The following review appeared on the Birmingham Book Festival blog after the readings by the National Academy of Writing students as part of Festival.
by Lucy Suttle
They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, but why not just have both? On Friday 7th October, Birmingham City University in association with the National Academy of Writing played host to a stimulating variety of writing talent, as some of the West Midland’s budding, as well as more established writers treated us to live performances of their recent works. The writing was complimented by a slideshow of some truly lingering and extraordinary images that I’m sure won’t easily be forgotten by anyone who attended.
‘For me it is I, and it the only reproduction of me which is all ways I, for me’ wrote Gertrude Stein, in 1939, art collector, poet and writer. The portrait of Stein by Pablo Picasso (inset) was brought to life for us by Kathleen Dixon Donnelly, a senior lecturer in Public Relations at Birmingham City University and a survivor of the National Academy of Writing’s graduate diploma, as she read aloud her pros piece entitled ‘On Seeing Picasso’s Portrait of Gertrude Stein For the Second Time’. Well-travelled Kathleen, who has given presentations in the US and the UK , read with eloquence her account of ‘wallowing in the birth of modernism’ on a dream day in London.
The tone changed as we welcomed to the stage Edmund Bealby-Wright, whose first novel, ‘The Farewell Symphony’, earned him the 2010 Impress Prize for New Writers. Edmund treated us to a very witty, life-in-the-day type sketch on his grapples with an insurance company following a fire in the family home (hot enough even, he remarks, to melt the soles of his wife’s Ugg boots).
A particular highlight of the evening was Roy McFarlane, Birmingham’s previous Poet Laureate who read aloud three pieces of poetry in response to the Birmingham riots in August, boldly tackling glaring issues that are all too easily pushed aside as he reminds us that the modern world ‘ain’t no Alice in Wonderland’ in his poem entitled ‘It Wasn’t Always Like This’. James Kennedy kept it local as he blended a medley of words and images, taking us with him on a literary journey through Birmingham; on the way we pass kids swigging energy drinks, derelict buildings and some of Digbeth’s dingier pubs in ‘glorious Cheapside’. In a similar vein, Derek Littlewood collaborating with photographer Paul O Donnell, who makes images of areas rough sleepers have used and left, presented to us a combination of words and images that brought to life the ghosts of the vagrants. Derek’s frank descriptions of the remnants left behind by the homeless went together well with Paul O Donnell’s eerie black and white photography.
Demonstrating yet again the diversity of the evening’s talent, Paul Costello then read aloud a sharp and comical memoir of his experiences running a B&B. Following close behind is Polly Wright, who has three plays that she is both writing and directing and has had her short stories published by Tindal Street Press. Polly’s prose piece, ‘Delphiniums’, is surreal, original and captures yearning, longing and the overwhelming power of the senses perfectly.
The event also presented to us some exceptionally promising young writing; we heard from Anne Sofie Bækdal Bräuner and Ted Bonham (whose name apparently isn’t even really Ted Bonham). Sofie, who is doing a BA in English and Creative Writing as well as a part-time MA in Writing, flawlessly pinpointed the empty awkwardness and discomfiture of functioning at a funeral, as she read to us from something she hopes ‘might be a book’ one day. We hoped so too.
Ted drew the evening to a close by finishing on a note of mystery with his piece ‘Mountain Buddha’ before coming dangerously close to stealing the show with some astounding alliterative verse, and thus ended an evening that was consistently engrossing , surprising and impressive. It was extremely encouraging to see Birmingham boasting promising writers of all ages and backgrounds and I’m sure this won’t be the last we hear from them.