I’m very excited to announce the first annual Surrey New Writers Festival! The Festival will take place March 15th and 16th. Events are open to the public and will be held on campus and in the town of Guildford; see our website for a full schedule and details on the exciting speakers and artists who will be involved! http://www.surrey.ac.uk/englishandlanguages/literature_events/surrey_new_writers_festival/

The Surrey New Writers Festival is affiliated with the Creative Writing programmes at the University of Surrey. We aim to create a festival that will engage with writing and creativity in dynamic ways, and to create opportunities for artists and audiences to interact and discuss the rewards and challenges of a writing life. Our programming is of interest not only to current and potential Surrey students, but also to the wider community of Guildford and surrounding areas. The Festival will be of interest to writers, readers, artists, and anyone who is interested in creative industries.

Some of the 2013 programme highlights include: artists who work with digital text and poetic performance; songwriters-in-residence; a Festival Book club; panel discussions and talks featuring publishers, writers, translators, editors and agents; a Twitter flash mob; two exciting launch parties. A number of events are ticketed; tickets can be purchased through the University of Surrey box office, or at the door.

As Festival Director, I’ll be posting here in more detail about individual events as we get closer to the Festival. Right now, I’d like to make special mention of two literary contests run by the Festival for University of Surrey English and Creative Writing programme students: The Lewis Elton Gallery Ekphastic Poetry Prize and The Haywood Prose Prize. The deadline for both contests is March 29th, 2013. For more information, see: http://www.surrey.ac.uk/englishandlanguages/literature_events/surrey_new_writers_festival/festival_contest/

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After studying medieval literature and history for almost 30 years, I have got used to the question, ‘what is the point of studying the Middle Ages?’ It is a question that has been asked by students, fellow academics, concerned family members, and even by politicians. Finally, in 2013, I have found some answers in the Church of England’s vote against women bishops, the House of Commons’ vote for gay marriage, and the identification of the grave of a missing medieval monarch.

The recent unearthing of Richard III’s remains, buried under a car park in Leicester, has brought medieval history to the attention of the world media and the wider public. While modern technology and science played a major role in this recovery, and DNA testing was crucial to the identification of the body, the project nevertheless still centred on traditional academic scholarship—archival study and archaeological excavation.

Although the discovery of Richard III’s corpse is only tangential (although not entirely irrelevant) to my scholarship, it nevertheless illustrates how medieval studies can capture the public imagination. I was fascinated by the extent to which people engaged with this via social media. One particular highlight was picture of Blackadder which circulated on Facebook with the caption, ‘So Baldrick. Under a car park. That was your cunning plan?’

I have previously blogged about how my research into powerful women in the medieval English Church is relevant to the debates about women bishops in the Church of England. There is fascinating evidence that, in Europe in late Antiquity and in England in the early Anglo-Saxon period, some women did share the authority and responsibilities of bishops.

Another key area of my research is sexuality, and particularly lesbianism, in the Middle Ages. This is a controversial topic—many scholars think it is anachronistic to use the term ‘lesbian’ in a pre-modern context. Yet just as scholarship reveals that there were, effectively, women bishops in the early church, so it reveals that throughout history women have chosen to ‘marry’ other women. Literary history too includes stories of women’s same-sex marriages. One narrative that recurs in medieval rewritings is Ovid’s tale of Iphis and Ianthe—a story in which two women (one of whom, Iphis, has been brought up as a boy and passes as man) decide they would like to marry. This is a story that has been retold far more recently in Ali Smith’s novel, Girl Meets Boy. In the medieval version by John Gower (a close friend, and literary rival, of Geoffrey Chaucer), Ianthe finds out that Iphis is a woman, but decides to go ahead with the marriage regardless. The famous literary critic, Christopher Ricks, said of Gower’s description of the consummation of this female same-sex relationship, ‘It is magnificent. But it is not marriage’. Ricks was right, both at the time when he was writing, and about Gower’s time. But just over six hundred years after Gower’s death, history has finally moved on.

Judith Bennett, in her book History Matters, has written about the importance of ‘deep’ history, that is of taking a long historical perspective over several centuries. Bennett studies, for example, the evidence of the wage gap between women and men in England between the later Middle Ages and the present day, and concludes that, despite contemporary legislation on equal pay, it has not diminished. We cannot assume that modern society inevitably learns from history. Equality and progress are not inevitable. But sometimes things can and do change, and history can help offer a useful perspective on issues of urgent importance today. So next time someone asks me ‘what is the point of studying the Middle Ages?’ I will have my answers ready.

