The evening before my first workshop I arrived to Gillingham in the dark, and the next morning I walked through a thick mist to get to the library. It felt like the town had decided to hide itself from me, but it didn't stay that way for long.
The workshops I've been delivering use participants’ memories as a starting point for writing fiction. I knew from the very beginning of this project that I wanted to use real-life as inspiration for stories, and talking to people in the library and hearing about their eventful lives reassured me of this.
If we take something from the real world, we can learn to write with authenticity and confidence. Authenticity doesn’t always come easily, so I developed my Gillingham workshop to address that. Sometimes when I've run writing workshops in the past I've noticed writers have a tendency to leap into a complex plot that becomes "and then this happened, and then this happened, and then there was a massive fire". Also, in a workshop environment, there’s a tendency to write lengthy description or plot, but with no character development and zero dialogue. I've designed the Gillingham workshops to try and avoid this, reasoning that if I can help participants to gather together a meaningful starting point, they're more likely to come back to the writing and continue it in their own time.
I’ve hosted several workshops now, and each has brought a different group to the library. As well as sharing what they’ve written, participants have told me about their lives. We’ve had conversations about coal, milk trains, rabbit pie – all sorts of weird and wonderful things come up, and together we’ve been training ourselves to pick out authentic details from real life and reuse them in our fiction. I’ve been impressed with the results, and look forward to sharing them a bit further down the line.
The library staff have embraced my residency wholeheartedly. A couple of them even came along to a workshop, and the wonderful Georgina has set up a display of books that triggered a love of reading in a range of individuals.
Gillingham has a healthy community of readers and writers. There’s one small writing group (though they’d be happy to accept new members – if you’re interested let me know and I’ll put you in touch), but I’ve discovered that much writing happens in private, almost secretly. Visitors have told me about the short stories they write, their novels-in-progress, and their memoirs. I’ve had opportunities to discuss (and dissect!) some of these in detail at one-to-one sessions.
We’re entering the final phase of my residency, with only a few more events before I’ll be moving on. I can already see the value of placing a writer in Gillingham Library: it helps draw out all the secret writers, creating a space for them, and giving valuable feedback and encouragement – whether that’s to submit to competitions, share their writing more widely, or just keep going. Good work, Gillingham!