Leone Ross: teacher, editor, author – and cover girl

It is with both pride and sadness that we say farewell to Leone Ross, who has been editor of the Fincham Press student writing anthologies since they first appeared seven years ago.

Leone, formerly Senior Lecturer on the Creative Writing Programme, left the University of Roehampton ahead of the April 19 launch of her novel, This One Sky Day. It follows two previous novels, All The Blood Is Red and Orange Laughter, as well as a collection of short stories, Come Let us Sing Anyway.

In an interview with photographer, writer, and podcaster Naomi Woddis, Leone talks about what compels her to write. ‘There’s always private stories going on underneath the surface of people … I write about that, that’s what I’m most intrigued about.’

Her latest work emphasises these layers. The story takes place during one day on the island of Popisho, where everyone is born with magical gift – but one that may not be as helpful as it seems. Xavier, a chef, and Anise, a healer, bring the reader into this world and promise that you won’t leave it the same as when you arrived.

‘As long-time colleagues, Leone and I had the kind of mutual trust that makes collaborations a joy, and brings out the best in the students’ work,’ says Susan Greenberg, publisher of Fincham Press, Senior Lecturer on the Creative Writing Programme and Convener of the MA Publishing. ‘We aim to continue with the same high standards.’

Leone’s last two Fincham Press anthologies – All That Glitters and The Box – are being launched this May and news of the double-book launch will be posted here soon. Meanwhile, you can go ahead and order copies from the the university e-store,: either singly (see Glitters and The Box) or as a launch package.

Free ImprovBot.ai Stock Illustrations for Reuse

Free Image downloads

Hundreds of illustrations by Fincham Press cover artist Rudolf Ammann are now available to download and reuse, with licensing that lets you take, remix, and play, for free!

In spring last year I was invited to join an unusual comedy project which trained artificial neural networks on several years’ worth of historical Edinburgh Fringe festival programmes to generate new virtual show listings. My brief consisted in developing the brand identity and building the website, but, having familiarised myself with the project, I suggested that the purely textual show listings should also be accompanied by illustrations, which I’d be happy to create and supply. Eventually, ImprovBot.ai went live at the start of the Festival in August, and for three weeks kept churning out a dozen illustrated AI-generated show listings a day. The images are now available for creative re-use as non-restrictively licenced stock Illustrations. Here’s some very brief discussion and a few pointers to the various ways of getting hold of the images.

Producing digital illustrations by the hundreds requires a certain serial approach to their manufacturing, so it helps to have archives on hand that can be drawn on for visual elements to tweak and recombine. I have documented some of the elements in the ImprovBot.ai series elsewhere. In this post, let me just point out some areas of overlap with my book cover artwork for Fincham Press.

As a designer and a visual artist I have been collaborating with ImprovBot.ai’s project lead, Melissa Terras, for more than a decade. Prior to ImprovBot.ai (see Melissa’s account of her recent adventures in AI, incidentally), we’ve worked together on a variety of projects, including her book published by Fincham Press, The Professor in Children’s Literature, which I typeset and whose book cover I designed. This cover, based on a drawing by W. Heath Robinson, is among the elements I’ve remixed repeatedly as part of the series’ ‘extras‘ (fig. 1).

Professor Branestawm and Lehrer Lämpel
Fig. 1: Book cover remix: Professor Branestawm and Lehrer Lämpel

The extras, as their name suggests, are perhaps not very central to the ImprovBot.ai series. By contrast,  ‘moresque patterns‘, an ornamentation style that was in wide use across Europe for much of the Renaissance and Baroque periods, are a core element. They appear frequently, often occupying a middle ground that holds a composition together. 

For many pieces in the series, I passed historical moresque patterns through algorithmic deformation filters, thus experimenting further with an imaging technique I had first used on the cover of a recent Fincham Press anthology, In which Dragons Are Real But (see full cover art).  

Many instances in the series (e.g. fig. 2) resemble the initial Dragons cover in that the computationally deformed moresque patterns remain the dominant element.  

Fig. 2: Relatively simple composition dominated by moresque patterns

Some of the illustrations are more complex in their composition, featuring moresque patterns along with other elements, such as mojibake and glitch captures (e.g. fig. 3).

Fig. 3: A more complex composition with several elements conjoined


The whole set of Improvbot.ai illustrations is available for reuse and can be picked up individually from the project website and the Twitter feed. The images , briefly reviewed by category on a separate page, can also be browsed by these categories. The categories most suitable for re-use are probably these:

Moresque | Capture | Dataviz | Base64 | Network | Hardmod | Mojibake | Noise | Extras

Also available, but perhaps less suitable for reuse might be these categories:

Identity: ImprovBot | Identity: Improverts | The Bot, incl. Multiples Edinburgh and Multiples Shakespeare |

A zip archive of the full illustration set is available for downloading from Zenodo.org, and a subset of individual illustrations is distributed via Pixabay.com.


