Front cover of book

Literature which connects with new writers

Literature is being used to assist vulnerable and homeless people to view their past and future in alternative and more positive ways. The Exeter based project ‘Stories Connect’ is publishing a book of short stories and poems which reflect these experiences. 

Various organisations have joined forces to enable the creative writing project to develop and assist the people who use the Devon Drugs Service, Devon and Cornwall Probation Trust, Devon Community Foundation and the voluntary organisation Shilhay. The University of Exeter’s English department is also involved in an advisory and facilitating capacity, through the voluntary work of Dr Sally Flint. She said: “Stories Connect offers people a place to discuss themes outside their day to day lives and to realise the potential for positive change. By reading, listening and discussing literature, participants and facilitators, become interested in and learn from other people’s points of view and an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect soon develops.”

Inspired by Alan Bennett’s, Talking Heads, the group wanted to write their own stories and a creative writing experiment began. Louise Ross, the co-ordinator of ‘Stories Connect’, initially trained in Drama and English and has a career background in Community Justice. She believes that ‘Stories help us make sense of our lives.’

The book of poems and interlinked short stories is entitled ‘Lessons’.  The process for creating the book emerged out of an experiment to write collaboratively in which each writer invented and developed a character. Then, through an imaginary event, characters were brought together. 

Louise Ross explained: “Some of us had never written a story or poem before, some of us had read and written lots and, perhaps what this book reveals best, and why we wanted it published, is to show how the process of writing brought us together. The result, this book, proves that stories and poems can unite people at all levels, regardless of age, background, ethnicity or past histories. In the process of creating we encountered the unexpected and overcame challenges.’

Participants who have completed the ‘Stories Connect’ course receive a certificate of endorsement from the Creative Writing Department at the University of Exeter and some have gone on to secure jobs and gained places in further education. Several have also completed writing courses with the Arvon Foundation. The publication of ‘Lessons’ seeks to raise interest in using literature and writing to expand ‘Stories Connect’ to other vulnerable groups in society.

 Poet and broadcaster Matt Harvey, host of Radio 4’s Wondermentalist Cabaret and a regular on Saturday Live, supports and works with ‘Stories Connect’ will be introducing the book at the launch on 8th November at St Stephen’s Church, High Street, Exeter. The book will be on sale at the launch and at Waterstones in Exeter. It has been published by Dirt Pie Press, an independent venture based at and supported by the University of Exeter, which also publishes the short story journal Riptide

Date: 8 November 2012

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