Not Quite Right For Us

Speaking Volumes is immensely proud to have reached the milestone of having been operating as an organisation for 10 years. As a team of three, working part time with no core funding, we like to feel we punch above our weight, having worked with and promoted hundreds of underrepresented writers over the last decade with projects and programmes throughout the UK and around the world. To celebrate this we are so pleased to be publishing our first book. With publisher flipped eye (part of their 20th anniversary list), Not Quite Right For Us: Forty Writers Speak Volumes is available from 21 May 2021.

This anthology is made up of 40 writers – some we have worked with, others we hope to in the future, all of whom we admire greatly. Featuring poems, essays and stories, the collection is a dynamic mix of established and up-and-coming authors, including Kerry Hudson, Colin Grant, Aminatta Forna, Xiaolu Guo, Nick Makoha, Byron Vincent, Rishi Dastidar, Johny Pitts, Rafeef Ziadah and more, with a Foreword by Pinter Prize winner, the poet Linton Kwesi Johnson. Responding to the theme of ‘Not Quite Right For Us’, these are authors whose work challenges the mainstream. The book is edited by our ver own Sharmilla Beezmohun, and the cover design by the brilliant Inua Ellams.

Along with the book, each author will take place in our accompanying event series. Over the course of the year they will appear in at least one online event, in partnership with major literary festivals and long-established partners of Speaking Volumes, which will be themed around the different sections of the book: childhood; family; friends; work; travel; love; yesterday/today; today/tomorrow.

Pre-order Not Quite Right For Us here:

Event dates and details will be published here when they are announced.

Anthology Authors

Afshan D’souza-Lodhi
Amina Atiq
Aminatta Forna
Andy Jackson
Ashleigh Nugent
Byron Vincent
Catherine Johnson
Cheryl Martin
Colin Grant
E Ethelbert Miller
Fergal Harte
Francesca Beard
Gabriel Gbadamosi
Gaele Sobott
Helen Mort
Jamie Thrasivoulou
Jay Bernard
Jethro Soutar
John Hegley
John Mateer
Johny Pitts
Joshua Idehen
Kerry Hudson
Laniyuk Garcon-Mills
Leone Ross
Maame Blue
Michelle Cahill
Nazneen Khan Ostrem
Nick Makoha
Olive Senior
Paul Burston
Rafeef Ziadah
Raman Mundair
Richard Georges
Rishi Dastidar
Selina Tusitala Marsh
Shagufta Sharmeen Tania
Tabish Khair
Tim Wells
Xiaolu Guo

Speaking Volumes at 10

As we approach our 10th birthday this autumn, Speaking Volumes is delighted to introduce you to some of our old and new friends through a series of short readings. Here are some of the wonderful writers we’ve worked with over our first decade – authors of poetry and prose, new and established voices, writers whose work crosses borders and unites in speaking to and about our common humanity. Enjoy these ten films, which give a flavour of the depth and breadth of our work, and look out for news about our plans for the coming decade soon.

Ribka Sibhatu: Eritrean poet who was part of the 2012 Poetry Parnassus UK Tour and the 2013 Afro Europes conference in London

TJ Dema: Bristol-based Botswanan poet who was part of the Poetry Parnassus UK Tour in 2012

Your Local Arena – Celebrating Liverpool’s Success

In partnership with Writing on the Wall (WOW) Liverpool and Lucy Hannah

Since our Your Local Arena in Liverpool in May 2020 in partnership with the WOW Festival, which celebrated legendary football managers Matt Busby, Jock Stein and Liverpool’s own Bill Shankly, Liverpool have won this year’s Premiership title. In honour of that, we’re delighted to publish some of the best life writing pieces to come out of our WOW Your Local Arena workshop run by Tony Wailey, as well as share Levi Tafari’s celebratory poem about Liverpool’s achievement.

Poetry – Levi Tafari

Levi Tafari was born and raised in Liverpool by his Jamaican parents. He attended catering college where he studied Classical French cuisine and then entered the world of catering. Attending the Liverpool 8 Writers Workshop to quench his artistic urge, in the early 1980s he started a new career as a poet. Levi sees himself as an Urban Griot, the griot being the traditional consciousness raiser, storyteller, newscaster and political agitator. His work is rhythmic and lyrical; in the past he has teamed up with reggae, soul and funk fusion bands. He has been Writer in Residence at Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic and has toured various countries, including the Czech Republic, China and Hong Kong. He has also spent two seasons as poet in residence with The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Levi has four collections of his poetry published and his work has been included in many anthologies. He has written a number of plays which have been performed at Liverpool’s Unity, Everyman and Playhouse Theatres as well as at the Blackheath Theatre in Stafford. Aside from this, Tafari also works in education: running creative writing workshops in prisons, schools and universities.

