Thursday, 7 April 2016

Sandy Lane Storytellers: Stories Are Important

This week, the Sandy Lane Storytellers Project begins - a series of creative writing workshops in community groups across the Skelmersdale area. The project, funded by the Arts Council England, with grant money secured by Friends of Sandy Lane and the Arts Development Service, focusses on the Sandy Lane shopping centre, a 1960s precinct that sits at the heart of the oldest part of Skelmersdale - and the history and heritage that underpins this community. Visual art workshops are also running in the community for the project led by fantastic artists One Red Shoe. They are blogging about the project here.

The first workshop was at Park Children's Centre's Busy Bodies Group. The numbers were a little low, due to Easter holidays. However, it was a delight to meet and chat with the folk who came along. I had planned some activities, but actually the way the session went, it felt more productive to spend the time engaging with the parents, carers and children who attended, to talk with them about their experiences of living in the Sandy Lane area, how they use the shopping centre, what things would make it better and their thoughts and reflections on community in the area. It was an important reminder that no matter what I bring along to any session, the key to this project is the people within the community and letting sessions flow from them and how they choose to engage with it.

We also shared about favourite stories. This was the conversation that really sparked people's enthusiasm. It was lovely to hear about what kind of stories the children particularly engaged with - two firm favourites being Julia Donaldson's 'The Gruffalo' and McBratney and Jeram's 'Guess How Much I Love You.' Other comments included a love of touchy-feely and lift the flap books. Everyone had something to say about the stories their children loved, and that led onto the stories they themselves love. It confirmed how important stories are for people of all ages. and how crucial storytelling is, which is really at the heart of this project - making space for people to tell their stories.  

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Short Story Writers at The Bluecoat

We are now half way through the Comma Press Short Story course that I'm teaching at The Bluecoat in Liverpool. It is a joy and privilege to work with such a fantastic group of writers.

Phil Olsen, one of the writers taking part, is blogging about the course on The Bluecoat website. So if you're curious to see a little inside info about what we get up to in our workshops do have a read.

One of the loveliest aspects of this course for me is seeing how the writers in the group are supporting each other with insightful, honest and constructive feedback on each other's work, encouraging one another and getting to know each other beyond the short time we have on workshop evenings. As I've developed, and continue to develop my writing practice, having other writers to share challenges,  ideas and experiences with has been vital. And it is a joy to see the links that are being made between writers participating on the course that I hope will continue long after the workshops have finished later this year.

If you are looking to develop your short story writing, Comma Press are running two more short story courses in the near future with two brilliant writers and creative writing tutors - Michelle Green in Manchester, and Adam Marek in London. 

Friday, 15 January 2016

Sandy Lane Stories in Skelmersdale

Photograph from User Rept0n1x at Wikimedia Commons
I'm looking forward to starting a new creative project working with community groups in Skelmersdale, focussed around a shopping centre in the heart of the oldest part of the town.

Sandy Lane Shopping Centre was built in the 1960s, with all the idiosyncratic design features that come with some mid century architecture. The site has been in need of attention for some time and can appear unwelcoming as all the shops face inwards. From the outside it's a little hard to tell it is a shopping centre at all. Although once within, it is busy with friendly independent and chain businesses that are working hard to serve the needs of the community.

Skelmersdale is a large industrial town in the Northwest of England. There is much I admire about Skelmersdale, particularly in the Sandy Lane area. Skelmersdale has a rich and complex history. There is a spirit of entrepreneurialism and aspiration. The town has also endured hardship and lack of investment over the years, which has caused some social and community difficulties.

The project aims to gather stories of the history of the area to celebrate and promote its rich heritage and important place, both historically and looking to the future. I will be working alongside two fantastic artists, Fiona and Neil at One Red Shoe, to gather and share the narratives of local people and give them artistic input into the future of the shopping centre. Fiona and Neil have already been working with community members to improve the appearance of the site with striking banners.

I'm excited to begin gathering creative memories and narratives through workshops. I am hoping to learn a lot more about the history of the area from local people and together build a new story that is reflective of the diverse and optimistic future of the area.

