Every year, the Centre for New Writing welcomes two Writers in Residence to be part of the programme for the spring term. In 2016, the Writers in Residence are Emma Jane Unsworth and Rebecca Perry. Their roles are to keep writing, to give a workshop session each and to act as mentors for the MA students, reading and commenting on work.Emma Jane Unsworth
Emma Jane Unsworth's first novel Hungry, the Stars and Everything (Hidden Gem) won a Betty Trask Award from the Society of Authors and was shortlisted for the Portico Prize 2012. Her short story 'I Arrive First' was included in The Best British Short Stories 2012 (Salt). She has worked as a journalist, a columnist for The Big Issue, and a barmaid. Her second novel Animals was published by Canongate in May 2014 and won a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize 2015. She is writing a third novel, as well as the screenplay of Animals. which has been optioned by BAFTA-nominated producer Sarah Brocklehurst and awarded development funding by the BFI .
Emma did the MA in Creative Writing here in 2002.Rebecca Perry
Rebecca Perry is the Poetry Fellow for the Spring semester 2016.
Rebecca Perry's pamphlet, little armoured. was published by Seren in 2012 and won the Poetry Wales Purple Moose prize and was a Poetry Book Society Choice. Her first full collection, Beauty/Beauty. was published by Bloodaxe in January 2015 and is a Poetry Book Society Recommendation, and was shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh Prize for Best First Collection and the T S Eliot Prize.
Rebecca co-edits the online journal Poems In Which .
Rebecca did the MA in Creative Writing here in 2008.
Writer in residence, Emma Jane Unsworth, has had two novels published
Rebecca Perry is the Poetry Fellow for the Spring semester 2016
Scars may be unwelcome intruders on our personal timelines, but they can be the making of you, outside and in, says novelist Emma Jane Unsworth (whose own scar is currently featuring on Elbows album). An abridged version
Celebrating the flaws of a womans body, even with a dastardly ulterior motive, is a rare thing. We are, after all, meant to be flawless. The ideal for our skin is smooth, blemishless. Thats why all those beauty products exist.
But I think another reason why we often hate our scars is that they happen without our say-so. Scars not only nod to specific chapters in our autobiography, but also to the fact that weve been powerless to stop certain things happening to us at those points.
I have a scar on the bridge of my nose. Its about half an inch across, at a diagonal, a different colour to the skin around it and jagged around the edges, as though hacked out in haste by an apprentice elf with a mini ice pick. I got it when I was five or six, in the early 1980s when butterfly stitches hadnt been around very long.
In my late teens, I began to enjoy it as a talking point. People were forever asking how I got it and, depending on my mood, I told those people a variety of lies. A shark did it. I got it in a fight defending an elderly lady The most popular of these tales was that I fell headfirst into a rosebush and a rose thorn cut me.
And thats what happens when you mythologise your own past: after a while you start to believe the fiction.
So the apocryphal rose-thorn anecdote tripped off my tongue when my last boyfriend, musician Guy Garvey [of Elbow fame], asked me about the scar. He liked the lie so much he said he was going to put it in a song. I heard the song after we broke up, and it does mention my scar, and the rose thorn, and also a subtle suggestion that he knows I was making it up. The actual lyric goes: So you claim by a rose thorn. So you claim. Oh, he was onto me all right.
It was a bittersweet feeling, hearing an old love musing on a physical. And, like my physical scar, the emotions of the break-up shaped me and sent me on my way. The initial pain morphed into a fruitful kind of acceptance. I went through something, and I came out the other side changed a little.
Incidentally, I was listening to Guys song on the radio with my mum the other day, and told her about the rose-thorn story and how it inspired the lyric. She said: But that is what happened! You did fall into a rose bush! But it wasnt a thorn that cut you. Id just pruned the roses and you fell on one of the sharp-pointed stems.
So there you go. My nose might be scarred, but its not as much like Pinocchios as I thought.
Powerful writing with a fascinating background –Kate Fforde
I was seven years old when I realised what I wanted most out of life: more.
Passion has long since been a stranger to food critic Helen Burns. At 28, she is merely going through the motions – technically proficient, but emotionally dead. However, no amount of professional experience could have prepared her for Bethel, a mysterious new restaurant tipped for a Michelin star.