Life Writing from Liverpool’s Your Local Arena WOW Workshop

Alex Blank

A London-based student, Alex Blank has been experimenting with various forms of writing for the past few years. Through prose poetry, journalism, fiction and so on, she’s continuously finding and re-finding her voice. She’s a culture & lifestyle editor and writer for Roar News, and her work has also appeared in publications such as HuffPost UK, Strand Magazine and Heliopause Magazine.

Love’s Mimesis:

Alongside its primary letter, control is the centre of my life; a circle pretending to be open-ended …

J S Dali

J S Dali is a British Tunisian writer who has lived between Tunis and the UK freelancing in the arts sector for over ten years. Currently completing a writing course at Liverpool’s Writing

On The Wall (WOW), her first written pieces will be published in a collective anthology in 2020. Her first self-published guided journal, Tales of i, was released earlier this year and is available on Amazon.


The phone call finally came, everyone was summoned …

Hannah Eynon

Hannah Eynon. From Northern Ireland. Lived in Shetland with her daughter Scarlett. Word reached them from Derry about Scarlett’s dad, Aidy, ending his life. Now they are back in Northern Ireland after feeling too far away. Nicol, my pal, made things better by just having the kettle on.

Although I speak about myself in this piece. Everything happening in Derry surrounding Aidy’s death and what it meant for his friends and family. That was always at the forefront of my mind.

You’ll Never Walk Alone.

A Posy or a Wreath:

I go straight to Nicol’s. I need to order flowers …

Karen Bryony Rose

Karen Bryony Rose is a writer and freelance journalist from Wirral. Her words have been featured in Huffington Post and MetroOnline. She’s currently working on a short story anthology.

The Salt Path:

The scrape of cutlery across plates was deafening …

Brian Wharton

Brian Wharton was born in Everton and moved to Anfield when he was 12. He has dabbled in amateur dramatics, later training as an actor, and has had his plays produced on the local fringe. His biggest success came with his one-man Edinburgh show Footballer’s Boyfriend, a tongue-in-cheek fantasy that he wrote after talking to gay men who were big football fans.


The lad lay on the bed sobbing …

Your Local Arena at Bradford Literature Festival

Your Local Arena was part of Bradford Literature Festival’s online offer with Three Faces of Bradford – showing Arena films about Andrea Dunbar, David Hockney and David Oxtoby. You can watch the response film, listen to the commissioned poems and give the lifw writing workshop a go.

Palette for a Portrait of Little Richard’
by Rommi Smith

‘The Door Handle’
by Adam Lowe

Responding to Three Faces of Bradford

A film of responses from Mary Dowson, Mick Manning, Kat Rose-Martin and Tajinder Singh Hayer.

Life Writing Workshop with Monique Roffey

To find out more about Your Local Arena’s nationwide tour, visit:

Your Local Arena with George Padmore Institute

For our third online YLA event, we partnered with the George Padmore Institute. Watch the panel response film, listen to the commissioned poems and have a go at the Life Writing workshop. Scroll down to read about the original Arena film Caribbean Nights: Poetry which was the basis for these responses.

Caribbean Nights: Poetry — A Contemporary Response

Introduced by the GPI’s Nicole-Rachelle Moore, three poets of Caribbean heritage – Jacqueline Bishop, Hannah Lowe and Dorothea Smartt – will respond to the film and discuss some of its themes.

New and Exclusive Commissioned Poems
Award-winning poets Jay Bernard and Anthony Joseph share their new poems, inspired by the film, in text and audio.

‘Funny Words
by Jay Bernard

‘Funny Words’ by Jay Bernard

by Anthony Joseph

‘Comets’ by Anthony Joseph

Life Writing Workshop

Watch a life writing workshop led by acclaimed author and historian Colin Grant, who uses the Arena film as a starting point to encourage you to write your own memoirs.

It’s hard to believe now that, back in the 1980s the UK had little idea of the wealth of poetry which was and has always come out of the Caribbean. In 1986, the BBC’s Arena film Caribbean Nights: Poetry changed all that, when activist and intellectual Darcus Howe chaired a thought-provoking discussion with poet Derek Walcott (who went on to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992), pioneering reggae poet Linton Kwesi Johnson and emerging poet Fred D’Aguiar.

