Show 045: September 2011

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The Man Booker longlist has been announced, it includes some well-known names, including Julian Barnes, Sebastian Barry, Alan Hollinghurst, and Carol Birch, as well as the less well known but terrific, like Jane Rogers. The shortlist appears at the beginning of September.

I’m working at NAWG [National Association of Writing Groups]Festival of Writing at Nottingham University on the first weekend in September, leading a variety of workshops and tutorials based around poetry. It’s a chance for writers from all over the country to come together to have fun and feel part of a larger community.

For those of you in West Yorkshire [and perhaps a little further afield] I’m hosting a Writers Roadshow at Brighouse Library on 10th September, which is again an opportunity for writers to take part in workshops. All details on the Calderdale website.

I’ll be running poetry and performance workshops at Rochdale Central Library on September17th; and hosting Crime Scene Saturday in North Tyneside at the John Willie Sams Centre, Dudley [not far from Newcastle] on Saturday 24th September. It’s hosted by publishers Macmillan and includes crimewriters Anne Cleeves, MR Hall and L.C.Taylor.

Book review

Book review: Kill All Enemies by Melvin Burgess

Kill All Enemies
Kill All Enemies is a book set in and around a fictional Leeds with grammar schools and comprehensives, with a particular focus on a PRU, [a pupil referral unit] where pupils are sent when they and the school can no longer cope. We have three very different young people Billie, the toughest girl in school, Ron the fat bully, and Chris the unmotivated grammar school boy who just wants to leave school. Their violent, confrontational or difficult behaviour is all described by Burgess with a great deal of humour and empathy, as tare he secrets they hold very close, which go some way to explain or exonerate them. Burgess describes the young folk he met when he researched for this novel as heroes, and we discover how heroic they actually are as the novel progresses and how much we care for what happens to them.

The voice of reason is Hannah the social worker, who gains the trust of the young people who and winkles out their secrets. There are many different sorts of oppressive parenting and this book describes three damaging strains of it, from the over aspirational to the bullying and violent to the downright neglectful, and this being Burgess there is much grittiness, from the near gang rape of Billie to the bullying and beating up that Rob endures.

BUT there is much humour in the book, and it had me laughing out loud as well as producing more than one tear on the train from Leeds to Halifax only a few days ago.


Here follows an edited extract of an interview with winner of the Carnegie Prize, Melvin Burgess.
Melvin Burgess

I always wanted to write; in some ways it came about because I loved reading and stories. I was also pretty crap at school but was always good at reading and writing. I once wrote an essay in the form of a diary and my teacher was scornful, starting off angry and then becoming rather sad. She didn’t like originality, and she didn’t like me ‘trying to be too clever’.

I was about thirteen when I harboured a secret hope to be a writer. I always felt I had an obligation to tell it how it is. It’s a moral imperative. When I wrote Junk, which was my first book for teenagers, there were very few people writing for fourteen and fifteen year olds. It was raw and gritty, and did show me that the adage that children didn’t read just wasn’t true. One of the things that took people aback with the book was that it just showed events in an open way. People get anxious about teenagers and want to control them. But many people who worked with young drug addicts felt that for the first time they had a resource they could use with kids. In truth most people take drugs to have fun, and such a stance is one that a lot of people find uncomfortable.

Kill All Enemies came from inspiring stories fabout young people who had been through the mill, but had done things like bringing up young families when their mother might be on the bottle. So I had lots of interviews with kids who had been in Pupil Referral Units and their social workers. They had great voices and had had time to put their experiences into context. In many ways they were heroes.

Some of the gritty scenes were hard to write, but not from an emotional point of view. You have to be distanced and yet express the emotion. It’s a literary scene rather than an emotional event. I admired the kids in this book so much that the villains did get their come-uppance, and the young people did find their own way out of their problems.

The writers who’ve influenced my writing most would be Orwell and Brecht, Orwell is a political writer, and it’s very easy to make politics boring but he wrote about ideas and made them simple and interesting. If writers write well then ideas should be easy to understand.

Poem of the Month

Read this month’s poem, Where are you Shelley, we need you now!!