In this crimson-hued, candlelit converted chapel, Helen finds herself embarking upon the most extraordinary thirteen-course meal, where each evocative dish has the power to take her back to a specific point in time. Suddenly, she is forced to remember the lonely family home that drove her into a dark fantasy realm, the life-affirming love affair with an astrophysicist that pushed her to her own limits, and the crushing heartbreak that allowed her to fall into her present relationship. As her deepest desires are slowly rekindled, Helen starts to wonder whether it could be her infamous childhood sweetheart, Temptation Himself, cooking up a storm in the kitchen…
HUNGRY, THE STARS AND EVERYTHING is a romantic comedy about whether it’s better to marry the love of your life with all the attendant passions and problems, or whether it is better to opt for someone loving and steady, if a little more predictable.
Manchester author and journalist Emma Jane Unsworth reads from her debut novel ‘Hungry, the Stars and Everything’, published by Hidden Gem Press at the Manchester Book Market 2011.
Emma Jane Unsworth’s short story ‘I Arrive First’ was included in The Best British Short Stories 2012 (Salt).
The second in a brand-new series of annual anthologies, The Best British Short Stories 2012 reprints the cream of short fiction, by British writers, first published in 2011. These stories first appeared in magazines from Ambit to Granta. in anthologies across various genres from publishers big and small, and in authors’ own short story collections. They were broadcast on radio and delivered by mobile phone app. They appeared online at Metazen and Paraxis .
The latest book of the series includes stories published in 2010 by the following authors: Emma Jane Unsworth, HP Tinker, Michael Marshall Smith, Dan Powell, Julian Gough, Stuart Evers, Stella Duffy, Socrates Adams-Florou, Jonathan Trigell, Will Self, Jaki McCarrick, Robert Shearman, Alison MacLeod, Jo Lloyd, Neil Campbell, Joel Lane, Ramsey Campbell, Jeanette Winterson, Jon McGregor and AK Benedict.
“Slip this lightweight but nourishing anthology into your holiday bag. Editor Royle has selected 20 published stories from British writers. His own (excellent) taste means that little explosions of weirdness or transcendence often erupt amid much well-observed everyday life.” —BOYD TONKIN The Independent
“It’s so good that it’s hard to believe that there was no equivalent during the 17 years since Giles Gordon and David Hughes’s Best English Short Stories ceased publication in 1994. The first selection makes a very good beginning … Highly Recommended.” —KATE SAUNDERS The Times
‘Some pairings can be relied upon – literature and life, Steptoe and Son. Lennon and McCartney, Nicholas Royle and a good anthology.’ —ANDREW O’HAGAN
Emma Jane Unsworth’s first novel Hungry, the Stars and Everything (Hidden Gem) won a Betty Trask Award from the Society of Authors and was shortlisted for the Portico Prize 2012. Her short story ‘I Arrive First’ was included in The Best British Short Stories 2012 (Salt). She has worked as a journalist, a columnist for The Big Issue. and a barmaid. Her second novel Animals was published by Canongate in May 2014 and won a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize 2015. She is writing a third novel, as well as the screenplay of Animals. which has been optioned by BAFTA-nominated producer Sarah Brocklehurst and awarded development funding by the BFI .Comments
Romantic and restless and a little world-weary: Emma Jane Unsworth and Rachel B. Glaser In Conversation
Emma Jane Unsworth and Rachel B. Glaser discuss their writing, self-censorship, Word’s discontinued AutoSummary function and the risk of editing forever.
Rachel B. Glaser :
Hi Emma! I loved Animals. Great writing! One of my favorite aspects of the book is the way the reader is placed within Laura. The reader witnesses little moments Laura has with her mind and body. Some of the body moments aren’t sexual, but they are intimate. They are the little moments we have all day long, rubbing our eyes, fixing our underwear. There is one moment where Laura puts her hands down her pants, but not to touch herself in a sexual way, just to hold herself. That moment stuck with me for its realism. In your other writing do you get this close to your main characters? Or does Animals go further into the experience of having a body than your other work?
Emma Jane Unsworth:
Thank you! I’m glad you liked that part. I seem to write about bodies a lot. With Laura I definitely felt like I was writing from the inside out. I did try and inhabit her in that way; I wanted the reader to be as close as possible to her. I was interested in the ways she could enjoy/escape her physicality – from the little ways like on her own in bed, to the big grand ways like sex and raves. I like writing about when bodies hijack minds, intoxication, sensory overload – I find the words around those topics exciting and dangerous. Why should all the lovely visceral stuff be reserved for thriller writers? Also, I think women inhabit their bodies differently because there’s a sense of public ownership. So the private moments for Laura with her body really count. And something like just holding yourself can feel radical in its realism – I remember feeling weirdly scared writing that, but then thought fuck it, that’s what she’d do, it’s going in.
