Alison Duthie story-writing thrills and spills

Story-writing Thrills, Spills and Knicker Elastic

Pop the kettle on and get ready to read more from our 2015 short story competition winners. Today we put Alison Duthie, winner in the 2015 adult category, on the spot to let us in on her story-writing thrills.

Alison’s Story-writing Thrills

Why did you decide to enter the ArtBeat short story competition?

I decided to enter the ArtBeat competition as I felt a naughty thrill at the idea of writing something about my own local community. The specific remit set within a small area of named streets made it more appealing and real to write about…plus I thought my chances of winning were greater!

What was the inspiration for your story?

My inspiration for the story began by thinking about what a stranger wandering our streets might notice. This made me picture all the ‘I ♥ Clarendon Park’ posters I had seen in the front windows of so many terraced houses of people I didn’t know.

How did you feel when you found out you’d won?

I was shocked and delighted to win. Announcements of names of winners and runners up were made amongst unexpectedly generous and encouraging feedback to participants. I was lulled into a warm fuzzy feeling of group bonhomie so that I almost forgot to anticipate rejection.

How long have you been writing?

I have been writing for about ten years. My pencil is getting short.

How do you go about starting to write a story?

When I’m thinking about beginning a story I carefully consider the remit, if there is one. I need to feel some kind of spark from a prompt like an image, a memory or a piece of dialogue. I use this energy to follow the ‘what if?’ paths of potential stories.

Can you give 3 tips for other would-be writers?

My three top tips for would-be writers are:

  1. Prioritise your own enjoyment of writing and reading.
  2. Find a way to support you to keep going, such as going to workshops, entering competitions or being part of a writers’ group.
  3. Ask yourself if it feels right when you read back your own work.

And finally, what are your future writing ambitions?

My future writing ambitions are to follow my own advice and enjoy my most recent novel idea.

“I ♥ TESCO” by Alison Duthie

‘Welcome to the in-aug-yural meeting of the I Heart Tesco campaign’, Shirley announces.

Ted glances round her front room at the empty armchairs, the gold trolley with its embroidered tray-cloth and plate of value biscuits.  He strains a glance at the front door. Is it possible that a Ninja anarchist has crept in? No. There is no Milk Tray man but there is Shirley in her loud flowered frock and best trainers.

She’s managed to cram two extra emergency chairs into her tiny terrace. They’ve not seen daylight since her mum died. Fetching them from the dank cellar was Ted’s least favourite chore of the day. He sinks lower into the brown dralon settee. His embarrassment for her rises with the hum of the stark ceiling strip-light.

‘Put your speech down, Shirl. It’s only us.’ He glances at his wrist watch, a retirement gift of shiny gilt. ‘It’s gone seven, no-one else is coming now.’

Shirley takes a last twitch at the nets then slumps into the armchair by the window.

‘I did my best, Ted.’

‘I know, Shirl. You always do. How many posters did you put up?’

‘I put one in Ethel’s window.’

‘Oh? I never saw it.’

‘Her daughter took it down. Said it wasn’t fair to take advantage of an old lady with Alzheimer’s. Went and stuck one of them Say No to Tesco posters up. Well, I Heart Clarendon Park too, but I know better than her what Ethel would have wanted!’

‘What’s that, Shirl?’ Ted mutters. ‘Cheap custard creams and free carrier bags?’

‘And what’s wrong with that! You always thought you were better than me, Ted, don’t think I don’t know.’ She fixes him with a bullish stare. He jams himself tighter into the corner of the settee, squashing down the bowel-twisting irritation. It’s a habit he’s perfected over fifty years, since his adored mum first asked him to be nice to the awkward daughter of her best friend. Childhood teatimes were spent with Shirley at the formica-topped table that’s still in the back room, cold to the touch. Ted used to long for his own mum to pick him up on her way back from work. She was an overlocker at Kemptons. They were called strippers and Shirley never tired of the joke throughout every long school holiday. Ted had often tried but mostly failed to lose her in Vic Park. It was hard not to admire Shirley’s persistence.

‘None of the shops on Queens Road would let me put up a poster.’

‘They’ve got their businesses to protect,’ Ted sighs, remembering his horoscope in the morning paper: April 2014 sees Neptune cast a fog over friendship.

‘There’s loads of us who would love another supermarket.’

‘Has anyone actually said that to you, Shirl?’

‘Well, no but they’re too scared, aren’t they! Might get a brick through the window.’

