How saying farewell to David Bowie in rabbit form set scribbler Terry Brett on his way to penning cartoon book for hospice UPDATED 24/11/2020

Bertt deBaldock’s first #GoodRabbitGone: David Bowie

PYRAMID Gallery owner Terry Brett has set a target of £3,000 to raise for St Leonard’s Hospice, in York, with his book of self-penned cartoons of celebrity memorials, portrayed as rabbits.

While his shop in Stonegate, York, has been closed for the second lockdown, Terry has placed his books and a collecting tin on a table outside. “To help things along, I’ve been putting framed pictures and small craft gifts on there that can be taken away for free or a small donation,” he says.

“So far, after three weeks of collecting, including donations via Just Giving, I’ve raised more than £700 for the hospice.”

It all began with the exit stage left of David Bowie on January 10 2016, the day the music died in a year when it died again and again and again. Prince, Leonard Cohen, George Michael on Christmas Day.

Bertt appropriates a prop comedic effect from Acorn Antiques for his goodbye to Victoria Wood

“I had to do something when I heard about Bowie’s death. So I drew him as a rabbit. Bertt x,” explains the introduction to Good Rabbits Gone, a cartoon compendium of death notices for “inspiring individuals, all of them ‘one in a million’, who passed into their own preferred alternative dimension during the years between 2016 and January 2020.”

Bertt deBaldock is the nom de scribble of Terry Brett, colour-blind artist, ukulele player, long-ago chartered surveyor and now long-running proprietor of Pyramid Gallery, in Stonegate, York, whose book is available in a limited-edition print run of 300 copies.

Why rabbits, you may be asking. “I grew up surrounded by fields that were full of hares and rabbits,” says Terry. “The hares are very proud and confident creatures, but rabbits are extremely vulnerable. They are more successful than hares, because they are constantly on the look-out for trouble. Nice that the meekest creature on the planet is also one of the most prolific and content.

Pyramid Gallery owner and curator Terry Brett, aka cartoon scribbler Bertt deBaldock, with a stand of his Good Rabbits Gone books outside his shop in Stonegate, York

“The cartoon image was inspired by my two daughters’ pet rabbit that I looked after. I’ve been drawing a cartoon of that rabbit in a comic-style Christmas card for 25 years. When Bowie died in 2016, I drew the rabbit with a lightning flash [from the Aladdin Sane album cover], just as a way of acknowledging the man. Then I put it on Twitter and it started an obsession!”

That very first #GoodRabbitGone read: “Ground control to Major Tom, There’s something wrong! 10 January 2016, age 69. The man who sold the world”. “Bowie was such a vulnerable young man trying to find his way as a performance artist who fortuitously discovered he could write brilliant songs and re-invent pop music to express himself,” says Terry.

“I think he struggled with the stardom and hid behind invented personas. But in the end, he became himself again – and really quite nice. We all do this. Even Donald Trump might! (Though he probably hasn’t got enough decades left to do so).

In each cartoon valedictory, “drawn in a rush at the time of passing” for publishing on Twitter and Facebook, the wording and imagery feed off each other: affirmation of how we recollect both visually and verbally.

Firestarter extinguished: Bertt’s farewell to The Prodigy’s Keith Flint

““His invented personas were an important part of his act; that’s why it felt good to draw an image of Bowie on the day he died. On later Good Rabbits, I started to try and capture the subject’s face and character,” says Terry.

“I find great satisfaction in the process of reading up about the individual and then trying to capture the character. The words chosen to go with the cartoon become important later, to add humour or some sort of gravitas.

“I’m trying to express some sort of reason as to why that individual gained notoriety. It’s not always easy, but in the process of finding importance I become quite attached to the character. If I cannot find something that feels important, I wait until an image comes that amuses me.”

2016 turned into the annus horribilis of impactful deaths: Sir George Martin; Sir Terry Wogan; Ronnie Corbett; Victoria Wood; Muhammad Ali, the knock-outs kept coming. Was it a pure coincidence that Terry started the series that year?

And finally: Bertt responds to the news of the passing of newsreader Richard Baker

“It was because Bowie’s death moved me,” he says. “I also learnt to play and sing The Man Who Sold The World on my ukulele on the same day, which I played at our band rehearsal that evening.

“This was the year that I turned 60. I was quite shocked that someone who had been such an important part of my culture had died in his sixties. When you are 50-something, old age seems decades away. At 60, you suddenly wonder ‘where did the previous decade go?’”

Bertt’s 2016 list took in R.I.P. America, 8 November 2016, The Day They Elected To Trump. “I have a general rule, not to do politicians or make political comment. I am apolitical, as is this rabbit,” he wrote. “However, I felt so sad to witness this day. It felt like morality and fairness had been washed away.”

Terry says: “I’m naturally inclined to think of myself as left of centre and last year I joined the Green Party for the first time, just to encourage them. I’ve been an environmental campaigner since the 1980s, when I was on the Greenpeace payroll as a fundraising coordinator.

“I felt very sad to see Trump elected as president, so I drew the flag as a rabbit, with all the stars sliding off,” says Terry, recalling his reaction on November 8 2016

“Having said that, I was born into a very right-wing society and have respect for the views of many people I know who have right-wing views. To me, party politics are a distraction from the main issues such as respect, kindness, fairness and love for one another.”

Trump’s election resulted from left and right arguing between themselves about ideology, suggests Terry. “They should be more focused on core values and they would find that they want the same thing, which is the respect of others,” he argues.

“Trump’s objectionable behaviour and the pedalling of false opinions stirred up a crazed following that has been very detrimental to society in the USA and here in the UK. I felt very sad to see Trump elected as president, so I drew the flag as a rabbit, with all the stars sliding off.”

Terry used to keep a list of deaths through the year, writing them down in a notebook by the side of his bed while listening to Today on BBC Radio 4. “But the internet has made me a bit lazy; it’s so easy to look them up now!” he says.

