Tuesday, 10 November 2020

Our congratulations to Malika Booker!

 Malika Booker, who has contributed to Headingley LitFest's poetry in schools project for the past four years, won the 2020 Forward Prize for Poetry in the single poem category. 

The Forward Prizes for Poetry are major British awards for poetry, presented annually at a public ceremony in London. For 2020, the judging panel was chaired by writer, critic, and social historian Alexandra Harris alongside poets Kim Moore, Roger Robinson and David Wheatley, and journalist Leaf Arbuthnot. Malika won in the single poem category for her entry The Little Miracles (Magma). She is the founder of the writer’s collective ‘Malika’s Kitchen’. Her first collection, Pepper Seed, was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize; she is a Creative Writing Teaching Fellow at the University of Leeds. In the photo she is working with a Year 6 class at Brudenell Primary School in 2019 - scroll down to read the review.

                                                                                            Photo by Richard Wilcocks

Sunday, 19 July 2020

The View from Olympia. Poems inspired by Olympic Sport.

Book launch on Zoom. Contributions from residents of Headingley feature in this anthology.


The anthology will be launched at an online event on Zoom on Friday 24 July – the day that the Olympic Opening Ceremony was due to be held in Tokyo. Contributors will read their poems from the book, and anyone is welcome to join the audience. Entry is free, and details can be found online at Eventbrite or Leeds Inspired.

Edited by local writers Joe Williams and Peter R White, The View from Olympia features contributions by some of the best contemporary poets in the UK and around the world, as well as an introduction by Bramhope-based double Olympic gold medallist Alistair Brownlee.

Joe Williams said: 'We came up with the idea for the book back in December, with the intention of bringing it out this summer to coincide with the 2020 Games. We had no idea that by the time we’d finished collecting the poems, we’d be in the middle of a global pandemic and the Olympics would be cancelled. 

'We decided to carry on regardless and publish the anthology anyway. I hope it’ll bring some enjoyment to those who have been missing sport this summer, as well as people who love poetry.'

The View from Olympia is currently on sale for the special introductory price of £9 plus postage, from http://www.halfmoonbooks.co.uk

For further information contact Joe Williams, tel 0113 295 6111 or 07760 375712 

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Refuge - Heart

Sally Bavage writes:
During this year's ever-popular local creative writers’ event, I was reminded of the lines from the 1969 Peter Sarstedt song (yes, I know, it's a clue to the age of the writer):

But where do you go to, my lovely
When you're alone in your bed?
Tell me the thoughts that surround you
I want to look inside your head ..

The Osmondthorpe Hub writers took as their theme 'A Special Place', and the range of locations  they explored with us were as wide-ranging and poignant as their writing always is.  It was notable, too, that the writers frequently smiled as they called up fond memories.

Julie reminisced about a holiday to Germany some years ago, where what might have been more ordinary pleasures for some had left deep and vivid impressions for her.  
Mandy was always happy to be where her mum was, especially when by her mum's special seat at bingo. 
Lee's poem told of his joy at recently being allocated his own flat, number 6, somewhere special that was his, where “My independence blooms.”
Annie recalled Benson Street where she grew up.  Remember liberty bodices with a little pocket for a camphor ball (or, in my case, a house key)?   Leaving school at 13 to earn 13 shillings a week, she recalled the best of neighbours. Aged 91, the memories remain undimmed.
Sue smiled with pleasure at the friends she meets every day at the Osmondthorpe Hub, where they congregate to chat, watch TV, sing, do reiki or  boxercise – and do creative writing of course.
Robert had loved a trip to Australia by himself, staying with an uncle and aunt whose back garden had a pool you could swim from end to end.  And he had got to stroke a koala bear at the zoo.
Pamela had loved a trip to Spain, exploring the town after checking in at the hotel, as well as being with family.  The beach and swimming had been delightful freedoms.

The group agreed that a place can be special to us alone.  Time, or its location, or the company of our family and friends, can give us memories that last a lifetime. 

Some of the Osmondthorpe contributors

Our writers from Headingley took a similar theme, Sanctuary, but interpreted it in so many different ways.  They used prose, prose poetry, creative non-fiction, an acrostic, a memoir and even a sonnet to draw descriptions in our minds' eyes.

