SFF front cover

Daniel Ingram-Brown takes us on a journey through the city’s literary forests and festivals.

Stories from the Forests of Leeds

If you would like to purchase a copy of the book, details can be found here. Delivery 2-3 weeks.

Imagine Leeds as a Forest in a fairytale. What characters, stories and values would emerge from that fictional landscape?

Over the past year and a half, commissioned by LCI, in partnership with Leeds Big Bookend Festival, I’ve been working with different groups of creative writers to answer that question. From the Morley Minstrel, who always sings the truth, to Harehills the Rabbiter (featured on the coming pages) the characters that have emerged are fun and colourful, often with a serious edge to them. The collection of tales has now been drawn together to create a book. The overarching story that emerges from the book is the struggle between the haves and have-nots, the long coats and the short coats, as one of the stories puts it. The book’s main character, Clarence the Water Rat, guides the reader through the thickets and swamps of Leeds, a place of benefit sanctions and burdens to be hefted, where Forest Folk struggle to understand the gifts they have, as they search for keys to transformation. The final treasury is divided into four ‘books’, The Book of Seeds: Spring and Beginnings, The Book of Toil: Summer and Conflicts, The Book of Fruit: Autumn and Transformations and The Book of Shedding: Winter and Endings. This is a nod to the patchwork canon of scripture – for Stories from the Forests of Leeds is the scripture of the imaginary world we’ve created.

Why a forest?

The idea of imagining the city as a forest occurred to me after reading Sara Maitland’s book, Gossip from the Forest. In it, she talks about the city as a complex, diverse place with no wide landscape, where roads thread between buildings, connecting people and communities. In this, she says, cities have more in common with the natural landscape of forests, than they do with, for instance, deserts or mountains. She posits that certain types of story emerge from certain types of landscape. That made me wonder what sort of stories would emerge if we spent time working with the landscape of Leeds.

Stories, like dreams, are a way of exploring our collective and personal subconscious. What would such an imaginative exercise reveal about the city? Would the stories that emerged carry clues about the sort of spiritual, emotional and practical work needed to be undertaken for the welfare of Leeds? I’ll leave you to decide!

The tales in Stories From the Forests of Leeds range from those written by an 11 year old, to poems penned by a professor of English. They are beautifully illustrated by Si Smith, who spent time exploring the city, sketching the people and places mentioned in the tales, rooting his vision of the Forests of Leeds in the real life of the city. Si has crafted some wonderful detail into the book. For instance, the illuminated letters that start each of the stories can be found around the city – the ‘F’ from First Leeds buses or the ‘I’ from the tourist information centre. When you read the book, see if you can spot where they’re from.

Alongside the book, there is also a wonderfully illustrated map and a set of twelve character trading cards which can be stuck into the book, making it interactive!

Stories from the Forests of Leeds is being launched on Saturday 4th June, 5.45-6.45pm at the Carriageworks Theatre as part of the Northern Short Story Festival (part of Leeds Big Bookend Festival). Please contact the Carriageworks for tickets (£4). The book will be available to buy from LCI at a special introduction price of £15. Please email events@leedschurchinstitute.org to order your copy.

The Leeds Big Bookend Festival 2016 – Crossing City Limits

This year’s Leeds Big Bookend Festival, which LCI is excited to partner with, takes place between the 27th May – 14th June (the main weekend being the 4th and 5th June). The theme for the festival this year is crossing city limits. This idea was partly inspired by Mark Powley’s article in issue 4 of City Theology, entitled City Limits? Where that article talked about the limits we need to remain within, the festival’s theme is about challenging boundaries we need to push against. The festival programme puts it like this:

“Boundaries define us – the geographical boundaries of our city, the ethical or moral boundaries that help us to live alongside one another, the boundaries that shape our communities. Sometimes these act as frames of reference, helping us understand who we are, giving shape to our identity, creating a sense of belonging or home. Other times, however, they can become rigid, limiting our imagination, confining and separating, rather than providing new horizons. We need to push against such limiting boundaries, challenging, questioning and often crossing them. This year’s Leeds Big Bookend Festival invites you to journey to the edges of the city, to reassess and re-think Leeds’ limits!”

There are some real treasures in this year’s programme, including Lucy Burnett’s installation about climate change, Inside African Forests (hosted by LCI), Index On Censorship’s ‘Big Debate’, which this year asks whether journalism or fiction has the biggest impact, and the launch of Jamie Fletcher’s Alphabet Club Anthology, about faith and sexuality. The full programme can be downloaded from http://www.bigbookend.co.uk or picked up from LCI.

The Nemesis Charm & Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond

The first event in Leeds Big Bookend Festival is the launch of my own book, The Nemesis Charm. It’s the second book in the Firebird Chronicles series, about Apprentice Adventurers Fletcher and Scoop and their relationship with the mysterious Storyteller, king of Fullstop Island, their home. Although written with a readership of 9-12 year olds in mind, many comment that the book is a good read for adults too. Rt Revd John Packer, said,

“Like all the best stories, it can be read on different levels…at times there are echoes of C.S Lewis. Young people and adults alike will be taken up by the tension of what will happen to the Apprentice Adventurers…A thoroughly absorbing read.”

One of the inspirations for The Nemesis Charm was Richard Rohr’s Immortal Diamond, in which he states that, “Love is stronger than death”, a theme picked up in The Nemesis Charm.

I’ll be exploring the book, Immortal Diamond, and its connection to The Nemesis Charm in LCI’s monthly theological book club, Lunchtime Conversations, on 5th July, 12.30-2.30pm at LCI. To book a place, email events@leedschurchinstitute.org

The Nemesis Charm will be launched at Waterstones, Leeds, on Friday 27th May, 7-9pm. To book a free ticket, visit http://www.bigbookend.co.uk. The Firebird Chronicles are available to buy online or can be ordered from your local bookshop.