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

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

There will be sex

I read somewhere that if you put sex in the title of an article, people have been scientifically proven to be 78% more likely to read it. Or something like that.

Well, I can confirm at 12 o’clock, Saturday 19th March 2011 at the States of Independence Independent Press Day at De Montfort University, you will get sex. How’s that for a sure thing?

It’s all above board though. Nicola Monaghan’s talk, Sex and Sensibility, is just one of the 27 different workshops, readings and book launches at this press day event, a fantastic opportunity to meet and hear writers and their work, or establish new contacts with independent publishers.

The timetable is impressively eclectic: from the Moomims to anarchism, Arts funding cuts to crime writing. And, of course, poetry readings.

This is the second year Five Leaves Press and the Creative Writing team at De Montfort University have organised this special event. Even better, it is free.

I went last year with my daughter Sarah (as I don’t remember any sex on the timetable). Highlight for her was having three of her bedtime story books signed by their author, Berlie Doherty. Sarah was awe struck, “Mummy, that lady is famous!”

So, take advantage of this rare opportunity for fledgling and established writers, and interested readers, to share work and experiences, to talk to publishers and editors. You never know where it may lead.

The obvious way to round this off would be to somehow mention sex again. But I wouldn’t do that, would I?

Sally Jack

Monday, 7 March 2011

Roll on next year

Looking at my Cultural eXchanges booklet, with my black biro marks next to all the events I wanted to attend, I can honestly say this week has been worth it. I’m sure when some students were told about the event, they heard the announcement as "week off". That isn’t the case at all, those of you who stayed away have truly missed out.

For travel and other reasons, I couldn't attend half of what I wanted to, but the performances and lectures I've seen have made the whole week one to remember.

University is still fresh for me and the rest of the first years. I'd never heard of Cultural eXchanges before as I'm the first in my family to come to De Montfort. It was a week I was not expecting, and one I will be attending for the foreseeable future.

Given the diversity of events, it was amazing to see what you could discover by attending lectures you were unsure of, with a spontaneous urge to learn.

That's exactly what I did this week. I never dreamed of finding so much to interest and excite me.

Roll on next year!

Sophie Price

Cultural Overview

Well what a fantastic week! I think I speak for everyone who attended Cultural eXchanges in saying that it was an excellent experience. A big well done to the Faculty of Humanities - and especially the Arts Management staff and students - for all their hard work and effort!

Personally, my highlight of the week is split between the Postgraduate students and the Demon Crew presentations. Both set of students did a superb job of showcasing their work, and the standard was incredible. It made me excited about the next two years I have at De Montfort University.

The Postgraduates taking Creative Writing had the ambition to go far and the quality of the writing to make this possible. Their passion for their work really came across.

The Demon Crew student publication launch was packed and we were treated to cakes, biscuits, sweets and drink. The work ranged from poetry, short stories, scripts, magazines, prints etc. There were quite a few pieces intergrating social technology, keeping writing modern which was very smart. All the students presented their pieces in distinctive ways, either using humour or strange props that reflected their pieces. Overall a brilliant event.

Of course Blake Morrison was great to watch. It's always nice to see an author perform their work. The same could be said for Sean Bonney and Maggie O'Sullivan. I was glad that I went out of my Writing-English comfort zone with the 60x60 concert, experiencing music as well.

On the final note I have to say I am looking forward to Cultural eXchanges 2012 already! If you didn't have the chance this year, make sure you come along next year!

Something worth fighting for

Given that Meera Syal has had such a varied career, I knew there would be parts of this interview I wouldn't completely understand. The conversations twisted from her personal experiences to the horror of reality TV, but she was always entertaining and certainly didn't disappoint.

Laughter filled the room during the discussion as Syal regaled us with stories, but while the talk was light and entertaining it was also illuminating as she spoke of her motivations and her struggle for roles that represented the woman she was.

She pointed out while stage roles were filled by people from any background or ethnicity, the same could not be said for television. If she wanted to play strong, independent Asian women she was going to have to create them; if she wanted things to change she was going to have to change them.

Regardless of where you come from or what you want from life, if you want something enough you have to fight for it, you have to actively go out and get it not wait for it to come to you. Syal's interview was my last event at Cultural eXchanges and in many ways I think the discussion mirrored the festival's purpose- to inspire and excite a generation to do something they're passionate about.

Cultural eXchanges has certainly opened my eyes and jump-started my brain- I can’t wait for next year.

Katie Bamford

Breaking the 4th dimension

It’s an extremely rare occurrence in a university for somebody to walk in to a lecture theatre and have the entire audience instantly fall silent. I’ve certainly never seen that silence explode in to thunderous applause.

Without a doubt, the atmosphere was electric when Alan Moore stepped in to the room for what was described as “the pinnacle of the week.”

I was immediately struck by his quick wit and modesty in front of a fully-occupied lecture theatre. Given his near-legendary status, I certainly didn’t envy Simon Perril’s task of introducing him.

I doubt anybody expected Alan Moore to read a chapter from his forthcoming novel Jerusalem. The subject matter undoubtedly confounded the audience, but then again the fourth dimension is quite confounding material.

Moore’s astonishing skills as a reader as well as a writer captivated the audience which had soon entered a trance-like state of reverence. This was especially apparent when the floor was open to questions. Cautious hands poked above heads and audience members shyed away from obvious questions. There was no loss of atmosphere and Moore’s astounding intellect was apparent to all.

What is most astonishing about Alan Moore, however, is his dedication to the purity of craft. He's one of very few who value originality and creativity above all when approaching any medium. He is an inspiration and I hope this is not the last time I have the opportunity to learn from him.

