Category Archives: ME4 Writers

ME4Writers ‘highly commended’ at Medway Culture and Design Awards

Award certificate The writing collective I set up in 2009 has been ‘Highly commended’ at last week’s Medway Culture and Design Awards.

The judges said that they thought ME4Writers had done a lot of really good work in the short time since it was set up and commended us for leading the way in re-invigorating Medway’s literary scene. Our writing work with the local community was also praised and we were mentioned as a group to watch!

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Word tennis

photo of a creative writing class

Creative writing class in action

Word tennis is a writing warm-up exercise I use sometimes in creative writing classes to break the ice and get everyone in a writing mood. The results are usually a lot of fun and each person puts their own spin onto the game. I always say that the sillier the piece of writing is the better, though often the results are really good!The way to play is to read out about 10 words at 30 second intervals. The words should be incorporated into a piece of writing. It doesn’t matter if a few words are missed out, though best to try to include them all!

Here are some pieces from three of the students on a creative letter writing class I led this week, as part of the ‘Letters Home’ project and exhibition, to show how different the pieces can be that come from this simple and fun exercise.

The words:

Leaves / Brown / Fire / Roast chestnuts / Frost / Woolly jumper (or cardi) / Cold / Dark / Puddle / Home

Bose:

The autumn leaves covered the ground like a brown carpet majestically woven and gleaming in the evening sun as if on fire. All you needed to complete the dream was roast chestnuts which will make you forget the frost outside. Sitting comfortably in front of the TV in a woolly jumper, not minding the dark and cold outside takes you into another world.

I watched as the little girl jumped up and down in a puddle as her mother shouted, ‘hurry home’.

Jane:

Leaves are falling, red, yellow, brown… falling from tress which are brown. Our trees are falling too. The fallen trees become wood for my fire. I would roast chestnuts on it but it is enclosed in a box, a wood burning stove. Great when the frost is on the ground early morning. I am wearing my hand-knitted charity shop woolly cardigan as I write. My body is warm but my thoughts are sometimes dark and cold. A puddle reflects the same dark and cold in the world. And we long for home… the warmth, the light, the welcome.

Nigel:

‘The train leaves at 11.20 0n the dot, darling, so we have to hurry!’

‘Yes, I’m just getting my brown bag from the wardrobe – I’ll be with you in a tick!’

‘Look there’s someone outside lighting a fire in the old drum…’

‘Yes’ she said, ‘I know, he’s selling roast chestnuts.’

‘That’ll be good to warm us! It’s laying down a thick frost outside.’

‘We’ll have to wear woolly jumpers in the Lake District.’

‘Yes and it’ll be dark and cold when we arrive.’

‘Come on love, I’m out the door – and mind the puddle as you step out.’

‘OK honey, hope it’s just like home from home.’

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A poetry treasure hunt

picture of a poem

Poem at large

Last year I invented a game. It’s a poetry treasure hunt, where poetry postcards are placed around a town and clues left on social media for people to follow. It is a game to celebrate National Poetry Day and to try to get people thinking about, and enjoying, some free poetry. I called it ‘Poetrymon’ as you have to find them all…

The players have been the hiders of the poems  (from the writing collective I run, ME4Writers), and the seekers of the poems, (in this case the people of Medway, where we have played the game for the last two years).

Is it an immersive game? Is it theatre? Is it performance? An art installation? Is it some strange hybrid?

The Hiders are playing the role of covert operative, the Seekers the role of sleuth.

The journey is for the most part unscripted – though we have a plan of where we want to put poems, plans have to change on the fly as we encounter obstacles, such as locked gates and the approach of night.

The game takes the whole day and we document it as we go. The hiders’ increasing tiredness is part of the performance… if it is a performance… We welcome feedback and place a QR code on a poem as the only identifier of the project, so the finder needs to have access to a smart phone in order to find out more. Part of the project is that we do not expect every poem to be found, and not everyone who finds them will have a smart phone, so where and when they are found, sometimes they are a sweet mystery. We hid 28 poems across 5 towns this year. The cards are individually crafted and each one unique. Sometimes it is hard to leave them, but we hope that if they are found, they give a little joy.

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How to start a Live Literature night

Sam Hall, organiser of Medway-based live literature night ‘Write Now!’ and founder of 17Percent, an organisation for female playwrights talks you through setting up a new live literature night.

ME4 Writers at the Dickens Festival 2011, by Nikki Price http://nikkipphotography.co.uk

ME4 Writers at the Dickens Festival 2011, by Nikki Price

I have been organising and hosting live literature readings under ME4 Writers’ ‘Write Now!’ banner for two years. It’s an occasional live night of readings, fun activities and cupcakes, with the aim of introducing and showcasing a variety of genres of writer, with the emphasis on local writers. I have also organised showcase and discussion nights for female playwrights, and am developing a new playwriting night to start in Kent in Autumn.

Organising events can be stressful and hard work, it can make you feel uneasy (especially waiting for the audience to turn up!), but it’s massively rewarding and fun, once the event is in swing.  This article is to help you set up your own live literature event.

