[Transcript] Grassroutes: Contemporary Leicestershire Writing

Corinne Fowler is a lecturer in the School of English at the University of Leicester. Her work includes Chasing Tales: Travel Writing, Journalism and the History of Ideas about Afghanistan (Editions Rodopi B.V, 2007); Travel Writing and Ethics: Theory and Practice (Routledge, forthcoming) and Postcolonial Manchester: the literary response (Manchester University Press, forthcoming). In this video, she talks about Grassroutes: Contemporary Leicestershire Writing, an Arts Council funded project which, among other things, aims to promote transcultural Leicester writing:

The reason I devised this project was because I found, in my research, that books written by London-based writers, especially if they've got a strong transcultural element, tend to enjoy much wider readerships than those written by ... than those that are transcultural novels and plays and so on, in the regions.

What I wanted to do was to try and promote public awareness of the kind of scope and diversity and range of writing that had been produced in Leicestershire since 1980. The reason I picked that as the start date was because a lot of money then came through to councils to promote this kind of writing and publishing activity. A lot of this material has been produced by independent, alternative publishers which don't have commercial imperatives and which care about quality fiction in a devance sense. And what I mean by 'devance sense' is that I want to give a sense of the range of writing across Britain. At the moment, I think, our view of what's being produced is a bit distorted and London-centric. So, this project is aimed at combating that. And it's also ... it has several outputs which I think are really exciting.

There's going to be an open-access database, which I'm calling an e-catalogue, of all the titles I can find that have been produced since 1980 and there'll be an exhibition about writing in Leicestershire. Again, this will be at the David Wilson Library at the University of Leicester but also in the central and reference library in Leicester.

There'll be a literary blog, which will enable people to give feedback, so that I can receive responses to my writing about the material I am uncovering. And there'll be a £1,000 writing commission which some people might want to apply for and an online, edited, writers' gallery which will give 50 author pages and showcase the writing of quality writers in Leicestershire who are at work today.

I did a study, and in many ways, this study inspired me to apply for funding to support Leicestershire writers whose work is transcultural in some way. What I did was, I compared compared Zadie Smith's White Teeth to a novel which had been produced in Moss Side in Manchester. The novel came out in the same month as Zadie Smith's White Teeth. It's called Forever and Ever Amen, by an author called Joe Pemberton. Both of them received excellent critical reviews. They were reviewed in the national media but Zadie Smith had an international following and Forever and Ever Amen soon fell by the wayside in terms of readership.

What I really wanted to examine was why they had two, such different trajectories and what was the cause of that. And, part of it, I found, was because there's a history of slightly negative reception of northern writing and of regional writing, in general ... which is the idea that anything that's not written in the cosmopolitan centre of London must, by definition, be rather parochial and of only local interest.

The other complication with Joe Pemberton's novel was that it was a working-class novel by a black writer based in the North and I found that these elements, all put together, were too much for the marketing brains of the corporate publishing world in London to take on board even though, I felt, in terms of quality, the two novels were comparable.

It gave me a sense of how so much good writing is falling by the wayside and that this is a kind of injustice which is driven by fairly commercial agendas on the part of publishers which are understandable, on one hand, but highly problematic and unjust, on another.

I have several partners that are involved in this project and the aim of these partners is to try and improve the local, national and international reach and exposure of this writing. I have a list here because it is quite difficult to remember them all.

There are 10 partner organisations: Word! at the Y; we've got the Asian Writer, which has got a big international following; Charnwood Arts; the Centre for Transcultural Writing and Research at Lancaster University; Embrace Arts at Leicester University; Leicester Libraries are onboard; the Literature Network; Mainstream Partnership; Short Fuse Fiction; and, an organisation called Writing East Midlands which mentors a lot of writers in the region. And these people will all come together as part of the steering group.

More information about the project is available on the Grassroutes: Contemporary Leicester Writing microsite.


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