Thursday, 22 December 2011

York Storytelling

Here's a plug for kindred spirits in York: read about the storytelling festival on 3 February at

We'll see some of the Yorkists in Headingley next March, hopefully.

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Alan Bennett at Lawnswood

Earlier this month (9 December), our most illustrious ex-resident visited his old school, Leeds Modern, to officially open its library, which is now named after him. As far as we know, the last time he was at the school, which is now called Lawnswood, of course, was coincidental with the last Headingley LitFest in March. The LitFest's box of free books from World Book Night at that time consisted of copies of A Life Like Other People's, and most of them were donated by us to the school's sixth form. He read from this during both visits - the section which deals with his use of Armley Library - and added a strong condemnation of current library closures, which he described as "wrong and short-sighted...   We're impoverishing young people." There were no dissenting voices.

On 4 February, which is National Libraries Day, The Library Book will be published, with contributions from the likes of Julian Barnes, Stephen Fry and himself. This will be in support of library campaigners everywhere.

He was also eloquent in his observations on fee increases for students wanting to go to university. He told his audience of students, teachers and governors that he would not have been able to go to higher education himself if the situation had been like today, because his parents simply did not have enough money to support him: "I didn't realise then how fortunate I was but soon after I left university I realised I'd been very, very lucky."

He was welcomed to the event by Deputy Head Will Carr, who is pictured below. Some of the faces in the audience were familiar, because they belonged to some of those who either participated in, or watched, the wildly successful fourth LitFest Poetry Slam at Lawnswood. Was it so many months ago?

We are hoping that the next Slam will be just as good!

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Lle desiel?

Richard Wilcocks writes:
“Lle desiel?” is Elvish for “Are you ready?” One-time Headingley resident J R R Tolkien was responsible for creating the Elvish language, of course. It comes in two variations – Quenya and Sindarin, or High-elven and grey-elven. Tolkien provided only three hundred and fifty words, but his followers have now added thousands more, so you can now take part in a reasonably intelligent conversation.

Perhaps it will replace Esperanto as the world’s most significant made-up language. Who knows? And before you ask, there is no evidence that Tolkien was working on Elvish grammar while he was living in Headingley, and the blue plaque which will soon be put on the wall of the house in which he lived while lecturing at the University of Leeds will have English words on it, in spite of intensive lobbying by local elves.

Elvish has a credible but rudimentary grammar, and is based mainly on Finnish and Welsh, so I am told. Perhaps after the forthcoming LitFest in March next year (keyword is LINGO), some people will be inspired to become experts, because Elvish will be at least talked about by Dr Richard Brown from the English Department of the University of Leeds as part of an event which will probably take place on a Wednesday evening – ‘probably’ because the programme is still being fixed. It will appear in its final form in January.

In the meantime, you might like to look at this website.

Below, the Elvish written on the One Ring:

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Mila and Craig at Café Lento

Café Lento on North Lane is the place to be on Friday evenings. That's true for yesterday, anyway. Mila and Craig were terrific, with a variety of musical styles- including Bossa Nova - and songs in Portuguese. Audience loved it. They could come to the Iberian Evening (we'll probably change that as a title...) which was mooted after the show. This would take place during next March's LitFest.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Leeds Lieder rocks!

Heartwarming to see such an array of fledgling talent at Leeds Lieder's Composers and Poets Showcase on Saturday! Some of them were at Headingley LitFest too - in New Shoots last March.

Click here for full review.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

We Are Poets - at Hyde Park Picture House

Thanks to Peter Spafford for alerting us to this: 


The award winning 'We Are Poets' is in Leeds for a very special 'homecoming' screening at the Hyde Park Picture House, Sunday 2nd October, 5:45pm
We Are Poets is on tour around the UK and after a successful opening at the British Film Institute, it is now coming to it's home town of Leeds to share and celebrate this amazing local story. Don't miss it!

Winner of the Youth Jury Award at the Sheffield Documentary Festival 2011 and shortlisted for a prestigious Newcomer Prize at Grierson: The British Documentary Awards 2011We Are Poets intimately follows six remarkable young poets from Leeds Young Authors, a youth poetry group based in Chapeltown, as they are chosen to represent the UK at Brave New Voices, the most prestigious poetry slam competition in the USA.  From their inner city lives to a stage in front of the White House in Washington DC, the poets must prepare for a transformational journey of a lifetime. 

