Wednesday, 31 March 2010

David Peace, LitFest Headliner

The large audience in the New Headingley Club on Saturday afternoon was overwhelmingly sympathetic and pleasantly inquisitive. It really impressed the amiable David Peace, the LitFest's headliner, and I know that because he said so. At the end of the questioning sections, he made the point that his audience at the last Ilkley Literature Festival last autumn had been relatively dull.

This one was not, and it was also very different in its make-up from the audience in the library on Friday for Frances McNeil. We have had a good 'spread' in all our audiences this year in terms of age and gender.

The double focus was Occupied City, the second in the (as yet incomplete) Tokyo Trilogy, and GB84, on the Miner's Strike, the twenty-fifth anniversary of the finale of which is about now. After a brief introduction, the author read from the first part of Occupied City before engaging in a public conversation sat at a table with me. He read the final words of GB84, from the chapter entitled Terminal, or the Triumph of the Will. The questions from the floor came thick and fast.

It would be daft to attempt to cover all of the questions and answers on the blog, but here is a very brief taste of what was said.

On music and song titles: he talked about his time in a band when he was an Ossett teenager, and its influence on his thought processes, perhaps paraphrasing Noel Coward's famous quote that it is extraordinary how potent cheap music is.

On the often-recurring Wasteland theme: yes, he had studied T S Eliot's poem in the sixth form as part of the English Literature syllabus, and it is one background influence.

Many stretches of Peace's novels sound poetic, especially when read out loud. Is there a poetry volume in the pipeline? Sometime perhaps... 

On main literary influences: West Riding realists like Stan Barstow (also from Ossett) and David This Sporting Life Storey and more recently the American master of the staccato sentence, crime writer James Ellroy, but also Roald Dahl. He remembers being turned on to writing through the stimulus provided by Fantastic Mr Fox, which must have brought a flush to the cheeks of any primary teachers present. "I enjoy reading a great variety of prose and poetry." he said. "Even Ezra Pound."

On the often-recurring theme of police pouncing on innocent people: he spoke about the example in Occupied City of Sadamichi Hirasawa, a watercolour artist who had died in prison forty years after being convicted of the mass murder by cyanide poisoning of almost the entire staff of the Teikoku Bank in Tokyo (The Teigin Incident). A campaign to clear his name is still going on. The real poisoner could well have had something to do with the infamous chemical and biological warfare research unit which the Japanese operated in occupied China during World War Two - Unit 731.

On researching, writing and teaching: researching for GB84 took place in Japan, where it is easy to get hold of archived copies of The Times and The Telegraph, but not other relevant newspapers, and teaching adults English (TEFL) is not like teaching in, say, a local comprehensive.

On the title of the last chapter of GB84: yes, of course, Terminal does echo the famous Germinal by Emile Zola, also about a long-lasting pit strike, and carried everywhere by The President in GB84. Germinal, however, is a name with many resonances, sending out messages of rebirth and the spring. At the end of GB84, there is no rebirth, just defeat by a triumphalist authoritarian state.

On the theme of child murders in 1974... how deeply has becoming a family man with children affected your writing? Substantially, was the answer. "I did not have children when I wrote it... I regret the swan's wings now."

There were people present who remembered the ferocious Battle of Orgreave, and who had been involved with food-runs for the families of strikers. One woman's statement of her memories was particularly moving. Others had had something to do with the Red Riding television series, and no, David Peace is not just about to write a screenplay...

I think he was charmed by the Headingley crowd. He liked the idea of a constant supply of tea and home-made cakes, the New Headingley Club and the general atmosphere.

Below, Richard Wilcocks with David Peace.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Have a go!

Mary Francis writes:
On Saturday, Chris Mould, author and illustrator, entertained both children and adults with his lively talk, his slideshow of illustrations and characters  and then his drawing, in front of us, while he talked and while the audience put questions to him.

His career began with illustrating other people’s picture books, before he began to produce  - writing and illustrating - his own works, including the wonderful Something Wickedly Weird series. He has also worked on pop-up books and we learned how the illustrator works first and then the paper engineer comes on board and it becomes a collaboration. This was fascinating - and we saw a version of a pop-up book currently in production - one that was originally going to be much longer in size, before the recession struck!

