Pottle Poetry

We caught up with Jen Pottle, to see how the micropub’s monthly poetry event is going…

Waaaaay back in July 2018, in micropub The Pottle, ‘Pottle Poetry Open Mic’ was born. This gave Beeston its very own regular poetry event, taking place on the first Sunday of every month. Those of you who organise your social lives using our Poetry Round-Up will already be familiar with the event, but for those of you who may not have come across this brilliant little gathering of poets, fear not.

The event was originally set up as a response to the fact that Beeston used to be a prime location for poetry events, often welcoming poets from outside the town to come here and perform. The Pottle Poetry may be ‘micro’ in location, but has been a big hit since it started.

I popped into the micropub to catch up with Jen, and find out how it’s been growing over the eight months that it’s been running.

“There’s a solid regular group of poets that come, some of them every month, which is nice,” says Jen. “But there’s also been some of the pub regulars who have come to listen to bits of poetry. One of our regulars, who isn’t really the poetry type, was even inspired to write their own poem!”

The Fighting Nightingales

When I originally spoke to Jen before the very first event, she anticipated that by having it take place on a Sunday afternoon would make the perfect slot to read and hear poetry. So, was she right?

She says: “They’ve been relaxed, comfy afternoons, with a friendly crowd of people who are very accepting. I’ve been quite surprised by how many people are interested in poetry, and it’s nice to see people just wandering into the pub.”

Jen starts to tell me about one of the regular performers who does autobiographical poetry. “He asked if he could have musical accompaniment, so then for the next event he came with his dad and brother, and they did a musical poem. There was Spanish guitar and interesting percussion instruments involved.”

After this, they asked if they could do a longer performance at the next event. As a group, they’re known as The Fighting Nightingales, and describe themselves as delivering ‘progressive jazz/funk chit chat and tall tales set to strange music’. Jen says: “They came back and did a fantastic afternoon of music and poetry, and a huge crowd came to see them.” She also tells me that the group teamed up with regular poet Will Kummer, who comes to every Pottle Poetry event.

I got in contact with him to ask him what it is about the Open Mic that he loves. He said: “I would recommend Pottle Poetry because it’s a small and welcoming event. It’s actually where I did my first open mic performance and I think it’s great for those who are new to the poetry scene. A wide range of people attend and Jen usually opens with a piece of her own. It’s a fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon and an event that I’d be sad to miss.”

The next event will take place on Sunday May 5 as part of Nottingham Poetry Festival and has the theme ‘My Younger Years’ attached to it. “Someone challenged me to do this,” says Jen. “I was looking at my childhood poetry from when I was a teenager and thought it was awful. We are asking people to bring in childhood poetry to read it, or to write poetry about their younger years, if they want to!”

Even without the theme, Jen tells me there’s all sorts of types of poetry being performed, including: funny poems, light-hearted poems, limericks, serious and silly poems.

So, whether you consider yourself a poet or not, it’s worth wandering in.

JM

Book review: Lose Your Armour by Chris McLoughlin

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It’s 8pm on a Thursday and four of my friends are stood in front of a closed Waterstones while I jog up and down the side of the building, losing a game of charades with the oblivious bookseller inside.

Twenty minutes later we are finally inside the Sillitoe Room, listening to a spectacular line up of poets here to support the main talent of the night: Chris McLoughlin and the launch of Lose Your Armour. Published through Nottingham’s indie Big White Shed, this 12-strong-poem chapbook reads like an open letter to those drowning in emotional struggle.

‘Dust Days’, which was performed in full at the launch, documents fourteen individual days or nights that begin with hedonistic behaviour and descends into helplessness and the deep pit of depression many of us have clawed our way out of. In particular, ‘Day 34’ is one run-on sentence of a disassociation episode in the Victoria Centre, before McLoughlin turns his attention to the reader, asking ‘Are you entertained now?’ The change of pace and directive almost makes me feel guilty for enjoying how expressive the bleakness is.

As a reader, you want to hug the persona. As someone who suffers from mental health, you nod and continue to read. Back in the Sillitoe Room, I glance down the aisle of seats in the middle of Chris’s set to see friends faces full of sadness, awe, but most importantly, inspiration. Lose Your Armour screams, ‘if I can get through this, let my words help you get through yours’.

Francesca Mesce

Lianne and family

Lianne’s Life in Beeston: Korean poet writes about her time in England

Towards the end of the year, and during the festive season, we often think about the people close to us.

We meet family members that we don’t see very often, and think about people we miss. Earlier this year, I met two Beeston residents who have re-connected with a Korean friend (and poet) in a delightful, but unexpected, way.

On 31 July 2002, Lianne arrived in Nottingham with her son, her sister, and niece, but moved to Beeston just under a year later, in July 2003. Her prolonged stay in England was for the benefit of her son, Harry-Kim, and niece Nicky, as the sisters wanted them to study, get their education here and experience the English culture.

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They moved to Highgrove Avenue in Beeston, and soon connected with their neighbours Sue and Malcolm Turner. “We take people into our hearts when we see them,” says Sue. “We treated them like family.”