It gets easier really quickly
The first event I put on was a baptism of fire; though I had helped out at events and arranged fundraising parties for plays before, I had never really organised and hosted an event. But somehow I ended up organising and hosting four literary events in as many weeks. I was sick with nerves before the first event. But as soon as you’ve done it once, you know whether it’s for you or not. Fortunately, it was for me.

The key is planning and organisation. I’d also say you need a back-up plan and to be flexible as people always drop-out at the last minute. It’s all about what you can get done for free or very little money – you would be surprised how helpful people will be, once you explain what you’re doing.

Plan before you act
Think about why you are doing the event, what are its aims and where would be a good venue. I think that ‘because it’d be cool to do a literary night on a boat’ is as valid as ‘I want to introduce new writers to the community’ – as long as you can back up both reasons with solid planning. If it is on a boat – think about maybe giving it a nautical theme. If you do go for an unusual venue, check out that whoever owns it has the relevant public liability insurance.

Have a theme
When I became editor of a Camden magazine, the first thing I did was to introduce a theme to the issues. A random collection of articles doesn’t give the reader a satisfactory emotional journey, it’s more fun to dip in and out of. I think the best literary nights take you on an emotional journey, so think about the order and try to start and finish with your strongest writers. The theme could be very loose, and every writer will interpret the theme differently – at least, make sure they do, as no-one wants to hear five pieces of writing that are all of the same pace, and the same story.

Brevity is best
Keep individual stories down to 1000 words, or less (works out around 8-10 minutes when read). Unless you have a brilliant storyteller, listening to the same person telling a story becomes soporific – maybe this is due to where we are used to hearing stories, as children, at bedtime. In fact you want to try and get some brilliant readers involved if you can – a point I deal with later.
A slot for a poet should also be no more than 6-10 minutes. This could be as little as reading 1-3 poems – they can always do more later, if time allows, it is important to break up the sound of the reading voices and the styles of writing. Make sure you stick to the running order, so you don’t end up with writers who haven’t had a chance to perform as other people have run on.

Venues
Venues are the thing that cause me the most angst. Ideally you want the venue to donate the space for free in return for bringing an audience in to buy drinks and/or food. You also want a venue that can be shut off from other customers in some way – if it’s in a pub – a room above it is better than a space at the back next to the loos, where people who have just come in to have a quiet drink will be irritated by your literary venture. If it is a room in a pub, go to the venue at the same day and time your event will be held on, to check out the ambient noise. I once had a play performed in a pub where the men’s loos were right behind the stage. This meant at one point during a particularly emotional moment on stage, the actors were interrupted by someone in the loos having a loud argument.

ME4 Writers Alternative Picnic pic

ME4 Writers Alternative Royal Wedding open mic

What venue suits what you’re doing? If it’s a Halloween night – can you do your reading in a church crypt? If it’s a cafe – will they open after hours so that the coffee machine isn’t steaming away whilst your readers try to perform.

If the venue charges a fee for the space, then work out how much you will need to charge to cover your costs via an entry fee. Talk to the venue owner or manager, once they know what you’re doing isn’t going to make loads of money (sorry, but it isn’t), and will bring in new customers, they might give you a discount, or give you the venue for free in exchange for including their logo on your publicity. If it’s an unusual venue, check whether you might need permission from the owner, and think about insurance.

Readers vs writers
Do you have any actor friends who might like to showcase their reading skills for the night? Sometimes writers are brilliant at reading their own work, but sometimes a reader can bring something extra to it. For the writer, particularly of drama, it’s often really helpful to hear someone else perform your work, so you can check out what works.

Contributors
Most likely you won’t be able to offer your contributors a fee, but you could offer 2 free tickets if you are charging, and reduced price tickets for friends. They could also bring copies of their pamphlets/books to sell. And of course they will be promoting their writing. If you have a friend who is well-known or already on the live literature circuit – invite them as a guest and let them do a 10-minute guest slot. Make sure you put their name on your fliers and other promotional materials.

Always have a Plan B in case somebody is ill on the day or can’t make it. If you are a writer yourself bring some extra poems or a story, just in case.

Other fun
What else could you do to make the evening more fun – can you do a quiz or some sort of raffle?  We usually giveaway free cupcakes! Books are always good prizes, you could choose second hand books to fit the theme.

Promotion
Have you got an artistic friend who can design you an eye catching flier? Think about unusual fliers – there are many online companies who will print 250 business cards very cheaply – could you use these as fliers? Do you have access to b+w printing at work? Printing black on coloured paper can be eye-catching. You need to start thinking about your fliers and posters about 6 weeks before the day, so that you can get willing helpers to plant them about.

Use all your social networks – set up a Facebook page and invite people to your event, Tweet about the event, make a blog – but don’t send out too many invites to the same event. It’s annoying. At the end of any email messages ask people to pass it on to someone who might like it – you’d be surprised how many extra people this will get your message out to. Make sure the venue has copies of your flier and lists the event on their website. If there are local writing and reading groups, let them know about it too. Libraries are a good place to put an A4 poster.