Elliot Speight


I have to admit, I had know idea who Alan Moore was before today but I am glad I went to his event.

The second he entered the room, everyone went silent. It was an excited kind of silence that even I felt. It was like he had some sort of power over the audience.

After a short introduction and a couple of jokes, he began to read us a chapter from his new book. He started off quietly, creating a sinister tone for his writing.

The audience was mesmerised; hardly anyone moved, we all just wanted to listen. Unfortunately, an hour was not enough time for him to read the entire chapter.

He was then asked a few questions by the audience which he answered directly and wittily.

I'd like to research a number of his views - and I might even buy his new book once it's out.

Leonni Secondino

"Angels like snooker"

Tonight is the last night of De Montfort Universities' Cultural eXchanges week. So far I have witnessed retired punks, avant-garde concerts, and DMU's very own post-grad creative writing students stun their audience with tales of sex and the macabre. This event was the one I'd been looking forward to for weeks. There is a buzz, as the packed-out room wait for acclaimed comic book writer and novelist, Alan Moore.

"Don't peak too soon." Moore warns as he enters to rapturous applause. He comes across as a very warm and witty individual, discussing a myriad of anecdotes, from how his brother 'died' of choking when they were children, to how angels play a game similiar to snooker, but with the souls of humans.

He reads a gargantuan portion from the yet-to-be-completed novel Jerusalem, which was inspired by his curiosity with the nature of time and transience. It will contain around three quarters of a million words within 1500 pages. An ambitious project to say the least, even more so than his first novel Voice of the Fire. Again it will be set in his beloved Northampton.

I find myself lost within his reading. It is complex yet I was fully engrossed. It's rare these days to find writers who explore writing in an explicit and honest way like Moore does. He estimates it'll be two years before Jerusalem is published. I don't think I can wait that long.

Sarah Beckley

We were warned

Before the 60x60 event began, the audience were told that the music would be dark. The name alone gave it a an eerie feel - Vermilion.

They turned off the lights so we could truly listen to the sixty composed pieces, but I felt that the darkness created a frightening, horror-film-like atmosphere.

The only thing that we could see was a giant clock to let us know that the pieces were exactly sixty seconds each. This left it to our imagination - it was like watching a horror film with our eyes closed.

One piece that really stood out included sounds that reminded me of spiders scuttling across a wooden floor - the tapping sound. I shivered and squirmed throughout the whole sixty seconds of that piece.

Another was like something burning and I found myself trying to imagine what instrument would make that noise.

This event really made me appreciate the effect that music can have on people and how everyday sounds can be manipulated into something scary.

Leonni Secondino

Darker than vermilion?

When I signed myself up to witness the 60x60 concert on the final day of 2011's cultural eXchanges I had already guessed I was letting myself in for something spectacular; the rest of the week had been an absolute eye-opener and I had no doubt in my mind that this concert was going to give me plenty of food for thought too.

The first real indication that this event was already going to be different from what I'd anticipated was the layout of the hall; tiers of seats and hushed whispers, exactly what I’d expected. But I hadn't anticipated the two large speakers and apparent absence of musicians.

The electronic collection, consisting of sixty compositions of sixty seconds each, was performed in complete darkness (which made note-taking very interesting indeed) except for a clock face projected onto the front wall of the room.

The collection itself was very chilling, creating a definite sense of unease and disjointedness - the whole composition gave off a very 'Silent Hill' vibe in my opinion, which created a very extraordinary atmosphere which would be hard to replicate.

The collection we heard was ‘Vermillion’ – although perhaps they should consider renaming to a different, darker shade to fit the tone of the pieces.

For more informationc click HERE.

Samantha Inglis

From words to music

The reading and talk from Blake Morrison was delightful. It was a great experience to see such a well-respected author and hear his advice on writing.

He started with a reading from his novel Last Weekend. The humour had the audience laughing along but
Blake explained how he also wanted to create a sense of claustrophobia - an almost gothic feel mixed with male rivalry. Mentioning it was set in East Anglia made me feel childishly happy, knowing that's where I come from. A really nice man and an excellent author!

Attending the 60x60 concert this morning with an open mind, I was astounded by the sheer quality of the classical mix with electronic aspects. A lover of classical music, I found the music right up my street. There were aspects of water, voices, bells, etc. that really set the tone of the musical pieces. They all told separate stories in 60 seconds, which is amazing. All you can do is close your eyes and absorb the atmosphere the composers create. It was all very atmospheric, and I especially liked Pellman's piece.

A truly wonderful experience, and I will be definitely checking out some of the composers in the future!

Leonie Sturmam

The Art of Possibility

We live in a topsy-turvy world of politics in the 21st century, something Tim Hames put down to the loss of ‘The Art of the Possible’ in recent times.

It was refreshing to hear somebody speak critically about modern politics without relying on the one-stop idea that “it’s all the media’s fault” and instead highlighting real issues such as a lack of political autonomy in modern governments, the changing structure of the electorate (and yes, the influence of the media is a factor) and the rapidly accelerating pace of European integration.

Although sometimes overwhelming, the political insight I gained in one hour in that tiny lecture theatre was incredible, and I only wish the league of amateur pub politicians had attended. I definitely feel less a part of that league now.

Elliot Speight

Paranoia and laughter

"He looks like Dustin Hoffman," a voice beside me whispered, as Jonathan Taylor expressed his admiration for Blake Morrison. Morrison sat very still and contemplative as Jonathan listed his works and achievements before inviting him to read.

