Ballad Tales: An Anthology of British Ballads Retold

A ballad is a song that tells a story and many traditional British ballads contain fascinating stories – tales of love and jealousy, murder and mystery, the supernatural and the historical. This anthology brings together nineteen original retellings in short story form, written by some of the country’s most accomplished storytellers, singers and wordsmiths. Here you will find tales of cross-dressing heroines, lusty pirates, vengeful fairy queens, mobsters and monsters, mermaids and starmen – stories that dance with the form and flavour of these narrative folksongs in daring and delightful ways. Richly illustrated, these enchanting tales will appeal to lovers of folk music, storytelling and rattling yarns.

In conjunction with the forthcoming publication of Ballad Tales we have obtained an extract which you can read below!

Edited by Kevan Manwaring Ballad Tales will be published on the 8th June via the History Press. A free launch event including a lively showcase of storytelling and song from a selection of contributors including Kevan Manwaring, Chantelle Smith, Anthony Nanson, Kirsty Hartsiotis, Nimue Brown, Fiona Eadie, David Metcalfe, Chrissy Derbyshire, Karola Renard, Mark Hassall and Laura Kinnear will take place at the British School (opposite the Star Anise Arts Cafe) on Friday 9th June at 7pm. 

Writers Invited by Kate Montgomery

Debbie Young, Stroud Short Stories @ Cheltenham Literature Festival 2016 (image by Tim Byford)

Debbie Young, Stroud Short Stories @ Cheltenham Literature Festival 2016 (image by Tim Byford)

This April there are more opportunities than ever to put pen to paper and tell the story you’ve had rattling around your mind forever. Whether you’re an established writer or quake at the very idea of putting your work in front of people, there’s something for you...

This year is the 14th Stroud Short Stories competition, heralded as “Possibly the best short story competition in the South West” by Cheltenham Literary Festival. The event is organised by John Holland and this year there is no theme or genre. Writers are invited to submit a short story of up to 1500 words by 22nd April with a maximum of two stories per author. Entries are free! Click here for entry rules! 

The event is focused on showcasing and promoting writers from Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire. The ten shortlisted stories will be read by the authors at an evening event at the SVA on Sunday 21st May. 

Hawkwood College, Painswick Old Road

Hawkwood College, Painswick Old Road

Prestigious Stroud institution Hawkwood College is looking for a Bard of Hawkwood 2017. The annual spoken word competition will take place at the Hawkwood College Open Day on Monday 1st May. Co-ordinator Kevan Manwaring explains the rules of entry: "We’re looking for an original song, story or poem of 10 minutes or less, on the given theme; plus a 200 word statement of intent describing what you would do as your time as the Chaired Bard for the coming year. As it’s a bardic competition, pieces performed from memory or in an extempore fashion are preferred.’"

Last year’s winner, Nailsworth-based poet Anthony Hentschel has set the theme for the 2017 competition as ‘Contentment’. Deadlines for entries is the 23rd April, 3 copies of the entry and the statement to be sent to: K. Manwaring, The Annexe, Richmond House, Park Rd, Stroud, GL5 2JG. Entrants must be able to perform their entry at the college open day and be a resident of GL5/6/8/or GL10. The competition is open to anyone 18 years old or older living in the Stroud area. 

There are also two writing workshops coming up at the Subscription Rooms in April. John Bassett from Spaniel in the Works Theatre Company is hosting a ten week Introduction to Script-writing workshop from April 18th. Over the 10 weeks you will learn how to get started, the difference between theatre, radio and T.V. writing, how to create characters and plot, how to write effective and believable dialogue, the differences in writing required for different audiences and different formats and how to layout a script. Each week will feature practical exercises as well as formal teaching. Click here for further details.

Kevin Manwaring is also hosting a ten week workshop to give writers the tools to help them get their work into print. Over the 10 weeks you’ll look at finding an agent, finding a publisher, getting commissioned, your media profile, self-publishing, and entering competitions. Click here for more information and to book. 

With such a diverse and supportive writing community on your doorstep, what are you waiting for?

Kate Montgomery is a writer, artist and blogger. She lives in Stroud with her husband and two daughters. She hosts creative writing groups and wastes far too much time instagramming her food @clevermonty

Stroud Radical Reading Group

The Stroud Radical Reading Group has just celebrated the milestone of meeting up once a month for a year. Regular hosts Nick James and James Beecher introduce us to the group, and offer a taste of the topics explored so far....

Rarely a week goes by in Stroud without a protest, and the High St is so often populated by political groups a part of it has earned a variety of nicknames. Both newcomers and long-term residents might not be aware that these features are far from new phenomenon. Stroud is a town with a radical history – one visible in the arch of Archway marking the movement to abolish slavery among other landmarks - as well as a politically active population. Seeking to engage with the ideas behind protest and social movements of the present and the past (whether local or global), the Stroud Racial Reading group is an informal monthly meeting for people to learn and discuss texts about dramatic innovations, complete reform of society, or the fundamental nature of things.

People involved in some of the groups seen leafleting on Stroud streets - from Stroud Against the Cuts, Transition Stroud, local trade unions and political parties – have attended our meetings, but the group is open to anyone. As an informal group we have thirty members on Facebook and several more on an e-mail list. Topics and readings are suggested by these members, who gather in a pub for a conversation inspired by the text – though free to roam from it and onto the news of the day or the experiences of those attending. We’ve visited the thoughts of different thinkers through time and become excited and deeply inspired by the range of topics for discussion. We’ve met in the Ale House, and Golden Fleece but are currently residents of the back room at the lovely new Little George  micro-pub on George St.