For Gower’s story of Iphis and Ianthe, see Diane Watt, ‘Sins of Omission: Transgressive Genders, Subversive Sexualities, and Confessional Silences in John Gower’s Confessio Amantis’. Maney Publishing Exemplaria: a Journal of Theory in Medieval and Renaissance studies, 13.2 (2001), pp. 529-551. Full text is available at: http://epubs.surrey.ac.uk/231715/

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LGBT History Month is a nationwide programme of events to celebrate the lives and achievements of the LGBT community. It takes place each February, and this year coincides neatly with the launch of the University of Surrey’s LGBT Network and the award to the University of Stonewall Diversity Champion status.
This flurry of activity started us thinking about LGBT figures with links to Guildford. It is 100 years since Alan Turing was born. Alan Turing – a striding statue of whom is a feature of the campus piazza – spent some of his early life in the town, and though he is now celebrated as a great mathematician, a father of computing and a key figure in the victory over fascism in World War II, he is also known for a private life made miserable by the prevailing anti-homosexual attitudes of the society in which he lived. The authorities of the time were willing and able to force him to choose between incarceration for homosexual activity and chemical castration.
A lesser-known name in modern Britain is that of Edward Carpenter, but during the late 19th and early 20th centuries he was one of society’s best-connected left-wing intellectuals. The University of Surrey’s Paul Vlitos has researched Carpenter’s life and work. According to Paul, as well as playing an important role in the creation of the Labour Party and the Fabian Society, writing philosophical works and poetry (heavily influenced by Walt Whitman, whom he would eventually befriend), and corresponding with the likes of Mahatma Gandhi, Carpenter founded a proto eco-intellectual retreat in a Derbyshire countryside village called Milthorpe, to the southwest of Sheffield.
Here he would take lungbursting walks across the Peaks (in sandals, long before they acquired their status as cliché) and preach vegetarianism, a respect for nature and the need for all fellow travellers on the Left to find common ground and unity. This brought him some opposition from George Orwell, who dismissed Carpenter as a ‘crank’ and, in The Road to Wigan Pier, railed against ‘that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking towards the smell of “progress” like bluebottles to a dead cat’.
Carpenter lived with his partner George Merrill in a relationship that was relatively unhidden, which is more than just a footnote for the lives of gay men in the period when Oscar Wilde was sent to prison. The relationship also defied class hierarchies, Carpenter coming from the upper middle classes of Sussex and Merrill from a working-class area of Sheffield.
In his old age Carpenter found rural isolation and guru status increasingly challenging, and so moved to Guildford for the last few years of his life. He would still take long walks along the Hogsback from his house on Mountside, not far from the site on Stag Hill that would eventually become the University. Grief-stricken after George’s death in 1928, he suffered a stroke and died in 1929. He was buried in the same grave as George at Mount Cemetery, in what must have been an unusual arrangement for the era. You can see the headstone bearing both their names to this day if you take the short walk over to the graveyard (which is also the final resting place of Lewis Carroll).
Both Turing and Carpenter lived in times that members of today’s UK LGBT community would find difficult to endure. But it is worth remembering the struggles required to change attitudes in this country, and that many of these battles are still being fought by LGBT communities around the world.
Enjoy LGBT History Month, and look out for more information about the University’s LGBT Network and our Stonewall Diversity Champion status.
For more information about Alan Turing and Surrey’s LGBT past visit the Alan Turing exhibition, Surrey History Centre, Woking, Feb 5 – March 2, 10-4pm (entry free): http://www.visitsurrey.com/events/alan-turing-a-short-but-brilliant-life-at-the-surrey-history-centre-p928221

For more information about Edward Carpenter, go to http://www.edwardcarpenterforum.org/

To join the University’s LGBT Network email [email protected]

Photographs of Carpenter’s and Merrill’s grave: copyright Heike Bauer. Reproduced with permission.

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Though I’m only half way through my placement year with Eagle Radio, I can already say with confidence that it’s the best decision I’ve made with regards to the progress of my career so far. The decision itself was made around April/May of my second year studying English Literature with Creative Writing at the University of Surrey. I knew by this point that I wanted a career in the radio industry specifically, and Eagle was the only station in the area and of its kind that offered a placement quite like this. Other stations across the country offer a week here, 4 weeks there; nothing long term, or with the benefits I receive by working here specifically. For me, it’s a one of a kind placement year that I wouldn’t replace.

The placement itself is unpaid, though it offers coverage of transport costs, which is a huge weight off my shoulders. As well as this, as soon as I started my initial pre-placement work over the busy summer period at the station, I was signed up for our promotional team: the Love Crew. Being a part of the Love Crew is great fun, and meant I could establish those essential initial connections with other members of staff. It means I can meet our listeners, and represent the company on the road. It also provides important extra paid work that means I can keep my head above water with bills and rent.

