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The Nottingham Festival of Words. What’s That All About?

January 9, 2013
Ian Douglas

Ian Douglas

For several months I had mistaken the hum I had been hearing, as the ambient sound of Nottingham city traffic. In the last few weeks the hum became an increasingly loud buzz, until I realised the noise was actually the Nottingham Festival of Words working itself up into a frenzy of activity.

What is it? I think I’d better let the Press Officer Ian Douglas tell you. He’s no stranger to the blog, as I’ve already interviewed him about his children’s history book. He’s also no stranger to multitasking and has continued to be involved in writing for children. So he will also be presenting the ‘Nottingham History Roadshow’, which is a family-friendly tour through the centuries of Nottingham history.

For the next month and into the beginning of February I will be posting interviews from a variety of people involved in the Nottingham Festival of Words.

But first let’s see what Ian’s got to say about it and tell us exactly what he’s doing.

What is the Nottingham Festival of Words?

The ‘Nottingham Festival of Words’ is a bit of a phenomenon. It started off as ‘Well let’s just put a bit of a show on for a couple of days’. It was an idea kicked around by the Nottingham Writer’s Studio, back in the early spring. It went from there and just grew.

Everyone’s got involved. It’s a wonderfully inspiring story, in the way that the Nottingham Trent University, the City Council and Tourism of Nottingham have all got involved. In fact I’ve lost track of the people and organisations who are now involved. We’ve got venues at the impressive Newton and Arkwright building at Nottingham Trent University, The Nottingham Playhouse, The Broadway Cinema, Newstead Abbey, Wollaton Hall and Nottingham Castle.

My little role in all this was decided when I made the mistake of not attending the first committee meeting and found to my great surprise, when the minutes came round that I was on the steering group. This meets every fortnight.

I was also asked to be the press officer. So I made that my own and I also run the comms committee which is the social network group, media such as Twitter, Facebook, the Nottingham Festival of Words blog and the website. There is also community radio and press, which is me. All these roles mean I’m writing press releases and dealing with journalists and that kind of thing. I also liaise with the big names through their agents or the people they have who organise this sort of thing for them.

So there are quite a few things happening?

Yes, the Nottingham festival of words is huge. It’s spread out over two weeks. I’m particularly involved in the events at the Newton building on the Saturday and Sunday after Valentine’s Day. The venue is packed full of events. They’ll be readings and writing workshops, recitations, talks, performances, live music, food.

We have keynote speakers like Bali Rai, and AL Kennedy are coming along. Al Kennedy will be involved in activities afterwards. There is just so much happening.

It’s for all age groups. There are special events for children. For example, I’m doing the Nottingham History Road show. They’ll also be storytelling at Scallywag Island, which is going to be good place to leave your children. This is all in the Newton building.

But there are events happening at Newstead Abbey, were there’ll be a talk about Byron, the first rock star poet, as well as ghost stories. At Wollaton Hall, there is an event called ‘A Way With Words’, which is for children. The poets are on at the Nottingham Playhouse. The programme is over fifty pages.

We also have a writer in residence who is very well known locally, Deborah Tyler-Bennett.

But you can download the programme as a PDF from the website as well as actually physical copies that are available. It is a good idea to get hold of the program because there so much going on and having a program will help you organise your schedule.

So as it’s called the Nottingham Festival of Words, will there be any art or other media in it?

Yes. We have an artist in residence for the days at the Newton building, who will do some work and auction it off. There will be an art exhibition. There are also several craft workshops.

Are there any way writing workshops?

They’re all sorts of different workshops. For example, you can weave a poem with Rosie Garner, learn to write comics with Emily Cooper, have a taste of screenwriting with Graham Lester George, and learn about creating atmosphere and suspense from Nottingham’s horror and literary writer Niki Valentine amongst many other kinds of workshops.

Let’s focus in on your history roadshow. How did that come about?

As you know last year I wrote a non-fiction book. It was part of a nationwide series, and I was commissioned to do the Nottingham book, The Children’s History of Nottinghamshire. It was tremendous labour of love, great fun to do and I learnt a lot. It has sold well and has led to me doing the Nottingham History Road Show at schools and libraries.

I do historical presentations and it’s a learning activity about local history which is interactive and great fun. It Involves lots of slideshows, quizzes and question and answer sessions. All the ones I’ve done so far with the local schools and some of the libraries have been very successful. Now I’m looking at how I can take it further. So that’s what I’m going to be running for the festival. I’ll be doing the Victorian and Viking presentations. One on Saturday 16 February and one on Sunday 17 February. It’s a family and children’s event.

Cover of Children's History of Nottinghamshire

What is your background in teaching?

I’m a qualified English language teacher. I taught English language for 11 years overseas at universities and also schools in Hong Kong, Korea, Thailand. In this 11 years I did everything there was to do within the world of English language and so that’s written into my DNA. You learn a lot about group management working with children and helping children to learn without realising they’re learning. That’s when it’s working well.

You’ve recently been involved with the year Museum of Childhood in London. What did you do there?

The Museum of Childhood is this wonderful place in Bethnal Green. The exhibition is on at the moment. It started in October and finishes in April 2013 and charts the recent history of childhood, ‘The Modern British Childhood’. It’s an exhibition within the bigger museum and is fascinating, because there are all sorts of things that you’ll be able to recognise if you’ve lived within the last 60 years. They’ll be something there you all loved as a child.

It starts off with Muffin the Mule and goes up to Teletubbies. So there are lots of toys that we remember, clothing and books, like Ladybird books. A collective of writers worked with the museum to produce what they called sestudes, which is a name they made up. It’s a word form of 62 words. It can be a poem, or a piece of writing, as long as it’s creative and evokes, honours and explores the exhibit that you’re writing about.

I was selected out of the shortlist and I was given the toy Scalextric to write about with my sestude. It was great fun to write, because it took me back to my childhood. So if you go, you’ll see my sestude next to the Scalextric kit. It’s my writing meditation on racing toy. Michael Rosen did one on Muffin the Mule.

What was the day like?

The day was amazing. I went down there. I was expecting it to be very low key and I’d get to meet the other writers because I haven’t actually met them in person; but it was packed. There were loads of people and the wine was flowing. Esther Ranzen was there and opened it for us. There were people who I recognised from the telly mingling in the crowd. But what made the day for me was something quite unexpected and emotional. I was on my own and didn’t know anyone there, but a multimedia presentation grabbed my attention.

It’s a series of news clips running in a constant loop of items concerning children in Britain, over the last 60 years. It lasted about 10 min. While I was watching it I saw some Pathe new film of my dear friend who has been dead for over 20 years, Reverend John Tyson. He was a vicar of Sneinton for many years. I knew him when he had retired, because I used to visit him and we became good mates. He retired to the parish of Clumber Park and was a tremendous character. He had been around the world and done all sorts of amazing things.

In the 1950s, when he first came to Sneinton, he did this thing where he turned the vicarage into a youth club. He invited all the Teddy boys and girls in and they turned it into a Beat club, which at the time must have been considered quite radical. Now it’s just thought of as a youth club, but back then it was so radical that Pathe came along to film it and he was very proud of it. So when I used to go and see him he would get film reels out which showed them setting it up and doing the processions through the streets. All the teddy boys were cleaning St Stevens church. It’s a real big thing. That went on for 20 years, the youth club then became a punky type of Jackson Pollock youth club. He’d always get the kids to decorate it themselves into space at the top of the vicarage. When I met him in the 1980s it had all fizzled out, but I do remember him showing me this film with pride.

So 20 years later I’m on my own at the swanky do in London and there he is in the film smiling out of me, and I thought, ‘If only you knew you would be so proud’. It was both sad and moving. There was no soundtrack with the film so no one else even knew it was in Nottingham. They’d never heard of Sneinton, so I was going round saying ‘That’s Nottingham. That’s Sneinton’ and ‘That’s my old friend who’s been dead 20 years’.

What projects will you have underway after the Festival of Words?

My science fiction novel that I wrote in MA for mid-grade 10 to 12 year olds is being published in next year as an e-book by an American independent publisher. So I’m really looking forward to that.

Ian will be at Nottingham Trent University Newton Arkwright Building on Saturday 16th February 11.00am – 12.00 noon and Sunday 17th February 4.00pm – 5.00pm.

To find events there is a searchable online events listings or a downloadable programme.



One Comment
  1. Well done, Nottingham. Sounds as if it’s a vibrant place to be, with so much creativity. Lucky Nottingham children, too, to be growing up in a place which makes words into a festival!

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