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Writing on the Wall 2012: A Year in Review

The past twelve months have been a strong period of development and expansion for Writing on the Wall, during which we have developed new partnerships and launched and delivered a number of new projects and events. Our status as a new Portfolio organisation in April 2012 caused a great stir in the city and delight amongst our audience and supporters. The status has consolidated WoW’s centrality to the cultural offer of the city and the region. As a result, and in line with our development over the past number of years, WoW’s physical and online audience has continued to grow.  ACE portfolio funding has enabled WoW to maintain its core staff capacity and to employ our first ever Writer in Residence, Paula Currie. In another first for WoW in 2012 we were commissioned to curate a second festival, Sefton Celebrates Writing, which took place in venues across the borough from the 5th to the 11th of November.  Writing on the Wall, now in its 13th year, is the only remaining Writing/Literature Festival in Liverpool. This, against a harsh economic background and a range of cuts directed at arts and culture based organisations, is something we are immensely proud of, and we offer our thanks to all our sponsors, funders and supporters in helping us achieve this.

 
Looking back at the year 2012
The WoW Festival 2012

In 2012 we held our 13th annual festival which this year ran from 28th April though to the end of May. In keeping with the city’s Titanic commemorations, the festival was themed ‘Below Decks’ and launched on a tall ship with over seventy people in attendance. The Below Decks theme was also in keeping with the ‘bottom up’ view of the world traditionally explored by the festival, reflected this year in such events as 99% of Nothing, Can change ever Come from Below?,  and Chavs, Scavs and Hijabs.  High profile guests this year included Benjamin Zephaniah, Pauline Black, Ahdaf Soueif and Gillian Slovo.  While the festival attempts every year to be as topical and relevant as possible it seemed that this year the festival reflected the news stories of the day, particularly with a Hacked off event featuring Tom Watson MP and former nurse Rebecca Leighton, which focused upon the role of the press following the revelations of widespread phone hacking. This year saw a greater number of sold out and packed out events. Chavs Scavs and Hijabs, featuring commentator and author of Chavs Owen Jones and YouTube phenomenon Sanum Ghafoor was hugely popular, and Spare Rib to Slut Walks took us by surprise when we found that we had not put enough chairs out to accommodate the audience.  It is likely that this event explains the large increase in the proportion of women attending the festival this year. In another festival first, we were able to include in our programme WoW Project Manager, Mike Morris’s debut play Waiting for Brando, which packed out the Unity theatre for three nights, receiving excellent reviews. 

This year saw an increase from twenty six events in 2011 to thirty in 2012. Events were mainly concentrated in Liverpool City Centre though some were held on the Wirral and in Toxteth and Skelmersdale. Derry/Londonderry – So Good They Named It Twice, an event in celebration of Derrys’ capital of culture status was hosted in partnership with Croxteth Communiversity at their Skill Centre aiming to raise the profile of WoW in North Liverpool in preparation for the What’s Your Story? project. 
 
A new online competition, Flash Fiction at the End of the World, was launched, receiving over 130 entries that were directly uploaded onto the WoW website and exhibited on the first floor of FACT for three weeks. The competition culminated in an event featuring award winning sci-fi writer Mike Carey and was attended by over 80 people. 
 
WoW Festival Audience Feedback and Profile
 
Analysis of audience feedback forms for the WoW festival 2012 reveals that 98% of those who returned the form found the quality of the event to be ‘good’ or ‘excellent’. 19% indicated that they were from a BME community, 10% indentified as being from LGBT Communities, with 13% classifying themselves as disabled  and 13% as under 25 years of age. WoW is proud to once again be fulfilling one of its aims to represent, engage and celebrate diversity and inclusion of the whole community.
 
Overall this was another highly successful festival, and we offer a huge thank you to all those who took part as writers, speakers, organisers, venues, volunteers, etc. without their ongoing commitment and enthusiasm we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.
 
The Rebel Rant Series
 
WoW delivered two Rebel Rants in 2012. The first featured writer and poet Benjamin Zephaniah leading a discussion entitled Multiculturalism or Muscular Liberalism? The event was held in the Liverpool’s iconic St George’s Hall and attracted an audience of over 300 people. This was the first time that Benjamin Zephaniah had performed in Liverpool since the WoW festival in 2007 and we regarded it as quite a coup to bring him back to the city.
 
Our second Rebel Rant, Austerity? My Arse!, was held at the Adelphi Hotel on October 11th featuring Len McCluskey, the General Secretary of Unite the Union, who was introduced by actor and activist Ricky Tomlinson. 120 people attended this, debating all aspects of the economy and questioning whether we really are ‘all in it together’, as Len and speaker after speaker from the floor highlighted cuts being implemented around the country, and whether there were any viable alternatives.
 
Pulp Idol
 
This year was the most significant and celebratory year for Pulp Idol, WoW’s competition for new aspiring novelists which takes the popular X-Factor format and applies it to writing. 2010 finalist Debbie Morgan launched her debut novel, Disappearing Home, with the award-winning Tindal Street Press. At the launch event, held in a large community venue in North Liverpool, WoW and Pulp Idol received praise from the publishers and Debbie herself for our role in bringing it to publication. The novel, a powerful exploration of the difficulties of growing up in 1970’s Liverpool told through the eyes of Robyn, a ten year old girl who steals for her parents, reached number one on the Kindle bestsellers chart in the latter weeks of March 2012 – an incredible achievement for a first time novelist, and a vindication of our work in supporting and developing new writers and their work.
 
In 2012 Pulp Idol extended its reach by holding, for the first time, a heat in HMP Liverpool with serving prisoners. This element of the competition was delivered in partnership with prison based Big House Arts. The judges, Helen Walsh and Tony Wailey, both professional writers, were amazed at the level of writing talent displayed during the prison heat. At the final, a high profile public event, programmed as part of the WoW Festival, the prisoner writer’s entries were presented as video recordings. Two of the prison writers were runners up.  The families of the serving prisoner attended the final event and were delighted with the outcome.  As a result of this initiative Wow is currently in dialogue with Big House Arts to deliver a creative writing project.
 
In another first, and in line with the development of our online presence and audience, we held an online heat for Pulp Idol, inviting writers from around the country to enter by posting videos of them reading from their work onto YouTube. The videos were then viewed by the Pulp Idol judges and one entrant was selected to go forward to the final.
 
The winner of Pulp Idol 2012 was Jon Gale, with his first novel, Albion, the tale of a young lad, Jack Garrity, whose search for identity leads him towards the far-right English Defence League. Pulp Idol Judge, Luke Brown, from Tindal Street Press will be reading Jon’s book and we hope it will lead to publication in the near future.
 
Pulp Idol runner-up Adam Baird was awarded a place on a residential writing course at Ty Newydd, the National Centre for Writing in Wales. He contacted WoW to say how inspirational his time there had been.
 
The collection of first chapters from our finalists, Pulp Idol - Firsts 2012 was launched on Monday 10th December to a wonderful crowd of entrants, judges and Pulp Idol supporters from across Merseyside. The night, hosted by Paul Darby, kicked off with an introduction by Mike Morris, Pulp Idol Project Manager and Editor, and then a reading by Helen Walsh of 2012 winner Jon Gale's first chapter of Albion. Delia Brady-Jacobs read on behalf of Andrew an inmate at HMP Liverpool, a runner-up in the final. Editors Penny Feeny and Jenny Newman introduced entrants Lorna Hutchison and Adam Baird respectively, who both gave fantastic readings of their chapters. This was a fitting end to the year for Writing on the Wall, publishing 11 new writers as part of our commitment to developing and promoting new writing.
 
Pulp Idol – Firsts 2012 is now available for download on Kindle, and in early 2013 we intend to send it out to publishers and agents, and to make it free to download so that the writers themselves will be able to use it as a promotional tool.
 
Writer in Residence & What’s your Story
 
In October we appointed our first Writer in Residence, Paula Currie. Paula has been a TV writer, was the Pulp Idol winner in 2011, and has significant experience in leading writing projects at community level. Her appointment has received considered media attention from Liverpool Echo. 
 
What’s Your Story? is WoW’s creative writing project led by WoW’s Writer in Residence Paula Currie who will guide participants through the creative process from gathering ideas to completing a first draft. The course will provide participants with the opportunity to explore different forms of storytelling including: short story, poetry, screenwriting and spoken word. What’s Your Story? is open to all sections of the community throughout the Merseyside area and offers people the chance to tell their stories and will provide aspiring writers with the opportunity of developing their work in a supportive, creative environment. 
                                     
Sessions are being held weekly, in Croxteth and in South Liverpool, with three groups of between ten and fifteen participants in each group. Work generated by the group will be posted on the Writing on the Wall website and will also be displayed in a public setting. At the end of the course we plan to host a What’s Your Story? celebration evening. This will provide participants with the opportunity to read their work in front of an invited audience.
 
Sea Odyssey Letter Writing Project
 
WoW was delighted to be part of the city’s Sea Odyssey Spectacular which brought French street theatre company Royal de Luxe’s Girl Giant, her uncle and her dog, Xolo, to the city in commemoration of the centenary of the sinking of the Titanic.  WoW was commissioned to deliverer a series of letter writing workshops in six locations. Participants were users of Mary Seacole House (BME Mental Health Provision), Elders from Steve Biko Residential Home, Croxteth Communiversity users and from the general public.  A number of the letters produced were selected to be reproduced and fired from a cannon onto the city streets as part of the Sea Odyssey story. The letters were an incredibly popular part of the show, being collected by the public as souvenirs of the weekend. The quality of the work produced in the WoW workshops was given particular mention by the Royal de Luxe representative who coordinated the project with Liverpool’s culture department. The legacy of this project has been confirmed with many of the writers who took part signing up to our recently launched ‘What’s Your Story’ project.
 
The George Garrett Archive Project
 
Writing on the Wall has featured the 1930’s writer and seafarer George Garret in a number of festival events over the years. As a result of the profile we have given this writer and through personal connection with the Garrett family, Writing on the Wall have been loaned an archive material of this highly popular, yet sadly neglected Liverpool writer.
 
George Garrett was a merchant seaman, a fireman on the Mauretania and many other ships, who travelled the world as seaman, writer and radical. He worked with the syndicalist movement in America, and was admired by many leading writers and intellectuals of the day, including George Orwell who he advised re his contacts for Orwell’s travels in preparing The Road to Wigan Pier. He went to sea as a stowaway at fifteen. In the 1920’s and 1930’s, through his organisation within the Seamen’s Vigilance Committees, the demonstrations of the unemployed and the hunger marches from Liverpool, he became part of a wider cultural force.
 
During the 2012 Festival WoW launched the George Garrett Archive Project with a panel discussion event and an exhibition of a selection of the archive at the Bluecoat Arts Centre. WoW has submitted a substantial application to the Heritage Lottery Fund, with support from the Garrett family, Liverpool City Council, National Museums Liverpool, Liverpool John Moores University and several academics to deliver an eighteen month creative writing and heritage project that will truly celebrate and preserve his work for future generations.  We hope to have news on this application in the New Year.
 
The RISE Partnership
 
WoW became part of the RISE (Reading in Secure Environments) partnership which successfully secured Grants for the Arts Funding with the Reader Organisation as the lead partner. Other festival partners are the Durham Book Festival; Words Festival, Wigan; Manchester Literature Festival; and the London Literature Festival. The aim is to bring writers of excellence who are appearing in the respective festivals to readers in secure environments i.e. the criminal justice and secure mental health services, in the festival’s locality. The partnership was created to broaden the traditional festival audience and encourage our reading groups in secure environments to explore contemporary writing of excellence.  In the WoW Festival 2012 poet Brian Turner featured at a public event entitled The War Tour, with local writer Zoe Lambert as well as a closed event in HMP Liverpool. During the Sefton Celebrates Writing Festival in November, the RISE partnership enabled Pulitzer Prize winning US poet Philip Schultz to appear in the festival and at HMP Kennet. Philip Schultz said of his experience,
 
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to the men of HMP Kennet. As I mentioned already, I am very impressed with the job you and the others do. It’s a vital gift of real purpose and generosity. I’ll never forget the men I met there, how earnest and self-aware they seemed, how completely devoid of pretence or expectation. I was completely won over. It was a 90 minute event that lasted over two hours and I found myself both moved and engaged by everything I experienced there. I’ve visited prisons before, writing workshops, and have read my work there, but this experience was clearly different. I think because of the warmth and openness of the men and the dedication of the organization, RISE, which went to the great trouble of bringing me there. 
 
The RISE project accords with WoW’s aim of using creativity to encourage personal regeneration. This is something we intend to build upon in 2013 by continuing the work with RISE and working with Big House Arts at HMP Liverpool to develop a writing group based upon our ‘What’s Your Story’ project, which we expect will feed into our Pulp Idol competition.
 
Diverse Voices Partnership
 
In March 2012 WoW was approached by Seven Stories, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, to work as partners in delivering a series of workshops in preparation for their national competition for writing for children from diverse perspectives. This invitation was recognition of WoW’s ability to connect with racially diverse communities, audiences and project participants. The series of six workshops was incredibly well attended. The group have continued to meet informally since the proposed finish of the Workshops. 
 
Other Events
 
WoW has a flexible approach to artistic programming and likes to respond to requests and ideas from supporters and partners to take up opportunities to attract new audiences. This year WoW delivered the following events outside of our usual annual festival programme:
 