That stillness vanished when the writer took to his podium. Hearing him skip from one influence to the next, via readings of his work, was like having an insight into the mind of Morrison: a glorious mind's stream of consciousness. Blake talked about everything from the enigma of foxes, to the enigma of his late mother, with a stunningly precise choice of words, and often an avuncular wit. He was everything you'd expect from such an accomplished writer: thought-provoking, fascinating and effortlessly likeable.

This likeability extended into his reading of the quite wonderful And When Did You Last See Your Father? and his ballad about the Yorkshire ripper, which came with the warning, "don't worry if you don't understand some of the words - most of Yorkshire don't either!" All this however played support act to the excerpt of The Last Weekend he finished with: a retelling of a playground incident from his character Ian provided laughs, paranoia and exhilaration a-plenty.

A Q&A session ensued. Morrison detailed how on the set of the movie version of ...Father? he was "ejected from a scene of his life", which again raised a murmur of laughter from the audience. That line in fact epitomised Morrison's hour: amusing, astute and intelligently observed - and I wouldn't mind betting that Dustin Hoffman wouldn't have satisfied this crowd as well as Blake Morrison.

An evening with Blake Morrison

Before this evening I had only heard of Blake Morrison when he'd been praised by Dr Jonathan Taylor, a lecturer in creative writing at De Montfort University. And it was Dr Taylor who opened the talk with a short introduction on Morrison's impressive career.

Morrison began by reading from his latest novel The Last Weekend. It follows Ian, a primary school teacher, who is deeply jealous of his friend from university, Ollie. Morrison took Shakespeare's Othello as a starting point as indicated by the character's names: Ollie, Daisy, Ian and Emily. He boldly states "If you're going to plagiarise anyone, plagiarise Shakespeare!

Morrison then gave tips about writing, which was no doubt welcomed by the budding writers in the audience. He explained that getting the voice of your narrator is important, and gave an example of this by reading The Ballad of the Yorkshire Ripper, a poem he'd written about the notorious murderer. The poem was written in Yorkshire dialect and shocked the public, as it was written not too long after the event.

I hope to purchase a couple of his books in the future, especially his most famous work And When Did You Last See Your Father? Mr Morrison, you have yourself a new fan.

Sarah Beckley

Yet more about Maggie and Sean

I must admit, I didn't know what to expect when I turned up to watch poets Maggie O'Sullivan and Sean Bonney. My knowledge of the pair of them consisted solely of what everyone else had said: "They're brilliant performers." That's probably the vaguest description you can give a poet.

Watching each of them, however, I was astounded. A shy, tired-looking Bonney metamorphised into an aggressive, snarling ringmaster of his stage, slaying totalitarian men in power with cutting imagery and a rapid pace. Each phrase, each word employed by Bonney sounded tailor-cut for his depiction; I stopped to marvel at his language a few times, only to lose track of where he'd reached in his bullet-train delivery. Whilst Maggie O'Sullivan didn't quite put the world to rights, she was equally as mesmerising: an otherworldly cascade of sounds, words and phrases captivated everyone in the room.

Simon Perril had compared both poets, prior to Bonney's performance, and he had hit the nail on the head for me. Both read utterly stunning poetry with a ferocious passion, and both held their audience in the palms of their hands, with every syllable that trickled from their lips.

One thought flooded my head as I left. What an introduction to the pair of them - and what an experience.

Mark White

Don't spare yourself the drama

As a Creative Writing student, one of the worst things about my course is being exposed to new mediums. Not that I dislike discovering new mediums - I just don’t like discovering new mediums, getting excited about them, then hitting the inevitable stumbling block of having no good ideas and no time to do anything anyway.

I knew nothing about radio drama apart from that it existed, until a lecture by BBC radio producer Peter Leslie Wild in November. Little did I know that radio drama is, as Roger Wood described yesterday, “the open door to new writing”, in a presentation that inspired me, as a student with aspirations of writing for a living, that I could enter a field with real opportunities.

Wood’s presentation focused mainly on pitching radio dramas to producers. I’m not planning on pitching any soon, but like anything in life, knowing the details makes it more approachable and real. Especially details like the lowest fee first-time writers can expect from a radio play (around £34 per minute).

Whilst I may never write a radio play of any description, knowing that a high-profile employer such as the BBC is supporting first-time writers through operations like Writers Room is greatly encouraging, not only to me, but to anybody who hopes to make a life out of writing.

Illustration by Red Imlah (2011)

Elliot Speight

Friday, 4 March 2011

You can't just send it in a jiffy bag

Mark Fishlock, an established U.K. songwriter and a founder-director of the British Academy of Songwriters, tells of the challenges songwriters may be in for.

It's impossible to get signed if you send your work in a jiffy bag to a recording company now. Technology changed the musical landscape for songwriters. It's far easier to demo yourself.

But large influx of music = hard to get anything heard or looked at.

Mark Fishlock was very truthful about the struggle for songwriters. He made clear how closed off the industry was - and how you can't get signed straight from the cold. You have to be known.

But it wasn't all grim and minor, he described the Ivor awards. Though they aren't televised like the Brits, songwriters hold it in higher regard as it celebrates the songwriter's creativity.

Seeing Mark Fishlock in conversation, was an eye opener for amateur songwriters like me. Through all the recycling of music, there's not much room for anything new unless you work for it. But even in recycling, there are songs that are covered and improved.

Fishlock agreed, but still praised classics like "Bridge over Troubled Water" - and at the end of his talk that's the song that echoed in my mind.

How to earn more than £1,500 in 45 minutes

To all those lured to into reading this opening sentence by the above title, I have two words for you - Radio Drama. And trust me, £1500 is an absolute minimum.

The BBC are always looking for new writers to produce radio drama for them. It's BBC policy to commission work on Radio 3 and 4 by at least 40 new writers a year, and this target is always exceeded.

