MICHAEL STEWART knows that many people wouldn’t class song lyrics as literature.
But he does. And that’s why one of the big names at this year’s Huddersfield Literature Festival which starts next week, is Mark E Smith, for 30 years the front man of The Fall, one of the most innovative rock groups in the country.
“It’s quite subversive to bring a songwriter to a literature festival.
“This is my way of challenging what literature is,” said Michael, director of this year’s festival.
“There’s fine art, theatre, literature, film and so on and they are almost in separate worlds.
“I see it in a much more nebulous, blurred sort of way.
“I was turned on to literature as a 10- year-old by Grandmaster Flash. I’d listen to his hip-hop song, The Message.
“I kept taking the needle off and transcribed a 10 minute song.”
Little wonder then that words bored into Michael’s head and by his teens he was writing lyrics for post punk bands.
“The Fall are named after a 1956 novella by Albert Camus. A lot of Mark E Smith’s lyrics are inspired by literature.
“I listen to lyrics very carefully and I get very irritated by people who are careless of lyrics, when a song becomes more style than substance.”
Michael, who combines a successful writing career with lecturing two days a week at the University of Huddersfield on creative writing, will direct the next three literature festivals.
“I’m still writing for the theatre and my last piece Brood, had a three week run at The Albany in London in the summer. I’m currently pitching ideas for Radio 4 and I’m working on a novel at the moment.
Michael continues to write stand-up comedy with Nick Stanley.
“That’s my warm-up if I’m having a writing day. I do half an hour writing jokes and you make yourself laugh and then you can face a day of writing.”
Alongside his own writing commitments, Michael has mapped out a clear vision for the Huddersfield Literature Festival.
“I would like each of the next three years to feature a major cultural figure, someone who has literary merit.”
And since one of Michael’s biggest passions is music, don’t be surprised to see more figures from the music world sharing their skill with words at future festivals.
“I want to show it as a festival with a purpose and that’s to widen participation and to promote writing as fun.
“I’m not against the traditional festivals that have lecterns and people talking from them. I just don’t think that’s necessarily the way to engage with people.”
The five day festival opens on Wednesday (March 11) and features Huddersfield-based novelist Joanne Harris plus a clutch of poets including the Barnsley Bard Ian McMillan, the ever popular Lemn Sissay, plus the machine-gun delivery of John Cooper Clarke.
I want to make the festival performances more of a show. I want people to come and have fun. I want to bring in an audience that wouldn’t necessarily come to a literature festival but without alienating the traditional audience.
Cheeky cabaret from Doctor Buck’s Burlesque will blend comedy, music, poetry and doubtless a helping of feathers at the festival’s Wednesday night launch party at the Peacock Lounge and Mark E Smith will talk about his life, work, writers and writing his autobiography at the Sunday night finale at St Paul’s Hall in Huddersfield.
In between expect to share the work of Julia Deakin, Gaia Holmes and Glyn Hughes, three of the region’s best poets, to hear poems from Lemn Sissay’s latest collection, to catch Ian McMillan cartoonist Tony Husband as they sketch their hilarious portrait of the town in verse and pictures.
Joanne Harris will be in conversation with Paul Blezard at St Paul’s Hall on March 14 while on the same night, along the road at the Lawrence Batley Theatre John Cooper Clarke will be in full northern flow.
“The idea is to make the festival fun. It is not to make it seem lowbrow or to downgrade it. I believe that high-minded ideas can sit against a good show. Look at Shakespeare. The first thing that he did was to entertain.”
Michael is also determined to support and to promote new writers.
And there will be plenty of opportunities for people to polish their skills in the daily workshops or to get their work to audiences in a series of early evening slots focusing on emerging new talent.
And his assertion that there is more new writing at this year’s festival than ever before, is hard to disagree with.
This year, there have been more than 2,500 entries from writers in 18 countries wanting to have their work included in an anthology of poetry and fiction which will see the words of emerging writers printed alongside those of established talents such as Ian McMillan.
Judges include Huddersfield-born poet Simon Armitage and Joanne Harris.
They’ve been given a shortlist of 20 poems and 16 short stories from which to find winners whose names will be announced during the festival.
Copies of the anthology containing their work will go to universities, writing groups and libraries.
Full details on all the performances from the festival website: www.litfest.org.uk