Writing West Midlands
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After a bit of head-scratching, we worked out this was the sixth Writers’ Toolkit. But it was definitely my first. And for everyone, the first time at the Birmingham Ormiston Academy, as creative (though not, perhaps, to our regret, as warm) a setting as one could wish for. When we made a site visit earlier in the year it was teeming with young people in leotards and legwarmers. Fame! lives on in central Birmingham…
The Toolkit was described to me as less of a conference and more of an extended conversation. I heard the conversations starting at the registration desk and many were still going on as delegates departed into the darkness of a chilly November evening…
Kate Pullinger fired off many conversations with a rousing keynote address on ‘Writing for Digital Platforms’. She described a world, not many years away, perhaps, when self-publishing will be the norm, the first stage in every writer’s career; a world in which publishers won’t take a risk on a writer if they can’t find their work online from a google search.
The ‘Writing Work Overseas’ session filled me – and I think many others in the room – with writerly wanderlust. I think many delegates had their eyes opened to the possibilities of developing work for readers and audiences overseas. All three panellists were clear that there were real opportunities to be seized, in terms of funding (for instance, the Artists’ International Development Fund LINK), partnership development and performance.
The ‘Digital Tools for Writers’ session proved extremely practical – there was much scribbling and tapping of keys as our panellist shared their top tips. Ironically, there was a great deal of interest in two digital tools to shut down digital tools – otherwise known as the ‘Self-control’ and ‘Anti-social’ apps. You can see more recommendations from the panellists here.
Lunchtime nourishment was provided by Change Kitchen, a Birmingham-based community enterprise (www.changekitchen.co.uk) which provides training and work opportunities to people who face social exclusion. The food proved very popular; next time we’ll organise two queues so people can get to it more quickly…
Our closing keynote speaker was Stephen May who talked frankly about the highs and lows of the writer’s life. Judging by the mirth that filled the room, he fulfilled his brief to send everyone home ‘on an up’ with aplomb.
Many thanks indeed to all who came and contributed. Especially to our youngest delegate, two-week old Rayna Grace, daughter of Programmes Director, Sara Beadle.
Till next year!
By Abigail Campbell (Acting Programmes Director)
We are looking for expressions of interest from individuals looking to work as Assistant Writers at our Write On! Young Writers’ groups across the region. These voluntary roles (we are able to cover travel expenses) will involve working alongside the Lead Writers at some of our Young Writers’ groups. The Assistants provide additional support; help with mentoring and providing advice and creative writing exercises for the children and young people taking part. They also shadow the Lead Writers to learn new skills with the opportunity for career development.
Assistant Writers work closely with the Lead Writers under the management of Writing West Midlands staff Joanne Penn and Jonathan Davidson. We are looking for people who are interested in developing the skills and creativity of children and young people.
Write On! Young Writers’ are creative writing groups for children and young people aged 8 – 16. They are each led by a Professional Writer with an Assistant Writer, and they meet monthly on Saturdays for up to two hours at various locations throughout the West Midlands. Most groups are for children and young people aged 8 – 11 or 12 – 16, some groups are for those aged 10 – 13 and 16 – 19. Groups meet either in the morning (typically 10.30am – 12pm approx.) or in the afternoon (typically 2 – 4pm approx.) and the groups tend to run from September – June each year.
For more information about being a Writ On! Young Writers’ group Assistant Writer and to apply, please have a look at the full role description here: www.writingwestmidlands.org/assistant-writer-opportunities/.
Please note that as of January 2014, all of the Assistant Writer roles have been filled. We will next be looking for registrations of interest in June 2014.
Midlands Young Writers Project, freelance Project Fieldworker Contract
A Writing West Midlands Project
Following a successful funding bid to the Paul Hamlyn Foundation, Writing West Midlands is expanding its programme of ‘out of school’ creative writing activities for children and young people aged 8 to 19. This one year project will run until the end of 2014 and we are looking for an enthusiastic and energetic Project Fieldworker to run aspects of the project, initially for the period January to June 2014. The project is being run by Writing West Midlands in partnership with Writing East Midlands, although this freelance Project Fieldworker contract is for work in the West Midlands only.