Julie answered her own question, “What does sanctuary mean to me?”  She loves the quiet of night, a place to calm her mind, or walking in the weather.
Karen loves the sky, its colours of pink and bright blue, not the grey rain she remembers from watching through the classroom window.  It was her transport to another realm, certainly one beyond the consultant by her hospital bed giving her unwelcome news.
Marie-Paule reflected on a migrant's bus journey, giving us a young girl escaping from the bombs and guns, alone, hungry, all family dead. She couldn't go home, at least not now; her face and eyes told the story without words.
Rosie told us of Bootham Crescent – the spiritual and actual home of York City Football Club. Echoing a riff on the psalm 'The Lord's My Shepherd', with ritualistic preparation for the match, ascending the steps to the ground of the gladiators and, of course, some commentary on the qualities of the referee.
Eileen's poem on a 'Crime Story' took place in a library not dissimilar to the one in the Headingley Community Hub, where books on Climate Change were listed as being in the Crime section.  But none were there.  Adult denial of their crimes? Books on Climate Change could actually be tracked down in the Children's section, and a child found fearlessly reading a book 'This Earth is Our Sanctuary.'  Indeed it is.
Liz wrote of a Photograph, with a mother-in-law whose memory is now fragile lace robbed by dementia, but showing shafts of sunlight in the darkness as she gazes at the beautiful woman and handsome man from 60 years ago with whom she will shortly be reunited.
Dru wrote of No Sanctuary here in Leeds for the homeless sleeper you and I encounter, huddled in a shop doorway as a refuge from the wind and rain. Human but unwanted, no hope of finding a sanctuary.
Barbara's tale of a Black Swan, featured on Look North even, recounted a rare visitor to the Leeds and Liverpool canal.  Dark stranger, and escape or a choice?  A sanctuary? How long will you bring your magic to the other ducks and geese?  Five days, as it turned out.
Myrna's Time - “I wasted time, now time wastes me” explored a jigsaw of lifetime experiences.  Photos, certificates, receipts, letters, house deeds, tablets, potions kept in a jumbled profusion that recall emotions from the past still here to support the need for meaning in a disordered house.
Jim spoke too of football, this time Leeds United based at Elland Road.  Always a thrill to go there, observe the rituals and the action.  A place to get away from the ordinariness of life, travel outside oneself.
Linda wrote a Postcard to Myself, where her dreaming self tells her waking self what the Land of Nod has to offer. Architecture and landscape to tempt, sensational and exotic foods – even if the postal service isn't always reliable and the card doesn't arrive.  And why is the card plain black? Because you can't photograph your dreams. 
Malcolm decided You Can't Judge a Book … exploring the parallel streets that have rich and poor residents.  One rich in money, but with families cowering in fear from a bully in a house that is not a home.  Another rich in love and neighbourliness; so much more a sanctuary.
Terry's memoir of his mother's kitchen, her domain where the family felt excluded.  It was her dreaming place, her sanctuary from the unfulfilled life of cheap holidays, little intellectual stimulus and separate life she led outside.
Bill's first poem told us of Green Thoughts in a Green Garden, where lazy bees and floral scents were delights in a verdant world centred on his patio chair refuge for his diminishing days.  His second poem, Memories, took us back to his childhood days: its smells, sounds, small kindnesses and parlour library. 
Cate's Memento Mori to growing older, of a point in time where memories are a place of sanctuary, like walking through an old house full of distant voices caught in nooks and crannies and released by a dreamcatcher mind.
Howard wrote of drifting into submission in This Bed, where sleep and dreams take you to a refuge without stirring.  The Sanctuary of Stars saw him fantasising as a small boy in his mother's jewellery box, along with the ballerina and the plush padding, the sparkling points of light from the pearls and diamonds creating a haven of peace and beauty.

So much imagination and careful wordcraft. How could you possibly top all that?!   By repairing to the back of the hall for cups of tea and generous slices of homemade cakes that showed more careful crafting from our LitFest volunteers Mary and Rachel. 

Particular thanks to Karen Hush, the new tutor (since January) for the Osmondthorpe creative writing group.  An experienced teacher, but what a job she has done in such a short time to build trust and the writers' confidence in their abilities to recall and reveal.  Thanks too, of course, to Liz McPherson who leads the Headingley creative writers' group.  Once again, a cornucopia of ideas and genres reveal writing talent and honesty as well as vulnerability. That has to come from the group's faith in her thoughtful commitment.

Headingley LitFest is indebted once again to the sponsorship by the Workers' Education Association, as well as the support by Mike Bould, education co-ordinator based in Leeds, whose aim is to organise courses covering a broad curriculum for a wide range of students.  And he was ace on getting the IT to work!