So what you do is you write a 45 minute script to be performed on radio, send it off to The Writer's Room on the BBC website and, if you're lucky enough to get an interview (BBC are
very open to new, exciting work by inexperienced writers), you could be paid for writing radio scripts before you know it.

Now you might need to agree to do the first one for free but, once your foot is in the door, paid work will come rolling in. For a beginner writer, the minimum pay for a one-performance script is £34.40
a minute and for multiple performances it is at least £57, plus extra for attending the recordings. And the more you write, the more you earn. You should have seen the way neon pound signs lit up in all the eyes in the room.

So thank you, Roger Wood, for making me aware of the writing (and financial) advantages of becoming a radio script writer.

Alex Thompson

More on Maggie and Sean

One thing which really impressed me about this poetry reading was the way the poets became different characters whilst reading their work. When Sean Bonney introduced himself he seemed quiet, almost shy but when he started to read he was transformed. His angry, anarchistic expressions driving forward his poetry to an audience of roughly 50 people.

My understanding of performance poetry may be basic but I can appreciate talent when it is in front of me and I learnt a lot from watching these poets perform.

Chris Guest

A Degree of Creativity

When you're being served apple juice in a wine glass, you know you're in for a treat. And I'm not just talking about the selection of toffee eclairs, cupcakes and - Will Buckingham's personal favourite - pink shrimps, that were on offer.

Demon Crew's Student Publications Launch at Cultural Exchanges showcased some of the finest work produced by the Universities third year students. With a wide selection of performances on offer - poems on puzzles, post-it notes and in concrete form, audio performances from radio to song, not forgetting extracts of prose and general talks about the publication process - the turn-out was tremendous.

Each performer was received heartily by the crowded audience and the atmosphere was buzzing with electricity. The Creative Writing team (Kathleen Bell, Will Buckingham, Simon Perril and Johnathan Taylor) have clearly built a great rapport with their students across the board; humour, jibes and jabs were well-receive.

Laughs aside, the event was a great success and, for me personally, an insight to my future. As a first year student, I attended the event with certain expectations. These were surpassed; beyond any doubt each piece performed was a credit to the creative staff at De Montfort University and a to the high level its students have achieved.

Cultural Exchanges is one of De Montfort's biggest yearly events and already I look forward to the next one for more 'posh' apple juices, free cakes and hopefully a pink shrimp or two, if I can get there before Will! And I'm also looking forward to more performances and inspiring works from DMU's most talented creative writers.

(Thanks to Pamela Hallam & Alex Bliss for the authorising use of the photo above.)

Holly Hookway

Free Biscuits! now that I've got your attention ...

You know you've had a truly inspiring day when you can't get your thoughts in order for your next creative piece. Having experienced some of the work of twenty-three of De Montfort University's third year students I feel far more motivated than I have in some time to sit and simply write.

Today I learnt that I've been taking the creative side of creative writing for granted. Ordinarily I would sit down, pen and paper in hand, and write prose. I'd never before considered using post-it notes or jigsaw puzzles, let alone printing T-shirts as a medium for my words - until now, that is.

The collection of works at the Demon Crew publication event was truly inspirational for the mixed audience of university students, fellow writers and the general public. I feel this event has opened my eyes to new realms of possibilities just waiting to be explored, and I can't wait to get started.

And did I mention there were free biscuits?

Samantha Inglis

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Eclairs! Where?

Arriving at the Demon Crew launch bleary-eyed, I was surprised at just how many people had turned up for the event. It was packed.

Ten minutes in and I was rather pleased I had dragged myself out into the unexpected cold - I had found something to aim for. In two years time I'll be one of those students, presenting a final year publication project. I can't yet grasp that fact just yet, they're work is at such a high and imaginative standard, a standard that seems quite distant to me. Jigsaws, post-it notes, T-shirts, concrete poetry - surely my slurring brain would never conjure up such things?

The more I watched and listened though, the more I realised something. These ideas and pieces hadn't come to their writers overnight; they had worked hard and edited harder to get their work to the standard it is. Two years ago, they probably sat in a blue plastic seat and thought, 'I can't do that!' whilst stealing chocolate eclairs, just like me.

Terri Baker

Something to look forward to

The Demon Crew Creative Writing Launch was probably one of the most inspirational events that I have attended. Twenty-three students read from their work or discussed the process of writing in just two hours.

The themes varied from dating tips to loss. Some pieces made the audience laugh and one almost brought me to tears.

It surprised me how much I could relate to some of the things that had been written. I had thought that there would be a huge difference in themes and issues between first year and third year students, but I recognised many of the topics that were discussed.

One writer spoke about the difference in accents and displayed it on T-shirts. I found myself nodding in agreement to the things she said about having an accent that is different to the majority.

One piece that really stood out for me was the collection of poems written on post-it-notes. I had never thought of doing poetry in that way; it is definitely something that I would like to try out.

We were shown so many different ways of writing and presenting work - so many ideas for our own future experiments.

Leonni Secondino

The Demon Crew dazzle in launch

Today, I looked into the future . . . well, sort of. As the final year Creative Writing students presented their projects, I saw what I'd be doing in two year's time. And I was intimidated.

DMU lecturer Jonathan Taylor kicked off the event by introducing the group, who then took a few minutes each to share their ideas, and read from their work. Each student expressed their ideas with clarity and confidence, and I was impressed with the variety of publications: poetry, short prose, radio drama - even a jigsaw puzzle!

It was clear that every writer had put time and effort into their work, and had come up with interesting, modern ideas. Copies of the projects were displayed around the room, giving the audience a chance to have a closer look.

