Gifts that come back to us

A landmark moment last month has got me reflecting on my journey as a writer…

And that is the launch of emerging young poet Warda Yassin’s debut pamphlet, Tea with Cardamom, with the Poetry Business, at Sheaf Poetry Festival. Moving, tender and authentic, Warda’s work is a joy. I urge any lover of contemporary poetry to get hold of a copy (which you can do here). You won’t be disappointed.

I first met Warda on a wellbeing and creative writing course I was running in November 2012. Although an avid reader, it was Warda’s first time writing outside of formal education. And, despite the fact I’d started teaching creative writing groups, back then, in truth, I was nervous about the idea of becoming a writer. As a working-class girl, who left a dysfunctional home life at 15, with various undiagnosed neurodiverse conditions, imposter syndrome still had a firm hold on me well into my adult years.

Unsurprisingly, I shied-away from a childhood love of writing because I didn’t think someone like me was allowed a seat at the table. I studied visual art at uni and found joy and purpose in helping others in creative community projects in photography, film and animation.  I remember my first workshop with teens, in 1998 at the end of my degree, and how it hooked me on seeing people grown and self-actualise. I saw a use for my ADHD enthusiasm (although back then I didn’t know that’s what it was).

I also didn’t know that it was no casual thing that I gravitated towards being a freelancer, which allowed me the autonomy and flexibility I needed to stay outside the tick boxes and innovate in my own way (cog-in-the-machine structures are something that many neurodiverse people struggle with). And, as creativity has the awesome power to do, after a few years, it inadvertently brought me back to my early love of words.

But even then, my first job in writing, running a young people’s magazine, I was often overworked and overwhelmed, not understanding my impairments enough. So much great stuff was happening in the work I was doing with others, but I had no head space to even think about investing in my own development.

Somehow I’ve always known my wiring, if at times faulty, has also been one of the things that’s helped me succeed and flourish in many areas, and in supporting others creatively, and eventually myself. Now I understand a combination of factors – early independence in the world, my neurodiverse brain (things like big picture and divergent thinking, an autodidactic drive for creativity and what I call autistic precision) fuelled what I could do with my artistic skills and the potential I recognised in others.

The final key to locking myself fully as a writer, believe it or not, was breast cancer. I was diagnosed in January 2015 and had a year of treatment. You better believe that nothing will get you to reassess and reframe things more than an egg timer turned on its side, and you not knowing how quickly it might go one way or the other.

With it came time. Time off, time writing, time thinking, time to myself, to evaluate, to take stock. I realised what I had achieved and marveled at how the hell I’d done it, given my rocky beginnings. The narrative that had followed me since leaving home at 15, the one I had made things fit to, that was when I said adios to it fully.

Left to right: Warda, Sundus, Danae, me & Sile – these women though!

And here’s the lovely part that Warda reminds me of – it was actually my work with young people, my commitment to offering them the guidance I learnt the value of through its early absence in my own life, that rather beautifully brought me back to my love of words, strengthening my skills, and allowing me to see my own value and potential.

In many ways, Warda and I started our journey of self-discovery together. Warda knows my story, and I know hers. This has led to a special connection and friendship and we continue to champion each other on our writing journey knowing how far we have both come to get our seat at the table. (Or perhaps we’re creating new tables. There’s an idea!)

I’m not sure how I would have found my way back to words, or perhaps in the way I have, without my years working creatively with young people. And there are many of you I have to thank – some who are, like Warda, fully-fledged adulting now. And when I see you, I smile. Thank you for enriching my life. And yes, it took a while to get here. But, good stuff came from that long journey. Not least, supporting others to say ‘I can’ quicker than I was once able to myself.

For me, this is a story of how the gifts we give can come back to us.

Buy Tea with Cardamom

Quick post…

I’ve been wanting to do a post about Hive Young Writers Festival (which was in April!) but haven’t had time (hoping to post something soon).  In the meantime, just a quick post to say – delighted to have three poems accepted by Under the Radar Magazine recently, and also to be reading at York Explore on Thursday with great poets Malcolm Carson and Lydia Kennaway. If you’re in the York area, would be fab to see you! More details here.

First Prize Prole Poetry Competition

I think I’m having all my good news for the year in the first few months! Thrilled to have my poem Lesley placed first by poet Stuart Patterson in the Prole Laureate Poetry Competition.

The best I hope for above all is to write a poem that achieves what I hoped for it and this feedback from Stuart has warmed my heart!

A very real, touching, human poem encompassing a wide range of emotions and perspectives in such a short space. It’s spare, well crafted but not short on a punch and connecting us to a moment of equal horror and hope.  This isn’t lazily reflective or self-indulgent poetry; these are words & images that take us right to the very terrible end of something which is forever linked to the beautiful beginning of another, dark mirror images, the nubs of life and death. I was very moved by its simplicity, humanity and truth.

