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

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

One crazy week and a distressing suit

I dreamt of a week with no timetable when I could just sit back and be inspired by a range of speakers.  But all that inspiration must be interwoven with the very hectic schedule of rehearsing for another cultural exchanges, as I prepare to perform in De Montfort's collaboration with that other hub of Leicester culture, The Curve.

The play, Serious Money is written by Caryl Churchill and is set after the Big Bang of the 1980s. It's about money, money and more money and the effects it can and does have on folk. Oh, and it opens on Friday 1st March.

For me, Cultural Exchanges will be an exchange. An exchange of character, persona and definitely dress code, as my character wears a distressing suit (to say the least).

I will therefore mostly be mixing up my Manda Scott, author of the acclaimed Boudicca series, with 'A Bull on my Tongue' from the revered novelist, Alan Garner. I will be adding a dash of Etherington from Serious Money (in the distressing suits), a sprinkle of the author and screenwriter Andrew Davies, and to see in which way i am headed, several helpings of postgrad and undergraduate performance bubbles.

It will be one busy, exciting, crazy, scary, intriguing, inspiring week!

Michelle Haggerty-Wood

When there's no free food, grab the politician (but he's off)

Cultural Exchanges ... my first thoughts were of events from around the world. I imagined myself listening to music from India, watching African dancing and eating large amounts of FREE Chinese and Japanese food.

It was not to be. In the absence of a culinary feast, I decided my best bet would be a book launch and a talk from Rohan Silva, who is a policy advisor to the Prime Minister. Politics is a keen interest of mine. Alas, the talk has been cancelled.

The two book launches I've booked look pretty interesting too. Matt Carr's book is about the mass purges of Muslims from Spain from the 15th to the 17th century while American Michael Heller is launching his Collected Poems. Both should be interesting and I'd like to talk to each author about the process of putting a book together.

 The Rohan Silva event would have been right up my street. As for the rest, I guess I'll just mingle and let it sink in. The atmosphere of the week is sure to be good.

Guy J.H Bezant

Screen success

When I finally came to pick the 3 events I was inclined to attend, I became rather over-excited and signed up for 6.  But top of my list is the discussion with author and screenwriter Andrew Davies on Wednesday 27th February

Davies  will be discussing his work with Deborah Cartmell and Yvonne Griggs (DMU).  These include his BAFTA-nominated adaptation of Charles Dickens' Bleak House, as well as television versions of Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility and Vanity Fair. He also collaborated on the screenplays for both Bridget Jones films. His latest work, period drama Mr Selfridge, is currently being aired.

I'm looking forward to hearing from one of the UK's most critically acclaimed screenwriters and learning how he works.


After the laughs

This weekend Dave's Leicester Comedy Festival comes to an end and Cultural Exchanges week begins. Cultural Exchanges will be great and I urge anyone and everyone to go.

However, I'm sceptical that this week of events can possibly live up to the 16 days before it. Can it possibly be as interesting as seeing stars such as Russell Howard, Jon Richardson, Gary Delaney, Johnny Vegas etc. at Marc Oliver's comedy chat show
Dancing About Architecture? Can it be as touchingly insightful yet hilarious as Francesca Martinez's touring show WTF Is Normal? Can it be as charmingly surreal as Joey Page at The Exchange? - incidentally he is an absolutely lovely man who put me on the guest-list for his show because I gave him directions.  Can it be as outrageous and spontaneous as An Ideal Night Out? And who can forget last night's Gagging For Attention? (Admittedly that one is more memorable for me Because I happened to be in it.) 
And, although Cultural Exchanges is just around the corner, we mustn't forget that the comedy festival is still in full swing. Tonight sees legendary punk poet John Cooper Clarke take to the stage, there are still two more Dancing About Architecture shows to go and the last show I'm going to see is Sean Walsh in Sean To Be Wild on Sunday night. My account of all the above events will be in the next issue of The Demon.

