Rediscovering Education

Laura De Vivo

(BA Creative Writing)

When I think about my mother at my age, her desires, her perception of herself and where she fit in the world, it is a far cry from the choices I am making for myself and where my place is as I begin my slide towards fifty.

My choices in the mid-nineties in no way mirror those of most of my present-day counterparts. At the tender age of twenty-two my sleepless nights were the result of a teething baby, not the submission date for an essay.

I by no means regret my youthful decisions: opting for the “I’ll still be young when they’re off my hands” angle. Now that my responsibilities are off making lives of their own, I am free to refocus my attention on myself, armed with the maturity twenty-five years has given me. Re-entering a world I had long since left behind was a brave step. Sitting on the opposite side of the desk at forty-two was no easy adjustment (I had spent my working life as a teaching assistant) and remorse from not having tried harder at school plagued me. Little did I realise that the first day back as a student would set me on the path of rediscovery.

Two years later I was clutching two GCSE certificates and looking for the next thing to get my teeth into, my head already turned by the prospect of an A level.  I found I had become addicted to learning. I was a sponge. I just couldn’t stop. Once the A level was in my arsenal, there came the next question: do I take a degree?

Friends and family asked, “why do you want to put yourself through that?”

 But it wasn’t an act of self-flagellation, it was a question of ability: I was staring myself dead in the eye and laying down the gauntlet. Beyond a certain age it is all too easy not to question your standing in life, yet in a modern age where reinvention of oneself is widely accepted, I was free to be anything I wanted to be.

On the day the acceptance from NTU dropped into my inbox, a new feeling took over, one I hadn’t seen coming. I had a resounding, gut wrenching feeling of imposter syndrome. I mostly kept it to myself, embarrassed to shout from the rooftops about something that had taken me five years to achieve, and I had a strong feeling of parental guilt: one of my children was still in the education system. Was I stealing her thunder? Should I have stayed in my ‘mum box’?

 However, with the full approval of my children, I attended the open day, feeling a whirlwind of emotions: I had the same trepidation some other students were displaying (or hiding), with one key difference: I looked like one of the parents. I walked across the Plaza on Clifton Campus, my heart pounding, faking confidence, and swallowing back my lunch. Had I bitten off more than I could chew this time?

Then, the first day arrived. A swarm of students filed into the Playhouse, me included, together with the only other mature student on my course. We listened to enthusiastic speakers, and I wondered what relevance this had for me. Could I have the things being offered to the younger students? But I’d come this far after all, so why not?

I am now at the end of my first term, and I have realised there is an advantage to attending university as a mature student. There is no shellshock from leaving home (we mostly study in our home city). There is no need to extrapolate ourselves from personal insecurity like some younger people must, or walk the unpredictable minefield of learning who we are for ourselves: that has long been established. We are not shackled by any of the potential burdens of youth. I feel liberated just to enjoy the experience of higher education. 

According to UCAS, 40% of mature students are over thirty, proving that we have a thirst for learning beyond the conventional expectations for education. We have a great deal to offer with the wisdom of our years and experience, before returning to the workforce in a stronger position.

Joining university as a mature student isn’t like gatecrashing a party. There is a plethora of societies to get involved in, more than happy to accept the more mature, and there is a thriving community for us too. Age has not felt like a barrier at all! I’d be lying if I said all the trepidation had melted away, and of course I share many of the same concerns as every student. But university has not manifested into the monster I’d feared, and the technophobe in me has no need to struggle in digital ignorance either. I have found the library to be a great resource, along with lecturers and students who are more than happy to assist. Alongside the degree, there is an opportunity to learn a language ­– I am taking advanced Italian – and other skills that will future proof me and, I hope, make me the best-educated version of myself I can be.

I will graduate the year I turn fifty, giving myself an exceptional gift that I had never considered could be mine.

Going Away to University and Reinventing Yourself

Vashi Deva

Vashi is a student in the first year of her BA English degree at NTU. In this blog post, she discusses some of the challenges and opportunities she’s faced, and how she’s turned them to her advantage! She has some advice for anyone who makes a comparable decision: to study at NTU, having come from another city as a young adult.

Entering this new, thrilling phase of life, it’s likely you’ll lose yourself in the chaos of the university experience in no time. You’ve possibly already associated this time in your life parties, a crowd of fresh new faces, and a list of deadlines. It’s easy to forget what I think is the best and most important part: the chance to reinvent yourself. You’re given a blank page and the freedom to draw whatever you want on it. To make the most out of this experience, you should use this newfound freedom to shape your identity on your own terms. Here are a few pointers.