Caribbean Nights feature in Radio Times

Including clips of seminal readings by the late dub poet Michael Smith and Kamau Brathwaite, one of the founding fathers in the use of Caribbean English in poetry, this film was ground-breaking in introducing Caribbean poets and poetry to a mainstream UK audience. But even now, in the twenty-first century, there is a freshness to the debate, clear insights and, above all, a real sense of the vital need for poetry in our everyday lives.

The George Padmore Institute (GPI) is delighted to be part of Your Local Arena, co-hosting this screening of Caribbean Nights: Poetry from the BBC Arena archives, available for five days only from 11 June 2020. Join the event on the Your Local Arena website.

About the George Padmore Institute

Founded by John La Rose, the late Trinidadian activist, poet and trade unionist, the George Padmore Institute is an archive and educational research centre based in north London which houses unique archive collections relating to the political, social and cultural organisations of the UK’s black, Asian and minority ethnic communities over the last 70 years. Collections include archives from the UK’s first black bookshop and publisher New Beacon Books (founded in 1966 by John La Rose and Sarah White) and from the International Book Fairs of Radical Black and Third World Books (1982-95) among others. See


Talking About the Film

Jacqueline Bishop is an award-winning writer and visual artist born and raised in Jamaica, who now lives between London and New York City. She has twice been awarded Fulbright Fellowships, including a year-long grant to Morocco; her work exhibits widely in North America, Europe and North Africa. Bishop’s books include a novel, The River’s Song (2007), two collections of poems, Fauna (2006) and Snapshots from Istanbul (2009), a 2007 art book entitled Writers Who Paint, Painters Who Write: 3 Three Jamaican Artists, and The Gymnast and Other Positions (2015), a collection of short stories, essays and interviews. The Gymnast and Other Positions won the nonfiction category of the 2016 OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature. The Gift of Music and Song: Interviews with Jamaican Women Writers is forthcoming.

Hannah Lowe is a writer and academic in London, UK. Her first poetry collection Chick (Bloodaxe, 2013) won the Michael Murphy Memorial Award for Best First Collection and was short-listed for the Forward, Aldeburgh and Seamus Heaney Best First Collection Prizes. Her second collection is Chan (Bloodaxe, 2016).  In 2014, she was named as one of 20 Next Generation British poets, an accolade awarded once a decade. She has also published four chapbooks: The Hitcher (Rialto 2012); R x (sine wave peak, 2013); Ormonde (Hercules Editions 2014). (2016) and most recently, The Neighbourhood. (Outspoken Press, 2019). She has been Writer in Residence at Keats House and currently lectures in Creative Writing at Brunel University.

Nicole-Rachelle Moore is a Cultural Educational Consultant and coordinates the George Padmore Institute’s events, outreach and publicity initiatives. She also works with the pioneering publishers New Beacon Books. She regularly consults on a range of cultural and educational issues at schools, colleges and other institutions. She is the Co-Editor of Dream to Change World: The Book of the Exhibition (2018) on the life and legacy of John La Rose. Her areas of research interest are Caribbean Studies and Postcolonial Cultures.

Dorothea Smartt was born and brought up in London and is of Barbadian heritage. She was Poet in Residence at Brixton Market and Attached Live Artist at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, where she was also awarded her first commission to create the collaborative performance from you to me to you. Her solo performance work, Medusa, combining poetry and visuals, was named an ‘Outstanding Black Example’ of British Live Art. In 2000 she was commissioned to write her first play, Fallout, which toured primary schools. Her first poetry collection, Connecting Medium (2001) explores her Barbadian heritage and her experience of growing up in London. Her second collection, Samboo’s Grave/Bilal’s Grave (2008) explores the history of Samboo, an African slave brought from the Caribbean to Lancaster and buried at Sunderland Point.

Commissioned Poets

Jay Bernard is from London and works as a writer and film programmer. They are the author of Surge (Chatto & Windus 2019), which came out of a 2016 residency at the George Padmore Institute. The collection explores the archives relating to the New Cross Fire of 1981 where fourteen young black people lost their lives. Surge has been shortlisted for the Forward, Costa, T S Eliot, Jhalak, Ondaatje and Dylan Thomas prizes. Jay was the winner of the 2017 Ted Hughes award for an early version of Surge performed at the Roundhouse in London, which was followed by a full run at the Albany in Deptford in 2019. Jay’s work has also been featured in numerous anthologies – TEN: The New Wave, Voice Recognition, Out of Bounds: Black British Writers and Place and Flicker and Spark: A Contemporary Queer Anthology – and they are the author of three chapbooks, Your Sign is Cuckoo Girl (2008), English Breakfast (2013) and The Red and Yellow Nothing (2016).

