Dostoyevsky Wannabe Cities: Bristol

Vik Shirley

Tell us about your contribution to Cities?

In my contribution, I mythologise the absurd, which, in this case, is the coming together of an ageing starlet and a group of disenfranchised individuals, who met inside my head one day about a year ago. Until now they existed in a limited, minimal form, in an inappropriate and inadequate environment. When I was asked to take part in this project, I felt it was an opportunity worthy of their rescue. I created an environment where they could run free and let themselves play out. It’s an absurd epic of sorts.

Where’s your favourite place to write?

I live in South Bristol and the room where I write overlooks a main road. It’s pretty industrial and grimy. Telephone wires waver in the breeze outside my window and the house shudders when trucks go by. In the distance I can see the posh part of Bristol, Clifton, up on the hill and the spire of Christ Church. Bristol used to be known as the city of spires before the bombing during the war destroyed a lot of them. The spire always reminds me of that. At the moment, there is no place I prefer to write, and really, it’s all I know. But if someone wanted to treat me to an apartment in Berlin or New York where I could write, who knows, perhaps I would prefer it there.

What is the literary scene like in Bristol?

The most exciting literary night in Bristol is Anathema, an experimental poetry and performance night curated by a few small presses: Hesterglock Press (run by Dostoevsky Wannabe poet, Paul Hawkins, and Dostoevsky Wannabe City poet, Sarer Scotthorne), Moot Press and Sad Press. There is a definite buzz around Anathema and although they have been on a bit of a hiatus since Christmas, we’ve just learned that they’re going to be moving to the legendary Cube Cinema, which is great news. Loads more experimental, interesting ideas and work to come.

How has being in Bristol affected your writing?

I have only ever lived and written here, so it has affected my writing entirely. I used to be more involved with the music scene. A lot of people used to joke that creative people in Bristol are so laid back that it takes forever to get anything done. I think that was true when I used to make music, but I’m much more focused and clear headed about my art nowadays. Similarly, dark humour, and humour generally, has been a big part of my life and I have been able to express that through poetry rather than music. Also, there has always been darkness in my writing and, if you consider some of the music that has come out of Bristol, such as Portishead, Massive Attack etc, perhaps that is partly an effect of living and working in Bristol too.

If you could pick one thing to sum up your city what would it be?

Someone you might be bored of if they weren’t so brilliant.


Sarer Scotthorne

Where’s your favourite place to write?

I like writing in my VW van, in cafes, and, of course, in bed.

What is the literary scene like in Bristol?

It has certainly improved recently, it was dominated by performance poetry, some of which was alright, but if you like something a little more experimental there didn’t seem to be much going on. Now there is Anathema, which is very good, though it is skewed towards academia, but it has had some brilliant people read and show films. What is good is that there is a lot of poetry being shared, but I’m all for promoting groups that get marginalised. I did run a group called West Side Women for two years, the women produced some great work and published three anthologies, though I am concentrating more on my own writing now.

How has being in Bristol affected your writing?

Festival culture has influenced my writing and the general, beautiful, alternative vibe of the city.

If you could pick one thing to sum up your city what would it be?

I think the thing that would sum up Bristol is The Urinal that was allegedly produced by Baroness Elsa Von Freytag-Loringhoven.

What can you look back on and say, like Frankie, ‘I did it my way’?

What did I do my way? I’m always getting into trouble, so probably everything.

If you were an Egyptian Pharaoh and had to be buried with a few key items to take into the next world, what would they be?

A few key items to take into the next world would be, my swords, some notebooks to paint and write in and an art kit, can I take some Chardonnay too?


Lizzy Turner

Tell us about your contribution to Cities?

I’ve recently begun writing a (-n almost) daily diary of my intrusive thoughts and other OCD symptoms, in anticipation of an assessment. My work for Cities has involved taking one week’s pages from this diary and turning them into something that may make more, or less, sense.

Where’s your favourite place to write?

In a café, opposite my husband.

What’s the literary scene like in Bristol?

Interestingly varied for such a small place. There are quite a few people doing work I really like, and there still seems to be a lot of room for new things to happen.

How has being in Bristol affected your own writing?

After recently leaving London – and my familiar ‘network’ – to move to Bristol, I have managed to pull together a fair few new writing friends quite quickly. I’m attending three different writing groups in the South-West and discussing my work with many new people whose writing is different from mine, and therefore doing much more reading, writing and editing than I have done for ages. Taking my mind off missing London perhaps, but the effect has been good in many ways for my work.

If you could one thing to sum up your city, what would it be (could be a place, a person, an event, a piece of art, anything)?

A person in harem pants drinking a turmeric and oat-milk latte on a yoga mat.

What in your life can you point to and say, like Frankie, ‘I did it my way’?

My getting to the life I wanted by remaining faithful to my own feelings, in spite of much self-doubt.

If you were an Egyptian Pharoah and had to be buried with a few key objects to take into the next world, what would they be?

Ideally my bones will be buried with those of my beloved, with no other objects, just an inscription of John Berger’s ‘Phosphate of Calcium’.


Clive Birnie

Tell us about your contribution to Cities?

It is a poem in six parts titled The Lemon Squeezer. It is constructed from vocabulary and phrases taken from a number of 2017 Lex and Long View columns from the Financial Times cut with a few other things to create a nonsensical narrative that makes fun of the language of investment culture.

Where’s your favourite place to write?

Near the coast. I have spent almost all of my life near water and get angsty if the line of escape is disrupted.

What’s the literary scene like in Bristol?