Making A Comfortable Space                                               

Create your space as an embodiment of the new you. Wherever you’re going to be living is likely where you’ll spend most of your time, so being attentive and putting in the effort to create an aesthetically pleasing living space for yourself has countless benefits. It mentally and physically elevates your day-to-day life, giving you the opportunity to explore your individuality through your interior design skills. You may think you haven’t got any, but trust me, you do.

You probably won’t have an immense amount of space. I suggest keeping it simple so that your room isn’t easily cluttered. In fact, decluttering has direct links to good mental health, making you feel less stress and anxiety. You don’t want to look around at your space and feel overwhelmed, and you’ll want to have room to do your university work. Put up subtle reminders of things that make you happy, like books, posters, photos and at least one picture of a figure who inspires you to strive towards academic excellence above your study desk. Now, every time you look up from your laptop while cramming for that assignment, you’ll find some encouragement from that figure – perhaps a little voice inside will say, ‘if they can do it, so can I’. It’s also wise to change things around every now and then: you don’t want to grow tired of looking at the same things every day. Creatively changing your space around from time to time can motivate changes in your mind which may contribute to you feeling less burnt out and stuck in a rut. It’s easy to fall into that cycle. Prevent it! 

Your City

 Whether you’ve travelled far from home or not travelled at all, make your city your best friend. It’s the place that will inspire most of your creative impulses during this period. Be open minded, explore, and see your city for its elusive charm. Familiarising yourself with your new (or old) home will help you spark up fresh interests and ambitions, and it’s one of the things that makes the university experience so worthwhile. You may find a local spot to eat which isn’t Nando’s or Dominos, new thrift shops tucked into alleyways, a go-to nature reserve for some down time, museums, hidden art galleries, historical sites. Visit the places you wouldn’t normally think twice about visiting because you’ve already labelled them boring, and you may find that there’s more to your city than just the nightclubs. It’s a great way to refresh your perspective on the world and retreat from old thoughts and ideals that may have been holding you back. In other words, it’s a great way to reinvent yourself. you don’t want to leave here one day and think you never really got to know the place, its people, and its idiosyncracies.

The Social Realm of University

It’s evident that the years you spend at university can reward more than just a degree. You can develop many new skills contributing to your transition into adulthood, including your social skills. It’s guaranteed you’ll see a lot of new faces on your course, and you’ll probably meet new people on nights out. But the stigma that university social life revolves around partying isn’t completely true, and socialising is more than just partying. This is the perfect time to build strong network connections that you’ll thank yourself for later. These will contribute hugely to your social well-being, and you’ll benefit from the professional and personal relations you build. You may feel shy at first, and almost everyone does even if they don’t show it, but the key to building important connections is putting yourself out there and opening yourself up to different types of people, even people who you may not normally approach. Make an effort to start conversations with people in your building, and people at your university (even if they’re not on your course), attend university events, and even get to know your lecturers. You’ll likely find some common ground with most of these people, and you’ll find yourself surprised once you’ve stepped out of your comfort zone.  Remember, your lecturers are experienced in the field you’re interested in, so gaining knowledge from them will be worth your while. And you never know, you can spark up a lifelong friendship just by starting a conversation.

Learn A Useless Skill

When Steve Jobs was 17, he dropped out of university and let his curiosity lead him to a calligraphy class. He said, ‘none of this had even a hope of any practical application to my life.’ Ten years later, he designed the first Macintosh computer with the multiple type faces and proportionally spaced fonts that he had learnt about all those years ago taking that ‘useless’ calligraphy class. So, learn that useless skill that you think is so stupid and pointless. Now that you’ve got a new sense of independence, you can prioritize spending your time on things that interest you. Whether it be fashion, cooking, yoga, kickboxing, music, graphic design, art. They say, ‘a jack of all trades is a master of none, but always better than a master of one’ Anything that you’ve felt like you’ve always wanted to try but never found productive or worth your time, now is the time to try it. You may find yourself looking back ten years later, glad that you had the courage to at least try. But don’t drop out of your course!

