Friday, 19 December 2014

Lemn Sissay is coming to Headingley

Lemn Sissay        Photo: James Ross
Lemn Sissay MBE is now definitely booked for the next LitFest!

He'll be appearing at Leeds City Academy on Friday 20 March in the evening (you are all invited!) and will also speak at a masterclass for school students at Lawnswood on the same day.

Here is a selection of facts:

He is the author of several books of poetry alongside articles, records, public art and plays.

He was an official poet for the London Olympics.

His Landmark Poems are installed throughout Manchester and London, in venues such as The Royal Festival Hall and The Olympic Park.

He is associate artist at Southbank Centre, patron of The Letterbox CLub and The Reader Organisation and inaugural trustee of World Book Night.

Write this into your new diary now! Tickets available nearer the date.

More on Lemn in the coming weeks!

Friday, 5 December 2014

'Own Your Words' at Ralph Thoresby School

Sally Bavage writes:
Two dynamic teachers at Ralph Thoresby School, Kate Wolstenholme and Tom Stubbs, have got a great group of young people together in a poetry club they named Own Your Words. This started earlier this year and is growing week by week.  They are working towards a poetry slam on 2 April at the end of the main programme of LitFest 2015: Something Else.

Kate said, “Several of the group took part in the Ilkley Literature Festival this year, performing at Otley Courthouse alongside pupils from Leeds Grammar School, Fulneck and Gateways. The group all started off feeling uncomfortable on stage; it's so brilliant to see those same pupils transformed into seasoned performers who own the stage and their words!”

Kate has now secured support for Own Your Words to go on a week-long residential course for young writers run by the Arvon Foundation. Guests include Tiffany Murray and Marcus Sedgwick, both established authors of children’s fiction.

Thanks to a grant from the Outer North West Activities Fund, negotiated as part of the Headingley LitFest community programme of work with at least eight local schools, next term there will also be poetry performance coaching available on alternative Thursdays from 3.05 to 4.30 pm.  Established local poet performers like Michelle Scally Clarke will work with young people in the area who wish to come along and explore techniques for releasing their inner poet, using Ralph Thoresby as a hub venue.

One of the original members of Own Your Words, Nida Naqvi, is now in year 11 and helps run the class as part of her Duke of Edinburgh Award.  “I am very grateful for the opportunity to write poetry; it stimulates my creative mind and helps you grow as a person,” she said. She is a member of Leeds Young Authors ( and a fantastic role model for other young people who now “have gained so much self-knowledge and self-confidence they even volunteer to speak in assemblies.”   Emma Blane agreed, adding that the poetry sessions  “Are really fun, it gets your imagination going.”


'I, Robot' - James Nash at Spring Bank

Sally Bavage writes
'I Robot' at Spring Bank. Apologies to Isaac Asimov. 
Wednesday 3r December, and the assembly hall has thirty visitors and parents waiting with happy anticipation for the latest in Headingley LitFest’s poetry assemblies tutored and coached by James Nash, local writer and poet.   “Child:  We’ve got someone really important in the class today.  Daddy: Who? The Prime Minister?  An Olympic gold medallist?  Child: No, A Writer.  A Real Writer!”
James Nash with Luke Wrankmore                 Photo: Sally Bavage

Once again, James had worked with all of Year 4 on their ideas, initiated by their science work on circuits and switches, but taken to whole new levels by their originality and perceptive writing.  James: “Think writing.  Find inspiration.”  They did, in spades.  A robot is certainly Something Else in their world, and words, shared in front of the whole school.

“I dream of finding another robot to play with”
“I am building my replacement”
“I nip someone’s finger as an alarm clock”
“I am a very lonely robot, I don’t have a friend to play with but I’m not a bad robot”
“My magic single eye can give you a shock”
“I try to fit into your family but I don’t have any feelings or emotions”
“I am made of enchantment.”

Class teacher Luke Wrankmore said, “James works so successfully to bring out the creative talent in all our children.”  A sentiment echoed by the deputy headteacher Amy Houldsworth, who added how delightful it was to “See the whole class very much inspired.”  

For one girl, the best bit was “Reading my poem out,” and her parent wrote that she “was inspired to write independently at home – this is a first!  Thank you.”

