“It’s a writing festival that’s true to Liverpool…” Mike Morris, Writing On The Wall

Writing on the Wall festival 2017

As Writing on the Wall Festival comes to a close in Liverpool today and tomorrow night — amongst stories of resistance and the political power of music — Jack Roe caught up with its founder and co-director, Mike Morris…

There are those people in the world, so ingrained and in tune with the social and cultural history of where they are, that a conversation with them can soon begin to feel like a vividly illustrated oral lecture. Mike Morris, co-director and founder of Writing on the Wall literary festival, is one such person. Our conversation took place during this year’s, month-long literary festival. It also went a long way to explaining, through the man’s seemingly unceasing efforts to engage and inspire just about anyone and everyone he can, what has kept the organisation going from strength to strength almost 20 years later.

“Our first festival was formed on the back of the dock strike”

The Double Negative: To start with, can you give us some background on Writing on the Wall?

Mike Morris: Writing on the Wall was formed in the year 2000, we held our first festival then, and it was formed on the back of the dock strike in Liverpool between 1995 and ’97. We held a festival every year, normally one or two weeks with some projects that were taking place outside of the festival. In 2006, we raised some money from the Arts Council which allowed us to take on our first full time co-ordinator: my now co-director Madeleine Hannigan [pictured, below right, with Morris, left]. In 2008, capital of culture year, we decided to expand the festival to a month, which really worked. Aside from the festival we were able to expand our community work, with organizations Merseyside Youth Association, to Liverpool Mental Health Consortium, to Manchester Young Carers. We’re now in our 17th year: the longest running literary festival certainly on Merseyside and possibly the wider North-West.


So obviously the appetite is still there. Is it the social conscience element that drives you, the engagement? Or is it more the literary aspect?

For me the two things come together really because I love reading. I’m a writer myself and I’ve always been socially and politically active in Liverpool, going back to the Poll Tax campaigns. I find the two things inseparable, but I do feel that if we weren’t socially connected, this festival wouldn’t have the same traction that it’s had over the years. We’re not the biggest festival, but I think we have quite a significant position in Liverpool in terms of the people we connect with and the work that we do. We’re a creative festival in the way that when the festival ends that doesn’t mean to say that’s the end of the work that we’re doing — see our annual Pulp Idol writing competition. Once it’s finished, we then move on to publishing people, and to try and get them published by the mainstream press. We do all of that very, very well. It’s a writing festival that’s true to Liverpool.

“We’ve had an incredibly turbulent year, Brexit and Trump obviously being two main things — you could add to that Leicester winning the league”

So talk to me about this year’s theme of Revolution: are we due?

We’ve had an incredibly turbulent year, Brexit and Trump obviously being two main things — you could add to that Leicester winning the league [laughs]. We also look back and we reference events and literary events, and one of those major events was the Russian Revolution. 2017 [is the] 100th anniversary and so we thought okay, let’s look at the Revolution. We knew we could get some great iconography around that in terms of the branding of the festival, and we didn’t want it just to be a political thing, or simply a historical event.

We have revolutions in publishing, so we’ve celebrated Indie-Pendence day: independent publishing and self-publishing with Comma Press, Dead Ink and more. Time For Action saw journalist Gary Younge from the Guardian, plus Natalie Bennet from the Green Party, and Kerry-Ann Mendoza from the Canary, talk about Brexit, racism, fake news and Trump. And of course, we have Protest! Stories of Resistance tonight, featuring stories from authors Jacob Ross, Alexei Sayle, Frank Cottrell Boyce, Kit de Waal and loads more, talking about the Suffragettes, the Miners Strike, the Peasants’ Revolt, and the Civil Rights Movements of the 1960s.

“This year’s highlight for me was Thomas Lopes: a Native American from the Dakota Standing Rock pipeline protest”

Do you go into the festival season with any particular ambitions for the programme, is there anything you want to achieve on any given year?

We always try to bring in an international element. This year’s highlight for me was Thomas Lopez: a Native American from the Dakota Standing Rock pipeline protest for his only engagement in the UK [pictured with the team, third from the right, top]. He talked about the pipeline that Obama stopped, and Trump has signed off again. They’re taking it through lands that are regarded as sacred, but also ones that if there is a leak would provide a major threat to water supplies in the area. This is a much bigger issue than Standing Rock: this is about which direction are we going in, from the point of view of environmentalism and energy, how we supply and how we gather our energy. We wanted to bring Thomas over to show an international support for them, but also to give people an opportunity amidst all the fake news to hear what’s actually happening.

Jack Roe

Writing on the Wall festival continues tonight and tomorrow:

Dont miss live readings tonight of Protest! Stories of Resistance: Comma Press’s new book of 20 authors bringing to life crucial moments of British protest, 7pm at Blackburne House, Liverpool — tickets here

PLUS tomorrow night, Thursday 26 May 2017, Dave Randall, guitarist with the legendary Faithless and his own band Slovo, discusses his new book, Sound System: The Political Power of Music, 7.30pm at LEAF, Bold Street, Liverpool — tickets here

Posted on 25/05/2017 by thedoublenegative