Writers, don’t get too comfortable.

We like to ensure that Kent writing students don’t get too comfortable sitting at their desks. Sometimes they need to take a pair of scissors to their text. Sometimes they get to finish each other’s sentences.  Sometimes we make them walk around in the rain.

Reading Week can mean a lot of silent cramming: reading, essay deadlines, project planning. So in the run-up, it’s good to stretch the legs a little and make some noise.

Here’s how my undergrad seminar group coped when we took a circuitous stroll to the campus labyrinth.

9.30am: Rain check. The slopes of Eliot footpath muddy but passable. The labyrinth lightly littered with sticks. Walking and kicking them aside attracts the attention of a muddy-footed terrier, two excitable children and two women in wellies and macs. One is, I realise, a local poet. We talk about the labyrinth as a place to escape, think, write. The children jump, hop, skip to the centre. The sky is clear. The dog dances with twigs.

10.00am: The rain starts.

11.00am: Seminar on postmodernity and the novel. We negotiate a path through the texts of Lyotard, Jameson and Baudrillard. We talk about smashing through the Spectacle, consider conspiracy theories, the reflective surfaces of White Noise and the fragmented maze of meaning in Pynchon’s prose.

12 noon: Workshop. Students present their ideas for writing manifestoes. What should writing do? There are rants, metaphors and playful typography. The drizzle continues. I propose the labyrinth. Several students whinny nervously.

labyrinth walk

labyrinth walk

1.30pm: The labyrinth. (Light) rain. I offer encouragement: this is a place for emptying the head, focussing ideas. It’s not a race, I say. Think Sebald, I tell them. Think Borges. The students jump, hop, skip and slide to the centre. Some mime a minotaur. They clutch damp notebooks. One of them actually writes things down.

2.00pm: Rain stops. The students squelch away, some smiling. Some grumbling. Maybe, just maybe, they will remember this.

Using the labyrinth for creative writing: three ways in

1)      The nugget. Before you walk, focus on one nugget to write about. Maybe you want to brainstorm a setting or character, or you are into a text and a question needs answering. Walk into the centre, thinking about your nugget. When you arrive, stop, get out your notebook, write your ideas down. Walk back out the way you came: your notes will echo in your head. Sit down when you return to the beginning: keep writing. It’s miraculous, but it works.

2)      The hiatus. Take a piece of text – a short passage of prose or poetry – and read the text to yourself as you walk. Whenever the path changes direction, stop and mark that point in the text. When you have finished the walk, use those marks to rework your text. Turn them into line breaks, or end points for cut-ups. Make them peaks and troughs. Let the labyrinth reshape predictable sentence constructions.

3)      The stream. Freewrite as you walk. Avoid all punctuation. Stop when you get to the centre. Walk back again, reading the text to yourself. Use twists and coils in the path as moments to pause, punctuate and edit.


Poets on the new undergraduate Innovative and Avant Garde Poetries module got to grips with sound and concrete poems this week. Here’s a glimpse of what they’ve been up to.

Do try this at home (though you may want to wait until the house is empty)

1)      Take a poem or piece of text. Choose one sentence that sticks out for you. What happens when you break that sentence down into its component sounds? What happens when you rearrange those sounds? What happens when you repeat some of them, or omit some of them? Write / compose a poem making use of these sounds.

2)      Choose just one letter of the alphabet and write down, for three minutes, a list of words that explicitly incorporate that word in all its phonetic guises (eg. for C, cat, cheetah, ceiling, chaise-longue etc). What happens when you break these words down into their component parts? Compose a poem that seeks to explore that letter of the alphabet in all its sonic possibilities.

3)      Sound and Performance Poetry Warm Up – begin to create a performance poem:

–  Using the recording device on a laptop, phone or other piece of equipment, make a recording of one of your shortest poems or a verse of a poem that you have written.