“We got to know them very quickly,” adds Malcolm. “They were out on a limb and if there were any problems we would help them.”

A close friendship quickly formed between the two families, so much so that the sisters weren’t shy about knocking on Sue and Malcolm’s door to come over for a cup of tea, or watch a football match, as they were always welcome and didn’t need an invitation. “It can be very difficult coming to a new country and in some other areas it might have been different for them, but not here,” says Malcolm.

“…she wants to share her experiences with the people of Nottingham.”

The family stayed in Beeston until July 2005, but during their time here they went out on lots of day trips, both locally and places further afield like London. Sue and Malcolm would often take them out on day trips, including visiting their son’s narrowboat. When they left, it was because Lianne’s son Harry was about to start senior school.

“In their house everything the children did at school went on the wall, the whole visit was about giving them the best education possible, and because they are only allowed one child everything goes into doing the best for that one child,” says Malcolm.

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Earlier this year, 13 years since they last saw Lianne, they received a letter from her, sent with a set of three books. The books are a series under the title: Korean Poet Lianne’s Life In England With Her Son. The books are written in Korean, and are based on the letters that Lianne sent to her husband while she was in England. Sue and Malcolm were overwhelmed to hear from her, and they had no idea she’d had the books published. In her letter to them, Lianne highlights the page in which she mentions them. When I met with the couple, we had a look, and found fragments of English words, including their names. “It’s a start!” says Malcolm. “We’d like to get this section translated.”

In her letter, Lianne asks them to donate the books to Beeston Library, as she wants to share her experiences with the people of Nottingham. In the back of the books, there are English notes thanking the ‘English friends’ she connected with, including other Beestonians who she has also sent copies of her books to.

After meeting Sue and Malcolm, they got in contact with Lianne to tell her about this article, and get her permission for it to be published, and she wrote the following to be included:

“This book is a love letter for people who have sent their family to England and have missed them. England is a place that gave our family the wisdom of life when we were in need of a change; a place where memories were made with friends despite the language barrier. I have written a story of our young children who have experienced English culture, and have brought a story of learning love in their pleasant and simple life, into these letters. It is an England life story that makes us feel attached despite the distance between us. I hope this story about us can bring a smile on every separated-family face. I dedicate this book to all of the friends in England and to everyone who knows me.”

This story is just one of many that will have been formed between people moving in and out of Beeston over the years, and how people from completely different cultures can become like family to one another over the space of only a few years. The friendship they shared will last for the rest of their lives, and the copies of the books in Beeston Library will be a legacy to the time Lianne spent here, and will provide comfort and solace to our current and thriving Korean community.

JM

A (brief) history of Beeston Poetry, with DIY Poets and One Plum Poem

A (brief) history…

Earlier this year in April, Henry Normal came to Beeston Library for his ‘Poetry Hour’ as part of Nottingham Poetry Festival. One of the first things he spoke about was that Beeston has had a history of being a poetry hot-spot, and that it was one of the places gigging poets would make sure they performed at. Phrases like ‘Have you done Beeston?’ would pass between poets, giving the town a national reputation.

This has sparked the need for a revival, and you can read our Poetry Round-up section to see the latest poetry events, including a new monthly open mic hosted by Pottle of Blues. But before we get to that, it’s worth having a look at the history of poetry in Beeston, and speaking to a few local poets to get a sense of what Beeston’s poetry scene had, and still has, to offer.

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The focal point of anyone considering our poetry history will undoubtedly always end up being the Poets in Beeston series which ran for ten years from Spring 1983, when Robert Gent organised a series of poetry readings at Beeston Library ‘with the aim of strengthening  the library’s role in literature promotion’.  This was before my time, but I have heard about it over the years, and seen their anthology Poems for the Beekeeper appear in Oxfam Books and Music a number of times.

The first series of events became so popular that they decided to put on a second series, and so on and so on for the next ten years. There are still people in and around Beeston who remember the series, and attended some the events, including Kathy Bell, who offered her insight on the series via  Beeston Updated after our editor-in-chief, Matt, shared the sentiments of Henry Normal:

“Highlights included Sarah Maguire, Amryl Johnson, Sheenagh Pugh, Catherine Fisher, U. A. Fanthorpe (reading with her partner, the poet R. V. Bailey) and the double-act of Michael Rosen and Leon Rosselson. I moved to Beeston just too late to hear David Gascoyne and had to be away when Benjamin Zephaniah performed. I was very sorry when the seasons ended as they were a great delight as well as an education in contemporary poetry.”

There was also a message passed to us on behalf of one of the main organisers of the Poets in Beeston series, Margaret MacDermott, who said: “Poetry readings in libraries are commonplace now but we were one of the first in the country to do them. They were the idea of my then manager Robert Gent. They were a huge success and I think we had almost every poet of prominence except Ted Hughes. We also had what were then promising newcomers, people like Jackie Kay. After Robert left our funding was withdrawn, I can’t tell you how many letters of complaint I received. I am so glad people remember them with fondness.”

