Thursday, October 30, 2008

November Blog Workshops

Manchester Literature Festival is pleased to present a series of blogging workshops in partnership with Manchester Digital Development Agency and Manchester Libraries. The workshops are led by Kate Feld, director of the Manchester Blog Awards and writer of The Manchizzle blog, and Chris Horkan, a web designer and journalist who writes the Mancubist blog.

Saturday 8 November, 1- 3pm
Manchester Digital Development Agency, 117 -119 Portland Street, Manchester M1 6ED
Stuck on posting images in Blogger? Need someone to walk you through switching platforms? Want to pimp your blog up with all the latest cool widgets, or just get some feedback on your new site? Two experienced bloggers will be on hand to help solve your practical blogging problems in these open “surgery” sessions. Some computers available, or bring your own and use our wireless. (Drop in whenever you like during the session, but please let us know you’re coming.) Check for more details.


Saturday 22 November, 10-12am
Gorton Library, Garratt Way, Gorton, Manchester M18 8HE

Saturday 29 November 10-12am
Crumpsall Library, Abraham Moss Centre, Crescent Road, Crumpsall, Manchester M8 5UF

So you think you’d like to create a blog, but you’re not really sure where to start? In this workshop we’ll take you through the basics, and by the end of it you’ll have your own blog.

All sessions are free, but numbers are limited so please book in advance. To book a place on one of the Workshops or the Blog Lab please ring the Manchester Literature Festival office on 0161 236 5555 or email (Please let us know when booking if you have any accessibility needs.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

CSI Manchester

Museum of Science and Industry, 26 October 2008

We knew it wasn't an ordinary seminar as soon as we walked in the room. A crime scene body outline lay in the middle of the floor, along with yellow police tape. A quick glance round at the finger print pads, hand held microscopes and soil samples confirmed this.

Aimed at budding crime writers, CSI Manchester was about the scientific methods behind collecting and analysing evidence at crime scenes. The workshop was led by Micro Biologist Dr Rachel Crossley. And you can forget the white coat and spectacles stereotype. Think more of British Melina Kanakaredes (CSI New York). Dr Crossley is a Science and Engineering Ambassador for STEMNET, an organisation which aims to encourage more young people in the UK to go into science, technology, engineering and maths. The workshop we were about to take part in was originally designed for school children.

The event began with a quick presentation covering the basic analysis of fibres, soil, DNA, handwriting, fingerprints and footprints. Perhaps the most interesting part was learning about how DNA is analysed. There's more to this than some crime programmes would have us believe.

After the presentation it was our turn. We were invited to walk around the room and analyse some of the evidence from our crime scene. Hand-held microscopes were used to identify and compare hair and fibres. We compared handwriting samples, searching for similarities in the strokes and we looked at fingerprints and footprints. Of course, we also had a go at taking our own fingerprints. Well, why not? We placed fingers and thumbs carefully on the chemical paper and dabbed them gently onto reactive card and watched, fascinated, as the prints appeared.

It was a fun event and a useful starting point for anyone considering writing about crime. It covered the basics which as Dr Crossley explained, are used everyday in the field. Anyone seriously considering writing about crime would have to go into significantly more detail than this. But it was a useful starting point to whet your appetite.

Further Reading: Crime Science: Methods of Forensic Detection, Joe Nickell and John F Fischer, The University Press of Kentucky (28 Feb 1999)


Jenny Hudson also blogs at and

The Behaviour of Moths

Manchester Museum Café, 25 October 2008

Science, nature / nurture, obsession and misplaced perceptions were some of the themes discussed at last night’s event. It was a cold and rainy autumnal evening and we gathered in Manchester Museum’s café with mugs of tea and cake to hear Poppy Adams read from her first novel, ‘The Behaviour of Moths’. She was joined by Phil Rispin who is one of the museum’s entomologists and Jane Mathieson, from Time to Read.

For anyone who hasn’t read it, the novel is narrated by 70 year old Ginny who lives in a dilapidated mansion, her ancestral home, in Dorset. Ginny is a recluse and has lived in the house all her life. She is also a lepidopterist – a moth expert. The novel spans the weekend when Ginny’s estranged sister Vivi comes to stay after an absence of 47 years. It is set both in the present and in the 40s and 50s of Ginny's childhood.

After reading an extract from the book, Poppy described herself as a ‘scientist at heart’ and admitted to feeling like ‘a bit of an impostor’ in literary circles. However, I think it is this precisely this scientific perspective which adds a richness to the book and particularly to the character of Ginny.

When Jane suggested that at times the novel is quite dark and sinister, Poppy told us that this had been the view of a number of her readers. However, it wasn't something that had occurred to her as she was writing it. Her focus had been on Ginny and during the writing process it was as though she had entered Ginny's head. The plot had been secondary.

Unsurprisingly, one of the questions Poppy is often asked is why, being a scientist, she decided to write a novel. It is a question she struggles to answer but puts it down to being a visual thinker and a daydreamer. She talked further about the crafting of the prose and getting the rhythm of the sentences just right.

And what about the moths? The moths feature in the novel because both Ginny and her father are moth experts and become obsessed with them. Moths become woven into story and are used in numerous metaphors, particularly in relation to Ginny. Scientists believe that moths have no awareness of themselves and have no reason or free will. The similarities between the moths and the character of Ginny become evident towards the end of the novel as she struggles to come to terms with her own misplaced perceptions of her life.