–  Read it a second time into the microphone in one of the following ways: shouting, whispering with your eyes open or closed, singing. Try to ‘lose yourself’ in this process. (Improvise on your original poem at this point if you wish to).

–  Select one word from your poem and reproduce its individual component parts – vowels and consonants; stretched, percussively or other. Experiment with the pace or musical tempo of your delivery by doing this either in slow motion or in very rapidly repeating sounds.

–  Aim for a recording length between 30 seconds and 3 minutes.

–  Email the resultant sound clip to yourself or to a friend. Errors are fine and there is no need to re-do the entire clip unless you wish to. Feel free to add any additional sounds that you feel contribute to your poem or to the experience of performing and hearing it.


For now, heads down and get those essays finished. But when the deadlines are over, get moving. Take your notebook out walking. Take it to dinner. At least buy it coffee somewhere: it will pay you back.

Don’t forget the next evening of the Spring Reading Series: Janice Pariat, Keynes SCR, Wednesday 5th March, 6pm.

Happy writing.


Many thanks to the students of my EN679 seminar group for being (reasonably) game, and to Nell Perry and Amy Evans for their inspiring poetry exercises.


Spring Reading Series: One Maria, Two Maggies and some music

Jamie McCarthy

Jamie McCarthy

A tempest raged, birds flew backwards and the M2 was closed. Eliot SCR was a beacon in the grey. A lone fiddle playing jigs and reels, the clink of wine bottles and the murmur of shirked coats: Wednesday’s reading felt more Tipperary tavern than literary salon.

There aren’t many authors who bring along their own musician: maybe they should. Maria McCarthy warmed up her audience with Irish tunes performed – and later sung – by her brother Jamie. A wise move, as McCarthy’s stories, from her new collection As Long as it Takes, draw on tales from the author’s extended Irish family and heritage.

Here were explorations of displacement, of the old country as home and England as a place to prosper. ‘Some people think Irish people aren’t very clever’, McCarthy’s narrator warned, ‘and you mustn’t give them any ammunition.’

‘A Tea Party’ told of a young girl’s confusion as she attempts to negotiate the adult world:

Maria McCarthy

Maria McCarthy

the roles of men and women, too many babies, Catholic rules and rituals. In this world, ‘God is in the priest’s thumb’ and marital communication stops as soon as ‘there are babies’. Family is subject to the forces of temptation, betrayal and disappointment: tough themes dexterously delivered through an observant child’s voice and strong lacing of wry humour. As the narrator enjoys a secret tea party with her father and the alluring Mrs Roberts, she notices silver balls on the fairy cakes, curling fingernails holding the plate and, leaning forward, ‘the line’ where her host’s ‘bosoms met’. After the adults return from their ‘talk about grown-up things’, the ‘too red’ mouth of the woman looms ‘like the felt pen’ stain her little brother ‘got on the living room carpet’, an indelible act.

Maggie Harris followed with ‘The Calipsonians of Ramsgate’, a story from her recent collection Canterbury Tales on a Cockcrow Morning. An accomplished poet, Harris’ prose swung along rhythmically, full of

Maggie Harris

Maggie Harris

alliteration and striking images. Three young men triumph and falter against the seaside setting of 70s Thanet, until life eventually gets them ‘in the throat’, ‘those beautiful boys’, all dreams of Hollywood glamour choked out by caught fish-bones, cancer and suffocating sickness.

A very different kind of community unfurled in Maggie Drury’s claustrophobic tale ‘Unexplored Territory’. Dysfunctional neighbours spy on each other, negotiating inner and outer worlds: sunbathing women and morning goodbye kisses, ill-conceived infatuations and paralysing private superstitions. Odd numbers

Maggie Drury after the reading

Maggie Drury after the reading

take on sinister significance. ‘The space between two heads is unchartered water’. People inhabit shared spaces, living separate, fantastical lives.

