English and Drama blog

6 posts from November 2015

25 November 2015

Congratulations to the winners of the 2015 Michael Marks Awards for Poetry Pamphlets

We’d like to congratulate the winners of the 2015 Michael Marks Awards for poetry pamphlets. The winners were announced at a presentation dinner at the Library last night attended by an invited audience of poets, publishers, critics and supporters of poetry.


The winner of the Poetry Pamphlet Award was ‘The First Telling’ by Gill McEvoy.


'The First Telling' by Gill McEvoy



The Publisher’s Award was won by Edinburgh based Mariscat Press. It was received for Mariscat by their co-founder Hamish Whyte who now runs the press.


Pamphlets published by Mariscat Press



The winner of the inaugural award for the Best Illustration in a poetry pamphlet was Mat Osmond for his pamphlet ‘Fly sings’.


A detail from Mat Osmond's 'Fly Sings'


More information about the winners, and the judges' comments, can be found on the website of the Wordsworth Trust.  The Library extends congratulations to to all the shortlisted publishers and poets whose work was presented at the Awards evening, and thanks all those whose entries made the Award a success. All works submitted are added to the British Library's collections.  Watch this space for the readings recorded at the Library by shortlisted poets.

20 November 2015

Alice in Wonderland exhibition opens today at the British Library!

A free exhibition exploring the legacy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland opens today at the British Library. Recognising the enduring power of Lewis Carroll’s original story and the illustrations of John Tenniel, the exhibition explores how the story of the girl who went ‘down the rabbit hole’ continues to inspire and entertain 150 years after it was first published.

The exhibition begins with a series of illustrated panels showing scenes from the story taken from different editions of Alice with accompanying text and Carroll quotes. Although Carroll’s book remains popular we thought that it would be useful to remind visitors of the story which, because it is so much part of British culture, we often feel that we know even if we haven’t read it for years!

Once they have familiarised themselves with the story visitors can move onto the first section of the exhibition which explores the beginnings of Wonderland and includes one of the British Library’s most loved treasures, Lewis Carroll’s iconic handwritten manuscript of Alice’s Adventures Under Ground, and an entry from Carroll’s diary detailing the ‘golden afternoon’ on 4 July 1862 when he first told the story to Alice Liddell and her sisters. This section also includes photographs by Carroll and items relating to the manuscript’s sale in 1928 and its subsequent return to Britain in 1948.

A drawing of Alice from Alice's Adventures Under Ground

The second section of the exhibition focuses on the publication of the book, the role of the illustrator John Tenniel and Carroll’s involvement with the early ‘Alice’ industry which developed after the critical and public success of Alice. Items on display include two of Carroll’s diaries in which he writes about the publication and success of his work, some of the original woodblocks created by the Dalziel Brothers and The Nursery Alice (1890), which contains coloured illustrations by Tenniel showing Alice in a yellow rather than a blue dress.

Carroll lewis nursery 066110
Alice in a yellow dress from The Nursery Alice (1890)

The final section, Alice Re-imagined, highlights the way in which the story has inspired generations of illustrators, artists, musicians, filmmakers and designers. New illustrated editions of the book began to emerge in 1907 when the copyright expired. A flurry of new editions were published in the decades that followed including beautiful editions by Arthur Rackham, Charles Robinson, Mabel Lucie Attwell and Mervyn Peake. As artistic styles changed so did the way in which Alice was depicted as she began to lose her Victorian clothing in favour of Edwardian and later interwar fashions such as bobbed hair and shorted skirts. The book also proved to be a rich source for parodies and useful for marketing as we can see with the promotional pamphlets created by the Guinness Brewery.  

Alice in the pool of tears from Arthur Rackham edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

During the second half of the century different artistic and cultural movements tapped into Carroll’s story picking out those elements which most chimed with their own theories and beliefs. This led to strikingly different visions of Alice from the Disney animation of 1951 to the counter-culture and psychedelia of the 1960s reflected in Jefferson Airplane’s 'White Rabbit' and Ralph Steadman’s Wonderland, and Dali’s surrealist interpretation which concentrated on representations of dreams and realities.

