LeftLion 44: When the music’s over, turn out the lights…

LeftLion 44 is dedicated to music. This is because we have a thriving music scene at the moment and one of our many bands is on the cusp of finally making it big, not because one of our editors is a music junky. This has meant that literature is conspicuous in its absence, although we still have a thematic presence. Tony Hill was commissioned to do a piece on the Grey Topper, a nightclub in a pit village that was once the best music venue in Notts. The Jackdale hosted the likes of The Bay City Rollers, The Specials and Simple Minds in its time, reminding us that there used to be more options than Rock City. Rather than do a Q&A, Tony was asked to use ticket stubs, posters, and flyers from the period to sketch a historical picture of this much-missed venue and promote his book The Palace and the Punks.

Our WriteLion page features a poem from John Micallef, offering an updated version of Gil Scott-Heron’s The Revolution Will Be Televised. Aly and I heard John read at the Oxjam spoken word event in Beeston in a Barton’s bus depot (the glamorous world of poetry I here you say) and knew it was the perfect poem for this issue. We often find content for the page through chance encounters such as this, so get reading in public. The poem was originally going to be illustrated but then Nigel Pickard suddenly died at the age of forty-five and so we rightly decided to illustrate one of his poems. The poem we chose was Fog which is incredibly sad but beautiful. Our third poem was Lions by Viv Apple which we’ve had on hold for half-a-year but was perfect as it lightened the mood. Viv said ‘the poem was partly inspired by my personal history.  After Dennis had proposed to me 53 years ago at a Nottm Uni ‘hop’ in the Portland Building, I said I’d let him know next day, so we met as usual by the left lion, and I said ‘yes’.' Unfortunately there wasn’t room for Lord Biro’s Jim Has kicked it – because it was too small and looked out of place on the page. He’ll be back though…

The editorial to the books page of WriteLion reads ‘At last, we hear you say. A page in the magazine that’s not about friggin’ music.’ One thing I love about writing for LeftLion is nobody takes themselves too seriously and so this internal kind of bickering enables the kind of tongue-in-cheek humour we hope readers appreciate. And of course, I meant it – but more of this later.

The page saw Rebecca S Buck’s first magazine review for us and not before time. She’s done an outstanding job promoting lesbian fiction online and giving our literature pages some much needed balance. Another debut reviewer was Megan Taylor – and her younger daughter Lola – who reviewed a Children’s History of Nottinghamshire. I thought this dual review was a really novel approach to critique and worked really well. We also celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Nottingham Poetry Society and ORE, the latest anthology from the MA Creative Writing students at NTU. My review was a self-published book about Pat Tobin’s chaotic life. Overall we covered a good range of genres and subjects.

The final two features on the WriteLion page were Katie Half-Price giving a twitteresque run down of this year’s Booker shortlist (the one criticised for its ‘readability’) and a feature on the Caribou Caravan. The latter is currently residing in Hopkinson’s Gallery and is the best thing to happen to Notts since Cloughy. I’ll be interviewing the owner Annelise Atkinson at the Nottingham Writers’ Studio in January and hopefully at Lowdham Book Festival, so watch this space.

I finally managed to get a review of John Marriott’s The Little Typists in to the music reviews section. John is a snarling, dead pan, sarcastic, hilarious performer who’s helped us out at Shindig! events. He’s one of the best performers in Notts and has you waiting on his every word. I described him as ‘MC Pitman with a synthesiser.’ Need I say more?

This issue threw up a lot of contentious issues. Firstly, if you’re having a music issue then you’re going to piss off anyone who isn’t interviewed and possibly open yourselves up to accusations of favouritism. There’s no easy solution to this but one thing we wanted to avoid was bland Q&As. Personally, I’d have liked a wider interpretation of ‘music’, such as the noise currently being made by the Occupy movement in Market Square. It was also a missed chance to help promote local businesses who could have done with a Christmas push. I’d have liked, for example, to have seen a ‘literature guide to shopping in Notts’ and similar for other departments. But this is far too long a debate to recount here. It does, however, raise the question of the purpose of LeftLion. I’d like to see a more fearsome roar. Nottingham is very angry at the moment and it’s our job to record this. The battle will continue into the next issue.

Leftlion and lesbians

If anybody has visited the literature section of LeftLion’s new website over the past month then they may be forgiven for thinking that I’ve been murdered by a group of lesbians. This is because I went for a coffee with a lovely lady called Victoria Oldham (Bold Strokes Books) who wanted help promoting ten lesbian authors who were giving readings at Waterstones at the end of July. Victoria is originally from America and still relatively new to the city (at least in terms of contacts and the literature scene) so I made her aware of all the usual suspects who may be able to help.

I was really eager to get an interview with each of the ten authors over the proceeding weeks to help promote the event. This was important as LeftLion has been more of a meow than a roar when it has come to discussing gay culture (barring of course the excellent ‘Gay up me duck’) so this was a chance for us to really redeem ourselves as well as widen our audience.

It was inappropriate for me to do the interviews which led to an interesting discussion as to why. As obvious as this might seem, is it any different to say interviewing a refugee from Somalia? Both identities are equally disparate to that of my own. And as I soon discovered, reading Sarah Waters doesn’t count as some lesbians feel she doesn’t go into enough sexual detail – which reminded me a little of the Larry Kramer (The Dead Heart) argument about homosexuals being defined by promiscuity.

The great thing to come from this discussion was the discovery of local author Rebecca S Buck who is now our resident expert on gay and lesbian culture who kindly did all of the interviews currently online. This is fantastic news, as along with the acquisition of Ian Douglas as our young adult fiction reviewer, and Christie Fearn as our new ‘local history’ reviewer, we are really starting to get a team of genre specialists together.

But the best laid plans of mice and men…our server went down a week before the BSB launch which meant we couldn’t feature all of the writers that Rebecca had worked so hard interviewing. There were other consequences as well. Firstly, we had to prematurely migrate to a new server which has meant we’ve had to launch our new website early –glitches and all. Secondly, I don’t have administration rights yet and so I’ve been unable to upload new content and so the home page is full of lesbian interviews that led up to the event! Talk about feast or famine. I’ve also potentially lost five years of contacts as I can’t access my old email account. But enough of that, LeftLion 42 made it out on to the streets and features an interview with Roman Nottinghamshire author Mark Patterson.

With regards to future reviews of lesbian fiction in LeftLion, these will go in ‘normally’ like any other book. I think it’s important not to make a big thing of sexuality as defining an author although obviously it needs to be mentioned if it’s essential to the narrative. I’ve never been a fan of colour coded reviews. The ‘pink press’ is as bad as calling elderly writers the ‘grey press’. But we can be more sensitive in the magazine whereas we had to be more explicit promoting the Bold Strokes Books event online as it was a specific gathering of lesbian authors.

Writing the front page intros for these interviews was fun, particularly given the LeftLion house style: Lesley Davis ‘Imagine a Gotham City full of lesbians all playing Mario and you have a little insight into the mind of this author..’ or Gill McKnight ‘Romantic lesbian fiction that features werewolves. What more do you need to know?’ Yeah, I was right not to do the interviews…