Writer of the Month: Paula Ethans

Tell me about you, as an artist. How do you define art? What art do you make?

I am a writer, poet, and spoken word artist. My medium is language. My art is an assembly and positioning of words, punctuation, and intonation used to create experiences.

When I craft a piece, be it an article critiquing the patriarchy or a spoken word piece bemoaning heartbreak, my goal is to take you on a linguistic journey so you can experience something, feel something.

I use writing to speak truth to power and to foster empathy. I want my audience to see an issue from a new perspective, or learn a new way to articulate a problem with which they are intimate. I want people to lean in to comfortable topics, and find solace in the common threads of personhood. I want people to engage with uncomfortable topics, and interrogate themselves when they squirm. I make art that rocks the boat, because the waters aren’t steady for everyone.

I define art as any experience that activates your senses. The drop of a roller-coaster, the swipe of a paintbrush, the bend of a dancer, the beat of a march. Art makes you feel.

Congratulations on winning Trans Europe Expression 2019. Why did you choose to enter the competition?

I chose to enter the TEE Slam (way back in August) because I had just moved to Berlin and I was eager to insert myself into the poetry community. No matter where in the world I go, I find the poetry community is always warm and welcoming and helps me ground myself in new surroundings.

Tell me a bit about the poems you performed in the Berlin heat and the final. Why did you choose those particular poems?

In the Berlin heat, I performed four poems, three of which were brand new. It’s not ideal to compete with new poems, as you have no idea how the audience will receive them, but the TEE Slam time limit (90 seconds) was very tight and none of my poems are that short!

I ended up performing: i) “when we built the walls,” which is about the global rise of xenophobia and the feeling of not doing enough to counteract it, ii) “another poem about you,” which is a love/anti-love poem about an ex of mine who I can’t help but to write about, iii) “pro-‘life’,” which uses the analogy of a gardener to critique pro-life people who advocate for the rights of foetuses but don’t care about the quality of the children’s lives, and iv) “she tried to leave,” which examines the ways in which women are uniquely and disproportionately impacted by climate change.

In Manchester, based on how the audience had reacted in Berlin, I changed up my set a bit. I performed “when we built the walls” again, and then I performed “womanhood,” which is an older piece of mine that addresses femicide that I trimmed down. For my third piece, I performed a new poem, “annual general meeting” which satirically critiques white feminism.

Almost all my pieces in Berlin, and indeed all of them in Manchester, were political. While I can’t deny a good love poem, I think it’s important to use the privilege of a stage to address current issues. Winning is great, but sharing a message is more important to me.

How did you feel when you found out you’d won the title?

Shocked! Very shocked. I am relatively new to spoken word – only performing for about a year – so I don’t expect too much from myself. I also can’t dedicate as much time as I’d like to poetry, as most of my time is tied up by my day job (which, thankfully, I love).

But beyond being shocked, I was eternally grateful. What a wonderful feeling it is to know that your work is acknowledged and appreciated. I often struggle with imposter syndrome when it comes to poetry, so receiving this kind of recognition was very reaffirming.

Do you have any upcoming performances?

I’ll be competing in the Wicked Slam in Berlin on December 7th. It’s a political slam – every piece performed must address a social issue connected to that month’s theme – so I’m excited to showcase some of my longer political poems. I am heading home for the holidays, to Winnipeg, Canada, and I’ll be performing at show there too.

What was your highlight of the whole experience?

For me, as with any slam or open mic, the highlight is seeing other performers. As artists, we can get so wrapped up in our own work (thinking it’s either the best or the worst in the world) that we can forget about all the amazing work already out there, fully formed and existing, within other artists. I love seeing other performers because I learn from them, I feel myself grow from their words.

Would you encourage others to participate in the competition?

Definitely! The TEE is great because you meet wonderful artists from across Europe and you push yourself as an artist. The 90 second time limit is really challenging for poets – how do we say anything of substance in so little time? But it forces us to get to the point, pull no punches, and share our truth without droning on. Any poet that wants a fun, challenging experience should participate in the TEE.

What’s next for you in your writing career?

People keep asking me where they can find my poetry, and where they can buy my book and/or audio CD. Unfortunately, my answer to date has always been ‘nowhere!’ So I am thinking about publishing a book – a chapbook of my spoken word pieces, or a full collection of my written poems.

