FOUR acclaimed authors will give a series of public talks linked to its MA programme this academic year in the atmospheric state rooms at West Dean College.
Among them is award-winning author Iain Sinclair, a chronicler of uncharted and often unloved parts of the UK who has written works of fiction, poetry and non-fiction including his 2017 book The Last London, and Bethan Roberts, whose first novel The Pools won a Jerwood/Arvon Young Writers’ Award and has taught Creative Writing at Chichester University.
The other two writers are the novelist Isabel Ashdown, a creative writing tutor whose debut novel Glasshopper won the Mail on Sunday Novel competition and was listed among the best books of the year in 2009, and Stephen May, a writer with work developing arts practitioners for Arts Council England, whose talk Support For Artists will pose the question: how, exactly, do you begin to live the dream?.
The authors have been chosen by novelist Martine McDonagh, the programme leader on the MA Creative Writing & Publishing at West Dean College, near Chichester. “The authors have been selected because their interests and their work fit with the MA project, which is about supporting artists and building a developing career in the arts,” explains Martine, whose latest novel Narcissism For Beginners is longlisted for the 2017 Guardian Not The Booker Prize. “The students who come to the MA are already committed to writing and want to take that next step to writing professionally. They learn how to build an author profile on social media, for example.
“So I have to find that elements of the authors’ work that are relevant for the students on the course. Iain Sinclair, for example, is well known for marrying his personal interests with history predominantly through walking places – he’s a very, very interesting chronicler of places and tries to evoke a deeper understanding of people and places.”
Ms Roberts, who has written drama for BBC Radio 4and has worked in television documentary, will speak on Turning Facts Into Fiction. Her second novel The Good Plain Cook was serialised on BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime and was chosen as one of Time Out’s books of the year. My Policeman, the story of a 1950s policeman, his wife, and his male lover, followed in 2012, and her latest novel, Mother Island, is the recipient of a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered prize. She has also won the Society of Authors’ Olive Cook Prize and the RA Pin Drop Award for short fiction. This year, Brighton-based Ms Roberts, writer-in-residence at Ditching Museum of Art + Craft, has been writing a short story in response to the museum’s recent exhibition Eric Gill: The Body.
Isabel Ashdown, who teaches a writing short course at West Dean College, will give a talk entitled The Flashback: The Use And Function Of Memory And Time Shifts In A Novel. The novelist, who has published five novels including this year’s Little Sister and will publish her sixth, a psychological thriller titled Beautiful Liars, in April, has a Masters in Creative Writing and has just taken up a new post as Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of Chichester.
In the final talk in the series, Stephen May, who has spent many years helping people involved in the arts find practical ways to follow their dreams, will unravel the mysteries of arts funding and explore ways to support yourself while developing an artistic career.
Ms McDonagh, who divides her time between her home in West Yorkshire and her job at West Dean College in West Sussex, has written three novels. She published her first, I Have Waited, And You Have Come, in 2006 following a 30-year career in the music industry managing bands including James, whose 1991 hit Sit Down reached No2 in the UK charts, and Brighton-based Fujiya & Miyagi.
“I always wanted to be a writer,” she says. “It was the right time when I was in my early to mid-30s and I did an MA in creative writing in Manchester. Then I did some teaching in Brighton and Kent and was asked to do some creative writing teaching at West Dean College. They were looking to develop a new writing MA and here I am.”
The series of four talks, which are free, are open to the public with registration required. Visit westdean.org.uk/events.
Iain Sinclair gives his talk at 5.30pm on Tuesday September 26 in The Old Library at West Dean College.
Bethan Roberts gives her talk, Turning Facts Into Fiction, at 5.30pm on Tuesday October 31 at West Dean College.
Isabel Ashdown gives her talk, The Flashback: The Use And Function Of Memory And Time Shifts In A Novel, at 5.30pm on Tuesday December 5 in The King’s Room at West Dean College.
Stephen May gives his talk, Support for Artists, at 5.30pm on Tuesday March 20 at West Dean College.
Iain Sinclair, above, and top, Isabel Ashdown/Picture: West Dean College
Bethan Roberts, above, and below, Stephen May/Picture: Jonathan Ring