Terry Brett holds a copy of Bertt deBaldock’s cartoon book, compiled in aid of St Leonard’s Hospice

Good Rabbits Gone Volume One In A Million takes in, for example, Sir Roger Moore (Shaken: 14 October 1927; Not Stirred: 23 May 2017), Sir Ken Dodd (Tickled to death 11 March 2018) The Prodigy’s Keith “Firestarter” Flint (Sparked: 17 September 1969; Snuffed: 4 March 2019). Note the witty yet poignant wording each time.

“When I draw the cartoon, I scribble a few words that come to mind. Later, I started to put them in the book and erased the original words,” says Terry. “I started to think of synonyms for ‘birth’ and ‘death’ that were appropriate to the individual – maybe a line from a song lyric or song title.

“In the case of barcode inventor Norman Joseph Woodland – my favourite of all in a late addition to the book – I wrote ‘Barcoded Sep 6 1921’ and ‘Beeped December 9 2012’. I like to imagine him reading it and laughing.”

What qualities make someone qualify at Bertt’s pearly gates for a memorial testimonial? Cultural icons? Influences on Terry’s life? His book shelves? “I need to feel a response and I need to feel stirred to make the effort to draw something,” he says. “I miss quite a lot of people and later feel I should have included them.

Terry Brett’s favourite: Bertt’s check-out to barcode inventor Norman Joseph Woodland

“So, the first quality is probably their notoriety, then I start to look at what they actually did. Some of these people I knew nothing about until they died. And there are two, Bryan ‘Yogi B’ Smith, my yoga teacher, and Don Walls, a wonderful poet, who were important to me in York but not at all famous.” 

Volume 2 is taking shape through 2020. “A few of my favourites are Vera Lynn, with a Spitfire and Hurricane flying over the white cliffs of Dover; Tim Brooke-Taylor; Terry Jones, as a naked rabbit playing the piano with the phrase ‘And Now For Something Completely Different’; Nobby Stiles, holding the World Cup in one hand and his false teeth in the other,” says Terry.

“There’s Toots Hibbert, the first musician to use the word ‘Reggay’ (sic); guitarist Julian Bream (Picked 15 July 1933; Plucked 14 August 2020); Peter Green, of Fleetwood Mac; actress Olivia de Havilland (Gone with the Wind)…

“…Supreme Court Judge and women’s rights campaigner Ruth Bader Ginsburg; Honor Blackman; Julie Felix; composer Ennio Morricone, entangled in spaghetti; the astronomer Heather Couper, and Beatles photographer Astrid Kirchherr.”

Gone Western: RIP composer Ennio Morricone, as recorded by Bertt

Terry finished the book in Lockdown 1 but the pandemic has prevented him from holding a proper launch at Pyramid Gallery. Instead, copies are available by emailing pyramidgallery.com or ringing 01904 641187, as well as from the table outside Pyramid Gallery. A suggested donation of £10 should be made to St Leonard’s Hospice at justgiving.com/fundraising/terry-brett5.

“It’s going well and it’s wonderful to be able to chat to people about it,” says Terry. “So, thank you for donating to a wonderful hospice that could not exist without public support.”

Terry’s father, Maurice Brett, founder of Stevenage Flying Club, died of prostate cancer in 2002. “He checked himself into a hospice only 24 hours before he died. I don’t think he could come to terms with it until he went to the hospice,” he says.

Olivia de Havilland has gone, as depicted by Bertt

“He was working on a magazine article about a vintage aeroplane three days prior to that. Going to the hospice gave him control and was a way of making the decision to let himself die. Hospices give the terminally ill dignity. They are run independently from the NHS and rely on fundraising. I hope they are still around when my time comes!”

Contemplating what gravestone humour may lie n store for Terry himself, he says: “Mine could say…something like ‘Borrowed a pencil: 19 April 1956; Burrowed with a pencil: ….,’ but I’ve always been a really bad time-keeper, so I think it should be ‘Late Again’.”

Covid-19 2020 has been a year of vulnerability, fretful uncertainty of both present and future and an increased awareness of death, making Good Rabbits Gone all the more pertinent.

“We’re all having to come to terms with our mortality,” says Terry. “Mine was the first generation in human history to be able to expect to live to over 60. Maybe that was a short-lived expectation. I hope not though!” 

The front cover of Good Rabbits Gone, Volume One In A Million, as “scribbled” by Terry Brett’s artist alter ego Bertt deBaldock

Should you be wondering No 1.

Why use the name Bertt deBaldock?

“A particular friend in my youth always called me ‘Bertt’ and I was born in Baldock, well, a mile away in a tiny hamlet called Bygrave, in north Hertfordshire,” explains Terry.

“I use the French preposition ‘de’ in the same way that it is used in the name ‘DeBrett’s’, which is basically a list of the most influential people, many of whom are deceased or about to be.”

Valedictory to Vera: Bertt’s last note for Vera Lynn

Should you be wondering No. 2

How does colour-blindness affect you in your artistic work, Terry?

“I’m red/green colour-blind…a bit of a handicap for anyone involved in the arts.  I prefer to call it ‘colour confusion’,” he says.

“I can actually see all colours, but sometimes one confuses another. I can tell green from brown, but sometimes get them mixed up.”

Spoken-word artist Liv Torc to host online Haiflu Ever After event for Explore York

EXPLORE York Libraries and Archives will play host to spoken-word artist Liv Torc’s online event, Haiflu Ever After, on November 10 from 7pm to 8pm.

Supported by Forward Arts Foundation, Torc will perform her poetry, discuss her pandemic poetry initiative, Project Haiflu, and invite audience members to share their own #haiflu in the chat panel.

Tuesday’s event forms part of Explore’s World Turned Upside Down 2020 #haiflu edition, where people in York are asked to send in haiku and doodles about their own experiences of lockdown since March.

