A Review of Creative Writing at the University of Gloucestershire in 2011
30th December 2011
It’s time to wish everyone a happy new year and to review Creative Writing at The University of Gloucestershire in 2011: we think it’s been a great year.
The year started with the full-time appointment of Lucy Tyler, who had previously been teaching first and second year dramatic writing. Lucy, whose plays have been performed in London, Berlin, and New York, graduated from The University of Gloucestershire BA in Creative Writing and then completed the prestigious M.Phil playwriting program at Birmingham University. One year in, she has already made her mark on our Creative Writing programme. She has developed links with the University’s excellent Radio Production course and teaches a second-year semester on writing for radio. In 2011, three students – Claire Leek, Laurent Dayment, and Claire Holland – had their radio plays produced, and you can listen to the results on the audio page of our blog.
In another of Lucy’s innovations, second year Dramatic Writing students last May hosted a day of table-top and staged readings with Paul Milton, the Artistic Director of The Everyman Theatre, and a group of the theatre’s creative associates and actors. Twelve plays, written over the course of the year, were rehearsed in-house by Paul and his team, and actors commended students’ ability to write for performance. You can watch a sample of the readings via this link.
Lucy is continuing to develop her collaboration with The Everyman Theatre, and in August the University’s Janet Trotter Trust awarded a grant to facilitate the production of a community play written by third year undergraduates. We hope that in 2013 undergraduate students on a new, optional module will have the unique opportunity to see their work performed on tour in local theatres.
This is one of several developments we’re planning for the new academic year, as we aim for change and continuity. At undergraduate level, we want to keep our core provision to ensure that every student has a wide grounding in poetry, prose, and dramatic writing; but we also want to offer choice and variety to complement the interests of individual students. In addition to the proposed new Dramatic Writing module, possibilities for 2012 include a module on ‘The Writing Business’ and a chance for students to study ‘Writing, Language, and the Brain’. On our Master’s course, a new module, the ‘Employment Focused Research Project’, offers students a chance to focus on the skills most relevant to their interests and career plans; for example, they might embark upon a supervised project in translation or adaptation, or they might develop a critical article for a particular publication. Another option is a period of work-related internship; for example, in arts administration or with a relevant journal. In recent years several students have served internships with the poetry journal Iota, whose editorial team is headed by Professor Nigel McLoughlin. This has furthered their understanding of the business end of writing, increased their own confidence as writers, and afforded them the opportunity to help shape an internationally regarded journal – and to have that experience on their Curriculum Vitaes.
But we also aim for continuity because this year we, and our external examiners, have again been impressed by the excellent work produced on the undergraduate and master’s courses. In 2011 we received our Periodic Review (a quinquennial inspection of every university course), and in declaring the academic health of our programs, the reviewers especially commended the enthusiasm and passion of our teaching staff – that’s one thing that isn’t going to change.
Congratulations to post-graduate student Angela France, whose successful 2011 was capped by winning the Lightship Poetry Prize. The prize, which this year was judged by Jackie Kay, earned Angela an envy-inducing £1000. In July, she published her most recent collection, Lessons in Mallemaroking. Penelope Shuttle has written of the collection, ‘Angela France has the craft to sustain her compelling and varied subject matter, and she uses language with controlled intensity, lyric energy, and an unerring sense of how to balance a poem.’
The prose writers have been busy too. PhD student KJ Moore, who holds a BA and MA from the University of Gloucestershire, has recently published a novella, brilliantly titled Monster Porn (Blood Bound Books). The story, which was originally written for her MA dissertation, was described by Brandon Wilkinson as ‘beautifully written, descriptive to the Nth degree, with a shocking twist that will leave you gasping for air.’ Those of us who attended her book launch in November enjoyed her witty introduction and lively reading (not to mention the shocked expressions on the faces of those who hadn’t yet read it!).
Undergraduate student Keely O’Shaughnessy has had success with her short story ‘The Breakfast Bar.’ The story, which was originally written for a second-year prose class, was selected from a strong field to be produced by students on the University’s Radio Production course (you can listen to the audio story here), and later in the year it was selected for publication in volume six of Duality.
On the academic side, PhD student Lauren Hayhurst has published a paper, ‘Fictional Futures Vs Historical Reflections’, in Foundation 109, the journal of science fiction. In June, Lizzie Rogers presented her paper ‘Me, My Clit, and I: A Feminist Suggestion’ at the 14th Annual Great Writing International Creative Writing Conference, at Imperial College, London. Additionally, Rowan Middleton spoke on mythology and ecopoetry at the Oxford University English Graduate Conference (June), and at the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment postgraduate conference (September).
