Leicester Writers’ Showcase: Leicester and Leicestershire: City and County of Literature 13 December 2017 – Part 2

Councillor Sarah Russell had been due to speak at this event but wasn’t present on the evening and her absence wasn’t explained. She did, however, make a video. Since I’m not very good at listening to videos and prefer reading, my typescript of the video appears below:

“I’d say I think it’s [cultural activity in Leicester] exciting, it’s growing. I think we’ve got a really broad cultural scene in the city. It ranges from the large venues for theatre and music productions to print, to the range of art festivals, spoken word, reading and writing. And I think the mix between large venues and small local groups is exciting for everyone. That’s been recognised by the Arts Council and the investment they’ve put into the city. That we are really a growing cultural environment.

“I think the literary scene is really important. I think Leicester’s quite long been established with having some really amazing authors coming out of Leicester. But how we develop the literary scene within the city, how we celebrate it and how we make sure that scene has an audience within the city, I think is developing and I think is something we should all be really excited about. So the council’s been doing all sorts of different things. More recently it’s been working directly with literary groups to offer space, to offer the sort of communications network the council has to attract new people in. But we’ve got relationships that have go back for a long time. So we’ve got authors who come back into the city who come back to talk to young people like Bali Rai who talks about his experience of growing up in the city and wanting to write full-time. I think those bringing back and sharing of those experiences are really powerful. All the different elements sit alongside each other so we’re supporting people to write within the city, making sure there’s the space and promotion of that and also making sure that they get an audience and we bring young people into that.

“I think for raising the profile of it, we have to capitalise on the established authors we’ve already got, we use things like the Whatever it Takes Festival which brought in authors, those from within the city but also from outside. I think we have to really have to celebrate the breath of our literary scene. So we’ve got those who are writing amazing fiction, spoken word and making quite a significant national name for themselves we’ve also got those local history groups who are writing up our city’s shared history and how we can capture that and make sure that’s understood nationally and internationally. I think working with national publishing houses to make sure they see Leicester as the hotbed of creativity I think it is are all ways we can continue to raise the profile.

“It’s absolutely crucial to continue to do this because we want people to both be able to aspire to write and to recognise why it’s such and important way of sharing our own experiences but also of raising the profile of the city, of making sure that people know that this is somewhere where that things are happening, that exciting things happen and come back to. There’s all sorts of different ways that the literary scene supports that.

“The best way to find out is to sign up to the libraries’ service email. All of our libraries have got lots of information in. But every month the library puts out something called the Book News and it tells you about local groups that are happening, it tells you about literary opportunities, opportunities to go along to different types of workshops. It’s a place to find out more. It’s a great place to start. You get to know other like-minded writers and readers and get to share some of your stories and experiences with them.”

What’s interesting is the lack of detail. The only author mentioned is Bali Rai (he deserves the mention; that’s not in dispute) and she doesn’t list which groups the council think they work with. I’ll put my excitement on hold.

A write-up of the speakers who managed to attend the Leicester Writers’ Showcase on Literary Activity in Leicester is here.

Advertisements

Leicester Writers’ Showcase: Leicester and Leicestershire: City and County of Literature 13 December 2017

Michaela Butter (Attenborough Arts) chaired the panel and invited them to “Raise the roof on Leicester’s writers.”

Bobba Cass spoke about how poetry and rhymes had been important to him growing up in Seattle with an English father and American mother. He came to the UK via Nigeria, carrying those poems with him. He felt it important to honour the moment of discovering creativity. He spoke about how inspirational he felt some people in Leicester were which had inspired him to set up PInng…k!, now in its seventh year. He mentioned Carol Leeming, Word!, Lydia Towsey and Tim Sayers’ work at Bradgate Hospital, Michaela Butter, Corinne Fowler, Magnus who ran Galleri Gastur, Alison Dunne, Keith Allott, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Liz Grey, Marcus Joseph, Vijay Mistry (2Funky Arts), Rob Gee, Louise Katerega, Mellow Baku, Peter Buckley, Richard Byrt, Kishan Anand (Anerki) and Dave Donnau.