These will be included in a limited-edition chapbook to be lodged in Explore’s archive as a record of this strange and challenging time.

Project Haiflu started in March 2020 when Torc asked her friends on Facebook to share how they were feeling about lockdown. This resulted in 12 weekly poetry films, combining original photography and music and a special event for libraries, all making for a compelling social history archive of these extraordinary days. Haiflu even ended up being featured on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Next, Torc intends to develop the project into a show to tour around British libraries and village halls, combining the haiflu films with her own poetry, which charts her experiences of lockdown, including a three-week hospital stay and a commission for the BBC Make A Difference campaign.

Online access to Haiflu Ever After is free but must be booked on Explore York’s Eventbrite page to receive a link to the Zoom meeting.

Liv Torc: “Plunges the vast caverns and dormant volcanoes of the human and planetary condition”

Who is Liv Torc?

LIVis a spoken-word artist, published poet and producer who “plunges the vast caverns and dormant volcanoes of the human and planetary condition”.

A BBC Radio 4 Slam winner, former Bard of Exeter and now co-host of The Hip Yak Poetry Shack, she runs the spoken-word stage at WOMAD, Project Haiflu and the Hip Yak Poetry School. 

In 2019, her poem on climate change in the face of motherhood, The Human Emergency, went viral across the world, seen by 80,000 people. That year too, she performed at Glastonbury Festival on the Poetry and Words stage and represented Somerset for the BBC’s National Poetry Day celebrations.

In 2020 she was chosen as one of four Siren Poets by Cape Farewell for a commission on climate change in the time of Covid and wrote and filmed a poem for the BBC’s Make A Difference campaign.

Find out more at livtorc.co.uk.

Open and shut case of what will happen to York’s Explore libraries in Lockdown 2

Read on….

YORK libraries will stay open for essential services in Lockdown 2, when the Explore York Libraries and Archives services will include free PC and internet access and click-and-collect books.

In a statement released today, Explore York said: “Explore’s libraries are an essential service for the people of York. They are essential for keeping people connected through free access to PCs and the internet.

“And they provide essential and significant support for everyone’s health and wellbeing too with free books, newspapers and online events to keep people of all ages entertained and informed during these challenging times.

“Therefore, Explore’s chief executive, Fiona Williams, is happy to confirm that she will be keeping some libraries open during the second national lockdown starting on November 5.”

Explore centres at York, Tang Hall and Acomb will be open from Tuesday to Saturday, starting from November 10, for pre-booked appointments with access to PCs and printers and pre-ordered books for collection. Explore’s cafes at Rowntree Park and Hungate will be open for takeaway service only.

All books due back during lockdown will be renewed automatically; likewise that will apply to all items on loan, so you do not have to worry about overdue charges.

To join the library online, visit https://www.exploreyork.org.uk/getting-a-library-card-or-yorkcard/ or send an email to contact@exploreyork.org.uk

All libraries will be closed from November 5 to 10 to prepare for the changes.

The full story brought to book:

Libraries open: Explore centres at Acomb, Tang Hall and York will be open for appointments only from Tuesday, November 10. All other libraries are closed. Be aware, there will be no drop-in or browsing at any library.

Opening hours at Acomb, Tang Hall and York will be Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 4pm. Books can be pre-ordered for collection from Acomb, Tang Hall and York libraries. 

You can reserve books from the Explore catalogue as usual and the library will contact you when they are ready to collect. 

Or you can choose a Lucky Dip: complete the form for children or the form for adults and Explore will pick some books based on your preferences.

Computers and printing will be available at Acomb, Tang Hall and York libraries. Bookings will be for one hour only and must be made in advance, either online or by phone to the library you want to use.

Events:

Explore has a full programme of online live events and activities planned for November to keep adults and children entertained and informed 

E-library:

Books, audiobooks, newspapers and magazines are all free to borrow and available 24/7.

Library at Home:

Explore has gathered together a treasury of online links and information for children and families about reading, culture and creativity and archives and local history and to support health and wellbeing.

The Enquiries service will be operating as normal during office hours.

Home Library:

A doorstep delivery service will continue for vulnerable and housebound Home Library Service customers.

The Toy Library will be suspended during the lockdown period.

Archives:

The Archives Reading Room will be closed from November 5 in line with archives services nationally. 

Reading Cafes:

The reading cafes at Rowntree Park and Hungate will be open during the lockdown, operating a takeaway service. Reading cafes at York, Acomb and Tang Hall will be closed. 

All these changes will be operational from November 5. 

How Matt Woodcock changed an empty church with real ale, camels and humour

Matt Woodcock: From news to pews, from York to Hull and back again

THIS is not a good time to be infectious, but Matt Woodcock is exactly that. In a good way and in a God way.

Back in the day at The Evening Press, his cub-reporter enthusiasm brought him exclusives that escaped all others. He loved a story, he loved people, and he had a gift, shared with his journalist dad John, for easing his interviewees into opening up before they knew it.

He was Woody, Oasis fan, York City fan, and suddenly, to his own surprise – and even more so to his “extremely non-religious” father – Jesus fan.

His Damascene conversion came on the road to Selby [Magistrates Court], forced to pull into a layby when struck by dizziness, brought on by “an overwhelming sense that God had something urgent he wanted to tell me”.

The priesthood is a vocation, and Woody had been called. Exit journalism, enter a new path for the rookie Rev that has taken him to Hull and back to York as the Reverend Matt Woodcock, C of E curate, daily diarist, book writer and Pause For Thought broadcaster on Zoe Ball’s BBC Radio 2 show.

John was so furious at Woody “throwing away his career”, he refused to attend his leaving party – as Matt recalled with fond laughter this afternoon – yet if journalism and the priesthood overlap, it is in the mutual ability to communicate, to use words, in impactful ways.

