Immersion: John Wright reviews Dip, by Andrew Fusek Peters


 Dip cover

DIP: Wild Swims from the Borderlands

244pp. Rider.  £16.99.

978 1 846 04447 2

Andrew Fusek Peters seeks out the wilderness of dark pools and out of the way rivers.

Dip is a personal journey of Andrew Fusek Peters’s ‘wild swims’ in and around Shropshire and the Welsh borders. After I adjusted to the idea that bathing in cold water may, in fact, be invigorating, with many positive side effects, I began to take vicarious pleasure in his quest for those Borderland waters.

The more I waded in, the more I found the book drawing me deeper under the surface as the author, skilfully and with rare candour, reveals the dark world of his own depression and his short confinement in psychiatric hospitals where he wrestled with the devils of his own psyche.

The book makes clear that Peters’s lifelong habit of wild swimming is not only a source of joy to him, but also a cure – a means of recovery when the pressures of daily life became too much. We are taken on the journey into his life, meeting his wife, family and friends, as we learn how the wild swims have taken him from a lonely, fear-filled place back into the warmth and joy that of his family life.

Given Peters’s record as an author and poet, we should not be surprised to find that his language in describing these adventures is vital, vivid and full of unexpected metaphors and sonorous alliterations. His language drew me in like a charm.

The book also contains a series of black and white photographs which not only complement his powers of description but also open up the landscapes of wild swimming to those unfamiliar with the terrain.

Dip is a testament to the healing virtues of two great powers: that of water and that of writing. The book reveals the catharsis he undergoes not only through swimming but also the act of writing his experiences.

I put the book down feeling uplifted, aware of a somewhat subversive thought niggling away at me: that a dip into untamed water on a hot summer afternoon might do me the power of good.

Andrew Fusek Peters is appearing as part of the Birmingham Literature Festival on October 9 @ 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm in the Studio Theatre, Library of Birmingham: Writing In The Wild: Tim Dee, Andrew Fusek Peters & Jean Sprackland

ICCW Review of the Year 2013-14

The new academic year is upon us – and with it the pleasures of the ICCW’s autumn programme. Before we move on, however, let us recall what the ICCW’s second season held…

3 October 2013: The ICCW sponsored the opening event of the Birmingham Literature Festival, featuring the Poet Laureate of England, Carol Ann Duffy, reading together with Imtiaz Dharker. N.B.! The ICCW is also sponsoring the opening of this year’s Festival, featuring Jackie Kay, on 2 October 2014!

9 October 2013: Poet, award-winning author of the novel The Last Hundred Days and Fellow of the ICCW, Patrick McGuinness, on the art of the novel

17 October 2013: Dramaturg, playwright and Fellow of the ICCW, Caroline Jester hosted a public seminar on ‘Europa’, a multilingual, pan-European collaborative theatre project

23 October 2013: Poets David Morley (The Gypsy and the Poet) and Gregory Leadbetter (The Body in the Well) – a Fellow and the Director of the ICCW, respectively – give readings of their work

20 November 2013: Poet and fiction writer Catherine Smith on short stories, poetry and collaboration

28 November 2013: Poet and Editor of The Poetry Review, Maurice Riordan, reads from his latest collection, The Water Stealer, together with poet Angela France, reading from Hide

4 December 2013: Academic and biographer Nicholas Roe discusses the methods and discoveries of his latest biography, John Keats: A New Life

5 February 2014: Alan Mahar, novelist and former Chief Executive of Tindal Street Press, lecture on the past, present, and future of literary fiction

5 February 2014: Poet, editor and publisher Peter Sansom leads a workshop on poetry

18 February 2014: ‘Break, blowe, burn, and make me new’: John Donne and Benjamin Britten: Words into Music, at Birmingham Conservatoire – Combining poetry, music, biography and performance, with Professor Ronald Woodley (piano), James Geer (tenor), Dr Gregory Leadbetter, Professor David Roberts and Dr Kate Kennedy

