Luck plus one

Are you sitting comfortably, then let Sandy Chadwin tell you all about the Pot Luck Club, returning to Newcastle’s Old George on Thursday 22nd March….

IT WAS NOT twenty years ago today but about two years ago that Elaine Cusack, Jen Wilson and I were drinking in North Shields’ oldest pub, the Low Lights Tavern. We were chatting about the spoken word events we were considering when one of us, I forget who, came up with the idea for the Pot Luck Club.

It had started as a joke. We had chatted about our perfect spoken word evening.  Who would we invite if we had access to unlimited funds and a time machine? I was holding out for Stevie Smith but Elaine vetoed her on the grounds that she had heard recordings and Smith had a terrible reading voice. TS Eliot was vetoed on the same grounds. Byron was dismissed as he would probably insist on bringing his bear with him and none of us were sure whether public liability insurance covered that kind of thing. I forget who ended up on the list, if we ever actually settled on a definitive one, which I doubt but I do remember that we agreed that such an evening would be invite only. A private evening for the connoisseur as it were.

fab-audienceAnd then, as these things happen, the conceit began to mutate and warp. We discussed the various writing forms that we had all experimented with but were outside our comfort zone. We chatted about how appalling it can be that first time standing up at an open mike evening in front of a friendly crowd who are, nevertheless, partly wondering if this is going to be the complete car crash reading of the night.

So the idea of the Pot Luck Club was born. We would invite established performers to try something different. Poets reading prose, story writers reading poetry and so forth, along with first time performers, nervous but wanting the experience. And it would be a safe space as the audience would all be invited.

There it was left and we moved on to discuss other matters of high moment and philosophical depth. Honest.

Later that  year Elaine and I were back at the Low Lights and were sitting in the separate room they have there, what in Edwardian detective or ghost stories would be described as the parlour, which has no bar, an open fire and is cut off from the rest of the pub by a glass door. Cloud 9, the Coast based theatre company, were performing a play in there the next week and we could see posters for talks and other such events, all to be held in this room.

This, we decided, was the venue for Pot Luck Club.

mister-creenSo it was, in late January 2017, we held the first Pot Luck Club and it was a success. We had playwrights telling stories, poets singing, story tellers reciting poetry, writers who had never before stood on their hind paws before an audience reading their stories and poems and the Legendary Ken Creen rounding the evening off. Did it work? Well it seemed to. The only problem was that the room was too small.

The logical, though sad, thing to do was to find another venue and this, with heavy steps we did. After some rootling around we chose the Old George in the centre of Newcastle. As it happens, the Low Lights Tavern is widely thought to be North Shields’ oldest pub and the Old George is widely believed (since the closure of the Cooperage) to be Newcastle’s. A pleasing albeit unplanned bit of continuity. We had already held a Pure Fiction event in the upstairs room there and found it good so, in the autumn of last year, we held the second Pot Luck Club. Same as before, though it happened that there were more first-timers this time rather than people outside their comfort zone though Elaine did recite a poem she had written that rhymed, a thing she had never done before in front of strangers. Vicky Arthurs, the poet, did us proud by acting as the headline act.

And now we’re doing it again. Same place, upstairs at the Old George, off the Bigg Market in the centre of Newcastle. We have established writers doing new and daring things and newer writers risking a plodge for the first time. Harry Gallagher is our headline. Other performers include  Rob Walton, The Cornshacks, Krys Wysocki, Alex Heppell and Isaac Parker .Harry Gallagher photo credit Phil Punton

And you are all, of course, invited.

The Pot Luck Club, Old George Inn, Cloth Market, Newcastle, NE1 1EZ. Thursday 22nd March. Free entry. Thanks to Chris Anderson and Phil Punton for photos.


Football & Poetry

There’s something about this time of year for football fans. We’re two thirds of the way through the football season and the FA Cup’s moved up a few gears. What’s this got to do with writing? Over to our football correspondent, Rob Hawley…

I love football, but not for the usual reasons.

I don’t love it because of the tension, the passion, the glory, the thrills and spills. Nope, none of these things are the real reason I love football. I don’t even love it because of the sense of community, the camaraderie, the feeling of our club, our tribe against the world. No, none of that is the root of my football love.

My love comes from two things. One is the wonderful history of the sport, its Victorian origins, its rootedness in the story of northern working life, its (if you like) deep past. This, to me, is essential to football’s amazing glamour, its intoxicating allure.

footballThe other is (for want of a better phrase) the grammar of a football match, the shapes and patterns which endlessly repeat during match after match, which play out in similar yet constantly varied ways. Football, like chess, is played on a rigidly confined space, with players who obey rigidly-enforced rules. Yet despite the apparent tram-line uniformity of pitch and rule-book, the games which reveal themselves every Saturday are a series of never-ending variations, so different from one another that each one is memorably distinct – though some are much better than others. I’ve heard it said that there are more chess games, that is, more variations of the moves which can make up a game, than atoms in the known universe. The same must be true of football.

