> Featuring Nottingham

In the lead up to the launch of The Third Script in Nottingham on May 22, 2016 we will feature some of our UK writers, starting with Notts residents, Matt G Turpin and Shreya Sen Handley. They were interviewed by Emma Luimes, Transportation Press’ Media and Comms person.

Shreya Sen Handley 

shreyaShreya Sen Handley’s story, Lean on Me, deals with love and deception – It’s a thriller of sorts.
The former television journalist and producer writes and illustrates for both British and Indian media. She’s also a columnist for National Geographic, Times of India and Nottingham Post.
Born in Calcutta and based in Nottingham, Shreya was born into a long line of remarkable Indian figures.  Shreya spent her early years travelling around South East Asia with her family. Her work was first published in India’s The Statesman, while still at school age in Manila.
Shreya was one of seven writers featured in These Seven – an anthology showcasing Nottingham’s literature, as part of the city’s successful bid for UNESCO recognition. Her short fiction has been published in Australia and India. She is currently writing her memoir.

 How do you think getting involved with Transportation Press has been helpful to your writing practice?

I enjoy working with Transportation Press. It is fresh and exciting and not hidebound in its ways. It does not shove pre-conceived ideas about what a piece of short fiction should read like down its writers’ throats. So it gives me room to grow as a fiction writer. I am an established non-fiction writer and columnist but am fairly new to fiction, having written only five stories so far and all in the last few years. Transportation has published two of these. All the others have found wonderful, well-known homes as well. I am becoming recognized as a fiction writer too and that is partly because of Transportation Press.

Is ‘Lean on Me’ based on events in your life?

Every story is based on someone’s experience isn’t it? Even science fiction is not entirely disconnected from human experience and deal with the universal themes of love, hate, betrayal, greed etc. My story, Lean on Me, in The Third Script is partly based on things that have happened to me, but within that I have interwoven other people’s experiences, with plenty of embellishment on top, and come out with a story that’s very definitely fiction. Because nothing exactly like that has happened to me or anyone I know. It is, in the end, the product of my madly morphing imagination.

Many people in your family have done some remarkable things. Do you feel like their achievements can be a source of pressure, as well as an inspiration?

When I was younger, it was more like pressure. Now having gone through the ups and downs that I have, I view it as purely inspiration. I do have a competitive streak but it has mellowed, so if I am looking to prove myself now or outdo anyone it’s only my earlier incarnation. I did very well as a young television producer, rose to the dizzying heights of East India (which is a huge area) Bureau Chief for an international channel. This is my second wind, and I want to do more than I did last time but not just in terms of success. I want to leave something special behind. Something people, especially my children, can look back at with fondness and pride. And I hope that’s not too much to ask of myself, with everything I’m trying to do a decent job of – mother, columnist, illustrator, author, teacher, City of literature ambassador, Literary Festival organizer and housekeeper (the last of which I am the least accomplished at)!

How is your memoir coming along? Do you find it difficult to be entirely open and honest about your life and your thoughts? 

It’s coming along well enough. It has been both a wonderful experience, and a difficult one. Bitter-sweet, funny, and cathartic. Oh and hard, hard work. The difficulty is in dredging up all the unhappy times from my past (and yet keeping it entertaining). It’s like re-opening wounds but when I finish writing chapters that recall the saddest of experiences, I feel almost like I’ve been set free. The wound has finally, nearly, healed. As for being entirely honest – I’ve tried to be honest and I’ve attempted to be fair, but memory is a relative thing. No two people remember events in the same way. You’re putting your own spin on it even as it happens, never mind years later. So while the really serious stuff I’ve tried to be absolutely frank about, with some of the less important incidents I’ve just attempted to entertain, with much less of an eye on veracity. And finally, it is so incredibly honest in some respects, so raw, laying me bare (literally) for all to see that I think I will dig a big hole when the book comes out and hide in it for a good long while.

How do you think Nottingham’s literary culture influences your work?

