Excellence in Prison Libraries Award 2020

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.

Contacts:

CILIP Prison Libraries Group – info.prlg@cilip.org.uk

LitCamp – Yay!

Lovely, lovely Pulp Net are organising a fantastic event on 12th September at London Metropolitan University. The programme is packed full of writerly delights:

LitCamp
Programme
10.30-11.00
Arrival/Coffee/Intro/Sign-up for Evening Session/10-minute Zone

11.30am-1pm
The first page
Bridget Whelan offers a confidence-building session that allows you to discover the writer within. Imaginative exercises to help you to find inspiration in the ordinary, create characters that live and breathe and encourage you to take risks with your writing. (prose – all levels)

Getting inside the editor’s head
Rosalind Porter, senior editor with Granta magazine, Laura Barber of Portobello Books, and Tom Chalmers of Legend Press open the lid on publishing from the editor’s Point of view. Later in the session we hear from agent Hannah Westland of Rogers Coleridge & White about where she, as an agent, fits into that process. (fiction – advanced)

Finding, or inventing, the right place for your work
Dr Sarah Law, poet and tutor at London Metropolitan University, talks with Les Robinson, director of Tall Lighthouse Press, and poet Maggie Butt about innovative ways for young poets to drive their careers forward, including poetry in galleries. (poetry)

Buffet lunch provided. Time to meet and mingle, browse the book table, take part in the 10-minute Zone, or use the Writing Room – perhaps even draft a fresh piece for the Evening Session.

1.30-2.30pm
10-Minute Zone
A space for informal discussion on writing related topics of relevance to LitCampers. Signup on the day, or just show up. Speakers have 4 mins, then it’s open to the floor for debate, questions. Change of topic every 10 minutes. Runs at lunch /recesses, or whenever, for people seeking an interactive space. Powerpoint accommodated.

Writing Room
A quiet space open all day for a break, reading etc. Laptops may be used, internet access tbc.

2.30-3.30pm
From Wannabe to Published
Not every would-be writer successfully manages this transition, but Jane Wenham-Jones has done. The novelist, freelance journalist and non-fiction author has lots of very realistic tips to offer writers who are just starting out. (cross-genre)

DIY Book: a self-publisher’s story – Paul Ewen
Paul, whose short fiction book London Pub Reviews is stocked in indie bookshops across London, shares his experiences. This session covers the basic steps you must be prepared to go through if you choose the self-publish route. Come prepared to work hard! (short fiction)
“Paul Ewen is the funniest new writer I have read in years. Join him on his one man Campaign for Surreal Ale.” – Toby Litt

3.30-4.15pm
Poetry workshop with Sarah Law
An exercise based workshop designed to strengthen writing abilities for anyone new to poetry or needing fresh inspiration. Sarah Law has published two collections of poetry with Stride. Her third, Perihelion, is published by Shearsman Books. (poetry – all levels)

The short story path to success – Vanessa Gebbie
A writer who has won many awards for her stories and whose first short fiction collection Words From A Glass Bubble was recently published by Salt Books, Vanessa shares ideas on developing your writing strategy, the importance of networking, and whether to blog. (short fiction – all levels)

How to make a living while you write
Earn a living while you draft and revise your magnum opus. Bridget Whelan teaches at City Lit and Goldsmiths College, London. Her first novel A Good Confession is soon to be published by Severn House and she is also the author of a short book Make Money from Your Writing. (cross-genre)

4.15-5pm Coffee break + 10-minute Zone continues

5pm-5.45pm
Willesden Green Writers Group
The very first time that this group published a book of its members’ work, they won a prestigious award. Here to share practical methods for how to set up a successful writer-led group are Anne Mullane and Bilal Ghafoor who is editing their next book. (cross-genre)

The Last Page
Farahad Zama and Nicholas Hogg discuss the challenges of completing a first novel, and ways of managing plot to ensure the final cut is one that works for readers. Nicholas is the author of Show Me the Sky, and Farahad’s forthcoming novel The Marriage Bureau for Rich People will be published in 2009 by Little Brown. (novel)

Drinks reception sponsored by London Metropolitan University

The Evening Session
(6ish-8pm) Katy Darby (of Liars League) introduces an eclectic mix of writers drawn from LitCampers whose names we’ve yet to discover. Sign up early to get a spot. Also featuring: Paul Ewen, Jay Bernard, Farahad Zama, Vanessa Gebbie, Bridget Whelan, Anne Mullane, Nicholas Hogg, Maggie Butt, Bilal Ghafoor…

Tickets, inclusive of refreshments, cost £36 full price, or £27 for the early 25% off rate (quota-based). Places are limited, to ensure your place please complete sign-up.

Hope you noticed that friend of this blog Vanessa Gebbie will be sharing some of her wisdom on the day.

Brilliant post by Jenn Ashworth

I read this today over at Every Day I Lie A Little. 

MA in ‘Creative’ Writing.

I am starting a MA in creative writing. You can apply for it by emailing me and if I accept you, you will be allowed to drink my tea at my house and do all the modules. It will cost £3085 and the learning will be ‘experiential’.

Module 1: Dealing with Rejection

I will lock you in my cellar and scream ‘you are crap’ at you at random intervals. Sometimes I will throw things. Every now and again I will come down into the cellar and give you a cuddle and stroke your hair. I will say, ‘such talent!’ and when you are relaxed and smiling I will quickly punch you in your stomach and say ‘but still crap!’

Module 2: Writing Process

I will tie you to my writing chair. I might let you have a cushion. You are allowed to get up to go to the bathroom and to drink water. But nothing else. Your phone will beep a lot and eventually the friends you are ignoring will get angry with you, give up, and go away. When you are trying to write I will randomly delete paragraphs of your work and whisper things like ‘all your friends think you are a pillock’ into your ears.

Module 3: Drafting

Every time you write something I will print it out and show it to all my friends. We will sit in a pub and laugh at it. We will make notes on it in coloured pens. Everything we write will be instructions on how to make it better. We will send you back the pages. You won’t be able to read our writing. You will need to implement all the suggestions into future drafts, even when they are contradictory. We will print out your future drafts and take them back to the pub. This will take a very long time.

Module 4: Publicity and Promotion

I will teach you how to Google yourself. You will do this every day, until you are banned from using the computer at work. At the end of the course you will have to drink a bottle of gin and then read your work to me. I will talk loudly and send text messages to random people while you are reading. I will ask you to sign your book and then sell it on ebay. I will send you the ebay link. No-one will buy your book even though the bidding starts at 1p and the postage is free.

There might be some more modules. I am not sure yet. For the full MA experience I will loose your final submission and give you a certificate I made on MS Word and laminated at work. I will look you up a few years later and me and all my friends will tell you you can’t write because you did my MA course and you now sound just like everyone else who has done it. Then I will ask you for some more money in return for providing ‘editorial help’ with your manuscript.


Jenn Ashworth is very funny and clever, and this sounds like an excellent course for any budding writers. 
You can also find Jenn and her lies at Sh

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