Thursday, 1 December 2016

Poet Malika Booker at Brudenell Primary School


Richard Wilcocks writes:
Malika Booker and Laura Hart
Today was the finale for members of a class which has been wordsmithing earnestly for the last three weeks, the grand gala reading in front of the rest of the school, the big blast of poetry with curious children (parents and teachers too) watching and listening in rows in Brudenell Primary’s hall. It was a day of last-minute nerves to be overcome, and a celebration of bold young imaginations. Guest poet Malika Booker, the inspiring guide who has led them to the event with the enthusiastic help of class teacher Laura Hart, was there to introduce them, beam smiles, adjust microphones, whisper encouragement and generally hover at the edge of the performance area. Everybody shone!

The group poems came first - duos, trios and quartets. “Match your emotions to one of the five senses,” Malika had said back in the classroom. “What is Joy like, for example? What can you see, or hear, or feel, or taste or even smell? Is Joy perhaps like blackbirds singing, or what? You can put all the similes into a magic box, a box for your imagination.”

Some of the lines which ended up in the box were impressive, magical even. To point to a few individual contributors:

Happiness is a garden full of multicoloured monkeys, dancing (Ayesha)

Fear is a giant dog, slimy spit coming out of its mouth,
and sadness is a baby rabbit dying in front of my eyes (Alisha)

Sadness is walking in everlasting darkness (Ahmed)

Peace is a butterfly flapping around in a garden, popping bubbles (Hasan)

And a few more... Paradise is light shining in my eyes, Fear is a black sky over a lonely place, with howling winds and rocking trees of winter, Sadness is rain drizzling down a window pane...

All the groups filled their boxes to overflowing, sometimes accompanying spoken words with arm and hand movements, delighting the audience. Then the individual poets stepped forward. They had written recipe poems – an ‘ingredients’ section followed by a ‘method’ section. Titles included “How to make a football match” and “How to make a school outing”, but the greatest impact was made by the children who were still thinking, I am guessing, about Halloween. There were several bowls of eyeballs, in one instance finely chopped, and one girl took obvious pleasure in making a list of her shudder-inducing ingredients, telling the audience “...a hairy rat can be your delight...”

“Why that was gross!” said Malika, grinning. “What do you call that poem?”

“How to make a Hocus Pocus,” was the answer.

Here is one of the group poems:

The Magic Box

We will put in the box,
Joy, warm cushions ready to be relaxed in,
Happiness, a dove dancing in the wind,
Peace, the sound of a magical harp playing.

We will put in the box,
Anger, a vile volcano erupting,
Fear, a cold piece of ice in the middle of nowhere,
Sadness, a ghost haunting you for life.

We will put in the box,
A cute bunny from Spring,
A hot, scorching sun from Summer,
The first leaf that fell in Autumn,
The first icicle that I saw in Winter.

By Zara, Ahmed, Elliot, Adam and Ibrahim

At the end of a substantial show, Malika read out one of her own poems – about her mother who often repeated herself. The audience was invited to chant “pain!” after each line, and plenty of them laughed in recognition. Plenty of mothers are like hers.

Malika was the first poet-in-residence with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and more recently was Chief Judge of the Forward Prize and of Leeds Peace Poetry


An aspirational and inspirational opportunity to work with a creative and talented poet who has supported the children at Brudenell to engage their senses and emotions when they write. Malika has a natural affinity with children, but can also break down the blocks of poetry writing so they are accessible to them, and has produced some wonderful, evocative pieces.      (Jo Davies, Headteacher)

Poetry is very valuable for the pupils. It is fantastic to have the workshop from Headingley LitFest. The children love meeting the poet and listening to her work. I particularly love the effect is has on children’s confidence – especially those who may struggle with other writing styles. All the children were happy, enthused and involved.  Thankyou! (Laura Hart. Year 5/6 teacher)

The session was really enjoyable. The children were strongly involved and interested. It was well delivered by Malika – and she gave the children lots of ideas to start them off. They came up with some great imaginative ideas – which was lovely to see. (Phoebe Parker, Teaching Assistant)

Friday, 25 November 2016

Charlotte Brontë - terrible teacher, brilliant novelist I to spend all the best part of my life in this wretched bondage, forcibly suppressing my rage at the idleness, the apathy and the hyperbolical & most asinine stupidity of those fat-headed oafs, and on compulsion assuming an air of kindness, patience and assiduity? 

These were the thoughts of the young Charlotte Brontë, as written into her journal when she was a teacher at Roe Head School in Mirfield.

