My Journey from the East to Sheffield
Please welcome Frangipanni to the Writer's Journey Blog this week with her journey through the artistic community!
My Journey from the East to Sheffield
In Britain, September is East South-East Asian (ESEA) Heritage Month, and as a writer and artist, I decided to celebrate it with an exhibition of art stories. I live in the post-industrial city of Sheffield in Yorkshire. I used to wake up to hear the pounding of metal in the Steelworks followed by a rhythmic hiss of the ovens. The industry has quietened now, but I was once able to visit a science adventure centre called Magma and witness a reconstruction of fire blasts simulating the furnaces that turned iron ore into steel.
Museums can tell us a lot about our roots and routes—the theme of the ESEA Heritage Month. There’s still some steel made in Sheffield and Sheffield’s Abbeydale Industrial Hamlet Museum brings to life what it was used for. I saw a man in a leather apron straddling a wooden horse bench honing the blade of a scythe. He told me that all his scythes were exported to Malaysia and that he was glad somewhere needed his dying craft. He didn’t know much about Malaysia except they had a lot of vegetation that needed slicing down and his handmade tools were the best.
I’ve lived in Sheffield all of my post-university life and now call it my home. The concept of home is not a simple one especially when you have a heritage that spans countries other than the one you live in. It turns out that my maternal grandmother who I never met was born in Yorkshire. My mother was born in the Midlands of England, but as she would say ‘escaped’ to London. She always had a spirit of adventure. It was there she met my father, over from Malaysia, studying law. His parents had moved to Malaysia from China. This background of travel and dual or treble heritage, as the Malaysian Chinese are different from Mainland Chinese, has been a source of inspiration in both my writing and my art. Finding connection. The brief conversation with the Sheffield steel scythe maker sending his work to Malaysia had significance to me.
Another source of inspiration for my creative practice is the Derbyshire Peak District which encompasses the white peak of rolling limestone hills and the dark peak of gritstone moors and uplands. It’s on this land that I’ve walked foot upon the earth, upon limestone, upon gritstone my calves brushed by the Autumn purple heather, and my face pecked by midges whilst picking bilberries. Out in the Peak District for one of my art pieces I wrote the word Earth in soil, stones, and fallen leaves making a connection with me being from this Earth like my ancestors were--whatever country they were born in, travelled to, and lived in. There’s been what I’d called a spiritual aspect to this and so I completed a PhD at Manchester Metropolitan University to see if this was anything to do with my heritage, but few others in the research set of five of us shared that innate sense. This wasn’t a problem to me more of a cessation of curiosity and I still got my PhD and found out much more about my literary and historical position in the UK.
What I did discover in the Ph.D. was my renewed sense of creative writing some of which I included in the thesis, and how much I wanted to focus more on the practice of art and writing than necessarily the theorizing of it. A new avenue opened up as I was sent an advert to apply for a British Chinese Writer’s course funded by the University of Bolton and Manchester’s then named Chinese Arts Centre now named ESEA Contemporary. Awarded a place I found myself high over Hebden Bridge trying to navigate my way down a narrow one-way road to poet Ted Hughes's house bequeathed to the Arvon Writing Foundation.
The first evening the successful ten of us sat around the fire, which I was pleased for as it was cold and damp in the valley. One by one we all spoke of our name and its significance, mine having derived from my mother’s marriage to my father in Malaysia and loving the heavy-scented Frangipani trees. Others were named after ballet dancers that their Chinese fathers had liked, and others their family names were more significant-- maybe they were Hakka or Cantonese. We all had different histories but we were all Chinese living in Britain.
From there I gained a place in the MA Writing at Sheffield Hallam University and wrote a creative memoir. I went on to publish stories based on my overseas travels and life experiences. As yet my creative memoir though gaining merit on the MA hasn’t been published, but last year in ESEA Heritage Month I had a chapter published in the worldwide Methodist Recorder. The piece is entitled Under the Raintree about visiting the Malacca Methodist Girls school where my paternal grandmother had been headmistress. I was asked to accompany it with a painting. Leafing through the branches of the raintree with my paintbrush was a special experience in remembering my ancestors in Malaysia.
