Whitby trip

 Second Year English Literature student Jenny Prout reflects back on her trip to Whitby last semester as part of the Literature at Work module.


On Monday 14th March I set off with my fellow Literature students for a day trip to Whitby.  Once we arrived at half ten we split into groups to have a wander around.  I went and walked along the pier and then had a nosey around the shops.  As we were walking along the cobbled streets, Kaitlin spotted a book shop, and as English Literature students we couldn’t help but go in! I picked up a book about the lives of the Brontës and read for while until it was time to meet up at St Mary’s Church.


At the church, we headed to a classroom where Dr Liesl King and Dr Janine Bradbury ran a workshop.  We worked in groups to close read a passage on ‘Yorkshire air’ from A.S. Byatt’s novel Possession.  Then Liesl explained different ways of referencing and we had a go at putting these into practice.


When the workshop had finished we all separated into our previous groups and had a look at the ruins of Whitby Abbey.   The abbey itself is a wonderful example of gothic architecture and this led us into discussion of Dracula, a novel some of us are studying in the Gothic and Horror module.  Bram Stocker knew Whitby well and used the abbey as a backdrop for parts of the novel. During our visit the fog contributed to the uncanny gothic atmosphere, as you can see from the photo below of the adjacent church grounds.


whitby church


Next, we headed to the award-winning Quayside on the water front for fish and chips. They did not disappoint! We returned (slowly!) to the bus, stuffed full, and headed to Robin Hood’s Bay, where Janine took a group photo of us all on the cliff top.

Whitby group
Dr Janine Bradbury’s group photo of the Whitby trip.



We strolled down the steep path to the beach to collect some shells, and then back up the cliff for fifteen minutes walk towards Boggle Hole. The location is featured in Byatt’s Possession, so I wanted to go and see it for myself.boggle hole Local folklore has it that the crevice is haunted by a ‘boggle’, or goblin.



Exchange Semester Experiences

By Vasilena Chogolyanova


I’m a second year student in English Literature and Linguistics at Malmö University, and I spent this semester (Spring 2016) at York St John. My main objective was to take practical modules, so I can get some more experience in the field of publishing. I ended up choosing “Publishing, Production and Performance” (PPP) and “Literature at Work”, which proved to be the best combination of modules. I took part of two amazing projects, the goal of which was to put together and print out pamphlets.


The aim of the Text & Contexts project in the Literature at Work module was to produce an anthology from some of the excellent work of Level 3 students in the English Literature programme. It was exiting to have the opportunity to read through their critical essays. The PPP project’s objective was to publish the first ever York Literary Review – a journal of new writing. This project took most of my time this semester, because our team had to read through over 700 submissions of poetry, fiction and non-fiction coming from all over the world for our first issue.


vasi post pic



I think that the PPP project especially provided me great insight into the life of an editor and the amount of work one has to go through. I worked very hard on both projects, but it was worth it in the end when I got the two finished pamphlets in my hands and could see my name on them. I’m so proud of my team and myself for putting together these amazing publications. I have already put them in my CV, and I believe the experience I’ve got from these two university modules is as good as doing a placement.


Studying and living in York proved to be a truly lovely experience. The university is filled with life, creativity, and amazing people. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who wants to get an immersive experience of York – the best small city in Britain – and York St John University.

Scarborough Writing trip

By Rachel Louise Atkin


Gothic fiction is actually pretty great. In YSJ Creative Writing society we talk about it a lot, as many of the novels in the genre make up a lot of our favourite books. We like to see Gothic fiction as something to do with the supernatural, contamination and Victorian repression, and with two of the committee members studying the ‘Gothic and Horror’ module, it has become a genre we are confident talking about and exploring.


In February we took a day trip to Scarborough with the University of York’s own creative writing society, the Inklings. Initially, we went for inspiration (or really an excuse for a day out), but we ended up taking more away from the trip than we hoped we would.