I love Nottingham and I love its literary community. Everything you love has a profound impact on your work, so even though I don’t think it has changed my writing style much, in terms of subject matter, I write about Nottingham an awful lot. It clearly inspires me. In terms of output as well, it sends so many opportunities my way, that I naturally do more, increasing my repertoire. And in terms of manner, perhaps something more lyrical has emerged too, alongside the sharp, funny, feisty columns I am better known for. And that’s the fallout of my life here, which is full of the gentler stuff of life – a supportive writing community who clearly appreciate me, a little family of my own that loves me as deeply as I do them, a gentle, satisfying lifestyle and a beautiful home bordering what used to be Sherwood Forest. Beauty breeds beauty.
MattMatt G Turpin’s story, Tom’s Eyes, is a humorous and unsettling tale about an encounter with some crooked characters abroad.
The UK writer was born in Scotland and travelled around Europe before settling in Beeston, a suburb in Nottingham. Here, he co-founded The Beestonian magazine – a monthly community journal celebrating the quirkiness of the town.
Matt was recently involved in a successful bid gaining Nottingham recognition by UNESCO as an international City of Literature.

Is Tom’s Eyes based on events in your life?
Yes, very much so. I was a disgruntled postal worker teetering on a physical and mental breakdown: working nights is cruel on someone who loves sunlight and sleep. I did have a great time initially, I did get badly attacked – a pale scar over my left eye is thankfully the only remaining mark. But a lot of it is condensing events, compressing times. It occurred to me when I wrote it that I’d been writing it in my head for nearly two decades. Making it into a story, rather than an anecdote, was the tricky part.

How do you think the literary culture in Nottingham influences your work?
Nottingham has a distinct and unique vernacular. We’re a city that has always been working class, ignored, and rebellious. The English Civil War started here. The Luddites rose here. Two centuries ago we rioted over everything: cheese prices, bread, theatres. We burned the castle down when it’s politician owner refused to vote for the Reform Bill.
We are outsiders, and our art reflects that. Byron: a Lord who could have taken life easy, but instead chose to live a life with such angry, flamboyant energy. He was hounded out of England to join noble causes for liberty in Italy and Greece. DH Lawrence, a miner’s son from a forgettable pit village, who kicked against the sexual and class hypocrisies of his day; and posthumously started the ‘60s sexual revolution with the Chatterley Trial. Sillitoe, who created the character of the ultimate, hedonistic nihilist in his seminal ‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’; a character who still informs outsider culture to this day.
We rage against authority, and its inequity. Our most famous icon, after all, is a medieval proto-socialist who led a commune of Merry Men to attack the corrupt powers trying to shackle the people.

You travelled around Europe before settling in Beeston. What drew you to the town?
I was born in a lovely bit of Scotland, by Loch Lomond.  But, I was raised in a dull, down at heel suburb called Stapleford, locally known as ‘Stabbo’. It’s near Nottingham, in the English East Midlands. I had early wanderlust: my dad was a submariner so we constantly travelled. The housing estate I grew up on was named the ‘Australia Estate’: the streets all had Australian names. I lived on Canberra Close. I would travel via Perth to see my friends on Hobart, or visit the park off Brisbane Drive. I’d try and imagine what the places were really like. Hobart better have a lot of trees, and a strange man in one corner who wears a sou’wester even at the height of Summer, or it’ll destroy my imagined parallels. I moved out as soon as I could, but after years of itinerant living, moving when I got bored, I felt an urge to go back to Nottingham. It was 2001, and I’d been working at the BBC in Kent, living a happy bachelor life, but my gran, who I adored, was ill and I felt a need to be near her. No way would I move back to Stapleford, but Beeston is a cosmopolitan, lively town, boxed in by the sprawl of the Nottingham University campus on one side, the River Trent on the other, and a large wetlands nature reserve another. I expected to spend just a couple of years here.
My gran held on until 2006, in which time I fell in love with the town, and started writing about it, as I have done since. I never tire of watching it change, learning more about it. I travelled for years, then found that the most fascinating place was just three miles from where I grew up. I’ve made a career out of just being where I am, and being aware of my surroundings. That is hugely gratifying. 

How do you think Nottingham will change, now it’s been named a UNESCO City of Literature?

Nottingham always changes, always surprises with its ability to challenge; its support of grassroots; its sheer understanding of the power of words. We hope to be an accelerant and celebrant of that, rather than some paternalistic overlord. Nottingham has been a City of Literature for a long, long time. It’s very nice UNESCO have also now realized that.