Writers selected for Verb New Voices 2015

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We’re delighted to announce that four writers from the North of England have been selected for Verb New Voices 2015. Andy Craven-Griffiths, Kamal Kaan, Chanje Kunda and Carmen Thompson have all been given the opportunity to develop new work for BBC Radio 3’s The Verb.

The Verb New Voices scheme, now in its third year and a joint initiative between the BBC, Arts Council England, New Writing North, The Writing Squad, Arvon and Freedom Studios, will support the winning writers to create an innovative new piece of work for broadcast on the Radio 3 show and to help develop their art for multimedia environments.

Each of the participants will develop their ideas and experimental work through a tailor-made package of expert mentoring and development support at BBC MediaCity in Salford. They will also have the opportunity to take a fully funded residential course with Arvon – a charity that runs five-day residential creative writing courses. The writers will perform their work on The Verb and appear at the BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival in November 2015 to present their projects in front of a live audience. The writers will also receive a £2,500 bursary each to support their participation.

“We are thrilled to have four such distinctive, exciting and original performers to work with on The Verb,” said BBC Radio 3 producer Sue Roberts. “We are looking forward to seeing their ideas grow and develop towards their New Voices performances on air which will begin in the autumn.

Andy Craven-Griffiths’ proposal is inspired by the big numbers and the perspective of mathematics and he will be using this inspiration to create a piece that “celebrates our unlikeliness”. He will look at bereavement and mourning, memories and depression, and talk about how appreciating our unlikeliness can help us psychologically. He hopes to create an online version that interacts with his live performance.

Andy, from Leeds, said: “After my dad and sister died it was difficult to know whether life meant nothing or everything. My piece is about choosing to take the perspective of our immense improbability in the universe, and using the humility and gratitude I find endemic to our unlikely existence as a coping mechanism for bereavement. I choose for it to mean everything.”

On winning the competition, he said: “Being selected for Verb New Voices 2015 means I can afford to put time aside to soak my brain in a piece of writing for days on end, rather than snatching moments here and there and maybe never finishing. It’s like getting to be a racehorse rather than a donkey, and the scheme is a riding crop, but more welcoming and completely painless.”

Kamal Kaan is creating a piece for The Verb that responds to the contemporary onslaught of social media and information overload. The piece, As The Cloud Takes Its Last Breath, is based on mindfulness. He wants it to take the form of a performed monologue, drawing on the practice of mindfulness and looking in detail at breathing including the science of breathing, while offering the listener instructions for subtle interactions: blank spaces within the piece for listeners to breathe in active participation.

Bradford-based Kamal said: “Having written multimedia immersive theatre pieces with no physical performers, Verb New Voices felt like the ideal marriage of my interests in transporting the spoken word through non-performative mediums. The prospect of writing for radio offers up exciting challenges in capturing the essence of immersive theatre but through the radio.”

Manchester-based Chanje Kunda, meanwhile, is planning a performance that is inspired by quantum mechanics. “Physics is just as far flung, mystical and magical as the most flamboyant literary imagination,” she said. “We have many trillions of electrons circling protons within us. These subatomic particles can act as a waves of potential, can be in superposition and can even travel backwards in time.”

Her work aims to marry physics and poetry to create new perspectives on our existence. “The reason why I applied for the scheme was because you don’t often see a job advert that says spoken word artist required,” she added. “It hardly comes up in any classified newspaper section so when I saw this opportunity, as a spoken word artist, I practically jumped for joy. Also the package being offered included professional development… as a freelance literary artist, you can imagine, advertised opportunities including professional development supported by an organisation rarely comes up, and being outside London your chances are slim to nil. As a Manchester-based writer, it was truly heaven sent. I had to apply.”

Carmen Thompson’s proposed work will respond to her own lapsed Catholicism and explore what she perceives as a need in our society for an alternative type of secular prayer. Her project will use social media to invite people to participate and offer their own ideas. She hopes her finished piece will feature music and a variety of voices.

Carmen, from Saltburn, said: “I’m lapsed in my faith but there are moments – minute and huge – from roadkill to hate killings, which create a vacuum of grief and rage. These moments need to be witnessed – they require an acknowledgement, but not prayer as we know it, and so my idea for The Book of Godless Verse began to take shape. I refined the idea and applied to the Verb New Voices scheme, which for a poet is as good as it gets – it gives you access to the people you need to make your best work and a globally recognised platform to share it. I am blown away to be part of this.”

Alison Boyle, Relationship Manager, Literature, Arts Council England said: “The chosen artists and their pieces bring experiment to the heart of literature. By producing work with simultaneous (or as near as) performance on radio, social media, the web and digital devices, we hope that these four talented artists will find new audiences for their art. We hope too that many other aspiring artists will attend the North’s public events for Verb New Voices, where the work will be shown and discussed.”

Andy, Kamal, Chanje and Carmen’s work will appear on The Verb on BBC Radio 3 later this year.