In addition to archive and printed items the exhibition also includes Alice objects from figurines to tea cups as well as sound recordings of music about and inspired by Alice and clips of the 1903 silent film, ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’ by Cecil Hepworth and Percy Stow and Jan Švankmajer’s 1988 film 'Něco z Alenky'.

The exhibition is on until 17th April 2016 so please do come along if you can. The exhibition is accompanied by an Alice in Wonderland Pop-up Shop (until 31 January 2016) and a series of Alice-inspired events, including a family workshop, evening of live comedy, music and experiments hosted by Festival of the Spoken Nerd and two sold out Lates at the Library.

15 November 2015

Countdown to the announcement of the Michael Marks Award winners

There is now just one week to go before the announcement of the winners of this year’s Michael Marks Awards for British poetry pamphlets. The Awards, now in their seventh year, were established to recognise and celebrate the pamphlet as a medium of publishing for poetry.  This year’s entries confirmed that, in spite of the many challenges, the poetry pamphlet continues to play an important and vibrant role, both in bringing poetry to new audiences and in providing a way for emerging and established poets to showcase their work.  Announcing the shortlists, the judges of the 2015 award commented,

 We were very impressed by the range and overall quality of the submissions received. Entries showed a substantial increase on last year, with entries for the Publisher’s Award almost doubling. This constitutes compelling evidence that small presses are producing some of the most engaging and accomplished poetry being published today.

There are two main awards, one for an outstanding poetry pamphlet, and one for an outstanding publisher of poetry pamphlets.  A new award for illustration in a poetry pamphlet, introduced this year, recognises the poetry pamphlet as an object of visual as well as poetic beauty.  The winners in all three categories will be announced on 24 November at the Awards dinner.  The Michael Marks Awards have become one of the most significant awards in contemporary poetry in the UK.

The pamphlets shortlisted for the 2015 Poetry Pamphlets Award are:

 The five pamphlets shortlisted for the 2015 Michael Marks Award

Alan Jenkins:  Clutag Five Poems Series No. 2 (Clutag Press)

Alan Jenkins was born in 1955 and has lived for most of his life in London. His collections of poetry include, most recently, Revenants (2013), Paper-Money Lyrics and, with John Kinsella, Marine (both 2015). He is Deputy Editor and Poetry Editor of the Times Literary Supplement and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Judges’ comments:  Set against the backdrop of the Thames, these are haunting, understated elegies that often find the narrator challenging his own grief, trying to explain the source of it, trace it beyond the immediacy of loss. Assured and elegant, these poems moved us deeply.

Anja Konig:  Advice for an Only Child (Flipped Eye Press Flap Poetry Series)

Anja Konig’s work has appeared in the UK and the US in numerous magazines and anthologies. ‘Advice for An Only Child’ is her first pamphlet.

Judges’ comments:  Anja Konig’s debut pamphlet is witty and inventive. There’s a surprise on almost every page - her short poems look slantwise at relationships, the female body and what it means to write.

 Gill McEvoy:  The First Telling (Happenstance)

Gill McEvoy lives in Chester where she runs a poetry reading group and a workshop for practising poets. She published an earlier pamphlet with Happenstance, ‘Uncertain Days’, and has two full collections with Cinnamon Press.

Judges’ comments:  We admired the way this pamphlet deals not just with trauma and its aftermath, but with the difficulty of articulating what has happened, the challenge of finding the right words. Form and content mesh together perfectly in poems that use the power of silence as well as the power of language.

Peter Riley:  The Ascent of Kinder Scout (Longbarrow Press)

Peter Riley was born in 1940 in Stockport. He taught at the University of Odense (Denmark) and from 1975 lived as a freelance writer and poetry bookseller, from which he retired in 2008. He now lives in Hebden Bridge. In 2012 he received a Cholmondeley award. His most recent publication, ‘Due North’ (Shearsman, 2015), was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection 2015.

Judges’ comments:  Evoking the Dark Peak in Derbyshire with startling clarity, we felt this pamphlet brilliantly captured what its like to look to landscapes for resolution, only to be humbled by the scale of them. Expansive but exact, it takes in the history of a trespass, the ghost of a lost friend and the future of a broken nation.

