Wednesday, 18 April 2018

20th Century Notts, part one 1900-1909

The Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature website is hosting 20th Century Notts, a weekly series looking back at our county’s history and heritage through a literary lens. These articles are, and will continue to be, first featured on the City of Literature website  three years at a time. Once each decade has been completed it will then appear here. So, as they are currently up to 1911, here is the opener, 1900 to 1909.


Book of the year: Willow the King: The Story of a Cricket Match by J. C. Snaith (1900)

In the year 1900, author J. C. Snaith played first-class cricket for Nottinghamshire, the same year in which his novel Willow the King was published. The book, about an annual cricket match between Little Clumpton and Hickory, has been described as ‘the best cricket story ever written’.

A Jack of all genres, Snaith wrote novels of romance, humour, history and crime. He is credited by the Oxford dictionary with the earliest use of the expression ‘street person’.
Between 1890 and 1913 there was an amateur cricket team called the Allahakbarries. This team often featured famous writers, with Arthur Conan Doyle, P. G. Wodehouse, Jerome K. Jerome, A. A. Milne, A. E. W. Mason, E. W. Hornung and Walter Raleigh all turning out for the side set up by J. M. Barrie (pictured bowling). During one of their ‘friendly’ matches, Barrie’s wife took the crease and was promptly struck on the ankle by a yorker from left-hander J. C. Snaith, a ringer if ever there was one. Apparently, Snaith didn’t know whether to appeal for forgiveness or lbw.

It was in 1900 that the poet and playwright John Drinkwater became involved in Nottingham’s amateur theatre scene making an appearance in a performance at the Mechanics. At that time Drinkwater worked on the staff of the Northern Assurance Co. in Victoria Street. The young, cash-stripped office worker used to buy rotten fruit from the Market Place to bulk up his lunch.


Book of the year: Forest Folk by James Prior (1901)
J. M. Barrie commented that James Prior was a ‘fine writer’, and D. H. Lawrence rated him, but Prior never reached the heights his talent warranted.
Forest Folk is Nottingham born Prior’s best-known work. Full of the local vernacular it’s awash with believable characters coming together through the demands of country life, all taking place in North Notts during an eventful period of history that included the Napoleonic Wars and Luddite riots.
The former Forest Folk pub/hotel in Blidworth was one of the few named after a novel. Would Prior, a teetotaller, have approved?  
I were born an’ bred I’ th’ forest, and lay mysen to die here; it’s a fairish ordinary sort o’ soil to live on an’ be buried in. (from Forest Folk)
In 2017 Spokesman Books breathed new life into this lost local literary classic.


Book of the year: The Little White Bird by J. M. Barrie (1902)

It was this adult novel that introduced the character Peter Pan, a magical boy who flies around with fairies. Between 1883 and 1884 Barrie had worked as a writer on the Nottingham Journal. It has been suggested that it was in Nottingham that he developed Peter Pan, apparently after witnessing a street urchin wandering through Clifton Grove. It’s more likely that his inspiration for a boy for whom death would be "an awfully big adventure" is likely to be traced back to the death of his brother who died in a skating accident. Barrie later said that his mother had taken some comfort from the thought that her golden boy would never grow up. Barrie did however take regular walks through the Arboretum which does share a few features with Neverland.
The reason birds can fly and we can't is simply because they have perfect faith, for to have faith is to have wings. (from The Little White Bird)

Philip James Bailey died in this year. Nottingham-born Bailey is best-known for his epic poem Festus, initially written at Basford House (pictured) where his father lived. Festus was constantly being added to by Bailey who read his poem to the writers William and Mary Howitt at their Chemist’s shop in Nottingham.
We live in deeds, not years; in thoughts not breaths;

In feelings, not in figures on a dial.

We should count time by heart throbs: he most lives

Who thinks most, feels the noblest, acts the best.

(from Festus)


Book of the year: The Management of Money by Lucy H. Yates (1903)

The daughter of a lace-maker, Lucy Helen Yates was born in Basford. She wrote for The Girls’ Own Paper, offering fiction and advice on housekeeping and cookery. One of her many books, The Management of Money, was published in 1903. It was a handbook of finance for women. Yates was a suffragist who lectured on 'The Financial Independence of Women’, advising women to read the money column in the newspapers.

