Join author and academic Gavin McCrea in conversation with Prof Claire Lynch to kick off the first Brunel Writers Talk event of this year. They will discuss the upcoming launch of Gavin’s new memoir, Cells, and how the crafts of fiction and memoir intersect in his writing practice.
Gavin McCrea has published two successful novels to date. His first, Mrs Engels (2015), was shortlisted for both the Desmond Elliot Prize and the Walter Scott Prize, as well as longlisted for the Guardian First Book Award. His second novel, The Sisters Mao (2021), has received great critical acclaim.
Gavin’s memoir is his first non-fiction work which centres around his relationship with his mother. Gavin shares an intimate tale of adulthood, addressing topics of homophobia, mental health and drug addiction that he grew up around in his youth. In the face of his father’s sudden death, a devastating diagnosis of his own and the struggles of being a writer, it is his connection with his mother that provides him solace during this time. However, after years of resentment from her betrayal of his teenage self, Gavin expresses his desire to reconcile before it becomes too late.
Hungry for more? Then register HERE… to join us on 1st December at 6pm to hear from the man himself.
A conversation with Shehan Karunatilaka and Damon Galgut
Well, it’s already that time of year where literature’s leading fiction award, The Booker Prize, rolls around. And it’s Sri-Lankan writer, Shehan Karunatilaka, who lifted the prize as the 2022 winner with his second novel: The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida.
Set within the chaos of war-torn Sri-Lanka in the midst of the civil war, The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida centres around Maali, a war photographer, who has woken up dead in a waiting room for the afterlife. With time running out, he has seven moons/one week to lead his friend and cousin to a series of hidden photographs beneath his bed, which expose the brutal truth about Sri-Lanka’s ongoing conflict.
To kick off the beginning of the Southbank Literary Festival, the 2022 Booker winner sat down for his first public event, joined by last year’s winner, Damon Galgut, and author Sara Collins for a live Q+A session.
The night began by Sara asking both authors to read an extract from their award-winning novels, to provide those who had not yet had chance to read their work a flavour of what was to come.
Karunatilaka then spoke about his novel, describing it as belonging to the “murder mystery genre but grounded in eastern mythology”, as he explored death as a beginning, rather than an end. Galgut, who sat alongside him, expanded on this concept, asking if “maybe you wake up [from death] with more confusion?” as opposed to initially having all the answers.
For those of you curious about what could inspire such an award-winning masterpiece, Karunatilaka revealed to the audience how his novel had originally been planned to be a ghost story. As such, in preparation for his writing, he spoke about how he had initially visited a variety of haunted houses, as well as listening to “horror movie soundtracks”, but had to stop, stating that “[he] was writing at 3 in the morning so it can get quite creepy”.
As his concept changed so did his music, switching up his horror beats for a playlist he named ‘Choons with the Dead’, featuring a variety of 80’s classics to get him into the right headspace. He ended by advising the audience that when using music, remember to choose “nothing with lyrics that distracts you”.
However, not all of his inspiration comes from music, as Karunatilaka listed his top three authors: Kurt Vonnegut (Galapagos), George Saunders (Lincoln in the Bardo), and Douglas Adams (The Hitchhiker’s Guide), who all had had a literary influence on him for this novel.
Galgut, on the other hand, expressed how normality was key for him, writing his award-winning novel, The Promise, explaining; “it’s quite important to keep your life in the same tracks it runs on when you are working and to not divert yourself too much”.
After an evening of questions on different countries publishing scenes and Karunatilak’s lack of tweeting, the night closed with both authors being asked: is there anything you would change about your respective novels? Karunatilaka replied speedily, “I would not go back to it, even though it’s far from flawless. It’s done.” Galgut seconded his response adding, “it’s part of the process of a novel that you exhaust all of those possibilities in the writing, that by the end there is nothing that you feel can or should be changed”. The night was a huge success with both authors putting on a great show and celebrating two amazing books. So, if you need something to read, why not give The Seven Moons of Maali a try.
Last week the university had the pleasure of welcoming guest speaker Frederick Forsyth as part of the Writing in British Intelligence events. I was initially unfamiliar with most of his work, having read only Dogs of War years ago and, at the behest of my grandfather, watched the film based on his most popular novel TheDay of the Jackal.
