Three years of my life as an EU student of English Literature at the University of East Anglia,England.
As mentioned previously in my blog, I had the opportunity to be part of the 5th UEA FLY Festival, a literature festival for young people, as a trainee! FLY took place in Norwich all of last week and I’m very happy to say it’s been one of the best experiences and weeks of my life! I’ve had such a good time, I don’t even know where to start. I feel honoured and so lucky to have been part of something like that, working as the “Press Team”, especially the week before my graduation. It’s something I’m not ready to forget!
So where to start?
As written in my previous blog, on the first day of the festival, FLY in the City, I was working as an Ambassador at The Garage, in the city centre. Although I was technically working, I got to watch performance and go to and participate in workshops all day! It started with Matt Windle’s “Poetry with a Punch.” Matt read (performed) some of his poems which I found absolutely amazing. One in particular stood out to me, it was about being at school and being bullied. I loved the way in which he delivered his poem, his insisting on the rhythm of the words… It felt very musical and contemporary. I think that, thanks to people like Matt Windle but also students from UEA, I’ve finally found the kind of poetry that’s for me!
The first day and Matt’s performance reminded me of how important it is to have such festivals and offer young people opportunities to try something different and gain confidence! At Matt Windle said, it’s all about giving young people a voice as well as giving them the means and inspiration to express themselves. I know back in school I would have loved to go to a literature festival like FLY and see that there were lots of people out there who liked literature and that I was more than a nerd who did all her homework.
Afterwards, we had two workshops which were both amazing! I particularly like the one with Molly Naylor about writing poetry! I’ve never done a creative writing module at UEA so the exercises we did were completely new to me. For years, I’ve wanted to write but never take the time and didn’t feel confident enough. I think this applies to most (if not all) of the young people present that day because, at first, so many seemed almost angry to be there and by the end of the workshops everybody seemed to have had a lot of fun! It was quite funny to see the change at the end of that day, after having done another writing workshop with Matt Windle, where we were encouraged to think more about rhymes, humour and twists.
At the end of the day, everybody came back together and those who wanted were invited to go onstage to read some of the things they’d written. So many groups went onstage to read their stuff – including myself, with another ambassador, a couple of teachers and students. It was really fun and we had such a great time! 😀
In the evening, I couldn’t go back to UEA to see the play unfortunately, but I heard about it from Louise, the trainee working with me. School students had written several short plays and were invited to perform them at UEA, in front of their family! Louise loved it and told me that the themes were all so great and really reflected young people’s lives and concerns: those plays covered themes such as suicide, homosexuality…
On the Tuesday, the festival moved back to the UEA campus. The day started with Martyn Bedford, author of the acclaimed novel Flip! His talk was really funny, I remember him reading out some of his most asked questions (such as “How can you write about teenagers when you’re so old?”) and reading a Google translate version of the French blurb for one of his novels. The lecture theatre was filled with laughter and it was hilarious! Although I did not know Martyn before, I was fascinated to hear about how he turns ideas into stories. He told us some stories and sources of inspiration for his young adult novels, Flip, Never Ending, Twenty Questions for Gloria… Flip, for instance, was inspired by an email he received from an old school-friend which reminded Martyn about how much he wished he was him when they were both younger. Never Ending came from a car accident Martyn and his family very nearly avoided. Twenty Questions for Gloria really stood out to me, as it is based on his childhood desire to escape and the idea of lovers wanting to be separate from the rest of the world. I only read one or two series of young adult fiction (plus Series of Unfortunate Events, which I never consider young adult fiction or even children’s literature, although it is…) and it was never something that really appealed to me but I have to admit that now I really want to read those three novels by Martyn Bedford and other authors who came to FLY this year.
After Martyn was THE thing Louise and I were the most excited about I think… Debs Newbold’s performance and retelling of King Lear! It was SO good! I’m now cured from my Shakespeare phobia. The performance was so funny, Debs was brilliant, and it even brought back memories from the play I didn’t even think I had.
Although her performance is very contemporary and plays with the contrast between Shakespeare/nowadays, her King Lear went back to its root in the sense that Debs did incorporate some lines from the original play, that storytelling is an ancient tradition and that, without any prop or anything, Debs really insisted on the viewer’s imagination and the idea that spectators make the play (more Shakespeare module memories…). All I can say if that if you ever get the chance to see Debs Newbold live, GO! We managed to talk to Debs a bit too and she was so lovely and friendly! 🙂
I also went to see Frank Cottrell-Boyce giving the Mal Peet Memorial talk but unfortunately, I missed part of it! It was quite funny though and he talked about some stories from his life, etc.
