Thursday, 28 March 2013

Lawnswood Poetry Slam

June Diamond writes:
The sixth  year of the Lawnswood Slam gave us not just a brilliant event, but an event with history. One by one, mature and confident young people returned to compere , perform, and testify to the transformative power of the Slam and the mentoring relationship. They were role models for the younger performers and an inspiration to us all.

The winners with Michelle
Ms Amanda Stevenson, now head of English, and still spearheading the enterprise, opened the event, stressing that all participants were winners. She passed on the task of introducing the event to Jack and Priya as our presenters.  This confident and charming pair were our guides. They testified to the work that had gone into all the performances behind the scenes in workshops and rehearsals , organised and supported once again by Michelle Scally Clarke, with her team of mentors, Johnie and Stella.  Michelle is not just a hugely skilled actress, poet and teacher, she also maintains lasting and supportive relationships with the young people she works with.

Prya Lota gave a resounding start to the performances with a poem by Catherine Hawthorne, a Lawnswood sixth former, “Stars”, in which we imagined the stars looking down on us, and what they might think.

We moved on to Round One.

Azeel Abdulaziz performed “Giggle, Tickle” with verve and energy, and then moved on to a dialogue with her sister, Nada, “If Love was a Person,” which contrasted the twins, love and hate.
Ingi Hughes, a three-year veteran of the Slam, accompanied herself on the guitar and sang beautifully and touchingly of her “Substitute Family”, who might “quietly hold my hand”.
Kieran Gately gave a deeply-felt performance of “This is Me”, in which he clearly asserted his right to be his own person, “no matter what you say”. Adam Barber gave a lively and  affectionate tribute to his brother in spite of his title , “My little Brother is a Pain”. This was followed by the winning performance (for two poems) by Nada Abdulaziz, “The Innocent One “. 

The judges later commented on her effective delivery and eye contact, the compelling structure of the poem,  with its haunting refrain, and the romanticism of the imagery. Ingi played for us again, this time setting a poem of Michelle’s to music. “I miss you” addressed both the personal and political with anger, energy and emotion. Will she be ‘the next Tracey Chapman’? Esther Moran gave us a beautifully-delivered  account of “Love to Hate”, “I wish people could see the world with clear eyes”.

The next performer has been involved with the Slam since it began, working with Michelle since Year 7. She is now a member  of the Leeds University Performance Poetry Group. She opened the Litfest last year. Fatima el Jack spoke of “Motherland” with  deep feeling and eloquence. Kizzy Jones then performed “Love and Life”. Michelle talked about the power of poetry to release emotion and performer after performer opened their souls.

Michael Quain chose a traditional rhyming format in “Life mine, or just a line “ , which swung with energy from title to conclusion, “I’ll never live it alone”, while Jasmine Williams, who received a special commendation from the judges, gave us her assertive position on life in “Opinion”. Sarah Hamaway led us into the horror of nightmare in “Where am I?” , a powerful account of being “lost in my lonely imagination.”, in the first of two effectively-delivered pieces.
The first half ended with an unusual performance. Charlie Nullmyers used lights, special effects and a cast of two in “The Doll”, to chill our spines with the story of a doll that came to life. Awesome!

Michelle, Johnny and Stella swung the second half into life, and Tanaka Guzuwe, Michael Quain and Victor took on the baton with a powerful, rhythmic piece of rap, “Life”.
India Claybourne in “Hate”, performed the winning song under the category of Best Poem. She sang beautifully of frustrated visions  and dreams. Aidan Foster Green, another commendation, had us on the edge of our seats with the brilliant “Life”, a horror story of corpses and mirrors.
Ayah Almarsi performed the first of two pieces, the second with Azeel Abdulaziz, in which they explored “Slavery” and “Friendship”. Why do people bully each other?

Rosa Weiner and Toni Busby performed a cover of a Kate Nash song, and made it their own. These Slam veterans return to show where there is to go.

Adam Barber, whose delivery of “Hold onto your Dreams” brought him a judges’  commendation, spoke clearly and beautifully of the way forward. “Follow your soul, to be whole".  Nada gave us the second of her prize-winning poems  with “Love is whatever you want it to be” in this brilliant second half. Fatima el Jack mesmerised us with a powerful, angry polemic, exposing the hypocrisy and inequality in society, and showing us yet again that poetry has the power to electrify and persuade, as well as to delight.
Yasmin Mehudin performed on her own, and then with Annie Moran, in two strongly contrasting pieces: “Everything” explored dreams, while “His Life” told of  a life gone wrong, in dialogue. Dylan Fallon delighted us with the best personal performance, in the judges’ view. He didn’t just tell us about a vampire, he was the vampire, concluding the second half with a bang. Rosa and Michelle entertained us while the judges did their thing.

Thank you to all the performers, presenters  and supporting staff for a brilliant evening. Thank you to the judges: Toni  Busby, Slam veteran; Raftery the Poet, and Richard Wilcocks of the Litfest.

This event is always the climax of the Litfest for me, and a brilliant conclusion, this year.

Literary Tea Party

Partnership event with Far Headingley Village Society

Bill Fitzsimons writes:
The Mad Hatter's tea Party came to Headingley on the afternoon of 24 March at The Secret Garden CaféWith lashings of tea, dainty sandwiches and cakes to satisfy the bodily hunger of the refined audience, and literary titbits, plus quizzes, to allay the cultural hunger of the most discerning, this event was a hit, a very palpable hit!