One thing I hugely admired about Paulina & Fran was the perfect distance you kept from the girls, which allowed for so much brilliant satire. How hard was it to achieve that? Have you managed to avoid the ‘how autobiographical is it’ question?
Most of my short stories are written in third person, so I often play with creating distance between the reader and the characters. I like allowing the narration to have its own personality. I found it interesting for Paulina to disparage other characters, and then have the narration disparage Paulina.
When people ask how autobiographical my book is, I tend to give different answers every time, because it isn’t a question with a true answer. If I write something I’ve never lived, bits of truth and details attach to it, and if I write something I have lived, the same thing happens with bits of fiction. Fiction is like those amazing robots that build other robots. You can write a random sentence about two characters you’ve never met, and if you keep fiddling with it, these two characters might build lives for themselves. They might keep you up at night, they might keep you company on the train, they might take over your life for a few years!
Another thing I admired about Paulina and Fran was that it felt like a fearless book. Would you agree?
I’m glad it felt that way to you! I wanted the sentences to be fearless, even if the characters were cowering in fear. I find early drafts of fiction are often filled with doubt and little excuses, mild words explaining things to the writer, and over time the writer must set the draft ablaze(!), ridding the paragraphs of the meaningless, and making room for the bold parts of the story that refuse to be edited out.
Let’s talk about the mice in jumpers.
The mice in costumes is stolen from life! I’ve attached a photo of them! My friend had caught baby mice in the studio, I had these puppet gloves, and we did release them into the wild!
How was Animals born?
It came from the two main characters – Laura and Tyler. I just started writing a conversation between two hung-over women and it grew from there. The first urge was to create a comedy duo who were wisecracking and romantic and restless and a little world-weary. I was thinking a lot of Don Quixote. But with more wine.
Was your writing and editing process similar to that of your first novel?
I tend to bash, and thrash, and wail, and drink – whatever it takes to get a first draft down quickly – and then redraft like hell (the bit I actually enjoy) until they prise the manuscript from my cold, dead fingers. Then I edit FOREVER – and by that I mean I change bits every time I read it out because I’m despicably vain. There’s a great line in Hallucinating Foucalt by Patricia Duncker that goes: ‘You write your first novel with the desperation of the damned.’ I feel like I did. But then, I wrote my second novel with the desperation of the damned, too. And the third one’s going that way. So maybe I’m just desperate. Or damned. Oh well.
How about your two girls, where did they spring from?
I was just fooling around in a Word document one night. My ex-boyfriend was hanging out with his ex-girlfriend and I felt left out of (but still stuck in) a decade-old love triangle. I was alone with a blank screen so wrote some lines and then used AutoSummary (a discontinued Microsoft Word feature that badly summarized your writing for you). This one page of playing around had more plot than many of my other one-page experiments and I began to add onto it. It was months before I set the story in art school. I think about that night often – how I had no idea how many hours and years I’d spend with these young women who I named impulsively. This book has flown me to Ireland and put me in touch with James Franco, but that first night was just me trying to entertain myself.
Have you ever censored yourself as a writer? Wussed out? (I have. I took all the sex scenes out my first novel at the eleventh hour because I was worried what my dad/old boss/any old chump on the street might think. ALWAYS regretted it.)
I try very hard not to. I tell myself that my family can always skim over parts that make them uncomfortable. I remind myself that often the strangest lines are the most exciting. Reading is so vicarious, so I try to leave in the sex and the embarrassment and the vanity! Sometimes it can feel exposing, but I like believing the characters have their own wills, that they rebel against a writer’s qualms.
I found the ending of Animals surprising! It wasn’t one I had considered for Laura, but I liked it. Was this the ending you had always imagined? Or did you try other ones out?
The original ending was very different because I had to write an ending of some kind to know what the right one was. I tend to work out the structure as I’m going along because otherwise it’s too much like join-the-dots or, as Margaret Atwood says, ‘paint-by-numbers’. I write chronologically, intensively, and to the wire – so by the end of each draft I’ve usually not had a break for a long time and I’m tired and my psychic talents are waning. I’ve lost the characters a little, the channel is fuzzy. I need to eat sage or bathe in saltwater or whatever it is that psychics do to recharge. Luckily with Animals. Francis Bickmore and Jo Dingley at Canongate were there to show me the light and guide me back on track. Which is what great editors do. I hate writing endings but I love writing final lines. Every last line feels like a tombstone. You want it to be good. No one wants a crap tombstone, right?