Later on, there were so many different and cool-sounding workshops to choose from but I picked Comic Strip Stories because I’ve been wanting to read more graphic novels and manga recently. I particularly liked the idea because, as we said in the workshop, comics are often seen as non-literary and too often dismissed which is why the workshop-leader, Jake Huntley (my Science Fiction seminar leader, woop woop!) mentioned UEA having a module about that (which I wish I’d done because it sounded amazing and I heard it was great). In the workshop, we were encouraging to work in groups to think about a story and design our own comic strip! That was fun – I did one with one of the girls from the Media Team and a student Ambassador about us three being aliens invading UEA on graduation day and then returning to Saturn where Daleks were just walking around the planet.
On the Wednesday, with my family having arrived in Norwich, I could only go to see BREIS! I was soooooooo excited about him being here. I’d never heard of him but, while preparing for the festival, Antoinette Moses had lent me BREIS’s book “Brilliant Rappers Educated Intelligent Students.” It features from of his song lyrics with exercises or questions encouraging readers (students) to think about writing and what words can do. I totally fell in love with the book and particularly with the lyrics for “Fear of Failure” which I found relatable.
At FLY, BREIS’s performance was probably one of the best things I’ve ever seen. He performed a few of his song/poems, including “Identity” which I loved! But what made the whole performance so great was the interaction between BREIS and the audience and how amazing he was in front of everybody. He made the whole lecture theatre come up with a chorus about jamming on the bus, made everybody sing, made us do a rap battle… It was hilarious (and slightly embarassing sometimes to be honest)! I loved it! 😀 I love Slam poetry now and really wanted to go to the poetry slam in the afternoon, which was apparently great, but I had to skip that and all of the Thursday.
Friday was the last day of the Festival and I was a bit sad about how fast it had gone and that it was about to end because I’d had such an amazing time! Friday was Sixth Form day so it started with a Welcome Talk by the most amazing seminar leader and lecturer at UEA who should really had a fan-club because of how much everybody adores her… Clare Connors! The talk was short but awesome: it was about the school of LDC (Literature, Drama and Creative Writing) at UEA and what can be studied but also the idea of “welcoming” and the word “welcome”, how political it can be (saying it in one language rather than another), etc. I nearly wanted to cry because it reminded me of the very first lecture(s) in my first week of university and also of lecture at UEA, some of the best seminars I’ve been in and it just hit me that three days later, I’d be graduating and that I’d never go to fascinating lectures or seminars again and that I’d loved studying English Literature so much despite sometimes hating it with a passion.
After this Welcome Talk, the author Lisa Owens was in conversation with Antoinette Moses. I thought it was probably the best talk of the whole week because it was very much oriented towards being a writer, how to write, how to deal with writer’s block, how to find inspiration… And I found that very inspirational and hope it was very useful to the budding writers present in the room at the time. Lisa also talked about her recent novel Not-Working which I really want to read now.
As with the other days, there were many different workshops available. I chose “Writing the Past” which I am sooo happy I went to! It was about how archives can help writers come up with stories, characters, anecdotes, setting… We focused on Annie Kenney, a Suffragette I did not know who had a very incredible life and deserves so much respect. I found the workshop fascinating and almost moving because it made me think about how much we owe to women like her and how important it is to remember all this and how much progress has been made. As one of the workshop leaders said, archive is important because we need to look at the past to continue to move forward!
And the festival was coming to an end… It was time for another performance I’d been very excited about: James McDermott’s play Rubber Ring! Very inspired by his own life, Rubber Ring is about growing up gay in Sheringham, being a teenager confused about sexual identity, wanting to escape, wanting to go to the city, about the important of having heroes and role models (in this case, Morrissey)… Overall, I found the play very funny but it was also very touching. I would really recommend it to anyone, and it was a perfect pick for FLY! Afterwards, there was a workshop/Q&A with James to end the week but I couldn’t go to that. The festival therefore ended there for Louise and I, and it was strange to leave…
My main role as a trainee was to take over the UEA FLY Festival Twitter account with Louise, so we spent the weeks before the festival and the week of the Festival tweeting A LOT, quoting some of the most insightful things we’d heard during FLY, tweeting photos, talking about what was happening… It was really fun and a great way to record our memories and feelings! I’m glad I can always go back to the account and find all these quotes, etc, and almost “re-live” the week!
You can see the whole Twitter feed here.
Now that the festival is over, it’s a very strange feeling since it’s been such an exciting build-up to it and an great week full of laughter, entertainment, literature, poetry, meeting people… I’m a bit sad it’s over to be honest but my mind’s now full of awesome memories and I know I would love to be part of something like that again in the future so I hope that in the coming years I’ll be able to go to festivals and perhaps even work for similar events!
I just want to say thank you again for having been offered this traineeship (I remember getting the email while being sat on the grass on campus) and for giving me an amazing opportunity that made me have so much to look forward to, that gave me so many memories, and for reminding me why literature matters so much!
Photos and videos by Louise Lazell and myself.