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Most of my friends are writers. Sorry if that sounds pretentious but it’s true. Well, it’s inevitable, innit? Especially here in Whitley Bay. There must be something in that salty sea air. It attracts writers as well as musicians and artists.

I love working with creative pals. In recent weeks I’ve been helping two of them, Sandy Chadwin and Gail Curry with various  gigs, talks and a book launch. I’m going to use this blog post to promote their forthcoming gigs this month. So there! That’s what friends are for, eh?

This coming Thursday Sandy will give a talk on the writer MR James  in Newcastle’s  Old George Inn  The event is called The Ghost Stories of MR James: Games of an Antiquary. Doors open 7pm for a 7.30pm start. Tickets cost £2.50 and are available in advance here I’ll be there with friend and colleague Jennifer C Wilson helping Sandy set out the room and welcoming punters. Sandy’s an expert on MR James so come along and find out more about the writer’s work which is a potent mix of donnish humour and subtle horror.

Five days later I will be co-hosting Gail Curry’s gig at Whitley Bay library. Gail published her collection of poetry Lines from an Unfinished Love Song to mark this month’s World Mental Health Day and aims to raise awareness of issues that can affect anyone.

Lines from an Unfinished Love Song  charts a journey that began in 2000 with a chance meeting in Warsaw. Gail’s poems describe 17 years of friendship, love, loss, grief, depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and finally recovery.  All proceeds from the sale of the book go to Rape Crisis Tyneside and Northumberland.

I co-hosted Gail’s “soft” launch of the book at The Laing Art Gallery earlier this month. The room was filled with friends. The gig at Whitley Bay library will have friends in the auidence but also, gasp! Members of the public! This gig is part of Gail’s journey to recovery. Please support her by joining us on Tuesday 24th October. Tickets are free but you must prebook by phoning 0191 643 5390.

I’m proud of Gail, Sandy, Jennifer (two book launches under her belt this year!) and all my friends. You don’t have to be a writer to be in my gang but it helps if you like writers as chances are I’ll introduce you to one!

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At last! The annual excuse to celebrate poetry returns this Thursday 28th September. It’s National Poetry Day here in the UK. It happens every year, usually in October but this year it’s in September with lots of events happening in our city of culture, Hull. The theme of this year’s National Poetry Day is Freedom.

I’ve started my own tradition of running free to enter poetry events on and around National Poetry Day. Last year I ran a poetry appreciation session in Tynemouth. This  Thursday I’ve got two free events: one in North Tyneside and one in Gateshead’s Shipley Art Gallery.

Thursday morning 10am to 11.30am. Words of Freedom. Northumberland Park’s community room, Tynemouth. Free, no need to book.

Thursday afternoon 2pm to 3.30pm. Words of Freedom. Shipley Art Gallery. Free but please book in advance here

 I’m encouraging participants to bring along their favourite poems to share by famous and not so famous writers. You don’t have to stick to the theme of Freedom but I’ll only share poems with that theme. These events are NOT creative writing workshops.

In addition to poems, writer Allison Davies will join us in the afternoon session to talk about her play Trade which tours next year and the charity Dalit Freedom Networth UK which fights human trafficking and modern slavery in India https://dfn.org.uk/

Thanks to Fiona Betts of North Tyneside Parks and Ruth Sheldon of the Shipley for helping me organise and promote these events.

How well do you know your home town or the city closest to your home? I like to think I know my nearest city, Newcastle upon Tyne pretty well. I grew up living five miles from the city’s centre. I lived away for 20 years  but  kept tabs on Newcastle as it evolved into NewcastleGateshead and have had time to reacquaint myself with the place since moving back to the North East in 2009.

Earlier this month I visited one of Newcastle’s treasures. I won’t call it a “hidden treasure” as it’s open to the public but let me tell you about it. The Great North Museum: Hancock has a unique library on the second floor of the museum. It is comprised of the library and archives of the Natural History Society of Northumbria (NHSN), the library of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne (SANT) and Newcastle University’s Cowen Library.

