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

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

An extraordinary talent

The highly anticipated annual display and presentation of work by final year Creative Writing students at De Montfort University, Leicester, as part of Cultural Exchanges 2018, did not disappoint. As always, the standard was extremely high, giving inspiration to up and coming students and showcasing the wealth of local talent that abounds. 

However, one particular collection, Meaningless Destruction by Shannan Mitchener, stood out for me as being truly exceptional and I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to talk to the poet individually. 

Shannan’s enthusiasm and engagement are infectious; she is forthcoming about the challenges she has faced over the years, her initial preference for prose over poetry, and generous with her advice on how to keep an open mind. Thank goodness that she persevered with her talent for contemporary poetry, as this wonderful collection of over 50 poems speaks from, and to, the heart. From the evocative 'Brown Eyes' to the heart-rending 'Alone', the narrative progresses through the elation of new love to the desperation of dependence via self harm and domestic violence, and shines a spotlight on the dark corners behind closed doors. Moreover, the inclusion of a list of organisations available to offer help for anyone affected by the issues raised, reflect an acute awareness of mental health and elevate this collection even more.

The Demon Crew, always superb, have this time, I believe, produced an extraordinary talent and I’m positive this is the start of an incredible career.

Shannan’s collection Meaningless Destruction is available from Amazon priced £5.99

Tickets for the festival can be found by clicking here: Cultural Exchanges 

And you can also hear from members of the Demon Crew - and buy their publications - at the States of Independence Festival on Saturday, 10th March.


Helen Abbot

Laughter and learning

The hour-long Demon Crew event showcased the work of seven students who spoke about their experiences with their publishing projects, their writing processes and the inspiration behind their work. Their writing resonated with many audience members and I was especially struck by Alicja Walendziak's poetry pamphlet Herbata, in which she writes about being Polish and living in the UK with a mocking tone. This was clear before her reading as she said, sarcastically, "Yes I am here to steal your jobs", raising a little laughter from the audience.

Alicja Walendziak

As a first year Creative Writing student at DMU, I thoroughly enjoyed the event and was able to hear and see the enthusiasm the students had for their publications and their aspirations for the future. It was great to see that these students had also gained an appreciation of the craft through their course;  Shannan Mitchener launched her poetry collection with the admission that “I didn’t like poetry until my second year.”
E. Towers

Poets of the Demon Crew

Poems from the Demon Crew were living and breathing projects. Shannan Mitchener started the event by introducing her collection of poetry, Meaningless Deconstruction. Her subject is depression and mental health.
Jenny Brooks' Laughing Gas uses multiple perspectives to tell the story of a boy who has a lung transplant. The collection takes a journey through his illness and experience of surgery.
Alicja Walendziak's Herbata is a trip into the culture of Poland. The collection of poems in the booklet and the ones that the writer performed gave me an insight into the human condition as well as the similarities between Britain and Poland.
Jenny Brooks & Alicja Walendziak
Rick Ferguson

The Demon Crew phenomenon

When I entered the room for the Demon Crew presentation, I didn't know what to expect, so I felt almost like a nervous wreck. However by the end I was filled with happy and sad emotions. I felt proud of these students' achievements even though I don't really know them. It was a phenomenal experience.

There was huge variety in the presented work: poetry, novels and short stories in printed form as well as web-based a novel. Each piece came across really well, each person presented their work beautifully and in such an engaging way that I was hooked on every project.

There were two contrasting poetry presentations: Jenny Brooks' work derived from a friend's experience of lung transplant surgery and while Alicja Walendziak wrote about being Polish in England - and taking the piss out of both the Polish and the British. I definitely want to read both of their pamphlets. Shannan Mitchener's collection of poems based around mental health, which stood out because I knew where the author was coming from so I was able to resonate with the extracts she read out. 

Hayley Phythian
Hayley Phythian's collection of short stories was intriguing because they were based in the same world surrounded by the magic plane of existence. It was really awe inspiring. 

The most unique presentation was Hannah Jones' website novel using audio. We got to hear a snippet from the prologue, and the production was just outstanding though we have to wait for the website to go live. 

But I have a thing for Sci-Fi, so the novel, No Peace on Mars, presented by Andre Cowen and Adil Lakhani appealed most of all. The extract they read out was humorous but with a deep sense of politics - and that inspired me. 

Adil Lakhani and Andre Cowen
Overall the experience was tremendous. Not only did I get to appreciate other people's work but as a creative writer I understood how very much hard work lay behind it.

