Winners, Words and Wise Advice – the Stoke literacy festival

Posted on June 30th, 2015 by

Winners, Words and Wise Advice                                                                                                                                                       a review of Stoke’s literary festival by Sallie Tams.

If I could only use one word to describe this year’s Stoke on Trent Literary Festival – Hot Air 2015 – it would be ‘inspirational’. I had the opportunity to attend many of the sessions and have to say this is a literary festival that is really starting to establish itself on the calendar of literary events to attend. The quality of the speakers, venue, the warm welcome given to visitors and very reasonable ticket prices make for an excellent weekend and one which was in equal parts thought provoking, entertaining and above all motivational.

From the opening session with internationally acclaimed former SAS soldier turned author, Andy McNab to the closing of the festival with a screening of the Bafta award winning, Marvellous in the presence of and about Stoke’s very own Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin, there was a constant theme of achievement against sometimes very stacked odds.

Stewart Collins, festival director, invited Danny Flynn chief executive of Staffordshire YMCA to speak briefly about the work of the YMCA over the years and particularly in areas such as literacy. Danny introduced some of his members who have been working with the Emma Bridgewater Creative room and who had produced the very impressive fabric mural which took pride of place next to the stage. Danny commented on the fact that projects like this really brought out the amazing hidden talents that so many people didn’t realise they had. Speaking with fire, passion and enthusiasm for youth development, it’s not hard to see why our own YMCA here in North Staffordshire is one of the premier YMCA centres in the country.

Ron Coterill of The Sentinel and Emma Bridgewater introduced the prize winners of the Too Write competition and Festival Patron, global best-selling author Andy McNab presented prizes to the Winners and runners-up. Emma Bridgewater commented on the quality and imagination in the under 11’s category which she said was simply inspiring. In the 11-18 age group there had been fewer entries and she urged young people in this age group to keep going and continue developing the enormous potential that had been much in evidence in the 2014 competition. She told us that the adult category had seen an interesting mix of entries, difficult to judge because of the diversity of themes but producing an eventual winner and runners-up.

The subject of literacy featured prominently in a number of the sessions I attended this year, none more so than that of Andy McNab who recounted his battles with literacy in his early years and how these problems denied his dream to become a helicopter pilot, instead resulting in him joining the infantry. It was as an infantryman with the help of an inspirational teacher, sheer determination, and buoyed by the feeling of accomplishment gained from reading his first book, Janet & John Book 10, he persevered and came to understand that his reasons for not being able to read were in fact because he didn’t – it was a simple as that.  Among his many accomplishments and a distinguished military career, he has gone on to write 28 books and become a global publishing phenomenon. He said that from reading a person gains knowledge, knowledge gives power and the freedom to do what you want.  In a lively Q & A session, when asked what he considered was the most inspirational book he had read, he said simply, “Janet & John Book 10”.

On a serious note he mentioned the recent devastating earthquakes in Nepal and urged that this did not put people off visiting, saying how vital tourism is to the Nepalese economy.

The second day of the festival unfortunately brought a very wet and windy morning which was particularly disappointing for the Cyr Wheel trio, Alula who were due to perform in the courtyard but needed a perfectly dry surface to do so.  Equally it was the day of the Big Wild Rumpus and lovers of Where the Wild Things Are has been encouraged to dress up in their wildest costumes and join Emma Bridgewater and the nation in reading the book aloud together.  Although the weather put a damper on some of the activities, this session was located indoors and thoroughly enjoyed by all participants, young and old.

If ever there was an inspirational story about the power of one hundred well-chosen words, it was that of award winning journalist and author, Sathnam Sanghera (Marriage Material, The Boy with the Top Knot), who spoke of growing up in a Punjabi household in Wolverhampton where there were no books. He told us how as a young teenager he had entered an essay writing competitions, largely because his brother had been too old to enter and which he subsequently won. His prize, a visit to Los Angeles to meet Michael Jackson in the company of BBC DJ Jackie Brambles. This visit, to a boy who had never left Wolverhampton opened his eyes to possibilities and when his local newspaper asked him to write about his experiences, he took the opportunity which led, at the age of 15, to a regular column, a First Class Honour Degree in English Language and Literature from Cambridge University and a career as an award winning journalist on the Financial Times, Times and Management Today. If that weren’t accolade enough, he has also written a very personal and thought provoking biography and a critically acclaimed novel, Marriage Material, which took its inspiration from Arnold Bennett’s Old Wives’ Tales Sanghera said he’d started reading on a long flight to India and, being troubled by the somewhat bleak ending in Bennett, had retold the story with a very unique spin set in a family-run shop in Wolverhampton and a more upbeat ending.

