Last year on Saturday 7th March, a group of writers and bibliophiles met at The Leeds Library, a protected building in Leeds that has been a working library since 1768. The Leeds Lit Fest was one of the last cultural events many of us were part of before the first Covid-19 lockdown. As such, it seems even more precious than it did then.
The idea was suggested by one of the Speaking to the Shelves participants and I put it to Carl Hutton, the Chief Executive, that the library do something similar. Carl asked if I would be willing to lead the workshop and, with an excited gulp, I agreed.
People loved the idea, one having yearned to spending a night in a library since they were a child. Poet Jo Bell, who has run all-night workshops before, kindly offered advice – wear warm clothing, snack a lot, keep hydrated, and give your voice regular rests, for example.
Most of us who gathered there with our sleeping bags were trepidatious, all were thrilled as the experiment began. When designing writing activities, I had drawn inspiration from the library’s collections. Particularly apt was the 19th Century Mysticism section with its accounts of mesmerism, dream interpretation and ghosts. Indeed, at the stroke of midnight we sat in darkness as Carl told us the library’s ghost story of Vincent Sternberg, the head librarian that still haunts the building.
We spent a delicious evening together listening to hauntological recordings, writing about our dreams and insomnia, automatic writing under candlelight and even writing in the dark. I allowed a short rest and most people chose to get some sleep as I lullabied them with a guided meditation. Remarkably, even only after 2-3 hours kip, most writers woke refreshed – coffee helped! There was a sense of calm in the room as we created an impromptu group piece and talked about how the lack of sleep had influenced how we wrote. Some writers found that they sped up, others that they slowed down or that sentences were different lengths or they wrote with a new perspective. Most of us agreed that we’d be interested in pushing the change in consciousness element further in future. (We had programmed in time for a sleep because we were aware that lack of sleep can impact on mental health).
For at least one of us, the night had been a dream come true. None of us experienced the ghost that night but, sadly, the spectre of the lockdown was already present for this last literary hurrah before lockdown.
This year we are faced with a different scenario. It’s impossible to meet in the library and to recreate a similar experience. But the online world offers other opportunities and those adventurers who are willing to join us will explore some of these in this year’s workshop Adventures of the Night.
Inspiration for Adventures of the Night
Since childhood, I’ve been interested in choose your own adventure stories and back in 2005 I proposed a choose your own adventure installation at the Yorkshire Art Circus. (The idea wasn’t taken up but one day I still hope to bring it into being). As a writer of fiction, I enjoy the process of experimenting with different plot options and am aware that a story does have multiple endings and middles and beginnings – in the mind of the reader and the writer if not literalised on the page.
Choose your own adventure stories question the idea of one trajectory and offer alternatives. The more we understand that we live in a pluralist world and that there are alternative ways of viewing it, that looking at something differently can help solve problems and lead to a more inclusive and creative future, the more this type of story seems appropriate.
Two years ago I took over the teaching of the module, Using Stories to Develop Learning at the University of Leeds’ Lifelong Learning Centre. Beccy Stirrup, my predecessor, who has plenty of experience of digital storytelling, had designed the module. One of the forms we cover is interactive digital fiction. Then, in 2020, The Leeds Big Bookend made the best of the dire Covid situation in putting on the online workshop Interactive Fiction with Krishan Coupland. Later in the year, Kim Moore took an imaginative spin on asking audiences what they want to hear at readings when she polled her Zoom listeners about which pathway they wanted to take in her fab Everyday Sexism events, which served as public launches for her PhD.
When Carl asked if I’d like to run an online overnight workshop for this year’s Leeds Lit Fest, it struck me that what many of us are missing is being with others and the sense of community. Online events have done a lot to meet that human need for connection and I really wanted this workshop to bring people together. I’ve often worked with groups to create group pieces so why not create an interactive digital story as a group? The Leeds Lit Fest took me up on it and the workshop is running on March 7th this year from midnight until six am. The results of our experiment will be hosted on their website. If you book, you will be asked to write parts of the story and help to structure it but I’ll be in charge of the techy bits i.e. making a basic story on Twine. I’m hoping it will be just as much fun as last year, if with a different flavour.
Details for Adventures of the Night
An interactive overnight workshop with Becky Cherriman
A group of people meet at midnight. Where do they meet, why and what happens when they do?
You will answer these questions and others before embodying a character and shaping their path through this collective story. This interactive overnight workshop will take place online and the story will be constructed as a basic Twine story. The workshop welcomes multiple voices so there will be an opportunity to write in a range of forms and your own style. No experience of creative writing or technical skills are necessary other than the ability to join a Zoom session and to type.
Be prepared to take creative risks, write collaboratively and stay up till dawn. Bring your own snacks.
Sunday 7th March: midnight until six am.
Insomniacs and creative writers of any form are welcome. I promise I’ll mute any snorers (something you can’t do in a library).