Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Final Bilborough workshops with Nottingham Contemporary

As part of the Writing East Midlands Write Here residency at the Nottingham Contemporary, I have been lucky enough to act as a mentee on the project, learning from and assisting the Writer in Residence Wayne Burrows. As part of the residency Wayne has been facilitating workshops with a group of older people from a community centre in Bilborough, which have taken place both at the centre and at the Nottingham Contemporary gallery itself.

For the third workshop Wayne, Jo Dacombe, one of the resident artists at the Nottingham Contemporary, and I were at the Bilborough community centre once again, and welcomed three new participants to our ever growing group. We looked at the sound works created by the artist Jack Goldstein and currently exhibited at the Nottingham Contemporary. These sounds, pressed on coloured 7” records, made quite an impact on the group while we were visiting the gallery in the first week, and include recordings of burning forests, boats out at sea and cats fighting. They create a vivid image in the listener’s mind, bring back memories from the past to the foreground and can be incredibly evocative. I was struck by how every listener responds to recordings in their own personal way, much like how everyone has their own individual response and feelings to a particular piece of artwork, or piece of music or writing.

For the workshop Wayne had prepared a collection of old vinyl records by recovering the sleeves and the labels with blank paper, a virgin canvas waiting to be relabelled as something new. We then prompted the group to explore the memories that the sounds had created, or for them to create new pieces of artwork and writing based on what inspired them. We encouraged the group to follow their own individual creativity, and working one to one with the participants helped them create song lyrics and titles, snippets of speech captured from their recounting of the past or even, like Jack Goldstein’s sound works, more ambient sounds such as the forest and nature. Through their stories, discussions and individual creativity the group came up with some fascinating work, often poetic and poignant, spanning from the depths of space with a Dr. Who themed record, to the sandy deserts of the Sahara.

For the last workshop the group returned to the Nottingham Contemporary, to revisit the exhibitions and, in the cases of some new comers to the group, see them for the first time. There was an added dimension to the group with one of the members bringing her charming granddaughter along also. For this final session we set about collecting some of the thoughts and memories the work the group had created had evoked. We looked at the records and text totems created by the group over the past couple of weeks and asked the participants where their inspiration had come from.

We then walked round the exhibitions once more, this time prompting the group to find a piece of artwork that has some kind of relationship with the ones created by them, and this was recorded by Wayne, Jo and myself. What emerged from this exercise were many moving stories came to the surface. Stories of loss, of bereavement, of the struggle of coping with every day life and of self initiated growth and change at a very late stage in their lives. Stories of lost first loves, of running away during the Blitz and not wanting to accept the powerful force of change in an ever changing world, of hiding in forests, of enlisting to the air force and of family members estranged despite still living in the same village to this day. Though tinged with regret and sadness, the memories were often very positive, with perseverance and preservation a prominent theme among them, and I found the whole experience very powerful. By meeting up as a group at the community centre every week the individuals reach out to each other, giving comfort and understanding where it is most needed and able they continue to learn from each other, retaining the all important sense of self worth and friendship.

The workshops have been in my eyes a resounding success, engaging a group with forms of art and writing that they might otherwise have not have tried nor had access to. When asked if they would be interested in further workshops similar to the ones they had taken part in, the resounding answer was YES! Out of the group, only one member had been to the Nottingham Contemporary before, and it was wonderful to see them engaging and responding positively to the space. The work they created also acted as a vehicle for them to express their lives, their memories and experiences, and to me this was a blessing beyond riches.

Wayne will now collect some of the group’s thoughts on their work and weave them into a longer narrative, to be displayed later at Bilborough Library with the artwork created. As for me as a writer, it has given me ideas on larger bodies of work and stories and characters I’d like to explore, and these characters are currently tap dancing around my mind. As with any group workshops that come to a close, I feel sad to leave some of the lovely people I have had the pleasure of meeting through the projects, but also blessed to have taken part and to have met them.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Event Round Up

I’m embarking to London Town this weekend to soak up a bit of the capitals culture, but I just wanted to take a moment to let you know about some other fantastic cultural things happening over the next few days.

First is the Nottingham Writer’s Studio live literature event ‘Word of Mouth’ on Friday 18th Feb, which brings the comic actress Sophie Woolley to Nottingham alongside many other Nottingham writers as part of the Nottingham Light Night celebrations. Also featuring Alyson Stoneman, Paula Rawsthorne, Michelle Mother Hubbard, Robin Vaughan-Williams and Debris Stevenson to name but a few, the event is held at the Antenna cafĂ©-restaurant on Beck Street in Nottingham at 7pm and is even free entry.

And if poetry and writing isn’t your thing, but pirates are then you’re in luck! At the Maze in Nottingham that very same night (Friday 18th Feb, yes) the fantastic pirate band, Seas of Mirth, will bring their rum sodden shanties to get you heave-ho-ing on the dance floor. Get yourself there for 9pm and dance yourself silly. Taken from their facebook page:

Choose Mirth. Choose a weapon. Choose life on the high seas. Choose booty. Choose banging whores on an unexpected flexible rota. Choose pilfering the navy's rum. Choose ivory backgammon boards. Choose Matey Bubblebath and Pop-up Pirate. Choose tug of war with your Grandma. Choose battling with octopi in the Adriatic Sea. Twice. Choose a wench. Choose Judy Dench. Choose a tankard. One has a rat in it, watch out! Ye get the point...

Saturday at Nottingham Playhouse brings ‘Say Sum Thin’ the brilliant Mouthy Poets first show, featuring the poet Inua Ellams. The Mouthy Poets are a group of young people that don’t just ‘do poetry’ they write, perform, market, coordinate and facilitate their own community events, and are making waves through the city. The show starts at 8pm and promises to be unmissable, so unless you’re otherwise engaged, don’t miss it! For more information see here.

And later on in the week for those of you further ‘up North’ there is the poetry and spoken word night in Manchester, run by the new writing collective based in Manchester, Bad Language. Headlining the night is the fantastic poet, Jo Bell who is currently writing something everyday for the website ‘Something Every Day’ and is also the Writer in Resident at the Royal Derby Hospital as part of the Writing East Midlands Write Here programme. The night will undoubtedly be a great one, so get yourself down to the Castle Hotel on Oldham Street for 7.30pm. For more info see here.

So many brilliant events and so little time. I only with I could be in two places at once. Isn’t about time someone invented a transporter machine?

Monday, 14 February 2011

Write Here at Nottingham Contemporary

Write Here is the writer in residence programme organised by the writing development agency, Writing East Midlands. Write Here is fantastic as it creates residencies for writers in culturally and socially significant venues across the East Midlands, facilitates the creative development of writers and strengthens their links with local communities and audiences.

As part of the Write Here programme, the writer Wayne Burrows is the Writer in Resident at the Nottingham Contemporary. For a period of three months, Wayne is responding to the exhibitions, the museum’s atmosphere, services and working environment. As part of the residency Wayne is also running two series of workshops providing a supportive environment in which participants will be encouraged to creatively respond to all facets of Nottingham Contemporary; one series of the workshops is running in February and the other in March, the latter of which will be held in the Nottingham Contemporary’s ‘Study’ space and is open for participants, so if you’re interested contact Saima Kaur at

The February workshops are currently taking place with a group of older people from theBilborough Community Centre. These workshops particularly interest me, as I have previously worked in the care industry; I have an affinity with this demographic and I am lucky enough to work as a mentee on these sessions. I was interested in how the group would respond to the gallery and what their thoughts and feeling would be to the exhibitions on display there.Currently the exhibitions at the gallery focus on work by artists Jack Goldstein, reputably one of the most important ‘artist’s artists’ of the last 30 years, and Anne Collier, an exciting artist working with photography.

The workshops are collaborative, as they combine the expertise of both the writer in residence, Wayne, and one of the gallery’s four associate artists, Jo Dacombe to help the participants amalgamate the written with the visual and explore the exhibitions’ themes and ideas in a variety of ways. The first week acted as an introduction for the group to the gallery, with the group exploring the gallery and the exhibitions. A couple of the participants exclaimed that it was the first time they’d ever visited a place like the Nottingham Contemporary before and it was wonderful to see them engaging with the pieces, particularly the sound-scapes, Jack Goldstein’s recordings pressed onto vinyl of forests burning, cats fighting and a tornado to name but a few. After we had explored the exhibitions we all convened for another well deserved cup of tea and a discussion on what the pieces had said to us. There was an agreement from the group that everyone reads the pieces differently, and it was interesting to hear their thoughts and feelings on the experience, with one lady explaining that you can learn a lot about life just by looking at art.

The next workshop on the following Tuesday, Wayne, Jo and myself traveled to the community centre in Bilborough and met the group there. It was larger this time, with more participants who had not been able to attend the previous week but nonetheless keen to take part. For this workshop we reminded the group of some of the pieces that had engaged with at the gallery, and discussed Jack Goldstein’s ‘Text Totems’, explaining our mission for the session was to create some totems of our own.

The session commenced with the group cutting out words and poetic phrases from magazines and newspapers and arranging them on paper in a meaningful and significant way. Other participants played with the relationship between words and images, and wrote thoughts and phrases down, inspired by the Nottingham Contemporary’s exhibitions in an artistic way.

