From Criticism

Glitter in the wreckage: short fiction, collective grief, and remote connection / Claire Carroll

In spring 2020, I developed an obsession with the idea of collective grief. This is probably not surprising, given that we were in the midst of a global pandemic. I was supposed to be using this time to plan and write a series of short stories set in a dystopian British Isles of the near future. My collection of short stories was intended to imagine the future of our country as it further subsided, both ecologically and politically. I wanted to explore climate fiction from a geographically British perspective; interrogating the possibilities for writing that reflected the experience of living here as the world changes. But before I had made much progress with the project, the real world collapsed into my speculative pitch. My plan for spring 2020 had been to visit locations to research settings for my stories, instead I found myself wandering along country lanes on Google Earth or descending Wikipedia rabbit holes.

Growing Chestnuts / Dave Wakely

This sub-text of violence and hostility runs throughout the story, from the blood-red of the pomegranate juice staining neighbours’ hand as they share a meal in a garden to the conker dust that gets into eyes like “shrapnel from an exploding shell.” The language of war arrives in the story before the bullet, just as the other-ing rhetoric of conflict and difference arrives in communities before fists and bullets. Even the jocularity comes with a threat: “The way Adrijan hugged him and laughed, spilling his wine, I thought he’d break my father’s ribs.”

On Writing ‘The Mansion House’ / Elaine Canning

The interplay between the real and fantastical as a conduit for self-discovery is something which I explore within the broader parameters of my writing. In Carlos’ case, this is encapsulated in his encounter with the old man of the mansion house and his subsequent undertaking of three challenges; challenges fused with a darker side of his day to day reality and the unreal, with three doors, three sightings of his sister and the transformation of the three adults who care for him.


An anecdote, in itself, is not enough to create a work of fiction. However, I disagree with the fictional Uncle Sima. For me, anecdotes are jumping off points, thought-provoking fodder and inspiration for my work. Of course, an anecdote has to be twisted and turned, stretched, recalibrated, reinterpreted  and wrought into a piece of fiction that works. What I am always trying to achieve is a story that has resonance, subtext, emotional heft, significance of some kind; an insight into why people are the way they are and why they do the things they do. My fiction is mostly realistic and character-driven, so the anecdotes and throw away lines I hear on a bus or a train or in the supermarket or the pub are essential and without them, I don’t have a stepping-off point that leads me into something else.

Writing Bathsheba / Tracey Rhys

Tracey Rhys on the impetus for her four Bathsheba poems in Issue Twelve. There has only been one dream in my life that I have ever written about, although I’ve often woken up convinced that I’d dreamt the best plot ever, only to realise … well, it was a bit shit really. This one was…

In Conversation with Horatio Clare / Catherine Wilkinson

My best writing however, comes from a place of contentment, a place in nature – a calm sort of high is what drives my pen. So as to mania and creativity, I would concur with Jeanette Winterson – in Why be Happy when you could be Normal? – that madness does not inspire, but that creativity is the means by which one defeats madness. Creativity was a slow ladder out of it all.

An Interview with Catherine McNamara / Rachael Smart

Rachael Smart: Firstly, congratulations on Love Stories for Hectic People, a collection which excavates love in all of its forms. It is tender and wounding, erotic and transporting, it takes both regular and extraordinary moments in love and offers up brief narratives that are oblique and always unflinching. Your former collections, Pelt and The Cartography…

So, Did This Really Happen to You? / Catherine McNamara

Truth and Fiction in Story-Telling When I was a young, confused graphic design student, in the long-ago days of collage and drawing boards, I remember train rides across Sydney to art college. I remember the obsessions of a late, damaged teenagehood involving the death of a child, years of classical piano, Tchaikovsky LPs, warped discotheques…

On Writing ‘The Words He Said’ / Elizabeth Baines

Elizabeth Baines reads an extract from her short story, ‘The Words He Said’, published in Issue Twelve. See the site tomorrow for Elizabeth’s short essay on the composition of the story. Listen to Elizabeth read an extract from the story here. ‘The Words He Said’ is a story about the years-long consequences of a single…

Writing ‘Plainsong’ / Mark Blayney

Mark Blayney discusses ‘Plainsong’, his new short story in Issue Twelve. My friend Dennis is obsessed with building a model of St Paul’s Cathedral out of matchsticks. This might seem a rather pointless endeavour, but think about your own obsessions, if you have any. I’ll wager they’re not too closely aligned to reason or logic.…

Writing ‘A Prolonged Kiss’ / Jonathan Gibbs

Jonathan Gibbs discusses his short story in Issue 12. You can listen to Jonathan read the opening of the story here. ‘A Prolonged Kiss’ has since been shortlisted for the prestigious Sunday Times / Audible Short Story of the Year Award. ‘A Prolonged Kiss’ is a story that was a long time coming. It grew…

Responsive Literary Writing in Two Acts / Hisham Bustani

Hisham Bustani discusses the creative process behind his two poems in Issue Twelve of The Lonely Crowd.   Act I We met in front of the closed door of a martial arts training centre, in a drab building located in the heart of what was (at that time) a haven for well-off Iraqis who fled…