The Midlands Young Writers Project is a participatory project designed to help children and young people to develop their skills and interests in creative writing. It takes existing models of work – regular creative writing groups and creative writing festivals – and expands these, alongside introducing new activities, including a young writers mentoring programme and a young writers networking day. It will take place across the region (potentially all 14 local authority areas)
The Project Fieldworker
The freelance Project Fieldworker to work with Writing West Midlands’ staff, principally Jonathan Davidson and Joanne Penn, and with various partners. The work will be undertaken over a period of initially six months for a fee to include expenses of £4000 (an equivalent of approximately 2.5 days per week). We are looking for a person with an interest in the arts, literature development and working with children and young people.
The Project Fieldworker work will involve running a regional programme of work for children and young people. It will include all aspects of project management and would be especially suitable for someone wanting to develop their skills as part of an experienced team. There will be a requirement for independent working.
The work will include:
- Planning , scheduling and facilitating creative writing activities as per the project plan, to include:
- Seven monthly creative writing workshops
- Two one-day creative writing day festivals
- Young Writer mentoring scheme (for up to three young people)
- Assisting with management of Young Writers networking day
- Contacting, liaising and negotiating with partners and prospective partners, including venues and producing organisations.
- Liaising with writers, performers and other artists involved in leading the project activities.
- Assisting in managing budgets, timetables and work programmes and supporting social media and other marketing work.
- Assisting in gathering feedback on the project, including helping to implement an evaluation scheme.
- Other related activities, including supporting our wider programme of work with children and young people in school and community settings
This opportunity is not appropriate for anyone who sees themselves as primarily a writer or performer (although writers and performers are very welcome to apply). We are looking for someone who wants to help us develop our work with children and young people across the whole of the West Midlands.
The nature of the work means it would be necessary to travel around the region and much of the work will take place during evenings and weekends. Access to own transport or/and a willingness to enjoy the challenges of public transport would be an advantage. Writing West Midlands’ Environmental Policy obliges it to minimise its carbon footprint where possible.
The Project Fieldworker will be required to visit Writing West Midlands’ offices in The Custard Factory, Birmingham, although the work may be undertaken from a home base. The work is offered as a freelance contract, but may be offered as a contract of employment if the individual appointed chooses to be based in Writing West Midlands’ offices. The work is offered for an initial six months but may be extended for a further six months.
The ideal candidate would:
- Have an interest in the arts and literature development
- Have some knowledge and interest in working with children and young people
- Have an interest in the vision behind the development of services for young writers
- Have an interest in and experience of the managing and administration of arts projects
- Be able to operate flexibly across the West Midlands region including during weekends and evening
For further information, please contact:
Jonathan Davidson, Tel: 0121 246 2770 or email: jonathan[at]writingwestmidlands.org
How to Apply
To apply, please submit the following by e-mail to: joanne[at]writingwestmidlands.org
- A letter of interest indicating why you would like to work as Project Fieldworker for the Midlands Young Writers Project, any relevant experience and how you would approach the work.
- A CV or equivalent document giving details of your interest and career as relevant to this work.
- The names of two referees (who would only be contacted if we are able to interview you).
Applications should be received by 5pm on Friday 6 December 2013. Informal interviews will be held at Writing West Midlands’ office in Birmingham on the morning of Friday 13 December 2013. Please confirm that you are able to attend an interview if required.
Samantha Campbell, a student at the University of Coventry, did work experience with Writing West Midlands in July 2013. Here she reviews one of our creative writing activities, a writing workshop for parents and their children aged 8 – 14.
This family writing workshop was led by Birmingham based author Anna Lawrence Pietroni whose first novel, Ruby’s Spoon, is set in the fictional Black Country town of Cradle Cross. The workshop took place on the 31 of July 2013 at The Pen Museum in the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham where history and craft come together perfectly. The pen museum only fills two rooms and a library but it is filled to the brim with interesting artefacts. The pairs consisted of parents and children working together on set tasks that were meant to teach them how to unleash their imagination. The tasks were invigorating and fun for the children. It all began with an artefact search. The parents and children searched together through the archives for the unique exhibits. Children gawped at the old pens and how fancy their writing looked using an ink quill instead of the standard blue biro.
The staff were friendly and helpful, they let the children use the quills and provided them with pots of ink. The pairs played away on the typewriters before the workshop got serious and they scoured their imaginations for ideas and new characters. The workshop was full of fantastic tips to get the imagination started such as ‘Name your pens and give them personalities’ and ‘describe what is the opposite of you’ to create new curious characters. The children all responded really positively to the writing tasks and there was even some drawings of maps of their imagined worlds.
