Writers in Conversation

Carole Burns interviews Helen McDonald

Writers in Conversation is a reading series, led by our own creative writing lecturers, which features some of today’s best fiction writers, poets, non-fiction writers and playwrights. Each semester, we invite writers read from their work and talk about their writing – how characters take shape, where ideas come from. Each semester, we also feature a writer from our Creative Writing team, allowing students as well as members of the Southampton community to hear our lecturers talk about their own work. Video-recordings of previous sessions are available on our Youtube Channel. Read more on the Writers in Conversation blog


Monday, 3 February 2020: Brian Dillon

Brian Dillon, the Irish essayist who has explored subjects including art, ruins, hypochondria, loss and the essay itself in his seven books, will read from his recent work. Dillon’s wide-ranging non-fiction writing includes In the Dark Room: A Journey in Memory, which examines his memories of his parents, who both died by the time Dillon was 21. Winner of the Irish book award for non-fiction, In the Dark Room was described by the Independent as “less a personal narrative than an anguished monument to the idea of memory itself.” Most recently, he published Essayism: On Form, Feeling and Non-Fiction, which explores the essay form itself. Out of the “disarray” of his early adulthood, the New York Times writes, “come these crystalline pieces — and a sense, never belabored, of the stakes of creating essays and the consolations of loving them.”

Monday, 17 February 2020: Courttia Newland

Fiction writer and screenwriter Courttia Newland, whose work has been broadcast on the BBC and anthologised widely, will read from his recent work and answer some questions about his work and his career.

His latest novel, ‘The Gospel According to Cane’, explores the dilemma of a woman, Beverley Cottrell, whose son was kidnapped 20 years before. When a sullen young man claims to be her son, she wants to believe him, despite warnings from her friends not to trust him. The novel is also interlaced with history, as she dreams that her Barbadian ancestors sold chains, shackles and whips to slavers in the 19th Century, raising an implicit question of collusion in today’s world.

Newland, also a writer of short stories and screenplays including two episodes of the Steve McQueen series “Small Axe,” will talk about writing across genres as we enter a complicated new decade, in a q-and-a led by writer Carole Burns, head of Creative Writing at the University of Southampton.

Monday, 12 October 2020: Donna Hemans

We go live here at 7:30 pm British time on Monday 12 October as Hemans read from her novel then answers questions from WiC’s Carole Burns and our live online audience, part of the University’s Black History Month programme.

From Brooklyn to the island of Jamaica, Tea by the Sea traces a mother’s circuitous route to finding the daughter taken from her at birth.

A seventeen-year-old taken from her mother at birth, an Episcopal priest with a daughter whose face he cannot bear to see, a mother weary of searching for her lost child: Tea by the Sea is their story—that of a family uniting and unraveling.

Jamaican-born Donna Hemans is also the author of the novel River Woman, winner of the 2003-4 Towson University Prize for Literature. Tea by the Sea, her second novel, won her the Lignum Vitae Una Marson Award for Adult Literature, and was listed in Ms. Magazine’s “June 2020 Reads for the Rest of Us.”

Monday 16 November 2020: Stephen Thompson

Stephen Thompson, whose TV drama about his brother’s threatened deporting during the UK’s Windrush scandal aired on BBC this summer, will be our next guest online at 7:30 pm.

When Stephen Thompson’s brother was imprisoned during what later became known as the Windrush scandal, as a writer, he wanted to write about it, but he thought maybe the moment had passed. Instead, that story became the lightly fictionalized film “Sitting in Limbo,” was purchased by the BBC, and then aired in summer 2020 just as protests about George Floyd’s killing in America prompted protests here and in the UK. Thompson, a Southampton resident who has also published three novels, will talk to Carole Burns, the university’s head of creative writing, about how he shaped this true-life story into a film; whether writing is (or should be) a kind of activism; and how his fictional writing feeds and impedes his screenwriting.

Saturday 21 November 2020:  Tracy Chevalier 

Tracy Chevalier,  author of the international bestselling novel Girl with a Pearl Earring, will talk about her most recent book, A Single Thread, set in Southampton and Winchester shortly before the start of World War II. In a reading and discussion led by Carole Burns, the university’s head of creative writing, Chevalier will explore ideas around the intersection of writing and history and how she crafted her new book.