Sheila Chapman writes:
The secret garden was covered in snow just as the tables inside were covered with white pristine table cloths. There were also flowers and an eclectic set of china culled from jumble sales, charity shops and home cupboards.  A giant teapot was placed on our table to be followed in succession by sandwiches (including cucumber sandwiches, and we did later hear an extract from The Importance of Being Ernest), scones (with choice of creams plus jam) and, on a cake stand, a mixture of very lovely individual cakes plus biscuits and jam tarts. We could not stop eating and, I am ashamed to confess, our table called for more.

It was terrific to eat a proper tea and we heard how Anna the 7th Duchess of Bedford is credited with creating the afternoon tea to fill the 'sinking feeling' she experienced between lunch and dinner - although how anyone could even contemplate a dinner after this feast I do not know.

But we had work to do as well: quizzes (literary of course) and a word game which you might like to try - make as many words as you can from the LitFest's theme 'Lives and Loves'. There was also a satisfyingly complex scoring system from which it emerged that we had won a prize -what joy, it was a cream egg (by you know who).

All this plus performances and readings- all overseen from the window rail by the Mad Hatter's hat, the Dormouse (nestled in a teacup), and the White Rabbit.

Our thanks to the multi-tasking Far Headingley Village society team (cooks, performers, waitresses and cloakroom attendants) and Tony from the Secret Garden Café 

This was a labour of love and we all loved it!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

'Spoken Word' at City of Leeds School

Sally Bavage writes:
Billed as a ‘competition for young writers and performers’, some of our young poets showed first-night nerves at the second poetry ‘slam’ event rehearsal – but stepping up to the mike under the spotlights, with the warm support of family and friends in the audience soon gave their courage wings.  And they flew. How lovely to see the nerves dissolve when the words started to flow and the mood of the evening willed them to reach inside and find their inner John Cooper Clarke. 

Three rounds of the competition gave each performer the opportunity to select the original poems they had written that reflected differences in topic, range and style.  Pathos, anger, loss, longing, looking back, looking ahead, joy, pain – all here in spades. The commitment and talent in this school shone a beacon on all that is so valuable about the way that poetry allows something deeply-felt to be explored in a medium that is both edgy and safe, that allows explanation not exploitation.  Michael Gove, you’d have to be there to know what you are missing.

“I write to forget the world, I write ‘cos no-one’s listening” - Hyab Bereket, in ‘Don’t know what to write.’

“You can’t take my shine” – and we certainly couldn’t as Ghyraiss M’Poussa rapped in ‘Superboy’.  In ‘Unleashed’ an angry cry of “Do you not see me?” resounded over the whole studio.  A poet as well as co-host of the event with Antonio Bessa in a bravura performance of confidence.  Both made for the stage.

“Shut up and listen to my wise words, Don’t hate,” Ben Brennan told us in ‘What’s the matter’. Later, his ‘One love’ included “The first kiss …I loved every millisecond of it.”   “Just accept that I’m different” he pleaded in ‘Don’t judge me’ before going back to his place on the technical sound team again. 

“A knot inside your tummy like butterflies flying backwards” was part of Shannen Oddy’s Heartbeat fear.’  “I might be at the bottom but I’m still trying” came from ‘Sadness.’ “We can’t recycle life but we can waste it” resonated not only with the audience listening to ‘Life moving’ but also won her the Best Line award from the judges.

“The earth is flashed in lightning” according to Farhan Khan in ‘Nature is revealed.’  A serious young man who averred that “As long as we’re together, I will love you forever” in his version of ‘Love.’ Still serious in ‘The devils are back’ with “I thought I’d be OK but I’m broken into pieces.”
Then Antonio performed his first poem, ‘Rhythm’ – “It’s every person’s goal to be perfect; This is who I choose to be.”  ‘Earliest memories’ told us that “Now I am in England but I want to go back to my home, my Africa, that happiness, that belonging.”  Powerful performance, powerful message too.

Louisa Kwofie didn’t need her script at all to tell us about ‘My understanding’ – “Forget the past.  I’m by your side. Live.”  ‘My life’ told her “Mother, I will make you happy, I love you dearly.” 

Tafadzwa Mokgwathi’s ‘Home’ was poignant and included “I lose myself in the memory.  A past lit by the light of a fire” hinted at darker things.  It won her the award of Best Poem from the three judges.

Charlize Engelbracht also contributed to some of the Master of Ceremonies duties before ‘Not to love him’ told us that “He was never mine.  Momma said, Never fall in love with a guy who isn’t ready to worship the ground you walk on.”  My goodness, old heads on young shoulders.  “I love thee, and with thee my heart is anchored”, in ‘My Africa,’ again spoke of the longing for homeland. 

Neelam Chohan took us to the first break with ‘Where’s the love’ – “Love is trust, honesty, no cries, no lies.”  And then she blew us all away singing her cover of Alicia Keys’ ‘Girl on Fire’ – such a powerful voice and we watched as her confidence just soared along with the notes.  Fantastic.

Jade Gilbertson is a more accomplished performance poet, having already worked with Leeds Young Authors.   She found the evening “inspiring” and “a unique experience,” she said when asked.   She also admonished us in ‘Our generation’ to “Tell the world, Peace is in, Violence is out.”

