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House of Her – An International Women’s Day videocast

By on 8 March, 2017

Hello, cuties. I’ve been doing so much stuff these months I seem to have neglected this blog. Gonna break the silence and share this luffleh press release by the luffleh House of Verse. Luffleh.

“House of Her”

Leicester’s female performers and artists come together in new video for International Women’s Day

Over 15 female artists, performers, writers and musicians have come together to create a compilation of performance pieces to celebrate International Women’s Day, 8 March 2017.

Produced by House of Verse curator Jenny Hibberd, the video offers a kaleidoscope view of the issues and thoughts of Leicester’s female artists, and what International Women’s Day means to them.

“After a conversation with fellow poet Asher X, we realised that only one fifth of the House of Verse performance collective are female and we wanted to think of something we could do together to big up the ladies. Realising it was soon to be International Women’s Day was mega inspiration to create this multi-woman video.”

– Jenny “Hibword” Hibberd

Artists contributed one-minute pieces, offering uplifting, empowering or challenging messages in response to International Women’s Day. With everything from performance poetry to hula-hooping, the video shows a variety of perspectives and represents the many talented female artists making work in Leicester today.

“Wo! Man. You glow, man. Kind of everywhere. You know? You brimming, flowing, human beam. You light-packed fateful gleam. You dream.”

– Hibword

Released on 8 March, the video will be shared on House of Verse’s website, social media and Youtube accounts.

Many of the artists featured in the video will also be performing at Moonshine Word Jam, an International Women’s Day special at The Exchange Bar on 9 March. See the Facebook event here.

House of Her: Celebrating International Women's Day 2017

Happy International Women's Day you divine beings <3Enjoy this kaleidoscopic compilation of female artists, performers, writers and musicians to celebrate ^_^Produced by Jenny "Hibword" Hibberd.Contributing artists in order:00:05 Rhiannon Jayne Townsend01:05 Lulu Rose May02:30 Danni Spooner03:30 Asher X (Ash Er)04:41 Mellow Baku06:06 Amber Woods07:23 Rosa Fernandez08:23 Anatomy (Cynthia Rodríguez, Emily Rose Teece, Adrienne Jones, Leonie DuBarry-Gurr)09:24 Natalie Beech10:27 Punky Hoops (Rae Lloyd)11:27 Hib Word (Jenny Hibberd)13:18 Emily MerchantMusic credits: Erykah Badu – AppletreeTove Lo – Habits (Stay High) – Hippie Sabotage RemixOdesza – White Lies (Instrumental)Links:www.houseofverse.co.ukwww.facebook.com/thehouseofversewww.instagram.com/house_of_versewww.twitter.com/thehouseofverse

Posted by House of Verse on Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Produced by Jenny “Hibword” Hibberd.
Contributing artists in order:
00:05 Rhiannon Jayne Townsend
01:05 Lulu Rose May
02:30 Danni Spooner
03:30 Asher X
04:41 Mellow Baku
06:06 Amber Woods
07:23 Rosa Fernandez
08:23 ANATOMY (Cynthia Rodríguez, Emily Rose Teece, Adrienne Jones, Leonie DuBarry-Gurr)
09:24 Natalie Beech
10:27 Punky Hoops (Rae Lloyd)
11:27 Hib Word (Jenny Hibberd)
13:18 Emily Merchant

Music credits:
Erykah Badu – Appletree
Tove Lo – Habits (Stay High) – Hippie Sabotage Remix
Odesza – White Lies (Instrumental)

Links:
www.houseofverse.co.uk
www.facebook.com/thehouseofverse
www.instagram.com/house_of_verse
www.twitter.com/thehouseofverse

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Leicester Riot Grrrls

By on 23 August, 2016

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Leicester pretty much has everything: excellent food, lovely people from everywhere in the world, high-quality sports, and an ever-growing cultural scene. A significant chunk of this rise in arts, music, performance, spoken word and dance is not funded by the establishment, the government or big corporations. You can find these underground acts whispering in the corner of an open mic event at the pub or exploding on an improvised stage at an independent gallery. It could be considered punk in principles and D.I.Y. in aesthetic: if you want something to happen, make it happen in your own terms and flipping the bird at “gatekeepers”. If they don’t let you in the building, make a raucous party on the streets.

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We would assume that, with such notches under its belt, Leicester would also have a social activist scene. People questioning authority on behalf of certain cultural groups, ethnic groups, gender groups, those who are often unheard or afraid to share their voices even in the independent cultural scene I love and praise so much. How many middle-class baby-booming white men have to spread themselves like Marmite all over workshops, open mics, performances and other events when they could easily knock the door on the BBC and get their own show any time? How many topics are avoided and unquestioned, experiences left unshared, injustices being ignored? For a start, where are the women? The young people, the queer, the unemployed and underemployed, the working class, the cry-myself-to-sleeps, the disabled, the large-and-unashamed, the anarchists?

