Saturday, 3 October 2009

Welcome to the New Academic Year!

Dear writers,

So we come to another academic year, and so also to another opportunity to extend our transatlantic dialogue over all things locational. Remember that this is a unique opportunity students at three different Universities, in England and America, to share writings about place. These writings don’t have to be polished short stories, poems, memoirs; they can just as usefully be informal jottings and photos that try and capture the texture of a place.

Places are so often magnets for stories aren’t they? You must all know a tale, folk legend, or urban myth, about where you grew up? There must have been a place you were told not to go to, or a place that had become so wrapped in generations of telling that it has become an almost mythical focus of attention for its community?

Or perhaps you could tell us something about the immediate environment around you? Our De Montfort University campus, England, is a microcosm of
Just how many Leicesters – very old and very new – coexist in bewildering proximity. Standing at a particularly point at the edge of the campus I can swivel round to see four different visions of the city. To my right is a brand new Law Faculty building, a wide pillar of glass reaching skyward, the building of which formed the abrasive soundtrack to many a workshop last year. To my left is a gateway into a very old Leicester; an arch heralding a cobbled street tumbling down to St Mary De Castro Church, where Chaucer was alleged to have been married in the fifteenth century. In front of me I see the ‘Magazine’, a mediaeval gateway added to Leicester Castle by the Third Earl of Leicester, around 1410. This Grade 1 Listed bulding (the subject of a poem on this very Blog many moons back by Charlotte Stevens) is marooned by the side of a road down which traffic snakes towards the brand-spanking new shopping Mecca Highcross, with its deliciously absurd motto ‘I have known Desire’.

The view behind me is of a red brick campus buildings on the left, and Trinity House on the right – which houses a beautiful old chapel in which our second year students are locked to write ghost stories. And the road trails down towards the River Soar.

If I walk a few yards to my right I come to a bronze plaque outside a University building that tells me about ‘The Whipping Toms’.

‘On this spot stood the Whipping Toms, who, on Shrove Tuesday, in accordance with the Ancient Custom, armed themselves with wagon whips and flogged anyone who entered the precincts of the Newarke. The sport was abolished by Act of Parliament in 1846’.

Hmm, a precursor of extreme sports perhaps. But what about a story in which this ancient custom is revived for modern times?

But enough from me, over to you: we all look forward to the mental travel of reading your various responses to place.

Have a good year folks! Write hard!

Simon Perril, De Montfort University, England

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