Courtney Morton in ‘Remember’ spoke of “The empty space in the chair”. Rather chilling.

Emma Rose wondered, in ‘Valentine,’ if it was worth it to “Spend all day chafing your feet in high heels.  Get rid of Valentine’s Day. Pointless.” She found ‘Angel of the North’ both a “Rusting massiveness” and a very sad reminder of a broken family.

Finally, Darren Phillip’s ‘Til death do us part’ reminded us in Headingley LitFest 2013: Lives and Loves that “Love is about the heart and the rest power within.”  He won the judges’ hearts and was awarded Best Overall Performance.

We were also richly rewarded by a performance of breakdancing from Shane Fenton and two young colleagues, Beanz and Georgina (an ex-pupil of City of Leeds), who perform as ‘Speak to the Streets’.  They give up their time to encourage youngsters to use dance and celebrating hip-hop as an expression of energy rather than get involved with guns and gangs and knives.  “It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at!  Stay positive and passionate.  Love life.”  Poetry in motion, too, as they defied gravity and the expectations of what a human body can do.   

Thanks to our three judges – June Diamond of Headingley LitFest, Carrie-Ann Merifield from City of Leeds music department and Saji Ahmed from Leeds Young Authors, who finished the night with an original performance poem, Freedom.’   “Poetry in life”, he said, “is not just Shakespeare, good though he is, but it is in songs, books, the world around you.”  Thanks, too, to artist Michelle Scally Clarke for all her weeks of workshops to nurture and encourage the poet in each performer, and to Jonnie Khan (who was part of the sound team on Refugee Boy  at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, on till 30th March).  What a feast of talents.

Performances in poetry, dance, music, songs.  If whooping was a sport for medallists, then the assembled crowd in the Drama Studio won gold. What a noise!  What a night! 

Leeds Combined Arts Cultural Poetry & Music Evening

Doug Sandle writes:
Leeds Combined arts lived up to its title with a programme that included poetry, song, music and visual art in a multicultural presentation that featured several languages and traditions. The evening was varied but always interesting and engaging, including some exceptional performances of quality and skill that were received with appreciative enthusiasm by a room full audience. IMOWI, (Indian Music On Western Instruments) opened the proceedings with a fusing of background recorded sitar music with live flute and tabla providing an overlay of more western musical forms, which skilfully fused and counterpointed with the sitar background in a meditative and relaxing opening.

Local poet Bill Fitzsimons followed with a rhyming evocation of his Irish background, opening with Dublin Boy that told of his love of words and poetry. His Irish past was evoked in Back Home and in the second half of the evening Teanga Dhύchais, which was read in Irish Gaelic, ironically lamented his frustration in not being proficient in his ‘mother tongue’. His poem Searching was for me the more evocative and powerful of his contributions, perhaps for not being restricted by the constraints of rhyming couplets, but also for its imagery and expressiveness – it ended as follows:

A gang of raucous ravens mock me
from tall trees and my spirit slumps.

There is no revelation here, no mystical
bonding with ancient ghosts – merely
inadequate memory and a longing
for a childhood that was never mine.

Jacqueline Zacharias from York read work from her Poems on the River Ouse, which were powerfully delivered evocations of nature, myth, folk lore and her personal responses to the river. Her strong presentation beautifully captured the moods and nuances of the river and its landscape in a reading in which voice and body combined - her arm and hand moving as if in a dance with the words and the images she brought forth. Her homage to the Ouse climaxed with a powerful incantation of the sublime and darker supernatural forces of the river – an engrossing performance.

Poetry and folk songs from Russia, spanning over 250 years, were sung and recited by Natasha Mwitta that included work by Pushkin, Tsvetajeva and Pasternak. A regular contributor to Combined Arts, Natasha confidently engaged the audience with both Russian and English versions and the poetic tones and cadences of the Russian language were sensitively expressed to perhaps surprise the non Russian speakers in the audience (99%?) with its lyricism.

The ‘unexpected’ happening of the evening were two presentations that included some actual paintings, held aloft by a volunteer, while local artist Lilliane Gosling explained the origins of her subject matter. Drawing upon myths and folk tales from different eras and cultures, Lilliane’s art illustrates and explores the narratives and their symbolic meanings. In a delivery that was assessable but informed, she recounted the fascinating background to each of the pictures displayed. The audience were intrigued as she deconstructed the imagery to reveal their wider cultural meanings and uses, drawing upon feminist analysis as well as the psychology of archetypes. Her painting The Waq Wag Tree, for example illustrates a mariners’ folk tale about a mythical tree that grows women, but which is both beautiful but empty. The artist having used words to inspire her paintings, the paintings are then used for further words by popular local poet Linda Marshall in poetic responses that were presented in her usual sharply crafted and observed manner. For example, Lilliane’s painting of the Waq Waq tree and Linda’s poem are as below:                                                    

Have you heard of the Waq Waq tree?                                                          
Eyes hang off it like berries.
Skulls surround it like fallen fruit.                                 
Once it was a tree of human heads                                 
All speaking at the same time
In convoluted languages.
If someone had stuck an apple
Into each of those mouths,
It still wouldn’t have been an apple tree,
Or a silent tree.
Look at its glittery jewelled colours!
It is the tree of paradise, of earth, of hell.
Its vociferous lips agree
There is only one word for pleasure
And that is pain.