Phil Rispin provided the ‘science bit’ and an interesting insight into the vast number of species in the UK. He also brought with him a number of specimens which we looked at once the discussion was over. Each moth had been carefully labelled with page references from the book.

Poppy Adams is currently working on her second novel. She was very guarded about the content and admitted to being superstitious about revealing too much. But from what we could glean, the novel will be set in the present day in London. Surprisingly, science will not be playing a big part.

To read more about Poppy Adams, read Katie Popperwell’s interview at

‘The Behaviour of Moths’ by Poppy Adams is published by Virago Press and is in the shops now.


Jenny Hudson also blogs at and

Friday, October 24, 2008

Comma Film Premiere, Freeplay, 23 October, Cornerhouse

Premiere of films adapted from short stories

Vampire-hoodies, tragic heroines, investment bankers, a Bulgarian composer and animated beans were amongst the cocktail of images featured in short films shown at the Cornerhouse last night. The poems and films, which inspire the images, largely come from work published by North West based Comma Press, which has printed over 450 shorts stories in the last few years.

Comma’s previous Spoken Image events have focused exclusively on poetry and the evening starts with a ‘best of’ poetry films compilation. All the films deserve repeated viewing but Sarah Eyre and James Fisher's film of David Constantine's lament 'Streets'’ stands out in my memory. The camera scans along a parade of metal-shuttered doors and windows. However, the images compliment rather than simply copy the poem, with details such as a dismembered plastic doll taking on a particular resonance. Elsewhere, I was pleased to be reminded of the spoons with faces and other suitably quirky figures, which Sharon Keighley employed to give pictures to the witty poems of Gaia Holmes.

Film and poetry are well-matched companions in the sense that both are seeking the perfectly distilled image, so it was interesting to see how short stories would respond to the cinematic treatment. Lisa Risbec's 'Violins and Pianos are Horses' is based on a story by CD Rose. The haunting music, by Yitzak, is well suited to this tale of a composer returning to the Bulgarian town of his childhood. Techniques such as using cut-out photos, which could seem tacky, actually illustrate perfectly the theme of inescapable memory.

Kate Jessop's 'The Loss', from a story by David Constantine, is a particularly timely piece. The visual busyness of the frame-by-frame animation is cleverly juxtaposed with this tale of an investment banker suffering a crisis of identity to the extent that he doubts if he is still a real person. Fergus Evans narration of this story never misses a beat.

Neither 'The Dogs' nor 'Tell Me' use animation but, instead, move towards film noir territory. Caleb’s Shaffer’s version of 'The Dogs', from a two-page short story by Hanif Kureishi, grabs the viewer's attention with its climax of a mother and son being set upon by vampire-hoodies who stalk the urban night. I found the technique of intercutting a police interview with flashbacks of domestic abuse both powerful and suitably disorientating in Gwen Osmond’s realisation of Zoe Sharp's edgy tale of a tragic heroine – 'Tell Me'

The question and answer session covers issues such as copyright, funding, filming at night and both technical solutions and problems. With open-minded audiences and cinemas and financial backing, the story of at least some of these short films, and all of the filmmakers, won’t end on an enjoyable October night in Manchester.


David Keyworth's poetry has been published by Smiths Knoll, Other Poetry, Rain Dog and other magazines. He is part of the POETICA group, which meets fortnightly at Manchester Central Library.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Train of Ice & Fire , Ramón Chao, Insituto Cervantes 22 October

One of the joys of a literature festival is being introduced to authors and worlds which you’ve never encountered before. The elegant surroundings of Spanish language and cultural centre, Insituto Cervantes, was the setting for Ramón Chao’s interview and tale of endurance. ‘Train of Ice & Fire’ recounts Ramón’s journey with his son Manu’s musical group, Mano Negra, as they play free concerts – sponsored by the French Embassy – across Colombia.

Ramón, a broadcaster of 40 years, is a natural storyteller and has us enthralled with his tales of the 15km an hour Colombian railway; encounters with guerrillas; the public mourning for a drugs baron and the experience of tropical diarrhoea on a train full of 99 people but not one toilet. Most endearingly, he describes dressing in a suffocating bear costume, to do his bit for the show. Ramón also develops a taste for tattoos, which causes his son to adopt Fatherly despair.

Family is a central theme of the evening. Ramón’s initial reason for joining the tour is an anxiety about his sons’ safety. It is family, however, which is also one cause of the disintegration of Mano Negra, when the demands of home-life become too strong.

The audience includes a healthy contingent of young people and is a mix of Spanish speakers and those, like myself, who don’t speak a word of the language. The United Nations style headphones are abandoned as a solution for this when, at Ramón’s suggestion, the translator joins him on the podium. Questions from the audience explore further the Father-son relationship. They also bring out Ramón’s concerns about press freedom, especially in the context of the power of multi-nationals. Most controversially, he speaks about the freeing of hostage Ingrid Betancourt, from Colombian revolutionary group FARC, in terms of a publicity stunt for French President Sarkozy. He also refers to Ingrid Betancourt as a self-proclaimed heroine figure. Given Ramon’s obvious humanity, this attitude is slightly surprising and it required further exploration. However, all good things must come to an end and Ramón clearly has more journeys ahead and more audiences to charm.

