Writing On The Wall

WoWFest tickets available here, now.
DSC02296I’m sitting here in front of the Palm House, a beautiful place in Liverpool I hardly ever visit, thinking about how I should tell you about WoWFest 2016, taking place in Liverpool over the whole of May.

Sefton Park Palm House, nothing to do with WoWFest.
Sefton Park Palm House, nothing to do with WoWFest. Except it’s where I’m writing this.

Shall I tell you the headlines? Do it chronologically? Group it into themes, like comedy, social significance or science fiction? Or tell you the bits of it that most interest me and why? Or shall I just tumble into it and see where that takes us?

Obviously ‘just tumbling into it’ gets the vote. So here goes.

The WoWFest is Liverpool’s  longest running literary festival by a long way, this being its 17th year. It’s put on by Writing on the Wall who, if you’ve been paying attention (and if not..?) you’ll have read a fair bit about on here over the last year or so.

There was the ‘Black Poppies – Great War to Race Riots’ launch I covered in December at Liverpool Central Library (and here in May with Levi Tafari as part of WoWFest 2016). And before that there was lots of stuff around ‘What’s Your Granby Story?’ The beautiful book that Writing on the Wall  researched and compiled about Granby, commissioned by us at the 4 Streets Community Land Trust. The book made up of contributions from Granby people, including my friend Hazel Tilley’s coruscating ‘Rant About the Bins.’ We particularly celebrated the book and Writing on the Wall at our September Street Market, where several of Liverpool 8’s young poets performed to a stunned and reverential Ducie Street full of us.12916707_850926381684105_5607731047647233191_o

And it’s the young poets I want to start with. Three of them, Ameena Atiq, Blue Saint and Alia Boqash will be on as part of ‘Stand up and spit’ an evening of ranting poety featuring them with Tim ‘Teething’ Wells, Salena Godden and Ginger John. Here’s Salena:

It will take place at Leaf Bold Street. So clearly a big stage and a good audience for our young talent. Here’s poet Ameena Atiq:DSC07207

“I was introduced to spoken-word when I joined the young writers group at WOW last February. Since then my poetry has lifted from not knowing that performance poetry even existed to becoming a new spoken-word artist in the city. I actually dropped out that year of 6th form, still finding out what I enjoyed most. It was either English Literature or Mathematics. But dropping out and joining the young writers group was the best choice I could have made. Now I am studying English Literature and Creative Writing in LJMU.

I truly believe without the help and support from my mentors at WOW I wouldn’t be here now. I am still in contact with them and following their upcoming festival. But more so I have been invited to perform. They are still providing me with opportunities to showcase my work and gain greater experience and gain networks with other artists and perform to different audiences around Liverpool. 

Also watching the work they do, I have been inspired to set up my own young writers group in the next year, mainly targeting the Arab and Asian community. I am passionate about finding talent and empowering their skills to share with a greater audience.

Most importantly, one thing I have gained from WOW is confidence.”

So be there to celebrate Ameena’s grace and confidence. I will.

By the way, I’m not listing dates and booking details. They’re all in the WoWFest programme that’s all over the city at the moment and on their website.

So next?

Maram Al-Masri, exiled Syrian poet.
Maram Al-Masri, exiled Syrian poet.

Well what about the case of the newly arrived refugees all having their front doors painted the same colour and subsequently being identified and picked on by the less than welcoming locals? A sadly true story of Britain today and part of the discussions at ‘Behind the Red Door – Stigmatising the Survivors.’ A panel including Maram Al Masra above looking at how some of our responses, like the forced wearing of wristbands, to the current refugee crisis evoke memories, and possible repetitions of some of the deepest crimes and violations in human history.

Essential and unmissable.

Florence Okoye, Afrofuturism.
Florence Okoye, Afrofuturism.

And what’s this about Afrofuturism? I know about Janelle Monae and my record player’s always up for a bit of George Clinton’s ‘One nation under a groove.’ Both very sci-fi and both cited as inspirations behind ‘combining the arts and technologies to express the voices and visions of the marginalised.’ Intriguing then and not sounding much like something most of us might have experienced before. But here’s Florence Okoye with more:

“One of the most important aspects of Afrofuturism is the power of the black imagination. It’s about remixing and splicing the past, crossing time, space and genre to birth a hybrid; it’s the ultimate form of ‘shade’, daring to suggest that not only will we exist in the future but most importantly, when so much of mainstream culture still relegates us as backwards, we’ll also be creators too.

Future|Journeys is a really exciting event because we’re encouraging people to be inspired by afrofuturism in their own context. If you’re a black, queer or outsider Liverpudlian, what does the future mean to you? What do you want to see happen? What are you afraid might happen and how can we join together to fight it and make our visions prevail? In an era of austerity, islamophobia, political and financial corruption and police brutality, we can often feel powerless. These topics will be explored during our workshops like ’20 and Odd’ by Christopher Lutterodt-Quarcoo, or ‘Storybook’ by Nikky Norton Shafa where you’ll get to immerse yourself in the narratives of black history, the self and our community. There’ll be coding and games programming workshops, where you can make interactive art and stories for the web. The icing on the cake are some amazing guest speakers, Ytasha Womack and Jon Daniel who’ll be discussing black culture, speculative fiction and art.

Afrofuturism is about black people transforming that powerlessness into action. We can change the future; we can recreate ourselves, our communities and our environments. Let’s get together, share our skills, chat over tea and jellof rice and find out how. We’re journeying to the future so come journey with us!”

Sounds unmissable.

WoWFest tickets available here, now.

Ytasha Womack, on at Afrofuturism.
Ytasha Womack, on at Afrofuturism.
Francesca Martinez.
Francesca Martinez.

Unmissable too by the sound of her is Francesca Martinez and her evening of ‘What the **** is normal? evening of ‘wobbly’ comedy at the new Philharmonic Music Room. An evening where, I feel fairly sure, she won’t speak in asterisks!

Here’s Francesca talking:

So much to tell you about?

‘The Hip Hop Shakespeare Company’ offering sessions to local schools and then performing Shakespeare themselves at Bluecoat.

DaveGibbonsofficial‘Superheroes: Words are our Power!’ Legendary comic artist Dave Gibbons not only talking about his life and career with Watchmen, but also launching this 2 year schools project, where young people will be creating – and no doubt being – their own superheroes. Also taking place at Bluecoat, with Marvel and X-Men writer Tim Quinn.DSC02298For the young there’s ‘Pulp Idol’ too. The 10th year of this writing competition for young novelists. You’ve missed the entry deadline already (by several decades in my case) but we can all be there at the Final.

And there’s a ‘polemical rampage from architecture and urban writer Owen Hatherley that I, for one, am not going to miss.

The Vivienne (gender identity)Plus, plus, plus? Science fiction, girls comics, transgender in the mainstream, poetry and sci-fi, poetry and the Calderstones, surreal John Lennon, sexism in the music media, the history of sci-fi, sci-fi radio, much more poetry and so much everything else. Something for everybody? Very probably.

And I haven’t even mentioned some of the bigger names on this year. Linton Kwesi Johnson, Holly McNish, Jerry Dammers and Alexei Sayle. All on, all essential.

Linton Kwesi Johnson.
Linton Kwesi Johnson.
Hollie McNish
Hollie McNish.
Jerry Dammers.
Jerry Dammers.
Alexei Sayle.
Alexei Sayle.

And talking of Alexei here, who’ll be telling tales from the latest instalment of his memoirs ‘Thatcher stole my trousers’ – I’ll never get a better opportunity to tell my own anecdote about him here on the blog. ‘Alexei Sayle got me expelled from school.’ Here it is:

“The all boys secondary school I went to in Bootle was newly set up by an order of priests who’d never previously run an inner city school in this country. All went reasonably well though until us gobby scousers began to hit adolescence, which the priests duly reacted to like it was an outbreak of some hedonisitc plague. I was identified as a ‘ringleader’ in this biological confusion (a fact that still makes me proud) and spent a good deal of my lower sixth being suspended from school, seven suspensions in all (Still a school record I’d hope). From a mixture of growing my hair long, going on strike from religious services and ‘setting a bad example.’

What finally made my run of suspensions permanent is where Alexei Sayle comes in.

You’ll hardly be surprised to learn that part of this fairly standard adolescent rebellion involved my going round ‘being a communist.’ The priests hated it and it gave me hours of fun. The funniest of which was the day a group of us put copies of Mao’s Thoughts into each of the priests’ lecterns in the school chapel. The Little Red Books had been impishly supplied to us by my mate George’s elder brother Joe and Joe’s mate Alexei. These two being the founding and probably only members of the North Liverpool branch of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist/Leninist).

There were absolute ructions, I got the total blame for it all. And to my great and abiding joy I was expelled from school.”

I believe the Alexei Sayle event at WoWFest is already sold out. Otherwise I’d be turning up and buying him a decades overdue drink in grateful thanks for one of the best things that ever happened to young me. Thank you so much Alexei!

But most of the WoWFest events aren’t sold out yet. So do go and have a rummage through the programme or their website, and odds on you’ll find something from over the whole month of May that will fascinate, intrigue, entertain or all three.

WoWFest tickets available here, now.

WoWFest really is eclectic, inclusive and joyous Liverpool at its best and is hugely to the credit of everyone at Writing on the Wall and everyone at all the venues and events.

So there. Don’t say I didn’t tell you, and I’ll expect to see you at some parts of the Festival.

The whole thing gets going, by the way, in Liverpool One, Paradise Street on May 1st at 1:00pm. In keeping with the sci-fi theme running through the Festival there will, I’m told, be a time machine there!

Big thanks to Madeline Heneghan and Rosa Murdoch of Writing on the Wall for talking me through the Festival and sending me most of the photos I’ve used. Huge good wishes for May and I’ll see you at the after party on the 28th.

WoWFest blog post written, I walk home from the park.
WoWFest blog post written, I walk home from the park.

WoWFest tickets available here, now.

Published by Ronnie

Writing about life, Liverpool and anything else that interests me. As well as working with others to make the world a fairer and kinder place: http://asenseofplace.com.

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  1. Good to see that WoWFest has some noted mainstream names from science fiction and other fantastic writing, such as Pat Cadigan, Stephen Baxter and your very own Ramsey Campbell. Seeing as my last few visits to Liverpool have been to attend science fiction conventions (alas, not too many recently), I seem to associate Liverpool with the genre in one way or another!

      1. Gollancz is still a major UK publisher in the field, though alas the yellow jackets gave way to colour jackets quite a few years ago. But they still keep a lot of classic science fiction in print as well as material from new writers.

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