NORTHERN SPIRIT

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It’s Mint Up North: Julia Darling and Sheree Mack

February 1, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, TYNE AND WEAR, Wondrous Cities

Julia Darling

I replace poetry with a perfect

understanding of the offside rule.

My voice becomes smoke, drifts

to the ceiling and swirls until

it sails through the door,

joins the mist that forms

on the street ‘round midnight.

Now even though I’d been caught up in the excitement of the creativity of the people I’d met in Fenham, it took a little while longer for me to find my own thing. I might have pottered along indefinitely, but luckily I met two people who helped me to reconnect with the ambitions that I had when I was much much younger. I’m very happy to introduce to you [drum roll please]…

Julia Darling

Julia was an inspirational poet, playwright, novelist. She was also writer in residence when I first started working at Live Theatre in 2001. I loved the spirit of the plays she wrote, her poetry was elegant, vivid and real. And you’ve got to love a woman who writes a play called Doughnuts Like Fanny’s haven’t you?

When I first met her I wasn’t writing (apart from drunken scrawls in a notebook and we all know that doesn’t count) but she just had a way of unlocking creativity in people. During the occasional conversations I had with her I tentatively mentioned that I sometimes thought about trying to write creatively. Just being around her gave me the confidence to voice that secret ambition, her gentle words of encouragement settled at the back of my mind where they slowly kept repeating themselves until I started to think about starting to write. It’d take a little while longer for me to actually write anything that I wanted to show anyone, but that kept me going for a little while.

Her blog can be found on her website here where you find out much more about her.

You can also read her Manifesto for a New City, a ‘manifesto of the disgruntled of Newcastle’ written almost ten years ago and which seems surprisingly apt at a time when Newcastle is threatened with the closure of vital facilities and 100% cuts to arts budgets.

Degna Stone reading Julia Darling’s ‘Indelible, Miraculous’.

Featured image: Julia Darling.

 

Sheree Mack

Sheree Mack - Image by Alistair Cook

Sheree Mack – Image by Alistair Cook

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sheree was writer in residence at the Lit & Phil in 2007, when she organised a series of master classes with the poet Anthony Joseph, and it was there that I really started to write. Pretty badly at first and then a bit less shit as time went on. After six months it got to the point where I knew I’d be happy to read one of my poems at the launch of Sepia Souls, the anthology produced in December 2007 to celebrate the project. It could have been easy to just put the poems I’d written in a bottom drawer and forget them, but there’s something about Sheree – once she sees that you’ve got an interest in something she’ll nurture and support you until that interest becomes a passion.

Now, I had hoped to get some time with Sheree to chat about her relationship with the North East but between the snow and the fact that she is one busy poet I just didn’t get a chance to do that. Luckily someone else had already managed to catch up with her, so if you follow this link you can read Nicola Moore’s interview with Sheree.

Sheree Mack was born in Bradford to a Trinidadian father and a Geordie mother of Bajan and Ghanaian heritage. She has lived in Newcastle from the age of ten. Married with two children, she works as a freelance writer and lecturer for the Open University and has recently completed her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Family Album is her first full collection.

_ _ _ _

That’s it from me then. I’d just like to thank Chris for asking me to take part in this blog – I’m an erratic blogger at the best of times so it’s been nice to have this focus to get me going. Thanks to all the guest curators who’ve made ‘A Wondrous Place’ such a fascinating read. Also, thanks to everyone mentioned in this blog for making the North East such a brilliant place to live, especially Kate Hodgkinson who let me sit in her gorgeous studio drinking tea and eating Tunnock’s teacakes.

