class="post-16304 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-blogs tag-authors tag-black-book-swap tag-black-history-month tag-canada-water tag-crime-fiction tag-desert-island-books tag-diana-evans tag-fiction tag-jacaranda tag-leye-adenle tag-london-writers-awards tag-new-writing tag-novel-jj-bola tag-peepal-tree-press tag-poetry tag-publishers tag-swap tag-the-black-farmer tag-wilfred-emmanuel-jones tag-writers"TRICIA WOMBELL ON

‘Black Book Swap is a half day literary event that showcases and celebrates the writing of black authors.

The idea sprung from four black women who adored books and attended literary events to support and hear from authors they admired. However, we found that while there were many books and authors of interest, authors we had read rarely appeared on the programme. We couldn’t understand why London, a world-leading city with enormous cultural power, held literary events that excluded such talented, wonderful black writers.

We created Black Book Swap in 2012 as an opportunity for those authors and writers. While none of the founding team worked in publishing, we had the skills (we were a couple of marketers and a couple of policy planners) and the passion; we could organise and fund our own literary gathering. In addition to interviews, we also recycle books we no longer want so that others have the chance to read them. We’re fortunate to have been gifted book collections, so our book swap table is regularly refreshed. That’s how the name Black Book Swap was born.

Over the years the BBS planning team has changed, but our fundamental reason for Black Book Swap remains. So far, we have had almost 50 authors take part, and the list of guests we’ve had over the years is impressive, even if we do say so ourselves. So far, we’ve welcomed: Alex Wheatle; Colin Grant; Bim Adewunmi; Jenny Garrett; Courttia Newland; Hannah Azieb Pool, Patricia Cumper; Chibundu Onuzo; Yvvette Edwards; Dreda Say Mitchell; Gabriel Gbadamosi; Nii Ayikwei Parkes; Dean Atta; Marilyn Heward Mills; Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi; Irenosen Okojie; Paula Lennon; Ola Awonubi; Lloyd Bradley; Malika Booker;; Bernardine Evaristo; Catherine Johnson; Lemn Sissay; Rasheeda Malcolm; Zuri Amarcya; Sareeta Domingo Noo Sara Wiwa Dorothy Koomson; Desiree Reynolds; Lola Jaye; Vanessa Bolosier; Michelle Asantewa; Chimaechi Allan; Rasheda Malcolm; Nadifa Mohamed; Amanda Epe; Frances Mensah Williams; DD Armstrong; Ellen Bandu Aaku; Andrea Stuart; Eva G Headley; Shirley Antsis; Jacqueline Shaw.

These authors have heritages drawn from all parts of the world – not that that is always relevant to the stories they tell. It is, after all, creativity that is important here. We have been supported by publishers – especially those that specialise in sharing stories from underrepresented voices in the industry.

A massive thank you to Jacaranda and Peepal Tree Press – we remain ever grateful. Additionally, we’d like to thank the public who have supported us from day one, bought tickets and books to swap and who took a chance on us. I hope, I believe both our audience and writers had a wonderful time swapping ideas, inspirations and books.

The next Black Book Swap  (our eleventh) will take place at Canada Water Library on Saturday 3 November.

We’ll talk to Diana Evans about her latest novel, Ordinary People, which explores black love and relationships within a south-London setting. Crime fiction writer Leye Adenle will tell us about his sequel to the acclaimed Easy Motion Tourist entitled When the Trouble Sleeps, which sees the return of the Lagos based social worker and crime fighter Amaka. Better known as The Black Farmer, the entrepreneur and businessman, Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones will share his theories on risk, and speak to his personal development/business guidebook Jeopardy: The Danger of Playing it Safe on the Path to Success. And lastly, writer-poet JJ Bola whose Refuge: The Complete Poetry of JJ Bola was published earlier this month, and we look forward to hearing what he selects for his Desert Island Books, those books he would take with him if marooned on a desert island.

We’d love to see you there: book a place here.’

Find out more about the Black Book Swap here:, @BlackBookSwap

class="post-16269 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-interview tag-addiction tag-anthology tag-books tag-creative-writing-group tag-crowdfunding tag-mary-oliver tag-new-voices tag-on-editing tag-poetry tag-publishing tag-recovery tag-stories tag-writing"Lily Dunn on addiction, recovery, and the power of creative writing

‘A Wild and Precious Life: A Recovery Anthology’, edited by Lily Dunn and Zoe Gilbert and featuring a collection of stories and poetry in recovery, began in a small classroom on Mare Street, in Hackney. Through creative writing, a group of people recovering from addiction shared their stories, leading to a national callout for submissions.