The many parents there were fulsome in their praise for the way the work had developed both writing skills and confidence:  “..he [James] has been inspiring and leading the class for weeks.  It seems to me that with his additional leadership all the students have been particularly engaged in the process, where normally perhaps the ones with stronger literary skills might engage with activities like this more than some others.  Our daughter benefited and loved it, and so did we.”

From so many other expressions of enjoyment, perhaps this parent’s words stand as a testament to the value of what James produces: “One of the best assemblies I’ve seen at this school.  The children’s poetry was fantastic.  I hope they get to do more.”

And the last word goes to the children themselves.  Question:  What have you learned in this project?  “Poems are brilliant!”  “It increases your confidence.”  “Sharing others’ poems is fun.”  “So you can inspire people with your work.”  “You grow your confidence.”

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Metamorphosis at Weetwood Primary

James Nash with Josh Annis-Brown    Photo: Sally Bavage
Sally Bavage writes:
Year 5 were once again thrilled to be able to work with James Nash, as part of the Headingley LitFest community programme of work with schools, and read out their poems on Something Else to a packed assembly of classmates, Stage 2 peers, teachers and a throng of parents. 

“An amazing opportunity to read out their poems and write about their feelings,” said Josh Annis-Brown, classteacher.  

James has done “A fantastic job,” said headteacher Tarsem Wyatt and cheers rippled round the audience. The youngsters wrote from a caterpillar’s perspective about metamorphosing into something else, producing some prosaic truths and some delightful lines of poetry. 

Think back to when you were nine years old and trying to hold a microphone at the correct distance to pick up your words as well as your carefully crafted poem on a sheet of paper.  It takes the mastery needed for an adult to drink and eat at a buffet.  But mastery was indeed on show and delight and pride too in the performances.

“I have learnt how epic James is!” and “The awesome James Nash “ whilst “Poetry can be fun and if you work hard you can do anything,”  “Being and working with James” and “I have met, wrote and spoken to a famous poet” were two more of many highly positive opinions that class 5 offered. “You build up confidence in yourself,” and “The best thing is sharing my poem with my classmates and hearing their poems.”  Out of the mouths of …

Not just the babes but parents are equally supportive:
“An excellent opportunity to hear the work of a group of pupils.  The pupils have obviously been inspired and produced some beautiful pieces of work.”
“Great to see the children perform their poetry as well as having an insight into what they have been doing in school. I know from my son that having a ‘real life’ poet has inspired him and encouraged his own writing. Fabulous, thank you.”

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Sekabo – Utopia on t’Moors?

Sally Bavage writes:
Photo courtesy Shanghai Daily
Richard Woolley was founding Head of the Northern School of Film and Television at Leeds Metropolitan University (now Leeds Beckett University) as well as founding Dean of Film and TV at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, all part of an illustrious CV. You could describe him as a musician and composer.  Or filmmaker.  Or scriptwriter.  Morphing into a serious novelist.  

Speaking at a LitFest 'Between the Lines' event in the intimate surroundings of the Heart centre's café yesterday evening, he told his audience that he was first set thinking about the premise for this novel after watching Chris Patten in tears on the eve of the handover of Hong Kong, a place where the British tried out political, social and economic experiments which disturbed the watching Chinese.  And still disturb the present Hong Kong youth.

This imaginative teller of tales has written his third novel, Sekabo, strongly influenced by close to two decades living in Leeds and a decade living in Hong Kong.  It has two time frames – 1990 and 2097 – and two key locations – England and Sekabo.  It has two parallel plots that gradually interweave in sometimes expected, sometimes surprising ways, leaving you uncertain as to your powers of prediction.  Plots and sub-plots abound in a tale that is as much about entertaining contexts as it is about the fates of our heroine and hero.

Cover graphics designed by Daniel Reeve
The book is a lively “mix of research, imagination and personal experience”, clearly written by a writer employing strong visual imagery; it intercuts the plotting to maintain the suspense with the immersion in another timeframe.  Vonnegut undertones and many subliminal sci-fi references fuse into a book that really is Something Else. 

Be prepared to be surprised, drawn in, perhaps slightly shocked - there are a few raunchy episodes.  Most of all, enjoy the many references to local places around the North Yorkshire Moors.  You have probably walked there.  Prescient comparisons - political, social and technical - are referenced more obliquely but give many pauses for wry thought.  Utopia on t’Moors? 