“A Single Thread” weaves a tale about Violet Speedwell, a woman who moves to Winchester in 1930s Britain after her fiance dies in World War I, then falls in love with a married man whom she meets while volunteering to embroider cushions for Winchester Cathedral. As in many of Chevalier’s novels, the hero is not a well-known historical figure, but an everyday person. In Girl with a Pearl Earring, she focused on the young servant who posed for Vermeer, not the great artist himself. Here, Chevalier explores this “surplus” woman – one of the many left single after World War I – and teases out the largeness of this one individual woman’s story.


Tuesday 5 February 2019: Dr Devorah Baum

7 pm, John Hansard Gallery, Above Bar St., Southampton dr devorah baum (lq)

Dr. Devorah Baum’s recent book, Feeling Jewish (A Book for Just About Anyone) (Yale University Press), delves into fiction (especially American), film, and memoir to explore feelings that have been stereotypically associated with modern Jews – self-hatred, guilt, resentment, paranoia, anxiety, hysteria, overbearing maternal love – and analyses why such feelings may be increasingly common to us all as the pace of globalization leaves many feeling marginalized, uprooted, and existentially threatened.   She is a lecturer in English literature and critical theory, University of Southampton, and affiliate researcher with the Parkes Institute for the Study of Jewish/Non‑Jewish Relations, and is also codirector of the creative documentary feature film The New Man

Monday 18 Feb 2019, Prize-Winning Fiction Writer Eley Williams

7:30 pm, Nuffield Theatre Café  – Campus venue

eley williamsEley Williams’Attrib. and other stories (Influx Press, 2017) was awarded the Republic of Consciousness Prize and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize 2018. With stories anthologised in The Penguin Book of the Contemporary British Short Story (Penguin Classics, 2018) and Liberating the Canon (Dostoevsky Wannabe, 2018), she is a Fellow of the MacDowell Colony and the Royal Society of Literature.

Monday 11 March 2019, Guardian journalist Gary Younge

7:30 pm, Nuffield Theatre Café  – Campus venue gary younge

Gary Younge is an award-winning author, broadcaster and columnist for The Guardian, based in London. He also writes a monthly column, Beneath the Radar, for the Nation magazine and is the Alfred Knobler Fellow for The Nation Institute. He has written five books: Another Day in the Death of America, A Chronicle of Ten Short Lives; The Speech, The Story Behind Martin Luther King’s Dream; Who Are We?, And Should it Matter in the 21st century; Stranger in a Strange Land, Travels in the Disunited States and No Place Like Home, A Black Briton’s Journey Through the Deep South. He has made several radio and television documentaries on subjects ranging from gay marriage to Brexit.In this special Writers in Conversation, we wilhave author and Southampton English BA alumna Ella Dove reading from her novel and discussing its route to publication with her literary agent, Richard Pike, who also graduated from Southampton’s English programme.

Friday 11 October 2019: Ella Dove & Richard Pike

Ella Dove will be reading from her novel and discussing how she drew upon her own traumatic experience to create the fiction of her work. She will also be talking about working as a journalist and achieving worldwide publication whilst she is still in her twenties. Richard Pike will be discussing his work as a literary agent, how he has worked with Ella to make “Five Steps to Happy” so successful, and what he looks for in a manuscript.

 Ella’s novel “Five Steps to Happy”, released this summer, explores how life can change in a heartbeat. When struggling actress Heidi has a life-changing accident aged 32, her world falls apart. Stuck in hospital and unable to walk, her only companion is Maud, the elderly lady in the bed next to hers. Heidi misses her flatmate, her life, her freedom – surely 32 is too young to be an amputee? But when Maud’s aloof but attractive grandson Jack pays a visit to the ward, Heidi realises that her life isn’t over just because it’s different. It might not look like the life she dreamed of, but it’s the one she’s got – and there’s a lot she still wants to tick off her bucket list. With Jack at her side, will Heidi take the first step back to happiness? Or is there one more surprise still in store…?

Taking in questions from the audience, this event will be moderated by Rebecca Smith, a novelist and principal teaching fellow in English and Creative Writing at the University of Southampton. Rebecca is particularly pleased to be organizing this event having taught both Ella Dove and Richard Pike when they were studying English at the University of Southampton.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019: Judith Heneghan

Novelist and children’s writer Judith Heneghan, longlisted for the Guardian’s 2019 “Not the Booker” prize, will be reading from and talking about her “Snegurochka”, her debut novel set in Kiev, as part of the University of Southampton English department’s Writers in Conversation series.

