Sefton Celebrates Writing Review

The WoW curated Sefton Celebrates Writing Festival was launched in spectacular style with an event showcasing the talents of the students and primary school pupils in the local area. Nancy and the Bonfire, held at Derby park, Bootle, on bonfire night, told the tale of a young girl, Nancy, a traveller in time from 1912, who appears in the park once every one hundred years and relies upon the children to help her find her way back to her home.
On November 5th over 1500 people came to the park to see Nancy (played in fine style by Megan McFarlane, a drama student from Hugh Baird College) transported through time with the help of the hapless ‘Bard of Bootle’ (a stellar performance by John Smullen, actor and drama graduate from Hugh Baird college), appearing in 1939, 1969 and 1999, where she was guided along the way by war babies, hippy-trippy psychedelics to a soundtrack from the first moon landing, and disco dancers from the 1990’s, all played by primary school students from Bedford, St Monica’s and Christchurch primary schools, and supported by local dance troupe, Inspirations.
The story for Nancy and the Bonfire was created, performed and organised by festival organisers Writing on the Wall (WoW), Sefton arts, Sefton’s Park Rangers and the students and pupils from Hugh Baird College and the local primary schools mentioned above. It truly was a collaborative event that proved to be massively popular with local people – particularly the fireworks at the end, which also marked the reopening of the newly refurbished bandstand, opened by the Lord Mayor, Cllr Kevin Cluskey and Lady Mayoress Cllr Linda Cluskey.

A wealth of talent was on display for the week of the festival, and we were proud to welcome Pulitzer prize winning American Poet Philip Schultz to the Crosby Civic centre, for Poets Across the Pond, an evening of powerful readings featuring Philip’s latest collection, The God of Loneliness, and his book, My Dyslexia. Philip was joined by Lancaster based Somerset Maugham award winner, Paul Farley, reading from his acclaimed latest collection, The Dark Film.

It’s not often that a literary event begins with a bowl of soup and pierogi (Polish dumpings), but at Poles Apart, a night to celebrate Polish literature with Southport’s growing population of Poles and their friends across Sefton, local restaurant, Gdanska, supplied the perfect recipe to unlock a night of diverse, thought provoking readings from two of Poland’s finest writers, Magdalena Tulli and A.M Bakalar. Both writers read and discussed their work and their views on Poland past and present, while the audience in a packed town hall, contributed their views, and also filled us in on why Southport has such strong links with Poland (Polish Spitfire pilots were trained there, apparently). One audience member said afterwards that, ‘The readings were very moving and gave a view of society from a different perspective.’ Another, after finishing her pierogi, commented, ‘Food delicious, interesting readings.’

The publishing story of the decade was up for discussion at the beautiful Wayfarers Arcade in Southport midweek in the festival: 50 Shades of Grey (or 50 Shades of Wahey! as we like to call it), came under the scrutiny of award winning writers and performers Brooke Magnanti (Belle de Jour), Helen Walsh (Brass), and Rosie Lugosi (The Palace of Curiosities). As you can imagine, the discussion could have gone on all night, with each writer looking at different aspects of the impact of the book, and exploring reasons for its popularity. Rosie Lugosi wanted to celebrate that it brought sexual experimentation into the mainstream while Helen Walsh discussed it in the context of other novels with similar content, such as The Story of O. Brooke Magnanti felt it helped to break down sexual barriers while audience members felt sometimes there was too much elitism and that the book was just ‘good fun’, and the event was ‘interesting because it’s a controversial subject’. The discussion certainly warmed us all up on a cold November evening!
Sefton celebrated a brand new author on Friday night with the launch of Southport based writer Carys Bray’s new collection of short stories, Sweet Home (Salt Publishing), at the beautiful bookshop, Broadhursts of Southport. A packed house enjoyed a glass of wine and some readings from Carys, who said, ‘It was really nice to have the backing of the festival. It went really well. Lots of people came and Broadhursts nearly sold out of my books!’
What do you get if you put together poems and a skatepark? Rhymin’ on the Ramps, of course. And that’s exactly what thirty pupils from Savio Salesian College did at Bootle’ Rampworx on Friday 9th November. Inspired by two highly skilled spoken word performers, Ben Mellor and Keisha Thompson from Manchester based Contact Theatre, Year nine, ten and eleven pupils took part in two school-based workshops during the day, and then were brought by staff to the skatepark were they all performed a brand new collective piece of poetry, and their own individual piece of work they had created just that day. An amazing achievement and it was an unforgettable night, with Liverpool based UK star rapper and singer KOF performing alongside them on the ramps.
Writing on the Wall like a little bit of ska, and so did a little two-step in delight on listening to Horace Panter, bass player with legendary Two-Tone ska pioneers, The Specials, being interviewed with local Sefton legend Carl Hunter from The Farm. Two hours of chat flew by, with Horace taking us on his personal journey from art school where he met Jerry Dammers, to a teaching career interrupted by the call of ska-dom, ball-breaking tours of America, right through to their massively successful reformation and his solo career as a fine artist. Supported by a fine ska based DJ set supplied by Farm lead singer Peter Hooton, the night was ‘100% worth seeing’. Horace’s memoir, Ska’d for Life, will tell you the rest of the story.
For the little ones Natasha from Tell-Tale Arts delivered her renowned Suitcase Stories, and through out the week a series of writing classes were run by tutor and writer Colin Watts, where ‘the participants discussed some great stories and learnt a good deal about how to put together a piece of short fiction.
For the festival finale on Sunday night the emphasis on new writing continued with a special awards night for the prize winners of the Sefton Writing Competition, hosted by Southport's very own TV personality and columnist David Lonsdale(Heartbeat, The Royal), and featuring a fabulous, high energy and warm-hearted performance by award-winning dub poet Levi Tafari.
And the winners were…
Prize Winners 2012:
1st Prize: £250
Runners-up: £50 each
1st Prize: £250
Runners-up: £50 each
1st Prize: £50
Runners-up: £10 each
Sefton Celebrates Writing truly lived up to its name this year, with a great mix of new and established writers coming together to give us a glimpse of just how much talent there is across the borough.
Nathaniel Marsh, Performing Arts Programme Manger for Hugh Baird College, commenting on the Nancy and the Bonfire spectacular said, ‘It is so important for a community like Bootle, with little access to public performance, that events like this are staged, and the turn out clearly shows the willingness of the community to embrace this type of work.’
This could be applied to the whole festival, and means Sefton Celebrates Writing will be back, with an even better line up for 2013.