This Tuesday 15 January sees the High Impact tour arrive in the West Midlands at a special event taking place at Birmingham Cathedral, 8 – 9.30pm. The event which has been created by Rosie Goldsmith, known in the UK as a champion of international fiction features 6 Dutch-speaking best-selling authors who will be performing together and sharing their work.
The writers involved are:
LIEVE JORIS, whose non-fiction writing of Africa, China, the Middle East & Europe has earned her the status of the VS Naipail of the Low Countries. Author of the acclaimed The Rebel’s Hour: ‘Powerful and timely, intensely imagine’ – Paul Theroux.
HERMAN KOCH, former actor & comedy star, novelist; his thrilling mega-hit The Dinner… ‘proves how powerful fiction can be in illuminating the modern world’ – The Economist.
RAMSEY NASR, the Dutch Poet Laureate and all-round Renaissance Man (actor, director, poet, journalist and librettist). ‘Anglophone readers are introduced to a poet of global scope’ – Marilyn Hacker on Heavenly Life.
PETER TERRIN, 2012 winner of the prestigious AKO Literature Prize and author of the psychological thriller The Guard: ‘A rich and gripping mix of all the ingredients that make for a truly haunting atmosphere’ – Writers’ Hub.
CHIKA UNIGWE, born in Nigeria, at home in Belgium; poet, shorty story writer & award-winning novelist of On Black Sisters’ Street: ‘Exquisitely observed and heartbreaking’ – The Guardian.
JUDITH VANISTENDAEL, the Posy Simmonds of Belgium; the bold & brilliant graphic novelist of When David Lost His Voice: ‘Big, bleak, brilliant and stark’ – The Economist.
You can read more information about the High Impact Tour including intrerviews with the Dutch-English translators, Sam Garrett & David Colmer, read a Q&A with event creator, Rosie Goldsmith and see videos of each of the writers involved and a spotlight of more information on each.
Tickets for this event are £8 (£5 concessions). To book, please click here to book online or you can call our box office on 0121 245 4455 or pop into The Box located in Birmingham Central Library.
The Rebels’ Hour by Lieve Joris (trans. Liz Waters) a review by Jonathan Davidson
Although writers from the Lowlands are perfectly capable of being inspired by their own countries, they travel well. Writers on history and culture and politics, like Geert Mak and Frank Westerman and Joris Luyendijk, and poets and novelists like Toon Tellegen and Otto de Kat have travelled and written. The travel writer Lieve Joris’ book, The Rebels’ Hour, is in this tradition; written from personal experience, vivid in explaining the complexities of nations and individuals. Her subject is the relentlessly disputed lands in and around the Congo.
Using the cowherd turned rebel leader Assani as a CCTV camera, The Rebels’ Hour pieces together The Congo’s contemporary history. The narrative cuts backwards and forwards: the High Plains in Eastern Congo in the 1960s, nearby Rwanda in the 1990s, capital city Kinshasa in the early 2000s. A brief chronology allows the reader to at least grasp at The Congo’s story (King Leopold II of Belgium’s private property in 1885, Mobutu’s ‘reign’ from the 1960s, the Democractic Republic of Congo by 2006) and a cast-list gives the backstory to key historical figures. And two maps – absolutely vital to understanding the story – remind readers of just how vast and distant is this heart of the African continent, described by one character as ‘a black hole into which everyone falls’.
Of course, there are no ‘characters’ in The Rebels’ Hour: these are real people, whether they are known historical figures or the hundreds of thousands of men, women and children who find themselves drifting or running or fighting their way from one corner of The Congo to the next. By describing the tins of Fanta that are drunk, the fine detail of the destruction of a railway system, the shine on the cloth of a uniform ironed beyond crispness, so many details, Lieve Joris releases the humanity of the years of violence that have overtaken The Congo.
And what violence. Child soldiers, rebels, generals; complex, sophisticated, troubled men (and some women) always about to break camp; being led, led, led, then leading, then dead. The turns of fortune are Shakespearean; every man holding the sword onto which every other man is running himself. Assani remains the centre of The Rebels’ Hour, but he is hard to get a grip on; so clearly dedicated to a cause but that cause remaining so unclear, becoming more opaque at every advance and set-back. To say that this is a fascinating book is to underplay its importance; it explains, in part, a country whose recent history looks almost inexplicable.