In November we were delighted to hear that the title of Professor had been conferred on Nigel McLoughlin in recognition of his professional standing. Three months earlier, the Higher Education Academy had awarded Nigel a National Teaching Fellowship in recognition of his individual excellence as an educator. Nigel said: ‘I’m delighted and honoured to receive a National Teaching Fellowship award. Because the award is intended for the recipient’s future professional development in teaching and learning, I have no doubt that the Fellowship will enhance, enrich and broaden my teaching, which will be of enormous benefit to my current and future students.’ In 2011, Nigel was editor of the poetry journal Iota and the pedagogical journal Creative Writing: Teaching Theory and Practice. He was also co-editing a special edition of TEXT: The Journal of Writers and Writing Courses.
Dr. Martin Randall this summer published his monograph on cultural responses to the September 11th attacks. 9/11 and the Literature of Terror (Edinburgh University Press) is an eloquent and readable analysis of work by Martin Amis, Don DeLillo, Ian McEwan, Simon Armitage, Mohsin Hamid, and others. Reviewing the book in Scotland on Sunday, on the tenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks, Stuart Kelly described it as ‘an important milestone in our understanding of how culture can encompass those events.’
For Tyler Keevil, the year started with his short story ‘Liberty! Fraternity! Sexuality!’ being anthologised in Best Gay Romance 2011 (Cleis Press), while his article on the Coming-of-Age film soundtrack appeared in New Welsh Review 93. But it was Tyler’s novel, Fireball, that continued to make the headlines: it was longlisted for the English language section of the prestigious Wales Book of the Year Award and it won the Media Wales Readers’ Prize – the popular choice for the best English language book published in Wales this year. The prize was announced at a red-carpet ceremony in Cardiff, on Thursday 7th July. Tyler said ”I’m really grateful that people have taken to the book in the way they have, particularly in Wales. A lot of readers have told me it reminds them of their own childhood, regardless of where they’re from. It means a lot to hear that, and also to win an award that’s picked by those readers.” The New Wales Review described Fireball as a ‘breathlessly readable and confident debut that pushes beyond the bounds of its genre, capturing the dynamics of friendship, seduction, and loss to impressive effect….’ In September, Tyler discussed the novel in an interview with The Raconteur.
Lucy Tyler’s most recent production, ‘The Operators’ (The Georgetown Theatre Company, 2010-11), in summer 2011 ran in Washington to critical acclaim. The Washington City Paper wrote that ‘Lucy Tyler‘s The Operators strays farthest from history, recasting Beatrice as an abused modern-day 14-year-old attempting to report her father’s crimes to an abuse hotline, where the operators are helpless beneath their veneer of caring. The failure of societies 400 years apart to deal appropriately with abuse and find justice for real victims hits with heartbreaking immediacy in what may be the best of the five [plays].’
Finally, this year D.D. Johnston published his debut novel, Peace, Love, & Petrol Bombs, much of which was originally written while he was studying for an MA at the University of Gloucestershire. The novel was a Waterstone’s 3 for 2 book in August and he hopes the sale of the Spanish translation rights will soon be completed. Popmatters described it as ‘a humorous and poignant novel about anarchism,’ which ‘deserves wide acclaim’, while The Morning Star wrote ‘Rarely has a recent work of fiction so naturally and unpretentiously articulated Marx’s analysis of worker alienation explicitly and implicitly in its plotlines and dialogue. (…) Peace, Love and Petrol Bombs has a very urgent relevance now and for the immediate future.’
Thanks to the efforts of Matt Benson and other students, 2011 saw the continuation of the ever popular open-mic nights. These student-organised events are a chance for the university’s creative writers to read their prose or poems, read someone else’s prose or poems, or stand nonchalantly at the back attempting to look vaguely bohemian. The last event of the year, held on Tuesday 6th December, was especially memorable: it was hosted by the University’s new avant-garde performance group, the Jolly Autocratic Committee. By the time we arrived, the function room at the Frog and Fiddle pub was decorated with mobiles and streamers and giant origami cranes.
It looked completely amazing but it took a few moments for us to realise that every piece of decoration was inscribed with quotes from novels, writing advice, or interesting and unusual words. Everybody received a writing themed ‘Merry Quotemas’ card, which inside contained a stanza of poetry, or an extract from a great story or play. We also received complimentary CDs – each hand-prepared and covered with individual artwork – with readings by Kathy Acker, Kenneth Goldsmith, Samuel Beckett, Gertrude Stein, and many others. When we’d crammed into the room, the show began; if you missed the night, or want to relive it, then here’s a sample. First, a frocked and jet-lagged Tim Smith laying down new commandments; next, two great pieces performed by Jess Searle: ‘Nice Shot’ and ‘Family Dinner.’
