Welcome to The Writers’ Room.

As part of my performance management at work I’ve decided to get creative. I’m setting up an extra curricular writing club called the Writers’ Room. I thought I’d write a post about it just to try out some of my ideas as well as feeling hopeful that those who read might have a few ideas and tips of their own. Maybe writing a post about it might just make sure I keep up the momentum with the idea as well!

A writing club is something I’ve done before, but I have to admit, it’s never been particularly successful as a long term thing. In the short term I’ve got kids together to write poetry for competitions and it’s been really successful, producing some work of excellent quality. However, I’ve never really followed it up and kept a club going for any length of time. I’ve found that kids don’t stick with it either and that’s probably got a lot to do with my own lack of commitment and ideas in the past.

So the aim has to revolve around just that. I set up a group and keep giving them reasons to turn up and just enjoy writing. I’m keen not to get too far ahead of myself and want to just take simple baby steps, so that my students can enjoy what they’re doing, feel that their work is valued and realise that writing things and working through their ideas can be viewed as a far longer term process than it is in a lesson. I’d like students just to come to the club, relax and play around with words and ideas, regardless of how long it might take to complete a piece of work. I think sometimes English as a subject suffers from the fact that we’re pressed for time and writing for a particular all class purpose, so maybe if a group of students realise that they can write simply for pleasure, it might just work.

I have some ideas, both short term and long term. The first thing I’d like to do is give my students a note book and just stress the importance of always having it with them. I’d like them to get used to just writing things down. That might be thoughts, lines for a poem, observations about things around them, ideas for stories, poems etc or even just doodles. I have mine in my work bag, but sometimes, if I’m in class, I might just grab a scrap of paper and jot lines and ideas down. So my notebook is full of ideas, poems and stuff on its actual pages, but also full of scraps of paper, clippings from magazines and drawings I’ve done. I suppose I’ll have to stress to them that they can’t just whip notebooks out in lessons though. I don’t want them getting into trouble!

I’m keeping my eye out for interesting source material – objects that might make my students think or interesting stories from magazines and newspapers. I wrote a poem recently based around the story of Japanese women who were repatriated to Korea many years ago and it would never have entered my mind had I not read about them in a magazine.

I’m also on the lookout for images of landscapes, people and maybe just the types of things that they don’t often see to put together on a wall as some sort of collage, again just for some source of inspiration. I’ll be encouraging them to do the same and make collages that might just help inspire them. It’s an idea I’ve stolen and adapted from my daughter who’s currently working towards her Art GCSE and has lots of collages thrown together in her sketch books. Sometimes we’ll sit and talk through ideas for images to use and – this has only just occurred to me – it could be something I use for inspiration too.

I’ve put together a folder of writing prompts and ideas I’ve come up with and some gathered from the internet and other after school writing clubs too. I’m likely to focus on poetry but I’d like to see if we can write some short stories too. It’s not something I know a great deal about, but I’m hoping that some of my writers will.

I think my main goal – apart from longevity – is to create a place where kids want to be and where they feel comfortable writing and trying out ideas. I’m not looking to go full on modern teacher – you know the type; ‘Hey guys, just call me Graham in here. Mr. Crosby goes home at 2.45…’ – but I definitely want to have the emphasis on the idea of this being a club, rather than an after school lesson. Ideally, I’d love to get to a point where the students just come in and work on whatever it is they’ve been working on, rather than me prompting them and taking control week after week.

The Writers’ Room is something I’ve wanted to make a success of for years, but I’ve always found that teaching gets in the way. Now though, as a very experienced teacher, I feel like I have the time to make it work. And because of my experiences of writing my blog, especially with poetry, I feel like I know what I’m doing a little bit more.

The goal is to have the club up and running within the next month or so and by the end of the year I hope that we’ll be able to publish some sort of anthology so that the work produced can be celebrated in some way. I have to say, I’m really excited about how this could could go. For now though, I’ll try to keep you updated on our progress and hope to have some positive tales to tell. In the meantime, if you have any experience of this type of thing and any tips or ideas to share, I’d welcome the input so feel free to drop me a line in the Comments section below!

Poetry Blog – ‘Early Morning Run’

If you’ve read the blog before or are a regular reader (I don’t know if I actually have regular readers, but there you go…) you might already know that I’m a big fan of running. I’d been a sporadic runner for most of my life until the first period of lockdown when I found the time to really work on my fitness and found myself running on a far more regular basis.

In the past, I’ve dabbled with early morning runs. I’ve always thought they were a good idea and it doesn’t particularly bother me that I have to get out of bed early. I’ve never been one for having a lie in and although I wouldn’t call myself a morning person, I can just about function at that time of day. However, I’ve never taken early morning running this seriously before. In the past I think I’ve just been of the view that getting out of bed and doing a bit is enough. Nowadays – probably because I’ve got myself a lot fitter – I take things more seriously.