With even the President of the USA being referred to as ‘radical’ there might be some confusion about the term. To help us, our first reading was Rosa Luxemburg’s Reform or Revolution. First published in 1899 this pamphlet was written as part of a debate within the German Social Democratic Party (SPD). Could it be considered relevant to current debates within the UK’s modern equivalent, the Labour Party, we wondered? Certainly, it prompted a lively discussion about what radicalism means today. Broadly, we welcome anyone to our sessions, and allow the meaning of radical to be a matter for those who are interested enough to turn up! In principle, we are committed to challenging relations of power and oppression across the world. Discussions are always dynamic and open but tend to look on constructing a more socially and environmentally just humanity in conditions and contexts that trouble us in the 21st Century.

Unsurprisingly, last year we took a look at a perspective on the EU referendum debate, but we also explored whether there could be such a thing as “The Right to be Lazy” (an 1883 essay by French revolutionary Paul Lafargue). We found insight into debates in modern Feminism in journalist Dawn Foster’s Lean Out – a short and punchy critical response to the best-selling book by Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. On a summer’s day in July several of us caught the sunset in a pub-garden, contemplating Karl Marx writing in Volume One of Capital: “A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.” Who said Marx and economics were boring?

We don’t stick to books or essays – we’ve also looked at historical trade union badges, read Chartist poems, political Haikus, and academic journal articles on complex concepts like the Anthropocene, Capitolocene, Social reproduction and Liberation Ecology. If nothing in that list has intrigued you, perhaps recent events would have tempted you to our sessions examining Fascism, or “Race, Class, and The State”? Maybe our most recent reading - a chapter on Orwell’s Sense of Smell will get up your nose?

The upcoming reading is motivated by the sad early death of Mark Fisher, an influential writer and theorist on politics, economics and culture also known as k-punk. His short book Capitalism Realism is one that we enthusiastically recommend, “as well as being essential reading for anyone perturbed by 'the slow cancellation of the future' it’s also full of film recommendations and pop references”. For a fuller review, join us at The Little George on Weds 22nd March, 7.30-9.30pm. We should make clear that though we of course encourage people to read the text, we welcome people to take part in the discussions even if they can’t find the time – even if we haven’t made up our mind about "The Right to be Lazy"!

Forthcoming dates:

Weds 1st March: Orwell's Sense of Smell from William Miller's The Anatomy of Disgust (click here for further info)

Weds 22nd March: Capitalism Realism: Is There No Alternative? by Mark Fisher (click here for further info)

1. Reform or Revolution by Rosa Luxemburg (1899) / 2. The Capitalocene Part I: On the Nature & Origins of Our Ecological Crisis by Jason W. Moore (2014) / 3. Vagabond Capitalism and the Necessity of Social Reproduction in Antipode 33(4) by Cindi Katz (2001) / 4. The Poetry of Chartism by Mike Sanders (2009) / 5. Exit Left: the Socialist Case for Britain Leaving the EU by Thomas Barker (2016) / 6. Lean Out by Dawn Foster (2016). / 7. The Commodity - Chapter 1 of: Capital. A Critique of Political Economy. Volume 1, by Karl Marx (first published 1867) / 8. The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle of the Working Class against Fascism, by Georgi Dimitrov (1935) / 9. World Economy in Word Economy by Ruth Yarrow (2010) /  10. The Right to be Lazy by Paul Lafargue (1883) / 11. Race, Class and the State by Ambalavaner Sivanandan (1976). Published in the collection Catching History on the Wing: Race, Culture and Globalisation (2008) / 12. Liberation Ecology. Development, sustainability and environment in an age of market triumphalism - Chapter 1 in Liberation Ecologies: Environment, Development, Social Movements by Richard Peet and Michael Watts (Editors, 1996) / 13. Orwell’s Sense of Smell, chapter in William Ian Miller's The Anatomy of Disgust (1997) / 14. Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? by Mark Fisher (2009)

Hopeless Maine by Tom and Nimue Brown

Tom and Nimue Brown have been working together for about a decade. This is a creative partnership that turned into a marriage, and that continues to result in books and other curious offspring. Their story started on opposite sides of an ocean and now finds itself alive and well, and living in Stroud, Gloucestershire. The joint project that brought the Browns together is Hopeless Maine - a graphic novel series set on a co-created island, inspired by a shared love of all things strange, steampunk, gothic and moody, as well as ongoing love affairs with landscapes and wildlife. Working at the same table, sharing the same coffee maker, being trampled by the same cat has led to greater depths of collaboration, with non-fiction titles, novels, and an illustrated novella with Professor Elemental.   Aside from the bookish joint projects, Tom and Nimue do workshops together, lead bad poetry slams, sing radically political folk songs and turn up wearing hats in places no one expects hats to be... (the events, not the bodily location).

In conjunction with our recent feature in issue #23 of Good On Paper (out now) we have obtained Chapter 1 from the graphic novel which you can read below:


Tom and Nimue Brown have kindly offered three original pages from Hopeless Maine to three lucky Good On Paper readers! To be in with a chance of winning one of the above pages simply email your name with 'Hopeless Maine Giveaway' in the subject line to: Winners will be notified on Monday 6th March 2017.

Hopeless Maine is available now from Stroud Bookshop and on-line at the Visit for further info!


Bill Jones: The Life and Times of Algernon Swift

Bill Jones’s The Life and Times of Algernon Swift is a lavishly illustrated novel of puns that pits its earnest young hero, Algernon, against the pitfalls and pratfalls of the English language.
In the book, we follow Algernon as he attempts to cope with the extreme relativism of his elderly relative, Reverend Hawker, as well as the exorbitant passion of the exquisite Mavis (a woman with X on her mind).
The book puns on subjects as diverse as Henry VIII’s wives, pre-Raphaelite painters, mathematics and fairy tales, and contains over 200 puns, some of which may be familiar to the residents of Stroud from the cards that Bill has sold around town over the last few years (both as a pedlar and in Made In Stroud). Bill is also known in Stroud for performing stand-up as his alter-ego, Miserable Malcolm, Stroud’s most miserable poet.
In the following excerpt, Algernon arrives at Hawker’s Pot, the residence of his uncle, Reverend Hawker, and once again encounters his uncle’s exasperating inability to mean one thing at a time...

The Life and Times of Algernon Swift is published by Head of Zeus on 9th February, 2017. Bill will be signing copies of the book at Stroud Bookshop from 11am on Saturday 11th February. 

Casimir Greenfield: Slow Poison

Slow Poison opens in Amsterdam in the days around the feast of Saint Nicholas in December in the mid 1980's.

The brutal slaying of a British tourist and the subsequent arrest and imprisonment of a young football supporter sparks off an orgy of violence. But the killing is no random act. The boy is innocent. The real killer returns to England to begin the final chapter of an obsessive campaign of revenge spanning several decades.

The twisted acts of violence and vengeance are punctuated by the pages of a stolen diary written in the dark days of the second world war. The killer identifies with the unspeakable horrors of the death camp as he coldly wreaks revenge for a series of traumatic events that took place in the mid 1950s on a Gloucestershire council estate.

The story culminates with an abduction and a bloody siege high in the snowbound Cotswold hills...

In conjunction with the recent release of Slow Poison by local author, musician and broadcaster Casimir Greenfield, we have obtained an excerpt of the book which you can read below:

Slow Poison is available now and can be purchased via

Judith Gunn: Dostoyevsky - A Life of Contradiction

This biography by local author Judith Gunn is an accessible introduction to the life and work of Fyodor Dostoyevsky for those who might be interested by his life, but are daunted by his work. The book offers an account of his difficult and eventful life, introductions to his major novels and an exploration of how his work has influenced modern film and media; directors such as Martin Scorsese and series such as the X-Files and others owe a great deal to Dostoyevsky.

Published on the 15th December via Amberley Publishing the Christmas season coincides with some of the major events in Dostoyevsky’s life, not least a mock execution and the journey to Siberia. He also wrote a famous short story called At Christ’s Christmas Tree a Russian version of The Little Match Girl

Dostoyevsky: A Life of Contradiction is available from, Amazon and bookshops UK wide.

Judith and Amberley Publishing have kindly offered Good On Paper reader's an excerpt of the book prior to it's release which you can read below:

Adam Horovitz: Love In A Celebrity Climate

Stroud poet Adam Horovitz releases a new, book-sized pamphlet this month to coincide with his Inheriting the Mantle event at Stroud Book Festival on November 13th (click here for tickets!)

Love in a Celebrity Climate is a furious little book of satirical, political and topical performance poetry that stares unblinking down both scraped barrels of the tabloid arsenal and takes a swipe at all-comers, be they David Hasselhoff, terrorists of any stripe, celebrity cannibals, the England football squad, the Royal Family, Brexit, ATOS, banks or the advertising industry.

“These are poems to be spoken aloud, as loud as possible,” says Horovitz. “A quiet part of me has always enjoyed the noisy performance side of poetry, the act of getting up in a club or bar and spitting words into a microphone, despite the fact that I more usually write in a quieter, more measured voice nowadays. Releasing Love in a Celebrity Climate was a chance to feel the noise again.”

Some of the poems were written while he was poet-in- residence for the Borkowski PR company’s website, where his remit was to write topical poems that dug under the skin of ‘celebrities, politicians and other scoundrels’, but many more of them are very recent, triggered by events in the news.

“The book is laid out in three sections, almost as if it were an evening of watching TV” says Horovitz. “It starts with a Celebrity section, which is followed by an advertisement break and closes with the news.”

Adam has kindly offered Good On Paper reader's an excerpt of the book prior to it's release which you can read below:


Love in a Celebrity Climate is released under the Little Metropolis imprint, priced £6.50. The limited edition first printing is available to pre-order until November 14th at a 20% discount from the Little Metropolis bandcamp page.

Stroud Short Stories at Cheltenham Literature Festival

Stroud Short Stories takes to a larger stage with a special event at the prestigious Cheltenham Literature Festival on Monday 10th October.

The event is a one-off fifth birthday celebration for which organiser John Holland has chosen seven of his favourite stories from those performed at SSS events from its beginnings in 2011 to the most recent event in April 2016. As usual the authors will read their own work.

John explained, ”I thought it would give some of my favourite local writers a real boost to read alongside internationally acclaimed authors like Ian McEwan, Jonathan Safran Foer and Tracy Chevalier, who are also appearing at the festival. It wasn’t easy to choose seven from the hundred or more stories that have been read at our eleven events to date. The evening will have a nice balance of serious, nuanced writing and the downright silly.”

The seven authors chosen are Ali Bacon, Bill Jones, Rick Vick, Katherine Hunter, Mel Golding, Philip Douch and Andrew Stevenson. All the authors are from Gloucestershire, the majority from Stroud.

The event takes place at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on Monday 10th October from 9pm to 10:15pm. Tickets are £8 and are available from the Cheltenham Literature Festival website here

Stroud Short Stories returns to its regular home of the SVA on Sunday 20th November. All information about submitting stories for this event is on the Stroud Short Stories website

Stroud Book Festival 2016: Yet Another Stroud Thing To Get Excited About...By Sarah Phaedre Watson

I phoned a friend of mine the other day because I needed to be excited at them, the conversation went something like this:

Me: Hello! Have you got a few minutes for me to be excited at you?

Him: (Pauses for a millisecond possibly in order to take a breath and actually say something)

Me: Blah blah *excited* blah…

The slightly embarrassing thing is the person I was squawking at is actually involved in the thing I’m excited about, he knew about all the details I was gushing over in excessive detail. He’s a good friend but I suspect he had actually put me on mute before the connection was “lost”.

So what was it that had set me off on such my whirlwind of glee? Stroud Book Festival.

That may not have instilled the same nauseating level of cheerfulness in you as it did me, so let me give a bit more information, trust me - we’ll get there.

For 10 days in November (11th to the 20th to be precise) Stroud is hosting over 60 local authors, illustrators and story-tellers across 40 events. Oh, I see you think “local” probably means that it’ll be a list of the same old (lovely) faces trotting out the same old (brilliant!) stuff, right?

Well yes and no, I mean if you count some of the country’s (world’s?) most influential and exciting literary geniuses as being a bit boring then well perhaps Ian McEwanJamila Gavin, Michael Horovitz, Kate RiordanMurray Lachlan YoungKatie FfordeBel MooneySue LimbRachel JoyceNikki OwenJacki KablerAlice JollyAdam HorovitzCrispin Thomas, Hassan Akkad, Hannah ShawJohn DoughertyTom PercivalCindy JefferiesEugene Lambert, and so many more just isn’t for you…

Oh and “same old stuff”? We’ve got people talking about books and anarchy and genres of fiction and fleeing across Europe to escape oppressive regimes and well, pretty much everything else.

Think it’s going to be expensive? WRONG, the event is supported by some wonderful organisations like Stroud Arts Festival, Stroud Town Council and the District Council too, so ticket prices can be kept super reasonable (they start from as little as £2?!).

So yes, all of this is very very exciting, but what makes it even more perfect is that this is another festival run by a committed group of extraordinarily well-connected experts who are working hard to keep arts and culture alive in this town come what may. And that, is what has made me have the broadest grin. 

Oh, so now you’re grumbling that tickets are going to sell out super-fast and you won’t get a chance to see anyone?! Well, potentially yes that could happen, because even though this is months before tickets are selling out fast - its not just me that’s thrilled you see.

The best thing to do is to follow Stroud Book Festival on Facebook and Twitter and keep an eye on local press.  You can also book tickets here (more events are being announced over the next few weeks too).

And yes, you are right - that is more than enough festivals in Stroud now.

No one knows what Sarah Phaedre Watson really does, she spends time gallivanting off to Africa to make films, writing for various publications, or passionately supporting community arts and events. She certainly gets about a bit

Claire King: 'Everything Love Is' Book Signing by Nikki Owen

If you’re looking for a good read this summer, then look no further than Claire King’s new novel, Everything Love Is. Not only is it a wonderfully evocative book, but this Saturday  Claire King herself will be appearing at our very own Stroud Bookshop to sign copies of her enchanting second novel. 

I caught up with Claire to ask her a few poignant questions…

So, Claire, what’s the latest book about?

Ultimately it’s a story about happiness – what we think it is and the choices we make to try and find it. Baptiste, one of the central characters, lives on a houseboat on the Canal de Midi outside Toulouse, and spends his life helping other people find happiness. He narrates much of the book, which begins with his birth on a train during the spring of May 1968, a time of revolution in France. He is orphaned at birth, and one of the things that guides him growing up and into adulthood is a sense of unfinished business around his birth mother, who is never identified. The story then switches to modern day, and his growing obsession with an enigmatic new client, Amandine Rousseau, who, uniquely, he appears to be unable to quite decipher. Meanwhile, we have a second narrator, whose identity is left for the reader to work out. This means that the first few chapters will necessarily be somewhat puzzling, until you have figured out what is going on and why. This is a very grown up love story, wrapped up in a mystery…

Why did you write it?

The themes I wanted to explore in this novel are all very contemporary: the search for happiness, the quest for love and the way many people believe that these two things are inextricably linked. After all, that’s what we’re told in fairy tales, right? The third thread I followed is the way our personal histories – or how we remember them - shape us. Why happiness? These days, particularly in the western world, it seems like a widespread preoccupation, and we are bombarded by opinions about how to achieve it– very often from interested parties like consumer companies and the media. We end up caught up in what they are selling us, satisfying their agendas rather than learning about ourselves and what we really need.

So where should we be looking? There are two conflicting ideas about happiness: the first that suggests it’s a personal journey, that we can only find happiness within ourselves. The second accepts that our happiness is continually influenced by our past, our present situation, and our expectations of the future. It is from that second view that our expectations come of other people – our parents, our partners, our children - to ‘make us happy’. I wanted to explore that.

Everything Love Is Is is an undeniably poignant book, but I’m a firm believer in the tenacity of the human spirit, and so as with The Night Rainbow, my first novel, the dark elements of this story have to exist in order for the light, hopeful ones to shine through.

How does Stroud influence you? How does it differ to where you've lived before?

I spent the last 14 years living in southern France, and of all the places to move back to in the UK, I think Stroud has to be the most perfect fit. The differences with France are really the things that brought us here, to give us the change we needed at this time in our lives: we needed to move out of the deepest, rural backwaters to somewhere that could offer us both the countryside we all need but also a thriving town with lively schools and a enriching culture, for all our sakes.

We’ve all found Stroud to be the most wonderfully welcoming place. Our neighbours are all lovely, we adore the Saturday farmers’ market (we were regular market goers in France too) for the amazing local produce and the buzz it has, and the area is gorgeous. There’s so much to do right on our doorstep and a real sense of community.

Whereas before we were in a hamlet in the foothills of the mountains, we now live on the edge of the town now, very close to the canal. The specific location was never intentional, but it is a lovely co-incidence given the timing. The canal, the towpath and the local wildlife, - particularly the kingfisher - all feature heavily in Everything Love Is.  Now it’s as though I conjured them up in real life. I saw a Kingfisher near Ebley Mill here in my first week!

I’m working on my third book at the moment and it’s very interesting to see how living in Stroud will influence my writing. Being in contact with a more diverse group of people, and also having other authors to talk to, is a definite boon. And whenever you move to a new location I think you wear ‘fresh eyes’ – that is, you notice the tiny details more. I have a view of Selsley Common from my writing garret window, so I still get the green open space I crave too, to let the inspiration flow.

What does the local bookstore means to you?

I am SO HAPPY to have a local bookshop after so long without. Although I do speak French I don’t read in French for pleasure, so when I was in France it was either order online or shop during rare visits to the UK.  Now I can browse, pick books up, have a chat about books with the people in the store, get some word of mouth recommendations…it’s lovely.  Getting a new book was always a treat to me as a child and being able to pick it yourself even better. My daughters are both mad on books too, so we usually visit Stroud Bookshop as a family, often on a Saturday during the farmers’ market. In fact the first person I really knew in Stroud was Anna, who works there! 

Claire will be at Stroud Bookshop, 23 High Street from 11am on Saturday 23rd July, visit the facebook event page here for further info. Her second novel, Everything Love Is is published by Bloomsbury and is available to pre-order now.

Nikki Owen is an author and writer. Her second book in the Project Trilogy – the Killing Files (Harper Collins), is out now. Visit her blog or website

Jonny Fluffypunk: Poundland Rimbaud

To coincide with the release of Stroud's favourite stand-up poet and sustainable nihilist Jonny Fluffypunk's latest collection of poems Poundland Rimbaud we've managed to get a hold of a selection from the book which you can read by clicking the link below...

Poundland Rimbaud will be published by Burning Eye Books and available late July. Pick up our latest issue (out now) for an interview with Jonny by Kate Montgomery.

Nikki Owen: The Killing Files

To coincide with the release of local author (and GOP writer) Nikki Owen's second book in the Project Trilogy the Killing Files  we've managed to get a hold of an excerpt from the first chapter! 



The Killing Files is available from all good bookshops and on-line from June 2nd. Pick up a copy of our latest issue (July 2016) for Leah Grant's interview with Nikki discussing her new book, a How To Get Your Book Published course she is running at Hawkwood College in July and future plans...

Review: Stroud Short Stories 24th April @ the SVA by Leah Grant

Images by Tim and Cheryl Byford 

Shortly before 10pm on Sunday 24th April, a rapt audience at Stroud Valleys Artspace collectively gasped; hands flew to faces, strangers turned to one another in surprise. Then, just as quickly, shock became laughter, frowns became smiles and the awkwardness that had filled the room suddenly evaporated. This extreme reaction was prompted by Ken Popple’s short story, A Very Special Day, a tale that was as clever and vivid as it was disturbing.

If you have never been to a story-reading event before (as I hadn't until this particular evening), then you’ll be unaware of the journey you’re embarking on when you sit down; unaware, perhaps, that you’re about to enter a handful of different worlds with a group of people you have never met before; unaware that when it’s over, you’ll be united in a shared experience, one that will never be repeated in exactly the same way again.

The Stroud Short Stories event, organised by local author John Holland and held biannually at SVA, gives writers with a link to Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire the opportunity to read their stories aloud to an audience. On Sunday, ten selected writers – Rommy Collingwood, Tim Byford, Jan Petrie, Jane Gordon-Cumming, Rick Vick, Ali Bacon, Sarah Hitchcock, Mel Golding, Ken Popple and Mark Rutterford – bravely took to the stage with narratives that were not only entertaining, but highly original. From Tim Byford’s surreal tale of ‘workers’ inside a child’s intestines to Mel Golding’s heart-breaking account of a young boy with autism, each author brought to their reading something that was quite unique – their own performance.

Jan Petrie’s Half a Chance and Ali Bacon’s Silver Harvest became all the more touching for the women’s measured recitals; Jane Gordon-Cumming’s Settling In and Sarah Hitchcock’s New Glasses prompted additional smiles thanks to the pair’s perfect embodiment of their characters; and Dia De Los Muertos by Rommy Collingwood, Mayfly by Mark Rutterford and The Execution by Rick Vick, though entertaining stories in their own right, became even more engaging, even more gripping, (and in Rick’s case, even more gruesome) for the authors’ confident, assured deliveries.

Though reading is often a solitary activity, listening doesn’t isolate us in quite the same way; in fact, sitting together and absorbing the tales that are performed in front of us doesn’t just connect an audience to each other, but, in listening to an author’s own interpretation of their work, we are given the opportunity to discover nuances and subtleties that we might otherwise have missed. For an author, reading their stories aloud must (I say ‘must’ because I’ve never actually done this myself!) instil a new sense of confidence, a sureness in their ability not only to write an entertaining tale, but to tell that tale in an entertaining way, fuelling their courage and inspiring even more original, engaging writing.

In Stroud Short Stories, Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire writers have been given a platform for their endeavours that doesn’t just promote the importance of oral storytelling for author and audience, but one that promises to push our community’s growing creative talents to new and exciting levels for years to come. 

To celebrate Stroud Short Stories fifth birthday a special event will be held at this year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival! The next SSS event at the SVA will be held on Sunday 20th November. Submissions will open at the beginning of September. 

The Stroud Short Stories Anthology (2011 - 2015) is available now from Trading Post and on-line here  Read Leah' s review of the book from Issue 8:

Leah Grant is a writer and photographer with a keen interest in art and literature. On her blog, Bellyful of Art, you can find reviews of exhibitions, installations, dance performances and literary events as well as her own lovingly created pieces of short fiction

Favourite Five Books by Good On Paper Writers pt.1

A couple of days after sending our latest issue to the printers (finished on a day of broken boilers, school and playgroup runs, a restless dog and other deadlines), we realised that we could really do with a new literature feature on our website. So with a few hours to go before the May issue hit the streets we decided to ask our contributing writer's for a list of their five favourite books...


1984, George Orwell A book that not only changed the world, but predicted it. Love Orwell’s easy but intelligent writing style. Which leads me to…

Animal Farm, George Orwell As above. A writer way, way ahead of his time and yet always, even now, so relevant and modern.

To Kill A Mockingbird, Harper Lee A story that, when I read it as a teenager, broke my heart and fired my will to write about the wrongs in the world. A legend.

Thumbelina, Hans Christian Andersen Ok, more a story than a book, but I have to include it here, as it’s the first story, at the age of five, I recall inspiring me. I re-wrote the whole thing with paint and scribbles.

All The Light We Can See, Anthony Doer Love this one. The poetic prose, the ease of the read, yet the eruditeness of it all. He fully deserved the Pulitzer Prize he won for it in 2015


Absolute Beginners, Colin MacInnes A wonderfully written book about London in the 50's and a great evocation of the race riots at the end. 

I'm Not Really Here, Tim Allen Great book by the voice of Buzz Lightyear which finishes with a comparison of particle physics and Buddhism.

Kipps, H G Wells One of my favourite writers and the book that inspired Half A Sixpence is a great slice of Victorian life.

Puckoon, Spike Milligan Spike was always a hero and this is probably his best book.

Adventures in the Screen Trade, William Goldman Wonderful Hollywood anecdotes from the writer of Marathon Man and The Sting amongst many others and an ideal guide for anyone who wants to write scripts. 


Danny the Champion of the World, Roald Dahl Utterly enchanting for a boy growing up in the country. The gypsy caravan, the garage, the derring-do plot to get all the pheasants... just fantastical. I read it to my daughters last year and was utterly engrossed all over again.

What a Carve Up, Jonathon Coe A brilliantly funny and observational author. Although probably not his best known work, What a Carve Up is a satirical masterpiece, it's hilariously over the top and will make you nearly wet yourself in several places... within the book that is, rather than upon yourself. I can't say more as it would be a crime to give any of the plot away, so just read it instead.

Fatherland, Robert Harris This is edge of your pants stuff, never mind your seat, from an author who, in my opinion, has failed to match the dizzy heights since. It's not a literary classic but it's the definition of a un-put-a-down-able book. I read it in 24 hours, forgetting to sleep. 

The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver Just a brilliantly written and highly original novel. The story, as well as the narrative, is engaging and, having lived in Africa for a couple of years, the grim idealism shown by the missionary family is spot on. It's a brilliant portrayal of family dynamics in an unusual setting, and a testament to Kingsolver's ability to research her novels meticulously.

The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins I have to put this book on the list, as it is the one that probably had the biggest influence on me. I basically chose my university degree on the back of this book. Forget that Dawkins can often come across as a pompous academic, The Selfish Gene - from start to end - is mind-blowingly simple in its argument, and yet it challenges your perspective on, well, everything. 


Oryx & Crake, Margaret Atwood Diverse author flexing science fiction muscle with believable and fallible characters.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou A book which sits in my heart and began my love affair with Angelou and her work.

All the Light We Cannot See, Antony Doerr Beautifully written, thought provoking look at the Second World War. 

Birthday Letters, Ted Hughes I will always remember as the first book of poetry I bought myself. I read it all the time. It's beautiful and haunting.

The Catcher in the Rye, J D Salinger Showed me another side to literature when I was at an age of pure Bronte and Austen. Opened my eyes to the entire American Beat Generation which I devoured - and still do. 


Getting the Joke, Oliver Double As your comedy correspondent I thought I’d start off with a couple of books about stand-up. This is the definitive guide to the history and inner workings of stand-up from an academic who has got out there and done it.

How I Escaped My Certain Fate (The Lives and Deaths of a Stand-up Comedian), Stewart Lee The best book on stand-up by a stand-up. The entire transcript of a stand-up show exhaustively analysed and examined. Superb insights into writing and performing comedy.

A Heart Breaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggars Sticking with the comic theme this is my novel pick. I loved this book for its post-modern, meta, self-referential clowning around and it’s got a moving story at its heart. Got to admire the cheek of the title too.

It’s Here Now (Are You), Bhagavan Das On a different front, this is the memoir of an American counter-cultural icon about his time as a wandering sadhu in India. A fantastic evocation of sacred India with a plethora of saints and yogis. He introduced the wider world to guru Neem Karoli Baba who has recently been named as an inspiration for Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.

Help! I am a Prisoner in a Toothpaste Factory, John Antrobus Back to the comedic, by a collaborator of Spike Milligan, this is my favourite childhood book and one that definitely influenced by own comic endeavours. Would love to read it again to see what I think of it as an adult. I see Amazon (genuinely) has a second hand copy for £0.01 and a new copy for £999.11. Which seems fitting for such a bonkers book.

Look out for pt.2 (coming soon) as we ask the remaining pool of Good On Paper writer's!

The Poetry Archive by Nikki Owen

Celebrating ten years of recording essential classic, modern and emerging poetry, The Poetry Archive is a website that aims to bring the widest possible audience to the fullest possible range of English-language poetry published around the world.

As part of my recent interview with joint founder (and Minchinhampton resident) Richard Carrington, I asked him to list five of his favourite poetry recordings from the archive...

1 -  Eden Rock by Charles Causley

"When I made this recording in the last year of the poet’s life, it was clear to both of us that he was reading his poems for the last time. You can hear the emotion in his voice as he reaches the last line."

2 - Earthed by U A Fanthorpe

"This was the first ever recording we made for the Poetry Archive. In her house in Wotton-under-Edge in May 2000, U. A. reads this love poem to some of the places where she had lived in England."

3 - The Loch Ness Monster’s Song by Edwin Morgan

"Try reading this poem before you listen to the recording. Baffling, isn’t it! This is a great example of what’s added to your experience by hearing a poet reading his or her work for you."

4 - Memorial by Alice Oswald

"The opening section of Alice Oswald’s magnificent re-telling of Homer’s Iliad, mesmerizingly performed from memory in the recording studio."

5 - They Should Have Asked My Husband by Pam Ayres

"Another great Gloucestershire favourite."

Nikki Owen is an author and writer. Her début thriller, Subject 375 (Harper Collins), is out now. Visit her blog or website

Pick up issue #13 April 2016 (out now!) to read more about The Poetry Archive and Nikki's interview with Richard Carrington

Nikki Owen: Subject 375 by Helen Elliott-Boult

I was recently asked to read and review The Spider in the Corner of the Room (now known as Subject 375) by local author Nikki Owen. This was an enjoyable task for me as I enjoy reading and from what I could see of the book it looked like a style I might enjoy, a thriller, I thought.

So, I started to read the book, the first thing that struck me and will you, is the main character; the protagonist, Maria. She’s not your ordinary everyday heroine. She’s not charming, witty and confident. But don’t underestimate her. Maria is intelligent, she is strong willed and does very much want to be in control of her own life and has strived throughout her life to do this. Maria has had to overcome extreme prejudice and every day misunderstandings from others and herself.

Maria is from a Spanish family, well off and well respected, she also has Aspergers; High functioning Autism, which means she finds it hard to understand social normalities, communication and subtleties that others take for granted. She finds others emotions hard to read and has to maintain strict control over her own emotions. She does this through ritual and routine, which help her control her life and understand the world.

The book unveils all of this when Maria is suddenly thrown into jail for a crime she thinks she hasn't committed. But she’s having trouble with her memory, she’s remembering some things that haven’t happened and forgetting other things that others tell her have happened. Who can she trust, how does she know who she should trust, why would they lie and why would they want to help or hinder her? How is she meant to know the truth?

Along with this, Maria starts discovering new talents she didn't know she had. How did she learn these skills, who taught them to her and why doesn't she remember?

The book delves into Maria’s character, a hard task as she is not immediately likeable. She’s unstable, afraid and confused and there’s no easy way to unfurl any truth to help her. The author cunningly adds other characters that we can more easily identify through, but we still don’t know who to trust, as we become one with Maria, the book being written completely from her perspective. All this whilst racing through a who-done-it storyline.

Subject 375 is set through two timelines, the present day and a couple of weeks before the present day, the two colliding towards the crescendo of the book and leaving us on a cliffhanger where we pleadingly need to know what happens next.

This is a well written and accomplished first novel, with two follow ups in the making. Nikki adds style and substance to an original character, making us feel at once helpless and enthralled, giving us a very realistic glimpse into the mind of a well thought out and researched character. I’d very much recommend picking up a copy yourself, I warn you to put aside a few hours to read, as you won’t want to put it down until you've read every page, too!

I was lucky enough to be able to ask Nikki a few questions about her début novel and life in Stroud, here’s what she had to say:

Spider in the Corner of the Room seems to have a different title, Subject 375 - can you tell me is this a new version, or a different international title?

Subject 375 is the new title for The Spider in the Corner of the Room. Same book, different name for the UK & Commonwealth market. The reason the change came about was that last November, I was on a library tour and the response to Spider as a story was amazing – the reaction to the cover was different. Everyone loved it, but as one reader put it, ‘The cover confused as to the genre.’ The same message was coming across from more & more readers and so, the publisher and I, we sat down and discussed it.  At the same time, the French title for the novel is Sujet 375, and boy is it doing well over there. So, along with reader feedback in the UK, we decided to change it and, hey presto, Subject 375 was born. The French publishers, Super 8, took the cover in a new direction and readers have really reacted well to it, so it was just fantastic that my lovely UK publishers looked, listened and thought, ‘Hey! Great idea!’ And it was. The novel is coming out in the USA and Canada this summer and over there, it’ll be under the title of Subject 375.

 The book contains a really interesting and original main character, where did you get your inspiration?

I'm a huge crime fiction fan. Book, TV, film – you name it, if it’s a cracking story, I'm in. But here’s the odd thing: until recently, I never noticed just how male dominated that world is. It was only when Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy came out that I really began to question what makes a strong crime protagonist. Yes, mercifully, there have been some huge female icons – DCI Jane Tennison in Lynda La Plante’s stunning Prime Suspect novel immediately comes to mind, but the Tennison’s of this world are few and far between. And why? Because society is scared, I believe, to imagine women as strong or violent, even.

I actually began writing The Spider in the Corner of the Room with a male protagonist. My trained-by-society brain went into automatic pilot and created a bloke as the main character, but eight chapters in, and something wasn't working. And so, that night, I went to the cinema to see the James Bond film, Skyfall. There’s a character in the film a female spy, who, at the beginning, is strong, decisive, but, by the final scene of the movie, is, instead, portrayed as weak, having been relegated to a PA because she couldn't, ‘cut it in the field.’ I was watching the film with my daughter and it made me so cross; here was a woman – and to a greater extent, women in general - being, basically, depicted as feeble. So, film over, I charged home, immediately changed my protagonist’s voice to a strong, complex woman and Dr Maria Martinez was born.

And it worked, creating Maria. It made sense not only on the page (the words just flew out), but in my head as well. Because I now had a character who was real, flawed, intelligent, strong – and she had Asperger’s. Not only did it feel right, developing Maria – it felt empowering.

What research did you use to get insight into Maria?

As well as observing and speaking, I did a lot of research on forums and blogs. There are some amazing people out there on the spectrum who share with us what their lives are really like. It’s the little things - like I didn't realise how hard airports often are for those with Asperger’s – the sights, sounds, smells. It’s all an assault on their hypersensitive systems and can trigger a sensory overload, which can lead to what is wrongly perceived as ‘erratic’ behaviour to cope with it all (rocking, leg bouncing etc.).

Reading the blogs- so many, over and over – helped me to really get a gauge on how their lives are actually lead. And it made me see that women with Asperger’s can be different to males, which is, for my protagonist, crucial. For example, adult females can be more prone to both temper tantrums and crying meltdowns, even in public, yet on the other hand, they can also be better at socializing in small doses, but they tend not to have many girl friends nor do ‘girly’ things. When writing Spider, I constantly went back to my research - the blogs, forums - to remind myself how life for those with Asperger’s really is, what they really think, so that way I could, in the wider context of a fiction novel, at least try and paint some small semblance of real life.

Did you use any of your own life experience within the book?

When I was a kid and a teenager, I was a bit of a geek, lanky, skinny, odd hair, big milk bottle glasses – naturally, that did not go down well. I was vaguely different from the mainstream, as it was then, and I got some stick for it. All water off a duck’s back now, but what is sad is that it’s the norm to take a jab at someone different – it’s seen as acceptable. And with social media, the whole situation, I believe, has got way worse.

 I think my experience of being bizarrely seen as different helped me write the book, because I know what it feels like to be on the outside sometimes, to live in one’s head, to feel lonely even – we all do from time to time. Also, I am Irish and, while that’s accepted in the UK now, when we first moved here to the UK in the seventies/eighties it wasn't so easy. Other kids used to taunt me and my siblings’ accents, saying we were ‘Paddy scum’, told us to go back to Ireland, all because we were ‘different’ and people perceived we shouldn't be in the UK. It’s crazy now when I think of it, but, sadly, nothing has changed. Sure, the Irish are pretty much the accepted immigrants in the UK, but the taunting of other nationalities who live here continues – Polish, Romanians – everyone. And it’s plain wrong.

I guess, all in all, the biggest thing in the book that relates to my life is the belief – through direct experience -  that we should judge each other less. We are all so quick to assess people and it creates such conflict, sadness, loneliness. If only we took each other for what we are, life would be a better place. Less wars etc. Also, I have strong opinions on how governments and those in power often say one thing and yet mean the other (which is the opposite of what it is to have Asperger’s). I don’t want governments to lie and deceive; be up front, politicians. People appreciate that more.

You left us on a cliffhanger at the end of the book, will there be more and if so, can we have a quick preview?

There’s definitely more! Subject 375 is part of a trilogy, with the second book due to hit the shelves in the UK this June. I can’t at this stage reveal too much, but what I can tell you is that it shines a light much more on Maria Martinez’s family and the full background to just what has been happening and who is really involved.

There are rumours of Hollywood interest in making a film of the book, is this true and if so how will you be involved?

In 2014, the trilogy was optioned by NBC Universal to create a one-hour returnable international TV series. With book two now due out, and with film agents showing interest so far, the potential for a film deal is definitely one my literary agency are gunning for!

You're now a Stroud local, so will you be writing about your home town in any of your books, as we'd love to be mentioned, I'm sure?

I am lucky enough to live in an area surrounded by inspiration. Now we have moved to Stroud, I just have to stare out of my window in the study to be inspired: the sway of the trees, the rainforest sound on the leaves in a down pour. Even walking into town, discovering new areas influences what I do, as does travelling to different Cotswolds villages – I love to have a nosey at different people’s lives. Sorry if I stare… But as for specific books, yep, I have a tonne of ideas that may well involve Stroud. Where we live is amazing!

What will you be writing about next and how can we follow your writing?

The next book in the trilogy is out in June and we’re working on revealing the true title and cover, so watch this space. Readers can follow me on twitter (@nikkiwriter), on Facebook (nikkiowenauthor) for reveals and competitions. As well as writing a series of Talking Heads style monologues, (and writing for Good On Paper, naturally) I’ll be appearing at Hawkesbury Literary Festival on the 23rd April and at Chipping Campden Literary Festival on the 5th May. And if you have a book you fancy getting published, but are unsure what to do next, I'm running a ‘How To Get Published’ course at Hawkwood College, Stroud on the 26th July. So, yeah, pretty busy! Just the way we like it.

Helen Elliott-Boult is a Stroud newbie, but long time admirer. She is an art enthusiast, short story dabbler, music and dance admirer and survivor of Media and Art school



Claire Fuller: 'Our Endless Numbered Days' Book Signing by Nikki Owen

If you love books and you've got a bit of time between work or have the afternoon to nip out, then do, because best-selling writer, Claire Fuller will be appearing at Stroud Bookshop on Monday 29th February at 2.30pm.

And I tell you what, it will be worth the visit, because not only is Claire an amazing author, but her début novel, Our Endless Numbered Days, won multiple accolades in 2015, with the book being selected for the Richard and Judy Book Club, and also becoming the winner of the coveted Desmond Elliot Prize for Debut Fiction.

Our Endless Numbered Days is the story of Peggy Hillcoat, who when she is eight in 1976, spends her summer camping with her father, playing her beloved record of The Railway Children and listening to her mother’s grand piano. After a family crisis, which Peggy doesn’t fully understand until later, her survivalist father James, takes her from London to a cabin in a remote European forest. There he tells Peggy the rest of the world has disappeared. And so her life is reduced to a piano which makes music but no sound, a forest where all that grows is a means of survival and a tiny wooden hut that is Everything. But Peggy isn’t seen again for another nine years.

It’s a chilling novel, not only in its premise, but in the beauty and sheer flowing style of prose in which she writes. But what of Claire and her writing background? For Claire, the journey to becoming an author wasn't a straight forward line, in fact she came to writing only later on in life “For my first degree I studied sculpture at Winchester School of Art, specialising in wood and stone carving. I began writing fiction at the age of 40, after many years working as a co-director of a marketing agency.”

Claire, among her accolades, also has a Masters in Creative and Critical Writing from The University of Winchester, and you can see just how this has shaped her wonderful work. So what next for Clare? Well, with more book deals under her belt, she has another novel on the way entitled Swimming Lessons due to be published by Penguin in 2017, and sure to be a big hit, if her poetic prose is anything to go by.

So, with once again Stroud Bookshop showcasing not only another author for us all to meet, but one which The Sunday Times describes, of Fullers’ writing, as 'a singing simplicity that finds beauty amid the terror', never before has there been a time like it to stock up on our reading, meet an author, and all at the same time as supporting our local book store. Work or no work on Monday, the book love is definitely in the air.

Nikki Owen is an author and writer. Her début thriller, Subject 375 (Harper Collins), is out now. Visit her blog or website


Tom Percival

In conjunction with Leah Grant's interview with Tom Percival in our latest issue (issue #12 Mar 2016 - out now) we've put up a selection for you of the Stroud dwelling illustrator/author/animator/musician's amazing collection of works...





The first two books in Tom's Little Legends series are available now from book stores nationwide and Stroud Bookshop. Pick up our latest issue to find out more!