Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Finding Words for Feelings

I sometimes ask participants to write down how they're feeling at the start of the session. 

They do this anonymously on pieces of paper which are collected in a container, shaken up and then shared by writing them onto the board. This reduces anxiety for group members around sharing how they're feeling. It may also increase openness.

People may find they've used the same word or feeling as someone else.  

The exercise encourages connection and understanding.It also acknowledges, validates and allows expression of the feelings in the room.  

It makes me aware of the range of emotions which can be present in a workshop at any moment. 

These were the feelings at the start of a creative writing workshop for parents of children with disabilities earlier this year.


Monday, 18 September 2017

The Power of Stories

Writing in Response to Others' Stories 

This post relates to the first of several I've written over the summer inspired by current news topics
 Weymouth Harbour Bridge
The inspiration was the release of the film Dunkirk and it's link to Weymouth. It brought to mind a story my cousin Keith told me about his Mum. 

Keith messaged me recently. He'd been in Dublin staying with his friend Padriac. He said, "I told him the story of my Mum's golden rose necklace from the Dunkirk evacuation.  He wrote this poem for me after seeing a picture of it and I think it's wonderful!

Thanks for sharing your story Keith and Mum, Betty. And thanks to Padraic for writing and sharing your poem: 

A French Rose for an English Girl  

He kissed the ground 
he kissed the air.
He waved to strangers on the shore 
there greeting him, as he arrived 
in Weymouth from Dunkirk.

The French arrived without their boots 
from bloody fields in Normandy,
grateful to be saved 
from death, by tiny boats. 

My mother stood above the rail 
and saw survivors climb to land 
from baby ships that risked their lives,
to pluck the French from German hands. 

But a girl of fourteen years 
she still recalls as if last week,
the soldier who threw this gift 
a bracelet that she holds today. 

A dainty silver rose
his precious chain - who knows?
To an English girl in a Weymouth crowd 
a Dorset rose today. 

Why do we kill those we do not know? 
Why to stranger do we throw 
our dearest charm in life?  -
To the young English girl who 
became my father's wife.

Friday, 1 September 2017

Keeping A Diary

Each week during the Summer I'll be taking a topical news item as writing inspiration and going with the flow...

Week 5
Inspiration: May Morris's diary

The childhood diary of May Morris has been discovered, together with letters she wrote to her mother Jane, in an unlabelled box at The William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow. 

May was the youngest of two daughter's of William Morris. Her diary throws light onto a privileged and unusual Victorian childhood. 

Last year I led creative writing workshops as part of a Heritage Lottery project linking William Morris and Emery Walker. Through the project I learnt about the lives of these men, their families, friends, passions and disputes. They were great friends and lived near to each other overlooking the Thames close to Hammersmith Bridge. 

Eight year old May Morris was writing her diary in 1870 - a turbulent time in the marriage of her parents. Her mother Jane was a great beauty and the muse and lover of the painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William's friend. Morris knew about the situation but it seemed did nothing to prevent it rather he appeared to facilitate it by removing himself and going on holiday.

In the diary May describes herself as, "very untidy and always very dirty and sometimes I am ashamed to say very naughty." Keeping a diary is a great way to express yourself on the page as May freely did, noting her opinions and feelings. She described returning to London after a holiday away as arriving, "at this most detestable city under the sun."   

May went on to develop a career in arts and crafts primarily as an embroiderer and textile artist. She also employed other women in the sewing and production of her designs. 

The exhibition May Morris: Art and Life is at the William Morris Gallery from 7 October 2017 - 28 January 2018

Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Take Up Space

Each week during the Summer I'll be taking a topical news item as writing inspiration and going with the flow...

Week 4
Inspiration: The 20th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana

Where were you when you heard Princess Diana had died?
I was in Dieppe. On the ferry back a couple of days later we were at the news stand looking at the front pages covered in photos of her. A man walked up and asked, "What - has she died?" I replied, "Yes she's died." I was still in shock and he wandered away stunned not having heard the news while he was on holiday.  

The documentary 7 Days screened on BBC1 this week was a moving account of the period after Diana‘s death. I remember that week in London, the atmosphere was heavy as though the sky all grey and cloudfilled wouldn't let the grief evaporate.

The programme also looked at her life and the pressures she experienced. I hadn't fully realised the attempts to sideline her during her life but was aware of a quietness about her since her death, as though to downplay or negate her power.  

I see her retrospectively more fully as a woman challenging the establishment. She took on a huge task - whether it was completely conscious or not - and could not have foreseen all the ramifications it would have for her. 

Diana was obviously angry but she was also strong in the things she believed in and what she felt to be right:

  •     Being a loving and good enough parent to her children
  •     Her public charitable works
  •     Her determination to be seen and to individualise herself through her choice of dress, men and relationship to those who were suffering
  •     Being real 

When I hear establishment figures talk of Diana as complex and complicated I feel this is an attempt to dismiss her and the things she believed in. Because aren’t we all complex? Calling others complex as though it’s a bad thing not only reduces their humanity but all of ours. 

How Diana was treated in her marriage and after her divorce are feminist issues which resonate around the world today in other women’s experiences when they challenge the dominant culture and do not conform. 

I really like this poem by Vanessa Kissuule Take Up Space  - it's empowering and speaks especially to women to take up space to be themselves.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Being Heard

Each week during the Summer I'll be taking a topical news item as writing inspiration and going with the flow...