So since early November last year I’ve been getting up before 7am every Sunday and heading out for a run. My wife thinks I might be going mad or perhaps having some kind of mid-life crisis, but I’m definitely not! I’m just enjoying running. I don’t think I’ve ever ran this early before, but it’s enabled me to experience quite a lot of brilliant things. I’ve ran along long straight roads with barely a vehicle in sight and watched as the sun comes up. I’ve been able to start my day in absolute solitude, gathering my thoughts and just feeling completely and utterly relaxed. I’m calm while running, rather than panicking about how I’m feeling, whether I’d be able to finish, the pain in a muscle etc. And I’ve had time to think, which has helped me a lot with things that I want to write about. I’ll be taking a dictaphone out with me soon!

With all the solitude, the calm, the energised feelings I’ve had after running, it felt obvious to write a poem about my early morning runs. I’d even been taking photos to help me remember certain things. And so, I sat down and wrote some notes. Sometimes these turn into lines from a poem, other times they just stay as bullet points, until I get the urge to sit and write the actual poem. In the case of this poem, I wrote minimal notes and spent a chunk of one Sunday morning, post run, just writing the poem. There were a few bits scribbled out, I suppose as part of a drafting process, but in the main this was a poem that was written as a first draft. Maybe that says something about my enthusiasm for the subject matter…

Early Morning Run

Although a pre-7am alarm on a Sunday is very much the stuff of nightmares, it’s done now. There’s no going back. I roll from under the covers and stumble like a broken robot across the blackness of the bedroom to halt the alarm, then, after a brief flirtation with the cold tap to awaken my senses, I’m downstairs, my body protesting as I stretch. Finally, when there’s nothing left to delay me, I leave the relative warmth behind.

Outside, a pattering against nearby leaves alerts me to the drizzle. My heart sinks slightly, but I turn and run. As I climb the first hill, the early morning fog rolls down at me. I push on, my bare arms and legs slowly adjusting to the biting cold and by the top, although catching my breath, I’m into my stride.

The centre of town is a place for ghosts, only the gentle pad of my feet on concrete can be heard and there’s only me to be seen. The sun fights a losing battle with the fog as I plod on and the only light to be seen belongs to the occasional cars of shift workers heading for warmth. I afford myself a few quiet words of encouragement, tell myself it won’t be long before I’m in their shoes.

On the outskirts of town I run on the empty road, giving up my territory every so often as early morning haulage thunders past and shakes the pavement. I relax, the only soul for miles around, alone with my thoughts and the constant voice in my head offering platitudes, encouragement, advice. Shoulders back, straighten out, head up, lengthen your stride, keep going.

Further down the road, as I tire, a shiftworker emerges like a high viz beacon and we exchange nods, perhaps each wondering which of us has made the worse decision on this cold Sunday morning. And then, the long downward stretch that signals my way home claws its way from the grasp of the fog and I quicken my pace, as if acting on instinct.

A lone gull lands upon a lampost above my head, like some kind of vulture, but it’s too late. I’m gritting my teeth, summoning last reserves of strength and fighting fatigue; this scavenger will have to wait. I open up my stride as best I can and drive for my finishing line.

Finally, I’m home and fumbling for a key with which to silently open the door in order not to wake my sleeping loved ones. Inside, I move to the kitchen, gulp down water, gorge on fruit and then stretch, thankful to be back, my body aching, but my mind cleansed.

Just a brief explanation of a few things in the poem. The line about stumbling across our bedroom ‘like a broken robot’ is me trying to communicate just how tired I feel when I wake up. There are days when my legs just don’t seem to work and the stiffness means my steps are ragged to say the least. It fascinates me that within about twenty minutes, I’ll be running at pace up a hill! Later on in the stanza I mention that ‘my body protests’ at stretches. I know I should warm up, but I seriously don’t want anyone to get the idea that I’m some kind of ‘proper’ runner!

In the fourth stanza, I mention the voice in my head. that might not be wholly truthful. Often I’m actually talking to myself while out running. While there are times when I thoroughly enjoy it and feel totally strong, there are more when I can’t work out why I’m working out, so to speak. And so, often I’ll have a little chat to myself and tell myself that things aren’t that bad or try to kid myself on that it’s all in my head and that my legs are, in fact, strong.

In the fifth stanza I mention a long downward stretch. I’d like to point out that while it’s long, it is barely downward at all and that some of it means going back uphill. I almost changed the poem at the point as I couldn’t stand people thinking that a huge chunk of my run is down a big, steep hill. It’s not. But it’s downhill enough for me to pick up the pace!

The gull in the sixth stanza genuinely frightened me. At first, out of the corner of my eye, I genuinely believed that it was a bird of prey and that it might just take a swoop at me. Seeing it was a gull was a relief, but I still looked at its massive beak and felt a bit of trepidation!

Let me know what you think in the comments. I hope you enjoyed the poem as much as I frequently tell myself I like my early morning runs!

Another poetry blog – from sheds to ducks. The natural next step.

Another poem from my Lockdown Literature group today. This one came about around the start of lockdown, when it was all new and in a way, quite exciting. You know, despite the terror and all that less exciting stuff?