Since being with the station, I have gained endless experience and confidence in my abilities. The job title itself is a broad one: ‘Station Assistant’. I ‘assist’ with many tasks across Eagle, from my initial first steps editing and writing content for our website, to larger sound production tasks that have ended up on air. What I would say is important here is to realise that every task, be it large or small, contributes to the business. Though some days I may be focusing on our website, there will be other days that I take part in larger tasks. Most recently, I was able to put into practice the skills I gained through my voluntary work with GU2 Radio on campus. For the 2011/2012 academic year I was the Head of Events, which meant I already had the initial skill sets to help lead an event with Eagle. The station has its own charity, the Eagle Radio Trust, which provides money for causes and communities across our target audience in Surrey and Hampshire. A member of our staff here proposed that we host an event to raise money, called ‘Busk for the Trust’, the idea being that we put on an all-day event of professional busking to tie in with the Christmas lights switch-on in Guildford. I was entrusted as project manager, and worked alongside a regular freelancer at our station, who was the technical manager. The event was a huge success, and was a real test of everything I have learned so far on my placement. I had to deal with many problems and challenges on the day as a team leader/project manager, which resulted in the MD of Eagle giving me an award for leadership. I was very touched by this, and it affirmed to me that all my hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed here.

Looking ahead into 2013, I am looking to launch my own ‘DJ School’ with our Education team, as part of our Broadcasting for Schools programme. I am creating my own scheme of workshops, aimed at utilising the engaging experience of DJing and MCing as a new and practical way to learn. I will also be using the workshops as a team-building exercise alongside the team I work for here, which I’m very excited to get started with!

All in all, I have had a brilliant time here so far. Working with Eagle Radio is truly what you make of it – and if you put in the extra hours, and show a willingness to learn and adapt easily, you’ll reap the rewards.

If any students have any questions they want to ask me about getting into radio, feel free to tweet me:  @FauxloUK.

I would also highly recommend these websites for work experience adverts and advice:
www.thepips.co.uk
www.gothinkbig.co.uk
www.mediauk.com

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The Poet's Mind

In November 2012 my first book, The Poet’s Mind: The Psychology of Victorian Poetry 1830-1870, was published by Oxford University Press. The book is an academic monograph, investigating a specific area of English literature which interests and enthuses me, and I’ve been working on the project, in different forms, for six years. At the end of such a substantial stretch of time, I’m pleased and also a little amazed to see the book in its final, finished form, because while the process has been consistently rewarding, it’s also been quite challenging at times.

The Poet’s Mind studies the ways in which Victorian poets – Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, Arthur Hugh Clough – write about psychology, and looks at the links between their writing and the work of scientific psychologists in the nineteenth century. The idea behind the book took a long time to germinate. I got hooked on poetry, and Victorian poetry in particular, when I was an undergraduate student, thanks to the guidance and encouragement of some inspirational lecturers. I knew, when I went on to postgraduate study, that I wanted to research and write a doctorate about how Victorian poets thought about the mind and subjectivity, but it wasn’t until another teacher suggested that I read some Victorian psychology that the idea for the project began to form in my head. The Victorian era saw the development of psychology in its modern form, as an independent scientific discipline, and it quickly became clear to me that there was a close and reciprocal relation between poetry and scientific psychology in the nineteenth century. Psychologists used poetic quotations as starting-points or evidence for their studies of mental processes, and poets incorporated new scientific theories of the mind into their literary analyses of psychology.

After this insight struck me, it took three years of full-time work, under two brilliant and supportive supervisors, to develop my basic ideas into a coherent argument, and to write and submit my doctoral thesis. After completing my doctorate and passing my viva examination, I then had to write a proposal explaining how I would revise my thesis for publication as a book, making it (hopefully) more interesting to a wider readership. Much to my delight, Oxford University Press accepted my proposal and agreed to publish the book, but I then had to revise and rewrite the thesis, and that was perhaps the hardest part of the whole process. I hadn’t worked intensively on the project for some time, and I found it difficult, even painful, to go back to my doctoral thesis, which I thought of as a finished piece of work, and make changes to it. There were some miserable days of writer’s block, when the ideas and the words just wouldn’t flow. This passed after a couple of weeks, though, and the writing of the book soon became smoother, and very enjoyable at times. Once I finished the writing, it was just a question of finding a cover image for the book, reading the proofs prepared by the publisher, and compiling an index. The editorial and production staff at Oxford University Press were efficient and supportive throughout the process, and the result is a finely made book.