12 March 2014: Leading journalist Nicholas Lezard on the art of the literary critic

19 March 2014: Book launch and reading of Patrick McGuinness’s memoir, Other People’s Countries: A Journey into Memory

28 March 2014 – Beats and Birmingham: Poets and the City, with live music from The Beat Generation, at the Library of Brimingham, as part of the Frontiers Festival 2014 – featuring award-winning poets Luke Kennard, Bohdan Piasecki and guests

2 April 2014: Literary agent David Smith from the Annette Green Authors’ Agency on what agents are looking for and how they help their writers

26 April 2014: The ICCW sponsors the Outdoors Writing Workshop with Fellow of the ICCW, David Morley, together with a poetry reading by David Morley, Gregory Leadbetter, and participants in the workshop, at Wenlock Poetry Festival

25 June 2014: Birmingham City University Creative Writing Summer Show, featuring as guest author the thriller writer, R.J. Ellory

It was quite exhausting just writing that…but also rather wonderful to relive a year’s worth of wonderful events.

Join us again this year: news of our autumn programme will be released soon…

Dr Gregory Leadbetter – Director of the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing


The ICCW exists to cultivate the literary arts and the life of ideas. Six events a year are run on-campus at Birmingham City University, and feed directly into our creative writing programmes at both postgraduate and undergraduate level. Our other events are open to everyone, usually (but not exclusively) at city centre venues in Birmingham.

The ICCW has a core group of contributors, known as Fellows of the ICCW, who contribute to its aims and its programme, through readings, masterclasses, and in some cases, tutorial roles. Our Fellows are: Helen Cross, Caroline Jester, Ian Marchant, Patrick McGuinness, David Morley, and Sally Read.

Doctor Who: Writing the Companions

This blogpost is taken from the blog of Dr Gregory Leadbetter, Director of the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing and the MA in Writing at Birmingham City University. It was originally posted there on 6 September 2014.

Steven Moffat has come in for a lot of criticism since taking charge of Doctor Who – somewhat bafflingly, to my mind – but I’ve always admired his scriptwriting and I still do. Less given to sentimentality than Russell T. Davies, he has led the series with humour, verve and intelligence. The plots get a bit convoluted sometimes, but there are worse sins. Matt Smith did a fine job as the previous Doctor, but the excellent Peter Capaldi is – quite rightly – bringing a new edge to the role. Moffat’s priorities look good to me.
      But – since its re-launch in 2005, the writing for Doctor Who has regularly gone wrong in one significant way: its handling of the companions.
      After two episodes of Series 8, Danny Pink looks good, and I’m rather hoping that Journey Blue will not be abandoned by the Doctor after all. But Clara – ah, Clara…
      Leaving aside the deeply misguided storyline in which the Doctor supposedly fell in love with Rose Tyler, (Davies, no!) the companions have too often been drained of their wonder at the Doctor’s universe and installed with a whiny species of self-satisfied insolence, as if untouched by any sense of the mysteries they have been shown. They stay too much their same old selves, in the most extraordinary circumstances. To me, that’s also unrealistic, in a damaging sense (and before anyone says, ‘Realistic? This is sci-fi!’ I would say that sci-fi especially demands psychological authenticity if it is to achieve narrative authenticity).
      Dispiritingly, I suspect that this is because the writers intuitively perceive the offspring of contemporary society to be self-obsessed, lacking in humility and apparently incapable of having respect for anything they don’t or can’t be bothered to understand – and then write the characters accordingly. I have an awful feeling (oh say it ain’t so) that they are trying to write ‘normal’ characters, to which we, as members of that benighted society, can ‘relate’.
      Don’t do that. Neither children nor adults need it.
      Clara has been a lost opportunity in this respect, because she was far and away the most promising companion since the re-launch. In effect, when they picked which Clara Oswald to settle on, they picked the wrong one. Her first incarnations were much more interesting: she was intelligent, with a mystery of her own. Now, despite her charms, of which there are many for sure, this ‘teacher’-variant is too often just another human arrogant enough to hold on to her seemingly uninterested attitude – long after the Doctor, I reckon, would have lost patience with it.
      The Silurian Vastra, played by the wonderful Neve McIntosh, is a lively addition to the Whoniverse – as is/was the not-quite-human River Song: both Moffat creations.
      For the Doctor’s regular companion(s), can’t we have more interesting humans, too?