Wayne, Jo and myself worked one to one with the participants during this session, helping the groups with their pieces and encouraging them to approach them from a different angle. I particularly loved the charming, often poignant stories that emerged through this process, tales of first loves lost during the war, of a lady whose husband had gone to school with the man who was the inspiration for the character the Fat Controller on Thomas the Tank Engine, and a lady whose career in fashion had to be abandoned during the chaos of the war, but would never have met her husband had she not moved away from the city.

I think the group found the creative process to be incredibly therapeutic and enjoyable, with no two Totems the same and each offering a different perspective. There was a genuine sense of wellbeing after the sessions, with the participants pleased with their artwork and taking it home to show family and loved ones. I look forward to the creations we come up with tomorrow!

Friday, 4 February 2011

Spoken Word All Stars

Tuesday night brought the acclaimed Spoken Word All Stars touring show to Nottingham at the Lakeside Arts Centre. Organised by the charity, Poet in the City, and the leading performance poetry organisation, Apples and Snakes, Nottingham was privileged to host the only date for the show in the East Midlands, and I was lucky enough to be part of the vibrant audience.

The show presented such talents as El Crisis, Kat Francois (a World Poetry Slam Champion) and Oneness and included two guest poets from the East Midlands, Nottingham’s very own Mulletproofpoet and the brilliant Lydia Towsey. In what was a superb evening of poetry, beats and jazz the audience was swept away on a wave of comedy, tragedy and philosophy all interwoven by the improvised melodies of award-winning jazz musican Jason Yarde.

What I felt worked particularly well and found very striking was how the different voices of the poets all fit together to form a complete piece. The local poets stood alongside the Spoken Word All Stars cast, and whilst each poet was different in their own right and had their own distinctive voices, the show worked brilliantly as a whole and a powerful synergy was created between the pieces. Afterwards it felt as though you had been on a journey through the performances, that you had learned something intimate about the poets and that you had witnessed something more than a spoken word show, something special.

In a time when the arts are under more and more economic pressure it is increasingly important that audiences continue to attend such shows and display their support. For me they act not only as a release from the stresses and strains of my everyday life, but they also serve as an inspiration, showing me what can be achieved with the power of words and presenting different perspectives and ideas. They powerful, moving and prompt me think outside the 'box'.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Lyric Lounge 2010

Last night saw the grand finale of Lyric Lounge 2010. A temporary spoken word venue which has toured through the East Midlands; transforming found spaces into accessible hives of lyrical activity with linked live events aimed at attracting young people and a range of culturally diverse participants and audiences. The aim for this engaging concept is to reach out and generate new interest in spoken word performance, and I feel incredibly lucky to have been able to attend three out of the four festivals this year, which were held in Derby, Leicester, Nottingham and Loughborough.

To me each lounge was unique, with its own ambience and personality, yet also similar, like children born from the same mother. They created a place where the power of the spoken word, poetry and lyrics was celebrated for its ability to connect, entertain and inspire. They have reached out, developed and showcased the talent of local writers and groups and have also been host to such eminent poets as John Hegley, Jean Binta Breeze and John Agard. People were actively encouraged to share their work, whether it be at one of the many open mic opportunities, workshops or 1-2-1’s with professional poets held in the festivals, or even invited to write poetry on the tables, which were ingeniously decorated with bight paper table cloths stamped with the words ‘write on me’. For me the Lyric Lounge acted as a conduit, allowing the audience to reach out into different cultures and groups in the counties, and I feel deeply moved by the experience. The quality of the work by people involved in each of the Lounges has been exceptional, with people honest enough to bear part of themselves and connect through the vehicle of verse and rhyme.

The last performance of these fantastic festivals was the critically acclaimed ‘Showcase Live’, featured by the BBC, Truetube and the British Film Institute. With a cast of culturally diverse poets drawing from personal experience and examining themes from mental health to getting lost and being found, the show was at once brutally honest, dark and profoundly optimistic. The multi media show used video, music and poetry performance to further draw you into the lives and psyche of the poets, creating an unforgettable, powerful show. For me the performance highlighted one of poetry greatest assets: its ability allow people to eloquently express how they feel and make us realise that we through we live disconnected, often fragmented lives, we are not very different from each other at all. To bring unity and understanding through the power of language.

These events are absolutely invaluable in their ability to connect people, to develop voices or even just to make people see that they have a voice which is worth being heard. The Lyric Lounge will now return its region tour next year, visiting Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire and Rutland.

Lyric Lounge will also be returning for a day, Thursday the 7th October as part of the excellent Everybody’s Reading festival in Leicester, and I do hope you can make it over. For more information please see here.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Stories and Ideas

Just where do writers draw their ideas and inspiration? And how do these ideas translate themselves into memorable stories, poems and novels?

