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University of Nottingham MA Creative Writing Student Showcase

Updated: May 5, 2020



Photo by Martin Dörsch

Inspired by a workshop from our director Azad Ashim Sharma, below you will find a selection prose and poetry by MA students of Creative Writing at the University of Nottingham.


[Edit 28/04/20: Leora Gerson's 'Guilt' has been added to the collection]



Karen Packwood


Prompt: Using a newspaper headline, create a piece of prose poetry.

Headline: 'Mass Graves Cause Disease in Countryside'. Karen’s response took an experimental form.







Currently an MA Creative Writing student at University of Nottingham, Karen is also co-author of three books that explore Writing for Wellness.




Mandeep Johal


Prompt: How can the things that resist every change, every rejection and helpful response, be resolved in play and symbol? Respond to this question by Hugo Ball in a prose poem.


The something that moved. It didn’t move. The illusion. The something of. The move, the mood in move. the movement decided it could move. Step step step into the step. The step pushed a place in the space. Tiny tiny step. A step into the space, making a place. A space, a place, no walls of no, moving, moving into the space. The moving space moving the space. The place, the space changing, each step moving the change. There is no place where there is no space. The space moving into more space. More, more, space. The resist moving somewhere, moving. The space moving into more space, more, more, leave the no more, the move, the no moving. The something that moved. It didn’t move. The illusion. The something of. The move. the movement decided it could move. Into the space, the movement of.. of of, the movement of of of, moving, step step step into the step, the toes in the shoe moving into the change, the change moving into the step, step, step. There is no change without the things that resist every change, every rejection. The resist, stop the step, step, step into the step. Stop. still. Still there. Stopped. Stop. Ssssh ssssh stay there, still there, stay, no step, no step, no step. Still. Still there, stay there. Stay. You still. the cells in you moving. Something moving. The something that moved. You still. It didn’t move. The illusion. You still. the cells in you moving. There is change. There is change. The something that moved is the something that moved. The change it happened when you were still and your cells were moving. The something that moved. The something that moved. There is no resolve. There is no resolve. It was not something to be solved. The I may not be helpful, the I is not to be helpful, the I is to take a paddle boat, paddling paddling and then sleeping sleeping in that boat in between the lungs, the cells, the breathe, the breathing, the up the down the something that moved. You still. the cells in you moving. Something moving. The something that moved. You still. It didn’t move. The illusion. The symbol, the symbol of what, the play, oh, the play. Take some time to play, take it, play with you and I. play, play enough. Play with the buzzing bee buzzing in your mind, play with the fairies, the beasts and the goblins, chatter to the birds, feed the squirrels. Play with the illusion, the something of, the move, tiny tiny step. The something that moved. It didn’t move.



Mandeep Johal is a creative writing MA student at the University of Nottingham. She has a background in Human Rights, and the founder of Who Do You Think I Am? a campaign organisation for women. She likes to see the world on the page when she writes, and finds writing to have an important role as a force for social change.



Kirsty Fox


Prompt: write something from the perspective of your shoes.

‘Waiting for a Sole to Stick to’


The morning is a rush but will later become a trudge—heavy with the day, heavy with the clouds which flank the city. The pavement is cold and still vaguely slushy with leaves leftover from autumn, which should've been swept up months ago. On the street just down from home we tread carefully but quickly, knowing there are some leftover smears of dog muck waiting for a sole to stick to (aren't we all). There are puddles murky with the sad reflection of the sky. We skirt them but dip a toe now and then because we can. Rubber grooves disturbing the surface edge. The pattern of water, as it moves and then resettles, is left behind us as we move quickly on. There is a spurt as we run for the bus and a shuffle before we clamber steps to the top deck and find a place to dangle, close to the heaters at floor height. Ankles turn and fidget and swap places, waiting.


We carry. We carry everything, even when that little bone is aching, as it sometimes does. We may tread more carefully, testing steps, but we still carry.