IMOWI having opened the evening were also featured several times elsewhere in the programme.  Maisie Bannister delightfully played the classical guitar featuring Etude 6 by the Cuban guitarist and composer Leo Brouwer. Sam Lewis on the saxophone and John Ball on tabla closed the evening as they played to a background sitar playing Ahir Bhairav, a Hindustani classical raga. The tones of the sitar provided a background like a rippling meandering brook as the saxophone soared, fluttered and swooped above it like a singing bird – it was an exquisite piece to end the evening, skilfully executed.

However, earlier in opening the second half of the presentation, IMOWI had provided perhaps for many the ‘show stopper’ of the evening  – two songs, one from North Africa and the other from Bengal, sung by Vanessa Chuturghoon, accompanied most professionally by guitarist Joe Harris. Both were most beautifully sung, (in Swahili and Bengali), with a haunting and poetic voice that sonorously filled the room with its lingering notes and hypnotic rhythms.

Carol Downing’s Combined Arts evening has become a regular feature of the Headingley LitFest and, as this evening ably demonstrated, their contribution has gone from strength to strength.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

If love is the answer, what was the question?

Sally Bavage writes:
Peter Spafford
Peter Spafford  began this evening of words and music with a quick poem that melded the trial lines left on the ancient exhibition typewriters in the Terry family house in York which is now open to the public – yes, that family of chocoholics and no, not produced by monkeys but youngsters more used to computers with cut ‘n’ paste than cutting words.  The final line?  Love life, love chocolate.

Two songs from Peter set the words of George Borrow - a nineteenth century lyrical travel writer - to his own blues-style keyboard accompaniment (Sweet Things) and then Slow Cooker, a more jazzy homage to extracting and savouring life’s flavours at a more gentle pace.

Gloria (Jeffries) was up next with four songs accompanied by guitar.  Leeds Brig by the ‘river of Aire’ was followed by a song inspired by Shakespeare’s line ‘The iron tongue of midnight hath tolled twelve’ from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It was about about searching for love.  Other lines from Titania included:

The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts
Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose,
And on old Hiems' thin and icy crown
An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds
Is, as in mockery, set.

Then as now…

The Sheffield Fox was based on the work of John Clare, the early nineteenth century poet who celebrated rural life, and then finally Song finished a delightful set that explored love of nature through the ages. Gloria varied the tone and the mood expertly, to the warm and appreciative pleasure of the audience.

Matthew Hedley-Stoppard
Poet Matthew Hedley Stoppard took a more light-hearted look at life.  Fresh from a children’s party – we all shuddered for him – and probably still OD-ing on cake, his set of witty ditties was a change of mood.  The Pyramus and Thisbe of Matlock kissed virtually through the plexiglass of a Post Office counter, pensioners long past seduction.  A first house in Leeds felt a bit like a Wendy House to young marrieds who were still settling in to the awe of being grown-ups. Back to Matlock for an ode about what goes on in the parks – and your blogista has been there and could see, from Matthew’s vivid lines, exactly what he meant.  Rioting in London was the scene for a tragedy as a widower saw his home burn down and with it the memories of his wife.  

Other poems included the finding of abandoned crutches in a local park and a new version of Ten Milk Bottles.  Matthew’s poetry is that of observation of the small things that make up life and love – and love of life.  For more of his work, go to in May when his latest collection A Family Under Glass will be published. 

Maggi Stratford
Maggi Stratford and Peter dueted four songs, all rather melancholy, mournful and melodic.  A Victorian merchant ship, the Smiling Thru, comes to grief, leaving the wreckage of the boat and the men strewn on the rocks.  Now there’s a metaphor.  L’Eclousier, by Jacques Brel, follows a canal lock-keeper’s life, fishing out the drowned along with other flotsam.  John Anderson, words by Robert Burns, made the older members of the audience smile to hear of life in love in old age, and Love Letters Straight from the Heart was the golden oldie to take us to the interval.

A quick poem from Peter introduced the second half – Not Waving – riffed on young love, then the young We Be Happy  – Alex Rushfirth on keyboard, Francesca (Frankie) Pidgeon on acoustic guitar and vocals, and accompanied this time by Joe Campbell on electric guitar - took to the stage like experienced hands.  The confidence of youth was evident in their three numbers, each with Frankie reminding me of a young Marianne Faithful with that delightfully breathy voice.  All the gentle songs were about love, for, of course, even at that age it can be painful and powerful.  They will be playing again at HEART on 29 June as part of Headingley LitFest’s first Youth Fringe.  Do catch them. You can find out more about them on Facebook (

We Be Happy
We were moving towards the mellow end of the evening: some pithy poem portraits from Peter about the important things in life for some of the elderly at a lunch club – Best Thing, This is My Life, Time, Bikes – and one that referenced the opening night of this year’s LitFest on Friday 8 March with a look at the conflicts in those of dual Irish/English nationality. Two more ballads from Gloria, three final songs from Peter and Maggi, again with a French theme and we were ready to go home.  Not quite – the final song encouraged audience participation as we sangalonga Bowie, cuecards helpful here, to his single Where Are We Now?

As long as there is sun (repeat)
As long as there is rain (repeat)
As long as there is fire (repeat)
As long as there is me
As long as there is you.

Life and love in a simple refrain.  It may have been Arctic outside, but inside the Heart Centre it was warm and mellow. Thanks to Peter Spafford and friends for making us love life.

