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

Thursday, 28 February 2019

Inpsired to write - and to read all night

Chilling, creepy and utterly captivating.

Helen Marshall, a writer and poet originally from Canada, entranced the room with details about her life and her writing. In a talk that ranged from her journey to the UK to the relationship between herself and her sister, she told us how those events have inspired her work.

Within the short hour we attendees had with her, Marshall explored her life with writing, including how she first began writing poetry at the age of five in her back garden. She also read excerpts from two of her books; The Migration and Gifts For The One Who Comes After

The Migration, her newest novel, took inspiration from the bond that Marshall has with her sister and the journey they have been on together, much like the characters in the novel. 

Gifts For The One Who Comes After, a collection of short stories, features 'twisted surrealities' that delve into mythology and childhood imagination. The story which Marshall read to us was 'The Hanging Game', which explored how games we played as children could provide some very real terror.

Helen Marshall's talk at the Cultural Exchanges Festival this year was an nspiring evening that left me itching to get back to my own writing. 

Yes I bought her book of short stories, and yes I spent all night reading it.

Megan Greene

Stepping into 'Weird Fiction'

Yesterday, during Helen Marshall's reading, I stepped into the world of 'weird fiction' and was instantly captivated.

Being a fan of darker literature myself, I was curious to see how Helen approached the writing process and see if I could pick up new writing techniques. She went on to speak about the relationship between memories and her writing.

"Memories are something that we've lived through, something that we've buried in the back of our mind. Mine have often found their way into both my poetry and stories."

While writing using memory is something I've done before, the way memories and pieces of mythology were woven
into her work was mind-blowing to listen to during her reading of 'The Hanging Game' and an extract from The Migration.

She also spoke about her fascination with weird fiction.

"Weird fiction exists in the gaps of science-fiction, horror, and fantasy and is often experimental. Reading it, to me, feels like you've just got into an elevator, then it drops and your stomach lurches. It's this darker side of fiction that I find interesting."

Hearing the feeling she gets out of writing and reading weird fiction has been inspiring to me and I cannot wait to take what I have learned from her and apply it to my own work now and in the future. 

Leah Watts

Joining the Demon Crew

It doesn't feel quite right to review one's own work.

I'd originally booked to attend the Demon Crew event so that I could hear other other undergraduate students reading from their work. Then, last week, one of my tutors suggested I migth take part. 

I settled on a performance piece I've worked with before. It's based on a typical writing day and deals with my habit of procrastination. This ended up being the opening piece, and reading to an audience without looking for feedback is pretty daunting. It doesn't get any easier, regardless of audience size or whether or not I'm dressed as a cowboy (that's another story - a long one).

Other pieces included excerpts from science fiction stories, poems on numerous topics (whether abusive relationships or reading), and even a scene from a screenplay. It was great to see the variety of readings, and I commend my peers for also having the courage to share their work that way.

Andrew Roberts

Inspired by the Demon Crew

Run by undergraduate students and tutors at the heart of the Creative Writing department, the Demon Crew event felt both homemade and wholesome.

This was my first Cultural Exchanges event, so I went into it with an open mind, unsure of what to expect. The diverse group of writers sharing their work did not disappoint!

There was an eclectic mix of poetry, short fiction and script from a range of students studying different courses (creative writing, film, drama etc.), each with their own very distinct voices and charms.

Surely anyone surrounded by so many vibrant and passionate people would have to feel inspired. I left the event wanting to write my own pieces that so that I too can perform one day.

A. Culbert

Defenders of the Earth

During Global Exchanges week, Ali Hines spoke Wednesday afternoon. Her subject, ‘Defending the Defenders of the Earth’. Between 2002 and 2013, 908 people were killed for environmental activism. In 2017 alone, 207 people were killed, a year deadlier than any on record.

She spoke about illegal logging in Cambodia where environmental defenders are under threat of blackmail, violent attacks, death threats, sexual harassment and are being killed for defending their land and campaigning against the logging projects.The police and military are involved in these killings and the companies involved have government complicity. 24 Cambodian defenders were killed in 2017.

Berta Cáceres, a political activist who campaigned to protect the land rights of indigenous people, was murdered in 2016, almost a year after she’d won the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize for her work campaigning. She’d been protesting the building of the Agua Zarca dam, being built by a Honduran company DESA with funding from the Dutch development bank FMO.

Cáceres and the defenders in Cambodia are not the only people who have lost their lives. In 2017, 57 defenders were killed in Brazil, 48 in the Philippines and of the 17 killed in Africa, 12 were killed in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Global Witness are campaigning in defence of these environmental defenders, recording all loss of life in defence of the environment and pushing for the voices and stories of these environmental defenders to be heard.

For more information visit Global Witness

Amelie Rowlands

Poetry, community inclusion: an evening at Pinggg...K!

Pinggg...K!! What a lovely evening spent with warm, diverse people, brought together by poetry!

As nerve wrecking as walking into something new is, the event itself was engaging, deep and overall something I would definitely want to experience again. Open mic poetry, comedy, "cake" breaks without cakes, warm coffees or teas, all shared by the lovely Pinggg...K! group.

Ishi Thefunny Khan's picture posted on the Facebook group
Cheerful, both light-hearted and deep, the inclusive Pinggg...K! group is full of the positive energy you need on a Tuesday evening. The dynamic of the group is unimaginable and it draws you in from the moment you set foot in the room. 