Of course, this writer wasn’t always a typical novelist, having worked as a pilot and then for MI6, attempting to save lives and even prevent nuclear weapons from falling into enemy hands. In his talk, Forsyth recounted how he’d started off as a pilot, before going on to work in journalism for Reuters and the BBC, where he was recruited by MI6. “Spy work isn’t like Ian’s Fleming’s novels,” according to Forsyth. “Spies are often people travelling, missionaries and journalists, who are asked if they can report back to the agency.”
Forsyth said there are three types of spies: those who travel carrying packages, those who handle agents and those who are recruited to betray their own countries. The final category he called ‘real spies’; he himself had never been one but he had handled a few in his day and on rare occasions they would actually provide information useful to the protection of our borders. Often, we think of people being sent into organisations and countries working their way up the ladder for their country, but according to Forsyth, it just didn’t work like that. It was easier to find someone and turn him with a handler to get information than plant someone just for a chance of information. Most information the handlers collected was rather useless, he said, but occasionally it would be something that saved lives.
Forsyth said that spy work happened in strange places, such as bumping into people in a public toilet; MI6 had even managed to persuade a U.S.S.R foreign affairs agent to feed them information, just because a journalist had overheard him having an argument with his boss whilst going to relieve himself. The agent hadn’t provided anything useful after ten years of working with MI6, but that particular information proved invaluable.
What made Forsyth quit spy work, however, was working for MI6 in Nigeria during the Biafra crisis. When he returned to the UK, he discovered that he had no job and no money, so he decided to become a writer. His friends told him it would’ve been easier to rob a bank, but he planned his first novel, The Day of the Jackal, based on an assassination he had planned for real. It went on to sell twelve million copies.
One of the things that inspired him to write was that being a writer was a great cover story for a spy. Often, he would say he was writing a book or an article and this allowed him to ask questions and see things that the enemies of Britain didn’t want him to see, from strikes in the U.S.S.R to the locations of certain government officials. Forsyth’s work was inspired by his life as an MI6 agent.
As a fellow writer, I found what he had to say interesting. All the skills required to be a spy are skills needed to be a writer, from research to finding a powerful story amongst the little details. Even skills such as sitting quietly were important to be a writer as well as a spy. His wife would ask him what he was doing as he stared at walls trying to think about his stories. When he told her he was working, she’d get annoyed and tell him he wasn’t doing anything. It was a great relief to hear that the hours I’ve spent staring into space, trying to decipher how to write my own stories, have not been wasted. Forsyth is, after all, a man, who has written twenty-four books and worked on five movies based on his books.
Forsyth taught me skills such as being patient and waiting for a story, how to gather information and most importantly being willing to stand up for my principles both as a writer and as a human being. So, I ask you fellow writers out there: do you feel the same way? Do you, like Frederick Forsyth, feel that you have the skills of a writer, handler, soldier, spy?
Frederick Forsyth was in conversation with Paul Lashmar as part of the Writing in British Intelligence series of talks. Click HEREto find out more.Frederick Forsyth’s latest novel, The Fox, came out in 2018 and can be bought HERE.
Adam Conway has done over forty jobs including butcher, baker and missionary, so he figured he could add writer to the mix and write about his and others’ experiences. He is currently writing his third novel and is the editor of the Brunel Anthology 2023.
Short poetry on the themes of migrants and refugees is sought for a new photobook by Brunel University photographer and artist, Chris Dundon-Smith. Brunel University is currently supporting Chris on the photojournalism project, 21 Miles. The photobook and poetry will form part of a multi-media installation at Ambika P3 Gallery in London (Nov 2022) and will then go on tour at a selection of galleries in 2023.
21 Miles is a multimedia documentary project that aims to describe the experience of the perilous twenty-one-mile journey across the English Channel, made by those seeking safety and asylum in the United Kingdom.
The video and audio installation uses a single photograph taken in the middle of the English Channel and combines it with over 400 smart-phone audio recordings taken from actual Chanel crossings, and the artist’s own recordings while on location.
In addition, the video installation is supported by a photobook that focuses on the physical and emotional signs and traces this demanding and terrifying journey leaves behind.