The finale had him drawing as we watched - amazing was the speed with which the piratical character appeared before our eyes! In answer to the many questions on the subject, Chris emphasized that you can draw with all sorts of unlikely materials - he uses Bic biros, Tipp-ex pens and cans of spray paint amongst other things - and the importance of ‘having a go’ and not being ‘precious’ about drawing.

Monday, 29 March 2010


Two veterans (I must be careful with that word, but here it carries not a smidgeon of denigration) entertained a large audience (another extra chairs job) in Headingley Library on Friday evening - for Headingley's Female Sleuth.

Frances McNeil, whose pseudonym is Frances Brody, is the author of four novels and the winner of the Elizabeth Elgin Award for best new saga of the millennium for Somewhere Behind the Morning. She has written many stories and plays for BBC Radio, and scripts for television. She concentrated mainly on Dying in the Wool (ISBN 0 780749 94 1871), her first crime novel, for this event, because the female sleuth is in it - Kate Shackleton. Her research for this period piece included interviews with textile chemists, retired police officers and experts at Armley Mills Museum. Does this not sound authentic?

He took over the entire house with his inventions and experiments. She wondered they weren't poisoned after he used her pots and pans for God knows what type of dyeing mix. He'd stir the dye stuff in with water, using her wooden spoon, boiling it up to dissolve it, more than once causing an explosion.He claimed the fastest green dye in England. He dyed her grey cape forest green and insisted she wash it. It was her fault when the tub turned emerald. Then it was a new type of gas-fired machine for close-cropping the cloth...

"I came to Headingley specially to find a house for her," Frances, a denizen of Crossgates, told those present. "I found a beautiful one as well, just right for someone who has to make frequent journeys to the city centre.

Murder, mystery and family secrets have always fascinated me and featured strongly in my writing. Kate Shackleton sprang to life from our family album, circa 1920. She came carrying her camera, looking at me, looking at her."

Maggie Mash is the audio reader for Frances, and a trained actress who knows about this side of things, in depth. In addition to dramatic readings, she explained that audio books are not just for people with sight problems, but that they are increasingly popular for people to use while working at home or driving a car. She talked about the accents she can do and not do, giving the example of Geordie, which she can maintain for only a limited period. Norfolk is not problematic for Maggie: on one occasion she was pulled into an adjacent studio to add the real thing after an American reader had made embarrassingly bad attempts at it. American actors rarely get accents from England right (Ain't that a fact, Gor Blimey Mary Poppins?) and, of course, vice versa.

Here, the reliable Fairtrade and green indie bookshop Radish must be mentioned - they supplied a selection of titles afterwards. Dying in the Wool sold out.

Below, pictured with two bottles of Domaine Romanée-Conti 1976

The Seventh Sense

This was on Thursday after the Poetry Slam at Lawnswood. A contrast! What has impressed me during the LitFest is the diversity of our audiences, which have encompassed many groups living in Headingley and outside it. The Seventh Sense - A Sense of Place was performed by Lucht Focail and Friends, and was organised in association with Irish History Month. The theme was perfect for the occasion. It wasn't all Ireland, though there was a reading of a poem in the ancient Erse language (Sean Dún na nGall) by Annie O'Donnell, and I listened to Yeats's The Lake Isle of Innisfree (eternally good for a recitation, that one) for the second time this LitFest, from the same eloquent mouth. Bel Connolly read Moiza Alvi's very relevant The Laughing Moon with sensitivity, Linda Marshall read her Headingley Rocks and Síle Moriarty referred to one of the places she comes from in The Mermaid in Birmingham.

Dancers from the Joyce O'Donnell School of Irish Dancing took the floor a couple of times, accompanied by Des and Kevin Hurley and the evening closed with a welcome reading of Seamus Heaney's Bogland by Síle. Here's her apt poem for the occasion, which was printed on the back of the programme -

Place names carry history:

the trail from Kirkstall to Monkbridge;
the slow wind of pack horse to wagon
tracked earth to tarmac;
the greedy dissolution of Kirkstall
on Cromwell’s report
and the later distaff despoliation of Ireland;
the estates of Cardigan and Beckett
summed by semis and terraces
and the oaken wapentake
quenched in the Skyrack;
the Norse mermaid of legend
sanitised by Starbucks now
drinks latte and mourns her breasts;
the lane at the Three Horseshoes
opens the Wetewood
which killed a prince of Abyssinia
with cold miasma;
the Lounge, eclipsed by the Arc
lingers in local politics
while the Cottage Road,
a refugee, has screened since 1912.

