GUEST POST by WRAP Featured Writer Emilie Pine

Book recommendations and writing tips from the writer of Notes to Self and Ruth and Pen

I’m delighted to share three books that have helped shape me as a writer – and as a person.

These books are by women writers who do not apologise for putting difficult emotions onto paper, or for publishing them, or for sharing things that are usually silenced. Instead, these authors use their experience and skill as writers to understand the world and to open it up for others. While these books have been useful to me as a writer, most of all they have moved me as a reader – making me feel less alone, making me feel part of another’s life, and also making me realise that other people do not have it all figured out. We are all a little lost. And all we can do is keep going, keep reading, keep writing.

Are You Somebody? by Nuala O’Faolain

I read Are You Somebody? by Nuala O’Faolain when I was a student and I could not believe that someone had written my life.

To be clear, my life is nothing like Nuala O’Faolain’s. Yet something about this autobiography made me feel understood – made me feel seen, I guess we’d say now. I had never before read a woman writing with such emotional and physical honesty about her abusive family and neglected upbringing, her passionate but destructive engagement with life, alcohol and men, and her reliance on a love of reading and writing as a path through the chaos. O’Faolain writes with devastating candour about the grim realities of waking up hungover and alone. But she also writes with great beauty about discovering a world of travel and poetry and laughter. Most of all, on the page she is entirely herself – no apologies. If there is one thing I could wish for any writer, it is this: be yourself, fully yourself, only yourself.

The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum

In 2016 I was starting to write about my own life, and wondering what I dared to put out into the world. I had two stories in my head – the no-holds-barred version and the edited-made-nice version that I thought people might want to read.

And then I read The Unspeakable, an essay collection by Meghan Daum. In the collection’s first essay ‘Matricide’, Daum writes about her mother’s death – specifically, about when her mother was in end-of-life care at home for gallbladder cancer. Not wanting to pay another month’s rent on her apartment, Daum and her brother – watched over by disapproving hospice nurses – began to pack up their mother’s belongings while she was still dying. When I read this essay, I could not believe that Daum would admit publicly to having done this, and that alongside this confession she would also write about all the mixed emotions that went with her mother’s dying from love to resentment to anger. It was electrifying. It was, I felt, incredibly courageous. And I resolved that if Daum could do it, then I could too. I binned the edited-made-nice version.  

The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy

By the end of 2017, I had most of a manuscript and, following the rules I’d learned from O’Faolain and Daum, this first draft was pretty hard to read (as it had been to write). One friend read what I’d written about my father and said it was very ‘dark’. Around this time, I read an essay by Ariel Levy in the New Yorker magazine, which was later published as part of her memoir The Rules Do Not Apply. In ‘Thanksgiving in Mongolia’ Levy writes about the birth and death of her son. This resonated with me as I had written about my own miscarriages and also the stillbirth of my niece, Elena. What I found so wonderful about Levy’s writing was that she conveyed not only the heartbreak of her son’s loss, but also her joy at his existence, even though he only lived for a short time. This was another lesson (as O’Faolain’s book had been too) in the practice of allowing for beauty as well as trauma.


Essay Form

What both Daum and Levy also gave me, of course, was a love of the essay as a form. I had been an academic for a long time before turning to memoir, so I was already familiar with writing essays – but in an academic style. I loved discovering how this short form of non-fiction could also be a powerful genre for writing about yourself. Each essay gives enough space for just one thing, gone into deeply, and then an ‘out’ before anyone gets bored. Or maybe a better way of putting it is that the essay is an ideal space to reflect on a moment or an emotion with the hope that by the end of writing (or reading) something will have shifted or changed or switched. It’s a lot to put on a small piece of writing, this hope for alchemy. But sometimes this magic happens, and it is beautiful.