Cinematic, honest and deeply personal, We Are Poets is a moving testament to the power of creativity, community and the dynamism of young people. Anyone tempted to dismiss today's youth as politically apathetic better pay heed: here is electrifying evidence to the contrary. 

We Are Poets was directed and produced by local filmmakers Alex Ramseyer-Bache and Daniel Lucchesi.

There will be a Q&A with the directors and poets following the screening and live poetry performances! 

Here's what a few people have said about the film:

Sheffield Doc Fest - "A poignant, truthful and uplifting perspective on youth today and its potential. From its utterly brilliant opening, through to its moving finale, 'We Are Poets' is inspirational!" 

I-D Magazine -  "Lyrical, inspirational and ultra-cool...a brilliant story and a milestone in breaking down stereotypes”

Benjamin Zephaniah - “Amazing...the film itself is a poem. Poetry is an art, filmmaking is an art, it's takes great sensitivity to bring them together - this film shows us how it's done!” 

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Zoo Story

Dave (Theatre of the Dales) Robertson warmly invites everyone to a free performance of

Edward Albee

 Guillaume Blanchard
David Robertson

First staged in 1959, shortly before he wrote Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Albee's one-act tour de force is as wry and hypnotic as ever.

Two New Yorkers strike up a conversation in Central Park. One irritates, amuses and intrigues the other with his life story, till the listener is caught up in a climax at once shocking and deeply moving.

You can catch it next weekend at the following times and venues:

On Saturday, Sept 17th,
at 3pm in Dagmar Wood (opposite Dave's house) or in the nearby LS6 Cafe (often called the Clock), if it rains.

Also, at 8pm
in Cafe Lento on North Lane, Headingley (where there will be a licensed bar).

On Sunday, Sept 18th,
at 3pm in Dagmar Wood. (Again, in the Clock, if it rains.)

Also, at 9.30pm
in the garden of 1, Grosvenor Road (Dave's place) by the light of a bonfire. (Shelter will be rigged up, if rain threatens.)

Monday, 27 June 2011

Support the LIPPfest!

Readers of this blog are sure to be interested in the LIPPfest so here's information and dates for your diaries:

The Leeds Independent Presses Poetry Festival (LIPPfest) 2011 kicks off on 24 September at the Carriageworks Theatre in Leeds with a programme of readings from twenty-one poets, six workshops, symposiums and publishing talks. An independent presses bookfair will give people the chance to browse and purchase literature from a range of literature not stocked on the shelves of your average bookshop.

LIPPfest 2011 Poetry competition

Here you can download details, rules and entry form for the inaugural LIPPfest poetry competition. The competition will open for entries on April 12th 2011.  Entries close on July 14th 2011. Winners will be announced at a special event at the festival on September 24th.

(Click this Link to download PDF)

This year’s judges are Pat Borthwick and Mike Barlow.

• 1st Prize £ 250.00
• 2nd Prize £ 150.00
• 3rd Prize £ 100.00
• The Leeds Prize £ 50.00
• All prize/award winners will receive a poetry
book from the LIPPfest book fair.

All prize winners will also have an opportunity to read at the festival and will be invited to submit their entry for inclusion in the LIPPfest’s anthology of poetry. The competition is a great way to support the festival and help us to promote the poets and poetry of independent presses.

Any money raised will go into putting on further events and developing new ways to take poetry out to new audiences. See entry form for full details.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Read! Read! Read!

Here's an extract from a recent issue of the official newsletter of Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School in Meanwood:

The   school   was   privileged   to   stage   one   of   the   events   of   the   Headingley   LitFest when  the  celebrated  author,  Robert  Swindells  read  and   discussed   his   works   with   pupils.   Swindells   is   one   of   Britain’s   most   successful  writers  of fiction  for  young  people... 

Robert   Swindells,   who   was   born   in   Yorkshire,   has   received   numerous   awards for his books for children and young adults. Stone Cold, a favourite  with our  pupils,  won  the  Carnegie  Medal  and  has  been  adapted   for television  by the  BBC.  Generations  of  our  pupils  have  enjoyed  reading   his novels  and they  were  delighted  to  be  given  the  opportunity  to  hear  Mr   Swindells  read extracts  from  his  work.  