“Snegurochka” takes place in Kiev in 1992, where a young mother, Rachel, arrives with her infant to join her journalist husband. As she navigates both this world and the world of being a mother, she reaches into communities her husband overlooks, befriending the apartment caretaker, her husband’s driver, an over-friendly shop owner, yet failing to take in their complicated, intertwining histories. Intelligent, well-written, rich in characters and the haunting setting of Kiev, the novel is slyly political in its exploration of how the West misunderstands other cultures. Heneghan lived in Kiev during this time, and she will discuss how she drew upon that experience to create the fiction of this novel, as well as how her background in history, and her knowledge about writing for children, influenced the writing of this book. Taking in questions from the audience, the forum is moderated by Carole Burns, a fiction writer, journalist and head of creative writing at the University of Southampton.

Heneghan grew up in Hampshire and read History at the University of York before living and working in a community for people with learning differences near Dover. Later, after several years as a commissioning editor, she spent time in Kiev, Moscow and Islamabad before settling in Winchester with her four children. She has a doctorate in Creative Arts and has written extensively for young readers. Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Winchester where, for a number of years, she also directed the Winchester Writers’ Festival. “Snegurochka” (Salt Publishing) is her first novel for adults. She is now working on a second, set in upstate New York.


Tuesday 9 October 2018: Writers in Conversation: Patrice Lawrence

Patrice Lawrence is an award-winning writer, whose debut YA novel, Orangeboy, won the Bookseller YA Prize and the Waterstones Prize for Older Children’s Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Costa Children’s Book Award and many regional awards. Indigo Donut, her second book, was shortlisted for the Bookseller YA Prize, was Book of the Week in The Times, The Sunday Times and The Observer, and was one of The Times’ top children’s books in 2017. Both books have been nominated for the Carnegie Award.

Patrice was born in Brighton, brought up in an Italian-Trinidadian family in mid-Sussex, and now lives in East London with her daughter, partner and Stormageddon, the tabby.

“Lawrence is a vibrant, accomplished storyteller… but what really sets her writing apart is her skill in getting to the raw heart of her characters.” The Observer

Lawrence will read from Indigo Donut followed by a q-and-a with Carole Burns, head of creative writing at the University of Southampton and herself a writer.

Tuesday 30 October 2018: Writers in Conversation: Katherine Stansfield

Katherine Stansfield is a novelist and poet who grew up in Cornwall and now lives in Cardiff. Her historical crime series Cornish Mysteries is published by Allison & Busby: think X Files meets Sherlock Holmes meets Daphne du Maurier. Book two in the series, The Magpie Tree, is out now. Her literary novel, The Visitor, was published by Parthian; her poetry, including her debut collection, Playing House, and the upcoming We Could Be Anywhere By Now, is published by Seren Books.

Stansfield is the Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Cardiff University, where she also teaches the Writing Crime Fiction course for the university’s School of Continuing and Professional Education. She is an Associate Lecturer for the Open University’s new MA in Creative Writing, a Writing Fellow at the University of South Wales, and a mentor for Literature Wales.

She will read from The Magpie Tree before talking about writing in such diverse forms with Carole Burns, head of creative writing at the University of Southampton and herself a writer.

Tuesday 27 November 2018: Four Writers from Southampton’s PhD Creative Writing

The English department at the University of Southampton has a thriving PhD programme, including a Creative Writing pathway. Two writers who have completed their PhDs – Dr. Jenn Shaller and Dr. Aiysha Jahan – join two writers who are still studying in the programme – Alice Stinetorf and Kostas Kaltsas – in this special Writers in Conversation that explores how writing can be expanded, explored and developed with a PhD programme.

Aiysha Jahan is a short fiction writer who completed her PhD in 2017: I Cast No Shadow, a collection of short stories inspired by Dubai’s unique third culture kid experience. She has worked as an associate lecturer in English at the University of Southampton and her fiction has been published in Critical Muslim and Bengal Lights.

Alice Stinetorf’s work has appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Best of Ohio Short Stories, and elsewhere, garnering awards including an Arkansas Arts Council literary arts fellowship. She is currently drafting a historical novel and editing her collection of linked short fiction.

Kostas Kaltsas’s PhD is funded by the AHRC via the South, West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership. His chapbook Postlude was published by Pilotless Press in 2014. His translations into Greek include Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn and David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest (forthcoming).

Jenn Shaller is a short fiction writer who completed their PhD in 2018: Kiss Your Comrades, a set of linked trans narratives exploring the intersections of gender, neurodivergence, and queer kinship. They are interested in the short form, representations of marginalised experience, and storytelling as a political act. Most recently, they were published with Persephone’s Daughter’s Literary Magazine.

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