Josh Harwood

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Digging Potatoes with Josette Simon

Don't panic, I'm not actually up to my knees in potatoes and soil with Josette Simon OBE. I did, however, have the pleasure of an hour 'in conversation' with the multi-award winning actor, and when she compared her process of characterisation to digging potatoes she left me wanting to dig for more of the strength, truth and diversity which she discussed so passionately.

From the moment the conversation began, Simon radiated a natural charisma and sincerity, as she recalled her experiences growing up in Leicester and discovering her unexpected career path. She consistently demonstrated her passion and personal resilience, from building a thick skin in tackling adversities, to her relentless pursuit of the 'absolute real' in her work. 

The highlight for me was Simon's desire for the highest standard of work across the industry and her refreshing views on race representation. She encouraged her audience to embrace individuals regardless of ethnicity, and as part of the human race, calling for diversity based on merit instead of numbers. 

This culminated in an engaging and thought-provoking session which left me feeling incredibly inspired. If all creatives thought more like Simon, I imagine the industry would paint a much more diverse and supremely talented picture. 

Want to join the potato dig? You can check out the other events as part of De Montfort University's Cultural Exchanges Festival, taking place from 26 February - 2 March 2018, many of which are free!

Hollie Godwin

Ready, Steady ... Bid!

As I stepped from the lift onto the fourth floor, I received a very warm welcome from many happy art students who were hustling and bustling about, preparing lots for the Fine Art Auction.

Before me was an array of warm colours and patterns. Bodies stood at a distance and stared with deep concentration, trying to find some hidden meaning behind each piece.

I grabbed a free glass of red (win!) and wandered over to join some people who looked knowledgeable. I got talking to Abid Hussain, who graduated from DMU in 2012 and has been coming here every year since. He said “some of this work is fantastic and the stuff you buy here will be worth something one day. It's great chance to purchase a piece of fresh original work.”

 With that I took my seat. I’m not renowned for artistic knowledge but even I was able to admire the work on show. One artist, Kia Kennedy did particularly well; most of her pieces sold for over £20 and one went for £80.

There were 106 lots in total and every one of them sold. Prices averaged at about £25 and even I was able to grab a little something without spending too much. This was my first time attending the event, but with free wine, and a formal yet comfortable atmosphere, it’s one I will surely visit again.

Artist for both works: Julian Pinnick


Mary Roberts.

Not on the Label

Having arrived at Not on the label after booking it on a whim, I was pleasantly surprised at the passion and content expressed in the talk. 
To kick it off, Andrew Reeves spoke a little about DMU’s sustainability initiatives (the university now has an electricity contract with a renewable energy company!) and its relation to the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. The whole talk focused around one step in particular: responsible consumption and production.

Leading the topic were Dr Claire Lepiniere and Emma Wood, explaining responsible consumption and production in textiles. After briefly explaining the differences between The Linear Model (make, take and dump) and The Circular Model (an initiative that the UN hopes to implement universally), they put us into small groups to undertake an activity. This was designed to show the water and energy consumption that goes into manufacturing certain materials found in our clothes.

Bringing the talk to a close was Amanda Berlan with a compelling insight into the cocoa industry, child labour and the fairtrade movement. Her passion for the subject served to incite passion in the rest of our group – who wouldn’t be interested in children’s rights, chocolate and equality?

After walking into the talk with little to no knowledge of its content, I found that my inner eco-warrior was crying to break free. I promptly signed up to hear more about DMU’s sustainability initiatives and hope to be more involved going forward into next year.
E.M. Williams

Actress, Arsonist, Suffragette!

Kitty Marion, uncovered!
Image result for kitty marionFern Riddell's brand new book Death in Ten Minutes, tells the story of political activist and radical suffragette, Kitty Marion, through her own, never seen before diaries.

 Fern Riddell is an expert in sex, suffrage and entertainment in the Victorian and Edwardian eras. In her book she draws on Kitty Marion's diary and uses her own words to bring the story back to life!

The FREE event takes place at De Montfort University, Clephan Building on the 2nd of March, click here to get your tickets.

C. O Brown

Vinay Patel, BAFTA-nominated playwright ... and cat-lover

Vinay Patel, BAFTA nominee, writer, and most importantly, cat lover, is attending De Montfort University in Leicester for the Cultural Exchanges Festival 2018. 

Patel has a very long list of writing credits, including theatre, television film and radio, including credits for the BBC and ITV. As an aspiring writer, I think that hearing Patel discuss his career so far and respond to questions on his writing could be extremely beneficial for not only me, but other writers who dream of seeing their work depicted on screens. 

My interest doesn't just stem from Vinay Patel's impressive portfolio of professional work but also from his blog titled 'shut up and deal', and from his use of social media. Patel is rather active on his verified Twitter page, where he posts about his work, personal life, and his beautiful cats.

