There’s nothing odd about the Squad: Steve Dearden on the Writing Squad

Posted 13 Sep 2017 by Ian Anstice in Opinion

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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 North.

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 Stevie Ronnie.

Steve DeardenAfter 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 development.

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 programmes? 

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 ages!

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 touch.

Steve Dearden

Director, The Writing Squad

www.writingsquad.com

North West Libraries

Librarians in the North West have pioneered partnership working to encourage new readers into libraries. Time To Read is a partnership of librarians engaged in reader development activity in public library authorities in the North West Region. 22 public library authorities in the region currently support Time To Read.

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