Staff and volunteers help visitors find what they’re looking for. I had asked in advance to see some of the library’s illustrated books and when I arrived a range of beautiful books in sizes ranging from 8vo to Folio were sitting on a large table waiting for me. I looked at a 200 year old copy of Thomas Bewick’s History of British Birds. I never tire of examining his delicate woodcuts and this book included images of the Great Northern Diver, the Red-Breasted Merganser and the Ring Dotterel.

Other books included The Ladies’ Flower Garden of Ornamental Bulbous Plants and Flora Londinensis,  a book illustrating and describing the flora found around London in the mid 18th century. I enjoyed writing out names of plants, birds and mammals: Bulbous Crowfoot, The Lesser Horseshoe Bat, Whimbrel and The Hooded Seal.

The highlight of my visit was looking at Joseph Crawhall’s books. Joseph was a Newcastle artist known as Joseph Crawhall II as both his father and son were artists called Joseph. This Joseph, my Joseph (!) lived from 1821 to 1896 and his works are cheeky, quirky and very modern. They remind me of Billy Childish’s art .

Throughout my visit I was encouraged by staff and volunteers to look, touch and ask questions about the collection. Leather books are meant to be handled by human hands. Go and visit the library but check the opening times first as they vary according to university term time.

Hancock Library, 2nd Floor, Great North Museum: Hancock, Barras Bridge, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4PT. 0191 208 3555

Thank you to the library’s staff and volunteers and to TWAM.

Two and a half hours spent listening, learning, thinking, writing, walking, talking, feeling, being and drinking tea. This sounds like the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Yes, this is my kinda  afternoon and it’s the way I’ll spend this coming Saturday 29th July.

My pal and writing colleague, Jennifer C Wilson LOVES attending creative writing workshops. She also happens to be very good at running them. This Saturday she’s running a two and a half hour workshop called Park and Write in the Community Pavilion in Wallsend’s Richardson Dees Park.

The afternoon will be filled with writing prompts, a talk by one of the park wardens, an inspirational stroll around Wallsend’s Parks (did you know there are not one but three?!) plus time for writing and sharing. All this for a tenner. You joining us or what?! Please book online.

I’m listed on the workshop’s publicity as joint workshop facilitator but the truth is I’m Jennifer’s not so glamorous assistant. She’s in the driving seat and I’m there for the ride because I thoroughly enjoy her workshops. Come and join us on Saturday.

 

Flavour-1Did I ever tell you I’ve a 10 year old living and growing in Cambridge? Don’t worry, I haven’t left a school age child to fend for themselves in a city over 200 miles from where I live and type. No, I’m talking about Flavour, the community radio show I devised, produced and presented when I lived in Cambridge between 2007 and 2009.

I’ve always loved radio, especially non-commerical community stations. I spent years living  in London volunteering for hospital radio stations, RSLs (short term stations) and oral history projects. I couldn’t believe my luck when I heard 209radio, Cambridge’s vibrant community radio station. I got involved in the station at management level but wanted to present and produce my own show.

The station’s schedule was filled with arts and specialist music shows. It didn’t need another artsy show but I realised there was no coverage of the city’s wide-ranging food and drink scene.  I pitched an hour-long Saturday lunchtime show: Flavour of the Month to the station’s programming committee and got the green light in spring 2007.

imagesThe first show was researched, scripted, presented and produced by me and went out live on Saturday 14th July 2007.  Station manager Karl Hartland twiddled the knobs for the first few shows but soon I was driving the desk as well as meeting and greeting then  interviewing guests and managing volunteers.

Flavour of the Month (FOTM for short) was fuelled by my rampant curiosity and unashamed gluttony. It gave me the excuse to interview publicans, bakers, chefs, allotment owners as well as a broad section of Cambridge residents. These residents included a Muslim scholar talking about Ramadan, fellow 209radio volunteers celebrating Chinese New Year plus a second generation Polish man talking about his family’s Christmas traditions.

