About James

James is the Literature Editor of LeftLion magazine. He is also an academic and a writer who has been published in various magazines and books. This means he spends most of his time in front of a computer screen writing about life instead of living it. Therefore, do not trust a word he says.

Festival of Words highlights

Illustration: Raphael Achache

Illustration: Raphael Achache

It’s Nottingham’s second Festival of Words (13-19 October), below is a few highlights to get you in the mood. We’ve got a real international flavour this year with bloggers and writers from as far afield as Afghanistan, Syria and Leicester. This is a particularly important festival as it also ties in with Nottingham’s bid to become a UNESCO City of Literature. So we really need bottoms on seats. This year we were successful in getting a £15,000 Arts Council Grant as well as extra funding to bring over international writers (the first festival was done out of sheer rage and love) but it won’t mean anything if nobody turns up. So please dab in and spread the word or else your city will be nothing more than a refuge for Poundstretchers, Tesco Express and American coffee chains…

Telling Tales: Nottingham kids’ festival of imagination
Pack the kids off to their own literary festival where they can join in animation sessions, drama workshops, or create their own cartoons. If none of this interests them, they can overdose on Ribena and just run around screaming.
Saturday 11 October, 10am-5pm, free, Lady Bay

Writing from China
When a Starbucks gets changed into a noodle bar and a pub becomes a karaoke bar, you know the city centre is changing. Will Buckingham is joined in conversation by Beijing author Karen Ma (Excess Baggage) and Rhiannon Jenkins Tsang (The Woman Who Lost China) for a discussion about life with the dragon.
Monday 13 October, 7.30 – 9pm, £4/£3, Nottingham Writers’ Studio

 Lina Ben Mhenni

Lina Ben Mhenni

The world’s in a right shitstorm at the moment, which means a lot of writers are in exile. Belfast playwright Gary Mitchell was forced into hiding following his depictions of life in Loyalist communities. Poet Suhrab Sirat is unable to return to war-torn Afghanistan and blogger Lina Ben Mhenni joins us from Tunisia where she continues to document the Arab Spring despite intimidation. They will read and discuss their work with Jo Glanville, Director of English PEN.
Tuesday 14 October, 7.30 – 9.30pm, £5/£4, Sillitoe Room, Waterstones

Lyric Lounge
The East Midlands’ travelling spoken word festival offers some gobby goodness from Shonaleigh Cumbers, Joel Stickley MC, Sophie Snell and Mark Gwynne-Jones, the poet once described as ‘Quentin Tarantino on milk’. There’s also a chance to give it some flannel in the Storytelling Open Mic.
Thursday 16 October, 6pm, £5, Nottingham Contemporary

Ali Smith in conversation with Jon McGregor
The author of The Accidental, Girl Meet Boy and Artful, her most recent novel, How To Be Both,is shortlisted for this year’s Booker. Joining her for a natter is Jon McGregor, author of If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things. There is a book signing afterwards for anyone hoping to make a few bob on eBay.
Friday 17 October, 7.30pm, £12/£10, Lakeside Arts Centre


Jennifer Makumbi
Having grown up in Uganda, home of Joseph Kony and some atrocious human rights issues, her writing is largely based on oral traditions. Her debut novel, Kintu, explores the ancestry of a family and the history of her country, as heirs survive the loss of their land, the denigration of their culture and the ravages of war. Her short story Let’s Tell This Story Properly won the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2014.
Saturday 18 October, 1.30pm – 2pm, free, Lecture Theatre 5, Newton Building, Nottingham Trent University

Kavya Rang: Ghazal
International star of Indian music, Dev Dutt Joshi, will take you through musical genres including Bollywood, Ghazal, Bhajan, Qawalli, folk and fusion. He will be strutting his stuff with Sunil Gossai (tabla) and Siddharth Singh (guitar). Ghazal is an ancient form of Arabic verse, around central themes of loss and love.
Sunday 19 October, 3.30pm-5.30pm, £10/£7, Council House


Dawn of the Unread presents: MasterBrainzzzs!
In the tents on Slab Square there’ll be a Mastermind with a difference as four dead writers are brought back to life and quizzed on their literary relevance. Lydia ‘Magnus’ Towsey will be asking the questions, arranging a bwain eating competition, and our former editor Al Needham will be made up as a zombie.
Sunday 19 October, 3pm-4pm, £3/£2, Word Tent 2, Market Square

Tickets can be purchased from the Nottingham Playhouse Box Office (Tel: 0115 941 9419) or on the Festival of Words website.

Festival of Words website


Skype Me! Nottingham and the World

Robin Vaughan-Williams, the former Development Director of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio, is back in town for the Festival of Words. In this guest blog post he gives us a little teaser of what to expect…

Under three weeks to go now till Skype Nottingham on 18 October, and the programme is shaping up nicely. I’ve been enjoying some fascinating Skype conversations with participants in Brazil, Germany, and Austria, and am excited about their plans for the evening.

A couple of days ago I spoke with Reuben da Cunha Rocha, who took part in World Event Young Artists (WEYA) in 2012 and stole the show at the Festival of Words launch event that September with his incantational and, to my mind, slightly hallucinatory sound poetry inspired by the tribal rhythms he’d discovered on an island off the north-west coast of Brazil.

WEYA was an amazing festival, bringing together some 1,000 young artists from around the world, including 30 writers. There was enormous energy over the ten days as artists from different cultures discovered one another’s work and started to collaborate and make new connections. Then everybody went home. So it was wonderful to hear that WEYA had had a lasting impact for Reuben, as he’d been encouraged to go on developing the kind of work he’d presented at the festival, and had gone on to collaborate further with several of the artists he’d met at WEYA. Now he’s coming back to Nottingham this October, two years on, and, coming full circle, I’m looking forward to seeing what he has to offer us.

I’ve also spoken with Klaus Tauber in Vienna and Johann Reisser, who lives in Berlin but is currently undertaking a residency in the German city of Rottweil. I’m pairing Klaus with Leicestershire poet Mark Goodwin, as although they don’t know each other, they are linked by the Austrian poet Karin Tarabochia. Karin is part of a group curated by Mark on SoundCloud called Air to Hear, which collects digitally produced sound and poetry, and Klaus will be incorporating Karin’s voice into his performance for Skype Nottingham, which he’ll be presenting live from the roof of the Vienna Volkstheater.


Johann Reisser organised an impressive event recently called Katastrophen /Formen, which involved bringing together WWI poetry from fourteen different countries for a staged reading. One of the things that interested him was how poets responded differently to the First World War in different countries. For example, I tend to think of British poetry from World War One as using conventional forms such as the sonnet to convey their traumatic content. But if you take a look at the poetry of German Expressionist August Stramm, translated here by Alistair Noon, you’ll see a very different, much more experimental approach to war poetry. The way his tornado-shaped forms wither down from top to bottom captures for me the whittling down of existence, and indeed of language, and the disorienting syntax suggests the disorientation of war.

Johann will be reading a poem on WWI by the poet Thomas Kling, who died in 2005, and I’ve paired him up with Ian Douglas, whose highly praised story of disaster in the North Sea, ‘Dead in the Water’, was included in the graphic fiction anthology To End All Wars. I hope this juxtaposition will give us a taste of the different ways that WWI is remembered in Germany and the UK.

Skype Me! Nottingham and the World takes place on Saturday 18 October 2014, 9–11pm at Nottingham Writers’ Studio (25 Hockley, NG1 1FP) as part of Nottingham Festival of Words. Tickets are £5 and available from the Nottingham Playhouse Box Office, online or by phone (0115 941 9419).