The event ended with a talented acoustic performance by Morton Piercewright, and I'm sure I speak for everyone when I say I wish all the students good luck in the coming months, and success for the future.

Lauren Simmonds

Drooling over Words

Should I take my 7 year old daughter Sarah to the poetry readings by Sean Bonney and Maggie O'Sullivan at this year's Cultural eXchange event at DMU? I feared the content might be too adult but the argument of exposing her to culture won.

I love language and word play. At a recent poetry reading by Geraldine Monk, again, at DMU, I agreed with Geraldine's approach when she said she drools over words. I also listen with a mixture of interest, horror and amusement to the evolution of Sarah's own language stye. Recently, the use of 'like' has entered our household, either as a discourse particle: "Mummy, I'm like, really hungry" or a quotative: "I was like, Amber, I saw the Justin Bieber film before you did."

Back to word bandits, Bonney and Sullivan. I needn't have worried about Sarah. We, and the whole audience, were mesmerised by the urgent delivery of Sean's passionate, punky poems, his delivery fuelled by some sort of lexicial power surge. Sarah wrote words she found interesting in her notebook. The one expletive she recognised was written down, complete with exclamation marks and a box to mark it out from the others. What a rebel.

Maggie's poems were, as promised, an event in language, with the focus on sound patterning: assonance, consonance, sibilance, alliteration. I loved the concrete references to base elements and metals, anatomy and nature.

I'm glad we went. We both feasted on language. Sarah commented later on how many 'wow' words she had heard. Indeed - and no further words are necessary from me.

Sally Jack

Poetry: not just words on paper

I have never been too fond of poetry, but after an hour of listening to Maggie O'Sullivan and Sean Bonney, I suddenly wanted to write it.

It began with Sean Bonney and it was not what I expected at all. When he read his poetry, it was like he became a different person. He was sarcastic, angry and confident - as though the poetry controlled him and the atmosphere in the room. It was fascinating to witness.

I felt that Maggie O'Sullivan's poetry was quite complex. She used a lot of similar sounding words and the rhythm changed frequently - I have no idea how she managed to say it all so fluently.

Listening to these poets was a lot like listening to music or watching live musicians. You could see the artists' passion shine through when they read out their work.

I never knew that poetry could be so exciting - or inspirational.

Leonni Secondino

Spoken Word Spectacular

This evening’s spoken-word reading by Sean Bonney and Maggie O’Sullivan was definitely an event of two halves; Bonney displayed measured and well-timed readings with a strong political focus, whereas O’Sullivan drew us into her world with vivid imagery.

The poets were given a positive and complimentary introduction by DMU lecturer Simon Perril, before Sean Bonney took the stage. Throughout his readings, there was a clear sense of political vision, with times and dates central to his work. His poetry often ended abruptly, leaving the audience sitting in silence to digest what they'd just heard.

Maggie O'Sullivan read extracts from many of her collections, including Red Shift and House of the Shaman. Her voice filled the room, rising and falling to express the imagery within her work.

As a student who has not witnessed much spoken word poetry, it was definitely a new, interesting experience for me, and I left wanting to listen to more of the same.

Lauren Simmonds

Poetic pleasures

Sean Bonney and Maggie O'Sullivan performed their poetry in front of an all-age audience from 6-7pm last night. Both were completely different in their styles but knew how to perform and speak their words.

DMU Lecturer Simon Perril opened with an introductory speech about the two poets, which set up the reading.

Sean Bonney was on first, describing his work as 'counter-tradition', 'political' and 'punky'. It was certainly lively and he performed his poetry with the zest and passion of a man that had a message to bring. His poetry about the Tories winning the election was delivered with good humour and kept the audience waiting for what political problem he would encounter next.

Maggie O'Sullivan was clearly a poet who bases her work around sound quality. Writing for around 30 years, she is said to be intrigued by the 'spoken' and the 'voicelessness'. Her performance was enthusiastic and bouncy, certainly ticking the box of the 'spoken'.

Both were very goodand I would highly recommend them. It was certainly an experience for me, as an English Literature student, to hear poetry performed. However, if you're interested in politics, music or just poetry in general then check them out!

Keep music industrial

It would be fair to say that in this century, the future of music is in dispute. In the era of illegal downloading and falling sales, it was refreshing as well as surprising to hear a positive message from the CEO of UK Music, Feargal Sharkey, who described 2011 as “an extraordinary time to be a music fan.”

For the industry to survive it is evident that it has to embrace the Internet. The Internet’s democratisation of creativity with no industry involvement has created an incomprehensible catalogue of musicians. Websites such as MySpace have failed to create major waves for the music industry because they are stiflingly bloated.

We live in a time where people do not expect to pay for music. File-sharing services such as Napster have created new expectations and people want free music, fast. Instead of fighting this, the industry needs to learn how to capitalize on it.

Slowly, change is beginning. Record labels (mostly independent labels) are experimenting with success, streaming albums for free online with appropriate advertising that leads to record and merchandise sales.

Just as the phonograph didn’t kill the sheet music industry in the 19th century, the Internet will not kill the music industry in the 21st.

Illustration of event by Red Imlah

Avoid copyright infringement though art!

Elliot Speight

Half-way thoughts

So, here we are half way through the 2011 Cultural Exchanges at DMU, and what a week it's been so far!

The Postgraduate creative writing event has definitely been my favourite to date, with five varied but uniformly enthusiastic writers coming together in a mix of humour, reality, refection, gore, sex and ... more sex, it really wasn't an event to be missed; the entire audience was engaged from start to finish, which is exactly what I look forward to at such an occasion.

