uk/magnacarta/ for more details of the project and a downloadable resource pack for use in schools.

Final call to enter the International Poetry Competition

International-Poetry-CompetitionThe deadline is fast approaching for the Oxford Brookes University International Poetry Competition, but there is still time to enter.

Launched by the Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre in May, the competition has two top prizes of £1000 on offer. The competition seeks to celebrate the great diversity of poetry being written in English all over the world.

The Oxford Brookes International Poetry Prize is a prestigious and timely way of enhancing Brookes’ reputation, founded on the Poetry Centre’s long-standing track record of poetry and public engagement.

Dr Eoin Flannery, Director of the Poetry Centre, Oxford Brookes University

Dr Eóin Flannery, Director of the Poetry Centre at Oxford Brookes said: “The Oxford Brookes International Poetry Prize is a prestigious and timely way of enhancing Brookes’ reputation, founded on the Poetry Centre’s long-standing track record of poetry and public engagement.”

There are two categories in the competition which are open to both new and established poets aged 18 and over from across the globe.

The two categories are:

  • ESL category (open to all poets over 18 years of age who write in English as a second language
  • Open category (open to all poets over 18 years of age).

Part of the prize funding for the competition came from Oxford Brookes’ 150th anniversary small grants programme which was launched in 2014. The small grants programme has helped to fund projects which best supported staff, students and the local community, enhanced Brookes’ international reputation and celebrated 150 years of success.

The competition deadline is midnight on 31 August 2015. There is a cost of £5 to submit a poem or £4 per poem for more than three entries. Entrants may submit up to ten poems and all entries must be unpublished work.  Full competition entry criteria and terms and conditions can be found on the International Poetry Competition webpage.

The Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre is based within the Department of English and Modern Languages at Oxford Brookes University. The Centre hosts an annual programme of events for members of staff, students and the local community including conferences, research seminars, workshops, exhibitions and community projects.

Creative Writing alumni returns to Oxford for Waterstones book signing

CatherineChanter - The Well 2015

Catherine Chanter, MA Creative Writing graduate, will be signing copies of her new novel, The Well. The event is being held at Waterstones bookshop on Broad Street, Oxford, on Thursday 16th April at 7.30pm.

The Well is a dark and devastating tale of obsession, motherhood and the complexity of female relationships, wrapped inside a gripping whodunit. The Well is Catherine Chanter’s debut novel and its publication comes on the back of her success last year in winning the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. The novel has proven to be real publishing sensation and has sold all over the world. Remarking on her journey from creative writing student to published author, Catherine commented:

Initially the poacher turned gamekeeper analogy sprang to mind, thinking about how I seemed to have rather miraculously made the move from student on the MA Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes to the writer actually giving the talk at Waterstones.  But in fact all the students on that course were writers and all writers are – or should be – students.  In many ways, I’d go back and do my Masters all over again because it was such a rich experience and because there is so much left to learn.

Dr James Hawes, Reader in Creative Writing at Oxford Brookes, added: “For us at Brookes, the greatest pleasure, and the most powerful confirmation of what we are doing on the Creative Writing MA, is to see a former student breaking through internationally with an out-and-out literary novel. It’s why we do it.”

Radio documentary by Brookes Lecturer explores poetry of James Berry OBE

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A radio documentary, A Story I Am In, by Hannah Lowe, MA Creative Writing Teaching Fellow at Oxford Brookes, explores the poetry of James Berry OBE who came to the UK from Jamaica in 1948.

In the documentary Hannah Lowe, herself of part-Jamaican origin, examines how James Berry’s poems look to his childhood in rural Jamaica and reflect on the shock of an England that didn’t always know how to accept him.

Berry started to write about his experiences and came to play a key role in bringing Caribbean voices into British poetry, editing two seminal anthologies, Bluefoot Traveller and News for Babylon. Now just turned 90, he is slipping into the hidden depths of Alzheimer’s Disease but, as A Story I Am In shows, he is aware of the people and nature around him.

Fellow poets John Agard, Grace Nichols and Linton Kwesi Johnson explain how Berry’s work and the man himself came to have such a strong influence on them, while Hannah Lowe finds that the poems have helped her trace her own father’s journey from Jamaica to London.’

Hannah was also recently filmed for BBC2’s Poetry Between the Lines: The Romantics, speaking about Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias”, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.