‘Misterioso': A New Poem by Gregory Leadbetter, for the Music for Youth National Festival 2014

Greg image

Gregory Leadbetter, poet and Director of the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing at Birmingham City University, has been commissioned by Professor David Roberts, Executive Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media, to produce a new poem in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the Music for Youth National Festival, currently being held across Birmingham at venues including the Town Hall, Symphony Hall and the university’s own Conservatoire.

Greg gave the first public recital of the poem to audiences at the Town Hall and the Symphony Hall on Tuesday 8 July 2014, the opening day of the Festival.

You can read the poem here: Misterioso



Helen Cross: Short Stories on Radio 4 and in The Manchester Review


Fellow of the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing at Birmingham City University, Helen Cross has two new short stories out: ‘Who Wants Tortoise?’ is published in The Manchester Review, while ‘An Open Letter to Bees’ will be aired on Radio 4 at 3.45pm on Friday 11 July 2014.

Helen is a member of the superb tutorial team for the MA in Writing at Birmingham City University, offering one-to-one tuition on fiction for the Final Project module, as well as leading ICCW masterclasses on the craft of writing.

Beats and Birmingham: Poets and the City, with live music from The Beat Generation – 5.30pm, 28 March 2014, Library of Birmingham

Beats and Birmingham: Poets and the City – feat. Bohdan Piasecki, Luke Kennard and others – with music from The Beat Generation Cut-up & Fold-in


Café Mezzanine, Library of Birmingham

5.30pm, Friday 28 March 2014

The Institute of Creative and Critical Writing warmly invite you to join us for a blast of poetry and music – part of the Frontiers+ Festival 2014.

Bringing together the Beats, Birmingham and the poetry of city life, it will feature poetry from Bohdan Piasecki and Luke Kennard, with Roy McFarlane (Birmingham Poet Laureate 2010-11), Derek Littlewood, James Horrocks and Ben Titmus – performing both their own work and that of LeRoi Jones, Jackson Mac Low, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and poets of Birmingham Louis MacNeice and Roy Fisher.

There will also be music from Simon King, Sid Peacock and Steve Tromans, performing their new settings of Beat legends Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs and Corso.

This event is FREE – no need to book.

We look forward to seeing you there…

Dr Gregory Leadbetter
Director, Institute of Creative and Critical Writing
Birmingham City University

Book launch: Other People’s Countries, by Patrick McGuinness, 6pm Wednesday 19 March 2014, School of Art, Margaret Street, Birmingham

The Institute of Creative and Critical Writing and Writing West Midlands warmly invite you to join us for a reading and wine reception to mark the launch of Patrick McGuinness’s new memoir, Other People’s Countries, published by Jonathan Cape.

Disarming, eloquent and illuminating, this meditation on place, time and memory, could only have been written by a poet, or a novelist, or a professor. Happily, Patrick McGuinness is all three, and Other People’s Countries is a marvel: a stunning piece of lyrical writing, rich in narrative and character – full of fresh ways of looking at how we grow up, how we start to make sense of the world.

This book evolved out of stories the author told his children: stories about the Belgian border town of Bouillon, where his mother came from, and where he has been going three times a year since he was a child – first with his parents and now with his son and daughter. This town of eccentrics, of charm, menace and wonder, is re-created beautifully – ‘Most of my childhood,’ he says, ‘feels more real to me now than it did then’. For all its sharp specifics, though, this is a book about the common, universal concerns of childhood and the slowly developing deep sense of place that is the bedrock for our memories.

Alert and affectionate, full of great curiosity and humour, Other People’s Countries has all the depth and complexity of its own subject – memory – and is an unfashionably distilled, resonant book: unusual and exquisite.


