An Interview with Jay Millington

We sat down with Jay Millington to discuss his novel and his experiences on the MA.

 
Tell us an interesting fact about yourself

Though I’ve been known as Jay since junior school, my first name is Jan (Cornish version of John) and my middle name is DeLank, the nearest river to my first home. It’s a tributary of the River Camel, so I count myself lucky.

When did you start writing?

In the mid-nineties I dated a librarian while sharing a house with Jonathan Taylor (now a published author and lecturer in creative writing at Leicester University) and flirtation with books became love. I knew that one day I’d be an author, but it wasn’t until 10 years later that I finally put pen to paper and wrote 30 Something, a novel about a group of mates who rob a bank for the fun of it.

What’s your novel called?

Q Equals Three to the Power of n

Tough question. Sum up your novel in three sentences.

Superstitious professor gains an author as an imaginary friend, gets into trouble with the police and stumbles into the cross-hairs of an aristocratic family, for whom murdering alphabetically is a rite of passage. When his story doesn’t end well, he demands a re-write. When the film rights are sold and Hollywood wants a musical, the author gains a superstitious professor as an imaginary friend…

Genre?

Literary / postmodern.

What is your cosmic statement?

Just because you’re not paranoid, it doesn’t mean you’re not being followed, but you can always change the ending if you’re buddies with the author.

What are the themes?

Isolation, paranoia and circumstantial evidence.

Who is the protagonist?

Professor Adrian Qualtrough, a Manx, superstitious, 42 year old known as ‘Q’

Tell us a bit about the setting?

Mostly present day Bristol, plus Sheffield and the Isle of Man.

What’s it’s Unique Selling Point?

A comic, postmodern thriller with story, character and metafiction blended to perfection.

What was your favourite part of the MA?

Gaining the confidence to go where my imagination took me.

What classes did you take?

My workshop tutors were Samantha Harvey and Gerard Woodward and my manuscript tutor was Nathan Filer. I took Modernism and Postmodernism with Gavin Cologne-Brookes, and Writing and Politics with Tim Liardet.

Who/what are you reading right now?

I’m a fan of Margaret Atwood and am reading her collection Wilderness Tips, because we’re looking at short stories in my writing group. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer is lined up next…

What famous authors have a similar style to yours?

A tutor suggested my manuscript is a ‘Kafkaesque detective story’ with ‘shades of Pynchon and others’. My influences include Ben Lerner, Paul Auster, Italo Calvino, Kurt Vonnegut, Julian Barnes and Jennifer Egan.

If you were to compare your novel to another, what would it be?

My novel has a format of short, titled scenes like Tibor Fischer’s ‘The Thought Gang’ to drive the narrative forward and hint at Q’s emotional state.

Why Do We Write – And Read – Historical Fiction?

Deirdre Huston, one of our historical fiction writers, gives us her thoughts on why we love to explore the past in books.

Follow Deirdre on Twitter and check out her website

 

When I tread my way through a landscape or explore a building, the sharp edges of time crumble. The characters of the past draw me in. Their tales cry out to be told, to be shared for the first time or seen in a fresh light.

The story of any individual cannot be recounted without considering their society and by looking to the past we give ourselves a long view and a chance to explore the intricacies, limitations and possibilities of human existence. This mirror that writers hold up to history can illuminate truths which may be blurred by the immediacy of our contemporary lives. We live in a world where technology is pervasive and virtual communication seeps into all our relationships. What better way to combat the constant itch of the modern world than step into a time that is not our own?

As with any definitions of genre, the boundaries blur and there is cross-pollination but The Historical Fiction Society states, ‘To be deemed historical (in our sense), a novel must have been written at least fifty years after the events described, or have been written by someone who was not alive at the time of those events (who therefore approaches them only by research).’

So what does our reader of historical fiction want?  We hope they throw down the book after its final page and wonder what the time is, dazed by the escape a gripping tale offers because, yes, ultimately it’s all about the story. Readers want to be swept away and many loyal historical fans find it their most reliable means of escape from mundanity. They relish immersing themselves in a parallel world, emerging with bleary but fresh eyes, new questions and a sense of understanding to counter the uncertainties of today’s reality.

Balancing factual accuracy and the needs of a fictional narrative takes skill and can be made much easier by how the writer approaches a subject. Chevalier describes how research can only take her so far and how when she is ‘still searching for something – that imprecise something’ she knows it is time to write a story to explore the gap (C. Brayfield).  As we begin a story and teeter on the edge of the unknown, we are drawn in by the voices of the marginalised and the underdog, the celebrated and the revered.