And the denouement?  Ah, you’ll have to buy the book - or download it to an early prototype reading device that by 2097 will be viewed as a museum piece. 

Read this piece in The Shanghai Daily:

Thursday, 13 November 2014


Sekabo is the third novel by Richard, who as as well a novelist is a successful screenplay writer and film director. He was the founding Head of the Northern School of Film and Television at Leeds Metropolitan University (now Leeds Beckett University) and is a former Director of the Dutch Film Academy, founding Dean of Film and TV at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, inaugural holder of the Greg Dyke Chair of Film and Television at the University of York and, most recently, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Performance, Media and English at Birmingham City University. 

The café will be open especially for this free event, which is presented as part of the Between the Lines programme of Headingley LitFest. 

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Mimika - completely enchanting

Small Worlds - Saturday 1 November - Mimika


Gail Alvarez writes:
Waiting to be invited into the tent
Picking apples from an unsteady ladder,and the broken ankle that followed, did not stop Jenny, one half of Mimika children’s theatre, from working with partner Bill in four sell-out performances at the Heart centre in Headingley. Thanks go to her sister Sheila for helping out and ensuring the show must – and did – go on. Fortunately, Jenny's part in the production involved mainly crawling about, out of sight, on the floor of a large, custom-made, igloo-shaped tent.

Not long before the beginning
Old and young alike packed each show, which held audiences spellbound.  I half expected to see some of the adults sucking their thumbs too, so intent were they on the small world created inside the intimate and cosy world of the tent. Utterly absorbed by the unfolding drama, eyes wide, mouths agape.  The children in the audience too!  Lovely to hear  those children giggle in delight and stare in concern at a form of entertainment which was born thousands of years ago but which is still such a good medium for sparking imaginations.

No wonder that Mimika provide such a gentle but profound experience, taking us all to a (small) world we can see, hear, imagine, describe and talk about in our mind’s eyes and our internal conversations.  Film clips, hundreds of sound effects, music geared to the action, puppets and props create a microcosm of rural life for a small living things. The creatures get larger as the show develops. There are butterflies of various hues, a pink-spotted bug, honking geese (soprano and bass), a mother fox slinking through the woods and looking after cubs in the sett, a green lizard which is squashed by a child's bicycle before it can snap up flying insects, a girl straight out of a six year-old's drawing - for forty-five minutes the audience was captivated.  
Owls are always welcome

What ideas have been planted in our observers by these tiny tales?  Time will tell but storytelling always starts in the mind’s eye.

Audience comments include:
Mesmerising!  The detail is wonderful. Thank you for coming to Heart.  Please come again.  Everyone should see this.  Julia.

So wonderful to see handcrafted settings and such a different, unusual mixture of media.  Captivating!  Loved the foxes and bugs particularly! Music was beautiful too.  Would definitely come again! Luisa

Beautiful, engaging, very magical for the kids.  Would love to see more. Liz

A magical experience – I emerged bemused, enraptured – full of questions!  Thank you.  Lis

It was absolutely beautiful.  Magical.  I was almost crying which is unusual for me!  Thank you!  Lucy

Truly enchanting and I could not help but wonder at the huge amount of time and energy involved in the making and production of the performance - the art work, model making and the combination of digital film and immersive sound was inspired. The audience - young and old were truly engaged and spellbound. Douglas

Bill Parkinson and Jenny Ward                                Photo: Richard Wilcocks

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Inspiring stuff for Ilkley - and Headingley

Sally Bavage writes:
Osmondthorpe and Headingley Writers work their magic again

Saturday night at the Ilkley Literature Festival Fringe and two groups who collaborated to put on a fantastic performance at the Headingley LitFest in March joined together once again to reprise some of their work and add in a few new pieces.  Inspiring stuff – despite that you were sometimes holding your breath with admiration and awe as feelings and effort were laid bare.

The groups were first brought together early in January 2014 by a partnership between the WEA and Headingley LitFest, supported by a grant from Jimbo’s Fund.  LitFest commissioned local author and WEA tutor Alison Taft to provide significant additional tuition to wannabe writers and poets from the Osmondthorpe Resource Centre.  The new creative writing tutor at the ORC, Maria Preston, did her group proud as compere, with strong technical support from centre manager David Fletcher. Their belief in their writers shone out, and it was wonderful to see the self-belief developing in our performers, despite the shaking hand-held papers and quavering voices.