The weather was overcast and windy without raining, making it perfect kite-flying weather. We ran around for a while on the beach first, writing our names in the sand and dipping our toes into the water which was way too cold to swim in. Far behind us was the seafront, revealing a stack of homes and winding streets which run all the way up a steep hill to Scarborough castle at the peak. The castle looks across the whole beach like it’s staged for a photograph, but it has been there since the 12th century and was used through the English Civil War. It’s open to visitors during the day, and once it closes it’s nice to have a stroll outside its deserted walls.


A trip to the sea wouldn’t be complete without arcades, and so we spent a little of our time getting frustrated at 2p machines and getting our fortunes told. Stopping for lunch, we swapped writing tips with the Inklings. We discussed how we generate and organize our ideas, as well as sharing our favourite books with each other. Poems were written and read out using the sounds of the shore as inspiration.

Moving further along the literary trail, the five of us from YSJ headed to Waterstones (inevitably). After purchasing some books we began climbing the hill towards the castle and St. Mary’s Church which is home to the grave of Anne Brontë. It was here where we started making connections with Scarborough and the Gothic. We stood amongst the graves and looked down at the water lapping against the sand, hearing the whistling of wind through the branches above us. It was easy to see how people like Bram Stoker and Emily Brontë had become inspired by landscapes similar to this one.


Walking up to the castle and finding it closed, we sat on a bench at the bottom of the cliffs and looked out to the sea, sharing story ideas and brainstorming ideas. The five of us didn’t really want to leave this spot. Though it was cold and I could hardly hold my pen, the atmosphere was like a machine for generating ideas between us. We were desperate to get indoors so we could write down everything we’d experienced.

The day rounded off when both universities sat together in a pub and discussed everything they’d enjoyed about the day. 90% of people sat with notebooks and were scribbling things down about graves, trees, ruins and haunted mansions. It seemed quite funny that although we’d joked about going to a place like Scarborough for inspiration, we all came out of there with something we were completely itching to write about.

It’s amazing how we manage to find literary connections everywhere. Scarborough seems underrated compared to its neighbour Whitby, but I found its seclusion and uniqueness to be something akin to the isolation and individual feel to books of the Gothic genre. We hope to recreate the experience by heading out on more day-trips, and hopefully uncover more of the hidden literary world as we go.

“Just Do It!” Sophie Nicholls Guest Lecture For Our ‘Contemporary Writing’ Module

By Heloise Pearson-Child (English Literature yr 1)

Have you ever been inspired to go out and help others? To write that book? To meet those people? To do that charity idea? Well after spending just 40 minutes with Sophie Nicholls, a poet whose writing has raised awareness to the plight and strength of refugees, I saw an entire class of Literature students absolutely alive with encouragement. Never since the Viral Motivational Speech by Shia LaBeouf have a group of people been so ready to ‘Just Do It’. But why wouldn’t they be? Sophie Nicholls is living proof the power literature still holds in our world. During a time of rapid technological change and internet everything, words upon a page are as vital to society as they have ever been, as proven by Sophie Nicholls’ book of poetry, Refugee.

How often have we seen refugees as a group of victims? How often have we pitied them? Let’s face it, we all have, and that’s our biggest mistake. We see refugees as a collective group. As Victims. But worst of all, we simply ‘see’. We never take part, try to get to know their stories, or even actively try to change the situation. Yes we all can comment on a quote by David Cameron. We can all share that post about raising awareness. But we could be doing so much more!

Sophie’s poetry does more than these posts could ever do, because she brings us into the lives of the refugees. The group of people become individuals, each with their own inspiring and tragic story of survival, strength and cruel misfortune at the hands of others. Those ‘victims’ become strong, independent human beings, who deserve not our pity, but our help and kindness. They deserve a place to belong. They deserve a home. A community. A job. And basic human rights. They need us not to just see, they need us to talk about them, write about them, raise awareness about them. Writing is one of humanity’s greatest tools. It’s the permanent engraving of our own language, which allows us to tell and order our own stories that couldn’t be told without it. For refugees it can help them conquer the torture and torment they faced. For readers it gives us a connection to those suffering. It breaks down the boundary and makes their plight personal. And for a country, it can be spark that lights the fire of change.