Just from reading these comments, I can get a sense of what poetry readings meant to people back then, and although performance poetry has in no way disappeared, it is less common in Beeston now than it used to be. However, with the newly refurbishes library, there has been a lot more opportunities for events, and plenty of these have been poetry-oriented.

To try and get an idea of poetry’s place in Beeston today, I spoke to a few people about what they’re doing, and what poetry and Beeston together has meant for them.

DIY Poets

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The DIY Poets aren’t strictly a Beeston group, as they meet, perform and hold events mostly in Nottingham, but Beeston is home to a couple of members of the group, Martin Dean and Alistair Lane. The DIY Poets started fifteen years ago, with the creation of the first issue of their free A6 zine (they are now on issue 41).

Martin Dean, who has been a member of the DIY Poets for 3 years, describes himself as a ‘one-time Beeston resident’ as he’s lived here for just 6 years. He used to work at Plessy’s as an electronics designer, and liked the area. He says he’s always written in one form or another, but it was getting involved with the DIY Poets and having their support that has helped him with writing and performing at more events.

When asked about what he’d like to see from an open mic in Beeston, he says: “I want to see it bring people in that wouldn’t necessarily go to a poetry gig, but for them to walk away saying ‘that was great!’ The extension to that is being able to nurture new talent and to be able to say ‘so and so: Beeston Poet’ and put Beeston on the map.”

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Martin has also been working on a collection of poems, that by the time you read this will be printed and in the hands of readers. It’s titled The Curious Dance Between Life and Death, and when asked what the themes of the collection are, he says, “It has a balance of life affirming vibrant pieces and the macabre. I’ve sifted and sorted bits that I’ve been writing over the last few years and got it down to a shortlist of 20 poems:  One hanging, one beheading, falling from a great height, dying a natural death, and a soldier being shot in the trenches…then it’s all uphill from there!”

Jenny Swann: Poet and Publisher

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Jenny Swann was one of our judges for the Buzzword poetry competition, and is a wonderful poet and publisher who has lived in Beeston for the past 13 years. Even before she moved here, she had one of her poetry collections published by John Lucas of Shoestring Press, which is why Beeston was on her radar when house-hunting. “It seemed a good place to head for because I knew there was poetry in Beeston,” she says. “Beeston is a fantastically creative community and very much supports its poets, writers and other artists. I feel that by moving to Beeston we got it spot on. It’s a natural home for writers and artists to flourish.”

Her creative journey in the region started when she was introduced to Ross Bradshaw, who asked her to be his poetry editor for Five Leaves. It was doing that job which made her realise how much she loved poetry pamphlets and publishing. “It was through discussions with Ross about how to give pamphlets a higher profile in bookshops that I founded Candlestick Press in 2008 and ran for 8 years,” she says. “I feel that if I hadn’t been in Beeston in the early days I don’t think I’d have been able to do that.”

Sadly, Jenny had to step down from Candlestick Press in 2016, but this has not stopped her creative drive and passion for poetry. In March of this year she set up a new project: One Plum Poem. The concept is that when you give someone a card, they get a poem inside it too, and she currently has 8 different kinds which include: Give Yourself a Hug (a poem to cheer your friends up), get well soon, a poem for mothers, and two designs for children featuring a hippo and dinosaur. They are all illustrated beautifully, and celebrate the idea of poetry as a gift.

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“My push has always been that poetry is this wonderful art form that is a treat people are missing out on, I’ve always had the same impulse for wanting people to engage with poetry,” says Jenny. She’s also got two more designs on the way, including a Christmas card with a previously unpublished poem by Carol Ann Duffy. The cards are currently for sale in Five Leaves Bookshop, Foyles in London, and on the website at oneplum.co.uk.

A Buzzword poem:

A poem for Beeston – Alistair Lane

Across the centre of this land,
From town to town I roamed
Till fortune shined its light on me,
And in Beeston found my home.

Not in shops or trams,
Or vaunted green-space treasure
But residing in the people
A simpler, honest pleasure.

Uncomplicated and direct;
Each spade described as such
But dig beneath the surface
And revel in their touch.

Diligent and dedicated
Strong and firm of heart.
Easier to love
Than an apiary work of art.

My wandering days are done:
No further shall I roam
Now fortune’s shined its light on me
And in Beeston found my home.

Poetry Round-up

POTTLE POETRY
Free, every first Sunday of the month, 4-6pm Pottle of Blues micropub
With plenty of open mic slots, this is a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon listening to (or performing) poetry.

INSPIRE POETRY FESTIVAL 2018
Tuesday 25 Sept-Saturday 29 Sept, prices vary
The Inspire Poetry Festival is visiting Beeston for the first time! More poets are coming to Beeston Library following the success of Word! and the Poetry Hour with Henry Normal. For a full programme visit: inspireculture.org.uk/poetry-festival

Beeston Tales: Storyteller Rachel Rose Reid breathes life into an Arthurian legend

On the second Wednesday of the month, the folks from Beeston Tales gather in the upstairs space of The White Lion for an evening of storytelling, and this month they’ve got an extra special guest for a remarkable (and very local) tale…

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Credit: University of Nottingham

Tomorrow, Beeston Tales will be presenting their audience with Roman de Silence, which has local significance as the manuscript was originally discovered at Wollaton Hall in 1911, where it had been waiting for around 700 years.

