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

Friday, 27 February 2015

The Philip Mead experience

Going into his piano recital, I have to admit I had never heard Philip Mead and was anticipating something along the lines of Einaudi - classical and expected. Whatever I had anticipated, however, this wasn't it. 

Philip Mead's transcendent tones were almost other-worldly, listening and watching him perform felt a little like falling down a rabbit hole. Though, perhaps falling though the tunnel from the opening credits of Dr. Who would be a more apt description. The performance was further enhanced by the kaleidoscope of visual accompaniments after the brief intermission.  

Regardless of what I had been expecting, Philip Mead blew me away. I think I'm a little in love with anyone who has an extreme passion for something and shares that passion with others, which is exactly what Mead does. Watching him pour out his music in a slightly manic way was beautiful,  and I'm so glad the Cultural Exchanges programme allowed me to experience this. 

Laylah Grewal

"My gender is not an insult"

These were among the words spoken by third year drama students. Their verbatim performance put together interviews, reported speech and personal testimonies from those who have been affected by everyday sexism. 
Shocking stories were also told by Laura Bates, the founder of the Everyday Sexism Project. She shared her personal experiences during her time as an actress when she noticed how differently male and female actors were treated at auditions.
She experienced further sexism. Some examples were extreme. Men stared at her and referred to her as "that." Some also followed her home and one stranger thought it would be okay to grope her on the bus. Disturbing statistics and other people's real-life experiences showed her how common sexism is in the 21st century. Laura Bates realised that she wasn’t the only one and "almost all had a story to tell."
 But the session wasn't entirely negative and upsetting. The discussion panel emphasised how we all need to stand up and raise awareness. It’s not about blaming men. We ALL need to unite, stand against sexism and challenge stereotypes.
As Laura Bates said, “Whenever it crosses your path, stand up to them because if someone did challenge that man on the bus, there could’ve been a different outcome”. 
Humairaa Patel

Eliminating Bars

Alistair Fruish's talk began with him discussing what made him choose to be a Writer-in-Residence; he chose to work in a prison more out of personal interest and curiosity than anything else. 
His talk was engaging, interesting and revealed what it is really like inside a prison. Alistair also emphasised that keeping the prisoners interested in something whilst inside can have an impact on their lives on the outside and make them less likely to re-offend.

It's a genuine shame that there are only around 10 people in the country doing what he does: making films, putting on plays and writing stories, making life inside more bearable and keeping connections with family members outside.

Fruish's job makes a real difference and I'm glad I had the pleasure of hearing him discuss it.

Alexandra Kilcran

Art in Prisons: a sobering experience

The talk I attended was not about writing, though it was given by a writer. It was about people. It was about those the system failed, those who are imprisoned for their actions and what led to this sad situation.

The levels of illiteracy in our prison system are frankly ludicrous, and this man Alistair Fruish is one of only a handful of men and women trying to make a difference.

I learned that the prison system has its own TV stations, newspapers, and that men like Mr. Fruish work with the prisoners to make films, radio plays, works of fiction, to help develop and rehabilitate them.

This is good work, and I pray that it continues.

Ciaran Lovejoy

Thursday, 26 February 2015

The Dreamside of Enchantment: in memory of Graham Joyce

How do you review a tribute to someone? Especially someone who inspired you to write. Along with Tolkien, Pratchett, Morpurgo and Martin, Graham Joyce was that for me. The Limits of Enchantment remains one of my more re-read stories to this day; as far as I’m concerned one of Graham’s most underrated works. I think, to review this tribute, I simply have to talk about the things I learned from it. In other words, what insight did it give into his voice and method?
Susan Joyce, the late author’s wife, spoke wonderfully about Graham’s personality and attitudes towards writing. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to stories about the various characters Joyce invented, including fat-dad, who would appear if he stopped writing for any given period of time. Apparently Graham would have conversations in his head between characters he had invented, which is remarkable to me, because it’s something I do myself - now if only I could follow in his footsteps further and actually write things down.
"Writer’s block? Ever heard of coal miner’s block? It’s about the work, if you don’t work, nothing will ever get done." - Graham Joyce.
We also heard from some of Graham’s close friends and students, who discussed his work at length - far too great a length to quote from memory - as well as poetry he worked on, read by Bea, a student lucky enough to meet him. The quotation above is actually taken from the poem he wrote for Bea's open mic night - something else I learned during this hour of wonderment. We were even lucky enough to hear a recording of Joyce, reading from Some Kind of Fairytale, one of his more critically acclaimed works. Again, this provided inspiring insight into the thoughts of the author.
At its core, the whole experience was simply moving. There is nothing more special than listening to a writer, learning their thought processes, seeing how they write their characters. Sadly, the opportunity to hear from Joyce himself has passed me by. Failing that, I can think of no more a joy that to hear from people whose lives he was such a big part of. I wholeheartedly thank everyone involved in the organisation of this special tribute to a fantastic, creative talent.

