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

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

A guy like Baddiel

I could see myself becoming friends with someone like David Baddiel. He has the kind of personality that means, no matter what kind of mood you are in, he will be persistent in making sure that, in the end, you have a smile on your face.

I dragged my sister along to this talk. She was visiting me for the weekend and, to be frank, there is no way I'd leave her behind in my flat! And, what better way do I have of showing off my university?

The talk was absolutely hilarious. I guess this was to be expected given that David is a stand-up comedian, but it wasn't just David that made the event work - it was also the audience members who, instead of asking questions about his career, preferred to ask questions to do with football. 
"Do you think Leicester will win the league?" As the first football question this was understandable, and made the audience laugh, but more than ten minutes later when the audience were still asking football related questions, to a man who came to talk about his career, it began to get a bit repetitive, though in a highly comedic way.

Walking out of the event, I listened as my sister rattled on about how if David Baddiel ever doing a stand-up event near her, then she'd be sure to go along. And for me, that's all the praise a man like David Baddiel could wish for a high honour.

Faith Bennett

A captive audience

The Arts in Prisons event was amazing this afternoon. I’ve never seen a lecture theatre so full – I guess you could say it was a cell-out. (I know what you’re thinking, oh dear, anything but terrible puns...). Seriously though, I have never been so captivated by a talk as I was when previous inmate, Gary, told us about his love and passion for music.

The Irene Taylor trust runs several schemes to help those in prison to learn about music and help put their lives back on track.

Once the question and answer session began, there were a few questions that made me shift uncomfortably in my seat, and you could really feel the tension in the air. I remember some of them were, “Do you think that all prisoners deserve to have this opportunity?" and "Should they even have this chance in the first place?” Gary and Sara’s replies were that they aren’t judgmental so, regardless of what they’re serving time for, the prisoners deserve the chance to better themselves. As Gary says, “the punishment is loss of liberty. The prison sentence isn’t a punishment, it’s rehabilitation, to learn things and become a better person.” He then goes on to say, “It’s a bloody good thing to have in prisons,” which eased the tension slightly, though I was glad they left the questions there!

It was a very insightful hour in which I learnt a lot, especially about other people's opinions and attitudes towards criminals.

Lauren Raybould

"Plase give us your imagination"

Each time Willy Russell spoke, whether to make a joke or in reference to one of his plays, the couple in front of us would nod religiously. After a while, we nodded in perfect time.

Nodding at the discovery that Blood Brothers had been toured in Japan, Australia and the UK. Nodding at the idea that “playwrights need to make mistakes” when they’re writing in order to grow.

Willy taught us that scriptwriting is a collaborative process between scriptwriter, company and audience. You need the imagination of the audience, to capture it and roll with it.

What was impressive was the different jobs that he had before he did scriptwriting, from hairdressing to teaching, showing that anything can happen if you keep going.

Throughout the question and answer session, the message from Willy was clear. Theatre and playwriting is important and that the only obligation a scriptwriter has is “not to bore”.

Willy, I agree with you.

Jack Wilkin

No disappointment with Willy

When I found out that Willy Russell was coming to talk, I jumped at the chance to meet him.. 
I left my flat in good spirits even though the dark sky threatened another bout of rain. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I couldn’t help but remember the stories friends had told me of how, when they finally met someone they looked up to while growing up, they had been disappointed. 
But I can tell you, I wasn't disappointed in Willy Russell. It was amazing to meet him and to hear talk enthusiastically about his life and career - and this included the stories behind some of his plays. He also read from Shirley Valentine, and told us how one night, when the actress playing Shirley couldn’t perform, he took the role instead.
And after the talk Willy Russell kindly signed my copy of Blood Brothers.

Kathryn Adderley

An evening with the "world's worst hairdresser"

Fresh from a viewing of his play Our Day Out at Leicester’s Curve theatre, Willy Russell created a relaxed atmosphere for all in the filled lecture hall last night. He gave a refreshingly frank account of his life and career from the comfort of his chair, with a glass of what seemed to be red wine at his side.
With song-writing, playwriting, and teaching under his belt, the self-proclaimed “world’s worst hairdresser” enlivened the interview with candid anecdotes and hilarious digressions. He also included animated readings from Blood Brothers and Shirley Valentine which were not only inspiring, but entertaining too.
My evening off from the dread of looming deadlines was well spent!
Based on Russell’s “real-life experience” as a teacher, Our Day Out will be showing from Thursday 28th April to Saturday 30th April 2016, performed by De Montfort University students at the Curve theatre in Leicester.