 David Tait: Three Dragon Day (Smith Doorstop)

David Tait lives in Guangzhou, China. His first full collection ‘Self-Portrait with the Happiness’, was shortlisted for the Fenton Aldeburgh First Collection Prize. He has also won an Eric Gregory Award.  Smith Doorstop published his earlier pamphlet ‘Love’s Loose Ends’.

Judges’ comments: This is an absorbing, almost novelistic pamphlet, full of acute observations about modernity, intimacy and what it’s like to discover a city for the first time. There’s a sense of menace hanging over many of the poems - sinister buildings in Shenzhen, dragon fables, the motif of the face mask - but they also present moments of brilliant clarity. We admired the variety and precision of the writing.


The shortlist for the Publishers Award is:

Eyewear Publishing

EyewearPamphlets in Eyewear's 20/20 series

Judges’ comments: This year, Eyewear – still quite a new book publisher – initiated the ‘20/20’ series, a set of twenty poetry pamphlets by ‘new and established’ poets, with a bias towards the former, and all edited by Les Robinson, the pioneer of Tall Lighthouse. We admire these for the publisher’s ambition in terms of the range of poetries on show, the quality of much of that work, and the consistently high production values that have already become a hallmark of this press.

Mariscat Press

  MariscatPamphlets submitted by Mariscat

Judges’ comments:  Mariscat pamphlets are simple card-covered, stapled affairs – but are no less attractive for that, and often utilise bespoke designs and layouts. The press, now in its thirty-third year, mainly publishes poets with a Scottish connection, from the near-canonical to the previously unknown; this year’s crop is consistently impressive. 2015 has been good to Mariscat already: one pamphlet won the Callum Macdonald Memorial Prize, and another was a PBS Choice. And all of this has been achieved by a press with a proud independence from funding bodies.

Smith Doorstop

  SmithdoorstopSmith/Doorstop pamphlets

Judges’ comments: The Poetry Business, through their publishing arm Smith Doorstep books, continues to support new and not-so-new poets alike, with their focus on mentoring at one end complemented by their publication of – and evident appeal to – some very well known writers at the other. Their simple, dust-jacketed, well-marketed pamphlets include the four winners of their annual competition, which gave us some of the most consistently engaging work we read this year. Their innovation for 2015, a set of four ‘Laureate’s Choice’ pamphlets by ‘emerging poets’, demonstrates unflagging commitment to finding new talent.

The Emma Press

  Emma pressPamphlets submitted by The Emma Press

 Judges’ comments: The Emma Press might be responsible for the most beautifully designed and produced pamphlets we saw this year, most of which are written by less well known writers – and ones worth noticing. Complementing their usual series of traditional pamphlets, this year they also started a new set of ‘Art Squares’: large square booklets of poetry and colour illustrations. We admire this publisher’s ambition and imagination, as well as its dedication to supporting new work that deserves it.

The Illustration Award, judged by Nicholas Penny, will be announced at the Awards evening.  The judges for the Pamphlets and Publishers Awards are Debbie Cox, Helen Mort and Rory Waterman. You can follow the Awards presentation on Twitter on 24 November via #poetrypamphlets .  The Awards, sponsored by the Michael Marks Charitable Trust, are organised by the British Library and the Wordsworth Trust with support form the TLS. 

14 November 2015

Nell Gwyn the collector's favourite

On the 14th November 1687 Eleanor 'Nell' Gwyn, actress and mistress of King Charles II, died. She lived a short eventful life, starting out selling oranges before taking to the stage at the King's playhouse and eventually becoming a long-time mistress of King Charles II. Amongst our collections we have an album compiled by Thomas Crofton Croker (1782-1854), an Irish antiquary, containing collected material relating to Nell Gwyn.

The album includes a number of mezzotint portraits of Nell Gwyn. The portraits include the image of Nell as Cupid that Samuel Pepys, a regular theatre attendee, was reputed to have a copy of over his desk. The album is currently being catalogued before it goes to Conservation for a spot of ‘TLC’. As well as portraits of Gwyn (and her rivals), the album includes a number of original household and personal bills that were settled by the Treasury. The bill featured below details her purchases, for example "one pair of sky coloured ribbon shoes with gold and silver" amongst many other shoes and items.


f.25. Mezzotint (colour). 'Eleanor Gwynn / From an Original Picture in the Possession of Mr. Thane'. By J. Ogborne, after a painting by Peter Lely. 380 x 265 mm.


f. 14. Mezzotint. Nell Gwyn as Cupid. By R Tompson, after a painting by Peter Cross. Includes at the foot six lines of verse, beginning: 'Had Paris seen her, hee had chang'd his suit / And for this Hellen giv'n the golden fruit'. 200 x 150 mm.


f. 38. Itemised bill receipted for clothes supplied to Gwyn, 22 May 1674.