The relationship between reading & writing

One of the gifts of writing about my own life has been the opportunity to take control of the narrative. I say ‘take control’ though of course, there are limits – I can’t change what happened. But I can change my relationship to what happened, by deciding what parts of the story I want to tell. It’s like taking ownership of the experience, which is important even if – or maybe especially if – the experience has been difficult.

Sometimes we cannot find a happy ending to the stories that make up our lives. It still surprises me, but I have found that happiness can come in trying to make work that is meaningful.

But I know that it is all too easy to say, ‘Write what is true’.

It takes courage to actually do it.

Sometimes what we need is to read our way into courage.

These three books are some of the many which have inspired me not just with their skill and beauty, but also because the writers take risks. When they write about all the messy and difficult stuff in their lives, they reveal who they really are. That is brave.

If you’re thinking about writing your own life, I say ‘Go for it’. And then I have my final piece of advice: Remember that you do not have to show it to anyone else. It can be meaningful – and brave – just to write it for yourself. 

Emilie Pine, January 2023

Freddie Kofi, Writing Songs With WRAP

By John Lewell

On Thursday evening, NTU WRAP participants learned from an accomplished musician and songwriter, Freddie Kofi. The Nottingham-born MOBO award-winning nominee gave the students tips on industry, expressed his passion for Gospel music, and explained multiple types of song structure. 

I am a BA Creative Writing student, but WRAP is open to everyone across the university, and it was great to be in the presence of so many keen writers and readers who focus their academic lives on other subjects. The evening took place in the rather splendid and ornate Old Chemistry Lab on NTU’s City campus. This building would not look out of place on the grounds of Hogwarts. Under its high ceiling, I could quite imagine Potter eating his Christmas dinner. 

Freddie arrived with the smile he would carry throughout, an expression that signifies passion for a lifelong desire: to make music, sculpt song, and share these things. If eyes are a window to the soul, then a smile is the doorway to the heart. And out from between the smile arrived the intent, greeting everyone in a humble and comforting manner that put at ease even the most novice-like of songwriters in the room. 

Freddie explained how a songwriter generates an income and, more importantly, how they don’t if certain boxes are not ticked. It was a revelation to find out that if a music artist does not register with the PRS, then it is likely they won’t get paid if the radio plays their song, and by joining the PPL, you can get support in collecting any revenues you believe are owed. 

The workshopping allowed the participants to create their own lyrics in one of the formats Freddie had explained: verse-chorus-verse-chorus or maybe verse-bridge-chorus, for example. The results were impressive, considering the time each group had to create. Freddie was polite and supportive of all the outcomes and alluded to the sentiment, ‘You need to make lots until the good stuff arrives.’ This I have heard before, expressed in one way or another, from Ed Sheeran, Rick Rubin, and just about every other great creative person. 

Throughout the evening, we got to hear the gospel tones of Freddie, and to know a little of his taste for the eighties sounds. He showed how his faith had inspired his writing and, in doing so, inspired me, an atheist, to want to experience more Gospel and faith-driven art. There is something very optimistic about a person with true faith. It makes someone of non-faith, except in that which is proven, admire the believer. It makes a small part of the atheist want to believe, if only to experience the enlightened emotion for a moment. 

After being involved in Freddie’s workshop, I’m sure most attending will have gained vital insight into the music industry, but most importantly, an insight into the positivity and obsession to craft that Freddie Kofi expresses. 

Well-Being: Guest post from Leah Wareham, NTU Wellbeing

We all know that reading and writing can be useful tools in maintaining our mental health, but what other options are there?

5 ways to look after our mental health

Many of us will be familiar with the idea of self-care and knowing how important it can be to maintain good mental health and wellbeing. But sometimes it’s knowing where to start and knowing what things will actually help our mental health, that’s why NTU has the Healthy NTU programme to help you keep happy and healthy while at NTU. Our programme provides information, resources, activities and events all around ways to look after yourself.

It’s also important to remember that self-care habits differ from person to person, so find what works for you and don’t worry if you try something that doesn’t work so well, there’s plenty of other great things you can try.