These place names carry history -
they start with capital letters.

Síle Moriarty 2010

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Lawnswood's excellent rhetoricians

They just grew on that school stage - into new, self-assured beings! Talented as well, at least as talented as the adults in other LitFest events, and in some cases more so. The Lawnswood Poetry Slam was much more than an extracurricular frivolity (and there's too many out-of-touch people who think that arts events are frivolities generally, look out for creativity-numbing cuts after the election), it was essentially educational. These kids do not stunt their creative growth on PS3s, obviously. All the poems, songs and dances were original, many of the words were learned by heart, and the emotion all around us last Thursday evening was absolutely authentic. Nothing contrived - it came from the heart. I saw a teacher crying, and not from stress this time!

Judging the event was a great pleasure for myself, Richard Raftery and Donna Cartwright, and as I said at the time, you couldn't put a whisker between some of those kids. I nearly described them as contestants, but they weren't really. This is not the Slam Factor, and none of them were really doing it for any kind of prize.Michelle Scally-Clarke was as charismatic and inspiring as ever - a great teacher of rhetoric, you might say.

Rhetoric is the ancient art of communicating effectively with language. It was the basis of education for young people for many centuries, so it is old, old as well as new, new. Lawnswood has been slammed (in the crass tabloid sense) recently. These lovely slammers went some way to putting the record straight, because it was obvious on Thursday evening that Lawnswood students are terrific!

Below, Michelle Scally-Clarke with some of the slammers: 

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Phyllis Bentley on Tuesday

Richard Wilcocks writes:
Dave Russell from Leeds Met made plenty of assumptions about his substantial audience on Tuesday in Headingley Library - that most of us had read the 'textile district' novels of Phyllis Bentley, for example. Winifred Holtby (she of South Riding) as well. Vera Brittain? Hah, Vera Brittain! Heads nodded: everyone knew Testament of Youth.

There was tension between Bentley and Brittain, Dave Russell explained. Brittain had nice vowels, nice standard sounds, blending in well with the London lot, whereas Bentley was distinctly Halifax, and thought of herself as rather tweedy down there. Strangely enough, Brittain originated from Buxton, which is hardly southern. We saw a fascinating photo of the two of them with a toddling daughter - Shirley Williams, who is now Baroness Williams of Crosby.

Bentley was not just a 'regional novelist' (a fading category) but a novelist who dealt with class issues, and who came with a J B Priestley seal of approval. Her Inheritance (and yes, some of us have read it) was the big thing more than half a century ago, and was made into an impressive Granada TV drama series which was most ambitious for its time, which was 1967. The story of the Oldroyds covered 153 years, from the Luddite machine-breakers of 1812 to Churchill's death in 1965. Very young versions of John Thaw and James Bolam were in it. Many authentic workers' houses were still standing when filming took place, and the muddy killing fields of the Battle of the Somme were recreated just outside Wigan, which was not too difficult.

Bentley was also a significant writer of non-fiction: The Brontës and Their World still reads well today. 

Bentley is due for a revival, it was hinted - a major, if not really great, novelist should not be lost to us. There seemed to be general agreement. Thanks to Dave for his fascinating talk and useful (if sporadic) Powerpoint.

Below, Dave Russell with his LitFest bottle of Aurvin Winery Firebird Legend Cabernet Sauvignon 2007, Phyllis Bentley on a cigarette card and Vera Brittain in nurse's gear:

Wonderful sofa

The Saturday Sofa broadcast from ELFM is wonderful, especially the excellent contributions from the children of Shire Oak and Spring Bank primary schools. Thanks to everybody in the caravan parked outside St Michael's!

It was Dmitri Hvorstovsky

The music for Gaby's reminiscence in Déja-vu last Sunday caused a bit of a stir. This is what it was - Non ti scordar di me sung by the Russian baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky. It is on a CD entitled Passione di Napoli.