Tuesday, 10 March 2020

Ours: Football

This event was one of our contributions to Leeds Lit Fest   #LLF20

New Headingley Club - Friday 6 March 2020

Ours: Football by Lee Ingham

Richard Wilcocks writes:
I was the interviewer on this occasion, and can say with confidence that in terms of good-humoured openness and loud responsiveness, the capacity audience (75) in the New Headingley Club was one of the best ever. It was united in its passion for the game of football, and a number of rival teams were represented by vocal supporters: Burnley and Leeds, for a start. There were similarities with other large audiences that Headingley LitFest has called to the Club in past years, but obvious differences too. Similarities include the facts that it was mainly middle-aged and contained people who asked the author, Lee Ingham, how he had planned the book and how long it had taken him to complete, questions which turn up whenever visiting novelists are on stage. Differences include the overwhelming maleness when most LitFest audiences have a majority of women, and a sense of surprise amongst many that a non-fiction book about football and its future could be included in a festival and be categorised as literature.

Lee Ingham's book, his debut work, counts as an item in the comprehensive world of literature for me, undoubtedly. He was inspired to write it after attending a Headingley LitFest event three years ago when James Brown promoted his book of footballing memoirs and opinions 'Above Head Height'. Lee's book runs along similar lines, and is funnier. As well as the game, it is about male and family bonding, childhood memories, the need for community spirit and standing up to corporate, money-grubbing powers. There are fascinating snippets of historical information, for example that the Inghams of the 16th century owned land which incorporated Turf Moor, now the site of Burnley Football Club stadium, information which Lee found in a book called 'The Lancashire Witchcraft Conspiracy'! There is plenty about his opinionated Dad, who turns up in a number of anecdotes, for example in a memory of Lee's first game at Turf Moor for Burnley against Liverpool:

...the thing I remember most was Tommy Smith...picking the ball up to take a throw in directly in front of me and my Dad. At which stage my Dad shouted out to the hard man of football: "Smith, you big pudding." To which, Smith (ball in hand) turned round and out of the back of his hand told my Dad to "fuck off!" Tommy Smith swore at my Dad! I remember walking back up Centenary Way after the game and thinking, the Inghams have arrived on the world stage of football.

Lee read out a series of whole chapters, all of them short, gathering confidence as he proceeded. He added asides and comments to accounts of the kit he is used to wearing, watching the game on television, talking about the game in the pub (often Woodies in Headingley) and favourite Burnley chants. His amusing, self-deprecatory style won everybody over, and all the teasing was friendly.

It was an event of two halves, and the interval had to be extended due to the popularity of the pie and peas which were served in generous portions. We have served cake slices at LitFest gatherings before, but never pie and peas. Something to think of to do again? 

The second half was more serious, addressing the 'Ours' part of the title. We looked around. Not many women. Just a few from minority groups. A couple of young people (well, it was Friday evening). How many young people go to matches nowadays without their parents? I nearly mentioned that the same question applied to classical music concerts. What's the attraction of going to a match nowadays anyway, now that it's sit-down only? With proper barriers in place, why can't people stand? Now that the Elland Road stadium has been more or less cleansed of racist chanters and hooligans, what's the problem? 

Football is no longer the be-all-and-end-all in my life, said Lee, mainly because it has been so corrupted by the vast sums of money involved and by the needs of television schedulers. What happened to the old Saturdays where you began the day with reading the football section in the newspaper over your breakfast, then journeyed to the ground to watch your team? It was engineered to fit into your day off. Lee is furious. Why should people have to travel long journeys, sometimes at short notice, sometimes having to stay overnight? He adds: 'And that's why I do not have and never will have, Sky or BT Sport' and brings in an array of facts and figures about the financial sums involved, and the ways they skew decisions; '...for the 2019 - 22 seasons, games have been sold for £9.3 million per game, as opposed to the £10.2 million that they are currently being sold for'.

The answer is to Stanleyise the game. Accrington was one of the 12 founders of the football league, and now has a turnover of just £2 million per annum. It is a time capsule, and takes pride in belonging to its supporters and the town. Lee says, 'At my first ever visit to their ground I received a flavour of what football had lost and I can safely say that Accrington Stanley v Forest Green is one of the best footballing days I have ever had'. It's a big community success. And it even has a group of Norwegian supporters who fly over regularly.

Thanks to all who bought the book (now available on Amazon) and who donated for the pies and peas, the cost of the room and the Football Supporters Federation.