I also work as a freelance writer – examining culture, law, and politics from a critical intersectional feminist lens – and I am hoping to produce more content in the new year.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

For my hot takes on all things feminism, human rights, migration, and gender equality, you can follow me on Twitter at @PaulaEthans. If you want some longer reads, you can check out my articles at Kaur. Space and The Tyee. For my poetry, hopefully it will be coming to bookshelves near you soon!

Sum up your experience thus far in one word.


Writer of the Month: Kevin Otoo

Can you tell me a bit about what you chose to write about and why?

The answer to the first part of the question is… Anything and Everything. And as for ‘why’ I write… I really don’t know, even after several days of thinking about little else! What did occur to me though is that one way of answering the question might be as follows –


I take the first album
From where it sits in the rack
And I lower the needle
Onto the next to last track

I pretend-tip-my-hat
She pretend-curtseys back
We go around to the sound
Of The Best of Take That

The way the world goes around
Locked in its dance with the sun
The way the world goes around
Yet never seems to move on

We had a friend who’d call ’round
He’d bring a weed and some rum
He mostly liked to expound
On what the world has become

One day a kid knocked him down
He wore a red base-ball cap
He knocked him down to the sound
Of take this and take that!

(He knocked him down to the ground
Outside the door of this flat)

And still the world whirls around
While me an’ Shirl twirls around

The way the cat curls around
Its own warmth on the mat.

(September 2018.)

In essence, probably everything I’ve ever written has just been a variation of what is contained in the above poem and maybe somewhere in there too is the reason ‘why’ I write. I guess one might say that I write about that little bit of the world I know and the people who live and have lived in it with me. About how we sometimes struggle to make sense of it all, how we occasionally hurt one another (intentionally or otherwise): and how eventually we learn to adapt and find some way to move on.

How did you find out about Commonword and why did you start coming to the writing group? Can you remember what it was like?

The first time I heard about Commonword was in 1978 when I attended a writers group that had been set up by a woman called Fran Kershner in the library in Hulme. (If you are reading this Fran, then many thanks). Sometime during the following year (and at Fran’s suggestion) I attended my first Commonword Monday Night meeting in their offices on Bloom St. in the City Centre – and had continued to do so on a regular basis until the end of 1982. Mostly what I remember of those meetings is a wonderful sense of warmth and friendliness, and an informality and togetherness which extended to the time that we would spend in the pub afterwards. Meetings always felt relaxed, comfortable: someone or other would read and then there would be a bit of discussion or comment and then it would be somebody else’s turn. Occasionally a room would be hired in a nearby pub: once it was the Britons Protection for example and another time it was The Millstone. And then of course there was always the satisfaction of seeing one’s work in the group’s quarterly magazine, the ‘Write On’. All in all it was a happy and rewarding time in my life and I remember those days and the people who were there with real fondness.

Can you tell me about Another Moss Side Night? How did it come about? How was it received? How did Yargo’s version come about?

Another Moss Side Night was written in 1982 but is set mostly in and around the year 1970 when I had been spending more or less every night between twelve and six in the morning living in a world identical to the one portrayed in the poem.

All of the characters, the places and the incidents that feature in the poem are, for the most part, real and true, including the petrol-bombing of the Western club, which was not really a club at all but just a rather dingy shebeen on the first floor of the same building as the much more conventional and far more popular ‘Nile’ and ‘Reno’ clubs.

The poem originally appeared in print in issue number 19 of Commonword’s quarterly magazine the ‘Write On’. And then, a couple of years later, it also appeared in the ‘Octopus’, a community based magazine produced locally here in Hulme. And finally, in 1986, it found its way into the first issue of a somewhat short-lived though really well-produced magazine called the ‘Fly’ which was created and distributed by a group operating out of Chorlton.

And that should have been that: but then it re-invented itself… as a song!

It’s probably fair to say that in my younger days I had quite liked to drink a bit… and one night whilst doing just that in the Reno club in Moss Side, I got to talking with a guy who asked me if it would be okay for him to put the poem to music and to perform it with his band, ‘Yargo’. I said ‘Yes, go ahead’, and the following year, after having been to see the band at a couple of local venues (and really liking what I had heard!) the song was released as one of the tracks on their debut album, ‘Bodybeat’. Basically it was just as simple as that… until I approached him for payment. Which is when it got very complicated indeed. But that’s another story altogether!

