The eighth edition of the Manchester Literature Festival has been a fantastic opportunity for both experienced and up-and-coming writers to showcase their talent. In true Mancunian style, the festival organisers sneaked in an event analysing the increasing dichotomy between sport and the arts in the contemporary world. The guest speakers for the night were Owen Sheers and Ian McMillan. Held appropriately at one of Manchester’s finest sports bars, The Green, the event was hosted by BBC Sport presenter Karthi Gnanasegaram.
As a tribute to the theme of the night, the choice of who would speak first was left to the whim of a coin toss. Owen Sheers was thus dutifully chosen to start off the night. Sheers is a published Welsh poet, writer, actor and scriptwriter. He was the artist in residence for the Welsh Rugby Team in 2012 and hence the first artist in residence to ever be employed by a national rugby team. Being a lifelong Welsh Rugby Union fan, Sheers spoke of how he immediately took his chance and witnessed the Welsh Grand Slam at the Six Nations in 2012. However, it was only the eight consecutive defeats that followed that inspired Sheers. He had seen the two sides of a sports team, the side basking in the glory of victory and the side hopelessly unable to win a game. This unfolded in a proper narrative depicted in his new book Calon. He ended his speech by reading a couple of passages from his book. In those passages, he describes with poetic prowess the fragility that he saw in the young men representing their country and the effects that training ground banners have on the players. This was met with rapturous applause.
Ian McMillan then took the stage for his round and stole the show. Known for his sensational poetic talent and extravagant sense of humour, McMillan is a poet, journalist and broadcaster from Barnsley. He started his speech by talking about his start as poet in residence for his beloved Barnsley Football Club. He began working for free, knowing that he would be doing a job he loved for a club he loved and expecting the exposure to do wonders for his career. He talked with passion about his long years spent as both a poet and a football supporter, and his ultimate dream of bridging the gap between sports and the arts. McMillan also talked about his younger days and how this affected his usual comedic poetry, going as far as mimicking his secondary school rugby coach with a surprisingly high-pitched voice. He followed his speech with a few football chants and a couple of poems from his book Talking Myself Home: My Life in Verses. The crowd was absolutely loving it. Highly entertaining, charming and talented, McMillan was the highlight of the night and deservedly received a standing ovation.
In the end, both writers joined host Karthi Gnanasegaram on stage for a round of questions that included enquiries about their previous work, their future endeavours and their advice for aspiring writers. The Manchester Literature Festival was spot on with this very informative and entertaining event. A book signing followed what was a great night.
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