The Train of Ice & Fire is published by Route Publishing


David Keyworth’s poetry has been published by Smiths Knoll, Other Poetry, Rain Dog and other magazines. He is part of the POETICA group, which meets fortnightly at Manchester Central Library.

Manchester Blog Awards - The Results

Last night Manchester's bloggers turned off their monitors and ventured out to celebrate the third Manchester Blog Awards. This prestigious event has become a fixture on the literary calendar, with a number of past winners going onto receive book deals and write for national newspapers. Two such blog stars were in our midst last night and read extracts from their soon-to-be-published books. Maria Roberts, last year's personal blog winner for Single Mother on the Verge read from her forthcoming book which will be published by Penguin next year and Chris Killen, who won last year's best writing award for Day of Moustaches, read from his book 'The Bird Room'(Canongate) which will be published in January 2009.

In addition to the previous winners, a number of nominated bloggers read from their blogs. The line up included Sally Cook (Nine Chains to the Moon), Socrates Adams-Florou (Chicken and Pies), Jenn Ashworth (Every day I lie a Little) and Maureen Ward for Miss EP Niblock (Diary of a Bluestocking).

And there was music from bloggers Black Country Grammar and Yer Mam.

The awards were announced by the Manchester Blog Awards organiser, writer and queen blogger Kate Feld.

Best New Blog
Follow the Yellow Brick Road

Best Writing on a Blog
Every Day I Lie a Little

Best Arts and Culture Blog

Best Personal Blog
Travels with my Baby

Best City or Neighbourhood blog
Manchester Buses Manchester Blog of the Year
Travels with my Baby

After the awards were announced Chris Killen read from his forthcoming book and answered questions from Kate and from the floor. He talked about his own blog, how he separates blogging and writing for his book and how blogging had helped with his writing career and expanded his reading material.

It was a good night. The atmosphere was informal and laid back with groups of people sat around tables with bottles of wine and pints. There was lots of time to chat and meet other bloggers and the venue lended an intimate vibe to the proceedings.

For more views and what the judges said, check out The Manchizzle.


Jenny Hudson also blogs at and

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Stories from the Middle East

Lord Mayor's Parlour, Manchester Town Hall, 21 October 2008

Comma Press encourages and promotes new writing in poetry and prose, with an emphasis on short stories. Their latest book is 'Madinah', a collection of short stories from ten cities in the Middle East.

In her introduction to 'Madinah', editor Joumana Haddad writes about the difficulty in choosing just ten writers and ten stories. 'I tried to combine my desire to introduce new talented voices, with the importance of including firmly established writers . . . I also favoured cities that are not much talked about - like Dubai, Latakia, Alexandria and Akka - alongside others that have forever enjoyed a high profile . . . ' She also writes about how Western publishers often choose to translate 'notorious names or works that have been censored in their own country' but asks 'what about the excellent, yet uncensored, 'non sensationalist' works?'

The event, which takes place in the grand setting of the Lord Mayor's Parlour, begins with an introduction from Comma Press. The speaker talks about the themes of exile and political infringement which run throughout the book. He talks of the blogger who faces the electric chair for criticising the Saudi government and of the writers (some are present at the event) who have been refused publication in their own countries.

Then it is the turn of the writers and translators. Alice Guthrie speaks first. She reads an extract from 'The Passport' by Ala Hlehel, which is set in Akka and is a story about a man's frantic attempts to sort out his expired passport.

Next Joumana Haddad reads from her own work, 'Living it Up (and Down) in Beirut'. This is an interesting and slightly humorous piece and is read in two voices.

And lastly it is the turn of Yousef Al-Mohaimeed who reads from his 'There's no Room for a Lover in this City'. Interestingly he reads in Arabic and non-Arabic speakers read from the translation on the projector screen.

After the readings there is a short question and answer session. The first question is for Yousef and asks how he exists as a writer and manages to perceive his audience when his works are not published in his own country. Yousef talks about the difficulties in getting a book published in Saudi Arabia and explains that all books are censored for content that is considered to be taboo. Instead writers often look to Lebanon or Egypt for publication.

Joumana picks up the theme of censorship and explains that for her it is her own 'personal censor' that she struggles with. This internal censor she attributes to her own upbringing but suggests that it is something that many writers have to grapple with.

It is a relatively short event, lasting for about an hour but it gives an interesting insight, not just to the book but to a whole new window of writing.

'Madinah: City Stories from the Middle East', ed. Joumana Haddad, (Comma Press, 2008) is available to buy now.

Between the Panels

Whitworth Art Gallery, Sunday 19th October

The audience for Between the Panels may have been small, but I recognised some faces from Vvoorp Vvoorp! the day before. People that read comics are a faithful and dedicated bunch.

Situated in the lecture theatre of the Whitworth Art Gallery, Between the Panels brought together both a relative newcomer, Hannah Berry, and the more established figures of Paul Grist and Bryan Talbot. Overseeing the whole event was Paul Gravett, who sadly turned up a little late, thanks to the foibles of the British rail network. However, upon his arrival he instantly and animatedly took over the panel and directed the discussion down interesting paths.

