Monday, October 15, 2007

Review: MLF weekend break

My partner and I spent a wonderful weekend enjoying the Festival’s hotel break at the City Inn. Located next to Piccadilly station it proved to be a perfect base for the various events we attended. Our first was in the Friends Meeting House to hear Howard Jacobson read from his novel Kalooki Nights. This he did with gusto, though not without first weighing up the sensitivity of his audience to some of his stronger images, tongue firmly in cheek. Then followed a discussion on contemporary orthodoxy in Judaism and other religions around Manchester. This gave us plenty to think about as we wandered back past the first shift of night clubbers and the colourful array of wigs and spangled gowns along Canal Street to our welcoming bedroom.

The following day we enjoyed readings from Gerard Woodward and Adam Thorpe in the peaceful setting of St Anne’s Church at odds with the bustling food stalls outside. Both readings contained perceptive accounts of men trying to gain understanding of themselves in unfamiliar or skewed surroundings. Question and answers brought up the topic of autobiographical details filtering into their fiction that both authors readily admitted to.

Next a short journey down to the Whitworth Gallery with some time to explore the exhibitions before the next speaker. This was the charmingly loquacious Roddy Doyle who took the audience on a brisk journey through a delightful montage of one family’s head on experience with the increasingly diverse ethnic mix of today’s Ireland.

A glass of wine and a chance to assimilate all the ideas and discussions we had heard so far as we waited for Maggie O’Farrell and Anne Enright. As the room filled with an expectant audience and the lights dimmed, all eyes were on these two ladies. After a long and inspiring day we sat back to savour their stories. Anne started with a domestic scene from The Gathering that combined pathos, anger and humour in equal measure, along with the frustration of family life that most of us regularly experience.

Maggie’s excerpts from The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox gave us an atmospheric glimpse of colonial India from a child’s point of view, followed by her haunting frankness after lengthy incarceration in a mental institution. Both authors read beautifully, conjuring up a disturbing bedtime story heard in the comfort of one’s own bed. What a perfect way to end our stay.

- Claire Yates

Final Fling

Saturday evening, Linton Kwesi Johnson led the audience through a vivid modern history of black Britain, powerfully illustrated with his own poems. A standing-room-only crowd packed the Contact Theatre for this rare opportunity to hear the poet read in Manchester, and they were not disappointed. It was really a night to remember.

The final weekend of the festival was so stuffed with events it made deciding what to go to a difficult task. From Howard Jacobson and Galway Kinnell on Friday night, to Saturday's powerful lineup, which included Maggie O'Farrell and Anne Enright, Roddy Doyle, Tariq Latif and Gerard Woodward and Adam Thorpe, to Sunday's Doctor Who and Comedy Curtain call events, it was a hectic weekend in the best possible way.

Many thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make this year's festival a success, and especially to the audiences who return each year to prove that live literature is a vital and thriving part of British culture - and an indispensable part of life in Manchester.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Review : Paul Abbott Face to Face with Kate Rowland

One of the North-West’s favourite writers made a welcome Manchester Litfest appearance, when Paul Abbott was the guest of the BBC Writers’ Room at the Cornerhouse on Tuesday. He was introduced to huge applause by a montage of TV clips, ranging from Coronation Street and Children’sWard in the Eighties, through Cracker and Clocking Off, to State of Play and Shameless.

Interviewed by Kate Rowland, Abbott spoke of his initial motivation for writing: “as the second youngest child in a large family, a subordinate family member, it gave me the opportunity to express myself without being contradicted.” He then discussed his development as a scriptwriter, the opportunities that had come his way and the choices, good and bad, that he had made. Answering broader questions about his writing philosophy, he offered advice that many of his audience may well have read in books or heard in lectures on writing craft: write, and then write ten times more; only by writing will you write better; sleep on it; a good story is not enough, you have to make it uniquely yours; create a community people will pine for; take the audience somewhere they didn’t even know they wanted to go.

What made the session special – and believe me, it was – was his approach. Abbott is firmly grounded, despite his well-documented and traumatic early years. “My family were more impressed that I’d been on Parky than by my writing credits”, he joked during the open question and answer session. He is not one of those ‘literary circuit’ writers, who having achieved success offers nothing more to their audience than their own celebrity.

Despite his disenchantment with current TV drama, in particular that top names from the Eighties still dominate today, he remains positive. He is passionate about bringing on new voices and new writing talent. His advice was constructive and encouraging. “Write something you’re proud of,” he concluded.

His sound bites suggest he could have written for the Just Do It advertising industry. It’s just as well for fans of TV drama that he chose to turn his creative talents towards the small screen.