Another Moss Side Night was interesting in that almost everyone seemed to like it. (Or so it seemed to me at the time). And yet lately I have been wondering about just exactly who ‘everyone’ was back then? I only ever read the poem publicly once and that was to just a handful of Commonword regulars in the Millstone pub, so the only other people who could have liked it were those who had either read it in one of the 3 magazines mentioned earlier or who had been fans of Yargo. My feeling is that almost all of those people would have been white, that the majority of them would have been young and that they would have been from outside of the area, though not exclusively so.

What was it like being “brought up in a white world”? (This is what you said to me when we spoke in October last year). Would you consider yourself an outsider? What was life like for you growing up?

From the age of 9yrs to 20yrs, with the exception of two 6 months long interludes and the time spent in a Family Group home, my life was lived in institutions, so although I say I was brought up in a white world it was not the same white world as my contemporaries were living in.

Yes, I do consider myself an outsider and have done so since the age of thirteen when I was relocated from Manchester to a residential school in the South East of the country. The geographical disconnect felt like the last straw and I refused to adapt. It wasn’t an issue with colour – it was more a case of being older by then and beginning to feel that I’d had enough.

And as for what life was like for me growing up, well that would take a long time to tell. Suffice to say that I didn’t suffer racism, I was not treated unfairly or unkindly (at least not in any way that was apparent to me at the time) and my first heroes were The Rolling Stones and The Who… white pop/rock star rebels!

Nb. I never did become a pop/rock star, I was only ever ‘half’ white and as for being a rebel… it’s probably more accurate to say that I was simply someone with a skewed way of seeing things who found it somewhat difficult to conform.

Have you got anything else you wanted to add?

Just this…


And then I had been born again

Only this time it was to a different woman
And it was to some other man
And it was on a different continent
To where that other life began

One where the sun was a disc of silver
In a clear and unending sky
And life was heart-breakingly simple
And the fields bone-breakingly dry

And I had grown beyond the reaping
Beyond the man that the child became
And the threshold of that understanding
Of why we dream we might be born again.

(Kevin Otoo. 2017).

Writer of the Month: Mandla Rae

Tell me about you, as an artist. How do you define art? What art do you make?

Whenever people ask me what I do, I always instinctively reply “I’m a poet” but even getting to that point took years. I’m starting to feel like more of a ‘storyteller’ – that sounds pretentious but essentially, I feel like what I do is I get to play around with different ways to tell stories. I guess I’d say for me, art is an attempt to seek and understand truth. My poetry is very personal, I write to reclaim an inner power that I misplaced or gave away. It’s mostly feeling. Writing and performing have been survival.

Performance is a really cathartic experience, I have a really complicated relationship with it as every time I perform it feels like I’m opening my soul and demanding it to be seen, telling people things about myself I wouldn’t usually tell them, it’s not the idea of judgement that scares me, it’s a fear of being open.

There’s a lot of trauma in the world and there’s been a lot of repression in my mind, my work is an attempt to work through these things. This year I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrase “In order to survive, we were taught to forget” which I saw filmmaker and director Campbell X write on social media and I really felt it. That’s popped into my mind a lot while I’ve been writing this year. I’m terrified of one day forgetting my life, but there’s so many events that I push as far back as I can in order to just about survive, so I suppose it makes sense that my work has always had a confessional aspect, even a poem like ‘to the Slaughter’ which is so grotesque and seems so far away from reality where my body is being chopped away, takes me back to a very specific, very real moment.

You’ve recently been co-commissioned by Commonword and Journeys Festival to produce a piece of work in response to our Displaced Words brief. What was your initial inspiration for the piece Letters to our Mothers and Fathers? What do you hope audiences will gain from experiencing this work?