Here are 5 ways to look after your mental health, each of these 5 tips incorporates the researched and developed model, 5 Ways to Wellbeing.

  1. Connect with others

There’s lots of evidence to suggest that talking to people or spending time with others can really benefit our wellbeing. Whether it’s having fun with friends or talking to someone about how you are feeling if you’re struggling. Connecting with others is important for maintaining good mental health. Here at NTU there’s lots of ways to connect with others, including getting involved with Healthy NTU’s activities ran by our Student Mental Health Champions or connecting with Global Lounge through their regular activities, lunches and events too.

  • Move your body

You don’t have to go spend hours in the gym to feel the benefits that physical exercise can have on our mental health.  Anything that involves moving your body in a way that works for you can have real benefits for our wellbeing. Also, making sure it’s something fun and that you enjoy will also make it easier to slot into your life.  NTU offer plenty of options for getting active through NTU Sport too.

  • Take notice of your surroundings

Taking a moment to notice your surroundings, current thoughts and feelings and the people around you can also help to improve our wellbeing. Some people like to practice mindfulness as a way to do this, at the moment there are Monday morning Mindfulness sessions ran on Teams by NTU Sport which is a great way to start your week off! The sessions run from 9:15-9:45 through this link. Other ways you can do this is taking a new route into Uni or work or have a clear out and a tidy up.

  • Learn something new

Research shows that learning something new can improve our wellbeing by boosting self-esteem and helping with a sense of purpose. It doesn’t have to be anything major, it could be reading a new book, or taking up a new hobby like writing or drawing. Healthy NTU have also put together an NTU library book list which includes lots of different self-care books, learning about ways to look after yourself could also be a great new thing to learn too!

  • Give to others

Acts of kindness or giving to others can also be great for our mental health. It can help us to connect with people as well as helping you to feel positive and a have greater sense of self-worth. There are many ways you can do from volunteering within the community of doing something kind for a friend like bringing them a cup of tea or sending them something lovely in the post.

We hope you have enjoyed these tips on ways to look after your mental health from our Healthy NTU team. We also run a blog, podcast and have many other resources you can access around health and wellbeing. To check out our upcoming events and workshops please follow @ntustudentservices on Instagram.

If you feel you may need support with your wellbeing while at NTU’s Student Support Services are here to help. You can access Student Support through our wellbeing form or to find out what support is available visit our Student Hub pages.

WRAP Term Two Highlights

WRAP Ambassadors, Alessandra Leone and Munashe Dziva, give us some of their WRAP highlights from last term.

Munashe’s Highlights

The end of 2020 left us with so much mystery. Like the season ending of Bridgerton, we were left with so many questions. What was going to happen to our anthology? How were we going to move on from Derek Owusu’s  ‘That Reminds Me’ and on time, catch up with ‘The 392’ by Ashley Hickson-Lovence? I cannot believe that it has just been 5 months of WRAP, because the amazing talent we got introduced to is overwhelming.

Last term, WRAP came with a lot of twists as we had the chance to invite the NTSU Pride Society and

the Platform Magazine to take over the Evening Book Club. Yes, there is still more! To prepare ourselves for our featured author Ashley, WRAP launched a Short Story Competition open to all staff and students, but here’s the interesting bit, the story has to be based on a bus journey. How far does your imagination run wild when you are on a bus? The results are

In summary we have to agree that WRAP is a beautiful success, this term also marks the launch of our anthology which was approved by UNESCO City of Literature and gets the chance to be recognised internationally (at least something is crossing the boarders!). We still have more coming so stay tuned to find out more about our upcoming performances.