The children revelled in writing a mean newsletter to the neighbouring clan, they even wrote about what a witch’s pen could do to you! The workshop informed children of the benefits of sharing ideas with other people. The atmosphere was friendly with people sharing insults and laughing together. The workshop was really interactive and the excitement in the air was palpable. The pairs had been inspired by the fascination of history and how writing has evolved, especially the tools!
The Pen Museum, Unit 3 The Argent Centre, 60 Frederick Street, Hockley, Birmingham, B1 3HS. Monday to Saturday 11am to 4pm, Sunday 1pm to 4pm. www.penroom.co.uk
Anna Lawrence Pietroni is blogging here: http://fiveby3.wordpress.com
To see more images from the Family Writing Workshop, please visit our Flickr www.flickr.com/photos/writingwestmidlands/sets/72157634875145980/.
By Joanne Penn
This week marks my four year anniversary working for Writing West Midlands, and what a four years it has been! Well, technically, Writing West Midlands didn’t exist when I started working for them…let me explain.
I began at the start of August 2009 as an Administrative Assistant for the Birmingham Book Festival, when all the work that the organisation did came under the banner of the Festival. I remember thinking in that first week, ‘ah, this is easy. There isn’t that much to do.’ By the second week, I quickly realised that I would never utter that sentence again – and I haven’t. It was an exciting time during those first few months. I was thrown into work on the Festival which in 2009, was a full four weeks long. I had a small team of volunteers to manage and the majority of the events were held in the Birmingham Conservatoire.
In the November of that year, Writing West Midlands officially launched as a literature development organisation. This meant that the Birmingham Book Festival became a project of Writing West Midlands, as did the other work we do including our Write On! programme which involves working with children and young people through schools and now online and in creative writing groups. By becoming regional, we had to look beyond Birmingham to the whole of the West Midlands; from Stoke-on-Trent to Herefordshire and all points in between. This was quite a big task for a team of three people!
Fast forward four years and there are now four of us, we are an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation and I’m now Projects Manager. I manage our creative writing groups for children and young people – Writing Squads (and any projects that they may be involved in such as showcase events or publications), Write On! Magazine’s website, Writing West Midlands’ website, our Facebook, recruitment of all volunteers who help out at our events, book ordering and returns. I also provide assistance on various other projects and design a lot of our printed materials as well as help with the distribution of them.
I’m always surprised at the amount of people who ask me if I’m a writer or what do I write, the truth is; I’m not a writer at all, I’m an arts administrator with a degree in Textile Design and an Open degree from the Open University in Art History and Religious History. Most people seem to think that we live a very glamorous life here at Writing West Midlands, schmoozing with writers and reading books all day. This isn’t the case (well, very occasionally!) – we are a small team and we work hard. The planning for the Birmingham Literature Festival (formerly Birmingham Book Festival) takes most of the year, and it is only ten days long. The hours can be long and stress levels can be high sometimes, but every single day is different and this keeps it varied and stimulating. Seeing projects finalised or in action, in particular the Writing Squads, is very rewarding.
We often have enquiries about internships or voluntary placements with us, many people stating that they’d like to work in publishing or become a writer. It’s great that there are lots of people, especially those who are just out of university or actually still in university, who have that passion and drive for literature. But it’s also important that people see the kinds of work that we do – our writer and sector development opportunities, events and work with children and young people – as being part of the arts. We are a literature development agency and arts organisation. Working in the arts requires skill, passion, organisational skills (such as the ability to multitask!) and working to tight deadlines. It often means working as part of small teams, but spending a lot of time working alone on your bit which will contribute to the overall project. It also means those various special moments to present what you’ve been working on for sometimes several months to the public and see them enjoy it, or if they don’t enjoy it; find out why and work your hardest to make it better next time. I don’t know what those working in publishing houses do all day, but I do know that if they are as lucky as we are in our office; they too love their jobs and look forward to going into work each day.
By Jonathan Davidson
There never was a time when direct funding for the arts was guaranteed, but indirect funding has always been there, particularly for literature and creative writing. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the UK saw an explosion of literacy, which both brought new readers to existing works of literature and created the conditions for new literature to be written and experienced. While the business of publishing and selling books was typically handled by small entrepreneurial enterprises, the huge investment necessary to create the market for these books was increasingly provided by local authorities and central government. It would be wrong to suggest that this was largely done to provide readers for slim volumes of poetry or to encourage more poets to produce said volumes, but there was a growing consensus that having access to the works of novelists, poets and dramatists (in published form), as well as a range of other creative writers, was a good thing for the nation. And even if the writers of those books may on occasion have looked like a fairly select group – more likely to be privately educated, more likely to come from a secure economic background – there were plenty of outsiders of various forms and the readership for books was increasingly coming from a broad section of the population.