They   plied   him   with   questions   about   his   subjects,   his   writing   methods,   his   beliefs   and   his   income!   The   quality   and   variety   of   the   questions   asked  was   impressive.   Pupils   found   his   honest,   entertaining   and   down-to-earth   approach   engaging   and   many   of   them   said   that   he   made   them   believe   that  they  could  succeed  as  writers  if  they  put their  minds  to  it...  

We  were  delighted  to  welcome  pupils  and  staff  from  Allerton  High  School   to the  event.  Mr  Swindells  was  moved  and  impressed  by the interest our pupils had shown.

Radish Books attended and provided copies of Mr Swindells' work. Many purchased Stone Cold and left clutching copies which carried a personal message from the author: variants of 'Read! Read! Read!

C. Brown


Friday, 20 May 2011

Readathon, anyone?

Peter Spafford performed in the LitFest on 20 March in one of the house events. See the earlier posts to read the report. He has just put this message up on  Headingley Chat:

I`m organising a broadcast literature festival for East Leeds FM ( called WRITING ON AIR, June 13-17. 
For the finale, we're doing an all-night reading of Paul Auster's True Tales of American Life. We're looking for a team of 10-15 people crazy enough to camp out inside the fabulously atmospheric Seacroft Chapel and read through the night in shifts. Plenty of coffee and biscuits provided.
At the moment we have a hard core, but we need more! Anyone fancy it?         

Friday, 1 April 2011

Beechey Island

This poem was greatly admired by a number of people at the Let Me Speak event on 22 March. Campion Rollinson has now sent it, and you can read it on Headingley LitFest Originals.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Food for thought

Richard Wilcocks writes:
Food appears to be playing an increasingly important part in the LitFest. We began in a restaurant this year, compliments about the home-made cakes and dainties provided last year were commonplace, and similar praise has been drizzled upon us this time around. Perhaps we should finish in a restaurant as well. Or in a house with a good cook in residence.

This particular house event on Sunday afternoon was so successful that there had to be a repeat performance. Fortunately, the first lot through the door did not scoff everything, and there was plenty of Oyster Bay left to drink, because I was there for the second session. Lis Bertolla and Doug Sandle performed a well thought-out poetry programme, Maria Sandle sang and played guitar, and a couple called The Retrolettes sang and played the ukelele. At one point, Doug played a Jew’s Harp!

There were poems written by Lis and Doug themselves and by the likes of Geoffrey Chaucer, Jonathan Swift, John Keats, Edward Lear and Roger McGough, and occasional ventures into prose, with short extracts from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie. Maria was particularly charming with her rendition of Junk Food Junkie, and the Retrolettes brought us Trinidadian sunshine with the Andrews Sisters’ version of Rum and Coca Cola.

The session concluded with Lis’s own beautiful poem After the Poetry Reading. Then it was time for the nosh. We’ll have to do this every Sunday afternoon now.

Words and music melted together

Sheila Chapman writes:
A member of the audience said that The Shire Oak Room at HEART ‘had the enticing atmosphere of a New York Jazz Club’ on Saturday night and thus the stage was set for a very special event .

When I was researching the evening I had checked out reviews of The Fruit Tree Project jazz band  (Dave Evans on keys, Colin Sutton on Bass and Alex Wibrow on drums), and came across this comment:  ‘...they take on grooves and at times semi-free excitement equally to create a thrilling array of sounds’. Not knowing a great deal about jazz I was a bit puzzled by these words, but as the band kicked off the night, playing compositions by Dave Evans, I began to understand exactly what they meant. As one member of the audience (Terry Bridges) commented, they were ‘polished and consummate performers’. They entranced the audience and I, for one, found their array of sounds both thrilling and absorbing.

After a few numbers they were joined by the poet Rommi Smith, who explained that her poems for the night were taken from her pamphlet Mornings and Midnights. These poems are based on the lives of female legends such as Billie Holliday, Bessie Smith and Josephine Baker. They do not seek to tell the biography of these women, because that would demand too much ‘truth’, but rather to illuminate and narrate their lives through the life of Gloria Silver, a mythical diva whose experience and history is the backbone of the book.

Rommi’s collection of mornings and midnights poems is growing. We were treated to some poems from the pamphlet such as: Any Old Death Will Do, ‘...and maggots are the jewels against my skin’,  which explores Gloria’s reaction when she reads her own obituary while still very much alive (apparently something that actually happened to Peggy Lee); and when Bessie Smith Came Face to Face with the Klan ‘... stark white hooded exclamation marks’. We also heard new poems such as Fur Coat, Moonsong Jelly, and Rain  - where the musical rendition of the sound of rain in the intro was restrained, and incredibly evocative.