The illustrations are distributed under the CC-BY-NC licence, the image set on Pixabay under even less restrictive terms.

Reuse? Feel free to let us know about it!

Some of the images might be suitable for book cover art, a blog post illustration, or they might inspire you to simply play with them and produce a few remixes of your own. If you find a use for them, feel free to drop us a link and let us know via any of the Fincham Press social media presences!

Book Launch: The Age Between

We invite you to join us for the launch of Aidan Chambers’ new book, The Age Between: Personal Reflections on Youth Fiction.

This free-ticket event will take place online
Wednesday 4 November
18.30-19.30 GMT.

It will feature:

  • An introduction by Lisa Sainsbury, Director of the NCRCL
  • Aidan Chambers in conversation with his editor, Alison Waller 
  • Q&A 

The launch is being hosted as part of YA Studies Around the World, an online conference considering young adult literature, media, and culture and in conjunction with the National Centre for Research in Children’s Literature (NCRCL).

To book your free place, Register Here

On the Pleasures of the Printed Book

Aidan Chambers, author of The Age Between: Personal Reflections on Youth Fiction, reflects on his relationship with printed books and the younger generation of ‘new book people’.

The Age Between Cover

Let me tell you about a meeting I had three years ago with two-hundred and fifty young people between the ages of eleven and eighteen. I was the guest speaker at the opening of the tenth annual Mare di Libri book festival for young readers, held at Rimini, a seaside town on the north-east coast of Italy. It’s an extraordinary, indeed inspiring event, organised almost entirely by a group of the young people themselves, based on the town’s children’s bookshop. They decide which authors they want to invite, look after them while they are there, organise the meetings, a bookshop, and other activities over a four-day period in June. Groups of young readers from many parts of Italy attend, along with interested adults.

At one point in my talk I said,

Look, I’m eighty-three. I’m probably the last of the traditional book people. And you are the first of the new book people. The readers who read books on iPads and mobile phones. For me, these are new, almost strange devices. You take them for granted. They’ve been around since you were born. They’re not a novelty, just part of your everyday life. A teacher recently told me the worst punishment for pupils’ misbehaviour is to take away their mobile phones and ban their use for more than a day.

Because of that, I’m wondering whether your experience of reading stories and novels or anything in fact is different from mine. And if it is different, how it’s different. So, let me tell you about my experience and then perhaps you will tell me about yours.

For a start, I do read digital books, on my iPad. But what I’ve discovered is that if a book really matters to me, matters so much I want to read it again, want to roam through the pages in any order, want to find particular passages again, and even mark words or sentences or paragraphs so that I can easily find them again, then I buy a traditional printed copy and read that instead of the one on my iPad.

There’s something else. I don’t find reading a book on my iPad as satisfying as reading a printed book. It’s as if the book on my iPad doesn’t exist. Whereas a printed book has an individual identity. I can hold it in my hands. It has a feeling and a smell. And when I’ve read it I can keep it on my bookshelves, and see it and take it down and look at it again whenever I want to. Easily, quickly, a pleasure in itself.

Books that I value become part of my life, part of myself, and I want them with me. They are companions. That is not true, for me anyway, about books on my iPad.

At this point the audience, who had so far been quiet and attentive, began to react. Some were nodding, some began muttering to their neighbours. One called out ‘I do that!’

I was so surprised that I stopped and said, ‘Are any of you like me? Do any of you start reading an eBook and then decide you want it as a printed book?’ There were cries of ‘Si! Si!’

‘Okay,’ I said. ‘Do something for me. Please hold up a hand if you prefer reading a book that matters to you as a printed book rather than as an eBook.’

Almost everyone in the room held up a hand.

‘And if you start reading on screen, how many of you then buy the printed book?’

The same crowd of hands went up.

We spent the rest of the time talking about the differences. We agreed that when you want information quickly, and in brief, online reading is best. We agreed that young people nowadays write and read vast amounts, because they are always busy sending messages on their mobile phones and finding out what they want to know by using search engines. But we also agreed that if you want to read carefully, with lengthy concentration, if you want to think about what you’re reading while you’re reading it, if you want to imagine what you’re reading, when it’s a story, and feel as well as think, and if you want to read something that is long, then the printed book is far better than an eBook or any other digital form.

