A Shakespearean Thanks

So Shakespeare Week is done. Five workshops at five different libraries in and around Sheffield are over and I am happy. Tell you the truth, I couldn’t be happier. From the off this had the whiff of something a bit special and it’s not disappointed one bit. Everyone at Sheffield Library Service have been, as ever, supreme and helpful and lovely – and I’d like to put a huge public thank you to all the staff, in libraries and behind the scenes, for all their help and for making us all feel so welcome.

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And a massive thanks to you too, for helping spread the word. Each workshop sold out in no time and I can’t remember anything I’ve done being quite so over-subscribed. We had to turn a lot of people away, and I’m sorry about that – don’t worry though, there are other very exciting things in the pipeline.

But this was always going to be about the young writers who came along. If you’re reading this – and it could be any of you – YOU ARE BRILLIANT. Some absolutely wonderful, funny, moving, scary and generally brilliant work was produced in those five, three hour sessions – from stories, to story plans, to poems and potions and even recipes. Those Macbeth witches have a lot to answer for. And, if you like, you can see much of it at The Children’s Central Library, Highfield Library, Chapeltown Library, Hillsborough Library, and Ecclesall Library too – and you should (you can see where they are and when they’re open here). I’ll be posting a bit of what we did on here at some point too.

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Sheffield Central Children’s Library, Day 1

The workshops had some amazing coverage in the press and on the radio – huge thanks to BBC Radio Sheffield (we’re at 1hr 55) and to The Sheffield Star (and thanks to Dean for his photos), and there’s even video too.

I am a very happy, and very proud, author tonight – and not just because of the reaction to what we’ve done. It’s reminded me why I do this. Being involved with helping people who are excited about writing (even if they didn’t think they were before) is a huge privilege. And when those involved are as brilliant as the young writers I’ve worked with over the past few weeks are as amazing as they were, then that makes things even better. Well done, folks.

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Never Let Me Go – – The Joy of Language

I have come late to Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. It’s something I seem to do, that. Only read wonderful things years and years after every bugger else (I think a lot of that has to do with me not reading enough as much as I’d like and reading a lot of possibly more obscure things – not an excuse, it’s just how it is).

But I did come to it in the end and I am glad I did. It is an astonishing book and one that, without question, has changed me. And it’s been a while since I’ve read anything close to being that good. It’s a masterpiece. The story’s wonderful and affecting and the characters are convincing and everything works.

But what I wanted to highlight here is how good I think the writing is. I said, on Twitter, upon finishing it that I thought it was probably the best written book I’d read. And I stand by that.

I’ll not review it here (I’ve never been that good with reviews and so many people do it better) so you’ll have to look elsewhere for the plot (if you’ve been stuck under a rock like me and not read it yet). It’s the language Ishiguro uses. The way (and I talk about this a lot when I’m teaching) he doesn’t let a huge vocabulary –  or desire to use it – to get in the way of either the story or the authenticity of the narrator’s voice. Yes, the language is simple (some have said dull) but that’s exactly how it needs to be. For me, it’s all about story. When we read something I don’t think we really need to notice the writer  – in fact I’d probably argue that, in most cases, we shouldn’t because it’s the story we should be immersed in, not the writer or their ego. Sometimes people do just sit or walk or say things. And sometimes there are just fields – we don’t need to know the exact shade of green every blade of grass is beneath the oak. Of course, there are times when that kind of thing is a joy to read – but only if that language is appropriate to that story.

So, if you’ve not read it, you should. So here’s a toast to brilliant story telling without the need to show off and, more importantly, with the master’s touch of knowing exactly how his or her character is. Language is a wonderful thing and we’ve got an enormous, brilliant, beautiful pot of it that we can pluck from – it’s a fine thing we can be reminded that we don’t have to use it all.

 

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Video Shakespeare

As you might have already read, yesterday I was at Sheffield Central Children’s Library running the first of five writing workshops for Shakespeare Week. During it, the lovely Kate Hughes from Sheffield City Council came along to video some of the writers who were there. Here they are…

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And We’re Off/A Note to The Disappointed

The first of the five workshops I’m running for Shakespeare Week has happened. And it was brilliant – even on the day there were people waiting to see if they could sneak in and, as I’ve said before, that there has been such a huge amount of interest has been wonderful.

But, before I go on talking about the actual event, I’d like to say a few things to those who haven’t been able to get on to one.

First, I’m sorry.

It always makes me sad when we have to turn people away and put waiting lists up and I am honestly sorry we’ve had to but, rest assured, I’m doing my best behind the scenes to cater to as many people as possible (and there have been a LOT of you). If there’s something we can do to accommodate everyone then it’ll be done. Also, rest assured that if you’re not able to get onto one of the courses then it’s for good reason – and that reason’s pretty straight forward: there’s only one of me!

In any event I’ve ever done what’s important is that everyone gets a decent chunk of time with me and a fair and useful amount of my attention. These events are to inspire (and inspire confidence), they’re to help, they’re to encourage and to educate, and they’re for people to enjoy themselves – to have fun with words. And a massive part of that is being able to work with me closely. And a part of that is not feeling you’ve had your hand up for too long, or that I’m spending too long at the other end of a table that’s longer than it should be. It’s a dialogue and it’s relaxed and it’s helpful. And I’d much rather have, say, twelve people going home feeling happy and inspired, than twenty or thirty feeling it was just ok.

As I said, bear with me! (If you’re one of those parents or guardians whose children haven’t been able to get a workshop place, drop me a line by clicking here and let me have your email address.)

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And, on to today.

Yes, it was fun. It was brilliant, in fact. The workshop was called Fun With Words and that’s exactly what we had.

We talked about Shakespeare, his plays, his life and times, and what sort of things he did. And then we did our own. There were potions and spells, there were basketball player stories, poisons, and lists of ingredients and a whole load of amazing stuff that reflected, I think perfectly, the range of what he did. And I’m not exaggerating when I say that every single writer produced at least two really excellent things (they’ll be on display before long so can see for yourselves if you’re in the area).

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The Sheffield Star were there with their camera (thank you, Dean); some of the writers were even filmed (watch out for that) and, as usual, the staff were mind-blowingly good. They even forgave me for not putting a water jug back.

And they made me this (thank you Alexis).

 

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And, Head of Libraries, Nick, who was brilliant too, came down to make sure I knew my Hamlet from my Macbeth (and to marvel at Alexis’ handiwork).

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All in all a brilliant few hours and I can’t wait to get on with the next four.

And, as for any others, watch this space…

 

 

All Set

Tomorrow I start the first of five workshops in two weeks for the brilliant Sheffield Library Service. It’s for Shakespeare Week and this one’s a little bit special in that it’s 400 years since the great man (and possibly the most influential story teller that’s lived) died.

Things have been printed. The Lion King has been re-watched and Shakespearean insults have been chortled at (how’s the for research) – stationery has been bought and bags have been packed. Most importantly I know what I’m doing and I can’t wait to get started.

I think one of the coolest things is that the workshops sold out in record time – that’s something that always makes me happy because it means (or should, at least) that people are keen. And an appetite for Shakespeare can only be a very good thing.

And now I go for a walk and don’t think about it until tomorrow, when the fun begins.

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Three Words – Review

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At the end of last year I was really pleased that Rachel Fenton came onto this very blog to talk about Three Words: an Anthology of Aotearoa/New Zealand Women’s Comics (read what she said about here – it’s great). At the time I said that I thought the whole thing was ‘dripping with good’ – and it really was. It was redressing the balance and exposure of female comic book artists for one and, from what I knew, the produce was going to be something wonderful too.

And it is. And I mean really wonderful. It’s a thick book (not that it’d take a lifetime to read) and there are tens and tens of contributors and each (and I mean this) are wonderful. My favourite, aside from Rachel’s (are you listening, Rae?!) are Jem Yoshioka and Alex McCrone but really, I could have pulled any names out of a hat because they’re all so good, and the breadth of stuff in there, from the stories themselves (some funny, some scary, some devastatingly honest, all good) to the art they’re told through is brilliantly astonishing. The production of the book’s seriously impressive too – it feels that, as much as it’s come out of something important and a need to tell good stories through great art, it’s come from love too. It would be an ideal gift, either to someone else or, probably better, from you to you.

I think one of the big acid tests for a book, especially one like this, is how people who know nothing about it react to it being there. I don’t think there’s been one person who’s been in its company who hasn’t picked it and opened it and grinned.

And you can, and probably should, buy your copy from Beatnik here.

 

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Jem Yoshioka

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SheFest – Sheffield – Saturday

Another day, another celebration of women. And quite right too.

 

Here’s the brilliant Nitya to tell us more…

 

Last year over 600 people visited Sheffield Town Hall for a fantastic one day celebration of International Women’s Day featuring local traders, live music and a spectacular finale fashion show.

This year that idea has grown into ‘SheFest’ – Sheffield’s inaugural Fringe Festival!  The main event on 12th March is SheFest Saturday at Sheffield Hallam HUBS 12-5pm – in addition to the all female traders market and live entertainment and multicultural fashion show, it also features 14 workshops, with an array of topics from Wellness and Relationships to Tech Start Ups and STEM.

Sheffield’s makers and shakers were encouraged to schedule events around this time that would fit with the IWD theme #PledgeforParity and to create a diverse range of events in the city.

@IWDSheffield! #SheFest2016
facebook.com/SheFestSheffield
http://www.eventbrite.co.uk/o/shefest-sheffield-7914305030
http://bit.ly/SheFest2016Brochure

Wonder Women. Manchester. Friday.

On Sunday I found myself in Huddersfield at their literature festival (friends knew friends there so I went and it was good). I got to see the lovely Kate Fox again, doing her thing, and she was brilliant. When we were chatting afterwards, as you do, she mentioned she’s appearing as part of Manchester’s Wonder Women Feminist Festival, talking, no doubt very funnily, about being childless.

 

It’s 6 – 8pm this Friday at The Cornerhouse. And this from her, herself:

 

“It’s basically me doing an extract from my show about not wanting children, then chatting about with Dr Ginette Carpenter from Manchester Met. It’s part of the University’s “Humanities in Public” SEX series (HiPSex apparently) and also the Wonder Woman festival now on at venues throughout Manchester. It’s from 6pm- 8pmish at the Cornerhouse on Friday 11th. It was a Guardian pick here and there are more details here and it’s free:

So, off you pop.

Easter Holidays Shakespeare Fun 7 – 11 Year Olds

So, March is here. And didn’t it sneak up on us quickly? And you know what March means? Well, amongst quite a bit, it means that the Easter Holidays are just around the corner. And do you know what that means? It means that the workshops I’m doing for Shakespeare Week are just around the corner too.

Starting on March 21st I’ll be spending an afternoon in 5 different libraries in and around Sheffield, working with children between the ages of 7 and 11. There’ll be story writing and ideas, there’ll be an introduction to the great man and his work, and, most importantly, there’ll be FUN WITH WORDS. Because Shakespeare invented so many brilliant words and phrases (and insults!) it’s the perfect way to discover him (and most likely find that we know more of his work than we think) and, as someone who found Shakespeare a little stodgy and difficult at school, it won’t be like that at all.

A lot of places have been taken already but there are a few left, so if you’d like your child or children to be involved then you should drop the libraries a line to book. I’ll be at…

 

Monday March 21st – Children’s Central Library – 0114 273 4734

Wednesday March 23rd – Highfield Library – 0114 2037204 / 2930018

Thursday 24th March – Chapeltown Library – 0114 2037000 or 0114 2037001

Wednesday 30th March – Hillsborough Library – 0114 2039529 or 0114 2039530

Thursday 31st March – Ecclesall Library –  0114 203 7222

… and I honestly can’t wait. It’s going to be a brilliant (if not tiring!) couple of weeks and I’m looking forward to it very, very much.

 

And do spread the word if you can – that sort of help’s always something I appreciate a huge amount.

If anyone has any questions you can always get in touch with me by going here.

See you there!

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It’s Grimm Up North

A very quick post today, because I’m desperately trying to catch up with everything I’ve missed through being ill. But there is something I really wanted to tell you about. So…

I was lucky to be at the brand new and very brilliant Grimm & Co in Rotherham on Tuesday (I was there for a meeting and got to go through the secret door and see behind the scenes and I was very impressed).

Grimm is a shop for mythical beings. You can buy talon clippers, a tin of disappointment, magic wands, giant belly button cleaners – anything that the average mythical being might need. But it’s also, a little like Dave Eggers’ pirate shop in San Fransisco (and the rest) a venue providing literacy goodness for young people.

 

Here are some snaps I took the other to give you an idea – the place is stunning. If you’re in the area DO check it out – it is spectacular. You won’t be disappointed.

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