Category Archives: Book To The Future

Creative Minds at Birmingham: Jamie McKendrick @ Book to the Future

Last Thursday saw the launch of ‘Creative Minds at Birmingham’ when award-winning poet Jamie McKendrick took to the stage of the Elgar Concert Hall at the Bramall Music Building to share with us literature enthusiasts his poetical works.

There was quite a turn out as students from different subject areas, lecturers and enthusiasts outside of University attended the event. It is always great to listen and speak to a modern day author about his or her works. The event was opened with an introduction to Jamie McKendrick, highlighting especially his work on Out There (2012), his latest collection of poetry. This followed readings from the collection and other poetry collections by Jamie McKendrick himself.

One of the poems which really stood out to me in Jamie McKendrick’s reading was ‘Singing Lessons’ to which he explained to us his motives and inspiration for writing about – quite literally – singing lessons. He wrote this after the death of his brother-in-law as a way of expressing the lament people often feel when a loved one has died. Whether it be for words that were never said, or things that we regret doing or saying while they were still alive, here Jamie transforms it into a singing lesson which his brother-in-law took and which he teased him about. It is often some of the most small or seemingly irrelevant things that come to mind in our memories in the passing of a loved one which was clearly expressed through ‘Singing Lessons’.

sunflowersJamie McKendrick also read us a poem from an older collection Ink Stone (2003) called ‘Chrome Yellow’ on one of Van Gogh’s sunflower paintings. He doesn’t call this an ekphrastic poem but his take on it certainly shows elements of this. He focuses particularly on the power of yellow in relation to one of the most powerful parts of this poem, his direct reference to Van Gogh as a “mad Dutchman”:

“That mad Dutchman who crammed his mouth with the chrome yellow he used by the tubeful to paint them made toxic lead his edible gold” (From Ink Stone, 2003).

In passing, Jamie McKendrick would mention his experiences on being a contemporary poet. He particularly described his commissioned works being one of the most difficult in working on, in virtue of the very fact that they commissioned; it would lead to lengthy arguments about the final product of certain pieces.

The question and answer at the end allowed us to further get to know the life of a modern day writer and it was also a way of getting advice for budding writers. Not surprisingly, one of the first questions asked was how to distinguish the difference between a poem and a lyric, to which Jamie answered simply that the lyric is wholly reliant on music while poetry isn’t. One of the most interesting questions that relate to the modern day was how far to go when translating the work of other writers. Jamie replied that it essentially relies on what you feel is alright: “if it looks alright leave it as it is”.  He further went on to give advice about the distinction in translating works that have been done before and works of your contemporaries.

Listening to Jamie McKendrick read out his poetry allows us to engage, with not only any biographical aspects of his work, but we also get to see the poems in exactly the way intended, this includes every moment of pause or emphasis on particular words or sections, something that other readers might not have the advantage of.

The event ended with a book signing giving everyone a chance to meet Jamie McKendrick in person. This is just the start of the ‘Creative Minds at Birmingham’ series, future events include other writers like Michael Longley, Alice Oswald and Kathleen Jamie.

by Malia Choudhury

Jamie McKendrick Interview @ Book to the Future

Jamie McKendrick
Award-winning poet Jamie McKendrick was kind enough to join me for a chat prior to his speech in the Elgar Concert Hall launching the ‘Creative Minds at Birmingham’ series.

Over a cigarette and a cup of tea he discussed the prospect of reading his poems, and I wondered whether he prefers hearing his poetry aloud or whether it is written to be read; indeed, whether he sees poetry as a visual or auditory art form. Jamie suggested that:

“The acoustic element is crucial for poems. There doesn’t seem to be a point in writing poems if you’re not thinking about the sound, the lineation, the rhythm – all of those elements are at the fore of the poem.”

“I mean, you don’t read it with your eye. It’s quite possible someone could read it a lot better than me,” he says whilst laughing. “I don’t care who reads it but it should be read aloud, and even if it’s read with the eye it should be sounded inside. The layout on the page is visual, yes, so it does have a presence on the page, but the layout is often indicative of auditory patterns.”

We moved on to the topic of translations; he recently won the Oxford-Weidenfeld Prize and the John Florio Italian Translation Prize for translating the poetry of Valerio Magrelli. When asked what attracted him to this task in particular, he explained that whilst in Italy he read The Embrace, the poem which the collection takes its name from, and that it “struck me immediately as going into English.” Although the process took around fifteen to twenty years to complete, Jamie described it as an “exciting challenge”.