I'm particularly interested in seeing the interview with Geoff Rowe at Cultural Exchanges. He is the director and founder of the comedy festival and will be talking to the big man, VC Dominic Shellard. 

I am also reliably informed by DMU's Rob Brannen that Daniel Bye's show is well worth watching.
Hope to see you there.

Matt Watts

Making politicians sweat

We have been asked to attend at least three events at the Cultural Exchanges Festival next week. We need to consider one we will enjoy, one we would not normally consider and one in between. In doing so, I have actually ended up booking an event that is possibly fits all the above categories.

Professor Andrew Tolson is giving a talk on how the party leaders of the 2010 General Election interacted during its broadcast. Most would assume that all those attending would have a keen interest in politics but this couldn't be further from the truth where I'm concerned. Yet I still feel there is much pleasure to be gained from learning about what made the lovely politicians sweat. I think this should be a must for any other who dislikes politics but loves the thought of seeing politicians being picked apart.

Sam Kay

What will Zandra wear?

With Cultural Exchanges week starting next Monday I'm anticipating the varied and exciting speakers that I have chosen to see, wondering what I'll learn - and what they'll see. Zandra Rhodes in particular intrigues me. Princess Dianna, Freddy Mercury and Kylie Minogue are just a few of the iconic superstars that Zandra has designed for, so she really is a legend in her profession.

Surely such a cooky individual with her bright pink hair and funky fashion sense must have something bizarre, unusual and inspiring to share with me. It's a privilege that somebody so well known and respected in the fashion industry is coming to talk at our university.

There are so many different things that I am wondering, what will Zandra be wearing when she talks to us? What jewellery will she have on? Will she go for a simple elegant look or will she dress in multiple colours and patterns with extravagant jewellery wrapped around her neck?  I hope it's the latter. 

Zandra Rhodes is somebody I cannot miss. I plan to be sitting in the front row eagerly awaiting her arrival.

Taylor Williamson

Sleep will have to wait

As part of my creative writing course I was instructed to sign up to at least 3 events at DMU during Cultural Exchanges week. I must admit, to begin with I was rather upset at being robbed of the prospect of spending the whole week in bed.

Nevertheless, I obediently looked in the leaflet we had been given and I realised I may be able to cope with a week out of bed after all. Alan Garner was coming to do a talk.

I will shamefully admit that I had never actually read one of his books, but several of the titles, such as The Weirdstone of Brisingamen and The Owl Service, were very familiar to me. As an aspiring fantasy author, the fact that he was so well known in the genre was enough for me, and I even dragged myself out of bed early to be sure I could secure my place as soon as the booking site opened. For a mere £3, the infinite wisdom of this man would be mine to behold.  I also ordered a copy of The Weirdstone of Brisingamen. I've started it, and it's truly a wonderful book - my excitement for the event is only increasing.

I will end my ramblings here, and recommend that you pick up one (or all) of his books, and if you're around the Leicester area next week with some money to spare, try and book yourself a place!

(If you are interested in booking this event or any others during Cultural Exchange week at DMU, click here)

S. J Miners

My interest is piqued

I have to admit, I'm appalling with names. Give me J.K. Rowling and I'll still be hesitant to claim she's the one who wrote Harry Potter in case I'm wrong (seriously who wants to screw up a fact like that?) So I may have come across Alan Garner, or I may have not... either way it's time for Google

Children's fantasy novels... retellings of traditional British folk tales... if his wikipedia page is anything to go by then I'm feeling a little more excited. Don't get me wrong, I was already looking forward to seeing a published novelist, especially when it's just a five - ten minute walk from my front door, but when his books seem just a little more suited to my taste it adds that hint more of anticipation

So roll on Alan Garner, you have my interest piqued.

Laura Jones

Anticipating Alan Garner

Like many, I was intrigued by the phrase "rare public appearance" in the information about Alan Garner, despite being previously unaware of his work.