The groups have produced a heartwarming 48-page anthology of their writing and poems, available for only £2 from the Osmondthorpe Centre.

Contact for further information.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Grim Tales from the War

 – but love, laughs and life too.          Tuesday 14 October

Gail Alvarez writes:

Richard Wilcocks, Secretary of Headingley LitFest, treated a large and supportive audience at the Ilkley Literature Festival Fringe in the Ilkley Playhouse to an absorbing selection of anecdotes from a wide range of sources.  The medical practitioners – the VADs, matron, staff nurses, RAMC surgeons – and the patients all had a representative in the book to tell their tale.  Medical care and practice in WW1 had many surprises: for examples the team of privately-sponsored masseuses (yes, really), smoking in bed as the norm, a singular lack of pain relief or antibiotics and the surgery that rebuilt faces and shattered lives.

His extensive interviews with surviving relatives in the Yorkshire region had provided accounts based on personal memorabilia and recollections and Stories from the War Hospital, first published in March 2014 by Headingley LitFest, details life at the 2nd Northern Military Hospital in Headingley, known at the time as Beckett Park Hospital.  Two years went into the research and the writing, exemplified tonight by the extraordinary true tales of Private Robert Bass and VAD Nurse Dorothy Wilkinson, just two from the dozens in the book. 

Richard is an entertaining speaker/performer, with a talk illustrated by snatches of song, poetry and racy gossip as well as some of the starker statistics about the close to 60,000 patients who passed through the doors of the former City of Leeds Training College for teachers.  He has a knack for exploring the grim and the grime, to find the laugh, the life and even the love story. For more on the book go to its website at

Richard is available for Powerpoint-illustrated talks and storytelling sessions based on his book, and is also offering teaching sessions and drama workshops in schools. Get in touch by emailing

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Mimika Theatre - Small Worlds

The internationally renowned Mimika Theatre returns to HEART with 'Small Worlds' an enchanting new show for Leeds.

Mimika's performances, which use immersive soundtracks, puppetry, digital animation and miniature landscapes, are presented in a beautiful white tent where children and adults alike experience an intimate and atmospheric show full of magical and poetic imagery.

This is an ideal half term treat for all the family. 

or at Heart - see poster for details.

A Headingley LitFest event:

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Ilkley Literature Festival Fringe - COMING UP

Richard Wilcocks writes:
The Ilkley Literature Festival is well underway now, and I would guess that quite a few of you will be going. This year, no less than three of its Fringe events first took place in Headingley, in March. If you missed any of them, or just want to turn up in solidarity, here they are in date order:

Tuesday 14 October – War Hospital Stories – event 149

The wartime hospital at Beckett Park was the setting for extraordinary scenes a hundred years ago. I will not be giving a straight reading from the book which was launched in the New Headingley Club, but telling true stories, illustrated on screen by a number of old, rare photographs and drawings. It will be as dramatic as I can make it.

See the book’s website at

Ilkley Playhouse, Wildman Theatre, 9 – 10pm  FREE

Thursday 16 October – Tibet: an Accidental Pilgrimage – event 168

Ivan Cooper read from his book in Headingley Library, and the audience response was extremely positive. The book is occasionally scary – but there are comic passages as well. Join him on a trip through the remote and hardly-visited regions of Tibet.

YouTube publisher’s video here -,

Ilkley Playhouse, Wildman Theatre, 9 – 10pm  FREE

Saturday 18 October – Surviving – event 197

Expect to be moved, surprised and entertained as writers from Osmondthorpe Hub perform short stories, poetry and plays on the theme of surviving, bridging words and worlds. Did you see them in the Heart Centre?

Church House, 7.30pm – 8.30pm  FREE

The LitFest committee is beavering away for 2015, and we’ll have something more to tell you soon!

All best

Richard Wilcocks

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Save Red Ladder

The radical, political and provocative Red Ladder Theatre Company has been part of the Leeds cultural (and political) scene for forty-six years and it is booked to join us on Saturday 7 March for We’re Not Going Back, which is more or less about the miners’ strike of 1984, which if you remember was what David Peace was dealing with when he told us about his docu-novel GB84.
Paul Heaton and Phill Jupitus

Now there is a campaign to save the company because it has lost its Arts Council funding. This has so far succeeded in raising well over £6000, but there’s a lot more needed. Comedian Phill Jupitus and musician Paul Heaton are prominent supporters. Phill was in Big Society in 2012. Did you see it at City Varieties?

