Professional poet and playwright, Philip Monks, will be leading a series of workshops this summer as part of the Art in the Heart project to promote visual art collections in the West Midlands. Working with a consortium of over twenty visual art spaces, Writing West Midlands is supporting this initiative through a poet in residence programme. In addition to the workshops, a book of images and poems will be produced using the poems created during the workshops and some commissioned from regional and national poets.
Based in the Midlands, Philip has undertaken many residencies and workshops in museums, galleries and arts venues. He has also worked extensively with schools, writing groups, and as a visiting university lecturer in creative writing. Alongside his own work, including publications, commissions and performances, he has edited several anthologies of poetry for both young people and adults.
Full details of all of the Art in the Heart workshops are in our Event Calendar. Below is a brief overview of when they’re taking place and where.
Saturday 25 May, 1 – 3.30pm
The Barber Institute of Fine Arts, Birmingham
Saturday 8 June, 2 – 4pm
The Potteries Museum & Art Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent
Thursday 13 June, 2 – 4.30pm
Ikon Gallery, Birmingham
Saturday 15 June, 10.30am – 12.30pm
Herbert Art Gallery & Museum, Coventry
Saturday 29 June, 1 – 3.30pm
Eastside Projects, Birmingham
Saturday 6 July, 2 – 4pm
Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon
Saturday 13 July, 1 – 3pm
Aston Hall, Birmingham
Details still to be confirmed for a workshop at Worcester City Art Gallery & Museum and Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust, Shropshire. All of these workshops are free to attend but you are advised to book, please see the individual workshop listings for more details. All levels of experience are welcome.
Arvon is currently renovating their centre near Clun in the West Midlands – The Hurst, former home of playwright John Osborne and set in a beautiful 26 acre site. The scale of the work is substantial, and so the centre is currently closed for the rest of the year. Arvon has worked with Writing West Midlands to commission poet and writer Deborah Alma to produce a body of creative writing in response to the changes taking place at The Hurst, and its place in the local community.
During the renovation of the Manor House she will speak to, or read the writing of, people connected to the past, present and future of the house and create ‘found’ poems from their words. To find out more and read Deborah’s blog, visit the website: http://www.arvonblog.org/news/category/thehurst/.
This residency is being run by Arvon in association with Writing West Midlands.
The clouds were ominous; it was the day we’d been eagerly anticipating (for the last couple of weeks, anyway) and tensions were running high-ish. But when you’re armed with cake for 65, what can go wrong?
We welcomed four fantastic crime-thriller writers and a cheerful audience into the lovely Water Hall at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery for an afternoon of treacherous tales, Q&As and cake. Having tucked into generous-sized Madeira with cherries in it I can personally vouch for the refreshments. And the authors didn’t disappoint; when the laughter from the audience wasn’t filling the hall (who knew crime could be so amusing?), we were all leaning forward in our seats eagerly listening to the quadruplet as they offered advice to other writers, shared personal stories and read from their work. A personal highlight was hearing Helen Cross talking about her newest book Wolf-Girls: Dark Tales of Teeth, Claws and Lycogyny; ‘he swung from her arm-pit hair like a monkey from a tree’ (please excuse the inaccuracy of this quotation; it is purely from memory!). I missed the beginning where she announced she would be reading from this book (I was undertaking the important task of preparing the cake) and thought her protagonist was just a very hairy woman. The realisation made me laugh out loud.
Having been previously unfamiliar with Sabine Durrant and Nathan Filer’s work, I am excited to get started on both of their novels. ‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’ This is the only blurb on the beautiful cover of The Shock of the Fall (Filer) and in these six sentences I am sure I am going to be riveted. And having read a review of Under Your Skin (Durrant) where the Guardian warns that the novel “rapidly unravels into a maelstrom of tension and paranoia” I doubt that this will be any different. With a reputation for devouring books like my life-depended on it, and being prone to staying up all night to do so, I’m sure I can look forward to a fair amount of happy sleep-deprivation.
I have read, and enjoyed, a book of Chris McCabe’s (pen name John Macken) before, so I was excited to walk away with Breaking Point: the third of four books starring Reuben Maitland, an ex-CID agent. This one features the slightly sci-fi concept that DNA can predict homicidal tendencies. I am definitely interested! And concerned. But in a good way.
Chaired by the wonderful Roz Goddard, the event shocked, thrilled and, most of all, entertained us all. And only a small percentage of that was because of the cake.
Cake word total = 4.
By Sian Buckley
By Sara Beadle
It’s one of the most creative and tense times in my year, and whilst staring for long hours at a detailed spreadsheet I have to be careful not to take leave of my senses and get giddy at the first sight of sunshine in the quad below our Birmingham office (which was, incidentally, yesterday).