Fragmented, in flux and kind of light on authentically Bristolian voices. As with most places you have to consciously turn away from the obvious to find the really good stuff. Anything involving Sian Norris is usually excellent.

How has being in Bristol affected your own writing?

I have been here so long (30 years) that I only have writing made in Bristol so I don’t know how to answer this. Being in Bristol = being. But I am both not from here and only from here. It is where I am going and not where I started out. It is not London and that is only a good thing. Like all British cities it is a bit fucked up, not what it was, better than ever and lost lost lost. Delete to preference.

If you could one thing to sum up your city, what would it be (could be a place, a person, an event, a piece of art, anything)?

Devon Road in Easton, Bristol BS5 heading North after passing Co-Operation Road on the right it turns in a left burn behind yards and garages towards Bellevue road. Go about half way along. Just there.

What in your life can you point to and say, like Frankie, ‘I did it my way’?

Everything. Everything. Everything.

If you were an Egyptian Pharaoh and had to be buried with a few key objects to take into the next world, what would they be?

Nothing. We are matter, atoms, ephemera. This is it. One chance. Start a fire. Start a fight. Do something worth being remembered for. Consider that your brief.


David Turner

Tell us about your contribution to Cities?

It’s a series of six short prose ‘poems’ (which I hope to add to) which reflect on my time working as a carpenter at the Tate galleries. It was odd going to work and installing exhibitions, which I quite liked, and seeing tabloid newspapers laying around the staff canteen slagging off the institutions and artists. These six pieces are sort of an exercise in imagining what the journalists thought the artists were playing at.

Where’s your favourite place to write?

Anywhere I’m able. I’m currently struggling so much for inspiration, I’d happily sit in the middle of a Zumba class if it helped me to write.

What’s the literary scene like in Bristol?

As wonderful and nonsensical as anywhere else in the UK. There’s an equal measure of people turning out and sharing some great work and people talking about ideas without ever acting on them.

How has being in Bristol affected your own writing?

I no longer use public transport in the city in which I live so I’m walking even more than I used to which is giving me more time to think though I need to find more public spaces to write in. The new reading room at the Arnolfini is looking promising.

If you could one thing to sum up your city, what would it be (could be a place, a person, an event, a piece of art, anything)?

A white man with dreads.

What in your life can you point to and say, like Frankie, ‘I did it my way’?

My Lunar Poetry Podcasts series, though I’m sure others would say it’s exactly like every other podcast and what I see as me is actually just a ham-fisted pastiche of a number of other broadcasters. We all need to acknowledge our inspiration I suppose.

If you were an Egyptian Pharaoh and had to be buried with a few key objects to take into the next world, what would they be?

Nothing. Burn the lot… but publicly say it went to charity.


Paul Hawkins

Tell us about your contribution to Cities?

I listened, did some research, collaborated with DW, asked others to join in, did some laptop-type things, took notes, tuned-in, turned-up.

Where’s your favourite place to write?

Currently it’s at Spike Island. It changes from day to day, week to week, year to year depending on whether I feel like venturing out, and then whether I can afford a coffee or two, what the weather’s like . . . otherwise I’ll read or write somewhere at home.

What’s the literary scene like in Bristol?

This. That. Lots of bubbles coming from too few straws. Puppet-on-a-string. Niacin nervous. Scratch the surface. Ghosts in the corridors.

How has being in Bristol affected your own writing?

I’ve had to face up to the fact that, like everywhere else, underneath the pavement is more gentrification.

If you could name one thing to sum up your city, what would it be (could be a place, a person, an event, a piece of art, anything)?

The Bearpit.

What in your life can you point to and say, like Frankie, “I did it my way?”

I tied my own shoelaces this morning.

If you were an Egyptian Pharaoh and had to be buried with a few key objects to take into the next world, what would they be?

If I believed there was such a thing as the next world, I’d take my phone-charger, a loaded Kalashnikov, Savage Messiah by Laura Oldfield Ford, Transnational Battlefield by Heriberto Yepez, Digging: The Afro-American Soul of American Classical Music by Amiri Baraka and a Happy Shopper bar of fruit & nut.


Vik Shirley  is a poet from Bristol, whose work has appeared in magazines such as Shearsman, Stride and Zarf. One of her poems was commended in the Verve Poetry Competition 2018 and published in the anthology It all Radiates Outwards. Vik has written and recorded music as one half of electronic duo, Canola Tenderfoot, with albums released on Malicious Damage and Slime Recordings. She has an MA in Creative Writing from Bath Spa University.

Professional Kung Fu Feminist Poet, Sarer Scotthorne challenges the lines between art and poetry, tackling subjects that challenge taboo, she shines a light into the darkest corners of the soul. Narrative themes are investigated through symbolism and she performs her poetry to martial arts, film and sound.

Lizzy Turner is a poet attempting to relocate from London to Bristol with the Cockney poet she fell in love with. She spends most of the day standing at an espresso machine, and she co-edits the Lunar Poetry Podcast. Lizzy recently launched new poetry podcast ‘a poem a week’, as a companion to Lunar Poetry Podcasts.

Clive Birnie is a poet-artist who works with appropriated text. He started life on the east coast but has lived in Bristol since 1989. He is trouble maker in chief at indie micro press Burning Eye Books.

David Turner is a poet-artist who works with appropriated text. He started life on the east coast but has lived in Bristol since 1989. He is trouble maker in chief at indie micro press Burning Eye Books.

Paul Hawkins aka Bob Modem &/or haul pawkins likes hats, learned how to sleep standing up & drink lying down with almost disastrous consequences. BPD non-CIS. Working class. http://www.hesterglock.net.

Image: Dostoyevsky Wannabe