Creative Bastards: A Little Magazine

Elmo Moorby

The history of little magazines is extensive – and though it isn’t my aim to give you a history lesson, I feel it is necessary to at least set the scene. Short-term periodicals have been a staple of fringe literature since the late 1800’s and continue to act as a platform for all sorts of writers to this day. Historically, little magazines attract new or controversial writers, as well as those who experiment with structural forms considered less marketable. As a medium, zines and magazines are now ridiculously accessible and easy to produce, with webpages and blogging sites providing free accounts on which to host anyone and everyone’s content. So, there’s little wonder why little magazines are everywhere.

After learning about the important history of these small publications myself, partly through the Magazine Publishing module on my BA Creative Writing at NTU, and producing one at the end of that module, I found myself fascinated with the concept, and the possibilities of a self-made space.  With no boundaries or limits set by a looming editor or financial benefactor, complete creative control was passed over to those of us who marshalled the work. The possibilities felt almost endless. So, as summer approached, I began the journey to produce a magazine that was wholly my own, born from the chaos of Uni life and my passion for the creatively absurd.

To give you some context, I must take you back to the start of my first year at NTU. We were at the tail end of 2020’s summer lockdowns, and a freshly 18-year-old me was trawling through the depths of the Facebook NTU Freshers page for others taking my course. After finding no one – but knowing plenty were indeed out there to be found – I created a WhatsApp group and posted an open invite on the Freshers page. Here spawned the Creative Bastards. The title is, I like to think, a moniker for all Creative Writing students in my year group, as well as honorary members who unfortunately (!) chose to study for an English degree instead – the two cohorts are quite close and share some modules. We attempted projects as a group through years one and two, though these lasted a few weeks each before fading into nothingness. The idea for a literature and creative arts magazine floated around in January 2022, when our module-produced magazines were publicly launched, and over the following months I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

This brings us to May 2022. With the help of my course mate Rebecca Eaton, we set up an email and social medias for the project and began to build up a profile – our aims, our goals, our purpose. I liked the idea of a changing theme for each issue, and we settled on ‘Monsters’ for the first. The theme gave way to numerous interpretations, from familial relationships to childhood fears to reinterpretations of Greek myth. With the help of in-house and public submissions, the concept morphed into something bigger than we could’ve imagined. By mid-July, I had submissions from all over – Nottingham, Canada, the USA, Belarus, and Iran. Once September arrived, I bit the bullet and got a student Adobe Suite subscription: a friend who works in Graphic Design sang its praises for magazine formatting. Who was I to turn down a professional’s recommendation? Over the course of the next month, the magazine began to take form. The staple yellow blobs adorned the pages, along with illustrations and artwork from skilled course mates. Before long the many, many elements merged to form a cohesive piece of visually stimulating art. Though I had aimed for the project to be finished before October, I would consider three weeks over the mark as pretty good for a first independent attempt.

I sent off for quotes on printing. The single most important thing at this time was for all the contributors to have a physical copy, be it to show their friends and family, or future employers. I ordered sixty copies. This may have been an ambitious move, but if I sold the extras at £5 apiece, it would make back the printing cost, and could be put forward to fund the next issue.  

I can vividly remember the bright yellow covers, shiny, grand-spanking new in that little cardboard box. I shot a message off to one of my editors, Elle Jacobson, who had indicated her interest in organising a launch event. With the new term now kicking in at NTU, I accepted her offer, and after a few weeks, we were at The Playwright on Shakespeare Street, shouts and cheers making their way through the door as the first game of the World Cup played out one room over.

The event went great! Nick, Andrew, Antonia, Nathan, Elle, Rebecca, Megan, and I read out our pieces to a buzzing audience of twenty-five. My bones shook as I gave little speeches at the start and end, knowing that without the people in that room, the project would not have been possible, let alone successful.

Creative Bastards Magazine – Issue 1: Monsters, is now available via our website. Check it out at

Elmo Moorby is a third-year BA Creative Writing student at NTU.

Writing Characters

Rebecca Eaton

Writing has been a passion of mine since I was around six years old. Now, at twenty, it’s still my main source of joy.

My writing has taken many forms over the years, both through choice and because of the multi-genre nature of my course; given the choice, I tend to bounce from poetry, to novels, to fanfiction and back. But the one thing I focus on in all my work, no matter what form it takes, is characterisation. To me, characters are the single most important aspect of writing.

