by Norman Warwick

If there isn´t already, there should be some pithy saying about how the habits of childhood become our routes through adulthood. As a child, I had my favourite authors, like Rudyard Kipling and Enid Blyton and whoever wrote and illustrated the Roy Of The Rovers series in Tiger. Because of The Jungle Book, and The Famous Five and The Secret Seven I never got round to the writer of Biggles and, had no interest in lions, witches or wardrobes. As a young adult I became so ensconsed in the middle earth inhabited by hobbits and Lords with Rings that I missed out on the sci fi of Bradbury, the adventures of Rider Haggard and the works of Ian Fleming. I gave myself my word as my Bond that I would catch up on those one day but I have never read an 007 yarn in my life. Now that, in my sixties. I am nearly a grown up, I attend literary festivals, at which I am impressed by writers I have not yet read and even some I have not previously heard of. If I follow all the literary Sidetracks & Detours I have mapped out for myself I will certainly come to a dead end long before I have read them all. So my advice is, we should all follow our art in whatever manner we wish. Come join us as we look in new directions

Peter Chand (left) was probably a surprise success when I returned to England to see the Rochdale Literature And Ideas Festival 2015, only weeks after arriving here. Resplendent in his cultural costume this ‘man from Wolverhampton’ delivered a spicy curry of Indian stories and brain teasers. Of course we all know that what is ‘stuck in a corner but travels round the world’ is a postage stamp but it nevertheless took ten minutes for anyone in the room to think of the answer. Peter’s parents migrated to Britain from te Punjab in the nineteen fifties and though he was born in the Midland’s he grew up using Punjabi as his first language. He seamlessly combined these two cultures to tell us stories full of life, wisdom and humour as he delivered an intriguing but humorous talk called Rajahs, Ranis And Riddles.  

This brought together pieces he has created or collected since first taking up story-telling as a professional in 1999. Since then he has entertained audiences all over Britain, and in many other countries too, with his puzzles and stories and revelations of cultural commonalities in the world’s stories.

The talk was held in the downstairs exhibition room at Number 10 Gallery in Rochdale and the proprietors, who have seen their venue become one of Rochdale’s hidden gems for such events, provided their customary buffet lunch. Peter was introduced by the ubiquitous Punam Ramchurn, the Festival Director who worked so hard with her bosses and her team to bring the whole weekend to fruition.

As soon as he began is talk we realised he was going to speak through sparkling eyes and an ever-present smile. His love of wordplay was evident throughout and within seconds we were all racking our brains for obvious answers to what seemed very complicated questions, like why aubergines are the tastiest food in the world and how to discover a man’s mother tongue.

His show demonstrated perfectly why he has been commissioned for programmes not only on the BBC Radio Asian Networks, but also BBC Radio Four.

He designs and delivers both community and corporate workshops on story-telling and has helped many librarians, teachers and dramatists to sharpen their performances and presentation skills.

Storyteller Peter Chand is one of Europe’s most renowned storytellers and is constantly in demand for his tales of wit and wisdom. He has shared his tales all across Britain and has also performed in Norway, France, Austria, Canada, and Singapore, amongst other countries. Peter grew up with Punjabi as his first language, and still visits family in the Punjab to collect folk tales, which he then translates into English and shares all around the world.
He also shares his storytelling skills by leading workshops with teachers, librarians, budding storytellers, and anyone trying to find their voice and gain confidence when performing in public. Peter is also part of the organising team of Festival at the Edge, which is the oldest storytelling festival in England.

Peter is one of only a handful of Indian story-tellers working in Britain today and his performances have been described as energetic and totally engaging. This delivery was no exception as he spoke with warmth and great relish.

´Peter transports the listener into his world with remarkable energy and great expression… I was spellbound,´ syas Kim Normanton Producer BBC Radio Four.

´He was enchanting and entrancing,´ says I, änd Mr. Normanton found the right word. I, too, was spellbound.

So, too, was Imtiaz Dharker (right), a Pakistan-born British poet, who was awarded The Chalmondeley Prize by The Society of Authors in 2011. Her collections include Purdah, Postcards from God, I Speak For The Devil and The Terrorist At My Table.

Imtiaz read from some of these works when she performed with instrumentalist John A Sampson and the poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy at St Mary In The Baum as part of the headline act of this year’s Literature And Ideas Festival. She delivered her words in honeyed, quiet tones that drew us in to listen and pay attention and to smile at how she created rhythm and memories of the Bee Gees’ songs of our youth.

She is, however, not only a poetbut also an artist and has even had ten solo exhibitions of drawings in India, London, New York and Hong Kong. She scripts and directs films, many of them for non-government organisations in India, working in the area of shelter, education and health for women and children.

‘If there were to be a World Laureate, then for me the role could only be filled by Imtiaz Dharker,’ says Carol Ann Duffy.

Frequently, when speaking to literary audiences, Lesley Ann Jones refers to her hero by his Christian name of David. We in the audience have to remind ourselves that the friend our speaker is describing is actually the late David Bowie, that chameleon-like setter of popular trends over the past four decades or so. She can be forgiven, though, because Lesley-Anne Jones is not only the author of Hero- David Bowie but was also his acquaintance, even friend, of long standing.