Or a handmade artisan loaf, Ted silently muses.

‘I put posters on lampposts and the café notice boards, the one in Sainsburys too but they all got torn down.’ Shirley folds her solid arms. ‘I was disappointed in Malcolm,’ she adds darkly, shaking her head. Ted recalls Malcolm’s nervous confession. He’d whispered that the club committee was on the verge of ‘taking things further’ if Shirley didn’t stop pushing past smokers in the doorway, demanding to see him. ‘I only wanted to put up a poster. Aren’t I allowed to say what I think like other people?’

How much should he protect her and how much should he let her go? Ted watches the stubborn furrows between her eyes deepen as she ploughs on.

‘What do I want with posh cafés and delicawotsits! I don’t want none of that wholemeal nonsense, gives me wind. And if I want to buy a birthday card, I don’t want to have to save up for it.’ Ted remembers the last one she gave him with its yellowed edges and picture of boats in a harbour, probably bought at the market years ago. She’s scared to use the bus now but won’t admit it. Ted leans forward and touches her arm.

‘Maybe you’re taking things a bit too far, Shirl. Going against the grain won’t make life easier for you. People take offense.’ Or ridicule her. Only last week he heard a woman in the paper shop sniggering about Shirley to a man clutching his three-crème-eggs-for-a-pound.

‘I’ve lived here all my life. The only way I’m leaving is in a box.’ Ted peers past the nets, above terrace rooftops to catch the last evening brightness between slow grey clouds. His gaze returns to Shirley, plate of biscuits resting on her lap and he watches her brush pink wafer biscuit dust from her bosom. It scatters onto the patterned carpet and Ted snaps,

‘What is it that’s so bloody wonderful about Tesco?’

Shirley shrugs. ‘In Tesco they won’t mind me because they won’t care. I can go in four times a day if I want. There’ll be lots of staff, not just one or two who get fed up of me.’ She fixes him with her dark eyes. ‘I’m not stupid.’

Ted deflates. He’s got his blood pressure to think of. ‘But there’s Sainsburys and the Co-op,’ he ventures.

‘I know but what’s wrong with wanting somewhere else to pop in, see a bit of life? I can’t go to fancy bars or restaurants or sit in cafés on my own. I tried it once. Cost me two pounds for a frothy coffee and I could feel them all looking down their noses at me, waiting for me to leave so important folk could have the table.’ Shirley pauses to wrinkle her nose in disgust. ‘If we get Tesco, it’ll stop places like that taking over.’

‘But why Tesco?’ Ted wonders if a proposal for a branch of Waitrose might have made his life easier.

‘Well I wouldn’t mind a Wilko but there’s only so many oven trays you can buy,’ Shirley replies. ‘Food shops are best. I like seeing young people and what’s in their baskets. Besides, Tesco would stay put, for the rest of my life anyway.’

Her mother’s carriage clock ticks on the tiled mantelpiece. Ted gets up to draw the curtains, stands by the cold gas fire and gulps down the dregs of his tea.

‘So what’s your plan now, Shirl?’

‘Embroidery.’ Ted feels his eyes widen. ‘I’m going back to Thursday afternoon classes in the church rooms,’ she informs him through a mouthful of chocolate bourbon. ‘No-one hardly spoke to me last time but I won’t let that stop me.’

Ted feels a weak smile break out and a lightness rise in his chest.

‘A hobby,’ he says. ‘Smashing idea, something to take your mind off Tesco.’ He stands a little taller. ‘And it’ll do you good to mix with other people.’  Should he be the only one to take some responsibility for her? Shirley rolls her eyes but Ted doesn’t see.

He’s picturing future Thursdays. Maybe he’ll join the bowls club like sweet, sensible Kathleen had advised. She’d told him to keep busy when she was gone, said that even if they’d had children, no-one can rely on them to fill up retirement. Kathleen had predicted, too, that Shirley would never let up once he’d collected his wife’s ashes from Gilroes.

‘I’ll get off now.’ Ted announces. He grabs his jacket, fights rising claustrophobia and the stiff front door to make his escape. Shirley stands on the threshold, a dark silhouette watching him on the pavement. He adjusts his cap and looks down at a cracked slab as he imparts the news he’s avoided sharing. ‘I’m going to stay with my cousin in Lincoln for a week or two, Shirl. Maybe longer. He’s taken a turn for the worse and his wife could do with a break.’ Ted shoots a glance at Shirley but she is silent and inscrutable. ‘So could I,’ he adds, turning up his collar against the chill as he sets off. It seems a long journey back to his two-up-two-down, three streets away.

