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

Saturday, 22 February 2014

I think that I would be both correct and inoffensive to say that David Shrigley has been very lucky. He’s lucky to have been nominated for the Turner prize, and to have been on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square. He’s lucky to have found work as an artist, something notoriously difficult to do. The fact that he got a 2.2 for his degree in Environmental Art, which, apparently, you get “just for turning up” makes it all the more impressive. He’s also lucky to live in the UK, the only place, probably, to understand and appreciate his understated, quiet but excellent sense of humour.

At the same time, it doesn’t take much to see that he is, clearly, a brilliant artist. Perhaps not in the traditional sense: he debates the usefulness of being able to draw well, and has a strange, cartoonish, childish style. He seems to dislike people analysing his art- more than once, I am reminded of an interview I saw with Freddie Mercury where he stated he hadn’t a clue what Bohemian Rhapsody was about.

You do truly get a feeling of an artist when Shrigley talks. He seems uncertain in himself, sometimes mentioning his fame, other times painting himself as shy, uncharismatic and awkward. There’s a sense, too, that he must be able to sell his work quite well, both to galleries and to strangers in the pub (he tells us that this is how he started off, with self-published books of cartoons for the price of a couple of beers).

Technology, jar lids and experimental music

It has been nearly a year since Richard Orton, electronic and experimental musician extraordinaire, passed away. So on Thursday 20th February, his life and works were commemorated at DMU, with featured speakers and performers performing both his and their own experimental pieces.

But what is experimental music? When I did my music GCSE, I never really understood it. We were taught that it was basically composers using sounds rather than notes, reading from a score made up of pictures and symbols. To me at the time, it just sounded like noise.

Yesterday’s event, “A life in Music: Richard Orton in Memoriam” showed me otherwise. I knew it wasn’t going to be regular music in the strictest sense when I saw the performers’ main instrument: jam jar lids that, when tapped or clicked in a certain way near an open mouth, actually make an impressive percussion sound.

But there was more than that. A simple mix of the above percussion, vocalisations similar to those used in beatboxing made for a highly original performance with scratched or looped electronic sounds coming and going in waves.

To finish with, speakers Archer Endrich, Andrew Bentley and DMU’s John Richards performed Orton’s classic music theatre work “Mug Grunt”. At first glance, it was just plain weird. Three men synchronically grunting and moving mugs? But it’s unique rhythms and the sheer expression and complexity behind the whole event showed me one thing: Music is more than just notes. 

Grace Liu

An inspiration for the wannabe writer

When I was advised to watch third year De Montfort Creative Writing students give us a preview of their work, I expected to see for myself the level of talent and imagination I should be aiming for over the next couple of years.

And I was not disappointed. For a start, the range of subjects covered was impressive enough. From completely frank depictions of how girls and boys’ lives work, to the diary of a mayfly to a book of foreign words with no English translation, the ideas were endless. And clearly, so was the creativity.

I mentioned previously what I’d been expecting. In actual fact, I expected nothing more than that. No, I didn’t mean it would be nothing more than students showing what I should be aiming for. Because the diversity of subject matter and style showed me one thing: that there isn’t one standard to be aiming for. And that’s the main thing I have taken away with me from this event.

Grace Liu

A Love For The Written Word.

What book changed your life? A question I found difficult to answer but others leaped at the chance to tell their stories. This event was quite simply a room full of people who think, feel and live for the written word. The love for books is universal. Those of different native languages bravely stood at the front of the welcoming crowd and spoke from the heart. There was no judgement, only support.

Book lovers united and shared their passion. It was truly inspiring to watch. Books change people’s lives in how they see, how they act, what they want to do with their future but all for the positive. I feel privileged to have heard the stories I did.

Rebecca Kiff.

The Spanish Civil War

78 years ago, men & women met in halls across the UK. They included writers such as Orwell. Across the pond, Hemmingway lent his support. These men were to join the international brigade, and fight Franco's fascists in the Spanish Civil war.