Like Liam Murray Bell, who has recently completed his creative writing PhD here at the University of Surrey and published his first book, the novel So It Is, I’ve loved holding and looking through a physical copy of my book and seeing the final result of all that work. Of course I feel some pride at bringing the project to a successful conclusion, but I’m even more excited than I am proud; excited that the ideas which have been intriguing and fascinating me for the last few years are now out in the world, and that they will be read by, and might interest, other scholars, enthusiasts, and students.

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Students on the Contemporary British and American Poetry Creative Writing course in the School of English and Languages here at Surrey will be holding a reading of their work on Wednesday 12th December 2012.

Presenting their work in short snappy readings will be Laura Colledge, Wafik Doss, Sophie Goodman, James Griffin, Rebecca Hillard, Annabel Knowlson, Alice Lincoln, Lauren Mason, Phillippa Nayer, and Chloe Wenborn, along with our poet in residence Stephen Mooney.

Expect text based work – expect visual and sound material – expect energy and performance – expect to hear some really exciting work – expect to do your soul good!

Venue: Room TB14, Teaching Block, 7pm start

It’s free entry, and you’ll get a free poetry anthology featuring the poets as well.

See here for further details.

 

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If you’re applying to University this year, the chances are you’ll be invited to an Applicant Day by those institutions that make you an offer. You might already be feeling pretty popular and wondering how you’re going to fit in visits to your top choices alongside the demands of your A-levels. As an Admissions Tutor I’d recommend that you find time to attend some of these events if you can – particularly if you can’t quite make your mind up!

The purpose of an Applicant Day is to give you the chance to get a closer look at the university and to provide you with more information about the particular degree you’re applying for. The schedule for the day will be much more tailored to your specific interests than the university-wide Open Days that you might have attended earlier in the year. You’ll probably get to meet the staff who will be teaching you and some of the students who are on your course.  You might be asked to participate in a short seminar or workshop, which will really help you get a feel for the kind of teaching that you’ll experience at university.  It’s unlikely that you would be asked to prepare anything specific for these taster teaching sessions; you’ll just need to be willing to participate!

Importantly, you’ll have plenty of chances to ask any questions you have about any aspect of university life, the degree you want to do, or the application process.  From what texts you’ll be studying to how to get involved in student societies, we’ll be happy to tell you as much as we can. Everyone involved wants to share their knowledge and experience in order to help you make the best decision.

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The University of Surrey Music and Drama Society’s first production of the year was utter filth – and I loved it. Written by and starring Laurence Williams (4th Year, English Literature with Creative Writing) and co-directed by Emily Clegg (2nd Year, English Literature with Creative Writing) and Chris Evans, You’ve Been Tagged was a relentlessly inventive two and a half hours of theatre. Part political thriller, part love story, part sex comedy, this was a tremendously ambitious and enjoyable show, unafraid to juxtapose the serious with the comical, and deftly interweaving its several plot strands. You could describe You’ve Been Tagged as a mash-up of Spooks, Queer as Folk and Skins - with added socio-political commentary and moments of real tenderness. Neatly staged and engagingly acted, the piece built up genuine theatrical momentum over the course of the evening – and left me intrigued to see what its creators, performers and the rest of MadSoc will come up with next…

You’ve Been Tagged was performed at Wates House on the 26th, 27th and 28th of November 2012.

 

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As part of the University of Surrey Careers Service’s ‘Welcome to my World’ series of talks on Wednesday 21st November our students had the opportunity to attend a fascinating talk from Jonathan Steffen on the topic of how to make a living as a writer.

Jonathan Steffen has specialised in international corporate communications for twenty-five years and is Managing Director of The Corporate Story – a firm which helps business leaders to communicate where their organisations are coming from, where they are going, and what they stand for. An English Literature graduate, Jonathan is an accomplished poet and since graduating he has combined his interest in writing creatively with his interest in business, working variously as a translator, interpreter, editor and more recently corporate communications consultant and ghost-writer. He spoke about his own experiences as a writer and how his perceptions of what it means to write creatively – and the uses to which a young writer might put their skills – have broadened and diversified. Jonathan has also very kindly agreed for The Corporate Story to host one of our English Literature and Creative Writing students for part of their Professional Training Year next year – a fantastic opportunity for one of our own aspiring writers.

The talk was followed by a lively and informative question and answer session. Jonathan was particularly entertaining in describing his early years as an ambitious young poet and short story writer – and about the ways in which his understanding of what it means to write, and of ways in which writers can contribute to the world, have developed and changed over the course of a highly successful career. The visit was a valuable reminder to all of us to think broadly and inventively about where our talents might lead us – and a reminder that not all creative writing takes places in a solitary garret!

