Reviews and comment from the Demon Crew - creative writers at De Montfort University, Leicester.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Incomplete novels and attack dolphins

I could wax lyrical about the quality of the readings at the "Work in Progress" evening, but for the sake of sanity (yours) and dignity (mine) , I won't. The idea for the event was simple: three authors - Michelene Wandor, Jonathan Taylor and Will Buckingham (the last two are DMU lecturers) - gave readings from books they are in the process of writing as well as talking about the process of coming up with ideas, shaping them, and setting them to paper.

In the midst of a sea of "How To Imagine" books that set out the rules of inspiration with firm, patronising hands, the event took a refreshingly open-minded approach. The three authors were very specific about their own methods, but made little attempt to push them on to the audience as the Only Method.

It's an approach which would rub some people the wrong way: "What's the point if they're not going to tell you how to write a novel? If I wanted to hear people talk about what they personally do, I'd go read a blog," they might say in rather nasal tones.

But they aren't the target audience: The target audience is writers, who chafe at being told how they should find inspiration. Attempts at setting down hard and fast rules for imagination result less in delighted cries of "Thank you! I wouldn't have known how to get an idea otherwise" and more in low snarls of "Release the attack dolphins."

Or perhaps that's just me. Either way, the three authors earned their applause at the end of the evening.

Phillip Dobson

No Enemy to Conquer

From childhood to adulthood we're constantly faced with people who let us down. This may be something as small in scale as your best friend talking about you behind your back when you're both fifteen or it could relate to something as catastrophic as the Holocaust.

When I attended Michael Henderson's lecture on his new book No Enemy to Conquer, I did not know what to expect. His lecture was based on sharing the stories of reconciliation that he has come across in his 50-year career.

The main conflicts that he spoke about were the Catholic/Protestant conflict in Ireland and the Holocaust in the Second World War. He described how, even when people are subjected to horrific pain and upset, some eventually rise above it and forgive the people who hurt them.

This lecture taught me many things. I'd never truly considered what forgivness was to me. The conclusion I've came to since attending the lecture is that forgivness cannot be forced, it has to have the right timing and that, If you want forgivness and reconciliation, you have to earn it.

What I took away from the lecture was this: if you don't have it in you to forgive someone who has wronged you, you are the person who is being punished as living your life with bitterness and sadness is no life at all.

Hayley Nunan

Forgiveness - a fact of life?

Forgiveness is a part of a journey, but what part of that journey it is is different for everyone. That was the key message I left with after attending Michael Henderson's talk, "No Enemy to Conquer". Henderson did not lecture us all that forgiveness is mandatory. He simply told the group uplifting stories of his experiences with forgiveness and what he has observed of others.

Whilst he told us these stories, I thought of the numerous times I should have forgiven and hadn't. I thought of the pointless grudges I have borne and how the only person who lost was me. A man in the audience said, "The heart of faith is the belief that you should forgive." I disagree. I think that the heart of faith is the belief that you have the ability to forgive and the knowledge that the one who forgives, is the one who wins.

A A Wilson

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Childhood hero, adult inspiration

When I was a child, my Dad sat my brother and me down and said: "You've got to watch this film, it'll change your life."

The film was Kes, and it changed my perception of the world. I knew then that the world wasn't just slow-motion romantic strolls and Transformers.

I have a strange built-in shyness around hero figures of mine. When Ken Loach entered the room, I wanted to drag him away and ask him millions of questions I knew nobody would want to ask him but me. Everybody has a different perception of the films Loach makes - that's why they are so brilliant.

Loach talked about his early years in television - a time that makes me insanely jealous. Can you imagine the BBC making those films now? The men in the suits would have heart attacks.

Politics are important to Loach, and play an important part in all his work. Some say his work is downbeat and miserable, but others - like me - believe that his work is full of hope and truth. You never feel cheated.

At 74 years of age, Ken Loach looks fit and strong and he talks with passion and gusto. I could have listened to him all night. If I become successful in my chosen medium, I may be able to battle that hero-worshipping shyness and do just that.

Daley James Francis

image sourced through wikimedia commons

No Birds or Flowers

I never knew poetry could be so diverse.

With collages and darkness accompanying Simon Perril's poetry, Tom Raworth's quick-fire delivery and music box and John James' colloquial style, it was clear there would be no talk of birds and flowers or beautiful maidens at this event.

I always thought poetry was supposed to be pretty and say nothing much. However, throughout the week of Cultural eXchanges, I have realised that poetry can be about everything and anything - even the development of cameras or eating a slice of soda bread.

Leigh Connelly

Friday, 5 March 2010

A question of survival - please kill trees

I just have to say how IMPRESSED I am by Simon Perril's collage work. Of course, I loved the poetry but I've always been interested in multi-tasking. His combination of the visual with the written/spoken word - not to mention his brilliant reading - has completely inspired me to get cutting and sticking again, something that I haven't done in forever!

One of the favourite and probably most successful creative writing tasks I ever set myself was to come up with Itunes to accompany a collection of black and white photographs I'd taken. It sounds easy but it's so hard to get it right when your word count is so severely restricted.