Jade Woods

Ingenuity and generosity

Willy Russell after his talk with
Shannon Webb
Courtesy of Jack Wilkins
Willy Russell knows.There's a stereotype that  those who grow up in lower socio-economic circumstances don't do well in life. But this young council estate lad grew up to be a renowned playwright and composer. of past and present? Stereotypically, those who grow up on lower socially economic backgrounds do not tend to do as well in life. But Willy's working-class Lancashire background aided his exploration and creation of his award-winning plays and novels.

Willy discussed the way his love for reading and writing at school made him look like an alien to the rest of his peers. He spoke about his mother's story telling and his father's dislike of the upper classes. Willy's life experiences impacted showed us that he is a real person, and someone a person like me (from a working class background) can relate to. The audience was in awe.

Through his varied career path - as  factory worker, hairdresser, teacher, songwriter, actor, playwright, composer - Willy always thought about writing. He described how 'shit' he was at cutting hair, yet he was a perfect listener for his customers- something many of us need when having a fresh new trim. Through his varied career paths he said he had always thought about writing.

Obviously I could go on all day about how wonderful Willy was during his talk and interview, but unfortunately I have a word limit. So I will just end by summing up the man I met in these words: Willy Russell, a man of ingenuity and generosity.

Shannon Webb

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

"If I outstay my welcome, just throw stuff ..."

“…And as we journey into the underworld, I will plunge you all into darkness…” I half expected a maniacal laugh from Simon’s lips as he turned off all the lights. Before starting the reading, he added, “Oh, if I outstay my 22 minutes, you can throw stuff.” There were a few chuckles before the room fell silent as Simon’s serene voice began. It was a very eerie atmosphere; turning the lights off did the trick; it made me focus on Simon’s work from his new book, Beneath.

This is the second reading I’ve been to, and I only signed up to it last minute because I was intrigued by Simon’s Archilochus on the Moon, and wanted to hear more of his work.

When Peter Riley graced the stage with Due North, I didn’t really know he who he was, but I did like his work, and the theme of people on the move and looking for a place to live. He cracked a few jokes and made me chuckle a few times; I loved how the last part was in Spanish, not that he knows why. I remember him saying, “I don’t quite know why half of the last part’s in Spanish. Maybe I’m hiding behind another language at the end.” 

And that was when I spotted the books on sale and all other thoughts flew out the window. I feel sorry for my bank account right now.

Lauren Raybould

"Schools have a lot to do ..."

The Educating Yorkshire event was the one that I was proper fangirling over. So I couldn't believe that I'd managed to be such a dingbat and forget to book it...
But I did still make it. Eventually. And I'm so glad I did!
I remember watching the documentary on Musharaf's journey and being so moved by it. (And anyone will tell you, I have a heart of stone, so that's not an easy task.)
But I was equally impressed about the teaching staff themselves. You really have to care about people to be a teacher, not just care about your subject.
Teachers have a lot to do, but this is for a reason. It's about young people's future. And I'm glad that some teachers will go that extra mile to make sure that every student's voice gets heard.
And also, I definitely think everyone should have a Mr Burton in their lives.
That would be fabulous.
Jenni Brooks

Educating Leicester

As a self-proclaimed fan of Channel 4's documentary Educating Yorkshire, there was no doubt I would be sitting front and centre, awaiting the arrival of Mr. Burton and his former pupil Musharaf Asghar. Both found fame through the television program after the enthusiastic teacher helped his student overcome his stammer and begin public speaking with the use of music. As Mr. Burton told us, he initially got the idea after watching the film The King's Speech.

I expected the session to be about their experience of the programme but Mr. Burton took the opportunity to talk about the expectations of students today and the impact that a teacher can have. As a student I found his comments full of insight.  The way Mr Burton spoke to the audience sent me back to high school. It was almost as if I was sitting in a classroom, in front of that one really motivating teacher - the sort of teacher who your eyes follow because you don't want to miss a thing.

Matthew Burton truly entertained the audience throughout, inserting quick witty comments here and there. He began to talk about his and Musharaf's experience on the show describing how bizarre it was to be wearing a microphone all day - adding his initial thought of "Are they listening to me have a wee?" This drew much laughter from the room. He also interacted with the audience who responded to his enthusiasm.

A video clip from Educating Yorkshire showed the well-known encounter between Mr. Burton and Musharaf. Every so often Mr Burton paused the video to make comical comments on his former students. Although I'd seen the clip many times, I still found myself getting goosebumps. After this Musharaf stood and talked about how he now sees Mr. Burton as a father figure which I found very heartwarming. All too soon we were told they had run out of time and there were many disappointed faces around me.

As Mr. Burton pointed out he is "just a teacher that still gets stuck in traffic" but as I battled my way home through the wind and rain, I couldn't help feeling inspired.