- Angi Holden

Review: An Evening With Andrew Motion

I don’t know what I expected of a Poet Laureate, but as I sat under the vaulted roof of the John Rylands Library, silently studying Andrew Motion preparing to start his reading, I felt slightly cheated that he looked mortal: he carried a briefcase, could have been the lay member of an Ofsted team. But why was I surprised? The man is as human as his poetry.

Michael Schmidt introduced Andrew Motion as a man who ‘loved the art and not just the identity of being a poet’. Here is a poet who writes from experience, and is self effacing in sharing that experience with his audience. He talked of Sylvia Plath, describing Plath’s style of poetry as the yardstick of his formative years; but he had reacted against her style, had felt ‘bullied’ by it. He found his voice in something more personal. His personality, his humanity, is everywhere in his writing.

Asked how he made his choice of poetry to read, he chuckled and quoted his friend Philip Larkin: ‘Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry, bring on the dancing girls.’ Well, I laughed, I cried and I tripped the light fantastic all the way home! Whether in his very evocative account of a visit to Ann Frank’s house, or in describing a surprise encounter with a tortoise, the man is present in his poetry; you can picture him in the situation that stimulated the work. With the rest of the audience, I laughed as his mother netted an enormous salmon during a holiday to Scotland. An ex-teacher, I smiled at the ‘child’s idea of an island…a green tear welling in a turquoise eye’. The sting of tears was present in the ‘Wish List’ to his late father, which included ‘your last word, which, though I held my breath, I did not hear.’

But mostly I was inspired by the modesty of a man who is untainted by his greatness.

At the end of the evening, I bought a copy of Motion’s biography of Keats, and waited in line for the signing. His eyes twinkled as he took the book and he made a remark about a useful doorstop. ‘The hero dies at the end, you know,’ he joked. The thing is, sometimes even knowing the ending can’t spoil a good read.

- Rachel Davies

Review: David Gaffney and Urban Myths retold

David Gaffney

David Gaffney presented a lunchtime reading performance of new work written in homage to the 1857 'Art Treasures in Manchester' exhibition, now recreated at Manchester City Art Gallery. My company published David repeatedly in, as well as commissioning him for The Burgess Project; his wit and talent shine through and it's always a real treat to see the world through his eyes.

The readings at MCAG ranged from a Victorian Child bought from a website, to Pete Doherty split in half and immersed in formaldehyde having left his remains to "Art". There was no geek in sight here, but David's stories are succinct in length and vast in imagination and his reading style is certainly a considered, rehearsed performance. They're posting all his stories on the gallery website soon, I'll add the link when they do. Oh, and go buy his book.

Urban Myths Retold

The premise: through an open submission process, ten short-short stories were chosen to form the basis for Interactive Arts retelling. The young students had just three weeks to read and respond to the stories, resulting in a one hour live art & installation performance through the often unknown nooks & crannies of the Urbis building.

I was impressed by the original stories (being an obvious fan of the short-short narrative format), but the diverse and innovative responses from each artist really blew me away. My favourite was most definitely the response to "The Clubber" by Hetty Malcolm-Smith, a realistic flash-back to heady rave culture days (or rather, nights). The narrative was delivered via a series of flyers handed out sequentially as you walked down the long, postered staircase. It could really have been The Academy, circa 1995.

One minor complaint I have was the use of the word 'interactive' in one piece, the re-telling of "Jenny Greenteeth" by Steve Jackson. I have a real issue with the way the word 'interactive' is used. Purely from my point of view, if you do not affect the work in a way that changes another participant's experience of that piece, it isn't interactive. Call it an installation and I'll be happy (and I loved the home-made lollipops so it certainly wasn't all bad).

Our narrator wore a back-pack throughout, which instantly made me wonder, why? You don't wear a backpack in a performance unless you need to carry something, so at the end I grabbed the young man, applauded his performance, and questioned it's purpose... "backpackcam" was revealed and I'm now looking forwards to seeing further remixes of re-tellings through the MMU.

Congratulations to all for a truly successful experiment. This type of project is exactly the right approach for MLF's "Freeplay" strand, where Literature, Technology and Media collide.I look forwards to more of the same from all concerned.

- Fee Plumley
(posted simultaneously at her blog, Geekinetics)

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Last night's blog awards event was a roaring success. Some 80 people packed out Matt and Phred's to hear wonderful readings from Day of Moustaches' Chris Killen, Airport Diaries (pictured above), A Free Man in Preston, the end of Elizabeth Baines' Manchester Blogstory (just posted here,) and a reading and chat with author and blogger Caroline Smailes. Not forgetting the dj stylings of music blog stalwarts Black Country Grammar and Yer Mam!

