Tag Archives: short stories

New short fiction from Birkbeck’s writers

This post was contributed by Sarah Cumming, a student on Birkbeck’s MA Creative Writing and editor of this year’s Mechanics’ Institute Review.

The book

Mechanics' Institute Review Issue 9Annual short fiction anthology, The Mechanics’ Institute Review (MIR), has truly excelled this year. Now in its ninth edition, the anthology, which is produced and edited by student’s on Birkbeck’s MA programmes, is a compilation of short stories from talented students on Birkbeck’s Creative Writing programmes.

There’s been a real buzz about this year’s issue, with its striking cover and exceptional array of stories. I may be slightly biased as I was one of this year’s editors but I’m definitely not the only one who can see the high quality – the anthology has been reviewed in the Guardian and DIVA magazine, and several of the writers have been approached by literary agents. Last week, the growing interest in MIR was demonstrated when the MIR editorial team hosted a packed out reading event at Foyles bookshop in Charing Cross.

The readings

As well as selecting students’ work from almost a hundred submissions, the team also commissioned several stories from well-known authors and three of them were able to come along to Foyles to share their stories and their wisdom.

The first to captivate the audience was Nick Alexander who, despite having published nine novels, admitted to a great fear of reading his work aloud. But he quickly had the audience chuckling away at his story, One man’s poison, about the trials of phone App dating.

Alison MacLeod, the author of two novels and a lecturer on the Creative Writing MA at University College Chichester, read an extract from her story, The Thaw. Her expressive and slightly hypnotic reading style had me on the edge of my seat and, despite already knowing what happens in the story, I was devastated when she finished at what would be the crucial moment. Phoebe Blatton, currently a Creative Writing MA student, was up next with an extract of her sinister and discomforting story, Paul and Emma and Paul.

Finally, Julia Bell, author of two young adult novels and Senior Lecturer on Birkbeck’s Creative Writing MA, skipped straight to the main action of her story, The Wilds, where two neighbours find themselves at the violent hands of teenage ‘terrorists’ while on an afternoon stroll along the beach.


After the readings, there was plenty of time for mingling and drinking the free wine. Common themes of my conversations with other writers were unread manuscripts, mounting piles of books to read and, inevitably, ‘getting that book published’.

A few times recently I’ve been asked about my experience of studying on the writing MA and whether it’s made me a better writer. The on-going debate about whether creative writing can be taught will continue but the experience of helping to edit this collection has been invaluable; reading and editing other writers’ work can provide an insight you can’t get from your own writing. Not only that, but I now have a much greater knowledge of the book industry and this will certainly help when deciding what I want to do with my writing.

You can grab a copy a copy of MIR9 on Amazon – but hurry, the first print run in almost sold out!