I’m finding that blogs come rarely in the age of the pandemic. Like half the country, I caught Covid again over Christmas but (thanks to the vaccines, booster and probable Omicron variant) it was much milder than the first variant, which left me with long Covid). I hope that none of the readers of this blog are suffering with it but I’m under no illusions that the virus is a pest of the past. I write this having just heard of more cases in my dad’s care home, which means the contact drought, which hit in December, will continue.
Still, as the door opens and more of us stick out our noses, I thought I’d send an update about what I’m up to with the hope that something here connects with you.
I’ve been working on another draft of my novel, which is now with alpha and beta readers, and on putting further touches to my second poetry collection manuscript before sending to publishers. The poetry collection has been in progress since 2016 and the novel since the end of 2018 so I’m celebrating having got to this stage with them. It always feels strange to let a body of work out into the world, and I’m hoping I don’t get empty nest syndrome.
There is a lot to keep me busy, both freelance and otherwise, so I apologise in advance as this blog is a little lengthy. I’m curating more Speaking to the Shelves workshops at The Leeds Library, which are available online and in-person. This series invites participants to rethink classic texts by writing in response to them. We’ve already had thoughtful and productive workshops by Barney Bardsley and Rommi Smith, and the sessions below are coming up.
Sunday 6th March, 10-12 (in-person only): Rethinking Folk Tales is a storytelling and writing workshop with Matthew Bellwood as part of the Leeds Lit Fest, which will draw on the story of Blodeuwydd,
Saturday 19th February, 10-12 (online) and 1-3 (in-person). Novelist Yvonne Battle-Felton challenges writers to respond to Engle’s science-fiction novel Tilting A Swiftly Tilting Planet.
Watch out for Contemporary Kitchen-sink with Matt Abbott, which will probably now happen in April. This will take A Taste of Honey by Shelagh Delaney as its starting point to encourage poetry or writing in any form.
N.B. You may want to read the texts in advance but this is not essential. Click on the links above for further details and to book.
In November I started a First Story (link) Residency with Feversham Academy, a Muslim girls school, which has held residencies with Kate Fox and Malika Booker in past years. To my joy, the school is in Undercliffe, just down the road from where I grew up. Having run workshops across the school with Irene Lofthouse in November, I’m now enjoying writing lunches with a group of around twenty students who have chosen the topics of colour, moods/emotions and family, and am looking forward to collecting their work in an anthology.
I do have another co-creative thing in the mix but I will have to reveal that at a later date.
Performing at Chelping with the brilliant Kim Moore in December gave me chance to test out some new material and, along with the SAUDHA performance, reminded me just how much I love live performance. I even sold out of the books I’d brought.
My next guest spot will be at Rhubarb@The Triangle, Shipley’s spoken word night. It’s a lovely space and a great crowd with a lot of published poets among the open micers. I’ll be proud to perform in the town that produced Shipley Feminist Zealots as an antidote to the awful politics and comments of Shipley’s filibustering MP, Philip Davies.
7 pm Weds 23rd February, Rhubarb @ The Triangle, Shipley, Pay as you feel. Tickets have already gone but you can add yourself to the waitlist here.
I’m always keen to push my work in new directions. Since being accepted onto UNION Leeds, a coaching and training course for activists and artists in October, I, alongside thirty fascinating and talented humans, am being enabled to do that in social and stimulating ways. You can find out more about the programme here.
A month of activism lies ahead for me, starting with me having joined the picket line last week. Members of the UCU, who work in HE are taking industrial action due to a proliferation of zero-hour contracts, low pay, ethnic and gender pay gaps, heavy workloads and working conditions (85% of university staff have been referred to mental health services due to work stress), and a 35% decrease in pensions. These issues particularly affect part-time staff on zero-hour contracts and students who suffer from entering into a marketised education system that is not fit for purpose and stressed staff, much of whose time is taken up by bureaucratic processes. Although we take this action for long term gains for students and staff, it is painful to strike, knowing that students are losing out on educational opportunities, to not be teaching, and to not get paid. Information on why we are striking at the University of Leeds is available here.
Expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport
As a member of GALBA, I have been campaigning to stop the proposed expansion of Leeds Bradford Airport since the council accepted the proposal in 2020. This would see Leeds Bradford Airport expanding from 4 million to 7 million passengers per year, resulting in huge increases in carbon emissions. Leeds City Council declared a climate emergency in early 2020 and is taking many measures to make itself a greener city. However, if expansion goes ahead, LBA would pump out more emissions than allowed in the carbon budget for the entire city by 2026. It makes no sense and would make their pledge to more than halve carbon emissions by 2025 impossible (they have said that flights don’t count towards this!).
The good news is that this has now been taken out of the council’s hands. On 19th January the government called in the decision, which means they will perform an enquiry, looking at the evidence to see whether the expansion should go ahead. One of the grounds on which they have decided that the proposals need a closer look is climate change.
GALBA will present the legal case for the environment and against climate pollution and expansion. But we are a group of citizens and are up against the owners of the airport, an Australian investment company called AMP Capital and do not have access to the funds they do. We are currently raising funds for the legal fees needed to give the climate a fair chance and need to raise a lot of money to do so.
After being entitled to contribute meaningfully to a pension for the first time, I was horrified (perhaps naively) to see where funds were invested and that there was no ethical option available for most members. I then joined USS Divest, a group of pension fund members who are trying to persuade USS to divest from fossil fuels. We are in talks with USS and are pleased to see that there is some movement towards divestment , although we urgently need to see words backed up with deeds.
If you want to take action to support any of these causes
To ask your pension provider to divest from fossil fuels, go to Make My Money Matter and fill in the template letter (2 mins max).
If you are a student, you can write to your Vice Chancellor, ccing firstname.lastname@example.org (at Leeds the address is email@example.com). to say why you support the strikes, speak to people on the picket lines about their reasons for taking action and attend teach-outs. If you are a member of staff you can join the UCU and us on the picket line.