“Creativity arises out of the tension between spontaneity and
limitations; the latter (like the river banks) forcing the spontaneity
into the various forms which are essential to the work of art”
1. Where are we now?
Conflicting arguments can be made about the strength of literature provision within Derby. There is unquestionably an active literature community within the city, offering more writing groups than nearby cities, as well as an enthusiastic regular audience and a range of keen volunteers. There are also a wide variety of writers, from amateur through to published living within the city.
Despite its grass-roots strength, there are considerable issues in current provision within Derby, particularly within its lack of a strong infrastructure. Most literature initiatives emerge from the holder of the Literature Development post (although Libraries also often put on events themselves) with significant venues often working with literature in no more than a hire capacity. The only independent group putting on regular literature events within Derby is the Flying Donkeys, who host high-quality storytellers each month. Whilst there is no doubt that demand for literature exists within Derby, independent provision remains minimal.
Another problem for Literature is that of its relatively low profile within the city. The work presented is continually high quality, with excellent responses from audience members, but often falls ‘below the radar’ of people within the city. This is also true of the media, who often do not pick up literature events for coverage. Whilst this is less of a problem for Derby’s two flagship events, it is something to be conscious of in regular events run within the city.
Derby presently hosts two regular literature events – the oldest of these is the
Festival of Words, with the 2007 occurrence the fifth. The Festival of Words offers a range of events, typically run over a course of ten – twelve days every
other October. Its aims are to showcase significant national and international writing talent, as well as showcasing the work that goes on year-round within Derby. The Festival also takes in all aspects of writing as well as offering an opportunity for Derby’s culturally diverse communities to come together at literature events. However, in recent years the investment of time and finances within the Festival has not been repaid in terms of substantial audience development or forward movement of Literature within the city, and as such its future is uncertain for the time being.
The second regular event within Derby is Alt.Fiction. Alt.Fiction draws together the UK’s best writers of science-fiction, fantasy and horror and 2008
will be its third year. The event is an all-day event that takes places in late April or early May. The day aims to draw people from around the region and
the country with high-quality writers holding a specific audience appeal, and has drawn audience from as far as Stirling, Somerset and Northern Ireland.
The remainder of the programming within Derby is carried out in a more ad-hoc fashion, looking to plug into other significant events regionally and nationally, as well as seeking to fill gaps in provision. On other occasions ideas for events will come from other organisations and have been instigated in this fashion. Each event will often be advertised and organised independently and events of this type have included Eat Your Words, How
Novel, Dreamcatcher launch, the Poetry World Cup and many more.
2. Where do we want to be in 5 years time?
As detailed above, literature in Derby has many strengths and the basis is in place for a strong literature ‘scene’ to develop within the city. This needs to be nurtured over the long-term as there are clearly no shortcuts to the kind of success we would seek. The ideal picture for literature in Derby in five years time would be to have:
; A range of venues promoting and programming literature in an
independent fashion, from theatres to cafes. To an extent, this has
already begun with venues such Deda’s Cube Café and The Big Blue
; A range of groups and organisations also programming literature within
the city, including the continued existence of the Flying Donkeys and
other new groups.
; An increased knowledge and awareness of literature within the city,
with stronger marketing and an increase in targeted marketing.
; A range of integrated community events, addressing access issues and
engendering inclusion of traditionally excluded audiences incorporating
both culturally diverse and disability work.
; A continued commitment to literature and literature events with
particular culturally diverse or disability aspects, encouraging the
recognition of high-quality work from practitioners within these fields.
; The establishment of stronger relationships with various media outlets
such as Derby Telegraph, BBC Radio Derby, East Midlands Today and
; The recognition of Alt.Fiction as an event with both regional and
national significance, drawing in high-quality authors with national
visibility and profile
; A full review of the viability and current aims/goals of the Festival of
Words, with a view to either a new method of delivery or ending the
Festival as an entity if appropriate.
; A number of individuals with the necessary skills and capacity to
organise events and schemes independently or possibly in
collaboration with the Literature Development Officer.
; The engendering of a strong relationship with the University of Derby,
encouraging Creative Writing and Literature graduates to stay within
; An increased amount of regular activity gradually replacing the ad-hoc
approach, with more branded events incorporating joint marketing
campaigns and increasing the potential for audience development.
; The continued support of individual writers in the city with guidance and
practical support helping them to achieve their objectives and goals.
; A sustained and strong ‘grass roots’ literature community within Derby,
including the continued existence of both large and small writing
groups within the city
; The creation of an environment that offers encouragement and
progression to volunteers and enables them to see a clear career path
into arts work in the future.
; Programming literature events and workshops that can offer substantial
social benefits to a range of communities across the city.
These ambitions are largely focussed on a fuller inclusion and involvement in literature within Derby from individuals, writing groups, community groups and venues. Literature Development should remain at the heart if this in terms of assisting co-ordination of work as well as providing expertise and knowledge to those parties involved. In five years time, ideally Literature Development would be less of a programming role and more of a facilitation and information service.
3. How do we get there?
These ambitions will have to be worked at through a number of different approaches. One of the key factors will be strengthening the infrastructure within the city for both individuals (through training and development) and venues (through increased partnership working and guidance on
programming). In this way we can foster greater understanding and awareness of literature within the city.
New approaches to programming and marketing within the city will have to emerge from training for the Literature Development Officer, increasing their knowledge and aptitude in marketing. This will also be of great assistance to raising both awareness of literature within the city. This marketing improvement could also be facilitated by working with a freelance marketing expert.
Several aspects of where we would like to be within five years time are simply continuations of current work but it would be useful to have funds available to increase the level of financial backing available for both writers and writing groups. There are also other ways in which the work of the Literature Development Officer could be made more available including question and answer sessions, group visits and increased advertising of the post and its services. These are both capacity issues, and funding will be a key issue to be explored.
Alt.Fiction will continue to be developed into a significant event both regionally and nationally through a variety of national networking, developments of relationships with individual writers and the exploration of increased funding opportunities including sponsorship as well as grants and trust donations.
The Festival of Words will come under an extensive review in the near future to investigate the reasons for both its successes and failures and its future viability and potential new models for its running.
4. How will we know when we’re there?
There are a range of measures that can be taken to judge the success in relation to the objectives detailed above:
; A minimum of three venues to be programming literature events
independent of/in collaboration with Literature Development in
; At least three independent groups programming literature within
the city, adding to the activeness of the literature scene.
; Regular coverage of literature events going on in the city, with
an aim to have at least one in two covered by local media.
; An increased level of cultural tourism for flagship events, with
5% of average audience coming from outside the area and
aiming to draw people from across the UK and beyond.
; The running of annual literature training for prospective arts
workers within the city, in order to increasing their skills and
capacity in programming events.
; The use of an increased number of students as volunteer staff,
to reach at least ten total.
; At least two to three linked series’ of literature events within
Derby City, linked either by theme, form of writing or genre.
; The continuation of a strong writing group scene, with a
minimum of fifteen groups running on a regular basis. These
groups will also be offered continued support by the Literature
; At least 10% of events within the city to have a commitment to
drawing in culturally diverse audience and presenting high-
quality work from practitioners of culturally diverse origins.