Anthony Joseph is a Trinidad-born poet, novelist, academic and musician who has been referred to as ‘the leader of the black avant garde in Britain’. As a musician and spoken word artist he has released seven critically acclaimed albums which blend Afro-Caribbean music, free jazz and funk. The most recent, People of the Sun (Heavenly Sweetness) was recorded in Trinidad and released in 2018. In the same year he curated ‘Windrush: A Celebration’, a series of five events which celebrated the literary and musical legacies of the Windrush generation, culminating in a gala concert at the Barbican as part of the London Jazz Festival. Joseph’s novel, Kitch, a biography of calypso icon Lord Kitchener, was shortlisted for the 2019 Republic of Consciousness Prize, the OCM Bocas Fiction Prize for Caribbean Literature, and the Royal Society of Literature’s Encore Award. In 2019 he was awarded a Jerwood Compton Poetry Fellowship. His latest novel, The Frequency of Magic, is just out.

Life Writing

Colin Grant is an author, historian and Associate Fellow at the Centre for Caribbean Studies. His books include: Negro with a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey and a group biography of the Wailers, I&I, The Natural Mystics. His memoir of growing up in a Caribbean family in 1970s Luton, Bageye at the Wheel, was shortlisted for the 2013 Pen/Ackerly Prize. Grant’s history of epilepsy, A Smell of Burning, was a Sunday Times Book of the Year in 2016. As a producer for the BBC, Grant wrote and directed several radio drama documentaries including African Man of Letters: The Life of Ignatius Sancho and A Fountain of Tears: The Murder of Federico Garcia Lorca. Grant also writes for a number of newspapers and journals including the Guardian, TLS and New York Review of Books. Grant’s latest book is Homecoming: Voices of the Windrush Generation.

Your Local Arena at Writing on the Wall

As part of Writing on the Wall’s digital festival this year, Your Local Arena project brought out an iconic football film from the BBC Arena archives. Watch the panel response video, and listen to and read the exclusively commissioned poems that accompanied the screening of the film.

by Amina Atiq

‘Price of Glory’
by Ashleigh Nugent

Football Men poets: Amina Atiq and Ashleigh Nugent. FInd out more about them and read their poems below
Panel response film

The Football Men – The Price of Glory charts the incredible success that legendary football managers Matt Busby, Jock Stein and Bill Shankly brought to their clubs during the sixties and seventies, and examines their later years. Presented by sports writer Hugh McIlvanney, the film evokes memories of the glory days of English football at a time when the game was all that mattered.

Viewers were invited to watch The Football Men and then hear our three local experts share their thoughts what it means to them. In this accompanying film made exclusively for YLA, which can be seen above, Anfield Wrap’s Lizzi Doyle, writer and lecturer Emy Onuora and Daily Mirror sports writer Brian Reade provide insightful views on The Football Men and what we can learn from those times today — as sporting fans and as communities.

Football Men panel l-r: Lizzi Doyle, Emy Onoura, Brian Reade

Lizzi Doyle is the producer of The Anfield Wrap Podcast, Liverpool FC’s largest fan media organisation, which reaches 80 countries around the world. By the age of just 23, Lizzi had produced the two longest broadcasts in, Radio City’s, Liverpool’s biggest commercial station, history: the Hillsborough Inquests and the 24-hour Mental Health Marathon. She was the station’s first female sports producer and has gone on to win multiple awards for her work as a producer. Through her work producing The Anfield Wrap’s podcasts and appearing on national media platforms, Lizzi is pushing for more female involvement in sports media.

Emy Onuora grew up in a football-mad Nigerian household in Liverpool and is the author of ‘Pitch Black: The Story of Black British Footballers.’ He was co-editor of ‘What’s The Score’ a Merseyside based football fanzine. He has written on issues of racism and football for a number of publications including the Guardian. He is currently undertaking research issues around football, race equality and leadership. He is the brother of Iffy Onuora, former manager of Lincoln City and the Ethiopian national team and England under 21 coach and former Gillingham, Swindon, Huddersfield, Sheffield United and Tranmere striker. His sister is Olympic, World and Commonwealth 400 metre sprint medallist Anyika Onuora.