The poems, whether spoken or sung, were interwoven with the music with power and passion, and true musicality. Some written comments from the audience will tell you what it was like:

Words and music melted together like an ice-cream fruit sundae. But do not be misled as the core is as hard-hitting as a bullet (Glo Simons)

Moving, angry, engaged. The coherence of music & word & song was the best I’ve heard. (Murray Edscer)

Such professionalism in the execution of performance. Such knowledge in the poetry and background itself. (Jane Austwick)

It was a brilliant night. Once again some members of the audience say it all:

A moving and exciting performance ... more please.  (Anon)

Overall, a wonderful & moving performance – very inspiring! (Anon)

What a fantastic combination of the spoken word and fab music. (Bev Robinson)

Rommi so soulful. (Selina)

This event was absolutely outstanding. (Jane Austwick)

An inspiring evening and wonderful to have this on our doorstep! (Anon)

Inspired – a great addition to a literary festival. (Beatrice Schofield)

As Murray Edsecar said: "This was inspirational. ... an entrancing evening."

The Fruit Tree Project: Mornings and Midnights by Rommi Smith is published by Peepal Tree Press, Leeds (2005, 2008)

Ben Okri in Headingley

Cocktail in the Café

Richard Wilcocks writes:
Trio Literati provided plenty of gourmet material on Friday evening. Everything was professionally prepared and served up stylishly.

The key word for it? Zingy, like the excellent cocktail, which had something of everything appropriate in it, along with an ingredient which can not, should not be identified. The venue – Hawker’s Green Café in the Heart Centre – was ideal, lacking only a few directional lights, but that didn’t matter because this was delicious entertainment for a discerning audience.

I arrived from the evening with Persephone Books in the nearby library, accompanied by the speaker and several others, to find people already browsing on the delicacies on every table, waiting for the main courses from the group. Here is an idea of what they were like:

The first course was poems from Wendy Cope, June Carruthers, Philip Larkin, Stevie Smith and Frank Polite. Frank Polite? His Carmen Miranda was beautifully, fruitfully performed by Maggie Mash. We saw the pineapples and the bananas. The second course was about acting, stage uncertainties and thinking on your feet as the boards are trodden, with pieces by Nicolas Craig, Hugo Williams (Richard Rastell in Waiting to Go On... “they recast the suit”), George Burns (on faking sincerity), Victoria Wood (advice to the Piecrust Players... Rosencrantz and Guildenstern on a tandem) and Hillaire Belloc.

The poem with the longest title was performed during the third course – On seeing a collection of ironmongery in the Tate Gallery labelled “Woman” – written by Richard Rastell’s father, performed by his son. Other poems were by Frank O’Hara, Steve Ellis, Helen Burke, Roger McGough, and William Carlos Williams (The Artist, an inspired choice).

After a chatty interval, there were substantial servings in fourth and fifth courses of Paul Munden, head chef Carol Ann Duffy (Big Sue and Now Voyager), Roger McGough, Liz Lochhead, Lee L Berkson (the shade of Humphrey Bogart appeared), Linda France, Louis McNeice, Margaret Hobbs, Peter Spafford, Elizabeth Alexander and Alfred Brendel, who turns out to have been a closet poet as well as a rather famous pianist: his The Coughers of Cologne proves that he was rather good at it as well.

By the end, we were all happily pogged. Jane Oakshott, Richard Rastell and Maggi Mash (pictured below) were exquisite. See their website here.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

An evening with Persephone Books

Mary Francis writes:
Persephone Books reprints neglected novels, diaries, short stories and cookery books by women writers such as Dorothy Whipple and Katherine Mansfield. They are all carefully designed with a clear typeface, a dove-grey jacket, a ‘fabric’ endpaper and bookmark and a preface by writers such as Jilly Cooper, Adam Gopnik and Jacqueline Wilson.

Founder Nicola Beauman was due to talk to us on Friday, at Headingley Library, about the origins of Persephone, how books are chosen and about some of the authors. Unfortunately, Nicola then had a pressing commitment across the Atlantic, but in her place came one of her team, Miki Footman.

