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Exploring Technology, Spoken Word and Writing our Roots at WEM’s The Writers’ Conference

8 March 18 words: Bridie Squires

Last week, Nottingham’s literati gathered on a snowy Saturday to do some listening, learning and creating at The Writers’ Conference, all hosted by Writing East Midlands. We got down to check out some of the talks and workshops…

image: Writing East Midlands

It’s often said that writing is a solo endeavour, and while true for the most part, Writing East Midlands’ latest conference was a shining display of the vibrant community of scribblers working together in our local area and beyond. With people visiting from all over the UK, the day married up forms and ideas with a programme to challenge, stimulate and inspire attendees.

Naturally, the weather last week presented a few issues and so the morning’s keynote speaker Pat Barker was unable to make it. However author Richard House stepped in to deliver an intriguing and inspiring talk on combining digital technologies with the written word. Richard’s 2013 novel The Kills is a novel that looks at the war in Iraq and embeds short films about its characters within, and novel-in-progress Murmur uses podcasts to further deepen plot.

The conference programme was wide and varied, with many panel discussions, talks and workshops to choose from: Demystifying the Publishing Process, Writing Novellas, Writing for Theatre, and Working with an Agent just a small sample of some of the activity titles on the bill.

For the first session of the day, I dipped into a panel discussion on Writing our Roots featuring local authors Eve Makis, Anthony Cropper and Graham Caveney, and local poet Panya Banjoko. The discussion kicked off with Eve and Anthony talking about The Accidental Memoir, a project the duo worked on together to encourage life writing by providing writing prompts, aimed at people who ordinarily might not be engaged with literature.

As Eve described the experience of her father – a closed, working-class man – getting stuck in to the prompts and providing insights into his once lost memories, the benefits of the book spoke for themselves. If you fancy trying a prompt, give this one a go…

Write down a memory of one of the first journeys you took

Following a reading from Graham Caveney’s The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness and discussion around his experiences of a sometimes educationally regressive working class community growing up, Panya Banjoko delivered her hypnotic poetry to the room, including a piece that harks to the Caribbean tradition of storytelling while exploring what her family’s geographical legacy means to her, including the challenges and questions that come with it. Enthusiastically chaired by Sarah Jackson, many subjects under the “roots” umbrella were covered and insightfully explored.

After a short break, it was time for Spoken Word: Exploring the Possibilities, a panel discussion with Speech Therapy organiser and facilitator of Do or Die Poets Miggy Angel, Apples and Snakes producer and poet Aliyah Hasinah, and poet and artistic director Dean Atta, with local poet and workshop facilitator Chris McLoughlin chairing the conversation.

Miggy Angel kicked things off by talking about writing as a method of transformation, and a tool for self-actualisation and recovery. “I needed art. It was a life buoy in dangerous waters,” he honestly remembered while highlighting the important work Do or Die Poets do for people in recovery in Nottingham.

As a black, gay poet, Dean Atta took the conversation down the road of what it means to be put in a box as a writer: he explained that it has sometimes felt restrictive but at the same time has granted access and given him the chance to subvert expectations. Aliyah Hasinah talked about changing the infrastructure in literary organisations for the better; highlighting the need to be more inclusive, as well as stretching art forms in literature by paying close attention to how other modes of expression operate.

There was extensive talk surrounding “imposter syndrome” as performance poets at more formal events, and feeling validated as an artist, with some great advice for upcoming poets in the Midlands, namely: get out of the city and explore the UK circuit, find communities and collectives for confidence and support, and don’t be afraid to reach out to people you admire; with Dean relaying tales of approaching Benjamin Zephaniah with CDs of his work only to now have a quote from the master himself emblazoned on the front of his debut collection.

Following a lunch filled with inspiring conversations around the room, it was time for some workshop action with Hello Words’ (The National Videogame Arcade’s writing group) Lynda Clarke talking us through the concept of interactive writing, or “choose your own adventure” stories. After an example demonstration, we were invited to have a go ourselves and given a look in to some of the free interactive-writing software available – like Twine and Inkle – and share some of our creations with the group. I left the room feeling inspired to continue my story and have a play with the technology; it feels like the possibilities are endless and some of the techniques adopted in the process are useful in creating straight-up fiction too.

The final discussion of the day for me was Charting Your Path: How a Mentor Can Guide You: a panel discussion with Rich Goodson and Cathy Grindrod, both lecturers at NTU who’ve had experience mentoring writers. Cathy, who has extensive experience in mentorship, says “at the end of the process, you should be able to mentor yourself” as she highlighted her organisation Writer Highway which helps link up writers with mentors in literature.

The discussion gave a great insight into what to expect and not expect from a mentor, and explored the differences between an editor, a mentor, and a counsellor, with crossovers in all areas but with some clear distinctions.

To round off the day, we had an explorative and inspiring talk from our wonderful second keynote speaker Malika Booker, and a wicked poem from our Young Poet Laureate Georgina Wilding. A fine finish to the day.

In all, the day included some hugely valuable lessons, and I left feeling incredibly motivated not only to get some words scribbled down, but to have a roll around in the existing local literary community, and to explore and link up with more further-afield wordsmiths. Can’t wait for the next event.

WEM’s The Writers’ Conference took place in the Newton Building, Nottingham Trent University, on Saturday 3 March 2018

Writing East Midlands website

 

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