Ben Harrison

Memoirs of a Master Novelist

 My friends would tell you I'm a difficult figure to move, but I felt myself touched by the words of the dear friends and relations of Graham Joyce. The hour spent at the tribute event was an hour well spent. 

His wife spoke of his early career, moving both to Greece and into the literary world. I heard about the inspiring impact he had on many, including a student to whom he sent a poem of advice. A journalist close to him summarised some key moments in his literary career.

We also heard a recording of Graham Joyce himself reading from Some Kind of Fairytale and the event concluded with  oddly poignant parting words from the man himself, as read by DMU's own Niki Valentine.

 It was a fittingly creative requiem for a writer who managed to affect so many.

Matthew Budge

Voice and video - a winning combination

After the Postgraduate Creative Writing Showcase was over, I was really glad that I'd been there. Listening to Emma Conway, Laurie Cusack and Pam Thompson was very pleasant, but for me it was Emma's work that stayed in my imagination. Her voice was beautiful and the use of video in the background was outstanding. I was simply hooked by this combination.

Alexandros Doschoris

A glimpse of the future

 Reading creative work is difficult so I have great respect for the three DMU postgraduates who took part in the showcase at Cultural Exchanges. 
Emma Conway's thoughtful readings evoked a fantastical SciFi world of 3-D printing where humanity is eventually overrun. Laurie Cusack gave an impassioned and flavoursome recitation of various scenes of distinctly Irish origin; the refrain of “Burn the Bastards” really stuck with me. Finally Pam Thompson gave us a glimpse of her ekphrastic poetry (including a gripping pantoum) which revolved around a holographic timepiece and a ship in a giant bottle.

This eclectic group of writers was a great reflection of the literary world. 

Matthew Budge

The full English

So what would you think were the 9 main ingredients for a full English breakfast? Apparently this causes much discussion and Seb Emina, author of The Breakfast Bible shared the 9 ingredients he thinks need to be there.

Image from Wikipedia

Bacon, eggs, toast, mushrooms, sausage, tomatoes, black/white pudding, baked beans and potatoes.

Seb shared some amazing facts about his many breakfast adventures and also talked about his publishing journey during this tummy-rumbling talk. So much so I had to stop on the way out to grab some lunch.

Although he didn't touch very much on his transition from blogger to published author, the interview was very informative and inspiring. So much so I brought the book.

Kizzy Bass

Meeting my hero

 There is an old saying: 'You should never meet your heroes because they always disappoint.'  But I wasn't disappointed in the least when I got to meet Carol Ann Duffy.
You see, I personally regard Duffy as the Holy Grail of modern day poetry. I loved reading her poems at GCSE and wanted to ask her whether or not it was a blessing or a curse to have your poems being taught at GCSE.
So after her reading, I went further into my overdraft and joined the queue of people who wanted their books signed. 
Soon it was my turn. Armed with The World's Wife, one of her very witty collections, I headed to the desk. As she signed my book, I gushed over how much I love her work. Then I asked my question, and this was her response 'I really enjoyed reading Ted Hughes at GCSE and those poems inspired me to be a poet.'
So I suppose the answer is that in Duffy's case, it's a blessing. Those poems she read inspired her just as her work has inspired me.

So thank you, Carol Ann Duffy for being just as brilliant in the flesh as you are on paper.

Me with the Holy Grail of Modern Day Poetry.