This year’s festival, our 15th, is special in several ways. I’m sure every programmer says that about their offspring, but it’s certainly true for us. You might have caught the whispers of a new name, a new library, a new look. We will be releasing some confirmed details formally on 4 June, but I can give you the highlights. The festival, long known as Birmingham Book Festival, is being reimagined as Birmingham Literature Festival, a name much more in keeping with our ethos. We’ve never been solely about books, and now we can fully embrace the range of platforms available to writers and to literature. To go with our new name, we have teamed up with designers Empty Creative to generate a new look for the festival. It’s a delicate challenge – finding an identity that visualises our future whilst carefully capturing our past. We look forward to showing you the end result.
In addition to a new name, we are moving many of our festival events into the new Library of Birmingham. You can’t have failed to see it growing out of the ground in Centenary Square – and what a splendid building it is. You can find out more, and see inside it here. This new space is presenting us with all sorts of interesting opportunities and challenges – and we’re enjoying creating a programme that uses more hours of the day and is built to match the spaces we have within the library. We will still be working with some of our other longstanding venue partners, including the beautiful Ikon Gallery and Birmingham Cathedral.
So what can you expect? The festival you know and love, with a few noticeable improvements. A programme of headline events including Will Self, Germaine Greer, Lionel Shriver, Catherine O’Flynn, Benjamin Zephaniah and many others; special interest events including a lecture on liberty from campaigner Shami Chakrabarti and a Victorian sideshow with novelist and performer Rosie Garland, and creative writing workshops including poetry in translation and dramatic writing.
Full details will be released in August. Before then, however, you will be able to book for some events online, and we will be able to tell you more about our plans.
Incidentally, this is a great time to become a Friend of Writing West Midlands – you’ll receive discounts on festival tickets, as well as other benefits, with your membership.
While you wait for those full details to be released, you may be in the market for some light reading? If you aren’t busily reading your way through the latest from all the writers named above, I can heartily recommend reading or re-reading Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind. Whilst I hang my head for not having read it before now, I find myself unashamedly pushing it onto friends, neighbours and colleagues. There’s nothing like losing yourself in deep red Georgian fields and civil war battles on a quiet spring evening. A truly epic read which may take over your life temporarily, but will certainly be worth it.
By Sian Buckley
Last week was a busy week for us; we celebrated World Book Night on Tuesday at The Hive in Worcester, and congratulated the winners of our Short Fiction Competition on Friday the Copthorne Hotel in Birmingham.
The World Book Night Quiz saw a huge turnout of wittily-named teams, all eager to exercise their literary knowledge in a competitive spirit. It was close but the winning team, Fortune’s Fools, walked away happy with a hamper full of goodies, and the Sesquipedalians (def. the use of long-winded words) won a bottle of wine for making me laugh out loud with their team name. There was a performance round in which students from Worcester University dramatically read lines from well-known novels, and the teams were required to figure out what they were. Thank you to The Hive team for providing the space and the lovely tea and cake!
The Short Fiction Competition turned out to be a beautiful intimate event where we enjoyed wine and readings of the winners’ short stories. Each was presented with their award by the wonderful Tiffany Murray and, being the sociable bunch that they were, everyone ended up staying late to chat and swap contact details (and drink more wine!). We were amazed to discover that Hilary McGrath, the first place winner, had drawn inspiration for her story, Kalashnikov for Shoes, from her friend Sumaya, who had travelled all the way from Kurdistan especially for the reception – not only that but she and runner up Ed Briggs had both travelled from France for the occasion! It was an honour to have them there and of course our more local winners; Ken Elkes and Garrie Fletcher. You can read the stories here.
By Jonathan Davidson
We are always looking for new ways in which writers can connect with the wider world and a really smart new project we are working on with the Regal Cinema, Tenbury Wells is doing just that. The Cinema is a wonderful example of an art deco cinema and has recently been fully restored and fitted out with all the very latest Digital Projection equipment. They also have an enterprising Heritage Access Officer, Sarah Fellows, who has enabled us to commission three writers to provide a series of short ‘flash film fictions’. These are short pieces of writing, screened before every film and responding either to the film itself or to the experience of cinema-going. The pieces started being screened in April and the project will continue through to the summer, and they are proving something of a hit.
Our three writers are Stewart Derry, Garrie Fletcher and Anna Lawrence-Pietroni, all of whom have an interest in film but none of whom would consider themselves particular experts. What they are very good at – if the pieces of writing so far screened are anything to go by – is identifying how potent film and cinema is, what a strange and wonderful thing it is and what a great source of inspiration film can be for a creative writer. We hardly needed proof that film is inspired by literature – most films these days seem to be adaptations of a book – but it is nice to see the prospect of a film calling forth some really sharp, clever, thoughtful pieces of writing. If you get a chance to see a film at the Regal Cinema in Tenbury Wells, look out for our Flash Film Fiction before your film. And in the meantime, here’s Stewart Derry’s piece screened in advance of the film ‘Hitchcock’:
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. My name is Alfred Hitchcock. The film you are about to see is based on actual events in my life.
