Sunday, 21 February 2021

Heartlines on screen

Headingley's enthusiastic creative writers (now known as Heartlines) are very welcome LitFest guests every year. This year they have distinguished themselves by producing this terrific lockdown video. It now lasts for more than 28 minutes!

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Poetry Magic at Ireland Wood Primary School

James Nash writes:

On Monday morning, 1st February, I attended two assemblies with Ireland Wood Primary School, but assemblies with a difference.  These were on-line and the bulk of the pupils were in their kitchens or sitting-rooms with just a few in their home classrooms.  It was wonderful, inspiring and emotional.

Together the hundred or so young people and I had been on an adventure, thinking about and writing poetry about the Holocaust, in recognition of  Holocaust Memorial Day last week.

Usually I would work with two Year 6 classes in the school hall but with the sterling help of Year 5 teachers Angie Georgeson and Amy Pliener, and Year 6 teachers Adtienne Amos and Nina Gayton, their classroom assistants and parents somewhere in the background, we were able to involve more children than ever before. 

Lead teacher Mrs. Amos [whom I’ve worked with for eight years now] and I had a long preliminary planning meeting on the phone and daily catch ups to make sure we were on track.

I made a series of short video clips beginning with an introduction to me as a writer, and then another where I talked about my indirect experience of the Holocaust, my father’s soldiering in the Second World War, a close friend’s loss of her grandparent’s families to the concentration camps and my visits to Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam and memorials to lost Jewish families in Berlin.  

There were daily clips on how to write a poem, from first inspirations to second and third drafts, how to edit and get the best out of your writing; these were very enjoyable to produce, making me think very carefully about the writing process.

And then there were the emails via teaching staff of poems in progress which stunned me with their quality, and made me look at my own drafts and redrafts much more critically.

So this assembly was the culmination of a week’s intensive activity, and managed to be both a sharing and a celebration of their work, proving that even in these difficult times young people will rise to a challenge particularly if it’s a creative one.  They were, and are, a credit to their school

A good link to the young people’s work Ireland Wood Primary School - Immerse, Inspire, Include

James Nash, 7th February 2021


Below are some of the comments, made by participating staff, parents, pupils and school governor, 

Adrienne Amos in an email to me about one pupil [part of her poem included,

’She has worked her socks off on this - learning from James and also incorporating some things she has learned from reading the Morris Gleitzmann book 'Once'. I am blown away’

The Pit 

In my hut 

My eyes see the frozen windows, 

Solomon is dead, 



The woods envelope us 

Cold air hurts my teeth, 

Machine guns chatter 

Angie Georgeson, Year 5 teacher,

‘We had more work back from the children last week than in any other week of online learning and from a wider range of children too’.

And again at the end of the project

‘James' poetry sessions were the perfect way to engage my Year 5 class with the heavy topic of The Holocaust. James' touch encouraged the children to act appropriately and to really dig deep to empathise with the Jewish children living in fear during WW2. James' daily input and reflection on his own poem made such a difference and had a massive impact on the children. The children produced some brilliant work. Thank you to James Nash and Headingley LitFest for exploring creative writing and poetry with the kids’.


A teacher in school during Lockdown, Darren B

I feel the kids really engaged with the theme. Once they had passed the whole 'I can't do it' attitude they realised they could do it. This has boosted their confidence in themselves with their writing. I feel the whole week has been their best work during this Lockdown. 

Year 6 Teacher Nina Gayton

My class enjoyed working with such a talented poet in such a thorough way. They have learnt how to move from their initial ideas to an accomplished final piece. My class were most proud of their end product, and really enjoyed working alongside James, following his guidance, of how to get to their final piece. They also commented on how the stimulus and discussions enabled them to work on such a poignant topic. They felt very proud and by the end. 

Angie Georgeson Year 5v teacher 

James inspired the children.  He talks to them as equals – revelling in their ideas and contributions. I loved the way that he read the children’s work out; a great confidence boost to the children.

They enjoyed having a ‘real poet’ teaching them and he broke the work down into manageable chunks so that it was very easy to see how you can build up from initial ideas to a final draft.  One thing I particularly liked was the fact that the poem went through various iterations before the final version (and even then he said there may be more versions).  We find it hard to get the children to edit their work and so it was good to be able to show that when a writer does this in real life, that the first draft is never the last.

