Next week sees the return of a unique literature festival – one that is both broadcast on the radio and takes place live at Chapel FM in Leeds.
Writing on Air is now in its fourth year and brings together international and Yorkshire-based writers, poets, performers and local communities to create original radio and live performances celebrating the spoken word. “It is a DIY festival in the sense that we put out an open call to writers and readers and various interest groups, so you get a whole range of events,” says Peter Spafford who has the wonderful title of Director of Words at Chapel FM. “All the programmes are made by writers and readers themselves. Some people are old hands and others will be creating a show for the first time with our professional help.”
The festival always has a theme and this year’s is Hearing the Voice, inspired by a research project of that name at Durham University. “I interviewed the writer in residence on the project and I thought it would be fascinating to go with that theme,” says Spafford. “It is a multi-disciplinary project that is looking to destigmatise mental health issues and the idea of ‘hearing voices’ and ranges from writers hearing the voices of characters to the more pathological end of the spectrum. It links more broadly with the notion of finding your own voice as a writer and a human being and it’s also about listening. So we will be looking at all aspects of the voice – and silence too.”
There are around 200 writers, poets, performers and community members involved this time round, featuring more than 60 events all responding to the theme through readings, dramas, documentaries, panel discussions and outside broadcasts. Highlights include a broadcast and live event featuring peace activist Jo Berry talking about the dialogue she has been in for the past 18 years with the former IRA combatant who planted the bomb that killed her father in the Brighton hotel bombing of 1984. Poets Malika Booker, Khadijah Ibrahiim and Vahni Capildeo will be speaking about Colonizin in Reverse, their poetic response to the recent British Library exhibition Windrush, Songs in a Strange Land. And Vickie Orton and guests will present Unexpected Voices: How to find your voice when you have a disability – stories told through art, song and symbols.
Chapel FM is a very special place. Founded in 2014 when an old Methodist chapel in Seacroft was converted to become the first dedicated arts centre in East Leeds. It comprises a theatre space which hosts arts events and three studios producing community radio under the name East Leeds FM. It is an important hub for writers and readers from across the region and the festival is a perfect example of this. “Being a writer can be quite solitary and isolating and one of the really nice things about the festival is the way people connect and support each other,” says Spafford. “There’s always a real buzz at the events.”
Writing on Air Festival broadcasts on East Leeds FM and takes place as a series of free live events at Chapel FM, March 21-24. Programme details www.chapelfm.co.uk