The difference is putting those words into action, his flock Revved up by the curate’s egging-on. Then add Matt’s boundless honesty, humour, even irreverence, to his love of God, and Dr John Sentamu, who ordained him when Archbishop of York, is moved to say: “Spirit dwells in him, taking him on an adventurous Jesus-shaped journey.”

That quote can be found on the sleeve of Being Reverend, Matt’s diary book follow-up to his 2016 bestseller, Becoming Reverend, out today (29/10/2020) in paperback, eBook and unabridged audiobook, recorded by Matt over two days.

“It’s already sold out on Amazon on pre-orders,” says Matt. “People have been ringing me to say they can’t get it.” Demand will grow even higher after the Daily Mail runs extracts, likely to be in Saturday and next Monday’s editions.

In a nutshell, Being Reverend is the story of newbie vicar Matt Woodcock trying to breathe new life into Britain’s biggest yet emptiest church, the 700-year-old Holy Trinity in Hull’s Old Town, while trying not to ruin his home life with Anna and their teething twins. It is a story of faith, real ale…and camels.

What a first posting post-training for Reverend Matt, who had earlier made his mark at St Paul’s Holgate in York, when running The Lounge nights with such guests as Dr Sentamu and booking Shed Seven for their first gig after re-forming.

Out today: Matt Woodcock’s diary of a vicar at “God’s Aircraft Hangar”

“Holy Trinity is the largest parish church by area in the country. I called it ‘God’s Aircraft Hangar’,” he says, at a socially distanced meeting at Dyls, sporting an Oasis face mask in vicarly black and white. “It’s so massive, I used to go for a cycle ride around the aisles on the way home from the pub!”

From the start, he named his dislikes as pews, dull sermons and organs, and his philosophy is constantly uplifting. “I just think my job is to raise a few smiles, make people think and spread the joy that faith can enrich your life,” he says.

“I’m on a mission to stop making church and faith a thing of dullness. We’ve done dullness in the Church of England for centuries, but I say, ‘make it interesting, make people respond, even make them angry, make them think about their faith’, when somehow we’ve made it dreadfully dull.

“I think Jesus would be turning over tables now, not because of money lenders, but because church is dull.”

Being Reverend collates Matt’s diary entries from his first 18 months at Holy Trinity. “I’ve written a diary every day since 2009, when all this ‘From News To Pews’ stuff happened,” he says. “I was told do so by Sister Cecilia Goodman at St Bede’s [Pastoral Centre in York], where I’d sit in a room for six hours and I’d come out floating.

“She’d give me questions to think about and I’ve kept a diary ever since, 650 words every day, good, bad or ugly.”

His growing passion for poetry, fuelled initially by the works of University of Hull librarian Philip Larkin, has informed his own writing. “I love the pithy way poets write: there’s so much power in a sentence with a real directness to it. That’s why some people said reading my first book was like being hit by a blunt instrument because you’re not prepared for it.

“My style works for quips but when I write about sadness or tragedy, there’s no warning.  I go straight in. Journalism taught me that the editing part is the most important, deciding what to take out.”

In younger days, Matt had written diaries, but never sustained them through a year. “I started a few but it was all about girls and my terrible failures, so they always ended pretty quickly.  But now I couldn’t let a day go by without doing my diary. It’s become an obsession.”

Big church. Tiny congregation. Freezing cold. Welcome to Holy Trinity, Matt, taking on a church in the last-chance saloon. “They were about to mothball the church; the congregation was only ten to 15; they were losing £1,000 a week,” he recalls. “You have to remember it was right in the middle of Hull, so it would have been like mothballing York Minster, but it had become a blind spot to the city.”

Enter Reverend Matt, in the role of “pioneer vicar”. “My job was two-fold: Engage with the community outside the church and start using this building in a creative way,” he says. “For Holy Trinity not to be at the centre of the community was a travesty.”

“They said, ‘how about asking that nutty vicar at Holy Trinity?’,” recalls Reverend Matt Woodcock

Gradually, the church became both a cultural and spiritual hub, home to a theatre group as much as prayers in the chapel. The first headline-making big hitter was the Real Ale Festival, drawing 4,000 pint punters. “Hull CAMRA had previously held it at Hull City Hall but said ‘it’s too hot in there, it’s ruining the beer’,” says Matt.

“They said, ‘how about asking that nutty vicar at Holy Trinity?’, and when I told the church council it would generate £3,500 in three days, all their hands went up! That put us on the map, so did the theatre shows, artisans’ markets, and Ralph McTell played a concert there too.”

Holy Trinity participated in Hull’s year as the City of Culture, further momentum for the church. “At the same time, the congregation started to grow because people were thinking, ‘hey, what’s going on here on Sundays?’,” says Matt.

“What I learnt was that when you have the courage to make changes, beautiful things happen.”  So much so that Dr Sentamu re-dedicated Holy Trinity as Hull Minster in 2017.

Matt would leave his “labour of love” after seven years to return to York. “It was the wildest, most beautiful time. We were part of this revolution in Hull,” he says, but it came at a cost. “At times, I barely saw my wife, and it could have ended in divorce.

“The irony in those first 18 months was the people closest to me saw me least. Anna nearly left me during that time. She’d had enough, and I’m ashamed to say that. There was a massive cost to my personal life in the work I was doing.

“I wasn’t around enough for my children, but I wouldn’t change anything in the world for being a dad. Anna is a real saint in all this. I now realise you have to find a balance in life and I’ve learnt about that.

“I always promised Anna, who’s a real family person, that one day we would move back to York to be close to her family, and we have done that.”

Matt is now employed as a “Multiply Minister”, charged with building church participation for the under-50s at St Barnabas, Leeman Road, and St Paul’s, Holgate.

 “I always say my calling is to bring the average age down from 108,” he says. “I have to build a new church community of 20 to 40 year olds, to do church in a new way.”

From mountain-walking to volleyball, pub gatherings to theatre trips – before Covid restrictions – Matt has built up a sense of belonging to a community that turns into an exploration of faith.

