Posted: Wed, 22 Apr 2015 13:11 by Sarah Vallance
It's been a pleasure for the Centre for New Writing to work with nine talented writers, who produced outstanding commissioned writing in five literary forms for the Affective Digital Histories project.
The project is timely. As I mentioned in my introduction at the book launch of Hidden Stories, Leicester has been generating a lot of history from above lately, with wall to wall coverage of Richard III. Complementing this, the creative writing commissions focus on histories from below. The quality of the writing is evident, and it has won two awards so far. So, too, have we collectively established the full value of academic collaborations with skilled communities of practice.
The commissioned writers did a lot of research, assisted by Simon Dixon of the David Wilson Library. Our digital archives informed and shaped their writing without overloading it. It's really worth reading the author introductions to each commissioned piece in the book, where each writer explains her/his creative research processes.
I have also been struck by the extent to which two of the writers were umbilically connected to the Cultural Quarter, showing how postcolonial Leicester's industrial heritage really is. Irfan Master's play featured his mother's experiences of misunderstanding colloquialisms when she arrives at a factory, gluing soles to shoes. The comic tone of his play offers something different from the more familiar (if justifiable) grimness of many post-immigration stories. His mother was at the launch: living history in the flesh. Divya Ghelani also has family ties to the Cultural Quarter. She brought the typewriter that inspired her flash fiction sequence 'An Imperial Typewriter' to the book launch. Mark Goodwin ended off the evening with an evocative film poem, featuring Volcrepe Mill in Glossop.
Thanks are due to Ming Lim, whose resourcefulness enabled the publication of the commissioned work in book form, and to the wonderful Phoenix for carrying off the launch with such panache. Cuttlefish and Phoenix have linked the book to the Hidden Stories app really beautifully.
Dr. Corinne Fowler
Director, Centre for New Writing, University of Leicester
Photo: Writer Pete Kalu at the launch of Hidden Stories
(Image courtesy of Pamela Raith Photography)
Posted: Wed, 19 Nov 2014 10:52 by Amy Barnes
By Divya Ghelani
[You can read Divya's response to the Affective Digital Histories' Creative Commissions call - on the Centre for New Writing's website here.]
My father's side of the family are Ugandan Asians. They arrived into the city of Leicester along with thousands of other refugees during the exodus of 1972. I myself was born in Jamnagar, Gujarat, in 1981. (Papa had been sent, aged fifteen, from Kampala to the town of Bhanwad, Gujarat, in order to take care of the family business and a sick relative.) Years later, he wished to reunite with his family and that is how I ended up in Loughborough, Leicestershire, aged four. It was April 10th 1985.
It had never been my intention to write a Ugandan Asian character. I have always viewed it as the experience of a former generation, another culture. Why tell their stories when I have enough trouble telling my own?
What emboldened me to apply for The University of Leicester's Affective Digital Histories Commission was the possibility of local history research. The Centre for New Writing had promised to supply commissioned writers with images, press cuttings, audio and video clips in order to help them to better understand how Leicester's local communities had changed in response to urban decline. For chosen writers, the University would offer up it's archivists, oral historians and academics.
In attempting to write about a displaced Ugandan Asian character, I considered I might learn more about my wider family history. It would be an opportunity to research and understand the circumstances of their resettlement in Leicestershire within a political, sociological and historical context. There would be ethical issues to navigate through (what stories to tell and how) but, as a consequence, I might end up knowing myself more. What better reason is there for a writer to embark on a project?
