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  • Alan Ward

Hastings residency: the stories so far

I started as writer in residence at Hastings Library at the beginning of January. Since then, we’ve forged partnerships with 11 organisations to plan almost 40 creative writing workshops across the three months of the project. This includes six bookable workshops open to the public, which will take place at the newly refurbished Hastings Library building. Additionally, members of the public can book a one-to-one feedback session to discuss their work.

It’s an odd experience to be writer “in residence” for Hastings Library at the moment because it’s in a temporary home. I’m not really in residence at the building itself. It’s more like I’m inhabiting the idea of the library. The library is much more than a collection of books anyway, and more than a building. Think about all digital lending that happens – it’s conceivable you could have a library card and be an active user of Hastings Library without ever setting foot through the door. Though that would be a shame, especially when the refurbished building opens.

In the workshops I deliver, we start by chatting about the library in general, and about reading and writing. Some of the people I’ve met have never been to the library. Some read a lot, but one girl said she only reads text messages (I suspect she was only half joking). Some participants have written creatively before, but most haven’t, and the workshop environment presents a safe space in which to give it a try.

We always read something together first – extracts from books in the library, my work, things I like or writing relevant for the age group – but quickly get on to writing. There can be an initial fear of the blank page, but we quickly get over that by just getting something down – whether that’s a list, or a bit of writing following on from a stimulus sentence.

I’m constantly taken aback by how the least confident members of a group can produce the most surprising work. Here’s a piece written by one participant. She wrote this description of a character called Miss Butcher, which I think could make the ominous opening of a longer story:

Miss Butcher has red hair and red rimmed eyes. She avoids the daylight and stalks out at night. Her nails are red talons. She has muscular upper arms from wielding her cleaver. Her job is to catch rabbits and the tools of her trade are a fine fish net, a black sack, a hammer and a hook. She wastes no time in killing the creatures…

Extremely shy participants have come up for a chat at the end of sessions, and participants who were worried they wouldn’t write anything at all have turned in pages and pages of writing. The variety of responses to the same stimulus material provides an insight into the creativity of the human imagination. I hope that through my workshops we’ve kicked off a good few stories and pieces of writing the participants might go on to develop further.

This blog post is accompanied by the image of an ogre we wrote about with a group of home-schooled children aged 7 to 9, drawn by one of the participants – thanks Ruby!

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