Where are the Riot Grrrls?

It’s the same thing Gemma Wicks and Meri Everitt were wondering. There have been Riot Grrrl or Riot Grrrl-inspired communities in several cities and countries, either tangent or online, ever since the manifesto was released in 1991 on Bikini Kill’s zine; some of them expanding, updating and improving the lifestyle and the scope of who is allowed in and what to fight for. Today, intersectionalism is key, and all women are real women, all non-binaries are non-binaries. People are what people are. But at least nowadays, there wasn’t a movement like this one in Leicester.

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Leicester Riot Grrrls started as an idea on Facebook. It has its own closed group, a safe space to ask questions and help each other through sorority. There is now a public Facebook page where we share news, pictures and cute/enraging/edifying things. But what would a geographically-specific group be like without – gasp – human interaction?

The group meets ideally once a month. The first meeting was in July, upstairs at Firebug. It was quite successful and people came all the way from Nottingham and Derby to participate and maybe make something like this happen in their towns. So I guess we’re pioneers in the East Midlands? We had a bit of an open mic and I am amazed by the quality and passion of all the performers; some of them regulars in the local and regional circuits, some of them shy and terrified kids who had never done it in public. This is an excellent opportunity for them to practice, share, and keep doing things here, there and everywhere.

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There are a few smaller groups within the group, and they each specialise in one kind of activity or project. The music jammers, the book club, the film club, the zinesters, and anything else that comes by. You’re all welcome to perform, share your writings and your readings.

The next Leicester Riot Grrrls meeting is on the 31st of August at Duffy’s, a very friendly Irish pub just around the corner from Firebug. If you want to be part of it, organise stuff and believe in the ideals, feel free to join! We’ll also be hanging out at that thing called Leicester Pride at Victoria Park on Saturday 3rd of September.

letskeeptalking

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Rediscover Communication I: Anerki in the Cellophane

By on 6 June, 2016

These weeks, I have been thinking and experiencing tons of stuff related to bilingual/multilingual communication in arts. Particularly, in writing and sharing words.

Códice Florentino.
Códice Florentino.

Growing up, I always took for granted the fact that I learned English. I had to do it, we had to do it, if we wanted to “be someone” in the world. If we wanted to travel, trade, enjoy entertainment, even save lives with whatever medicine people read on academic and research journals. The older generations in my family didn’t have this pressure on them as the urge of globalisation wasn’t that intense in their youth, so whenever I or my cousins/nieces/nephews of my generation or younger had to learn English at school, sing songs in English or make assembly presentations in English, it would be considered a massive feat. “Oye, que Cynthia anda estudiando maestría… ¡y en inglés!”. But it was never an achievement to us Mexican “millenials” (excuse me, willenials). It was something we just had to do. Like maths. Like operating a computer — another Herculean adventure on its own through the eyes of our parents, but that’s for another post.

Now in England, I have been met with the same awe not only for my ability to learn and communicate fluently in Orwell’s tongue, but for the fact that my first language is not English. They see it as a goldmine of knowledge, a secret code, the keys to a world apart from this one. Due to postcolonial preconceptions being spread through every government department — education included —, a lot of English people old and young never learned another language. At best, they took French or German for their GCSEs and forgot any foreign lexicon once they went to university or joined the workforce. When I started taking Spoken Word more seriously, they told me to share something in Spanish. For the musicality of it, for the beauty and strength of it, and perhaps, in the same way a lot of us honed our English skills through F.R.I.E.N.D.S. episodes and Radiohead songs, to catch a bit of it like flu or anthrax.

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I finally pleased them at the ninth edition of Anerki, that beautiful evening proud of showcasing the best in underground arts in Leicester. Music, dance, mesmerising visual arts, spoken word and stand-up comedy, just to mention a few examples of what you could find on that soirée at The Font. The fabulous Kish aka Zeropence had been excitedly telling me for months to bring something in Spanish, as people set the roof on fire when they see things performed in another language. And I did it because I felt safe. In other areas of the country, you would be met with pale bald tomatoes shouting “English, motherfucker, do you speak it?” like vegetable versions of Samuel L. Jackson. But hey! This is Leicester! We kicked out the EDL and we did the same to Britain First TWICE. So I went waaaay beyond the comfort zone and did something I had never ever done in my 30 years of grazing the Earth.

I fucking rapped.

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Despite all my rage, I’m still just reading lyrics. Still via Elliott Izzard.