These days it’s kept at the University of Nottingham, but its discovery came at the height of suffrage protests, and due to the story containing themes of female emancipation, the story was silenced.

But, thanks to the hosts Tim Ralphs, Mike Payton, and the internationally renowned storyteller Rachel Rose Reid, the story will have life breathed back into its dusty pages, to reveal a tale that is very relevant to issues being raised in society today.

“Themes of gender identity make this an interesting story for modern audiences, and gives the tale a prescient quality.”

The main character, a twelve-year-old named Silence has been brought up as a boy, despite being an incredibly beautiful girl. Being the young age she is, and the upbringing she’s had, she can’t decide whether it would be better for her to be a boy or a girl. This simple-sounding concept is packed with societal questions, gender politics and the question of nature vs. nurture, where Nature is a character in the story.

It’s an adventure in identity, an exploration of what the roles were for boys and girls, and an ultimate dilemma for Silence and the society she’s living in. These themes of gender identity make this an interesting story for modern audiences, and gives the tale a prescient quality.

Rachel storytelling takes her all over the country, and she’s currently touring, but is stopping off in Nottingham (and Beeston) especially to visit and research the manuscript.

The event will take place tomorrow, Wednesday 11th July, at 7:30 pm at The White Lion.

Tickets £5 in advance, £6 on the door, available from The White Lion, or online at www.timralphs.com/beeston-tales.

Inclusive tapas and tales ticket £12, available only in advance from The White Lion. All advanced tickets including meal ​tickets must be purchased at least 24 hours before the show.

JM

Beeston Poetry: Ada’s Poetry Engine

Hello Beestonians!

I have had the pleasure of talking to the inspiring Ellie Turpin, creator of the curious ‘Ada’s Poetry Engine.’

A fellow poetry lover, a recovering researcher and a full time mother, she had to spread the word of this intelligent piece of scientific engineering using code.

Aditi: Ellie, you are a busy lady! Thank you for giving us your time…please enlighten us all on this curious coding ‘poet’!

Ellie: This is a fascinating piece of engineering that was for the Festival of Science. Being a scientist, I never thought science and the arts could work in cohesion together.

However, having been an audience member of the performance arts that is prominent in Nottingham, such as the Nottingham Poetry festival, I was sure the two would get on!

Aditi: How does your marvellous coding engine work Ellie?

Ellie: The engine is inspired by Ada Lovelace of Nottingham, daughter of Lord Byron.

I wanted the poets and the scientists to work together, so I created my engine so that anyone who submitted a poem, or a phrase, the engine would re-mix the poem and it would come out with something different! This would be done by using algorithms.

Aditi: How were you inspired to start your journey into creating this unique project?

Ellie:  We work with ‘Ignite Future’, a company in Nottingham that pushes young people to be architects of their own learning, to enable pupils to be artists, mathematicians, and of course scientists. So we work with schools and young adults , to promote literature , poetry, and technology collectively.  I wanted to expose young people to performance poetry and science.

Aditi: I work in primary education myself and as a fellow performance poet, I heartily and happily approve of such a creative, upcoming project.  If you had to meet a poet, dead, alive, or local, who would you choose and why?

Ellie: Have you heard of a woman called Debris Stevenson? I love her poems that empower women, promoting equal rights and feminism. She has performed a poem along the lines of ‘Girl with the Tattoo’.  She promotes confidence for women’s bodies. I also respect and love Hollie Mcnish, a female poet who writes about such detailed topics in such a positive yet realistic manner.

Aditi: I can wholeheartedly agree Ellie; being a humble poet myself, they are phenomenal.

If you had to choose a scientist’s work, that you think motivates, empowers and protects our next generation, who would you choose and why?

Ellie: That’s an easy one! Rosalynd Franklin.  She is such a pioneer! She was instrumental in discovering the molecular structure of DNA, her X-Ray photographs were fundamental to unlocking these ‘building blocks’ of life. Without her, there wouldn’t have been such accurate evidence of our DNA, or our children.

Aditi: Thank you so much Ellie, its been fabulously inspiring to talk to you!

AB

 

Beeston Poetry

Spring has arrived, flowers are blooming, birds are chirping, there are more daylight hours to be had…and the poets are emerging.

This issue, we’re paying attention to poetry in time for Nottingham Poetry Festival. We’ve got a few Buzzword poems for you from our competition, a round-up of events and courses happening in Beeston, and the answer to the question: what do you get if you mix science with poetry? Read on to find out!

A few Buzzword poems…

Beeston Lock – Glen Bradford

Taste that rain-washed air,
forearms firm against the iron top rail,
and watch boatmen turn lock key,
prising open slime-heavy gates
for barges to make their way.