The arrival and resettlement of Ugandan Asians into Great Britain has been well documented in oral histories, memoirs, museum exhibitions and regional TV and radio documentaries. The 40th anniversary of their arrival passed two years ago and much has been made of this 'twice migrant' community's prosperity and success in Britain. This narrative risks occluding equally important stories of failure, racism and poverty, of learning to fight for one's rights and facing the consequences. It is these alternative threads that I sought to examine when writing 'An Imperial Typewriter'
Alongside personal family histories and living room conversations, I listened to around twenty oral histories and watched numerous programmes and documentaries on the subject. I read the work of Pippa Virdee and Valerie Marrett (whose authoritative works on migration and modern Leicester I will return to again and again). I read newspaper clippings from the University's newly acquired Leicester Mercury archive helped along by archivist Simon Dixon. I walked the exact route my character Vinesh takes from Imperial Typewriter Company to Faire Brothers in the Cultural Quarter with oral historian, Colin Hyde. Colin's formidable knowledge of Leicester's history illuminated the city's streets for me. (The Hidden Stories App that is now available for free download on iTunes follows this exact route.)
I knew something of the Imperial Typewriter Company long before I wrote about it. My uncle (himself a Leicester Ugandan Asian refugee) had worked there as an assembly worker back in the 70s. He has since passed away but my father would sometimes recount a story about him. The story goes that when my uncle went for an interview at the Imperial Typewriter Company, his white interviewer asked him to assemble a typewriter under timed conditions. He tried on three attempts and failed but instead of accepting defeat, he asked his interviewer to take the test himself. Not wanting to lose face, the interviewer took up the challenge and failed. He gave my uncle a job on the spot. This story of 'sticking it to the boss' stayed in my mind when I began researching the strike at the Imperial Typewriter Company.
Like so many people, I am nostalgic for the world of typewriters. I am too young to have ever owned one but my grandfather, Mohonlal Ghelani, used one near enough every day. Bapuji had been a criminal lawyer back in Kampala. He spent the last years of his life at his vast desk in Loughborough translating the Bhagavada Gita from Sanskrit and Gujarati into English. He worked on a beautiful old typewriter with a Roget's Thesaurus beside him and as a young girl, I remember watching in awe as he wrote. Even before I could read, I wanted to inspect the typewriter's keys; run my fingers along its inky ribbon and shake its handle to make it 'ping'.
I wonder what he and my grandmother would make of my story, how each one of them might tell it differently. 'An Imperial Typewriter' is a modern fable about an immigrant worker's journey through Leicester. It also a writer's attempt at reading and understanding her own story a little better.
Divya Ghelani holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia and an M.Phil in Literary Studies from The University of Hong Kong. She is the recipient of a Writing East Midlands Mentorship, a Literary Consultancy Mentorship and an Arts Council Grant of £6,250. Her novel-in-progress, RUNAWAY, recently came second in the 2014 Harry Bowling Prize for New Writing.
'An Imperial Typewriter' is now being converted into a short film and cross-media project with the help of the 2014 edition of B3 Media's TalentLab, Nottingham University's Mixed Reality Lab and BAFTA.
Photograph: 'The Good Companion', by NMK Photography, used under a Creative Commons license.
Posted: Mon, 17 Nov 2014 17:13 by Amy Barnes
By Carol Leeming FRSA
[You can read Carol's response to the Affective Digital Histories' Creative Commissions call - on the Centre for New Writing's website here]
I have now completed my successful Affective Digital Histories Writing commission, a choreopoem titled Love the life you live ... live the life you love and submitted it to the Centre for New Writing, University of Leicester, part of the Affective Histories Team. For the project, creative digital designers have been working with my text alongside the text of other writers commissioned by the project to develop a mobile phone app. The result of all this creative work will be launched, along with the accompanying phone app, on 27th November 2014 in the Cultural Quarter, at the Light Bulb Studio, LCB Depot, 31 Rutland Street, Leicester. I will be reading a short excerpt of my choreopoem at this illustrious launch event, in the area that inspired it -I simply can't wait!
On reflection it has been a fascinating journey, of new experiences and learning, meeting and linking with new people: a range of professionals, academics, designers and, of course, other wonderful writers. I appreciated the bursary, the research materials and information that were made available for us writers, i.e. information about the area, its local social and industrial history. This enabled me to be inspired and write confidently, as I could access, as part of my research phase for the piece, all the information I needed. Then, later on, the opportunity of working with creative digital designers for the very first time - specifically for a phone app.
