Independence Days Workshop – 4th July 2019

When Touchstones Creative Writing Group asked me to deliver a writing workshop on 4th July it was always going to be themed around Independence.

Photograph of Rochdale Town Hall

But I felt this workshop needed to be much wider than the best known “Independence Day” as celebrated and commemorated on this day in the USA so I brought along research about some of the 150+ other countries who also celebrate their independence on days throughout the year. Discussion included the easiest and most recent cases of countries gaining their independence and some cases where a country has gained independence more than once.

This led to discussion about various types of independence and what they mean to different people in order to help to inform some new writing.

I read a brand new poem titled “I can do it” written specially for this workshop and there were periods for writing and the participants shared their work with the group. The quality and variety of work was genuinely excellent, feedback was supportive and positive and it was a real pleasure to lead such a session.

The writers produced, poems, prose, factual accounts, a formal letter, a song and flash fiction. Topics covered included The American Civil War, children growing up, a granddaughter’s first steps, Zimbabwe, dementia, bravery, recovery from dependence on prescribed medication and a story about receiving a first pay packet. There was lots of discussion and reminiscence around the work shared in the room and I will certainly workshop around this theme again – even when it isn’t 4th July!

Perhaps the best feedback a facilitator can hope for is when a participant waits at the end of the session to explain how it has helped them. On this occasion a lady told me she had been blocked, unable to write, for the last 3 years after having trouble with physical illness but she had written two very promising and effective pieces during the session and she felt enthused and inspired and could not wait to get home to write some more. That is what creative writing groups like this aim to do, to provide the encouragement and support to enable people to enjoy their writing and develop skills and confidence and comments like these prove their worth.

Touchstones Creative Writing Group meet monthly from 2.00pm to 4.00pm on the first Thursday of the month at Touchstones on The Esplanade, Rochdale and sessions are led my professional writers.

Altrincham Word Fest 2019

Photograph of a mechanical pencil

I had been delighted to return to Coco’s Lounge in Altrincham, following a pre-festival gig in March, for the second edition of Word Fest.

Word Fest, curated by Anne Early and Yoko Islamic, focuses on writing and especially encouraging local people to start writing or develop their existing talents. The festival included a wide range of events including workshops, discussions, performances, writer talks and lots of chances to learn from experienced writers.

As a non-resident of the area it was a privilege to be asked back to host the open mic poetry evening and as I expected, based on previous experience, the quality and variety of work was excellent.

Kevin Bamford read poems covering diverse topics ranging from the countryside awakening in the spring and Brexit to a concertina workshop.

Fred Varden was driven to love whilst Driving Miss Nosey, and gave us a recipe for life and a tale of falling in love with a senior citizen.

Taking a brief one-night break, from supervising students on a school camp, Chris Bateman had the audience laughing with his tale about and unhelpful shop assistant “Pat at checkout 25”.

Alex Swinton, still a teenager, is a poet with a great future; a young man with his anger, and angst, inventing, venting and performing to great effect and with excellent wordplay.

Martin Zarrop a popular performer at previous Altrincham events, and a widely published poet, had snowmen dreaming of English Summer, wondered how one might reason with a bereaved in Troutman and even mentioned the ERG (another Brexit reference).

First time performer Caroline Melliar-Smith performed a piece about the dancer Isadora Duncan “The silk scarf” a well crafted story-telling poem and we hope to hear from her again.

Liz Smith read a poem about a guide dog who “wanted the last glimmer to last forever” and a second everyday dramas.

Tom Jenks is known as an experimental poet read his poem “Going off-piste with Pedersen with great phrases like “Crowther’s desktop wormery” and “unsolicited marsh mallows” and the audience were certainly entertained.

Whilst compering I took the opportunity to follow the performers with a few of my own poems; “Outside” and “Only in my dreams” and a poem which was so new it did not yet have a title – fortunately the audience didn’t feel the need for a title.

Many thanks once again to Anne and Yoko got organising this lovely, friendly and innovative festival and letting me be part of it. I’m already looking forward to a hoped-for 2020 version.