I also really enjoyed the talk by Chris Hamilton-Emery of Salt earlier in the day. It made me want to go out and buy as many books as I could carry - a bit unfortunate when I've already spent x amount on Amazon this week.

There is nothing quite like holding a book, having it in your hands, smelling it and touching it. I'm all for iTunes - I couldn't live without my iPod - but I really don't get behind eBooks. How many books can you read on one train ride anyway?

If there ever comes a day that I cannot walk around a bookshop, drinking coffee and delicately stroking the spines of a million different editions than I might as well be dead.

Books must survive! The internet is fucking incredible but please, kill trees and print books!

Emma Wood

Well worth their Salt

Wow! The Salt Night at DMU's Cultural eXchange week showcased three very diverse poets, their work available through Salt Publishing. The contrast between the poet's styles was fascinating, yet I really felt their mutual respect and camaraderie.

John James cut a debonair figure in black, and read predominantly from his Collected Poems. I enjoyed the conversational feel of his poetry, and wide-ranging subject matter.

Tom Raworth is known for the speed of his delivery. Well, that doesn't really do justice to the sheer power of long passages read as if firing wave upon wave of bullets. I particularly enjoyed the poem in response to the Iraq war. Shock and awe, indeed.

DMU's own Simon Perril lowered the lights, and soothed us with readings from his new collection Nitrate. Simon demonstrated his technological prowess (!) by reading selected poems against a backdrop of thought-provoking collage images, representing the transition from still photography to moving pictures in the early part of the 20th Century.

Tom's final poem was one of my highlights though, as he gently turned the punched-out phrase 'Nothing in Leicester' through a small, metal musical player. Such a simple yet beautiful sound, confirming my opinion poetry is not always just about the words.

Sally Jack

Boot on Face

The C.I.A.'s hi-jacking and manipulation of Animal Farm and its theme of political totalitarianism during the Cold War proved one of the highlights of this cultural week's banquet. John Newsinger ignited and mesmerised us all, in this very well attended and vibrant talk of the regimes of yesteryear.

Newsinger balancied Orwell the brilliant journalist, with his human flaws, against the political realities of his time. Attitudes to Stalin were explained clearly and George Orwell’s stance was clearly contextualised. British communism of that time was also explained interestingly and compassionately.

The integrity of George Orwell’s positioning and his willingness to put his head above the parapet was enlightening and was articulated seamlessly to a rapt audience.

Nineteen Eight- Four has a charged sexual atmosphere with emancipation and female liberation at its very heart, according to Newsinger. His take on Julia the female protagonist, was delivered with insight, humour and gusto.

John Newsinger doesn’t hang about. His knowledge of his subject matter seems limitless. The entertaining way this material is delivered engages his audience. At times laughter filled the room.

It was Orwell’s compulsion to read about and research the Soviet Union that, in Newsinger's opinion, gave him the tools to write with such insight and depth on totalitarianism. People living under Soviet regimes were amazed by this understanding of their experience.

Empire and was also discussed in relation to Burmese Days. One quotation used in this entertaining talk still resonates: Police and Army "hold the native down while the business man goes through his pockets."

Same old story. Enough said.


More thoughts on Pascale Petit

I had no idea what to expect from yesterday's poetry reading. I couldn't go to the workshop with Pascale Petit as it was sold out. This left me wondering whether I would enjoy her poetry.

About an hour before the reading, I met up with my friend who'd been to the workshop and she showed me some of Pascale Petit's work. I was freaked out by the poem about a mermaid's curiosity about the love of man - and by the accompanying image.

But when it came to the reading, my thoughts changed. I really enjoyed her selection and I was fascinated by the way she uses pictures to write her poems. I might try that in the near future and see if it works for me.

I'm already regretting not buying any of her books. That's what comes of an empty wallet. I suppose there's always the student bookshop.

Katherine Howford

Information Obesity .... or Food?

Another day into Cultural eXchanges week at DMU, and another lecture takes place. "Information Obesity: Cutting the Flab of Information and Building Intellectual Fitness" was incredibly thought-provoking, though strange.

Straight into the lecture (beginning at 4pm so my mind was already on food), the first fact that stands out is that we make 200 food choices every day. Lecturer Tara Brabazon used food analogies throughout, showing the similarities between our over-eating habits and our ignorance when researching. She constantly reiterated that Google gives us comfort; whatever is entered into the search box regurgitates information of the same level.

During the Q&A section of the lecture, the 'ignorance' of students and how 'horrifying' it is that students 'don't know how' to do research was discussed. As the only student amongst teachers and lecturers, I was filled with guilt and felt the need to run to the library and spend hours doing research, before I remembered that was exactly how I'd spent the morning.

Tara Brabazon herself was unbelievably energetic and a joy to listen too. She was very enthusiastic about the subject. Unfortunately, there is no denying that when I left the lecture theatre, I was thinking about pepperoni pizzas, burgers and other fast foods that she'd used as analogies when describing our attitude to online knowledge. Instead of doing the research, I headed to MacDonald's.

Maybe I should make 190 of my daily food choices "No! Do your work. Leave the chocolate alone!"