We need the awkward squad in the world of theatre, especially these days. Red Ladder is brilliant at being awkward, entertaining and popular. It still gets £5000 in an annual grant from Leeds City Council, but that’s to keep the company ticking over at a very basic level.

Their campaign is at

Monday, 4 August 2014

Beckett Park Headingley was once the 2nd Northern General Hospital

The efficient James F Dobson
On this day exactly one hundred years ago, James Faulkner Dobson, surgeon at the Leeds General Infirmary and Lieutenant-Colonel in the RAMC (T) (Royal Army Medical Corps, Territorial), swung into dynamic action. He had realised back in 1912 that existing plans to base a wartime hospital in the city centre would be pathetically inadequate and unworkable, and had his eyes on the brand new buildings for the City of Leeds Training College up at Beckett Park in Headingley.

He was efficiency itself: he had made detailed plans to equip the college in case of mobilisation. Now, his orders came through, to coincide with the declaration of war on Germany and the Central Powers. Beds appeared in the Great Hall and the library within a week, barbed wire fencing was put up in the Acre and flat roofs were designated as open-air wards. A week after that, six hundred beds were available with ninety-two nurses prepared to take duty.

The declaration of war had come as a shock and surprise to many, even after years of forebodings. Who would have thought that a teenage Gavrilo Princip with a group of amateurish Bosnian suicide bombers (they carried cyanide capsules) could have triggered off so much by killing an archduke and his wife in the faraway Balkans? The feelings of surprise did not last long at Beckett Park...

STORIES FROM THE WAR HOSPITAL, written and compiled by Richard Wilcocks, was launched at a Headingley LitFest event with a play based on some of its contents on 21 March. Get your copy by contacting


Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Ralph Thoresby School Poetry Slam

Sally Andrews writes:

Thursday 8 May saw the culmination of the work in poetry workshops led by Michelle Scally Clarke at an evening poetry ‘slam’ for the newly-formed poetry group called 'Own Your Words'.  City of Leeds young poets were also invited to share in a second opportunity to perform, a really good development in our on-going poetry support work now with nine local schools.

Supported by funding from Arts@Leeds and Wade’s Charity, this new partnership has generated a lot of interest.  As Ralph Thoresby’s headteacher Will Carr commented: “..our newly formed poetry group gave a stunning performance as part of Headingley Litfest. Some extraordinarily mature poetry from a relatively young group of students.”

Support came from Sai Murray, performance poet/coach as well as Brendan Duffy on the saxophone and Junior Willocks on keyboards.  Young people, some initially shy, were encouraged to go up on stage with poetry they had written about their own lives, feelings, experiences.  Many adults would be terrified at that!

Pupils’ comments, both on stage and in the audience, include:

 "The event really improved my confidence and made feel talented." 

 "It was great fun performing and even better getting to watch the others perform." 

“Fantastic! Really good and very proud of my friends!!!!! AMAZING!!!”

.. and a parent was keen to let us know that it was
“Very enjoyable, so impressed with the talent and enthusiasm of the staff and pupils of Ralph Thoresby and City of Leeds school. Brilliant.”  

Michelle firmly believes, as does LitFest, that:
“Spoken word has a great impact with the students - it is a great way to begin creative writing and free writing; it allows you to speak to the page, it allows your voice to be owned and heard, it allows for writing and literature and language to be enjoyed first then learnt. It allows for praise and for people to see the truth of you. These pupils humble and inspire me with their stories, poems and songs and I have no doubt that all will continue to perform, write and grow.”

Perhaps the final comment on the work should go to Tom Stubbs, the organising teacher at Ralph Thoresby:  “For me, I would just like to say that this whole event has helped some of the most cripplingly-shy students realise that they have a voice and that people want to listen to them.  It has opened other members of staff's eyes to new approaches to the teaching of writing and I would love to be involved in some form again in the future.”

We hope so too.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Poppies Red or White?