The book celebrates the connection between writing and recovery, and, more than this, gives a platform to new, and emerging voices, alongside more established writers, ensuring that their stories can be heard. ‘A Wild and Precious Life’ is currently being crowdfunded on Unbound. We spoke to Lily to find out more…

Lily, it’s really incredible to hear about how the project began and how it’s become what it is now – so very close to going out into the world. At which point did you realise that these stories should be collated together into an anthology?

That’s a good question! It’s so strange looking back, as the project had its own momentum. I suppose the defining moment, was sitting in the classroom in Mare Street listening to one of our students read something she’d written in class. I had my head down, listening, but my heart was dancing at the power of her words. When she’d finished both my supervisor and I were poleaxed at the quality of her work. This writing group came to really matter to these students, and I realised how much power writing could have in helping to fill the gap that their abstinence had left. It was this that spurred me to apply for ACE funding, and once we had that we could make the project our main focus.

I love the title of the book – Mary Oliver is one of my favourite poets and I think as well as reminding everyone about this beautiful poem, it’s also perhaps an allusion to how writing inspires writing – the book after all, began in a writing group?

Absolutely. Both Zoe and I approached our teaching of the initial group as we would a group of university students – sharing literary texts was very much part of it. This quote also has personal resonance. I went through my own recovery from a divorce during my time teaching and mentoring these writers, and was facing that question in my own life. What do we do with this one wild and precious life? As we only have one. We must be true to ourselves in all our wonderful wildness, while making wise choices.

I can imagine the call out for submissions had a phenomenal reaction. I’ve noticed that more and more writers feel able to write openly and honestly about their own physical and mental health experiences. Would you agree with this and why do you think this is?

I’m interested in the correlation between mental illness and creativity, and also creativity and a propensity towards addiction. We are told to write what we know, and it is often those who have struggled with life who have the content, but not necessarily the means to get their stories down or to be published. Writers have always written about their struggles, just as artists have always used art as a means of self-expression. Now, in this age, we have to listen. This is the era of mental vulnerability, and it makes perfect sense for writers to find a way of sharing their experience with others who might be feeling the same way.

Continuing with the callout – I can imagine it was quite difficult to pick between the different stories submitted. How did you choose which books to feature into the anthology and as an editor, how did you choose which stories to feature in the anthology?

My co-editor on A Wild and Precious Life is the brilliant author Zoe Gilbert. She came in once we had Arts Council funding, to help teach our group at Hackney Recovery Service, but also to help read the submissions. We had so much interest and so much good stuff sent our way, but we felt with such important and potentially dark subject matter, we wanted to choose those stories or poems that approached it from an oblique angle, with distance and reflection. So, we looked out for those pieces of prose and poetry that used technique to tell a story, or entered into it with lightness and humour. We also went for a number of flash fiction pieces, as the life of someone in recovery can be quite fragmentary, and these captured the mood brilliantly.

The word ‘recovery’ is as you spoke about in an article before, a very difficult thing to define. The excerpt by Rob True, available to read online, is both visceral and moving. As editor, what impact did reading the stories have on you?

As an editor and writer, you learn to grow a thick skin. You also learn to see beauty through darkness. There are some stories which are harder hitting than others, and Rob True is a good example of this. But what I love about his work is that it is true to him. It is his voice. He came to writing and reading late after a lifetime of struggle with dyslexia and mental health, and the result is an authentic voice. There is no parody, no pretence, it is purely him on the page, which I think is wonderful.

At nearly 40% of its funding goal, the anthology is slowly but surely making its way into the world. What impact would you like the book to have, and how can we as readers, ensure that this happens?

Initially we need your pledges! Every little pledge helps the book get closer to being a reality. It’s also wonderful to feel we are building a community of readers as well as writers. I think the book, once published, will be a resource to those interested in teaching marginalised groups, as well as something that anyone can dip into. I hope it will be a book that is full of hope. Our writers come from a real place, and speak of real experience. The creation of this book is part of celebrating their struggle and their breakthrough. If we can help them in small ways to get their stories out there and to consider themselves the writers that they are, then we have achieved our goal.