A A Wilson

The more you look for, the more you'll find

'Culture is what you make it, now is the time to invent.' (Sleater Kinney)

I didn't recognise Josie Long in the photo in the pea-green Cultural eXchanges Festival Guide, her fingers making the peace sign. I can see how appropriate this pose is now.

It was obvious straight away that she was quirky, creative and enthusiastic. When asked to say hello, she said much more and when asked half a question she had a five-minute answer. She apologised for going off on tangents but that was what I enjoyed; it was captivating. It was as if she had so much to say and all of these thoughts were jostling inside her head to find their way towards our ears.

As we were in a relatively small room she could speake to us in a more intimate, unprepared way; we had entered into her world. She carries round in her head lovely quotes that inspire her. I try to do the same but with a little book in my bag, and I couldn't resist writing down some of Josie's favourites.

'Eating is a small good thing in a time like this.' ("A Small Good Thing", Raymond Carver)

Everyone has bad times in their lives and knowing this is supposed to comfort us. However, thinking about 'a small good thing' to make the 'times like this' a little less bad comforts me much more. 'I'm just gonna bitch and moan' is what a lot of people do instead of living their lives. I've definitely been bitching and moaning recently, and I've achieved nothing from it. I think it's probably time to try living my life. Thank you, Josie Long. I am truly glad I heard you.

Claire Genevieve

Well done, class of 2010!

After the initial embarrassment of walking into the wrong lecture theatre, I managed to fine the right room for the Student Publication Launch. Most of the final year Creative Writing students lookws more nervous than I need to say.

I wasn't looking forward to it. Two hours seemed far too long to sit down and listen to other people talk about their work. Little did I know what a treat was in store for me.

After a short introduction from Jonathan Taylor the first group took to the podium. No doubt their stomachs dropped as they faced the audience of around 60. But what a marvellous job they did. Jordan Bacon, Tom Haymes and Rob Cotterell started the launch with a bang and soon got the audience in fits of giggles as they interpreted the language of the north for the benefit of southerners.

Highlights of the second half included T-shirts for dogs to raise money for charity. Good thinking Alexia Polemidioti, but I have to agree with Jonathan Taylor that there should be a range for cats too. There was also ia rather raunchy, graphic but humorous poem from Simone Byer and a website from Lauren O’Brien, who combined fashion and writing with fascinating results.

I’m left with a heavy feeling in my stomach from the realisation that at this point in two years I’ll be standing up there - most definitely quivering like a leaf and crying for my Mother. It was an outstanding event and I can’t deny that all deserve recognition for their hard work over the past three years.

Well done, class of 2010!

Natalia Chrystalla Boileau

How awful!

As I sat watching the third-year, soon-to-be-gone creative writing students discuss their work, it was difficult to think that I and my fellow first years would also inevitably have to face this daunting task at some point too.

How awful.

The third years had produced all sorts of publications, from menus to poetry books, websites, short stories, table mats and even dog T-shirts. One by one they told us why they chose to do their pieces and made it seem almost simple.

All the time my cowardly self was thinking, "Jolly good - but rather you than me standing up there." Yet most of the students seemed calm and genuinely proud to be showing their work.

I only hope that in around two years time I'll feel that way - and that the years don't go too quickly.

Leigh Connelly

More than a bunch of readings

I attended the creative writing launch, to check out what I'd be doing in two years time, and wasn't sure what to expect - maybe just a bunch of readings?

But, no it was actually really good, and I was impressed by everyone! To think that will be me, not too far in the future, is scary!

There was a strong sense of creativity in the pieces and the way they were presented. It was obvious the whole group was passionate about writing.

Some of the highlights in the session were Claire Baldwin's Japanese poetry on postcards, Simone Byer who gave a strong reading of her poem "It's been a while", Tom Gray's poetry on wooden blocks (different, but it worked really well), Becki Griffiths' fantastic website based around women's views about getting older, Jennifer Jumbo's poetry based on her religion, George Martin and his professional-looking website, Tom Newport's placemat poetry, not to mention the dog T-shirts... a little bizarre, but really funny and with a good message.

The huge array of different ideas, both in terms of presentation and ideas was fantastic, and gave me lots of ideas to think about. It was definitely the highlight of cultural exchanges so far!

Gemma Carey

Launching the Demon Crew

The Demon Crew Launch was definitely not what I was expecting. I feared some boring, normal readings or monotonous droning, but was really impressed with how much work had gone into all of the pieces - not to mention the pure guts it must have taken to stand up there and read and show their own work. There was quite a range: postcards, train tracks, websites ... even doggy t-shirts.

Not only was all the work of an exceptional standard, the students were all great performers. They really knew how to work the audience so that we were laughing when they wanted us to, and silent and thoughtful when that was needed.

I only hope they haven’t set the bar too high for when I get to that stage in a few years time. I’m starting to practise my cues now.

Rachel Robson

Next, my Japanese T-shirt website

On Thursday morning all the final-year students studying Creative Writing showcased their work at DMU's Cultural Exchanges week. I have to say, I was seriously impressed. This was no bog-standard poetry/prose reading. We saw everything from writing on the body, to dog T-shirts and D-I-Y poetry on wooden blocks.