In writing fanfiction (and for those of you who don’t know, fanfiction is where you write stories about characters and scenarios from already existing media, like Star Wars), characters are always my focus. I want them to be interesting, complex – for readers, and for me, to feel like they have further stories to explore.

One of Rebecca’s character sketches

In my own original work, every story I come up with focuses on the characters. The characters are the story. When I begin to work on an idea for a novel or short story, I usually begin with a loose, one-sentence scenario in mind: “A coven of all-female vampires”, for example. From there, I let my imagination run wild, giving me traits and names and personalities – never, at this stage, fully formed. But they pass through my mind and a character grows as a result.

What I’m saying is that, when writing, I plan. Planning is a key part of my process, and the reason why I’m able to have so many projects on the go at once. The way my mind works means I get new ideas almost every day, about different things, with different themes and different characters. Because of this, when I get my one-sentence idea, I put it in a notebook and leave it. And I come back to all my ideas when I have an idea for the character(s).

Those characters then drive my plots. I have an idea, then I make a character or two, and when I’ve drawn up a full profile, I start developing a plot. Take my idea from earlier (a real idea, one I’ve worked with): “A coven of all-female vampires”. From there, I created my two main characters, Ada and Rosaire. And once I’d given them names, families, looks, personalities, back stories, I began thinking of the plot of my story.

…and another

Do you see my process? I know everyone has a different one. But sometimes I feel we are prone to forgetting just how important characters are. They are what connects us to stories. If we get attached to them, when they cry we feel sad, when they fall in love we feel joy, and so on. A good plot is nothing without good characters. And I don’t mean good as in morally good, I mean good as in well-rounded, fleshed out, interesting, or fun. They can be morally reprehensible, but they must be interesting.

Back to my coven of female vampires. After settling on what they were like – did they burn in the sun? Did garlic affect them? And so on – I began to think about my main character. She would be kind, intelligent, rather awkward, I thought.

And from there, I began to craft a character profile, researching for the perfect name, making a family tree, giving her the perfect background. Making sure to include small details that may seem irrelevant but helped a clearer picture of her, of Ada, to emerge, until she became more like a real person, like a friend, rather than a fiction.

I can picture her clearly in my mind right now: pale brown skin, dark and wavy hair and grey eyes, a small, kind smile. She speaks with a hint of a French accent, and stands tall in a gown of deep blue. I can hold a conversation with her about her favourite books, know what she would think about, say, Liz Truss. She’s a person, wholly-formed, and so can carry the plot of a story, and make people feel connected to it.

Rebecca Eaton is a final-year BA Creative Writing student at NTU.

A Proper Job


When I was a younger man, much younger (we had electricity, and trains had dispensed with the bloke at the front waving a flag, but we weren’t far beyond that), I decided I wanted to be a writer. But not just any writer: one who worked at a university and taught the brightest and the best; who wrote his plays and screenplays at the same time as he argued with passionate undergraduates and obsessive MA students – never mind the staff with whom he enjoyed fizzing chats about the arcane rules of Restoration Drama or the little-known significance of Brecht’s use of the semicolon, or Tarantino’s tendency to set films in worlds about which he had no actual experience whatsoever. That was the dream. And finally, after forty-five years or so, I’ve got there! I’m an actual lecturer in an actual university and actual people will sit and lock intellectual horns with me. And I am thrilled! I really am.

William (Billy) Ivory with writing companion

I should explain first that education means the world to me. My mum and dad were born in the early 1920’s, to working class families for whom schooling was obligatory but largely inconsequential in affecting one’s circumstances. In the case of my mum, when she was 14 she was given a set of dentures as a present – to clarify, all of her own teeth were pulled out and a false set substituted instead – which meant, for her future, no dental bills (this was before the NHS) and no financial millstone around the neck, or jaw in her case. Because of this sort of experience of the inequities of English society and the inescapable class system which underpinned it, my mum especially, but also my dad, were understandably zealous in their determination that my two sisters and I should ‘do well’ as youngsters, and get as far away from the sort of existence they had known as possible. And by then, the Education Act of 1944 had established a system by which this could happen: education could change lives. And, they drummed it into us that it would.