Richard Wilcocks adds:
It was exciting to witness the birth of a new collaboration between Leeds's best known chanteuse Maggi Stratford and Peter Spafford on keyboard. Teamed up with the spirit of the brilliant Jacques Brel, they are sure to go far. Having seen Maggi with Encore!! on previous occasions at various venues (including the Howard Assembly Room), I was struck by the ease with which the two of them were able to convey pathos and charm. Bis! 

Maggi et Peter, vous avez créé en nous 
ces sentiments spéciaux, passionnés, et nous 
sommes convaincus que nous étions dans un café de France.

Photos - Richard Wilcocks

Kay Mellor in the New Headingley Club

Kay Mellor in New Headingley Club.   Photo by Richard Wilcocks
Sally Bavage writes:
Tea and homemade cake - the walnut sponge was chosen by our guest - revived the forty or so frozen souls who battled in to the New Headingley Club on Saturday afternoon for a question-and-answer session with our very own heroine, scriptwriter, actress, director - and much more besides.  And Kay's smile and personality would melt the North Pole.  Chutzpah. Pizzazz.  Whatever the word, she has it.

What scripts hasn't Kay written over the past decades!   Theatre first, after her schooldays at West Park School and her degree in Drama from the sadly-missed Bretton Hall.  Each had one inspiring teacher who had recognised her natural writing talent and given her encouragement to “just get it down in writing.” Kay has a perceptive eye for detail, a keen ear for dialogue and an ability to bring people to life so vividly that we can probably all name someone in our own lives who is just like one of her characters.  As she lives very locally, it could indeed be us!  She confessed that she does use her friends, family, those she meets casually, dinner party conversations, what she reads  - all of these as inspiration for her storytelling.  

Her latest story, The Syndicate, series two, had just started on BBC1, and we were treated to some tantalising glimpses of the second episode which hint at what lies in store for the new Lottery-winning characters who work in the lower end of the embattled NHS.  Celebrations of the win are clearly foreshadowed, with some jealousy and heartache to come - but without these it wouldn't be a Kay Mellor script.  She finds people endlessly fascinating and has no desire yet to write her autobiography whilst the ordinary lives of others in extraordinary circumstances provide such rich material.

Unlike series such as Band of Gold, wich she researched with Bradford sex workers, she prepared for this by talking to Lottery winners over the telephone rather than immersing herself deeply in their lives.  She incorporates psychology as well to carry the story and does not write for a particular actor, but does her homework thoroughly then just writes fluently and keeps going.  When asked why she had used the Syndicate theme for a second series, as with other themes on which she has written several series, she made it clear that she stops when she has said what she wanted to say, explored all facets of people's characters and captured the 'Zeitgeist'.  The Syndicate gave her a vehicle to examine the life-changing consequences of rags-to-riches, and the follow-on story holds less interest for her. She is not impelled to write a moral tale, just to tell a tale and pose questions that leave viewers the opportunity to engage with their own viewpoint.

“Would she ever set her stories outside West Yorkshire?”  she was asked. She countered that she knows the area, lives here in Leeds and loves the place and the people.  The theme for this year's LitFest 2013: Lives and Loves in a nutshell.  Would she respond to the blandishments of Steven Spielberg and move to Hollywood? No again, although a small part of her would love to have that power to produce blockbuster film scripts like Richard Curtis - but family and especially the grandchildren exerted a far greater pull than anything Steven could come up with.  We laughed at her anecdotes of being in conversation with the great mogul himself.  Steven?  Steven who?  Sorry, I'm losing signal - I'll call back after my granddaughter has finished in Topshop.  She is now overseeing the two writers working on the US version of The Syndicate and does get to go to Tinseltown rather than Tinshill just occasionally.

Yes, she does receive a huge amount of mail, not just fan mail, but often from viewers who have been so touched by her stories that they send her very personal information, cries for help really.  She does answer them, briefly, and feels privileged that so many trust her with their confessions.  She also had some advice for young writers trying to 'make it.'  “Can you write your story premise in six lines?”  It is the idea that is the most important thing; good writing will only hang from a sound structural base.  

The choice of which actors will deliver the dialogue she has crafted is negotiated with the producer and casting director after she has written the part. Only once did she dislike who had been cast for a leading role and have to go away to re-write to play to the strengths of the actress.  On that early occasion it was an improvement, but it doesn't happen nowadays.  She produces real dialogue, in two columns, so that it can be intercut, interjections made, overlapped, cut off - just as in real life.  Real conversations in other words - just as we could hear in the audience as we were leaving; even from Finlay who at 19 weeks old was probably the youngest member of any of our audiences this year.

And her ambitions for the future?  Well, 'Steven' had suggested she really ought to write and direct movies, but they would have to be about 'her people', the ones she knows and whose voices she can hear.  Perhaps … watch this space?  She is still very busy running a business and ensuring that what she wants to talk about gets transferred to an audience.  When asked, now that she is growing older, if she thought she would write more parts for older people, she agreed - the babyboomers in her own life gave lots of scope for future plotting.  Scriptwriting for the theatre, the television and other media was still a delightful way to earn a living - if Shakespeare did it, then it was good enough for her!