Kelly Davies

Crazy for Carol Ann

The lecture theatre was vast but I couldn't see a single free seat. Carol Ann Duffy had drawn an impressive crowd to the 2015 Cultural Exchanges festival. As a Duffy ‘newbie’, I was uncertain when advised to go and see her, but already my enthusiasm grew in the expectant atmosphere.

After a respectful introduction, Duffy took main stage. With snippets of humour, she held the audience in awed silence as she began with ‘Mrs Midas’. Every reading was followed by thunderous applause.

Duffy also read from her collection of love poems, Rapture, and toyed with our emotions with poetry from The Bees. I especially enjoyed the pieces from The World’s Wife, which I found witty, imaginative and full of strong imagery.

The hour long performance flew by and finished with an applause that continued long after Duffy had left the room.

Rose Godfrey

Teacher of the Year

English teacher, Author of How To Teach Literacy and star of Channel 4’s Unteachables, Phil Beadle gave an inspirational talk about what teaching entails.

Beadle has written columns in The Guardian and several books, describing one as "a bunch of columns that nobody read collected in a book which nobody bought”, which made everyone giggle.

I could see straight away why this man was Teacher of the Year; the books he’s written and his funny personality would make any child instantly like him.

He’s just an ordinary man (with a strong Cockney accent) who has a passion to make his class succeed despite their abilities.

He emphasised three things throughout the talk:

  • Always give your students genuine praise

  • Have high expectations of them all, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy, and

  • Never let their behaviour affect your attitude towards them

His audience was filled with new and experienced teachers as well as students like myself who are interested in this profession. It was a great event to go to, with lots of laughter, a good discussion and great advice about teaching.

It was an ideal talk for anyone who wanted to work with children or in the education sector. 
Humairaa Patel

Inspired to write

Three cheers for the postgraduates who displayed their fantastic work today in the Postgraduate Showcase!

After five minutes of listening to the poetry and short fiction Emma Conway, Laurie Cusack and Pam Thompson had to offer, I was hooked. Exploring a range of ideas and demonstrating their passion for writing, the postgraduates definitely showcased their individual talents.

It was a pleasure to listen to their work and has inspired me further to pursue my ambition for writing.

Praise for the Creative Writing course at DMU and for the postgraduates who made the showcase a must see event. I hope they make an appearance again next year, and I’ll definitely be looking out for their work in the future.

Lauren Ingham

Postgraduate showcase

Three postgraduates, all studying for Creative Writing Ph.D.s at De Montfort University, presented their work in a single and varied showcase.

Emma Conway read from her poetry with a video backdrop and her use of her voice was very strong. But while I could see that some audience members appreciated the mix of video and voice, I sometimes found it hard to take everything in; my brain was sometimes trying to decipher three moving images while listening to the poems. For me a greater emphasis on the words is more important. 

Laurie Cusack's two flash fictions had a focus on Ireland and the Irish people. I happen to be half-Irish and I particularly enjoyed these stories, especially the second with its football theme as I come from a football crazed family. Laurie brought his work to life through tone and expression.

Pam Thompson gave a long introduction to her poems. Personally I would have liked more poetry and less explanation because it was the poems that I really liked.
Overall, this was an enjoyable experience with friendly people and I would definitely like to attend another reading by DMU's Creative Writing postgraduates

M.S. Gray

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Starring Adrian Mole

As playwrights Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary talked about pitching the idea of an Adrian Mole musical, writing the script, finding the right cast and working with the kids, it was clear that both writers had a great deal of respect and admiration for everyone involved with the production.  
When asked about working with Sue Townsend, both Jake and Pippa’s reaction was one of fond memory and lasting impressions. They spoke about trying to capture Sue’s voice whilst writing the script, of keeping the original content and not diverging from the magic of the original books. I found it very amusing to learn that during several meetings, Sue would point out a particular line and announce “I don’t like this one, I don’t think it’s right”, only to be told “but, Sue, that’s one of yours!”
Though many famous people have stated that you should never work with children, those at Curve take a different view. Apparently the hardest working members of the cast are the also the youngest. With school classes, script rehearsals and set management all being juggled at the same time it was a pleasure to hear of how much fun the kids have been to work with.
 ‘The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾’, opens at The Curve theatre on Saturday 7th March. I booked my ticket the moment the interview finished.