Before Paul Gravett’s arrival the authors introduced themselves and their work; Bryan Talbot gave the audience a welcome sneak peek at his upcoming anthropomorphic detective novel, Grandville. Continuing with the detective theme, Hannah Berry gave us insight into her working habits, showing us photographs of pages of her novel, Britten & Brulightly, as they developed. Paul Grist also talked about the early days of his hard-boiled police series, Kane.

The conversation moved through the current state of the graphic novel form, starting from how remarkably unknown The DFC is, a weekly children's comic, available only by subscription. Hannah gave context to this by mentioning the maligned state of comics in her studies at the Illustration course in Brighton, mentioning how starting her novel was almost an act of rebellion. Unlike Hannah, both Paul Grist and Bryan Talbot have their roots in self published and underground comics. Paul Gravett pointed out the significance of a young, female author/illustrator got a first graphic novel picked up by a major publisher.

Towards the end of the hour the authors talked about their various influences, such Hannah Berry affection for European comics, such as Blacksad. Bryan Talbot unusually identified David Bowie and the Beatles as his greatest influence for the way they constantly reinvented themselves.

The hour ended too soon, with Bryan Talbot hurrying off, but the event continued with a book signing and informal question and answer session in the foyer of the Whitworth Art Gallery.

Hannah Berry’s first graphic novel, Britten & Brulightly, is published by Johnathan Cape. Paul Grist’s Kane and Jack Staff comics are collected into trade paperbacks by Image Comics. Bryan Talbots seminal Tale of One Bad Rat has recently been republished in Britain. If that wasn’t enough, this month marks the 30th anniversary of the beginning of his significant and critically acclaimed series The Adventures of Luther Arkwright. Paul Gravett, as well as being the director of the Comica Festival, is the author of several non-fiction books on the topic of comics and sequential art.


Ella Wredenfors is an Art History graduae, a Captain Beefheart aficionado and fizzy water connoisseur. She writes an arts, culture, and comics blog @

Comma Press Reading: Sean O'Brien and Jane Rogers

Two world exclusives; a writer who argues that the short story is a machine and every word a working part; a poet forced to rebuild his home to house his ceiling-sagging collection of books; and a comedy mobile phone ringtone: these were the ingredients for the Comma Press reading at the Midland Hotel last night.

The exclusives came courtesy of two new books (The Silence Room and the as-yet-unpublished The New Uncanny), the comedy ringtone via Ra Page's mobile (which interrupted his own welcome speech – as he said at the time, 'you couldn't make it up'). And the readings were expertly delivered by award-winning poet Sean O'Brien and the novelist, Jane Rogers.

First up was Rogers' beautifully crafted tale of a mother forced to leave her baby at home while she attends a conference on the other side of the world. Rogers is a master of description – we hear of a crying baby that was 'red hot with distress' - but also adroitly fuses emotional angst and black humour. The protagonist of the tale, for example, is a woman who somehow manages to get trapped in an airport foot massaging machine. Surrounded by 'helpful' travellers who in turn suggest that she a) pulls the plug and b) pulls her feet out, both of which she's already tried, the woman's thoughts turn to her bullying ex. 'Didn't it take a victim to make a bully?' she asks, neatly summing up what so many women are sadly so good at: blaming themselves for the actions of others.

Next came a reading by the acclaimed poet Sean O'Brien, whose short story collection, The Silence Room, was launched by Comma last night. 'The collection has every kind of writing – every good kind of writing – you can imagine,' said Comma's Ra Page as he introduced the writer, 'but the thread that runs through it is the Lit & Phil library in Newcastle.' O'Brien's gothic story centred on the fate of two quarrelling poets who mysteriously disappear while working inside a locked room in the library's basement. Like Rogers, O'Brien liberally douses his piece with humour (such as a stiff-upper-lip poet who reckons, 'he may have been a poet but he didn't like to let things run away with him'), all the while weaving a tale that is as chilling as it is entertaining.

According to Ra Page, it's down to Comma Press that O'Brien was first persuaded to try his hand at short fiction – if that's the case, lovers of the genre should give thanks to Comma (and maybe head to its online shop to get their hands on a hot-off-the-press copy of The Silence Room).

Sean O'Brien and Jane Rogers read at the Midland Hotel on Monday 20 October at 8pm.


Susie Stubbs is a writer and editor based in Manchester. Her blog,, has just been nominated for a Manchester Blog Award.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Face 2 Face with Russell T Davies

Russell T Davies
Yesterday evening students, professionals and aspiring writers piled into Screen 1 of the Corner House to hear from award winning screen writer Russell T Davies. The event kicked off with a brief intro from Kate Rowland, Creative Director for New Writing at the BBC. She drew our attention to the wealth of information currently available on the BBC writersroom website. Then the house lights dimmed and we watched a 4 minute film of some of Russell’s writing achievements over the last few years. His multi-award winning work includes 'Doctor Who', 'Torchwood', 'The Sarah Jane Adventures', 'Casanova', 'The Second Coming', 'Queer as Folk', 'Bob and Rose' and 'Children’s Ward'.

The house lights came up again, Russell waved a cheery hello to the audience and Kate Rowland began the interview. Rather than a structured question and answer session, a discussion with lots of banter and laughs ensued. Russell was clearly at home and the audience took to him straight away.