Friday, 26 March 2010

North Noir

Re-watching the discomforting Red Riding television series, I couldn't help thinking of Martin Wainwright's talk at the LitFest last week, on people's perceptions of the North, and his passing mention of David Peace, "who might be a brilliant novelist, but....."  No doubt there will be audience members tomorrow (New Headingley Club at 3pm) who will ask suitable questions and make appropriately pithy comments on bloodstained depictions of Yorkshire, although the focus will be 1948 Tokyo and the 1984/5 Miners' Strike. A different kind of bloodstained.

Anyway, the TV backroomers really got it right when it comes to seventies clothes, interior design and tobacco, I am thinking. The wallpapers are authentically nightmarish. And I used to drive one of those Zephyrs. And all those smoke-filled rooms and characters with cigs drooping from their mouths... was it that bad?

Lettice Cooper

Lettice Cooper comes into the category of 'neglected women writers' and she had strong Leeds connections, so she may well feature on next year's programme. Get in touch if you have something to say on that.....

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Damned United. Damned good.

Monday's showing at our beloved Cottage Road Cinema (100 years old in 2012) of The Damned United, directed by Tom Hooper using David Peace's factional account as a starting point, was enjoyable, and funny. Poor old Billy Bremner doesn't come out of it very well, because we are reminded of spectacular deliberate dives as well as spectacular playing. Don Revie becomes a blustering manipulator too. 

Actually not that much spectacular playing (difficult to make it credible in a film like this) in spite of all attempts. Michael Sheen is a more than convincing Cloughie, and Timothy Spall a great Peter Taylor, but the screenplay does steer clear of certain parts of Peace's narrative, and the ending is well....cosmetic. Heartwarming though.

For all the genuine low-down, read Anthony Clavane's Promised Land, just out. Find it on Amazon.

Kettle and Bennett

I have just noticed a Guardian piece by Martin Kettle (see previous post on the Kettle connection) who writes about how he 'knows' Alan Bennett through a shared Headingley upbringing. He used to walk up to 'the grammar school' (now Lawnswood) every morning as well and mentions a sadistic PE teacher with the surname King that they both knew about.  It is in the context of last year's Hay Festival: that's the one in marquees with celebrity chefs.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Three times good

Sunday afternoon was just right: words, music, memories and warm sunshine. Three LitFest events took place in houses with capacious front rooms, all of them completely different, under the heading Pieces for Places.

The first was at the new Spafford abode. Three new authors - Jo Brandon, Connor Whelan and Katie Godman - pictured below in that order - bravely stood to read their pieces, introduced by Peter Spafford. All of them are connected with The Cadaverine, an Arts Council funded ezine which brings new authors (under the age of twenty-five) together with an emerging readership. It features interviews with leading authors and regular reviews. This is the official description:

From urban gothic to high modernism, cyberpunk to scathing satire, science fiction to fictitious cookery, Cadaverine is a comprehensive and uncompromising introduction to the new voices of English Literature.

Katie Godman kicked off with extracts from her novel in progress, which is set in Bristol, introducing us to some of its characters and scenes, which included one involving newly arrived slaves, still in chains. She was followed by Jo Brandon, who is the managing editor of The Cadaverine. She read a series of poems stimulated by memories of her vacation job at Balmoral. I would fish out The Linen Cupboard as one which I found particularly memorable. Connor Whelan recited W.B.Yeats's The Lake Isle of Innisfree before getting to his own poems, the best of which was inspired by the loaves which are still available at the legendary Murton Bakery in Cardigan Road. He is the editor of The Scribe, a creative writing mag produced in Leeds University Union. Poetry and Audience, I was reminded, is the product of students in the School of English. I couldn't help thinking of the reading by the veterans in the Brotherton last Thursday. Then and now eh?

So refreshing and enlivening, this session! Young blood! All three were recorded by Peter Spafford for ELFM, so you can listen to the podcast.

Very soon, there is going to be an original writing link for selected items which were first heard during the Headingley Litfest. It will be up on the right.