A month later, Ted sees Shirley walking up Queens Road towards him and a loosened knot tightens in his gut. He arrived home from Lincoln last night but his postcard to her said he’d be back tomorrow. He should have stayed indoors, should have known she’d be patrolling the streets with her shopping trolley. He thought he’d be safe on a Thursday afternoon but can’t avoid her now. Shirley’s heading full-steam towards him. Through his varifocals, she seems benign but he prepares himself for all eventualities with a rictus grin and stands and waits by the grubby window of the abandoned Co-op Travel.

‘Ayup, Shirl. I came home a day early.’ She’s standoffish but calm. ‘How are you?’

‘Keeping busy.’

Ted nods, wondering what on earth could be keeping her busy.

‘I thought you went to embroidery class on Thursdays?’

A ripple of shame shifts him from one foot to the other. Shirley looks him up and down.

‘I left early and I’m not going back. They’re a snooty lot but it’s got me started. I’ve got plenty to carry on with at home.’

‘Oh?’ Ted replies, resisting a bony beckoning finger of worry. Perhaps she’s been kicked out of the church rooms and her world has shrunk a little more. ‘Well it’s good you’re keeping yourself occupied.’ She gives him a withering glance and he tries to change the subject.

‘What’s in your trolley, Shirl? It looks jam-packed.’

‘Never you mind.’ She taps the side of her nose. ‘Something I’ve been working on whilst you’ve been away.’ Ted resists the bait.

‘It looks heavy,’ he says, peering at the bulging sides and strained seams of the worn fabric. ‘Do you need a hand?’ he asks, not knowing how else to end the conversation but praying she won’t accept his offer. His heart lurches with a fear of being shut inside her shabby house, the last sound he hears being the creaking resentment of the black front door, but Shirley announces,

‘No, I can manage fine without you,’ and briskly resumes her journey. No arrangements have been made for him to go round and fix something or hack down the overgrown buddleia. She’s not handed him a list of things to fetch from town nor asked if he’ll come round to play cards and watch telly in the evening. Ted feels light-headed, like a man standing outside the thick wooden door of Welford Road prison, wondering what’s next. She never said goodbye.

Ted shields his eyes from the May sunshine and admires the gentle curve of Queens Road. It’s dotted with vibrant colours of fruits and flowers laid out neatly on the pavement, the purple and green bay windows above the bar and bistro, and hanging baskets prettily pointing the way to Victoria Park. He makes a radical decision to treat himself to a cappuccino and a sumptuous cake. He might even sit outside, watch the world and feel it turn.

Early on the June morning of the Clarendon Park street fair, Ted’s scooping loose leaves into his old brown teapot when he hears an odd news story on BBC Leicester. Someone has been caught, in the early hours, trying to hang an unauthorised banner across Queens Road. Police were called, caught the culprit and removed the offending item. A spokesman said it was a health and safety risk and appropriate permissions had not been sought by the local resident. However, no further action would be taken and the police wished everyone a pleasant day at the fair. Ted hasn’t seen Shirley much lately but recalls her recent request to borrow his long stepladders.

Mid-morning, he takes a stroll out to peruse the stalls, admiring crocheted flower brooches and skull-and-crossbones bunting. By the time he approaches the bank on the corner, his mouth is watering at the waft from the wild boar burger van. He is about to turn and head back towards hot food when he catches sight of Shirley’s head, obscured by a bobbing throng of women around a stall that seems to be hers. It’s laid out with some kind of handicrafts that could be cushion covers. Ted’s curious and decides to approach from the back to say hello.

He edges past stallholders nursing mugs of coffee and stands behind Shirley like a ghost. He stares, dumbstruck, at piles of women’s pants emblazoned with ‘I ♥ Tesco’ in clumsy cross-stitch.

‘They’re bespoke,’ she proudly tells him, grasping a fiver from a smartly dressed woman in exchange for a pair of full-sized briefs. Ted catches a glint of diamante and doesn’t know what to think.

‘Ironic knickers, lol!’ a woman laughs to her friend and leans across the stall to brazenly announce, ‘I’ll take five.’ He notices some kids sent by more circumspect parents to wait in the queue, warm ten pound notes in hand. Perhaps the anonymous brown paper bags have helped sales. Tesco tension is still thick in the air. Big business hasn’t won but it hasn’t lost either. Three of its proposals for alterations to the old Barclays bank have been refused by the city council and an appeal is expected any time. Fresh posters are popping up daily in the front rooms of terraces in the surrounding streets, declaring We Still Say No to Tesco and We ♥ Clarendon Park.

‘I got bundles of cheap knickers from Pricebusters, a nice cotton mix for summer,’ Shirley informs Ted over the street noise. ‘Some students tried to haggle the price down but I sent them packing. Took a lot of work, y’know. I’m a craftswoman and these are individually em-bellished.’ She holds a pair up for him to inspect at nose-level. ‘None of your mass-production or worker-exploitation here.’ Ted wonders if she’s forgotten who made the knickers and tries to picture the people she’s been talking to lately. Maybe she’s ventured into the health food shop after collecting her copy of the Daily Mail, evolved into a political maverick, careless of her contradictions.

‘The police took my banner down,’ she shoots him a glance over the pants whilst testing the elastic of the generous waistband. ‘But they can’t stop me doing this, can they?’ She grins with fat-cat satisfaction. I told you there were others like me. From now on, Ted, there’s going to be literally hundreds of women walking around Clarendon Park wearing my knickers.’ Ted opens his mouth to voice his brewing questions but she has the last word. ‘It’s a silent protest.’

Ted smiles and can’t help but give her a gentle pat on the back as he breaks away, wondering if he might stitch a two-fingered salute on his tired Y-fronts.

Creative writing inspiration from 2015 competition winner Martha Yeoman

Creative writing inspiration from Martha Yeoman

Looking for creative writing inspiration? Thinking of entering our 2016 Gareth Carnall Short Story Competition? Then you’ve come to the right place. We quizzed 2015 ArtBeat Short Story Competition winner Martha Yeoman (14) about her motivations, ideas and influences.

Grab yourself a cuppa, get comfortable and read on to find out more about Martha and to enjoy her winning story entry.

Martha’s Creative Writing Inspiration

Why did you decide to enter the ArtBeat short story competition?

I decided to enter for a couple of reasons. Firstly, my English teacher mentioned the competition to us in a lesson, which was great because I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise! A lot of people in my class decided not to go for it, but I did and I’m glad I did. Writing stories has always been something I loved, since I was about seven or eight, (although they weren’t exactly masterpieces back then…) and I figured it would be good experience to enter a competition – I love seeing what other people think about the things I write, and I love writing them!

What was the inspiration for your story?

Well, we were told that the theme of the story was ‘neighbourhood’, and our teacher said to try and expand on it rather than writing something boring. She suggested to us that we should consider all five of the senses when we write it, which got me thinking – what would it be like if one of those senses was taken away? I’ve lived here all my life, so i know the neighbourhood very well, but it was really interesting to try imagining the impression I would get of it if I only had four of my senses. I chose sight to take away, because a) I don’t think people realise how much they rely on what they can see, and b) it’s really fascinating to discover what you can still sense even if you can’t see.

How did you feel when you found out you’d won?

I was so happy! It’s kind of funny actually – I absolutely was not expecting to win, and I almost didn’t even turn up. I had all but forgotten that the winner was being announced, but then we were walking along Queen’s Road and I remembered, so my mum and I went into Fingerprints – and then it turned out that I had won! I’m really glad I did decide to go, because it would have been kind of awkward if I hadn’t…

How long have you been writing?

Like I said, I’ve been writing for a really long time – since I was probably seven or eight. Mind you, what I wrote back then was not great literature, to say the least. Although, I did once write a 118-page story about dragons, which I remember being super proud of. I still have it, so it’s sort of a reminder that you can always improve! It’s also quite funny to read, I illustrated it and everything!

How do you go about starting to write a story?

Normally I really struggle to write anything if I don’t have a theme to write about. This often comes from what mood I’m in, how I’m feeling, or something that has happened to me in the day. So I will usually make sure I have an idea in my head, sit down in an atmosphere that reflects the theme – home, the park, wherever – and just write! I’ve never been a fan of detailed plans, so I often have to write a first draft and then go back and improve it.

Can you give 3 tips for other would-be writers?

That’s hard! Probably… don’t be afraid to write something, even if at the time you don’t think it’s that great, because chances are one day you’ll look back on it and either really enjoy it or know exactly how to improve it. Don’t be shy to let other people read what you’ve written, whether it’s a teacher or a parent or a friend. Other people can always give you advice, and will have different opinions as someone who hasn’t written the piece, which is really helpful! Thirdly… always write! If you aren’t in the mood or don’t have the time to write a story, write a poem, even a haiku! Writing something keeps you inspired, and I frequently take inspiration from a poem or even a sentence that I wrote down when it came to me, and turn it into something even cooler.

And finally, what are your future writing ambitions?

I don’t really know what my ambitions are at the minute. I’m choosing GCSEs, so I haven’t had much time to write properly recently, but I still try to write poems whenever I can. I don’t really know where writing will take me, and I’m pretty happy to just go with it! Who knows what might happen, so I’ll just keep writing and reading and hope for the best!

“Neighbourhood” by Martha Yeoman

I tip my head back to the sky as warm fingers of sun stroke my face. The air is cool around me, and rustles softly in my hair, whispering around my ears. The noise of the summer fête buzzes in the back of my brain. Faint traces of music sing in the distance, the remnants of a melody that I know but can’t place. I keep catching the ends of people’s conversations as they walk past, my subconscious piecing together their lives as I listen – a family, discussing holiday plans; a group of teenage girls, chattering about boys and camping trips. A dog runs past, barking and squealing, with a small boy in tow. The smell of candy floss lingers in the air, and I can still taste the memory of ice cream on my lips. This street comes alive in the summer time. Children play out in the middle of the road, while their parents take the time to catch up with friends and colleagues. The whole community can join in with one huge game of football, even the elderly laughing like they’re young again. We’re all a family.

“Jones! How’ve you been?” the familiar voice breaks through the low drone of the crowd. A voice I know well. Soft and warm, happy and welcoming. The voice of someone who laughs a lot, and who you know is going to be beautiful just by hearing it. As for the name Jones – only one person would call me that. The name has stuck since primary school – a teacher who had been in the army, or so he claimed. A teacher who let you talk in lessons, who joined in with the kids playing cricket at break times. A teacher who, despite the headmaster disapproving, always read us a story in assembly. A teacher who only taught me for a year, but never – ever – forgot about me. I throw a thumbs up into the air, feeling a grin spreading across my face. This wins a distant chuckle, and laughter from some nearby kids, but I don’t mind.

“Good to hear! I’d stay and catch up, but the wife’s expecting sausages for the barbecue – see you around, soldier!” the voice called. I grin even more, and waggle my fingers in a gesture of farewell. I sit back against the wooden bench. A soldier, that’s what I am. And I have a lot to fight for.

A sweet sound dances towards my ears – someone is playing the guitar, soft and slow, singing a simple tune alongside it. The words tickle my mind, calming my excited thoughts. She is too far away to catch what she is singing about – she’s probably on the stage a bit further down the road – but I can hear a few words dotted here and there. Something about sun, and then something about smiles, and then something about whispering. It’s beautiful, whatever it is. I smile, then, drinking in the afternoon warmth. I’ve always had a strange love of sitting in the sun, ever since I was a little boy. Surely, everyone does – particularly mums, it seems. But, no, I have something different. I feel something special, sitting out in the sunlight. I feel special.

My thoughts are derailed by a small noise from my wrist. A soft beeping, quiet but persistent. I sigh – I know what that means. I take in one last breath through my nose, tasting the last traces of summer laughter in the air. I can still hear voices, but they’re beginning to grow distant. I get the feeling that most of the people who attended the fair have gone, and those who put on the shows, who decorated the stalls, who baked the cakes, are beginning to pack up and leave. That means it’s time for me to leave, too. I sit up, fumbling at my side. The wood of the bench is warm to the touch, still holding on to the thinning rays of sun. My fingers finally clasp around the cool metal of my stick. I slide my hands down it until I feel the soft leather grip, and lean on it as I stand up. I let it graze across the ground in front of me, and adjust myself as I feel it thud against the lamppost. I should really name that lamppost – I sit here almost every day, and it’s there every day, too. There to remind me which way is home. I tap the stick along the ground, feeling for the edge of the pavement. I turn my face briefly into the sun, into the fading joy of the fair that still hangs there. I’ll be back, I told the sun. I’ll be back when you are, back on my bench, back listening to the hundreds of familiar voices that make up this neighbourhood. Listening to the voices, feeling the warmth, loving every second of it. Because I don’t need to see it. It’ll always be here. Always be mine. I smile slightly as I turn back, and start my walk down the now quiet road home.

