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Robert McCrum speaks at Scribble Conference

  • Date: 22 July 2013
  • Area: North
Man speaking at a lecturn

Robert McCrum speaking at the Scribble Conference. Credit: courtesy Cartwheel Arts

The Scribble/Tell Us Another One project has been running for three years. It was set up by Rick Walker who runs Cartwheel Arts, a grassroots organisation combining regular and free access to creative writing, to nurture diverse artists of the future through free-to-access writing sessions in Rochdale, Oldham and Bury. Cartwheel Arts received funding through the Arts Council's Lottery funded Grants for the arts programme.

Alison Boyle, the Art's Council's Relationship Manager, Literature, for the North area, attended the conference and told us about her experience.

" 'To disrupt the still waters of convention' is a pretty high aim for a writer of any calibre.' These words from respected literary commentator Robert McCrum were a talking point for those who attended the conference.

This year's conference was in some ways like last year's. We witnessed friends meeting - proper friends. Friends who, if asked, will give brutally honest feedback, the kind that tends to make great art.

The workshop leaders who are supported by public funds from the Arts Council to convey their craft to the fledglings of Rochdale, Oldham and Bury through many hours of creative writing and showcasing are professional writers, performance poets and actors working in the North. They are the bossy friends without qualms, prepared to tell anyone who is keen to learn, 'Go on, get on with it' when no words have been written or said all morning.

Robert McCrum, after a thought-provoking talk that ranged from Shakespeare as crowd sourcer to Dickens as format innovator, and included a foray into the concept of "free" (freedom to write, and a requirement to survive on the expectation of free-to-view text), told the packed room: 'originality is tricky, and powerful writing comes from rage and marginality'. In this aphorism there is a telling commonality with the principles of the Scribble project. Much of the writing produced by this community of friends is raw and powerful for beginning at the margins, yet there is an undercurrent of being invited in. The writing can be gentle, for example a Muslim mother's wish through singsong-style verse for her child to be healthy and live a happy life.

In the polyglot audience were writers from Mirpur in Northeast Pakistan, from Nigeria, India and Britain. If Globish isn't the Queen's English, perhaps the languages spoken over the tea caddy at this conference weren't the Queen's English either, and maybe they ought to be."

This year's conference underlines how much important work is happening across the North. Comma Press, an Arts Council National portfolio organisation, recently released their free iPhone app, Gimbal. Owen Lowery was Britain's Under 21 Judo Champion until he became a paraplegic following an accident at a fundraiser for his friend who was injured through the sport. Owen later completed a PhD in creative writing at Bolton University, for which he received first class honours. His first poetry collection was recently published by Carcanet Press, an Arts Council National Portfolio organisation.

National portfolio funded festivals this autumn include the annual Manchester Literature Festival, between 7-20 October with appearances by Helen Fielding, Jo Nesbo and Eoin Colfer and the Ilkley Literature Festival (4-20 October) with Colin Dexter and Germaine Greer among the highlights.

The Durham Book Festival, supported by our Grants for the arts programme, is taking place between 12-20 October and launches its programme on 7 August. The inaugural Rochdale Literature and Ideas Festival takes place between 25-27 October with confirmed guests including the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Gyles Brandreth.