Walk where the roaring Trent
froths and tumbles over masonry steps,
past wild Sunday League encounters,
and solemn banks of anglers
guarding over The Hero’s place.

Look. Roots grabbed hold here,
spread north, each branch
eager as a child’s probing hand
reaching to the ice cream counter
for summer’s sweet nectar.

Take it in. Dig the honeyed layers
from gravel down to limestone bed,
sifting fragments of Saxon farms,
to trail history’s hard, glittering spoor.
Because this is the land.

These are the threads.

Salad Bowl  – Cathy Garrick

Beeston, a banquet of curious folk;
The Last Post, the librarians hula hooped with clouds of smoke.
In The Star, they peruse their books;
Patrons from Denison Street and Inham Nook.
The ghosts of Beeston flicker as bygone maquettes,
while the living cruise through on mobility scooters and cigarettes.
Charlie’s Barn, Pet Mart, The Lad’s Club knocked down;
But still a lovingly patchworked market town.
The high flyers fill their bellies;
While Fast Lane runs amok in odd wellies.
Chuggers, terriers, sots and tots,
A melange of Adidas and Birkenstock.
Gaelic tones ring out from the greengrocers nearby;
Beckoning buyers to brussels, beans and broccoli.
Occidental, accidental, academic and Eastern,
The beautiful salad bowl that is Beeston.

The Tattoo – Leanne Moden

If I could paint this town onto my skin
I’d load my brush with countless memories.
I’d struggle to decide where to begin.

After all, it’s hard to place a pin
into a state of mind: a reverie.
If I could paint this town onto my skin

it would take courage and some discipline;
a bravery not seen for centuries.
I’d struggle to decide where to begin.

You see, nostalgia breeds the saccharin,
and true reflection comes through lack of ease.
If I could paint this town onto my skin –

contemplating all that we have been;
the fleeting glance of all that we could be?
I’d struggle to decide where to begin.

Excuses wearing tracing paper thin
I guess I’m just not one for artistry.
If I could paint this town onto my skin
I’d struggle to decide where to begin.

POETRY ROUND-UP

ZINES EXHIBITION
Free, now until Sat 21 April, Beeston Library
Showcasing zines made by the public and school pupils, including anthologies of poems developed with poet Andrew Graves

FAMILY POETRY (Short course)
Free, 25 April – 23 May, 16:00-17:30, Beeston Library

THE POETRY HOUR WITH HENRY NORMAL
Free, Wed 25 April, 6pm, Beeston Library
Enjoy (and potentially perform) poetry with Henry Normal and Pete Ramskill, as part of Nottingham Poetry Festival

CREATIVE WRITING THROUGH POETRY (Short course)
£36, 5 June – 10 July, 10:00-12:00, Beeston Library

JM 

The most famous writer you’ve never heard of…

Beeston publishers Arundel Books were recently approached to publish a novel from a writer you may not have heard of…though you’ve more than certainly heard (and laughed) at his work. Lee Stuart Evan’s, in a piece originally written for the Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature’s website, tells us about DH Lawrence, Frank Skinner, and the romance of the NG postcode…

By John Baird

You have most likely laughed at Lee Stuart Evan’s work before, through whatever comedian he is working for. His first novel, a nostalgic coming of age gem, sees him step out into the limelight…

Lee Stuart Evans is someone who makes others look good: he’s a comedy writer, providing the lines that get the laughs. Evans’ writing credits include such shows as 8 Out of 10 CatsRoom 101, Would I Lie to You and I’m a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here. A full-time writer of jokes, he has provided the punch for many a well-known comic, counting Dawn French, Sue Perkins, Stephen Fry, Jonathan Ross and Michael McIntyre among his clients. Last year saw the release of his first novel Words Best Sung, much of which is set in the north Nottinghamshire of his youth. Before revealing more about this engaging coming-of-age story, I was keen to know more about his job – writing for comedians.

“There are shows where you write the script and never see the host, but those hosts are usually presenters rather than comics,” he explained. “On 8 Out of 10 Cats, the show I’ve done most – 25 series, if you include Countdown – there might be one or two writers with the performer on the day of the show, and perhaps the day or two before, to bounce ideas round with, talk about the angles and interesting ways to make a dullish story about tax evasion funny for a young late-night audience. A half-hour show usually takes 2-2½ hours to record, and the stories change constantly, lots of items get dropped, new ones added, right up until recording, so you need a small team to help generate lots of material each week, most of which never sees the light of day.”

Of the many shows Evans writes for, the topical comedies are especially challenging. “It’s the sheer amount of material they gobble up,” he said. “We did an 8 Out of 10 Cats show on election night 2017, and we were still writing new jokes in the studio as the first results came in at 10.30pm, while the show was being recorded, and feeding them in during ad breaks, just to be as up to the minute as possible. Really good fun though.”

“I loved that Lawrence’s stories were written by a young man who lived just a few miles away, a lad who’d grown up surrounded by, and was writing about, people and landscapes practically identical to those I could see from my bedroom window”.

