Nottingham: UNESCO City of Literature?

Andrew 'Mulletproof' Graves read at the UNESCO meeting.

Andrew ‘Mulletproof’ Graves read at the UNESCO meeting.

It’s a good time to be living in Nottingham at the moment. There’s a real buzz about the place and at long last we’re slowly starting to get the recognition we deserve in the wider press. Let’s just remind ourselves of a couple of things that are going on. The Nottingham Writers’ Studio, of which I am the Chair, has moved to new premises at 25 Hockley (hope you will join us at our launch on the 16 May) which has an incredible performance space downstairs and four offices to rent to like-minded organisations. As independent bookshops fell below 1000 in April, we bucked the trend when Ross Bradshaw opened up the Five Leaves Bookshop. This was recently followed by Ideas on Paper, a bespoke magazine shop in Cobden Chambers.

We’re home to more publishers than I have fingers which includes Pewter-Rose Press, who publish short stories in an era that keeps claiming this format is dead and Candlestick Press, whose novelty poetry pamphlets ‘More than a Card’ have helped make poetry more accessible. We have a writer development agency in Writing East Midlands who organised a Writers’ Conference in April as well as ongoing workshops for aspiring authors. We celebrate local authors through The East Midlands Book Award and have a city-wide literature festival in October called the Festival of Words.

When you start to throw local writers into the equation such as Betty Trask winner Nicola Monaghan, Booker shortlisted author Alison Moore, or Impac winner Jon McGregor, it’s clear we have writers worth reading, each following on in the footsteps of Byron, Lawrence and Sillitoe et all. All of which has led to a recent collaboration by local organisations, (thanks in particular to Pippa Hennessy, Stephen Lowe, Bromley House Library and City Council), to put in a UNESCO bid for Nottingham to be officially recognised as a City of Literature. So you can see why I find it so hard to leave my home town (I’ve left four times but always been drawn back by the people).

Alex of Ideas on Paper. You can find them at 1 Cobden Chambers Pelham Street

Alex of Ideas on Paper. You can find them at 1 Cobden Chambers
Pelham Street

For the UNESCO bid to be successful then everybody involved in the writing industry needs to find new ways to work together and support each other. I’ve done this recently through an interactive graphic novel I’m editing together called Dawn of the Unread. It aims to support libraries and independent bookshops by raising awareness of local authors and our incredible literary history. In addition to the links we’ve made within literary circles we’ve also extended out into the wider community by partnering with design agencies, colleges, universities and local action groups such as the Women’s Centre. We’ve also incorporated news of the UNESCO bid into one of our pages, which is why news like this needs to be shared so that other projects can be reactive and supportive.

Nottingham is not just a creative quarter, it’s a creative city. So next time you’re thinking of putting together a project remember our streets are full of stories. As I often like to smugly joke to people: You can’t walk down the street in Nottingham without bumping into a writer. But finding a decent plumber is a bleddy nightmare.

CITIES OF LITERATURE

Born in ’84

There are three voices that I drop everything for when I hear them on the radio: Will Self, Brian Clough and Dennis Skinner. Will Self because he is eloquent and articulate and because he sounds like he’s swallowed a dictionary. The ever quotable Brian Clough because he’s arrogant and charismatic and a hack’s wet dream. And the beast of Bolsover because he’s so passionate. I had the pleasure of hearing the latter give a tub thumping speech at The Winding Wheel in Chesterfield on Saturday 8 March to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Miners’ Strike.

Skinner got a standing ovation, although at one point I thought he was going to keel over as he breathed fire into the ears of the attendant miners. I don’t necessarily buy into all of his arguments but l respect him because he stands for something, a rarity in today’s focus-led politics. He talked about the devastating effects of pit closures on local communities and believes that this is the reason for many of our current ills. He rightly stated that pits were a source of employment for ordinary folk who didn’t want to go and study, and that there aren’t jobs for people like this to go into, now that the manufacturing base has been destroyed. He also linked the closure of pits with the spread of hard drugs across estates.

I was ten in 1984 and had a very different experience of the strikes growing up in a pit village south of Nottingham called Cotgrave. It was full of drunken, angry men and violence was rife, particularly among my age group. Teenagers would actually come and knock on your front door and offer you out (fight). The population was largely Geordie, many of whom had relocated here in the early 1970s on account of Nottinghamshire pits being the second highest payers in the country. So there was already factions and tribes before the coppers moved in and families became divided on account of whether they scabbed or not. Then there were the skinheads who took over the local community centre and overturned the car of a social worker employed to keep them entertained. This happened more or less around the time that a disabled pit worker had their car over turned when trying to get to work. But my enduring memory was visiting one friend’s house who had no carpets and an old pop crate for a seat. I remember asking if he’d just moved in and he went quiet. It’s only now, 30 years on, as I read about the strike and visit events like this that the reality of his situation hits home. He was from a family of strikers.

When the artist Jeremy Deller introduced his Battle of Orgreave film a miner behind me moaned ‘these artists making money out of miners. It’s disgusting’. It did make me smile. Deller then confessed he went to a public school and was, of course, from London. But they knew he wasn’t one of their own and appreciated his honesty.

I spoke to Deller afterwards and he seemed like a well-intentioned and decent guy. I told him about my experiences of pit life and that based on this I imagined the re-enactment would have been really cathartic for the people involved.  The last thing they needed was a documentary analysing the fight. This was a lived experience. For this reason it was good to see the inclusion of a copper’s perspective and how over time he had come to realise things weren’t quite so black and white.

All of which brings me on to a book. I’m currently reading Look Back in Anger by Harry Paterson which is published by Five Leaves Press and thanks to the acute editing of Ross Bradshaw it delivers fact after fact about the strike, avoiding a ‘Mills and Boon meets Trotsky’ over simplification. There is no need to over describe what the police did or the effects it had on communities or why Thatcher is the anti-Christ. The raw facts are enough on their own and bleed out over the page. I’m hoping to interview Harry Paterson for the June issues of LeftLion and have a great idea for a topical front cover but more of this closer to the time.

Jeremy Deller’s All That is Solid Melts into Air is at Nottingham Castle until 21 April2014

Harry Paterson Look Back in Anger: The Miners’ Strike in Nottinghamshire 30 Years On, Five Leaves, £9.99