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Faversham Literary Festival

Very happy to return to Faversham’s fabulous festival to chat with Sarah Jane Butler and celebrate her debut novel, Starling, which I also had the pleasure to read as a PDF. Congratulations, Sarah – and Faversham Lit Fest!

COP26 & The Writing Circle

Last year, my student writing group – The Writing Circle – wrote a collaborative piece about the experience of lockdown, “a year of this”. This year, we felt called to respond to COP26 and questions about climate change. How do we feel? What can we do? We work together online, writing to prompts in real time on a Padlet, a shared digital cork board. During half term, we printed the Padlet out, cut it into pieces, and pasted it together in a “real” room in the library – as well as online.

In these times of climate anxiety and powerlessness, it might feel like we can’t do much of anything to affect change. But staying engaged with our own thoughts and feelings is a start. We can refuse to be in denial about what we witness and experience. We can ask ourselves and each other difficult questions. The end result of our questions is currently installed in the COP26 Hub in the Creative Arts building at Canterbury Christ Church.

New anthology – out now in US & UK

Whoop! Today is the UK paperback release of last year’s anthology, The Best, Most Awful Job, released in the early days of the pandemic – and also the US hardback release of same. No party ‘cept for a little online cheering – but there are some cheering blurbs by other folks as well as tweets and posts on social media.

Maybe you’d like to read? You’ll find me – and a whole lot more wonderful authors writing their hearts out.

SNAP: the first Writing Circle anthology

Three years ago, I started a writing group for students at the university where I teach, Canterbury Christ Church. It started as a place for students to get extra support with their work as well as a supportive environment where new work could get written.

Jump forward to the pandemic, and I moved the group online. In the only space where year groups could mix, we wrote together weekly. I’ve been thinking a lot about how we can make intimate digital spaces – and the Writing Circle online has proved to be one such place. It’s been the joy of a rotten year to see the courage, resilience, and creativity of students and colleagues.

To celebrate the fact that we were able to keep writing together, I’m pleased as punch to announce our first anthology of work: SNAP! The title refers to the short, punchy nature of the work as well as its impetus – individual responses to the idea of a “card”.

When you think of a card, what do you think of? In SNAP! you’ll find stories about postcards, Valentine’s, and credit cards. You’ll find Tarot and Loteria and sentient playing cards. Mostly, you’ll find dazzling new fresh work made by students of all ages. What do you think?

SNAP! features work by BA and MA students: Helen Atkinson, Alexa Barrett, Bethany Climpson, Stephen Daly, Nicholas Huggett, Amanda Jones, Jessica Joy + fellow lecturer Sonia Overall – and me

On Hope

Two weeks later, we watched that same Capital building and felt nothing but pride and possibility. We watched people – politicians and their families and those who were working there – treat each other with dignity and kindness. It didn’t blow all the memories away – nothing could do that – but it reminded us that there were other ways to be and live. I sobbed my way through the inauguration, and I say that without apology.

I feel like we got given a lot of things with a new president. But most of all, for me, it’s hope.

Waking up, out of America

I’m having a little trouble with equilibrium this morning, trying to settle thoughts and feelings with the news. This America isn’t what I grew up saluting, slack flag in the corner, stars and stripes a little faded in the hot, dry California sun.  We aimed ourselves at it each morning, slapped our hands on our hearts and parroted allegiance because they told us to. 
You know how it goes:  
I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
We all had a little trouble with indivisible.  It came out invisible, often enough.  
One nation, invisible. 
Or invisible, liberty and justice.  It isn’t for all, is it?  
I am appalled by the awful privilege of white racism.  
I am shocked by the complicity of police and politicians, who we were raised to respect.  
I am sickened by losers who feel entitled to win.   
I have lived in the UK for more than twenty-five years – yet, I am American.  I remain an American writer.  
My America is Melville, and Hawthorne, Dickinson and Steinbeck. My America is Baldwin, Morrison, Angelou, Langston Hughes. But my America is also Faulkner and Thoreau, O’Connor and Ingalls Wilder – and there are issues there, increasingly hard to overlook.  (There are issues with Melville and Hawthorne too, come to think of it, which sends me spiralling backward:  what is there within myself that I do not see clearly?). My America is so many writers: Jesmyn Ward and Terry Tempest Williams and Joan Didion and Leslie Marmon Silko and Scott Momaday and Louise Erdrich and and and.   

When I was a teenager, I saw a Native American man crying on a sidewalk, clearly drunk and suffering.  “They took my country,” he said, repeatedly, and I thought I understood his pain.  I did not. When I went to a school dance with a classmate from Korea, my grandmother said white girls shouldn’t do such things, my Midwest grandmother born in 1902 who’d had Black servants and Black maids in uniforms serving canapes at her card parties in Pasadena.  More than likely, I only rolled my eyes at her outdated view. When I dated a Black man, I didn’t tell my mother, so that I wouldn’t have to hear or acknowledge her thoughts.  That shames me now. When I used to produce concerts, I found myself alone in my office paying a bandleader, a Black jazz pianist several decades older than myself who decided to kiss me, without invitation or consent, and stuck his tongue into my mouth with force and entitlement.  I didn’t tell my mother – or anybody – about this either, for shame. That shames me now as well.    

My country ‘tis of thee:  a song I sang.  A song we sang together. They sing that same tune here, though it has new words:  God Save the Queen. After I’d been living in the UK for a while, I found myself back at my old primary school, where my mother also taught – first grade.  I found myself at the flag ceremony, students gathered around this tall pole in the spring heat and this flag, flying freely.  Few of the students were white.  The catchment area has become increasingly Latinx.  I watched those little bodies, those little hands on those little hearts, and found myself crying.  I had no idea why.   

America is an idea, but today I can’t remember what it was about. Maybe the idea will come back to me. Or maybe the delusion that sent armed invaders into the Capital to loot and take selfies has cast its net wider.  Maybe we were all deluded that we could stand beneath one flag and feel the same. 

The Listening Post in your Living Room

The Listening Post has been invited to join The Wandsworth Arts Fringe – in your Living Room!
Follow this link to listen to a “curated aural exhibition” of thirteen short stories (one of them by me!) read in the authors’ own voices set to sounds by composer and musician Lucy Claire. Authors include: Jess Kidd, Christina Lovey, Owen Lowery, Sonia Overall, Peggy Riley and Philip Whiteley, Helen Atkinson, Susan Emm, Amanda Jones, Sue McClymont, Elizabeth Scrase.

Listen in! There’s a new story each day of the festival at 3.30pm – or you can binge on them anytime from the website!

The Stay-at-Home Literary Fringe Festival

It’s time for a festival! I’m delighted to be a part of this brand new fringe festival, produced by MA students at the University of Glasgow as a response to the Stay-at-Home Literary Festival. Organised by author Carolyn Jess-Cooke, it was the first of what will surely be a full summer of lockdown lit events, open and accessible to all. The Stay-at-Home Literary Fringe Festival features masterclasses, writing workshops, talks and open mic events. I’m particularly delighted to see events with friends from Canterbury Christ Church, alumna of our Creative Writing MA, Charlotte Hartley-Jones, and a lockdown psychogeographical workshop with author and colleague, Sonia Overall. It’s a full programme – jump in and get involved!

For the past year, I’ve been running a free writing group at Canterbury Christ Church, The Writing Circle. Throughout the festival, The Writing Circle will pop up from its usual home on campus to become an online writing space with prompts, free writing exercises, and ideas to get you writing your heart out. If you want to join in – follow this link to RSVP.

The festival takes place 27 April – 16 May 2020: The Writing Circle happens on Wednesdays 29 April, 6 May & 13 May, 2 – 3 PM. See you in the Circle!


Boy, howdy, these are strange days. We used to dance every time we heard the word “unprecedented”, until our hips went out. But the wonderful Foyle’s Bookshop is trying to cheer us all up with their pun-tastic weekly Twitter book game. And today – I am the winner!

Want to play? Jump in next Friday – see you on Twitter!

You’re Invited!

Greetings from the virus bunker! As public events are being cancelled around the world, so has been the launch for our upcoming anthology, The Best Most Awful Job. No matter – the launch has moved on line… and you’re invited! Join us on Twitter, Thursday 19 March, 7:30 – 8:30 pm GMT. See you there – at a safe and appropriate distance!

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