Yesterday I went across to Easington to work with writers there on the Tall Tales project. Every time I go there now I am struck by the wooded hills and denes that surround the village and the colliery areas. I especially like long straight road down through Easington colliery ending in the sea, which seems to rear up to meet it. I can only imagine - in a kind superimposed sepia - the surrounding tangle of historic but now absent pit heads and mountainous pit heaps that are deeply (affectionately, even nostalgically) embedded in the minds of my writers.
One of our objectives in this project is to pay respect to this honourable and dramatic past, but also to evoke stories with a modern feel and a modern context.
Our objective today is intense, high level editing of some of the stories they have already produced, which Avril and I have read and treated to an initial edit. There is some great stuff here, fresh and interesting - a new take on this village which already rejoices in great natural storytellers.
Editing oneself is not easy - the big task is to gain some critical distance and to be prepared to develop instead of defend. And everyone here is wonderfully up for it. Having read a lot of these early drafts Avril and I evolved Ten Golden Rules which will definitely allow these good writers become better.
The Tall Tale stories have strengthened and deepened in the process: Agnes has written a wonderful evocation of fear in a mother living in these streets, showing courage under stress, nervous about the drug culture that is threatening her beloved son; Ann has written a story of people in a close knit street community who turn on a stranger; Terry has written a lyrical and quite modern tale of early marauders on this ancient coast; Mavis has written a tale of a missing child that turns into a ghost story; Joan has produced one of her intricate and rhythmical rhyming verses that are not only funny but finely crafted; Susan has written a truly comical, well crafted story about dancing miners; Mary’s insightful story returns us to the drug problem as a woman sits on a bench outside a chemist and tells a stranger how and why drugs are rife in this innocent village.
In the afternoon I work one to one on individual story tellers and Avril gives a poetry workshop to generate poems focusing on a changing place. The writers set to with vigour and the poems that are emerging are so very original and promising.
On the way back, both over-stimulated and exhausted , we stop to have tea and biscuits with my friend Judith, looking out over her tree lined garden. She serves tea in her grandma’s delicate cups and we are revived. The talk is always good with Judith. We talk about nearby Easington, and her husband Bill - who is passing through to the garden - tells us Easington people are the salt of the earth.
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