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TRCH - Caitlin Moran

LEAP08 Anthology

18 October 08 words: James Walker
Alyson Stoneman took time out to discuss Leap08 the Nottingham Trent MA Creative Writing anthology
LEAP08 the Nottingham Trent University MA Creative Writing Anthology

LEAP08 is the most recent anthology from the Nottingham Trent creative writing students and looks to be one of the best so far. This is largely thanks to the diversity of contributors who range from the up and coming to the established and acclaimed. If you fall into the former category, fear not, your time will come. Our very own Nicola Monaghan cut her teeth in such a collection, offering up a short insight into the adventures of a council estate tough which would later materialise into The Killing Jar. This is probably one of the most enjoyable aspects of reading such an anthology as you get to see works in progress as well as knowing one or two of these may, and probably will, go on to blossom into debut novels. With this in mind I decided to shun the established literati of World Fantasy Award winner Graham Joyce, children’s authors David Belbin and David Almond, screenwriters Michael Eaton and Georgina Lock and poets Mahendra Solanki, Martin Stannard and John Lucas, and instead turned my attention to Alyson Stoneman, who, apart from wearing the most delightful sandals I’ve ever seen at a book reading, could be one of those writers destined to follow in the footsteps of Monaghan et al.

Why is is called LEAP08?
Because (laughs) it’s a leap year

Come on, you’re credited as helping with marketing the book. There’s got to be more to the title than that, hasn’t there?
Well, we set February 29th as the date for submitting work so it seemed a fitting title. But it’s also about taking a creative leap with a project like this, to produce a collection representing such a wide variety of writing. None of us had worked on anything quite like this before, so it was also a leap into the unknown!

Do you have any favourite extracts in the anthology and why? (No teachers allowed!)

(More laughter) That’s putting me on the spot! I think it’s hard to choose a favourite piece because the general standard is so high and also the work is so varied. One thing I learnt on this course is that everyone is very individual in the kind of writing that they like, but at the same time you learn to recognise what is successful - what works and what doesn’t - irrespective of the style or subject matter.

You’ve contributed a story and a poem. Are you a fiction female or a poetry princess?

It’s always been fiction for me, although I started writing poetry a long time ago, and I read a lot of poetry as well. I’m conscious of making every word count when I write poetry, also a useful skill for writing longer prose.

What makes a good poem?
We’ve spent a years worth of poetry workshops trying to get to the bottom of this! There were four of us in the group coming from totally different perspectives, so there were a lot of heated discussions! For me, poetry has to be located in some way. I want to understand what’s going on, but I also like to have something to think about. I ‘m not fixated on any particular style. Peter Rumney’s poem Journey is meditative and visual, it makes me think of a Turner painting; but his other poem, Curtis, is down to earth, sharp and wittily observed – I think they’re both great. I also like Work for Cheese by Michael Frearson, a piece of performance poetry, which is brilliant on the page as well.

What makes a good story?
It has to engage you right from the start. You need to care about the characters and you have to believe in the world of the story. I think a good book takes you on a journey – you want to know what happens next. Some people are looking for an intellectual read and others want romance or loads of action, but there has to be a satisfactory conclusion, although not necessarily a conventional one.

Why a poem on Sushi?

Well it’s not really about Sushi, it’s about that dilemma when you first meet someone and you want to impress them without looking like you’ve tried too hard - in this case, by making Sushi for dinner. It’s written as a string of Haiku’s, so it kind of fitted together.

And your story about sculpting and pregnancy …
It started as a piece of work I had to submit for an assignment, and I couldn’t think of anything to write – I was starting to panic - so I called it The Block! And the block became a block of stone in a sculptor’s studio. My partner is a sculptor so I was drawing on an environment that I was familiar with. I started thinking of The Block as a metaphor for these blocks we have in our relationships and emotional lives, especially sometimes with members of our family. I tend to write strong female leads in the first person; the catalyst for the girl to visit her father and try to resolve their situation is her pregnancy, although this is only revealed at the end. As they chip away at this block of stone using a hammer and chisel, they also chip away at the block in their relationship. I think there is this tenderness there, this idea that there is a kind of telepathy or bond that remains between a parent and a child. I think a lot of people connect with these kinds of stories as they have been through similar experiences.