Baroness Emma Magdolna Rozália Mária Jozefa Borbála "Emmuska" Orczy de Orci (better-known as Baroness Orczy) struggled to find a publisher for her novel The Scarlet Pimpernel so she rewrote it as a play. This was first performed at Nottingham’s Theatre Royal in 1903 where it received a lukewarm reception. However, the play’s stars, Fred Terry and Julia Neilson, had confidence in the play and, with a rewritten final act, took it to London’s West End to some success. This led to the novel’s publication in 1905, a book of influence on the mystery genre, arguably creating the ‘masked hero’ prototype: often a person of wealth with an alter ego who operates in the shadows. Zorro, Batman and other heroes have followed our Pimpernel’s lead.


Book of the year: Recollections of Old Nottingham by Anne Gilbert (1904)
Anne Gilbert’s Recollections of Old Nottingham was based on a lecture she had given three years earlier to a Nottingham literary society. In the book, Gilbert described Nottingham as it was in the 19th Century.
J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up premiered in this year at the Duke of York's Theatre in London. Nina Boucicault took the title role and Gerald du Maurier played Captain Hook. During his time in Nottingham, J. M. Barrie lived at 5 Birkland Avenue.
He worked for the Nottingham Journal on Pelham Street.
He was a member of the Nottingham Sette of Odde Volumes, a literary society that met fortnightly on Victoria Street to discuss and read literature. Barrie was said to have been moved when made an honorary member of the group co-founded by John Potter Briscoe. 


Book of the year: Bypaths of Nottinghamshire History by John Potter Briscoe (1905)
John Potter Briscoe, Principal Librarian of the Nottingham Free Public Libraries from 1869 to 1916, wrote many books on Nottingham, including Bypaths of Nottinghamshire.
Potter Briscoe was an original member of the Library Association and a leading figure in the development of professional librarianship. He extended Nottingham’s services to provide books especially for children, giving birth to the Nottingham Library for Boys and Girls.
‘The Hemlock Stone’ at Bramcote is one of the enigmas of the County, not only to the rank and file of its inhabitants but to the generally well-informed portion of our community. (from Bypaths of Nottinghamshire)

The sister of the writer Henry Septimus Sutton, and daughter of a publisher/bookseller Richard Sutton, Mrs. Eliza S. Oldham died in this year. Oldham was author of The Haunted House (1863) and By the Trent (1864), the latter being an award-winning novel set in a fictionalised Nottingham.
Upon the river the wind rode, and with playful hands turned back the ripples, and carved them curiously, and whipped their edges softy into foam. (from By the Trent)


Book of the year: The Clifton Book (Nottingham) by Rev. Rosslyn Bruce (1906)
The Rector of Clifton’s The Clifton Book (Nottingham) was published in Nottingham by Henry B. Saxton. Recording a thousand years of local history it was compiled by the Notts born writer, clergyman and animal rights campaigner Francis Rosslyn Courtenay Bruce (1871-1956).

Having been an uncertificated teacher at his local chapel in Eastwood, a twenty-one-year-old D. H. Lawrence took up a two-year teacher training course at University College, Nottingham.
‘The big college built of stone,’ at which Lawrence attended, is now NTU’s Arkwright Building. Lawrence was critical of his education here, writing that his professors ‘went on in such a miserable jogtrot, earn-your-money manner that I was startled… I came to feel that I might as well be taught by gramophones… I doubted them, I began to despise or distrust things.’
Lawrence did admit to gaining maturity from the experience, and it was during his time at University College that he began to write Laetitia later to become The White Peacock.

He was assessed as being ‘well-read, scholarly and refined.’ Whilst his professors thought he’d ‘make an excellent teacher of upper classes,’ they added, ‘but for a large class of boys in a rough district he would not have sufficient persistence and enthusiasm.’

The big college built of stone, standing in the quiet street, with a rim of grass and lime-trees all so peaceful: she felt it remote, a magic-land. Ursula Brangwen’s view of University College, from D. H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow (1915).