I enjoyed the marvellous experience, (if somewhat challenging) of sharing my choreopoem, with a live local audience, who sat riveted for about an hour at Embrace Arts, followed by a lively Q&A and very positive feedback, judging by the questionnaires they completed! Creating further interest, in my writing and future professional productions, and also in the Cultural Quarter area among those unfamiliar with it. An added bonus were the two members of the audience whose family ancestors had worked and lived around the area in the past. All of these new opportunities and experiences, contributed greatly to my knowledge and further professional, creative development as a writer.
It therefore provided a great chance for me to contribute ambient literature – to enrich visitors' experience of the Cultural QuarterI am sure that all the different components of the project, e.g. the writing and use of the phone app etc., will add immeasurably to changing perceptions of and how people will experience the area – it has already done so for me! I am very excited by all of this and other events and activities, e.g. a Writers Sharing Day, planned for the future by the Affective Digital Histories Team, for further public engagement with this very innovative project. Lastly, I believe the project celebrates and acknowledges, by combining together not only the industrial and social past of the area, but importantly, peoples' shared memories, recollections and speculations, all of which, in some way, have left an imprint of themselves. Creating an important legacy for the people of Leicester, to be added to for the future.
Read Carol's blog here.
Photo: Marshall's Music Depot, now Helsinki. Courtesy of Ambrose Musiywa.
Posted: Fri, 14 Nov 2014 11:55 by Amy Barnes
By Mark Goodwin
[You can read Mist's Rave - Mark's response to the Affective Digital Histories' Creative Commissions call - on the Centre for New Writing's website here]
Back in May of this year I went on location with my field-recorder to Volcrepe Mill in Glossop. (Glossop nestles itself into the western edge of The Peak District. For some years now, I have imagined this town as an outlying cog of the great engine of Manchester – a cog that grinds against the edge of the gritstone plateau.)
I'm a sound-artist as well as a poet, and so the mission for me was to bring back some sonic textures, as well as some spoken poetry improvised in the moment in response to Volcrepe Mill's derelict building-scape. Derelict buildings hold a fascination for me, and this location – an extensive abandoned rubber mill – is probably the best derelict building I've ever visited. It turned out to be a sound-recordist's dream: the interior of the main building was one huge resonance chamber that picked up and mixed the sounds of jets in the sky, pigeons in the rafters, the gurgle of Glossop Brook, and church bells some miles away.
Decaying buildings are intimidating spaces, and for good reason. It's important to approach such places with close attention to staying uninjured. It's also important to have the right skills – I'm also a rock-climber, and so I'm very used to being careful in potentially threatening places. (I was also not alone on this trip.) So, I first took a recce through the buildings: climbing paint-flake carpeted stairwells; making my way across a rotten wooden floor by balancing along the line of a joist below the boards; moving from one building to the other through an enclosed steel walk way; and exploring the expansive factory floors, empty but for broken glass, cooing pigeons, and rows of ceiling-supporting columns. I was taking careful note of all the dangers; remembering the reliable places to step on and getting my route fixed in my head. I then retraced my steps to outside and had lunch in the May sunshine. Having taken refreshments, I then repeated my dereliction journey accompanied by my trusty, fluffy field-recorder ... and, as I went, I improvised spoken poetry in the moment, sometimes making use of the 'echoey' space.
The produce of my wee adventure – 36 minutes of poetry field-recording – informed and inspired my written poem – Mist's Rave – which you can explore here.
You can take my sonic audio-tour of Volcrepe Mill here.
The poetry field-recording – Glossop Brook & Volcrepe Mill – is very different in form and content to Mist's Rave and although it is not essential to listen to it to gain access to the written poem, it is certainly one half of a duo that meets haunting dereliction and abandoned industry.