Camels alert: Holy Trinity Church’s Travelling Nativity Play in Hull city centre on December 22 2012

“The biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that being cautious gets you absolutely nowhere. Jesus calls us to the full life and that means being brave enough to take risks and to be people-centric,” he says.

“I just love people. They are a constant fascination. They are my oxygen. They are why I get up in the morning. Every morning, I read a bit of Jesus and every day I try to be a little more like him. Keeping it simple.

“If I’ve got this faith thing wrong, I still believe trying to live life like Christ brings you the most joy, the most fun, but sometimes we’ve lost that simplicity of purpose.”

Matt describes the task facing priests as “being like a tragi-comedy”. “But if you don’t have positivity, what’s the opposite? It’s minus four in the church, the average age is 108, and I’ve been in a pulpit looking out at a dozen people trying to sit as far from each other as possible.

“So, you have to have positive vibes, hope; hope goes a long way. So does humour; being given permission to laugh.

“I know I’m a loudmouth and I’m too much for some people – I remember kicking a ball around the aisles at a baptism and trying to kick it into the font…that was going too far! – but I love getting alongside people and trying to enrich their lives, and loving people is a non-negotiable part of being a vicar.”

Becoming Reverend closes the diary after 18 months because it is always good to go out on a high, that high being the day the “nutty vicar” excelled himself by arranging for camels to participate in a Nativity Play through the streets of Hull on the busiest shopping day of the year.

“I realised no-one was coming to the church at Christmas, so I said ‘let’s take a Nativity Play out of the church with actors, and why don’t we have camels?’,” says Matt. “I think the council gave us £5,000 and someone found this place where you could hire camels, sheep and a donkey. It became this massive thing, parading through the streets – and we made the pages of the Hull Daily Mail.”

Matt is already planning his next book. “It’ll be about male friendship, how buttoned up we are, how we struggle to open up to each other about our soulful side,” he says. Who better to stir up that discussion than the frank and fearless Reverend Matt?

Being Reverend, A Diary, by Matt Woodcock is published today by Church House Publishing.

Final word to Matt:

Boredom threshold: low.

Excitement threshold: high.

Fancy learning about Gothic horror in fiction and film from Doctor Corstorphine? Here’s how on Halloween…

Whitby Abbey at fright-night: Beloved of Goths and devotees of Gothic fiction

ZOOM and doom combine in Exploring And Creating Gothic Fiction, a Halloween masterclass with Dr Kevin Corstorphine, run by the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, on October 31 at 11.30am.

“This two-hour online session for adults will introduce participants to some of the main ways of thinking about horror in fiction and film, including sections on cutting-edge research in the field,” says the University of Hull lecturer in American Studies.

“It will also be an inclusive discussion, with all views welcome, as well as a chance to talk about your favourite examples of the spooky and macabre. Creative writers will find useful tips to get the most out of the genre in their writing.”

Dr Corstorphine, who has lectured in English at the University of Hull’s Scarborough campus too, teaches undergraduate modules including American Gothic and has supervised several PhDs on the subject.

He is a researcher in horror, gothic, and “weird” fiction and has published widely in the field, latterly editing the 2018 Palgrave Handbook to Horror Literature.

To book for this £10 masterclass, go to:
https://www.sjt.uk.com/event/1105/exploring_and_creating_gothic_fiction

The SJT recommends: “It will help if you can find somewhere in your home with a good internet connection, and if you have some, use headphones, ideally with a built-in microphone, as this will help reduce feedback during the session.”

Wanted! Your poems and doodles for Explore York’s record of this strange year

Stephen Lee Hodgkins: Self-styled “chronic doodler” and community printmaker

OCTOBER 1 is National Poetry Day and the word is: Explore York Libraries and Archives will mark it “in a very special way”.

Explore is launching a project to help everyone to make sense of this very strange year by asking you to send in poems and drawings that will create “a lasting record of what has happened in our lives”.

The project, World Turned Upside Down 2020 #haiflu edition, takes inspiration from spoken-word artist Liv Torc’s pandemic poetry initiative, Project Haiflu, and community artist Stephen Lee Hodgkins’ interest in York’s printing heritage.

Explore is asking you to send two haiku or #haiflu poems on the topic of No News and Strange News but with a flavour of lockdown. If you prefer to portray your thoughts and feelings visually, you can send in a doodle or cartoon instead.

Throughout October and November, Explore will be hosting free online haiku workshops with poets Janet Dean and Penny Boxall and doodle workshops with Stephen Lee Hodgkins.

The first two workshops will be on National Poetry Day itself. At the beginning of November, Project Haiflu originator Liv Torc will present an exclusive online talk and poetry show, Haiflu Ever After.

After the November 30 deadline for submissions, 20 pairs of #haiflu and 20 doodles that reflect York’s Coronavirus experience will be chosen for inclusion in a book. Hodgkins will create a 20-page limited-edition chapbook printed in the traditional way on handmade paper.

Each contributor to the final piece will receive a copy; every library in York will be given one too, and a copy will be lodged in the Explore York archive, alongside the original World Turned Upside Down Chapbook from 1820.

You can find full details and more information on how to take part in the project on Explore’s website, www.exploreyork.org.uk, and book the workshops on their Eventbrite page.

In addition, Explore has made a short film about the project, to be posted on their YouTube channel at 11am on National Poetry Day.

Spoken-word artist and slam champ Liv Torc

What is Project Haiflu?

AT the beginning of lockdown in March, spoken-word artist Liv Torc posted on Facebook to ask how her friends were feeling when life-as-they-knew-it stopped.

She wanted them to tell her what they had noticed, either in haiku form – a three-line poem with five, seven and five syllables and no rhyming – or by posting a photograph.

She brought words, pictures and music together in a weekly film and Project Haiflu came into being. Liv made 12 weekly films, one overall 45-minute project film and an extra film based on contributions for public libraries.

