Monday, 19 February 2018

The Mayflower Generation PREVIEW LITFEST 2018

The Mayflower Generation

5pm Saturday 17 March - Free event at The Leeds Library in Commercial Street.

Selected by The Sunday Times as a History Book of the Year 2017

Rebecca Fraser
The voyage of the Mayflower and the founding of Plymouth Colony is one of the seminal events in world history. But the poorly-equipped group of English Puritans who ventured across the Atlantic in the early autumn of 1620 had no sense they would pass into legend. They had eighty casks of butter and two dogs but no cattle for milk, meat, or ploughing. They were ill-prepared for the brutal journey and the new land that few of them could comprehend. But the Mayflower story did not end with these Pilgrims’ arrival on the coast of New England or their first uncertain years as settlers.

Rebecca Fraser traces two generations of one ordinary family and their extraordinary response to the challenges of life in America. Edward Winslow, an apprentice printer born in Worcestershire, fled England and then Holland for a life of religious freedom and opportunity. Despite the intense physical trials of settlement, he found America exotic, enticing, and endlessly interesting. He built a home and a family, and his remarkable friendship with King Massassoit, Chief of the Wampanoags, is part of the legend of Thanksgiving.
Yet, fifty years later, Edward’s son Josiah was commanding the New England militias against Massassoit’s son in King Philip’s War. The Mayflower Generation is an intensely human portrait of the Winslow family written with the pace of an epic. Rebecca Fraser details domestic life in the seventeenth century, the histories of brave and vocal Puritan women and the contradictions between generations as fathers and sons made the painful decisions which determined their future in America.

Reserve your seat with ticket from:

Monday, 12 February 2018

Sweet Wild Note - Richard Smyth PREVIEW LITFEST 2018

Richard Smyth
Partnership event with Leeds Libraries and Read Regional

Richard Smyth is a writer, researcher and editor based in Bradford. He is a regular contributor to Bird Watching magazine, and reached the final of Mastermind with a specialist subject of British birds. 

In A Sweet, Wild Note, Smyth asks what it is about birdsong that we so love, exploring the myriad ways in which it has influenced literature, music and art, our feelings about the natural world, and our very ideas of what it means to be British.

A Guardian ‘Readers’ Choice’ Best Book of 2017

Wednesday 14 March 2018 
7.30pm HEART Centre, Headingley 


Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Poet James Nash at Spring Bank Primary School

Sally Bavage writes:

Listening to poetry at Spring Bank Primary School

We were all Listeners as year 5 performed their original poems based on the ghostly phantoms of The Listeners, by Walter de la Mare.  As James Nash - the writer and poet commissioned by Headingley LitFest to work once again with the pupils at the school – said, “If you are of a certain vintage you will probably remember having read this at school!”  Nods from a number of us in the audience, who had turned out on a distinctly chilly afternoon to receive a warm welcome from the youngsters and the staff. 

An air of excitement prevailed as they got ready, then absolute disciplined silence as they gathered themselves and read out parts of their work – a single favourite line, a micropoem, even the whole thing.  First, ideas about the stimulus poem had been shared, then original work created, shared, edited, redrafted and reading practised for performance.  Great respect was shown for each other in the final session of sharing and performing their work with parents, carers, other classes and other school staff.  They went through scared to triumph and pride.  Pretty daunting but a great life lesson.

The wind is whistling; I am waiting impatiently

This is the house where my family died

The cry of lost souls

I dream to be let out of this dreadful world

I hear the echoes of the past

Wolves howl against the moonlit sky

My dog is digging up my grave

Very atmospheric as we watched the snow swirling over the rooflights!

As Mr Brawley, headteacher, said at the end: "Poetry keeps you in touch with your feelings and enables you to really see the world."

Parents comments included:

Fantastic event.  Children full of enthusiasm.  More 'Poetry Please' (a reference to Roger McGough on Radio 4)

Great for the children to meet and work with a poet.  Very inspiring for them and encouraging.  They enjoyed the topic and the chance to perform

A very valuable event.  Wonderful to see the children engaged and create such wonderful work

The children read their poems really well and confidently

A lovely sharing of poetry.  Fabulous ideas spoken with confidence.  Thank you

Great to hear kids.  Confidence boost to read out loud and use voice – good/interesting use of language and clear appreciation of poetry and narrative

And staff at the school also had their say:

Really encourages the children to think about language and create a picture
Caroline Mitchell, year 1 teacher

Thank you to James Nash for some excellent workshops with my class.  The children have been inspired by the sessions and have enjoyed writing and performing poetry.
Christina Johnson, class 5 teacher

The workshops have been fantastic!  The level of engagement for all the children has been great – even our reluctant readers have been enthused and wanted to share their poetry with the class.
Vicky Loulie, year 5 teaching assistant

The assembly performance was excellent once again.  I taught the class last year and it was great to see every child reading their poetry with confidence.  James achieves a lot in a short amount of time!
Luke Wrankmore, year 4 teacher

My year 2 class worked with James on Superhero poetry last year -the confidence the sessions instilled in children was wonderful to see and had lasting effects in the weeks and months that followed.  One little boy who had arrived very recently from Syria was thrilled to be able to read his poem. 

The whole school looks forward to James coming and each class clamours to work with him.  The quality of the language year 5 were able to use in their poetry this year was excellent.  It's wonderful for them to have an insight into how poets create poetry and it's made them very excited about learning more about poetry in the future.
Jo Ward, class 2 teacher

And finally, what of the children themselves?
The best thing? reading out my work
What I have learned: editing and redrafting
Why it's good to share: you grow in confidence; you're proud of your work
What I will remember: the life and work of a real poet


Tuesday, 6 February 2018

Schwa - A Lark PREVIEW LITFEST 2018

SCHWA - A LARK Saturday 10 March
7.30pm HEART Centre £5

Richard Ormrod, Jacqui Wicks and Peter Spafford
SCHWA is Peter Spafford on piano and vocals, Richard Ormrod on too many instruments to list, and chanteuse Jacqui Wicks. They are stalwarts of the Litfest, having premiered both Threshold and I Am Alive in previous years. Here they preview Bird Songs, their forthcoming performance piece about the wonder and mystery of feathered creatures - and throw in some old favourites.

Playful, but not frivolous; intricately constructed songs that constantly surprise whilst sounding like you’ve always known them. It’s good to know that music can still bring new joy. (Pancakes for Davros)

Vivid lyricism and authentic vocals blended with fantastic, eclectic arrangements. (Testament)

There’s a northern ambience to the whole thing. Listening to it in Switzerland, this feels to me like its particular character. (Merz)

New Parlour? Fairport meets Threepenny Opera? Schwa take poems by a range of dead poets and set them to intelligent, emotive music.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Poet James Nash at Shire Oak Primary School

Sally Bavage writes:

Tall Oaks from Little Acorns Grow?

True Grit on the path into the well-prepared school as temperatures mid-afternoon were plummeting.  True grit, too, in the assembly hall as year 3 gear themselves up for performing their own creative writing in front of peers, parents and half a dozen school staff.

This term's theme, Plants and Trees, gave  starring roles to a wide variety of trees – silver birch, oak, weeping willow, beech, fruit trees, even palms.  And starring roles, too, to some of the 7-year-olds who are clearly destined for careers as headteachers, MPs or actors.  

Declaiming a line, a favourite bit or the whole poem, they stepped up one after another with the aplomb of those born into limelight.  The creative writing seeds planted and nurtured by head gardener James Nash, our local poet and writer, working with year 3 and their teacher Ian Martin, once again bore fruit.  OK, enough of the natural history.

In winter I'm lonely because there are no apples on my branches.

I miss my leaves, I'm lonely.  Leaves keep you warm.

On a sunny day people shelter in my shade and eat sandwiches.

I can see the baby birds trying to fly.

I can smell the lavender.

On a stormy day I can feel my acorns fall.

As class teacher Mr Martin summed up, “James has brought us such joy in the classroom. One youngster said 'This is fun!' at the first workshop. But a lot of hard work and insight into the process of writing and the hard work of a writer.  Working with James again has been inspiring, helping us all to understand the creative writing process; we have some absolute gems here.”   And the cry of 'Poetry', rather than 'Cheese', resounded round the hall as he took the 'team photo.'

The youngsters themselves commented, amongst many other pieces of feedback:

Best thing about the project: pride in writing

Why it is good to share your work with others: parents will be proud of me; you get to know when you've done a good job

What you will remember:  poetry writing is great!

Remember, these young people are only seven or eight years old!  Where will this knowledge of their own writing and performance skills take them?

The parents also had some highly supportive comments to give us:

Great.  My 8-year-old enjoyed te work and improved is confidence. He's also been singing his own song verses following more creative work in school.

What a good event!  It's great to bring arts specialists into school – we need more of it!

Good performance.  Very confident loud voices.

This is an amazing way of engaging pupils in writing poetry.  All abilities are included in the activity and pupils all enjoy writing their poems and sharing them.

Lovely and amazing to hear the poems and the proces of working with James Nash has been inspiring for my son.

EMOTIONAL!  Brilliant work for ALL the children.  What a wonderful opportunity to work with James Nash.  Thank you!

Wonderful opportunity for the children to work with James Nash.  They seem to have really enjoyed it.

Enjoyed hearing all the things the children liked and learnt about the trees and the understanding of writing about them.

The children did really well.  It was lovely to hear all their poems.


Great to see the kids performing their own work.  They seemed to have enjoyed themselves.


Amazing poetry – really well read by everyone!  Obviously a great inspiration to all the kids.
Very good.

Fantastic poems and performances from year 3.  Lovely to see how hard they've worked on poetry

The children were really good at reading their poems.

Year 3 were really confident and brilliant.

Wonderful event.  Very well organised!

Fantastic!  Great to see all the children so inspired.

It was a pleasure to hear each child contribute what they wrote.  James Nash was very popular with my grandsons.  What a delightful way for them to learn about poetry.

Lovely event, a joy to watch and hear all their poems.

Really good to see children enjoying poetry and engaged in their writing.

Inspiring!  So great for the children to be introduced to poetry at a young age.

More lines from the children’s poems

In winter I dream of keeping my leaves
and being the shape of a Christmas tree.

I see an owl on a stormy day

On a sunny day I want people to climb into me

I miss my leaves

I dream of soaring through the sky like the birds

In spring I look camouflaged
my green leaves hide me.

People don’t dare climb me
they fear falling in the fast flowing river.

It’s cold, I can’t breathe, ice on my branches.

I need a friend to play with.

Headingley LitFest is very grateful, once again, to have the support of the Inner North West area management committee for supporting poetry workshops like this.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Poet Malika Booker at Brudenell Primary School

Class teacher Laura Hart with Malika Booker

Richard Wilcocks writes:
Malika was the main focus of the class's attention as soon as she walked through the door on the first of three sessions. She brought a kind of infective confidence with her, and when she started to talk about her family, and about truth, lies and exaggeration, it was clear from the smiles and the nods of recognition that she was making an impact. 

She told the ten year-olds that she was going to read them one of her poems which didn't rhyme, and which contained all three of those things. It was about a cat which was given away when she was born - true - and about how her her mum had seen 'babies mangled/ by jealous cats in the hospital' - exaggeration - and about how her mum had also had seven dreams about the cat scratching the baby - a lie. A copy of the poem ('Letting Go') was given out to go with the reading. 

The questions and answers flew back and forth, and the writing began, tentatively in some cases for the children whose first language is not English. Malika helped as if they were all in Masterchef: "Remember poetry is like cooking," she said. "You've got to start with the right ingredients."
Malika rehearsing the class

Class teacher Laura Hart carried on the work, so that by the time the second session came around, the children were ready to start thinking about performing the short narrative poems they had written, or partly written. Malika worked out a chorus with them and put it on the whiteboard.