And it was hot! People shouting, dancing and clapping, jaws dropping as that cute chubby lady with the Street Fighter necklace was dropping bars or whatever kids today call them. They possibly had no idea what I was talking about, but journalist Terry Mardi said “they felt it”. I also did some artsy Spanglish shit called “Sk*pe”, where I tried to reinterpret “O Superman” by Laurie Anderson and “Mother Mother” by Tracy Bonham and adapt it to contemporary times. It’s on the footage section, for the bold. Like the new layout, by the way?

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If you missed it, I’ll be doing it again on the 18th of June at LCB Depot, as part of Anerki X. This will be an extra special one, on par with the exhibition The Art of Crass, curated by Sean Clark. The main act this evening will be Crass co-founder Steve Ignorant’s Slice of Life. Quite an honour to be shouting strange words at people who master the art of shouting strange words. Punk icons. Stick around all day at DIY-related events, workshops and fun for all ages.

Before that this Friday 10th of June, same place and same group of people, will be a spoken word special where a few of us read and recite stuff opening for Crass members Penny Rimbaud, Louise Elliott and Eve Libertine’s Cobblestones of Love, a lyrical rewrite of Yes, Sir, I Will. There will be a barbecue too. Come for the food, stay for the art and words.

(BTW, I got the idea for this title from Michel Gondry’s Science of Sleep, a surreal film that was pretty much based on communication breakdown in general. For instance, Duck Ellington.)

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Events | Leicester | Poetry | Short Story

FTRW @ Inside Out Festival

By on 17 May, 2016

ftrw_insideoutfestival

Last Saturday, a few hours before Leicester City raised the Premiership trophy up in the sky, some of us Find the Right Words people read a few things at the Curve theatre as part of Inside Out Festival, a very lovely celebration of arts, theatre and learning.

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The afternoon was compered by Toby Campion, one of the many lovely people who remind me how much I love Leicester, the Midlands, Britain and the world. If you haven’t seen his poems/love letters to this beautiful place, do it now, then come back and keep reading.

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Of course we were all going to have a Leicester/football poem. Kevin Hudson, for a start, with his comedic rhyme and reason and scarf, to boot. Also, he took us far into the kingdom of Nottingham (you may have heard from that place) on a quest to find a snazzy kitchen appliance and discover only disappointment. Peel your own fruits, people!

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Elizabeth Morgan Rose was one of the headlines of the afternoon. Quiet and shy, but her words were strong on their own. Loud, sharp statements about not relying on others and not letting ourselves fall into codependency. Not being someone’s key, someone’s jacket. Screaming is not always necessary to get a point across.

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Unless you’re Oh Standfast! In that case, yelling is not optional: it’s compulsory. Standfast was my favourite act at Handmade Festival just the week before that, and he came back again to complain about pretentious airplane passengers, dining alone, having housemates when you’re 35 and living in London, honeymoons and a series of peculiar life-sized models. “If you think this is funny, it’s comedy. If you think this is clever, it’s poetry. If you don’t understand it, it’s art.”

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And we wish comedy, poetry and art paid well. Clare Abbott certainly does. She told us about the time she found 45 quid on her daily commute. Some of us know how important and special is that, specially in the creative field. Or in any field that doesn’t involve being a douchebag and ruining people’s lives, to be honest. She also told us about how difficult it is to find jobs, to make ends meet and survive.

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Then some girl read stuff about sports.

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Stephen Thomas followed with odes to music. To the wonders of vinyl, discovering new things and the little surprises (sometimes embarrassing, sometimes enlightening, but mostly fun) we can have when accidentally putting records in different sleeves. To Amy Winehouse. It seems like a generational thing to write about Amy, particularly in the FTRW environment. She definitely left her beauty mark on all of us. Like a Monroe piercing that will never heal.

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Something that healed well was Chris Martin’s tattoo. A week before ending up under some needles at Market Harborough, he wrote about getting something done. Something that conveyed his love for coffee and his partner. Got an interrobang (‽) in the end, the most precious punctuation mark to never be on a standard keyboard. He loves his children too. So much, he lets them cover him in glitter, “the only thing [he has] in common with drag queens”.

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After the break, we had the adorable Mike Brewer talking about love. From serious, heartbreaking moments like finding pictures of dead lovers in the attic; to cherishing your smart and sturdy desktop computer called Penny (“she cost a pretty penny and she’s worth every penny”).

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This was followed by ol’ reliable Poetman, who went for a poetry route rather than a singing route but was still hilarious and amazing. A group of teenage dancers certainly enjoyed his performance, and that’s a very tough demographic to reach. But then, they know very well what it’s like to “scroll and scroll ’til it destroys [your] soul”, the wonders of real coffee and all the brands of energy drinks you love to hate or hate to love.