Alessandra’s Highlights

On the 15th of March, we had an amazing night with Ashely Hickson- Lovence, the author of an incredible book ‘The 392’. I had just finished reading the novel that morning, and so I was curious to ask Ashley why he had not written anything about the one person that book is centred on. I think his reply said it all- he wanted to leave it a mystery. I was also curious to know whether he took inspiration from the events that happened in London on the 7th of July in 2005, and he said that he did, but he also took inspiration from more recent events such as the Manchester bombing and the tragic events in 2017, which saw a number of fatalities. I enjoyed hearing what other students had to say regarding these topics. 

 This month’s WRAP Café also saw us back with the terrific poet Panya Banjoko. Panya read a few of her poems from her book ‘Some Things’, which I enjoyed, and we were also able to showcase some of our work at the end of the event. Finally, the month ended with Rebecca Cullen, the WRAP Manager, interviewing Ashley Hickson-Lovence. Ashley talked about ‘The 392’ and read extracts from the book. I really enjoyed the evening, even though my WIFI stopped working mid-way through the interview and so had to watch the recording! (You can watch it too, just click here!)

About Alessandra Leone & Munashe Dziva

Alessandra and Munashe joined WRAP (Writing, Reading and Pleasure) in October 2020 and have participated in a variety of writing and reading opportunities, uniting with other like-minded reading and writing enthusiasts. You can see both Alessandra and Munashe performing their poetry for NTU Christmas Advent Calendar here:

Panya Banjoko and The City of a Thousand Poets

‘Nottingham is a city of poets, around a thousand,’ Dr Becky Cullen tells the WRAP Café when we have a special guest, Panya Banjoko. And by the end of the evening, we would realise Panya Banjoko is the charismatic Rastafarian Queen of Nottingham’s poets. She is one in a thousand – one in a generation.

Panya reads us a few poems with attention to detail, ability to change pitch and accent and passion for the craft. She slips from Nottingham to Jamaican sounds. Her poetic standard does not surprise me; she is a published poet studying for her PhD. It’s Panya’s quality that sends the electricity to every part of my cerebellum, her engagement with the word. Syllable, speed of delivery, and tone are all carefully and naturally orchestrated. If I thought myself a poet when the night began, then by the night’s end, I’d be digging deep in the literary soul and sharpening my poetic pencil; the bar she sets is high – stratospheric. A couple of the pieces are about Nottingham’s elderly black population; Elders as Panya affectionately refers to them. A man trying to remember his past, a past shaped by upheaved West Indian roots, replanted in Nottingham’s soil, working hard to get a job down the pit only to be rejected, when others appearing less capable are given the job. Panya’s vocal shape-shifting expressing the desire to belong, the human need to be accepted. Panya has long, thick dreadlocks that she throws over her shoulder. Once her father tried to cut them from her head. She left the family home, dreads intact. Panya negated the need to be accepted by her father, maybe because she needed to be herself to belong. And belong she has. In the words of fellow Rastafarian Bob Marley, ‘emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds.’

Panya’s poetry emits light from a place maybe forgotten was it not for her self-propelled mission to catalogue Nottingham’s Black history by gathering artefacts and personal accounts from the Elders. She expresses the need to work hard at the poetic form to achieve what she simply calls ‘good poetry.’ Spend an evening with Panya, and you’ll get to know quickly what ‘good poetry’ really is. We hear a poem from her book of poems, Some Things, and she makes us privy to some trade secrets. She then pulls out the big poetic guns, a poem named ‘One of a kind’. She lets us know it’s her favourite poem and a childlike pleasurable expression covers her face as she says the words, ‘use your fingers like the limbs of a Darwin Bark Spider,’ and I know why. Because those words are magical when spoken in the Banjoko style.        

Panya takes time to listen to some of the WRAP ambassadors recite their poetry: a carefully crafted sonnet by Nick Barret and poems by Alessandra Leone and myself. She is clearly at home in the creative performing environment and takes as much pleasure in listening as performing.       

