I recently met up with Steve Dearden of the Writing Squad to try to get a handle on what they did and how they could work with libraries. My thanks to Steve for so patiently explaining things that it became a blog post. He's a lovely guy and the Writing Squad clearly do great work. What do they do? Well, strange you should ask ....
What we do …
Our mission is simple, to create the next generation of writers in the
Every two years we recruit 30 writers aged 16-21 who live, work or study in
the North of
England and offer them workshops
led by professional writers as well as 1-1 support from our Core Team. Making
up that team along with me are poet Helen Mort, novelist Jenn Ashworth and writer/artist
After the two year programme we
continue to offer writing and professional development as our ‘grads’ begin
their careers. We help them establish
themselves as individual artists, collectives or new start up companies. We
link them with the literature industry and independent sector, while encouraging
them to produce and distribute work themselves, and of course they become part
of the wider Squad - a community of artists who support each other's
We also set up projects with
partners like Read Manchester, Manchester Literature Festival and Hull
Libraries to give our grads the commissions and work experience they need to
get a track record, build their CV and secure further work. Increasingly we
have become the go to organisation for people looking for emerging writers -
this is perhaps not the happiest example, but the day after the Manchester
Arena attack, Le
Monde got in touch to ask us to find a writer to capture the city’s mood.
How have we done?
We have worked with 179 writers in 8 Squads since
2001 and are still in contact with 123 of them.
Over the last year we have given support to 93.
33 of the 179 currently make
all, or a substantial part of their living through writing or cultural activities as theatre/TV/film
scriptwriters, theatre makers, band members, performance artists, journalists, copy and content
writers, a game writer, a translator, a radio drama producer.
29, while not making significant
income, have become recognised as emerging poets, prose writers, playwrights,
film writers and makers, songwriters, publishers and performers.
Visit our website to meet
some of our writers, see where they have ended up and even buy their books,
songs and magazines.
What distinguishes us from other writer development
Our support is rigorous and long
term, we can work with a writer over a period of 2-12 years as and when they
need it. What we offer is shaped by the
constant renewal of their needs, ambitions and circumstances. We work around
their life circumstances, where they are, what they are up to, their physical
and mental health.
We are early adopters, fleet of
foot, a virtual organisation enabled by technology. For us building is a verb, not a noun,
our assets are people and time, so our Arts Council England National Portfolio
funding goes into activity rather than overheads.
If someone comes to us with new
challenges or interesting partnership ideas - we tend to say yes.
What can we offer libraries and librarians?
Passionate writers and readers
with experience of working with the public. Writers and readers who can be role
models for young library users and offer fresh perspectives to adults or all
As more of our grads are published or produced we can broker visits to
readers and book groups. They can share
their own work with you, but also talk about their reading. I am constantly
being nudged away from the known, familiar and already well promoted else by
their eclectic tastes, as well as re-exploring the classics I read at their
age, but in the context of today.
We are always on the
look out for projects that
give our writers experience - whether that is simply offering a workshop for
your users, or something more creative - for instance we have set up and run
library based young writer groups in Manchester and Hull, made a film as part
of an intergenerational workshop in Leeds, spent a weekend at John
Rylands Library exploring what it is like to write on things other than paper -
glass, bone, china for instance. We have supplied menu poems for a restaurant,
made online soundscapes for the Amy Johnston Festival, and been writers in
residence in a bank.
Obviously we know our writers and will only recommend people up to the
job! And it is a job for them, they are emerging professional writers, so this
isn’t a free service, we would want them to be paid unless there was a significant
advantage - a guaranteed sale of their books, or a professional development
experience they could not get elsewhere.
So if you have an idea you want to talk through or are looking for
exciting writers at the beginning of their careers, then please do get in
Director, The Writing Squad