The second piece for a place, or if you like, piece of a place, was at Maggie Mash's, and it was entitled No Place Like Home.  It was a full programme of poetry, drama and song, complete with a versatile pianist (the excellent John Holt) and a line-up of accomplished performers. It was polished, professional, and superbly entertaining, with a large audience seated in rows on two sides of the room. It included (and this is taken from a long list) an extract from Bill Bryson's The Lost Continent (about getting away from Iowa), Aubade, written and read by James Nash, The Interlopers, written and read by Linda Marshall, part of Forty Years On, written by one-time Headingley resident Alan Bennett and advice on etiquette dating from 1834. Jazz singer Lynn Thonton gave us a hilarious Plastic Recycling Blues.

This sort of thing just has to catch on. So successful! Perhaps this will lead to some June or July events: if we don't have a barbecue summer like the one we didn't have last year, we could do things inside, if necessary with the windows open. Soirées, even, why not?

Below, Jane Oakshott, Dave Robertson, Richard Rastall, Maggie Mash, Lynn Thornton


The third event at the Jones's, Déja-vu, was not a performance, but an opportunity to hear about two extraordinary periods in the life stories of Gaby and John Jones. In 1971, Gaby and John were driving a car beside Lake Como in Italy, on holiday. Gaby knew she had lived somewhere around there when she was three years old in 1938. She said,"Stop the car!" somewhere on the road between Como and Bellagio and then walked up to a villa which she recognised. The door opened, and the elderly lady who answered it told her that this was the Villa Cocini, where Gaby had spent her early childhood. At first, she did not recall much, even though she had lived there since the thirties, because many families had come there on holiday, even during the war. Then she was told the name of Gaby's family - Wulff. She flew at Gaby to embrace her. She had last seen her as a tiny girl.

There followed a tour of the garden, the terraces of which descend to the lake, where there is a view of the renowned Hotel d'Este on the opposite side. Gaby recognised the view, the paths and the little patio where she had been given breakfast al fresco many years previously - and she felt a kind of shudder when she walked up one of the paths, just before a turn to the right. A little further on was a dark grotto with water dripping from its roof. A Blessed Virgin, stars circling her head, was contemplating the distant mountains, enough to induce shudders in a three year-old.

Gaby went on to explain how her father, who worked for an American firm, had transferred to the Milan office from Berlin in 1933, not a bad idea if you were Jewish. In 1938, the family came to England at a time when the German Nazis were putting the tighteners on the Italian Fascists, getting them to step up the racial discrimination. She ended up in Argentina. A slide show followed, showing a selection of photos from a family album. It ended with a postcard with a photo and a message in German inviting people to a birthday party in Buenos Aires. One of the selection is below - Gaby at breakfast in 1938.

John introduced one of the audio tapes he had made about ten years ago when he was recording his autobiography. His voice, sprightlier than nowadays, was heard telling the story of his posting to Knokke in Belgium. He had arrived with the Royal Engineers in 1944 during the last phase of World War Two, and the Germans had not long left. There were macabre scenes: in the damaged streets, the skeletons of horses had not yet been cleared away. Local people had cut off the meat when it was fresh, from the animals the Germans used to pull heavy items, and which they did not film, preferring staged shots of strapping young Aryans atop modern panzers. He remembered the small hotel with inadequate lavatories which was used to cram in as many squaddies as possible and a Café des Artistes, which had walls covered with drawings and paintings. He traded one of his own drawings for beer.

One of his strongest memories was of the events which followed the 'White Parade', when local citizens who had been in various camps and prisons in Germany returned, to walk to the centre of town, reunited with friends and family. As they walked, people broke away to paint black swastikas on certain houses. After the ceremony, many returned to the daubed houses, broke in and systematically smashed everything from window frames to beds. Debris and belongings were thrown on to bonfires in gardens. These were the houses of collaborators, or people said to be collaborators. But, said John on the tape, known collaborators, mostly male, had already been arrested and imprisoned, so the houses were occupied by wives and children. These were hounded, but the troops were forbidden to interfere in domestic affairs. Nevertheless, a sergeant major had at one point barked at a disorderly crowd, telling them to clear off and go home, which is what it did.

John had returned to Knokke a couple of times. No hotel, no Café des Artistes. A new statue. A housing estate. The usual seaside stuff. Ice cream. A large casino with an exhibition of work by Raoul Dufy, the French Fauvist painter.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010


It's going to be community radio at its best!