Adriennne Amos, Year 6 teacher

‘As always, it has been a fantastic experience for the children to experience working alongside James. This year, we didn't think it was going to be possible, due to the Lockdown. But thanks to James' willingness to embrace technology and remote learning, we have spent the past week building and crafting some superb pieces of work. 

The children's work has been the usual high standard we expect from James' workshop sessions and they have really responded with sensitivity to a very tricky theme this year: the Holocaust’

Three parental responses: ‘The poetry work done with James Nash was really well received by my daughter. She has taken a real interest in a difficult subject and enjoyed her learning experience, especially when having a 'real poet' to work with. Following sessions she wanted to continue to learn about poetry so we have done some writing together and we have been able to discuss other difficult subjects in a similar way as a result’


‘First of all I’d like to say how proud myself and my family were with Aaliyah’s poem, it was so descriptive and very emotional. Aaliyah really enjoyed the session and learning all about the holocaust, even though it’s a difficult topic I think its very important to learn about the history of it, especially as my great grandma was Jewish.


I remember when Schindlers List came out and my mum took me to watch it at the cinema and that film has stuck with me! I think this session with stick with Aaliyah although it was a extremely sad time she was very interested in researching it.’


‘The poetry work done with James Nash was really well received by my daughter. She has taken a real interest in a difficult subject and enjoyed her learning experience, especially when having a 'real poet' to work with. Following sessions she wanted to continue to learn about poetry so we have done some writing together and we have been able to discuss other difficult subjects in a similar way as a result’

Some pupil comments from the many:

Maryam  (year 5) said, ‘I enjoyed James poetry session because he taught me how to use my vocabulary and he used drafts to progress his work’.

George said,’I found it surprisingly good’. [This made me smile]

Governor, Di Woods Robinson,  said of one poem, 

‘That is very moving. That a pupil can relate in this way says so much about the week and the teaching of James and all the staff involved. Have shed quite a few tears this week’

Ruby's poem:

Safe Again…?   L J

I’m stuck in a dark, gloomy basement

I would rather be with my sister,

If she was with me not upon a grave,

If only I could have made her safe.

Footsteps above me I start to worry

All go silent

I hope they don’t find us

I hope was escape

I hope we will be safe once again

The door broke down,

They stomped down the stairs viciously

No-one moved

Until they dragged my parents upstairs


That’s when I knew they were gone

All were silent

Now the gun points at me

Sunday, 7 February 2021


 Leeds Lit Fest is back! 

Returning for its third year in the face of significant challenges and uncertainty, the city’s festival of words and thought could not be more needed.

This year, with the world pivoted to digital in the face of the pandemic, the six days of Leeds Lit Fest take place entirely online with all but two workshops run on a Pay As You Feel basis. 26 events feature more than 50 writers and performers. 

Monique Roffey (Pictured above, Saturday midday) is fresh from her 2020 Costa Book Award win for The Mermaid of Black Conch, and she talks about her distinguished career to-date with Dr Emily Zobel-Marshall. International best-selling crime fiction writer Peter James (Wednesday, 12:30pm) talks about his life, writing and the upcoming televising of his hugely popular Roy Grace series, which will appear on ITV in the Spring. We will also be celebrating the life of Andrea Levy (Thursday, 6:30pm). Journalist and broadcaster Gary Younge is joined by Andrea’s family and friends for an evening celebrating her life and work. This is a partnership event with the British Library. On Friday (7pm)  LBC radio presenter, Iain Dale examines why we’ve all become so disrespectful and intolerant in Why Can’t We All Just Get Along. For those with a particular interest in sport, Gary Bloom (Thursday, 7:30pm) will be talking about his new book, Keeping Your Head in the Game.

On Sunday we are celebrating International Women’s Day. Clare Fisher (midday) will be hosting the first Leeds Lit Fest Salon. At 1pm, award winning journalist Saima Mir talks about her critically acclaimed, debut crime thriller The Khan, a gritty thriller set among the British Pakistani community in a northern city. Debut novelists Stephanie Scott and Catherine Menon (2pm) will read from their novels and talk about creating female-led narratives set in Asia and inspired by true events in a panel discussion chaired by arts journalist Yvette Huddleston.  For the finale, join the UK’s leading spoken word record label Nymphs & Thugs with an afternoon of electric spoken word poetry featuring Reece Lyons and Erin Bolens (3pm). A celebration of womxn and words to kick-start 2021!

