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

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

I overheard a rumour about free wine

The final event I attended was the East Midlands launch of Overheard: Stories to Read Aloud and despite what you may suspect, I didn’t go just for the free wine. 

(Although that was a fantastic bonus! I advise the powers that be to supply free wine at all future events. Maybe some whiskey too...) 

I may have digressed...

The book was edited by DMU Creative Writing tutor, Jonathan Taylor, and contributed to by our other tutors Kathleen Bell, Will Buckingham and Simon Perril, among many others. Although I was sure the other writers would be excellent, I was most interested to hear my tutors’ work. Of course, it did not disappoint.

The idea of stories written for the purpose of being read aloud took me back to telling ghost stories, by torchlight, as a child and ‘story time’ in primary school, gathered in front of the teacher. It reminded me of what first excited me about stories - the facial expressions for emphasis; the whispers and the shouts; the pauses that feel eternal and the look of intrigue in the listeners' eyes. That strength of suspense, humour and involvement can’t be matched when I read text from a page.

The writers brought their stories to life and it was easy to see that the audience was hanging on their every word as the wine stood, neglected, at the back of the room.

If you missed the event, don’t miss the book!

Hannah Maggs

I want to know more

As I sat on a chair swirling a glass of wine in one hand as the audience flooded into a crowded room,I felt privileged that I had experienced De Montfort University's Cultural Exchanges Festival and the range of extraordinary individuals who had come to share their valuable work . 

The final event, 'Overheard -Stories To Read Aloud,' was no exception as a host of readers provided an evening of entertainment. There was a range of stories.  Particularly memorable was Will Buckingham's snippet of an anecdote about a bizarre event witnessed by a couple of honeymooners.  The stories varied widely in theme and topic ranging from mental illness to the transition from childhood to adulthood brilliantly told using the theme of students and teachers.

As I left the artificial lights of the cramped room, I felt as if a piece of each story that had been read aloud had left a long-term effect upon my mind.  Each story, perfectly told, gave an insight into the lives of the characters involved.  I walked into the darkness wishing I could only know more about them all. 

Mike Payne

Inspiration comes with free juice

When I tell people my degree is in Creative Writing I can tell from their expressions (and words) that they imagine us all sitting around on beanbags, flowers in our hair, talking about how totally deep our poems are, man. They have no idea how much craft, research and painstaking editing goes into the work we do. 

How I wish I could have taken all of these doubters to see the work of third year and postgraduate Creative Writing students at today’s Demon Crew event and the Postgraduate Creative Writing Showcase earlier this week. 

The talent I saw made me more proud of my degree than ever. Seeing where I could be in a few short years was as inspiring as it was daunting.

The postgraduate work was of an insanely high standard, my favourite piece was a hilarious, enthusiastically-read extract from story that reminded me a little of Hunter S Thompson’s work. There was also funny and thought-provoking poetry at a standard I'm certain I could never reach. 

The Demon Crew event was a presentation of third year publications – small books, websites, vlogs and audio drama were among the creative ideas showcased. Many of which got a lot of laughs. (There was also free juice and crisps!)

These events have inspired me to push myself so much harder in the hopes that soon I will be up there reading out my work for some poor first year to write an inadequate blog about.

Hannah Maggs


Described as a “performance lecture”, The Price Of Everything is a piece of theatre, a lecture and a stand-up show all spliced together to form a unique one man show with the articulate and intelligent Daniel Bye at the helm. It’s like a collaboration between Al Gore, Stewart Lee and a local dairy farmer. If the performance was milk it would be skimmed, as there's not an ounce of fat in the whole hour. 

The show was post-modern and deconstructive, exploring the manipulation of audiences as well as the concept of value. A glass of milk became the currency of choice as Bye explored, well, the price of everything. Using a mixture of surreal allegories and hard facts, Bye delved into the world’s idea of worth and what our society values with a charm and likeability which made these complex ideas thoroughly accessible.

There was also a degree of self conscious satire as Bye demonstrated the callousness of the Conservative government and free market capitalism. The show ended on a tale espousing the need for kindness, even just the smallest, tiniest bit of kindness, which was reminiscent of Danny Wallace’s Join Me movement.    

Bye aimed to plant a small seed in the audience’s minds, only time will tell if he succeeded but you can see the progress being made here.

Matt Watts 

A third of a pint of milk

'The Price of Everything' was Daniel Bye's performance lecture about the value of things.

Having never been to a performance lecture I found it an odd experience to be part of; however it was also highly engaging. In the first half of the performance, as audience members we were thrown into the factual world of worth. How much are we, as human beings, worth, and what value do we place on the world around us? 
The second half consisted of a story telling us how much kindness is worth - and how it is that we find it much easier to believe a story about a bunch of idiots buying nothing, than a long continuous chain of kindness.

Completely bewitching, as well as prompting us to think about our actions as people, Daniel Bye is one definitely worth seeing. If the effective metaphor of milk throughout doesn't sway you then the free glass of milk may. An extraordinary experience.

Suzi Woolley

All change for creative writers

Writers Alan Baker and Will Buckingham have both been prompted to write by the ancient Chinese text the I Ching, also known as The Book of Changes.

Will, began by explaining the mathematically-derived structure of the I Ching: how the 64 hexagrams are formed by either Yang (solid) or Yin (broken) lines stacked in sixes, to represent all the possible combinations. Each of these hexagrams is a statement that can be used for the purposes of divination, or taken and applied as a philosophical perspective.