Today, and I’m in a talk on the different ideologies of the Spanish Civil War. Looking around, there doesn’t seem to be anyone standing, Marx in overall pocket, ready to join the rebellion or the defence of Syria. In fact, I think I’m the only person here after this particular conflict.
Then I take off my young-person-snob glasses. There aren’t a huge amount of students, and the audience seems to be more composed of a strange mix of Leicesterians, who thankfully move up so my friend can sit next to me.

The speakers, although each interesting, seem to come under the heading “anyone with any kind of connection to the Spanish Civil War, in any way”, rather than having any particular knowledge of the ideology itself. For this, I must refer to residual knowledge left over from the A level history lessons I took, now over two years ago.

The speakers in front of me seem to generally focus on the British perspective of the war. One looks at the BBC- this was the first war where there were radio reports. Naturally, the Daily Mail was critical, and it appears that the British government tried to make sure that the BBC was absolutely, totally and utterly neutral (or ever so slightly pro-Franco. Just in case). The left wing newspaper, the Daily Worker, were also critical. Poor BBC. You never could make everyone happy. But apparently, they were doing their best to keep things neutral, be balanced and generally not piss off anyone too much, and certainly for the former, it appears they did so to the best of their ability.

DJ and Producer of Techno

Today I had the opportunity to attend a lecture from the amazing Rebekah at De Montfort University for one of the last events of Cultural Exchanges Festival 2014.
I was extremely glad that I was able to go to this event as she didn’t disappoint!
Rebekah was a Birmingham born DJ but is now a successful techno DJ and producer in Berlin. She has been a DJ for just over 17 years and still wakes up every day loving it even more.
Rebekah was very intriguing, as she was a normal kid with a dream like everyone else and she went out and challenged herself to succeed in becoming a producer and DJ. (I think this is very inspirational)
Also another thing I found fascinating was the logic behind her ‘mixes’ and ‘EP’s’. She creates her ideas around imagery, feelings and emotions, colours and also (quite surprisingly), the weather. She also said:
“I had a childhood memory of walking through a green patch and saw, even though they are rare to see, I saw bluebells. I then thought, how do bluebells sound?”
When she said this, I just new she was a very artistic and creative person, which is why she does so well at producing.
Also, she mentioned to the audience, which I thought was very down to earth …
“I had a few knockbacks; I didn’t get my hopes up. But I’m successful today because I didn’t give up, I challenged myself.”

Just this quote alone has inspired me today…

Inspiring Books

Cultural Exchanges at DMU has been brilliant this week and has exceeded all of my expectations for it (they were high anyway). 

Today, I went to an event called: What book changed your life? I didn't totally know what was going to happen or if it was going to be interesting but I really enjoyed myself.

It was really thought-provoking when people shared their experiences in what books have inspired them or had an impact on them and it seemed that books meant different things to different people. However, a central theme was that a view or perspective had been shifted after reading their chosen book - weird to think a book can do that to someone!

What was even better was that some of the books I'd never heard of! Books can connect with people in a variety of ways but the passion for books is still there. 

I was sure to write down all of the books for future references and to add to my "To Read" list!

Melvyn Bragg: Imagination and Memory

There is something of the gnostic about Melvyn Bragg.  It seems that he has walked his path calmly and quietly, seeking solitude when required, remaining untainted by the trappings of success and celebrity.  

There are signs, of course, that he is not a common man.  He tells us that he has a packet of fruit pastilles in his pocket to keep him going if the interview overruns the allotted hour; they were given to him by Dame Judi Dench that morning.  ‘How’s that for a bit of name dropping?’ he laughs.   

The interview is funny and tender in equal measures.  He speaks of his life with clarity, with humility, with honesty.  I am deeply moved when he talks about his 1994 interview with Dennis Potter, a piece of televisual history that left a lasting impression on me.  However, it is the gentle remembrances of his mother, even when she was suffering from dementia, that inspire me the most.  In Lord Bragg’s own words; ‘imagination and memory are the only two things that matter.’  

I leave feeling that this is a man at peace with himself, who considers himself blessed.  A truly inspirational evening, which I feel very privileged to have been a part of.   

S C Davies

70s Britain: the worst of times, the best of times?