If you want to hone your creative writing skills then join one of our workshops. Abdullah Adekola’s Dreaming Through A Nightmare (Thursday, midday) explores poems about dreams and what they can tell us about ourselves and society. On Saturday (10am-2pm) Leeds Lit Fest welcomes The Poetry Business. Ann and Peter Sansom head over the Pennines from Sheffield for an online poetry writing session, featuring brilliant writing exercises, supportive feedback, and excellent company. Poet Laureate Simon Armitage called them “the most astute and effective tutors in the UK.” And finally, going through the night from midnight to 6am on Sunday, Becky Cherriman leads the innovative Adventures of the Night workshop. A group of people meet at midnight. Where do they meet, why and what happens when they do? Join in and find out.

Are you craving fresh new writing? We’ve got 4 new Leeds born anthology launches for you to enjoy. First up is This New North (Wednesday, 8pm) featuring writers from the Northern Short Story Festival Academy published by Valley Press. On Friday (1pm) poet-theologian Hannah Stone talks about her new book, Reflections, which is the cumulation of her uplifting and empathetic weekly blog for Leeds Church Institute on the impact lockdowns have been having on the communities of Leeds. At 8pm, there’s a joint poetry reading between Leeds Irish Health and Homes and the David Oluwale Memorial Association features readers including Malika Booker, Kayo Chingonyi, and Ian Duhig. The events is launching LIHH’s Corona Ceoil, their book of the Leeds Irish pandemic response and raises money for DOMA’s campaign for a civic blue plaque for David Oluwale on Leeds Bridge. Our quartet is rounded off by Weighted Words (Saturday 4pm) from the members of  Peepal Tree Press’ Inscribe Readers and Writers Group. With Jacob Ross and Khadijah Ibrahiim, celebrate this dazzling mix of poetry, short stories, confessionals and memoir where contributors with fresh perspectives interrogate race, gender, relationships with self and with family, as well as identity in contemporary Britain. Not to be missed!

We’ve something for children too. There’s a big wiggly book gobbling adventure with Harry Heape (Saturday, 11am) or you can draw along with children’s book illustrator Liz Million (Saturday, 2pm) and bring your weird, wacky and wonderful characters and creatures to life.

As we are all missing going to the pub, cinema and theatre, we’re bringing them to you. Come and test your literature knowledge in Leeds Lit Fest's first ever quiz night (Tuesday, 8pm). It’s not quite a pub quiz atmosphere but you can definitely BYO of choice! Your quizmaster is Gary Wigglesworth author of The Book Lover's Quiz Book. Could you be the first LLF quiz champion? We’ve a silent film screening with live piano accompaniment from Jonny Best (Saturday 7.30pm) and as is our tradition, we close Leeds Lit Fest with a theatre performance. Don’t Go Down to the Cellar theatre company will be performing their Strictly Sherlock (Sunday, 7.30pm).

Carl Hutton, Chair of Leeds Lit Fest said, “The format of this year’s Festival is very different, but we have still been able to present a vibrant, varied and challenging 6 days featuring events for children, author talks including a Costa Award winning author, discussion panels and writing workshops. We’re excited about bringing writers and performers from our city, our region and beyond to our audiences. There’s never been a better time to celebrate such phenomenal literary talent.”

Head to our website: or Leeds Inspired and our social media feeds: Facebook: @LeedsLitFest, Twitter: @LeedsLit to find out more and register for your tickets. Leeds Lit Fest is back! 

For further information and media requests contact Carl Hutton, Chair of the Leeds Lit Fest at | 07725 698687.

About Leeds Lit Fest

Leeds Lit Fest 2021 will take place on Tuesday 2 March – Sunday 7 March.

Leeds Lit Fest is delivered by a partnership of 10 Leeds-based creative arts and literature-based organisations which are committed to celebrating and championing literature and writing in Leeds and to engaging and inspiring its people to get involved in creative activities linked to literature.  

Current partner organisations include The Leeds Library, The Leeds Big Bookend and Northern Short Story Festival, Hyde Park Book Club, Leeds Libraries, Carriageworks Theatre, Leeds Church Institute, Strix, MILIM, Chapel FM and Headingley LitFest. 

Tickets and further information for the Lit Fest can be found at or Leeds Inspired as well as through the partner organisations.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Our congratulations to Malika Booker!