This was face-to-face living evidence of all I’d read in Maryanne Wolf’s Tales of Literacy for the 21st Century, and Reader, Come Home, which make clear for those of us who are not specialists in neuroscience just how different the experience is of reading a text in a traditional book, and digitally, and why. At its heart, it’s the difference between what Wolf has called ‘deep reading’, and superficial, quick reading. What was inspiring was the conscious distinctions those young readers were making about reading as a valued, necessary activity. And as well as that, their passionate love of reading fiction, poetry, and other forms of narrative writing.

I was with them for four days. Time and again they came up to me in ones and twos to talk about what we’d said in that opening session, and what they thought of the books they were reading, and of mine. I watched them in the bookshop, where ten of the older organisers acted as sales assistants, introducing other young people and adults too to books they thought especially worthwhile.

It made this dinosaur feel that he was not at an end of a culture but part of its evolutionary developments. They were particularly interested in the novels and books published ‘for’ them – the books I call youth fiction, which in my estimation are not merely ‘for’ them but belong to a literature with its own poetics, its own special qualities and identifying features. This is the fiction I write about in The Age Between, in which I try to set out my own experience of writing novels of this kind, and my reading of books which are examples of the literature.

Aidan Chambers

Coming Soon: The Age Between by Aidan Chambers

We’re delighted to be publishing Aidan Chambers’ new book, The Age Between: Personal Reflections on Youth Fiction.

The Age Between Cover

This series of essays explores the history and form of classic texts such as J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, Anne Frank’s Diary, and Robert Cormier’s The Chocolate War. Chambers also examines his own fascinating experiences of reading and writing youth fiction, weaving these together with fresh insights from narrative theory, anthropology and neurology. The book includes a lively discussion between the author and Dr Deborah Cogan Thacker. Chambers is well known for his young adult fiction and critical writings on the craft of fiction, publishing, and young people reading.

We are holding an official online launch for The Age Between on Wednesday 4 November, 18.30-19.30 GMT. Check back for more details and follow Fincham Press on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram .

March 25 cancelled – but Virtual Soirée is on its way

To everyone planning to come to our March 25 book launch and writing soirée – sadly that event is now cancelled. Like others, we are following best advice on social distancing to avoid any contribution to the Covid-19 pandemic.

However we do have plans for an alternative virtual event, which we will announce shortly, along with full results from the Writing Competition. Please keep an eye open for updates.

Meanwhile, we hope you are all taking care of yourselves, and we look forward to seeing you in person at a future date.

March 25: the students behind this year’s event


It is the start of a new decade. New Year resolutions for another ‘productive’ beginning have been tried, tested and dismissed. University classrooms vibrate with inspiration – and stress-inducing deadlines. But there is at least one event coming up at Roehampton which provides a chance to shake this year into shape.

That event is the Soirée on March 25, hosted by the Creative Writing programme and Fincham Press. Every year, a new group of students submits work to a writing competition, for the chance to be included in the next annual anthology. This year, the Soirée is combined with a launch of the anthology The Box, showcasing last year’s work. The keynote address is by Sara Collins, the 2019 Costa Competition First Novel winner.

A team of staff, students and alumni have been working hard to create an event that will delight and surprise. One member of the team, Steph Elliot Vickers, graduated from the BA Creative Writing with a first in 2018. A five-times anthology author, she won the Editor’s Choice Award for best submission at the 2011 Soirée, and has attended the event every year since then. Steph delights in seeing nervous student writers find their feet on the stage when they perform their work, and in striking up working relationships with industry guests.

The opportunities provided by the annual writing competition, and the support of Fincham Press, have kickstarted her career as a published writer, says Steph. The event provides ‘a unique chance for students, staff, alumni and industry professionals to come together and celebrate Roehampton’s next generation of talented writers’.

Another alumnus who couldn’t stay away is Joseph Shafique. He graduated in 2019 with a BA in Journalism and Creative Writing, and has stayed at Roehampton to pursue a MA in Publishing. In the meantime, along with some fellow students he has set up Cottage House Films, and is now writing and producing two upcoming films for the company.

Joseph says the team is ‘hoping this year exceeds the high standards set by previous soirées’, which for him include the highlights of ‘mingling with industry guests and enjoying the entertainment’.

One of the newest additions to the team is Lilly-Ann Newman, a third-year undergraduate student of Creative Writing and Journalism and founder-editor of Fresh Media, an online magazine created with Roehampton’s Student Union.

The talent and dedication of her peers makes her proud to be a part of the team, she says: ‘I have enjoyed every soiree over the past three years and jumped at the chance to be a part of the team who create them. We have been working very hard to provide another amazing evening. These events are a brilliant opportunity to hear the work of peers and talk to industry professionals, who were once in the same position I am, and to learn from their experiences.’