Having had such a brilliant experience so far, I've certainly geared myself up for the rest of the week, holding high hopes for the 'Arts in Prison' event tomorrow evening in particular, and to finish the week with a dash of Alan Moore, what more could I want?

Samantha Inglis

Sex, Booze and Flatulence

Dr Toni Weller, a senior lecturer in history at De Montfort University, explains that by putting the word 'sex' in a title you're bound to get people's attention, and, judging by the impressive turn out this afternoon, it worked. The full title of the talk was 'Sex, Culture and Politics: The Art of English Satire from Georgian Debauchery to Victorian Morality'.

For the next hour Dr Weller transported her audience back to the mid 1700s, and covered over a century on the evolution of English satire. We were given examples of work from contemporary satirists and caricaturists such as James Gillray, Thomas Rowlandson, George Cruikshank and William Hogarth.

Satire from the Georgian era was steeped in crude imagery, particular favourites consisting of farting monarchs and public fornication. George, Prince of Wales, later Prince Regent and George IV, hated James Gillray's representation of him as grossly overweight and dissolute in A Voluptuary under the horrors of Digestion (1792), but to be satirised meant you were important. So he couldn't really condemn it.

Victorian satire, however, settled for a more conservative representation of culture and politics, with sex being almost completely removed. As a result it became less humorous, implicit, and more realistic. For example Cruikshank's The Bottle (1847) was a moral tale against drinking.

Dr Weller closed the talk with modern examples of pictoral satire. Has the style changed? Today satirists focus more on the government than the monarchy, but thankfully the sarcastic humour hasn't been removed.

Fashionable Contrasts; – or – the Duchess's little shoe yeilding to the magnitude of the Duke's foot
James Gillroy (1792)

A New Court of Queen's Bench, As it Ought to Be -- Or -- The Ladies Trying a Contemptible Scoundrel for a "Breach of Promise"
George Cruikshank (1849)

All images taken from Wikimedia Commons

Sarah Beckley

Sex, Culture, Politics

To be quite honest, I had absolutely no idea when the Georgian period was before this lecture. I'm hopelessly, and rather shamefully, clueless when it comes to British history. So I can't really answer as to why I decided to attend this event - perhaps, as Doctor Weller suggested, we were all there simply because the word 'sex' appeared in the title. Nobody argued with that.

The word 'lecture' doesn't really do Toni Weller's talk justice. When you say "lecture" many people automatically think "boring". Yet this was engaging, interesting, well-presented and pleasantly humorous. Whether you were a history and satire buff, or like me, a clueless student, she was educational and interesting in the ideas and themes she presented. The images were well chosen and connected; not once did I feel lost.

I took a great deal of information from this session, and one of the most appealing things that kept the audiences attention was seeing Doctor Weller's passion for the subject. I am definitely glad the title had 'sex' in it - I would never have gained this much-needed historical context without it!

Terri Baker

Big, bad wolf

Well I can certainly say that I will never read Little Red Riding Hood the same again. Not that I’m complaining of course - it caused more than a few laughs.

I don’t think there was one straight face in the lecture room after the five performers had reeled off their poetry and prose to us during the short hour.

I'm not going to explain the many-faceted comedies involved. I'll just say they involved something wiggling, a phone, a throne, a stalker and a job that involved catering to clients with some very specific demands.

The only disappointment was that time went so fast. I wished I could have rewound the whole presentation and played it again.

To speak plainly, it was simply brilliant.

Sophie Price

Now I'm scared

When I first signed up for the creative writing course, I had some level of understanding at how hard it is, but I've always been interested in writing, so I figured that if I worked really hard, I'd do OK. After attending the postgraduate creative writing event, I fully appreciate how naive I was about this.

Listening to the work that has been produced completely blew me away. These people aren't even professionals and the standard of work heard was above and beyond. Well written, engaging and highly amusing pieces were read, and I could only sit there in awe of the work that they had created in their time spent studying at DMU.

I think that I'm definitely going to have to work even harder than I planned if I have any hope of being at that standard in three years time.

Sarah Methold

That will never be me

When I saw the title 'Postgraduate creative writing', I thought to myself, 'Worth a look, but that's never going to be me.' I didn't really consider how the performances might affect me, or my expectations for the future. I just thought it would be something to enjoy.

The readings kicked off with a tale of a 'trouser ferret.' Laughter rippled across the room creating a great atmosphere for our next readers. We were treated to cleverly worked poems that at the same time felt effortless - I could not help but be envious; provocative, gripping pieces of prose written with such clarity I was left wondering if they were in fact biographical (which I sincerely hoped they were not); humour executed perfectly; lashings of dark wit; and vividly painted imagery.

I left the room knowing which direction I wanted to take with my writing - that direction. In years to come, I want to be like them, crafting work that will make others stop, think, imagine and enjoy. The clear thing about all of those performers was how much they had relished creating those pieces - it poured from their performances. Five very different people, five different lives - and pehaps those writers sat thinking the same things as me years ago.

Since attending their reading I've changed my mind. That could be me.

Terri Baker

A trip into creative minds

Laughter, sarcasm, romance - that was not what I was expecting from the Postgraduate Creative Writing Event in which five writers read out their works of poetry or prose.

The vivid descriptions made it feel like we were transported into the minds of the writers. It was not just a talk - it was a journey.

All the pieces were different: personal experiences, monologues and romance. But they were all as effective as each other, whether they left the audience in tears from laughter or in amazement.

Hearing the work being read aloud gave the pieces more depth and allowed the audience to understand exactly what the writer intended - something which is hard to do when you read in your head.

More, please.

Leonni Secondino

Post-graduate success

As a first-year student, I was both inspired and awed by the talent and confidence presented by five post-graduates, who shared their varied works today.

