Nottingham Writers’ Studio takes London by storm

Thomas Humphrey


Last weekend Nottingham Writers’ Studio (NWS) boldly, yet briefly migrated south. Their almost Chaucerian journey saw thirteen chosen pilgrims carry with them a diverse assortment of stories, styles and genres. Except their train trundled towards London, not the Canterbury of Chaucer’s seminal work. And these battle-hardened bards weren’t on a religious or phatic mission. Instead they intended to storm London, and besiege the citadel of publishing houses that resides there.

This was a campaign that had been chartered into NWS’ very Arts Council funding bid, as this flourishing collective (now tallying some two hundred members) is determined to make London sit up and pay attention to their achievements. After all, if the mountain won’t come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must take an East Midlands train to the mountain. And these first few steps towards the summit of literary acclaim took NWS straight to the (literally) bright lights of The Courtyard Theatre, not too far from Old Street.

Old Street lies north of the metropolis and has rapidly become the “silicon valley” of London. But it also sits close to the resoundingly hipster heart of London’s East End. As a result, Old Street is a place where tides of beards and mustachios lap fretfully at the financially solvent cliffs of the UK’s tech boom. And rapid gentrification simultaneously buffets against the council housing where community theatre The Courtyard nestles.

Alison Moore © Andrew Kells

Alison Moore © Andrew Kells

This made it a well-suited venue for NWS to shore the fragments of their cultural splendour against the slippery banks of London’s publishing industry. Unfortunately, however, no literary agents were coaxed out into the cold night for this mirthful spoken word event this time. But the publishers clearly missed a trick, as the width and breadth of NWS’ potential appeal could clearly be seen. Their books sold quickly and freely amongst both the home and the away fans that attended.

This wide-ranging appeal also seemed cleverly wired into their programme. From poems about the Isle of Lundy to local stories, and concatenated crowd-pleasers to macabre genre fiction, this group had it all. Geographically speaking too, some writers were Nottingham born-and-bred, whilst others hailed from places as far away as Essex. And they delivered a vast array of styles between them, from fragmentary post-modern pieces to performances by established writers like Alison Moore and Michael Eaton (who produced a rousing, singsong act – the like of which you sadly rarely see these days).

Michael Eaton. © Andrew Kells

Michael Eaton. © Andrew Kells

So whether it was Challis, Clark, Colley, Dale, Gibson, Hart, Kells, Smith, Theokritoff, Vaughn-Williams or lead-champion Pippa Hennessy, all the performances were quick and smart. Rather brilliantly too, they all performed against a sparse, almost Absurdist backdrop of two small potted trees and a small moon-like disco ball that cast a constellation of reflections across the candle-lit room. The crowd always reacted enthusiastically too, so these Midlands crusaders remain upbeat about venturing once more unto the breach and resuming their quest later this year.

If you would like to join them or know more about NWS, you can email and speak to Pippa directly. Some of the texts performed on the night are also available online. Pippa is also involved in trying to win a bid to make Nottingham a UNESCO City of Literature too, something you can support here.