What can you tell our readers about your new blog?
Everybody has a story to tell, thoughts and feelings to share, and some are talented enough to present it as poetry and prose. The whole idea of the site was to get people who wouldn't normally write to write - and they did! A lot of the people who sent me creatve work had never been published and really didn't believe they had anything valuable to say. They were beaming with smiles when I put their work on the site, and I wasn't trying to do people favours. I wanted people to see that what they have to share is valid and valuable, and others can relate to it, learn from it and be made aware by it.
You are an MA creative writing student at the University of Bolton, but how did the blog all come about?
The blog came about as part of a project. As part of the MA, we all had to put writing into context. My passion has always been helping people help themselves. I have worked in Adult Literacy and ESOL for a few years now and the project was a natural extension of my teaching, working with a wider range of people. When people started sending me work, I knew I had to ake it available for the world to see, and publishing books can be a long and tiring process. Going online seemed the best way to make the poems and stories accessible to the authors and anyone willing to read. We've had a huge number of hits from as far as Singapore and the USA.
Can you tell us about the process from start to finish?
I basically stuck a poster up in my local coffee shop, asking people to send me poems and prose. I left the brief fairly open and unrestrcited so not to alienate people. I also made it clear that any level of English would be acceptable. I approached a few of the regulars and word started to spread. I got a poem within three days. More came after that. People were really enthusiastic about being part of a writing project. They were keen to meet me and chat about all the wonderful things that could be achieved through such a project. Suggestions for getting funding, working with artists and photographers and starting a coffee house journal starting trickling in. I've definitely put on a few pounds from all the extra lattes and slices of cake people bought me while we sat to discuss their work. I helped some people edit and rethink some aspects of their work. One or two stories were too gory or graphic for the site and I had to ask the writers to work on using subtlety to create more impact. Most of the work I left untouched because it had a clear stamp of the individual who contributed it. I only changed typing errors or spelling mistakes. Eventually, I had to limit my personal interaction to emails and texts as a full-time job made it difficult to meet each individual for hours.
I started showing poems to friends and colleagues, and they were surprised at the high quality of some of the work. Eventually, I started the blog so that I could send people links to the poems. I even put a link on facebook each time I published a submission. People were lapping up the poems and stories and sending really positive messages. Some people starting making suggestions for writing challenges or finding ways to interpret the challenges that I wasn't expecting. People really made a huge effort, all because they wanted to write. There was no prize or money on offer, just the offer of support and someone to read their work. It was more than enough to get poeple putting pen to paper. I'm still in the throws of receiving work and getting it on the site, the project is still going strong.
What has been your favourite part of the whole process?
The highlight and most rewarding part of the project has been reading the work of people who used to be my students in some way; I've taught English in various different strains. Some people started with me with a very low level of Literacy. They had experienced so many barriers to learning. Knowing they have made the most of the opportunities they have been given and seeing them flourish is really heart-warming. I have so much respect for the people who have decided to change their lives and done it.
What have your learned from creating this writing community in Bolton?
I've learnt that people have a great deal of respect for writing as a talent. Sometimes, I think those of us who can write get so caught up in producing a great poem or story, editing to perfection, scrutinzing it over and over; we completely forget just what a gift we have. We forget to respect our talents and abilities. I also think I've learnt to be grateful for all the opportunities I have had, and not take for granted what it means to be an English teacher.
What is the best feecback you have been given since starting this all up?
Without a doubt, getting an email from Mark L Knowles to tell me he has started his own website.
You are a poet by heart, what poems do you like to write?
My poetry is very much from the heart, spiritual and philosophical. If I have had a terrible day, my poems take the tone and pace of those emotions. I think my greatest struggle is finding a balance between love, knowledge and good: what my world feels like without love, without value; the purpose of knowledge and knowing what to do with it; what is right and good when faced with adversity; do I really need my heart broken again and again to be a better person? (And by that, I don't just mean dates and boyfriends, I mean all the things that are heart-breaking in our lifetimes). I suppose there's a definite intensity in my work.
Who are your reading influences?
Primo Levi - reading 'If this is a man' made me grateful for every hot shower, every time a put my head on a soft pillow, every morsel I eat, and strengthened my sense of resposibility as a writer to reach others and make progress as a person Roald Dahl - creating his own vacabulary to tell amazing stories Vahni Capildeo - a storm of intellect, knowledge and a pioneer of the self
What does your future hold in terms of your writing?
At the moment, I'm working on a collection of short horror stories. The fictional stories are based on horrible things human beings are capable of. That's as much as I will reveal at this stage.
How much of your MA has been a worthwhile process?
I did the MA for me, and in that sense, the MA at The University of Bolton has ticked every box and opened new opportunities I hadn't considered. I am even urging others to take up a BA or MA in Creative Writing and related subjects, because I have learnt so much about myself and what I can give to other people. I have gained such a sense of self and self-worth that I know the MA was a catalyst for. Being taught by such great people, who actually care about students and love their subject makes a world of difference. So many universities are only thinking of pass grades and pound signs. I did my Philosophy BA and PGCE at the University of Bolton. At Bolton, the students come first and on this course, poetry has been the priority - that's why I keep going back there.
What comes next for the blog?
I still have a lot of work to edit and publish, so I think the blog is going to continue as long as people keep wanting to contribute. Hopefully, I can get some prominent local writers to contribute their work share their comments on things people have sent in.
See Anita's work in the Get Published section; Twelve Inch Special and her short story The Stapler.
Interview by Lucy Walton