And finally, does she play the Lottery herself?  No, she has enough richness in her life and is happy to follow the maxim of Ian Fleming when he said “It reads better than it lives.” Our audience plunged out into the freezing spring weather, replete with cake, and looking forward to the next instalments of local life, and the life of locals, that Kay can craft.  Will we be in it? - that may be another story!

Trio Literati - Straight from the Heart

Friday, 22 March 2013

Roger McGough in the Howard Assembly Room

Richard Wilcocks writes:

Roger McGough did not disappoint: the capacity audience at the magnificent Howard Assembly Room loved him to bits. As he read from As Far As I Know, adding witty commentary and extra personal narratives, the laughs and murmurs of appreciation came at frequent intervals, in spite of (because of?) the melancholy subject matter – moving poems on growing old, lost youth, love and death. At one point he reminded me of the comedian Paul Merton, not in appearance but in the wordplay, the wit and the ability to see things afresh, from interesting angles. At another point I was struck by the dark cloud I saw looming behind some of the poems, Knock Knock for example:

The man from the murder
Still on the loose

The man from the nightmare
The man from the fear…

…Did I hear someone knock
Who’s that at the door?

Or in Nice Try:

As we speak, they’re out there
Scythes at the ready, playing hide and seek.

Me under a bush, you in the shade
Someone counting to ten, sharpening a blade.

And I amongst many was deeply impressed by Not For Me a Youngman’s Death, an update on possibly his most famous poem of the Sixties, when he was more fast-living and went to all-night parties, Let Me Die a Youngman’s Death. It was suggested by Carol Ann Duffy, and he tells us about what it’s like now:

My nights are rarely unruly.
My days of all-night parties
Are over, well and truly.
No mistresses no red sports cars
No shady deals no gangland bars
No drugs no fags no rock ‘n’ roll
Time alone has taken its toll

Creating a league table of top contemporary poets is likely to be at best contentious, at worst woundingly humiliating, but that is what the poetic powers-that-be did four decades ago. They were connected with Poetry Review, the influential magazine of the Poetry Society, and included the likes of Andrew Motion, our previous poet laureate. Roger McGough, often associated by commentators with The Beatles, popular and famous as a member of The Scaffold with its Lily The Pink and Aintree Iron, a Liverpudlian with working class origins, was put into the ranks of the second division, at the bottom. That’s the problem with popularity – some people think you can’t be profound as well, and that to be clever you have to be arcane. Perhaps it was thought simply that the scousers were getting above themselves.

It rankled with him, and now it comes out in this latest collection. One  poem in it which he did not read – Scorpio – begins with what the popular John Betjeman wrote: ‘Our poems are part of ourselves. They are our children and we do not like them to be made public fools of by strangers’. McGough continues:
I will never reveal the names of those strangers,
Fellow poets some of them, and literary critics
Who have made public fools of my children.
They know who they are. Those still alive, that is.
Their names inscribed on the base of a paperweight.

But McGough rises above mere spleen-venting, which is not his style, as anyone who has been charmed by him as the presenter of Radio 4’s Poetry Please well knows. He is, in fact, a bit of a saint, the ‘patron saint of poetry’ in the words of today’s poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, and the wheel has turned: in addition to being a CBE, he is the new President of the Poetry Society. There are certain ironies to savour there. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Love Lines - Teresa Brayshaw and Friends in HEART Café

Sally Bavage writes:
Escorted individually to our allotted seats in the pop-up 'restaurant' with communal refectory-style table, for one night only in the Heart café, audience members were immediately immersed in the evening's glamorous yet mysterious atmosphere created by the 'cast.'  “Glass of wine?”  “Do sit here and make yourself comfortable.”   “Help yourself to the grapes.”  Scattered hearts on the red and white tablecloths, live and mellow notes from 'Blue Moon' and 'Funny Valentine' set the mood.  Expectant.  Intrigued.

The 'cast' of nine performers sat amongst the 'guests' at the table and began to speak to each other, and us, about love. We talk of it, plead for it, cry about it, don't we? We write of it, don't we? - letters, emails, texts.  We skype, meet, date, don't we?  So love 'lines' - from sonnets and songs, from films and poems - were sent across the table in a medley of conversations that mixed medium with message.  

Lines were started at one place, continued through time and place, source and country and ended up echoing round the table in ghostly fragments of conversations.  Like the love lines and lifelines on our palms, talking of love is endless.

Mollie Bloom discoursed movingly on it.  Jack and Rose from the Titanic pledged to each other within our earshot.  Shakespeare questioned us from the distant past, answered by conversations between lovers from a more recent age.  Loving messages and refrains from across the centuries 'spoke' to each other across the years.  Was that Pliny? Henry the Eighth?  Rosa Luxembourg?  Mrs Beeton?  Admiral Nelson?  Napoleon? Empress Josephine?  Robert Burns?  Mrs Wordsworth?  Lord Byron?  Shirley Bassey?  The Artist Formerly Known As Prince?  Frank Sinatra?  Oscar Wilde?  Robert Browning?  John Lennon?  

Yes, imagine all of them in the room conversing about their desires and longings, setbacks and joys, domestic disasters and sexual frissons.  Could we spot the joins in these conversations?  No, there is a universal language that lovers use not bound by time or date - the same sweeping human emotions seem to have been expressed in words that differ little from age to age.  “Give me my memories” begs one rejected lover.  Like letters from the front in WW1, the words sent back and forth between separated lovers in post-war Russia echo the pain of those distanced from all that is human and warm.  