The films contain more than 600 contributions from 250 people. Around 30,000 people have watched them so far; you can do likewise and discover more about the project on Liv’s website: https://www.livtorc.co.uk/.

What is The World Turned Upside Down, or No News, and Strange News?

DURING lockdown, community artist Stephen Lee Hodgkins was experimenting with an old Adana 8×5 tabletop letterpress printing machine. When searching for old instruction manuals, he came across the work of York printer James Kendrew, of 23 Colliergate, who had produced a series of chapbooks in the 1800s.

These chapbooks, or “cheapbooks”, were small, roughly printed booklets adorned with intricate woodcut illustrations. Chapbooks kept alive folklore, nursery rhymes, fairy tales and school lessons and were sold by travelling merchants across town and country. 

The World Turned Upside Down, or No News, and Strange News is an example of nonsense rhymes and riddles produced in 1820 that gives an insight, through a quirky lens, to life 200 years ago. Copies can be found in the archives at York Explore.

The Artists:

Liv Torc

SPOKEN-WORD artist, published poet and producer who “plunges the vast caverns and dormant volcanoes of the human and planetary condition”.

This former Bard of Exeter and now co-host of the Hip Yak Poetry Shack runs the spoken-word stage at the WOMAD festival, Project Haiflu and the Hip Yak Poetry School. 

In 2019, her poem about climate change in the face of motherhood, The Human Emergency, went viral, being seen by 80,000 people. She performed at Glastonbury Festival on the Poetry and Words stage and represented Somerset for the BBC’s National Poetry Day celebrations.

In 2020, she was chosen as one of four Siren Poets by Cape Farewell for a commission on climate change in the time of Covid-19 and wrote and filmed a poem for the BBC’s Make A Difference campaign.

Penny Boxall: Poet and Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of York

Penny Boxall

HER debut poetry collection, Ship Of The Line, won the 2016 Edwin Morgan Poetry Award. Second collection Who Goes There? was published in 2018.

Penny has won a Northern Writers’ Award and the Mslexia/PBS Poetry Competition. She is a Hawthornden Fellow and has held residencies at Gladstone’s Library and the Chateau de Lavigny.

She has taught poetry on the MA course at Oxford Brookes University and in 2019 was Visiting Research Fellow in the Creative Arts at Merton College, Oxford. She is Royal Literary Fund Fellow at the University of York.

Janet Dean

HER poetry has been shortlisted in the Bridport Prize, commended in the Stanza Poetry Competition and featured in the Northern Poetry Library’s 50th anniversary Poem of the North.

Her work appears in anthologies and magazines published by Valley Press, Paper Swans, Templar and Strix. As Janet Dean Knight, her first novel The Peacemaker was published in 2019 and her second novel in progress was shortlisted for the New Writing North Sid Chaplin Award.

Stephen Lee Hodgkins

THIS “chronic doodler” and community printmaker has an interest in people’s voices, texts and their experiences of places and spaces.

He is a self-taught community artist and visual thinker with a positive attitude, people and research skills, creative energy and a commitment to inclusion and human rights. He has experience aplenty of working with community organisations, applying an arts-based approach. 

He left school with no qualifications and later received the labels of dyslexia, dyspraxia and attention deficit. Reflecting on these tags now, his preference is for the term “neurodiverse”, and he has learnt to embrace and harness his diverse language use and organisational approach to the world.

Returning to university as a mature student, in 2008 he completed a PhD in Social Psychology. An abridged version of his thesis was published as a chapter in an international text in 2009, Disabilities: Insights From Across Fields and Around The World. 

What did you do in lockdown? Here’s a kind word from motivational author Ian Donaghy

Author Ian Donaghy with the first edition of his new lockdown book, A Pocketful Of Kindness

TRAVEL back to times BC, before Covid.

Let York author, singer, event organiser, conference speaker and dementia care campaigner Ian Donaghy take up the story. “Imagine if we had been told on New Year’s Eve, ‘enjoy the next 12 weeks because, come March 2020, schools will close the gates,” he posits.

“Pub and restaurant curtains will be drawn and live music venues and theatres will be told the show mustn’t go on… and on top of that, there will be no cuddles allowed’.” 

Never has the world needed a bigger cuddle than in these uncharted waters, says Big Ian, whose response to lockdown inertia was to write a 229-page cuddle of a book entitled A Pocketful Of Kindness. 

“During lockdown, many people were furloughed, uncertain of their futures,” says Big Ian, larger-than-life host of such York community events as A Night To Remember at York Barbican and Xmas Presence, former school teacher and now a “key voice in care”.

On song: Ian Donaghy hosting A Night To Remember at York Barbican

“As a conference speaker, I suddenly realised the venues I usually fill with delegates, whether ExCeL London or the Harrogate Convention Centre, were now Covid-19 Nightingale hospitals. Everything I did on my public-speaker travels had disappeared.”

At his home, not far from the York Barbican, where his band Huge played the first ever show, a restless Ian needed to keep himself busy.

Noting the acts of kindness that were proliferating in lockdown, he hit on the idea of writing a pocket-sized book on that very subject.

He already had two all-life-is-here books to his name, firstly Dear Dementia, published in June 2014 and now available in libraries home and abroad.

Writer Ian Donaghy and director Gemma McDonald at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre box office when hatching their plan to convert The Missing Peace into a Rowntree Players production

Next, in December 2017, came The Missing Peace, Creating A Life After Death, whose transfer to the stage by Gemma McDonald and the Rowntree Players should have been playing the Joseph Rowntree Theatre this weekend.

The Missing Peace had taken three years from first thought to printing, a longer gestation than an elephant birth. Come 2020, he had so many heart-warming stories bubbling away, waiting to be told, he felt compelled to put finger to keyboard once more, and lockdown’s quietitude allowed him a more concentrated focus, a much faster turnaround.