He talked about his early career in television and of working in children’s television with Paul Abbott and Kay Mellor, who he refers to as ‘The Queen’. He chatted about some of technicalities of screen writing, of working in TV and how he got his first lucky break. When asked what inspires him, he answered that his interest lies in real life. He likes the banter and the everyday situations of soap operas and TV. He also admitted to preferring a night in front of the television rather than at the theatre.

Next it was the turn of the audience and there was no shortage of questions. Russell wasn’t fazed by any of them and answered honestly and with humour. When someone mentioned that ‘Queer as Folk’ was the seventh most complained about show in British History, his answer was, “Hurrah.” When probed further about ‘Queer as Folk’ and asked whether when writing it he felt a responsibility to the gay community, he answered that his responsibility was to himself as a writer. He went onto explain that a writer should be seen as writing, rather than leading.

A woman from the audience posed a question from her son and asked, “How do you feel when you write?” Russell replied, “Miserable.” He went onto say that it was extremely hard work and that it gets harder as you go on but at the end of the process he feels exhilarated.

The questions went on and eventually we ran out of time. It struck me that if you’re a writer in Manchester, things have never been better. We have the Manchester Literature Festival, of course, which provides a unique forum to interact with writers like Russell and people in the industry, we have the
Blog Awards (on Wednesday), the Manchester Poetry / Fiction Prize and new initiatives starting all the time, such as Rainy City Stories. In fact, we’ve never had it so good. Before the end of the event a student, I think, asked Russell what advice he would give to aspiring screen writers. He replied, “Go and write. Stop moaning. Stop it. Shut up. Work.”


‘Doctor Who: The Writer's Tale’ by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook is on sale now.

Jenny Hudson also blogs at and

Monday, October 20, 2008

Vvoorp Vvoorp!

Vvoorp Vvoorp! Comic Book Adventures in Time and Space | Saturday 18th October 2008 | Lass O’ Gowrie Pub

Frankly, I feel as though I am still recovering from this event. The day was utterly jam packed, bursting at the seams, full of stuff to keep the fanboys ( and indeed fangirls ) happy. I tried to write a full chronological rendition of what happened, but it turned into a not very good epic poem. Needless to say it was a day-long-Doctor-Who-in-comic-form extravaganza, conveniently located in one of the best pubs in Manchester.

Panels started at 9.30 in order to fit everything in before the football started. We meandered from the backup scripts in Doctor Who Magazine, or DWM by those in the know, with the inimitable pie-consuming Dez Skinn and Ade Salmon, who currently has pages of his work on a Cybermen comic for DWN on the walls of the snug.

Dez Skinn outside the Lass O' Gowrie

From there we twisted through the highs, challenges and pitfalls of creating comics and animations based around the popular TV series, eventually ending with the unforgettable comedy duo that is Gary Russell and Tony Lee. They were discussing the latest forays of the Doctor in US-only comics, during which Tony Lee managed to reveal, despite Gary Russell instantaneous retraction, some exciting news about the future of the series. Gary Russell also tried to hypnotise the audience into buying the trade paperback of Agent Provocateur despite its only being officially available in the US and Canada.

Tony Lee giving away secrets while Gary glares at him to be quiet.

However, he highlight for me was the panel with Ian Edginton and D’Israeli, discussing their work on an original comic for Torchwood Magazine. D’Israeli gave some insight into his working habits, demonstrating how he developed his images from drafts to finished product.

Ian Edginton and D'Israeli

Latest Torchwood Comic by Ian Edginton and D'Israeli on the big screen

From quite early on it was clear that the day was going to run over, despite being planned with military like precision. The Doctor Who comics scene seems pretty close knit, and while the staff were chasing round trying to feed, film, photograph, water and generally tend to the guests, all the while ushering them in the right direction, the guests seemed content to watch their colleges on stage, gossip and never be around when the organisers were looking for them. In terms of gossip, these guys could put Dot and Ethel to shame!

Dez Skinn in the snug

The series of panels were punctuated by a charity auction, with the proceeds going to MIND, and despite a few technical hitches, which resulted in half the pub being unable to see the powerpoint presentations, I think everyone who attended had a wonderful time. Luckily, when the football fans turned up just after 5, the fun didn't end and the Doctor Who aficionados and celebrities were ushered upstairs to continue carousing and were treated to a free and intimate stand up show by Charlie Ross.

John Freeman gives a slightly more comprehensive version of the day here , while the full line up, including all the guests, can be found here.

Ella Wredenfors is an Art History graduae, a Captain Beefheart aficionado and fizzy water connoisseur. She writes an arts, culture, and comics blog @

Destroy Powerpoint

Destroy Powerpoint @ Manchester Art Gallery | 17th October | 1pm

When life gives you lemons, the hackneyed saying goes, you make lemonade. When management inflicts Powerpoint on you, you subvert and contort it into joyful literature...

David Gaffney’s wonderful hour of storytelling does not do what it promises, it does not destroy powerpoint. Rather, it strangely invigorates the forms. It reveals, with brilliant, luminous use of text and picture, a minor urban folk art, germinating out of the mundane soil of office life. Anyone who has served their sentence as a temp knows that the office work place is always rife with currents of sexual tension and emotional, professional and intellectual frustration.

