Saturday, 22 October 2016

OCTOBER STORIES by Kate Swindlehurst

It’s that time of year again. All those years of teaching with barely a break after school and university has meant that the shifting season signals the start of a new chapter for me. As the summer stutters to a close, the weather lurching from seaside sunshine to tropical storm, that restless feeling grows. My dreams are peopled with difficult students and critical colleagues, my competence questioned, my confidence challenged at every turn. I am late, unprepared, clueless. In the real world, I try desperately to recover a working routine but the fallout from the summer lingers in piles of washing and domestic chaos. Jack moves back in, and out, again. I wave him off with a heavy heart. The Cumbrian house is on the market, again and suddenly, after years of lingering, seems to have been snapped up. Unsettled to the point of neurosis, I become obsessed, again, with the idea of moving. I want to clear the ground, dig out what remains of the old plantings, put down new, permanent roots.
On mornings like these, though, I’m caught between nostalgia and longing. Somehow it’s the season for renewing old acquaintances, rediscovering lost loves. I return in my mind to Mexico, those magical early mornings, frost sparkling under sun from clear blue skies, when the usual smog cleared and the volcanoes shimmered in the distance as I walked up the hill to work. Out of sync with the rest of the world as always (my mother’s name for me was Contrary Mary) I took my gap year twenty years late. Looking back, though, at my astonishing naivety then, I might as well have been eighteen. I’m further unsettled by the late holidays of friends who send thoughts from abroad. Despite Cambridge’s loveliness in early autumn, long shadows and rustling willows and sparkling water, I wish I was anywhere but here, with anyone but myself. School dreams give way to turbulent erotic scenes which leave me bemused on waking. And then there’s the botanic garden, a second home for almost two years. I rarely get there now.
As for the writing: there is a lot to be said for sticking at it. I am in the very fortunate situation where I can do that, without paid work wearing me out or children clamouring for my attention. Even more privileged to have a brother happy to share his lovely cottage in Norfolk, so that I was able to take myself off for the month of August and write there. It’s my ideal situation: just me and the laptop, a book or two, a pair of walking boots, the unassuming Norfolk countryside. I came back with a first draft of a novel almost complete. I am happiest when I can reproduce something like that routine here: up early, read a bit of hard stuff with a pot of tea, write for the rest of the morning, perhaps an hour or two of editing in the afternoon, a chapter or two of fiction at bedtime… Often I don’t manage all of it and it does make it difficult to fit in other essentials – tango, exercise, shopping, friends – but I keep coming back to this: it’s what I do. Or, like Simon in Lord of the Flies, ‘What else is there to do?’
To keep going, I have to believe that some of what I write is important in some loosely political way, an exploration of pressing concerns – or that, even if it’s mainly for fun, it’s as perfect as I can make it. I have to silence that critical voice which says ‘This is rubbish’ or ‘You don’t know enough.’ I remember a workshop with A.L. Kennedy in Norwich in which she offered this advice: get rid of your nerves, don’t allow your negative energy to crush or sabotage you, think of your reader as intelligent and interested in the same things as you and, what has stayed in my mind above all, make sure you give your reader your best shot – as if you are writing for someone you love.
There is something deadening about writing in a vacuum, though. So, although self-publicising goes against the grain, the other thing I’ve tried to address in the last six months or so is to get my work out there. And it has paid off. Two of the stories from Writing the Garden, completed during my residency at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, are due to be published in Crisp, ARU’s new anthology of creative writing, next month, and a third will be the featured story on Litro magazine’s #Story Sunday slot this coming weekend. Finally, as a result of a competition which I’d forgotten I’d entered, a publisher is looking at the latest novel. And there’s my blog, of course: I’d forgotten the pleasures of this kind of sharing…

To read 'Inside' go to and click on #Story Sunday. After publication on Sunday 16 October, the story should be available on the page for some time.

‘Heartsease’ and ‘Classical Studies’ will appear in Crisp, to be launched on 2nd November at the 12a Club in Cambridge and available from ARU thereafter for £6.99. Or, if you’d really like to own one, I might be persuaded to pick one up for you at the bargain price of £5.00 on the night!