The dedication, passion and imagination of the students was infectious, and somehow I came away wanting to create a Japanese poem on a t-shirt with a website on the back.

Who knew creative writers could be so... well, creative?

Naomi Marcus

Salt of the Earth

Salt has historically been linked to money; past empires have been built on the back of the salt trade.

Salt Publishing needs our money. Co-founder, Chris Hamilton-Emery spoke candidly about the financial troubles of his company, yet he has lost none of his passion for publishing literature by both new and established writers.

The company enjoyed a boom period thanks to Arts Council funding, however, when they needed it most, the funds dried up. In 2009, just to rub salt in the wound, the company faced bankruptcy (I must stop making salt puns).

A campaign on Facebook rapidly spread the word, raising £30,000 and saving the company from ruin.

Chris told us some hard and sobering facts: out of every 1,000 books published by Bloomsbury, only 6 make money, more bookstores will disappear from the high street thanks to the recession, and the Arts Council's own funding has been cut.

However, the world will always need writers; it is how work is published that is changing. As technology develops, publishing must and will adapt, with more of a focus on self and community publishing projects.

I found this talk inspiring; times are hard yet Chris and his team work relentlessly to keep the company going, for the love of books and writing.

If we all buy Just One Book, we can help save them. Please visit their website.

Sally Jack

Don't Stop Believing

Attending Chris Hamilton-Emery’s talk about Salt Publishing’s 10 years in the business made me realise that I should never stop believing. Faith is what makes you carry on and the end result is all worth it.

Chris is a wonderful chirpy person, full of laughter and charisma. He talked candidly about the problems he faced with being a publisher which included a ton of financial difficulties such as being in debt and receiving no support.

His story was quite sad and, even though at times I felt that any person would have given up after being knocked down, he gave me a sense of belief that if you believe in something so passionately you should take the risks involved and keep on fighting as he did.

His story does not have a happy ending as he will encounter problems such as the internet taking over, eBooks and the closure of some major bookshops because of the recession. I don’t think it will worry him that much as he has overcome issues time after time. I know he will carry on battling.

M. Khalifa

Happy 10th Birthday, Salt ... I hope

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I turned up for the Salt 10th Anniversary Talk by Chris Hamilton-Emery. I thought he might talk about how wonderful his company is and why I should try to get published by them.

It was actually a heart-warming speech about all of the troubles his publishing house has gone through since its beginning. Chris Hamilton-Emery was a very emotive speaker and I felt quite honoured that he was being so truthful with us about how hard the profession is.

He drew on his valuable experience to point out both the good and bad points of the industry, such as the Internet taking over book distribution to the point where publishers are on the verge of extinction. That definitely made me think about where these careers are heading. It's definitely very worrying for a bookshop wanderer like myself.

I feel truly touched by the story of his struggles and I may just have to go buy a book to keep him afloat…

Rachel Robson

Scriptwriters Make Movies

Something I've often found as I've grown older is that my movie taste is a little … commercial. I don't watch foreign or independent films and I have a liking for awful horror movies. I've been to the cinema six times since I came back from Christmas, and most of them were what I term "popcorn movies", i.e. popular Hollywood films. I like to be entertained at the cinema but I've often felt like an inadequate intellectual instead of a cultured cinema-goer with my ticket stubs.

Peter Kramer's talk on "Hollywood's Global Imagination" was brilliant for me. He looked at how Hollywood is obsessed with destroying the world, and how it uses alien invasion and world threats to create unity for its audience. He had such energy, talking about global destruction, Hollywood as a global network and how Avatar uses the same ideas that a ton of films have used before.

I won't deny I had geeky moments sitting at the back when Kramer discussed certain blockbusters, mostly in the sci-fi or fantasy genres which I love. All of them point to global threats which bring us together, as we wonder what would have happened if the Nazis had got the Holy Grail, or if Voldermort had decided to think bigger than just Hogwarts.

I think I fitted rather well into the discussion of imagined threats as I sat there in my blue Superman shirt and my Superman-emblazoned socks. There was a clip from Independence Day too, the most patriotic film about the biggest threat of all. What was not to enjoy?

Kelly Lawson

Surveillance, ID cards and Sherlock Holmes

According to Dr Toni Weller, what we now call "the information age" began in Victorian times. She had evidence, including pictures, to support this, explained it all very well.

I've struggled with one point and I can’t decide if I just misunderstood it or if I’m right in my confusion. Dr Weller said that when we see debates about ID cards etc now, we should think back to how this all started. I agree with her that it obviously started long before my time, but I don’t see how knowing about the origins of surveillance and intrusion helps us deal with the problems they pose in the present.

Still, it was good to learn of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's interest in fingerprinting and other records of criminals. I hadn't realised that something we take for granted now - more than in Doyle’s own time - was so vital to his Sherlock Holmes stories. Part of me hopes that I find something something similar to inspire my own work.

Rachel Robson

Your official permission: not to be a racist

Germaine Greer asked a question at the Cultural eXchanges festival that I've thought about many times. The answer isn’t easy to define. “What is one’s ancestry?”

If you got a survey - like th
e Australian population– that wants you to enter a one-adjective answer, what would you say?