As Panya becomes more relaxed in the WRAP Café environment, she moves from her current poetry and talk of her work to expressing her dub poetic past. She even recites the first poem she ever read as a young girl and explained her desire, as a middle child, to stand out by performing it whenever she got the chance. Panya’s poetics are a product of her life and hard work. Her memories are compounded by those of others. Shine those memories through a multi-dimensional magnifying glass and project them through Panya’s carefully amped vocals. You get ‘a spa day for the ears,’ (Dr Becky Cullen coined the phrase) ending a wonderful evening with an exceptional lady that Nottingham can be very proud to say is the one in a thousand, one in a generation poet, Panya Banjoko. 

About John Lewell

John Lewell is a first-year Creative Writing student returning to education as a mature student, acting on his passion for writing. He has an interest in working class culture and a white guitar on the wall of his office.

8 Writers + Flow = 2 x Free-flowing Poems

We’re delighted to share two new collaborative poems written during WRAP workshops.

‘Using the theme of crowds, members of the group were asked to describe their personal feelings of being in a crowded public space, and then separately, to create a visceral metaphor for a crowd’, explains workshop leader Paul Adey. ‘These feelings and metaphors were then organised and edited by the group into two separate poems.’

Sophie Clay, a second year Law student, reflects on the workshop: ‘When writing my parts of the poems, I was taken back to pre-Covid times, imagining myself back in nightclubs and in busy places. This conjured up a number of emotions; excitement and happiness but also a sense of anxiety and confusion about getting back to normal life. I was happy with the end result; seeing the poems put together and how well our own lines fit made me realise that other people are feeling the same way.’

Hopeful Dread

The electricity enters through the ground,
the air and from the touch; I become a lightning bolt,
she becomes a spark, we are charged.
I feel more alert, awake, than in years.
Full beam.

I was enjoying the music
but the immensity of the crowd
was starting to make me feel like I was
drowning in the sea of people which I did not know.

The crowd sticks to the floor like Velcro,
swaying lullaby.

The anxiety exhumed from the bodies of each person in the crowd,
like the ghosts, the shells of the people, resurfacing.
like how a hurricane drags along dust,
I was swirled to the other end of the room.

Their body heat hit my skin as strong as rays from the sun
piercing through the ozone layer.
the crowd gathered around me
like the ocean around a small island.
I was just one in a million.

Turn the Music Down Please

Sweat turns to steam and drives the motor,
turning the wheels of vinyl moving the crowd with the electricity generated,
my heartbeat a zig-zag, short hot breaths test my lung capacity,
they were worker drones, OD’ing on spilt Fanta

The stairs, each step, the wood shakes beneath my feet,
the lights, flicker, spilling through the cracks in the doorway approaching,
the smell, warm flesh.

I feel my eyes close pretending the noise is ocean waves
and nothing but empty space surrounds me.
I huddled myself in a corner, and I start looking out at the crowd in the room.
They seemed like a demonic power had come over them,
and that an exorcism needed to be performed.

I was lost. Not lost as most people would think, in a supermarket or on a street,
but lost.

lost in the music, the atmosphere. I was lost here but I also belonged here.
How is that possible?
The water from their bodies was mixing with their drinks but who cared?
Thoughts of home, thoughts of bed were starting to consume me.
And then it hit me –

I hate it here.

Paul Adey
Sophie Clay
Justyna Cuglewska
Munashe Dziva
Hannah Gascoyne
Alessandra Leone
John Lewell
Nadia Saleem

About Sophie Clay

Sophie has had a passion for creative writing throughout her life and did not want this to end. After seeing the WRAP workshops advertised on NOW, she began joining in order to get her brain creatively thinking again and to get back into writing.

About Paul Adey

WRAP Lead Writer Paul Adey, who joined the writer team this term, has been a practitioner of hip-hop lyricism for nearly twenty years under the name of Cappo. Throughout his career, he has performed at many of the UK and Europe’s premier live music venues, and published music on various record labels.

Paul wanted to bring his creative writing expertise and free-flowing energy to our programme, and these poems came out of a session he planned and delivered earlier in March.