The Cultural Exchanges Festival has something for everyone, and definitely has events that intend to entertain audiences in areas they may not be familiar with.

I look forward to attending some of these events, not only to benefit my writing but also to find ways to expand culturally. 

You can book for Vinay's "in conversation" session here. It's on Thursday 1st March, at 5 in DMU's Clephan Building.

Paige Nicole

Identity for the Youtube generation

In the era of social media, Youtube is more important than ever for young kids and teenagers who spend hours browsing. Youtube influencers change people’s lives every day. 
Roly, a Non-Binary Youtuber, LGBTQ+ advocate and Body Modification enthusiast, is one of them. He believes that self-expression is extremely important and he shares with his 100,000 plus subscribers online. He is an important figure for the LGBTQ+ community as he inspires others to be themselves and embrace their differences. 
On Thursday, Roly joins Jack Wilkin, Vice Chair of DMU LGBTQ+ Society, in a conversation about how he uses his channel to help others accept themselves and their identities. Don’t miss him at DMU’s Cultural Exchanges Festival on Thursday 1st March at 4pm in Clephan 3.03.
Francisca Quadrio

Getting poetry - with Kei Miller

Poetry? Not for me. Which begs the question - why was I watching a poet on youtube at 2am?

The rich and varied works of Jamaican-born Kei Miller have changed my views on contemporary poetry beyond imagination. Anchored firmly in the Caribbean, but with forays around the world, A Light Song of Light (2010 Carcanet Press) took me on an emotional journey, from daytime to night, through light and darkness, from elation to heart-rending despair. 
Miller's disrupted syntax, his mellifluous cadence and startling subjects are best appreciated through performance and, for the first time in my life, I 'get' it. From one poem to the next, to the next, to the next, I simply couldn't stop watching.

With the passion of any new convert I can't shut up about my new-found love and I'll be the first in line when Miller speaks at 6pm on Wednesday, 28th February during the DMU Cultural Exchanges 2018 event.
Cultural Exchanges runs from 26th February - 2nd March 2018

Helen Abbot

The man behind Revolution Farm

Animal Farm is no more. Make room for James Kenworth's update, Revolution Farm.

Tomorrow James Kenworth is coming to DMU's Cultural Exchanges Festival to talk about how he turned a classic into a modern-day phenomenon. Reviews have acclaimed his work as "a masterpiece", "a contemporary twist" and "a powerful update."   

 Kenworth is regularly commissioned as a playwright and has received grants from places like 'The Royal Docks trust'. He also lectures on Creative Writing and has both children and University students.

I think his talk is unmissable and it's even a free event.

 So book your tickets now for Wednesday 28th February from 6-7pm in the Clephan Building at De Montfort University.

You can book tickets from here.
And, did I mention, they're FREE!?

Josh Harwood
Kizuna Dance Company are coming to DMU!

All the way from NYC Kizuna Dance, led by Cameron McKinney, are coming to give an exciting and exclusive performance in our PACE building at De Montfort University, Leicester. The performance will include the European premiere of their latest dance piece Koibito and Hitsuzendo, a piece inspired by Zen Buddhism and Japanese calligraphy. 

McKinney founded the Kizuna Dance company in 2014 with the aim of creating works that celebrate Japanese language and culture. Hip-hop, house, and contemporary movements create an original blend of physicality, humanity, humour, and intricacy.

You don't want to miss out on this amazing opportunity to see the Kizuna Dance company wow us with their "compositionally fascinating”, “beautifully crafted”, and “intricately detailed” work (Stewardship Report).

There are still some tickets left but get them quickly, before they all go!
Book your tickets here! 

Bethany Shirtcliffe

Monday, 26 February 2018

One day, ten deaths: a talk by Gary Younge

Another Day in the Death of America is a book by award-winning journalist Gary Younge.

For his book he picked one day in America at random (23/11/2013) and looked at the number of deaths by shootings on that day.

His research found that 10 people had been shot on that one day, yet not a single one made national news.

In his book he looks past the usual take of expressing extreme amounts of sympathy to the victims, but instead looks at how the average American can become a powerless victim. He does not focus on gun control, but what happens to a country when there is no gun control.

On Tuesday 27th February, Gary will be attending cultural exchanges festival to talk about his book. He will be speaking in the Clephan building, room 3.03 from 6:00 to 7:00. To see him Book tickets here (ticket numbers limited).

To read more about his book click here.

M.J. Dickinson

Be inspired by the Demon Crew!

Come along to this free event and take inspiration from DMU's final-year Creative Writing students as they treat you to readings from their latest work. This event will showcase the remarkable potential of young writers as they launch their publications projects and is an exciting opportunity to see what the next generation of authors has to offer.