Born in Tunisia in 1968, Patrick McGuinness is the author of The Last Hundred Days, which was longlisted for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, shortlisted for the 2011 Costa First Novel Award and won the 2012 Wales Book of the Year Award. His other books include two collections of poems, The Canals of Mars (2004), and Jilted City (2010), He is a Fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford, where he lectures in French.

Patrick is a Fellow of the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing at Birmingham City University.

Time/place:      6pm, Wednesday 19 March 2014

Venue:             Lecture Room G01, School of Art, Margaret Street, Birmingham

Cost:                FREE, but please email to book

‘Break, Blowe, Burn and Make Me New': John Donne and Benjamin Britten – Words into Music

You are warmly invited to join us for this special event next week, hosted by the Birmingham Conservatoire in collaboration with the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing, School of English:

‘Break, Blowe, Burn and Make Me New': John Donne and Benjamin Britten – Words into Music
Recital Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire
£6.50 (£4 concessions)
18 Feb 2014 (7:30pm)
Booking Information:
Tickets available on the door
James Geer tenor
Ronald Woodley piano
Kate Kennedy, David Roberts and Gregory Leadbetter speakers
Benjamin Britten The Holy Sonnets of John Donne, Op.35
Benjamin Britten’s settings of nine of the Holy Sonnets of John Donne are some of the most intense, thoughtful, and at times disturbing of all his songs. They were composed in the summer of 1945 in the immediate aftermath of visits to the newly liberated concentration camps while he was on tour in Germany with Yehudi Menuhin. This evening’s event in music, words and images will explore these profound works from the perspectives of poetry, interpretation, musical setting, and the composer’s life, with contributions from Britten literary specialist Dr Kate Kennedy (Girton College, Cambridge), and Professor David Roberts and Dr Gregory Leadbetter from the School of English.
The settings will be performed by James Geer, former Britten-Pears School Young Artist, with Professor Ronald Woodley from the Conservatoire’s Research Department.
We very much hope to see you there.
Dr Gregory Leadbetter
Director, Institute of Creative and Critical Writing
Director, MA in Writing
School of English
Birmingham City University
Birmingham B42 2SU

ICCW Day, School of English – Wednesday 5 February 2014

The Institute of Creative and Critical Writing is delighted to announce two excellent speakers for the first of its ICCW Days of 2014, on Wednesday 5 February 2014, in rooms B614 and B609, Baker Building, City North Campus. All current students in the School of English and all Birmingham City University university staff are invited to join us.

1. At 11am Alan Mahar will give a guest lecture on literary fiction in room B614: ‘The Beautiful Line – and Beyond’. There will be time for questions and answers at the end, and the event will conclude by 12 noon.
2. At 3pm Peter Sansom will give the ICCW guest seminar in room B609, on his life and practice as an editor, publisher and author – and how to forge your place in literary culture. Peter will speak for 45 minutes, before opening up to 45 minutes of discussion with those in attendance.
Alan Mahar was born in Liverpool in the first half of the last century, studied English in London, worked as a library assistant alongside Philip Pullman and moved to the West Midlands to teach English in FE Colleges, which he soon stopped as he rashly thought he could make a go of writing. Years of learning to write stories, reading, reviewing and teaching creative writing culminated in the publication of a bundle of short stories in prestigious magazines. He struggled to write his first novel, but Flight Patterns was published by Gollancz in 1999 followed by After the Man Before (2002, Methuen). In 1983 he founded Tindal Street Fiction Group and was one of the people who set up the prizewinning publisher Tindal Street Press, of which he was Publishing Director from 1997 -2012. During that time three of its books were listed for the Man Booker Prize, two for the Orange, and the Press had two Costa First Novel winners and three nominations for the Commonwealth Writers Prize. Alan is now a freelance writer working as an editor and a reader for The Literary Consultancy, a visiting lecturer in creative writing at several Midlands universities and pushing on with a novel for which he received a major Arts Council Prize in 2002. He is excited that he’s just started writing short stories again after a decade doing publishing instead of the proper stuff of writing.