Thanks to Prole for the opportunity and Stuart Patterson for the thoughtful and kind comments. You can read the poem here.

 

Arvon/Jerwood Mentorship!

I’m truly over the moon to announce I’ve been chosen by poet Hannah Lowe, as an Arvon/Jerwood mentee 2019/20!

Professional development as a writer is a rare thing for most of us, and the fact this is with Arvon too – is a dream come true for me. Massive thanks to Hannah and Arvon for believing in me and my writing. I’m literally buzzing!

Congrats to all mentees and I look forward to meeting you all very soon!

Arvon and Jerwood Arts are delighted to announce the 2019/20 cohort of Jerwood/Arvon mentees. These nine emerging writers were selected out of nearly 350 applicants in the categories of Poetry, Playwriting and Fiction, to receive a year of mentoring support from poet Hannah Lowe, playwright Evan Placey, and novelist and short story writer Nicholas Royle.

Now in its ninth iteration, this programme is run by Arvon in partnership with Jerwood Arts, with applications open to writers who attended Arvon courses in the previous two years. The programme begins with a week-long Masterclass residential at Totleigh Barton, Arvon’s writing centre in Devon, where mentees will attend workshops across all three forms and establish goals and plans for the year. As well as ongoing mentoring support, mentees are offered additional consultations with industry professionals, and a final writing retreat week in spring 2020. At the end of the programme, mentees contribute to a group anthology, launched at showcase events in the summer.

Women of Sheffield Award

I’m beyond a reet bit (as we say in Sheffield) chuffed to receive The Sarah Nulty Award for Creativity at the first Women of Sheffield Awards last night courtesy of the Sheffield Star – celebrating local women who have had an impact. It was an honour to stand alongside some truly inspirational women of all backgrounds, ages and powerful stories –from engineers and scientists, to health and sports professionals – including my fellow culture fertilisers, Justine Gaubert and Sara Hill.

The award is for 20+ years of service enabling others creatively – with a passion that’s continued to grow through my career – helping young people to reach their potential. I had rocky younger years, leaving home at 15 and muddling through from an early age, and I believe that set something alight in me in terms of my values and trying to provide others with what was lacking in my own experiences growing up.

I’m honoured it was in memory of the beautiful spark that was Sarah Nulty (the engine behind the Tramlines Festival for many years), and bravely and beautifully presented by Sarah’s mum Julie who gave me the best hug I’ve had in a long time – sorting me out after the stage fright of standing in front of an audience while someone talks about you and you wonder where to look.

Although I never met Sarah I know she had a huge impact in her short time on this earth. Isn’t that one of the best things we can hope for in this life, to have made a difference, however small, in our corner of the planet? There are many of us quietly doing this kind of work in creative fields, and anyone who is will know the impact of creativity and everything it brings. Sadly it’s a field that is often underpaid and undervalued, and run (in the upper echelons) by the wrong people (like most things!), but those of us who know its impact keep at it and I salute you all. And if it’s not you, but you see one of us grafting or struggling – please do what you can to let us come through and do our job. We need allies and key holders in every nook and cranny so we can keep doing what we do without becoming exhausted.

The best part of the award was that people, particularly young people – (you know the generation they say are apathetic) took the time to write in and nominate me (I know who some of you are now! Thank you) the words and the gratitude you’ve expressed have made my heart soar. Some of you I haven’t worked with in years, others I still mentor years on. Some of you have even gone from babyface to beard in the time I’ve known you! Thank you so much for a beautiful gesture and all the thoughtful things said. They are deeply appreciated.

So this award is for all the other creative women out there who are the grafters, the enablers, the game-changers, the neuro-divergent thinkers, those who do it for the love not the glory, the survivors of cancer, of illness or allsorts – who keep standing up and holding your hand out to others. And for Sarah and all the other beautiful women that have made ripples that continue to last.

………..
Thank you to everyone who made this happen including the Star, especially Ann Holmes and Nancy Fielder, and to Karen Breckon of Meadowhead Flowers for the beautiful bouquet of local wildflowers, so lovely! And to all who nominated me including: Nik Perring, Warda Yassin, Justine Gaubert and all who believe in me. My heart is yours!

Cinema for All

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted! I’m still wanting to do a rounding up of autumn happenings (as there were many!), but so much has kept me busy elsewhere! For now, while recovering from surgery, I just wanted to post a few current goings-on including about this fab set of culture cinema screenings Hive is involved with in Burngreave!

We’re supporting young poet and singer, Danae Wellington, with her new creative project (Nyara Creative Collective) to run workshops and creative cinema screenings at Burngreave Library. Cinema wise, we’re kindly being supported by Cinema for All who have been doing some training with our volunteers. We’ve also got the fab staff at Burngreave Library on board including the lovely Marcia, Erica and Sam.