Emma Lee introduced Leicester Writers’ Club who meet every Thursday at Phoenix Square in Leicester’s cultural quarter. Leicester Writers’ Club’s core business is feedback on works in progress and sharing publishing and marketing tips. The latter becoming more important as publishers are expecting writers to do a lot more marketing – gone are the days of long lunches and publishers putting together marketing plans. The Club also offers advanced masterclasses, talks from industry speakers such as literary agents, social events and a writers’ retreat. Members are novelists, poets, short story writers, scriptwriters and spoken word artists who are widely published in the UK, Europe, North and South America, Africa and New Zealand. Members have been shortlisted for the Carnegie Prize and Philip K Dick awards and prize-winners in, e.g. Writing East Midlands Aurora and Leicester Writes competitions. Members have also judged short story and poetry competitions.

Leicester Writers’ Club Is not insular. The Club itself has held events for Everybody’s Reading, Leicester Writes and takes a stall at States of Independence. Members have performed at most of Leicester’s spoken word nights including Shindig, Word!, Anerki; Novel Exchanges, Cultural Exchanges, The Journeys Festival and supported Refugee Week programmes. Members teach at Writing School East Midlands, lecture in Creative Writing at De Montfort University and two members have set up a writers’ development service to help writers achieve their goals, The Writers’ Shed.

Two Club members have supported Leicester Writers’ Showcase from its inception and all 12 events have featured at least one Club member.

Despite all this the Club and its members feel overlooked and invisible.

Farhana Shaikh of Dahlia Publishing, Leicester Writes and The Asian Writer, spoke of the incredible talent and humility in Leicester. She tries to harness a community where anyone can join in. Dahlia Publishing has provided opportunities, e.g. “Welcome to Leicester” poetry anthology and “Lost and Found: stories of home from Leicestershire writers” short story anthology. Writers should be celebrated a lot more. Leicester Writes monthly meet-up at Bru started in May 2013 and provides an informal space for moral support and to share news. Novel Exchanges, which meets quarterly, features established writers alongside local writers to create a nurturing environment. Leicester achieves a lot despite lack of funding and support. She created a writer’s residency at Bru to disrupt normal writing commissions which focus on history or cultural traditions to try to break down barriers to getting people involved.

The Leicester Writes Short Story competition was set up with support from BBC Radio Leicester and the Bristol Short Story prize. It had a Leicester launch and, of 102 entries, 50% were from within Leicestershire. Local talent stood up in comparison with national talent. Leicester can acknowledge that Leicester writers are talented. Initiatives like Leicester Writes Short Story Competition enables Leicester’s talent to see how it is doing and shows there is talent here. Leicester Writes Festival was set up to celebrate that talent and offer workshops for local writers. It also brought meet the publisher/pitch your novel events to Leicester by inviting London-based publishers and agents.

Dahlia Publishing champions regional and diverse voices. She concluded, “It’s a shame to feel invisible.”

Matthew Pegg of Mantle Lane Arts and Mantle Lane Press based in Coalville talked about how they had started as a group who organised festivals, went into schools, libraries and worked with community groups but felt they’d become too diverse and lacked identity. After Matthew had completed a Creative Writing MA at Nottingham Trent University so felt writing would be a good focus. Set up the Red Lighthouse project offering writer support and development, creative writing community projects and a small press publisher aimed at children’s and Young Adult writers. Created two writing for children events, Wolves and Apples including readings and masterclasses. The third Wolves and Apples event will be on 17 March 2018 with Celia Rees and Linda Newbery at Ramada Encore in Leicester aimed at beginners. Also looking to set up a training course for writers in participatory work, e.g. going into schools, libraries, etc. Started a songwriting project for people with dementia which will lead to a CD. Undertakes playwriting in schools with Curve and assistance from Rob Gee which will end in a showcase event at Curve. Mantle Lane Arts is also setting up a literary festival in Coalville with Joanne Harris as the main guest. Mantle Lane Press started with an oral history and branched out into small format books, a good size for poetry pamphlets and novellas, and anthologies. A third anthology and two further small format books are planned so far. The press was an interesting learning curve, especially on marketing. Non-fiction books are easier to market based on the topic. Fiction and poetry heavily rely on author involvement. Mantle Lane has supported the recent exhibition in Coalville about the first 50 volunteers who signed up to join the First World War and is undertaking a project with the National Trust based in the West Midlands.