We tell our stories
from our lives
add truth and lies
dreams shadows and surprise 

"Think about what will bring your stories alive," said Malika. Letters and text messages for parents and friends were sent out, inviting them for the next week in the hall.

The third and final session was preceded by an extended rehearsal in the gym. It was intensive and elaborate. Laura Hart had worked wonders in a week, making sure everything had been completed, and began with groups of three or four stepping forward to read, then returning to their seats as the whole class chanted the chorus. It worked well. Malika delighted everyone by leading a series of games and exercises which she had learned when she was with the Royal Shakespeare Company. These were to improve delivery, increase concentration and strengthen group work. 

There were tongue-twisters, stepping in and out of an invisible river and throwing invisible balls while making eye-contact. There was an exercise involving saying words as if gum was being chewed at the same time. A distinction was made between a 'classroom voice' and a 'playground voice'. Malika wanted a playground voice, of course.

The performance was extraordinary and I mean that. These children had come so far in just a fortnight. They displayed talents they hadn't known about. They had discovered significant facts about their own abilities. Shyness had not been completely eliminated, but it was on the run! If I needed any recent confirmation of the fact that poetry and drama are essential parts of a balanced education, I would choose that fortnight at Brudenell School. 

Selected poems

Everyone walked on that fluffy carpet,
Then into that gooey mud,
Every night it happens,
it still carries on.     (Maryam)

One murderous night I got up,

I went to get my daily Lotto,
I won 10 billion!
Then I woke up with 50 pence next to me,
I cried rage and fireballs       (Romarn)

My dream

My memory
Riding my bike
My dad holding me
Then he let go...     (Osama)

We dropped him at the hospital,

But on the way home'
I saw a coloured poster,
A warning,
At that hospital they
Suck out your brains.

I didn't worry,

My dad has infinite brains,
It was all okay,
Once I woke up from my dream.   (Adil)

It was time to go to bed,

We heard some creepy creaking noises,
And banging on the wall,
It was like a tornado approaching.

My mum went to investigate,

the banging was the neighbours,
But to this day
We still don't know where
the creepy creaking
came from.    (Nicole)

As dark as space in the

middle of the night,
looking all around me,
to the bathroom.

The wind sounded like a drilling chainsaw,

creaking sounds and creepy groans.
Suddenly the hallway lights switched off!
Next time,
I'm not going to the bathroom alone.     (Hashim)

Comments from the Audience
It is amazing because my daughter love reading and writing poetry after what she learned in three weeks.

Very interesting, I love poetry and I want my son to get involved in it. It gives kids confidence to express their self. Good luck …! J

I like and enjoyed listening to the poems written by the children as it improves children’s confidence and imagination.

My child really enjoyed this and lit up as he read the poem out loud. He is normally really shy but this helped him overcome his shyness. Thank you.

Beautiful poem – children were great. Amazing.

Comments from the Headteacher – Jo Davies

It is really lovely to see the progress the children make in such a short time – not just in their writing but in their performance skills. Sometimes, there is a little performer in there that we knew nothing about.

Other Staff Members

A lovely event, evidently improves children’s presentation and performance confidence.

It was clear how much hard work had gone into it. Was really effective and could see how much the children enjoyed it.

Was good to get background about the inspiration behind the work. Was nice to hear about how long the children had been working on the poems and the process the wet through to create the poem.

Excellent as always. The children had obviously worked hard and had created moving and thoughtful poems. They showed great confidence in standing up and performing.

Inspirational and always brilliant. It boosts the children’s confidence and allows them to come out of their shells. They can express themselves wholly. Continue the great project.

The children had the opportunity to compose and then perform their poetry. I saw some children (quiet children) perform amazingly. Really developed confidence in them. Great work!