Lieve Joris comes to the West Midlands on Tuesday 15 January as part of the event, High Impact: Literature from the Low Countries which is taking place at Birmingham Cathedral, 8 – 9.30pm. Tickets for this event are still available, more information about this event can be found by clicking here. You can book online through the event page, by calling our box office on 0121 245 4455 or by popping into The Box which is located in Birmingham Central Library. Tickets will also be available on the night of the event.
The Future Poets’ Festival, which we ran on the 4 August 2012, was filmed by Ulfah Arts a creative social enterprise that uses arts and media as tools of social empowerment. The day was curated by a group of 16 – 19 year olds from the West Midlands region and was Project Managed by Amy Martin. Developed by us in partnership with mac and Ideas Tap and funded by Clore Duffield Literature and Poetry Awards. The Festival offered a programme of workshops, exhibitions, installations, screenings, games, an open mic and performances from some of the best performance poets in the UK. Featuring PolarBear, John Berkavitch, Jodi Ann Bickley, Al Hutchins, Musa Okwonga, Bohdan Piasecki and Kim Trusty.
You can see the video created by Ulfah Arts here: http://youtu.be/dEzGoq4U6Go?hd=1.
There was also a Storify made of the day, which is here: http://storify.com/amyrozelmartin/future-poets-festival
Libby Hewitt and Sophie Todd attended our Seven Minute Stories event (a Writing West Midlands / West Midlands Readers’ Network Partnership Event in celebration of the Network’s short story commissioning project 2012.) and here they both share with us their experiences of the evening.
Six authors were faced with this task when they joined together at the Copthorne Hotel, Birmingham. A gorgeous setting, it promised to be an evening of teasing story segments as we learned about the commission project the West Midlands Reader’s Network (a regular partner of Writing West Midlands, who helped stage the event) had run this year.
Six lucky West Midlands Reading Groups were chosen to collaborate with six of our region’s authors to create a short story. The reading groups and writers met up for dynamic discussions about what they wanted their story to say and identify the special ingredients which would result in their own unique literary treat. The writers shared their impressions upon meeting up with their group for the first time and let us gain an insight as to how this unique process worked for them.
Writer Helen Cross explained that with this kind of story development you come away with two different impressions at the initial stage; firstly you have the facts people give you and secondly the impressions a writer takes from the situation, the surroundings and the people. For Helen these impressions were of Hereford and the struggles of women. She was particularly struck by the beautiful building they met in which was originally a meeting place for Suffragettes. These elements weaved their way through Helen’s mind to create ‘Back to Work’ and when the seven minute extract was up we were all left captivated and wanting to complete the story.
The night progressed in a similarly enthralling manner as the writers continued with their seven minute extracts. Lindsey Stanberry-Flynn’s battle through torrential rain to reach her group’s first meeting left a lasting impression as her short story transported us onto a narrow boat in the midst of a storm and left us hanging, wondering whether our female protagonist would have the nerve to fight through the stormy waters of her relationships in “A Dream Job”.
As the stories carried on we could see how the first meetings with the group really did seep into the narrative; the cakes which greeted Jeff Phelps found their way in to the heart of his story and Richard Lakin’s “Lye Noon” tale of an outsider struck a chord with members of his group, and us all.
As each author walked us through their creative process and first meeting our appetite was primed for their extract; getting to hear what was created in collaboration with these reading groups was a wonderful experience. The opportunity for the groups and the writers to work together truly created some fantastic stories and as the evening drew to a close I found myself eager to get my hands on a copy of all the anthology – keen to go home and finish reading what was so beautifully started!
Tuesday 20 November brought the West Midlands Readers’ Network event Seven Minute Stories to The Copthorne Hotel, Birmingham. Six regional authors- Helen Cross, Lindsay Stanberry-Flynn, Fiona Joseph, Richard Lakin, Jeff Phelps, and Polly Wright- were commissioned to write a short story over the space of a few months, and were paired up with six reading groups from across the West Midlands, ranging from the heart of Birmingham to the Shropshire/Wales border.
As Roz Goddard, Co-ordinator of the Readers’ Network (and brilliant host of the evening) explained, the themes of each story were the result of brain-storming/haggling sessions between the groups and their respective writers. One of my favourite things about the evening was each author’s explanation of how their first impressions of the locality of their reading groups, and the members themselves, had a direct influence upon the people, themes, and events in their story. Fiona Joseph, for instance, worked with the Nubian Readers’ Group, based at the Drum in Newtown, Birmingham, and on her first visit found herself in the midst of a loud and vibrant wake for a local man. Joseph’s A Pair of Ruby Cufflinks, a subtle yet very powerful story about a man’s recent affair, centres around the morning of his lover’s funeral, and is set in Birmingham’s Jamaican community. It is this local connection which gave each story its depth, and also made each completely unique.