Gaps wait to be explored. Teeter no longer. Plume Anthology MA Creative Writing 2017 Bath Spa University features a variety of extracts from historical novels and we invite you to dive into the past.

Eighteenth-century Sussex: Deirdre Huston The Howl of the Waves.

Venetian High Renaissance: Julia Grigg The Fortieth Part

Vietnam and its legacy: Lara-Ashley Monroe Thunder Walks in Peace

Cornwall, 1942 and contemporary: Melanie Greenwood Slipstream

England, France and Canada during World War Two: Peter Deacon The Time Just Before

Norfolk, 1953 and onward: Zoë Somerville Erosion

 

By Deirdre Huston

 

The Story of Winning the Janklow and Nesbit Prize

When I was little I had a dream job for every letter in the alphabet.

I’d be a spy, a pirate, Indiana Jones, a lovable sheepdog or, my favourite, an orphan. They all seemed like sound career choices to me.

Soon after my ninth birthday, I discovered that all those people I dreamed of being weren’t real, and nor were they jobs. “You can’t just be Peter Pan,” Mandy told me at school. She was the kind of logical child who always had an ironed dress. I was the kind with dirty leggings. I should have known she was wrong. However, this gave me an idea. Maybe I could be Peter. He might not be ‘real’, but he’d come from the pages of a book. Perhaps that’s where all my dream jobs were. I could do anything there.  

At school, I began training by directing plays and puppet shows. I dictated scripts to my dutiful scribes – sorry, friends – and bossed all my actors around. Some people might say I’ve not changed much.

It’s been a long road. My first ‘novel’, Sophie Has A Visitor, was published a year later and was printed and bound for my tenth birthday. It told the story of a mouthy orphan girl. I was so happy, I cried (and I was the kind of kid who never, ever cried). It was the moment I knew that I’d made the right choice. Author was the job for me.

Since, I’ve written some terrible poems, stories and novels – I still keep them for entertainment value. What was most incredible about those early attempts at writing was that it took me all over the world, back in time and even to outer-space (although I felt very uncomfortable there). In these settings, I had all the jobs I wanted. Even ones that don’t exist. Fairy collector anyone?

On the Bath Spa MA, I made friends who were far more talented than I had dreamed writers in training could be.

Like me, these friends spent their days clambering into the minds of, let’s face it, oddballs. I was privileged to be taken into the mind and world of an 18th-century teen, a woman in a coma, a man weaning himself off drugs, a millennial, a Venetian painter, a sinister cartoon character and Adam and Eve – yes, the Biblical Adam and Eve. The MA was the ship that brought us all into the harbours of countries we’d never imagined. The skill in which each writer managed to do this was breathtaking. I never imagined I’d be numbered among such a talented collection of writers. It was no surprise that by the end of the course everyone had incredible manuscripts. For the rest of my life, every time I enter a Waterstone’s, my eyes will be peeled for their hardbacks. I’ll be dogging them at readings for signatures.

So, when I got the phone call from Janklow and Nesbit, it took a few back and forths before I believed that I’d won.

An Interview with Chrissy Jamieson Jones

We sat down with Chrissy Jamieson Jones to discuss her novel and her experiences on the MA.

When did you start writing?

I’ve always loved creative writing for as long as I can remember – since primary school when we had to come up with stories for ‘Letterland’ characters like Annie Apple and Clever Cat! I started taking writing more seriously in 2015, writing some short stories and short plays. That’s when I decided I wanted to do the Bath Spa MA, to learn more and to keep me focussed.

What’s your novel called?

The working title for my first novel is Fast forward, Stop, Rewind.

Tough question. Sum up your novel in three sentences.

A poignant, thought-provoking and humorous look at thirty years of a woman’s life. When a toxic friendship takes hold, she feels she needs to escape her roots in order to try and take back control, but things don’t end up the way she’d imagined.

Genre?

Contemporary book club fiction

What are the themes?

Female friendship, family relationships, loss and emotional debt.

Who is your protagonist?

Etta Barton (Aged 14, 27 and 38).

Tell us a bit about the setting.

Manchester, London, New York.

What was your favourite part of the MA?

I loved the prose workshop sessions and helping edit the work of others and hearing their feedback on mine. Everyone was brilliant and inspiring and it felt like we were part of a little team. But the real highlight was party food and homemade cakes on the last day of term!

What are you reading right now?

I literally just finished The Doll Funeral by Kate Hamer, which I loved. The plot made for a real page-turner, but not at the expense of the writing – it was beautiful.

Name some that authors have a similar style to yours?

I’d like to think I’m creating a unique character voice, along the lines of what somebody like Maria Semple or Barney Norris does. If I was being aspirational, I guess you could also compare the first person analysis of a complex friendship to Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels, but with a lighter touch.

