From 2017-2019, Nottingham writer Lauren Colley took part in Re:Vision, a workshop series run by the Critical Poetics Research Group. After attending our programme of free writing workshops, film-screenings and writers’ talks at Broadway Media Centre (2017), she participated in our online course (2018) and mentoring programme (2019). She was one of three European writers awarded our Re:Vision Prize for new work, which resulted in Writing the Contemporary: Poetry and Postcards from the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, edited by Daniel Cordle and Jo Dixon (Trent Editions, 2019). Here, she tells us what the project meant for her.
A free workshop from someone genuinely impassioned by their subject, a film screening and free biscuits: okay, what’s the catch? After a few weeks of Re:Vision that’s what I wondered, and possibly still wonder now. For someone who has always flicked wistfully through the Arvon brochure, Re:Vision was a once-in-a-lifetime process. That sounds like such a cliché, but I really did learn so much about how I engage with the world, and met some lovely people who actively wanted to be part of what was essentially mind-opening. The image comes to me of a skull and a small screwdriver prising up the lid every two weeks.
I realised that Re:Vision had taught me about more than writing.
Out of all the films that we viewed during the first workshop series, the one that sticks in my mind was about nuclear energy. The following year when, during a depressingly rainy holiday in Wales, I box-set-binged Chernobyl (just to cheer myself up!), I kept wondering if this was how it would go, how it always went: human beings making mess then trying to clear it up, and failing that, hiding it, burying it, like a global form of fly-tipping. I realised that Re:Vision had taught me about more than writing. I think about the making-connections theme when I see an old-fashioned telephone or a Nokia, when I try to find a big-buttoned phone for my partially-sighted grandma, about what connection is and means to me and how writing can make those connections. Even writing this I’m conscious of the act of communicating about communicating and making a choice to do so, giving it the best shot I can by way of writing.
There wasn’t always an explicit link between the films and the workshops themselves, which probably generated more thought, but left me wondering how it might have been to watch the film first and then done the writing workshops.
The next online stage of the course was more challenging, perhaps because I had not done an internet-based course before, and was dubious as to how suited I was to it. I definitely missed the anchoring certainty of a time, place and intent. It was certainly a good experience though and the tutors gave constant and detailed feedback.
Perhaps one of the significant things that I got out of Re:Vision was a more objective view of my work. The writing I have amassed over the years has always felt hugely disparate – folders, notebooks and computer files full of memoir, poetry, prose with no consistent theme or style. The ‘home’ section of the course made me realise that I have long had an almost unhealthy fascination with neighbours, and indeed went on to develop that in the mentoring part of the process.
It has helped me formulate what I actually think and feel about things.
Only in writing this do I realise how each stage of the Re:Vision process offered a different form of challenge, both socially and creatively. I began to see the creative-critical mindset as sort of paradoxical – taking a step back to evaluate serious world issues, even as you have to dive in creatively. It has helped me formulate what I actually think and feel about things.
When I won the Re:Vision prize I had to confront the horror of editing – something I have previously lacked the ability or motivation to do. There were quite a few bits of poem and alterations suggested that I felt dubious about, but that actually worked – a real ‘killing your darlings’ exercise. I think I’ve improved on the ‘less is more’ side to my work.
Most importantly Re:Vision renewed my severely flagging confidence in my work and I still feel all puffed with pride when I see Writing the Contemporary on my shelf. I will always be grateful for the energy, time, insight and patience everyone involved put in, and am pleased to have stayed in touch with some of the participants. Since the course I’ve actually added some more neighbourly scenes to the collection. Hopefully it will keep growing and maybe one day…
(…I’ll either publish it, or get arrested for snooping!)
Lauren Colley, UK Re:Vision Prize-Winner