Miki told us something of the beginnings of Persephone - of how Nicola Beauman, while researching for her own book - A very great profession: the women’s novel 1914-39 - realised how very many titles from that period were out of print. She founded Persephone Books in 1998 to reprint (mostly) women writers and (mostly) of the inter-war period - and now has 90 titles in print.

Persephone is an unusual publishing house. It has remained small and independent - and its books are distinctive. For those who love the feel and the look of a well-produced book, they are a delight. The quality paper and the jacket, the typeface and those beautiful endpapers - and also the wonderful binding (apparently called Dispersion Binding - I hope I have that right) that enables the book to lie quite flat when open, without any cracking of the spine. 

There is now also the Persephone Classics series, with illustrated jackets, which may appeal more to those who are slightly unnerved by a plain dove-grey cover.

Waxing lyrical about book production is wont to provoke some puzzled looks from e-book enthusiasts - and, indeed, it was a surprise to hear from Miki that nowadays Persephone is not only producing audiobooks (very worthwhile) - but is venturing into the field of e-books also, in response to at least five email requests per day. So it seems there is definitely a demand for these titles, written so long ago, to be read with the current technology.

Miki told us a bit about working for Persephone. The staff consists of just five people, including Nicola, and the office where they work is also a shop, in Lamb’s Conduit Street in London, where passers-by are ‘encouraged to come in and take notice’. It sounds a delightful place to work, with everyone doing a bit of everything ... actually, Miki referred to painting the toilet floor as one job she’d undertaken recently!

Persephone also produces a free magazine twice a year. Called Biannually, it contains articles, reviews, details of forthcoming titles and any events - and usually a short story.

So how do Persephone choose their titles? They concentrate mainly on books that reflect women’s everyday lives. Their titles are ‘realistic, not idealistic,’ ‘more accessible, more domestic’ and they see the feminism in them as ‘softer’ than that from the other feminist publishers. They try to have many different genres, they do include books by men (generally ones concerning women’s lives) and they don’t overlap with other publishing houses. They also have to love every book they publish. There is no hope of a book selling well ‘unless someone is passionately behind it’.

Miki talked about some of their titles, such as the best-selling Miss Pettigrew lives for a day. There were Monica Dickens and Marghanita Laski - names I knew - and others, like Mollie Panter-Downes, that I did not. Nor did I know about Noel Streatfield, other than as a writer for children, or Betty Miller, mother of Jonathan. And I must read some Dorothy Whipple sometime .... she is a favourite of Nicola’s, it seems.

The session ended with lots of interesting questions from the audience - and only the slightest whiff of controversy as to whether their list might be a little middle-class and why works such as Phyllis Bentley’s Inheritance (that featured in one of the LitFest events last year) were still out of print. Or might it be that such works simply don’t fit with the criteria? But it was obvious there was a lot of interest in the great work that Persephone is doing in rescuing some splendid titles from obscurity and bringing them to our attention.

Many thanks to Miki. Thanks also to Radish Bookshop, who regularly stock Persephone titles, for bringing along some books for us to buy. And for anyone who couldn’t get to the talk, do take a look at - and maybe, if one day you have some spare time in London, why not visit that intriguing shop in Lamb's Conduit Street?

Saturday, 26 March 2011

I wish I was in Dublin then

 Brendan Behan

 Flann O'Brien

Patrick Kavanagh

Sheila Chapman writes:
I was at Flux gallery again last night (Thursday) as part of my, not all onerous, LitFest duties. As I entered the room, (is it a hall, a Tardis or a wedge of cake?) the stage was being set for a great evening. The usual Flux Gallery hospitality was on display and we were ready to be treated to a night on the theme of A Literary Dublin, which is appropriate as Dan Lyons is a Dubliner who brings the literary life to Leeds.

First of all there was music from Des Hurley, Chris O’Malley, Jim Doody and  friends and songs from Jim too - unaccompanied of course.

Jim Doody introduced the theme of the film, the literary life of Flann O’Brien, Patrick Kavanagh, and Brendan Behan in the Dublin of the 1950s/1960s. Dan Lyons then stood up and apologised for the poor quality of the film – picture and sound – and its tendency to stop at random intervals. But he thought it was worth watching. Of course he was right because what it lacked in packaging it more than made up for in content.

The film, in the form of a documentary,  was narrated by Anthony Cronin and he guided us through a feast of song, humour and history where the main characters spoke for themselves and were amply supported by contributions from friends and family and by the Dubliners and Dublin of yesteryear.