Alastair Campbell, well known for his love of Burnley FC started his talk to a capacity crowd by introducing some rather special audience members who each in turn took a bow: former Lancashire & England cricketer, Graham Fowler currently working on his own memoir; Neil ‘Nello’ Baldwin, Stoke City kit man and all round Stoke legend together Burnley superfan, Dave Burnley who I understand never missed a Burnley game in 40 years.

Sporting matters aside, Campbell reminded Tristram Hunt MP., who had joined him on stage, that shortly before the recent General Election, he had published a book called Winners. Looking pointedly towards Mr Hunt with a wry smile, a glint in his eyes and deadpan delivery to much applause from the audience, he said that he had rather hoped people would read it!

During the course of his talk, he made some interesting observations about what makes winners and suggested models such as the McClaren ethos that nothing is ever good enough, or the philosophy of Arianna Huffington that the job is never done, are what marks out winners from non-winners. He suggested that winners’ fear and loathing of losing is in fact greater than their desire to win. Interestingly and— this came out strongly in the Q & A session— winning does not necessarily make happy people. A winner, he said, “is a loser who evaluates defeat properly; losers do not learn from defeat”.

All evening sessions were very well attended and included a special workshop for 12 aspiring or working screen writers with award winning screenwriter Peter Bowker, whose credits include Occupation, Blackpool, Marvellous and Desperate Romantics to name but a few. I had the opportunity to attend this workshop and have to say this was an amazing session which packed in a masterclass in the creation of tension-filled opening scenes, taught middles and satisfying endings.

The closing session of a screening of Marvellous was again a packed event and one well worth waiting for, providing indeed a very fitting close to a wonderful and Marvellous Hot Air 2015.

by Sallie Tams.


Posted on June 25th, 2015 by



Michael Palin has long been admired in our country as a comedy genius, a distinguished adventurer and a genuinely pleasant fellow. Known as the man who has travelled the whole world, from the wintry wilderness of the South Pole to the searing sands of the Sahara. Michael has won his way into our hearts by his boundless enthusiasm, humour and politeness. I am a huge fan of his and leapt at the chance to meet him!

On 12th June, as part of the “Hot Air” 2015 Stoke Literary Festival, the folk of North Staffordshire all had a chance to do just that. Michael who is seen by some as a national treasure, travelled to Emma Bridgewater in Stoke for his first visit to the area, which he likened to his beloved home town of Sheffield.

One thing was apparent from the outset, Michael is truly as he is on television an incredibly down-to-earth, jolly person who is full of energy. Packed full of anecdotes from his many travels, his talk was a fascinating experience, not to mention very funny!

Explaining how, whilst sitting with some Nomads around a campfire in the Sahara, the natives apparently attempted to teach Michael some of their native tongue, which the Nomads found highly amusing. Not to be outdone, Michael in turn decided to teach the nomads the British saying “bottoms up!”. Michael remarked that if by any chance you com

es across a tribe of nomads in the Sahara saying “bottoms up” after mealtimes, you should not be too alarmed.

Whilst in India he talked about the amusing road signs he had seen there, e.g. “After whisky, driving risky” He then described how he had allowed himself to be encouraged to swim in the rapids of Zimbabwe, resulting in him cracking his rib, and his having to soldier on to the South Pole with this injury.

Whilst in the South Pole, the freezing temperatures were so extreme, he said “that it took many agonizing takes to perfect his departing speech” He finally thought he had it word-perfect, only to be told that he would have to redo it because he had used the suspicious-sounding phrase, “as a small boy I used to read about Hillary and Scott snuggled under the bedclothes”. It received a great reception from the audience, who thoroughly enjoyed the talk.

Afterwards, he gave us the fantastic opportunity of book signings. I approached him with joy and unease, him being one of my idols. For fear of over flattering him (or asking him a question he has heard a thousand times), I attempted a sort of off-hand remark “I finished my exams today … “

Alas! I immediately thought “David, you fool! Why would Michael Palin care about that?” And yet Michael seemed thoroughly interested, and indeed we had something of a conversation – he made me feel like an old friend and wishing me all the best for the future and that I enjoy any future travels!

  by David Conlon. – See more at:


Posted on June 21st, 2015 by

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An Interview with Barb Forshaw, face of the Oasis Social Club

Posted on June 16th, 2015 by

An Interview with Barb Forshaw, face of the Oasis Social Club

“An inspiring community driven project, created and delivered by a passionate artist”


Earlier this week, Adam Gratton had the pleasure of meeting up with Barb Forshaw, the creation of artist and Oasis Social Club founder Rebecca Davies. Hear Barb’ speak in her Stokie tongue about the Oasis Social Club, its creation, purpose and what it means for the people of Stoke-on-Trent who have helped bring Barb and the Oasis Social Club to life.