Want to help writers in recovery get their words into print? Support ‘A Wild and Precious Life: A Recovery Anthology’ here

class="post-16158 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-news tag-anthologies tag-city-of-stories tag-competition tag-creative-writing tag-flash-fiction tag-free-events tag-gary-budden tag-leone-ross tag-libraries tag-london tag-meena-kandasamy tag-november tag-olumide-popoola tag-open-mic tag-short-stories tag-winners tag-workshops"Announcing the winners of the City of Stories 2018 competition

City of Stories returned in 2018 for its second year to engage writers and readers across the capital. In June 2018 we launched 42 free writing workshops across 21 London libraries, delivered by a brilliant team of writer-facilitators, including our four writers-in-residence: Meena Kandasamy, Olumide Popoola, Leone Ross and Gary Budden.

Over 800 people participated in these workshops. They were invited to enter their work into the City of Stories competition. We received 313 entries and our judges, the writers-in-residence, whittled this down to just one winner and two highly commended writers from each borough.

We’re delighted to announce that the winners and the titles of their stories are:

Barking and Dagenham: Claire Buckle, ‘Train for the Man’ Claire started writing several years ago after taking online creative writing courses with the OU and UEA. Her stories have been published in women’s magazines, small press journals and anthologies. She attends workshops whenever possible and finds the feedback and encouragement from her local writing groups invaluable.

Bexley: Mary Jupp, ‘It’s Not All About Me’ Mary has been writing for five years and this is her third published story. She is currently working on two novellas, one as part of her degree course with the Open College of the Arts, the other an independent project. She says she writes what she doesn’t know as it’s more interesting! 

Brent: Alka Handa, ‘Himalyan Dream’ Alka has been attending creative writing courses at City Lit college for one year. She has little previous writing experience and this has become a newfound passion. In her working life, she is a GP receptionist and works as a voluntary counsellor for Childline.

Camden: Elizabeth Kiem ‘Discovery’  Elizabeth is the author of the trilogy, The Bolshoi Saga, published by Soho Press.  ‘Discovery’ is the first of her short stories in print. She lives in London and teaches 100 miles from home.

City of London: Kirsten Downer ‘Statues and Zombies’ Kirsten is a communications professional, freelance journalist and activist for social and environmental justice. She loves sharing untold stories of all kinds. Her dream is to spend more time on creative writing, collaborating with artists and getting covered in mud. 

Croydon: Deborah Torr ‘The Dust on the Windowsill’ Deborah studied English Literature at the University of East Anglia, before taking on an internship for a funeral comparison website and writing for the funeral industry for two years. Now, she lives in Croydon and works for an international development charity, and writes short stories in her spare time.

Ealing: Alison Jermak ‘New Baby‘  Alison has been writing with the National Writing Project UK for the last three years and this is her first time being published. She teaches, leads a teachers writing group and a group for young people. She lives in Northolt.

Greenwich: Stella Klein ‘Baristas’ Stella has studied Creative Writing at Birkbeck and some of her short stories, essays and poems are in print and online. She loves long fast train journeys and when she is not writing or staring out of the window, she is a dyslexia tutor at Central Saint Martins School of Art.

Hackney: Noah Birksted-Breen ‘The River Lea’ Noah is a theatre director and play translator, founder of Sputnik Theatre CompanyHis translations have been staged at Battersea Arts Centre, Soho Theatre, Theatre Royal Plymouth and Southwark Playhouse, as well as broadcast on BBC Radio 3. He works part-time as a researcher at Oxford University.

Hammersmith and Fulham: Patrick Barron ‘City of Music’ Patrick is a writer of different ‘fictions’ mainly drama and poetry and sometimes prose. He lives in West London and  enjoys underwater wrestling in his spare time.

Islington: Rob Gardner ‘Just Another Immigrant’ Rob has been writing short stories for the last 5 years. With a background in computer science and digital marketing, he works in agency land. Originally from Dublin, he lives in Tooting. 

Kensington and Chelsea: Lucy Hannah Ryan ‘In the Absence of Moonlight’ Lucy is a poet and aspiring novelist from London. She has been writing since childhood and has had the pleasure of being featured in various publications including Half Mystic and Rookie Mag. She has self published several short chapbooks and is currently working on her full length debut.

Kingston: Valerie Nunn ‘Fever’ Valerie lives in the Royal Borough of Kingston. She works as a translator and copy editor mainly for academics and the occasional literary writer. Her own attempts at creative writing have been largely confined to unpublished short stories (often unfinished) and comic verse (sometimes performed).