If you know people on the north side of Sheffield (Fir Vale, Firth Park, Burngreave and nearby) please let them know about this great set of films happening over half term for 12 to 19s (15th, 21st & 22nd Feb)

I’m so proud of Danae, a really talented emerging young writer who’s passionate about growing creative opportunities in the community. Danae and another great young writer, Warda Yassin, will also be leading monthly creative writing workshops at the library from 2nd Feb. For more info on both, click on a flyer below, or visit: www.hivesouthyorkshire.com

We’ve also just appointed the wonderful young poet, Lydia Allison, as Young Poet in Residence at Darts (Doncaster Community Arts) more about that here, and you can read Lydia’s wonderful first blog here.

Hive’s first young writers’day of the year is World Building with fine historical novelist, Tim Leech. Open to 14 to 25s, Saturday 9th Feb, if you know anyone interested, spread the word!

Hopefully, more soon.
And a very late – happy New Year!

Hashtag Nofilter

Finally… (And I say finally because we have been trying to finish some kick-off content since mid-August!)…working with creative partner in crime, copywriter and social entrepreneur, the mighty Justine Gaubert – it’s great to say – www.hastagnolfiter is now live. The project is a space for ideas, research, musings, interviews and anything else that might crop up, or take our interest, in the realm of neurodiversity – particularly relating to females and creativity. If any of that sounds of interest, please check it out. You can listen to our intro podcast at the bottom of this post.

I haven’t blogged in a while because autumn is always a super busy time for me. The Hive project has been refunded (yeh!) and there’s a lot to get off the ground there, and it’s the annual Youth Word Up project that I deliver for Off the Shelf Festival of Words – this year will be its 7th year, which I can’t believe!

With HashtagNofilter now up and running, it’s time to start thinking about my writing again which has taken a back seat for quite a while. I’ve got a poetry getaway planned for early November which I’m so glad I spent the time to sort before I got busy. I knew it would be much needed by then (I already feel it is now!) Other possible happenings in the pipeline, but for now, I hope you’re enjoying the autumn, or another season, depending on where you are in the world!

I’ll leave you with this stunning poem from a wonderful young poet, Warda Yassin, who I’ve been working with for 5 years now. Finally, her confidence has broken through to the other side, and her work is now being recognised (She won a Poetry Business New Poet’s Award 2018) Enjoy! (Click image).

Studio Faire Residency

I’m not long back from a creative residency at the wonderful Studio Faire in the South of France, working on a new project with fellow creative, Justine Gaubert – copywriter, social entrepreneur and good friend for some years. The time away was much needed and gave us the space and focus to get cracking on a new project we’re working on together looking at all things relating to neurodiversity and creativity.

There’ll hopefully be writings, musings, podcast discussions and interviews and we hope to create a space to explore ideas, strategies and research. Exciting stuff! More info coming soon. The rather amusing photo was taken by Colin Usher, co-founder/owner of Studio Faire, and no word of a lie, the dogs, Becca and Dougie, got so, shall we say, ‘excited’ (well Dougie anyway) with our laughing during the shoot, he let us all know. Classic!

I highly recommend Studio Faire to any writers, artists, musicians, any kind of creatives, as a place to find space to start a new project, work on an existing project, or just make space to start thinking about the next one and recharge your creative battery. It’s owned and run by the wonderful and relaxed Julia and Colin, both creatives themselves. www.studiofaire.co.uk

halfway smile is here :)

halfway smile is here and available to buy! I have so much enjoyed editing this wonderful collection of 73 pieces of poetry, short story and flash by emerging South Yorkshire young writers (14+). The range and quality is really up there and among them are Hive award winners Warda Yassin, Eloise Unerman and Georgie Woodhead, and the winners of our inaugural Hive Young Writers’ Competition, open to young writers from across the region. Do grab yourself a copy and support us (Hive) to continue supporting young writers.

More info here.

70 years of the NHS

A massive Happy Birthday to the NHS for being amazing full stop but also saving my life in 2015 and giving me superb treatment for breast cancer. 

My treatment was gruelling at times and lasted for a whole year, but I met so many incredible doctors, nurses and hospital staff, even down to cleaners. Sheffield’s Weston Park cancer hospital is amazing and the staff, many of whom have worked there for many, many years, are so dedicated and good-spirited despite the difficulty of working on the front line for cancer.

We are immensely lucky to have our health service and boy, when you really need it, then you know what appreciation for it is. All of us, if we ever get ill, especially with something like cancer, we want to know there is a multidisciplinary team made up of everyone from oncologists to radiologist to surgeons to research nurses meeting to discuss and make decisions on each patient individually. We really do have the very best care, as good as anything private.

It blows me away what the NHS did for me and I know if I get ill again in future, I’ll once again be lucky enough to be in their care. At least I hope! Happy 70th, here’s to another 70 and to keep going when I’m long gone!

Here’s Harry Leslie, Barnsley War veteran, remembering life and social health care (there wasn’t any) before the NHS. And the first days of the NHS.