 So click on this link and take a peek duck!:

You can meet Barb and enjoy what the Oasis Social Club has to offer down on Portland Street, Stoke-on-Trent from the 18th-20th June.

By Adam Gratton.

– See more at:

It’s All About The Road: Artist Dan Thompson launches his book on Stoke at the London Road Festival

Posted on June 10th, 2015 by

It’s All About The Road: Artist Dan Thompson launches his book on Stoke at the London Road Festival

London Road Festival, Saturday, June 13 and Sunday, June 14.

What connects Northern Soul, the artist Augustus Pugin, the most reproduced work of art in the history of the world, a vampire, a forgotten canal, the whale that swallowed Jonah, and a million lost golf balls?

Artist Dan Thompson has been finding out in a year long residence in and around London Road, Stoke.

His unique book It’s All About The Road will be launched at the London Road Festival on June 13 and 14.

Commissioned by the Appetite arts programme, Dan Thompson immersed himself in the local community, meeting and interviewing dozens of local people and renting a home overlooking London Road.

He describes his book as a “slightly fictional telling” of the life of London Road from Roman times to the modern day and beyond.

“It has been an incredible year in an incredible place,” said Dan. “Stoke is full of stories, full of history and full of culture and I don’t think it is proud enough about what a special place it is.”

Dan says he now plans to become an ambassador for Stoke; speaking up for the city in a one man show based on It’s All About The Road.

He will host two talks and two walks about his experiences on the Saturday and Sunday of the London Road Festivals and says these will become the basis of the show that he will take around the UK.

Dan added: “I have lived in Stoke for around a quarter of the past year – It is a rare privilege for an artist to be given that opportunity.

“The big story to come out of this for me is the need to tell people that we still make things in this country.

“We are often told that manufacturing is dead but it isn’t. Stoke is still a busy industrial city and millions of pieces of ware are made here. It is an amazing industrial process and something that we need to be far more proud of.

The It’s All About the Road walks will set off from outside Rubber Soul records in Stoke town centre at 12 noon on both days of the London Road Festival.

Dan will host talks at the festival on both days at 3pm. The book will be officially launched at these sessions and copies will be available.

The book launch is just one of many events at the festival. Activities include music and dance, live bands, a children’s art tent, a craft and vintage makers’ space, drumming workshops and children’s sports and games.

For full details, please go online to

The London Road Festival is brought to life by people from: Second Look Stoke; Letting in the Light; The Cultural Sisters; Access Media and Arts


For media enquiries contact Nigel Howle by telephone on 0776 2043436, e-mail


Appetite is the Creative People and Places programme taking place in Stoke-on-Trent from 2013 to 2016. Appetite aims to get more people in Stoke-on-Trent to experience and be inspired by the arts. This investment in the arts and cultural sector of the area aims to mobilise and strengthen the skills, knowledge and infrastructure that already exists within the area and provide unprecedented opportunities for more people to see, make and influence more art in the city.

The Appetite programme is funded by Arts Council England and is led by the New Vic Theatre in partnership with B Arts, Brighter Futures, Partners in Creative Learning and Staffordshire University. It is supported by Stoke-on-Trent City Council.

Visit the Appetite website at


Dan Thompson:

Dan is the founder and director of Revolutionary Arts and author of Pop Up Business For Dummies. In 2012, he was included in the Time Out and Hospital Club’s Culture 100, a list of the most inspiring and influential people in the UK’s creative industries.

Dan has used empty shops for 13 years, and he is now a recognised expert on the reuse of empty shops, and on how to create a pop up shop, and runs the Empty Shops Network.

He also started #riotcleanup, after the August 2011 riots in London. That project inspired the Nesta-funded #wewillgather, which uses social media for social good.

“Dan Thompson showed the best of Britain by helping organise the clean-up operation after last summer’s riots.” David Cameron.


Posted on June 5th, 2015 by



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Rock the beaches of the Mediterranean and er, North Wales (like me!) this Summer in this heavyweight cotton homage to the man who scored winners against Vale, Man Yoo and at Wembley.