Daniel Jensen

The best meal of the day

I am someone who perhaps more often than I should, espouses the benefits of a good breakfast. So when I walked into the discussion with Seb Emina on his book, "The Breakfast Bible" I was looking forward to spirited and rousing talk about the most important meal of the day. I was not disappointed.

Along with some highly jovial quips about breakfast, a straw poll of what ought be included in a Full English and witty anecdotes about the Shoreditch cereal shop, there was a section on what music one should listen to whilst boiling an egg.

Based on what I heard today, including a great deal about the history of breakfast cereals, I intend to buy myself a copy and get to reading. I recommend that you do the same.

Ciaran Lovejoy

Looking for the next big thing

 The term "fan girl" wouldn't even begin to describe my love for The Apprentice. I watch it every year shouting at the TV when the wrong candidate is fired. This year was no exception.

Solomon Akhtar, one of the final five candidates came to DMU today and gave us an insight at what the future could hold from just a "small, random idea". During the The Apprentice process, he was known for his innovative thoughts and quirky approach - and both were in evidence today. He began with a series of humorous, confused confessions but quickly moved on to the main subject of his talk, sharing a few of his life experiences. He told us about his time at university and the ever growing digital printing business, InstaBear - and he spoke about his struggles and how he overcame difficulties. With honesty, passion and well-timed humour, he advised the audience to "react to trends" and always "look out for the next big thing".

Though that wasn't all. He shamelessly admitted to the start-up of "Willykini", an inspired trend from a reality TV show that gained him further business opportunities. He also assured the audience that no, he wasn't wearing one during his talk.

Solomon answered the quick firing questions well, and replied coolly and at most times calmly. The talk was well planned, had the audience laughing for most of the hour and to top it all, it inspired us. For that Solomon, it would be a unanimous vote for "you're hired". Thank you from all of us.

By Samira Ali

Solomon Akhtar, entrepreneur

Solomon Akhtar's talk began with some laughter as Solomon nearly walked into the door as he entered the room, then explained how he found it difficult to pronounce ‘De Montfort’. But the inspirational talk which followed was packed with useful advice about what he's learned in the business world - and what he's still learning. It's a world concerned with new ideas, risks, and a lot of hard work.
Many of Solomon's business plans and ideas began when he was 15 years old and sold sweets in the school bus, making a profit of £20 per week. This experience helped stimulate his dream of being an entrepreneur. He added that he still keeps notes on his phone because ‘you’ll never know when you’ll get an idea, so if you’ve got an idea go for it!’
As for his appearance on The Apprentice, he said ‘it is hugely rewarding’ and an ‘honour to be in the final five’.
After taking a massive selfie with everyone, a series of Q&A followed. He was asked about his future plans for ‘Willykini’ and ‘Instabear’ and the embarrassing moments he had on the show. Before ending the talk, he gave great advice to us all:
‘If you have an idea – make it happen, it can be viral. React to trends and take a risk. Look for the next best thing’. 
Humairaa Patel

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Opinions that need to be heard

The Condition of the Working Class is about a group of northerners devising and performing a piece of theatre based both on their personal experiences and the book The Condition of the Working Class in England in 1844 by Friederich Engels. It's a very well put together film that educates the audience about life now and in the mid-nineteenth century. This film provokes questions about the way people are being treated now why there is still such a large class divide.

I'm not clear on the aim of this film or how it might change the world; however if it is to tell the majority what is being hidden by the media, I definitely feel more informed.

Of course looking into the working class Britain from the 1980s onwards you can't help but walk straight into Margret Thatcher. The film fully addressed that and even went as far as going out onto the streets of Manchester to ask the public exactly what they thought of her, and of working-class life in general. However we were told later during the Q&A that quite a few people were afraid to talk to the camera for fear of losing their jobs. This leads me to asking those in power in Britain, why should anybody be afraid to have an opinion and to state it?

Abbiee Henesy

Hearing the dissenters

I staggered into Clephan 3.03 yesterday with some piece by Bach stuck in my head, not knowing what to expect. My first foray into De Montfort's 2015 Cultural Exchanges Festival was a talk by Dr. Michael Paraskos, entitled: "Mise en Abyme: Anarchism, Art & Theology". The talk began with him discussing the nature of art. What can be called art? What purpose does art serve? Interesting, nuanced questions that invite discussion. He then delved deeper into the philosophy and history of art, linking it to thoughts on Marxism & Anarchism.