During my two years on Flavour I held down a full-time job in London which meant I spent over 20 hours a week commuting between the office and home. When I wasn’t sleeping or eating, I was preparing for the show. Why? Because nothing beats the buzz of live radio. Nothing!

maxresdefaultI stepped away from FOTM in spring 2009 as I prepared to relocate back to the North East. I left the show in the hands of my co-presenter Louise Hawes and new-ish volunteer, Matt Bentman. Matt now produces and co-presents the show with Alan Alder. Together they’ve shaped Flavour into a slick, professional show but it still has the fun and curiosity I insisted on including in the radio recipe I wrote back in 2007. Flavour broadcasts live every other Saturday lunchtime on 209radio’s successor,  Cambridge 105.

I’ve followed Flavour’s progress over the years and earlier this year I suggested we celebrate the show’s 10th birthday with a feature. I returned to Cambridge last week and met Matt in one of the city’s institutions, CB2 Bistro on Norfolk Street. We talked about the early days, the scripts and the show’s original theme tune, Plantation Inn by Stax house band, The Mar-Keys. We also made this wee advert for the anniversary show.

After the interview I wandered through Cambridge’s streets and green spaces. I saw huge, horrible changes as well as reassuringly familiar sights including The Cambridge Blue and The Geldart pubs plus Al-Amin shop on Mill Road.

The 10th anniversary show was broadcast on Saturday 8th July 2017 and you can hear it here. Matt’s created an impressive audio tapestry and it’s great to hear us laughing and enjoying ourselves. I’m proud of what I achieved and I love to hear Matt’s wit and interview technique plus Alan’s relaxed broadcasting style. The show’s new theme tune is Bowie’s Sound and Vision. How apt as Matt and Alan create sounds and images that linger in the listener’s mind.

Flavour was and still is about the stories of the interviewees rather than the egos of the interviewers. Go Flavour! Here’s to another decade of audio history making.

Poetry with Friends is three years old! Gail Curry and I held our first Poetry with Friends session on a Tuesday night in June 2014. Those early poetry appreciation with a difference sessions were held in North Shields overlooking the river. We moved over to Whitley Bay last year but have moved venues several times. We’ve swapped venues again this month but we’re hoping this time it’s for good.

We held our final PWF in St Paul’s Church on Tuesday 13th June. We shared poems by Yeats, John Burnside, Carol Ann Duffy, Pam Ayres, Geordie Broon plus poems by three of our PWF gang.

bay tradersOur new Tuesday night venue is the Big Local building which is opposite St Paul’s Church in the centre of Whitley Bay. The building used to be Walkers Furniture. It’s next to Bay Traders.

Our first meeting in our new venue takes place this coming Tuesday 27th June  7pm to 9pm. Cost: £4.50 (includes refreshments). Why don’t you join us?

Grenfell Tower stands in the middle of North Kensington, a short walk from Latimer Road tube. I say “stands” for the moment but it won’t last. This Tower of Horror will have to be demolished. And what will happen to the land?

I used to work in the shadow of Grenfell Tower.  I was a Recycling Officer for Kensington and Chelsea Council and my office was next to Kensington Leisure Centre. That was nearly 15 years ago. Google Earth shows me the leisure centre’s been tarted up and it looks like my old office has been demolished. I suspect the new leisure centre and Grenfell Tower’s flammable facelift were part of the same sweep of gentification. It’s been going on for years in this area.

I loved working in that part of Kensington and Chelsea. I could walk there from my home in Shepherd’s Bush.  I enjoyed walking to my office as folk went to work and dropped kids off at school. I loved listening to different languages and clocking a wonderful array of neat gardens and impressive window boxes. Residents were proud of their area. Affluent residents lived close to poorer families but I never felt this created a tension on the streets. People came together in shared spaces like Avondale Park on Walmer Road and Portobello Road market.

As I type I see that protesters are walking through streets near Grenfell Tower I know well. I walked them years ago. I knocked on doors and encouraged residents to recycle. Tonight’s protestors are urging the affluent residents to join their march for justice.

