Category Archives: Manchester Literature Festival 2011

Hungry the Stars and Everything: Emma Jane Unsworth

Emma Jane Unsworth studied English Literature at Liverpool university and is an accomplished writer of short fiction and a locally acclaimed journalist from Manchester. Her debut novel Hungry the Stars and Everything seamlessly interweaves tales of greed, addiction and love with a little touch of magic realism.

The tale follows Helen Burns, a 29 year old food critic who is assigned to review a mysterious new restaurant called ‘Bethel’ which has been tipped to receive a Michelin star. With each course that is brought out by the maitre de, Helen recalls memories that link together to form the novel’s plot.

The novel delves into teenage fantasies and sexual awakening, as Unsworth explores how the decisions made during adolescence can deeply affect those made later in life. Zipping back and forth in time, the story begins on Christmas Eve 1991 when Helen is on the cusp of puberty and totally fed up of being a good little girl. After sneaking downstairs to eat one of her father’s Christmas presents, the birthmark on her palm begins to burn red hot and it’s at this moment that she sees the devil for the first time.

Unsworth’s writing style blends warm Mancunian humour with a journalist’s eye for detail, and although the novel is at heart a romance, it has a dark pulse beating away. At times it feels as though Unsworth has enjoyed playing with her heroine, as Helen lurches between moments of personal epiphany and the next is plunged into self-annihilation. You never know quite what to expect next in Hungry the Stars and Everything, and it is precisely this kind of plate-spinning of themes and plots which makes Unsworth such a promising new writer.

You really should get down to Waterstone’s on Deansgate and buy a copy.

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Sean O’Brien and John McAuliffe: Manchester Literature Festival 2011

Cladded in zinc like a huge roof tile, some might say that the Martin Harris Centre lacks the gravitas associated with other established poetry venues across the city such as St Anne’s Church, the Cathedral or Whitworth Hall. But once inside the 150-seat theatre, it’s easy to see, or rather hear why the venue has become a favourite place for the MLF to hold its poetry readings.

In 2009 the Irish poets Michael Longley and Tom French graced the Martin Harris Centre for an evening of poetry, and then at last year’s festival the poet émigré, Seamus Heaney, took to the lectern at Whitworth Hall. Can you spot the MLF theme that’s emerging here?

John McAuliffe is the latest Irish poet to showcase his works at an MLF event, when usually he’s the one introducing the Irish poets. Luckily for McAuliffe, Vona Groarke was on hand to introduce the poet from Kerry, and the other highly acclaimed poet of the evening, Sean O’Brien.

At first it might appear (and hear) like McAuliffe and O’Brien are an unlikely pairing, but what unites the poets in their latest collections is an interest for exploring what it is to be away from something you love, be this a person, place or thing. Continue reading

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Emma Jane Unsworth and John Niven: Manchester Literature Festival 2011

Event Room, Waterstone’s Deansgate, Saturday 15th October 2011

There’s a saying in Manchester that on the sixth day God created MANchester. While some may doubt the truth of this statement, what can’t be disputed is that on the sixth day of the Manchester Literature Festival, novelists John Niven and Emma Jane Unsworth held a hilarious reading of their new books The Second Coming and Hungry the Stars and Everything.

Both novels are an irreverent take on conventional religion; The Second Coming is awash with blasphemous characters (including God himself) while Hungry the Stars and Everything features a charismatic yo-yo playing devil.

Niven and Unsworth are both writers of fiction that defy standard classification, on a bookshelf they’d be more at home next to writers such as Chuck Palahniuk, Jonathon Swift or John Kennedy Tool. When introducing the novelists to the sold-out audience, Cathy Bolton, the MLF’s Festival Director summed up the pair as “two of the wittiest and freshest writers writing in the UK”.

Emma studied English Literature at Liverpool university and is an accomplished writer of short fiction and a locally acclaimed journalist, her debut novel Hungry the Stars and Everything follows Helen Burns, a 29 year old food critic who is assigned to review a mysterious restaurant called Bethel. The novel, which is set in Manchester, interweaves tales of greed, addiction and alcoholism with ‘magic realism’, hence the devil’s appearances throughout the book. Emma explained where the idea for featuring the devil came from,

“I was really interested in fantasies, especially teenage fantasies and sexual awakening. The devil fitted into this as the ultimate rebel and master of temptation.” Continue reading

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Commonword Poetry Factor: Contact Theatre

14th October 2011, Contact Theatre 7.30pm

The Contact Theatre is arguably one of the most striking buildings in the city and when you step inside this dynamic  building it’s easy to see why so many young people are drawn to it. Inside the decor is like a box of smarties, with walls painted in vibrant purples, oranges and reds, and there’s also smatterings of stainless steel silver everywhere which give the theatre an edgy, urban feel.

The setting was perfect for an evening of diverse poetry featuring seven young performance poets from across the North West. The Poetry Factor made its debut for the Manchester Literature Festival in ‘Space Two,’ an intimate theatre space that seats around fifty people. Commonword’s Martin Duella described the concept behind Poetry Factor as “the idea to give young people coming into spoken word a bit of experience and ongoing mentoring.” The night was hosted by Chanje Kunda, an established performance poet from Manchester who had a friendly rapport with judges Helen Clare, Baba Israel, Gerry Potter and Segun Lee-French.

