– a jobbing writer
Only two months after arriving from Rochdale in the UK, in November 2015 to take up retirement on the island, writer and radio broadcaster Norman Warwick attended his first Lanzarote Creative Writing Group meeting. This was on a day when the group was having one of its occasional Meet the Author events.
A talk was given by Isobel Blackthorn, author of The Drago Tree, a novel set in Lanzarote but published by Odyssey books in Australia. Immediately after her talk Norm arranged to interview Isobel about her work and two weeks later the interview was published in its entirety in the all across the arts pages of several regional papers of The Manchester Evening News Media Group.
all across the arts is a small company established five years ago by Norm ‘to provide news, interviews, previews and reviews’ about his then local arts scene. Although his partner, Steve Cooke, still working in Rochdale, now gathers that news Norm edits the pages that are published weekly in four different papers.
“It is a real privilege to be still involved in such a dynamic arts scene as Rochdale enjoys,” he tells us. “Community arts are thriving over there, and cuts in funding have actually served to strengthen creative partnerships that are now more inclined to deliver multi disciplinary course, workshops and events to tackle social issues.”
Steve Cooke (left) and Norman Warwick (right) of all across the arts
interviewing film maker, John Farrington, director of And She Cried
Norm describes himself as “a jobbing writer.” After leaving school in 1968 he set out as a freelance music journalist and over the next thirty years he managed to interview many of his song writing heroes, mainly Americana-style artists such as Guy Clark, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, Nanci Griffith, Mary Chapin Carpenter and John Stewart and the one he considered a true poet, Townes Van Zandt. Norm even enjoyed success with some of his own songs, written with Colin Lever, his partner in the Lendanear folk group, when songs like Old Black Guitar Case and No Way To Go On enjoyed minor chart success in the States. Norm wrote for several country music magazines and went on to produce his own Amercana publications, Sidetracks and Detour which each enjoyed large mailing lists for several years.
Having left school with only 2 O levels (Eng. Lang and Eng. Lit) he was delighted to take the opportunity in 1996 to acquire the necessary ‘access levels’ to read English Language And Literature at university, where his creative writing module was led by poet Simon Armitage, and Alan Bennett wandered the halls.
After leaving university Norm formed Just Poets, ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) with Pam McKee, intended then to be simply a duo going out to poetry slams. “However, we were introduced to Artists In Schools,” he recalls. “They were a government funded organisations created to introduce working artists into schools to underpin the academic curriculum. Over the years we worked in more than 300 schools throughout the UK, as well as in prisons and hospitals. Just Poets had a unique selling point of fusing popular and high art and we seemed able to enthuse people as much about Shakespeare as about Springsteen. I think we were particularly good at teaching students how to ‘interrogate the text’ and good at encouraging them to do so.”
Just Poets worked with dancers, drummers, choirs and circus acts to bring student work to production and students saw their work sent on light years of travel. Norm was a frequently commissioned poet by institutions like Blackburn Cathedral, Blackburn Royal Hospital, Bolton Old Markets, Rochdale Borough Libraries, Touchstones Arts And Heritage Centre and several local authorities in the North Of England. Pam and Norm also regularly appeared on local community radio as well as on BBC regional radio and BBC Radio 4, and even made a tv appearance on a channel 4 arts programme.
It was only when Pam retired that Norm felt compelled to form all across the arts, and in his first year he produced the pages for the local press by facilitating a team students at a local performing arts school on his self-designed journalism course.
“I worked with eight fourteen year old students,“ he says “and for a whole school year including holidays those kids delivered to deadline and word-count, conducting their own interviews and writing their own news. They also learned a number of transferable soft-life skills along the way.”
During this period Norm, and his mate Steve Bewick, also presented a live radio show, also called all across the arts, on Crescent Radio. These days Norm settles down on a Wednesday evening at nine pm to listen to the Hot Biscuits jazz programme that Steve now presents on line for FCUM Radio.
Steve Bewick (left) and Norman Warwick on all across the arts on Crescent Radio
all across the arts www.allacrossthearts.com has gone from strength to strength, featuring their interviews with the likes of actors Simon Callow, Kevin Kennedy and Jane Danson, poets Andrew Motion, Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy and Ian McMillan, and bestselling authors Rachel Abbott, Mark Billingham and Madasue Heller.
“We came into contact with names like that largely through The Rochdale Literature And Ideas Festival,” Norman explains, “which I compered for three years 2013/4/5, and which was run by Rochdale Borough Library Services, with whom all across the arts enjoy a great relationship. So the interviews we conducted were sometimes q and a events before a live audience. The recordings would be played on the radio and were also transcribed for the newspapers and, in a different format, placed on various web sites.”
Norman is a published writer, not only of journalistic pieces but also of books and poetry. His fictive account of a man with mental health issues who falls victim to the system, Memoirs From Bedlam, was published by Boltonia Press in 1998 and his poetry has been published by Pan Macmillan. He also serves as a consultant / literary agent for emerging writers like Louis Brierley and is keen to attract other aspirant writers to the all across the arts agency.
Norm’s latest venture is the launch of a new subscriber e-zine called PASS IT ON aata, and he is being partnered in the enterprise by another Lanzarote CWG member, Leigh Whiting. The monthly issue, enabling Norm to feature national and international arts related news, interviews, previews and reviews from throughout the UK and across Europe and will carry advertising and reach a wider readership.
He also has two books he is expecting to bring to publication over the next couple of years.
Still Chasing That Rhyme is a crime novel based around the songs of the late, great Townes Van Zandt, and was co-written with Pam McKee, during their Just Poets days. Name Check is a non-fiction work looking at hundreds of lyrics into which writers drop the names of their own musical heroes.
So, as busy as he sounds, we are a little surprised that Norm has such a really strong attendance record at Lanzarote CWG.
“Having run so many creative writing groups as a facilitator for so many years, it is very odd to be now attending one as a student,” he admits. “There some terrific writers in the group, though, and the atmosphere is very supportive. Sue Almond, facilitator here at the group, is great at driving on participants to write whilst each session works as a standalone event for a writer of any ability, it is also a building block to more rounded writing.”
Norm also used to run and compere poetry reading events in the UK and would regularly have audiences of more than forty to hear a dozen or so performance poets at monthly Bard From The Baum events in Rochdale. He is delighted, therefore, to have been ‘head hunted’ by Aileen Hendry, another of our members, to be her skivvy, sorry, to help her put on similar events presented by Lanzarote CWG.
We carry full details about Lanzarote CWG and our members, guests and events on the Writers End blog at www.writersend.com