When the first literature festival in Hull happened, organised by David Porter and John Osborne, I'd only been living in the city for about eighteen months, having arrived in a van with a dog, looking for somewhere to stay. I'd heard about the poetry readings which had been taking place in the city - the famous BÍte Noire readings - and which were reported to be drawing the largest audiences for poetry outside of London. I was at a loose end, passionate about literature, and I wanted to see what was happening.
It took me about four months to 'find' Hull - the people, work, a place at the university, and of course BÍte Noire. I stayed up on Sutton Park before moving to the Avenues, where I've lived ever since. Typically, I suppose, I'm one of those incomers who intended to stay for the weekend and found that the weekend turned into a decade. I've even moved my parents here.
Hull is good for me. As an aspiring writer I found a city rich in literary tradition: Andrew Marvell, Philip Larkin, Douglas Dunn, John Godber, Anthony Minghella, Peter Didsbury and Sean O'Brien were just a few of the writers who had a strong association with Hull. The readings organised by BÍte Noire were spectacular - Simon Armitage, Seamus Heaney, Carol Ann Duffy, Ted Hughes, Jackie Kay, Michael Donaghy, Ian Duhig - the poets visiting Hull in the 1990's were the very best.
Hull was, and remains, one of the best places to begin a literary career. There is an arts work ethic here which hasn't existed in any other place I've known. Writers and artists in Hull work harder and longer and with more enthusiasm. I don't know why that is, I just know that in Hull it isn't about wearing the right clothes or going to the right bars, it's about producing.
So, why, or perhaps how, the Humber Mouth? Briefly, the poetry readings turned into the Hull Literature Festival in 1991, which became the Humber Mouth in the year 2000. The festival has grown from a relatively small, specialist poetry festival to a multi-arts, city-wide celebration of language in little over ten years. The name 'Humber Mouth' was chosen to reflect the dynamic, urban and youthful character of the festival and the fact that it includes a significant number of local commissions. Unlike the other big litfests, Humber Mouth promotes the ethos that writers should have something to say, not just a stylish way of saying nothing. We wanted content, and we wanted the festival to be loud.
So - it isn't just a book fair where coffee table book authors do book signings and go. Since 2000, Humber Mouth has staged the legendary and the controversial - Jimmy McGovern and Germaine Greer, Tariq Ali and Vagina Monologues, Jon Ronson and Stewart Home. This year the tradition continues with Russell T Davies, Joan Bakewell, Jake Arnott, Shopping & F***ing and Woza Albert! It introduces local artists to the festival crowd - Emma Rugg, Hull Blokes, Steven Hall, Philip Barnes and many more.
Organising the festival is a mammoth task - for the six months leading up to November, I sleep, eat and dream Humber Mouth. Responsible for everything from the budget to the water jugs, meeting people at the station to writing the annual report for the Arts Council, it is simultaneously daunting and exciting, and often a real rollercoaster of highs and lows - in the week following the festival, I can't move.
I'm ambitious for the festival - next year Humber Mouth merges with the Hull Festival to become even larger, and takes up the summer dates of June 19th to July 4th. As local writer Steven Hall said 'if this year it's good, next year it's going to be awesome!' This year it is good. And next year it will be awesome. Watch this space.
By Maggie Hannan Hull in Fiction: Christopher Peachment & Will Davenport
Following on from the Crap Towns debacle, my interest was caught by the fact that no fewer than three novelists have set novels in Hull in the past eighteen months. Just like buses, you wait for ages and then three come along at once.
Previews - Wild Boys and Wild Ways: Jill Dawson
By Maggie Hannan
The MMR vaccination controversy ensures that few people are unfamiliar with the plight of those affected by autism and their search for answers. Jill Dawson, who visits the Humber Mouth this Saturday, knows better than most about the challenges involved. As the mother of a son diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, she was inspired to write her latest novel Wild Boy after reading an account of a 'feral child' in Uta Frith's Autism: Explaining the Enigma. Read more...
Previews - Doctor in the House? Russell T. Davies
By Maggie Hannan 'I grew up watching Doctor Who, hiding behind the sofa like so many others. He's had a good rest and now it's time to bring him back. The new series will be fun, exciting, contemporary and scary...' So says Russell T. Davies, famous for the controversial Queer as Folk, and Second Coming starring Christopher Ecclestone.
Previews - Michael Gray: Bob Dylan poetry of the Blues
By Lee Cassanell
On Saturday morning I had the pleasure of interviewing Michael Gray, one of the world's leading Bob Dylan Experts.
It was quite an exciting moment for me, being a Dylan fan and all, and I suppose if I'd not had the mother of all hangovers due to the previous evenings merriment, I would have been more nervous then I was.
Poetry - For those who lay dying.
by Lee Cassanell
Sign me up
I'm off to war
I want to kill and fight
Please drop me on that desert floor
Let me join the side of right
By Nicholas Boldock
The roads stretch out ahead of me
To which town will they lead?
And will there be a lady there
With dark brown eyes and long blonde hair
Who'll let me love her if I dare
Own up to what I need.