Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Nottingham 2023

It has just been announced that Nottingham is bidding to become the 2023 European Capital of Culture. If successful our city would be designated this title by the European Union for a period of one calendar year, during which we would host a series of cultural events with a strong European dimension. For Nottingham, a city ready to take off, its legacy would be life-changing.

Following Glasgow (1990) and Liverpool (2008), another UK city is set to land the prestigious title in 2023, a significant anniversary in the evolving UK-EU relationship:

1963 - Britain’s attempt to join the Common Market is vetoed by Charles de Gaulle. 
1973 - Britain joins the EEC with the instruction that “we should avoid creating a new, semi-permanent rift in British society, between pro and anti Europeans.”
1983 - Michael Foot promises to withdrawal from the EEC, after Labour’s pro-Europe wing splits off to form the SDP.
1993 - The European Union is formed. John Major faces down back-bench rebellion over the Maastricht Treaty.
2013 - David Cameron promises an in-out EU referendum, not anticipating a leave decision.
2023 – A UK city becomes the European Capital of Culture.

It’s a story in itself, with conflict and passion aplenty. The winning destination would not be the first non-EU city to win the title but our responsibility would be unique. What an opportunity to show our European family how much they are loved and appreciated, and to reaffirm that we are still a big part of Europe, and proudly so. In ’79 and ’80 Nottingham were the European Champions. In 2023 we would become a champion of Europe.

So why Nottingham?
We are creators of culture with a large underground scene of crafternooners, writers, artists, poets and musicians, many of whom are producing in private. However, our culture is built on expression and social justice, so it must be experienced. What makes Nottingham unique, and underrecognized, is that we create for purposes other than fame. We are the antidote to celebrity culture because we don’t court it.

We’ve a story to tell, we just need the permission to tell it. Why permission? Because we have an ingrained tradition of underplaying our achievements. In expressing our thoughts, we have been banned (DH Lawrence), ridiculed (E Darwin), called angry (A Sillitoe) or labelled mad, bad and dangerous… (GG Byron). And we are our own worst enemies. The conspicuous are the targets of our tongues and satire, so we tend to hide our talent and it need not be so.

Take Frederick John Westcott, heard of him? Fred was raised on Nottingham’s overcrowded streets in the 1870s. A plumber’s apprentice, he once worked a job at Nottingham Prison and became fascinated with some of the prisoners and their fitness-training, feeding his interest in gymnastics. Fred harnessed his gymnastic skills and performed his first pro gig on Fletcher Gate, as a tight-rope walker’s assistant. He then joined the circus, learning as many acts as he could and, after changing his name to Fred Karno, ended up touring music halls with his large, record-breaking repertoire of comedy acts.

As Charlie Chaplin recalls in his autobiography, “The outstanding company was Fred Karno’s.” Everyone wanted to work in our Fred’s enterprise. With over 30 companies Fred was the man behind a variety of acts that included pantomimes and musical comedies. He was the man that signed a young Chaplin and promoted him to a principle role despite early mixed reviews. Chaplin performed in Nottingham many times before Fred packed him off to Hollywood. It was because of Fred’s tutorage that Chaplin was the most supple and precise of comedians. His film The Kid reflected elements of his mentor’s/Fred’s life.

Our impresario had hit shows across the world and gave big breaks to many other famous performers including Max Miller and the Crazy Gang. Arthur Stanley Jefferson was another of Fred’s boys – you’d know him as Stan Laurel - and said of him, “Fred Karno didn’t teach Charlie (Chaplin) and me all we know about comedy. He just taught us most of it.”

The most ‘Nottingham’ of Fred’s achievements is that he popularised the custard-pie-in-the-face, that traditional act of humiliating and bringing down a man of self-perceived superiority.

But,'Google' Fred Karno and Nottingham barely gets a mention. Yet it’s here that he came of age as a performer. Several of his children were even born here. We have been reluctant to praise our show people, seeing them as show offs. Nottingham is full of people like Fred Karno. People who inspire greatness in others. Innovators who break and change the rules. Unappreciated geniuses like Erasmus Darwin whose poetry provided a theory of evolution years before his grandson. People who leave authority with a pie in its face.