Here's a list of the 2007 winners, announced last night:

Best Personal Blog: Single Mother on the Verge

Best New Blog: Rent Girl

Best Arts and Culture Blog: Mancubist

Best Political Blog: Politaholic

Best Writing on a Blog: Day of Moustaches

Monday, October 8, 2007

Review: Independents Day

On Saturday I went to the Independents Day at The Lowry. A whole 8 hours of readings and talks and stalls from independent publishers. I didn't last out the whole 8 hours as my already cluttered brain could only take in so much. All this on offer: create your own publication in a DIY workshop; listen to readings from poets and prose writers in the Circle Bar; attend talks and seminars with editors of cutting edge magazines, publishers and writers; mingle with writers and readers; explore stalls promoting what's on offer in the world of independent literature; buy books; drink coffee.

My highlights were:

- having the chance to wander round the stalls - small presses and magazines ranged from Comma, Cultureword, Transmission, Route to Parameter, Ugly Tree, Banipal Books and Templar. They were there to sell and promote books, magazines, writers, events.

I picked up copies of Iota and Parameter, chatted to Graham and Jo, the brilliant minds behind Transmission and got the chance to see the new Pulp Fiction issue. I talked to Suzanne Batty, another Manchester poet, whose work I love, and picked up a copy of her new book The Barking Thing, published by Bloodaxe.

I bought Dean Gaffney's Sawn-off tales (a gorgeous hardback Salt book) which I've been wanting to read for ages. I decided to try out Mahmoud Shukair's Mordechai's Moustache and his Wife's cats - a collection of short fiction from a Palestinian writer I've never heard of... but hey, this was the day to discover new writing, browse, explore, shop and relish the great world of independent publishing.

There were talks and seminars. I went to Out of School: presentation and discussion with editors and contributors of Transmission, Matter and Textyle magazines. This was an interesting discussion of the publishing that comes out of University Presses and Creative Writing courses. It had a hopeful message: if you're passionate about writing, if you have time to invest, and no concerns about giving your time for free, then you can start your own magazine, and/or submit work to a ground breaking publications who are interested in writers just like you.

The Alternative Publishing Seminar chaired by Ra Page from Comma Press was a good debate on all the new modern ways to get writing out there... from print on demand services to blogging, community publishing, digital books. It was quite a lively debate with audience members chipping in, asking questions, and listening to the debate on the pros and cons of mainstream vs independent publishing, whether the internet dilutes the quality of literature or makes it more accessible, and the creative ways independent publishers get writing seen.

And readings in the bar... a range of readers representing different independent publishers. My favourute was Shamshad Khan. I've seen her perform before, and each time she has made an impact. Her poems are beautiful, assertive, sometimes quiet, sometimes urgent. She knows exactly how to get them across to an audience and her musical voice drew us in.

It was a great day, I had the chance to chat to meet up with poet friends and meet new writing friends, mingle, exhaust myself with ideas and come home to a cosy night in with a handful of new books, and a head full of inspiration. We need more events like this at festivals, as perhaps Independent Publishing is the real future of literature.

- Annie Clarkson

Blowing Our Own Horn

The first weekend of the festival was a roaring success, with big crowds attending readings, workshops and events. Offerings ranged from readings (Bloodaxe Poets and Les Murray), a talk on Wild Mary Wesley, and a graphic novel workshop.

Saturday saw the alt-publishing tribes gather for Independents Day, a one-day conference at the Lowry that featured readings, seminars, workshops and debates... and bookstalls featuring more zines, magazines and small-press books than you could shake a stick at. And it proved, once again, that independent publishing folks have a lot to say to one another. Over conversation, many ideas were hatched, and we're sure some interesting creative alliances were made.

On Sunday, adults and children alike enjoyed Carol Ann Duffy's marvelous poetry and stories for kids, and the amazing sounds her "best friend" John Sampson made from his eye-popping collection of whistles, horns and woodwinds, including what may be the smallest bassoon in the world. The turnout at the Whitworth was better than in London, Duffy told the crowd, where she recently showed up to read from The Hat and her other kids' books and found she was facing an audience of 100 grown-ups!

Friday, October 5, 2007

Review: Poetry Bed, Oct. 4

It must be have been daunting to be the first acts in the Manchester Literature Festival, but these two poets managed it with aplomb. The unusual setting of a black lacquer four-poster bed in the middle of Heal’s shop floor seemed at first incongruous.

