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  • Alan Ward

Returning to Hastings Library

Last Saturday saw me return to Hastings Library for the first time in a while. The work I've been doing as writer in residence has been long-distance over the last couple of months: the council is publishing two booklets of participant work for various elements of the writer in residence project, so we've been getting those ready to go, and I've recently been liaising with some former creative writing workshop participants to invite them to the library for further sessions.

The first of these is what brought me to Hastings on Saturday. As I arrived in town in the morning a heavy mist hung over the seafront, swelling all the way up to the castle. This mysterious atmosphere perhaps inspired some of the stories participants came up with later in the day. As the workshop took place, Gemma, a library assistant helping me​, pointed out the window to the rooftops across the road. The mist had turned into some sort of creature, frothing about the tiles and chimney stacks but leaving the street below clear.

One of the most exciting things about the first series of workshops I did in Hastings was meeting a variety of people. I'm delivering further workshops over the coming weeks, bringing together some of the people who I worked with previously whose writing intrigued me and with whom I had positive conversations about the writing process. I felt I knew most of them well already, but I was excited to introduce them to each other.

The sessions are also an experiment in intergenerational workshop delivery. Rather than separating out adults, teens and children, I've allowed them to come together to be inspired by each other.

Though adults and children often choose very different subject matter, I think there's much they can learn from each other when it comes to the act of creative writing. Delivering similar workshops to different age groups, I noticed the 'I'm just going to get on with it and see what comes out' attitude schoolchildren have is often missing in adults. At the same time, younger participants could benefit from hearing adults critically evaluate their own output. Younger writers tend to have an 'it's done now' attitude, and can be reluctant to redraft.

At the beginning of the workshop I asked all participants to write the opening sentences of a story based on the blurb from the back of a book (The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, a book for adults, but with subject matter accessible to children). I read out four responses from the group, from a variety of ages, plus the actual first lines. When the group voted for which opening they thought was published, the majority went with the sentences written by the youngest participant. Yes, that's right: when the writing was made anonymous, the group couldn't distinguish between the words of a published, adult author and the words of an eleven-year-old. I thought that was a great endorsement for intergenerational creative writing.

As the session finished the sky cleared, and when I walked along the seafront back to my car the sun shone bright over a green sea. As I snapped the photo to accompany this post, I thought how I should have taken one of the mist-clad castle earlier in the day, but my chance had gone. We'd spent our afternoon creating stories, and the mist had turned into one.

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