Subsequently, my sisters did do well: both passed their exams, got good degrees, and went on to became successful teachers. On the other hand, I failed my eleven plus, went through the mill in my teens, met a teacher I adored at 16, and got good enough A level results to go to university – which I packed in after a year to become a council dustman. To say my mum was disappointed is an understatement. My aunty Stella told me – after mum had died, which was before I’d had any kind of success – that mum had said, deep down, she knew I’d be alright, and she wasn’t worried. But I’ve always felt guilty that I subjected her to what I know would have been a stack of anxiety after I jettisoned everything she had felt sure would guarantee a happy life.

So, now, as I take up a post at NTU, as a Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, I hope she’s smiling because she would see it, finally, as the most wonderful vindication of her hopes for her children. And she’d be right. I feel extraordinary pride at becoming part of the team at NTU – not only because I DO feel I’m laying a few ghosts but because I think NTU is such a terrific university – and the Creative Writing Courses run here are some of the very best in the country. I know that from experience, having given guest lectures on those programmes many times over the past decade. To have the chance, therefore, to join the academic staff – even now, at the age of 121 – feels such a coup!

Billy with much-missed previous writing companion

I really do think the teaching offered here at NTU is special. I suspect that’s partly because the value of creative writing was understood so many years ago by the University – only the third in the UK to establish such courses, after all – which means, for longer than almost anywhere, there’s been a confidence about creative writing as a discipline, and a robustness, too. And not only in terms of what creative writing offers those who intend to pursue the discipline as a career but for those others for whom the course satisfies a passion or provides a route to a different kind of employment. They will discover, too, in the un-fussy, inclusive, supportive, yet challenging way in which students are encouraged to dig into their inner lives and expand themselves in order to uncover what they want to set down on the page, a whole host of (I can barely write it) transferable skills will emerge to do their bidding. They’ll get more confident at being them, and standing by it, which is the only way ANY of us manage to stagger through life, halfway thinking we’re winning.

As Billy is often overheard saying, ‘the closest tram stop to Clifton Campus is Rivergreen, about five minutes’ walk away’

Anyway, I’m here. That’s the point. I’m around. I have a pencil and an eraser and all the gear you need. So, any student who wants to talk and wonder, and delve into plays and films, search me out at NTU. I’m a teacher. It’s what I do.

(P.S. I’ve recently written another film, called The Great Escaper, starring Michael Caine and Glenda Jackson, which – God willing – will be released next year. I was given the option of writing about that instead for this blog post, but here we are.)

William Ivory, a BAFTA-nominated screenwriter and playwright, joined NTU this summer as Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing, with a focus on screenwriting, after several years as Visiting Professor on our MA Creative Writing.

Collaboration and Closing Chapters


I write this blog in the void between being a final year student and a graduate. It is a no man’s land of what next? Where next? I feel as though I should have more answers than I do. Some sort of plan developed over my four years of higher education, though, it remains: find a way to write and not starve to death – only with the minor alteration that I never want to make a cup of coffee for the general public ever again. However, reflecting on my time at NTU isn’t doom and gloom! There have been aspects of my final year, for example, that have changed my writing, and me, for the better. 

This year I particularly loved a module called ‘Performance and Collaboration’: a writing workshop-style project where students create a piece of creative work collaboratively and perform it together. I chose this unit specifically for its group work hoping to balance out the solitary nature of my dissertation. The performance is unavoidable (!) but was made easier through the opportunity to make fun of some friendly faces, for example BA Creative Writing course leader Andrew Taylor.

However, it is the writing process that I am keen to talk about. ‘Performance and Collaboration’ is the first time I have created a piece from concept to completion as a collective. Through doing so we were able to pool together everyone’s ideas to create something none of us could have done alone. We decided to create a modern interpretation of a verse play that explored gender roles, masculinity, and pregnancy, providing an opportunity to elevate our group’s strengths in poetry and interest in feminist writing. Our play was particularly influenced by specific details related to members of the cohort: Polish law, for example, as one of the writers is Polish, and the news that another is a dad-to-be. This is an example of how our writing was shaped and elevated by working as a collective.

Perhaps in opposition to current inclinations to write about lockdown, our play, titled ‘Free Drinks’, involved a university reunion at a pub, in which old friends with drastically different beliefs sit down for a pint after years apart. We utilised the communal nature of a pub and (through acting, not immersion!) the inebriating effects of alcohol. The inspiration, certainly from my perspective, was to retaliate against backward political laws proscribing women’s rights – for example, the restrictive abortion laws of the Heartbeat Act of 2021 in certain American states and the 2020 Polish Constitutional Tribunal. To comment on these issues, we created characters that were slightly excessive caricatures, but based on our real experiences, and embraced the humorous possibilities of their interaction: something can be funny and tragic at once, after all. Our female characters embody distinctive reactions to how women are conditioned to respond to misogyny: ‘Lily’ submits to it, ‘Hannah’ ignores it, and ‘Ava’ aggressively fights it. ‘John’, the sole man, is a bore, but propelled into being one by his insecurity.