Things are changing. We are getting better at displaying a shared pride in our culture. Nottingham has momentum. We are now a UNESCO City of Literature. We have a vibrant music scene. Our actors are achieving international recognition. And best of all, we are becoming comfortable with this success. To paraphrase Jake Bugg, we are sticking two fingers up to yesterday. Our new working-class heroes are finding their voice. Our digital creatives are innovating new pathways for others to appreciate the next generation. A youthful, cool culture. Nottingham has a personality that’s coming of age.

Most of all, we are sons and daughters of Robin Hood. Regardless of class, we are on the side of the strugglers, wary of the motives of the privileged. Nottingham folk, by nature, have an almost innate duty of artistic protest. It comes so naturally we think nothing of it. From Robin Hood to Jason Williamson we highlight social injustice and often face the oppressors’ wrath for our troubles. Our creations are not manufactured for the man, we are too alternative and important for that. Through our culture we challenge convention, spring radical ideas and change the world. As a European capital of culture we would flower under Europe’s spotlight and inspire an unprecedented future of creativity, one of inclusion, tolerance and justice.

If, in 2023, we become the European Capital of Culture, it will be our people’s hunger for the title that wins over the judges. We want it the most. It’s out chance to finally blow away the last of our modesty, releasing a wave of creativity and radical ideas. Are they ready for us?

Monday, 24 July 2017

Notts Book Clubs

I am in the process of compiling a list of book clubs (or reading groups) based in the county. If you know of any such groups that are missing from the list below please email me via the Contact link (above left) or tweet to @NottsLit 
Nottinghamshire Book Clubs / Reading Groups

Arnold Library Reading Café

Ashfield U3A (Kirkby-in-Ashfield)

Contact Len & Sally Hill via

Barnstone Book Group

Beeston and Chilwell Book Club

Contact: Gillian Mather. W:

Beeston U3A, Readers Rendezvous


Bengali Reading Group (Nottingham)

Bilsthorpe Book Club

Bingham Library Reading Café

Book Kin (Caythorpe)

Books Fizz (Balderton)

Bottesford Book Club

Broadway Book Club

Bulwell Riverside Library, Library Club and Book Group

Bulwell Riverside Library Crime Readers’ Group

Burton Joyce and District U3A

Carlton Library Reading Café

Classic Book Club (Selston)

Cotgrave & District U3A

Charnwood U3A book Group

Children's Reading Group (Newark)

Clifton Library Reading Group

The Coffee Hideout Book Club formally known as Busy Bees (Woodthorpe)

Crime Cafe Reading Group (Eastwood)

Crime Cafe Reading Group (Kirkby-in-Ashfield)

Crime Cafe Reading Group (Selston)

Crime Thriller Reading Group (Balderton)

The Crossing Reading Group (Worksop)

Eastwood Book Club

Contact Janette Martindale. W:

Edwinstowe Library Open Reading Group

Forest Town Library Reading Group (Mansfield)

Gujarati Reading Group (Nottingham)

The Hucknall Library Crime Cafe

James Joyce Reading Group (Nottingham)

Keyworth & District U3A

Kneesall Book Club

Contact Merrinda Lissman via

Lee Rosy’s Book Club (Hockley)

The Listening Chain (Nottingham)

The Lowdham Six

Contact: Manon de Moor. W:

The Malt Cross Book Club

Mansfield Library Crime Reading Cafe

Meadows Reading Group

Misterton Book Club

Nottingham Book Lovers Society

Nottingham Central Library Book Group

Nottingham Central Library Crime Readers’ Group

Nottingham Central Library Readers’ Group

Nottingham Central Library Reading for Mental Health Book Club

Nottingham Central Library Reading for Pleasure

Nottingham Culture & Café Scientifique Book Group

Contact David via

Nottingham Readers

The Nottingham Reading Circle

NWS Book Group

RavensheadU3A  Reading Group

Redford Library Reading Group

Shared Reading Groups (Lenton)

Sherwood Library Pageturners Reading Group

Sherwood U3A (Mansfield Woodhouse)

Snotrur - Old Norse Reading Group (Nottingham)

St Ann's Valley Library Book Group

The Star Inn Bookgroup (Beeston)