Alan highlighted - and it really struck me - how contemporary the concepts of I Ching are.  He described it as similar to, and even influential on New Age spiritualism; as well as a key influence on the development of the binary system.

Both Will and Alan, read some of their own work directly inspired by their reading of the I Ching.  Although both started from the same place there were remarkable differences between Alan's 256-word prose poems and Will's short stories.  However both had similar elements, being in their own ways random, circular and cryptic.

Listening to Will and Alan's account of the I Ching, I couldn’t distinguish whether what I was hearing was a mass of convoluted nonsense, or a universal truth delivered with subtle poignancy. Sitting here reflecting, twenty wiki tabs deep, with tired eyes and a head full of whirling thoughts; I’m still not sure. In can at least conclude that the I Ching is a marvellous and seemingly inexhaustible source of food for thought.

Xavier Cranwell

Are women animals?

Thursday saw Joanna Bourke give an insightful talk about the historical relationships between human and animal rights based around her latest book, What it Means to be Human.

She began by reading from a letter to The Times newspaper written by ‘An Earnest Englishwoman.’ This 1872 letter asked the surprising question, "Are Women Animals?" The author acknowledged that women were unlikely to be granted equal rights to men so suggested instead that women's right to live without undue suffering might be advanced if, in henceforward, all laws against the mistreatment of animals were understood to include women in their scope.

It's hard to to believe now, but it was once generally held that 'lesser beings' - a category which could include working-class people, most foreigners, women and children - could not feel or suffer in the same way as white men. In addition, there was a strong belief that a man should have the right to do as he wished in his own home - and that the law should not normally intrude on his treatment of members of his household.

Interestingly, in 1884 children gained the protection women asked for but a man’s wife still had fewer rights than his pig. Joanna also informed us that animals were only protected against cruelty to safeguard humans, as law-makers feared that callousness to animals would seep into their other interactions. Abuse against women and children, however, was not of much concern.

Fortunately, the Earnest Englishwoman’s letter contributed to the humanisation of women and, eventually, the rights we have today.

Joanna looked at many theories of the time and gave concise, researched analysis. She went on to question religious ideas about humans and animals as well as philosophical notions such as how we and other animals are ranked in the universe.

Joanna’s talk was intensely interesting throughout while still remaining accessible to someone who knows little of her field. My only complaint is how quickly the hour seemed to pass!

Hannah Maggs


I went to #MediaBomb

Admittedly, the first thing that attracted me to this event was the # that is commonly associated with Twitter! However, on  reading more, I realised that this would be really useful to me as an aspiring journalist.

And useful it was! The panel consisted of professionals within the media industry who not only inspired me with their passion but also enlightened me on how the media business works and what you can do to get noticed. They used their experiences to answer some great questions that were raised, all of which were relevant to every sector of the industry. Here's a snippet...

A CV? zzz...

One of the big questions raised was, how can I stand out from the rest? The old method of handing out a classic c.v. in a basic template with your name and qualifications is okay, but where's that going to get you? Many of the panellists explained that employers are looking to say no, so you have to give them a good reason to say yes. You should get creative with your CV and allow it to express who you are. 'This is a creative industry, so be creative!'


Another question asked was, is it what you know, or who you know? to which the answer was mainly: who you know. I learnt a lot in the 2-hour session, but this is probably one of the most important things. Networking is vital.

 Just do it 

One valuable piece of advice I’ll take away from today is, if you have an idea, don't doubt yourself - have confidence and just do it. 

Beth Smith

Students on show

Although some of the students presenting their work were nervous, the student publications event with 3rd-years from the Demon Crew was excellent.  You could tell that they were all very passionate about their final product, whether it was, a set of leaflets, a website or an audio-show.
The audience warmed to the crowd and, as the event progressed, the authors became at ease when talking about their work. 

Humour was a frequent feature of the publications but each group was unique and the presenters highlighted the element that made their publication stand out from the rest.  Some talked about their collaboration with artists outside the course or their negotiations with printers and all worked hard to achieve the visual impact they wanted. 

I enjoyed this event and recommend it to next year's first years - especially those on the Creative Writing course.  The launch highlighted the hard work and team-work needed to achieve a professional appearance for the final publications. This event would also be of interest to the Leicester community as it illustrates the talent and intelligence of students at De Montfort University.

The Cultural Exchanges Festival allows the students to present their work and also view other aspects of the arts; it also opens-up the university for the community. 

There will be a further opportunity to see some of the publications at States of Independence, the "book festival in a day" on Saturday, 16th March, also in De Montfort's Clephan Building.  This also features a huge range of panels and publishers' stalls.

A. Birch

Poems. stories and more

As soon as I walked the familiar lecture theatre, there was a buzz in the atmosphere; everyone who wanted to be there was there. My fellow-students weren't texting under the desk but fully attentive to the postgraduates' work.  The witty, charismatic individuals in front of us gave us an insight into what we could achieve.

Their work showed me that, at a reading, it's not just what you write, but how you perform it that is the key to success. My favourite moment was the ending of the poem based upon fictional prison baths. The line "you shouldn't believe everything we read" led everyone to break out in laughter.

I thoroughly enjoyed work from all seven writers, and look forward to hearing more from them soon.

Veenali Shah

No bull on his tongue

By Wednesday evening I knew that the absolute highlight of my week so far was Alan Garner’s talk. His incredibly intricate, brilliantly written stories completely absorbed me, despite my usual reluctance to read fantasy novels.

