HT Mashup: Features

Slightly Steve tunes in

The web being that people-friendly thing that it is, it’s becoming easier to get your creative ideas seen. One Scarborian with far too much time on his hands, Slightly Steve, has set up a video production venture using YouTube clips to promote his work.

The first offering from 22-year-old Steve is about the perils of boring weekends. Nicely filmed and edited, it also shows off the skills he learnt while getting a degree in theatre and performance at Scarborough Campus. He's also set up a YouTube channel with a news video topical enough to mention pasties. Now Slightly Steve, aka Steve Johnson, is in pre-production with a short comedy film with a full cast and crew due for release online and on DVD later this year. He promises: ‘I always endeavor to make each of my videos better than the last one.’

Check out Steve’s anti-boredom card game at

And see his topical YouTube channel at


Steering by compass: Andrew Motion

‘Dryden got sacked.’ And therefore, Andrew Motion reminds me, he becomes the second person to taste life after being Poet Laureate. But certainly he’s the only one still living.

After ten years he stepped down, became Sir Andrew, and set off on a whole new set of literary enterprises. The latest, to be aired on a visit to Scarborough this month, is his book Silver: Return to Treasure Island.

It’s a sequel to one of the best loved and most widely read books in English, by Robert Louis Stevenson. There lies the first danger, Motion admits: if people like the original and it is a book ‘of real distinction’, like Treasure Island, then the writer has to ‘enter a competition you are bound to lose’.

A trick, then, is to revere the original but write something new, something ‘at once quite like Stevenson, but different’. Motion has gone about that carefully, creating an artefact that works on several levels and avoids falling into pastiche. First, his lead character Jim may be the son of Jim Hawkins but he’s had the benefit of a good education, giving more scope to use the language. Second, the setting years later makes young Jim a Victorian, with all the inquisitiveness about nature and evolution of that era. Motion says: ‘I thought, if I make him interested in nature, he will be beady-eyed and that will allow the prose to be inflected.’

The book is crafted on another level too, with many references to other novels and poetry of the period. You don’t have to notice the allusions to Pip on the marshes in Great Expectations, or the Ancient Mariner stopping the wedding guest, but it’s fun and evocative when they pop into your head. Above all, says Motion, he tried to weld Stevenson with that other great writer of the late imperial moment, Joseph Conrad, and from the benign watery start on the Thames Estuary, readers will increasingly catch the foreboding and horror that is to come. There is trickery in the style, Motion admits, but insists: ‘I didn’t want it to be in a fancy-pants way.’

He also rejects any idea that either the original or his own Silver are either children’s books or for grown-ups. Perhaps surprisingly, he says he did not read books as a child, so only discovered Treasure Island as an adult. Now that we have gone through the Harry Potter phenomenon, he finds no distinction or barrier in what we can allow ourselves to read.

Which brings us back to his poetry. He’s published almost a dozen books of poetry now, but it’s fair to say his stint as Poet Laureate from 1999 to 2009 is what he is best known for to date. He says he is really pleased he took the post, and that it brought opportunities he could never have had without it. Setting up the Poetry Archive, for example, an online audio collection of poets reading their own work, which Motion believes could only have happened with the substantial time frame agreed for the post.

Nevertheless, the appointment was fixed term for the first time – by mutual agreement. Motion is candid that the accolade and honour of the post did come at a cost. ‘It is odd being translated from a private to a public person,’ he says. ‘And it is not good for the imagination, being bombarded with requests of “Will you write about this …”.’

He has also worked as an editor of poetry and other books, so I ask what he looks for in the work of prospective writers. Technical competence can be taken as read, he says. Beyond that, he takes a lesson from Elizabeth Bishop who said: ‘I just want to be surprised.’ His own take: ‘You want the familiar world made strange again.’

Motion is looking forward to opening Scarborough Art Gallery’s Fears, Foes and Faeries exhibition this month as part of the cultural Olympiad. He likes the idea of a balance between our rational, pragmatic minds and the creative side of the imagination. ‘I’m pretty rational but all of these things are necessary to us,’ he adds. Read his book and see if he can hold you with his twinkling eye.
Janis Bright

Andrew Motion’s reading from his works including Silver is at The Royal Hotel, St Nicholas Street, Scarborough, from 2.30-3.30pm on Tuesday 20 March. Tickets £10: call 01723 353665 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Fears, Foes & Faeries (23 March-30 September 2012) at Scarborough Art Gallery features part of a large collection of charms and amulets assembled in the early part of the 20th century by Scarborough naturalist, collector and amateur folklorist, William James Clarke. The show is the culmination of a three-year project as part of Precious Cargos, Stories of the World, one of the key projects of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

It all adds up to a brewing bash

Too good to be true – and yet there it is in all its splendour. The Northern Beards of the British Beard Club are all set for a glorious event and it’s not just about cutthroat competition, if you’ll excuse the terrifying metaphor. No, this is a ‘friendly beard competition’, to be entered with that devil-may-care, wind-in-the-sails attitude that characterises beard wearers the world over.


Don’t feel deterred if you haven’t got what would seem to be the necessary attiributes though. Fake beard, grandmother’s net curtain, jauntily placed peruke, anything goes at this remarkable celebration of face furniture.


Naturally you’ll need fortification for your foray, and help is at hand there too. There will be beer aplenty, including a special ale brewed for the occasion. And to complete the third attraction at this gathering of greats is music with none other than Louis Barabbas and the Bedlam Six. Beard wearers? Natch. But not all of them, thankfully.


Get along for a fine day out on Sunday 4 March at the Spa. Be there or be bare.


Cover pic: Tony Bartholomew

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