After a song from Jamie, Maria finished the evening with ‘More Katherine than Audrey’, a provocative tale of one of society’s ‘forgotten women’. Noreen inhabits the Longrove asylum, home to wayward women whose madness is signified by a refusal to fit in. A deft character study, McCarthy’s use of voice and subtle, slow reveal made for an unsettling and enigmatic story.

As with all good storytellers, we were left wanting more. McCarthy was careful not to give us the full force of a finished story. Want to know what happens? Buy the book…

As well as being an author and Kent alumna, McCarthy is the brainchild behind Cultured Llama, the independent publishing house set up with her husband, Bob Carling. After starting the press to produce her poetry collection strange fruits – an endeavour in association with WordAid, raising funds for MacMillan Cancer Support – Cultured Llama opened up for submissions of poetry, short fiction, and what McCarthy describes as ‘cultural non-fiction’.  According to McCarthy, running a small press is a labour of love, but this operation can ‘provide a better experience for readers and authors than the large publishing houses.’ Rather than shipping out stages of production and removing the author from the publication process, Cultured Llama’s books  ‘are edited and designed in consultation with the authors…the cover designs are individual and beautiful’ and, most importantly, ‘they are a good read’.

The Cultured Llama bookstall

The Cultured Llama bookstall

As Long as it Takes is published by Cultured Llama. Buy your copy direct from the author – and publisher – via the website www.culturedllama.co.uk

The deluge of the South West means the enforced cancellation of next week’s scheduled evening with Penelope Shuttle: she may yet join us in the Autumn.

More events after Reading Week: Janice Pariat joins us for the next reading on Wednesday 5th March, 6pm, in Keynes SCR.

Keep dry.



Spring Reading Series: In Protest

Another packed room for Wednesday’s reading, and a subtle shift in demographic. Alongside students, staff and alumni of the School of English: law students, social scientists and human rights activists. What had they come to witness? The radicalising power of poetry.

editor and poets gathering; familiar School of English faces await the reading

editor and poets gathering; familiar School of English faces await the reading

As every Creative Writing undergrad at Kent will know, poetry is potentially dangerous. It can expose, persuade, exploit. It makes the reader see the world differently. It can shake things up. Here was an audience keen to see the process at work. In Protest: 150 poems for human rights is a new anthology produced by the University of London’s Human Rights Consortium and Keats House Poets. The evening’s readers were contributors to the anthology, an experiment, according to one of its editors Laila Sumpton, born of modest aspirations. Putting out a call for poems of exile and protest ‘to create a pamphlet’, the editors were overwhelmed by more than 600 poems. The resulting publication was launched in October last year and features work from established and emerging poets. Sumpton explained how the book – divided into themes such as ‘land’, ‘sentenced’ and ‘expression’ – seeks to ‘rethink the frame of human rights poetry’ and ‘find new directions and ways in’ to the subject.

First to read was Alia’ Afif Kawalit, a PhD research student at Kent and tutor in the School of English. An Arab and English speaker, Kawalit’s poem ‘Turning a Blind Eye’ explored the discrepancies between media reports of violent clashes close to her homeland, Jordan.

Rooney and Kawalit beneath T.S. Eliot's youthful gaze

Rooney and Kawalit beneath T.S. Eliot’s youthful gaze

Sharing a mango with an Indian friend, notions of hospitality are set against the poet’s fears for the future. Imported fruit, like imported journalism, can lose its authentic taste. In ‘Dry Times’, the Arab upheavals (Kawalit shuns the term ‘Arab Spring’, another appropriation) crash into consciousness, where ‘little dreams wake…like whistling bullets’.

These were subtle poems whose power lay in expressive imagery rather than tub-thumping remonstration. Hubert Moore followed with poems of contrast, stating that poetry alone can present unlikely associations to its readers ‘with a straight face’. His poem ‘At the Approach of Dieback’ brought together diseased ash trees and the ‘slippered voice’ of a refugee’s aging parent speaking from afar. Similarly, ‘V Formation’ linked the image of a flock of flying geese with the ‘eleven locked doors’ between the poet ‘and the detainees’.