In the survey, 13% claimed to be Australian, although they are clearly immigrants. Aren’t the Aborigines the real Australians? What’s worse, the cultural value of their hunter-gatherer lifestyle is almost lost due to the invasion of Western civilization. Instead, the Aborigines are treated like dogs to play ball with.

I always consider myself as German, but what does even that mean? Both my parents are Germans and their parents as well. The question is, is that enough? Actually, I can follow back my roots to a small town in Slovakia. I'm also from East Germany and there's a huge difference to the Western side; for example, I feel more bound to a Prussian ancestry.

Germans sometimes have racist thoughts, punishing especially Turkish immigrants for taking “our” jobs and causing the high unemployment. Who has the right to demand jobs for themselves, anyway? They should rather look at their own family tree and think about where their branch sticks out.

he Australian cultural problem was definitely thought-provoking and I hereby give you official permission not to be a racist. Everybody has mixed blood in some way and it is a shame that people forget that.

Nico Lehmann

White and Black in Australia

Before this sold-out lecture, all I knew of Germaine Greer was that she was a feminist, famous principally for writing The Female Eunuch, and to my generation, for walking out of the Celebrity Big Brother house after five days.

The talk, as the title suggests, was not about feminism; it was about Australia. Specifically, it was about indigenous Aboriginal Australians and intervention from the Australian Government who wish to assimilate the Aborigines into Australia’s predominantly white society.

I’ll be honest – beforehand I knew next to nothing about Aboriginal Australians. I certainly didn’t know that they were an oppressed people, defiantly living in hardship in spite of Government funding which they see as charity, and so refuse to take as it would compromise their pride.

One important point that I took from Germaine’s lecture was that, despite the blatant prejudice towards Aboriginal culture, many things people consider typically Australian, such as boomerangs, are taken from Aboriginal culture to give Australia an identity that stands out from other Commonwealth countries.

The lecture was given in a clear, lucid style, holding the interest of the audience by being both sympathetic and amusing. Germaine was very engaging, and I look forward to discovering more of her ideas in my new copy of The Female Eunuch.

Alexa Lewis

Picture source: Wikimedia Commons

More on Pascale Petit

As a poet, one of the useful lessons I learnt from Pascale Petit is to be more ironic than emotional. Readers more often want to hear light-hearted poems than those that are dark and melancholy. The words Pascale chose for her poems were not sad but were more satirical.

Another useful lesson from Pascale Petit was how to deal with writer's block. She suggested we could go somewhere new and merge new thoughts with the old into a collage of ideas.

Kim Leiser

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Poet Royalty

After a long seminar on the ‘Klingon’ language, I was very happy for a poet to drift me away where no man has gone before.

Pascale Petit, a wonderful poet, gave a performance of her work and, including a taste of her upcoming work which will be published later on in the year.

She began by reading work that was based around her parents. Listening to her smooth, calm, soothing voice you would have never guessed that the poems were quite dark. She clearly had issues with her parents, especially her father.

Moving on, she read work based on Mexican painter Frida Kahlo’s paintings. Again the poems were quite dark and mostly based around the themes of nature and death.

I thought she handled the questions the audience gave to her remarkably well and she was precise in her answers.

Pascale Petit seems like a wonderful person and I sensed a bit of melancholy in her. It seems to me that her work, like Frida Kahlo's, draws largely on her own life. She has the sweetest voice and I would definitely go and explore her work. I recommend you do too.

M. Khalifa

Pascale Petit reading

Throughout my short study of writing I also have been told to avoid letting emotional outbusts splatter all over the page, because simply, people are not interested.

Unfortunately for those who like to think their lives are of the upmost importance, it seems that the only place for tragedy and emotion is in heat magazine and the Jeremy Kyle show.

I was therefore most interested in Pascale Petit's ideas of writing about emotional experiences in poetic form and the idea that it is much easier to be ironic than to write emotionally.

Pascale's work also includes a collection of poems based on the artist Frida Kahlo, where the poet imagines herself as Kahlo, synthesising such shared experiences as as not having children. This suggested further possibilities to me as a writer as it's something you could do with a number of high profile people.

The audience enjoyed Pascale's mix of unexpected ideas, emotions and strong images.

Leigh Connelly and Gemma Carey

Neo-Liberal Zoofather

Day three (no, this is not a Big Brother reference - I'm not that post-modern, so stop asking, please)

There was less of a café today, more of my home. The distance between the two was not by the Soar, as it usually is.

I sat in the dark for a lecture that at first seemed political. The dark swallowed everything lateral and behind; it all became a part of the darkness between my eyes.

The lecture became about film. I have never seen Cloverfield right through, but I understood. Soon the political/film elements became sociology and we all became part of the same darkness. Except Dr. Price - he was the conduit for us, this darkness that grew angry and laughed.

Pascale Petit signed a copy of her collection, she read. We watched as she became Frida Kahlo and sang posthumously. I was taken from the clenching muscle of the neo-liberal to the airy heart of the amazon. There is a thrumming, academic sound. It is the sound of brainwaves changing and combining.

James G Laws.

