Writing during lockdown, together

Last night, the tenth session brought the weekly creative writing workshops to a close with some new, powerful work. Indeed, the pieces from Michael, Tess and Frances were among their best. I’ve been surprised at how fast their writing has developed. They’ve seen it too, and several writers spoke about what they have learned. Some of that is noticing the little habits or ticks all writers fall into, but much of it has come from a growing confidence in their distinctive voice. That, in turn, is the result of having their work listened to and appreciated by the group, as well as by Sonya and me. The writers have also become better, and more confident critics – in the best sense of the word – of one another’s work. Their feedback to each other is perceptive, always thoughtful and generous. 

The book they have created over the past few weeks is more than the sum of the parts. The themes and this time of lockdown make connections that echo and resonate between individual texts. This will be a multi-vocal book, like a radio play, that the reader will put down with the sense of having experienced a narrative, rather than a chance collection of texts. Growing out of affection for Boston and its surroundings, it will also mark how people have lived this painful, disconcerting period in our lives.

We’ll miss this Tuesday evening gathering. Last night, Jane spoke of having made friends, despite the workshop being held online; the nodding and laughter suggested that she’s not alone. Brian said he’d be the first to sign up when the next group of workshops is organised in the autumn. For now, we have a book to edit and publish, and it’s going to be a pleasure to work with the group on that. It will bring the project to a satisfying conclusion, and I’m happy that Transported and Writing East Midlands have committed to taking it forward with Sonya Hundal after that.

I was apprehensive before we began in January. That was partly the usual uncertainty that precedes every new project, at least for me. But I’d never tried to run a creative project entirely online, and even from another country. I had no idea how I’d establish working relationships without any physical presence. Time on Zoom feels very different, concentrated and intense, but equally capable of seeming endless if the connection – the human one, not the wifi – is lost. There were technical problems. Frances could only participate in the first workshop through the chat, and in his rural home Brian regularly lost us for a few seconds as his screen sent messages about an unstable internet connection. But we found solutions, including sending texts in advance, so that those with hearing difficulties could follow what they didn’t catch. More than anything, if this worked, it was because of the interest and generosity of the people in the group. Their enthusiasm and wish to write better was the energy that carried us through. When it appears this summer, their book will be show just what fine writers they are.

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