I was hoping for an insight into how he creates these vivid worlds and weaves his deeply-layered, often chilling stories. What I got was so much more.

Garner speaks with a distinguished eloquence and a great deal of wisdom. He initially spoke of language history and his background as an athlete, an actor and an academic. By the time he began talking about his methods of writing I was absolutely enthralled, feverishly making notes for fear of losing a shard of wisdom.

For Alan, writers’ block is merely impatience.  For him, stories arise from isolated ideas that appear in the mind from nowhere, often several years apart. Sparks then fly and form a book in the unconscious mind until there is a “moment of particularly sharp vision” and a sense that the book has always existed. It is then a task of “excavation” rather than creation for which he switches his brain off so it doesn’t “get in the way”. For Alan, “Creativity is not a job, it is a pathological state”.

He was also kind enough to sign books for eager fans after the talk, during which time he was funny, approachable and without airs and graces despite his impressive career. 

I may not be a fantasy fan but I am now, without question, an Alan Garner fan.

Hannah Maggs

"I challenge you to do worse"

I expected Alan Garner, as a fantasy writer to be as strange as other fantasy writers I know of (Alan Moore springs to mind). However he was surprisingly normal and down to earth, but quick to say he believes that being a writer is a pathological state. He also warned us that his talk would not be a guide on how to write. He stresses this sentiment again later, insisting that you cannot tell how someone how to write.

Garner elucidates the importance of learning from your own work, stating that the writer is a 'subordinate to his own work,' and that stringing two sentences together does not make you a writer any more than knocking two bits of wood together makes you a carpenter. And I can see what he means: that you have to dedicate yourself to writing well and sweat over it as any craftsman would. He goes on to insist that rewriting and redrafting your work is the best way to make progress with your writing.

Garner demonstrates this tried and tested method of perseverance by sharing with us the opening to his first book, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, as it appeared in his original draft. He follows the first pages in which Colin and Susan appeared with the comment,  'I challenge you to do worse.' The audience responds with delighted laughter.  Later he tells us how bored he became with Colin and Susan in The Moon of Gomrath..  This led to the point in one draft where he was so fed up with Colin and Susan that he allowed an ending in which one of the villains attacked Colin and  "wrung the little bugger's neck."Somehow Garner managed to return to the novel (intended for children aged 8 and up) and give the characters a less devastating ending.  He them left Colin and Susan for decades, returning to them only in his latest, adult novel, Boneland.

The talk with Garner was concise, encouraging and has given me a lot to think about. Garner states that he has no patience for writer's block, branding it as merely a writer's impatience. He compares writing to the dripping of a tap; sometimes you only get a few drops sometimes you get a rush of water. Garner's advice for when you feel you have writers block was simply to 'have a bath!' 

Kimberley Brett

"A house full of snakes and scorpions"

As an ex-history student, I still have a passion for history, especially episodes that are often ignored in history lessons.   Matt Carr's talk, which drew on research for his recent book, enlightened his audience about the attempt to purge Muslims and their descendants from Spain in the early 17th century.  
This illustrated talk most surely delivered. Matt began by giving general information about the beginning of the purge, before going into detail as to why it happened, and the aftermath of the events.  One of the most shocking quotes from the talk was the contemporary Spanish description of the purge as "the agreeable holocaust."  There was nothing agreeable about the sudden uprooting of families who had lived in Spain for generations - and many didn't reach the beaches of  North Africa where the survivors of the purge were dumped.
Hearing the story of the arrival of the Spanish inquisition in modern-day Leicester was an enlightening yet disturbing experience, and it lived up and exceeded all my expectations.

Corey Bedford

I'm ready to write

After hearing the final cultural exchange event I planned to go to had a change of time I was disappointed I couldn't end my week on feeling, once again, inspired. Looking back, though, seeing both Michael Heller and the Postgraduate students read some of their work was beyond motivating.

From a man with a hefty publication count to students just embarking on their creative writing careers my enthusiasm for writing has only expanded.  There’s something both comforting and exciting about seeing how writing can bring together not only different generations, but can expand around the world; to witness the diverse fanatics of the literary art with my own eyes was enthralling.

All I can say is I’m ready to write.

Laura Jones

Friday, 1 March 2013

When history touches us now

It’s not every day you go into a talk learning about a part of history that you have never heard of before or never learnt about in school. Not knowing what to expect, I sat and listened with open ears. 

 Matthew Carr’s book, Blood and Faith: The Purging of Muslim Spain covers a particular time and place in Spanish history, looking at the expulsion of Muslims in Spain near the beginning of the 1600s and how Spaniards of Muslim descent - even though most were at least nominally Christian - were given three days to leave Spanish Territory with the threat of death.Carr also touched on the way Muslims were seen at that time, what happened to them, what their communities were like, King Philip III of Spain and his choices, the wars that were surrounding Spain as well as a closer look on Islam and Christianity. 

The whole talk was very detailed and there was a lot of information to absorb. Ideas were relevant to the way we see religion now, which I feel is especially important. 

When understanding other people’s culture in the past and their way of living, we realise how lucky we are to live in a city with a variety of different cultures and identities where we can work and play together, in a place where we do not have to fight to be free. 

Dayle Corbin

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Student films - definitely not amateur

A still from... actually, it says in the image. By Sammie Williams.

I think one of the things that has struck me most about the Cultural Exchanges festival is the simply fantastic output from DMU's creative students. Whether it was the Fine Art department's Art Auction or Creative Writing's own showcase pieces the week has been bubbling with originality and vision. But the event that has struck me most was the 1 too 3 showcase, an exhibition of video pieces from across the university.

And quite frankly, the films on show were stunning. The pieces on display ranged from the playful intimacy of Red Wine Hangover to the unsettling surrealism of the Idiosyncracies dance video and seemed to cover everything in between.

What with drama, comedy, horror and a good dose of fantasy, the films showed eager young creators at their best - doing what they love and getting to show the end result to the public.

Two pieces really stood out for me.  One was Mechanical Angel, a strange mash-up between science fiction and a haunting music video.  It put me very much in mind of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and of course the Expressionism movement that inspired it.
The other was Sean Goldthorpe's piece that depicted a relationship in reverse - sometimes literally - from the unfortunate break-up to the couple's chance meeting. The cinematography in this piece was wonderful, including slow, lingering shots to set the rather gloomy mood and even using a black screen to divide the couple, reflecting the distance between them.

All the videos mentioned here are going to be on display again tomorrow throughout the day and are totally free of charge, I highly recommend checking them out at Newarke Houses Museum (10-6, Friday 1st March).

Lex Griffiths

Jokes with Jasper

Jasper Carrott is one of Britain’s most established stand-up comedians and has five gold albums under his belt so it was no surprise that this was an incredibly entertaining event.

During his one-hour conversation with Geoff Rowe, director of Dave’s Leicester Comedy Festival, he joked about the success of Funky Moped’s B-side; car insurance claim forms and stealing jokes.

I wasn’t aware of quite how much he'd influenced British stand-up. He was at the forefront along with Billy Connolly who used language too offensive for television, giving Jasper the spotlight.

As well as British folk clubs, he circuited well known American comedy clubs such as The Comedy Store alongside such icons as Jay Leno and Richard Pryor. This lead to his ‘big break’ in the states; a recommendation from actor, Robin Williams, to a journalist for the LA times sparked a review which caused tickets to his five shows to sell out in just an hour!

Unfortunately, he feels too old to carry on with stand-up. He worries that there would be no surprise left and he lacks the “enthusiasm, vibrancy and hunger” necessary. He did go on to detail some ideas for an interesting new outlook on comedy he hadn’t quite figured out, perhaps hoping an up-and-coming comedian could make it work. The unassuming Brummie did say, however, that he’d be honoured if his material was recycled by a ‘counterfeit Carrott’ - but he'd definitely show up and heckle. 

Hannah Maggs

Meeting an idol

I've loved dance for as long as I can remember. I've studied it academically for the past four years, pre-university, and I'm sometimes sad that I've traded in one art for another.

When I first started studying dance, Siobhan Davies was introduced to me, and she was completely away from the disciplines that had made me wary of dance in the first place.

When I first entered the room and saw her, I was starstruck, which is hard to understand if you're not a lover of choreography. Professor Ramsay Burt was conducting the conversation, and it was clear from his smile that I wasn't the only one who was excited. Siobhan has been awarded a CBE  ("I didn't wear a hat!" she adds) for her innovative choreography, contribution to the dance field, and also her constant moving forward, and pushing the art form.

She's funny and kind, openly honest about her past. Feeling very nostalgic as she opens up about her move into a world with no contemporary dance, just discipline in the UK. She talks about why she was so open to new techniques - "I was a blank canvas, I really felt what it meant to move. I was hungry to absorb the information."

She talks about raising a family and still keeping her thriving career at the top. She mentions her year's sabbatical in America, inspiration (although she hates that word) and the meaning of the word imagery in dance.

Something which caught my attention was her mention of "If artists can truly create conditions where neither can deviate, then unorthodoxy between knowledges could be thrilling." I can apply this to my writing, by working with new people and creating something different.

She was a true pleasure to listen to, and I hope that one day I can return to the same art form.
Abigail Barter

Expectations met

Even before the event, I had high expectations of the work that was going to be presented to us. I expected creative pieces that illustrated the individual’s distinct style of writing and a great expression of ideas.

I am happy to say that those expectations were met. Pieces of work became performances as James G. Laws combined word with movement in one of his poems, making the work both effective and memorable. 

Laurie Cusack read the opening of a short story, giving a sense of identity to his characters through his strong accent, the words spoken and changes in dynamics, allowing us to glimpse of their personalities. 

I thought the joint performance of Richard Byrt and Graham Norman rather smart. It played on the idea of a reliable and an unreliable narrator - and also demonstrated that poetry doesn’t have to be a writing process for just one, but can be a collaborative effort for two. 

Other pieces were just as good. I mustn't forget Hannah Stevens' reading of her short story, 'A Man Under', about the immediate after-effects of a suicide. 

All in all, it was delightful to see such a variety of pieces and range of voices.  I hope the authors enjoyed the occasion as much as the audience did.

Dayle Corbin

Defining music

Escapism. For me, this element alone has been both the content and outcome of music. One event, however, encouraged me to challenge this: John Speyer's Arts in Prisons lecture held at De Montfort University in Leicester.

From music as a means of communication in immigration detention centres all around the world, to the ways in which it can order and tranquillize psychological trauma, this explored music as medium, rather than a separate entity.

My favourite part of the event was when its presenters, who worked for a charity organization which runs music workshops in immigration detention centres, encouraged us to sing about home.  This allowed me to open up possibilities as to what home and its loss could mean. But the most significant part, for me, was the ways in which overlapping harmonies combined with their lyrical content, conveyed what home meant to different people.