Perhaps this freedom-within-rules which creates the grammar, the syntax, the punctuation of football, is the reason I find watching it so restful. To me it is a kind of meditation – a ritual act. I think lots of people are like me in this, though few acknowledge it. The thought inspired this poem, which tries to convey something of the feelings I have about the Beautiful Game.


To a smattering of applause and some desultory chanting

twenty-two men trot out to enact it all again,

moves worked on since Edward VII was new minted,

pubs had stained glass and Players were on every corner.


As it starts the trusted ways are immediately taken:

the full backs’ line-length parabolas

the neat midfield passing keeping it in triangles

the clever ball into corner-flag space:

all met with approving claps and yells from the bench.


When the game warms and unfolds they delve

deeper into their past, into the box of tricks

likeliest to call up the luck they yearn for:

chips to the edge of the box,

cushion headers of the number 9, holding it up

while comrades flood into the gaps.

New things are permitted: drag-backs,

deft turns, outside-of-the-boot sliced passes

to the man overlapping.

Each team rummages for its rituals

and yet is thwarted. Whoever thought

of two teams and just one ball? It gets cruel

when they can’t both get it and the fouls begin.


Unable to rub up luck they opt for blind hope

and the aimless long balls are fought for in leaping thuds.

The dance, the trickery is abandoned.

It is a melee, as they opt for bludgeoning out a result.

The spectators accept this mostly. They’ve seen it before,

their own grandfathers did much the same thing

and it will happen again.

The crowd comes here to make the next week happen

while out on the grass coloured armies clash and shout and harry.


Copyright Rob Hawley

Rob Hawley was born in Lancashire in 1966. He is a teacher of History, a contributor to various county magazines under the pseudonym Jonas Holdsworth, a freelance copywriter and member of the Pennine Poets. His poetry seeks the union of formal style with vibrant musicality


Pure Talent next week

What does  “Dystopian novel” mean? We’ve taken the phrase as our theme for this Thursday’s Pure Fiction event at The Old George in Newcastle. Fancy joining us to listen to Sue Miller and Emma Whitehall reading from and discussing their work?

Pure Fiction celebrates writers of fiction and their work. Previous events have featured Jennifer C Wilson, Kitty Fitzgerald, Sandy Chadwin, Carol Clewlow, L.A. Craig, Rod Glenn and Victoria Watson. On Thursday 16th November it’ll be the turn of writers Sue Miller and Emma Whitehall. Host Elaine Cusack will let them run with the Dystopian novel theme and we’ll have the chance to ask questions and chat with them afterwards. Elaine’s colleague, Sandy Chadwin will kick off the evening with a Tall Tale.

Doors open 6.45pm and the evening starts at 7pm. Tickets cost £3 and can be bought in  advance or on the door. Here’s more information on Thursday’s authors…

emmapicEmma Whitehall is a writer, reviewer and spoken word performer based  in the North East of England. Emma specialises in supernatural fiction, and has been published in the United Kingdom, America, Mexico and Ireland. Her Flash Fiction has been longlisted for the Bath Novella in Flash Award, and shortlisted for the Fish Flash Fiction Award.

For more years than she wants to remember, Sue Miller  worked with families and communities locally and nationally as a psychologist, teacher and manager. Those experiences have given her knowledge and insight into the stories we all become: ordinary people often made extraordinary by what life throws at us. Sue’s debut novel 20/20 Vision They Didn’t See it Coming was published earlier this year and on Thursday she’ll  read from her current work in progress, a prequel to 20/20 Vision.

Sue Miller



Top of the Pops

Last Thursday’s talk They Walk that Should Not about ghost stories has prompted Sandy Chadwin to list his favourite writers and stories:

Top Three Ghost Story Writers (in alphabetical order):

Robert Aickman
EF Benson
MR James

Top 10 Ghost Stories (in no particular order):

1/ ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ – Charlotte Perkins Gilman
2/ ‘Three Miles Up’ – Elizabeth Jane Howard
3/ ‘The Screaming Skull’ – F Marion Crawford
4/ ‘Man-Sized in Marble’ – E Nesbit
5/ ‘How Love Came to Professor Guildea’ – Robert Hitchens
6/ ‘The Turn of the Screw’ – Henry James
7/ ‘The Ghost-Ship’ – Richard Middleton
8/ ‘The Signal-Man’ – Charles Dickens
9/ ‘The Haunted and the Haunters’ – Lord Lytton
10/ ‘The Red Lodge’ – HR Wakefield

MRJames1900Catch Sandy talking about MR James this coming Thursday in Newcastle’s Old George

October is the busiest month

We managed to sellotape Sandy “Busy Bee” Chadwin to his laptop for 10 minutes so he could write this blog…

For reasons that escape me, but are partly do with the time of year, I have a fair bit to do this autumn. Three gigs, to be precise, with two of them on the same day but it should be fun.