Kate Adams, an East Kent poet and Kent Refugee Help volunteer, brought personal and professional experiences to the reading. Her poem ‘Five Broken Cameras’, written following the death of a friend and fellow caseworker, set ‘sleet on the streets’ of Britain against ‘blood in the dust’ of Palestine. ‘Maybe the Rain’, another poem drenched in relentless island weather, spoke in broken English to mirror, as Adams put it, ‘the fractured, fragmented world of the refugee experience’.  Speaking directly from this experience was former detainee Ruhul, who Adams first met in the Dover centre. Ruhul shared a single, highly personal work written while in detention. A poem of apology and separation, the poet addressed his children with a string of ‘I’m sorry that’s, a reminder of some of the less publicised consequences of detention.

Last to read was the School’s Professor Caroline Rooney, an arts activist whose self-proclaimed ‘soap-box poems’ presented sharp images of war and protest. These are, said Rooney, ‘poems that won’t stay on the page’. Here were lines which – as dangerous poetry should – climbed in to the audience and slapped them around. We were drily warned that ‘stapling the mouths, not feeding them’ does not make good government. Bombed-out buildings lay open ‘like abstract paintings’. Here were the specifics of attack, the sim cards saved in shoes, the eggs thrown at embassy buildings, the flotilla of aid ships raided en route to Gaza.

the debate continues

the debate continues

Can poems be a force for social change, a tool for campaigning? Kawalit and Rooney cited the orphic quality of poetry, its authentic voice and its transformative power.  Adams and Moore spoke of raising awareness and reaching those otherwise ‘cold’ to the issues. The debate continued beyond the reading, but Ruhul summed it up: voices shout and journalists create headlines, but ‘a book is always there’.


In Protest: 150 poems for human rights is published by the Institute of Commonwealth Studies.

Next in the series, an eclectic evening with writers Maria McCarthy, Maggie Harris and Maggie Drury. Wednesday 12th February, 6pm.

See you there.



Spring Reading Series: Simon Smith

Seats and floor space were at a premium in Eliot SCR on Wednesday evening as the centre’s own Simon Smith launched his new collection, 11781 W. Sunset Boulevard.

Simon Smith

Simon Smith reading from 11781 W. Sunset Boulevard

Patricia Debney introduced Smith. ‘He lives, breathes, reads and writes poetry like no one else I have ever known’, she said, and praised his ‘always evolving poems’, each work seeming to ‘start afresh’.

Smith explained how the book, in two distinct parts, contains poems ‘about transport, rather than transfiguration’. A modest claim typical of Smith, though it was apparent as the evening went on that change and movement in these poems was about more than the mechanics of wheels and engines.

The collection’s title, 11781 W. Sunset Boulevard, is the address of the Getty Institute’s Accommodation in LA, which Smith visited in 2011 when his wife was a Getty Scholar. What first appears to be a rather static title for such a restless collection – a place fixed down by numbers, a point on a map – quickly gathers meaning. This address is more than a destination. It becomes the centre point of a frenzy of writing: 17 poems in 10 days, according to Smith. It is a springboard for departure, back into the poems of Kent and London in the second half of the book. And it is here that Smith spent a day with the archives of poet and translator Paul Blackburn, a catalyst for his current work on Blackburn and an experience explored in the breathless poem ‘11/1/11’.

Smith’s reading began with the first poem in the collection, a response, he said, to his hatred of flying. Written on the plane, ‘Ode: Sat Nav Narrative on Flying into LAX’ builds up details like dabs in a pointillist painting. Here are times, speeds and distances, precisely measured: ‘450 m.p.h. of ground speed dip down at / James Bay distance to LA 2513 miles local / time at present position 12.30p.m.’ Against this catalogue of control the poet’s eyes are ‘gritty-tired, / dogged, filled with the hours bursting / the grit full hours’. A curl of hair acts as a bookmark. The earth curves. Thoughts of home are suspended at 38,000 feet, where ‘everything’s made to look smaller’. Still, but hurtling forward: ‘now / is the moment for change & everything shifts forward next’.