In just an hour, a packed-out audience wsas treated to poetry, prose and dramatic monologue. The writers explored themes of birth and death, reflections, sexual fantasies and snow hysteria, all handled with a wit and talent that were evidence of the students’ hard work and dedication.

It was a privilege to meet five very promising students, who I would not be surprised to see become very successful in the future.

Lauren Simmonds

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Postgraduate Spectacular

Five students combined prose and poetry in a small reading that had a big impact on its audience.

I speak for the whole of the audience when I say the perfomances were riveting, satirical and promising. Not only was the quality of writing at a professional standard but the readings were executed in a confident way that captured the audience immediately.

We were warned at the start that there would be strong language and adult themes. And oh boy, there were but all played out in a highly amusing way.

A man with a 'wiggle' in his trousers, cross-dressing, gore, sexual fantasies, stalkers and 'floppy' stories are just glimpses of what the Postgraduates had in store for us. Humour - the trickiest technique for a writer to grasp - was integrated superbly.

The climax of the event was topped with stories of a seventy-five year old with the body of a Greek God, funny bedroom noises, the 'Prince of Fantasies' and the wonders of enjoying a relationship over the phone. All these came from a single story that gave rise to fits of laughter and stunned expressions.

Excellent event, definitely people I would look out for in the future. Not only were the pieces imaginative and fun, they were of a high standard and their dedication to the art shone through.

Right, better be off! Now going to see Maggie O'Sullivan and Sean Bonney perform!

Leonie Sturman

We're nice - and not after your money

Double-checking my booked events last night, I was surprised to find I had double-booked. What a shame I had to choose!

I chose to see Dr Stuart Price's Micro-Ideology lecture, and I believe I chose correctly.

Though advertising has always interested me, I was initially at some disadvantage in understanding the lecture, finding myself a little out of my depth with some of the terminology. Once we got going into the subject proper, though, I learned quite a few advertising tricks neither I nor, most likely, most people would have stopped to notice before.

Most particularly the way that, nowadays, companies make an effort to appear benevolent and friendly towards us, more so than in older times. They talk about all the good they're doing, speak to us directly, tell us how to solve our problems - while manipulating the truth to make that good seem greater, to pose the very problems they solve. Not to mention the times when their slogans devolve into pure nonsense.

And yet all this was delivered with a cheerful matter-of-factness, and no great burden of cynicism. Just watch out the next time you notice a radio or TV show 'sponsored by' a company - doesn't that endorsement tacked onto the end in some way make the whole programme an advertisement?

Louella Pritchard

Student convinced to spend money

Now I'll admit, I hadn't really heard a hell of a lot about this playwright before 6 o'clock Tuesday evening. But after just one hour listening to the man talk about his life and career, I can say that David Rudkin may well be one of the most underrated dramatists in post war Britain.

We saw examples of his work dating back to the age of eleven, and the language used combined with the length of the book and the strict editing process taken showed that even at that age it was clear that David Rudkin would go on to great things. These great things were evidenced by the British Library's recent acquisition of David Rudkin's archive - a lifetime of works that took up an entire side of Rudkin's own living room.

The impression made by David Rudkin on me and, I can safely assume many others in the room, was so strong was that it convinced me to part with £19.95 for a signed copy of his book with his two latest plays, Red Sun and Merlin Unchained, as soon as the interview ended.

Alex Thompson

Signs of a star-shaped diva

It was being a lover of all things cabaret that initially made me book to see Caroline Parker, and the little snippets of performance during the event were definitely entertaining. They are not, however, what I will remember most; I left Clephan building feeling moved and full of admiration for this performer.

Caroline Parker is deaf. Not profoundly, she stated - she can hear bits and pieces of the songs she performs, using British Sign Language and mime. But this has not once stopped her pursuing her ambition of performing with music. She is well known for her signed performances, often finding herself with bookings for various cabaret acts. But alongside this she is a comedian and actress, having appeared in programmes such as My Hero. She has also toured her own one woman show, 'Signs of a Star-Shaped Diva.'

To listen to, she was fascinating, funny and full of energy; the hour long event seemed to pass in no time. You could hear the passion for her work in every word she spoke, and her genuine desire to change the discriminatory attitudes towards performers with disabilities in the industry.

Seeing Caroline has definitely sparked an interest in signed singing for me; I'd definitely like to go and watch her at some point. But mostly, the entire event was purely inspiring and thought-provoking - she definitely seems to be somebody you could learn a lot from.

Stephanie-Louise Farrell

Of music and morality

Feargal Sharkey is still punk.

Okay, he was wearing a suit. That brings his punk credibility down slightly. But still.

This was one of the most thought-provoking events I have attended. It only lasted an hour, but I could have listened to Feargal for a lot longer. His views on the state of the music industry and twenty-first century music in general are, to say the least, strong – but certainly, they are moral.

He covered the issues with the UK’s artists surrounding the internet, particularly illegal downloading, royalties and how he believes the lack of a figure such as John Peel has changed the way the public learns about and discovers music. And now he is the C.E.O of UK Music, the nerve centre of the country's music industry, let’s hope he can have some influence with his fierce ideals.

So, why is he still punk? Because he is not happy with something and he firmly believes he will change it. He does not want innocent people to get sued for mistakes regarding music licensing laws. He wants artists to be in control of everything they create, from touring down to royalties.

And I love music. So I hope he gets his way.

Stephanie-Louise Farrell

"2011 is an extraordinary time to be a music fan"


That was the response whenever I mentioned Feargal Sharkey's upcoming talk at De Montfort Universities' Cultural eXchanges Week.

"He was the front man of The Undertones."

I sit opposite blank faces.

