Recently I bagged myself a much coveted ticket to the first Book Slam to take place at the infamous East London boxing venue, York Hall, in anticipation of an excellent line-up.
If you haven’t heard of Book Slam, then it’s time to get on it. It’s a (sort of) monthly literary club night taking place in various locations around London, most often in the Clapham Grand or the Tabernacle near Ladbroke Grove. It’s a fantastic hub of creative talent, usually hosted by a popular or up-and-coming comedian, to showcase the talents of well-known and not-so-well-known writers. These writers usually have something to promote, so it’s also a brilliant platform for them too.
Last night’s show felt particularly special, and naturally drew in a large crowd, because of the calibre of the writers present: Irvine Welsh, Viv Albertine, Kate Tempest, and debut writer Bill Hillmann. We began with Bill Hillmann, ‘one-time street brawler, drug dealer, convict, Chicago Golden Glove Champion, and bull runner’. He read an extract from his new novel The Old Neighborhood, a story of three boys caught in the snare of Chicago’s vicious street gangs, and their struggle to survive or succeed. Hillmann stood in the centre of the boxing ring and read an extract with the thick, gravelly Chicago timbre you would expect, and firmly set the fear in all of us when explaining that the passage was inspired by the drive-by shooting of his sister.
After a short break Hillmann was followed by Viv Albertine, former front woman of legendary punk band The Slits, reading from her knew autobiography, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys. She was incredibly bold and candid with the audience when discussing her bouts of cancer and failed marriages, oozing an atmosphere of ‘say what you want, I couldn’t give a fuck’ – albeit a very friendly one. She signed a book for me in the interval, and seemed genuinely surprised by how well she went down, which only served to make her more endearing. She was quickly followed by Kate Tempest, the poet-cum-rapper who bizarrely I shared a couple of English courses with at Goldsmiths. She is a force of nature when performing, and I feel that seeing her poetry on the page can never do justice to how it actually feels watching her on stage. She brought the crowd to their knees while she popped and sparked in the ring, and alerted us to her new collection of poetry edited by none other than Don Paterson.
Finally, Irvine Welsh arrived in the ring. He was present to promote his new book, The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins, but wisely chose to not read from this novel as it is populated by young women from Florida, which would have sounded pretty weird spoken in his deep Scottish drawl. He instead read an extract of a novel due to be published next year, based around the crowd pleasing character, ‘Juice’ Terry, who appears in several of Welsh’s books. After Kate Tempest and Viv Albertine, Welsh felt a little uninspiring, though I think that is only testament to how great all of the writers were.
If you have never been to a Book Slam, please GO. This was my fourth time, and every time I’ve gone has been seriously fun. There is good food, good company, a good show, and it all only costs a fiver. You have no excuse.
Check out upcoming Book Slams here.