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    Birmingham, Books

    UKYA Extravaganza

    What do you get if you put 35 authors in the top floor of a book shop on a Saturday afternoon and a while pile of people who really like books? Chaos.

    I went along to the inaugural UKYA Extravaganza at Waterstones Birmingham New St, which was organised by authors Kerry Drewery and Emma Pass. The idea had been to pull together authors and fans and celebrate the genre that was Young Adult. This was purely a labour of love and with £3 a ticket no one was there for the money and the sheer enthusiasm was palpable.

    Sure it was chaotic; it was sometimes a choice between quietly chatting with authors at the back of the room and listening to the panels. But ultimately it was a lovely event, full of enthusiasm and good will – and two groaning tables of cake!

    As a fan of YA it was lovely tto hear from authors, some of who I knew and have read their books and others who enticed me into buying their novels whilst I was there – I went home with another five books, much to my groaning ‘to read’ pile’s displeasure! The range of authors, and genres, was fantastic and Emma and Kerry have plans to do some more events, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the hashtag #ukyaextravaganza if you want to go along.

    So many authors, I couldn’t fit them all into one photo!

    Birmingham, Theory

    Kerslake debate

    Last Wednesday I went to the city council chambers for a public hearing on the Kerslake Review, organised by Pauline from News in Brum. The event was organised because of the lack of debate around the report’s release; “We are bringing the city together to debate the topic the council won’t.”

    For those asking what is the Kerslake Review; “In July 2014, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, and Sir Albert Bore, Leader of Birmingham City Council commissioned Sir Bob Kerslake to conduct an independent review of corporate governance in Birmingham City Council.” – Taken from gov.uk, where you can find the report in full.

    The debate itself was led by a panel. Chaired by Diane Kemp from Birmingham City University, the panel also included: Pauline Geoghegan of News in Brum; Alex Yip Vice-Chair of BCProject, Business Director; Sohail Hussain, a West Midlands Youth Commissioner; Catherine Staite from Institute of Local Government at University of Birmingham; and David Bailey, Professor of Industry  at Aston University . Deliberately not the usual faces but an impressive line up never the less, one panelist admitted to having not read the 68 page report he was asked to give an opinion on, which felt a little disrespectful. However the majority of the three hours, a strict timeline as the room was being paid for privately by News in Brum (helped out with an impromptu donations on the night), was given over to the floor.

    Whilst there were a few conspiracy theories and agenda pushing, these were thankfully minimal and the majority of speakers were considered and thoughtful. There was a real feeling of love for the city, mixed with a sadness that things have gotten this bad, but a desire to move forward and improve; “Birmingham used to lead the way, now what are we leading the way in?”  Speakers from the floor also questioned the links between regional/local government and central government, issues around devolved powers, and a feeling that Birmingham was missing out on funding compared to other areas of the country.  It was clear that there were a lot of informed and passionate people in the audience, with a real desire to see things improve.

    Ultimately, whilst the opportunity to talk seemed cathartic, I do wonder what good it will have.  A report on governance felt like it was asking the council to get its house in order, and as there’s been no official forum to debate within the council, it seems that ideas on improvement from residents are even less likely to be heard.  A video at the beginning of the debate illustrated that most people didn’t know about the review and with low turn-outs for local elections, it’s hard to really get a grip on whether residents really understand what their role is with engaging local government, and if they feel there is any at all.  Still at least through the evening’s efforts there is some record of the residents of Birmingham speaking up, officially or not.

    I left feeling like there were a lot of people wishing the city well, but no clear, agreed idea of how we the residents, the council itself and both groups together move forward.  I wonder; what happens next?

    ‘Kerslake Debate 2: Child Poverty in Birmingham’ takes place at Parkside Lecture Theatre, Birmingham City University, near Millenium Point on Friday 13th March, 6.30-9pm. To book a space, visit http://newsinbrum.com/

    Related articles

    My tweets from the evening https://storify.com/lauracreaven/kerslake-debate-my-tweets

    Birmingham Post – Birmingham development centres too much on ‘glamour projects’ http://www.birminghampost.co.uk/news/regional-affairs/birmingham-development-centres-much-glamour-8701880

    Chamberlain Files – Andy Howell slams council’s ‘shocking’ partnership record and ‘disgraceful’ refusal to debate Kerslake Review
    http://www.thechamberlainfiles.com/andy-howell-slams-councils-shocking-partnership-record-and-disgraceful-refusal-to-debate-kerslake-review/

     

    Birmingham, Lifestyle

    Where have I been?