The trudge is with us now. The feat of going from here to there and there to here. And the day becomes heavier, the energy ebbs but doesn't flow as the grey sky takes its toll. And the wet takes its toll. And the cold takes its toll.




Kirsty Fox is an artist, writer, and social entrepreneur. She is focused on novel writing, short fiction, prose poetry and lyric essays. She is fond of speculative fiction with a hint of the metaphysical, inspired by writers such as Margaret Atwood, China Mieville, Ali Smith and George Saunders.

Emily Woodthorpe

Prompt: write a poem or short story expressing gratitude for your favourite book. Emily chose The Forbidden Sea by Sheila A. Nielson.

‘The Forbidden Seas I Crossed’


I was thirteen and a girl in a woman’s shell when Stepmother marked me as the enemy.


Adrianne was fourteen and fixing things that weren’t her fault, but her aunt found it easier to blame the quiet child.


Meanwhile the mermaids in Adrianne’s tear-streaked seas, stripped of their melodious, Disney shine and devolved to their beastly, Piscean form – they rose like the waves, they sang like the gulls.


Lover of fantasy was I, applauding the creatures’ sinister maturity. My own had only brought misfortune.


Aside the toiling niece and ocean beasts besides the screaming tides of the Aunt’s wrath, bearing her hands on the self-blaming sacrifice. Too close to Stepmother, curling words in my father’s ears, forcing him to choose.


Remember,


I was the enemy, spawn of my mother, woman he left for another who wasn’t Stepmother because other loves existed once.


When she sank her teeth into the jugular of my pride, I followed Adrianne’s example and left; I took my chances with the mermaids who didn’t look so monstrous after all.

Emily Woodthorpe is a 23-year-old tea-drinker and figure skating enthusiast. Though she was born in Lincoln, she grew up in Colwyn Bay, North Wales, and considers herself at least a bit Welsh. While an illustrator by trade, having achieved first-class honours in Illustration at Lincoln in 2018, writing is her twin passion.


Andrew Jay Williams

Prompt: Write a story or a poem about an experience you've had with nature.


‘LOST’


I never knew a time more true than when


Lost in a mountain wood I reached a glen,


And standing there, alone, weary and cold


Amid the snow, I saw a moon of gold


Gaze down upon me with an eye of myrrh


Between a sycamore and silver fir.


Beneath its ghostly light the forest glimmered,


The water of the mountain-torrent shimmered


And all was graced with silent majesty.


Humbled by this tumescent tapestry,


I realised that I had scorned the road


That would have led me to a safe abode.


In hopes of finding treasure in the wild


I had allowed myself to be beguiled,


Tempted and misled. I lost my way,


And though the road is distant now as day


From me, still I will rise and seek in peace


That long-forgotten place where troubles cease.

Andrew Jay Williams enjoys Shakespeare, medieval literature, film, theology and animals, and hopes to one day publish children's fiction that makes use of all his various obsessions.



Bryony Taylor


Prompt: Write a story about the last meal you cooked.


‘Mother Hen’


Mother pointed at the hen.

It’s your turn to do it, she said. I stared at her. Don’t tell me you’re not old enough, she said. I told her I didn’t want to. I told her I didn’t know how. Yes, you do, she said. She was right, I did know how to do it. Mother rolled up her sleeves, baring her mole-spotted forearms. I also have moles on my forearms, as well as sprinkled across my torso. I have two on my belly that surprise me when I’ve forgotten about them, and I lift my shirt up in front of the mirror and pinch my side, squishing the mole between my fingers beneath folds of skin. I do this each night, before I go to bed, and yet every time I’m still surprised to see the moles blemishing my skin.


Mother grabbed the hen by its neck. It thrashed its wings up and down, feathers ruffled, squawking, shrieking, and I don’t remember it ever sounding this loud, and I would vomit if there was anything left. Mother handed me the hen and I saw my hands wrapping around its neck, holding it aloft and away from my body, so that its legs kicked and flailed. Its black beady eyes were dark, expressionless pits, and if I looked only at its eyes then I could tell myself it wasn’t scared. Mother watched me. I felt my hands slide around its neck as I stared into their nothingness, and then there was a crunch and a release, and my hands were still tense, but the hen was loose. Its beady eyes remained opaque, unchanging, and I felt the hollowness inside my stomach grow—the one that pecked away at my insides every day. I felt sick with hunger, and I felt sick of that hunger. I wanted to be sick.