ArtBeat 2015 launch party

ArtBeat 2015 is done and dusted

ArtBeat 2015 launch partyAnd what a festival it was! We hope you all enjoyed the incredible variety of events on offer at ArtBeat 2015. The feedback and photos were certainly fabulous.

Making ArtBeat 2015

We would like to thank the many volunteers and sponsors who made the festival a reality this year.

Huge thanks to the local authority, Leicester City Council. The council made grants available to support the running costs of the festival. The council community grants went towards activities such as publicity and promotion.

We also received generous donations from commercial sponsors. The principal sponsor for ArtBeat 2015 was ZigZag Photography in Portland Road. Thank you ZigZag!

The festival also received donations from 25 local retailers, in particular, the retail outlets in Queens Road and Clarendon Park Road. Donations come in the form of cash or in-kind contributions.

Find out more about ArtBeat partners and sponsors here.

Until next time…

Stay tuned for more of what’s coming next for ArtBeat and how you can get involved. Meanwhile, reminisce by reading the 2015 ArtBeat blog and enjoying this clip of the Lonesome Pines.

Culture and cake at ArtBeat 2015

The last day but not the last of ArtBeat

Culture and cake at ArtBeat 2015I detected a definite spring in my step as on a lovely sunny morning I walked round to Vernon House, sheltered housing for the elderly at the end of Avenue Road. We were there for a reprise of With Great Pleasure which we had pioneered at VH last year. When we arrived we were greeted by not only expectant faces but also a splendid display of home-baked goodies by Karen, one of the neighbours. As an accompaniment to morning coffee they were terrific. We had had Poems on Toast on Sunday morning; now it was to be Poems with Cake.

I counted 17 as we sat down and made the introductions. We had a lovely range of poems starting with one from Mary which her father had read to her when she was a little girl. She is still able to recite it word for word. We had an evocative poem by Norman McCaig about his grandmother chosen by Ann which led to some shared recollections about grandmothers; a reading of poetry and prose in honour of the Gurkhas from Derek; a poem by Daphne that her mother had given her on her wedding day that prompted a reminiscence from Kumud about her own wedding; a rousing poem of defiance and pride by Maya Angelou read by Brenda; and much more from Karen, Carol and others. This all gave rise to some lovely shared memories that were heart-warming and life-affirming. It became clear that Vernon House is not just a home for people but a community too. And the cakes were scrumptious. It was really a terrific morning with our friends from Vernon House asking for more return visits of this kind. Make no mistake: the show will go on!

At the other end of the age spectrum we had a great hour of story-telling for small children in the Knighton Library with an African story beautifully told by Jill Jobson. This was followed by an Indian story read by Jane Clarke and vividly illustrated by movement artist Nimisha Parma accompanied by her son on the drum. The fifteen or so small children seated on the floor around them were enthralled and many of them, when invited, made excellent expressive movements of elephants and mice. It was charming and it was great to see the children still engaging so well after a full day at school.

There were two events in the evening of contrasting kinds. At The Lancaster School Steve Cartwright played a set of songs of working-class struggle which was well received by an appreciative audience. And in Fingerprints the usual Tuesday night gathering of Knit and Natter was supplemented by some newcomers who all enjoyed helping each other out as they got to grips with their knitting challenges and enjoyed each other’s company.

The big event of the evening was held in the Knighton and Clarendon Park Club on the corner of Queens Road and Clarendon Park Road. Over a hundred people, regulars and newcomers, were packed into the main bar for a book quiz that had everyone eyes down and whispering in team huddles for an hour and a half. It was thirsty work and the bar was at risk of running out of glasses. The questions were tough but fair and everyone appreciated the challenge. After the winners were announced and prizes given out, we were then treated to a set by Leicester’s top ukulele band, The N’Ukes, who gave us some great renditions, including a novel version of Jumping Jack Flash. It was a gas, gas, gas!

And then finally this blogger was called upon to close the wonderful five days of festival with a piece of doggerel as Epilogue. So here it is.

ArtBeat 2015: Epilogue

Our revels now are ending
The curtain is descending.
Now it’s here, now it’s passed
But what a triumph, what a blast!
Friday evening, sky was blue
Drummers, dancers, singers too;
And Liz’s ode to launch the fun
For young and old and everyone.
Five full days, numbers growing
The curious gather, to’ing, fro’ing.
Musicians, poets, popping up
For pavement drinkers as they sup.
Voices United will never be defeated
Photos e-mailed, facebooked, tweeted.
Lunchtime concerts, numbers spiking
Novice poets, open miking
Richard Gill’s architectural walk
Short story winners, Chalk and Talk
200 visitors I’ve been told
Down th’allotments off Queens Road
People writing for themselves,
Memoir, poetry, fairy-tales
Celidh dancing, zumba, Latin
Where did people do all that in?
Schools and churches, cafes, bars,
Shul, Gurdwara, never far.
I’m sorry, I can’t tell it all
If I go on, it’s bound to pall
Instead I’ll draw this to a close
By mentioning someone I’ve chose
To doff my cap to, novice busker
A lad I know as Thurnby Oscar
Whose pitch was oft by Gareth’s seat
Two symbols of ArtBeat’s heartbeat!
So gentles all, it’s my delight
To bid you all “Safe Home, Good Night”

Open mic at Dos Hermanos

And still there was more

At Christchurch there was another lunchtime concert this time provided by five talented students at Leicester University who sang or played classical songs or songs from musicals such as Oklahoma and Phantom of the Opera. Leicester University does not run a music degree so these are not music students but considering the talent and enthusiasm they displayed they certainly could be. The concert was conducted by Paul Jenkins who conducted the Knighton Chamber orchestra on Sunday and who has done so much to promote music in the university and the local community.

Many of those attending then crossed the road to the Chinese Community Centre where there was a short concert of Chinese music played on traditional instruments. Throughout the afternoon 120 (yes a hundred and twenty!) people came. There were lovely Chinese pancakes and spring rolls to make and eat and visitors had the chance to practise some Chinese crafts such as paper-cutting and calligraphy. This was excellent Chinese hospitality, provided in a modest but generous manner, and an opportunity for people from one culture to get a glimpse into another.

Residents of South Lodge, a home for the elderly on London Road, took part in a With Great Pleasure meeting where they chose poems they wanted to read and talk about. A Shakespeare sonnet, and poems by William Wordsworth and Maya Angelou were read as well as one or two poems written or remembered and recited by themselves. It was a lovely occasion, punctuated by tea and doughnuts, and at the end ArtBeat organisers were asked if they could arrange another later in the year.

At St John’s Parish hall, there was a memoir writing workshop led by Mary Essinger and attended by about fifteen people curious to learn about this increasingly popular genre. After being invited to talk in pairs about a frightening incident in childhood, people were then asked to write about it and then take it in turns to read out what they had written to each other. There were some interesting reminiscences about parents arguing, and children getting lost on a beach when on holiday. I cannot help thinking that this may well lead to an ArtBeat inspired self-managing memoir writing group in the not too distant future.

Later that evening at the same venue people turned out to hear local writers Mahsuda Snaith, Stuart Hill and Andrew Sharp talk about writing. It was great to see some of the winners of the ArtBeat short story writing competition there flushed with their recent success. Each of the three writers on the panel took it in turns to read a sample of their writing and then answer questions from the floor. The event worked well, mainly because the writers were very different in background and in what they chose to write about and also because they were so lacking in ego and generous with each other. The questions from the floor revealed further insights into the process of writing, what motivates people to write and how they get started. It was fascinating to your blogger who only intended to stay for a little while but got so engaged with the writers and the subject matter that I decided to stay for the duration.

Open mic at Dos HermanosBy the time I had finished with this and got to Dos Hermanos for the Open Mic evening, things were really buzzing and the legendary Brian, king of karaoke, was well into his Presley renditions. His singing of The Girl of My Best Friend was masterly and would have had the King worried. Kenny Wilson managed the whole process effortlessly and the denizens of Dos were treated to some excellent music from a number of groups and individuals representing a wide demographic. This was a fitting tribute to local musician Lianne Ashberry to whom the evening was dedicated and an £113 was collected for charity in her memory. Excellent!

Meanwhile at The Cradock Bands Night was in full swing with many of the musicians delighted to be asked because of the fun they had had at the event last year. this was much enjoyed by an appreciative audience.

Poetry on Toast at ArtBeat 2015

Sunday Wonderful ArtBeat Sunday

Poetry on Toast at ArtBeat 2015A full programme of 14 events and activities on Sunday and there is no way I can do justice to all of them. So I will confine myself to comments on those I was able to get to and refer to any other reflections picked up from elsewhere.

For me the day started in a sunlit Fingerprints Cafe with Poems on Toast, a new time and place for the Open Mic for Poets session that had been such a success at Babelas last year. Again the event was well attended, even at 9.30 on a Sunday morning, with up to 40 people coming in and out over the hour.

