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Tuesday, 8 April 2014

The Secret Life of Gavrilo Princip - with Aritha Van Herk

Aritha van Herk - partnership with Yorkshire Network for Canadian Studies
7pm Headingley Library Monday 7 April

Aritha van Herk is an acclaimed, award-winning writer of several genres who came to the friendly environment of Headingley Library in our first partnership with the Yorkshire Network for Canadian Studies and our final event in a month-long programme – but what a very good way to end.
Aritha van Herk with Catherine Bates

Audience comments:

Wonderful – very hospitable at the library and loved the talk.

Aritha was an engaging speaker, at times quite dramatic – especially in the section of the reading describing the assassination of FF and Sophie.  Excellent Q/A session.

I absolutely loved getting the opportunity to hear Aritha speak.  I studied ‘No Fixed Address’ as an undergraduate and never expected I’d have the chance to hear a Canadian author here.  Thank you.

Thanks for the Canadian link, good writing.

Interesting, informative and enjoyable reading and talk.  More please.

Entertaining and informative, would have liked to find out more generally about her interests and approaches and not just the issues arising from her current work; thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating nevertheless.

A very interesting event with a wider range of topics covered than I had expected!

FANTASTIC.  Thank you.  A fascinating alternative insight into such a well known part of history.

It was a really warm and friendly event, with an inspiring presenter and friendly staff.  Good evening and duration. Happy to attend more events!

Very enjoyable experience, good talk/reading with stimulating discussion.  To maintain audience focus, perhaps readings could be broken into sections with responses.  Or a break half way.

Brilliant: enjoyed both the reading and the discussion.  I was impressed with the wide-ranging knowledge of the author/speaker, detailed fluidity and her dramatic voice.

The author’s reading was intellectually stimulating, a treat.

She was a interesting speaker.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Dismembered body found in wheelie bin - just in time for scarecrow meet

Literary Scarecrow Festival - partnership event with Far Headingley Village Society
2pm End-of-trail meet, near St Chad's Sunday 6 April

Richard Wilcocks writes: 
Tooth Fairy
Reconstituted Mr McGregor with cardboard Peter
The dismembered body of Mr McGregor was found in a wheelie bin near houses opposite the Headingley Arndale Centre last week. He had been stolen from the community garden, along with Peter Rabbit, a week ago, on a Sunday morning after 8.30am. 

Very hungry larva

Who would do such a thing? Could somebody staggering home from an all-night party have been motivated by a grudge against Beatrix Potter? Whatever... Peter, who may never be found now that the bins have been collected, had to be replaced by a cut-out, and a hastily reconstituted McGregor was set up instead of his more sophisticated original. The spectators on the muddy patch of grass opposite The Three Horseshoes didn't mind, and one of them, aged about five at a guess, was more concerned that I took a photo of The Tooth Fairy, a literary figure of some importance to him, followed by the Hungry Caterpillar. 

John Milton stood, pallid and austere, for adult tastes, along with The Invisible Man, but children's classics were at the forefront: The Mad Hatter's Tea Party looked disturbingly familiar (a mad all-nighter of the distant past?) and the Tin Man's face seemed to indicate that he would rather have been invisible. 


Add caption
Warning, the famous poem by Jenny Joseph, was represented by a superb female scarecrow wearing purple and a red hat which didn't go. She had obviously just taken a nip or two of brandy, and was viewing the proceedings with quiet, slightly bemused satisfaction. I'm sure I've seen her in the audience at one or two recent LitFest events,

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Vivid, gruesome and compelling

Tibet: An Accidental Pilgrimage - Ivan Cooper
7pm Friday 4 April - Headingley Library

Sally Bavage writes:

Ivan Cooper
Heinrich Harrer’s seminal book Seven Years in Tibet was an exotic influence on the young Ivan.  Heinrich was an Austrian mountaineer and climber who found himself interned in British India at the outbreak of WW2 and spent years as a prisoner.  Finally escaping to Tibet, he then remained there for seven years; a tale both of derring-do and extraordinary social, political and cultural observations.