I think the answer is always, ultimately, a personal one, and so I will answer it personally. For me writing is an expression and exploration of the self. When I am writing anything that has happened to me is open to be used for inspiration, using a healthy dose of imagination to weave the ideas, experiences and thoughts together to form a story or longer narrative. I draw on my own experiences and I then reimagine them, recreate them and allow myself sufficient distance so I can write about them with fresh eyes to make the most out of the story I am trying to tell. This is not to say that I write autobiographical stories, my characters and events are fictional; however there will be an essence of my self, often manifested in my style of writing, that will ring true throughout all my work.

I’m a firm believer in the importance of stories. They help us understand and make sense of the world around us, and our place in that world. Throughout history it has been stories that have formed the basis of our learning and helped us grow intellectually and spiritually. Stories have the incredible power to take us away from our current stresses and strains and transport us to a place where we can escape the mundanity of life. And they also allow us to draw understanding from events that can often feel too random or colossal for us to comprehend when they happen in reality.

For me a good story will often help me put my own life into context, and it will stay with me, a true friend for life. I feel that a memorable story will have the strength to be honest and key into the thoughts and emotions that make us truly human, fallible and able to make and learn from our mistakes. I also feel that the process of writing is deathly honest. Writers need to be honest with themselves and their stories in order to explore and fully understand what their characters are feeling. In order to be true to ones story, one must first be true to oneself.
Stories sustain the spirit, and the very process of writing stories can be expressive, therapeutic and deeply enjoyable. Nevertheless, during the writing process it’s well documented that many people suffer from a conflict with their internal editor, that voice that questions the validity of your ideas and your ability to express them in the manner that you envisioned. It is important for writers to overcome their fear of failure in order to progress with the story they are trying to tell. As the saying goes: an idea that exists and is put into action is more important than an idea that exists only as an idea. And this I think is the challenge for all writers, to turn ideas into stories that stretch our world, to present us with new perspectives and different ways of seeing.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Round Up

Life has had the happy momentum of being incredibly busy of late, but I thought it was about time I collated some of my news into an easy to digest blog post. Like any concise news bulletin, here are some of the highlights of what has been going on:

Recently I performed at the weird and wonderful Macmillian fundraising event, Cogmachine, organized by some very special people in Derby. The event raised and impressive £422.11 and hosted such amazing artists, musicians and spoken word performers as Jo Lewis, The Super Normals, Mo Pickering, Simon Heywood and the utterly unique and mesmerizing Thomas Truax. For more information on the event please see Ms Mischeif’s blog, here.

I have had stories and poems published here, here and here.

I volunteered at Derby’s very own festival for alternative fiction, Alt. Fiction.
Focusing on Horror, Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Speculative Fiction, Alt. fiction was a fantastically organized event hosting many eminent writers, publishers and agents of the varied and popular genres. With an array of entertaining and informative panels, films, workshops and discussions for participants of all levels, the event was a true treasure trove of literary delights. Here I had the honor of seeing Robert Shearman perform on of his stories from his fabulous collection ‘Love Songs for the Shy and Cynical’. He was a fantastic reader, performing a lengthy and captivating story from memory, enchanting the audience and earning a place as one of my favorite writers.

I strongly recommend anyone who is interested in literature and wants to get more involved to either attend or volunteer at such events. There is so much information to be gleaned, contacts and new friends to be made and it is very interesting to experience the other side to how a literary event is run. Much like performing in a play, you form a bond with your fellow volunteers, and feel a certain sense of loss when the event is over. Volunteering is a great way to channel your passion and interest in literature and to become further involved in the industry, and you might even be privileged to participate in some of the event for free!

During the weekend of Alt. Fiction, a very different, but no less important literature event, the Lyric Lounge was also taking place in Derby. I attended the Sunday event at Deda and was delighted to see the venue transformed into a very well attended friendly and accessible participation space for spoken word, poetry and music. The day also featured Polarbear’s new innovative spoken word film/show ‘Return’, performers such as Sureshot and Mellow Baku, and the specially commissioned and very moving new showcase ‘Between the Laughter and the Tears’ by Joe Coghlan and Jo ‘Spice’ Blackwood, directed by Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze. An amazing event, and perfect end to what was a weekend filled with wonderful words.

And last but not least I was recently interviewed on the first of a new radio show for all literature lovers, The Reading Room. The show was aired on Sunday morning, for which I was privileged to be featured as a special guest, and I was able to promote the wonderful spoken word, music and writing collective, Hello Hubmarine, which I am involved in and very passionate about. I read a short spoken word piece which I performed with Hello Hub last year as part of our set at the Phrased and Confused tent at Summer Sundae and also discuss the upcoming Hello Hubmarine website. I’ll post the podcast of the show up here as soon as it is available.

Exciting times indeed, just watch this space!