Supported by Arts Council England grants and the Arts Development Service, The Friends of Sandy Lane are already working hard to think about how to make this area a more attractive and functional community hub. More soon on how the project develops.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Short Story Course at Bluecoat, Liverpool

I'm excited to begin teaching a new creative writing course this week at The Bluecoat, Liverpool's centre for the contemporary arts. Comma Press, in collaboration with The Bluecoat, are looking to nurture and inspire new and emerging writers from the city over this six month course.

Liverpool is renown for its hugely rich and diverse cultural mix. A wealth of creative talent continues to spring from the city. And I feel immensely privileged to work with the writers who have signed up to the course to develop and hone their short story practice. While we will, of course, explore narratives from across the world to inform our own work, I am hoping we will delve deep into much that the city has to offer - fiction, culture, art and history - using what is immediately on our doorstep. And the Bluecoat is the perfect setting for this.

The short story course is all booked up now. But you can see here for more information on other events happening at The Bluecoat and to stay up to date with future courses.

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Spindles: Stories From the Science of Sleep

I've been dreaming a lot recently. Not sure why... maybe it's mince pies and mulled wines too close to bedtime.

Since researching and writing my story, 'Benzene Dreams' for the latest Comma Press anthology, Spindles, I've become increasingly aware of my sleep patterns and dreams. The book gathers scientists and writers to explore elements of sleep science at the very coal face of new research.

I feel incredibly proud and lucky to contribute to the anthology alongside writers I admire hugely. And to get the opportunity to work with Professor Bob Stickgold on his particular area of sleep research which focusses on the ways in which we solve problems through dreaming.

The collection is supported by The Wellcome Trust.

Read more and get a copy here.


Thursday, 5 November 2015

Tessa Hadley at Edge Hill

I'm looking forward to hearing Tessa Hadley speak at Edge Hill Arts Centre on 18th November. I admire her writing tremendously, particularly her short fiction, and really enjoyed the serialisation of her latest novel The Past on BBC Radio 4 recently.

I have been invited to give a short reading at the event from a new collection from Comma Press to which I contributed a story. Spindles: Stories from the Science of Sleep is an anthology partnering scientists with writers to explore scientific sleep research through narrative. To be asked to read a small part of my story from the collection at Tessa Hadley's event is an honour.

For tickets and more information see the Edge Hill website.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

La Nouvelle Espionage

One of my jobs for this week is to compile a killer reading list for the course that I'll be facilitating soon at Creative Industries Trafford.

La Nouvelle espionage course seeks to give writers the opportunity to create and develop a story (or stories) that they can then submit for consideration in the latest writer showcase anthology from Comma Press. Comma are seeking stories with all the tension and compelling mystery of the classic spy genre, but with a redefining of what modern spying actually is... 'from the political to the domestic, corporate to state-sponsored, private interest-led to cellular fanaticism... to meet characters we wouldn't normally meet in a spy story, to find ourselves in settings the genre has barely visited before.' No small task, but one I am sure the writers on the course will tackle head on with lots of inspiration, guidance and support from me and each other.

To be a good writer, you really must must read. I like to think of it as good nutrition. Put quality stuff in and you see the benefits. You feel stronger and better as a writer. When I'm reading, I imagine all the tiny synapses in my brain firing and making new connections and gathering the little thoughts and expressions inspired by others' work into a store to reframe and use in my own original way. Reading also makes me aware of what other writers are doing. What is the zeitgeist? What is sounding a bit cliche and old hat now? What am I reading too much about? What have I not read about in a story? Where are the gaps in which I can plant a story idea and nurture its growth?

The reading list for La Nouvelle Espionage course has been challenging to put together. Ra Page, Editor at Comma Press, has been brilliant in his suggestions. But this is very much a new genre (the clue is in the name!) The very gap in the market is perhaps a reason for its genesis. The best modern example we have come across is Joanna Quinn's 'The War of All Against All' (Beta Life, Comma Press, 2014) an imagining of the 2070 world where everything we do, buy and say, and everywhere we go is known, recorded, trackable and processed in streaming metadata. It is a brilliant and terrifying story. Please do get in touch if you have come across other great examples that seem to fit the bill.

The course is now fully booked up. But there is a waiting list in case any participants drop out. Contact CIT for more details.