While the basic premise of the evening was clear from its title- each author read a tantalising seven minutes of their short story- what I had not anticipated was the heartfelt reaction to the stories from the members of the local reading groups.
This seemed particularly true of Polly Wright’s Reading for Well-Being group, which is based at Sparkhill’s Zinnia Centre- a provider of specialist mental health services. Polly explained that her group, which she has led for two years, were keen that the story should revolve around mental health issues, and feature culturally diverse characters that reflected the local area. The outcome was Philomena, a brilliantly funny yet haunting tale about Jasmin- a young Pakistani woman- and her journey toward over-coming the mental health problems which have led to her child being taken away from her. It is Jasmin’s meeting with Amy Winehouse-lookalike Philomena- a mysterious young Irish woman whom no one else at the centre seems to be able to see- which propels her towards recovery, and which reveals a stark piece of local history along the way.
The best thing about the evening was that it provided a rare opportunity to hear fiction being read aloud. Reading is generally something done alone; a way into a silent world. And so hearing each story first through its author, out loud, added a whole new dimension to the experience of reading it from the page later on. Helen Cross in particular brought her story Back to Work (which features a woman we are led to believe is a time-travelling Suffragette) to life through her added emphasis and dramatic pauses, and her brilliant voices which stayed with me as I finished it off at home.
The West Midlands Readers’ Network supports reading across the region. They do this by working with reading groups and writers to commission new writing from regional writers, working with libraries to develop and deliver skill-sharing sessions for their staff, and brokering events featuring regional writers. They work with regional literary festivals including the Birmingham Book Festival to bring exciting reading events to the public. www.wmreadersnetwork.co.uk
We are pleased to announce that the programme for our annual literature Festival, the Birmingham Book Festival, is out now! For anyone who is on the Festival’s postal mailing list, you will have received or be soon receiving a Festival brochure, if you aren’t on the Festival’s mailing list you can either join by clicking the Join Our Mailing List page or Request a Brochure.
Now in its 14th year, events range from the delights of acclaimed writers Liz Lochhead, Jackie Kay, Simon Armitage, Patrick Gale, David Edgar, Femi Oyebode, Tiffany Murray, Peter F. Hamilton, Caitlin Moran and Stuart Maconie to the beauty of dramatic poetry performance Being Human and the quiet strangeness of night at the sixth all night writing workshop.
Visit the one off digital project Reliable Witness, an interactive transmedia installation that allows you to influence the outcome of the story. Featuring new writing from West Midlands writers Mez Packer and Rochi Rampal, Reliable Witness is a unique literature experience that exploits modern technology to weave an unforgettable tale.
With a main programme and a fringe festival you have so much to choose from. Throughout the Festival you will find literature experiences for all tastes. There will be a festival atmosphere in the city for National Poetry Day as we welcome a new Birmingham Poet Laureate and the Emergency Poet in her 1960s ambulance.
To see the full programme, please click here.
Tuesday 31 July
6.30pm – 9pm/Free- but please reserve places
Ikon Gallery, 1 Oozells Square, Brindleyplace, Birmingham, B1 2HS
Award-winning Birmingham poetry press Flarestack Poets launches 3 new pamphlets, with readings from the winners of their 2012 Pamphlet Competition, David Clarke and Nichola Deane, as well as from some of the poets represented in the competition anthology, including Oliver Comins, Michael Conley, Claire Dyer, Jacci Garside, Roy Marshall, Janet Smith, Michael W. Thomas, Charles Wilkinson and Madeleine Wurzburger.
Of David Clarke’s collection Gaud Alison Brackenbury writes ‘David Clarke’s exact, unsparing poems are executed with an eerie coolness. His intriguing narratives have their own sensual music, as subtle as his rhymes.’
Nichola Deane’s My Moriarty is a series of meditations – at times urgent, at times playful – on memory, relationships, and the mechanics of language. The poet is an elegant sleuth, aware that meaning is an elusive quarry. Sylvia Is Missing offers a selection of the best poems submitted for Flarestack Poets 2012 pamphlet competition.
Flarestack Poets is well known for writing that is both adventurous and accessible, and has produced distinctive collections from established and new voices. For more information, please visit their website www.flarestackpoets.co.uk.