Posted Wednesday 7 June 2023
A Kingston University lecturer has been nominated for a prestigious Republic of Consciousness award for his first novella, completed during lockdown from a forgotten manuscript.
Creative writing lecturer Steven J. Fowler has been nominated for his debut novella Mueum which depicts a collapsed society attempting to reconstruct misremembered elements of the world as it descends into chaos. Best known for his written and spoken poetry, Mr Fowler has published more than 40 books, collections and pamphlets.
The inspiration for the novella came from Mr Fowler's experience working as a guard at the British Museum, during which he wrote the first draft. It was only seven years later, during the pandemic lockdowns that he re-found the manuscript and resolved to complete it. The story sees the world affected by a cataclysmic event, which leaves the survivors to rebuild society.
"The characters don't really know what a museum is, or what it's for. So everything's a bit strange and a little bit off," he said. "When I was working at the museum, people would ask if the exhibits were real or not, that constant questioning of their reality stuck with me. In this weird Museum there is the guard character who deals with the public as things descend into chaos."
Mr Fowler said the nomination was a huge honour adding it had inspired him to write more fiction in the future. "I don't really write a lot of fiction, because I find it very difficult to stay indoors writing at a desk all day," he explained. "If I can utilise my poetry within a long form piece of fiction, some of the ideas I have for my poetry may work in a more narrative fiction and reach a wider audience, leading them to exploring the other work I engage with."
Established in 2017, the Republic of Consciousness prize is awarded to the best literary novella published by a small press in the UK and Ireland with fewer than five employees. Over the past seven years the prize has awarded almost £100,000 to more than 25 small presses and writers.
Another innovative and audience-facing project Mr Fowler has been involved with is a commission to produce new poems for National Gallery Lates. The series of Friday evening events focuses on their art collection, offering alternative impressions of their meaning and history. "The National Gallery project allows me to work with a major institution in a way that can be very playful, within a prestigious setting," he said. "I have a real creative freedom, to produce an experimental experience for the audience. In those interactions I have a certain amount of autonomy to be imaginative around text art and language art."
At the University Mr Fowler has led Writer's Kingston for more than 5 years, a literary cultural centre dedicated to the practice, research and knowledge exchange of creative writing in all its forms. The group regularly hosts themed events, encouraging live performance with an audience of students, staff and the local community.
Mr Fowler also runs the European Poetry Festival which recently took place at venues across London. The festival celebrates the grand resurgence in avant-garde and literary poetry that has marked the 21st century in Europe, aiming to develop community and engagement between poets across the continent, as well as between new audiences and complex poetries.
These experiences and projects feed into Mr Fowler's teaching, during which each student will produce 20 poems, have taken part in public readings and collaborated with other writers. "They complete the course, I hope, as different people to those that started it, having developed a richness of self-knowledge and expression," he said. "Poetry is attempting to express that which cannot be expressed by any other means, in language. Many of my students become published poets, but all of them gain skills that can be used in a variety of paths, and careers, and more importantly enrich their lives through the development of creative processes."