Kes and the F- word

I'm looking forward to seeing Ken Loach at DMU's Cultural eXchange week (5th March); his drama Cathy Come Home is one of the most significant UK TV plays ever made.

However, an unwelcome school memory has re-surfaced: 1983, year of my English O-Level, lesson conducted by a teacher with a fondness for contemporary literature (I will call her Miss X-Pletive). We were reading A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines, inspiration for the film Kes, directed by Ken Loach.

Back then (and up until 17 February 2010), I was never a great one for swearing, confounding school friends :"Go on, say The Bloody Tower. It's OK, it's not like proper swearing."

I refused.

This particular day, Miss X-Pletive picked on girls in the class to read out passages from Hines's book. My section was liberally seasoned with the f-word, used as a reinforcing adverb that I, as an ultra-sensitive teen, couldn't say.

So, I refused to read. I could hear the sneers and sniggers from my class mates as my cheeks burned brightly.

Twenty seven years later and I am now a mature student studying Creative Writing and English Language at DMU. A recent lecture concerned taboo words and I even said a very naughty four-letter word out loud. I haven't died of embarrassment (yet).

These words are just one small part of our rich language and culture. Does this finally mean I have grown up?

Blog off!

Sally Jack

image from BBFC through wikimedia commons

Philip Hensher: in conversation

Part of me was dreading this event. We had to read The Northern Clemency for 'Contemporary Fiction.' It's a long book and some of us reckoned it would have been just as good, if not better, at half the length. You can imagine our faces when Philip Hensher said that, when he started writing the novel, he thought it was going to be quite short at only 150 pages or so. He did apologise for the length.

I half expected that the author of a long novel would be long-winded and boring.
Luckily this wasn't the case at all - Hensher has a good sense of humour and wasn't afraid to make his audience laugh.

There was a particularly interesting discussion about authors basing fiction on their own life and experiences. In the writing world, authors can be slammed for blatant "self-inserts" in their novels. However, Hensher explained some parts of his novel that were based on his experiences, and no one criticised these because they work and aren't obvious. He laughed, "The more I tell you it was based on my own life the more I sound like I can't make stuff up" - something I too have struggled with.

Finding the balance is hard, but I guess that's what editors are for. His advice was to use editors when possible: it's what they're there for, after all.

S.E. Pavely

Struggling artists - I feel with you, Mambéty

Second day at the Cultural eXchanges week (2/3/10) at De Montfort University in Leicester and a controversial African film on the agenda: Badou Boy (1970) by Djibril Diop Mambéty.

Also translated as “Day and Life of a Naughty Boy”, the film is accompanied by a rhythmical African sound and observes the paradoxes of Dakar’s (Senegal) everyday street life.

For me as a Film Studies student, the techniques and hidden implications were extremely interesting. After a long discussion with my friends, who despised the film, I have to admit that the film may not fulfill the one and only goal: to entertain its audience.

The strange thing about quality crafts is that people familiar with the rules of particular artworks acknowledge the use of unique methods more willingly. In Badou Boy, rapid cuts, jumpy camera work and a superimposed sound rather than live recordings confuse most viewers.

tried to analyze the visual and oral signals >such as the recurring motif of the plump and rude police man with his bike - that he never rides - and find out what message is conveyed: here a negative critic of Senegal’s post-colonial governing body.

I wonder if we should concentrate primarily on entertaining readers or viewers?

In the end, we all want our work to be read or seen. Therefore, it is important to take the “entertainment-factor” into consideration.

Nevertheless, most accredited pieces only succeeded because someone pushed the boundaries. I liked Mambéty’s film, although mainly for academic reasons. So this event was a good exchange for normal lectures.

See for yourself here!

Nico Lehmann

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Men in Breeches

What a difference a year makes.

Last year, March 2009. I was a stay-at-home Mum who had recently left a career in banking. I'd noticed in the local paper that Andrew Davies (the TV scriptwriter famous for his BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice), was speaking at DMU's Cultural eXchanges week.

"Well, that's a good way of spending an hour or two," I mused, as pictures of Mr Darcy fresh from the lake ran through my mind. What a fascinating man! I mean Andrew Davies, of course. He brought a wealth of inside stories from the world of film and TV. University seemed another world to me then.

Fast-forward to March 2010. I'm a full time first year Creative Writing and English Language student at DMU and have booked to see nine events in Cultural eXchange week, 2010.

I met a teenage hero of mine on 1st March, Alexei Sayle. Several of his comments struck me: everyone is searching for significance and safety. How true - we all want to matter somehow, and feel secure.

His thoughts on the similarities between Santa and Stalin were sickle-sharp. I'm not sure I'll look at either of those two 'great leaders' in the same way again.

Finally, his method of writing comedy was inspiring: take a mad, insane leap into the great unknown, don't be Earth-bound. I may take that as a new mantra for my own writing.

(Meanwhile, for those of you who like men in breeches, here's a picture of one of the men I've discussed in this post.)

(I bet you're glad it's not Stalin in the red breeches.)

Sally Jack

[photo by Shawn Lee from wikimedia commons]

A Room Full of Hitlers

A personal favourite moment from yesterday's Alexei Sayle talk was when he was asked about any memories he had from the set of Indiana Jones. Was it just me, or had anyone else forgotten that he was in Indiana Jones?