After thirty years in the classroom, Kate Swindlehurst has been writing full-time for ten years. She gained a distinction in the creative writing MA at Anglia Ruskin University and won an Arts Council Escalator award enabling her to complete a novel based on Argentina’s disappeared. She has also produced a memoir dealing with the impact of Argentine tango on Parkinson’s disease and two short story collections, the second inspired by a 20-month residency at Cambridge University Botanic Garden, where she was mentored by author Ali Smith. Kate is currently working on a novel dealing with our responses to the refugee crisis. A northerner by birth and habit, she now lives and works in Cambridge.

Friday, 14 October 2016

What it means to win Words & Women's prose competition

Sarah Evans won our 2015/16 prose competition for her wonderful short story Scalpelling Through. The story was published in our annual anthology with twenty highly commended entries and she also received a cash prize of £600 and read at our International Women’s Day celebration in Norwich.

We asked Sarah to write something for the blog on what winning has meant for her. We hope her words will encourage you to enter this year’s competition. Naomi Wood, prize-winning author of The Godless Boys and Mrs. Hemingway, is our  guest judge this year, and for the first time we are offering a national prize as well as our usual regional prize. The national prize is for women over 40 living and writing in the UK and Ireland and the winner of this category will receive publication in our anthology, £1000 and a month long writing residency provided by Hosking Houses Trust. Our regional winner will also for this year only receive, in additional to the usual prizes, a mentoring session with the novelist Jill Dawson. The competition is open to writers of memoir, creative non-fiction and fiction, and entries can be 2,200 words or under. The closing date for entries is the 15th November.

Over to Sarah:

"Receiving an email (in the cold, dark days of January) informing me that I had won the Words and Women prose competition provided a fabulous start to 2016.
Writing is by its nature a lonely occupation and intermittent successes are part of what helps to justify the solitary hours, false starts and many, many rejections. It is always exciting when the news arrives that something I have written will be published.
In this particular case, all sorts of factors made the win feel special. Words and Women is an established competition and my story had been chosen by a successful writer (Emma Healey) whose novel I had very much enjoyed. The prize money was certainly higher than most of the other competitions I’ve been placed in. My story was published in a beautiful looking anthology by Unthank Books. And then there was the launch event...
Along with a selection of other shortlisted writers, I was invited to read an extract of my story at an event held in the Norwich Arts Centre. This provided me with the opportunity to meet and chat with Emma Healey, the competition organisers – Lynne and Belona – as well as a number of fellow writers. As for the reading - speaking in public has never exactly been my favourite pastime, but I managed to overcome my nerves to give what felt like a creditable performance to a packed house.
All of the above contributed to making my award of first prize hugely thrilling."

Sarah Evans has had over a hundred stories published in anthologies, magazines and online. Prizes have been awarded by, amongst others: Words and Women, Winston Fletcher, Stratford Literary Festival, Glass Woman and Rubery. Other publishing outlets include: the Bridport Prize, Unthank Books, Riptide and Best New Writing. She has also had work performed in London, Hong Kong and New York.

Friday, 7 October 2016

Gull Stones & Cuckoos launches!

An anthology of compelling and passionate stories, Gull Stones and Cuckoos is to be launched in three rural libraries in Norfolk this October; celebrating the results of a unique creative opportunity for women living in isolated rural communities.

The anthology has grown out of Rural Writes, a partnership between Norfolk Library and Information Service and Words and Women supported by Arts Council England. Women of all ages and backgrounds from Gorleston, Watton and Swaffham were invited to attend 10 weeks of life-writing sessions in their local libraries led by two professional writers, Belona Greenwood, co-organiser of Words and Women, and award-winning poet Heidi Williamson. The project was coordinated by Anna Brett of Create Projects.

The result, illustrated by Rose Cowan and edited by Lynne Bryan and Belona Greenwood, is a bold, honest and vivid narrative of local lives. Published by Unthank Books, it tells of
lost halls, early morning walks, stillness, fairy-light skies, telescopes on allotments, the loneliness of grief and the adventure of new places in rural Norfolk. The writers in this book are new to writing but their stories and observations are compellingly authentic.

The collection will be available to borrow from all Norfolk's libraries and to buy. 