Avatar of Degna Stone

Degna Stone

Degna Stone visited Newcastle during the Summer of 1999 and never went home. She is a Midlander in self-imposed exile. Degna performs regularly at venues across the North East and has appeared at StAnza International Poetry Festival and Durham Book Festival. She has worked with Apples and Snakes, English PEN and New Writing North to deliver creative writing workshops for adults and young people. She blogs, ever so occasionally, over at deseeded.blogspot.co.uk and inadvertentlyteaching.blogspot.co.uk. In 2010 she won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North and her debut chapbook 'Between the Floorboards' was published by ID on Tyne Press. She was selected for Verb New Voices, a BBC/ACE spoken word development programme, which culminated in the performance of her poem sequence 'Songs from Whenever' on BBC Radio 3's The Verb. Her second pamphlet will be published by Red Squirrel Press in the spring. She’s just finished an MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University and is co-editor of 'Bucher’s Dog', a new biannual poetry magazine. She’s tried her hand at stand up comedy, film making and theatre directing but poetry is what she knows best. Visit www.degnastone.com

It’s Mint Up North: Staying Here

January 31, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, TYNE AND WEAR, Wondrous Cities

Kathryn's Studio

I met Kathryn Hodkinson when I first moved to Newcastle. She’s not from round here either, so when I was asked to curate this week on ‘A Wondrous Place’ I knew I wanted to chat to her about what made her stay.

Kathryn Hodgkinson: Newcastle has a particular relationship with the graduates that come up here to study and don’t leave again. There are strong courses, but as far as I can observe, people who’ve studied English and science and straight degrees, they do their degree and then go back to where they came from, or they’ll go and work in what’s perceived to be a more prosperous city. But up here people stay. And people stay when they don’t mean to stay like you did.

Degna Stone: I studied in Bristol and I felt completely disconnected from the art scene – I was vaguely aware of what was going on but I wasn’t really a part of it, it seemed more pushy and I had (and still do have) a massive inferiority complex and it seemed hard to make your way into it.

KH: There’s the whole street art movement kicked off by Banksy.  It’s being part of a group, so it feels more like there’s a persona that goes with being that particular type of creative person. Whereas I genuinely think up here there’s more room for complete individuals and people that don’t fit into a gang. If you get off the train it’s not full of swanky, cool people. It’s not…Shoreditch is an extreme example, but Bristol’s got a bit of that going on. There’s a way to fit in and a way not to fit in. I think in Newcastle it’s okay not to fit in, it’s easier somehow to forge your way as a complete individual. There is quite an established network, because it’s so small it’s easy to get around and to have a relative overview. There’s a lot more people doing things in little pockets and maybe that is about affording that kind of individuality and not having to be cool and being able to concentrate on what you actually do rather than how you look. I’m quite interested in the extent of people that do stay up here. There are little things popping up all the time like Heart Attack and Vine.

My involvement with Cobalt happened because the price of property is cheaper up here, or it was. It’s probably changed a bit now. There was certainly a time when it was cheaper than anywhere else, even big northern cities, way cheaper, and it’s meant that we do have a lot of studio groups that again give people opportunities. Brickworks, Mushroom Works, Lime Street, there’s Cobalt and then there’s a whole load of students from Northumbria who stayed and have taken over a massive office building.

DS: When did you decide you were staying?

KH: My external moderator from my degree had suggested that I applied to The Royal College of Art. I think she was called Elizabeth Swinburne and she called me to one side and said you should apply for the RCA, you’ll do well there, it will stretch you and you’ve got a good degree and we’d be happy to see an application from you. The RCA is the absolute pinnacle of an art career in this country and a bit of me was absolutely fascinated by this idea she’d put in my head and also really drawn to it and really flattered that she thought I could apply for it. But then I had this other side that was really aware that if I went to London I’d have no quality of life and that my need to earn money to put myself through that course would really inhibit my creativity. I’d worked at World Headquarters the whole way through my course up here, I hadn’t had any extra help and the grant wasn’t enough to live off so I’d worked really hard. I just had this sense that if I went to London I’d be really deeply stuck in a rat race.