Pooja Sitpura was the first performer to shake off nerves with her recitals of ‘Disarm Britain,’ ‘Wonderbra’ and ‘Hate’. Poojah’s poetry is inspired by personal observations of social injustice and negative portrayals of women and young people in the media. Her poetry was instilled with evocative imagery and delivered with a fiery passion. Similarly Paris Kaur’s first poem of the night entitled ‘Barbie Girl’ deconstructed the issues surrounding portrayals of women in the cosmetics industry. The poem included snippets of words from cosmetic adverts which contrasted to the lines of narration in which a girl “starves herself thin and makes herself sick”.

Kayleigh Kavanagh and Michael Benet’s performances both depicted love and relationships in all their stark realities. Kayleigh showed a vulnerability that was reflected in the content of her poetry as she explored love using conceits, this came across most poignantly in ‘Barriers’. Michael demonstrated an aptitude in his poetry to turn moments of ugly brutality into tender desire, in ‘I Kissed Her Twice’ the image of the poet tracing his lover’s palm with his thumb was particularly striking.  While in contrast, ‘The War’ was a torrid and intimate poem about a soured relationship which Michael recited with a confident delivery: “I’m scared of her just as much as me / We are too young to know how to clean this mess.” Continue reading

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Commonword Poetry Factor: Manchester Literature Festival 2011

The Poplar Tree is looking forward to reviewing the Commonword Poetry Factor for the Manchester Literature Festival’s 2011 website. The event is described as “a Dragons’ Den” of young performance poets. Each poet has to pitch their entries in a bid to convince judges Helen Clare, Baba Israel, Segun Lee-Frnch and Gerry Potter that they have the tightest verse and beats to find fame on the live poetry circuit. There’s a cash prize for the winner and an opportunity to take part in next year’s Lit Fest (oooo!)

The event is being held at Contact on Oxford Road, this Friday (14th Oct) at 7.30pm

Tickets: £5/£3 concessions book @ www.contactmcr.com/commonword

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MLF 2011…

13 days +68 events  = the Manchester Literature Festival 2011:

1 lit quiz x 1 literary pub walk = a celebration of the best writing talents

4 competitions + 3 awards   = acclaimed in the city, the UK and beyond

The new Manchester Literature Festival brochure has been unveiled and The Poplar Tree is getting a bit hot under its leaves in anticipation…

The festival is now in its 6th year and continues to blend home-grown talent with acclaimed authors, poets and journalists from across the world. The MLF’s ability to cross cultures, genres and social groups is what makes the festival so unique, and with 22 locations, Manchester becomes both muse and stage for poetry, novels, competitions, awards, tours and theatre.

The MLF began 18 years ago as a small poetry festival organised by Cathy Bolton (Festival Director) and Jon Atkin (Festival Coordinator), who both manage the city-wide event, and the festival is quickly gaining a national reputation for its quality and originality with its eclectic nature separating itself from other literary festivals such as the Bath or Hay.

Every year the MLF is undoubtedly different, but the one question that remains pursed on The Poplar Tree’s lips is; how can it top last year’s Seamus Heaney recital at the Whitworth Hall? Well, where to start… a third of the events showcase international talent so maybe Europe is a good place to start with Nordic crime writers K O Dahl, Thomas Enger and Yrsa Sigurdardottir, or you could be transported across the Atlantic with Cuba’s leading contemporary writer Victor Rodriguez Nunez or Daniel Mordzinski with ‘A Look into the Soul of Spanish American Literature’. You could then take a flight in the imagination with Canada’s award-winning writer Allan Stratton, or if you fancy warmer climes there’s the celebrated South-Asian writers Tahmima Anam and Dipika Rai. Continue reading

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Manchester Literature Festival 2011 – Volunteer Open Evening

There’s going to be an open evening this Wednesday (13th July) for anyone who’s interested in becoming a volunteer for this year’s Manchester Literature Festival. The Poplar Tree was a volunteer at 6 events last year and had a great time – see the post a few below this one for full details.

The line up for the 2011 festival isn’t being announced until August, but it’s well worth attending the open evening to find out more about it. The organisers Jon Atkin and Cathy Bolton are really friendly and they’ll give you the complete low down on what to expect if you become a volunteer.

The meeting is being held at City Library on Deansgate from 6pm and will take place  in the Becker Room on the first floor.

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Manchester Literature Festival 2011: Call for Volunteers

Last week the Manchester International Festival announced its lineup for the summer, but they’re not the only ones to get the festival bug this spring.

The Manchester Literature Festival has begun its search for volunteers to help out at events across the city in October. The Poplar Tree had a brilliant time as a volunteer at last year’s festival, and you can read about all the things it got up to by clicking on the image below. If it inspires you, visit the Manchester Lit Festival website where you can list your details and volunteer for this year’s events:

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