12 November 2015

The various incarnations of Ronald Harwood’s The Dresser

by Joanna Norledge, Curator of Contemporary Performance and Creative Archives

Recently the library hosted an event, as part of the 8th International Screenwriting Conference, which featured an in conversation with Sir Ronald Harwood, the Oscar-winning playwright and screenwriter. It was an exciting opportunity to highlight the wealth of material in the British Library relating to screenwriting and specifically to explore the archive of Ronald Harwood. Sir Ronald regaled the audience at the event with entertaining stories from his experience working as a screenwriter. His career spans a long period and The Dresser was one of his successes inspired by his own early career in the theatre.    


Image of the 1983 second draft screenplay for The Dresser, from The Ronald Harwood Archive, produced with permission of Sir Ronald Harwood, image copyright @ British Library Board.


Originally written as a stage play based on Sir Ronald’s experience of working as Sir Donald Wolfit’s dresser, The Dresser  was first performed in 1980 at the Royal Exchange Theatre with Freddie Jones as "Sir" and Tom Courtenay as Norman. The play was nominated for Best Play at the Laurence Olivier Awards in 1980. The Dresser was first made in to a film in 1983 starring Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay.


Image of the 1983 second draft screenplay for The Dresser, from The Ronald Harwood Archive, produced with permission of Sir Ronald Harwood, image copyright @ British Library Board.


On the 31st October a new television film of The Dresser aired on BBC2, starring Anthony Hopkins and Ian McKellen. Sir Ronald discussed, at the event, how the BBC’s single television plays provided many of the writers of the 60’s and 70’s the chance to earn money and practise their craft. In recent years the small screen has received more attention as a medium of filmic story telling than the big screen. Productions such as The Dresser (2015) look back to the BBC’s roots in theatrical and film narrative. It pays homage to the single television play form in which so many great writers and entertainers began their careers.

The DresserBBC

Image of Ian McKellen and Anthony Hopkins in The Dresser (2015) produced with permission of the BBC. Copyright @ BBC.

The Dresser (2015) is a theatrical story and dramatization which captures a vanished world. This world is brought to life in the screenplay and dramatic performances from the actors, both veterans of the theatrical world represented. The archives at the British Library are filled with such examples of great engaging plays and television plays and it is wonderful to see some of these being used a source for modern programming.

You can still catch The Dresser on BBC iPlayer. The Ronald Harwood Archive is available in the British Library reading rooms.


03 November 2015

Nick Mann’s ‘A Short Fanzine about Rocking’ takes its rightful place in the British Library

by Debbie Cox, Lead Curator, Contemporary British Publications.


Some of the donated issues of ASFAR in the Humanities Reading Room, St Pancras.


For very many years, the Library has collected zines – self-produced, small-circulation publications, informed by a do-it-yourself, not-for-profit, ethos, communicating a passion or cause to like-minded people.  Zines stand as an alternative to mainstream publishing, and for the Library, they bring an important insight into aspects of contemporary society and culture that might not otherwise be represented.   The Library is honoured therefore to receive a donation of the full run of ‘A Short Fanzine about Rocking’ (ASFAR), an influential and long-running music zine produced by Nick Mann, whose life was cut short by an accident earlier this year.


A selection of issues of ASFAR, from 1 to 38, in the Humanities Reading room.


