Friday, September 30, 2011

Theme #4: Literary Tours

Digital Marketing Assistant Sarah-Clare Conlon picks another theme running during this year's Festival: literary tours of the city.

Our Principal Sponsor for the 2011 Festival, HSBC Premier - HSBC’s premium banking service - has specially commissioned a series of free one-hour literary tours to celebrate its sponsorship of Manchester Literature Festival, a highlight of the bank’s global Cultural Exchange programme.

On various dates throughout the Festival, visitors can join Blue Badge Guide and Manchester Confidential Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Schofield (pictured) to uncover the fascinating literary history of the city and find out more about the writers who have lived, worked and travelled here.

Tours depart from HSBC St Ann’s Square on the following dates:

Wednesday 12 October, 2-3pm
Friday 14 October, 2-3pm
Saturday 15 October, 4-5pm
Sunday 16 October, 4-5pm
Wednesday 19 October, 4-5pm
Friday 21 October, 2-3pm
Saturday 22 October, 2-3pm

Places are free but limited - click here to find out more and to book. HSBC Premier customers can also enquire in branch at St Ann’s Square and via their Relationship Manager. Click here to find out more about HSBC Premier and the services on offer.

Don't forget, Manchester Literature Festival is also running a number of bespoke literary tours as part of the main programme. Ever popular, two of the tours - of the Midland Hotel with historian Barbara Frost and the guided walk Poems Of The City by Anne Beswick - have already sold out. You still have chance to book for the Anthony Burgess coach and walking tour, which leaves from Manchester Cathedral at 11am on Saturday 15 October (£15), and the Boho Literary Pub Walk, which is back by popular demand and takes in the watering holes of Manchester's literati, and leaves from the Midland Hotel on Saturday 22 October at 5pm (£6), both led by Ed Glinert of last year's sell-out Elizabeth Gaskell Tour.

For full details of all events at MLF 2011 and how to book, visit the website at

Thursday, September 29, 2011

My Festival #6: Adrian Slatcher

We've been inviting various Manchester-based writers to share with us the Manchester Literature Festival 2011 events they're most excited about.

Today, it's the turn of Adrian Slatcher, who blogs about literary matters on Art Of Fiction and writes poetry and prose. His poetry collection Extracts From Levona was published by Knives, Forks and Spoons press in 2010 and Playing Solitaire For Money is out on the Salt Modern Voices imprint from Salt Publishing. He has a story in the new flash fiction anthology Quickies: Short Stories For Adults, which is available to buy via the FlashTag website and on Kindle.

Here are my three "pick of the Festival" events: among a wide range of fascinating sessions, these are the three that I really will have to make sure I attend. Covering both poetry and fiction, and ranging across Britain, Europe and China, they highlight the Festival's diversity - and I'd recommend them to anyone who is looking for something a little different within this year's festival line-up.

First up: European Poetry Night. Ágnes Lehóczky's Egg Box collection Budapest To Babel is one of my favourite poetry collections of recent years. Writing in English, but with a distinctly European sensibility, this Hungarian poet's work is lyrical, but experimental. I'll be fascinated to hear her and the other European poets - Lithuanian Marcelijus Martinaitis and Dutch Toon Tellegen - on this well-curated evening.

BS Johnson is that anomaly: a British experimental writer who worked in the Midlands (where I'm orginally from), yet for Johnson, experiment was always about telling the truth. A larger than life character, he was also a sports reporter and TV producer. This evening looks like it will give a suitably slanted take on a fascinating, and often overlooked "giant" in every way.

I met the brilliant Chinese film-maker/writer Zhu Wen a couple of years ago in Norwich. A formidable and original talent, the stories I Love Dollars will appeal to anyone who loves contemporary noir. In conversation with his translator, Julia Lovell, this event is certain to be both entertaining and illuminating about film and literature, about translation, and about contemporary Chinese fiction.

Adrian's Festival favourites

European Poetry Night Friday 21st October, 6pm, International Anthony Burgess Foundation (£5/£3 concs)
'The Mind Has Fuses': A Celebration of BS Johnson Saturday 22nd October, 6pm, International Anthony Burgess Foundation (£5/£3 concs)
Zhu Wen Sunday 23rd October, 4pm, International Anthony Burgess Foundation (£5/£3 concs)

For full details of all events at MLF 2011 and how to book, visit the website at

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Writes & Reads #4: Emma Jane Unsworth

Every week, we speak to one of the writers appearing at this year's Manchester Literature Festival and quiz them on book reading and writing.

Emma Jane Unsworth’s debut novel Hungry, The Stars And Everything is a witty and romantic exploration of love, longing and not getting what you want. It hit the shelves to critical acclaim when it came out through new Manchester independent publishing house the Hidden Gem Press in June. Emma is a columnist for The Big Issue In The North and her short fiction has been published by Comma, Two Ravens, Redbeck, Prospect Magazine and the new flash fiction anthology Quickies: Short Stories For Adults, which launches tonight at Didsbury Arts Festival and is available to buy via the FlashTag website and on Kindle. Emma be reading her work and discussing the contemporary UK literature scene with fellow author John Niven on Saturday 15th October (6pm, Waterstone's Deansgate, £5/£3 concs*). You can read more from Emma here.

MLF: List your top three favourite books…
EJU: This changes regularly but right now it's: Two Lives, especially My House In Umbria, by William Trevor; Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel; and A Visit From The Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.

MLF: What are you reading right now?

EJU: The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan. It's hilarious, and just the right thing to read in a howling gale.

MLF: How did you get to this point in your writing career?
EJU: I've pretty much always written poems and short stories and then I worked as a full-time journalist for a while and only managed to write approximately one short story a year during that time. This summer my first novel, Hungry, The Stars And Everything, was published. I've also started writing something like poetry again as I've just joined a band.

MLF: Who would you cite as your biggest influence, be they another writer, an artist, a musician, a Premier League footballer…
EJU: My friends. Closely followed by the Romantic poets, the Brontes and Conor Oberst.

MLF: Which events in this year’s MLF programme are must-sees for you?

EJU: War Stories on the 15th October with Zoe Lambert and Michelle Green. We're in the same writing workshop group, Northern Lines, and I think they're very talented writers grappling with difficult, important issues. Afternoon tea with Patricia Duncker on 19th October at the Midland also looks great. I loved her novel Hallucinating Foucault. For this event she's written a new short story set in the Midland Hotel. And there will be cake. It all sounds very good to me. Then later that evening I'm going to attempt to event-hop along Oxford Road because I definitely want to hear Socrates Adams reading from his new novel at the Manchester Blog Awards but I'd also like to catch a bit of Antonia Fraser down at the Whitworth later if I can.

MLF: Tell us about what you’re working on at the moment.
EJU: I'm working on my second novel. It's about a girl with a tragic past who meets an obsessive boy at university. I'm interested in exploring how different people deal with trauma. It's a book about resilience and jealousy, set in Manchester and Paris. I'm on the second draft and it feels like a big, unwieldy mess today but I'm hoping I can knock it into shape by the end of the year!

For full details of all events at MLF 2011 and how to book, visit the website at

*If you are part of a reading group or want to arrange a night out with a group of book-loving friends, why not take advantage of our special MLF Reading Group Ticket Offer for this event. Book for four or more people and get all your tickets at the concessionary rate of £3. The offer is available online or by phoning our Box Office on 0843 208 0500 and quoting MLF Reading Group Offer at the time of booking.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Theme #3: Family Fun

Digital Marketing Assistant Sarah-Clare Conlon gives you the rundown on another of the themes running through the Manchester Literature Festival 2011 programme: fun for all the family.

There are a number of events lined up for the whole family to enjoy and we're very excited to welcome Francesca Simon (pictured below) - creator of the famous Horrid Henry character. We're even giving you the chance to win a family pass to the launch of her new children's novel, The Sleeping Army. Taking place at 5pm on Sunday 23 October at the Whitworth Art Gallery, this afternoon story-telling event is £5 per ticket, but if you enter our competition by 5pm today, you could be in with a chance of winning four tickets. Visit the Go See This website for full details.

Both Saturdays falling in Festival fortnight feature Family Storytelling events in the Children's Department of Waterstone's Deansgate. On Saturday 15 October, Margaret Ryan will be entertaining the audience with lively tales of Airy Fairy and Roodica The Rude. The following week, on Saturday 22 October, it will be the turn of popular Dutch author Toon Tellegen, author of The Squirrel's Birthday and Letters To Anyone And Everyone. Both events take place at noon and are free with no need to book.

Also on Saturday 15 October, Julie Bertagna (pictured above) will be chatting about her trilogy for young adults and launching the Midland Future Manchester Competition. Co-ordinated with Manchester Children's Book Festival and Manchester Science Festival, this new competition invites 12 to 16 year olds to write a science-inspired story set in the future. The launch takes place at the Midland Hotel from 11am (free but booking is advised).

The following day, Tom Palmer will be reading from his new children's novel, Scrum!, which is about rugby. As well as a quiz and a drop kick contest, families will have the opportunity to meet members of the Sale Sharks team at this event in conjunction with The Manchester Weekender (noon, free but booking essential).

For full details of all events at MLF 2011 and how to book, visit the website at

Monday, September 26, 2011

My Festival #5: David Gaffney

As we look forward to October, we're asking authors in the city to give us their picks from this year's Manchester Literature Festival programme.

David Gaffney is the author of three critically acclaimed flash fiction collections, Sawn-off Tales, Aromabingo and The Half-life Of Songs, plus the novel Never Never. He is behind the site-specific MLF commission Station Stories which took place in May, and the sound installation Boy You Turn Me with contemporary classical composer Ailis Ni Riain, which runs throughout Birmingham Book Festival (5-12 October). David is headlining the FlashTag Smut Night this Wednesday, 28 September, as part of Didsbury Arts Festival. Coinciding with the launch of a new flash fiction anthology, Quickies: Stories For Adults, the free spoken word event will include readings from a number of North West authors, including Socrates Adams, Chris Killen, Claire Massey, Kim McGowan and Adrian Slatcher, and takes place at the Northern Lawn Tennis Club from 8pm.

Photograph: Conrad Williams

The Ford Madox Brown show may seem on the surface like a bunch of staid unadventurous Victoriana collected by unimaginative industrialists, but Jean Sprackland will find the right words to breathe life into it. I’m hoping for a contemporary, quirky and poignant slant; a way with words to reveal why this work is relevant to the modern day. I’m looking forward to seeing which paintings Jean will pick, and watching her perform her specially commissioned poems next to the pieces in the gallery - always an atmospheric experience.

Because I write short stories people always assume I'll be interested in going out to hear people standing up and reading out short stories. Well, you’d think wouldn’t you? But sometimes when you spend all day writing or editing short stories you want to go out and see someone play the banjo with a dead squirrel or fall into a muddy ditch at Diggerland. But I know that the European Short Stories event, curated by the marvellous Comma Press, will be well worth it. It will be dead squirrels and banjos and muddy ditches all the way for me.

My third pick is the Alun Turing event, coinciding with the publication of short story collection Litmus. I like it when novelists get down and dirty with whitecoated dudes and when I hear what these boffins are working on - nature-inspired algorithms, crowd dynamics and synthetic biology - even the words are thrilling. It makes me feel that’s where the bleeding edge is. Artists and scientists in the sandpit together; all uncanny and outer space.

David's Festival favourites

Ford Madox Brown: Image To Word Tuesday 18th October, 6pm, Manchester Art Gallery (£8/£6 concs, includes entry to the exhibition)
European Short Stories Tuesday 18th October, 6pm, International Anthony Burgess Foundation (£5/£3 concs)
Alan Turing & Morphogenesis Sunday 23rd October, 2pm, Madlab (£5/£3 concs)

For full details of all events at MLF 2011 and how to book, visit the website at

Thursday, September 22, 2011

My Festival #4: The Other Room

In our regular My Festival slot, we ask Manchester-based writers to tell us which events they're looking forward to most at this year's Manchester Literature Festival.

Here, three organisers of The Other Room experimental poetry reading series give us their picks. The Other Room, which usually takes place once a month at the Old Abbey Inn, is organised by the poets James Davies, Tom Jenks and Scott Thurston. This month it temporarily moves home to the MLF hub, the International Anthony Burgess Foundation, on Monday 26 September, starting at 7pm. Readers include Phil Hall, Alan Halsey and Mick Beck performing poems by Hugo Ball and Vanessa Place.

James Davies
Pinter is unrivalled as the most important English playwright of the past 100 years. To have an insight into the man and his work from so close a source as Antonia Fraser may provide some answers into the ways his work and life are intertwined. Yet for others this event will generate a myriad of new questions, and in true Pinteresque fashion they will be (may be) without answers.

Tom Jenks
Near where I grew up, it once rained fish for exactly seven seconds. I missed this miracle by 80 years, but I imagine the experience to be similar to hearing Carola Luther read. Her rich, allusive, illusive poems are strangely wonderful objects. To come across one is always a beautiful surprise, like finding a tiny bottle under the floorboards or a giant hailstone in the hearth. Go to this to have your world given back to you anew.

Scott Thurston
BS Johnson’s (1933-1973) remarkable career was tragically cut short by his own hand, yet since the publication of Jonathan Coe’s biography in 2004 there has been a resurgence of interest in his pioneering work. Johnson made innovation in fiction, film and poetry feel necessary and urgent, with his intelligence, politics and very British sense of humour. He is an unsung hero of British experimentalism – and well worth acquainting yourself with in these interesting times.

James, Tom and Scott's Festival favourites
Antonia Fraser Wednesday 19th October, 7.30pm, Whitworth Art Gallery (£8/£6 concs)
Mimi Khalvati & Carola Luther Thursday 20th October, 6pm, International Anthony Burgess Foundation (£5/£3 concs)
The Mind Has Fuses: A Celebration Of BS Johnson Saturday 22nd October, 6pm, International Anthony Burgess Foundation (£5/£3 concs)

For full details of all events at MLF 2011 and how to book, visit the website at

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Writes & Reads #3: Allan Stratton

In this weekly slot, we talk to some of the writers involved in Manchester Literature Festival 2011.

Allan Stratton is an award-winning Canadian author of novels for young adults exploring sometimes controversial themes against a backdrop of love and friendship. Allan will be reading from Life, Above All, which has been adapted into a film, and his most recent novel Borderline (HarperCollins). The event takes place at Contact Theatre on Saturday 15th October at 4pm (£5/£3 concs).

MLF: List your top three favourite books…
AS: Tom Jones by Henry Fielding; Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte; Crime And Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

MLF: What are you reading right now?
AS: Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel.

MLF: How did you get to this point in your writing career?
AS: Serendipity.

MLF: Who would you cite as your biggest influence, be they another writer, an artist, a musician, a Premier League footballer…
AS: My mom. She was a single parent in the 1950s. She is unconditional love, and, even at 90, she's the bravest, most determined person I know.

MLF: Which events in this year’s MLF programme are must-sees for you?
AS: Michael Frayn. There's Copenhagen, of course, but Noises Off and Benefactors are my personal favourites - and I love his screenplay for Clockwise. What wit and range!

MLF: Tell us about what you’re working on at the moment.
AS: I'm putting the finishing touches on The Grave Robber's Apprentice, which is coming out with HarperCollins in the States this spring, and Faber & Faber here a little later. (Also Canada with Harper and France with Bayard.) It is a children's adventure that uses Shakespearian motifs to tell a tale of friendship, loss and a family separated by the sea.

For full details of all events at MLF 2011 and how to book, visit the website at

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My Festival #3: Jenn Ashworth

As Manchester Literature Festival draws ever closer, we're inviting writers from the North West to pick the events they're hoping to catch this year.

Jenn Ashworth’s first novel, A Kind Of Intimacy, won a Betty Trask Award and was featured on the BBC’s Culture Show. Her second, Cold Light, was published earlier this year and she’s currently working on her third. She lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Lancaster and can be found online here.

Photograph: Martin Figura

On the 15th October, I’ll be attending War Stories. Both Michelle Green and Zoe Lambert have written startling, confident, humane and clear-eyed prose about war. What makes, I think, their work so successful is that they take on war’s massive machine by looking at it through small incidents in the lives of well observed characters. These are knowledgeable stories of ordinary people living extraordinary lives in places as familiar as Salford and as far away as Darfur. As well as listening to readings of the stories themselves, we’re also getting the opportunity to question the writers about writing process, their use of research and their own experiences of war, war tourism and the aftermath of conflict. The reading will also be the unofficial launch of The War Tour - Zoe’s collection of linked short stories, and the book will be available to purchase for the first time. Get your copy before they run out – this is important work and it is going to fly off the shelves.

Later on that same day, Manchester writer and The Big Issue In The North columnist Emma Jane Unsworth and novelist John Niven will be talking about their work. Emma’s book – Hungry, The Stars And Everything – is a real original treat. Witty, sensual, surprising and tender, it tells the story of a woman who changes her mind. And the devil. And a glow in the dark yoyo. Read it – I have, and it’s brilliant. John Niven will be talking about his new novel, The Second Coming – in which Jesus comes back and decides the best way to reach the people (this time) is through a TV talent contest. I can’t wait for an event that promises to be a nicely irreverent introduction to some really fresh writing.

Finally (I was only allowed to pick three events to plug, boo hiss), I’ll be attending the Manchester launch of Rachel Connor’s new novel Sisterwives. Sisterwives is a thoughtful and original novel about two women married to the same man and a satisfyingly complex exploration of a religious community. Rachel will be reading alongside special and surprise guests from Manchester’s own Commonword Womanswrite writing group so, as well as listening to a bit of Sisterwives, I’m really looking forward to being introduced to some local up-and-coming writing talent.

Jenn's Festival favourites

War Stories: Michelle Green & Zoe Lambert Saturday 15th October, 1.30pm, Imperial War Museum North (free, but booking is advised)
Emma Jane Unsworth & John Niven Saturday 15th October, 6pm, Waterstone's Deansgate (£5/£3 concs)
Sisterwives Wednesday 19th October, 6.30pm, Waterstone's Deansgate (free, but booking is advised)

For full details of all events at MLF 2011 and how to book, visit the website at

Thursday, September 15, 2011

And we're off!

Yesterday evening marked the official launch of Manchester Literature Festival 2011 with a VIP event attended by the sponsors, funders, partners, venues and members of the press who are supporting this year's fortnight of readings, workshops, launches and special commissions, running 10-23 October.

Quite a crowd gathered in the year-old 2nd View restaurant on the top floor of Waterstone's flagship Deansgate store. The constant flow of guests made their way from the bar area with its shiny black marble surfaces into the large, high-ceilinged "inner sanctum", all plush purple sofas and statement wallpaper. Welcomed on arrival with flutes of pink fizz, everyone was soon chatting in groups and sampling the tasty canapes making their way round the room.

The reception was followed by speeches. First up, Festival Director Cathy Bolton outlined the impressively varied programme lined up for MLF's sixth year, explaining the international strands but also emphasising the importance of showcasing local writing talent. She also explained how the Festival has been going from strength to strength and this year is the biggest ever. On a night when both the city's football teams were playing European matches, Cathy's quote from a preview in The Economist's Intelligent Life was particularly apt: "Although a comparative newcomer to the scene, the Manchester Literature Festival is already in contention for Champions League status."

Cathy introduced to the microphone Cllr Mike Amesbury, Executive Member for Culture and Leisure at Manchester City Council, who, along with Arts Council England, provide valuable financial assistance to the festival. Mike described how important a role the Literature Festival plays in the city's world-class calendar of events, drawing in not just writers, but also audiences from across the UK and beyond. He spoke of the benefits of such events, both in terms of garnering financial investment in Manchester but also in raising the region's profile on the global stage.

Richard Knight, Head of HSBC Premier UK, also focused on the international aspect of the annual fixture as being one of the main reasons for the bank choosing to become the Festival's principal sponsor this year. He said how HSBC Premier are excited about the way in which culture brings people together, describing Manchester Literature Festival as a "premiere literary festival" which does just this.

After a brief break for more mingling and the recharging of glasses, performance poet Kate Fox (pictured) took to the floor. An Edinburgh Festival veteran and regular on Radio 4's Saturday Live show, Kate had been commissioned to create a poem about Manchester Literature Festival 2011, and this was her first airing of the new work, which was completed on the night with some last-minute lines taken from converations with guests. Drawing inspiration from the recurring theme of journeys and also from the diverse audiences the Festival attracts, Kate's (as yet untitled) piece was clever, funny and a really interesting addition to the evening. A film of the poem will be available on the Festival website in a few days time, so look out for that.

Sarah-Clare Conlon, Manchester Literature Festival Digital Marketing Assistant

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Writes & Reads #2: Socrates Adams

In our regular slot in the build-up to MLF 2011, we've asked some of the writers taking part to share their favourite books and give us a glimpse into the world of their own writing.

Socrates Adams will be launching his debut novel, Everything’s Fine (Transmission Print), during this year's Manchester Literature Festival and will be reading extracts at the Manchester Blog Awards on Wednesday 19 October (7pm, the Deaf Institute). You can read his blog here.

MLF: List your top three favourite books…

SA: Victoria by Knut Hamsun; The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker; The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemmingway.

MLF: What are you reading right now?

SA: The Chronology Of Water by Lidia Yuknavitch.

MLF: How did you get to this point in your writing career?
SA: My dad rings me at 5am every day and tells me that if I don't write anything then I will be a failure. So I write something every day. Then he rings me at 9pm, says, "You're still a failure," then hangs up. Also, just through luck and enjoying writing.

MLF: Who would you cite as your biggest influence, be they another writer, an artist, a musician, a Premier League footballer…
SA: I don't really know who or what is my biggest influence. I guess I would just probably say the terror of death.

MLF: Which events in this year’s MLF programme are must-sees for you?

SA: I'm very interested in seeing the International Prize for Arabic Fiction discussion. As Modern Languages buyer for Blackwell Bookshop, this is my professional duty. Also the readings and discussions by Emma Jane Unsworth and Zoe Lambert will definitely be worth seeing.

MLF: Tell us about what you’re working on at the moment.
SA: I'm working very hard on a new novel about television presenters, World Of Warcraft, royal weddings, sexuality, worthlessness and substance misuse.

For full details of all events at MLF 2011 and how to book, visit the website at

Monday, September 12, 2011

My Festival #2: Jo Bell

Each week, we invite Manchester and North West-based writers to tell us what they're most looking forward to at Manchester Literature Festival 2011.

In the second in this series, poet and poetry promoter Jo Bell gives us her picks. Jo is the director of National Poetry Day and co-programmer of the Ledbury Poetry Festival 2011. She will read at the Southbank Centre in London with Simon Armitage, Jo Shapcott and others as part of Poetry Day Live! on Thursday 6 October. At last year's MLF, she launched the Bugged: Writings From Overhearings anthology and she is currently working on a live show, Riverlands, celebrating the river Nene.

In its spare, elegant pages, the Festival programme holds a really enticing mix of the international and the local. For me, the most anticipated event of the whole series will be Gerry Potter’s performance of his The Men Pomes. Formerly a hero/ine of the poetry circuit as his alter ego Chloe Poems, Gerry now takes to the stage in his own right. This is poetry like nothing you’ve heard before – asking with a wry smile what it means to be male, Scouse, working class and gay. You don’t have to be any of these to find The Men Pomes heartbreaking and heart-mending, with a roar of anger one minute and a roar of laughter the next: a statement of pride, joyfulness and scorn in the face of bigotry. Gerry Potter is a world-class performer at the height of his powers, delivering intelligent, humane and searching poetry that makes us all ask who we are and who we want to be.

On my travels around the summer festivals I've encountered the Poetry Takeaway a few times. It works just like a normal takeaway van: roll up, order a poem on any subject you like and see it written in front of your very eyes. Come back a few minutes later for your fresh, personalised poem, cooked up by some of the UK’s best-known performance poets. The long queues are a testament to the appetite for poetry, served up with wit and a glimpse into the writing process.

The death of Linda Chase earlier this year makes Not Many Love Poems her last collection, and turns its launch into a celebration of her life. Linda was a great force for good in the poetry community, promoting other poets' events through her Poets & Players series and the legendary Dear List, both of which survive her. Although Linda’s New York accent and bright red hair will be missing, this will be a great chance to hear her own work and rejoice in her generous spirit.

Jo's Festival favourites

The Men Pomes Friday 21st October, 7.30pm, Contact (£6/£4 concs)
Poetry Takeaway Saturday 22nd October, 11.30am-4.30pm, Whitworth Art Gallery (free)
Not Many Love Poems Thursday 20th October, 7.30pm, International Anthony Burgess Foundation (free, but booking is advised)

For full details of all events at MLF 2011 and how to book, visit the website at

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Writes & Reads #1: Nicholas Royle

In our third new regular slot to whet your whistle for Manchester Literature Festival, we've asked some of the writers involved in this year's events to share with us their favourite reads and an insight into their own writing.

First to step up to the mark is short story writer and novelist Nicholas Royle. Nicholas is one of the judges of the Manchester Fiction Prize and will be reading some of his work at the special prize-giving gala on Friday 14th October. Nicholas Royle's latest novel is Regicide (Solaris). He has also edited The Best British Short Stories 2011 (Salt) and Murmurations: An Anthology Of Uncanny Stories About Birds (Two Ravens Press).

Photograph: Conrad Williams

MLF: List your top three favourite books…
NR: Nightshade by Derek Marlowe; Days Between Stations by Steve Erickson; Selected Short Stories by William Sansom.

MLF: What are you reading right now?
NR: A Cruel Bird Came To The Nest And Looked In by Magnus Mills, and at least a third of the 1,500 or so short stories entered for the Manchester Fiction Prize.

MLF: How did you get to this point in your writing career?
NR: By making mistake after mistake after mistake.

MLF: Who would you cite as your biggest influence, be they another writer, an artist, a musician, a Premier League footballer…
NR: Derek Marlowe. The English novelist and screenwriter flitted between various genres, never really settling in any one of them, so no one knows what to call him. Was he a crime writer? Did he write thrillers? Was he a mainstream novelist? He was just a writer – my favourite of all time. He did his own thing, and therefore, of course, ended up out of print and forgotten.

MLF: Which events in this year’s MLF programme are must-sees for you?
NR: Well, if I fail to turn up at the gala prize-giving event for the Manchester Fiction Prize, I should probably start looking for a new job.

MLF: Tell us about what you’re working on at the moment.
NR: A short story about a man who wakes up with no head. It's taking me rather a long time, proving a bit of a headache.

For full details of all events at MLF 2011 and how to book, visit the website at

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Theme #2: South Asian

Manchester Literature Festival Director Cathy Bolton continues our series in which MLF staff members pick out their favourite themes running through the fortnight-long programme in October.

I’m always drawn to literature that provides empathetic insights into unfamiliar cultures and landscapes and, after my visit to the Jaipur Literature Festival earlier this year (which you can read more about here), I’m particularly excited about our series of events showcasing South Asian writers.

Sunday 16 October has two events featuring women writers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh: Tahmima Anam and Dipika Rai, in conversation with The Guardian's literary editor Claire Armitstead, then Kishwar Desai and Moni Mohsin, in conversation with journalist Anita Sethi (1pm and 2.30pm, Manchester Town Hall - these events are £5/£3 concs each or you can take advantage of our special 241 ticket offer and get tickets for both events for just £5/£3 concessions by phoning 0843 208 0500 and quoting "MLF 241" at the time of booking). These are followed the next day by Navtej Sarna and Shrabani Basu (6pm, Waterstone's Deansgate, £5/£3 concs; available for groups of four or more at the special rate of £3 per ticket).

I’m intrigued to know how these six authors manage to weave reflections on complex moral and political issues into entertaining, character-driven stories. All three events promise to be really interesting.

For a flavour of what to expect, you can hear Tahmima Anam talk about her novel The Good Muslim here.

For full details of all events at MLF 2011 and how to book, visit the website at

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

My Festival #1: Elizabeth Baines

Welcome to the first of another new Manchester Literature Festival Blog feature. Each week in the run-up to Festival fortnight in October, we'll be inviting Manchester and North West-based writers to peruse the programme and give us their picks.

Kicking the series off is Elizabeth Baines, a writer of plays and prose fiction. Her short story collection Balancing On The Edge Of The World and her two novels, Too Many Magpies and The Birth Machine, are published by Salt Publishing.

It's impossible to choose between the live authors appearing, but I can pick out three more general/discussion events I'll make a special effort to get to. Wonderful - when Radio 4 is regrettably planning to cut back on short stories - to have an event celebrating the short story: the Manchester Fiction Prize Gala, with readings from the shortlisted authors and the judges. (You can sign a petition asking the BBC to reverse the decision here).

I'm actually ambivalent about literary prizes, however, as readers of my Fictionbitch blog will know, and I love the fact that the Festival is instigating a discussion on this very topic with the Prize Culture? event. The debate will apparently address a particular concern of mine: the fact that prizes undermine those works not nominated.

Finally, tailor-made for me is the evening celebrating the work of the daringly innovative but utterly humane writer BS Johnson, whom, as I writer, I'd call one of my greatest inspirations.

Elizabeth's Festival favourites

Manchester Fiction Prize Gala Friday 14th October, 7.30pm, Chetham's School of Music (£7/£5 concs)
Prize Culture? Tuesday 18th October, 7.30pm, International Anthony Burgess Foundation (free, but booking is advised)
The Mind Has Fuses: A Celebration Of BS Johnson Saturday 22nd October, 6pm, International Anthony Burgess Foundation (£5/£3 concs)

For full details of all events at MLF 2011 and how to book, visit the website at