So the Journeys from the East to Sheffield exhibition I have curated has behind it all I have written here. The paintings I’ve included in it are from visiting the Night of the Hungry Ghost festival in Malaysia when the streets are lined with empty marquees full of tables laid with high--cakes, fruits, and offerings ready for the ghosts, maybe to appease lost souls. At this time the streets also house stages with Chinese opera troupes playing out operas in full costume and live musical ensembles with no one watching. One night my two friends and I did go to watch and the experience was mesmerizing. It pulled me back, back, back to unexplainable feelings. The exhibition includes 8 other writers and artists and across the East, and South-East Asia region we have made connections with one another, each telling some of our unique stories through painting, video, story flash, and poems. Making connections with others whether through sparking their imagination, finding common ground, or simply recognising that we are all humans finding our way on our shared planet Earth is key in my creative practice.
Bio: Frangipanni graduated with an MA in Creative Writing from Sheffield Hallam University in 2015. Her short stories have been informed by her world travels exhibiting as an artist and presenting published papers at various international conferences. Many of her magic realism short stories, infused with cultural folklore, centre around greater care for the natural and urban environment. She lives in Yorkshire, England with her husband and visits adult children, grandchildren pus their Toy Poodle, and French Bulldog. Often you’ll find her painting in her studio, walking in the local woods, or the nearby Peak District.
Her creative memoir focuses on her female dual heritage, Chinese and English, in Britain. She has won various writing awards such as a Resurgence magazine competition and Bi’An runner-up award for Chinese writers in Britain. Winner of the Methodist Recorder Very Short Story Competition 2022.
In 2010 was awarded an art practiced based PhD from Manchester Metropolitan University. She has had short stories published in The Living and the Dead 2019 published by the University of Bradford Press; Unity Anthology 2020 & forthcoming Unity Anthology 2 published by Barrio Blues Press; BBC Radio Leeds; Melbourne Culture Corner Issue 14; Reimagining Ageing Anthology published by Sheffield Hallam University.
In 2023 she curated Journeys from the East to Sheffield an exhibition of art stories and poems, including her own, to celebrate September’s East, South-East Asian Heritage Month that included 9 artists and writers from that heritage group. The exhibition was launched by Kim Streets, Deputy Lieutenant for South Yorkshire & CEO of Sheffield Museums.
Leaving China for the land of hibiscus, short story, Journeys from the East to Sheffield, published exhibition booklet supported by University of Sheffield, Sheffield Hallam University & Sheffield City Council 2023
Aisha Cleans Home, Very Short Story First Prize, published by the Methodist Recorder 2022
Under the Raintree, memoir extract, published by the Methodist Recorder 2022
The Golden Orbit, short story, Reimagining Ageing Anthology published by Sheffield Hallam University 2022
The Store, short story, For the love of Anthology published by University of Sheffield 2022
Bongani’s Choice, short story, Movement Anthology published by Sweetycat Press
A Cup of Mate, a poem in Lothlorien Poetry Journal: https://lothlorienpoetryjournal.blogspot.com/2021/12/one-poem-by-frangipanni.html 2021
Fire and Snow, short story, The Song of Life Anthology, published by Sweetycat Press, 2021
Dear Didi, A love letter or poem to… Anthology, published by Sweetycat Press, 2021
The Empty Swing, short story, Melbourne Culture Corner Issue 14: https://melbourneculturecorner.files.wordpress.com/2021/11/mcc.pdf
Artist Sketches, a short story in Unity Anthology, published by Barrio Blues Press, 2020
Sheffield Spice, short story on Mid-morning short stories, BBC Radio Leeds, 2020
Take Care, Short story in The Living and the Dead anthology published by University of Bradford Press, 2019
‘How connected are we?’ International Women Artist’s Festival, Gwangju Folk Museum, South Korea, 2016