Katharine Quarmby: Disability in Literature Podcasts

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“Bringing down the wall – what to do about disability representation in literature” – Katharine Quarmby


At the Nottingham Festival of Literature, Katharine Quarmby gave a Festival Address on the representation of disability in literature, drawing on research conducted on literature, art and representation from her first book Scapegoat: Why We Are Failing Disabled People.

We’re especially excited to be able to share four podcasts of this speech, you can listen below or you can read the transcript here.

In Part One Katharine looks at classical representations of disability.

In Part Two she looks at representations from medieval times up till the present day.

Part Three offers some of the theories of representation and how they can be applied to disabled characters and themes around disability.

The final part looks at controversies surrounding cultural appropriation, the way forward for criplit, identity politics, and in it Katharine suggests some interesting texts.


Read more about this topic from Katharine through these links:

Handy Uncapped Pen Q&A with Katharine Quarmby 

“Our disabled community is suffering. Time to act on the UN report, not reject it” Katharine Quarmby for The Guardian

Katharine Quarmby Twitter: @KatharineQ


Katharine Quarmby, Scapegoat: Why We Are Failing Disabled People

The View from The Audience Finale…

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The Official Nottingham Festival of Literature’s ‘The Audience’ is revealed…

So. Hi. If you’re reading this post then the odds are that you’ve been following this blog throughout the week. Or you’re one of those clever-clogs who waited for the whole thing to be finished so you could binge watch it like it’s a Netflix original. I see you, clever clogs.

This is the part of the week where I get to stop being an amorphous grey blob and tell you who I am.

My name’s Emma Reid. I’m a Creative Writing Student at Nottingham Trent University, because one morning I woke up and decided that employability was overrated. You may have seen me at a few events, I was probably the quiet girl sat at the back of the room and being the only person scribbling stuff into a notebook. I was not especially subtle. Look, espionage has never been one of my strong suits.

I’m twenty years old. I like books. I like video games. I like dungeons and dragons. I like telling stories and being told them. I still don’t have a strong opinion on James Joyce. I’m never completely happy with anything I make but that’s OK. I wasn’t even expecting to get the chance to write this blog.

It’s been quite a week, putting it lightly. Eye-opening is usually a word I reserve for rich kids who go on gap years to dig wells, but it was. The world of literature is impossibly, wonderfully varied, to the point where no one event could cover it all. But the festival has made a pretty good go at it. So many people have been given a voice, and not in some prescriptive, arbitrary way. People just…talked.

Passion is infectious, after all.

If there’s one thing the festival has done, it’s reaffirmed my love of Nottingham as a city. There were so many venues that I don’t normally have the opportunity to go to that I got to see as part of this festival. There’s history in the bones of Nottingham, it’s just that sometimes I need a reminder of it. A lot of good people have worked hard to remind the rest of the world that we’re here, and we’re important and we’re not going away.

Here’s something on a more personal note. One month before starting this blog I was diagnosed with dyslexia and dyspraxia.

This was a bit of a pisser, if I’m being honest.

There are bigger problems in the world, of course.  Hell, ten per cent of the population has been dealing with it much better than I have; they don’t need me swanning in and flopping theatrically onto a fainting couch. I don’t know, I was determined to be bitter about it. There’s always going to be a part of me that wonders how much more I could do without it.  And then another part of me wonders if I’m actually kind of glad, because now I have some excuse when I don’t push myself.

So the only solution to both those problems is to keep on pushing.

I find it hard to express myself sometimes, especially verbally. Often when I’m talking my brain keeps whirring and my mouth just gives up, creating this weird verbal mush.  I hate this. It makes me sound like a moron. I want to be able to grab the person I’m talking and shake them and shriek ‘It’s not me, I promise there’s something in this if you’ll only listen to me!’ Something tells me that that would probably only make the situation more awkward. It’s impossibly frustrating, to have your voice taken away.

But when I write I can go back. I can fix the mistakes. Spelling stops being a big deal when you have a word processor that can point out your many failings. I can be me.

I may never make a living from writing, but I don’t care. Writing means I have a voice.

I hope this week has helped you find yours.

If you enjoyed following me over this week, you can find more of my stuff on these two sites. It’s been an absolute pleasure.



The View From The Audience #7

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Networking for Writers with Amit Chaudhuri and Andrew Taylor

Nottingham Writers’ Studio



If you’re a writer, or even any kind of artist for that matter, the odds are that that word just made you break out into a cold sweat.

I think we all want to act like we’re above it, privately hoping that the quality of our work will allow it to stand out from the crowd without any additional input or work on our part. But we know that isn’t true. The sobering reality of being an artist is that we must all come to terms with is that the majority of us will never make a real living form it.

I can’t eat exposure. The joy of creation won’t keep the heating on.

I’m bad at networking. I can’t talk to strangers without feeling a bundle of nerves in my stomach. Hell, some days I can’t talk to friends without feeling that. Also I have a handshake so weak it can easily be mistaken for a rope made of polystyrene. As a broke undergraduate student, I have literally nothing to offer anyone in a professional capacity.  I need to get better at it.

