I’m really happy to have my flash, Recall, published at Bull. It’s one of a series of prison flashes I am working on which are inspired by some of the men I’ve met while working in an open prison but are completely fictional.
I work in a prison library and alongside all usual library duties, I also run a creative writing group. I began it a couple of years ago when some of the prisoners said they’d really enjoyed a one-day poetry workshop and would appreciate the opportunity for a more regular creative outlet. As a writer and editor, I figured it was something I could offer to add value to our library. And so it began…
When I can, I run the group weekly. Each session begins with the men reading out the previous week’s homework – if they want to and if they have done it, neither homework nor sharing is compulsory. Then I set a writing exercise using prompts and the guys write for about 10 minutes and again share that work. I finish up by reading a story, usually flash, that highlights something we’re working on, or is simply good, and set the following weeks homework.
The trickiest thing is trying to make sure the exercises are enjoyable for everyone as there is such a wide variety of men who join. I like to think I create a safe space. Once you start writing and sharing work you reveal something of yourself and I have consistently been impressed by the respect and support these guys offer each other. I’ve been lucky enough to have some excellent people take part. I’ve been moved to tears by some of the stories and moved to laughter by others.
I was invited to give a presentation on running a creative writing group last year at the Prison Libraries Training Day held by CILIP which was well received. This month I was delighted to discover I have won the Excellence in Prison Libraries Award 2020 and one of the reasons given was because after my presentation several other prison libraries began creative writing groups. I’m so unbelievably chuffed. I truly believe creative writing is a powerful thing to do in a prison – or anywhere! Writing can be cathartic. It can be healing. It can be a release for all sorts of emotion. It can also be daft, shallow, and just for fun.
Anyway, I’m showing off and popping this here:
Excellence in Prison Libraries Award 2020 winner
The CILIP Prison Libraries Group is delighted to announce that the 2020 Excellence in Prison Libraries Award has been won by HMP Ford for its “Well-being Through Creative Writing” project. The project was devised and is run by Sara Crowley, Senior Library Assistant at HMP Ford. Sara is also a writer and Managing Editor of Forge literary magazine.
The project began as a six-week trial but became so successful that the group now runs weekly. They meet in the library and, as well as exploring creative writing, they also discuss reading. Sara is keen to point out that it’s not all serious – “we play word games, enjoy puns, tell jokes and laugh a lot. The men learn to express themselves better which is a useful transferable skill.”
The reaction from the men involved has been overwhelmingly positive:
“It’s been a great release for my stress. I’m so grateful.”
“It’s very calming and helps my mental health.”
“It gives me a means to reflect creatively; managing my emotions.”
“It’s a nice break from prison each week with the ability to unload in a safe space.”
Participants are encouraged to share their work if they wish to and some have entered national writing competitions – one member of the group won the East Riding Poetry competition.
The group has also been visited by some high-profile poets and writers, including Simon Brett, who have shared their knowledge and expertise.
The judges were particularly impressed with the way that this project works in a variety of situations. Sara has done sessions with literacy classes in the prison and with groups of library users “outside.”
Sara was invited to give a presentation on running creative writing groups at the Prison Libraries Group training day in 2019. She outlined the activities of her group and then engaged the delegates in various word play activities to show how easy it is to create stories. As a result of this presentation, several prison libraries have started groups based on this model.
This is an excellent example of how a project can inspire not just those taking part in it but can also reach out to a wider audience.
CILIP Prison Libraries Group – firstname.lastname@example.org
I have a new story, Looking Back, up at Pithead Chapel. Please do read if you are so inclined. And massive thanks to those of you who have already read and tweeted and shared. Writing often feels like screaming into a void to me, so it was pretty intoxicating to get such a good response to this one. It’s a stonking issue featuring brilliant words from Megan Pillow Davis, Bradford Philen and Tara Isabel Zambrano, so even if you don’t like my piece I guarantee there’s something you will enjoy.
I’m chuffed to have a flash of mine published at The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. If you’d like to you can read it here
I am a flash fiction writer, a short story writer, a lover of concise, neat, clear prose, and I am trying to write a novel. I want to complete a first draft by the end of the year; it’s a challenge I have issued myself — can you actually do this? Nobody else cares whether or not I can, my friends and family will love me just the same. My job remains satisfying. My life rolls on, nothing changes. For me, though, I care deeply that I do this. I have been telling stories since before I could read and I don’t want to only tell the short ones. There’s nothing comparable to the pleasure of immersing myself in an engaging, layered novel and I want to see if I can create one of those. I have read lots of advice from successful novelists and they all tell of the crappy first draft — it’s essential, it’s necessary. For the first time ever I am ignoring my bad writing and resisting the urge to edit endlessly — that way I get stuck and I must keep moving forward. I am taking part in #100DayofWriting and am grateful for the camaraderie around that. It’s comforting seeing other writers posting woes similar to mine.