I was living with a friend of mine called Laura Mundy, who’s brilliant, she’s moved to Leeds since, but she was really exciting to live with. She had a studio at Fusion and so I was meeting lots of creative people through her, I suppose, and she was really just excited about life and creativity. And I was excited about the opportunities in reach up here because you could live off so little and be able to do your thing. I was really, really excited about staying actually and I did very consciously think about this London/Newcastle opportunity.

DS: That’s what it seemed like to me when I arrived, there were a lot of artists and musicians staying around, just being really creative..

KH: Kathryn Williams was really good friends with Laura and her career was just taking off. She was doing gigs at the North Terrace and we’d go and see her, and Cath Campbell was playing cello. In those very first eighteen months it was really exciting hearing them: Laura Mundy would play the flute, Kath would sing and play guitar and Cath Campbell would play cello and they were all artists. I’d quite often find myself at people’s houses where there was some jamming session going on, beautiful music being made and people talking about what they were doing. There were jobs that would give you just enough money to get by. You didn’t need so much money because rent was so cheap. Then I saw a house on Gainsborough Grove that was 32 grand and I thought if I bought that my mortgage would be cheaper than my rent and I’d have a house…  so I suppose that’s when my roots really went down.

DS: I remember that, one of the first exhibitions I went to in Newcastle was at Holy Jesus Memorial Hospital when it was still derelict. It was really exciting that these people who I guess were my peers were just doing it and not waiting for things to happen for them.

KH: It’s funny you forget… thinking about it now I do recall this massive wave of excitement, a real ‘can do’. We can stay, we can set up galleries. Everybody was involved with VANE (Visual Arts North East) and that was a big deal. It’s great looking back on it; maybe you take it for granted or just stop thinking about it. Jo Coupe was doing amazing installations at the top of New Cross House, Tanya [Axford] was doing her green carpet, Paul and Miles were setting up Workplace, we were setting up Cobalt, Newcastle was going for Capital of Culture. And then the Baltic opened. I remember a fortnight just after it opened I was watching the bridge open and thinking something’s happened here. It felt like an international city. I do say to people, I live in this city where I can be on the beach in 20 minutes, I can be on Hadrian’s Wall in 15 minutes, my children can whoop in the hills as much as they want, we know a bunch of country folk living in yurts and living in cottages up in proper remote countryside and then we’ve got a world class, free, art gallery, and museums – The Discovery and The Hancock and The Sage. To have all those facilities in such a small city and to be able to access them all. People who don’t come up here don’t realise that. The one thing I do think is that our council don’t recognise what we’ve got at all.

Cobalt Studios

Cobalt Studios

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DS: If we have this 100% cut to the arts which says “D’you know what, it’s nice, but we don’t really need it”, how are you going to keep the people from leaving now?

KH: My work is all in regeneration. I deliberately stopped working in gallery spaces, and my own creative practice is about public places. I have a really profound belief that the public places we create have a real deep impact on the whole community, and the reason public art interests me is because it is for everyone.  It’s accessible because people just come across it. It’s absolutely vital that we have vibrant creative things happening right across cities – that includes all of the libraries and the art services. If you take that away you’re left with an empty shell. And in this city in particular, what they can’t see, that’s under their fucking noses, is a massive group of people that have committed to it and that are creative and that are fighting to give this city a touch of what Berlin’s got, a touch of what Bristol’s got and what London’s got. There’s an integrity to these people because it’s not a transient population, they stay here, they believe in this city. Around 2000, with the whole Capital of Culture and the NGI, there was a climate of recognition and that’s how Cobalt happened. There are masses of papers written about how artists regenerate areas. There’s lots of evidence of what the arts do for regeneration and for economies and they just don’t seem able to maximise on that. There’s something really special here.

Newcastle City Library

Newcastle City Library

 

 

 

 

 

 

Featured Image: Kathryn Hodkinson’s studio.