Like an audience at the ballet or opera, the 'guests' wanted to clap each individual piece that was both clever and affecting but we could not, and did not, break the mood and spoil the moments.  A final refrain from “Until we meet again” seemed most apt, as the 'guests' fervently asserted that we hope it will be at next year's LitFest!

An hour of truly absorbing entertainment, with masterful performances in memorisation, song and playing of parts from a committed cast and technical support team that included those returning especially from Spain, France and points of the English compass.  For love, naturally.  Commissioned for LitFest 2013, this premiere performance owes many thanks to: Steve Atkinson, Teresa Brayshaw, Hannah Butterfield, Lisa Fallon, Joely Fielding, Louise Hill, Rochnee Mehta, Emma Sargison, Noel Witts - with support from Charlotte Blackburn and Matt Sykes-Hooban. Oliver Bray took photos and Ben Mills filmed the event.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Lives and Loves - a celebration

Richard Wilcocks writes:
This annual event, made possible by the generosity of Jimbo’s Fund, was as stimulating and emotional as ever. It was compered this year by James Nash, who introduced each reader with his habitual good humour, making helpful comments and observations where necessary. James is the tutor for one of the two creative writing groups involved – the Osmondthorpe Writers – and he sat at the front next to the tutor of the other one, based at HEART, Alison Taft. The new experience of reading their own work in front of a strange audience -  an extremely supportive one it must be said - required courage from some of the readers, but there was no lack of that.

Michael Taylor sang Lonely Girl from memory, and was much appreciated. Less melancholy was Lee Rowley, whose love poem Laura could easily be set to music. Joe Geraghty’s short story was about sneezing, handkerchiefs and perfume as well as love, with amusing references to hay fever and Piriton, and Richard Sharpe’s My Girlfriend was full of charm. Siobhan Maguire Broad’s nostalgic Why I love films included her fond memories of eating sugar jellies, The Jungle Book and old cinemas filled with cigarette smoke, Carl Flynn gave us his neatly-rhymed Don’t touch me without not a glance at the script and Ted Gregory read a colleague’s collection of childhood memories from Summer 1956.

Geoffrey Vickers’s Letter Home was from a soldier to his sweetheart back at home, the one whose photo he carries in a leather case, and David Newton’s The Place I Love, with its carefully-crafted abrupt, short phrases was about flying Chinook helicopters in dangerous circumstances, Vietnam for example. Both of these could return for next year’s LitFest, the theme of which will be Conflict.

Mandey Hudson made us laugh with her Elephants, huge creatures who have to be shampooed, and Moira Garland delivered two literary tours de force  with a brief story – Balloons – and a funny-but-true tale about not getting around to actually writing the three hundred words required for the weekly creative writing session entitled Ode To The Procrastination of Writing. Heads nodded in recognition as she read. She was followed by Winkie Whiteley reading her moving The thing I love – Mum.

Caroline Wilkinson’s adventurous This Block was made up largely of short phrases – “hungry for the touch”, “deafening closeness” -  and was a kind of celebration of movement and the senses, as associated with lovers. Fabian Merinyo-Shirima, who originates from Tanzania, read Kilimanjaro, and warned me to be careful if I ever tried to climb the mountain, because there have been so many fatalities. His poem was full of information, like an article in National Geographic Magazine, together with a feeling of love for his homeland.

Ted Gregory read Michael Freeman’s Don’t Lose Your Paddle with aplomb, a sad story of loathing between two siblings, one of whom tries to drown out memories with alcohol, and Ruth Middleton, in her true-to-life Creating a Ripple, put her focus on the everyday nature of a woman’s existence. Robert Thorpe’s I love helicopters included his thoughts on the pleasures of cleaning the machines, and Unwind by Howard Benn was a beautiful concluding piece: “The sun tucks down beneath the sheets… while lovers do battle in their beds…”

Information about the creative writing classes run by the WEA can be found on or by contacting or

Monday, 18 March 2013

Rebel Girls/The Woodhouse Woman

Jill Liddington

Lucy Bourne, Maggie Mash, Beth Kilburn

Mary Francis writes:
Headingley Library was packed out for this lively double bill. The event was inspired by Jill Liddington's superb research into little known Yorkshire fighters for women's suffrage.

Rebel Girls, the book, published in 2006, is a tour de force - and also a riveting read! It features an astonishing number of local women - from a range of backgrounds and from the West Riding in particular - whose lives, exploits and sometimes even names had slipped into obscurity. It gives the lie to the notion that only middle and upper class women were interested in women’s rights and truly makes you understand the courage that it took at that time to step forward - out of line and into the front line, with all the vitriol and abuse that generally followed.

Jill talked about three women from Leeds who epitomised the waves of the early 20th century movement: Isabella Ford, the wealthy suffragist who introduced the issues to ordinary women in Leeds but did not want to go to extremes: Mary Gawthorpe, the diminutive working class woman from Woodhouse who was prepared to go to prison for the cause, and Leonora Cohen, who progressed from making marmalade for the Suffrage Movement to nearly dying from her hunger strike.

Questions from an enthralled audience ranged from the problems of researching 'ordinary' women (including the value of the internet, especially when subjects had moved to other countries in later life) to the impact of the Russian revolution in precipitating change.