This collaborative process has been instrumental in developing my craft as a writer. I am no longer shy about contributing or joining group projects. As a quiet person, I was the type to listen and not always contribute. However, this process has given me confidence in showing my written work and I have since achieved my goal to perform at poetry open mic events. Before this unit, I did not have the confidence to take part in such things. I know that however uncertain the future is in my writing career, my time at NTU has elevated my ability as a writer as well as my confidence to try to achieve any goal I set for myself.

Sophie Hall recently completed her BA Creative Writing at NTU, and will graduate this month.

(Re)Framing the Archive – Book Launch & Talk


Panya introduces her forthcoming poetry pamphlet. You can attend the launch on Saturday 2 July, 14:00-15.30 at New Art Exchange, Gregory Boulevard, Nottingham.

(Re)Framing the Archive, my forthcoming poetry pamphlet with Burning Eye Books, derives from my personal engagement with museums as a heritage professional over two decades and my experience as founder and curator of Nottingham Black Archive. It is my attempt to give voice to individuals and a community that has historically been overlooked by the sector and address the underrepresentation of Black people as curators of our own history.

In making the poems for (Re) Framing the Archive, I was achingly conscious of the concerns I have about what is largely a monocultural heritage sector in Nottingham. I raise the voices of Black artists, activists, and other individuals who have worked to make Nottingham’s Black community visible to the museum and heritage sector. I also create alternative narratives for some of the prized objects in Nottingham’s museum collection, like the painting ‘After the Lion Hunt’ of William Frederick Webb (1829-99), who purchased Newstead Abbey, one time home of Lord Byron. I also re-imagine old objects in new ways through ekphrasis and show how voices demanding the decolonisation of the sector are becoming louder.

When I began mining Nottingham Black Archive to map its history and make a creative intervention into the collection in 2018, through my critical and creative PhD at NTU, I could not have foreseen how relevant my poems would be to what is currently happening in Nottingham’s museums sector. I am excited about the launch of (Re)Framing the Archive on Saturday 2nd July at the New Art Exchange at 2pm. In advance of its publication, Writing East Midlands CEO Henderson Mullin has said:

‘Panya Banjoko’s latest collection is keenly awaited by those of us who know, and understand the importance, of her work. If Some Things sought high ground from which to look down on those who continue to build their institutions   on the backs of others, then (Re)Framing the Archive, digs deep to undermine their foundations. I know of no other poet who combines activism and archive the way that she does, or manages to hold on to the hope of peace through equality – despite the evidence.’

The launch will include some of my favourite things: live music, a talk, discussion, and, of course, tea and biscuits.


Katherine McGuigan

A second year BA Creative Writing student shares a poem written for the optional ‘Advanced Poetry’ module, and provides a commentary on her inspirations and editing processes.

The Wife

Sunlight pours through the slats of the shutters.
Shadows of golden hour dance across her face.
There she sits – so still, so perfect
in the warm glow of dusk, masked by
a swelling sandstorm of dust surging skywards.

Her breath so soft.
Her spirit so peaceful.
She tries to dart her gaze away – so coy –
as I reach for her hair – as I do every morning –
stroking it gently out of her face.

But she never says a word.
Day and night she waits
with her wide brown stare.
My helpmeet; glory of God.
I’ve made a fine wife from my chosen maid.

The twitch of a smile behind the gag
as I loosen the straps around her scarlet wrist.
Sighs of delight escape her,
the iron dragging across her neck,
as I curl her soft brown hair.

Just as I like it.

This poem, part of my portfolio for the BA Creative Writing ‘Advanced Poetry’ optional module, was initially inspired by Don Paterson’s ‘The Lie’, included in his collection Rain (Faber, 2009). The dark and disturbing tone of this poem left me with a sense of festering unease that inspired me to write. I chose this title ‘The Wife’ as it is suitably ambiguous, allowing for the gradual revealing of information to the reader, which eventually culminates in the final lines of the poem, revealing the sinister nature of the narrator’s relationship with his wife. While I did consider using the title ‘The Woman’, which would dehumanise her fittingly, I wanted there to remain a sense that, while the reader understands the horror, the narrator does not, and thus ‘The Woman’ would be too impersonal for the level of affection that he feels towards her.