 Malika Booker, who has contributed to Headingley LitFest's poetry in schools project for the past four years, won the 2020 Forward Prize for Poetry in the single poem category. 

The Forward Prizes for Poetry are major British awards for poetry, presented annually at a public ceremony in London. For 2020, the judging panel was chaired by writer, critic, and social historian Alexandra Harris alongside poets Kim Moore, Roger Robinson and David Wheatley, and journalist Leaf Arbuthnot. Malika won in the single poem category for her entry The Little Miracles (Magma). She is the founder of the writer’s collective ‘Malika’s Kitchen’. Her first collection, Pepper Seed, was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize; she is a Creative Writing Teaching Fellow at the University of Leeds. In the photo she is working with a Year 6 class at Brudenell Primary School in 2019 - scroll down to read the review.

Sunday, 19 July 2020

The View from Olympia. Poems inspired by Olympic Sport.

Book launch on Zoom. Contributions from residents of Headingley feature in this anthology.


The anthology will be launched at an online event on Zoom on Friday 24 July – the day that the Olympic Opening Ceremony was due to be held in Tokyo. Contributors will read their poems from the book, and anyone is welcome to join the audience. Entry is free, and details can be found online at Eventbrite or Leeds Inspired.

Edited by local writers Joe Williams and Peter R White, The View from Olympia features contributions by some of the best contemporary poets in the UK and around the world, as well as an introduction by Bramhope-based double Olympic gold medallist Alistair Brownlee.

Joe Williams said: 'We came up with the idea for the book back in December, with the intention of bringing it out this summer to coincide with the 2020 Games. We had no idea that by the time we’d finished collecting the poems, we’d be in the middle of a global pandemic and the Olympics would be cancelled. 

'We decided to carry on regardless and publish the anthology anyway. I hope it’ll bring some enjoyment to those who have been missing sport this summer, as well as people who love poetry.'

The View from Olympia is currently on sale for the special introductory price of £9 plus postage, from

For further information contact Joe Williams, tel 0113 295 6111 or 07760 375712 

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Refuge - Heart

Sally Bavage writes:
During this year's ever-popular local creative writers’ event, I was reminded of the lines from the 1969 Peter Sarstedt song (yes, I know, it's a clue to the age of the writer):

But where do you go to, my lovely
When you're alone in your bed?
Tell me the thoughts that surround you
I want to look inside your head ..

The Osmondthorpe Hub writers took as their theme 'A Special Place', and the range of locations  they explored with us were as wide-ranging and poignant as their writing always is.  It was notable, too, that the writers frequently smiled as they called up fond memories.

Julie reminisced about a holiday to Germany some years ago, where what might have been more ordinary pleasures for some had left deep and vivid impressions for her.  
Mandy was always happy to be where her mum was, especially when by her mum's special seat at bingo. 
Lee's poem told of his joy at recently being allocated his own flat, number 6, somewhere special that was his, where “My independence blooms.”
Annie recalled Benson Street where she grew up.  Remember liberty bodices with a little pocket for a camphor ball (or, in my case, a house key)?   Leaving school at 13 to earn 13 shillings a week, she recalled the best of neighbours. Aged 91, the memories remain undimmed.
Sue smiled with pleasure at the friends she meets every day at the Osmondthorpe Hub, where they congregate to chat, watch TV, sing, do reiki or  boxercise – and do creative writing of course.
Robert had loved a trip to Australia by himself, staying with an uncle and aunt whose back garden had a pool you could swim from end to end.  And he had got to stroke a koala bear at the zoo.
Pamela had loved a trip to Spain, exploring the town after checking in at the hotel, as well as being with family.  The beach and swimming had been delightful freedoms.

The group agreed that a place can be special to us alone.  Time, or its location, or the company of our family and friends, can give us memories that last a lifetime. 

Some of the Osmondthorpe contributors

Our writers from Headingley took a similar theme, Sanctuary, but interpreted it in so many different ways.  They used prose, prose poetry, creative non-fiction, an acrostic, a memoir and even a sonnet to draw descriptions in our minds' eyes.