‘What?’ I hear you say. ‘Hitch, as the leading man?’
Yes! I was due a part after so many cameo appearances. You will also be introduced to a new leading lady – Alma Reville. She will, quite literally, take your breath away. She hasn’t a blonde hair on her head!
Surprised, are we? Choking on your popcorn? The master of suspense . . . losing his touch? We seem to have some film buffs in the audience. When you have made as many films as I have, it can sometimes be frightfully delicious to break the rules and confound all expectations.
I haven’t seen the film yet, but I’m sure I’ll follow most of the action. After all, I played the role quite superbly many years ago.
There will, of course, be a MacGuffin. I won’t spoil your pleasure by revealing it.
By the way, if you happen to be sitting next to a pain in the asterix, be careful not to annoy them too much. They may have murder on their mind.
Writing West Midlands is the Literature Development Agency for the West Midlands.
For 2013, the Festival has adopted a new name and will move into the new Library of Birmingham. The Festival needs to update its brand identity in line with this.
We are seeking a design team to produce a new brand identity, to include logo, colour scheme, web banners and selected graphics to be used by the in-house design team in future marketing materials.
The Festival is in its 15th year. Every autumn we produce 30-40 events and workshops in Birmingham city centre. The programme is bespoke, curated to bring the very best writers, ideas and literature together for ten days. 2013 is a key year for the Festival – moving most of its activity into the new Library of Birmingham as part of an exciting new partnership.
Please email Sara Beadle, Programmes Director (firstname.lastname@example.org) with the following:
- A brief (100-200 words) summary of how you would approach this work.
- An outline quote for these services.
- Samples of work produced, or a link to a website or online portfolio.
Shortlisted candidates may be invited to meet with Writing West Midlands to further discuss the work.
Deadline for Tender Applications: 5pm, Monday 15th April 2013.
Please note in the event of large numbers of applications we will only be able to contact shortlisted candidates.
Writing West Midlands reserves the right to withdraw and reissue the tender if no suitable applicants are found within the time outlined. www.birminghamliteraturefestival.org / www.writingwestmidlands.org
By Jonathan Davidson
Tuesday 2 April 2013 was John Donne Day. Official. Or rather, a group of enthusiasts decided that the 400th anniversary of John Donne composing his poem ‘Good-Friday, 1613, Riding Westward’ while visiting Polesworth was worth commemorating. Polesworth, you will not need telling, is the rather small town in north Warwickshire that is building something of a reputation for innovative poetry events and activities. Fr Philip of the Abbey Church at Polesworth is a guiding light as is Malcolm Dewhirst, poet and event organiser who lives locally. Over the years Polesworth has been the happy recipient of a Poets’ Trail – commissioned and previously-enjoyed poetry being set in wood and stone at various points round the town – and a writer in residence project linked to a major archaeological dig in the Summers of 2011 and 2012.
For John Donne Day, colleagues from Birmingham City University, led by Dr Gregory Leadbetter who heads up their new Institute of Creative and Critical Writing, worked with Writing West Midlands and Fr Philip and Malcolm to offer an afternoon and evening of academic discussion, guided tours and performances of poetry – commissioned from Jane Commane, Jacqui Rowe, Greg Leadbetter and Malcolm Dewhirst, and by Donne himself – the poems, not the performance. Our attention focussed on the poem ‘Good-Friday, 1613, Riding Westward’ but other poems took their turn in the sun. While we all enjoyed hearing Donne’s poems it was particularly good to hear the four commissioned poems, each heading off to their own quarter of the compass inspired by Donne. This was all organised at very short notice – two or three weeks I seem to recollect – and audience numbers were modest, perhaps fifteen people at maximum, although this included new and old friends from Oxfordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Coventry and Birmingham as well as some Polesworthians.
And do you know, it was rather wonderful. Wonderful to be in the delightfully sunlit environs of Polesworth Abbey, to be lolling against the very fireplace in front of which Donne would have toasted his marshmallows, had they been available, to be taking a turn around the garden or down into town to scoff a plate of pancakes from the American Diner or a bag of chips with extra salt from the chippy. But most wonderful was to be talking about poetry, listening to poetry, writing poetry and thinking about poetry with others who were doing the same. We don’t do this nearly enough, simply give ourselves up to literature and notice suddenly that the sun has set and time has moved on but through literature we are immortal. Stop me, someone. Perhaps I exaggerate the mood, but those who were there will remember it as a special day and it was moving to know that a poem by John Donne could still gather together a group of people four hundred years later. It gives one faith.
