Posts in Opinion

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

Posted Wednesday 13 September 2017 by Ian Anstice in Opinion

WS Logo

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

Get yourself addicted

Posted Wednesday 6 September 2017 by Ian Anstice in Opinion

Addiction

Get yourself addicted

There’s a lot of addictions in this world and most of them are pretty bad for you. I for one eat far too many biscuits that are advisable for a man of my age. But there’s one addiction that I’m proud of and isn’t bad for you. And that’s reading books.

Can you read too many books? I don’t think you can. The worst that can happen to you is that your knowledge increases and you’re suddenly able to spell more words than you could beforehand. Employers will gaze in wonder at your applications and relatives will bow down to your knowledge. Moreover, a good novel – or, hey, any Captain Underpants title –  will allow you to get into the mind of someone in a way that a film or anything else does not. A story gives you the very thoughts of a person in a way that even the best actor finds hard to convey. You see their feelings. In fact, in the hands of a good author, you become the character, at least for a little while. Fancy being a pirate? Or want to understand what it’s like being from a different culture or country? Well, now you can. And, today, when it seems all about “us” and “them”, this ability cannot be over-rated. Empathy is the thing.

Speaking of over-rated, sure, a film has a lot of special effects but that’s nothing compared to a good book. Read and you get full surround-sound 360 degrees vision and the best special effects you can have, because they’re not on your eyeball, they’re in your head. Even virtual reality is only as good as the designer, while there is some sort of strange magic in the book that connects directly to the imagination neurons on the brain.

And that’s a thing, books may be one of our older forms of communication but they’re still one of the best. Time travel is possible in a book. Instantaneous travel anywhere in the universe can go on amongst its pages. Fall in love on a spaceship or discover a new way of thinking over a couple of bits of paper.

So, today, take up a book. You should have one or be able to buy one. Or, if not, borrow one from the library, either by going there or online these days, and grab yourself a moment. Six minutes is enough to reduce your stress (here’s the research) and if you’ve got a kid, ten minutes can change their life (here’s some more).

So, read a book today. And get addicted. In a good way

.

Protest: Stories of Resistance in the North West

Posted Wednesday 12 July 2017 by Becky Harrison in Opinion

From the Peasants’ Revolt, all the way through to the anti-Iraq War demo in 2003, people from all walks of life in Britain have been marching, picketing and occupying their way to social justice and, while recorded history favours the rich and powerful, it is often the overlooked grassroots movements that incited the dialogue for change.

Peasant's Revolt: It's all over for Wat Tyler

Protest: Stories of Resistance celebrates these marginal histories, bringing together authors and historians (or real witnesses in the case of the recent protests) to explore over 6 centuries of people power through factually-accurate fiction. Many of these protests have their origins in the North West, so as a publisher whose proud home is that very region, we’re delighted to be able to bring these stories to national and international audience.

Sandra Alland’s story, for example, excavates the little-known history of The National League of the Blind, the first union ever based on an identity, rather than a profession. Set in a blind persons’ asylum in Manchester in the early 20th Century - where people were overworked, underpaid, and often abused in the name of “charity” - the story leads up to the monumental National Blind March, which saw people join together in protest from Manchester, Liverpool, Oldham, and even as far as Dublin. A funny and sharp-tongued story, ‘Kick Start’ not only brings to light the unfair conditions for blind people at that time, but also examines the other ways that people were marginalized, as the women were not allowed to march with the men.

The significance of Manchester to the Women’s Suffrage Movement is no secret, but Michelle Green’s story goes behind closed – locked, actually – doors into a prison cell, where women were taken after being arrested for doing whatever means necessary to get the vote. Inspired by the likes of working class Suffragettes like Annie Kenney, ‘There Are Five Ways Out of This Room’ paints a picture of mistreatment, solitude, but inevitably, hope.

Canal StreetManchester’s Gay Village as a symbol of freedom of expression is used to literal effect in Juliet Jacques’ story ‘Never Going Around’, which follows a young student who moves to the city, and in doing so begins to not only embrace his identity, but fight for it as well. 2017 may well mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of being gay in the UK, but the infamous Section 28 act, which banned schools and local councils from the “promotion” of homosexuality is still in very recent memory, only being dropped in the early 2000s. This story shows the enduring spirit of the LGBT community in the North West, and reminds us how far we’ve come, and how far we also need to go.

The Big Issue described Protest as providing a ‘glimmer of hope and inspiration’ in today’s political climate, and we hope that the stories in the anthology further serve to inspire and unify the people of the North West. We’d recommend this to readers who like political or historical fiction, short stories, or non-fiction and memoir, as well as anyone with a taste for revolution.

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Becky Harrison is the Engagement Manager of Comma Press, overseeing marketing and publicity campaigns, as well as managing the National Creative Writing Graduate Fair, the annual event for aspiring writers which will return to MMU in November.

Review of the year...

Posted Tuesday 10 January 2017 by Melanie Graaf in Events, Opinion

Bolton librarian Melanie Graaf looks back at some of the author events in 2016...

As we leave 2016 behind us and go onwards into 2017, we can reflect on some of the debut authors that have visited our town and have subsequently become bestsellers.

Debut writers from previous years have included Paula Hawkins with Girl on the Train, now an international success both as book and film. SJ Watson also came to Bolton Library to promote his first novel Before I Go to Sleep, which later became a bestselling book and film.

Last year we had a number of fabulous debut authors. In January, Gulwali Passarlay spoke about his book The Lightless sky: An Afghan refugee boy’s journey of escape to a new life. This was a very moving event, particularly as Gulwali had lived and gone to school in Bolton, and there were many familiar faces in the audience. A comment from an attendee -“A very important talk –inspirational, celebrating what is good about living in Bolton.”

For World Book Day in March we had a very special evening with Liverpool writer John Donoghue. John’s book The Death’s Head Chess Club was not only an amazing and poignant read; his presentation on researching for the book was thought provoking and this was reflected in the feedback we received –“Very enjoyable speaker –totally on edge of seat listening to talk –learned such a lot.”

In April we hosted a crime double bill with authors Renee Knight, promoting her novel Disclaimer and Fiona Barton talking about The Widow.  The event was much enjoyed by those who attended – “Fantastic event; thank you very much!” "Great to see such brilliant writers in Bolton.” Both writers went on to become bestsellers with film or TV rights being snapped up and both books have continued to fly off the library shelves.

Canadian writer Shari Lapena visited us in July, promoting her well written, dark psychological thriller The Couple Next Door. One of our customers who came to the event said “Very well organised. It was a good idea to have someone to ask the author questions, as well as letting the author do so. As a lifetime Bolton resident, I really appreciate this and other services provided by the library service".

In addition to our 2016 debut authors we can’t complete our end of year events round up without mentioning our crime royalty event with international bestselling author Michael Connelly in October. This superstar author is hugely popular with library users and we had a wonderful turn-out with fabulous reviews - “Fantastic. Can’t believe such a world renowned author came to Bolton.”

Look out for our next author events in 2017 – crime writer Joseph Knox - Sirens (January) romance writer Cathy Bramley - White Lies and Wishes (February) and medieval thriller writer Karen Maitland–The Plague Charmer ( March).

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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