Nick Quantrill

This article was published in the “Humber Street Sesh” 2012 festival programme.

Hull has always been blessed with a rich and varied collection of writers living and working within the city. From the poetry of Philip Larkin, to the drama of Alan Plater and the novels of Winifred Holtby, national recognition isn’t something we’ve struggled for. In fact, the work of these three heavyweights clearly resonates and remains relevant to many now, both within and outside the area. But alongside ten years of The Sesh, the city has also seen a new wave of writing emerge and thrive.

As a crime writer proudly working in the city, I have to admit a certain bias, but Hull has its finger on the pulse when producing hard-hitting and socially aware writing. In fact, the city has a fine tradition of it. Ted Lewis, whose crime novel, “Jack’s Return Home” which was eventually filmed as “Get Carter”, studied in the city and remained influenced by it. More recently, Booker-nominated author, Robert Edric, produced a fascinating trilogy of Private Investigator novels, setting the standard for emerging writers like David Mark, Nick Triplow and myself to aim for.

The hard hitting writing isn’t merely confined to crime writing. Russ Litten’s superb debut, “Scream If You Want To Go Faster” is Hull to its very core, and not just because it’s set around Hull Fair. Taking the floods of 2007 as his starting point, Russ convincingly nails the spirit of the city and its many voices. His next novel, “Swear Down”, is bound to be a treat. Spoken Word, covered elsewhere in this publication, also captures the spirit of the city, but uses poetry as its weapon of choice. Joe Hakim’s, “No Light/Might Escape” and Mike Watts’s “Coming To A Street Near To You” prove the point emphatically.

No less hard-hitting is the new writing being produced for the stage, with Hull Truck Theatre nurturing genuine Hull voices alongside its reputation making work from John Godber. Blazing a trail in this respect, Dave Windass has tackled rugby league and the Spurn lifeboat, but don’t be fooled. Dave’s plays travel well and he’s now the driving force behind the city’s Scratch Theatre night at Fruit. Also working hard on the stage and shouting loudly about Hull, as ever, is Gill Adams. ‘Award winning’ is only part of her story. Listing her output would take up another page.

If sport’s more your thing, the recent charge up the Football League has seen a surge in Hull City writing. If you want words from the heart about what it means to the people who’ve travelled to the four corners of the country following the club, Gary Clark’s two accounts, “From Boothferry To Wembley” and “This Is The Best Trip…” more than do the job. If you want a more analytical review of the club’s achievements, Ian Waterson’s “Live Through The Dream” dissects the rollercoaster ride with precision. Ian also remains co-editor of the last remaining Hull City print fanzine, “City Independent”, an essential read to help pass the half-time break during those cold afternoons at The KC Stadium.

Hull writing is also benefitting from a ‘do it yourself attitude’ when it comes to publishing. Some writers don’t want, or even need, that kind of help. Prime amongst the band of self-publishers, Richard Sutherland’s “Unitary Authority of Ersatz” is quite possibly the most eclectic, weird and thoroughly entertaining collection of poems and short-stories you’ll ever read. For others, the past remains important. Andy Wilson’s volume of short stories, “Potter’s Field”, is based around Joe Solo’s songs about a battalion of Hull Pals who enlist during World War One. The second volume, due later this year, picks up the characters trying to rebuild their broken lives and promises to provide a rich social history of the city. And complementing this unflinching realism, Val Wood offers a different perspective on Hull with her ever popular historical sagas, many of which focus on the city’s fishing industry.

Hull doesn’t want for outlets for writers. Like many writers in the city, I cut my teeth writing for www.thisisull.com, a community website which has dedicated almost a decade to giving those who need it a platform to publish their prose and poetry. And long may they thrive. Small presses continue to provide outlets for Hull writing. Tim Roux’s “Night Publishing” continues to fly the flag for writers from the city, publishing a staggering number of books. And pulling no punches, the industrial strength “Wrecking Ball Press”, led by Shane Rhodes, is firmly back on track and open for business.

Why is there such an amazing range of writing coming to the fore in the city? Because we’re Hull. It’s the spirit of the city. If we don’t like what we see, we do it ourselves. Maybe our relative isolation makes us wary, but crucially it never closes us off to new and different ideas. Maybe it’s because we’re a little mysterious, the kind of place you need a reason to visit. We don’t stand still. But where to next for Hull writing? Technological advances, like the ability to publish electronically, means more and more voices are being heard. Darren Sant’s short story collections, “Tales From The Longcroft Estate” are finding favour as this city’s answer to “Shameless”, we can expect a novella later this year from Nick Boldock, another writer from the school of telling it like it is, and Samantha Towle continues to blaze a trail with a prolific output of fantasy and paranormal romances with a twist. From crime to poetry to drama and everything in between, we’ve got it all and we’re loud and proud about it. We are Hull. And it shows on the page.

Nick Quantrill

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