This is a non-profit passion project to raise awareness of the current situation and dangers facing people crossing the English Channel. Unfortunately, this is not a paid opportunity and very much aimed at those seeking to contribute to the cause due to an interest in the project or in writing poetry on the subject. There will however be the opportunity to feature in the photobook and the installation, and attend shows, as the work tours after the Ambika P3 show. There will also be a copy of the photobook provided to any successful applicants.
The poetry can be already existing work on these themes, or something new based on the work itself. The deadline for submitting will be 4th October 2022.
Every year, The Brunel Writer Prize is awarded to the student with the highest graded article submission for the Creative Industries module on Brunel University’s Creative Writing Programme. This year’s winner is Nathalie Brundell who provides creative writers with some useful tips on the thorny issue of transferring fictional characters from one’s imagination to the page. Congratulations Nathalie!
Hearing Voices? Fear not, Writer
Like a search history filled with creative torture techniques, a writer with voices in their head is usually a good thing.
But sometimes, those voices can get a little too loud. We’ve all been there. Scented candles burning, movie scores playing softly, a steaming cup of your favourite drink – yeah, you’re ready. In fact, your fingers are itching, so you open the document and…
There it is. The dreaded, blank page. And that blinking cursor – the worst torture technique discovered yet. Well? Come on, then, it says. Show me what you got. I can do this aallll day.
As the seconds pass, your palms grow sweaty. Maybe… Maybe you’re not cut out for this, after all. You can’t even come up with one sentence that doesn’t sound like complete, utter garbage. And what if people hate it? Who could blame them – you have no clue what you’re doing! And…
Yeah – those voices.
Of course, none of the garbage they spew is actually true. It’s just fear, worry, perfectionism – whatever you want to call it. And while that ancient reptile brain of yours is just trying to protect you from excruciating, public shame… it’s also keeping you from actually writing.
In other words – you wanna finally finish a manuscript? Here’s how to beat those nasty voices in your head.
1. Create a Character
If there’s one thing we writers love, it’s a flawed character. So, get to it – give that shrill voice a name, a face, a personality. Who are they, and what are they afraid of?
Like that voice that just won’t stop criticizing you. Let’s call him Curt, shall we? Can you see those thin glasses he’s wearing, and that slick, villainous suit? Looking down at literally everyone?
Well, look closer. Maybe, someone told him long ago that the only way to make your way in the world is through perfection. Flaws and weaknesses? He sniffs them out like a trained dog, because if he can keep pointing out other people’s faults, maybe he doesn’t have to deal with his own.
A pure ray of sunshine.
But I’m sure you can do even better than that. So, crack open your notebook. You don’t have what it takes. People will hate it. Your dream is silly and embarrassing. Who are the people saying these things, and why?
Take your time with it, and make it good – after all, you’ll be seeing a lot of these guys in the future
2. Make Friends
Alright, so you’ve got your characters. Now what?
Curt, the haughty, judgy critic. Selma, the middle-aged woman with enough worries to give her a heart attack. Gordon, the “lazy” slug who would rather scroll social media, because if he actually tries something he might just fail at it.
Shake hands, acknowledge them. These people aren’t going anywhere, so there’s no point ignoring them anymore. Instead, get comfortable around them.
3. Take Back Authority
These flat, nasty characters – are they the ones writing the book, poem, script? No. You are.
So, establish your authority. They can stay, sure, but they better know their place.
They likely won’t back down at first. But in time, you’ll learn how to recognize who is speaking, and how to talk them off their ledge. Selma, for example, probably just needs someone to settle her nerves – some kindness and reassurance goes a long way.
Curt, on the other hand, just needs to be told to shut up every once in a while. And Gordon? No distractions for him. That comfort zone really is his kryptonite.
In other words, put them in their place. ‘Cause if you can learn how to take control over those inner voices?
The Creative Writing team at Brunel is thrilled to announce The Creative Writing Prize in partnership with the Good Literary Agency. The prize is open to all Brunel MA Creative Writing students who are submitting their dissertation projects in 2022. The Good Literary Agency is a social enterprise literary agency dedicated to increasing opportunities for representation for all writers under-represented in mainstream publishing including writers of colour, disability, LGBTQ+, working class and anyone else who feels like their story isn’t being told in mainstream publishing.