Poppies Red or White? - partnership event with Headingley Festival of Ideas
7pm Headingley Library Tuesday 6 May

Síle Moriarty writes:
 Poppies, red and white, have become potent symbols and in this event (chaired by Richard Wilcocks) they provoked a wide ranging discussion on the themes of war and pacifism:
·       Is war valid?
·       Is war inevitable?
·       What is pacifism?
·       Is being a pacifist the same as being anti war?
·       What significance does pacifism have in the current world and domestic political climate?
·       What can we do?

Sylvia Boyes, Richard Wilcocks (Chair), Ingrid Sharp
Sylvia Boyes started the evening by exploring the origins and meanings of red and white poppies and she freely and frankly shared her own pacifist convictions with us. She explained how red poppies were originally sold by women in Northern France as a means of raising money and how their use gradually spread. Today they are still used as a fundraising device for ex-servicemen and their families (this later provoked a discussion on how poorly this country has always looked after its ex-servicemen and women) but in her view they are now being increasingly surrounded by militarism and because of that she feels she can no longer wear both a red and white poppy as she once did.

She explained how the Co-operative Women's Guild made and sold white poppies in 1933 before its wider adoption and promulgation by the Peace Pledge Union. The white poppy is a symbol of peace and the search for an alternative to war and was never intended as an insult to those who died in the First World War - a war in which many of the white poppy supporters lost husbands, brothers, sons and lovers - but as a challenge to the continuing drive to war.

Movingly, Sylvia said she would willingly remember the soldiers at the cenotaph but without the military paraphernalia.

Ingrid Sharp explored the anti war movement in Germany, both before and during WW1, revealing how a robust movement pre-war (comprised of groups such as the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SDP), German Women’s groups and other Christian and pacifist groups), changed once the war, which was presented as necessary to defend the German way of life, started. This was because of determined censorship and because, once war was declared, people and political parties (the SDP was one of them) then focussed on supporting the war effort. However some anti war efforts did continue, often via international connections (e.g. the International Congress of Women at The Hague in 1915) but its voice remained small. There was also no provision for conscientious objectors although there was some unofficial tolerance of those who wanted to undertake non-combatant roles.  It was interesting to hear the German perspective and this was re-enforced during the discussion by a German member of the audience who explained how in Germany remembrance (which mainly concerns WW2 and the holocaust) is focussed on peace.

In the ensuing discussion opinions ranged from those who said that ‘sometimes you have to fight for something’ to those who saw pacifism as the only rational way forward. The discussion was passionate, respectful and wide ranging and it was a privilege to take part. The audience comments below speak for themselves.

Audience comments
1.     Ingrid and Sylvia were good speakers. Well chaired by Richard. Nice informal group.

2.     Both speakers gave very interesting presentations. The first speaker concentrated with personal fervor on her campaign for the selling of white poppies, arising partly from her Quaker convictions. Ingrid sharp from Leeds Univ. gave a detailed account of WW1 as it was seen in Germany, where ideas of ‘pacifist resistance’ were taboo. The short lectures then promoted an intense discussion among members of the audience, many of whom had deep personal views on WWI and war in general. An excellent start to the new Festival of Ideas (and fine closing event for the very successful 2014 LitFest).

3.     Good idea as a topic for discussion. Ingrid Sharp’s presentation was superb, do bring her back to talk on other topics. Some people (a few) seemed to dominate the discussion.

4.     A very interesting debate and positive start to the Festival of Ideas. 

5.     Just to say that I thought that this was a really good discussion. Also I hope that Headingley Festival of Ideas will become a regular event. One issue that could be considered is whether the time is right for a big push to eliminate nuclear weapons, which can never serve any useful purpose.

6.     Interesting and lively debate.

7.     Interesting information on something I’d never come across i.e. white poppies. Great to have that opportunity.

8.     War is not inevitable. There are alternative ways of solving problems. Do what you can, where you are, with what you have got.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Secret Life of Gavrilo Princip - with Aritha Van Herk

Aritha van Herk - partnership with Yorkshire Network for Canadian Studies
7pm Headingley Library Monday 7 April

Aritha van Herk is an acclaimed, award-winning writer of several genres who came to the friendly environment of Headingley Library in our first partnership with the Yorkshire Network for Canadian Studies and our final event in a month-long programme – and what a very good way to end.

Audience comments:

Wonderful – very hospitable at the library and loved the talk.

