Tuesday, 1 May 2012

North East literary history

Not for the first time do I find myself consumed by North East envy. Living in the East Midlands it is always hard to grasp our regional identity. Our patch covers Louth, in Lincolnshire  (try getting there by public transport) and King's Sutton, which is I think to the south of Oxfordshire but technically in Northamptonshire. I'll give a fiver to anyone who has every travelled between those two outposts.
The North East is easier to understand. In Fix This Moment: writers respond to North East literary history, joint editor Stevie Rennie remarks that the four areas making up the North East have in common their "industrial heritage, geographical isolation and the lilt to our voices". What the area also has is a strong independent publishing sector, reflected in this book from New Writing North (£6.99, 978 0 9558829 7 5) which is well worth reading by anyone interested in either the literature of the region or the small press scene. I would have liked to have seen a much bigger book, with more earlier  history and something about people's reading rather than the concentration on writing, but the book is still of great value. Michael Chaplin provides an personal record of his family's writing (he is the son of Sid Chaplin), Andy Croft (a Five Leaves regular) gives the history of writing in Middlesbrough, David Almond tells of the Panurge years, Ellen Phethean describes the women's writing scene, Neil Astley provides some material on Bloodaxe's history, Jackie Litherland goes through the exciting 35 years of the Colpitts poetry readings, another Five Leaves' regular Peter Mortimer describes his 40 years or so running Iron Press, Nolan Dalrymple provides an academic essay on David Almond and the book concludes with an essay on the Morden Tower venue by Stevie Rennie.
The other joint editor is Claire Malcolm, head of New Writing North, which is itself worthy of attention though I would not envy her going to work every day to their office in Holy Jesus Hospital in Newcastle.
The book could easily have had other chapters on, say, Jon Silkin and Stand and... so much more, but then I'd be really really jealous.

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