Powerpoint is an art form with rules, most of which David Gaffney instantly points out he has broken. All the text of his stories eventually end up on the screen, revealed in various sequential methods. In seeking to subsume powerpoint, it seems that David Gaffney has become its master. The result is that the hour spent in the conference room in the back of Manchester Art Gallery is, like those interminable, powerpoint centred training days, actually a pleasant communal reading experience.

The first is a trip down memory lane for most of us, in which Gaffney subverts the form of powerpoint . In The King of Powerpoint he first adopts and mimics the old style of over head projectors, acetate and those smudgy green, blue and red felt tip pens, reserve of the maths and science teachers. As the story progresses he moves through early powerpoint style, through clip art and templates, giving us a visual potted history of the development of presentation technology.

The stories that David Gaffney tells us are all quite familiar, belying his previous career as a debt counsellor. They are grimy with petty discontent and tawdry hopes for romance, but always seem to end with a promise of action. They occur within lonely moments, of queuing, of plotting, promising a future in which dazzling, mad, disjointed steps are made away from the everyday, towards the objects of happiness and freedom.

He ends with Is your thought really necessary, commissioned for Wigan Words Festival, it is a twisted vision of a world where thoughts have a palpable, excretory existence. Therefore, as “thought-fill sites” fill up, need to be discouraged. Wigan, as one of the most thoughtful places in Britain, needs swift action. A civil servant, instructed to create a presentation to be given to a board, must find answers to problems without promoting any original thought. Naturally this illogical task pushes him into a downward spiral of tail biting, circular thinking, of which imagination, memory and unnecessary thought can be the only result.

David Gaffney is the author of Never Never published this year, as well as Sawn-Off Tales.

City Life does a better job of reviewing this event. However, more nonsensical writing by Ella Wredenfors on topics such as Art, Culture and all round geekery about Manchester can be found at

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Words to freedom

‘This event is one that builds our hope and our passion for freedom,’ said Nigel Ashworth, Rector of St. Ann’s Church as he opened Words to Freedom. This hour-long session, organised by Amnesty International, was a show of solidarity for oppressed people across the world. It featured poems, novel extracts and biography excerpts from writers in Kosovo, Kurdistan, Nigeria, Sudan, Germany, Ireland and more, and was a powerful illustration of how ordinary people can use words to defy political subjugation.

And, by and large, it worked. Despite the dark subject matter, the three actors Amnesty had rustled up to lead the event brought each text to life, injecting the readings with energy and, at times, humour. TV actor and teacher Wyllie Longmore gave a particularly powerful rendition of Benjamin Zephaniah’s We Refugees, a moving poem that reminds us that ‘we all came from refugees/Nobody simply just appeared’.

Nathan Crossan-Smith, a budding thespian currently studying at Xaverian College, read, among other works, Not My Business. This poem by the Nigerian dissident, Niyi Osundare, is a rebuke of those who stand by and watch as corruption, brutality and political injustice ruin the lives of their innocent neighbours.

But the most moving readings came courtesy of Shobna Gulati. The former Coronation Street actress was the best known and, unsurprisingly, the best of the acting bunch, and she read various pieces, including All We Want is our Freedom. Penned by Burma’s pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, this piece had particular poignancy given the ongoing political unrest within this troubled South East Asian nation.

Words to Freedom finished with Gulati’s reading of Maya Angelou’s Still I Rise, a work that is by turns defiant, provocative and proud. As Gulati repeated the poem’s hopeful refrain, the audience was left with a sense of promise; that, as we returned to our ordinary lives and our ordinary worries, poetry and fiction still maintain the power to illuminate injustice and thus bring about change.

Words to Freedom was held on Saturday 18 October at 2pm at St. Ann’s Church, St. Ann’s Square, Manchester city centre.


Susie Stubbs is a writer and editor based in Manchester. Her blog,, has just been nominated for a Manchester Blog Award.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Manchester Poetry Prize Gala

Last night saw the first ever Manchester Poetry Prize Gala. The event took place in the Haden Freeman Concert Hall at the Royal Northern College of Music. Though the venue is usually associated with musical performances and concerts, it provided a surprisingly intimate location.

The Manchester Poetry Prize was launched in March 2008 by the Writing School at Manchester Metropolitan University. By the closing date of 1st August the competition had attracted more than 1,000 entries. The judges, Gillian Clarke, Carol Ann Duffy and Imtiaz Dharker had a painstaking task of short-listing to six finalists.

The event began with readings from each of the judges. Carol Ann Duffy treated us to three humorous poems from her collection, 'The World's Wife'. This was followed by Imtiaz Dharker who led us through a number of thought-provoking poems including ‘Living Space’ and ‘One Breath’. And lastly, Gillian Clarke, the National Poet for Wales, took to the stage to read some of her work and provide us with a sneak preview of the soon to be published 'A Recipe for Water'.

What really came across was the support and enthusiasm for this prize and for new writing in general. Imtiaz Dharker remarked that she felt honoured to be reading amongst the nominees.

Next it was the turn of the short-listed poets to read two pieces from their submitted portfolios and they came to the stage one by one. Subjects ranged from love, travel and history, with language featuring widely.