Friday, 6 March 2020

I Wouldn't Start from Here: The Second Generation Irish in Britain

One of Headingley LitFest's contributions to the Leeds Lit Fest 2020

5 March in Headingley Library

Conrad Beck writes:
More than fifty were there in Headingley Library, all of them appreciative, plenty of them as middle-aged as my diplomatic self and most of them, at a guess, with strong links to Ireland made by memories of living there, memories of long-ago childhoods or memories of stories told by parents. How many were second generation I do not know. The evening was, of course, about identity, a nebulous concept which has interested many an essayist, a word which can stir up stark sentiments, perhaps the equivalent of the German Heimat.  

Kath McKay
Kath McKay read from the contribution to the book of  one of those essayists, Moy McCrory: 'Memory and Authenticity' is a well-researched academic exploration of 'how the role of imagination and embellishment in storytelling contributes towards how we view the past as it challenges ideas of authenticity and belonging'. Ian Duhig spoke about his outsider childhood in London, where the Catholic secondary school he attended was divided into four houses - Irish, Italian, Polish and The Rest - until the system disintegrated. His contribution, 'The Road', full of literary references, was witty and laughter-provoking, for example when he got to this:

My father had been a wrenboy in his youth but when I mentioned this at a poetry reading once, I couldn't understand why people were coming up and congratulating me for my brave revelation: eventually, one of them explained that they all thought I'd said he was a "rent boy". 

Ray French spoke about his upbringing in England, his father's permanent state of rage at leaving behind a rural past by the sea where the most common meal was fish and potatoes, and the conflict about his identity:

Ray French
My mother however was delighted when I lost my accent. When I was eighteen she told me I was English.
    'How could I be English? I was born in Wales, you and dad are Irish. Where's the English in that?'
    'But you speak properly, not like me and your dad.' 

Teresa O'Driscoll
He compared the Irish to the Poles and the Italians.

The fiddle music before the first and second halves was provided by the brilliant Des Hurley and the equally brilliant young Owen Spafford. Teresa O'Driscoll sang a little (why so little?) and wore the best hat in the room.

All the books in a small consignment from the publisher (why so small?) were sold out in about thirty seconds. You can buy it online, published by Wild Geese Press in 2019.

Des Hurley and Owen Spafford listening, Ian Duhig speaking

Thursday, 27 February 2020

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - Through the Portal

Marcia Cunningham (LCC), Rebecca Pettman (Head)
 and Corrie Blackstone (Year 5 teacher)
Quarry Mount poetry assembly, 
Thursday 27 February

In the light of the weather forecast for more light snow, I had expected to start this with the famous quote from the book, 'It was always winter but never Christmas.'   However, we were treated to bright sunlight streaming through the school hall windows on to the beaming faces of class 5.  Ms Blackstone's pupils were well rehearsed and up to the challenge of performing individual lines, or the whole thing, to a large room full of supportive and enthusiastic classes, parents, school staff and visitors.  No mean feat when you're only nine or ten.

Year 5 were studying the classic book by C S Lewis from the Chronicles of Narnia; local published author and poet James Nash took the theme of travelling through a wardrobe but instead through a portal to somewhere unexpected.  What would you find? Sense? Expect?  What could happen? From writing a myriad of ideas down, the young people shaped their ideas and words, learning new ones along the way.  (Who knew 'stanza' at that age?  They do now). They then set to writing their own accounts of their imaginary experiences, some frightening, some delightful, all  vivid.

As headteacher Rebecca Pettman said, “Having a Distinguished Visitor, a Proper Published Author, work with us is such a fantastic opportunity to encourage our youngsters to write and perform their own work.  I'm flabbergasted by the vocabulary they have used, and the confidence with which they stand in front of the packed hall to perform their work.”  As Corrie Blackstone, Year 5 class teacher, added, “ this gives individuals the freedom to express themselves in a context of their own choosing.  It builds on 'I Can!', not 'I Can't.”

For one young man this was the first time he had attempted to write a whole piece without help in all his time in the class.  And for another young lady with the disturbed background and English as a Second Language that many refugees have, her writing had developed by two years to stun and delight her teacher. 

Thanks again to the funding from Inner North West area management committee for supporting this work.  Thanks, too, to Headingley LitFest volunteer Rachel Harkess, who had assisted with the workshops in the classroom.

Report by Sally Bavage

Some of the lines the children wrote:
I'm running, running and running

The leaves felt cold, just like ice cream

I hear squeaky noises in the distance, my blood runs cold

There is no sky or sun, where am I?