Most importantly, this event showed me that participation in musical activity what allows it to be a medium rather than a distant stranger.

Reeja Sarai

Calm confidence, and a roar of applause

During this hour long showcase of original literary pieces, I was struck by how calm and confident all of the readers presented themselves whilst expressing their own work. It takes a lot of will power to share something that you have created, pouring hours of time into each individual piece, and even more so in front of an audience of strangers.

Works ranging from poems about the ridiculous and the fantastic to stories dealing with rage, frustration and empathy were showcased.  One performer even strolled up the steps to interact with the audience. It felt as if the personalities and personae of each individual author/poet were carried through into the delivery of their pieces, making their stories feel that much more engaging.

Even though the event took place in a raked lecture theatre, seats were filled from front to back, adding to the atmosphere.  It was wonderful to be part of an experience where writers and readers could come together and silently bounce off of each other while performing or listening. Every person in that room genuinely wanted to be engaged within the story-telling and, judging by the roar of applause at the end, that was exactly what happened.

The dark comedic final poem: ‘I didn’t mean to...’ was a personal highlight. At the final words, the entire room erupted into laughter.

Great Job to all seven writers!
Graeme Tait

Conjuring words

“I'm tall, quiet and logical, so my poetry is short, loud and nonsense.”
In pink tinted glasses and bohemian beanie, James G. Laws has a vivacious stage presence as he strolls confidently up and down, eyeing the audience and addressing its members directly. His poetry is powerful and I enjoy the way his words flow freely as though effortlessly conjured in an instant.

In the next moment, a short story begins with such a strong character presence that its author, Laurie Cusack, becomes the protagonist, yelling words like “Bring it on” and “bastards” with so much vivacity I almost believe he's a recounting a personal event instead of offering us a work of fiction. He impersonates each character, even embodying the not-so-perfect nun as she enters the tale. His tone of his voice varies to convey the shifts in mood and character.

The works that follow bring different cultures to life. In Zeandrick Oliver's wonderful South-African accent, the rhymes fall in a new and appealing manner. A trip to Uganda is told using the dialect of its people by Emma Conway in her tartan skirt and round rimmed glasses. I love that I can understand words she uses - and the broken manner of her poetry illustrates perfectly the struggle of speaking an unfamiliar language.

To close, we’re treated to a rather morbid, but highly amusing piece by Richard Byrt.  The poem plays on rhymes, becomes fairly strange and ends simply with: “I didn't mean to kill you”, leaving the audience applauding between fits of laughter. 

May Ouma

Badger and bathhouse

A good first event to see at Cultural exchange week! The Creative Writing Postgrads started with an eccentric performance from James G. Laws, I wish I could go into specifics but unfortunately the works were untitled. Still the delivery was lively and energetic, the performer wandering around the room while he spoke, declaring his work 'nonsense.' While the rest of the readings were more reserved, they were just as effective.

The next performance was in sharp contrast from the first and the most chilling: a short story of a fedora-clad man who jumps in front of a train and reflections on his death. Hannah Stevens' description of the man's cup of hot chocolate still warm after his death stayed with me for the rest of the day. 

Train Station Platform, Old Delhi, India 1983
Steve McCurry,Old Delhi, 1983
Richard Byrt and Graham Norman read a poem in two voices about prison bathhouses, an unusual topic: "Only half a bar of soap between one bathhouse..." seemed strange to start off with but became more humorous towards the climax of the poem as the voice (possibly a prison guard or warden) insists that the writing of poetry about the bathhouses is strictly prohibited.
Graham Norman's extended poem 'Badger' was about a (presumably) homeless/wandering man, who recalls snippets of his life up to the time of death. 'Badger' was cold in its motif and atmosphere; the image used of 'cold tongues' springs to mind in reference to the gypsies that Badger encountered. The language was brutal while at the same time effective with its simplicity. 
Some of the audience found the poem too long but in my opinion that was part of its success. While this performance did lack the energy of the first recital, it needed to be quiet and concrete.

In all, I enjoyed the Postgraduate writing a lot more than I had anticipated, and I'm looking forward to hearing Andrew Davies and Alan Garner tomorrow!

Kimberley Brett

A sadistic conclusion

I was really looking forward to attending the Postgraduate Creative Writing Showcase, and to experience the kinds of writing that have developed from the very same place in which I find myself. I knew dozens of other students felt the same as seats quickly filled in the small lecture theatre.

It certainly didn’t disappoint. Seven authors performed a great variety of works; poems, short stories and extracts from longer ones; each piece unique, each with a strong voice, wonderful plots and strange, engaging characters.

We heard the fast-paced chaos of the self-proclaimed ‘nonsense’ poems, the formal monotone voice of Warden in the prison bath rules poem, a beautifully constructed poem conveying a charming tale of first meetings in Africa, the short tale of a sorrowful man, and the brash, powerful screams of a violent criminal in an extract from a story. Each author made the work come to life and I thoroughly enjoyed hearing them. What really struck me was how each speaker conveyed the tone of their writing perfectly in their recital, sometimes becoming their characters before us. They really got into it, and we benefited because of it.

It was exciting to hear all these writers reading their precious work, and a wonderful event to attend, but for me, the highlight of the event came right at the end, with a hilarious poem which ended with the sadistic line ‘I didn’t mean to kill you’. The whole audience erupted into both laughter and applause.