This coming Saturday, the brightly-coloured caravan of East Leeds FM will be parked outside St Michael's Church near the war memorial in the centre of Headingley. You will find it difficult to miss. It will be there from about 10am, and the fun will start at 10.30am, when the podcasts begin. This is GMT we're talking about - so if you are in somewhere like New Zealand and reading this (and I know you're there...) you will have to adjust your body clock before you tune in - on the internet. Your normal radios and crystal sets will, of course, not be required. Incidentally, best of luck to Save Radio New Zealand!

Broadcasting lasts for two hours. If you are anywhere near the caravan, try to make a contribution which is relevant to the current LitFest goings-on. Tap on the driver's side and say who you are.

Peter Spafford, who works for ELFM, will be there. The children he has been working with recently in Shire Oak and Spring Bank Primary schools will probably not be there in the flesh, but you will be able to listen to them, pre-recorded. Most of it will be live, though - so get ready to listen:

Go to

Monday, 22 March 2010

Linda Marshall's Half-Moon Glasses

Richard Wilcocks writes:
"Linda Marshall's poems whether funny or sad, have the cathartic, uplifting effect that stems from genuine truth to feelings we share with her." Thus speaks K. E. Smith (who was once the editor of the long-established Yorkshire poetry magazine Pennine Platform) on the back cover of Linda Marshall's new collection Half-Moon Glasses. At the launch, held on Saturday evening in the long wedge of space driven into the Edwardian housing in Midland Road known as The Flux Gallery, the audience was well and truly uplifted. It was difficult to move sideways anyway, people were that close. It was a tricky operation just to get inside the door, and necessary to breathe carefully, because Linda's beautifully distinctive voice had to be heard.

In the introduction to the collection (ISBN 978-0-9560688-3-5), which is printed by Flux Gallery Press and nicely illustrated by its owner Dan Lyons, K.E. writes about the fact that Linda is a "rare thing"...."a genuinely modern poet who is also a real page turner."

Here's one I like from the collection. I heard her read it in the Café Lento a few half moons ago:


The music ripped through me, orange and purple,
leaving tattered shreds of soul; sweet aromas
of dark chocolate and vanilla filled the hazy air,
as I sipped the snowiness, topping a cappuccino,
those syncopated rhythms bashing a brassy vibrancy
into me. I was lolling in the corner of my chair,
opposite you, my melancholic friend, both of us
haunted by nostalgia, too many years behind us,
making us sick for each passing moment - how I yearn
for those long, lazy conversations we had in
bars and cafés, "no strings attached," you would say,
only the music and a shared loneliness melding us,
we became the blazing bursts of percussion, the huge
electric bubbles of jazz that dissolves into dizziness.
As long as our fluted coffee cups are steaming,
as long as that band of music men are cooking up
their breezy blues, we are marooned, you and I,
on a desert island of steel and leather with no hope
of rescue, yet with hope in our wrecked heads.

Below, pics from the launch:

Martin Wainwright, we loved you

Richard Wilcocks writes:
Martin Wainwright from the Guardian is a great authority on you-name-it when it comes to Headingley, Leeds and northern parts. A childhood which included a spell in God's Own Suburb, and sentences like "We walked up Weetwood Lane and through the Hollies", full of local references, pumped up his credibility no end. He knew so many anecdotes. What was the one with the Hollies in it again? Oh yes - ages ago, the Yorkshire Evening Post had a feature entitled 'Citizen of the Month'. One of the winners of the accolade was a woman who finally plucked up the courage to put a blanket around the harmless, goosepimpled man who used to walk through the Hollies completely naked. She led him to Weetwood Police Station wearing a blanket she had provided.

In the Yorkshire College of Music and Drama on Saturday afternoon, we were agog. We laughed a lot too.

Then there were the stories about Arthur Ransome, who had the good fortune to be born in Headingley, and who was probably a double agent during and after 1917. He had married Evgenia Petrovna Shelepina, who when he met her in Moscow was Trotsky's mistress. This was "a shewd move for a journalist covering the Russian Revolution." Arthur Ransome, we were told, was taught to ice skate by none other than Prince Kropotkin, the anarchist nobleman.

There were plenty of present-day stories as well, like the enterprising specialist textile company in Yorkshire which makes Armani suits - the real thing - and which was fed up with all the fakes around: they found a way of putting DNA into the weave, so that their product is now very identifiable.