I wanted the details and imagery to convey the sense that the surroundings are dank and uninhabitable. Initially motivated to add depth to the imagery by Togara Muzanenhamo’s description of a ‘rush of rich carmine silt’ (line 4) in his poem ‘Alderflies’, from his collection Gumiguru (Carcanet, 2014), this process was further inspired by the chapter ‘The Five Senses’ from Fairfax and Moat’s The Way to Write (Penguin, 1998). I used Muzanenhamo’s description to inspire my portrayal of the room as thick with dust and sensorily overwhelming. While the poem initially described a ‘dust storm’, I expanded upon this description following peer feedback regarding the vague meaning of the phrase, with this line then expanding to become ‘a swelling sandstorm of dust surging skywards’, which is said to ‘mask’ the woman, elevating the level of sensory detail. Furthermore, I utilised repeating sibilant sounds to create a sense of unease within the reader from the first stanza with the continual harsh, hissing sounds throughout.

During workshopping, interpretations of the initial draft of ‘The Wife’ as having an implication of mutual consent to the relationship led me to seek ways to clarify my intentions without overburdening the poem. I began by focusing on the third and fourth stanzas, where lines such as ‘day and night […] joyfully available’ and ‘she’ll make a fine wife’ became ‘day and night […] her wide brown stare’ and ‘I’ve made a fine wife from my chosen maid’ respectively, which then negates any sense that the woman may be an active participant in the scenario, describing her in a manner that denotes her discomfort and lack of consent. While this lack of clarity in the woman’s discomfort was, in part, led by the narrator’s portrayal of her ‘coyness’, I focused on removing any doubt surrounding the experience of the wife, while still conveying the delusion of the narrator.

Wendy Cope’s extensive use of intertextuality throughout Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis (Faber, 1986) inspired me to explore this technique within my own work, weaving in references to Charlotte Mew’s ‘The Farmer’s Bride’. These references can be seen through lines such as ‘wide brown stare’ and ‘my chosen maid’, which consciously draw on Mew’s Farmer having ‘chose a maid’ (line 1) who is described as ‘lying awake with her wide brown stare’ (13). Additionally, while simultaneously referring to Fundamentalist Christian minister and cult leader Bill Gothard’s fixation with long, curled hair, the ‘long brown hair’ in the fourth stanza also refers to the final stanza from Mew’s poem, where the narrator is fantasising about ‘The soft young down […] the brown of her’ (45 – 46). I chose to allude to this poem as it is one that inspires a comparable level of discomfort and unease to Paterson’s ‘The Lie’.

Freddie Kofi, Writing Songs With WRAP

John Lewell

Freddie Kofi

On Thursday evening, NTU WRAP participants learned from an accomplished musician and songwriter, Freddie Kofi. The Nottingham-born MOBO award-winning nominee gave the students tips on industry, expressed his passion for Gospel music, and explained multiple types of song structure.      

I am a BA Creative Writing student, but WRAP is open to everyone across the university, and it was great to be in the presence of so many keen writers and readers who focus their academic lives on other subjects. Dr. Becky Cullen organised the evening, which took place in the rather splendid and ornate Old Chemistry Theatre on NTU’s City campus. This building would not look out of place on the grounds of Hogwarts. Under its high ceiling, I could quite imagine Potter eating his Christmas dinner.

Freddie arrived with the smile he would carry throughout, an expression that signifies passion for a lifelong desire: to make music, sculpt song, and share these things. If eyes are a window to the soul, then a smile is the doorway to the heart. And out from between the smile arrived the intent, greeting everyone in a humble and comforting manner that put at ease even the most novice of songwriters in the room.

Old Chemistry Theatre, in the quad between NTU’s Newton and Arkwright buildings.

Freddie explained how a songwriter genertaes an income and, more importantly, how they don’t if certain boxes are not ticked. It was a revelation to find out that if a music artist does not register with the PRS, then it is likely they won’t get paid if the radio plays their song, and by joining the PPL, you can get support in collecting any revenues you believe are owed.

