It’s a real privilege teaching creative writing and seeing someone’s words and ideas form on the page, whether this is for the first time or whether they’ve been writing and shaping work for ages.
As a tutor teaching three groups in the East Midlands (Derby, Beeston, and Loughborough), as well as being a published writer of poems and short fictions myself, I’m increasingly struck by how lucky writers are that the East Midlands is such a creative centre, and that their work, should they wish it, has many potential outlets locally as well as nationally.
Recently, Mike Wilson at Loughborough Branch hosted a poetry evening (Not National Poetry Day) which once more acted as a reminder of where creative writing might lead.
I thought I’d share a few of my students’ successes from the WEA across the region, both to celebrate their work and maybe to encourage those new to writing to have a go at sending work out when they’re ready. The students mentioned are only a handful of those achieving both personal and national successes with their work.
From Derby, Maureen Neal has had several short works of science fiction and fantasy anthologised, and has performed from these at readings at Quad. She was also short-listed for a novel competition, winning a professional critique of her work. Peter Shanks, an active member of Wirksworth Wordminers, regularly performs his work and has poems in the Wordminers’ anthology Upright and Eating Salad, the title of which was taken from one of his pieces. Also, Joy Revell was commended in the Southwell Apple Poetry Competition.
Liz Brownhill a member of the Loughborough group has had work displayed recently at an exhibition on World War One in Belton. I was also thrilled that Liz attended my creative writing workshops for the Heritage Lottery Funded Diseworth and Kegworth World War One project, and that one of her poems from the workshop was chosen to form part of the community play, ‘Till The Boys Come Home directed by the Chorus Theatre. The play (shown over the weekend of the first week of September this year) was really moving, and I was delighted Liz’s excellent poem was part of it.
Many other writers from Loughborough, Beeston, and Derby are being anthologised regularly in magazines (including my own Coffee House), and being placed in competitions, Jonathan Hill winning a prize for his poem on New Walk for a past WEA project.
Stephanie Bowes, another Loughborough student, has had a running series of stories in The Trencherman, the Richard III Society’s magazine.
But it isn’t just literary places where a students work might appear. Much of Brenda Boggild’s work (Beeston branch) is included at events on Anglo-Indian history, while Elizabeth Dodds (also Beeston) uses her writing to depict a Scottish childhood and memorialise changed places. Robert Howard runs his own Littlehand Press Blogspot, and has just co-authored a fantastic History Guide on the 35 Bus for Travel Right.
Most recently, WEA Beeston’s Jan Norton had her poem ‘Miner’s Welfare’ published by Writers’ Forum, had a short story ‘Bristol Cream’ short listed for The Penfro Book Festival Short Story Competition, and her poem ‘Hiraeth’ was one of two runners-up in the Elmet Trust Poetry Competition.
In fact, these students’ stories demonstrate the great thing about writing; you never know where something will appear, or who will be interested in it. Some students, like Loughborough’s Roy Kershaw, are working on longer pieces, such as his memoir, Mother and Me.
And the WEA affects tutors’ work, too. For example, my latest collection of short fictions Turned Out Nice Again from the King’s England Press tells the story of a group of variety performers during the 1940s. During my research for the book (where all the stories are linked by fake news cuttings and music hall histories) I got in touch with the Max Miller society. I’m now a member, and write regularly for their magazine There’ll Never be Another. After a recent reading in Brighton, a woman came up to me who’d worked with the great Max, and told me about her time with him.
This anecdote may not seem to have much to do with the publication and teaching experiences I’ve been writing about, except that my work on variety has informed my writing and my teaching more than I would have thought possible, and I’ve designed several writing exercises for my WEA classes based on it.
So that’s what I’d tell anyone thinking of doing a creative writing class for the first time. You may be nervous of sharing your work with others, and this may always be the case. But all writers, even the most published ones, are nervous of this. So I’d say, give it a go and when you’re ready, think of those students who’ve found publication, and send your work out. Or, even if you’re just writing for family or yourself, imagine a wider public reading your pieces and those pieces will undoubtedly improve (on the other hand, it’s amazing how many published writers begin with a desire to jot down family history). Writing and creative outlets for it are adventures in themselves, and you never know where something you created will end up! So, I’d say, get writing, and as the Cheekie Chappie himself would have said, make sure the things you say are snappy!