An audio achievement

Jungle waters rushed overhead, while birds chattered and helicopters whirred. Caves dripped and snow crunched around me. Paris hustle and bustle surrounded me, and bells rang in my ears - and all of this took place in one room. How is this possible? The answer is through amazing composing and the use of surround sound.

Composing with Sounds was a collaborative performance between experienced composers and school-children from several European countries, including France, Norway and Germany. I was impressed by the children's work, a fantastic arrangement of cultural, urban and natural sounds. Although most of the children couldn't be there in person, the young British composers, one of whom comes from Leicester, presented their pieces with the precise attention of an older, more experienced, composer.

I was thoroughly impressed and shocked with their mastery of sound, especially when what seemed to be a Jumbo Jet whizzed across my face.  Even though it was only there in audio, I half jumped out of my seat.

The performance was a triumph, and everyone involved, especially the school-children, should be very proud of themselves.

At home in New York

Despite the large lecture theatre, Michael Heller's reading felt very personal - almost as though we were being read his private thoughts  This feeling made the occasion quite special.  
The poems, from different stages in Heller's life, had a real home sense, especially as Heller cited places in New York that he was familiar with and thought of as home. He also told us about his family and life and dedicated a number of poems to friends who had recently passed away.

This intimacy made the reading very enjoyable and I feel that, even though I wasn't previously familiar with his work, I now know a lot about Michael Heller - and, after hearing his poems, I plan on buying his book very soon! 

Charlotte Bland

Experiments in sound

This evening I was presented with a unique experience, in the form of Sally Doughty and Craig Vear's Archipelago. I had never attended any kind of performance art before, so I really didn't know what to expect.

I was bewildered at first, confronted with strange mixtures of French sound clips and erratic, unnatural dancing. As the show went on, I became more engaged with the piece, often finding myself thinking about the nature of the sounds and visuals I was presented with, and what they may have represented.

At last I found myself really engaging with the performance. There were genuinely funny moments too - a fake beard, a monologue about drum solos, and clarinets all drew humour from a place I didn't know existed.

As a fascinating exploration of narrative form, and how audio and image can be manipulated, Archipelago has to be experienced to be understood.

Gabsy Davis-Marks

Monday with Manda

For me, Cultural Exchanges kicked off on Monday when Gary Day interviewed historical writer, spiritualist and former animal anaesthetist, Manda Scott. I was particularly interested in hearing about her research methods as I'd recently written a historically-based short story for an assignment. 

Interestingly, she began writing her famous Boudica series, knowing nothing of Boudica but her name which she spelt wrongly! This was the result of a ‘vision quest’ undertaken when she felt the balance between her spirituality and her scientific mind was uneven and that she had lost her sense of self.

As I'm a sceptic of all things spiritual, I was initially put off by her talk of Shamanism and spirit guides, but her endearing personality and enthusiasm for what she does completely won me over. Scott also has a delightfully rebellious streak which shone through. She couldn't hold back a cheeky grin when admitting that she announced her change from crime to historical fiction in front of her former publisher “to piss her off”. 

This isn’t to say that it’s all fun and games in the life of Manda Scott. She spoke of the hours spent following obscure research trails: learning battle techniques; a night spent in a roundhouse; and learning to make a sword. She then explained the ‘iceberg principal’ that the reader never sees or should see the depths of research undertaken, and I think that's the main point I took away.

All in all, an informative and fun event.

-      Hannah Maggs

Hassles and humour

The great thing about Cultural Exchanges week is the opportunities it provides to do something that you might not under ordinary circumstances. You are able to meet and listen to wonderful people and experience exciting, unique events. In order to experience something I usually wouldn’t, I attended The Meltdown Test.

It consisted of six unique plays, written by MA students in TV Scriptwriting, exploring ‘the stresses, strains, hassles and humour of modern day British life’, all performed by drama students.

It was a fantastic event, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Awkwardly, I arrived half an hour early by mistake. That was fun. 
However, it was worth the wait, and when the sketches finally started I was really impressed by the collaboration between actors and writers.  Each short play explored a different - sometimes unusual - circumstance in daily life, tempering serious moments with comedy. My favourites were Rock and Roll by Pamela Hallam, in which a suspicious, wittering old man murders his grandson, and Stuck by Ellis Di Cataldo, a story examining the similarities between two strangers placed together by fate.

I thought the event was a brilliant idea, bringing together students to create successful and original performances. I would certainly attend an event like this again.


Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Brief encounter, and a question that remains

I love elevators; when my legs refuse to climb even a flight of stairs let alone three, they are my salvation.  On my way to listen to American writer, Michael Heller, I decided to take the elevator to save time and locate a good seat.

The metal doors begin to close and quickly enters Simon Perril, a lady and another man. I greeted Simon, knowing him from lectures and smiled at the lady. The man on the other hand, said 'Hello' and smiled and I smiled back. It was a kind smile, sincere and warming in the confined space of 5 bodies so close and unacquainted. He reminded me of Seamus Heaney in his appearance and was well dressed from head to toe in suit trousers and a cotton jumper, and glasses without frames.

It wasn't till I entered the lecture theatre where the man and I split ways and I took my chair while he stood at the front and was introduced as 'Michael Heller', that I felt ashamed and ignorant for not realising who he was.

