Festival Team

Dr Carolyn Jess-Cooke (CJ Cooke)

Carolyn Jess-Cooke is an award-winning poet, novelist, editor, and academic published in 23 languages. Currently publishing her fiction as CJ Cooke, she convenes the MLitt Creative Writing by Distance Learning at the University of Glasgow and has expertise in online events. She founded the Stay-at-Home! festival and is passionate about inclusivity and engaging audiences with literature. Her new novel, a gothic thriller named The Nesting, is published in the UK by HarperCollins and the US by Penguin Random House in October 2020.

Bambo Soyinka

Bambo is an award-winning writer, director, and curator. With more than a decade’s experience in multi-platform storytelling and production, she has initiated and directed projects across the UK and internationally. She is Executive Development Producer at Paper Nations and the head of Bath Spa University’s Research Centre for Transcultural Creativity and Education.

Joanna Nissel

A graduate of Bath Spa University’s MA Creative Writing programme, Joanna is a poet and nonfiction writer who was shortlisted for the New Poets’ Prize 2018. She is the Engagement Manager for Paper Nations and Social Media Editor for literary magazine, Tears in the Fence. Her research has investigated the barriers facing young carers.

Debi Alper

Debi’s first two novels, Nirvana Bites and Trading Tatiana, urban thrillers set among the sub-cultures of South East London, were published by Orion. She has since set up her own imprint and has re-published both novels as e-books, along with the next three in the series. For the last fifteen years, Debi has spent most of her time helping other writers to perfect their novels through critiques, mentoring, Book Doctor sessions and creative writing workshops. She edits in all genres and many authors that she has worked with have been signed up with agents and gone on to see their books published. She also runs the phenomenally successful Jericho Writers’ Self-Edit Your Novel course, together with Emma Darwin, as well as acting as a competition judge. (www.debialper.co.uk)

Gillian Stern

Gillian Stern is a former non-fiction commissioning editor, who, when on maternity leave, happily discovered a novel that went on to win prizes and become a bestseller. She then crossed over into the world of commercial and literary fiction and has since been a freelance structural editor for fiction and non-fiction for literary agents and publishers including Bloomsbury, Hodder, Penguin Random House (PRH) and Orion as well as a judge for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize. She combines this with her work as a ghostwriter and to date has ghosted several best-selling memoirs, including two major prize-winning titles.  

Gideon Leibowitz


I am a student at Edinburgh University reading Government, Policy and Society. I have a deep love of literary fiction and am delighted to be involved with such an inspiring project, connecting readers and writers across the world, during a challenging period for us all. 

Lizy Simonen

Lizy Simonen is a Creative Writing MLitt student at the University of Glasgow and works for School Library Outreach. She moved to Scotland from the United States 5 years ago and has never (or at least rarely) looked back. In the time of Covid-19, Lizy is most often found tweeting literacy education support resources from the @GlasgowSLO twitter. 

Cailean McBride

Cailean McBride has just graduated from the University of Glasgow with his doctorate in creative writing. He’s an author, poet and former journalist and runs the Scottish micropress Calenture Press.