She met him whilst she was still a schoolgirl and during her talk she admitted that she was hugely star-struck during that first meeting. From then on she “followed him around” and was even invited in for tea, in times of greater innocence than today. Over the years they enjoyed an easy friendship though Lesley-Anne never lost her amazement at his ability to re-invent himself in different persona, setting new moods in fashion, music and cultural attitude. The music press portrayed him as an elusive genius but to Lesley-Anne, by then working as a music journalist, he was simply her good friend David Jones.

She has also written books on other artists such as the late Freddie Mercury and Queen but Hero, and indeed this talk, is a very personal portrait that seeks to reveal the real man behind Bowie’s many incarnations. She spoke knowledgably and engagingly about his torments and triumphs and his golden periods in the limelight and even those spent in the pop wilderness.

Her book has been called ‘the most complete portrait of Bowie ever written’ and there is no doubt she brings an insider’s awareness to her story. She delivered her talk in a warm, informal manner without resorting to name-dropping or grandiose claims to have been in any way Bowie’s confidant. Instead, she spoke of a friend sadly missed, and in doing so spoke for more than one generation of pop fans.

Her other books include a collection of memories surrounding the murder of John Lennon and The Lives And Death Of Marc Bolan and on her web site she talks forthrightly about the particular skills of ghost writing. She also details her many broadcasts on radio and tv.

During her talk at Number One Riverside Lesley-Anne adopted the modest tone of a well-informed fan and confessed, somewhat self-deprecatingly, ‘I couldn’t sing, I couldn’t play, so I went to Fleet Street !’

I had two biographies of David Bowie, which I left in storage in the UK with hundreds of other music books. These were Loving the Alien by Chris Sandford and Rebel Rebel by Chris O’Leary (Zero Books). A month after arriving here in Lanzarote I received a phone call to say they, and the whole collection, had been washed away in the December floods.

Following his death, seemingly as choreographed by him as had been his life, there will now surely be a rush to publish the good, the bad and the ugly on Bowie. There have already been salacious newspaper articles from ex wives, girlfriends and boyfriends. Few, if any, of the titles to emerge will be as well researched or carefully written as those by messrs. Sandford and O’Leary.

Speaking of research and care, or lack thereof, I have just read The Road Is Long: The Story of The Hollies. This book does them little service, reading like a ‘cut and paste’ with no objectivity and seemingly no new input from its subjects. The book, therefore, fails abjectly to explore the group’s qualities of superb harmonies and impeccable production values.

Read, instead, Crosby, Stills And Nash (ex Hollies, Graham) by David Zimmer.

Rochdale´s Literature And Ideas Festival frequently introduced me to wonderful writers and their works, including first time authors and award winning wordsmiths.  Nikesh Shukla, (right) for instance, is such a writer. Coconut Unlimited, his debut novel, was published by Quartet Books and shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award 2010 and long-listed for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2011. Metro described it as ‘a riot of cringe-worthy moments made real by Shukla’s beautifully observed characters and talent for teen banter’. In 2011 he co-wrote an essay about the London riots for Random House with Kieran Yates, before releasing, in 2103, a novella about food with Galley Beggars Press. He donated the profits from that work,  The Time Machine, donating his royalties to Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. The book won Best Novella at the Sabotage Awards.

His second novel, Meatspace, was published by The Friday Project. ‘Like Douglas Coupland’s Generation X,’ according to the Guardian, ‘this novel captures a cultural moment.’ It’s been lauded by the New Statesman, BBC Radio 4, the Independent on Sunday, and the Daily Mail. 

Nikesh is the editor of the essay collection, The Good Immigrant, where 21 British writers of colour discuss race and immigration in the UK. The Good Immigrant won the reader’s choice at the Books Are My Bag Awards and is shortlisted for Book of the Year at the British Book Awards.

His short stories have featured in Best British Short Stories 2013, Five DialsThe Moth Magazine, Pen Pusher, The Sunday Times, Book Slam, BBC Radio 4, First City Magazine and Teller Magazine. He has written for the Guardian, Esquire, Buzzfeed, Vice and BBC 2. He has, in the past, been writer in residence for BBC Asian Network and Royal Festival Hall. In 2014 he co-wrote Two Dosas, an award-winning short film starring Himesh Patel. His Channel 4 Comedy Lab Kabadasses aired on E4 and Channel 4 in 2011 and starred Shazad Latif, Jack Doolan and Josie Long.

He currently hosts The Subaltern podcast, an anti-panel discussion featuring conversations with writers about writing. Guests have included Zadie Smith, Junot Diaz, Teju Cole, James Salter, George Saunders, Jennifer Egan, Evie Wyld, Sam Bain, Alex Preston, Colson Whitehead and more. He also co-hosts a podcast with sci-fi writer James Smythe.

I heard Nikesh Shukla, discussing The Good Immigrant, a then-new anthology that is a collection of works by twenty one British Black Asian and Minority Ethnic writers. Among their numbers are essayists, poets, journalists and artists who each discuss issues of race and immigration. They clearly illustrate what it means to be ‘other’ in places that seem neither to want you nor to accept you.  Some of the contributions to The Good Immigrant suggest the writer feels reduced to the level of being a ‘statistic on an equality monitoring form’ who would be valued more by the monitor if he were ‘a winner of a reality tv show !’

The more we are able to hear talks by the likes of Nikesh Shukla, surely the more likely we are to feel able to celebrate both our cultural differences and our cultural similarities. His talk at the Rochdale Pioneers’ Museum, and indeed his anthology, reminded us that teenagers of all cultures share the same desire to be ‘different’ whilst also just wanting to be the same as everybody else.

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