One giant issue is procrastination. I don’t understand why knowing I want to write I then spend ways filling my time so I can’t do it. The floor needs washing, there’s endless laundry, I’ll reply to this email and read subs for FLM and constantly chase this mythical FREE TIME when the conditions will be perfect for writing. Of course, we all know there are no perfect conditions. We have to make time. I tried free writing, handwriting (ouch), taking time off work, lighting a beautifully scented candle to trigger creative memory (which smells great and I did write when I lit it and dutifully extinguished it at the end of my sessions, but I don’t want to need a candle). Anyway, as my Day 42 of 100 Days post, I thought I’d share the very ordinary solution I have found. I used to be a late night writer. I would stay up and write and write in the solitude, darkness and quiet of the night, but now I am middle-aged and I get so damn tired. I have nothing much to offer in the evening creatively, so I have flipped everything around. Instead of spending the day racing through chores to get to the time I can write only to find I am exhausted, I write first thing. I don’t open the curtains – I keep the cosy darkness. I try to avoid the morning gubbins that goes on in my house with three adult males getting ready for work, but even if I do get sucked in, it’s ok. When they leave I head back to bed with my laptop and sit in the dark and write. I don’t get a huge word count down, 500 words or so, but it’s something. I am inching forwards. It takes the pressure off the day too. I have done my words, it’s all fine. Today I am not a failure. Tick. If I have time later and I want to write more I can. If I don’t, I have still succeeded. It feels like I trick myself into writing before I have a chance to worry about it. I go to sleep wondering what happens next and if I wake in the night I chase my night terrors away by thinking of where I’m going with the novel. None of this is groundbreaking, everyone has to find their own groove, but for now, I feel like I can get this first draft done. This fits with my work shifts as I work afternoons/evenings most times. The day I start first thing I struggle to get any words done, but hey, that’s ok if the rest of the week I do. I know where my characters are heading, I’m not entirely sure how they will get there. I’m not a planner, hey, I’m making this up as I go along, which, y’know, is what it’s about, right?
My first online blogging was done via LiveJournal way back whenever. I had a small group of readers whose LJ’s I also read. We commented on each other’s posts and it all felt cosy and fun. I was a little wary about being discovered so I used a pseudonym and fake names for all the folk I wrote about, but otherwise it was truth all the way. Then I set up “A Salted”, a blog in which I discussed working in a big bookshop and writing and reading. It was less gossipy than LJ, but still it was definitely a personal blog. Then came this one. I have way more publications to my name and I wanted to feature them and promote my writing. I also review books. Sometimes I interview other writers, beginning the Smash Lits interviews because I get so incredibly bored by all the writer blog tours. I prefer to read blogs that make me feel I am reading about a person. I hate twitter accounts that are repeated links to someone’s writing and RT’s of praise and fake reviews. (Five *****’s to Sara Crowley’s extraordinary story!) Facebook pages full of dry self promotion. Blogs that drone on. Who cares?
I have become so cautious about what I say, I don’t tell the truth about my life to anyone really. I am fake and polite and careful at all times. What would happen if I told the truth? Oh my goodness, people might know how I feel and what’s going on, and then what? How…exposing.
We live at a time when I can watch “Reality” TV shows in which young people will have sex, get drunk, show their entire bodies, but never reveal themselves. It’s a curious honesty. Big Brother contestants sleep together unabashed, yet refuse to discuss whether or not they might date as if suggesting they might want a relationship opens them up to a potential embarrassment far greater than showing their genitalia to the cameras. It feels as if having sex with someone is fine, but wanting the hand-holding, chatty bit of a partnership is too much.
It’s six months since dad died and it very much feels like my life has divided into before he died and after. After has been miserable as hell. I look at pictures or think of things and go, ah, yeah, that was before dad died. That was before I lost the weird innocence I didn’t know I had.
My new job is great. It’s the one bright spot in an otherwise terrible year.
There are so many things I don’t talk about. I keep secrets and lock away so much sadness that I may explode.
People say you find out who your friends are in times of crisis. What if you find out you don’t have any?
At my dad’s funeral the church was full. He was such a friendly, popular guy many people wanted to pay their respects. I don’t know who would come to mine; not so many, that’s for sure. I went to a neighbour’s funeral last week. Her husband died 25 years ago and they didn’t have children. After all her struggles, her endurance, her keeping on with a smile and joke, life ended. That’s what it does. She was 96 and she had told me all her friends were dead, even the younger ones.
We get through our lives however we do, and it ends. That’s a certainty. I will die. You will die. Everyone we love will die. And in the meantime I’m alive, I’m sad, I’m pissed off, I’m increasingly afraid my life will end before I have written my fucking novel, I’m fat, flawed, exasperated, but I do my best to put some good out into the world, to be a decent person, to keep on keeping on even though the ground has turned out not to be solid and it all feels so bloody hard.
My most used saying of 2016 so far is, “It’s difficult…”
My brother sent me an email about a twunty colleague of his and I liked some of his lines so much I took ’em and turned them into a flash which the lovely folk at The Pygmy Giant have just published. It was fun to try and write in my brother’s voice and shape it into a wee story; I just hope his workmate doesn’t happen upon it and recognise himself.
Massive thanks to FRiGG’s editor, Ellen Parker, for just getting it. She made a few suggestions for edits which so improved the story that if I were given three wishes my first would be that Ellen Parker would read everything I ever write and perform the same magic. (My second and third would be, y’know, world peace and all that.)