Another consideration is that each gag has to be tailored to the personality/character of the comedian delivering it. As Evans put it: “You can be the smartest, funniest writer in a room, but if the jokes don’t fit the persona of the performer you’re writing for, they’re worthless. A joke that might work fantastically for Jimmy Carr would probably not suit Sue Perkins and vice versa.”

Among the stars Evans has written for, one stands out as the reason he’s a writer: Frank Skinner. “I’d been in TV nearly 3 years when I got a job as a researcher/guest booker on [Frank Skinner’s] chat show,” said Evans. “I told him I wrote jokes in my spare time and sent them on spec to BBC radio shows like The News Huddlines. He asked if I’d like to sit in his office for a couple of hours after work, when he would write his topical monologue, and to chip in if I had any ideas. I’d always loved Frank’s stand-up, so it was a bit terrifying at first, especially as he’s so quick and sharp. Frank can think of a joke, say it aloud and have it written down before most people can read a headline. It was meant to be a week’s trial, but I must have done okay, or I make great tea, because Frank said I could do it again the following week, if I wanted to. It was a 10-week series, and I was in there five nights a week learning to write jokes with the funniest man on telly. I started to get more writing work after that, and I did four more series with Frank. I feel very lucky and very grateful to have had that.”

Evans was raised in Warsop on a council estate, at a time when the mining industry was being strangled, but he doesn’t think he’s a working-class writer. “I’m a writer from a working-class background, and proud to be so,” he said, “but I hadn’t consciously set out to write about working people, or to tell a story from a working-class perspective.”

London has been his home for the past 13 years but he tapped into his Notts upbringing for the writing of his first novel, a love-letter to the county. As a lad he’d spend weekends here with his beloved uncle John, either spotting trains or travelling on them. Like many a Notts writer, Evans didn’t respond well to authority and he left school at 16. After working as a car salesman, he returned to education at West Notts College. That led to university and a course in TV/Radio production.

It was between comedy writing jobs that Evans began to write about the places and people from the hometown of his youth. I wondered if this writing had benefited from the perspective of distance. His said: “I’d moved quite far away mentally as much as physically since I worked in a garage in Notts, so when I came to write about Nottinghamshire and was starting to think about the sort of things I wanted to remember, research and perhaps use in the story, I felt as if I were seeing a lot of it for the first time, and I was pleasantly surprised at my reaction to it, and also how much I enjoyed seeing if I could put across on paper how I felt about the place in terms of making it a setting for a novel. I’m not sure I could have done that, or would even have wanted to try, from my old bedroom in Warsop.”

The inspiration for Alastair – the protagonist of Words Best Sung – came from a few photographs of Uncle John as a young man at Langwith Junction, and a comment made after his death at the age of 61. “My grandma said she felt the only time my uncle had ever been truly happy were the few years after he left school and had worked on the railway,” said Evans. “I just kept thinking about her words, and how at that age you can be so idealistic, so innocently optimistic.”

That age was the early 1960s, a great time to be young but a challenging one for steam engines. The excitement of the era is well-captured in Words Best Sung, a novel with a route to publication that took an interesting track. In seeking a publisher, Evans contacted Beeston’s Alan Dance of Arundel Books. An author of Notts-set fiction himself, Dance was not accepting submissions but he was so impressed by Evans’ manuscript that he agreed to publish it.

Words Best Sung is a feel-good read about a group of friends transitioning between school and adulthood, in an age when youth culture came to life. It’s the 1960s and the colliery towns of north Notts are not immune from the musical revolution. A comic romance ensues as our naive lad is knocking about with his mates, making them laugh, and mixing with a couple of potential love interests. Alistair could go down an academic route but he loves the steam engines. It’s full steam ahead for our likable lead when the group take a trip to a holiday park in Skeggy, where one man’s misfortune presents a life-changing opportunity for the pals. London calls for the final act where conflict and a shocking revelation await. The fashion of the time tops up the nostalgia in a novel that will be loved by anyone with a fondness for the swinging sixties. The Notts dialect, with its insults and phrases, is spot on – as is the cockney – and there are plenty of laugh-out-loud lines.

The stories of the old steam engine days that inspired Words Best Sung also fired Evans’ own love of trains. And it was through reading railway books that he got into reading more generally, including the novels of D. H. Lawrence. Evans told me about his interest in Lawrence’s books: “I loved that Lawrence’s stories were written by a young man who lived just a few miles away, a lad who’d grown up surrounded by, and was writing about, people and landscapes practically identical to those I could see from my bedroom window. A lot of the time I couldn’t see what he was getting at, especially in some of his more mystical or lecturing moments when he gets all repetitive and bangs on and on about ‘godheads’ and men and women ‘yielding’ either too much, or not enough (there is a lot of yielding in Lawrence, almost as much as there is the knitting of brows).”