“We at TGLA are absolutely thrilled to be partnering with the MA in Creative Writing at Brunel University. As literary agents on the lookout for a diverse range of fiction & non-fiction, we are excited about the wealth of literary talent coming out of Brunel University. We hope we can provide invaluable industry insight that will equip the students with knowledge to take forward into their careers in publishing, and hope this is an amazing opportunity for the 2022 winner.”
Kemi Ogunsanwo at TGLA
The partnership comprises three key stages:
1. Demystifying Publishing
This online event in March will provide students with the opportunity to hear details about the book publishing industry and ask questions of TGLA agents. The event will also be open to Brunel third year BA single and joint honours Creative Writing students.
2. Pitch Session
MA students will be given the opportunity to pitch their work to an agent from TGLA. Each student will have approximately ten minutes to pitch their work and receive feedback or ask questions.
3. Sample submission
Students are invited to submit the first three chapters of their novel or memoir (to a maximum of 8000 words) with a one page synopsis. A shortlist of candidates will be drawn up before the winner is confirmed, likely just before Christmas 2022.
The Good Literary Agency Prize winner 2022 will receive:
A full manuscript read (should they decide to complete the book)
A comprehensive set of editorial notes
A 1 on 1 session with an agent
The potential to be offered representation by TGLA once the manuscript is completed
All events are online and FREE but please register via the links provided below
09.02.22: WRITING MOTHERHOOD – CLAIRE LYNCH AND PENNY WINCER IN CONVERSATION
Join Claire Lynch and Penny Wincer as they ask, why writing about motherhood matters? Claire and Penny will share their own experiences of writing about motherhood in memoir and non-fiction and discuss why challenging mainstream definitions of motherhood is so important in their work.
Claire Lynch is the author of Small: On Motherhoods. Her personal essays have appeared in the Washington Post and on BBC Radio 4. She is a Professor of English Literature at Brunel University London.
Penny Wincer is a Melbourne born, London dwelling, author, podcaster and non-fiction book coach. After 15 years as a freelance interiors photographer, Penny began writing about life as a single parent and unpaid carer whilst juggling a freelance creative career. She has written for Red Magazine, iPaper and regularly contributes to The Telegraph. Penny’s first book Tender was published by Coronet Books in 2020. She co-hosts the podcast Not Too Busy To Write.
23.02.22: WRITING CLASS – DAVID ELDRIDGE AND HELEN CULLEN IN CONVERSATION
Regarded as one of the most important contemporary playwriting voices, David Eldridge will be in conversation with Helen Cullen, author and Brunel lecturer, about his journey to becoming one of Britain’s most successful playwrights, his creative process and writing about class for the theatre.
David Eldridge: Described as a “a poet of the east end overspill” by the Observer, David Eldridge is widely regarded as one of the prominent playwriting voices of his generation, whose productions have premiered across the UK at venues including The National, The Royal Court, The Royal Exchange and The Donmar. Television credits include the The Scandalous Lady W for BBC 2, and Our Hidden Lives, a BBC adaption of the Simon Garfield novel.
Helen Cullen has published two novels to date, The Lost Letters of William Woolf (2018) and The Truth Must Dazzle Gradually (2020) with Penguin Random House in Ireland and the UK and in the USA by Harper Collins. The novels have also sold in translation to numerous foreign markets and been optioned for TV adaptations. Helen’s debut novel also garnered her a Best Newcomer nomination at the 2018 Irish Book Awards. Helen is currently completing a PhD on Creative and Critical Writing at UEA and is a member of the creative writing faculty at Brunel University. She is a regular contributor to the the Sunday Times and is an Irish Times literary critic. You can find her on socials as @wordsofhelen.
Please register for the David Eldridge event:HERE…
16.03.22 WRITING MIGRATION – DAVID HERD AND WILLIAM WATKIN IN CONVERSATION
Poet, academic, and activist Prof. David Herd will be in conversation with Prof. William Watkin about his ground-breaking Refugee Tales project. They will be discussing how David has used creative practice and public spectacle as a constructive form of protest and celebration, and how his many years of working around issues of migration have impacted in his remarkable poetry.
David Herd’s books of poems include All Just, Outwith, Through, Songs from the Language of a Declaration, and Walk Song (forthcoming from Shearsman). His essays and poems have been widely published in magazines, journals and newspapers and his recent writings on the politics of human movement have appeared in From the European South, Los Angeles Review of Books, Paideuma, and the Times Literary Supplement. He is Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Kent and a co-organiser of the project Refugee Tales.