Sutton in Ashfield Crime Cafe

Talking Goat Readers' Group at The Peacock

University of Nottingham Students’ Union Book Club

Urdu Reading Group (Nottingham)

The Visually Impaired Reading Group (West Bridgford)

The Visually Impaired Reading Group (Worksop)

The Wellow Book Club

West Bridgford Book Group

West Bridgford Library Reading Café

Wilford Wanderers

Wollaton Library Daytime Reading

Wollaton Library Evening Reading

Saturday, 22 July 2017

A Frog Called Rod

A Frog Called Rod is a new story for Primary school kids. Its creators, known as the Ley Street Bunch, are so-named as they are all users of NottsCC’s social services project at  Netherfield's Ley Street Day Centre. 

The book, telling of a pink frog who makes friends with a multi-coloured elephant, explores differences and tolerance, something its authors, all adults with learning difficulties and physical disabilities, wanted to write about. All the storytellers and illustrators live in the Carlton-Colwick-Netherfield area of Nottingham.

The project came out of a group called Talking Shop, with encouragement and expertise from support assistant Julie Hampson and local author Julie Malone.  

With their debut set for bookshops later this year there is already a second book in the pipeline.


Sunday, 9 July 2017

Beeston Tales

Wednesday 12th July 7:30pm, Beeston Tales: Love in the Shadows by Sally Pomme Clayton
At The White Lion, Beeston

Love in the Shadows is sheer, magical delight and shadowy enchantment. Dark and gothic fairytales for grown-ups accompanied by Sally Pomme’s mesmeric shadow puppet theatre. Stories of  forbidden lovers, lonely lasses and passionate Goddesses are peppered with delicate images from a magical shadow theatre. These are stories of having and not having, of longing and losing, of making mistakes, and living to tell the tale, woven through with fragments of songs and sounds.

A night for all hot hearts – get lost in the dark, meet your shadow, and be entranced.

Tickets £5, £6 on the door, available from The White Lion, or online here

Writing for Performance

Thursday 13th July 5-6pm, Writing for Performance with Panya Banjoko

At West Bridgford Library

The wonderful Panya Banjoko will lead a workshop using the theme of ‘Relationships’ you will craft a piece with a live audience in mind. Participants will also get the chance to perform their work on stage later that evening, during  Panya’s performance in the library with Abii – ‘They, Them the Others and We’ - at 7.30 pm. 

Cost of workshop: £5, Tickets for performance: £6/£4. Click here to book

Poetry Pop

Poetry Pop & Cards Against Humanity Social
July 15 @ 3:00 pm - 9:00 pm
 At Nottingham Writers' Studio
The second on-the-spot competition for NWS members and friends.
Writers will be given a choice of 3 writing prompts and 3 hours to produce a poem (up to 40 lines) which will then be printed and stuck on the wall for the attendees of the social to vote for their favourite. Prizes of wine, chocolates and rosettes, plus a voucher for one summer taster session for first place.
Cards Against Humanity Social, 7pm
By popular demand the social attached to this competition event will be a cards against humanity competition.
Fun and friendly, let’s see which of our writers has the most disturbed sense of humour! We’ll start at 7pm sharp, with a half hour break around 8pm to vote on the poems from the poetry competition. We’ll finish round 9:30pm or later if everyone is agreed they wish to carry on.
Free event, booking advised, please email Holly via

Monday, 3 July 2017

Reading Well - Support for Long Term Conditions

Launch Event: Reading Well - Long Term Conditions

Tuesday 4 July 13:00 to 15:00 Nottingham Central Library
Whether you're a health professional, patient or carer, newly diagnosed or expert patient, come along to our launch event to be one of the first to see this exciting new collection from the Reading Agency, and meet representatives from organisations and services who could support you or your patients/family to live well with their condition.

Official launch with Councillor Nick McDonald, Portfolio Holder for Adults and Health at 1.30pm.
Drop in any time between 1-3pm to see the collection and browse variety of related stalls.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Charlie Higson in Nottingham

Young Bond Author - Charlie Higson to launch ‘Storysmash’ project

Nottingham City Libraries are delighted to welcome Charlie Higson, actor, comedian and author of best-selling Young Bond books, to launch their Storysmash project.  Charlie will deliver an inspiring, interactive masterclass workshop, talk and book signing.
Saturday 24 June, 3pm - 6pm at Nottingham City Library. Tickets available for £12 and can be booked online at or you can visit the ground floor help desk at Nottingham City Library.

