“Come gather ’round people / Wherever you roam / And admit that the waters / Around you have grown…”
As the theme of this year’s So: To Speak Festival, ‘Changing Times’ was bound to be ripe for inspiration – as, it turned out, were the events of our own lifetimes. We met at the Art House on Thursday 19th and at the Central Library on Saturday 21st (when we were thrilled to welcome several new women to the fold) and began work on the Changing Times theme by first mining our own histories.
Stealing ever-so-slightly from Billy Joel, who used the milestone of his fortieth birthday to write a song chronicling major world events from the previous four decades (Remember? “Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnny Ray”…fairly rudimentary poetry as it goes, but you have to admire the rhyming of ‘H-bomb’ with ‘Panmunjom’), I asked the groups to write a timeline of all the world events we could remember in each year of our lives. Inevitably we had some gaps that had us scratching our heads (did anything happen in the mid-00s? Was I really that drunk for the whole of the early 90s?) so we helped each other out until we had a decent list. We then overlaid these with our own, more private, meaningful milestones – births, marriages, deaths, broken bones, broken hearts and momentous journeys.
What we’d created was a whole list of evocative opening lines, from ‘I was born the year Yuri Gagarin first went into space’ to ‘I started sixth form college the same year the Berlin Wall came down’, and we used these as a jumping-off point for some autobiographical prose.
What we got were some fantastic stories. Anchoring our experiences in real events gave colour and context; we found stunning parallels in freedoms found, and power broken down.
How many of us have wished for an extra hour in the day? We wrote stories with the opening line ‘That particular October, it was decided that an extra hour would be added to each day.’ Almost without fail they turned into dystopian visions…a lesson there for us perhaps. Maybe it’s not more time we need, but to use the time we already have with more focus and vigour? (I was delighted to note though that at least one person said if they had an extra hour they would spend it writing).
In the Saturday group, our second exercise was to write either a letter to your future self, or a monologue from the point of view of a visitor from the future. Once again, we were treated to insightful, poignant and funny words created in only ten minutes – amazing! – and one new member even gave us a song.
The So Write Women always surprise and inspire; that’s something that never changes, and I for one am having the time of my life.
To see / hear more about the So Write Women, see this report and video from Larisa de Vries:
You can also see and hear some of the So Write Women at the Words on Wheels event this Saturday (28th) as part of the So To Speak festival: