Beyond the Walls Showcase Pieces

Due to COVID-19, the teams behind the Beyond the Walls anthology have chosen to postpone their 2020 showcase. The ‘Where Ideas Grow’ blog is pleased to be able to share a chosen few pieces with you, written by students at YSJ.

Change [redacted]

All aboard the slag heap of change –

stand by and watch

as the top meets the bottom

and all equals out;

stand up and stand back

as molten progress threatens

the safety of your three-figured shoes,

as kids in China and India and poor old Taiwan

rise up and rise against the torrents

of a capital gain

from a not so capital idea.


But beware this fallacy as just that –

as kids in China and India and poor old Taiwan

try to rise up but fall back,

deficient bones breaking under

deficiencies of kindness

as the thin-lipped

walking suits of Wall Street

fall to their own knees,

as numbers on screens drop

whilst the number of screams

drop upon deaf ears, hearing nothing

but silence.


By Tod Barnbrook


Girl to Woman

There’s a little girl,

resting inside of me ever so peacefully,

who if given the chance would leap

out of my soul.

She’d dance to her own tune.

Laugh at anything she wanted

or hum her way round Tesco’s.

Not a care in the world.

She’d eat all the sweets

without worrying about fillings.

She’d wear blue tights, a pink tutu,

and not give a damn.

That little girl would trust

anyone and everyone apart from

stranger danger.

She’d be so happy.

That little girl was me.



The woman I have become fights

to get through the workday,

whilst sleep deprived.

She doesn’t hum round Tesco’s,

she stresses and budgets.

She cries at her workload.

Gets up in the morning and

drowns in caffeine,

as a coping mechanism.

It’s not all rainy.

There’s days when I find joy;

in finding a new book,

spending time with friends,

or rather my cats.

I dance round my house

and hum as I work.

There was a little girl now,

She’s a powerhouse of a woman.


By Abbi Davison



Four years in is when the man behind the glass changes. Long after you’d changed, long after you’d given up on believing that it was a matter of perception that would settle in due time. It happens on the dusky, achromatic morning of a nation on the tipping point. You enter your small damp-smelling bathroom to scrub off the sleep and the overnight crust that clings to your skin. Afterwards, you lift your head to gaze into your square mirror, half-fogged, above the sink. The man is there, as he always is, playing mimic to your every gesture with a rugged flare that sinks hooks through your diaphragm, as he always does. You wipe your face dry. You stare at him. And he blinks.

            You don’t think anything of it for the initial ten seconds. It’s early. You’re groggy, and your head’s not been in the most reliable place for the past few weeks. You’re a paranoid before you’re a person at the best of times, so you dismiss it as a muddled misperception as you lift your hand to the mirror at the same time, just to be sure.

            The man raises no such hand. His face gazes out to you dully, nigh-unrecognisable in its ruggedness. You find yourself staring in mute transfixion, feeling the way that your heart, tongue, and throat meld into a single continuous pulsing stretch of flesh inside your body. You take a step back, barely feeling the way your bare foot squelches through a lukewarm splash puddle.

            He, still looking at you, clears his throat. You feel it in your own throat, a clogging rumble that stretches your vocal chords into a long disused position. You have to swallow thrice before the sensation of strangulation abates. He looks on at you with a stilled patience as you gather yourself. Then he says you look spooked. The voice reverberates in that part of your mind that tricks your hypnagogic subconscious into hearing deafening screams, that turns silence into volume. It glides over your mind, hitting notes that you know, yet do not.

            That first time, you don’t reply. You make an animalistic, guttural stutter, then spin and scramble out of the bathroom before you can scream. You’re half asleep, you say to yourself as you dress in your bedroom, door barricaded by your desk chair. It’s a waking dream. Nothing happened.

            Still, you quickly stop looking into the mirror, and whatever might inhabit that uncertain space of reflection. Just in case you really did see something wrong. Just in case it looks back.




You were right to. Encounter number two takes place the next time you set foot in the bathroom, two days later. Still hungover from a post-election misery binge, you head to the bathroom in search of reprieve from that terrible parliament livestream blaring from your phone. As you wait for the electric bulb to flicker to full strength, you glance over at the mirror.

            The man is still there, standing behind the condensation stains with a flatly curious expression. You want to look away from him, but you cannot.

            He tilts his head to the side a little, like an owl. He says what’s your problem. Asks if you really can’t handle a bit of news. Says you would’ve celebrated that, once upon a time. You would have celebrated before.

            You clench one fist and breathe around a dry throat. The overwhelming urge to swing at the glass, to break, to destroy, to feel angry, seeps through your skin like viral droplets. You blink back tears. You do not feel rage. You cannot. Not any more.

            He says come on, get pissed off.

            This is not real, you tell yourself. But only in your head. Only where it doesn’t matter.




You stop using the upstairs bathroom after that. Every morning and evening, you bring yourself to the downstairs en suite, where the muted cream colour scheme succeeds in soothing, where the glass doesn’t harm you, where you can breathe.

            It becomes routine. Wake go down check the news cycle wash go out come back check the news cycle wash go up sleep avoid the upstairs room avoid the upstairs room avoid the upstairs room. You mystify it, let it grow into a grim Other that looms above your head, tendril fingers seeping through the fabric of your walls and scraping the back of your neck like a cold whisper. You make it powerful.




Four weeks drift by in relative calm before instance number three. You exist in a comfortable miasma, the madwoman who never washes upstairs, going a little batty from living alone, but that’s okay. Until it stops being so, in the new year and new decade, on a day where your mother comes over to stay and the news is dominated by talks of galvanising the ugliest parts of international foreign policies.

            She takes the downstairs en suite. You have no room to object. She kisses your cheek, overwhelms you with her perfume. Says how beautiful you’re becoming, as if daily pills constitute beauty. You thank her anyway. This is how she makes her effort.

            You don’t talk politics. She sees and hears what fills you with slow-rotting terror and feels a warm rush of relieved pleasure, a fat cat gloating in the victory of the mangled bird in its jaws. You spend the evening watching her soaps with her, then force yourself upstairs for your nightly routine.

            He says you’re an over-reactor, as you slip through the door bathed in a clammy sweat. Says you’re delusional.

            Your mother snores downstairs. It gives you the bravado to speak. You say shut up. He shouldn’t exist.

            He says man up. Scratches at his stubble and scoffs. Glares at you, like a looming magnifying glass honing in on a lone ant.

            You force yourself to meet his gaze right back. Ask why he’s doing this.

            He asks why you’re doing this. Why you tell yourself he and you are distinct entities. Why you killed him. Why you made this mistake. It’s suicide, you know. Should’ve stuck with the life you threw out.

            He frowns, shakes his head, laughs, on and on and on. Like he knows you. Like he’s won. You’re seized by a glimpse of a future where he persists in this cruel stasis, and with a damp creak across the surface of your brain, realise that you can’t stand having this shade leeching off you for a single moment longer. You have changed. He has not. That realisation alone shrinks him to nothing.

            You punch the mirror. The glass crunches under your skin, stabs into your knuckles, leaves smudged blood streaks across its surface. Everything falls silent. Nursing your mangled hand, you begin to weep.




At the end of the month, on a day of international transition into new and dangerous waters, you finally replace the bathroom mirror. This new one is perfectly circular and catches the sun in a way that lights up the whole room.

            When you look into the reflection, for the first time you only see, and will always only see, yourself.


By Conor Hannon

The Worth of a Creative Writing Degree!

Creative Writing BA student Lucinda Morton reflects on the value of a Creative Writing degree at York St. John University, sharing her thoughts on its importance.

When I first told my mum I wanted to do a degree in creative writing, she was delighted that I was following what I wanted to do, and supported me from the get-go. Whether this is because she’s brilliant (which she is), or because she knows that I’m stubborn and mostly terrible at everything else, I don’t know. But what I do know is that this was not reflected in everyone I told.

Despite being the first person in my immediate family to go to university, the most common response I got was “Is that degree even necessary? Anyone can write a book.” While that may be true, there is a certain skill to writing that no one is born with. It must be cultivated, and this degree is about more than just writing.

I love my degree, and I’m particularly glad I chose YSJ to study at. The ways that the course and the city itself have influenced my writing are innumerable. I’m more confident on a personal level with sharing my work, utilising the workshopping time the tutors give us to advance our writing. Other aspects of the degree, such as the one-to-one sessions with tutors and the exposure to such varied types of writing over different centuries. These are things that I wouldn’t have had the option of experiencing (particularly at such a young age) had I not come to university. I love my tutors, who all so obviously care about their students and what they’re teaching; it makes the course come to life. This degree has opened my mind to things I never would have considered just a year and a half ago.

I’m currently in my second year doing a module that teaches us more vocational skills in our chosen subject. As a Creative Writing student, mine is publishing, and we are tasked with creating our university’s anthology ‘Beyond the Walls’. In just eight weeks, we have to create something from scratch until we have a published book available to buy. This is valuable, tangible experience ready to take with us once we finish our time here at YSJ that will help us move on in life.

This degree has opened so many doors for me. This module alone is teaching me things I’d otherwise have no idea about. My degree will enable me to walk into a future agent or employer’s office with a physical thing that I can put on the desk in front of them that I created; I’ve done it before and I’ll do it again. And none of it without YSJ.


An exciting event for those who love spoken word, don’t miss out! Details below.

Say Owt Slam #24
February 1st 2019
The City Screen Basement

Poets have three minutes to impress the audience and win a cash prize. Highly Commended in the York Culture Awards, Say Owt Slam is an exciting and raw mixing pot of spoken word. Plus
guest poet Lisette Auton, an award-winning disabled writer and performer. LIsette is one of Penguin Random House UK’s WriteNow mentees for her children’s novel based on the North East coast. All of her work seeks to make the invisible visible.

Winter Lights

Guest writer Alfie Edge gives us a Christmas poem for this festive season.

Turn on the winter lights,

To guide through afternoon shadows.

Crunching feet in pillow snow

passing steamed pub windows.


Underneath winter lights,

Innocence illuminated

the blurred buzz of mistletoe risk;

My heart, Lord’s a leaping.


Tell the warm winter lights:

to bury my heart in Christmas

and melt the cold earth around,

Until next year, my love.

York St John Con – Lit Fest Review

Zine Workshop – 4/5


The short creative workshop was a great start to the day full of creativity. Not a lot of literature is about getting you hands dirty, but this workshop really helped set the tone for the creative nature of the day and got everyone involved waking up! The crafty nature of this exercise was a great way to meet other people too, everyone sat around tables having to share scissors and glue definitely got the ball rolling, This was a great experience that I would recommend to anyone, artistic or not, it’s just great fun!

Poetry & Comics Workshop – 4/5

poetry comic

The creative skills only carried on for the next section of the con. Exploring the works of visual poetry and what exactly a poem or a comic really is was a great discussion that almost certainly sparked debates between everyone attending. With even more cutting and sticking of some famous poems and even a Wikipedia article (and some daunting drawing) everyone got to share their work which made it that little bit more fun! Though there was two hours though there wasn’t much chance to go rogue and create your own thing, it was quite structured, but hopefully everyone is sitting at home creating their own poetry comics.

Video Games and Story Roundtable – 4/5

video game

This enthralling discussion about the relationship between game play and story managed to get everyone thinking in new ways about the nature of gaming and game media. The talk discussed issues such as how much the player is allowed to impress on the character, comparing very in depth characters to the more generic ones and which pulls you into the story more. Whilst some of the blogging team were debating the use of “video” in the term video games, the experts were teaching a whole new viewpoint on how to read the gaming universe!

This section was written by Jonathan Ford who kindly covered our blogging team lunch break!!

Keynote Event: Bryan and Mary Talbot – 5/5

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Bryan and Mary, both amazing artists, discussed their works in graphic novels as well as several riveting themes and events throughout history. Bryan discussed his work Grandville and the anthropomorphic traditions in history and art which was an excellent experience and made everyone question some beloved childhood characters! Whilst Mary discussed the historical basis for her upcoming The Red Virgin and the Vision of Utopia (due out May 2016) and some lucky audience members and bloggers managed to get copies (!!!) no spoilers will be shared here though! It’s definitely worth a read! The two speakers were available at the end of the session for a chat and to sign their graphic novels as well as Bryan gracing the pages with a quick sketch for the reader.

Fan-Fic: Open Mic 4/5


The first annual YSJ Con concluded with the sharing of peoples own fan-fiction, Hosted by local poet Henry Raby. Many brave writers stepped forward to share work inspired by their favorite books, films, video games and even Dragons! The work shared was well written and showed the writers passion for the characters and stories they wrote about including, Red Vs Blue, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Les Miserables and Chinese Gods. Controversial yet lighthearted conversations arose about fictional worlds including The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and the setting of Pokemon. The session ended the day on a high. The only way it could have been better is if more people were willing to share their work. Hopefully next year more people will come forward.

Writing and the Natural World: Kathleen Jamie and William Atkins

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Rating: 4/5


Writing and The Natural World was the first event of the York Literature Festival held at York St John and also the first free event of the festival. The panel was hosted by Naomi Booth and consisted of prose writer William Atkins and award winning poet and non-fiction writer Kathleen Jamie. Both writers read extracts from their books which spoke about the Natural World. Atkins’ read from his first book The Moor (2014). The book takes the reader on a journey across the moors of England exploring both their history and their present beauty as well their relationship with man. Atkins is currently working on an account of desert journeys to be published in 2018. Kathleen Jamie read an extract from her book Sightlines: A Conversation with the Natural World (2012) in which she explores her native Scottish landscapes. The extract she shared was the story of four Killer Whales swimming amongst Seals in the most northern part of the Hebrides which she watched with great excitement and wrote very vividly. She also shared three other poems from her extensive collection of work. At the end there was a short Q&A in which both writers voiced their discomfort with being labelled as ‘Nature Writers’ as they believe it limits their writing topics, instead the prefer to be known as ‘Travel Writers’.

The most striking thing about the talk was the idea of “Don’t research: Encounter” a beautiful piece of advice for any aspiring writer hoping to write nature or anything else!

Next Week at the York Lit Fest!

Here’s a quick list Just to remind you all what’s going on next week in the lit fest! Be sure to book tickets before they all go – free events for YSJ students will be in bold!

Monday 14th March

  • We’re not in Kansas Anymore: Creating Engaging Worlds in Fiction Writing – King’s Manor, 10am to 12noon (£8)
  • Literary Walk – Museum Gardens – 10:30am to 12noon (£6/£5 pay on the day)
  • U A Fanthorpe: Berowne’s Book – Quaker Meeting House, 7.30pm to 9.15pm (£5)
  • Tanya Landman, Carnegie Medal Winner – St Peter’s School, 6.30pm to 7.30pm
  • Writing Comedy: The Art of Stand Up – Temple Hall YSJ, 7pm to 8.30pm

Tuesday 15th March

  • Stalin’s Englishman – The Lives of Guy Burgess – York Explore Library and Archive, 2pm to 3pm (£6)
  • Margaret Drabble in Conversation – St Peter’s School, 7pm to 8.30pm (£7)

Wednesday 16th March

  • Sci-Fi Workshop with Adam Roberts – Skell 037 YSJ, 2pm to 4pm
  • Why Sci-Fi Conquered the World (And What You Can Do to Stop It!) – Fountains Lecture Theatre YSJ, 7pm to 8pm
  • Professor Steve Jones: Why Genetics Matters – St Peter’s School, 7pm to 8.30pm
  • Dave and Miles’ Rumbustuous Book Quiz! – City Screen Basement, 8pm to 10pm (£3)

Thursday 17th March

  • Writing The Sonnet with Lizzi Linklater – King’s Manor, 10am to 12noon (£8)
  • The Frigate Anthology Launch Event – Quaker Meeting House, 4pm to 6pm (£5)
  • John O’Farrell: There’s Only Two David Beckhams A Football Fantasy – St Peter’s School, 7pm to 8.30pm (£7)
  • Student Showcase – Quad South Hall YSJ, 7pm to 9pm

Friday 18th March

  • Uncut Cords: Changing Families, Changing Carers – Quaker Meeting House, 2pm to 4pm (£3)
  • Poetry and Migration – Temple Hall YSJ, 7pm to 8.30pm
  • Vince Cable: After the Storm – St Peter’s School, 7pm to 8.30pm (£7)

Saturday 19th March

  • Pennine Poets 50th Birthday Party – Black Swan, 1pm to 3pm (£3)
  • York Literature Festival/York Mix Poetry Competition Results – Black Swan, 3.30pm to 5.30pm
  • No More Champagne: Politicians and Their Money – St Peter’s School, 7pm to 8.30pm (£7)
  • Austen Society Lecture: Jane Austen’s Emma in Context – Quaker Meeting House, 2pm to 3pm (£8)

Sunday 20th March

  • Family Day – York Explore Library and Archives, 11am to 4pm, (£2)

For more information look here. For tickets look here, and register to see individual events! Hope to see you there!

Shandy Hall Trip – 4 March

We started by looking at a full-stop
We started by looking at a full-stop

On Friday 4 March a group of third-year undergraduate Creative Writing students set out in freezing rain in search of Shandy Hall in Coxwold, where Laurence Sterne wrote the majority of his novel Tristram Shandy.

From the moment we arrived we knew we were in topsy-turvy Shandy Land, where nothing is quite right. We started by looking at a full-stop. The wonderful, digressive curator of Shandy Hall, Patrick Wildgust, began by showing us the full-stop that appears at the end of the first edition of Tristram Shandy, magnified and turned into a work of art by Scott Myles.

In the chapel we saw sacrificial glass and stones that speak.

A stone that speaks, in the chapel. 'STERNE was THE MAN, who with gigantic stride mow'd down luxuriant follies'
A stone that speaks, in the chapel. ‘STERNE was THE MAN, who with gigantic stride mow’d down luxuriant follies’

Back in the hall we measured out an hour in grains of sand. We took books that took books to pieces to pieces.

Taking books that take books to pieces to pieces at Shandy Hall
Taking books that take books to pieces to pieces at Shandy Hall

So of course we learned that a full-stop is not really what it appears. There is never a full stop or end to narrative. Look at it closely, magnify it a hundred, thousand, million-fold and a full-stop seeps into the paper with valleys and channels, black holes and highlights. It is not a stop at all, but just another messy mark on a page out of which we try to make meaning; in which we swear we can decipher the head of King George III in silhouette.

The full-stop launches us into new narratives, fresh meanings. So watch this space for our creative responses to the topsy-turvy world of Shandy Hall…