Friday, 11 June 2021

Poet Malika Booker at Brudenell School, Leeds

 Richard Wilcocks writes:

Under the banner of Headingley LitFest, I have now been taking Malika Booker to Brudenell Primary School annually since 2016, with 2020 missed out because of a certain pandemic. In previous years, her sessions were spread over three weeks, with a performance to the whole school in the third, but this year there were a few complications, and her three sessions had to be in the same week. In addition, the class teacher who had been such a great help in 2019, Tom Nutman, was on compassionate leave due to a bereavement. Even so, everything has been a roaring success. Help and encouragement came with Emma Hargreaves, a trainee teacher just about to qualify who is destined to go far. The class is Year 5, which means it is made up of nine and ten-year-olds.

Malika Booker and Emma Hargreaves                   Photo by Richard Wilcocks

Day One

Malika began by reading a couple of her own poems, one about a little boy lost in a maze (she was once poet in residence at Hampton Court) and one about a cat that had to be dismissed from a household. ‘How long does it take to write a poem?’ asked a boy afterwards.

‘I always draft and redraft a poem until I think it’s finished,’ Malika told him. ‘That could take a week. One of my poems took eleven years. We’ll soon be doing lots of redrafting.’

‘A poem is made up of truth, with a little bit of lie and some exaggeration, like in a story.’ She mentioned the story she is currently writing for under-fives, ‘Mangolina’, about a girl who finds her lost carnival wings.

 Then she introduced a method she has used before – ‘writing is like cooking’ – and the children were soon making their personal collections of ingredients, all around the chosen theme of Rivers. ‘Wind in the Willows’ has been on their curriculum since May. After explaining what onomatopoeia is, sounds made by running and rushing water were chosen, and after explaining the meaning of ‘personification’, various creatures were chosen to represent an ever-changing watercourse, with plenty of snakes to begin with.

More inspiration came in the form of ‘The River’, a poem by Caribbean poet Valerie Bloom, which begins:

The River’s a wanderer,

A nomad, a tramp,

He never chooses one place

To set up his camp.

This was read aloud, then, after asking a few questions, Malika finished with, 'We’ll write list poems. I’ll come to that tomorrow.’

Day Two

‘Let’s have some good similes. What does your water do?’ Almost all hands shot up, imaginations fermenting quickly, responses including ‘my water bellows like a red deer’ and ‘the water is like a train, fast and furious’.

‘What about doing words, verbs? What does water do?’ It dances, leaps, trickles, attacks, manoeuvres amongst the suggestions. ‘And if we’re thinking about personification (remember yesterday?) what else can it do?’ It might whisper, or talk, or sing, or spit, or scream, or all of those.

‘Let’s have more nouns, names of things connected with your river.’ An alligator, a magical creature, a ghost, a falcon, a cheetah, a sloth, pebbles, seaweed and an assassin were some of the items to select from the ingredients list.

Moods? Anger was popular. ‘So what does anger feel like? Is it feathers brushing against your forehead? Or is it red hot coals burning in your eyes?’

Writing the drafts of the poem began. It had to be a list, with each item a couple of lines long, beginning with ‘The river is…’

Day Three

Most of the session was spent writing, with Malika circulating amongst the tables, sometimes issuing reminders of what had been done during the previous two days. Towards the end, she spent time creating a background soundscape to go with a future performance, with each table allocated a watery sound (shhhh, fizzzz, plop for example) to practise. This would be a background against which each poem would be read.

Sadly, the performance in an assembly can only take place in a couple of weeks’ time, but Emma Hargreaves will pick up from this point and act as the producer. Some of their finished poems will be added soon, probably within the next fortnight.

Selected poems:

Sunday, 6 June 2021

George Orwell in Headingley

 George Orwell in Headingley

In 1936 George Orwell (Eric Blair) stayed briefly in a house on Estcourt Avenue, Headingley, visiting his sister Marjorie, who was married to Humphrey Dakin. He had spent much of the year traveling around the north of England, researching and documenting the widespread working class poverty of the time.  In Leeds, he made final adjustments to his notes, and 'The Road to Wigan Pier' was published the following year. 

In the first week of March, 2022, we intend to hold an event with a theme based on the book which will begin with a walk from Estcourt Avenue to the Heart Centre. Local actor and jazz trumpeter Jem Dobbs  (Bassa Bassa, Des the Miner) will begin the walk by talking about his memories of the house, where he was born and grew up. The speakers at Heart have not been finalised, but the focus will be on the book and on the modern resonances which it creates. Hopefully, there will be other Orwell-related events as well.

Why not read the book now so that you are well prepared?

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.