Saturday, 8 September 2012

Talking With Prison Writers Under a Clear Night Sky

The Indefatigable Pauline...
I arrived in London after a weekend in deepest mid Wales spent with other ex-prison writers in residence, before the induction week for new writers in residence for prisons. I was there at the invitation of the Writers in Prison Network, This is the  brainchild of Clive Hopwood and Pauline Bennet who work indefatigably to introduce into some fortunate English prisons energetic, creative people - writers, poets, film makers and storytellers - to leaven the mix of prisoners, teachers and officers and to offer something new and inspiring into these complex environments.
In my experience, the writer in residence can to a smaller or larger extent change lives. See here and here .

We stayed in an ancient extended farmhouse deep in the Welsh countryside - atmospheric to say the least.  It was good to talk to Steve a short story and historical writer now working on a book about a circle of friends of Conan Doyle - a kind of crime club where gentlemen read to each other papers about their own amateur sleuthing.
And also Andy, just appointed as a writer in residence in a men's prison, and wondering what he was in for. I recommended the short stories of (very blue collar macho...) Raymond Carver to inspire his students and Stephen King's On Writing to help them get inside the head of a writer. All quite macho of course. But that can help in a men's prison. (Look at Raymon Carver's What Do We Talk About When We Talk About Love?) 

And there was Sheilagh, who is about to go into the prison where I worked as a writer in residence. I told her she would enjoy it and find women to support her as they mostly support each other.
Clive and Pauline were recording short interviews for their developing WIPN website and I was asked for my top tips for new writers coming into this project.

I can't quite remember what I said but on reflection this is what I should have said:

1. Keep a very open mind.
2. Like the people you meet - this includes both prisoners and officers, some of whom do an amazing job
3. Don't get too fascinated by crime - don't identify your students by their crime  - move on with and for them.
6. Tailor your provision to the needs of individual students, not the needs of the institution or your own need for certain creative outcomes. Yes, I know this takes a certain amount of savvy and subtle political manoeuvring. But from experience, I know it is possible.
7. Always keep up  with your own writing and creative work. Read it and share it with your students. Write alongside them. (Risky I know, but they are taking a risk writing aren't they, writing for you?) In doing both of these things, you are showing proper respect and respect goes a long way in prisoners.
We were invited to take advantage of a outdoor hot tub at the farm but I am sure to everyone's relief I wasn't moved to disrobe.
But I did have two great treats.  One was a lady invited by Pauline who treated me to a hot stone massage on the Sunday morning and told me I had wonderful skin.

The other was the wide, unpolluted night sky of mid Wales which was pure and very grand. A good scene for a story or an inspiration for a poem.


PS For those out there who, as individuals or institutions, have long pockets or philanthropic inclinations Clive and Pauline are always searching for funding this remarkable project. Contact them at


  1. I'm sure you will really have inspired the writers you met at the weekend Wendy just as you inspired the women in HMP Low Newton.

    Your advice to writers is wise and thoughtful - it's the best possible advice for someone going into this often unknown and difficult situation.

    Thank goodness for organisations like the Writers In Prison Network, and people like Clive and Pauline,they make a huge impact on the lives of prisoner.

  2. Working at LN alongside you and those special women was an education in itself A life time inspiration. Wx



Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...