The burden of his talk was the way the north is stereotyped by southerners. His True North -  In praise of England's better half  (ISBN 978-0-85265-113-1) was on sale, but not for long, because all copies were soon snapped up. He spoke about the problems of relocating staff, imbued with clichéd views, and the way that visual images of the north tend to drift into a certain category - you know, abandoned mills, chip wrappers floating in the gutter, eternal winter, black and white. Either that or snotty-nosed kids in cobbled streets, clothes lines strung across them and so on. "I have to convince some of my colleagues in London," he said. "When April comes, we have trees which burst into leaf!"

"We need talking up!" he stressed. He did plenty of talking up - to the converted. We should follow the French example. On autoroutes there are little lay-by affairs with picnic tables, where you can look at beautiful landscapes while you bite into your tartine. "We have plenty of places like that in Yorkshire."

He finished with an attack on "tenacious misconceptions of Bradford" and the people with a negative image of immigration. "We would be much less of a place without it. To be an immigrant you've got to have extra energy."

And amongst his recommended very special places - Gargrave and Whitehaven.

Below, pics by Geoff Steedman:

Below, pics by Richard Wilcocks:

Officially launched

It was the first major gathering of the LitFest clan at the New Headingley Club, and the emphasis was on poetry, under the amiable eye of compere James Nash, who not only read his own work, but introduced three other main readers - Liz Bertola, Helen Burke and Richard Raftery. In the previous two LitFests, James has been subterranean, performing and compering in the cellar of the Dare Café, and has now emerged into the upper air. He is revealing himself more and more as a master of the sonnet. The audience was most appreciative.

By the door, tombola prizes were displayed - and plenty of scented candles were won, but not the whisky, which will be raffled at the end of the LitFest on a suitable occasion. A huge new screen at the end of the room showed Lawnswood students dancing and reciting at last year's Poetry Slam. There was a sort of long pause before they came up at the end of the evening because the DVD was playing up. Thanks to Mary Francis for sorting the problem.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Glimpses of our past

The meeting room was, what's the word.......august......that's it. Appropriate for the occasion. Lots of oak. It was filled with appreciative people as well, there for Poetry at the Brotherton. I had no idea the room was there when I was a student at Leeds University: the Brotherton was mainly for revision before Finals, directly under the pantheonic dome. Well, here we all were, survivors.

The readings began at 8.30pm after an informative introduction from Chris Sheppard from Special Collections, in which he told us about the illustrious line of Gregory Fellows and the benign influence of Professor Bonamy Dobrée. Most of the names mentioned were from before my time at the university (I first came across Bonamy Dobrée's name on my reading list - Restoration Comedy, I believe) and I looked at my fellow readers - Jon Glover, Doug Sandle and Jeff Wainwright - with a certain measure of smugness, because I was the youngest amongst them. Not often I can say that nowadays.

Congratulations to Doug for doing most of the organising for this successful event - and also to Kathryn Jenner, the guardian lioness of Special Collections.

I read a selection of poems by Geoffrey Hill (English Department staff 1954 - 1981), who was my tutor in 1967 - 1968, beginning at the beginning with Genesis and finishing with Tristia: 1891-1938, A Valediction to Osip Mandelstam. I had to edit out so much from the initial list: I would have loved to have said more about poor Mandelstam, for example, who was killed by Stalin, who had himself been published as a (Georgian nationalist) poet in his early years just after he left the seminary. I had plans at one stage to sing something by John Dowland as well.

Doug Sandle produced more laughter than me, first with his selection of poems by William Price Turner (Gregory Fellow 1960 - 1962) whose University Vignettes were hilarious, then with a selection of poems by Martin Bell and himself. I felt strongly for  Bell in his From the City of Dreadful Something, and particularly remember Doug's poem The Stone Gatherer, which is dedicated to Ken Smith and his son on their first visit to the Isle of Man. Doug tells me that pruning back the first list of choices was difficult, but we couldn't have gone on until midnight.