“Like many people, I like to work from a finish line backwards, so I needed to create a finish line. Not just a raison d’etre, but a raison d’aider, to help people in this difficult time,” says Big Ian, whose 50th birthday fell in those shutdown weeks.

York pianist Kieran White as he appears in the story A Fish Out Of Water

“So, after transforming the garden and doing some pretty shoddy decorating, I reflected on what was important in this new simplified world.

“The world had stopped, giving us a rare period of clarity – an opportunity to reflect, to see who and what really matters in our lives and who and what doesn’t.”

He set about writing stories from his experiences in dementia care; teaching young people with learning difficulties; working in crime reduction for the Home Office and 30 years as a showman singer, fronting bands in his native North East, Yorkshire and Nottingham.

The book combines short stories, monologues and TED Talk-style chapters highlighting the virtues and power that kindness has had in transforming people’s lives.

Sir Bobby Robson: The subject of Ian’s story A League Of His Own

Page after page of true stories, full of humour, revelation, wry observation and pathos too, recount  the deeds of England and Newcastle United manager Sir Bobby Robson, Irish boxer Barry McGuigan, American blues guitarist Robert Cray and an army of selfless people you will “never have heard of but will want to meet”.

Big Ian’s celebration of kindness attracted award-winning Private Eye cartoonist Tony Husband, who provided a cartoon, such was his belief in the inspirational project.

“The idea behind the book is that you gift it to someone who has made a huge impact in your life with their acts of kindness who may not realise it,” says Big Ian. “This enables you to reflect on who has helped get you where you are today.”

Seventy stories in total, they will make you laugh, cry and think in equal measure, promises Big Ian, whose storytelling elan has prompted one reviewer to call him “an Alan Bennett for the 21st century, who finds tomorrow’s charm and nostalgia in today”.

Kieran White’s reaction on being gifted a copy of A Pocketful Of Kindness

A Pocketful Of Kindness is available only from bigian.co.uk and is proving popular already, selling 1,500 copies in its first week, based solely on word of mouth.

“Many companies have bought bespoke versions of the book with their company logos to show their employees how appreciated they are,” says Big Ian.

Summing up his philosophy in advocating a championing of kindness, he says:

“Look back on your life and think…

Who believed in you?

Who pushed you?

Who said, ‘If there’s anything you want, I’m here’….and actually backed it up.

Who asked you how you were and waited for an answer?

Tony Husband’s cartoon, Be Kind, gifted to Ian Donaghy for A Pocketful Of Kindness

Who inspired you?

Who believed in you when even you didn’t?

Who gave you your standards?

Who made time for you despite being so busy?

Who was kind when the world was not?

Think who helped make you.

Who would you send the book to?”

Inevitably influenced by being written in lockdown, A Pocketful Of Kindness is “a book for our times”. “As its centre-piece, it even features a chapter called Stop The World I Want To Get Off about the chaos 2020 has dealt us all,” says Ian.

“But now I predict a new pandemic that I’ve already witnessed in communities and in care homes that I think won’t need a vaccine, as I expect the result to read: Covid 19 Kindness 20.”

Pocketed: Book editor Charles Hutchinson shows off his reward for suffering Ian Donaghy’s “punktuation”

AS an act of kindness in the lockdown lull, Ian Donaghy asked yours truly to edit some stories that he wanted to turn into a book.

As an act of kindness, CH said ‘Yes’…and so the to and fro and fro and to of 70 stories began.

As an act of cruelty, Ian subjected CH to his erratic punctuation, or “punktuation”, as his father has so aptly described it.

As an act of generosity, ex-Maths teacher Ian put up with being judged as if for a school report, story after story.

Now, however, the result can be yours, courtesy of Big Ian providing five copies to be awarded to recipients for the five best reasons to do so, honouring acts of kindness you want to showcase.

Send those brief stories of kind deeds to charles.hutchinson104@gmail.com, marked Kindness Acts, with your name, address and daytime phone number, by September 13.

Who deserves a copy of A Pocketful Of KIndness? Have your say by sending your suggestion and reason to charles.hutchinson104@gmail.com

Book now! All Explore libraries, reading rooms and cafes will be open next week

Time to Explore: The message is loud and clear…Explore Libraries and cafes are reopening

ALL Explore libraries and cafes in York will be open from next week.

Larger Explore centres reopened in July, now to be joined by smaller libraries, enabling customers to drop-in to browse the books for the first time since March. Opening times will vary, with shorter than normal hours at some places and all libraries closing by 5pm.

The Reading Cafes at York Explore, Acomb and Tang Hall libraries will re-open too and books can be borrowed once more at the cafes in Rowntree Park and the new Hungate site.

The Local and Family History rooms at York Explore will be open, but anyone wanting to use them will need to book ahead, in order that safe social distancing can be maintained. The Archives reading room will re-open from October for pre-booked visits.

Stories this way: A welcome sign of better times ahead

In-person events are not yet possible but Explore has planned a programme of virtual events for Autumn 2020, so look out for further announcements or follow Explore on social media for the latest information. In addition, thousands of newspapers and magazines are available online through the PressReader app.

Fiona Williams, Explore’s chief executive, says: “We are so happy to be able to welcome everyone back. I was heartbroken when we had to close our libraries in March because of the pandemic. Throughout the closure, we supported people through our online library and website and kept in touch with our users.

“We began to plan reopening as soon as it was possible and we were so pleased to reopen partially at the beginning of July. We received so many lovely comments from our users who missed us and we are still running the Missed My Library survey, so please do go to our website to complete it and let us know what you missed the most.”

Explore cafes are back in business

Explore has planned carefully for the reopening, taking into account the safety of both staff and the public. “We have trained staff and risk assessed our buildings, designing in social distancing,” says Fiona.

“The first reopening stage has been very successful and we are now able to extend that from the beginning of September when all libraries will be open for browsing and borrowing, but with shorter than normal hours.  Please see our website, exploreyork.org.uk, for full details of each library.  We look forward to seeing you soon.”