Alongside Italian poets, he lists Seamus Heaney and Elizabeth Bishop as personal favourites. He recalled reading Bishop in his twenties, stating she “means a lot to me”, before declaring Heaney a “wonderfully exemplary figure… when I started writing he made it look possible to be beautiful and relevant.”

Since McKendrick’s careers spans more than forty years, my final question was the one I was most eager to ask: ‘what inspires you to write?’ In modest fashion, Jamie admitted that it’s “just a bad habit really … a compulsion … you feel bereft when you’re not writing,” before memorably concluding that, rather than his experiences inspiring his writing, his writing is what enables him to bring his experiences “into harmony”.

by Ellicia Pendle
@elliciapendle

Tony Robinson’s Weird World of Wonders @ Book to the Future

tony robinson

Sir Tony Robinson, presenter of Time Team and beloved Baldrick from Blackadder, came to the University of Birmingham on Friday 25th October to give a talk on some of the ‘weird and wonderful’ events that occurred in the past and which have inspired his series of children’s books.

Elgar Concert Hall filled up with a combination of teachers, university students, enthusiasts and primary school students all eager to see the acclaimed television personality-turned-author, and he did not disappoint. From the moment he ran onstage with his dazzling sparkly shoes, his charismatic and energetic performance engaged with children and adults alike.

From his hilarious, though not very PC, impression of Adolf Hitler crying like a baby, to his ‘mummification’ of a school teacher (accompanied with gory actions and sound effects), Sir Tony took us on a journey through time, pinpointing prominent events that could be perceived as dull to an audience of 7-10 year olds, and turning them into something fantastically interesting. He spoke about a range of prominent events in history, spanning from the Roman Empire and World War Two, to the slightly less well-known and wackier ‘invention of the Boat Cloak’, which all made for an unpredictable and constantly amusing performance.

Although slightly akin to a pantomime, the audience interactions provided laughs and really brought to life the events that he described. One unlucky pupil had to act out the first Olympics by running around the audience over and over, adding in actions whenever Sir Tony would call them out, “Javelin!”, “Shot put!”, after which Sir Tony informed him that the original Olympics would have been done in the nude(!) which had the boy’s fellow pupils in stitches.

In the Q+A session after his talk, an audience member asked what inspired Sir Tony to first start writing children’s books. Sir Tony explained how he had been approached by a publishing company and asked if he would consider it; and with the help of a friend he got to grips with writing. He told the audience that he realised that he could write on his own once he had decided on the most interesting, weird and wonderful historical events to write about. He then went on to highlight to the audience the importance of writing about something you are truly passionate about, which really resonated with me as a final year student with deadlines already beginning to loom.

The talk was concluded with the advice that everyone ought to write about the weird and wonderful elements of history as they would become rich, get to drive fast cars and be knighted!

Sir Tony Robinson’s Weird World of Wonders series aims to teach children about history in a way that excites and interests them, taking away the elements of dullness and boredom; and his talk inspired many audience members (me included) to buy a book from his series. In this manner we can see how he accomplished what Baldrick would call a very cunning plan!

by Hayley Yates

Bosworth: the Birth of the Tudors @ Book to the Future

henry tudor
After the BBC’s making of the series The White Queen there is no doubt the story of the Tudors’ rise to power is very topical. Attending a lecture on the Battle of Bosworth by Chris Skidmore, MP of Kingswood, enlightened me as to the true story of Henry Tudor and the recent deductions from the finding of Richard III’s skeleton earlier this year. Treachery, intrigue and betrayal were certainly the themes of the 15th century.

On the morning of 22nd August 1485, the army of Henry Tudor and of King Richard III met at Redemore, later known as Bosworth. With some luck and against the odds, Henry Tudor managed to defeat the three times larger army of Richard III. Henry Tudor, a 28-year-old Welshman who had just arrived back on British soil after 14 years in exile in Brittany, won the crown of England.

Chris painted us a brief picture of the history of the story of the rise of the Tudors. I would suggest reading his book for the full details. However, crucially he suggests the turning point for the reign of Richard III was with the ‘disappearance’ of the two Princes, sons of his dead brother Edward IV and his wife Elizabeth Woodville. Richard had certainly suffered huge loss, losing his wife and son within one year. It seems, on the scandal of the two boys’ possible death, Richard lost the hearts of many noblemen who defected to Henry Tudor in Brittany.

So what was Henry’s claim to the throne at the time? He was the son of Lady Margaret Beaufort and Edmund Tudor, the bastard brother of the then King. Henry’s main claim to the English throne derived from his mother through the House of Beaufort. Henry’s claim was somewhat tenuous: it was from a woman, and by illegitimate descent.