Book of the year: Gods and Heroes of the North by Alice Zimmern (1907)

Nottingham born Alice Zimmern was a writer, translator and suffragist whose books made a big contribution to the debate on the education and rights of women. Gods and Heroes of the North published by Longmans, Green and co. tells of the Gods worshipped by our English ancestors.
When the Angles and Saxons invaded Britain and gradually spread their rule over the greater part of this island, they brought with them their own customs and religion. (from Gods and Heroes of the North by Alice Zimmern)

Dudley Dexter Watkins (1907-1969) came to Nottingham as a three-year-old and spent his formative years here. A student at Nottingham’s School of Art, he went on to illustrate the Scottish comics The Broons and Oor Wullie.
He also created strips for The Beano, The Dandy and The Beezer, drawing characters such as Lord Snooty and Desperate Dan. Whilst working on the D. C. Thompson comics Watkins was the only artist allowed to sign his work.



Book of the year: The Children's Encyclopedia originated and edited by Arthur Mee (1908)
Stapleford-born Arthur Mee was a journalist at our Post and our Express, and he edited our Evening News. The founder of the Children’s Encyclopedia, Children’s Newspaper, Children’s Shakespeare and Children’s Bible, he produced over a million words a year. The son of a militant non-conformist, Mee refused an honorary title several times during his life.

His Children’s Encyclopedia broke new ground in its approach to education, aiming to make learning interesting and enjoyable. With clearly-written articles it intended to develop character and a sense of duty.
It is a Big Book for Little People, and it has come into the world to make your life happy and wise and good. That is what we are meant to be. That is what we will help each other to be, Your affectionate friend, Arthur Mee. (from The Children’s Encyclopedia)

The present Albert Hall was built in 1908 (after the first one was destroyed by a fire). The new hall was dedicated in March 1909 and a year later it was officially opened by Lady Florence Boot. This new Albert Hall Methodist Mission was built in the style of an Edwardian Theatre or Music Hall and, in the practice of temperance halls, concerts and other ‘suitable’ events were permitted to be staged in the building. 


Book of the year: God the Known and God the Unknown by Samuel Butler (1909)

Samuel Butler was born at the rectory in the village of Langar, near Bingham. God the Known and God the Unknown, a philosophical work of Butler’s, was published posthumously in this year. First serialised in The Examiner, the author discusses many topics, including spirituality, the existence of God, pantheism, and Orthodox theism. Though anti-Charles Darwin, Butler was not anti-evolution, and he rightly thought that Darwin took much from his grandfather, the Notts-born poet Erasmus Darwin, a man Butler had more time for.

Mankind has ever been ready to discuss matters in the inverse ratio of their importance, so that the more closely a question is felt to touch the hearts of all of us, the more incumbent it is considered upon prudent people to profess that it does not exist, to frown it down, to tell it to hold its tongue, to maintain that it has long been finally settled, so that there is now no question concerning it. (from God the Known and God the Unknown)
The son of a wine merchant, Geoffrey Trease was born in 1909 in Chaucer Street, in the Arboretum area. Trease was educated at Nottingham High School where he was head boy, leading to a scholarship to study Classics at Oxford, only to leave after a year to focus on his writing.

At one time, Trease had more books in print than any other British author. His many titles included children’s books, novels, autobiography, criticism and historical studies, such as Portrait of a Cavalier, the life of the duke who built Nottingham Castle.

Keep an eye on the Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature website every Friday when the next instalment will be revealed. 

Wednesday, 21 March 2018

World Poetry Day and Granada

Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature has sent representatives to fellow creative city Granada for World Poetry Day. Nottingham poets Georgina Wilding and Leanne Moden are joining sixty other poets at an event which also features poetry from other UNESCO cities of literature.


Also in Granada is Sandeep Mahal, Director Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature, who has said, "By celebrating poetry today, we celebrate our ability to join together, in a spirit of solidarity and passion to ignite creativity and bring more poetry into the world.”

Sixty years ago - in March 1958 - Alan Sillitoe was in Granada, as you can see from this notebook inscription.


As it is World Poetry Day here’s a little treat from the same notebook of Alan’s, written in 1958. It’s the first draft of one of his poems. The revised edition is typed below for comparison. Enjoy.