I had meant to take copious notes about the film but, as the lights were turned out,  I realised that this was a bad plan and so I am relying solely on my impressions and memories for this blog.

The first thing  I remember is that Bloomsday, that annual Joycean pilgrimage around Dublin,  was instituted by the characters in this film, although it seems that Brendan Beehan never actually got started as there were shots of him sound asleep (head flung back, mouth open) in a car. I think the others just dumped him. They then went on to follow the route of the funeral procession, succumbing in the end to some mysterious ailment which caused them to urinate copiously (against the nearest wall), laugh uproariously and generally fall about.

This set the tone for the rest of the film showing, as it did, the way in which the lives of these three literary greats were defined by their surroundings, their passion for the written word and their increasing involvement with alcohol.  In one scene a very courteous Irish civil servant, when talking about Flann O’Brien referred to this as ‘his little problem’.

Flann O’Brien, real name Brian O’Nolan,  wrote under many pseudonyms including that of Miles na gCopaleen, (Miles of the small horse as a member of the audience helpfully translated) who was a columnist for the Irish Times  famed for his satirical wit. O’Brien though, struggled to be accepted as a serious writer during his lifetime although he did eventually leave the civil service to write full time. It was suggested that he was negatively influenced by the fact that his novel, The Third Policeman, was not accepted for publication although it is now an aclaimed piece of work.

Brendan Behan was a Dubliner who came from a family with a strong republican tradition, his uncle wrote the Irish National anthem and his mother said that ‘she didn’t like the English’ - several times. She also sang during her interview and much was made in the film of Behan’s fine singing voice. Beehan also spent time in Mountjoy gaol and there were sequences from the Quare Fellow which was based on his time in the gaol. There were also extracts from interviews with Eamon Andrews who tackled him about his drunkeness on television with suitable unapologetic ripostes from Behan.

In contrast to Behan, Patrick Kavanagh  was a country boy who was born in Monaghan and came to Dublin only later in life. His early poems were based on his country experiences and in one sequence he was shown walking through a field and picking up a small bird, which was so comfortable with his touch it just nestled in the palm of his hand. Kavanagh lived in one of the old Dublin Georgian terraces and he had rigged up a large wing mirror on an outside wall angled to show who was calling so he could decide whether or not to answer the door! After a major operation Kavanagh experienced a renaissance in his writing when he was resting by the side of the Grand Canal in Dublin – the same place which inspired Lines written on a Seat on the Grand Canal, Dublin.

These three greats swept aside the heavy shadow cast by Yeats and brought about a renaissance in Irish writing. Their lives reflected the creative brilliance of their minds and their enduring love for ‘a pint of plain’.

Des Hurley, of the Irish Arts Foundation made an inspired choice with this film.

A Literary Dublin was a partnership between Irish Arts Foundation and Headingley LitFest.

Eamonn Hamilton brought a display of Irish Literary books to the event

Friday, 25 March 2011

Dig deep to mine gold

Sally Bavage writes:
Lawnswood Poetry Slam yesterday (Thursday) evening was, once again, a heart-warming affair attended by a packed crowd of friends, family and supporters.  A slam features a broad range of voices, styles, cultural traditions and approaches to writing and performance. We got that range.

Welcomed in to the school hall by the talented Lawnswood Steelpans band, Amanda Stevenson, Head of English then introduced us to our compere for the night.  Local performer and poet Michelle Scally-Clarke came yet again to lend her support to this extraordinary event. Her own poetry lays bare her turbulent journey from care, to adoption, to motherhood, to performer – and she encourages the teenagers who go to her preliminary workshops to dig deep and find their own ‘Sense of Self’. She worked with the students for six weeks before the slam, nurturing their talents and offering them her own inimitable style of encouragement. Her hard work paid off. She mined gold.

Extraordinary?  Yes! To hear so many young people talking about their sense of alienation, angst, loss, love, abuse, sadness, differences, families, gangs, revolution .. was a stunningly powerful experience.  And not just talking either.  Some found singing, or rapping, even to their own musical compositions, a way of releasing their innermost feelings and thoughts.  To see the determination on the faces of those on stage, sometimes with shaking paper betraying their nerves, then see them changing visibly as confidence flowered and the power of their own words took them on a journey to a place where they were heard and respected – that’s what made it an extraordinary night.  Some were just on the brink of teenage, others were old beyond their years, but a cross-section of boys and girls from all walks of life were bound together by their commitment to ‘be heard.’  Or be seen – the dance troupe who welcomed us back for the second half were a visual version of showing the power of the words to which they danced.