Peter Sansom is a poet and tutor. His publications include On the Pennine Way (Littlewood, 1988) and Everything You’ve Heard is True (Carcanet, 1990), a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. His poetry commissions include The Guardian, The Observer, Radio Three, The Big Breakfast, a billboard in the centre of Lancaster and The Swedish Club (a Marine Insurers in Gothenburg). Over the last 25 years, Peter has led writing workshops in hundreds of schools and workplaces, been Writer in Residence for Marks & Spencer and The Prudential and regular tutor for the Arvon Foundation. He taught the MA Poetry at Huddersfield for 10 years, was Fellow in Creative Writing at Leeds University, and leads monthly Writing Days and the advanced Writing School course at The Poetry Business. He is a director of The Poetry Business in Huddersfield, and co-editor of The North Magazine and of Smith/Doorstop Books.

Both events promise to be fascinating.

Gregory Leadbetter, Director of the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing

‘Europa': Caroline Jester on Multilingual Collaborative Theatre

In this blogpost, ICCW Fellow Caroline Jester reflects upon her experience as the dramaturg behind Europa, a theatre project that brought together four European theatres: Birmingham Repertory Theatre (UK), Dresden State Theatre (Germany), Teatr Polski Bydgoszcz (Poland) and Zagreb Youth Theatre (Croatia) – and four leading playwrights from each country – Steve Waters (UK), Lutz Hübner (Germany), Malgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk (Poland) and Tena Štivicic (Croatia).

This revelatory piece of theatre set out to explore the possibilities of collaborative playwriting, to produce a single work that is multi-authored and multi-lingual. Drawing on first-hand accounts, including memories from the 1930s up to the present day, the playwrights have collaborated to overcome language barriers and weave their separate languages into one single dramatic entity.

Caroline’s blogpost follows up on the public seminar, hosted by the ICCW on 17 October 2013, in which those involved in the project came together to discuss its evolution, its methodologies and its cultural significance.

Gregory Leadbetter, Director of the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing


As a theatre practitioner I should feel disheartened when a piece of work I’ve initiated receives the reaction: ‘this is not a play’. On the contrary, however, this excites me. As a living artform, theatre is founded on change and having to find new ways of overcoming obstacles, whether in the form of a character having to find new paths to achieve her objective or a playwright having to rewrite his fourth draft.

Where are the rules, written in stone, to which we must adhere, to make ‘a play’? Believe me I’ve tried to find them. But if anything can be called a play, it is a piece of theatre that has a life of its own. It is something unpredictable, that allows us to discover something new by being part of an experience that allows us to see stories told in new ways. I hope we’ve moved on from checking Aristotle’s Poetics to decide if a piece of theatre lies within this framework.

‘Europa’ began in the unknown and I hope has ended without prescribing a fixed direction for where things should go. It was collaborative, not solely in the context of theatre as a collaborative medium, but collaborative in its story creation with four playwrights in four different languages. Europe itself can be described as a work in progress and when a play fails to offer a chance to change itself, when it is described as a complete play, then it might not be true to its own identity.

In 2009 I became aware of the growing rhetoric around national identity versus European identity in the run up to the last general election in the United Kingdom. This wasn’t unique to this country but could be witnessed around Europe and the increasing crisis within the Eurozone. Multiple languages were competing for their voice, seemingly fighting against a union that had been established, in theory, to stop the resurgence of such behaviour.

As a dramaturg I’m fascinated by finding new ways to tell stories and experimenting with form. The process of embarking on a new collaboration is where the fear of the unknown begins and ultimately where something new can be discovered. I had developed multiauthored work before but only in the one language. In a country that has over three hundred languages spoken I felt it was time to challenge the single language play through playwriting. Multilingual work isn’t a new phenomenon, and the methodology involved can be described as postdramatic theatre. These things had previously been applied to existing texts, however. Where this process differed from what had gone before was by using playwriting as the starting point for the collaboration.

Four leading writers – Steve Waters (UK), Lutz Hübner (Germany), Tena Štivičić (Croatia) and Malgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk (Poland) – indulged me in this idea and we embarked on a journey with four leading theatre producers: the Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Dresden State Theatre, ZKM, Croatia and Teatr Polski Bydgoszcz, with support from the European Commission.