Fern Steele

From turntabling at uni to the Ministry of Sound

Nick Correlli's work has not been unnoticed. He was one of the great minds and creatives behind the remarkable remix of Wonka's fabulous Pure Imagination. Renamed Impure Imagination, it had the Oompa Loompas (and the people) of the modern world shaking and breaking to its beats and loops.
His talk at Cultural eXchanges displayed his love for his job and gave us an insight into what being an EDM, Dance DJ and producer is like in this era.

From turn-tabling at a uni house party, to performing at The Ministry of Sound (London), Pacha (Ibiza) and Space (Miami). Nick has had the DJ's career of a lifetime in just a few short years. He recalled his love for music from a young age, learning how to play on the guitar, being, ironically, oblivious to rave culture and not having a clue with what he wanted to do with his life.

Being a part of the MYNC project allows him to travel the world, exploring the nightlife of the world. It also enables him to blast out the tunes at 4:30 in the afternoon.

Nick's inspirations range from Nine Inch Nails to Daft Punk, and a mix of genres allowed him to experiment with sounds and lyrics to create some pretty darn good rhythms and beats.

My impression from his talk was of a level-headed young DJ, with huge aspirations and a promising future ahead of him within the MYNC project.

Shannon Webb

Festival of happiness

Rock in Rio is a different kind of music festival. Its main goal is to create happiness among visitors. 

At the talk about the festival, I was surprised to learn that all entertainment was completely free, although tickets are required and food is sold. The organisers have cut the limit of how many people can attend; this was done to prevent overcrowding and to make the experience better. I think this is a very bold move, and not a bad one.
It was also great to see an ATM turned into a karaoke machine that gave away free tickets for Rock in Rio, and to know that if one person was singing, it would give out two tickets to encourage sharing and love. 
If I ever find myself in Brazil, I definitely want to visit.

Dominique Slatter.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Launching the Custodian

Rod Duncan's book launch was one of the most interesting, unique (and only) launches I have ever attended. Welcomed into the room by Nicola Monaghan (Niki Valentine) and the author himself, I found myself seated behind someone all in black, painting their nails the same colour and sporting intricate metal ear cuffs. The audience surrounding me were just as quirky, with some dressed in top hats and waistcoats, and one even wore what looked like a white lab coat. One lady entered in a top coat and a grey Victorian dress that stuck out at the back. These costumes reassured me me that I was indeed in the right place. 

I was lucky enough to not only be in the presence of the author, but the publisher and editor as well, and the event was also webcast live across the globe. Marc Gascoigne, Publisher & MD described the book as "the end of the beginning." Meanwhile the author himself talked about the way the book enabled him, not only to connect with the alternative world he has created but also with the people here in front of him and others who contacted him ln-line. For him, that what makes this "magic of writing" even more special. 

The Q&A section of the launch saw to questions about a fourth instalment of the Fall of the Gaslit Empire series, to which Rod replied that he was "working on it," with a smile. Other questions from the audience, but also sent through Twitter, confronted the challenges Rod had faced in writing the series and The Custodian of Marvels in particular. One member asked about the possibility of the series being turned into film. Rod's response was to laugh - and to encourage anyone watching or listening to contact him about the film rights.

Many of those present who hadn't bought the book purchased copies on the spot - and some bought earlier books in the series, taking advantage of the opportunity to get their copies signed.  

There's also a further event to look forward to. On 19th of March at 2pm starting at The Silver Arcade, Leicester, Rod Duncan is leading a short guided walk around the city, highlighting some of the places in which his books are set. This is a free event so, if you're interested, you can just turn up and tag along. For more information about the event and about Rod Duncan's books, keep an eye on the Angry Robot's website.

  Meanwhile Rod Duncan's fans are already looking forward to the launch for the next book in the series.

Rod Duncan
Sarah Anne

Lauren's Reverie

I wasn't fully sure what to expect from Lauren Rose Brown's talk, but I was not disappointed. I came prepared with a thermos full of tea, and I didn't touch it once. I was far too busy listening.

I was highly excited by the fact that Lauren is a graduate of DMU, and at the age of 23, has already published one of her novels. Listening to Lauren speak gave me to confidence in the idea that becoming a published writer was actually a feasible option. It was refreshing to realise that, though she had taken a diffrerent course of study, she had been at the very university where I am studying.

A highlight of the talk was the realisation that we both make use of a chapter table. This is a technique that includes writing of the outlines of chapters in a table, allowing the author to pinpoint what is going on, and whereabouts it goes in the story.

Lauren also mentioned something that hit home to me: that she often walks out of the cinema with the inspiration to write. I also have this urge. I suppose it's a response to the way new characters in a film create havoc in your brain when they do something that you don't agree with.

I think it is safe to say that I will definitely be purchasing Lauren Rose Brown's book 'The Reverie: Beginnings', and probably the whole trilogy when the other books in the series are released.

