Like any writer, I’m constantly on the lookout for inspiration. Often it tends to come to me, in ways completely unrelated to writing, but this Friday, I came to it.
Alongside two of my writer friends from university, I took a trip into Nottingham to attend the Storysmash Festival, the culmination of a creative writing and gaming project headed by Nottingham City Libraries. There were many different events going on during the afternoon, including the screening of a film about the project and a Q&A session, but our attention was focused largely on the masterclasses.
These were hour-long, workshop style sessions where published writers of different genres and backgrounds talked about facets of their work and writing process. I went to the masterclasses ran by crime writer Kim Slater and Tony White, and found myself amongst fellow audience members from inside and outside the writing community. Librarians, students, young children…it was a real reminder of how universal writing and its companion industries are.
As for the workshops themselves, they were packed with great tips and advice, regardless of what the writer’s path to publication was.
Kim Slater’s career path was remarkably similar to mine, from the love of writing in childhood to her English and Creative Writing degree, and allowed me to gain more insight into her views on character creation, despite our different writing interests. Much of what she said, particularly about creating characters with issues, was reassuring as they were things I had done before within my writing. However, much advice she gave that was specific to young adult fiction was new to me, as this was not a genre I had explored before.
More so than in adult fiction, she pointed out that YA characters tended to reflect their readers, and used the example of Kieran, the protagonist in her novel Smart to show how a different way of thinking could be an asset to a text. Furthermore, as a person with autism, her reflections on how this manifested in her novels was interesting to hear about – particularly in terms of how she never labels Kieran as being on the autistic spectrum.
The next masterclass, by Tony White, also focused on a class of writing I had very little experience with – that being, interactive writing for different platforms. I had dabbled in choose-your-own-adventure type games before, but never thought about the process that goes into creating them, so hearing about projects such as Ivy4evr (a story comprised entirely of text messages) gave me a real appreciation for the uses of these platforms, and how creating enough content for them is very hard work!
Tony also talked at length about A Place Free of Judgement, another project undertaken in collaboration with the artist group Blast Theory. Built around a 9-hour livestream of storytelling and creativity, it aimed to bring attention to the plight of Britain’s libraries from within their walls. Again, it was clear that lots of love, toil and expense went into the project, and it encouraged me to think about the way my writing can help people from a completely different perspective – not driven by characters that I create, but by myself.
As part of the project, Tony wrote a novella titled Zombies Ate My Library, about a group of West Midlands young people who livestream their sleepover in a haunted library, and come under threat from the undead, bureaucratic hoarde. He gave a short reading from it during his masterclass, and I immediately knew I wanted to read more of something that tackled the satiric elements so well. Despite the fact I have more unread books in my room than I know what to do with, I paid for him to sign a copy of Zombies.
It was during this time that I was able to follow up on a question I’d asked regarding Alice, a character in the book that uses a wheelchair, and disability representation more generally. He was all for representing society, and drew my attention to Liberating the Canon, an anthology of intersectional literature from publishing company Dostoyevsky Wannabe, featuring LGBT, genderqueer and disabled writers. To see this level of support from areas of the industry was empowering for me as a disabled woman, and gave me hope for this part of my identity could be embraced in my writing future.
There’s plenty more that I could talk about in regards to my expeeeicme at Storysmash, and Nottingham in general , but I’ll end by saying this: if the festival served to do one thing for me and my writing career, it was to expand my horizons, whilst reassuring me that my current ambitions were well-placed. A big thank you to all the writers and staff involved in making the afternoon such a success!
The Storysmash project is delivered by Nottingham City Libraries in partnership with National Videogame Foundation and Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature, funded by Arts Council England. Through workshops and masterclasses, it encourages young people to get involved in gaming and writing.