When he was done he opened the floor to questions from the audience, and I, puzzled by some of his comments, asked him a question about Cultural Marxism. His response was solemn and full of hope. He spoke of being pleased, and surprised to be here. He spoke of being allowed to share his thoughts, and his opinions, views far from the mainstream in academia that he felt would normally be opposed. 

This is what the festival is about, hearing the voices of those whom you would normally never hear. The marginalised, the silenced, the dissenters. I was more than pleased to witness this talk, I was honoured, and I hope Dr. Paraskos returns next year.

Ciaran Lovejoy

Frank talk from a rising star

Imagine seeing a dinosaur pushing a milk float up a busy high street in Cardiff!

This was one of the many interesting stories Luke Franks shared during his session on Monday, where he also talked about his rise through the ranks of student radio to winning the Sony DAB Radio Rising Star Award in 2012.

Studying for his Psychology degree didn't turn out how he thought but said, "Finding radio was worth the whole university stuff." and gave him the insight and skills to progress to where he is now, a children's TV presenter, YouTube star and radio DJ.

Being fun, thinking on your feet and being original are some of the qualities Luke said will make future presenters stand out.

This was a great start to an interesting week, there is still time to book onto one of the many sessions still to come.

 Kizzy Bass

Monday, 23 February 2015

Sitting in with Luke Franks

Wearing ripped jeans and a trendy snap-back, you would think that Luke Franks was just another University student here at De Montfort, when in truth he is far from it. Ladies and gentleman, prepare yourselves for Luke Franks, radio, TV and online presenter!

A down-to-earth, charismatic and passionate being, Luke Franks is  not only friendly and charming, but also provides invaluale knowledge and advice to those who wish to enter the field of presenting and media. With his invaluable insight and friendly nature, you also come to learn this: Luke Franks is in this business because, quite frankly, he loves it.

The interview process, which took only one short hour, was enjoyable and engaging - Luke Franks is friendly, but also really funny as well, and had so much to tell in such a short space of time. He shared his experiences with us, from starting out as a student radio presenter at Cardiff University where he realised his true passion, to presenting on Fun Kids Radio as well as online for the X-Factor.

Luke Franks made sure to give insights into the amusing side to his job; in University, he hired out a dinosaur mascot and crashed flat parties, all to promote the University Radio. And for Kids radio he even interviewed Kermit the Frog.

Aside from the fun and creative aspect of his passion though, Luke Franks also shared his serious side and gave us this great advice to take away: if this is your passion, don't stop doing it, even if it is competitive. Volunteer, do free gigs and take what you can, research your audience, and remember: just have fun and love what you do.

Kelly-Mae Matt

Engels today

Today I attended the screening of The Condition of the Working Class and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I find it admirable that the directors and actors used a book written by Engels in the 1800s and related the theories to contemporary society. Some of the points from that book are still very relevant in modern times.

In this production, the experiences of working class people are shared. This is quite rare which implies that there are still some issues in society that are ignored.

Some of the actors spoke about accents and how this can be a barrier, especially for aspiring actors. As a man with quite a strong northern accent, I can definitely relate to that particular problem.

The Q&A session held at the end of the screening gave guests the opportunity to ask the directors questions about the production. This was a useful way to consolidate the knowledge gained from the film.

I would thoroughly recommend watching this film as it is both enjoyable and educational.

Harry Singh Panesar

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Breakfast-food for thought

Decisions, decisions. Cultural Exchanges is just around the corner and, with so many great sessions available, my only issue will be fitting them in around the school run.

As a blogger I was excited to see that Seb Emina would be attending this years event. Seb made the transition from food blogger at The London Review of Breakfasts to published author with The Breakfast Bible, short listed for Food Book of the Year.

Many bloggers (me included) would love to publish a book based on their blog so I hope to grab some tips from Seb.

This event, along with many more during the week is free but you need to book
I hope this gives you food for thought and leaves you hungry to learn more.