WHITE PISS GOOD; AMBER PISS BAD
You know how it is. Saturday afternoon. You wake up and you can’t move.
I blinked and the floaters on my eyeballs shifted to reveal Tyler in her ratty old kimono over in the doorway. ‘Way I see it,’ she said, glass in one hand, lit cigarette in the other, ‘girls are tied to beds for two reasons: sex and exorcisms. So, which was it with you?’
I squinted up at my right arm, which felt like it was levitating — but no, nothing so glamorous. The plastic bangle on my right wrist had hoopla’d over a bar on the bedhead during the night, manacling my hand and suspending my arm over the pillow. I wriggled upwards to release it but only managed to travel an inch or so before a strange, elasticky feeling pulled me back. I looked down. My tights — or rather the left leg (I was still sluttishly sporting the right, mid-thigh) — had wrapped itself around a bed knob. I tugged. No good. The knot held fast.
‘Get that for me, would you?’ I croaked.
She’d moved across the room and was leaning against the wardrobe. Her wardrobe. Her room.
We’d been out. Holy fuck, had we been out. A montage of images spooled through the brainfug. Fizzy wine, flat wine, city streets, cubicles, highly experimental burlesque moves on bar stools…
Tyler took her time looking for somewhere to put her cigarette. I knew that she was really savouring the scene. This was one for the ever-burgeoning anecdote store; to be wheeled out, exaggerated and relished on future nights that would doubtlessly end in similar indignities. Hey, remember the time you tied yourself to the bed? Killer.
‘Where did you sleep, anyway?’ I said.
‘I didn’t sleep. I Fonz’d it on the back lawn with a spritzer and my shades on.’
‘Fonzing it’ was making yourself feel better about things (aka the inevitable existentials) by telling yourself that you were cool and everything was fine. We also referred to it as ‘self-charming’. It had a 55 % success rate, depending on location and weather.
‘What time is it now?’ I asked.
Tyler tugged at the knot, raised an eyebrow and unthreaded the tight-leg into a straight black line, which she held taut to show me. ‘Half past five.’
‘And what time did we get in?’
She pinged the tight-leg at me and held up her hand. I thought she was saying five — but no, she was saying no. No forensic autopsies.
I nodded. The effects of the day’s self-charming were stable but critical. Don’t think about endings. Don’t look down. There were rules that had to be obeyed in order to guarantee a horror-free hangover: no news, no parental phone calls, some fresh air if you could tolerate the vertical plane. Sitcoms. Carbohydrates.
I ran my swollen tongue over my unbrushed teeth. A farm-ish smell. Furriness.
‘How do you feel?’ she asked.
‘Like an entire family of raccoons is nesting in my head.’
‘Nesting raccoons? How nice for you. I’ve got two bull-seals fucking a bag of steak.’
I sat up. Woof. Liquefying headrush. I looked down and caught sight of the prolapsed duvet on the floor by the side of the bed, its insides lolling between the missing buttons of the striped cotton cover. I squinted at Tyler. Five-two with cropped black hair sprung into curls. Face like a fallen putto. Deadly. She gripped her fag between her teeth as she opened her kimono and re-tied it tighter. She was wearing knickers but no bra: a bold move for the garden in March. She pulled the fag from her teeth and exhaled. ‘I know this will only concuss you further,’ she said, ‘but I’m getting excited about the Olympics.’
I held my head with one hand, squeezed my fingers into my temples. ‘The Olympics? Fuck! What month are we in?’
My paranoia wasn’t so paranoid when you took into account the time we’d gone to bed on Saturday only to wake up on Monday morning. On that occasion I’d raised my head to see Tyler frantically shrugging off her kimono in front of the dresser.
What are you doing, you maniac? It’s Sunday!
It’s fucking Monday and I’m fucking late. she said, batting a dimp out of her regulation baseball cap.
What’s that on your eye?
She turned to the mirror. Gasped and sighed. It’s a low-budget high-definition eyebrow.
It’s permanent marker.
It’s A ClockworkmotherfuckingOrange. Oh Lo Lo Lo, what am I going to do?