What are the benefits to doing the MA, other than publication?

Being around other people who write, without a doubt. Writing is a solitary activity for the most part, but we had fortnightly workshops where we’d submit a piece of writing a few days before and then the group would discuss it in class. You have to learn to take the criticism in a positive way rather than personally! But you learn such a lot. Most people are well read and also understand the craft of writing, so they are the best peer group to advise how to improve your work that you will ever have. The tutor is there to direct the discussion. All our tutors are published writers so they are able to draw on their experience of the industry. We also had taught sessions every week on subjects such as Writing for Radio and Finding an Agent. It’s a good place to make contacts – for instance, I got involved with helping at Lowdham Book Festival this year, and I’ve met Nicola Monaghan who is a huge inspiration to me.  It’s a great opportunity to take time out to focus on your writing.

How have you found the book readings so far?
Gut churningly scary! The Anthology launch in The View From The Top Gallery in Waterstone’s bookshop was packed out and the audience at the Angel Row Library were also great and asked a lot of interesting questions afterwards. The Launch at Waterstone’s was the first time I’d ever read in public but a few people had experience of reading or acting and they were really good. One reader had to deal with the Council House clock striking eight and an alarm went off during Peter’s poem. He quipped, "Is that the poetry alarm?" which raised a laugh. I suppose you have to learn to deal with unforeseen disturbances.

Writers tend to be either behind the scenes revelling in the anonymity or up there on stage. Which category do you fall into?
Back stage every time. But if I have to get up there I do my best to be entertaining. I feel like people have made the effort to come and support me and I want them to feel like it was worth it!

What are the benefits to taking the plunge?

It’s good practice to overcome that fear of reading your work out. If you do hit the jackpot and get your book published, you’ll be expected to do readings all the time. Also, I think readings are great because they’re interactive and the feedback is always interesting.

You can invite four authors or characters over to dinner, who would you invite and why?

I’m writing a story at the moment where the characters have to hitch to a wedding, so I’d invite Sissy Hankshaw, a master hitch-hiker with giant thumbs from Even Cowgirl’s Get The Blues by Tim Robbins. Then Tony Hawkes, ‘cos he hitched round Ireland with a fridge. I could ask them for the tricks of the trade. I’d invite Matthieu Ricard (author of Happiness) just to see if he’s really that damn happy! I’d also invite Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall – well, I’m not cooking!!!

LEAP08 seems to be quite a communal project, could you tell us more?

It was a collaboration by everyone on the course. The only external input was the printing and binding by Russell Press at the end. Sam Strong was the editor and he kept everything on track. Some of us have worked in fields like marketing, IT and proofreading so we were able to use those skills to help produce the anthology. We had an editing team, marketing team and a proofreading team, plus a designer on board. We met on a regular basis to discuss how to progress the project and there was also an extensive editing process. It was very democratic though. Everyone said that we’d have loads of arguments, but we never had any. The project did start to take over our entire lives for a while – especially the design and editing teams - but it was a lot of fun as well.

I love the cover shot, it seems more professional than previous editions. Is this chance or is there something we should know?
Yeah we were lucky and had a graphic designer studying on the course and so he did the design and layout through the company he works for - Workshop Design. He also sourced the image on the cover, which was taken by Neville Smith, a professional photographer based in Nottingham. We looked at loads of different images but that was the one we liked the best.

Where can we buy it and how much does it cost?
Leap is on sale at Waterstone’s and Blackwell’s book shops at the bargain price of £5 and will also be available for loan in various libraries around Nottingham, including Central Library on Angel Row.

And the sandals?
That would be telling!

For more information on the MA Creative Writing at Nottingham Trent or any book queries, please contact [email protected]

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