I thoroughly enjoyed Dominic Sandbrook’s TV series ‘70s Britain’ and was intrigued to see how he would attack such a broad subject area in one short hour.  The answer was, with great aplomb.  His delivery in the flesh was as sharp and witty as his on-screen persona, his observations on the politics of the period intercut with references to popular culture.  At times it was laugh out loud funny, at others thought-provoking, but always interesting.    

This talk was not just for those who remembered the 70s, although admittedly most of us could recall the winter of discontent.  As Dominic reminded us, selective memory and media emphasis can skew the facts.  For example, with regard to pop music, we tend to think that the 70s was all about punk and the Sex Pistols.  In fact, Abba and the BeeGees topped the charts, while the most influential artist from the decade was undoubtedly the King of Glam Rock and this year’s Brit Award winner, David Bowie.  

There were political and economic disasters aplenty, but on the other hand we embraced Europe and women’s rights leapt forward with the election of our first female Prime Minister.  Yes, there were strikes and power cuts, but the three day week was great when you were a kid, and our parents had never before enjoyed such a high standard of living.  

I eagerly await Dominic’s next series, finding him to be one of the most fascinating and accessible historians of our times.  

S C Davies

The Not So Daunting Third Year Publications

Today, I went to the Demon Crew event to see the third year students introduce their work at the Cultural Exchanges festival at DMU.

I wasn't really sure what to expect but, I went with high hopes and I couldn't wait to see where I'll be in 2 years time (although the idea of public speaking terrifies me). The students had some amazingly creative ideas that I fed off and really enjoyed hearing about.

Everyone seemed to really enjoy talking about their work and it gave me confidence. I can't wait for it to happen me and I was thoroughly impressed with the event!

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Crystal Clear is 10! - celebrating the ideas of such imaginative writers

'Crystal Clear is 10!' - I'm pretty sure after tonight, I will attend more spoken reading and open mic nights.

I never thought I would hear a poem about Andy Warhol playing cricket in heaven, but then again the thought had not occurred to me either. It was brilliant. It leads me to think once again that I can write about anything, because the more unusual it is the better. There was some real talent there tonight, Andrew Graves poem about being a 'Middle Aged Mod' was one that definitely made me smile, so unique and once again inspired me to think about my own work.

Julie Boden was also another great talent tonight, 'Moth Screams' and 'Seagull Address' were the two that were read, and they were amazing. Poetry that has been wonderfully written and spoken. Again, brilliant ideas too!

Jonathan Taylor read a piece he called "He never writes to me no more": a story for children, which was funny but at the same time touching. He writes about the mind of a ten year old boy and a relationship with his grandma, maybe we all could associate ourselves with it because we were all ten years old once, and my Grandma is always giving me biscuits to eat (or cake because cake is good too!).

What's better is we got given a free anthology, the first one by Crystal Clear. Freebies. Don't you just love them? Again I wish all these writers the best for the future.

Claire McGowan.

John Yorke: 'Story Physics'

 If you are an aspiring screenwriter, then when a veteran of 20-years television experience, comes to De Montfort University as part of its Cultural Exchanges Festival, you sit-up and take notes.

 But, to be quite frank, even if you are not - like myself - striving to pen the next Hollywood blockbuster, this lecture by John Yorke on 'story physics' would still have offered you a fascinating insight into what makes up a good story.

 In an engaging and often humorous talk, Yorke - using audience participation and some well-prepared clips - broke down the components of a good story, and we, as an audience, were pleasantly surprised to find that it really was very simple.

 Yorke argues that when you get right down to the nuts and bolts of a story, you are left with one overriding theme - conflict.

 Whether it is the protagonist's conflict with other characters or indeed conflict inside themselves, good drama and good characters are born out of the journey that is taken to resolve these conflicts.

 It is no coincidence, Yorke says, that some of history's more intriguing characters, such as JFK or Malcolm X, were outspoken and often at times, at war with themselves.

 So, next time you pick up your pen and avail yourself to write a hero... create yourself a troubled soul, full of contradictions with an abundance of enemies.

S.R Chambers

Just where is the truth in journalism?

 After coming under such ferocious attacks following the phone hacking scandal, journalism - as a profession - has sort to defend itself from its vehement attackers.