Helpers handed out glasses of wine to the audience, who passed the time filling in their questionnaires. At last Kei stepped up to the microphone, somewhat shyly avoiding the bed. His gentle introduction about himself and his poems instantly drew us in and the room shrank to contain only the poet and his audience. His sunny appearance and mellifluous words poured over us like warm molasses. From a delightfully poignant poem of resilience in the face of unsuccessful pregnancies, to soldiers fighting in tanks being heartened by the unexpected aromas of home cooking his understanding and interest in humanity shone through.

After a short break, Rosie Lugosi confidently climbed onto the bed and took centre stage, deftly arranging her shiny black stilettoed feet to maintain decorum. With a deliciously mischievous smile, she plunged us into the dark world where the ‘lights go out’ and intimacy and trepidation go hand in hand. Whilst still reeling from this disturbing evocation, she then took us firmly by the ears and led us through the intriguing eternal life of a fiercely proud Egyptian princess whose determination ensured her longevity.
These two poets appeared to be an unlikely combination, but the surreal chill of Hagen Daas ice cream and the roaring spirit of a feisty mummy defying oblivion kept us enthralled and sent us headily spinning and sated into the Manchester afternoon sun.

- Claire Yates

The Festival Has Begun

And....Go! The literature festival kicked off yesterday with two events - the marvelous Poetry Bed event in the windows of Heal's (of which more later) and, a few hours later, a cracking gala launch with Rose Tremain at the Whitworth Gallery.

Though my humble mobile-phone picture above makes it look rather like an abstract painting, the Whitworth is always a lovely setting for an event, and if the full house was anything to go by, it made a strong start to this year's festival.

The format - discussions between the author and Patricia Duncker interspersed with readings from her new book, The Road Home - was nicely balanced. The two authors had a spirited and wide-ranging talk that covered the differences between writing historical and modern fiction, research methods, the inspirational role of images, and the myriad ways authors find the characters and settings that provide a route into a particular story or time.

There were plenty of great insights into the writing process. I especially liked what Tremain said about why she never returned to the part of New Zealand that inspired her novel about the Gold Rush, The Colour, after she got the idea for it while visiting the country:

"Your imaginary landscape takes over for the real landscape, and it's much more vibrant and real to you. I never went back because I was afraid to, in case it disturbed my imaginary landscape."

And as for Poetry Bed... well, I'll let our first review competition entrant tell you about that one. See below (or, erm, above.)

- Kate Feld

Monday, October 1, 2007

MLF Review Competition

MLF is inviting audiences to write a review of any events they have attended as part of this year’s festival. The best reviews will then be posted on this blog site and a special prize will be awarded to the most entertaining / informative review received by a member of the public.

The Prize

Courtesy of Vintage, we are offering a full set of Vintage Twins (that’s a £150 worth of essential classic and contemporary novels) to the winner of our review competition! To celebrate the relaunch of their prestigious Vintage Classics imprint, Vintage have produced a set of classic Twins. Each twin consists of two books: a specially designed limited edition of one modern classic title and one established classic work and have been carefully selected to provide thought-provoking combinations:

Frankenstein (Mary Shelly) & Sexing the Cherry (Jeanette Winterson)
Oliver Twist (Charles Dickens) & Trainspotting (Irvine Welsh)
Tom Jones (Henry Fielding) & The Rachel Papers (Martin Amis)
Middlemarch (George Elliot) & Possession (A.S. Byatt)
What Maisie Knew (Henry James) & Atonement (Ian McEwan)
Inferno (Dante Alighieri) & Sabbath’s Theater (Philip Roth)
The Complete Fairy Tales (Brothers Grimm) & The Bloody Chamber (Angela Carter)
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll) & The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Haruki Murakami)
Gulliver’s Travels (Jonathan Swift) & Atomised (Michel Houellebecq)
Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostovsky) & Ripley’s Game (Patrica Highsmith)

Full details of the Vintage Twins can be found at:

How to enter the Review Competition

You can write a review of any event that is part of this year’s Manchester Literature Festival programme (4th – 14th October 2007). Reviews should be between 100 and 400 words in length and should give the reader a strong flavour of the event.

You might want to address the following questions: What did the author(s) read/talk about? How did the audience react? What was the atmosphere/venue like? Did the event make you think/laugh/cry/check your watch every 30 seconds /rush home to turn on the pc and start writing a new poem?

We want to hear your original perceptions of the Manchester Literature Festival, favourable or otherwise, but please bear in mind that we won’t be able to publish anything that might be deemed libelous!

All reviews should be sent within 3 days of the event taking place and emailed to

You may also attach a jpeg photo of the event to accompany your review if you have one, but don’t worry if you haven’t as the official MLF photographer will be out and about at most of our events.

Please ensure that your email also contains the following information:
* the title and date of the event you have reviewed
* your own name and contact details