Spine Festival 2016: Breaking Glass with Artist in Residence Aoife Mannix


Fire of Crystal Palace, 1936

As SPINE Festival approaches this week, our Beckenham Library Artist in Resident Aoife Mannix talks about her love of the history of Crystal Palace, her plans for the festival and where to find her to say hello. 

I sit in Beckenham Library reading eye witness accounts of how when Crystal Palace caught fire, the windows melted like ice on a hot summer’s day. People collected balls of glass as souvenirs of the catastrophe. The fire could be seen for miles and crowds gathered to watch as this iconic building burned. As I look at stunning black and white photographs of the flames, I can nearly smell the excitement and sadness of this historic inferno.

From dinosaurs to refugees from both world wars, Crystal Palace has a history that is full of drama and intrigue. Beckenham Library is a wonderful place to discover how local history has shaped this vibrant and diverse area. As an artist in residence, what really excites me is discovering the communities I’m working with. I love to immerse myself in stories from the past and use them to inspire others to have a go at creative writing. I won’t of course be literally smashing the windows but I hope we can recreate the drama of those huge crystal panes crashing down on that terrible night in 1936. Not to mention bringing back to life the famous tightrope walkers, motor car enthusiasts, cabaret singers, pigeon fanciers and trainee naval personnel from years gone by.

imagesI’m particularly pleased to be part of this year’s SPINE Festival as it’s a great opportunity to reach out to young people and their families. During March, I will be working with students from Worsley Bridge Primary and Marian Vian on creating stories and poems inspired by Crystal Palace. On Friday March 4th, 4.45pm – 5.45pm, I’ll be getting teenagers to write ghost stories haunted by local characters. I’ll also be running a storytelling and drawing session for families on Saturday March 5th, 2pm – 3pm. Using Crystal Palace’s famous prehistoric monsters as inspiration, we will be creating our own dinosaur adventures. All the work created for the SPINE festival will be displayed as part of an exhibition in the library. This will celebrate the talents of local young people as well as giving an insightful and entertaining look at how tomorrow’s generation view the generations of the past.

So if you’re interested in creative writing and/or the vibrant history of Crystal Palace, please do come along and say hi. I’ve never been the kind of writer who likes being locked up in my own solitary little room. I’d much rather be out and about meeting people and sharing my enthusiasm for stories that capture the flavour of a place or a time in history. I’m very much looking forward to being this year’s SPINE Festival artist in residence at Beckenham Library and hope to see you there.

Aoife Mannix is the author of four collections of poetry and a novel. She has been poet in residence for the Royal Shakespeare Company and BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live. She has toured internationally with the British Council. She has a PhD in creative writing from Goldsmiths, University of London. Find out more about Aoife on her website

Don’t miss Spine Festival 2016, 3-5 March. Loads of FREE arts and literature events for children, families and young people in your library! For more information visit the SPINE project page or follow #SpineFestival2016. Produced by Apples and Snakes in partnership with library authorities across London.