Jon Glover remembered a sit-in which I had mentioned earlier, which took place in the Parkinson Court in 1968 to protest against the university security men, who had been taking the names of students holding up placards with various messages about the Vietnam War, but his main memory was of the extraordinary Jon Silkin (Gregory Fellow 1958) who had founded Stand magazine in 1952, and whose early career had embraced teaching English as a Foreign Language  and gravedigging. Jon Glover is the current editor, and copies of the latest issue were on sale at the event. He read The Coldness, by Silkin, which is about the pogrom against the Jews of York in 1190 - a poem I remember from many years ago. Poems by Glover included the excellent CERN: Frontiers, Grave-Diggers.

Jeff Wainwright (student 1962 - 1967) reminisced as well, and spoke of Geoffrey Hill, about whom he has written seminal essays. He mentioned his great attention to detail - every word matters, none of them are for the wind, proofreading is inevitably important - and the fact that he was a good and sympathetic tutor to most, leaving his mark on many. I agree. He read a series of short poems by himself, and also by Ken Smith, a poet I had previously (misleadingly) characterised in my mind as 'non-difficult'. Jeff had driven up from Manchester to be with us.

Below - Jeff Wainwright and Jon Glover.

Strange goings-on at Lento

It's a good job there were extra chairs in the Café Lento on Wednesday evening: if anybody else had turned up, they would have had to swing from the chandeliers, which would have been challenging, because there aren't any. It was St Patrick's night, and groups of revellers were walking past the big window during the short story readings wearing those high and hideous I-am-a-little-leprechaun hats with Guinness badges on them, proving that the wearers were not of Irish heritage. They might have been Polish. They like revelling. The first story was set in Ireland. It was by Roddy Doyle, had a Polish protagonist named Halina who was in charge of a pram containing babies, and was read by the man with the coffee machine - Richard Lindley. One item in it was a pretty horrific story with a supernatural tinge, which set the tone for the evening.

Because by coincidence, all the stories that followed had a supernatural tinge - Moira Garland's included a lady from Victorian times, Doug Sandle's was about strange goings on during his childhood on the Isle of Man, mine was entitled I Invented a Ghost and Peter Spafford's was about the otherworldly laughter his mother used to hear.

The audience, according to what was said afterwards, loved everything. They asked us for more soon. Perhaps we'll convene again in the summer.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Congratulations Headingley resident Kay Mellor, now Kay Mellor OBE!

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Are you around, John Comer?

If you're reading this, John Comer, we - Doug Sandle and myself - would like to know where you are. You are a one-time resident of Headingley, and our attention has just been drawn to your recently-published The Old Time. So are you close enough to come to any LitFest events or to join us for a drink in Arcadia, which is very close to where you once lived in Alma Road?

The Old Time - ISBN 142514298-2 Trafford Publishing

Email us at

Below, John in the 1960s. Photo taken by Dave Williams in Moorland Avenue, LS6

Saturday, 13 March 2010


Yes, sunshine! Today!The sky is as blue as a blackbird's egg, and the warmth is so welcome after the dip in temperature last week. It won't be long before we plant the Kiwi fruit, and it's a sure sign that we'll soon be off to a good start. 

Hundreds of people milled around on the lawn in front of the main rose garden at Headingley Farmers' Market this morning, and plenty of them took our programme-leaflet, albeit a little absent-mindedly as they listened to the music which wafted in their direction from the gamelan players. Let's hope they all come to at least one of the events! Tickets are shifting as well, especially for novelist David Peace, normally based in Japan but in Yorkshire at the moment.

Richard Lindley, maître d' at the illustrious Café Lento, revealed today that he will begin the proceedings next Wednesday with a reading of his favourite short story - by Roddy Doyle. As the one-time owner of a historic Norton motorcycle, he has been talking about an event based on the Motorcycle Diaries (Notas de Viaje - Diarios de Motocicleta) of Ernesto 'Che' Guevara , who rode one when he was still a medical student and who has gained Richard's admiration simply for being able to cope with it. Perhaps at some time in the future, some kind of shortened, episodic presentation of the Diaries could be presented along with music from South America, or perhaps a clip from the film directed by Walter Salles could be shown. We shall see. There are several musical groups in West Yorkshire which could fill the bill.

In the picture - sunshine in one of Headingley's forest glades....if you want to find out about Headingley's biodiversity, or its many polytunnels, or future plans, click HERE now.