Faith Bennett

Fire escapes and a haunted honeymoon

So, I went to Niki and Rod’s two-hour session on Tuesday because of the title, "So you want to write a novel." Yes, I want to write a novel and so, I imagine, did everyone else in the room.

 Simon Perril introduced the session and he had to point out the fire exits; one was out of a window and onto a walkway so Simon added, helpfully, “obviously not out of the other windows, otherwise you’d fall,” much to the amusement of the audience.

Niki Valentine and Rod Duncan were talking about their experiences as writers and how they came to be published. Rod talked about his new book, The Custodian of Marvels, published by Nottingham-based Angry Robot. The sesion gave me a good insight into traditional publishing as well as the inspirations for their books. I couldn’t believe that the inspiration for Niki’s book, The Haunted, was her honeymoon!

There were a lot of good questions asked by us, the audience and it was a genuinely insightful event, so if you do want to write a novel, and you didn’t show up, you missed a great event. I shall now attempt to write a novel, and see if I can…

Lauren Raybould

Thursday, 3 March 2016

"I lost my laptop ... and 30,000 words"

The sun was shining and I had a good feeling about the event for aspiring novelists. I wanted to know how authors went through the process of publication and Niki Valentine (who is also Nicola Monaghan) and Rod Duncan were there to share their experience with us.

 Each had a different way into publication. Nicola had the opportunity to submit her dissertation to her tutor's agent (although she did lie about her word count!), which meant that she was already represented by a literary agent as she finished her M.A. Rod on the other hand, wrote five novels without being published. It's a scary number but he said it wasn't a waste of time - and it certainly worked out in the end.

When Nicola was 40000 words into her second novel, she left her laptop in a taxi. She had backed up her manuscript once, but had written 30,000 words since then. 75% of her work was gone and she wasn't worried. For her it meant she could rewrite, learning from the work she had already done and aiming to improve. The thought of 30000 words just gone is horrifying for the author of this post.

 Most of the questions from the audience revolved around how to write and how to edit. Nicola and Rod talked about their methods, which were very different, Nicola had a fixed ending whilst Rod started with the skeleton of the story and fleshed it out. The one thing they did agree on though is that each writer has their own way of writing.

In my opinion, the most important thing that was said was to just keep writing, keep developing and to remember that even a rejection helps you learn what you need to improve. It was definitely a brilliant talk by two (or three) amazing authors.
The Custodian of Marvels
by Rod Duncan
The Killing Jar
by Nicola Monaghan

Andre Cowen

Inspired by dark times

There were some dark times this morning as I went to the Demon Crew reading. I sat and listened to beautiful and captivating monologues, short stories and poetry created by staff and students alike. Rape, drinking, self-harm and mental health were just a few of the topics.

This was my first visit to a reading of creative work, so I wasn’t sure what to do – should I take notes or just listen? At first I looked around to see what everyone else was doing – some had their eyes closed, appreciating each spoken word like in blissful ecstasy.

The first reader, Paige, had a few poems to read. My personal favourite was “Feeble Ties”. Some lines still stick in my head, such as “faces Hades and his sea of souls”. Afterwards, I had a chance to tell Paige how much I like that poem of hers – it was great.

Kathleen Bell read ”Skulls and Roses,” a short story with a Gothic twist on the fairy tale “Sleeping Beauty”, whilst Niki Valentine read “Babysitting”, a story from her book The Night Lingers while Simon closed the event with a reading from his book, Archilochus on the Moon, which is about Greek’s first lyrical poet.

Needless to say, with the amount of talent in that room, I walked out of there feeling inspired to write something, anything, on the spot - and that's exactly what I did!

Lauren Raybould

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The Demons take to the floor

It was raining when I left the flat and, if I hadn't received a morning text message from my sister to say that she was at her bus stop in the rain, I would have arrived at the Demon Crew reading looking like a drowned rat, as the cliché goes. The weather tends to have an effect on my mood but despite the miserable conditions outside, I still experienced enjoyment when listening the readings.
I'm a creative writing student and I'd been to a similar event similar during induction week, but I think it's safe to say that my outlook has changed a lot since then. I appreciate the writers' work so much more. I know for a fact that I would be terrified to speak and perform my work in front of a large group of people, it's bad enough sharing my work with people within workshop groups.
Perhaps why it was such an incredible experience listening to people in higher years at university reading out pieces of work. The thought that perhaps, in the years to come, I'll be performing at an event like this, is highly engaging.

A highlight of the event in my eyes, was when a student took to the floor to perform two poems without any text or notes. I had only witnessed something like this when Benjamin Zephaniah had performed at one of my lectures, and the fact that a student was doing this amazed me no end - and she's only one year ahead of me on the course. To have that much confidence in yourself and to know your work so well, is definitely something to behold.

I look forward to the rest of Cultural Exchanges.

Faith Bennett