Picture of Loot

Certain dark underground eyes
Have been set upon
The vast emporiums of London.
Lids blink red
At glittering shops
Houses and museums
Shining at night,
Chandeliers of historic establishments
Showing interiors to Tartan eyes,
Certain dark underground eyes
Bearing bloodred sack
The wineskins of centuries
Look hungrily at London:
How many women in London?
A thousand thousand houses
Filled with the world’s high living
And fabulous knick-knacks;
Each small glossy machine
By beside or on table or in bathroom
Is the electrical soul of its owner
The finished heart responding
To needle of gentle current;
And still more houses, endlessly stacked
Asleep with people waiting
To be exploded
The world’s maidenhead supine for breaking
By corpuscle Tartars
To whom a toothbrush
Is a miracle;
What vast looting
What jewels of fires
What great cries
And long convoys
Of robbed and robbers leaving
The sack of rich great London.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

29 Seconds by T M Logan

NottsLit review of 29 Seconds by T M Logan

Nottingham resident T M Logan is at Waterstone’s tonight - 8th March, 7pm - speaking about his second thriller, 29 Seconds. Details of this FREE event HERE
I’ve read and, to a degree, enjoyed both of Logan’s bestselling thrillers. He undoubtedly writes to keep the reader reading, and he is rather good at it. His short chapters, most of which end with a tempting hook, make you want to know ‘what happens next’, whilst his characters are of the identifiable everyman/woman type. If the male hero of his first book, LIES, was a little too weak and easily baffled, the leading lady in 29 Seconds is a stronger, more believable character.

After Sarah - who works in a London university specialising in the poet/playwright Christopher Marlowe - saves a child in peril, she receives a Hitchcockesque opportunity from a dangerous Russian. It’s a timely offer as her boss is sexual harassing her. This Weinstein-like monster, Professor Lovelock, is using his power and position to make Sarah’s life hell, and she’s not the first woman he’s abused. When the Russian crime boss says he wants to repay his debt to her, it’s not hard to see where this is going, though it takes a little too long to get there.

Sarah is pushed to extremes by the bad professor and it’s easy to see why she’s tempted to accept the offer to remove him, but what if it all goes wrong? One thing is for sure, it’s not going to be that simple to make all her problems disappear.

The book adopts the idea that ‘everyone has a name to give’ if presented with such an opportunity. I’m not sure that’s true but Lovelock is suitably horrible. The opening section of 29 Seconds is superb, you’ll be well into the story before taking a breath. The middle explores the ‘what if?’ and ‘what would you do?’ angles well, if a little too indulgently. The final act is a nicely-crafted set piece but the surprise ending left me cold.

LIES and 29 Seconds are stand alone novels of the fast paced, page-turning type, set mainly in the south. Logan’s next thriller, SEVEN DAYS, is set in France. I’ll look out for it.
LIES ****
29 Seconds ****

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Words Best Sung

Comedy writer Lee Stuart Evans has written a book set in 1960’s Notts. There’s an article about Lee, his book and his comedy credits, on the Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature website. You can read it via THIS LINK.

NottsLit also caught up with the local lad come Londoner. Here’s what he told us:

Why did you set your debut novel, Words Best Sung, in the 1960s?

“I’ve been a little bit obsessed with all things ‘60s ever since my uncle took me trainspotting when I was 11.”

Why does the decade appeal so much?

“When I was about 14 my mum let me stay up and watch all those “kitchen sink” films that always seemed to be on, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, Taste of Honey, Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner, Billy Liar, Alfie. There’d always be a train whistle squealing somewhere in the background. I loved them. Also, if you were a teenager in the 80s, so many bands like The Smiths and The Jam talked a lot in interviews about great 60s groups (Kinks, Small Faces, Motown groups), films and books, and I gradually grew more interested in that time, the fashions, the politics, the cars, scooters. It still seems like an exciting time, although my mum insists Warsop was never very much like Carnaby Street.”

You mention the Sillitoe’s films. Another interest of yours is his writing and that of D H Lawrence?

“Probably the Lawrence I enjoy reading most of all these days are his letters. You get can hear all his many and contradictory moods, the different sides to his personality, the hurry in which he seems to live. He comes across as a lot more likeable and much funnier than you’d expect from a lot of what’s written about him. Although I can’t imagine him in Yates’s on a Friday night.”  

