In 2016 I submitted, on a whim, the beginning of a children’s novel I had started on maternity leave in 2013, to Penguin Random House’s Write Now Live mentorship programme for underrepresented writers, and I was selected in early 2017. Not long after, I met Matt West, of ArtfulScribe, just as he was about to advertise the So:Write UK Libraries Writer in Residence role I stammered out, for the first time, the words “I am a writer.” To my astonishment, despite being unpublished and never having had a creative residency before, I was selected.
The residency gave me the skills, knowledge, contacts and confidence I needed to become the creative artist and writer I always wanted to be. Not least, because it enabled me to call myself a writer every day, a term I have struggled to own my whole life. I have been encouraged to take risks, to learn from others, to develop my creative practice through all the things I’ve done over the course of a year, with the support and mentorship of So:Write UK. It was an incredible year.
Over the course of my residency I did a number of different things:
July – August 2017 Summer Reading Challenge workshops: Tea Party Tails
I had never run creative sessions for younger children prior to these storytimes. As an emerging writer for a slightly older age group (11 upwards) designing and running these workshops was an illuminating experience, through which I learnt a great deal. I had to adapt my original ideas for outside reading picnics, due to health and safety considerations. As a result, I designed an one-hour tea party-themed session, held across ten libraries in Southampton over the summer holidays in 2017, inspired by one of my favourite children’s books, The Tiger Who Came to Tea, to complement that year’s animal-themed Summer Reading Challenge theme.
I learnt how to make workshops for younger children interactive and fun, by using story sacks, different kinds of picture books, a tea-party themed craft and a treasure hunt.
June – December 2017: Working in schools: Object-based Fantasy Writing Sessions
Alongside Tea Party Tails, I was offered an opportunity by So:Write to work in two local secondary schools, Hounsdown School and Noadswood School. I was asked to design a set of creative writing sessions. Drawing on my novel’s genre, I designed a fantasy writing-based set of workshops, around the theme of objects, aiming to enable students to use their senses to produce original descriptions and to develop worlds and characters using objects as imaginative prompts.
I also gave a full school assembly speaking about my writing career trajectory, applying to the Write Now Live scheme, and the residency. I spoke about my struggles with confidence and perfectionism, and the strategies I use to keep writing despite them.
November 2017: Hands on Humanities: Multi-Age Multi-Skilled Drop-In Session
In November 2017 I ran an open drop-in session for the University of Southampton’s Hands-on Humanities public engagement day.
I offered three activities: I reproduced quotes from migrant oral history transcripts for creative writing exercises; a quick sticky-gem/colouring creative activity where quotes could be written out and decorated on doilies; and an embroidery table where quotes or words from the interviews could be embroidered.
The project acted as a useful pilot for the longer termed sewing and writing projects I would launch in January 2018.
January – July 2018: So: Write: Sew Sewing Group
In this fortnightly craft group we focused on making pieces of embroidery that celebrate books: either the many wonderful lines in books that celebrate reading or literature, or our own favourite books. We chatted and got to know another along the way, but the joy of reading has woven through our fortnightly conversations like an anchoring thread.
Alongside the library sessions, I also undertook some breakout embroidery sessions at Black Heritage Association in Northumberland Road. I was also delighted when, inspired by our presence in the space, some our lovely librarians also decided to take part. I knew that our librarians are wonderful people, but they are also incredibly talented and creative embroiderers too! The group proved very meaningful as a social space for my predominantly older, retired, socially isolated female participants, who have gone on to participate in other activities I’ve run since.
January – July 2018: So:Write Stories Writing Group
I ran So:Write Stories, a creative writing group, fortnightly between January – July 2018. This was a writing group with a slight difference, as I had envisioned in my proposal. Drawing on my own experience as a historian who was inspired to write creatively by archival material on migration, I selected material from Southampton City Archives for use as writing prompts. The work done over the six month period culminated in an anthology of writing, available as a low res download below, or in a hard copy version for purchase from John Hansard Gallery. The anthology includes poems I wrote at the end of my residency, as well as writing from the participants.
The writers in the group passionately wish to continue working together, and the project has been successful in gaining follow-on funding from Southampton City Council to continue on a fortnightly basis for another year.