Review: Crossroads Festival, Saturday 5 October 2019

Rehearsal Room 1 of Leicester’s Curve Theatre has mirrored walls, free-standing doors, and a staircase to nowhere. An appropriate setting for the inaugural Crossroads Festival, which aimed “to support writers by offering advice and inspiration through a series of talks and workshops”. However, it did more than that. Like its base room, the festival was a space for people from all backgrounds to see themselves reflected in physical and metaphorical mirrors and to open new doors to creativity. Here are some highlights…

“Why does it matter? What is the point?” Kerry Young’s opening keynote contained generous explanations and a Q&A regarding her processes. She stressed the importance of learning your craft, then working out what the (moral) message is. “In the end, if you want to write a good book, then understand why it matters to you.”

The festival also included two short story workshops, with Rebecca Burns addressing openings and endings. “Titles are your shop windows” and “first lines are your hook. Intrigue the reader,” she advised, sharing famous examples and writing exercises. Finally, “Endings should satisfy… It can still be ambiguous, but it should have some kind of resolution and bring the start and threads together.”

At lunchtime, Onjali Rauf delighted both young and older with readings from her award-winning debut The Boy at the Back of the Class and new novel The Star Outside My Window. Like her first book, she tackled serious topics (discrimination, the refugee crisis) as well as lighter ones (Tintin, lemons sherbets!) in a lively discussion, and it was lovely to see so many children and families there as well.

Debz Hobbs-Wyatt led the second workshop, which concerned experimental techniques. She encouraged the use of different forms (lists, recipes, social media-style posts). She also stressed the importance of voice, and trying different ages and genders. And regarding character, “Make sure you have enough change (don’t ‘flatline’). How much do they change and why?” and “Note all your characters have ghosts… a backstory. How do these manifest?”

Meena Kandasamy gave the last keynote, a powerful talk on the dis/connections between art, authenticity and traps, and between individual stories and solidarity. She highlighted how mainstream publishing encourages writing from the outside-in; writing for the market. Her response? “We should challenge this every time we go to the page”, and write the stories that only we can, and should, tell.

The festival closed with the Leicester Writes Short Story Prize readings. It was a treat to hear from these finalists, including winners Mary Byrne, Dan Brotzel and Debz Hobbs-Wyatt, whose stories showcased the best that this relatively new, but increasingly influential prize has to offer.

What a fun and inspiring day – see you at the next one! ;)

Farhana Khalique is a writer, teacher and voiceover from south west London, where she lives with her family. Twitter: @HanaKhalique.