South of the River – News, stories and literature

So we had a bit of a road trip from South Leeds Towers this week. Dave, John and I trekked over to Manchester in search of glory (or at least a certificate). As I reported yesterday we came back empty handed from the Blog North Awards, but it was a very interesting evening.

I suppose I’m a bit of a news junky. My favourite radio station is Radio 4, my favourite TV programmes after Newsnight are Mock The Week and Have I Got News For You. I read a lot of blogs and news feeds. It wasn’t until I went to the Blog North Awards that I realised news blogs are just a small minority of blogs. People are writing about all sorts of things!

By the way, “blog” is sort for web-log. They started life as a digital diary, but now human ingenuity has put them to all sorts of uses.

The night started with four of the shortlisted bloggers / authors reading some of their work. A wonderfully angry young woman from Liverpool writes fictionalised versions of her own experiences on I Never Knew You Were Such A Monster. A postman from Huddersfield acutely describes the sights he sees each day on his round, for example on “the estate where plastic owls outnumber the human population by two to one”. His really is a diary, you can read it at The Most Difficult Thing Ever.

Third up was the guy who writes Sonnet Reviews. It does what it says on the tin – arts reviews in sonnet form. Yeah, sonnets, fourteen line poems, like Shakespeare. Finally and in a completely different vein was Her First Year, another diary, this time about the life of Mia the child of a 16 year old mum from Manchester. Written by a professional writer brought in by Reclaim a mentoring project that supports mum, dad and baby Mia.

I was impressed with the writing, but my first reaction was “This isn’t really blogging. Where’s the public service, where’s the news?”. My second reaction was “what is South Leeds Life doing here?”. We tell people about jumble sales and stuff, whereas these people really write. The awards were, after all, part of the Manchester Literature Festival. Maybe that’s why we didn’t win?

So we had our adventure, we went to see the bright lights. We came back through driving rain, a stop at McDonald’s and navigated a motorway closure to get home way past our bedtime.

That was Wednesday. Thursday brought rebirth in the shape of the South Leeds Life Group meeting. Seven ordinary punters sitting round a table in Beeston. What are we trying to do here? We are just trying to write about what is going on around us. Yes, we are writing. Writing doesn’t have to be a Shakespeare sonnet or a Dickens novel – although they are marvelous. It doesn’t have to have literary pretensions. It just needs some authenticity.

What else are we trying to do? We really want to encourage more people to write for the blog. We want South Leeds Life to be made up of many voices, just like our community is. I’m sure a lot of people are put off writing. “It’s difficult, I’m no good at it”. That’s why we are running the Community Reporters Course. You don’t have to be the next John Pilger, we just want to hear your stories. You know what’s going on in your street, at work, in the club or the mosque. Tell us what you know, our readers are interested.

We’ve built a website that take you through the stages of writing a story, breaks it down into bite-sized chunks. We’ll be showing you how to use the site on the course. Perhaps you prefer to tell your story rather than write it? We can record it and put it on the blog as an audio file. Or you could make a video.

As someone once said “We have the technology”. Lets put it to use to tell each other stories. Come and get involved!

Jeremy Morton will be back next Friday with more views from South of the River. You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @BeestonJeremy.