Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Chorlton Book Festival stirs the suburbs

Manchester Literature Festival is apparently not the only book festival in town – our festival blogger Clare Conlon picks her highlights at this month's Chorlton Book Festival...

Less than a week after Guo Yue and Clare Farrow wrapped up the Manchester Literature Festival with their magical Children’s Bookshow bookend, the city isn’t ready to close its dustcovers just yet. Even The Guardian has picked up on the bookish buzz of the place with an article about Manchester’s Literary Renaissance by Manchester University lecturer and MLF trustee Jerome de Groot, which the city’s literati and Twitterati have been proudly disseminating (see The Manchizzle and The Art of Fiction blogs for starters). In it, Manchester is described as ‘one of Europe’s most creative and dynamic cities’, so it’s no surprise that even the sleepy suburbs are a hotbed of talent.

Yesterday, down in the south of the city, the fifth annual Chorlton Book Festival got off to a flying start with the local launch of Too Many Magpies, the new novel by Didsbury-based author Elizabeth Baines. When she’s not a prizewinning prose fiction and script writer, Baines likes to tread the boards, so she had her 20-strong audience hooked as she treated them to two excerpts from the haunting story set in an imperfect future heavily influenced by the local area. An acclaimed short story writer, she also read from one of her more light-hearted pieces – the tale of a writer getting a script mentored, it was well received by those gathered (many of whom were writers themselves) in the relaxing environs of Chorlton’s Lounge bar.

Baines’s fellow Salt author Robert Graham will be appearing at the Festival later in the week, reading from his latest collection of short stories, The Only Living Boy, in the cosy Lloyds Hotel. Heartwarming and quirky, Graham’s work draws inspiration from the people and places of Manchester, and one of the anthology’s stories, Fruit Or Vegetable, revisits the principal characters of his novel Holy Joe, which is largely set in Chorlton, where he lives. Graham also teaches at MMU Cheshire and is the author of a number of creative writing guides, including How To Write Fiction (And Think About It), and his workshops and readings are always well attended.

Not surprisingly, the lovely old Chorlton Library building is playing a big part in the festival, hosting a number of events over the 13 days (click here for the full programme). It will provide the backdrop next Tuesday as Manchester-based crime writer Bill Rogers reads from his thriller The Cleansing, which follows a killer clown who is haunting the city’s streets. Rogers may also have a few real-life local horror stories to reveal – having worked as a schools inspector in the Chorlton area, who knows what tales he has to tell!

As well as novelists, short story writers, poets, playwrights, historians and non-fiction authors, Chorlton Book Festival will this year include bloggers, so even the most modern forms of writing are explored. Didsbury-based writer and blogger Adrian Slatcher works for the Manchester Digital Development Agency, advising arts organisations on how best to use social media to improve their online presence. As part of the festival, he will be presenting a workshop on social media for writers, showing how the web can be exploited for writing, marketing and publishing purposes.

Also bringing the festival bang up to date is a poetry slam, compered by street poet and MLF's own Call Busker Mike Garry, whose latest work includes Mancunian Meander and features the unforgettable verse: Gorton girls / Know all the words / To songs by Chaka Khan. The best performance will win £50 and the contest (one of a number of events aimed at young people) is open to anyone aged 13 to 19.

Clare Conlon is a freelance writer, editor and press officer. Her blog, Words & Fixtures, won Best New Blog in the 2009 Manchester Blog Awards.

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