Local poet Liz Gray led the event calmly at a pace well fitted for the time of day. She encouraged people to read their work and also recited some of her own including a repeat of the festival ode she had written for the launch and a wonderful poem about the Lady who lived in a Van made famous by Alan Bennett. From the floor we had an amusing poem from Becky on how a company tried to enthuse its staff to reduce their stress and live more healthily; and a poignant love poem from Lynn. The vibe in the cafe was friendly and supportive so even people not used to reading poems out loud in public had a go. A great start to the day.

This was followed by a special event; the announcement and award of prizes for ArtBeat’s first short story competition. Literary agent, Penny Kitchener of Luithlen Agency, who was one of the judges, read out the titles and names of entrants and described the qualities of their work which made them special. She said that overall the standard of writing had been very high in both the adult and the children’s (under 16) competition.

The winners of the children’s competition was Martha Yeoman, with Lucia Gozy Kirkden and Tamara Thompson runners-up. In the adults section the winner was Alison Duthie with Kate Myers and Lisa Williams runners-up. Note that these stellar writers are all women or girls. Where are the men and the boys? If they are not writing, is that because they are not reading? Congratulations to all the winners, including others highly commended; and to the judges too. The stories are to be posted on the festival website.

Chalk and Talk at Clarendon Park Community GardensIn the afternoon the sun continued to shine which made it all the more gratifying that there were at least two outdoor community events that drew in good numbers. In Bulwer Road there was Chalk & Talk in the (now not so) new community garden that is cared for by people in the neighbouring streets.

The idea was to introduce people to this amenity, enjoy some summertime music courtesy of Green Shoots, invite people to hang out and talk and perhaps try a bit of their own artwork by chalking on the wall of the garden. The music certainly helped to make this work very well.

Further south down Queens Road, allotmenteers were happy to open up their plots to the public. At the same time visitors were able to view some of the work of talented printmaker Sarah Kirby. You can read more about the special print of the allotments she has created on the blog I posted last week (“Branching Out” 16 June).

Usually a few more than sixty people visit the open day but on this occasion there were between 150-200, the difference said to be almost certainly due to the publicity going to a much wider audience under the ArtBeat banner. So many people came who said they had not even been aware the allotments existed.

Live music always adds to the pleasure of these occasions and this was no exception. People’s enjoyment was enhanced by some fantastic busking from the very talented Greenshoots Ceilidh orchestra, followed by Dead Question – a trio of 2 guitars and percussion who entertained us with a couple of great sets. They were followed up by a small group of three very talented, very young musicians who played the violin, and who also happen to have a strong link to the allotments.

Dead Question at the Queens Road Allotments, ArtBeat 2015But of course the other major draw was Sarah Kirby’s prints. Our event was truly lifted on to a different level by her participation. The newly commissioned print of the allotments was really well received and people put their money down and bought eight of the ten prints, as well as many of her cards and other prints.

There was also a friendly visit from our community police officers, and three local councillors, two Lynns and Patrick. It was great of them to come along to another ArtBeat event. All in all it was a lovely day.

Other events during the day included a specially laid-on wedding at the Gurdwara preceded by food. At Christchurch an appreciative audience savoured performances of Haydn’s Nelson Mass and selections from the Messiah by the Knighton Chamber Orchestra and Tudor Choir. At South Lodge there was a tea dance. About 40 people turned up for food, music and poetry in Lesley and Tony’s garden. And at the Progressive Synagogue in Avenue Road another 40 or so people were entertained by three professional musicians from out of town, Dean who appears to be something of a rock star and cantor Gershon all the way from Canada, accompanied by Franklyn on the keyboard.

In the evening upstairs at Cultura well over 30 people were given a class in the tango as part of a Latino dance night. Some of the moves looked extremely technical to this particular bystander, but everybody had a go. And as the instructor said at the end, dancing should be about having fun so don’t get too hung up on the moves; go out and enjoy one of the many classes on offer locally.

Finally at The Donkey there was a full house for a jazz evening with four bands taking their turn to entertain us. For me the pick were the Afro-City Swingsters, thirteen people crammed on to a small stage and playing numbers that had melody and rhythm. People, including a few in ArtBeat T-shirts, danced alone or in couples New Orleans style, to some of the Township tunes and the atmosphere was tremendous. As someone said, looking at the demographic of some of the players we want to make sure they all get their flu jabs if we are to continue to enjoy what they have to offer for years to come! But then who am I to comment?