york literature festival launch

by Nicoletta Peddis

Current student Nicoletta Peddis reports on last week’s launch of the York Literature Festival at York St John University.

On Thursday 15th March, York St John University hosted an evening of celebration for literature and writing. Together with the launch of 2018’s York Literature Festival and the launch of the York Centre for Writing, the main event included an interview with York-based author Fiona Mozley. As Rob O’Connor, director of the York Literature Festival, said in opening the evening, York St. John University and York Literature Festival have established a long and productive partnership. And as the purpose of the York Centre for Writing is to promote local writers, it was the perfect choice to invite Fiona Mozley and celebrate her success.

The first part of the evening focused on York St John’s Creative Writing staff reading from their own work. We listened to extracts from the amazing work of Caleb Klaces, Rob Edgar, Helen Pleasance, Abi Curtis and Naomi Booth. The readings showcased the wide range of interests and subjects that the York Centre for Writing offers, and it was a great way to open a festival that celebrates the importance of the written word.

In the second part of the event, Rob O’ Connor introduced and interviewed Fiona Mozley, who was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017 with her debut novel Elmet. She explained how she chose the title to give both a sense of antiquity and to locate the novel in the North. As the extract from Ted Hughes’ Remains of Elmet cited at the start of the novel explains, ‘Elmet was the last independent Celtic kingdom in England and originally stretched out over the vale of York’. Mozley explained the importance of that setting both geographically and in terms of evoking the old-world morality connected with Elmet. In particular, she identified the ‘Western’, with its ideas of community in connection with the landscape, and ancient folk tales such as Robin Hood, which has a large place in the literary heritage of the region, as the main influences in the writing of Elmet. The novel engages with contemporary themes such as the exploitation of workers, people living on the margins of society, the struggle of post-mining communities and the ownership of land. Fiona chose to represent reactions to those issues through the eyes of her 14-year old protagonist/narrator, Daniel. Interestingly, Elmet floats through time, addressing issues recognisable as contemporary while also portraying ancient values. Mozley explained how she deliberately decided to mention technology only generically in the novel to make it clear that it was vaguely contemporary. The inclusion the ‘ghosts of the past’, she states, allows readers to read the novel from a range of different perspectives.

I have had the pleasure of attending many York Literature Festival events in the past three years, and as an English Literature and Creative writing student it is a real privilege to be able to be part of a community that promotes and celebrates Literature in all its aspects and in all its connections with our society.

York Literature Festival continues until the 26th March. A full list of events it’s available at  York Literature Festival or you can follow @YorkLitFest on Twitter.

If you want to find out more about the York Centre for Writing check out the website York Centre for Writing or @YSJWriting on Twitter. The York Centre for Writing is launching Beyond the Walls, the student anthology, on Wednesday 21st March. More info on Beyond the Walls 2018 or @beyondwalls2018 on Twitter.