Higson's Young Bond series has now sold over a million copies in the UK and has been translated into over 24 different languages. All five novels entered the children’s bestseller charts in the top five.
Find out more at Storysmash.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

The Particle Beast book launch

The Particle Beast by Ian C Douglas is being launched at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio, of which he is a founding member, on Thursday 22nd June at 7:30pm.  Expect a couple of readings, a Q&A, and plenty of chat at this free event with complimentary wine and snacks.

They say the truth can set you free. Yet on Mars the truth can kill. Zeke Hailey is happy at the Chasm School for psychics, but an answer to a secret compels him to choose between his friends and his missing father.
Sneinton’s Ian C Douglas regularly visits local schools and runs creative writing workshops. The Particle Beast is the third book in his YA sci-fi saga. He first became known to me for his excellent book Children's History of Nottinghamshire. When he swapped the caves of Nottingham for the craters of Mars, it seemed a radical, not to say risky, departure. So, what made him move into science fiction?

“History is fascinating, but astronomy was my first love. When I was a little boy, my father took me outside our holiday caravan and traced the constellations in the night sky. As a wartime pilot, he’d needed that knowledge to get across the English Channel safely. From that moment, my imagination was fired up by the idea of distant stars. Today we’re living in a golden age of discovery about Mars and the universe. These advances rekindled my boyhood obsession.”

Ian used these advances in cosmology to create a unique vision of Mars, where colonists battle ancient Martians. “The stories are highly imaginative, but the science is rock solid,” Ian explains. Book Three in the series, entitled The Particle Beast, is launching in June. It is for younger adults, but anyone who loves a fantastical tale with thrills and humour, will enjoy this. One independent reviewer described the series as 'Harry Potter meets Star Wars by way of Grange Hill.'

The hero, Zeke Hailey, is a teenager enrolled at a school for psychics on Mars. In-between telepathy and precognition lessons, he fights a cosmic demon with a taste for the human race. In this new book, Zeke must brave an alien ghost town suspended in a bubble universe. Not only is this home to a terrifying monster, but also a danger that could unravel the fabric of time and space. Can Zeke and his best friends save humanity?

Find out more about Zeke Hailey and his strange, deadly world at

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

G J Martin Guest Post

Guest Post: The author, and former Nottingham teacher, G J Martin, on the launch of his latest novel A Sane Asylum, and being a writer in Nottingham.

My name is Garry John Martin and I am a writer. No matter what else I have done to make a living, writing has underpinned all that I am. For most of the last two and a half decades of my professional life, I was a teacher of English literature. Sixteen of those years were spent at Nottingham High School. I first came to Nottingham twenty-five years ago. I had just returned from a trip to Iraqi Kurdistan, encouraged and tutored in my travels by a colleague from Cranleigh School.

My years at the High School were enriched by the presence of so many talented and rewarding students. In the early days, the Assisted Places scheme ensured a social mix and gave opportunities to so many young men from the area. I myself had won a place at Grammar School in Burton on Trent and one of our hardest rugby fixtures was against the High School. The last match I played in was an honourable draw.

A number of former pupils have become friends, particularly the brilliant writer on nature, Robert Macfarlane. Jonny Sweet, the comic actor, David Ralph, the director and writer for the theatre [I have just seen his latest play at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield], the painter Alex Massouras, the athlete Andy Robinson, and dozens more exciting and enterprising young men made my years as a teacher in Nottingham so memorable.

For the past decade I have been able to write full time. I am a member of Writing East Midlands and with their inestimable help, I have had many books published during this time. One of the stories from the third volume of ‘Beneath Napoleon’s Hat – Tales from the Parisian Cafés’ won a mentoring prize and Anne Zouroudi worked with me for over a year on the ‘The Boy Who Made God Smile’.

I am also a member of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio and have enjoyed their support in all my writing ventures.