Aritha was an engaging speaker, at times quite dramatic – especially in the section of the reading describing the assassination of FF and Sophie.  Excellent Q/A session.

Aritha van Herk with Catherine Bates
I absolutely loved getting the opportunity to hear Aritha speak.  I studied ‘No Fixed Address’ as an undergraduate and never expected I’d have the chance to hear a Canadian author here.  Thank you.

Thanks for the Canadian link, good writing.

Interesting, informative and enjoyable reading and talk.  More please.

Entertaining and informative, would have liked to find out more generally about her interests and approaches and not just the issues arising from her current work; thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating nevertheless.

A very interesting event with a wider range of topics covered than I had expected!

FANTASTIC.  Thank you.  A fascinating alternative insight into such a well known part of history.

It was a really warm and friendly event, with an inspiring presenter and friendly staff.  Good evening and duration. Happy to attend more events!

Very enjoyable experience, good talk/reading with stimulating discussion.  To maintain audience focus, perhaps readings could be broken into sections with responses.  Or a break half way.

Brilliant: enjoyed both the reading and the discussion.  I was impressed with the wide-ranging knowledge of the author/speaker, detailed fluidity and her dramatic voice.

The author’s reading was intellectually stimulating, a treat.

She was a interesting speaker.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Dismembered body found in wheelie bin - just in time for scarecrow meet

Literary Scarecrow Festival - partnership event with Far Headingley Village Society
2pm End-of-trail meet, near St Chad's Sunday 6 April

Richard Wilcocks writes: 
Tooth Fairy
Reconstituted Mr McGregor with cardboard Peter
The dismembered body of Mr McGregor was found in a wheelie bin near houses opposite the Headingley Arndale Centre last week. He had been stolen from the community garden, along with Peter Rabbit, a week ago, on a Sunday morning after 8.30am. 

Very hungry larva

Who would do such a thing? Could somebody staggering home from an all-night party have been motivated by a grudge against Beatrix Potter? Whatever... Peter, who may never be found now that the bins have been collected, had to be replaced by a cut-out, and a hastily reconstituted McGregor was set up instead of his more sophisticated original. The spectators on the muddy patch of grass opposite The Three Horseshoes didn't mind, and one of them, aged about five at a guess, was more concerned that I took a photo of The Tooth Fairy, a literary figure of some importance to him, followed by the Hungry Caterpillar. 

John Milton stood, pallid and austere, for adult tastes, along with The Invisible Man, but children's classics were at the forefront: The Mad Hatter's Tea Party looked disturbingly familiar (a mad all-nighter of the distant past?) and the Tin Man's face seemed to indicate that he would rather have been invisible. 


Add caption
Warning, the famous poem by Jenny Joseph, was represented by a superb female scarecrow wearing purple and a red hat which didn't go. She had obviously just taken a nip or two of brandy, and was viewing the proceedings with quiet, slightly bemused satisfaction. I'm sure I've seen her in the audience at one or two recent LitFest events,

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Vivid, gruesome and compelling - Tibet: An Accidental Pilgrimage

Tibet: An Accidental Pilgrimage - Ivan Cooper
7pm Friday 4 April - Headingley Library

Sally Bavage writes:

Ivan Cooper
Heinrich Harrer’s seminal book Seven Years in Tibet was an exotic influence on the young Ivan.  Heinrich was an Austrian mountaineer and climber who found himself interned in British India at the outbreak of WW2 and spent years as a prisoner.  Finally escaping to Tibet, he then remained there for seven years; a tale both of derring-do and extraordinary social, political and cultural observations.

An inspired Ivan spent two decades living and working in Asia, principally Taiwan and Korea, with spells in China and, of course, Tibet.  A forbidden city, smiling monks, Buddhism, a rich and ancient culture – the differences and the attractions were many.  He learnt to speak Tibetan and travelled widely, sometimes with a sword-wearing guide. Had he ever used it? “Only when a man insulted my mother,” showing him the nick on the blade.  He shared a tongue but was separated by culture. 

Ivan reads us excerpts from his vivid account of his Tibetan times, covering a range of aspects of life in a landscape that is both beautiful and squalid, a culture that is primitive and spiritual, life which is simple and philosophical, a society which is hospitable and brutal. 