Part of the Wars of the Roses between the Houses of Lancaster (Henry) and York (Richard), the Battle of Bosworth was the accumulation of this bloody fight over the throne. Chris described a fascinating picture of the battle, explaining the misconceptions in location, the marshy area which forced changes in the battle which resulted in Henry’s win and the level of technological development for the era. For example, the many canons found at the site portray a King well prepared for battle. From the evidence Chris provided, it seemed Richard was rather sure of his win, and due to his army being three times the size of Henry’s, he truly had no reason to doubt this.

It was made clear to us that when the battle is going wrong the King should retreat to fight another day. However when John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford crushed Richard’s vanguard, Richard charged towards Henry’s standard with the crown on his head. History tells that the standard bearer was knocked down and killed, which normally would mean the end for Henry, however this was not the case and when William Stanley, a defector from Richard who had already let Henry pass through Wales undeterred, fought for Henry, the battle was lost for Richard.

It is interesting that William did not get any prize for joining the fight at this time, as he possibly won it for Henry. One explanation is the way Richard was killed, not as a King should be, but as a sort of execution and bound-up and carried like a pig through the battlefield. The skull shows a slice of skull cleanly shaved from Richard’s head, probably the blow that ultimately killed him.

Chris’s interpretation of the evidence and recent archives was fascinating. I cannot do justice to that here. Suffice to say it inspired me to buy his book to find out more! The battle was won by Henry, through the power of other nobles and possibly could not have been won hadn’t it been for the death of the two boy’s in the Tower. To find out the true story, and not the slightly over-dramatized one from The White Queen, would benefit any curious history lover.

by Holly Abel
@HollyAbel3

Doggerland @ Book to the Future

Professor Gaffney

Being a girl from Yorkshire myself, a lecture on a ‘lost’ land named Doggerland certainly sparked interest. Part of the University’s first literature festival ‘Book to the Future’, the lecture given by Professor Vince Gaffney celebrated innovative technology, inspiring findings and historical development of research. It was inspiring and informative, and gave a real understanding of the future of landscape archaeology in this area.

He began by reminding us of the other lost worlds history has presented. For example, James Churchward and the lost continent of Mu in the Pacific Ocean. We all know about the mysteries of Atlantis (and the BBC show is utilising this lost land at the moment). However it soon became clear Professor Gaffney was serious about a land lost beneath the rising sea levels during the last dramatic climate change, the ice age.

The land was inhabited in about 10000BC-5000BC and has become known as the Mesolithic period of hunter gatherers. The history of research into what has been named Doggerland was the main subject of the Professor’s lecture, and demonstrated the development of technology combined with a bit of luck!

Map showing hypothetical extent of Doggerland

The first ‘giant’ he stands on the shoulders of is Clement Reid who published ‘Submerged Forests’ in 1913. He described the remains of trees and stumps that have been submerged by marine transgression due to rising sea levels, meaning the stumps have become petrified. The next was Dr Miles Burkitt, who was pushed by his supervisor to study the Mesolithic period. He published two books, one in 1936 and one in 1939, the first being a ‘let down’ to his supervisor, as was nothing less than a combination of the then present research. His second book however was influenced by the finding of the Colinda Harpoon which a trawler dug up from the peat off the Dogger Banks, in the area of Leman and Ower. This exciting piece of luck demonstrates how evidence on the era was being discovered and put to scientific use.

Professor Gaffney went on to explain how the oil and gas industry helped with his work by surveying the vast area of the South North Sea. Using the help of Dr Ken Thomson, Petroleum Geo-Services (the group carrying out the surveys under the water for oil and gas exploration) gave them 6000 squared km (apparently this is an incredibly small area in relation to normal archaeological digs) to carry out their 3D research on.

This was the turning point for the team, they could begin to see rivers in the layers of sediment under the ocean and get a true picture of vegetative life 10,000 years ago. The main issue is of course that the data will not allow them to see settlements, but due to the developing technology, the team can explore the underwater land using the most modern 3D tools.

The main thing I took from the talk is how by collaborating with many groups across the world, the team has been able to expand their work to areas off of Wales and Qatar for example. Off of South East Asia there is an area named Sundaland, not much smaller than India, lost to the sea. In 2013 they won the European Archeological Heritage Award, which truly demonstrates the value of their work to the field.

I will certainly be keeping up with developments in this area. It is amazing how finding one harpoon can spark off research that will keep Professor Gaffney enthralled for years to come.

by Holly Abel
@HollyAbel3