Many of these new writers stumbled across their Damascene moment by somehow picking up the spores of an interest in reading and writing simply – if I may mix my metaphors – as an effect of background radiation. If there are books in libraries, schools and homes, if there are programmes on the broadcast media that take writing seriously, if writers and writing feature in the day to day life of communities and individuals then readers will broaden and deepen their tastes and from their number will come more, new, better writers. That’s the plan. It is unscientific but also entirely reasonable. Engagement with anything isn’t just a product of moments of considered transaction but also of ‘eyes meeting across a crowded room/culture’. We need to make the room as big as it can be and fill it with interesting writers (or other artists, for that matter) and then see what happens. Coleridge said words to the effect that one needed to ‘create the taste by which one will be enjoyed’ and as an extension ‘we need to create the environment in which writing will be engaged with’ (slightly less snappy, I concede).
The challenge and the catch is that, as concern for the natural environment has demonstrated, having an impact does not mean having a responsibility. The industries that benefit from the UK’s extraordinary record in literary production in various forms – and there are so many industries, from advertising to education – do not always acknowledge that their good fortune in being able to work with writers of such range and talent is a good fortune that is the product of several hundred years of investment in the writing culture of our country, and that the majority of this investment has come indirectly, not just publishers buying books but investing in the whole culture of reading and writing. And by extension, if we gradually choke off this support – if we close libraries, stop funding small presses, reduce the engagement with literary writing we offer our children, and generally present an interest in literature as of no more value than an interest in cricket (I know what I am saying here, deal with it…) then decades down the line we are no longer going to be an interesting place for writing. I could not object to Brazil or China becoming the engine room of creative writing if they invested in universal engagement, but I would object if our sun set simply because we no longer believed that literature in all its forms – with all its challenges and difficulties – is one of the pillars on which a healthy society is built.
Writing West Midlands worked with The Barber Institute of Fine Arts to find their Writer in Residence for 2013. The writer chosen is Jacqui Rowe.
An alumnus of the University of Birmingham, Jacqui is an accomplished poet, writer and visual artist. Her work has appeared in Mslexia, The Interpreter’s House, Smith’s Knoll, Poetry Review, Reactions 2 and 3 and many other publications. In 2012, she won the Black Country Living Museum’s poetry competition with her poem, Airfix. Her published collections include Blue, Apollinaire (translations and recreations from the French), and Paint - poems inspired by Wightwick Manor.
In addition to her poetry, Jacqui is a trained screenwriter, who also writes fiction for young people. Jacqui is very active in performing and promoting live literature at spoken-word events. As an independent producer, she hosts and programmes Poetry Bites, a regular event featuring readings by leading poets. Jacqui’s record of leading workshops is extensive, and includes the Ledbury Poetry Festival, after which she set up Making Poetry, a Birmingham-based organisation offering a of programme of poetry workshops. She has also run regular poetry surgeries for Birmingham Libraries and Northfield Arts Forum. She is a tutor for the Poetry School and poetry editor for the Writers’ Workshop. She also works extensively as a freelance writer and consultants in schools, and is co-director of Flarestack Poets, an independent poetry pamphlet press that publishes leading poets such as Mario Petrucci and Selima Hill.
Jacqui has mentored, among many others, a Birmingham Poet Laureate and a Foyle Young Poet of the Year. She is one of a very small number of poets to have been trained by John Killick, an internationally renowned authority on using the poetry with dementia, and she works regularly as a poet in care homes.
As a visual artist and maker of art, Jacqui’s milieu is in metalwork, jewellery, knitting and crochet, and drawing. Jacqui has combined her poetry and art-making skills in a commission for an exhibition at Wightwick Manor, for which Jacqui produced a series of 15 poems and acid-etched copper plates. She has also been Artist in Residence at the Warwickshire Museum, Warwick.
You can learn more about Jacqui Rowe by visiting www.jacquirowe.com.
As part of her residency, Jacqui is running a series of workshops at The Barber including; Writing in the Moment, Writing Monologues, Writing the Senses, Whose Voices and Telling Tales. She will also be hosting an event called Write Night in November which will include readings from Jacqui, former Birmingham Poet Laureate Roz Goddard and award-winning poet, Luke Kennard.