‘This project shows how vital libraries are in bringing communities and people together.  The women who joined were strangers until they signed up to try their hand at writing. They have made friends, supported and inspired each other. The book itself, is fantastic but the fact the women’s groups are continuing is enormously important and heart-warming,’ said Belona Greenwood of Words and Women.

The book launches will take place in Watton Library at 6.00 pm on October 26th, Gorleston Library at 6.30 pm on the 27th and Swaffham Library at 6.30 pm on the 28th.

Rural Writes doesn’t end with the book, all three writing groups continue to meet in their local libraries and to post on the Rural Writes blog.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Clare Jarrett – combining art and writing

Clare's installation at
Words & Women's Garden Festival
Clare Jarrett is a Norwich-based artist and writer and her work is currently featured in a fascinating interview for the contemporary art e-journal  Studio International.

Below is an extract from the interview which mentions Clare’s first fabric piece which was commissioned by Words And Women for our Chelsea Fringe Garden festival in 2014.

‘MKP: Looking at your biography online, you describe yourself as an artist and writer. These are two very different creative disciplines. Can you talk about how your use of different disciplines and materials weave together in your practice?

CJ: I think they inform each other, but I’m not sure they really weave together. On the other hand, when I was bringing up my children, I didn’t have enough time or space to go to the studio or think about my visual work, so I thought writing would be a smaller way of making the same kind of work. I thought I could take people into a world through my writing; one I hoped was like my visual world. But, actually, it’s not the same; it’s another place. They are different worlds, but they are connected. And going into writing happened through making books for my children. I made drawings and wrote stories, and they were published by Walker Books, five altogether. That led me to try writing fiction for adults. So I did a part-time MA (in creative writing) at the University of East Anglia in 2005-07. I write a lot and make notes. I wrote most of a novel. I left it for a while, but in the past year I’ve gone back to it and I’m working on it again. I might be able to finish it off: I don’t know, I can’t promise. So that’s the writing. And I’m always reading. I’m reading some Italo Calvino essays at the moment (Six Memos for the Next Millennium) and short stories. I’ve got a pile of books by my bed. Then I’ll go and look at work. I rushed to London the other day to see the Mary Heilmann show at the Whitechapel: very interesting work. She started off doing English literature, then ceramics and sculpture, and then moved into painting. I liked the way the chairs were part of the paintings. I read interviews with her, to hear her voice. Yesterday, I was reading The Writer on Her Work by Janet Sternburg (1980) about women talking about their practice. In 2012, I had a Hawthornden Castle writing fellowship – four weeks just outside Edinburgh in a castle – which was fantastic. It was a strange time because I was doing lots of writing, but I gradually understood that I needed the visual world, too. The writing, even though I absolutely love it and it’s very, very important to me, wasn’t the only thing I needed to do. So I found myself a studio in St Etheldreda’s church in Norwich. And the first fabric piece I made was in that studio. It was for an International Women’s Day celebration, and part of the Chelsea Flower Show Fringe, commissioned in January (2014) by Words and Women (Norwich), which I’m part of, and installed in the Plantation Garden [in Norwich], in May 2014.’

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Isabelle King on The Norfolk Story Book

Following the completion of ‘The Norfolk Story Book’ this Summer 2016, Isabelle undertook a Writer in Residence position at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse to work on a potential second children’s book ‘Children of the Workhouse’.

In this piece, Isabelle explains the inspiration behind ‘The Norfolk Story Book’, how she
came to be on site at Gressenhall and her fascination with Workhouse history:

‘My first children’s book is inspired by objects in Norfolk Collections Centre, situated on the same site as Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum.

The first time I set foot in Norfolk Collections Centre, just over a year ago, I knew that I wanted to write about it. An atmospheric cabinet of curiosities, the store is full of exciting objects; Snap Dragons, a Mammoth tusk, and equipment used to make mustard and toffee, to name but a few. Even though the building was open to the public, there was a sense of secrecy in the air, almost as though you, as a visitor, had stumbled into the store by accident - which I believe, is a huge part of what makes the store so utterly unique and which certainly captivated my imagination.