And everything did shift forward. Smith gave us poems of the moment, postcards of fleetingly glimpsed places, impressionistic brushes with found text, street signs, song lyrics, news stations. Smith delivered them baldly, lines running together, taking us from the convoys of ‘muscle cars’ and motorcades past Pacific Coast palm trees and onto the plane home, a ‘long haul long hop deep breath’ of experience. ‘All these things really happened’ Smith explained, making the collection ‘almost like a diary’.

When the plane touched down, we were back in home territory, with part two of the book, ‘Gravesend’. Here was Smith’s ‘A Theory for a Materialist Poetics’, a poem detailing ‘experience crammed in as far as the eye can see’. Smith’s South East is a landscape of train stations, sweet wrappers and Paul Weller lyrics: washing on the line, brambles and railway sidings, a barely concealed threat of malice. ‘We don’t stop at Deptford. No one dare.’ ‘This is Dartford. This is Dartford. Heed the warning.’ Between the PVC and ice-cream van jingles, glimpses of Catullus, Dickens, Henry VIII. And through these detailed despatches recording the ‘ring-pull moment of chance’, the voice of the poet: clear, insightful, and always ‘in pin-sharp form’.


Simon signing books; some familiar faces from the Centre for Creative Writing

There were many questions, not least from poets in the audience. From Smith’s answers, a piece of distilled advice to keep in any writer’s pocket: ‘If you think it’s a poem, it’s probably not. If you think it’s not, it probably is.’

11781 W. Sunset Boulevard is published by Shearsman.


Next up, readings from the anthology In Protest: 150 poems for human rights, featuring poets Kate Adams, Alia’ Afif Kawalit, Hubert Moore and Caroline Rooney. Eliot SCR, 6pm, Wednesday 5th February.

Until then.



Simon Smith is a senior lecturer in Creative Writing at Kent. His previous poetry collections are Fifteen Exits (Waterloo Press) and Reverdy Road, Mercury and London Bridge (published by Salt). His forthcoming The Books of Catullus will be published by Carcanet.


Spring Reading Series: Outcrop

The Spring Reading Series began on Wednesday 22nd January with three poets from the recent anthology Outcrop: Radical Australian Poetry of Land.

So, what was radical about it?

Michael Farrell; David Herd introducing

Michael Farrell; David Herd introducing

Michael Farrell set an offbeat tone with his first poem, a continuous rendering of the line ‘baa baa black sheep’. Eyes on the page, he actually appeared to be reading. How many times had he said it? 30? 50? The audience stiffened, the air drew tight. A mischievous glint appeared in the poet’s eye; he looked up for a second. Listeners gave a titter of relief. Then the line again, over and over, beyond discomfort and into hypnosis. 100 times? 400? As the glaze set in there was a sudden shift, a prompt line, and voices in the audience called out answering stanzas.

Suddenly we knew where we were. Sort of.

The sounds of a jazz band tuning up hovered in the room above. Farrell and the readers who followed embraced the challenge; foot-stamping glee club choruses were answered with sonorous lines and heightened voices. Farrell gave us phrases in backwards Latin, Spanish and Italian. The devil emerged on horseback in urban Sydney ‘like Voss’ from the desert. ‘You can’t drink paranoia’, we were assured. The Earth said: ‘let’s get a coffee in that little Italian café we know… the Sistine Chapel.’ Ears caught fire. The glee club showaddywaddied approval.

Next up was Claire Potter, whose organic poems wreathed their way through the room.