There was something I wanted to say, I didn’t know what it was but I knew I wanted to say it. I have a bit of a weird relationship with my parents. I was raised by my grandmother; my dad’s mum and I haven’t seen my mum since I moved to England as a child. My dad’s always vaguely been around but I think because he didn’t raise me, there’s a distance between us. I think we don’t really know how to talk to each other. My mum feels more like a new friend and not so much a mother figure. I wanted to explore that, to communicate with both of my parents. I started writing letters to them about a year ago, letters I’m never going to send, sometimes I keep them, sometimes I don’t. There’s a lot of things we don’t say in my family. Family dynamics are often complicated, I’m obsessed with trying to figure them out.

I wanted to see what this experience feels like for others who, like me, are far from their home countries. I wanted to try and bring to the surface a snippet of what that feels like, to be trying to stay connected to people who are so far away, who you haven’t seen for years, maybe even decades, when you can’t just…make the trip to see them.

You are the curator of Queer Contact: Outspoken. How did you get into curating? How do you feel curating compliments your work as a writer?

I was on the National Student Pride committee when I was at university and I think I caught the curating bug when I was there, for two years I saw the festival start as vague ideas and then I got to watch and be a part of its becoming.

During Temporary Monument, Permanent Protest – a project myself, Nasima Begum, Ali Wilson and Isaac Rose produced for Contact to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Section 28 protests in Manchester, I got the chance to work with young LGBTQ poets. I facilitated poetry workshops with them and worked with Nasima to curate their performance at an event at the old Free Trade Hall to launch an image we’d commissioned by Manuel Vason. We also commissioned new works from local artists Louise Wallwein and Leo Hermitt. We’d been inspired by the Never Going Underground exhibition at the People’s History Museum when we’d come together for Re:Con, we couldn’t miss the chance to celebrate this beautiful moment in Manchester’s history where 25,000 people had marched across the city in anger at the government’s anti-gay proposed laws.

I was over the moon when Contact asked me to work with them to curate Queer Contact’s Outspoken! I think being a writer can feel very isolating at times, so I always jump at the chance to collaborate and showcase the brilliant work happening in Manchester right now, particularly by queer artists. I love that you don’t have to look very hard to find someone in this city who’s doing something fantastic, I regularly go to see performances so the Outspoken line up was performers whose work I’d been admiring over the past few years.

You’re a seasoned spoken word performer, what do you enjoy most about the spoken word scene? What advice would you give to first time performers?

I love the support from other poets, particularly in Manchester. It really does help to have a community of creatives otherwise you’d just be practicing your craft alone in your room (in my case anyway). To have friends like Nasima Begum who demand to see drafts of your new ideas, to regularly have a show or a performance or exhibition to support a friend in is really important in just keeping me going.

If you’re thinking about performing or have just started, show people your work – especially if the thing doesn’t feel finished (will it ever feel finished?), do it! Performance doesn’t just happen on the stage. Ask for advice, ask for help, find your community.

Over the summer you’ve been working at Edinburgh Fringe and you’ve previously participated in the Royal Exchange’s Writers of Colour group. What are your plans for delving further into theatre land?

I’ve always thought of myself as being in a long-term relationship with words, and I’m really excited by theatre and spectacle. Before Fringe, I was working at Manchester International Festival so working amongst two brilliant festivals for showcasing theatre and art, seeing shows back to back throughout the summer, it just made sense to look into writing about theatre. I applied for the Greater Manchester Critics Scheme as soon as I got back from Edinburgh and was really pleased to get accepted! There are some great programmes in and around Manchester this Autumn/Winter at theatres like Contact, the Royal Exchange, HOME and the Octagon and I’m really excited to dive into theatre reviewing and learning from some top names in the field.

What have been the key milestones in your development as a writer?

I joined Young Identity when I first moved to Manchester and I’m really thankful for those workshops and the amount of support I gained from being part of the performance collective. I’ll always love YI. Standing on the Shoulders of Giants was a stunning show to be part of, three generations of artists came together at Contact – Speakeasy, Inna Voice and Young Identity, that was a great moment.

Shadowing Keisha Thompson and watching her spectacular show Man on the Moon bloom and grow. That was really special, to be invited by Keisha into the space and watch a show become.

Performing on Nima Séne’s Beige Bitch with Contact at Stun. Nima really encouraged me to take control of the poem I performed, to play around with its presentation. To take up space.

Chatting to, laughing with, getting words of wisdom from one of my favourite playwrights ever – Debbie Tucker-Green during a Writers of Colour workshop(!!!!)