The workshopping allowed the participants to create their own lyrics in one of the formats Freddie had explained: verse-chorus-verse-chorus or maybe verse-bridge-chorus, for example. The results were impressive, considering the time each group had to create. Freddie was polite and supportive of all the outcomes and alluded to the sentiment, ‘You need to make lots until the good stuff arrives.’ This I have heard before, expressed in one way or another, from Ed Sheeran, Rick Rubin, and just about every other great creative person.

Throughout the evening, we got to hear the gospel tones of Freddie, and to know a little of his taste for the eighties sounds. He showed how his faith had inspired his writing and, in doing so, inspired me, an atheist, to want to experience more Gospel and faith-driven art. There is something very optimistic about a person with true faith. It makes someone of non-faith, except in that which is proven, admire the believer. It makes a small part of the atheist want to believe, if only to experience the enlightened emotion for a moment.

After being involved in Freddie’s workshop, I’m sure most attending will have gained vital insight into the music industry, but most importantly, an insight into the positivity and obsession to craft that Freddie Kofi expresses.   

John Lewell is a second year student on the BA Creative Writing at NTU.     



NTU BA Creative Writing student Kai Northcott discusses the exciting world of ‘little magazines’ and Snare, the one he has helped to bring to fruition, which will be launched on 26 January. There’s a sign-up link at the bottom of the post. See you there!

As part of NTU’s BA Creative Writing, us second years have been tasked with setting up our own little magazines. Before starting the module, I was almost completely unaware of their history. I had never even heard the term ‘little magazine’. Sure, I knew there were poetry magazines, fiction magazines, and all that. I kind of disregarded a lot of it as stuffy and pretentious (and sometimes it is) but what I didn’t fathom were the roots. There was a whole movement, and it was underground, and most people had no idea. That was sort of the point a lot of the time. Not only this, but they were (and are) everywhere and about everything. That doesn’t seem as profound now, in the age of the internet, but this was happening a century ago.

Poster for Snare- artwork by Antonia Stassi and design by Kai Northcott

What struck me most deeply was that anyone could do this. All you need is a passion. To actually care. You just start and figure out the rest as you go. Often, I lack that bravery. I think we all do at some point.

Beyond continuing the tradition of literary magazines, this module has been an opportunity for my peers and me to push ourselves and gain experience in professional roles previously unfamiliar to us. We had to go from concept to finished product, learning as we went. All of this is very much in the spirit of little magazines – often started from a burning passion and, frankly, a naïve but spirited ignorance about how hard it will be. Admittedly, though, we have had a bit more support and more resources at our fingertips than the first pioneers!  

I was particularly stirred by the story of Sniffin’ Glue, a fanzine celebrating the punk scene that was scrawled out in felt-tip pen. Mark Perry, its creator, didn’t care what people thought. It didn’t matter if it looked like a kid had made it. What mattered was the content. It was DIY, it was punk, and as soon as it wasn’t anymore, they ended it. Something about its authenticity resonated with me. Particularly because the modern world can often feel insincere.

Snare’s front cover – artwork and design by Antonia Stassi

Our magazine, Snare, is very much a response to the fake photoshopped world that we are faced with every day. I think we are aching for more of this small stuff. I know I am. There is a rebelliousness to it. Everyone knows things aren’t right. The world is a bit shit. We want to say something but are too scared. It feels like we are alone, and no one will understand.

Little magazines are about finding that small group of people who do. If no one will give us a place to have a voice, we will make our own. That is the chant of the little magazine. Whether it is people rallying around a rebel music scene, sharing stories, promoting poetry, we need more genuine art. Art that isn’t made solely for profit. Art that is built on community. Art that is small.

Even if little magazines only reach a tiny number of people, they provide something we are sorely missing. Connection. I am so happy to have found people who are passionate about this project – because it feels like we have created something worthwhile. It might just be small, it might even just be for us, but it feels, at the very least, authentic.

A lot of work has gone into these magazines we have produced for the module – not just my group’s Snare, but Kairos and Stem being run by Elmo Moorby and Rebecca Eaton, and I think that deserves to be recognised. These people have dared to make something. To acknowledge all that hard work, we are having a launch event on the 26th January. There will be readings from those who have contributed, alongside insights into our processes. The event is a chance to celebrate upcoming writers. It is a chance to support the literary scene. Most of all, it is chance to be part of a community.

We hope to see you there. For more details and to book tickets (for free) follow this link: