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Write on! Festival of words celebrates city’s thriving lit scene

Newton Arkwright

Nottingham’s first literature festival opens this weekend and all us bookish types will let out a hushed whoop of joy. You may not know that beyond the usual three big hitters – Byron, Sillitoe and Lawrence – the city has a thriving literary community but if you’re interested TICKETS ARE STILL AVAILABLE AT THE TIME OF WRITING! Get yourself over to the NottWords website to book your place.

I nipped over the Nottingham Writers’ Studio (NWS) to find out more. The Studio is run for writers by writers and provides a creative space for the writing community to come and find support, a quiet space to work and workshops to spark and refine ideas. Robin Vaughan-Williams is the Development Director at NWS.

“We’d been talking about having a literature festival in Nottingham for a few years,” he says. “We’re surrounded by smaller places that have great festivals – Southwell, Lowdham, Matlock Bath – so why not Nottingham, this thriving city? I knew it would require a lot of effort so I decided to have a meeting about it and see what the interest was. About 30 people turned up and not only expressed enthusiasm and interest, but also a willingness to actually devote time to it.

“As a result, we decided that this first festival would be volunteer based and low budget so that we could learn lessons from it and then take those forward for future festivals. We then got some great partners involved, including Writing East Midlands and especially Nottingham Trent University who offered us the use of their Newton Building for the main weekend of events (16-17 February).”

The events on offer reflect the diversity and creativity of Nottingham’s writing community. The overwhelming response to the call for proposals means that the festival is a real grassroots event, being run by people who are passionate not just about words and writing but also about this city.

Among the events celebrating Nottingham itself is a discussion on what makes this city such fertile ground for writers. Robin think this has something to do with the interconnectivity of the writing scene – we don’t just have novelists such as Booker Prize shortlisters Jon McGregor and Alison Moore, but also poets and scriptwriters whose work is being published and performed across Europe.

“There are so many people working here, writing while also juggling jobs and family life,” he says. “There’s a lot of energy and emerging talent. We see a lot of different writers come to NWS and you can learn so much from talking to people working at other genres. You find a different way of going about things. The crossover really benefits people.”

NottsWords is designed to appeal to as broad a section of society as possible. Events include poetry, crime fiction, scriptwriting, interactive word workshops, craft sessions and exhibitions as well as LGBT and Asian writing.

“There’s a really big Asian literary presence in the city,” says Robin. “There are regular events which attract big audiences so we thought that it would be great to hook up and combine audiences. Hopefully people will find something new.”

It’s also very clear that the festival wants to attract children and families and help to foster an interest in words and writing from a young age. There are children’s writing workshops as well as word-based activities.

“I’m looking forward to Balls to Poetry where there are words on balls and you throw them back and forth to create something new,” says Robin. “Also the Cook and Book sessions look great.”

Events are spread beyond just the Newton Building. There are several taking place at the Central Library and Newstead Abbey is running a great series of poetry events, exploring landscape and poetry as well as a session this weekend of radical satirical poetry.

“Debbie Bryan was instrumental in bringing in a lot of the craft community and is hosting a lot of events at her shop,” says Robin. “The Altered Books and Poetry workshop there looks fascinating – using old books to create something new.”

Finally, does Robin have any ideas yet about how the festival might develop in future years?

“I’m not sure that we can or should expect such a massive effort from our volunteers again. It’s been wonderful this year but I think next year we’ll be looking for funding opportunities. This year is a celebration of Nottingham’s writers but we might like to look at our connections to the wider world. We’ll also look at focussing on genres or themes.”

To see the whole programme of events for the Nottingham Festival of Words please go to the NottWords website, follow them on Twitter or check out their Facebook page.

Sue is one of our team of bloggers. She’s is especially looking forward to getting some inspiration at the festival to help with her novel writing but in the meantime if you want to contact her, she can be reached on sue AT and followed on Twitter @basfordian