But Evans kept returning to Lawrence, drawn back by his sense of place, and the mixture of the rural and industrial, and the books gradually made more sense. He said: “I think as you get older you see different things in them, bad as well as good. I still struggle with the Plumed Serpent and the Australian novels, though, they seem hard work, but I’ll try them again. Whenever I re-read Lawrence it’s usually a Notts-linked story. I’ve always thought Sons and Lovers was my favourite, it’s the one I’ve read most, or The Rainbow, but I’ve recently read The First Lady Chatterley for the first time and enjoyed it so much – it’s more tender and largely obscenity-free. I’m starting John Thomas and Lady Jane to see how that sits between the first and the final versions*.”

There are comparisons between Lawrence and Evans that extend beyond their writing. “I like that sense of his writing always coming from an outsider,” said Evans, “whether a character is an outsider in his/her home or town, or, like Lawrence himself, an exile abroad, there always seems to be this constant fight to keep pushing on, of trying to find his true place, physically or sensually, which Lawrence himself did of course, in his writing and in life. I think as a working-class lad who had (and still has) ‘unrealistic’ aspirations, ideas above his station, I find his stubborn outsider position oddly reassuring, and, in a slightly depressing sort of way, very inspiring.”

He might now be a London boy but Lee Stuart Evans has written a proper Notts novel, producing the dialogue that only someone from these parts could muster. Evocative and entertaining, Words Best Sung is available from all good bookshops.

* Lawrence wrote three versions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, the novel known by this title is the third version, published in 1928. The first (The First Lady Chatterley) and second (John Thomas and Lady Jane) manuscripts contain similar plots but the characterisations vary and the dialogue widely differs in all three version.  

 

The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness: Graham Caveney in conversation with Deirdre O’Byrne

On the snowy evening of Wednesday 28 Feb, at Middle Street Resource Centre, Beeston residents were treated to a talk and exploration of Graham Caveney’s book The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness.

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His book, described as ‘a memoir of adolescence’ is a powerful recounting of Caveney’s life growing up in Accrington, from a working class Catholic background. It explores his love of music, literature, and brings to the fore issues such as class, religion, and the abuse he was subject to by his teacher and headmaster at his local grammar school during the 1970s.

Having kept his abuse quiet from his closest friends, and parents, his book comes at a time of recovery from years of mental anquish, drinking problems and trips in and out of rehab. At the start of the event, after everyone has settled with hot drinks, Graham Machin, chair of Beeston Community Resource (BCR), and one of our Beeston Heroes, speaks about the history of MSRC and its role as a mental health day centre.

Attendees of the event were encouraged to donate money towards a fund which helps people with mental health problems when they are in need of emergency support. This was done on a pay-what-you-can basis, and that Caveney agreed was a fitting cause for the event to raise money for.

Deirdre O’Byrne starts off the conversation by asking Graham about how his book came to be written in the first place, revealing a link to the hosts of the event, Five Leaves Bookshop, who had given Graham a job when he proclaimed himself as unemployable. It was then being surrounded by books that struck the right chord and enabled him to begin telling his story. What began as an attempt to rewrite Kafka’s Metamorphosis, became the courageous and endearing book that now exists as an object in the world (something Graham appreciates in books generally).

He’d sent paragraphs to his friend Julie Hesmondhalgh as a way to tell her about himself and his past, and she asked him if he’d thought about having it published. “When writing it, it never occurred to me that it would be published, and that was a good thing, otherwise I’d never have written it,” he says.

He had contacts that would be able to help towards publication, but, “I wasn’t prepared to cash in on those friendships,” he reveals. He then received an email from Julie with the subject heading ‘oops’ saying that she’d sent it to Jonathan Coe, an old friend and author in his own right, who got in contact with Graham’s former agent, who sold the book within 3 months.

The conversation is split up with a few readings, each of them read wonderfully, and eliciting laughs from the listeners. Deirdre picks up on this, and asks about the humour and presence of quite dark jokes in the book. Graham says humour can be a great way to express trauma and abuse, and that he didn’t want to write a sad, gloomy book which expressed how bad abuse is. He wanted the focus to be on the stuff he liked as a fourteen-year-old and his adolescence, which the abuse happened to occur and coincide with.

I wouldn’t have been able to write it without the education given to me by my abuser, and that’s something that I’m deeply grateful for.

The event as a whole gets into the heart of the story behind the book, and Graham provides listeners with many insights, such as the book’s publication leading to the un-naming of a performing arts centre which had previously been named after Graham’s abuser, something which Graham says is a ‘minor victory’. He also tells of a few instances of negative reactions, such as one person telling him that Graham, by writing the book, had just ‘pissed all over my childhood’ and another pointing out that he’d misspelt a teacher’s name, thereby throwing everything else into question. In reaction to this, he says: “People are eager to find ways to discredit it.”

He discusses class, memory and the issue of trigger warnings, which he says suggests that there’s a process to solving a problem. He reels off a list of seemingly insignificant things that can trigger him: a certain perfume, the texture of someone’s collar etc.

When receiving questions from the floor, Graham is asked what it’s like having the book out there being read and reviewed. ‘Strange’ is his main feeling towards it, but he says that the strangest part isn’t the book being reviewed by publications such as The Guardian , The Times and TLS, it’s actually when he’s in a coffee shop such as The Bean in Beeston, and someone comes up to him and says ‘I read your book’.