Claire Potter

Claire Potter

Potter’s stunning lines showed how assonance and alliteration can woo the ears of an audience, and the distant stride piano evaporated. Phrases such as ‘a ribbon of tea coils into my cup’ and ‘a simmering of sound’ hung in the air long after the reading was over. There was flora and fauna, a blending of ‘plant into night, night into plant’. ‘So yes’, Potter declared, in lines from her poem ‘Misreading’: ‘I pushed her flat into the dirt of this difficult country; and it is true that I write as I read – mistaking wreaths for wraiths, spires for spines, girls for orchids.’

Laurie Duggan took the stage next. Now based in Kent, Duggan is a familiar face on the UK poetry circuit. He began with a section of a long poem in the anthology, ‘They Can’t Take That Away From Me’. (Droll eye-roll to Gershwin fans and singing ceiling.) Written in his thirties, reading the poem was, Duggan said, like reading out his teenage diaries. Undaunted, he delivered a litany of interior details: crazed paintings, the green glaze of an overflowing ashtray, frozen figures in old

Laurie Duggan

Laurie Duggan

photographs, broken typewriters. This was a very different landscape, and Duggan gave us every inch of it, a flâneur collating threads of worn upholstery and old magazines. ‘I would like to write poems like Edward Hopper paintings’ he read, ‘but the eye doesn’t work like that’. Duggan followed with a couple of newer poems not in the anthology, one of which name-checked John James at last year’s Veg Box reading.

So, what was radical about it? Australians in the audience had plenty to say. The poets seemed less concerned with radicality, although Farrell pointed out that ‘radical’ is a problematic term. ‘Putting the land first is a difficult thing in a nation that is all about using the land,’ he claimed. And with a timely cymbal crash, the show was over.


Outcrop: Radical Australian Poetry of Land is published by Black Rider Press.

Next in the series, Kent’s own Frank O’Hara: Simon Smith reads from his new poetry collection 11781 W. Sunset Boulevard, published this month by Shearsman. Wednesday 29th January, 6pm, Eliot SCR.

See you there.



Michael Farrell’s books include Open Sesame, published by Giramondo in 2013. He won the prestigious Peter Porter Poetry Prize in 2010. Farrell is currently Visiting Fellow in the Centre for Modern Poetry at the University of Kent.

Claire Potter’s collection Swallow was published by Five Islands Press in October 2010.

Laurie Duggan’s latest book of poetry is The Pursuit of Happiness, published by Shearsman in 2012.


Tuesday Reading Series: Rogers, Coleridge and White/ Zone

Jennifer Hewson from RCW literary agency

Jennifer Hewson from RCW literary agency

Hi there, hope everyone’s been enjoying some time off after the exams or some time inside writing dissertations while everyone else gets to throw frisbees in the sun. But not to worry, for those who also think that frisbees are best left to domestic animals and people who wear visors, the summer is the time where most of the work gets done. And so this will be the belated post for the events on the last week of term, plus some recent news that have come to my attention (but not, as is mostly the case, to my understanding) from poetry-land.

On the last Tuesday reading series event we had Jennifer Hewson from the Rogers, Coleridge and White literary agency. She gave us some advice related to contacting agents and getting people interested in your writing. She underlined the importance of using your contacts, if you have any, to ensure manuscripts get read or at least seriously considered. Then we had some readers too.

Some people find it really hard to hear about this. I mean, most people I’ve met who want to have a career in writing tend to (ironically) consider writing as something other than a normal job. While different people might have varying modes of work, and it is, like any other art, very much down to talent and style and things that you can’t always teach, I actually like the way most of the talks we’ve had this year have de-idealised the whole process. They have repeatedly made us aware that basic things necessary in all jobs (i.e. networking, a good presentation letter, persistence, etc.) are also things you need to have. It dismantles the whole myth of the artiste, the hedonist and bohemian pseudo-intellectuals who never work for anything else other than themselves, or who hold the dismissive belief that what they do is somehow morally superior to other occupations. In this sense, Sherman Alexie was right to call writing ‘manual labour’. Leave that other fancy stuff to Lady Gaga and the Mumford people and their little guitars, all of them devoid of empathy.