Mother smiled at me and placed a hand on my shoulder. I’d achieved a rite of passage; the hand was a sign of acceptance, and yet I felt the weight of it pressing down, rooting me to the sawdust beneath my feet. I reached down and picked up the hen, shuffling to the right so that Mother’s hand slipped off my shoulder. She held out her arms. I handed its still warm body to her. Mother took the dead lump with her outside, towards the house. The other chickens cowered in a corner of the barn, huddled together. Each time one of them let out a cluck, the whole pack would suddenly duck their heads, panicked, as if the noise alone would bring them harm. I sat down in the opposite corner, watching them watching me. I pulled my knees towards my chest. The barn was three times the size of my bedroom and had the same box shape. The barn was built first. My bedroom was added later—an extension to the main house.


I stayed there until Mother popped her head in. She looked at me sitting down on the floor.


You need to peel the potatoes, she said, before leaving again. The door swung shut behind her.


At the dinner table, Mother put the plate in front of me. The white, shiny oval lay like a slug on the plate, brown sludges of gravy pooling at its sides. Mother sat opposite. She picked up her knife and fork; her eyes flitted from my face to the cutlery beside my plate, then back to my face. I first picked up the knife, then the fork. I closed my fingers around their lengths, balancing them between my fingertips. Mother cut into the chicken. She held a piece up, poised before her lips. She waited. I speared the slug with my fork and sawed a piece off. Mother continued to wait. I held the piece up. There was a painting up on the wall, behind Mother, of a man on horseback with a bloodhound at its feet. It snarled at a cornered rabbit, backing away to the edge of the painting. The fur on its back was raised and bushy. Its shoulders were hunched, and its ears lay flat against its back. I pressed the chunk between my lips, then dragged the fork back out, leaving behind a slimy lump that weighed down my tongue. I started chewing. The hairs on my forearms stood up. The large black eyes of the rabbit watched me.


Mother let out a sigh. Her shoulders were no longer tensed. She popped the piece into her mouth. Before she’d even finished chewing, she started cutting her next piece. Drops of gravy rolled down her chin, and she only paused for a moment between bites to dab at it with a napkin. I cut my food into a hundred pieces, and Mother stayed until I’d finished them all. The fearful eyes of the cornered rabbit watched me. I asked her if I could be excused.

I want to sit and talk, she said. We hadn’t spoken a word all meal. Look, I want you to help around the farm a bit more. I think the responsibility would be good for you. You need… She paused, pushing her knife and fork together on the plate so that they lay side by side. Structure, she said. Mother shifted in her chair. A grease stained tea towel was still sat across one shoulder. Mother usually wore one whilst preparing a meal for wiping her hands on. She seemed to have forgotten about it. There was a circular red-brown stain on it.


How does that sound? she said. I told her that sounded okay. Then I asked if I could leave. I told her I was tired. Mother nodded with narrowed eyes. I went upstairs. I knew without looking that she was watching me, until I was out of sight.


Later, when I was in bed, Mother came and kissed me goodnight. She breathed another sigh of relief over my head, and I smelt wine and gravy on her breath. I waited with my eyes squeezed shut until she was gone. I listened for the sound of her bedroom door closing. I checked my phone and waited for exactly one hour, then I got up. My eyes took a few seconds to adjust to the dark. I turned the doorknob an inch at a time until the latch was drawn out. I pulled the door towards me, opening just enough for me to squeeze through. On tiptoes I crossed the landing, pausing to listen to the sound of Mother snoring. I crept downstairs, missing out the fourth step that always creaks. I slipped into the bathroom and shut the door behind me, releasing the breath I’d been holding. I knelt in front of the toilet and stared at the bowl filled with clear water. I told the toilet I was sorry. Then I stained the water red-brown.