 Critics argue that truth and values have been lost in journalism and that is why De Montfort University's senior lecturer in journalism, Tor Clark, took to its defence.

 Clark- a veteran of 16 years in the regional press - argued that the practice of journalism is the reverence for the truth. Surely, then, if that is the case, shouldn't journalism be synonymous with the truth?

 Well, no, not quite.

  Clark argued with vigour for all that's good in journalism - the reporting of news and their facts, without favour or fear, with no ulterior motive other than to inform.

  He cited his David Dimbleby's account of the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and the reporting of the Watergate Scandal as examples of journalism and its traditional practices, routines and values. This, he says, has changed very little in the regional press.

  However, Clark makes it clear that he will only defend the good in journalism and those who seek to uphold it. He makes no excuses for the phone hacking of recent years, or indeed the poorly reported Hillsborough or Madeline McCann stories, where the press didn't let such trivial things as facts get in the way of a good story.

  Interestingly, Clark did make a point of asking "Does the public always need to know the truth?"

 With Ed Snowden and Wikileaks recently compromising sensitive information in the field of national security, he argued that the truth is sometimes for the greater good, best left private.

 With this talk, Clark provided a compelling and balanced insight into journalism, one which I felt richer for having listened to.

 S.R Chambers

Is the truth always the best option?

Today I attended a lecture on the 'Truth in Journalism' hosted by Tor Clark.
Tor Clark is the principal lecturer in Journalism at De Montfort University and has been in the practice for 16 years. He is also a political speaker for BBC Leicester and Total Politics magazine.
The talk was very interesting but, it was the point he made about ‘Does the public always need to know the truth?’ was what I found most amusing.
He referred to wikileaks, Ed Snowden revelations, creating mass panic and the Kidnap Blackout agreement. This sparked a thought which made me think about how much should the public know (for our safety) and whether how much is reported in the news is actually the truth.
This was then followed by Tor explaining what he thought the objective of journalism is...

Q: So what is the objective in Journalism?
A: Reverence for truth

He also left me (and the audience) with his opinion, which I think was very useful in everyday experiences as well as journalism: 

“Unless there is a compelling reason why reporting should not tell the truth, always tell the truth.”


Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Post-graduate writers at DMU, an inspiration to me

I think it is always important to support people, and the best possible opportunity I had to do this was attending a talk which featured post-graduates on the DMU Creative Writing course, sharing their work. I was completely inspired by them, their work was absolutely extraordinary.

Excited, was an understatement. They inspired me so much, because one day, I hope to be where they are now. All of them were so confident in their words, and it made me realize that, if I work hard enough, perhaps people will enjoy listening to my words, as well as reading them.

It was fantastic to hear both a mix of poetry and short stories, especially as I enjoy writing both of those genres, and as I listened to them speaking, it helped me think about how I could be making my words better, so people enjoy them out loud too.

Since starting the Creative Writing course, I've learned that you can write about anything really. I loved listening to a poem that featured sweets, such as a green jelly baby, a dolly mixture and a liquorice allsort. It made me and the audience laugh as a comical piece. It's starting to make me think that writing about my love for 'Mini eggs' is not all a bad idea. It was a very enjoyable experience, and I wish them well for the future.

Claire McGowan

Patrick Wildgust & Black Page

Patrick Wildgust came in and gave a talk on Laurence Sterne, in particular Patrick focused on Sterne's most famous piece of work, Tristram Shandy. I think it is fair to say that for me, it was a talk that had me awe-struck from beginning to end. I am not an artistic person, and was nervous when Patrick announced the book was an 'art' but, I shouldn't have been. In fact, I wish the talk was longer than an hour.

I was fascinated how one book can be visually transformed in so many different ways. How one page named the 'black page' had become such an interest to so many people. What also amazed me was the idea Patrick had got into contact with artists and writers, and asked them to create a 'black page', and how many different variations of this have been created. Mine had a blackened page with a heart in black in the middle. (I wish I could have described that more artistically...). But there were so many different variations, it was amazing to see.