Anyway among other anecdotes (with less swearing than the rest of his talk because the speaker had asked on behalf of his young son) Alexei described finding himself in a room full of shifty looking people… It was only later he realised they had just been auditioning for the part of Adolf Hitler. He hadn’t recognised this at the time because all had, understandably, removed the trademark [false] moustache.

Alexei had us laughing throughout the entire talk but it was that image that made me laugh the hardest. It's also the one that has stuck with me since. The image of Alexei arriving in the Spanish desert and finding himself, unexpectedly, in a room of Hitler look-alikes has kept me smiling all day.

Aaron Latham

Rum, anyone?

Booking events for Cultural eXchanges proved rather problematic. Each time the website declared it was 'timed out' - an obvious lie. I knew it couldn't take twenty minutes to book four tickets. This caused me to lose the little faith I had in the festival. Spending a week at home, tucked up in my bed, clutching a copy of Bram Stoker's Dracula seemed much more inviting, even if I was reading the novel before beginning the essay I'd already put off for weeks.

Fortunately, my faith was restored after Michael McMillan's The Front Room, a poignant yet humorous presentation, speaking of the lives of immigrants moving to Britain during the 1950's and 1960's. Their expedition to England was 'like going to the moon,' leaving their old lives behind, and creating a new identity amongst the terraced houses which seemed so unusual to the newcomers. McMillan described England as 'the land of milk and honey' which, in all honesty, greatly amused me. I'd much rather be sat on a Caribbean beach, soaking up some of those much needed sun-rays and sipping on some good ol' rum.

Later, Alexei Sayle made an appearance, after being delayed in London traffic during the rush-hour. I was too young to know The Young Ones so my friends took the opportunity to educate me prior to Alexei’s visit. I endured watching the comedy on retro VHS, wondering what on earth the characters were wearing. Sat right at the back of the lecture theatre, all I could see were the tops of two bald heads. Despite this, I laughed on numerous occasions, and left the Clephan Building clutching a signed copy of Alexei Sayle's Mister Roberts - and knowing his mother had never allowed him to watch Bambi.


Postgraduates Shine a Light on Post-Human Landscapes

Dan O’ Donell-Smith blazed the trail for this cultural creative writing smorgasbord, with readings of his evocative poetry delivered in a deadpan fashion. The poems barked a sort of machine language, depicting a digital dystopian gaming life that truly shocked the uninitiated.

Contrastingly Mystie Hood’s reading of the first chapter from her novel radiated a sinister provincial elegance. Indigenous angst and disconnect rub against multiculturalism in a residential building inside a ghetto. The paranoid maladjusted rural protagonist craves anonymity in a globalised city which refuses her the isolation she yearns. Her dysfunctional existence resonated in the well-read extract from this engaging piece of work.

Poems in progress delivered with verve by Pam Thompson whispered other worlds. A plethora of imaginative language conjured apocalyptic visions as we listened transfixed. Pam cited numerous influences including W.S. Graham and Barbara Guest. Her poems powered home, fired by visceral language and imagery that conveyed human landscapes at their bleakest.

Alex Plasatis blasted us into the magic realist zone of eviction, with his gripping tale of student domesticity under attack by the apparatus of the state. Landlord and police are deployed in a surrealist adventure to disrupt student innocence, which creates mayhem. As a consequence a bat takes flight squeaking and shrieking, freaking out the powers that be. It was a fine way to wind up this literary treat.

These readings were well attended and left us in the audience slightly disturbed but craving for more. A big thank you to everyone involved.


Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Alexei in Blogland

A full account of Alexei Sayle's appearance at Cultural eXchanges will probably appear here soon. Meanwhile a couple of bloggers have posted comments.

The shut me up blog offers an account of two of Monday's events.

And here, more briefly, is Chris
(from Your Dreams Are The Films Only You Get to See).


If only I wore spectacles ....

I had signed myself up for Stephen Deuchar: In conversation with Lars Thorp event. I had no idea what I was doing.

I am embarrassed to admit I had never heard of either man (I learned I was also pronouncing 'Deuchar' as Do-char instead of Do-ker), yet here I was, right in the middle of the 3.03 lecture theatre, not sure exactly what was about to go down.

I noticed the audience in the minutes before the event started. I was in a mix of smiling, excited, grey-haired, glasses-clad 50+ men and women as well as deep-thinking, presumably art students (also glasses-clad) in their twenties. I began to panic and feel I had missed the dress code part of the event. Everyone looked the part. Were spectacles essential to enjoy art? Maybe I should draw some on? Would a monocle be going a step to far?

Stephen Deuchar and Lars Tharp entered the theatre. Tharp, a confident and well-mannered man was known for his work on Antiques Roadshow. Deuchar seemed initially timid but soon relaxed as this overviewed conversation began. A lot of what was said, partically when they mentioned names I had never heard of, was over my head, nonetheless I listened keenly as I was exposed to a area of British culture I had never really taken notice of.

I myself only like very precise pieces of art that I happen to stumble upon when reading about different countries. This event however, explored all sorts of art, from ancient jewellery to a video of a man running through a gallery. It really had an effect on me.