Jill's review of the facts was followed by an imaginative dramatization of key moments in the life of Mary Gawthorpe by members of Theatre of the Dales. This wonderful drama, commissioned by Headingley LitFest and supported by the Arts Council, explored Mary's motivation through events from her childhood; changing her name from Nellie to a more forceful and admired Mary, and led us into the sheer exhilaration of being caught up in an inspiring movement that moved from protest to prison.

We went home humming suffragette songs. A brilliant evening!
Click here to go to Jill Liddington's website

Photos by Richard Wilcocks

Meanwhile, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

Sally Bavage and Mary Francis write:
 Saturday afternoon saw a huge audience hear Benjamin Zephaniah (author of the book Refugee Boy) and Lemn Sissay (adaptor of the work for the stage) in conversation - and what a joyful occasion it was! A fascinating session in which both writers were thoughtful, informative and funny.

Eight years after Zephaniah first received requests for a stage adaptation of his book, he had agreed and, because he knew Sissay, had then left it all to him. On Saturday last he had not at that time even seen the play, though was to do so later.

We learned a great deal more about the two men as they talked and responded to a host of questions, including some things quite surprising - to me, at least. One such snippet was that when poet Benjamin Zephaniah was about to attempt his first novel he asked for advice on how to begin from a friend of his, the very successful writer of historical novels, Philippa Gregory - and her advice was spot-on!

.. and so to the play itself.

Powerful.  Thought-provoking.  An emotional journey.  All well-tried phrases but nevertheless very apt descriptions of a must-see new performance in the Courtyard theatre.  Above the display of art in the Courtyard foyer is the phrase: “A story about arriving, belonging and finding home.”  This adaptation explores this theme through the eyes of Alem, the Refugee Boy, whose arrival and wait for family to claim him takes us all on a journey.

The sense of displacement starts with the ingenious set of many piled suitcases and there are many narrative metaphors for the changes in Alem, his new friends and his families whose lives subtly intertwine. Politics determines his journey from Africa to England and his moves round the south.  What is the meaning of ‘home’ when yours is destroyed, moved, changed? Your cultural references change?  Your food and language adapt?  You will ponder as you leave the theatre to go home – wherever that is.

The play runs until 30 March.

Tell It Your Way, with the Yarnsmith of Norwich

Sheila Chapman writes:

4pm, Saturday 16 March, New Headingley Club

We were called from our lovely tea and cakes (thanks to Leeds Voice Day) by the beating of a drum to meet our mediaeval tale teller, Dave Tonge.

We sat in a semi-circle around Dave and the children sat on the sheepskin rugs on the floor. Dave started by asking us to solve a riddle. It was a long riddle (as befits a story teller) involving a bird asleep on the branch of a tree, our desperate need for the wood from the branch and , here’s the catch, the fact that the branch needed to be taken without disturbing the bird, for if the bird was disturbed  something nasty would happen. All our suggested solutions to the riddle were useless and we grew increasingly desperate. Someone even suggested shooting the bird but we passed on very quickly from that being all very sound Headingley anti-blood sport types.  In the end a wise-woman in the front row suggested we might wait until the bird woke up and flew away – of course that was the answer, doh!!!

And so the afternoon went on. Robin Hood won an archery competition (we gasped as he and his opponents demonstrated their skill and we applauded the final winning shots), a young man searched for and found his luck (it was NOT a happy ending), a man regretted finding a voice for his beautiful wife who had been previously dumb and, finally, it was proven that women are definitely brainier than men – wild cheers from the audience!

Throughout the event the children wriggled and squirmed on the rugs, they shot their hands in the air to answer questions, made off-the-wall suggestions for plot improvement and were so captivated by Dave’s performance that when he suggested, at one stage, that we might all draw closer they practically climbed in his pockets.

It was a terrific afternoon and Dave truly earned his title – Master Storyteller.

Sally Bavage writes:
Witty raconteur?  Life and soul of the party?  Dinner party leading light?  Thought not!  If you haven’t got one of those endless self-help books, then you should have come to this entertaining workshop giving hints and tips for those wishing to be any/all of the above, or intending teachers, or conference speakers …

One thing stood out amongst all the others at this afternoon event in the New Headingley Club – the sound of laughter.  Not polite, either – appreciative and joyful.  From first to last, Dave Tonge managed to coax a group of strangers to listen to him raptly, then interact with and perform to each other.

Tips on breathing, changes in voice, the use of gestures (appropriate for the age of the audience), the stance you use, using your eyes to capture and hold inclusive attention -  were all rehearsed.  The group tried telling a short story without using their hands or body movements – almost impossible.  Visualise the story you want to tell, chunk it down into comic-strip bite sizes – for if you The Narrator can ‘see’ the story then you can ensure your audience gets the picture too. And stories are pretty universal; there is not much alteration of the plotlines involved, more the adaptation of the tips above to carry the story to a mixed range of ages.

Record your story to hear it as a listener might, then refine it for pace, pitch and tone.  Write down keywords if it helps you to string it together coherently, using pauses and repeats to get the “Ooh”, the “Boo” and the “Hurrah” that you want. Above all, be yourself and share rather than perform.

Our Yarnsmith did indeed share and left a happy workshop wanting more. They got more too, as Dave went on to put his mouth where his tips were and, after tea and cake, led another session entitled Tavern Yard Tales. But that’s another story….

Our thanks to Leeds Voice Day who sponsored this event.