Writer of the Month
Alison is a poet & novelist, short story writer & performer and teaches writing in the community, prisons, university, adult education, the NHS – in fact anywhere.
She is also experienced at leading bibliotherapy groups, using reading aloud to increase wellbeing. It works!
Alison’s chapbook April’s Fish was published by Koo Press in 2007 and her
short fiction has been published by Virago and has featured on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio Wales (short story and Poetry Please). In 2012 Alison was a finalist in the Novelicious novel competition.
She is a seasoned performer and has performed in various venues including at the Edinburgh Fringe and the Bloomsbury Theatre.
Alison is also a novice but enthusiastic ukulele player.
Writing East Midlands caught up with Alison to chat about her work and what she’s been up to.
You’ve had successes with poetry, short stories, a novel and as a performer; would you say you have a favourite form?
All the forms feel so different to be involved with. Writing poetry is the way I process events and feelings, it’s out there in the air like a buffer or a filter. Prose is much more like something mined out from below or inside. Performance is great because it let’s you see and hear the instant reactions of people listening and watching. To say there was a favourite would be like saying I had a favourite child, I love them all in different ways and when one is annoying me I have the others to talk to.
Do you have different approaches to each form?
Poetry is always longhand first. Hand writing feels part of the process of writing and rewriting. It’s also handy because a lot gets written in workshops as I almost always do the exercises that I set for students. Then it is typed which works to give a little distance. Prose is typed straight onto the screen these days. I used to hand write then type up but it takes so long. I’m a very fast touch typist so it doesn’t interfere with the creative process. There is no difference in the process for writing for performance and the page. Certain poems just work well in performance, I know that others will not. I’ve become better at putting together sets that have some texture.
You teach creative writing in adult education and many other settings; what made you want to teach creative writing?
Running workshops arose naturally out of being in writers’ groups which were very formative experiences for my writing in the early days. I find the process of writing to be good for the way I understand the world and has enabled me to express myself – both things I think are important. I am the type of evangelising person who always wants to persuade people to do things I love so it seemed natural to want to teach creative writing. I want everyone to feel the way I feel when writing has really taken hold of me. That connection with my own creativity and thought. I’m the same with the ukulele. I want everyone to buy one and play it. Just get one. Ok?
You will be teaching Writing from the Body at Writing School Leicester. Sounds exciting, where does the idea behind this come from and what does it involve?
Writing for me has always been a physical experience and I wanted to design a course that would explore some ways of accessing writing through the body rather than always imagining it coming from the brain or mind. We are connected individuals, mind, body and spirit and I think all these things are involved with who we are and how we are in the world and by extension, how we write and what we write about. We all get stuck in ruts and the exercises on this course will aim to surprise us into different states. It will involve lots of different writing exercises based on gently physical things. It’s experimental and will be interesting!
You’ve also done long standing work in bibliotherapy; could you tell our readers more about this? How does it work?
Bibliotherapy works on the principle of The Reading Cure, or that reading can make you feel better. It’s very simple but very effective. Reading aloud in a group. I don’t think it’s a surprise to anyone that reading can make you feel better. Readers are wiser, more empathic and reading aloud extends this into a group experience. Group members share a text aloud, taking it in turns to read and stopping frequently to discuss the feelings arising from the text, whether a poem or short story or a novel. I’ve been involved with delivering bibliotherapy for a few years now and am absolutely convinced it works. The results can be remarkable.
What interests you in working with creative writing and Mental Health?
I’ve been very privileged to work with a great many interesting and highly creative people through my work in mental health and in other areas too. It has definitely increased my own understanding of the differences and similarities between people whether they are mental health service users, adult education learners, asylum seekers, teenagers, people serving life sentences in prison or anyone else – there is almost always a willingness to take part in writing exercises and to get something positive from the experience. I think it’s broadened my own way of looking at the world to be allowed an insight into the intimate working of writers’ minds, whatever their background and circumstances. There is a huge amount of fear and prejudice towards many people in our society and getting to know people is the way to overcome it. I remain enthusiastic about the good outcomes of self expression and these outcomes are apparent in all kinds of groups.
Where do you think your writing career will take you next?
It’s always surprising and I do like that. I’ve never really been one for knowing what comes next and for all that security malarkey. When the phone rings or an email pops into my inbox my rule for myself is to say ‘yes’ and then work out how to do things. I’ll be talking to a conference of English teachers soon and getting involved with songs to promote lung health. So it’s always varied. I’ve been very much enjoying working with artists in other disciplines, ceramicists and visual artists and so I’d really like to do more of that and something that I haven’t really done before is a residency, I’d like to try that too.
Where can our readers find out about your writing and upcoming events?
My website ivoryfishbone.wordpress.com is kept up to date with what I’m doing
To find out more about the courses Alison will be teaching this term at the Writing School Leicester, click here.