Jane Streeter, that intrepid bookseller, launched the last of my Parisian pieces ‘Sylvia Beach and the Melancholy Jesus’ at the Bookcase in Lowdham. We launched ‘Patchwork’ the following year at the Lowdham Festival. There are number of scenes in that novel set in Nottingham, some at the school and one in the Hard to Find Café. ‘The Boy Who Made God Smile’ was launched at Waterstones in Nottingham last year. Dan Donson, the events manager at the shop is hugely supportive of local writers. So too Radio Nottingham, who have been enormously helpful offering opportunities to talk about my work, particularly Alan Clifford. Nottingham is a good place to be a writer.

My latest novel ‘A Sane Asylum’ is based on that journey I made to Iraqi Kurdistan just after the First Gulf War in 1992, reporting back to the BBC World Service. It is a compelling story and an adventure that is both a personal and political journey. Its concerns are current and its revelations urgent. The world that it portrays is viewed at street level in the bustling cities or in the mountains, amongst the people and their private places, as well that of the country’s new leaders and their fledgling Parliament.

This story is mostly true. I was not captured like Joe, but the places, the politicians and the major players are all real. I could still smell the aftermath of war, with a burnt out tank around most corners, every bridge and telephone mast flattened, a whole country reduced to ruin.

We launch the book at Waterstones, Nottingham, on Thursday, June 15th at 6.30 pm. I will be interviewed by Eve Makis, the award winning author, whose novel ‘The Spice Box Letters’ explores the tragic aftermath of the Armenian genocide. Our fictional paths cross in Eastern Turkey.

The event is free as is the wine. It should be a fascinating conversation.


Monday, 5 June 2017

Don't Look Back in Anger

People are reacting with anger to the recent terrorism on our streets. This is understandable, a natural gut-reaction to the horrific events. Phone-ins are busy with people spouting Theresa May’s latest tagline ‘enough is enough’, proposing solutions that include rounding up Muslims and locking them up. This shows how easy it is for perverted, extreme views to arise. For each terrorist that wishes us dead there’s seems to be someone wanting indiscriminate revenge.

It’s easy to shout down these distorted opinions, to call these people racist, but this is the wrong tactic. Don’t Look Back in Anger, the unofficial anthem of the people of Manchester, should be the adopted position. Anger is exactly what the terrorists want to elicit. And who doesn’t feel anger at the recent murders? It’s our anger, when turned towards Muslims, that exasperates the problem and helps create the next jihadi.
There are many calls for the Muslim community to act but it’s up to all of us to act, and that means responding in a way the terrorists hate to see - fighting hatred with love. This is not a natural or easy thing to do but nobody claims the war on terror is easy. I'm not suggesting we love the terrorists, but whenever we feel anger we must use it as a motivation to find reason. When we come across anti-Muslim rhetoric we must meet ignorance with understanding. When we see fear in a young man's eyes, we must meet it with acceptance and love. We are one. Only hate can divide us.

Allow me to a final point. What the terrorists don’t want to see is:
Our dancing policeman, PC Paul Taylor, in a group, having fun. More than business as usual. More united than before.

What the terrorists do want to see is:

A Conservative government. Aside from wiping £600 million off the police budget, cutting tens of thousands of police staff and reducing our number of police stations, Theresa May prefers to hold hands with Donald Trump than with the police. With May on Trump’s lap our involvement in the war on terror will get bloodier, fuelling more anger while our response on home soil will be insufficient to cope with the extra threat. The terrorists want a divided Britain. Enough is indeed enough. Don’t give the terrorists the result they want. Vote the Tories out on June the 8th. Choose love instead.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Bold Strokes Festival

The 8th Annual Bold Strokes Book Festival

Nottingham’s LGBTQ Author Festival!
Saturday 3rd June 11:00 - Sunday 4th June 16:00 at Nottingham
An amazing weekend of LGBTQ Literature from the Authors of Bold Strokes Books, one of the largest LGBT publishers in the world.

Over two days, eleven authors in eight events with after parties nearby in the city, there will be readings, author Q&As, discussion panels and workshops for aspiring or established writers to develop their work and pitch it before our editorial panel!
All of these events are free to attend.

