corinne fowler





Corinne Fowler is Director of the Centre for New Writing and Senior Lecturer in Postcolonial Literature in the School of English at the University of Leicester. She directs an Arts-Council project called ‘Grassroutes: Contemporary Leicestershire Writing’, which seeks to bring the region's transcultural writing to national and international audiences.            

Corinne is author of Chasing Tales: Travel Writing, Journalism and the History of Ideas about Afghanistan (2007). She has jointly authored Travel and Ethics. Theory and Practice (2013) and a study of contemporary creative writing called Postcolonial Manchester: Diaspora Space and the Devolution of Literary Culture (2013). She co-edited an anthology of short stories entitled Migration Stories (2010)together with a special journal issue of commissioned writing called Region, Writing, Home (2010).

She grew up in Birmingham with a French mother and an English father and has lived in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Paraguay.  


Creative Work

From 'The Black Devon'

There was a flutter of pigeons. The trees were steaming like a herd of animals in the open fields. The ground oozed mud. Rachel stood flicking the bark and dirt from her fingers. Then she turned to face the tower. The rain had picked up. It was pelting onto her scalp, sliding down her cheeks, dripping from her nose and chin. She put her hands back into the woollen pockets, but they were damp. She took them out again and stared at her fingers. They were raw, a flush of pink. She breathed across the numb skin, stretched out her fingers, then she strode up the hill towards the tower.            

But there was a cold, dead weight curled up inside her. The mud lapped at her boots as she jabbed them into the flabby belly of the hill. The entire slope was liquefying. Marooning her. As she climbed, the view peeped beyond the horizon.            

Rachel reached the tower and clung onto the sandstone blocks while the snow-crested hills heaved and fell about her. She craned her neck upwards. Clouds were spilling over the turrets. Her hands dropped to her sides, but she knew she had to keep moving. She started walking. Slowly at first, then the grass gathered pace under her boots. Soon she was running along the bony spine of the ridge, laughing and laughing until it juddered inside her chest, tugging at the wires of her throat. Then she was chasing herself round and round the tower, her feet skating over the mud.            

Coming to an unsteady halt, she blinked at her mud-spattered clothes and flopped onto her back. The tower was spinning out of control, the gargoyles leaning and leering, the giant blocks of stone about to tumble. She rolled onto her belly. The rain drummed onto her head. She tasted grit but didn't spit it out, laid her head against the shuddering ground. The landscape was smeared now, the rain-flattened grass seeping into the curve of the hill, the blades of grass plastered against the horizon the way hair clings to the head of a newborn baby. And while she buried her face in the black soil, the rain slowed and the down-turned mouth of a rainbow appeared above the wood. 



I am not Scottish, but I lived there for over twelve years. My English accent was a constant social barrier, yet the local landscapes and their associated stories had a profound impact on my writing. The excerpt above is taken from a story set in Clackmannanshire, one of Scotland's little-known regions once important for its mines and breweries. The story is named after a shallow river that trickles through the woods in which it is set. Someone told me once that the Black Devon got its name from coal dust that seeped from the mines. This somehow fused in my mind with another local myth, that the Scottish lochs are bottomless, meeting at bedrock deeper down than anyone could imagine. The  story's protagonist remembers these things as she stares into the river.             

The story was first published in a BBC radio Scotland anthology. One of the judges singled it out as his favourite story because it depicted a dreich Scottish day. Dreich is an old Scots word for weather that is cold, drizzly and miserable. The weather is one of the story's main protagonists. It transforms the landscape. It also matches the protagonist's state of mind. Rachel is suffering a 'missed miscarriage'. An expectant mother, she has been told during an ultrasound scan that her foetus has no heartbeat. It will remain in her womb until the miscarriage happens naturally. A solitary walk on a dreich day in a Scottish landscape seemed the best way to express and explore this unique yet common form of bereavement.            

I wanted to convey the landscape's power to accommodate grief. The heaving hills and shuddering ground are compassionate rather than indifferent.            

I also learned about the perception-altering properties of stories. Rachel's grief peaks when she reaches Clackmannan tower, which really does exist. But when I revisited the tower after writing the story, I discovered that I had completely imagined the 'leering' gargoyles. Yet it seemed vital to keep them in the story. They are true to Rachel's unwarranted sense of shame at failing to become a mother. Nonetheless, I was careful to choose a human-built structure, rather than nature itself, to be the focus of this shame.

The excerpt above is taken from the gloomy mid-section of the story, ending where 'the down-turned mouth of a rainbow' appears above the wood. Writing the story helped me to understand that the landscape does not merely accommodate grief. It actively transforms it. But it took weeks of walking through Clackmannanshire's woods and hills before I could grasp the landscape's transformative dimension and bring the story to a close. Eventually I arrived at the following ending:            

So this is what it was like to walk in the dark. She'd feared and dreaded it for so long. Nearly everyone dreads it. Once night falls, every tree stump is a crouching figure. But now she'd    left the wood the estuary came into view. She could see right across the rain-puckered surface to the oil refinery at Grangemouth on the far shore. Its lights were flickering like fireflies in the dark. (p.45)        

There is one last story to tell. I was travelling home from a book launch on a train with the brand-new anthology in my hand and my freshly-printed 'Black Devon' story inside. I chanced to sit opposite two men who used to work at Grangemouth's oil refinery. They took the book out of my hand and insisted on reading my story. When they read about the fireflies, they roared with laughter. To them, Grangemouth was all sulphur and toxic flames. It made me reflect on the classed nature of my perspective on their landscape. Perhaps I was more of an outsider than I'd realised.



Books and Stories

The Flood, Arabesques Review, 2007, pp. 29-35

Clackmannan Tower, Days Like This, Edinburgh: Luath Press, 2009, pp143-146

Migration Stories, Manchester: Crocus Books, 2009

The Black Devon, New Writing Scotland, volume 27, 2009

Contact and links

Grassroutes project:


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