There were still red wine stains on her kimono from that night some months ago. She took another drag on her fag. ‘And then the rover is almost at Mars, just a few months now until it performs its neurotically precise landing. There’s too much happening this summer. My hope can’t take the strain. There was this Olympics ad just on with a cartoon man diving off a cartoon cliff. It had me in bits .’
‘Cartoons can be very moving.’
‘Why do I feel more for cartoons than the news?’
‘Because you’re perverse. And American.’
‘Barely, any more. American, I mean.’
‘Say “vitamin”. Aluminium. H erbs.’
She’d lived in England for ten years and hadn’t lost her accent — I especially liked hearing her say the words ‘mirror’ (mere ) and ‘moon’ (murn ). Tyler had moved over from Nebraska when her mum, an English lecturer, decided she wanted a divorce and applied for a teaching job at Manchester Met. The Johnsons were well off, the profits of her dad’s family’s cattle-farming mostly. They had a ranch in Crawford with stables and turkeys and a porch with a chair-swing. But for all the perks Tyler said that living there had been like standing on a mathematical plane drawing: eerily flat and evenly portioned into squares of sallow crops. Just you and the horizon, waiting. More specifically: filling the hours. You had to tell yourself you were waiting or really there was no point in eating your breakfast, changing your shirt.
‘I was thinking of boiling up some pasta bows,’ Tyler said. ‘Reckon you could eat?’
She looked at her watch.
‘By my estimation this culinary extravaganza should be ready in about fifteen. Now, do you need some help getting up?’
‘No. And don’t be nice to me, or I’ll cry.’
She retrieved her cigarette from the side of the dresser and left the room, fagsmoke trailing. On the back of her kimono was the logo of a Thai boxing club in Salford — the Pendlebury Pythons — along with their motto, in looping gold font: DEATH BEFORE DEFEAT.
I lay still for a moment, planning. An order of ceremony was needed. Become upright. Brush teeth. Find phone.
My fiancé (although we both hated the word) was in New York performing a piano recital on a barge in Brooklyn. We’d spoken the previous night before he sound-checked. You be careful. he’d said. He knew me, knew the way the night rose in me, knew the way Tyler and I egged each other on. Course. I said. At the time I was carefully smoking outside a bar on Oxford Road, while Tyler was inside carefully transferring the number of a dealer from her dying phone onto her forearm in lip-liner. The rest was — well, not quite history; more a chain of events that amounted to the same headache, the same ransacked purse, same wasted day-after. But at least we’d made it home (you congratulate yourself
Ali Millar talks to author Emma Jane Unsworth. who presents her second novel, Animals, which focuses on best friends Laura and Tyler who live together, angrily philosophising and leading each other astray in the pubs and flats of Manchester. Things are set to change as Laura is engaged to teetotal Jim, with the wedding just months away. Tyler becomes hell-bent on sabotaging her friend’s plans for a different life.
Emma Jane Unsworth’s first novel Hungry, the Stars and Everything (Hidden Gem) won a Society of Authors Betty Trask Award and was shortlisted for the Portico Prize 2012. Her short story ‘I Arrive First’ was published in The Best British Short Stories 2012 (Salt). She has worked as a journalist, a columnist for The Big Issue, and a barmaid. Her second novel Animals is out now.
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Emma Jane Unsworth
Emma Jane Unsworth won a Betty Trask Award for her novel 'Hungry, The Stars And Everything ', which was also shortlisted for the Portico Prize. Her short story 'I Arrive First' was included in 'The Best British Short Stories 2012 '. Her new novel is called 'Animals ' ('I wish I had written this book. ' says Caitlin Moran). She has worked as a journalist and barmaid and lives in Manchester.Podcasts @ Book Slam Comments
Emma Jane Unsworth’s first novel Hungry, the Stars and Everything (Hidden Gem) won a Betty Trask Award from the Society of Authors and was shortlisted for the Portico Prize 2012. Her short story ‘I Arrive First’ was included in The Best British Short Stories 2012 (Salt). She has worked as a journalist, a columnist for The Big Issue. and a barmaid. Her second novel Animals was published by Canongate in May 2014 and won a Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize 2015. She is writing a third novel, as well as the screenplay of Animals. which has been optioned by BAFTA-nominated producer Sarah Brocklehurst and awarded development funding by the BFI. She is also writing for television. She is currently Arvon’s fiction mentor for 2016 and a Writer in Residence at the University of Manchester’s Centre for New Writing .