Over their degree course, students develop their craft by practicing a range of craft techniques, and their final year projects represent the culmination of their efforts. Prepare to be impressed, for the skill they demonstrate is truly impressive. You may even get the chance to purchase a copy of your favorite

For a chance to experience young creativity at its best, book your free tickets here.

L Robertson

Fine art for sale!

Every year De Montfort University holds a fine art auction. This is an exciting opportunity to purchase some fine pieces of art work from current students and recent graduates.
Previous years have showcased work in a huge range of different mediums including digital print, oils on foamboard and even acrylic and LED light boxes.

Artist: Catherine Keen. Piece: Residue, 2012

With such a delicious and peculiar mix of varied materials, I for one will not be missing out on a chance to be the first to purchase some spectacular works in this year’s auction. Taking place on Monday 26th February from 6:30pm this year’s work will be shown in the brand-new Vijay Patel building, room 4.05 and the Fletcher Suite.    

Not only is admission free but, as a glorious bonus, all funds raised will go to the student Degree Show catalogue fund. Win Win! See you there!

Mary Roberts

Taking over the world

"Breaking Bread: a dinner to hatch plans and take over the world"

My eyes are instantly drawn to the title and my interest is piqued. I should advise you that the world take-over probably isn't today. But there is a chance to sit down and meet new people while discussing interesting topics. I don't want to miss out. Ane by the way, there is also free food!

Of all of the cultural exchange events this one intrigues me most. Living in today's society it is important that we dare to have conversations with people who might have different views from us or who come from different backgrounds. This is a way we can learn more than we expected and encounter new knowledge and ideas. 

The event's focus is on LGBTQ folk, Women folk, Invisible Dis/ability folk and BAME folk. It seems like a good mix of learning in a safe space as well as coming out to have a good time. I looking forward to meeting new and interesting people who can, I hope, teach me something and, of course, an evening of fun.

If you want to learn more about this event, which takes place tonight, click here.

Rebecka Nakell

Josette Simon - in pursuit of the truth

“I like pursuing the truth and the exploration of human nature – that’s what I really love.” So said multi-award-winning actor Josette Simon, on her role as Shakespeare's Cleopatra in a Guardian interview last year.

“The only person who does her justice and seems to understand there is so much more to her than a bewitching enchantress is Shakespeare," Simon added." This is not just a play about passion, it’s a play about politics – and she’s as much a player in the political narrative as Octavius or Antony." 

With any luck, Simon will talk more about her sense of this and other roles when she's in conversation at De Montfort University's Cultural Exchanges Festival tonight.

Simon seems to be the kind of actor who has a hands-on approach for all the work she does. At Central School of Speech and Drama she was warned by the principal not to expect to get the classic roles because of her skin colour. This didn't deter her. Instead it inspired her to work harder than anybody and made her excel at those very roles.

If you're quick - and lucky - you might still get a ticket to see her tonight. Book here.

Regina Toth

Friday, 23 February 2018

Don't forget the fringes

Headline Acts:
- Jazzie B!
I do like Soul II Soul.
- Gary Younge!
Hmm, interesting journalism.
- Josette Simon!

I booked all three.
But in my excitement, I'd neglected to consider the fringe events: the ones I knew little about. I looked further, and found:


This question seemed to be addressed to me personally.

The event offers a discussion between Dr Greg Scorzo and Claire Fox, Director of the Institute of Ideas, on the rise of safe spaces and trigger warnings.


Most appealing about this event is its potential for discussion. I'm sure there will be many audience members armed and ready to debate. But that's great! This is one of those topics that requires people to share opinions and experiences. How else can we educate each other?

As someone who's currently undecided on the subject, I look forward to finding out more and forming an opinion. I chose this event for its potential to make me think, and I believe all of us, at DMU and elsewhere, should consider that when booking.

So don't just book what you know you will enjoy. Book something that might challenge you!

Learn more about Cultural Exchanges. Click here

Araminta Jürgen-Romrig

A Festival of Discovery

The Cultural Exchanges Festival organized by De Montfort University is a great occasion and way of discovering more about writers, publishers, actors or even YouTube stars. As a creative writer, I've signed up for a range of events including the Demon Crew, Kizuna Dance and Imogen Sutton on 'Daughters of De Beauvoir.' 

Why not come and have a look for yourself and see what you think? Most events are free or very cheap, and those taking part include journalist Gary Younge,  actor Josette Simon, TV presenter Anne Davies, script-writer Vinay Patel and many more.

It's an opportunity to pursue your interests - or find interests you never knew you had. You can book tickets here.

Solene Fleming