The coverage of this month’s London Bridge/Borough Market terrorist attack showed me an area of south London I no longer recognise. I lived in Borough almost 20 years ago. Borough Market has changed beyond belief because one one thing: gentrification. It’s the same gentrification I saw in Greenwich, Camden, Shepherd’s Bush, Soho, east London…all over the city.

Gentrification is not the main cause of the Grenfell Tower fire but it plays a part in this man-made tragedy. Gentrification equals profit for certain people but money counts for nothing when you’ve lost everything.

 

The look says it all. Another successful event! This photo was taken by Peter Robinson of Postives from Negatives at this month’s Pure Fiction, the literary event I run with Jennifer C Wilson and Sandy Chadwin.

Like The A-Team’s Hannibal I love it when a plan comes together. I spend a great deal of time organising workshops and live literary/musical events. Most of these events involve collaborating with others, usually my friends Sandy Chadwin and Jennifer C Wilson. In the past month or so we’ve led writing workshops in a school and with a local guide group,  a poetry appreciation session in a local care home plus Pure Fiction and The North Tyneside Writers’ Circle.

This time next week I’ll be gearing up to host the launch of Jennifer’s second novel, Kindred Spirits: Royal Mile  and the following weekend I’ll be involved in the IRON in the Soul festival . The weekend after that Sandy and I will host another North Tyneside Writers’ Circle. I rely on and work with Jennifer and Sandy on a weekly basis.

For most of 2017 we’ve  been organising and hosting events and then throwing ideas at each other without a chance to sit down and have a chat! I thought I’d use this blog as an excuse to say thank you to them both. The A-Team lives on in Whitley Bay!

I’m hosting Pure Fiction on Thursday and it’s got me thinking back to last year. That’s when I started knocking around the nascent idea of Pure Fiction with my friends, fellow writers and The Next Page colleagues, Jennifer C Wilson and Sandy Chadwin.

Pure Fiction celebrates writers of fiction and their work. Last year we held two Pure Fiction events in Whitley Bay Library. The first one in July featured Kitty Fitzgerald plus Jennifer and Sandy. Carol Clewlow headlined November’s Pure Fiction with support from children’s author, L.A. Craig.

The event this Thursday evening  is our first Pure Fiction of 2017. It’s a relaunch of sorts as we’re trying a new venue, The Old George Inn, Newcastle’s oldest pub located just off the Bigg Market.

The evening features writers Rod Glenn & Victoria Watson reading from and talking about their work. Rod is the author of the best-selling Sinema series. Victoria is a writer, copy-editor and Creative Writing tutor.

Tickets cost £3 and with limited seating, I’d recommend you prebook via Ticketsource. There is no booking fee. You only pay three quid. Doors open 6.45pm and we kick off at 7pm. You joining us or what?

 

It’s almost May! How did that happen? I caught up with a London-dwelling friend of mine yesterday. It was great to tell her about the North East literary events taking place  next month.

I’m looking forward to performing at Poetry Jam in Durham on Thursday 4th May. I’m sharing the floor with Paul Summers and Tom Conway at the Waddington Street Centre, 3 Waddington Street, Durham, DH1 4BG from 7pm.

The following week sees the relaunch of Pure Fiction in the upstairs of The Old George Inn off Newcastle’s Bigg Market on Thursday 11th May. old george

Writers Rod Glenn and Victoria Watson will be reading from and talking about their work. I’ll be hosting the evening. Doors open 6.45pm for a prompt 7pm start. Buy your three quid tickets in advance from Ticketsource

North Tyneside Writers’ Circle returns to North Shields library on Saturday 20th  May from 11am to 1pm.  I run this with event with Jennifer C Wilson and Sandy Chadwin and May’s guest is the writer Mark Iveson.pencil-sketch-colour

I’m also running a couple of writing workshops in May and want to attend some of the events at the Newcastle Poetry Festival

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