The book is endorsed by Norfolk Museums Service and combines historical fact with imagination and fun. Released October 2016, all details of the book, including how to purchase your copy, are here -
I am very excited to have a book launch October 15th at Norwich Castle - three storytelling sessions will take place at 12 noon, 1pm and 2pm. All families are welcome!

Whilst in the completion stages of writing ‘The Norfolk Story Book’ I was delighted to be invited to the ‘Collaborate with Gressenhall’ day. This was a fantastic day in which Gressenhall staff and freelance creatives got together for a meeting of minds with a view to collaborating on creative projects. The day consisted of talks and activities, led by history professionals, which focused on the lives of people in the Workhouse, as well as discussions with creatives about the ways in which they could bring Workhouse history to life through collaborative projects in community spaces.

There was even a chance to touch and examine some of the museum’s objects; particular favourites of mine were some of the hand-made dolls. It was awe-inspiring to think of how many people’s hands had touched those objects throughout history and how these artefacts had played a part in people’s lives. It sparked some very interesting questions; who made them; who played with them; how were they made?

Naturally, I jumped at the chance to collaborate with Gressenhall and last February, taught a day’s creative writing course on site in the Learning Centre. The course was an introduction to creative writing which drew inspiration from real-life stories and images in the ‘Voices from the Workhouse’ project at Gressenhall,  focussing on how to create character in the narrative. I was thrilled to receive five stars from everyone who participated on the course, in the evaluation.

I suppose it goes without saying that all this work and meeting interesting people had got the creative juices flowing!

Coupled with the fact that I’d experienced such a fascinating insight to the Workhouse through teaching the course, I was eager for my next book to be based on the project at Gressenhall. ‘Children in the Workhouse’ will explore what it was like for a child to be an inmate at Gressenhall Farm and Workhouse Museum, inspired by real life stories.

It is extremely important to me that the book is historically accurate. As with ‘The Norfolk Story Book’ I intend to root the stories in historical fact and combine this with imaginative interpretation.

Throughout the Writer in Residence position, I dedicated much of my time to research. Thanks to the new displays at Gressenhall, I was hardly short of resources!

The ‘Voices from the Workhouse’ project beautifully highlights, through interactive displays, the many stories of real people who lived and worked at Gressenhall, from how they washed to what they ate and where they slept. In particular, I enjoyed listening to some of the audio interviews from Workhouse inmates, as well as the film clips of actors portraying Workhouse characters, which radiated with warmth and humanity and really brought home the fact that these people could have been you or me.

As a nature enthusiast, I was keen to make the most of my time on site and explore the Farm where I saw some beautiful Suffolk Punch Horses, piglets and chickens!

In the morning, my writer’s desk was situated in the staff offices where I could bounce some ideas at my computer screen and where I was introduced to that most vital of research devices, the staff photocopying machine which, in spite of its evident simplicity, I could never quite get the hang of!

In the afternoon, my writer’s desk was situated back where it all started, at Norfolk Collections Centre which was open to the public and I had the pleasure of chatting to visitors. It was a joy to work on the second book in the place which inspired my first!

Having explored the collections at great length, I am now in the process of writing. In the initial stages of working on this book, it’s clear that the process will not be without challenges in the sense that these stories will differ greatly from my first book. In ‘The Norfolk Story Book’ the majority of the characters are fictional. I believe it is an uplifting book; each story celebrates local history by shining a light on the magic, warmth and fun associated with this region.

As ‘Children of the Workhouse’ is inspired by real-life stories, of course, I cannot fail to acknowledge that this should be handled with sensitivity and respect. However, this does not mean that the stories cannot be without warmth, humour and humanity and I fully intend for each tale to have a positive message at its heart.

As I have learned with all writing - ‘heart’ is the key!'

Isabelle has worked as an actress in theatre, film and radio in the UK and abroad; a career in which she has predominantly been seen in various Shakespearian guises.

She is the founder of literary event Books Talk Back, which is hosted in London and Norwich, including at The British Library with support from The Eccles Centre. Isabelle's creative writing has been short-listed for the Ideastap/Writers' Centre Norwich national fiction competition and she also writes and produces arts journalism pieces for Future Radio.

For more information on Isabelle’s forthcoming book and events visit or