But as he began to read his poetry, with his accent accentuating the tone of his crafted words, I didn't feel so bad any more. I relaxed. I listened and appreciated that the kind stranger with a sweet smile who I once knew nothing of, was offering the audience his perceptions from years of experience.  I sat back to enjoy his words and take from them what meaning they conveyed to me.

In 'Without Ozymandias' there is a line that says, 'Who finds the pedestal, finds the poem'; I was too shy to ask what it meant. 

Instead, I'm still wondering as I write this, what it means. Today brought me a brief encounter as well as a Cultural Exchange.

Raquel Edwards

Ruth Mackenzie CBE

What has an audience member got to lose from a free event? This is something Ruth Mackenzie herself touched upon as she spoke about the free event held last year by the BBC at Hackney Weekend in connection with the London 2012 Olympics.  The discussion was not solely based on the Olympics but more the cultural creativity within the UK and the geniuses who help organise and market such events.

 I was unsure what to expect during Ruth's discussion but her warm voice broke the ice with a few jokes as she gave an insightful look at the festival and arts management industry.

Ruth showed her creative work, and that of others too, which was inspiring to say the least. It definitely was a great platform for networking as there was a range of people with different skills who shared their delight in the Q&A that followed her talk.

I learnt that Leicester had joined the bid to become the second city of culture which is a perfect announcement to hear in the midst of Cultural Exchanges.

Georgina Walters

"because I could"

Manda Scott faced the question every author is asked, "Why did you start writing?".  But the writer of three book series (Kellen Stewart, Boudica, and Rome) gave an answer that surprised us all.  She simply said "Because I could."
I expected a talk on how to write novels but the range of Manda's conversation with lecturer Gary Day surprised me.  She was funny but also discussed the spiritual side of her work (she's a shamanist) as well as the unconscious misogyny of male readers, who tend to choose books with male or gender-neutral authors' names.  For her latest series, Manda has become M.C. Scott.  
It was a lovely talk.  Manda answered every question openly and directly.  She also stayed behind to sign books and allowed me to take her picture.

Corey Bedford

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's Sally Doughty

Sally Doughty's solo dance performance showcased a beautifully choreographed contemporary story which initially reminded me of swan lake. Sally, a dance teacher at De Montfort University, danced elegantly in an all black number. It was up to her to connect with the audience and she held their attention throughout.
I began to feel I was part of the performance.  I made me want to get up and dance, even though there was no music apart from Sally's singing - was it in Latin?  I also enjoyed her humorous interpretation of 'hockey pockey', as she repeatedly said "now you see me, now you don't" whilst elongating her legs in a perfect ballet position.
I loved every minute of Sally's hour-long performance and l was pleased I had booked to see her with Craig Vear at 6pm on the following day.

Georgina Walters

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

"Don't buy one, buy two"

Before I started the course, I had no interest in poetry. I thought it was something that was full of flowery nonsense, but after studying it properly for the first term, I love it. This made the decision to go and see Michael Heller a very easy one indeed.

He's written about 20 volumes of poetry, memoirs, essays and novellas - much more than I'd ever aspire to create. 
He started off with a gentle joke encouraging us to buy his book, "Don't buy one, buy two - in case the first gets nicked!" This created a comfortable environment for the audience and, along with his calm American accent, it was perfect for an evening of poetry.

He was animated and willing to tell stories, before his poems, about friends such as Harvey Shapiro who have passed away, and his Jewish upbringing. He allowed his life as a teacher of English as a second language influence him, as well as his family members - in particular there was a poem he wrote to his uncle as a birthday present. 

His use of imagery was creative. It wasn't the same clich├ęd ideas used so many times before, but new images which were unusual for his subject matter. He spoke about, art, landscapes, politics; but I wasn't ever sidetracked or uninterested, his views were always different and explained. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the whole hour, and intend to buy his latest collection of poems.

Abigail Barter

Monday, 25 February 2013

The Meltdown Test

Relatively sceptical about going to a Cultural Exchanges event, I was pleasantly surprised at how wrong I was when I went to The Meltdown Test. 

It consisted of six comical sketches, each of which unravelled within 10 minutes or so, reflecting British life. It definitely lightened my crappy mood as I was able to relate to the sketches and just laugh at how silly the situations are that we find ourselves in, though in the moment we can't apprehend how little they matter.

My favourite sketch of the night was The Button by Lauren Bird. This had a young girl questioning if she was fat or skinny as she struggled to fit into some jeans. This in turn caused an argument between her and her boyfriend. The responses from the boyfriend, who was trying to tiptoe around the topic, and the insecurity in the girl's mind proved a realistic scenario and also a very comical one.

It was a brilliant night that I felt such a part of; the friendly and helpful staff/students definitely helped with that. 

I guess you should not judge before you have experienced! I now cannot wait for the other events this week.

Hannah Louise Wilson

Romans, shamans and a vet

From the blurb for Manda Scott's visit to Cultural Exchanges this year, I have to admit I expected a talk about togas, war, and painstaking historical research; what I got was something quite different.

Manda writes about Roman and ancient Britain. I walked into the room expecting to see someone who mirrored the genre: Imperial. I could not have been further from the truth.

When asked why she wanted to write novels, she just shrugged and replied: 'because I could'.

Sitting cross-legged on the chair, Manda took us conversationally through her history as a veterinarian, her transition into writing crime fiction, and the spiritual journey that led her to begin writing historical novels. 

Her honesty and humour captivated the audience from the moment she began speaking, and her eloquent explanation of her shamanistic beliefs was met with nothing but awe and respect.

