You’ve got to admire the verve of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio. I mean, who else would dare serve up another healthy portion of arts and culture with Lowdham and the ScreenLit festival still prevalent in the mind? And if that wasn’t enough competition, Southwell Poetry Festival kicked off two days later with no less than Carol Ann Duffy headlining. Talk about a meaty filling wedged between slabs of literary bread. But the Nottingham Writers’ Studio had rightly anticipated that the city has an insatiable thirst for the spoken word, so if you see cravat wearing youths puking up into the gutter, don’t be scared, they are your local literati hedonists, happily overdosing on words.
The curator for this Word of Mouth event was Michael Eaton, an award winning screenwriter who was awarded the M.B.E for Services to Film in the 1999 New Year’s Honours List. He was the perfect host, who had the audience in stitches with his obligatory pop at ‘literature’, and then in respectful silence when giving a context to each performer. For those out there who have not witnessed Eaton’s witty diatribe, he takes exception to the pomposity of the term literature, as it demeans other variations of the written word. He is of course perfectly correct and so joked ‘what would I know? I only write scripts for Heartbeat’, which though true, is of course one of the more populist strings to an incredibly envious bow. Having witnessed this attack now on more than one occasion, I think he does it best when dressed in his immaculate cream suit and hat, like a resplendent Al Capone with a rat-a-tat tongue for a gun.
The event was themed around ‘occasional writing’ and so was the perfect opportunity for writers such as Niki Monaghan, Jon McGregor and David Belbin to share lesser known work in smaller publications. For example, Niki Monaghan read an excellent short story about a maths teacher which appeared in a recent anthology produced by her students from The National Academy of Writing and so is perhaps something which many of us would not have had the pleasure of encountering otherwise. David Belbin offered an intriguing insight into the writing process when he confessed that one tight deadline was met by opening up a newspaper and selecting an article for inspiration. This is a useful device that other aspiring writers could adopt, though as the head of the MA Creative Writing programme at NTU and with over thirty books under his belt, it is perhaps easier said than done. Belbin has not kept the copyright for the story, thereby leaving it open for others to publish. I found this a really interesting and alternative approach to writing, particularly given that plagiarism and copyright are the number one fears of writers since the birth of the internet. Unfortunately Jon McGregor was unable to read his beautiful commissioned father’s story for Granta as he had an eye infection, (not swine flu before you start...) but was good enough to draft an introduction to his piece which was read by Gary Keane from the Royal Company.
What I really liked about this event and I guess what makes it different to others, was the variety of subjects covered. I left feeling somewhat enlightened as I pondered Mike Wilson’s ‘sestina’, an ancient form of poetry which relies on repeated patterns of the same six words, rather than rhythm. I wondered what Sydney Race, the delightful Edwardian reviewer would have said about the forthcoming beach in Market Square, having heard Ann Featherstone read from his diaries. Then I began to laugh at the tales of Robert Mitchum as depicted by Michael Eaton and realised that ‘celebrity’ is such a diluted term nowadays that it’s almost devoid of all meaning. Here was a man who talked the talk and walked the walk, rather than smiled cutely when prompted by his PR manager.
Other contributors included John Lucas who has written so much that I don’t really know how to introduce him other than state if there is an MBE awarded for services to literature (sorry Michael) he will surely be first down on the honours list. His topic Taverna and Pub was taken from his travel book 92 Acharnon Street, drinking being a theme that unites all wordsmiths. James Urquart - who has been instrumental in getting top quality writers as guest speakers at Broadway thanks to the interviews he has conducted with the Financial Times and Independent newspaper, read Lobster Lunch with Kazuo Ishiguro. This may explain why he decided to wear pink trousers. Goodness knows what he would have worn if the talk had been Pie and Chips with Bukowski. Aesthetics aside it was journalism of the highest calibre, a lesson in how to blend fact and quote and most importantly, letting the interviewee speak. (You listening Brand and Ross)
Finally, and by no means least, was Aly Stoneman and Milk. Aly is the NWS coordinator and proved that she is more than excel spreadsheets and vital statistics when she performed her poetry to an acoustic backdrop from Milk (No not the gay political activist, not even the NWS can bring people back from the grave. He’s called Milk because the last time he holidayed was when his mam dragged him on the train to Chapel St Leonards). What this illustrated was the NWS’s commitment to giving up-and-coming members of their organisation a chance and is the reason that other writers in the region should join up. Word of Mouth on the street is if you do join, make sure you don’t mention the ‘L’ word when Michael’s around...