When I was 10 years old, my primary school teacher said to the class, “I want you to write a story today. There aren’t any rules; no special words you have to use, or any particular grammar you should practise. Just write a story.”
It’s possible she didn’t have a lesson plan that day.
Nevertheless, it was an invitation I leapt on with fervour.
I remember the story I wrote that day. It was about a young girl travelling to another planet, where there were huge spiders that attached themselves to her face.
Yes, I know.
The teacher, instead of insisting that my parents come in for a chat about the sort of films I’d been watching, said that she liked my story. It was entertaining. It deserved to be read.
From that moment, I have been a writer. Her enthusiasm lit a spark in me. That school, nested at the bottom of a valley near Wrexham, has stayed with me too. It featured in my last novel for children, The Blackthorn Branch.
So, when Lancaster University offered me funding to collaborate with Wrexham Carnival of Words, I knew straight away that I wanted to give writers – young and grown-up – the opportunity to feel the joy of sharing their stories too.
We decided to run a series of in-person workshops over Easter, where participants would be invited to explore their dreams, wishes and memories of the places that mattered to them. They would turn them into poems or short stories.
The three sessions were a joy. Around 50 people attended and, of those, many who had only planned on chaperoning their youngsters found themselves, pen-in-hand, imagining what it might be like to step through a portal or find a magic glade. At the adult session, there were poems about loved ones – some far away, some right there in the room – that brought tears to my eyes when they were read aloud.
But, I didn’t want to stop there.
Since the pandemic, the world of work has shifted more firmly online than ever before. So, I wanted to give the participants the experience of working in the cloud, with an editor, to refine and polish their piece.
Luckily, Lancaster University was able to support the cost of an Editor, and the subsequent publication of the anthology we created too. We worked for six weeks, asynchronously, with the writers popping back online to fix a line or approve a correction; the Editor suggested small tweaks or asked for clarification, to make the pieces the best they could be. I was utterly thrilled that every single writer who came in-person also continued online – we didn’t lose anyone as we moved more high-tech!
From there, the manuscript was given a cover and sent to be printed. When I started, I wanted all the participants to feel the thrill of seeing their words in print, to know that they had crafted something entertaining, that deserved to be read. I hope the anthology has given that to them.
I’ve heard back from some of the writers, after they collected their personal copies of the book. The young people said things like, “It was an awesome experience” and “I’d like to do it all again”. One parent reports that her son has gone on to write more stories, another says her daughter was able to talk about her loss after writing about a recent bereavement.
Of the adults, one called the experience “priceless” and another intends to take a creative writing course later in the year.
Stories, writing them, sharing them, brought us together for a wonderful wee while this year.
I couldn’t be prouder of the writers behind our book, Big Stories, Written in Wrexham.
With enormous thanks to:
Wrexham Carnival of Words
The Librarians who hosted us so wonderfully
And all the brilliant participants.
Elen Caldecott is an author for young people. You can find our more about her work at www.elencaldecott.com