    I haven’t been posting on here as often as I’d like, as I’ve been concentrating on my food and drinks blog.

    fulltothebrum_wFull to the Brum is a Birmingham-based blog which celebrates the exciting food and drinks scene in the city.  Since I restarted it in June I’ve been focusing much more on the personal experience side of it – restaurant, cafe and bar reviews as well as product reviews, news and info about events and even the occasional recipe.  I wanted to celebrate the great food and drink adventures I found in and around Birmingham.

    This means that this blog has taken a bit of a back seat, but I’m hoping to update more often on all the other adventures I’ve been on – and maybe even occasionally mentioning some of the stuff from Full to the Brum too.

    http://fulltothebrum.co.uk/

    Birmingham, Theory

    Death Cafe Birmingham

    20140730-180319-64999737.jpg

    Ever given up a sunny Sunday afternoon to sit around and talk death with a bunch of strangers?  I did last week for Birmingham’s first Death Cafe, which took place as part of The Electric’s Shock and Gore festival.

    The Death Cafe is a voluntary group, developed in London by Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid.  There objective is simple: ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’.  Birmingham’s first meeting was held in The Victoria Pub and organised by Carrie Weekes, a soon-to-be undertaker, and Sharon Hudson, a palliative care nurse specialist – with sweet treats from Conjurer’s Kitchen, and a room rather surreally decorated for a themed Dr Sketchy’s later.

    With a three-course list of questions, we sat in groups of eight and discussed attitudes to death, end of life care and what we’d like to see at our own funerals.  It was interesting to see the diversity of ages and experiences – from those working with people at the end stages of their lives, to people caring for elderly relatives and those who were just curious.  It also fascinating to see people’s experiences of talking about death in the everyday; from parents whose children didn’t want to discuss ‘what happens if…’ to those who’d written wills and had paperwork sorted for every eventuality.  Topics of assisted suicide, organ donation and the debate about knowing how long you have left were all covered too.

    Cake pop & menu

    Cake pop & menu

    It sounds strange, but I left the Death Cafe feeling oddly energised.  It gave me the opportunity to think about my own experiences with death, how better to live and questions to ask of loved ones.  For a few hours talking about death, I felt oddly more appreciative of my family and my life.

    Would I go back?  You know, I think I would.

    Check out http://deathcafe.com/deathcafes/ for information on the next Birmingham Death Cafe.

    Birmingham, Books

    World Book Day – three Birmingham authors to check out

    Today it’s World Book Day in the UK and what better way to celebrate than by picking up a good book by a Birmingham based author?  Here are three contemporary authors which i think are well worth checking out…

    Benjamin Zephaniah

    Writer, poet, lecturer and born in Handsworth, he is well worth seeing speak live as reading some of his work.  Having published (and performed) a slew of poetry, he has also released several novels aimed at young people.  He also did a blinder of a talk at the University of Birmingham’s annual Baggs Memorial Lecture on the topic of happiness and was in BBC TV show Peaky Blinders.  If you’ve never heard, seen or read anything by this man you’re really missing out.  http://benjaminzephaniah.com/

    Katharine D’ Souzaparklife2

    I read Katharine’s first novel Park Life a couple of years ago and adored it.  It follows the lives of two people who live in the same block of flats, with South Birmingham being almost a supporting character – and those in the know will be able to spot references to Kings Heath / Moseley, which just added to the book for me.  Katharine has since released a second book which I’m looking forward to reading soon. http://www.katharinedsouza.co.uk/

    Mike Gayle

    Ex-agony uncle (no really, check out his website) and author of a stack of bestsellers, Mike Gayle in a Brummie born and bred.  He’s also set a few of his books in Brum, namely Turning Thirty and its sequel Turning Forty, which is also set in South Birmingham.  But his other books are set in London, Manchester and there’s even a non-fiction book, The To Do List.  His books are light-hearted (except maybe My Legendary Girlfriend, that one’s a bit darker) and often confusingly called chick lit.  If you’re looking for a beach read, then you can’t go wrong with some of Mike’s novels. http://www.mikegayle.co.uk/