Julie answered her own question, “What does sanctuary mean to me?”  She loves the quiet of night, a place to calm her mind, or walking in the weather.
Karen loves the sky, its colours of pink and bright blue, not the grey rain she remembers from watching through the classroom window.  It was her transport to another realm, certainly one beyond the consultant by her hospital bed giving her unwelcome news.
Marie-Paule reflected on a migrant's bus journey, giving us a young girl escaping from the bombs and guns, alone, hungry, all family dead. She couldn't go home, at least not now; her face and eyes told the story without words.
Rosie told us of Bootham Crescent – the spiritual and actual home of York City Football Club. Echoing a riff on the psalm 'The Lord's My Shepherd', with ritualistic preparation for the match, ascending the steps to the ground of the gladiators and, of course, some commentary on the qualities of the referee.
Eileen's poem on a 'Crime Story' took place in a library not dissimilar to the one in the Headingley Community Hub, where books on Climate Change were listed as being in the Crime section.  But none were there.  Adult denial of their crimes? Books on Climate Change could actually be tracked down in the Children's section, and a child found fearlessly reading a book 'This Earth is Our Sanctuary.'  Indeed it is.
Liz wrote of a Photograph, with a mother-in-law whose memory is now fragile lace robbed by dementia, but showing shafts of sunlight in the darkness as she gazes at the beautiful woman and handsome man from 60 years ago with whom she will shortly be reunited.
Dru wrote of No Sanctuary here in Leeds for the homeless sleeper you and I encounter, huddled in a shop doorway as a refuge from the wind and rain. Human but unwanted, no hope of finding a sanctuary.
Barbara's tale of a Black Swan, featured on Look North even, recounted a rare visitor to the Leeds and Liverpool canal.  Dark stranger, and escape or a choice?  A sanctuary? How long will you bring your magic to the other ducks and geese?  Five days, as it turned out.
Myrna's Time - “I wasted time, now time wastes me” explored a jigsaw of lifetime experiences.  Photos, certificates, receipts, letters, house deeds, tablets, potions kept in a jumbled profusion that recall emotions from the past still here to support the need for meaning in a disordered house.
Jim spoke too of football, this time Leeds United based at Elland Road.  Always a thrill to go there, observe the rituals and the action.  A place to get away from the ordinariness of life, travel outside oneself.
Linda wrote a Postcard to Myself, where her dreaming self tells her waking self what the Land of Nod has to offer. Architecture and landscape to tempt, sensational and exotic foods – even if the postal service isn't always reliable and the card doesn't arrive.  And why is the card plain black? Because you can't photograph your dreams. 
Malcolm decided You Can't Judge a Book … exploring the parallel streets that have rich and poor residents.  One rich in money, but with families cowering in fear from a bully in a house that is not a home.  Another rich in love and neighbourliness; so much more a sanctuary.
Terry's memoir of his mother's kitchen, her domain where the family felt excluded.  It was her dreaming place, her sanctuary from the unfulfilled life of cheap holidays, little intellectual stimulus and separate life she led outside.
Bill's first poem told us of Green Thoughts in a Green Garden, where lazy bees and floral scents were delights in a verdant world centred on his patio chair refuge for his diminishing days.  His second poem, Memories, took us back to his childhood days: its smells, sounds, small kindnesses and parlour library. 
Cate's Memento Mori to growing older, of a point in time where memories are a place of sanctuary, like walking through an old house full of distant voices caught in nooks and crannies and released by a dreamcatcher mind.
Howard wrote of drifting into submission in This Bed, where sleep and dreams take you to a refuge without stirring.  The Sanctuary of Stars saw him fantasising as a small boy in his mother's jewellery box, along with the ballerina and the plush padding, the sparkling points of light from the pearls and diamonds creating a haven of peace and beauty.

So much imagination and careful wordcraft. How could you possibly top all that?!   By repairing to the back of the hall for cups of tea and generous slices of homemade cakes that showed more careful crafting from our LitFest volunteers Mary and Rachel. 

Particular thanks to Karen Hush, the new tutor (since January) for the Osmondthorpe creative writing group.  An experienced teacher, but what a job she has done in such a short time to build trust and the writers' confidence in their abilities to recall and reveal.  Thanks too, of course, to Liz McPherson who leads the Headingley creative writers' group.  Once again, a cornucopia of ideas and genres reveal writing talent and honesty as well as vulnerability. That has to come from the group's faith in her thoughtful commitment.

Headingley LitFest is indebted once again to the sponsorship by the Workers' Education Association, as well as the support by Mike Bould, education co-ordinator based in Leeds, whose aim is to organise courses covering a broad curriculum for a wide range of students.  And he was ace on getting the IT to work!