‘The students praised you for being friendly, good humored, accessible;they loved that you cared about them, called them by name, remembered them and their work. You had fun assignments that got them writing, even if they’d never thought of themselves as writers/poets before.’Dr Roberta Klein, St Agnes and St Stephens School
I’ve been teaching creative writing in lots of different settings since the 90’s.Universities
I taught for ten years at the University of Leeds’ School of Continuing Education, and directed their annual creative writing summer school. I also worked with novelist Martyn Bedford to set up a Creative Writing programme for undergrads in the School of Cultural Studies at Leeds Metropolitan University. This now runs as an elective module, offered to 2nd and 3rd years.
I like persuading kids that poetry isn’t just something to read, but something to write (and re-write). Short residencies in schools include St Stephen’s and St Agnes School (SSSAS) near Washington DC, USA, St Aidan’s C of E High School and Ashville College (both in Harrogate). Ashville College use my poem What I Know in their interview process for Junior School students entering Senior School. Although my residency at SSSAS was a few years ago now, we keep in touch and in January 2012 I held a class for some senior students there – via Skype! Click here to see a short clip of the session.
I run a week’s poetry summer school in Bilsdale, North Yorkshire, which started in 2000. Every July, ten to twenty poets pack their suitcases with clean underwear, several pens and a few good ideas and head to Chop Gate in Bilsdale to write poetry for a week.
My most substantial writing residencies have been for the MAMA East African Women’s Group (which I’m still doing), Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust, and Yorkshire Forward.
At MAMA, I work with Somali women to write and edit the stories of their lives. In 2007, some of our work came to fruit with the publication of two books, both available from the African Book Centre (type the titles into their search box to find): Traveling with the Bedouin Women of Hawd and The Asylum Seeker.
‘A fascinating read, warm, human and a fantastic way of being educated about the recent history of Somalia without being overloaded with dry historical facts. I love the two main female characters, feisty, funny and tremendous ambassadors for their country.’
Comedienne Jo Brand, on The Asylum Seeker.
Now we’re working on a story called ‘The Hagbad’. It’s about the way that Somali women living in the UK raise money for their many and varied business ventures. The story’s heroine is Nimo Netto, who has the unenviable job of running the Hagbad and sorting out the disputes that invariably arise between colourful characters like Sarah Loud, Yasmin High Heels and Kaltun Fish and Chips.
At LTH Trust, I worked with patients and staff using writing. My core work was one-to-one, helping people express their experience in a poem or short prose piece, or mentoring their writing: I was midwife to two novels and a non-fiction book. I helped write a module for medical students around the idea of doctors as writers. I worked on different wards: heart, maternity, elderly, teenage cancer, breast cancer and eating disorder, and stuck poems up in the lifts faster than the cleaners could take them down. I also wrote poems in response to the experience of being there.
There’s an excellent and honest report about one of the residency’s phases on the Arts Council’s website.
For Yorkshire Forward, I co-authored a book with Fitz-Gibbon Professor of Urban Design, Alan Simpson, on Yorkshire’s Urban Renaissance.
In the early noughties, following a Government white paper, various towns in Yorkshire were ‘re-imagined.’ Perhaps the most famous example was Barnsley, which Urban Renaissance architects envisioned as a Tuscan hill town.
The book was called Renaissance Towns: Visions, Actions, Realities and was published in 2005.
Talks and Readings
Earning a living as a writer
Although we all probably know that the writing life isn’t all four-figure advances, awards ceremonies and record-breaking book sales, especially these days, the ‘hack’ side of being a writer rarely gets talked about.
I’ve talked to many writers’ groups about this and it’s a strangely inspirational topic: while people’s own bestsellers are waiting to be accepted by publishers (or even waiting to be written) there’s a lot of other stuff to get involved in, which gets one’s name into print.
Please contact me to come and talk to your writing group.
I love discussing my own work with readers. Please contact me if you think your group would enjoy Stretching It.