Writing Masterclass with Ashley Hickson-Lovence

Last December, I got my first chance to attend a WRAP session, watching WRAP Live! with Derek Owusu via YouTube, and it was amazing. Last week, I got the chance to attend my first WRAP masterclass with writer and poet, Ashley Hickson-Lovence, author of The 392, this term’s WRAP recommended read. Ashley is writing his second novel as part of a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia. The evening started off with introductions, chit-chat and familiarising ourselves with one another before we got down to business.

We started doing a series of tasks, split into coloured sections (typically yellow and green); Looking back on it now, I noticed that picked more of the yellow tasks than the green ones. The first task featured us writing about a picture featuring a crime scene outside a pub. It was splendid and bizarre to see, given it is all that we have been craving. We had to start the sentence with ‘I witnessed the police coming to arrest two men’, as a picture of two men, with one of them being on the floor, was shown on the slide. The photograph evoked scenes of police brutality: a timely theme in real life that I never thought would eventually lead me to write so much as a full page’s worth. The task was fun. It got me writing and it got my creative juices flowing.

Each task after that was quite interesting because Ashley exposed us to different writing techniques and styles. I learnt a lot from it, such as when to use longer sentences and when it is OK to use shorter ones and how it is not necessary to have so many words on a page, but to make sure the quality is good. Quality over quantity. The task highlights of the event for me were getting to break down characters into basics to see how they became starting off from their outward appearance down to their names, traits, how they think, who they are and everything in between and writing dialogue about a dinner date at a fast-food place. I picked McDonald’s and wrote a love story between two people, from the perspective of the female character. It was incredible to see how I could write solely from one person’s point of view. Overall, it was an impressive night, and I was glad to have attended. I now also hope my writing improves in the meantime too. I cannot wait to see Ashley again this month where he will be having another session with WRAP.

Ashley joins WRAP for our Evening Bookgroup on Monday 15th March, and you can book your free place for WRAP Live! In Conversation with Ashley Hickson-Lovence here.

About Zachary Omitowoju

Zach joined WRAP this year and is enjoying coming along to WRAP writing workshops, as well as refining his work at the Saturday Writing and Editing workshop. He is a 2nd year student in BA (Hons) Media Production in the School of Arts and Humanities.

WRAP Café with Ashley Hickson-Lovence

by Alessandra Leone

At January’s WRAP Café we welcomed this term’s author, Ashley Hickson-Lovence, whose novel The 392 describes a bus journey in London, introducing various characters and their lives.

The night started off with Tuesday Shannon’s poems, and we were then invited to listen to some of Ashley’s bus poems. His poems are not yet published, and so for all of us it was a treat to hear them here first! Some of his poems are quite personal in nature, such as his description of his girlfriend’s bus accident and his father’s experience as a London bus driver. He then went on to read the chapter on Boxer from his book The 392. The character is one of the most likeable characters in the book, and you want to cheer him on. Lastly, we heard a poem from one of our newest WRAP members John Lewell, which I quite enjoyed as it had a lot of references to our lives today, and I especially enjoyed his mention of Twitter.

We all had a great evening, and two of our WRAP members mentioned that they enjoyed being able to have an author answer their questions as well as hearing him recite his unpublished poems. We thank Ashley for coming to the session, and we are excited to have him again soon for the WRAP Evening Bookgroup on Monday 15th March.

You can register for our WRAP Live! YouTube In Conversation event with Ashley on Thursday 31st March by clicking here. Don’t miss the opportunity to hear him talk about football, inspiring reluctant readers, the importance of music in his life and what he’s doing next.

About Alessandra Leone

Alessandra joined WRAP (Writing, Reading and Pleasure) in October 2020 and has participated in a variety of writing and reading opportunities, uniting with other like-minded reading and writing enthusiasts. She is a first-year student in the School of Arts and Humanities.