To book for any of the workshops, please click on the links above. You can also book all 5 for £25 (£18 for students). To find out more and book, please email education[at]barber.org.uk.
Yesterday was Original Writing Day at Newman University and what a wonderful day it was. We welcomed nine schools from across the region to enjoy a morning of creative writing workshops with three fabulously different writers: Alan (Kurly) McGeachie is a performance poet and poetry workshop facilitator who specialises in working with young people; Cat Wetherill is a storyteller and children’s author; and Anna Lawrence Pietroni is a novelist and writing workshop facilitator.
As over a hundred year 9 students arrived in the foyer I began to feel apprehensive: that’s a lot of fourteen year olds! The first set of workshops began and it quickly became apparent that the engaging content of our three speaker’s sessions was enough to captivate the young writers. This was the theme of all three workshops throughout the afternoon, and as I wandered around photographing the sessions I caught snippets of creative writing (aloud) in action including seaside imagery, what words mean to us and mysterious strangers! It was all very cryptic.
After (a very delicious) lunch we all headed back to the theatre, as the students prepared for their performances. Tensions were running high, as they usually do when you are required to stand in front of such a huge crowd and read your very own personal writing, especially when it has been prepared in only 45 minutes! But they need not have worried; I think I can speak for each member of staff when I say that we were blown away by the quality of their work. It was so wonderful to hear the result of the morning’s work and the students should be very proud of their end-products! I would love to read more when they have had chance to revise and edit, so if you are an Original Writing Day student and you have gone away to work on your piece – send it over!
To see more of Anna, Cat and Kurly and the students hard at work, click through to our album!
By Sian Buckley
Writing West Midlands is helping to curate this wonderful weekend of panels, workshops and stalls focusing around publishing, printmaking and art and all points in between which is being held at the Library of Birmingham. This will be an event of international profile and ambition, including speakers, panel discussions, workshops and a fair, selling books, prints and artwork from an international selection of independent publishers, printworks, artists and organisations. The event aims to showcase and celebrate the very best in independent publishing, artist books and zines, whilst also interrogating issues central to publishing culture.
Capsule, the event’s producers, are working in collaboration with Writing West Midlands, Birmingham Zine Festival, An Endless Supply, The Baskerville Society, Grand Union and Eastside Projects. Volume will open with a keynote speech from artist, musician and writer, Bill Drummond. Scottish artist Bill Drummond (1953) has used various media in his practice including actions, music and words. His actions too numerous to list, some more infamous than others; his music from the multi million selling KLF to the choral music of The17; the words have accumulated into a pile of books. His work of the last twelve years is catalogued at www.penkilnburn.com.
Stalls cost £60 for two days (Friday & Saturday) and are located in the stunning new Studio Theatre space within the Library of Birmingham. If you are interested in taking up a stall at the fair, email admin[at]capsule.org.uk.
On Saturday 8 June 2013, six members from the Coventry and Polesworth Writing Squads performed at this year’s Coventry Mysteries Festival. The theme for the Festival was ‘re-creation’ and the group members interpreted this in a variety of different ways to produce some fantastic original poems. The group members who are all aged 12 – 16 were coached before at a special half an hour session with writer and Squad leader, Naomi Alsop, on how to perform their poems and project their voices to a crowd. Then after warming up their vocal cords, they headed into Coventry city centre to Shelton Square near to the Festival Hub to share their writing to the crowd that had gathered and passers-by.
Pieces included I Come From, Why Did I Write A W? and Tolpuddle Martyrs. Two out of the six had performed at last year’s Coventry Mysteries Festival and other events including the Wenlock Poetry Festivalearlier this year, but the rest of the group were performing their writing for the first time. All six showed an impressive amount of talent not just with creative writing but they all confidently and clearly read out their poems without a single stutter! They should all be very proud of themselves!
Look out for some of the pieces which were shared at this event on the Coventry Mysteries Festival website soon!
If you or your child is interested in getting involved in our Writing Squads – creative writing groups for children and young people aged 8 – 16, please have a look at our website for more details of where the groups meet. We are now signing up new members for September 2013 – June 2014. www.writingwestmidlands.org/young-writers-schools/write-on-writing-squads/. If you have any questions about the Squads, please see the Writing Squad FAQ section of our website by clicking here.
By Joanne Penn