Michaela Butter liked Bobba Cass’s idea of not being tied to the page, that the Leicester Writers’ Club were not insular, Leicester Writes’ creating space for anyone, disrupting models through commissions and inviting national organisations to come to Leicester, and Mantle Lane Arts reaching out to children.

Discussion from the floor talked about the cross-over between literary arts and other arts such as visual arts and music and recognising those talents in writers. Leicester was felt to be vibrant but lacked local support, e.g. it was easier to get a book reviewed in the Washington Post than in the Leicester Mercury. There was a mention of paying artists properly; there was a heavy reliance on voluntary work to organise events which meant performers weren’t always paid. Leicester has an eco-system of beginners to professionals. Farhana Shaikh talked about how she’d got funding to do a series of workshops in a local library because travel costs can deter people taking part in central events. Emma Lee said that if writers approached Leicester Writers’ Club and it was clear they didn’t have the experience to join, the Club pointed them in the direction of other, more relevant groups and Writing School East Midlands. Matthew Vaughan of Leicester Libraries talked about the libraries having an intern and one of the intern’s jobs would be to create a directory of writers’ organisations in Leicester/shire.

After an interval, during which a significant number of the audience left because it had begun snowing, the panel reconvened.

Henderson Mullin, CEO Writing East Midlands talked about WEM and its role as a catalytic organisation which worked to help writers help themselves. There were limitations due to funding and WEM having the equivalent of 3.5 full time staff. WEM offers writers one to one advice, mentoring, critical reads, Writing School East Midlands, writers’ conference and residencies. He briefly discussed the literary scenes in Norwich which highlights internationalism supported by UEA and its UNESCO City of Literature Status. Edinburgh is focused around its festival. Manchester is lively and recently won UNESCO City of Literature status. Birmingham’s scene was growing stronger, especially in Moseley. Nottingham was coalescing around its UNESCO City of Literature status. Derby had a book festival and was developing their spoken word scene through a couple of collaborative and motivated individuals. The common thread in all these successes was a sense of identity and strong theme. There were questions: did these initiatives benefit everybody, who gets prioritised, who controls  projects, how these effect diversity and multiplicity and whether literature can become part of the city’s culture, e.g. involve universities and local authorities?

James Urquhart Relationship Manager Arts Council England (ACE), talked about the richness and diversity of the scene in Leicester. ACE’s mission was achieving art for everyone and he was positive about the role of volunteers. He asked how writers can reach out to new audiences and felt raising the profile of writers relied on developing and sharing audiences and sharing and promoting each other. He cited the example of a project done by Maria Taylor where three “page poets” and three “stage poets” were invited to share a stage. He mentioned looking at creating partnerships and looking at non-arts organisations and potential funders, reaching out to Leicester’s twin cities and investigate touring and/or inviting festivals to Leicester. ACE were not there to tell artists what to do, it was down to artists to approach with ideas. He finished by asking, “Who are you invisible to?”

This last point provoked a discussion about organisations such as ACE reaching out to artists who might feel they couldn’t initiate contact either because they didn’t know what the organisations could do or felt jargon was a barrier. James Urquhart responded that, like WEM, he had a large area to cover and didn’t have the resources to do outreach as well. The point about funding bodies not being directional was mentioned. James was asked why ACE didn’t recognise stand-up comedy as an art, a question he couldn’t answer.

It was felt Leicester needed more confidence in what it was doing to create a joined-up picture and perhaps this event could create that forum. At this point the meeting was wound up – it was 9.30pm and the snow was getting worse.

There will be follow up meetings likely to take place in July and December 2018.

 

Leicester Writers’ Showcase: Literary Activity in Leicester

Leicester Writers' Showcase logo

Wednesday 13 December 2017 from 6.45pm at Leicester’s Central Library, Bishop Street, LE1 6AA, free entry, Leicester Writers’ Showcase is hosting an event focusing on literary activity in the Leicester and Leicestershire and what can be done to raise its profile locally, nationally and internationally.

