I'm so pleased that we can finally announce the names of the seventeen emerging writers who will join the well-known authors in COMMON PEOPLE. They've been chosen by the regional writing agencies, who will support and mentor them in the run-up to publication, alongside support from Unbound and from me as editor of the collection. They are: Paul Allen, Ruth Behan, Astra Bloom, Jenny Knight, Katy Massey, Julie Noble, Louise Powell,Emma Purshouse, Loretta Ramkissoon, Riley Rockford, Jodie Russian-Red, Adam Sharp, Eva Verde, Lynne Voyce, Helen Wilber, Elaine Williams and S M Wilson.
What stories! What lives! It’s been so great to read these seventeen memoirs of working class writers. All life is there; hard, (inevitably) but also wry, bizarre, sad and proud, there’s some kick-ass ones too, all of them laced through with a determination to see the funny side, to do more than survive, to celebrate. It’s always a privilege to read a record of someone’s life and I’m absolutely delighted to welcome all these new writers to Common People, and can’t wait to see them all in print.
If you'd like to read more about them, their details are below. Thank you for pledging and helping us to get these brilliant new writers heard.
Kit de Waal.
Paul Allen – Fanny Testing - When Paul Allen was three, he would watch the gas men lighting the streetlamps from his gran’s bedroom window. He grew up in relative poverty, on a large council estate, which he says ‘was actually pretty good, as everybody I knew back then was in the same boat’. He left school at fifteen to be a bricklayer, like his dad before him, and loved it. Paul has played in bands and ridden motorcycles all his life, freelancing between building jobs road testing bikes for a monthly motorcycling magazine. Using that experience, he applied for a degree in journalism at the University of the West of England, swapping on to the creative writing course, where his tutor has described his writing as ‘experienced and emotionally intelligent.’
Ruth Behan – Stalin on our Mantelpiece - Ruth Behan was born in 1952, the daughter of Brian Behan, who was the brother of the writer Brendan Behan, and whose mother took part in the Easter rising carrying messages to the IRA. Her mother’s family were socialists from the North of England. She has three children, has run an antiques business, worked as a cleaner and a fiddle player, trained in Counselling Skills, has a degree in Child Development and has worked in Early Years Education. She has played for many years in the band, ‘Billy in the Low Ground’ and now teaches fiddle playing, which means she can play music for hours on end and get paid for it.
Astra Bloom – Black Cat Dreaming - Astra Bloom had never shared her work until she got a bursary and enrolled on the Creative Writing Programme at New Writing South. When the second poem she entered anywhere won the Bare Fiction poetry prize, Astra asked the editor if he was sure he hadn’t made a mistake. She has gone on to win or be shortlisted in many prizes, including the Brighton short story prize, the Bridport short story prize, Live Canon International poetry, as well as the Bristol, Brighton and Aurora poetry prizes. Astra has had two novels longlisted for the Mslexia novel award. She has poetry in Under The Radar and Magma magazine and is a contriubutor to the forthcoming anthology of writing about recovery of all sorts, A Wild and Precious Life.
Jenny Knight – Matoose Rowsay - Born and bred in rural Suffolk, Jenny Knight, 50, is a freelance copywriter and editor now living in south Norfolk with her husband and two teenage sons. A prize-winning writer of fiction and memoir, her stories have been listed in many competitions, including the international Bridport Prize. She has also written longer fiction and a novel based on her maternal grandmother’s extraordinary early life and wartime love triangle. She is currently polishing her first work of narrative non-fiction.
Katy Massey – Don’t Mention Class! - Katy Massey grew up in Leeds and worked as a freelance journalist in London. She suffered burn-out, and returned to education, culminating in a self-funded PhD in Creative Writing. This allowed her to write her own family’s complicated story, while researching memoir, and finding out why the lives of some groups of people are much less likely to be recorded, and lauded, than others. Shortly after the birth of her daughter, she was diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, and while recovering from surgery, started working on ways to encourage non-writers to author their life stories, particularly those under-represented in literature. One result of this work is Tangled Roots – an anthology of memoir by more than thirty members of mixed race families, exploring their experiences, history and contribution to British society. She is currently developing Who Are We Now? a collection of memoir responses to the Brexit referendum and a post-European future, while also working on The Cleansing, a novel imagining post-Grenfell London after a large-scale attack.
Julie Noble – Detail - A mother of five, Julie Noble is a lone parent living on a small council estate in North East Yorkshire. Brought up in Leeds on the border of Chapeltown, Julie was the first in her family to go to university, studying Psychology at Lancaster. Two weeks before the final exams, she gave birth to her first child then graduated with honours. While marrying, having four more children, and divorcing, Julie did various jobs including childminding, banking, television work, bookkeeping and running children’s activity clubs. Her writing has won prizes and appeared in Mslexia, Writing magazine and She magazine. In 2004, she self-published Talli's Secret to raise awareness of Dyspraxia; her eldest son has the condition.
Louise Powell – This Place is Going to the Dogs - Louise Powell is a final-year PhD Researcher in English at Sheffield Hallam University, funded by the North of England Consortium for Arts and Humanities Research. After growing up in receipt of free school meals and attending local comprehensive schools, she was awarded a Sixth Form Academic Scholarship to Teesside High School. She gained a First Class degree in English from Teesside University, and an MA with Distinction in Medieval and Renaissance Literary Studies from Durham University. One of her short comedy sketches, ‘Are You Alright?’, was performed in 2016 as part of Bolton Octagon Theatre’s ‘Best of Bolton’ production, and in 2017 she participated in New Writing North’s Significant Ink Professional Development Programme for Screenwriting. She was also shortlisted four times for the Martin Wills Writing Awards for writing on a horseracing theme.