  • Book launch with Nigerian Writer Chuma Nwokolo
  • Poetry stall at the open day of United Response, an organisation working with people with learning disabilities
  • A conversation with Ben Okri on a painting in the International Slavery Museum
  • Launched a new poetry slam during the Anthony Walker Festival, in honour of Anthony Walker.
  • British Heritage: Poetry with Edward Bedford aka Steve Aldo. Edward Bedford aka Steve Aldo is one of Liverpool's foremost black singers performing with the Ivy Benson Band and guesting with Howie Casey & The Seniors as a young teenager. He fronted The Challengers in Liverpool before his move to The Star Club, Germany to sing with Kingsize Taylor & The Dominoes and The Grigg Parry Five. Friends with The Beatles, Steve Aldo was in huge demand for much of the 1960’s. In 1964, he was offered a solo deal by Decca Records covering Marvin Gaye's "Can I Get a Witness" and released his single "Baby What You Want Me to Do."
  • Book launch with Tony Wailey. In July we organised the launch of Tony’s latest novel, Our Party. Thirty people attended at Peter Kavanagh’s and were treated to readings by Tony who then signed copies and chatted about his book. Highly recommended, you can buy copies here.
  • In another first for WoW we held an event during Liverpool’s Irish Festival in October. The event was a repeat of the Derry/Londonderry – So Good They Named It Twice evening we held during the WoW Festival in May. This featured singer/songwriter Alan Burke, poet Gerard McKeown and writer Dave Duggan. It was partly the response of the artists themselves, who enjoyed the original event so much that they requested that we organise it in the city centre to bring it to a wider audience. It was a massively successful night, with an audience of approx. 90 people, including one audience member from Derry who travelled over specifically for the event.
 
Hillsborough – Speaking Truth to Power
 
September 12th 2012 was an enormous day in the campaign for justice for the victims and families of the Hillsborough Disaster. The findings of the Independent Panel completely vindicated the supporters, brought an apology from the Government and opened up the possibility of prosecutions for those responsible and new inquests for those who died. In November we were proud to play a small part in the process of the continuing campaign for justice by hosting an event, Hillsborough - Speaking Truth to Power, featuring independent panel member, and the Independent Panel Report’s chief author, Phil Scraton. Over 400 people gathered at St Georges Hall Concert Room for an evening which Director Madeline Heneghan explained WoW felt was ‘almost a public duty to try and give the families and the general public access to Phil, and to hear from him some of the detail behind this incredible report from the Hillsborough Independent Panel.’
 
In the words of one of those who attended, the evening was ‘reflective, emotive and truly inspiring.’ We hope it has made a difference and helped to keep the cause for justice moving forward.

December 17th sees the release of He Ain’t Heavy (He’s My Brother) by The Justice Collective. The single has been recorded to raise money for the families to continue their fight for justice and to keep the issue to the forefront of people’s minds. Writing on the Wall urges all our supporters to buy the single.
 
Text JUSTICE to 80010 to pre-order the single now. Texts cost £1 + standard network rate.
www.facebook.com/jft96christmas
www.twitter.com/jft96xmas
 
Finance
 
Although we have secured National Portfolio funding from Arts Council England (which doesn’t supply full funding but requires that we raise match funding to implement our proposed programme), it is clear there are many financial challenges ahead. Trustees are very aware of the need to diversify our funding streams but with such a small staff team the time required to explore new avenues, establish new relationships and to continue to deliver as planned, is extremely tight. Currently we are in dialogue with a number of organisations about longer term and project based funding.  We are also looking for similar opportunities offered by us winning the commission to deliver Sefton’s literature festival. Arts Council England and Liverpool City Council, have both indicated they are likely to reduce the amount of funds they currently support us with. Arts Council England, in line with Government policy, is encouraging the development of private giving as a way forward in supporting the arts generally. WoW recognises the opportunities offered by more commercial sources of funding and is constantly exploring new ways of fundraising to support our work.
 
Despite the harsh economic climate that has prevailed for the past year, WoW has managed to maintain its core team, employ a new Writer in Residence, increase our annual audience figures and reach new audiences and participants through such projects as Sea Odyssey and our curation of the Sefton Celebrates Writing Festival. We have also found ways to produce new writing with very little funding, including publishing Pulp Idol- Firsts 2012, and the Flash Fiction at The End of the World competition entries that were published on our website and on the walls at FACT.
 
Conclusion
 
It’s been a really good year for WoW and we’re already excited about getting started on our new programme of events and activities for next year. There are many challenges ahead, not least of all the ever present issue of finance, with all the powers that be signalling some potentially fairly drastic cuts in the next year. We are committed to bringing the best, most relevant, writers and commentators to Merseyside, and to ensuring new writers and performers from Merseyside are given a platform and the support to find their voice. We will continue to do this regardless of the economic background, and we are confident, with the support of our audience, that we will continue to deliver a high quality programme of activities designed to engage and support communities across Merseyside and give them the chance to participate in the best that arts and culture can offer in 2013.

A Year in Pictures

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Address:  The Kuumba Imani Millennium Centre, 4 Princes Road, Liverpool, L8 1TH
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Tel:  0151 703 0020
E-mail: info@writingonthewall.org.uk

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