It was one of the most unusual books that I have ever come across, but actually that suits me. As a creative writer and English Literature student, I rather enjoy the more unusual pieces of work. It's one of the most imaginative books I've come across.

Will I be buying a copy of Tristram Shandy after this talk? Yes. I think I most definitely will. I just hope Waterstones have some copies left.

Claire McGowan. 

Who? Carol Watts?

Carol Watts, Northampton bread poet, graced us with her presence at DMU to give us an insight into her multi-media poetry.

Carol Watts is inspirational to young writers not just by merit of the content of her work, but also a true champion of "new media" formats. Transforming writing into art and videos is no easy task, but Carol's gamble pays off and is sure to fascinate writers of all ages and disciplines.

One specific part that captivated me and caught my eye was the musicality of the pieces. It really did bring the event to life. Not only did she include the audience, but she even sang a few lines for us. The tone, the rhythm and the melody was magnificent.

I know now Carol Watts to be phenomenal poet who really did give us all something to think about: that no matter who you are, what you do, or where you are, inspiration is all around us. 

Leah Stafford 

Mi, Fa, Mi

East-Midlands girl, from Northampton to be exact, Carol Watts travelled up from London to grace DMU with her multi-media poetry.  

Carol Watts is a prime example of how many forms of writing can be translated over different forms. One example given was painting, which Carol admits to dabble in. From a 35 second video of a Swiss car park to a painting a red car, came a sequence of 8 poems. Each poem as captivating as the last. Some even verging into the dark.
One striking thing about Carol’s poetry is her attention to the musically of her pieces. The audience even getting treated to a line or two of singing, Mi, Fa, Mi. The room was silent as all ears were on Carol, some closing their eyes to feel rhythm, lulling them into a state of relaxation but taking in every intense word.  

I believe that everyone in the room would agree that Carol really brought her poetry to life through her performance. She proved to all aspiring writers that whether you are sat on a train or browsing the web, inspiration really can come from just about anywhere.

Rebecca Kiff. 

One small idea, one big achievement

Hot!Mess was full of a hot mass of people at the event I attended yesterday, for the Cultural Exchanges Festival this week at De Montfort University.
Locally based fashion label Hot!Mess showed the entire audience that you can do anything you want to if you just believe. 
At just 19 and 21, Tayla and Flo created an inspirational and unique brand to appeal to the younger generation of today. Being such young entrepreneurs, designing and launching their own fashion label could be seen as a far-fetched, challenging dream but they went out and caught it.
By promoting their brand all over the internet, using the social media - the world is starting to know who and what Hot!Mess is.

This wonderful idea was sparked in the brain of Tayla's Grandmother - the 'hoarder' of all American Fitness clothing. 

Tayla joined forces with her friend Flo, who became her model, photographing with just her iPhone and that's where it all began. 
It surely kicked off in the celebrity industry as many big names now where this brand all over the world, from Cara Delevingne and Little Mix to Pixie Lott and Rizzle Kicks. 
It for sure is the hottest fashion right now - and all because of a young girl with ideas and dreams who wasn't afraid to achieve them. 
Leah Stafford

Akala: the music of men's lives

What do Shakespeare and hip hop have in common?  If someone had asked me that question yesterday, I would have been waiting for the punchline.  However, after seeing Akala's excellent presentation last night, I now know the answer: poetry and imagination.  

This was an evening where a number of preconceptions were broken, in a most entertaining way.  There was a quiz where the audience had to guess whether a quotation was by Shakespeare or a hip hop artist (surprisingly tricky); a slideshow demonstrating Africa's sophisticated cultural history (often forgotten or ignored by European historians); and the revelation that the flow of The Sugarhill Gang's Rappers Delight can be found as early as a 1937 performance of Preacher and the Bear by The Golden Gate Quartet.

Akala did not disappoint on the performance side either, whether he was delivering a tongue twisting rap incorporating the titles of all Shakespeare's plays at breakneck speed, or a gripping delivery of a soliloquy from Richard II, his talent and passion for both genres is evident.  