One man who might have been found in Yates’s on a Friday evening was Sillitoe. I understand you met him?

“I met Alan Sillitoe in 2002 at a Barbican screening of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and again in 2008 when he talked about the reissued A Start in Life at Foyle’s bookshop. He was very friendly on both occasions, and quietly chatted about the film and Nottingham while he signed my books. There was a huge queue to get to him both times, but you got the impression he would chat with each of you for as long as you liked. I felt too much of a fool to say how important his books had been to me.”

You've worked with and met many celebrities, is there one meeting you care to share with us?

“Once when I was writing in a London TV office, I nipped out for coffees and bumped into Sean Lock, who I’ve worked with a long time on 8 Out of 10 Cats. Sean’s telling me he’s heading to a meeting nearby, when suddenly he looks over my shoulder as this vaguely familiar voice says, “Hallo, Sean off the telly!”  Sean, in his usual casual manner, replies, “Oh, hallo, Paul.”  Thinking a friend of Sean’s is approaching, I turn round and there, standing bedside me with a big smile on his face, is Paul McCartney. He and Sean shake hands, and when Sean introduces me he says “Nice to meet you, I’m Paul. It was the day after Barack Obama’s inauguration, and Paul McCartney starts talking about what a wonderful, momentous occasion it was, and how interesting it would be to see how the world might change. After a minute or two, he apologises for going on and says, “My office is just down the road. I’d better be going. Nice talking to you lads. See you around.” Open-mouthed, I looked at Sean and said, “Wow! I didn’t know you were mates with Paul McCartney!” (You assume all famous people have met at some swanky do or other) And Sean, equally open-mouthed, shakes his head and says, “I’ve never set eyes on him before.” It’s the only time I’ve ever seen Sean Lock lost for words.” 

You also played guitar in a band. How does that compare to your experiences of performing stand up?  

“Playing with a band was by far the bigger buzz, and a lot more fun – for me, anyway. There’s a kind of safety in numbers in playing with a band, a sense that even if you’re absolutely terrible, you’re still having a laugh with your bandmates. I felt I could hide slightly, behind a guitar. Starting out in stand-up on the other hand, it’s just you, alone on a tiny stage, staring out into lots of drunken faces (or sometimes just 7 faces, as I once did) who are immediately disappointed because you’re not someone they know off the telly. They’ve no idea who you are, or what you’re about to say, yet they’ve mostly decided you’re probably going to be awful before you even open your mouth. You’ve got about 20 seconds to prove them wrong, get them on side, or you’re dead.”

It seems like you prefer to write for others?

“I loved writing stand-up. I did a lot of topical stuff, so it was always fresh untried material, which was exciting, but at the same time terrifying. I’d spend the morning writing, the next 10 hours worrying about not remembering it. Next thing, it’s 11pm and you’re coming home on the bus wondering what was the point of that. With comedy, the biggest buzz for me is always when writing with a proper comedian, you pitch a joke and it makes them laugh so much they want to use it in the show. That’s why you do the job. Or is it the money? It’s one of those things, anyway.”

So, the day job is writing for others, letting them grab the credit?

“I always say gag writers are a bit like spies: most people know we exist, but we’re not supposed to go on about it. And if we do, we’ll be found floating in the canal.”

Words Best Sung is published by Notts based Arundel Books.

The Blurb:

Set in mid-1960s England, Words Best Sung is the lively, bittersweet tale of Alastair Braymoor, a Nottinghamshire lad who for as long as he could remember had dreamed about two things: steam engines, and Charlotte, the tomboy from the top of the street.

But when he starts work on the railway, steam is just a few years from extinction and Charlotte has run away to the bright lights, leaving Alastair hopelessly in lust with gorgeous but uptight Mary.

After a seaside brawl leads to his pal playing drums for one of the hottest R&B groups in the country, at a concert with The Beatles, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones, a boys' adventure to the capital proves a revelation in more ways than any of them could ever have imagined.

With its girls, groups and trains; scooters, Minis and beehive hair-dos, Words Best Sung is a funny and moving coming-of-age story that perfectly captures the changing atmosphere and attitudes of the mid-sixties, and what was surely the most exciting time ever to be young, daft and in love.