The shortlist is as follows:

Mike Barlow
Mandy Coe
Allison McVety
Helen Mort
Rose Shepperd
Lesley Saunders

And finally Gillian Clarke took the stage one last time to read out the names of the winners, remarking that it was a ‘delight to give money to poets’. Sheffield poet, Helen Mort took the Manchester Young Poet Prize, receiving £2,000. However, in deciding on a winner for the Manchester Poetry Prize the judges were torn and the £10,000 prize fund was shared between winners Lesley Saunders and Mandy Coe.

This prestigious award will alternate annually between fiction and poetry. Next year we can look forward to the Manchester Prize for Fiction.


Jenny Hudson also blogs at and

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Afternoon Tea with Jenni Murray

After a busy week of two big deadlines and one stinking cold, I was looking forward to a pleasant afternoon tea with Jenni Murray. In the elegant surroundings of the Midland Hotel's French Restaurant, around sixty women and two men gathered to listen to the broadcaster, writer and much loved presenter of Woman's Hour talk about her new book, 'Memoirs of a Not So Dutiful Daughter'. A dozen white tables with clean white cloths and silver cutlery and two magnificent chandeliers provided a refined backdrop to an interesting and unexpectedly moving afternoon.

Manchester Evening News Arts Critic, Kevin Bourke, provided the questions and a brief introduction. Jenni then talked about her book. She explained that the title was a spin on Simone de Beauvoir's book, 'Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter' and that like the de Beauvoir book, her book also dealt with the complex and often fraught relationship between a mother and daughter. She spoke about her childhood in Barnsley, of being a teenager in the sixties, her relationship with her mother and of her grandparents. She then read two poignant extracts on the death of her parents. Silence. I glanced around the room to see a number of women visibly moved.

Later she went on to speak jubilantly of arranging tickets to the Last Night of the Proms for her parents' 40th wedding anniversary. She remembered their delight as they emerged from the Royal Albert Hall waving their Union Jacks and how they sang Land of Hope and Glory on the way home.

When asked if she found writing her book to be cathartic, she explained that it was more that the book 'fell out of her' and that she felt compelled to write it. Her decision to publish the book was due to the universal themes of finding yourself suddenly responsible for a parent, of the issues of women and childcare and of finding good care homes.

Though much of the subject matter dealt with the emotional subjects of death, grieving and of Jenni's own recent experience with cancer, the tone was of hope and optimism. In the end she had arrived at an understanding of her mother and they had resolved their differences. And it is all of these experiences that have made Jenni Murray the broadcaster, writer, mother and woman she is today.


'Memoirs of a Not So Dutiful Daughter' by Jenni Murray (published by Bantam Press) is in shops now.

For more information on Jenni Murray visit

For more information on Simone de Beauvoir visit


Jenny Hudson also blogs at and

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

An Interview with Hannah Berry

Hannah Berry is a newly published graphic novelist, with her first novel Britten & Brülightly, published by Jonathan Cape, attracting praise from many quarters. Located in Brighton, she's visiting us in more northern climes for the Manchester Literature Festival, taking part in Between the Panels on Sunday October 19th at the Whitworth Art Gallery Lecture Theatre. In preparation she's answered a few questions for Ella Wredenfors and the Manchester Literature Festival blog.

EW: Hi Hannah, could you introduce yourself and your novel?
HB: My novel is set in a non-specific 1940s British city, and follows private investigator Fernández Britten through a murky suicide-or-possibly-murder case, while dogged by his own, even murkier feelings of despair at his career-long perpetuation of human misery.

It's quite a dark story, but it has some occasional humorous moments. Britten's desolate musings are often counterbalanced by the optimism of his partner – Stewart Brülightly – who is, for reasons never explained, a talking teabag. For my part, there's not a lot to introduce as this is only my first book! (I'm still young. There's still time.) I wrote B&B in the dying weeks of university while studying illustration at Brighton in a moment of defiance - comics were never really looked upon kindly, even in art college - and I worked on it for a further three years before it was finished.

EW: It is clear your influences are not typical of British graphic novelists. There is a cinematographic feel to the work, and it is reminiscent of Guarnido & Canales' Blacksad, in its noir-ish painterly style. What would you say were your key influences with Britten & Brülightly?

HB: I'd say you're pretty close to the mark! A lot of the tone has come about though my love of films, particularly films with a more contemporary take on noir. There's something compelling in their oppressive, brooding atmosphere and very purposeful use of light. I think my artistic style has is definitely been inspired by European comics. Blacksad is a mighty fine example (though I still have a way to go before I reach that standard…). I don't know if its because comics are taken more seriously as an art form there, but a lot of comics that come from France and Belgium in particular have fabulously involved artwork; fully painted and with breathtaking depth. Even when the scenario is everyday they can still be incredibly evocative. From the start that was always the only route I wanted to take – to do a graphic novel where every panel was a painting in its own right.

EW: Unlike most graphic novels, Britten & Brülightly was not first published as a serial, do you think this influenced the novel?

HB: Definitely. It meant the book could have one long and winding dramatic arc throughout, whereas writing for a serial would necessitate continuous climaxes to keep people buying the next one. With a graphic novel you have the luxury of knowing that your audience have already bought the story in its entirety. As a result, the pacing is less staccato and the storyline can be more involved and convoluted, and any shocks or revelations are free to appear at any moment, giving them more of an element of surprise. Perfect for noir.