The short-sighted author had a habit of making entries in it while the class was in progress: there are reports of her writing in tiny script, her nose nearly touching the paper, then sitting with her eyes closed. The girls in front of her might have thought she was receiving spirit messages.

She did not make much of a success of being a governess either - to just two of the small children of Skipton mill owner John Benson Sidgwick. When she lived with him and his family at his splendid house - Stone Gappe in Lothersdale, she was barely able to control them, and found them irritating, but she did admire his Newfoundland dog. Stone Gappe became a model for Gateshead in Jane Eyre.

Richard Wilcocks, a former Chair of the Brontë Society, will speak about a lot more of her writing and her life when he gives a Powerpoint- assisted talk in Headingley Library on Thursday 8 December at 7pm called ‘Charlotte Brontë – Terrible Teacher, Brilliant Novelist’. He will also go into role as John Benson Sidgwick, who will give his own view of the unhappy woman he employed, and of governesses in general.

The talk is a LitFest ‘Between the Lines’ event and it is free. The main part of the annual Headingley LitFest (the tenth) takes place in March next year.

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Friday, 18 November 2016

Peter Morrison in Headingley Library

No gadzookery, plenty of mud and blood - by Richard Wilcocks

It was a shabby affair, by a poor northern road, in the May of 1214. That was how it all began, thirty years ago. Often I wish to God I had been somewhere else.

Peter Morrison
So begins Peter Morrison’s novella A Lonely Road, a definite page-turner set in a time of political flux and shifting loyalties. In the aftermath of violence on the York to Lincoln road, a young advocate, Thomas Sturdy, comes upon a grave at the edge of the forest...

In Headingley Library yesterday, the author soon captured our interest by reading from the opening pages, and later on in the evening picked out some really dramatic passages which had us gripped, including one where the young protagonist is lured into a dark corner of York Minster, grabbed round the neck and threatened with a knife by a certain William Scarlet. There is plenty of mud and blood in this story, and no attempt to glamourise life in the thirteenth century. Morrison is not a romantic medievalist. Robin Hood (Robin Locksley) plays a part only in reports and memoirs, his life and activities as an outlaw described only in the words of a kind of deposition, a document written by one of the very un-merry men as part of a deal to save his skin. Lawyers are well used to such things, then and now.

It is written in the English of today: Morrison was meticulously careful in his choice of language, avoiding what professional editors describe as “gadzookery” – the use, or overuse, of archaic expressions – and in his determination to supply the reader with just enough period detail, in spite of the extensive research. “It is too easy to weigh the story down with material like that,” he told us. "It has got to move forward constantly and easily."

In fact, he told us much more about his methods, and about how A Lonely Road came into being, sharing with us his initial enquiries, the way he sought out advice, not only from friends (who usually simply flatter) but also from professionals who need a fee, his polishing and revising and his relationship with the company (York Publishing Services) which enabled him to enter the universe of self-publishing, which is expanding all the time.

“It is not vanity publishing,” he said. “Steer clear of the companies which offer that.” He was interviewed about his motives by YPS (“They were happy to hear I was not in it for the money and not one of those authors who thinks he has a killer manuscript to make a fortune.”), given plenty of advice and some alternative cover designs. Apparently big publishing houses usually do not give choices like that to the captive authors in their stables.

Novellas, he told us, are not treated with respect in this country. He gave the example of Ian McEwan’s On Chesil Beach, which appeared in 2007 as a ‘novel/novella’. Some reviewers, and some readers, were outraged. Why was it “too short”? Were they worried about not getting value for money? Are doorstep novels always the ideal? “The Germans appreciate the value of novellas,” he said. “ They have a long history of reading them.” He recommended that we read works by the London writer Gerald Kersh (especially The Implacable Hunter) and by the post-WW2 German writer Heinrich Böll. Böll’s The Train Was on Time (Der Zug war pünktlich) was picked out as memorable.

A Lonely Road can be bought online (£3.99) from

Peter Morrison will launch a full-length novel – A Cause to Mourn – in 2019.

Audience comments

Inspiring to hear how you began writing and persevered, to self-publish your novella

Really interesting to consider ‘the flaws of heroes’ and to put these into historical context.

Looking forward to reading the book!

Enjoyed this interesting talk, thanks!

Absolutely wonderful!

Lovely clear speaking – very informative and put across beautifully.

Wish my husband had been here!!!

Most enjoyable.

Interesting talk. Peter Morrison’s novella needs to be more widely known.

I shall follow up his suggestions about Heinrich Böll. Modern German literature (in translation) should be better known here.

Seems like this is the better kind of historical fiction.