All the ‘slammers’ received medals for taking part, and received the applause, whoops and hollers from an appreciative crowd.  Three special performances – for Best Performance, Best Poem and Best Personal Achievement – were awarded. Thanks should go too to the judges Richard Wilcocks (Headingley Litfest), Richard Raftery (staff) and Priya Lota (Slam Champion 2010) as well as Stella Litras and Jegbe for the musical support.  All the names of the performers are given below but credit must be given to Michelle Scally Clarke, who managed to inspire such confidence from these young people that they laid bare their ‘inner well’ of honest confessional.  A night to remember, for performers and audience alike.

Theo Bennett
Toni Busby (Best Performance)
Kirsty Crawford
Imogen Chillington
Amy Dawson
Fatima El Jack (Best Personal Achievement)
Polly Foster
Kieran Gately
Tanaka Guzuwe
Jasmine Joseph
Eva Moran
Teo Nistri
Ruvimbo Nyakubaya
Joel O’Mara (Best Poem)
Dione Sheehan
Zoe Kempe Stanners
Shannel Tata
Rosa Weiner
Huanna Witter

Richard Wilcocks adds:
Every year the thought crosses my mind that the most inspiring poets and singers of the entire LitFest can be found at Lawnswood School, at the Slam. This year, the thought was particularly strong. So fresh, so unpretentious, so spontaneous! 

Fatima’s poem about the Arab Spring, or to be more exact, the Egyptian Spring, with its audience participation, was simply astounding, bringing a whiff of the hope and excitement in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Toni’s rich alto voice and her ability to convey real emotion in her own compositions made me think that surely she will be famous one day, and Joel’s honest, open and kind poetic attitude put many adult versifiers to shame. But then, all of the contributions were more than worthy of praise.

Below, Michelle Scally-Clarke with three award-winners:

Thursday, 24 March 2011

How do you picture an author?

Richard Wilcocks writes:
Bob Swindells, the author of Stone Cold, Abomination, Brother in the Land, Daz4Zoe, Follow a Shadow, Room 13 and much, much else read from his work and answered questions from about two hundred Year 9 students at Cardinal Heenan Catholic High School yesterday (Wednesday) morning in an event described by Assistant Head Cathie Brown as “a triumph”. His audience was wonderfully attentive as he read from Room 13, which he later said was his favourite, and ready with questions of all kinds when he talked with them for more than an hour afterwards.

The students were probably most familiar with Stone Cold, the story of Link, a boy from Yorkshire who tries to find work in London but who becomes homeless, and who is then stalked by a serial killer. He spoke about how he had done the research for the novel, writing to organisations like Shelter and actually spending time wearing shabby old clothes sitting on a bench at night amongst real down-and–outs by the Thames. He had encountered some callous, even dangerous people, but also some kind ones, like the man who had walked past him carrying a takeaway meal, who had turned back and left it beside him without saying a word.

“I took ideas from stories in the news, and was thinking of Dennis Nilson, who murdered a number of young people in his flat.”

I asked him whether he was still got at by tabloid journalists for his choice of ‘strong’ subject matter. I remembered one particular screech from someone at the Daily Mail along the lines of “What are we doing to our children?”

“Not so much nowadays,” he said. “All of that happened when I was awarded the Carnegie Medal for Stone Cold. I am not usually that high-profile. It does not bother me.

I am often stimulated to write by things which make me angry, like the fact that there are homeless teenagers sleeping in doorways when there is no need for it. I am angered by the existence of nuclear weapons as well, and the mad threat to use them.”

He talked about when he was arrested for taking part in an anti-nuclear protest which involved getting chained up with others, then padlocking the chains to gates outside the Ministry of Defence. The police cut him free using bolt cutters. When he refused to pay the twenty-five pounds fine (those were the days!) he ended up in Armley Gaol. This was an extremely interesting tale for the audience, with plenty of follow-up questions. An author in a prison cell!

“I don’t know how you picture authors in your minds. Perhaps you think of someone wearing a dressing gown and drifting about the house with a cigarette in a long holder.”

Bob Swindells has officially retired from school visiting, so it was terrific that he agreed to come over to Leeds for the Headingley LitFest. He was much appreciated by the students and teachers.