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People came and went according to their schedule. So many things were happening at the festival, the venue and the Cultural Quarter, that we would have different members of the audience for every performer and nearby. When Jodie Hannis got on the foyer, a lot of people were leaving the main stage after seeing Legally Blonde: The Musical. So it was extra poignant to see Hannis talk about CSA, the scars it can leave and the ways you can stop it, while little girls were having their pictures taken by their families posing with cardboard props and a picture of Gaga the Dog. You just wish these little girls never go through that. You just wish Jodie never went through that. You just wish no one does.

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At the end, after tears were shed thanks to Jodie and Toby, Ruby Kelman shared some of her work. As I mentioned before, Amy Winehouse seemed to impact a lot of people in the group, and Ruby had a poem about her too. Plus a few things about love. Cooking with your lover, drinking tea with your grandma, all those links between romance, family, companionship and meals.

Gaga the Dog.
Gaga the Dog.

Performing at such a huge and stunning venue (even in a small, cozy corner) like Curve theatre was fantastic. It was quite a challenge to deal with the ebbs and flows of people coming around, stopping, staying, leaving. But knowing that somehow, one word or another, one concept or another, got into their minds and gave room for communication, was pretty satisfying for everyone involved.

Bonus: Magic!

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Culture | Events | Leicester | Podcasts | Poetry

What You Saying? Poetry Podcast

By on 19 March, 2016

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Poetman is a superhero in the making. He has only been doing spoken word for the past 18 months, but he’s already a staple of the local scene. A wonderful thing that differentiates Will Horspool from other poets — besides his use of cool pedals and musical gadgets — is that not only he wants to create and share, but he wants other people to create and share as well. “Spoken word is not dead”, was the name of his open mic in Glenfield. And to keep it alive, he knows it’s very important to constantly plant new seeds.

That’s what What You Saying? is about: a venue for people from all walks of life to share their words and incept new ideas. Rather than sticking to good ol’ reciting, What You Saying? is a poetry podcast and event aiming to inspire new ways to write and speak, perhaps connecting to other disciplines such as music and comedy.

Shed_Poetman
Poetman

For a start, it happens every month (or at least it’s meant to) in the basement at The Shed, the oldest alternative music venue in Leicester, mostly focused on rock and metal. Not your average theatre or jazz café, but what other people would call “a dive bar”. Not really a place to take your parents to (unless your parents are Lemmy Kilmister and Cherie Curie, in that case you’re fucking awesome), but certainly a place full of character and love.

The first What You Saying?  happened last Wednesday 9 March, and started around 8pm. It was meant to be split in two halves, but the response was so overwhelming that it was arranged into three halves (?). All of them with the same gravitas, and mostly recorded for the poetry podcast afterwards.

Here is the list, or most of the list, of the performers that evening:

  • Ruby Kelman, a young promise and regular at Find the Right Words. She recites in an adorably awkward manner, like she is confessing her love to you and fears you won’t reciprocate (of course you will, who wouldn’t). One of her love declarations was dedicated to Amy Winehouse, the doe deer blinded by the paparazzi flashlights, and not the fabricated product of said members of the press.

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  • Stefan Seniuk, a rock and roll poet and “The Devil’s Bard”. Clearly influenced by the Beat Generation, punk and rock icons and the teachings of Dr John Cooper Clarke, he invites people to join the chorus like they do with bands in the arena. “We’re All Whores”, he made us chant at some point, and it was actually kind of true.

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  • Tyga, again someone relatively green in public, but delivering words way beyond her years. A street image with street stories, taking us out to clean our own rubbish and mop our own vomit as members of society. Someone to definitely watch out for.

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  • Joe Doyle, mainly a musician, and compère of his own open night at Manhattan 34. One of his stories was about a fly-killing bully, a monster who uses all kinds of items to catch those (apparently) smaller than him, yet performed in a funny voice and poise to remind us that these bullies are nobodies in reality.

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  • Jodie Hannis. She likes fish tacos over sausage sandwiches, and is not afraid to say it. A recent tenant at the House of Verse, and someone we will certainly keep seeing around.

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  • Oscar Prince, who still relates the name “Fergie” to a certain Scottish duchess and not the lead singer of Black Eyed Peas.

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  • Trevor Glyne Locke, who has been writing for decades before we were a figment of our parents’ imagination. Surprisingly, this was the first time he read in public, and he took us back to a decade we didn’t live, riding his scooter all over the world.

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  • Some broad who talked about pepper spray, swimming, cutting your hair in the loo and paraphrasing R.E.M.

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  • Philip Petersen, roaring laughter and roaring voice. An impressive presence in and out of stage.