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The first Veer Books publication to be produced at the University of Surrey, Peter Larkin’s Imparkments, was launched as part of the Veer Books readings on Saturday November 17th at the Small Publishers Fair 2012 at the Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London WC1.

The SPF is organized by RGAP (Research Group for Artists Publications), and has been running for many years now. This year’s event was busy and well attended both by the public and by publishers producing some really exciting and beautiful work, from hand-made book art works, lovingly created luxury editions, and high-end printed postcard and other visual works to letterpress and digitally printed books, pamphlets and other publications.

Billed as ‘the international fair celebrating books by contemporary artists, poets, writers,
composers, book designers, and their publishers; together with a programme of 
readings and talks. With more than 50 publishers taking part there will be thousands of books and other editions to browse and buy!’ it really did live up to its claims.  As admission is free every year, and it went on all day Friday and Saturday, between 11am and 7pm, and with a showcase exhibition of work by Hans Waanders and a series of very fine readings on the Saturday (also free to attend), it was a really enjoyable way to spend a few hours (at least)!

It’s an annual event, so if you missed it this year, look out for it in 2013.

From a poetry point of view, the fair always has a very strong contemporary poetry press contingent; presses putting interesting, innovative and exciting work to the fore. These are usually well reflected in the Saturday readings, for many the highlight of the whole event.

Of particular interest in the 2012 fair were the book stalls from Reality Street Editions, West House, Shearsman, Veer Books, Etruscan Books, seekers of lice, VerySmallKitchen, Coracle, Poetic Practice MA at Royal Holloway University of London, Equus Press (which is connected to the Czech based Litteraria Pragensia), and a special appearance by Allen Fisher’s Spanner press.

This year the readings line-up was particularly impressive. What with co-staffing the Veer Books stall, buying books and generally circulating, I managed to catch some, but not enough, of these. Particularly interesting were the West House Books & Reality Street Editions reading (Geraldine Monk, Johan de Wit, Giles Goodland, Sean Pemberton & Robert Sheppard), the seekers of lice & VerySmallKitchen launch, ‘Theatre of Objects’ (Becky Cremin & Ryan Ormonde), the reading by students of the Poetic Practice MA at RHUL (Jennie Cole, Rachel Deakin, Annie Runkel, Juliet Troy, Emma Wootton), and, of course, the Veer Books reading.

Traditionally, Veer gets the last reading slot of the evening, and we always get a good crowd, so between 5:30 and 6:30pm this year, we were really pleased with both the turnout and the quality of the readings. This year we featured some new recent publications, and a selection of those we have in the pipeline, plus a special reading by Veer editor William Rowe from his forthcoming Nation book.

The more I watched and listened to these readings unfold, the more strongly I registered the breadth of the work we’re interested in at Veer, something I’d been aware of intellectually, obviously, but seeing these poets read their work live really did remake that observation in a visceral way that I had not expected – its true, you really can’t beat a poetry reading for that immediate sense of the texture of poetic language.

We began the evening with the launch of Peter Larkin’s new Veer Book ImparkmentsThis is the first in a new series of Veer Books to be produced and published jointly by the University of Surrey and the CPRC, Birkbeck College. Thanks must go to Wafik Doss and Christina Webb at Surrey for their design work on the publication. Peter’s reading displayed a poise and accuracy of language that did the complex and sophisticated text proud. Have a look at the video, and you’ll see what I mean.

Carol Watts’s reading from the forthcoming Sundog was strident, confident and arresting, completely changing the space of the reading room and working particularly well alongside the Peter Larkin reading, and that of Doug Jones who followed. Jones’s Posts will be the next publication from Veer, and the next to be worked on at Surrey, and as you’ll see from the video it’s punchy, forceful and relentlessly modern in its engagement with medical and blogified language. The three poets that followed were just as surprising. Holly Pester’s rhythmic earbashing of language changed the aural space of the room yet again in a wonderfully disjointed way. William Rowe’s reading from Nation was intelligently passionate and powerful in its delivery of uncompromising resistance poetry grappling with the hands of corporate and political greed around our necks, while Danny Hayward’s reading engaged the space of Rowe’s reading in a curiously intense way, his poetic analysis of the power relationship between work and leisure measured but forceful in its insistence.

Veer will be back at the SPF next year, and will hopefully feature a string of new books edited, designed and printed here at Surrey.

There is much more information about the SPF on the RGAP website. On the wesbite you’ll also find a link to an interesting article by Les Coleman, ‘The Independent Bookcase’, on small press publishing.

For more on Veer Books, you can have a look here and at our brand new website coming very soon.

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