John Donne Day 2014 will be on Tuesday 22 April 2014, hosted, of course by Polesworth Abbey. Fine weather is almost guaranteed, there will be plenty of things to do and plenty of people with whom to share poetry. Whatever calendar you use – Gregorian, Julian, it really doesn’t matter – make a date in it and join us for the second John Donne Day. #johndonneday @johndonneday
John Donne Day – Made in the Midlands / Unlikely England
By Joanne Penn
Their guide, a man called Khalid, pointed a dirty finger to show them the direction of the border. But first they had to cross the river. Shiro helped his grandfather, first testing that each stone was unlikely to topple them into the icy water. Then he held his grandmother’s hand and slowly guided her across. His aunt crossed easily, carrying the baby and a load of rice and blankets. – Kalashnikov for Shoes by Hilary McGrath, the overall winning piece from our Short Fiction Competition 2013.
The competition this year featured 62 entries from all across the UK and beyond, two out of the four winners currently live in France. The other winners are: The Life of Philip McAvoy by Ken Elkes from Bristol, Twenty Miles South by Garrie Fletcher from Birmingham and
Light Sensitive by Ed Briggs who lives in France. It was a tense but exciting competition, with all four members of our team reading every piece we then gathered a short list which was given to special guest judge and novelist, Tiffany Murray, who chose the winners.
There were some interesting interpretations of the theme for the competition, ‘travel’. From stealing pensioners, to an unpleasant ending of a family trip, travelling around India, saying goodbye to loved ones, becoming lost in your imagination, seeing Birmingham as Paris and convincing family members that you are on holiday in Romania when in fact, you are just in your own house to a journey on the number 11 bus with sandwiches and a blind date with an unexpected ending! The calibre of writing was fantastic and many of the pieces provided shocks, twists and turns, delight and sparked debate – the short list was not easy to decide! Congratulations to all of the winners and to everyone who entered!
The winning pieces will be read – hopefully by the winners themselves – at a celebratory event on Friday 26 April, 6.30 – 8.30pm at The Copthorne Hotel in Birmingham. Places for this event are free, to book please email me at joanne[at]writingwestmidlands.org.
The Short Fiction Competition replaced the Birmingham Book Festival Short Story Competition which ran for two years. After some wonderful stories, pieces of prose, poems and plays; this year’s competition was the last one that we will run for now, but look out for other opportunities to showcase your writing soon! If you would like to receive our monthly e-newsletter to hear about other literature opportunities from both us and other organisations, please join our mailing list. If you also add your postal address, we will send you our season brochure which comes out three times a year.
By Jonathan Davidson
Our first Student Writers’ Toolkit turned out to be a great success. I shouldn’t be surprised. Our larger version, The Writers’ Toolkit, is always good and typically sells out, and this new low-cost Student version had many of the same characteristics. Essentially, it was a crash course in where a writing career might take one, assuming one did not career off and crash, and there are plenty of writing careers that have done just that. I won’t waste time listing the sessions and who spoke because I’m more interested in what it means to so actively support emerging writers. Our rationale is simply that we should help create as perfect a market as possible for writers and part of that is to give many writers the chance to meet and talk to industry professionals to enable them to shape their writing careers as appropriately as possible, or to decide to do something else.
If ours was an industry that treated all alike – that happily scoured the country from shore to shore to find writers worth investing in – then there would be no need to do this, but sadly it isn’t. Coventry – where the Student Toolkit took place – and the West Midlands may only be 55 minutes away from London but this isn’t a region that presents itself as being on the fast-track to the world of fiction or poetry or publishing generally. This is frustrating for us. Frustrating because there are wonderful writers in our region who should be read or heard by more people, and frustrating because any industry that demands so much personal involvement in the form of readers and audiences should really take more time to get to know more of those readers and more of those audiences, and even those who might write for them.
I’m in danger of repeating a common complaint, that the world of traditional publishing has a few well worth paths from a few key locations but otherwise operates in isolation. And of course this is fatuous. It is a much more complicated industry working on many levels. But it is true that writers in some parts of the UK do feel themselves at a disadvantage from those in other parts. Or perhaps I’m not talking about place; perhaps I’m talking about class and the aspirations that go with it? Yes, I think I am. When the tide went out in manufacturing in the Midlands and other regions in the 1980s, literature and cultural activity did not automatically replace it as an industry. There’s plenty of good stuff, no doubt about it, but more than a 13% of literary endeavour appears to be located in London and 13% is the relative size of London to the whole country.
Anything we can do to encourage the writing industry to work in our regions and others is good. So although our Student Writers’ Toolkit was only a small start, we hope and expect it to be the beginning of much else. Write. Connect. Onwards.