“It’s not at all grim up North” –

At the end of June I attended a one-day interdisciplinary conference at York St John University: the title of the conference was “Uplandish: New Perspectives on Northern England’s ‘Wild’ Places”.  The topics which people presented on were very varied and included: film-making, the cultural mythology of the Moors Murderers, the history of Dove Cottage (Wordsworth’s most famous home), and the work of the National Trust in securing UNESCO World Heritage status for the Lake District.  My paper was one of a handful of literary-critical papers that day – it was titled “Sarah Hall’s Wild Women of the North”.

My 20-minute paper gave a brief analysis of the idea of wildness in three novels by Sarah Hall: The Carhullan Army (2006), The Wolf Border (2015) and Haweswater (2002).  I focussed on the presentation of central female characters as embedded within the Cumbrian landscape of all three texts, its ecosystem and the contestation of traditional stereotypes that this entails.  My paper gave a broadly ecofeminist reading of the literature, and made the point that the association of women and nature is not at all retrogressive in Hall’s writing but, rather, is presented as a source of radical energy which enables the women to intervene in political history, as opposed to seeing them excluded from it.

My paper concluded with a question: these novels seem to fit in with a trend in contemporary literature to access the authentic, ecologically-implicated, animal self – an identity which stands in sharp contrast to our increasingly technologically-mediated existence; does this represent a genuine cultural turn developing in the new millennium, or are these just consolatory fictions which we can shut off from when we close the book?

I very much enjoyed giving this paper, as well as the discussions over coffee with other delegates, in particular another academic – Dr. Justin Sausman of the University of Hertfordshire – who also presented on Haweswater.  Another personal highlight for me was having the opportunity to quote a small section of Beowulf in Anglo Saxon (yes, it was relevant to a discussion about the literary history of monstrosity and the moors!).

York is just lovely – you should go, especially if you really like a bit of Viking history mixed in with your organic cafes and high-end clothing stores.

My thanks to the University for funding my trip.  Next stop: a conference on Eco-Gothic in Dublin, Trinity College, late November – yey!

Dr Melanie Ebdon


Dark in the Day


Please join us in congratulating Paul Houghton and Creative Writing students on the release today of  Dark in the Day (Immanion Press).

“In the blink of an eye, around the corner, The Weird is everywhere. It’s in the bird that turns out to be a fluttering newspaper, that white shoe left in a ploughed field, or the curdling smoke on the windscreen of a car, caused by the fast-moving reflection of clouds overhead. Normal is often weird and vice-versa. We’re used to weird dreams but what about the wide-awake weird? This collection celebrates evocative tales of oddness that span the genres of magic realism, the supernatural, the fantastical and the speculative.


Weirdness lurks beyond the margins of the mundane, emerging to dismantle our assumptions of reality. When we encounter strange intervals, our perception of the natural order is challenged and changed.  It is perhaps in those moments, that we glimpse the hidden truth of all things.

Dark in the Day is an anthology of weird fiction, penned by established writers and also those new to the genre – the latter being authors who are, or were, students of Creative Writing at Staffordshire University, where editor Storm Constantine occasionally delivers guest lectures. Her co-editor, Paul Houghton, is the senior lecturer in Creative Writing at the university.

Contributors include: Martina Bellovičová, J. E. Bryant, Glynis Charlton, Danielle Collard, Storm Constantine, Louise Coquio, Elizabeth Counihan, Krishan Coupland, Elizabeth Davidson, Siân Davies, Jack Fabian, Paul Finch, Rosie Garland, Rhys Hughes, Kerry Fender, Andrew Hook, Paul Houghton, Tanith Lee, Lisa Mansell, Kate Moore, Tim Pratt, Nicholas Royle, Michael Marshall Smith, Paula Wakefield, Ian Whates and Liz Williams.”


This is the culmination of an ambitious project with Immanion Press which brings together stories from new writers, many of whom are current students and alumni, and new work from established authors. I am so proud of our students, whose work stands justly alongside well-known practitioners, and I am grateful to Immanion Press’ editor, Storm Constantine, for working with and visiting our students over the past year. #ProudtobeStaffs



Teaching Excellence

Dr. Lisa Mansell, Creative Writing lecturer and award leader, has been made a Teaching Excellence Fellow at Staffordshire University. Her research project is about  the nature of adaptation: the rewriting of a text from one medium or genre to another. In particular, developing ambitious adaptations ranging from translation to the transposition of text from wiring to image. Her current research and reflective practice in the area of adaptation is influenced by the work of Fiona English, in particular, her book, Genre in Student Writing (London; Contiunuum [Bloomsbury], 2011). Fiona English asks students to re-craft or adapt a student essay into another genre, a process she calls’ regenreing’.  In Lisa’s study, she hopes to develop this practice into other disciplines and other discourses and areas of writing. In doing so she hopes to work towards a methodology for research, writing to discover new knowledge, that might be valid and useful not only for writers but for researchers and students in other disciplines.

Live Age Festival


Paul Houghton and Dr. Catherine Burgass have been taking part in the Live Age Festival at the Potteries Museum, which is exhibiting work by Lowry and local counterpart, Arthur Berry until January 10th 2016.

Paul hosted a Creative Writing Workshop: “Writing is Seeing” on October 3rd, and it was followed by a talk by Dr. Bugrass & Prof. Ray Johnson:  ‘Arthur Berry and the Poetics of Place’.

Art v. life



On a research trip to the Lowry Gallery in Salford, I had one of those slightly odd experiences where art and life intersect. The image above is Lowry’s uncomfortable and uncomfortably named The Cripples (1949). When challenged that he could not possibly have encountered so many people with disabilities, Lowry hauled his sceptical interlocutor round post-war Manchester to prove a point. Waiting for a delayed tram to Salford Quays I conversed with an unkempt man who explained that because he had been sectioned he got no dole. As I was making notes in the Gallery, a small group of people with physical disabilities and learning issues came in. Their carers evinced shock at the picture’s name, though the image which elicited the strongest response from one of the group was The Bedroom, Pendlebury (a dingy tribute to van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles). The degree to which Lowry mocked or empathised with his subjects generally is debateable and though this image shows scant evidence of the latter quality he did undoubtedly appreciate the impact of misfortune and trauma. What is clear, surely even to the sceptical, is that austerity Britain would provide him with plenteous subject matter today.

There are 25 Lowries currently hanging in the Lowry-Berry exhibition at the Potteries Museum. The Lowry in Salford holds a large permanent collection – both demonstrate that Lowry was not simply a painter of industrial landscapes populated with ‘matchstick men’.

Major local art exhibition and associated events

Lowry and Berry: Observers of Urban Life

In conjunction with the exhibition of paintings by L.S. Lowry and his local counterpart Arthur Berry – ‘Observers of Urban Life’ – at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, Paul Houghton and Catherine Burgass are both involved in ‘Live Age Festival’ events.  Paul is running a creative writing workshop ‘Writing is Seeing’ and Catherine is talking with Ray Johnson on ‘Arthur Berry and the Poetics of Place’, both on Saturday 3rd October.  Attendance at either of these free events will also gain you free admission to the exhibition, which places these two significant twentieth-century painters of the industrial landscape side by side for the first time and is well worth seeing.  For further information and to book go to: http://www.liveagefestival.co.uk/#!october-3-schedule/cgjf

RIP E L Doctorow

A great figure of American letters, EL Doctorow, has died at the age of 83. He achieved the distinction, as a writer, of being both commercially successful and receiving a great deal of scholarly attention. This is because he was both a chronicler of American history – his books explored the the Jazz Age, the rise of the Mafia, the Industrial Revolution – and an explorer of literary form. My favourite, and the one I teach, is his 1971 novel, The Book of Daniel. Here, with a thin veil of fictionalisation, he explores the execution of the Rosenbergs in 1953 for passing nuclear secrets to the USSR, and the consequences for their children in a different radical age at the end of the 60s. The book is at once an account of personal trauma and loss, a meditation on America’s post-War radical movements, and an exploration of the limits of literary form and the earlier certainties of narrative perspective and temporal organisation. The book incorporates polyphonic narratives of the persecution of both the Jews and radical thinkers over time – characteristics that both the Rosenbergs and Doctorow himself shared. The Book of Daniel is my favourite book and every time I return to it I discover something new to say about it.

President Obama tweeted this:

“E.L. Doctorow was one of America’s greatest novelists. His books taught me much, and he will be missed.

You can read the Guardian obituary here and follow links to more interesting articles and interviews.

Stoke Literary Festival

Here are Catherine Burgass and Ray Johnson presenting their talk on ‘Arthur Berry – People’s Poet’ at the second Hot Air Literary Festival (13th June):
Ray and Catherine discussed Berry’s painting, poetry and plays, all of which articulate strongly a sense of regional idenitity, via images, film clips and dramatic readings.  They also launched a new edition of Berry’s poetry collection Dandelions: http://www.filmarchive.org.uk/products/dandelions
Catherine was particularly excited to meet Margaret Drabble – taught on this year’s feminism module From Rage to Page.  Interviewed by Sathnam Sanghera about her most recent novel The Pure Gold Baby, Drabble clearly believed that conditions for women had improved significantly since the 1960s.  Catherine was able to get her mother’s original 1960s paperbacks signed and let Dame Margaret know that the political issues dramatised in these second-wave feminist fictions still speak to women of today, if student response is anything to go by!

Stoke Literary Festival

Catherine Burgass is presenting an event with Professor Ray Johnson on local poet Arthur Berry at the second Stoke Literary Festival (13th June).  For details go to:
The Festival event sold out early on, but tickets to other events may still be available and Ray and Catherine will also be talking about Berry at a forthcoming major exhibition: ‘Lowry and Berry – Observers of Urban Life’ at the Potteries Museum and Art Gallery (details to follow).
      Catherine and Ray have been working on a reprint of Berry’s book of poems, Dandelions, which should be published in time for the Festival.  Catherine was introduced to the work of Arthur Berry by one of our final-year students, Sarah Probyn – thank you Sarah!
      On Saturday 6th Catherine is also delivering a paper at the annual Arnold Bennett Conference – Bennett Abroad.  Taking liberties with the conference theme, the paper considers Bennett’s representation of the Potteries as a ‘foreign’ country, with reference to Freud’s theory of the uncanny.  For details go to:  http://www.arnoldbennettsociety.org.uk/?page_id=5