An inspired Ivan spent two decades living and working in Asia, principally Taiwan and Korea, with spells in China and, of course, Tibet.  A forbidden city, smiling monks, Buddhism, a rich and ancient culture – the differences and the attractions were many.  He learnt to speak Tibetan and travelled widely, sometimes with a sword-wearing guide. Had he ever used it? “Only when a man insulted my mother,” showing him the nick on the blade.  He shared a tongue but was separated by culture. 

Ivan reads us excerpts from his vivid account of his Tibetan times, covering a range of aspects of life in a landscape that is both beautiful and squalid, a culture that is primitive and spiritual, life which is simple and philosophical, a society which is hospitable and brutal. 

His own journey is both physical and spiritual: he studied Buddhism from an agnostic perspective in order to better understand a guiding force that gives meaning to many of Tibet’s people, especially those in a rural environment that has more of the medieval than the modern about it.  Imagine a village without electricity, water, telephone, public services such as sewage or toilets, police, town planning.  Put in wooden huts arranged haphazardly round the inevitable monastery,  surround them by garbage heaps and pariah dogs.  You have something approaching the shanty town in which he stayed.  Happily.
Prayer flags and prayer wheels, ice-skating, snowballing monks clutching mobile phones, deities and disasters, temple gods and Mao Tse Tung -  this book has them all.  A description of a ‘sky burial’ is riveting, at once vivid, gruesome, compelling and yet somehow natural.  Yes, it has disembowelling and vultures, an aerial tug of war over a length of intestine, a mortuary platform and grim tools – cleavers, razor-toothed saw and stone bone-crushing mallets included – but a clean ending.  We are all just flesh, skin and bone, and eventually all gone, leaving just faded photographs and memories.

Ivan neither rejects his western heritage nor denies the attractions of a more centralised eastern philosophy.  He can translate the word ‘democracy’ but the meaning does not cross the political divide. Like the travel writer Colin Thubron in To a Mountain in Tibet, he recognises the contributions each make to our understanding of freedom and society.

Ivan returned after his sojourn in the wilder spaces of our world, and his imagination,  with a wife and young baby.  His distraction with the new demands on him cushioned him from too much introspection about an extraordinary journey and gave him some time to chronicle his adventures in a book that proves he is a master of the genre of travel writing.  Do read it.

Audience Comments

1.     I am so glad I came to this event which was informative and very well presented. To have the opportunity of meeting and listening to someone who has had such an interesting life and has plainly retained the courage of his convictions is a privilege. Thank you Leeds. 

2.     I am not a fan of travel writing. However I thought that the talk was well structured, the slideshow was linked in well and the Q&Q session was very informative. Good venue too.  

3.     An excellent presentation. Fascinating readings, a real window onto life in remotest parts of Tibet. Well read by Ivan – great choice of photos and very generous Q&A session.

4.     I enjoyed the talk. Anecdotes interesting. Talk came to life with slideshow at the end. Question and answer session very good. Only then did I get a sense of his journey.

5.     I had heard Ivan speak at Café Philosophique last year and bought his book after reading the flyer there. I came this evening to hear more about his travels, and enjoyed hearing him read from the book, and seeing many more illustrations through slides. A fascinating story.

6.     I find the readings entertaining and enlightening and found the discussion afterwards thought provoking.  

7.     As a Tai Chi teacher and a practitioner of meditation it is very interesting and inspiring to listen to all the wonderful atmospheric descriptions and details of this amazing culture. I loved looking at all the characterful faces and the striking colours of the artwork, architecture, clothes, landscape and of course the Tibetan flags!

8.     An excellent event – Ivan was a very engaging and clear. A full house – obviously well advertised and organised.  

9.     Fascinating insights into a way of life that is still substantially unknown. Interesting personal observations and the ambiguities his experiences evoked. Thank you.

10.  A good presentation from an original ‘source’ presenting a thoughtful view of an occupied country.

11.  Interesting readings with vivid descriptions. He read with a good clear voice. The pictures shown on screen illustrated the book excerpts he read alongside some of them. The question session was good. He answered them in detail. Nice touches of humour. His passion for the subject shone through.  

12.  Very interesting talk and slideshow. The Q&A session was very enlightening and was probably the best part of the evening. 

13.  Very interesting insight onto Ivan’s travels and his experience of Tibet. Looking forward to reading the book and very competently delivered by the author.

14.  It was a really interesting talk, very enjoyable. The Q&A session went on too long for me and I was getting restless. The photos were amazing. Thank you very much.  

15.  A fascinating insight into a troubled country. The speaker was fluent – his writing style is vivid and lively. Question time was dealt with fully. Some tricky questions received wise answers. A good evening – food for thought.  

16.  I enjoyed the reading. This was the only event I was able to get to this year. (I just move here this year). Next year I will most definitely make an effort to go to more. I have heard so many good things. 

17.  Very interesting from start to finish. The sky burial description very vivid and thought provoking. I will enjoy the book.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

An eclectic mix of local poets

Poetry by Heart - Partnership with Poetry by Heart
7.30pm Wednesday 26 March - Heart Café

Síle Moriarty writes:
River Wolton
Poetry by Heart happens on the last Wednesday of every month in the café at Heart and this month Headingley LitFest were delighted to be a partner in the event.

The event always has three ‘halves’ with two poets reading in each section. I find this a really good way to listen to poetry because it gives me time to ‘take it in’, to socialise and to partake of Heart Café’s excellent food and drink. Ian Harker - humorist, poetry-lover and poet - is a brilliant host and ensures that we all feel relaxed and welcome.

Cora Greenhill
The poets this evening were all from the north (Leeds, Sheffield, Huddersfield, Derbyshire and South Yorkshire) and they gave us wonderful mixture of poetry with titles as diverse as: Mammoth Memory (Cora Greenhill), A Psalm for Those who go Forth on the Day of Redundancy (River Walton), Pokémon (Mark Hinchliffe), In the Room and Out the door (Geoff Hattersley), The Jubilee clock (Sally Goldsmith) and Birdsong (Jonathan Eyre).
Each poet’s style was as diverse as the titles of poems - they intrigued us, moved us, gave us food for thought and made us laugh. Oh, and courtesy of Jonathan, we created our very own dawn chorus.

The next Poetry by Heart is on 30 April – be sure to go.

The audience said:

High quality literature for the people of Leeds. Great atmosphere!

The event was quite entertaining but Geoff Hattersley, Sally Goldsmith and Jonathan Eyre were particularly good and very funny. I liked the way Jonathan tried to get the audience to join in at the end with his Birdsong poetry.  

Great to have a free event with great poets, nice and informal. Nice venue.

All very good and a good variety. This is my first Headingley LitFest event. A wide variety of talent from the North.

Mark Hinchcliffe
A good event – good to hear six poets. Excellent venue and a receptive, welcoming crowd.  

Must have more of these – like every month.

Two female poets so far – good- (poetry readings are why I come). Rather easier to hear than sometimes, in the case of women readers. Male poets – two – insightful, you know – need reading – masculine. Final two: a) rich, wordy, descriptive, b) Performance – good … content. Very concisely done, moving, no lacuna between words and content .

Great event. Let’s have more.

Jonathan Eyre
Interesting mix of poets. Enjoyed it very much. Nice format with 2 poets then a break. Good to hear poets reading their poetry and introductions to them.

Loving it – Cora Greenhill and River Walton utterly alive poetry – both a ‘must buy’. Enjoyed mark’s fox and pink tutu poem a lot. Geoff Hattersley – great – a v. good listen. Sally – brilliant – another must buy! Jonathan excellent – esp. ME poems. Thank you ALL!

Cora Greenhill – well read. Interesting themes. River Walton – too much talk between poems. Geoff Hattersley – powerful voice. Decisive reader. Sally Goldsmith – lively and engaging. Good that the event started on time and moved along well. Six readers great idea and time allocated to each just right. Friendly atmosphere.

A great compère, witty and gentle, with an eclectic mix of local poets on a wide range of interpretations of the LitFest theme. Great to have three ‘halves’ so there was time to chat and interpret the moods and emotions that poetry inspires. What a good partnership with the local LitFest.  

A diverse and entertaining event. Six very different poets – six very distinctive voices.  

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Have you seen this scarecrow?

Hopefully, Mr McGregor and Peter Rabbit will be found in time for the grand Literary Scarecrow Festival on Sunday 6 April (2pm St Chad's community orchard) - a partnership event between the LitFest and the Far Headingley Village Society.

Lots of work went into the making of these, so it was gutting to discover that they were both stolen on Sunday morning from this garden - they were put out at 8.30am, to avoid the attentions of night-time revellers, but they still disappeared.

Keep a look-out! Let us know if you see either of them.

Scarecrow news -

It will all be over in a flash...

When the Wind Blows - partnership event with Hyde Park Picture House
Monday 31 March

Sally Bavage writes:
                                                                Photo:  Sally Bavage
When the Wind Blows author Raymond Briggs’ eightieth birthday and the one hundredth birthday of the Hyde Park Picture House, as well as the centenary of the outbreak of WW1, are three good reasons to revive one of the classics of a war from another era – planning to survive the Cold War or what would have been WW3.  

Jim and Hilda Bloggs believe in the government, believe the pamphlets about building a home-made shelter and believe that they can survive if they follow the government’s ludicrous lists of instructions in Protect and Survive and The Householder’s Guide to Survival. Rather like those who came from the Boer War to WW1, they have no idea of the difference in the destructive power of the new weapons that will be used, nor of the insidious effects of nuclear radiation.

“It’ll all be over in a flash” says Jim in a moment of unintended prescience.  “It’s all gone dead,” doesn’t just refer to the electricity, the radio and the television; the landscape is stark and burned, the lettuces evaporated, the animal life limited to rats coming out of the sewers - and the steam coming from the kettle assumes the shape of a mushroom cloud.  This viewer was starkly reminded of much more recent imagery coming from Chechnya, Iraq and Syria. 

Raymond Briggs, illustrator, cartoonist, graphic novelist and author achieved great success amongst adults and children.  He is also known for his story The Snowman, a book without words, as well as Fungus the Bogeyman and Father Christmas.  In an era of the resurgence of the genre of the graphic novel, a graphic film that we watch as hope and belief in their survival finally fade.  Hankies all round as David Bowie sings us out.

Thanks are due to Wendy from the Hyde Park Picture House, who selected such an appropriate film for LitFest, and to Allan who showed us the two giant 35 mm film projectors upstairs in the projection box. Next to the modern digital version the huge reels of film emphasised how far technology has moved on, in war as in its imagery

Monday, 31 March 2014

A shy, frightened teenager at High Royds

The Dark Threads - Jean Davison
Oxfam Bookshop 25 March - partnership event with Leeds Combined Arts

Barbara Kirk writes:
I started reading the book at a time when Channel 4 were showing the series My Mad Fat Diary, based on Rae Earl’s book, and though Rae’s remembrances happened a couple of decades after Jean’s, I felt that nothing much changes.

High Royds Hospital, Menston
There was quite a large turnout at the Oxfam Bookshop.  Someone had asked Jean beforehand if the book was about the textile industry – Jean did grow up in Bradford when the mills were in operation, but this was not about that.  She said that during her time at High Royds Hospital (pictured), she had been a shy, frightened teenager and the names of the doctors, nurses and inmates had been changed in the book for reasons of privacy. Jean reflected on her life in the mid to late 60’s – at 18 she had an office job and went out with friends to coffee bars and discos as a normal teenager, but she was unhappy at home.  The book includes a remembrance of her mother having an affair with a neighbour, and her father being affected by this.  Her brother tormented her a lot too, this fed into the general social anxiety she experienced, and she found night life empty and meaningless.  When she saw her GP, regarding her dysfunctional family, she said she would like to see a psychiatrist, although she really meant she wanted to see a counsellor.  She was sent to High Royds for ‘a rest’, and over four months she was given a number of drugs and ECT treatment which sent her into a downward spiral.  I understood very well about the Valium and Melleril dosages she was put on as I experienced the same blocked feelings on these when I attended Pinderfields Hospital several years ago. 