So why not become that change? Well after seeing the way my seminar group reacted to Sophie’s lecture, we might just be. To see a group of students discuss the issues of politics and humanities in a way that would floor politicians has raised awareness of the power we all have. We all could be those people writing books and getting the word of the suffering out. We all could be that activist helping refugees write about the trauma, and just simply being a friend to them. We all can be that voice to tell government and law makers how we feel about the degradation of others.

Why let media control our lives, when we can control media! Sure we can’t control the news, but we can make news. Instead of sharing the photograph about refugees, be the person in the photograph, talking and helping refugees. Instead of commenting on the disgraceful quote by yet another prime minister, be the person in the quote. Be the inspiration that appears on people newsfeeds and encourages them to ‘Just Do It’! Finally, instead of liking some post about a shocking new book, art, news story etc. Be the one making that post. Write a controversial book. Do eye-opening graffiti that’ll annoy a community. Be the protester on the news. Be the blogger that doesn’t believe in the government. We can all be Sophie Nicholls; we all have our talents and strengths. So instead of sitting on our sofas, listening to everyone else and giving away useless pity; let’s be the leader of a change. One that sees humans not a swarm. Strength instead of weakness. And people with real stories that deserve our respect.

Today I watched a group of students become inspired to make a change. But who will inspire the students to follow? It could be you.

Recruitment for YSJ Arts Magazine

So here’s the deal. Myself and some fellow students came up with the vision of a magazine produced, written and managed entirely by students here at York St. John. Recently it’s gathered a bit of momentum and has become something of a project (We are registered with the SU as society and have several members) and at this stage we are in need of talent, initiative, as well as some hard work to really get the thing moving. How much you want to contribute is up to you, maybe even just a suggestion or pointer. Understandably though, for this to work we need some people who are ready to commit and have a willingness to engage in productive relationships with others.


At this point the project has no unified vision or direction but plenty of enthusiasm and certainly on my part there’s a willingness to really get it organised and produce something really honest, inspired and creative; an efficient use of people’s talents; an entity that will flower and become a force that moves…


As the magazine is still in its formation we welcome ideas and vision, but it would be a good idea to briefly outline the sort of things we’re looking for to set you in the right direction. Think about what you’d like to see, what would be appreciated.


– ART. This could be articles, news and reviews of live music, literature, film, TV, theatre, exhibitions- interesting cultural events or festivals happening in York. The vision of the  magazine as being a space for people’s quality creative work is something I’d like to push. Think creative writing  (i.e. poems, short stories) photography and comic strips. There are endlessly creative ways this could be done. Maybe competitions and stuff like that.


-INTERVIEWS. Plenty of bands, artists and speakers come to town, some of whom would give us at least a few words. Some student interviews would also be good about topics relevant to student life. There are plenty of ‘ordinary’  people around here with charisma and something interesting to say, so some fun could be had. Academics? locals? People who are naturally dynamic and sincere in their interactions.


-STUDENT LIFE. Discussion of issues relevant specifically to life as York St. John student. News from societies, information about events happening at uni.


-FORMATTING AND GRAPHIC DESIGN. Especially as we’re going old school, experimenting with printing paper copies, it’s essential to have someone accomplished at this. Think about cover designs too. It would be nice to have some drawing, make it something aesthetically appealing.


Let’s keep it engaging, engaged, honest, informed, useful, quality, insightful, relevant, heart-warming where we can.


The current name of the magazine is ‘Square One’. I’m growing to like it, but let us know if you have any other suggestions.

For further information, contact:

Tom Found

Email: tom.found@yorksj.ac.uk


Jack Niles

Email: jack.niles@yorksj.ac.uk


Here is the link to join the society if you’re eager:


As joining requires paying a fee and it is a commitment, I’d suggest you question us thoroughly beforehand and make sure it is for you.