So it makes sense for me to finish up my week with an event about the importance of networking, led by Amit Chaudhuri and Andrew Taylor. What can I say? I never claimed to be anything but mercenary.

Actually the content of the event covers much more than that pragmatic approach.  Networking isn’t so much about making industry ties for writers, as it is about building support networks for writers. Both Chaudhuri and Taylor talk about the support they have had over the years, from old lecturers to academic colleagues.

It’s fitting that the event takes place in the basement of the Nottingham Writers’ Studio. People find networks within networks, and the studio is a great place for budding writers to put out feelers, get feedback and learn new things. Someone points out how nice it is that it’s right in the city centre, and rather tricky to miss if you’re going past it.

If there’s one thing I hope you’ve gotten from this blog it’s that Nottingham is a city that has earnt the title of being a city of literature. There are networks for everyone that anyone can slot into. Writers have a wonderful tendency to build each other up, with criticism and praise and support.

After this, Chaudhuri and Taylor discuss the changing language of literature, namely how critical language has largely been co-opted by the publishing industry. Think about the last time you heard a book described as a masterpiece. Do you think it actually applied, or do you think that the publisher decided that the book would sell well and wanted to add to that?

Chaudhuri in particular talks about the tendency of writers to have a ‘checklist’. Even when the work we’re creating isn’t finished, we’re considering how to sell it, what agent to pick, which publishers to send it to, how much to circulate to our followers. Before that, we’re wondering if what we’re making will actually sell. Chaudhuri cited one of the first things he ever had published, an English language novella, which are noticeably less popular in a lot of markets.

This is all well and good, but as we’ve established, most of us will never make a living off of this. If you’re not writing for yourself, what’s the point? Taylor points out that as a poet, he’ll never get the readership of other genres. The fact that anyone is reading his stuff at all is enough.

He seems quite OK with that.

I like to think that I would be OK with that too. But to get even to that point, I’m going to keep on with the whole networking thing. Even if it is a pain.

The View From The Audience #6

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Print/Screen Exhibition and Mash & Mash: Lit Game Jam

The National Videogame Arcade Saturday 12th November

As I write this, there sits on my desk an unopened copy of ‘Dishonoured 2’, still wrapped in shiny cellophane. I really want to play it. But restoring the young Empress of the Isles to her throne can wait.

Something you need to understand about your friendly amorphous grey blob, dear reader, is that I adore video games. If you’ve been reading this blog over the past week, you’ve probably gathered that I really love books and literature. This is true, but even that love pales in comparison to my love of games.

I’ve read a lot of books over the years. Nearly all of them could have been improved with the addition of a level up system and an ironman difficulty setting, is all I’m saying.

All games have the illusion of choice. Even when you’re dancing to the exact tune the development team devised, you still make thousands of micro-decisions every second. When and where to move, when to attack, when to hide. That control makes games utterly unique. They resonate in a way no other medium can ever even hope to come close to.

A book will never stop you from progressing because you’re bad at reading. Overcoming the challenge is part of the appeal.

That said, there is a particular genre of game that’s starting to gain a bit more traction. These games put the appeal of context above any other part of game design, being heavily story driven, often eschewing traditional mechanics altogether. This can go one of two ways. The first can feel alienating for a player, like the developers are more interested in their own story and would prefer to involve the player as little as possible. The second marries player choice and story to create a uniquely involving narrative.

To create the latter kind, one must be willing to keep one’s writing as fluid as possible.

It is on this note that I head to the National Video Game Arcade for two connected events. When the arcade opened a year ago it was a bit of a watershed moment. Games have always struggled to be taken seriously as an art form, partially due to stereotyping and partially due to the industry not always working especially hard to break those stereotypes. Having a museum devoted to them is a good step.

The first event is an exhibition devoted to short, almost poetic games, some attempting to find a new approach to interweaving video games with something more literary, some being more like virtual art exhibitions. Some are more successful than others. The best one I played was a result of the Off the Map competition, where you played as Juliet and got to choose her responses to Romeo, with varied and creative results. A second recycled sprites from the indie game Nuclear Throne, and created something entirely new them. There was also one where I was a tiny spaceship, and had to shoot little hearts to generate a poem.

I was really bad at this one. Clearly, they got the memo about the appeal ‘overcoming challenge’. I may have ground my teeth down into nubs, but hey.

The second event is a little more prosaic, focusing on how to play with rules of structure in a digital medium. When one writes for games, one must accept a certain loss of control over how the work is consumed. As such, the event involved a lot of little word games and worksheets. Word Jenga was a highlight. Take a grid, fill it with poetry and then rearrange it with a friend until you’re stuck with a little pile of awkward verbs that you can’t do anything with. It’s surprisingly fun, and can create some quite good chunks of poetry. A second game calls back to the Japanese art of Renga. Each person round the table writes a few lines of poetry then passes it to the next person, providing as little context as possible. Ask me about Jeffery the Slug some time.

It’s a reminder of the inherent fluidity of games. If you want to create one, you must be willing to let go, more than any other genre. We all create our own meaning from art, but with a form as uniquely personal as games that meaning goes even farther. Help the player create their own truth.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go save an empire with my magic powers. All in day’s work.