ASFAR covered hardcore and punk music, and from its modest beginning in 2001, it grew to have a major impact on the UK hardcore music scene and within the zine community. Nick Mann both supported hardcore and underground music, and inspired musicians, journalists and zinesters with his enthusiasm, energy and passion.  The Library held some issues of ASFAR, and now Nick’s wife, Jen Kavanagh, has worked to bring together the full set of 38 issues, and given them to both the British Library and the London College of Communication so that users can access the complete run, as a tribute to Nick’s work.  Jen writes:


“When my husband, Nick Mann, passed away in March this year, I was determined to honour his amazing contribution to music journalism and the DIY scene in a fitting way. His fanzine, A Short Fanzine About Rocking (ASFAR), had started back in 2001, and so when I met Nick in 2005 it was already a big part of his life. Since then I watched the zine grow into a huge success, get amazing reviews, be bought by people all over the world, and be talked about online by fans, bands and other zine writers. I am so proud of all he achieved with his zine, and so ensuring that a full run of all 38 issues was safely stored in a library collection was one of my top priorities when it came to Nick’s memorial. And so to have deposited ASFAR at none other than the British Library last week is truly an honour. Here is a little insight into ASFAR, some of which quotes Nick directly from past interviews he did about the zine.


Nick first started writing ASFAR “because, for some misguided reason, [he] thought it would help [him] to get a career as a music journalist”. An ex-girlfriend of Nick’s encouraged him to stop dragging his heels and instead to start writing about the music he loved, particularly if it helped open up a network of music contacts. Living in Manchester, Nick attended multiple shows a week – punk, hardcore, metal, emo – and shared a house with like-minded individuals who soon became contributors. Issue 1 is the ultimate DIY zine with cut and paste articles and marker pen text, but it features interviews with bands including Hell is for Heroes, and its pages are bursting the passion for the music Nick listened to. A call for contributors in the editorial opened up new contacts, and soon ASFAR had a loyal team of reviewers.


Three issues of ASFAR – its dense text carrying reviews, interviews and insight.


Over the years, and through a move from Manchester to London in 2007, ASFAR continued to grow into a zine that wasn’t so short but was definitely always true to all things rock. Nick continued to attend gigs every week, making notes in his phone in-between sets to ensure he could write a thorough review the next day, in case of any beer-induced memory loss. His confidence with interviewing the bands he loved grew with experience, and he was so proud to have had the chance to speak to members of his beloved Deftones on a number of occasions. He also didn’t shy away from the reality of the punk and hardcore scene. Sometimes shows were terrible. Sometimes no one showed up. Sometimes he left early. But he always addressed this, and reflected on what that meant to the scene, and his honestly was part of ASFAR’s charm.


The cover of issue 31 of ‘A Short Fanzine about Rocking’ produced by Nick Mann.


Balancing writing the zine, and finding time to listen to the music to review, was a challenge though. Nick worked full time as a journalist and later as a senior press officer. He also had another time-consuming passion – Shrewsbury Town FC. But he was smart about how he used his time, filling long train journeys to distant football clubs with reviewing albums or reading other zines, and typing up notes from gigs whilst on the tube home from work. The music the zine covered also became more varied thanks to the partnerships he had with other writers. Nick commented: “If anything, as I get older my musical tastes have become even more narrow, but luckily I have a team of contributors who are altogether more open-minded than me and help to ensure ASFAR remains a relatively broad church in terms of the genres it covers. I’m not guilty about any of my music taste, although plenty of people will tell you I really should be. But if I’m into something, I’m into it, and no amount of smirking by my friends is going to change that.” As someone who shared a home with Nick for nearly 10 years, I can definitely agree that some of the music he listened to was pretty dreadful! But he loved the passion of hardcore, and wasn’t ashamed to let everyone know.


When asked in an interview in 2012 if he’d consider finishing the zine, Nick said: “I’m addicted to it! Every issue I talk about sacking it off sometime soon, but then said issue sells really well and I remember just why it’s worthwhile. Plus I get to talk to loads of awesome bands I might not otherwise meet and find out more about the music they make which I enjoy.” Nick did eventually call it a day in spring 2014 though, when he felt he couldn’t put the same passion and energy into it any more. He was sad to declare the final issue his last, but he later said that he didn’t regret wrapping it up. Which is a great comfort to me now, because life is too short for regrets.”


Nick Mann


The newly-received issues of ‘A Short Fanzine about Rocking’ will be available to users by the start of December. We are immensely grateful to Jen Kavanagh for bringing together the complete run, and also for giving permission for Nick’s ASFAR website to be made available within the UK Open Web Archive.   


One of the many posts on Twitter paying tribute to Nick Mann’s work and influence.