His own journey is both physical and spiritual: he studied Buddhism from an agnostic perspective in order to better understand a guiding force that gives meaning to many of Tibet’s people, especially those in a rural environment that has more of the medieval than the modern about it.  Imagine a village without electricity, water, telephone, public services such as sewage or toilets, police, town planning.  Put in wooden huts arranged haphazardly round the inevitable monastery,  surround them by garbage heaps and pariah dogs.  You have something approaching the shanty town in which he stayed.  Happily.
Prayer flags and prayer wheels, ice-skating, snowballing monks clutching mobile phones, deities and disasters, temple gods and Mao Tse Tung -  this book has them all.  A description of a ‘sky burial’ is riveting, at once vivid, gruesome, compelling and yet somehow natural.  Yes, it has disembowelling and vultures, an aerial tug of war over a length of intestine, a mortuary platform and grim tools – cleavers, razor-toothed saw and stone bone-crushing mallets included – but a clean ending.  We are all just flesh, skin and bone, and eventually all gone, leaving just faded photographs and memories.

Ivan neither rejects his western heritage nor denies the attractions of a more centralised eastern philosophy.  He can translate the word ‘democracy’ but the meaning does not cross the political divide. Like the travel writer Colin Thubron in To a Mountain in Tibet, he recognises the contributions each make to our understanding of freedom and society.

Ivan returned after his sojourn in the wilder spaces of our world, and his imagination,  with a wife and young baby.  His distraction with the new demands on him cushioned him from too much introspection about an extraordinary journey and gave him some time to chronicle his adventures in a book that proves he is a master of the genre of travel writing.  Do read it.

Audience Comments

1.     I am so glad I came to this event which was informative and very well presented. To have the opportunity of meeting and listening to someone who has had such an interesting life and has plainly retained the courage of his convictions is a privilege. Thank you Leeds. 

2.     I am not a fan of travel writing. However I thought that the talk was well structured, the slideshow was linked in well and the Q&Q session was very informative. Good venue too.  

3.     An excellent presentation. Fascinating readings, a real window onto life in remotest parts of Tibet. Well read by Ivan – great choice of photos and very generous Q&A session.

4.     I enjoyed the talk. Anecdotes interesting. Talk came to life with slideshow at the end. Question and answer session very good. Only then did I get a sense of his journey.

5.     I had heard Ivan speak at Café Philosophique last year and bought his book after reading the flyer there. I came this evening to hear more about his travels, and enjoyed hearing him read from the book, and seeing many more illustrations through slides. A fascinating story.

6.     I find the readings entertaining and enlightening and found the discussion afterwards thought provoking.  

7.     As a Tai Chi teacher and a practitioner of meditation it is very interesting and inspiring to listen to all the wonderful atmospheric descriptions and details of this amazing culture. I loved looking at all the characterful faces and the striking colours of the artwork, architecture, clothes, landscape and of course the Tibetan flags!

8.     An excellent event – Ivan was a very engaging and clear. A full house – obviously well advertised and organised.  

9.     Fascinating insights into a way of life that is still substantially unknown. Interesting personal observations and the ambiguities his experiences evoked. Thank you.

10.  A good presentation from an original ‘source’ presenting a thoughtful view of an occupied country.

11.  Interesting readings with vivid descriptions. He read with a good clear voice. The pictures shown on screen illustrated the book excerpts he read alongside some of them. The question session was good. He answered them in detail. Nice touches of humour. His passion for the subject shone through.  

12.  Very interesting talk and slideshow. The Q&A session was very enlightening and was probably the best part of the evening. 

13.  Very interesting insight onto Ivan’s travels and his experience of Tibet. Looking forward to reading the book and very competently delivered by the author.

14.  It was a really interesting talk, very enjoyable. The Q&A session went on too long for me and I was getting restless. The photos were amazing. Thank you very much.  

15.  A fascinating insight into a troubled country. The speaker was fluent – his writing style is vivid and lively. Question time was dealt with fully. Some tricky questions received wise answers. A good evening – food for thought.  

16.  I enjoyed the reading. This was the only event I was able to get to this year. (I just move here this year). Next year I will most definitely make an effort to go to more. I have heard so many good things. 

17.  Very interesting from start to finish. The sky burial description very vivid and thought provoking. I will enjoy the book.