Lewisham: Patricia Paula Simon ‘Watching’ Patricia has attended writing classes and workshops, during her spare time, from the age of 25. Writing initially took a back seat to visual arts and becoming a teacher but has since become a dominant force.

Merton: Rachel Sambrooks ‘Nonsuch Place as This’ Rachel is a published writer, poet and performer with a passion for storytelling in all forms. She has broadcast credits on BBC Radio and her poetry show and collection Stand By Your Nan toured libraries across London in 2017/18 with Arts Council England funding.  She lives in Sutton. 

Newham: Sarah Amoss ‘The Tooth Fairy’  Sarah has recently completed a short, introductory course in creative writing. She wrote this story in response to the exercise, ‘something lost, found and remembered’. She is brand new to creative writing but for years has enjoyed writing academic papers as a perpetual student of one thing or another.

Redbridge: Eithne Cullen ‘Whitechapel Train’ Eithne lives with her husband in East London. She has published a novel: The Ogress of Reading and her second, Never not in my thoughts, will be out soon. A member of Forest Poets and Write Next Door, she has had poems published in magazines and anthologies.  

Tower Hamlets: Tulasi Das ‘Meeting Again’ At 4 years of age Tulasi dictated the tragic story of a dying pigeon to her mother, and she has been writing ever since. She moved to London from the Netherlands three years ago and is currently working as a documentary filmmaker.

Waltham Forest: Louis Joel Gilman ‘Alchemy’ Louis lives in Waltham Forest and performs as a singer, songwriter and guitarist. He also travels around London as a supply teacher. He has always written dark and fantastical songs and stories.

Wandsworth: Farhana Khalique ‘Feathers’ Farhana is a teacher, voiceover artist and writer from South West London. She was shortlisted for The Asian Writer Short Story Prize 2018, won a Word Factory Apprentice Award 2018 and has appeared in a number of publications, including sister-hood magazine and the debut issue of The Good Journal.

Westminster: Fawzia Muradali Kane ‘Anguilla City’ Fawzia was born in Trinidad, and now lives in Lambeth. She is a published poet, and has recently begun writing short stories. Her latest poetry pamphlet Houses of the Dead was published by Thamesis in 2014.  She suspects London the city is a sentient being.

The Highly Commended writers are: Patsy Middleton, H.B.O’Neill, Samuel Imarhiagbe, Roberta Woods, Kim Vassell, Judi Sissons, Tina Mander, Wenzday Jones, Kim French, Anthonette Isioma, Alan Ward, David Bottomley, Nick Thomas, Jude McGowan, Vera Sugar, Anita Goveas, Leslene Kwame, Kim Horrocks, Pollyanna Camille, Larkfield Holden, Simon Fairnington, Esther Cann, Eloise Stevens, Christine D’Mello, Jay Fejér, Nadia Attia, Nadine Grandison Mills, Christine Waller, Anne Rhrason, Rosaleen Lynch, Suzanne Soh, Nina Simon, S. Niroshini, Becki Gauri, Liam J Hogan, Nyasha Joelle Clarke, PG Lewis, Elizabeth Lovatt, Patricia L Graham, Julie Shankly and Juan-Jesus Sanchez.

Congratulations writers! If you’d like to hear their winning stories and pick up the new City of Stories anthology, featuring all the winning stories as well as new work from the writers-in-residence, inspired by their residencies, then sign up to an open mic event at your local library this November.

class="post-16230 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-network-knowledge tag-lunar-poetry-podcasts tag-poetry tag-poetry-book tag-review"Why Poetry? –
The Lunar Poetry Podcasts Anthology

Why Poetry?  is the question that the new anthology from Lunar Poetry Podcasts team asks.  

Why Poetry? presents the work of 28 poets, all former guests of the podcast series, including Helen Mort, Melissa Lee-Houghton, Rishi Dastidar, Mary Jean Chan, Giles Turnbull, Jane Yeh and Joe Dunthorne. Although the poets are Lunar alumni, many of the poems are new, so old fans and recent converts will find much to love.

Since David and Lizzy Turner began Lunar Poetry Podcasts in October 2014, the series has archived well over 200 poets spanning more than 120 episodes and 8 countries. In 2017 LPP was shortlisted for a Saboteur Award and British Podcast Award – Represent Category, recognising the great work that is done in widening the voices that are heard in mainstream media. All of their podcasts are transcribed, to ensure accessibility.