Prof. William Watkin is one of the leading voices in contemporary philosophy today and professor of contemporary philosophy and literature at Brunel University. William is very widely published with seven monographs to his name, including the recent Bioviolence: How the powers that be make us do what they want (2021). When he is not making the world a better place through philosophy, William is also a journalist, blogger, vlogger and painter.
After a spring and summer of smattering keyboards, online workshopping, proof-reading and polishing, the night we’ve all been waiting for finally arrived on Wednesday night – the Official Launch Party for the Myths, Monsters & Mayhem Anthology!
Having debuted on the Top Ten New Releases on Amazon earlier this summer, this anthology is the final result of the Horror, Sci-Fi and Fantasy module of 2021, containing the most chilling, inventive and fantastical stories from its students. And with the Halloween weekend just narrowly behind us, the launch of this spooky anthology couldn’t have been more perfectly timed.
When the doors opened at 6pm, students, lecturers, and locals alike mingled over snacks and drinks in the Artaud building on Brunel’s campus, copies of the vibrant blue cover flashing in every corner of the room. Natasha Stewart and Faizan Ahmed presented throughout the night, and the excitement was palpable as the live readings began.
Four of the anthology’s authors took to the stage to read. Kristie Gill with her story ‘Mumia’, Alex Curthew-Sanders with ‘TheGambling Box’, Natasha Stewart with ‘A Wild Witch in America’ and finally, Faizan Ahmed with ‘The Creed of the Talwar’. All brilliantly narrated before a captivated audience, giving us a taste of the wide range of stories in the anthology.
The night was a great success, and a rewarding experience after the many online meetings and workshops to make it happen.
A huge congratulations to all the students involved in the anthology for a brilliant release and launch!
And of course, a big thank you to Mr Frazer Lee, for organizing this opportunity for the students of the module.
If you haven’t got your copy yet, it’s a perfect read for the spooky season! Myths, Monsters & Mayhem is available on Amazon for just £4.99, and all proceeds go the NHS Charities Together. Enjoy!
Psst… If you missed the event, Brunel Writer livestreamed the entire thing on our Instagram page – check it out!
The Winning Story from Our Flash Fiction Competition
We invited all new first year undergraduate Creative Writing students to submit their best teeny tiny stories to our Flash Fiction Competition for stories under 500 words, and would like to thank everyone who entered for taking part.
We are delighted to announce Kira Nelson as the winner with her story ‘EXIT STAGE RIGHT’. The judges enjoyed the way Kira borrowed elements of the script format for her flash fiction piece, artfully bringing together form with theme in this emotive piece.
You can read Kira’s winning story below.
EXIT STAGE RIGHT
I can’t breathe.
I left home at 10 last night, to buy razors. The little pink disposables from Tesco, so brittle yet so deadly.
I can hear them, in the distance, my name on their lips like a song that never ends. But I still can’t breathe. As I drag the first razor down my arm, the cheers grow louder. Or are they jeers? Is it my name they sing or that of the devil?
I have to feel, something. Relief, control, direction, passion. Guilt. That which the crowds can’t give me. Marco comes in, it’s my cue but I still can’t breathe. Dry tears flow freely, the blood fresh, my throat raw but I’m awake. I’m ready. I know Marco sees the razors, I feel his eyes on me but I can’t stop. The show must go on, after all.
Anna, they scream, Anna! The people’s darling, mother says. She must be so proud. I break into a smile as I twirl and fly and flutter across the boards, my silk dress billowing behind me. I speak lines I would never say to people whose names I half remember and the people revel in it! Whooping, hollering, cheering. I feel the red ink dripping onto my shoes and suddenly the noise goes quiet. The smiles of the crowds dissipate and now I breathe.
In, out, in, out.
Are you alright, he says, as I come to. The stagehand, who bought me coffee a few weeks ago. Did I take him home, or did he? I can’t answer, I’m still dancing, here in my living room in my empty apartment. Are you alright, he repeats, and I nod.
“I worry about you, Anna,” he says. “You shouldn’t be alone tonight. Are you sure you don’t want me to stay over?”