S C Davies

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Uniquely Creative: The works of Laurence Sterne

Is Laurence Sterne one of the greatest writers ever? asks the event summary in the Cultural Exchanges programme. Or is it all Cock and Bull? Well, as an author he took creativity to a new level, and one thing’s for sure: his approach to his writing was definitely unique.

At De Montfort University today, at 2-3pm in Clephan building, Patrick Wildgust, Curator of the Laurence Sterne Trust, gave a detailed overview of Sternes life and, in particular, his most famous masterpiece Tristram Shandy.

From exploring Sterne’s alternate identities to giving an account of his burial, Mr Wildgust’s summary of Sterne’s life was detailed, clear and packed with enthusiasm. He even showed samples of Sterne’s artwork, most notably his “marbled” page and his inky black depiction of the concept of death. Sterne valued imagination very highly – and what better way to show this?

So whatever his position in the writing world, there is no doubt that Laurence Sterne left an interesting legacy in the world of creativity. And no doubt that today, that legacy was shown in the finest light.

Grace Liu

George Orwell: English Rebel

 George Orwell: Journalist, novelist, socialist, Englishman - and rebel with a cause.

 The man born Eric Blair - who would become one of England's most enduring literary heroes - was an enigma, a complex and contradictory character, who would never do anything he didn't want to do.

 That is according to De Montfort University's Professor of Cultural hhstory, Robert Colls, in his fascinating and engaging talk about his new book, George Orwell: English Rebel.

 Professor Colls took us on a journey through Orwell's life, from his days at Eaton, to his time serving in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, through to his days fighting in the Spanish Civil War and beyond.

 The talk delivered a thoroughly insightful and at times humorous look into the often complicated life of George Orwell, the man who's mind-set, principles and opinions would be forever changing with his every new experience of the world.

 If you want educating on the intellectual hating intellectual, or want to know why the left-wing writer had right-wing sympathies, then look no further than Professor Colls and his fantastic new book.

S.R Chambers

Akala & Shakespeare with a pinch of Hip-Hop!

Akala was absolutely insane this afternoon at De Montfort University, Cultural Exchanges Festival!!!

The amazing founder of ‘The Hip-Hop ShakespeareCompany’ and 2006 MOBO award winner for Best Hip-Hop Artist gave attendees an insight into Shakespeare that I thought I would never be interested in, as I have never been a fan of Shakespeare or his works.

The lecture started off with the best way to engage an audience (well I think it’s the best way), which was audience participation. Everyone participated as we played the ‘Hip-Hop and Shakespeare game’, where we had to guess whether the lyrics or quotes came from Shakespeare or rap songs.

(If I must say, this was extremely entertaining as I only managed to get one right!)

This then followed into an African History lesson where Timbuktu was mentioned. Now, if you don’t understand the significance behind Timbuktu and how the audience where in hysterics over it, I will explain it now…

We gathered that everyone in the lecture hall all thought that at one stage in their lives, Timbuktu was a made up place, or according to Akala, he thought it was in Narnia. The funny thing about it was, until today, I still thought it was made up!

We then got an insight into his own work called ‘Comedy Tragedy History', 27 of Shakespeare’s plays intertwined with a Hip-Hop style, which he performed Acapella.

Just listening to this made hairs stand up on the back of my neck!

I would definitely recommend looking him up!


 George Orwell: Journalist, novelist, socialist, Englishman - and rebel with a cause.

 The man born Eric Blair - who would become one of England's most enduring literary heroes - was an enigma, a complex and contradictory character, who would never do anything he didn't want to do.

 That is according to De Montfort University's Professor of Cultural hhstory, Robert Colls, in his fascinating and engaging talk about his new book, George Orwell: English Rebel.

 Professor Colls took us on a journey through Orwell's life, from his days at Eaton, to his time serving in the Indian Imperial Police in Burma, through to his days fighting in the Spanish Civil War and beyond.

 The talk delivered a thoroughly insightful and at times humorous look into the often complicated life of George Orwell, the man who's mind-set, principles and opinions would be forever changing with his every new experience of the world.

 If you want educating on the intellectual hating intellectual, or want to know why the left-wing writer had right-wing sympathies, then look no further than Professor Colls and his fantastic new book.

S.R Chambers