Lastly, I have some news on the new Zone magazine. This is a poetry and criticism magazine started in Kent by staff and postgrads and its first issue comes out early September. It will feature poetry by Denise Riley, Simon Smith, David Herd and Natalie Bradbeer to name a few. I will be reminding people of any events linked to the launch for you in here, so you keep visiting in the months to come.

There are people throwing a frisbee outside and they look so happy. There’s no one else in the third-floor quiet study area where I’m at right now. I want to ask them to come and throw it inside the library. I want to participate. Enjoy the summer.



Tuesday Creative Writing Series: Open mic

Simon Smith reading some new poems.

Simon Smith reading some new poems.

Ben Hickman

Ben Hickman

Scarlett Thomas reading from upcoming novel.

Scarlett Thomas reading from upcoming novel.

This week, the Tuesday Creative Writing reading series hosted an open mic evening event to end the term. I’ve always thought open mic nights are terrifying, since you’re showing work to people who also write and who might be into something very different to you. It’s also hard to choose what you’re going to read if you write fiction, as the limit was around one or two A4 sides of writing. Of course, this is also a reason to get excited and learn other techniques and about other people and places and so on… But I still Googled around and found that the fear of being caught out as being unworthy of your occupation by your colleagues and friends is called ‘impostor syndrome’. And so we all had some wine first and no one spoke about our collective fear of public exposure (and some students had just been to a departmental lunch, which meant even more wine and even less fear) and so by the time the reading started, volunteering to read seemed like the best idea in the world.

Well, I still didn’t write my name down, but I was glad to have gone and listened to some awesome new work from both students and staff. I particularly enjoyed Simon Smith’s political poems and Ben Hickman’s poem, ‘The Monkey-Rope’. We also had the pleasure to get a preview of Scarlett Thomas’s upcoming work. The latter was filled with hilarious passages about potatoes (really, lots and lots of potatoes) and dieting and relationship problems. Scarlett started by telling us that it was a ‘work in progress’ (a statement which asserts the existence of the above-mentioned fear at all levels of experience) and so everyone felt more comfortable after that. Needless to say, I really can’t wait for her to finish it!

So here are a few photographs of the brave… Have a good Easter break everyone! I’ll be back with more weekly blog posts after the break (or with any Veg Box events during the holidays)! See you soon.



Tuesday Creative Writing Series: Amy Sackville

amySince this is the first blog post, I thought it might be a good idea to explain how the Tuesday Night Readings work. The audience starts to gather just before 6pm in the Darwin College. I particularly enjoy the informality with which the readings are handled. Before they start, everyone can grab a drink and talk to fellow students and colleagues. The audience is diverse: from undergrads to PhD students, to senior members of staff. The latter means that it is easy to get into a discussion on all sorts of topics before the readings start. Last week, there was a student talking to another about chaos theory, there was a group discussing Derrida’s Spectres of Marx and another group having a heated argument about the thickness of their raincoats. Then, everyone seated, white wine on one hand and a camera on the other, I saw Amy Sackville come into the room and everyone went quiet.

She read the beginning of her new novel, Orkney. Her writing flows with beautiful and direct images all paced by a very calculated – but never contrived – rhythmic style. William Skidelsky from the Telegraph describes Orkney as “impressive, intense and daring” and I think, judging by its reception, the audience agreed.

After the reading, there was a question and answer round. She explained the importance of the location as the base of the structural and conceptual framework of the novel, the layering work behind it, as well as the connections between technical choices (such as her distinctive approach to speech) to thematic concerns (the on-going play between presences and absences in the novel as a whole). You can get Amy Sackville’s Orkney here: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Orkney-Amy-Sackville/dp/1847086640