The Magic of Place – A Creative Writing Summer School

Chetham's Library courtyardManchester Metropolitan University’s annual Creative Writing Summer School is designed to push you into trying out new things. As a poet, I naturally signed up to attend most of the poetry sessions, but it was the ‘place writing’ workshops which I enjoyed the most. A visit to Chetham’s Library, on the second day of the summer school, was definitely the highlight for me – an opportunity to forget the pressure of honing my craft as a writer, to wander about and take photos, scribble down notes and enjoy the atmosphere of peace and tranquillity.   

Chetham's Library

The books at Chetham’s Library were originally chained to the shelves, so special stools were made to enable readers to sit near them

My first day involved attending two workshops on writing poetry in response to food, which I found difficult. Perhaps I’m just not that inspired by food, or perhaps I was feeling the pressure to make the two-day trip worthwhile by writing some prize-winning poetry. It was interesting to pick apart an epic poem about a hog roast by Donald Hall, and to attempt the complex task (instructed by the Writing School’s Director, Adam O’Riordan) of editing it down to its bare essentials – a task which really gets you thinking about the subtle art of editing.

Door at Chetham's LibraryI enjoyed hearing from historical novelist Jane Stevenson, as she described her research into the lives of women in the 16th and 17th centuries, explaining how letters and diaries can help us to relate to them more easily, as we battle with the age-old question: What was it really like?

On the second day, historical fiction writer Livi Michael gave us a tour of Chetham’s Library, which has its origins in the fifteenth century (it was first built as a church and then used as a grammar school). She guided us through a step by step analysis of ‘suspense’ as we considered the significance of focusing on detail. I never knew that Manchester was home to the oldest public library in the UK, nor that it was such a magical place, full of history, old books and secret doors.

suspense writing workshop at Chetham's Library

The suspense writing workshop at Chetham’s Library

I also enjoyed attending a session on ‘place writing’ led by non-fiction writer Rachel Lichtenstein, in which we were encouraged to consider new ways of researching places and seeking inspiration from them.

John Fennelly led a practical workshop on how to create a poetry pamphlet, and we looked at examples of ‘first’ and ‘last’ poems, considering the need for variety of form and meaning, in a session which could have lasted all day if we’d had the time.

Poetry pamphlet workshopHelen Mort’s workshop examined how we write about our bodies, and other people’s bodies. We compared some very different poems by writers such as Andrew McMillan and Julia Copus.

The two-day event was inspiring and encouraging, and I’m now pleased to say that the ideas were simmering away, and two new and exciting poems have since emerged, together with a feeling of connection, despite the fact that I’m studying by distance learning.

The Summer School runs each year in June, and is open to current MA / MFA students as well as members of the public.Chetham's Library - chained books

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