The University of Gloucestershire open-mic nights are not the only regular local performance spaces. Buzzwords, which is run by PhD student Angela France, is Cheltenham’s regular live poetry event, held on the first Sunday of the month at The Exmouth Arms, Bath Road. Every Buzzwords evening includes a Writing Workshop (commences 7 pm), followed (at 8 pm) by readings by a guest poet and an open-mic session. The first Buzzwords night of 2012 will be on Sunday January 8th, when the guest poet will be Jonathan Davidson.
Speaking of poetry, 2011 was also the year of the inaugural Cheltenham Poetry festival, where performers included Angela France and MA course leader Nigel McLoughlin. In addition to the University’s finest, the festival starred John Cooper Clarke, T.S. Eliot Prize winner Philip Gross, and George Szirtes, who read in The University of Gloucestershire chapel, accompanied by a group of Georgian singers. The 2012 Cheltenham Poetry Festival will run from the 18th to the 22nd of April.
If the Poetry Festival is a welcome addition to the local calendar, the Cheltenham Literature Festival is as established as the Gold Cup. It’s the oldest literature festival in the world and, despite its ever-increasing commercialisation, it continues to include many interesting and important writers. In 2011 invited speakers included Howard Jacobson, Penelope Lively, AD Miller, Víctor Rodriguez Núñez, Jo Shapcott, A.L. Kennedy, Will Self, Ben Okri, and Erica Jong. But the highlight was the appearance of one of America’s most exciting talents, David Vann. After his talk, Vann was kind enough to share some writing tips with University of Gloucestershire students. Of course, there’s always someone who tries to spoil the fun, and during the festival D.D. Johnston spoke at Cheltenham Waterstone’s in an event titled ‘Not the Literature Festival.’ Around 75 people, many of them UoG students, listened to him read from his novel and complain about the general state of things.
The Cheltenham theatre scene has always been an exciting part of the literary life of the town, and 2011 was no exception. For a long time, Cheltenham has had two theatres: The Cheltenham Playhouse and The Everyman. This year, the Playhouse presented a varied programme, hosting local and political drama, as well as the clipped voice of Mamet. The Everyman this year received a multi-million pound refurbishment and its 2011 programme complimented its exciting new interior. There has, it seems, been a celebration of vintage Alan Bennett with The Everyman playing host to The History Boys and The Madness of King George. Both of these productions were excellent, well-made pieces of theatre, but The Everyman did not restrict itself to traditional plays. University of Gloucestershire Dramatic Writing students enjoyed a trip to see Kneehigh Productions’ The Wild Bride: an inviting and innovative play that combines physical theatre with a musical element. This year, Cheltenham has more innovation to celebrate with the opening of a full season of plays hosted by the Parabola Arts Centre. This beautiful theatre is welcoming some of the most contemporary productions available to audiences in Cheltenham. Students organised a trip to see Littlebulb Theatre’s Operation Greenfield, a play which makes use of acting techniques from other mediums to get across its central point: theatre is still relevant and is as flexible as television and film. Plus, students stayed to talk to the actors after the show. We look forward to more theatre trips in 2012.
Finally, in 2011, a group of students including Becca Edwards, Emma Potter, and Rea Hunt formed The University of Gloucestershire Creative Writing Student Society. They’ve organised discussions and extra workshops and a whole lot of partying. If you’ve not yet been out with the society then make a new year’s resolution to join in with this welcoming and friendly group.
One of our ambitions for 2012 is to establish an alumni group to maintain closer links between previous graduates and those still at the University; in the meantime, here’s news of a few former graduates. MA graduate Jemima Hunt this year started working as a literary agent with The Writers’ Practice. Hunt, who in addition to publishing her own novels has worked extensively as a ghost writer, is currently revising her third novel. In November she spoke as a guest of the Writers’ Guild, and by following this link you can listen to a podcast of Hunt’s interesting reflections on her writing career to date. MA graduate Lucie Brownlee, who in 2010 was short-listed for The Guardian Short Story Prize, has been working on her first novel and recently had a short play produced on local radio, while Ian Morgan, who holds a BA in Creative Writing from the University of Gloucestershire, has this year published ‘Pour Homme’ in Lyrotica: An Anthology of Erotic Poetry and Prose.
HERE’S TO THE FUTURE
What’s next for 2012? Well, here’s a date for your diary. March 7th 2012 is the deadline for submissions to Smoke: a new annual anthology showcasing the best prose and poetry produced by students on the University of Gloucestershire’s Creative Writing programme. The selection will be by competition and submissions for Issue one should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org (please see submission guide). Entry is open to all students who on that date will be enrolled on at least one module of the University’s Creative Writing programme, and it is our intention that the anthology will feature work from all levels of study, including postgraduate. This is a great chance to see your work in print and we plan to launch the anthology in September. We think 2012 is going to be our best year ever – see you there.