Find out the local papers contact info and get your event listed – this normally takes just an email, and a lot of listings websites have an online submission form. If your event is a bit wacky or topical you might even find yourself interviewed by the local paper, as I was for an ME4 Writers Alternative Royal Wedding Open Mic event!

Finally get your contributors to bring all their friends along! If you are charging entry maybe offer a pound off for contributors’ friends and family, using a guestlist. That way you can usually get a bit of an idea about numbers before the day – which can be quite reassuring.

Be early
On the day you have to get to the venue at least half an hour early – sometimes audience members will turn up early and you have to decide whether to let them sit there and watch you set up, or whether to ask them to go to the bar. If your venue has a bar or cafe, that’s great, but if not you have to decide if you want to risk sending that person away, as they might not come back. You might have to set up seats and move tables – so if you are concerned about spoiling your clothes – bring your best stuff to change into. Now is where it really helps if you’ve got some friends to share tasks with. Check audio is working if using a mic, (hopefully you will have a techy friend or group member who can sort the audio-visuals out for you.) Make sure you know where the toilets and the fire exit are and let people know in your introduction.

If there are a few of you – assign roles, one person to meet and greet, one person to collect entry fees, one person to look after the contributors and let them know where they are in the lineup and how long their set is. Let them know where and when they can sell their pamphlets/books if they’ve got some. If one of you is a good photographer, get them to take some photos of the event or video, and post them on Facebook and Youtube after. You should let people know that there may be photos/film taken of them and let them say no, if they don’t want to be on film.

In your intro make sure you let people know the format of the evening – eg, half an hour, followed by a break, followed by another half hour, and thank the audience and writers/readers for coming.

At the end thank everyone again and let them know they can join an email list to find out about upcoming events – have a book and pen ready at the back of the room!

So that’s the event done.
It doesn’t end there though! Now’s the time to collect some informal feedback and use it to make your next event even better. You can do this with a comment form, or just ask people what they thought and if there was anything they would like to see next time.

I really enjoy arranging live literature events because from the point of view of a writer, there is nothing like hearing your words read by someone and seeing the effect they have on the audience. It’s hard work but it is worthwhile, and I think it’s an essential way for new writers to get their work out there. Good luck with your event!

to do list pic

Don't forget!

Sam Hall is a writer, mostly of drama and short stories. Her stories have been performed at ‘Are you sitting comfortably?’ and are published by Ether Books.  She hosts ‘Write Now!’ events with other members of ME4 Writers, the Medway writing group she leads.

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i am small THE WORLD IS BIG

map picture

I attended a very stimulating workshop as part of accidental collective’s i am small THE WORLD IS BIG project on Saturday 16 April.

Each member of ME4 Writers, (a group I set up a few years ago when I moved to Kent,) cut up and reshaped the world according to something personal to them.

My map was a memory piece about all the places I’ve been on holiday.

ME4 Writers will be doing some writing inspired by the event, which will be available at the accidental collective open event on 28 May at Kent County Hall. Come along, re-make your own world and hear some of ME4 Writers’ writing too.

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My lecture on tattoos for ME4 Writers live event

Photo: Sam Hall reads at ME4 Writers event

Sam Hall reads at ME4 Writers event

I delivered this ‘lecture’ as part of ME4 Writers live literature event on 5 March. You can find out more about ME4 Writers at http://me4writers.wordpress.com.

Trend it like Beckham

Deciding to permanently alter your body is the ultimate statement of self-possession.

For centuries people have altered the way they look – temporarily with clothes and make up – or more permanently with tattoos, scars and piercings.

This body is mine and I reclaim it from fashion and fad by making the additions and refinements that please me.

The first piercings and tattoos were used for the dual purpose of ritual and decoration.

Giant holes in the earlobes of the ancient Mayans signify not only high standing, but also participation in the important religious ceremony of piercing.

In Africa scarring on the face represents a complex language in itself.

An old Maori endurance ritual involves being tattooed from head to foot with no anaesthetic.

Sailors of former and latter days used tattoos and earrings as a corporeal chart, their bodies mapping their voyages in a secret language.

The swallow is similar to the bluebird tattoo in that they both represent hope, but the swallow is also considered to be a nautical tattoo.  Sailors would celebrate after seeing a swallow as it meant that their journey was almost over and that they were close to land.

For many sailors each journey would be represented by another swallow on their sleeve and a swallow with a dagger through it would mean that they had lost a friend at sea.

Across the globe people have reshaped their bodies – by removing ribs, elongating necks, or flattening foreheads in the attempt to transcend the everyday into the holy.

It was perhaps the ultimate empowerment: this body is mine and I can do with it as I please.

But what of modern body art? We have transformed these early individualistic, ceremonial urges. The desire to have the same tattoos as Robbie Williams or David Beckham.  Is that a work of living art? Is that holy? Does it tell you a secret about you?

We have decided to stamp our lack of individuality on our skin, like a brand. Brand it like Beckham. A trend no more extreme or ritualistic, but simply mundane.

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