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22-02-2007

After last week's merciless tonking of Tolkein (check it out here) Laurence Inman celebrates Birmingham's currently wonderful world of wordy achievements. (And there's another pavement update too)

Last month I attended a book launch for another Tindal Street Press title. I always love these occasions. They are great opportunities to meet fellow word-worshippers, in pleasant surroundings (The Jam House in St Paul's Square this time) and exchange slightly exaggerated versions of what we've all been up to since the last time we met.

I even bumped into The Stirrer himself there, looking very dapper. I reluctantly had to decline his invitation to join him and some others for dinner later, partly because I think it's in rather poor taste to be seen hanging around with celebrities too much, but mostly because my sixteen-year-old daughter had some of her friends (or ‘crew') round for tiffin back at the house and I still wanted it to be there when I got back. The house, not the tiffin.

The story of Tindal Street Press is the latest shining chapter in the history of Birmingham's literary achievements. It began life as a writers' and readers' group in Tindal Street School in 1983. Alan Mahar, the founder, said a few words last month, as he does on all these occasions. So did Emma Hargrave, the indefatigable present director.

But pride of place went to the writer whose first novel, What Was Lost, we were all there to celebrate: Catherine O'Flynn.

Catherine is only a youngster - well, under forty - and has had the kind of varied career writers love to put on their CVs: teacher, web editor, mystery customer and postwoman.

Another Brummie author, Jonathan Coe, has written of her work: ‘I'm full of admiration for What Was Lost, which skewers our consumer society in all its absurdity and terrible sadness, while deftly interweaving a tender and heartbreaking personal narrative. A great debut from an awesomely talented writer.'

I couldn't agree more. Read it. Buy it first, of course. (See an interview with Catherine and watch her reading extracts from What was Lost on Stirrer TV).

Catherine is the latest in a lengthening line of outstanding Birmingham novelists, poets and playwrights (not to mention comedians) who have, over some years, been building a sturdy creative reputation for the city.

Here's a selection. If you get the chance, go and see them perform.

Matt Nunn, poet from Sutton. All right, he's a Blues supporter (and never lets you forget it) but if ever a writer could authentically be called ‘visceral,' it's Matt.

Roz Goddard, one of the ten (or more) Poets Laureate the city has appointed since 1996. She does what a poet is supposed to; takes the familiar and ordinary and shows us how magical it really is.

Geoff Stevens, founder and mainstay of Purple Patch in West Bromwich. The only man I know who can make being middle-aged feel desirable (which it is, apart from the obvious little regrets.)

Brian McInally, who, with Adrian Johnson, ran the Rhubarb and Digbeth sessions on the poetry floor at Waterstones every fourth Sunday for years. I really miss those Sundays. So many people started their performing careers there. They should have a blue plaque. Brian later formed a comedy duo with Ian McDiarmid (The Two Macs) and they did their distinctive and sometimes fragile sets at the gig Ian ran at the Hexagon at MAC in Cannon Hill Park, Brummie Comedy Cocktail. Great days.

Finally, Andy White. I bumped into him by chance on the coach coming back from London last week, where I'd spent a fantastic few hours with some very dear friends, so this rounded off a great evening.

Andy is a true professional comedian: talented, original and genuinely funny, he takes immense pains to get things just right, but can still ‘play' an audience spontaneously in a way that, frankly, leaves me glaring with envy. See him now, before he gets really expensive.

Pavements update: residents in some streets in Kings Heath are being issued with ropes and crampons to help them negotiate the more difficult stretches. It'll have to do until we get Conservation Status.

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