Week 3
Inspiration: Jon Snow recently asked, "Why didn't we enable the residents of Grenfell Tower... to find pathways to talk to us and for us to expose their story?" 

Snow was talking about the fact that media organisations had not reported that residents of Grenfell Tower were concerned about the risk of fire and that the council was not listening to them or taking any action. 

The Grenfell Action Group wrote about their concern many times. Reading the blogpost Playing With Fire now leaves me reeling. It was written in 2016. They were trying so hard to get their voices heard but noone was listening. 

Snow concludes, "our organic links within our own society are badly broken." He suggests the lack of diversity within the media is a major contributing factor. 

If he is right about our links being broken then holding a space for others to tell their stories and find the words they want to tell them is increasingly vital.  

This was a main motivating force for me when I set out to work as a practitioner in writing for health and wellbeing.

Perhaps my interest has something to do with my own shyness as a child. I experienced shyness as wanting so much to speak, knowing the words I wanted to say but being completely unable to utter them. This left me voiceless in certain situations. Adults outside the family were often not able to relate to this small, silent child.  They remarked on my quietness but didn't seem to know how to encourage me or to hold a space for me to speak.

It's different to the Grenfell residents who were speaking out and not being heard but similar in that a safe space to speak and to be listened to wasn't available to them. 

Attempts at being heard, finding a voice and strengthening identity can be crushed when a power imbalance exists and the powerful do not relate to the experiences of the less powerful.

This makes it essential there are opportunities for self expression across society, for held spaces to connect, to share our personal stories and to gain strength from this.  

Don't we all have the right to be known, heard and for our stories and concerns to be listened to?

Guardian article on Jon Snow's speech at the Edinburgh Television Festival

Friday, 11 August 2017

The Arts Are Good for Your Health

Each week during the Summer I'll be taking a topical news item as writing inspiration.

Week 2 
Inspiration: Creative Health: The Arts for Health and Wellbeing

This Report was published in July and sets out research, evidence gathering and discussions with health care professionals, patients, artists, MPs and policy makers. It was produced by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Arts, Health and Wellbeing following two years of inquiry.

I've attended several APPG meetings over the last couple of years and noticed a commitment from everyone there including cross party MPs to the concept of the arts as beneficial for health and wellbeing. It just seemed like they were looking for more evidence. 

This report is it.  It says: "The evidence we present shows how arts-based aproaches can help people to stay well, recover faster, manage long term conditions and experience a better quality of life. We also show how arts interventions can save money and help staff in their work." 

The Report recommends the National Institiute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) includes the use of the arts in healthcare in its guidance where evidence justifies it.   

It also hopes that: 
  • New collaborations will be formed across conventional boundaries.
  • The thinking and practice of people working in health and social care will be influenced. 
  • A new culture will grow that supports the government in the process of change towards the creation of a society which is both healthy and "health creating."  

It calls for "all those who believe in the value of the arts for health and wellbeing to speak up. We will work with all who believe, as we do, that the arts offer an essential opportunity for the improvement of health and wellbeing."  

That's a rallying cry to all arts and health and wellbeing practitioners for sure

To contact the APPG email Alexandra Coutler on:

Tuesday, 1 August 2017


Each week during the rest of the Summer I'm taking a topical news item as writing inspiration and going with the flow... 

Week 1 
Inspiration: The film Dunkirk

Recently, I went to see the film Dunkirk drawn by an overheard snippet of conversation about location filming in Dorset. I was born in Dorchester and spent the first seven years of my life there. It's a soft, rolling, rural county with a beautiful coast line and I love it.  

The film has three distinct story strands. One involves an older man and his son setting sail in their small vessel from Weymouth to Dunkirk, answering the call to assist with the evacuation of 400,000 service men stranded on the beach in France. 

My cousin told me a story about his Mum which links to this. One evening in 1940, Betty aged thirteen, travelled from Dorchester with her parents to watch the small boats carrying evacuated soldiers arrive into Weymouth harbour. 

The three of them were leaning over the rail near the town bridge watching as French soldiers were unloaded on to the steps below. They noticed how war worn, dishevelled and emotional the soldiers were - kissing the ground as they came ashore and throwing their personal belongings towards the watching crowd.  

One soldier threw this necklace and it landed at Betty's feet. She's kept it ever since.


I wonder what happened to that soldier? I hope he recovered from his war experiences.  

See the film  - it is an immersive experience and as such provides the smallest glimpse into what they went through.

Friday, 30 June 2017

The View From My Window

As part of National Writing Day - a First Story initiative in partnership with other arts and literary organisations - the writing group I work with in Newham wrote from the suggested inspiration: The View From My Window...

Two participants wanted to share their writing:

From my bedroom window I see beautiful gardens - my garden and my neighbours, especially at night time with the solar lights' many colours. I see foxes passing by walking without fear of people. Later in the afternoon I see swallows dancing and singing in the sky - when I'm sad they give a smile to me.

By Teresa

The view from my window: As I open the curtains in the morning I hear the birds chirping away. As I glance through the net curtains I see Budda sitting silently in perfect harmony; the cherry tree's branches swaying softly.

My eyes hover over the flower beds where the marigolds sit next to the carnations in full bloom. The vibrational colours of the dahlias put a smile on my face and the red climbing roses rise high above the conifers. I look towards the sky, the pastel shades of blue are interrupted by the white streaks of the aeroplane's fumes. The pigeons and magpies are on a hunt to find food.

My cat appears chasing the birds away and then, finding a shady place, he stretches himself and falls asleep. A new day has begun...

By Narinder