My last post was concerning the huge boost to arts funding that would become a reality after Labour won the 2019 general election – well, that never happened. A bit of a shock if I’m honest. I’m a bit of an optimist, and I was convinced that Labour’s argument couldn’t fail, but it did, so what does the future hold? Well, not a lot if you’re going to sit around waiting for someone to do things for you. It seems that the right-wing have public opinion sown up, thanks to their super-rich media-moguls, but that doesn’t mean we can’ bring about change in our own lives – just look at the huge impact Greta Thunberg has had upon the world simply by going on strike!
We need to make things happen ourselves – don’t worry, this isn’t the part where I hurl internet platitudes at you, ‘Be the lobster you want to be!’ So what am I doing, apart from displaying my fondness for the word lobster? A few things. Me and a talented friend are putting together a book. We’re both fed up of being at the mercy of literary gatekeepers and decided we’d do it ourselves, but this isn’t some self-publishing vanity project – to be fair, much of the self-publishing world isn’t. This will be a labour of love to a part of our city that means a lot to both of us. We’ll be documenting in words, both factual and fictional, and images, a part of this glorious place we live in that could soon be no more. Some of you may even buy it – now there’s a thought.
I continue to scratch away with my own writing. I will have a short story out this year in a Birmingham themed collection from Dostoyevsky Wannabe, and I continue to send words out to potential publishers – chin up, no man’s put me down yet…
There are opportunities out there for creative types like me and I shall be doing my best to snag a few of them. I enjoy working with others, and unlocking other people’s potential, so I’ll be looking out for more stuff like that as well as stand alone projects. A few are already on my radar – it must be this 2020 vision.
I’ve also agreed to climb Snowden in the dark – climbing it in daylight is too easy! That last statement is something I’d never say. I’ll post some more info regarding this soon.
January has nearly gone and I’ve not done half as much as I intended to. I will do more in February. See you there.
Don’t switch off. This blog is about education and arts funding – something that enriches all our lives. Please, read on.
I went to a political rally last night. There, it’s out the bag. Shush, I hear you hiss. This blog is meant for writing and creativity, don’t sully it with the dirty world of politics! I understand that some people feel that way. Hell, I even have friends that, after years of arguing, have decided that we should avoid that distasteful area altogether. However, here in the UK, we are on the cusp of something truly horrific, the handing over of absolute power to serial liar, racist and adulterer, Boris Johnson, or the implementation of a radical new state that will nurture and develop creativity, culture and ultimately happiness through placing a Labour government in power. This, of course, is an oversimplification, but not by much.
It was a bitter-cold, blustery night in Digbeth, in what used to be Birmingham’s industrial heart. Digbeth, in recent years, has been transformed into a creative oasis of small digital companies, arts organisations, entrepreneurs and entertainment that has been embraced by Brummies, Midlanders and beyond – Stephen Spielburg has shot a film here has have many other established filmmakers. My son and I queued with many others to hear Jeremy Corbyn speak. What! Corbyn, chief antisemite and all-round devil’s spawn? Yes, and no. I’ve seen Corbyn speak on several occasions and he’s always struck me as a caring, vibrant man who is genuinely interested in others, and someone who wants to change the UK for the better. The way he’s been presented in the media is wholly at odds with the man you meet in person, but that’s a whole blog post in itself, probably a series of blogs. However, just to touch on that briefly, this summer I was walking around a museum in Prague and I heard some Americans talking to a European about how biased the media is in the States. They said, for impartiality, they got their news from the BBC. I failed to fight back a laugh and received a strange look or two. I didn’t attempt to ‘correct’ their view, I was on holiday, but it wasn’t that long ago that I also felt that the BBC were impartial. Not any more. In this election campaign, we have seen the Tory bias of the BBC cranked up to previously unimagined heights with edited interviews and news footage that show Boris Johnson in a positive light being passed off as mistakes. With that toxic atmosphere in mind, it was wonderful to see so many young people, and people from diverse backgrounds last night.
We got in early, too bloody early as a friend had told me he’d been turned away from events before, so best to get there early – my legs were killing me by the end. However, our punctuality meant that we got a very good spot down the front. Angela Rayner, Labour’s Shadow Education Secretary, compared the evening with aplomb and passion. We were treated to first hand accounts of years of Tory cuts from union reps and support staff in education as well as the music from Kioko, an up and coming local band, poetry from three local poets, and the general secretaries of the NEU teachers union – the largest in the UK, and Brum’s very own Jamelia.
Jamelia wasn’t there to talk about her impressive pop career, but about the support, she’d received from the state when she was growing up in Birmingham. She wanted others to take note that she had been supported, and her mother, by our incredible NHS and state education, and that she wants others to have the same opportunities that she has had. It was a very passionate and honest speech where she admitted that she’d never voted before and that it would be her and her eighteen year old daughter’s first time on December the 12th.
Finally, Jeremy Corbyn took to the stage and laid out clearly how a Labour government will transform education by increasing funding levels to above 2010 rates, creating a National Education Service, rebuilding Ofsted to support teaching rather than condemn it, funding a pupil arts passport that ring-fences arts spending, creating fully funded nursery places for all, promoting a love of learning via whichever route best suits, and much, much more.
The reason I felt the need to write this here was because of Labour’s stance regarding the arts. Corbyn came on after the poets and he was genuinely moved by their performance and spoke of the power of all the arts to transform lives. This is something he is passionate about, not something, like Johnson, that he believes is there for those who can afford it. Up until three years ago, I was an art teacher in a busy special needs school. I started in education when funding for the arts was in place and I saw the positive effect it had upon the challenging children that I worked with. That has now gone. The arts have been cut from many school’s curriculums with some schools even dropping to four and a half days a week because they can not afford to pay staff. Labour will not only reverse cuts to school funding, but they will also increase funding. If it hadn’t have been for arts lessons in school I would have dropped out of education, no doubt about it. For some pupils, creativity in lessons like art, music, dance etc. is the only thing that keeps them going. Our current Tory government does not care one jot about this – they can afford to pay for the arts.
I took a lot of hope away from last night. Hope, because we have an opposition that is fighting for the things that are important to me and so many other. Hope, because Digbeth was full of young people ready to fight for what is theirs, and hope because, despite what the mainstream media are telling us, people want change. Talk to people who are out there knocking on doors. People want change and it’s up to all of us to ensure that on December 12th that’s what they get.
I went to see Billy Bragg on Tuesday, also in Digbeth, and he spoke about the power of talking to people. He told us about his activism to halt the fascists taking over Barking and Dagenham Council. A handful of BNP candidates had been elected to the council and there was a real fear that at the upcoming local elections in 2010 that they could take control of the council. Labour members took to the streets and campaigned. They knocked on doors and spoke to people. They waited for the result and hoped that they’d pegged them back. They hoped that the BNP majority would not increase. The result came in. Every single member of the BNP lost their seat. Change can come, but we have to get out there and make it happen. Don’t sentence the UK to another five years of Tory lies and cuts. Save our education, fund our arts, vote Labour.
Following on from my visit to the University of Leicester last week here are some pics of me in action and a link to the podcast that came from the day. Scroll down for the link.
Click here for the Golden Room podcast featuring me interviewed by Dr Kevan Manwaring.
I’m pleased with the podcast because I don’t sound like an arse and you can hear that we genuinely get on and enjoy talking about writing – there’s quite a bit of laughing, which can’t be bad. There’s also a couple of old songs from me, not too cringeworthy, as well as some recordings of the work I read on the day.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Leicester answering questions from the students and sharing my limited insights into the world of writing and publication. I hope you enjoy the podcast and pictures, well, the podcast more than the pictures.
You have two chances to hear me read from my latest book, Submerged, next week.
First up is City Voices in Wolverhampton. It all starts at 7:30 at The Lighthouse a few minutes walk from the train and bus stations. City Voices is one of the Midlands’ finest spoken word evenings and never fails to delight with its range and quality of work on offer. I will be selling books.
Secondly, will be the official Birmingham launch of Submerged, and it’s going to be a corker, but don’t just take my word for it check out the line-up here.
Another quick one – I just don’t have the time at the moment. This is a view of the south end of Coniston in the Lake District. It’s all fibre tipped pen and is actually black on white paper. The image is a sepia brown due to me taking the pic on my phone for speed.
I did do a little tinkering in Affinity Photo to add the sepia splashes of cloud.
I’m hoping to get a bit of time at the weekend to do some longer drawing and some writing. That will hopefully be on Sunday once I’ve got my reading at Birmingham Literature Festival out of the way and finished working with my young writers group on the Saturday. I’ve set Saturday evening aside for watching crap with the family and drinking beer.
If you’re in Birmingham this Saturday morning (October 6th) come along to Birmingham REP, the Mezzanine, and hear some great stories from a bunch of wonderful writers. Hell, you could even buy some books.
For those of you who are of a creative or aquatic bent, you may be interested to know that I will once again be leading canal based creative writing workshops. Those crazy fools at the Birmingham Literature Festival have asked me to lead dusk till dawn writing sessions as part of this year’s festival.
It really was great fun.
I don’t have a lot of details yet, but I guess that they will be similar to the ones I ran back in April as part of the pop-up festival. Back then, we started from Birmingham’s historic Roundhouse and explored the canals via canoe and kayak. It was a real eye-opener for me. There are parts of the city you can only explore from the canal. Deserted glassworks, industrial loading bays and the Victorian red brick of disused warehouses stand beside the canal, and their decaying shells now home a multitude of wildlife and their walls canvases for graffiti artists and frustrated lovers.
Come and witness my world famous invisible fish wrestling.
We will spend at least an hour on the water and then back inside the relative, although not guaranteed, warmth of the Roundhouse I’ll put you through your paces with some short, focused writing exercises that will nudge you towards creating longer pieces of work.
All photos are the property of the very talented Jana Eastwood. You can find more images from previous workshops here at her excellent blog, Escapes and Photography.
Ever thought of combining canoeing and writing? Well, now’s your chance. On April 23rd, Jo Bell (poet,) Alyse Fowler (gardener/writer,) and I will be doing just that. We’ll be taking groups down the industrial canals of Birmingham and using this unique perspective to inspire creative writing. Check out the press release below for full details and booking info:
£20/£16 (concessions), children £10
Need some inspiration to get writing? Want to explore hidden Birmingham?
Look no further than our series of creative walks, bike rides and canoe trips developed in partnership with the Canal & River Trust, National Trust, Birmingham Roundhouse, British Canoeing and Big Birmingham Bikes, and delivered by five fantastic writers.
Take to the waterways of Birmingham by canoe for a unique perspective on the city, returning to dry land for a writing workshop at The Roundhouse led by Alys Fowler (10am-1pm) or Jo Bell (2pm-5pm). Workshops for young people at both sessions will be led by Garrie Fletcher. Canoes and instruction supplied free of charge from British Canoeing and B-ROW.
Please dress comfortably: we advise that you don’t wear jeans, you do wear trainers, bring waterproof coat and trousers, and a complete change of clothes. The canoes have a weight restriction of 17.5 stone.
Drinks are provided free of charge but please bring a snack to sustain you.
Suitable for adults and children aged 8 and over. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult.
Workshop 1 – 10am – 1pm (Alys Fowler)
Workshop 2 – 2pm – 5pm (Jo Bell)
Jo Bell is a former Canal Poet Laureate and currently appears on Nationwide’s ‘Voice of the People’ ads. Her poetry collection Kith is published by Nine Arches Press. She is co-writing a handbook for poets – How to be a Poet – and lives on a narrowboat.
Alys Fowler is an award-winning journalist, regular presenter of BBC Gardeners’ World and Guardian columnist. Her new book Hidden Nature charts her journey through the canals of Birmingham by canoe.
Garrie Fletcher writes short stories, novels and poems. His collection of short stories, Night Swimming, has just been published by Mantle Lane Press. He leads the Birmingham Young Writers’ Group for Writing West Midlands.
How to Book:
Please contact The BOX to book tickets on 0121 245 4455 or you can book online by clicking the button below.