Not only were their poems captivating and beautifully crafted, but the people were great: unique, friendly and so welcoming. They even encouraged the newcomers to read their own poems and talked to us during the "cake break", making us feel included. 

They gather every last Tuesday of most months at 7:30 pm and encourage other people to join them, so if you're curious, but a bit anxious, you should definitely give it a shot. Sit down and enjoy their art, take in different experiences and get inspired.

For further information, check out their website or their Facebook group.

Valentina Verba

The Cold War's hidden histories

As a child of people who had a huge portion of their life pass behind the Iron Curtain, I was more than interested to hear what the academics who led Monday evening's event had to say. They started the event with each of them telling the audience their own personal experience of how they became interested in stories of espionage during the Cold War. Each of those experiences, equally intriguing and engaging, made me want to know more.

They continued by telling us stories from their upcoming book, Cold War Spy Stories from Eastern Europe. Informants, secret police, people whose lives had been reduced to pages of files- all of those were subjects of the stories. Not only was I kept at the edge of my seat the entire time, but I became more and more surprised with each detail as to how little I had actually known up to this point about the subject.

The amount of time that Valentina Glajar, Alison Lewis and Corina L. Petrescu have put into their work- reading files, trying to put the pieces together- to be able to bring all of this information to the public is incredible. I think their book gives a very important insight into facts that weren't always accessible and although history tends to repeat itself, if people became more aware of those facts, we could prevent it from doing that. You can pre-order the book here.

Adriana Aleksandrova

Scholars watched by the state

One of Monday night's events for the Cultural Exchanges Festival was on Cold War spy stories from Eastern Europe. This was a discussion by a panel of scholars who, in different ways, witnessed life behind the Iron Curtain. This also served as a preview of their upcoming book on the subject, which I'm definitely going to buy.

The first part of the discussion revolved around the panellists' personal experiences during the tail end of the Cold War. This included talk about the requirement to be positive when speaking to one's parents over the phone, or the fact that members of underground art movements who were blasé about being interrogated later turned out to be informants.

The panel also discussed the "File Stories" which they have used in their book. They were able to acquire all manner of STASI files on individuals which had been declassified and these reveal a myriad of information the secret police collected on them. It's quite unnerving, especially in this modern digital age.

All in all, it was a thoroughly intriguing experience.

Andrew Roberts

What is a war hotel?

This is the question you might ask and is certainly the question I was pondering when I visited Professor Kenneth Morrison's talk "From Print to Documentary: Making War Hotels" at De Montfort University. 

It was a well attended event in the Clephan Building. The first half of the event comprised a film screening and the second a talk.

The film was a fascinating watch.

A 'War Hotel' is no different from any other hotel around the world that it is near the front line. This is the places where journalists stay when reporting on conflict.

I wouldn't really recommend you going there yourself, just watch the TV documentary War Hotels for a taste of what it is like over there. 

And if you get a chance to hear a talk by Professor Morrison, do go as he's a very engaging speaker with lots of interesting information to share. 

Georgia Langley

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Engaging and exchanging art: the Baroda exhibition

Art and culture go hand in hand: colours, perspectives and influences, all entwined with a purpose: to make us see or feel something we might have otherwise been deprived of.

Why not take the afternoon off and, considering the lovely weather, stroll straight to the gorgeous Gallery of DMU? There you'll have the chance to enjoy The Baroda Exhibition.  

Fine Art students and staff from DMU and Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, India, were involved in its creation. 

The artists, inspired by an exchange programme, have displayed their impressive work in the exhibition. Each presented piece has its own charm and each artist stirs a different kind of feeling in the viewer.

You can read about the artists’ experiences, admire their work and perhaps develop a new-found appreciation for art (if you don’t already have one) at the Gallery. 

The exhibition is open at any time of the day during the Cultural Exchanges Festival 2019.

Valentina Verba

From home to Hollywood

Nita Harvey was imaginative, radiant and driven.

Before this Cultural Exchanges Festival I knew nothing of Nita - nor of her great-niece Ellen Nolan , but that's another name I won't forget. Throughout this capsule collection we were not only spectators to a celebration of family history, but were presented with insightful narratives from both Ellen and Nita. Nita's contsant companion was the camera as we followed her adventure from the back gardens in suburban Golders Green to the rooftops of London theatreland on St Martin's Lane.

Nita's archive, curated by Ellen, is more than just photographs; it's a memoir of a woman finding her self-portrait, a relationship with the lens, an evolution of experimentation to expectation. It makes the viewer witness to the development of playfulness and theatricality to awareness and femininity of a young actress of the 1920s. Then comes a transition to brutal objectification in Hollywood depicted through a 360-degree silent video scanning her body - and the sense of playfulness is lost. But Nita's friednship with the camera persists and remains true until the end.

'She is still beautiful'

I left that lecture theatre inspired by Ellen, who took seven years to understand what she needed to do with the archive, maintaining control by funding her own work. Ellen and Nita make me want to produce my own project, influenced by Nita’s artistic flare and the emotions she evokes even as she poses for her early photographs with domestic objects such as pillows, piano stools, beads and bedsheets. Ellen's Instagram is flooded with ideas she's experimenting with, including elements from the archive.