The Shortlist for the Janklow and Nesbit Prize

We are thrilled to announce the shortlistees for 2017’s Janklow and Nesbit Prize.

This year the list numbers twelve incredible writers. It’s needless to say, but everyone who entered the prize was a very strong contender. We all experienced first hand the beautiful, humorous, heartbreaking and wonderful writing of our fellow students. It’s also important to note that poets and short story writers can’t enter the prize, but the shortlisted manuscripts did number memoirs and novels.

Val Ormrod, Deb McCormick and Morag Shuaib have all written memoirs.

Chrissy Jamieson Jones, Nicholas Herrmann, Madeleine Streater, Clare Gallagher, Rosemary Sharratt,  Claire Kendall Muniesa, Charlotte Packer,  Madeleine Dimitroff and Molly Aitken are all novel writers.

Congratulations! This is so well deserved.

So what kind of writing will you find in this talented group? Well, the shortlisted manuscripts are a diverse stack.

Val Ormrod’s In My Father’s Memory is a moving account about caring for a father with dementia. It is written with humour, heart and breathtaking descriptions.

Deb McCormick’s An Ancestry of Dolls Inside examines the beauty and darkness that dwells in family relationships. This literary portrait made us laugh and cry in equal measure.

Morag Shuaib writes an exquisite memoir of rediscovering a connection with nature. The landscapes are vivid and the prose is rich and engaging.

Chrissy Jamieson Jones’ Fast Forward, Stop, Rewind a blazing story of one woman’s life journey charting a childhood in Manchester, life as a London artist and onwards to the crashing conclusion in New York.

Nicholas Herrmann is repped by Euan Thorneycroft at A.M. Heath. The Light Factory is set in Birmingham seventeen years after a super-eclipse that never ended. It is written with skill and many flashes of brilliant ideas and prose.

Madeleine Streater’s The Be All and End All is written with breathtaking confidence in the first person voices of a family of children dealing with the death of their mother and their new life at a former sheep station in Australia.

Clare Gallagher’s The Leapling is a story written with humour and tenderness. Nigel is a soon to be divorced insurance broker on a journey to becoming a life model. It’s sprinkled with the best Northern Irish flavour and has tears of laughter to many of our eyes.

Rosemary Sharratt’s For One, Long Beat takes us into the story of twenty-two-year-old Bryony who is accidentally pregnant. A complex and multi-layered novel written with a vivid style.

Claire Kendall Muniesa’s In the Midst of Life is the story of a fatal car accident and the family’s lives that have ricocheted off it, with flashes of brilliant realism and stepping into the eloquence of magical realism.

Charlotte Packer‘s You Don’t Know Me is an epistolary novel about a marriage crisis. Emma writes an email to her husband’s lover. Slowly, over the course of many emails, the story of her marriage, the affair and its aftermath, unfolds. It is a beautiful examination of love, intimacy, shame and reconciliation.

Madeleine Dimitroff’s The Mother-of-Pearl Opera Glasses is the tale of Maria Meara, a waitress who is spun into a world of cultural, culinary and educational offerings. Soon everything spirals away from her. The complex and layered relationships of this novel are described with beauty and a light touch.

Molly Aitken is our lucky winner. She is repped by Hellie Ogden at Janklow and Nesbit. Dark Lights is about mother and daughter relationships and coming home. It journeys from a blustery island off the west coast of Ireland to the snowy heart of Canada. Read Molly’s blog about the win here.

Writing any long composition is a massive walk of faith. The road is made of sweat and tears and small flashes of inspiration.

Everyone who studied the 2015/16 MA has written a wonderful manuscript. You can get brief glimpses of these in our anthology Plume.

We’ll leave you with some wise words of Stephen King’s, “Books are a uniquely portable magic”.

We hope you enjoy Plume.

Hello World

Welcome to the Plume Anthology blog. In the coming weeks, our students will be blogging and supporting each other, the way they have throughout the MA in Creative Writing.

As a co-editor of the anthology, I have had the pleasure of being involved in every stage of the anthology production. When the finished product landed on my dining room table last week, I couldn’t believe that it was over.

The publication of the anthology signals the end of almost two years of work, friendship, camaraderie and support from some of the most wonderful people I have had the pleasure of meeting.  It was an honour to be able to so fully immerse myself in the worlds and characters that inhabit this anthology. So a huge thank you to all of the authors for allowing me the privilege of co-editing this collection.

Please check out the rest of our website and if you have any questions, do get in touch! I hope you enjoy getting to know our contributors over the coming weeks!