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