EW: This is your first published work, how are you coping with the aftermath of publication?

HB: It's a strange situation. I've enjoyed many years of being quiet - speaking softly, not making waves, not being noticed particularly; and now suddenly I find myself required to have an opinion! It feels like someone has moved the rock and now everyone can see me, staring back up at them. Don't get me wrong – it's fabulous to have been discovered, but it's all made me very, very self-conscious. I doubt I'll ever get used to the notion that strangers are reading my book…

EW: After taking part in Between the Panels, what other events will you be attending?

HB: I'll be on a panel at the Thought Bubble Festival in Leeds on 15th November (though I'm not sure who the final line up for the panel is yet), and then the next day I'll be part of another panel on writing graphic novels, along with Paul Duffield, Oliver East and Marcia Williams, as part of the ComICA festival. I'll also be coming along to the ComICA talk on the 19th November by French bandes dessinée celebrities Guibert and Benoit (but in the audience, obviously).

EW: Britten & Brülightly is a beautiful book, what can we expect from you in the future?

Thanks! It's still a bit in the air at the moment (as I write this I'm waiting to see if I have another publishing deal with Cape), but I have an idea for the next project, and the idea is for a ghost story. I love horror. I know it's a genre that's been used and abused a lot lately, but I think there's still uncharted waters, and I'm looking forward to getting stuck into another dark, brooding (fully painted) little number.

Friday, October 10, 2008

MLF Review Competition

Manchester Literature Festival is inviting audiences to write a review of any events they have attended as part of this year’s festival. The best reviews will then be posted on the festival’s blog site and a £50 Borders voucher will be awarded to the most entertaining/informative review received by a member of the public.

How to enter the Review Competition
You can write a review of any event that is part of this year’s Manchester Literature Festival programme (16 - 26th October 2008). Reviews should provide a summary of what happened at the event (including name of event, featured writers, date and venue). It should also give a strong flavour of the event’s mood/physical surroundings and how the audience responded. Detail any interesting points made by the writers or members of the audience. Listen/watch out for any quirky details that will add some local colour to your piece.

We want to hear your original perceptions of the Manchester Literature Festival, favourable or otherwise, but please bear in mind that we won’t be able to publish anything that might be deemed libelous!

Reviews should be between 100 and 400 words in length. All reviews should be sent within 3 days of the event taking place and emailed to

You may also attach a jpeg photo of the event to accompany your review if you have one, but don’t worry if you haven’t as the official MLF photographer will be out and about at most of our events.

Please ensure that your email also contains the following information:

* the title and date of the event you have reviewed

* your own name and contact details

Lucky Voice

The Lucky Voice event placed poets in Tiger Tiger's private karaoke booths. It marked both National Poetry Day and the very first event of the Manchester Literature Festival.

Upon entering the upstairs bar at Tiger Tiger it became evening time, despite it being just past one in the afternoon. People stood about awkwardly, chatting and playing spot the poet, waiting to be ushered through to the karaoke pods. Eventually, we pile into pod 8, the college teacher and students from Contact Theatre and Xaverian College, the bloggers and the lady with recording equipment. We giggle and squawk as we play with the system, 6000+ songs, and we're stuck on the Kills, Killers and Kaiser Chiefs.

Luckily, Patience Agababi rocks up before the synthesised pop rock gets to me. Her smart black suit, beribboned with words, and sequinned tops adds to the dusky atmosphere. She jokes about her outfit, wishes us happy National Poetry Day, and talks about this year's theme: 'Work'. Patience presented a programme on BBC Radio 4 called '
Blood, Sweat, Tears and Poetry', available on the BBC iplayer for a few more days.

Today her poems skip through music, northern soul, ska and Janis Joplin, suitable topics in a karaoke booth. Mostly sonnets taken from her recently published poetry anthology
Bloodshot Monochrome, her poems skim gracefully from music to her identity, her relationship to her mothers and to her son, and her inability to write about September the 11th in 'Not a 9.11 Poem.'

Next, exchanging pods with almost military precision, it was the turn of John McAuliffe, an Irish poet living in Manchester. His tongue in cheek poems are playfully apocalyptic, the first 'Week 2' inspired by the recent shenanigans with the Hadron Collider at Cern. His poems wriggle from Fog Lane Park and Irish race meets to a ponder on vengeful Japanese angels, which would not be out of place in Empire of Signs. Finally coming to rest in the desolation of office space in 'End of the World.'

After a quick, disorganised loo break, Caroline Bird takes centre stage (though it should be centre booth). Like the works of the previous poets these poems are playful and vivid, but much more demanding. She kicks off (in every sense of the word) with a 'Virgin', a caustic and confrontational poem which elicits under the breath hoots from one young man.

After the professionals it is the turn of the rest of us. The college students, obviously already old hands at this, take to the microphone with glee. After a rushed rendition of W. H. Auden's 'Funeral Blues', we are treated to their own compositions, dealing with contentious issues around politics and identity.


Ella Wredenfors is an Art History graduate, a Captain Beefheart aficionado and fizzy water connoisseur. She writes an arts, culture and comics blog @