Working as a volunteer, the third year Creative Writing and Film undergraduate  Lisa Gaultier expresses optimism about the upcoming event: ‘I hope it will make everyone attending even more passionate about their craft. The soirées are inspiring events. Seeing people who are students, just like me, read out their work makes me feel confident in my position as a writer. And it’s a great time to meet people, both from the university and the industry.’

March 25: book launch and soirée

Fincham Press and the Creative Writing programme at Roehampton are combining forces for a joint book launch and writing competition soirée on the evening of Wednesday, March 25.

The soiree will be held in the Digby Stuart Chapel on the main campus on March 25, with doors opening at 6:30pm. The evening features readings, a keynote speaker, and a spread of food and drink.

The first half of the evening will focus on our sixth creative writing anthology, The Box, which includes work from last year’s competition – you can buy a copy on the night (for cash) or at any time from the university e-store.

The second half gives a stage to writers from this year’s competition, which has just opened. Authors who have been shortlisted have the chance to read their work to an audience of peers, agents, editors and published writers.

The deadline for submissions to the competition is 11pm on Monday, February 24. Submissions must come with a completed entry form which can be found at the top of the Moodle page for the BA Creative Writing or downloaded here. The guidelines are here. Enquiries can be sent to roehamptonwrites2020@gmail.com.


Creative Writing Soirée: ‘There are some outstanding entries’

Soiree Banner

It’s that time again: undergraduates are preparing for the end of term after an exhausting but stimulating year; the blossoms have started to appear; and the yearly Creative Writing Soirée is just days away.

The Soirée is a showcase for winners of the annual writing competition, and every year a selection from that long list is published by Fincham Press, an anthology edited by writer and faculty member Leone Ross. This year’s anthology will be the sixth in the series, following last year’s collection In Which Dragons Are Real But. It is a night of wine, refreshments, and stories from a diverse pool of aspiring literary talent, as well as contributions from teaching staff, alumni, and guest speaker Aki Schilz, director of The Literacy Consultancy.

Behind every great Soirée is an even greater team of dedicated, hard-working staff and volunteers who make the evening happen. This year, the team consists of Research Fellow Amy Waite, Senior Lecturer David Fallon, the two Fincham Press editorial assistants – myself and Katharine Cheetham – and volunteers from the UR Writing Society, all working together in the lead-up to this year’s event.

These are the people who have been busy selecting readers, booking microphones, printing posters, and making sure there are enough vegetarian options on the menu – generally ironing out the kinks, to ensure an enjoyable night for all.

As the date draws in, David Fallon and Amy Waite took a break in the preparations to talk about how they have been occupying their time.

What is your role in the Soirée?

A.W: Co-organiser…

D.F: This is the first time I’ve been involved in the competition. I’ve been working with Amy on the initial sifting, to select those for the long list, and those who will read their work on the night.

How were the entries?

D.F: The standard is good across the board, which made narrowing them down quite hard. There are some outstanding entries and they were really enjoyable to read. I was impressed with what our department’s Creative Writing students have been producing.

What are you most looking forward to, about the Soirée?

A.W: Reading all of the competition submissions. Working with students and colleagues to create an exciting event.

D.F: I look forward to seeing individual writers bring their work to life. It’s not only about the students winning prizes, but about being involved and getting a sense of fulfilment.

What’s it like seeing students, who wish to be writers, receiving what might be their first public audience ever? 

A.W: Incredible. It’s such a privilege to be able to work with writers at this stage in their career.

D.F: It’s good because I think there is a big difference between completing a piece of work because it’s an assignment and getting [wider] recognition. Literature in a live context is different to being printed on the page; I’m looking forward to the performance side of things in a good, supportive environment.

What’s one thing you’ve enjoyed most, in the planning?

A.W: Reading the submissions is such a fun and rewarding experience. But it’s nerve-wracking trying to order the correct amount of wine and food!

D.F: I enjoyed reading through the material and discussing it with Amy; it’s good fun when you think, ‘Yes, I like this one,’ and you’re both excited about the same text. I mainly work on eighteenth and nineteenth century literature, so it’s nice to read something which is very much from the present day.

What do you think we can expect this year?

A.W: We have a fantastic keynote speaker, and brilliant group of panellists lined up. And the student readers are excellent. It promises to be an engaging and buzzy event, filled with literary discussion and creative expression!

D.F: I don’t know what to expect really. I’m sure the students will do themselves and the university proud. I’m looking forward to being entertained. I also haven’t met many of the students, so it will be interesting to connect the writer to their text.

The Creative Writing Soirée takes place on Wednesday March 27, 6pm to 9pm, in the Portrait Room at Grove House. Tickets are free and can be acquired via Eventbrite.