The light flicked on, blinding me. I turned and saw the figure of Mother standing over me. I couldn’t yet make out her face.


Get up, she said. I told Mother I was sorry, and that structure would help.

Bryony Taylor is a creative writing MA student at the University of Nottingham. She grew up in the English countryside with lots of sheep and cows for neighbours. Currently, she's swapped the farm animals for quirky coffee shop inhabitants in Nottingham city, who make for much better writing material.

Wenting Dai


Prompt: Write a poem or a story about a strange experience you’ve had at work.

‘Write with your nose’

The biggest freedom for a freelance writer, is playing an endless game, called-


“Stupid-me”

Every time there is nothing to write, I see –


“myself” sitting there, trapped in the game all day long


Alone.


But one day, a strange and plain voice came and invited me with another game.


He asked about the most important thing to my writing.


I said eyes, and my eyesight left me.

The next I said hands—


then I couldn’t grab anything anymore, and I couldn’t touch, and I couldn’t feel.


He continued asking about the third, and I tightened my lips, scared.


But he all understood.


‘Now,’ he chuckled and said in my soft and feminine voice, “This is the last time you can hear. For the rest of your life, smell the world and write with your nose.”

Wenting Dai, a Creative Writing MA student at the University of Nottingham. I come from China and the reason I’m here is that I wish to kiss 84 Charing Cross Road for a distant booklover and walk on the streets and lanes that Woolf, Wilde, Shakespeare and Maugham once walked on.



Annie Elizabeth Brown

Prompt: Write a story about a bullshit job you’ve had.*

*have.




‘The Ballerina’



Monday.


Pink. Purple. Glitter. Sparkly. Shimmery.


“Welcome to The Glitter Palace. Everything in our store is three for the price of two today! Can I offer you a basket as you shop?”


I shoot a well-meaning smile in the direction of the customer. The guy is about forty, mumbling under his breath, and pushes past me into the shop.


Grimacing, I recognise who it is; he’s a bit odd. He tends to hiss at the kids if they get a little loud. He hissed at Brian once too.


In my first week here, I overheard Mia saying he was convicted for rape and murder, and that his time in prison ‘changed him’. Brian told her not to worry; it was only armed robbery.


I hold out a bright pink, cloth basket to him. He ignores the gesture. Instead, he knocks into a tower with his elbow, sending his sufferer crashing to the ground.


The victim is of the furry variety. Its meant to be a mouse, I think, but the stuffed abomination has bizarrely elongated limbs. It’s wearing glittery ballet shoes and pink ballet tutu, but its chest is bare and I can’t help but think it’ll never be a prima ballerina.


It lays in a tangle of limbs on the floor. I pick it back up, restringing it from the peg in the tower by the plastic tag jammed into its neck.



Tuesday


“Welcome to The Glitter Palace. Everything in our store is three for the price of two today! Can I offer you a basket as you shop?”


The next second, the baskets are knocked out of my hands as two children race past me into the shop, shouting and screaming as they go. Like tiny tornadoes, they collide into a tower and a cluster of plastic crap clatters to the floor. An exhausted father hurries past and from the floor, I meekly offer him a basket. He doesn’t acknowledge me.


Sighing, I sling the baskets back in their holder. I’m only standing here being a glorified holder myself because Brian told me to.


I sweep the floor for dislodged items. I head for the bombsite the two children just created. I pick up the items and hang them back onto pegs.


Pick up. Put away.


All day every day.


Pink. Purple. Glitter. Sparkly. Shimmery.


Like the ballerina, about a million times a day, some object will decide it’s had enough and take a leap of faith onto the floor.



Wednesday


“Welcome to The Glitter Palace. Everything in our store is three for the price of two today!”


I spy a little old lady loitering by the back of the tills. She’s clutching several items to her chest, too many for her hands. She refused a basket. She’s sighing irately.


“Are you waiting to pay?” I ask.