This was an enjoyable, educational experience, and Manda was wonderful to listen to. The only down side was that the hour went far too quickly.

I hope Manda comes back to us next year, and brings with her more anecdotes about roundhouses, hares, and why she dislikes James Herriot so much.

Anneka Mason

Friday, 22 February 2013

Creative Definitions

Nothing is harder than trying to explain to people what the course 'creative writing' entails. The blank looks you get are rather amusing at times. And there has been many a time when I've thought about making up a course description ...

'Well, it involves writing in as many fonts and designs as you possibly can. The more you do the higher your grade.'

'We explore the world, trying to find the most creative location to write in. Mountains, caves, underwater, you name it we do it.'

The list is endless. But once you have finished explaining to them exactly what it is you do, the questions and interest they take in you are also endless. It's flattering, but rather embarrassing at times. I tend to muddle up my words when under interrogation of this sort, possibly failing to convince my interrogators that I am indeed a creative writing student.

But all of this rambling leads me to the point of the post.  In the forthcoming Cultural Exchanges week at De Montfort University I'm going to watch creative writing postgraduates present their work. And I'm doing it because of all those questions.  Even though I'm nearly two terms through my first year, I'm still intrigued as to where the course will lead me to over the next few years.

What can students like me do with such skills they are taught on the course? What styles will they use, what content, what language, what form? I'm intrigued and sure that what I hear will inspire my own ambitions as a writer. 

And maybe, just maybe, the next time someone asks me what creative writing is all about I'll be able to tell them exactly what a person can gain from the course - and not be tempted to invent yet more definitions.

Emily Frost

Alan Garner - 50 years of turning adults into children

Anybody from Leicester who has been on Twitter recently has no doubt seen the barrage of excited tweets about several local events: Finding Richard III in his Royal Car Park, Dave's Leicester Comedy Festival, and now - De Montfort University's very own Cultural Exchanges event.

With a wide range of events and talks, varying on topics from history, to eastern philosophy, to dance, drama, and rare appearances of renowned authors, the campus seems to be full of copies of the Cultural Exchanges brochure, and people talking about what events they're most looking forward to.

I know several people who are looking forward to at least one of the events with childish delight. Having read Alan Garner's fantasy books as children, both of my parents took a single look at his picture in the brochure before falling into a slightly unsettling fit of excited hysterics. 

They've now both started re-reading The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.

Of course I don't expect everyone to be quite as excited as them, but there is something strangely thrilling at the thought of attending a talk by someone who has captured the imagination of children and adults alike for over 50 years. 

Having been read his books by two over-enthusiastic parents since I was young, I'm looking forward to seeing the man behind it all. I will be attending his talk on Wednesday.

...Obviously, so will my parents.
Anneka Mason

Not sure about the dark, but Jasper will certainly enlighten you about comedy

Yes, that's right. Illustrious comedian Jasper Carrott is coming to Cultural Exchanges, and he's talking about British stand-up and his career.  The interviewer is the one and only Geoff Rowe, director of Dave's Comedy festival.

Surprisingly, there are a few tickets left, for a steal of £5 (£3 if you're a DMU Student!).
But an hour doesn't seem long enough. With a career in comedy beginning in 1975, Jasper has amassed a large number of tours, television shows, and television appearances throughout the years, not to mention the 288 episodes of Golden Balls he presented.
Jasper's appearance, at 7pm on Tuesday 26th February, should be in the timetable of anyone who appreciates classic British stand-up.
Caution: Be prepared to laugh.

Corey Bedford

When technology tells a story

What interests me about video games is how the technology helps us as storytellers.

The International Games Festival at Cultural Exchanges inlcudes a day devoted to Creative Technologies and Immersive Experiences on 28th February, Thursday.  I hope it will answer some of my questions. Will gaming technology open up new ways or possibilities to tell stories? Will it make the experience much more immersive than it already is? How can writers like me approach this?
Much as I love games, if I don't care about the story, I'm likely to be disappointed.

The PlayStation 4, a new games console, was announced last night and regardless of how amazed I was at the graphics, I felt that even if you have these elements, you need a story that will back it up and do it well.

Saying that, I'm very interested in stories that are illustrated in different genres, in different cultures, that could improve my own writing and help me find ideas that I might like to use for myself.

Ideas and concepts used in poetry, the dialogue of scriptwriting, and story-telling in art and music all interest me. And these are things you can use not only in video games, but elsewhere.

Dayle Corbin

I am the magpie

Andrew Davies is coming to Cultural Exchanges! This is the event I am most excited about for Cultural Exchanges. He wrote the screenplay for one of my favourite films, Bridget Jones's Diary, with Helen Fielding and Richard Curtis and then he wrote the screenplay for the sequel with Helen Fielding so of course I’m going to go and see him talk.

Screenwriting interests me anyway, so going to hear someone talk about his adaptations of Bleak House and some of his other classics is like dangling some shiny jewellery in front of a magpie (If you haven't guessed already, I'm the magpie in this scenario.)

I may not be looking forward to everything that Cultural Exchanges has to offer, but that's just as well.  I couldn't attend everything and some of the events aren't really my cup of tea. Dance, for instance - but Sally Doughty's dance performance was the first event to sell out so there's plainly an eager audience. I suppose some other people probably aren't as keen as I am to hear Andrew Davies.

Cultural Exchanges probably has a little bit of everything for everyone, which is probably what it was designed to do.  You can book your tickets HERE.

Charis Wakeford