Brian Reade is an award-winning journalist and author who has two-weekly opinion columns, one on football, in the Daily Mirror. He was born in Liverpool and began his career on the Reading Post in 1980, became a columnist on the Liverpool Echo in 1990 and joined the Daily Mirror in 1994. The British Press Awards have named Reade Columnist, Sports Columnist and Feature Writer of the Year, and awarded him the Cudlipp Award for Journalistic Excellence for his Hillsborough campaigning. He has written two books, 43 Years With The Same Bird (2008) about a life following Liverpool FC, and Epic Swindle about LFC’s doomed Hicks and Gillett takeover, which made the Sunday Times bestseller list. In 2018 he wrote and narrated a documentary about trade union leader Jack Jones called Unsung Hero. He lives in Liverpool with a wife, three kids and a Kop season ticket.

For a cultural take on the Arena film, we’ll be featuring new work commissioned from two of Liverpool’s finest poets: Amina Atiq and Ashleigh Nugent. In a city where football rules, how do its multicultural residents and communities identify? And what if you simply don’t like the game? How do you fit in? Enjoy the explorations which seek to connect football to the wider world.

Amina Atiq is a Yemeni–Scouse writer, performance artist and activist. She was awarded the LJMU Citizenship award for her active and community engagement work and awarded as a Young Associate for Curious Minds. BBC Words First Finalist 2019. She is currently a remote resident of Metal Southend, working on a new and exciting project, exploring a pamphlet for Yemeni women writers. Recent work involves a new commissioned poem for the ‘Yemen in Conflict’ project which will be used part of a multimedia exhibition at the Liverpool Arab Arts Festival. Her next upcoming commission is in collaboration with Imperial War Museums, responding to What does Victory mean? Atiq’s work explores the conflict and beauty of her dual identity, taking us on a journey to her heartland, Yemen, and her homeland, Liverpool. She is currently producing and writing her first one-woman show, exploring a 1970s Yemeni- British household to untangle what it means to belong.

Ashleigh Nugent is a writer and performer with over twenty years’ experience. His latest work, Locks, is a semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel set in a Jamaican prison. Locks, due to be published in summer 2020, won the 2013 Commonword Memoir Competition and has had excerpts published by Writing on the Wall and in bido lito magazine. Ashleigh’s one-man show, based on Locks, has won support from SLATE/Eclipse Theatre, and received a bursary from Live Theatre, Newcastle. The show has garnered rave audience reviews following showings in theatres and prisons throughout the UK. Ashleigh’s other published work includes poems, articles and academic writing. Ashleigh is also a director at RiseUp, where he uses his own life experience, writing and performance to support prisoners and inspire change.

As part of the event, local historian and writer Tony Wailey offered a video writing workshop with invaluable tips for writing your own memoir pieces – and he gave feedback on the first 8 pieces sent in. Whether you want to share a story about supporting your club or a non-sports piece about life in Liverpool, there is something for every aspiring writer to learn from this seasoned author.

Tony Wailey is a historian and the author of eight books including pocket size novels and three collections of poetry. Originally a seaman, his work concerns the cosmopolitan nature of the maritime city. He wrote Edgy Cities with Steve Higginson which featured in the 2007 Writing on the Wall festival and spoke at the festival on the work of George Garrett. Click the link to read Tony’s evocative memoir of Liverpool FC’s 1965 Europa Cup match against FC Köln, written in 1998 in response to a piece by Jurgen Kisters of the same football match:


To find out more about Your Local Arena’s nationwide tour, visit:

Your Local Arena with Southbank Centre

The first Your Local Arena event was supposed to be part of the premiere performance of City Central at London’s Southbank Centre on Monday 30 March 2020, which was unfortunately cancelled due to Covid-19. Instead it became the first online YLA offering. For five days, audiences could watch the Arena film Mizike Mama about Belgian-Congolese band Zap Mama and its lead singer Marie Daulne, who was one of those who coined the term Afropean in the 1990s. 

Alongside this we presented an exclusive interview with Marie Daulne by Johny Pitts and a taster video of the exciting sights and sounds of the City Central show. Below you can still watch thee two videos.

Film, photos and music – a taste of the live show
Exclusive interview with Marie Daulne aka Zap Mama, by Johny Pitts

City Central will be presented live and in full at the Southbank Centre, London in Autumn 2020 – keep an eye out for news of this and be ready to book your tickets to board the City Central Express. 

The Arena film screening is also part of Your Local Arena: A Lucy Hannah and Speaking Volumes co-production See

To read more about the film from Arena‘s long-time producer Anthony Wall, see