I’ll be fine. I twirl and spin in my head as he picks up his keys and his phone and makes for the door. Exit stage right, I call out loudly from behind the scenes. The crowd applauds, begging for an encore.
One last song and the roar erupts from the bathroom taps as I turn on the light. Tesco light pink razors wait patiently, the glint of the blade catching my eye much as I try to turn away. The light dims and the crowds head home, to beat the traffic most likely. I run the bath and browse my phone, no calls, texts from Marco and Julia. Another performance next week.
The bath turns red. The crowd long since gone, I revel in the silence. One more song? Alright, but only a short one.
EXIT STAGE RIGHT.
Kira Nelson was born in Sidcup, UK and raised in Orpington until the age of nine, when she moved to the Middle East. She generally writes either poetry based on her own life experiences or protest poems covering important world events and injustice. She is also in the process of writing several novels alongside pursuing a BA Creative Writing degree at Brunel University London. You can follow her on Instagram @babyfacekiki_
The Pandemic Era shifted our livelihoods, causing many of us to stay home for longer than we would have liked. Covid, the new World Heavyweight Champion, reigned supreme with no clear end in sight. But in that time, and after lots of introspection, Zoom calls and head scratching, the world started turning. The minds of 2021’s Horror, Sci-Fi and Fantasy class started churning those old rusty cogs again to do what we love. To write.
It is my honour to be a part of such a tenacious bunch, and to have personally designed the cover and name for our star-studded project. The online poll held for the anthology’s name was an exciting contest I knew I couldn’t miss out on. I studied previous anthologies in the series, like Wizards, Werewolves & Weird Enginesand Robots, Rogues & Revenants, and knew that alliteration had to be carried forward. But the theme? My featured story explores the Islamic myth of Jinn, a human-like race only invisible and made of fire. It was from this idea that I wanted to capture the eeriness and fear I had of them as a child, which led to the inspiration of the name. A race of invisible monsters, causing chaos without us ever knowing… aha! Myths, Monsters & Mayhem!
Before designing the book cover, I had no experience in digital drawing, except in editing existing works. I wanted to create something that carried the tradition of the previous covers, whilst adding my own artistic flair to it. I was playing games such as the action-adventure hit Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla and had recently gotten into the Islamic-historical series Resurrection Ertugrul, so I wanted to see if I could combine the barbaric Vikings from the game and mountainous, tribal landscape from the series. Hence, I hand-drew the mountain backdrop, with waves crashing over it symbolising chaos. The warriors dotting the cover were an homage to the stories featured, and the intimidating demon on the left was a nod to the Jinn. When learning of our plan to donate to NHS Charities Together, I knew I wanted the wash of blue from the waves to be more apparent, so I added the blue magic graphic to the eyes and hands of the warriors on the cover as a tribute. The cover of this anthology was a new venture for me, as were many of the stories for the writers. But life is about taking those leaps, and when you have the courage to do so, you share those spoils with the world.
We bring to you explorations of myths, tales of grotesquely intriguing monsters and fragments of absolute mayhem. From the kingdoms of ancients to facing fears, you are in for thrills and chills like no other. Gear up for a collection of provocative madness.
Myths, Monsters and Mayhem is the perfect jolt you need right now, whether that be a spark of creativity for a dormant idea or an actual jolt of fright. Oh yes, this isn’t a book by the beach. Welcome to the world of mighty fights, strange encounters and gruelling, gripping tests. All fun times, I assure you. Each story ignites something different in you, and with each of our champion writers showcasing their finest works to date, your eyes will be racing page to page for more.
The world may not be completely back to normal just yet but, for a moment, join our world where fantasies are realised. Smile, laugh and cry with us as you explore this stellar book we’ve had so much joy in creating. We hope this anthology, and our previous anthologies, inspire you like they have inspired us. Who knows, maybe there’s a writer in you, impatiently waiting to burst through with myths, monsters and mayhem of your own?
Having lived abroad for 8 years, Faizan Ahmed had the pleasure of experiencing a myriad of cultures. Faizan is an aspiring Game Designer and Creative Writer. Enthused with a passion for wrestling, superheroes and historical fiction, he channels his experiences to create compelling content for a variety of media outlets. Follow his journey to become a WWE Wrestler on Instagram: @sher.khan.official and catch the latest in his life: @ahmedfaizan68