I s[un around on the chair
Thinking what to do for work,
As soon as I blinked I was teleported to a fair.

I see a lamp-post which is rainbow-coloured
Next to it is an unfamiliar sweet shop

I travelled through a window and saw a treasure chest

I see stones around me, cut grass

I hear my frieds sniggering in the distance
They get fainter and fainter

All I can do is cry and panic

I was frightened by myself, without my brothers and sisters

I want to go home

And what had the children thought of the opportunity to write poetry in this way?
Poems don't have to rhyme!
How to get your ideas down first
How to edit and redraft
It helps your conscience grow
It's inspiring for other pupils
Reading your poem out

Sunday, 16 February 2020

The Post Ram Tod Dynasty

Conrad Beck writes:
Cal (Doug Sandle)
Doug Sandle's new play, The Post Ram Tod Dynasty, refurbished from a radio play he wrote ages ago and which - mysteriously - was never broadcast, was given two brilliantly entertaining performances in the intimate but chilly (the heating was off) setting of the Meanwood Institute on Sunday 16 February.  The meaning of the odd title became clear in the opening five minutes: it is nearly an anagram of Tom Stoppard, the name of the famous playwright, in tandem with the word Dynasty. Cal, a playwright, is sitting at his desk wrestling with writer's block and scraping around for ideas, in the course of which he invokes the names of the likes of Stoppard, but to no avail, because he is interrupted first by his wife Ros, and then by their friends Linda and George. Perhaps they can help with what Cal describes as 'one of my existential fantasies'.

Cal (played by Doug Sandle in the afternoon and by Dave Robertson in the evening) seems to be stranded in Egypt, where the Professor Tompkin who has just popped into his head is in search of treasure. The waspish Linda (a beautifully nuanced performance from Jane Oakshott) suggests he bases his characters on the weather forecast and the determinedly placid Ros (a professional touch here from Maggie Mash) comes out with a frightening true story of when she was sitting in a train near a man who told her he was a psycho. George, who resents too much drama in his life (played by the intensely dramatic Murray Edscer) is taunted and pushed to the limits, because he cannot make out whether or not Cal is reading from a script. The atmosphere is almost calm, though, and they drink invisible whisky from a visible bottle, which Cal pours making glugging noises. We laugh. They are four credible characters in search of an author, perhaps, unlike the professor and Hilda, his nubile assistant in Cal's imagination, who could be extras in Murder on the Nile.

Ros (Maggie Mash), George (Murray Edscer), Cal and Linda (Jane Oakshott)
The atmosphere changes, first of all when George is made to answer questions about his childhood fears and phobias. Spiders are mentioned, ingredients in Doug Sandle's previous play last year. George storms out, soon followed by peace-making Ros. Alone with Cal, Linda declares her love to him, to his great embarrassment, and gets into quite a state. Cal can handle Hilda, but not her. Tremulous to begin with, Linda becomes extremely distraught. She locks herself in the bathroom, which along with everything else is behind a tiny screen in the corner of the tiny stage. All very dramatic, and when Ros returns with an apologetic George, to be joined by a back-to-normal Linda, it is time for the bourgeois delights of tea and sustainable olives accompanied by a delightful chunk of local cheddar. Soon, everybody is in tune with everybody else and Cal is back with the prof, still musing on the connections between real life and histrionic versions of it. It is a comedy after all.

While eating chocolate cake afterwards, members of the audience were wondering whether Doug Sandle has got any more radio plays stuffed into his bottom drawers. Let's hope he has.  

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

Premiere of New Play by Ray Brown - Skybluepink- CANCELLED



[On the scrap heap, engineer Mal has 
lost everything: wife, job, house, self
respect. He demonstrates luxury tat to
those who can afford it.

Rich widow Anne is lonely in a 
meaningless world of electronic guard 
dog, imaginary mother, and Vlado the 
vodka bottle. 

Childhood sweethearts, they meet by 
chance and begin a life-changing 
journey of shocking truths, happy
memories, and increasing intoxication.] 

Written and directed by Ray Brown,
featuring Jem Dobbs and Maggi 
Stratford, this laughter and tears play
shines a light on desperate lives and illuminates late 20th century Britain.

[7.30pm Tickets £6.] 

Maggi Stratford
Jem Dobbs

Ray Brown
 This event is one of our  contributions to the
 Leeds LitFest 2020

For ALL Leeds Lit Fest events, go to: