Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Cities of Literature

As a UNESCO City of Literature Nottingham will be working in partnership with the other Creative Cities, in particular the other Cities of Literature. This network consists of the following twenty destinations:

Baghdad, Iraq (joined 2015)

Frankenstein in Baghdad - a modern, wartime version of Mary Shelley’s horror - won the 2014 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, the Arab world’s equivalent of the Booker Prize, but the city’s literature is under threat. In 2007 a car bomb exploded on Al-Mutanabbi Street, the centre of Baghdad’s historic literary district, home of booksellers, printers, and the Shabandar café (a venue where Iraqi writers and intellectuals have been gathering for centuries). Once witness to the first literary document, the area of Ancient Babylon now sees ISIS militants destroying statues of poets. One modern poet, Mohammed Sadek, aims to create a community for Iraqi writers - similar to the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa – and hopes to keep Baghdad's literature connected with the world.

Literary figures associated with the city include Saadi Yousef, Fadhil Al Azzawi and Salah Al-Hamdani.

Barcelona, Spain (joined 2015)

A publishing powerhouse in two languages – Barcelona is the largest centre of publishing in the Spanish language and the capital of the Catalan language – the city has a rich literary heritage in both. For the celebration of Catalonia's patron day Saint Jordi, Catalans exchange books and roses with their loved ones. This takes place on April 23rd, the same day as UNESCO's World Book and Copyright Day.

Literary figures associated with the city include Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Eduardo Mendoza and Juan Goytisolo.

Dublin, Ireland (joined 2010)

With its astonishing literary heritage and contemporary writing scene Dublin is a natural city of literature. The city hosts many festivals such as Dublin Book Festival, Poetry Now, Dublin Writers’ Festival, Bloomsweek and Children’s Book Festival. Attractions include Dublin Writers Museum which features the lives and works of Dublin’s literary celebrities over the last 300 years. The city also hosts the world’s richest literary prize for a single work - the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.

Literary figures associated with the city include George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and James Joyce.

Dunedin, New Zealand (joined 2014)

Dunedin’s sprawling landscape has inspired poets and writers since the 19th century. Home to many significant libraries - including New Zealand’s first free public library est. 1908 - and book collections Dunedin also has an impressive publishing heritage. In 2012 the Centre for the Book opened, a centre of excellence on book history and print culture that investigates new platforms and models of book publication and distribution. The city hosts annual festivals that include the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival, and the Children’s Storylines Festival.

Literary figures associated with the city include Thomas Bracken and Janet Frame.

Edinburgh, Scotland (joined 2004)

With its impressive literary heritage and some of the world’s most exciting contemporary writers, Edinburgh was the first designated UNESCO City of Literature. Home to literary events such as Edinburgh International Book Festival, unique book shops and cafes, the city has produced some of the world’s best loved books and characters including Jekyll and Hyde, Sherlock Holmes, Peter Pan, Treasure Island and Trainspotting.

Literary figures associated with the city include Ian Rankin, Robert Louis Stevenson and Irvine Welsh.

Granada, Spain (joined 2014)

Granada has a long history of being home to renowned poets, writers and intellectuals. This tradition has made the city a reference in terms of literary production and the management of activities related to the art of speech. Granada’s public and private institutions, publishing houses and solid network of bookshops provide spaces and synergies for a vibrant programme of literature-related activities. Hundreds of literary events are held in the city every year.

Literary figures associated with the city include Federico García Lorca and Washington Irving.

Heidelberg, Germany (joined 2014)

With a literary history that spans from the Middle Ages to the present, Heidelberg has long been a place for writers. Visitors to the city include Mark Twain, Charles Bukowski and JK Rowling. Its 50 publishing companies form an important part of the city’s literary industry and many of them add to Heidelberg reputation as a centre for translation. The Heidelberg Literature festival contributes to a city that loves its young readers. Books play an everyday role in school life with reading programmes topping the curriculum in primary and secondary schools.

Literary figures associated with the city include Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Clemens Brentano, Bettina von Arnim, Friedrich Hölderlin and Thomas Meinecke.

Iowa City, United States (joined 2008)

With its unique set of influential literary institutions, which explore new ways to teach and support writers, Iowa City is a place for writers; a haven, a destination, a proving ground, and a nursery. The Iowa Writers' Workshop's creative writing program claims among its graduates winners of virtually every major literary award.

Literary figures associated with the city include Kurt Vonnegut Jr., Flannery O’Connor, Rita Dove, Robert Hass and John Irving.

Kraków, Poland (joined 2013)

With arguably the highest density of poets in the world it’s no surprise that Kraków’s poetry soirées and salons – including Poetry Night, initiated in 2011 – are hugely popular. In 2000 the city became the place of the famous Meetings of the Poets of the East and the West. It hosts the most important literary festivals in Poland: the Milosz Festival and the Conrad Festival, and is the seat of the Book Institute, which promotes Polish literature and supports national literary programmes.

Literary figures associated with the city include Wislawa Szymborska, Joseph Conrad Korzeniowski and Stanislaw Wyspianski.

Ljubljana, Slovenia (joined 2015)

Ljubljana was UNESCO’s World Book Capital in 2010. Slovenians celebrate a cultural day as a national holiday and Ljubljana hosts a book festival called Holiday of Books. A language and reading culture have played a crucial role in the Slovenian history as they helped the Slovenians to preserve their own language and identity. Much assistance is given to students in written expression and many projects and free-time activities have been established for children and young people.

Literary figures associated with the city include Primož Trubar, Janez Vajkard Valvasor and France Prešeren.

Lviv, Ukraine (joined 2015)

Literature written in Lviv has contributed greatly to Austrian, Ukrainian, Yiddish, and Polish literature for which Lviv’s contribution is particularly profound. Translation work took place between these cultures and, in the 19th century, many publishing houses, newspapers and magazines were established. Every day a book market takes place around the monument to Ivan Fеdorovych, a 16th century typographer. Lviv is the birthplace of both the sci-fi writer Stanislaw Lem, most famous for his novel Solaris, and the author Leopold von Sacher-Massoch writer of Venus In Furs a book that inspired the term Masochism. Every September Lviv holds a large International Literary Festival (Litfest). 

Literary figures associated with the city include Zbigniew Herbert, Joseph Roth and Adam Zagajewski.

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia (joined 2008)

Melbourne boasts more bookshops than any other Australian city, has a vibrant community of writers, novelists, playwrights and poets, a large number of reading groups – including the Ivanhoe Reading Circle (1920s onwards) - and the city is home to an array of literary organisations, including Australian Poetry, Express Media, the Emerging Writers’ Festival, the Melbourne Writers Festival, the Small Press Network, Wheeler Centre and Writers Victoria.

Literary figures associated with the city include Peter Carey, Marcus Clarke and Helen Garner.

Montevideo, Uruguay (joined 2015)

The National Library of Uruguay was designed by Luis Crespi in the neoclassical style and occupies an area of 4,000 square metres with a current collection of roughly 900,000 volumes. The capital city has a long and rich literary tradition. In 1900 the city was known as the Athens of the Rio de la Plata on account of its remarkable group of writers: Carlos Vaz Ferreira, Julio Herrera y Reissig, Delmira Agustini and Felisberto Hernández.

Literary figures associated with the city include Juan Carlos Onetti, Delmira Agustini and José Enrique Rodó.

Norwich, England (joined 2012)

The first English City of Literature boasts many literary firsts. Julian of Norwich penned the first book written by a woman in English in 1395. The first poem in blank verse was written by Henry Howard in the 16th century. The first English provincial library  (in 1608) and newspaper (in 1701) followed, and Norwich was the first to implement the Public Library Act of 1850. The UK’s first Creative Writing MA (1970) was established at the University of East Anglia, from which Ian McEwan was the first graduate. Today, Writers’ Centre Norwich provides a hub for excellence in literature from around the world, providing professional development for writers through workshops, courses, networking and competitions. As for books, The Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library has been the most visited public library in the UK, and the Cathedral library is home to more than 20,000 books dating back to 1474.

Literary figures associated with the city include WG Sebald, Sir Thomas Browne and Anna Sewell.
Nottingham, England (joined 2015)

A city of rebels and writers, Nottingham has an impressive literary heritage and fast growing contemporary writing scene, with local digital and visual media innovatively embracing the written word. Many projects and festivals have sprung from the grass roots and the people’s passion for literature. Links to many of Nottingham’s groups and activities are listed to the right  (scroll up).
Literary figures associated with the city include D.H. Lawrence, Lord Byron and Alan Sillitoe.

Óbidos, Portugal (joined 2015)

The project Óbidos Literary Town is a collaborative initiative involving a bookstore, a creative writing company, the town hall and a municipal enterprise of cultural management. This project consists of the promotion of the culture of writing and reading through the organisation of festivals, presentations, meetings, representations, projections, concerts, reading and writing sessions. Óbidos’s International Literature Festival (Folio) is a prominent event and the city even has a unique literary hotel The Literary Man Óbidos Hotel.

Prague, Czech Republic (joined 2014)

Prague has about 200 libraries - the largest of which is The Municipal Library of Prague – including a Central Library of 41 branches and 3 mobile libraries (bibliobuses), a huge institution that manages a collection of 2.35 million volumes, loans more than 7 million books annually and hosts around 5000 programmes and events each year. Prague has many independent libraries and street libraries across a city that hosts about 130 bookshops, around 60 second-hand bookshops, and approximately 20 literary cafes. Their International Book Fair and Literary Festival Book World Prague runs about 400 exhibitions and attracts around 40 000 visitors.

Literary figures associated with the city include Franz Kafka, Max Bod and Rainer Maria Rilke.

Reykjavík, Iceland (joined 2011)

The first non-English speaking city to join the Cities of Literature Network, Reykjavík is obsessed by books - Iceland’s most popular Christmas gift. One in ten Icelanders will publish a book and over half of its population participate in cultural events. Biannually the city hosts the Reykjavik International Literature Festival and the Children’s Literature Festival.  Literature is celebrated with the Week of the Book in April and there are numerous literature walks hosted by the City Library.

Literary figures associated with the city include Halldór Laxness, Arnaldur Indridason, Thor Vilhjálmsson and Einar Már Gudmundsson.

Tartu, Estonia (joined 2015)

Estonia’s second city - widely considered the intellectual capital - is home to the Estonian Literary Museum which holds held a two-day conference on literature and folklore each December. The museum publishes an annual almanac which includes articles, primary source texts and research. The two biggest libraries, the University of Tartu Library and Tartu Public Library offer rich collections, reading and working space as well as exhibitions and literary events. The Tartu branch of Estonian Writers’ Union is a thriving association for authors, critics and translators residing in Tartu and South Estonia.

Literary figures associated with the city include Ene Mihkelson, Friedrich Reinhold Kreutzwald, Jaan Kaplinski and Andrus Kivirähk.

Ulyanovsk, Russia (joined 2015)

12 Simbirsk literary Apostles (Ulyanovsk used to be Simbirsk) is a project devoted to the most significant writers of the region. It’s helped promote the best examples of Russian and world literature, increased reading activity and the desire to read. A tour, based around Simbirsk/Ulyanovsk’s literary heritage, attracted attention to the reading of classical literature in the region. During the year, every month in all municipalities of the Ulyanovsk region, as well as its cultural and educational institutions, held a cycle of cultural and educational events dedicated to the promotion of creativity of certain literary person.

Literary figures associated with the city include Ivan Alexandrovich Goncharov, Nikolay Mikhailovich Karamzin and Nikolay Mikhailovich Yazykov.


Friday, 11 December 2015

Book Flood for our City of Literature

A Book Flood for our City of Literature

Proud of my home county I wanted to help promote its incredible literary output and the many writing/reading events and groups that are active here. So I created this blog NottsLit. That was back in 2011.
Last year I was delighted to learn that Nottingham was aiming to become a UNESCO City of Literature. For too long we had concealed our achievements, it was about time we celebrated them. 

A man could no longer be private and withdrawn. The world allows no hermits. D. H. Lawrence
Now it’s been announced that the bid has been successful and the world can learn what we already knew – but kept to ourselves – that Nottingham is a City of Literature. This permanent accreditation is partly due to Byron, Lawrence and Sillitoe, writers that shook the establishment, but also to the many others that have stood on their rebellious shoulders. I congratulate the hardworking team that put the bid together, and thank them. We must now build upon this status and actively promote our heritage and thriving writing scene. Above all the promised economic benefits and tourism boosts I’m most excited by the pride and inspiration this award can offer to the city’s youth. 

How about marking this announcement with our very own Book Flood? In Iceland the majority of books are published in October and November, ready for their national tradition of Jolabokaflod or Christmas Book Flood. Most Icelanders settle down on Christmas Eve (when their gifts are exchanged) to read a brand new book. So why not join Reykjavik, one of our fellow Cities of Literature, in buying books this Christmas, the perfect present from a new City of Literature resident.
Related article – A to Z of Notts Literature

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

The Five Challenges of the Indie Author

Saturday 12th December 6pm, The Five Challenges of the Indie Author, at Nottingham Writers' Studio

Meet NWS member Gareth Baker as he discusses his experience so far as an indie Author, the challenges he’s faced and his aspirations for the future. He will talk about his successes, failures and lessons learned. There will then be an interview and an opportunity to ask questions. Part of the evening will feature the launch of his second Nottingham based thriller, Never Forgotten. There will be an opportunity to buy one of his thrillers or children’s books if you wish. You will be welcomed with a glass of wine, but please bring your own drinks for the rest of the evening. There will also be snacks and cake.

Free event

Gareth's website

Friday, 20 November 2015

Book Off, Sunday 22nd Nov, at Rough Trade

Sunday 22nd November 11:30am - 10pm






'Amanda Smith is a professional storyteller from Nottingham who works in schools, children's hospitals, theatres, festivals, day care centres and librarie...s. She runs the Sherwood Storytelling Club.
Join Amanda Smith Storyteller for family storytelling fun! Hear how bold Robin Hood outwits the Dragon of Sherwood Forest, join Anansi the West African trickster spider who tricks the big animals to become the strongest animal in the forest and help Mr Rattlebones the skeleton journey to Ghost Island! Songs, stories and music for children aged 3-7 years.
Stories at 11.30, 12.00 & 12.30.'
Children must be accompanied by adults.


'Gareth Morgan is a writer and dramaturg based in Nottingham. He is an Associate Artist at Nottingham Playhouse and has worked with other regional theatres and companies such as New Perspectives, Excavate and Derby Theatre. He also runs Act 2: an East Midlands new writing project, based at Nottingham Playhouse, which runs a number of regular new writing events. He will be running a workshop focusing on writing for performance. People of all levels of experience welcome; so come and try your hand at writing for performance!'

3pm: Q&A
4pm: Signing


'Siobhán Cannon-Brownlie will be chairing a panel discussion about creating work and the journeys the following writers have found themselves on.'

Henry Normal:
Nottingham born Henry Normal is a producer, comedian, writer and poet. He has assisted with the organising of Nottingham’s New Poetry Festival (17th November - 2nd December), founded Baby Cow productions with Steve Coogan and was co-writer of the Royle Family, The Mrs Merton Show, Paul Calf, Coogan’s Run and The Parole Officer.

Shreya Sen Handley:
Shreya Sen Handley is a Calcutta-born, Nottingham-based mother of two. She is a former television journalist and producer for channels including CNBC and MTV, who now writes and illustrates for the British and India media. A columnist for National Geographic, Times of India and Nottingham Post, she has also written for The Guardian, CNN India and The Hindu. A children’s book she illustrated for Hachette was published in 2014, and her memoir, for Harper Collins, on which she is currently working is slated for the summer of 2016.

Rod Duncan:
Rod Duncan is a published crime writer. His first novel Backlash was shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey Dagger, and he has since written three other novels The Bullet-Catcher's Daughter, Unseemly Science and The Custodian of Marvels (all published by Angry Robot Books, the latter coming Feb 2016), and had his first screenplay produced. He is also a lecturer at De Montfort University.

Pippa Hennessy:
Pippa Hennessy writes fiction and poetry, works for local small press Five Leaves as a publishing assistant, is the development director at Nottingham Writers' Studio, and teaches at Nottingham University on the Creative & Professional Writing and Humanities degree programmes. She is also a freelance proofreader, editor, ebook producer, writing workshop leader, website designer and IT advisor. She runs the EU-funded Dovetail creative writing project, working with organisations in Karlsruhe and Budapest.


'Nottingham raised Rob Green is a sizzling fusion of acoustic R&B and soul; Rob’s catchy lyrics and rich, emotive vocal fast solidified his status as the ‘Soul Prince of Nottingham’ (LeftLion). His track Underdog made BBC Radio 1’s track of the week and he is co-managed by Nottingham label Outlaw and RedFireMusic (the team behind Grammy winning artist Gregory Porter). Rob’s next EP will be available early 2016.

Rob’s workshop is an introduction to lyric and song writing, exploring different song-writing techniques, using them to develop your own lyrics around the concept of self-identity.'


'Major Labia are Nottingham’s newest feminist comedy collective. Debuting at Nottingham Playhouse as part of the Mouthy Poets’ ‘Say Sumthin 9’, the all-female troupe consists of actors, writers, singer-songwriters and activists. Come and revel in the mayhem of their latest sketches.'


'Are you a budding poet? Come and sign up for a slot at our open mic session from 8-9pm, followed by some of Black Drop and Poetry is Dead Good’s poets, and fresh from the Fringe, Notts’ own poet Ben Norris (UK All Stars Poetry Slam Champion 2013).'



11.30AM START.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

New Poetry Festival

New poetry Festival planned by Notts TV and Nottingham born poet Henry Normal.

From 17th Nov to 2nd Dec, Across Nottingham

Nottingham has an international reputation as a city of words thanks to its poetic ancestors such as Bryon, D.H.Lawrence and Alan Silitoe and for ten days in November poets from across the country will take centre stage in Nottingham as the curtain rises on a new national festival of poetry. The stella line-up already includes national names in Brian Patten, Lemn Sissay MBE, Atilla The Stockbroker and Luke Wright together with local poets Kev Fegan, Jon Bitumen and the Mouthy Poets.

Full events programme here

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

NWUK Book Festival XI

Free to attend festival for writers and readers of all ages.

Workshops, 1-to-1s, Talks, Presentations, Refreshments, Book Launches, Free Parking.
Subjects: Copy Editing, Creative Writing, Mainstream publishing, Panel Q & A session.

Book Festival & Fayre XI, 
County Hall, West Bridgford, Nottingham NG2 7QP

Saturday October 24th

Details via

10.30am-1pm Steve Bowkett ‘Creative Writing Workshops (and 1-to-1s)’*

11.00am – Rachel Littlewood ‘Do I really need to copy edit?’ Committee Room B

11.30am – Frankie Owens ‘Can you spread the F word?’ Council Chamber

1.00pm – Ian C Douglas ‘Creative Writing Presentation for Children’ Committee Room C

1.00pm – Vince Eager ‘The Rock ‘n’ Roll Files Part One’ Rufford Suite

1.30pm-2.45pm –  Steve Bowkett ‘Creative Writing Workshops (and 1-to-1s)’*

2.00pm –  Mike Brooks ‘What is mainstream publishing?’ Committee Room B

3.00pm –  Awards Presentation for the young finalists of the New Writers UK Creative Writing Competition 2015 Council Chamber

4.00pm –  Panel Q and A Assembly Hall

 * to book a place at one of Steve Bowkett’s workshops please email


Sunday, 6 September 2015

In Review, New books with a Notts connection

Recent reads with a Notts connection. My thoughts on the following:

The Spice Box Letters by Eve Makis (the author lives in Nottingham)

The Zoo by Jamie Mollart (the author is a member of the Nottingham Writers' Studio)

He Wants by Alison Moore (the author is a member of the NWS)

The Astronaut, The Cake and Tomorrow by Matt Sisson (the author lives in Nottingham)

Have you read These Seven Nottingham writers? by John Harvey, Megan Taylor, Brick, Paula Rawsthorne, Alison Moore, Shreya Sen Handley, Alan Sillitoe

Poetry from Notts and Beyond by Lee James Blunt (the author lives in Notts)

Saturday, 5 September 2015

The Astronaut, The Cake and Tomorrow

The times they are a-changin'; the news split between mass displacement and the rise of Jeremy Corbyn. Who could have predicted such things? Well, Notts author Matt Sisson could. In his 2014 book The Astronaut, the Cake and Tomorrow Sisson highlighted the need for a new ‘fairer’ political system and predicted mass migration.

***** A must reread
Were it not for its East Midlands Book Award nomination I’d probably not have come across this brilliant book. The curious title and illustrated cover suggest a light, quirky read, but the author’s passion soon bursts from the pages, making for a compelling appraisal of the state of the planet, with answers for the future.

Capitalism and war have contributed to a failing economy and are destroying our planet. The Earth’s resources are being overconsumed, posing serious threats to our future and our policymakers are answering only to the wealthy that call the shots. We have a responsibility to act and West Bridgford’s Matt Sisson shows us how in his debut book. Many of the changes needed (a move away from austerity and towards a bottom up - as opposed to our top down - politics) were proposed by the Green Party, of which Sisson is a member, before the last election. He even stood for election as an MP (he lost to Nicky Morgan). But now, it seems that Labour, if Corbyn wins, could be singing a similar tune.  

The economic and environmental challenges we are faced with are tackled by Sisson with facts and quotes accompanying some imaginative ideas on how we might progress. With the help of over twenty illustrations by Matthew Kay, Sisson examines our financial systems, growing inequality and society in general, proving that radical change is needed if we’re to live within the Earth’s sustainable limits. Could the answer be with the meaning of life itself?

Radical or common sense, you decide. It's certainly an important and interesting read, accessibly told. I wonder if Jeremy Corbyn has read it.

Friday, 28 August 2015

Nottingham: Rebel City?

Nottingham, both anti-war and revolutionary, a northern city struggling with its geography. Our city. A city of Literature.

Back in 2010 our baseball club took the name Nottingham Rebels. An inspired choice as now, with nearly twenty-four million pounds earmarked for Nottingham Castle, it’s been decided that our city is to be rebranded, with our heritage of protest and rebellion coming to the fore.
In industrial cities like ours rebellion and rioting was commonplace in the 18th and 19th centuries but it seems that we, in particular, had a reputation for it. We were a city of civil disorder. Inflated food prices (be it meat, butter, milk, cheese) had our poor regularly clashing with the greedy traders. There was the Luddite outrage and various examples of electoral issues that sparked violence and what Charles James Fox called an ‘uncontrollable spirit of riot’. Take 1831 as an example; its Reform Bill was set to give greater voting rights to the Labouring classes. The majority of Nottingham was pro-reform but a powerful minority, which included the Duke of Newcastle (who owned Nottingham Castle at the time), helped have the bill rejected by the House of Lords. Riots ensued. Land owners were targeted, the castle's Ducal Palace burnt down, and, were it not for military protection, Wollaton Hall would have gone the same way.  

Working class frustrations have fuelled most of the riots in a city described by Sir Robert Peel as ’disorderly, radical’. But we are not lairy for the sake of it. Being anti-authority may be our default position but that’s only because social injustice blows through our streets; frustrations that have also influenced our literature. If you’d allow me to generalise, I might say Nottingham’s writers (and poets) are socially conscious, left-wing, a voice for the working class. Our stories often follow a thread back to the legend of Robin Hood. Hood robbed the rich to give to a powerless poor because he had to. The reader understands the logic of his opposition, and that there’s no bigger bastard than Hood’s rival, the rich man that robs from the poor. Hood’s little victories against authority raise a smile. Another Nottingham legend, Brian Clough - a socialist who marched with the miners - also redistributed the wealth. Cloughie robbed the rich of their trophies. Before Forest, the 1970s had only seen three clubs win the European Cup (Ajax, Bayern Munich and Liverpool). Under his management the establishment took a beating.
In Nottingham it’s not just the brassic that feel the inequality. The rich are all too aware of the thin line as they live side by side with the poor, drinking in the same boozers. The wealthy side must save their money, in fear of losing it. The poor must spend what little they have, fretting they’ll lose their minds if they don’t.

There’s a new anthology, with the tag line ‘have you read These Seven Nottingham writers?’ If you listened to the accents of the seven authors in question you’d struggle to name the city they were representing. London perhaps, maybe Liverpool? This is typical of our special literary heritage. Our writers are influenced by the city in a profound way but they have spent time away from Nottingham. They have been able to form a baseline, to see an alternative. Try it, think of a top ten or, if you can, top twenty Notts writers. How many of them have lived here all their lives?
But lived here they must’ve. A visit to Nottingham doesn’t count. To belittle our castle, or decry our attractions, is to miss us. To know the city, and write about it, is to know its people. Self deprecating, tolerant, diverse, gobby.

John Harvey grew up in north London, a city he now lives in, and yet his most celebrated series is set in Nottingham. His much loved detective, Resnick, is himself an outsider but the series is rooted in our city. When Harvey lived in Nottingham he drank in our pubs and coffee houses, he read our Evening Post, listened to our local radio, and stood on our football terracing. He listened to the city’s voice. Witnessed how the have and have nots lived across the street from one another and shared opinions.
Harvey is not an exception. Many of our finest writers wrote about the city when living away from it. Others, including many who now live and write here, don’t set their books in Nottingham but draw upon its inherent conflict. Our writers understand that readers are drawn in by characters. They see that people attract people. The city’s nightlife, its universities, its sport, and, increasingly, its music, bring many young doers to Nottingham. We provide interaction, a hedonistic retreat, an ugly inner city, a place of people and parks. Paris has its museums and structures but it also has its Parisians. We are the other side of that coin.  

If we are to be known as a rebel city, our literary heritage will play its part. The rebellious Byron, Lawrence and Sillitoe are well documented but our heritage is not all about its writers. We are (or at least were) a city of readers too. In the mid-19th century Nottingham had a healthy number of operatives' libraries. As they were run by the workers they were kept affordable and provided a meeting place for struggles and stories to be shared. A home for union members and free thinkers, they were a place where people could learn how to challenge and make a difference.

Five Leaves Bookshop continues Nottingham’s tradition of radical bookshops, the first of which opened in 1826. Susannah Wright rented a shop in Goosegate and soon angered Christians who objected to her selling publications on theology, freethought and contraception. Despite attempts to force her out of the shop (literally) the store become so successful that Wright moved to larger premises.

The anthology These Seven, published by Five Leaves, is part of a new literature development project in the city run jointly with Nottingham Writers’ Studio and Bromley House Library. There’s a city-wide campaign to encourage those who may not usually engage with reading and writing to ‘have a go’.

Here’s what you’re in for:
Ask Me Now. A jazz-loving detective supping coffee in the old market square, this is classic John Harvey, only the lead role, normally afforded to Resnick, goes to Tom Whitemore of the Public Protection Team. The Detective Sergeant works hate crimes, sex crimes, and domestic violence cases. Sick of him taking his work home with him, Tom’s wife left six years ago, taking the twins with her. His hopes that this would be a temporary situation are about to be tested in this contemporary story set on the familiar turf of the Forest and Arboretum.  

Here We Go Again. What ifs can torment us, shape our memories. What if we’d not played spin the bottle in the Arboretum? Such a teenage memory is evocatively told in Megan Taylor’s story of hopes and regrets, set in the present day Old Market Square.   
Simone the Stylite. Saint Simeon the Stylite (the hermit on the pillar) gets the Brick (John Stuart Clark) treatment as he’s reinvented as a Nottingham Uni student in this satirical graphic story. Let’s hear it for the loners, the outsiders, the thinkers. Can a young woman seeking knowledge inspire other minds to enquire? Socialites, sheep, in-crowds, the noisy majority, lend us your ears.  

A Foreign Land. Paula Rawsthorne's YA-friendly story lives long in the memory. The Aziz family from Western Sudan live on the Tower Estate, a block of flats in Radford, but their appeal for asylum has been rejected. Narrated by 10-year-old Jamal, the story tells of his teacher-parents struggle, their friendly neighbour, acceptance and rejection.   

Hardanger. A family from Plymouth take a trip to Hardanger, a traditional district in the western part of Norway, in a story that feels like a folk tale in the Brothers Grimm canon but has a contemporary setting. It’s a departure from Alison Moore’s usual work but, as ever, the untold is just as important as what’s said.

Nimmi’s Wall. Nimmi is an Indian in Nottinghamshire in Shreya Sen Handley’s story. Having joined her surgeon husband in Sherwood Forest, Nimmi is keen to explore her enticing garden. When the weather permits she leaves her domestic troubles behind and heads for a garden wall and an idyllic land of fairylike children and a romantic figure. But is this antidote to life’s problems the answer, a sign of breakdown or a dream?      
A Time to Keep. Friday night and Martin’s parents are in a Radford boozer. After putting his siblings to bed, young Martin gets out his books. Like a secret reader he marvels in their wonder whilst an ear twitches for his parents return. Enter Raymond, a cousin from the Meadows that takes Martin with him to work on the new motorway. It’s Martin’s first day as a’ mash-lad’ when disaster strikes. It’s classic Alan Sillitoe and an appropriate ending for an anthology celebrating Nottingham writers wherever they’re from.   

The Anthology These Seven is priced at just £3.


Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Poetry from Notts and beyond

Poetry from Nottinghamshire and beyond by James Lee Blunt
An accessible poetry collection of many forms inspired by Nottinghamshire and places further afield. Based on real everyday issues Lee James Blunt’s poetry and verse is partly inspired by the writer’s eventful mix of living in Notts and beyond.

From a former mining town, Blunt now lives in Carrington, Nottingham. He has served in the British Army in local regiment The Queens Royal Lancers (AKA the death or glory boys) where he was operational in Iraq, Bosnia and Poland, to name a few. He has also lived in Germany where he came to know the local culture and way of life, helping to influence his social commentary poetry.

Here’s an excerpt poem from the new collection:

The Soldiers Story 

He wore the green camouflage

he was a soldier at large

he left his hometown roots

to wear those combat boots

Germany, Poland and even Iraq

He’s Been to All The Places With a Pack On His Back

22 years under her majesty’s reign

seen his share of pleasure and pain

and now he is back in his home region

and an honourable member of the royal British legion,

old and bold with a great sense of pride

sat at the table with a pint by his side

tell his war stories where he was put to the test
head held high and medals pinned to his chest

he’s the old soldier
nobody told ya
always respect him

never forget him.


Twitter. @bluntpoet78

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Newark Book Festival


A new, major two day book festival being held in the grounds of Newark Castle that's designed to appeal to all ages and many interests.

Around 35 authors and special guests are attending including children's writers, crime, history, military and more. 

Guests include: Eva Schloss - stepsister of Anne Frank, Battle of Britain fighter pilot Tony Pickering, bestselling crime authors Peter Robinson and Stephen Booth, Cosmopolitan Magazines Irma Kurtz and Julie Summers whose book 'Jambusters' was adapted into the hit drama series 'Home Fires'.

Entrance to the festival is free with charges for ticketed talks.  

Several public car parks are within only a few minutes walk and the venue is close to Newark Castle Train Station.



Tuesday, 21 July 2015

He Wants by Alison Moore

Publishers want novels of a certain length. Knowing this, many agents ask for manuscripts of no less than 70,000 words, often preferring 80,000-90,000, more for sci-fi/fantasy/historical.

Writers shouldn’t really be thinking about word count, instead, they should be focused on producing the best story possible, and many books could benefit from a serious reduction in length. The Postman Always Rings Twice, one of my favourite books, is a novella of 38,000 or so words. James M Cain’s first draft was lengthy, over 110,000 words, before he cut the unnecessary. What’s left is enthralling. Sharp. Every word counts - and so do the missing ones. It’s easy to read, to race through to the end, but you find yourself slowing down, admiring the writing.

If books were invented today, they’d be shorter, surely? Our attention spans and limited leisure time wouldn’t entertain something we’d need to invest 12-16 hours of thought in. I’m not suggesting we re-invent the novel, only that there needs to be a good reason to make one 80,000 words when 40,000-50,000 could allow for a better result. When I read a novel by Ian McEwan I often think it runs out of steam too soon. It’s like he’s said what he wants to say and is killing time. Another fine writer that I would prefer novellas from is Howard Jacobson. I mention him because his recent books, and their protagonists, remind me of Alison Moore’s leading middle-aged men. The difference is that Moore’s men know when to leave the building.

Size matters

Her novellas encourage the reader to slow down, breathe the words in, and have fun with the meaning. In real terms, there’s not enough plot for a novel. The Jacobsonian themes of identity and self-realisation are all present in the pages of He Wants, a book of 192 pages.

One of Moore’s talents is picking small actions and facts that are interesting, in the way a comedian might know what’s funny. Under another writer’s pen the everyday details would be mere condiments but Moore makes meat out of them. Writing is nothing more than selecting the right words and leaving out the wrong ones. Both are conscious decisions, and Moore is a master decision maker.

In He Wants Lewis Sullivan is approaching retirement. He’d taught RE at the local secondary school he’d attended as a boy, and where his father had also worked. He lives, as always, close to where he grew up. His daughter makes daily visits, bringing soup that he doesn’t want. It’s a life of routine. It’s safe. He Wants is a story of how life’s structures and expectations can come to define us. How we can drift through a life we didn’t want, consoling ourselves with what might have beens or living vicariously.

The ‘plot’ concerns the appearance of an old friend that kindles Lewis’s thoughts of freedom. Can courage be the route to getting what he wants?

Look out for the many references to D H Lawrence and his writing.  

Monday, 6 July 2015

The Zoo by Jamie Mollart

Fear and self-loathing in Leicester. 

There’s a joke about an optimist who fell off the Empire State Building. Whilst falling he was asked “How’s it going?” He replied: “So far, so good.”
James Marlowe was falling. A successful advertising executive, he – and his unlikable colleagues - lived the life of a rock star, balancing drink and drugs. But all the cocaine sniffing and champagne supping was at the expense of his wife and son, and, later, his sanity.

He lands a prestigious account, that of a Dutch bank wanting a campaign to improve their public image. Then, when he begins to learn of their ruthless exploitation of an African nation, the self-doubts mount up. He’d be able to examine his life if he wasn’t entrenched in addictions and heading for a breakdown. The chapters flip between this self-destruction and his post-breakdown life in a psychiatric hospital. The alternating between foreboding and psychosis makes for a dark read.  
His wife, Sally, had questioned the profession, saw them as smart arses; these admen that appeal to the lowest common denominator. Left to bring up their son, and look after James, she knew her marriage was in trouble. The presence of James’s wife and the son that looks up to him adds a vital dimension to the tale. Not only do you care about their future, and hope they can have one, you have a balance to the work-hard, play-hard, lifestyle of drink and drugs reminiscent of pre-crash city workers. You have a life that could have been.

The chapters in the hospital are particularly good. Here’s a place of rules and routine, a path to try and get James back out there, but it won’t be done for him. He must fantasize and analyse in the hope that it’ll reveal understanding, allowing for sanity, perhaps redemption. The delusions and psychotic episodes are visual as we see into the mind of a man over the edge.
The author has obviously drawn upon his job (Mollart runs an award-winning advertising business - write what you know) but there’s much evidence of research. The chapters set in the hospital seem authentic and the activities in the fictitious African country ring shockingly true.

The writing is spare, making for a good pace and flow as James struggles with identity, addiction and sanity. The insight is interesting; the light touches of humour are welcome, and, bleak it may be but The Zoo will stay with you.
You might even feel haunted yourself by the eponymous Zoo, this bunch of figurines, their physical descriptions detailed whilst their real meaning is clouded in metaphor. Like James, the reader tries to work out their significance and how facing The Zoo might lead to salvation in the form of family and redemption.

'Grippingly Dark' Alison Moore

Jamie Mollart benefitted from Writing East Midlands’ mentoring scheme which he has high praise for:

I was assigned Tim Clare, who by a twist of fate also had his debut novel out this April, and we're both on the Amazon Rising Star list for this year. We exchanged a number of sections of the book I was working on and he provided critique on them. I found it really helpful, he picked up the fundamental issues that were holding my writing back and although the manuscript we worked through wasn't The Zoo I genuinely believe that without the mentoring scheme I wouldn't have had it published.

This is Mollart’s debut novel and clearly draws on his own career. I asked him if he shared James Marlowe’s thoughts on advertising, and if he felt any self-loathing or doubts about the job?
No, I don't agree with James. I'm an adman through and through. I couldn't give up working in advertising just as much as I couldn't give up writing. To me it's more that if you have a product it needs to be saleable anyway, and if it is then you have to assume that other people have made a similar product that a consumer would be equally as interested in. All that advertising does is enable you to get your product in front of the right people ahead of your competitors.

What if you were asked to represent a seriously dubious company?

Thankfully I've never been put in that situation. Speaking to my colleagues we have turned clients down in the past because we don't morally agree with them. James doesn't find out about their corruption until after he's working with them, at which point they would be under contract and it would be difficult to get out of. If I knew in advance what they were doing I'd like to think I'd turn the account down.
Jamie Mollart lives in Leicestershire but is a member of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio.


Sunday, 28 June 2015

EMBA time

Best of luck to Notts writers Matt Sisson and Kim Slater. Both are on the shortlist for this year's East Midlands Book Award for their outstanding debut books. The winner will be announced on Tuesday at Bromley House Library.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Gedling Book Festival

The Gedling Book Festival 2015 (supported by Gedling Borough Council, New Writers UK and Waterstones Nottingham) comes to Arnold’s Arnot Hill House in June (12-14). An event for readers and writers, featuring over twenty talks and workshops.

Where: Arnot Hill House, Arnot Hill Park, Arnold, Nottingham NG5 6LU

Cost: Free to attend. No booking required.
Friday 12th June

10am Mayor of Gedling Borough Council.
10.30am Historical novelist David Ebsworth talks about the women on the Napoleonic battlefields.
11.30am Alison Moore discusses the transition from her Booker nominated debut to her second novel He Wants.
12.30pm. From Authonomy to Scrivener, John Baird looks at some of the best websites and software for writers. Read Dawn of the Unread guest post.

2.00pm Join the crime writer Stephen Booth for his talk entitled ‘Bring in the bodies!’
3.00pm Discover how Eve Makis has written historical fiction through human stories. Read NottsLit review of The Spice Box Letters.
Saturday 13th June
Children’s Day
10.10am, 10.30am and 3.00pm Storytelling for children with Julie Malone, Rob Hann and Steve Taylor.
Writing workshops with Steve Bowkett running at various times throughout the day.
11.10am Tales from the TARDIS with David J Howe, contributor to over thirty titles about Dr Who.

12.20pm Best literary character, children’s costume award.
12.30pm Adventures of a visiting author, with children’s author Steve Bowkett.
1.30pm A spooky creative writing workshop for children with Sam Stone.

2.30pm Launch of the New Writers UK creative writing competition.
4.00pm Katy Perry tribute.

Sunday 14th June
Non-Fiction Day

10.30am The truth is out there somewhere, says Dr Nick Thom in his talk on writing about ancient history.
11.15am Ex-con Frankie Owens talks about life in prison and how he came to write a book about it.

12.15pm Frank Earp looks at the A to Z of Curious Nottinghamshire.
12.45pm Joe Earp examined Nottingham from old photographs.
2.00pm Rock ‘n’ roll star Vince Eager talks about his life, career and book.

3.00pm Professor Alison Milbank discusses J R R Tolkien.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Lowdham Book Festival, this June

The Lowdham Book Festival is in its 16th year.

Taking place during Independent Bookshop Week, this year’s festival (June 19-28) is typically rammed with events, taking place in the village and beyond. In chronological order here are some of the literary highlights:
Beatrix Potter on her Wedding Day, with Julia Damassa
Fri 19th June, 12.15-1pm, Southwell Minster
Meet Beatrix Potter aged 47 on her wedding day in 1913, as she returns to her beloved Hill Top to say goodbye. Written and performed by local author and storyteller, Julia Damassa, "After Miss Potter" is a poignant bridging of fact and fiction, capturing the essence of one of our finest literary icons. FREE event

You Say Potato... with David and Ben Crystal
Sunday 21st June, 2–4pm, Village Hall
David and Ben Crystal guide us through the eccentricities of our native dialects. Witty, authoritative and full of fascinating facts, their book You Say Potato is a celebration of the myriad ways in which English is spoken, and how our accents speak louder than words. David will also talk about his new book The Disappearing Dictionary, which collects quirky English words before they disappear for ever. Tickets: £7 Full, £6 concessions, £5 Festival Friends

An Afternoon with Eve Makis
Wednesday 24th June, 2–4pm, Southwell Road Community Building
Eve will talk about her latest book The Spice Box Letters. Read the NottsLit review.
Tickets: £7 Full, £6 Concessions, £5 Festival Friends, Includes tea and pastries

All Day Book Fair
Saturday 27th June, 10am–5pm, Main Street, Lowdham
Free. No tickets required.
The bookfair is spread over the Village Hall, a marquee behind the hall and assorted gazebos. It features publishers, charities, book trade organisations, booksellers with new and second-hand books and cards. There are displays of old-fashioned letterpress printing equipment. Free author talks and talks about books will go on throughout the day. There will be books for children and adults, bargain books and books signed by all the authors appearing during the festival.
The final Saturday at the Lowdham Book Festival is always a date for the diary. Shakespeare’s England, Newstead Abbey, forensic science, poetry and children’s books will be discussed, and lots more, including the public launch of Nottingham's Big City Read & Write at 2pm; Have you read THESE SEVEN Nottingham writers? Join Brick (cartoonist), Shreya Sen Handley, John Harvey, Alison Moore, Paula Rawsthorne and Megan Taylor (with a mystery guest presenting Alan Sillitoe) will be at the Methodist Chapel.