Nell Leyshon

Nell Leyshon is a novelist and playwright. Her first novel, Black Dirt, was long-listed for the Orange Prize and short-listed for the Commonwealth Prize. Her third novel,

The Colour of Milk, was published by Penguin in May 2012 and has since been translated into multiple languages. It won the Prix de l’Union Interalliee and was nominated for the Prix Femina in France. In Spain it won Libro del Ano, book of the year. Memoirs of a Dipper, her fourth novel, was published in 2015.

Nell’s first play was runner up for the Meyer Whitworth Award and her second play, Comfort me with Apples, won an Evening Standard Award for the most promising playwright, was shortlisted for the Susan Smith Blackburn Award, and nominated for an Olivier Award. Her play Bedlam was the first play written by a woman to be performed at Shakespeare’s Globe. She has written for National Theatre Connections, Theatre Newfoundland and Labrador, Theatre Royal Plymouth, RADA and Teatro Nacional of Peru. Her first opera libretto was for Streetwise Opera, who work with the homeless.

Her extensive radio work has been commissioned by BBC Radio 3 and 4. Her first play won the Richard Imison Award.

Nell’s first one woman show, Three Letters, will be produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2018.

Nell worked for many years with marginalised communities, teaching and facilitating creative writing and performance. She was on the Management Committee for the Society of Authors for three years, and is currently on the board of Shakespeare’s Globe.

Chernobyl Prayer

Svetlana Alexievich

Alexievich was awarded the Nobel in 2015 for her polyphonic writing which is composed of oral testimony. Her work is now being translated and this is a new version by Anna Gunin and Arch Tait. The voices are presented as monologues, spoken by single voices, and at the end of each section there is a “choir” of several voices. We hear from children, mothers, soldiers, nuclear scientists. The book tells the story of the accident, but it also tells the story of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the development of capitalism, and the effects of human beings on the planet. Extraordinary.

The Selected Letters of Tennessee Williams

Ed. Albert J. Devlin and Nancy M. Tischer

I didn’t do an MA in Creative Writing, but instead read many journals and letters by writers. I wanted a conversation with them, to know what they thought and how writing made them feel. I read some wonderful books of letters: Jean Rhys’s with words so clear and strong they are almost violent, Sylvia Plath’s performative letters to her mother and Dylan Thomas’s begging letters. But the letters of Williams stand out. It is a lesson that a writing life is never easy, and a reminder that the work you produce brings the rewards. Not many have written such delicate, extraordinary work.


Olga Tokarczuk

Tokarczuk is well known in Poland and is only beginning to be translated here, so there are other books to catch up on. Flights won the International Man Booker. There is so much here. The structure is wonderful: although it calls itself a novel this book is fragmentary, made up of what Tokarczuk terms constellations, which are extremely varied fragments. There are sections of non-fiction, impressions from Tokarczuk’s travels, short stories which are beautifully resolved. The wonderful translation is by Jennifer Croft.


Jackie Kay

When I was starting to write and had young children and a teaching job, I also ran reading groups. I wish I had recorded some of the conversations: they were always on topic, and were rich and profound exchanges. I think the best of them was when we read Trumpet, a beautiful book about love and music and sexuality. The discussion which ensued was extraordinary and revealing and transformative for all of those in the room.

Love Me Tender

Jane Feaver

A collection of short stories set in a Devon village. Having been brought up in a Somerset village, I recognised some of the characters and stories, but I recommend this book for the loving but sharp observation, and also for the beautiful writing. Controlled and great metaphors.