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  • Douglas Deans, reciter of truisms and complainer of the same things that annoy me in life. Quite a figure on the rise in local theatre. You can’t miss him.

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  • K12, who is only in college and yet he can demolish you with his turbo fast speech and his pulverising topics. A previous contender in Heard of Mouth, and someone who needs to come out and slam more often.

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  • Daniel Nicholas, the enfant terrible of East Midlands comedy. He was attacked by bears, yet he didn’t win an Oscar. You will see him around because of course, you will.

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  • Zeropence, also in charge of his own interdisciplinary open mic night: ANERKI, every last Thursday of the month at The Turkey Café. Excellent tempo and flow, whether a capella or in a musical collaboration.

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  • James Cull, a metal musician who hadn’t read poetry in public before and ended up sounding cuter than a lot of us. Appearances can betray those who don’t know that metal folks can actually be the nicest.

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  • Pavel Peytchev, another metal poet with a soft heart, worried about the woes of today, sensationalism, deceit and the way media manipulates the masses.

In between acts, Poetman performed both by himself and with Peter Prick, prick by name and prick by nature, rambling over funky guitars and making us question ourselves as he questions himself.

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If you want to hear and download (because you do, right?), just click on this as you please. Also, visit Poetman’s website and follow him on all social media to stay in touch and know everything he does.

The next What You Sayin? live Poetry Podcast is on Thursday 21 April, again, at The Shed.

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Emergency! at The Y: how it went

By on 12 October, 2015

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A couple of Sundays ago, I had my first official public performance in Britain, and the first ever in five years. It was all part of Emergency! at The Y, a periodical showcase of new talent in arts, theatre, music and general entertainment in Leicester. I had already attended as an observer, and was really fond of the concept: sharing your work with an audience, perhaps as a rehearsal or perhaps as a result, open to honest feedback and in constant conversation with your colleagues, your crowd and your compere, getting to know each other and helping each other expand and improve.

Previously handled by KLiC, this was the first time Naomi Peart and the theatre directly managed Emergency! at The Y, so the organiser was as nervous as yours truly. There’s a first time for everything, and this was hers and this was mine. We were together on this. Besides a few rookie mistakes (Where’s the coffee? Where’s a competent technician? Where are we and what are we meant to be doing? Where’s’ the extense event advertising you so dearly promised?), things went  hunky dory and you could tell Peart and crew — featuring the stunning and shining Kirsty Munro as mistress of ceremony — have a passion for making things happen and provide a safe venue for free expression. On that we can agree.

“The donkey goes in front”, as we would say back home; so I opened the evening with Comfort Zoned, my multi(eh?)media storytelling extravaganza. Silly me and silly tech didn’t allow it to be as multimedia as initially expected. Never trust tablets to present audiovisual material, and never underestimate the power of  USB/external drives. I did and I did, so the visuals I so intrincately crafted (on Paint.net and PicMonkey) were not to be seen and in the end it was just me, a spotlight and the music. The feedback was positive and the show seemed to work better this way, with people solely focusing on my words and sound without being overwhelmed, leaving images to their imagination. I was nervous and went too fast on a couple of stories (particularily the fast-paced ones), but it was amazing to let people immerse in my world and connect with all these characters and their circumstances. People liked “First Crush” and “Somewhere in Lanzarote” the most. The power of self-identification was there, and so was the power of getting to know the other. A particular feedback note I liked said Comfort Zoned was “[e]njoyable, humorous and enlightening to issues of being a woman and living through particular times and ages”. For this, I’m forever grateful and willing to polish, enhance and keep presenting the show wherever possible.

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Next, we had Dori Kirchmair, an enchanting Austrian who has even presented a TEDx Talk, and this is technically what she did. To those of us who have always wanted to go to one but never had the time, place or money, it was a wish come true. Her presentation, Resonance, was as scientific as it was metaphorical, on the ways we connect with people, the environment and our own feelings. About how something so small and “insignificant” can pluck our strings and retune our psyche like an instrument. About how our brains are like a party where all our sensations convey, a bit like a grown up version of Pixar’s Inside Out. A night out where everyone around you is a dickhead, but everyone around you is you, and you have to acknowledge yourself and your dark sides to be able to see the light. Own yourself, calibrate yourself and get going well-tuned back into life.

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Of course, you could achieve that with a bit of meditation if that’s your thing, and Rose Hale‘s Transitions helped greatly. Her series of nature photographs present changes through seasons and changes through life, insects evolving and plants ageing and growing. Drastic changes we barely notice until they hit you, going as softly as animated transition effects and tenuous minimalist music. Hale’s slideshow brought peace to some of us, while scaring some younger audiences. Is it because the idea of growing and approaching death every day is still alien to them? Is there something inside they just want to avoid? It might be my Mexican morbid nature, growing up surrounded by sugar skulls and black humour poetry, but once you take for granted that life comes and goes for everything and everyone — you, me, butterflies, trees, your dog, your mum, your children, the Sun, foxes, grand civilisations, planet Earth, the stars, the Universe — there’s a sense of tranquillity that makes any ordeal easier to carry. Surfing on the tides of change.

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Speaking of surfing, Lindsey Warnes Carroll took us on a holiday, threw us in the pool and made us dive to the deep end of self-doubt and literature nerdom as part of her 40 Odd Tales. We read out quotes from the Beckett Bucket, witnessed her and Munro go through a session of Speed Pinter, heard her recite in perfect redneck inside the Tennessee Williams Tunnel, and could taste the increasingly-bittersweet cocktails of her stages in life. Of our stages in life. Make the games and dynamics larger, and you could create a more personal Dismaland; but instead of worrying about paparazzi and capitalism, cringing at negative reviews from everyone you’ve ever known as read by a coconut secretary, drowning on a small bucket and being attacked by tinfoil and bubbles.

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Accidentally on purpose, there was a leitmotif across all four performers. We may or may not have known each other before, but we had more things in common than our fondness of the stage and our gender identification. We all spoke about changes, about not being the same once a thing, a moment, a milestone in time and space happens. Stumbling upon all creatures big and small, the devil and the angel in the details, turning the page of a poisoned book and never going back to what we used to know. Trees losing leaves, butterflies departing from their cocoons, connecting with our truth in our emotions, reaching stages that looked so far from us before and now make us forget there’s anything else. I ignore if Naomi went for a general topic when she arranged the line up or if all submissions were accidentally connected, but it worked in flawless harmony.

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The next edition of Emergency! at The Y will happen on the 13th of December. If you want to get involved, contact Amy Christer on AChrister at leicesterymca dot co dot uk as soon as you can. It will be great to see you on stage this time.

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Arts | England | Events | Leicester | Lifestyle | Literature | Poetry

Everybody’s Reading Wednesday: perfumes, hills and blue fairy lights

By on 2 October, 2015

Tuesday wasn’t a good Tuesday, so on Wednesday I tried to keep myself out of the house as much as possible and do as many activities as I could to stop staring into the abyss. Fortunately, Everybody’s Reading Festival is happening this week and Leicester is flooded with literature. What a wonderful time to get lost in words and all things related!

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Emergency! at the Y

By on 30 September, 2015

emergencyThis Sunday, 5pm, I’ll be performing along three other wonderful up-and-coming artists at The Y theatre. Dori Kirchmair, Rose Hale, Lindsey Warnes and myself will each have a slot doing our best in comedy, theatre and spoken word. I’ll be opening up with storytelling and audiovisuals. It’s my first time ever performing in Britain, so I would lie if I said I wasn’t nervous! Anyway, here’s the description:

What happens when you find yourself in a situation out of the ordinary? Out of your definition of ordinary? The stories in Comfort Zoned are about people who discover there is more to life than what they used to know and embrace. Terrifying, thrilling, leading to improvement or disappointment, but never back to where they were before. Having a celebrity infatuation way beyond your teenage years, wearing an item of clothing society deems inappropriate on people like you, finding out that your hateful beliefs won’t take you to heaven, going on a neon adventure during working hours, or just hula-hooping your way through bureaucracy hell to make your British dream come true.

This is Cynthia Rodríguez’ debut performance in the United Kingdom, and the first one in over five years. Cynthia is primarily a writer, regularly involved in literature and film, now returning to the stage as a storyteller and taking herself out of the comfort zone just like her characters. Back in Mexico, she was involved in the first Writing Jam in her hometown and several public readings.

So yeah. Come and see me perform Comfort Zoned and get ready to be enraptured. *cringe*

Emergency! at the Y. Sunday 4th of October, 5pm, pay what you decide.

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Film | Leicester | Lifestyle

A Dozen Summers

By on 24 September, 2015

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It’s been a while since we’ve had a great coming-of-age movie. Between the innocence of Stand By Me and the nihilism of Breakfast Club, bildungsroman comedies in the late twentieth century made us feel connected, less isolated during our most awkward stages, cherishing our days of youth while bracing ourselves for an uncertain future. Yes, the new millennium is not short of tweenage adventures on silver screen, but there has to be a sweet spot between the apparent frivolousness of Mean Girls and the literal kick to the stomach of This is England. Something to soar our spirits as our wings start to melt due to emotional Global Warming. That’s where A Dozen Summers comes into play.

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The first feature directed by Canadian wonder Kenton Hall, A Dozen Summers is a feel-good film that stays real to the harsh facts of life without losing its sense of adventure. It’s the story of a summer in the lives of Maisie and Daisy McCormack, pre-adolescent twins on a quest to make their own movie as they navigate their relationships with friends, family and society in general.

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The story is, at all times, told from Maisie and Daisy’s perspective, after they “kidnap” an off-voice narrator (Doctor Colin Baker) who was aiming to tell a children’s tale as a distant observer, the same way David Attenborough talks about wild animals. These very wild animals are on the loose, and now you’re going to witness their truths with a little help from dreams, metaphors, parodies and heavy, heavy editing. For once, the control is at their fingertips, and they’re not afraid to use it.

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The twins are no Lindsay Lohans. There’s no illusion and no stereotypical twin jokes about wearing the same outfit, holding hands at all times and finishing each other’s sentences. The girls, played by real-life twins Scarlett and Hero Hall, are autonomous people with diverse life interests and even different growth patterns. While Maisie has crushes and spends ages buying jeans, Daisy’s most heartbreaking concern is that they’re not making a horror movie instead. A ghost girl who eats all the teachers? I’d watch that, honestly. Twice.

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Kenton is their father on and off-screen, but there’s no whiff of favouritism either way. The same level of professionalism can be seen through the entire cast, young and less young alike. Many things can go wrong with underage/vulnerable talent, but those children set an example and show a broader range of performances than a few Academy Award nominees.

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This is not just a children’s story. From constant subplots and stillness, we learn that growing pains never cease. The adults go through their personal journeys, hidden from those who look up to them. When the kids leave, there is sighing, smirking, staring at unknown distances. Grown ups are left to their own devices, now with permission to stop pretending that they’ve got their wits together. Between classes, the teachers reflect. When the noisy students leave the shop, the attendant can’t seem to cope with sudden silence. The mother, played by Sarah Warren, fights this constant loneliness through a string of peculiar romances. The father, on the other hand, only seems to find solace in the big nothing. When his children go to school, he tells the camera to go on then, keep filming the girls, not him. After all, it’s their story. Right? Or is it everyone’s story?

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For a brave little indie family film, A Dozen Summers seems to be reaching places. It has been shown at festivals in places as distant as the US, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Ukraine and Chile. For the past couple of months, it has been commercially screened in theatres all over the country and, after a successful weekend in late August at its hometown in Leicester, it’s coming back this weekend for a limited time at the Phoenix. Several external locations were shot in the Cultural Quarter, so it’s fair and necessary to see the results around here.

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What are you waiting for, then? Support local, indie, transnational, immaculate storytelling for all ages. It’s finger-snapping good.

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Culture | Leicester | Literature | Novel | Poetry | Radio | Short Story | Television

Leicester Writes Festival

By on 21 July, 2015

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A brave little writing festival happened during the last weekend of June. It was brand new and modest, but full of illusions and aiming to fill in the gaps in our local and national literature scene. And it succeeded.

Leicester Writes Festival was conceived by Farhana Shaikh from Dahlia Publishing as a way to showcase the microcosmic and diverse writing scene in our city and connect all of us as colleagues and potential friends. “Leicester” might not be a word that comes out from the general public’s mouths when talking about writing scenes and communities, but there is something big happening and it can keep developing only and if only we are aware of it and stay connected.

Damien G Walter. Picture:  twitter.
Damien G Walter. Picture: twitter.

The festival began on Thursday 25 June at Leicester University’s fairly new Centre of New Writing. It was a pecha kucha presentation about literature development in Leicester, condensing the answers that many writers in the area gave to a survey that was filled in in advance. Later that night, on that massive venue called twitter, there was a Q&A with Damien Walter, one of the first columnists to pay attention to indie writers and publishers in the digital era. Throught the hashtag #AskDamienW, he answered in a clear and honest way to several enquires about online publishing and offering alternatives to mainstream outlets like Amazon, “not the writers friend, but […] a business that presents big opportunities if you are savvy”. One of the plans he suggested was to join Patreon and build a fanbase with exclusive online content in exchange for regular income. Something worth checking out.

Jacob Ross. Picture: The Word Factory.
Jacob Ross. Picture: The Word Factory.

Friday was more “in the flesh”, back to Leicester Uni for edifying masterclasses. I was fortunate enough to attend The Art of Short Writing, a morning masterclass hosted by Jacob Ross. Delicious, juicy and visceral. We had to read works in preparation to see how something as brief as a short story could hit you harder than more extensive pieces of literature. Stories by Olive Senior, Mark Hanks, Elise Muller, Raymond Carver, John Cheever, Patrick O’Brian and Carys Davies; authors from different walks of life, bringing their realities into our worlds, sometimes harsh, sometimes witty, always like punches to the stomach. To Ross, short stories are meant to be singular, economical, with one dominant result or outcome, and an implied story arch inferring that nothing will be the same. Above all, short stories must have truth and integrity, blend the different with the usual and convince the reader that this can happen, even if it’s fiction.

Saturday and Sunday at the Phoenix were just busy, busy, busy. I will only speak about the events I attended, as they were so many of them and I have heard they were all fantastic.

Kerry Young. Picture: Leicester Writes.

Kerry Young and Rod Duncan spoke about writers on writing. Young comes from a youth worker background, and she writes not as therapy, but as a voice for those who can’t speak. Her novel Pao may have earned her a seat in the pavilion of contemporary literature, but it took her many years of discipline and crafting to become “an overnight success”.

Rod Duncan. Picture: Leicester Writes.

Duncan is still taken aback by the how fast his reputation has changed: he has gone from hopeless waster to promising new voice and respected novelist; with his Bullet Catcher’s Daughter as a finalist for the 2014 Phillip K. Dick award. However, he doesn’t write for external validation but for internal improvement. Just like characters have inner and outer journeys based on what they achieve in and out of themselves, writers have inner and outer journeys. The inner journey is what motivates us to write.

Bali Rai. Picture: Help for Writers
Bali Rai. Picture: Help for Writers.

Bali Rai was another novelist sharing his journey and results. A lot of his comments were sharp reflections on the general unspoken theme of the festival: unprivileged voices navigating a circuit full of privileged shouting. Growing up, he struggled to find books about the multicultural life he lived in Leicester, and all he found was the Adrian Mole series by Sue Townsend. After briefly living in London and spending his Odeon wages on Brixton bookshops, he came back to write about what he knew and to continue the Townsend tradition of putting Leicester on the map. Through the years, he has noticed that “the concept of diversity is [being] hijacked by the white middle class”, and that “the voices least heard in literature are the voices least heard in society”. That’s why he keeps writing about life in the city, making his voice and those of his neighbours heard, speaking about the true colours of modern-day Britain.

Divya Ghelani. Picture: Kajal Nisha Patel.
Divya Ghelani. Picture: Kajal Nisha Patel.

We moved briefly to the Curve to see Divya Ghelani read her “Imperial Typewriter”, a story created exclusively for the Hidden Stories compilation and part of a multimedia project about the past and present of the Cultural Quarter. It’s a story about rebellion, dignity and trying to rewrite history as it happens. Ghelani is an intriguing storyteller, and listening to her narration transports you right to where the events took place — not far from the theatre, actually. Also, as someone who wasn’t alive nor here when the Imperial Typewriter strike happened, it was appalling to see the way people back in those days referred to Asian Ugandans and foreigners in general. To think that the smell of curry they certainly despised would take over town and actually turn it into one of the most attractive things about this place…

Speaking of which, An Indian Summer was happening during the same week and spreading its wonders, colours and flavours. Many talks and panels for Leicester Writes Festival were brought in association with AIS, including the audience with Bali Rai, Divya Ghelani’s reading and Nikesh Shukla’s keynote on being a contemporary novelist.

Nikesh Shukla. Picture: Catherine Dunn.
Nikesh Shukla. Picture: Catherine Dunn.

I was particularly excited to see Nikesh Shukla on Sunday, as his Meatspace speaks to my soul in ways people like Nick Hornby or Douglas Coupland never will. He slaps you in the face with truth and gets your arse into action. Some of his points on how to be a writer include jewels like “aspire to nothing”. If your twitter bio says you’re an “aspiring writer”, delete the “aspiring” bit. You are a writer, because you write. Social media is not the enemy, but a tool that can be used to share your exciting news and create a following. Another thing Shukla mentioned, to destroy the stereotype of the “starving artist”, was that there was nothing wrong with having a 9-to-5 job and being a writer — he personally thinks being a barista is where it’s at. But where do you take the time? Josie Long’s Golden Game seems like a good solution: write 90 minutes a day. I should try it. We should try it.

Really needed this today. ❤ #validation #meatspace

A photo posted by Cynthia Rodríguez Barni (@cynstagrammy) on

For a first edition, Leicester Writes Festival was quite complete and exciting. It brought us together and not only established links within the writers community, but between cultural and geographical communities in general. There were people who came from places like London or Glasgow, and they had never seen anything like this before. This sense of union and equality is what sets us apart from larger cities that may call themselves “cosmopolitan” but are all about hierarchy, elitism and segregation. Here there are no secrets and no crabs-in-a-bucket mentality. No one-ups. Just mutual support. There may be few people who still behave like prima donnas, want all the credit for themselves even on team work and don’t support anyone but their niche little friends, yes. But those people do not belong here.

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