    Some other authors with links to Birmingham worth checking out are: W. H Auden (you know the Stop all the Clocks / Funeral Blue poem from Four Weddings), R J Ellory, Catherine O’Flynn (her first novel What Was Lost is set in a shopping mall which may or may not be Merry Hill), Lee Child, J. R. R. Tolkien, Arthur Conan Doyle (spend some time working in Brum) and Malala Yousafzai.

    So, what are you reading this World Book Day?

    Lifestyle

    Shapes, words and reminders

    I’m sat here in the new library, looking out onto Birmingham with my wrist bandaged up like a prize fighter. Today marks the day I got my first tattoo. I always thought I’d be the kind of person never to get one; I always said there was nothing I liked enough to chose to mark my skin with every day. But this has been a hard year and I’ve resorted back to one of the things that helps me to remember to persevere.  And when I thought about it, I’ve been doodling this on my wrist on and off for ten years, this little purple star.

    It’s funny because my mind remembers in pictures, shapes and colours; I’m hopeless with names but I will remember where on a shelf a long forgotten book is or the route to somewhere I rarely go. But words, words and stories, have always been my first love, in all their shapes and sizes. During hard times I always retreat to stories; books, music and film; to quotations and lines from songs.  Tell me a story, better yet put it in a song, and it has the power to stop you in your tracks…or struggle on through.

    I have a quote for most occasions and several for when things are tough and you keep going, but the one I always come back to is from New Found Glory; “every darkness, I’ll shine through”.  Life is full of struggles, big and small, but keep shining. It’s the same message as Winston Churchill’s “If you’re going through hell, keep going” or Disney’s Finding Nemo “just keep swimming”.  Life is wonderful and hard, awesome and awful, it’s so simple and wonderfully complex, but it’s worth persevering even when things aren’t as good as they could be.

    Someone I once heard talk said tattoos didn’t have to have meaning, they can just be artworks in their own right, and he’s right. To most people who might see this little purple star and I’m okay with that because stars are pretty awesome in so many ways. But to me it’s so much more.

    Lifestyle

    A little peace in moving house

    Over the last couple of months I’ve come to fully appreciate why it is they say moving house is one of the most stressful things you can do.

    From our lovely Colourful House, my (now ex) housemates and I divided up 4.5 years’ worth of things and moved our separate ways.  To most people three girls moving out should be easy but we lived like a little family, so much of our stuff was shared.  In the end I devised games to make the ownership of miscellaneous items that we would probably need at some point easier.

    But some things we couldn’t justify taking.  All three of us were big readers, myself probably the most ferocious.  We were lucky in our old house to have a room almost solely dedicated to books with fantastic in-built bookcases.  But, as is whenever I move, I couldn’t take them all.  Two boxes of books went to a local school and a car boot-full or books and comics went to a local charity shop.  A box of cables and a chair went to work, anyone that came to visit in the last month went home with something.

    But my favourite story about our move was a phenomena that exists in Kings Heath, something I’d never noticed in anywhere else I lived; doorstep freecycle.  Amongst the maze of suburban streets in this suburb of Birmingham you will often find little piles of things with notes attached – “I’m free, take me” or “looking for a good home” or sometimes no note at all.  They’re always perfectly good items that are no longer needed in the house they sit outside.

    We left a few items outside; a collection of glasses, decorative plates and an uplighter.  The glasses disappeared to a new home without us knowing, but we hope the wine glasses are providing an interesting anecdote to a party.  The oversized gold plates palmed off on me by my mother, were picked up by a woman who told us that she worked for a charity which did a massive tea party for disabled people each year and they never had enough plates, these would be perfect.  And the uplighter went to a man who had been meaning to go get one for months but never had the time and was so genuinely pleased with his freebie I think we made his day.  If we didn’t, he and the charity lady certainly made ours.

    Moving house is hard; stressful, tearful and a slog of a marathon.  I had some great friends and family members whose help was invaluable – and some strangers too, who will probably never know how much.