Speakers include:

  • Councillor Sarah Russell, Assistant City Mayor for Children, Young People and Schools
  • Henderson Mullin, CEO, Writing East Midlands
  • James Urquhart, Relationship Manager for Literature in the Midlands, Arts Council England
  • Emma Lee, President Leicester Writers’ Club, poet, reviewer, editor and event organiser
  • Farhana Shaikh, Dahlia Publishing who also organises Leicester Writes meetings and festival and publishes The Asian Writer
  • Bobba Cass, activist, performance poet and spoken word event organiser
  • Carol Leeming FRSA, of Dare to Diva Productions, poet, songwriter, playwright and performance artist.

The event will be chaired by Attenborough Arts Centre director, Michaela Butter MBE.

There will also be a display of books by local writers, and a discussion and question and answer session with those present.

Leicester Writers’ Showcase

The Leicester Writers’ Showcase started in January 2017 and hosts a literary event once a month. Featured writers and publications include “Welcome to Leicester”, “Lost & Found: stories of home by Leicestershire writers” (both Dahlia Publishing), Carol Leeming, Marianne Whiting, Andrew Bannister, Julia Herdman, Mahsuda Snaith, Siobhan Logan, Soundswrite Poetry Press, Ella@100 – an evening of jazz-inspired poetry and November’s event will feature Margaret Penfold (15 November from 6.45pm, Central Library). All events are free to attend.

For Readers

The Leicester Writers’ Showcase offers a chance for local readers to meet and hear from local writers and find out what books local writers publish. Readers can discover local authors who have won major book deals, been shortlisted for the Hugo Awards, Carnegie Awards, won short story competitions, have been published both in the UK and abroad and host live literature events and readings locally. It gives readers the chance to ask questions directly to authors about their journey to publication, what promotions and publications are forthcoming and be the first to hear about new work so it’s a great networking opportunity.

Local writers are those either living or working in Leicester or who have been published by a Leicester publisher or who regularly attend a writers’ or spoken word group in the city. Showcases so far have included Leicester-themed anthologies, short stories, contemporary poetry, historical fiction, science-fiction, contemporary fiction and spoken word.

For Writers

Leicester Writers’ Showcase offers local writers the opportunity to use Central Library free of charge to hold a launch-style event, combining a reading, talk and question and answer session to suit with the library providing light refreshments during the interval. It is possible to writers to team up with another writer or for a writers’ group to showcase the group’s work. Writers and spoken word artists can bring books, CDs, pamphlets, etc to sell at the event.

Writers also benefit from the Libraries producing leaflets for distribution throughout Leicester City Libraries and similar venues. In addition the Leicester Writers’ Showcase prepare press releases which are sent to the Leicester Mercury, Great Central, BBC Radio Leicester and Writing East Midlands. In addition each Leicester Writers’ Showcase event is videoed and photographed and featured writers are able to use these in other promotional materials.

Leicester Writers’ Showcase Projects

Projects that have arisen from Leicester Writers’ Showcase include the Local Writers’ Fair held during Everybody’s Reading and the Local Writers’ Corner, which will feature books by local writers and will be set up during 2018. Leicester has a great literary tradition which the Leicester Writers’ Showcase supports.


 

Ella@100 jazz-inspired poetry in Leicester

Ella Fitzgerald would have enjoyeJazz-inspired poetry at Leicester Central Library to celebrate what would have been Ella Fitzgeralds 100th birthdayd her 100th birthday today. My poem, “Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me” has been published in “Ella @ 100”, an anthology celebrating Ella Fitzgerald in her birthplace of Newport News, Virginia.

This led to a discussion about celebrating her talent and achievements in Leicester. Leicester Libraries’ Leicester Writers’ Showcase combined with Black History Month seemed a perfect way to do this. Leicester has many talented poems and spoken word artists who have been influenced by jazz and this event will showcase those talents.

If you are in or able to get to Leicester on the evening of 18 October and would like to take part, please let me know.