Councillor Darryl Smalley, executive member for Culture, Leisure and Communities at City of York Council, says: “Explore have provided tremendous support to York’s communities throughout the pandemic and I’m delighted to see this next phase of carefully considered and safe reopening.

“Whether you’re a regular visitor or have never popped in, I urge everyone to take this wider reopening as an opportunity to enjoy and explore the brilliant range of services on offer at your local library.”

York Explore Library and Archive

Did you know?

IN 2019, Explore York Libraries and Archives had more than one million visitors, held 1,466 events, told 1,734 stories to children and loaned more than 2,000 books every day.

Holding more than 850 years of civic records, the City Archives are the most complete outside London.

Explore was born in 2014 as a community benefit society with charitable status, owned by its staff and community members, and recognised nationally for its innovative approach. In 2019, Explore won a 15-year contract to deliver libraries and archives for City of York Council.

Persistent crime pays off for Adrian McKinty as he wins Theakston novel prize

The Chain reaction: Adrian McKinty, winner of the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year

UBER driver and barman turned last-chance best-selling novelist Adrian McKinty has won the 2020 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year for his “life-changing” thriller The Chain.

His success in the coveted Harrogate trophy represents Lucky 13 for 52-year-old Irishman McKinty, who, two years earlier, had called time on his writing career after 12 books when faced by financial hardship.

McKinty’s win was announced last night in a virtual awards ceremony held to launch the HIF Weekender, this summer’s free virtual festival run by Harrogate International Festivals, which manages the novel award.

Born in Carrickfergus near Belfast, McKinty now lives in New York, where he was forced to give up his writing career two years ago when, earning less than the minimum wage and struggling to make ends meet, McKinty and his family were evicted from their home.

He began working as an Uber driver and bar tender, but a late-night phone call from agent Shane Salerno – who had read McKinty’s blog about his situation – persuaded him to give his writing one last shot.

The book sleeve for Adrian McKinty’s prize-winning crime thriller The Chain

Inspired to write something completely new, McKinty penned The Chain, a thriller that became an overnight success: an international bestseller published in 36 countries, now set for the big screen after Universal snapped up the film rights in a seven-figure deal.

“I am gobsmacked and delighted to win this award,” said McKinty, after winning Britain’s premier crime-writing prize from his fourth such nomination. “Two years ago, I had given up on writing altogether and was working in a bar and driving an Uber, and so to go from that to this is just amazing.

“People think that you write a book and it will be an immediate bestseller. For 12 books, my experience was quite the opposite, but then I started this one. It was deliberately high concept, deliberately different to everything else I had written – and I was still convinced it wouldn’t go anywhere… but now look at this. It has been completely life changing.”

The Chain’s chilling tale of parents being forced to abduct children to save the lives of their own was chosen by public vote and the prize judges, triumphing against a shortlist also featuring Oyinkan Braithwaite, Helen Fitzgerald, Jane Harper, Mick Herron and Abir Mukherjee.

McKinty’s win comes at a time when Britain is experiencing a boom in crime fiction, first seeing an explosion in popularity during lockdown and now soaring sales since bookshops have re-opened.

“I was still convinced it wouldn’t go anywhere… but now look at this. It has been completely life changing,” says Adrian McKinty, reflecting on The Chain’s success

McKinty was nominated previously for the Theakston award in 2011, 2014 and 2016 for his Sean Duffy series. Victorious at last in 2020, he now receives £3,000 and an engraved oak beer cask, hand-carved by one of Britain’s last coopers from the T & R Theakston brewery in Masham.

Theakston executive director Simon Theakston said: “Looking at the titles in contention for the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year 2020, it is clear to see why crime fiction remains the UK’s genre of choice.

“Adrian McKinty is a writer of astonishing talent and tenacity, and we could not be more grateful that he was persuaded to give his literary career one last shot because The Chain is a truly deserving winner.

“While we might be awarding this year’s trophy in slightly different, digital circumstances, we raise a virtual glass of Theakston Old Peculier to Adrian’s success – with the hope that we can do so in person before too long and welcome everyone back to Harrogate next year for a crime-writing celebration like no other.”

Last night would have been the opening chapter of Harrogate’s crime-writing festival, cancelled alas by the Coronavirus pandemic. Instead, Harrogate International Festivals is running the HIF Weekender from July 23 to 26: a free virtual festival of 40-plus free events “bringing world-class culture to everyone at home, featuring performances and interviews with internationally acclaimed musicians, best-selling authors and innovative thinkers”.

For the full programme for today, tomorrow and Sunday, go to: https://harrogateinternationalfestivals.com/live-stream/the-hif-weekender/.

York poet Robert Powell’s new pamphlet to be launched at Explore York online event

Robert Powell’s new pamphlet, Notes From A Border

EXPLORE York is taking its events programme online, hosting the launch of York poet Robert Powell’s new pamphlet on Zoom on July 20 at 7pm.

Notes From A Border River was created as part of Voicing The Bridge, a collaborative arts project on the theme of freedom of movement that focused on the Northern Irish border during Brexit negotiations in 2019.

The project took place on the River Finn that forms part of the border and, in particular, the remarkable 17th century bridge that crosses the river at the village of Clady.

Robert will read from his pamphlet, with its creative mix of poetry, diary, research and photography, and will discuss how half-planned and accidental meetings, encounters, discoveries, walks and musings eventually assumed the form of finished poems.

Zoom launch: York poet Robert Powell

In addition, there will be a question-and-answer session and a showing of Voicing The Bridge, the film made as part of the border project by Jan-Erik Andersson.

The event is free, but you need to book online on York Explore’s Eventbrite page to receive a link to attend. To buy a copy of Notes From A Border River for £7.50, go to rjpowell.org/?page_id=303.

This pamphlet launch is the first in a series of online events planned by Explore York Libraries and Archives over the summer and into autumn and winter.