Nottingham Festival of Words: The Nottingham Lace Anthology Launch – Waterstones – 11 June 2013

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The Nottingham Lace Writing Competition- part of the highly successful Nottingham Festival of Words, a celebration of language and literature showcased in a series of events across the city earlier this year- culminated on Tuesday 11 June in an awards ceremony at Waterstone’s (Bridlesmith Gate), where prizes were distributed in three categories (under 10’s, 11 to 14, and 15 to 18) and the young winners invited to read extracts from their work, which work you can read for yourself in the Nottingham Lace Anthology, available at Waterstone’s and online.

Speaking for myself, and as an obscure struggling would-be novelist (for the sake of clarity, that’s one notch below my life’s ambition to be an obscure struggling actual novelist), it’s always slightly worrying when up and coming talent is younger than you: But when the up and coming talent isn’t yet tall enough to see over the podium and thank the audience, it’s downright terrifying. Considering their ages, the quality of the entrants’ work as read at the event and published in the anthology is mightily impressive: A point stressed at the beginning of the evening by poet Matt Black, one of the two judges of this year’s competition alongside writer of young adult fiction Paula Rawsthorne. The only limit to the imagination here was the choice of subject matter: All of the pieces- poetry, prose, fiction, non-fiction- had to be about lace, which turned out to be more liberating than confining, since lace as both material and metaphor bears obvious analogies with words and writing:  Functional but decorative, labour-intensive but ephemeral. The link was underlined first in a reading by Matt Black from Pablo Neruda…

“And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry void,
likeness, image of mystery,
felt myself a pure part of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind.”

…and again by Nes Johnson, winner of the under 10’s category, who likened lace (and by implication literature) to a ghost, “dripping from window to window.” Lest we found ourselves getting a little too sentimental about all this, Daniel Shipman, second-placer in the 11 – 14 category, read an extract from his prose sketch about the industrial misery behind the production of Nottingham’s most famous export. “Lace, a beautiful killer” he wrote, reminding us of a Victorian world before risk assessments, working time directives, and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002. Tara Wise, winner in the 15 – 18 category, quickly took us back to a happier place with her story “Pointless”, with lace as a symbol for the trembling and anticipation of childhood.

After a short break for refreshments (spoiled only by the fact they wouldn’t unlock the doors for me to have a refreshing cigarette), we were treated to a reading and Q & A session from guest speaker and best-selling author Joseph Delaney, creator of the “Spooks” cycle of fantasy novels, a fell world peopled by the ghosts and ghouls of northern English folklore- boggarts, witches, black dogs, ghasts, goblins, seventh sons of seventh sons and so on (you get the idea). His most important advice- “Keep writing!”- should go without saying, though it can’t be said often enough for pathologically lazy writers like me. Joseph warned us he would overrun, and so he did, though his insights into the writing process and the paramountcy of perseverance- he didn’t find success until he was well into his 40’s- were as enlightening for the budding writers of all ages as they were fascinating for the general audience.

This was a good night celebrating at once the industrial heritage of our city and the future of local literature: With the collateral effect of inspiring me to get on with my novel, before the competition becomes even younger. If they include a category next year for bald, bearded, overweight, chain-smoking, deadline-averse writers at the thick end of their 30’s, give me a shout. 2014 could be my year.

by Phillip Mark McGough

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