I was at a meeting yesterday a Low Newton Women’s prison to discuss a forthcoming event at the Durham Book Festival where a panel at the Gala Theatre Durham City on Tuesday 27th October will discuss the benefits of original writing in prison.
It will be a full session.
Readings by actresses of some writing by women in the prison will be interleaved with the other elements: Charlie Darby Villis, the inspirational prison librarian, will make the crucial link with reading; three writers - Avril Joy, Richard Hardwick and I - will give our view on our different experiences and will read extracts from our own creative fiction which spring from our experience working in prison – in Richard’s case also working with homeless young people in shelters and hostels. His novel is called Kicked Out. Avril will read from her novel Bad Girl. I will read from my short story collection Knives. My work at Low Newton was a direct inspiration for many stories in this collection.
This event is part of the legacy of the work in original writing and reading that Avril and I completed with the women at Low Newton before my second residency ended last year. This included our own ‘Litfest Inside’, planned to coincide with the Durham Litfest of that year, also our Orange Prize Project where prison readers paralleled the process of judging the short list. Also a wonderful and resonant book of the writings of the women with whom we worked – The Self Revealed – which has been admired by many outsiders.
All this was done without outside support. But this year the Durham Book Festival (which replaces the Litfest) is directed by the dynamic Alison Redshaw and she and Durham City Arts are fully supporting this initiative both in and out of the prison. Hooray for her!
I look forward to working alongside Richard; it’s always good to meet someone with similar preoccupations. We have already started a discussion - which may go on - about how one renders material so distinctively factual into authentic prose fiction without stealing people’s lives.
As I said to Richard, my work with women in prison was life enhancing and life changing. It resonates now through all of my work. For instance the new novel The Woman Who Drew Buildings begins with a young man, just out of prison, making his way to the house of his mother, whom he has not spoken to for two years.
I have close memories of the women which continues to resonate through my life. They made a difference to me. I hope I made a little difference to them.