Chronologically, it’s interesting to see how my choices and opportunities over the past few years have kind of been leading me into making theatre.

What’s next for you in your writing career?

I used to find solo shows so terrifying and always thought I’d never have the nerve to do one. When I was shadowing Keisha,I remember thinking I’d never want to get on stage, as myself in a solo show and tell people things about my life as they happened. I always thought I would just write plays and have nothing to do with the performance. I guess there’s been some growth somewhere down the line as I’m now trying to learn as much as I can about how to do just that. There’s a story I want to tell and obviously there’s poetry involved but I want to see how much further I can push it. Until this year, I had only told a handful of friends in my whole life that I’m a refugee. I’ve always shared that I wasn’t born here, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to correct people when they’d assume that I had British Citizenship. Sometimes things would happen and I’d just keep them quiet instead of telling the story and having to answer the inevitable questions. I’m picking apart that shame, while trying to figure out if there is such a thing as ‘becoming British’. This story is more than three minutes long. I’m terrified. I’m excited.

I pitched the idea to Mother’s Bloomers and I’ll be workshopping a ten-minute part of the script at their next event at the Royal Exchange on the 16th of November with Lisa and Tim’s support. It’s a completely different performance to anything I’ve ever done before.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

Later this year in December, a small collection of some of my poems –Slaughter –is being published in the new anthology from Lungs Project. The anthology’s called New Landscapes and is now available to pre-order at lungsproject.org!

You can follow also me on Twitter – @mandla_rae – I post all my upcoming gigs and news there.

I had a chat with Nuria López de la Oliva, curator and Journeys Festival Assistant Producer for the Journeys Roots to Fruits Podcast where we talked about Manchester and I shared a monologue from the solo show I’m currently working on developing. That will be on the Journeys Festival website in October.

Also happening in October are the Letters to our Mothers and Fathers performances. The first will be at Longsight Library on the 5th of October and the second will be at Cathedral Gardens on the 12th. I’ll be part of the festival’s activities on those days too, you can come and write a letter with me so please do!

But I’d say the best way to find out about my work is to come and see me or book me to perform! I’m performing quite a bit in October actually, at the Journeys Festival Launch, Creatures of Catharsis and the Devils Dykes Network Festival in Brighton.

Sum up your experience thus far in one word.


Writer of the Month: Clare Ramsaran

Tell me about you, as an artist. How do you define art? What art do you make?
Good question!

I think of art as a way for the artist to express something of themselves, the communities they identify with, or of their imagination. I see art as a dialogue across time, geography, identity and experience.

My primary creative outlet is as a writer – I write fiction, poetry, non-fiction. The content comes ahead of the form for me. I also love taking photographs, and in September will take my first ever *complete* beginners art course.

You’ve recently taken on the role of facilitating Identity. What have you enjoyed most about being part of Identity? How do you feel facilitating aids your personal development as a writer?

I feel privileged to see the great writing that comes out of the group. I’m inspired by the risks people take with their writing and with the painful content they sometimes cover. I enjoy meeting the writers who come along and giving and facilitating feedback that helps them develop their writing. We often bring snacks to the group; I think we all enjoy those!
Facilitating the group helps me to focus on the craft elements of writing, it gives me (and hopefully writers) a strong sense of a writing community. I love facilitating Identity, but also worry that it takes me away from my own writing. I’m learning to manage the shift in my role (I used to be a member of Identity) and finding new ways back into my own writing.

You’re currently working on your first novel. What prompted you to start working on this piece? What has been your greatest obstacle thus far in the writing process and how have you overcome it?

My novel is inspired by family history. My father told me a story about how as a young immigrant, of the ‘Windrush generation’, he was racially harassed by a group of Teddy Boys in 1950’s London. When he’d got away from them, one ran after him. Not to beat him up – as he feared, but to offer to buy his stylish jacket from him (He’d bought it by mail order from the US, while still living in Guyana).
I wrote it up as a short story which wouldn’t let go of me, and by the time I came to do my MFA in Creative Writing, it became my thesis and then the draft of my novel.

My greatest obstacle to writing is my constant battle to prioritise my writing over other aspects of my life. The support I get from people at Commonword and other friends and writing communities is invaluable to me in terms of my writing process. It’s like we’re all training for a marathon and encouraging each other to keep going.