We’re looking forward, and I’m certainly excited, to hear from you.


Tom Found, English Literature year 1.

MA programme theatre trip review: Pomona, Manchester Exchange Theatre

By Chloe Ashbridge, Ellie Booth & Becca Hall


As part of the ‘State of the Art: British Literature’ module on York St John’s MA in Contemporary Literature, students were asked to read Alistair McDowall’s play Pomona, which premiered at the Orange Tree Theatre in London in 2014. On Saturday 14th November 2015 a group of students visited Manchester on a guided tour of the urban wasteland that lends the play its name, to hear McDowall in conversation with Dr Rachel Clements from the University of Manchester, and to watch the play itself. Here they discuss the experience.


Pomona Metrolink Station (4).JPG
Pomona Metrolink Station (4)” by Rept0n1xOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.


Pomona is a ‘grassy limbo’ that buffers Salford and Manchester. On one side of the canal is the Bridgewater Canal while on the other, creating the island and speaking of its past purpose as an industrial dockyard, is the Manchester Ship Canal. As we walked out onto Pomona the only other human present was a dog walker in the distance. This view of tangled vegetation and distant people captured the island’s edgeland feel. As we walked around the island, Dr Alex Beaumont, the coordinator of the State of the Art module, discussed the history of the island and its uncertain future. The discussion turned to psychogeography and how poverty has been hidden in Manchester, both now and throughout history. The increasing sense of alienation and separation felt while traversing the urban countryside of Pomona anticipated the mood of the play, which we were due to see later in the day.

Following the visit to the island of Pomona we attended a discussion of the play with the playwright Alistair McDowall, hosted by Dr Rachael Clements from the University of Manchester. The talk took place in the main theatre of the Royal Exchange, with Clements and McDowall on the stage where the play would be performed. Throughout the talk McDowall emphasised his discomfort with being labelled as a ‘northern writer’, which in his opinion suggests that a writer from the south of England is the norm, whilst a writer from northern England is considered ‘other’. He further stressed that whilst Pomona is set in the city of Manchester and on the island of Pomona it is not actually about either. McDowall described how the play is primarily an expression of his own anxieties and fears, a fact which was demonstrated in the talk with McDowall’s self-confessed unease with talking in front of an audience.

In an interesting exchange, Clements asked McDowall whether it was problematic that such a dark play should index its theme of evil to the representation of sex workers. McDowall’s critical self-awareness as a writer was captured in this moment, as he pointed to his insistence that ‘the actors playing Ollie and Fay should not at any point be wearing sexually suggestive or revealing clothing, despite their employment’. However, despite his strong opinions on the text and precise author’s note, McDowall was aware of the criticisms that these characters could attract and suggested that, in order to succeed as a playwright, one must be willing to grant some control over the text to the director, the producer and the audience.

It was hugely beneficial to have the opportunity to watch Pomona at the Royal Exchange Theatre following our visit to the island earlier in the day. The concept of ‘liveness’, which we had been discussing on the module with Julie Raby, was foregrounded early on, as upon entering the theatre the actors were stood between the aisles and sat in reserved seats amongst the audience. Zeppo, the play’s most omniscient presence, was already on the stage, donning only a khaki parka jacket and white underpants, and eating chicken Mcnuggets as the audience filed in. Due to this staging it felt as though the play had already started, and because it was hard to distinguish between actor and audience member, the performance quickly became an immersive experience that threw the audience into McDowall’s dystopian vision even before they took their seats. The architecture of the Royal Exchange Theatre complemented the immersive quality of the production, as the heptagonal theatre-in-the-round replicated the stark atmosphere created by some urban spaces. The history of the Royal Exchange was also significant as the building had previously been a stock exchange – the trading board still displayed the final day’s trading – which corresponded with the play’s themes of capitalism and the buying and selling of the human body.

The trip was ultimately a brilliant day out that increased our understanding of the themes, ideas, and setting of Pomona and enriched the experience of the Contemporary Literature MA.