"Teenage Kicks?"

The song had been my anthem around the age of twelve, and has been an anthem for many since its release in 1978. Arguably, it's what Sharkey is best known for. Dig deeper however, and you're presented with a man who has won an abundance of awards for his service to the music industry, which goes beyond his recording career.

From the early 1990's Sharkey has been involved with the business side of music. First he became an A&R for Polydor Records, then a member of the Radio Authority, and more recently the head of UK Music, an organisation which focusses on the production side of the UK's commercial music industry.

Tonight, in a half-full room containing various generations of music fans, Sharkey discussed his humble, though frustrating, beginnings in Derry, Northern Ireland, his career both on and off stage, and his opinions on the modern state of the music industry.

He spoke with passion and affection when explaining the need to champion new artists, and how the internet has shaped music. The anecdotes of his experiences always engaged me as a listener. I thoroughly appreciated his talk. Can this event be topped?

Sarah Beckley

A lifetime's work in Tesco bags

Thousands of pieces of paper, catalogued and waiting in his front room to be taken to the archives in the British museum; this was one of the first photos we were shown during the interview with David Rudkin, as he recounted what can truly be described as a lifetime of work.

I'd never heard of Rudkin before, but I was fascinated by his tales and the vivid images he created. I particularly loved how he described himself at a young age asking his mother how books were held together. When she told him they were sewed, he sat with darning needle and bright red thread, carefully stitching his pages together.

But it’s more than just an endearing story; it shows a dedication and a passion to his craft that is evident throughout his career. It was wonderful to see a writer speak with such high enthusiasm for his profession after so many years - and this is something I hope I will witness again in the future.

Katie Bamford

Simon English tells a story

Imagine Dumbledore as a young man, if you consider magic as an art form.

This was my first thought when introduced to Simon English, the creator of the England Revisited project.

In 1971, as an art student in Leeds, Simon English had the idea to write “Earth” on the Earth with the most northern point in North America, inspired by a love of ordnance survey maps and cameras on weather-balloons.

As a prelude to this, he literally wrote “England” across the English landscape. Using an improbably combination of maths and geography, he mapped out the 75 points that would spell “England” and visited these points, leaving small English flags and a notice that explained why the flag was there, and his details if anyone wanted to contact him. People did contact him and told him the stories of what happened to his flags over the course of 40 years.

In 2010, Simon English revisited these 75 points. Some of the changes he encountered were drastic: one flag was in a quiet country lane in 1971; now it's in a housing estate in Milton Keynes.

This project was like a time sculpture, tracking the changes across the country. It's about the stories and the people surrounding the stories: place, time and change against a backdrop of past and present

Michelle Rose

The bloke who wrote England on England

The idea of writing 'England' on England is extraordinary enough, but when you see the catalogue of work Simon English has done towards this project, extraordinary just doesn't cover it. English himself stated his land art became more about the stories of each area, and the story of his journey certainly captivated me.

There was something enthralling about a young man in his 20s hitch-hiking his way up and down England putting up flags and taking photos at specific points, especially in the context of today; I know my mother wouldn’t let me do it. What is perhaps even more impressive is that he chose to do the same journey 40 years later, painstakingly locating each site and marking it with a new flag in a project called England Revisited.

As someone who grew to despise art following A Level, I whole-heartedly appreciate English for reigniting my interest, and for displaying such passion and dedication to a project which has found followers nationwide over the years, and now continues to do so via the internet.

I know I’m not the only member of that audience who wants to go and find ‘England’ written in England.

Katie Bamford

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

"When people are young, they don't think"

It's perhaps hard to associate sculpture with Ordnance Survey maps before seeing an example of Simon English’s work.

He firmly believes that art is about communication, not merely ‘things.’ He also stated that ‘when people are young, they don’t think, they just do.’ These are two of the reasons this conceptual artist/sculptor began his 1971 project. He planned to take a journey, marking his route onto a map into the shape of the word ‘England’ – placing little flags in each pointed destination as he came to them.

Last year, he began the project ‘England Revisited,’ taking the same route and photographing himself in the same places he had done forty years ago. The scenery wasn’t the only thing to have changed very little; he revisited an address he’d been to on the original journey, to discover the same man living there. The man was now in his nineties and remembered Simon clearly.

As somebody who is awful with a paintbrush and has trouble even navigating the way to the local shops, I found myself quite in awe of the project, not least for the exciting journey described. It is an intriguing piece of conceptual art – the thought that a creative project could come to life after beginning as little marks on a map was fascinating to me.

Stephanie-Louise Farrell

Are we ready for a curtain call?

Michael Billington, theatre critic for The Guardian newspaper took part in this year’s Cultural eXchanges programme on February 28th at De Montfort University, Leicester.

Judging by the packed lecture theatre in the Clephan building, members of the public were itching to see Britain’s longest-serving theatre critic, eager to listen and with a list of questions at the ready.

Though just another face in a large crowd, I felt a part of the interview between Mr Billington and Dr Elinor Parsons as he spoke of his career spanning over forty years and his love of the theatre.

Having started his career with The Guardian in 1971, Mr Billington find his regular reviews in the newspapers now bring him into closer (and faster) dialogue with readers thanks to the internet.

Listening to Mr Billington, I felt my love for the theatre take a new turn as he spoke about the future and how financial cuts could mean fewer people would be able to see live theatre. For him, ticket pricing was crucial; he said if tickets were to be charged at the same price as a cup of coffee, the difference in audience numbers would be immense.

I hope Mr Billington will return to take part in next year’s Cultural eXchanges as his presence was appreciated by not only De Montfort University students, but also by members of the public who travelled to see him in person.

Sophie Price