Recently your short memoir, The New ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ was published in Who We Are Now, an anthology of women’s writing about Brexit. What inspired you to write about this particular aspect of your life? What advice would you give to writers interested in writing memoirs?

I was living in the USA when the Brexit vote happened and, shortly after returning, attended a writing workshop for creative writing responses to Brexit. I reflected on how discrimination against immigrants has had an impact on my own family in the past and linked this to events now – this became ‘The New ‘Us’ and Them’.

In terms of people writing memoir, I encourage them to read widely and find memoirs that they find fascinating, to pick and choose which parts of their lives to tell us about (hint: other people are less interested in your life than you are!). And lastly, just because something is true, doesn’t make it sound authentic on the page. You still have to work at it, and craft it as much as you would with other genres.

Back when you were living in the States, you were a contributor to Mixed Remixed Festival. What motivated you to get involved in the festival? How do you feel the festival contributes to a wider dialogue around representation in the creative industries?

It’s such a great festival! It highlights the mixed-race experience through literature and film.

I heard about Mixed Remixed through my writing community, VONA, and first went along in 2014. It was an amazing experience; everyone was so welcoming and warm and it’s a lovely to feel part of a community like that, even for a day or so.

I was motivated by a mixture of wanting to be around other mixed heritage people with the bonus that there was a writing focus, and, I was interested in visiting Los Angeles, where it was held.

The festival allows artists to showcase their work, to meet and inspire each other, buy books, have conversations. Approximately 700 people attend, and this is a good statistic to quote to publishers who are reported as saying that there’s no market for creative work by mixed race people (on the basis that the demographic for each different ‘mix’ is too low).

You’ve been a writer at Commonword for several years and appeared in our anthology, Suitcase Book of Love Poems. What is your best memory of your time with us and what have you learnt about yourself as a writer?

I have lots of best memories with Commonword: coming along to the writers’ groups, the process of having my poetry published in the anthology, and the Commonword Conference last year, to name but a few.

I’ve learned that although writing is a solitary endeavour, I can’t do it on my own.

The anthology taught me about the business side of things – writing a biography, signing a contract – it made it feel more professional, more serious and I think it helped me to take myself more seriously as a writer.

What’s next for you in your writing career?

I’ve put my novel aside for now. I’ve started writing about ‘coming out’ as a teenager and am feeling lots of energy with that piece so I’m going to keep working on that to see where it goes. I did a reading in August at Levenshulme Pride and really enjoyed that. I’d like to do more readings.

I’m planning to run a day-long writing workshop with Commonword in the Autumn and would love to run more writing workshops in the future.

Where can we find out more about you and your work?

You can find out more about my work here and here. You can also follow me on twitter here.

Sum up your experience thus far in one word


Writer of the Month: Michelle Green

michelle green


Tell me about you, as an artist. How do you define art? What art do you make?

Without art I become ill, and I don’t mean that in a precious sense but in an entirely visceral way. I have finally realised that it is a healthcare essential for me – both as audience and maker. It is a survival strategy, one that was taught to me first by my parents and grandma.

All art is storytelling, whether that story arrives in a paperback or as a pulse in the chest, whether it is a narrative story or a visual story of the colour blue.

I make short fiction, poetry, live literature/performance stuff, and, increasingly, unconventional maps. (Because maps are stories too.)

You’ll be working with us on our newest publication, Indivisible – an anthology of work by writers with invisible disabilities. What excites you most about this project?

That the invisible is being made visible! When our conditions and symptoms are invisible to the unaccustomed eye, the barriers we face are also invisible. The arts world is built around a burnout model that relies heavily on adrenaline abuse, among other things, which is incredibly ableist (and classist and – oh don’t get me started). Writers with many kinds of disabilities are often immediately excluded not on the basis of skill or experience or talent but because we simply cannot plug the gaps in poorly designed schedules with our bodies.

In terms of the anthology, I don’t assume that any of the writers will address disability explicitly in their work, but I am very interested to see how that unique set of experiences might inform their aesthetic or approach, the flavours of what they create. It feels like the right time for this work to step out.

You’re currently working on TransBareAll’s 10th Anniversary book. What have you enjoyed about the process thus far?