If there was something to be learned from this event, and the cultural exchange as a whole, it would be that we should allow ourselves to get out of our comfort zones, explore subjects and areas we do not associate ourselves with regularly.

I had a question I wanted to ask Tharp and Deuchar but I felt I would not be able to pull it off. I think I will give it a try here instead.

"Mr Deuchar, if you could save one piece of Art that people would be able to see in 500 years, what would it be?"

Jack Campbell

The one-day Cultural eXchanges experience

4 Events. 1 Day. 250 Words?


When I first booked the events for Cultural eXchanges I figured getting everything done in one day would be to my advantage. Cheaper on train fare and it meant a few days off to catch up on my reading.

What I didn’t realise at the time, was that I’d created a situation for myself where I had to run from the ground floor, up to the third, and then right back down to the bottom again. It didn’t take long to start regretting my decision.

It was a long day that didn’t start off particularly well. There was a crowded train journey and then a 50 minute wait before the first talk that just didn’t grab my attention, despite some interesting material on Modernist Magazines.

Luckily, the day got better and better as it went on and ultimately the whole thing was certainly worthwhile. I moved to Postgraduate Creative Writing, which was thoroughly enjoyable, if a little short. Then onto ‘The Front Room’ with a fascinating, and amusing, insight into the lives of Caribbean immigrants. Finally, there was Alexei Sayle, who, despite being late, kept the audience laughing and time just flew by.

At the end of it though. The most profound thing I’ve learnt?

The freezing lecture theatres that I study in, actually have heating that works. Who knew?

Natasha Rowinski

A range of styles: the postgraduate reading

The postgraduate writing session proved an interesting mix of different styles by four writers: Dan O'Donnell-Smith, Mystie Hood, Pam Thompson and Alex Plasatis.

The first reading by Dan O'Donnell-Smith was based around computing and technology. I particularly liked his original take on this modern phenomenon. It was different, and thought-provoking. Dan suggested his poems were more suited to being read on the page, rather than spoken aloud, but they still grabbed my attention.

My personal favourite was Mystie Hood's reading of her first chapter. It had humour, mystery and a strong concept in terms of plot. It was easy to understand, and she read it really well, managing to captivate the audience.

Pam Thompson read a collection of her poetry, all very strong in their subject, and finally Alex Plasatis's added another very engaging piece, with touches of humour that had the audience laughing.

As a whole the variety of pieces, made me think about the sort of things I could write in the future and gave me new ideas to aid me in my own writing.

Gemma Carey

"What does your front room say about you?"

When curator Michael McMillan confronted his audience on Monday (01/03/10) at Leicester’s Cultural eXchanges event with the idea that the front room reflects the respectability of house owners, I thought that is exactly what should be on the agenda of De Montfort University’s services.

Apparently, the Caribbean immigrants of the 50s and 60s had to sell themselves to the outside world to gain acceptance. From my experience, some students do not even remotely understand what that means.

Front rooms are the only public spaces in the privacy of our homes. Caribbean immigrants used fancy photos, religious paintings such as the last supper or expensive new acquisitions to express their morality and decency. Students' homes that I have seen in Leicester - or in various other places around the world - do not explicitly earn that respectability.

As a German international student, it is awkward at first to see British streets with identical terraced houses – I can absolutely relate to the impression those immigrants had. At least they made the inside representational of their individuality.

Students, on the other hand, often leave their rooms completely unattended – no matter whether that concerns cleanness, inventory or elegancy. They all resemble each other.

I think a proper introduction to “the front room - my soul, my sin” at universities could help. For my house next year, I will keep McMillan’s advice in mind: “If you and your front room look good, you will be respected.”

More about The Front Room here.

Nico Lehmann

"More British than the British"

"Writer, curator and installation artist" Michael McMillan took as his focus was the front room in the houses of West Indian immigrants. This was the room which was used to greet guests. It presented the aspirations of its occupants to the rest of the world.

The room was kitsch, over the top, and garish. Despite this, almost every object had great significance. Michael McMillan had collected items that would now be considered antiques and they gave those who have never experienced a room like this a feel of what it was like. At a glance all those who were present could see this part of a West Indian home.

The room was exactly like the one my grandparents had. As second generation immigrants, my parents would have been banished from this room. It might even have been locked and must have become the focus of fascination - even obsession.

This was a history I hadn’t ever heard. It explained many things that had seemed strange to me. My grandparents' ornaments are now more valuable in my mind. My relatives came with nothing and were able to acquire all this in their lifetime.

Kimberly Redway

Endings and Beginnings

Cultural eXchanges week proper began to swing fully today and - to coin an optimistic cliché - so far so good.

Day began, warmth and tea. Reading and café-stalking. Midday hits; people in the street, Clephan building filling, and latté. After me, the people file in: students; lecturers; writers, well wishers, and unknowns. Computers sing, runaways twitch, and vampire landlords fart at the police - this is a collection of readings worth hearing. A festival atmosphere, imperceptible at the edge of the air, rises.

I have bought Things, courtesy of Crystal Clear Creators, and look forward to the next day.

James G Laws