“Evoking the North Notts vernacular and humour, Lee Stuart Evans has penned a nostalgic coming of age novel that’ll transport you back to the sixties” NottsLit

“Hilarious, touching, romantic…a really cracking read.” Sally Lindsay

“A lovely, heartfelt story” Dave Johns, star of the Ken Loach BAFTA & Palme d’Or winning film I, Daniel Blake

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Vote100, Commemorating the People Act of 1918

Get Involved with Nottingham Women’s History Group (NWHG) and their Vote 100 events.

On the 6th of February 2018 it is the 100th anniversary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 when all men over 21 and women over 30 years of age received the vote. Women over the age of 21 were also given the right to stand for election as an MP in the Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act of 1918.

Vote 100 has been set up to mark this event and NWHG are coordinating events and activities locally. 

NWHG are commemorating and celebrating Vote 100 in Nottingham because it is about women and the ongoing debate about their rights and status in society. Whilst it is recognised that the Representation of the People Act in 1918 was only a partial victory, as the vote was only granted to women over the age of 30, it was an important watershed, and led eventually to all women gaining the same rights as men to vote in 1928. The vote was only won after a long and determined campaign for suffrage and Nottingham and Nottinghamshire women were key to this. New campaigns and feminist demands emerged after the end of WW1. These included the right for equal pay, the improvement of working conditions, decent housing and childcare, a list which continues to resonate with women today.

There will be a range of events and activities for you to participate in so keep track of their website and facebook page, and tweet with #Vote100Notts
The Nottslit Literary Trail Women of Words benefitted from the good work done by the NWHG whose research and celebration of women’s contribution to Nottingham is considerable.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Book Review Competition

LeftLion and Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature have teamed up to bring you the chance to win a £25 book voucher, all for the effort of writing a short book review, providing yours is the best!

Rules? There are. You have no more than 200 words to tell the world about a book by a Notts writer, or one that’s set here, preferably both. The book could be a well-known classic or a little-known gem, it’s the quality of the review that counts. It could be funny, cutting, critical or glowing, just make it original.

The competition coincides with this month’s UNESCO City of Literature edition of LeftLion magazine

The deadline is January 29th. Email entries as attachments to with your name, address and the title and author of the book.

Good luck.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Thriller Tipped for the Top

Arnold author’s debut could be one of 2018’s biggest hits.

C. J. Tudor grew up in Nottingham, where she still lives. Her English teacher once told her that if she ‘did not become Prime Minister or a best-selling author’ he would be ‘very disappointed.’ The road to fulfilling such a prophecy has seen Tudor work as a trainee reporter, radio scriptwriter, and voiceover artist, as well as TV presenter (for Channel 4’s Moviewatch) interviewing many A-List actors. It now seems that she’s about to become that best-selling author with the release of her debut novel The Chalk Man.
Michael Joseph won the psychological thriller in a nine-way publisher auction, the book being the fastest-selling debut in the Madeleine Milburn Agency’s history. Tudor says it’s about "the darker side of childhood, the repercussions as an adult, and the idea that no one is ever entirely innocent".

One for Stephen King fans, the author was inspired to write the story after her own child drew a series of chalk figures on her driveway, and later that night opened the door to find chalk men everywhere, creating an eerie atmosphere.

The Blurb:
In 1986, Eddie and his friends are just kids on the verge of adolescence. They spend their days biking around their sleepy English village and looking for any taste of excitement they can get. The chalk men are their secret code: little chalk stick figures they leave for one another as messages only they can understand. But then a mysterious chalk man leads them right to a dismembered body, and nothing is ever the same.

In 2016, Eddie is fully grown and thinks he's put his past behind him, but then he gets a letter in the mail containing a single chalk stick figure. When it turns out that his friends got the same message, they think it could be a prank--until one of them turns up dead. That's when Eddie realizes that saving himself means finally figuring out what really happened all those years ago.

Andrew Scott (Moriarty from the BBC’s Sherlock) narrates as Eddie for the audiobook.

Much of the novel was written in Nottingham’s Waterstones and it’s here that the book's launch takes place on Thursday 11th January at 7pm. Details.