TBA was founded ten years ago as a practical antidote to the shame that the mainstream world wants to see in us: we create events for trans and non-binary people to support health and wellbeing, and enable us to spend time together in environments that are affirming and positive. We regularly include creative workshops in our events, so I’m very conscious of the wellspring of talent and experience in our community. As co-editor I will be working closely with contributing artists and writers as they develop their submissions – there is so much that is possible, and I’m thrilled to imagine what we can make together!

I’m conscious of having just passed the 86th anniversary of the Nazi book burnings that specifically targeted the Institute of Sex Research, a library of progressive documentation and research on trans and queer lives. The effects of those book burnings are felt today; lots of people seem to feel that trans is a brand new thing that didn’t exist until about 20 years ago – that’s what happens when the visible evidence of a people’s existence is wiped out. Violent invisibility. We are living in increasingly hostile and intolerant times in which trans people – along with immigrants, refugees and disabled people – are being systematically demonised and targeted, so to be making a book, of all things, right now, feels not just celebratory but necessary.

You’ve been a writer at Commonword for many years and appeared in a selection of our anthologies. What is your best memory of your time with us and what have you learnt about yourself as a writer?

There are many, but one of the dearest has to be appearing onstage at the launch of my Crocus chapbook with support from the great, late Dike Omeje. What an honour that was.

I’ve learned that I’m the kind of writer who needs community, specifically the community of other curious artists. A room of one’s own is definitely excellent, don’t get me wrong, but only if it can be balanced with community.

Earlier this year, you were a speaker at Mathrubhumi International Festival Of Letters 2019. What did you find most enjoyable about your time there? What do you feel your insights contributed to the discussions?

There were incredible writers and artists and storytellers and documentary filmmakers from all over the world, so I fully pushed myself into a massive health crash just so I could listen and take part and absorb as much as possible. There was a lot that I loved, but two things that jump out are that it was entirely plastic-free – UK festivals, step up your game – and that there was a series of relaxed conversation events threaded through the whole weekend that involved speakers talking about why they read. The idea was that we all read for different reasons, and that understanding these reasons can help us all read better.  It was amazing to be in such a book-loving environment where reading is cherished and respected. Kerala as a state has 100% literacy and let me tell you the on-site bookshop was doing a HOT trade!

I delivered a performance lecture about disability aesthetics in fiction and poetry. It was the only event out of hundreds that was explicitly referencing disability, so I think it was a welcome addition – certainly something that the festival director, Sabin Iqbal, was really keen on including as he said it’s something that often gets overlooked in Indian festivals (so not too different to the UK in that respect). It was a winding tale of workarounds in form, tracing my own exploration as I create stories in whichever ways my body will let me. I think of myself primarily as a writer, but there are times when – due to my condition – I lose language, or sight, or cognition. It’s frustrating as hell, and leads to the increased illness I mentioned above, so I’m now exploring ways of navigating that creatively. This has led to the visual image, digital mark-making, and, funnily enough, back to spoken word. I’m increasingly finding it hard to separate one art form from another in my practice, so I’m letting them play together more.

You’ve been volunteering on our archives project for the past year. What prompted you to get involved? What do you hope people get out of the archive?

I hope that people get solace and inspiration and fire in the belly from seeing that radical and political publishing is not only the realm of flash-in-the-pan zines. That it has history, and memory. Commonword has been creating from the heart with a strength and longevity that has finally brought it all the way to the fine whisky anniversary of 40! I wanted to get involved because Commonword was my first creative port of call when I arrived in Manchester almost 20 years ago, and it has remained a central touchstone in my development as a writer. Across the city and far beyond it has nurtured such an incredible array of work from many of my literary heroes. The archive is not only a history, but also a resource, and I know Heena will be developing it into something that can inspire Manchester artists and writers for years to come.

What’s next for you in your writing career?

Well, as I mentioned above, I am finding it harder to separate the art forms and so my next collection of short fiction will be published in some hybrid form. I’m working with an astonishingly good team of collaborators to figure out what that might look like, so nothing is nailed down yet – but there is, on a post-it note in my office, something about an arcade machine that dispenses stories and only accepts shingle. Hmm, possible future of publishing?

Where can we find out more about you and your work?


Sum up your experience thus far in one word