Just like their podcasts, which explore the lives of poets as much as they traverse poetry, this book is as much a conversation as it is presentation. It features introductions by many of the poets featured, and interviews with David Turner by poet Abi Palmer – turning the tables on Lunar Poetry Podcast founder. The podcasts were set up to be a zine of long form interviews, and like a magazine, there’s a variety of extracts and edited highlights to intersperse the poems. Creative practice has always been a key part of the podcast, and the experience of being in the world and its effect in the work written or performed is a vein that runs throughout Why Poetry?

This is a book of more than just poetry. It’s a book about creativity, connection, and communication. It shows just how life affirming poetry can be. That, surely, is the reason why.

‘Why Poetry?’ is published by Verve Poetry Press. Buy your copy here

class="post-16226 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-news-opportunities category-opportunities tag-carmina-masoliver tag-critique tag-london-events tag-room-9 tag-writing-group"Don’t Get Bitter, Get Better

We’re hosting Don’t Get Bitter, Get Better – a series of informal writing feedback workshops led by poet Carmina Masoliver.

During the workshops participants are encouraged to share their non-successes, in order to shed light on the fact that everyone faces rejection and disappointment and we don’t need to suffer alone or compare ourselves with others. Remembering that ‘success’ with anything is a combination of hard work and luck, and the only way to build yourself as a writer is to improve your craft and have a supportive network to help you get better. You can’t count on a ‘lucky break’, but you can put in the time and effort to develop.

It’s an opportunity for writers to build each other up again from any knock-backs, act as a platform for sharing and critiquing each other’s work, and provides an opportunity to meet in person through a monthly writing group with a focus on editing existing work.

Spaces are limited to seven and you can book here.

If you’re a writer interested in booking our Room 9 space, either for your own work or to host a group, get in touch at

class="post-16216 post type-post status-publish format-standard has-post-thumbnail hentry category-interview tag-arts tag-disability tag-disabled tag-unlimited tag-unlimited-arts"Unlimited interview

Spread the Word are all about championing writing from underrepresented audiences and helping more voices get heard. Unlimited is a commissions programme, funding disabled artists across all art forms. They are delivered by Shape Arts and Artsadmin and funded by Arts Council England, Arts Council of Wales and Spirit of 2012 Trust. As their application window opens, we catch up with Senior Producer Jo Verrant to find out more.

So, what is Unlimited?

Basically, we fund exceptional work by exceptional artists which we support and develop and seek to embed within the cultural sector both within the UK and internationally through our links with the British Council.

Why do disabled artists need support from Unlimited?

Not all disabled artists want support that is specifically aimed at them because they could identify as disabled – and thats absolutely fine. But the playing field isn’t level yet within the cultural sector, so we exist to support those disabled artists who do experience barriers within the current system. This might be barriers around how best to apply (our application process is really simple and supportive although its also highly competitive), or barriers around making partnerships or getting known within the industry as a whole. We don’t tell artists how to label themselves or their work, or what to make work about.

We hear a lot about diversity in the arts – what is the landscape like?

On the surface it seems to be getting better – certainly many organisations are now talking about diversity more than they ever have before, but if you scratch a little deeper, it doesn’t seem as though much is changing. I’m not sure there can be a real commitment to diversity without systemic change and I’m not seeing that happen yet. But I am seeing the type of artists people engage with slowly shifting, and a wider range of voices and perspectives being shared, so change is coming!

How does having disabled led artwork benefit the artists and audiences?

For me it links to that wider range of voices and perspectives. Personally I find the work of disabled artists often fresh and innovative. I think their work can inform all art forms – including literature – and help discover new forms and approaches. Even within existing forms I think it can widen our sense of what might be considered ‘normal’, and show better the world as it really is – and that’s got to be good for audiences too!

What are you looking for in your new callout?

We’ve three types of award this time – two for established artists who have some kind of track record behind them and one for emerging artists. Established artists can apply to research and develop something – that might be planning the early stages of a work, testing the market and making contacts and links, including to publishers for example. Or they can apply for a full award to actually create and share the work (and this can include an R&D stage too if they wish). Both of these are open to artists living in England and Wales. Our emerging artist awards are for artists who haven’t broken through yet. They can apply to create a piece of work or to run a participatory project of some form.

Deadline is 29th October and don’t forget that you can ask for access support if you meet any access barriers in applying as we might be able to help!