Jean had a further few months as an out-patient, and over the next five years she thought she was being treated for depression, but eventually on seeing her case notes, she had been labelled as ‘schizophrenic’ by the doctors.  She described the medication she was prescribed as addictive and leaving her in a near-vegetative state.  In her early twenties around the mid-seventies, Jean gradually came off the medication and left home. Jean later asked one of the psychiatrists about improvements in psychiatric treatment in particular in relation to her medication.  Newer drugs were said to be less harmful, but she had her doubts. Jean then spoke about some of her more humorous experiences whilst in High Royds.

At the day hospital, she and her friend Marlene listened to relaxation tapes, but the medication made these redundant to her.  Marlene would go off to sleep and Jean heard her snoring.  Whilst in the Occupational Therapy department after a time of ‘knitting dishcloths’ Jean was eventually asked to work in the library.  There she met Horace, another assistant, from a long-stay ward, who was previously a tramp.  He told Jean and another assistant, Hazel about his life on the streets and that he had been sent to prison after stealing a pork pie from a meat factory.  The staff liked him, though he would impersonate several of them behind their backs.

Horace and Jean did ward rounds, taking the library trolley into ‘locked’ wards.  One woman, Nancy, chatted to them about what she’d read and looked out for more books to read.  She seemed to Jean to be the most aware patient on the ward.   Another patient, Victor, wanted to shake hands with Jean, but he squeezed her hand too hard and a nurse had to restrict him.  The hospital parrot, Popsie, said ‘Oh be joyful!’ to various patients.

At High Royds, Jean wrote on scraps of toilet paper in the toilet, as this was the only way she could get privacy to document what was happening.  Subsequently, when she was living at the YWCA and later a bedsit, she still documented her life, and eventually channelled her experiences into the book.  She had read several similar memoirs beforehand to get a feeling for how it might read.  It took a long while to get the book organised into a reasonable form, as after leaving the hospital, she got into full-time work in an office and attended evening classes.  Eventually Jean achieved a degree from attending creative writing classes.  During the writing process, she would be affected by the memory of what she was documenting, but had to write it all down anyway, she had seen a number of things happening to the patients she felt uncomfortable with, however the inmates at that time were not allowed to have a voice.

Jean also got into ‘truth’ in memoir, and she asked friends to confirm events, while she looked in her own diaries to confirm the accuracy.  She sent the manuscript out to book publishers – some offered encouragement and others didn’t.  Eventually a publishing agent called Maggie Nowak got in touch, but mainstream publishers would not touch it as it wasn’t commercially viable.  Maggie became ill and died, and Jean sent her manuscript to another agent, Hazel Cushion, who said she would publish it, but also said, “and now the hard work begins”.  Jean did most of the publicity work herself, and sent the book to mental health practitioners and universities, eventually getting in touch with Dorothy Rowe, who read the book and advised on it, promoting it on her website.  Jean also had to contact copyright holders on quotes from songs and poems used in the book, especially the poem ‘The Weaver’, by Benjamin Malachai Franklin, printed below.  A copy of the book was sent to relatives of the pastor responsible for the poem in the Bible belt area of America.

The talk was followed by a lively question and answer session where it appeared many people in the audience had experienced life in High Royds Hospital, either as day patients or had undergone longer term treatment. Jean ended with the observation that life in a mental health ward was like society in microcosm, in that everyone was confused and looking for a way out.

The Weaver by Benjamin Malachai Franklin.
Not ‘til the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly,
Will God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why
The dark threads are as needful
In The Weaver’s skilful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
In the pattern He has planned.