Kizzy Bass

Residence in prison

The Cultural Exchanges Festival comes to Leicester this week. A particular event worth noting is Arts in Prisons: A Writer-in-Residence.

I’m really looking forward to hearing from Alistair Fruish who’s worked as a writer-in-residence in a number of prisons and co-produced work with inmates. 

It will be interesting to hear first-hand information of what a writer-in-residence does and how it benefits inmates. The event is free so it's definitely worth a visit!

Find tickets here, or have a look at Fruish’s website for more information on his work.

Alexandra Kilcran

That's what they said

Sexism in Britain today will be under discussion in De Montfort University's Trinity House next Thursday. The event is called 'That's  What They Said' and one of the guests will be Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism Project.

As a modern woman I've heard some interesting reactions to the word ‘feminism’ - it's a delicate subject today. Recent debates and social media trends have shown a range of opinions (and some extreme views) on the topic of feminism.

It will be interesting to hear a variety of women speaking about their personal experiences of sexism. I hope the event will also offer some modern male perspectives. 

Annie Ford

How to be a millionaire (or at least gain useful advice)

My eyes suddenly brightened when I saw this in the Cultural Exchanges brochure:

"CREATIVE LEICESTERSHIRE IN A DAY ... one to one business advice ... professional development ... workshops and marketing and selling your work ..."

Marketing? Selling my work? One to one business advice?

OK. I might not walk out of the workshop a millionaire (though it would be a huge bonus) but at least I can learn why people aren't buying my books and perhaps rectify the situation.  From where I am now that looks like progress.

The best part, I am paying zilch. Nada. Nothing. To gain this valuable advice. Something that as a student is a massive bonus. 

So I will let you know Thursday night if I am a millionaire. If you also want to learn how to be a millionaire you can book to attend this event by clicking here

Kelly Davies

Come fly with Virdee

Pakistan International Airlines logo 

Dr Pippa Virdee is touching down! On Wednesday the 25th of February in the Clephan building, Virdee will give a talk on the transformation of women in the public eye in Pakistan, using a rather surprising medium to illustrate her talk: airline commercials.  

Along with testimonials from women who have worked in the advertisement sector of Pakistan International Airport, Virdee plans to explore and explain the progress women have made in the Pakistan's culture.  

Although the development of women, their lives and their rights is being looked into increasingly often in modern times, these analyses tend to focus on the Western world. Feminism and general interest in women is far too frequently preoccupied solely with white women in First World countries, so it will be refreshing to see an alternative view this Cultural Exchanges Week.  

I look forward to not only the talk itself but also any comments and insights the audience have to offer. I'm expecting questions about religion, the history of Pakistan, women's rights and perhaps personal autonomy. The discussion should be rich in cultural references and detail here l at De Montfort University. 

You can book tickets on-line.

Jodie Goodwin

1, Too, 3 ... Go

There's a lot of be said about the upcoming Cultural Exchanges Festival 2015 here at De Montfort University. There's tons to see, plenty to do, some of it will be your cup of tea, some won't, but chances are, you'll be sorted for entertaining, culturally enlightening pieces.

You may have no particular fondness for certain guest speakers or poets laureate, but fear not for there's one event that everyone should attend.

As part of the Video Festival section of the Cultural Exchanges there is a one-hour video series entitled '1 Too 3'. It begins at 10am Thursday, 26th of February and ends at 6pm. It's on all day, so don't tell me you don't have the time! 

Also, as it's on a loop, you can turn up half-way through and just watch until it gets back to the part you came in at, so don't worry about being late (unless for whatever reason you decide to turn up at half-past 5...).

But wait, there's more! It's free! All you have to do is book a ticket, which you can do here. It takes place in the Clephan Building room 0.17 (Don't worry there are signs) so you have no excuse to not go! It's free, it's convenient, and chances are, it's gonna be good. :)

Ciaran Lovejoy

Wonder of the week

Looking through the Cultural Exchanges booklet, the variety of talks and performances guarantees there's something for everyone. One event I am particularly looking forward to is the Seven Wonders talk hosted in the New Walk Museum.
It promises to be one to remember with students showcasing their work in photography and art, combined with a talk from renowned art collector Anthony D'Offay.

For a free entry event, it's one you need to book early before the tickets run out!
Annabel Easton