This is my seventh and final blog as guest blogger for Berwick Literary Festival. My debut gig as a literary festival blogger comes to a close. And as I reflect on this opportunity at the age of 58, it’s another indicator of… it’s never too late and you’re never too old.
This blog will cover four events at this year’s festival… on topics that I have some experience of… plays and prose and poetry. I will have had three short plays performed this year, one at the Live Theatre in Newcastle; I am involved in creative writing workshops for children at Live Tales, Newcastle; I still love to read fiction for children and I will have had two poems published in a local zine by Maybe Later Press this year. In fact, a lot has happened this year in my literary world.
Plays ~ Moth to the Flame
On Friday, 20 October I was at Torben Betts’ talk on Writing for Stage and Screen. Playwriting and plays are my passion now, so I was particularly interested in this event.
Torben began with: What the hell makes me do this? He had me at those words! And with his acerbic wit and droll delivery he proceeded to give us the answer… script writing allows him a freedom, and just like a moth to a flame, he is drawn to it, there’s nothing else he could do. Not through the want of trying though. He went to University; tried Acting School; made plans to travel the world.
But the pull was too great; his early childhood games revealed his desire for drama … in the giving of dialogue to his Action Man toy. This was the start of Torben creating scenarios with conflict. I suddenly remembered my puppet shows as a child; a cardboard box theatre and two puppets; I had created dramas too from an early age.
Later, being a produced dramatist fulfilled Torben’s need to have a voice; to get angry; to get revenge… angry with the Tories and exact revenge on his slightly dysfunctional family. I could empathise with it all.
Like the How to get Published event on Saturday, this one proved that success doesn’t come quickly or easily… thank goodness… I can do hard work and perseverance. If you Google Torben or watch his YouTube clips… you will find he has created a wealth of plays; film scripts and adaptations and he certainly has no intention of stopping.
Prose ~ The Next Generation
The festival has charitable status now and an important aspect of this, is the outreach work, so while I was being inspired by Torben in St Paul’s Church, Spittal; Bea Davenport, children’s and YA author, was inspiring young people in Berwick Academy. Bea’s YA novel, The Misper, will be published on 1 February 2018.
Bea led two creative writing workshops in the secondary school. She got some groups of young writers from Years 9 and 10 to create strong settings for a story using two key writing techniques: sensory detail and showing not telling.
Bea said afterwards, “The first group were members of a weekly creative writing group that runs during school lunchtimes. It was fantastic to hear that this activity is going on and it meant that the pupils were keen to improve their writing. The second group were pupils who had shown some writing skill in class. I was very impressed with the strong work they all produced and by their perceptive questions about writing.”
There were other events for school children during the festival and Berwick Rotary organised and sponsored a short story competition and Berwick Visual Arts were involved in a poetry competition for children.
I volunteer at Live Tales in Newcastle so I believe this outreach work is vital in creating the next generation of writers and in contributing to children’s well-being. I would have loved something like this at school when I was younger.
Prose ~ Read Aloud
Which brings me to story time in school; something that did happen and for which I’m indebted. It was the only way I could access books. Hearing Alan Garner’s Weirdstone Of Brisingamen read out loud when I was ten by our teacher, is my earliest, most vivid memory of the joy of books. My most treasured memory. Every word I heard at school I savoured. So, when I became a teacher and then a parent … yes, you’ve got this.
Therefore, choosing this next event to attend was easy… The Story Is You by the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize winner, Piers Torday. He spoke on the Sunday at the festival and with slides and memories of his Dad and his brother, Piers took us on his childhood and literary journey. Starting with the question: What is a story? And how telling stories sets us apart from the animal kingdom. To me stories give us a blue print to cope with life; they provide a way to endure life. Piers echoed my thoughts… also he rightly pointed out that stories help children develop a critical view of the world; help them develop emotional intelligence and empathy and of course develop imagination.
Oh, I could have listened to Piers all afternoon. The tales of his Dad reading to him were touching and I agree… reading with children is a great act of love… there’s that sting of a tear again. I may not have been read to at home or been allowed to read… but I realised the next day, that we did tell our day’s tales around the tea table… another stepping stone towards being a writer.
Piers’ dad became an author at the age of 59 (hope for me yet) and inspired Piers to change career path; embark on an Arvon writing course and become a children’s author. Piers’ latest book, There May Be A Castle, is about love, loss and the power of imagination. Piers ended his talk by giving us the background to the book and a short reading. Sting of a tear again. I now have a signed copy, of course.
Poetry ~ And Pipes
Stephanie Butland, local author, on Saturday during the How to get Published event, talked about the difference between being a published writer and being a read one, and how the latter is what matters most. It got me thinking; every time I Tweet, blog or have a monologue performed, then there is the potential to be read and how all forms are ways of me having a voice. The only thing I have had printed, are two poems in a local zine (indie magazine) this month, on the theme of Truth. It’s a start.
Poetry has featured very well at this festival, starting with Ian McMillan, on Friday 20 October, in the Guildhall; then Anne Ryland’s In Praise of the Ode workshops on the Saturday; next the Open Mic at the Poetry Café; then Neil Astley of Bloodaxe Books with poems and songs and finally, to close the festival, Katrina Porteous in the Guildhall on Sunday, 22 October, with The Blue Lonnen. Not forgetting the children’s events above and the excellent idea of poetry readings in local care homes.
Katrina’s performance of her evocative poetry (often heard on BBC Radio) was accompanied by Alice Robinson (Radio 2’s Young Musician of the Year finalist) on Northumbrian Pipes. The pipes took me back to teaching Country Dancing in schools, in Northumberland in the 80’s. And Katrina’s love for the Northumbrian language and landscape was abundant.
An apt way to bring a festival of words to an end, with a celebration of words and music.
Finally, thank you…
The whole festival filled me with ideas, delight and waves of emotion. A veritable feast. A treat. Thank you to all the contributors.
Thank you to the volunteer festival steering group and organisers in Berwick for such a varied, interesting and organised programme and for inviting me to be guest blogger this year. And to the patrons and sponsors. The festival couldn’t happen without any of you.
Thank you to: Mike and Margaret Fraser for their hospitality towards me at their home on the Saturday evening… to Sandra and Ian Dodds at The Anchorage Guest House, where I stayed during the weekend and to the Corner House Café for being the festival hub.
And to… any punter, shop owner or resident of Berwick who shared a friendly word or two with me and made me feel so welcome.
Which leaves me to say… long live the word; the power of words in any form. It is true…the pen is mightier than the sword.