•11:00 WELCOME!
•11:15 - 12:00 WHERE TO START?
◦Authors talk about the inception of a book.
◦I. Beacham, Michelle Grubb, Amy Dunne
◦The tricky bits of talking to each other on the page.
◦Anna Larner, Brey Willows, Crin Claxton
•LUNCH: 1:00 - 2:00
•2:15 - 3:00 DANGER, CONFLICT, UH-OH
◦What makes for a good story? These authors can tell you:
◦Jane Fletcher, Lesley Davis, Rebecca S. Buck
•3:15 - 4:00 WHERE TO END?
◦Happily ever after? Or happy for now?
◦Robyn Nyx, Crin Claxton, Matt Bright
•4:30 - 7:00 AUTHOR-READER AFTER PARTY AT FARADAYS (Just up the street)
•11:00 - 11:20 PITCH SESSIONS
◦(email to sign up)
◦Authors offer tips and thoughts on gettng published.
◦Matt Bright, Lesley Davis, Michelle Grubb
◦Authors discuss their new and upcoming works.
◦Anna Larner, I. Beacham, Robyn Nyx, Brey Willows, Lesley Davis, Michelle Grubb, Jane Fletcher
◦Authors versus audience! Hands on the buzzer...
◦Jane Fletcher, Rebecca S. Buck, Brey Willows, Amy Dunne, Matt Bright, Lesley Davis
•3:00 - 5:00 LAZY LUNCH
◦Provided by The New Foresters * Last chance for signed books! (0.5 mile away)

Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Song of the Stork

Former Notts’ council estate lad Stephan Collishaw is now firmly back in Nottingham after living abroad spending some time in Lithuania. His first novel, The Last Girl, was about an elderly, impoverished poet in Vilnius, and he’s returned to the same part of the world for his latest book, this time set during the early ‘40s. The Nottingham school teacher’s new release is called The Song of the Stork. Here’s the NottsLit review:

The Song of the Stork tells the story of a teenage girl called Yael who’s on the run/hiding from Nazi Germans. After a companion falls to the harsh environment she’s forced to find shelter as winter kicks. She hides in a chicken coop on the grounds of an isolated farm. The coop belongs to a cottage that’s home to Aleksei, an outcast, thought of as an idiot by some on account of him being mute. It’s unclear if his lack of speech is physical or psychological but he soon becomes aware of the fifteen-year-old hiding nearby. Aleksei is, understandably, reluctant to help as harbouring anyone Jewish is punishable by death. He even leaves a Nazi pamphlet in sight of Yael to show her the law and its warning. Despite their fears, Aleksei and Yael grow close, and as their relationship blossoms his kindness and sensitivity become evident. Actions not words maketh the man. And yet, words are hugely important to our mute hero. They may not fall from his lips but the written word is his thing, a pastime he touchingly shares with Yael. The lack of two-way oral conversation may even have its advantages for her. Who better to help hide you than a man of solitary existence who can’t gossip or talk of your whereabouts? No loose lips here.
Yael is our protagonist, the story is told by her, the hope is hers. There’s an innocence to Yael that’s reflected in Collishaw’s accessible, spare prose, a normalcy too; in ways she’s a typical teenager but one put in an extreme position. Her own will to survive is tested and it’s only the drive to hear from her brother Josef that keeps her fighting. This hope is joined by the wish to be reunited with Aleksei as the second half of the book sees them parted. Yael is forced to join a group of partisans in the forest where she continues to come of age. They are fighting a war in which there seems no possible victory as defeating the Nazi threat will only bring conflict with Stalin and the Red Army. The only future seems to be, as the stork flies, the way of Palestine as the prospect of a new state suddenly looks appealing.
There is more action in the second half as the partisans live in the woods but Daniel Craig’s film Defiance this is not. A lack of set pieces however doesn’t slow the page turning. It’s an easy read of a hard history, in part due to the world being seen through Yael’s eyes. When the holocaust is told via a young individual’s experience the living in fear and the horror is telling. The persecution of any individual for no reason other than their religion or race is abhorrent and, incredibly, as relevant today. That it’s 2017 and people are still being killed because of labels attached to them is a strong reason to keep revisiting history. We may not be learning from the warnings of the past but we can’t be allowed to forget them.
The Song of the Stork is full of humanity, hope and smart metaphors. Many of the loose ends and plot threads are ultimately left untied in a way fitting of contemporary literary fiction, and of life itself.