I’d noticed lots of people on Facebook and Twitter posting stuff about nature ‘returning’ and it made me chuckle a little bit. Especially the really earnest ones where people were claiming that nature was re-claiming the streets or teaching us a lesson because, as humans, we’d got it all wrong. It was none of this. Animals have been adapting to their surroundings for longer than we care to imagine. Most likely it was just that things were quieter and animals had noticed and got a bit bolder about where they were wandering and when. Lots of people seemed to be reacting quite hysterically and yet the only evidence I’d seen at the time was the video of some pigs walking through the streets of Bergamo in Italy.

We have bird feeders at the back of our garden in the trees and while we were probably seeing more birds than usual, I was yet to see an eagle, a condor or a Terrahawk (I know that they’re fictional by the way – that was the joke). Admittedly I’d gained a rat in my shed (sadly for comedy purposes, not my kitchen), but other than that, nature was definitely not trying to teach me a lesson by parading up and down our road. And so, I began to think about how ridiculous the posts could get and whether people might start to outdo each other. From this came the poem that follows.

Guess who’s back?

It started with those cute pigs in Bergamo.
There were probably some ducks somewhere as well. There’s always ducks.

And then…

A giraffe stooping to get into Bargain Booze,
An ostrich in Hyde Park singing the blues,
An antelope out for a jog,
A lion combing his mane with a perplexed hedgehog,
A wombat on a BMX giving a backa to a pikachu and the pikachu’s listening to DMX and just staring hard at you.
Nature’s back.

In the park, after dark there’s a gathering of starlings,
They’re meeting up with collared doves and riding penny farthings.
Nature’s back. And it’s brought hipsters.

Foxes sketching landscapes while hunt beagles go climbing at Go Ape.
And of course, there’s meerkats trying to sell you insurance while panda bears do triathlons to test their bear endurance.
Out the window there’s more nature hourly,
We’ve even had a brontosaurus in our cul-de-sac in Morley…

While we’re locked down, sick with cabin fever ready to attack,
Comfort yourselves folks, nature’s very definitely back.

Apologies if you find that one a little bit cynical. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe, by July we’ll be overrun with wildlife carrying placards and marching through our city centres declaring that the humans should be made to pay! Maybe wildfowl will start looting supermarkets and electrical wholesalers after hours and setting light to stuff. And then I’ll be sorry, won’t I?

Anyway, I hope you like my silly poem. Feel free to drop me a comment or click the Like button. And if you really like your literature with a large helping of nonsense, the feel free to Follow. Thanks for reading!

 

 

Lockdown Literature – my stab at a poetry blog.

 

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Shortly after our state of lockdown was declared I received an invitation to join a group on Facebook. A friend of mine – Helen, an Art teacher – was setting up a creative group for people to post their art work. It seemed a good way to help squash lockdown boredom and I had been fairly keen to start sketching again for quite a while. My daughter is a gifted artist as well, so I thought it would be nice to post some of her stuff. I could also involve the kids through Art lessons during home schooling. So off I went…

A couple of days later and having watched numerous people posting their artwork I had an idea for a literature version of the group. If people were avidly sharing their drawing and painting, surely I could get some to post poems and writing in my own group. After consulting my friend Laura about whether it was a good idea, I formed the group, invited a ton of friends and Lockdown Literature was born.

It had been a while since I’d written any poetry, but the group inspired me. It wasn’t long before I was being kept awake by ideas and lines from potential poems.

It was on the very afternoon that the group was formed, while pegging my washing out on the line in the sun, I found myself staring at the behemoth in my neighbour’s garden. Bigger, cleaner, tidier, better than mine. What I then wrote has no intellectual value whatsoever. There is no literary genius here or any great amount of thought. It’s not any kind of metaphor for anything else, just a poem about sheds and me feeling a bit jealous. The result of my envy – a silly, sarcastic and frankly daft poem – is below.

My Neighbour’s Shed

My neighbour’s shed has electric lighting.
It has those plastic boxes on the wall containing nails, screws, hooks and all manner of shediphanalia.

My shed is packed with football gear.
It’s a mess and makes me feel like a total shed failure.

My neighbour’s shed contains a high-viz jacket.
Placed neatly round he has a vice, a work bench, a grinder, a sander and drills, drills, drills aplenty.

My shed has some shelving full of spiders’ webs, grass seed, wild bird feed and a stain on the floor that’s a bit cementy.

My neighbour’s shed is a hive of activity – just like good sheds should be.
It’s been extended – by him, the smart arse – and it’s made safe by alarm led security.

My shed has bikes balanced on one wheel perilously, a lawn mower jammed underneath a Halfords roof box and it smells of whatever the opposite is of purity.

My neighbour’s shed is a lockdown dream. Clean, ordered and full of interesting tools. The biggest tool in my shed is undoubtedly me.

I hate my neighbour’s shed.

So, there you have it. My first poetry blog. I will post other poems and give people a little bit of insight into what I was thinking when I wrote them. I think I mainly write things that are supposed to be mildly amusing but some are actually quite serious! As for what I’ve just posted, I’d be interested to know what people think, so feel free to leave a comment. Thanks for reading!

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