‘Let’s Make History – Celebrating Black History and Heritage in Newport’
Continuing our work in support of Black History Wales 365 this year, we are excited to share experiences of creative writing from two Newport residents.
Des Mannay and Benji Webbe are both well known within Newport for their writing and creative projects.
"Born in Somerton, Ringland raised, but you’ll find me in Pillgwenlly mostly these days…
I got into music at a very early age and I’ve been in Newport-based bands since 1993. Firstly, I created Dub War in 1993 until 1999, the second band is Skindred. For the past 20 years, I have played at major festivals all over the world, pulling massive followings and epic crowds.
During 2020, Skindred had to cancel so many concerts and festivals; Japan, Australia and South America, it was very disappointing. The pandemic has drastically affected our work and that of a whole range of artists in Newport.
For years, I haven’t spent so much time at home in Newport, and I chose to use my time writing. I wrote new albums, I recorded and created a covers album; classic rock to rocksteady ska, titled ‘Isolation Project 2020’.
I enjoy being creative and wanted to use this new free time to be productive too. I had always fancied doing a fully illustrated children’s book, but had never had the time. I often made up stories for my children when they were little and they loved them.
When one of my grandkids was ill, I thought I would tell her a story and cheer her up, and out of my imagination popped the story of ‘Colin the Coolest Kitten’. I reached out to a very cool illustrator and together we developed our friend Colin.
It took 6 months of working and developing the idea, and as I have dyslexia, this was not easy. On 25th November, I finally unleashed my book, ‘The Wonderful Adventure of Colin the Coolest Kitten’."
You can order a copy of the book here.
Des is a Welsh writer of colour. Waterloo Press published his first poetry collection, “Sod ’em – and Tomorrow” and he has received numerous awards, commendations and acknowledgments for his works over the years. Shortlisted in 7 national competitions and performing at numerous venues/festivals, and published in various poetry journals with his work in 19 poetry anthologies.
“There are a number of childhood influences which first got me addicted to word play. My parents were always interested in trying to get their kids to do better than they had achieved. They got me hooked on Dr Seuss before started school. I couldn't read - but could recite whole stories. My first attempt to make contact with a poetry group is sometime in the early 1990's. It was very white. It was very middle class. It was very middle aged, and it was very elitist. I go a couple of times and then give up. 24 years later, a much older soul digs out a pile of old poems in an attic, dusts them down and starts reading. My first performance was a poetry event in Cardiff in November 2014. I haven't looked back since.
It's funny when you're a child, you don't think of yourself as a colour.... I discovered I was black accidentally. We would always watch the news at teatime. It was sometime around 1972, and the newsreader barked "and the Blacks are rioting in...” It was somewhere in London. I said, "Dad - who are the blacks?” My dad looked at me quizzically and said, "We are son..." It was a light-bulb moment. "Aaaah - that's why people call me funny names at school", I thought.
There are a few poems in my first collection, which touch on some of these issues: 'They Call Me' is one where I link the experience of racism to other forms of discrimination and how insidious and damaging they are.
Watch the performance of ‘They Call Me’ here.
If you are inspired or interested in starting to write you can find a list of resources below:
Gwent Creative Writers
CWW Creative Writing Courses
The Write Life Group
How To Write Poetry
BBC Ten Top Tips
Ty Newydd Writing Centre