Mark would very much like to thank Arts Council England who provided the funds to purchase the fluffy field-recorder that accompanied him on this trip. He is also hugely grateful to the Centre For New Writing and Affective Digital Histories for commissioning Mist's Rave. Mark's latest full-length collection, Steps, which includes a sound-enhanced poetry CD, is very recently published by Longbarrow Press.
Read Mark's blog here.
Photograph: Mark at Volcrepe Mill.
Posted: Wed, 12 Nov 2014 16:20 by Amy Barnes
By Kevan Manwaring
[You can read Marginalia: Graffiti, Urban Coding and the Semiotics of the Street - Kevan's response to the Affective Digital Histories' Creative Commissions call - on the Centre for New Writing's website here]
When I first read the brief I must admit my eyes glazed over. Recreating De-Industrialsed Places? What could be further from my field of interest? But then the stubborn streak which makes me a highly-motivated writer kicked inTwo principles of mine rang out: I am a writer and I can write about anything. And, wherever you live is interesting. Then I re-read the brief and I realized (sound of penny dropping) that it did intersect with my own interest in psychogeography and narratives of place. I had just completed two collections of folk tales, recording obscure stories of Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire, and that illustrated to me that there are treasures everywhere waiting to be unearthed. They are not just in picturesque villages. I was all too aware of that, having grown up in a depressingly de-industrial Northampton (where I was to write my first novel, inspired by my research into the history of the town). I had taught myself the history of where I grew up because I wanted to know why it was like the way it was. Its architecture, its town-planning, its genius loci, had a very real impact on me, growing up, as it still does on all who live there. Phenomenologically, it influences quality of life on a daily basis. It's the Affect, stupid.
There was something about Leicester's red-brick factories that reminded me of my 'dirty old town' – so that, in itself, was a way in.
I can't recall when or how I first alighted upon the idea of exploring the graffiti-culture of the Cultural Quarter, aka St George's. It probably happened, like a lot of my ideas, in the white heat of a black coffee-high, in the snow-storm of my daily online work. I probably read the brief while scanning emails in a coffee-break. I must have let it digest while I munched on a chocolate digestive and then, ping, like a microwave ready-meal, there it was. I would write about marginalized voices – graffiti artists – those who 'write in the margins' of our urban landscapes, below the radar of the commerce-mainstream, out of sight of the CCTV cameras.I quickly wrote the proposal, while the fire in the head was with me, and fired it off.
It got commissioned. So all I had to do was write the thing. Gulp. But, trusting in the powers of research, all things are possible (or writable), I set to work.
Initial field-research went thus: I simply walked around St George's with my eyes and ears open, oblivious to its history, avoiding any apps or maps, or guidebooks. Next, I went round it again listening to the excellent St George's app. This revealed to me many things I hadn't noticed – and re-framed the ones I had. Then I walked around some more until the walls began to speak. I pressed my head to the brick and ink oozed out…
I followed this up with a visit to the Leicester Mercury archives. Housed in the University's Raiders of the Lost Ark-like special storage warehouse, they would prove invaluable. I was helped enormously by Simon Dixon, Digital Humanities and Special Collections Manager, who quickly located the relevant files amid the acres of musty shelving. I scanned the clippings about the city's graffiti subculture, noting how its reporting turned from depicting it as a 'problem' to a source of local 'pride.' To bring it up to date, I visited Izzie, the proprietor of HQ – the fab Graffiti 'centre' on Charles Street. She told me of 'official sites' and sent me links of some recent photographs.
Armed with a whole wadge of notes, photographs and photocopies I retreated to my bat-cave to turn the chaos into some kind of sense. I came up with a framing narrative that pushed the boundaries of the creative and critical modes of writing. This was 'historical narrative non-fiction' after all, so I felt behoven to tell a story. And that is what I set out to do – placing myself in the picture, as the wide-eyed researcher exploring the zone with the help of a 'Trickster' guide figure, in the form of Elephant Head, a Ganesha-esque skateboarding graffiti-artist … and that's when the fun really began.