Playing a Part in Mixing the Colours

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The last time Scotland experienced a solar eclipse was in 1999 and I’ve no idea where I was at the time. But I doubt I’ll forget the eclipse I witnessed on Friday morning. Luckily, I had time to pause on my way to the Mixing the Colours conference so I joined the crowds gathered in George Square. For a matter of minutes a gap in the clouds appeared and a cheer went up in honour of the eclipse.

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It was a memorable start to the day and the buzz continued during the conference. I’m a huge supporter of the Mixing the Colours project and attended one of their writing workshops at Glasgow Women’s Library to encourage women to write about their experiences of sectarianism. I have been the victim of sectarianism and it’s a key theme in my debut novel, Talk of the Toun, so the workshop stimulated me to write a short story very loosely based on childhood experiences. As part of the GWL project, I was chuffed to bits to be asked to record my short story for a podcast for GWL. You can listen to my piece, Smelly Catholic, here.

10245368_993640317314535_4791309367103094624_nThe conference was a great opportunity to present the project’s findings through a Knowledge Café exploring sectarianism in the context of wider gender inequality, presentations by Mixing The Colour’s Project Development Worker, Rachel Thain-Gray, Rosie Kane and Dr Margaret Malloch of Stirling University as well as a premiere of the Mixing The Colours film and the launch of the anthology of short stories and poems.

For me, the highlight of the day was hearing readings from other women writers, especially my friends, Ethyl Smith and Emma Mooney whose writing was entertaining as well as thought provoking. Pieces by Julie Robertson, Leela Soma and Marie-Therese Taylor also inspired me and I also enjoyed Magi Gibson’s performance of her specially commissioned Mixing The Colours – A Dramatic Monologue, and a poem by Nicola Burkhill which could be a new anthem for women speaking out about sectarianism.  You can watch Nicola perform her poem here – it’s a powerful piece!

The day of collective action against sectarianism highlighted the need for the inclusion and engagement of women in dialogues around sectarianism in Scotland and I felt privileged to play a very small part.

Have you used your writing to explore sectarianism?

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Mixing the Colours – Writing about Sectarianism

I’ve been to lots of reader events in 2013 but it’s been well over a year since I’ve attended a writing workshop. I’ve deliberately avoided signing up for workshops as I felt that after finishing my MLitt course, my writing had been workshopped to death and the life critiqued out of it. I also felt it was hard to justify spending any more money and adding to the hunners and hunners I’d already spent pursuing my writing ambitions.

downloadBut I saw a workshop advertised that really appealed to me for several reasons. The main reason was that it addressed the issue of sectarianism and this is something I’m very interested in and it is a theme which features in my WIP. Also, the workshop was led by poet and writer Magi Gibson and I knew she was an excellent tutor. And the event was free! So it was a total no-brainer to head to the wonderful Glasgow Women’s Library.

The workshop was organised as part of the Mixing the Colours project to challenge the view of women in relation to sectarian issues in Scotland. Scottish writing has stories, poems and dramas that explore the Catholic/Protestant experience. It’s part of our history, part of our culture, but women’s voices are all but silent.

Magi asked the group to share their experience of sectarianism and what it meant to grow up as a Protestant or a Catholic girl in Scotland.  It was fascinating to hear the diverse range of experiences and I knew that the group would produce thought-provoking pieces of writing. As a prompt, we were all asked to start writing with, “I remember…” and put these experiences down on paper.

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The lively group of women went very quiet as we all scribbled furiously before sharing our writing. And what an inspirational group! The writing styles varied and meant that some of the tales made us laugh out loud whilst others made us gasp in horror. But the key feature of them all was a talent for giving a voice to the issue of sectarianism from a female perspective.

The piece which I produced was based on a childhood memory of being verbally and physically abused because I was brought up as a Catholic but lived in a council scheme dominated by Protestants. This was not an isolated case and I witnessed many forms of sectarianism on both sides throughout my childhood and as an adult in the workplace.

NBM-Boy-PosterI do believe that times have changed for the better and organisations such as Nil by Mouth are doing fantastic work to tackle the problem and to rid Scotland of the destructive social impact that sectarianism has upon our lives and upon our society. But I’m keen to be involved in any way I can to help raise awareness of the issue.

The group is going to get-together in two weeks after polishing our initial drafts and I’m looking forward to meeting up again to benefit from the energy and ideas of talented women. I hope to incorporate my piece into my WIP or as a short story so I’m glad I took myself and my writing back into a workshop setting again.

Is sectarianism an issue that has featured in your writing? Do you regularly attend writing workshops?

Write On

Last week, I blogged about whether I could sustain a blog about writing without the backdrop of my MLitt programme for material with the worry that the source of content might run dry.

I was being too narrow-minded. One of my twitter writing pals, Josephine Corcoran, rightly pointed out that, “Updates about a chapter, re-writes, books you’ve read, workshops you’ve attended, articles you’ve read, programmes you’ve listened to, places you visit, conversations you overhear – however you engage with all of this material” is all related to writing. Wendy Storer, said blogging is, “just like writing anything really – write through the blocks and you dig up all sorts of stuff you weren’t planning or expecting.”  And one of my long-time friends, Jill commented on Facebook that I shouldn’t feel pressure to blog about something related to writing and just write about “whatever comes up your proverbial”.

So it’s business as usual and this week I do have a bit of ‘writing’ news.  Firstly, one of my short stories is to be published in the 2nd edition of Valve Literary Journal and I’m absolutely chuffed to add this to my literary CV.  Put yee and ha together to make Yeeha!

The second piece of news is that, I joined a local writers’ group. Ever since finishing the MLitt classes, I’ve felt a bit adrift at no longer belonging to a like-minded group of people. I’m very lucky to have a supportive home life but none of the three males that I share a home with share my love of literature (the most they read is the Glasgow Herald and 2/3 only read the Sports pages). It can be a lonely existence when there’s no one around to discuss POV, WIP, 3rd person narrative, dramatic function blah blah blah. I missed the group structure, submission deadlines and banter of being involved with other writers all on the same page. So I took the plunge on Tuesday night and went along to Stirling Writers’ Group (thanks for the recommendation Laura).

As a virgin (it’s been a long time since I could make that claim), you don’t share your work and are only expected to observe/participate in the discussions at your first meeting. It is early days and I’ve joined at the penultimate meeting for this session, but in the words of Arnie, “Hasta la vista baby”.

Before I went along, I was cautious about committing to a writing group (I kept a close eye on the door but it remained unlocked and there was no initiation ceremony where I was asked to spill blood) who might not match my writing ambitions. I’d heard scary stories of amateur hobby groups who met only for a good blether and bitch about each other’s writing.

Stirling’s first makar for nearly 500 years but well worth the wait!

But the beauty of this group is that they have regular professional tutors to give proper constructive feedback. On Tuesday, the tutor was Magi Gibson and I was well impressed by her sharp, intuitive constructive criticism on the work of the members. Without the input of an experienced writer to facilitate, there’s always a danger that a writing group could simply be a case of the blind leading the blind but this is not going to be a problem at SWG.

So next week, I’ll offer up my words for the group to chew on and possibly spit out but the beauty is that I’ll have a deadline and an audience for my work. And that can only be a good thing, whether they like my writing or not!