‘Be one then, keep writing, don’t dilute your voice‘ this was the advice given to Hull author Russ Litten a decade ago, by Barnsley poet Ian McMillan. With a new book called ‘Neither Nowt nor Summat In Search of the Meaning of Yorkshire‘ Ian makes a welcome return to Hull for Humber Mouth.
With an audience numbering a hundred or more, sat in the now-transformed Children’s Zone of Hull Central Library, Ian takes to the stage and begins by explaining how he came to write a new book about Yorkshire.
Publisher: ‘You could write a book about Yorkshire.’
Ian: ‘I could,’
Publisher: ‘A proper book, 100,000 words,’
Ian: ‘All different?’
From that moment Ian is away, taking us for a walk, through his hometown of Darfield, through Wombwell then on to Jump and further afield. He needs no excuse for a short asides so we join him on a trip to the Inner Hebrides, a search to find the isogloss in Derbyshire, and a recurring dream, pulled from the freshly printed pages, or from his marvellous mind.
‘Not Yorkshire enough,’ the menacing group chant, ‘Not Yorkshire enough,’ Despite being hailed as one of Yorkshire’s favourite son -perhaps after Dickie Bird- Ian confesses he is only half Yorkshire. The story of Ian’s origin involves a series of written telegrams, miscommunication, a WAF officer going AWOL and an unworn wedding dress. They had met through writing and it would appear sent the young Ian to the best school anywhere in England, in South Yorkshire.
He speaks in glowing terms -Ian’s glowing a bit himself by now – about the West Riding Education Authority and a school that was ‘more like an art centre‘ with classes inspiring words music and movement all in one afternoon. He tells a funny story about Mrs. York chasing a goat and there he is the master storyteller, we are like children hanging on his every word, every detail: every so often he elicits ripples and then gales of laughter.
‘I wish I was making some of this up, but I’m not it’s all true‘.
‘It’s hard to write accents in a book,’ Ian tells us before introducing a poem about rubber jam tarts and his Uncle Jack, ‘…you going wrong way for fighting‘ he’s referring to a famous American Colonel advancing on the enemy, in the wrong direction.
When Ian came to Hull last time, it rained. He’d had this idea he could come here and say, ‘This scone tastes like stone,’ Hull accent. He tried it in Kardomah but the server sadly didn’t appear to get it. Filming on a drizzly friday night, he stops off outside a night club in the hopes of gathering lercal poetry, needless to say the ull girls do him and the city proud (see, it doesn’t work does it)
Ian’s at his best when he’s talking about his own backyard: a trip to the barber begins a tale that includes a burly man in a powder blue suit called Morris Dobson, Mad Geoff so-called because he wears a bow-tie, who kept a foul-mouthed parrot. I can’t do it justice in these few short paragraphs… you’ll have to buy the book.
Ian McMillan ‘A blast of fresh air‘ also ‘World class,’ even, ‘Inching towards the status of national treasure‘… ‘A force of nature‘ Trying to explain just why he might be those things they’ve said, isn’t at all easy. I’d say it’s the voice first, whether written down or spoken out loud, that Darfield accent and the manner in which he speaks, that sets him apart. Then maybe the observation: only Ian would find something amusing, in seeing two different jacketed men, passing each other in the early morning. His enthusiasm for experiencing things, he never seems to say no to anything: Ian’s authenticity, sincerity and generosity are a lesson to us all.
‘Can you do it?‘
‘I can,’ he responds brightly.
And so can we all, launching into a bit of a pep talk for writers and poets everywhere, impressing upon them the importance and sheer good value of Humber Mouth. He’d been looking forward to it for ages, he loves the way the festival ‘trawls the place and finds words everywhere,’
I like Ian McMillan because he gets all fired up over words, dialect, voices, people and places.
‘How we doing for time? I told me wife I was only going to shop‘