I've never been a fan of fantasy novels but, after booking, I promptly purchased two of his books: The Owl Service and Red Shift. When they arrived, going against all I've been told, I chose to read the book with the most intriguing cover first: The Owl Service. Since the genre does not usually appeal to me I paid particular attention to the style of language, the techniques used and the effects these create. I have, however, been surprised at how absorbing the story is. Garner writes with incredibly strong imagery; the characters are deep and unclich├ęd and the plot is full of mystery. I'm now excited and curious to hear what the man behind this involving, well-written story line has to say. 

While the book has been very enjoyable, I haven't been converted to a fully-fledged fantasy fan just yet. Perhaps Red Shift will change my mind later this evening.  
Hannah Maggs

Something old. something new, something borrowed ...

Cultural Exchanges? What is it all about I hear you ask? I was asking that very same question a month ago. Since then I have done my homework, gathered my research and concluded it is something that should be celebrated by all as we focus on the supreme talents that both De Montfort University and the country has to offer in the arts.

As part of my blogging review I have decided to see not just those I am familiar with, but also things I have little or no prior knowledge of:

Something old: Jasper Carrott. A favourite of mine for many years. His humour and anecdotes never fail to bring a smile to those who see him.

Something new: Postgraduate Creative Writing Showcase:  This is the opportunity to see some of the future stars of literature presenting their finest work to date.

Something borrowed: Alan Baker and Will Buckingham: On the advice of somebody I cannot name (you know who you are) I am taking the opportunity to see how the poems and stories of the book I Ching are still relevant today (No, me neither). 

So I appeal to all of you, get out there try something new and you never know you may even enjoy it.

Chris Franklin

Slimy stomachs, gruesome battles - and Manda Scott

I have a confession. Recently I've developed a slight obsession with the first century, specifically first century Britain and Celtic tribes and the Romans. So imagine my joy when I discovered Manda Scott, author of Rome: The Eagle of the Twelfth, would be at Cultural Exchanges.

I've written for as long as I can remember, but always fantasy and always involving vampires and elves and princesses. I've never attempted a historical novel; the amount of research needed is daunting and terrifying and makes my stomach feel all slimy!

What better opportunity than to speak with a historical novel writer about her books before diving head first into my new obsession?

I am definitely looking forward to reading Rome: The Eagle of the Twelfth and meeting the woman herself. Hopefully her historical-novel-writing wisdom will sink in and settle the stomach, and inspire me to widen the genre of my writing.

After all, what can be better on Britain's plains than a bloody and gruesome battle between painted Celts and armoured Romans?


Jennifer Ryan

Cultural Exchanges - the basics

So what is this Cultural Exchanges thing? 

Basically it's a week of many events, all happening on campus at De Montfort University. You get to hear writers, stand-up comedians, poets etc. But there are also others events including writing workshops and lots of fun stuff. I'll give you a link at the end, and you're welcome to come along. 

Of course, you don't have to be there, but this is really interesting stuff.  I'd recommend keeping an open mind, as well as looking for something that interests you. Who wouldn't want to learn about stand-up comedy or how to write something epic? 

Am you trying to sell it to me? 

In a word, yes. But most of the stuff for Cultural Exchanges week is free. The rest would be like, £3.00. So unless the economic climate as gotten so bad that nobody can pay that much, you're fine. 

So here's the link I promised: read the programme and book your tickets HERE.

Tommy Dignan

American poet leaves the museum

My friends know I already have a busy schedule of eating, sleeping and thinking.  They also know I love poetry - a lot.

So next Monday at 6.00 I'll be attending a reading by American poet Michael Heller.  I'm pretty excited.

I looked up a few of his poems and one in particular struck me.  It's called 'Leaving the Museum' and it's amazing.

Michael, I await your reading with high expectations -and I apologise in advance for the weird questions I may ask you afterwards. 

Eloise Cundill