SandyFirst out of the hatch is They Walk That Should Not Walk, a talk that Elaine Cusack and I will be giving at the Northumberland Park Community Room (it’s attached to the café, or so I’m told) at 1:00pm this coming Thursday the 12th  of October. It’s part of the ‘Age Takes Centre Stage’ shenanigans that the council have put together for this month and it’s free though I think you need to register. Fuller details are here. If you’ve not been to the park (it’s between the golf course in North Shields and the Tynemouth Lodge pub) it’s a charming little place complete with its own pet cemetery and remains of a mediaeval hospital. And there’s a café. The talk (or chat more likely) will look at the history and fascination of the ghost story and if you’re coming, bring along memories of your favourite whether it’s one from Charles Dickens, EF Benson, Mrs Gaskell, or one of the James boys – Henry and MR. Should be fun, albeit in a somewhat macabre way.

Following that, I will have a brief pause before heading off to the Exchange in North Shields where, along with the Cracketts (a husband and wife folk duo) I’ll be presenting Tales from the Dead House at 7:30. This is an evening of spooky and macabre stories (from me) and songs (courtesy of the Cracketts) and is ticketed at £3.00, available on the door. Storytelling is a thing I do, unless politely but firmly stopped, and fits nicely with folk music and as the nights creep into the day, it’s the time to sit and listen, if only to escape the darkness outside. In the US they have the tradition of the campfire tale, a creepy and often gory story told while sitting round the fire while camping. Many of the urban myths we are so fond of probably started off as such tales – you know the kind of thing I mean. The Vanishing Hitchhiker (driver gives lift to girl only she disappears while still in the car and on subsequent investigation he discovers that she was run down and died on that very spot); Hairy Hands (woman gives lift to old lady but notices that she has suspiciously hairy hands and so when the old lady gets out at a garage to visit the toilet, the driver drives off and when she looks inside the bag left by the old lady, she finds it full of bloodied knives and a police investigation finds the clothes of an elderly woman in the toilet at the garage) and there are many others. I was actually told the hairy hands one by a friend back in the late ‘70s with the addition that the old lady was in fact the Yorkshire Ripper, who was still at large.

 MRJames1900Then, a full week later, I shall be giving a talk on the aforementioned MR James at the Old George in Newcastle at 7:30pm on the 19th. That has the bargain price of a mere £2.50. Buy your ticket in advance here. MR James is, I will be arguing, one of the best, if not the actual best, ghost story writer in English. He used to write them to tell to his Cambridge fellow dons on Christmas Eve and they are a potent mix of donnish humour and subtle horror. I did my dissertation on him back in the mid- ‘80s when you weren’t meant to take things like ghost stories as serious literature. My supervisor spent the first week or so constantly thinking I was writing about Henry James (no mean slouch at the ghost story himself as anyone who’s read ‘The Turn of the Screw’ will attest) and the external examiner mourned that I had wasted my time on such a petty subject. But now, Newcastle University does a module on them as part of its Eng. Lit degree or certainly did so a few years back, and you cannot buy a critical study of James or ghost stories in general for less than £30 odd. Hmm, perhaps I should dig out that dissertation…

Parked ‘n’ Written

Jennifer’s thoughts on last weekend’s workshop…

Jennifer C. Wilson

On Sunday, The Next Page strayed from our usual haunts of North Shields and Whitley Bay Libraries into the wilds of Wallsend, to host “Park ‘n’ Write”, in the Community Pavilion of Richardson Dees Park. Despite having spent huge chunks of my childhood in Wallsend, it’s a place I only visited earlier this year, when Elaine and I went to explore one Sunday afternoon. We were so inspired by the place, we decided we had to do ‘something’ there, and so Park ‘n’ Write was born.


Taking inspiration from the park, our little band of writers came up with a range of semi-memoir, fantasy and history, showing that writers can always find a new and quirky slant on any prompt. I can never write when I’m leading on a workshop, with one eye on the clock and the other checking everyone seems to be ok, but I’ve come away with some…

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Park & Write this Saturday

The Next Page’s Elaine Cusack is gearing up to Park and Write this Saturday


Two and a half hours spent listening, learning, thinking, writing, walking, talking, feeling, being and drinking tea. This sounds like the perfect way to spend a Saturday afternoon. Yes, this is my kinda  afternoon and it’s the way I’ll spend this coming Saturday 29th July.

My pal and writing colleague, Jennifer C Wilson LOVES attending creative writing workshops. She also happens to be very good at running them. This Saturday she’s running a two and a half hour workshop called Park and Write in the Community Pavilion in Wallsend’s Richardson Dees Park.

The afternoon will be filled with writing prompts, a talk by one of the park wardens, an inspirational stroll around Wallsend’s Parks (did you know there are not one but three?!) plus time for writing and sharing. All this for a tenner. You joining us or what?! Please book online.

I’m listed on the workshop’s publicity…

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