As has become tradition for bloggers, I wanted to share the highlights of my writing year. But to do so with any integrity, I must first acknowledge what a difficult year it has been. So, if you are here for light and highs, please skip to the list.
Rarely have I experienced the world as such a fractured place as in 2023. My dad died in February after many years with Parkinson’s and dementia. People who have lost a parent know that the ground you thought you were walking on shifts abruptly. Nothing is the same.
World events continue to bruise every part of my life and sense of self; war in Sudan, the Israeli State’s genocidal actions in Gaza, the brutal attacks by Hamas, the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the failure of governments to tackle the climate emergency. The Global North’s culpability and complicity is present in most of these atrocities. They bleed into my current writing. There is so much blood that often I cannot see to the end of the sentence. I’m in awe of writers who can digest the chaos and work up something publishable, pertinent and affective with such rapidity. For me, there is a lag, but I know that lag is important.
What does it mean to produce a list of highlights in this time? To be in a position to do so? As a white, economically and educationally middle-class woman living in the Global North, I am protected from most of the ill effects of colonial projects, past and present. Palestinian Poet, Noor Hindi’s words come to mind:
Colonisers write about flowers
I tell you about children throwing rocks at Israeli tanks
seconds before becoming daisies!
What does it mean to work creatively with communities and other artists in this context? I can’t answer that. But I do know that the projects I mention, small as many of them are, were born of partnership, affinity with causes, groups and places. They were born of a desire for social justice through education and writing. I know that they have helped me find my way this year, and think that they have helped others to do the same. I post them here, hoping there is a seed of value in them for you.
Highlights of my writing year
- My Sisters Hugged me to Work – a poetry and multi-art textile piece created with textile artist Becky Moore for Any Work that Wanted Doing. Curated by Gill Crawshaw, this art exhibition deals with the lives of disabled millworkers and was created by disabled artists. There is still time to see it at the Leeds Industrial Museum as it will be on display in January. Read about the process, research and ideas behind the project here (scroll to the bottom of the page for the blogs). More on this partnership in 2024.
- A Plot is Hatched in Gildersome – a Leeds 2023 project working with Get Together Gildersome on ideas for a story about the village’s subversive history as the centre of a plot to overthrow the Church and Parliament in 1663. Research for the story was heavily reliant on the fantastic Gildersome.net website. Listen to the story here.
- Walking Poetry – Another Leeds 2023 project. With members of Alwoodley group Walkabout, I led a walk around Eccup Reservoir during which we shared snippets of history and our sensory impressions of the environment. Afterwards I brought together walkers’ observations to reflect the collective experience of the walk in a poem. Look out for a copy of this on my Commissions page soon.
- Festival bard of Alwoodley for Leeds 2023 – the second half of Alwoodley Festival of Sports and Games saw me travelling round various venues dressed in a wacky combination of sports gear. I chatted to people about sports they loved and watched them in action, producing poetic reportage to document the day. You can read this on my Commissions page.
- InDivisible anthology – creative writing by writers with invisible disabilities. News of inclusion in this Commonword publication was sent pre-Covid and the book was finally published in early 2023. I was delighted that Commonword featured two of my poems and to sit with fellow LLC poet Cath Nichols at Manchester Poetry Library for the launch. Buy a copy here.
- Writing on Air Festival – Host Michelle Scally Clarke invited me to take part in the Clear out your Closet performance. I was reading alongside writers who have participated in my workshops and courses and are now well-respected poets. This was a nourishing and visceral reminder of how we co-create what Joelle Taylor calls the ‘ecosystem’ of poetry.
7. First Story residency – this is my third year in residency at Feversham Girls Academy, a Muslim School a sledge ride from where I grew up in Undercliffe, Bradford. We began with stories about class journeys on different forms of transport and are working towards producing an anthology. It is always rewarding to work with new writers and with First Story, a charity that is passionate about the transformative possibilities of creative writing for young people.
8. Writing in Worthing – my cousin kindly let me stay at her flat on the coast in Worthing in April while she was away. I so valued the opportunity to spend the week working on the writing project, which will be ongoing in 2024, reading and allowing myself space to grieve for my dad.
9. Congregation of Words – Caitlin Stobie and I brought together writers from the Creative Writing Pathway at the Lifelong Learning Centre and the BA in English Literature with Creative Writing for their first collaboration. Students performed together at the Leeds Lit Fest. The event was packed with a range of genres, styles, and people – some audience members even viewing from The Leeds Library balcony.
10. Creative Writing Pathway Lead at the Lifelong Learning Centre – a role I have held since September 2019, albeit with a different official job title! After two decades as a freelancer, working in an academic institution has been illuminating. I have been privileged to work alongside colleagues whose commitment to social justice and inclusive education aligns with my own. The parts of my role I have enjoyed involved teaching and supporting students from Leeds communities and different degree programmes. But the desire for more space and time to write has become more and more overwhelming. I decided to leap. I’m proud of what I achieved while in the post and am pleased to have left in a positive way.
So, what’s next? In the near future, I plan to focus on my writing and freelance work. I’ll also be taking a French class and time to rest. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Here’s to a more peaceful 2024.