 

 

Avatar of Degna Stone

Degna Stone

Degna Stone visited Newcastle during the Summer of 1999 and never went home. She is a Midlander in self-imposed exile. Degna performs regularly at venues across the North East and has appeared at StAnza International Poetry Festival and Durham Book Festival. She has worked with Apples and Snakes, English PEN and New Writing North to deliver creative writing workshops for adults and young people. She blogs, ever so occasionally, over at deseeded.blogspot.co.uk and inadvertentlyteaching.blogspot.co.uk. In 2010 she won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North and her debut chapbook 'Between the Floorboards' was published by ID on Tyne Press. She was selected for Verb New Voices, a BBC/ACE spoken word development programme, which culminated in the performance of her poem sequence 'Songs from Whenever' on BBC Radio 3's The Verb. Her second pamphlet will be published by Red Squirrel Press in the spring. She’s just finished an MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University and is co-editor of 'Bucher’s Dog', a new biannual poetry magazine. She’s tried her hand at stand up comedy, film making and theatre directing but poetry is what she knows best. Visit www.degnastone.com

It’s Mint Up North: We Gotta Get Out Of This Place

January 30, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, TYNE AND WEAR, Wondrous Cities

The Baltic

The first thing she does is rush to the sea,

fully clothed she runs too fast to be caught —

wet sand flashes like lights beneath her feet.

(Don’t let the title of this post fool you. I just wanted to shoehorn The Animals into this somehow.)

It was a good summer, not like the ones we’ve had for the past couple of years, the weather was kind. Sitting out on the roof at Graingerville while the traffic on the West Road oozed past, heading down to Jesmond Dene for a barbecue, listening to the peacocks in Pets’ Corner screeching and showing off, getting on the metro and slinking off to the coast on a whim. On a whim. I could be at the coast, the proper seaside, in 20 minutes.

That’s the unique thing about Newcastle, just how easy it is to get away. That might sound like a massively back-handed compliment, but no matter how much you love a place if you can’t escape it when you want to it’s going to drive you mental. You’ll drink more, or eat too much, or spend your spare time vegging in front of the TV. If the city boundaries start to feel like the walls of a very small, windowless room then the air is going to start to feel stale.

That first summer we drove out to Bamburgh and spent the night on the beach. I don’t know if we were allowed to be there but we stayed. It’s about 50 miles north of Newcastle on a coastline that them living in the North East have been trying to keep secret.  Crafty buggers. White sands and blue skies and stretches of beach with hardly anyone on them. Towards the end of the summer the room I’d be living in rent free would soon need a paying tenant. After that visit to Bamburgh, stopping off at Seahouses on the way home the next day for fish and chips, I knew I wanted to stay.

This place was just what I needed. It was easier to settle in. There was no hassle. I’d spent my final year at uni in Bristol in a haze of Jack Daniels and fluoxetine. Arriving in a northern town with almost no friends to find a welcoming group of people who have their eye on something other than pay cheques, something other than just working for the weekends was just the thing.

And then there’s the nightlife. Not the stuff of stag and hen legend but the places away from the Quayside and the Bigg Market. We headed for the pubs that had good beer, amazing music and relaxed atmospheres. The Tanners, The Telegraph, The Tyne, The Trent House… mmm, didn’t realise there was an alliterative thing going on there…  sorry about that…The Cumberland, The Bridge, The Forth, The Free Trade (which has the best view of the Tyne and it’s bridges ever) and The Head of Steam. We often topped the night off at the old World Headquarters – there was nowhere quite like it. The downstairs room was papered with a massive scene of Mohammed Ali visiting South Shields and on a good night (and every night there was a good night) you could barely move. Upstairs you never left the dancefloor –  the thing that made this place special was that the music was everything. Get that right and the chilled out vibe was a natural side effect. My favourite memory – dancing to Talking Heads as the room was warming up doing my best David Byrne moves to ‘Once in a Lifetime’

That was then of course. Now? Well, I fell in love and had kids. That’s the usual pattern isn’t it? And for me, this was the right place to do that. This place, this bit of the North has everything.

So these are the places I’m most likely to go now that my time’s not quite my own and I can’t spend days & nights just going from one place to the next. One pub to the next. One shop to the next. One museum to the next…well, maybe I can still do that last one with kids in tow.

So this is a super quick whirlwind tour of the places to go when you’ve done your bit for the propagation of the human race (or you’re babysitting for some other poor sap whose life is no longer their own)…

The Laing Art Gallery and the Baltic both have interactive areas where the kids can pretty much run wild whilst still somehow absorbing the art by osmosis. The Discovery Museum which is probably due an overhaul has got the quirkiest exhibitions (the story of Newcastle is a treat), lots of sciencey contraptions that you can mess on with and a geet big boat, The Turbinia, in the main hall. The Great North Museum is another favourite of ours. It has dinosaurs and mummies. What more could you want?

A Dinosaur in the Hancock "ROAR!"

A Dinosaur in the Hancock: “ROAR!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Ouseburn is really great for kids. There’s a city farm there and you can take your kids into most of the pubs, Gavin Marshall (one of the first people I met in Newcastle) has just opened a new place, Ernest. He’s shifted his focus from making beautiful glass to creating a family friendly restaurant with good food, good atmosphere and good music.

Ernest

Ernest

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s independent, it’s different and it’s just round the corner from Seven Stories, although I think it’s called the ‘National Centre for the Children’s Books’ now. It’s a magical place for kids and adults. Especially if you’re interested in the process behind writing for children. Lots of the exhibitions have correspondence from editors and publishers to their authors, sketch books, works in progress and early versions of the completed art work that ends up in finished books. You could lose yourself in the place while the kids explore the exhibitions playing dress up and weaving in and out of the displays.

Seven Stories

Seven Stories

 

 

Avatar of Degna Stone

Degna Stone

Degna Stone visited Newcastle during the Summer of 1999 and never went home. She is a Midlander in self-imposed exile. Degna performs regularly at venues across the North East and has appeared at StAnza International Poetry Festival and Durham Book Festival. She has worked with Apples and Snakes, English PEN and New Writing North to deliver creative writing workshops for adults and young people. She blogs, ever so occasionally, over at deseeded.blogspot.co.uk and inadvertentlyteaching.blogspot.co.uk. In 2010 she won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North and her debut chapbook 'Between the Floorboards' was published by ID on Tyne Press. She was selected for Verb New Voices, a BBC/ACE spoken word development programme, which culminated in the performance of her poem sequence 'Songs from Whenever' on BBC Radio 3's The Verb. Her second pamphlet will be published by Red Squirrel Press in the spring. She’s just finished an MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University and is co-editor of 'Bucher’s Dog', a new biannual poetry magazine. She’s tried her hand at stand up comedy, film making and theatre directing but poetry is what she knows best. Visit www.degnastone.com

It’s Mint Up North: Just Passing Through…

January 28, 2013 in A WONDROUS SPACE, TYNE AND WEAR, Wondrous Cities

Resize Billy No Mates

I arrived (with less flourish)
just after the Angel came.
My first view of Newcastle,
the West Road at night —
the neon-lit tracks of a rollercoaster.

Given what’s going on in Newcastle at the moment, I will have to talk about the impact of the proposed cuts to arts funding and libraries at some point during my week’s curation of ‘A Wondrous Place’. But first off I’m going to let you know what’s kept me this far north for so long.

When I came to Newcastle in 1999 I knew one person. But that was okay because I wasn’t moving to Newcastle I was just visiting. For the summer. Then I’d be heading somewhere else. Nothing concrete, but I was sure the North East was just a stopover rather than a destination. I just needed some time away after a fairly disastrous third year at uni and Newcastle seemed far enough away to do that. It was definitely just temporary.

So it’s a bit of a surprise to find that it’s almost fourteen years since I found myself being driven along the West Road just as dusk darkened into night toward my new temporary home. A big old house sandwiched between a dentist’s and a youth hostel on Graingerville North. Apparently Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits used to live in that house back whenever it was likely that Mark Knopfler would’ve been skint enough to live in a run-down shared house in Arthur’s Hill.

I didn’t stay Billy-Nearly-No-Mates for long. Within minutes of arriving I’d doubled my Newcastle mates and after a cup of tea we headed out to meet some more. I was lucky. The one person I did know knew a lot of people. All still in their mid-twenties (or thereabouts) so the groups that had formed during uni hadn’t quite dissipated into nine-to-fives & parenthood. I just stumbled into a new ready-made group of friends that included musicians, artists, designers and makers.

Creative people were at the heart of my first interactions in Newcastle, the cultural revolution that had begun in the nineties meant that there were opportunities that kept them in the area rather than seeing them all head south. They set up their own studios and became part of the visual arts landscape and the music scene. So during this week I’ll introduce you to a couple of the people that influenced my decision to stay and let you know about some of the places that make this region such a brilliant place to be.

And to get things started I’ll answer last week’s guest curator Chrissy Brand’s question:

“If you were to host a festival to showcase north-eastern culture to the world, who and what would be on the bill?”

Newcastle Quayside

Newcastle Quayside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Well to be honest I’m going to cheat a little on this one… I would probably get the brilliant Melanie Rashbrooke and John Challis at Trashed Organ to organise it for me. They put on arguably the most exciting and oh so very entertaining nights in Newcastle and they know just about every talented musician and spoken word artist in town and beyond.

When these guys started producing music and spoken word nights in 2010 it really shifted expectations. The nights are raucous, playful and eclectic. They’re very, very good. If you’re in town and Trashed Organ is on and you don’t go along – you’re a muppet.

So back to the festival… We’d have music, theatre and spoken word popping up around the city, but centring on the bourgeoning Ouseburn.

Obviously it’d be brilliant to have Maximo Park, Everything Everything and The Futureheads. If we could tempt the phenomenal Peter and David Brewis to cut short their break from Field Music activity I’d be immensely happy. Other must haves: The Baghdaddies, Matt Stalker and the Fables, Bridie Jackson and the Arbour, Kathryn Williams, Gem Andrews, The Unthanks, The Lake Poets and The Cornshed Sisters.

Newcastle is rife with fantastic poets and performers and if I tried to list them all I’d end up missing somebody off so I’ll leave that entirely in the capable hands of the Organ Grinders.

It’d be lovely to have a bit of theatre too so I’d ask Kate Craddock at GIFT to curate a programme of theatre – hopefully she’d invite Unfolding Theatre, Tender Buttons and Zendeh to produce well, whatever they wanted really as they’re all really exciting, innovative theatre companies.

So there you go. I hope you’d come along.

Avatar of Degna Stone

Degna Stone

Degna Stone visited Newcastle during the Summer of 1999 and never went home. She is a Midlander in self-imposed exile. Degna performs regularly at venues across the North East and has appeared at StAnza International Poetry Festival and Durham Book Festival. She has worked with Apples and Snakes, English PEN and New Writing North to deliver creative writing workshops for adults and young people. She blogs, ever so occasionally, over at deseeded.blogspot.co.uk and inadvertentlyteaching.blogspot.co.uk. In 2010 she won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North and her debut chapbook 'Between the Floorboards' was published by ID on Tyne Press. She was selected for Verb New Voices, a BBC/ACE spoken word development programme, which culminated in the performance of her poem sequence 'Songs from Whenever' on BBC Radio 3's The Verb. Her second pamphlet will be published by Red Squirrel Press in the spring. She’s just finished an MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University and is co-editor of 'Bucher’s Dog', a new biannual poetry magazine. She’s tried her hand at stand up comedy, film making and theatre directing but poetry is what she knows best. Visit www.degnastone.com