He says those are the moments he realises that the “book doesn’t belong to you, it belongs to the world.” He doesn’t regret telling his story, that he feels both “insulated and exposed” by it, but that ultimately its existence “validates something that I’ve carried around with me.”

The book itself holds a number of fascinating realisations in terms of Graham’s being able to write it in the first place. He says, “I wouldn’t have been able to write it without the education given to me by my abuser, and that’s something that I’m deeply grateful for.”

It’s also apparent that he couldn’t write it until his parents had passed away. His mother clung to her faith, and Graham believes that it was this that kept her going after his father had died. Revealing his abuse from his priest and teacher “would have been like telling her that God doesn’t exist.” So it was only after her death that he was able to write about it.

At the end of the event, the attention turns to his next book, which he’s 25,000 words into already, and which will be on the history of agraphobia. He says that he never made a conscious decision to write another book, he just carried on from this one.

A wonderful, insightful evening with plenty of books bought and signed by Graham, it was enough to make everyone want to get home and start reading (or re-reading) the book, with the added knowledge of all that he shared with us.

Read our interview with Graham Caveney.

JM

Reading by the Canal

It’s been 6 months since the Canalside Heritage Centre opened in Beeston Rylands, and it’s strange to think of the area without it. The once disused building has been given a new lease of life, and is giving back to the Rylands and Beeston community.

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The centre is also home to a specially written children’s storybook, Dog and Duck’s Canal Adventure, which doubles as an artistic contribution to their wonderful upstairs display area. The book was written by Heather Green, and illustrated by her husband, Johnny. It was originally her project as part of her MA in Museum and Heritage Studies, but her lecturer and trustee of the centre, Duncan Grewcock, saw the potential for it as a display that would appeal to children.

The book follows the two characters, Dog and Duck, as they travel down the canal towards Nottingham. The catalyst for their journey is the construction of the heritage centre, momentarily disrupting their home.

I met up with Heather and Duncan at the Heritage Centre to find out more about the book, and why such projects are crucial to the community.

“The Heritage Centre were looking for an interpretive offer for children and young people and it made sense to do a picture book,” says Heather. “I’m doing a PhD at the moment which is looking at the use of creative writing as a tool for museums, and the idea was to explore this slightly different way of getting information and facts across about a heritage topic to an audience.”

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Before opening, the Heritage Centre compiled some interpretive goals which Heather used to devise the narrative of the book: making a home, making a visit, and making a living based around the canal.

“My husband and I walked up and down [the canal] to try and get an idea of the route,” says Heather. “It was a good way of incorporating familiar scenes for people when they come to look and see the book, but also this idea of who might pass you by as you’re going along the canal.”

It’s really important to make the most of the green spaces that you have

In the book, while Dog and Duck are on their journey, they find an egg and take it with them. The story is about wondering what kind of creature might be inside the egg, taking inspiration from the things they see around them.

Heather adds: “One of the things we wanted to explore was what makes a home, particularly from a child’s perspective. Whether or not it’s the things you have or the place where you live. What is it that makes a home?”

As someone who has lived in the Rylands all my life, and paid frequent visits to the canal year on year, I couldn’t help but think about how the area has shaped my perspective of home, and how lucky I feel to live less than 10 minutes away from the canal. Duncan, however, moved here 3 years ago from London.

“One of the things I found out quite quickly was that there isn’t, in this area, a lot of heritage facilities,” he says. “The canal was so much loved and used for walking, cycling, running…but this place had become a bit of an eye-sore because it had been left derelict for 20 years. And one of the things that you got a picture of quite quickly was that how much genuine support there was to just do something with this building.”

This support and determination was entirely community-focused. “In another world, somebody might have turned it into a pub or something but I think turning it into a community facility, where there aren’t many, certainly not based on heritage, is important for everyone to have access to.”

Heather adds: “It’s really important to make the most of the green spaces that you have. And it’s a peaceful location here.” At this point, we fall silent and let ourselves take a moment of appreciation for our surroundings by glancing out of the window at nature. It’s a moment of quiet pride.

One of the great things about Dog and Duck’s Canal Adventure is that it’s unique to the centre. It features in the book through illustration and photographs, even with small touches such as the centre’s wallpaper design, making it truly personal. The book was also a contribution to UNESCO Nottingham City of Literature, something Duncan and Heather are very proud of.

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“We’re keen to see what more we can do in that context to spread the benefits of the City of Literature as an idea,” says Duncan. “It’s been popular in the shop, and it’s a fantastic addition to the displays as well.”

Manager of the Heritage Centre, Jenny, reveals that they did quite a large print run of the book, but that they’d be happy to print more if they all sold out. She says: “It’s a good seller for us; our bestsellers in the shop are the things that are specific to here.”

Heather adds: “That’s really what the City of Literature is about, inspiring new fiction, and new writing, using heritage and culture.”

Make sure you visit the Heritage Centre, peruse the local-inspired gifts, have a cuppa with a friend, and keep an eye out for fellow Beestonians, Dog and Duck.

JM

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