Emma Purshouse – Misspent Youth - Emma Purshouse left school in the early 1980s at the age of fifteen, initially working on various government schemes interspersed with bouts of extreme unemployment. She gave education another go as a mature student, attaining a BA from Wolverhampton University and an MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Met. For the last twelve years Emma has been making a living as a writer and performance poet. Her passion is writing about the working-class communities that she has lived in, often making use of Black Country dialect within her work. In 2017 she won the international ‘Making Waves’ spoken word Poetry Competition judged by Luke Wright. Emma co-runs a successful spoken word night in the Black Country.
Loretta Ramkissoon – Which Floor? - Loretta Ramkissoon was brought up by her grandparents on a council estate in London after her father left and her mother’s struggle with bipolar disorder rendered her unable to care for Loretta. Her grandparents worked in Italian restaurants all their lives and instilled in her a determination to improve her prospects through hard work. Despite their struggles, the family always had a roof over their heads; never went hungry or lacked for anything vital and are fiercely proud of their achievements. After a state education, Loretta lived at home while studying for her degree and had a part-time retail job throughout university.
Riley Rockford – Domus Operandi - Riley Rockford’s Dad is a cleaner and kitchen porter and her mum now has a job as an attendant in a museum. Brought up by her single mum in a council house, Riley had free school meals, and at university was entitled to the means-tested tuition fee waiver, despite which debt still mounted up as she has tried to do things that would give her more opportunities. Being in the company of people who are not working class made her think about what it means to be from a working-class background. ‘I've got my degrees now, and so I wonder if I am supposed to be a different class now too. But it doesn't feel like the way you relate to the world, or feel in it, changes that easily’.
Jodie Russian-Red – The Funeral and The Wedding - Jodie Russian-Red is a part-time administrator, part-time writer in Nottingham. Over the past few years she has primarily focused her efforts on writing for spoken word and has had small writing and performing commissions for ‘Freedom Festival’ in Hull; ‘Wordlife’ in Sheffield, and was invited to be a featured guest at the spoken word event ‘Women of Words’ in Hull in 2017. She currently writes a weekly newsletter in the form of a personal memoir blog for the School of Culture, Languages & Area Studies at the University of Nottingham, where she also holds a completely unrelated day job processing invoices, ordering stationary and monitoring coffee levels.
Adam Sharp – Play - Adam grew up in a working-class area of Manchester, spending his first few years in a boarded-up slum with his heroin-addict parents, before being taken in by his grandfather so that he wouldn’t be put into care. He and his pensioner grandfather moved into a council flat, remaining there until Adam moved out at eighteen. Adam now focuses on writing books and has completed one memoir, two novels, and one work of narrative non-fiction – none of them yet published. He is currently doing an MA in Creative Writing: First Novel at St Mary’s University, Twickenham with Jonathan Gibbs, and is an organiser for Greenwich Writers Group.
Eva Verde – I Am Not Your Tituba - Eva, 38, from East London, now living in Chelmsford, Essex with her husband and three daughters. When her children started school, so did she, opting for part-time study to both fit in with (and alleviate), household management and motherhood. Studying for a degree in creative writing roused the confidence to write her first novel, Natural Born Consumers, about a mixed-race woman's rebellion against her bigoted in-laws.
Lynne Voyce – A Brief History of Industrial Action, Vauxhall Motors, Ellesmere Port - Lynne Voyce grew up on a council estate on Merseyside; a place full of larger than life characters, tall tales, and the odd dodgy deal. Inspired by her dad buying The Literary Classics Collection with some of his redundancy money, she studied English at the University of Leeds, and went on to take a teaching qualification and then a post graduate degree in educational psychology. Lynne now works in an inner city comprehensive school in Birmingham. She has published more than fifty individual short stories, won a number of literary competitions, and in December 2015, published her first story collection, Kirigami, with Ink Tears Press. She is currently working on her first novel.
Helen Wilber – Underdogs - Helen is from an ex mining town at the heart of the South Yorkshire coalfields. She and her brother were the first in their family to attend university, but her role models were traditional, and she was put off pursuing a career in journalism by the cost of access and the competition. Now working full-time in education, and her experiences with children and young people are a key theme in her writing, which takes place during the evenings and weekends. She has written an unpublished novel Family Photos, short stories and a radio play.
Elaine Williams – Night - Both Elaine Williams’ parents worked in factories, and growing up, she and her siblings knew the human and emotional cost of gas, electricity, sugar, bread, milk and paraffin – her dad leaving for work while it was still dark; her parents worrying about how they’d afford these necessities. Elaine went to state schools and was the first in her family to go to university, where she trained to be a teacher and then got a place at the National Film and Television School, where she trained to be a sound recordist. Ironically, while her parents managed to buy and pay for their house, Elaine is still a social housing tenant, employed in temporary freelance roles.
S M Wilson – Passengers - Born in Carlisle in 1980, and raised in Wigton, Cumbria, S M Wilson spent 15 years as a guitarist and lyricist in numerous Newcastle-based bands. In 2011 he left his band, sold his guitar, and began learning to write prose. He is currently working as a postman and studying towards an MA in creative writing at Northumbria University, for which he is developing a work of autobiographical fiction. In his spare time, he edits and contributes to Northumbria University’s creative magazine, The Edge. His short story ‘The Most Peculiar Flesh’, a tribute to Mishima, was published in print in Artificium’s Journal II. He has been published in New Writing Cumbria’s ezine, The Carrot, and occasionally blogs for the music-streaming site, Leaf.
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