We were fortunate to have a seminar at the end of the project hosted by The Institute of Creative and Critical Writing and all four writers described the trepidation they felt at the onset. Lutz Hübner, who has written over forty plays and is the most produced living German playwright, asks himself what is different when he embarks upon any new play. He tries to have a new challenge with every project and with this process he saw four or five and felt it was a mission impossible because of its unpredictability. It was the very unpredictable nature of the idea that excited him, however. He compared the process to building Frankenstein’s creature and was interested to see if this was a monster others would want to see too.

All the writers visited each country – for instance leading workshops with elderly citizens in Bydgoszcz, Poland, who thought we were EU officials and demonstrated their skills in the fitness craze Zumba whilst demanding that Lutz arrange a bonnet demonstration by the Polish in Dresden. Wives of Nato officials from multiple countries described their feelings of isolation in Bydgoszcz in a country that doesn’t use English as the European cultural glue. In Birmingham Asian womens’ groups debated laws in different European countries and whether they would want to go to France after they’ve banned burqas. Dresden lies in the former East of Germany and different generations had vastly conflicting experiences of what Europe is. The writers’ visit fell on 14th February, the anniversary of the bombing in Dresden and a day when far right groups descend on the city. Solidarity is shown amongst its citizens as they take to the streets and turn their backs on the unwanted visitors – and were successful in peacefully stopping them entering the city. Zagreb offered a unique insight into the wider continent of Europe when remembering the former Yugoslavia as a multi-national country and whether it was a good idea for Croatia to enter a much bigger continental union after its very recent war.

Steve Waters felt that the play would have been impossible without this experience of visiting each country. He felt that at the heart of this project was something that couldn’t be achieved – and that this is what Europe is about. The process reflected the subject matter with people asking themselves how on earth we are connected to each other, especially when you are outside your own territory. Other languages make you question this too, even when you are in your own territory. They make you see your own world in a new way, through the lens of another.

Malgorzata Sikorska-Miszczuk said she saw her own country through the other playwrights’ eyes. It wasn’t just a deepening understanding of borders that emerged,  but a glimpse into the world of new cultural practices. Playwrights are secretive by nature, not often willing to share or reflect on how the words are committed to the page – but this collaboration shone a light on how the theoretical becomes drama. Tena Štivičić felt the very human encounters with people she wouldn’t normally have met was crucial in facilitating discussion, especially in an era were public discussions are quickly disappearing in a digital age.

The ancient Greeks have a habit of knocking on the theatrical door though, however far you feel you’ve left them behind. Europa became the character that circled the multiple characters that populated the final play. Polish women searching for bigger breasts through the European gene pool colliding with an Estonian pyro artist intent on getting money from the Commission to fund her burning euros. Croatian film makers urging the funders to explore European history through the Croatian lens and a German man realising he was on the wrong side of every wall as his country was divided. Europa itself is baffling, as she’s the myth that reminds us to look closely or we might not like the look of our offspring – what we make of Europe. She envelopes the diversity and speed of the present with the past, urging us to connect yet not forcing us to follow her.

‘This is not a play’ was only one of many reactions to this work in the UK. Audiences booked twice and were made up of many different nationalities. In Croatia the Minister for Culture felt it was important that the President of Croatia saw this work and in Poland it was part of an international festival of work. In Germany the different nations collaborated after the performances too in the bar watching football, resonating with recent debates in the UK around whether Polish-born British citizens should support England or Poland in international games.

Europa lives on in the form of Methuen’s publication, their first multilingual play. Anna Brewer, Commissioning Editor at Methuen Drama stated that this was significant for Methuen as they were moving into new territory: they had never published a play in four languages before.

I hope this work continues to create a reaction as it challenges our preconceptions of the status quo and moves us into new cultural territories – questioning through collaboration what is real and what we’ve made up along the way to help us feel secure.

Caroline Jester, Dramaturg and Fellow of the Institute of Creative and Critical Writing – Tutor in Scripting and Staging, MA in Writing, Birmingham City University